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Wednesday, 31 August 1960

Mr GRIFFITHS (Shortland) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,I support the amendment proposed by my leader, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), which, in the traditional form, seeks to have the first item in the Estimates reduced by £1. At this juncture, I should like to congratulate my colleague, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), on having made his maiden speech in this chamber. I believe that he will be a most worthy successor to his father, who so ably represented the people of the northern coalfields of New South Wales in this Parliament for more than 25 years. I should like,! also to congratulate the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Beaton) and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn) on their election to the Parliament. 1 turn now to the Budget, Mr. Temporary Chairman. This is a bad Budget. As I see it, it is a disgrace to the Government. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) seemed to me to be trying to pave the way for this Government to instruct the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission at future basic wage hearings on the basis of the new consumer prices index. I hope the Government does not follow that procedure. It is the duty of the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission to decide whether or not the basic wage should be increased. Unfortunately the basic wage has been frozen since 1953 because of the actions of this Government, but the Government of New South Wales at least has been able to continue to give workers covered by awards of that State the benefit of basic wage increases in accordance with the upward movements in the C series index.

This is one of the most poorly received budgets I have seen in the last ten years. It is quite interesting to note what the press had to say about it, and I believe that the Budget can be judged according to these press descriptions. The " Sydney Morning Herald " said it was a defensive Budget, an ease-off Budget. The Sydney " Daily Telegraph " described it as a play-safe Budget. The Sydney " Sun " said it was getting a chilly reception. The Melbourne " Herald " said there was no life in it. Other newspapers called it a humdrum Budget, a dubious Budget and a negative Budget. One paper blazoned a headline. " Halt with Holt ". I understand this was inspired by the implication of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), in the course of his presentation of the Budget, that the Australian economy was developing too rapidly and that the rate of development would have to be slowed down. Of course the Treasurer really implied that the Australian people were much too well off and that their rate of progress would have to be retarded. I wonder whether this was what the Government had in' mind when it sent Its representative to the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission, during the hearing of the basic wage case earlier this year, to oppose the granting of any further increases to workers.

At this stage I want to voice my emphatic protest at the action of the Government in appearing before the commission in this way. I take the view that if record dividends and record profits can be enjoyed by company shareholders year after year, and particularly by finance companies, the workers are entitled to increases in the basic wage when prices rise, so that they can cope with the increased cost of living. I believe that the workers are entitled to some of the colossal profits that are now being made by their employers.

The Treasurer, I suggest, could be called the apologetic Treasurer, because he seemed to me to be apologizing all the way through his Budget speech. In years gone by the Government had its tragic Treasurer, and for years we had to put up with the author of the horror Budget, Sir Arthur Fadden. But I doubt very much that there has ever been a Treasurer who could have put it over the people as skilfully and as completely as our present Treasurer has been able to do. The right honorable gentleman professes to have the answer to everything. Apparently he can manipulate figures to suit himself. It was this manipulation of figures in the Budget that had me puzzled for a long time. I tried to follow the almost magical way in which the Treasurer has been able to manipulate the figures, and it was not untill T read " The Taxpayers' Bulletin ", of 20th August last, that I got a clue to these manipulations. Writing in that journal Mr. I. McKellar White said -

Because of the manner in which the nation's accounts are prepared, the financial picture presented to Parliament in this week's Budget is confused and perhaps misleading. The Treasurer's basic justification for retaining present taxes and imposing more taxes is that deficit budgeting is " out " and that last year's cash deficiency must be converted to a cash surplus in 1960-61. . . . But these figures are the end result of an amazing conglomeration of revenue and capital items and of cash and credit entries that would horrify the auditor of a public company.

I suggest that Mr. McKellar White did not write that article without first having seriously considered what it implied. As I see it. the Australian taxpayers are being bled white to satisfy a Government which is intent on perpetuating a financial policy designed to help big manufacturing businesses, financial institutions, hire purchase companies and their private trading bank shareholders. Taxation in all its forms is becoming heavier each year, and how much longer the Australian electors are going to put up with it I do not know.

In this Budget debate we have listened to speeches from honorable members of the Country Party, who have, almost without exception, spoken of the need to increase primary production as part of a very necessary export drive. They have told us that we must sell our primary products overseas to help build up our international reserves as well as to increase the incomes of primary producers. But not one of them is game to tackle the Government about its wasteful financial policies. This country is crying out for rural development. Everyone knows that. We have millions of acres of land and we have plenty of young men willing to undertake rural development activities if the Government will provide funds for that purpose. Water conservation projects and the provision of good roads are the first essentials to rural development. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) rightly pointed out what could be done with good roads through the Channel country of Queensland and from there to the coast. In drought periods the stock that would be saved would be worth millions of pounds. Yet not one member of the Country Party is prepared to tackle the Government on its financial policies with a view to diverting some of the funds that the Government has at its disposal into the provision of roads, water conservation and other rural requirements.

The Treasurer claims that he is budgeting this year for a surplus of £15,500,000. " The Taxpayers' Bulletin " says he should have a surplus of £126,000,000. I think the surplus will be much greater still if the figures are properly compiled. I believe the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve to be the greatest racket of all time. For years the Government has been using this fund, which has been derived from the workers of this country by means of personal exertion tax, sales tax and other forms of taxation such as the taxes on beer, tobacco, ice cream and various other items, as a means of helping big business. This year the Treasurer expects to place £125,743,000 in that Fund. Last year the fund took £41,382,327, and in the preceding three years it took about £200,000,000. In addition, treasury-bills to the value of almost £60,000,000 were issued and used mainly in defence appropriations. The Treasurer explained, in a maze of words, what is being done with the money, but I venture to suggest that not one person in every thousand has the slightest idea how he or she is being systematically robbed. As I see it, every man, woman and child is being over-taxed in one way or another to enable this Government to accumulate funds so that monopolies, hire purchase companies and huge cartels may be fed with new business. Taxation continues to rise. During the last year there were increases in postal rates, telephones charges and pharmaceutical costs. These are typical examples of what is happening in the field of taxation. There is every indication that during this year further increases will be made in hospital fees, medical expenses, food bills, clothing costs, transport charges and in numerous other avenues. These increased charges will mean additional revenue for the Government, but the plight of the base-rate pensioner, the unemployed, the sick, the widows and those receiving the wife's allowance becomes progressively worse.

During this year the Commonwealth and the States between them will pay out more than £155,000,000 in interest, or about £7,500,000 more than they paid out last year. This indicates how rapidly the interest bill is growing. Ten years ago we were paying only £85,500,000 a year in interest, but the figure has now almost doubled. The national debt now stands at more than £4,000,000,000. Each year maturing loans must be either converted to new stock or redeemed by the Government. Last year almost £338,000,000 of debt matured and had to be made good. Of that amount £77,433,000 was cashed by the bondholders and no doubt will be diverted to other channels such as hirepurchase investment. This year it is expected that £80,000,000 of maturing bonds will have to be purchased by the Government with money paid by us in tax.

My complaint is that the Government, by refusing to control interest rates and capital issues, has deliberately driven bondholders away from Commonwealth investments to hire-purchase and finance companies which offer much more attractive interest rates and dividends. The Government, therefore, aids and abets the ruthless practice that many finance and hirepurchase companies adopt in the plunder of working people who are often compelled to seek finance from them to meet unforeseen financial obligations - often the result of purchasing household furnishings, amenities and other things - because the Government banking system is not allowed to come to their aid.

It is well known that many finance companies foreclose and repossess goods almost immediately a hirer falls into arrears with his payments. He may have missed a payment due to the onset of sickness, death, unemployment or a host of other legitimate reasons. Mr. V. H. Stanley Low, in his publication entitled " The Philosophy of Hire Purchase ", denies that such things happen in the field of hirepurchase finance, but the fact that Mr. Low admits that repossessions take place if a hirer is two or more payments in arrears indicates that the hire-purchase companies do not allow for the results of adversity striking at the door of a hirer. When a hirer falls into arrears repossessions are made ruthlessly.

So that there will be no misunderstanding about how I stand in relation to hire purchase, I should like to cite a typical case which came to my notice. Last year a lad of 21 years of age purchased a secondhand motor car for £395. He paid £35 deposit and, when interest and other charges were added to the cost of the car, his total liability was £639 12s. The contract was by way of a bill of sale for £639 12s. which he did not possess either in property or in goods, so his widowed mother was joined in the contract. The lad had the car for exactly one week. It was purchased on 23rd December and was returned to the firm on 30th December. During the week that the lad had the car he had to spend about £12 on repairs. Because it was not in a satisfactory mechanical condition, he would not keep it and sent it back, although the firm claims that it repossessed the car. About three months later the lad received an account for £245 12s. Id. from Latec Finance Proprietary Limited.

Mr Curtin - What is the name of the company?

Mr GRIFFITHS - It is Latec Finance Proprietary Limited, a firm which is considered to be one of the better-class hirepurchase companies. Naturally, being only a boy, he did not have the money with which to meet the account. He then saw Mr. J. Stewart, the member for the State electorate of Kahibah. Mr. Stewart contacted the company and asked for a statement of account. After a lengthy discussion the firm decided to reduce considerably the charges, and stated that if the account was met within a week it would charge only £90 5s. Certain arrangements were made and the firm was paid the £90 5s. If we add to that amount the £35 deposit, plus the cost of repairs, the lad had to pay almost £140 to own a car for exactly one week.

In my view, finance companies dealing in hire purchase, and hire-purchase companies themselves, should be compelled to accept responsibility for the goods which they finance, at least to the extent that the goods remain in good order during the period of the loan. If that were done, there would be far less trouble in relation to hire-purchase transactions than there is now. I know that hire purchase is a matter with which the State governments have to grapple, but I felt that the case of this lad should be mentioned in this place because the Minister for the Interior and other Government supporters have been referring in their speeches to hire purchase.

Let me now return to the Budget. I direct the attention of honorable members to Part C of the Budget, which deals with loan redemptions. It will be seen that last year £164,000,000 was used to reduce Commonwealth and State debt, but the national debt increased by more than £7,500,000. I ask the Treasurer to explain to the people the Government's plan of action by which interest payments and principal will begin to reduce, thereby making available for rural and city development alike much-needed finance. I agree with Mr. McKellar White that the Budget figures are the end result of an amazing conglomeration of revenue and capital items.

As I see it, almost anything can be done by the Government in its manipulation of figures. Honorable members have become accustomed to hearing the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Treasurer and some socalled economists saying that we cannot do this or we cannot do that because our international reserves are diminishing or because there is a danger of a sharp rise in the inflationary pressure to which we have been subjected for some years. In my view, that is all baloney.

This Government has survived for almost eleven years on communism, inflation and furphies. I concede that there has been prosperity in spite of the Government, but only the wealthy have enjoyed it. With wiser administration we could have been much more prosperous than we have been. The Chifley Government and, in particular, the present Leader of the Opposition, were the authors of Australia's progress and development. They sponsored the immigration and the Snowy Mountains schemes, the latter being virtually boycotted by the present Government, which was then in opposition.

Since World War II., revolutions in science and engineering have occurred. Other countries, especially Communist countries, have made the most of those advances. Russia and China leave us for dead when it comes to the use of natural resources for internal development. In those countries they are bridging and harnessing their great rivers to provide power. They are gouging out roads in tortuous mountainous terrain for defence purposes, and building up industries without worrying about international reserves. But we are doing practically nothing in this respect. Recently I saw something of the northwest of Western Australia and the centre of the Northern Territory. The whole area is screaming out for development. Almost every town has a surplus of white and coloured labour. Every area has natural metals which could be used for road construction and for building weirs on creeks and rivers to provide irrigation. But although we are to spend £198,000,000 this year on defence, nothing is being done to develop our roads as a phase of our defence effort. In his maiden speech in this Parliament last week, the honorable member for Hunter directed attention to the possibilities of the Hovercraft as a vessel for the trade and commerce of the Commonwealth. I now say that there is a distinct possibility that within the next ten years the Hovercraft will completely upset our various forms of transportation and that, should that happen, the hundreds of millions of pounds now invested in our railway systems will become a millstone around our necks if we are not very careful. lt is possible that we shall find ourselves with a new system of transport while still being required to pay bondholders for an obsolete railway system which could be used only in the inner city areas. That is something to which the Government will have to give serious thought.

I have already pointed out that the Leader of the Opposition was responsible for the introduction of our great immigration scheme and that one becomes tired of the talk by the Treasurer of too much liquidity in our banking and financial systems. I do not think there is enough liquidity in this country, and I do not accept the Treasurer's statement that there is a shortage of key materials and some classes of goods. If we have the money, we can buy anything in this country. It is my view that as each boat load of immigrants comes here, or, at some convenient time thereafter, there should be released by the banking system into government and local government administration a certain amount of finance to meet the new calls that are to be made on public and semigovernment authorities consequent upon the arrival of the new people. For instance, at the moment there is an acute crisis in education throughout Australia. New schools and more teachers are badly needed, yet this Government considers it has done wonders by having provided a few million pounds towards university education. I ask: Would there have been the same shortage of schools had there been no immigration system?

City and shire councils alike are protesting everywhere that their respective loan allocations are far too low to enable them to carry out their work with efficiency and satisfaction. The councils have the equipment and man-power to do their work, but they cannot get the best results from their staffs because they are not allowed to commence new work as they have not the funds with which to buy materials. How stupid we can be! 1 ask honorable members opposite why some of the £60,000,000 worth of treasury-bills which was expended on defence in the past two years could not have been spent on local government work or education. There is still quite a number of unemployed people who could be used to work on water and sewerage installations in the major cities of the Commonwealth. Can the Treasurer advance any reason why that work is not being done when we are paying men the dole? 1 want to refer briefly now to the coalmining industry, lt is my considered opinion that the mine worker is entitled to enjoy a shorter working week and increased amenities from the coal industry. More coal is being produced to-day than ever before, yet only a little more than half the employees are still employed to hew it. Mechanization has played a major role in this increased production, and new markets have become available to us from overseas, principally from Japan. New uses for coal are being found continually. Roadmaking is one of them. The Japanese will take our good coking coal if we are capable of supplying it to them.

For the past two or three years, there seems to have been a complete lack of coordination between the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) on the one hand and New South Wales Minister for Mines, Mr. Simpson, on the other, in respect of the development of uses for coal. Recently both Ministers visited Japan and neither saw fit to discuss coal exports with the other. Still more recently, the Minister for National Development came to Newcastle to inspect coal loading and handling facilities as well as harbour installations at that port. The Minister did not even extend to the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones), the honorable member for Hunter or myself the courtesy of letting us know he was in the city. But he did set about castigating the State Government for its failure to provide sufficient depth of water on the Newcastle Harbour bar to enable large overseas colliers to enter and leave the port fully loaded. T say to the Minister that it is this Government's responsibility to see that harbours that are used in the export trade are capable of accommodating vessels visiting us to load cargo. When all is said and done, this Government cops the income which is derived from exports.

The Minister for National Development chided the State Government for spending about £3,000,000 in establishing three new State mines near Vales Point, in my electorate, which are to be used to provide fuel for the Vales Point power house. In his usual aloof way, the Minister wanted private enterprise to be allowed to provide the coal while the Government undertook the huge cost of constructing the power house. I say to the Minister that the three new mines will be mechanized, that they will be the best-equipped mines in Australia and that they will form the basis of cheap power for sale to thousands of electricity consumers in New South Wales. Further, I remind him that it is not his prerogative to tell the New South Wales Government how it should spend its money. The Opposition in this Parliament is being reminded of that constantly by Ministers.

During the past six years, the coal industry in New South Wales and elsewhere in Australia has undergone radical changes. Mechanization has displaced hand labour, and more coal than ever is now being won with fewer men. It is possible that coal can compete with other forms of fuel, the principal one being the petro-chemical industry, if only there were co-ordination of effort between this Government and the New South Wales Government. I should like to know why the Minister for National Development refuses to co-operate in the work of investigating the possibilities of a coal-based chemical and liquid fuel industry. The State Minister for Mines has tried his hardest to obtain the co-operation of this unco-operative Minister. I understand that Mr. Simpson wrote to the Minister for National Development when it was learned that the Commonwealth Government was to establish an expert committee to investigate the uses of coal, but the Minister for National Development ignored the offer of the New South Wales Government to place its best officers at the Commonwealth's disposal.

The State Government had offered the services of Professor Hunter and Mr. A. F. Perkins to the Commonwealth Government. I ask the Minister for Social Services (Mr.

Roberton), who is sitting at the table, to ascertain whether the Commonwealth expert committee on coal utilization is functioning. If it is functioning, then we of the Opposition want to know why the offer by the New South Wales Government was not accepted. I also ask this Government to make available special funds for the deepening of the bar in the Newcastle Harbour so that the coal export trade may develop to the maximum extent.

Time will not permit of my traversing social service matters now, and while I congratulate the Government on the merging of the income and property means tests, which will no doubt help many aged persons, the Government stands condemned for its neglect of many other aspects of social services. Again, time does not permit of my developing the argument in support of greater increases for civilian widows and the wives of invalid pensioners, but I do record my protest at the Government's neglect of these people. The wives of invalid pensioners are receiving shocking treatment from the Government, and I ask the Minister for Social Services, in the name of humanity, to have a further look at their case for an increased allowance, especially where women are looking after more than one aged person or where the wife herself is almost an invalid.

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