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Tuesday, 22 November 1938

Mr JENNINGS (Watson) .- Annihilation of distance and the spectacular advance of science in recent years have brought Australia face to face with world problems, and invariably actions by other nations have repercussions in Australia. 1 wish to refer particularly to a question which to-day is of great importance to the Australian people and, indeed, to the Empire - the mandate and the future of New Guinea. Although statements have been made outside, I suggest that the Government should make a definite pronouncement in the House of its policy in connexion with New Guinea. Reports that other nations are discussing the future of this area and how it should be controlled, have agitated the minds of the people of New Guinea to such an extent that on the 1st November, at Rabaul, the capital, a largely attended public meeting was held of all interests in the territory, at which a resolution was unanimously carried to the effect that New Guinea should remain for ever under the control of the Commonwealth. A similar meeting was held on the gold-fields at Wau, which, if it does not become the political capital, will possibly be the commercial capital when the road from the coast is constructed; and similar meetings are at present being held in other centres. In view of the development of this territory by Australia, a development unrivalled in modern colonization, Australia should not sit idly by while other countries are talking about the future of, and, perhaps, contemplating dividing the spoils of, a country which undoubtedly should he under Australian control.

I had occasion previously to address a question in the House to the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hughes), relative to a statement which Mr. Chisholm, an Australian journalist, made in London to the Australian High Commissioner, Mr. Bruce. He intimated that German scientists were showing a marked interest in the resources of New Guinea and, further, that Germans suggested that Australia was failing in its duty in not advising the world of these resources, and was leaving the work largely to Americans. Recent articles and public statements in Australia and Great

Britain show that there is an opinion, apparently badly informed, that Australia should return New Guinea to Germany. Those who have been in Germany in recent years will have evidence of German desires for the return of its former colonies. When I was in Berlin last year there was no mistaking its desire tor their return. A Nazi official spoke to me in strong terms about Germany's demand for the restoration of its territories, notwithstanding the fact that Germany failed to exploit New Guinea when it held it. German trade figures for before the war show that the exports and imports of New Guinea were a fraction of one per cent, of its total trade to-day.

There is no doubt that public opinion in Australia is strongly opposed to the return of New Guinea to Germany. The opinion of the right honorable member for North Sydney, who formerly administered external territories of the Commonwealth, is " What we have we hold ". But it is not sufficient for honorable members merely to know these things. A definite considered statement of policy on' behalf of the Government should be made on the floor of the House.

I certainly agree that not sufficient publicity is given to Australia's record in colonizing and developing New Guinea. A nation like America, in similar circumstances, would tell the story in a hundred different ways. We have been, perhaps, too modest about it. Since the Australian troops took' over New Guinea at the outbreak of war, Australian enterprise has been responsible for increasing the exports by 800 per cent., and for a revenue increase of 600 per cent. Any one who visits the territory must be impressed by its activities. Australian enterprise was responsible for discovering the greatest alluvial goldfield in recent years, with a gold production of £2,000,000 per annum. The Germans may have known the gold was there, just as the Dutch know there is gold in Dutch New Guinea, but it took Australian gold diggers to develop it. Their efforts created an epic of the air. It was Australian resource, initiative and enterprise that introduced the greatest air transport system in the world, one that carries mining machinery, cattle and cargo over mountains 10,000 feet nigh. The service is manned by Australian pilots, who would form a. great nucleus in a national emergency.

In the process of colonization the white population has increased by 400 per cent. - 75 per cent, of the white population sire Australians. South Africa, in urging . its claims to retain the former German colonies in South West Africa, states that these colonies are now populated mainly by South African white people. Australia can also rightly urge that the white population of New Guinea is overwhelmingly Australian. In addition, Australian patrols have at great personal risk penetrated the heart of New Guinea and discovered tribes of natives hitherto unknown to the world. These tribes belong to the stone age. What is most important, by a system of medical patrols and treatment of native and tropical diseases and by humane colonization methods, Australians have established a friendly relationship with the New Guinea natives.

In Papua and New Guinea approximately 5,000 whites, mainly Australians, control probably nearly 1,000,000 natives, many of whom are still in a primitive state. A great amount of public money and energy has been expended by the Commonwealth in New Guinea.

Australia is in the vanguard of the nations in the matter of colonization. New Guinea stands as the furthest outpost of Australia and is of paramount strategic value to the Commonwealth. Et is half way to the east, and control is imperative. I quite understand the difficulties associated with the mandate, but in view of the world position to-day the time has arrived when a definite declaration should .be made in" this House by the Government in regard to the control of the Territory of New Guinea. Otherwise the world may misinterpret our silence. En these uncertain days other nations may mistake our silence for weakness, indecision or apathy.

In opening his budget speech for 193S- 39, the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) referred to the fact that, in spite of considerable difficulties caused by overseas developments., the last year had been one of appreciable economic advance in Aus tralia. I agree with the Treasurer that we should congratulate ourselves upon our resistance to adverse overseas conditions. He also mentioned that the investment of overseas capital in Australia had continued at a satisfactory rate. We need the investment of overseas capital if we are to make real progress, and surely there is no country in the world to-day that offers better prospects for such investment than Australia does. A significant fact is that most of this money is being used in the development of our secondary industries. That is a sign of the new era that has begun in this country. I am glad that the three gentlemen who represented the Commonwealth at the recent trade conference in London have returned fully convinced that we must look, more and more, to the development of Australia's secondary industries if we are to support a larger population. Especially am I impressed by the views expressed by the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) in this connexion. It is surely significant when the Leader of the Country party joins in telling us that, we must reduce our imports and manufacture more of our own requirements. The reason, of course, is plain. It is clue to the growth of " economic nationalism ", and to the cry of " national self-sufficiency ", on the part of so many countries. This means that Australia no longer has the markets to warrant any large increase of primary production. If we can hold the foreign markets we have we shall be fortunate. Countries which formerly imported our wheat in large quantities are now growing more wheat for themselves, with a consequent reduction of imports from Australia. The rapid growth of artificial wool is another factor that .has to be taken into account, despite the statement that we hear so often that the world must have Australian wool and that we can sell all that we produce. Such a position may not always obtain. Moreover, the question is not so much one of whether we can sell all we are at present growing, but whether there is room for an expansion of the wool industry. It is doubtful, to say the least of it. It will continue doubtful unless we have a big increase of population. If the population should increase appreciably we should have more consumers and should be able to sell more wool at home.

It is therefore necessary to plan for an increased population and for a larger home market. After all, the home market is the best market, just as the Australianborn baby is the best immigrant. If it i3 necessary to bring immigrants to Australia, provided they are the right stamp, because of our slow population growth by natural increase, let us remember that in doing so we are increasing the home market for our primary and secondary products.

Our Labour friends in opposition, who have never been very enthusiastic over immigration, should consider that fact. Their enthusiasm for the expansion of our secondary industries is pronounced. Do they not realize that our manufactures cannot expand unless our population increases? They can expand to some extent, I admit. If we import fewer goods we can manufacture more, although we cannot expect to manufacture everything we require. Surely it is selfevident that by increasing our population we can do a good deal more to increase our manufactures. In passing, I would point out that a very large proportion of our imports consists of machinery and raw materials used in manufacturing in this country.

Not so long ago, Great Britain did not view our manufacturing progress with too kindly an eye. It felt that, as it was the principal market for our primary products, we should in return buy as much as possible from British manufacturers. That view, which I understand is still held in Manchester, is no longer the official view. The Government of the United Kingdom recognizes that if Australia and the other dominions are to make real progress and become more powerful links in the Empire chain than they are to-day they must foster their secondary as well as their primary industries. It is not so much a case of selfsufficiency as self-help, and Empire help. The more powerful we become, in point of population, which, as I have said, must follow on industrial expansion, the more likely are we to be able to contribute to the defence and general well-being of the Empire. Great Britain favours the in- vestment of British capital in suitable Australian manufacturing industries, regarding it necessary for our development, for the growth of our population and for our national security. Even if Australia did not take a hand in the defence of the Empire and its interests, increased population is needed for our own defence. Look at it whatever way we will, it is necessary. I have spoken of the increase of imports, as shown in the budget-papers, and I hope that the Government will watch the position carefully. I am aware that it is exceedingly difficult to estimate the customs revenue especially in abnormal times. It is generally conceded in trading circles that during this financial year imports will be less that last year, and the Treasurer has advisedly assumed that there will he a decrease. This is in contrast to the position in recent years where there has been an increase on the estimated revenue from customs duties, which, of course, has a very important influence on the budget. This has an important bearing on the budget.

The best index of a nation's prosperity is that provided by building activities. One' of the bright spots in the budget is the remarkable increase of building activity in all classes of construction, during the twelve months ended the 30th June last, disclosing as it does an expenditure of approximately £66,000,000. This represents an increase of nearly 20 per cent, over the previous year, and more than 600 per cent, over the depression year of 1931-32. When a key industry is functioning in such a satisfactory way it clearly indicates that the prosperity of the people is increasing. The operations connected with building activities extend to all classes of other* industries, resulting in progress and an increase of employment generally.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish to pretend that we have solved the problem of unemployment. There is still a good deal of unemployment, and we should not be content until every man who is willing and able to work is given the opportunity to do so. Especially tragic is the plight of many of our Australian youths, numbers of whom have found it impossible to secure employment. It is satisfactory to know that this problem is being taken in hand by the State governments, and that employers are co-operating in the effort to give these young people a chance. It seems to me almost hypocritical to be talking about the decrease of the birthrate when we have this problem before us. * It is natural that a man should wish to marry and establish a home, but he cannot do so without money. When the youth unemployment problem is solved, there should be an immediate increase of the marriage and the birth rates. It is satisfactory to find from recent statistics that the number of marriages in Australia is increasing, and this can be taken as an indication of what occurs when employment is increasing. We know that employment is increasing, but that does not solve the problem of providing suitable employment for youths. I note with much satisfaction that the Government proposes to set aside the fame amount as it did last year, viz., £200,000, in grants to the States to assist thom to provide technical training and to secure skilful employment for youths. Assistance in this direction is money well spent. It will stimulate the interest of these young fellows in their country, inspire their patriotism and make them feel that their country is worth while.

An expenditure of £16,796,000 for defence purposes, as is proposed this year, is an enormous but necessary burden. The Prime Minister was right when he said that the people will not complain at additional taxes to be imposed if it is to finance a necessary defence programme. Whilst some of the money will come out of loan and the defence trust fund, a large sum must be provided out of ordinary revenue, thus making new taxation inescapable. Anything we can do to ensure the safety of this country and its people in these momentous times is national insurance of the ' highest order. According to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition and those who followed him, one would imagine that because the sales tax has been slightly increased, the burden is falling mostly on the masses; but that is a tax which, like customs duties, is paid by everybody. Those who are in a position to pay income and land taxes face an increase of 15 per cent, and 11.1 per cent., respectively, whilst the sales tax increase amounts to about one farthing a day .' I would remind the members of the Labour party that a Labour government initiated that unfortunate tax. True, it was an emergency measure, as members opposite have stressed, but .was the emergency any greater then than it is to-day? Surely they will not contend that it was.

Before leaving this subject of defence, which is of paramount importance to us, I emphasize once again the necessity for- giving more sympathetic treatment to the rifle club movement of Australia. I have referred to this matter on more than one occasion in this chamber, but to-day it assumes an added importance. There are some 50,000 members of rifle clubs in the Commonwealth, and it costs them approximately £12 each annually to keep themselves efficient in their shooting. This is a self-supporting and voluntary movement. It receives no spoon-feeding from the Defence Department. Indeed, instead of being encouraged, it might almost be said that it has been- discouraged by the department. That is not as it should be. The rifle club members buy their rifles and a quantity of their ammunition, and have cleared or hewn out of the forests over 800 rifle ranges throughout Australia. Is not that a great thing for Australia? Is this Parliament to alienate the support of these patriotic men ? Surely not !

Bequests have been received from several parts of the Commonwealth for permission to form rifle clubs. In this critical time, when we are adopting all kinds of defence measures, why should we hold up this patriotic movement? The matter of finance is so small from a defence point of view that it cannot be used as an argument for placing obstacles in the way of this movement. Could there, I ask, be a firmer or better basis for national defence than a great number of Australians giving up their time and leisure, quite voluntarily, in order to make themselves proficient in the use of the service rifle? Here is one way to develop a national defence conscience. Let us foster, and not discourage, it.

I regret that the Government has not seen fit to amend the Repatriation Act in order that " burnt out " South African war veterans may become eligible for a service pension. These South African veterans are, in truth, a "lost legion". They have been forgotten. Even the sum of £27,000, the balance of funds subscribed during the South African war for soldiers incapacitated in that campaign, was passed into other revenue by the New South Government some years ago! Funds publicly subscribed in other States have also been diverted to other uses. There are throughout the Commonwealth, perhaps, only 200 or 300 of these soldiers in need of assistance, and they are getting fewer in numbers each year. Many of them are in charitable homes. We might well give some consideration to these men who have given service to the nation and to the Empire. The South African Soldiers' Association appreciates the decision of the Government to grant £10 towards funeral expenses of those men who die in indigent circumstances. But why wait till they are dead? We could materially help them and brighten the remaining years of their lives, by giving them the benefits of the Repatriation Act. I earnestly urge the Government to reconsider this matter. In view of the ages of these men, the cost would be very small. Action such as I have suggested would, I am sure, have the support not only of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, but also of the public generally.

There are other big claims upon the Treasury besides those of defence. I shall refer to only one or two of them. Take invalid and old-age pensions, the rate of which was increased a year ago to the former level of £1 per week. The total expenditure under this head in the last year was £15,800,000; but, in the current year, owing to an increase of the number of pensioners, it is estimated that a sum of £16,150.000 will be required. Then there are the war pensions. The additional concessions granted in this connexion in recent years have involved considerably increased expenditure, and this year it is estimated that the sum required for war pensions and repatriation benefits generally will be £9,400,000, an increase of nearly £350,000 over last year, and an increase of £1,700,000 over the expenditure five years ago.

We have also to remember that we have just passed one of the most extensive social service measures this country has seen. I refer to the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act. We learn from "the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) that we shall have to find £1,000,000 under this heading during this financial year. This is preliminary to a much larger expenditure that will have to be faced in the years to come. As the nation grows in wealth and population we must expect to see our expenditure increasing along with the revenue.

At this point it is fitting that I should remind honorable members and the country of one very important item in Commonwealth finances. Since 1923 the Commonwealth debt has been redeemed to the extent of £80,000,000. That is a matter for congratulation, and sufficient importance has not, in my opinion, been directed to the fact.

There is another matter I should like to touch upon. Inasmuch as approximately half of the federal revenue comes from customs and excise duties, a heavy decline of imports must seriously affect the budgetary position, and as development work must go on, I suggest that, in order to adapt the country to the changing conditions which face it, a reasonable resort to treasury-bills might be found desirable. In this connexion, 1 direct attention to the circular issued by the Bank of New South Wales in August, 1937. In reviewing the report of the Royal Commission on Banking, the circular stated -

Short-term bills, particularly to-day those issued with the credit of governments behind them, are of very great importance to the trading banks .because they enable them to build up a second line of defence. A bank can never tell in advance exactly what demands for cash it may have to meet, and therefore it must hold a certain amount of short-dated securities which can readily be turned into cash. Properly managed, treasury-hills can become a quite indispensable banking asset, helping the trading banker to economize in the amount of cash which he has to keep, and in this way enabling him to provide banking services for the community more cheaply.

The bankers in London and others who use the London market are able to plan ahead and to buy those bills which mature upon the exact day upon which they anticipate that they will have to meet big demands for cash. . . The Commonwealth Bank does not appear to have suggested to the Commonwealth Treasury, whose business adviser it is, that it should adopt this essential technique in managing the Australian treasury-bills.

The British Treasury, with the utmost' skill is studying tho needs of the banks and has been able to induce them to lend to it at i per cent, per annum. In Australia, the best rate upon treasury-bills that the Commonwealth Bank has been able to secure has been lj per cent. It is so nervous about the whole position that it described the existence of treasury-bills in its evidence before the royal commission as a source of weakness in the Australian monetary system. The weakness lies not in the existence of the treasury-bills, but in the management of this part of the borrowing of Australian governments. . . . Efficiently managed, treasury-bills are, as the British Government knows so well, the cheapest possible way in which it can borrow to meet the requirements of government. The efficiency of the banking system and tho interests of the taxpayer who has to meet the cost of government borrowing both require an improvement in the technique of managing treasury-bills in Australia.

I submit that those are challenging statements, to which the Treasurer might very well give careful consideration. I am sure it would interest a great many of us if the honorable gentleman would take an early opportunity to take us into his confidence and tell us exactly where, in his opinion, and in the opinion of the Commonwealth Bank Board, the weakness lies in the issue of treasury-bills in Australia. It would be both interesting and enlightening.

Mention of London and its business affairs reminds me of the Government's decision to grant the sum of £20,000 to the Australian National Travel Association this year as it did last year. In addition, it has decided to grant £21,000 to the association for the purpose of a comprehensive tourist and travel display at the San Francisco exposition in 1939. That is not all. A sum of £40,000 is being set aside to cover the cost of the Australian exhibit at the World's Fair, which will open in New York in April next. The Government is also making the sum of £30,000 sterling available to the Australian Overseas Trade Publicity Committee for publicity and trade promotion purposes in the United Kingdom, and £7,500 for the general exhibition of Australian products in that country. A sum of £2,500 has also been earmarked for advertising Australian products in the East and other special markets.

I do not think that any one will grumble at the wise expenditure of public money in advertising Australia abroad, both for trade and tourist purposes; but, from what we constantly read in the newspapers, we cannot help wondering sometimes whether' the money is being spent to the best advantage. Why are we constantly reading that New Zealand and its products are so much better advertised in the United Kingdom than Australia and its products? There seems to be something wrong somewhere.

I suggest that the Government would do well to select a few of the brightest young journalists of Australia to take a hand in this advertising business. I am aware that one or two of them are abroad already. I mention Mr. Arthur O'Connor, who has his office, I believe, in San Francisco. But we could do with a dozen or more such men. It is not necessary for them all to go abroad. Some of them could be employed in Australia to write about the country and its products, and also about its attractions as a tourist resort. This would help to "feed" our trade and other agencies in the United Kingdom, America and elsewhere. It is time that we realized the value of our "writing brains" in this country. I am hopeful that the deputation which recently waited on the Prime Minister and urged that some encouragement should be given to literary and dramatic workers in this country will bear some fruit. Surely, the products of the mind are worth cultivating as well as material things! I commend the action of the Treasurer in making provision on the Estimates for a contribution towards the preparation of a bibliography of Australian literature.

We are doing a good deal in a scientific direction. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is engaged in a great work, and provision for its entry into the field of secondary industries is a departure which should prove of inestimable , benefit to Australia and its manufacturing development. It is time that we, as a National Parliament, gave some thought to art and literature, as well as to science.

There is another matter that I wish to refer to which relates to the Postal Department. That this department is splendidly organized and efficient is, 1 think, admitted by all; but there is considerable public discontent in regard to its charges for certain services it provides. The department should investigate the charge on letters and see if it cannot make the same arrangements in regard to them as it makes in regard to telegraphic charges - that is, a reduction within a State as compared with interstate letters. Much irritation is caused over telephone charges. There is no means by which subscribers may check their accounts, and it seems to me that they should be provided with some means to do so. This has been ventilated in the House. A fair trial should be given to the devices available in the interest of subscribers.

The Government's promise to reconstitute the Public Accounts Committee is to be highly commended. This committee, representing all parties, should have a proper insight into ali details of public expenditure. It could pass judgment on many phases of public finance, and the financing of many public utilities. This would ensure the confidence, not only of Parliament, but also of the people of the country, in the public expenditure of Commonwealth revenues.

Progress reported.

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