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Wednesday, 27 March 1957

Mr DRUMMOND (New England) . - This debate relates to the AddressinReply to His Excellency's Speech in opening this, the Second Session of the Twenty-second Parliament of the Australian Commonwealth. I intend not to traverse the ground that has already been covered by other honorable members, but rather to address myself as far as possible to certain aspects which may, or may, not, have been mentioned incidentally.

If we consider for a moment that this is only the twenty-second Parliament we shall realize how very young is this Australian Commonwealth. If we look back over the 56 years that have passedsinceits founding, we shall find much to hearten us in going forward to the next 56 years. It is a curious perversion of the Australian character that, in speaking of what this country has done, there is a tendency to write down, rather than have anything to say to the credit of, Australia, its parliaments or its people. The Opposition especially exhibits a tendency to lose sight of the magnificent performance of the last 56 years. When we realize that only 56 years ago the first Prime Minister had to conduct his business in a small building; that Ministers then had neither offices nor departments; that within the short space of less than fourteen years the Australian Commonwealth had to undergo the supreme test of war; that the aftermath was an even more acute test of our institutions and faiths in the form of the most devastating economic depression ever known; that we had scarcely begun to emerge from this when we were plunged into another war of even greater magnitude, which called for greater resources and courage; and consider also the progress that we have made since World War II., especially in the last seven years - when this Government has been in office - we find grounds for new faith, a new spirit of adventure, and renewed courage with which to attack new facets of the same old problems that we have overcome in the past.

Yet, in the face of this spectacular growth and change, I find that the GovernorGeneral's Speech covers a wide range of subjects. It traverses a policy which challenges us to face up to the practical realities of the situation and to apply constructive thinking to these new problems or, perhaps I should say, problems emerging in a new form to confront us as a people.

I notice that His Excellency's Speech contains reference to international affairs, upon which I do not propose to expand at the present moment for the simple reason that I believe that we shall have ample and better opportunity later to do so. But the Speech did refer to the crisis in Egypt. to the working of Seato and also to our own share in the development of atomic armaments. It also mentions that very important and, perhaps, exceedingly farreaching development that has taken place in Europe, where six countries are virtually agreed upon a customs union. It referred, indirectly, to the part that the United Kingdom may play in association with those countries. These are things that may and can have a tremendous effect on the economy of this country.

Let me pass to another important reference. That is the part that Australia is playing in Antarctica. I suppose that most of us, a few years ago, looked upon that continent as a great, white, sterile waste of bitter cold - a place with a record for the destruction of some of the most adventurous spirits that this country and the Old Country have produced. To-day, we know that it may be the repository of tremendous mineral resources upon which this world may have to draw at a not very distant period. Those resources will be used to redress the disappearance of resources of the same kind in other countries. We know that there is a rush of international competitors to secure control of this particular area. We know that Soviet Russia, significantly enough, has sent a very large team to that continent and that it could be made a base of operations, in rather a sinister way, for submarine warfare which might threaten the existence of our trade and the whole basis of the scheme of defence that the Western nations have built up.

We also learnt from the GovernorGeneral's Speech of the attack on infantile paralysis; it is very much more easily understood by that name than by poliomyelitis. People understand what infantile paralysis is, and this Government has taken effective steps to see that life in this country is protected by this new discovery of science. We find, also, that the Government is visualizing assistance to universities - a most important matter to which I hope to refer again before I conclude my address. Other matters are also mentioned in the Speech. There is the development of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization particularly with reference to water and wool research. These are some of the highlights of His Excellency's Speech.

I have not referred to these matters just for the sake of enumerating them. 1 think that people should understand that this Government, as is indicated in His Excellency's Speech, has made a constructive approach to the problems of Australia. What has the Opposition contributed to this debate on the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply to the Speech? It has proposed an addendum to the motion which constitutes a censure of the Government and an attack upon- its housing policy. So far as I can see, Mr. Speaker, none of the observations made by Opposition members in addressing themselves to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply has made a real contribution to the constructive thinking of this country. The Opposition has voiced no ringing call and no challenge to those who are supposed to support it to continue the magnificent work of development that has been undertaken in the past and must be continued if we are to hold Australia.

In saying this, I do not mean to belittle the importance of housing. It is of firstrate importance, and if the debate on the Opposition's amendment has done anything, it has highlighted clearly and in no uncertain terms this Government's remarkable contribution to the ultimate solution of the major social problem of housing. It is true that there is much still to be done, and I suppose it is always the duty of an opposition, whatever its political colour may be, to sound a warning trumpet and point to the things that ought to be done. But surely the present Opposition's current arguments, which are completely devoid of the kind of appeal that Australians should make to their fellows, and which it has chosen to direct solely to the subject of housing, although this is an Address-in-Reply debate, are completely sterile. The successful solution of our housing problems depends upon the development of Australia. The housing problem cannot be solved by attending to a few odds and ends in the housing field alone. Modern housing enterprise depends upon a great range of industries. I do not think the factors that appear to have caused the temporary recession in housing have been analysed in sufficient detail.

It seems to me that the barrenness of the Opposition's contribution to this debate is a reflection of the chaotic condition of the Labour movement to which Opposition members belong and in which at the present time various turgid currents of political philosophy may be discerned. Although the time is now ripe for inspiring leadership, apparently all the Opposition can do is to bring forward a sterile programme of socialization, to try to put additional fetters on the spirit of free enterprise, and tq try to halt the immigration programme or so reduce it that it might as well be halted. Surely the Opposition could support a more virile policy and choose more useful and worthy arguments than it has used.

Take the question of socialism. I suppose that at the root of our social structure at the present time there is a great deal of what is really applied socialism. What we have done in this country has been incidental to the working and the more effective working of capitalism. What the Opposition apparently wants is to make private capitalistic enterprise, so far as it is allowed to exist, incidental and to fasten upon this country a system of socialism, which would simply put fetters upon the free spirit of the people.

Even the provision of housing is fettered because of the lack of leadership on the part of the people who are supposed to stand behind the Labour party. There is a restriction upon the amount of work that a man can do. A bricklayer is precluded from laying more than a certain number of bricks in his normal working hours, but, if he has enterprise, his free spirit breaks out and there is not a member of this House who does not know that in two days or less at the week-end a bricklayer will lay more bricks than he laid in the whole week under union inspection. That is going on throughout the community. Restrictions are put here and restrictions are put there, when what is needed is encouragement. People must be given the incentive to press forward with vigorous development of this country. Wherever restrictions are imposed the free spirit of the people will break out and will find some means - fortunately - to neutralize some of the worst effects of what is going on.

When I come to the question of immigra tion I find that this great Australian Labour party - because it has been a great party in the past - has completely departed from the conception of the man who is so often quoted, with approval, in this House - the late Mr. Chifley, who said in 1949 -

Immigration ' means security.

Is that not what the Opposition claims it wants for the people of this country?

Even more than that it means the full development of untapped resources. It means great production of goods and services. It means a better, happier, more prosperous life for every Australian.

The great immigration drive launched by the present Labour Government in 1943 and carried out with remarkable success will be continued vigorously until Australia has the population she needs to achieve the development of her resources and guarantee her security.

Compare that with what has emanated from Opposition speakers in this debate and from the Labour conference recently held in Brisbane. Talk about the light growing clearer and brighter! If ever there was a light that was being extinguished more and more rapidly, it is the light of leadership of the Labour party - a leadership which the people of Australia are entitled to expect.

I pass from that to deal briefly with housing. Figures have been quoted at very considerable length during the course of this debate. It is not my intention to take up too much time in recapitulating what has already been stated. I point out, however, that between 1945 and 1956 with a population increase of 2,086,000, dwellings and flats numbered 700,000, giving a ratio of about one to 3.1 persons, which compares favorably with figures for other parts of the world and more than favorably with most. In 1955-56, the total expenditure on housing in Australia was £232,000,000, of which the Commonwealth's share was £63,000,000 and of which the State governments found £8,500,000. The balance, representing 68 per cent, of the total expenditure, was found from private sources.

Labour's remedy for the state of affairs which it says exists - a shortage of about 105,000 houses at the present time - is to hand the problem over to the Commonwealth. In the course of this debate I heard an Opposition member refer with some disgust to the action of the Western Australian Government in removing the limitation on rentals in that State. The interesting point is that, while that action had a certain repercussion at the time, Western Australia apparently leads all other States in respect of housing and needs the least number of houses, proportionately, to population. I suggest that Opposition members should have another thought on that matter. Frankly, I very much doubt whether the community would benefit if the Commonwealth had control of housing. All over this vast continent the States are being stood up by their people in the matter of housing and slum clearance. To pour those matters into this Parliament would make the congestion unbearable and the whole thing unworkable.

I note that from 1st January, 1950, to 31st December, 1956, nearly £190,000,000 had been provided by the Commonwealth for war service homes. In the 30 years from 1919 to December, 1949, when the Labour Government left office, the total amount spent was £52,790,000 and the total number of homes built was 54,541. I direct attention to the accelerated rate of home-building while this Government has been in office and to the extraordinary difference between the cost of homes. Prior to the war the cost of home-building was very low when compared with the cost to-day. If we look for the reasons for that low cost, we find them in some rather interesting and extraordinary figures which have been made available by Mr. F. F. Kraegen, who is the manager of the Associated Country Sawmillers of New South Wales. He said that the cost of hardwood had increased since 1949 by 300 per cent. The main reasons for that are that in nine or ten years rail freights have increased by 500 per cent, and government royalties by 620 per cent. That represents a sectional tax on people who must build homes. Mr. Kraegen cited, as an example, freight on hardwood from Grafton to Sydney. The freight had increased from 5s. lid. to 36s. 4d. a 100 super, feet. The Opposition could well address itself to the urgent necessity of learning why this tremendous load has been placed upon home-builders.

To understand what is happening in this country at the present time, one must consider the tremendous increase, relatively, in the production of cement and steel. Part of the cause of the drop in home-building has been the increase in the number of large buildings, such as the Qantas building in Sydney, in which practically no timber is used. These buildings are constructed of concrete and steel, and contain mostly steel furnishings.

My time has almost expired, and before concluding I wish to congratulate the Government upon what it has done. I congratulate it upon its record, and I personally feel that in facing up to the necessity of guaranteeing additional finance to universities, and in appointing an able commission to inquire into the matter, it will render a major service to the development of Australia, because we depend more and more upon trained men. But I would urge the Government to draw up a five-year programme, so that the universities, with a knowledge of the birth-rate and the estimated increase in population, may be able to plan effectively to turn out regularly a supply of trained people. Thus, by lifting the load from the States, they will enable the States to carry the very heavy burden of modern education that is being increasingly thrust upon them.

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