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Wednesday, 16 September 1942

Senator BRAND (Victoria) .- When my speech was interrupted on Friday last, I was about to state that it is the task of the Tariff Board to pierce, if it can, the post-war economic fog and give to the Government the result of its investigations. Before any recommendation is considered by the Government it should be endorsed by a committee of persons entirely divorced from politics; a Cabinet Minister may, or may not, be the chairman. There are plenty of men representative of both employers and employees who would submerge politics in order to set Australia on the highway to economic progress. Professors of economics and all theorists ought to be barred from appointment to the committee ; practical men with a lifelong knowledge of industry and industrial matters should be the advisers of the Government.

A no less difficult task confronts the Commerce Department which is looking into the position of our primary industries. Some of the questions which departmental officers will endeavour to answer are: Can Australia regain its pre-war overseas markets for its surplus primary products? Will the EastofSuez market be retained when the bulk of the Empire's armed forces are demobilized? What industries must be developed, and what new industries can economically be established? Will the production of flax be abandoned when Russia is again ready to trade with Great Britain? Should the Government approve a big influx of immigrants from not only Great Britain but also other delected European countries, in the belief that many people in those countries will regard Australia, which is so far away from the strife and turmoil in Europe, as their land of promise, how many such immigrants can be admitted annually to this country? One competent authority contends that Australia can maintain not more than 40,000,000 people at the end of another 50 years. We shall need a far greater population than 7,000,000 people to hold Australia against Japan's ambitions, however humble that nation may be when the Allies have won this war. The authority who gave the above figure as our maximum population added a proviso that it can be reached only by a more intense development of the soil through the medium of large water conservation schemes and the decentralization of secondary industries at suitable inland centres. If that were done, there would be no need for undue concern regarding overseas markets for most of our primary products, as a market would exist at our door.

Closely allied to the future of Australia's problem of post-war primary industries is the big problem of water supply. In fact, it is the main problem. Has the Government taken any action with the State governments to investigate potential water supply systems?

This will have to be taken in hand, before a policy of land settlement for demobilized members of the fighting services is decided upon. The blunders of settling returned soldiers on the land after the last war must not be repeated. The report of Mr. Justice Pike, who inquired into the matter as a royal commission in 1932, sets out certain recommendations. It should be closely studied. Despite what some critics may say, I believe a very fair proportion of demobilized men will seek an independent openair life at the close of the war. Priority of opportunity must be given to these men to engage in an occupation which will give them and their families a decent and reasonably profitable livelihood. True, many soldier settlers after the last war have prospered, whilst others have failed due partly to their own fault ; but the adverse conditions under which they settled drove most of them off their holdings. On the Commonwealth Parliament's Ex-service Men's All-party Committee are several soldier settlers of the last war. A sub-committee of these has prepared a constructive report. It contains a recommendation that, as the Repatriation Commission is already grappling with an ever-increasing mass of repatriation problems, a Commonwealth Government authority be set up to deal with the broad principles of soldier land settlement, leaving the appropriate State authorities to work out and administer the details. The report urges the purchase of suitable land by the Commonwealth Government now. with due regard to the productivity of that land. It also recommends a course of training for prospective land settlers, either at agricultural colleges or attachment to well established primary producers on the same principles as the vocational training system for absorption 'of trainers into secondary industries.

The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) in his budget speech declared -

There are some people who think the war should he financed entirely by Central Bank credit. The Government is convinced that in that way lies grave danger.

I have shown that we have already drawn on practically all our reserves of labour and equipment and that recent expansion of the war effort has been achieved by subtraction from peace-time production. I have made it clear that the further expansion of war activ ity means further reductions in the things that will remain for civil use. Expansion of bank credit, therefore, without a corresponding capacity to expand production would increase purchasing power without increasing the supply of goods and services. Increasing the volume of money without increasing the supply of goods for civil consumption not only creates the danger of inflation but it sets up serious competition between demands for civil goods and demands for war requirements. Clearly then, as further physical resources are provided by the nation for war so must further financial resources be similarly provided from the savings of the people. This can only he done if every individual saves and contributes to the utmost of his capacity.

Senator Keane - "What is wrong with that?

Senator BRAND - It is a very clear and candid statement, and an exTreasurer now in opposition would probably put the case in the same manner. But what is the Government going to do about it? Will it appeal to the people, as it did previously, to contribute their savings voluntarily? Thousands will make an effort to do so, but thousands will ignore the appeal. Before another six months have passed the Government will have no alternative but to institute a system of compulsory loans, in other words, postwar credits - a policy on which the Fadden Government was defeated. What is wrong with a system of postwar credits? It is similar to the deferred pay of the members of the fighting services, the only difference being that the citizen receives, at the termination of the war, the amount he subscribed, plus interest, whereas the soldier receives no interest on the accumulated amount of his deferred pay. When will the Government have the courage to face up to the inevitable? It will have to take its courage in both hands if inflation is to be avoided. Why the Government has not indicated in the budget that compulsory loans will be resorted to if the appeal for voluntary loans fail, I do not know. There has been no hesitati on on the part of the Government to impose compulsory unionism by direct and indirect methods. If the reason for this compulsion is to safeguard the industrial welfare of the wageeanier, how much greater is the reason for compulsory contributions to Consolidated Revenue, to safeguard trade unionism and the nation generally against a deadly enemy such as Japan? I venture to say that the majority of wage-earners would accept a post-war credit scheme on a graduated scale according to their family commitments and obligations. They are much better off under the uniform taxation. They will no longer pay State income tax.

I now wish to make a plea on behalf of a number of Commonwealth superannuated officials for an increase of their pensions in order to offset the rising cost of living. A fair percentage of them could not afford to take up more than the minimum number of four units under the Commonwealth Superannnation Act of 1 922. That minimum gives £2 per week. Many of these retired public servants have availed themselves of the old-age pension, others are unable to do so.

During the depression period, July, 1931, to November, 1933, pensions were reduced by 4s. per week, except in the case of State public servants transferred to the Commonwealth service. The latter took their case to the High Court. The decision was that the Commonwealth had no power to reduce their pensions. Had the other public servants an organization strong enough to contest their case in the High Court, they, too, probably would not have had their pensions reduced. All permanent servants under the Crown were obliged to take up the minimum number of four units when the Commonwealth Superannuation Act of 1 922 became law. To do so hundreds on the lower salaries surrendered life assurance policies, as they could not contribute to both. On retirement, the four units entitled them to draw £2 per week, about half of which represented their contributions whilst in the Service. These superannuated officials still hold the opinion that the Commonwealth Government failed to honour its contractual obligations under the Superannuation Act by reducing benefits under that act. Nothing can now be done to remove that grievance, but some consideration might be given to a request from these aged, loyal officials for an increase of their pensions, on account of the much higher cost of living. It has been suggested that an amendment of the act would enable this additional increase to be made from the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund, now totalling £8,500,000. The number requiring such an increase would not be very great, each request being dealt with on its merits. I pass on this suggestion to the Minister representing the Treasurer.

I now wish to elaborate on a subject upon which evidence was given recently before the Repatriation Committee. There are nearly as many ex-service men of the last war in State civil mental institutions throughout the Commonwealth as there are in Repatriation mental hospitals. In other words there are as many men, whose mental disability is not recognized as directly due to war service, as there are those whose disability is accepted as due to that cause. Medical experts contend that those not accepted by the Repatriation Commission are hereditary cases, or are clue to some cause other than war service. Although State governments have undertaken the responsibility for the care and treatment of these non-'accepted cases, the Commonwealth Government has recognized their eligibility for the service pension, just as the accepted cases are eligible, since all are unemployable.

The question is : Why cannot the nonaccepted cases in civil institutions be transferred to repatriation mental hospitals? On making inquiries, I find that the only obstacle is the expense of 'building extra wards and providing perhaps additional attendants. Subsistence costs are met from their service pensions. Successive governments have evaded this question. It is true, in two States, extra accommodation has been provided, the cost being shared by the Commonwealth and State Governments. In the other States, no progress has been made. The question of where State responsibility begins and ends is the stumbling block. These non-accepted mental patients are citizens of the - Commonwealth, and no artificial barriers or departmental regulations should' prevent them entering Commonwealth institutions. They are returned soldiers. They fought for their country. Had they not enlisted, they no doubt would .have continued to live quietly amongst - relatives and friends. Having gone overseas, their dormant, hereditary disability, if such it be, was accentuated under active service -conditions. The psychological effect in being associated with confirmed civil patients must be taken into account. These non-accepted soldier patients, like other patients, no doubt have periods of mental sanity. There is not the same comradeship amongst civilians as there is amongst ex-service men. Comradeship raises a man's morale and improves his outlook on life. Further, the relatives of these unfortunate men feel the position very keenly. Their wish is to see their father, son or brother accommodated in the same mental institution as their " digger " comrades. No reflection on the care and attention by the civil mental authorities is suggested. The desire is based on sentimental grounds. In the more populous States there is a mental welfare sub-committee of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's League. The "diggers" on that committee, supported by a ladies' auxiliary, organize concert parties and monthly country car trips for the more normal cases in repatriation mental hospitals. I went on one or two of these trips before petrol rationing was introduced. The expression on the patients' faces is enough thanks for the " digger " carowners, who give up their Sunday afternoons in order to provide some pleasure to their unfortunate " cobbers ". But what of the other fellows similarly afflicted, in the civil institution at Mont l.'ark, 3 miles from the repatriation institution at Bundoora? There are no such diversions for them.

In support of this plea to place all accepted and non-accepted soldier mental patients in one institution, I draw attention to the fact that the Commonwealth Government decided three years ago that all ex-service men suffering from tuberculosis should be admitted for treatment to repatriation hospitals. The contention that tuberculosis was hereditary was brushed aside. The disability was accepted whether due to the rigours of active service or not. Why not deal with mental cases in the same way? It may not bt! possible to carry out the suggestion in the less populous States, but it could be done in others. I respectfully ask the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation to bring this matter before Cabinet for favorable consideration.

Without wishing to be too critical of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Force), who has, even with the help of an Assistant Minister, a stupendous task, I think " wool is pulled over his eyes " occasionally. I refer to the Goulburn Valley group of prisoners of war camps. It is true that German prisoners have escaped now and then,- but there is nothing extraordinary about that. It is only natural that fit young men, as these prisoners are, should like a change, even for a few days, from the sight of huts and barbed wire. That desire is increased if there be any signs that sentries are not 100 per cent, alert. Their experience as soldiers tells them when a soldier on duty has been doing mora than a normal week's work. Boredom on the part of prisoners, and insufficient men to do all the necessary duties are the main causes of criticism of this group of camps. When two or three prisoners escape, there is a hue and cry. The Minister calls for a report. That report is drawn up by a responsible authority not directly connected with the camp. Minute details are given as to how, when and where the Nazis effected their escape. The only thing that happens is that somebody is sacked, and the same routine is carried on again. To stir up personal enemies, exaggerated reports of incidents are sent to a weekly publication. Another report is called for. I say, definitely, that the 800 members comprising the guards over the Goulburn Valley group of camps are " fed up " at being constantly blamed. The fault lies higher up, and indeed with the Minister himself. The Government policy is wrong. These fit, strapping young Nazis require hard work. A substantial increase of the strength of the guard would enable more work to be carried out in the vicinity of the camps. I go so far as to suggest a system of parole - the same as is adopted in Nazi camps. Several Australian prisoners of war are engaged on farms; one I know of is the actual manager, on parole, of a farm in Austria. I hope that the Minister will make a few personal inquiries. If he does, he will find that what I have said is true. A few direct questions to the leaders of the war prisoners in each camp would result in a change of policy with regard to putting in time between meals.

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