on the World Today
THE whole Labor movement in Australia — industrial as well as political — is involved in a struggle for power. A new series of explosions was touched off last October by Dr. Herbert V. Evatt’s charge that a small minority group had become increasingly disloyal to the Labor movement, and to Labor leadership.
The party is rent by a complexity of interests, but the deep division goes back to 1945 when it became apparent that the Communist Party had ent renched itself in the trade unions and was growing in strength. Many Labor men — including Prime Minister Chifley, who was by no means pro-Communist — looked on Communism as merely another political philosophy. The Roman Catholic Church, however, saw in it a challenge to the entire Labor movement and even to Australia.
With the approval of both the Catholic hierarchy and the Labor Party, industrial groups were formed within the unions to combat Communism. The groups were predominantly Catholic but included some non-Catholies. They received discreet guidance from a lay member of the Catholic Action in Australia, Mr. B. A. Santamaria, a first-generation Australian of Italian-Spanish descent. He is national secretary of the Catholic Rural Movement and has made himself an authority on Communism.
The industrial groups achieved spectacular successes. However, in time, non-Communist nonindustrial group union officials found that they, too, were being displaced by group nominees. The important Victorian and New South Wales Labor executives were captured, and through them pressure has been exerted, at times, on the slate governments. Fear of arousing sectarian issues has prevented reaction against the industrial groups from coming to the surface earlier, but many of their strongest opponents are sincere Catholics.
Dr. Evatt, not himself a trade unionist—he stepped down from the High Court bench to enter federal politics in 1941 —has never had the complete confidence of any section of the Labor Party, although from time to time he has been able To evoke the support of powerful groups. Since Labor’s defeat at the 1949 elect ion, his hold on t he parliamentary leadership of the party has been precarious. But the real issue transcends the survival of Dr. Evatt or any particular faction. Labor, disunited, could forfeit to the Communists hard-won ground in the unions; in the federal Parliament it is devitalized even in its role of Opposition. If need be, all Australia should be able to speak with one voice.
Contribution to the West
Australians, never able to forget their isolation from the western powers, have watched with growing concern the spread of Communism in Asia by aggression and subversion. If the provisions of the Southeast Asian Collective Defense Treaty are less than they had hoped for and had been prepared to support, they nevertheless recognize that, apart from any other aspect of the Treaty, economic aid given to Southeast Asian countries will be, in itself, a practical reinforcement against the blandishments of Communist propaganda.
Under the Colombo Plan Australia’s commitment for the six-year period ending June, 1957, is $69.7 million. Up to June, 1954, commodities and equipment worth about $20.2 million had been sent to Southeast, Asia, 66 technical experts had been sent to the area, and nearly 500 Asian students had come to Australia for training. Correspondence courses from Australian schools, which began in January, will enable students in Asia to use Australian educationtd facilities.
Australia’s 9-million population limits her quantitative contribution to western military strength, but she has unshakable faith in the quality of her fighting men. The policy now adopted, of weighting the defense effort in favor of the Air Force, has provoked much thoughtful criticism.
The Australian Army is being reorganized and expenditure on arms, mechanization, and equipment increased. The jungle warfare training school at Canungra, Queensland, well known to Australian and Allied servicemen during World War II, was reopened in January under instructors with recent Malayan experience. It covers about 7000 acres of extremely rugged tropical country.
Australian pilots for the RollsRoyce Avon-powered Sabre Jets now being produced in Australia are training under Australian, British, and American instructors. The building of jet fighters and bombers in Australia is considered a minimum security measure. Undoubtedly, however, if war should come, Australia would need speedy help and at least partial re-equipment with even more modern types of aircraft .
About $9 million of this year’s Air Force vote of $129 million will be spent on improvement, of airfields in northern Australia and nearby islands. Already many wartime airstrips have been recommissioned. Airfields at Darwin, Manus Island, and Port Moresby in New Guinea will be equipped to take any type of aircraft under all-weather conditions. From a chain of such airfields encircling Australia, sea lanes can be guarded for 3000 miles out to sea. Some fighter and bomber squadrons will be stationed in the north, but complete mobility of all squadrons and their ground support is planned.
The defense allocation for the current year is $476.3 million. In September the Minister for Defense, Sir Philip McBride, hinted that possible extra defense commitments might necessitate some control of financial, material, or manpower resources. The suggestion, interpreted as government kite-flying, was immediately attacked, critics contending that redirection could have been achieved by appropriate financial policies under the federal budget.
Shortage of workers
A good deal of eriticism had already been leveled at the budget, proposed in August, in that it gave little relief to secondary industry, which employs about one million of the total labor force of approximately 2.7 million, at wages substantially higher than are paid by overseas competitors.
The reduction of costs is an imperative responsibility for governmental authorities, management, and labor. Australia again has full employment; wages and profits are high; production has increased. More than half the national income — $8483 million in 1953-54 — is derived from a very wide range of secondary industry. A number of large overseas firms with valuable experience and new knowledge have established afriliations in Australia, quickening expansion in the fields of metals, engineering, oil refining, chemicals, and food processing.
However, pressure on labor and materials has returned. There is a shortage of skilled workers despite the emphasis modern machinery is giving to semi-skilled labor. Some building materials are in short supply, and the output of the steel industry, which increased by 80 per cent in the last five years, is exceeded by demand.
Competition from the increased flow of imports consequent on relaxation of import quotas accelerated applications for tariff protection. In October, some import controls had to be reimposed to remove a threat to overseas balances. Both the government and the Tariff Board, however, are anxious lest protection should encourage non-competitive industry.
Much genuine effort has been made to increase efficiency. More advantage could be taken of technological progress, and further research stimulated, but manufacturers claim that that is closely linked with replacement, modernization, and extension of plant, that costs of replacement have far outstripped original investment, and that industry is being denied concessions granted in competing countries.
The development of soundly based industry which could be converted quickly to defense needs is government policy. Moreover, industry is expected to absorb the greater part of the annual intake of migrants. The building of Australia’s population as speedily as possible is, in itself, a defense necessity, and the immigration target for 1954-55 has been raised to 115,000.
Growth the buoyancy
Australia enjoys a high standard of living, and inevitably the increasing population — it has grown by 1.4 million since 1947 — makes heavy demands for consumer goods which must be either locally produced or imported. It is claimed that the federal treasurer’s large taxation concessions to low-income groups — wellpaid teen-agers are among the beneficiaries— tend to stimulate the very type of productivity he hoped to restrict.
If high living standards are to continue and Australia’s development is to proceed at an adequate rate, somewhere within management-employee relations must be found ways to link wages more effectively to production than is at present the case. A council representing employers and unions, formed recently to act in a confidential capacity to the federal Ministry of Labor, may help to bring management and labor closer together.
Agricultural production, now 22 per cent higher than in 1939, is only slightly below the five-year target sel up in 1952. It has not, however, lessened Australia’s dependence on the wool industry to boost her export income. In 1953—54, wool and sheepskins provided $963.9 million of the total export merchandise income of $1828.9 million. Wheat, dairy produce and meat, fruit and sugar, together brought $412.3 million.
Increasing mcchanization is helping to solve the labor problem on farms and pastoral properties but has not noticeably reduced costs. The Australian system of specialized farming is particularly suited to mechanization. Between 1939 and 1953 the number of tractors increased from 42,000 to 158,000.
The ambitious Snowy Mountains hydroelectric project in southeastern Australia, which is turning most of the waters of the alpine-fed Snowy and Eucumbene rivers through Australia’s highest mountains into the western-flowing Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers, is taking shape. Its first, power supply will be available this year. It provides for a total generating capacity of 320,000 kilowatts and an eventual increased annual water supply of 500,000 acre-feet to the already large Murray-Murrumbidgee irrigation area. Big American, French, and Norwegian construction firms are working under contract on various sections of the project.
Australia is spending about $224.7 million a year on electrical development:, and by 1958 present total generating eapaeity will be doubled. Meanwhile the first decisive step towards the production of atomic energy in Australia has been taken. As the result, of information to be made available by Britain, a large up-to-date nuclear research reactor will be built near Sydney, Australian research Mill be correlated with current research in Britain and duplication of effort avoided. The Australian government hopes that within ten years it may be economically feasible to supply electric power from nuclear sources to parts of Australia remote from conventional fuel supplies..
In September, at the Rum Jungle uranium field 66 miles south of Darwin in the Northern Territory, the Prime Minister officially opened Australia’s first plant for the trealment of uranium ores. An especially created subsidiary of a large Australian mining company, engaged by the federal government to develop and operate Rum Jungle, erected the plant and neighboring township in less than two years. Considerable financial and other help was provided by the AngloAmerican Combined Development Agency, which is also buying the uranium oxide. A second uranium treatment plant is under construction in South Australia, and a third plant in northwestern Queensland is being contemplated.
North of the Tropic of Capricorn lie approximately one million square miles of Australia, with a white population of about 290,000 in Queensland, 16,000 in the Northern Territory, and 6000 in Western Australia. On the development and closer settlement of this vast area may finally rest Australia’s survival as a nation of European race, culture, and standards.
North Queensland, with flourishing cattle, sheep, sugar, and mining industries, is already prosperous. Its potential is high. Tremendous difficulties, however, impede the development of the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia. The only railway runs south from Darwin for 300 miles. Livestock moving into the Queensland fattening areas from the Northern Territory and the Kimberley District of Western Australia trek up to 1500 miles. Exploitation of extensive mineral deposits is also hampered by distance from markets and sources of supplies.
There is potential agricultural land within the northernmost region, to which the summer monsoon brings a rainfall of from 25 to 60 inches. However, intense humidity, high temperatures, and myriad insects make the four months’ wet acutely unpleasant. The short streams flood quickly and pour most of their water straight into the sea. Evaporation is swift, and in years when the monsoon fails the long dry deteriorates into serious drought. In the drought of 1951-52, about 250,000 cattle died. The sinking of bores to tap subartesian water is costly; and until recently, short leases have discouraged landholders from heavy capital investment. Adequate fencing and herd improvement are among the pressing necessities.
The Minister for the Territories, Mr. Paul Hasluck, and Mr. Frank Wise, able Adminisirator of the Northern Territory, have been prodding the federal government. Stock routes have lately been somewhat improved, and practical encouragement has been given to the pastoral and mining industries. Exponditure on health and education services last year reached $2.3 million. Agricultural research is proceeding, and an American business group is investigating the possibilities of large-scale cultivation of rice for export to Southeast Asia.
Some highly promising new uranium fields have been discovered in the Northern Territory and near the rich silver-lead mines at Mount Isa, Queensland. Uranium and the possibility of oil — at least in Western Australia—underline the strategic significance of the north. They may bring the long-awaited rail link with Queensland.
Australian administration of the trust territory of New Guinea has received general approval of the United Nations Trusteeship Council. Including adjacent islands, the combined area of Papua and the trust territory is about 180,000 square miles, much of it mountainous and jungle-covered. Native welfare has genuinely been kept in the forefront of policy, and the confidence of the primitive tribes has been won before economic or other development has been attempted. Progress has consequently been slow.
The policy was repaid, however, by the loyalty of the natives during World War II. New Guinea has immense strategic significance for Australia; and with the exception of a Communist-led minority, Australians are flally opposed to Indonesian claims to Dutch New Guinea.