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Wednesday, 5 October 1927

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - In the few observations which I propose to make on the budget I shall touch on departmental matters in which I am deeply interested, and I shall be obliged if the Minister concerned will make a note of them and give me replies, so that it will be unnecessary for me to ask for the information on other occasions.

I should like, at the outset, to express my appreciation of the very satisfactory financial statement which the honorable the Treasurer (Dr. Page) submitted last week. The income tax changes will be welcomed- by the whole of the people, and especially by the mercantile community, as several very obnoxious regulations in connexion with assessments will now be done away with. Of course the greatest measure of satisfaction is in respect of the promised reduction of 10 per cent. A similar reduction in land taxation is also very welcome; but with Senator Hayes, I should like the Federal Treasurer to evacuate both these fields of taxation. I daresay this may come in time. At present it would not be wise for the Treasurer to withdraw wholly from these two avenues of taxation, as the receipts from them are necessary to enable him to balance the ledger; but I hope he will keep in mind the desirability of giving the people the relief suggested in the not distant future.

I also congratulate the Treasurer on the provision that has been made for many useful government activities. Amongst these may be mentioned the pro,posal to set aside £100,000 for the purchase of radium to be used in connexion with the treatment of cancer. I feel sure that this will be a very useful provision. Many people, private as well as professional, are endeavouring to find a cure for this dread scourge. In my own division a man is experimenting in a humble way, and, I believe, with a large measure of success. Although he is not a professional man, it is due to him, and the public generally, that the Department of Health should take notice of his experiments, because, as we know, the professional men sometimes overlook certain phases of research work upon which nonprofessional experimenters concentrate their attention sometimes with the most satisfactory results. It is reasonable, therefore, that all such research workers should receive every encouragement.

It is a matter for congratulation that the Government is making further substantial provision for scientific and industrial research. I should like to know what is being done with regard to the extraction of petrol from coal. On former occasions I have expressed the view that we have a better chance in Australia of securing an adequate supply of petrol from the liquefaction of coal than from the discovery of flow oil. I hope that I am wrong. But even if we, are successful in the search for natural oil fields, we have a vast reserve supply of coal from which oil may be extracted, and it should be the business of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to find the means to extract it on a commercial scale. I have in mind an immense coal deposit at Blair Athol, in Queensland, where there is a seam of black coal 90 feet in thickness, with an overburden of from 40 feet to 100 feet only. It is quite an easy proposition to remove the overburden and mine the coal, and if the liquefaction of coal for the extraction of petrol were an accomplished fact, that deposit would be an asset of incalculable value to the Commonwealth.

Senator Foll - Has the company done anything with it?

Senator THOMPSON - It spent about £15,000 on the removal of the overburden, but its funds became exhausted and it had to cease operations. German scientists have already solved the problem of extracting oil from coal, with the result that Germany is now producing 125,000 tons of oil per annum from this source, and I understand that the output will be largely increased in the near future. I believe also that satisfactory progress is being made in England, so that it should be possible to carry out the same work in Australia. It is of immense importance to the Commonwealth, and we should be in the van of progress.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What does Mr. Gepp say about it?

Senator THOMPSON - It has been referred to him. I hope that he will in- quire thoroughly into the subject and not answer in platitudes, as he seems inclined to do in respect of many big propositions that have been placed before him already. A further suggestion which I have to make for that august body to consider, is in regard to another Central Queensland coal deposit which we consider, on analysis, to be equal to the best Welsh coal for naval purposes. I am anxious to capture that trade for Australia. At present we are not producing coal in Australia to compete with Welsh coal. The Newcastle product is excellent, but does not come up to the standard of Welsh coal. I think we have it in Central Queensland, and I suggest that the Navy authorities, instead of spending thousands of pounds every year in importing Welsh coal, should obtain supplies from Queensland.

Senator Reid - Has it been tested?

Senator THOMPSON - Yes. Within the last month, 1,300 tons have been taken away. The Australian Navy are now awaiting a definite decision as to whether that coal is equal in quality to the Welsh product.

Senator Elliott - The Electricity Commission in Victoria is carrying out a good deal of research work with- the object of proving whether oil can be obtained from coal.

Senator THOMPSON - That gives me considerable pleasure. It is a step in the right direction. I should like the stacks of Welsh coal that are kept, in Australia for naval purposes replaced by thai from Central Queensland. The Department of Markets and Migration might also ascertain from the authorities in Singapore the prospects of opening up an export trade with it. The other day I had a conversation with a man who had just returned from Singapore. He informed me' that enormous quantities of Welsh coal are kept in stock there. Rockhampton is much nearer than Wales is to Singapore; and if we possess coal of the right quality, we should be able to supply all their requirements, thus building up a valuable asset for Australia.

There should be no disagreement with the proposal of the Treasurer to increase war pensions, so as to give further relief to returned soldiers. Such an increase is both estimable and desirable. During the last twelve months I have brought to the notice of the Minister several cases of hardship, and have been instrumental in having relief granted. There is an aspect of this matter which indirectly is a reflection on the Government. Maimed returned soldiers, in uniform are to be seen begging in the streets of Sydney. Either the pension given to those men is not sufficient, or they are degrading the uniform that they wear. It is the duty of the R.S.S.I.L.A. to investigate such cases, and if it is found that those men are acting improperly they should be sternly dealt with. Whilst we are doing everything possible for the returned soldiers, we have a right to ask that they act decently.

I am gratified at the action of the Government in proposing to finance those who desire to purchase homes, thus giving effect to a promise which was made at the last elections. I trust, however, that the mistakes which were made at _the initiation of the War Service Homes scheme will not be repeated. J have had placed before me perfectly bona fide applications which have been delayed for as long as nine months. The inspection and legal fees, also, are altogther out of proportion to the amount involved.

Senator Elliott - If there were an undue speeding up might there not be a possibility of higher costs ?

Senator THOMPSON - I do not think so. Surely it is- not necessary to wait for nine months before completing arrangements for a man to obtain a cottage costing £800. Two or three months ought to be quite sufficient. I hope that the procedure relating to the charging of legal fees will be simplified, and that the cost will be cheapened. It cannot be denied that the fees are a big handicap to the man who desires to procure a home costing say, £800.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - The War Service Homes department has a distinct branch which handles all legal matters.

Senator THOMPSON - The fact was. elicited recently that heavy fees are charged in connexion with transfers.

Senator Elliott - What about the stamp duty?

Senator THOMPSON - I have no excuses to offer on that score. The stamp duty charged by the Queensland Government is beyond all reason.

Senator Elliott - Solicitors cannot be blamed for those.

Senator THOMPSON - They are not being blamed. My contention is that other costs should be kept down.

I wish to express satisfaction with the statement of accounts submitted by the Commonwealth Bank. The profit last year was substantially greater than that of the previous year, which is a pleasing feature. Nevertheless, the methods adopted in dealing with the public ought to be liberalized. The authorities decline to countenance proposals that they might very well accept, especially those that are put forward by men on the land. I understand that there is a tendency for the bank to retire from ordinary business, and to concentrate to a greater extent on the legitimate business of a bank of reserve. I am unable to say whether that policy is dictated by the Treasurer or high officials in the service of the bank. The institution must, and to a certain extent does, function as a reserve bank, but it ought not to sacrifice the very fine business which it has built and is building up. If possible the business ought to be expanded and, within banking prudence, the bank should accept much that it is now turning down.

The Government is not in a position to place at the disposal of the InspectorGeneral of the Military Farces as large a sum as we would wish. Doubtless, the Air Force and the Navy are being very well looked after - and properly so. I should like to have the assurance of the Minister for Defence (Sir William Glasgow), that proper attention is being paid to the mechanization of the army. In the Imperial Army that has been made one of . the great departments, and has been placed in the charge of an officer of very high attainments. Mechanization is to-day very different from what it was a few years ago. In addition to the tanks, the cavalry, the artillery, and even the infantry, have been considerably mechanized. Our military heads in Australia are excellent men, but the fact that we are situated in an out-of-the-way corner of the world may perhaps lead to our falling behind the times. Military men are sent to England and placed on the staff of the High Commissioner, where possibly their duties may be confined largely to social activities rather than to military science and investigation. Arrangements ought to be made for occasional visits by Imperial officers of high attainments, who could advise us of our shortcomings and indicate the directions in which progress might be made.

The Minister for Defence is aware that Rockhampton and Townsville are anxious to secure the establishment of aerodromes. Lately, there has been a movement to establish a large company to engage in civil aviation. The desirability of co-operating and coordinating with civil aviation should convince the department of the wisdom of giving approval to the sites suggested and having aerodromes erected upon them.

The Treasurer has expressed satisfaction at the fine surplus which was realized from- the sale of expropriated properties in New Guinea. As a result of observations which I made on a recent visit to the Mandated Territory, I suggest that the Treasurer ought to exercise care in the use of the word " realization." There appears to have been a degree of inflation. Without wishing to be a pessimist, I say that, if a slump takes place in the price of copra, failure to meet the commitments entered into upon the sale of expropriated properties will not be uncommon. The inflation was brought about as a result of the very proper desire of either the Government or the Minister to give good terms to returned soldiers, of whom there are quite a number.. Tenders were invited on the basis of 15 per cent, cash and the balance over a long period. Consequently" high bids were made, the initial cash outlay being the consideration uppermost at the moment, and prices were paid which it will be difficult to realize. If the present price of copra is maintained, or there is an appreciation, all will be well ; but, if there is a slump, there may not be any possibility of realization. The complaint is general that returned soldiers are being used as dummies by big firms. The party with which I travelled promised to make to the Minister the request that there be a thorough investigation. One member of the party has a list of the names of returned soldiers who are, ostensibly, the owners of plantations, but are, in reality, dummying for mercantile firms. If that is the case the desire of the Government to advance the interests of the returned soldiers is being exploited by outsiders. The matter is worthy of investigation. I am confident that the cases which were brought under our notice were not all bogus ones.

Senator Reid - It is said that some of them are " dummying " for Germans.

Senator THOMPSON - It is not a question of " dummying " for Germans. The proposal to spend money in geophysical research has my hearty approval. It may result in fresh mining fields being found. I have a great deal of sympathy with Senator Graham's remarks about the- decadence of gold-mining in "Western Australia, because the position in Queensland is much the same. The renowned Mr Morgan Gold Mining Company Limited, from whose mine gold to the value of over £20,000,000 has been obtained, is in liquidation. The assistance of the Development and Migration Commission was unsuccessfully sought with a view to the continuance of operations at Mr Morgan. Its inability to overcome the difficulties was, in my opinion, a foregone conclusion, because if, with a highly skilled technical staff and the best brains of the world to advise them, the. directors could not make the mine pay, the Development and Migration Commission could do little.

Senator Reid - "Would a bounty on gold make the mine pay?

Senator THOMPSON - Yes, if sufficiently large, but the payment of a bounty on gold mining, which is a wasting asset, cannot be justified. The only way to make gold-mining pay is to reduce the cost of production. Everything possible has been tried at Mr Morgan; yet the mine cannot be made to pay. It seems inevitable that that great mine will have to close down permanently.

The financial agreement arrived at between the Commonwealth, and the States is the greatest achievement which any Government of recent years can claim. Although many people considered such an agreement to be impossible 1 always contended that the States would not fail to receive a quid pro quo from the Commonwealth for the abolition of the per capita payments. So effectively has that been done that former opponents of the Government's proposals, including many of the leading Queensland newspapers, are now acclaiming the financial agreement as a wonderful achievement.

Senator Reid - They take the credit for it.

Senator THOMPSON - But they were not responsible for it. On the contrary those honorable senators from Queensland who supported the States Grants Bill were subjected to severe criticism by most of the leading newspapers of that State. .Such, fortunately, was not my experience, because my support of that measure was approved by the leading newspapers in my home town, Rockhampton, as well as by public opinion there. The financial arrangement with the States will stand to' the credit of the Bruce-Page Government for all time.

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