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Tuesday, 31 May 1960

Mr HAMILTON (Canning) .- I had proposed to deal only with two matters in this debate to-night, but in view of what some speakers on the Opposition side have had to say, I should like to make some comments about their addresses to the House. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) spoke about State finances. We have heard this story repeatedly from Victorian members, in particular. Not only are they beginning tocomplain about the present financial arrangement between the States and the Commonwealth; they also complain about the previous arrangement. Prior to the former Treasurer leaving this Parliament almost on the day of his departure I had him inquire for me whether the States had taken advantage up to that time of, I think, section 10 of the taxation reimbursement legislation, which provides that if any State, after ten years of operation of the formula, requests the Commonwealth to call a conference in respect of the formula, the Commonwealth has to do so. Although some States were arguing and growling about how the Commonwealth was treating them, not oneState took advantage of that section to force the Commonwealth to call a conference to discuss the formula. That formula made provision for increases in population, which would cover, of course, the migrant intake.

After the twentythird Parliament began, the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) and the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), in the absence of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), had further discussions with the States and introduced the latest arrangement. On that occasion every State Premier and Treasurer signified his agreement and pleasure with the new arrangement and indicated that he would be satisfied, but now they are starting to complain again. They may have some cause to say something, particularly in regard to the basic wage increase and the margins increase, but it had to be left to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth to ginger up the States to make an appearance before the Arbitration Commission to put their case, so that the whole of the economy could be completely studied by that body. But even when all the States had been reminded by the Prime Minister that they could appear before the commission, did they all appear? Of course they did not.

Mr Peters - Why?

Mr HAMILTON - They did not show sufficient interest in the matter. That is the trouble. Any Premier of a State who is encumbered by his financial position but fails to arrange for some one to appear before that tribunal to state his case is failing to discharge his duty and responsibility to the people.

This new arrangement still provides for grants to be adjusted in accordance with average increases in wages and also with increases in population. Surely the honorable member for Batman and the Victorian Government do not expect the Commonwealth Government to call conferences week by week or month by month. Is not the matter adjusted at the end of the financial year at the Premiers' Conference? In making money available for the next year, is not cognizance taken of what has happened in the past year? Although the States had the opportunity to watch these troubles growing, they did not bother to do much about them. They even had to be reminded that they could put their case to the Arbitration Commission. The States are not the only ones in this position. Other sections of the community are in a similar position.

Mr Thompson - A lot of them pass the buck.

Mr HAMILTON - I agree. A lot of them do pass the buck. I have a very vivid recollection of a couple of Premiers saying, " We have great arguments with the Commonwealth with respect to our finances, but, after all is said and done, a lot of us arc only bluffing ". That is what is happening. It is at the Premiers' Conferences and the Loan Council meetings that these things can be thrashed out.

I come now to the point raised by the honorable member for Batman in respect of homes for the aged. A question based on this subject was asked in the Senate to-day. I heard it over the radio this evening. I should like to be certain that if any such arrangement were made, we should be in a position to say to the States, " Spend the money to get something done in this matter ". All the money that the States obtain from reimbursements and other sources, except money for housing and matters that are specified in section 96 of the Constitution, can be spent as the States decide. The States can do what they like with the money. Some States have already endeavoured to do something for aged persons. I suggest to the honorable gentleman and the other members of the Opposition who support his belief, that it is a matter to be brought forward in the very near future, at the next Premiers' Conference. On the federal side, I should like to think that any assistance given to the States in this field would be on a £1 for £1 basis. Let the States prove that they ar: doing the job properly, and then increase expenditure if it is so desired.

I finish my remarks in respect of the questions raised by the honorable member for Batman by saying that there has been criticism from time to time. of the Commonwealth financing its capital works from revenue. But where else can it get the money? In 1950, the Commonwealth realized that the States had a big developmental job ahead of them. Despite the financial agreement whereby the Commonwealth can take the first 20 per cent, of loan raisings, it agreed that all loan raisings both inside and outside Australia would be available to the States. The Commonwealth Government completely vacated the loan market. Where can it get money from except Consolidated Revenue? If we adopted the stupid suggestion of some State Premiers that we should give them more money, interest free, from Consolidated Revenue, would we find them going on the hustings and assisting the Commonwealth with loan raisings? Of course not! They would be silly to do so. If I were a premier and could get interest-free money from Consolidated Revenue, would I talk my people into subscribing to loans on which they would have to pay interest? Of course not! The present arrangement is right and proper. It is operating in some Commonwealth spheres, too, and the screws are being put on even a little harder now.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) to-night had what I thought was a preliminary gallop in preparation for the Bendigo by-election. His colleagues are saying, " Hear, hear " so my guess must have been pretty right. He spoke about all sorts of gloomy things that would happen under this Government, but he has been doing that now for nearly eleven years. While he was speaking I decided to hunt among my bits and pieces, and I found a report of something he said on 23rd February, 1950. It appears on page 70 of volume 206 of " Hansard ". Before I read what the Leader of the Opposition said on that occasion, I remind honorable gentlemen that this Government had been in office at that time for barely two months. He said -

The people of this country expect their money to buy full value in goods. If they do not get full value for their £1, if they see their children denied those things which are essential to their well-being, if they have to go on paying 5d. for a peach and 8d. for an apple-

Incidentally, I understand that the ruling price in Canberra for a good medium-sized apple is about 5d. But if an apple cost 8d. and if a peach cost 56. at that time, I would remind the honorable gentleman and those who sit behind him that those apples and peaches were from a crop which was grown in 1949 under a Labour regime. Things were different later. The honorable gentleman continued - if they have to go on paying exorbitant prices for everything they need, they will raise their voices in protest. We on this side of the House will lead their protest in this place, on the streetcorners and in public places, wherever demands are made for better conditions, or for something equivalent to the conditions which obtained under the last Government. We should be failing in our duty as Australian democrats if we did not lead the people, and galvanize opinion in such a way that ultimately it will destroy this Government, and destroy it sooner than many expect.

We have had nearly eleven years of that kind of talk.

Mr Peters - Read the rest of it.

Mr HAMILTON - There is no need to read it because it is all in the same strain. The people have had nearly eleven years of that kind of talk and they still have the same Government. And they are likely to have the same Government if the matters raised by the Leader of the Opposition tonight are an example of the horse and buggy thinking of his party, particularly in view of the Bendigo by-election which may be held very shortly.

The honorable gentleman said that the cost of living had doubled since this Government took office. I remind him that wages also have practically doubled. However, I doubt whether the cost of living has doubled. Indeed, in respect of the articles which he mentioned the cost of living has not increased. I am still receiving only 23s. to 30s. a case for citrus fruits, which is about the same price as I was receiving in 1949. I would sell any honorable member a wheat bag full of lemons for fi if he would care to collect them. So the cost of at least two items has not changed even though the cost of fertilizers and other commodities used by farmers has risen.

The Leader of the Opposition said that when the Labour Party was in office there were 400,000-odd rural workers but that the figure has now fallen to about 303,000. I accept those figures as correct. But he did not tell the people of Australia that the value of rural production had risen considerably since his party left office. I shall quote two sets of figures to support my argument. If you take 1951-52 to 1954-55 as one bracket of four years, and 1955-56 to 1958-59 as another bracket of four years, you will see that income from rural production increased by 9 per cent, and that the actual value of rural production increased by £99,500,000. Unfortunately, during that period there was a decrease in farmers' incomes. So they have kept the ball rolling even though there has been a reduction in their personal incomes. If you look at another set of figures which have been prepared by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, you will find that the gross value of production of the major commodity groups in 1950-51 was £1,182,600,000 but in 1958-59, the period for which the latest figures are available from the same source, it was £1,227,000,000, an increase of about £45,000,000. At the same time, I remind honorable gentlemen opposite, if they are not already aware of it - they should be - that pasture improvement has so revolutionized rural production that it has been responsible for quite a lot of the increase in money value to which I have just referred.

Another factor of which I should like to remind honorable gentlemen opposite and any one else who cares to listen is that farmers, by the use of myxomatosis, as recommended by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, have been able to eliminate something like 480,000,000 rabbits on the eastern seaboard. On the basis of eight rabbits to one sheep, the C.S.I.R.O. has thus made it possible for an additional 60,000,000 sheep to be grazed. This is something for which the organization must be given credit.

It is completely wrong and bordering on the despicable for any honorable member to say that rural population has fallen without at least giving some credit to those people who have remained on the land and are working under modern conditions to provide our exports which, in turn, provide the funds necessary to import into Australia the raw materials and consumer goods that we need. It is only by obtaining those things that we are able to live in the luxury which we are enjoying to-day. We do not go on the streetcorners and into the public places today, as the Leader of the Opposition said in 1950 that he would do to remind the people of these things. The Opposition can do that now if it wishes and condemn the Government, but I am prepared to guarantee now that as long as the Government parties select a worthy candidate in opposition to the Labour Party nominee, the Labour Party will disintegrate further and go into nothingness before very long, because the people of Australia realize that they are, in the overall accounting, much better off now than they were previously.

Some honorable gentlemen opposite have spoken about the pensioners. I have the greatest sympathy with the pensioners.

Mr Jones - Why don't you shut up?

Mr HAMILTON - You are the one with whom I should like to deal. You have mouthed the silly idea that pensioners should receive half of the basic wage. Who dissociated the pensioner from the basic wage? The Labour Party did that. What will happen to the unskilled man on the basic wage, or a little better, who is endeavouring to bring up a family, purchase a home, and do all the other things that he has to do if you give the married pensioner couple the same amount of money as he receives? You cannot do it. It will not work out. The whole proposition is wrong. If you use some sense and suggest that the single pensioner be given onehalf of the basic wage, I am prepared to support you. But I will not support any suggestion that the married pensioner couple should receive the full basic wage while nothing is done for the young man who, because of lack of education or for some other reason, is unskilled and has to bring up a family on the basic wage and see that they get a start in life.

Mr Peters - Would you support with your vote that suggestion in relation to the single pensioner?

Mr HAMILTON - I have said that repeatedly, and you have heard me. I do not say things that I am not prepared to stand up to outside and support by my vote inside the House. Now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I see that nearly 20 minutes of my time has passed and there are still two other matters with which I want to deal. The first is in respect of a sentence in His Excellency the GovernorGeneral's Speech, where he said -

My Government is engaged in the substantial task of considering the lengthy and carefully prepared report presented to this Parliament by the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review. 1 admit that it was a lengthy report and that it covered a large number of matters. It took the committee three years to get that report together, but unfortunately it was beset by some delays by the appointment of Senator Spicer to the Commonwealth Industrial Court, the necessity of getting a new chairman, and so forth. I do not care whether the people of Australia or members of this House or anybody else agrees or disagrees with the report and the recommendations which have been made. I am not worried about that at this juncture; but what I am concerned about is that right from1 949 when this Government took office it has been said that this Parliament would inquire into the Constitution and finally, when the road was paved after the 1955 election, this committee was set up in 1956, with six members from one side of the House and six from the other side, or four from one side of this. House, four from the other side and four senators; and they went through a goodly portion of the Constitution and brought down a report. At its very first meeting in Melbourne that committee decided to put various sections of the Constitution into certain categories which were dealt with in the order of the importance which the committee placed upon them. But there are a few things upon which no report has been brought before this House and I think that the Government should, at the earliest opportunity, reconstitute the committee because in the case of the Minister for Immigration, another member has been elected to take his place. The committee should be given the opportunity to complete a review of the Constitution as a whole and not just part of it, so that this Parliament for the first time in 60 years might have a report by members of the Parliament itself members of both Houses which could be laid before members for their consideration and disseminated among the people, whether we agree with it or whether we do not.

I repeat that there are some things which have not been dealt with by the committee. I shall not delay the House by enumerating them, but there are such things as copyright, fisheries, defence, aborigines, and just terms as far as the States are concerned. There is one thing that has just come to my mind and I think the Commonwealth should do something about it. I refer to company law. We have no federal company law, but as soon as this committee had taken a certain amount of evidence the Attorneys-General of the various States got together. I do not criticize them for doing so. Good luck to them if they can keep the thing going and finally bring down uniform legislation. But what will be the ultimate use of it when it needs only one State to break the agreement and it is gone and we still have no uniform company law? The other matter I wish to deal with is in respect of probate. If a person in Western Australia dies and leaves an interest in New South Wales, Victoria or Queensland, after probate and estate duty have been dealt with - I may not be using the correct legal terms but I want to put over the idea - before the beneficiaries of an estate can get anything definite out of it the whole of the probate and so on has to be re-sealed in every State where the deceased may have had some interest.

There are a lot of small things which affect the community and which we should deal with. The committee has taken evidence on many of these matters, but there are a great deal of evidence to be checked over and reports to be written. The Government should see that this job is carried through to its conclusion. We talked about it for long enough. It took us seven years before we got the matter going and then it took three years to get done what has been done. Whether or not we like the recommendations of the committee and the reasons for them, I say to all honorable members that we should not be so foolish as to leave the job half done or two-thirds done, because that has been one of the troubles with all governments down through the years. The people do not blame you for making a mistake, but they give you all the blame that you should take for not attempt ing to do something or for only doing a job by half. I would like to see the Government reconstitute this committee so that it can complete its job and say to the Parliament, " There you are. There is the report. Do with it what you like." It would then be up to Parliament to see if anything is to be done.

Finally, there is something else I want to deal with, and I hate to use the phrase that I am going to use. I refer to the white Australia policy. My mind goes back to 1947 when the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) was Minister for Immigration and was introducing some legislation. Somebody said, by way of interjection, "What about the white Australia policy? " and he said, " We do not have that nomenclature in our book." I thought, at the time, that was a very wise attitude. To my knowledge there are very few, if any, informed public men who use that phrase to-day, and from my knowledge of people returning to Australia, it is used very little overseas. But to my horror I read it in newspapers and journals or hear it on television where panels are interviewing people, and my blood boils when I hear them say, " What do you think of the white Australia policy? " Only the other night in Perth the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom was being interviewed by a panel which knew that he had been in Malaya and when he was asked what was thought of that policy in Malaya he dropped the subject like a hot brick.

I do not know whether anything can be done about it, but if we are to continue to allow people to use this phrase we will be bringing a rod down on our own shoulders. Whether anything can be done to make the use of this phrase an offence punishable by a fine, I do not know. We have tried to ignore it, but every now and again it flares up; and I feel that it flares up just because some of our newspaper people and publicists go to airports and meet strangers and one of the first things they ask them is, "What do you think of such and such a policy? " Then mention of it appears in the press again or is heard on the radio or television, and so the position is aggravated all the time. If anything can be done to prevent the use of that particular phrase I hope it will be done soon. In that way we in this country will live up to what we believe and silence some of these people who have no responsibility at all in respect of international affairs or our economy. They toss the phrase into the ring every so often and by their usage of it make us feel ashamed.

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