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Thursday, 20 May 1965

Senator BENN (Queensland) .- We have listened to a very interesting speech from Senator Aylett. It was one of those fighting speeches such as he has given in the Senate in the years that have passed. We shall miss him considerably in the future. I can remember very well that eight, nine or ten years ago, when we were dealing with contentious subjects, if Senator Aylett got out into the passage one could say: " Look out, he is taking his coat off and it will not be very long before he is throwing punches ". He will be missed from the Senate. These days we have not men with dynamite in them on this side of the chamber. On the other side honorable senators have become more conservative. I was about to say that they were more conservative than ladies, until I saw Senator Breen over there.

In about five or six weeks the current financial year will have ended. Then we shall be able to read in the Press how the Government's financial measures and proposals adopted approximately eleven months ago have turned out. In the Budget speech delivered in August last, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) announced that the Government expected to collect £133.5 million in customs duties. I feel sure that that sum will be collected during the current fiscal year, because statistics show that more goods are being imported than were imported last year. Taking a walk around retail shops in capital cities, one notices that goods are coming in from all countries, including shoddy goods. Perhaps many of these commodities could be made to a much better quality by manufacturers in the Commonwealth. Only quite recently I referred to a blanket made in Poland from man made fibres, which was being sold in a shop which also stocked for sale high quality Australian made woollen blankets. The increased customs charges on tobacco products, which were announced last year in the Budget, will help to maintain or increase the buoyancy of customs revenue.

The Government announced that it would collect £318 million in excise. The level of employment in the community has been fairly high. There has been very little unemployment. Therefore, I feel sure, the goods which attract excise have sold in greater volume during the past eleven months. Alcoholic liquors, tobacco, cigarettes and petrol attract excise. We know that there has been no diminution in the sale of these goods. A record number of new cars has been put on the market. This would tend to increase the sale of petrol and swell excise revenue.

Eleven months ago the Government announced that it expected to collect £1.78 million in sales tax. To ensure that this estimate would not be far wrong, it increased the sales tax on private motor cars from221/2 per cent, to 25 per cent. The figures that have been released from time to time suggest, that the Government's target will be achieved. There has been no change in sales tax on household requirements, furniture, furnishings and some foodstuffs.

I mention these matters now because in about two months we shall be dealing with the new Budget. It will be interesting then to compare what the Government proposes to do next financial year with what it has done this financial year. Last year the Government said that this year it would collect £745.6 million in income tax which would be £109 million more than it collected last financial year. To make sure that it would do so it removed the 5 per cent, rebate on income tax payable by individuals, but I am very doubtful whether it will achieve its expectation - for various reasons.

It will be remembered that last year sugar was sold on the world market for up to £106 a ton. At present it is being sold on the world market for £35 a ton with the result that the income tax payable by some individuals will be considerably less this year than it was last year. Wool prices have dropped. Perhaps the quantity produced is less than it was last year or perhaps it is the same. Nevertheless, the wool market has not been as buoyant this year as it was last year. There has been a drought for six or seven months and I am sure that the incomes of many individuals have shrunk a good deal during the last six months. This year there are more wage earners on the labour market and there was a basic wage increase during the year, so the amount of income tax which the Government will collect from that source will increase, but I am doubtful whether the total income tax collection will reach the Government's estimate of £745.6 million.

Let me deal now with companies. Last year, it will be remembered, the Government increased the rate of company tax by 6d. in the £1. It said that it expected to collect £346 million from this source. What is the present financial situation of many companies in Australia? If we examine in the Library the reports of the share markets we will find that in the United States of America shares are buoyant but, although the United States economy is very similar to the Australian economy, share prices in Australia have dropped. According to the United Kingdom Press shares in Britain have held their ground. Market prices now are much the same as they were three or even six months ago notwithstanding that the United Kingdom Government has set out to nationalise the steel industry and notwithstanding that it has stated that it will do other things which, in ordinary circumstances, could cause share prices to fall.

A study of share prices in Australia reveals that prices quoted for leading companies are lower than they have been for two or three years. One may ask: " Why does this situation exist? Are the companies not making the profits that they made previously?" If they do not earn the profits this year that they earned last year and in previous years, the amount which the Commonwealth will collect in taxation will be considerably less than its expected collection.

I believe that pay-roll tax collections will just about hold their ground. The Government expects to collect this year something like £75 million, which is £6.7 million more than it collected last year. This is a tax of which no-one speaks well, of which no-one speaks in kindly terms. No employer, no employee, in fact no-one who has any knowledge of taxation speaks in glowing terms of the pay-roll tax. Although a. company may show a loss on the year's operations, it must pay the same rate of tax as do companies which are operating at a profit. Honorable senators will remember that in the last Budget a reduction in payroll tax was offered to manufacturers and exporters as an incentive to them to increase exports.

Another revenue producing unit in the Commonwealth is the Post Office. We were told last year that the Post Office was expected to provide revenue of £185.5 million, which was £20 million more than it provided last year. I believe that the Government will be successful in collecting this amount. It has ensured success by increasing telephone rentals, the cost of installing a telephone, the television viewer's licence fee and television station licence fees. The Post Office is an indispensable unit. We must avail ourselves daily of the service that it offers. Therefore, its revenue will be up to expectations.

We were told last year that in 1963-64 the value of our exports reached £1,374 million, which was £309 million more than was earned in the previous year. Our receipts from abroad exceeded outgoings and our overseas reserves increased by £228 million to a total of £854 million. Government members then commenced to pat themselves on the back and to say: " What clever men we are". They pointed to the sum of £854 million which was represented as our overseas balance. They said it was the highest amount ever held overseas. But they did not tell the whole story. They did not say how much was included in the form of foreign investment in Australia. They tried to represent the £854 million as the trading balance of the Commonwealth, something which had accumulated over a number of years.

It was a pleasure to members of the Government last financial year to point to the £854 million, but that amount gradually has been reduced month by month. This year the fall will total about £174 million. The balance will have to be preserved in some way or Australia will face a financial crisis. The inflow of funds from overseas has helped Australia considerably. The possibility of that inflow decreasing so disturbed the Treasurer that he went to the United States of America to interview financial authorities there. If American investment in Australia is curtailed, impeded or considerably diminished, it will not be very long before Australia will be feeling the strain. Will the Government produce a surplus or a deficit at the end of this financial year? I will come to that question in a few moments.

Senator Henty - I thought the honorable senator was about to tell us.

Senator BENN - I shall, in a few moments. I told the Government at this time last year that revenues would increase and in a few moments I shall predict the result in this financial year. This year £5 million is to be spent on oil search. To me that appears to be a very small sum for this purpose. Australia is producing more oil every day. We live in the oil era. Greater efforts must be made to discover more oilfields in the Commonwealth. When we can produce 50 per cent, of our oil requirements, our overseas trading will be assisted considerably. At present we pay annually over £150 million for imports of oil and every week our consumption is increasing. More vehicles are using the roads and more diesel electric motors are being operated by the Railways Departments.

I turn now to examine primary production. The markets are not bright. The wool market is far from good. There is no guarantee that the prices paid for wool will be buoyant in future. This week in Brisbane the first sale was conducted under the new tobacco stabilisation scheme. The first sale was quite satisfactory but after that lower prices were paid and less tobacco was sold each day. The problem at present facing Queensland tobacco growers is the sale of their produce at an economic price.

Meat is an important export commodity. One of the biggest export meatworks in the Commonwealth - at Lakes Creek - is partially closed. It is permitted to kill for local requirements but not to kill for export.

Already 570 men have been laid off and it is not known for how long production will be restricted.

Senator Henty - Why is the meatworks closed?

Senator BENN - It operates under a licence granted by the Department of Primary Industry. That Department suspended the licence. The meatworks at Lakes Creek is being reconstructed because of the alterations insisted upon by some of the States in the United States of America. It is hoped to get the changes made in a short time so that the meatworks can proceed with its export programme. It appears that the United States is interfering with our domestic life and that we have no option but to accept., the interference. The alterations being made to meatworks are one example. The United States authorities are insisting upon standards that were not required by the United Kingdom, one of the best buyers of our meat.

A few months ago the Commonwealth Government decided to increase the proportion of local tobacco to be used in the manufacture of cigarettes to 50 per cent., I think. That move, of course, is helpful to the tobacco growing industry in Queensland and the other States. When the news of the increase was received in the United States, the tobacco growers there were very concerned that their exports to Australia would decrease.

Drought has had a very serious effect upon primary industries. The dairying industry has been badly affected. It is problematical whether dairy farmers are receiving any income because they have had a very bad time. They must meet their feed bills and all the other costs that are incurred during a drought period.

The Government will not achieve this year a financial result as good as that obtained last financial year. It was anticipated that last financial year a deficit would result, but a very substantial surplus was achieved. The result will not be so good this year and I think that has become obvious to the Government. Some time ago I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) whether the Government would give consideration to appointing a Minister for Papua and New Guinea and to requiring him to live in Port Moresby or Rabaul when the Federal

Parliament was not sitting. I think the Minister interpreted my question as an attack upon the present Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes). It is proposed to spend about £300 million in Papua and New Guinea in the next eight or nine years. The manner in which the money is to be spent will be decided by the Administrator. To me that seems idiotic. I cannot understand the Government not accepting my suggestion. It does not. matter how good an Administrator is. The money to be spent is the people's money. It comes out of the Commonwealth Treasury and is supplied to the Administrator of Papua and New Guinea to be spent in any way he decides. The Minister is either in Canberra or at Warwick in Queensland.

Senator Hannaford - What about his Department?

Senator BENN - His Department is here in Canberra. I do not wish to speak disparagingly of a secretary of any department, but basically he is a clerk. He is trained as a clerk and he is relying upon reports coming through to him from Papua and New Guinea. If honorable senators think that is satisfactory, and that money should be spent in that way, they will not take any notice of me; but I believe we should have a minister in Papua and New Guinea to go around and see how the money is being spent and what is being achieved by the expenditure. The Territory is too far removed to have an administrator only. The Administrator is an efficient gentleman but it is not fair to him to require him to control expenditure of that amount of money so far away from the seat of government in Canberra. Similar administration is not done that way in any other country.

Senator Branson - How would such a Minister hold his electorate?

Senator BENN - How does the Minister for External Affairs hold his electorate now?

Senator Branson - He spends a lot of time in it.

Senator BENN - And he spends a lot of time out of it. For that matter, how does the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) manage with his electorate? He lives in Canberra.

Senator Branson - That is slightly different.

Senator BENN - The circumstances are not any different. Such an appointment would be appreciated by the Minister's electors. They would recognise his responsibilities and make full allowance for them. On the other hand, a senator could be made Minister for Papua and New Guinea. That would overcome the electoral problem. If you want good administration relative to the amount of money that is spent you must get a Minister who will reside in the Territory. Although the expenditure of the Commonwealth is increasing and the responsibilities are growing from day to day the Government seems to be afraid to increase the number of Ministers. Perhaps it thinks it should not have another Minister. But if the Government realised fully the volume of expenditure and of revenue that has to be collected and the services that have to be given to the people of the Commonwealth it would not be so hesitant about appointing another Minister.

I shall give the Government my advice and I will not charge a fee for it. Another Minister should be appointed and a number of sub-departments should come under his portfolio. One would be the Canberra abattoir, which is now controlled by the Department of Health. If it is to operate efficiently it should be a responsibility of a Minister. The new Minister should also control the Commonwealth Health Laboratories. Another of his responsibilities would be the News and Information Bureau, which is now within the Department of the Interior. The Bureau can produce television programmes. Think of the work it could do in that connection along the coast of Queensland and the Australian coast generally as well as inland. The films would have a high market value and we could show more films in other countries.

The new Minister should also include tourism among his responsibilities. At present the Government is doing nothing about tourism. In Canberra, Lake Burley Griffin is a new centre of attraction. We have one of the greatest tourist assets in Australia in the Snowy Mountains project, but that is treated as a local matter. We have trade commissioners in practically every country who could act as our agents. The Department of External Affairs has embassies in many countries and the embassy officers could also act ex officio as agencies of a tourist department. 1 believe that national radio and television facilities should be taken from the administration of the Postmaster-General's Department and be placed under the control of the new Minister whose appointment I have suggested. To sum up, the new Minister could administer the Canberra abattoir, the Commonwealth Health Laboratories, the News and Information Bureau, tourism and the work that is done now by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It is nonsensical to have the A.B.C. continually functioning as a commission aloof from the Government. The Government has to find the funds for the Commission and requires all the revenue the Commission attracts. The A.B.C. is claimed to be an independent body and would like to be accepted as such, but at election times it does not appear to be so independent. I would terminate this state of affairs and have the facilities of the A.B.C. put under the direct control of a Minister.

Recently I asked a question about the use of atomic power for peaceful purposes and I used the words " underground explosion ". I had in mind at the time the use of atomic power to excavate water holes in the dry areas of western Queensland by underground explosion. I understand that atomic power can be used for that purpose without creating any fallout. The explosion causes the sides and bottom of the crater to be sealed as it occurs. I thought these explosions might be utilised in the Barcoo and Thomson and other river districts of Queensland to provide a means of conserving huge quantities of the water which now runs to waste in Lake Eyre.

Senator Cormack - The Australian Atomic Energy Commission has a study group working on this now.

Senator BENN - The Commission had one for several years, and a group went overseas to study what was being done in the United States of America. I mentioned that on a previous occasion. It comprised a group of scientists and when they returned to Australia they furnished a report to an international scientific body but nothing has been put before any Commonwealth department.

Senator Branson - The head of Operation Plowshare came to Australia.

Senator BENN - Yes, but he went back to California.

Senator Branson - He spoke to the Atomic Energy Commission.

Senator BENN - Yes, he spoke to the Commission. But who paid the expenses of the group that went to study this and other types of explosions in California? They were paid by the people of Australia and we as a Parliament are entitled to some information on the matter. Neither Senator Branson nor anybody else has seen any document on this subject tabled in the Parliament, and if you try to get a report you find it is difficult to get one. After I had asked the question to which I have referred I saw a report in a Sydney afternoon newspaper. It was very similar to the reply I would have been given, and as I was not satisfied I saw the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony). Good fortune came my way. The Secretary of the Department of the Interior was with him at the time. I said I did not want an answer to that question, but I would be happy if the Minister would prepare a statement and have it read in the Senate so . that we would all know what could be done.

We all know that there is a hindrance to the use of atomic power for any purpose. It cannot be used without the permission of a certain international authority. But I have been informed that atomic explosions can be made in such a way that no fallout at all is created. If that is so, one has only to know Queensland's conditions to realise the possibilities of creating water conservation schemes at a low cost where water is required. Such projects could even be carried to such an extent that the water conserved could be used for irrigation purposes, and instead of losing 2 million or 3 million sheep in a drought we could save that number.

Senator Branson - We have the same circumstances on the Gascoyne River in Western Australia. Such a scheme could be used there.

Senator BENN - The layout of the honorable senator's State is much the same as western Queensland except that our lands are far richer than anything the honorable senator has in Western Australia.

Senator Branson - I will not comment on that.

Senator BENN - I read the other day that the Department of Civil Aviation pro poses to dredge Botany Bay in such a way that the runway at Mascot airport to be used for the new jet aircraft will extend into the Bay. My mind went back to an incident that occurred a few years ago and I thought: "Well, it is time that the Department of Civil Aviation got right out of Mascot altogether ". The Department has never done anything right there. It has been the Department's very unlucky ground. Perhaps the Department could leave the airport for domestic flights. I think that international flights should get right away from Mascot before the city develops further.

It would be 15 years ago - it might even be longer - when the Commonwealth Department of Works, I think it was, ordered three reconditioned submarine engines in the United Kingdom. Just how the engines were ordered was never clear to me. I think it was done through the office of the Australian High Commissioner in London. At that time, the Department was really starting to make Mascot an airport and it wanted the three submarine engines for the purpose of pumping sand out of Botany Bay on to the reclaimed swamp. The official overseas got a quote for the reconditioning of the engines. A mistake was made, because later, when the work was in progress here with improvised equipment and when the old fashioned steam engines that were fired with wood were being used - those engines were doing a good job pumping the sand out of Botany Bay into the Mascot area - an account arrived for the sum of £63,000. If my memory serves me correctly, that was the amount. That account was for the reconditioning of the submarine engines. The account was examined very carefully. The Department divided the amount by three and said that the cost per engine was not so high after all. Later, the Department received two more accounts, and then found that the original account for £63,000 was for one engine only.

Senator Morris - When was this?

Senator BENN - It was 15 or 16 years ago. I have a very retentive memory for these things especially when I fly through Mascot so frequently. I never go through Mascot without wondering whether I could have a peep at the three submarine engines.

Senator Branson - The Department did receive the submarine engines?

Senator BENN - That is the story. Do not ask me. I will tell the sequence of events in my way. The Department received the account, which it had to pay. The submarine engines arrived when the work was completed at Mascot and they were never used for the purpose for which they were bought.

This is just a little story, but it was one incident associated with the development of Mascot as an airport. Now the Department of Civil Aviation is to construct a runway out into Botany Bay. I think that the Department would be inclined to forsake the area altogether and find another place it could develop as an international airport.

Senator Cormack - Tullamarine would bc the obvious place.

Senator BENN - Well, that would be right. As this is the National Parliament, we should be nationally minded. I heard Senator Webster ask the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) a question as to the number of Melbourne residents who use Sydney as an international airport. The Minister got out of the question in a very subtle way. He said he did not know. He said records had never been kept. But how easy it would be to keep a record. Everybody who goes overseas has a visa, and it would take only a fraction of a second to ascertain that person's place of residence. So, Senator Webster, if that information is worth having, it can be ascertained.

Brisbane has an airport. I have discussed this matter with the Minister for Civil Aviation before. Brisbane airport has quite strong runways. I have always assured myself of that fact by asking the Minister about their quality or standard. I have always been told that the runways are good. The people of Brisbane are tolerant. They are a stoic body of citizens. They are noted for their stoicism and their tolerance.

Senator Anderson - Yes, according to Senator Aylett.

Senator BENN - Senator. Aylett is not a Queenslander, although we are proud to have him as a resident on the Gold Coast at the present time. We have buildings of an igloo type at Brisbane airport. I will say this: The facilities provided for the public are of a higher standard than those which are provided at Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide. I will not say Perth because that would be wrong. These igloo type buildings are good, and they are comfortable. There is nothing wrong with them - that is, the interior of the buildings. But the exterior of them does not make a pleasing picture.

If honorable senators do not mind, I will tell them a little story about this matter. When I get in a plane to fly from Sydney to Brisbane, if the passenger sitting beside me appears to be a visitor from overseas, I usually ask that person whether he or she would like the window seat. I am assuming, for the purpose of this story, that I have been allotted the window seat. Usually the person is glad to have the opportunity to ride in the window seat so that he or she can see the coastal scenery. It is a very beautiful flight between Sydney and Newcastle and, if the plane continues along the coast, there is much to be seen. One day, I got into the plane at Mascot, and I asked the gentleman next to me whether he would like to have the window seat. He assured me that he would. So I saw that he had a comfortable seat by the window. He put his face to the window and never took it away until we were well past Newcastle. He said to me that it was worth while coming all the way from the Clyde to have a look at the scenery along the coast, Sydney and its bridge, and the other items of interest there. We had a conversation and I found that he was employed as a shipwright on the Clyde. He was visiting Australia and going to Brisbane for a certain purpose.

We had a chat about various things until we arrived near Brisbane. Again he put his eyes to the window and looked out. He turned to me and said; " What are those little galvanised iron roofs that I see down in the backyards of the residences? " I politely told him. I told him that Brisbane was not wholly sewered. I told him what those little sanitary boxes contained. He asked me, "Are they air conditioned or refrigerated?" I told him the truth and he was horrified. He said, " I never heard of that before. There was nothing like that back on the Clyde." We alighted from the aircraft and while we were making our way across the tarmac I said to him, " What do you think of our terminal building? " He looked at me and said, " It is quite good enough for any capital that has all those iron roofs in the backyards." I have always agreed more or less with that viewpoint. There are in Brisbane other things to attend to besides erecting a beautiful airport terminal.

I would like to see the airport building at Brisbane as beautiful as that at Hong Kong, but I know that the people of the Commonwealth have to go through a pioneering period. They have to be patient. If the people of Brisbane are patient, at some time in the future there will be a beautiful building appropriate to the airport and to the city. Perth has a very good airport terminal. I wondered why it was so good. Then somebody told me that Senator Paltridge was once Minister for Civil Aviation and I was supposed to connect that fact in some way with the good airport building. I do not propose to say any more, Mr. President. In 41 days' time we will perhaps be more enlightened concerning the financial situation of the Commonwealth.

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