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Wednesday, 27 March 1957

Mr COSTA (Banks) .- I support the amendment to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply so ably moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). He pointed out the great damage that is being done to family life in the community by the housing shortage. Thousands of families are unable to obtain homes, and many are being broken up, unfortunately on a permanent basis, because of that. It is a tragedy and a national disgrace for which this Government is responsible. It is a horrible thought for any intelligent person to have, because we believe that such a condition could be avoided.

To-day, we have plenty of building materials and a surplus of skilled and unskilled labour for home-building. All that is necessary is finance. We know that the reservoir of finance is greater than the reservoir of other necessaries. The Labour party has produced evidence to prove that that is so. The only obstacle is bad government. If we could remove this bad Government, we feel that the credit restrictions, which are preventing the erection of adequate homes, would be removed.

I do not wish to say anything further about housing, but wish to refer to other matters. I believe that the Opposition has presented a case that the Government has failed to answer and any additional evidence that I could give would not serve any purpose.

It is not customary to have more than one opening of Parliament during the life of a Parliament. Following the 1955 general election, the Governor-General opened the Parliament on 15th February, 1956. Last week, we witnessed the second opening of the same Parliament, and we have had a second Speech from the Governor-General. I appears to me that the Government adopts any procedures and techniques that suit it. Possibly, the proroguing of Parliament was an easy way for the Government to avoid dealing with some of the questions and matters that had accumulated on the business-paper. It is a well-known technique employed by governments that look for a way to avoid embarrassing questions and awkward notices of motion that appear on the business-paper. The Government is dodging the issue. Quite a number of unanswered questions were on the business-paper when this Parliament went into recess last November. To prorogue Parliament, in our opinion, is the Government's way of avoiding the issue. We do not complain, of course, about the additional opening. Indeed, the Opposition welcomes the restatement of Government policy. In addition, we all have an opportunity to make a speech.

I recall that the Governor-General's Speech last year was made on 15th Feb-, mary. That Speech made no mention of the " little budget " that is so well known to us all. It is amazing that legislation which imposed an additional £115,000,000 taxation on the people on 15th March, 1956, was not mentioned in a statement of policy made exactly one month earlier. The taxation in the " little budget " was additional to the taxation imposed by the Government in its 1955-56 budget. That budget had itself exceeded all previous taxation and revenue records. This action was taken by a government that had promised to reduce taxation. Instead, it broke an alltime record, and brought its £1,130,000,000 budget up to a total amount of £1,245,000,000. It is well to remember that the pensioners did not receive any increases of pensions, notwithstanding this colossal budget.

Apart from appealing to organized monopolists to refrain from excessive profiteering in order not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, the Government took no action to curb inflation and profiteering. If the Prime Minister, or any one else, believes that profiteers will be induced to change their habits, habits that are as old as capitalism itself, by a sentimental appeal, he is sadly mistaken. In the years up to 1948 the Chifley Government proved that national prices control was the only effective deterrent to profiteering, and it sought, by way of a referendum, to have powers to control prices and profits permanently inserted in the Constitution. The Labour Government's efforts at that time were ridiculed by the present Prime Minister, who claimed that competition between traders was the best safeguard. Every housewife, every pensioner and every consumer knows how utterly absurd this contention was. Price competition, as we all know, just does not exist. It went out of fashion many years ago. The Prime Minister knows this. He does not want to prevent his big business friends from making excess profits. He is the head of a government that represents big business interests.

If we examine the changes in prices of commodities since the Parliament went into recess last November, we will find that in many instances costs have increased. The price of tea, for instance, increased by 7d. per lb. Honorable members will remember that when the Labour party had control in 1948 tea cost 2s. 9d. per lb. To-day it costs 7s. 4d. per lb. The prices of other commodities, such as beer, butter and several grocery lines, have increased by Id. or 2d. each.

Mr Riordan - Do not forget shipping freights!

Mr COSTA - As I am reminded by the honorable member for Kennedy, shipping freights have increased by 14 per cent. The price of petrol increased by lid. n gallon. Strange to say, while these prices were being increased, the C series index showed a decrease, and the basic wage was reduced in all States by 3s. or 4s. a week. This Government, of course, is not innocent in this matter; it aids and abets the people who increase prices. It handed over to the petrol monopolists in Australia the only counter that we had to high petrol costs when it sold, at bargain prices, our shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. The Government also closed down the Glen Davis shale oil project. The Commonwealth Government owned or controlled 51 per cent, of the shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, which gave us some protection against the activities of the world oil cartels. With these shares gone and the Glen Davis project closed down, Australia was left without any competition in this important field. Competitive petrol prices just do not exist. Wherever one travels, from suburb to suburb and from district to district, one finds that petrol prices are the same. As an indication of the strength of these petrol monopolists, consider how they stood over the Queensland Government. A lawfully constituted authority, the Queensland Prices Commissioner, after examining all the facts from an economic point of view, agreed to increase the price of petrol by id. a gallon, but the petrol monopolists said, "We want Id. a gallon extra ". They threatened to withhold supplies of this important commodity from Queensland if their demands were not acceded to. The petrol monopolists held this threat over the people's representatives. They said, " If you do not give us the price we want, you just will not get the petrol ". In Queensland, no petrol means no transportation of essential commodities. This action was tantamount to holding the people to ransom.

Transportation is the highest single element in the cost of goods and services in Australia. The cost of transport represents 30 per cent, of total retail prices of everything we use, eat or manufacture. Of the total tonnage of freight carried throughout Australia, 76 per cent, is moved by motor transport. The price of petrol and oil is, therefore, very important to all of us, whether we own a motor car or not. It affects us all, because we all use goods and services, and we all contribute to the big profits that are made by these oil monopolists. Yet this Government sold our shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to the big oil interests, and it sold them at bargain prices. At the time of the sale the shares were quoted at 8s. 6d. each on the Stock Exchange, but the Government sold them for 5s. each. By so doing, it left Australia without any competition in this field, and without any means of combating these high petrol prices.

It is noticeable that the Prime Minister often becomes alarmed about the economic state of Australia, because he makes statements on the matter, and arranges conferences to discuss it. But in his considerations of the national economy he seems to forget social justice; he forgets that all of our people should receive a just and equitable share of the good things that are available in this country. When the Prime Minister holds his conferences he never invites to them representatives of the workers, of the trade union movement, to ascertain whether workers are receiving a fair share from the national economy. He never inquires whether those working under federal awards are happy about having their basic wage frozen, while those working alongside them under State awards receive quarterly adjustments in accordance with the movements in the C series index, and, as a result, in all States except Victoria and. South Australia are receiving more than £1 a week more than those working under federal awards. We all know why this does not apply in Victoria and South Australia. It is because those two States have the same kind of government as we have to suffer in the Commonwealth sphere. They are Liberal-Country party governments. Does the Prime Minister and his Government believe that this differential treatment is likely to produce the good human relationships, contentment and co-operation among workers in industry which are so essential to the maintenance of a high level of production?

Has the Prime Minister ever invited to Canberra representatives of Australian housewives, to find out how women are faring in the present state of the national economy? I can remember the crocodile tears that he shed in 1949. He said then that every housewife knew how grievous the economic problem was, but that there was no need to worry. He said, "When I become Prime Minister I will fix everything and will put value back in the pound ". Every housewife knows what a fallacy that has turned out to be. The pound that he spoke of then is now worth about 2s. 6d.

In 1949, butter cost ls. 8d. per lb. and bread 7d. a loaf. To-day, butter costs 4s. 5 id. per lb. and bread ls. 3d. a loaf, a considerable increase. I mention those two commodities because the economic struggle in the homes of most workers revolves round bread and butter. Unfortunately, very often it is not a question of butter but of dry bread, or bread with margarine or fat. lt makes one wonder, with prices rising so rapidly and to such heights, how people who depend on the meagre pension of £4 a week manage to survive. Apparently, it never dawns on the Prime Minister or the people who sit behind him how the pensioners get by. Pensioners are never invited to Canberra to discuss the national economy and how economic conditions are affecting them. Not only are they not invited, but if they come here under their own arrangements they are not wanted. We all remember when the representatives of the pensioners came here last year to seek alleviation of their distress, and how the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden) refused to see them, lt was only after strong pressure from honorable members on this side of the House that the right honorable gentleman yielded and condescended to hear their claims. Of course, their appeal was of no avail. They did not get a penny, not even from the record budget to which I have referred.

It is evident that the Prime Minister never concerns himself with how the other half lives. I pose again the question that I asked earlier in my speech: Who does the Prime Minister invite to Canberra? Not the worker, the union leader, the pensioner, the war widow, the civilian widow, the superannuated person, or the unemployed miner. He does not invite those people to Canberra and he never seeks their views on this important matter. Big business magnates, investment brokers, private bankers and the like are invited here when discussions are to take place concerning the national economy. As I have pointed out previously, the national economy affects all the people, including the pensioner who receives the smallest amount of pension.

The Government has shown clearly how one-sided it is in this important matter. We witnessed the spectacle only recently, on the eve of the current Parliamentary sessional period, of the Prime Minister inviting to Canberra representatives of the Chamber of Manufactures, the Associated

Chamber of Commerce, the National Farmers and Graziers Association, the Austraiian Council of Retailers, the Australian Private Bankers Association, and of the investment brokers and the stock exchange.

Mr Edmonds - A good mob of battlers!

Ms-. COS i'A- We could hardly say that. 1 look with suspicion on this pre-sessional conference. The motive for it is obvious. I suppose that when the Prime Minister opened the conference with these gentlemen, he said, " Well, friends, what do you want me to do for you next?

The avowed policy of the private bankers is wei j known to all of us. They wish to divide and conquer the Commonwealth Bank because they are jealous of its efficiency and of the handsome profit that it makes for all the people. The Commonwealth Bank is our strongest national bulwark, and it should be allowed to remain so. History shows that private banks have crashed in the past, and, no doubt, they will do so again. It would be dangerous to allow monetary and banking control to be taken away from our national bank, the Commonwealth Bank. The changes that the private bankers are seeking are, first, that the Banking Act should be amended with a view to separating completely the trading bank functions of the Commonwealth Bank from the central bank functions; and secondly, to ease the existing system of special accounts, under which the central bank can call in and hold, up to 75 per cent, of the deposits of the trading banks as a counter, of course, against inflation and as an insurance for depositors that their asset will remain liquid. The third change sought by the private bankers is that the Commonwealth Bank should be subject to the same rules as are private banks in respect of the payment of taxes and municipal rates.

Regarding the functions of the central bank, it is a common practice all over the world to have such a bank. The central bank must be presided over by some one. and who is better fitted for that position than is the governor of the people's bank, the Commonwealth Bank, whether he be Dr. Coombs or any one else? The person who holds that appointment should be responsible to the Commonwealth Government. It would be a complete violation of common decency to hand control of the principal instrument of our national banking system and of our economy to private banking interests, some of whom are foreigners. Many of the shareholders of the private banks do not even reside in Australia. Much of the profit that is made by these institutions goes out of Australia.

In relation to the claim made by the private banks that the Commonwealth Bank should be subject to the same laws in respect of' taxes and rates as are the private banks, if the profits of the private banks were distributed in the way that the profits of the Commonwealth Bank are distributed there would not be much room for complaint. We all know where the profits of the Commonwealth Bank go, but, no doubt, many of us would be shocked if we knew where and to whom the profits of the private banks go. In this connexion, I wish to refer to the last annual report of the Commonwealth Bank, which clearly indicates where the profits of that bank go. For the last financial year, to 30th June, 1956, the profit of the Commonwealth Bank was £15,637,000. Of that sum, £7,800,000 was paid into Consolidated Revenue, and we all know how that is used, lt goes to pay pensions of every kind, amongst other things. The sum of £3,200,000 went to the National Debt Sinking Fund. In other words, £11,000,000 of the £15,637,000 went directly back to the people. Of the balance, £4,000,000 was retained by the bank as a capital reserve, and £110,000 was paid out for rural developmental purposes. So here we have the whole of the profit of the Commonwealth Bank going to the people. It belongs to us. Yet, the private bankers come to Canberra to try to influence the Government to shackle the Commonwealth Bank and deprive the people of this great asset. 1 wish now to refer briefly to the recent 14 per cent, increase of shipping freights. We believe that this Government is responsible for the present unsatisfactory shipping position. In the past, the Australian Labour party developed our own Commonwealth line of ships. We had the "Bay" liners, the last one of which will be leaving Australia soon to return to England to be scrapped; after many years of excellent service. The ships that we had in those days were used to convey Australia's products to the markets of the world. We controlled them and had some say in the shipping freight charges. This Government disposed of those ships, lt was supposed to have sold them, but I understand that the fee, or whatever it was that was to be given in exchange for them, was never actually paid. What a great asset those ships would be if we had them to-day! If we had that socialized shipping service - and the Labour party is proud of its democratic socialist policy - it could compete with the overseas shipping monopolies which increase freight rates simply because we cannot do anything about it. Every time that the prices of wool and wheat are increased the overseas shipping monopolists who control the shipping lines say, " We will take a share of the increased profits which Australia will get from wool and wheat ". Would it not be a grand thing for us to-day if we had not only retained those ships but also had added to their numbers from time to time?

Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Freeth).- Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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