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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr COUTTS (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - That was a fee which the competent man running the Commonwealth Railways considered would be the economic cost of transporting coal to the power houses.

Mr Wilson - Later he halved his estimate.

Mr COUTTS - He halved his estimate by direction of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and members of this Government - a flagrant display of favouritism towards one State in the Commonwealth. I would not dispute that subsidies should be paid on the transport of coal to any power house within the Commonwealth.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Mr COUTTS - When I said that the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner had asked 30s. 5d. a ton for the haulage of coal from Leigh Creek to Port Augusta the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) said by interjection that that proposed charge was ridiculous. 1 would not accept the honorable member's observation, because 1 think that the charge suggested by the Commissioner was reasonable, especially in comparison with the charges levied by the Queensland Commissioner for Railways on the Brisbane City Council for the haulage of coal to Brisbane power houses. Those charges are 19s. 5d. a ton for a 24-mile haul, and £1 2s. 8d. a ton for a 34-mile haul. So the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner was by no means unreasonable in asking for 30s. 5d. a ton for a 160-mile haul. At present the Commonwealth Railways are hauling 500,000 tons of coal from Leigh Creek, and the Commissioner will be asked to bear the cost in his department of the subsidy that is, in effect, being paid by the Commonwealth to the South Australian Electricity Trust because of the cheap rate at which coal is hauled for that body. As I said earlier, I have no objection to the payment of such a subsidy to any electricity authority in Australia if it will have the effect of reducing the cost of production of electricity and thereby aid in reducing costs of industrial production generally. But I fail to see why any trading department of the Commonwealth should be loaded with that cost. It would be quite reasonable to have the item shown in the Estimates under bounties and subsidies, and provide that the Treasury reimburse the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner for the sum lost on the cheap transport of Leigh Creek coal.

I understand that the power houses at Port Augusta are expanding, and that it is expected that within a few years the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner will be asked to haul 1,500,000 tons of coal annually from Leigh Creek to Port Augusta. That means that his department will be asked to bear the cost of this subsidy to that extent. When Commissioners for Railways find that the income of their departments has fallen they invariably increase freight rates in an attempt to make up the deficiency. If this happens as a result of loss of revenue through the cheap haulage of coal it will mean that the producers who are served by the Commonwealth Railways away up in the Northern Territory and in the northern parts of South Australia will be asked to bear added costs in order to enable the reduced freight for coal to be enjoyed by electricity authorities. That is absolutely unreasonable, and the department is being thereby placed in a false position. It could bring the department to the stage of bankruptcy as opposed to the healthy condition in which it now is.

Mr Wilson - The present rate is more than covering the railway costs for the haulage of that coal.

Mr COUTTS - I fail to see how that could be so. I have given the Queensland figures in comparison with the rate asked by the Commissioner, which would not be inflated. I realize, however, that the Government's policy has forced the Commissioner to accept a lower rate. I think that the affairs of the Commonwealth Railways show that much care and thought are being given to the operations of that department. Every encouragement should be extended to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to run his department as he has been running it in the past - efficiently - and he should not be subject to political interference as, apparently, he is at present.

I wish to make some reference now to the proposed votes for miscellaneous services of the Department of Social Services, with particular reference to assistance to organizations that intend to engage in the building of homes for the aged. The legislation provides that the Commonwealth will subsidize such organizations £1 for £1. When this scheme came into being nearly two years ago it was received most enthusiastically by all honorable members. I understand, from statements in the press, that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was prompted by his good wife to include this proposition in his last policy speech. All Australia must be grateful to Dame Pattie Menzies for having prompted the Prime Minister to include that proposal in his announced policy.

Mr George Lawson - But the States are still left to do most of the work required in that field.

Mr COUTTS - That is what 1 am about to demonstrate. I want to show what a sham we have been sold in this matter. We were told that £1,500,000 was to be made available annually for the subsidizing of the building of homes for the aged. In the last financial year the amount expended by the Commonwealth in the form of subsidy payments to approved societies was less than £400,000 - a little more than 25 per cent, of the total amount voted by the Parliament for that purpose. I believe that there is a provision in the act which .is operating most unfairly. The act provides that approved societies may receive the subsidy provided they have the money in hand to engage in the erection of homes for the aged. That is where the act operates most unfairly. There is being built in my electorate a hospice for the aged - not for the ordinary run of aged people, but for aged, incurably sick people whose position is, I suppose, the most tragic in Australia today. They are sick, incurably sick, and cannot gain admittance, to public hospitals because they will be permanent patients, although possibly they are not sick enough for admittance to a public hospital. Their relatives find it extremely difficult to care for them. The hospice being built at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, at a cost of £320,000, is to accommodate 120 incurably sick, aged people. The Queensland Government has granted the subsidy that it normally grants to builders of public hospitals, and the Sisters of Charity who are building this place went to Brisbane, fired only with their Christianity - and, therefore, the love of humankind - and were able to move the hard-hearted manager of a trading bank into letting them have an overdraft to help to pay for the construction of the hospice. But, because of the operation of the legislation governing the £l-for-£l subsidy to approved societies, the Commonwealth will not contribute one penny towards the construction of this hospice.

Mr Pearce - It is not a home for the aged.

Mr COUTTS - It is a home for the aged who are incurably sick.

Mr Pearce - Nonsense! lt is a hospital for the incurably sick. It is so described by those who run it.

Mr COUTTS - It is a home for the aged who are incurably sick. It is not a hospital, as the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) is trying to make me say. I am not seeking to make any political capital out of this matter. I am saying that there is a weakness in the act. If the act provided that organizations which raised money for such places by mortgage could get the Commonwealth subsidy, many more such homes would be built. If that were so, the £1,500,000 originally provided by the Parliament last financial year would have been absorbed, and a similar amount of money would be absorbed in this financial year if the Parliament voted that sum. In the eyes of the Government the people who are building this hospice in Brisbane are committing the offence of doing the job now instead of waiting for ten years until they have accumulated the money for it. They are prepared to give this service to aged and incurably sick people now instead of waiting until some time in the future. I plead with the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) to give earnest consideration to this important matter, and I am sure that anything he may do to rectify the position will be fully supported by all honorable members.

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