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Tuesday, 22 November 1938


Mr STACEY (Adelaide) .- At the outset I desire to pay a tribute to the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) for the wonderful work which he has performed during the last seven years. Most of us are prone to wait until a Minister is dead or until he leaves the political sphere before we express our thanks for the work he has performed, but I do not propose to do so. We are indebted to the right honorable gentleman for the way in which he has steered the ship of state through troubled waters. When he assumed control seven years ago Australia was in a chaotic condition. All of the election promises which the right honorable gentleman has made have been honoured. Four years ago when it became necessary to form a composite government the- Prime Minister was faced with the unenviable position of accepting the resignation of some of his Ministers to permit members of the Country party to enter the Cabinet. I do not agree with the action then taken by some Ministers who had to resign; because they should have realized the difficulties of the situation and cooperated with their leader. Unfortunately some men were- not big enough to do so ; but f am pleased to learn .that they are now supporting their leader wholeheartedly.

A good deal of criticism has been levelled against the Government's defence policy. When the Prime Minister became head of the Government seven years ago' he said that 'he was, as he is to-day, opposed to 'conscription and to compulsory military training. I, too, am opposed to conscription. The Prime Minister has asked the members of the Opposition to co-operate with the Government in its endeavour to increase the strength of the militia from 35,000 to 70,000, and it is hoped that they will give their support. The present policy of the Government in this respect should appeal to honorable members on both- sides of the chamber, and I believe that at the end of six months the strength of the militia will have increased to the extent desired. As trainees are expected to give up some of their Saturday afternoons when other young nien are engaged in recreation, some more satisfactory arrangement should be made. If some employers object to pay their employees while absent on military duty, an effort should be made to get them to adopt a more- patriotic attitude. Moreover, the remuneration paid to members of the militia forces should be increased, and those who attend drills, which at present occupy only a few days a year, should not lose financially. I believe that a number of returned soldiers, including officers, would be willing to drill recruits if the work were made sufficiently attractive, to them. I appeal to honorable members opposite to assist, the Government in its recruiting campaign, because I believe that if they do so at the end of sixmonths, a sufficient number will have been enlisted. Should the number be insufficient the Prime Minister will leave the matter in the hands of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) who may be compelled to advocate compulsory military training.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) who moved a motion of want of confidence in the Government a few days ago found it impossible to make any definite charge against the Govern* ment. I listened very attentively to the speech delivered by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) on the budget a few days ago. The honorable gentleman undoubtedly twisted the figures to suit his own purposes. Consequently I felt obliged to make a personal investigation of the Commonwealth finances over the last seven years in order to give specific information in reply to his wrong assumptions. I found' that during the time the Lyons Government has been in office, it has reduced taxation by more than £16,000,000 a year on the average. Our unemployment figures are far more satisfactory now than when the Government assumed office. In 1932, one-third of the working population of this country was out of employment. The last available figures show that only 8 per cent, of our people are now out of work. Seeing that in the very best circumstances, we have about 6 per cent, of the people out of employment, it will be appreciated that our position to-day is reasonably satisfactory. The production of our various industries in 1931-32 was valued at £305,000,000. That figure had risen last year to £456,000,000. I expect an even better return for this financial year. Activity in the building trade is always a good index to prosperity. In 1931-32 only £9,000,000 was spent throughout the Commonwealth on building construction. The corresponding figure for 1937-38 was £50,000,000. I do not say that this Government should be given all the credit for this improvement; but it cannot be denied that the people of this country, including the working people, have confidence in the Government.

The Government has added £15,000,000 to tha Loan Reserve Fund, from which our overseas commitments are met. During last year a loan of £11,000,000 was successfully converted, and the Government is now engaged on the conversion of loans aggregating £60,000,000. Since 1923, £80,000,000 has been provided for Commonwealth Debt Redemption Fund purposes. This year £10,000.000 will be added to our sinking fund, £4,900,000 of which is in respect of Commonwealth debts, and £5,100,000 in respect of State debts. In 1931, Commonwealth and State public debts totalled £1,182,000.000. This figure had increased to £1.275.000,000 at the end of the last financial year, an advance of £92,000,000 in the seven years. During that period the Commonwealth Government reduced its debt by £7.084,000. The in ere.; se of the aggregate. debt, therefore, is duc to State operations. An amount of £7,000.000 more is being provided this year than was found last year in respect of certain defence commitments, invalid and 0!a-flee pensions, and national insur- ance. A considerable part of the money will, of course, be devoted to national insurance purposes.

The National Health and Pensions Act has been criticized in many quarters, but I consider the measure a step in the right direction. It provides a foundation on which we can build subsequently. Obviously, it was impossible for us to continue in the old way to provide social services for our people. It is estimated that this year £16,500,000 will be required for invalid and old-age pensions. We have been told that 11,500 extra pensioners will have to be provided for. Seeing that only about 500,000 of our people have joined friendly societies in order to make some provision for sickness and accident benefits, it must be appreciated that a national health and pensions insurance scheme covering all workers in receipt of £7 a week or less, and involving 1,850,000 people, must be of immense general benefit. As only 500,000 of these people had appreciated the wisdom of providing for themselves in this way, the action of the Government in respect of the remaining 1,350,000 must be applauded. The actprovides that insured persons shall PdF ls. 6d. a week, and that their employers shall pay a similar amount, into the general fund. The money is to be expended in providing medical treatment, medicines and pensions. Clearly this fund must in time relieve the Consolidated Revenue of heavy imposts. It has been said by some people that the health and pensions scheme of New Zealand is superior to that of Australia. My reply is that as the workers of New Zealand are required to pay ls. a week in respect of each £1 they earn and that, therefore, a man earning £7 a week WOUld have to pay 7s. a week, the New Zealand scheme ought to be able to provide more liberal benefits than ours. On the basis of contributions, the Australian scheme is much to he preferred. The New Zealand people have also to pay £1 a year registration fee.

An amount of £885.000 extra is being provided this year for public works for defence purposes, while the expenditure on rh" Postal Department is expected to be £3.938,000 more than in the preceding year. I am g!ad to notice that £198,000 is being provided for water conservation, and hospital and gaol buildings at Darwin. Probably this money should have been expended years ago. The amount provided for expenditure in the Australian Capital Territory is £540,000, which is £68,000 in excess of the amount voted last year. We have been told that 220 new houses are to be built in Canberra this year. These dwellings are sadly needed. I am somewhat disappointed, however, that the cost of the houses is to be so high. Some weeks ago, on a motion for the adjournment of the House, I discussed building costs in Canberra, and I made available to honorable members some photos and plans and specifications of four-roomed dwelling houses - brick houses with conveniences - which were being made available for £450 including the cost of land. I intimated that I intended to move the adjournment of the House to discuss this urgent matter; but the Chief Architect in Canberra, the valuer under the housing scheme, and several other officers, asked me to visit North Ainslie where dwelling houses were being erected. They assured me that they would take a copy of my plans and specifications and that they would be able to build such houses in Canberra at a price not exceeding £600 each, and probably substantially less. In spite of this, I read in the press last week that tenders fOr 62 houses had just been accepted, the total amount of the contract being £64,000. What has become of the assurance that houses could be built here according to the South Australia plans and specifications for not more than £600 each? Seeing that bricks and tiles are made in Canberra, and that the cost of the land does not enter into consideration because of the leasehold system that is in vogue here, I cannot see why building costs should be very much in excess of those of Adelaide. Honorable members are probably aware that some weeks ago a shelter-shed was built adjacent to the parliamentary bowling green. It is a weather-board structure 20 ft. long and 8 ft. wide, on a concrete base. The fittings are very simple, consisting of two small benches, eight lockers, a shower, a handbasin, and a lavatory. I was horrified to learn that the cost of the shed was £620. It should not have been a penny more than £300. I have had some experience of building construction and know what I am speaking about.


Sir Frederick Stewart - The cost should not have exceeded £200.


Mr STACEY - It is time steps were taken to prevent this extravagant expenditure of public money.


Mr Green - Why does not the honorable member call for a return showing the landed cost of the timber and other materials used in the construction of the shelter-shed ?


Mr STACEY - I know that timber suitable for this purpose can be obtained in forests not 30 miles from here. ' At Mount Franklin there is any amount of suitable timber. In fact, it could be obtained from forests not half that distance from Canberra.

An amount of £250,000 is being provided for the purposes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research this year. I warmly approve of this expenditure. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has done and is doing, exceptionally fine work in the interests of our secondary and primary industries, and as the years go by it wil'do even more than it is now doing.

I congratulate the Government upon making available £200,000 for youth employment schemes. South Australia has taken full advantage of the money made available to it by the Commonwealth for this purpose. The State Government has subsidized the grant £ for £, and has built very fine workshops in which between 30 and 35 young men are being regularly employed in learning useful trades.

I am satisfied with the various amounts apportioned to the States this year by way of grants from the Commonwealth. Although I think that South Australia should have received more, I am quite prepared to accept the recommendation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission for the present year. The only criticism I should like to offer in this regard is that grants to the claimant States should be stabilized for a period of five years. This would do away with the necessity for continuing the annual expenditure on the Commonwealth Grants Commission, which might well be saved.

The Government is to be complimented on having granted a fertilizers subsidy, which will do much to assist needy producers. I think I was the first, if not in this chamber at least in the party room, to advocate the. provision from Commonwealth funds of a fertilizers subsidy some years ago. Fertilizers are of great value in increasing the yield of agricultural and pastoral lands and are of great benefit to small market gardeners.

This is the first year in which the Lyons Government has been forced to increase taxation since it assumed office. That, of course, as honorable members and the country know, has been made necessary by reason of our huge commitments for defence purposes. I do not think any honorable member in this House, or any genuine Australian, would for a moment question the necessity for the provision of ample funds for the defence of this country. The increases, under the various heads of revenue, are as follows: -

 

The fact that, during its tenure of office, the Lyons Government has been able, until this year, to reduce taxation by £16,000,000 annually, reflects great credit upon it. These large remissions of taxation, which have been made possible by the wise administration of this Government in the past, have been of inestimable benefit to both primary and secondary industries, and have been largely responsible for the diminution of the unemployment figures.

I was very disappointed at the pronouncement made by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hughes), after his return from New Guinea recently, that the new administrative site for the territory was to be situated at Salamaua. T have stayed at Salamaua for a lengthy period, and, therefore, I am able to criticize its selection with a full knowledge of its many defects. The town of Salamaua is built on flat ground on an isthmus which a tidal rise of about 10 feet would submerge. Therefore, I am somewhat at a loss to understand what led the right honorable gentleman to suggest Salamaua as the new administrative capital site. In my opinion, and in the opinion of others who know it well, Salamaua is probably the worst site for an administrative capital that could be selected in the whole of the territory. Lae, which is situated on high ground, and is a much more healthy town, has much more to recommend it. Its only disadvantage is that, although there is deep water there, it is exposed to the weather; but arrangements could probably be made to overcome that disability. Either Lae or Madang would be much better as an administrative capital. I question very much, however, whether the provision of a new capital for the Mandated Territory is needed at all. I suggest that the contiguous territories of New Guinea and Papua could well be brought under one administration, and be administered from Port Moresby. The distance from the gold-fields to Rabaul is no greater than the distance from the gold-fields to Port Moresby, so that no disability could be said to arise in that direction. I commend this suggestion to the very serious consideration of the Government. The

Sast practice of utilizing the great wealtherived from Bulolo and Wau at Rabaul, so many hundred miles away, is wrong. Money should be spent where the bulk of the revenue is derived. In order to develop their leases in the Bulolo Valley the miners have been forced to construct roads and maintain them not only for their own use but also for the use of the general public. This Parliament has recently authorized the borrowing of £150,000 for the completion of a new road from Salamaua to Wau. That road will traverse country rising to a height of 6,000 feet above sea level. Having a knowledge of the country, I say without fear of contradiction, that that sum will not be sufficient to construct the road for one-half of the distance between those two towns. One route of the construction of a road of a little over 40 miles in length has already been mapped out; another, going up the Markham Valley, would necessitate the construction of 'a road nearly 140 miles in length, but would traverse perhaps less difficult country. In my opinion the sum to be borrowed for the construction of the road between Salamaua and Wau would not be sufficient to provide for the construction of a road on either of these suggested routes. This view is shared by the responsible officer in the Department of the Interior, who has said that, in his opinion, a road linking Salamaua to Wau could not be constructed even for £300,000. "I want it to be understood that I am in no way opposed to the construction of tha road. I offer these comments because I think that the matter should be given very careful consideration before a decision is arrived at. Not only are difficulties associated with mountainous country to be overcome but also it must be remembered that the new road will traverse territory in which the rainfall amounts to no less than 200 inches a year, lt is obvious, therefore, that the surface will have to be concreted or bitumenized and that, in any case, maintenance costs will be high owing to the prevalence of landslides in wet weather. An instance of the dangerous character of the country is supplied by the road from Wau to Edie Creek, a distance of only 12 miles. The road has been constructed to a width of 12 ft. on a gradient of one in twelve. When I was in New Guinea, I travelled along that road in a motor car and found tha*, while very often the car was jammed against the cliff on one side, it was running on the extreme edge of the constructed road on the other side, with a drop of 2,000 feet into the valley below. That, of course, will occur when the new road between 'Salamaua to Wau is constructed.


Mr Green - Scores of motor trucks traverse the road from Wau to Edie Creek every day.


Mr STACEY - That is so. The road is at present being widened, and the difficulties are being somewhat minimized. All I suggest in this criticism of the proposal is that the Government should be advised of the full facts relating to the difficulties of road construction in New Guinea before a. decision is arrived at.

The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) spoke at some length about the huge quantities of timber that exist on the Bulolo flats. I think he estimated the timber resources of that area at 50,000,000 feet.


Mr Green - That was a departmental estimate.


Mr STACEY - In my opinion thu quantity would not exceed 30,000,000 feet. The honorable member suggested that contracts for the exploitation of the timber resources of that area be let to a number of persons. In my opinion that would be unwise because the quantity of timber to be cut does not justify the erection of more than one mill. All machinery for the establishment of a mill in that area has to be transported by aeroplane, and although the cost of aerial transport has been reduced from ls. 7d. per lb. to 2d. per lb., air freight is still an expensive item. In addition, it must be remembered that as one mill is capable of cutting from five to eight million feet a year, the whole of the timber resources of the area could be exploited in about five years.


Mr Mahoney - Has the honorable member in mind any particular person or firm who should get the contract ?


Mr STACEY - No. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie also suggested that the timber should be taken to the coast by the use of overhead wires. That could be done, but the necessary machinery could be installed only at great expense. In order to justify the installation of such expensive machinery in that area the contract should also be for sufficiently long term to enable, the successful tenderer to have a fair chance to make the venture profitable.

It was interesting to view the developments that have taken place in the mining industry at the Bulolo flats. At Bulolo, five huge dredges are working. It was estimated that with the dredges operating to a depth of 25ft., gold valued at £1,000,000 per annum could be extracted, and that the life of the field would be 25 years. Now, however, dredges are working to a depth of 170 ft. and it appears that the life of the field has been extended to 100 years. In view of that we should do everything possible to assist tae mining industry in New Guinea.

I was pleased to observe that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) saw fit, during the last Parliamentary recess, to visit the Northern Territory. I was there in company with him. I had previously accompanied the ex-Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) three year3 ago. On that occasion, we travelled over the southern part of the territory only, but this time the new Minister made a more comprehensive tour. I know that what he has recommended, and what he will recommend, for the development of the territory, will benefit that area and Australia generally. Foi one thing, greater power is to be given to the Administrator, and much work is to be undertaken in and around Darwin itself, work which has been urgently needed for years. The Minister has been impressed with the capacity of the country in the Northern Territory to carry cattle and sheep, and he agrees with me that a greater population could be supported. At the present time, the population of the territory is only the same as it was 27 years ago, when it was taken over by the Commonwealth from South Australia. Much gold has been found at Tennant Creek, and it is still being won there. The Government, on the recommendation of some of us, installed a battery on the Tennant Creek field for the. benefit of the miners. As a general rule, I am strongly opposed to the intrusion of governments into business, but in this instance it was necessary that the Government should take action. The miners were paying £3 a ton to have their ore put over the plates. One battery was owned by an Afghan. The ore was put over the plates, the miners got some gold, but whether they got it all, or whether some of it was kept by the owner of the battery, there was no way of knowing, though I would not like to make such a charge against anyone. The charge at the Government battery is now 12s. 6d. a ton, and for a further 12s. 6d. a ton the miners can have the tailings treated by the cyanide process. When I was in the district, the people on the field were paying* 10s. for 40 gallons of water. Since then, bores have been put down, and water is available for the trouble of raising it to the surface. Some of it is unfit for human consumption, but it is quite suitable for mining purposes, and even drinking water is OnlY one-fifth of the price charged for it when we were there.

For the last seven years, I have advocated the completion of the railway between Alice Springs and Darwin. I now urge the Minister for the Interior, if the railway cannot be pushed on as far as the southern terminus of the Darwin line, at least to have it constructed as far as .Tennant Creek, a distance of 300 miles. That would open up a great deal of country, and enable five times the present population to be supported in central Australia and the Northern Territory. A definite agreement was entered into between the Commonwealth and the Government of South Australia, at the time the Commonwealth took over this area, that the railway would be completed from Port Augusta to Darwin. If the work is not done soon, a railway will be put through to Darwin from Queensland, and the railway from South Australia will never be built. I have endeavoured to make my comments upon the budget constructive, and I have thrown out several suggestions which, if accepted by the Government, will be for the general good of Australia.







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