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Thursday, 21 March 1957

Mr FAIRHALL (Paterson) (Minister Ibr the Interior and Minister for Works) . - 1 am rather glad to have an opportunity, at this time, to join in the House's welcome to the new honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), and, to a lesser extent, to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) who, of course, has been here before. I congratulate these honorable gentlemen as they enter upon the important work of representing in this Parliament their equally important electorates.

I think that the House has been impressed by the reasoned and temperate approach these two honorable gentlemen have made to the subjects on which they have addressed themselves. In a chamber where sometimes noise is put forward in lieu of sincerity and conviction, we shall look forward to more of this sort of offering from these two honorable members. I join with them in a renewed expression of our loyalty to the Throne at this time, and I suggest that it is timely, because the Commonwealth of which we are an increasingly important part is under some considerable strain. We might well direct our attention to the Empire's problems and, increasingly, :i!so direct our attention to the question of how we can more actively support the Empire. I submit we can do this by strengthening our own home economy.

We appear, at this time, to be going through a series of crises, most of which are created by political propagandists and by newspaper interests which are rather anxious, for one reason or another, to blackball the present Government. Nobody will deny that, among all the affairs of this nation, individual crises which affect individual citizens are multiplied considerably by the press and by propagandists. 1 want to refer to two of these crises which have been blown up and one of which is almost past, because the press, like the political propagandists, stay with a crisis for a little while, then put it aside and it is forgotten. I suggest to the House that the housing crisis as a national issue will also be put aside in very much the same way as the coal crisis has virtually been put aside. Neither of those problems is to be solved by the very simple formula, which has been propounded, of the Commonwealth's providing more of the taxpayer's money to prop up those particular activities.

I refer, in passing, to the crisis in the coal industry. Nobody will have anything else but sympathy for those who are being displaced from the coal industry and those business people who are being affected economically in consequence of what is undoubtedly a change that is going on within the coal industry - an industry that is in a stage of transition. To-day, we are going in for increased mechanization, including the mechanical extraction of pillar coal, and other changes in the industry which are having the effect of producing more coal with less labour. That may produce a situation in which the individual workers in the industry, disturbed and displaced as they are, find themselves in a state of personal and individual crisis. But the fact of the matter is - and this is something in which the people of this country ought to take some pride - that we are increasing the efficiency of many of our basic industries. I say that if there is anything that this country has to look to in the next few years, it is to an increase of the efficiency of its basic industries, because already - and 1 will make further mention of this later - the cost structure in Australia has reduced this country to dependence on almost a one-crop economy. Our economic fortunes in Australia rise or fall dependent on the world market for our wool and, to a very much lesser extent, for our wheat. If we were forced to depend on the sale in international markets of the products of our secondary industries we would be having an extremely thin time, and the debate we are having to-night would be in much more bitter terms, because there would indeed be a real national crisis in this country. The fact is that, for a variety of reasons - and I hope I shall have time to refer to them - we are not able to sustain ourselves to any degree by the sale of our secondary industrial products. We are not able to compete in the markets of the world with those countries which are showing tremendous resurgence in Europe, or with the growing nations of Asia. In all those world markets we are being pushed out by a more efficient and. hard-working series of competitors.

Some of these things, sir, fall within the classification of self-inflicted wounds. I have had occasion, because I have been at. one or two stormy meetings with members of the coal industry concerning this so-called crisis, to look at the figures. The evidence is clear that in the last ten years the coal industry in New South Wales particularly - and, of course, the industry revolves round the New South Wales fields - has lost up to 20 per cent, of its productive capacity because of one reason or another, the main reason being stoppages within the coal industry itself.

I am not, at this stage of the proceedings, prepared to question the grounds, good or otherwise, upon which these stoppages were held. We all know very well that there are occasions upon which workers in the coal industry feel that they have a legitimate claim which can be brought to public attention only by means of the strike weapon; but there has been a continuous series of industrial stoppages, each quite petty in itself, but having the most serious of consequences in the aggregate. As I say, I do not question the reasons for this. I presume that the workers in the coal industry have been satisfied that they were justified. I merely point to the inescapable conclusion that the cost of this series of sporadic strikes has been a tremendous loss of coal markets, and we are to-day seeing the chickens come home to roost in the coal industry.

Something has been said about a second Elizabethan era. Only a year or two ago, as the House will well recall, we were almost back in the first Elizabethan age, lighting beacon fires on the hills of Victoria to herald the coming of a coal ship, so that when the ship came in sight we could turn up the gas. The result of this has been that the States which were completely dependent for their entire economy on New South Wales coal - I refer, of course, to Victoria and South Australia - have made herculean efforts to remove themselves from such dependence. There has been great development of the brown coal industry in Victoria, whilst coal deposits of less value and worked perhaps at an uneconomic level compared with the cost of New South Wales coal, have been developed by the South Australian Government. All of that has been due to the fact that the financial health of those States depended entirely upon their being able to free themselves from their dependence on the uncertain supply of New South Wales coal.

So, orders for 8,000 tons of coal a week have been lost to the New South Wales coal fields. We have seen, even in New South Wales, the State Labour Government castigating the Commonwealth Government for not propping up the industry, and the New South Wales authorities themselves turning, under economic compulsion, to oil-firing and diesel motors, particularly in connexion with their railways and the production of electricity. The evidence is clear that we are reaching efficiency within the coal industry, and that once again coal will be able to compete with residual oil. To-day, governments in general are talking about reconversion of locomotives and other prime movers back to coal fuel.

Surely the coal industry will have learned its lesson and will see the unavoidable result of work stoppages. I believe that we can see ahead the re-establishment of stability within the coal industry, certainly at a lower level of employment, but at a higher level of efficiency, and therefore on a lower cost structure. The industries which formerly were dependent upon coal will come back to coal, and if the mining industry carries along with steady production there is no reason why stability should not be well within its reach.

Much the same kind of events are happening, I am afraid, in the field of housing, I am sure that the House, and certainly the people of Australia, must have been astonished at the recital this afternoon of the history of the housing situation in Queensland and the manoeuvres of the Queensland Government which does not spare its people at all. The welfare of the workers in that State is of secondary consideration to the immediate political results of the manoeuvrings that have gone on in connexion with housing finance.

Mr Cairns - The honorable gentleman could not have been in the House when the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) spoke

Mr FAIRHALL - I certainly was in the House and I heard the honorable member for Herbert quote from " Hansard " figures which I myself gave on behalf of the Minister in charge of housing on this question of Australian Loan Council allocations. The honorable member for Herbert sought to show that this problem comes back to the Commonwealth Government because, after all, the State of Queensland asked for £3,040,000 and in actual fact received only £2,750,000. So, naturally, responsibility for the housing difficulties in Queensland rests entirely on the Commonwealth Government.. Or does it? It is of no use the honorable member for Herbert coming here and saying that.. The real trouble is, of course, that the Queensland Government has budgeted on its month-to-month quotas, from loan funds and in actual fact has overspent and therefore has. run out of money.. The money that it has had up till now is. committed, and therefore, it must dispense with the services of some hundreds of workers.. It is futile for the honorable, member to seek, to put responsibility for that on the plate of the Commonwealth. If that is really the situation, all, I have: to say isthat the State of Queensland has been thoroughly inefficient in the laying out and budgeting of its home-building programme.

But this excursion into the history of the Australian Loan Council on this matter opens, up a rather interesting piece of territory which ought not to be allowed to be forgotten in this country. On the statement of the honorable member for Herbert, the Australian Loan Council declared for a programme of £210,000,000. As everybody in Australia knows who follows these matters with any care at. all,, there: is, an annual pilgrimage to Canberra. The Premiers gather here for the meeting of the Australian Loan Council and the Premiers conference. They invariably vote themselves more money than they believe they have a hope of getting, and of course when they do not get the amount which has been over-budgeted and over-promised to themselves they have a complete umbrella for every deficiency in the administration of their States. They come along and ask for £210,000,000, knowing that it has to come from the loan market of this country, and knowing very well that the loan market will produce nothing like that amount of money. Consequently, they know equally well that they are not going to get what they ask for. So of course they have a readymade alibi - there is not enough money because the wicked Commonwealth Government has failed to provide, and if there are not enough schools, hospitals, houses, roads; bridges and flood mitigation schemes, the responsibility can be laid at the door of the Commonwealth.

Mr Costa - They know whom to blame.

Mr FAIRHALL - The honorable member knows much better than that. He is merely indulging in propaganda. I wonder that the members of the Opposition can read' the history of the Australian Loan Council, meeting and still come up with that kind of answer in this House.

As everybody knows, the present Commonwealth Government was the first to make incremental additions to the Australian Loan Council allocations, and in every year that we have been in office we have voted a supplementary amount, without any kind of legal obligation at all. Those amounts have varied between £10,000,000 and £19,000,000, and their purpose has been to support the State governments in their works programmes.

The Commonwealth is. entitled under the Financial Agreement to a 20 per cent, share of loan raising in this country, but it has put aside that entitlement and has surrendered! the entire loan market for the benefit of the States. That has meant, inevitably, that the Commonwealth, has had to finance its own public works from revenue, and, therefore, the Government has had to raise the level of taxation by quite a considerable amount, perhaps, to the. tune of £60,000,000' a year,, so that it can make this, additional provision for the works programmes of the States. Having done all this, the Government has channelled off into support for the States moneys which, in my opinion, could best be left, to private enterprise to sustain what we might reasonably call the private works programme.

We on this side of the House believe in private enterprise. We believe that it is of the greatest benefit to the economy of this country when individual businesses with a very great degree of responsibility are able to plough amounts back into the expansion of their own organizations. From that source comes stability in the economy, advancing degrees of efficiency, and increases in employment opportunities available to Australian workers.

Unhappily, this Government, believing as it does in private enterprise, has found itself under intolerable pressure from the States to provide more money. I wish it had not surrendered quite to the extent that it has. But the fact is that we have supplied all these props to the public works programmes of the States. We have had no thanks, and I believe that we have contributed in a measure to what can only be described as financial delinquency on the part of the States. This complaint against the Commonwealth becomes a chorus to be sung by them every year at the time of the Australian Loan Council meeting and the Premiers Conference. I am afraid that this situation will go on while we have uniform taxation to distort the federal system of government and to poison the people's confidence in government of any sort.

This afternoon, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) had occasion to quote, I believe, from the report of the Auditor-General in Queensland to show that whilst this complaint about lack of funds was being voiced publicly, the State Government had available millions of pounds in certain trust funds. I have had occasion in past years to look at the AuditorGenerals report for New South Wales. Precisely the same position exists there. I do not remember the figure at the moment, but I believe that something in excess of £40,000,000 has been shown in the Auditor-General's report in recent years as available in trust funds and moneys at short call to the New South Wales Government. I am prepared to admit that there are great commitments inherent in any trust fund and that the whole of these moneys would not be available to carry on the works programme of that State. But nothing alters the fact that the State Government has not by any means squeezed its own financial resources dry before it has come to cry at the feet of the Commonwealth, and, like Oliver Twist, complain that funds provided are not enough. Until taxing powers are restored to the States, this sort of distortion will go on.

Of interest is a case which is heading in the direction of the Privy Council, if it has not already got there, in which one State is claiming that the constitutional power of the Commonwealth does not cover uniform taxation. That State has been joined by New South Wales. Yet, unhappily, in the last week or two, the federal conference of the Australian Labour party which met in Queensland declared in favour of uniform taxation and thereby left the Premier of New South Wales out entirely on his own. As I understand that he is slightly unpopular within his party for some views that he holds, perhaps that is not a surprising matter.

I come back to the subject of housing. I listened keenly this afternoon when some honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) were making the plea that people should have the right to own their homes. Nobody denies that the people ought to have the right to own their homes if they want to. But honorable members on the other side of the House have gone for democratic socialism just recently and, democratic socialism having declared that people ought to have pie, the people had better like pie. What is happening is that the Opposition does not merely demand that people shall have the right to own their homes; it is becoming a question of compulsion.

The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) produced some most illuminating figures on this subject. There is a trend away from rental housing throughout Australia. In 1954 there were 30,520 fewer houses being rented than in 1947. The number of dwellings in New South Wales owned or being purchased by the people residing in them rose from 49.9 per cent, of the total in 1947 to 61 per cent, in 1954. The Labour party may choose to accept that fact as a demonstration that its demand that people -should have the right to own their homes is being met. But the fact is that, included in this 61 per cent, of people who now own their homes are tens of thousands of people who never wanted to have hung around their necks the responsibility of life-time repayments and the cost of owning a home. These people will tell anybody in plain terms that they would much prefer to rent a home. They have been forced into home ownership because socialist governments in New South Wales and other States have introduced and maintained policies which have killed investment building.

The Minister for the Army also gave illuminating figures to show that, on the Australian scene. 200.000 homes are underoccupied. They are under-occupied simply because landlord and tenant regulations and other regulations have made it impossible for housing to find its own level in this community. We all know very well that the requirements of individual families are constantly undergoing change. Families grow up and the size of the household decreases as the children leave and set up their own homes. Shorn of regulations, left to its own devices, the housing situation would find equilibrium. Large families would move from small homes into larger ones as small families would move out into smaller homes. In that way we would get rid of most of the difficulties in the housing situation.

The Minister for the Army has also indicated that since the war we have built one home for every 2.6 people in this country. That is a greater number of homes per capita than has been constructed in any other country. If it were not for the distortion to which I have referred, that accomplishment alone would have gone far towards solving our housing problems. The plain fact is that the prosperity which has all but engulfed this country in the last few years under this Government has generated the demand for housing faster than the people of this country are prepared to provide it.

I am sorry that I have not much time to develop the theme, but one of the factors which means so much to the housing situation is the amount of energy that we are prepared to put into it. To-day, we live in a community which is prepared to cash up all its advantages by way of mechanization of industry and advanced efficiency in shorter hours and higher pay. I believe that we have to get back to the situation which prevails in the United States of America. I quote a statement by the president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations of America, Walter Ruether, who said -

The more productive our economy is the more we need to think in terms ot" maintaining it al continuous high levels of operation.

He went on to say -

It takes practical, tangible co-operation on the part of labour and management, and agriculture and the Government, your profession and all other groups. These are the investors. No one challenges their right to reward for risk they take in their investment. They are entitled lo their just share as pari of effort to balance the economic equation. 1 believe that, coming from a leading American industrialist, there is a lesson in that for labour in Australia.

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