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Wednesday, 27 March 1957

Mr LESLIE (Moore) .- The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) was so much at a loss for a subject to cover in his speech that, apparently, he decided to advance once again the completely exploded arguments that have been advanced by Labour for the last five or six years. He went over the old ground again. However, he did sound a new note when he criticized the proposal of the Government that there shall be a new session of the Parliament each year. The honorable member can be forgiven for his lack of knowledge of the fact that, in British Parliaments, the custom is for a new parliamentary session to be commenced each year. That is a rational procedure, because the opening of a new session gives members of the parliament an opportunity to hear the Government's proposals for the coming session.

Mr Curtin - This Government has not got any proposals.

Mr LESLIE - Apparently the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith cannot read, because the Speech of the GovernorGeneral, which is in print, contains many proposals by the Government. The debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General's Speech delivered at the opening of a new parliamentary session gives honorable members an opportunity to criticize or support the Government's proposals and, in their speeches, to range over a wide field of subjects. On this occasion, unfortunately, the members of the Opposition, although presented with an opportunity to deal with a variety of subjects, have confined their remarks almost entirely to one subject, and they have done so purely for party political reasons. There is no doubt that honorable members opposite have spoken with their tongues in their cheeks in dealing with housing. They know very well where the responsibility for housing lies, and I shall deal with that topic in a moment.

The honorable member for Banks disapproved of the recent proroguing of the Parliament, apparently on the ground that, by that action, questions on notice standing on the notice-paper were wiped off. It seems that he is unaware - and I ask the Clerks to inform him accordingly - that he is at liberty to have placed on the noticepaper now any questions that were standing in his name on the notice-paper previously.

The honorable member talked about the policy of the Labour party in the days of the Chifley Government. Basically, that policy can be described in a very few words. It was a policy of control, a policy of rationing scarcity. That was the policy upon which the Chifley Government operated. In contrast, the policy of this Government is to ensure an equitable distribution of plenty to everybody. That is the fundamental difference between the policies of the two governments. I leave that matter there and I dismiss the honorable member's speech by referring him to the many other speeches that have been made on that subject in this and other places.

I turn now to the Governor-General's Speech. I was interested to find that the Government obviously intends to continue with the policy of not pinning its faith to the United Nations organization to preserve the security of Australia. That is extremely wise. I understand that later there will be a debate on foreign affairs, so I shall say no more on that subject now, except that if the Government were to pin its faith to the United Nations, it would undoubtedly be depending upon a weak or broken reed. Substantially, we must rely on our own strength, because there is only a dim and distant hope that the United Nations organization would be able to help us if our security were threatened.

The Governor-General said that the Government continued to keep the economy on a stable and progressive course, which required constant watch and appropriate action. The country might well ring with praise of an honest government which has fearlessly taken unpopular action to maintain the stability of our economy, but undoubtedly the members of the Opposition, who show such a complete lack of appreciation of their national obligations, will try to turn the Government's unpopular actions to their advantage.

The decision of the Government to continue its drive for increased exports will be commended by every sensible person in the country, as also will its decision to assist and encourage primary producers to increase their output and improve their efficiency. If I have any criticism of the Government on that subject, it is that I do not like these constant references to assisting primary producers to improve their efficiency, which seem to imply that the primary producers are inefficient. If we go through the records, we shall find that if any people engaged in industry in Australia are efficient, it is the primary producers. In the last few years they have made, not two, but scores of blades of grass grow where only one grew previously. These constant suggestions of lack of efficiency by farmers, like the shibboleths of the Labour party, are becoming somewhat threadbare. Another thing that I want the people of this country to bear in mind is that suggestions that the farmers shall be encouraged or assisted to increase their output are accompanied usually by suggestions that the farmers shall bear a fair proportion of the cost of any assistance given.

The Opposition has moved an amendment to the motion for the adoption of the Adrress-in-Reply to His Excellency's Speech in which reference is made to a housingcrisis. I do not know what the position is in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, although, from what I have heard about those States, I doubt very much whether there is in each of them the housing crisis that honorable gentlemen opposite would have us believe exists, but I do know that there is no such crisis in Western Australia. There is a crisis throughout the

Commonwealth in that people who should know better are constantly attempting to saddle the Commonwealth with responsibility for activities which should, and do, come within the jurisdiction of the States.

The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) - whom I pardon, because he is not aware of what actually happens - repeated the false propaganda which has been uttered by people holding positions far more responsible than his. He said that Queensland received the lowest per capita allocation of loan funds, and he condemned this Government for that. The honorable member appears to be unaware that the allocation of loan funds is made by the Australian Loan Council, which is comprised of the State Treasurers and the Commonwealth Treasurer. On the council, the Commonwealth has only two paltry votes. I suggest to the honorable member for Kennedy that if he believes that Queensland receives the lowest per capita allocation of loan funds, he should tell the people of that State what a rotten Premier they have - one who is incapable of holding his own with the other Premiers. That is the position. That is where the blame and the responsibility lie. If the Premier of my own State, Western Australia, came back from Canberra and said, " I have received the lowest allocation of money per head of population in the Commonwealth," I would say to him, " If you can't do better than that for your own State with the Premiers of the other States you should try harder". Do not forget, the majority of the State Premiers are Labour Premiers, and if the Labour Premier of Queensland cannot hold his own with the Labour Premiers of other States, then it is time that people like the honorable member for Kennedy used their influence.

A reference has been made to the interest rate and to the relationship of this Government and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to it. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Treasurer on a record period of office as Treasurer, and also on a period of wonderful achievement in the interests of his country. Instead of saddling him and .the Government with the responsibility for interest rates let me remind the honorable member for Kennedy and all members of this House, and remind people outside, and the press, which is constantly putting out false propaganda, that it is the Australian Loan Council which fixes the interest rate, and not the Commonwealth Treasurer.

I shall state the position in Western Australia as an example of how this false propaganda goes on. I have said that we have no housing crisis in Western Australia, but we have a couple of other crises. We have a railway crisis, and I hope that time will permit me to make some further reference to it. But we have also another crisis - the crisis of a government which falsely blames the Commonwealth for its own incapacity to do in Western Australia the job that the State electors put it into office to do. We have at present a State Minister touring the country telling the country people that the State Labour Government is unable to undertake a big, comprehensive water reticulation scheme in rural areas because the Commonwealth Government will not make available any more finance than was agreed to in legislation which passed through this Parliament in 1955. The facts are simple. This scheme was originally approved by the Commonwealth, which agreed to subsidize it up to £5,000,000 or so, on a £l-for.-£l basis. Successive State governments were so slow in getting moving on the scheme that costs rose substantially before the State was anywhere near starting on it. For years the Commonwealth's proportion pf the money, which was available to the Western Australian Government for the. construction of the scheme, was not touched by that State, although a substantial balance lay in the Commonwealth Treasury . ready to be drawn on. Ultimately a LiberalCountry party government, which was elected to power in Western Australia, stepped in and started the job, and it used the money available to it from the Commonwealth. Now we have again a Labour government in Western Australia, which is crying poor mouth. We have the Western Australian Minister for Works telling the people in the country districts to appeal to their federal members to induce the Commonwealth Government to provide a greater moiety of money each year in order to allow the scheme to be completed earlier than the plans provide.

Last year the Premiers were in Canberra discussing finance, and at. that time _ the Western Australian Premier .and the, Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), I think it was, had a broad discussion on the possibility of getting more money each year to enable completion of the scheme by an earlier date than originally planned. But nothing has happened beyond that discussion so far as Western Australia is concerned. Since that time no formal and official request has been, submitted by the Western Australian Government to the Commonwealth Government, with plans and proposals to implement the expenditure of a greater amount of money than was originally provided for, and asking the Commonwealth to amend the legislation to make more money available to Western Australia. Why? Because the Western Australian Government knows very well that the- Commonwealth would give an answer to such a request, and the answer would be that in the present year, 1956-57, there is an "amount of £462,500 available to the Western Australian Government as the Commonwealth's subsidy for that scheme. Nine months of this financial year have' elapsed, and anybody would expect to .find, in view of the shout from the Western Australian Government about the necessity for more money to speed up the scheme, and with the unemployment situation as it. is claimed to be in that State, that the Western Australian Government had used all its own money available for the scheme, and also the Commonwealth money available for it. That is the impression that the Western Australian Government seeks to give, but the fact is that the Western Australian Government has drawn from the Commonwealth, from the amount of £462,500 available and waiting for it in the Commonwealth Treasury, only about ?270,000 for this current financial year. At me end of nine months, .the Western Australian Government has not spent that money, when one could reasonably expect, because of the circumstances which it says prevail in Western Australia, that Government would have spent all of it and possibly more if it could get the money. If there is unemployment in Western Australia, what is the State Labour Government doing in leaving this money lying idle in the Commonwealth Treasury? Now the State Government has to rush in to spend the remaining £190,000 or £200,000 in a period of three months, and it is almost impossible to do that.

So I throw.- back in the teeth of the Western Australian Government the lie that the Commonwealth Government is not being sympathetic to it in this regard. That lie is a perpetuation of this constant propaganda to which the people on the Labour side of this House, who are supposed to be responsible people, add their voices, and the tragedy of it is that while this unsatisfactory relationship between the Commonwealth and the States exists it encourages the States to do nothing at all effective. What they do, if they do anything, is to show their lack of a sense of responsibility and their lack of regard for the real importance of the things that should take priority.

I have said that we had a crisis in Western Australia, and so we have.

Mr Curtin - It is represented by the presence here of the honorable member.

Mr LESLIE - I am very glad to hear the honorable member say that, because I know that my presence here causes a crisis in the Opposition, and that the Opposition would, like to remove that crisis. But members.:.of. the Opposition have another think coming to them in that respect. The crisis in Western Australia is caused by our railways situation. I know that the Commonwealth has no direct constitutional responsibility for the administration and the finances of State railways, but I think, that because of the circumstances in Western Australia, there lies a moral obligation on the Commonwealth to take an interest in what is happening to-day in the Western Australian railways, and its possible effect on the national economy. The Western Australian Government's proposal is that, within a comparatively short period, it will close down nearly half of the railways in Western Australia.

Mr Hamilton - At least one-fifth of them.

Mr LESLIE - At least one-fifth. The shutting down of those lines will deprive the wheat-growers of railway cartage for 13,000,000 bushels of wheat grown in the area now served by those railways. I realize that Western Australia, in common with other States, is running its railways at a substantial loss. The loss on the Western Australian railways in the fiveyear perjod 1950 to 1955 was £22,000,000.

Mr Ian Allan - What about the loss in New South Wales?

Mr LESLIE - The loss in New South Wales in that same period was more than £22,000,000. In Victoria, the loss was £22,000,000 and, in Queensland, £14,000,000. I do not propose to give more figures; it is well known that all States show substantial losses on their railway services. I believe that the reason for that is that the States have come to rely on the Commonwealth as a fairy godfather and godmother combined. They think that they have only to say to the Commonwealth that they need more money and that the Commonwealth will provide it. They refuse, therefore, to adjust their own internal affairs as they would have to do if they were responsible for raising the finance they require. We cannot afford to allow the proposal of the Western Australian Government to discontinue so much of its present railway services to pass unnoticed either by the Commonwealth Government or by this Parliament. As I understand that some approach will be made to the Commonwealth, asking it to take an interest in this aspect of State affairs, I suggest that the least that the States should be asked to agree to is that the Commonwealth should undertake a businesslike inquiry into the operations of the State railways. I have in mind a line in Western Australia 300 miles long, the operations of which offer a shining example to the State-owned railways. It has satisfied customers and, as it runs through my electorate, I know something about it. The number of persons employed per mile is one-third of the number employed on the go-slow Government railways of Western Australia. That would be a starting point from which a business inquiry could ascertain just what was wrong with the Western Australian railways. It is highly important to the State that that should be done. I go further and say that Western Australia offers greater opportunity for quick development than does any other part of this wide land of ours. Indeed, very big developmental schemes are being undertaken to-day. When the closure of State railways is proposed, and the State government is incapable of providing water reticulation - the State's greatest need - there is a moral obligation on the National Government - constitutional limitations notwithstanding - to take an interest in Western Australian affairs. If it does not, the consequences for our national economy may be far-reaching.

The Federal Government should set up something in the nature of a developmental commission, perhaps within the framework of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, to examine the potentialities for development in the States, and ascertain where they, through their own misguided actions, may be throwing away their opportunities. Such a commission could recommend the action, if any, that should be taken to assist the State governments. North-western Australia presents problems that no State .government alone could solve. The necessity to lend assistance, after due inquiry into what has already been done, can be fairly laid on the plate of this Government. That has been requested by all parties. There is need in Western Australia for the encouragement of the fishing industry, the gold-mining industry and other mining industries.

Mr Daly - Why does the honorable member not secede?

Mr LESLIE - Western Australia was so important to the national economy that when it wanted to secede, the Federal Government was at extreme pains to retain it in the Commonwealth. Honorable members must realize that Western Australia is far more important economically to the Commonwealth than is the Commonwealth to Western Australia. The proof of that is the battle that the Commonwealth put up to retain us in the federation. It has been to our constant loss.

Reference was made by my esteemed friend the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) to the lop-sided development that is taking place in this country. All the money is being spent in the eastern States. Even a portion of the huge amount spent on the development of the Snowy area would, if spent in Western Australia, return more wealth per £1 invested than would be possible anywhere else.

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