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Wednesday, 26 June 1946


Dr GAHA (Denison) .- I draw attention to some of the immediate postwar problems that seem to confront the people. "We have reached a stage in our social evolution when we must give consideration to problems that are of greater magnitude than those which confronted us at any other period in our history. I refer first to migration. On many occasions I have debated in this Parliament the problem of population, mostly in relation to the protection, development and good government of this country. Perhaps the repetition - of some figures I have previously given, showing the background of the problem, may be helpful to our understanding of it. As all features of the national structure are interdependent, and perhaps of equal interest in the social set-up, the problem of population has some relation to an adequate migration policy. I know that the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) has devoted a good deal of time to the problem, with a. view to repairing some of our social deficiencies, and I congratulate him on the part that he has played. I believe that quite recently the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) returned from abroad with some suggestions that will prove helpful to an expansive migration, policy. It is well to remind the Australian people that this is not the first occasion on which we have considered the problem. As early as the 'fifties of last century, and subsequently at regular intervals, groups of people came to Australia, settled themselves in agriculture and production generally, assumed the characteristics of Australians, and ultimately played a full part in the social development of this country, indistinguishable from the part played by any one else. Such a time has again arrived. I have already told the House that in 1890 the average Australian family was about 6.2. To-day, it is about 2. We cannot maintain our population, and particularly our social services, with a family group of 2. All of our statistical trends go to show that in each year more and more people are moving into the old-age groups, and in consequence are imposing a greater burden on the rest of the community. The figures are really astounding. Our migration policy is related to that problem; because, if the tendency be to have great shifts of population more and more into the old-age group, and less and less into the producer groups between the ages of 20 and 60 years, the burden upon the producer groups will become beyond their capacity. I believe that to be the stage which we are fast approaching in our social economy. If we cannot spread the burden over more and more people, the point will be reached at which it will become intolerable for the age groups which are producing to bear the extra burden of social taxation. It is of no use to try to run away from the problem. Social services have come to stay, and we have to make the best possible use of them. My friend the Minister for Immigration will do a good job towards strengthening the taxable capacity of this country if he can bring into it from Europe a considerable number of young people in the producer group -who will share the burden of increasing social services, in respect of which, even if we are in advance of the rest of the world at the present time, the rest of the world must of necessity catch up with us.

There is another point that we have reached in our social evolution. Under our present economy; the basic wage is totally inadequate to meet the situation. Nothing that we can do in a capitalist economy can make the basic wage sufficient to meet the ever-increasing needs of our people. Let us view the problem in perspective. On the one hand, we have concentrated on vastly improving our educational facilities. Education-, means greater appreciation, and, in consequence, greater needs. On the other hand, we have relied on the method which has been used for the last 35 years, of assessing the basic wage on almost fixed entities. The time has arrived when the basic wage is totally inadequate to meet the situation. An economic and financial senilis has said, " "We shall meet the situation by assisting the man with a family". That, indeed, is a very worthy object. But what has been done? The man responsible for the payment of the ever-recurring taxes has been further taxed in order that child endowment may be paid, and prices have not been pegged, with the result that the lag was overtaken in a very short space of time. The cost of living has increased and in consequence the benefits of child endowment have been depreciated in an equal degree. I cannot see how that peculiar set-up can be changed under a capitalist economy.


Mr HoLT -The honorable member knows that the basic wage has been adjusted by more than 20 per cent, in that period.


Dr GAHA - It has been doubled. But the cost of living has risen by at least 150 per cent.


Mr Holt - The Government which the honorable member supports claims that it has risen by only 20 per cent.


Dr GAHA - I shall not fall for that cheap talk. Honorable members opposite, and those whom they represent, are the cause of all the trouble in this country, because they have tiny minds. Their views are governed entirely at all times by their tiny political outlook. I am surprised that the honorable member should talk like that. He is a classic example of the utter failure of higher education. He has not the most elementary appreciation of the social changes that are taking place before his eyes. Although realization of it does not penetrate the thick heads of honorable members opposite, the responsibility for devoting attention to the problem of social economy is as much theirs as it is ours. I have stated that the basic wage is entirely inadequate. It would still be inadequate if to it were added the whole of the 100 per cent, profit which industry is making to-day; because, in consequence of higher education and greater needs, it, is impossible, with the production set-up that we now have - and some production was outmoded long since - to provide sufficient to meet adequately the requirements of the workers. Let us consider the problem statistically. In 1890, when the basic wage was about £2 2s. a week, the average Australian family was 6.2. In 1940, when, the basic wage had been more than doubled, the average Australian family was about two. I challenge any honorable member on either side of the House to prove that a man can raise 6.2 children, with their modern demands, on the basic wage of to-day. If that is not possible, the basic wage has depreciated vastly. The majority of people - including, I regret to say, many honorable members on this side of the House - confuse the basic wage with better living conditions. "We have to devote our attention to means whereby we can increase the effectiveness of the basic wage. Some radical changes are overdue. We have just listened to a speech by a . conservative member who sits opposite. For half of his time he devoted himself to giving reasons for the imposition of- more and more controls on the economy of this country. Before long, he will " bash " the Government, on the ground- that it is interfering with legitimate avenues of commerce. On the one hand, we hear every reason why controls should be imposed, and on the other hand every reason why they should be removed. Honorable members opposite argue according to the effect on them personally, or on their constituency, or on some activity with which their party is associated. I return to my original submission - that the time has arrived when a deteriorating capitalist economy must be reviewed in the light of modern events if we are to save anything or confer any benefits on the people whom we are sent here to represent. 1 say emphatically that the basic wage is the least which our economy can provide for our people. The present burden is beyond the capacity of seven million people. This country can carry many more people; yet, because of some extraordinary happening - I am not going to charge any responsible authority with it - the required population is not coming in. Let us consider the events of the last five or six years, and view the matter in perspective. A few years ago - 25 years, I suppose, or a little more - we described the Japanese as " a grand little fighter". He was then fighting on our side. Long before that, our fathers had warned us of the "yellow peril". We markedly degenerated sons did not realize the force of their argument until 1941 or 1942, when the Japanese struck at us. We have completely removed' the Japanese menace. But closely adjacent to our northern frontier there are 100,00.0,000 people, and behind them 1,000,000,000 people who, in the years to come, will be able to move in no way other than southward. We have to view the position in this country in a realistic way, and not spend all our time in developing it where it does not need much development.' I understand that the Government is contemplating an expenditure of £60,000,000 a year on the defence of Australia. That' is a very laudable proposal indeed. But I suggest that during the next few years it might be a very good thing, whether I am here or not - and I should imagine that some of my friends opposite will pray that I shall not be here - were the Government to halve that expenditure on defence and spend' £30,000,000 on developing the Northern Territory and in providing for it good services of one kind and another. The Government should concentrate on developing a migration policy. It should spread the burden of our economy over many more new, young and productive people, and also fill our empty spaces, which otherwise may one day become a considerable danger to the security of this country. I say that advisedly. I hope that the day will come very soon when we shall consider seriously all these problems.

As this will be the last occasion on which we will have the opportunity to speak on Supply before the election, I wish to say a few words on housing. Somebody, standing in this chamber in the next 20 years, will talk about the "great hysterical age " in Australia. About 25 years ago the Chief Health Officer of the city of Hobart condemned about 500 houses. From the point of view of the working man there has always been a housing problem in this country. From time to time people are carried away on waves of hysteria. At present there is hysteria on the subject of housing. In saying that, I do not -wish to be understood as saying that there is no necessity for a bousing scheme. The need for houses, especially homes for workers, is urgent. That has always been so. We are living in an atomic age in which forces previously undreamed of by man are being harnessed. What are we doing about it? All our thoughts seem to be reeking with politics. We are so occupied with political considerations that we have not the time to give .to real problems the attention that they deserve. Nearly half of the total population of this continent is congregated in the two cities of Melbourne and Sydney. Each of those cities would have been large enough with a population of 750,000. We have never been big enough to approach our housing problems properly. In the two cities mentioned there are approximately 2,750,000 people. Each of those cities should have been limited to a population of 1,000,000; the balance should have been diverted to seven other cities each with a population of 100,000. We should spread our population by developing new industrial areas in country districts. By so doing we would not only decentralize our industries and population; we should also add to our security as a nation. But let any honorable member go back to his electorate and advocate that, instead of expanding our cities we should develop our country districts, and he would not long be a member of this Parliament. Nevertheless, an increase of the population of our rural areas is essential to our security from a defence point of view and also for economic stability. We know these things, but we are not doing anything about them. Twenty years hence probably some one will say that in 1946 there was a great housing fiasco in this country. The present set-up is unreal ; we are carried away on waves of hysteria. I repeat that houses in great numbers are urgently necessary, but we must also consider where they shall be built.

I shall pass on to deal with another aspect of our social and economic life. Our fathers planned the Commonwealth in the arduous times between the late eighties and the beginning of this century. At that time there were no sWift means of communication such as we have to-day, but the men of that day were " big " men, and they decided that there should be a federation. Examples have been placed before us to prove how out-moded our Constitution is. Many honorable members opposite do not know where the functions of the States-and the Commonwealth respectively begin and end. They do not want to know these things. The States are constantly attempting to " pass the buck " of the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth is trying to " pass the buck " to the States. A review of the Constitution is long overdue. In the Parliamentary Library recently, I came across a bill, prepared in 1910, for the establishment of provincial parliaments. Such a measure is far too modern for members of this House to-day. A review of the Constitution from time to time has always been the policy of the Labour party; it should be the policy of all parties. The relations of the Commonwealth and the States ought to be reviewed immediately, and further examined from time to time. When the present Government is returned at the next elections I hope that one of its. first acts will be to set in motion machinery to determine the lines of demarkation between the provinces of the two authorities, so that once and for all the .battle between the States and between them and the Commonwealth will come to an end.


Mr Blain - Is the honorable member a regionalist?


Dr GAHA - In some degree I am. 1 believe that there should be a proper determination of the authorities to be exercised by the Commonwealth, the States, and the municipalities respectively. The functions of each should be embodied in the Constitution. I am not, at all convinced that all government should be centralized in Canberra. I agree with the person who said that Canberra is a good sheep station spoilt.


Mr Holt - How did the honorable member vote at the last referendum?


Dr GAHA - I voted for the proposals, but the honorable member for Fawkner would not have sufficient understanding to do that. As I have said, the time is overdue for a review of the Constitution.. In my opinion, this is not a matter to-be decided between the States and the Commonwealth, or by politicians; it should be undertaken by an independent body . of capable Australians. Such a body should be better able to view matters in their proper perspective, and then to bring definite proposals before those whose duty it would be to make the final decision. I suggest that among the things which should be clearly set out would be the number of States and their functions, the number of representatives in the central Parliament, and the functions of municipalities.


Mr Holt - That is included in the policy of the Liberal party.


Dr GAHA - That has been a plank of the Labour platform for 40 years. The Liberal party is 140 years behind the times. Although little is likely to be done in regard to this matter until after the referendum, I hope that the Government will not overlook it. I suggest that when the people are consulted on the several matters that we have agreed shall be submitted to them, they, should also be asked to express their views regarding Canberra. In my opinion, Canberra does not represent anything that is truly Australian. I hope that the press will publish that remark under prominent headlines. The ' greatest political tragedy that ever happened in this country was when the Parliament was transferred to Canberra from Melbourne. I'n saying that, I am not pitting State against State, or city against city; but 1 believe that in a democratic country the Parliament should be situated where it can feel the pulse of public opinion. F sometimes wonder why the Government does not convey members to this place in cattle-trucks, although when I reflect on the means adopted to convey, honorable members to and from Parliament House [ am tempted to believe that it has done the next worst thing. I suppose that we should be thankful for- even small mercies. The time is not far distant when a man who wishes to -be elected to Parliament will have to walk around in a stooping position with his head bent, and his posterior protruding, so that when asked what it all means he will be able to say, " I want you to kick me to make it plain that I am your slave ". Members of Parliament are worth only the price that they set upon themselves. Our acceptance of Canberra as the seat of government is a clear indication of the value that we set upon ourselves and on our contribution to the welfare of Australia. I shall riot be a slave of any one. I repeat that the people should be asked what should be done with Canberra. The Government proposes to set aside money to be expended in Canberra in various fields of research. It has in mind, also, the establishment of a national university here. Existing buildings and others which may be erected, could, with advantage, be handed over to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Parliament should be removed to some place where members could feel the pulse of Australian public opinion. I do not propose to indicate 'where that place should be. I know, something of the history of Canberra, and I know that this place was chosen as the seat of government only after New South Wales had decided against federation. A bad compromise was arrived at. The decision to establish a capital away from the centres of population wa3 a great mistake; it was a dream' of mad nien.


Mr Lemmon - Does the honorable member suggest that Canberra should be a testing ground for atomic research ?


Dr GAHA - There is not much hereto be blown to pieces. In my opinion, the most vital problem confronting Australia is the formation of an intelligent and complete immigration policy. There should be no delay in coming to a decision in this matter, and in making adequate money available for the development of the continent. Those in charge of our immigration policy should concentrate on bringing to Australia people who will assist to develop this country and its industries, so that Australia will become a strong nation.







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