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Tom Uren (ALP-Reid) – Maiden Speech

Tom Uren was elected to the House of Representatives as the ALP member for Reid at the federal election of November 22, 1959.

Tom Uren's official photograph during the Twenty-Third Parliament

A former prisoner-of-war who was sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway, Uren placed his political views in the context of his war-time experiences.

Uren went on to become Minister for Urban and Regional Development in the Whitlam governments from December 19, 1972 until November 11, 1975.

During the first two terms of the Hawke government, from 1983 until 1987, Uren was Minister for Territories and Local Government and Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Community Development and Regional Affairs.

Uren won election to the House on 13 occasions from 1958 until 1987. He retired from Parliament at the 1990 election and died on January 26, 2015, aged 93.

Uren rose in the House of Representatives at 4.18pm on Thursday, February 26, 1959 to deliver his maiden speech.

Maiden speech to the House of Representatives by Tom Uren, ALP member for Reid.

Mr UREN (Reid)– I am very proud to be a member of this Twenty-third Parliament, as a representative of the Australian Labour movement. I would like to thank the electors of Reid for the wonderful support that they have given me. Reid is a great industrial area, and the people of Reid are well aware what a struggle it is to feed, clothe and educate one’s family under the present economic conditions.
Before I continue 1 should like to make a few remarks about what the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston) had to say. He referred to the existence of great problems in Indonesia. It is simple to talk, but there are indeed great problems in that country and this Government has done very little to assist the struggles of the people there. When Labour was in office it did a great deal to assist the Indonesian people in their initial struggle. I lived in Asia for quite a long time and I was very proud of the action that our leader took at that time to struggle in the United Nations for the underprivileged people of Indonesia. This change of face on the part of Government supporters is a lot of mullarkey, and complete hypocrisy, and it disappoints me to see hypocrisy in this Parliament.

During the recent election campaign I did my utmost not to be side-tracked by any unimportant issue. I expressed my great faith in our Labour principles, in the decision of the 1955 Hobart conference, and in our platform, which was formulated in Brisbane in 1921, which provided for the socialization of industry, production, distribution and exchange to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and antisocial aspects.

Labour was formed as a radical party. The trade unions were an expression of radicalism in the days of their formation. Living standards have improved, not as a result of benevolence, but as a result of intense struggle. Every step forward has been won in the face of bitter opposition. Basically, that situation has not changed to-day. Many people, honest in their convictions, fail to see that the struggle continues and claim that, because of the postwar boom, the situation has changed – yet workers continue to be sacked and thousands face uncertainty and insecurity. In order to obtain shelter and a few amenities, the average worker has had to become heavily mortgaged. Wives in their thousands have put aside their domestic chores and taken to the work bench or office in order to supplement the family income. Pensioners, superannuated citizens and others become poorer while evidence mounts to show that the rich are getting richer.

Housing, education, local government, hospitalization, trade and many basic industries are in a state of crisis. A solution of these problems lies only in the Australian Labour movement. Our platform is based on Christian and humane ideals. We consider that it is the moral obligation of the fit to look after the sick, of the young to look after the old, and of the rich to look after the poor. By socialism we mean a more equitable sharing of the great and ever increasing wealth of this nation among the people, who are, after all, responsible for the greater productivity that is being enjoyed.

I should like to relate an experience that I had during the war. I was a prisoner of war at a place called Hintock-road Camp, on the Burma-Siam railway. Our commanding officer was Lieutenant-Colonel “Weary” Dunlop. He was a remarkable man in many ways. He was not only a great doctor but also a great soldier. We were known as the “Dunlop” force. As honorable members probably know, the Japanese paid our officers and medical orderlies an allowance. The noncommissioned officers and men who worked on the railway were also paid a small wage. This was a sham kept up by the Japanese to save face under the Geneva Convention.

In our camp the officers and medical orderlies paid the greater proportion of their allowance into a central fund. The men who worked did likewise. We were living by the principle of the fit looking after the sick, the young looking after the old, the rich looking after the poor. A few months after we had arrived at Hin.tockroad Camp, a part of “H” force arrived. They were about 400 strong. As a temporary arrangement they had tents. The officers selected the best, the noncommissioned officers the next best, and the men got the dregs. Soon after they arrived the wet season set in, bringing with it cholera and dysentery. Six weeks later only 50 men marched out of that camp, and of that number only about 25 survived. Only a creek separated our two camps, but on one side the law of the jungle prevailed and on the other the principles of socialism.

On this side of the House we are well aware that the Constitution is a barrier to social progress. We are also aware of the great difficulties involved in altering the Constitution. The propaganda channels of press, radio and television are controlled by strong adherents of the status quo. Any proposal put forward by Labour to benefit the people would be opposed strongly by the propaganda specialists. They would do their utmost to confuse and mislead. Yet I have great faith that we can and will achieve our objective within the Constitution. Past Labour governments have introduced many great socialist undertakings which stand as monuments of efficiency. The Commonwealth Bank, Trans-Australia Airlines and the National Shipping Line are a few of them. At this point I should like to direct attention to the result of a public opinion poll which was published in the Sydney “Sun” to-day. It stated –


The public does not approve the suggestion that the Government should sell its airline, T.A.A.

The suggestion was made by Mr. R. M. Ansett, chairman of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd.

It is also true that the present anti-Labour administration has sold out the people’s assets in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, Commonwealth Oil Refineries, the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool and the Whaling Commission. Therefore, it may be necessary for a future Labour government to take action to prevent any anti-Labour government from de-socializing the people’s assets without first referring the proposal to the people.

I turn my attention now to the taxation field. From 1st July, 1957, to 30th June, 1958, Commonwealth revenue was £1,311,000,000. Of that amount, I Relieve that only £435,000,000 was collected by way of direct taxation. A sum of £154,000,000 was received from government business undertakings, and £722,000,000 from indirect taxation. I should like to remind honorable members of the system of raising revenue in New South Wales before 1-894. The revenue was raised by taxing all goods coming into the colony. Sir George Reid, the Liberal Premier at that time, and he was a liberal in the true sense of the word – as you might know, my electorate was named after that distinguished gentleman – thought it was an unjust way to tax. He saw that ‘the masses of the people who consumed the bulk of the goods but did not possess the bulk of the wealth were most unjustly taxed. With the help of the Labour party, he altered the taxing laws and introduced a direct income tax and a tax on land. Honorable members will agree with me that there is not a great difference in tax justice to-day from that prior to 1894. Up to that date, taxation was indirect and the bulk of it to-day is still indirect taxation.

In the last financial year, £48,000,000 was raised by pay-roll tax. This impost is not paid by the companies concerned, but is passed on in the cost of production. The consumers, that is the people, pay it. In the ‘last’ financial year, £137,000,000 was raised by way of sales tax. Let us consider, for example, the purchase of tooth paste, which carries sales tax of 12± per cent. If one person earns £10,000 a year and another earns £1,000, does the person on £10,000 consume ten times more toothpaste than does the person on £1,000 Of course, he does not. The same comparison can be applied to almost all goods covered by sales tax. Sales tax should be abolished except where it is placed on luxury lines.

Company taxation in the last financial year amounted to £215,000,000. This is also an indirect tax. It is taken into the cost structure and the consumer, not the company, pays it. Wherever possible, indirect taxes should be progressively abolished and a higher individual tax should be paid. At least, we would then know who was paying the taxes. At present, the people on the lower incomes are paying the bulk of indirect taxation. The effect on the economy of the reform I have suggested would be cheaper consumer goods if the companies passed on the indirect tax savings to the people. If they did not do that, the Taxation Branch should be empowered to impose a higher individual direct tax on dividends.

One section of industry which would be assisted by the abolition of indirect taxes would be the manufacturing industry. At present Australia relies on its wool and primary products to boost its export trade. I believe that Australia has ridden on the sheep’s back far too long. Manufacturing industries may well be the answer to our export problem. With the development of the markets to our near north and the lessening of the dead weight of company taxation, amounting to approximately 7s. in the £1, and the abolition of pay-roll tax, manufacturers would have a greater incentive to compete on overseas markets. The profit derived from such trade should then attract a higher direct tax on dividends.

I direct attention now to foreign investments in Australia. What greatly concerns me is the little direct tax that foreign capita] pays to the Australian people. The present Administration seems obsessed with the desire to attract any type of foreign capital without concern about future consequences. In this connexion it is interesting to study a statement in the “Quarterly Review” published in the Division of Agricultural Economics in April, 1956. The article was headed “Direct foreign investment – influence on Australia’s balance of payments”. It stated, in part –

“Continued ploughing-back of profits does, however, result in a marked increase in local earnings and eventually in remittances overseas. The dangers Were are that as service payments on past investments are a continuing outflow, they may, in a short time, substantially exceed the rate of new capital inflow, and that earnings of overseas investors may grow into a very large commitment absorbing a substantial part of Australia’s foreign exchange earnings.”

This Government is doing very little about the inflow of foreign capital. It must decide what foreign capital it needs and what it does not need. There should be an immediate overhaul of the Income Tax (International Agreements) Act 1953-1958, which covers agreements between the Governments of the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada and Australia. Overseas investments in this country should pay a higher direct income tax to the Australian people. The present agreement is farcical and is too one-sided. We have a wonderful country with a magnificent future as long as we do not put it in pawn to foreign capital.

I thank honorable members for the attentive hearing they have given me. During the next three years I shall do my best on behalf of the electors of Reid and the Australian Labour movement.

In conclusion, I should like to quote from “Things Worth Fighting For”, an extract from the late Mr. Chifley’s speech to the Australian Labour movement in June, 1951 –

“I hope that the defeat at the last elections has not discouraged members of the Labour movement from fighting for what they think is right – whether it brings victory to the party or not.”

The Labour movement was not created with the objective of always thinking what is the most acceptable thing to do – whether this individual will win a seat or whether the movement will pander to some section of the community. The Labour movement was created by the pioneers, and its objectives have been preached by disciples of the Labour movement over the years, to make decisions for the best for all the people.

If, from time to time, the policy is not favored by the majority of the people, there is no reason why the things we fight for should be put aside to curry favour with any section of the people. I believe that what we are fighting for is right and just. We must continue and justice will prevail.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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