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Thursday, 11 September 1958


Mr WEBB (STIRLING, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - That is true, and I think honorable members from both sides of the House should band together to try to force the Government to do something about this matter.

There is another matter of a non-party nature that I should like to raise, something that should receive the support of all honorable members, particularly those from Western Australia. It appears in the Estimates under the heading of Bounties and Subsidies. I direct attention to the fact that under the Gold-mining Industry Assistance Act a subsidy is payable under certain conditions on gold produced during the five years commencing 1st July, 1954. Small producers receive a flat rate subsidy of £2 an ounce and large producers, under certain conditions, are paid a subsidy limit of £2 15s. an ounce.

I remind honorable members of the importance of the gold-mining industry to Australia, an importance that seems to have been forgotten in recent years. The annual value of gold produced in this country is between £16,000,000 and £17,000,000, and the whole of our output is added to our international reserves. Certain areas of Australia, such as Kalgoorlie, are largely dependent for their existence on the continuance of gold-mining operations. The total subsidy payable to this industry this year is £900.000. That is a very small percentage of our total estimated revenue of more than £1,302,000,000. The subsidy should be substantially increased. Even if the subsidy were doubled the cost would still be less than £2,000,000.

The gold-mining industry is continuing to slip backwards. Further increases in costs will place it in a difficult position this year. The industry has been penalized over the years by the fixed price of gold and by increased costs of production. Although Australia has been pushing for an increase in the price of gold at the International Monetary Fund meetings, the United States, which holds more than 27 per cent, of the total gold quotas, has resisted all efforts to obtain an increase. No vote has ever been taken at the International Monetary Fund meetings on the question of an increase, and it is clear that the meetings are dominated by the United States. In reply to a question asked by me some time ago, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said -

Under the Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund an increase in the price of gold can be effected only by a uniform change in the par values of all the members' currencies in terms of gold after a majority vote in favour including approval by every member holding 10 per cent, or more of the total quotas. The United States, which holds some 27 per cent, of the total quotas, is opposed to an increase in the price of gold, and the question has never been put to a formal vote in the Fund. However, Australia has argued the case for a review of the price of gold at past annual meetings of the Monetary Fund and there has been no change in Government policy on this issue.

I hope that on this occasion the Treasurer is more forceful in his appeal for an increase in the price of gold, and I hope that the issue is forced to a vote at the next meeting of the International Monetary Fund.

Under the stimulus of the gold price rise of the 1930's, Australian production rose from 427,000 oz. in 1929 to 1,646,000 oz. in 1939. That gives some indication of the value of this industry to Australia, especially during difficult times such as those through which we are passing. If we cannot get an increase in the price of gold, there must certainly be a solid case for an increase in the subsidy to give the industry the assistance that is needed not only to maintain production but to increase it.

I draw the attention of the committee to the fact that in 1956 world trade was worth nearly four times as much as it was in 1937. During the same period, gold stocks rose by only 50 per cent. This industry is vital to Western Australia, which produces 75 per cent, of Australia's gold. Kalgoorlie is one of the populated areas that are kept alive by gold-mining operations. Some mines have had to close, and, as a result, there has been a fall of over 100,000 oz. in gold production in

Western Australia. The production of this industry is worth 30,000,000 American dollars a year, so that honorable members must appreciate that it is a major source of dollar production.

Apart from that, gold helps our overseas funds in both dollar and sterling areas. Its sale is always assured, even if there is a fall in the sale of other exports. The price of wool is continuing to drop, as are the prices of many other primary products, and we shall have to fall back on exports other than primary products if we are to maintain our balance of payments position. What better product could we fall back on than gold? Before the war, gold was Australia's third largest export. At that time it represented 8i per cent, of this country's exports. To-day, it represents only 2i per cent.

The Australian price has only risen in relation to the exchange rate. Changes in the exchange rate increased the price of gold in this country from £9 14s. 4d. to £15 12s. 6d., but the world price for gold has remained pegged since the 1930's. Compared with the average, prices ruling from 1936 to 1939, the price of gold has increased by only 76 per cent, whilst those for other metals have increased by much more. The " London Economist " calls for an increase of 300 per cent, in the price of gold to bring it into line with other increases. Surely those arguments justify giving every possible assistance to this industry, and warrant more sympathetic treatment from the Commonwealth Government. The industry needs to do more than just keep going; it needs to expand. If it were stimulated, it would be a big help to Western Australia's economy for, not only would there be more employment in the gold-fields, but, by repercussion, more employment would be created in other industries. Australia as a whole would also benefit, as an increase in the price of gold would assist other goldfields. I hope the Government will . give further close attention to this particular matter.

I conclude my remarks on this subject by drawing attention to an article in the " West Australian " which supports the arguments I have just been advancing. It reads -

In the early post-war years, while the industry languished in this State, Canada had thumbed ils nose at the fund and had instituted assistance on a scale which enabled its companies .to expand. The Australian Government has always been timid about challenging the pontiffs of the International Monetary Fund, who would seem to have devoted their duties to maintaining the purchasing power of the almighty dollar.

I leave it at that, and again ask the Government to give consideration to the matter.

I am sorry that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is about to leave the table, as I was on the point of mentioning a matter which affects the department he administers. It comes under the proposed vote for Miscellaneous Services and relates to the building of homes for the aged. Under the Aged Persons Homes Act, provision is made for the payment by the Commonwealth of a subsidy at the rate of £2 for every £1 expended by a society, association, or other organization on the provision of suitable homes for aged persons. The act emphasizes, in particular, homes at which aged persons may reside in conditions approaching as nearly as possible normal domestic life. For instance, reference is made to " proper regard to the companionship of husband and wife ".

After describing an eligible organization, the act says -

An organization conducted or controlled by, or by persons appointed by the Government of the Commonwealth or of a State or local governing body established under the law of a State is not eligible for assistance under this Act.

It would appear that the purpose of the legislation is, in the words of the act, " to encourage and assist the provision of suitable homes for aged persons ", and, provided this is done by an organization not carried on for the purpose of profit or gain, its contribution should be welcomed. Unfortunately, the housing 'commissions of the various States are debarred from participation in the scheme. This means that their efforts to provide suitable homes for the aged are reduced by one-third, calculated on the basis of a subsidy of £2 for every £1 expended by a housing commission. The only people who lose are the pensioners. This aspect of the matter should be reviewed by the Minister for Social Services. I emphasize here that in Western Australia special homes are being built in housing commission areas for pensioners. Flats which I have had the pleasure of inspecting are being erected for this purpose. They are being let to pensioners for 23s. a week. Should one of the pensioners pass on, the surviving pensioner is not required to vacate the flat but is allowed to continue in occupation and is charged a rent of only 8s. a week. That is a wonderful scheme. I hope the Minister will give serious consideration to providing sufficient financial assistance to enable this scheme to be continued.

There is another matter relating to Western Australia which requires review. T refer to the fact that 30 years ago a public benefactor named McNess bequeathed a large sum of money to the State for use in the provision of homes for persons in indigent circumstances. For some time, this has embraced pensioners exclusively. The bequest has been supplemented from various sources, including grants from the State government, and many cottages have been erected under the scheme. These cottages are let to pensioners at 12s. 6d. a week. Two trustees are appointed for the purpose of looking after investments, undertaking further building programmes, allocating accommodation and so on. The Minister comes ' into the picture only if there is any disagreement between the trustees. Clerical and technical services, collection of rents and so on are carried out, free of charge, by the housing commission.

The only impediment to greater activity in connexion with this scheme is shortage of funds. If the organization carrying out the scheme could be treated as one coming under the provisions of the Aged Persons Homes Act, three times as many houses as are being built now could be built for the aged. I emphasize again that there are no administrative expenses. Even the trustees receive no' payment. I hope that the matter will be looked at by the Minister for Social Services.

I believe that, provided an organization is a reputable one and is not engaged in profit making or gain, it should be approved by the Commonwealth as an organization eligible for the type of assistance covered by the act, and I point out again that the only people who suffer from the fact that this organization is not so approved are the pensioners. Three times as many houses could be provided if the Commonwealth Government would treat this as one of the organizations that may be assisted.







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