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Tuesday, 22 March 1966

Mr JONES (Newcastle) .- Mr. Speaker,the business before the House is a debate on the statement recently made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt). The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has proposed as an amendment to the motion that the House take note of the paper -

That all words after "That" be omitted wilh a view to inserting the following words in place thereof - " this House records -

(1)   its most emphatic opposition to the despatch of conscripted youths for service in Vietnam and the increased military commitment in that country, and

(2)   its disapproval and grave concern at the

Government's failure -

(a)   to maintain the purchasing power of the Australian community;

(b)   to retain an adequate and proper

Australian share in the ownership and development of our national resources, particularly in Northern Australia;

(c)   to alleviate the effects of the drought and take steps to rehabilitate rural industries and conserve water resources;

(d)   to make adequate provision for housing and associated community facilities, and

(e)   to submit to referendum the two

Bills to alter the Constitution in respect of Aborigines and the Parliament which were passed last year and, in connection with the latter Bill, to disclose the related distribution proposals ".

I have taken the trouble to read the terms of the amendment because I believe it is important that they be known as widely as possible. The Prime Minister, when he made his long and dreary statement, which occupied about an hour and a half, gave a very long report on just what was happening in Vietnam and the need for Australia's commitment of troops there to be increased to 4,500 men. He failed miserably to deal with the Australian economy as it is at present. I should like briefly to deal with that part of the statement which related to Vietnam.

Here we find a deplorable situation in which the Government is endeavouring to coerce the people of Australia into believing that we are fighting a just war in Vietnam, that there is a real issue for us there and that we have a real stake in that country. I should like to bring a few facts and figures to the attention of the House and the Prime Minister. In particular, 1 wish to mention a statement made by the former Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Sir Robert Menzies, at the parliamentary dinner held in his honour last Thursday night. He stated that in the world today in too many countries people were trying to build the house from the roof down. In other words, he was saying Australia is fortunate in having a parliamentary system based on local government and State government - on a foundation of democratic government - whereas many other countries are in the unfortunate position of being subject to a dictatorship and lacking democratic government. I suggest that that is the situation in Vietnam today. Since the Geneva Agreement of 1 95+, not one election has been held in either South Vietnam or North Vietnam. In fact, since President Diem was displaced in 1 963 eight different juntas have taken over in South Vietnam. They all have appointed themselves undemocratically because they have had the support of the Army or the Air Force or both, as the case may be. So we in Australia are in the position of supporting a government that has been elected from the top - a government that is endeavouring to build from the roof down without worrying about the foundations of democracy. I believe that these are the things that we ought to consider when we talk about support for the Government of South Vietnam.

The present Commonwealth Government is endeavouring to create the impression that the Australian Labour Party is opposed to the United States of America whereas, in fact, this Party is and at all times has been prepared to work with that country. Anyone who cares to examine the policy and platform of the Australian Labour Party will find that its members advocate and work for close co-operation with the United States in both the development and the defence of Australia. The Government says that Labour is opposed to the policies of the United States. I ask Government supporters who will follow me in this debate to explain how the attitude of the Australian Labour Party differs from the attitude taken by such political leaders in America as Senator Mansfield, who is the majority leader in the United States Senate, Senator Fulbright, who is Chairman of (he Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Edward Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. Many other leading American politicians have advocated a policy similar to that adopted by the Australian Labour Party.

I do not propose to deal at length with this subject, but I ask honorable members on the other side to explain why the Government has authorised the export of important commodities to Communist China, though it is not prepared to support the application of Communist China for membership of the United Nations. In the last 10 years we have exported to Communist China £89 million worth of wool, £249 million worth of wheat and £9,882,000 worth of steel. The value of these three very important commodities that we have exported to Communist China totals £348,484,000. In present day currency, this is $696 million worth of wool, wheat and steel. No-one can justify the claim that these three items would not assist the members of the Chinese armed forces. The wool would help to clothe them, the wheat would help to feed them and the steel would help to arm them. I ask honorable members opposite to explain why they support the export of these important commodities to Communist China, which is allegedly in partnership with North Vietnam in the war against South Vietnam.

Let me deal with some of the questions that concern us most importantly on the home front. The Prime Minister failed to give clear details of the Government's proposals to overcome the credit squeeze that is creeping up on us now. The Prime Minister is famous for credit squeezes. We had a credit squeeze in I960, 1961, 1962 and 1963, when the number of unemployed in Australia exceeded the number that has been unemployed at any time since the depression of the 1930's. I wonder whether the Prime Minister is trying to cover up the Government's inability to take cars of the economy today, and after all the Government was elected originally on a promise to put value back into the £1. Let us look at the way that prices have increased since the last Budget was introduced in August 196S. Doctors' fees have increased by 10 to 33 per cent., hospital ana medical benefit contributions have increased by 25 per cent, and dentists' fees have increased by 5 per cent. As a direct result of the Budget introduced in August last by the present Prime Minister when he was Treasurer, the prices of tobacco, cigarettes, beer and spirits have increased. Bus fares in Sydney and Newcastle have increased by as much as 33 per cent, on the pretext that it was necessary to make this adjustment for the changeover to decimal currency. The price of bread increased by Id. a loaf prior to Christmas last and, when the changeover to decimal currency occurred, the price was increased by a further one-third of Id. Butter has increased by id. a lb. The price of petrol has increased by id. a gallon for no reason other than to increase the margin of retailers. Yet, as we drive past service stations, we can see that half of them have no customers. This is the result of the decision taken by petrol companies to flood Australia with service stations, which are the means of distributing petrol. This has been taking place for a long time and now, with so many petrol stations, the retailers' margin has to be increased to provide a living for retailers. We know that many men in this industry are not making much profit out of the distribution of petrol. So I strongly condemn the increase of id. in the price of petrol. I am not opposed to the service station proprietors in the industry receiving the increase, but I think it should have been borne by the industry itself. If we were to examine the excellent publication circulated last week by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) giving details of how Australian industries have been taken over by overseas interests, we would see that the petrol industry is owned almost exclusively by overseas interests.

Let me come back to the matter of the increase in the cost of living. Due to the coming introduction of decimal currency, in September and October last year more than 300 grocery items were increased in price. Allegedly the prices of these items were stabilised - invariably increased - to prepare for the changeover in five months* time to decimal currency. The cost of car insurance increased by 20 per cent. The New South Wales Government got in for its chop and increased the stamp duty on cheques from 4d. to 4c. The New South

Wales Government was not prepared to accept a reduction in stamp duty. The increase amounted to 2s. or 20 per cent, on a book of 30 cheques.

Mr Reynolds - What about municipal rates?

Mr JONES - The honorable member for Barton rightly asks: " What about municipal rates? " No doubt many honorable members saw the excellent " Four Corners " programme last Saturday night. Even the silvertails on the Sydney north shore line are objecting to a 29 per cent, increase in their rates. I could go on for some time giving details of increases in local government charges, all of which are attributable to the increase in the price of petrol following last year's Budget.

I could say a lot more about increases in the cost of living. What does the Government propose to do about the serious increase in the cost of living? Take the plight of pensioners. I do not know how they exist on the pension today. It is 18 months since the pension was last increased. By how much has the cost of living increased in that time? I venture to suggest that in the last 18 months the cost of living has increased by £3 10s. a week, but in that time the pensioner has not received any increase. I appeal to the Government to do something for the pensioners. Honorable members will remember that the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue), when raising this subject last Thursday, endeavoured to obtain some latitude from Mr. Speaker because it was St. Patrick's Day. I agree with the honorable member that there has never been a greater need for a supplementary budget. I make a strong appeal to the Government to provide some relief for pensioners. As far as the basic wage is concerned, we all know what is happening in the present basic wage hearing. There have been several clashes between Mr. Hawke, the advocate for the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and the judges - I almost called them the representatives of big business, because I have never had much regard for the Bench.

Mr Snedden - That is an improper thing to say.

Mr JONES - Is it? I have never had any regard for the arbitration system. I have always held the view that the worker obtains from an arbitration court only what he is strong enough to take and hold. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission has never been prepared to deal with facts. It has never been prepared to give the workers that to which they are justly entitled. If the Commission had been prepared to do justice it would have granted an increase of £1 last year instead of the miserable 6s. that was granted. The Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden) is aware of these things. These facts are the reason for the clash that is taking place between Mr. Hawke and Mr. Justice Gallagher in particular although, on the face of it, the clash would seem to be due to Mr. Hawke's adverse comment on the decision to which Mr. Justice Gallagher was a party. The Arbitration Commission has the opportunity to establish that it is prepared to examine facts, and to examine them justly. I consider that the A.C.T.U. claim for an increase of $4.30 is fair and reasonable in view of the 4 per cent, increase in prices that took place between December 1964 and December 1965. We realise, too, that prices have continued to rise since then. This leads me to ask: What is the Government doing about the Australian economy today? The Prime Minister did not say what the Government intended to do; he said merely that there are a few weak points in our economy. Experienced industrialists and commercial men would argue that there were more than a few weak points. Sir Edgar Coles has referred to there being almost a recession in trading. Retailers in Newcastle have told me that in the last few weeks their takings have dropped considerably. One man said that his business had shown a decline of more than 25 per cent, in turnover. Who is to blame for this? What is the reason for it? Can it be that the stage has been reached when people cannot afford to pay the prices asked of them? I think this is the answer. The average family man cannot afford to buy the necessaries of life.

A recent statement issued by Myer Emporium Ltd. forecast the continuance of highly competitive conditions accompanied by some decline in earnings. The Chairman of Directors of the Broken Hill Pty. Co. Ltd. said -

We arc facing the possibility that during the remainder of the financial year it will be difficult to keep all sections of our plant operating at capacity levels.

Sir EdgarColes, representatives of Myer Emporium Ltd. and the Chairman of Directors of B.H.P. have all issued the warning. They are all responsible people. What is the Government going to do about it? It is up to the Government to supply the answer.

In recent months we have noticed a serious decline in the number of houses being built. The latest statistics disclose that whereas in September 1965 a total of 10,571 homes were built, in January 1966 the number was 5,933. Only seven times in the last five and a half years have fewer than 6,000 homes a month been built. Five of those months were in the period when this Government was creating a pool of unemployment - a Holt made depression. How far does the Government think the miserly $15 million allocated for home building will go? From reports I have read this allocation could result in the construction of an additional 2,000 homes a month. Assuming that this is so, added to the 5,933 constructed in January this would represent fewer than 8,000 homes a month. The building industry economy has been geared to building an average of 11,000 homes a month. In some months more than 13,000 homes have been built, yet in January we built just over 5,900. I ask the Government to make available a greater allocation than $15 million.

Last week I was talking with representatives of building societies in my electorate. They disclosed to me that the terminating societies have had no money for home building since July 1965 and that the permanent societies, whose money is limited, are lending at 7i per cent, interest. Last November I drew the attention of the present Prime Minister, who was then Treasurer, to the fact that the Commonwealth Bank was imposing conditions that made it almost impossible for the average person to obtain a building loan. The bank required an average monthly balance in a savings account of £500 for the preceding 12 months. If a person qualified he still had to wait five or six months for a loan. These are the conditions that this Government has brought about. These conditions have created a depression in the building industry. At present there is a waiting time for loans through the Commonwealth Bank and a person still must have a monthly balance of £500 for the preceding 12 "months before he qualifies for assistance. An examination reveals that the Commonwealth Savings Bank is not one of the best lending institutions among the savings banks. Some of the private banks are lending more than the Commonwealth Savings Bank is making available. The Government has here an opportunity to make available not $15 million but at least double or treble that amount just to keep pace with the demand. The Government should introduce a planned system of home building, lt should assess the ability of industry to build, it should ascertain what materials are available and it should make an assessment of the need for homes. Having done that, it should then make sufficient finance available to keep the industry stable and to ensure that the people of this country will have adequate housing. We all know there is a shortage of homes. Why, in my district alone, the waiting period for a Housing Commission home is approximately two and a half years. Pensioners have to wait for up to six years for pensioner units.

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