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Thursday, 16 September 1971
Page: 1477


Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle) - I wish to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) when he spoke in reply to the Budget presented by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden). So that we shall be clear about what is contained in the amendment, I shall read it to the House. The amendment states:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: 'the House condemns the Budget because (a) its breaks the Prime Minister's pledge to Parliament on taking office to bring into effect for 1971-72 a fundamental review of social services and of methods for adjusting them, (b) it contains no proposals to balance the finances and functions of the Commonwealth, the States and local government and (c) it produces no programmes for high national objectives of social welfare, economic strength and national security.'

I join with the Leader of the Opposition in urging the House to support that amendment. Before going on with what I want to say, I would like to sympathise with the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles), who did his best to present some sort of a case in support of a political Budget - a Budget which has been rejected already by the people of this country. The honourable member said that the Budget has been well received by everyone. All I can say to the honourable gentleman is that there is none so blind as those who will not see. I know that it is an old saying but we can extend it a little. Not only has opposition to the present Treasurer's Budget been pointed out on television, as we all know, but the radio Press and everyone in the community unanimously rejects it. I refer to the Treasurer as the 'present Treasurer' because we never know in this Parliament just when a Minister or, for that matter, a Prime Minister will be replaced. Already we have known organisations such as the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia, the Bank of New South Wales and the Australian Council of Trade Unions - any responsible organisation at all in the community today - condemn the Budget.

When the Leader of the Opposition spoke on the Budget on 24th August and forecast an unemployed work force of some 100,000 men and women early in the new year, the Prime Minister, speaking 14 days later, pooh poohed this forecast and said that it was just another one of the flights of imagination of the Leader of the Opposition. But what is the position today? The Prime Minister has already accepted the fact that 100,000 people will be unemployed in this country before very long. He has already stated that the Government will watch the position but that it will not do anything about it at this time. This is typical of the attitude that was adopted by Sir Robert Menzies, and by the present Prime Minister when he was a Minister in the Menzies Government of 1961-62-63, when a Budget similar to this one was brought down in order to create unemployment as part of a policy of alleged devaluation. At that time we saw one of the worst examples of unemployment in this country since the hungry thirties. This is what we have to guard against now.

I hope that the Government will have enough sense to do something about this position. I hope that it will take remedial steps immediately, even though the Budget has not yet been adopted, but it will be within the next hour. I hope that some Government supporters will be prepared to cross the floor of the House to defeat the Government and also this Budget and in that way give a responsible Party the opportunity to bring in a Budget which will ensure that there will not be a force of 100,000 unemployed people in this com munity within the next 3 months. No-one likes to see unemployment and no-one should tolerate or permit it.

Much has been said in this debate, and also in recent months, about the number of strikes that have been held. As a member of a trade union and as an active member of a trade union before I came to this place, all I can say to honourable members is this: From my experience of trade unionism the trade unionist was able to get increased wages and better conditions only if he was prepared to take action and to struggle for them. He could not get them in any other way, and this is the position that exists today.

Much has been said about men who work in government instrumentalities such as railways, bus services and sewerage services who have taken strike action in recent months. Could it not be that because of the attitude of governments throughout Australia today those men have lost patience with the arbitration system and have had to take this type of action in order to get wage justice? I suggest that this is the real reason why men have taken strike action. It is because they could not get justice in the place in which they were supposed to get it. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that strike action has been taken. In any case, if one sets the amount of time lost as a result of strikes against the loss of production represented by the 75,000 unemployed today, there is no comparison between the two.

What I am concerned about is the failure of this Government to do something positive about housing, health and social services. We see the de-Gortonisation of our social services system. Under the former Prime Minister, a tapered means test was introduced. The first thing that the present Prime Minister did when he came to office was to grant a 50c increase in pensions to commemorate his elevation to his new office. That was the first step taken in the destruction of the tapered means test. The recent increase of $1.25 a week given to single pensioners and $1 a week given to a married pensioner is a further step in the de-Gortonisation of social services. At least that man tried to do something to reduce the effects of the means test. Unfortunately the niggardly

Prime Minister that we now have, better known as 'Billy the leak' is carrying out a policy of de-Gortonisation.

I do not want to speak at greater length on this subject because I wish to deal with some other matters, including the transport system of this country. Firstly I wish to speak about the railway system. This Government is not prepared to assist the State governments which, because of the financial policies of this Government, are not able to meet the increasing debt charges with which their railways are burdened. This has resulted in savage increases in fares. We recently saw in all States savage increases in rail, bus and tram fares. For example, in New South Wales the increase in bus fares was more than 200 per cent. In the same period train fares increased by over 100 per cent. The Governments of the States are not in a position to do anything about the fare increases.

With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard a table showing outstanding railway debts.

 

This table shows that there have been substantial increases in the debts of the railway systems of each of the States. Also, the table shows that the States are not in a position even to keep pace with what they are borrowing; they are not in a position even to pay off their outstanding debts with the amount of money they are borrowing. I do not have time to go into the position of each State. However, to illustrate this matter I would like to refer to the reply which I received on 30th October 1970 to a question on notice. I do not intend to incorporate this material in Hansard, but this information contains a substantial table which shows that in the 1960s the railways, and in particular the New South Wales Railways, were borrowing at the rate of $16m to $20m a year. In the same period the amount they were repaying was varying between $4m and $5m a year. So what can be said is that each year they were going further into the red to the tune of between $10m and SI 5m. Honourable members know what will happen to them; finally they will go out backwards.

In New South Wales - and I am using New South Wales purely and simply because it is the largest State railway system in Australia - the outstanding debt in 1950 was S3 59m and in 1970 it had climbed to $56 lm. That is an increase of approximately $202m. In the some period New South Wales was able to repay only a matter of $54.8m. It went further into the red to the tune of $202m. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard a table showing railway interest and other charges.

 

The table discloses that interest charges for the whole railway system of Australia, that is, those of the 6 States - I am not dealing with the Commonwealth at this point because it operates under a completely different position from the State railways - for the period 1950 to 1970 grew from $26.4m in 1950 to $51. 6m in 1960 and to $73. 125m in 1970. In the same period the New South Wales Railways interest commitment had climbed from $14.26m to $35.6m. I ask honourable members: How long can any railway system continue to carry this burden of $35m at year? In all probability in the next financial year it will climb to about $40m and keep on increasing at such a rate until we get to the stage where every time we buy a ticket or put a ton of freight on the State railways, most of the charge will be eaten out in interest payments. Of the total revenue of the New South Wales Railways roughly 14 per cent goes in interest and loan repayments. As I said earlier and will keep on repeating, there can be only one result from this.

I and the Party I represent believe that this Government should be using public transport to encourage people to desist from their present policy of using the public highways to travel to and from their places of employment. At the present time under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement the Commonwealth will make available to the State governments $ 1,252m for road construction. This will represent approximately one-third of the total cost of road construction in Australia today and all it is doing is encouraging the States to create concrete jungles like those we know of in other cities in other countries. I believe from the figures I have taken out that during the period of the present Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement the Commonwealth Treasury will finish with a surplus of about $800m in excess of the amount it will collect from fuel tax. What we should be doing is using this surplus money or, for that matter, general revenue to assist the States to overcome their financial problems. From the figures I have quoted it is quite obvious that there is a need to do something about this.

The railways are trying to tackle the problem of transport. For example, in Australia today - just to mention some of the major rail projects - there is the eastern suburbs railway in Sydney which started with an estimated cost of $80m; this has now climbed to $120m. There is the Melbourne underground railway which was originally costed at about $80m; it will probably cost $150m by the time it is completed. There are railway projects in northern and central Queensland which will cost $112m. There is the Melbourne rar! yard which has just been completed - an excellent piece of engineering - at a cost of $14.5m. Private railways are being built in Western Australia for the carriage of ore. So there is any amount of work being carried out on railways.

However, I am really concerned about suburban services. We should be using the railway systems and public transport to do something about getting people off the roads. The Sydney eastern suburbs railway will carry about 30,000 people an hour while other rail systems will carry an even higher number, about 40,000. However, a road or an expressway will take only 2,500 people an hour on each lane. So that if there is a 6-lane highway, 3 lanes each way, all we can expect it to carry is 7,500 people an hour as against the 30,000 people an hour carried by a railway. In the long run it will cost less to build and operate a railway system. In major cities, such as New York, only 23 per cent of the 4 million commuters each day to Manhattan Island travel by car, the remaining 77 per cent using public transport. In London only 10 per cent of people who travel into the inner city use their private cars. This is the example at which we should be looking rather than the set-up in Los Angeles where 85 per cent of the people travel to work in their own vehicles. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to go there have seen the concrete jungles that have had to be built because there is not a suitable public transport system. In the last 20 years the number of other cities which have underground or rapid transport systems either operating or in the course of construction has grown from 16 to 60.

As far as our interstate and intrastate transport is concerned I, just like honourable members of the Australian Country Party, am concerned with the cost of transporting rural production from the farms to the cities or to points of export and the back loading of goods required on the farms. We know that rural freights have been increased and we know that there are major problems with wool where rail co-ordination taxes are imposed, causing increased transport costs right throughout the State. I 'believe the rail co-ordination taxes should be either abolished completely or the revenue received from them used to construct roads instead of as a means of offsetting rail losses in those areas.

The Opposition believes first and moremost that the rail system in Australia should be under one control instead of having the parochial systems which have been created. In New South Wales all the rail systems feed into Sydney. The same can be said of Victoria where all the rail systems feed into Melbourne. The same thing applies in the other States though not as badly. The Opposition believes that the Commonwealth should be charged with the responsibility of running the railways. A Labor Government would 'be prepared to -take them over and to make money available to the States to overcome their shocking debt position. Until interest payments are reduced nothing can be done about 'their debt position. Taking into account the $59m which last year the Commonwealth paid in subsidies relating to air travel, the $2m in subsidies for unprofitable air routes and the $19m paid last year in ship building subsidies, a total amount of $27 lm has been given in subsidies by the Commonwealth to various forms of industry, whether rural or secondary, throughout Australia in the last 12 months. This is where the money can come from to assist the railways throughout Australia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.







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