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Wednesday, 16 September 1942

The PRESIDENT - The Minister is not entitled to give directions to the Chair.

Senator FOLL - Honorable senators on this side desire to know the policy of the Government in regard to such important matters. Recently, in answer to a question relating to one of the most vital defence works which is being carried out in .this country, the urgency and importance of- which cannot 'be over-stated, I was informed that about 100 men had been taken from that job to work in another part of the Commonwealth where the need for them was urgent. I believe that sufficient men could have been found for that other work without interfering with this vital undertaking. I have not heard that -the men so taken were required because of their special ability. Particularly since the fall of Singapore, the undertaking from which they were taken has become the most vital defence work in this part of the world.

I come now to another controversial subject which, some honorable senators are inclined to brush aside. I refer to the liquor question. Unfortunately, many who refer to abuses caused by the excessive use of alcohol associate those abuses only with members of the various fighting services. That is unfair." During the last five or six weeks I have spent a good deal of time in various camps. In one camp there was no provision for a wet canteen during the first five days that we were there, but not one com- plaint was made to the commanding officer, nor did any member of the service leave camp without authority, notwithstanding that a pay-day occurred during that period. The reason was that the men were anxious to push ahead with the work in hand. In my opinion, one of the principal causes of abuses in connexion with alcohol is that hotels close at 6 p.m. In referring to this matter I know that I am treading on what some people regard as dangerous ground. Although we are all opposed to excessive drinking by any section of the community, I have no objection to a soldier, or a munitions worker, or indeed any worker, having a glass or two of beer at the end of his day's work. Owing to the greater number of hours which are now being worked in many factories it is not so easy as previously for men to have their glass of beer before 6 o'clock.

Senator Collings - Some workers do not leave their employment until 3 o'clock in the morning.

Senator FOLL - The hours at which hotels must close should be staggered. There is no more reason why a man coming off a strenuous shift at 8 p.m. should not be able to obtain a drink than if he knocks off work at 5 The reason for the 6 o'clock " guzzle " which now takes place is that men are, as it were, fighting against time, and sometimes they consume more liquor than, they require. Particularly in districts where munitions works are situated, the hotel closing hours should be adapted to the needs of the district. I should not object to the establishment of wet canteens, under proper authority, in certain establishments. In addition to staggering the closing hours by extending them beyond 6 o'clock in some instances, I should close hotels for some hours during the day - for some period between breakfast time and luncheon time - and completely close them between the time of the midday meal and the evening meal. The reduced production of beer is causing numbers of men to drink "plonk," gin or "pinkie" when beer is no longer available. The alcoholic strength of beer is a matter to which consideration should be given. In stating these opinions I emphasize that they are entirely my own; I do not know whether they are held by any other honorable senator on this side.

Considering the large number of men in dic various fighting forces, the provision for their entertainment when on leave is totally inadequate. Very little of the estimated expenditure of about £600.000,000 this year is to be used in providing amenities for soldiers when on leave. No government - I do not exclude the Government in which I was a Minister - has clone anything effective in this direction. Soldiers on leave in a strange town or city can find very little to do, and consequently many of them fall victims to people who exploit them, and place temptations in their way. In saying these things, I have no wish to detract from the excellent work being done by the churches and other organizations in providing comforts for soldiers; but there are so many men in the various fighting forces, and in addition there are so many thousands of men from allied countries in Australia that these organizations, with their limited funds and workers, cannot do all that is necessary. A sufficient sum should be placed on the Estimates to provide reasonable amenities for soldiers when on leave.

A soldier who overstays his leave is paraded before his commanding officer, and unless he can give a sound reason for his absence from duty he is punished, either by way of a fine or confinement to barracks. But what action is taken when a key man in an industrial undertaking absents himself from work? In such an event the country loses not only his production, but also that of those associated with him. There is a good deal of lost time in some factories from this cause, and therefore I suggest that workers who deliberately absent themselves from duty without good reason should be. subject to some penalty.

The Treasurer has intimated that the Government proposes to submit to the electors, by means of a referendum, certain proposals designed- to increase the powers of the Commonwealth to deal with post-war problems. Although, in my opinion, the Government is wise in seeking extended powers from the people, I hope that it will not approach this matter lightly, but will give serious thought to the proposals to be submitted to the electors. On many occasions the limitations imposed by the Constitution have seriously handicapped the government of the day. It is only reasonable to suppose that 42 years of federation should reveal some weaknesses in the Constitution, particularly when we reflect ' that it was drafted by mcn who were jealous to preserve the sovereign rights of the States. The framers of the Constitution did not foresee the spheres of activity in which the Commonwealth is now operating.- At the inception of federation it was said that the cost of a Commonwealth Government would not amount to more per head of the population than the price of a dog licence, and that the Commonwealth Government would merely take over four or five of the larger departments. In addition, it was never anticipated thatthe Commonwealth Government would intrude in the life of the individual as is the case to-day. I hope therefore, that when the time comes to submit proposals to the people by way of referendum the Government will not act on party lines, or set itself up as the sole arbiter of what questions shall be submitted to the people. The proposed referendum offers a unique opportunity to the Government to consult with all parties in the Parliament with a view to framing the vital questions involved in the extension of Common wealth powers.

Senator Allan MacDonald - What greater powers are required by the Commonwealth than it now enjoys under the National Security Act?

Senator FOLL (QUEENSLAND) - The honorable senator knows that the National Security Act will lapse twelve months after the war is over. However, that will be the time, when we are confronted with the great post-war problem of reconstruction, and the Commonwealth will need to be entirely free of constitutional handicaps which have restricted it in the past when it has attempted to deal with national matters on a Commonwealth-wide basis. I also request the Government to give an opportunity at the forthcoming referendum to the people to express their views on the abolition of State Parliaments, with a view to basing the future government of this country on the principle of unification.

Senator McBride - Does the honorable senator want to get rid of the Queensland Parliament?

Senator FOLL (QUEENSLAND) - I am requesting that an opportunity be given to the people to say whether or not they desire the abolition of State parliaments, and the establishment of a more centralized form of government in this country. Any questions dealing with constitutional reform should not be relatedmerely to this Parliament, or to any particular government, but, on the contrary, full opportunity should be taken at the forthcoming referendum to carry constitutional reforms so that future national governments will be enabled to proceed with the development of this country, unhampered by the limitations imposed by the present Constitution. Therefore, I urge the Government to establish at the earliest opportunity a constitutional committee, consisting of representatives of all parties in the Parliament, to draw up the questionsto be submitted by way of referendum. In that way, we shall ensure that the proposals will not be put to the people on party political lines. Many questions which have been submitted by way of referendum in -the past should have been, and would have been, carried, had it not been for the fact that one party exclusively frames those questions, and thereby arouses the antagonism of other parties, which naturally felt bound for party political reasons to oppose them. Therefore, when the people are approached by way of referendum, let it be on a basis that will not give scope to what are known as State righters. On many occasions during the last two or three years, the impotency of State parliaments ina time of national emergency has been fully demonstrated. In such circumstances State governments particularly become employees of the national government, because it is necessary to have power more centralized. I make no apology for my belief in the policy of unification, or for the fact that I do not see eye to eye with some of my colleagues on the subject. The Commonwealth Government is seriously handicapped by the limitations imposed upon it by the Constitution as it now stands.

I.   regret that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) is not in the chamber at the moment. This afternoon, Senator Cooper pointed out that the recent increases of excise duty had been imposed on goods sold in camp canteens. Lately, the Government has made a great song about the fact that it increased soldiers' pay by 6d. a day. and provided corresponding benefits to soldiers' dependants. [Extension of time granted.]For a soldier who has an occasional glass of beer, or buys a few cigarettes now and again, that extra6d. is practically cancelled by the recent increase of charges on such commodities sold in camp canteens.

The dissatisfaction so caused is further aggravated by the fact that members of allied forces in this country are able to purchase Australian cigarettes and alcoholic liquors free of excise duty, and at the same time to purchase similar goods imported from their own country at a price much below that charged to the members of our own fighting services. Some men with whom I have come in contact recently are annoyed by the fact that the authorities controlling canteens increased charges on stocks which r-hey had on hand before the increased prices became operative.

Senator Ashley - That is bad management on the part of those controlling the canteen.

Senator FOLL - It is bad management on the part of the canteen's board. Managers of camp canteens, in increasing charges on old stocks, acted on instructions. I urge the Government to place canteen charges on a reasonable basis. As honorable senators are aware, many of our camps are comparatively isolated. Consequently the little comforts which a soldier purchases at a canteen mean a great deal to him. However, the benefits of the increase of 6d. a day in the soldier's pay has been, more than offset by the increased charges at canteens.

I now wish to comment upon the manner in which the Government is handling the production of oil at the Lakes Entrance field. Honorable senators may wonder why I should take up this matter, inasmuch as it hardly concerns an honorable senator from Queensland. However, when I was Minister for the Interior, " I was instrumental in taking some action, with government approval, which gave to the people associated with this field the belief that at last they would be given an opportunity to produce a commodity which we so vitally need at present. Probably, honorable senators are aware that for 30 or 40 years many attempts have been made to interest the Government and the major oil companies in the production of oil on this field. The Oil Advisory Committee, which was established by the Commonwealth, furnished varied reports on the productivity of the field. At first, it led us to believe that the field was very valuable, indeed. Later, for reasons best known to members of the committee; it furnished a report expressing an opposite view. With the object of obtaining a really sound opinion as to whether oil exists in that area in payable quantities, the Government of which I was Minister for the Interior took further action. It came to our notice that in the United States of America a new process, known as horizontal boring, had been evolved. The Government invited two experts who had considerable experience in the production of oil by the new method to investigate the Lakes Entrance field. They were Mr. Ranney, an American expert, and Mr. Fairbank, a Canadian expert, who was also a member of a provincial parliament in the Dominion of Canada. It was at considerable expense that the services of those mcn were secured. They were supplied with all the available data concerning the field, with a view to enabling them to study this information on their way to Australia. As the result of their investigation, they reported that they were of opinion that oil existed in payable quantities at Lakes Entrance. Just about the time that that Government relinquished office, an agreement had been drawn up by my colleague, Senator McLeay, who was then Minister for Supply and Development. In that work, he had the assistance of the Government's Chief Geological Adviser, Dr. Raggatt. The object of that agreement was to enable the field to be developed without further delay. Under it, the Government was to provide a certain sum of money, and also give certain guarantees which would enable the company to obtain more funds. There was no chance of the venture being used as a get-rich-quick scheme. That agreement provided safeguards adequately protecting the interests of the Government and the community. There was a handful of men in Victoria, particularly in the Lakes Entrance area, who had given years of their life to the search for oil.

Senator Gibson - The syndicate itself, not the experts who came out here, suggested horizontal boring.

Senator FOLL - The syndicate submitted to the Government certain suggestions as to obtaining experts in order to develop the field, and, as the result of discussion by Cabinet, it was decided to communicate with Mr. Casey, Australian Minister at Washington, to ascertain if it were possible to send experts here to #ive us an opinion as to whether or not the field was worth developing. On the report we received there appears to be no doubt whatsoever that this was a field in which valuable oil was present in large quantities. We, therefore, proposed to develop the system of boring £ have described, and to enter into a partnership with the syndicate on lines somewhat similar to those operating in connexion with other institutions in which the Government is interested, or else to advance money to the syndicate under suitable guarantees. Although this was practically a year ago, I am now advised that little or no progress has been made with the project. There has been apparently a complete breakdown in negotiations between the Government and the syndicate, because the Government desires to insert in the agreement a clause whereby it can take over the small equity which it was prepared to leave to the syndicate, to socialize the whole industry, and to swallow up the undertaking, and give the syndicate no say in the matter at all.

Senator Ashley - The Government has to find the money, and naturally wants security for it.

Senator FOLL - We made ample provision to protect the Government.

Senator Ashley - The honorable senator and his colleagues may have thought so, but we do not think so.

Senator FOLL - The trouble with the members of the present Government is that they do not think enough. It is because they do not think before they act that it has been necessary on at least a dozen occasions for the Opposition to put them right. During the last twelve months they have frequently had to change their policy because they do not think enough before they start. Examples of that are the 4 per cent, limitation of profits, and the taxation of the joint incomes of husband and wife. Probably without thinking what they were going to do, they set out to do things, and it was only because members of the Opposition, both here and in the House of Representatives, showed them the practical impossibility of doing them that they mended their ways. One of our objects in speaking here this evening is to assist the Government to think on sounder and better lines, so that the war effort may be advantaged by our suggestions. I urge that this matter be delayed no longer. I need not emphasize the value of oil to this country, and the tremendous help that its production in Australia would be to our war effort. I therefore say to the Government, " Be fair and get on with this undertaking; but do not attempt to give effect to your policy of socialization, on which one or two Minister are continually harping, by trying it out first on the oil industry ".

I think I can say, with safety, that during the twelve months that this Government has been in office, it has had fair support and assistance from honorable senators on this side. So far as I am concerned, I have given it every possible support to ensure the carrying on of the war effort. That support will be continued by those on this side so long as the Government acts on sound lines. But if it is going to make Australia run the risk of inflation, as it is doing by its proposals in the budget, it is time that we in opposition made our position clear, and forced the Government to stand up to its responsibilities. Furthermore, if the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), a Minister with responsibilities and immense power entrusted to him, makes statements, such as he has been making lately, about carrying out the socialization policy of Labour, honorable senators on this side will not put up with it. His recent suggestion that employers generally in industry were not pulling their weight, and that only the employees were doing their job, was a sneer there was no need for him to make. I know many men engaged in industry whose whole life has been changed, and many of whom have lost their businesses, because of the policy of the Government. Others have had their businesses reduced to practically nothing, but they do not complain, because they say it is part of their contribution to the war effort. It ill becomes the Minister for Labour and National Service to make such a gratuitous sneer against employers as a whole. Many of them work up to sixteen hours a day i-n their factories, supervising the output of material which is valuable to Australia, and they do it uncomplainingly. There may he a few black sheep on both sides; but, generally speaking, the employers of industry have responded Wonderfully to the appeal of the Government for help in the production of essential materials. In conclusion, I urge the Government not to go on with some of their budget proposals, but to reinforce the means of finding the necessary money by adopting what was suggested by the Leaders of the Opposition in both Houses, that is, to provide for a fuller scheme of rationing, to ensure that a lot of the easy money nl present being wasted is turned into channels of Government activity, to introduce a scheme of compulsory loans as advocated by the ex-Treasurer, and to encourage the discovery and production of oil in Australia.

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