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Thursday, 20 June 1946

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- Anyone who had listened to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) might assume that during the time the right honorable 'gentleman was associated with governments in this country over a period of years, those governments had done everything that could be done to create the very best of relations between Australia and its near-neighbours and to increase to the greatest possible degree the volume of our export trade to them. The fact is that during those years very little, if anything at' all, was done along those lines. Whilst the right honorable gentleman sees fit to criticize the foreign policy of this Government, the fact remains that the governments with which he was associated had no foreign policy at all. For that reason no criticism could be . levelled against governmental foreign policy in those years. It ill-becomes the right honorable gentleman, therefore, to criticize so roundly the. foreign policy of this Government. It is true that the more a government does the more it lays itself open to criticism. Only those who do nothing can escape criticism for their actions.

I do not propose to address myself to the Indonesian problem. . As the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) said earlier today, that problem is complex and it cannot be solved by writing, or by talking about it in this chamber. It can be solved by close range action and not by shooting or sniping, or accusing this Government of being controlled by Communists. That procedure will never solve anything. The difficulties associated with the Indonesian question are deep seated. That fact has been made clear by statements made outside this chamber. I do not propose to say any more on that subject.

I was interested in what the Leader of the Opposition said about our export trade. He rightly gave the Govern ment credit for what it had done during the war years. Our tremendous expenditure during the war years, which amounted to 40 per cent, of our national income, compares favorably, as the right honorable gentleman said, with the effort of any other country that was engaged in that dreadful conflict. So. long as consumable goods are in short supply we shall- have problems in our internal economy. I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition was frank enough to make that admission. He referred also to the housing problem, but it" cannot be disposed of as easily or as glibly as he attempted to do. That problem did not arise in the war years or since the cessation of hostilities; it existed before the war. It exists, in fact, because the housing situation was never adequately dealt with by previous governments. True, the matter was discussed during the regime of the Lyons Government. The late Mr. Lyons stated that £20,000,000 would be made available for the building of homes in this country. On many occasions in this House, the charge has been levelled that homes which were to have been built by the Commonwealth in co-operation with the States were not proceeded with after elections had been held, although the government of the day had a majority in both branches of the legislature. During the depression years, the housing shortage was accentuated. "In those days, the excuse was that there was no money to build houses. During the six years of war, labour and the necessary materials could not be provided. Prior to the war ending there have been negotiations with the States, with whom an agreement has been made. This agreement was followed by the passage of legislation by this Parliament, and it is now in operation. Statistics compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician reveal that in the period from July to December, 1944, 14,000 houses were either under construction or completed, the number completed being 6,000. At the 31st March, 1946, 9,000 houses had been completed and 10,500 were under construction. Since the end of the war, the achievements in connexion with hon* building have been tremendous. Fifty per cent, of the dwellings built under the Commonwealth-State housing agreement are to be made available to ex-servicemen.

Of the houses so far completed, exservicemen Iia ve secured 60 per cent. In the two years during which the agreement has operated 12,000 dwellings have been under construction, representing an expenditure of more than £14,000,000, and up to the present 5,000 have been completed, representing an expenditure of more than £6,000,000. On the basis of an allotment of 60 per cent., the expenditure on behalf of ex-servicemen is more than £8,000,000 in respect of houses under, construction, and £4,000,000 in respect of houses that have been completed.

Mr White - How many war service homes have been built? Only eight.

Mr BARNARD - This' is quite separate from war service homes, about which the honorable member for Balaclava has talked a good deal in recent years. It is perfectly true that only a few houses have been built in recent years by the War Service Homes Commission. The number will be less in the future because the agreement between the States and the Commonwealth provides that one authority shall build homes for both the civilian population and ex-servicemen. The Government is concerned with the housing of not only ex-servicemen, important though that is, but also the people as a whole. In that respect, it has a national outlook and a progressive policy. It has said to the States : " We give to you the authority to build houses for the people of this country, because you have the necessary machinery. The Commonwealth will provide the money ". Under the agreement, £2,000,000 is provided to meet tha difference between the economic rent and that which the tenant can afford to pay. This agreement is the first of its kind that has been made in Australia. We do not get anywhere by discussing what has been done bv the War Service Homes Commission. What matters to the many who are homeless is,' what has been done since the war ended, and what can be done in the future, not only by government instrumentalities but also by private enterprise. As goods and manpower become available in increasing quantities, the number of homes being built will rise. As I have said, the Commonwealth is a partner of the States in this scheme. Any loss is shared in the proportion of three-fifths by the Com monwealth and two-fifths by the States. What has been achieved cannot be discounted. I agree that one cannot expect a man with a wife and family who is waiting for a house, to be satisfied with a recital of what has been done; he will not be satisfied until he has a home. But homes cannot be built more rapidly without a mass production system. Not at any time previously has the need of those who are in the low income groups been adequately catered for. They are now being provided for under the CommonwealthStates agreement. This is undeniable. High costs would have pushed their needs further into the background. Under the rent rebate system, not more than one-fifth of the family income of a man at the basic wage level is payable in rent. This ensures a home of a good standard for those who are not in a position to meet the full economic rent. However long the present Government may .remain in office, posterity will be appreciative of what it has done in the establishment of the "existing scheme, which must be continued. I have claimed previously in this House to have learned something of the housing problem, because it was my privilege to study it during the years 1941 to 1943, and to assess the inheritance of the Government clue to past neglect.

I have referred on other occasions to exports from Australia to not only the Netherlands East Indies but also India and China. The Government is facing up to the problem in this connexion. There is a ready market for our goods in both India and China, but plans for their export must be carefully worked out, and there has to be an agreement with the governments concerned. When the goods have been produced in sufficient quantity to leave a surplus for export, shipping must be provided for their transport. This cannot be done in a week or two weeks. Australian representatives will have to explore the prospective markets, and negotiate with those with whom we wish to trade. Samples of pur products will have to precede their export. I have previously mentioned blankets. I have been assured by the manufacturers that, notwithstanding the unfavorable balance of trade, there is a lucrative market for blankets in India. There is ample scope For the production of the raw material and the m'anufacture of the finished article, as well as a ready market if there be proper planning of exports.

For some time, I have been- in communication with the Postmaster-General in respect of telephonic communication between the mainland and Tasmania. That State, on two or three occasions within recent years, has had the unfor-tun a te experience of an interruption of the land-line between Stanley, the point at which the cable connects with the coast, and the northern portion of the State. On the most recent occasion, when the delay fortunately lasted for only four or five hours, and in the middle of the night, the cause was the breaking of the line in a remote part of the northwest coast, due to a motor car having collided with a telegraph pole. While the cable has been operating, it has served the State very well. The revenue derived from it has been much greater than was estimated when if was laid. In the first year or two years the earnings were many times greater than the estimate. During, recent years, telephonic communication has been improved. I have pointed out to the Postmaster-General that there ought to be some approach to an alternative connexion with the northern portion of the State, so that, in the event of a break-down in the cable, Tasmania would not be isolated from the telephonic network of Australia. I suggested that a radio telephone link should be established between the mainland and a point near Launceston, which is the geographical centre of the State. If that were clone the service would not be endangered by a breakdown of the land line extending for 120 miles between Stanley and Launceston. It has been proved that radio telephone services can be operated successfully over fairly long distances. For instance, the service between Tasmania and Flinders Island, established in 1944, has proved very successful. It is not perfect, but it has provided a link between Flinders Island, 80 miles from Tasmania, and the rest of Australia. I have already suggested to the Postmaster-General that the service could be improved by substituting d'iesel engines for windmills to generate current. As the service is being operated successfully between Flinders Island, and Tasmania it should be possible to establish another link between Flinders Island and the mainland of Australia. The experimental stage of radio-telephone communication- has been passed. Now that the war is over the Government may bf; considering improving the service to Tasmania, and it may be that I am somewhat impatient. However, I suggest that the matter should be thoroughly investigated. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral should be able, at an early date, to make a reply to my representations. This is an appropriate time to do so, because it will enable me to notify my constituents.

At interval's during the last two years I have made representations to the Treasurer with a view to having an office of the Taxation Department opened at Launceston. I was informed that it could not bo done during the war because of the shortage of man-power. I accepted that reply, as did the people of Launceston. However, during recent- months, taxpayers in Launceston have found it very difficult to obtain proper attention from the Taxation Office- situated in Hobart, which is right away from the main centre of population in the State. The fact is that SO per cent, of the population of Tasmania is in the area served by Launceston. At one time a branch office of the Taxation Department' was situated in Launceston, and attended to general business, ' but it was closed some years ago. Last yea]', as the result of representations which I made, an office was again opened, but for inquiries only, and for about two months several officers, who were most, helpful to taxpayers, were stationed there. During the last recess, I was inundated with inquiries from constituents regarding taxation matters, and it was necessary for me to expend a great deal of my time, and a considerable amount of money on telephone calls as a consequence. These matters ought to be attended to by officers of the department stationed in Launceston. The Treasurer has said that he proposes to do something about it, and I suggest that the time has now arrived when two or three officers should be stationed in Launceston- to attend to the needs of taxpayers'. The general policy in this regard was laid some time ago. For instance, in Newcastle and some other cities on the mainland, branch offices are to be opened. I recognize that once the principle has been laid down of opening offices in towns other than the capitals of the States, all towns over a. certain size will have claims which must be considered. However, the position in regard to man-power has now improved, so that something might well be done to meet the needs of taxpayers in this direction. I think I have now discussed all the grievances which I propose to air at the present time.

Mr McEwen - The honorable member proposes to leave the others until the election campaign:?

Mr BARNARD - I hope that I shall be able to have a .'sufficient number of grievances remedied before the election to convince my constituents that they would be unwise to elect any one who opposes me.

Mr Pollard - -The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) had a close shave last election.

Mr BARNARD - I was more fortunate. The electors of Bass honoured me by returning me with the greatest majority I have ever had.

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