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Wednesday, 16 March 1966

Mr COUTTS (Griffith) .- We are debating an amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) to the motion proposed by the new Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) that the House take note of the paper announcing the policy of his Government. The Press has decided to introduce an Americanism into the designation of the debate and has termed the Prime Minister's speech as his report on the state of the nation. I imagine that the designation will stick and that we will be told that these speeches which will be delivered from time to time by the Prime Minister, whoever he may be, will be reports on the state of the nation. But the Prime Minister's remarks were, if 1 may use the word which is frequently used in other places by him, bikini like. The important part of the speech is, like the bikini, in what is concealed. The Prime Minister has been at pains to use many pages of " Hansard " to refer to conditions in other countries and has made very brief references to the conditions that exist in Australia. Whilst I shall make some brief reference to overseas affairs, I am more concerned with conditions that apply in Australia and how the policy of this Government and the policy of the preceding Government have reacted disastrously on the great bulk of the Australian people.

First, the Prime Minister, in his 70 minute oration, spoke for a long time on the conditions in Vietnam. My leader has moved an amendment which embraces that part of the Prime Minister's speech dealing with this matter. I shall state where I stand on this situation. We have been told that the number of personnel serving in Vietnam is to be increased from 1,500 to 4,500. After the Army has spent $2,700,000 in the last five years in advertising in the daily Press for men to join the Australian Regular Army, we find that Australia is unable to use its Regular Army personnel in sufficient numbers to meet the increased commitment in Vietnam. The Government has decided to use national service trainees, 20 years of age, who have been conscripted into the Services. They will be sent to Vietnam. These young men have never had a say in the government of their country. If they are under 21 years of age when they are serving in Vietnam, they will have no say in the government of their country. They are being pushed around by the Government but have no voice in the choice of the Government. Whenever the Australian people have been given the opportunity to say whether Australian men should be conscripted for overseas service, they have overwhelmingly said "No". I believe that if the people were asked for their opinion on this occasion they would be more emphatic than they were on other occasions. The Australian Labour Party has challenged the Government to allow the Australian people to decide this issue, but the Government is not prepared to accept the challenge. It is not prepared to take the risk of giving the. people an opportunity to say whether they endorse the policy of the Government to conscript young men for overseas service.

As the war in Vietnam goes on the number of servicemen will be increased. With more men serving there, unfortunately there will be more casualties. The casualty rate in the Australian military operation in Vietnam has been very high. I support the stand taken by the Australian Labour Party on the use of conscripts in Vietnam. It is shocking for the Government to impose its will on these young men who, as I said earlier, have had no chance to express their opinion on any occasion in the choice of government. We know that the Government does not intend to allow them to express their opinion until, by age, they become entitled to enrolment and to vote under the existing laws of the Commonwealth. - One of the most important social problems in Australia is the lack of housing for the community. I listened attentively to the Prime Minister a week ago and to the Treasurer (Mr. McMahon) today. I have also read the remarks of the newly appointed Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who has made very many brave speeches on housing since she was appointed to the Ministry. I wish her well in her portfolio. I hope that effect can be given to the words she has uttered from time to time, but I am afraid that the Prime Minister is guilty of the very ungallant action of hiding behind, the skirts of a very charming woman. The Government's policy on housing is disastrous. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister have admitted that the rate of construction of homes has fallen considerably. I believe that the Government's failure to solve this important social problem and to improve the rate of home construction led the Prime Minister to select Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin as the Minister for Housing. Knowing what a vote catcher she is in Queensland, he hopes that his misdeeds will be forgotten because of the charm of his Minister. I accuse the Prime Minister of being very ungallant. He is being most unfair to this very charming lady. The Treasurer said that there was to be an infusion of money into home building, but the position will not be improved because the Government is not facing up to the situation as it should.

Mr Hansen - The Government is leaving it to the private lenders.

Mr COUTTS - As my friend from Wide Bay said, the private lenders wi H provide the money for housing. Unfortunately, the banks are not generous when asked to make loans to people who want to purchase homes or to build them. A neighbour of mine in Young Street, Annerley has decided to buy a home. He is a young tradesman with a wife and three young children. He purchased a home on the outskirts of Brisbane for £2,100. His security is good. He is a good tradesman earning good money. The banks will not assist him by providing finance, but a private money lender has made money available to him at 12 per cent. Fortunately, this is a reducing rate. Interest at the rate of 12 per cent, on a loan for the purchase of a home would frighten anyone but the extremely rash, brave man that this young man is. Who would have thought that in these days the rate of 12 per cent, would have been charged? Certainly there is room for the Government and the new Minister for Housing to introduce a new housing policy and to improve the conditions of people who ' seek to buy a home.

The Prime Minister skipped over the very important matter of the change to decimal currency. In a speech lasting 70 minutes, he devoted only two paragraphs to this issue. The change to decimal currency provided an opportunity to manufacturers and business men to engage in profiteering, and they have not been slow to take advantage of the situation. Many, in an effort to preserve some sense of decency, decided a month or so before the change to decimal currency on 14th February to increase the prices of their commodities so that the prices would just fit into the new decimal currency scale. The price of an article costing, say, 2s. 3d. was increased to 2s. 6d., which is readily converted to 25 cents. The increase was attributed to increased costs of production, but frequently the price was increased merely to fit in with the new system of decimal currency. We have also the example of newspapers. The Brisbane " Courier Mail " did not reduce its price; and by referring to the old currency its present price represents an increase of 20 per cent. This is a nice sudden increase in the cost of a. newspaper. Originally it cost 5d. but now it is costing 5c, the equivalent of 6d. in the old currency. I have no doubt that in addition there would have been an adjustment in the cost of advertising. This type of thing has gone on throughout the country. Prices have been increased alarmingly. A type of brigandage has been practised by the business community, and the poor people who have been robbed are the workers, the farmers and the ordinary people in the community.

I witnessed a sorry sight in a Canberra shop at the weekend. It almost brought tears to my eyes, and if that can happen it must have been pretty bad. I was in a shop when a little child aged five years came in to buy, as she had been doing for some months, six little lollies for 6d. She tendered her 6d. and the attendant gave her five lollies. The little girl said: " Miss, I always get six lollies for my 6d.". The Business lady said: " Ah, but they are now lc each ". So the little girl was robbed of a lolly in the name of decimal currency. Would not that make any member who witnessed such an incident wipe his eyes? I can see honorable members opposite laughing. They are enthusiastic about the greater profit the businessman can make from such happenings.

Mr Nixon - If the honorable member had not been such a louse he would have bought her an extra lolly. Why did he not do so?

Mr COUTTS - I refuse to bribe the voters whether they are Mr. Fraser's voters or mine. Unfortunately this soft of thing has gone on throughout Australia. The Commonwealth Government can, like Pilate, wash its hands of the matter. It has no hand in price control. However, the Liberal Governments that control four of the States are not interested in price control. The Premier of Queensland could not care less. He refuses to see deputations of trade unionists who are concerned with this robbery of the people that is being approved by the various Liberal and Country Party Governments in Australia. It is all building up and will react against this Commonwealth Government in due course. It is useless for the Prime Minister to imagine that he has the same degree of popularity in the country as his precedessor. I am sure that the people, when they have an opportunity of expressing their opinion of this Government because of what has happened in the few months that the Prime Minister has been in the saddle, will express their resentment in a definite way.

I was rather intrigued by the speech of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Fairhall) last night when dealing with the Government's overseas policy. He spoke of Chinese Communists and said -

.   . what is happening in South Vietnam today is perhaps only the first round of an attack by the Chinese Communists in an effort to dominate the world.

They were frightening words. I ask: Why are we feeding the Chinese Communists? Why are we clothing them? Our principle customer for wheat is Communist China. We are feeding the persons the Minister for Defence says are out to dominate the world. Some years ago at Port Kembla a group of waterside workers refused to load scrap iron for Japan. This was in 1937. They said: " This will ultimately be used as bullets against Australian troops." They were branded as traitors to this country because they refused to load the scrap iron A name was coined for the Prime Minister of the day who insisted on this scrap metal being sent to Japan. He was called " Pig Iron Bob". We know that the scrap metal did come back all the way from Japan to New Guinea and that it was directed at the heart of Australia. We know that the watersiders were condemned roundly for their stand and that the man who, as Prime Minister, used the whip on them was knighted and feted. However, this type of thing is still going on.

The Minister for Defence says that we must read and learn. Let the Government do something if it is really sincere in this matter. If it believes that Communist China has a hand in Vietnam, why is it continuing to feed and clothe the people of China? Let us be honest. Let us take the matter seriously. I think the Government is out for as much money as it can get for the producers of Australia irrespective of where the produce goes. It is up to the Government to take the people completely into its confidence and to be honest with them in these matters.

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