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Tuesday, 30 May 1939

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - I shall not permit particulars to be given of other cases.

Mr DRAKEFORD - I have no wish to trespass on the judgment of the Chair, and will, therefore, avoid details. There are on record cases in which the amount paid upon compulsory acquisition has been considerably below the purchase price; and the position has been made worse by the fact that land so acquired had been purchased by its owners for the purpose of erecting homes thereon. There is also another aspect which has to be considered. The Government might acquire land for the purpose of establishing annexes for the manufacture of munitions and, in consequence of speculation bringing the private operators of the annexes to insolvency, the people's equity might be jeopardized. I commend the honorable member for Batman for so clearly recognizing the position which might arise should this provision not be enacted. If the Assistant Minister has a further consultation with his chief he will probably conclude that, rather than delay the passage of the bill, the wiser course would be to accept this additional safeguard, even though the argument on which he bases his objection to it may appear to him to be perfectly sound. I do not know how the Government can expect the full cooperation of the Opposition if it persists in its present attitude. The logic of the argument in favour of the amendment is unanswerable. The Government would seem to be taking advantage of every opportunity to prevent the Opposition from so amending the measure as to make it more acceptable than it is now, although no amendment would make the principle which it embodies acceptable to me. I am totally opposed to the policy of handing over to private enterprise the manufacture of munitions. Honorable members opposite cannot answer the arguments that I am advancing, because there is no answer to them, therefore they remain silent. It seems as though they have been instructed to he dumb. The Labour party desires to ensure that the public outlay on these annexes shall be safeguarded, and I intend to do everything I can to achieve that end. I trust that wisdom will be displayed by the Government and that the amendment will be accepted. . This bill is repugnant to me in many ways, but if certain amendments can be incorporated in it, it would be less repugnant. Perhaps the Labour party, by proposing amendments, may be able to ensure that ultimately a measure, in some respects at least acceptable to them, will be passed.

Mr. BEASLEY (WestSydney}[5.42]. - The only answer that has been made by the Government to the request for the insertion of this amendment is that power already exists to acquire land in another act. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Holt) has referred to the Lands Acquisition Act and has suggested that the Government's power to acquire land is complete. It may be said, however, that the Government's power to do many of the things set out in this clause is complete, yet provision has been made in the bill to confirm the power. We contend that the Government's power to acquire land for the purposes set out in the bill should also be confirmed. If it is necessary to make specific reference to certain other matters, we contend that it is just as necessary to make specific reference to the power to acquire land. That the Government already possesses some of the powers ref erred to in the bill is shown conclusively by the fact that certain clauses of the measure have been "lifted" from the Defence Act. It is evidently felt that the powers contained in these provisions should be definitely provided in this bill. If that be so in respect of these matters, it is probably so, too, in relation to land acquisition. We all know that the powers provided in acts of Parliament are subject to prescribed conditions in such acts. Consequently, the power contained in the Lands Acquisition Act to acquire land is subject to specified conditions. The regulations made under different acts of Parliament concern the power of the Government to administer according to such acts. It is highly likely that the power to acquire land, to which the Assistant Minister has made reference, is circumscribed in many ways in the Lands Acquisition Act, and may not effectively apply to this bill. If this bill must be passed, the Labour party desires the conditions to be such that will enable a Labour administration, when' it comes into office, to be - entirely free from the power and influence of private armament manufacturers. This Government, may not be in office for long, and when it loses its majority, its policy will naturally cease to have effect. If a Labour government comes into office, as is likely, it will naturally wish to be free to give effect to its policy. The Labour party has emphasized again and again during the last fortnight that it is totally opposed to the manufacture of munitions by private enterprise. Unless an amendment, such as that moved by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) is inserted in this bill, a Labour government may find that it cannot prevent the manufacture of munitions in privately-controlled annexes, or even properly control the situation while the land upon -which these annexes are erected is in the hands of those people. For that reason, it desires to ensure that, if necessity should arise, these annexes shall be brought under definite government control. The power, provided in other acts of Parliament to acquire land is governed by the conditions set out in those acts. Those conditions may not be similar to the provisions prescribed in this measure. Surely it is logical to ask that the powers which this measure purports to place in the hands of this Government shall be subject to the conditions set out in the measure. While it is perfectly true that the Government may be able to commandeer land for some purposes, it may not be able, under existing statutes, to commandeer it for the purposes set out in this bill.

Mr Paterson - -It can compulsorily acquire land for all purposes.

Mr BEASLEY -I am not a lawyer, but 1 am very well aware that the interpretation of acts of Parliament is not simple. Different circumstances load to different interpretations. An act of Parliament may remain unchanged, but the application of the law may vary. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has himself told us that, although the Constitution is the same to-day as it was ten or fifteen years ago, the interpretation of it fluctuates. That is what we fear in connexion with the power to acquire land. Is there anything wrong in principle with the compulsory acquisition of land for defence purposes? If not, why does the Government resist this amendment? The members of the Labour party are well a ware that the general public regards this bill with considerable misgivings, and is particularly hostile to any scheme to place the manufacture of munitions of war in the hands of private enterprise. Fears are frequently expressed that undue profits will be made. The Labour party acknowledges the justification for those fears, and desires to do everything possible to remove them. We are well- aware that State laws place definite restrictions upon the tenants of buildings. The acts of various States relating to landlords and tenants have a great deal to say on this subject. If a Labour government came into office and desired to take certain action in respect of some of these annexes, the owners of the land might object strenuously, and unless the Government held the title deeds to the land, might even be able to prevent it from operating the machinery, although both the machinery and the buildings housing it were provided from public funds. The Assistant Minister seems to rely upon the authority of the Commonwealth contracts, but he would hardly admit that a Commonwealth contract could override a State law. A Commonwealth law might, under certain conditions, override a State law, but a mere contract could scarcely have such force.

Mr Holt - If trouble arose, the Commonwealth Government would still have the power provided by the Lands Acquisition Act, and it could use it, if necessa ry.

Mr BEASLEY - That being so, I can see no real objection to incorporating in the bill the amendment of the honorable member for Batman. I put it in good faith that certain provisions of this bill have given rise to suspicion in the public mind. Anything that will place the manufacture of munitions of war in the hands of private enterprise is properly regarded with abhorrence by the people at large. If any suspicion of profiteering is current, it is equally likely that suspicion will be rife that the arrangements for the control and management of these annexes is not satisfactory. The machinery to be installed in the annexes will be valuable. It is not likely that even the smallest machine installed in these annexes will be erected and equipped for less than £1,000. I have no doubt that some of the equipment will cost a great deal more. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) referred to a matter of some moment. Is the power supply for these annexes to be independent of the source of power for the nearby factory, or is. it to be run off by the same generating units by the use of additional pulleys and shaftings! If the annexes are to be quite separate, it seems to me that no justification exists for locating them near existing private enterprises in preference to existing government establishments. We find it hard to believe that private manufacturers are establishing these annexes for the benefit of the general community purely .out of the benevolence of their own hearts. Private manufacturers are not accustomed to do things like that. ' I. cannot believe that any private manufacturers will expend large sums in providing and. operating annexes unless they are assured of a good return. The value of the land on which the buildings will be erected will be considerable in some cases. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is establishing an annexe at Pyrmont, and to provide room for the building it demolished a row of cottages from which it was receiving substantial rents. Does the Government suggest that this company is willing to do that in a purely benevolent spirit, and without any expectation of an adequate financial return? All the circumstances surrounding the establishment of these annexes cause us to do everything in our power to ensure that the substantial public funds involved are adequately protected. We are living in a hard world so far -as business is concerned, and I have yet to meet business men of the type which the Government would lead us to believe will do this work. My next point is that the period of five years, the duration of this legislation, will soon slip by. Is this valuable machinery then to be" left idle?

Mr Holt - Ten years is the period provided for in most eases.

Mr Holloway - Like old soldiers, it will fade away.

Mr BEASLEY - Yes, that is what will happen.

Mr Holt - It is government property.

Mr BEASLEY - That is our argument. Can we imagine a company such as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, for instance, allowing this machinery in five years' time to lie greased and idle on its property? It. is not logical to expect a company to be satisfied with such a state of affairs. The Government's attitude on this point raises the question as to whether it would not be better to confine these annexes to railway and municipal workshops. The Government also claims that it could not embark on works which it could not keep in operation permanently, and, on this ground, justified its refusal to purchase sites for these annexes and to nin them without any assistance from private enterprise.

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