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Wednesday, 3 October 1956

Mr IAN ALLAN (Gwydir) .- If do not think there is any doubt at all that the powers relating to communications should be re-allocated between the Commonwealth' and the States. The greatest change that has taken place in the Commonwealth since the Constitution was drawn up 56 years ago has been in the communications field. The horizon has been brought closer, owing to the speeding up of communications generally - road, rail and signal communications.. For that reason, this Government has set up a committee to investigate the Constitution in the light of our needs in the present day. I hope that that committee will soon produce some useful results. I hope that it will do much to overcome some of the problems that are being encountered at the present time through the operation of the Constitution, particularly in the transport field. I say that with some feeling because my electorate happens to be a long way from the capital city of my State and we suffer from very poor communications indeed.

Since it was formed a short time ago the new Department of Trade has done some outstanding work in developing our export markets in nearby countries and in faraway European countries. However, I urge the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen> not to confine his efforts to the immediate problems of our export and import requirements, but to look at the long-term trend. I can see a very dangerous situation developing as the Communist countries expand' their industries at a very fast rate - so fast, indeed, that they will be able to compete with the western democracies in world markets in a very few years. That processhas already begun. We can see the effects of Russian trade missions in various countries at the present time. Buying and selling prices mean nothing to a totalitarian country. They are a mere bagatelle. If Russia, and its satellite countries decided to disrupt the pattern of trade between the Western democracies they could do so very easily. Indeed, they could play ducks and drakes with trade between the Western countries. I believe that in the long run we should take steps to counter such action.

Communist action will have very little effect in the United States of America, which is practically self-sufficient, but it could have vital effects upon the smaller democracies and the European countries. Some European nations already are alive to this danger. The six nations of the Messina group - France, Italy, West Germany, and the Benelux countries - are meeting to discuss the formation of a free trade zone in western Europe. I believe that the United Kingdom Cabinet is considering the advisability of Britain joining the group, and I hope that the Australian Government will give Britain every encouragement to do so, because a powerful market in Europe could be of inestimable benefit to Australia. England has traditionally been our largest market, and I believe that the formation of a solid bloc of manufacturing countries such as those which comprise the Messina group would be of great benefit, and would complement our economy very substantially and make the European countries concerned, as well as Australia and the other Commonwealth countries stronger and more stable. We must encourage this movement if possible and also take part in a re-grouping of the countries so that we, too, perhaps, could join a similar union, lt is proposed by the countries that V have mentioned to reduce all restrictions on trade, such as tariffs, to a stage at which there will be free trade between them. This is to be done progressively over a period of fifteen years so that no disruption will be caused. I believe that the Minister for Trade at the very least should have an observer from the Department of Trade at the meetings which are taking place in Europe at the present time.

I turn now to the Estimates for the Department of Social Services. The pattern of social services is now well-established in Australia. It covers a very wide field, including age and invalid pensions, allowances to the wives and children of invalid pensioners, funeral benefit, widows' pensions, maternity allowance, child endowment, unemployment and sickness benefits, rehabilitation services, and subsidies paid under the Aged Persons Homes Act. That is a very comprehensive list of social services benefits, and I believe that no major change in the present scheme is needed. There are certainly some rough edges to be smoothed off and some anomalies to be corrected, but I should like to see the present pattern maintained for a number of years. It would be quite wrong to expand social services to any great degree, because the additional burden would be too heavy for the bread-winners to bear. Any substantial expansion of our social services would mean greatly increased taxation for wage and salary earners. As I stated recently during the budget debate, I believe the Government should take steps to permit those who wish to save for their old age to enjoy the full benefit of their savings. lt should initiate a savings drive so that those who are thrifty and prudent may be able to augment their own personal savings by the age pension.

The report of the Director-General of Social Services reflects great credit on the administration of a great department. Very few departments have such a fine record,. The Department of Social Services is very large - 1 understand that it employs 2,300 people - and does a very satisfactory and thorough job throughout Australia. Here are some statistics which impressed me: Since 1950 expenditure on administration, expressed as a percentage of the benefits paid, has increased by only .03 per cent., although costs generally throughout the community have increased substantially in the same period. This means that for almost the whole time during which the present Government has been in office the department has not merely maintained its efficiency, but obviously has substantially improved it, because it is transacting far more business than six years ago. The total expenditure on age and invalid pensions has more than doubled. It has increased from £41,000,000 to £101,000,000. Expenditure on widows' pensions has almost doubled. Expenditure on child endowment has increased from £24,000,000 to £60,000,000 since 1950, although, as I have said, expenditure on administration, expressed as a percentage of the benefits paid, has increased by only .03 per cent. That is a very fine record. As it shows, and as honorable members know from their daily contacts with departmental officers in their representations on pension matters, it is clear that all officers of the department discharge their functions in the best traditions of the Public Service. I believe that the pensions scheme is administered wisely and with a great deal of sympathy.

Finally, 1 wish to deal with the estimate for the Department of Territories. Here again, as in the case of the Department of Trade, a long view is necessary to determine what is the goal for our Territories. This evening, the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) spoke about discharging our national responsibilities. That is too vague an expression, and we should have a more definite goal. We must have some yardstick to judge whether we are spending too much or too little in the Territories. As any one who has visited the Territories knows, a great deal of money is being spent in ministering to the needs of the indigenous population - the natives - and it is possible to spend extravagantly. I do not know whether that is being done at the present time, and I will not venture an opinion. Unless a proper inquiry is made to ascertain exactly where the treatment of the natives is leading, it is hard to express an opinion as to the value received in return for the large sums spent on their welfare.

An examination of the economic side shows that the Government is spending a great deal of money in Papua, but is receiving very little practical benefit as a result. The report for Papua for the year 1953-54 - which is the latest I have - shows that the value of copra exported to the United Kingdom was £148,199, of curios to the United States of America, £19, of films to the United States of America, £57, of hides and skins to the United States of America, £2,139, and of trochus shell to the United Kingdom, £228 and to Japan, £3,029. That is the sum total of the primary exports overseas from Papua, but Australia has spent many millions of pounds to assist that country.

In the long run. we cannot expect that exports of primary products from Papua will be increased very much, because the native population is increasing rapidly, and it is not possible to alienate much land for development by white settlers. Consequently, the picture, on the economic side, is not very cheerful. The annual expenditure in Papua has been something a little below £9,000,000.

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