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Wednesday, 17 September 1958
Page: 1340

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Wilmot has made his speech.

Mr LESLIE - The honorable member suggested that the western democracies should attempt in some small way-

Mr Duthie - We are short of scientists.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Wilmot must be silent. "Mr. LESLIE. - Of course we are short df scientists and the honorable member should know that the reason for that shortage is that we look at our problems in an overall way. Our problems have been down-to-earth ones and we have attempted to deal with them by raising the standard of living for the average man on the ground. We have not denied a reasonable standard of living to the man on the ground by devoting all our time to scientific experiments in space. I ask the honorable member to compare living conditions in the western democracies with those of Russian workers. In Russia the main interest has been in scientific space experiments, and the man on the ground, the ordinary worker, has suffered. This Government adopts a human attitude. Let the honorable member remember that.

The honorable member went into some detail to tell us what the Labour party would do in connexion with banking if and when it came into office. The details he gave about banking boards and the rest were quite unnecessary padding in his speech. He needed to say only one thing to sum up his remarks on this subject, "We will nationalize the banks". He might have added that if the Labour party could not do this b" constitutional means it would do it by the abolition of this and the introduction of Something else even though its methods would be unconstitutional. The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts), who is interjecting, apparently disagrees. I am only analysing the remarks of the honorable member for Wilmot to let the people of Australia know what a threat will face them if the Labour party is returned to office.

The honorable member raised again his cry about unemployment. That is the tragic cry Which has been constantly coming from the Opposition benches. Undoubtedly there is unemployment, as there always has been. There will still be unemployment to a major or lesser degree according to the seasons and circumstances in our country, but is it necessary for us to be constantly calamity-howling about it?


Mr. -LESLIE.-We do not forget it. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) is the only Opposition member who has really dealt with this problem which is constantly before us; but I remind honorable members opposite that the plight of many workers would, have been a jolly sight worse than it is to-day but for the economic measures adopted by this Government.

But what are the facts? Are members of the Opposition really sincere in their expressions of sympathy for the unemployed or are they determined, above all, to make sure that the prosperity plan of this Government will be undermined in some way? They are out to destroy the confidence of the people in the country, in their investments, in their security and in the assets of the nation. They are seeking also to wipe out completely the confidence which overseas investors have in the security and stability of Australia. They hope by fostering discontent and unrest to provide a fertile field for the introduction and application of socialist-cum-Communist doctrine in this country. The only way they can do it successfully is to destroy the confidence of the people. Because such a field does not exist they are seeking to create an artificial field by constantly talking about imaginary difficulties and disabilities in our country.

Mr COUTTS (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - We do not need to hide the fact of unemployment.

Mir. LESLIE. - The Government is not hiding that fact, either. I do suggest that if the 1 honorable member happens to have a dirty shift in 'his house he does not go out into the street and parade it and so give the people an opportunity of saying what an awful man he is. The honorable member stays at home and washes the shirt. So, when this 'Government finds a little flaw in its system it tackles and remedies it; and the Government does not get on to the housetops and boast of what it has done.

Mr. Speaker,I now want to deal with the bill. The previous speaker dealt with the subjects to which I have just referred so I make no apology for replying to him. The bill seeks the approval of the House to the payment of special financial assistance to the States over and above the amount provided under the tax reimbursement formula. An estimated sum of £30,400,000 is to be paid to the States, and my own State of Western Australia is to receive £2,397,000.

If I were a member of the Opposition and if I were purely a parochial man, I would howl straight away, " Not enough ". However, as a man of responsibility, I look at the position factually. Of course, it is not enough, but I say that in a responsible way, bearing in mind the whole of the economic circumstances. Even the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) will agree that there is not an individual in the world who can get as much as he wants, just when he wants it. That is the position we must face. This Government is in exactly that position, and so are the State governments. If every one could do everything that he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it and had the means immediately available to do it, there would be no incentive and nothing for us to do. The country has to be governed just as a wise housewife must govern her house. Priorities must be assessed and the most urgent needs dealt with first.

I was rather interested to hear the concluding remarks of the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) who comes from my State. I am not too sure where he stands on uniform taxation. In the early part of his speech he spoke about centralized authority and said that it would be much better if we had only one Com missioner for Railways to 'run all the railways of Australia, and one engineer. He advocated a single and centralized authority. The House should consider the possibilities of that suggestion and see how practical such a proposition would be, apart from the dangers that may be involved in it. I do not say that the present position is as satisfactory as it could be, but the honorable member spoke about a concentrated centralized authority.

In the concluding portion of his speech he condemned the system of uniform taxation and the manner in which money is allocated to the States. He said that the States had to come cap in hand to this Government, that they were mere puppets in the hands of this Government, and they were not prepared to stand it much longer. Just what is the idea? Does the honorable member suggest that the States at long last will make up their minds as to whether they want taxing powers returned to them? So far, not one State has made up its mind on1 that question. Has the honorable member pre-knowledge on this matter? I suggest that it is time the States made up their minds and said where they stand.

The present position is not a very happy one. The Parliament- I say the Parliament rather than the Government - has the responsibility to maintain the financial stability of the Commonwealth. Yet it has very little say in the way the country shall ultimately be run. One State or a combination of States, by an unwise action, could well mar the efforts of this Parliament and this Government to maintain the prosperity, the stability and the progress of the country.

I was most intrigued by the remarks of the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who said that the States might consider the question of selectivity in the field of taxation and decide what taxes should apply and the degree to which they should apply in the respective States. I can see some usefulness in this suggestion. In the days when the States had their own taxing powers, one State might decide that a low rate of income tax and a high rate of indirect tax would be the best economic policy for the development of the State. Another State might decide that its industrial . development had progressed to such a degree that there was .not much hope of attracting further capital and that, therefore, it could afford to impose a high rate of income tax and a low rate of indirect tax. If the honorable member for Griffith, who is interjecting, looks back to what happened previously, he will find that some of the States that are now moaning about the formula attempted to compete in the way I have suggested. The honorable member is expected to learn a little history when he is elected to this place; otherwise, I suggest that he is not a very worthy member.

When the States were competing with each other, one State imposed a low rate of income tax in an effort to attract industry from other States. It may be that a State would do that in order to build itself up in a certain direction. The application of uniform taxation over this vast continent could well be a handicap in certain States or in certain areas. The suggestion of the honorable member for Chisholm is worthy of some thought by the Government, by the Parliament and by the States. The possibilities should be investigated to determine whether it would be wise to adopt the suggestion and whether it could be done constitutionally. It is a matter which might well be considered by the Constitution Review Committee. Like the honorable member for Chisholm, P am anxiously awaiting the report of that committee.

I am not so much concerned with taxing powers and who raises the taxes as I am with the spending powers. That is the vital issue. If we have lavish and extravagant expenditure by the States, by the Commonwealth or by local authorities the money must be found, and obviously high rates of taxation must be imposed. If we have reasonable, economic and sound expenditure one feels that taxation is justified, even though in certain circumstances it may be high. However, if spending is properly controlled, we can safely say that our taxation will be reasonably low - as low as any government can make it. I cannot see very much possibility of taxation being reduced while the people who spend the money come to the Commonwealth, not cap in hand, as the honorable member for Stirling suggested, but as a child to its mother and father saying, " I must have more pocket money so that I can have a good time." The spending of money must be controlled.

I believe that there is a tremendous amount of wasteful and unnecessary expenditure through an overlapping of functions between the Commonwealth and the States. Apart from any recommendations that may be made by the Constitution Review Committee, and any action that may result from its report, the wisest thing that we can do is to have a look at the functions of the Commonwealth and the States. I am sure that no elaborate review of the Constitution, or a referendum would be needed to divide the functions between the Commonwealth and the States. The division is not clear to-day.

I believe that one of the greatest necessaries to-day, apart from constitutional reform, is a system of liaison between the Commonwealth and the States. To-day, nobody in the Commonwealth Government knows where the States want to go, because no official information is conveyed to the Government to indicate the direction in which the States believe their destinies lie. The Commonwealth Government is responsible for the economic stability of the States, but it has no knowledge at an official level, or otherwise, of State planning or State thinking. A State may desire to take some action in the national interest, and perhaps the Commonwealth could assist it in taking that action; but because there is no liaison between the Commonwealth and the States, the Commonwealth is unaware of the proposed action and the very valuable assistance that might be given by the Commonwealth is not forthcoming. Because there is no liaison between the Commonwealth and the States, the Commonwealth has no knowledge of ways in which it might assist the States without trespassing on their sovereign powers. The Commonwealth has no way of knowing how it could assist the States to progress and build up their prosperity.

Mr Beazley - The Commonwealth imposes taxes on the States, and then makes grants to the States in order that they might pay those taxes.

Mr LESLIE - That is so, and the mere provision of a grant of money does not always answer the problem. I remind honorable members of the papers, tabled yesterday by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), relating to an application by the Government of Western Australia for a permit to export iron ore to Japan. That is a rather sorry story. I think that in this matter, closer liaison between Western Australia and the Commonwealth could have achieved a more successful and satisfactory result, both to Western Australia and to the Commonwealth from a national standpoint. That matter illustrates the sort of thing I am talking about. All the grants in the world will not overcome this problem.

I do not want honorable members lo think that I am being parochial in my remarks when I say that Western Australia offers the greatest opportunities for land development in the Commonwealth. It is quite beyond the resources of the Government of Western Australia to develop the State properly. We should have a civilian land settlement scheme along the lines of the present war service land settlement scheme, but that is beyond the capacity of the State. Finance would be involved, and there should be liaison between the Commonwealth and Western Australia so that Western Australia's ideas can be discussed, not formally in correspondence sent over a distance of 2,000 or 3,000 miles, but at round table conference at which the Commonwealth can be told by the State what it wants to have done. Because honorable members are not sufficiently well informed they cannot assist their own States in making representations to the powersthatbe in Canberra. Very often such assistance, because of our personal knowledge of local circumstances, could be effective in bringing about a more satisfactory result. Therefore, I submit that there should be a straightening out of the States functions, followed by the establishment of some body in which there would be complete liaison between the Commonwealth and the States. In that way the Commonwealth and the States would not be working against each other, as appears to be the position to-day, but would pull together in the national interest. The desires of the States would be known to the Commonwealth and it could give assistance. The desires of the Commonwealth from a national point of view would be known to the States, and the resistance that now exists in the States against Commonwealth proposals for a planned prosperity in this country would disappear.

I have referred to land settlement and the success that could be achieved if there were proper liaison between the Commonwealth and the States. Other benefits would flow from a better relationship between the States and the Commonwealth. We must bear in mind that whilst Western Australia and other States do obtain benefits under the existing grants arrangement - not only from the grant that we are considering in the bill now before the House - there is the possibility that the States may be suffering as a result of the arrangements that exist between the Commonwealth and the States to-day. 1 do not want to be misunderstood when I refer to the Australian Loan Council. I should not like to see the splendid work of the council minimized in any way, nor would I like to see its operations discontinued. The Loan Council came into being as a result of the efforts of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) many years ago. It has placed the loan raisings of this country on a very sound footing. But because a State is tied to the Loan Council system it could be losing opportunities to obtain on its own initiative money for development. I confidently believe that that is the case to-day in Western Australia. That State is a land of opportunity, the speedy development of which is limited only by the finance available to it. If sufficient finance were available, all kinds of sound developmental projects could be undertaken.

Things have changed in Western Australia since the days when we could not borrow more than a few shillings. Western Australia is the biggest producer per capita in the Commonwealth. It has a very high rate of export. Its economy is so sound that it is attracting business investments from overseas. Development is now needed, but Western Australia has not the money with which to finance it. I am confident that if an arrangement could be made whereby Western Australia could, on its own initiative, obtain loan money, great progress would be achieved. There is so much confidence in Western Australia's future that it could obtain money for specific purposes at any time. Proper liaison between the Commonwealth and the States would enable a problem such as the one now facing Western Australia to be dealt with, if it is possible to deal with it within our constitutional limits. That would be better than having the matter discussed at a Loan Council meeting or Premiers

Conference and having official correspondence pass between the Prime Minister, the Premier, and people at high levels. Proper liaison, between the Commonwealth and. the States is worthy of- consideration. The Commonwealth cannot continue to be the source from which all blessings flow, as is the case at present. Under the Government that has been in power for the last nine years, and which will continue in power, these blessings have been mighty and will be mighty in the future. But we cannot continue on this basis if those upon whom we bestow the blessings do not use them in the best interests not only of a particular State but also of the nation as a whole.

We must have a national outlook and we must have co-operation between the States. I do not mean that we should have centralization- or unification, which would put us in a jolly sight worse state than we are at present. However, I do not propose to debate that aspect of the matter, because if I did I would deny Opposition members the opportunity to make any remarks at all on the matter, because there is no possible argument against the contention that centralization and unification must be avoided. But a national outlook, together with co-operation between the States, would allow us to go forward in real unity, as a nation, stronger and more prosperous than we are to-day.

In this connexion let me mention to honorable members that we have heard various statements with regard, for instance, to housing. It is said that we must cutdown our immigration programme because of the housing problem. We are told that we should cut down this or that activity because of the housing shortage, and that we should nationalize the Commonwealth. Bank because of the housing problem, but there is no housing problem in Western Australia.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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