26th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral. By way of preface, I refer to submissions that I have made on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate on 2nd May and subsequently on the policy of the Postmaster-General’s Department in relation to industrial rehabilitation. Will the Minister now ascertain whether it is true that a decision has been made on the case I mentioned, unbeknown lo the Minister and causing considerable concern to bc expressed by the New South Wales branch of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union?
– I have some information on this matter. In fact. I had it available late last night. The information is that towards the end of last year Mr Barney, a driver of heavy lorries used by the Postmaster-General’s Department in New South Wales for mail and stores cartage work, suffered a heart attack in the form of a coronary occlusion. Upon return after an absence from duly, he was examined by the Senior Commonwealth Medical Officer at the General Post Office. Sydney, and was declared fit for light duties only. The Medical Officer considered that Mr Barney should not be allowed to drive departmental vehicles at all because it was not safe for him to engage in the associated duties which involve the lifting of relatively heavy weights. For a short time he was employed in the transport depot on light duties, but it was found that insufficient work of this nature was available to keep him gainfully employed.
When it was found that Mr Barney would bc on light duties for some time, he was transferred to indoor duties of a sedentary nature at the Newtown Post Office in Sydney, assisting a postal clerk on clerical duties. Although he suffered no loss of salary rate, it was not possible for him to continue to be paid the relevant penally rates, overtime and tonnage allowances that he received as a heavy lorry driver. Subsequently he has been re-examined by the
Senior Commonwealth Medical Officer and examined by a Macquarie Street specialist who has confirmed the original finding of the Senior Commonwealth Medical Officer who, acting on the specialist’s report, has declared Mr Barney permanently unfit for the duties of a motor driver. Because his duties at the Newtown Post Office constituted only a temporary and special arrangement for him. efforts are being made to place him in a position of clerical assistant without loss of salary rate.
– My question is directed to the Minister for .Housing. A report attributed to a spokesman for the Commonwealth Department of Housing is circulating to the effect that a special committee is drafting a uniform code of building regulations and that if all States adopt the code it will result in a worthwhile reduction in the cost of building houses in Australia. Can the Minister tell the Senate: First, what, broadly, are the advantages of the adoption of such a uniform code? Secondly, what is the amount of the probable saving in the cost of an average dwelling house? Thirdly, what, if anything, is standing in the way of the early adoption of such a uniform code?
– This is a matter of great moment to all who are interested in building. The Department of Housing, of course, is primarily concerned in the building of homes, and so is mainly interested in this development as it affects home building. A standing committee of State departmental officers has begun preparation of a uniform building code. The Commonwealth Department of Housing will put forward suggestions for uniform home building regulations and a committee, which includes the chief architect of the Commonwealth Department of Housing in each State has started work on the preparation of these suggestions for consideration by a sub-committee of the standing committee of State officers. I hope that when firm proposals are finally put to the Slate Ministers by the standing committee they will be accepted.
The honourable senator has asked what will be the advantages of uniformity. I believe there will be very great advantages. At present different regulations apply ia different States and municipalities. This causes problems, of course, in the preparation of plans and specifications because of the varying sizes of materials. Uniformity would, therefore, bring about a worthwhile reduction in the cost of homes and other buildings.
The honourable senator also asked what is standing in the way of the adoption of a uniform code. The major problem is the necessity for all the States to recognise that problems connected with building are national problems and are not confined to any one State, and that great advantages, economic and otherwise, would result from an agreement by the States to adopt common building standards. It is most important, therefore, that the proposals by the standing committee of State officers be agreed to by all the States.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Air seen reference in today’s Press to a statement attributed to United States Defence Secretary McNamara that he had asked the Australian Government not to reveal interest rates and cost figures in relation to the Fill bomber? Does this correctly state the position? Does the Australian Government subscribe to this form of subterfuge in its defence materials procurement practices? Could this not be described as a hole in corner method of doing business? Is it considered proper government practice to attempt to keep the Australian electors in ignorance of the facts? Is not the whole question of the purchase of this bomber fast reaching the proportions of a national scandal?
– The Minister who represents the Minister for Air is not in the chamber today, but I remind the honourable senator that the Minister for Air in another place made a comprehensive statement on the Fill aircraft on Tuesday 9th May in which he covered the aspects to which the honourable senator has referred. I suggest he obtain a copy of that statement and study it. The honourable senator referred also to the added cost of the aircraft.
– I am concerned about the secrecy angle.
– I do not think there is much secrecy about a matter when the
Minister concerned makes in the Parliament a statement which then becomes public property and is available to the Press of Australia and to everyone who reads Hansard or listens in to the broadcast of proceedings. I must again make the point to the honourable senator that he is on very weak ground because, as the Minister reminded him the other day, one of the election promises of the Australian Labor Party was that it would buy the TSR2 bomber. If by any chance Labor had won that election it would be very hard put even to find where the TSR2 is at the moment, because it is not even on the drawing board.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport. In a recent question 1 pointed out that the Commonwealth Railways had said in its last report that there was not enough rail passenger traffic to Canberra, the reason being the need for better services. The Minister’s illuminating reply to my question was that better services could not be provided because there was not enough passenger traffic, ls this the Department’s version of the old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
– All I can do is refer the honourable senator’s supplementary question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport.
– My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government. As we are engaged in mortal conflict in Vietnam, with resultant casualties and loss of young Australian lives, and as the Parliament has not had a report on our activities, losses and aims in this conflict since the last debate on this matter on 5th April, and as the Senate will be rising next week for a three months recess-
– How does the honourable senator know that?
– It is wishful thinking. Will the Government report on the current position in Vietnam and permit a debate on it before we rise, or does it consider that this whole matter is not of sufficient importance to warrant that action?
– rf the honourable senator puts his question on the notice paper 1 will ascertain what the Government thinks of his proposition.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Health aware that the drugs ted nil and theosec are shortly to be removed from the free list? Will the Minister make the appropriate representations with a view to keeping both those drugs on the free list as they are of considerable benefit to asthma sufferers?
– 1 will bring this matter to the attention of my colleague, the Minister for Health, and obtain a reply for the honourable senator.
– 1 direct my question lo the Leader of the Government. In view of the fact that the Government has now agreed to permit American servicemen to visit Australia on recreation leave, will it give an assurance that all visiting servicemen shall be screened to ensure that none is a carrier of infectious or contagious diseases?
– I am sure that both nations will lake every precaution to see that the honourable senator’s wishes are met.
– My question is directed lo the Minister for Education and Science. I refer to the announcement made hy the Minister yesterday that the Commonwealth Government has decided not to support the establishment of a new university or university college in the Riverina, ls the Minister aware that on 8th November last, a mere eighteen days before the last Federal election, the Chairman of the Australian Universities Commission, Sir Leslie Martin, was reported as having said at a public meeting held in Leeton that it had never been necessary to convince the Commission of the need for a university in the Riverina and that by the time he left the Riverina the logical centre for a university would be known? Will the Minister agree that, bearing in mind the utterances attributed to Sir Leslie and now that the Government has decided against the establishment of such a university or university college, the people in the south west of New South Wales could well be excused for being under the impression that the Government had intended to take some positive action in the matter and that the Government had no intention at any time of acceding to a very sensible and constructive proposal for a university or university college in the Riverina area?
– I am noi: aware of statements that may have been attributed to Sir Leslie Martin in newspapers at any particular time. However, I am aware that Sir Leslie Martin has been the Chairman of the Australian Universities Commission for a period of years and that he was the chairman of the committee that inquired into and reported on the future of tertiary education in Australia. I am aware that he signed a report, as did all the other members of the committee, specifically recommending against the establishment of a university or junior university college in the Riverina, particularly at Wagga. I am also aware that Sir Leslie Martin later, as the Chairman of the Australian Universities Commission, brought in the third report of the Commission, which has been presented to this Parliament and which reiterated the views expressed by the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia. I am aware, further, that yesterday I tabled a report of the Commission of which Sir Leslie Martin was Chairman at the time the report was prepared. So whatever a newspaper may have attributed to Sir Leslie Martin, there are three official documents in which not only he but also all the members of the Commission and Committees working with him expressed a view quite different from that suggested by the honourable senator.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation endeavour to obtain from his colleague a definite statement as to whether and when a licensed bar restaurant will be provided at the Hobart airport terminal, which I believe is the only capital city airport terminal without this normal facility?
– I shall refer the honourable senator’s question to the Minister for Civil Aviation and try to get an expeditious answer.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services. Since the Government is spending millions of dollars each year on subsidies to homes for the aged, a project with which I wholeheartedly agree, will the Minister obtain for me, firstly, the number of homes so subsidised since the inauguration of the scheme; secondly, the number of homes which admit persons without a lump sum payment or donation; thirdly, the number which demand a lump sum payment; fourthly, the number of persons affected in either case; and fifthly, the total sum of such payments made?
– Because of the detailed nature of the information requested on this matter, in which I know Senator Tangney is interested, I ask her to put the question on the notice paper so that I may get an answer.
(Question No. 25)
asked the Minis ter representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The Prime Minister has provided me with the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
It might be noted that under the contract M.S.S.Security Express Pty Ltd is required to provide insurance cover for all Commonwealth moneys carried up to $3m for any one loss.
(Question No. 67)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
Does the Minister for Immigration intend visiting Europe during the parliamentary recess to renew migration agreements with nations where such agreements have expired and also sign agreements with nations with which at present Australia has no immigration agreement?
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answer:
I will be visiting Europe and Britain in June and July for direct discussions as necessary with governments of countries from which immigration is important. With some of these we have agreements already: with others they may emerge from negotiations which I will undertake.
(Question No. 96)
asked the Minis ter representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The Prime Minister has provided me with the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(Question No. 151)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
In any action contemplated for the tightening up of passport procedures, will consideration be given to closing up existing loopholes which result in considerable distress to deserted wives whose husbands vanish overseas?
– The Minister for Immigration has supplied the following answer:
For many years, it has been the practice to ask a married person who is travelling unaccompanied to furnish the consent of his or her spouse to the issue of an Australian passport. In a case where a married man is unable to produce the written consent of his wife, the issue of a passport is delayed while the wife is notified that her husband has applied for a passport, that his application meets the requirements of the Passports Act and that he is eligible for the issue of an Australian passport. The wife is informed that at the expiration of two weeks if both parties reside in the same State, or three weeks if resident in different States, an Australian passport will be issued unless within that time she produces evidence that her husband’s departure would be contrary to any order, including an interim order, of a court of law. At the same time, the wife is advised that if no order exists and she wishes to prevent her husband’s departure she should consult her legal adviser to ascertain what legal action is open to her.
To date, it has not been found practicable to go further than this in endeavouring to help deserted wives. It is not possible or appropriate that passport officers should themselves inquire into the facts of marital disputes or withhold passports indefinitely except on the basis of court orders.
– On 5th April, Senator Dittmer asked me a question without notice about salaries of members of the Fourth Division of the Commonwealth Public Service. The Prime Minister has provided me with the following information:
The salary increases referred to applied to Third Division clerical and administrative staff and resulted from a decision of the Public Service Arbitrator in respect of pay claims, based on work value, filed by interested staff associations. A number of staff associations with members employed in the Fourth Division of the Public Service also have filed pay claims, based on work value, with the Public Service Arbitrator. These claims are awaiting hearing.
– On 19th April
asked me without notice whether the Australian Government was aware that the Swedish Government had withdrawn its Ambassador from Saigon.I undertook to find out the details of the matter and have now been provided with the following information:
The Swedish Ambassador has not been withdrawn. In an address to the Stockholm branch of the Social Democrat Party on 15th April, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden indicated his intention to recommend that the Government of Sweden should not accredit a new Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam when the present
Ambassador who is also accredited to Thailand and is resident in Bangkok, is transferred later this year. The Minister did not express any intention to break diplomatic relations with the Republic of Vietnam and he made it clear that Sweden was not considering the establishment of diplomatic relations with North Vietnam.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henry) read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill and the associated Supply Bill (No. 2) is to appropriate moneys to carry on the necessary normal services of the Government during the firstfive months of the financial year 1967-68. The total amount sought in this Bill is$1, 000, 195. 000 comprising:
In general these amounts represent approximately five-twelfths of the 1966-67 appropriation and make no provision for new services. However, the amount of $413,986,000 for Defence Services makes provision for the continuation of the current defence programme and large contractual payments due in the first five months of the financial year. An amount of $20,000,000 is sought for an advance to the Treasurer to make advances which will be recovered within the financial year, and to make moneys available to meet expenditure on services of the Government, particulars of which will afterwards be submitted to Parliament. 1 commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Keeffe) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to appropriate $235,098,000 for certain expenditures to carry on the necessary services of the Government for the first five months of 1967-68. The total amount sought comprises:
Advance to the Treasurer 20,000,000 The amount for capital works and services is required in general for the orderly continuation of works programmes. The amount of §20,000,000 sought for an advance to the Treasurer is to make advances which will be recovered within the financial year, and to make moneys available to meet expenditures, particulars of which will afterwards be submitted to Parliament. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Keeffe) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill proposes amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act. Very broadly stated, the amendments will convert the withholding tax on dividends to a final tax, extend for three years the period in which capital subscriptions to prospecting or mining companies may qualify as an allowable income tax deduction, and grant an exemption from Australian income tax on certain income earned in Australia by United States contractors and personnel from work connected with two defence projects here. Honourable senators will be aware that a withholding tax is imposed on dividends derived by non-residents from Australian companies. The tax is at a general flat rate of 30% of the gross dividend and it is deducted by the paying company at the point of payment. The rate is reduced to 15% for residents of countries with which we have double taxation agreements. At present these countries are the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand. A feature of the Australian withholding tax system not found in the systems of other countries, however, is that non-resident recipients of Australian dividends have an option to elect to be taxed on the dividends on an ordinary assessment basis instead of accepting the withholding tax as a final liability. If this election is made, Australian tax cannot be increased beyond the withholding tax rate but, dependent upon the amount of income derived from Australian sources, it may be reduced to something below that rate or even to nil.
The option of assessment was made a feature of our withholding tax system mainly because, when the system was introduced in 1960, some overseas investors in Australian companies were not subject to tax on dividends in their home country. In these circumstances imposition of Australian withholding tax would have introduced a new liability which could have caused some degree of hardship in individual cases. There have, however, been significant changes in the intervening years and overseas investors are now generally taxed in their home countries on foreign dividends and allowed a credit for foreign tax against the home country tax. The existence of the option to be assessed means that the Australian withholding tax, unlike similar taxes imposed by other countries, is not a final tax on the dividends. It has been our experience that this adds considerably to administrative costs and also causes a good deal of inconvenience to overseas investors. The inconvenience to overseas investors arises because, while the right of election remains, many of them are involved in difficulties in obtaining credit for Australian withholding lax against their home country tax, the home country taxation authorities insisting that they take steps to ensure that Australian tax has been reduced to a minimum by exercise of the option to be assessed. The existence of the option therefore not only involves a surrender of tax on Australian income to foreign treasuries but also tends to defeat basic objectives of a withholding tax which are simplicity of operation and certainly of liability for the overseas investor.
Having carefully examined all these factors, the Government has decided our withholding tax ought now to be converted to a final tax. lt is proposed to do this by withdrawing the option of overseas investors to be taxed on dividends on an assessment basis. I mention that this change in the law accords with a recommendation of the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation of which Sir George Ligertwood was Chairman. The amendments proposed will also exclude residents of all our external territories from the scope of the dividend withholding tax. At present, residents of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea are exempt from the withholding tax on dividends received from Australian companies and are liable to tax on an ordinary assessment basis. Residents of other territories are, however, liable to dividend withholding tax at the general rate of 30% on dividends received from Australian companies, subject to exercise of the option that the dividends be assessed under the general provision of the income tax law. With the general withdrawal of the option to be assessed, it is proposed to exempt residents of all our territories from the withholding tax. Those taxpayers will then be taxed on the same basis in respect of their Australian income as are residents of Australia. The amendments to the dividend withholding tax system that I have outlined will apply in respect of dividends derived on or after 1st July 1967.
Other amendments proposed by the Bill will extend the operation of certain provisions of the income tax law for a further period of three years to 30th June 1970. These are provisions which authorise deductions, in specified circumstances, for share capital subscribed to petroleum exploration and mining companies or to other companies whose principal business is mining or prospecting for minerals other than gold, uranium or oil. The deductions, which are available only to Australian residents, are dependent upon the company concerned lodging with the Commissioner of Taxation a declaration that the share capital subscribed by Australian investors has been or will be expended on appropriate mining or prospecting operations. The provisions authorising these deductions are due to terminate on 30th June 1967, having already been extended for three years from 30th June 1964. They provide an incentive for Australian residents to invest in companies prospecting for petroleum and other minerals in Australia and the Government has decided that their operation should be extended for another three years.
The remaining amendments proposed by the Bill will give effect to taxation aspects of agreements between the Australian Government and United States Government concerning undertakings in Austraia known as project SPARTA and the Joint Defence Space Research Facility. The undertaking known as SPARTA is a project concerned with the firing of certain re-entry vehicles from the lest range at Woomera. The Joint Defence Space Research Facility, which is situated in the vicinity of Alice Springs, is concerned with joint Australian-American general defence research in the space field. The relevant agreements bind Australia to exempt from our income tax the income of United States contractors and employees of the United States Government derived here solely as a result of their connection with the establishment, operation or maintenance of either of the two projects mentioned. The amendments proposed by the Bill will authorise the exemptions to be provided.
Honourable senators may recall that, in 1963, the income tax law was amended to provide certain exemptions in accordance with our agreements with the Government of the United States of America relating to the establishment of the naval communication station at North West Cape in Western Australia. The amendments now proposed are consistent with the principles of the law providing those exemptions. As in the case of the North West Cape project, the exemptions will operate only so long as the income is subject to Unite:d States tax. The exemptions do not apply to income derived from the projects by persons who are citizens of Australia or ordinarily resident here. Similarly, the income of a company incorporated in Australia and carrying out a contract in connection with the projects will not qualify for exemption.
The general practical effect of the amendments proposed is to reserve to the United States Government the taxation of American citizens and taxpayers on income that has its origin in expenditure by the United States Government on the two projects in Australia while these persons remain subject to the American tax laws. Australia’s taxation rights in respect of other income derived from the projects are not disturbed. More detailed explanations of the technical provisions of the Bill are provided in an explanatory memorandum which is being made available for the information of honourable senators. I do not. therefore, propose to speak at greater length at this stage. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Devitt) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time. lt is proposed by the Bill to amend the Income Tax (International Agreements) Act to give effect to our agreements with the United States Government relating to two projects being undertaken in Australia. These are the SPARTA project and the Joint Defence Space Research Facility. The amendments are complementary to the amendments proposed to the Income Tax Assessment Act which have been explained. In broad terms, the concept of the agreements is that the presence in Australia of United Slates contractors in connection wilh cither of the projects should not, of itself, render them liable to Australian income tax, or to more Australian income tax than they would otherwise pay.
Under our double taxation agreement with the United States of America, Australian tax on dividends paid by an Australian company to a United States resident is limited to 15% of the dividends. This rate limitation does not apply if the United Slates resident is engaged in business in Australia through a permanent establishment. The carrying out of a contract for the establishment, maintenance or operation of the SPARTA project or the Facility may involve the setting up of a permanent establishment in this country. In this event a United States contractor would not, in the absence of the amendments proposed, be entitled to the reduced rate of tax on dividends received from Australian companies. The purpose of the amendments proposed is, therefore, to ensure that a United States contractor will not, by reason of the fact that he is carrying on business in Australia solely for purposes connected with the project, become liable to pay a higher rate of tax on such dividends than would otherwise apply. These amendments are consistent with the principles of existing provisions enacted in 1963 in relation to United Stales contractors engaged on the North West Cape Naval Communication Station. Technical features of the Bill are explained in an explanatory memorandum prepared for the information of honourable senators and 1 do not propose to speak at greater length on the Bill al this stage, f commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Mulvihill) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to authorise exemptions from estate duty in accordance with the terms of our agreement with the United States Government relating to the Joint Defence Space Research Facility in Australia. In broad terms, the amendments proposed will exempt from Australian estate duty certain personal property that is in Australia solely because of the presence here of persons in connection with the establishment, operation or maintenance of the Facility. The exemption will apply only where the property is subject to the estate tax of the United States Government. It will not be available to citizens of Australia or persons ordinarily resident in this country.
The amendments are consistent with the principles of existing provisions of the estate duty law which provide certain exemptions for United States persons in Australia for purposes connected with the North West Cape Naval Communication Station. A memorandum explaining the technical provisions of the Bill is being made available to honourable senators. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Fitzgerald) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is a further measure arising from our agreement with the Government of the United States relating to the Joint Defence Space Research Facility. It proposes an exemption from Australian gift duty for gifts of certain personal property which is in Australia solely by reason of the presence here of persons connected with the Facility. The exemption will be conditional upon the gift being subject to the gift tax imposed by the United Stales Government. Persons who are Australian citizens or ordinarily resident here will not qualify for the exemption. As with the estate duty amendments proposed, the amendments to the gift duty law are consistent with the principles of existing provisions which provide certain exemptions for United States persons in Australia for purposes connected with the North West Cape project. A memorandum explaining the clauses of the Bill is being circulated for the information of honourable senators. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Dame Annabelie Rankin) read a first time.
[10.51] -I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The principal object of this Bill is to amend the Wool Industry Act 1962-66 so as to give effect to new arrangements for the financing of wool research and promotion. The proposed arrangements envisage an increase in the total Government contributions for these activities, as outlined by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his policy speech last November. In addition, some amendments are proposed to facilitate the administration of the Act.
Recent years have witnessed a very considerable expansion in wool promotion activities and in wool research. The organisational basis for this expansion was laid by the passage of the Wool Industry Act in 1962 which reconstituted the Australian Wool Board and widened its functions. To the Board’s traditional function of promoting wool was added, among other things, the responsibility for recommending to the Minister for Primary Industry expenditure on wool research and for administering the annual research budgets.
The stepping up of wool promotion to its current scale was initiated in 1964, following the adoption by wool growers of a plan to launch a greatly expanded promotion campaign for wool throughout the world. This plan was prepared by the International Wool Secretariat, which is the joint promotional agency of the Wool Boards of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The funds required to finance the plan were so substantial that Australian wool growers asked the Government to assist them in providing Australia’s share. This assistance was granted for a three year period ending June 1967, with provision for review at the end of that period.
The Wool Industry Act was amended in May 1964 to implement this measure which committed the Government to match, for the three year period in question, all grower contributions for promotion after the first SI per bale. In practice this commitment meant that the Government, which had previously not contributed for wool promotion, undertook to provide funds equal to those contributed by wool growers over and above their former levy of Si per bale.
Concurrently with the amendment of the Wool Industry Act, new Wool Tax Acts were passed to change the levy on wool growers for research and promotion from a flat rate per bale to a percentage deduction from the gross value of wool sold. This change had been requested by the industry to achieve greater equity in the incidence of the levy. The Acts provided that the levy for research and promotion must not exceed 2% per annum. However, the research component of the levy, payable into the Wool Research Trust Fund under the Wool Industry Act, was left unaltered at the equivalent of 20c per bale from growers while the Government continued its contribution of 40c per bale.
On the recommendation of the Australian Wool Industry Conference, the combined levy payable for research and promotion by wool growers was fixed at li% for 1964-65 and at 2% for 1965-66 and 1966-67. A levy of this order represents an appreciable deduction from the producer’s cheque. Many wool growers, however, regard it not only as money well spent but as the price to be paid for the well being of their industry. They are mindful of the substantial benefits already reaped by the industry from research discoveries and conscious that without promotion their product may not be able to withstand the competition from synthetic fibres.
The discoveries which have been made to date from research activities have benefited the wool grower in two ways. Firstly, developments such as improved methods of sheep husbandry, control of diseases and pests, pasture improvement and development of new grasses, have helped him to increase productivity. Secondly, the discoveries made to improve the methods of processing wool and improve its performance characteristics, such as permanent pleating, shrinkproofing and easy care properties, have all assisted greatly to enhance wool’s competitive ability. However, a good deal still remains to be done in the field of wool production, particularly in regional research and especially in the application of research findings. There is also large scope for further research work into wool processing; into ways of overcoming the few remaining shortcomings of wool; and in finding new uses for wool.
Those who think that the competition facing wool is being exaggerated do not seem to realise that something approaching a revolution has happened in the field of textiles over the last two decades. Where only fifteen years ago such items as sweaters, suits or blankets were synonymous with wool, this is no longer the case. Today the consumer wishing to buy these items in wool would be well advised to look at the label. An increasing range of synthetic and blended products is appearing in stores and shop windows, and their quality is improving. A generation is growing up which has no particular allegiance to wool. Unless these young people - and many of their elders - are made aware that wool still offers the best all-round value, their choice may increasingly fall on substitutes which are frequently cheaper and invariably represented as superior. This is where an effective promotion campaign can yield dividends. The need to take all action possible to assure the future of our great wool growing industry is a matter for concern not only to wool growers but to all Australians.
Wool is still Australia’s most important export commodity, providing not less than 30% of our foreign exchange earnings and often a great deal more. These earnings have played and must continue to play a key role in the development of our economy. Vast areas of inland Australia are dependent on wool growing as the only source of livelihood, and the future of these areas is, for better or worse, bound up with the future of wool, lt was these considerations that led the Government three years ago to grant the request for help by this industry, which was trying to help itself to the limit of its capacity. It is also these considerations that we must bear in mind when considering the Bill before us.
I have already mentioned that the Government contribution for wool promotion expires in June next. This is not the case with the Government contribution for wool research but here a different problem arises. The Government’s contribution of 40c per bale, together with the 20c per bale contributed by wool growers, has long been inadequate to meet the cost of the research programme. Thus for some years an increasing proportion of this programme has been financed out of reserves in the Wool Research Trust Fund. By June next, the reserves will be depleted to the minimum working level and unless additional income is provided for the next and succeeding years, the programme will have to be heavily reduced.
The need to find new revenue to finance wool research and the question of a Government contribution for promotion after June 1967 were considered by the Executive of the Australian Wool Industry Conference. The Executive, with the assistance of the Australian Wool Board, conducted a detailed review of the funds required to finance research and promotion over the five years commencing 1st July 1967. The assessment of the funds required was subsequently endorsed by the full Wool Industry Conference.
In considering the ways in which the finance should be provided, the Conference concluded that wool growers were not in a position to increase their annual levy for research and promotion above 2% because the situation of many growers had been adversely affected by the recent drought as well as by lower returns due to increased costs which have not been accompanied by increased wool prices. Accordingly, the Conference requested the Government to renew and increase its contribution for research and promotion by matching dollar for dollar all funds contributed by wool growers by way of levy for these activities over the 3-year period 1967-68 to 1969-70. The position would be reviewed at the end of the 3-year period. This suggestion involved the replacement of the present system, under which the Government and wool growers contribute at different rates, by one of equal contributions. The Conference also suggested that the apportionment of wool grower and Government contributions between research and promotion should be made annually by the Minister for Primary Industry after considering the recommendations of the Conference. Finally, the Conference suggested that the reserves at present held by the Wool Board for promotion could De used, if necessary, to meet any shortfall between funds contributed by growers and the Government and the total requirement for promotion.
The Government examined the proposals of the Wool Industry Conference in the light of estimated future financial requirements for wool research and promotion and other relevant factors. It came to the conclusion that the basis suggested by the Conference was, on the whole, justified by circumstances but decided that its annual contribution for research and promotion during the next three financial years should be subject to a maximum of $14m per annum. This ceiling on the Government’s contribution is, in the Government’s view, not unreasonable. Even on a conservative assessment of the future wool production and price prospects, the amount obtained from a levy on growers of not more than 2% per annum should be such that with reasonable use of the promotion reserves now held by the Wool Board, a Government contribution not exceeding $14m should suffice to make up the total amount required for research and promotion ov.:r the next three years.
While the ceiling of $14m per annum on the Government’s contribution is considered to be capable of meeting all reasonable contingencies, it is recognised that it may not be sufficient in the event of abnormal or exceptional circumstances such as a drastic fall in wool production or prices. In such an event the Government would be prepared to review the position before the end of the three-year period.
Effect is given to the Government’s decision to renew and increase its financial assistance for wool research and promotion in clause 12 of the Bill. This clause provides that during the next three financial years, that is 1967-68 to 1969-70, the Government will contribute for wool research and promotion on the basis of matching, dollar for dollar, moneys paid by wool growers for these activities by way of levy on wool sold in this period, subject to the Government’s contribution not exceeding SI 4m in any one year. No change is proposed to the Wool Tax Acts (Nos. 1 to 5) 1964, which provide for the payment by wool growers of a levy at a rate not exceeding 2% per annum. At present the Government’s contribution for wool research and promotion ranges between $10m and Slim annually, so that the proposed arrangements mean an increase of $3m to $4m per annum in these contributions.
Clause 12 of the Bill further provides that the levy paid by wool growers under the Wool Tax Acts and the Government’s matching grant will bc apportioned annually by the Minister for Primary Industry between wool research and promotion, after considering the recommendations made in this regard by the Australian Wool Industry Conference. The method used will be that the Minister, after considering the recommendations of the Conference, will determine the total sum that will be paid from wool tax collections into the Wool Research Trust Fund for research. This determination will automatically allocate the balance of wool tax collections to the Wool Board, that is, for promotion. The Government will match the respective amounts paid into the Wool Research Trust Fund and to the Wool Board subject to these amounts together not exceeding $14m per annum.
The rate of expenditure on wool research and promotion during the course of a year differs, and at certain times a greater proportion of the industry and the Government’s contribution may be required for monthly payments for research than for promotion or vice versa. Accordingly, some flexibility is desirable to regulate the How of payments as required. This is provided in clause 12 of the Bill which authorises the Secretary of the Department of Primary Industry to determine, within the overall determination made by the Minister, the rate of payments to the Wool Research Trust Fund and the Wool Board respectively. The Bill also contains appropriate provisions which terminate as from 30th June 1967 the present arrangements for the financing of wool research and promotion. However, these provisions have been drafted in such a way as to enable any contributions which become due under the existing arrangements after 30th June 1967 to be paid to the Wool Research Trust Fund or the Wool Board.
I now turn to the other amendments which the Bill proposes to the Wool Industry Act in order to facilitate its administration. It is considered that, as a general principle, income derived by recipients of grants from the Wool Research Trust Fund by the sale of assets, goods, livestock, e tce tra brought or produced from grants made from the Fund as well as income earned from royalties on inventions resulting from projects financed from the Fund should, as far as possible, revert to the Fund or be used in some other way for the benefit of the wool industry. There is some doubt, however, as to whether the present provisions of the Wool Industry Act are adequate to achieve this end. In order to remove this doubt, clause 11 proposes to replace section 69 of the Wool Industry Act, which enables agreements to be entered into with recipients of grants from the Fund, by a new section. The new section strengthens the existing provisions by specifying the more important aspects relating to wool research which can be covered by agreements.
Specifically, the new section provides that agreements may state the purposes for which research grants may be used; that income derived from property acquired with grants from the Fund or from the sale of such property must revert to the Fund: and that income earned from patents from inventions resulting from projects financed from the Fund must be paid to the Fund. In determining the proportion of income which should revert to the Fund, the main consideration will bc the extent to which the research project was financed from the Fund. However, in some cases the decision could be influenced by factors other than the level of financial contributions. In these cases, discretion is given to the Minister to vary the proportion of income payable to the Fund as circumstances may warrant.
Provision is also made in the new section for the Minister to authorise a member or officer of the Australian Wool Board to enter into agreements wilh recipients of grants from the Fund. As the Wool Board has a large measure of responsibility for the administration of the wool research programme, it would be convenient if the Minister could empower the Board to enter into agreements in those cases where he considers this desirable.
Lastly, the new section provides that properly acquired with grants from the Fund and patent rights resulting from work financed from the Fund may be assigned by agreement to the Commonwealth or the Wool Board. Such assignments would take place where the parties to the agreement mutually agree that this would be the most appropriate coarse to follow. Provision is also made in the new section and elsewhere in the Bill requiring the Commonwealth and the Wool Board to pay into the Fund income received from property and patents assigned to them, or the proceeds from the sale of assigned property. Again, as the Wool Board is largely responsible for the administration of wool research, it would simplify matters administratively if authority could be delegated to the Board to make small increases in grants which had been approved by the Minister from the WOOl Research Trust Fund for research projects, scholarships, etc., on the basis of estimated expenditure, but which proved inadequate. The extent to which the Board would be able to increase the grants and the types of cases where it would be permitted to do so, would be prescribed by regulation. An amendment to this effect is proposed in clause 10 of the Bill.
Finally, the Bill proposes an amendment of section 27 of the Wool Industry Act which specifies that the Wool Board may not pay its employees a salary in excess of $7,500 per annum unless the Minister approves. In accordance with normal practice, the Minister’s approval to pay such higher salaries is only given with the concurrence of the Higher Salaries Committee of the Cabinet. Since the Wool Industry Act was passed by Parliament in 1962, the salary level above which the approval of the Higher Salaries Committee is required has been increased to $8,400 per annum. The proposed amendment would bring this particular section of the Act up to date as well as provide for a higher rate to be prescribed by regulation should the figure of S8.400 per annum be increased by the Higher Salaries Committee in the future.
The introduction of this Bill marks another phase in the co-operation of the wool growing industry and the Government in taking measures to assist in safeguarding the future of an industry so important to the Australian ecconomy. The new arrangements for the financing of wool research and promotion should ensure, firstly, that sufficient funds are available to carry on the research effort designed to assist growers in the field of wool production and to improve the performance characteristics of their product. Secondly, it will be possible to continue unabated the present world wide promotion campaign aimed to stimulate the demand for wool. Moreover, the Bill demonstrates the readiness of the Government to back an industry which has long shown a willingness to help itself. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Wilkinson) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 11 May (vide page 1421), on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) [II.10Before this debate was adjourned yesterday I made some comments on the improvements that are being effected in the provisions of the Homes Savings Grant Act, particularly to give the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) greater flexibility of interpretation. I acknowledge the attempt: she has made to meet particular situations that have been brought to her attention since the inception of the Act. That attempt has been calculated to give expression to the spirit of the Act rather than to be confined within the limits of legal interpretations of it. That in itself would justify the introduction of this Bill. But the Bill contains further provisions which will add to the benefit flowing from the Act. 1 wish to refer as briefly as I can to three or four matters which, in my opinion and in that of other members of the Opposition, will improve the Act quite materially and increase the benefits available to the people whom it was initially designed to assist. 1 draw the attention of the Senate to the first paragraph of the Minister’s second reading speech which sets out the intention to increase from $14,000 to $ 1 5,000 the limit on the value of a. home that may attract a grant. There is some significance in this. I believe that it is an acknowledgment of the fact that in the period from the introduction of this legislation up to the present time the cost of providing homes in Australia has increased. That increase stems from a number of factors that are involved in the provision of homes.
It seems to me that the views of a number of economists who considered this matter when the original Bill first became law have been borne out by the fact that immediately an effort was made to assist young people to own their own homes some people in the community seized the opportunity to bring about, by the various means that they are so capable of using, increases in the cost of land, materials and all the other things that are involved in the provision of a home. There are many ways in which young home builders can be taken for a ride, as it were.I regret very much that there seems to have grown up in the Australian society an attitude of not losing any opportunity to get another quid or two out of other people. This sort of attitude completely negates the attempts of any legislature to assist people.
The provision of homes savings grants is not a novel proposition to the Opposition, because we initially promoted the idea. The very fact that this legislation has been before us on two occasions since its introduction indicates that the Government went off half-cocked with an election promise. I suggest sincerely that it was borrowed from the Labor Party platform without any clear conception of what was involved in the implementation of it. But I pass from that because the original Bill is now law and we are endeavouring to correct some of the anomalies that have been found to exist in it.
I pass to the question of the simplification of the application form. I have had about nineteen years of experience of local government administration and accounting. I tackled one of these forms twelve or eighteen months ago. I got completely bogged down in the technicalities and the problems of endeavouring to specify clearly the bases of the claim that a certain young couple had for a homes savings grant. Heaven only knows whether I got the form filled in correctly. Anyway, with all the information available to me and with a mass of figures, I dispatched the application to the Department of Housing. Ultimately I was delighted to hear that it had been granted.
How any private individual without a fairly deep knowledge of accountancy could complete one of these documents in the circumstances in which this matter came before me, I would never know. The form was very involved and very difficult to complete. I am very pleased to see that the
Government has made an attempt to simplify the application procedure. The Minister is probably more overjoyed about that than I am. She and her departmental officers must receive hundreds and hundreds of these applications. They must have a pretty torrid time trying to sort out all the involved details of the financial position of people who seek to qualify for this grant. I also note the new system under which the statement of savings of the applicant will be confined to the three years immediately proceding the prescribed date. I say ‘All hail’ to that, too.
One point that has worried me somewhat since the inception of the scheme is the prescribed date which is related to the commencement date of the scheme, 2nd December 1963. I appreciate that a government must set a commencing date for schemes of this kind. I do not know whether the Minister, in her broader interpretation of the provisions of the legislation, will be able to make any variation in respect of the prescribed date. I will give one or two examples of what happens in this regard. The legislation was enacted in May 1964, but it operated as from 2nd December 1963. I know of cases -I assume that other honourable senators do, too - in which owner-builders commenced to dig foundations or to initiate the provision of homes very shortly before 2nd December 1963. With their limited resources with which to provide themselves with a home - this relates to the very essence of the legislation - they commenced to build their homes before the prescribed date.
– I am saying that they commenced to build before 2nd December 1963, the date on which the legislation came into operation. These owner-builders were engaged in many instances for periods of up to two years before the completion of their homes. This meant that instead of having homes at the prescribed date it was probably two years later. It could well have been December 1965 before they occupied their homes whereas others had qualified and commenced to build, or signed the contract for building, as the case may be, shortly after 2nd December 1963, and so were entitled to the grant. Some people who qualified for a grant occupied their homes eighteen months before others who, because they commenced their operations shortly before the prescribed date, were debarred from participating (ft the scheme.
As I have said, I do not know the extent to which the Minister has discretionary power in this matter; I rather suspect that I am out of court here, but it does seem a shame because there are probably many young people throughout Australia who have accepted all the economic problems of providing themselves with homes and who could greatly benefit from a little more elasticity in the interpretation of the provision relating to the prescribed date.
I now pass to another question involving the interpretation by the Minister and her Department of what constitutes a substandard home. I suggest that this is going to be a rather difficult problem. Sometimes young people marry and live in an area where they never intended to settle into a permanent home. Circumstances have required them to go to one of the remoter areas and live in a sub-standard sort of place. Many of them have committed themselves to the purchase of properties of this kind and subsequently have found themselves in a position to move to an area which they would have chosen initially for permanent settlement, and they have then proceeded to build a home in this more desirable area. 1 know of one such case and no doubt there are many others. In such circumstances the Minister has to determine what constitutes a sub-standard home. Where is the line of demarcation to be drawn? Perhaps when she replies at the conclusion of this debate she will give us some clarification of this point.
Finally I want to make a comment about the booklet which it is proposed to issue shortly regarding the new provisions of the legislation. Such a booklet can be of tremendous value to home builders generally, to members and senators and also to many other people in the interpretation of the wishes and intentions of the Government underlying the various phases of the home building legislation. 1 look forward to receiving this booklet. I am sure it will answer many of the questions with which I am at present faced when considering this legislation.
I conclude by acknowledging that this Bill has many good features. It corrects certain anomalies. It does something that all legislation of this kind ought to do: It gives to the Minister administering the Act a degree of flexibility which enables an interpretation to be made in terms of the spirit of the law rather than the letter. I say, therefore, that we welcome the measure and will support it. I have not touched on some other benefits conferred by this legislation, but I suppose other speakers will do so. I have referred to what seem to me to be the main features of the Bill. We are very pleased to see these provisions and we propose to give the Bill a speedy passage.
[11.24] - in reply - First I want to thank honourable senators for signifying their ready acceptance of this Homes Savings Grant Bill. This legislation is of great importance to many young Australian couples. 1 should like to address a few remarks to some of the comments made during the debate. The first speaker was Senator Cavanagh who always shows a keen interest in housing. I believe very few senators would agree with the implication inherent in his speech that our exceptionally high proportion of home ownership is the result of a shortage of homes available for rent. I and my colleagues prefer to believe that the average Australian family really wants to own its own home. I am sure we are quite right in our assumption, and the facts, which are widely known, appear to confirm this view.
One has only to glance at the hundreds of inches of space devoted to advertisements for homes available for rent in our metropolitan dailies at the weekends to realise that there ls no shortage of rental accommodation, at least in the capital cities where most of our people live. Why are so many Australian families prepared to curtail expenditure in other directions so that they may pay a deposit and repay a loan on a home of their own when rental accommodation is relatively freely available? Of course not every Australian family wants to own its own home, but I believe that the great majority of Australian families do, and with the relatively high incomes they receive in this country today they can afford to do so. This, of course, is reflected in the home ownership figures.
Senator Cavanagh went on to say ; and I was very pleased to hear him say it - that he and his Party support this Bill. He said it is designed to assist young people to own their own homes by encouraging them to save for this special purpose, and that the amount of money available for long term loans for housing will be increased. But he also suggested that if his Party were in power the taxpayers’ money would not be used for this scheme. This was a very disturbing statement. He also said that these grants are being given to the greedy. That must indeed come as a shock to the very many young Australians who have received grants as a result of their having saved for homes costing less than $14,000. They, I am sure, have never considered themselves to be greedy, and neither have we. I think most Opposition senators would agree with me on this point. But what must alarm great numbers of young people is Senator Cavanagh’s hint, to which I have just referred, that if the Opposition Party were in power this very helpful assistance might be denied them.
Senator Cavanagh also implied that the Government is not looking after the housing needs of the needy. To my mind this is both unfair and blatantly incorrect. We are currently making advances under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement at the rate of $!20m per annum. As honourable senators know, these advances are made at concessional rates of interest so that families in need may obtain homes from State housing authorities at rents they can afford to pay. Through this scheme we are meeting the housing needs of many large families who cannot afford to save for their own homes. We are meeting the needs of deserted wives with dependent children, and also the needs of elderly persons. The needs of these people, of course, are of paramount importance to this Government and, I believe, to all honourable senators. Many needy aged persons are also being housed with the assistance of schemes provided by other legislation such as the Aged Persons Homes Act. The fact is that we do look after the housing needs of the needy.
Senator Cavanagh suggested that the homes savings grant scheme has failed to increase the rate of home building. I fail to see how a scheme aimed at encouraging saving to assist in home ownership is closely related to the rate at which homes are being built. People need homes, whether they own them or rent them. This Government uses its influence to vary the rate of home building to ensure that sufficient new homes are built to meet the overall housing needs of the community. We contribute vast sums of money each year to provide homes for those in need of assistance. As I said earlier, we are not content to rest on our past achievements. There are still people in Australia who need assistance to obtain a home and others who are living in conditions that are not generally acceptable.
The homes savings grant scheme commenced to operate in mid-1964. The number of new houses and flats commenced in Australia in 1964-65 was some 116,700. This was the highest number ever commenced in a financial year. In fact far more dwellings were commenced than were required to meet reasonable needs. In the following financial year nearly 10,000 fewer houses and flats were commenced. But with the increased carryover of unoccupied homes from the previous year these were more than ample to meet the estimated total demand. This year commencements are expected to be about 116,000. They could well be higher. Irrespective of the rate of commencements, satisfactory as it is in general it is sheer nonsense to say that the homes savings grant scheme has had a depressing effect on the rate of home building.
– Surely the Opposition has not claimed that.
– If the honourable senator had heard Senator Cavanagh’s speech yesterday he would have heard that statement. The Bill before the Senate proposes to raise the limit on the value of a home for purposes of the scheme from $14,000 to $15,000.
Senator Cavanagh, Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Devitt made somewhat similar remarks about the increase in housing costs. True, there has been a rise in the average cost of a house and land since this scheme was announced in November 1963. As the amount of vacant residential land in metropolitan areas has become scarcer due to the increase in population, naturally the price has tended to rise, but I direct the attention of the Senate to the fact that the average home being built today is correspondingly a belter equipped home than was the average home built three or four years ago. Larger rooms and more fittings in a home usually mean a higher price, but they also mean a higher standard of home. However, if the cost of the average home has risen largely because it is a better home these days, I think we must all agree that wages and the majority of incomes have also increased, lt would be difficult to contradict that since 1963 average wages have risen more than has the cost of the average home. In recent years the home building industry in Australia has introduced new materials and new methods of construction which have restrained the rise in the cost of home building. Although we are still looking for more efficient and cheaper methods of home construction, the industry must he congratulated on the economies it has achieved and must he encouraged in its efforts to build better and less expensive homes.
I should like to clear up one point in relation to which I think Senator Cavanagh is under a misapprehension. As I under.wood his remarks - I think I am correct in my understanding - he seemed to think :t would be necessary for a widowed person lo save $1,500 in three years to qualify for a grant. I stress that there has never been a limit on the period over which savings which qualify for a grant may be made. The amendment referred to will provide that the annual limit on savings will apply only throughout the period of three years immediately preceding the prescribed date instead of the seven preceding years as at present.
I congratulate Senator Breen on her very lucid exposition of the benefits that this Bill will extend to so many of our young people who are saving for their own home and so eagerly awaiting the passage of this legislation and the benefits which will flow from it. We are indebted to the honourable senator for her most useful explanation of what this Bill is intended to do. Her remarks also suggest that I should stress to all young people who believe that they are eligible for a grant on all counts other than they did not submit an application within the statutory time limit that they should apply for a grant as soon as possible. Anyone in doubt should not hesitate to write to, or if possible, discuss his position with officers of my Department. I remind honourable senators that there is an office of my Department in every capital city. 1 thank Senator Prowse for his remarks about myself and especially about my Department. 1 appreciate very much the well-deserved tribute he paid to my officers - a tribute also paid by other honourable senators during the debate. However, 1 am sorry to say that I cannot agree with him that the homes savings grant scheme fails even to an extent to encourage saving because homes built and sold with the assistance of Commonwealth-State housing advances and sold by State housing authorities are excluded from the scheme. Surely the offer of a grant of $1 for every S3 saved to a maximum of $1,500 should be an inducement lo every young person in Australia to save for this very special purpose of home ownership. If a young married couple have been unable to save sufficient to pay a deposit on a privately built home and they wish to buy a home, they may approach the Stale housing authorities which offer homes for sale on very low deposit. In some cases the deposit is not more than $100. As an alternative to the homes savings grant, those who buy a State home receive material benefit in the form of an interest concession amounting over the years to perhaps close on $1,000.
I am very pleased to learn that Senator Prowse, and I believe many people in our rural communities, rejoice at the announcement that the Bill will empower my Department to accept, for purposes of the grant, an interest in the land held jointly by an eligible person and a person other than his or her spouse, provided the eligible person has an exclusive right of occupancy of a home on the land. Senator Prowse has always been tremendously interested in this particular aspect of the Act and on many occasions has approached me to discuss it. I believe that he now feels as we do that this must assist many young farmers to obtain the grant. Yesterday Senator Prowse asked me a question about homes built on agricultural lands. I informed him then that approximately 1,000 grants had been made in respect of homes in rural areas. I would now like to inform him that thus figure included only those applicants who stated that the home was on a rural property and that the property was being used as a farm in addition to a home.I thinkI should have added that about 17,000 successful applicants for grants are living in country towns. It would be fair to say that a percentage of these people would be working on farms. Senator Devitt referred to the printing of a new booklet. I can assure him that this is well on the way and when the Bill is passed as the Government wishes we will be able to continue with the printing of the booklet. I thank the Senate for the speedy passage of the Bill.
-I desire to make a personal explanation concerning a matter mentioned by the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin). My recollection is that I did not at any time say what the Australian Labor Party would do if it were in power. I have perused Hansard andI see that this statement is not contained in the Hansard report of my speech. I plead guilty to all the other statements that the Minister said I made, but I do not determine the policy that the Australian Labour Party will follow in the near future when it is in power.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.
– I suggest that we take clauses 7 and 8 together. I propose to move amendments affecting both clauses, and the same principle arises in both.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMANDoes the Committee agree to take clauses 7 and 8 together? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
After section 14 of the Principal Act the following sections are inserted:
(5.) Sub-section (3.) of section sixteen of this Act does not apply in relation to a person to whom this section applies, but for the purposes of this Act, the acceptable savings of such a person (being a person in relation to whom the prescribed date is a date later than the thirty-first day of December, One thousand nine hundred and sixtyseven) as at a time (in this sub-section referred to as ‘the relevant time’) after the thirty-first day of December, One thousand nine hundred and sixty- seven, are subject to this Act, the moneys that were saved in Australia before the relevant time by the person and -
Section 16 of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end of sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (b) of sub-section (3.) the words ‘or was described in those books or records in any other way that indicated that the moneys were for use in connexion with the purchase or construction of a dwelling-house’.
– by leave - I move:
The purpose of these two amendments is to enable credit unions to be brought within the scope of the present Act as bodies in respect of which savings are treated as acceptable savings. In other words, the amendments would put credit unions on the same basis as banks, on the same basis as building societies and in fact on the same basis as credit unions originally were in this Act when it operated several years ago. Credit unions were then covered. The amendments affect not only the rights of credit unions to be treated as eligible bodies along with building societies and banks; they also affect the rights of the citizen who wants to become eligible for the benefits under this legislation but wants to retain his savings not in a bank or a building society but in a credit union. This is the simple position: why should the credit unions bc discriminated against when provate banks and building societies are treated as bodies in which savings might properly be kept by a person who wants to save for the purpose of receiving the homes savings grant?
In proposing that credit unions become eligible for the benefits of this legislation, I am speaking in favour of 200,000 wage earners of Australia who have gathered into 500 credit unions and through their own efforts have saved $800m. This movement is just beginning and the ultimate goal to which they aspire is a matter that concerns the established private banking institutions of Australia. The credit union movement is a non-profit movement. I know the word ‘non-profit* could be anathema to some. The first aim of the Act is to encourage young people to obtain a home upon or shortly after marriage. The method is by encouraging them to save for this purpose as early in their lives as possible. It has been the aim of credit unions to accomplish this. Credit unions are teaching thousands of young Australians to save by the facilities of payroll deductions. Private banking institutions cannot do this effectively. They are not losing by this action of the credit unions, because the people who are saving through their credit unions would not have saved in a bank. It is as simple as that. Many employees prefer not to handle money but to have it taken from their salary for savings.
It has been suggested at times that credit unions are not making a contribution to long term housing. Long term housing cannot originate without the assistance of other moneys. We all know of what is called the deposit gap. Few people, if any, in Australia could purchase a home and land for $8,500, which is the maximum sum allowed by terminating building societies. Without additional assistance there will be no homes and no long term finance. Why is it important that savings in a credit union be acceptable savings under this Act? Credit union loans are made to facilitate the purchase, in full or in part, of land or home. Such loans are made to avoid the need for second and third mortgages. The reality of the situation is that few home seekers can avoid the imposition of high mortgage interest rates - up lo 30% is not unusual - unless they receive the assistance of credit unions. Loans are also made to cover the high cost of stamp duties and legal costs. Why is it that the Government has not been prepared to accept credit unions? Why has the Government chosen to condone unnecessary resort to crippling second and third mortgages? That is the question. The Government has not bren prepared to accept credit unions up to date. On 29-th September last year, when we were dealing with the proposed expenditure on housing in the Budget, Senator Poke moved in this chamber an amendment to the motion ‘That the Committee take note of the proposed expenditure’, which read:
That the following words be added: ‘But is ot opinion that the expenditure should be reduced by 51 as a protest against the Government’s action in excluding credit unions from the provisions of the Homes Savings Grant Act’.
That motion was negatived because the Senate divided evenly on the matter. That was the only reason why that instruction was not given to the Government on 29th September .1966. The Government opposed the motion of the Opposition but the Minister at that time indicated that the matter would be looked at.
Why should people requiring a home be not assisted in every possible way? The fact is that the credit unions are making a very real contribution towards this end and, indeed, to the economy of the country. We see figures prepared by the Government as illustrations of the progress made in housing. These figures would be far less had it not been for the assistance of the credit union movement. They could, indeed, be much higher if credit unions were not excluded from the provisions of this legislation. The facts on the present situation of credit unions show that the number of credit unions is 500; the number of members is 200,000; the savings are $80m; the loans outstanding are $72m; and the outstanding loans purely on housing are $28,800,000. Who can deny that this a real contribution to housing? The scheme has not only placed Australians in houses but by reducing the call on the private banks, the Commonwealth Bank, the building societies, insurance societies and other lending authorities, it has also made enormous additional sums of money available to house the people of this country.
As late as yesterday I checked with the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Staff Association Credit Union. I ascertained that just one of its six credit unions in New South Wales made no fewer than 300 loans available over the last financial year for housing, from a total membership of 1,800. If this same proportion were applied to the credit union movement at large, no fewer than 33,000 home loans would be made in that twelve months period. This projection is consistent with the reliable estimate that approximately $29m is outstanding in home loans through the credit union movement in Australia al this moment. I do not suggest that all of these loans are available for new homes. In some cases, the burden of a second mortgage with its exorbitant interest rates has been relieved to the great benefit of credit union members, many of whom have been labouring under these charges for years.
The suggestion has sometimes been made that credit unions should not be assisted because some sections of the movement are conducted by volunteers. This is not fair, because painstaking efforts are made to ensure that the movement is in the hands of competent staff who have received training in financial administration. Every credit union in Australia is equally bound by law to employ registered public accountants or outside auditors. Not only that, but every credit union, as with every terminating building society, is subject to supervision by government authorities and is required under law to render returns annually to the respective government authorities. Every honourable senator knows that the Australian credit union movement is properly regarded as an important and competent component of a great worldwide movement. Governments recognise the worth of credit unions and their significant role in encouraging savings and in deriving the product of co-operation and collective effort.
Credit unions need this encouragement in Australia. Even without the encouragement of the Government the progress of the credit unions will continue to be meteoric and inevitable. I am sure that there is no real desire in this Senate to stop them, cumber them, hamper them or frustrate them. I ask the Senate to support this laudable movement, in respect of which no derogatory remark has been made here on occasions when the matter has been considered previously. This is not a fly by night movement. It is not an incompetent movement. Tt is here to stay. The movement has received not only the imprimatur and enthusiastic backing of State governments throughout Australia but also the co-operation and encouragement of the Stale governments. It operates under their close surveillance.
– What is the limit of the loan that a credit union will grant?
– The limits that credit unions will grant are determined, of course, by their own rules. Generally the limits are not high enough to cover the outright purchase of a home but are in the region of $3,000. This is helpful, as 1 indicated, because it is aimed at the deposit gap which seems to be the critical factor in preventing so many people from taking advantage of other means of finance. As the honourable senator from Victoria will realise, this has been the problem with most young people who are not able to undertake the burden of getting a home. They can go to a bank and get assistance from it, provided they can get land, overcome the deposit gap and deal with all of the ancillary things. Those are the back breaking factors. It is the credit unions that enable so many young people to overcome this problem.
I ask the Senate: What is the purpose of this legislation? Here is a movement which is operating. People believe in it. Already they are prepared to put their money in it and they are prepared to deal through it. The purpose of this amendment is simply to ensure that those people who believe in the credit union movement, who choose to invest their moneys at a very moderate rate of interest in the movement, will be able to have those moneys treated as acceptable savings under this Act and so get the benefits of the Act. That is all that it is. Why should not these citizens be able to say: ‘If we choose to put our money in a credit union for this laudable purpose - a lot of it is invested in housing - why should we not be able to get the benefits of the Act? Why should we be deprived of grants under the Act?’ That is what it amounts to. When one looks at the proportion of money invested in housing through credit unions one sees that as much is put into housing by credit unions as is put in by the banking institutions. We examined the figures closely on the last occasion.
– The honourable senator mentioned the amount of money that they put into housing. Is it usually on a first mortgage or on a second mortgage?
– I can tell the honourable senator that it would be usually not on the first mortgage for the very reason which 1 have indicated, namely, that the sums that are lent are generally lesser sums. A credit union for the most part is not in a situation to lend enough money to enable the outright purchase of a home. It is rather a matter of closing the deposit gap - meeting nil of the other factors.
– On a second mortgage basis?
– Yes - purchase of the land, meeting the legal costs, stamp duties, and all of those matters. The purposes are laudable. The institutions are set up and controlled by State governments. They report to the Registrar of Cooperative Societies. Why should a citizen be denied a right to-
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– I rise to ask Senator Murphy, through you, Mr Temporary Chairman, whether he can tell me the amount of the loan that credit unions advance on land. That should permit the honourable senator to continue.
– I thank the honourable senator for giving me the opportunity to continue. 1 said that the amount advanced by credit unions for housing purposes was $29m and that this money was used in various ways. 1 am not able to separate from that total the amount used for the purchase of land.
– The honourable senator is saying that that figure has been used on the purchase of real estate.
– I would say that all that money has gone towards housing.
– What does housing mean? It is real estate?
– lt means real estate, yes. We are discussing the Homes Savings Grant Bill. I remind the honourable senator of the worthy definition that was given by the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) when she described what a home is. She said that a home is not merely a house. A home embraces many other things. To get a home one has to acquire land, to pay the various costs and legal fees concerned, and a lot of incidental expenses of all types. Credit unions are investing a vast amount of money in housing. But this is not the criterion of eligibility under the Act. It is not the criterion applied to banks. The real question is this: Should a citizen be able to choose the form in which he will invest his money if he wants to become eligible for a grant under the Homes Savings Grant Act? Why should a citizen be debarred from getting a grant because he chooses to put his money into the credit union movement? That question seems to me to be unanswerable unless it is said that the Government wants to encourage the private banks rather than the credit unions. As some kind of justification has to be advanced, it is then said that the Government encourages private banks rather than credit unions because the private banks fend money on housing.
The credit unions have faced up to this situation and have shown that they are putting a great deal of money into housing. Credit unions are not of the same nature as banks. They are not bodies which lend large sums of money to individuals. That is not their nature. But they are worthy institutions of undoubted financial integrity. They assist the low income earners of the community to escape from the financial morass in which they would be involved if they had to go to the loan sharks. The credit unions ought to be encouraged and assisted in every way. They are doing all they can to assist people to overcome the deposit gaps which face them in their effort to get homes. Why should those people who choose to put their money into a credit union be deprived of the benefits of the Homes Savings Grant Act? The question is as simple as that.
– Traditionally, what is a credit union?
– A person has to save if he wishes to be eligible for this benefit. If a person says: M do not want to put my money into a private bank; I want to put it into a credit union as a special deposit and label it for this specific purpose’, will the Senate say that he should be deprived of the benefits available under this legislation?
– Do credit unions traditionally lend for housing?
– The Opposition thinks that this amendment ought to receive the support of all honourable senators.
– If Senator Murphy cannot answer my question then no-one should listen to him.
– Does Senator Webster want to ask a question or make a speech?
– If the honourable senator wishes to influence the Senate he should make the position clear. Do credit unions traditionally lend money for housing?
– Quite a number do. The honourable senator has asked a question which is difficult to answer.
– I’ll say it is.
– lt is difficult to answer because he uses the word ‘traditionally*. Credit unions are performing such a valuable role in the community that they have developed like an explosion in the last few years. One cannot turn back the clock and recite the great traditional role of credit unions. I will answer the question by saying that credit unions are putting an increasing amount of money into homes. Sitting in the gallery of this chamber is a representative of the Federation of Credit Unions of Aus tralia. He has assured me - as he did on the last occasion that the Senate dealt with credit unions - that the amount of money being put into housing by credit unions throughout Australia is increasing. They are aware of this legislation and they want to become eligible. If they are recognised they will be encouraged to see that more money is put into housing. The figures given to me reveal that out of credit union funds amounting to about S8Om about $29m is being put into housing. Does that answer Senator Webster’s question sufficiently? The present position is that credit union funds are being put into housing at an increasing rate. This is what the credit unions want to do. because there is a grave shortage of housing in Australia. They represent people who want homes; they are catering for the needs of their own members. This is a co-operative institution. If housing is the great need of the people, then the co-operative movement is attending to it. Credit unions are not like private banks or lending institutions which invest their money where it will make the most profit. Credit unions are attending to the needs of their own members.
– It is a form of mutual aid.
– I thank the honourable senator for his comment. Credit unions are a form of mutual aid. They are pulling their money into housing because their members need housing. They are putting money into other ventures of which their members have need. If members need relief from personal financial problems, to escape the necessity of having to pay exorbitant rales of interest their money is given to them. In no way can it be said that what the credit unions are doing is improper. Their investments are made in the interests of their members - and that means that they are in the interests of this Government.
– And they do not charge a usurious rate of interest.
– That is correct. The rates of interest are determined by their own members. Members are in control. If they want rates reduced, then no doubt they will reduce them. The credit unions are cooperatives. How can anyone question what investments are made by this movement when the investments are made, in housing and in other ventures, by their own people and for the benefit of their own members? I ask. the Senate to support the amendment.
I would like to inform the Committee that the two amendments contained in Senator Murphy’s request are being taken together.
– I listened with a great deal of interest to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) and I want to ask him one question. Because his remarks have influenced honourable senators I should like an answer to my question. Suppose that I wanted to buy a home valued at, say, $8,000. That would not be an exorbitant price to pay for a reasonably good small home. If as a member of a credit union 1 approached that organisation seeking a loan of $5,000 or $6,000 on a first mortgage, what rate of interest would I be required to pay? I am not debating the question of credit unions generally. They have a function in the community, and, as the honourable senator has said, they are growing rapidly and providing a valuable service to their members. I do not want to cloud the issue. I am asking a simple question because I think it is important. Perhaps Senator Wright could tell us what amount could be borrowed and what would be a normal rate of interest on a first mortgage on a house valued at $8,000.
– S6,000 at 7%.
– As a member of a credit union, would I be able to borrow on first mortage from a credit union $6,000 at 7% on a property valued at $8,000?
– I shall get the answer for the honourable gentleman.
– This matter of credit unions is one in which the Party to which I belong has taken a very keen interest for many years. The encouragement of co-operatives has always been one of the foremost planks of our policy. For that reason we have taken a very prominent part in the encouragement of co-operatives and credit unions, which are a form of co-operative. Many of our members are prominent in the credit union field. Consequently we are anxious that credit unions should be included in the provisions of the Bill. We do not agree with the Aus tralian Labor Party that there should be a blanket inclusion of credit unions in the measure because we feel that it is open to question whether some are suitable. We have decided to move an amendment to the second amendment which has been requested on behalf of the Australian Labor Party by Senator Murphy. I move:
Honourable senators will note the words: that has as a substantial part of its business’. We would not wish to exclude a credit union from carrying on its many normal activities. But we all know from our experience that there are credit unions and credit unions; that some are very small and are not particularly active whereas others are large and very active and in every way would qualify to come within the provisions of the Bill.
Our purpose in moving this amendment is to open the field to credit unions which are organisations of substance and which undeniably would be qualified to come within the provisions of the Bill. I have been in touch with a number of representatives of credit unions in my own State and elsewhere and I admire their devotion to a principle which is in every way admirable. But 1 am concerned about a blanket endorsement of credit unions because I know some which could be described as very small potatoes. I do not want to be derogatory in saying that because I know of the self sacrificing work performed by their officials. But some of these organisations have a very small membership. They are conducted by people on a part time basis and their funds are not very great. They do not appear to me to be qualified to undertake the heavy responsibilities which could become theirs if they were included in the provisions of the Bill. On the other hand, there are others like the Australian Iron and Steel credit union in New South Wales which has a large cohesive membership and which from every point of view, because of its establishment, staff, finance and full time supervision, is qualified to come within the provisions of the Bill and ought to be so included. I do not suggest that only the very big credit unions should be included. I believe that where a substantial part of their business is directed to housing, moderately sized unions must be included also.
– How would we define substantial*?
– The need to determine which ones are substantial could arise. 1 appreciate the point raised by the honourable senator. 1 believe that the credit unions themselves would be able to make representations to the Government. If the Government were benevolent enough to accept my proposal 1 think we could rely upon it being reasonable in deciding this matter. One of the obvious functions of credit unions in this field would be to enable their members to provide deposits. I have been assured that the words ‘for the purpose of the purchase or erection of dwelling houses’ would definitely include the provision of deposits. There would be no difficulty in that respect. I emphasise that my amendment does not mean that other purposes of a credit union are to be excluded or counted out; it merely says that a substantial part of their work shall be in this direction. The amendment would ensure that the organisation would be of substance. lt would have the effect, if carried, of bringing into this field organisations that we all want to see there.
1 1 2. 1 9] - We must keep before us the whole purpose of the Act from the inception of the scheme and we must have, in mind the aims of the scheme as they were put forward and as they still are. I remind the Committee that the objective of the scheme is to assist young people to obtain a home upon or shortly after marriage by encouraging them to start saving for this purpose as early in their lives as possible and to increase the amount of long term finance available for housing by offering young people a strong inducement to save in ways that provide such finance.
In speaking to the amendment I remind honourable senators that in May 1964 my predecessor, Mr Bury, the then Minister for Housing, when introducing the original legislation, stated clearly the forms of saving which would be acceptable at any time and the reasons why those particular forms had been chosen. The forms are, as honour able senators know, savings bank accounts and fixed deposits with trading banks where the accounts are specifically designated as homes savings accounts, deposits and shares in building or in housing societies, and payments made for land and in other ways connected with the acquisition of a home. Mr Bury at that time said that these forms were chosen because they are in aggregate those in which the great bulk of personal savings for a home are accumulated. Moreover, the institutions chosen are those which provide a very large proportion of the finance for private home building. Mr Bury said that one of the objects of the scheme was to increase the proportion of national resources for housing purposes by providing a strong inducement to young people to save in ways which provide funds for investment in housing.
Later in the debate he made it very clear that he had been referring to increases in the amount of long-term finance available for housing. He said that one of the basic purposes of the homes savings grant, scheme is to encourage saving for homes in institutions which provide long-term finance for housing and thus to increase the supply of housing finance of this character. I am specially letting the Senate know that this point was made clear so long ago. The longterm nature of the finance was stressed by Mr Bury right from the outset of the scheme. It has been suggested by the Federation of Credit Unions that that point was never made clear. 1 want to confirm that it was made very clear from the outset.
I also want to say that there is no question that credit unions are playing an increasingly active part in encouraging their members to save and that a substantial proportion of loans made by some of the larger credit unions is for purposes connected with housing. However, the maximum loan that can be made by a credit union is $4,000. I am informed that there are only three credit unions in New South Wales - the State where the credit union movement is the strongest, I believe - which have the power to make loans to a maximum of $4,000. Most credit unions may not make loans exceeding $2,000. Moreover, the maximum repayment period for any loan is seven years. Some credit unions lend to assist members to acquire land or a house, but most housing loans by credit unions are for home ex-tensions or improvements such as extra rooms, garages or house repairs. We say that such things are most desirable but saving for them is not the purpose of the homes savings grant scheme.
I have said in this chamber on previous occasions that credit unions are one form of co-operative society and that co-operative housing societies are another form. Each co-operative society is formed for a specific purpose or purposes. Co-operative housing societies usually are formed for the purpose of making available to members long-term first mortgage loans at reasonable rates of interest to assist members to acquire a home. 1 believe that credit unions are formed for different purposes, including loans, as I have said, for housing purposes such as to discharge second mortgages, the part purchase of land, alterations and extensions to existing home accommodation, bridging finance and first mortgage finance up to the seven year limit I have mentioned, as well as loans for car purchases, repairs, registration, furniture, household appliances, the consolidation of hire purchase debts, medical and dental bills and holidays. Obviously some members of credit unions save to acquire a home of their own. Perhaps 10% or even 20% of the total membership of credit unions have that aim. If 1 understand correctly the request of the credit union movement, it is that the savings of members be acceptable at all times for the purposes of the homes savings grant scheme.
Honourable senators may recall that my colleague Mr Bury suggested recently in another place that the members of credit unions who are saving specifically for a home might well deposit their savings with a different form of co-operative society; namely, a co-operative housing society. So far as I am aware there is nothing to prevent the trustees of credit unions forming co-operative housing societies, separate from the credit unions, with which members of credit unions might deposit the portion of their savings that they wish to earmark and subsequently use for the acquisition of homes. This would involve additional effort by managers of credit unions, but surely not a great deal more effort. 1 know that several friendly societies have already taken that step for the benefit of some of their members. I do not think it is asking too much of credit union managers to do the same. Savings with co-operative housing or build ing societies in Australia are fully acceptable for the purposes of the homes savings grant scheme at all times, as honourable senators are aware.
Several senators, including Senator Wright, referred to interest rates. We have no argument with the 5% flat rate of interest charged by credit unions in respect of loans made to finance the purchase of consumer durable goods. It is quite a reasonable and sensible rate of interest for that purpose, but we do not regard it as a suitable rate for sizeable loans to assist in the purchase of homes. Over a long period of years a 5% flat rate of interest would approximate 10% on a reducing balance basis.
– The answer to Senator Henty’s question is ‘No’. The role of credit unions is not to lend money of that order, but of the order of $2,000 to $4,000 in respect of matters such as I have mentioned, including the credit gap. The rate of interest charged is 5% or 6% flat over seven years.
– Did the honourable senator say 5% or 6% flat?
– Yes, over seven years. It is at that point that the credit unions save their members from having to undertake the heavy rates of interest which would be involved in second mortgages. Senator Morris might think that the rates of interest ought to be reduced. I suppose that every honourable senator might think that, but we must remember that this is the determination by the members of their own activities. I have no doubt that the members and the community would like us soon as they could to achieve reductions in the rates of interest which are fixed in general by these co-operative bodies.
As to the matter raised by Senator McManus, we would not be prepared to accept the amendment which he has proposed, but with some modification it would seem to us that some such words might be added to the basis upon which we have proposed an amendment to the Bill. I would be prepared to add to the words ‘credit unions’ words which would qualify the proposed amendment in these terms: ‘That has as a substantial part of its business the lending of moneys to its members for the purpose of acquiring a home, including the acquisition of land for a home for occupation by those members’. The reason for this is that the words used by Senator McManus might be unduly restrictive. The word ‘dwelling-house’ would probably, and certainly might, exclude homes, such as the home unit and other kinds of dwellings that are not a dwelling-house. The words the purchase or erection of a dwellinghouse’ might, and probably would, exclude the acquisition of land for the erection of a dwelling-house but if the word ‘home’ is used and a specific addition is provided to include the acquisition of land for a home there could be do doubt about the matter. I would be prepared to amend my proposal or to accept the amendment of it if it is reframed, otherwise it would not be acceptable to the Opposition. If Senator McManus is prepared to alter his amendment in the way I have suggested the Opposition would be prepared to accept it.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [12.32] - I should like to reply briefly to Senator Murphy’s comment about the use of the word ‘dwelling-house’ in relation to home units. Section 19(2.) of the principal Act states:
A reference in this Act to the purchase or ownership of a dwelling-house by a person shall -
In the case of a dwelling-house not being a dwelling-house of a kind commonly known as a Hat or a home unit . . . and
in the case of a dwelling-house being a dwelling-house of a kind commonly known as a flat or home unit…..
– 1 thank the Minister for that information.
– 1 wanted to bring it to the honourable senator’s notice. Two amendments have been put before the Senate and I should like time to consider one or two points that have been raised. I ask the Committee to report progress and to sit again at a later hour this day.
Debate resumed from 10 May (vide page 1290), on motion by Senator Henty:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Bill relates to the exemption from sales tax of safety seat belts in motor vehicles and can be described as legislation that is conducive to greater safety in motor cars. The measure also gives the Senate the opportunity to examine the attitude of the Government in particular and the public in general to happenings in the automobile industry in Australia and of considering the need for coordinated government policy on road safety in general. I was a member of a Senate committee which, under the chairmanship of Senator Anderson, examined many aspects of road safety and presented a report to the Senate on Thursday, 19th May 1960.
The Bill is one of the first direct moves that the Commonwealth has made to induce the automobile industry to apply itself more than it has in the past to the safety measures for car passengers, lt brings to the forefront of our minds the responsibilities of the Federal Government to check the appalling death rate from car accidents throughout Australia. Viewed in isolation the legislation will mean that, with the elimination of sales tax on safety belts, car manufacturers will be encouraged to fit safety belts as standard equipment. The loss of revenue to the Commonwealth Treasury will be about $2m a year, but this loss can be offset against the savings in human life and human suffering that will result from the installation of safety belts. The Government should pay more attention to other aspects of vehicle safety and road safety.
While I was giving thought to this subject I referred to various publications relating to motor vehicle insurance. When it is realised that payments in respect of the comprehensive insurance of motor vehicles cost a total of $I66m a year and for third party insurance $81m a year, the savings that could be effected as a direct result oi the legislation can be appreciated. Australia is second in the world in respect of car ownership. In the United States of America there are 38 cars for every 100 people and in Australia 28 cars. This indicates that the density of traffic on our roads is high, and is a glaring indictment of the automobile cars are being registered annually. This illustrates the importance of the industry, lt it is increasing. Approximately 400,000 new industry in Australia that, because of the incidence of sales tax, it has failed to make safety belts standard equipment. It is to be hoped that as a result of the exemption from sales tax of safety belts, they will become a standard item in every new car. It is to be hoped that this exemption will providethe incentive to people who prevously have not purchased seat belts and had them fitted to do so.
I come to the question of encouraging people to install safety belts in cars. I am reminded of a report of an inquiry relating to the quality of seat belts, which was published in a Sydney newspaper. It showed that people could drive along with a false sense of security. They could think that they had an efficient safety belt, but when the test came it could be found to be inefficient. Safety belts were tested under fairly extreme conditions in order to examine whether they would stand up to an actual accident in a car. Quite a number of safety belts were proved to be inefficient for the job that was expected from them. I believe that some authority - whether it be the National Standards Association of Australia or the Department of Shipping and Transport or some other authority - should have the responsibility for authorising the sale of seat belts that conform to a standard of reliability and efficiency. Like other equipment, seat belts are only as good as the material from which they are made and the fittings to which they are attached.I have not heard of any specific standards being imposed for manufacturers of car safety belts.
While we are discussing this legislation, I would like the Government to indicate that it is aware of the need for standardisation of this equipment throughout Australia now that this sales tax exemption has been granted. It is also important that manufacturers, not only of seat belt equipment, but of other components of motor cars which are being produced in such great quantities today, should guarantee the quality of the product that is fitted to the car. When we look at the great number of people who have been injured as a result of collisions, by being thrown forward through the windscreen or by hitting the dashboard or perhaps by being thrown against the steering column, we realise that seat belt equipment is an important and essential part of a motor vehicle. As I have said, the incentive that has been given in this legislation must pro duce a good effect. I believe that the savings in insurance claims, the reduction in the loss of man hours from work and in the reduction of suffering and pain to victims of car accidents which will result from the fitting of seat belts will more than compensate the Government for allowing this sales tax exemption.
This question of sales tax highlights the fact that throughout this country we have to face great problems relating to the Commonwealth’s contribution to road safety in general. Although some of the State governments have taken up the recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on Road Safety, there is still, in my view, a great lack of co-ordination between the Stales in road safely practices. In some schools throughout Australia it is considered to be an important part of the curriculum not only to leach children the rules of the road but to give them some insight into road safety practices by driving vehicles. But this is not a widespread practice. In my view a lead should be given in this matter at the Commonwealth level. Now that Commonwealth funds are being directed in ever greater amounts towards education, the Commonwealth Government should insist, at the primary and secondary school levels, that greater attention should be given to this important matter of life or death on our roads. It is a well known fact that an automobile in the hands of an irresponsible person is a lethal weapon. Yet we see by advertisements which refer to more speed and greater horsepower that younger people are being encouraged to purchase cars that travel faster. The automobile industry is interested in promoting sales, but there is a lag in the promotion of safe driving. There is a lag in the matter of road safety education, as I have mentioned, and in the matter of road engineering.
The States have a great responsibility to extend their sealed areas of roadways. We also have to consider the financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. But to have roads which have not been properly engineered and which are in themselves safety hazards, and. on the other hand to have an automobile industry which all the time is increasing the horsepower rating of cars, is a contradiction that should not be allowed to exist in any civilised country. I believe that while we are discussing such an important question as safety belts, we should direct our attention to these other very important matters. The Opposition believes that the exemption from sales tax of safety belts is a forward step by the Commonwealth. We hope that encouragement will be given to the automobile industry in this country to accept the tremendous responsibility to co-ordinate its industry with the ordinary life of this country. There is no doubt that a motor car is an important part of everyday living today. Yet we find that the cost of running a car is growing and this affects the cost of living and costs of production. When we examine insurance rates we find that the safe driver has to contribute towards the expenses of the irresponsible driver. Although 1 have had the good fortune to escape having been involved in a traffic accident over the years, it is a bad thing-
– The honourable senator should not tempt fate.
– That is quite true.
– [f the honourable senator wanders over the road as he has wandered over the question of the exemption of sales tax on seat belts. I want to give him a word of warning.
– I think that if Senator Wright was as safe in his seat in this chamber as he would be with some of the poor quality seat belts, he would not lake that view.
– I do not think that the honourable senator’s seat is very safe over there.
– He probably wants to be strapped in. The automobile industry is a profit-making industry, Its main purpose is to make a profit. But as the Commonwealth Government is prepared to exempt seat, belts from sales tax. the industry should guarantee that the article that is made available for sale to be placed in a car is of the highest possible quality. I do not see any guarantee or request for a guarantee in this legislation. lt is still to be seen whether the car industry will respond to the opportunities provided.
The Bill itself is confined to the exemption from sales tax of seat belts in all circumstances. The Opposition welcomes the legislation. We hope that the time will not be far distant when every motor car in Australia will be fitted with an efficient set of seat belts not only in the front seat but also covering all seating accommodation in a car. The fact that it would cost the industry only a few dollars per car to fit seat belts as normal accessories, and that not all manufacturers do fit them reflects the whole attitude of the industry towards safety in motor vehicles. The savings through this legislation may be an incentive to the industry. As this concession has been granted to the motor vehicle industry, I feel that further action should be taken to see that safety belts are fitted to all vehicles, ls this the decision about fitting a seat belt to bc left to the individual? A driver may not realise the value of an efficient seat belt. He may feel that he is safe driving behind the wheel of his car. but it is often the case that he has his family and his friends with him in the car.
– Sometimes cars hit stone walls, do they not?
– 1 have seen films illustrating this. A man wearing a seat belt when his car hits a stone wall has a much higher chance of survival than a man not wearing a seat belt in the same circumstances. lt is quite a salutary lesson for us all to see some of the photographs and films that have been produced by the various road safety authorities throughout the Commonwealth in an endeavour to educate people on road safety. These authorities have conducted tests very carefully to illustrate the value of taking the precaution of being strapped into a car by a seat belt to counterbalance the momentum that, following a quick stop, carries people on to- the dashboard, through the windscreen or. as I said before, causes the steering column of the car to penetrate or crush the chest of the driver. These are things that have been graphically demonstrated by road safety authorities to drive home the lesson regarding seat belts.
This legislation provides an incentive to the manufacturers of motor cars to fit their vehicles with safety belts. The repercussions of the legislation will be felt right throughout the community. As 1 said, claims arising from accidents will be reduced. Other factors involved will be reduced likewise. Also, this legislation will have the effect of making the Australian travelling public more conscious that they are safer in motor vehicles if they are strapped in with efficient seat belts. Extra security in driving will be provided by the use of seat belts. This security is not available in cars that are not fitted with seat belts. The Opposition wishes the Bill a speedy passage. We hope that many other incentives towards added safety in automobiles will be offered to the industry in an endeavour to reduce the appalling number of road deaths and injuries on our roads.
– Mr Acting Deputy President, this Bill is a recognition of the general acceptance of seat belts as a contributing factor in minimising the effects of road accidents. 1 hope that this debate does not develop into a general debate on the question of road safety. Road safety is an important subject. It cannot be dealt with adequately in the time that is available to us for this debate, nor is it directly relevant to the purpose of the legislation, which is to provide for the exemption from sales tax or motor vehicle seat belts in all circumstances. However, the legislation does raise some points that need to bc considered. Some people still have doubts about the efliciency of safety belts. Because of this, I hope thai the compulsory use of seat bells will not be considered. I know, and I think most of us know, of cases in which the use of a seat belt would have resulted in a fatality. I have two cases clearly in mind where the use of seat belts would not have contributed to safety. But, in general, I believe that experience has shown that, particularly in minor accidents, seat belts have great value. So, I am pleased that the Government has seen fit to encourage the fitting of seat belts by this amending measure to exempt motor vehicle seat belts from sales tax. 1 agree very much with the point that Senator O’Byrne put. We have every right to expect that safety belts are indeed safe. To that end I considered that we had an opportunity in this Bill by way of amendment to provide that a certain prescribed standard be required before seat belts were eligible for this sales tax exemption. The Minister for Supply (Senator Henty) was courteous enough to make available to me an officer of the Taxation Branch with whom I discussed the proposed amendment that the Parliamentary Draftsman had prepared. But when we looked at the amendment we found two objections to it. The first objection was that it is not desirable to clutter up a lax measure by prescribing, for instance, the standards for seat bells. This should be treated in another way. The other objection was that even if this provision were incorporated in the Bill it would enable a seat belt that was inferior and did not qualify for the exemption still to be sold, the maker suffering only the relatively small impact of the sales tax. lt would not have achieved the purpose thaI I think is highly desirable - that is, the introduction of a standard for seat belts. I hope that the Government al: the right time and in appropriate legislation will institute a standard required of safety belts.
– 1 suggest that it should be provided that seat belts will be exempt from sales tax on the condition that the seat belts be of good quality.
– I hope that we will have the opportunity at the appropriate place in our consideration of legislation to discuss the establishment of a standard not only of breaking strain but also of durability. People should be able to fit belts that are safe over a period of time. All belts should be required to measure up to a standard. But alternative fittings should be available. A belt that would stop Senator Marriott from going through a windscreen would not be very effective in. stopping Senator Ellis Lawrie from going through a windscreen. Th ,se are things that we must consider.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.
12.0’] - in reply - Senator O’Byrne and Senator Prowse referred to the quality of car seat belts. At its last meeting the Australian Transport Advisory Council had this matter very much in mind. In literature published by the Department of Shipping and Transport stress has been laid on the need to ensure that seat bells comply with the specifications prescribed by the Australian Standards Association. 1 win* discuss the matter further with the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Freeth) to see how far his Department has gone in the matter of seat belt quality.I assure honourable senators that the Government has this matter very much in mind.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 10 May (vide page 1291), on motion by Senator Henty:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition raises no objection to the passage of this Bill but, without, unduly lengthening the proceedings of the Senate,I would like to refer to a few matters concerning superannuation which are of interest and which may prove of value when in the future we debate other legislation. The idea of a superannuation fund originated in the early 1920s in the minds of public servants who sought to ensure that they had a satisfactory and happy retirement. The proposition met with general approval and in 1922 legislation was introduced to establish a superannuation scheme under the control of the Commonwealth Superannuation Board. The original intention was that the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund should become self supporting. It was expected that after a number of years the accumulated assets in the Fund would amount to about £70m and that the income from those assets would be sufficient to meet demands on the fund. This was a very laudable object and was something about which members of the Public Service were very keen. All this happened some time before I joined the Public Service, butI was very happy to participate in the scheme ultimately.
The legislation under which the superannuation scheme functions has been one of the most successful pieces of legislation on the statute book. The Fund has functioned extremely well. We must remember that when the scheme began it faced difficulties which had been quite unforeseen.I refer to problems associated with the Second World War. Numbers of public servants enlisted. Numbers lost their lives. Numbers came back to their positions in the Public Service, only to be retired years before their time. This situation created a drain on the Superannuation Fund which had not been anticipated in its early days. It is to the credit of the Superannuation Board in its control of the Fund that all problems were overcome, enabling the Fund to cope with all demands upon it. One lesson learned from the experience of that time was that it was impossible to limit the assets of the fund and at the same time make it self supporting.
From time to time the Superannuation Act has been amended. Most amendments have been of a minor nature, designed to make the Fund operate more satisfactorily in the interests of contributors. There has been little opposition to amendments to the Act, as they have always been designed for the benefit of contributors to the Fund and have helped the Fund to operate satisfactorily. Last year, with married women taking an increasingly significant place in industry and government, it was decided to bring those employed in the Public Service within the scope of the Superannuation Fund. So in 1966 a Bill was introduced for this purpose. Surprisingly enough, the Bill was introduced in a hurry.I say that because it is surprising to think that any bill could be introduced in a hurry. Witnesses to the proceedings in this place in the last few days might think that everything here is done hurriedly, but they would think otherwise if they had witnessed the proceedings in the early weeks of the session.
The Bill introduced last year was important in that it enabled married women to participate immediately in the superannuation scheme without having to wait a few more months until this year, when more time could have been spent on drafting the Bill. If the Bill had been delayed until this year greater care could have been taken to safeguard the interests of women in the Public Service and of the Fund, because when legislation is prepared hurriedly anomalies can occur which are not in the best interests of contributors to the Fund or the Fund itself.
This Bill mainly introduces amendments covering minor, consequential matters that arise from the Superannuation Bill (No. 2) 1966 which became law last year. I shall not go through the various machinery provisions, for all they do in effect is to put women on the same basis as men under the Superannuation Act. This is a most important principle, especially as we on this side of the House have for many years been advocating equal pay for women. We have not achieved our objective and the Government does not support it, but at least this measure will provide for women to be treated the same as men under this scheme. Women are not paid the same salary rates as men; they receive something like 76% of the male rate for similar tasks, but they contribute from their salaries for the same number of units as do men on like salaries.
The Bill will correct some of the phraseology of the Act applying to disbursements of accumulated funds to or in respect of participants in the scheme who retired or died after 1962. A small increase in disbursements is to be made by applying a multiplying factor. This result is being achieved by substituting one word for another in the relevant provision in the Act and replacing it with another. It is interesting to note in passing that the approximate surplus accumulated in the Fund was between $10m and $12m - I am not sure of the exact figure. The surplus was refunded to contributors or used to increase slightly the payments to superannutants. This procedure is to be commended. The original intention of the Fund was that funds invested in Lt would bear an interest charge of 3i%, but in recent years the Board has taken the opportunity of investing on the market in gilt edged securities. For example, approximately $5m invested in Mark Foys Ltd attracts a higher rate of interest. This type of business procedure has improved the liquidity of the Fund.
– Was it on debenture or on deposit?
– It was on deposit. The Board considered the security adequate. I am not a member of the Board, so I cannot state the reasons why it adopted this policy. However, it has been functioning satisfactorily. The investment I mentioned is only one of a number that have been made on a similar basis. Generally the Board invests funds in government loans, but it has approved certain investments outside this field and the result has been extra income for the scheme. I should like to mention one point in regard to superannuitants who have been receiving payments out of the Fund for some time. The point concerns the change in the purchasing power of the unit, a most important matter. 1 shall give part of the picture now, and I will deal with a more important aspect of it later. Some years ago a high Commonwealth Government official in Western Australia retired on the maximum pension to which he was entitled - thirty units. Of course, the unit value has changed from the original 5s in the old days to something like $2 for the first unit and $1.75 for all subsequent units. At the time this officer retired his thirty units enabled him to receive a satisfactory pension. The man Ls still alive. I met him recently but I found him somewhat disturbed by the fact that a young, first grade engineer in the Post Office, because of his salary level on appointment, immediately takes up thirty-two units. So, if anything happened to this boy he would be entitled to a greater return from the Superannuation Fund than the high official who retired a few years ago. It could be said that this superannuitant was fairly well settled financially and did not require an increase in the value of units, but that is beside the point.
Another example is the technician’s assistant who contributes for something like ten units. An officer in this category who retired a number of years ago receives only enough out of the Fund to deprive him of an age pension. In effect, the amount he has paid into the Superannuation Fund is being returned to him, with a Government contribution as well, but it places him outside the age pension scheme.
– What does tcn units represent in dollars?
– One unit at $2 and nine units at $1.75. The superannuation paid to a retired technician’s assistant would place him outside the operation of the ordinary pension scheme.
– He has contributed for only three-tenths of his superannuation hasn’t he?
– That is true, but if he had not contributed anything to the Superannuation Fund, he would receive the full Commonwealth age pension and could have otherwise used the money that he was required to invest in the Fund.
– But he is still receiving something from the Government.
– That is true, and I am not objecting to it. Similarly, when an officer who has recently joined the Commonwealth Service dies, and therefore has not paid as much into the Fund as a retired officer, his widow receives fiveeighths of the superannuation to which he would become entitled on retirement. He need scarcely have paid anything into the Fund, but the superannuation payments to the widow continue until either she dies or remarries. We in this Parliament considered this matter in regard to superannuation payments to members of Parliament. A few years ago we increased the value of pensions of former members who were receiving payments out of our fund. Even though they had retired some years before, the increased pensions were applied to them. This cannot be done with the superannuation scheme we are discussing, but there are ways to improve the position for the lower paid Government employees. Something should be done for former employees who are now in a bad financial position. Something more commensurate should be paid o them as a reward for their service to the country, even if it places an additional strain on the Commonwealth Fund. In view of the state of liquidity of the Fund, this suggestion might well be considered because of the anomalous position of officers who contributed for the smaller number of units. I do not want to lengthen the debate any further for 1 am sure that there will be little or no opposition to what 1 have said. Most members are in agreement on this Bill which, on behalf of the Opposition, I support.
– in reply - I think 1 am correct in saying that this is the first time that Senator Wilkinson has led for the Opposition in a debate on a Bill in this chamber. I congratulate him on the way in which he performed that task and on providing the information that he has provided. The position in relation to units has altered slightly. I am advised that a unit is worth $1.75 a week on retirement. I refer now to the matter of investments by the Superannuation Fund. My view is that noone who is in private business should be allowed to invest his superannuation funds in his own business, because things can happen to a business and money from a superannuation fund may be lost. The Act states that the Superannuation Fund shall, as far as practicable, be invested by the Board in securities of the Commonwealth or of a State, in a loan to a local governing body in Australia or in a loan secured by a mortgage of an estate in fee simple or of a leasehold interest in land in Australia, being a loan the amount of which does not exceed 70% of the value of the security at the time the loan is made and which is repayable on demand or over a term not exceeding thirty years. There is provision for debentures in the provision relating to the investment of funds. I understand that regulations have yet to be made to make such investment possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I omitted to refer to one matter that Senator Wilkinson raised. People who have been receiving a pension for some years have received increases in pension from time to time. The Consolidated Revenue components of all earlier pensions have been brought up to the level which would have applied had the pensioners retired from similar positions in December 1959.
– Did I understand the Minister to say earlier that the Board is not authorised to lend money on deposit?
– I used the word debentures’. There is no provision for lending on deposit.
– 1 should like to have the point that the Minister made about retrospectivity in respect of pension units elucidated a little more. The number of units to which a person is entitled will still be the same, lt will not have been increased. The value of the unit will still be exactly the same for pensioners who have been retired for a long time as for people who are retiring now. 1 agree that the value of the unit has been increased and that there has been retrospectivity. But, in fact, the number of units has not changed. A pensioner might have had eight units at the time of his retirement; but, had his salary been that now payable to a man in his position, he would have been entitled to about twenty units.
– I have been given an answer to Senator Wilkinson’s point. The pensioner is allotted notional units with a value of $1.25 a week. That is the Consolidated Revenue component. That brings his pension into line with the value of salaries in 1959.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 10 May (vide page 1291), on motion by Senator Henry:
That the Bill bc now read a second time.
Senator TANGNEY (Western Australia) [2.26 - The Opposition does not oppose this Bill, which is only a very short machinery one. Its passage is necessary if the National Library, to which the Parliamentary Library gave birth some time ago, is really to flourish in its own right. It has two main clauses. The first relates to the appointment of a National Librarian. Under the National Library Act I960 the National Librarian was a member of the Commonwealth Public Service. Under this Bill he is to be appointed under the Act itself. That will raise his status considerably.
Since the Act was passed the duties of the National Librarian and the Parliamentary Librarian have been combined in the one person. Mr White. At this stage I pay tribute to him not only for the wonderful work he has done for the Parliamentary Library and members of the Parliament generally but also for the great insight he has displayed in the establishment of the National Library. I have known him for nearly twenty-four years. For nearly twenty years I was associated with him as a member of the
Library Committee. I know that because of his enthusiasm, understanding and wisdom that Committee was able to function effectively during the two decades for which I was a member of it. The separation of the National Library from the Parliamentary Library came about as a result of the National Library Act 1960. It will result in an improvement of both Libraries.
All honourable senators will be aware of the vast improvement that has taken place in the Parliamentary Library services for members of the Parliament over the past few years. As a senator, I. am deeply grateful to the Library and all the people who work in it for the great assistance that they give to members of the Parliament and for their courtesy and all times when we ask them to help us with any of our difficulties. The research section of the Library in particular has been expanded in the last few years far beyond our wildest dreams. For that I think all members of this and another place owe a great deal. If we are not well acquainted with the subject matter of the various Bills that come before us and the various discussions that take place it is definitely nol the fault of the Library staff who are at all times willing and able to help us. lt may result from our inertia and the fact that sometimes we do not bother to consult them. Perhaps some of us do not even know that some of these facilities exist, but 1 am sure that they make for much better working of this Parliament.
Some people ask: ‘Why is there a need for a national library?’ Well, why is there a need for a national university? Why is there a need for a national capital? Australia has now reached full status as a nation. Canberra has become not only the capital of this nation but also the symbol of its full development and maturity. As part of our development over the last few years we have had the estblishment of our Australian National University, on the Council of which I have been privileged to represent my colleagues in this Parliament for the last seventeen years. Now we see the building, under the auspices of the National Capital Development Commission, of the first major portion of the National Library complex. The Australian National Library will take its place with the libraries of the older countries which have stood the test of time.
There is one big difference between Australia and many other countries, as I have discovered in my travels overseas. Australia is such a young country that if anything attains the age of a hundred years we declare a holiday to mark its centenary. In European countries when something becomes a thousand years old it is given a second coat of paint. We do not appreciate the full historical traditions of these older countries, but the fact is that their libraries have been in existence for a very long time and will now be available for our use under international exchange schemes between the Australian National Library and the libraries of the countries of both the Old World and the New.
In the United States of America I was privileged to visit the great library of Congress which has become the national library of that country. One can visit that library and find there documents and records from every country of the world, irrespective of the political philosophies of those countries or of differences of opinion between various countries on many matters political and otherwise. A library is a great leveller. In our own National Library there will be an excellent Oriental section which cannot but produce good results for this country if it is fully availed of by other library services throughout the Commonwealth. It is only by knowledge that we break down barriers. My own university has the motto ‘Knowledge is power’. It is not only power, however, it is also wisdom. If we have an adequate knowledge of other countries we are much more likely to achieve international peace and not international misunderstanding. I hope that our new National Library will have a complete section on Asiatic affairs and that it will not be debarred in any way from completing its collection by differences of political philosophies held by the Government of this country and the governments of some of the other countries. Political differences have no place in a National Library such as ours.
Whereas the libraries of other countries have already stood for centuries we have an opportunity in the actual physical building of our new library to plan not just for today and not just for the next ten, fifteen or twenty years, but for centuries to come We in this Parliament have really participated in an historic event in putting through the Parliament the Bills designed to establish the National Library and to give the National Librarian the status which comes from his special appointment by the Governor-General instead of an appointment in the ordinary way as a public servant.
Another part of this Bill which makes ai alteration to existing practices is that which lays down certain audit requirements to meet the peculiar needs of the National Library. It is only fit and proper that the Library should maintain duly audited accounts, as all other government instrumentalities do. But there are certain items in the National Library that cannot be evaluated in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. They have intrinsic value and historical value, not only to this country but generally. There are documents which to the uninitiated may be worth only the paper of which they consist but they are of very great value indeed to scholars and to generations yet unborn. The National Library is going ahead with the purchase of collections of all kinds of books, records and other things which will be of great value to this nation but whose worth, as I have said, cannot be readily evaluated in terms of money.
There is a great deal more I could say about the National Library and I regret that this Bill has come forward at the end of a sessional period when there is a spate of legislation for us to deal with. I will, therefore, defer any other remarks until a future occasion. At this time I say only that the Opposition welcomes that Bill and supports it wholeheartedly.
– I join with other honourable senators in expressing my support for the Bill now before the Senate. The new National Library building is a striking one, rising as it does on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. The National Library is becoming symbolic of many aspects of our national life, our studies, our research, our interest in reference works. I suppose it could also be described as an indication of Australia’s growing culture.
National libraries in other countries, and also the institutions in the various States that I may call the opposite numbers of the National Library, are becoming more and more not only places lo be seen and visited but also facilities to be used. What is more important, they are and have been for a long time the continuing authorities on all subjects. Because they have this leadership as authorities they have assumed a unique importance. It is essential that those who administer the Library on behalf of the Government should not only maintain that authority and importance but be very much aware of the kind of service they are expected to give to the community. This Bill takes care of certain requirements for the maintenance of that authority and service and importance.
Senator Tangney has just indicated, following the references to this aspect of the legislation made by the Minister for Supply (Senator Henty) in his second reading speech, that the Bill provides for the appointment of the Librarian under the National Library Act rather than under the Public Service Act. lt also lays down certain audit requirements more suitable for application to the institution of a national library. Along with other honourable senators, of course. I give these provisions full support.
Thu Bill continues, 1 suggest, the process of separating the Parliamentary Library from the National Library. I have had a quick look at the records of remarks made by the then Leader of the Government seven years ago when the first National Library Bill was introduced. He referred to some conclusions reached by the Government as a result of the report of the Paton Committee. These related to the separation to which I have just referred, to the fact that the Parliamentary Library would be controlled by the Presiding Officers of the Parliament and the joint Library Committee, and also to the fact that the National Library would be controlled by a small council with very substantial control of the Library but also with very substantial responsibilities. So, as many others have said in many places, the National Library has grown out of our Parliamentary Library. In a country like Australia, of course, this is very natural.
May I put on record also the great debt which the National Library will always owe to the Parliamentary Library? Because we owe this debt to the Parliamentary Library, we also owe a debt to those people who have been mentioned in the Bill, particularly the Parliamentary Librarian. 1 want to refer with gratitude to Mr White for his work in this connection. As one who has been here for a comparatively short while, I have come to admire his skill and great knowledge of libraries, but more than that, his great enthusiasm for the present cause and for the cause of the great Australian libraries of the future. We hope that the new Library will go forward with the same kind of enthusiasm and responsibility for the library service in Australia as it has shown in the past and, when the appointment is made in accordance with the provisions of this Bill, with the kind of freedom that I hope it will have.
Let me take a few minutes to look at some of the activities of the National Library as it is at present operating. In a recent article in the ‘Canberra Times’ our attention was drawn to this fact.
The National Library would acquire in this present year greater collections in terms of volume, variety and research value than it had acquired in the first quarter century after Federation.
This is fairly rapid movement. According to the information I have been able to obtain, the book collection is now approaching one million volumes and is increasing by something like 65,000 volumes annually. This is not all. Today the Library has turned its attention to maps. For example, in the map collection which is on a world basis are 150,000 maps and nearly half a million aerial photographs. The pictorial collection, substantially relating to Australia itself and the areas around it, includes oils, water colours, prints, drawings, photos and photographic negatives. There are some 40,000 such items and the collection is growing by about 1,500 a year.
Let me turn to the documentary, educational and historical collections, especially on film. Some 12,000 reels are now in the collection and this is growing at the rate of about 1,000 a year. The manuscript collection has an almost uncounted number of pieces occupying some hundreds of feet of shelf space. These are only odd figures but they indicate the magnitude of the collection. Perhaps the Senate will realise that they also indicate something of their variety and nature. In the Australian field they are particularly extensive. Examples are on record in the Public Record Office in London relating to Australia and other countries. Items in the National Library include source material on practically every aspect of life - medicine, law, the theatre end the arts, the civil service, the pastoral industry, broadcasting, commerce, politics and the rest. All of this gives an idea of the vast range of services which the National Library already has at its disposal and which it will be able to expand in a variety of ways as it becomes established.
I suggest it is not sufficient merely to refer to this. The kind of work being done now must go on every day. Not only must there be expansion but those in charge must exhibit an alertness to and an awareness of what is going on in the world, and of what is required by researchers and those seeking an authoritative viewpoint or an authoritative piece of information. I direct attention to this aspect because it will make quite a demand on those in charge of the Library. It calls particularly for a very high standard, not only in the National Librarian himself, but also in those who will become members of the Library staff.
Let me move along quickly now to link this with the new advances being made in Australia in the sphere of education. In addition to new laboratories and extensions to universities, together with the Commonwealth scholarships which are being awarded, there are also advances in education in such fields as the colleges of advanced education and similar institutions. In short, there is a new generation with a higher level of education and with a greater, wider and more diverse interest in educational matters. This means that there is a greater number of people with more educated minds and with a greater requirement for research and such information as the National Library is able to impart. Indeed, it may be said that there is a whole new structure in the field of education. It is almost an explosion. The new library programme recognises this aspect particularly in the main clauses of the Bill.
As all of this is taking place we are in the midst - I was about to say entering but we have passed that stage - of a scientific revolution that runs the whole range from manufacture, industry and defence to all the other important features of Australian life. People will require information and they will seek it. People will want authoritative knowledge and they must be able to turn to an instrumentality like the National Library. As the new National Library is established I hope that those in charge of it will have not only flexibility and enterprise to take care of the daily changing situation but also imagination to provide a service and an interest for the Australian people.
The National Library must continue to be an instrumentality which serves the people in the research and scholastic fields, lt must always be available at the top level for academics. It should also be available to those whose interest in libraries may be just as intense but whose educational background may not be as superior as that of others. We must have facilities in our National Library which will encourage the widest possible range of people to become interested in libraries and the National Library and everything that goes with them. Perhaps at some time or in some circumstances there could be a widening of courses and lectures which will show people how to use a library. One of the big problems today is that while people arc interested in libraries and think they are a fine thing to have, there are very many people who would like to use but do not know how to use a library. 1 hope that such courses or such opportunities may be arranged, along with exhibitions and collections which not only will encourage public interest in the library itself but also will encourage people to take greater interest in what is in the library so that they can learn how they can improve their minds and intellects and become more useful and successful citizens.
As the National Library is developed advantage will be taken of the latest devices in terms of closed circuit television, computer systems and other of the new and exciting scientific, mechanical and technological advances that can be made so that besides being useful it will be thoroughly effective, not only for the citizens of the country but also the members of the National Parliament which will always be adjacent to it. The research service which we have enjoyed in this comparatively short period has been of the greatest advantage. 1 hope it will be continued and intensified.
This is not a matter merely of supporting a measure because one happens to be interested in education, research, culture or anything else. This is a vital part of Australia’s development. As I close, I turn to the Tauber Report with which I think you, Mr President, will be familiar as it carries a foreword written by yourself. May I indicate the measure of my support for the Bill which is contained not only in what 1 have said but in the following passage which appears on page 31 of the report:
There is a correlation between effective library service and national achievement and libraries cannot be dissociated from scientific, technological, economic, educational and other developments in Australia. The history of Australian libraries may be divided into two major periods -
Then it defines those two periods. They are the period of adjusting to the elementary informational and recreational needs of readers and the period, following the Second World War, of meeting the new complex needs of a new educational and research pattern arising from Australia’s emergence as an international power. The report goes on:
There can be no turning back. Australia needs to support its libraries in a way that it has never done in the past. Good library service is expensive but poor library service is extravagant and wasteful. Not only does it fritter away funds that should be used for the development of resources, but it inhibits a favourable public attitude towards libraries. When libraries do not provide the materials that people want and need they are rapidly set down as inept, but when a library is given funds for books, buildings and qualified staff it will quickly become recognised as indispensable.
As the Tauber report says, there is a strong link between effective library service and national achievement. This Bill, through the two clauses that it seeks to implement, gives effect to that. I support it with pleasure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 10 May (vide page 1 292), on motion by Senator Gorton:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This Bill extends the operation of the Trade
Practices Act 1965 to Tasmania, insofar as its operation does not already extend to Tasmania under the power contained in the principal enactment. We support the Bill, because it is intended to give more effective operation to the Act, if that is necessary. It has been the desire of the Opposition for many years to have effective laws against restrictive trade practices in Australia. We have done everything that we can to bring this about. We encouraged the Government to introduce legislation and we supported the legislation when it came here. We strengthened it by appropriate amendments to overcome the effect of clauses that had been hastily inserted in the Bill at the last moment in the House of Representatives and were calculated to nullify the operation of the principal Act.
The principal Acf came to us at the end of 1965 in a watered down version. One would have thought that, having taken some five years or so after the proposition had been mooted and most useful inquiries having been instituted by Sir Garfield Barwick, the Government would have taken action to institute effective control over the restrictive trade practices that were rampant in the community. But the sad fact is that in May 1967 the operative provisions of the principal Act have not yet been proclaimed. Some action has been taken to set up, under the machinery provisions of the Act. the staff necessary to make it operate. But it seems that some heavy chain is restraining the Government from controlling restrictive practices. We know that they injure the community. It is common ground that these practices in the community inflate prices, force persons out cf business and injure the community in a hundred different ways. The prices of materials and services for the Commonwealth Government are forced up. The State governments and local government bodies suffer in the same way. It is well known that local government bodies are robbed by collusive tendering for the supply of electrical machinery and petrol and oil. This applies also even to the State governments. We hope that the Commonwealth Government can protect itself somewhat, but the poor public has no protection at all.
Laws of this type have existed in the United States of America since the last century. They have also existed iri Canada since the last century and in fact have existed for a few years longer than those iq the United States. Almost every industrialised country has some form of control over restrictive practices, and it is in the public interest that there be effective control over these practices. One would think that the Liberal Party, which claims to be in favour of the competition of free enterprise, would, if it were free to carry out its policy, want to do everything possible to control interference with free competition and would endeavour to have effective control over restrictive trade practices. But there seem to be some forces behind the Government which prevent it from bringing such laws into effective operation. So the years drag on and governments and the people continue to be robbed. The trade practices laws that were passed at the end of 1 965 are still not yet in operation. lt was said fairly by the present AttorneyGeneral, Mr Bowen, Q.C., that the Commonwealth Act could operate without the need for State legislation but there is always the fear that it may need State legislation to confirm its operation in the area of trade inside a State. So the States were asked to pass complementary legislation or refer power to the Commonwealth to make laws touching operations inside the State. commonly called intrastate operations. What was the approach of the governments in the various States? Where there were Labor governments, they tried to carry out the wish of the Commonwealth Parliament and to pass complementary legislation or to refer power to the Commonwealth Parliament to do this. Tasmania, where a Labor Government is in office, acted on the Commonwealth’s wish when it was communicated to it and passed the necessary legislation. It has done this pursuant to the Constitution to enable this Parliament to extend the operation of the Act to Tasmania so far as that is necessary. The esteemed Attorney-General of South Australia, Mr Dunstan, also took steps to have legislation passed through the Lower House of that State to achieve the same purpose but because the conservative forces - the Liberal Party and the Country Party - are in control of the Upper Chamber in that State the efforts of the Labor Government of South Australia have been frustrated. We know that in the principal States of Australia, that is principal in terms of population - New South Wales and Victoria –Liberal or Liberal and Country Party Governments have declined to take similar steps. In New South Wales nothing has been done to effectuate the desires of the Federal Parliament. In Victoria legislation was passed which had a cramping effect. The Victorian Government served notice that it was prepared to go only so far, to give a restricted operation to any control over restrictive practices. It said: ‘This is all that this State is prepared to do’. It would have been better, perhaps, to do nothing than to do this, because Victoria has made it extremely difficult for proper uniform legislation to bc passed.
This Bill is introduced as a result of the efforts of the Tasmanian Government and at the wish of the people of Tasmania. The Federal Parliament is acting in order to carry out that wish and because of the evident public necessity to extend these operations as far as they can be extended. It is remarkable that there is a demand for laws against these restrictive practices which are agreed on all hands to be harmful. No one in this chamber is prepared to rise and say that there should not be in operation effective laws against such practices. We have said that we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to make the laws effective. The laws have been passed by this Parliament; yet the pretence is still going on that the Government wants to have the laws in operation. How much longer is the Government to fool about before it puts these laws into effective operation?
This measure comes before us because of the initiative taken by the Tasmanian Government. When will the Federal Government act against harmful restrictive practices? What is the -:ss of pretending to the people that laws are being made to deal with restrictive practices and of hanging on without bringing them into operation? What will happen is very evident. When finally a substantial part of the legislation is proclaimed and brought into operation we shall see the delaying tactics of actions brought in the High Court. I have no doubt that these will be similar to the action that was taken by the Ansett corporation in respect of Commonwealth matters, which just dragged on and on and on. After the patience of the .people in relation to bringing the laws into operation is exhausted, efforts will be made to delay the matter through judicial process. We want these laws to be brought into operation. The public interest requires that they be brought into operation. The people of Tasmania have made their attitude clear. Why will the Government not act with expedition to take all steps in its power to control the practices which are admittedly harmful to the people of Australia? Our commerce is being injured and our people are being injured. This is having a serious effect on inflation in Australia, yet the Government will not act with decision and expedition. We support the Bill and ask that the Government do its duty, which is to act in accordance with the public welfare and to bring these trade laws into effective operation.
– I support the proposals contained in the Bill. The Bill seeks to do two things - to support the complementary legislation passed by the Tasmanian Government and to correct the reference to the citation of the Northern Territory (Administration) Act so that this Act is. correctly described. 1 rise to speak on this matter for two reasons. The introduction of this Bill gives me as a member of the Senate the great pleasure of being able to direct attention to the fact that the restrictive trade practices legislation, which is of major importance to the Commonwealth as a whole, was given teeth by the actions of the Senate. I refer lo the amendments that were made by the Senate to section 39. 1 recall the debate very well, lt surprises me that the Government could so easily have accepted the elimination of certain of the original proposals. The intention of the original proposals should be borne in mind. Undoubtedly those who framed them had in mind that they should be of some use. This is a point which those who criticise the Senate - there are many such people - should bear in mind. They can quite easily see that certain provisions were written into the 1965 legislation which negatived the intention of the original Barwick proposals.
I wish to mention another point. I have not a copy of the original second reading speech of the then Attorney-General, but I recall that the legislation provided that once it was passed by the Commonwealth it would be rather easy for the States to pass complementary legislation. Perhaps the Minister for Education and Science (Sena tor Gorton), who is at the table, could comment on this point. He stated in his second reading speech on the Bill now before us:
The Bill provides for the extended operation of the Act by inserting in the Principal Act an additional section - section 7a. The result will be that all of the law applicable to trade practices relating to Tasmania will be contained in the Commonwealth Act
The proposed new section 7a is rather a large provision. Sub-section (2.) and subsection (3.) contain seven items. It is necessary to introduce these into the legislation to bring it into line with that of Tasmania. I suggest that it is a compliment to the Government of Tasmania that it should consider it wise to bring in complementary legislation to fit in with what we in this Parliament believe to be a good thing. I regret that other States have not taken similar action so that there could be uniform legislation throughout the Commonwealth. That is what we desire and that is what we believe to be good. If the amendment provided in clause 4 of the Bill is the type of amendment that is necessary in relation to only one State, I imagine that when other Stales finally agree we shall have to introduce similar provisions in respect of them. 1 suggest that this is not what was envisaged by the original legislation. Surely it could have been provided that as other States agreed they could be brought automatically under the legislation.
– in reply - Having listened to what the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) said, 1 think I should make perfectly clear, because it became a little clouded, that the discussion we are having originated with the action of this Government - the Liberal-Country Party Government - in introducing a law to prevent businesses from engaging in restrictive trade practices to the detriment of the people of Australia. The legislation was introduced on the initiative of this Government, not of any other government or any other party. It seems to me that a listener to this debate might have gained the impression that the scheme originated in the State of Tasmania.
– The Government is running dead. That is what we have been saying.
– 1 am glad to hear from the Leader of the Opposition, at least by inference, an indication that he is not claiming that we did not introduce this plan or that it is not due to our initiative and our action. This is the point T want to drive home: having gone as far as the Constitution permitted and dealt with the prevention of restrictive practices in interstate trade, the Commonwealth Government considered that the Trade Practices Act would be more comprehensive if the various States took action, as Tasmania has now done, to enable this law to be applied to intrastate trade. The action of the Government in bringing this Bill before Parliament is the clearest of indications that if any other State takes action similar to that taken by Tasmania, the Commonwealth will immediately apply its own legislation to intrastate trade in that Stale. Under the Constitution this cannot be done unless a State refers its powers to the Commonwealth.
Tasmania is the first State which has referred its powers. The Stale of New South Wales, to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, has not refused to refer this power, as he claimed, lt has appointed a Cabinet sub-committee to investigate the position. The Leader of the Opposition interpreted this action as a refusal. Does Senator Murphy not see any difference between somebody saying: ‘I will not do this”, and somebody saying: ‘I want to examine this matter and will appoint a special committee of the Cabinet to do so’? Clearly there is a difference. One should not be misrepresented as being the other.
– f point out that this is 1967.
– Yes, but the honourable senator misrepresented the position when he said that the New South Wales Government had refused to take action. If he wants to represent a statement that a government will examine the position as a statement that it refuses to take any action, then that is his prerogative; but it is my prerogative to draw the matter to the attention of those who may have heard his misrepresentation.
– The Liberals in South Australia would not have it.
– It is perfectly true that the Liberals in the Upper House in
South Australia set two conditions. Again, South Australia did not refuse to bring in this law. lt said that the law should not be proclaimed until the other Stales had joined in the plan. Let us be quite clear what the situation was: there was not a refusal in South Australia. There were two amendments. One amendment was to the effect that this law should not be proclaimed in South Australia until certain other States had done the same thing. 1 have forgotten what the other amendment was but it was along similar lines. The scheme itself was not rejected by South Australia, lt is my hope that the other States - sovereign States - having properly examined the situation to their satisfaction, will take the same action that Tasmania has taken. But Tasmania was able to take this action only because the present Commonwealth Government introduced thc original legislation and provided for the States to accede to it if they so desired. The Bill we are currently debating will be of considerable significance because when it is passed the action of the Tasmanian Government will be complete.
As to the comments made by Senator Webster about clause 4, which proposes the insertion of the new section 7a, I do not propose now to give a firm legal opinion as to whether a similar new section would have, to be inserted every time another State acceded. Should another State accede, ! should think it would be possible for the Commonwealth Parliament to make a simple amendment, adding to the name of the State of Tasmania the name of the other State concerned. The Government would not hesitate to do this.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 1 1 May (vide page 1363), on motion by Senator Anderson:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition opposes this Bill. There is no tradition, as has been suggested, that the
Senate will not use its constitutional powers, whenever it considers it necessary or desirable to do so, in the public interest. There are no limitations on the Senate in the use of its constitutional powers except the limits self imposed by discretion and reason. There is no tradition in the Australian Labor Party that we will not oppose in the Senate any tax or money Bill, or what might be described as a financial measure. Our tradition is to fight, whenever and wherever we can, to carry out the principles and policies for which we stand. We are not circumscribed by any notions which arose elsewhere in connection with other institutions. lt has been said that this is a money Bill. It is not a money Bill, ff it were a tax or money Bill we would still oppose it.
The provisions of the Constitution are quite clear. Section 53 puts certain limitations upon the measures which may originate in the Senate, lt puts certain limitations upon the powers of the Senate to amend Bills. So far as the powers of amendment are concerned the Senate is required, in respect of certain measures, to request amendments rather than to make amendments. Those provisions of the Constitution are set out in the first paragraph of section 53. As to the origination of measures the section states:
Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate. But a proposed law shall not be taken to appropriate revenue or moneys, or to impose taxation, by reason only of its containing provisions for the imposition or appropriation of fines or other pecuniary penalties, or for the demand or payment or appropriation of fees for licences, or fees for services under the proposed law.
The provisions in relation to ‘amendments are dealt with in the rest of the section which then stales:
Except as provided in this section, the Senate shall have equal power with the House of Representatives in respect of all proposed laws.
We in the Senate are democratically elected by the people of the States. If we consider it to be in the public interest that a measure be rejected, who gave us the right to refrain from doing so under some pretended notion that the Senate cannot reject a tax or money Bill? In 1965, as I recall it, an income tax Bill came into the Senate from the House of Representatives and was rejected by the Senate, the Opposition being opposed to the measure. Then the Opposition met together with its colleagues in the other House and, following that meeting the measure was again presented to the Senate and was again rejected, the Opposition voting against it. All members of the Australian Labor Party did so. That measure never did pass through this chamber, although the Government was able, by introducing some other legislation, to achieve what it no doubt wanted.
We are opposed to this Bill because it is opposed to the public interest. The measure is a means of indirect taxation. It is equivalent to increasing personal income tax by about 5%. lt is done under the guise that the Post Office is making heavy losses and that it is necessary to raise the postal charges, telephone charges and other charges in order that these losses be overcome. We say that this is disguising the true position which is that the Post Office is making a profit and that profit is being hidden because great interest charges - some $60m a year - are being paid by the Post Office to the Commonwealth as a supposed interest on the moneys which the Post Office is using. This is an extraordinary dealing with moneys. It is a juggling with the books. It means that the Government is, in effect, paying interest to itself on moneys which in the first place have been taken from the people. That kind of juggling was condemned by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, in March 1959 when he said:
The proposition is that we charge ourselves interest, we throw into deficit a couple of great undertakings that we have referred to, and we then raise the wind in order to meet that deficit - because it all comes back onto us. Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of book-keeping and does not produce one pennyworth of financial results.
What is happening is that the Post Office is being treated as a tax collector. The charges which are being made - the increase in telephone charges, for instance, from three calls for 10c to three calls for 12c - are a means of raising money. This is undoubtedly a way of taxing people because it is not necessary for the proper operation of the Post Office that these charges be made. Even with the tremendous background of inefficiency in the Post Office under the present PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme), nevertheless the Post Office can make a profit on the present charges. If this measure is carried, every time the telephone is lifted the people will be taxed; every time a letter is sent by an ordinary citizen he will be paying tax. The letter rates have been increased by 25% from 4c to 5c. This is what happens to the ordinary citizen when he posts a letter. Yet there have been some increases in the discounts for bulk postage so that the great commercial users will benefit. The other rates in the schedule have also been increased, but I do not propose to refer to them in detail. The whole country is aware of the drastic increases in these fees for services - unnecessary increases in fees for services - so that the Government may avoid dealing with the financial morass into which it has got itself.
The Government proposes to deal with its financial problems in the worst possible way, that is, by putting the burden on those who can least afford it. I refer to the ordinary citizens. It is objectionable that at the same time the rates to the great commercial users should be reduced. We say that the Post Office is being inefficiently conducted. There arc complaints of inefficiency not only from the public but also from the chambers of manufactures. We know from the inside that the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia has complained of the inefficiency. On the very day that these imposts were announced, as a coincidence that union was complaining about the general state of inefficiency in the Post Office. The complaints are legion. They not only relate to the inefficient management which seems to have accompanied the present PostmasterGeneral but also arise from the undue interference by the Public Service Board with the operations of the Post Office in relation to industrial matters and the general terms and conditions of employment in the Post Office.
I defy the Government to show that the Post Office is not being conducted inefficiently. No-one in this country can be unaware of the fact that there has been a great deterioration in the postal service and a great deterioration in the telephone service. The Post Office was once a byword for efficiency, but now there is no longer that efficiency. It is not the fault of the individual workers in the Post Office.
The amount of mail carried by the Post Office has greatly increased and we have not had a corresponding increase in staff numbers. There are staff shortages. There is bungling in connection with the machinery being used by the Post Office. All around there is a growing air of inefficiency and the ordinary member of the public is well aware of that atmosphere. We say that this inefficiency of the Post Office is now to be aggravated by increased charges which are to be imposed simply for the general financial requirements of the Government. This kind of juggling where interest is paid upon government moneys being used by the Post Office - moneys provided in the first place by the public - is an undesirable form of finance. This measure is not designed to improve public welfare because its effects must add to the inflation which is already existent in Australia. It is rampant. We know that there is an inflationary factor of about 3% per year.
What is to happen now? For every letter that is posted there will be an extra charge. Charges for telephone calls are to be increased. The effects will be felt not only by the ordinary citizen but throughout industry. The increased charges will have to be passed on. Any effect of reductions in bulk postage will be counteracted by the effects felt by all businesses which employ the means of communication affected by these increases. The increased charges for letters, telegrams and telephones will mean that a severe impetus will be given to inflation in Australia. lt is most curious that this Government which is asking the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission not to increase the. wages of the workers in the community is taking action at the same time to see that the value of wages is eroded. The effects of the increased charges will be felt very seriously by every citizen. This is a bad method of finance which ought nol to be approved by the Senate. It certainly is not approved by the people of Australia. The Opposition is completely and utterly opposed to it. While the Labor Party is represented in this Senate it will use its powers and procedures without inhibition for the welfare of the people. Yesterday the Senate acted with great resolve to protect the civil liberties of the people. It firmly resolved that no man, when charged with a serious offence punishable by lengthy imprisonment, should be deprived of his right to trial by jury. Today 1 ask the Senate with equal resolve to protect the citizens financially and to reject this measure.
– This discussion about the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill can be approached in two ways. We could get involved in fine points of detail about the administration of the Post Office and what is said to be its inefficiency. That has never really been proven. Postal charges, telegram rates and things like that can be argued but that is hardly the function of a House of Parliament. The Senate is not really concerned with fine points of technical detail. We are concerned with the broad issues of principle involved. The fine points of technical detail and such matters are the cares of managers, and we are not managers.
I would like first to make some comments that are fundamental to the measure. I suggest that in this sort of legislation we are confronted with what is really a critical matter. I am expressing my view, the philosophy I hold in these things. Issue No. 1 is: should business undertakings of governments be asked and expected to pay their way? People hold varying views on this matter. It is my function to express my view. I think that business undertakings of governments are to be regarded as far as possible as commercial undertakings and they should be asked and expected to pay their way. There are a number of reasons why this is a wise policy. One reason which is quite relevant but is seldom discussed is that it is very good for the morale of the operators in an undertaking. It is plain, when one talks to the people who manage these affairs, that they like it that way. They prefer to be put on their merits by a test of the efficiency of the operation against recognised standards. This might well be in the interests of the general community and the taxpayers.
It is fair to say that that attitude does a lot to aid economics and efficiency in the operation. Managers have scales to measure things by. They have their own accounts distinguished and are aware of the items of cost involved in the structure. They can examine the position and say: Measuring ourselves by comparable standards in this country and other parts of the world, yes, we are efficient. In some parts we could be more efficient and we will try to improve ourselves where we are not as good as we should be.’ That attitude leaves them to produce better results for the people and that is what they are really there for.
The responsibilities and the performance of undertakings as distinct from departments can be readily identified. I think it is fair to the community as a whole. These are the reasons why, from my point of view, one of the great issues involved in this legislation is the question of whether business undertakings conducted by the governments of Australia on behalf of the Australian people should be asked to pay their way. My view and that of my Party is that they should. It is interesting to note that that is also the view of the British Post Office and appears to be the view of the present United Kingdom Government.
– How does the British Post Office raise its capital?
– In the same fashion, lt accumulates revenue, borrows money from the Treasury and pays interest on it. In the United Kingdom the Post Office is regarded as a business undertaking and from time to time it has to adjust tariffs to accord with its cost structure, just as the Australian Post Office has to do.
– Did the honourable senator say that the British Post Office is a business undertaking?
– That is the view of the present United Kingdom Government, which I think I am right in saying is said to be a Socialist government. It allows in its revenue for additional funds over and above the bare maintenance costs for investment for the improvement of existing services, expansion of services and for the higher cost of assets when it has to replace them. That is substantially what is done in Australia. The United Kingdom Post Office sets an objective of an 8% earning rate on the whole of the funds including the funds on which interest is paid to the Treasury. Interest is paid at the long term bond rate, which is the effective rate in real terms of new money in this country required by the Post Office. That rate is set by the Labour Party in the United Kingdom and apparently it is happily accepted.
I am interested in this matter to quote a passage from Hansard which I think has some relevance to this debate. The views taken of these matters by the Government which has the responsibility differ from the views of the Opposition, which perhaps has less responsibility. I think it is relevant to quote the remarks of the Hon. Donald Cameron, PostmasterGeneral in the Chifley administration. At page 924 of Hansard of 15th June 1949 he is reported to have said:
Although it is a national enterprise, the Postal Department is a business undertaking and, as such, it must pay its way. If this course were not followed, the people who use the various services provided by the Postal Department would gain at the expense of the ordinary taxpayer, and the benefit would increase according to the demands made upon the departmental facilities by individual users. 1 suggest that although this statement was made by a very distinguished PostmasterGeneral who followed Labor Party principles, it was a proper, sensible and responsible statement, and I commend it to honourable senators opposite. I think it is fair comment that the users of a commercial service, whether it is conducted by the Government on behalf of the people or by private enterprise on behalf of private capital, should pay for the service they use. I think it is also fair to suggest that when a service is required and there is difficulty in providing it, or when a service is in a remote area, its provision should be a charge on general revenue, lt should be regarded as some form of social assistance, and should not bc a charge on the undertaking. It may be hard sometimes to distinguish when it should be a charge on general revenue, but as a general principle this is sound.
I think I should comment, in rebuttal of Opposition argument, that Post Office charges are not taxes. They are charges for the use of a commercial service. There is thus no reason why adjustments to these charges should be regarded as Budget measures or why such adjustments should be made only at Budget time. I have not much time to develop this point, so I am not able to introduce into the debate all the material that is available and which would be of interest. All that the honourable senators who are interjecting are achieving is to cut down my time. An examination of trends ia Post Office accounts reveals that whereas from 1959-60 to 1963-64 the Post Office was breaking even, progressively since then the accounts have revealed increasing losses. This is understandable, because the Post Office is a heavy user of labour. It is not easy to mechanise its activities to overcome increased labour costs. The trend to increasing losses must be borne ‘by somebody. The telecommunications side of the Post Office activities revealed a respectable profit in 1965-66. This is expected to be halved in the current financial year and to pass into an area of millions of dollars of loss in 1967-68. This necessitates an increase in revenue. The Post Office is a huge business with total earnings of about $40 1 m a year. The trend in ils accounts has been from an overall profit of about $4m in 1964-65 to a slight loss in 1965-66 and an estimated loss of “about $l3m in 1966-67. Without a considerable change in the revenue structure of the Post Office, on the rates charged for its commercial services, heavy losses would have to be borne by the ordinary taxpayer who provides the general revenue. I think it highly irresponsible to suggest thai this should be permitted.
There have been significant additions during the year to Postal Department plant and these have cost over $200m. The Post Office is a powerful force in the community for growth. I have asked questions on this aspect of its activities and the answers have revealed that 90% of its expenditure has been devoted to Australian purchases of labour and material. Some people claim that the Post Office is inefficient. These are light claims made by people who do not know the true position. It is easy to criticise others as being inefficient, but how can one know or prove that an organisation like the Post Office is inefficient? As I said, it is a light charge to make against a great institution, but what do figures reveal? Its administrative expenses, not taking into consideration capital expenses, account for 6.7% of the total operating revenue of the Post Office. This is quite a remarkable performance in anybody’s language. It is nothing to be ashamed of, and it certainly does not warrant accusations of inefficiency. Accusations of inefficiency against the Post Office may serve a momentary political argument, but they do not do any real service to this chamber, the Post Office or to the people of Australia.
Looking at the Post Office as a business undertaking, its capital expenditure reflects a growth pattern. In 1950 the capital expenditure was $33m, and in 1966, $179m. This represents a rise of 542% in its capital expenditure in a span of years when Australia’s population increased by 39%. If that is not growth in terms of development, what is it? Let us examine another aspect. In 1950 Post Office revenue totalled about $77m. In 1966 it was $401m. This is a growth in revenue of 534%. Compare this, too, with a population growth of only 39%. Let us examine further this accusation of inefficiency in the Post Office. In 1950 the Post Office provided over 794,000 telephone services. In 1966 the number of services had increased to over 2,120,000. This was a growth of 268%. Compare this with a population growth of 39%. Let us examine the question still further. In 1950 the number of postal articles handled totalled 1,466,465,500, but in 1966 the number was 2,556,128,400. This represents an increase of 177% in the number of articles handled.
It is easy to make charges of inefficiency, but such charges disturb me because they render a disservice to the Australian community. The Post Office is an institution to be proud of. It is a huge institution that is a great factor in Australia’s growth and progress. It is essential to defence. It has a proud record and it has been administered by good men - in many instances, dedicated men. The Report of the Committee of Economic Inquiry - the Vernon Committee report - contains as good a study as one could have of productivity. It is a good analysis of Australia’s productive growth. It reveals that our productivity growth rate runs at about 2.2% over the whole economy. The Post Office’s figures disclose a productivity growth rate of 8% in some sectors and 4% in other sectors. It is reasonable to assume a rate growth of not less than 4% over its entire business operations. The Post Office is a tertiary industry. According to the Vernon report the productivity increase in tertiary industry has been 2.7% . The Post Office growth rate has been about 4%, or eight times more than the average growth in tertiary industry. In view of these facts I do not think it is fair to say that the Post Office is inefficient.
There are other points that I might make if I had sufficient time. Since 1958-59 there has been a direct wage increase in the Post Office of $127.5m. In fact, the wages bill has grown since that financial year by about 80%. In that tin.”, the actual staff employed increased by only 12%. If we examine increases in postal charges we find that the last general increase was eight years ago. There was a small increase in J 964 and currently we are discussing proposed increases. If we estimate the revenue from all these increases we find that it totals about SI 18m per annum. This should be compared with a wages increase of $ 127.5m. Therefore, the total increases in charges over those years do not even equal the increased outlay in wages. I ask: Where is the inefficiency?
We have had a lot of hoo-ha here and in other places about interest being charged on Post Office capital investment. This is an interesting factor to consider. The Post Office is a business. It provides services for sale to the general public. The charges for these services ought to be commensurate with the real cost of providing them. One cost is the huge amount of capital invested in the buildings, plant, telecommunications equipment and stores of the Post Office. In 1966 the total capital investment was $1,566,777,000 - a huge amount. I suggest in all fairness that money has a cost to the user and it brings a gain to the holder. Which honourable senator would be prepared to lend out his money at no interest? Why should we expect the Australian taxpayer to do it? This is another factor to be considered.
In October 1961 a committee inquired into Post Office accounts. In some areas of its examination the committee provided a majority report; in other areas it provided a minority report. As I read the report, all members of this committee of inquiry were agreed that it was fair and proper to charge interest on the money invested in the undertaking. I refer honourable senators to an earlier period when this matter of interest was the subject of an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament, upon which we find members from our side of politics and from the Labor side of politics.
– Hear, hear!
– It does a very good job, as Senator Webster assures me by interjection. In 1954 the Public Accounts Committee looked at the problem of interest charges to the Post Office on particular assets. In recommended that they had to bear interest. There was no dissent from the members of the Labor Party on that Public Accounts Committee which was looking at the problem of Post Office accounting.
– Has the honourable senator got the names of the Labor members who were on it.
– Yes, I have them but time does not permit me to mention them. If the Post Office is, as I believe it to be, a commercial undertaking, the users should pay for its services. The accumulating loss in this undertaking can be met in real terms Only by increases in revenue. It is not an argument to say that wc should ignore the interest and thereby show a fictitious profit. That would mean simply that we were transferring the burden to the general taxpayer. I think that at this stage it is relevant to quote one passage from the report of the ad hoc committee, known as the Fitzgerald Committee. This passage is worth repeating. It reads:
Almost every taxpayer is a consumer of Post Office services, but the extent to which individuals use Post Office services, and the amount they pay for them, vary greatly from individual to individual. However, there is no correspondence, except fortuitously, between the relative taxes paid by individuals and the relative use by individuals of Post Office services.
The distinction between the taxpayer and the consumer is critical. We on this side of the chamber have always claimed to be a party dedicated to seeing that the Australian people get a fair go. We believe that the way in which the Post Office is run as a commercial undertaking calls for interest to be properly charged on the money invested in it. What we are really doing is seeing that the Australian community gets a fair deal in respect of the services that it requires; that these are identified in real terms; that the people who use the services pay for them; and that people who put money in Commonwealth loans get a proper return on it. I suggest that it is not really being fair to the great burden of the Australian people to try to run the Post Office on a basis of fictitious accounting which transfers to the general taxpayer, in huge amounts, the cost of ser vices that he may not use much. In our view it would be budgetary dishonesty to do otherwise, and we do not propose to embark on such a dishonest practice.
– It was difficult to follow Senator Cotton, because he referred a lot to the English practice. I suggest immediately that it is nearly time that we started to get away from the English practice. This was one of the hoodoos on the Post Office back at turn of the century and just before and after the First World War. Senator Cotton asked whether the Post Office should operate as it does. We object not only to the fact that Post Office charges are to be increased, but also to the fact that the increases will represent extra taxes. The Government proposes to increase the charges now in order to soften the blow which will be delivered in the Budget in August of this year.
Senator Cotton made some extraordinary statements. He said that people who criticise the efficiency of the Post Office do not know what they are talking about. Then he went on to prove that he is in that category himself, although he defended the efficiency of the Post Office. He also made the extraordinary statement that because the Post Office employs a great number of people, because it is a big department, it is not easy to mechanise its activities. Even with the bitter memories of the Sydney letter-sorting machine which was introduced before the last election, against the advice of the engineers, I believe that there is plenty of room for mechanisation in the Postmaster-General’s Department, which physically handles a tremendous volume of articles.
It is irrelevant to talk about the growth of the Post Office as though it were a normal commercial undertaking which is confronted with all the vicissitudes of competition. The only type of competition which is being introduced into Post Office services is the result of this Government’s policy of not allowing, for instance, the engineering section to go out into the field and supply such things as small automatic telephones for large businesses and install extra cables for subscriber trunk dialling, and so forth. Instead, the Government allows companies such as Standard Telephones and Cables Pty Ltd and other big combines to move into this field and, to some degree, to compete with the Post Office. If this Government really believed some of the things it has been saying over the last few days, the opportunity would not be afforded to these companies to do this work.
The Government decided to do something about its defence policy. It conscripted young people and sent them to Vietnam. As I said in my speech during the Budget debate last year, the Government cannot continue forever trying to dodge the economic consequences of that policy. At that time Senator Anderson said to me: ‘You went very close to saying that it was an increase in taxation.’ But the Government dodged the issue in the last Budget by pushing the responsibility of raising additional revenue across to the States. Whenever an extra demand for money is made upon the Government, it does not raise the money by way of direct taxation. It does not do the honourable and courageous thing and say: We are spending this money; therefore we must raise it.’ The Government immediately pushes the responsibility for raising the money over to the States. The States have to raise the money by State taxation, for instance by increasing amusement tax, transport charges, water rates and so forth. The Government dodged the issue on the last occasion, which resulted in a slug being made on the ordinary man in the street. The money was raised by indirect taxation. It was done by a swinging tax which the Government cannot control. This Government, through the State governments, raised the money through taxing the ordinary man in the street.
Now the Government is again confronted with the problem of raising additional money, but this time it has handled it in a different way. One can talk until he is black in the face, but the fact is that the Government is raising taxes and it is using the PostmasterGeneral’s Department as the instrument with which to do it. This is the sort of technique that the Government has used all along the line. The Government has also done this in the field of medicine by insisting that people join hospital and medical benefits funds. It says to the people: If you are insured we will help you when you are sick. I have always said that this is completely immoral. Whatever fine quality of verbiage might be used to describe this hospital and medical benefits scheme, it is another form of taxation.
Why is it necessary to raise $67m in a way that is equivalent to increasing personal income taxation by 5%? Even with all the Government’s shenanigans - pushing the responsibility of raising additional money over to the States and increasing indirect taxes - it will not be long before the Government has to face the consequences of its defence policy. It will have to increase direct taxation. The Government should not say that these increases Post Office charges do not hit the small man.. They do. Telephones are a costly item in the home, because even when subscribers do not make a great number of calls, the telephone rental charge is high. One matter that comes up for debate twice a year in the home is whether or not the family can afford to keep the telephone. Many families decide finally that the telephone has to go. This is one way in which they can cut down expenses. One of the little luxuries of life is lost because of the revenue-raising policies of this Government. ‘
It is all right for the Government to say that these increased charges will hit big business. What does big business do to recover the incurred cost? It immediately passes the increase on to the consumers. I want to refer for one brief moment to another matter, but I shall not dwell on it because other honourable senators will raise it. We have this ridiculous situation of the Government raising money by way of indirect taxation and then charging interest on it. Sir Robert Menzies, the former Prime Minister, dealt with this matter very trenchantly. Honourable senators opposite are always saying to us: ‘You wish you had another Curtin or another Chifley.’ I bet that since they have had the present Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) they have wished that they had another Menzies, because he would not have led them into the trap into which they have fallen on this occasion. Sir Robert Menzies said: ‘All you are going to do to your public undertakings by juggling the books, is to run them into financial difficulties.’ What he said has come true sooner than he thought.
When should this increase of Post Office charges have been considered? It should have been done on the eve of the Budget.
I do not suppose a week goes by that somebody does not approach a Minister and ask: ‘What about having a look at the zone allowance? What about having a look at indirect taxation?’ References are made to this, that or the other thing. What is the answer that is always given? It is that these matters will be considered at budget time in the concept of the whole financial arrangements for the ensuing twelve months. But what is the Government saying on this occasion? It is saying that it cannot wait twelve weeks to decide this matter. Actually, it will be much less than that because the Government will be examining the matter as soon as the Parliament rises within a couple of weeks time.
When the Government wishes to impose taxation its attitude is quite the reverse of what it says in answer to our queries. The Government does not want to wait and consider this matter at Budget time because it thinks that the people have become inured to rises. The Government thinks that when it imposes these rises the people will say: ‘This is inflation and we have to expect increases along the way’. The Government has overstepped the mark on this occasion. It has done the immoral thing and has not stood up to the answers it gives here week by week. These matters should be looked at annually. But the Government has introduced these measures now to soften the blow of the Budget that will be introduced in a few weeks time.
I turn to the subject of efficiency in the Postmaster-General’s Department. Unfortunately this is a question that cannot be dodged, lt has come forward in our discussions. For a long time I have never had any doubt that the efficiency of the Post Office would run down. If honourable senators look at the speeches that I have made since I entered the Senate they will see that I have foreseen this run down. The Postmaster-General’s Department has become the poor sister of the other Com.monwealth Departments. No doubt ‘has ever existed about this. The situation is that the hiring and firing in the Department is controlled by the Public Service Board. Because of this filtered control of staff, all through the administration of the Department there is a stifling of excellent officers who are exceedingly well trained and very capable. Because of the policy of the Government and because the Government will not face up to and consider these matters, trouble and discontent have arisen. The Government must face up to the fact that it cannot continue to push the unions off forever. The postal unions have proposed the introduction of a five day working week for their members. I said to the previous Postmaster-General that this became inevitable when the Australian banking system introduced a five day working week for its employees. Ten years ago the Government would have argued such a proposal with the banks. Anybody who has worked in a government department, particularly in a personnel branch, knows very well that a five day week is quite within the bounds of possibility. Anybody who knows anything at all about the industrial movement knows that a five day working week for the Postal Department is inevitable.
What answer was given by the Government when the unions representing postal workers discussed these problems and put their case before the Government? The Government was told by the unions how inefficiency was creeping in and how this was affecting morale. Unions, particularly Public Service unions - I know this from experience - have a tremendous, almost patriotic, fervour to see that their industry is being run efficiently. They do not want their section of the Public Service to be looked upon as a poor sister of industry or of other sections of the Public Service. Many honourable senators attend weddings. We only have to pick up the bundle of telegrams at these weddings and flick through them to see that they have fallen in number in comparison with the bundles - sometimes eighty, ninety or one hundred - that were delivered in earlier days. This is because of the increased cost.
It has never been clear in my mind whether the Tress system of communication has been a good thing or not. I doubt whether the Postal Department has recouped the capital expenditure that it outlayed in the mechanisation of the sending of telegrams. Today, when one tries to ring Perth across the Nullabor Plain nine times out of ten one gets a very weak signal. The reason for this is that the Government has not been able to look far enough ahead to provide sufficient lines for this service. To overcome this problem the Government has cut down on the cycle band. In fact, the cycle band has been halved. So, unless a person who is ringing Western Australia is lucky enough to get out of the thirty-two channels one that has a broad band, he does not get a decent connection with Perth across the Nullabor Plain. This situation was forced on the engineering branch of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. The cycle band had to be halved to double the number of lines available. The cycle band was cut and now thirty-two channels are available instead of the sixteen channels that were available previously. If the Government had given the green light to the Department to go ahead with the required development this action would not have been necessary and the standard of the service to Western Australia would not have been lowered.
I refer now to bulk postage, as this has been mentioned. I have had a glance at the Act and the regulations. I was horrified at what I saw. I would say that the regulation is outside the power granted under the Act. It does one thing that this Senate has never allowed a regulation to do. The situation is that somebody can sit back and just about grant the right of bulk postage to whomsoever he likes. No formula has been laid down. The Senate has always insisted upon a formula in these matters. It has said that the decision should not rest with a civil servant, no matter how senior, efficient or honest he may be. There ought to be a formula. If an applicant conformed to that formula he could receive rights to bulk postage. If he did not conform to the formula, he would not receive bulk postage rights.
– Has the honourable senator the regulation?
– I will give it to Senator Wright at a later stage. I am running against time. I come now to the STD - the subscriber trunk dialling - system. We all know something of this system from our use of it. But subscriber trunk dialling does not operate to Perth today. Why? It is not because of technical difficulties. It is because Government policy has lagged behind the times. The Government has not the lines and the equipment to operate this service to Western Australia. It is of no good for the Government to try to say this Department is efficient. It is not an efficient department. The fault does not lie with the administration of the Postal Department. The Department has been tremendously fortunate over the years. Its training systems are some of the best in Australia. Officers of the Department have not reached the top because the policy of the Government is to keep the Department back and to treat it as the poor relation of the other departments that the Government administers. The Government should stand behind the Postmaster-General’s Department. This support is necessary in a country that is expanding in the way that Australia is. Peculiar problems face the Postal Department because of the great distances to be covered. For instance, services are suddenly required for a spurt of mineral development in some outback area.
The Opposition advocates that the Government moves away from the present system of control of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and that a commission be set up to handle postal services. I have advocated this over many years, long before I ever came to this place. It is obvious that the Government should make use of the best business and industrial brains to be found in the country to administer the postal services in the same way as other people are administering the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, Qantas Empire Airways Ltd and TransAustralia Airlines. I was most interested to read a question asked by my friend, the honourable member for Lang (Mr Frank Stewart) in another place on 3rd May 1967, He asked this question:
What was the cost of providing the coaxial cable between Sydney and Canberra and Canberra and Melbourne?
The answer given was:
The second question he asked was:
What is the rental paid by General Television Corporation Ltd, Melbourne, for the lease of the cable?
The answer, in part, was:
Television licences are granted directly by the Government. As the Postmaster-General indicated to the honourable member for Lang the taxpayers of Australia provided nearly $14m for the installation of that coaxial cable. Then apparently some little private deal was entered into with a television company, but we are not allowed to be told what it is. A formula should be set down so that if one of the Liberal senators were to obtain a licence to open a television station, he would know immediately what sort of a deal he could do with the Postmaster-General’s Department on the renting of time on the coaxial cable. The Government cannot carry on like this and say that the Department is efficient. No business administration would allow a thing like this to go on. If a Commission were set up this is the type of thing that would be avoided.
I notice in passing that no increase has taken place in teleprinter charges. These teleprinters are used mainly to provide news for newspaper offices. But the rental or the cost of hiring of these lines has not been increased. The capitalisation policy of the Postal Department today is very doubtful. It is doubtful whether or not we should not charge some of the capitalisation in the Department to posterity, or whether we ought to be deducting so much from the Department’s profit for interest charges. These are matters which should be decided far away from the influence of the Department of the Treasury. These matters should be worked out by a commission charged with the responsibility of administering postal services for the good of Australia, just as other services are administered by such bodies. The appointment of such a commission is obviously overdue. The Government will have to do something about it one day or another. If such a commission is not appointed, it is pretty obvious that an inquiry ought to be held into the Department. But I do not recommend the holding of a public inquiry. If a commission were appointed it should carry out its own inquiry. Such a commission would adopt the proper business principles that ought to be applied to a tremendous department like the Postmaster-General’s Department, which makes a charge for its services. I thought that Senator Cotton was getting into a bit of deep water when he mentioned this matter. One moment it was a business undertaking, the next minute he said it should be a business undertaking, and then he said it was not a business undertaking at all but a public service department merely making a charge for services. As I said earlier, the
Government was completely caught out on this. It thought that the people had become inured to rising prices. It thought: ‘Oh, well, everything has got to go up in the community. People will forget about this, anyway. After we hit them with the Budget they will not have time to think.’
There is one thing that amazes me. I picked up a newspaper the other day and read that the Prime Minister blames Mr Whitlam for all this. He said: ‘You are playing polities’. I do not know what he thought the Opposition’s responsibility was. Surely he did not think that it was to play ring-a-ring-a-rosy. What is the duty of the Opposition if it is not to examine matters such as this and to put the position fairly and squarely before the public of Australia? The Prime Minister blames Mr Whitlam’s leadership for the present situation. The implication is that because this is a measure relating to finance in that it is a bill to increase charges, the Senate dare not reject it. But as recently as 1965 the Senate rejected an income tax Bill and sent it back to another place. The same thing happened during the credit squeeze when we rejected an increase of 10% in sales tax on motor cars. We did not hear anybody complaining in those days. The Senate has rejected measures time and time again. The position has been stated clearly today. So long as we are an Opposition we intend to act as an Opposition and so long as we can register our vote, irrespective of whether it is successful, our duty as members of Parliament and as members of the Opposition is to do exactly that. This measure is the result of another blunder by the Prime Minister. He implies that the Opposition is doing something sinister because Mr Whitlam is our leader and because we propose to vote against these increases.
I have time to say only one more thing. There is a threat by the Government that if this Bill is defeated the Government will take advantage of a certain section of the Post and Telegraph Rates Act to increase charges. Whereas some Postal Department charges are prescribed by the Post and Telegraph Act, others are fixed by regulations made under the Post and Telegraphs Rates Act. The Government is issuing the threat that if this Bill is rejected then, as soon as we get away from here - probably next Friday - the Government will promulgate new regulations and of course these will become operative immediately. The moment the regulations are gazetted the telephone rates throughout Australia will be increased. Then the Government will sit back and laugh because the Opposition will not be able to do anything until Parliament meets again in August. I hope that the Senate will take action to defend the Australian people against that type of thing before we break up.
– It will. I can assure the honourable senator of that.
– I thank the honourable senator. But even if we do not take such action, for the Prime Minister to say that after the duly elected Parliament makes a decision the Government will wait for the Parliament to rise and then, by means of subordinate legislation, do the very thing that Parliament instructed it not to do, is the most immoral suggestion I have heard even from this Government and even from this Prime Minister. No government and no Prime Minister in history has ever done this. Even now I find it difficult to believe that any government, no matter how arrogant, no matter how long it has been in office, no matter how inept its leadership, would do this kind of thing. Nevertheless we ought to take steps to protect ourselves. To defy the will of Parliament as expressed by a vote of this chamber would be immoral in the extreme. The fact is that this Government has tried to pull something. Its action is completely immoral, completely unprecedented and completely unjustified because $30m of the $67m involved is unnecessary. Because of that, the Australian Labor Party will, very vehemently, vote against the Bill.
– I do not question for one moment the right of the Opposition to criticise and examine, but criticism should be constructive, not completely destructive. All we have heard so far has been destructive criticism, offering no alternative except perhaps the establishment of a corporation or statutory body. I do not intend to deal with that. It is under consideration. Whether it is a cure all and an end all for our problems I do not know. But if the Opposition advocates it then it has a responsibility to produce clear evidence that a statutory body or corporation will make for greater efficiency and will result in savings of costs and prevent increases in charges.
The Government cannot alford the luxury of irresponsibility in financial matters. It must be responsible. I support Senator Cotton and disagree with Senator Murphy. I support Senator Cotton because at no stage did he depart from his contention that the Postmaster-General’s Department is a commercial enterprise and as a commercial enterprise it must be expected to pay its way. A sound principle is that the user pays. There is nothing extraordinary in that. Why, it is the very principle that was accepted by a previous Labor Government, as I shall show in a moment.
If we accept the proposition that the Post Office is a commercial enterprise, then it is in no different position from other government business undertakings such as transport, where the users are expected to pay their way. This principle applies in all commercial enterprises, whether they be government or private.
It is difficult to know what the Labor Party would do were it in government and faced with this situation. We can only rely on past performances to form an opinion on that and if we look back to 1949, we find a past performance to study. At that time the Labor Government was faced with the same situation as this Government is faced with today. In June 1949 - prior to the introduction of the Budget - the then Labor Government introduced into the Senate a Bill to increase the charges made by the Postmaster-General’s Department. The then Postmaster-General, Senator Cameron, said this when introducing that measure:
The proposal to increase postal charges has received careful consideration by the Government which is naturally anxious to furnish postal, telephone and telegraph services to the community on the most favourable terms possible . . .
Then he goes on:
Since the intention of the Government to increase the rates was made public, there has been some criticism of the proposal in the daily Press -
History is repeating itself - and issues have been raised which have clouded rather than clarified the true position.
Again history is repeating itself -
I am sure, however, that honourable senators will examine the matter dispassionately and will agree that the action of the Government is fully justified. The justification for the proposal to raise postal rates at this stage is quite clear. Stated simply, it is due to enormous increases that have occurred in expenditure, and will continue in the future-
The then Labor Government acted, 1 suggest, in a responsible manner. It was faced with an enormous increase in postal costs, lt regarded the Post Office as a commercial enterprise and decided that the user should pay. I shall deal a little further with that in a moment. 1 was interested to hear Senator Willesee speak of inflationary pressures and suggest that the Government was, to a degree, irresponsible in introducing this proposal to increase charges at a time when there was some inflation in the community. If we are to be consistent, then the same charge can be levelled against the Labor Government of 1949 because in those days there were intense inflationary pressures within the community. I do not level that charge against the Labor Government of 1949 because I believe it acted in a responsible and reasonable manner. All I am saying is that if Senator Willesee’s charges stick today then they were equally applicable in 1949.
It has been suggested that the user should not pay; that if the Post Office incurs losses then those losses should be met by the general taxpayer. Making the second reading speech on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1949, as Minister in charge of the measure in another place, Mr Calwell dealt with the subject in a responsible manner. Having said that the increase in charges was brought about by the great rise in costs, he went on to examine the alternatives open to the Labor Government. He said that these were three in number. The first was to reduce expenditure by withdrawing or restricting services. He dismissed this as being quite impracticable. The second alternative was to operate the Postal Department at a loss and to meet the deficit from Consolidated Revenue. The third was to increase charges in a reasonable manner. These were the three alternatives that were open in 1949 and they are the three alternatives that are open today. Mr Calwell went on to say:
The first course had to be dismissed in the public interest. The withdrawal of facilities and the restriction of services at a time when the demand for an expansion of these facilities is at the highest level in history would give rise to justifiable nation-wide criticism and retard national development
He then dealt with the second alternative in these terms:
The operation of the Department at a heavy financial loss would place an added burden on taxpayers generally, whereas an increase of charges for the services rendered means that the users of these services will make the necessary increased contribution. Equity demands that the last course be followed.
He proceeded then to discuss other matters. 1 believe that Mr Calwell and the Labor Government faced up to the situation in what I say again was a responsible manner - exactly the same manner as that in which the present Government is facing up to the situation today. If the criticisms that are being levelled at this Government have any validity they have equal validity in relation to the Labor Government. We are on this occasion in good company, Sir. All that we have done is to accept the principle that was adopted by the Australian Labor Party in 1949.
What are the causes of the losses sustained by the Post Office? We have had charges of inefficiency. It would be interesting, if I had time, to read what Mr Calwell had to say about this topic, but time permits me only to say that he dismissed charges of inefficiency out of hand. The cause of the losses is the great increase in wage costs. The postal services are a labour intensive section of the Post Office. The last basic wage increase alone raised the costs of the Post Office by $17m. The increased rates granted under various awards also added many more millions to labour costs. The telecommunications services are a capital intensive side of the Post Office. The cost of materials, wages and services has risen considerably. The Postmaster-General’s Department is faced with the task of replacing old plant with modern equipment if it is to provide the kind of service that the community, rightly, demands. This replacement, which has to be undertaken continually, involves the Department in heavy capital expenditure. It is not a bad principle in any business to take the view that some of the capita] for development should be provided out of income and not be borrowed. If we believe that the Post Office should be run on sound business methods generally, we shall support this principle in relation to its operations.
The Department is faced wilh extremely heavy capital expenditure in the near future if it is to meet the demands of the community. Let me give just one illustration from my own State. A new coaxial cable is to be put through to Carnarvon and extended to Port Hedland to serve the West Kimberley area of Western Australia. This will cost some $7m. The nature of the services to be provided in this area is such us to make it impossible for generations for the Department to recoup the expenditure. This is typical of the scale of the expenditure in which the Department is engaged these days in playing its part in providing the communications needed for the development of Australia. It must have more and more funds if it is to play its part. I repeat that, rightly, some of the funds that it needs for the development of its services must be provided out of its income.
As my time is running out I shall discuss briefly the question of efficiency. It is impossible to make valid comparisons between the Post Office, in relation to the services that it provides, and private industry. Senator Cotton discussed this point briefly and I should like to mention it also because I believe that it is important in considering charges that the Department is inefficient. Senator Cotton told us that productivity in Australia is rising at the rate of 2.2% per annum, a rate that is regarded as satisfactory. We find that this rate of increase in productivity is greatly exceeded in various sections of the Post Office. Let me give several illustrations. The increase in productivity in the operations of the Engineering Division since 1959 has been about 5% a year. In internal plant maintenance operations the rate of increase in productivity has been about 6% per annum. In external plant construction activities productivity has been increasing by about 4% per annum. These rates are well above the national average. This is not bad for a Department that is said to be inefficient. Productivity is one factor by which we can measure efficiency, and the Department is improving its productivity. 1 believe that the measures being taken by the Government are inevitable, however much we may regret that they have to be taken. The Post Office is faced with greatly increased costs. In this it is no different from the community generally, and it cannot be isolated from the community, all sections of which have had to face increasing costs over the years. This is just part of the price that we have to pay for development. The taxpayers may bear the burden of rising costs with which the Department is confronted or it may be borne by the users of the services and facilities that the Department provides. The Labor Government believed that the equitable course was to let the users of the services carry the burden. We accept this as a sound principle. We are doing nothing more than adopt the policy of the Labor Government. To prevent the passage of this measure and increase the losses of the Post Office by some $16m until the Budget sessional period begins would be to commit an act of financial irresponsibility that would further damage the structure of the Department. I believe thai: common sense and a sense of responsibility demand that this measure receive the support of the
– Mr Deputy President, honourable senators on this side of the chamber consider that the Government’s action in introducing this measure to provide for increased postal and other charges is snide and completely irresponsible. I believe that the people of Australia will take the same view and I am firmly convinced that the residents of the Corio electorate will give a practical demonstration of their disappointment by their vote in the by-election that is to be held in July. They will clearly indicate by their vote that they believe that the will of the Senate should prevail and that this measure should be thrown out. as I am sure it will be at the conclusion of this debate. The increased charges proposed are unwarranted and unacceptable. They will do untold harm to many in the community, not only to people of small resources whose situation was discussed by Senator Willesee. I propose to speak of them later. Many others, and particularly many industries situated outside the metropolitan areas in the various States will be greatly harmed.
This proposal for increased charges represents a severe blow at decentralisation, the cause of which Government supporters so frequently claim to uphold when the Parliament is considering measures related to development. I have taken the trouble to investigate the situation of a small industry in a city some forty-five miles from Melbourne. This enterprise, which employs some 100 people, tenders for contracts in competition with the big monopoly industries in the Melbourne metropolitan area. So far it has managed to keep its head above water. Increased postal and telephone charges will add $500 a year to its cost structure and handicap it in its endeavour to tender on a competitive basis. To stay in business the firm will be forced to increase its tender prices. The firm has about 100 employees, but, in order to compete with other firms, it may be forced to retrench some labour. This is an industry only forty-five miles from Melbourne. The same situation will confront industries operating up to 350 miles from Melbourne - in areas as far away as Mildura. The Government’s decision to impose blanket increases in Post Office charges is a severe blow to the community, especially at a time when the Government is arguing before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission that any increases granted in the basic wage will accelerate the inflationary spiral. But the Government is encouraging an inflationary spiral in postal charges.
Notwithstanding all these considerations, honourable senators opposite are convinced that the proposed increases are necessary because the Post Office is a commercial undertaking. They submit, in effect, that a commercial undertaking that makes an annual profit of $60.4m cannot plough back that profit into the undertaking, enabling improved services to be given to the public. There can be no doubt that the Post Office makes a profit. For the Treasury to charge interest on moneys advanced to the Post Office for capital works is a subterfuge, as Senator Willesee pointed out, to obviate the necessity for increasing taxes in the Budget to be brought down in August.
The Postal Department has a commodity that it should be selling. It sells communications. It should be promoting the sale of its commodity to the public by giving the public cheaper rates for the services it provides. It should be encouraging the public to install telephones rather than driving business away. I cannot understand why the telephone installation fee and the annual rent are so high. Instead of promoting the sale of its commodity the Post Office is doing everything possible to ensure that fewer and fewer people use its services. By its actions the Post Office ensures that fewer people want telephones. The situation today is that instead of thousands of people wanting to install telephones in their homes, many who already have telephones are having them disconnected and many others are refusing to install them.
The answer to a decline in revenue is to increase the volume of the business. If the volume of the business is increased revenue is increased. With automatic exchanges it is obvious that the more business going through the exchange the more revenue will flow into the coffers of the Treasury, which is its destination under the system adopted by the Government. We should be pleading with people to install telephones. We should give them concessions such as operate in some countries, where the first fifty calls of a local nature are free of charge. In Canada, America and New Zealand all local calls are free of charge. But in Australia we are continually increasing the charge for calls of all kinds. As a result the telephone will be used less and less except by people who are forced to use it in order to stay in business.
The situation in relation to trunk line calls is particularly deplorable. At present a call of three minutes duration to a subscriber more than 400 miles away costs $1.50. In Britain such a call costs only 45c and in New Zealand only $1.12. Some system of rationalisation should be applied to trunk line calls. This would benefit country people. There is some system of rationalisation in respect of interstate calls, as there is a maximum charge of $1.50 for such calls. The charges for calls over great distances within a State are far higher than they should be.
A great deal has been said about efficiency in the Post Office. We on this side say that there should be a shake-up in the Post Office at the administrative level. Conditions of employment are such that it is impossible to recruit the labour needed for the Post Office to function properly. Only this week Senator Cavanagh sent a telegram from this building to a constituent in Brighton, a suburb of Adelaide. To his amazement he was charged $1.75 for a twelve word telegram. The girl who accepted the telegram informed him that the cost was so high because Brighton was a taxi area. Apparently the Postmaster-General’s Department is now delivering single telegrams by taxi because it cannot recruit labour to deliver them in the conventional manner. This is a situation that warrants thorough examination.
There is something radically wrong with the operations of the Post Office if it is necessary to use taxis to deliver telegrams in suburban areas of a city like Adelaide. Conditions of employment within the Post Office should be examined. We must make working conditions sufficiently attractive to encourage people to enter the Post Office and make it their career. The first job 1 applied for in my youth was as a telegram delivery boy. On that occasion fifty-seven boys applied for one job. Today apparently the Department cannot get even one boy to take on this work in some places.
– It must be a good Government.
– It is not a good Government. Conditions in the Post Office are so bad that nobody wants to work as a telegram delivery boy. The Government should set about improving the efficiency of the Department at the administrative level instead of continually increasing charges whenever it claims that the Post Office is losing money. It is obvious from an examination of the figures that the Post Office is not losing money. To increase postal and telephone charges at this stage is simply a device to raise revenue without the necessity for increasing taxes in the Budget.
The Labor Party will vote against this measure. We think that we have the numbers to ensure that this Bill does not become law. I join with Senator Willesee in saying that if any attempt is made to impose these increased charges by way of regulations, as has been threatened, this Senate should reassemble at the earliest opportunity and disallow those regulations. The Government must find some other way to increase Post Office revenue. The Post Office should promote its commodity so that the people will want to use it. The Post Office must encourage people to install telephones instead of having them disconnected. If the Post Office does these things its revenue will increase and it will become self-supporting.
– I rise to support the Bill. The arguments that have been advanced by honourable senators opposite indicate a poor grasp of the situation. There is no doubt about the quality of the speeches we have heard from honourable senators opposite, but some of their comments and arguments have left much to be desired. Senator Poyser spoke with a great deal of heat. He described this Bill as snide and as an act of irresponsibility on the part of the Government. On a political note he ventured to forecast what would happen in the Corio by-election.
– We are on the air.
– That may be so, and many people listening to this debate will be interested in the Opposition’s attitude. Senator Poyser referred to working conditions in the Post Office today, comparing them with conditions of many years ago when jobs were almost impossible to get. Today the Liberal Party and the Country Party are in control and are able to manage the economy so that we have full employment and it is difficult to find suitable youths for the positions that he mentioned.
Senator Willesee ruined his tirade against the Government when he said, despite his great experience, that the Post Office was being treated as a poor relative.
– That is factual.
– If he were being factual he would go on to point out that last year $202m was allocated for the capital works of this authority. The Government has built an authority which undoubtedly is the envy not only of many other Commonwealth authorities but also of many overseas authorities.
– You do not know what you are talking about when you say things like that
– You do not know what you are talking about, Senator Willesee-
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - Order! I ask the honourable senator to address his remarks to the Chair.
– Members of the Opposition keep interrupting me, Mr Deputy President. They have been criticising the Post Office. I believe that it is a very wonderful enterprise. I do not agree with everything that the Government does. Honourable senators have heard me speak my mind on many occasions. During my time in the Senate I have had a great deal to do with the Post Office. I find it an authority that I can congratulate on the way it has carried out its work.
I do not see what the Government is doing in this Bill as a snide tactic. Rather is the Government showing that it has a sense of responsibility and the strength to put the facts before the people. If the Post Office is to expand, it needs finance. The Government shows its strength in that it will not put these increased charges forward in a form in which they may be hidden. The Labor Party would probably hide the facts until a time when it could manipulate the figures. But the Government comes out in strength now, not with the idea of winning votes. An action such as this certainly will not win votes. But this is what has to be done, and I congratulate the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) on the statement that he has made along those lines. The Opposition has criticised the Post Office, which employs a staff of 108,000, of whom 94,600 are employed full time. What a wonderful employing authority it is. Since 1960 capital expenditure by this business undertaking, which Senator Willesee criticised, has been more than $800m. Senator Willesee criticised the management of and arrangements within the Postmaster-General’s Department.
Let us look at the facts outlined by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) to show why these charges are necessary at the present time. They are not all the result of losses that can be attributed to inefficiency or whatever there may be within a big authority. The Minister referred to ‘the ‘associated demands for expanded and improved services’. Does the Opposition want to see the services of this Department held as they are and not expanded and improved? The Minister said:
The associated demands for expanded and improved services, however, bring with them growing problems of raising revenues to cover costs and to meet substantial and rising needs for capital investment.
The phrase ‘rising needs for capital investment’ is used many times in the second reading speech. I fully support the statement that increased capital investment is necessary at this time. I do not hear members of the Opposition referring to the statement that the Minister made to the effect that it is nearly eight years since the last increase in the basic postage rate. No comment has been made on the fact that the Post Office was probably the only public or private enterprise undertaking that lowered its prices with the introduction of decimal currency. I have not heard any members of the Opposition saying what an excellent action that was. It indicates the type of management that the Post Office has.
Since 1959 the price index for consumer services in Australia has risen by 22%. I know that this is something that we do not want, but it has occurred. Recently we have heard that wages have increased by about 39% during the same period. So it is necessary for these increases to be made. The Minister went on to say:
That is a pretty good recommendation for this authority. I point out that rising capital expenditure needs have brought about the position to which the Minister referred when he said:
However, losses of $2.6m and $10.3m respectively were recorded in 1964-65 and 1965-66 and a loss of about $18m is expected this financial year.
The Minister set out fairly clearly the facts relating to the reasons why any reasonable person will believe that some increases should be made at the present time. I do not want to see these increases. I dearly wish that we could do without them. But that is not the position. I believe that the Postmaster-General’s Department has done very well. I supported the view that the Government has been very straightforward and very bold in its attitude to this matter. I do not agree with everything that is done within the ambit of this Department.
– Be careful.
– I will be careful. 1 wish to express my views. I sound a note of warning. The Country Party presses for this policy that throughout Australia-
– The honourable senator should watch what he says.
– I wish members of the Labor Party would not decry something before they even hear it. That is their general attitude. They decry a proposition not only when it is put but also before it is put. I think Senator Kennelly would agree that the Post Office should have even charges throughout Australia. He is now shaking his head. I know that you, Mr Deputy President, would agree that an attempt should be made to make postal and telephone charges even throughout Australia. Senator Poyser mentioned this point as an aid to decentralisation. A levelling out of charges throughout Australia has been brought about by the introduction of a subsidy on petrol prices. Petrol is now available to a person or industry 200 or 300 miles from the seaboard at no more than 4c a gallon above the seaboard price. This is something that we should aim at in regard to the Postal Department. I know that that Department has reasons why it cannot do that.
Al the present time the cost of laying hundreds of miles of telephone lines away from the crowded metropolitan areas is much greater than the cost of attaching a telephone in a metropolitan area. I support the principle that charges should be as even as possible throughout Australia. At the present time many users in country areas are adversely affected to a large extent because they are called on to contribute to the capital cost of laying their telephone lines. People in the metropolitan areas are never called on to do this kind of thing, but many of the people whom I represent know of this requirement and all senators from Victoria are well aware of it. People living within 100 or 150 miles of Melbourne are called on to pay substantial amounts. I know of one case in which a group of people in an area within forty miles of the General Post Office in Melbourne were called upon to provide about £1,200 towards the capital cost of a line that was installed.
I believe this requirement should be eliminated and that users of telephones in country areas should not have to make these payments. As Opposition senators have said, we should look on the Post Office as an authority which assists in expanding the nation and developing the outer areas of it. 1 have not looked closely into the arguments about interest payments made by the Post Office to the Commonwealth itself. Personally I do not agree with the principle that the Post Office should have to pay interest on money it receives from the Government. But apparently this is a matter that has been considered by people with more knowledge of the subject than I have, and apparently they have given a ruling. But if we want to liken the Post Office to a business authority, then it appears to me that if a business undertaking were able to obtain its finance free of interest it would not have much of an argument for adding interest charges when calculatng its overall costs. J agree with the argument that interest should not be paid on money obtained by this public authority from funds contributed by taxpayers. Indeed I hope that at some future time during my association with this Parliament we may find these costs calculated on a different basis.
A variety of courses are open to us to cope with the increased costs of providing a better service. Are we to say, as perhaps some people associated with the Opposition would say: ‘Let us cut back our expansion in order to avoid these rising costs. Let us not commit ourselves to the purchase of all the excellent equipment now available for providing an efficient modernised system of communications’? We are faced with the alternative of either reducing expenditure by curtailing our service and the development of more efficient service in the future or else allowing the present rates of charges to continue and meeting the growing deficiency from general taxation revenue. I do not think any of us would agree with that proposition. I believe we should give our support to a government which has been bold enough at this time to increase these rates and to give the Parliament an opportunity of discussing them. I fully support the action taken by the Government.
– One marvels at various speeches one hears over the years. Some kinds of speeches become more remarkable to me every time I hear them. I have never, during the many years I have been in politics, had much liking for the person who has a bit both ways, while always keeping his eye on the No. 2 position in the Senate team. But to come to the Bill under discussion, it has been thought by many people that the Government reduced postal charges when the decimal currency system was introduced. Before that I think an ordinary postage stamp cost 5d, and with decimal currency the cost became 4c. A cent being worth 1.2d, this meant there was a reduction of .2d in the cost of each stamp. But of course noone has said to what extent telephone charges were increased. A phone call previously cost 4d and the Government increased the charge to 6d which is 5c under decimal currency.
– The honourable senator is speaking of public phone calls.
– Senator Branson can get up and make his speech after I have finished. I have given the facts, and I suggest that when honourable senators speak about a reduction of charges they should study the overall picture and not one section only. The Government reduced the cost of a stamp by .2d and increased the cost of telephone calls - or at least some telephone calls - by 1.2d. So when we talk about a reduction let us face the position as a whole.
What has been wrong with the Post Office over a number of years? In 1959 a committee made an investigation, after which it was decided that interest should be paid on all the money that had gone into the provision of Post Office services over the years since federation, amounting to $ 1,417m. Of that large amount only $80m represented loan money as we understand loan money. The fact is that successive governments have taxed the people of this nation and used a portion of that tax money to improve postal facilities. Some of us would not altogether disagree with that. This went on throughout the years from the time of federation. But this Government, like all Liberal governments, State or Federal, in this country or in other countries, thinks only of helping its friends and letting the finances of the nation look after themselves.
So it introduced a system whereby an amount of money used by the Post Office for providing facilities in 1901 bears interest in 1959. The result is that interest is now charged on all the money that has been provided for the use of the Post Office, apart from the profits made by it, and the interest last year amounted to about $64m, despite the fact that all that was borrowed in the normal market was $80m, the rest having been taken from the taxes contributed by the people. The Government decided to charge the people interest on their own money. Well, he has been dead a long time and he used to wear armour, but he had nothing on a government which follows these financial principles. How can we expect the people of this country not to be up in arms against such a practice?
In one respect I join with Senator Cotton, if 1 may say so. I am one who believes that a commercial undertaking should at least pay its way. I happen to have been connected with some of them and I would have been very upset if they had not paid their way. This undertaking commenced operating in 1901 with federation. Fifty-nine years later, the Government decided that the people would have to pay interest on the money used to finance the undertaking except, of course, on the profit that it has earned. Last year the Post Office paid interest amounting to $64m on money that it obtained originally free of interest. What high finance! The Government asks why should it not be a paying proposition. I agree. I believe that any commercial enterprise, particularly one run by the nation, should be a paying proposition but it must be financed in the correct way. The most remarkable feature about this is that money has been poured into the Post Office from 1901 onwards. What interest was charged then?
– Three and a half per cent.
– What interest is charged now on the money that was invested in 1901?
– Still the long term bond rate.
– The honourable senator entered this debate of his own volition. Let him tell us what the bond rate is now. The Prime Minister (Mr Harold
Holt) has said that the measure before us is a taxation measure. Of course it is. How has the Government got itself into its present financial troubles? This has happened because it is conducting a war and the only ones who are suffering in that war are the 20 year olds and those who join the armed forces of their own free will. What about all of us paying for the war? If the Government wants to go to war and wants to inflame the minds of the people to win votes, surely to goodness someone has to pay. But the Government will not take its courage in its hands. So it uses devious means of obtaining finance that are a discredit to the National Government of this country.
Our friend, Senator Webster, used the old hackneyed phrase of the Australian Country Party - ‘It has to be a commercial undertaking’. I agree with him. Let us put the Post Office on the basis of a commercial undertaking by charging people who live X miles from the source of a service the same as we charge people who live at the source. If they are charged at the same rate for the service provided, then we can make the Post Office a commercial undertaking. The Government has this nation in a financial muddle. Unfortunately things will get worse. Our balance of payments are going haywire and Britain will soon join the European Common Market if it can get its own way. If it does, we will be in grave trouble financially, but all the Government does to get the country out of its financial muddle is use the Post Office as a revenue raising device. If a government shows courage it gets a lot of respect from the people. If the Government needs money - it does need money because it has mismanaged the financial accounts of this nation - let it tax us. We should be required to pay money if others are required to spill their blood. The Government will not accept the responsibility of doing that; so it cannot expect to receive the applause of the people.
The Prime Minister openly admits that this is a taxation measure, but there are other and proper ways to tax the people. I want the Post Office to be financed as jit should be financed. I always listen with great respect to what Senator Cotton has ;to say because he has had many years experience in industry. We on this side of the House are not expected to talk finance because we are not supposed to know anything about it. But when we hear him say, to use his own words that it is good financial practice to pay the normal bond rate on money that was invested in the Post Office in 1901, one wonders where we are heading. We on this side of the chamber accept the responsibilities associated with our position. I believe we should continue our opposition to the proposals.
I was amazed to read the remarks of the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) who indicated that if this Bill is defeated in the Senate, as I think it will be - after all, the Senate is part of the National Parliament of this nation - he will use the back door method to introduce the increased charges. I admit that the people of Australia are a pleasant type. They have taken a lot over the years but there is always a change in the offing. One thing the people will not accept is a government which does things behind their back. Therefore if this Bill is defeated, I hope that the Government, if only for the sake of our democratic system, will have enough courage to put it away and then introduce measures during the Budget session to right the wrongs that exist. If the Government had accepted the recommendation of the committee of inquiry into the commercial accounts of the Post Office and had set 1959 as the base year from which interest would be charged, it may have had a case.
– That is what the Labor Government did in 1949.
– The Committee looked into it in 1959.
– The honourable senator should go back another ten years.
– I laugh when I hear such remarks. I am amused, whenever honourable senators on the Government side try to give the impression that Labor did nothing while it was in office from 1941 to 1949 and that we were always wrong. Of course now, when it suits them to blow the cobwebs from the Hansard reports and dig into the past, they tell us how right we were. We did not finance this enterprise as the Government finances it now. The Government finances it in a most irresponsible manner, and I ask the Senate to reject these proposals. We must do this if we are to retain any sense of decency.
The people may not respect some of the individuals in the Parliament but at least they respect the institution itself. The Government should not go behind Parliament’s back, if that is Mr Hulme’s intention. If it does, it need not come here later and say: ‘We have troubles; there are strikes here’. A lot of people may sleep, but some fight. If the Government acts as has been suggested it will, some people who respect the institution of Parliament will do things that, fortunately, in calmer moments they would not do. I oppose the Bill.
– The Bill under discussion amends the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-1965 and increases the Post Office charges to return an extra $67m. This is virtually a tax slug and is equivalent to an additional tax of 5% on the ordinary Australian people - the wage and salary earners and the people on fixed incomes. They are the ones who will pay the additional charges when they use the postal services. They are the ones to whom the extra charges will be passed by business interests that use the postal services. This legislation seems to be yet another instance of going all the way with LBJ because the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) in his second reading speech seemed to have the impression that Australians might draw some comfort from the knowledge that the United States postal authorities are proposing general postal service increases to operate from 1st July, the date from which the increases in this Bill are intended to operate. The United States authorities, however, seem to be attempting to fulfil their idea of the great society, but all that this Government is doing with imposts in measures of this nature is to hit hard those who are least able to bear the costs.
This Bill makes a complete sham of the Government’s submissions to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the national wage case that is being heard in Melbourne at the present time. The Australian Council of Trade Unions has urged the Arbitration Commission to grant a basic wage increase of $7.30. The Government briefed learned counsel to appear on behalf of the Commonwealth and to urge the Commission to stay its hand on any increases in the basic wage. It is very interesting to note from the transcript of the proceedings before the Commission that on 2nd May, a mere two days before the Postmaster-General Introduced this measure in the House of Representatives, counsel for the Commonwealth in his submissions to the Arbitration Commission, amongst other things, had this to say:
With great respect, the Commonwealth doubts whether the real import of the Commonwealth’s submissions has been perceived - their real import has been the identity of the objective of price stability–
I emphasise that he said ‘the objective of price stability’ - with that of maintaining and improving the real standard of wages which has been so cherished by the Commission.
Learned counsel for the Commonwealth went on to submit to the Commission:
As the Commonwealth sees it, the best means of preserving the real value of wages is to preserve the stability of prices. The wage earner, the housewife, the pensioner, all have a common interest in this.
The Commonwealth urged the Commission to preserve the stability of prices, to maintain the status quo - no increase in prices no increase in wages. The Commonwealth does not want any movement in wages because of the effect that might have on the cost structure of the community. It does not want any movement in costs or any movement in prices. That was the submission of this Government to the Arbitration Commission in the national wage case on 2nd May.
However, as I have said, on 4th May, two days later, the Postmaster-General walked into the House of Representatives and introduced this measure, which provides for an increase in taxation of some $67m and which completely cuts across the principle of preserving the stability of prices that was put to the Arbitration Commission. In his second reading speech on 4th May in the House of Representatives the Postmaster-General said:
But if overall charges made by the Post Office are inadequate to meet costs properly chargeable against its revenues, then the difference must be made good from another source - and the only other source is the taxpayer.
On the Commonwealth’s submissions to the Arbitration Commission in the national wage case, what justification is there for the introduction by the Government of a measure of such far-reaching importance so suddenly at this late stage of this parliamentary session and only two and a half months before the Budget is brought down? We know that in recent times the general efficiency of the Post Office has been under challenge, but surely it cannot need another $67m imposed in one measure alone to bring the services it provides to the public up to the proper level of efficiency? Senator Poyser has already told honourable senators, and any trade union official will tell them, that the Post Office has had staff recruitment difficulties because of its low wages and poor working conditions in comparison with outside industry. If the Public Service Board intends to do anything about this - I am afraid that it has no such intention - surely the improvements in wages and conditions will not cost the Post Office an additional $67m, the amount to be raised by this Bill.
The very day after the measure was introduced in the House of Representatives, one of the newspapers reported that the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Department of the Treasury had quarrelled about the new charges. The postal authorities wanted the Treasury to introduce the increases as part of the general Budget to be brought down in this Parliament in August, but apparently the officers of the Treasury said to the postal authorities: ‘No, it cannot be done that way. It must be done now.’ So obviously the increases are not all connected with the question of Post Office efficiency or, should I say, inefficiency and maladministration. When we further peruse the submissions of learned counsel for the Commonwealth in the national wage case and learn that the capital inflow to Australia in the first six months of this financial year fell by more than half, as compared with the first six months of last financial year, that is from $460m to $205m, a drop of $255m, we begin to understand the real reason for the introduction of this measure. When we appreciate that enormous drop we begin to understand that the introduction of this measure at this time is only to soften a heavier blow to be levelled at the Australian people by this Government when the Budget is brought down in August.
– Was not the honourable senator always against capital inflow?
– I am showing how this Government has got itself into
5664/67- S -
difficulties as a result of the economic and international policies that it is pursuing. What I have said is underlined by the submission of counsel for the Commonwealth, as reported at page 21 of the record. He said:
Overall, it seems certain that there will be another large fall in 1967-68. lt becomes patently clear that the Treasury is merely using an argument about the necessity for more efficiency in the Post Office in an attempt to cover the Government’s economic problems and its failure to cope with the economic situation at a time when it is engaged in warlike operations, and in a desire to get into its hands more money before the Budget is brought down.
Now let me deal with some of the inefficiences of the Post Office administration. On the very day that the Postmaster-General introduced this Bill in the House of Representatives he was seen by representatives of the trade unions connected with the activities of the Post Office. He was seen by representatives of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia, the Australian Postmasters Association and the Union of Postal Clerks and Telegraphists. Naturally, as a result of the deputation they did not receive much satisfaction from the PostmasterGeneral, but after having seen him they saw also the members of the Industrial Relations Committee of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. At that meeting we were told some rather amazing things. We were told that because of dissatisfaction with conditions generally the annual turnover of staff in the Postmaster-General’s Department throughout Australia aggregated about 12%. As the Minister will appreciate, this is a fairly large percentage. We were also told that unless the Public Service Board’s policy in regard to the wages and working conditions of officers and employees of the Post Office improved, the situation in relation to the alarming turnover of staff would deteriorate. Senator Cotton seemed to be satisfied with the efficiency of the Post Office, but we were told also during the course of the unions’ conversations with us that in many places the Post Office could not get delivery boys merely for the purpose of delivering telegrams. We were told that in some cases in order to have telegrams delivered it was necessary, because of the shortage of staff at certain post offices, to allow the telegrams to pile up to await the availability of a taxi driver who would come to the post offices, collect the telegrams in bulk and then go round delivering them in a taxicab.
– It would be quicker to use a smoke signal.
– Indeed it would. One of our colleagues on this side of the chamber told us that he had sent a telegram from Parliament House, Canberra, to a place about two miles away and it took four hours to be delivered. We all know about the great problems involved in the installation of the new sorting equipment in Sydney. Despite the denials in this chamber and in another place in this Parliament from time to time, it is obvious that the Department is still having great difficulties with the machine. Only last week a friend of mine advised me that a letter that I had posted to him on 19th December was delivered to him on 27th April. In other words, it took some four and a half months for a letter to travel a distance of about five miles.
– Was it mutilated?
– 1 do not know whether it was mutilated. What I am saying is that it took four and a half months. It certainly must have been a very slow pony express. We read in the Sydney newspapers last week of a young girl who had been promoted in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for a period of eleven weeks in order to relieve a girl doing more senior work. Apparently she did the job to everyone’s satisfaction but officials of the personnel branch of the Department which had approved her $14 a week wage rise decided that she was not entitled to it. It is reported that they claimed that she had not undergone the formality of a shorthand test to show that she could take 80 words a minute. So last November, in order to disentangle the red tape tangle they decided that the young lady concerned must repay the $154 that she had earned in an acting capacity in the more senior position. So while we have a public utility like the Post Office employing some 95,000 people - I think the number is 108,000 when we take into account the capital works staff - with all of these people under the control of the Public Service
Board, which regards this great public enterprise as merely another department and not a business undertaking, we will, certainly continue to have unnecessary disharmony existing between management and! labour.
Might 1 in the few minutes left to meale a letter that was sent to all membersof this Parliament regarding this very problem by the Commonwealth PostmastersAssociation on 9th October 1965. The second last paragraph of the letter reads:
Press and public criticism- which from timeto time is directed at Commonwealth Government departments has in the past been largely mitigated by public impression of the one Commonwealth department with which it has daily contact - the local post office. The Post Office has been held in high esteem (and rightly so), but this no longer applies. The acute staffing position prevents us giving the standard of service we desire to give, and, could cause the Government some embarrassment in the near future.
Events have shown, Mr President, how prophetic the letter was. The Opposition believes that heavy, unnecessary, unwarranted and unjustified taxation burdens are to be imposed by this Government at this stage through the medium of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill. We believe that the interests of the Australian people, particularly the wage and salary earners and those on fixed incomes, are being put last instead of first. Therefore we have noalternative but to oppose, strongly and vehemently, the objectionable measure.
– I discount very largely the stories of any incompetence or inefficiency in the Post Office. I do so because I believe that in this place we are not in a position to establish the truth or otherwise of such contentions. We just do not know. At the most it can be said that in some respects the efficiency of the Post Office may be under challenge. But it is perfectly obvious that an undertaking, designated by some people as the greatest commercial undertaking in Australia - and I believe it is - with a very decided social aspect, must come under criticism at one time or another. The Post Office would be one of the seven wonders of the world if all its operations were 100% efficient - perfect in all aspects. It is a mighty organisation.
So far as charges made by people in the Post Office are concerned, it is human nature, I suppose, for persons in every industry and in all walks of life to become dissatisfied with their vocation and the terms and conditions of their employment. Be that as it may, I repeat that to describe the Post Office as an inefficient organisation is to make a charge which none of us is in a position to sustain. We hear stories such as the one Senator McClelland told about the girl performing higher duties, but these things are only infinitesimal in the operation of this huge organisation.
There is nothing new about increases being made to charges for postal services. This is not a fresh departure. There have been increases before. There were big increases in 1949; there were more in 1959; and there were minor adjustments in 1964. When those increases occurred, right back to 1949 and before probably, the same things were said then by Opposition senators and members of another place as have been said in this chamber today. I was interested to note that increases were made in 1949, towards the end of the Chifley regime. Postal charges on letters were increased by 25%, on merchandise over 2 oz by 50%, on printed matter by 50%. and on newspapers and periodicals by 25%. In addition, various other increases in postal and telecommunication fees were made at that time. The overall increase amounted to 16%. The overall increase of the proposed charges we are now debating is 15%. The increase that took place before this Government came to office was considerable.
What interested me, though, was that the Commonwealth Government recently stressed the necessity to preserve stability of prices - according to Senator McClelland - in the national wages case that has been proceeding before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The increases to which I have just referred were imposed at the end of a long period of prices control. If we are to believe what has been said in this chamber so often, they occurred before inflation. They were imposed after prices control - that cure-all for all our economic ills - had been in operation for many years.
– The increases occurred after the war, of course.
– Yes, postal rates were increased after prices control had operated for a number of years. During that time, according to what we are led lo believe by the Opposition, prices and everything else were reasonably stable.
– Prices went up just the (amc,
– Of course they did. Four years after the end of the war the Chifley Government found it necessary to increase postal and telephone charges and other charges by an overall rate of 16%.
– The increases were imposed as a budget measure. They were not dealt wilh in this form.
– It is the same whether they are presented in connection with a budget or whether they are presented independently by a government. When the measure dealing with those increases was put before Parliament, Mr Calwell and others were adamant in declaring that the deficiency in the Post Office accounts should not bc mct out of general revenue. This fact has already been quoted this afternoon. The Labor Party decried any suggestion that the deficiency should be met out of general revenue and said action to the contrary was a retrograde departure at any time. If the Post Office could not finance its operations from its own revenues and charges and sought to make up the deficiency from Consolidated Revenue, I would agree completely with that contention. It seems abvious to me that once any semi-government or government organisation feels thai il can make up any leeway in its accounts with moneys from Consolidated Revenue, the door is wide open, and, as is the tendency in all these cases, the deficiency will grow and grow. The Government proposes to introduce these new charges at this time so that the Post 0nice may meet the cost of the great expansion in its capital works programme all over the Commonwealth. I was interested to hear what the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) and Senator Kennelly said about the S64m which, according to them, is being paid by the Post Office as interest on money loaned to it from Consolidated Revenue. The former Prime Minister has been quoted in that connection.
I believe it is correct, as was admitted by a Labor member in another place, that when it was first mooted to the former
Prime Minister it was suggested by the State Premiers that because the loan raisings were not sufficient to finance works the Commonwealth should consider lending the money to the States out of Cosolidated Revenue. That has been done for a number of years to the tune of many millions of pounds. I repeat that in Australia, with the mighty expansion which has taken place since the war and with the inordinate demand for money for expenditure on capital works, at times the loan raisings have not been sufficient. This process of lending money out of Consolidated Revenue to the States, to the Post Office and perhaps to some other governmental organisations is not a new departure. It is not unique, nor is it confined entirely to the Post Office. It is usual for those organisations to pay interest to the Commonwealth on the money so loaned.
The point I am trying to make is that if the $64m were not paid to the Commonwealth by the Post Office in interest, in effect the Commonwealth would be subsidising the Post Office out of Consolidated Revenue and doing that which in 1949 was so loudly decried by the then Labor Government. That is the situation that we would arrive at if that charge were not made. This poses a question as to what is the alternative if loan raisings fall short. If there is not enough money for capital works what do we do? No-one in this place has suggested an alternative, other than the proposition that the taxpayer be given a bond for the sum of money which is taken from his taxation and used in that way for capital works and services. That has never been done. The plain fact is that because there has been insufficient loan money to finance capital works the Commonwealth Government has been forced to adopt this course. I notice that the Chamber of Manufactures has stated:
Undoubtedly the whole price structure will rise, including food and everything else. To put costs up 20% overnight is an extremely bold signal. It is like a green light to the rest of the business community.
I am one of those people who believe that the Post Office, which has been accused of bringing about that position and which no doubt will contribute to it, is only one organisation which has been caught up in precisely those conditions. An inflationary spiral has been brought about, I believe, by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the Tariff Board. Those bodies have been responsible for those conditions and have compelled the Post Office to go along with these increases in prices.
– And to make them worse.
– Yes. But what is the alternative? I come back nearer to home to an organisation known as the Tasmanian Pea Growers Association’. I referred to this organisation in this place a few days ago. The Association has reached a deadlock in regard to the price of its product for next season. This deadlock has arisen because the pea processors have suffered an increase in their costs in just the same way as nearly everyone else has been affected. The difference is that they work from a different end of the line. Instead of passing on increases in costs to the consumer, they are trying to make up the leeway by reducing the price that they pay to the producer, despite the fact that the producer already is almost on the breadline. That is only one instance.
Although there may be criticism of the Postal Department and differences of opinion as to the methods which should be used to finance its operations, I believe that the Post Office is caught up in the rat race of prices and costs. I took notice of some figures which were cited in this place not long ago. In 1959 the basic wage was $42.46 per week and in 1966 it had reached $62.30 per week, an increase of 46.7% But the proposed increase in postal charges is only 15%. In 1958-59 our wages bill was $ 160.2m whereas in 1966-67 it was $287. 6m, an increase of 79%. Surely it is a matter of simple mathematics to comprehend that these increases in costs must be met by somebody. If they are not met the alternative is to try to make up the leeway out of Consolidated Revenue. I repeat that if the S64m is not paid in interest on money loaned to the Post Office for capital works out of Consolidated Revnue, in effect the Post Office would be subsidised out of Consolidated Revenue to make up the leeway, or some of it, incurred in its operations. That would be a departure and would bc a system which I believe none of us would appreciate.
It has been a policy of the Government ever since it came into office that a governmental instrumentality such as the Post Office should finance its own operations from its own charges and from its own revenues. I believe that that is a fair and reasonable principle. I support the measure. I cannot see any alternative to it. lt may be a matter of opinion as to what adjustments should be made in these charges, but overall the increased costs have to be met. lt is a fair proposition to suggest that there is no avenue from which the increases can be met, other than from the revenue which accrues to the Post Office.
15.50] - I believe that there is no necessity for me to declare my position and that of my colleague Sena:or McManus on this legislation, which proposes to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act to provide for iniquitous and unnecessary increases in charges for post and telegraph services. Since I announced last Monday that the Democratic Labor Party intended to do its best to prevent the passage of this legislation and expressed the hope that the Australian Labor Party Opposition would support the DLP in its efforts to defeat the legislation in the Senate. I have received an amazing number of letters and telegrams from people all over Australia congratulating the DLP on its stand and expressing resentment and protest against the provisions of this legislation.
I am pleased, as I have already said publicly, that the majority of members of the Australian Labor Party saw the wisdom of objecting and protesting against this legislation. I am glad that they recognised that they had a responsibility to the public on this occasion. I am also pleased that (he claim, made by a certain element of the ALP Caucus, that any attempt by the Senate to interfere with what is described as a money Bill could not be countenanced, was rejected. I am glad that that school of thought did not prevail, because in m opinion this legislation does not come within the category of money Bills. This is a Bill to provide for increased rates for post and telegraph services rendered by the Postal Department. For that reason 1 believe that there is no ground for the suggestion that it Ls a money Bill and that the Senate is therefore acting outside its jurisdiction in even discussing the matter. I believe that the Senate has every right to discuss this measure, and we are exercising our right in the interests of the people.
Before I proceed to deal with the details of the legislation and the schedule of increased charges .1 wish to say that I am just as strong in my opposition to the manner of the Bill’s introduction, as I am to its contents. The Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme), the Minister in charge of this legislation, like a thief in the night crept into the House of Representatives and announced without prior notice his intention to take from the pockets of the people of the Commonwealth about $67tn in increased charges for post and telegraph services. lt has been said that it is not intended that the increased rates should operate until 1st July and that the people therefore will bc given ti breathing space. Why did not the Postmaster-General give notice of his intention to take this action so that the people who will bc most affected might have an opportunity to present their objections to him or to some other authority and to show the detrimental effect that the increases will have on many forms of industry and commerce?
– He gave seven weeks notice. Bc fair. The increases do not take effect until 1st July.
– There is a space of seven weeks between the time he introduced the Bill and the time it is to take effect. The Leader of the Government cannot pull the wool over my eyes in that way, and he will nol pull the wool over the eyes of the public. Had the Postmaster-General given seven weeks notice before he introduced the Bill we would have no complaint. 1 am in a position to say that certain, members of the Ministry did not know that this legislation was lo be introduced last Thursday. Honourable senators opposite cannot deny that.
– Wc can deny it.
– No. Some honourable senators will attempt to deny it but it cannot be denied.
– I am informed that there were some doubts in the minds of some members of Cabinet and a feeling that the increases should be deferred and included in the coming Budget rather than be proceeded with now, but the advisers in the Postmaster-General’s Department believed that there would be a loss of additional revenue for a couple of months at least.
– I am told that the Treasury insisted on it.
– Either the Treasury or the Postmaster-General’s administrators. They are impatient to get their hands on the additional income. I want to say with all the force at my disposal that I am just as seriously offended by the manner of the introduction of this legislation as I am by its contents. I hope that when the vote is taken on this measure no member of the Opposition will be absent from the chamber and that we will register our protest by defeating the legislation. I believe very sincerely that when it was decided that this additional impost should be paid by the customers of the Postmaster-General’s Department very little regard was paid to its inevitable effects.
One has only to peruse the correspondence I have received in the last few days to appreciate just how ill-considered is this legislation and how detrimental will be its effect on certain sections of industry. It will affect a lot of people in many different ways. These additional charges will affect organisations and persons who can least afford to pay them. I refer, for example, to charitable art unions which will suffer a reduction in the proceeds to be given to very deserving and laudable charities. These people send out books of tickets and post follow-up letters, but not in such bulk that they can get the benefit of any concession provided for in this legislation. The increased telephone rates will affect pensioners and their families.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was saying that I agree with a previous speaker - I believe Senator Willesee - ‘that many pensioners and family men who now have the telephone installed in their homes, not as a luxury but as a necessity in times of sickness and emergency, will be compelled, reluctantly, to have the telephone disconnected because of the proposed additional charges. If my memory is correct, it is less than two years since telephone rentals were steeply increased. Of course there is a section of people who believe that the poorer class and working class people should not have the telephone - the telephone being something that belongs to the rich and the affluent. But that is not the case. The telephone is almost as indispensable in the home outfit as is the stove. It is a great comfort and a great measure of security to the sick, and particularly to the aged, who can communicate with their sons, daughters, in-laws and friends.
– And their doctors.
– In an emergency they can ring for a doctor.
– It is of value to the young married woman with a baby which has convulsions.
– Yes. The telephone is a great measure of security to all these people. It is sickening to hear other people say: ‘They could do without the telephone. In any case, does the increase matter? It is only going to cost a few additional pence.’ No doubt they will say that the extra one cent charge on a postage stamp is not a great deal, but it is a great deal to those who have no margin - the pensioner, the working class people and the family man who has had no increase in child endowment for years. Whatever increases there have been in pensions have been inadequate and miserable. Why is it that when governments find that they are short of funds and need more income they confine their attention always to the fellow who has a drink and who smokes a cigarette, and to the working class people?
– Who have children.
– Yes. These people are penalised in all fields. Why is it? The Government escapes adverse judgment by saying: ‘Well, you know, we are engaged in war and have to have money for defence’. One of my first speeches in the Senate was made during a Budget debate. On that occasion I advocated a special
Budget for defence purposes so that the people might see how much was being expended on defence and how much they were contributing to the defence of the country. If we had a separate budget and a separate tax for defence we would sec thai the sacrifice for Australia’s defence was properly and proportionately distributed over all the people. I ask this pertinent question: Outside of those who are conscripted to go to Vietnam and the Regular Army men who are there, what sacrifice is any one of us making for the successful prosecution of the war? Business as usual is the slogan; profits and dividends are the paramount considerations. Outside of those who are required to go to Vietnam and bear arms to defend Australia no-one is asked to pay anything extra. I repeal my plea for a separate .Budget for defence. Those in the community who have the means should be required to pay. because they have the most to lose if we lose our democracy.
– This is what 1 was putting lo the Senate last night.
– That is so, and I said that I was in accord with the honourable senator’s sentiments. I merely disagree with his methods of reaching the goal. I hope the honourable senator docs not need to be told that again. If Government members were not so arrogant and confident of themselves and if they had approached this subject properly and in an orderly way and had proposed the new charges through the Budget, they would probably have avoided much of the criticism they are getting. I am not so unrealistic or irresponsible as to engage in criticism of the Postmaster-General’s Department, having regard to its magnitude. I agree with previous speakers who have said that it does an excellent job of work. No machine operated by humans is perfect. The Department has its weak spots. To use a favourite old expression of mine, weeds are to be found in the best kept garden. No doubt there are weeds in the garden of the Postmaster-General. I have in mind delay from Thursday to Monday in the delivery of my special delivery air mail letters. These are letters on which T have paid additional charges and which should have been delivered the same day. However, these things happen. This is the human element in a big organisation and I do nol complain about, condemn or criticise the whole outfit because of these deficiencies. Nevertheless 1 think I am entitled to ask, as is any taxpayer of this country: How efficient is the organisation?
I have always been led to believe or have been taught that efficiency cannot radiate from the bottom up but that it must radiate from the top down. I only hope that the administration oi this big Depart ment is in the hands of people who will act to the utmost of their capacity to see that the taxpayer is getting value for his money, and that it is not just a case of balancing the budget by imposing additional taxation to rectify something that is the result of inefficiency or bad organisation. Senator Cotton said that he was disturbed by some criticism that was offered of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Indeed, he suggested that it did not become us to reflect on the efficiency of the Post Office and that it did nol do the Department any good outside.
– It does not give the Department much encouragement if if is sweeping criticism. There are a lot of good Australian workers in the Department trying to do their best.
– The honourable senator will have an opportunity to speak. If he has not put his name on the list of speakers, he can do so now. This is my time and 1 will use it.
– The honourable senator is entitled to his time.
– I’ll say I am, and any honourable senator will find it pretty hard to take it away from mc. However, I cannot agree with Senator Cotton when he deplores any criticism of the Department. If any honourable senator feels that he should criticise the Department, then he has it right to do so. It is puerile to suggest that it is wrong to criticise the Department. Sweeping or destructive criticism is of little value to anybody, but I do not engage in sweeping criticism of the Department. In all of my transactions with the Department I have received efficient and courteous service.
– When the honourable senator goes along to collect his pension.
– When I reach the honourable senator’s age I shall feel inclined to go and collect the pension. But not having reached that age, it is something that 1 do not contemplate doing at the moment. Let me return to the Bill. In the course of debate much reference has been made to the interest bill which the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is required to pay to the Treasury on loans for capital works. 1 have not any great grievance with that, but I am gravely puzzled by a statement by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. At a Premiers Conference, when it was put to him by some of the States that they should charge interest on money expended on capital undertakings, he said that he found this a curious exercise. He said:
You ask me to charge interest on moneys that we have provided without cost. That would have the effect of throwing important public utilities into deficit.
– But you persuaded him.
– If ever I had succeeded in persuading him to give the States anything, that would have been a day of miracles. In fact, he did not know where Queensland was. During my term of office as Premier I could never get him to come to Queensland. I referred to Sir Robert Menzies’ statement on interest charges because I think it is worthy of inclusion in my speech, so that we have it on record.
– From what was the honourable senator quoting?
– I was quoting an extract from a newspaper. Senator Anderson, who is in charge of the Department of Customs and Excise, which is a sleuthing department, thought that he was sleuthing on me then.
– 1 thought that the honourable senator was quoting from Hansard.
– No, 1 was quoting from the ‘News Weekly’.
– What was the date of it?
– I am not disturbed by the unusual attendance of Ministers in this chamber. This afternoon I was tempted to draw attention to the poor attendance of Ministers in this chamber, but I did not do so. Now I want to express gratification at the fact that so many Ministers attach so much importance to my contribution in this debate that they have made a sacrifice to come in and listen to me. I can assure you, Mr Deputy President - and I am sure that you can confirm what I am saying - that it is an unusual attendance of Ministers.
– What was the dale of the publication?
– The Ministers are not taking Vincent wilh confidence.
– They are taking Vincent whether they like it or not. I shall enumerate some of the proposed additional Post Office charges - these little things that the Government says do not matter. For letters and post cards the existing rate of 4c will be increased by lc to 5c. An extra lc is to be added to the charge for articles up to 4 oz. In addition, telephone charges are to be increased. The Government says: What does it matter? The people will not miss the money. They will put it in willingly.’ I say very definitely thai it is a mean approach for any government to introduce legislation of this character without having some regard to the field of taxation from which it will draw the additional income. Furthermore, I think it is imperative that any responsible government should examine the impact which additional tax of this nature will have upon the business community.
The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) has said that the Government is giving seven weeks notice of the increased charges. I said by way of interjection - and I say it again for the benefit of any members of the public who may be listening to me: ‘Why did the Government not give seven weeks notice before it introduced the Bill in order to give people in industry and business an opportunity to make protests with a view to convincing the Government how wrong its proposals are?’
I have limited time in which to speak. 1 would dearly love to read through all the telegrams which I have received. I have another batch outside, but I shall read a few of the ones which I have with me. I shall read them for the benefit of the Government. The first one-reads:
Your opposition to proposed increased postage rates appreciated. Congratulations. Increase would mean cessation of publication of monthly index of medical specialties for 15,000 Australian doctors.
Postal Users Research Council representing printing publishing and paper industries greatly concerned at increases to postal rates particularly to general printed matter rate of 125 percent. Urgently request your support in opposing increases.
This is what another telegram states:
Congratulations on your stand opposing proposed postage increases. Effect would be devastating for free distribution suburban new-papers traditionally denied registration rights.
– Not more?
– The honourable senator will get many letters of sympathy when the Liberals toss him out in Victoria. Another telegram states:
New Ethicals’ is a monthly medical publication on drugs constantly in use in day to day practice of medicine and contributing to postgraduates education on therapeutics. Present postal charge is $1085 per issue. Proposed postal increasemeans $2015 or $11040 extra peryear inincrease of 85 percent. This surely isiniquious and vicious and certainly more than the publisher can stand or reasonably expect to recoup by extra advertising revenue. Urgently seek your assistance to defer introduction of new rates pending approaches to Postmaster-General for revision of proposed increases.
– It must have costa great dealto send these telegrams.
– The only thing that concerned me about the receipt of these telegrams was that the Postmaster-General’s Department was receiving additional revenue. Then I was consoled by the thought that the telegrams were not sent at the new rate. Another telegram that came from Victoria - Senator Webster’s State - says:
Congratulations on your attempt to block the PMG rises. As a supporter of the CountryParty all my life I do not propose to support this Government any more. The whole country will pack you in your attempt to arrest this legislation.
– Who signed that?
– The telegram is here if the honourable senator wishes to see it.
– Did Mrs Jones send it?
– She had nothing to do with it. There is a lot of merriment about this nuttier, but what 1 am saying is not relished by Government supporters. The Government does not liketo think that anyone should challenge what it does. In case the Government has any doubt on the matter, although I do not think it has by now, I remind it that while my colleague and I are here we will always be watchdogs of the public interest so far as the legislation that comes before us is concerned.I am sure that we will have the decern element of (he Australian Labor Party behind us, too.
Let us come back to the serious business before the Senate.I wishto quote from a letter from the managing director of an organisation. He says:
Should a Government Department introduce drastic new charges for its services (up to 125%) which could overnight put a substantial number of firms out of business without giving them any prior notice or opportunityto place their case before a tribunal or inquiry?
If your answerto that question is No, we would like to enlist your support in having corrected a serious anomaly in the new postal charges proposed.
The letter goes on to say:
This anomaly is in respect to ‘other articles’–
That is a category shown in the Schedule to the Bill: for which the base rate has been raised from 4c to 5c, a rise of 25% which is in litre with the general 20% to 25% increase imposed on almost all other types of services.
I will put aside some of these letters and telegrams. They are very personal. They are too eulogistic, and offend my modesty.I have here a letter from Thomson Publications (Australia) Pty Ltd. This firm has written a letter to my fellow Queens! ander, the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme). The firm draws attention to the increase in the ‘other articles rate of 125%.Iturn next to a letter received from Food Store News. The letter begins:
Might I add a very strong protest to others that you have possibly received following last week’s announcement by the Postmaster-General of proposed increases in postal charges.
I sincerely trust that the Australian Labor Party will join with the Democratic Labor Parly in defeating the passage of the proposed Bill in the Senate.
The letters that I have quoted represent only a few ofthe protests that have been received. This is evidence in itself of the failure of the Postmaster-General or his officers to examine the likely detrimental effect that this Bill will have on a number of industries. Another letter comes from the publishers of the ‘Monthly Index of Medical Specialities’. Senator Dittmer, who is a Queensland medical practitioner, would know of ‘MIMS’
– The rise in postage in this case will be 89%.
– Yes. Let me give an illustration to the Senate. Under the old postal rates the charge for ‘other articles’ was 4c for the first four ounces and 3c for each four ounces thereafter. This makes a total of 7c for an eight ounce parcel. The new rate will be 13c for eight ounces - 5c for the first two ounces, 4c for the second two ounces and 4c for every four ounces thereafter. For registered publications the new charge will be 9c for twelve ounces as against 4c for each eight ounces. I am assured by the members of the organisation which publishes MIMS that these increases will cost the firm an additional $14,628 per annum.
– For a journal for which no charge is made.
– Yes. I am sure that Senator Dittmer will agree that this is a very valuable publication in the profession that he follows. I believe that I have submitted sufficient evidence to prove how unfair this legislation is and to justify the attitude that we are adopting in opposing it.
It has been suggested that only half of these additional rates will be covered by legislation and that the remainder, dealing with mail and other things, will be covered by regulation. I think that most of us - certainly those of us who have any parliamentary experience - know something about regulations. We also know what power the Senate has. We have not forgotten the IPEC case. Honourable senators will remember that a regulation was gazetted when the Parliament was in recess. The regulation short circuited the course of law for people who had spent a lot of money in trying to get justice and who finally received from the High Court of Australia the right of appeal to the Privy Council. Just when their representatives were about to put their hands on the knob of the door of the Privy Council in London, they were informed that a regulation had been introduced changing, altering or amending - honourable senators may describe it as they will - the legislation and investing the authority in the Minister rather than in the Director-General. We were able to correct that situation. It was not to the credit of the Government that such a regulation was introduced.
The Senate can reject any regulation made in connection with this legislation if the Government is smart enough to gazette it after the Senate goes into recess. I feel confident that what I have already said publicly in this connection will have the support of the official Opposition. If regulations are gazetted in connection with this legislation we in opposition to this Bill propose when the Senate is about to conclude its autumn session to take the necessary steps to provide that the Senate is reassembled so as to enable us as senators to exercise our right to discuss the regulations. We will exercise our rights and take the opportunity to say what we think about the regulation or regulations in the interests nol of one section of the people but of all the people of Australia who in the main, I believe, are opposed to these increases.
I said before: I am not an irresponsible who fails to recognise the need for increasing charges for certain things, but I am irritated, and I am sure the bulk of the population is irritated by the apathy, the lethargy and the indifferent attitudes of governments, both State and Federal today, to the matter of this ever increasing cost of living. In most States today, the price of bread is in the vicinity of 20c a loaf. What hope has the working man, who has not received any increase in child endowment for a long time, or who is trying to keep his family together, got of maintaining his family with bread at 20c a loaf, or not much less? The same applies to the price of meat. But the attitude today seems to be: Oh, well, everything is going up now’, and that seems to be sufficient to satisfy or at least to appease this big army of workers, and the pensioners who are required to accept these things as they take place. I say it is not good enough. Where is it going to stop? Is this inflationary trend to be allowed to go on and on while our Federal Treasurer. Mr McMahon. tells us how buoyant the economy of the country is?
– The honourable senator used to tell the people of Queensland that.
– I told them many things, and they believed me. At the two elections the party which I led in those days polled in the vicinity of 53% or 54% of the total number of votes and no government since then has been able to do that. This Government has not got that support even today, even taking into account its phenomenal success at the last election. So I would keep off the grass if I were the honourable senator.
When 1 was so rudely interrupted by the honourable senator from Tasmania, I was saying that my reactions to all this are no different from those of the average person in the street, particularly the average worker, who finds that his margin, if any, is constantly deteriorating.
– Eroding. If he has an old bomb, he finds that the price of petrol has gone up. He is no longer able to take his wife and family to the seaside because of those increased petrol charges. But no one does anything about it. Up go the prices of everything, including those of bread, meat, butter and margarine. We hear an outcry about the competition that butter is receiving from margarine. There are many people who cannot afford butter. However, 1 am merely posing the simple question: ‘When will the Government be responsible enough to take some positive and real action to arrest the drift that has been going on for so long and that continues to go on?’
– Tell us how to do it.
– I could do so, very easily, but I have not got the time now to do so. If the honourable senator was not so exclusive and sought me out sometime I would give him a blackboard lecture on economics as far as this country is concerned, and I would include in it a very strong plank of unselfishness for those who have got it to have some regard for those who are not blessed with it instead of sitting here so contentedly with smug faces because they have got it, and thinking that because they have got it everybody else has got it. Everybody else has not got it. It is because members of the Government were so smug that they could do what they did in 1964. In August of that year, they gave the pensioners a pension increase of 5s a week, but when it came to October they gave themselves an increase of £15 a week in salaries and also increased their own pension allowances. When they cease to adopt that selfish attitude and have regard to the interests of the less fortunate people in out community then we will have a more balanced economy and some need of justice distributed in the life of this country.
I conclude by saying, in case any honourable senators have any doubts about it, that I am opposed to the legislation. I and my colleague, who will speak later, are opposed to it and we will resist it just as we will resist any mean, cheap attempt to get around our opposition by the introduction of any regulations to take from the people something which we believe the Government is not justly entitled to - at this stage anyway.
– As I have not the privilege of exceeding my allotted time of twenty minutes, I am afraid I cannot follow Senator Gair over the whole ambit of his speech. I cannot deal, for example, with all the extraneous items to which be referred. I commence by saying that I have listened carefully to every speech that has been made and I have tried to make a summary of what has been said by the Opposition about the postal charges. Leaving out the gross, indeed the almost hysterical exaggeration of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy), I summarise what they have said by stating that their arguments have covered four main points. The first is a charge of inefficiency within the Postmaster-General’s Department, mainly in connection with mail handling. The second is that there is somewhere some immorality in increasing charges now instead of doing so through the Budget. The third is that the loading of extra charges should have been more widely spread over the whole range of the Postal Department’s services instead of just the items selected. The fourth point related to some criticism of the Public Service Board. I shall deal with these one by one.
First of all, I should like to look at this charge of inefficiency. The examples that were given to us by the members of the Opposition who have spoken cover, I think, some half dozen individual instances relating to letters, and one telegram, and each one of which, if investigated, could have as little merit as the complaint that was made by a Federal member in the other place some time ago that he had posted a letter to the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) and it had not been delivered for some weeks. A careful investigation was made into that complaint and it was discovered that the letter was posted during the recess, but posted by that member in the Hansard box and not the letter box. Obviously that box was not cleared because the House was not in session. I have that from a referenceto Hansard. Honourable members can look it up for themselves if they wish.I thinkthat example is symptomatic of many ofthe complaints that arc made.
I do not believe that we can examine the efficiency of the Postmaster-General’s Department by picking out an isolated case here and there. We can examine the Department’s efficiency only by considering the overall annual results of its operations. I propose to put before the Senate official figures that have been quoted by the PostmasterGeneral, Mr Hulme. and also by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson). Mr Hulme. in his second reading speech on this measure in another place, said:
There have been no overall increases in postal rate s for almost eight years, since the basic postage rate of 5d was introduced in 1959. In fact, the only significant change has been the reduction in the basic postage raleto 4c at the time of the changeoverto decimal currency last year.
This was laughed at by a previous speaker, who appeared to regard it as being something of no moment. Mr Hulme continued:
This has so far cost the Postal Service$750,000 in lower revenue.
That was in one sphere of operations alone.
The Minister also stated:
The improvement in productivity which has already been achieved is shown by the fact that between 1959 and 1966 the postal staff rose by onl y 10% in order to handle a 31% increase in traffic.
That was over a period of seven years. Is that an indication of inefficiency? No reasonable man would agree that it is. The Minister went on:
The Postal Service was able to maintain a break even financial position over the five-year period from 1959-60 to 1963-64, averaging a profit of about $0.9m annually.
There is an example of efficiency over a number of years. The Minister continued:
In 1964-65, however, a loss of $2.6m was incurred and this was followed in 1965-66 by a loss of $10. 3m. With current postal tariffs and allowing for continuation of recent cost trends, tosses of $18m this financial year and $25m next year are likely. These losses, by 1970-71, could rise to $40m or $45m.
We are talking of efficiency, and this is the time when we should ask ourselves why. if there is better productivity, the situation has changed from one of profit to one of loss. The answer, which is as clear as crystal to anybody whose brain has any mathematical capacity at all and which was given by the Postmaster-General, is as follows:
During the period between 1959-60 and 1965-66, the wage rates of postmen and mail sorters rose by about 40% and postal clerks by over 50%.
That is the reason for the change from profits to losses, it has not been possible for the Department to continue to absorb the increased wage rates granted to postal staff.I have already mentioned those. The Minister stated also:
Last financial year, for example, the increase in postal earnings of about $4. 5m was equalled by the extra wages payable as a result of variations to awards. Although a 4.1% increase in postal business was handled with a 1.8% increase in staff, the costs of the additional labour together with unavoidable extra costs associated largely with the transport of mails coniributed materially to the increase of $7.7m in the loss on the postal services.
There is the answer. It is a perfectly obvious one. There is the reason for the change from profits to losses. The PostmasterGeneral also commented:
Public utilities such as the Post Office, not being abl e to recover all such increased costs from increased turnover, have no alternative but to recover at least part of the increased costs from the user who principally is the recipient of increased wages.
A little later I shall demonstrate that this Government having swallowed all that increase for a number of years, has done infinitely better than did its predecessor in office. Let us be fair about this, Mr President. I suggest that we should look at the people on the other side ofthe political fence. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports, Mr Crean, is the shadow Treasurer in the ranks of the Opposition in another place. I think most of us agree that he presents his facts with reason and temperance. In the debate on this measure in another place he said: 1 agree that the Post Office is an efficient organisation which has on many occasions proved its ability to absorb quite substantial cost increases without an adjustment to wages.
He also stated:
I believe that the figures that I have quoted, crowned with those words, which were uttered by Mr Crean only two days ago. substantiate my claim that the charge of inefficiency is not based on facts.
Having touched on those matters I would like to move to another facet of the problem. Over the last 7i years the overall rise in postal charges has been about 16%. That is less than the rise of 17% which, as Senator Lillico illustrated very clearly, took place in the last 21 years during which the Labor Government was in office. Is not this further proof that our efficiency today is infinitely greater?
I now want to introduce a personal note into my remarks. I have my office at Cairns - a city that not many honourable senators know - about 2,000 miles north of Brisbane. My office there services a very large area of hundreds of square miles. Whenever I am in that office I am visited by large numbers of people, many of whom travel long distances to see me about problems, some of which are grave. Usually those callers have little time to spare when they are in Cairns, and frequently I have to ring Sydney. Melbourne and Canberra in an effort to find the solutions to the problems that they raise. Three years ago I used to find it utterly impossible to get through to the south by telephone within a reasonable time. Frequently two or three days would elapse and my inquiries would be directed from one person to another before I got the solutions to many of the difficulties of the people who sought my help. Nowadays there is scarcely an occasion when I cannot ring Sydney, Melbourne. Canberra or anywhere else and get through within two or three minutes. In my view there has been a magnificent improvement in telephone services compared to what we were accustomed to before.
There are many people throughout the outlying parts of Australia who benefit in equal measure from the tremendous improvement in telephone services, which saves them not just peanuts but a great deal of money because of the saving in time. The time factor is very important. Suppose three years ago businessmen from Cairns to Perth had been told that if they asked for it they could obtain service as good as that which I have just illustrated, or the even superior service provided by the subscriber trunk dialling facilities that are now available. The reply would have been: ‘Give me that and I shall be prepared to pay twice the fee to get it, because it will save me, not hundreds but thousands, of dollars.’ This is the literal truth. I have been approached by people from many parts of Australia about this problem of long distance communications. They have told me what a tremendous help it has been to them to have this speedy service. Having regard to the unbelievably good service available in country areas compared with the situation three years ago. and taking into account all the other improvements in the service, I submit that the charge of inefficiency levelled at the Post Office must fall to the ground. I suggest that our postal service excels in efficiency anything that even I had hoped for two years ago. I know that we are fortunate in having at the helm of the Post Office dedicated people who. in planning the service that the Post Office can render, have considered not only the areas of maximum population but also those country areas that have been at a grave disadvantage in the past as regards service. lt has been alleged by the Opposition that the Government has acted immorally in increasing charges by way of this Bill instead of increasing them at Budget time. This is an incredible charge. No substantial reason has been advanced for the claim that it is immoral to increase charges at this time, either by legislation or by regulation. Indeed, the Government is following a precedent set by the Labor Government led by the man who, honourable senators opposite claim - with good reason I think - was one of the ablest Prime Ministers Australia has ever had - the late Mt Chifley. His Government did precisely what this Government is doing now, but Labor did not give the people seven weeks notice of its intention; it gave only two weeks, if that. Any charge of immorality is just loose talk. Not one honourable senator opposite has been able to substantial the charge that there is anything unpleasant, immoral, wrong or undesirable in the way the Government is introducing these increases. Indeed, having solved the problems confronting the Post Office in its commercial operations, at Budget time Ministers will be able more easily to consider budgetary mailers than if the problem of the Post Office were still before them. To suggest that there is any immorality in the Government’s action is sheer nonsense.
Let me deal now with the contention that the proposed increases should have been spread more widely over the whole range of Post Office services. Senator Poyser referred this afternoon to a small industry established 45 miles from Melbourne. He said that the increased postal and telephone charges will cost that industry an extra $500 a year. I do noi question his figures; I would not think of doing so. But let him consider this: today’s improved services, compared with services available four years ago, probably save that industry not $500 a year but $1,000 a year. That company may have to pay an extra S500 a year if these increases become law but, compared with the situation four years ago. today’s improved services al) save the company twice that amount in me lime of ils highly paid executives.
Senator Willesee and Senator Poyser claimed that the increased telephone charges - I point out that the increase is two-thirds of lc per call - will result in hosts of people not being able to keep their telephones. Thai is one of the most stupid comments ever made, because anybody, be he a member of this Senate or a member of the community at large, who has a telephone knows, especially where there are children in the home, that many calls that are made need not be made. I would be mighty surprised if any household could not refrain from making one or two unnecessary calls a week and thus keep the annual bill to its present figure. I know that when my children were a little younger than they are I would have been delighted on occasions to have an excuse to get them off the telephone. I think that view would be widely held in many homes. People will not rush to have their telephones disconnected. The number of people seeking a telephone will continue to increase. Thousands of people still will apply to have a telephone connected. Notwithstanding the increasing efficiency of the Post Office it is almost impossible to supply at short notice all the telephones sought. Many people have come to me seeking my assistance to have a telephone installed. But they must wait their turn, and sometimes, due to the large number of people seeking a telephone, their turn takes a long time to come round. To suggest that people will get rid of their telephones because the charge for calls has been increased is nonsense. I predict that applications for telephones will continue to increase in number. I remind honourable senators that the fee for installation of a telephone will not be increased. I believe other honourable senators have made that point. The increase in the charge for local calls is only two-thirds of lc.
Senator Gair said that this legislation was introduced secretively. He said - I do not think I misquote him - that even some Ministers did not know that the PostmasterGeneral was to introduce this Bill in the other place. That statement is plainly ridiculous. On the night on which the Bill was introduced by the Postmaster-General a meeting was held in our Party room at 7 p.m. I was there, as were several Ministers. Some Ministers did not attend the meeting, because they already knew its purpose. At the meeting we were told that the Bill would be introduced that night. To say that the Bill was introduced secretively is sheer nonsense. The practice adopted on this occasion is the desirable and correct practice, lt is a practice that we adopt with all budgetary measures; they are not announced to members of the Party until an hour before the Parliament meets. 1 could say a lot more, but time will not permit. The Opposition asserts that it will do all in its power to defeat this Bill. It may defeat the Bill on the floor of the Senate tonight. It may defeat the Bill by four votes for all I know. This is possible; the Opposition has done it in the past two or three times. But let me tell the Opposition that this Bill was not defeated in the other place. There, the majority in favour of the Bill was thirty-four. So if the Opposition does defeat this Bill by four votes tonight there still will be a majority of thirty members of the Parliament of this Commonwealth who are in favour of this Bill. So do not tell me that the Government is doing anything to force the people to accept a minority decision. It is doing nothing of the sort.
I agree with Opposition senators who have said that some people are incensed by the proposed increases, but the reason for their being incensed is that they are only headline readers. They read the headlines in the Press, and the Press always has a Roman holiday when there is a sensation. I read a shocking article in the Canberra Times’ about the increases. Not long ago the cost of the ‘Canberra Times’ was 4c; now it is 5c. Did the ‘Canberra Times’ make a song about increasing its price by 25%? Of course it did not. Did anybody complain when in the last three months the price of the ‘Readers Digest’ was increased from 20c to 30c? Of course not. Labor supporters run away from these things. They capitalise only on those issues which the Press builds into sensations. I think I have made it clear that 1 support the legislation.
– In the few minutes available to me, let me bring a measure of cold reason into this debate. Let me approach this matter dispassionately. Let me show how arrogantly insolent the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme), as the representative of the Cabinet, has been in relation to the Parliament and the parliamentary processes of this country. This afternoon and tonight we have listened to a number of excellent speeches from both sides of the chamber. Each honourable senator, of course, has made his speech according to his own lights. Unfortunately, this afternoon there was a measure of heat in some of the speeches. There were rude interruptions by way of interjection which, to some extent, spoilt the speeches for the listeners. I listened to Senator Cotton. I thought he made an excellent speech, limited only by his political views. That was the only trouble. It was rather arrogant of him to deplore criticism. Surely any honourable senator, on whichever side of the chamber he sits, expects criticism. I expect to be criticised, although I know that my critics are wrong. 1 do not mind criticism. Apparently Senator Cotton thinks that members of the Opposition have no right of criticism.
Let me trace the history of this matter coldly and logically. If time permits, I will give the Government advice on what I believe would have been the correct way to approach this problem. We know that there is a measure of justification for these increases because, as has been mentioned, postage rates have not been increased since the Budget of 1 959. When decimal currency was introduced the major postage rate was reduced by .2d. Telephone charges have been increased slightly. There have been increases in installation charges, rentals and so on. They have not been of tragic dimensions; let me put it that way. Also if time permits I will prove that the extraordinary measures that were introduced in the Budget of 1959 under a Liberal Party Treasurer would not have been introduced if the previous Treasurer, Sir Arthur Fadden, had then been the occupant of that office. Sir Arthur Fadden was seised of a sense of responsibility to the people in country areas. He realised the importance of communications in a country of almost three million square miles with a little more than eleven million people occupying it.
Let me give the background to this arrogant insolence, this extraordinary contempt of Parliament and parliamentary processes and this lack of recognition of true democratic rights. Senator Morris admitted that a number of Ministers and a large number of private members were not at the parry meeting that was held last Thursday night. Many ox them did not know about the proposed increases. The first intimation that they had of the proposed increases was when the Postmaster-General announced them in the House of Representatives. Let me go back over the history of this matter and speculate - I believe with certainty - about how these increased charges emanated. I am certain that the PostmasterGeneral did not initiate them. It is quite evident that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) initiated them for the purposes of his own prestige. He did not want to have them associated with his name because he aspires to being Prime Minister, however close to or far from realisation his aspiration may be. He did not want to present a Budget that would associate a measure of ignominy with his name. Consequently he, along with other members of the Cabinet, forcefully persuaded the Postmaster-General to accept the responsibility for these increased charges. It would have been better for the reputation of the Postmaster-General if he had said: ‘No. I believe that an inquiry should be made into the justification for the various increases’ and, if he had not got his way, resigned. Had he said and done that he would have gone down with the people of Australia as a much greater political figure.
Then we saw the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) peevish, disappointed and with the impish humour of a small boy when he learned, contrary to what he had fondly imagined - unreasonably, 1 believe - that the Labor Party would not accept these increased charges. He had in his mind some idea that it was traditional for Labor Party representatives in the Senate not to oppose levies, whether in the Post Office or anywhere else. Let us be quite clear about this. The most eminent constitutional authorities in this country recognise that this is not a money Bill - that it imposes fees for services rendered by a department and constitutionally is not’ a money Bill. I have consulted the most eminent constitutional authority in this country on this issue.
– I do not remember telling the honourable senator that.
– 1 did not obtain that opinion from the honourable senator: I obtained it from a real expert in this field. 1 thank the honourable senator very much for his help. 1 am very grateful for much of the advice that he has given me on other occasions, but not on this occasion.
Let us be quite clear that, even if this were a money Bill, we would have the authority, as everyone knows, not to amend it but to reject it. Everyone may rest assured that this Bill will be rejected. The Prime Minister was frustrated. This afternoon Senator Murphy quoted previous occasions on which Bills designed to raise revenue for the Government have been rejected by this chamber. In any case, there is nothing wrong with this chamber rejecting a Bill. The point is that the Prime Minister miscalculated and became peevish. What happened after that? When the Postmaster-General, as the representative of or collecting agent for the Treasurer, found that the Senate would oppose the Bill - not because we do not believe that there should be some increases in various charges for services, but because of the method adopted - what did he do? In complete defiance, with the most extraordinary and greatest contempt, and in an unparalleled example of arrogant insolence in relation to the authority of the Parliament, he said: ‘All right. If the Senate will not accept these increases we will frustrate the will of the Parliament and bring them in by regulation’. One would never think that anyone who allegedly was a democratic representative would think in such or similar terms.
It passes my comprehension how the Postmaster-General or anyone associated with him in the Cabinet, the Ministry or cither of the parties constituting this coalition Government, realising that the Parliament would express its will in the only democratic way it knew and was permitted to adopt, could hope to frustrate the will of the Parliament by a nefarious device. If the Postmaster-General had said: ‘We still propose to collect this money. The Treasurer says that we have to have it. 1 have been appointed his collecting agent. He wants only to increase income tax or company tax by the minimum, if at all. This is my responsibility. When the Budget is brought down these charges will be included. Because of the Senate’s opposition, we will not be able to collect the money between 1st July and 1st October, so the increases will be more substantial.’ I do not know-
– Hear, hear!
– I do not know how he or Senator Scott could face the people and claim that he was a democratic representative in a democracy that is probably unparalleled in the world.
– Under this Government, yes.
– I am giving the Senate a concrete example to show how totally undemocratic this Government is. Senator Marriott would not have had a say in this at all. The Government parties were not even consulted. The Government just told its supporters, or the few who gathered together at 7 o’clock on the particular night, what it had already decided to do.
Let us go over the story of charges made by this Department. Remember that the Budget of 1959 was the first prepared by a Liberal Treasurer for almost ten years, and it was only in that year that we saw the beginning of this gross interference with charges for postal, telegram and telephone communication services. Certainly at that time the Government gave the portfolio of Postmaster-General to a Country Party representative, but whether he knew what it was all about no-one seems to know. But the Government quite evidently did not know what it was all about because after the Budget was introduced and protests poured into Canberra, to all representatives and to all Ministers, the Government had to make alterations. It was actually going to put out of existence farmers’ journals, trade union publications and church papers. The members of the Government just did not know what they were about.
Prior to that time Sir Arthur Fadden, who was Treasurer from 10th December 1949 until he retired before the election in 1958, would not permit any undue interference with these charges. When the Treasury official said: ‘We shall lift this charge and that charge; we shall impose this financial obligation in relation to the services rendered by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department’, the then Treasurer simply said: ‘You are not going to do it because these communications are vital to the people concerned. They are part and parcel of their welfare. It is part of their lives to receive publications and letters and to enjoy telephone facilities at a comparatively reasonable cost.’ During the years when the Treasury officials put this kind of pressure on the Treasurer there was no need for the Postmaster-General to protect the people of Australia because they received ample protection from the Treasurer.
Senator Cotton has said that in England even the present Prime Minister has stated that these services constitute a business arrangement as between those rendering the services and those receiving them. But surely Senator Cotton appreciates the difference between the environmental circumstances of England and of Australia. Surely he realises the isolation that the people in country areas of Australia have to endure and the other difficulties they have to face. Surely it is not too much to ask the overall body of Australian citizens to carry a measure of the burden through taxation.
It has been claimed that there is a necessity for the Government to increase these charges. I agree, as I have said, that there has been no really substantial increase since 1959. But the Government could have undertaken consultations. An announcement of consideration by the Government of increased charges would not have been something that would affect share prices or something that would allow a few persons to make some quick profits even if they had advance information. The PostmasterGeneral could have said that increases were inevitable. I will not have time to deal with the payment by the Post Office of interest on money obtained for capital works, but I will deal with this aspect of the matter. The Postmaster-General could have said that charges must inevitably be increased. He could have said: ‘We have gone over the matter thoroughly and this is what we suggest as the basis of approach to increased charges’. Those vitally affected could then have made representations to the Postmaster-General in a sensible and logical way, and these could have been considered and changes made. After the changes had been effected by regulation or through the Budget some other alterations could then have been made.
As Senator Gair has said, the increased postage rates for publications range from 89% to 125%. These are extraordinarily severe impositions and I would say, with the wisdom so characteristic of me, the* they are totally unjustified. No-one could possibly justify such severe impositions, and I know the Government realises this. One finds such anomalies throughout this measure because apparently it is ill-considered. There are increases in various charges, changes in the services covered by particular charges - there are all sort of devices. I believe that the Postmaster-General, having met the various groups, heard their representations and given them serious consideration, could have said, realising tine responsibility of taxpayers in general to carry portion of the burden in the interests of the country as a whole: ‘Very well, we will look at the original suggestions and reconstruct them’. He could then have said: ‘We are going to increase the charges’, and when the Budget was presented a month or two later the increases could have been incorporated in it. lt is no use saying that the Government just suddenly realised these increases were necessary. The members of the Government knew before the last election that it would be necessary to increase the charges, lt is no use any representative of the Government, from the Prime Minister to the most humble or most stupid member of the Government parties, saying that he did not know this would have to be done, because we have the statement of the Minister telling us what the forthcoming losses are likely to be. He said that it is expected that losses will amount to $40m or $45m in the year 1970-71. Do you not think it likely. Madam Deputy President, that the Government realised one, two, three or four years ago what the financial performances of the Department were likely to be? Do you not think it knew what the loss was likely to be in the current year? There is, of course, an argument that the loss is not a real one and that in fact there is a working profit because the Department is required to pay $62m in interest charges, but T am not going to argue about the business aspect of that procedure.
The Minister appears to have been very concerned about this matter, having regard to the fact that he felt it necessary suddenly to impose these severely increased charges. It is intended to raise $67m from increased Post Office charges but not all the new rates are prescribed by this Bill. The remainder will be introduced by regulation. If the Minister was so concerned, would not the sensible approach have been to suggest the appointment of an all-party parliamentary committee to investigate the functioning ot the Postmaster-General’s Department?
I am not one of those who accuse the Department of total inefficiency. I think it does an excellent job. Senator Morris has already pointed out, in fact, that there has been an increase of 3 1 % in articles handled by a staff which has increased by only 10%, but the honourable senator forgot, conveniently or otherwise, to mention that tens of thousands of members of this staff are in the Fourth Division of the Commonwealth Public Service and have been denied economic justice for years. They are among the lowest paid people in the country, considering the work they do. The honourable senator conveniently forgot to mention this. I have heard the new sorting machine attacked. I understand that it has had teething troubles, but I believe it is probably one of the best machines in the world, if not the best. I do not join in the cries of total inefficiency, but I do think the PostmasterGeneral could quite easily have said: Lel us appoint a select committee to investigate the functioning of this Department in all its ramifications and see where the financial burden should be placed. Let us decide in this way what proportion of the costs should be borne by the general body of taxpayers as distinct from the proportion to be borne by the individuals who avail themselves of the services.’
We are dealing with a very big department with assets of well over $ 1,000m. We might say that it is almost too big for one individual to handle, particularly when we realise that that individual also has control of our television and broadcasting services. The Director-General has almost too much of a burden for any human being to bear. Perhaps a select committee could investigate the justification for setting up a commission to control this extraordinarily large business undertaking which I believe serves this country so very well. But the Government stands condemned for the precipitate way in which it proposes to levy these charges and for the arrogant insolence displayed towards the Parliament by the Prime Minister and the Postmaster-General.
– Madam Acting Deputy President, I must say that it is good to see you once again presiding over the Senate after your recent illness. 1 rise to support this Bill because I sincerely believe that the Government proposes to do the right and proper thing by increasing postal, telegraph and telephone charges. 1 say that I believe it proposes to do the right thing because the users of our systems of communication should pay for the cost of the facilities which are provided. It is very hard for the average person to know whether the Post Office in any given financial year makes a profit of a loss because systems of accounting have changed over the years. For many other reasons it is also difficult to state precise figures in relation to a profit or a loss because figures can be juggled.
The people of Australia must remember that these communications have to be provided, first of all, then developed, modernised and spread throughout this vast country, and that the money to pay for this must come from somewhere. If the users of the system were not taxed in the form of charges, John Citizen who might not use the system very much would have to face up to higher taxation levied on him through other avenues. We should remember that those who have the facilities and amenities of our cities and towns must be prepared to subsidise our large and important rural areas. If we believe in decentralisation we must also believe that charges inherent in the provision of Post Office facilities and communications in rural areas should be subsidised by big business and the city dwellers.
A point that has not yet been brought out by honourable senators who have contributed to this debate is that somewhere, somehow, the Postal Department has to find money to pay for the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage done by vandals to its facilities and installations throughout Australia. In addition, fires - we know very well about fires in Tasmania - flood and tempest cause terrific monetary loss to the Post Office. The necessary funds must be found somewhere, so I believe that they become rightly a charge against the people who use the service.
Criticism has been levelled at the Department. 1 do not cavil at fair constructive criticism but I support Senator Morris in objecting to sweeping unjust criticism. Has anyone on the Opposition side mentioned that throughout this land many hundreds of technicians, linemen and other workers go out at all hours of the night in all conditions to keep communications going? It is the motto of the Postal Department, as it was of the Corps of Signals, to keep communications going, and some public recognition of their heroic and dedicated work should be voiced in the Senate. The additional costs incurred by the Department as the result of their activities, must be met. The Department is faced with continually increasing costs because it is rapidly introducing the most modern system of telecommunications in the world. We know that we can dial Melbourne and Sydney from our own offices, and that one telephone subscriber in Sydney can dial directly from his own home to another subscriber in certain other cities. We know that television is beamed throughout all Stales with the exception of Western Australia. These vast projects entail the expenditure of large sums of money because modern equipment is very costly.
I know that Senator McManus is following me in this debate which is gradually drawing to a close. I say without equivocation that he has always appealed to me as a man who looks for reason in his decisions. He will be the final spokesman for the Australian Democratic Labor Party which has, as four of the main planks of its policy, social services, defence, aid to schools and foreign affairs. The first three are costly items for a government to meet. I believe the honourable senator will agree with me when I say that it is hard to understand the venom of the controllers o’f Press, radio and television in respect of these proposed increased charges.
– The Labor Party gets the venom all through the year.
– Perhaps, but when those people attack the Government the honourable senator thinks that they are the greatest people on earth. He is pleased to see them paying their 20% dividends to shareholders and to read their stringent criticisms of the Government. Who will be hardest hit by the proposed increased charges? It will be big business, the huge companies, because most of their profits are made through the medium of the telecommunications and postal services of Australia. In the past the Labor Party has been regarded as more or less the spokesman for the ordinary person. Will any member of the Opposition or the DLP disagree with me when I say that any private home or any charitable or community welfare organisation which wants to counter these extra charges can do so by employing efficiency and a little self sacrifice in cutting down on use of the facilities. I believe this gives people the opportunity to be a little economical and to avoid wasteful telephone calls.
How many men in business, how many members of Parliament, how many professional men, particularly doctors, receive through the post second class mail matter in such quantities that they never have time to read it? The Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) has said, and I believe it is true, that the Post Office loses money on every item of second class mail matter despatched between capital cities because of the small postage charge. I believe it is factual to say, although it may seem a little curious, that if this wasteful use of postal services on such things was cut down there would be a saving of time and money by the Post Office.
The criticism of the Government for the way it has introduced this legislation is most unfair. The Government has a responsibility to the nation to ensure that its business undertakings pay their way as far as possible. If, to meet increased costs or for other reasons, the Government finds it needs more revenue, it must tell Parliament. lt has told Parliament and it has given the nation seven weeks notice of the increased charges, if they are to become effective. The previous Labor Government in 1949, if 1 remember correctly, put its increased charges into effect within fourteen days of giving notice. So, that part of the criticism that one reads and hears in this chamber is, I believe, completely uncalled for.
My one final word in answer to the criticisms that have been levelled in this debate relates to the interest charged on revenue collected and spent on capital works. I believe it to be an historical fact that this system was first instituted at the request of the Premiers of the States, who felt that where revenue was required and used for capital expenditure - under the system of uniform taxation the States are the biggest beneficiaries - it was right that interest should be charged. If my memory is still correct, Senator Gair was the Treasurer of Queensland when the Premiers expressed the view that this action should be taken. 1 believe these charges are just and that the Parliament should agree to them. I question the sincerity of some honourable senators. When the Government introduces a measure to provide benefits for the people, it is criticised for not giving bigger benefits.
When it brings in legislation to increase charges so that a business undertaking can pay its way, develop and operate for the benefit of the people, it is again criticised. I think it is unfair for the Opposition now to use its majority in this chamber, which is not the popular House, to frustrate a business transaction of the Government.
– Madam Acting Deputy President. I want to join with Senator Marriott in expressing pleasure at. your reappearance in this Senate after your recent illness, I hope that good health will be yours for many years to come.
A significant feature of this debate is that, on the last occasion the postal charges were increased as coldly and callously as on this occasion - that is, in 1949 - they were followed by the overwhelming defeat of the government of the day at the next polls. One cannot help wondering whether this Government will meet with a similar fate. To one like myself who has seen a lot of politics over the years and who remembers the occasion when the Post Office was a very powerful contributor out of its profits to the revenues of the Commonwealth, it seems strange that the reverse position should now have arisen.
It is only natural for one to ask: What has happened? How is it that a service which once made profits and which contributed powerfully to the revenues of the Commonwealth is now rather a debtor? Has it been that the efficiency of the Post Office has deteriorated? I find that hard to accept, knowing the individual effort that is put info the work of this great Department by its employees. Or is it the result of a change in policy of the Government which has decided to regard the Post Office from now on as a medium of taxation? Is it, as some people say. that these imposts are a little budget to take the heat off increases in taxation which are inevitable in the Budget that will be introduced within the next three months? What is the reason for this strange change in the attitude of the Government towards this great Department?
People, particularly in the publishing industry, have been caught in a most unenviable situation by these increases. They had no warning of them and could not cushion their industry against the serious situation that was bound to arise. It is understandable that many of them are communicating with parliamentarians and saying with considerable bitterness that it must be that the basis of these increases was not properly examined. They cannot believe that, if the basis of these increases had been properly investigated, this action, which is a death blow to a considerable section of the publishing industry, would have been taken. Surely it is terrible to attack the industry that above all is concerned with the dissemination of information and knowledge. Let me read a few of the communications thatI have received from leading personalities and organisations in that industry. The Secretary of the Printing and Allied Trades Employers Federation says:
PrintersFederation alarmed at the huge increases topostal rates affecting printed matter. Please oppose them.
The Postal Users Research Council, representing the printing, publishing and paper industries states:
Greatly concerned at increases to postal rates particularly to general printed matter rate of 125%. Urgently request your support in opposing increases.
I will give an example of a letterI have received. It states:
An example of the catastrophic effects upon unregistered’ publications may be found in the case of our FEN (Factory Equipment News), a monthly publication established in June 1966 for the express purpose of propagating news of new factory equipment products. Hailed as an invaluable tool of industry by readers and advertisers alike. FEN attracts approximately 2.000 direct reader inquiries per month . . .
The proposed “Other articles’ rate would mean an increase in posting costs for FEN of 7c per copy per month. Since we post 12,500 of each issue, this means an increase of $875 per month ($10,500 per annum) - substantially more than expected profit in any one year. … It would appear, therefore, that we will have no alternative butto cease publication.
A letter from Seven Seas Stamps Pty Ltd has this to say:
This anomaly is in respect of ‘other articles’ for which the base rate has been raised from 4c to 5c, a rise of 25% . . .
This base 25% will be difficult enough to absorb, but the Post Office proposes to impose a further 100% surcharge on all ‘other articles’ mail by reducing the base weight unit from 4 oz (as at present) to 2 oz. This automatically increases by 125% the charge for all packets and commercial mail over 2 oz. In our case it will increase our mail order operations by more than $400 per week. This isa crippling impost which we, and most other mail orderfirms, could not possibly meet, and it will result in drastic curtailment of operations and employment within the whole mail order industry.
When we get serious statements of that nature from a powerful Australian industry one can only ask: ‘Were these increases inevitable? Let us examine the whole situation in regard to them. I would say that this shock announcement of a $67m rise in postal, telephone and telegraph charges is very hard to justify. Let us look at the figures. Last year the Postal Department reported a loss of $124,000, but let us realise that this was after it had paid a dividend of$60m to the Treasury. This profit would have been enoughto cut the postage rates in half or cut all telephone calls by a quarter, but users of the Department’s services are simply told that they are paying interest on capital. Nearly all of the capital works of the Department are paid for out of taxes, so the people are paying twice. The Government says to the people: ‘Pay taxes to provide money for the Treasury’. Then the Treasury lends the moneyto the Postmaster-General’s Department and then the Government charges the people interest on the money that they themselves have contributed.
So what these increases in charges mean is that the people are being charged interest on their own money. These figures that I have cited are from the commercial accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department itself. On the straight out cash basis used by the Treasury there was a cash surplus of$132m in this year’s budget from the Postmaster-General’s Department. The Government expects to receive $435m in cash from the Postmaster-General’s Department and a cash expenditure of$303m is expected. The position may be summed up in this way: In the past twenty years the Federal Treasury has put$1, 4 18m of the taxpayer’s money into capital works in the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Department has provided $59m from retained profits. But the fact remains, as I said, that the taxpayer is forced to contribute money to the Treasury, the Treasury lends it to the Post Office and then the people are charged interest on their own money and the cost of the services is to be put up.
Let us look at what has happened in other countries in regard to these services.
Under this Bill every Australian is to pay $40 a year rental on his telephone and 4c for a local call. Canada and New Zealand do not charge anything for local calls. In Canada telephone subscribers pay $59 a year for everything except long distance calls. In New Zealand the cost of a telephone and local calls is the equivalent of $22.50, yet last year the New Zealand Postal Department made a profit of $2m. In Great Britain, rental is $30 a year and this includes a number of free local calls. In New York, seventy-five calls a month are free. For calls in excess of that number the cost is 5c a call. Why is it that in Australia we have to pay more for our telephones than is paid in practically every other comparable country in the world? The answer is inescapable. The Government regards the Post Office, not as a body to provide services to the community, but as a method of taxation of the people - and bitter taxation at that.
What is the feeling of the business community in relation to these charges? The Secretary of the Retail Traders Association said that the rises would tend to push up retail prices. This is at a time when Mr Bury and other Ministers are addressing gatherings and urging business men to hold the line, to keep down price increases. At the same time as they are urging businesses to keep down price rises and urging the trade unions not to go for big increases in wages, they go before the people and say: *We do not intend to be bound by the very advice that we are giving others.’ Mr Johnson of the Retail Traders Association said: 1 1 seems most inconsistent for the Federal Government to inflate costs after expressing a great interest in keeping costs down in a recent submission to the Arbitration Court.
The President of the Associated Chambers of Commerce said that the increases, coming so soon after widespread criticism of mail services, made it increasingly evident that a thorough overhaul of the operations of the Post Office was needed. The President of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, Mr Blyton, said:
Surely it would have been more appropriate for an impost of this nature to be related to the Budget proposals as a whole.
I agree with him. Why is it that these increases have been made apart from the Budget? The conclusion is inescapable. We are to have a tough Budget and it was thought that some of the heat would be taken off it by imposing these increases at an earlier date. The General Manager of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures said that the increases were excessive and a burden on business and the public not in proportion to the service given by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
I should like to make it clear that these statements do not come from people who normally oppose this Government. They come from people who are normally among its principal supporters. I have been surprised at the suggestion from the Government side that attacks on these increases and the method by which they are to be imposed are not exactly cricket. It is suggested that this is not the right way to deal with these things - to come out and attack them in the way in which we have attacked them tonight. I can only say that we have acted on very sound grounds. Let me read what happened in 1 949 when the then Labor Government proposed increases in a way similar to this. The representative of the Government in attacking the increases - Mr, later Sir Arthur, Fadden - moved:
That all words after ‘That’ be left out with a view to insert the following words: - the Bill be referred to a select committee of this House appointed to inquire into and report upon the deterioration in the finances of the Postmaster-General’s Department which has resulted in the imposition of these heavy increases in charges at a time when revenue from other sources is at a record high level.
– In what year was that?
– It was in 1949. Here we have the Government protesting bitterly because the Opposition says that these increases must be inquired into, that they cannot just be accepted. Mr Fadden had no hesitation on behalf of the then Opposition in demanding that those increases should not be approved but rather that they should be referred to a committee of inquiry. Let me read some of the further statements of Mr Fadden. With indignation, he said:
Now, in June, the Parliament is asked to approve of indirect taxation by way of higher postal, telegraph and telephone tariffs.
When that is said on this side, what happens? We are told that it is most unfair, that we should recognise the necessity for these charges, and that we should not do what the Leader of the Australian Country Parly did in exactly similar circumstances in 1949. Continuing, Mr Fadden, whom one can almost imagine was on this side of the chamber, speaking tonight, said:
We ure being asked lo impose these fresh taxes on lnc people merely upon the Minister’s bald statement-
And are we not being asked to accept them merely on a bald statement? Apparently it is no good in 1967, but it was all right in 1949 lo make these attacks. Mr Fadden said:
We arc being asked to impose these fresh taxes on the people merely upon the Minister’s bald statement that the reasons for them are an increase of the department’s annual wage bill . . . cost of living rises-
In other words, Sir Arthur Fadden indignantly rejected the suggestion that the Opposition should merely accept these increases on the word of the Minister. He demanded that they be inquired into and even suggested a royal commission. So the situation appears to be that this Government wants other people to do what il was not prepared to do when it occupied the Opposition benches.
I think that the situation needs to bc examined. Senator Cotton, when speaking on this Bill, airily said: ‘Well, you borrow the money from the Treasury and therefore you have to pay it back.’ But let me ask again: where did the Treasury get the money from? It got the money from the taxpayers. Did the Government pay interest to the public? No. lt confiscated the capital from the public. That appears to me to be an exercise in Socialism by the present non-Socialist Government. If the Post Office were a private business enterprise il would raise its money on the loan market and interest would be rightly chargeable in the ordinary way, but this Government is using the interest paid as a contribution to its revenue. It is using the interest it receives to make it appear that taxes are less than they really are. Senator Cotton also argued that it was right to charge the users of the services. What 1 want to know is this: is it right for the Government to charge the ordinary taxpayer twice? It forces him to contribute money by way of taxation, lends the money to the Post Office and then tells the people that they have to pay increased postal fees in order to pay interest on their own money which has been lent to the Post Office. I believe that these imposts are unacceptable until there has been a full and complete inquiry into what is going on in the Post Office and until there has been put before us full and complete evidence that the Post Office today is not regarded as a means of imposing taxation, but regarded as what it should be - a service to the public.
I was very sorry to see members of the Australian Country Party in this Parliament accept these increases so readily. Higher postal and telephone fees will fall very heavily upon the country people because of the circumstances of the areas in which they live. The man in the country needs the telephone and postal services because he is remote from the big centres of population. I had hoped that Country Party members would have been conspicuous among those who say that these increases must be resisted, lt is not much use for the Country Party to talk about decentralisation and claim that it is the Party of decentralisation when it is prepared to swallow these increases without making any effort to resist them. Increases of this nature must rest very hard indeed upon the country man.
– Come, come, the honourable senator must have heard me suggest that the prices should be even throughout each State. Does he agree with that?
– AH I can say-
– Does the honourable senator agree with that?
– 1 appreciate the fact that Senator Webster is a Country Party member, but whether he is sincere in advocating the cause of the country man in regard to these increases will be shown by the way he votes when we cross the floor. If he believes that the country man should be protected against these increases, which will press more heavily upon him than upon the ordinary people in the cities, then he will vote with us against these increases. He will try to establish what we are trying to establish: that these increases should not be imposed separately but should form part of the Budget which determines the economy of the country for the ensuing twelve months. 1 will watch anxiously when the vote is taken to see whether Senator Webster will vote in the interests of the country man or in the interests of those who do not live in the country. Mr President, 1 strongly and firmly resist these increases and I hope that the Australian Labor Party will join with us in defeating them.
– lt was not my intention to take part in this debate until after I had listened with considerable interest to the arguments put forward by honourable senators on the Government side and, in some cases, from those on the Opposition side of the chamber. I then thought that I should have something to say, even though 1 will speak only for a few minutes. 1 am sorry that Senator Marriott has left the chamber. 1 appreciated what he said about the work of the technicians and staff of the Post Office generally because of the difficult job they have to do. 1 commenced my career as a technician with the Post Office. I know the difficulties that postal technicians have to combat. I know what it is like to work out in the middle of the Nullabor Plain at places like Rawlinna and Forrest. I left the Postmaster-General’s Department at a time when I was an engineer in the planning division which was handling lines, carrier systems, wide band installations and all that goes with modern telecommunications. I worked only in that part of the Postal Department, but I feel it would be worthwhile to mention two spheres of operation within the Department which could be improved. I want to show that it is not just inefficiency in the operations of the various sections within the Post Office which is bringing about this necessity, according to the Government, for an increase in Post Office charges. I believe that this deficit situation which the Government says is facing the Department could be met in other ways.
A certain amount of criticism has been directed to the delivery of mail and to the fact that the new mail-sorting apparatus in Sydney has been causing a lot of bother. Some hundreds of millions of articles are despatched by our postal services throughout Australia each year. Because of the efficiency of the Department the number of articles not delivered is extremely small.
I stress again what Senator Willesee said in his speech: That the installation of the mail-handling equipment in Sydney was rushed in order to have it in operation prior to the last election. This was done against the wishes and advice of the engineers who, as I understand from my inquiries, felt that the equipment had not been adequately tested. Just to interpolate, I would like to say that a letter posted to me from Perth is delivered to me in this House twenty-four hours later. I do not consider that there is anything wrong with letter deliveries.
I want to mention a few matters which I know of because of my experience in the Department. Firstly, there is a good deal of frustration within the Department because of changes in policy by the Government. Just to demonstrate the sort of thing that happens in the planning branch, one may find that a policy is laid down that for the next twelve months the Department will concentrate on the installation of telephones and exchanges in the metropolitan area. The programme is then immediately geared to meet that policy. But exchanges and telephones, cannot just be taken off a hook like ready-made coats. Orders have to be placed for this type of equipment, and they take some time to fulfil. It can take as long as two years before exchange equipment is delivered and is ready for installation. In the meantime the Department does its best by devious means to meet the demand. On occasions it installs temporary apparatus in exchanges to increase their capacity. This has been done in Perth on a number of occasions and I would be very surprised if it has not occurred in other parts of Australia.
The installation of temporary equipment is necessary to meet the demand. But within the period of two years I referred to pressure is again put 6n the Government because people in the country do not have telephones; so Government policy is changed. I have seen this happen. I am not referring to an isolated instance. As a result of a change in policy and because the Australian Country Party insists that it should be done, the Department is instructed to work out its plan for the ensuing twelve months to provide rural automatic exchanges and telephones in country areas. The Government accedes to a request which it considers to be reasonable, but what is the situation for the Post Office? Coming into the Postal Department’s stores is all this equipment which has been ordered - exchanges and telephones for city work. In the main this equipment is different from that needed in the country. This is the sort of problem that the Post Office has to face.
– What would be the value of that equipment?
– I do not think value comes into it. I am not prepared to estimate the value. 1 am speaking of the inefficiency which occurs in the administration of the Post Office. Still on the question of inefficiency, the Post Office store fund, which is part of the administration, is limited in Australia to about $22m. When the store contains equipment to the value of S22m, nothing further can come into the fund until something has been taken from it. The result is that every year the engineering division has to make out works authorities for thousands of dollars worth of equipment which it brings out of the store and posts all over the countryside - nol so that the equipment can be installed but to get it out of the store. In fact the equipment cannot bc installed because the Department does not have other equipment to go with it. But it has to clear the store and reduce the fund before more equipment can bc brought in from overseas. This situation comes about because there has been a change of policy. In the Department we advocated for years that something should be done -about this. Government supporters should talk to some of the engineers in charge of planning and see what they have to say about this. Do not go to the Postmaster-General. It is no good going lo the head of the Post Office.
– To the figurehead?
– No. Ask the people in the engineering division who are in charge of planning and ascertain what they think about the situation. We have said for years that if we could have a five-year plan in the Post Office we would have the programme moving along smoothly. This is the sort of thing we should be considering when thinking of efficiency or inefficiency or about whether we should raise postal charges. If, as has been suggested by Senator McManus, wc were to have an inquiry into the matters I have mentioned it would be found that there would be no need for the increased charges. I strongly oppose the Bill.
– in reply - This debate has gone on for a long time and fifteen senators have spoken to the Bill. Contrary to the inference which may have been drawn from what Senator Gair said, I have been in the chamber to hear every word that has been spoken on the measure. This has been a good debate. Points have been raised, statements have been made and propositions have been put. I would challenge each point raised if I had the time, but quite clearly 1 do not have time to do so, nor would the Senate want me to go into every argument which has been adduced. I. suppose the truth of the situation is. as my friend Senator Kennelly says very often, that it is the numbers that count. When I conclude my remarks we will have a division and then we will be able to make up our minds about the proposal.
I will deal with only some of the items to which reference has been made. I am concerned at some statements made by honourable senators in the debate which have by implication reflected upon the efficiency of the Postal Department. People listening to this debate could gain a completely wrong picture of the wonderful and important work - and its sheer magnitude - that is carried out by the Post Office. I propose at the outset of my remarks to make a few comments about the work and problems of the Post Office. It handles the transmission annually of about 2,500 million postal articles, a quantity which increases by about 100 million articles each year. There are about 25,000 posting points and about 4 million delivery points. When considering the work of the Postal Department it should be kept in mind that Australia is a vast continent of about 3 million square miles with a widely scattered population.
In the years between 1959-60 and 1965-66 an increase of 31% in business was handled by the Post Office with an increase of 10% in staff. This was made possible only because of the constant attention by management to the cost factor. From the viewpoint of services the Australian Post Office compares more than favourably with administrations whose services are accepted as world standards. 1 refer to Great Britain and the Continent. The services provided by the Post Office will be further improved at the end of this month so that an even greater volume of mail may be processed through electronic coding equipment in Sydney. Each year the Post Office earns revenue of about $40 lm. There are 1,461 official post offices and 6,282 unofficial post offices. Service is provided to about 2,120,000 telephones through 6,645 telephone exchanges. There are 28,264 public telephones and 37,71.7 trunk line channels. Those figures should give honourable senators an idea of the magnitude of the work of the Post Office. A full time staff of 94,679 is employed and a part time staff of 14,029, making a total staff of 108,708. They get through an astonomical amount of work in one of the world’s biggest continents. Whatever else 1 may be prevented from saying through lack of time, 1 wish to make the point that the Postal Department does a magnificent job for Australia.
I wish now to deal with some of the more important points that have been raised in this debate, lt has been said that there is no immediate requirement for additional funds for the Post Office. I think that is the core of the argument, stripped of the incidental currents that honourable senators have caused to flow through the debate. Allowing for a continuation of the rising cost trend, on present tariffs the postal side of the Post Office could lose $18m this year and $25m next year. That is the expectation. By 1970- 71 these losses could amount to $40m or $45m per annum. In recent years it has not been possible to absorb the increasing wage rates that have been granted to postal staff. Last financial year, for example, the increase of about $4. 5m in postal earnings was equalled by the extra wages payable as the result of variations of awards, although the 4.1% increase in postal business was handled by an increased staff of 1.8%.
Honourable members can appreciate the achievements that have been made and can understand why additional revenue is needed. The costs of additional labour, together with unavoidable costs associated largely with the transport of mail, contributed materially to the increase of $7.7m in the losses on postal services. During the period between 1959-60 and 1965-66 the wage rates, of postmen and mail sorters rose by about 40% and of postal clerks by over 50%. If honourable senators look at the increase in operating expenses for the twoyear period 1965-66 to 1966-67 they will see that there was an Increase of $82m. Of this, 39% was accounted for by basic wage, marginal and award rate increases and superannuation and furlough increases. 1 suggest there is quite clearly a strong argument for the increased charges. Senator Willesee and Senator Gair built an argument around telephone rentals. As I remember it, and I did make a note, Senator Willesee did so particularly. I point out with great respect that there is no provision in this legislation for an increase in telephone rentals.
– I referred to telephone costs.
– The honourable senator cannot have two bites at the cherry and if he reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that he referred to telephone rentals. In fact telephone rentals were last increased in 1964 and there is no provision regarding telephone rentals in the Bill. Indeed, the Bill deals only with the postal increases.
– Increased costs would impinge on it.
– Hansard, and all senators who were here, heard what the honourable senator said. It is proposed to increase the charge on telephone calls by two-thirds of lc. Senator Gair gave a stirring oration about telephone charges and Senator Morris, quite properly I thought, pointed out that it was a modest increase. Much has been said about the interest charges payable by the Post Office. I make it clear that interest has always been paid, and is still paid, on advances from loan funds which, up until 1942, were almost the only source of capital finance. From 1942 all new capital advances came from Consolidated Revenue and interest continued to be paid on loan funds, so the matter is not as simple as it has been expressed by some honourable senators. The Public Accounts Committee commented on the lack of interest payments in a report in 1953. It is interesting to note that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) was a member of that Committee and is recorded as having been present when the report was prepared.
Following that report the Government set up the Ad Hoc Committee of Inquiry into the Commercial Accounts of the Post Office, known as the Fitzgerald Committee, to report on the matter. That Committee recommended that interest be paid on all net advances at the long term bond rate. The Government applied that recommendation. But the point of the story is that, after listening to this debate today, I believe there is some confusion about the question of the payment of interest.
I come back to the point that 1 made at the commencement of my speech. Interest has always been paid and is still being paid on advances from loan funds. When I say always’, that includes the period when the Labor Government was in power, lt includes the period from 1942 to 1959 when the system was changed. From 1942 all new capital advances came from Consolidated Revenue. So there is no doubt about this matter.
– There is no doubt that this Government introduced interest charges on the capital revenue side.
– There is no doubt that interest was being paid before the system was changed in 1959. 1 want to deal with a couple of other matters in relation to interest payments. The non-charging of interest on any part of the net advances that have been made to the Post Office would cause costs to be transferred from the Post Office to the taxpayer. I do not think that I need to develop this argument at any great length, lt should be understood that to the extent that this revenue is not raised by interest charged to the Post Office, in the construction of the Budget the money has to be raised from some other source. That is not an emotional comment. It is the simple fact of budgetary finance.
I think that too much emphasis has been placed on this story of interest charges. I have information which deals with some of the very interesting comments that were made by honourable senators opposite on this matter. However, time may not permit me to give it. It is interesting also to note that in the debate both this afternoon and tonight criticism has been expressed on the way in which this proposal to increase Post Office charges been been introduced outside of the ambit of the Budget. The point has been made, very properly, that :he Labor Government did this precise thing in 1949. Indeed, it did not give the same notice of the proposed charges as we have given on this occasion. I want to read a statement that was made by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), when he introduced the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill on 2.1 st June 1949 because I think that it is germane to the argument that has been advanced today. He said :
. the only courses facing the Government in the light of the inescapable increases in costs were -
The first course had to be dismissed in the public interests. The withdrawal of facilities and the restriction of services at a time when the demand for an expansion of these facilities is at the highest level in history, would give rise to justifiable nation-wide criticism . . . The operation of the department at a heavy financial loss would place an added burden on taxpayers generally- and that is the point I made previously - whereas an increase of charges for the services rendered means that the users of these services will make the necessary increased contribution.
It is well to remember that the 1949 increases, which were contained in legislation introduced by the honourable member for Melbourne, were of the order of 16%. The increases that the Government proposes to make through the medium of this Bill and by departmental methods, as described by the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) in his second reading speech, are of the order of 15%.
While I am talking about that subject, let me refer to the question of secrecy. I think in this regard that the PostmasterGeneral is to be commended rather than criticised. Here we have a Bill dealing with an increase of the order of $25m. The Postmaster-General could quite easily have prepared a speech in which he said: This Bill provides for increases of the following order related to the following matters.’ He did not do that. Instead, he said that it was proposed by legislation to raise a certain amount of money. Then, quite properly - and I think in the best parliamentary tradition - the PostmasterGeneral indicated in his second reading speech that other increases were proposed which would be carried out by departmental methods. In fact, he put a figure on the proposed increases and so has enabled the fifteen good and true senators who spoke on this Bill to deal with it on the basis of what the Government proposes to do but in fact is not completely doing in this legislation. So I say: All power and all credit to the Postmaster-General. 1 deprecate the criticisms that have been directed against him in this regard.
Reference has been made to the proposition that perhaps the Postal Department would serve the people better if it were under the control of a corporation. I wish quickly to reply to this suggestion. The Post Office is a national business that should pay its way. I think that is a pretty sound approach. The Post Office also has obligations to the community as a whole especially in the outback and developing areas. I do not think anybody would cavil at that statement. Many services in these areas arc provided below cost for reasons of national development. If the Post Office were to become a corporation it would still have to accept its obligations to the community. There is no doubt that like statutory corporations such as the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, Trans-Australia Airlines, electricity commissions and the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, it would have to pay interest on net advances. The setting up of a corporation would not diminish the costs of providing and operating the service now provided by the Post Office. Indeed, to the contrary, it is my view that this could tend to reduce the service given to the community by the Postal Department. A corporation committed to run at a profit would feel less committed to continue or start services to the under-developed and sparse areas of our nation as the Post Office does in recognition of its obligation to the whole community.
There are a couple of other matters to which I would like to refer if time permits. Quite a deal of discussion centred on the proposition to increase the postage rales for publications. I think that it is appropriate that 1 should place on the record the fact that only two countries other than Australia provide concessional bulk rates for periodicals and newspapers. These countries are the United States of America and Canada. The average cost of handling each publication posted in bulk in Australia is 7c. The average revenue at the proposed new rates is only 2J-c. A British publisher posting 1,000 items each weighing one ounce would pay postage of S3 1. In New Zealand he would pay $21. In Australia at the new bulk rates as proposed in this legislation he would pay S5. Senator McManus in his speech which is fresh in our memory as he concluded only a short time ago dealt with this matter. I give that answer to him and to the other honourable senators who made the point in this regard.
Senator Kennelly said that this was a taxation bill. If I may, I wish to rebuke the honourable senator a little on his statement. He said that the Prime Minister (MiHarold Holt) had referred to this Bill as a tax Bill. Therefore, the Prime Minister had said that it was a means of gathering taxation. I say lo Senator Kennelly that when the Prime Minister mentioned this matter he clearly was referring to the procedures between the Houses, as indeed Senator Kennelly would understand. I am not going to argue as to what our powers are or what the other place’s powers are. I merely say that he was clearly referring to the Constitution and our Standing Orders in which mention is made of the powers of the Senate and of the powers of the other House with relation to money bills.
– But he was quite wrong.
– Please do not draw me off on to the other point. I said that I am not interested in the argument. I am answering as to the inference that Senator Kennelly drew from the Prime Minister’s remark about the Senate and tax Bills. The Prime Minister was not saying that this was a taxation measure. He was referring to lax bills in the context which we all in our hearts understand and know. He was referring to the relationship between the Houses in connection with money bills. If honourable senators care to read section 53 of the Constitution, our standing order 156 and Odgers Parliamentary Practice they will see clearly defined what is a money bill and what are the general powers of the Senate. The Prime Minister was quite clearly referring to the matter in that context.
As I said earlier, it is the vote that counts in the final analysis, and we are about to have a vote on this matter. I remind honourable senators that the activities of the Post Office extend right across the continent, that they include developmental work and the rendering of service to the community, much of which is non-profitable. The Government has a responsibility to see to it that, as far as is practicable, the people who use the Department’s services pay for them. In the light of current and projected increases in costs, notably in wages and other charges, it is found necessary to increase postal charges. I say that this is inescapable. We have to face up to it.It was inescapable for the Labor Government in 1949 when it did precisely the same thing in the same climate, and not in a Budget session, but at about the same time of year as we are taking action now. I therefore say that honourable senators opposite should give a clear passage to this Bill because it is in the best interests of this Commonwealth.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided.
Ayes . . . . 24
Noes . . . . . . 25
Majority .. .. 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
Consideration resumed (vide page 1480).
Clauses 7 and 8.
Amendments (on motion by Senator McManus) - by leave - amended to read:
That after ‘credit union’ first and last occurring the following words be added: ‘that has as a substantial part of its business the lending of moneys to its members for the purpose of ; he purchase or erection of dwelling-houses for occupation by those members.’.
[10.34] - Mr Temporary Chairman, since this measure was last before the Committee a number of my senior colleagues and I have carefully considered the amendments requested by Senator Murphy and the proposal by Senator McManus for an amendment to the second amendment. We have considered again ways in which the savings of those who have saved to acquire a home and who have deposited their savings with credit unions might be allowed as acceptable savings. However, we were told once again this morning that the maximum housing loan that may be advanced by a credit union is $4,000 and that, according to the rules ofcredit unions, such loans must be repaid within seven years. The fact remains that these simply are not loans of the type that the homes savings grant scheme is designed to encourage. Our policy is to encourage lending institutions to make high ratio, long term first mortgage loans taking into account the needs of borrowers and their ability to repay, and thereby to avoid the need for many home seekers to enter into expensive second mortgage loans. But this stage has not yet been reached and we are indeed grateful to those credit unions that help their members to bridge the deposit gap. I appreciate that in moving his amendment Senator McManus is endeavouring to clarify a number of points and that he is making an honest endeavour to make it easier for the Government to accept, for the purpose of this legislation, savings with credit unions. But as long as credit unions, by their rules and by some State legislation, are unable to make sizeable and long term loans, my Government does not feel that it can accept the proposed amendment, even as it would be further amended by the amendment moved by Senator McManus. The fact is that credit unions do not make any significant long term, high ratio, first mortgage loans. We wish to see more homes built by encouraging young people to place their savings with institutions that provide this first mortgage financial assistance for the acquisition of homes. If we were to accept savings with credit unions, with their rules as they are today, we would in effect be changing one of the main purposes of the scheme.
Mr Chairman and honourable senators, J would like to see the Bill passed without any requests because I know that many young couples affected by this Bill are anxiously awaiting its assent at the earliest possible moment and all that this will mean to them in their desire to get this assistance for their homes.
– Mr Chairman, the Opposition has proposed that credit unions be included in the Act as bodies where savings may be placed by the young persons referred to so that those savings may become acceptable savings for the purposes of the Act. We know that many people want to put their money into credit unions and they do in fact put money into credit unions now. If the amendment is made those young persons will be able to have their savings in credit Unions treated as acceptable savings for the purposes of the Act. As matters stand they cannot do this. They are forced to put their savings where apparently they do nol want to put them - in some other institution such as a private bank as prescribed in the Act.
– What rale of interest does a credit union pay on deposits?
– The interest rate is 5%, which is reasonable, and the persons concerned are prepared to accept it. In the circumstances that is a moderate rate. What the Opposition proposes is that the citizen should bc entitled to put his money in a place where it is safe. Credit unions are organised under Stale law. They are subject to supervision by the State registrar of societies. They make annual returns. In all ways these arc proper bodies where savings may bc kept. No suggestion has been made by the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) or by anybody else that savings are unsafe in these places. Credit unions are proper organisations. The proposal of the Opposition would enable the citizen lo have a freer choice as to where he will keep his savings and still be able lo obtain the benefits prescribed in the legislation, lt is important to recall that the provision which we now propose was in the Act. In the initial stages savings in credit unions were treated as acceptable savings for the purposes of the Act. The alteration which has been made over the years is such that no longer are savings in credit unions treated in this way. Apparently preference is given to organisations such as banks. The suggestion is made that that is because the banks invest money in housing. But we know that the credit unions also invest money in housing, especially in relation to the deposit gap of which we have spoken. They advance money especially for the acquisition of land for the erection of homes. They advance money to enable their members to pay the deposit so that the members can obtain further finance on first mortgage or on other terms.
The Australian Democratic Labor Party has advanced an amendment to the request that J put forward on behalf of the Opposition. No doubt, that Party has done so, as the Minister has suggested, in order to sec whether this purpose can be effectuated. Unfortunately, the representatives of that Parly are not prepared to support our request unless we qualify it along the lines suggested in their amendment. However, they are prepared to support us if we accept their amendment with the modification that we have suggested with reference to the acquisition of land. Naturally, the credit unions, with whom we have consulted through their representative, Mr Arneil, would prefer to have our amendment unqualified. However, if they cannot have the whole cake they would like to have the cake even with a slice taken out of it. This would be achieved if my request were amended as proposed by Senator McManus and if that were incorporated in the Bill. Therefore, on behalf of the Opposition I indicate that we are prepared to accept the amendment that has been proposed to my request.
That the amendments moved by Senator McManus to the proposed requests for the amendments proposed by Senator Murphy be agreedto.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator T. C. Drake-Brockman)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Request for amendments, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 7 and 8 agreed to with requests.
Remainder of Bill - by leave - taken as a whole.
– I am concerned with clauses 12 and 13 only. I would like some information about the meaning of these clauses. The sooner the original Act and the various amendments that have been made during the last two or three years is consolidated the more hope there will be that someone may be able to understand the legislation that is now in operation. The original Act,I believe, contained twenty-four sections, andI think thirteen of them were amended in 1965. Now another group of complicated amendments has been introduced. The Act has not yet been published in the form in which it stood after the 1965 amendments, so that in order to understand the Bill now before us we have to look at the 1965 amendments and refer to the 1964 Act.
I ask the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) whether she can help me with clause 12 which says:
After section 20 of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: 20a. - (1.) Subjectto the next succeeding subsection, where the spouse of a person has died on or after the prescribed date, the Secretary may make a grant under this Act to the person of an amount not exceeding the total of the amounts of the. grants that he could have made to the person and the spouse of the person if the spouse had not died.
This means that the Secretary shall not make a grant exceeding what could have been granted before the deathof one of the parties to the marriage. Was there any other method by which a payment could have been made in excess of a third of the savings at the prescribed date or within the extended period now envisaged? Clause 13 amends section 21 of the principal Act, as follows:
I think the amendment is clear enough so far as it relates to the matter of an application but I wonder whether we can get any clarification of what the Department will accept as special circumstances which permit the Secretary to grant an application received after the twelve months period that we now allow. As I understand it, this provision becomes operative as from the date of operation of the original Act. In the intervening period many applications have not been made on the advice, perhaps, of a politician or, on many occasions on the advice of a clerk of the Department. After a couple have stated their case they have been told that they have no claim because they are outside the provisions of the Act by reason of the effluxion of time, so the application has not been made. If this can be stated as one of the reasons why an application has not been made, will it be regarded as a special circumstance which will permit the Secretary to allow an application? The clause goes on:
I think this refers only to applications under section 20 (1 a.) which was one of the 1965 amendments. It provides:
A grant under this Act shall not be madeto an eligible person unless he became an eligible person before the expiration of twelve months after the prescribed date or before such later time asthe Secretary, in special circumstances, allows.
What makes a person an eligible person after the prescribed date? Is it marriage? Is it that he complies witha requirement on the long list of requirements to become an eligible person, which list has been added to considerably by this Bill?If he becomes an eligible person more than twelve months after the prescribed date, what does the new section 21 (1a.) mean when it stales is a time later than one year after the prescribed date, an application by that person for a grant under this Act may be furnished’? If I understand it correctly, it is only a question of whether he furnishes an application. I am at a loss really to understand what this provision means. Proposed new sub-section (1c.) is in these terms:
An application for a grant under this Act may be made by a person to whom section twenty a of this Act applies notwithstanding that the person is not an eligible person.
I do not know whether the spouse of an eligible person who has died, although not under the prescribed age of thirty-six years, can be accepted. I ask the Minister to give me some guidance on clauses 12 and 13. I would like to know what are the special circumstances that are mentioned in clause 13.
[10.56] - I will deal first with clause 12, which relates to a person widowed after the prescribed date. I inform Senator Cavanagh that this applies when one member of a married couple dies after the contract to buy or build the home is made or construction of the home commenced but before the application for a grant has been determined. The Act at present precludes payment of a grant to a surviving spouse, and we want to correct this. The honourable senator also asked about the special circumstances in clause 13. The circumstances in which late applications may be accepted will include difficulties in obtaining information or documents - for example, if birth or marriage certificates have tobe obtained from overseas countries - sickness or other circumstances beyond the control of the applicant. The honourable senator also asked whether wrong information given by a bank would be treated as a sufficient circumstance. It would be so treated.
– I referred also to paragraph (c), which provides for a new sub-section (1 a.).
– Clause 13 paragraph (c) provides for a new sub-section (1 a.) to section 21. This will provide that, if the time within which-
– No, that is in subsection (1a.) of section 20 of the Act.
– The new section 21 (1a.) will provide that, if the time within which a person may become eligible is extended beyond twelve months after the prescribed date, the time limit for lodgment of an application will be correspondingly extended. This will avoid the need for an applicant to seek extensions in respect of the two separate matters. Administratively, however, if an applicant who has not lodged his application seeks an extension of time for, say, marriage, he will be asked to lodge his application forthwith and to forward supplementary details when the marriage takes place.
Remainder of Bill agreed to.
Bill reported with requests; report adopted.
Debate resumed from11 May (vide page 1372), on motion by Senator Henty:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I understand that this Bill and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) are to be debated together.
– These two Bills seek the approval of the Parliament for expenditure that was not anticipated when the Budget was framed or brought down. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeks an appropriation of $270,869,000, and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) relates to a proposed expenditure of $12,742,000 on various items generally associated with capital works and services. The debate on the two Bills gives honourable senators an opportunity to discuss various aspects of Government policy. I had intended to raise a matter that is worrying and of great concern to wage and salary earners in Australia today, namely, the erosion of the value of their take home pay as a result of the economic and international policies being pursued by this Government. However, Mr Deputy President, because of the lateness of the hour and the fact that the sittings of the Senate this week have been very exhausting indeed, I and a number of my colleagues who intended to speak at length on these two measures will take advantage of the debate on the Supply Bill, which I understand will take place in the Senate next week, to discuss various topics.
The Opposition does not oppose these measures although I must say that we should like to have had a better opportunity to discuss fully the matters they deal with. As 1 said, the remarks that we intended to make during the debate on these Bills will be made in the debate on the Supply Bill next week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Debate resumed from 11 May (vide page 1372), on motion by Senator Henty:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Mr President, asI indicated when speaking to the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1966-67, the Opposition offers no objection to the passage of thisBill. We will take advantage of the Supply debate next week to discuss matters of policy that we had intended to raise this evening.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Senate adjourned at 11.7p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 12 May 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1967/19670512_senate_26_s34/>.