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Wednesday, 18 February 1959

Mr FAIRHALL (Paterson) .- I open my remarks this afternoon by extending my congratulations and those of the older members of the House to the newcomers to this Parliament. Naturally, that goes for the new members on both sides of the House. Of course, my friends on the Opposition side will hardly expect us to wish them a long stay in the Parliament, but I know that they will do their best to stay here as long as possible. I add my congratulations also to the mover and seconder of the Address-in-Reply, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Browne) and the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bandidt). They delivered very well-informed speeches dealing, as I feel could be expected in the circumstances, with their own electorates and their own direct interests. They will naturally appreciate after they have been in this Parliament a little longer, that the contributions they make must be on a wider horizon than that of their own electorates. But it is indicative of the calibre of new members coming into this House that these speeches were cast on such a high plane.

One would not miss the opportunity to note with very great satisfaction on this side of the House at the return of the Government with an enhanced majority. It is a tribute to the good housekeeping of the national economy by the Menzies Government, and partly it is a vote of censure on the Opposition, for its failure to achieve that unity out of which alone can come the sort of opposition in parliament that a democracy needs. It is all very well for the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) to give us a post mortem on what happened to his party in the election. He ascribed the defeat of his party to some odd things, but nothing more odd than the alphabetical complex. I thought it was his party that invented the system. We on this side remember the three A's who for many years dominated the Senate list on his side. There was the celebrated occasion on which his party looked hard to find a man with the same name to contest New England against our old friend on this side of the House, the Honorable J. P. Abbott. These matters of names and initials are not entirely unknown to members on his side of the House.

Mr Curtin - What about Newcastle?

Mr FAIRHALL - I am not complaining about it. I merely draw attention to the fact that my friend is on very unsound ground indeed. What the honorable gentleman would do is to prevent a man standing for Parliament in a democracy simply because that man's name happened to be the same as that of another member. The background of the man who stood for Newcastle establishes that he had been interested in politics for many years indeed. I can well understand the feelings of members of the Opposition. However, I think the present honorable member for Newcastle is comfortable in his seat for some years to come.

The address delivered by His Excellency the Governor-General was notable rather for the economy of words with which it dealt with matters of the utmost importance, in my view. Paramount of these is the proposal of the Government to establish an independent public investigation of the Commonwealth taxation laws. The matter raised during question time to-day indicates the general desire that there should be fairly wide terms of reference for such an investigation, but not so wide as to delay for too long the return of a well-informed report on this particularly vital subject. Of course, in these days when the tax gatherer has his hand in every pocket and in every till in every business in this land, it is inevitable that any minor change in the taxation laws will have consequential repercussions all the way down the line. This process does not have to go on for long before the taxation laws begin to take on a faintly jerry-built aspect and are in need of review. For my part. I am particularly glad that the time has come to give this sort of attention to the tax structure.

I notice a second item of importance, and that is the meeting scheduled to take place within the next few weeks to deal with the very important question of CommonwealthState financial relations. How important this question is, I think, is indicated by the great fear abroad at present that this meeting, which will fall in a period just prior to several State elections, will be attended by people who are so irresponsible that they will use the conference, at which one of the -most important questions underlying government in Australia is to be discussed, as a pre-election forum. Yet, when we look over the history of the past few years in this country, particularly in my own State, we are left in no doubt at all that that will be the case.

In the years since 1941 and 1942, we have seen nothing but a succession of occasions on which State governments have sought to off-load on to the Commonwealth all their failure of omission and commission, mostly on the grounds of the Commonwealth's alleged control of the purse strings. We have heard cries times without number, particularly from the Labour States and particularly from New South Wales, that the Commonwealth holds the purse strings and that they have become mendicant States. Sir, if anybody turned the States into mendicants it was the Chifley Labour Government which, in 1942, tore up the decision of the 1941 committee on uniform taxation. The Chifley Labour Government decided that uniform taxation would be with us permanently.

From uniform taxation has arisen this very great distortion of the relations between the Commonwealth and the States and a very great misunderstanding of the problems by people who are not well versed in the intricacies of the Constitution and of the Financial Agreement. This has led to a situation in which no member of this House - I had a very useful illustration recently - can go back into his electorate or his State and discuss any project dealing with public works, with hospital administration, with roads, or with education, without having thrown up to him by people well versed in the art of propaganda the responsibilities of the Federal Government. In other words, people are prepared not to drive their own State governments to shoulder their clear constitutional responsibilities; they are prepared to let those governments out of it because they do not get any action from them and to go over their heads to the Federal Government on the score that the Federal Government holds the purse strings. The propaganda always runs along the lines that there ought to be a greater share of the loan funds for the States; that there ought to be greater grant to the States and that Commonwealth surpluses which appear here and there in Commonwealth Budgets ought to be made available to the States.

The real fact is that, under the pressures generated by uniform taxation, the Commonwealth has found itself in a position where it has been obliged to underwrite State loan programmes far in excess of any moneys which the loan market will raise. The result of that is that, if there is a surplus in Commonwealth budgeting, that surplus goes immediately to the States to underwrite the loan programme. As far as additional loan funds are concerned, it ought to be well known to the critics that the Commonwealth is entitled to 20 per cent, of loan raisings and that, in the years when this Government has been in office, it has given away its entitlement to its share of the loan raisings, which has always gone to the States in further support of their works programmes. As a result, Commonwealth works have been financed out of revenue to a rising degree. When we talk about surpluses and about more loan funds, we must remember that there are not any of either because the States have consumed them already. In addition, during the years that this Government has been in office, annual supplementary grants to the tune of £20,000,000 or thereabouts have been made without any obligation at all to support the States.

I had the unhappy experience a week or two ago of attending a meeting in my State at which a great public work was under discussion. I shall say nothing of the merits of this work, but it was a job that the State Government clearly did not want to undertake. Yet, this meeting was prepared to pass a resolution that a delegation be sent to Canberra to ask the Menzies Government to provide the money for this undertaking! That sort of thing can arise only out of a deep and unfortunate public misunderstanding of the relations between the States and the Commonwealth in the financial field. This widely representative meeting of local government people and of leaders in community affairs wanted to send a delegation to Canberra to ask the Commonwealth to provide money for the State to do a job which the State does not intend to do! This surely is a very great distortion. Whilst it is too much to hope that the coming conference will do very much towards straightening out this situation - I imagine it will do much less towards restoring the responsibilities of the States to collect their own taxation - I do hope that something can be done along those lines.

The real fact is that years of uniform taxation and the ability of State governments to off-load their responsibilities in the public mind and to use the so-called shortage of funds as an umbrella to cover all their deficiencies have almost led the States into a position of financial delinquency. In one of Sydney's newspapers to-day is a list of public works in New South Wales which have been started and which have gone on for an unconscionable length of time. They have cost vastly more than was originally estimated, and there is doubt whether some of them will ever be finished.

The job that heads the list is a dam in my own electorate, which was originally estimated to cost, I think, £1,500,000. Certainly it has been increased in size since it was originally designed, but the cost has increased to £14,000,000. It was going to be a great irrigation dam. Certainly it now serves also for flood mitigation, to some extent, and this is particularly important. My point is that the job could have been completed over a short period if the State Government had specialized in this particular work. It would have been finished at half the cost and in half the time. It would have been a producing asset many years ago. As it is, the cost has climbed to such astronomical heights that additional funds cannot be found to reticulate the water for irrigation. We now have a dam on a main stream in my electorate, and the best it can do is to run the water down the river, while the farmers are told, " If you want it, come and get it". It will make a fine holiday resort, and I hope that, having spent a little time in licking our financial wounds over the situation, we will settle down to enjoy the bathing, the fishing, the boating and the duck hunting.

I am very pleased to see that the Government proposes to establish machinery for a close inquiry into the vexed problems of the dairying industry. This is a matter that will call for the closest integration of State and Federal Governments. I think most people will be aware of the real problems of the dairying industry. It is an industry that has only recently emerged from the slave labour stage. It is struggling to put. itself on a basis approaching that of other' industries. Its problems are very seriousones indeed. In an effort to equate the supply to the market, the governments in most States, and certainly in New South Wales, which is a big milk producing State, have had recourse to the quota system. Sowide are the day-to-day and season-to- - season variations in production that the dairy farmer never quite knows how much, of his milk will go to the whole milk market and how much to the processing establishments. Since there is a vast difference in the returns from the two markets, we have an industry in which the producer is urged to go all out for greater efficiency, although he never knows how much he is going to get for the product that passes through the front gate of his farm. It is not an easy problem to solve, and I am particularly glad to see that it will be dealt with.

There is one matter spoken of in His Excellency's Speech to which I would like to refer. Yesterday, for the first time, the opening of this Parliament was televised. Certainly it was not on a national scale, but it appears that the trend is in that direction. We had a television broadcast from Canberra, of course, at the time of the visit of Her Majesty the Queen Mother. We have had visits of important persons from overseas, as a result of which those persons appeared on our television screens. Current events and important sporting contests are now being shown in television programmes, and I believe that television in this country is providing a wider horizon for the dissemination of public information and the provision of entertainment. TV in this country has done extraordinarily well. Its technical standards are high. Its programme standards, despite the complaints that are made about them, are also particularly good.

Mr Cope - What does the honorable member think of " Gunsmoke "?

Mr FAIRHALL - Well, I imagine that my friend reads a bit of escapist literature from time to time. While " Gunsmoke " is no classic, and I myself am rather tired of the thunder of hooves and the crackle of shots that open so many TV programmes, no one will say that those programmes should not be on television. But they are counter-balanced by a vast amount of informative and entertaining material. However, I am getting a little away from the point. I wanted to direct attention to the fact that television has so created a need for its services that in these days we must consider a more rapid expansion of the industry. We will all be happy to see television extended to other States. This will increase employment and must have a great effect on costs and on the facility with which programme material can be produced and presented.

There has also been an odd effect in many of the areas which will be next in line, I hope, for the provision of television services. These are the fringe areas of television reception, including centres like Wollongong and Newcastle, and perhaps the electorate of my friend, the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman). These are areas with vast concentrations of population. I would urge the Government to give early attention to the matter of calling applications for licences to operate television stations in those areas. Let me take my own electorate as an illustration. In the Newcastle and Lower Hunter Valley areas there are more than 4,000 television receivers. These sets have been installed because the people found that they could get reception. It is rather indifferent reception, and to get it they have had to incur the cost of installing special aerials. But the programmes are now so compelling that they have been obliged to do this. I believe the time has come when we should be moving quickly to establish TV in these areas.

One of the points that concerns me a little in the Governor-General's Speech is a reference to the fact that consideration will be given to the means by which television services can be extended. I should like to inquire what is meant by the reference to the means of doing this job. I have some concern that the public, not thinking very much about the implication of these matters, and having in mind only the provision of better television services, may be prepared to ask for booster or relay stations, tied to stations already established in the capital cities. So far as the national television service is concerned, there is no objection in this regard, because I presume that it would provide facilities for the new sta tions to originate their own programmes. But when we get into the field of commercial television it is my firm view that when TV stations are opened in the provincial areas they should be fully licensed and fully equipped to originate their own programmes. Most important of all, they should be controlled, both financially and as to policy, from within the areas that they service. I leave the question there, because I know that it is probably exercising the minds of other honorable members at this time.

There is one other matter to which I wish to refer in this field, or a related field. During this year there will be in Geneva a periodical meeting of the International Telecommunications Union. This is a body that meets periodically to carve up, as it were, the radio frequency spectrum, and to make laws for the orderly use of radio communications in all their forms. The normal drill is for us to send forward to Geneva our proposals. They will there be integrated with those of all the other signatories to the International Telecommunications Union Agreement, and then returned for consideration and for the preparation of the brief which our delegates will take to Geneva. In the broad field I am not so terribly concerned, because these are matters for departmental consideration, and I am sure they will be dealt with very well. But I want to raise here a voice on behalf of a group of persons whose interests may very well be overlooked, because they do not usually come to public attention when these matters are being considered.

I refer to the 3,500 operators in this country of amateur experimental radio stations. These people are fully qualified by examination to operate their stations. They run them on a basis of international communication, and they therefore offer a potent source of development of good international relations. Since World War I. they have always enjoyed the use of certain radio frequencies, but inevitably, in the course of time, as the pressure of commercialism in radio has grown, so the channels available have become severely restricted. To-day I believe they are almost down to the minimum required to encourage more people to undertake this activity. These operators occupy, I believe, a very important place in public esteem. I well remember what happened during the last war with relation to defence communications, and the history of the role played by amateur radio operators has not been adequately stated. Before war-time these amateurs were operating as reserves for the Royal Australian Air Force, and the members of the radio reserves were the first into the Air Force when war was about to break out.

When we went into the war, Australia had no substantial communications industry. We had one or two factories which were aware of the problems of making transmitters. The rest had been making receivers. An immediate call went out for technicians for the factories, laboratories, design establishments and assembly plants, and ultimately the operation of much of this equipment fell to radio amateurs. In every disaster that has struck Australia, the radio amateurs have done their part in providing communications, as I am sure they are doing in north Queensland at the moment, taking up where ordinary communications break down. Our expeditions to the Antarctic take with them amateur radio operators. These people, who train themselves in their own time and at their own expense, have rendered, and are rendering, very special service to this country.

I know that the proposals affecting amateur radio operators, which involve some review of their frequency channels, have already been dealt with departmentally and may indeed be in the submissions which have gone to Geneva. I have asked to have a look at those, and I should like to study them in due course. In the meantime, I urge the Government to consider this problem very carefully. It is true that 3,500 people do not speak with a very loud voice in this country, but I believe that we ought to recognize the service that they have given and are capable of giving to the nation and that this problem should be approached constructively, and I am sure that it will be regarded as one that merits sympathetic consideration by the Government.

There is one other important aspect of this matter, Sir. The Governor-General's Speech referred to developments at Woomera. We all know - those of us who have read something about what is going on there or who have been there - that, without electronics, there could be none of this development and no modern weapons,, and that, indeed, there can be no modern defence without the widespread use of electronics. This group of people who occupy themselves in something that is more than a hobby are contributing to the building up in Australia of a vast pool of trained technicians who are ready to take up, even at short notice, as they did in 1939, the technical support of Australia's defence.

I would end on that note, Sir. I urge the Government to consider very sympathetically indeed the preservation of all the facilities which the radio amateurs in Australia enjoy to-day, and perhaps even some minor extension, if that is possible, by international agreement.

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