23rd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I preface a question that I direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Territories by stating that yesterday I received a very handy little booklet, which is said to be for the information of members and senators who propose to visit the Territories of the Commonwealth. On page 7, in advice tor our womenfolk who are going to the Territories, there are some suggestions concerning the clothing that they should take with them, and the following statement appears: -
Laundry facilities are difficult, and wherever possible the synthetic, drip-dry type of material should be used.
In view of the importance of our wool industry, and since we now have drip-dry woollen materials, will the Minister suggest to his colleague that the word “ synthetic “ be deleted?
– 1 shall be pleased to bring this matter to the notice of the Minister for Territories.
– I wish to ask a question of the Minister representing the Treasurer, in relation to the recent Commonwealth loan and the terms on which subscription to bonds B, I think they are called, have been invited. I remind the Minister that subscriptions for bonds A were invited on the occasion of the previous loan, but, for some reason that escapes me, the great advantage of redemption at call was postponed for a matter of seven months or eleven months, thereby. T believe, discouraging the subscription of ready money that people would have been prepared to subscribe if the terms had been at call. The right to redeem the present bonds B is similarly postponed, and the interest rates have been reduced. I ask the Minister whether he will give us some indication of the market reaction to bonds A, and of the reasons for the alteration of the terms of subscription to bonds B.
– The question involves a number of aspects of loan raisings with which I am not familiar at the moment, i shall be pleased to obtain the information as soon as I can, and let the honorable senator have it.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. When the Minister refused permission for Ansett-A.N.A. to purchase additional Lockheed Electra aircraft, he said that if he agreed to the request the airline industry would become “ overseated “ - that is, there would be more aeroplane seats available for sale than passengers to occupy them. In view of the announcement by the Chevron company that it proposes to complete a luxury, air-conditioned hotel in Sydney containing more than 500 beds, and also in view of other hotel building projects in Sydney about which no announcements have been made, will the Minister now apply to Qantas Empire Airways Limited the same reasoning that he applied to the Ansett-A.N.A. application and ensure that the hotel industry in Sydney will not be “ over-bedded “ by the erection of another hotel by Qantas?
– I suspect that that question is mischievously out of order because it seeks to anticipate what has been written up in the press as a Government decision. However, T shall have in mind the particular matters to which the honorable senator refers when consideration is given to the expansion of the hotel accommodation of Qantas, which at present is restricted to the Hotel Wentworth in Sydney.
While I am on my feet, I take the opportunity to inform the honorable senator that the Chevron proposal for Sydney does not run to 1 .000 beds for many years to come.
– The number is 500.
– It goes to only 200 immediately.
– I ask the
Minister for National Development whether his attention has been directed to the comments of Professor J. P. Baxter, ViceChancellor of the University of New South
Wales,, and a member of the research committee of the Water Research Foundation of Australia, on the development in the Channel Islands in the production of fresh water from salt water. These comments give complete details of the plant to be used in such production. Will the Minister investigate this matter and consider the possibility of using the phenomenal tides on the north-west of Western Australia as a source of power for experiments in that region where water conservation is a major problem?
– I am sorry to say that I did not see Professor Baxter’s statement on the matter. If Senator Robertson will be good enough to send me a copy so that I do not overlook seeing it, I shall appreciate her action.
A good deal of time and thought is being given to this problem within the ranks of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and within the ranks of my own department, and I am sure that in time to come it will be given serious consideration by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. My understanding of the present position, since I have not seen Professor Baxter’s statement, is that it is true that salt water can be purified but that the cost of treating other than comparatively small quantities is so great that the desalination of water becomes uneconomic for such large-scale purposes as irrigation. I understand that the system is already in use on certain ships, and in certain places in the Middle East; but, when we think in terms of Australia, we have yet to be shown a formula whereunder water can be desalinated in an economic way.
As to whether the high tides on the northwest of Western Australia can be utilized, I do not know. I have knowledge of only one undertaking for the use of the tides as a source of power, and that is in France. However, I will have some inquiries made.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Navy as once again we are recalling the heroism of the battle of the Coral Sea. When Units of the United States Navy are to visit Australia to celebrate Coral Sea Week does the Minister have any influence in the decision as to which Australian ports are to be honoured by visits from these ships? If he has, will he do all in his power in future years to include the port of Hobart in the itinerary for Coral Sea Week as Hobart citizens always regard themselves as privileged if they can entertain personnel of United States naval ships? The port was extensively used by American ships throughout the Second World War.
– I have not, of course, any direct control over the movements of such United States vessels as may come to Australia on goodwill visits, but I think that it would be true to say that invitations of this kind could well be transmitted through the United States Navy liaison officer here. They would, I believe, receive careful consideration and would, in most cases, be accepted. I shall be happy to convey to that officer the invitation from Hobart - as expressed through Senator Marriott - that units of the United States Navy should visit that city during the next Coral Sea Week. I can only say that if the crews of those ships are extended the same generous hospitality as was accorded the crews of the Australian and Royal Navy vessels which attended Hobart for the last regatta they will find the visit a memorable one.
– Does the Leader of the Government recall that, some time ago, a committee of this Parliament was set up to take evidence concerning, and to inquire into, the Constitution of Australia, and to recommend desirable alterations to the Parliament? Can he advise the Senate of the progress that has been made by the committee, and can he say when the final report will be presented to the Parliament?
– The matter is on the’ notice-paper for to-day. I remind the honorable senator that last session the Constitution Review Committee tabled a report in the Parliament and sought leave to give reasons in support of its findings on a subsequent occasion. The committee is now being reconstituted, so that it may have an opportunity to supply those reasons.
– By way of preface to my question, which is directed to the Minister for the Navy, I mention that in the recent statement in the Senate on foreign affairs, reference was made to a naval training operation which was about to take place. Will the Minister inform the Senate of the nations that are taking part in the operation, what is its purpose - apart from mere training - and in what part of the Pacific Ocean it will be conducted?
– The exercise in question, which has carried the code name “ Operation Sea Demon “, has already taken place; indeed, it has just finished, lt was conducted in the South China Sea, and waters adjacent thereto.
The purpose of exercises of this kind is to enable men and ships of different nationalities to become accustomed to working together, and to see that such things as signals and wireless procedure, and chain of command, are as far as possible standardized so that what would otherwise be three or four different fleets can become one fleet under the control of one commander. For the particular exercise mentioned by the honorable senator, units were provided from the navies of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and France. Naval observers were sent from the Philippines, from Pakistan and from Thailand. The exercises were of considerable magnitude, and the forces taking part included three aircraft carriers, three cruisers, about seventeen destroyers or destroyer-type vessels, various auxiliary vessels, twelve sea-based squadrons of aircraft, five land-based squadrons, and three submarines - in general, quite a considerable fleet carrying out operations against air attack, against submarine attack, and towards achieving co-operation, so that should it ever be required that one composite fleet should operate there will have been practice by a composite fleet.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer, by pointing out that the Government is taking an ever greater responsibility in the matter of bounties, subsidies, tariff duties, and guarantees for loans extended to various companies throughout the Commonwealth, and that the stage is being reached where, to all intents and purposes, those companies are becoming semi-governmental undertakings. Will the Minister say why the Government should not insist that the balance-sheets of these particular public and proprietary limited liability companies should be subject to audit by the Auditor-General in order to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is being used in the most beneficial way, and why such companies, which in many cases are well able to stand on their own feet and pay handsome dividends, should not be prepared to submit their books to audit as are other large semi-governmental organizations?
– The question asked by Senator O’Byrne is a very comprehensive one-. The honorable senator has referred to methods of support adopted by the Government and also to loans to companies, those companies remaining unnamed. Until one knew what companies he had in mind, it would be impossible to answer the question. Before a company receives government support, I know, speaking of my own administration, that the steps taken by the Government to see that its finances are maintained in a sound condition are extremely satisfactory. Because of the wideness of the honorable senator’s question, I shall refer it to the Treasurer to see whether I can obtain an answer for him.
– My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I preface it by pointing out that in the Governor-General’s Speech reference was made to the expenditure this year of an additional £1,000,000 on the search for oil in Australia and its Territories. Has the Minister in mind any plans for the expenditure of this money, and can he say when the legislation authorizing the expenditure will be introduced?
– I remind the honorable senator that the Government’s proposal was for the expenditure of £1,000,000 a year for a period of three years. So it is a major step forward in the search for oil in Australia. There has been no delay on my part or on the part of the
Bureau of Mineral Resources. The proposals have been prepared within the department. Indeed, they have been before the Government and have been approved. But Dr. Raggatt has suggested that in view of the very great importance of the programme and because, having started on a three-year programme, there could be difficulty in altering the pattern mid-way, it would be a good thing, before finally deciding upon it and making it public, to take advice from an overseas consultant. He has suggested that we should select some one of world-wide standing and repute, bring him to Australia, and say to him, “ This is the plan we have in mind; these are the various steps we propose to take “. and get an opinion from him. That is what is in contemplation. It may mean delaying the announcement of the scheme for a month or so, but honorable senators will agree, I hope, that it would be time well spent.
– I wish to address a question without notice to the Leader of the Government in this place. As Western Australia unfortunately has been left out of Princess Alexandra’s itinerary, will the Minister make every endeavour to see that that State is included in the tour of Princess Margaret when she visits Australia?
– My reply to the first part of the question asked by Senator Branson is that Princess Alexandra, of course, is coming to Australia primarily for the Queensland centenary celebrations and that the visits that she will make to other States are ancillary to that primary objective. Western Australia is not the only State that she will be unable to visit, andI am sure that the people of those States are just as regretful as are those of Western Australia that it will not be practicable for her to visit them. As to Princess Margaret,I think we are all unanimous in saving that we hope very much that she will come out and see us. I assure Senator Branson that if that wish is fulfilled, the views that he has expressed will be brought before the Prime Minister.
-I preface my question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General by saying that in the excellent Pocket Compendium (No. 44), recently issued, there is, at page 230, a paragraph on television viewers’ licences which contains the following statement: -
The annual licence-fee is £5 except that licences may be granted on payment of £1 5s. to certain classes of pensioners and free of charge to schools and to blind persons over the age of sixteen years. 1 was rather mystified by the reference to blind persons and television. If this information is correct, would it not be more helpful to the blind to grant their recently refused request for lower charges for the installation of telephones in their homes and a reduction in the price of calls?
– The honorable senator has asked for a reduction in installation and other charges for telephones for blind persons and has referred to the fact that such persons are issued with television licences free of charge. I must admit that I was rather mystified whenI read in this booklet that television licences were being issued free to the blind, but I found from inquiries I made that a number of blind people listen in - and very carefully too - to television programmes. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department has examined very carefully the proposition that cheaper or free telephone services should be granted to certain members of the community. I think the department has been very generous, not only in that respect, but also in relation to radio licences. However, I will bring the matter before my colleague, the Postmaster-General, and see what can be done in the matter the honorable senator has raised.
– My question to the Minister representing the Treasurer relates to the statement that has been circulated to members of the Parliament, showing the details of loan fund expenditure as at 30th April, 1959. I direct the Minister’s attention to the fact that although the estimate of expenditure for the current financial year was £133,000,000, up to 30th April the expenditure has amounted to only £66,000,000, or approximately 50 per cent, of the estimate. Is this an indication that expenditure of loan funds during the current financial year will fall short of the Budget estimate? If that is not expected, will the remaining £66,000,000 be expended in the next two months, thus confirming the view held by some people that an annual appropriation of this nature tends to lead Government departments to inflate their expenditures in the last couple of months of the financial year, without warrant, so that subsequent votes will not be reduced?
– Expenditure in the latter part of the year is generally greater than in the earlier part of the year, but I am not aware that this in in accordance with a deliberate policy to ensure that the full amount budgeted for is spent. I shall obtain full particulars of expenditure and of outstanding balances unspent as at the date mentioned by the honorable senator, and let him have the information.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Minister for the Interior has furnished the following replies: - 1. (a) Yes; (b) yes; (c) no. At the relevant time the cost of building dwelling houses averaged less than £400 per square.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The Minister for Immigration has furnished the following reply: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The Minister for Immigration has furnished the following reply: -
It is not correct, as reported in some sections of the press, that over-glamorized descriptions are being given at Australia House, London, to intending migrants. This criticism was raised at the recent annual State conference of the Country Party, when a delegate was reported to have stated, also, that little information was given on housing, and that one pamphlet contained a photograph of a glamour kitchen, of the type extremely uncommon in Australia.
The Department of Immigration prints and distributes in the United Kingdom a comprehensive range of factual pamphlets on Australia, covering housing, living conditions, assisted passages, education, social services, customs, quarantine, finance, health and national fitness, wages and taxation rates, and employment. These are distributed to all British migrants coming to Australia. Far from being over-glamorized, these pamphlets state, without embellishment, the facts on conditions in Australia. They arc written after consultation with experts on each subject discussed, and are regularly revised.
The housing pamphlet states, in part - “ New settlers from Britain arriving in Australia without having made any advance arrangements for accommodation would find it extremely difficult to obtain accommodation in a rented house or rented flat … If migrants are thinking of having a home built for themselves, they will need to have a substantial proportion of the finance to put down with bank, building society or housefinance company “.
The only photograph of a kitchen contained in this immigration publicity material depicts a woman working in a kitchen typical of an average newly built Australian suburban home. In no way could this be described as a glamour kitchen.
In recent years, Australian journalists have made independent inquiries about information given to United Kingdom migrants. These journalists have called at Australia House as intending migrants, and in every case they have reported that all the information supplied has given a factual, balanced picture of Australian conditions. British authorities have praised this material as being fair and accurate.
asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– I now answer the honorable senator in the following terms: -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Commonwealth coat of arms; and if so, did the committee make any report?
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
In view of recent press allegations that the consumption of butter has an adverse effect upon the human heart, will the Minister inform the Senate whether it has a more adverse effect than the consumption of the same amount of margarine?
– The Minister for Health has now furnished the following reply: -
The hypothesis that coronary heart disease results from a disturbance of fat metabolism, and that animal fats are the chief offenders has not been proved. Undoubtedly, other factors are important in the causation of this form of heart disease, and the possible interaction of heredity and environment cannot be ignored.
The animal and vegetable fat intake in the present day diet requires further analysis in order to define the precise role, if one exists, and the degree of importance, of fats in heart diseases. Much research is currently in progress along these lines but, at the present time, it could not be substantiated that animal fats have a more adverse effect on the human heart than the consumption of the same amounts of margarine.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has now furnished the following replies: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied the following answers: -
– On 16th April, Senator Benn asked the following question: - 1 ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether he will state why a satisfactory contract cannot be made with a supplier of milk so as to ensure that that food is provided for the pupils attending the Ogmore State School, Queensland. Until a satisfactory contract is made, will the Minister supply each child at the school with one pint of ice cream daily?
The Minister for Health has now furnished the following reply: -
A contract has been entered into between the Port Curtis Co-operative Dairy Association Limited and the Queensland Department of Education to provide milk for the pupils attending the Ogmore State School, Queensland, with delivery scheduled to commence on 21st April, 1959.
– On 22nd April, Senator Branson asked the following question: -
I preface my question, which T direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, by saying that the severe virus epidemic in Australia at the present time has resulted in a heavy cost to commerce and industry and to the nation generally, Owing to the high percentage of employees who have been absent from work because of this illness. In addition, in Western Australia, several deaths have occurred as the result of other complications which have set in during the period of illness. Will the Minister consider issuing a warning to the general public regarding the precautions to be taken to avoid contracting this disease, with particular emphasis on advice to school teachers and school children, in view of the fact that four of those who have died in Western Australia have been children?
The Minister for Health has now furnished the following reply: -
It is true that absenteeism due to influenza does place a heavy burden on industry, in addition to causing a risk to health and even life. The only effective way of limiting the spread of influenza is to break the chain of infection from person to person. Those suffering from the disease should remain at home, preferably in bed if they are feverish, and preferably under medical care where the symptoms are severe. Those who do not have the disease should avoid likely places of infection, such as crowds.
There are, of course, a number of other measures which can assist in protection, such as attention to general health, keeping warm and dry, avoidance of fatigue and worry, and attention to good food and clothing. Any lowering of the standard of general health increases the risk of infection. Finally, injections of influenza vaccine are of value where the prevalent strains of influenza are known and are certainly warranted in the industrial field.
– by leave - On 29th April last, Senator Buttfield asked me for a statement on the programme at Lucas Heights. I then told her that it was rather too technical for me to attempt to deal with immediately, and that I would consult with the Australian Atomic Energy Commission on the subject. The objects of the scientific programme at Lucas Heights have been published in the annual report of the commission, and I am glad to inform the Senate that substantial progress in this research programme is being made.
Basically, we in Australia are interested in the development of a nuclear power reactor which will be particularly suitable to Australian conditions. This means a power reactor capable of power loads from, say, 20 megawatts to over 100 megawatts. In this work we are fortunate that we have collaboration, but not duplication with other countries of the Western world, particularly the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. We are thus able to exchange our results with theirs, and this will mean that Australia is being kept up to date in the whole general field of atomic energy, and that we are developing in Australia staff and facilities to help in all applications of atomic energy in Australia.
As discussed in the last annual report, the bulk of our efforts at Lucas Heights is being devoted towards the development of a reactor using a uranium-thorium fuel system with beryllia as the moderator, and a gas coolant. Beryllia and beryllium compounds have the great advantage of leading to small power reactor systems as well as large ones. In addition, we have useful deposits of beryl ores in Australia and the Government is conserving this material for Australia’s future needs.
A great deal of the effort at Lucas Heights is at present being devoted to the production of a fuel element which will -
A good deal of progress in this fuel element technology has been made at Lucas Heights and the staff are now preparing small samples of fuel elements for insertion in Hifar for irradiation tests when the reactor is taken up to power in the second half of this year. The performance of fuel elements under irradiation is a very difficult problem which is holding up the whole development of atomic energy in the world. Irradiation of sample fuel elements in Hifar is therefore a very important part of the Lucas Heights programme. Some 50 samples of different kinds of fuel elements based on uranium, thorium and beryllium as inter-metallic compounds, oxides and carbides will be going into the reactor this year. They will require several months of irradiation at high temperatures. When taken out these fuel elements will be extremely radio-active and will require examination in laboratories and workshops set up behind several feet of heavy concrete. All control of the laboratory operations will be from outside the cells and viewing will be possible with the aid of large heavy glass windows, closed circuit television and periscopes. A contract has been let for these post irradiation examination cells and their construction is now well advanced.
Work is proceeding on the chemical compatibility of carbon dioxide and the fuel elements. Methods of removing water vapour and other impurities from Australian-made carbon dioxide have been successfully developed. Developments of other techniques required for the power reactor are proceeding, though on a somewhat smaller scale than the fuel element technology. The chemical processing of irradiated beryllium-based fuel elements is being con sidered. This chemical processing is designed to develop cheap methods of getting used fuel elements into a solution, of separating out fuel from fertile materials such as thorium, from the highly radioactive fission products and from beryllium. Facilities for examining larger samples of fuel elements in the reactor are being developed.
Intense heat is generated in a small space in. such a reactor, and the problems of transferring the heat from the fuel element to the coolant gas are also being studied in the laboratories at Lucas Heights. Preliminary design work has also been undertaken for an assembly for investigating certain aspects of reactor physics, and some theoretical work is being done on important engineering characteristics of beryllium moderated reactors.
Before activation work can be undertaken in the Hifar reactor it must be calibrated at low power. In the past twelve months scientists have been working two shifts to speed this calibration work, and I am pleased to state that it is running ahead of the original schedule. This calibration work has to be done before the reactor is taken up to power, otherwise the inside portion of the reactor would become too active to handle. We are expecting to take the reactor up to power in the second half of this year, which is a little earlier than was originally contemplated.
The commission has continued to collaborate with the United Kingdom and other countries and in pursuance of this collaboration we have had visitors from the United Kingdom, United States and Canada to Australia. Both Sir Leonard Owen and Sir John Cockcroft have approved the Australian programme as wise, and have expressed considerable interest in the results so far obtained and those to come. The commission is at present discussing increased collaboration on the irradiation of beryllium with the United Kingdom. It is also planned to have United Kingdom scientists working at Lucas Heights, and the first of these will arrive this month.
In the isotopes field the advisory service is continuing to give help to Australian industry, and this is resulting in a continuous increase in the use of isotopes in Australia, and in the advantages that these isotopes bring to our industrial processes.
Plans for the manufacture of isotopes in the Hifar reactor are well advanced, and the necessary equipment for the production of these isotopes is being constructed. Though a very small quantity of a sodium isotope has been produced for a particular experiment, the commission cannot produce large quantities of isotopes until the reactor is taken up to power in the second half of this year.
Discussions are taking place with other organizations in Australia to use the special facilities that the Commonwealth Government has provided at Lucas Heights. Some of the universities are interested in using these special facilities, and the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering is at present arranging with the commission to make these facilities available to university workers from all universities.
This is just a brief summary of the kinds of activities at present being undertaken at Lucas Heights. I would like to issue a warm invitation to members of the Senate to come to Lucas Heights and see for themselves the wide range of problems , being studied in our research establishment.
– I move -
That Standing Order No. 68 be suspended for the remainder of this session, to enable new business to be commenced after 10.30 p.m.
By way of explanation for bringing forward this motion, I point out that it is expected that the present sittings of the Parliament will conclude next week. Standing Order No. 68 prevents new business being introduced in the Senate after 10.30 p.m. In truth, as we all know, there is some doubt as to what might be described as “ new business “. It has even been said that discussion on bills on the business paper which has not been commenced before 10.30 p.m. cannot be commenced after that hour. All that is proposed is the suspension of the standing order so that we can conduct our business in the most orderly way practicable. We have in mind using the suspension mainly for putting on the business paper of the
Senate legislation which comes from the other House late in the evening. Bills can then be taken to the second reading stage and circulated for the information of honorable senators. 1 cannot give an assurance that there will be no late sittings. The end of a sessional period always seems to result in a little congestion of business. I can only say that there is no indication at this stage that there will be late sittings. I am hopeful that we may so order our affairs that there will not be late sittings in the last week of the period. The acceptance of this proposal will aid materially in the attainment of that result.
– This situation seems to arise at the end of every sessional period. The Leader of the Government gets up and moves the suspension of the Standing Orders which have been evolved over a period of years, so that the Government may hurry something before the Senate - all on the supposition that the Parliament will rise the following week-end, or at some such early date.
– Do you object to that?
– lt is only natural that we should object every time. It was just as natural for the honorable senator’s colleagues to object when they were in Opposition, because there is no need at all for the Senate to sit the extraordinary hours that it does sit from time to time. There is no reason why the Senate should not sit a little longer - perhaps the week after next - in order to finish up its business. That would be preferable to the suspension of Standing Orders in order to permit the Government to hurry something before the Senate. It all gets back to the fact that this Government believes in legislation by exhaustion. No one has a chance to discuss or study the legislation that comes before us. A bill is introduced, a secondreading speech is made, and we are asked to go straight on with the debate the same night, or perhaps it may be deferred until next morning. That does not give any one a chance. It is legisation by exhaustion and I have objected to it year after year when I have had opportunity and voice enough to do so.
It is nice to have an assurance from the Leader of the Government (Senator Spooner) that he contemplates bringing in the bills and taking them to the second-reading stage only, so that there will be no delay in dealing with them the next day, but I should also like his assurance that there will be no late sittings such as we have been compelled to accept in the past because of the Government’s voting strength. The sessional orders provide that we shall not sit after 10.30 p.m. on ordinary nights, and 11 p.m. when we are on the air. lt is not much use having sessional orders if. towards the end of a sessional period, the Government moves to set them aside in order to extend the sitting and bring in a bill which might be discussed next day. There is nothing to prevent the Senate sitting the week after next to finish up business, instead of exhausting honorable senators as is contemplated. I record my objection to the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Paltridge) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I wish to place before the Senate proposals for new Commonwealth aid roads legislation to replace the present acts, which will expire on 30th June next. But before I explain to honorable senators the proposals contained in the new legislation I think I should say something in general terms about the problem of roads finance and the part which the Commonwealth could and should take in it.
As our economy has grown substantially in recent years, the need for more roads and better roads has also grown - perhaps more than proportionately - and we can expect this need to go on increasing. The total mileage of roads in Australia is constantly being lengthened as new areas are opened up for settlement and as older areas are subdivided for industrial or residential use. As all honorable senators know from personal experience, the volume of road traffic has grown and continues to grow prodigiously. The number of motor vehicles registered in Australia has more than doubled in the last ten years and there can be little doubt that it will continue to rise rapidly in the future. Besides this growth in the volume of road traffic, the advent of vehicles carrying heavier loads and of faster vehicles has added to the stresses which roads are called upon to bear. Many thoroughfares which served well enough in pre-war days are now obsolete. They are too narrow, too lightly built, and in other respects not properly designed for modern traffic requirements. In and around capital cities and industrial centres there are serious problems of traffic congestion, and in rural areas there is a constant need for new roads and for improvement of existing roads.
In response to these growing needs, total expenditures on roads, streets and bridges by public authorities throughout Australia have increased markedly in the last decade. In 1948-49, such expenditures totalled about £28,000,000, whereas this year they will probably total about £110,000,000. There will thus have been virtually a fourfold increase in these ten years. Costs of road construction admittedly have risen during the period, as also have costs of other forms of construction; but roads expenditure has risen faster than expenditure on most other classes of public works.
However, in considering matters such as this we have to keep in mind the fact that, while there is a great need for better roads, there are also many other needs which we must endeavour to satisfy. Roads are but one part of the transport problem generally. There is also much scope for improvement in railways and in our port and harbour facilities. Civil aviation also has large requirements ahead. Tn turn, the transport problem, vital though it undoubtedly is, forms only part of the total pattern of requirements for larger capital facilities in Australia to-day, and the demands it makes upon resources have to be measured against the demands for other forms of construction and equipment.
We have to think, for example, of the need for more houses, for more schools, colleges and hospitals, for improved water and sewerage services, for greater power supplies - and, of course, of the still larger need for expansion of industry in many of its sectors. It is true that our resources are increasing; and 1 believe that we should be able to accomplish, in the coming decade, an even greater rate of expansion than we did in the last decade, when our progress was indeed notable. But there will always remain the necessity to weigh any one branch of development against others to ensure that all obtain a due share of the resources, physical and financial, that are available.
In Australia we have the problem of great distances between centres, so that relatively great lengths of road are required to serve a limited population. This means that if we are to have an efficient roads system, we must devote a larger share of our resources to roads than would a country smaller in area. It also means that a high standard of roads is more difficult for us to achieve and maintain. The Government recognizes these problems and the fact that much more must be spent on roads - the proposals which I will outline shortly certainly demonstrate that - but it is necessary for us all to bear in mind the limitations on what we can do in this one field, having regard to all the other pressing demands upon us.
I think I should also make clear the position of the Commonwealth in relation to roads finance. Recognizing the national importance of roads, the Commonwealth has long been making contributions to assist the States in financing roads expenditure. In recent years these Commonwealth contributions under the Commonwealth aid roads legislation have increased greatly. In 1946-47 Commonwealth provision for roads was £4,800,000. In 1950-51, it was £14,100,000. In 1953-54, it was £17,100,000, and in the current year, 1958- 59, it is estimated to be £38,300,000, of which £37,300,000 represents grants to the States. During the five years of the current legislation the Commonwealth will have provided about £157,800,000 for road purposes, and of this amount, £153,000,000 will have gone to the States. It may be of interest to honorable senators to know that, during these five years, Commonwealth road grants to the States will have been greater than the total of such grants during the whole of the previous 31 years since federal aid for roads began.
But the main responsibility for the construction and maintenance of roads, and for the administration of roads matters, lies with the State governments and with local and municipal authorities. These bodies have very considerable resources of their own available for roads purposes, and these resources are capable of substantial increase. The Commonwealth, therefore, does not regard itself as being primarily responsible for roads finance. Rather, it considers its role as one of providing finance to supplement that of the States and local authorities. This has been a cardinal point in the approach of the Government to this problem. We recognize full well that a big effort is necessary to improve the roads system, but we believe also that this should be, and can be, a co-operative effort in which all the authorities concerned with roads will share. We are willing to provide a large additional amount of money for roads over the next five years; but we consider that the State governments and local authorities should also provide more money so far as their means allow. If that is done the annual rate of roads expenditure will be stepped up far above its already high level and, given effective use of the money available, a really adequate attack can be made on the roads problem in Australia.
Turning now to the proposed scheme for future Commonwealth assistance to the States for roads, the main provisions embodied in the bill are these -
The annual limit applying to each State will be proportionate to its share of the total grant as determined by the formula which I shall describe presently.
I propose now to say something on each of these main provisions. First of all, I shall refer to the term of the legislation. On past experience, a term of five years seems to be the most suitable. Some of the earlier roads legislation had a term of ten years. This proved too long, as the legislation became obsolete several years before it expired. Then a term of three years was tried, but this proved too short. The State governments complained that it did not give them sufficient time to develop road programmes and carry them out. All things considered, the proposed term of five years appears to be about the right balance between the various requirements.
Regarding the total amount of £250,000,000, it is worth pointing out that, whereas over the five years of the current legislation the States will have had grants from the Commonwealth for roads purposes totalling slighly more than £150,000,000, they will receive under the proposed legislation approximately £100,000,000 more.
While the Commonwealth contribution for roads purposes will thus be £100,000,000 greater, total expenditure on roads in Australia over the five years ought to increase by a good deal more than this amount. During the five years of the current legislation total expenditure by all authorities on roads, streets and bridges throughout Aus?tralia will have been approximately £470,000,000. However, by taking the additional £100,000,000 which the Commonwealth will provide for the States, and making some reasonable assumptions as to the likely increases in expenditure by the Commonwealth on its own account and by State Governments and municipal and local authorities from their own resources, it is estimated that total expenditure on roads, streets and bridges in the period of this legislation should be in the vicinity of £720,000,000. The increase in total roads expenditure over the next five years should therefore be of the order of £250,000,000. On the same assumptions, the likely annual rate of expenditure on roads, streets and bridges in 1963-64, the last year of the scheme, will be at least £160,000,000. As the current rate of expenditure is probably about £110,000,000 a year, this will mean an increase in the annual rate of expenditure on roads of at least £50,000,000 a year.
The amounts to be provided as basic annual grants will be paid to the States regardless of what they may do about the matching contributions which I shall explain presently. I may point out that in 1959-60, the first year under the new legislation, the basic grants will be considerably greater than the amounts being allocated this year under current legislation for payment to the States. In each year thereafter the basic grants will increase by £2,000,000. The proposal to make additional Commonwealth payments against matching contributions by State governments is intended to give the States an incentive to allocate more money for roads expenditure each year from their own resources. This accords with what I said earlier about the importance of making the effort to improve our road system a cooperative one, in which all the authorities concerned with roads - Commonwealth, State and local - will play a part. For purposes of the matching arrangements, State allocations for roads need not be confined to allocations from particular sources of revenue, such as motor tax revenues. Allocations from other State sources, including loan moneys, will be eligible. The main requirement is that they shall be made for the express purpose of expenditure on the construction, re-construction, maintenance and repair of roads.
It will be noted that under clause 6 of the bill the Commonwealth Treasurer will need to be satisfied that the allocations for roads by the States each year as compared with the base year are such as to qualify them for the Commonwealth matching grants. The clause has been drafted in this way because any attempt to specify in the legislation what should or should not be regarded as State allocations from their own resources in any year would involve highly complex and extensive definition. Furthermore, in view of the considerable differences as between States in their accounting and other procedures in relation to roads finance and of the possibility of changes in those procedures from time to time it is unlikely that any specific definition could anticipate the circumstances in all States over the period of the legislation.
With regard to roads serving Commonwealth purposes and road safety, the Government proposes a change in practice. Of the total amount allocated for road purposes under present legislation, £850,000 a year is reserved for expenditure on strategic roads, roads of access to Commonwealth property and other roads serving Commonwealth purposes, and £150,000 a year is set aside for road safety expenditure - making a total of £1,000,000 a year. In future it is proposed to make separate provision for these expenditures. Thus where funds are required for roads in the Territories or for roads to meet Commonwealth requirements in the States, provision will be made in the annual votes for the departments or authorities concerned. The moneys provided under this bill, therefore, will be wholly for road grants to the States.
I now turn to the proposal for a revised method of distributing the Commonwealth road grants between the several States. Under previous legislation, distribution has been according to a formula which gave five per cent, to Tasmania, with the balance divided amongst the other five States on the basis of three-fifths according to population and two-fifths according to area. The weighting of the formula in favour of the larger but more sparsely peopled States has been justified on the ground that their need for aid in transport development was relatively greater than that of the more densely settled and generally richer States, like New South Wales and Victoria, and undoubtedly there is still a great deal of force in this.
In recent years, however, it has come to appear that, with the heavy concentration of industry and the consequent growth in commercial and industrial transport, the road systems of New South Wales and Victoria are being subjected to exceptionally heavy demands and that these two States therefore have a case for a somewhat larger share of the roads finance provided by the Commonwealth. Accordingly, after much consideration, the Government has decided to adopt in the new legislation a formula which will improve to a limited extent the relative positions of New South Wales and Victoria. Under the new formula Tasmania will continue to receive five per cent, of the total amount, and the remainder will be divided between the other five States on the basis of one-third according to area, one-third according to population and one-third according to numbers of motor vehicles registered. As in the existing legislation the population figures will be the latest census figures available. With motor vehicles the numbers registered at 31st December preceding each financial year covered by the legislation will be used; these figures will be available at the start of each financial year and the use of them will avoid the need for adjustments that would be necessary if later figures were to be used for purposes of distribution.
Under the revised basis of distribution, New South Wales will receive approximately 27.9 per cent, as against 27.5 per cent, at present, Victoria 19.9 per cent, against 17.6 per cent., Queensland 18.4 percent, against 19.2 per cent., South Australia 11.2 per cent., which is the same as at present, Western Australia 17.6 per cent, against 19.5 per cent., and Tasmania 5 per cent, as now. Thus the distribution will not be weighted quite so heavily in favour of Queensland and Western Australia as it has been hitherto. But 1 think I should emphasize that on a per head of population basis, these two States will continue to receive very much more than New South Wales and Victoria. In the first year of the scheme, for example, the total Queensland grant will be approximately £5 8s. per head and the Western Australian grant £10 6s. per head as compared with £3 3s. per head in the case of New South Wales and £3 per head in the case of Victoria. 1 may point out, also, that both Queensland and Western Australia will receive under the new legislation greater amounts of Commonwealth aid for roads than they have had under the present legislation. Thus, if those States take full advantage of the Commonwealth £l-for-£l offer, Commonwealth road grants to Western Australia will rise from about £7,200,000 in the current financial year to about £10,200,000 in 1963-64, and road grants to Queensland will rise from about £7,100.000 this year to about £10,600,000 in 1963-64. Also, to ensure that no State suffers a reduction in Commonwealth road grants as a result of the introduction of the revised formula for distribution, the Commonwealth has agreed that if any State’s share in the basic grant of £40,000,000 payable next year is less than its share of the amounts allocated in respect of this year under current legislation, the Commonwealth will make a special payment to that State to offset that shortfall.
After discussion and correspondence with the State Premiers, the Government has decided to retain in the new legislation the provision whereby at least 40 per cent, of the total road payments to the States is to be spent on roads in rural areas, other than highways, trunk roads and main roads. This means that, of the £250,000,000 being made available over the next five years, not less than £100,000,000 will be specifically reserved for rural roads, other than highways, trunk roads and main roads, compared with something less than £61,000,000 during the five years of the present legislation.
This rural roads provision is essentially the only condition the Commonwealth lays down as to how the States shall allocate the road grants it makes to them. Beyond this the States are free to apply the money to roads expenditure however they choose. One thing I may point out to honorable senators is that in this bill it is expressly stated that the States can allocate any part of the moneys they receive from the Commonwealth to their local authorities, including municipal authorities, for expenditure on roads.
As under the present legislation, the States will be permitted to spend each year amounts equal to their respective shares of £1,000,000 on works connected with transport by road or water apart from the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of roads. This provision has been found useful at times in that it has assisted the States to undertake works in relation to jetties, boat havens and the like. The States will be permitted also to spend such amounts of the Commonwealth grants as they think fit on research into problems connected with road construction and maintenance.
Finally, no doubt it will have been observed by honorable senators that the amounts of money to be provided for roads under this legislation are in no way related to the revenues that the Commonwealth may obtain from taxes on petrol and other motor fuels. All of us are familiar with the claim that since petrol taxation is paid by motorists, the whole of the proceeds of petrol taxation should be spent on roads. However, no Commonwealth Government has ever accepted this claim. The Labour government which preceded us resisted it just as steadily as we have done. Even as an argument, the claim is defective. Since a very large part of the petrol which bears tax - probably much more than half of the total consumption - is used in commercial and industrial transportation, we can fairly assume that much of the petrol taxation is passed on in transport charges or in the prices of goods, and hence is paid not by the motorists as such but by the public at large.
– How does that answer the argument?
– Mr. Chifley used it very successfully in 1947 when the hauliers case was being heard.
– The Government always quotes the hauliers case, but it applies the argument to any tax.
– As I have said, the Labour government which preceded us used the argument very successfully. I shall proceed. Apart from this, it is an unsound practice to allocate the proceeds of any one tax for one particular class of expenditure. To do so cuts across the fundamental budgetary principle that all government receipts should be paid into a common account from which particular expenditures can be met only with the approval of Parliament under annual votes or special appropriations.
However, there is another objection of great practical importance to the system of relating road grants to petrol tax revenues or to petrol clearances. Generally, petrol consumption has tended to increase, but the rates of increase in previous years have varied considerably from year to year. In one recent year it was nearly 18 per cent.; in another year it was as low as 3 per cent. Taking the past seven years, the average rate of increase per year was 7.2 per cent. Over the past five years it was nearly 8.5 per cent.; but over the past three years it has been only 6.1 per cent. Looking ahead, it is not possible to say with any real certainty what the future rates of increase in petrol consumption will be; and that is a vital point. It is highly important that the authorities responsible for road construction and maintenance should be able to plan some years ahead. To do this on a reliable basis, however, they must know what amounts of finance will be available from year to year. If the Commonwealth grants for roads were to continue to depend on the level of petrol consumption, there could be no certainty as to what amounts of finance would be available. The chances are that petrol consumption will continue to increase - but at what annual rates, or by how much over the next five years, simply cannot be known in advance. It could not be known to within, perhaps, £30.000,000 how much the States would receive or how much the Commonwealth would have to provide over the term of the legislation.
Therefore, it seems far better for the Commonwealth to provide road grants on the basis of specific amounts which increase from year to year. The Commonwealth will then know just what its forward budgetary commitments are. The States will also know exactly how much they can depend on getting from the Commonwealth, and they can frame their roads programmes accordingly.
Much has been said recently about the need for national planning of roads, but this can, of course, be taken to mean many different things. In any case, it seems to us that the essentials of a national roads scheme already exist in the sense that each State has a forward programme of road construction. Moreover, the competent authorities of the States consult with each other from time to time on matters requiring interstate co-operation, and roads policy is also dealt with at the Australian Transport Advisory Council, of which I have the honour to be chairman. What the Commonwealth proposes in the bill now under consideration is to provide a secure and adequate financial foundation for an increasing, nation-wide programme of road improvement. With the full co-operation of trie State governments and local authorities - and we feel sure that this will be forthcoming - this legislation should provide the starting point and basis for a new era of progress in Australian road development. I, therefore, commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Willesee) adjourned.
Consideration of message received from the House of Representatives, requesting the concurrence of the Senate in the appointment of a Joint Committee on Constitutional Review in the following terms: -
That, subject to the concurrence of the Senate in the terms of this resolution, the Joint Committee know as the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review that was constituted by resolution of the House of Representatives passed on the 27th day of February, 1958, and a resolution of the Senate passed on the 12th day of March, 1958, be re-constituted under the name of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review with the same, membership as the first-mentioned committee had immediately before the dissolution of the House of Representatives on the 14th day of October, 1958, namely: -
The Prime Minister and the Leader of the
Opposition as ex officio members, and Mr. Calwell, Mr. Downer, Mr. Drummond, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Joske, Mr. Pollard, Mr. Ward and Mr. Whitlam.
Senator O’Sullivan (chairman), and Senators Kennelly, McKenna and Wright.
That the function of the committee be to prepare a report or reports to each House of the Parliament setting forth, so far as the committee thinks it desirable to do so -
Motion (by Senator Spooner) agreed to -
Debate resumed from 5th May (vide page 1218), on motion by Senator Sir Walter Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator McKenna had moved by way of amendment -
Leave out all words after “ That “, insert “ the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to remove all restrictions on the voting rights of the member for the Australian Capital Territory “.
– As time did not permit me to deal with one other very important point before the debate was interrupted last night, I shall discuss it now. Many men left Australia to fight in the 1914-18 war to preserve democracy and freedom in this country - equal rights and equal opportunities. Many exservicemen of that war who were not living in the Australian Capital Territory prior to their enlistment, are now living here. After their return to Australia they took up their abode in this Territory. Turning to the 1939-45 war, we find that since the terminationof hostilities there has been an influx of ex-servicemen from various parts of Australia into the Australian Capital Territory. Before coming to this Territory they enjoyed equal voting rights with other citizens of
Australia, but since they have become residents of the Australian Capital Territory some of their rights and responsibilities as Australian citizens have been taken from them. In effect, they have been placed on the same footing as aborigines, who do not get a vote in this country. Therefore, 1 claim that the argument that has been advanced by Government supporters against giving the member for the Australian Capital Territory an effective vote on all subjects in the Parliament is absolutely groundless.
Since speaking on this subject yesterday, [ have had an opportunity to analyse some of the phoney arguments that have been advanced by Government supporters against giving full voting rights to the citizens of Canberra. One of those arguments is that enormous sums of money are being spent by the Government in Canberra compared with the relatively small amount that is paid into Consolidated Revenue by the residents of Canberra. A similar argument could be applied to the Snowy Mountains area. Although hundreds of millions of pounds of public money is being expended on the Snowy Mountains project, only a handful of people live there apart from those who arc working on the project. That is the most lamentable argument I have ever heard, coming as it did from a Government supporter in another place.
Another argument that was advanced in another place against giving full voting rights to the citizens of Canberra is the relatively small number of electors in the Territory. Honorable senators have only to cast their minds back to the time when certain members of the House of Representatives represented constituencies containing only half the number of electors whom the member for the Australian Capital Territory represents to-day.
– What electorates were they?
– If the honorable senator who is interjecting will take the trouble to refresh his mind concerning the five electorates in my own State of Tasmania, he will find that 30 or 40 years ago each of those electorates contained fewer than half the number of electors whom the member for the Australian Capital Territory represents to-day. In other words, the member for the Australian Capital Territory commenced his rep- resentation on the basis of a relatively small number of electors, just as did the representatives of the Tasmanian divisions some years ago. As we know, there are now many more electors in the Australian Capital Territory than when the residents of the Territory were first given representation in the Parliament. The constitutional provisions in relation to representation in the Commonwealth Parliament have not been altered since the time to which I refer, and therefore I contend that, to a degree, the people of the Australian Capital Territory have been disenfranchised. I say very frankly and plainly that the people in the Australian Capital Territory are justly entitled to the same voting rights as people who live in other parts of Australia. It must be remembered that many people now in the Territory are here because of the availability of work. They realize that if they leave their jobs here and go elsewhere in Australia they may be forced to draw the unemployment benefit. Whether or not they like the climate of Canberra, and despite the fact that they have been partly disenfranchised by coming here, they are more or less compelled to remain in the Territory because of economic considerations. Therefore, in the light of these facts, this argument by supporters of the Government falls to the ground.
Can any honorable senator point to any instance in which the residents of Canberra have been singled out for special privileges that are not enjoyed by the rest of the people of this country? The people here are required to pay taxes and to pay their way wherever they go. Why, then, should they be placed in almost the same category as the aborigines in the north of Australia who have not yet been colonized by the missionaries?
– They have not been placed in the same category. The member for the Australian Capital Territory is entitled to vote on matters pertaining to Canberra.
– As Senator Kendall points out the member for the Australian Capital Territory may vote only on matters concerning the Territory, whereas every member of this chamber is entitled to vote on any subject. I contend that the member of this Parliament who represents the people of the Australian Capital Territory should likewise be entitled, in this democratic country, to vote on any subject. Senator Kendall is an ex-serviceman. 1 wonder whether, when he left these shores to fight for the preservation of democracy in Australia, he stopped to consider that if he returned and came to live in this civilized and highly developed part of Australia he would be partly disenfranchised? 1 do not think he did. Why, then, should not other ex-servicemen who may have fought side by side with him and who are now living in Canberra enjoy the full franchise? Expressed in another way, the position is that many hundreds of exservicemen who have fought to preserve freedom in this country enjoyed full representational rights as residents of the States. When, for any reason, they moved to Canberra, the Government said to them, in effect, “ You are now only entitled to restricted representational rights “. They do not have the full citizenship rights that are enjoyed by other Australian citizens. I claim, Mr. Deputy President, that every Australian-born citizen is entitled to full citizenship rights. It is obvious, even to kindergarten children, that if Australians are disfranchised in relation to matters of national importance that come before this Parliament, they are not enjoying full citizenship rights. Therefore, I say that this legislation is wrong in principle, as well as being morally wrong, lt is out of place in a democratic country.
I am not one who believes that we should take a lead from Washington. If we always do as America does, we may soon find ourselves in pawn to America. In this matter of voting rights, no arguments have been advanced to prove that the Americans are correct and that we are wrong. I contend that Australians have just as much intelligence and ability to work things out for themselves as the Americans have. If the Americans choose to deprive some of their people of full citizenship rights, that is no reason why the Australian Government should follow suit and deprive Australian citizens of rights to which they are justly entitled. Let us say once and for all that we can stand on our own feet, that we do not have to look to America for a lead, or, for that matter, to Great Britain or any other country. Australia is a free democracy, and we have a free, sovereign Parliament. If we in this place have not sufficient intelligence to decide for ourselves, without mimicking the Americans or the British, we have no right to be here. In my view, the argument that has been advanced by honorable senators opposite that we should deprive some of our citizens of their rights because the Americans do so, is one of the most lamentable that 1 have heard since I have been in this Parliament.
While measures of this nature come before the Parliament, and while the people of the Australian Capital Territory do not enjoy full citizenship rights, I shall not change the view that 1 have enunciated here yesterday and again to-day. 1 have risen this afternoon only to bring home to the Government the point that the exservicemen of this country who fought for democratic freedoms and full citizenship rights are entitled to those things wherever they happen to live in Australia. Apparently, the Government believes that they should not receive those benefits if they live in the Australian Capital Territory.
.- The few remarks that I wish to make about this bill concern the argument that has been put forward by supporters of the Government in an attempt to justify the Government’s action in depriving the member for the Australian Capital Territory in the House of Representatives of the right to vote on all matters connected with the administration of this country. It is claimed that the purpose of the bill before the Senate is to give increased voting power to the member for the Australian Capital Territory, but, in my opinion, the proposed concessions are no more than a sop.
If we cast our minds back to the debate on the Northern Territory (Administration) Bill which took place in the Senate recently, we will remember that various honorable senators referred to what was more or less an open revolt in the Northern Territory because the people of that Territory considered that they were being deprived of the democratic right of self-government. The Australian Government had seen fit to appoint a Legislative Council for the Northern Territory, composed of a majority of nominated members. Certain elected members resigned from the Council, and by that means and in other ways the residents of the Territory showed that they were not going to be treated in a cavalier fashion. 1 believe that it is as a result of the actions of the people of the Northern Territory that the legislation now before the Senate has been introduced. In my opinion, the Government has introduced it to forestall a similar demonstration by the people of the Australian Capital Territory, particularly of Canberra. On a numerical basis, there can be no justification for the present position. The population of the Australian Capital Territory is more than 40,000, and there is a voting strength of over 22,000. Whether the majority of the residents of Canberra are public servants, or whether, as Senator McCallum has stated, some of them are transients employed on building construction projects, is beside the point; the residents are still entitled to the fundamental right of equal representation with other citizens of Australia in this Federal Parliament.
Throughout the Minister’s second-reading speech emphasis was placed on the point that the number of electors in the Australian Capital Territory is smaller than that in any other electorate in the Commonwealth, with the exception of the Northern Territory. By a distorted form of logic, the Minister presented a case - which certainly did not convince me - to the effect that, therefore, the residents of the Australian Capital Territory were not entitled to voting rights equal to those of the residents of other parts of Australia. It has already been pointed out that each senator from Tasmania represents approximately 15,000 people.
– Which 15,000 have you picked out?
– I know which people honorable senators opposite misrepresent. The point is that, if the argument is based purely on relative numerical strengths, there is no logic whatever in the measure before the Senate. As I see this bill, it represents one of those quirks of the mind peculiar to this Government. Whenever an issue of this nature comes before the Government, we can expect it to come down on the side of conservatism and say, “ Let us not do it now. Let us put off deciding the issue for the time being.”
During the course of the debate in another place it was stated that when the population of the Australian Capital Territory reached a certain number, and when the number of voters had increased, consideration would be given to the granting of full representation in this Parliament, but later on that statement was corrected, and the clear impression was given that no guarantee was being held out that the residents of the Australian Capital Territory would be given full voting rights at any stage. There seems to be no guarantee at all that such rights will be granted automatically. Therefore, I say that the argument that the number of electors in the Australian Capital Territory is not large enough to warrant full voting powers being granted to the member for the Australian Capital Territory, is a very weak one and does not stand up to the searching light of criticism.
Senator McCallum made a contribution to the debate last night and I wish to cross swords with him. Unfortunately, he is not in the chamber at the moment. I am disappointed with the attitude of the honorable senator to this measure, because he is more or less looked upon as the champion, in this chamber, of the present and future development of the Australian Capital Territory, and of Canberra particularly. The plans that Senator McCallum champions will make it possible in the very near future for the Australian Capital Territory to have a population equal to that of Kalgoorlie. The electorate of Kalgoorlie has 31,000 electors, and the rights of the member for that area are not challenged in this Parliament in any way. In the various reports which have been submitted to us. we have been given figures showing the rapid expansion that is expected to take place here within the next five or ten years.
It is only rarely that legislation such as this comes before the Parliament. I believe that this bill would not be before us but for the fact that certain amendments were made to the Northern Territory Representation Act. The Government thought that it had better give a few little sops to Canberra. After all, what does the Government propose to give under this bill? The member for the Australian Capital Territory will be allowed to vote on any proposed law which relates solely to the Australian Capital Territory. He will also be able to vote for the disallowance of a regulation made under an ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory. But one of the fantastic conditions attaching to his right to vote is the fact that it L provided that the Speaker or Deputy Speaker in the House of Representatives shall be the sole judge as to whether the member is entitled to vote on a particular matter. I submit that it is verging on the ridiculous to suggest that his vote should depend on the interpretation given by the Speaker or Deputy Speaker to some particular matter. After all, it is the custom of this Parliament for the majority of members to choose the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. In actual practice, this means that as the Government has the numbers il elects both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, and gives those two officers the right to say whether a member shall be able to vote on a particular matter.
Although the Minister and other speakers have tried to evade the point, I feel that there is a certain amount of party political bias in this measure. We know that ever since the Australian Capital Territory was given representation the highly intelligent residents of Canberra and the Territory have elected either an independent candidate or a member of the Australian Labour Party to represent them. At no time has there been a Liberal member for the Australian Capital Territory, lt would seem that it gives the Government some cause for concern that a group of such highly intelligent people as the residents of the Territory should choose repeatedly some one who does not support the views of the Government. It could even be that the Government is prompted by a certain amount of pique in restricting the powers of the present member because he is not a member of either of the Government parties.
Tributes have been paid both here and in another place to the general character, integrity and ability of Mr. Jim Fraser, the present member for the Australian Capital Territory. I think we all agree with what has been said about him. He has carried out his duties as a member of this Parliament with great dignity and tremendous ability. He is more than adequately equipped to give an opinion on important matters connected with the good government and welfare of the people of Australia, and he should be able to back up those opinions with an effective vote either for or against any matter that may bc before the Parliament.
Senator McCallum said last night that he thought that in this period of transition the extra voting power proposed by the bill is as much as we are entitled to give. He also said -
Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory are by no means fully populated. This city is not yet built. We are still in the half-way stage.
I refer Senator McCallum to section 24 (ii.) of the Commonwealth Constitution which reads -
The number of members to be chosen in each State shall be determined by dividing the number of the people of the State, as shown by the latest statistics of the Commonwealth, by the quota; and if on such division there is a remainder greater than one-half of the quota, one more member shall bc chosen in the State.
Canberra has more than one-half of the quota. If the same number of electors were living in some other part of the Commonwealth and they constituted more than half a quota, they would be entitled to full voting rights in this Parliament, yet throughout this debate the matter of numbers seems to have been the paramount consideration. The Government has been very parsimonious in this matter. The time has come for us to decide to give full voting rights to the member for the Australian Capital Territory. It may be some years before this matter comes before the Parliament again, and the fact that Canberra is increasing rapidly in size and population should at least give the members of this Parliament sufficient confidence in the Territory to know that in the very near future it will reach the numerical quota of other electorates in the Commonwealth.
I support the amendment because this bill is not acceptable to the Opposition. We believe that the measure should be withdrawn and that full voting rights should be given to the member for the Australian Capital Territory. When the history of Canberra is written, this niggardly measure will not be one of its brightest spots. The Government is showing immaturity of outlook in refusing to give full voting rights to the member for the Australian Capital Territory now. It is certainly displaying immaturity when it says, “ We will not give full voting rights to the member for the Australian Capital Territory now; we will not specify at what stage of the Territory’s population growth we will give it; we will consider it at some future date “. 1 emphasize that there is no time like the present, and I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition seeking the withdrawal of the bill. We should decide once and for all that this national capital and the Australian Capital Territory, with a great destiny before them and which have all the problems with which other parts of the Commonwealth are confronted, should have a representative in this Parliament with full status and full prestige. The highly intelligent members of the Australian community who live here are entitled to full voting rights, and I hope that the Government will see its way clear to give those rights through the member for the Australian Capital Territory.
.- The Democratic Labour Party proposes to support the amendment because we believe that it is just. As we said in regard to the representation of the member for the Northern Territory, we believe that there should not be members of Parliament who are less privileged than other members. If it is believed that the Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory is not fully qualified for representation in the National Parliament then no provision for representation should be made until those areas are deemed to be fully qualified. However, a decision having been made that representation shall be given, the members elected for those areas should have the same privileges and qualifications as all other members.
I have not found, in the case of the mother of Parliaments, on which we model our democratic institutions, any parallel to the present situation, in which members are elected to represent certain areas, but are not given the rights and privileges enjoyed by other members. I believe that a mistake was made originally in giving representation that was something less than full representation. I repeat, now that representation has been given, the members concerned should have the same rights in all respects as other honorable members.
I realize that the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory are not the only minorities to which due representation is not given. We have already considered to-day the matter of the re-appointment of the Constitution Review Committee. The Democratic Labour Party has no representation on the committee, but I did not hear any protest about that. After all, if it is to be fully representative of the Parliament, the Democratic Labour Party should be represented on it.
Some mention has been made of the situation in the United States of America. That country refused representation to Alaska and Hawaii until they could be given full representation in the national parliament. I believe that that should have been the attitude here, but, representation having been granted, the members for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory should have the rights and privileges of other members. [ am not one bit impressed by the numerical argument. There are scores of instances in which certain areas have less representation in the Parliament than have other areas. In my own case, it was necessary for the party to which I belong to poll 200,000 votes in Victoria to get one member here. The State of Tasmania contains, I am told, about 180,000 electors. Those electors have fifteen representatives in this Parliament, but the 200,000 electors who voted for the Democratic Labour Party in Victoria have only one representative. In the face of such an example, can the Government logically put up an argument against giving full voting power to some members on the ground that the numbers they represent are not as great as they ought to be? In the case that I cited, and in other cases also, there is numerical inequality of a gross kind.
– The “ Commos “ have a few voters. Do you think that they should have a representative here?
– I do not think they have sufficient supporters to warrant that. I must say that I am surprised to find Senator Marriott putting in a good word for the Communist Party. T repeat, the Democratic Labour Party sees no reason at all why this amendment should not be carried into effect. We believe that it would be no more than an elementary act of justice, and we support it on the ground that minorities are entitled to representation.
– I should like to refer to one or two matters while they are still fresh in my mind, and to answer some queries raised by the last three speakers.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Anderson). - 1 take it that the Minister is not closing the debate?
– No. I should just like to refer to certain matters while they are still fresh in my mind. Senator O’Byrne said that the decision as to whether a matter dealt with in another place concerned the member for the Australian Capital Territory was entirely in the hands of the Speaker. That is, of course, not so. If the honorable senator will read paragraph (b) of proposed new sub-section 2a he will find that if objection is taken to the ruling of the Speaker or Chairman, the matter will be decided by the House of Representatives, or the House of Representatives sitting as a Committee of the Whole.
– The Speaker is usually a member of the Government!
– 1 am glad that the honorable senator mentioned that because I am reminded that what he proposes could give the member for the Territory a casting vote in the election of the Speaker. If the numbers on each side were equal - and they have certainly been close on occasions - the single vote of the representative of a comparatively small number of voters could decide who should have the responsibility of controlling the House of Representatives. It is useless for Opposition members to shake their heads. They cannot deny that the amendment would give the, member for the Territory, though sent here by only a comparatively small number of Australian voters, a commanding vote in the Parliament. I am glad that Senator O’Byrne has raised the point, because it is of interest.
The location of the Territory is such that it is not expected that its numbers will equal those in the average Australian electorate for another twelve or fifteen years. Senator Aylett said that 40 years ago when Australia’s population was only half what it is now, Tasmania had five representatives in this Parliament, each representing about as many people as there now are in the Territory. I remind him that to-day Australia has a population of 10,000,000. The honorable senator quite overlooked the fact that 12,000 Tasmanians are worth 50,000 mainlanders at any time. I cannot understand his overlooking that point. I repeat that 12,000 Tasmanians are equal to at least 50.000 residents of the north island, as we call it.
The only other point with which I wished to deal was one raised by Senator McManus. The honorable senator referred to the fact that 180,000 people in Tasmania had fifteen representatives in this Parliament. Any such argument disregards the basis on which Tasmania agreed to federate. Tasmania would not agree to federate with the north island until such time as it had the same number of representatives in the Senate as each of the other States. Irrespective of their population, all States have equal representation in this chamber. It was upon that basis that the smaller States agreed to federate, and they will never depart from it. At no time will they be willing to be ruled by the population of Sydney or of Melbourne.
The 180,000 electors of Tasmania have five representatives in the House of Representatives. That works out at an average of 36,000 people for each electorate. I agree that that number is small in comparison with the population of some of the mainland electorates, but it is nearly double the population of the Australian Capital Territory, in which there are 22,000 electors. I think it is quite ridiculous to advance the argument that the 180,000 electors of Tasmania have as many as fifteen representatives in Parliament. It disregards the fact that Tasmania is entitled to ten senators and that it will always be represented by that number of senators or by the same number of senators as represent the other States. I just wanted to clear up those points while they were fresh in my mind and before any other honorable senator rose to speak.
.- For all the good that the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) has done, he might just as well have remained in his seat. He did make one contribution to the debate which has been long overdue - that is, his assessment of the relative worth of Tasmanians and the people of the north island, as he called it. He said, I think, that 20,000 Tasmanians were worth 50,000 mainlanders.
– I said 12,000 Tasmanians. Do not disrate us.
– I want to get it right, because, when all is said and done, it is on record. The Minister said that 12,000 Tasmanians were worth 50,000 mainlanders.
– In my estimation.
– Thank you very much. As I said earlier, the Minister might just as well have remained where he was, because to my mind he did not effectively answer any of the arguments that had been advanced. I think it would have been much better if he had let his memory fade before trying to reply.
I have not risen to devote much time to a discussion of the measure but, as Senator McManus did, to aline myself with other honorable senators on what has become a point of principle. I feel that the Australian Capital Territory has reached the stage where it is entitled not only to representation in the National Parliament but to full representation, and that the elected member is entitled to full voting rights. All the arguments to the contrary to which we have listened have been quite weak. To defend a position that is rapidly becoming worse is absolute conservatism. It is all very well for the Government to say that, if it is in office at the relevant time, it will accord full voting rights to the member for the Australian Capital Territory when the number of electors reaches a certain point. If the country continues to grow, many other electorates in Australia will grow proportionately, too. It is also obvious, of course, that, proportionately, other electorates will dwindle.
It is all very well for Senator Henty to say that on an average there are nearly twice as many people in a Tasmanian electorate as there are in the Australian Capital Territory, and to compare the qualities of the people of Tasmania with those of the people of the north island. He said that there are only 22,000 electors in the Territory but that there are 36,000 on an average in the Tasmanian electorates. But it is not a question of comparing the number of electors in the Territory with those in the average Tasmanian electorate.
Let us consider the size of other electorates. In the electorate of Kalgoorlie there are only 31,000 electors, and I suggest that all the evidence at our disposal shows that that number will not rise in the same proportion as the number of electors in the Australian Capital Territory. On the other hand, the number of electors in other great cities of Australia will rise in greater proportion. So I do not think the matter resolves itself into a question of numbers. If a case could be stated on the basis of numbers, it would favour the Territory.
The Australian Capital Territory is a most important part of Australia. It is a most unusual part, a part having great responsibilities. Does the Government want the city of Canberra to become a completely Public Service city with the result that it will be considered dangerous for the member for the Territory to exercise a vote in the Parliament? I think we must visualize Canberra as it will be in the days to come - not a great Public Service city but a city having the industries that naturally accompany an increase of population. I joined the Senate Select Committee on Canberra only at the beginning of this session. I am interested in the development of this city. But I think one of the most important aspects of its development should be that its elected member has the same status as any other member of the Parliament.
Senator Henty has advanced the somewhat extraordinary argument that if the member for the Territory had full voting rights he would be able to affect the election of a Speaker. Of course he would be able to do that. That would follow automatically. The member for the Australian Capital Territory, whoever he is, will probably always be a member of a political party, just as will the member for the Northern Territory. He could belong to either major party, but to-day he happens to be a member of the Australian Labour Party and I think a member of the Labour Party will continue to represent this electorate as long as the party is able to put forward a competent man.
– He might be an independent candidate.
– That is always possible. But even an independent candidate, if elected, should not be completely debarred from representing an electorate of 22,000 people.
– Should he have the right to elect a Speaker?
– Independents are not to be debarred altogether. I should say that the greater the number of electors in the electorate the lesser would be the chance of an independent candidate being elected to represent it.
The amendment proposed by the Opposition is more than just an amendment; it has to do with something that is fundamental in the development, not only of Canberra, but of Australia as a whole. Just as strongly as I have other reasons for believing that the member for the Northern Territory should have full voting rights so do 1 believe that the member for the Australian Capital Territory should have full voting rights. The arguments in favour of the giving of such rights to the member for the Territory outweigh arguments in opposition to it. Even though my action will not do any good, I should like to associate myself with the amendment. I know the Government will not accept the amendment. There is no doubt that 90 per cent, of the reasoning advanced in opposition to it is of a political nature. I do not think there is any doubt that, if a Liberal man happened to be representing the Territory, there would be a much better chance for him to be accorded full voting rights.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 -
Section six of the Australian Capital Territory Representation Act 1948-1949 is amended -
by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words “ the next succeeding subsection “ and inserting in their stead the words “ this section “;
by omitting sub-section (2.) and inserting in its stead the following subsections: - “ (2.) The member representing the Australian Capital Territory may vote -
on any question arising in the House of Representatives, or in the House of Representatives sitting as a Committee of the Whole,on or in connexion with a proposed law that is determined, in accordance with the next succeeding subsection, to a proposed law that relates solely to the Australian Capital Territory;
on any motion for the disallowance of an Ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory and on any amendment of such a motion;
on any motion for the disallowance of a regulation made under an Ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory and on any amendment of such a motion; and
on any motion for the disallowance of a modification or variation of the plan of lay-out of the city of Canberra referred to in section twelve a of the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910-1955 and on any amendment of such a motion. “ (2a.) For the purpose of paragraph (a) of the last preceding sub-section, the question whether a proposed law is one that relates solely to the Australian Capital Territory shall be determined -
by a ruling of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or, in relation to proceedings in the House of Representatives sitting as a Committee of the Whole, by a ruling of the Chairman of Committees of the House of Representatives; or
if objection is taken to the ruling of the Speaker or of the Chairman, by the House of Representatives or the House of Representatives sitting as a Committee of the Whole, as the case may be.”; and
by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section: - “ (6.) In this section -
references to the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be read as including references to any member of the House of Representatives for the time being acting as Speaker or occupying the Chair as Deputy Speaker; and
references to the Chairman of Committees of the House of Representatives shall be read as including references to any member of the House of Representatives for the time being acting as Temporary Chairman of Committees.”.
. -I have circulated an amendment on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) and I propose to move it on his behalf. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned that be would move an amendment in committee if the Government would not accept the amendment that was moved during the second-reading stage. I move -
Leave out clause 3, insert - “ 3. Section six of the Australian Capital Territory Representation Act 1948-1949 is amended -
by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words ‘ subject to the next succeeding sub-section, ‘;
by omitting from sub-section (1.) the word not ‘; and
by omitting sub-sections (2.), (3.), (4.) and (5.).”.
I hope the amendment will be accepted, because it is designed to give full voting rights to the member for the Australian Capital Territory, irrespective of whether he be a Liberal or a Labour man. If the amendment were accepted, section 6 of the act would be read, in part -
The member representing the Australian Capital Territory shall be entitled to vote on any question arising in the House of Representatives. 1 shall not labour the point, because all the arguments were advanced during the course of the second-reading debate.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator O’Flaherty’s amendment) be left out.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I move-
After paragraph (b), insert the following paragraphs: - “ (ba) by adding at the end of sub-section (3.) the words ‘ except where there is before the House a question or motion on which the member representing the Australian Capital Territory may vote ‘; “ (bb) by adding at the end of sub-section (4.) the words ‘ but may vote at the election of the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees of the House of Representatives ‘; and “.
Reference to section6 of the principal act will indicate to honorable senators the purpose of this amendment, which is proposed because my previous amendment has been negatived. The proposed new paragraphs speak for themselves.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.40 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 30th April (vide page 1146), on motion by Senator Henty -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The bill before the Senate amends the Customs Act 1901-1957. It differs in some respects from many measures that come before the Senate from time to time. It has no party political significance - none at all. Nor has it any real economic significance. Therefore, the measure can be, I contend, considered free from a party political approach.
Since the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henry) delivered his second-reading speech, I have had an opportunity to make a fairly close scrutiny of the changes proposed by the bill. First, I should like to commend both the Minister and the Department of Customs and Excise for their efforts to streamline the administration. This is the paramount purpose of the bill. As you know. Mr. President, this department is charged with the responsibility of safeguarding the revenue and, at the same time, to make every endeavour to simplify the procedure and to facilitate the efficient handling of the hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of goods that are imported into Australia. The manner in which the department has been administered for many years has given satisfaction to both? the public and the Government. Over long years, there has really been very little criticism by the agents who act for commercial interests concerning the general administration of the Customs Act. I feel that this measure corrects outmoded methods of procedure and that it will thus help the department to cope with changed conditions. 1 do not intend to refer in detail to the various provisions of the bill, because, the Minister has already done so concisely and clearly in his second-reading speech. The Opposition does not oppose any of the proposals contained in the bill; we believe it to be necessary. Senator Wright will probably want to address himself to the question of the human rights, or the common rights of the people. I content myself by saying that I believe that the department has got on fairly well with the public in relation to many situations that have arisen over the years.
The bill specifies the grounds on which a licence may be cancelled, and it confers on an agent whose licence has been cancelled or suspended a right of appeal to a supreme court against such cancellation or suspension. At the present time, the Collectors of Customs in the various States have the right to cancel a licence if they think fit. I think that in this connexion the bill goes as far as it could be reasonably expected to go in the public interest. It will be appreciated that when people breach the customs laws, very often the Customs authorities have to take action on the spot which, at first sight, may appear to be fairly drastic. However, I do not know of any instances that have occurred for many years past in which action taken by the customs authorities has been considered unjust or unfair. The department has a very good record in its dealings with the public. As I have said, this bill not only streamlines the administration of the Department of Customs and Excise; it also makes for more economical administration of the department and facilitates the handling of many millions of pounds’ worth of imports by the Customs authorities in the various ports of Australia. 1 referred earlier to changed conditions. As the Minister has pointed out, the provisions of the existing legislation relating to the movement of customable goods within Australia are based primarily on the movement of these goods between ports by ship. As we know, in the early days practically all of the movement of goods was handled by ship. This bill facilitates administration in regard to the control of the movement of goods by road, air and rail. The measure simplifies the procedure in that connexion. The manner in which this measure simplifies administration will be greatly to the advantage of all concerned. Having considered all of the provisions of the bill very thoroughly, I am convinced that they have received minute consideration by the depart- ment. 1 believe that all of the changes the measure effects are fully justified. The Opposition will facilitate the passage of the measure.
.- Mr. President, this is a bill of quite some significance and importance, and it gives me unusual pleasure to support it with warm approval. I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to my colleague from Tasmania, the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty), for introducing this measure. From time to time, as a result of his administrative experience, the Minister has introduced amendments to the customs and excise legislation designed to simplify procedure. Although these matters may appear to us to be small, they are of very great importance to the people, as the provisions of this legislation govern their contributions to the revenue. The original Customs Act, which operated for many years, was one of the most important fiscal measures of this Federal Parliament. That is not surprising when we remind ourselves that it contained 277 sections. The first aspect of the matter that encourages my support so warmly is that it is evident that both the Minister and his department have made a very close and comprehensive scrutiny of the legislation. Some of the original provisions are improved and simplified by this bill, whilst the dead wood is being removed altogether. The mere fact that that process is undertaken and that legislation of such a comprehensive nature is reviewed in that way should give the Senate considerable encouragement. With complicated legislation such as this, and with legislation that is uninteresting except to those who have to administer it, we are inclined just to build on the old stems until the structure becomes altogether unwieldy.
The measure that is before the Senate to-night is evidence of the fact that it has been discerned that many procedures which were appropriate 40 years ago are capable of improvement. The first relates to the control .of vehicles in which goods subject to supervision by the customs authorities are to be transported. The existing legislation requires that each one of those vehicles is to be licensed and to be identified by a number plate issued by the Department of Customs and Excise. As the Minister has pointed out, the operation of a system of that sort, involving the identification of every vehicle authorized to carry goods under the control of the customs authorities, entails a good deal of work and expense. The bill proposes to substitute for that system, a system of personal licensing, so that the owner of the vehicle shall be licensed. The obligation imposed on him by his acceptance of such a licence is that he will be responsible for all vehicles under his control. The change will eliminate the need to identify vehicles, the owner or the controller of the business concerned being held responsible for conformity with the Customs Act. That is only one of the instances in which the procedures have been simplified.
The main reason why 1 have risen to speak, Mr. President, is to say how warmly I approve of that part of the bill which will give to customs agents what 1 think is an admirable statement of rights, rights that will be protected by the law courts in the final result, even though it will be necessary for agents to operate under administrative licences issued by the Department of Customs and Excise. The position at present, as I understand it, is that a customs agent is required to obtain a licence, which may be issued by a collector. Certain conditions are laid down in the regulations. As I read the regulations, the licence is liable to cancellation or suspension at the instance of a collector, and I think that the grounds of cancellation or suspension are nowhere stated specifically, either in the existing act or in the regulations. If an agent thinks that he has been the victim of an injustice in being deprived of his licence, whereby his livelihood - that is the important point - has been removed, the only appeal at present is to the Minister. While we place real trust in a Minister under our system of government, we must recognize that, after all, there is always a mutual confidence between the Minister and his department. Experience shows that the system whereby a Minister is the final tribunal of appeal, is not a satisfactory one. Such a system does not give the confidence that a system of judicial appeals affords. The measure before the Senate to-night proposes to remove that system.
First of all, as I understand, it is proposed to entrust only to the comptroller the right to cancel or revoke a licence. The bill requires that, before such cancellation can become effective, the charge against the agent concerned shall be investigated by a committee to be appointed under the bill. That committee is to be of a desirable form. Its chairman is to be a judicial magistrate, and the two other members are to be, on the one hand, a nominee of the Department of Customs and Excise, and on the other, a nominee of the association to which the customs agent belongs. It can therefore be seen that the committee will bring practical experience to bear in considering the matters that come before it. The fact that a judicial officer will be sitting as the chairman is a guarantee that justice ordinarily will be done by the committee.
In addition, Mr. President, the bill provides that revocation of a licence can only be effected on grounds that are set out in the legislation. Revocation is not left to the unfettered discretion of the committee if, in its opinion, an agent has committed an indiscretion. An agent may have his licence revoked only if certain prescribed conditions are contravened - for instance, if he has committed an offence against the Customs Act; if he has been convicted of an offence against Commonwealth or State law punishable by imprisonment for one year or more; if he is an undischarged bankrupt; if he has made a false and misleading statement in his application for a licence; or if he has been guilty of conduct which is an abuse of the rights and privileges arising from his licence thus showing him to be unfit to continue to be licensed. It is the specification of those grounds upon which an agent’s licence may be revoked that is his legal guarantee of justice according to the law. It is only if he contravenes those provisions, so justly laid down, that he may be deprived of his licence.
The bill goes one step further, and in my submission it is a very proper step to take. If, after consideration of the matter, the committee recommends to the Minister that a licence shall be cancelled, and the Minister, in conformity with the recommendation, cancels the licence, the customs agent if he is still aggrieved, has an avenue of appeal - I think it is very proper that he should be limited to one appeal - to a single judge of a State Supreme Court. The decision of that judge is final in the matter. This provides a guarantee against injustice in the odd case in which an error is made and the licence of a customs agent is cancelled wrongly, even though it is cancelled by the Minister on the recommendation of the committee. The agent is given the right to appeal to a court of justice. My theme, Mr. President, which encourages such a warm welcome to this bill, is this: Woe unto the country that destroys or subtracts from its judicial system. In it finally resides the security of the individual man and woman when confronted by authority. I believe that this bill provides the procedure whereby the licence of the customs agent is protected. As Senator Courtice says, it is very necessary, in connexion with customs revenue, with all its complexities and all the incentives there .are for evasion, to be firm; but it is equally needful that you should be fair according to law.
– There have been very few mistakes made in the 50 years up to now.
– And I think this amending bill deserves our warm support because it provides for judicial appeal finally in the case of any customs agent who believes that the cancellation of his licence has exposed him to injustice.
I wish to say only one thing more. Not only do I appreciate the structure of this protection of the individual licensee’s right in the setting of the Customs Bill, but I also believe it has significance. If, as I earnestly hope ft will be, it is the forerunner of the pattern by which parallel legislation in the federal sphere is to be created in future, it will be of great significance.
, with his long experience in business matters in Tasmania, has brought useful light to bear on customs procedures.
The bill goes a certain distance. It appears to deal mainly with procedures relating to goods. It adapts a number of forms; it eliminates others, and, by and large, I am sure it will receive the approval of the Australian business community which has contact with the Customs Department. But I wish to make some observations on matters with which the bill does not deal. Good and all as the bill is, I feel that some attention should be given to procedures relating to persons. The measure deals mainly with the movement of goods, but it should be remembered that Australia is now becoming a very important country internationally. A number of airlines have been opened up within the last few years, and there has been a record flood of something like 100,000 migrants a year for a number of years. Every air passenger and every migrants is a person affected by the customs law, and I ask the Minister for Customs and Excise one or two questions. First, has the procedure for the handling of these persons been streamlined and improved? Secondly, is there not an opportunity for the Minister seriously to consider improving the procedures relating to the customs liabilities of persons entering and leaving Australia?
I know that the Minister is interested in this and, from an answer he was good enough to give to me in the Senate recently, I know that he is developing a line of thought at the present time for the quick handling in Sydney of arrivals from overseas. But I invite his attention to section 19 of the Customs Act which requires that every wharf owner and every airport owner shall provide, to the satisfaction of the Collector of Customs, suitable office accommodation on his wharf, or at his airport, for the exclusive use of officers employed at the wharf or the airport. It also requires the wharf owner or airport owner to provide such shed accommodation for the protection of goods as the Minister may, in writing, declare to be requisite. I repeat that the law lays it down that the wharf owner or airport owner shall provide, to the satisfaction of the collector - which of course means to the satisfaction of the Minister - suitable office accommodation; and I ask the Minister to carry out that duty which the law places upon him and see that the accommodation in which the passengers have to transact customs business is adequate in this modern age.
On that point, it is interesting to observe that there is controversy at the present time, starting in Sydney and moving between Sydney and Melbourne, with regard to a new airport. None other than the Lord Mayor of Sydney fired the first shot when he complained bitterly of the present facilities at the Sydney airport for overseas travellers. Of course, he is rather envious of the fact that, as the Minister for Shipping and Transport explained to us yesterday, approximately £8,000,000 is being spent on a jet airport at Melbourne. It would appear that the outcome of this controversy will be improvements in Sydney and, of course, the magnificent airport in Melbourne. I therefore suggest that the Minister for Customs and Excise bring to the notice of the Minister for Shipping and Tranpsort the responsibility he has for providing suitable accommodation for the customs officers at these airports.
Considering the matter from every angle, it is essential that we have adequate customs office accommodations as well as adequate accommodation for those passengers who have to submit to customs examination. After all, in many instances the airport is the first glimpse that a newcomer, a tourist or traveller gets of Australia; and the impression he gains inthose first few minutes can have a marked influence on his opinion of Australia in general. It was my privilege while accompanying a Parliamentary mission, to be in the international airport at Idlewild in New York. After a very long air journey, it was a great pleasure to enter a large air-conditioned customs office, and to have provided for the purpose of moving one’s baggage about, a little traymobile affair made of wire, and comfortable seats, as well as to be entertained with soft music while waiting for examination by the American customs officials. Although that appears to appeal to the humour of certain of my colleagues, I might say that those things made a lasting impression upon me.
I might say, also, that I did not gain such a favorable impression when arriving in Australia on entering the rather primitive type of office buildings that are available to the Minister’s servants at both the Sydney and Melbourne airports. As I said earlier, I am sure that the position will change very quickly, and I assure the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Paltridge), that it would be a great thing for Australia if up-to-date accommodation, adequate for many years to come, were provided at airports and wharfs for customs officials and the people who must do business with them.
I have only two more observations to make, and they are of a somewhat legal nature. I invite the attention of the Minister to the proposed repeal of section 211 of the act, which is to be effected by clause 26 of the bill. I should like him to say why an arresting officer is no longer to be required to give to the person arrested, as soon as practicable after the arrest, a statement in writing of the reasons for the arrest. I should not have thought that it would be any hardship for an officer to comply with that requirement. It has been the law of the Commonwealth for 50 odd years, and possibly it was the law of the States before that, that a person so arrested is entitled to a statement in writing of the reasons why such action has been taken. I should like the Minister to explain why that obligation is now to be withdrawn.
I also invite the Minister’s attention to clause 25, which adds to section 210 of the act the following sub-section: - (1a.) An officer of Customs or police may, with out warrant, arrest a person if he has reasonable ground for believing, that the person has committed the offence of assaulting an officer in the execution of his duties.
Section 210 provides that an officer of customs or police may, without warrant, arrest any person whom he has reasonable ground for believing is guilty of committing, or attempting to commit, or having been concerned in the commission of, certain offences - smuggling, importing prohibited imports, exporting prohibited exports, and so on. I consider that proposed new sub-section (1a.) gives a rather severe power, to act without warrant, to an officer of customs, or to the police. Therefore, 1 should be glad if the Minister could inform me why that has been done.
In conclusion, 1 congratulate the Minister on the bill, and thank him very much for the steady progress he is making in administering his department - progress which cannot fail to lessen the bother and humbug sometimes experienced by travellers.
– in reply - I thank the Senate for the reception that it has given this bill. The comments which honorable senators have passed upon it are a great tribute to the officers of my department, who have undertaken so much of the work involved in preparing the changes. I should like to take this opportunity of replying to some of the queries that have been raised. First, we have in the department a section known as the Organization and Methods Branch. That section examines all our procedures, together with the various sections of the act, and endeavours to find ways and means of carrying out our task more speedily and with less paper work. I think that the section has been reasonably successful in that regard.
I am very happy about the co-operation that exists between the department and what I may term its customers. The conferences which are held periodically between sections of the department are always attended quite voluntarily, by one or two members of the Customs and Transport Agents’ Association.
If the department proposes doing anything about its regulations, or about the provisions of the act, it invites these people to sit in at the discussions. The practical problems that might arise as a result of alterations are thrashed out between department and public. That co-operation meets with my very warm approval as a businessman. I think that it is the very best way in which to operate.
I thank Senator Wright for his kind remarks. I must say that some of the inspiration for the changes has resulted from his former comments on customs bills. His observations on the subject from time to time have been very helpful indeed. 1 should like to answer the queries raised by Senator Laught. 1 agree wholeheartedly with what he said about accommodation at airports. The airport is our front door. People come here by air from every country, and if they are able to go through customs procedures with the least possible bother they get a very good impression of Australia. In short, it is only good public relations work to provide the necessary facilities and let people see that we are on the job and getting the work done quickly. At the same time, we do not in any way propose to relinquish our control over the entry into this country of goods which are customable, or prohibited. We must always remember that we have the responsibility not only of collecting duties, but also of acting as agents for the Department of Health in respect of quarantine matters, for international narcotics bodies and so on. Those important responsibilities must be discharged. Once that is done, I like to see very speedy handling of people’s goods and luggage, and a high degree of courtesy on the part of our officers. I may say that I have received some very favourable comments indeed from overseas visitors on the courtesy of our officers at airports.
I might mention that at the moment we are undertaking the reorganization of our system at Mascot. We have christened this development, “ Operation Supermarket “, because we intend to re-organize the baggage department for inward passengers in accordance with modern supermarket methods of handling. The goods will come into the middle of the floor, where they are easily accessible. The passenger, thanks to Senator Laught, will have a kind of supermarket trolley so that when he comes off the plane he will be able to wheel his bags and parcels straight over to a long desk in the middle of the hall. A customs officer there will deal immediately with his baggage. After opening and examining bags, he will not do them up again but will pass them along to the next officer for that to be done. Then they will go along to the porter who is waiting to take them away. We believe that that will halve the delay experienced by our customers. We always look on people entering this country as our customers.
The arrangement is working very well, although there are still one or two causes of delay. One of them arises from the fact that we admit to the baggage section representatives of the press and of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. 1 believe - my belief is base on advice from a number of countries - that this is the only country in the world which allows representatives of the press and the broadcasting service to meet passengers as they come off the aircraft and interview them.
– I think you are right.
– I think Australia is the only country that does that, but it is delaying our work unnecessarily.
– You do not deserve any credit for that.
– Well, if we want to speed up our work and to think of the passengers and our reputation, I think we must soon have a look at this question of admitting people to the baggage room, no matter who they are, until the customer is cleared.
– The passengers could easily pass goods to them.
– There are all sorts of things that could happen. We open up people’s baggage. They may quite innocently have things in their baggage that could cause a little trouble. I do not think anybody else should be there to see what happens. Passengers should be interviewed by the press or broadcasting representatives after they pass through the baggage room.
There is also the difficulty that pressmen nominated by certain organizations are allowed in, but the only broadcasting representative admitted is a representative of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I see no reason why, if we allow in certain representatives of the press, we should not admit representatives of all the press associations. I do not see why, if we allow in a representative of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, representatives of the commercial stations should be prohibited from coming in. But if we allowed them all in, we would reach a ridiculous situation. It is that matter that I am examining at the moment. As Operation Supermarket develops, we will have to take steps to see that that position is altered. I place great hopes in this arrangement. If it proves to be successful at Mascot, we intend to introduce it at the other international airports in Australia.
I must say, though, that I am not so happy about the approach by boat. I hope to reorganize very soon the system at present in operation, but I cannot do so without the very close co-operation of the marine boards and the port authorities, which have to provide the facilities for us. Some unnecessary delays occur. It is something we shall look at as soon as the airport position is cleaned up.
Senator Laught raised two matters to which I should like to reply at this stage. He asked why section 211, which requires an officer arresting a person to give him as soon as practicable after arrest a statement in writing of the reason for his arrest, is to be repealed. For a number of years, that section has been observed more in the breach than in the observance. It is the duty of an arresting officer immediately to take a person so detained and lay a charge against him in the police court. That charge can then be given to the person concerned. It was felt that section 21 1 was no longer necessary. We found that similar provisions had been deleted from the Crimes Act 1914-1955, the Fisheries Act 1952-1956, the Pearl Fisheries Act and the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952. Moreover, a similar provision in the Excise Act was repealed last year. I can see no reason why, when we are required under the act to see that a person has a charge laid against him immediately, section 211 should be retained.
Section 210 of the act deals with the power of an officer to arrest without warrant. As my legal knowledge is not very extensive, let me give to the honorable senator information that I have gleaned from the legal officers of the Department of Customs and Excise. Clause 25 of the bill, which seeks to amend section 210, makes provision for an officer of customs or police to arrest a person without warrant if he has reasonable grounds for believing that that person has committed the offence of assaulting an officer in the execution of his duties under the Customs Act. Last year, the Parliament approved the conferring of like powers on an officer of customs or police when acting under the Excise Act - namely, to arrest a person without warrant if he has reasonable ground for believing that that person lias committed the offence of assaulting an officer in the exercise of his duties under the Excise Act.
Let me pause there to give the Senate an example of what can happen. Perhaps at night time a member of the crew of a vessel may walk down the wharf carrying a bag. A preventive officer may ask him to allow him to look at the bag. That crew member may object to having his bag or parcel examined and eventually assault that officer, and then run back to the ship. He might be one of an Asian crew of 50 men. It would be very difficult for the officer concerned to board the boat and recognize the man who assaulted him. Unless the proposed provision were included in the act. another customs officer who happened to be on the scene at the same time would be in difficulty in arresting that crew member there and then. It is now proposed that that other customs officer shall be able to arrest that person there and then. That kind of thing can happen. In fact the work of a preventive officer is very interesting, because of the variety of things that can happen.
The information furnished to me by the department reveals that the power of a private person to arrest another without warrant is limited, in the absence of any statutory provision, to three classes of cases - namely, where treason or a felony has actually been committed or attempted, where there is immediate danger of treason or a felony being committed, and where a breach of the peace has been actually committed or is reasonably apprehended. The offences created by the Customs Act are neither treason nor felonies. Consequently, unless express power of arrest is conferred on an officer of customs by the Customs Act. the only cases in which an officer of customs can arrest a person without warrant is where a breach of the peace is reasonably apprehended.
A breach of the peace which justifies an arrest without warrant is an assault or a wrongful act causing public alarm. In the absence of special statutory provisions, the law allows the arrest, without warrant, of a person who has caused a breach of the pence only if the breach of the peace occurs in the presence of the p<*?««i makins the arrest and if the arrest is made while the breach is still continuing or at a time when there is reasonable ground for believing that the breach will be renewed, or in the course of chasing the offender immediately after the breach occurred.
Where an offence is committed but the offence is not of such a nature as to justify the arrest of the offender without warrant, the only way in which a customs officer can secure the apprehension of the offender is to lay an information before a justice who will issue a warrant, or to report the matter to a person who has had power conferred on him to make an arrest without warrant. However, any such procedure involves delay which, in many cases, allows the offender to escape.
I think that what I have said covers the points raised by Senator Laught. There is only one other thing I should like to say to the Senate, and I do not think it is without significance. On many occasions honorable senators make comprehensive suggestions during their speeches. No doubt they often wonder whether those suggestions are noted. I was most interested to see a direction which went out from the ComptrollerGeneral to all collectors of customs in all States, dealing with a matter which was raised in the Senate last year. I shall read extracts from the direction, because I think the Senate will find them interesting. The comptroller said -
In the course of the debate, it was pointed out by the Minister that, where a person is required to account for goods to the satisfaction of a collector, the collector cannot unfairly or capriciously refuse to be satisfied if evidence which could cause a reasonable person to be satisfied is produced.
The direction goes on to quote a judgment by Mr. Justice Kitto, who, in commenting on the expression “ accounted for to the satisfaction of the collector “ stated -
The intention obviously is that the collector shall not be bound by any rigid rules, but shall apply his mind to the facts of the individual case, and form a reasonable judgment upon them in th? light of his knowledge of the conditions surrounding the loading and unloading of ships, both abroad and in this country, including, no doubt, the circumstances affecting the likelihood of error in the compilation of inward manifests.
The comptroller went on to say -
The above comments are furnished for information and guidance. It is desired to emphasize that collectors should not he harsh in their judgment of rases because ‘«- the court has upheld the department’s interpretation of section 149. Rather would it be preferable for the collector to take a more liberal view in those cases where it is likely that by calling up the duty, harsh treatment of the shipping companies would be alleged.
I thought I should read those extracts to the Senate, because the direction stems from matters raised in this chamber. It indicates that everything that is said in this Senate which is of significance is noted by the officers concerned and passed on to those persons to whom it will be a guide. 1 think that should make honorable senators feel that the suggestions they make in the Senate do not pass over the heads of departmental officials, but are noted and put into operation. I thank the Senate for its reception of the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- There are one or two matters to which I should like to make reference. Clause 4 of the bill gives a definition of “ genuine invoice “. It will be seen from the clause that the expression refers to an invoice in respect of the goods furnished as prescribed and containing such particulars and information as are prescribed. The duty of prescribing the method of furnishing the invoice and also of prescribing the particulars and information that it must contain is left to the regulation-making authority. The extent of that power is quite obvious. I expect that that provision is not escapable, but I do not interpret it as in any way enabling the regulations to form a judgment as to what is a genuine invoice. 1 should have thought that the particulars and information that would make an invoice suffice for customs purposes were capable of statement in the bill. I should have thought that the necessity to state origin, value, name of consignee and consignor, and any other relative particulars, could have been specified in the bill. However, I do not attach great significance to that point.
The next clause to which 1 wish to refer is clause 6, which proposes a new section
A licence granted under this section is subject to such conditions as are prescribed . . .
That is to say, it is subject to conditions framed under the regulations. We have some supervision over them. But the subsection goes on to say -
That gives to a collector issuing a licence the power to write into the licence such conditions as he thinks fit. That is a power which I think should be subject to some supervision, especially when we look at clause 8 of the bill, which proposes new section 23. The proposed new section provides that if the holder of a licence contravenes any of the conditions to which the licence is subject the comptroller may cancel the licence.
The other matter to which I wish to refer concerns customs agents licences, which are dealt with in clause 24. It will be observed that sub-sections (3.) (4.) and (5.) of proposed new section 183a deal with the question of security. Under the proposed new section, security could be required in an amount fixed by regulation. If we look at sub-section (9.), we see that the regulation may discriminate and prescribe different amounts and different fees in respect of different classes of applicants or customs agents. The present regulations specify the amount of security. 1 think that in one case the security is specified as £2,000 and in the other case as £500. I refer to this matter only because I think it is a pity that power is to be reserved to the regulationmaking authority to prescribe such amounts as it thinks fit for the security that an agent must give.
I pass by the proposed new section 183 b. At first perusal, I thought it left an option to the comptroller to submit a complaintto the committee with regard to a customs agent’s licence, but, on further perusal, I feel that the proper interpretation of the provision is that before a licence can be suspended or cancelled, there must be a reference to the committee. I mention that only because in my discussions with the Minister I adverted to it. However, after further perusal I am satisfied that before a licence can be cancelled, the committee must be invoked.
– Does that apply to a suspension?
– Not to a suspension, no. After suspension, but before cancellation, the matter must go to the committee. Having approved this provision so warily in principle, I am left, after an examination of the bill, with the thought that it does not ensure full justice in all instances. Although clause 183c. gives to a customs agent the right of appeal to a Supreme Court, he may exercise that right of appeal only in the case of the suspension or revocation of an existing licence. Clause I 83a. (2.) is in these terms - (2.) A Collector may refuse an application for a licence if, in his opinion, the applicant is not a fit and proper person to be licensed as a customs agent.
From my reading of the clause, I conclude that an applicant for a licence as a customs agent has no right of appeal, if his application is refused, to a judge of the Supreme Court. 1 take some pleasure in focussing attention on this aspect of the bill because 1 know that the department will discuss with the organization representing customs agents any proposed amendments to the legislation. Naturally, that organization is concerned to protect the interests of its members, and is not concerned to preserve that free right of entry into the organization which creates further competitors for the existing members.
While I do not aver that any person who is refused a customs agent’s licence should have a right of appeal to a judge of the Supreme Court, I think, prima facie, that he should. I know that certain administrative circumstances may compel the Collector to refuse to licence more than five customs agents to operate in any one port, and an appeal against any such decision of the Collector would not be appropriate, but the person whose application for a licence is refused on the ground that he is not a fit and proper person to hold such a licence, should have the right of appeal to a judge.
Having regard to what the Minister has so thoughtfully said, this and the other matters that warrant consideration may be left to him.
– I thank Senator Wright for his suggestions. Although I have not yet had the opportunity of examining them fully, I shall do so without delay. Perhaps an appeal to a committee, such as the organization now in existence, by an applicant who has been refused a licence on the ground that he is not a fit and proper person to hold a licence, would meet the case. However, I shall examine that matter more closely.
As to his remarks regarding genuine invoices, I think that the reason why that term is used in the regulations is because there are so many kinds of trade and so many kinds of invoices.
– The Collector is a pretty good judge in such matters.
– That is so. There is nothing new in customs affairs. Recently, a book dealing with seven centuries of smuggling was lent to me. That book stated that 500 years ago the Venetians were the foremost traders with the British Isles. They would appropriate a sum of money each year to be paid to the admiral of the state ships to disperse among his captains who, in turn, would use it to soften the British customs officials in their dealings with the Venetians, and thus enable the captains to write down the value of the goods on their invoices. I repeat - there is nothing new in customs affairs.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed (vide page 1235).
– I move -
Leave out all words after “ That “, insert “ the bill be withdrawn and redrafted with a view to providing that without reduction of the amounts provided under this bill, an amount of money not less than the full proceeds of the petrol and diesel fuel taxes shall be granted to the States for expenditure by the States, municipalities and shires on or in connection with roads “.
I shall deal later with the precise terms of the proposed amendment to the bill. At this stage I merely wish to state that the Opposition feels impelled to direct the attention of the Senate to the remissness of the Government in dealing with this important matter. We hope that supporters of the Government will try to influence their leaders to act in a manner more in keeping with their election promises. Any honorable senator who examines this bill and then casts his mind back to the build-up that preceded its presentation, particularly prior to the last election, will be filled with keen disappointment because, in spite of the honeyed words of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), and the press notices that this matter has received, we are still a long way from our aim of a national roads scheme.
Having in mind the importance of this matter and the constant demands for a national roads scheme that would result in the improvement of all roads in Australia, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), during the election campaign, stated that if returned to office the Government would convene a meeting of all interested bodies with the object of implementing a national roads scheme. That conference was held on 12th and 13th February last in the Albert Hall, Canberra. A very representative gathering attended. If I remember correctly, State Ministers, representatives of road safety organizations and other bodies vitally interested in this important matter were present. I concede immediately that many varying opinions would be advanced by the conglomeration of people from al! walks of life and with all manner of interests in so many phases of road transport who attended the conference. The Government would also receive a great deal of goodwill for its action in calling the conference.
That was the climax to the discussions that have taken place, but this bill is the anti-climax. When I heard the Prime Minister’s policy speech I thought that at long last something would be done to focus the attention of the Government on this problem. The whole crux of this bill is the question of the amount of finance that the Government believes should be put into roads and the amount of money that we believe should be put into roads. There are one or two other aspects concerning the formula. Surely, it becomes obvious that the State governments, with their long experience in building roads, possess the know-how, and the requisite materials and man-power. Much of the latter, particularly unskilled labour, is now unemployed. The only thing lacking is money, which can only be provided by the
Commonwealth, not by the State governments. The provisions of this bill are disappointing, not only by reason of the things I have already said, but also because of the press build-up when the first announcement was made that extra money was going to be spent on roads. In the Minister’s second-reading speech all sort of glowing terms are used, such as “ a new era for roads “. lt is stated that this new era will come about if the States fall into line with the Commonwealth.
I intend to comment on only three points in the bill, and to leave it at that; because, as I know there is keen interest in the measure on both sides of the chamber, other points will be dealt with adequately by following speakers. The first point to which I shall direct my attention - it is the basis of the Opposition’s amendment - is the question of the proceeds of the tax on petrol and dieseline being paid into Consolidated Revenue and the making of payments to the States from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for roads purposes. My second point relates to matching contributions. No one knows where we are going to finish up in that respect. Thirdly, I shall refer to the amended formula.
During his speech, the Minister stated that the States will be permitted to spend money on research into problems connected with road construction and maintenance. He then went on to refer to the fact that the amount of money to be provided for roads under this legislation will not be related to the petrol tax. At that stage, both Senator Wright and I interjected, and the Minister seemed to be perturbed by our interjections. He said -
Finally, it will no doubt have been observed by honorable senators that the amounts of money to be provided for roads under this legislation are in no way related to the revenues that the Commonwealth may obtain from taxes on petrol and other motor fuels. All of us are familiar with the claim that since petrol taxation is paid by motorists the whole of the proceeds of petrol taxation should be spent on roads. However, no Commonwealth Government has ever accepted (his claim. The Labour Government which preceded us resisted it just as steadily as we have done. Even as an argument, the claim is defective. Since a very large part of the petrol which bears tax - probably much more than half of the total consumption - is used in commercial and industrial transportation, we can fairly assume that much of the petrol taxation is passed on in transport charges or in the prices of goods and hence is paid not by the motorists as such but by the public at large.
I suggest, Mr. Deputy President, that if that statement is analysed we see that it applies to any tax at all. Surely, the Minister does not think that sales tax, which this Government has imposed with a very heavy hand, is not added to the cost structure and so ultimately is borne by the customer. Indeed, nobody pretends otherwise. This applies also in relation to the pay-roll tax, which is being progressively reduced. I do not think that the argument used by the Minister has anything at all to do with the case. The Minister then directed his attention to the other side of the question, when he said -
Apart from this, it is an unsound practice to allocate the proceeds of any one tax for one particular class of expenditure.
I suggest that in this instance we are dealing with a particular class of expenditure, namely, expenditure that has to do with road transport. I do not agree with that generalization. If the Minister looks back over legislative enactments, he will find that from time to time moneys raised from taxation imposed on certain sections of the community have been earmarked for the particular purposes of such sections.
If we look at the history of this legislation we see that Western Australia is adversely affected by this bill. There is very little doubt that the legislation was introduced originally for the purpose of obtaining taxation revenue from road users and applying the full amount of that revenue for roads purposes. Prior to 1926, the Commonwealth imposed taxation at the rate of Id. a gallon on petrol to provide the States with money for roads. It is interesting to note that whereas to-night we are protesting against this legislation on behalf of Western Australia, it was primarily to assist that State and South Australia that the original legislation was introduced. Whereas taxation at the rate of 3d. a gallon was envisaged initially by those States, the rate now imposed by the Commonwealth is 11+d. a gallon.
Both Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and the Commonwealth Government threatened Western Australia with High Court action to prevent that State from imposing the tax, I understand that the case never went to court, but out of the turmoil an agreement was reached under which the Commonwealth itself would levy a special tax to provide money for roads. The Bruce-Page Government was then in office in the Commonwealth sphere. When we look at some of the things that were said in 1926 by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who is still a member of this Parliament, it is clear that it was the intention of the legislature of those days to apply the whole of the proceeds of petrol taxation to roads. Sir Earle Page said, in 1926, according to the “ Hansard “ report -
It is impossible to know what the State governments will do in the future, for they have already changed their ground so often. In these circumstances, the Government has decided to proceed with its policy, and will impose only sufficient taxation to meet the obligation it has incurred.
That obligation was to give £20,000,000 to the States for the purposes of roads. The right honorable gentleman later made this statement -
The State governments, lacking the power to impose customs duties, are unable to effectively reach all road users. The Commonwealth, therefore, is co-operating with the States in a national roads policy, and will impose special customs duties which will be hypothecated for road construction. The imposition of these duties at the source will ultimately result in the road users paying the special tax proportionately to their use of the roads.
Viscount Bruce, who was then Mr. Bruce - stated -
The Government proposes to make available to the States a sum of £20,000,000 spread over a period of ten years, such amount to be provided out of the revenue derived by the Commonwealth from taxation to be collected from motor users through the Customs Department.
I suggest that any fair-minded person on examining those statements would conclude that no construction could be put on them other than that the Western Australian and South Australian Governments intended to raise taxation specifically for roads purposes, but finally, because of the legal implications, they handed the job over to the Commonwealth. We have since been through a world war, and the matter has got slightly out of focus. The Government is now getting completely away from the original concept of this legislation.
The Minister generalizes in these matters, but generalization can get us into a lot of trouble. If we are travelling from point A to point B, whether by road, train, aeroplane or boat, a kind of metering system operates. The greater the distance we travel, the more we pay. It is somewhat like the metering system that operates with electricity and water supplies. The same kind of system applies to the use of motor cars. The more you travel, the more petrol tax you pay. That is why it is fairer to tax road users by means of the petrol tax than by means of a fee for the issuing of licence plates. If a high licence fee is imposed, the working man who uses his car only at the week-end is, in effect, paying heavily while his car is resting in the garage and doing little damage to the roads. On the other hand, the owners of trucks and heavy vehicles that are on the roads every day get more than value for their licence fees. It is only fair that the more your vehicles use the roads and damage them the more tax you pay for the repair of the roads, and that is what would happen if the Government did not step in and pay the proceeds of the fuel tax into general revenue.
Very often in debates in this place we have Ministers telling us about what is done in the United States of America and Canada, particularly in relation to taxation. Each year, when taxation measures are before the Parliament, Government supporters tell us how much more generous this Government is than are the governments of those other countries. Of course, that is a dishonest argument, because our standards of living and other conditions are so different. However, I notice that in relation to this legislation the Government has been strangely silent on that aspect. I am sure the Minister for Shipping and Transport will correct me if I am wrong when I say that, in the United States and Canada, where there is a greater number of cars per head of population than there is in Australia, the governments do precisely what the Australian Labour Party is seeking to have this Government do. That is to say, those governments are financing at least a part of their road construction programme by devoting to it the entire proceeds of the petrol tax.
The Minister’s second-reading speech was really amazing. The more one considers it, the more apparent becomes its deliberate vagueness. Protestation after protestation is made in an attempt to defend the Government’s case. In referring to the increased petrol consumption, the speech contains the beautifully vague statement that -
In one recent year–
Goodness knows what that means - it was nearly 18 per cent.; in another year, however
We do not know whether that was a recent or an ancient year - it was little more than 3 per cent.
Throughout the speech the Minister seemed to be saying that he had few sources of information on which to draw, and on which to judge this and that. But surely to goodness, if the Minister knew that in one year the increase was 3 per cent. and in another year 18 per cent., he also knew which years those were. I suggest that it was his plain duty, in the course of his speech, to refer to dates, places and other factors which have such a large bearing on this matter. He makes use of his lack of information by going on to say that, since he does not know how much money will be raised from year to year, he is unable to say what the States will receive under the formula.
It is interesting to consider the report of the Committee of Transport Economic Research. That body, I understand, is a part of the Minister’s department. In fact, I think he presides over its meetings. If we look at the report of the committee we find that it has been estimated that, under the present formula, over the next five years it may be expected that £205,000,000 will be disbursed. If we add to that figure the £3,000,000 a year to be raised from the diesel tax, making £15,000,000 for the five years, we have £220,000,000, which is the exact amount stated in this bill as the basic sum for distribution to the States during the next five years. Of course, with 374 new registrations of motor vehicles each day in Australia, the amount of revenue to be derived will be considerable. It seems strange that the Minister should have overlooked so many matters in his secondreading speech, although his department is in possession of the information that he appears to lack.
I have referred to the sum of £220,000,000, which is the basic grant. To be fair, I must also refer to the matching grants, because the bill provides for such grants. A sum of £30,000,000 is to be held in a kind of trust fund to provide additional grants for the States if they qualify for them. If it is possible to forecast anything these days, I anticipate that the whole of that £30,000,000 will not be called upon. The Minister gave the reason why that will be so, although he did not mean to do so, when he was speaking in a slighly different context. In stating how desirable it was to spend money on roads, he said -
We have to think, for example, of the needs for more houses, foi more schools and colleges and hospitals, for improved water and sewerage services, for greater power supplies-
F suggest that in those words the Minister has himself stated why it will be difficult for the States to earn the matching grants. Immediately the Premier of a State seeks to allocate more money for roads, in order to earn the matching grant, he is going to be faced by his Minister for Education who will tell him that school children have to be taught in cloakrooms, and so on; or he will be faced by his Minister for Health, who wilt tell him about the state of hospital accommodation. The Premiers, particularly the Premiers of claimant States, will be faced with all kinds of requests for money to meet urgent needs that are forever on the doorstep of the States. As the Minister has pointed out, although he did not mean to do so. pressure of that kind will be placed on the State governments, particularly in the claimant States, some of which are already committed to deficit budgeting. How they will be able to raise money to earn the matching grants I do not know.
I suggest to the Government that if it has this £30,000,000 which it is able to take from revenue to spend on roads, its plain duty is to go ahead and spend that money on roads, not to hold it back as a kind of bait. In view of the speed with which the currency becomes inflated these days, there is little point in relating sums of money one to another unless we have some idea of what future developments are likely to be. In dealing with the Commonwealth provisMon of funds for roads, the Minister said -
In 1953-54 it was £17,100,000, and in the current year. 1958-59, it is estimated to be £38,300,000 . . .
In other words, taking the span of five years with which we are dealing, the amount provided has multiplied approximately two and a quarter times. When we look at the figures for the next five years we find that for 1959-60 the amount to be distributed is £40,000,000, and by the fifth year, 1963-64, it will have risen to £48,000,000; but the point is that it does not reach £48,000,000 until the end of the fifth year, and I submit that there is no relationship at all between an increase from £17,100,000 to £38,300,000 in one five-year period and an increase from £40,000,000 to £48,000,000 in the second five-year period because, although we hope the inflationary upsurge will not be as strong as it was in the last five years, the fact is that there is an upward inflationary spiral.
Another matter to which I refer relates to the amended formula. The amazing thing about the proposed new formula - and I know Victoria has been pressing for this change - is that the Government seems to have completely somersaulted from its original position, and its arguments now are completely the reverse of what it once professed to support and certainly they are opposed to what every broad-minded Australian would want. For instance, at one stage the Government made a great song about the need for development in the north-west of Western Australia yet, when it comes to roads, which are essential to the development of that area, we find a reduction in the allocations to both Queensland and Western Australia.
– But Western Australia will be getting more money.
– Instead of being based on three-fifths for population and twofifths for size, it is now proposed that the allocations be based on a formula of onethird according to area, one-third according to. population and one-third according to vehicle registration. I think a perusal of the records will disclose that Mr. Alex McCallum was the first person to urge that something should be done for such States as Western Australia having in mind geographical position, area and so on. The Government is now departing from that principle, and Senator Wedgwood interjects that Western Australia will be getting more money. I point out that, when speaking about more money, regard must be had for the inflationary times in which we live.
At election time in particular, we hear the Government putting forward the stupid argument that when it took office in 1949 so many million pounds was being spent on certain things and that now it is spending three times as much on the same projects. Three times as much might be spent now, but the fact is that for that three times as much the Government is getting in return only the same amount of goods and services as was returned for the 1949 expenditure. For instance, the Government has fixed the vote for defence at £200,000,000 a year for a number of years now but, because inflation has got away from us, Australia is getting less for that expenditure of £200,000,000 to-day than it did for the same expenditure eight years ago. It is not a sound argument for cutting down the allocations to Western Australia and Queensland, the two States which will always have pressing demands for roads, to say that they will be getting more money this year than they got last year. All that the Minister has done in his second-reading speech has been to pose a problem. In the whole nineteen typewritten pages of his speech, he mentions difficulties without once attempting to grapple with them. The reason why the Australian Labour Party moves this amendment is that we feel that our suggestion is the only logical way of tackling the problem.
There is one other point affecting the formula. I am wondering whether, in taking the number of vehicle registrations, the number of registrations of such small vehicles as motor cycles, motor scooters, light cars and so on will be included. I have no firm opinion about this point; I merely throw it into the ring and ask the Minister for comment upon it. But it seems to me that the formula could get completely out of hand if vehicle registrations include the types of vehicles to which I have referred because there will be great numbers of registrations of such vehicles in and around the cities whereas in the outback parts of Queensland and Western Australia most of the vehicles registered will be of the heavier types which do so much damage to the roads.
This bill gives very little more by way of basic grant than would have been allocated under the old formula, lt is interesting here to note that the Liberal member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) in another place pointed out that according to the estimates he obtained from the oil companies it is most probable that under the old formula £235,000,000 would be spent on roads, and that that is more than is planned under the proposed new formula. Finally, we have moved the amendment because it is obvious from a study of the bill that the Government does not propose to give as much as it should be giving. Further, if the matching grants do not work out as they should, the actual amount provided will be much less than is estimated. Already the Government is raising too much money, and, as I said earlier, the Minister, whilst taking nineteen typewritten pages to pose the problem, has failed completely to grapple with it or to put a practicable solution before the Parliament.
– This bill will replace the present act which expires on 30th June next. It will remain in force for a term of five years as from 1st July of this year. Senator Willesee, who has led the debate for the Opposition, has moved an amendment to the measure, and later I should like to refer in specific terms to that amendment. I feel bound to say at the outset, however, that I found great difficulty, as I am certain all other honorable senators did, in following him through the tortuous processes of his reasoning. I thought he reached the pinnacle of confusion when he complained that in the past the Government had used a dishonest argument in making a comparison with America. After saying it was a completely dishonest argument, he then set out to thrash the Minister for having made no reference to it in his secondreading speech on this bill. I should say that is the highlight of absurdity in adducing arguments. Senator Willesee then went on to distort completely what the Minister had said about the overall problems of Budget finance at the Commonwealth level. The Minister made reference to the Commonwealth’s obligations in connexion with such matters as housing, public works, and so on; and Senator Willesee twisted those remarks and related them to the States. The Minister quite clearly did not refer to the States.
Having listened to the case put forward by the Opposition. I think it necessary that I should re-state the broad principles of this legislation. The basic thing to appreciate at the outset is that under this new Commonwealth proposal greatly increased sums of money will be made available to the States for road purposes.
Federal aid for roads construction and maintenance was first introduced 36 years ago. lt is worth placing on record that Sir Earle Page, who is still a member of the House of Representatives, was ihe Treasurer in the Bruce-Page Government, which played such a dramatic part in bringing into being this scheme of assistance 10 the States. No one will deny the need for more money for roads - a need that has arisen out of the very expansion brought about by the good administration of this Government during the last ten years. The expanding economy has brought in its train an expanding need for more and better roads. Motor vehicle registrations have more than doubled in the last ten years. That is, in itself, an indication of the prosperity in this great Commonwealth. Evidence of that kind will continue to be provided, because this Government will continue in office.
Heavy motor vehicles carrying ever greater loads, and moving ever more speedily, have placed a heavy strain upon our roads, which were not built to cope with this type of traffic, or the speed at which it travels. The very concentration of population in the cities and suburbs, and the concentration of .vehicles which stems therefrom, has also created traffic congestion and given rise to new problems such as the financing of expressways, bypass roads, bridges and expensive operations of that kind. In terms of money, this bill goes a considerable distance towards solving these new problems, but we must keep the matter in its proper perspective. We must realize that the Government has to look at roads as but one of the problems with which it has to contend during this financial year. Wc must realize that when the Government is spending money it is spending the taxpayers’ money. It is very easy, when one is in Opposition, to talk in broad and glib terms about providing more money for roads. The plain fact is that we must never forget that we are spending the taxpayers’ money.
– And we must spend it wisely.
– That is so. We must consider expenditure on roads in association with the Government’s financial commitments to the States for housing, schools, hospitals, and water and sewerage. We must have regard to our obligations in respect of national development - indeed, in respect of the whole field of governmental expenditure. We must try to take a balanced view, and arrive at a reasonable solution, having regard to the national wealth and the capacity of the people to provide through taxation the money that is needed. In the broad, that was the argument used by theMinister for Civil Aviation (Senator Paltridge). It had nothing in common with the twisted, distorted version given by Senator Willesee.
We operate under a federal system, and we must accept that fact. If we do, we see that the States also have obligations. The Commonwealth very properly takes the view that though it provides funds for road purposes, and has done so under a series of acts since 1926, that does not relieve the States* of their obligation and responsibility to provide funds for the same purpose. There is a tendency in relation to roads and other fields of government expenditure for the States to try to off-load their responsibility and say, “ The Commonwealth has the money; therefore it should finance all these undertakings “. I regret to say that the tendency has developed largely as a result of uniform taxation. While we have a federal system we must not lose sight of the fundamental fact that the States also have responsibilities. We must expect to provide them with money for roads, but that provision should be supplementary to the money that they themselves provide, and that the third tier of government - the local government bodies - also provide.
Let me now examine the bill in greater detail. I have said that during the last five years the Commonwealth has provided the States, for road purposes, with about £153,000,000. During the next five years, it will provide about £250,000,000, an increase of about £100,000,000. The money will be paid to tfr: States according to a formula to which I shall refer in a moment. I want now to go back and point out the progressive increases that have been made in payments to the States during the last ten years. In 1946-47, the Commonwealth provided for roads £4,800,000: in 1950-51, the figure was up to £14,100,000. By 1953-54, it had gone up to £17,100,000. This year it is up to £38,300,000, of which £37,300,000 is by way of grant to the
States. The balance is made up of special funds allocated for Commonwealth purposes, and for purposes of road safety.
During the last five years, the Commonwealth has provided for roads £157,800,000, of which £153,000,000 has gone to the States. I want to make the point that the total paid to the States in the last five years was greater than the amount provided during the preceding 31 years. That adds emphasis to what I said earlier, that this Government has, despite its success in stabilizing and strengthening the economy, kept road finance in its proper perspective. Under the bill, £220,000,000 is to be supplied to the States in basic grants distributed over the five years 1959 to 1963, as follows:- 1959-60, £40,000,000; 1960-61, £42,000,000; and so on down to 1963-64, when the figure will be £48,000,000.
In addition to the basic grant of £220,000,000, the Commonwealth will make available to the States further sums totalling £30,000,000 on the basis of £1 for every £1 allocated by State governments from their own resources for expenditure on roads over and above the amounts allocated by them for roads expenditure in the current financial year. The States will be required to ensure that not less than 40 per cent, of the funds made available by the Commonwealth will be spent on roads in rural areas other than highways, main roads or trunk roads.
– Hear, hear!
– I wish to make sl comment on that matter which may have the effect of costing me a little support on my immediate right. I shall leave it at that point at this stage, because 1 want first to re-state the main aspects of the bill. The amounts made available by the Commonwealth will be distributed between the States in the proportion of 5 per cent, to Tasmania and the balance between the other five States on the basis of one-third according to population, one-third according to area and one-third according to vehicles registered.
The new formula will result in New South Wales receiving 27.9 per cent, of the available funds as against 27.5 per cent, at present, Victoria 19.9 per cent, as against 17.6 per cent., and Queensland 18.4 per cent, as against 19.2 per cent. South
Australia will remain constant at 11.2 per cent., Tasmania will remain constant at 5 per cent., and Western Australia Wl receive 17.6 per cent, as against 19.5 per cent, at present.
– Plus £300,000 for Western Australia in the first year.
– Yes, with the guarantee that in the first year it will not get less than it gets under the present scheme. But these percentages must be examined in another way. I should like to make a comparison on a per capita basis. It is a very interesting comparison. We find that Queensland will get £5 8s. per head of population, Western Australia £10 6s., New South Wales £3 3s., and Victoria £3. Although on the face of the new formula it would seem that there will be an improvement for New South Wales and Victoria, I suggest that the position in truth is that those States, because of their strength and their wide Australian outlook, are willing to see that other States which are not so well developed receive a considerably increased amount per head of population.
The Opposition has proposed an amendment which, as I understand it, advances a proposition that we have heard on many occasions when this question of roads has been discussed - that is, that the grant should be equal to the petrol tax receipts.
– It is rubbish.
– It is not a proposition that the Government can accept. I hope that, when Senator Wade used the term “ rubbish “, he was referring to the amendment and not to my comment.
– Quite so.
– When the Australian Labour Party was in office, it did not accept the proposition that the amount of the grant to the States should be equated with the income from the petrol tax. It is very easy to sit in opposition and advance such propositions, knowing full well that you have not the responsibility of government and of implementing them.
– Senator Willesee spoke with two voices to-night.
– Of course, he did. To do as the Opposition suggests is an outmoded method of finance. If it were taken to its logical conclusion, it would be completely impossible to implement. We can just imagine what would happen, with a Budget of the order of £1,200,000,000, if all such special funds were tucked away in watertight compartments. I am reminded of a boy who gets 2s. pocket money and who puts away one penny to spend on Saturday, threepence to spend on something else on Tuesday, so much for insurance, and so much for other things. That kind of approach might be all right with simple things, but to talk in terms of placing money in watertight compartments when dealing with the budgetary position of a nation is to talk of a method of finance that went out of vogue years ago. It is now accepted all over the world that there should be a consolidated revenue account into which is paid the nation’s income, and that there should be a proper appreciation of the outgoings and an allocation of them in their order of merit.
I can recall the circumstances surrounding the introduction of the lottery in New South Wales years ago. It was said that the lottery would be introduced for the purpose of providing finance for the hospitals, and even to-day people sometimes suggest that the proceeds of the lottery should be allocated for that purpose. Goodness me, that was only sales talk at the time. As a budgetary proposition, it ceased to exist almost as soon as the lottery was introduced. It was not long before it was realized that if the hospitals were to depend upon the lottery as a source of income there would soon be almost no one in the hospitals. I repeat that that method of finance is outmoded and useless, and I am astonished to think that the Opposition should continue to advocate it.
It has been argued - this is how it was put, I remind Senator Willesee - that, because the motorist pays petrol tax, the money he pays should be spent on the roads in its entirety. I suggest that that proposition, to us a common expression, just will not gallop. As the Minister pointed out in his second-reading speech, it might gallop if all who bought pertol used it for private purposes. When it is realized that between 50 per cent, and 80 per cent, of the petrol that is bought is used for commercial purposes and that the cost of it is passed on to the consumer or is claimed as a deduction for income tax purposes, the proposi tion that the proceeds of the petrol tax should be used for roads purposes will not hold water. If the amendment proposed by the Opposition were to be carried to its logical conclusion, I think the motorist would get a worse deal and that Australia’sroads problem would become even worse.
Now I wish to refer to the proposal that 40 per cent, of the funds allocated to the States shall be used for rural roads other than highways, main roads and trunk roads. Although up to this point I think I have been fairly strongly on the Minister’s side, I must say that this proposal does not excite me very much.
Such a provision exists in the present act. I understand - and I accept the position - that the proposal in this bill has the imprimatur of the State Premiers, who have accepted it in principle. I think they have accepted it in principle because they are a little reluctant to face up to their obligations. I cannot for the life of me accept the argument that the Commonwealth, which should merely provide the money and say that it should be allocated to the States in certain proportions is right in saying to the States that they should spend 40 per cent, of their allocations for rural roads purposes.
It may well be that 40 per cent, is too low a percentage in some States, and that in other States it is too high. It seems to me that the size of Australia, and the fact that we have great concentrations of people in certain areas and not in other areas, are arguments against arbitrarily fixing 40 per cent, as the proportion of the allocations to be spent on rural roads. I think the Commonwealth would have been far wiser if it had said to the States, “ We believe that you should spend money on rural roads, and we will insert a provision in the bill to the effect that you shall examine the position of rural roads and spend some of your money on those roads “. I think that that would have been preferable to fixing the percentage, as has been done. After all, the previous formula, under which grants were made as to twofifths for population and as to three-fifths for area, was abandoned because it was undoubtedly weighted in favour of the sparsely populated States, yet the States are now to be required to spend 40 per cent, of their allocations on rural roads. If we look at the Minister’s speech, we see that he himself produces an argument which suggests that the fixing arbitrarily of 40 per cent, as the proportion of the grants to be spent on rural roads is not appropriate.
– The States can spend more than 40 per cent, if they want to do so.
– The honorable senator knows that, in practice, the States will spend 40 per cent. The Minister said -
In recent years, however, it has come to appear that, with the heavy concentration of industry and the consequent growth in commercial and industrial transport, the road systems of New South Wales and Victoria are being subjected to exceptionally heavy demands. . . .
That trend, in time, would enable us to bring a very strong argument against fixing the arbitrary proportion of 40 per cent, for expenditure on rural roads in New South Wales and Victoria. The Minister says that because of the great growth of industry and its concentration in the cities he has had to adjust the formula. I think that the arbitrary fixing of 40 per cent, as the proportion to be spent on rural roads will operate against the success of the formula. The easier way would have been to stick to the principle of insisting that a fair allocation go to rural roads and not to pin the States down to a fixed basis, as has been done.
I want to make reference to one other matter. In the act as it stands, an amount of the order of £1,000,000 a year was deducted from the funds available, to be used for Commonwealth purposes. About £850,000 was used for Commonwealth roads and £150.000 for road safety purposes. Under this bill, the Commonwealth makes no claim on moneys that are being made available. When we talk in terms of £250.000,000 being made available to the States, we really mean £250,000,000, because that amount will not be subject to deductions for Commonwealth purposes. When we talk about £155,000.000 being available to the States under the present act, we can cut it down to something like £153,000,000, because of the amount that the Commonwealth deducts for expenditure on road safety and for Commonwealth purposes.
In another place it was argued that it was necessary to spend money on defence roads. However, since the Commonwealth is not to use any of this money for its own purposes, that argument is hardly valid. If the Commonwealth, in its wisdom, decided that a road between two points - particularly in the north of Australia - had a defence value, it would be quite competent for the Commonwealth, under section 96 of the legislation, to pay to a State a specific sum of money for the purposes of that defence road. Therefore, the arguments that raged for days in another place in regard to the lack of defence roads are, to my mind, outside the scope of this bill, which proposes to provide money specifically for the States and has no relation to the provision of money for defence purposes.
Finally, I wish to refer to the subject of road safety. I have spoken on this matter during Budget debates, and my views are very well known to the Minister and to honorable senators. 1 look forward to the day when we will make a concerted effort to solve the problem of road safety. The fact that provision for road safety purposes has been taken out of this legislation and is to be dealt with on a different level leads me to hope that the Commonwealth is conscious of the importance of the problem. I know that the Minister is very conscious of it, and I look forward to the time when something will be done in a dramatic way to avert tragedies on our roads. I support what the Government has done in this bill. The approach that the Government has made to the problem is a sane one, particularly as it is an overall approach. The extension and development of roads is to be done through the States, with whom the Commonwealth is going into partnership in this transaction. The bill raises hopes for a continuation of progress and development in Australia on the pattern set during the ten years that this Government has been in office. We know that the cost of transport is a big factor in our economy. Some people say that transport accounts for 30 per cent, of all costs in our economy. I would not hazard a guess at the percentage, but I do say that road transport and transport generally is fundamental to Australia’s development. Tt is a happy thought that this Government is conscious of its responsibility in the matter.
.- Senator Anderson referred during the course of his remarks to the state of confusion of a member of the Opposition dealing with the bill. It was not very long before Senator Anderson himself was in a state of confusion. He referred to the prosperity and expansion of industry which has occurred in the Commonwealth during the past ten years, and said that it was due to the activities of the present Government. Once again, Mr. President, he confused prosperity with inflation. He conveniently forgot that when his Government was returned to office in 1949 the basic wage was £6 9s. per week and that to-day it is £13 3s., a difference of £6 14s. or more than 100 per cent. Senator Anderson became quite confused on this aspect. The fact is that the standard of living of the people receiving such a wage has not risen one iota. The citizens of this Commonwealth are demanding good roads, more roads, and roads of better quality. The associations which are concerned with the activities of private motorists, the associations which cater for the commercial carriers, and the tourists have joined in the demand for better roads. All honorable senators no doubt remember the old saying that one never misses what one has never had. People in many parts of Australia have never known the joy of driving on a good road. Are they never to know that joy? Within a distance of a few miles one may travel on a good road, a mediocre road and a bad road. Of course, all roads within Australia are urgently in need of maintenance, but that maintenance will cost millions of pounds. Even our main roads are breaking up. The shoulders are crumbling, the foundations have subsided and, in their present condition, the roads constitute a real danger to the travelling public.
The purpose of this bill is to make money available to the States by way of grants for the purpose of road construction. We approve the bill because the money will be a grant to the States and not a loan on which interest must be paid. Is it possible for the Commonwealth, through the agency of the States, to satisfy the demand for better roads? The States are the main road-constructing authorities, but they do not have the money to provide the roads that arc demanded by the public. Primarily, the local government authorities are responsible for the construction and maintenance of roads, but what earthly chance have they of carrying out their function?
Some honorable members may say that the local government authorities have the right to levy rates upon land, but the amount so received does not go very far towards constructing and maintaining roads within the municipalities.
State governments are also roadconstructing authorities. Some 30 or 40 years ago, the States established what are known as main roads boards whose functions it is to construct new roads and maintain existing roads. Money was provided to assist in the construction of roads throughout the States, but the problem has never been approached on a national basis and, if honorable senators opposite support Senator Anderson’s views, it is hopeless ever to expect a national roads scheme to be implemented. He would be better suited in the Legislative Council of a State than in this Senate. During his speech he did not express one national sentiment, nor did he say one word about co-ordinating the existing road systems or promoting the construction of roads that would give us a national network of roads, even on a small scale.
The third road-constructing authority is the Commonwealth Government, but its field of operations is limited by the Constitution. Although it can raise funds to construct roads within its own territories - the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory - and can raise funds to be made available to the States, its responsibility ends there. The Commonwealth collects the money and makes some of it available to the States.
The problems which confront roadconstructing authorities are real. One of the most serious difficulties to be overcome is the distance between large centres in the States. In Queensland we have the cities; around the cities we have small towns, and a short distance from the small towns we have the fertile farming areas. The people living in those farming areas need roads to the small towns, and the people in the small towns need roads to the cities. Good roads are just as important to country people as good footpaths are to the city folk. In dealing with this national problem. I shalT relate my remarks to Queensland, which may be regarded as typical of all States of the Commonwealth. Sixty miles south of Brisbane, the capital, we have what is known as the Gold Coast, which has a permanent population of 30,000 people and a large floating population of tourists. A good road between the Gold Coast and Brisbane is essential. The existing road has been widened in some sections to allow rapidly moving traffic to pass the slower vehicles. The policy of widening roads must be endorsed not only to ensure safety, but also to promote a faster flow of traffic. Probably the State Government has the idea that some day it may be able to construct a double road from the Gold Coast to Brisbane. But that idea will not materialize for quite some time because of the limited funds at the disposal of the State Government.
A great deal of money has been wasted by constructing roads in Queensland that were too narrow and that did not have sufficiently sound foundations. After being in use for a short time they commenced to crumble and disintegrate. Although the difficulties in Queensland might be slightly greater than those confronting other State governments, I shall deal with the problem in Queensland to indicate that the amount of money which this bill proposes to make available to the States is inadequate to meet the demands of the people for good roads.
Travelling 167 miles north from Brisbane we arrive at Maryborough, which has a population of 19,000 people. If we continue our journey another 50 miles we shall come to Bundaberg, which has a population of 20,000. Around the cities I have mentioned there are fertile lands, where cane grows and the sawmilling industry flourishes. Generally, they are prosperous areas. There are also small towns in the surrounding districts. As I said earlier, the people who reside in those areas are justified in claiming that they are entitled to good roads leading to the towns and the nearest cities to enable them to go to the talkies occasionally, and also to enable them to transport their produce efficiently. It is a distance of 170 miles from Bundaberg to Rockhampton, a city having a population of 42,000 people. One may continue along what is a nice tourist road, in part, to Mackay, which is a distance of 202 miles from Rockhampton.
– Does the honorable senator mean that that is a nice tourist road?
– Yes, but only in parts - not all the way. I remind Senator Kendall that we are dealing with a measure to make money available for road construction, and I think that the people of Queensland are living in the hope that some day they will be able to drive over good roads to Mossman, to Mareeba and to the Atherton Tableland. As I have said, the distance from Rockhampton to Mackay is 202 miles. From Mackay to Townsville, a city having a population of 41,000 people, is another 254 miles. From Townsville to Cairns, a city with a population of 22,000 people, is a distance of 209 miles.
I have mentioned these facts in order to give honorable senators on the Government side an idea of the districts from which the demand for good roads is coming. If I wished to do so, I could describe a Cook’s tour into the western regions of Queensland - from Townsville to Cloncurry, Mount Isa, and other places. I contend that if the people living along the coast are entitled to good roads for their general purposes, the people who live in the western regions of the State are similarly entitled to good roads. Of course, the fact that the centres of population in Queensland are situated some considerable distance from each other, increases the problem in that State. This problem is not so acute in Victoria as it is in Queensland and Western Australia. Of course, we have some good roads in Queensland, but from my own experience I would say that they do not compare favorably with the main roads in New South Wales. The main roads of that State compare very well with all other roads over which I have travelled in the Commonwealth. In the main, they are wide and have been well constructed. They have been constructed in such a way that it is not necessary for a motor vehicle to slacken speed when travelling on the curves.
In Queensland, there are 100 miles of concrete roads, 6,604 miles of bitumen roads, 15,238 miles of macadamized roads, and 41,815 miles of other roads - a total of 63,757 miles of formed roads. I do not intend to-night to give more details of those roads, but I should like to say in passing that Queensland has a greater mileage of earth roads than has any other State of the Commonwealth. I recall that on one occasion a party of Government senators who visited Queensland engaged on their return in making disparaging remarks about the hundreds of miles of earth roads in that State. However, I do not think that they are too bad to travel over. A fair percentage of the people of Queensland are doomed to travel over that type of road for the remainder of their lives. Of. course, the provision of good roads is necessary for the development of the country, particularly those areas where crops can be grown economically. It seems to be a corollary that good roads exist in areas where crops are grown economically. But it must be remembered that the States must provide all sorts of transport facilities, not only roads. About 70 per cent, of Queensland’s coastline of 3.263 miles is washed by the Pacific Ocean. It is possible, therefore, for both goods and passengers to be transported by sea from Brisbane to Cairns, as well as to the intervening cities on the seaboard.
Tt is essential for the State governments to pay due regard to the provision of railway services, and they are deserving of the sympathy of every member of this chamber in resolving the many transport problems with which they are confronted. Fortunately, Queensland is blessed with a good air service. I do not know whether the present Minister for Shipping and Transport has been responsible for its efficiency, but I should like him to know that that service is still improving week by week.
As we know, road services are an auxiliary of rail services. Queensland has the greatest mileage of railways in the Commonwealth, namely, 6,560 miles of railways, compared with 6,354 miles of railways in New South Wales. Victoria has only 4.419 miles, whilst Western Australia has 4,562 miles of railways. South Australia has 3,805 miles, and Tasmania has only 613 miles of railways. I do not know how that State has managed for so long with only such a small mileage of railways. We must remember that the State governments are continually faced with the necessity for expenditure on their railway systems. In addition to normal maintenance of the permanent way, expenditure is incurred in the construction of new lines and in the repair of rolling stock.
The bill before us provides for a fiveyear plan. I offer no complaint in that connexion. I approve that period, because it is appropriate for the purposes of any authority in the Commonwealth that wishes to embark on a road construction scheme. The Government has accepted an obligation to make millions of pounds available to the States for roads purposes over the next five years, and I feel sure that it will honour that obligation. I am inclined to support the percentage which, the Government has stipulated, is to be expended in rural areas. Queensland, of course, is a rural State, and the many people who live in country areas are entitled to good roads. As I stated earlier, they are obliged to travel to the towns and cities with the commodities they produce. I support the principle that a proportion of the funds made available for roads should be set aside for the construction and maintenance of roads in country areas. On that point I am in agreement with the Government. Nevertheless, for very good reasons, I support the amendment which was moved earlier to-night on behalf of the Opposition.
The amendment provides, not that the funds that go into Consolidated Revenue by way of petrol tax and diesel fuel tax, should go immediately to another fund and from there be made available to the States, but that the sum to be made available each year for road construction purposes should be not less than the sum collected by way of excise on petrol and diesel fuel tax. That simply means that if the amendment is carried the States will be assured of a greater sum than that which would be made available to them under the proposal of the Government.
– They would not be sure of that.
– Yes, they would be. I studied this matter earlier to-night. I point out that at page 47 of the Treasurer’s Statement of Receipts and Expenditure for the year ended 30th June, 1958, it is stated that, for that year, the sum of £41,710,684 was collected by way of excise paid on petrol, and that the excise paid on diesel fuel during the year amounted to £4.084,401. Therefore, there was a total for the year of £45,795,085. It follows that if good roads are constructed throughout Australia, more motorists will use them, resulting in more revenue. There is no reason why, over a period of years, we should not be able to have a national network of good roads.
In view of the large number of heavy vehicles which use the roads between the various cities of the Commonwealth at the present time, I cannot understand why nothing has been done, even by way of agreement, to make the owners of those vehicles contribute towards the maintenance of the roads. It is possible, by the use of engineering methods, so to balance the loads that those vehicles carry to ensure that they do the minimum damage to the roads. If the law cannot be used to compel the operators- of the vehicles to pay a fee for the use of the roads, surely something could be done by means of a compromise to achieve that objective. The law of this country provides that if a person uses a facility to his advantage, particularly to his monetary advantage, he has to pay for doing so. I feel sure that the various organizations concerned with the use of heavy road vehicles in Australia would be agreeable to contributing something towards the upkeep of the roads. I intend to vote for the amendment at a later stage.
– I am very disappointed that Senator Benn proposes to support the amendment that has been moved on behalf of the Opposition. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), in his second-reading speech, made it quite plain that within the next five years £50,000,000 a year will be distributed to the States for road purposes, a total of £250,000,000. The Opposition amendment, which evidently was hurriedly drafted, reads -
Leave out all words after “ that “, and insert “ the bill bc withdrawn and redrafted with a view to providing that without reduction of the amounts provided under this bill, an amount of money not less than the full proceeds of petrol and diesel fuel taxes shall be granted to the States for expenditure by the States, municipalities and shires for and in connexion with roads.”
If the amendment were accepted it would mean that the total proceeds of the petrol and diesel fuel taxes would be distributed to the States. But suppose that there was a change of government, and that the incoming government decided to reduce the excise on motor spirit.
– There will not be a change.
– But if there were - and we never know which way you Victorians will vote - we should find, perhaps, that the excise was reduced to 3d. or 4d. a gallon and that the States received only £15,000,000 or £20,000,000 between them each year. The proposal that we are considering provides that the States are to be guaranteed, for the next five years, a total sum of £250,000,00 for roads.
Much has been said by honorable senators opposite about what Labour would do if it were in office. What a lot of rot! Once upon a time we had a Labour government, and what did it do about this matter? When I came to this Parliament in 1949, after eight years of Labour government, I found that that government had left behind it a customs duty of lOd. a gallon on petrol, and an excise duty of 8id. a gallon. That generous government, from those collections, had distributed to the States 3d. a gallon of the customs duty and only 2d. a gallon of the excise duty. In addition, there was a primage duty of 10 per cent. Therefore, the Labour Government distributed to the States only 5d. a gallon of the customs duty, excise duty and primage that it collected. As Senator Mattner reminds me, in those days only £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 a year was made available to the States for roads. To-day, £40,000,000 is made available.
Within twelve months of the present Government coming to office, and to the task of straightening out the dreadful mess left behind by the Australian Labour Party, it increased the States’ share of customs duty on petrol to 6d. a gallon, and their share of excise duty to 3id. a gallon. A bill to give effect to the increased allocation was introduced in the Senate in December, 1950, just twelve months after the Government had been elected. I do not want to talk about the shortage of petrol, for it would be dirty to do so. I want to talk about roads, and I shall have nothing whatever to say about the shortage of petrol at this stage.
Let me trace the Government’s record in connexion with roads. In 1954, the Government increased the amount distributed under the Federal Aid Roads Act from 6d. to 7d. a gallon out of the customs and excise duties levied, and, in 1956, of a total collection of Hid. a gallon, the Government paid to the States 8d. a gallon. The money we collected increased from between £7.000.000 and £8,000,000 in 1949 to £38,000,000 last year, of which the Government retained £700,000 and paid £37,300.000 to the States for the development of their roads. It has been argued by the Opposition that the sole purpose of levying this petrol tax ever since its inception has been to finance the building of roads throughout the Commonwealth. One honorable senator opposite suggested that it was first imposed in 1925. On perusing the records, I found that petrol tax was first imposed in 1902, and that the first time any distribution was made under the Federal Aid Roads Act was in 1925. Under those circumstances, perhaps it could be argued that it was never intended to use this tax exclusively for road purposes.
Then, when Senator Willesee made his futile attempt to ridicule the Minister’s second-reading speech, he said that the purpose of levying the petrol tax was to help finance the development of our road system. He said that will no longer be so. He suggested that under the present system the person who used a motor car paid the petrol tax according to the mileage he travelled. I should like to tell the honorable senator that the sole purpose of the bill is to levy the tax on the same basis as hitherto but, instead of paying it into a special fund, it will be paid into Consolidated Revenue from which it will be distributed as set out in the bill. The bill is designed to give the States exact information as to what they can expect from year to year.
It is proposed to allocate to the States a total of £220,000,000 over the next five years with matching grants amounting to another £30,000,000 provided the States contribute £1 for every £1 of matching grant contributed by the Commonwealth. Honorable senators opposite have suggested that it is ridiculous to expect the States to contribute on a £l-for-£l basis because they have not the money. Let me point out that in Western Australia, where a Labour government had been in office for the last six years, there is in operation a system under which the local authorities may apply to the State Government for money on a £l-for-£l basis for the bitumenizing of roads. That scheme is operated under the Federal Aid Roads Act. Many local authorities in Western Australia have taken advantage of it. It is known as the combined bitumen scheme. Under it, the Western Australian Government finances local authorities on a fiftyfifty basis. That is one State in which local authorities can look to the State Government for money. The State Government in turn, under that scheme, applies to the Commonwealth Government for a grant. Under the scheme, the local authority contributes 5s. in the £1, the State Government 5s. in the £1 and the Commonwealth Government 10s. in the £1. As that combined bitumen scheme has proved so successful in Western Australia, I am confident that the proposed system of matching grants will encourage State governments to find extra money for the building of roads. If they find an extra £30,000,000 in the next five years, as suggested in the bill, then, by the end of the next five years, the Commonwealth Government will have spent not £220,000,000 but £250,000,000.
– Where will the States find the extra money?
– From loan funds, tax reimbursement grants and other sources. I can assure the honorable senator that the local authorities in most of the States will see to it that the State governments do their utmost to find the extra money in order to take advantage of a matching grant.
It has been said by many that Western Australia will suffer under the new scheme. After a very careful study of the bill, I cannot see that that State will suffer over the five-year period. On the contrary, that State will gain an advantage. For instance, taking the increase in petrol consumption as 6 per cent. - the rate of increase over the last three years - the amount of petrol tax collected by the Commonwealth will increase by about £2,250,000 a year. This means that in the first year the Commonwealth can expect to collect £40,000,000, and in the next year £42,250,000, and in the third year £49,000,000. If the present system were continued, the Commonwealth could expect to receive £222,500,000, or £28,000,000 less than it expects to levy under the proposed new scheme. Again, under the new scheme, the basis of allocation to Western Australia is to be altered from three-fifths population and two-fifths area to one-third population, one-third area and one-third motor registrations. Under that system - and I take the figures from the Minister’s second-reading speech - Western Australia’s share will drop from 19.5 per cent, to 17.6 per cent. Western Australia could expect to receive at the end of the five-year period £9,500,000. However, under the present bill, if the whole of the matching grants are taken up, Western Australia will receive, despite the lower percentage, an increase of almost £1,000,000. Instead of receiving, in 1963-64, the sum of £9,500,000, she will receive the sum of £10,200,000. That is why I support this bill. Western Australia, with Queensland, would suffer because of the reduced percentage but the Government has given both States more money to counter that. The result is that even they will receive more than they would under the existing system.
We have heard many discussions in which Senator Gorton and his Victorian colleagues have joined in seeking a change in the formula. I am not concerned about that so long as my State does not suffer. I know of the terrific problem that has existed in the eastern States, particularly New South Wales and Victoria, in the matter of maintaining roads in the face of their use by such an enormous amount of heavy traffic, but so long as Western Australia gets ils fair share ! think we can be more than happy if Victoria receives a little more than it has in the past.
– That is a very Australian outlook!
– - In such matters as this we must adopt a broad, national outlook. Only in that way can we progress and develop Australia as it should be developed.
The expansion of our roads system over the last ten years has been quite astounding. Ten years ago, one could go a few miles out of Perth and find oneself off the main roads, and bogged. To-day, except for a few miles, one can travel on formed roads right up to Wyndham, a distance of more than 2,000 miles. Once it took two days to travel the 550 miles from Meekathara to Marble Bar, but it now takes only a little more than ten hours. Once there was only hilly, treacherous country with stones all over the track and gutters and washaways to contend with. To-day, only tcn years later, one can get in a car and travel at not less than 50 miles an hour over the whole of that distance. The development of Australian roads in the last tcn years has been terrific. The money made available by the Commonwealth to help the States has played its part in bringing about that improvement.
We can look forward to more money being provided for this purpose in the future, but it is not solely a matter of money. In years gone by local authorities, and some of the States, have been unable to spend the money made available to them under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act. Money was provided more quickly than the Stales could spend it. After the war it was difficult to obtain tractors and earth-moving equipment, but, thanks to the money provided by the Commonwealth, more and more of this machinery is coming in. In the old days one saw men going out to work on the roads with picks and shovels. Now modern equipment is available, and roads are being built much more quickly than was the case in the past.
Our roads can compare with any to be found elsewhere in the world. I was speaking only to-night with some people from Europe. They said that, considering our population and the large area that we have to serve, we are to be congratulated upon our roads, and upon their maintenance. The story of our roads is one of which both the Commonwealth and the States can be proud. So many of our roads are now being developed to carry heavy road transport. We must look into the whole transport problem of Australia. I believe that the development of rural industries depends upon the development of our roads, and the use of heavy transport vehicles for the carriage of goods and stock.
It is interesting to note that for road purposes the Commonwealth has distributed to the States in the last five years £153,000,000 in all. Under the measure before us we propose to make that figure £220,000,000 over the next five years. If it is matched by the States an extra £30,000,000 will be provided, or a total of some £250,000,000 - about £100,000.000 more than would otherwise be the case. That will be an achievement in itself, and it will help us, to a considerable degree, to continue to improve our roads.
In 1950-51, the total amount distributed to the States was only £14,100,000. In 1953-54. it was £17,000.000. and last year it was £38,000,000. The figure is going up and up as the years go bv. If we do no’ take the amount of £1.000.000 into consideration we see that, to 30th lune. 1958. there was a total distribution of £37.300.000
The Commonwealth has endeavoured to make it fairly easy for the States to use their matching grants. It has decided that in 1 959-60 the amount will be £2,000,000, and that this will increase to £10,000,000 in 1 963-64.
Even in Western Australia we can expect, at the end of the five-year period, to receive some £10,200,000 as compared with £9,300,000 under the existing scheme. We are quite satisfied with that arrangement. Indeed, 1 am sure that all the State governments will be pleased to carry on under thinew system.
Debate interrupted .
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMuilin). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- Mr. President, I wish to refer to a non-party matter, and I shall detain the Senate for only four or five minutes in doing so. I refer to a decision of a departmental committee of the Postmaster-General’s Department to recommend to the International Frequency Conference to be held in Geneva in August that frequency allocations to amateur operators in Australia, in the 20, 40 and 80 metre bands, be slashed by onethird.
This international body meets every ten or eleven years at a governmental level and allocates for the ensuing period of ten or eleven years - there is no fixed period, but over the past 30 years it has worked out at eleven years - the frequencies to be used throughout the world by commercial operators and all other users of radio frequencies. The departmental committee in Australia is known as F.A.S.C., or the Frequency Allocation Sub-Committee. The abbreviated title is not an abbreviation for “Fascist”, even though the action taken in this instance lias been somewhat dictatorial. It is an advisory committee on which are represented the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, the Australian Interdepartmental Telecommunications Advisory Committee, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, the Australian
Broadcasting Control Board and the Department of Civil Aviation. The committee advises the Postmaster-General on frequency allocations both in Australia and at the international conference. Amateur radio operators in Australia are not represented on the committee, even though they are very important users of frequencies. Indeed, amateur operators throughout the world are important users of radio frequencies.
The Government has sent its directions to Geneva for publication to the other governments concerned. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the allocation subcommittee were made known to Australian amateur operators and to the public only last week-end. My request, Mr. President, is that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper), who represents the Postmaster-General in this chamber, should confer with his colleague to see whether the Australian delegation, instead of going to Geneva determined to sell out one-third of the radio frequencies used by amateur operators, can change its front and unite with the governments of the United States of America and other countries to preserve for amateur operators all frequencies at present being used by them.
I think it is fair to say that this is an excellent example of the regulation of people’s affairs by departmental decree in a manner which is adhorrent to any democracy. On the occasions that 1 have had to approach the Postmaster-General o:t behalf of the Wireless Institute of Australia. I have always found him to be courteous and co-operative. 1 feel that this is a matter which somehow or other has slipped past his guard. Therefore, 1 ask his colleague in this chamber to examine the possibility of re-directing the Australian delegation to Geneva so that, instead of these frequencies being given away without a struggle, the men who use them may be protected.
I do not think it is necessary for me. at this late hour, to canvass the value of these trained technicians to the Commonwealth of Australia in an electronic age. When one speaks about amateur radio operators, it is almost axiomatic that one refers to men who are skilled in electronic communications, who are valuable to the Navy, the Army and the Air Force the moment they join those services, and who have rendered valuable service during many national disasters such as floods and bush fires. We know of the help they gave as recently as last year when a yacht sank off New Guinea. On innumerable occasions, the amateur radio operator has proved himself to be a valuable link in the communications chain.
For those reasons, Mr. President, I ask the Minister for Repatriation to see whether at this late stage the direction can bs reversed.
– I was not aware, until I heard a whisper earlier this evening, of the matter that Senator Hannan has brought forward. I have had occasion to note the value of the work done by radio hams, as they are known throughout the world.
– They do not like that term.
– Nevertheless, that is the name by which they are known. I am sure the word “ ham “ is not used in the theatrical sense. If only half of the facts outlined by Senator Hannan are correct - I am not suggesting that they are not all correct - they come to me with a terrific shock. If our representatives are going overseas and are volunteering to give away some of our bands, I want to know what is happening in other parts of the world. Surely to goodness we do not intend to give away some of our bands and let other countries sit back with what they have!
– The surrender will be to commercial interests rather than to other amateurs.
– Amateurs in other parts of the world will not be making the same contribution?
– They are not, at ihe moment.
– That is what concerns me so much, ‘lt is a weakness that these people are not represented on the committee. If ever people have establishd themselves without help, amateur radio operators have. I do not wish to delay the Senate, but merely to add my note of protest. I make this further request to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper), who represents the PostmasterGeneral: Because it will be the last week of the current sessional period, I ask that next week a statement be made explaining the action of the committee and the reasons for that action. Surely it would not be too much to ask too, even at this late stage, for the opportunity to be given to these amateur operators to put their viewpoint to the allocations sub-committee.
– 1 desire to rise in support of the remarks of Senator Hannan, which were elaborated upon by an Opposition senator. I have received from the South Australian council of the Wireless Institute of Australia a telegram which indicates that the South Australian division of the institute protests strongly at the F.A.S.C. proposal for a serious reduction of frequencies allocated to the amateur radio services. I can assure the Senate that news of the committee’s action was received with great consternation last week-end. I believe that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) should seek, for the information of the Senate, a full explanation of the matter that has been put forward so excellently by Senator Hannan.
– There is only one thing ! want to say. I rise to mention it because it has been omitted by other speakers. 1 think we can detect in this matter an instance of a practice that is becoming all too frequent - the practice of departmental officers going to international conferences and entering into international agreements which come back as faits accomplis and which are expected to bc approved without question by the Parliament. 1 hope the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) will take that aspect of the matter into consideration. Surely any proposal that goes to an international conference should have been given some consideration by the Parliament, and surely the Government should give to a departmental delegation an assurance of parliamentary approval. Otherwise the Parliament of the country is completely bypassed. 1 hope it will not be considered to be irrelevant to recall that, when we debated the Warsaw Convention and Hague Protocol on civil aviation liability, we were confronted with an international agreement that was being translated into the law of this Commonwealth.
-I do not wish to detain the Senate for long at this late hour, butI think it is right that we should signify our support for Senator Hannan in the very fine move he made this evening. As one who comes from the cyclone area of north Queensland, I realize the great value of these amateur radio operators. They hold open radio communications when other means of communication are not available. We remember some of their activities during times of distress in northern Queensland and other places, when the ordinary avenues of communications were not open to the people. These amateur radio operators held the fort right around the clock, and rendered a great humanitarian service to the people living in the distressed areas. It is to lend support to Senator Hannan in his attempt to get this matter put on a proper basis that I rise on this occasion.
I strongly support the views put forward by Senator Wright. He referred to something which this Parliament should jealously guard at all times. Sometimes we are too easy in these matters. The views put forward by Senator Wright are worthy of great consideration. This Parliament should retain its right to deal with these matters, and not leave them to the Executive.
.- I congratulate Senator Hannan for bringing this matter to the notice of the Senate. I have first-hand experience of the value of amateur radio operators in Victoria. I cannot speak too highly of their worth to the State in times of flood and fire.
Victoria has a unique organization in that from 500 to 600 enthusiasts have banded together to perfect a communications system that has to be seen to be believed. You have to see this organization in operation to appreciate its worth. During days of acute fire danger, countless men throughout the length and breadth of the State stand by their radio sets in order to give a voluntary service to their fellow men. That is typical of the spirit that actuates the amateur radio operators. Other States are not blessed with the radio communications system with which Victoria is blessed. I ask the Government to have a look at the needs of the amateur operators in those States, because they are the people who will be called upon to form, in their States, the kind of organization that now exists in Victoria. You cannot assess in terms of money the value of the services that amateur radio operators render to the nation.
I am greatly impressed by the views that have been put forward by Senator Hannan, and supported by oilier honorable senators, in regard to the activities of amateur radio operators. I assure those honorable senators that I shall bring this matter before my colleague, the Postmaster-General, tomorrow, as soon as copies of the “ Hansard “ report of the debate are received.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.13p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 6 May 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1959/19590506_senate_23_s14/>.