1st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister, without notice, why the appointment of a commission of engineering experts to inquire into the construction of the transcontinental railway to connect South Australia and
Western Australia has not been expedited in accordance with the wish recently expressed by the Prime Minister. Furthermore, I would ask how it is that the matter has been referred to the Minister for Home Affairs?
– The matter has been referred to the Minister for Home Affairs, because railway construction and all cognate matters fall within his department. The letter from the Prime Minister, written when he was at Perth recently, conveyed a request that the consideration of this question should be expedited, and it has been expedited. It was considered at the meeting of the Cabinet yesterday, and, after some discussion as to the best course to pursue in the interests of the completion of a full inquiry into the merits of the proposed line, and the best route to be followed, the Minister for Home Affairs was asked, and has undertaken, to give the matter his personal consideration.
– I desire to direct the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs to a paragraph which appeared in this morning’s Age, stating that a Queensland Timber Trust, consisting of the large timber merchants in Brisbane, has been registered, the object of the trust being to protect the interests of the timber trade. Does the Minister intend to take any action in regard to this trust, in fulfilment of his promise, when the Tariff was under consideration, that he would deal promptly with any trusts that might be formed?
– Of course, the promise holds good; but I do not understand that this trust has been formed for the purpose of injuring anybody. I wish the timber industry every success, and I hope that any combination for the good of the industry and of the community will be attended with the best results.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Home Affairs, without notice, whether he can inform us as to the probability of the early appointment of a commission of experts to inquire into the best location for a federal capital site?
– It is rather difficult for me to say when the commission will be appointed. I have a great pressure of work in my department at present, and I desire to select gentlemen who will be thoroughly acceptable.
– Surely there are plenty of men offering ?
– Yes ; and that increases the difficulty of making a selection. I also wish to secure the representation of every State, because I think that in a matter affecting the whole of the Commonwealth all the States should have a voice. There will be no undue delay in making the appointment, because I desire that plenty of time shall be allowed for the necessary examinations of the proposed sites, and that the commission shall be able to report to the House next session, or, at any rate, during the currency of this Parliament.
– An expert examination of the proposed sites will take some time.
– Yes ; but it should not occupy an undue time. I am as anxious as any one can be to have this matter investigated as soon as possible.
Resolved (on motion by Mr. Thomson) -
That leave of absence for a fortnight be granted to the right honorable member for East Sydney, Mr. G. H.Reid, on account of urgent private business.
– I desire to direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Defence to a paragraph which appeared in one of the newspapers this morning relating to the parade of troops in the various Stateson Coronation Day. The Minister is credited with having made the statement that the troops parading in New South Wales will be allowed pay, according to the ordinary regulations, for a day’s parade. I understand, however, that the intention is to ask the Victorian troops to parade on the same occasion voluntarily and without pay. I think the practice should be uniform, and that all should be paid, or that none should be paid.
– On the application of the Government of New South Wales the troops of that State will parade on Coronation Day. The men are to be carried free over the railways, and no charge is to be made to the Commonwealth. They will be given a day’s pay, and the parade will count as one of the full-day parades required under the regulations. I made no statement as to what would be done in Victoria, because that question has not been brought before me. I have no doubt that the parade of the Victorian troops on Coronation Day can, as in the case of New South Wales, be substituted for one of the ordinary parades, and that the men can be paid accordingly.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Home Affairs, without notice, what steps have been taken with reference to the payment of the various States for the post-offices, Customs-houses, and other buildings and properties handed over by them for the services of the Commonwealth.
– The Commonwealth Government will have to appoint its own valuators independently of those employed by the States. The Cabinet, and probably the House, will have to consider how the properties are to be paid for.
– The House should also consider how the valuations are to be made.
– No ; that is a matter that the Government should deal with. I understand that in some of the States valuators have been appointed on behalf of the States Governments, and that in one case the valuations are just about completed. When valuations have been made by the Commonwealth experts the House will be informed of the total amount involved.
– When will the valuators be appointed ?
– As soon as possible. If we are to make all the appointments which honorable members seem to desire, I shall have to accuse the House of great extravagance. I desire to curtail expenses as much as possible, and I think we must make these appointments by degrees, so that we may not unduly shock the sensibilities of honorable members or of the community by extravagant methods.
– What was suggested at the Premier’s conference 1
– It was suggested that the Commonwealth should become responsible for a portion of the loan indebtedness of the States in connexion with the transferred properties.
– Then we should have to pay the interest.
– I suppose we should have to do that in any case. The whole question, however, is a very debatable one, and will require to be dealt with by the Cabinet. The Treasurer will have to be consulted, as he is the Minister principally concerned.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister if he can inform honorable members whether the proposed adjournment of this House will extend over coronation week ? I think that honorable members representing distant States should know the intentions of the Government a . few days prior to the adjournment.
– I hope that the adjournment will extend beyond the coronation week ; but, of course, everything depends upon the .progress made with public business. Next week I trust we shall be able ‘to form a better idea of the progress which is being ‘made by another place with a measure which I hope we shall be called upon to consider shortly. At the beginning of next week I shall probably make a definite announcement upon the subject.
– In the course of his reply upon the second reading of the Bonuses for Manufactures Bill, the Minister for Trade and Customs declared that he recognised the necessity for the establishment of the Federal High Court at a very -i early date. I should like to ask whether the question of the setting up of that tribunal is likely to receive the early attention of the Cabinet and of this House 1
– The matter does not await the attention of the Cabinet. The proposals df the Ministry -are already before honorable members. If the session should be prolonged, it may be possible, at a later stage, for the House., to complete the consideration of that measure, but it entirely depends upon the duration of the present session.
The Clerk laid upon the table the following paper :- :
Closing of the one-mile rifle range at Ipswich; Queensland.
In Committee of Ways and Means.
Timber Trust. - Suspension of Grain and Fodder Duties. - Monthly Supply Bills. - Gratuities. - Public Servants’ Increments and Pensions. - Post and Telegraph Administration.
– I move -
That towards making good the supply granted to His Majesty for the services of the year ending 30th June, 1002, the sum of £448,882be granted out of the consolidated revenue fund.
Honorable members will recollect with pleasure that we have completed dealing with the Estimates for the current year. The whole of the resolutions have been reported to the House, and the House has adopted the report. I have now to ask for the amount necessary to enable the June payments to be made. Several times during the present session I have had to appeal to the committee to grant Supply, but I can safely promise that I will not ask for any further money on account of the present financial year. As we have discussed the whole of the Estimates, and determined to grant certain amounts to the Crown, and as this Bill is simply to appropriate the necessary money for the purposes of payment, I trust we shall be able to dispose of it without any discussion.
– Do the salaries contained in this measure include increases?
– Yes. In South Australia, where increments are granted absolutely by law, they have already been paid. In regard to the other States, where a different practice has been in vogue, I gave instructions some time ago that all the increments authorized by Parliament should be included in the J une payments.
– I have very little to say upon this Supply Bill, as the Treasurer has given an assurance that it is in accordance with the Estimates. But the right honorable gentleman has not given the committee any indication of the Government intentions regarding the finances beyond the end of the current year. I should like to know what steps it is proposed to take to provide Supply after the end of the present month. We may be asked in the future to continue the system of Supply Bills - a course which I think the committee will consider is very undesirable. Some steps should certainly be taken to prevent the necessity for a repetition of the practice which has hitherto been adopted. No doubt the Treasurer is acquainted with the intentions of the Ministry, and in view of the possible prorogation of Parliament, I should have been glad if he had indicated how he proposes to obtain Supply in the immediate future. I should like the Treasurer to tell us the total amount covered by the Supply Bills which have been introduced, including the present measure.
– It is £60,000 or £70,000 less than the total amount of the Estimates. Of course, additional savings will be made.
– Do I understand the Treasurer to say that inclusive of this Supply Bill, the amount granted will be within the Estimates to the extent of £60,000 or £70,000?
– In most of the States - certainly in South Australia - it has been customary to introduce quarterly Supply Bills, and the adoption of a similar practice here would, I think, be of advantage to the members of this committee. It would certainly economize time, and honorable members would still be able to keep a check upon the expenditure.
– I wish to indorse what the last speaker has said in reference to quarterly Supply Bills. But I rose chiefly to refer to the case of a man who, until recently, was employed in the Postal department. This officer was retired from the service upon attaining 60 years of age, and under the State laws is entitled to receive a pension. But although he has now been retired for nearly three months he has drawn no pension whatever, in consequence of some misunderstanding betweenthe State and the Federal Governments regarding the constitutional aspect of the question.
– I have not heard of any such question being raised.
– I can assure the Treasurer that the facts are as I have stated. This officer has been kept for three months, without any pension because the Federal and State authorities cannot settle some departmental difficulty. Of course it was a very small matter, but the same thing is likely to be repeated in very many instances, and I think that there ought to be some method of overcoming the obstacle which apparently exists.
– If the honorable member will give me the name of the officer to whom he refers I will have the matter investigated. I cas assure him that no constitutional difficulty exists, although considerable difficulty is experienced in getting the necessary certificate from the Public Service Board and the Audit Commissioners regarding the amount that is to be paid. But as soon as this information is received the sum is passed by the Executive and paid by the Treasury. Concerning the remarks of the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. V. L. Solomon, I should be only too glad if we could adopt the system of quarterly Supply Bills. The present practice involves a good deal of work on the part of the departments. Monthly Supply Bills have been introduced, because I always hoped that we should be afforded an early opportunity of dealing with the Estimates. Of course, the manner in which the question of Supply is dealt with in the future must depend upon the period that Parliament sits. It may be that, if we are to meet in September, I shall ask the House to pass the Continuation of Payments Bill, which will enable me to make payments for three months upon the basis of the previous year’ s Estimates. I do not know that I shall follow that course upon the present occasion, because I hope before we rise to place before honorable members the Estimates for next year, and, if possible, to get them passed. If we have to continue in session we may as well deal with that question, and give honorable members an opportunity of discussing the amounts set down before the expenditure is actually incurred. I know that in all the States the practice has been to submit the Estimates about July, and to deal with them at the end of the year. Upon one occasion I was very virtuous, and was determined to deal with the Estimates before any expenditure took place, but the only result of my good resolution was that the total was increased by £1,000.
– Can we deal with next year’s Estimates during the present session 1
– It may be that honorable members will be prepared to sit a month or two longer and deal with those Estimates, and thus enable us to meet again early next year. Probably it would be the end of July before I could make my financial statement, because I have to obtain many particulars from the various States, and the Cabinet would require a little time to go carefully into the proposals relating to the retrenchment which has been resolved upon in connexion with the Defence department. If we are sitting in J July, I hope to place the Estimates for next year before the House and deal with them before we rise ; if not, I shall, have to ask’ for a couple of month’s Supply, or for the passage of the Continuation of Payments Bill, which will enable us to carry on upon the basis of the present Estimates.
– I should like some explanation of the amounts set down - which I understand cover gratuities to representatives of deceased officers under the heading of “ Miscellaneous “ in the Postmaster-General’s department. I find that in New South Wales, the sum proposed to be voted in this connexion totals £386 ; in Victoria, it is £63 ; and in Queensland £9,547. I also desire some information regarding the amount of £51 provided under a similar heading in the Defence department, which includes compensation to C. McCarthy in respect of fatal injuries to his wife, caused by a trooper’s horse at the Royal reception in Melbourne.
– The items mentioned by the honorable member came before the Committee of Supply and have been passed. Concerning gratuities, I think that the Commonwealth ought to pay them only where an absolutely clear right exists. In Victoria if an officer should die without having sent in his resignation to the Government, the practice has always been - if his representatives would have been entitled to a certain sum had he resigned - for Parliament to vote them a similar amount. In New South Wales a difficulty is sometimes occasioned by an officer dying between the sending in of his resignation and the issue of the Order in Council. The allowance, under the circumstances, is regarded as a gratuity, but is voted as a matter of course. Ordinary gratuities are submitted to the State Government, who, as a rule, raise not the slightest objection, and the amounts are at once placed on the Estimates and paid. As to the other matter referred to by the honorable member, an unfortunate accident happened to the wife of this gentleman at Port Melbourne on the day the Royal visitors were leaving. A trooper’s horse so injured the lady that she died, and it was thought wise to give the widower a certain amount in order to defray the expense to which he was put.
– Was the amount considered sufficient?
– The widower is quite satisfied with the amount.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).I should like to call attention to a grave injustice inflicted upon a number of public officers who are in receipt of very small salaries, the present method of dealing with these men being nothing short of 7-efmed cruelty. I am not blaming the Treasurer, seeing that the injustice arises from the peculiar circumstances of this session. Increments are due to those officers ; and, the Government having determined the amounts to be submitted to Parliament, the Treasurer might safely have paid them along with the salaries. There is not a single member who would cavil at this modicum of justice being meted out to officers most of whom are receiving salaries ranging from £80 to £100 a year.
– If the honorable, member expresses the general feeling, and the committee direct “that these increments shall be paid, I shall have great pleasure in paying them.
– It is only out of consideration for the House that the increments have not been paid.
– I have often asked why the increments are not paid, and I have been told by the Treasurer that we must wait until the money is voted.
– The payments can be made with the consent of the House.
– The House ought either to vote the money, or consent to the Treasurer making the payments without a vote. There are scores of men affected in New South Wales, and I presume in the other States also, who are entitled to increments ranging from £5 to £10. The present method is pushing technique and parliamentary control to the point of absurdity, and I am glad to hear the Treasurer say that in the future the increments will be paid. I take the present opportunity of protesting against the constant whittling away of postal facilities in New South Wales, which has been going on ever since the service was transferred, and is causing a good deal of irritation. I do not know how the other States are faring, but the Estimates show that in New South Wales these retrenchments have been very drastic. Last week a case came under my notice in which a new post-office, which has. been. built for not more than twelvemonths, is to be reduced to an unofficial status simply because the extreme drought has complete^ paralyzed business in the district. The people of New South Wales did not expect that one result of federal controlwould be a limitation of their postal and telegraphic facilities ; on the contrary, they were told that the service would be made more effective. I should also like to enter my protest against the centralized control, of the Post and Telegraph department. The Postmaster-General, sooner or later, will have to devolve some of that control on the States, and the longer he continues the present method of centralization, the more danger there is of complete paralysis of the administration.
– The PostmasterGeneral has delegated vast powers to the Deputy Postmasters-General.
– At the present time there is the greatest difficulty in getting any business transacted in this circumlocutory department, matters being referred from ‘local officers to the PostmasterGeneral in Melbourne, and then back again to the States. Either the service has been taken over a great deal toosoon, or there is some hitch in federal control.
– I suggest that the honorable member inform the PostmasterGeneral of specific cases, when some remedy might be found.
– In fairness to the officers and the administration generally, I always forward my complaints at the earliest opportunity. I have no personal feeling in the matter, but only speak in what I believe to be the best interests of the department. It is to be regretted that the Postmaster-General is not in this Chamber, the members of which are particularly concerned in the administration of the Post-office. It would be a great advantage if the present Postmaster-General could exchange portfolios with some Minister in this House, because such a course would probably be productive of more effective control. Before sitting down I should like to know whether the Government have made up their minds as to any course of action regarding the fodder duties ? We are told that the latest development is that the Government are waiting to see what is done by the State Government of New South Wales. At the same time the State Government are clamouring for the Federal Government to act ; and the consequence is that nothing is done. We are told that there are constitutional difficulties in the way of remitting the duties in some States and not in others. But that is not a constitutional difficulty, though it may be a political difficulty, due to pressure which has been brought to bear on the Federal Government by one or two individuals in the smaller States. If the Government were to promptly remit the duties on fodder throughout the whole of the States, there could be- no difficulty. There has been no federal action on this matter, though two of the largest States, which contain more than half the population of the Commonwealth, are undergoing a period of distress the like of which has never before been seen in Australia. Because a few individuals, who happen to have fodder to sell in some of the smaller States, demur to this federal action, the Government stand -paralyzed. That is not federalism ; it is the essence of provincialism. As I understand federalism, it means that those States which can lend a helping hand to others do so on eery conceivable occasion ; but, because a few dealers see a chance to make a little money out of the distress of others, the Government take no action. Individually the Ministers have plenty of backbone, but somehow or other in their corporate capacity they seem politically paralyzed. If they mean to govern the country on the lines forecasted in prefederation times, they ought to look to the continent as a whole, and cease to have regard to the manipulations of a few interested individuals. In a letter to the newspapers the other day, it was boldly urged that the fodder duties should not be removed, because the present distress offered a chance to get high prices. That is a fine sort of federal sentiment, in view of the fact that our stock are dying by the thousand, nay, by the million. It is estimated that in New South Wales, at the end of the half-year, there will not be more than 20,000,000 sheep left, though five years ago there were 60,000,000.
– Not five years ago; it was in 1892-3 that there were 60,000,000 sheep in New South Wales.
– It is said that we shall lose 20,000,000 sheep this year, but the Government seem prepared to allow those sheep to be sacrificed, so that the people in the smaller States, who have fodder .to sell, may be able to wring famine prices out of those who want it. There is nothing but selfishness and provincialism in that attitude. We have been told that the remission of the fodder duties would do no good, because fodder is as dear outside as inside the Commonwealth. If that statement were true, we should not have all this hubbub about the remission of the duties. We wish to have the duties remitted so that the prices may be reduced, and relief afforded to our chief national industry in a time of great emergency and distress.
Mr. V. L. SOLOMON (South Australia). - I do not think the committee fully appreciated the reply made by the Treasurer to a question asked hy the honorable member for Parramatta with regard to the payment of increments to public servants. Surely honorable members must recognise that, if we consent to the payment of these increments before Parliament has an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon the subject, we shall be derogating from our rights, and it will be impossible to tell where the process will end.
Mi-. Joseph Cook. - I was speaking only in regard to the statutory increments.
– South Australia is the only State in which the public servants have an absolute right to increments. In Victoria and New South Wales they have a right to receive them if Parliament votes the money, while in the other States they have no rights on the subject at all. We think, however, that in the case of public servants receiving less than £200 a year they might very well be paid their increments, subject to the subsequent approval of Parliament.
– If we permit increases to be paid before we have had an opportunity of expressing our approval or disapproval of them, we shall be sanctioning the introduction of the thin end of the wedge, which may bring about a very dangerous state of things in regard to our financial administration.
– .Surely Parliament can step in at any time and say that what is going on must stop.
– Of course it can ; but why should Parliament give away its powers to-day simply for the pleasure of exercising them at some later time, I hope no action will be taken until further consideration has been given to the subject.
– It seems to me that the last speaker was straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. ‘Very little objection was taken to paying £2,000 to the Governor-General out of the Treasurer’s advance account, and, therefore, I do not -see that wc should be greatly concerned about the payment of increments of £8 or £10 to the poorer paid public servants. It must be remembered that in future the Commonwealth Parliament will probably sit not more than five or six months in the year, and that, if it is found impossible to pay increments until they have been approved by Parliament, the public servants may be kept waiting for months for money that is really due to them. The honorable member seems to forget that we- have created a Public Service Commissioner who will further safeguard our rights in this respect. With regard to the remission of fodder duties, I wish to say that this seems to be an age of mottoes. The motto of the Sydney Municipal Council is - “ I take, but I surrender,” a motto which the ardent federalists were at one time very ready . to adopt. AVe find now, however, that federation really means that the southern States take while the northern States - New South Wales and Queensland - surrender. When a deputation waited upon the Minister representing the Prime Minister the other day, to urge upon him the remission of the fodder duties, those who had speculated in fodder were so anxious to prevent injury being done to them that they had not the decency to wait until a subsequent occasion to present their views. We have been told that the remission of these duties would be unconstitutional, but I agree with the honorable member for Parramatta that it is rather a matter of politics than of constitutional^)’, so far as the Ministry is concerned. Not only are the pastoralists of New South Wales and Queensland suffering severely from the loss of stock, but the wealth of the whole continent is being depleted. The remission of the fodder duties would do something to prevent this, and would do no injury, even to those who are fortunate enough to hold a few tons of produce. They could, in any case, sell their produce at good prices, and why should the whole Commonwealth be penalized in order that they may exact famine prices ? Furthermore, if the drought continues, the surplus produce now held in Victoria and Tasmania will probably be required by the pastoralists of those States. When the Government can find reasons for proposing the granting of bonuses for the encouragement of a certain industry at the expense of the community at large, it is very strange that they will not remove Customs barriers which are bringing about the destruction of a very much larger industry. I think it would have been wiser if the representatives of New South Wales and Queensland had combined, and had forced honorable members to range themselves, cither upon the side of the speculators or upon that of the people of the Commonwealth as a whole. I believe that if a motion had been moved which would have had that result, we should have seen that, not only are the representatives of the two northern States upon the side of the people, but that there are man)’ in the southern States who are true federalists, and do not wish to see the Commonwealth suffer for the sake of a few speculators. If things continue as they are, the price of meat, which is already very dear, will become so high that many of the poorer people of New South Wales and Queensland will not be able to purchase it. Surely we are not tied down in such a manner that we cannot assist ourselves. If the Government can provide money for the development of the resources of Tasmania, surely they are prepared to do something to prevent the destruction of the chief industry of New South Wales and Queensland.
– I wish to know if the Minister is in possession of any further information in regard to the position of Victorian officers who have been transferred to the Commonwealth service. About a fortnight ago I was given to understand that the Public Service Commissioner would consider the question immediately. The Treasurer, who probably knows more about it than any other member of the Cabinet, has admitted that these men are suffering an injustice, and has promised to have it rectified as soon as possible. I wish to know if the Cabinet has any further information in regard to the scope of the Victorian Act, and if it is proposed to give effect to it. If effect is not to be given to it, Parliament should be informed, so that the men concerned may not be kept longer in suspense. I trust that before we enter upon the next financial year the grievances of these public servants will be redressed, and that there will be no occasion to again bring their case before this Chamber.
– I desire to direct the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs to the contrast that exists between the answer he gave me this morning in reference to the timber trust recently formed in Brisbane, and his statements inregard to clause 7 of the Customs Tariff Bill dealing with trusts and monopolies. In connexion with that measure, the Minister said -
Clause 7 contains a provision which we promised at various times while the Tariff was under discussion in committee. It gives power to deal with trusts, combines, and monopolies.
– A very necessary power.
– I think it is. We have taken the clause from the Canadian Act of 1897, which has very much to recommend it. We believe in reasonable protection, but at the same time we do not believe in protection being made an instrument to unduly charge rates which ought not to be exacted. The provision is to this effect -
Whenever the Governor-General has reason to believe that with regard to any goods there exists any trust combination association or agreement of a ny kind among importers or manufacturers of or dealers in such goods -
We do not care who it is - to unduly enhance their price or in any other way to unduly promote the advantage of the importers manufacturers or dealers at the expense of the consumers the Governor-General may by commission empower any Justice of the High Court or any Judge of the Supreme Court of a State to inquire in a summary way and report to the Governor-General whether such trust combination association or agreement exists.
Then the Minister went on to say -
Let us profit by the example of Canada, and declare at the earliest stage that if there is any attempt, so far as trusts and combines are concerned, to introduce here the troubles which have occurred in other countries - and which, so far as our sister, Canada, is concerned, have been considered to warrant the introduction of legislation of this sort - we will provide for the prompt stoppage of the evil.
I ask honorable members whether these expressions are in keeping with the answer given by the Minister this morning. I maintain that they are not. On the occasion to which I have been referring, the right honorable member for East Sydney said that the provision proposed to be made was a very good one, but that he was afraid that the Government would fail to administer it. Now, the Minister, by his answer, has borne out the words of the leader of the Opposition. The right honorable member for East Sydney said -
But I hail the introduction of the provision. There is an admission by the Government that under a protective system there may be rings and combinations to increase the burdens of the people ; and I would remind Ministers that the whole Tariff is intended to establish one vast ring. For what purpose? To unduly enhance the price of commodities which Australian manufacturers put upon the market.
So that, in putting in this clause, the Ministry forget the whole purpose of their proposals, which is to precisely bring about, in respect of articles manufactured in Australia, the effect of a ring - to unduly enhance their price as apart from the effect of open competition.
This is exactly what has happened in Brisbane, and Maryborough, and other places where the timber industry is carried on in Queensland. The merchants there have entered into a combination with a view to keep up the prices of timber. The attitude of the Minister for Trade and Customs has much surprised and disappointed me. J. always thought that his word was his bond, and I was astonished to hear him express the hope that the Queensland Timber Trust would succeed. In connexion with the fodder trade, we have an instance of another protectionist combination which is operating to the disadvantage of settlers in Queensland and New South Wales. We are told that millions of sheep, and thousands of cattle, are dying on the western plains of New South Wales and Queensland, and all the Ministry can do to comfort us is to tell us that they are very sorry, but that it would be unconstitutional for them to suspend the duties upon fodder. If human beings were concerned, and men were starving, would they tell us that it would be unconstitutional for them to extend their help? Is a proper federal spirit being evinced, when we are told that, however, urgently some States may require consideration, it would not be just to other States to extend it to them ? We are now beginning to realize the price which we are called upon to pay for federation. If a starving man were standing at the door, and asking for food, what would the Ministry tell him1! They would say that he must wait until they had had an opportunity of considering his request. Then after keeping the poor hegger standing outside the door for a considerable time, they would come out again and say that they had considered the matter, but that, although they had plenty of food inside, they dare not give it to him, because it would be unconstitutional. The Minister representing the Prime Minister, in replying to a deputation recently in regard to the fodder duties said a number of very nice things, but gave them no satisfaction. That is the honorable gentleman’s strong point. He tells people what the Government would like to do, and what they would be willing to do if they could, but he does not say that they will do anything. We are told that there is plenty of fodder in Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, and I ask why these supplies are not sent up to Queensland and New South Wales at fair rates ? If the spirit which is now being displayed towards the northern States by their southern neighbours is all we can expect, the sooner we look after our own affairs the better. Now that the people of Western Queensland and New South Wales are down, the policy of the protectionists seems to be to keep them down, and the Government are afraid of offending their protectionist supporters. In my district they will not be able to buy enough timber to make coffins for themselves.
– The Queensland representatives urged that duties should be imposed upon timber.
– I am not speaking for my colleagues, but for myself. If I had my way nothing would be protected.
– Except bananas.
– I have already explained why I voted for a duty upon bananas, and I ought to be forgiven that one slip. I shall never make another. I have a patch of bananas, and I want them protected, because I cannot eat them all myself. I now appeal to the Minister for Trade and Customs to keep the promise which he made in connexion with the Customs Tariff Bill, and to show some regard for the interests of the consumer. The right honorable gentleman has promised to bring in a special Bill dealing with trusts and combinations, and I promise to give him a very lively time if the measure is not effective.
Mr. KINGSTON (South AustraliaMinister for Trade and Customs). - I am sorry that there should have been any misunderstanding between the honorable member for Maranoa and myself, or that the honorable member should have suggested that I had any intention of departing from the position I had previously assumed. I thought I had made it perfectly clear that the Government adhered in every respect to the promise they gave with reference to the introduction of the necessary legislation relating to trusts. ‘ The words I used were - “ The promise we gave holds good.” I can assure the honorable member that our present attitude does not differ in the slightest degree from that which we assumed when we were considering the matter before. We are thoroughly in favour of legislation to prevent combinations or trusts which unduly raise prices against the consumer. There is a great difference, however, between combinations for mutual cooperation in reference to trade matters generally, and trusts which have for their object the undue raising of prices to the consumers. We intend to recognise that in every possible way. We desire to encourage co-operation, but will legislate to prevent combinations which unduly increase prices. In these days we all advocate co-operation and collectivism. Individuals are helpless against the large combinations which exist. If prices are unduly raised against the consumer, then we can strike. We asked for that authority, but on account of constitutional considerations we had temporarily to withdraw the proposition, although we explained that our intention was to deal with the matter either this session or early in the next. I think that the honorable member for Maranoa will accept my assurance when I say, in the plainest possible terms, that that was our proposal, that w© adhere to it still, and will give effect to it in every proper case. But I ask honorable members not to jump at the conclusion that, because a combination exists, it will operate for some mischievous object. In every stage of life co-operation is the order of the day, and the individual is practically out of the running. I welcome combinations of every description which fairly protect the interests of those concerned. What about unionism? I thoroughly believe in unionism. I believe in combination on the part of employers as well as employes ; but, legally, producers and manufacturers have just as much right to combine as have the importers, and it is absolutely necessary that they should do so to protect their interests against the mighty trusts which exist elsewhere. What are the facts before us to-day? That certain individuals have combined. I say that, so far as their combination makes for their good and is in the interests of the community, I wish them well. So does the honorable member for Maranoa. The only difference between us is that he believes these combination will have the effect of unduly raising prices. I say that his statement is not proved.
– I will give the Minister proof in two minutes.
– When the proof is forthcoming it will be time enough for us to consider the matter. I cannot support the proposition that because a combine exists we should legislate against it. Ave we going to judge of the facts upon an ex-parte statement contained in a newspaper paragraph ? Surely not ! When an argument of that kind is advanced, I hold that the matter should be referred to an impartial tribunal ; and when the fact is established that a combination exists for the purpose of unduly raising prices to the consumer, we should act, but not till then. To condemn this trust unheard, on the strength of a paragraph in a newspaper, backed up, it may be, by similar information collated elsewhere, would be monstrously unjust ; and the Government will not act in that way. We adhere to the principle which we have laid down. We have no right to assume that combinations of the character suggested are intended to have a mischievous effect, and until it is proved that they have, we have no title to interfere with them.
– I was not present when the Minister for Trade and Customs made the observations to which the honorable member for Maranoa has objected, but since coming into the Chamber I have gathered the gist of the matter in dispute. In this connexion I am glad to say that a few days ago I met the representative agent of the saw-millers of Queensland, at Menzies’ Hotel. That was before anything in reference to the formation of this trust had appeared in the newspapers. He told me that a trust had been formed, and that its principal object was to secure a union of the sawmillers in different parts of Queensland for the purpose of endeavouring to obtain in the Victorian market a footing for Queensland timber, which it is intended shall be used in the manufacture of butter-boxes. He assured me that the primary object of the combination was to lower the existing prices. The trust is composed of thorough business men. I was very pleased to hear his statement. The Queensland saw-millers are determined that Victorians shall not complain that they are not making an effort to supply them with the best timber at the lowest possible price. In conclusion, let me say that the agent in question assured me that the Queensland saw-millers had already loaded a steamer with timber for the Victorian market, as an evidence of their determination to supply this State with the best timber at a decreased cost.
Mr. HENRY WILLIS (Robertson).It is very much to be regretted that the Government have been unable to afford some relief to the people of New South Wales and Queensland, by suspending the collection of the fodder duties during the continuance of the present unprecedented drought. The Attorney-General recently assured us that he sympathized with those who are suffering, and that everything within the power of the Ministry would be done to afford the relief which appeared to be necessary. But the inaction of the Government has satisfied me that they had very little intention of suspending the duties in question unless they had the approval of at least a majority of the States. I hold that the Commonwealth, having taken over the control of the Customs department, should be absolutely paramount as regards its administration. In Victoria we know that the legality of the Tariff has been tested, and that the decision of the Supreme Court is that it is not legally operative at the present time. The duties which prevail are those imposed under the State Tariffs, and only State laws can be brought into operation against offenders. That being so, there is no constitutional difficulty to prevent the Government acting. Had it been otherwise, would they have taken the trouble to ascertain what amount of produce was available in the various States ? I presume that their idea was to discover whether the States could supply their own requirements. Several of them have replied that they have a sufficient supply to meet the demand within their own borders. Of course if the duties were suspended, produce would be brought from other parts of the -world, and in all probability a reduction in the price of fodder would follow in those States where the drought has not been so severe as.it has in New South Wales and Queensland. That being so, it appears that the Government have acted in the interests of combines, and as a result have increased the price of fodder. It is very rarely indeed that we hear of a combine such as that referred to by the honorable member for Brisbane, whose object is to reduce prices. That is not the sort of combine which exists in South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria. Indeed, I believe that if a plebiscite of those States were taken, an overwhelming majority would declare itself in favour of the remission of the fodder duties throughout the Commonwealth. Yet the lame excuse is put forward by the Attorney-General that it is impossible to suspend these duties in one or two States without taking similar action in the whole of them. It seems to me that if the Prime Minister had been present he would not have allowed this matter to be shelved by his colleagues in the way it has been. According to an English constitutional authority, experience teaches that no Minister will act upon the advice of another Minister. AH consider themselves equal. The late Sir Henry Parkes has shown in his writings the pernicious effect exercised by the absence of a Prime Minister. I repeat that this matter would not have been so lightly treated had the Prime Minister been present. As there is no Federal Tariff legally in operation, there is nothing to prevent the Government from remitting the duties which are now being collected from persons who can ill afford to pay the increased cost of fodder resulting from the operation of those duties. ° It appears to me that the Government have merely made overtures to several protectionist Governments, and we know that the latter will always act in the interests of the organized body behind them. In South Australia we find that the Government are disinclined to agree to a remission of the duties, because it would mean that farmers who have some produce to sell there would have to accept a lower price for it. The Minister for Trade and Custom has worked himself into a billowy rage upon the question of the organization of combines, but if his virtuous wrath has any meaning he should act in this matter immediately.
Is there not an attempt to unduly raise the price of fodder to the people throughout New South Wales and Queensland, where stock are dying by tens of thousands ?
– Does the honorable member wish to stay here until Christmas ?
– I am prepared to stay here any length of time rather than see the people of New South Wales brought to a state of beggary through the impotence of the Government. This sort of position always arises when a Prime Minister is out of the way : and no Parliament in session should be left without its proper head. An “ Acting Prime Minister” is an impossibility ; and the Attorney-General has received no commission from the GovernorGeneral to act in that capacity. If a vote were given against the Government today, the Attorney-General has in his possession the resignation of the Prime Minister, and would hand it to the GovernorGeneral.
– I never heard a greater constitutional muddle.
– When I looked up the authorities on this point, I found that either the Attorney-General or others had been there before me. The motive prompting the Ministry in all this bungle is that of propping up a protective policy under which persons are able to extort higher prices from the needy and suffering of New South Wales and Queensland. This inaction on the’ part of the Government is having far-reaching effects throughout New South Wales. Copies of letters sent to the PostmasterGeneral have reached me, and from these I learn that people who carry the mails are abandoning their contracts owing to their inability to obtain food for their horses. It is shameful that the Government should have gone cap in hand and have bent the knee to the small States, in order to seek approval for an administrative act. Was not the idea that the Federal Government should be the paramount Government in all matters taken over under the Constitution % It seems to me that the Government will take no action until they find a combination in this House to remove them from their present position, on the ground of apathy, vacillation, and want of sympathy with the suffering settlers. This is a matter of life and death and it behoves the Government to look into it seriously and to take some definite action.
Mr. L. E. GROOM (Darling Downs).Honorable members opposite have assumed, without any reasons so far as I can see, that the whole of Queensland and New South Wales are asking for a remission of the duties on fodder.
– The only communications I have received are against the remission of the duties.
– Since this question was raised in a temperate and proper manner by the honorable member for Illawarra, I have taken the trouble to make inquiries : and I can say that Queensland, as a whole, is certainly not asking for a remission of the ‘duties. It is perfectly true that the Government in Queensland are asking, on the one hand, for a remission of the duties, or rather saying that they will consent to a remission, and on the other hand are, according to reports in the daily press, increasing the railway freights by 10 per cent. So far as Queensland, and particularly Darling Downs, is concerned, agricultural produce is not at famine prices. Prime chaff is selling at Darling Downs at £3 10s. per ton, and oaten hay at from £4-. 10s. to £5 per ton ; and I am assured that at the present time there are large stocks in that district. Owing to the long session honorable members are in the unfortunate position of not being <ible to make personal investigation, but I have done my best in order that I may be able to speak with some knowledge. I have ascertained that Darling Downs is not in the unfortunate position of having to import its produce from abroad, but that, on the contrary, there are large stocks capable of lasting a considerable time. In many letters I have received I am assured that the farmers, as a whole, have stocks in their possession, and they vigorously protest against any remission of the duties. Members of the Opposition have taunted the Government with want of sympathy, but I am sure every one sympathizes with those who are suffering from the present drought. No one can stand by and see our magnificent herds dying out without a natural feeling of sympathy.
– We want relief, not sympathy.
– But the relief asked for is practical relief, which could be adequately given by the States themselves. I prefer that the States, instead of asking for a remission of the duties, should afford relief out of the general taxation by giving free carriage on the railways.
Mr.- Page. - Freights are reduced now.
– There should be further reductions if the present rates do not afford sufficient relief. It would not be right to give relief by the remission of duties in any particular States. The constitutional position taken up by the Attorney-General I hold to be perfectly valid ; and his opinion, so far as we can gather, is that of the constitutional advisers of the various States, including the AttorneyGeneral of New , South Wales. It is perfectly true, as stated by the honorable member for Robertson, that a decision has been given by the Court to the effect that for the purposes of a prosecution, the Tariff is not in existence; but we know that, for the purpose of administration and the collection of duties, the resolutions adopted by this House have been acted on. It is a correct constitutional position that, where money is being collected throughout the Commonwealth’ for the purpose of revenue, a remission of duties shall not be made in one State which is not made in all. It is contended that, if there happens to be distress in any particular industry, there ought to be a remission of duties, in order to give relief. Let us assume that there was great distress amongst the working classes in Victoria owing to the land boom. Would it be right to come to this House and ask for a remission of duties on, say, sugar ?
– What would the people of Queensland say to such a proposal 1
– They would be quite satisfied.
– I am sure that the people of Queensland would not be quite satisfied. They would say, “ We are very sorry for your distress, and we are willing to allow the State to give every assistance possible ; but we ask that there shall be certainty in the Tariff, so that trade and commerce between citizen and citizen, and State and State - in other words, Australian trade an’d production - shall be protected and preserved from confusion.” The position taken up by the Attorney-General is a proper one; and had he proposed to make a remission of duties I should not have been able to follow him. It was proper for the
Attorney-General to make inquiries, but I sincerely hope the Government will not abandon their present position.
Mr. THOMSON (North Sydney).- The observations of honorable members, and the fact that the Attorney-General has not given any reply to previous complaints, cause me to offer some remarks on this question. The honorable member for Darling Downs has contended that under no circumstances whatever should duties be suspended in this newly-formed Australian federation. That is to say, that no national emergency, no case of loss of property on which the Commonwealth may depend largely for income, no case even of loss of human life - because if- the argument be good it must apply in that case - is the suspension of customs duties justifiable 1 In what country of the world is that argument indorsed ? In France, which is a protectionist country, the duties have been suspended in times of national emergency. When it was deemed necessary to suspend the breadstuff’s duties the French Government saw no reason to ask the different departments whether they approved of the step contemplated. The responsibility was taken by the Government, whatever the result might be, as it should have been taken by the Commonwealth Government. Do the German Government, when they see reason to suspend duties, appeal to every one of the States for assent ? No : the German Government take the responsibility of deciding that the emergency is sufficient justification, and act accordingly. Surely there is a national emergency in Australia at the present time. What injury is proposed to be done to the other States ? Some of the States have a certain amount of fodder for- sale. That produce has reached a high price, and under prevailing conditions of demand will continue at a high price. The farmers, if they have not sold their produce - though in most cases they have - will, under any circumstances, secure a profitable return which must be gratifying to them, and the dealers will also secure large prices. But by the continuance of the duties an artificial price is given to produce which limits the extent to which the starving stock of Australia can be saved. According to the figures of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs, chaff can be obtained in his constituency for £3 10s. a ton and oaten hay for £5 a ton.
– But the producers have to pay 30s. per ton to send their produce to market.
– If fodder is worth, on the average, £4 a ton, and there is an import duty upon it of £1 per ton, the remission of that duty would bring about a corresponding reduction in price, and if such a reduction in price were made 25 per cent, more sheep could be saved.
– But where would the farmers come in ?
– The farmers who have produce will, under any circumstances, be able to sell it at high prices. Even if the duties are remitted, prices will remain at a level .which will pay the farmers excellently who have not already sold to the dealers. We are asked to secure to speculators the profit for which they have speculated, despite the fact that by doing so we shall destroy a large portion of our flocks and herds,- which might otherwise be saved. After the Minister representing the Prime Minister had made his reply to the deputation which waited upon him, and it was seen that there was a movement afoot to effect the suspension of the fodder duties, prices drooped. That shows that the prices now ruling are largely speculative prices, and not the high prices naturally consequent upon a general scarcity. The Minister representing the Prime Minister might well inform us how matters really stand now. We are aware that he has seen fit to refuse to suspend the fodder duties - as a result of his reference to the States, a reference which should never have been made. But he made a proposition in this chamber that the States might, under arrangement with the Commonwealth, remit the duties, or refund an amount equivalent to them.
– Not quite that, but practically that.
– An arrangement to that effect. That the States might pay to those using fodder for starving stock an amount equivalent to the duty charged. I do not know whether, in the negotiations which have taken place between the Minister representing the Prime Minister and the representatives of the States chiefly concerned, the conclusion was come to that that cannot be dune, but if ‘ so we should be told about it. If that is not to be done, what other course is left to the States?
What has the honorable and learned gentleman asked the Governments of the States to consider? The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs says that the States should not charge for the carriage of fodder. In New South Wales, however, the freight upon fodder has been reduced to 2s. a ton, while the duty is £1 per ton, so that there, at any rate, it is the duty and not the freight which is of importance. The freight now being accepted by the Railway Commissioners in New South Wales is hardly more than the cost of loading and unloading. I should like to know from the Minister representing the Prime Minister what negotiations are now taking place between him and the States Governments ? In what direction is relief being sought? If he considers it impossibles for constitutional reasons, for an amount equivalent to the duty to be allowed by the States, and he has decided that the duties cannot be suspended by the Commonwealth, what relief is to be afforded 1 If no relief can be given, the owners of starving stock should be informed, so that they may face the situation. I wish to allude to another matter, broached by the honorable member for Maranoa, who said, in connexion with the effect of the timber duties, that there has been a combination to raise prices. The honorable member for Brisbane, however, has stated that the combination is to reduce prices, sothatQueensland may supply butterbox timber to Victoria. The duties upon timber make it possible for these things to happen. As was pointed out on a former occasion, an opportunity is given by the Tariff to a merchant previously carrying on the timber business to take advantage in his own market of the duties to increase his prices. If there is also a combination to reduce prices, and sell in Victoria, it shows that the duty upon butter-box timber is not absolutely necessary to enable the Queensland timber to enter the Victorian market.
– I think honorable members will admit that whenever I consider that there are legitimate grounds for criticising the actions of the Government I do not hesitate to criticise them. On the present occasion I consider that the Government have been subjected to very unfair criticism. It is only a few weeks since the question of imposing duties upon grain and fodder was under the consideration of the Committee of Ways and Means, and a very substantial majority then decided that duties should be imposed for the protection of the producers. Recently, however, a small section of the House has made a demand for the suspension or remission of those duties. The reasons advanced for that course of action are such as must obtain the sympathy of every rightthinking man. The unfortunate condition to which the pastoralists of some of the States have been reduced in consequence of the prolonged drought must call forth the sympathy of all.
– Not onlythe pastoralists, but people in every walk of life have suffered.
– But if the duties upon fodder were remitted, the’ consumers purchasing in the cities and central markets of the Commonwealth would benefit as largely as the pastoralists, and at the expense of the farmers. It is only in years of drought that the farmers receive any benefit from protective duties ; but the existence of these duties causes them in times of plenty to continue producing cheap supplies for Australia, and exporting the surplus. New South Wales is one of the finest States in the Commonwealth, and with reasonable encouragement could supply sufficient produce for the whole of Australia. Little Victoria, the cabbage-garden of Australia, because of its protective duties-
– And because of the rainfall with which Providence has blessed it.
– I admitthat Victoria has not as large an area of droughtstricken country as New South Wales has, but, on the other hand, New South Wales hasan area of country, as large as Victoria, which does not suffer considerably from drought. The districts within a reasonable distance of the coast of New South Wales could have supplied their own wants even in this year of drought if they had devoted the same attention to agriculture as we have done in Victoria. If the duties upon fodder were remitted, the farmers of Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia, who have been endeavouring to meet the wants of the Commonwealth, would not sow their crops next year, because they would know that the market would be inundated by the importations from other places.
– If stock were dying in Victoria at the rate at which they are dying in other States, the honorable member would vote for the remission of the duties.
– The northern districts of Victoria are suffering severely from the drought, but the people there do not ask for the remission of the duties, because they know that the effect would be to reduce supplies next season.What is to prevent the Governments of the States which are suffering from giving to those who require fodder an advantage equal to the advantage which would be gained by the remission of the duties ? They could, if they chose, free them from charges which are quite as high as the duties. They can remit the railway freights.
– They have already done so in New South Wales. They are charging only 2s. per ton for conveying fodder to Bourke, a distance of 500 miles.
– They could go even further if necessary and remit the freight altogether, and vote to the pastoralists a sum of money equal to the duties collected upon the fodder imported.
– The Attorney-General has not stated that they could do that.
– If they could not actually remit the duties, they could follow a course similar to that which has been adopted in Victoria over and over again. When the farmers have been reduced to a state of distress through drought, Parliament has voted sums of money for the purchase of seed-wheat, and where settlers have been burnt out by bush-fires, money has been voted to enable them to replace their homesteads. What is to prevent the Government of New South Wale’s from giving a subsidy to those persons who have to import fodder or grain for their starving stock 1 The subsidy might be equal in amount to the duties which are collected by the Commonwealth, and afterwards handed over to the State.
– The State should do all this,whilst the Commonwealth fleeces the people by means of the duties ?
– My honorable friend must not think that because he is a century behind the times, he can imbue other people with his old-fashioned ideas. We have all passed through the initial stage in which the honorable gentleman still lingers. How is it that New South Wales cannot supply her own wants, when little Victoria is able to do so, and to export a large surplus ? Because the Government of Victoria has had the good sense to give some encouragement to the farmers. I am satisfied, from communications which I have received from all parts of Victoria, that if the grain duties were remitted, it would have the effect of preventing thousands of acres from being sown with grain during the present season. This would not assist those honorable members who are advocating the interests of the stock-owners. They should devote their surplus energy to inducing the Governments of their respective States to give assistance to the unfortunate pastoralists who are suffering from drought. The remission of the duties would do more harm than good.
– I have never heard a more unreasonable or preposterous demand made upon Parliament than that now put forward by our free-trade friends. They are making another attempt to disgust the farmers with the policy of the Government. The honorable member for Gippsland has very truly said that this is a matter which lies entirely in the hands of the States Governments, and there need not have been any application made to this Parliament. If the Governments of the drought-stricken States had at once told their distressed stock-owners that they would make a rebate to the extent of the duty upon the fodder importedby them, the whole case might have been disposed of It would have been competent for the States to trace the imported fodder to its destination, and on ascertaining that it was actually used for the purpose of feeding starving stock, to allow a rebate equal to the amount of the duty. They could have followed exactly the same course as has been adopted in Victoria time and time again in assisting distressed settlers. When federation was being advocated, one inducement that was held out to the farmers was that under federation they would have the whole of Australia as a market. It was pointed out that in the drier regions of the north, into which they had not previously been able to send their produce, they would find a good and profitable market ; and it was upon this understanding that they supported the federal movement. Now we find that at the very first sign of drought a demand is made for the remission of the duties upon fodder. This is simply an attempt to make one class suffer at the expense of another - to rob the farmers in order that the wealthy pastoralists and’ a few financial corporations may derive a benefit. If we could trace the agitation for the suspension of fodder duties to its source we should probably find that it originated, not with the pastoralists, but with a number of speculators. I have heard the names of Messrs. J. P. Gray and Myles McRae mentioned as being at the bottom of the movement. Thefarmers would sufferin many ways from the remission of the duties, and I do not see why we should be called upon to take any measures which would prove of disadvantage to them. It has been claimed that this is a time of national crisis ; but I would point out that a year or two ago the price of wheat was1s. per bushel higher than at present, and that oats, bran, hay, and chaff were also more expensive than they are to-day. No demand was then made for the remission of the fodder duties. We are told by the honorable member for North Sydney that the retention of the duties will help large speculators. Supposing the honorable member were a produce dealer, and held large stocks of fodder, would he think it fair that his market should be swamped by large importations free of duty ?
– Yes, at a time of national crisis.
– I doubt whether the honorable member would take that view if he had large stocks of fodder which he had purchased at high prices. Assuming that the duties are remitted, will fodder be made one bit cheaper than it is now? Have we found that reductions in the Tariff have cheapened the cost of articles? Certainly not ! The whole effect of suspending the collection of these duties would be to absolutely dislocate trade in grain and fodder throughout Australia, to rob the farmers of the profits which they are fairly entitled to receive upon the stocks that they hold, and to spoil the coming harvest. If we reduce the duties there will be an influx of grain and fodder from other parts of the world which will simply swamp this market for the next twelve months. Crops will not be put in, and even if they are, the farmer will find that he has been robbed unduly of the market which he has a right to expect. If pastoralists and others who are suffering have any claim to be assisted, they should be helped by the States in which they are located, and which might allow a rebate to them of the amount that they pay in duty. If we are to assist them by remitting the fodder duties, we shall impose upon the farmers alone a burden which the whole country should be called upon to bear. I have seen it stated in the newspapers that large oversea stocks are coming to Australia, and that in Argentine and other places enormous shipments are only waiting till these duties have been remitted to flood our local markets. It is most unjust that the present demand should be made when the whole difficulty can be overcome by the States acting in the way I have indicated. In Victoria we have suffered a seven years’ drought. In the north of this State we are suffering as much as are the pastoralists in Queensland and New South Wales, and yet there has never been any such ad miserecordiam appeal as is made by some of the representatives of those States. A recurrence of the present lamentable condition of things can be prevented by paying more attention to the important question of the conservation of water. I can only commend the Government for the manner in which they have acted. Had they acted otherwise they would have inflicted a gross injustice upon the primary producers throughout the Commonwealth.
– I am surprised at the small-minded attitude taken up by representatives of Victoria upon this question of the proposed suspension of the fodder duties. When the States entered into federation no one expected that a pettifogging spirit - such as has been exhibited by representatives of Victoria today - would be manifested. I am profoundly disappointed at the inaction of the Federal Government in connexion with this matter. We. were told by the honorable member for Gippsland that there was not a representative of this State who did not sympathize deeply with those who are suffering from the effects of the existing drought. The Attorney-General also assured the most important deputation which has waited upon him since the accomplishment of federation of his personal sympathy. But what is the use of sympathy when such a disastrous state of affairs exists in Queensland and New South Wales ? It is not sympathy that we want, but action on the part of the Federal Government, who alone are in a position to take it. What is the use of honorable members opposite urging that this matter should be dealt with by the States ? I ask the Attorney-General if that is the constitutional view which he entertains of this question. He is silent. What was said by the honorable member for
Gippsland regarding the pastoral districts of New South Wales shows his absolute ignorance of this matter.
– I have business relations with more settlers in New South Wales than has the honorable member.
– I do not care what business relations the honorable member has. I do not wish to import unnecessary warmth into the debate, but the free-traders have been accused of bringing this question forward for purely party purposes. Yet we find the honorable member for New England, who is one of the most loyal Ministerial supporters, making a strong speech in favour of the suspension of the fodder duties. Leading representatives of the protectionists in New South Wales entertain a similar view. Where, then, is the evidence of any party move by freetraders in this Chamber? The honorable member for Echuca has told us that our action is prompted by a desire to disgust the farmers with the administration of the Commonwealth. There is no necessity for us to do that. The farmers are already disgusted with everything done by the Government in connexion with Tariff administration. In theIllawarra district we are importing tons of hay to keep our stock alive, and in the Camden and Picton districts, two of the most favoured spots in New South Wales, this agitation was started over two months ago. It is utter nonsense to allege that it has been originated in the interests of a few wealthy pastoralists. We know very well that the pastoralists have been struggling for years, and that atthe presenttimethegreat majority of them are in the hands of the banks and financial institutions. I am surprised at the statement of the Minister for Home Affairs, who loyally fought for New South Wales during the federal movement. The honorable gentleman declares that the people of that State do not desire the remission of the fodder duties, and that all the information which he has received is in the contrary direction. It is true that he did receivea telegram to that effect from Lockhart, in his electorate, the full text of which was published in the daily papers. But he has received no other information of the same character. Public opinion from one end of Queensland to the other, and throughout New South Wales, is unquestionably almost unanimously in favour of the suspension of these duties. Surely the Government betray absolute weakness in declining to take the law into their ownhands during a time of dire distress, in order to avert disaster to the biggest wealth-producing industry in our midst. Why should we wait upon the Governments of New South Wales or Queensland ? It is the duty of the Federal Government to look after matters of national concern, and they will be recreant to their trust if they do not immediately deal with this question. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs, who represents a very favoured portion of the country - although the newspaper reports do not indicate that there is much fodder available even in that district - saysthatthe States Governments should remit the railway freights upon fodder. But I would point out that the New South Wales railway authorities have already done everything that they possibly can in this connexion. At the present time they are carrying food for starving stock for 2s. per ton. I might also add that the Premier of Queensland has telegraphed to the Federal Government, declaring that in view of the deplorable condition of things in that State he is favorable to the suspension of these duties. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs declares that the people of Queensland are averse to that course being adopted. Whose testimony shall we credit - that of the honorable and learned member” for Darling Downs, or that of Mr. Philp, who is intimately acquainted with the conditions prevailing throughout the State of Queensland ? In order to test this matter, I desire to move that the total amount covered by this Bill be increased by £10,000. I do that to enable the Treasurer to refund the duties collected on fodder during the next three months.
– The honorable member will not be in order in making that motion. The message does notcover the increased amount proposed.
– Before we adjourned for lunch, I rose to reply to some remarks which had been made by the honorable and learned member forIllawarra ; and I wish to’ emphasize the fact that at the present moment there is not one member of the Opposition present. The honorable and learned member forIllawarra made statements which I think in his calmer moments he will see are absolutely devoid of fact. If he had known as much about the droughtstricken country as I unfortunately know- if he had known anything at all about the subject - he would not have made the remarks he did. It appeared to me very clearly this morning that the action taken by members of the Opposition was with a view to nothing else but having a fling at the Government. It is very easy to attempt to thrash the Government with any sort of stick ; and advantage of the position has been taken by, at any rate, a number of members of the Opposition to attempt to bring discredit upon Ministers. Many honorable members of the Opposition are, I know, earnest in the opinions they express, but the whole sum’ and substance of the cry they raise is “Remit the duties.” I hope to show that if a State wishes, in the interests of those who are suffering from drought, to do some real good, there are quicker and more effective methods than that of remitting the duties. In the first place, if honorable members refer to this morning’s newspapers they will see that the statements which have been made in regard to the quantity of fodder available in New Zealand are contradicted. It is stated by a commercial authority that in one large centre of that country there is not available the quantity of fodder which has been estimated.
– New Zealand is not the whole world.
– I have gone through the mill, and have had more than one experience of drought. If some honorable members, who have most loudly condemned the Government, had my personal knowledge of such a calamity they might have some reason to express an opinion as to the best mode of alleviating the distress. But what honorable members have said regarding the present drought is not absolutely correct. I do not think that this is the worst drought we’ have had in New South Wales.
– It is the worst that we have had in Queensland.
– That may be ; but it is not the worst experienced in New South Wales.-
– Does the honorable gentleman say that the picture is overdrawn ?
– The picture is overdrawn so far as regards the comparisons which have been made by honorable members. There was an occasion when the whole of the back country of New South
Wales was ruined by one year’s drought - when scarcely any stock survived.
– That was 60 years ago.
– Not so long ago as that, but it was some years since. Every one, whether in political or private life, must feel great regret and sorrow that this calamity has fallen on the community; and we all desire to do everything possible to alleviate the distress. But honorable members, and the people generally, must be reasonable and not expect impossibilities. If we were a State Parliament we should have only a particular State to consider, but the Commonwealth Parliament has to deal with the whole of Australia.
– This trouble affects the whole df Australia.
– The honorable member for Dalley was never in the back country and never experienced or saw a drought ; he speaks only from what he has read and not from what he knows.
– I have not a ton and a half of chaff I want to get rid of.
– Such a circumstance might influence the honorable member ; but my impression from his speeches is that he ha3 an immense quantity of “ chaff” to get rid of. The Government of New South Wales have done something already to aid those in distress, though I cannot speak from personal knowledge of any action on the part of the Government of Queensland. In New South Wales the freight on fodder for starving stock, carried from Sydney to the interior, has been reduced to 2s. per ton, and I have suggested that it should be carried for nothing, not only from Sydney, but from any place where it can be obtained.
– That is what the railways were really built for.
– I do not mean to say that the Railway Commissioners should be debited with the whole of the loss thus incurred. It would be a simple matter for the State Government to make a book entry or transfer a credit account to the Railway Commissioners for the sum which would have been realized under the ordinary charges. In this wa)’ the State only would be affected, and the balance-sheet of the Railway department would not suffer. I believe 300 or 400 tons of fodder per day are leaving Albury, and if the Government carried this free it would be a much quicker means of affording relief than would a remission of the duties.
– The New South Wales Railway Commissioners are already carrying fodder at 2s. per ton.
– Two shillings a ton freight is better than a duty of £1.
– The honorable member must not misconstrue my remark. If fodder were carried free from Albury to Nyngan or to Bourke, that would be better for the consumer by 3s. a ton than if the whole of the duties were remitted, the ordinary freight on fodder being 33s. per ton as against the duty of 30s.
– Why should the consumer not have the advantage of both ?
– A usual characteristic of the honorable member for New. England is fairness, and he will acknowledge that the Government must be reasonable. The Government of New South Wales can deal with this difficulty much more easily, and with less complication than can the Federal Government. In my opinion, neither the Commonwealth Government nor the States Governments should remit the duties. The Attorney-General of New South Wales, in the course of a newspaper interview, said that if the Tariff Bill were now law, the duties could not be remitted in the way proposed, but that the spirit of the Constitution might, under the present circumstances, be infringed to that extent. That would be a most dangerous step to take.
– Does the Minister representing the Prime Minister say that the States can remit duties ?
– The AttorneyGeneral of New South Wales expressed the opinion that I* have just stated, adding that the reason the spirit of the Constitution coil lcl be infringed was that there was no tribunal to which an appeal could be made - that because the High Court has not been constituted there can be an illegal act, and the spirit of the Constitution to that extent be nullified. But we ought to be in very great extremes before such a step is taken ; and every effort should be made by the States to deal with the question before appealing to the Federal Government.
– To deal with it in what way ?
– The States could carry produce free, and also carry starving stock free, or at very Tow rates, as,
I believe, is now being done. In addition, the States have large sums of money which they could appropriate in various ways to meet the emergency.
– Then the honorable gentleman believes that the Federal Government should not do anything.
– I shall not answer conundrums or catch questions. I know that the honorable member is only trying to do all the harm he can to myself and other representatives of New South Wales ; he does not know or care anything; about the starving stock.
– That is unworthy of the honorable gentleman.
– The honorablemember will use every weapon he can to injure me and those in New South Wales connected with me. The honorable gentleman who last spoke said that as a rule I am ready to assist New South Wales, but that he doesnot think that I am so on this occasion. When he has done as much for that Stateras I have done, he may be justified in speaking in that strain, but not before. I have always done what I could for New South Wales, but now that the Commonwealth has been established, it is my duty to do what Ican for it, keeping in view, of course, the interests of New South Wales, as well as those of the other States. The honorable member for Parramatta stated that within five years the number of sheep depasturedin New South Wales has decreased from 65,000,000 to 25,000,000. It is, however,, at least ten years since as many as 65,000,000* sheep were being depastured there. Eight, years ago the State lost 20,000,000 sheep, and we have never had more than about 40,000,000 since. The loss of stock which has taken place there this year is not so large as that which has taken place in other years. Our great loss occurred two or three years ago. No doubt, large numbers of sheep are dying at the present time, and any Government would desire to prevent that. But how can we give special terms to one State in the union against the protests of the other States ? Are we to have no stability in our legislation?
– Why did not the Government say this before, instead of finessing with the matter for weeks ?
– If a drought occurred in the Southern parts of the continent, would it be right to remit duties upon produce against the protests of the
Northern States ? Furthermore, the remission of these duties will not cheapen produce to the amount of one farthing. I made inquiries a short time ago as to the price at which oats could be obtained from New Zealand, and I was told by one of the largest importers of oats that the moment the price here went up to 3s. 4d., the duty would have no effect in keeping out New Zealand oats. Now the price has gone up to 3s. od. and 3s. 6d. There is not, however, a sufficient quantity of oats available in New Zealand to affect prices here. It has been said that the people of New South Wales as a whole are in favour of the remission of the duties. I did not know at first who are the men who have been moving in this connexion, but I know now that they are Mr. J. P. Gray and Mr. Myles McRae.
– Nothing of the sort. The movement began with a public meeting at Camden.
– Mr. McRae was in Melbourne yesterday, and he and Mr. Gray originated the whole movement. When I was leaving Sydney the other night, I was waited upon by people who wished to give me that information, and to tell me that the movement did not originate with the stock-owners of that State. The communications which I have received from New South Wales on this subject have been against the remission of the duty. The district of Lockhart, which has been sneeringly referred to,” is perhaps the largest farming district in Australia. In that district there are stacks of wheat lying at every shed along the railway line, and the holders cannot get 4s. a bushel for it. Although they are prepared to put it upon the trucks at that price, they cannot sell it. I could by telegram purchase an immense quantity of wheat at one or two centres in that district for 4s. per bushel. I have known wheat to be 5s. per bushel, and I know that on one occasion a farmer on the New South Wales western railway, beyond Dubbo, sold the whole of a crop of wheat from an area of 10,000 acres at 4s. 9d. per bushel. That was only three or four years ago.
– There was no duty upon wheat then.
– No. But there is a duty now, and the price is not so high as it was then. I have twice known wheat to be about 6d. per bushel dearer in New South Wales than it is to-day. Only the day before yesterday I received a letter from an acknowledged representative of the farmers in the Lockhart district protesting against the suggested remission of the duties. The farming area in which the district of Lockhart is situated extends from one end of New South Wales to the other, along the western slopes of the Dividing range.
– There is no produce to sell in the northern districts.
– The honorable member can ‘buy as much as he likes in the district I speak of. The other day I saw immense stocks of wheat at the railway stations at Culcairn, Henty, Yerong Creek, and The Rock. Nearly every railway shed was full of bags of wheat.
– The speculators bought up the wheat at 2s. 6d., and are now holding it. A great quantity is held by speculators at Wellington, New South Wales.
– Those who hold wheat there cannot sell it for more than 4s. or more than 4s. 3d. per bushel, if it can be bought in other parts of the State at 4s. per bushel, delivered on the trucks. The best way in which relief can be given will be b)’ reducing the railway freights. Wheat can be profitably imported from Canada, from the Argentine, and from other parts of the world at 4s. per bushel, notwithstanding the duty. I have known wheat imported from California to Sydney, and taken from there to Albury by train, to be sold at Albury for ls. lOd. per bushel. Wheat can be imported from almost any place at 4s. a bushel, and it will be imported if there is a demand for it.
-paterson. - Some of those who hold stocks will keep them too long.
– I hope that some of them may burn their fingers over the business. I am endeavouring to show that there is still a great deal of produce in the country. In the farming districts to which. I have referred they do not want to feed their stock, because the season has not been a bad one.
– Do not the duties keep up prices 1
– Not when prices go beyond a certain amount. The duty upon wheat is about lOd. per bushel, and when prices rise to about 4s. per bushel that duty will not keep out importations. Unless a quantity sufficiently large to swamp the whole Australian market can be imported suddenly, prices will not be affected. Even if the duties were taken off to-morrow it would be three weeks or a month before a shipment of produce could reach here from South America. ‘ The most effectual relief can be given by the State Governments by further reducing railway freights.
– The railway freight upon produce in New South Wales is now only 2s. per ton.
– Yes ; but the State Government have only recently reduced the rates there, and, if I am correctly informed, the 2s. per ton rate will not take effect before Monday next. If they can reduce the freight to 2s. per ton, why can they not take it off altogether? That will do the people more good than the remission of the duties. We should be very careful about removing duties, because, by removing them, we may cause a great deal of unrest, and a considerable dislocation of trade. The farmers who have written to me upon the subject point out that the effect of the remission of the duties will really be to help the millers, who will take advantage of the opportunity to increase their stocks at the expense of the farmers. I hope that reasonable counsels will prevail in this matter. The Government cannot, in the face of the replies which have been received from the States, take any action. If each of the States, through its Premier, had agreed to the remission of the duties, and the people did not object, there might be some reason for the Government taking action in the matter, but, as the majority of the States are strongly opposed to it, I do not think it would be justifiable for us to do so. I regret very much that this is the position of the Government. I should like, if it were possible, to give relief, because I know from past experience how great the pinch is. I do not think, however, that the remission of the duties would give relief, because there is not a large quantity of produce available in New Zealand. The New Zealand stocks have been greatly drained by the South African demand, and Australian stocks are also shorter than usual, because of the quantity of produce which we have sent away to South Africa to fill orders. This being the state of things, where can we send for supplies ? We could send to Canada, to California, to the Argentine, and to Chili, but it would, I think, take at least five weeks to bring anything from there. After the orders had been telegraphed, the produce would have to be purchased, brought down to the ports, and put on board the ships, and then there would be the voyage across: Even then the prices would not be lower than they are to-day.
– But the prices will no doubt increase within five weeks’ time.
– Perhaps so; but if the drought lasts for another five weeks it will not matter much whether prices go up or down.
– The drought will probably last till January in Queensland.
– I do not know about that. With the cold weather coming on, the poor stock, having no grass, will die in large numbers. All those that are going to die will probably perish . within the next five weeks.
– That will be the fault of the Ministry.
– It is all very well to say it is our fault, but any action this Government could take would not have prevented that. Honorable members and the public generally know that what I say is correct.
– No they do not; they know that the contrary is the case.
– The honorable member does not know anything about the matter, because he Has never had any experience. I want honorable members to look at this matter from a reasonable stand-point, and not to ask the Government to do that which is constitutionally impossible. It is not altogether a bad thing for the community that wheat should be 4s. per bushel. It does not affect the price of flour to any extent, and, therefore, does not raise the price of bread to the consumer. I will not enter into the question whether the drought in the north is a good thing for the farmers in the south, because a subject of this kind ought not to be considered on that basis.
– The man who sells considers it on that basis.
– And the man who buys very often injures the man who sells. Many farmers have been ruined because the consumers have been able to obtain their produce at prices which were far from profitable to the farmer. I am not suggesting that prices should be unreasonably high or low. I have shown that the prices of fodder, except, perhaps, lucerne hay, or the best classes of other kinds of hay, are not exceptionally high. Hay cannot be used for feeding stock which is far removed from the railways. It can be utilized only in the districts near the coast. In theIllawarra district the dairy farmers may use hay, because they have a railway line running right along the coast. But there is no drought in theIllawarra district, except by comparison with the good seasons which are usually experienced there.
– Over three months ago the dairy cattle were dying in the Picton and Camden districts.
– I know that dairy cattle will not stand drought like sheep. Hay cannot be used for feeding sheep in the worst of the drought-stricken districts, because the cost of carriage from the railway stations is too high. The stockowners, therefore, have to fall back upon wheat, oats, or corn. The price of oats is not as high as it has been, but it is high enough to allow of importation from New Zealand. The price of wheat is not as high as I have known it to be on two previous occasions since I have been in New South Wales. I cannot speak about corn, because I do not know the prices for which it has been previously sold. The State Governments of New South Wales and Queensland could, and should, do all that is required to assist those who are suffering from the effects of the drought. They have no responsibilities to any of the other States, and they are free to act as they may think best in the interests of their own people. The honorable member for Yarra asked me a question with reference to the regrading of public servants in Victoria in order to place them upon the same footing as that occupied by officers performing similar work in other States. The Public Service Commissioner has for warded to me the papers relating to this matter, and I also have the opinion of the Attorney - General. I cannot give any detailed information just now, but honorable members will be advised very shortly of the course that is likely to be adopted. The Public Service Commissioner and the Attorney-General are in agreement as to the interpretation of the Act.
– I am sorry to see such extreme heat generated in the discussion of such a subject as fodder. The Government are constitutionally wrong in the attitude they have taken up with regard to the States, and in assuming that our responsibilities are not as great as are those of the States Governments. The same people who sent us here elected the Premiers of the various States, and nothing should be done by this Government which would amount to a recognition of the dominance of State rights. There should be no appeal from the Federal Government or Parliament to the Governments of the States. We are told that if the majority of the States had expressed their approval of the suspension of the fodder duties, the Government would have taken action. But if this Parliament had decided that the fodder duties should be suspended, that should have settled the question. There should be no appeal from the whole to onesixth, because that is what an appeal from the Commonwealth to the States amounts to. I hope that the Government will never again be guilty of appealing from this House to the States. I am sorry to know that the idea that State rights are predominant still exists in many quarters, and I hope that we shall do all in our power to make it clear that the Federal Parliament is the sovereign power, and that the people have a right to look to us for assistance and support. I do not think the Premier of Tasmania represents the people of that State to the same extent that I do ; and if I am willing that the fodder duties should be suspended, the Premier of Tasmania will have no voice in the matter. I believe that a ring of speculators have gathered in most of the fodder supplies of Australia, and that they are trying to take advantage of the suffering squatters of New South Wales and Queensland. Only lately a gentleman told me that a friend of his would make enough money to retire from business if the drought lasted another two months. It is strange that whilst all other animals protect their kind, the human animal should jump on his fellow when he is down. There should be no difficulty about the suspension of the Constitution, if such a course were necessary to enable us to assist the distressed stock-owners of the Commonwealth. The Constitution has been suspended in Great Britain on more than one occasion to enable the Bank of England to dispense with specie payments. This was done in 1797. The United States Constitution has also been suspended in times of emergency. I trust that some sympathy will be exhibited towards the people of New South Wales and Queensland, whose stock is starving, and that this House will not become a Mexican bull ring or bear garden. We are a family of legislators, and whether we are rich or poor, strong or weak, we are all brothers, and ought to stand together. If a straight-out vote be taken upon the desirableness of suspending the collection of the fodder duties, I shall be found supporting the representatives of New South Wales.
– I think that the main cause of complaint on the part of those who are chiefly affected by this drought has reference to the tardy attempt which has been made to deal with this question. When the matter was first raised we received a very unsympathetic reply from the Minister for Trade and Customs. It was only when the AttorneyGeneral, represented the Prime Minister that any effort was made to grapple with it. I feel that the serious conditions which now prevail - more particularly in Queensland and New South Wales - affect the wellbeing of the Commonwealth so largely that people are justified in looking to the Federal Government - which should take the lead in matters of national concern - to do something to alleviate them. If the Ministry encounter a difficulty, that should not deter them from performing their duty. Very often difficulties can be removed. I have never held that the only way - or even the most desirable way - of dealing with this question, is by remitting the fodder duties. I think that the point raised by the Minister for Home Affairs in regard to granting free railway carriage to fodder is a practical one. To say that the Government cannot do anything when they are all powerful is to urge that which is untrue. The people who are chiefly affected by this drought may justly complain of the tardy attempts made by the Government to alleviate their distress. It is true that conferences have been held between a representative of the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government, and yet there is a great deal of doubt as to whether any definite action shall be taken. The Minister for Home Affairs has told us that the present drought is not the most severe one that New South Wales has experienced. I challenge the accuracy of that statement. I have heard the sworn testimony of people who have lived out west for a great many years - certainly for quite as long a period as the Minister has had any connexion with it - and who hold an absolutely different opinion. There is a record of a severer drought having occurred 60 years ago, and, so far as climatic conditions are concerned, there have since been droughts just as .severe ; but it is absolutely misleading to say that the present visitation is not the worst so far experienced, because we must consider its effects and not merely the number of points of rain registered within a few years. I venture to think that if the Minister were present he would agree that since the previous drought occurred the local conditions have entirely changed. When Australia was visited by the drought which is supposed to have been the severest within the memory of white man the country was neither populated nor stocked. When a similar calamity occurred at a later period it still supported a larger number of drought-resisting shrubs and plants which enabled the pastoralists to tide over their difficulties. Moreover, at that time the rabbits had not invaded the country. Although more provision has since been made for conserving water, the fact remains that the saltbush and other edible shrubs have practically been eaten out. The ability of the owners to carry their stock over a drought has, therefore, entirely disappeared. The sworn testimony of people resident in the western district, who gave evidence before a Royal commission some two years ago, is in direct contradiction to the statement of the Minister for Home Affairs, that the present is not the worst drought that Australia has experienced. What has made the present situation doubly serious is that during the last year the drought has extended right through the coastal districts of New South Wales and Queensland. The Victorian people do not understand what a drought means. At one time, the people on the borders of the western division were able to keep their stock alive by means of the edible bush : but now they have to adopt hand-feeding - a condition which was unheard of in connexion with previous droughts. Since they are compelled to adopt hand-feeding, the question of the supply of fodder naturally arises. I do not assert that the suspension of the fodder duties is the only way of dealing with this matter. We are told that their remission would not cheapen produce. If that be so, I do not understand why they were imposed. I was always under the impression that the object of levying duties was to give the local grower an increased price. I admit that the farmer has been sadly in need of a better price, and I am sorry to say that the middleman is deriving the benefit of the enhanced prices which now prevail. However, that is incidental to the conditions .under which we live.
– Who are the middlemen referred to 1 They are not in my district.
– They are well known. Some of the stocks which may be seen at the railway stations are owned by middlemen. If one goes up the Western line, he can see wheat which was sold by farmers for 2s. and 2s. 3d. per bushel, and which they are now buying back at 4s. 6d. per bushel. The middleman, therefore, is reaping the profit. I repeat that the suggestion of the Minister for Home Affairs that the New South Wales Government should carry fodder upon the railways free of cost is a practical one. The honorable gentleman himself stated that, if no change in present conditions occurs within a few weeks, stock must perish. I made a similar statement a little time ago. I hold that Australia can ill afford this loss, and I regret that an attempt has been made by the Minister to prove that the present condition of affairs is not so serious as has been represented. Although there may be a difference of opinion as to the method, which should be adopted to alleviate the existing distress, there is no difference amongst pastoralists, or those concerned, as to the serious nature of the situation. The present condition is the worst that Australia has ever had to face, and necessarily so, owing to the altered conditions to which I- have referred. Some good has been accomplished by bringing this matter forward. I only hope that the Government will do all that they can to avert losses being sustained by people who will be irretrievably ruined thereby.
– I have no desire to labour this question. I recognise that since it was discussed a few weeks ago a change has come over the views of honorable members. Upon that occasion very little sympathy was expressed with the present proposal. Now, however, we are receiving plenty of sympathy, though it is not backed up by action. The Government tell up that there is an overwhelming obstacle to remitting the existing duties. Therefore it appears extraordinary that the Minister for Home Affairs, in speaking of the difficulties which exist, should have told us that, had the State Premiers not objected, the position might have been different.
– What I said was that if some of the Premiers had not objected, the position would not have been so difficult as it is now,
– Do I understand that there would have been an attempt to do something in the way of remitting the duties, if certain gentlemen in Tasmania or South Australia had not raised objections ? A slight attempt has been made to raise a constitutional question, but I think the Government were perfectly right to get a friendly opinion from the various States as to the supply of fodder. I object, however, to a responsible Minister saying that the action of this Parliament, or of this Government, is to be controlled by the opinion of State Premiers.
– I do not think any Minister said that.
– But I understand that the position might have been different if the Premiers of the States had agreed. However that may be, the Minister for Home Affairs said that there was some attempt on the part of the Opposition to embarrass the Government. I should be sorry if such an attempt were made, and I certainly should not be accused of joining in it. It is somewhat significant and peculiar that the only demand for a reduction of the fodder duties comes from the Opposition, and that, with the exception of myself, no Government supporter has raised his voice in sympathy with that proposal. Am I to understand that there is no possibility of a remission of the duties in the present great crisis, simply because such a remission would affect farmers who hold stocks and want to exact outrageous prices ? I give no allegiance to any doctrine of the kind. I am quite in favour of duties under normal conditions, but in an extraordinary crisis like the present, I am of opinion that they should be remitted. At the same time I am willing to be what the Minister for Home Affairs has termed “reasonable.” The Government practically say- - “ We have given earnest and full consideration to this matter, and we are very sympathetic, but we cannot see our way to do anything.” I am willing to accept that statement and not argue the question much further. But supposing there was a shortage of wheat in Australia, would we not suspend the duty on flour in order that the people might obtain cheap food?
– Suppose the shortage were only in South Australia ?
– I am speaking of the Commonwealth as a whole, and the drought-stricken parts of South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland are the the greater portion of the Commonwealth. But much as I sympathize with those who require fodder, I do not see that the suspension of duties would result in an)great good. I do not think there is much fodder procurable from New South Wales, or that the pastoralists would import largely from California or South America. By the time the shipments arrived here we might be enjoying beneficial spring rains, and with such a risk, speculators would not send extensive orders. The whole difficulty can be successfully met by the action of the States which are most interested. If large quantities of fodder were brought from oversea to the port of Sydney, the New South Wales Government would receive the full amount of the duty; and the Government which thus derives the benefit of the duties should, in some fashion, arrange to repay them to the people who use the fodder. Such a course would be absolutely fair.
– The Federal Government imposed the duties, and should remit them.
– But the Government point out that State jealousies and other circumstances cause, great difficulties, which we must recognise.
– Does the honorable member think there would be much grain or fodder imported from the Argentine ?
– I do not think there would be a great quantity ; indeed, this is more a matter of sentiment than anything else with me. But the New South Wales Government could get information from the Commonwealth Government as to the amount of the duty collected on fodder during certain months, and could repay the money to the consumers through the Treasury.
– Ask the Attorney-General whether that would be constitutional.
– I do not require to ask, because I am pretty sure the Prime Minister or his representative has nothing to do with the action of the New South Wales Government. I am rather pained to find that, after all, a good deal of State jealousy is shown in this Chamber. Since I became a member, I have tried to the utmost of my power to take an Australian view, so much so that I have frequently been accused by some of my New South Wales friends of becoming Victorian. We- have had speeches to-day, notably that of the honorable member for Echuca, which smack very much of provincialism. That honorable member did not mean to be provincial, but his whole mind seemed to be directed to a small portion of Victoria, and perfectly oblivious of the immense area and importance of the rest of Australia. We did not hear of the “ bloated squatter,” but the honorable member spoke of the “ wealthy squatter,” although we should have to run about with a lantern to find a specimen of the latter: The large pastoralists have never approached this House or raised any agitation on this question, and many of them were absolutely ignorant of the last movement which took place in Sydney. In that city the very buses have had to cease running owing to the price of fodder, and every unfortunate cabman to whom I speak has complaints to make on the same score. The large squatters have always been accustomed to take their punishment in silence. It is the settler with, perhaps, 20,000 sheep, who suffers. If such a man attempts to keep those sheep on fodder, it means a duty of £l per ton on 10 tons per day.
– That is for hay.
– I am taking hay and chaff as a basis; and in 100 days that settler would pay in duty £1,000. I know of men who are thus feeding double the number of sheep. In an ordinary drought people might let the sheep die ; but if the present drought goes on much longer, it will be impossible even at prohibitive prices to find breeding ewes with which to make a fresh start. It is essential, at the risk of absolute ruin, to keep the breeding sheep alive. If the Government could see their way to remit the duties, which would bea proper and statesmanlike course, I should be glad to support them, but I do not think there is any need for any particular heat. The Attorney-General and his colleagues have devoted their attention to this matter and are sympathetic, and we must recognise the peculiar difficulties, the chief of which, no doubt, will be found in this House. If there were no other way out of the difficulty except by a remission of duties, I should be prepared to go to any extreme to gain that end ; but I” think that the most equitable solution of the question will be found in the plan which I have suggested.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).We had a very extraordinary speech from the Minister for Home Affairs. I can assure the honorable gentleman that I have no desire to politically kill him, nor do I know any one on this side of the chamber who has such a desire. He seemed to think that we were after him with a .tomahawk in order to dispose of him in his own electorate, although he told us that the feeling in New South Wales was altogether in favour of the duties. I do not see the possibility of mortally injuring any representative who feels himself so secure in the public opinion of his own State. When the lion ora bie gentleman had recovered breath, after hurling fierce expressions of indignation across the House, he expressed himself as indifferent to any attacks from this side, and went on his way. The honorable gentleman certainly made some strong statements, considering that he is a representative of New South Wales, and the only feeling I have is one of pity for his utter foolishness in allowing himself to be placed in such a position as that in which he appeared to-day. Why did he not allow the Attorney-General to make the statement that the Commonwealth would do nothing ? We have never had a whimper from him about this matter before. All wo have heard have been some abstract expressions of sympathy when he has visited Sydney from time to time. But now, after some weeks of finessing by the Minister representing the Prime Minister, the Government have left it to the Minister for Home Affairs to announce that, although the stock in New South Wales is perishing so fast that it is rapidly reaching the vanishing point, ‘ the duties upon fodder cannot be remitted, because some of the people in some of the other States object. We do not want mere expressions of sympathy when stock are dying by thousands, and even by millions. The honorable members for Echuca and Gippsland were very ready with their sympathy.
– I had not much to say in that strain.
– The honorable member for Gippsland said - “We all sympathize with you :” and he went on to tell us that if we had had protective duties we should have grown enough produce to meet our present necessities. That sentiment was cheered by the Minister representing the Prime Minister, but it reminded me of the sympathy of the man who went to visit a friend who had broken his leg, and who told him - “You fool, if you had looked where you were going, you would not have done it.”
– Would protection bring rain ?
– I have not had a crop of hay in eight years.
– The Minister for Home Affairs tells us that there has been no drought in the coastal districts of New South Wales. My electorate comprises the Nepean and the whole of the Hawkesbury Valley, and I know that there the crops have been an absolute and unqualified failure. In many cases they have not come through the ground at all. People have written to me to say that’ never before in the history of the district have they known such a drought. The honorable member for Echuca has accused us of sympathizing with a few wealthy squatters, and caring nothing’ for the interests of the great mass of the farmers.
– I said squatters and financial companies.
– No squatter or financial company has, so far as I know, communicated with any- honorable member on this side of the Chamber. All the letters which I have received upon the subject have been from struggling farmers. All those who are suffering in my electorate are small men, who are chiefly dependent for their livelihood, upon the cultivation of the soil. We are not asking for sympathy now ; we are asking for practical relief in the shape of hard cash. The Government have it in their power to grant us relief, but we have had only expressions of sympathy from them. The other night I told the Minister representing the Prime Minister that I suspected his honeyed words. I did not like his attitude ; there were too many fine words and too much indefiniteness in what he said. Therefore, I am not surprised that we have got nothing. The Government should have given us a definite statement long ago, and set the matter at rest. Now, however, the Minister for Home Affairs tells us that we must not expect any relief from them at this time of crisis.
– That announcement was made a week ago by me. I said then that it was not competent for the Government to remit the duties in two States only, and that it was not intended to remit them in all the States.
– The honorable and learned member has said since that he is negotiating with the New South Wales Government to see if anything can be done.
– To help them.
– To help them to help themselves ! The Commonwealth Government might remit the duties. If they cannot do that, because of the political pressure which has been brought to bear upon them, I do not see how they can help the States Governments to do anything. We have been told to-day by the Minister for Home Affairs that if the New South Wales Government would carry fodder free upon the railways, it would do more good than the remission of the duties. But, inasmuch as the freight upon fodder is only 2s. a ton, while the duty is £1 a ton, I do not see how that can be. According to the best authorities, the stock in New South Wales are upon the point of almost universal collapse. A little longer, and there will practically be no stock left in the State. That being the position, we ask the other States to extend their sympathy to New South Wales and to Queensland by remitting the duties upon produce. We have had a dozen contradictory statements from the other side during this debate. We have been told that if we remit the duties prices will be no lower. If that is so, why are the duties kept on? Honorable members know that the duties do increase prices, and that is why they are kept on. When the honorable member for Echuca was told that the speculators were making money out of this national calamity he defended them. He said, “ If you were a grain merchant, and had bought up large stocks from the farmers, you would not like to have your profits taken from you.” I never before heard such a cold-blooded statement in this House. We want the duties taken off, to compel these men to disgorge their stocks at reasonable prices.
– I have known prices to be 30 per cent higher than they are.
– The duties either make prices higher or they have no effect upon them. If they do not make prices higher, what harm can come from remitting them? We know, however, that they do increase prices. Honorable members who represent Victoria may get their constituents to believe fairy tales about the effect of the Tariff, but the people of New South Wales know from bitter experience that the duties have increased prices, and we know that the fodder duties in particular have done so. Then we were told that even if the duties were reduced, it would take several weeks to obtain supplies from countries like the Argentine. Our reply to that is, thatsince thematter was first mooted here, a vessel could have made two trips from the Argentine. For the last two months the people outside have been awaiting statements from Ministers, and now they find that their hopes were ill-founded, and that the Government will do nothing. The only reason alleged for this inaction is that if the duties are remitted it will mean an interference with people in the other States who have bought up stocks of produce, and are holding them to take further advantage of the calamity which Providence has visited upon their fellow citizens elsewhere.
– All commercial life is run upon that principle.
– Nothing of the kind. If thehonorable member’s statement is correct, is it the supreme duty of this national Parliament to intensify the evil ? I understood that it was our duty to ameliorate the condition of the people and not to intensify their sufferings. The honorable member belongs to a party that is struggling by means of legislation to make the lot of the masses of the people happier, and he must realize that it is no part of the duty of the Federal Parliament to intensify the evils which have resulted from the drought. We say that we want relief, and we are told that the Government can do nothing through the national channels, because they would interfere with a few speculators who have bought up the stocks of fodder, and are holding them in the hope of making fortunes out of the troubles of their fellow men.
Mr. WILKS (Dalley). - I wish to deny the statements which have been made by the Minister for Home Affairs, and by the honorable member for Echuca to the effect that the agitation for the suspension of the fodder duties originated with two Sydney speculators, namely, Mr. J. P. Gray and Mr. Myles McRae. These gentlemen neither originated the agitation, nor carried it on. About five weeks ago a public meeting was held in Sydney, and was attended mainly by protectionists and pastoralists from almost every district of New South Wales, and Messrs. Gray and McRae were appointed to make representations on their behalf to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, I was astonished so hear the Minister for Home Affairs speak as he did, in view of the fact that the principal speaker at that meeting was the present Minister of Lands in New South Wales, Mr. Crick, who is a strong protectionist, and an old colleague of the honorable gentleman. He expressed the opinion that the remission of the fodder duties would materially assist the stock owners of New South Wales. We find that it is not the speculators of New South Wales who are to be considered in this matter, but that faith is to be kept with the wheat and fodder speculators of Victoria at the expense of the whole of the people of the Commonwealth. The Minister for Home Affairs told me that I had no pastoralists or farmers in my electorate, and no starving stook to provide for, but unless the starving stock of New South Wales is saved, there will be many starving people in my electorate. Meat is already selling at such excessive prices that it is almost beyond the power of the working classes to purchase it. Therefore, the interests of my constituents are largely bound up* with those of the pastoralists. This question is one which concerns the whole Commonwealth, because, unless ‘ something is done to assist our pastoralists, a great deal of the wealth of Australia will pass away from us, and the whole community will suffer. The Ministry have the power to remit duties, and they should act in that direction irrespective of any constitutional objections that may be raised. The Government have dilly-dallied with this question, and are now attempting to cast their responsibilities upon the States ‘
Governments. If the spirit in which this matter has been received by the representatives of the southern States is to prevail, we should study our own interests in the future when we are asked to legislate for the benefit of the people of other States. I deny the statement of the Minister for Home Affairs that honorable members on this side of the House are seekingto do him a political injury. The. Minister said that he had done very well for New South Wales.
– And I shall continue to do so.
– I would remind the honorable gentleman that New South Wales has not treated him too badly, and I am sorry to see him acting as the mouthpiece of those who refuse to do what is right towards his own State. I believe the people of the southern States are in sympathy with those who are suffering from drought in New South Wales and Queensland, and that, despite what their Premiers have said, they would not oPpose the remission of the fodder duties. If we are te be placed at a disadvantage in order that a few people in the back-yard of Victoria may enjoy the full effects of a good season, we shall look in vain for any manifestation of a proper federal spirit in the future.
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).I quite agree with honorable members on the other side of the Chamber that this is not a provincial, but a national question. I do not agree with them, however, that the fodder duties should be suspended. We. imposed the duties upon fodder knowing that they would be effective only when there was a shortage of supplies somewhere.
– This is not anordinary shortage.
– The honorable member must see that the extent of the shortage does not affect the principle. There are many cases in which it would be to the advantage of certain sections of the people to have the duties upon certain products remitted, but there must be some finality in these matters.
– Our point is that the circumstances are exceptional.
– The circumstances are always exceptional in some place or other. The honorable member for New England has suggested that if there were a general collapse of the wheat harvest it would be necessary to remit the duty upon that grain. Suppose, however, that the failure of the wheat harvest was only partial, and that, for instance, the crops in South Austraia were so bad that there would be a shortage of the wheat necessary to supply local demands. Would it be reasonable for the people of that State to ask for the remission of the wheat duty in order that they might derive benefit?
– It would all depend upon how many people were affected.
– Not very long ago the potato crop in the south-eastern district of South Australia was a failure, and the same thing might occur again. In such ari event, would it be right for the people of that State to ask foi- a remission Of the duty upon potatoes 1 Then again, supposing that the sugar crop upon the Richmond River in New South Wales were a failure, would the people of that State be justified in asking us to remit the duty upon sugar? The suggestion is utterly ridiculous. What an injustice it would be to the cane-growers of the Richmond River district if the sugar duties were remitted on. account of a shortage of production in Queensland ! Honorable members should recollect that these States have federated, and that the Tariff question is now a national one, which must not be tinkered with, simply because any particular State is suffering and it would be to its interests to have the duties altered. It has been argued that because some of the smaller States will reap an advantage from the retention of the present duties, it is very wrong that those duties should be retained, when it is to the interests of two of the larger States that their collection should be suspended. After the remarks of the honorable member for Parramatta, it would be almost dangerous for me to sympathize with the unfortunate pastoralists who are experiencing such a bad time. But I may be permitted to point out that for eight or nine years past South Australian pastoralists have suffered from a severe drought. During that period they have practically lost all their sheep. South Australians have had to endure all kinds of natural calamities, and to grin and bear them as best they could. It would be useless for that State to ask any of the other States to shoulder her burden in that respect. Each State must bear its own burdens. -It is wisdom to view this matter in a purely national spirit, and not in the parochial spirit which has been exhibited.
Mr. MACDONALD-PATERSON (Brisbane). - What I desire to say is founded upon practical experience as a grazier of sheep and cattle - an experience of a big portion of Australia where I had the opportunity of observing the effects of droughts and floods for over 40 years. I do not hesitate to affirm that the present is the most general drought which has occurred in this continent since white man put his foot upon it. Even if we were to give pastoralists fodder for nothing, they would not be able to utilize it. In Queensland there is not a sheep worth saving beyond twenty miles of a railway station.
– Nonsense !
– I have an intimate knowledge of the conditions which exist - a knowledge which is gained from a daily correspondence with residents there. The honorable member must know that the great bulk of the sheep in Queensland are located a long way from any railway line, and that there is not a blade of grass between them and the stations where the fodder would be unloaded. Moreover, that fodder could not be carted to the starving stock for less than 7s. 6d/ per ton. When the Clermont rush was in progress, I well remember carting flour some 232 miles for £125 per ton. Is it possible for pastoralists to receive fodder free at any railway station, and to cart it out to their famished stock, and thus save them ? No ! I would further point out that along the tracks which it would be necessary to travel water is very scarce. No argument has been .forthcoming to induce the Government to violate the Constitution, by waiving the collection of duties upon fodder. This afternoon the honorable member for Darling, who is a thoroughly practical man, dealt with the different aspects of this question, and properly pointed out that the drought of 60 years ago was as nothing compared with the present visitation. There is a universality about the existing drought for which no parallel can be found in the history of Australia. Sixty years ago there was not the same quantity of stock in the country that there is to-day. Sixty years ago Queensland was not in existence, and Leichhardt had not started to open up the territory between the Condamine River and Port Essington. Only 35 years have elapsed since settlers began to open up Gippsland. The complete I absence of geographical and meteorological knowledge betrayed by honorable members respecting certain portions of Australia is an astonishing monument of ignorance. What, does one of the Gregorys, who has had a very large experience of exploration in Western Australia, say in the book which he has published ? In undertaking his second journey along the tracks of Leichhardt he could not find a blade of herbage at the head of the principal river for hundreds of miles. It is a desert to-day. I have a very great reverence for the memory of Leichhardt, and I possess a more intimate knowledge of his writings than I have of the Holy Scriptures. I am also familiar with the accounts given by Sir Thomas Mitchell and Kennedy, and I think that both those men did more for Australia than the Scriptures ever did, physically and geographical!)’. I am glad I have succeeded in distracting the attention of the House from the sad aspect of the fodder duties. It is very hard for me to be dragged into reflections upon the fate of Leichhardt, seeing that Australia has never been able to find even a stirrup-iron belonging to his party. It would be a good thing if we had in our schools all the records of our explorers, in order that the future men and women of this continent might be taught to understand, what Australia is and ever will be. My knowledge of it has taught me not to cross the ranges to occupy land as a pastoralist. What Mr. Gregory - who is a member of the Legislative Council of Queensland, and was originally the surveyorgeneral of that State - has said about the territories in the centre of Australia generally is as true to-day as it was when he wrote it. The normal condition of the greater part of this continent is one of drought. The special condition is that of rain.
– It is a good country to keep away from.
– Exactly. But the honorable member for Darling omitted to refer to one point, namely, the evil of overstocking. Even in country which the rabbits have not yet reached, it has done an immense amount of harm. This evil is the result of the ultra greed of those who desire to take a fortune out of the country in seven or fifteen years. It has been more disastrous to the fodder plants of Australia than the rabbits have ever been. Pastoralists should always look ahead and be prepared to shift their
I stock, whether they be stores or fat, when they can foresee trouble. With regard to the question of the suspension of the fodder duties, I would ask - “ Why did we federate 1 “ One of the arguments advanced by many honorable members of this Chamber, and by numerous candidates at the Federal elections, was that under federation, whenever a dearth of one commodity occurred in any State, the customs barriers having been removed, the other States would be able to supply the deficiency, and there would thus be a levelling - up of the market which would give us a wholesome extension of trade. I have yet to learn that there is a dearth of fodder in Australia ; and yet at the bidding of half-a-dozen or a score of agitators, we are asked to break and mangle the Constitution.
– Does the honorable member call the pastoralists and farmers of Queensland agitators 1
– PATERSON. - I do not mean- “agitators,” in the “labour” sense.
– Then in what sense ?
– PATERSON.- I mean agitators who have a scanty knowledge of political and trade economy.
Mr. FULLER (Illawarra).- In order to test the feeling of the committee, I move -
That the proposed vote be reduced by £i.
It has been said by the Minister for Home Affairs that there is no drought in the Illawarra electorate. As a matter of fact, the movement in favour of the suspension of the fodder duties was started at a meeting of legitimate farmers, representative of the drought-stricken districts of Camden and Picton, the centre of the dairying industry. It is of no use honorable ‘members saying that this movement is the work of halfadozen agitators.
– What is the object of the amendment ?
– To test the feeling of the committee as to whether or not the Government shall be instructed to suspend these duties. It is difficult to say whether a constitutional difficulty or pressure of supporters has caused the Government to assume their present attitude. From what we have seen of honorable members who represent the States, the Premiers of which have refused to sanction any suspension of the duties, it appears to me that it is political pressure rather than constitutional difficulty which stands in the way. It is of no use to contend that these duties are law. To become law they must pass not only this House, but the Senate ; and the duties are now being collected merely by Executive act. If the fodder duties can be imposed by Executive act, they can be removed by the same authority.
– In this particular instance I am not influenced by any importunate constituents, and can, therefore, speak with some degree of impartiality. The action of the Government in raising constitutional difficulties, and particularly the action of one member of the Government, is most extraordinary. The Minister for Home Affairs said that this movement had been got up by speculators and financial’ institutions. It is a singular commentary on the action and words of that gentleman, that the Government of which he was a member in 1S93, when the banks were in great danger in New South Wales, should have been the first to come to their assistance. When the whole fabric of commercialism was reeling to its fall, that Government never asked a question, but suspended the standing orders, and sent through both Houses in one night a measure to guarantee the banks in the hour of their difficulty. Now, the honorable gentleman, without any hesitation at all, takes the word of the Attorney-General, and declares that there are constitutional difficulties, and that the present movement is one fomented by speculators and financiers. Am I to believe that the honorable gentleman has so changed his opinions, that, from being the champion of the financial institutions in 1S90, he has become their most inveterate foe? I cannot, and will not, believe it. The honorable gentleman speaks of the interests of the States, and the interests of the poor farmers. But if, instead of millions of sheep dying to-day, thousands of men were dying, would he prate about the interests of the States, or the interests of the farmers 1 Would it not be to the interests of the farmers to sell wheat at 6s. a bushel to prevent people dying, just as it is now to their interest to sell chaff at 5s. 9d. and 6s. in order to keep our sheep alive 1 The fact is, the Government either know nothing, or care nothing about those major interests of the States, beside which the agricultural interests are infinitesimal. It is unfortunate that agriculture, as compared with pastoral pursuits, should be insignificant ; but if New South Wales and Queensland now lose the greater portion of their sheep, the whole of the community, whether they be agriculturists or artizans, must inevitably come to the ground. If we do not want another commercial and financial crisis, compared with which that of 1S93 will appear as nothing, we ought to do everything in our power to afford assistance under the present distressing circumstances. That the pastoralists are in the hands of the banks is nothing ; at least it is nothing new. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that of all the squatters on the Lachlan, the Macquarie, and the Bogan, the cheques of only a very few are signed in their own names. The signatures are chiefly those of the representatives of the New Zealand Loan and Mortgage Company, Goldsbrough Mort and Company, or other financial firms, and the squatters are merely puppets ; though they have laboured in and out of season, they havebeen reduced to the level of boundary riders. . All this has been known for years, and yet nothing has to be done to change the conditions. Now, when the welfare of the whole of the States is bound up with the pastoral industry, we are told that there is some constitutional difficulty. That is a paltry answer to give to the request which, has been made. If the Government said that the exigencies of Commonwealth finances., would not allow assistance to be given,, the answer might be understood. But thereis nothing in the way except the opinion of a lawyer, and I suppose that if wewanted a legal opinion of another kind, from another lawyer we could get it.. I only hope that the Government will see their way to do something more than express mere idle sympathy with the people of New South Wales and Queensland in theirwretched condition. Everybody knows - the Minister for Home Affairs knows perfectly well - that this duty is kept on forno other reason than to placate men who now hold stocks of grain and chaff.
– At this hour of the afternoon it will be necessary to detain honorable members only for a few minutes; but the extreme importance of the question prevents me from allowing this amendment to proceed at once to a vote. I shall to the utmost possible extent curtail the few observations I had intended to make. In the first place, honorable members forget, and those who support them outside ignore, the absolute difference in situation between those who sit on the Government side, and those who sit opposite in regard to this question. These duties, the remission of which is now proposed, were imposed by the vote of honorable membersn this side against the opopposition of members on the other side ; and consequently, when an occasion -arises on which a case can be made out, or even an occasion- on which no case can be made out, honorable members opposite are perfectly consistent in advocating the removal of duties, the imposition of which they exhausted every effort to prevent. Members of the Opposition therefore come forward in the line of their accepted policy, and, in a perfectly consistent manner, seize the opportunity which is presented to them now of endeavouring to obtain the freetrade they could not win on a consideration of the bare merits of their proposal. Consequently, while I am the last to complain either of the proposal now submitted, or -even of the manner in which it has been pressed, no one will dispute that the position of honorable members of the Opposition, who come forward in this way, differs in the highest degree from the attitude to be assumed by the Government, and by honorable members on the Government side, if the latter are to be equally consistent with their position and their principles. If that is remembered it will be seen that when the Government were challenged in this regard they did not say that which they might well have said, namely, - “We represent the majority, who have just imposed the duties, and are not the persons to whom such a request as this ought to be address’ed with any expectation of its being favourably considered.” But we stepped aside from that position and incurred risk and danger of misconstruction. We ran the risk of being accused of paltering with our principles in saying that we would inquire into the proposal on its merits - that we recognised that there was a real crisis over a considerable portion of the continent, and that we were prepared to consider the matter. And consideration with us meant more than a simple and empty form. It meant consideration as to whether we should not, in some degree at all events, retrace our steps or assist others to practically retrace those steps in the imposition of those duties which had been taken by the will of this House. Consequently it was no small responsibility we incurred. I have to add that grave and serious consideration as promised was given by the Government to the request made of them irrespective of their fiscal views. The whole situation was honestly and fairly inquired into. By means of our officers, we obtained from every State returns as to the prices, stocks, imports, prospects, and all other information which would enable us to ascertain the extent and intensity of the distress. The telegram which was addressed to the Premiers of the States has been publicly explained more than once, and yet to-day it has” been misinterpreted repeatedly. The States were not asked whether the Commonwealth Government should or should not remit the fodder duties. As was pointed out to the the deputation from New South Wales, that was not a question within the purview of the States. The Federal Parliament alone could determine it,, and on that matter we sought counsel from no one. What we did desire to know from the States was what steps they were taking to meet this grave emergency, so that their action might be assisted by the Commonwealth. At the some time, we were willing to receive any intimation they might choose to give us as to their opinions, not in regard to the remission of the duties considered from the fiscal point of view, but as to the extent to which the stoppage of the receipts from those duties would inconvenience them. Although, under the Constitution, only three-fourths of the Customs receipts are returned to the States, if any particular set of duties, such as the fodder duties, is singled out, it is plain that the expense of administering the Customs department would not be decreased by a farthing if they ceased to be collected. From that point of view, it is correct to say that the whole of the receipts from the fodder duties flow into the coffers of the States. Therefore, the remission of those duties is a -matter in regard to which the Commonwealth is financially disinterested, though the States are deeply interested. This being so, it was an act, nottates of courtesy, but of justice, that the States should be afforded an opportunity to say if they viewed with concern the loss of revenue which would follow upon the remission of these duties. Speaking for their States, the Premiers of New South Wales and Queensland went a little further than a reply to that question, and advocated the remission of the duties. The Commonwealth Government took their answer to imply that, so far as they were concerned, they would not object, because of the loss of revenue, to any action that the Commonwealth Government might think it necessary to take. Two of the other States registered, through their Governments, an absolute protest against any action which would occasion that loss of revenue. A fifth. State indicated, through its representative men, a similar opinion, and Western Australia, because of her peculiar position under the Constitution, refrained from sending a reply. Then the question came before the Cabinet for consideration. There was no constitutional difficulty, in the sense of a difficulty arising out of the Constitution, to prevent the remission of those duties throughout Australia.If we had resolved to remit them, several grave and serious problems in regard to procedure would have arisen, owing to the fact that, while the duties have been agreed to by both Houses of Parliament, they have not yet been assented to by the Crown. If we agreed to remit the duties - the path to be trodden would be an extremely narrow and difficult one - we were prepared to take all its risks. No such difficulties as those would have been allowed to stand in the way if the Government had come to the conclusion that in the interests of Australia, as a whole, we were called upon to take the extreme step of remitting the duties. But when we found that the drought, although a national disaster, did not seriously affect four of the States of the Commonwealth, we did not cast about to consider the effect of remitting the duties in regard to two States only, for the constitutional reason that this is a thing which cannot be done. Although the Commonwealth Parliament is empowered to impose taxation and to pass a Tariff, the Constitution specially provides that there must be no discrimination between the States -
The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one State, or any part thereof over another State, or any part thereof.
To have remitted customs duties in two of the States, and not in the other four, would have been to give a preference which would be absolutely and unquestionably unconstitutional.
– No one suggested that that should be done.
– We were asked to take what remedial measures we could. When it was found that the Commonwealth as a whole didnot require the suspension of these duties, the question arose : Why should not the whole Commonwealth be asked to consent to their remission in order that New South Wales and Queensland might import fodder without payment of duties ? The reasons against it were many. It was not merely that by remitting the duties throughout the Commonwealth the other four States would have lost the markets of New South Wales and Queensland, although that has been the only motive hitherto attributed to them, but that their own markets would also be thrown open to the importer. The four States in winch no drought exists, and in which the people are contented with the present state of things, were asked to throw open their markets, to dislocate their business operations, and to reduce the profits of their farmers, in order that the people of Queensland and New South Wales might obtain produce from abroad.
– But three-fourths of the stock of the Commonwealth are being carried in New South Wales and in Queensland.
– And half the population of the Commonwealth resides in those States.
– But in the other States there is a large population of farmers, who live by the growing of grain, and who, by the remission of the fodder duties, would not only have lost the New South Wales and Queensland markets - which, I believe, they would have been content to lose if it would have afforded relief to the people of those States - but would have seen their home markets invaded, and the operations of their millers, grain-dealers, and other business people dislocated, although no such severe drought exists within their borders.
– Does the honorable and learned gentleman argue that fodder would be imported into States which do not require it ?
– Yes, if it could be imported at prices below those at which the local fodder was being sold. If the duties had been remitted, importations from the Argentine, Chili, and other countries, whose economical conditions differ, widely from ours, would have been imported into our markets at prices below those which our own people are obtaining. Having ascertained that only two of the States wished for a remission of the duties, we took another step. The Government of New South Wales has shown itself most anxious and willing to meet the position, and the Attorney-General of that State did us the honour to visit Melbourne and discuss the matter with us. Although when he arrived he was of the opinion that the Commonwealth could and should take action, he came to the conclusion, after a full discussion upon the matters involved- - -and he has since given public expression to that opinion - that the Commonwealth could not legally take the action he desired. He admitted that any action that was taken in the two States concerned must be taken by the Governments of those States, but held the, opinion that the States Governments could not take action as effectively without the assistance of the Commonwealth Government as with our assistance. A variety of expedients were discussed whereby the Commonwealth Government might assist the States Governments in facing the situation. What was the difficulty to be met 1 The case presented to this Government was based upon the terrible situation of the owners of starving stock in New South Wales and Queensland. To-day is the first time when the needs of the carriers, cabmen, and other users of horses and cattle within the cities have been referred to. The desire originally was to relieve the pastoralists of the payment of duties upon fodder and grain. But, as I have pointed out, the benefit of those duties is reaped wholly by the States. What more natural, then, than for it to be suggested to the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland that they might employ the money thus obtained, or as much of it as they pleased, in giving relief to the owners of starving stock? This could be done without any remission of the duties and consequent dislocation of trade, and none of the people of the other States would suffer. The owners of starving stock who needed produce could obtain from the States Governments consideration equivalent to, or even more than, the extra cost involved by reason of the imposition of the duties.
– They would have to announce that before the produce would come in.
– Not necessarily. The honorable member, if he thinks for a moment, will see the distinction between the States and the Commonwealth. We have discussed with the Government of New South Wales, through its representatives, various expedients whereby relief can be afforded. So far they have not yet taken any action. It is not for me to detail ,the expedients which might be adopted by them. Our part in the matter is contingent upon the course they may pursue. We have assured them that whatever course they may think fit to adopt, weshall be happy to lend them any assistance in our power, because they expressed the view that in some expedients our assistance might be most material. I cannot proceed any further, because it is hot for me to criticise the proposed action of the States Governments. Having the receipts from these duties within their control, the manner of their disposal is a question entirely for the States Governments. It is not the Commonwealth that is benefiting at the expense of the owners of starving stock. Any gain that may be conferred will be derived by the revenues of Queensland and New South Wales. There is nothing to hinder the States from devoting the whole of the revenue they receive from the fodder duties, and other sums in addition, to the assistance of the owners of starving stock.
– Is there not a sufficient quantity of Australian fodder to supply Australian requirements ?
– I do not know. Some people say “ Yes,” and some say “ No.” On the one hand it is said that the interests of speculators will be served by retaining the duties, whilst, on the other hand, it is asserted that it will be to the interest of speculators if they are removed. I do not wish to enter into those questions, because I am not sufficiently acquainted with the facts. I do not desire to darken counsel. The Ministry entered upon the discussion of this question with perfectly open minds, and with a desire to do everything we possibly could ; but we found ourselves driven by the irresistible logic of facts, and by the necessities of the case, into the position of having to consider the interests of two States, and not those of the whole of the Commonwealth. As for political pressure, I do not know of any question of importance upon which less political pressure has been brought to bear than in this case. It was not until the last few days that I had any communications made to me upon this subject by honorable members on this side of the House, and then only, in one or two instances. “We have been left absolutely free, so far as political or any other influence is concerned. It is only within the last few days that the resolutions adverse to the proposal for the suspension of the fodder duties have been Rowing in. It was the irresistible logic of facts that forced us into the position of having to consider the interests of two States as against the others. What could be fairer than for the Commonwealth to say to the Governments of the suffering States - “We are handing over to you all the money derived from the duties upon fodder. We cannot remove them for you without removing them for every one else. You have as much knowledge as we have, and must take your own course. You must use your own expedients, and we shall be found willing to help you in every way v/e can.” I appeal to honorable members to consider this matter apart from party. There is no doubt that this question could be used for political purposes, and one or two honorable members have so- used it. I am not blaming them. Their fiction naturally flows from the attitude which the free-trade party have assumed. But we should consider this matter fairly from the practical as well as from the theoretical stand-point. Honorable members on this side of the Chamber have said - and we have reason to believe it to be true - that the benefits to be derived from the remission of the fodder duties have been over-estimated, and that the relief which would be given would come too late. What T am anxious, however, that the House should know is this : That it was the absolute logic of the position that forced us to look upon this matter as for the States, and not the Commonwealth ; and that the inaction of the Government has not been due to any want of desire to render the fullest possible assistance in its power.
Mr. THOMSON (North Sydney). - I should have accepted the explanation of the acting leader of the Government without any rejoinder, but for his attempt to impart- a party complexion to this matter. He said that it was quite natural that honorable members on this side of the House, who hold free -trade principles, after having failed during the Tariff discussion to destroy tho fodder duties, should seize any opportunity that might be presented for effecting their purpose in another way. The insinuation, therefore, is that we are imbued by our fiscal ideas in making this application. If any. such insinuation can be directed against honorable members on this side of tho Chamber, would it not be correct for us to say, with regard to honorable members opposite, that they were opposing the remission of the duties in order that they might maintain their political principles at all hazards. I deny that there is any ground for the insinuation against honorable members on this side, and I do not accuse tlie supporters of the Government of taking up that attitude. I cannot accuse them of doing.- so, because, included among the members of the deputation which urged the acting leader of the Government to remit these duties, were several pro- tectionists who had assisted the Government to impose them. That affords the best evidence that this is not a party question. Although some honorable members opposite may be influenced by party considerations after the views expressed by the acting leader of the Government, I am satisfied that there are many of them who, if they acted according to their own convictions, would vote in favour of the remission of the duties. I submit that the remission of the duties would not in any way affect the finances of the States which are not suffering from drought. Any duties collected will be derived by the importing States, and the revenues of the other States will not be in any way influenced. Similarly the markets of the non-importing States, would not be affected. I believe that the States which have objected to the remis sion of tho fodder, duties are doing injury to themselves. It is entirely opposed to their interests that the prices of live stock, and consequently food, should be largely increased. We know, however, that if the drought continues, and the losses of stock become more and more serious, the effect upon the local meat market will- be felt for two or three -years to come. It would be better for all concerned, therefore, if the fodder duties were remitted for a sufficient time to enable us to obtain supplies to meet immediate necessities. I do not suggest that our markets should be thrown open to the outside worldfor such a period as would permit of their being flooded with produce from abroad. The acting leader of the Government has told us that three of the States object to the remission of the fodder duties, whilst only two are applying for aid, but he forgets that the two States which are applying for aid represent more than half the population of Australia. Further than that, from all we can gather, the majority of the people in the dissenting States may be in favour of the remission of the duties. Any action on the part of the States in the direction of the refund of duties can prove beneficial only if an announcement is made by the States Governments that they intend to refund the duties so that arrangements may be made to import. Does not the Attorney-General see that from a constitutional stand-point this would be a very objectionable announcement ?
Mr.Deakin. - Yes, if it were put in that way. The States Governments cannot remit the duties.
– The Minister said that the States Governments could arrange for a remission of the duties, but unless some announcement of their intention in that direction were made, the importers of fodder would not be able to make their arrangements with any security. I have not acted in this matter in any party spirit. I quite agree that duties should not be remitted unless some very serious reason is advanced. It is not desirable to unduly ta mper with the Tariff, but it has frequently been found necessary to suspend duties which were working national injury. Such an occasion has arisen now, and I am sorry that the Federal Government have not seen their way to take the most natural course to afford relief. I hope that some steps may be taken by the States Governments, although Ithink they will meet with greater difficulties than would have assailed theFederal Government, in mitigating the evil effects of the disastrous drought which is now afflicting New South Wales and Queensland, and which will visit serious consequences upon every part of the Commonwealth.
Question - That the item be reduced by £1 - put. The committee divided.
Majority …. … 15
Question so resolved in the negative.
Resolution reported and adopted.
Resolved (on motion by Sir George Turner) -
That the standing orders be suspended in order to enable all steps to be taken to obtain supply and to pass a Supply Bill through all its stages without delay.
Bill presented and passed through all its stages without amendment.
Resolved (on motion by Mr. Deakin) -
That the House at its rising adjourn till Tues day next.
House adjourned at 4.55 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 June 1902, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1902/19020613_reps_1_10/>.