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Wednesday, 13 March 1968

Mr LUCOCK (Lyne) - Mr Speaker,first of all, in common with other honourable members who have spoken in this debate, I want to refer to the tragic event of last December and the death of the former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Harold Holt. Over recent months - towards the close of last year - I had a great deal to do with the late Prime Minister because of my attendance at two conferences in the Asian area, as I think most honourable members would know. The contribution that he made to this Parliament and to the Commonwealth of Australia was revealed by the attendance at his memorial service of the leaders of Asian countries. I had the privilege of travelling in some of the countries in Asia after his visit there and I know the impact he made, both personally and for Australia. The results of his visits and of his approach to the Asian problem will be of benefit to Australia in the years that are ahead. This country has lost a man who served Australia in the highest traditions and, as was said in this place yesterday, all honourable members of this House have lost a friend.

I congratulate the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) upon his appointment. I had the privilege in 1956 of attending a conference in Taiwan with Senator Gorton, as he then was. I formed then a very high opinion of his abilities and his qualities. I am sure that in the time be is our Prime Minister these qualities will be revealed more and more as he leads this Government in the further development and progress of Australia.

After, listening to speeches made by members of the Opposition, I would like to make one comment at this stage. Most of those speeches stressed the point that this Government had done nothing about the drought. The drought problem of course is a complex one but members of the Opposition have shown a complete lack of appreciation of what the Government has done. Apparently, they have not listened to any of the statements made in this House by Ministers and by honourable members. They have not even taken note of what was contained in the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General. If honourable members read through that speech they will find numerous references to the primary producers and the problems that confront them. At one point in his speech His Excellency said:

My Government will introduce legislation during this Session to authorise expenditure on water conservation projects already agreed upon with the States. These will be financed from the $50m being made available by the Commonwealth over 5 years for these purposes.

There have been other references to this particular problem by Ministers and by honourable members.

I want to congratulate the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) and my colleague the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) on the speeches they made in moving and seconding the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. The great deal of thought given to those speeches by both honourable members highlighted some of the problems and difficulties that confront Australia and this Parliament. I will mention some of those problems at a later stage. I want now to comment on the speech made by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). He congratulated the Government on the increased aid to be given to Indonesia. That, Sir, brings me to my point about the primary industries of Australia. I will have a great deal to say about primary industry at various stages and I want to highlight the problem that confronts us. I believe that, with it, an opportunity confronts us at this moment. Recently there was a conference in Delhi about the problem of food production, and assistance for underdeveloped nations. This also links up with the point made in the Governor-General's Speech about the policy of the Government in the field of rural industry. The Governor-General said:

.   . my Government will introduce legislation to provide, over the next 4 years, up to $25m to be used towards the reconstruction of the dairying industry. The detail of the legislation will depend on the successful outcome of negotiations with State Governments. The general purpose of the legislation will be to enable dairy farmers on small farms who are experiencing economic hardship and who wish to leave the industry to do so.

Honourable members have commented in this House on a number of occasions on the complexity of the problems of the dairying industry. I think that this is a move in the right direction and it is one that has been given consideration over a period of time. One can never hurry these things along. But, Sir, one of the great factors influencing the progress and development of this country, to my mind, is the sustenance of the primary industries of Australia. If we lose sight of this fact we will lose sight of one of the major contributions to the economic foundations of this land. I am a little perturbed about the attitude of some people - I call them 'academic economists' - who do not appear to realise this. In many instances they approach a problem from a purely mathematical point of view and one cannot solve problems purely by mathematics. I think that it is in this regard that one mistake is being made. Following on from there, if we are to assist underdeveloped countries and if we are to increase the population of our own country, we will need to increase our primary production. Because of advances made in the field of science and technology and all the other things that have contributed to an increased production despite falling manpower, we have made great progress; but we cannot afford to allow people to leave primary industry at the present rate and still achieve the objective of Australia being a food bowl for Asia. I think this is one of the problems that confront us. One of the areas in which we have an opportunity to go forward is in the development of increased primary production.

I now want to say something about the Postmaster-General's Department. It concerns something that happened in my electorate. Let me say, first, that I am extremely fortunate in my electorate because of the people holding executive positions in the Postmaster-General's Department. I pay a tribute to those men in the Kempsey, Newcastle, and Maitland areas. I have had the utmost co-operation from people holding executive positions with the PostmasterGeneral's Department in this general area. But, Sir, a post office at West Kempsey, in my area, has been closed. I was not informed that this would be done. The first information I received on the matter was an announcement in the Press. I immediately contacted the Postmaster-General and said that I objected to the West Kempsey Post Office being closed. Members of the Chamber of Commerce in that area and other people in the district also objected to its being closed. There are many points which can be raised in regard to this matter. The West Kempsey area is a developing one. A large food fair is being built in the area by one of the chain stores. One thing, incidentally, is that when there is any flood and Kempsey is cut, it is from the West Kempsey Post Office that the mail can be taken to the railway. 1 believe not only that all these factors should be taken into consideration but that they must bc taken into consideration. To my mind there should have been a conference between the postal manager and the Chamber of Commerce in that area before the Post Office was closed on Saturday mornings.

I appreciate the problems and the difficulties which are confronting the Postmaster-General's Department at this moment and I understand some of the factors that have been taken into consideration in reaching this decision. Economy must be a factor in reaching such a decision. Perhaps it can be said that on the basis of economy and of good business the Post Office at West Kempsey should not be kept open on a Saturday morning, but surely there are other factors to be considered. As my colleague the honourable member for Calare (Mr England) has said, this is a matter of service. Surely there could have been a conference between the business people and the administrative officials of the Postmaster-General's Department in that area so that something could have been worked out. Perhaps a compromise could have been arrived at with an understanding of both points of view. In this matter there has been a weakness which should be rectified.

This brings me to the problems generally of the Postmaster-General's Department, which I believe should be examined. I, and I am sure other honourable members, have received a circular letter staling that a group of officers in the Department were concerned about the standing of the PostmasterGeneral's Department today. I am sure that the majority of people who work in the Department are conscious that they are there to give a service to the community; that they are a vital part in the progress and development of this country. I am sure that they desire to give a service. We must give them encouragement; we must assist them to build up morale which, unfortunately, docs not seem to be very high. I believe that we have a responsibility in this regard. I remind the House that when the postal charges were increased the

Austraiian Country Party, with others, said that it was prepared to accept the increases, provided that as a result there would be better service to people in country areas. But this certainly has not been so. Since then we have seen a number of work to regulations strikes. There was a major strike in January. Looking at the overall picture one can see that the service to country areas has not been improving. The honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) has reminded me that no strikes originate in country areas. I say quite frankly that there is a responsibility to see that something is done in this regard so that we may have an organisation which provides a real service to the community. The Post Office is a vital factor in our development and progress, and we must see that the public does not suffer in the way that it has suffered recently.

I propose now to say something about the Commonwealth Development Bank. Again 1 am not criticising officials. I have had contact with the Bank many times and have the utmost confidence in those who administer it. However, I believe that the policy of the Bank is wrong. 1 feel that it is not making the contribution to our development that it should be making. To illustrate this I shall cite a case that was brought to my notice recently concerning somebody who was seeking finance from the Commonwealth Development Bank. A firm to which I shall refer as firm A, although operating in only a small way, is contributing to Australia's progress and is also helping in the export field. Money was made available by the Development Bank to a State banking instrumentality to finance the purchase of machinery by firm B from firm A. The State to which the finance was made available paid firm B, which passed on to firm A only a portion of the funds necessary for the purchase of equipment and spent the remainder in some other manner. When firm A applied for payment for the machinery it was told that no funds were available.

I immediately approached the Commonwealth Development Bank which originally had been responsible for the finance being made available and I said that in my opinion the Bank had a responsibility to see that the firm received full payment. I pointed out that because it had not received payment in full its financial liquidity was restricted. 1 asked the Development Bank to finance the firm to help its liquidity. I know the firm to which I am referring and I know that from a financial point of view this would have been a good investment. The Development Bank official said that this finance did not come within the Bank's particular scope. Because the money had been made available to the State instrumentality, I believe that the Development Bank had a responsibility to ensure that full payment was made to firm A, which was the original supplier. Yet when I approached the Bank I was told that it was not within the Bank's scope. In instances of this type I believe that the Development Bank is failing in its task. I make no criticism of those who have been in control of the Bank, but I feel that one of the greatest mistakes that this Government ever made was in not appointing Sir Arthur Fadden as the first chairman of the Development Bank. I believe that Australia and the Government have suffered, both economically and politically, because of the Government's failure to appoint a man with greater understanding, greater appreciation and greater knowledge of what the Development Bank could do. I feel that in this way we made a very grave mistake.

I propose to refer also to the arbitration system. We must acknowledge that once we had an arbitration system which had the respect and confidence of many people and of other countries. Clearly our arbitration system now needs to be overhauled, yet I feel that there is a complete lack of appreciation of the total situation by those who are concerned. Speaking quite frankly, I say that the trouble which flowed from the recent decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission came about because the decision was unjust and unfair to all concerned. Neither the unions nor the employers felt that the decision was just. There must be times when one disagrees with a decision given by the Commission. Only the Archangel Gabriel or a Solomon could put forward a decision with which everyone agreed. But to my mind the only thing about which one could be sure in the recent decision was that everyone would disagree with it and that it would upset relationships in the economic and industrial spheres.

Because of the vital importance of a stable wage structure, both to those who are within the unions and to the employers - particularly those in primary industry - I think that we should have a real look at the arbitration system to see what can be done to derive greater advantage for Australia. The State Chairman of the Australian Country Party said last year:

The statutory interpretation of the Arbitration Act imposes on the Commission the one and only function, namely, the prevention and settlement of disputes. lt is not necessary for the Commission to have regard to the economy as a whole or to any individual industry, however greatly it may affect the economy, nor is it compelled to consider what effect any decision of the Commission may have on industry or a particular industry.

In this respect the effect of a wage decision on the exporting industry should be of primary importance. Costs- consequent on continued wage rises have resulted in a two-level economy, one where increased costs are passed to the consumer and the other where costs cannot be passed on but must be borne by the industry itself.

This has the result that the ratio of prices received by farmers, and prices paid by fanners, is continually falling and now stands at 78. lt is as long ago as 1952-53 that prices received and prices paid by farmers were level so that they were neither at an advantage or disadvantage. Since then costs have increased to such an extent that the wool industry, which is the only industry completely without protection of any sort, cannot continue to support Australia in the unreal economic conditions that exist at present.

Mr Huntsaid that he believed that the Conciliation and Arbitration Act should be amended to make it mandatory for the commission to take into consideration the state of the economy when determining national wage cases. As I said, that was in February of last year. I have said before in this House that because we in Australia have such a vast area with so small a population, with the result that the cost per capita of development is so high, we more than any other country must give serious consideration to anything that affects the cost of the development and progress of Australia. As I say, we should look at these. To my mind many things could be done to improve the structure of wage fixation in this country. I think that we have people within the trade union movement who could be appointed to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to give advice and to assist in the formulation of what must be an ultimate decision. I know it is easy enough to say that things should be done to make a change but it is difficult in all the complexities of our present day living to set up the machinery that will achieve this ultimate result. The progress and development of Australia are of such importance not only to the wage earner and the primary producer, but also to every person in this country, that we must give serious consideration to this aspect of our economy.

Looking at the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General and taking into consideration that as usual it reveals a continuing of a policy already presented, I congratulate the Government on its presentation. 1 trust that the serious consideration being given to many of the problems that confront us will continue to take this country forward with continued progress and development in the future as in the past.

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