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Thursday, 19 February 1959

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly) has just delivered his maiden speech. To deliver a maiden speech is a very great ordeal, and I offer congratulations to the honorable member. I wish him well in his parliamentary life and I express the hope that he will be able to bring to this chamber new ideas and, by his contributions, strengthen the fabric of our parliamentary institutions. The honorable member has come to this place with deep-rooted convictions, ideas, and ideals which are very dear to him. It is not my purpose to-night to cross swords with him or to enter into any debate, for this is his night: He has made his maiden speech.

The Parliament has heard a number of maiden speeches in the last few days. May I offer congratulations to those new members who have expressed themselves, for I believe that the general tone of the maiden speeches has been of a very high order, which augurs well for the strength of the national Parliament. On whatever side of the House we sit, we ought to be dedicated to the ideal of building up our parliamentary institution, making it work, and making it a living instrument of the people of this country. If, in the course of our debates we can hear the points of view of honorable members from the various electoral divisions, consider their party point of view, and then engage in general debate, I feel that in the long run we will all profit considerably. There is no doubt that the Parliament is a great leveller which helps to rub the rough corners from us all.

The dismal record of the Government was mirrored in -the Speech of the GovernorGeneral to the Parliament. I listened in vain for proposals to be advanced for the betterment of Australia in the future. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) went to the electors without a programme, without a policy. All that he had to say were some vague generalizations about " Australia Unlimited ". The mass of the people of Australia, therefore, could expect little from His Excellency's Speech, and that is precisely what the House and the nation has been given. I must say that I feel gravely concerned that at this time, when we should be building up the nation and going forward with the majestic thought of Australia unlimited, no plan, no policy or no programme has been submitted for building up the nation.

There was no word of hope for those people requiring homes, nor for those who hm , become unemployed. I think we all are gravely concerned at the growing unemployment in Australia at the present time. The number of people out of work is somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000, but this Government continues to bring in new settlers without making adequate provision for their employment, housing, schooling, amenities and social requirements. It is disturbing indeed that we have in power in Canberra, by the grace of the electors of the country, a Government which fails to face up to its responsibility to deal with these important matters.

I had hoped that in the GovernorGeneral's Speech there would be a reference to a legislative programme proposed by the Government, but all I heard in that connexion was a reference to the dismemberment of the Commonwealth Bank - to the proposal that the banking legislation which was before Parliament last year will be re-submitted. That legislation will be fought in this and another place, but its success on this occasion seems to be assured. Despite the faults and failings of the legislation, I hope that the Government will not be stampeded by the paid agents of the private trading banks and vested interests to further amend the requirements of those who have not the interests of Australia at heart nor its well-being as their concern, but are concerned primarily with profits, dividends, their own advancement and the advancement of their financial empires. That is a serious statement to make, but I say to the House that the position must be faced.

It is disturbing to realize that there are some honorable members opposite who are not satisfied with all the steps that have been taken by the Government to deal with the Commonwealth Bank. This grand institution has a wonderful record of service. We recall how it was able to serve Australia in the early days of growth and development, its help in the building of the Transcontinental Railway, its services to the nation in the First World War and the period immediately after that war, how it was stultified during the recession, and its great and wonderful services during the Second World War and in the post-war period. It is tragic that such a wonderful institution is again to fall a victim to those who want to divide it and prevent it from fulfilling its functions on behalf of the whole of Australia.

I have not time, of course, to deal with all the matters with which I should like to deal. The growth of employment is a matter of the utmost concern to me. It affects my own electorate and coal-fields in other districts. Men in these districts are losing their employment by the thousand, but no practical plan is proposed to deal with their needs. Apart from some temporary measures to provide them with relief work of some kind, they have been abandoned. I look back over the promises made by the Prime Minister during the 1949 election campaign, when he guaranteed full employment for those engaged in the mining industry. It disturbs and annoys me to think that these men, who gave so much to the nation by providing the fuel necessary to carry on a full-scale war effort, should now be thrown to the wolves and abandoned in this shameful, sorry and shoddy manner.

The problem does exist. I can only hope that the Government will try to solve it by establishing new industries in our country towns on a permanent basis. What happened in Yallourn and Morwell in Victoria could well be repeated by the Commonwealth Government on the coal-fields of New South Wales and elsewhere. We know that mechanization has displaced men by the thousand. The only way in which the mining communities can be preserved is to establish new industries. I have not time this evening to go into detail about the type of synthetic industries that could be established, or the industries for the production of oil from coal and shale. I content myself by saying that the job can be done and that it ought to be tackled by this Government.

I put forward two propositions that deserve serious consideration. Firstly, I suggest that if industries are to be established in country centres, particularly in mining centres, to solve this problem, one of the first considerations should be a tax concession to the new industries. That should apply to new industries anywhere. It should apply to decentralized industries in country districts which are facing problems such as those which face certain industries in Tasmania. The cost of transporting their products to the mainland by sea is certainly a burden on some Tasmanian industries.

Another matter that deserves consideration is that of freight assistance. With regard to rail freights, we all know that the State railways could not carry the full burden of freight concessions. During the war their services were made available wholly to the nation, and now those railways are burdened with a great debt. I believe that the national Government should accept its responsibility to give such assistance to the State railways as would enable them to grant freight concessions and so permit the expansion of industry in country districts. That would be a practical approach to the problem. There are many other problems that could be dealt with, but I feel that this suggestion should meet the case. I believe that it is a sound and reasonable proposal.

The Speech of the Governor-General dealt in a light and sketchy manner with the problems before us. I point out that, whilst the voice was the voice of His Excellency, the words were undoubtedly the words of this Government, and in offering a criticism of the Speech I am naturally criticizing the Government, for whom the Governor-General spoke. I looked through the Speech for a ray of hope for any section of the people - for the families, for the recipients of social services. Ts there a word of hope in it for the aged and the infirm, for the widows and for the families? There is not one word of hope there, nor any suggestion that social service payments of anv kind will be increased. There is not one suggestion that the children of this country who should be given additional opportunities for education to meet the needs of this challenging new atomic age will be given those opportunities. There is no hope at all of additional assistance to families by way of increased child endowment so that they may be kept at school and be able to continue their studies to the university stage. There is not one suggestion in the Speech of anything of that kind.

We know the story of the present time. We are well aware of the unfortunate and unhappy fact that when the children of working people reach the age of sixteen, when the parents should he receiving additional aid to keep them at school, child endowment ceases and the children, although they may be brilliant, are compelled to leave school and go out to earn their living.

May I suggest, also, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Commonwealth Government has a duty to find additional funds in order to provide more Commonwealth scholarships. What has been done in this field is firstrate, but much more requires to be done. We certainly have advanced in this connexion in comparison with the conditions that obtained previously, but if this country is to hold its position in world affairs we must definitely develop a race of skilled, educated people, people of quality, people of capacity who, without being in great numbers, will be able to match their intellects against those of people of other countries. I put that forward as an urgent need at the present time. I make a plea to the Government for additional child endowment. But, so far, the Government has promised nothing, and we can expect precisely that.

Now let me say a word or two regarding social services, a subject on which I shall touch only in passing. I refer now to the supplementary assistance for pensioners, which is generally known as the rent allowance. I have had people come to me about the anomalies that attend eligibility for this supplementary assistance. One, in particular, is an ex-service pensioner who receives 10s. 3d. a week as a repatriation benefit. Because he receives 10s. 3d. a week in repatriation benefit he is not entitled to the surpplementary assistance. I know of a lady who was paying off her cottage, who was forced to borrow £400 in order to complete the purchase. She had paid the rest of the purchase price by using all her life savings for that purpose. In order to pay off the mortgage in a reasonable time she is called upon to make a payment of £3 ls. 3d. a week. In addition, she has to pay rates and taxes. Yet she is not entitled to supplementary assistance because it is alleged that she owns her home. In fact, that lady does not own her home. She is in the process of buying it, but she is treated as a home owner, denied the right of supplementary assistance and is penalized thereby in a scandalous fashion. I put it to the Government this evening: Please correct that anomaly without further delay. To-day I asked the Minister for Social Services to look into this matter, and I received from him the type of reply to which we have become accustomed from that honorable gentleman - one of off-handedness, one of aloofness, one of " It is the Government's business. The Opposition should not be worrying about it at all." I make no apology for raising the matter again. I come to this place to voice the views of the people of my electorate. I come here to fight for their just claims. I come here to see that they receive fair treatment, and in these matters, and in others, I sincerely trust that a new attitude will be shown by the Minister for Social Services.

Another matter to which I desire to refer in passing is the failure of this Government to see to it that local government is provided with adequate funds to carry out the essential services that are its responsibility. I put it to the Government that there is a need for adequate funds to be provided to local government authorities, by grant in addition to loan moneys, so as to supplement the revenue that they raise from the heavy rates levied by them. Let it be clearly understood that local government has not been backward in levying heavy rates. The rates imposed by local government bodies have increased by some 333 per cent, in recent years, which indicates quite clearly that the people engaged in local government have genuinely sought from local resources the money necessary to carry out the additional work cast upon them by the increasing population.

The increase in the population of this country necessitates the provision of addi tional roads, footpaths, water supply and sewerage connexions, and the like. Local government has faced up to this problem. But one of the most outstanding matters in this connexion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the fact that local government is not permitted to borrow the money that it wants to borrow. And that is all that local government asks for from the Government - the right to borrow its financial requirements. The question of whether it could succeed in borrowing the amount of money approved for borrowing is entirely another topic. I want to deal only with the central matter - the right to borrow.

In 1952-53 local government in Australia was given authority to borrow £127,900,000. For the current financial year local government and semi-government authorities were permitted to borrow only £95,000,000. This is the way in which we are advancing Australia Fair, or Australia Unlimited, as the Prime Minister calls it. I repeat, the amount approved for borrowing by local government authorities fell from £127,900,000 in 1952- 53 to £95,000,000 in the current financial year, at a time when all the services that local government has to provide - services connected with health, national fitness, the treatment of poliomyelitis and diphtheria, and all the rest - continue to expand. These burdens are falling heavily on the shoulders of those engaged in the affairs of local government.

Last year, local government authorities in New South Wales sought to borrow £39,000,000. The State authorities cut that loan programme down to £24,000,000, and when that figure reached the gilded halls of Canberra it was further reduced to £14,800,000. These moneys are required for the building of roads, the provision of water supplies and sewerage, and the extension of services to provide opportunities for our new settlers, and our old settlers also, to live as civilized people.

I have here some comments from a local government association in New South Wales on the present position regarding loan money for local government, which include the following statements: -

And there is a strong case for local government being given the extra allocation. Community amenities - water supply, sewerage, electricity - are just as essential - if not more so - as the development of private enterprise. As a matter of fact, it matters little purely from the borrowing angle whether these services be provided by private or public enterprise. It is a question of essentiality. If private enterprise wanted money for a water supply scheme or for electricity development, or for the making of roads, there would be no restriction of borrowing for such a purpose. In fact, private enterprise would be encouraged to do so, on the ground that it is doing something for the development of the country and providing employment.

But when local government wants money to do precisely the same thing for the development of Australia the cry is that no money is available for those purposes. I think the time has long since passed when we should tolerate such a situation in a young and growing country. Sitting on the other side of the chamber is the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), who represents one of the oldest cities in Australia. Yet, it is a ci.y of which vast areas remain unsewered. Surely, it is time that the Government did something to make more money available to local government bodies so that they could carry out their essential work.

If time had permitted I would have referred to a number of other matters. I wish to refer briefly to the report of the Constitution Review Committee. I pay a tribute to the committee for the knowledge and rich experience that was brought to bear by it in the compilation of its report. With regard to the Senate and the deadlocks that do occasionally occur, I feel that the question of the Senate's retention should be submitted to the people and they should be given an opportunity to determine the matter. There are many other aspects of the committee's report that I wanted to deal with. I know that I cannot go into great detail. Many of the matters touched on in the report could not receive full consideration in a sketchy debate of this kind, but I hope that when this committee's work is being considered by the Parliament, honorable members will be given an ample opportunity to examine the very valuable recommendations made in the report.

I wish to make a plea that is somewhat removed from the broader issues dealt with in the committee's report. Since federation, Australia has surely come of age. We have passed our jubilee year. We are now an adult nation, and it is time that these vital matters should be considered as national questions. With regard to the type of new authorities that might grow up in this coun- try, whether they be States, provinces, regions, or local areas, those matters should be given the consideration they deserve on the basis of the ability of the people of a particular area to serve the nation as well as their own particular area.

One matter that concerns me vitally is the provision of relief for people who have been badly hit in recent years by flood, fire and tempest. I understand that to do something on a national basis, such as was done under the war damage insurance scheme, would require an amendment of the Constitution. If that is so, then I think it is time some amendment was made in order to institute some form of national insurance. Then, places like northern Queensland, which is at present suffering heavy damage, would not have to receive charity but would be helped from a fund established for that purpose. That would be a small detail in the broad issue of a review of the Constitution, but in many respects it would be of major importance. I leave those matters this evening with the thought that, perhaps, one day the Parliament will get around to some serious consideration of the constitutional issues facing this country at the present time.

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

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