Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 23 November 1927

Mr PERKINS (Eden) (Monaro) . - Most honorable members must sympathize with the Treasurer for havinghad to listen during the last few daysto so much criticism from our friends of the Opposition and from our foes on this, side of the Chamber, on the Government's financial policy in general, and his own administration in particular. The honorable gentleman might reasonably have expected solid support from the Nationalist and Country parties, for he has done his duty to the nation conscientiously and well. He has made many sacrifices in his public service. Had he declined to be drawn into politics, I am sure that he would have Dr. Page has established notable records in other years by his early presentation of the budget.

The budget was introduced on the very day that Parliament assembled, and no doubt it would have been disposed of within a few days, had it not been for the delay occasioned by the Opposition moving a vote of censure upon the Government for its decision to dispose of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The postponement of the discussion of the budget, therefore, is due entirely to the action of the Opposition. The Treasurer has had a thankless task to fulfil. He has been unfairly represented as the Bill Sykes of the political world. While I expect criticism from honorable members opposite, I deplore the unwarranted attacks from members on the Government side. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) was challenged many times by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook) to mention the remedy he proposed for Australia's financial troubles. When his argument was boiled down, it appeared that he refused to support the Port Augusta to Red Hill railway or the wine bounty. When honorable members were asked yesterday by the Prime Minister which items in the budget they regarded as extravagant, one said that the tariff should be increased, while others complained of the high duties. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) expressed the opinion that the Government was not borrowing sufficient money, while others complained that borrowing should be curtailed.

Mr Charlton - The honorable member for South Sydney advocated more judicious borrowing.

Mr PERKINS - He said that in a young country an extensive borrowing policy was justified. It would be impossible for any Treasurer to please members with such conflicting views.

Invalid and old-age pensions cost the country about £9,000,000 per annum. Would any honorable member advocate a reduction in that expenditure? No doubt if they advocated it before the people they would be defeated. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) said that he could show how £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 a year could be saved. The only direction in which Labour members would attempt to make a saving would be in defence expendi ture, but if they went to the country on that issue, there would be no hope of their return. The east- west railway was built in order to carry out the compact entered into with Western Australia. That work cost millions, and heavy expenditure is incurred annually in maintaining a service. The north-south line might have been authorized by a previous Government, but this Ministry honored the arrangement made with South Australia, and authorized the construction of the line. Whether it will prove a losing or a paying proposition, a great deal of money must be spent upon it, and because this Government has had the courage to honor a promise made some years ago, it is receiving abuse.

Again, this Ministry has carried out a compact made with the State of New South Wales, that the seat of government should be established as soon as possible, not less than 100 miles from Sydney. After 27 years this Government has transferred the seat of government from Melbourne to Canberra. The work has cost millions, and much abuse has been heaped upon the Government in consequence of it.

Mr Lister - Too much money has been wasted.

Mr PERKINS - There may have been some wasteful expenditure; but it will be admitted that the Federal Capital is not entirely a losing concern. Hundreds of houses are tenanted, and no doubt in the course of a few years a fair return will be obtained on the capital expended upon them.

Even if the Government had accomplished nothing else, the adjustment of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States would have amply justified its occupation of the Treasury bench. The States have entered into an arrangement with the Commonwealth whereby a proportion of the public debt will be redeemed year by year. If the States had been allowed to go on as before, without providing a sinking fund, they must surely have fallen into a chaotic financial condition. Those honorable members who previously opposed the abolition of the per capita grants now admit that the Government adopted the right course. Another creditable action was the raising of the interest rate on transferred State properties from 3^ to 5 per cent. An equitable adjustment was made, and the Government deserves to he praised for it. The States benefit to the extent of £165,533 per annum.

Recently Canberra was visited by the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Bavin, who has entered into an arrangement with the Prime Minister that will result in benefit to that State. During the two and a half years when Mr. Lang was Premier, it appeared that any proposal made by the Prime Minister was sure to be opposed by Mr. Lang, and to that fact most of the unemployment in New South Wales during that period was attributable. Mr. Lang refused to participate in the wire-netting vote of £3,000,000 allotted by the Commonwealth. There must be hundreds of acres of land in that State which might have been enclosed by wire netting some time ago if Mr. Lang had been more friendly. For a similar reason, that State was deprived of its share of the £34,000.000 provided under the migration agreement with the British Government. A year or so ago we passed the Roads Act, and New South Wales would have been entitled to £554,000 for the first year. The State subsidy would have brought the available sum up to about £1,000,000 ; but even up to the present time the agreement has not been ratified by the State Parliament. Money that could have been made available for road expenditure in that State has been steadily accumulating in the Federal Treasury. Although Mr Lang objected to co-operating with the Prime Minister, the present Premier of New South Wales took the earliest opportunity of acting in concert with the Federal authorities. He has also brought New South Wales into the Loan Council. The statement was made to-day that Mr. Bavin had to pay more for his first loan than Mr. Lang paid for his last, and that the Federal Government also has had to pay a higher rate of interest than the Labour Government in New South Wales- paid. That has been fully explained by the Prime Minister, and it shows the ill-effect of one government pursuing an independent and selfish policy. Now that New South Wales has joined the' Loan. Council the confidence of the lender will be restored, and the State and the Commonwealth generally will benefit. A few days ago a deputation waited upon Mr. Bavin and urged that money should be provided for relief works. Why should he have recourse to relief work? There should bc at least £2,000,000 available from' federal and State resources for public works in New South Wales, but during the Lang regime only a very small amount was spent, and in consequence unemployment is rife throughout the State.

The Treasurer has shown a surplus on the operations for 1926-27, and because of that has been criticized in and out of Parliament. Mr. Lang finished the year with a deficit, and he also has been abused in and out of Parliament. It seems to me that a Treasurer is damned if he has a surplus and damned if he has not. That is the attitude of both politicians and the public. The Treasurer was criticized also for not having more accurately forecast the surplus. It is difficult for any Treasurer to estimate exactly how the year's operations will result, and an approximately accurate forecast would probably be mere guess work. A Federal Treasurer's forecast is influenced by the season. In a good season plenty of money is available, importations are on a large scale, the Treasury is overflowing, and a good credit balance at the end of the year is assured. The fact that new customs duties came into operation last year increased the Treasurer's difficulties. Theoretically the raising of protective duties reduces the volume of imports, but the new duties imposed last year had not the desired effect, and in consequence the public paid more customs taxation than the Treasurer anticipated. Having had the good fortune to finish the year with a substantial surplus he has allocated it in ways to which no exception can be taken. An amount of £2,000,000 has been set aside for naval construction and as a reserve for defence. For science and industry investigation an amount of £250,000 has been provided; a contribution of £200,000 has been made towards the establishment of a national insurance fund; £70,000 is allotted for assistance to oil prospecting; £100,000 for the purchase of radium; £200,000 for civil aviation ; and £100.000 for the education of soldiers' children.

In regard to tlie provision for national insurance the friendly societies are anxiously awaiting an announcement of the Government's policy. The statement, has been made that the friendly societies will be utilized extensively in operating the scheme, but there is a feeling among them that they will be only half trusted. I met in Sydney a few days ago several leading representatives of the friendly societies, and they asked that the Government should announce its policy as soon as possible. I personally hope that the Government will place the fullest trust in the societies because of their large interests and organizations throughout the Commonwealth. I suppose that in. New South Wales the members of friendly societies, together with their wives and children, number about 1.000,000. The societies have branches in every city and town. The Government, I understand, proposes to operate the national insurance scheme through the lodge secretaries. If so an immense number of accounts will be opened up, for there are about 5,600 lodge secretaries; the grand secretaries number only about 360. If the Government scheme is inimical to the friendly societies it will prove a failure. I strongly advise the Government to adhere as closely as possible to the legislation which has proved so successful in the United Kingdom.

On the expenditure side of the balancesheet presented by the Treasurer, there is scarcely an item to which exception can be taken. The sum of £1,000,000 has been expended on the construction of tha Grafton to South Brisbane railway. Honorable members on both sides of the chamber are strongly in favour of the unification of the railway gauges, and a substantial step towards the realization of that ideal has been taken by the linking up of two large States by rail without a break of gauge. The work is not yet completed, but it is satisfactory to know that good progress is being made with it. The total Commonwealth loan expenditure for the year, we are told, approximately equalled the amount of Commonwealth debt actually redeemed during the year from the sinking fund and from revenue, and, therefore, the total indebtedness of the Com monwealth was not increased. The net increase of £10,265,37S in the Commonwealth debt was wholly due to loans raised on behalf of the States and the Federal Capital Commission. Of the total, about £9,000,000 is repayable to the Commonwealth by the States over a period of years, and may be regarded as an asset. The money is really lent to ourselves, and if it be deducted from the actual debt shown on the balance-sheet the indebtedness of the country has actually been reduced during the last twelve months.

As my time is limited I propose to pass on to matters more or less local, but having a national significance. When the Federal Capital Territory was acquired an agreement was made between the Commonwealth and the State of New South Wales for the construction of a railway from Yass to Canberra. The State of New South Wales undertook that when required by the federal authority so to do, it would construct a line from Yass to meet the line from Canberra at the boundary of the Federal Capital Territory. A few years ago the Public Works Committee adversely reported on this project, and in consequence nothing further has been done towards the construction of the line. Now that the Federal Capital has been established at Canberra, roads and railways should lead to it as they lead to other cities. A. railway from Yass to Canberra could be. constructed at a lower cost than that estimated by the Public Works Committee, because in its estimate it provided for viaducts and certain deviations within the capital city that would not be required for at least 40 or 50 years. Its construction is certainly justified, if only to serve the northern and western parts of New South Wales, and the Prime Minister should re-submit the proposal to the Public Works Committee for further investigation and report. Some authorities favour the construction of roads instead of railways, and failing a railway a good road should be provided from Yass to Canberra. The Government of New South Wales is now considering the construction of an up-to-date cement road from Yass to the boundary of the Federal Territory, and this Government should co-operate with that

State in extending that work to Canberra. A railway line has also been proposed from Canberra to Jervis Bay. When Canberra was selected as the Federal Capital Site, the Commonwealth took over two square miles of land at Jervis Bay, together with certain areas in the vicinity. The New South Wales Government also agreed to grant sufficient laud for the construction of a railway from Jervis Bay to Canberra. The following is an extract from the Bulletin, dated 10th November of this year -

Years ago, when the Commonwealth was granted the right to a corridor to the sea, it was understood by every far-seeing man that by the time the Federal House met, Canberra would be connected by rail with its natural port. But up to the present, vested interests have proved too strong, and Sydney even joined with Melbourne in ignoring the fact that a harbour of any description existed on the coast thereabouts. The Defence Department; however, managed to secure a footing on the shores of Jervis Bay, and the naval college was established, but between that school for naval cadets and the establishment at Duntroon, there is no connexion, though the services are supposed to work in close cooperation. On 18th October, 1909, New South Wales agreed to grant at Jervis Bay an area of two square miles for a port, and certain other areas totalling 2,302 acres for defence purposes. The State also granted the Commonwealth the right to construct, maintain, and work a railway from the Federal Territory to the Bay. The corridor, along which there is a practicable route for a railway, has a length of about 123 miles. It presents few engineering difficulties; indeed it is probable that a line could be constructed along .a route which would be only about 100 miles from city to port (the distance from the coast in a direct line is 75 miles). If it is granted that the blunder of Canberra must stand, then the necessity for bringing it into touch with its deep sea harbour cannot be argued against. The only alternative is the construction of a concrete road along which fast motor transport could move, and that is certainly worthy of consideration; it is to a great extent a matter of cost. In either event, with the port within two or throe hours by road or rail, Canberra's position would be vastly improved. The bugbear of heavy freights would bo removed, and with a new port 'created that corner of the State which has for so long been handicapped by heavy freights would come into its own, and in the long run New South Wales as well as the Commonweath Territory would bo enormously the gainer.

The people living in and about the Territory are vastly interested in this proposal. Some months ago a .deputation waited upon me at Nawro, near Jervis Bay, and suggested that the Government might consider the construction of a road from Jervis Bay to Canberra. I placed the report of the deputation before the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill), and he stated that we had permission to construct a railway, but not a road. I feel sure that that difficulty could be overcome. Canberra is the capital of Australia for all time, and for that reason some outlet should be provided to its natural port. Another suggested railway is south from Canberra to Bombala, thence to join the railway, from Orbost to Melbourne. I do not say that the Commonwealth should build that line, but it might co-operate with New South Wales and Victoria. When I was a member of the New South Wales Parliament, the Minister for Works and Railways of that State told me that he was quite prepared to join with the Commonwealth in constructing that railway under the conditions applying to a similar project in the northern part of New South Wales. It would indeed be convenient to have a direct railway from Canberra to Melbourne. The line from Bombala to Orbost must eventually be constructed, irrespective altogether of the Federal Capital.

I was pleased to read in the newspapers to-day that the Federal Capital Commissioners were anxious to complete a portion of the lake scheme at Canberra. Although the Public Works Committee set this project aside, the commissioners are satisfied that a modified scheme costing from £60,000 to £70,000 would add to the beauty of the city. It would permit of the holding of regattas and swimming carnivals, and would add considerably to the enjoyment of the people.

I have been asked by several citizens of Canberra to inquire about the housing conditions. At present the Federal Capital Commission carries out the construction of houses, but I am satisfied that if private persons were allowed to build, as in every other part of Australia, more houses would be erected, and the cost of building would probably be reduced.

In my electorate there are a number of Asiatics who have lived in Australia for many years. One man has been here for 35 years. He is highly respected in the community, but, unfortunately, he is ineligible to receive a pension, although those who fought against us in the war and are now residing here, are allowed to enjoy that privilege. It is the duty of the Treasurer to rectify the anomaly which at present exists. I do not see why a man who is not born in Australia, but who has become naturalized, should not get the benefits available to other lawabiding citizens. Even naturalized Asiatics whose sons fought for Australia in the Great War, are not entitled to a pension. I received a letter to-day from a person pointing out that although a German in the district in which he lives, who was practically an enemy during the war period, is entitled to a pension because he is a European; Asiatics - fathers of loyal naturalized Australian are not allowed the same benefit. There are other cases that could be quoted; but I think I have said sufficient to convince the Treasurer that this anomaly should be removed.

The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Ley), who is at present abroad, has asked me to bring one or two matters under the notice of the Government, as he does not expect to return to Australia until the Estimates have been disposed of. He has forwarded to me a letter from the secretary of the Hospitals Association of New South Wales, stating that since the pensions rate has been increased from 17s. 6d. to 20s. a week, the hospitals in which pensioners are accommodated receive 10s. 6d. a week, the pensioner 4s., and the Commonwealth 5s. 6d. a week. This gentleman says that although it costs £2 10s. a week to maintain a hospital bed, the Government is contributing only 10s. 6d. towards the cost. I do not think the Government should benefit because the pensioner happens to be an inmate of a hospital or similar institution, and I trust the Government will amend the act in order to enable these public institutions to receive a higher payment for the services they render. I understand that the Government has entered into some arrangement in this regard, as it was made a feature of the recent New South Wales election. I have, however, just been informed by the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis), that the pensioner now receives 4s., and that the balance is paid to the hospital in which the pensioner is accommodated. According to the information I have received quite recently, the Government retains 5s. 6d. of the 20s. In a letter to the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Marr), who was then acting for the honorable member for Barton, the Treasurer stated that itwas incorrect to say that the Commonwealth effects a saving on pensioners who are inmates of public institutions, as the Commonwealth is at a considerable loss in making a contribution of 10s. 6d. to the institution as an act of grace. In my opinion that is sidestepping the issue. Although I am bringing this matter forward on behalf of the honorable member for Barton, I am also interested in the subject, as I have received correspondence from my constituents on the subject. I accept, however, the assurance of the honorable member for Kennedy that an alteration has been made.

Mr Makin - In what way has the system been altered?

Mr PERKINS - I understand that 4s. is now paid to the pensioner inmates of institutions, and that the balanceis paid to the institution.

I now wish to deal with the activities of the Postal Department, and in this connexion quote a letter I have received from a person occupying a position in a semiofficial office, in which he states -

I would be very grateful if you would have inquiries made re the allowance payable to the messenger. About fifteen months ago the minimum rate. of pay for a messenger at an official office was increased from £72 to £84 per annum. Semi-official offices were debarred from this increase? Messengers at such offices having to remain on £72 per annum. I think that this is most unfair. Messenger's at these offices do far more work than at an official office. The rate of pay for assistants was also increased to £212. Semi-official postmasters still remain on £208. The whole business is a farce. Take my position here. I have to perform all duties similar to an official postmaster yet I am paid less salary than the lowest paid adult permanent officer. Conditions governing semiofficial offices should be reviewed. Salaries, &c, should be altered to suit the present time. There is only 83 semi-official offices in the Commonwealth now, so no big task is involved. Following are a few facts: - (1) No sick leave or sick pay; (2) two weeks leave granted, £6 allowed to find a relieving officer. We have to find a reliever and are held responsible for the conduct of the office; (3) We are required to give the whole o£ our time to our duties. Duties are identical with official postmasters, yet our salaries are pounds lower. (4) We are not allowed to contribute to the superannuation fund. On present salary we are unable to make provision for our old age.

I bring this matter under the notice of the Postmaster-General, because it is one requiring the attention of the Government. There are many fairly important towns in New South "Wales in which semiofficial post offices were established years ago, and are still- retained. I understand it is the intention of the department to change the status of these offices when those at present in charge relinquish their duties. Although that policy may have something to commend it, there are many in charge of semiofficial offices who are entitled to more consideration than they are receiving today. According to the budget an additional £S0,000 is to be spent on allowance offices. That, however, is a mere bagatelle. I had a communication a few days ago from a person in charge of an allowance post office, in which she said her remuneration is equivalent to ls. 6d. a week. It is true that the work in many of these offices was once very light, as those in charge had to handle mails only once or twice a week, but telephones are now installed in even the smallest allowance post offices, which necessitates those in charge being frequently called away from their ordinary duties. In these circumstances the remuneration is totally inadequate, particularly as the department is showing a substantial credit balance. I trust the Government will continue with its progressive policy in other directions, and that in this connexion it will increase the allowances made to persons in charge of these offices, who, in many instances, are performing important duties. Although the Government has done exceedingly well in giving effect to the policy enunciated by the Prime Minister prior to the last election, there are occasions on which even honorable members on this side of the chamber have- cause to complain. I believe, however, that if the Government does as well in the future as it has in the past, the people will be quite satisfied with its work.

There are several points in connexion with invalid pensions to which attention should be given by the Government. Many sad cases have been brought under my notice in which persons have gone to one doctor who says that the patient is not totally incapacitated, and, therefore, is not entitled to a pension, whilst another medical man has expressed a different opinion. In some instances they are asked to produce evidence of total incapacity, which is not always an easy matter, particularly as doctors hold different views. There are other instances in which persons receiving the invalid pension are capable of earning an income.

Mr Watkins - Does the honorable member not think that the worst phase of the act is the hardship it inflicts on a father who earns only small money, but who can keep the invalid, even though he be an adult ?

Mr PERKINS - Yes, I agree with the honorable member there. If these cases were taken collectively, it would be found 'that they would not add materially to the burden placed on. the finances of Australia. There are cases which should receive more humane consideration. I have in mind the application of the principle of the aggregation of incomes, in the case of an old-age pension, to a husband or wife who in reality have been parted for many years, but who for the sake of the children and the family pride, have not obtained a judicial separation. One of the two may have adequate means of support, while the other may be hard-pressed, yet maintaining the family. "When the destitute one applies for the old-age pension, he or she is informed that it cannot be paid, as the income of both parties is aggregated when determining whether a pension shall or shall not be paid. The Commonwealth Government- would do well to liberalize the law in such cases. I hope that this Government will continue to hold office, and that the Treasurer will continue to perform his excellent work.

Suggest corrections