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Friday, 21 June 1946

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . - I wish to refer to the extraordinary reply given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to a question asked by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) about the hold up of Dutch ships in Australian ports, and particularly the refusal of trade unionists to repair the Dutch warship Piet Hein. It is amazing that the Prime Minister, from his place in this House, should make an attack on the diplomatic representatives of a foreign power in Australia. If he cannot work with a foreign representative, and wishes to get rid of him, there is a way of doing it without imperilling further the relations between the Netherlands Government and the Government of Australia. Perhaps the incident would not have occurred* if the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) had been at home attending to matters here instead of busying himself trying to settle the problem of Spain. It wouldhave been better if he had concerned himself wi th Australia's relations with our near northern neighbours. Who believes for a moment that Spain imperils the peace of the world? However, there is a grave danger that the relations of Australia with the Netherlands may be imperilled by the present attitude of the Australian Government. People overseas must be mystified to know what is the policy of theAustralian Government. Only recently, Mr. Keith Officer, Australia's representative in the Netherlands, issued a press statement in which he said that the hold-up of Dutch ships in Australia was due to the action of an irresponsible minority. Well, if they constitute only an irresponsible minority they are very powerful, because they are able tobend the Government to their will. When the Dutch ships were first held up the excuse given by the Prime Minister for taking no action was that if he forced the issue there would be a strike of waterside workers in Australia, and supplies of food would not go forward to Great Britain. What a hypocritical excuse that was! During recent weeks, when there has been a complete hold-up of the meat export trade from Queensland because of the strike of meat workers, the Prime Minister has made no attempt to intervene or to settle the dispute. He has sheltered himself behind the excuse that it is a State matter. When the Piet Hein visitedFremantle, all the unionists were prepared to work on the ship except the carpenters. Then the ship went on to Melbourne, and the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) said that the dockyard of Puke and Orr Limited was too busy on civilian work to undertake the repair of the warship. The proprietors ofthe dockyard immediately gave the lie direct to the Minister, who was then forced to admit that what he had said was incorrect, and that the firm could do the work if the unionists would permit it. I hope that the Prime Minister will realize that he does his country very poor service by publicly attacking in this House the representative of the Netherlands Government.

Mr LAZZARINI (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Prime Minister did not attack him.

Mr ABBOTT - He did. If ever there has been "shilly-shallying" by a government it has been in the attitude of this Government to the Bretton Woods Agreement, which was accepted by the United Kingdom Government some time ago. Recently, in answer to a question by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) the Prime Minister said that if the proposed loan to Great Britain by the United States of America was not authorized, Australia would be faced with an acute shortage of dollars. One of the essential features of the proposed loan to Great Britain is that that country must subscribe to the Bretton Woods Agreement. Under clause 11 of the agreement, a country which subscribes to it is forbidden to trade with, or have economic relations with, any other country that is not a signatory to the agreement, if such country is not carrying out the terms of the agreement. The Commonwealth Government is afraid to affirm either its acceptance or rejection of the agreement before the forthcoming general elections. It knows well that eventually Australia must sign the agreement unless it is prepared to shatter its export trade by failing to share in the dollar pool which the authorizing of the loan to Britain by the United States of America would create. From day to day we hear of an acute shortage of tractors, which are imported mainly from the United States of America, and of other materials and commodities, including tinned plate, which are necessary for the development of Australian primary and secondary industries, but because the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) has vigorously attacked the Bretton "Woods Agreement, the Government is prepared to imperil Australia's economic future. It will do nothing which it thinks will lower its prospects of winning the elec- tions. The policy of the Government contains only one plank, namely, that, whatever happens, nothing must be done which will imperil the solidarity of the Labour movement. Regardless of whether the maintenance of that solidarity causes distress in the Commonwealth or endangers Australia's future trade relations with other countries, the Government, remembering that the Scullin Government failed because of the defection from its ranks of supporters of the Lang group, has at the instance of the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) laid down that, at all costs, division within the Labour party must be avoided. Declarations that the Labour party will have no relations with Communists are merely examples of the hypocrisy of the Government' and the Labour party generally. The Government is prepared to attack vigorously such bodies of young people as the Eureka Youth Movement, yet it does nothing to curb the activities of unions whose leading officials are avowed Communists and members of the Communist party of Australia. I refer particularly to Messrs. Healy, Elliott, Wells and Roach. The Government is insincere in its protestations, and has no desire to get rid of these Communists. It hopes to work with them, and at the same time to bluff the people of Australia into believing that an attempt is being made to get rid of Communists. Probably the fact that the Eureka YouthMovement consists of persons who, as yet, have no votes is the explanation of the attack on that movement, whilst the "tall poppies" in the Communist movement go free.

I was interested in a speech made yesterday by the honorable member for Frementle (Mr. Beazley) referring to employment in Australia. He said that, although 435,000 men from the fighting forces and another 137,000 who had been engaged on war work in Australia had been demobilized since the end of the war, only 10,000 persons were registered as unemployed in the Commonwealth. I shall not attempt to test the accuracy of the honorable member's figures, but shall accept them for the purpose of argument. The honorable member went on to say that at the present time there is practcally full employment throughoutAustralia. If that be so, Australian manpower is stretched to the limit to cope with the problems which face this country in regard to both its internal development and the maintenance of its export trade.

The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) had a good deal to say about the Government's housing achievements and its programme for the future. In this connexion, I refer to an interesting article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 2nd August,. 1945, in which attention was drawn to the shortage of houses in the Commonwealth . The article stated that in December, 1943, the Commonwealth Housing Commission had estimated that 273,000 houses were required, and that 40,000 houses were needed- annually to replace dilapidated dwellings and provide for the normal increase of the population. The greatest number of houses ever built in Australia, in any peace year was 40,000. The official programme for the year ended the 30th Jiune, 1945, was 24,000 houses, and for the first post-war year, 50,000. According to Facts and Figures the target for the current financial year is now 15,000 houses. It is easy toreach an objective if it be brought into conformity with achievement.

Mr Lazzarini - The Sydney MorningHerald lied:

Mr ABBOTT - Surely the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lazzarini) does not say that the Commonwealth Housing Commission lied? The target for 1945-46 was originally 24,000 houses, of which 12,000 were to have been biiilt by the Government and 12,000 by private enterprise. Later, when it was realized that that number would not be built thetarget was reduced by 9,000, making a total of only 15,000 houses for the year.

Mr.Lazzarini.That is not true.

Mr ABBOTT -I greatly fear that by the end of the year not even 15,000 houses will have been completed. During theninemonthsendedMarch,1946,only 2,650houseshadbeencompletedbythe Government.Atthesamerateofpro- gressatotalof3,533houseswillbe constructedbytheGovernmentbythe endoftheyear.Duringthesameperiod privateenterprisewasresponsiblefor erecting6,300houses,andshouldthe samerateofprogressbemaintained,its outputfortheyearwillbe8,400houses. Thetotalnumberofhouseswhichwill bebuiltbythe30thJunewillbeinthe neibourhoodof12,000oronly50per cent.ofthebargetwhichtheMinisterset outtoachieve.

Mr Lazzarini -Thatis not true.

Mr.ABBOTT.- It isa pity thatthe Ministercannot showsomeorigin- alityinhisreplies. The target fornext yearis50,000houses,butifonlyone half of the number isbuiltthe Minister willbedoing very well indeedonhis presentshowing. The housing programme is lagging all the time,and even if the targetof50,000housesisreachednext yearthesolutionofthehousingproblem willtakeabout27yearsunlessmuch highertargetsareestablished.Yester- daythe Minister forImmigration (Mr. Calwell) informedthe House that he had madean urgent request that1,000 bricklayersbe sent from GreatBritain to this country to assist intheconstruction of houses andof factories required forthe production of builders' requisites..Right throughout thebuilding and allied trades,and in industry generally, there is a shortage of materialsofallkinds which has been brought about largely by industrial disturbances.

Production of food in Australia is hampered because there are insufficient supplies of agricultural implements and spare parts, barbed wire, wire-netting, cartridges for the eradication of pests, and the host of other things which primary producers require to enable them to work their properties. In a most interesting article, published intheSydney Morning Herald of the18th June, the writer pointedoutthat the president of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, Mr. Roberton,who had made a tour ofthe major agricultural areasofthatState,indicated that everywhere : he went he found shortages of skilled labourand mechanical equipment required for agriculturalproduction. He saidthatduring his tour hehad seen thousandsofmiles of broken-down fences, hundredsof homes and outbuildings in disrepair, machinerylying idle because ofthe lackof spare parts., and vehicles unusable becausetherewere no tyres for them.themostdesperatepositionexisted as theresult ofthe shortageoftractors. Arepresentative of the Sydney Morning Herald interviewedwholesale merchants andsuppliers in Sydneyandreported as follows: -

FencingWire. -Manyoutstanding orders. Demand increased by flood andfire damage. Situation aggravated by big strikes last year.

Galvanized Iron. - Only available for repair jobs. ShortagecratedduringthewarserioutslyaggravatedbystrikeatLysaghts,New castle,thisyear.

SteelFencing Posts. -Lack of adequateman- power among manufacturers making it impossible to overcome the position.

BoreGasing Piping, Tanks. - Lag notbeing overtaken becauseof industrialStoppages and shortage of man-power.

Industrial stoppages and the shortage of man-power are also causing an acute shortageoftimber.

A similar stateofaffairsexists in the clothing trade. In aletter dated the 6th June, 1946, the . secreta.ry of the Merchant Tailors Association of New South Wales stated -

We wish to express our appreciation of the assistancegiven by you to our president and vice-president, Messrs. M. Craig and A. Cleary, as a deputation to the Honorable J. J. Dedman and the Honorable SenatorW.P. Ashley in March last, relating to tbe shortage of materials.

This deputation was arranged by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan). The representatives of the merchant tailors stressed the desperate position of ex-servicemen and the general publicbecause of their inability to obtain suiting material. The letter continued -

The position since that time has become progressively worse, and now the shortage of materials is move acute than ever.

Some time ago I obtained some interesting figures from woollentextile manufacturersshowing the tremendous shortages qf raw materials that existed in that industry. The British White Paper on Food Supplies, which was issued in April, 1946, shows acute world shortages of cereals,meat and fats ; yet many farmers in the Commonwealth are unable to produce milk for the production of butter and fats because they are unable to obtain sufficient agricultural implements and fencing wire, or building materials for the construction of houses and outbuildings on properties that have been subdivided. On the Trevallyn estate in my electorate, which had been used for cattle fattening up to the beginning of this year, the . farmers cannot get wire to fence in their properties or building materials to enable them to erect houses, yet that land is capable of producing milk and fats in large volume. The British White Paper on Food Supplies states -

World exports of fats for 1946 represent only 50 per cent, of the pre-war figure. World supplies of meat may be expected to continue short of world requirements for some time.

Yet the Government is doing nothing whatever to attempt to overcome shortages in this country by settling industrial disputes which are causing such havoc to Australian economy and production to-day.

The same position exists in respect of railway transport to-day in New South Wales, and I assume in other States where drought conditions exist. It is impossible to move store stock ' from drought-stricken areas because of the shortage of railway transport. Recently the whole of the inwards traffic to country districts in New South Wales was disrupted because of coal shortages and the lack of sufficient rolling.-stock. We are short of steel because of coal shortages; we are short of the products of steel because of man-power shortages; yet at this very time the Minister for Transport brings down proposals to standardize the Australian railway gauges. All of this bears out what I said earlier, namely, that any energetic person with a few followers behind him in the Government ranks, whether they be Communists or men of the type of the Minister for Transport, who is able to bring pressure on Ministers, finds the Government only too willing to bend to that pressure if it believes that failure to do so might reduce its chances of success in the coming elections. The honorable member for Fremantle has said that we are reaching a state of full employment in Australia to-day. Yet this country is desperately short of most of the things needed for the comfort of its people and the preservation of its economy. Let us consider the position of the coal industry. The figures published in this morning's press show that the number of men employed in the coalmining industry in New South Wales in 1945 was 17,427, or more than 1,000 greater than the number employed in 1939, and that the production of coal in that State amounted to 10,237,000 tons. In his report on the coal-mining industry, Mr. Justice Davidson estimated the capacity for coal mines in New South Wales working on1 a single' shift basis at 12,750,000 tons. He also said that that figure could be lifted a good deal if there were more discipline in the industry and better output from the miners. I was astonished at the reply given by the Prime Minister yesterday with regard to the development of open-cut mines in New South Wales. The right honorable gentleman said that open-cut mining is capable of only limited production, and that there is a shortage of mechanical equipment for work of that type. He stated that ray suggestion that double shifts be worked on all open-cut minus in New South Wales had never been thought of. It is very curious that Mr. Justice Davidson saw the position in an entirely different light. He said that consideration must be given to the quantum of open-cut mining in New South Wales because it might interfere with the ordinary shaft and tunnel mining being carried on in that State; it might interfere with the miners employed in that class of work, because open-cut mining is done by men who are not miners. Mr. Justice Davidson does not think there is a shortage of seams that could be worked. Any one who knows the coal-bearing country, particularly the Hunter and Gloucester areas, has seen seams that appear capable of development. They may not be like the Greta seam, or the best- seams, but it is better to develop them than not to work any fresh seams at all. The Prime Minister claimed that there was a shortage of machinery to enable this to be done. Some time ago I inspected the open-cut operations at Muswellbrook.

There, the overburden was being shifted by three 80-horse-power Holt caterpillar tractors, which were pulling the Le Tournepull earth movers of a capacity of 5 tons. After filling, these earth movers operated under their own power. A steam shovel which had. been brought from the Kiama quarry was used in lifting the coal; and about twenty men were employed in transporting the coal to the railway siding by lorry. I was informed that there were about 34 men employed on. the whole undertaking, which at that time had an output of 1,000 tons a day. Further, there is nothing to prevent those operations from being flood-lit with electricity as has been done in the Tingha tin-field area where the dredges work double shifts. The present capacity of the works at Muswellbrook is about 1,600 tons a day, which could be doubled if the operations were flood-lit. In view of the present acute shortage of coal it is extraordinary that the Government has decided to proceed with work on the standardization of railway gauges. Excluding conversions which will be necessary in respect of the Queensland and Western Australian railway systems, recommendations Nos. 3 and 4 made by Sir Harold Clapp in his report are to be proceeded with at an estimated expenditure of £35,976,000. These items are the conversion to standard guage of the entire South Australian 5-ft. 3-in. guage and the 3-ft. 6-in. guage line of the South-East Division, which it is estimated will take six and one-quarter years, and the conversion to standard guage of the .entire Victorian 5-ft. 3-in. guage system which will take seven years. Late in his reports, Sir Harold says -

Speaking generally, the plan of standardization falls within two periods, firstly the initial or preparatory period (estimated, at four years in the case of Victoria) during which all preparatory works are undertaken, including the construction of new lines, workshops, locomotive and other depots, goods and live stock transfer yards, new rolling stock and locomotives, conversion of portion of the existing rolling stock, assembling of materials and equipment, strengthening lines, and preparing trucks and structures for actual conversion;

Al! that work, which is to be proceeded with during the first four years,- will re quire additional carpenters, tradesmen and labourers, and . place extra- strain on . our timber resources at a time when thousands of our citizens are denied the right of getting into a home because of the shortage of building materials. The standardization of railway gauges will also require more coal .. for the smelting of iron ore and the production of steel as well as bricks for the construction of -railway stations. These demands will place an enormous additional strain upon the man-power resources of the country. All this is to be done at a time when the world is calling cut for food supplies from Australia. The White Paper issued by 'the British Government has stressed the gravity of the world food shortage. It emphasizes the seriousness of the problem in India whose population is increasing at the rate of 5,000,000 a year. That means that 40,000,000 have been added to India's population since 1938. All these problems involve increased demands . for food from the . Commonwealth which experiences from time to time very serious droughts, and must, therefore, undertake urgent extensive irrigation projects in addition to the construction of houses and the provision of other essentials for our people. Al] of these requirements are to be made subservient to the Government's project for the standardization of railway gauges which could very well be spread over a period of 60 years. No hardship would be caused if that plan were delayed, and for a few years longer travellers must continue to change trains at Albury. That hardship is incomparable with the hardship which they will be obliged to suffer through shortage of houses. Yet, the Government has decided to proceed with this plan in order to appease the vanity of the Minister for Transport and enable him to build up his ministry and his political stature, even should this mean denying homes. to thousands of our people and essential irrigation schemes to our primary producers.

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