Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 25 February 1959

Mr STEWART (Lang) .- Mr. Speaker,in the few days since this twentythird Parliament first met, many of the new members have made their maiden speeches. I have listened to most of them, and have been impressed by the high standard of their speeches. Each of those new members has shown that, in his own way, he (Mr. Davies), the honorable member for St. George (Mr.. Clay) and the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) I offer a special word of praise on their fine speeches. To the other honorable members who have yet to make their maiden contributions, I offer .my best wishes for a successful début.

For the first time in the history of this Commonwealth Parliament, the proceedings at the opening were televised. The reaction has been very favorable. The only complaint which I have heard or read has been that the Governor-General's Speech was uninteresting and too long. One Sydney Sunday newspaper commented in the following words: -

The cameras caught some spectators in the Senate looking bored, and handsome, bewigged President McMuIlin kept glancing sideways at the G.G.'s manuscript as if to see how much more there was to come.

Such a reaction is not to be wondered at. I have been privileged to attend four or five openings of the Parliament, and the Governor-General's Speech on this occasion ranks as the most dreary, uninteresting and disappointing seven pages of words the reading of which I have been forced to suffer.

I sympathize with His Excellency in having to deliver on behalf of his Government such an uninteresting Speech on what will probably be the last occasion on which he will open the Parliament, as his term is due to expire later this year. During his term as Governor-General, His Excellency has on many occasions shown a deep and firm belief in the future of Australia. His speeches have demonstrated great confidence in Australia and its people, and he has always indicated a desire to see that the problems of an expanding and developing nation were met by realistic policies and plans. I am certain that if His Excellency had been (responsible for the preparation of the Speech which he made he would not have delivered such an innocuous and dreary .address. 'Undoubtedly, he would have spoken of matters of great import to the people of Australia, and among those matters would have been plans for better educational facilities, better roads and adequate housing for the people. However, His Excellency did not have an opportunity to speak on these matters, and it is left to Opposition members to raise them in this debate.

I take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to raise, first, the matter of housing. It is common knowledge that throughout Australia at the present time various estimates have indicated that there is a shortage of housing ranging between 90,000 and 100,000 homes. In Australia, it has always been shown that two kinds of housing are required - one for rent and one for the person who desires to build or purchase a home that will eventually become his own. It has fallen to the lot of the State governments to undertake the task of providing homes for rent, contrary to the opinion expressed by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who said that if rent controls were lifted homes would become freely available for renting. The Minister has been proved to be incorrect, and it is now the job of the housing commissions and trusts in the various States to provide dwellings for rental purposes. But because of the lack of finance and the absence of foresight on the part of this Government, which controls Australia's purse strings by means of uniform taxation, and which, owing to its nearsightedness, has failed to realize the seriousness of the pressing and important housing problem, the State instrumentalities have failed to catch up on the back-lag of homes.

In 1952, approximately 80,000 homes were built. If it was possible to build 80.000 homes in 1952, surely in these days, with the increase in population and the greater number of people now engaged in the building industry, it is possible to build 90,000 or 100,000 homes a year. But we find that, last financial year, only 75,329 homes were built. I repeat that 80,000 were constructed in 1952. The demand for housing at the present time is estimated at between 55,000 and 60,000 homes a year, and. with the increase in population, that demand will increase. But we have found continually during the last five or six years that each year fewer homes than in the previous year are being built. If the back lag in housing is* to be overtaken, this Government - because it controls the nation's coffers and allocates to the housing bodies in the various States the money to provide housing commission homes - will have to see that the States get much more money than they are receiving at present.

Those people who, on the other hand, desire to build or purchase a home of their own are continually in difficulty seeking finance to go ahead with their projects. Newly married couples and couples with young families find that, unless they are able to raise £1,200 or £1,500, they are not in a position to build or purchase a home of their own. And even if they have £1,200 or £1,500, often they find it impossible to obtain finance from cooperative building societies, banks or insurance companies. It is up to this Government to see that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia advances to co-operative building societies more money than it has been advancing. It is up to this Government to see that the private trading banks and the insurance companies also play their part in making funds available to the co-operative building societies. At the same time, it is imperative that the deposit necessary for the purchase or construction of a home be reduced to the minimum, because at present it is almost impossible for young couples to save sufficient money to put down as a deposit on a home. The private banks and the insurance companies of Australia have not played their part in the last few years in providing funds for the co-operative building societies, and a great deal of the burden has fallen on the Commonwealth Bank. On a few occasions, I have had cause to approach that bank in an effort to obtain a loan for co-operative building societies in my electorate, and on a number of those occasions the co-operative building society concerned has had to wait for six or twelve months before the money was available, although, throughout the entire waiting period, more and more applications for loans have been lodged with it.

Because housing is so important, and because there is at present such a lack of housing, one finds that various estate agents and property owners are indulging in a racket, particularly in relation to new Australians. In the last couple of years, I have seen a number of cases in which new Australians have been expected to pay something like £500 deposit on a house selling for £2,950, although the Valuer-General's valuation was only about £1,750. Because the houses in question were older than the age limit specified by the co-operative building societies, the intending purchasers had to obtain the necessary funds from finance companies, which charged them 10 per cent, interest. They are paying back in the vicinity of £15 or £20 a week on the money that they have borrowed from the finance company. They have to do that because they were not able to obtain finance from the banks, insurance companies, or cooperative building societies. Because they had to resort to the finance companies they now have a burden around their necks. The State governments are not to blame for the housing shortages because they are denied sufficient funds by the Commonwealth Government. This Government must face up to these problems instead of allowing them to drift until they become too difficult for immediate solution.

I make an earnest appeal to this Government to do something about housing. In the Speech prepared for the GovernorGeneral the Government takes great credit for its intention to provide £80,000,000 for housing in this financial year. 1 remind honorable members opposite, however, that that amount is only £3,000,000 more than was made available by the Government for this purpose in the last financial year. At present there is a backlog of between 90,000 and 100,000 homes in Australia.

Mr Wight - Where did the honorable member get those figures?

Mr STEWART - From Sir Douglas Copland. The present demand for houses is between 55,000 and 60,000 a year, yet the number of houses being built in Australia is declining year by year. It is the duty of the Government to do something about that situation without delay.

In every State of the Commonwealth the education system is in a chaotic condition because this Government is not providing sufficient finance to the States to meet the high cost of education. In New South Wales in the last financial year 55 per cent, of the tax reimbursement grant was made available for education. In addition £10,250,000 was made available out of State funds. Yet New South Wales, together with the other States, is suffering from a shortage of schools and class-rooms. Classes are over-crowded, and teachers and teaching aids are in short supply.

I have in my possession a copy of a letter, dated 18th February, 1959, which was sent to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) by the New South Wales Teachers Federation. This letter shows that the federation and the New South Wales Parent Teacher Education Council, have asked the Prime Minister at next week's Premiers conference to arrange to make a substantial emergency grant to New South Wales for education. The letter also asks for the appointment of a committee, along the lines of the Murray committee, to inquire into the needs of primary, secondary and technical education on a nationwide basis.

Because it controls the purse-strings, the Commonwealth Government is to blame for the chaotic situation that has developed in the State education systems. Admittedly, during the last Parliament the Government made money available for the universities, but it is ridiculous to make money available at the university level when there is so much overcrowding in class-rooms and such a lack of teachers and teaching aids at the primary and secondary levels. If we are to do anything about education we must start at the kindergarten level and work right through to the secondary level. Merely to render assistance at the university level is not enough.

At next week's Premiers conference the subject of education will undoubtedly be raised and the Premiers will ask for increased aid for this purpose. I hazard a guess, however, that the result of their appeal will be negligible or that this Government will give them nothing. In New South Wales at the present time the Premier and his Government have had to adopt all sorts of means to raise finance. The New South Wales Government has had to license poker machines and it has had to obtain revenue from totalizators and lotteries. This is causing grave concern to the Premier, Mr. Cahill, a man of unblemished character and record, who is sincere in everything that he does. During his term of office New South Wales has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. Undoubtedly on 21-st March- next the people of New South Wales will show their gratitude to Joe Cahill and his Government by returning them to office with a resounding majority. Honorable members opposite, who ridicule the statement that Joe Cahill is a man of unblemished character and record, should- consider their Liberal colleagues in the New South Wales Parliament. If honorable members opposite think that the New South Wales Labour Government is not worth much, let me tell them that their colleagues in the New South Wales State House are twice as- bad.

Another matter that deserves the attention of this Government is the finance for roads. Time and again honorable members have spoken about the need for this country to be adequately defended, and year in and year out we have spent £200,000,000 on defence. Honorable members have spoken about the Woomera- rocket range, and 'the Governor-General's Speech mentioned guided missiles and other things. In the event of war those guided missiles could not be transported around Australia because of the state of our roads. The State governments are not in a position to finance road construction and maintenance, education, transport, and the various other calls made upon them. This Government must face up to these problems. It must realize that these are national responsibilities and it must do something about them. In the last Parliament we had a Constitution Review Committee. This Government claims that the Commonwealth has no constitutional power to assist the States to provide finance for many of these things, but if the Constitution Review Committee is re-appointed and does its job correctly, many of these matters will undoubtedly come under the control of the Commonwealth. However, even in that event this Government would still be disinclined to do much for a State that was not governed by a Liberal government. The defence significance of roads cannot be stressed too greatly, because our railway system is obsolete because of broken gauges. Unless we have good roads, in time of war we will not be able to transport our troops,, arms, and other requirements satisfactorily. It is time that the Government spent some of the annual £200,000,000 defence vote on road construction and maintenance.

While on the subject of roads may I' say that I think it is time that the road hauliers, particularly those operating interstate transports, made a just contribution towards the upkeep of the roads that they use. To suggest that the States are not justly entitled to tax those people on constitutional' grounds is to take a very narrow view of constitutional limitations. The Constitution Review Committee must do something to preserve the right of the States to impose a just tax on interstate road hauliers.

There is a great need to plan roads between the main cities of Australia, and those roads should become the responsibility of the Federal Government. Leaving, aside constitutional difficulties, I feel that agreement should be reached with the States on the question of providing four and: six lane highways between the State capitals.

A subject that has been exercising my mind for a long time and causing me some worry is the growth of monopoly interests in television, radio and newspapers. The control of these mediums of communication in Australia is falling into the hands of fewer and fewer people as each day goes by. I have only to instance the recent sale of the Sydney " Daily Mirror " to a company financed by the " Sydney Morning Herald". One has only to look at the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and its recommendations to the PostmasterGeneral on the applications for television licences in Brisbane and Adelaide to realize just how tied in with each other are newspapers, radio and television. On page 14 of the report we read that in Sydney the newspaper applicants for television licences were: " Sydney Morning Herald ", Sydney "Sun", Sydney "Daily Telegraph", Sydney "Daily Mirror" and "Truth", London " Daily Mirror " and. London " Daily Mail ". The broadcasting stations which applied for television licences were 2GB, 2UE, 2UW, 2SM and 2KY, all of Sydney, and 2KA, Katoomba. In Melbourne, the applicants for licences were: Melbourne " Herald ". Melbourne " Age ". Melbourne " Argus ", 3AK, 3SY, 3UZ and 3KZ, all of Melbourne, Macquarie Broadcasting. Service, Artransa Proprietary Limited, and Associated T.V. Proprietary Limited.

In Brisbane and Adelaide, the position was the same. Again there was a newspaper, radio, and television hook-up. In Brisbane, the applicants included the Brisbane " Courier-Mail ", Brisbane " Telegraph ", " Sydney Morning Herald ", Sydney "Daily Telegraph", Sydney "Truth and Sportsman. ", Melbourne " Herald ", London " Daily Mail ", Toowoomba Newspaper Company Limited, Northern Star Limited, Lismore, Tweed Newspaper Company Limited, Murwillumbah, 4BC Brisbane, 4GR Toowoomba, 4MB Maryborough, 4RO Rockhampton, 4BK Brisbane, and 4AK Oakey. In Adelaide the applicants included Adelaide " Advertiser ", Adelaide " News ", Sydney " Daily Telegraph ", London. " Daily Mail ", 5 AD, SDN, and 5KA, all of Adelaide, 5SE Mount Gambier, 5PI Crystalbrook, 5MU Murray Bridge, 5AU Port Augusta, and 2BH Broken Hill.

Consequently, we find that instead of the Parliament of Australia being the governing body, the radio, television and newspaper interests are telling this Government in particular what to do about certain problems, and time and again the Government bows its knee. If members of the Government do not bow their knees in order to keep in good with the newspaper interests, they are removed and given a knighthood or put on the New Year honours list in some other way.

This is a dangerous tendency that has been developing and it is a matter that should be looked at by this Government. The Commonwealth Parliament should govern this country, and not the newspaper, radio and television interests. It is time that the power of the press, radio and television was curbed in order that the Australian Government can govern in the interests of Australia rather than in their interests and those of their friends. The hook-up between newspapers, radio and television is not the only example of the growth of big monopoly interests that can be cited in Australia at the present time. Large retail stores are taking over in various parts of the country by buying out the small man. Large retail grocery stores are expanding their operations, and large industrial com panies are eating up smaller men. Quite often this is accomplished by unfair competition, either by selling, an item below cost or by preventing supplies from reaching the smaller men. The growth of monopolies and other big business is a matter that should be studied immediately by the Government. It is to be hoped that during the term of this Parliament the Government will recover from, the lethargy and lack of interest from which it suffers and will introduce legislation to resolve some of the problems of this great and expanding nation.

Suggest corrections