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Wednesday, 20 March 1968


Mr PETTITT (Hume) - lt is a pleasure to follow the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) in this debate. He told me before he commenced speaking that he would like to have a kick at the Country Party and that he was disappointed that I would be speaking afterwards. I can understand his feeling of deflation after the way he was treated the other night by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Andrew Jones). I make no excuses for the excesses of the honourable member for Adelaide but 1 give him full marks for the way he stood up and, I think, completely demolished the honourable member for Grayndler.

I propose to discuss some of the matters mentioned by the Governor-General in his address, and at the outset 1 want to deal with one of the most important problems facing Australia today. In his Speech the Governor-General said that his Government had announced its intention to set up a national water resources development programme with the object of increasing water conservation. No more important question faces this country today; nor has there been for some considerable time. We need to put into action a national plan of water conservation, covering both surface and underground supplies, by effective reticulation, conservation and economic usage. Much research and work have been done by the Commonwealth but I do not think we are moving nearly fast enough. I appreciate the difficulties that there are when State and Federal governments are involved. I appreciate how difficult it is to get a State government to accept assistance from an organisation like the Snow Mountains Hydro-electric Authority.

Water, of course, is our most valuable commodity. There can be no life, no development and no decentralisation without it. The limited resources we have must be used economically and effectively. Tremendous losses of water occur through evaporation and soakage. Engineers estimate that losses sometimes are as nigh as 60% to 70%. They estimate that from 60% to 70% of the water leaving the Snowy Mountains area is lost before it reaches the irrigation areas. We must look seriously into this as the years go by and face up to the problem of the capital cost of providing piped water. Almost every country town in New South Wales - at least every country town on the western side of the mountains - is subject to water restrictions practically every year, and severe restrictions whenever there is a dry period, let alone a drought. I instance towns in my electorate like Gundagai, situated on the banks of one of Australia's greatest rivers, which is short of water and experiences water restrictions almost every year. There are other towns such as Temora. Cootamundra and Young. They are beautiful and pleasant towns in which to live; but given 3 months of water restrictions and a hot dry summer, they are little belter than deserts. The water reticulation scheme supplying most of those towns was installed 40 years ago. Today, people bath a little more often than they did 40 years ago. They have washing machines, hot water systems, sewerage systems and all the other amenities that were not available 40 years ago. Yet the water supply scheme has never been extended in order to provide more water.

It is true that we have done much in this country to make the desert blossom like the rose, but too often we have not prepared for these dry times that inevitably occur. It is a fact that droughts are part of our normal phenomena and we know we are going to get them from time to time, but we never know when they are going to occur. Yet we have never seriously been prepared to deal with them. I believe that the fault lies with government at all levels - Federal, State and local - and to a degree with the people because they have not insisted that government at all levels do something more effective to provide for these times which inevitably occur. Every time we have a drought there is a tremendous stampede to shift stock away to better pastures and there are requests for all sorts of economic aid. This occurs because we have not prepared ourselves for drought.

We are often told by sheepowners in the western areas that in a drought it pays better to let sheep die than to feed them. This is probably true. However, it does not pay the nation as a whole to do this. Wool still earns in the vicinity of 30% to 33% of our export income, and if we include the mutton from the woolgrowing sheep the figure is increased to over 40% of our export income. This income is tremendously important to Australia. Only 2i years ago there was a drought in parts of Queensland and northern New South Wales. On that occasion 14 million sheep were lost in New South Wales alone. When one includes the progeny of those sheep, plus the value of their production, one realises the effect that that drought had on the whole economy and on the ability of this country to earn export income, build more factories and to provide jobs for those people that we must have if we are going to make this country safe.

We hear a great deal about the tremendous importance of minerals to our economy. Minerals are becoming important, but it is interesting to note that in 1967 minerals earned only 13% of our export income as against over 40% earned from sheep alone, excluding all other primary industries. Fifty years ago minerals earned 27% of our export income. Unquestionably minerals will be a tremendous income earner in the future, but that is a long way away as yet. We have to see that our principal export industries are prosperous and do not suffer from unnecessary losses whenever a dry time occurs. There is always a drought somewhere in Australia.

A great deal of work can be and has been done towards drought mitigation in Australia. The provision of subsidies is of value in some cases - for instance the subsidy on superphosphate has enabled landowners to increase production tremendously - but I would sooner see some sort of tax concession to encourage the enterprising man and make it economically profitable for him to save his stock. This is not easy to do. We hear a lot of uninformed criticism that the man on the land has not made provision for drought. Those who have properties within the safe areas, say, west of Canberra, which includes a very large portion of my electorate, experience a severe drought period only once in 10 or 15 years. It is nearly 22 years since there has been anything like the present drought in my electorate. lt costs a tremendous amount of money for a small farmer to put away fodder over a period of 2 years in order to make himself safe from a drought. It could cost between $10,000 and $20,000. As we all know, most fellows on the land are short of working capital anyway and they want to spend what money they receive on a new tractor, water supplies, subdivision or something like that. These people find that they cannot afford to put away fodder and have that amount of money virtually standing in a corner waiting for the next drought. I think that much could be done here by having drought bonds. 1 have spoken on this matter several times in this House, as has the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Armstrong). In a very good year a landowner - and this applies particularly to the owner of land in the west - should be permitted to invest in drought bonds a percentage of his income. He would not be taxed on drought bonds that he takes out but he should be taxed on the interest received. The Government then would have the use of this money. Provided he cashed his bonds only for drought relief, in order to provide fodder, agistment, restocking or to take effective means to overcome drought he would pay no tax, but if he bought a new motor car or a new home with the money he would certainly be subject to taxation. I suggest that that would do a tremendous lot towards encouraging progressive men to provide for drought and it would eliminate the enormous cost to the nation of drought relief.

As I have already said, the tragic losses of stock are not only hitting the stockowner but are hitting the nation. We can do so much to alleviate the effects of drought by the storage of wheat at the point of production. This is another suggestion that has been put forward, whereby a certain amount of the crop - perhaps a third - could be stored in government silos until the next crop was in sight. We know from work done by the Commonwealth

Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation that in most cases wheat is the cheapest fodder in drought times, and if we stored it in this fashion it would save tragic losses of stock and losses in our export income and would provide employment in country areas. Recently I saw a lot of drought relief money being spent in country towns. I think that a lot of that money was not being spent very effectively because most of the fellows who receive it are fellows who generally do not want to work anyway. However, drought conditions do put out of work a lot of fellows who are dependent on good seasons, such as the casual and seasonal workers. A lot can be done to alleviate drought, keep incomes constant, and save costs.

I believe that we have to get down to hard facts and establish a long range plan. We know how to mitigate a drought, but we cannot get a plan off the ground or moving quickly enough. For instance, I am quite sure that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) is in for a much greater shock this year than he expects, because the areas affected so severely by drought at the moment are some of the most productive and wealthy areas in the whole of this Commonwealth. I refer to the southern parts of New South Wales and Victoria and parts of South Australia which are so productive. The loss of export income and personal income in these areas will be extraordinarily heavy and I am sure it will be much heavier than the Treasurer has faced up to as yet.

I want to deal with another matter that is particularly important to this country and to the people that I believe are the backbone of the country - the people who produce the export income, who make it possible for this country to grow and who make it possible for our balanced development programme to continue - and I refer to the matter of telephones. In bringing up this matter I would first like to pay tribute to those senior officers who work in the post offices in my electorate, which is a fairly large electorate, nearly 400 miles by 170 miles. I would like to pay a tribute to the co-operation and work that these people give within the limits imposed on them by conditions. I cannot altogether take the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) to task because of the Government's policy at the moment as far as telephones are concerned, but there are a thousand and one anomalies that occur and a thousand and one costs involved. In many areas people have had applications in for the installation of telephones for many years but are still waiting for them. The position is appalling at the moment and it is not being met or improved nearly fast enough.

Many of the people who have been running our country post offices are reaching retiring age. In my own electorate - and I am sure in other country electorates in the Commonwealth - there are dozens of post offices closing down because the people who have been running them are not fit enough to do that work any more and also because the remuneration for running a small country post office is so small. We have all had instances of post offices closing down and telephone subscribers being put on party lines. In my area there are cases where six or seven subscribers are on the one party line. They get only a part-time service and still have to pay very high costs for the service. There is a tremendous shortage of rural automatic telephone exchanges. Many areas have been waiting for years for an RAX service. We have been told that there is a shortage of cables and a shortage of technicians, but this situation has existed for far too long. Perhaps we could have expected such a shortage to occur immediately after the war, but we do not expect it to happen now. The situation is not improving quickly enough. If we do not have sufficient rural automatic exchanges, let us do something about it. If we are unable to produce them here let us import them, if necessary, to catch up the backlog and give the people the service to which they are entitled. The same remark can be made with respect to cables. If we are unable to produce enough cables here - I do not believe that this is the situation - let us import them. I have been told by senior men in the Postmaster-General's Department that there is a tremendous shortage of technicians in the Department and that an increasing amount of work is being done by contract. If the Department is unable to do the work then I say that we should permit more to be done by contract.

I have had brought to my notice in my electorate many instances of people needing a telephone service. One woman who applied for a telephone service 9 years ago still does not have it. One of my constituents sent me a cutting from a women's magazine which interested me. It said: Tell him you love him when your heart begs you to - he is just a call away.' She has been waiting 9 years to call him. This is a situation which is facing many people. One quite tragic case occurred at the northern end of my electorate not far from the town of Oberon. The woman to whom I refer applied for a telephone service 9 years ago and the nearest phone to her property is still 5 miles away. One night her husband suffered from a heart attack and died. She had an elderly father and could' not drive their vehicle but had to wait until daylight to saddle a horse and ride 5 miles to ask a neighbour to call a doctor. That happened, about 5 miles from Oberon which is not very far from Sydney. This is an indication of how desperate the situation is in some areas. The telephone is a necessity in business and a great convenience to anybody. In many cases to the city housewife it ls a luxury, but for a woman who lives many miles from a township or from a telephone, or to a woman whose husband is away with their only means of transport while she has young children at home, how desperate is her situation? Many instances have been reported to me of people waiting for years for a telephone.

About thirty families are now living in a completely new settlement in my electorate not far from Gundagai. I know that the local telephone engineer and the local district telephone manager have been doing their best to provide a telephone service for that area, but they say that it is impossible to do so at the moment. Young families are living at that settlement. The roads are not good as yet. Some people there have been waiting for 3 years with no prospect of a telephone service being connected. This situation has gone on for too long. The telephone is absolutely necessary in case of accident, where a person is ill and needs the services of a doctor or in the event of bush fire or flood. There are a thousand reasons why people in country areas must have a telephone service. To them it is an absolute necessity. They pay very dearly for the service they get because, as I mentioned earlier, so many of the services which are connected are on party lines which are shared by six, seven or eight subscribers to the one line. In many places the service is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. only for 5 days a week. No service is available to them over the weekend. I believe that the Government must give more consideration to this question which is one of the most important problems facing country people today. It is a problem which the Government must face up to.

Australia is a great country - surely it is one of the greatest countries on earth. I know that the honourable member who was recently overseas with me will agree that it is one of the best countries and one of the countries with the greatest future. People overseas believe this. They believe in Australia's future more than do many of us. I think it is time that we dealt with these problems which have been afflicting us for some time. We should have more faith in our country and be prepared to take a punt on the future. We should invest in the future, particularly in those areas where we still have pioneers and people who are developing our productive potential. No other country has a greater potential, nor has any country a greater potential market. There are countless millions of people on our doorstep who want to trade with us. We have opportunities. Everywhere that I went while overseas the Australian image was bright, but it will not always be so unless we do some thing to maintain it. Australia's future is dependent to a very great extent on our rural industries and on the people who bear the heat of the day in the developing areas. If we do not encourage the people of vision, courage and determination who have gone out into new areas we will find that Australia will slip behind. The Government claims to be a free enterprise government. It is time that it gave more encouragement to people of courage and vision; otherwise we will find that the dead hand of Socialism will overcome the country and we will go down in the way that Britain has gone down. This could come about because we have not encouraged people to get up and help themselves.

There is one other matter with which I should like to deal very quickly. I refer to national service training. I support the Government's action in introducing national service training. I accept the principle of the ballot because no better method of choosing trainees has been suggested. However, I do not think we can continue with the ballot system indefinitely because I do not think it is fair to everyone. In the interests of Australia I feel that the time has come when we must look more closely at the possibility of training all our young men. Today our young men have the option of training for 2 years under the national service scheme or spending 5 years attending evening parades or 5 years in special units. There is no reason why every young man cannot be given military training. We have been told that we have not enough officers to train everyone, that we have inadequate facilities to equip them and inadequate accommodation for them. I do not accept the suggestion that we have not enough accommodation available; plenty of halls are available. Most of us were trained in camps during the last World War. If we are to face up to the changing situation in South East Asia we must ensure that every young man learns to handle arms. It must be remembered that the life of an untrained soldier is particularly short. Those of us who have been at war know this to be so. I hope that my sons do not have to go to war, but if they do I hope they will be well trained and fit. I believe that every young man should be compelled to fit himself to defend his country, his family and his responsibilities. If we really get to work on this problem we can progressively re-introduce a complete national service scheme. This may involve sacrifice, but is not Australia worth sacrifice? Does not the future of this country warrant our paying a little more tax?

When in Singapore recently we were told - and honourable members have heard the Prime Minister of Singapore say so - that the people of Singapore do not want the Americans, they want the Australians. I am realistic enough to know that we cannot take over that great base at Singapore, but I believe that we have a tremendous responsibility to give a lead. If we are to give a lead in this part of the world - we have the productive potential, we have the image and we have the confidence of the people - we must have the strength of arms to play our part and make the effort. If we train our young men we shall unquestionably make better citizens of them. I do not agree with those who discount some of the young people with long hair whom we see about the place, nor do I agree with the suggestion that the youth of today is deteriorating. If it is deteriorating it is a temporary situation which exists because the parents have not exercised proper discipline or given the proper training. I believe that if we were to re-introduce national service training a tremendous benefit would How from it in building up the strength and the character of our young men. It would be worth the cost involved.







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