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Thursday, 7 November 1946

Mr BERNARD CORSER (WIDE BAY, QUEENSLAND) - It is not a full report. From what I can .gather from references made to the Bretton Woods Agreement in the United Kingdom Parliament and the Senate of the United .States of America, there are many angles of this matter which should he of great interest to Australia. Among them is the subject of Empire preference.

Mr Lemmon - That matter has not been considered.

Mr BERNARD CORSER - The United Kingdom Government has stated that it does not intend to give away anything in the matter of Empire preference unless it receives an equivalent return. The people of Australia are entitled to know how this agreement affects them.

I agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Barker concerning the paragraph relating to the protection of Austraiian interests in Siam which states that an Australian consulate-general to that country has been appointed. That reads very well. It is pleasing to learn of the Government's desire to protect Australia's interests in that country ; but we recall that only a few weeks ago it exhibited no desire to protect Australia's trade interests in the Netherlands East, Indies. As the result of its failure in that respect an immediate market was lost for £5,000,000 of Australian products which had been loaded on ships which were not permitted to leave these shores because Communist extremists on the wharfs dictated the foreign policy of this country. On that occasion, the Government took no action to protect the nation's interests or that of a friendly nation. All that the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) could say was that he would not provoke a general hold-up of shipping by insisting that the Government should govern this country and determine its foreign policy. Had the Government realized its responsibility it would not have lost to Australia the opportunity presented to us on that occasion to establish a valuable market f or our exports in the Netherlands East Indies where our prospects appeared to be almost unlimited. The extremists on the waterfront tied up shipping to such a degree that to-day vessels which should be bringing to Australia more tea, petrol, rubber and other commodities now in short supply in this country, are now diverted elsewhere whilst, at the same time, Australia has lost thousands of pounds worth of trade. We have sustained this injury because the Government, despite its weight of numbers in the Parliament, has been afraid to govern. Vet it has an agreement with Siam and has established a Consulate-General.

The Governor-General's Speech also indicates the Government's proposal to appoint a defence commission to carry out responsible duties. The proposed commission will embrace the Departments of Supply and Shipping, Munitions, and. Aircraft Production and the secondary industries division of the Department of Post-war Reconstruction. In view of the present large number of Ministers one would imagine that all of them would be only too pleased to retain their present duties, and that the last thing the Government would want to do would be to set up a commission of this kind. For what reason should th, limited duties of the Minister for Munitions (Senator Armstrong) for instance, be reduced? I regret the Government's intention to set up this commission. However, the proposal is made a feature of the Governor-General's Speech.

It is very pleasing to note that the Government has at last, after wrangling for many years with Great Britain on the subject, concluded an agreement for the abolition of double income tax. The result will be to encourage the investment of British capital in industries in this country, because the income from such investments will no longer be subject to double tax. That ret 01'm is of first concern to British investors; but no proposal is made in the GovernorGeneral's Speech to abolish double direct and indirect taxation now paid by our own people. No further indication has been given that the meagre reduction of income tax which was promised to the people during the election campaign will be increased, even though since that promise was made the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) has shown clearly how further relief can be given to our taxpayers. I hope that the Treasurer in his budget will deal with that subject as a matter of first concern to the people.

The Government has also announced certain plans with respect to the development of aviation. We are told in the Speech made by His Royal Highness that it is continuing to take all possible steps to ensure that adequate services are conducted with the highest degree of efficiency and safety. Such provision is essential. However, I urge the Government to co-opt the services of local authorities in the provision of aerodromes in country districts. To-day, Commonwealth authorities merely inspect sites proposed as aerodromes and, after reporting thereon, simply gives free advice with respect to the establishment of aerodromes. In questions which I have asked in this chamber and by letter, I have urged the Prime Minister to give consideration to this matter when reviewing the Federal Aid Roads Agreement. I have suggested that portion of the revenue from the petrol tax which, incidentally, must be reduced, should be allocated for this purpose; and that it should be made obligatory upon the States to provide a proportion of the money required for the construction and maintenance of local aerodromes which are essential to provide transport, not only for citizens, but also for perishable primary products, not only within Australia, hut also to islands to the north and also to South-East Asia and other countries. Adequate facilities for the transport of such commodities by air must be provided. This will involve the provision of services by small aircraft to feed larger aircraft at suitable points for the rapid distribution of foodstuffs throughout the Commonwealth and to ad jacent countries. I again urge the Government to realize the importance of this matter and make liberal financial provision for its adoption when it is reviewing the Federal Aid Roads Agreement. Under the original agreement the Commonwealth must approve road works proposed by the States. I do not ask the Government to revert to that provision, but that in the new agreement the States shall provide a specified amount for aerodromes and foi- roads, also wharfs and boat harbours for fishermen engaged in fishing and for the tourist traffic.

The Governor-General's Speech also announces the Government's intention to explore the possibility of further collaboration with the States in the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis. The spread of this disease is a major problem at present. The Army authorities have shown how it can be successfully treated. This can be done only by joint effort on the part of the Commonwealth and the States. In this matter we would be well advised to follow the example set by Sweden, where this disease once had a greater hold than in any other country. To-day, tuberculosis is gradually disappearing in Sweden. Should the present rate of progress be maintained, it is estimated that, by 1960, tuberculosis will be arrested in Sweden as a fatal disease. I urge the Government to give immediate attention to this problem.

HisRoyal Highness also stated that an agreement is being made with the States which will accelerate the construction of houses to offset the shortage which was intensified under war conditions. The Government's recognition of this problem is rather late. If it is really anxious to insist that the States provide homes for all sections of the community, it must prevent industrial unrest in order to maintain the distribution of building materials. The necessary materials are available in the southern States, but transport is impossible owing to strikes. The press stated to-day that relief from the petrol tax and from petrol rationing is not possible at the present time because so much use is being made of petroldriven vehicles for the transport of commodities. The more extensive use of that form of transport is due to railway strikes and shipping hold-ups. Because of these industrial upheavals the people have to suffer petrol rationing for a longer period than would otherwise be necessary. It is gratifying to learn that £200,000,000 is to be expended on national works ; but I am somewhat perturbed when I learn the nature of the works on which the money is to be expended. We have been informed by the Speech of His Royal Highness that certain of the States have joined with the Commonwealth Government in an agreement to effect the standardization of our railway gauges. Authority to proceed with this work was given by a bill which was forced through late at night in the dying days of the last Parliament. If anything is likely to impair the future of Australia it is the lack of water and power. If the Government intends to embark on the large expenditure mentioned, and to. provide £50,00.0;000 or £60,000,00.0, immediately for the standardization, of: railway gauges, it should devote the money to the provision of water supplies, wherethey are urgently needed. On one occasion when. I moved the adjournment of the House, I urged the appointment of an authority to visit all the States- and to present to the Parliaments- of the Commonwealth and the .States a report outlining the possibilities of providing water and hydro-electric power along Australia's coastline as well as inland, for the benefit of men on the land to-day, and for future primary producers so asto ensure the development of secondary industries away from the capital cities. Where minerals and metals may be produced, secondary industries should be established and be provided with the necessary power. The expenditure of a few million pounds would make this possible. Water and more water is our immediate need. This "liquid gold." is our first essential. That is probablythe most important issue that is facing Australia to-day. Because of droughts a great deal of suffering is caused and much loss is sustained. One would imagine that the Government would follow the lead given by the honorable member foi" Robertson. (Mr. Williams), who has just resumed his seat. He has stressed the necessity for embarking on schemes for the provision, of water and has told us of a water scheme to which the Premier of New South Wales intends to give effect, at a cost of £30,000,000 spread over a period of twenty years. If the Commonwealth were to devote a portion of the proposed expenditure of £200,000,000 on national works to the provision of financial assistance, for instance to New South Wales-, the scheme which that State has in view and which affects every watercourse of any value from the coast to the west could be completed in much less than twenty years. Experts should be brought from the United States of America to this country to investigate and. report upon water and hydro-electric possibilities" to which the proposed, expenditure of £200,000,000 could most usefully be devoted, thus ensuring a certainty of success to men who are on the land and obviating- the losses and priva- ti ons from which they suffer periodically- because of droughts; On account of the present absence of security, or financial! reward the children of many, of those who are on- the land todayare driven to the cities as soon as they reach the age of reason, and1 are forever lost to the land. If security be assured our latent wealth will be developed and employment, will! be guaranteed.. It is well known that droughts have caused this country to lose £100,000,000 in one year and have placed: in a desperate plight those, who have been affected by them. Consequently, 1 hope that the Government will review its determination; to proceed speedily with: the standardization of our railway gauges, in- order that there may not be a break of gauge during the next war. The first bomb that was dropped on a railway line would have the effect of. disorganizing traffic even under a standardized system. The Queensland railways are not a paying proposition to-day. Is it intended that indebtedness amounting to £45,000,000 is to be wiped off by rendering useless every engine, sleeper, tunnel and bridge, so that these may be replaced, by others at a. cost of £70,000,000? Can it be expected that the system will be able to operate economically and that the produce of the land will be transported on a payable basis? It is to be hoped that wiser counsels will prevail and that the Government will discard its present proposal, which had its genesis in the desire to provide work for pick and shovel men and for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which will supply most of the iron that will be needed for twenty or thirty years. It should give security to the people by providing them with more water and electric power, and thus enable the country to be developed along proper lines to provide security for those on the land to-day, and those to come, and to assure development by increased population and, as a result, general wealth. That is our greatest need. I have mentioned New South Wales. I can cite also Victoria, the smallest and wealthiest State, with- the greatest return per acre from its land as well as the most generous pro-vision of water. In Queensland, the Government of the State- has in view a program nin involving an expenditure of £640;000 or possibly £660,000, for the provision of water to those areas which are suffering by reason of the lack of >it. It does not touch the problem. Most of the towns with a population of a few thousand should be provided with water. The Minister for Post-war "Reconstruction .(Mt. Dedman) has said that this is a function not of the Commonwealth but of the States. My reply to bian is that railway construction is a matter for the States, yet the Common.wealth Government has appointed an authority to deal with it. An estimate has been made of the total cost of standardization in each State and of the need for constructing additional as well as .stronger bridges and heavier rails. A report has been made to the States and the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth has agreed to bear the larger portion of the expenditure. What has been done in connexion with the standardization of railway gauges could be done in regard to water schemes. The Minister to whom I have referred knows that, whilst the proposal of the Government is that the railway gauge in Victoria shall be reduced, Russia is adopting a 6-ft. gauge in order to provide faster trains and a greater opportunity for the expansion of production.

I regret that, as a result of the last elections, the number of Opposition members in the Senate will be depleted after the 30th June next. I hope that a constitution convention will be held in the not distant future and that it will decide either on the abolition of the Senate or on means whereby it may be made a useful chamber. If the number of members of the House of Representatives is, under the existing Constitution, to be increased by 100, provision will have to be made for the election of 24 more senators. The position in the Senate to-day is a repetition in reverse of the state of affairs that existed in that chamber ten years ago. It is in this chamber that most of the Government's legislation is introduced, and it is through members of this chamber that the Government is most directly responsible to the electors of this country. The Senate has lost its value. It might be possible, by constitutional reform, to increase the number of members of the House of Representatives with out increasing the membership of the Senate. I am only repeating now the protest that I made years ago when the position in the Senate was the reverse of what :it is to-day, and there were only three Labour members. Incidentally, they, too, were from Queensland. Even if the Senate were to function as a house of review as originally intended I should still doubt its value. A government formed as the result of the expression of the will of the people should be assured of the right to govern in this House. I conclude by stressing again the need for a .constitution convention to draft proposals which would ensure that members of the Senate would be enabled to perform their duties in the interests -of the States which they represent and the Commonwealth as a whole, free from party political bias. If this cannot be provided, the Senate should be abolished.

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