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Thursday, 1 September 1960

Mr BEATON (Bendigo) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,as the new representative in this House of the Bendigo seat, I take this opportunity to pay a final tribute to my predecessor. The late P. J. Clarey gave service to friend and foe alike and in the Bendigo electorate, he commanded not only the love of his followers, but also the respect of his opponents. I feel that I can inform the people of Bendigo that similar circumstances applied in this House, and consequently, I follow in his footsteps with a deep sense of humility.

As I believe it, Sir, a budget brought down by a national government is essentially a review of the national economy, containing the Government's measures to combat the shortcomings and ills apparent since the previous budget. It is, too, the Government's shop window for plans for future development. It has become the custom over the years to brand a budget with a name descriptive of its contents. We have had a barren budget, a horror budget and a little horror budget - descriptive names indeed - but the 1960 edition has defied the scribes. May I suggest that they label it the hollow budget, for it is empty of any attraction to the ordinary Australian. It will be well known for its failure even to acknowledge the vital issues affecting millions of Australians and their families, the little people of the land, the wage-earners, the small farmers, the mothers, the pensioners and the people on fixed incomes and superannuation. We could well say that never have so many hoped for so much and received so little.

In addition to urgently needed increase? in social services the nation looked for a lead in promoting primary industry, ;.n rejuvenating our educational systems, in developing a national scheme of decentralization and in a real, and not halthearted, approach to the problem of rising costs. Recently the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) stated that if Australia is to maintain its present living standards an additional £250,000,000 annually in export earnings must be developed over the next five years. How can we obtain that figure? It is obvious that a drive for secondary export trade can provide only a fraction of the desired target. Then we fall back on primary industry, with the picture far from bright.

The Government's failure to contain the inflationary spiral of rising costs has rocketed cost-of-production figures for all primary products to their highest level in history, while the weakening wool market -our main hope for export earnings - has dropped to the lowest level in twelve years. Clearly, positive and vigorous action is necessary to boost our primary industries and to lift our farmers back to a position where their incomes may be restored to a reasonable level. In the last four years, farm production has risen 1 1 per cent, while in the same period farm incomes have fallen by 1 1 per cent.

To me, Sir, a three-pronged approach to the problem is needed. There must be a further increase in production, an endeavour to advance wool prices from their present low level, and a determined bid to lower international freight rates. The Government's bank credit squeeze must surely have an adverse effect on production. Overdrafts will tighten, with plant and operating expenses being cramped to less than in previous years. There will be no chance of further land development and increased production as is desired.

Despite continued suggestions for a changed wool-marketing system by members from this side of the chamber, the Government has displayed no interest in the proposals. But there has been evidence of an awakening by some Country Party members in recent weeks, no doubt because they have begun to realize that the people they are supposed to represent are experiencing vastly changed circumstances from the boom conditions of a few years ago. Increasing support for a reserve wool floorprice auctioning plan is evident from wool growers' organizations throughout the land. I quote from the Melbourne " Sun " of last week in which Mr. A. C. Everett, an executive of the Wheat and Wool Growers' Association, is reported to have said -

A reserve floor-price wool-auctioning plan could yield Australia another £150,000,000 a year for its clip within ten years.

The newspaper article continued -

He said that he felt that, if a referendum of wool-growers were held, growers would agree, by an overwhelming majority, to the plan. The present wool-auctioning system was " as obsolete as the horse and buggy ".

Sir HerbertHyland, the Country Party leader in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, has urged that the plan be favorably considered. It may well be that a plan of this nature could be the salvation of the wool industry, just as the wheat stabilization scheme and the dairy industry price guarantee system, introduced by Labour governments, proved the salvation of those two industries. Surely the Government sees the writing on the wall, or is it blind to facts it does not want to see, as in the case of the operation of wool pies - the combines of wool buyers that have been cheating the farmer of his rightful reward for his labours? Such a reserve plan as has been suggested would establish a floor price for wool; unhealthy speculation would cease and the operations of wool pies could be nullified.

In the matter of shipping freights, the Government should examine the possibility of throwing the national shipping line into competition with the overseas lines which have combined to hold Australian exporters to ransom. Energy and vigour are urgently needed to lift our export income, but if there is any energy or vigour in the Budget, it is concealed beyond the vision of the people and press of this nation.

A disturbing feature of Australia's growth in the post-war years has been the abnormal concentration of development in the metropolitan areas. Industry and population have flocked to the cities, overwhelming the public utilities, outstripping transport facilities, roads, water supply, footpaths and sewerage, and leaving public authorities with a back-log of works which will take a decade to overtake. Land values in the cities of Sydney and Melbourne have rocketed to unbelievable proportions. More than 75 per cent, of the migrants have flocked to the cities while the youth of country districts is forced to follow the trend of movement to the city.

One might expect that a national government would be vitally interested in balanced growth, in the sharing of development by country communities, and in the cessation of continued overcrowding of the principal capital cities from both a defence and an economic stand-point. But this Government, when faced with situations requiring courage and foresight, is content to bury its head in the sand. Surely this land of ours is the only industrialized country in the world without a positive plan of national decentralized development. The Government apparently has never heard of decentralization. Perhaps that is why it shelved the Commonwealth-State agreement reached in the time of the great Chifley Labour Government. That government formulated a national policy for decentralization of secondary industry, the Commonwealth undertaking to collaborate, to advise, and to provide financial assistance to the States, if necessary, to achieve the objective.

The Chifley Labour Government had foreseen the problems to come and had planned to meet them. Indeed, not only did it plan, but it acted. I quote just one example. The only self-contained domestic electrical appliance factory in the southern hemisphere is that of Email Limited at Orange, New South Wales. In April, 1946, at the invitation of the Federal Labour Government, the company commenced operations, and the company and the Labour Party can be proud of one of the finest examples of modern, decentralized industry. There were countless other industries, Mr. Temporary Chairman, which blossomed forth under Labour's benevolent eye, only to wither and die away in the last decade.

My electorate of Bendigo is desperately in need of industry. We look to the Government to assist in attracting industries to our country communities. We want a bold and imaginative programme of decentralization to assist in arresting the drift of our population - the young and the old - to the cities. I ask this Government to consider, as a practical gesture and as a lead to others, the allocation of a greater percentage of its defence orders to country ordnance factories. For instance, the trans fer of work to Bendigo from Maribyrnong might mean a reduction of staff in the Maribyrnong factory, bin employment for tradesmen is readily available in the immediate area, and it would mean no disruption of homes or family life. Employment prospects in Bendigo are non-existent and further retrenchments at the Bendigo factory will mean upsetting homes, the separation of families and the loss of good, solid citizens from our community by way of further drift to the cities. Despite election statements and reassurances that the Government will maintain the status quo of the Bendigo ordnance factory, the employees are apprehensive of their future. Why should that be? This factory contains machines and equipment second to none in this country, and its capabilities are enormous. In this Government's so-called age of prosperity, why should it be idle?

In addition to the transfer of defence orders from the cities, I ask that a more vigorous approach be made to the securing of private work in order that the machines and the skilled workmen be maintained in employment. Country people view with alarm the drift to the cities, a drift which is gaining in momentum as this country's development continues in a lop-sided fashion. Action to check this drift is vital to all country communities, yet the word " decentralization " fails to appear in the Budget of the National Government, nor has it appeared in the ten other Liberal Budgets.

I commend the Government for its interest in education at the university standard and the financial assistance provided in the Budget for higher educational institutions; but again the Government has touched only on the fringe of a problem which is threatening the very foundation of this country. Not only our children's welfare, but the future of the nation depends upon our educational system. I believe, and Labour believes, that education is a matter of national concern, that the children of to-day are being cheated of their fundamental right to a full and proper education. Throughout the nation, chaos reigns in the various State educational systems. Classes are overcrowded, there is a critical shortage of equipment, and there is a desperate shortage of teachers. All this forms a pattern which deprives almost every Australian child of his true right.

A typical situation is to be found in the Bendigo electorate. At Castlemaine, one class of 37 primary school children is taught in a church hall, one class of 30 is taught in a staff room and the assembly hall accommodates a class of 28. Another class numbers 54 children and desks are so close that the teacher cannot move among the pupils. Some of the children cannot see the blackboard At the Castlemaine High School, the leaving certificate and matriculation classes are taught in the girls' locker room while all other classes are crammed within 4 feet of the blackboard. At Heathcote, the century old primary school has been condemned by the health authorities, and there is no prospect of any replacement or improvement. At North Bendigo the school is shockingly overcrowded with classes being taught in draughty corridors. The Bendigo Technical School has classes of up to 56 in number, it is short of staff, and an estimated £20,000 is required to bring the equipment up to the desired standard. A teacher-student ratio of one to twenty is regarded as the ideal in secondary education, but at the Golden Square High School, one class numbers 63. These are but a few facts taken at random, but all reflect the general picture - a picture of national shame which this Government chooses to ignore.

These ills exist because of one underlying cause - lack of finance. Despite repeated requests from the Opposition, allied with urgent pleadings from teachers' organizations and parents' and citizens' .organizations, the Commonwealth Government has consistently refused to recognize its responsibility. The education of our children is a matter of national concern. The Labour Party believes that, and so, too, must many honorable members on the Government benches. Indeed, if we look back a few years, we find that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) held the same view. To support that assertion, I refer to volume 184 of " Hansard " for the year 1945. At page 4612, the right honorable gentleman, then Leader of the Opposition, is reported as having submitted a motion relating to education, part of which reads -

(c)   Effective reform may involve substantial Commonwealth financial aid and if this should prove necessary such aid should be given.

(d)   In order to provide a basis for such reform the Commonwealth should set up, in co-operation with the States a qualified commission, including some experts from overseas to report upon the existing educational facilities in Australia.

How, then, can the Prime Minister justify his refusal of aid to the States, or even an inquiry into the needs of primary, secondary and technical education in this country when, because of greatly increased school age population and vastly increased costs, the need is greater than ever? Again the pleadings of the vitally interested parents' and teachers' organizations have fallen on deaf ears. In July of this year, the Prime Minister forwarded to the State Premiers a document containing a barren message and refusing even an inquiry. Amongst other things, the message stated -

Education is the constitutional responsibility of the States.

And this, despite the precedent already set in providing aid for university education, despite the Prime Minister's recorded words of 1945, and despite the interest and activities shown by the Commonwealth Government in other avenues which are constitutionally State affairs! Clearly, as in other vital matters, the Government chooses to hide behind the Constitution rather than to recognize and to face up to a problem which, if unsolved, will, in this age of science and technology, leave us behind in the international sphere, and, despite herculean efforts by our teachers, bequeath a heritage of missed opportunity to our citizens of to-morrow.

A glance at the position in Canberra reveals that the children of this city are enjoying standards unequalled throughout the land. Superbly appointed buildings, adequate equipment and a low teacherstudent ratio are all signs of adequate finance. I have no quarrel with that, but I do say that all Australian children should be offered similar opportunities.

Even sections of the press favorably disposed to the Government recognized the urgent needs of the pensioners and the necessity for some taxation relief for the family man in the lower income brackets. Both were obvious to all but the Government. The Government talks glibly of what a pensioner may earn - £3 10s. a week in addition to the pension - glossing over the fact that the pensioners comprise the aged, the invalids, the infirm and the widows, many of whom have children. These people, who in the vast majority of cases cannot earn a penny to augment their miserable pension, are sentenced to a struggle for survival on the princely sum of £5 a week! I ask honorable members on the Government side: Could you live on £5 a week? Could you feed, clothe and house yourselves on £5 a week? For tens of thousands of pensioners it is not living but existing, and the miserable Ss. increase is a poor share of the prosperity which the Government claims we are enjoying.

The Government has budgeted for a surplus of £15,000,000, thus indicating that an additional 7s. 6d. a week could be given to pensioners without incurring a deficit. Indeed, if the pattern of other years continues, the surplus will be far greater. Does the Government imagine that an additional 7s. 6d. a week in the hands of the pensioners would add to inflationary pressures, that it would be spent on nonessentials, that it would be spent on luxury consumer goods? If food and clothing are luxuries, then the Government would be right, but it stands condemned as a government which has little regard for the fate of our under-privileged people.

Income tax and sales tax increases operate immediately, but we are told that the pension rises cannot be made retrospective to the dates at which the increases in these taxes begin to apply. The new, merged means test is a welcome departure from the old principle, but the recipients will have plenty of time - seven whole months - in which to calculate their new pensions. Surely, if taxes and public service salaries can be increased retrospectively, the sorely needed pension rise can be dealt with in the same manner.

Ensnared in the web of an inflationary spiral, wage and salary earners have borne the brunt of anti-inflationary measures down the years. Rapidly rising prices have rocketed away from pegged wage levels, and have placed a staggering burden on the family man. Strained to the limit, he could reasonably have expected some relief in the form of reduced taxation. Instead, there was a 5 per cent, increase. Already, this Government's policy of loading the family man with hidden indirect taxation, in far greater proportions than did any previous government, has made the problem of balancing the family budget almost impossible. The cost of meat, butter, eggs, clothing, fares and every home need has rocketed to impossible levels, and now comes an added burden of additional taxation. Recently, our Prime Minister was feted in New York as being the only world leader who had achieved a reduction, in maximum taxation from 92 per cent, to 68 per cent, in the top income bracket. So the pattern is clear. There are to be heavier burdens for the low income groups, and lighter loads for the wealthy.

The word " inflation " has been bandied about for a decade or more. This Government has used two anti-inflationary measures unsuccessfully. They have been on-and-off bank credit restrictions, and wage pegging. The pegging of the federal basic wage in Victoria in 1953 was followed by similar State action in Victoria in 1956. To-day, the basic wage paid in Victoria is £13 15s. a week, against the actual cost of living figure of £15 2s., so that the workersof Victoria are £1 7s. a week behind the statistician's basic wage. Under a Labour government in New South Wales, wages were not frozen, and we find that the basic wage being paid and the statistician's figure are both £14 8s. a week, or 14s. below the cost of living figure in Victoria. That surely must prove that wages are not the principal cause of inflation. In short, in a State in which wages are pegged, the cost of living figures indicate an amount of £15 2s., while in a Labour State, with wages free to rise or fall, the figure is £14 8s. We must look elsewhere, then, for inflationary causes.

A look at the financial pages of any daily newspaper will tell the story of the tremendous earning power of Australian industry, and I quote the earning rates or dividends of companies in a greatly diversified field. We see that the earning rate of Quarry Industries Limited is 25. 6» per cent.; that of Clarke Brothers Holdings Limited, 28.3 per cent.; the Rothman cigarette manufacturing company, 55 per cent.; International Resistance Holdings Limited, 30.2 per cent.; Carpet Manufacturers Limited, 27.7 per cent. Every oneknows about the earning rate of General Motors-Holden's Limited, of more than 800 per cent., but let us have a look at the

Holden distributors in several States. In Melbourne, Southern Motors Proprietary Limited has an earning rate of 59.7 per cent. In Sydney, W. T. Coggins Proprietary Limited has an earning rate of 49.1 per cent.; and in Adelaide, the Freeman company has an earning rate of 67.8 per cent. Those are but a few of many.

I acknowledge that for industry to function, shareholders must receive a fair return for their investment, but are these profit rates fair in the light of the pegging of the workers' wages by the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission, at the request of the Government? All fair-minded Australians will say " No ". But these sky-high profit margins have been accompanied by equally enormous capital gains, free of any taxation restraint arid clearly reflecting the Menzies Government's laisser-faire attitude to one section of the people, while instituting rigid controls over the earning power of the little people of the land.

While the Government has subjected the nation's banking system to yet another credit squeeze, and has applied a straitjacket of controlled interest rates, it has made no move to restrict the interest rates charged, or paid, by hire-purchase and other financial institutions. There was a time when this country's banking system supplied more than 50 per cent, of the credit made available, but the present-day proportion is nearer 20 per cent. The remaining 80 per cent, is contributed by hire-purchase and finance companies at exorbitant interest rates and free of any government control. Consequently, the credit squeeze affects only one-fifth of the country's credit, with farmers, home-builders and businessmen unable to obtain financial accommodation through the banking system and forced to turn to the get-rich-quick moneylenders. Such failure to control the principal source of credit for consumer use is indicative of half measures, of unwillingness to face up to the realities of the situation, and again, of unwillingness to offend a section of the community which can well look after itself. Any successful attack on inflation must include a curbing of hire-purchase interest rates, either by legislation or by means of lower interest competition from the people's Commonwealth Bank.

The interests of Australian business and industry are best served by a spread of holdings over a big range of small stock holders, instead of the holdings being gathered in the hands of monopolistic control. I believe that this Government is aware of the dangers apparent in the modern tactic of takeovers in the business and industrial world. Despite this, the Menzies Government's brand of private enterprise is. rapidly building a system of capitalistic monopoly, to the exclusion of the little man. It is the law of the deep, with the big fish swallowing the small. The nation is being held to ransom. Let me quote from the " Country Party Voice ", a column in the Melbourne " Herald " of 29th June last, written by an Australian Country Party spokesman. The following statement appeared: -

If the easy-money rush is to be diverted before financial collapse leaves the cream in just a few clever hands and the remainder penniless, some other more stable-type speculation should be offered to the enterprising community.

So, the Country Party is aware of the dangers, although its members support a system which, in the words of the party spokesman, threatens financial collapse. All these ills of the financial and business world - the bloated profits, the enormous tax-free capital gains, the unchecked interest rates, and the rapid development of monopolistic control - add up to profit inflation.

In 1951, the Treasurer of the time spoke of instituting an excess profits tax, while in the same year, the Prime Minister spoke airily of a capital gains tax. But words were not deeds. The solution is readily at the hands of the Government but is ignored because it is a solution that will disprove its private enterprise policy, a policy which, ten years ago, was lauded as the great hope for putting value back into the £1. The failure of the Government in this respect is now apparent to all. The Government is proud of its record. It claims to be a business-like government, so perhaps we can apply a business term to it and label it a profit and loss government - a guardian of huge company profits and a dead loss to the rest of the community.

Our country is destined to become a great nation, but greatness is not determined only by wealth or power, or by the number of refrigerators, motor cars or washing machines owned by, or on hire to, our people. Real greatness is measured by the degree of freedom, security and general well-being enjoyed by the great mass of the people. There can be no greatness under a Liberal government, for security and well-being are denied to so many while, as budget follows budget, the fortunate few are benevolently given the green light to grasp greater fortunes.

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