1st Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Report (No. 2) presented by Mr. Ewing, read by the Clerk, and adopted.
– I wish to know if the Prime Minister has received an - interim report respecting the Western Australian transcontinental railway, and, if so, whether it will be published?
– I yesterday laid upon the table two interim reports from the engineers’ engaged upon the work.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to make any definite statement as to the possibility of affording increased facilities for the transmission of telegraph messages between the Eastern States and Western Australia?
– I have conferred with the Postmaster-General and with the general manager of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company on the subject, and I think that an arrangement will be come to, whereby, by paying something more for the transmission of their telegrams by the cable instead of by the land line, the business people affected will be able to secure the facilities they require without prejudice to the revenue of any of the States concerned.
– Is that a temporary arrangement only?
– It is a temporary arrangement.
– What about the improvement of the line?
– That is a matter into which inquiry is being made, with a view to ascertaining whether the inconvenience which has arisen is due to the present position of the line, or to some other cause.
– I move-
That, as the Commonwealth ia undertaking the control of territory in New Guinea, with an exposed frontier of about 900 miles to German and Dutch territory, the Government should, in the opinion of this House, intimate to the Imperial authorities that it would be gratifying to the people of the Commonwealth if the Imperial Government availed themselves of any opportunity that might arise to secure, by exchange of territory or other peaceful means, Dutch and German New Guinea, or either, so as to lessen the danger to the peace of Australia through foreign powers controlling countries adjoining Commonwealth territory.
The object of this motion is to bring about the acquisition of the whole of New Guinea by Great Britain, and I think it is scarcely necessary for me to say much to commend it to the good sense of the House. Several honorable members who have spoken to me about it have expressed their approval of it, and I am sure that there are very few who will not at any rate favour the end which I have in view. No doubt some honorable members were not agreed as to the advisableness of the action which was taken by this Parliament in deciding to accept the control of British New Guinea, but now that that control has been undertaken by the Commonwealth, anything which cun bc done to further by peaceable means the vesting of the control of the whole island under one authority should, in my opinion, be undertaken. The position of affairs must be fairly well known to honorable members. New Guinea is at present controlled by three powers - Holland, Germany, and Britain. The territory under tlie control of the Netherlands Government forms the largest portion of the island, and embraces over 150.000 square miles, while Germany controls something like 70,000 square miles on the mainland, and about 20,000 square miles in the Bismarck Archipelago, which is virtually part of New Guinea. The British territory in New Guinea embraces about 90,000 square miles. The native population of the island is very considerable, but variously estimated, because it is almost impossible to arrive at a correct estimate of it. It is believed, however, that there are something like 350,000 natives in British New Guinea, about 115,000 in the German possessions on the mainland, and 200,000 in the Bismarck Archipelago, and about 200,000 in Dutch New Guinea. The white population in British New Guinea is about 500. The difficulties which the Commonwealth will have to face in administering our portion of New Guinea are, under the present circumstances, very considerable. The native tribes vary greatly in their manners and customs, and it is difficult for civilized races to properly understand their ideas, superstitions, and habits. But if the whole island were under one control, those difficulties would be no greater, because the problems which have to be dealt with in British New Guinea aro much the same as those which have to be dealt with in the German and Butch possessions.
Undoubtedly, however, one administration would be beneficial to both the native and the white populations, arid, in the interests of internal administration and good govern ment, it is desirable that the island should be under the control of one power Although we in this Parliament ure all representatives of the British race, I think it may bc said without egotism, that the control which would be productive of the best results, is that of the British, exercised through the Commonwealth. We know that Great Britain has been the most successful colonizing nation in the world. No other nation has spread itself over the globe as ours has, in India, in Africa, in Canada, in the United States, in South America, and in other places. It would, of course, be idle to deny that mistakes have been committed, and acts done by our people of which we have no reason to be proud, but taking everything into consideration, the British rule has been more successful, and more productive of good for humanity than that of any other nation which has attempted to colonize. Even in New Guinea to-day the benefits of British rule are observable when our operations there are compared with those of the Germans and the Sutch. We know that the administration of British Now Guinea has been virtually starved for tho want of sufficient revenue. Yet the results obtained there are undoubtedly more satisfactory than those which have been obtained in either German or Butch New Guinea. A recent visitor, writing of his experiences there, say-
At Meruke, the Government station for the southern division of Dutch New Guinea, £78,000 was spent there alone in eight months. In German New Guinea the cost of government is greater than in the British portion, and yet neither can show anything like the same amount of good solid work.
Therefore, in the interests of the internal administration, of the natives, of the European population, and of the development of the island generally, it is advisable that the whole of New Guinea should be under the control of one power and that that power should be Great Britain. ‘ Beyond these considerations there is a far more important reason why the Commonwealth should endeavour to obtain control of the whole of New Guinea. We shall have a territory in that island with a frontier of 900 miles to the; possessions of two foreign powers, Germany and Holland.
– Is not that frontier practically inaccessible?
– A great portion of it is, but some parts of it on both the Dutch and German border lines are accessible to the residents on each side. If relations became strained between the power3 controlling the island, international complications might be very easily brought about. There is always a risk of tribal raids from one territory to another, which might cause trouble of even alarming proportions. Besides that, there is the possibility of a valuable gold-field being discovered at any time. There is no doubt that valuable auriferous deposits exist in the island, and if a gold-field were discovered close to the border line, between British territory and that owned by Germany or Holland, it is easy to imagine that we might be dragged into a very serious quarrel. In connexion with the Klonclyke gold-field some trouble occurred between Canada and the United States owing to the difficulty of delimiting the territories under the control of the_ respective Governments, and that trouble was increased by reason of the high value given to the land in the locality by the discovery of gold. There is at present in New Guinea one gold-field situated at Gira, very close to the border of German New Guinea, and others may be discovered in the near future. There are also difficulties attendant upon the navigation of some of the rivers. For instance, the Fly River flows partly between the Dutch and British territory, and the navigation of that stream is free to the subjects of Holland and Britain alike, except as regards warlike stores, and no duty is imposed upon goods conveyed into the island by that route. Here we have another possible source of complications in the future.
– That is certain to lead to trouble.
– In addition to the matters mentioned, we have to consider that there is always a danger of Great Britain being engaged in war with one or other of the powers interested in New Guinea, and of our being called upon to defend that portion of our boundary line which would be open to attack. The proposal contained in the resolution I have brought forward is that the Commonwealth should approach the Imperial authorities with the suggestion that by an exchange of territory or other peaceful means, Great Britain’ should endeavour to acquire control over the whole island. It is not for this Parliament to suggest to Great Britain what territory should be given in exchange for the Dutch or German possessions in New Guinea, but any honorable member who has given the matter consideration must knowthat there is in Africa a large tract of land adjoining German territory which might form the subject of exchange, with great advantage, not merely to Great Britain, but to Germany.. In the desire for expansion which seems so general amongst the nations of the world, a preference is naturally shown to proceed upon the lines of the consolidation of territory rather than the possession of dominions scattered all over the globe. For instance, Russia has been endeavouring to gradually consolidate her territory by extending her annexations towards China, and in the direction of Turkey and Persia. Other Powers also recognise that the consolidation of their territory must tend to lessen the chance of friction between the nations, and thereby make for the continuance of peace. The strongest reasons that can be advanced to justify the action of the Commonwealth in approaching the Imperial authorities in this matter are contained in the history of New Guinea itself. The British Government have consistently ignored the advice offered by Australian statesmen ; otherwise we should not have been called upon to consider such a proposal as that now before the House. They have been urged over and over again to assume control of the whole island. As far back as 1874, the late Sir Henry Parkes, ‘who was then Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, through the Governor of that State, made what seemed to be almost an appeal to the Imperial authorities to undertake the control and colonization of New Guinea. The appeal was sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but was ignored, and, so far as Great Britain is concerned, nothing -was heard of New Guinea for many years. In 1883, however, a very important step was taken by Sir Thomas Mcllwraith, at that time Premier of Queensland. He undertook to annex New Guinea for reasons very clearly set forth. The first of these was -
That its possession would be of value to the Empire, and conduce especially to the peace and safety of Australia, the development of Australian trade, and the punishment of crime throughout the Pacific.
The second reason was -
That the establishment of a foreign power in the neighbourhood of Australia would be injurious to British and more particularly to Australian interests.
Sir Thomas Mcllwraith instructed Mr. Chester, who was then resident magistrate at Thursday Island, to proceed to New Guinea, aud take possession of the whole of the territory not then under the control of the Netherlands Government. Mr. Chester carried out his instructions by hoisting the British flag, and formally proclaiming British control over the whole of that portion of New Guinea now held by Great Britain and Germany. The circumstances were duly reported to the Imperial Government, with a request by the Queensland Government for approval of the action taken by them. In this, Queensland was supported by the other Australian Governments, exception being taken only to the proposal that New Guinea should be annexed to Queensland, the other Australian Governments considering that it should be taken over and administered by Great Britain. The Council of the Royal Colonial Institute also appealed to the Imperial authorities to indorse the action of Sir Thomas Mcllwraith, but the British Government seemed strongly averse to doing anything of the kind, and after the negotiations had proceeded for some time they sent a despatch to the Queensland Government to the effect that Sir Thomas Mcllwraith^ action was unwarranted, and could not receive Imperial sanction. That action on the part of the British authorities, I think it will be generally admitted, was a great blunder. They utterly failed to foresee the value of acquiring as much of New Guinea as they possibly could. In the following year, 1884, they made a rather feeble attempt to retrieve their error by despatching some war ships to the southern coast of New Guinea, and formally proclaiming a protectorate over that portion of the island, thus leaving quite unprotected the territory which was subsequently acquired by another power. A month later, Germany despatched some vessels to the northern coast of New Guinea, hoisted the national flag, and took possession of that part of it which now comes within the sphere of German influence. In 1S87, “a colonial conference was held in London, at which the question of the control of New Guinea was considered. The Australian people, through their representatives, evinced dissatisfaction with the position occupied by Great Britain in that island. They endeavoured to induce the Imperial authorities to take possession of that portion of New Guinea which was then a British protectorate, and the representative of Queensland guaranteed the payment of £15,000 annually towards the expenses of its administration. But although that amount was guaranteed by Queeusland, New South “Wales and Victoria each pledged themselves to contribute £5,000 annually towards its payment, so that the expense of administering the affairs of British New Guinea was .equally shared by Queensland, New South ‘ Wales, and Victoria. Subsequent to the arrangement which was made between the Australian authorities and the British Government, the latter formally annexed what is now known as British New Guinea. In taking possession of the portion of the island which is at present occupied by Germany, that nation undoubtedly acted in contravention of an agreement which at the time existed between itself and Great Britain. That understanding was to the effect, that neither nation should take any step involving annexation of the still unoccupied portions of New Guinea without first opening up diplomatic negotiations on the question, but notwithstanding this agreement the Germans acted secretly. Strange as it may seem, no successful protest was made on behalf of the British authorities, but two years later the Imperial Government recognised the action of Germany by arranging that the boundaries between British and German New Guinea should be defined. In all that has been done in connexion with British New Guinea, the Imperial authorities have acted in defiance of the wishes of Australia. In the first place, when the late Sir Henry Parkes desired that the island should be colonized by Great Britain, his .advice was ignored. Later on, when Sir Thomas Mcllwraith recommended that New Guinea or such portion of it as had been annexed by Queensland should, belong to Britain, the Imperial authorities, in defiance of the wishes of the Australian Governments, repudiated the action of the Queensland authorities. A year later the British Government proclaimed a protectorate over the southern portion of the island instead of the whole of it which was not then under the control of a foreign power.
– The Germans did not touch New Guinea till Great Britain had proclaimed a protectorate over the southern portion of it.
– The Germans proclaimed a protectorate over the northern portion- of the island a month after similar action had been taken by Great Britain in regard to the southern portion.
– ;When was the understanding made between Germany and Great Britain to which the honorable member has referred ?
– I do not know the date, but it is generally admitted by those who are in a position to offer an opinion upon the matter that the action .of Germany was in defiance of an express understanding with .Great Britain. Under these circumstances, I think that if such a resolution as I have submitted were adopted by this Parliament, it might receive more attention at the hands of the Imperial authorities than have previous representations from Australia concerning the annexation of New Guinea. Possibly it may be urged that the motion goes too far in suggesting an exchange of territory. But if we cannot obtain the object of the resolution - in other words, if we cannot secure either an exchange of territory or the control of the whole of New Guinea - we ought to endeavour to obtain the next best thing, namely, a preemption over German and Dutch New Guinea, or either. That is to say, if either Germany or Holland desires to part with the territory at present occupied by them in New Guinea, the British Government should receive the first offer of acquiring it. That is a common arrangement between nations, and possibly some agreement of the kind might be arrived at.
– I do not intend, like the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, to traverse the ground of what may have been past mistakes with reference to the acquisition of territory in the Pacific. Many of us, no doubt, entertain decided opinions that not only in the case of New Guinea, but in that of other portions of the Pacific, timely action in the past might have secured for the Empire territories which are valuable to-day either in a commercial sense or in the sense of being strategic positions by the possession of which its defence against aggression might be facilitated. But I have to appeal to my honorable friend opposite not to press this motion for reasons which I will give, although I must confess that I am hampered in giving them. In this connexion I desire to say that in confidential correspondence which cannot - at any rate for the present - be laid before Parliament, the Government, since its assumption of office, have been untiring in urging the interests of the Commonwealth in the Pacific. It would please me very much if I were able, beyond giving my mere assurance, to lay before honorable members the evidences of that fact, because it would put an end to many complaints, which the confidential nature of that correspondence forbids me to answer. At the same time, thehonorable member may rely that the Commonwealth Government are not asleep in regard to this important matter. I share the opinion that in 1883, when Mr. Chester made, perhaps, an irregular and technically informal annexation of New Guinea on behalf of the Queensland Government, it might have been well if the Government of the United Kingdom of that day had recognised the aspirations cherished by that State, which, as there is plenty of evidence to show, were shared in common by the rest of Australia. At the Conference which was held upon the subject of the control of British New Guinea at the beginning of 1883, and at which, it will be remembered, resolutions were adopted which led to theformal constitution of the Federal Council of Australia - a3 honorable members who choose to look up its proceedings and to read the papers placed before it will see - the position was clearly put before the British Government of the day. To that extent I am wholly with the honorable member, and the evidence which is available demonstrates that fact. But, speaking with all respect, it is true that the Minister, who was then at the head of the Colonial office, did not fully appreciate the importance of the acquisition of the territory which was suggested. Had he done so an annexation or a protectorate having due international force would then have taken place, and the question now under discussion would never have arisen. Unhappily that was not to be. But the honorable member may rely that any objection which I have to this motion being proceeded with does not arise from want of sympathy with him, but from reasons connected with what I have already put before the House, and which I think will be sufficiently apparent to obviate any necessity on 1113’ part to make a fuller explanation. Of course we must recognise one great fact, that in urging the Imperial Government to acquire further territory in the Pacific, we are to a certain extent accepting a heavy responsibility for ourselves. The result of annexation in the case - of British New Guinea has been already to lay upon us a “burden of £20,000 a year. -That, however, Is only £5,000 per annum more than the sum which the three States originally concerned, were paying prior to Federation. Should other annexations occur, they will probably not be made except upon the terms that, whatever burden may be undertaken by the Empire in respect of acquiring any territory that it might, be possible within reason to acquire, the Commonwealth shall undertake the cost of .administration. If the British Government, for instance, went so far as to saddle the Imperial funds with the acquisition of any greater portion of New Guinea than is already possessed by the Empire, the responsibility, and the responsibility for all time, of managing and paying for the management of the land so acquired would no doubt fall upon the Commonwealth, especially if such steps were taken at our instance. Therefore, I desire that honorable members who advocate these matters, as to which I, myself, am fairly keen, shall remember that when these acquisitions of territory are made we must look forward to the undertaking of a serious monetary responsibility on the part of the Commonwealth, and that the monetary responsibility will represent new expenditure, no matter what portion of the Commonwealth may be contiguous to the territory so annexed, and most benefited by the acquisition of it. But this is by the way. I rose specially for the purpose of suggesting to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie that, the matter having been brought fully before the House, it is desirable, even in the interests of the view that he holds and the purpose he favours, that nothing should be put on record in regard to it as the deliberate determination of this Parliament. The position in respect of these affairs should be allowed to remain as at present, upon the assurance of the Government that so far from being neglected, they are being dealt with in the best interests of the Commonwealth.
Mr. KIRWAN (Kalgoorlie). - In deference to the suggestion made’ by the Prime
Minister, I beg leave to withdraw my motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
– I move -
That the report of the Select Committee 011 Commonwealth Coinage brought up, and ordered by this House to be printed, on 4th April, 1902, be now adopted.
I think I may be excused for entertaining the belief that this subject is a very important one, and the hope that the House will approach its consideration with some determination to come to a conclusion upon it. To me it is a very practical matter. It is one in which I have taken a personal interest for some time, and I have the further, excuse for the idea of its importance which I entertain, that the question of decimal coinage has been favorably considered for many 3’ears in the old country by business people of all shades of political opinion, by philosophers, and by publicists. Although the difficulties of making the desired change there have been so great, and the time of the Legislature has been so much occupied with other questions which demand its attention much more than do social and business reforms, it is generally acknowledged that there is a vast preponderance of opinion in the United Kingdom in favour of that change. The report to which we are inviting the attention of the House, proposes now to make a saving of some £35,000 per annum to the people of the Commonwealth, and, in doing so, to introduce a reform which, in itself, I believe will ultimately mean a saving of over £1,000,000 to the States and the people of this Federation. It will also be the means of facilitating the introduction of a still greater reform, which will yield even more beneficial results in the economical working of both the private and public affairs of the nation. I shall endeavour to prove that the adoption of the reform recommended by the Committee in regard to the money of the Commonwealth, would very much assist the acceptance of a similar reform in the mother country. The “inquiry which was made by the order of this House was one of the most impartial with which I have ever had to do, or of which I have ever read. In the first place, the honorable members to whom it was intrusted held opinions which at the time were totally unknown to each other. The House had only recently assembled, and it was impossible to arrive at any conclusion as to the views held by honorable members on such an abstruse subject as decimal coinage. The Committee was brought together in an almost haphazard fashion. It included some who had taken great interest in the question, and others who, while interested in it, had admittedly failed to give the subject any consideration. Having gone into it, however, it was found that the subject was a very engrossing one. I believe I am perfectly correct in saying that the whole of the members of the Committee became interested in it, and interested in the very best possible way. They became imbued with the desire to arrive at the truth of the matter, and to decide it in the best interests of the Commonwealth. 1 regret that the overtures which I made at the outset of the inquiry to secure the Treasurer as a member of the Committee did not meet with success. It had not been the practice in Victoria for Ministers of the State to take part in these inquiries, and for that reason the right honorable gentleman did not consider that he should become a member of it. In other States, however, Ministers take part in inquiries of this kind, and I am quite sure that if we had had the assistance of the Treasurer it would have vastly helped us in bringing up our report, and assisted us probably in carrying this matter to a legislative conclusion. I was hopeful that there would have been some reference to this subject in His Excellency the Governor-General’s speech. Although the matter had not been dealt with in any way by the Government or in this House, it was suppos’ed that the keen outlook which the Treasurer has always maintained - both in State and Federal politics - for possible means of effecting savings would induce to regard this question in a practical way, I therefore thought it was extremely probable that we should have some intimation in the Governor-General’s speech that the subject would be considered in some definite form by this House during the present session. We did not have the assistance of the right honorable gentleman in pursuing our inquiry, but I am perfectly sure that we shall receive from him that valuable help which his knowledge and position will enable him to give us in our endeavour to obtain from it some result which, if not in the full direction contemplated, will be attended, at all events, with profit to the community, and assist in introducing the .decimal system. The evidence obtained by the Committee, and the report based upon it, were secured in the most impartial manner that the members could devise. So far as I know, not one case occurred in which evidence was invited from men who were known to take a strong view either on one side or the other. It is a peculiar circumstance that in every case in which evidence was invited we did not, in the first instance, know the view which would be expressed by the witness. In most cases requests to give evidence were sent to the holders of offices, and not to persons - to associations rather than to individuals. We endeavoured, as far as we could, to obtain the opinions of people who, by reason of their position, were qualified to speak of the opinion of the community. There were many difficulties in the way of obtaining the opinions of some of these representative bodies, by whom we desired to be guided. For instance, when we applied to the Chamber of Commerce in the capital of one of the large States to place their views before us, we were met by the fact that the Chamber was probably divided in its opinions, or had not had an opportunity of discussing the matter so as to come to a decision as to the views that should be advanced before the Committee. Consequently we experienced considerable difficulty in securing the attendance of representatives of these bodies, from whom I must confess the Legislature should look for some light and leading in this matter. We had replies, however, from many of these bodies, and on the whole, as I shall be able to prove, by an analysis of the evidence, they were decidedly in favour of the adoption of the decimal system of coinage for the Commonwealth. The question of the currency, we must admit, was practically a new subject in the politics of Australia when taken up by the Committee. Still it was not altogether new. We had some trouble in regard to currency in the early days of the colonies, but it was not o£ such a nature that its history would assist us. It was a subject which necessarily had slept here for many years, because our currency was provided for us by the Imperial Government, and was satisfactory within the limits of its system. The whole question had never been a matter for legislative consideration, or one to which politicians had devoted more than a passing thought. Consequently we met with a very great confusion of ideas respecting the subject of the inquiry. As soon as it was said that we should consider the question of a Commonwealth coinage, many people went to the absurd length of attributing to the proposal another desire on the part of Australians to “ cut the painter.” That is a most ridiculous way of looking at the matter, but no doubt such opinions did exist. There were some slow conservative minds who looked upon the fact that the Commonwealth was considering the question of establishing a coinage of its own as suggesting some means of setting up a free and independent existence. Further than that, we were met with applications from persons whom, with no desire to say anything derogatory of them, I must describe as “ cranks.” We had applications from silver men, bi-metallists, and men believing in some form or other of State banks or paper money. We had to carefully steer clear of some of these idiosyncrasies, or the Committee would have been deluged with them. If anything of the kind did obtrude itself, we endeavoured to keep it out as much as we could, and there is very little evidence of it in our report. If we analyze the evidence we shall find that there is a preponderating body of fact and opinion sustaining the report. I chiefly value the opinions of the foreign residents of the Commonwealth, and I desire to call attention to the views expressed by some of them. These gentlemen - mostly foreign Consuls living in our midst - are not only practically acquainted with the decimal systems of currency which prevail in their own countries, but as merchants here have an intimate knowledge of the British system, and they have unanimously expressed the opinion that the Commonwealth should adopt the decimal system as the best on economic grounds, and as a forward movement in every respect. I will briefly quote the views of some of them, to show the tendency of their opinions upon the subject. Mr. Orlando Baker, the Consul for the United States, who resides in Sydney, concluded his evidence by saying -
If the world be progressive, it seems to me that it is only a mutter of time when all nations will adopt the decimal system for counting money ; and if Australia would maintain her reputation as a leader in progress, I think she will throw off the pounds, shillings, and pence system, and adopt a currency based upon the decimal system
Monsieur G. Biard D’Aunet, Consul-General for France, said -
The Government of the Commonwealth could make a trial in this direction, and if the experiment succeeds, which appears probable, it would open the way to the reform of the British monetary system, which is desired in the general interests of international commerce.
Monsieur W. L. Bosschart, Consul-General for the Netherlands, replied to the question whether he thought the decimalization of money should precede the decimalization o weights and measures -
Yes. The two changes would really mean only one change of system, the blessing’s and boons of which would soon be recognised. I most sincerely recommend them for the good of Australia.
Mr. Stanford, Vice Consul for the United States, residing in Melbourne, gave a description of the benefits of the decimal system. He said that the change is one which could be initiated at any moment without inconvenience, and would have no disturbing effect upon our trading relations with Great Britain. One gentleman, a merchant in the city, whose name I do not now recall, told the Committee that he was in Australia when the Austrian system .of coinage, which was a heterogeneous one like our own, was changed to a decimal system. He said that there was a little friction at first, which lasted for a few months, but that after that time no one felt any great inconvenience, and before the end of the year every one was glad that the change had been made, and would not hear of returning to the old order of things. Similar evidence was given with regard to the introduction of the change in Italy. American witnesses when asked if there was any idea in America of improving the system, or of going back to some other, said that it was the natural and best system, and could not be improved, so that there is not the slightest idea of adopting any other, or of altering the existing system in any respect. Three of the witnesses examined before the Committee had no views to offer on the subject, two of them being called to give evidence of a technical character. Eight were opposed to any change, three were in favour of a change, but thought that the Commonwealth should await the action of England, and thirty-one were in favour of the adoption of a decimal system. Of those thirty-one, seven favoured the adoption of any decimal system whatever, because they thought any decimal system better than the present. But the general opinion was that if we adopted the decimal system we ought to retain the sovereign as our standard. Thirteen witnesses held that view, while five advocated the adoption of the 10s. unit, and four others the adoption as the unit of a coin worth 4s. 2d. - the American dollar unit. Therefore the weight of evidence was in favour, not only of the adoption of the decimal system, but of the adoption of the decimal system which the Committee recommended. When the Committee had finished taking evidence there was considerable difference of opinion amongst its members as to what system should be recommended. The evidence was very carefully weighed, and a great deal of discussion, both formal and informal, took place before a decision was arrived at. Some of the witnesses, several of them trained men, reported very strongly in favour of a ten-shilling unit, with the retention of the sovereign as a coin of the value of two such units. Calculations could then be made in sums of ten shillings, and the unit would be divided into ten shillings, and each shilling into ten pennies. The shilling would therefore be retained at its present value and under its present nomenclature, but there would be a far greater disturbance in the bronze coinage than the Committee would like to see made. A great deal is to be said in favour of the adoption of the American dollar unit. There is on the other side of the world a very large nation, whose people are destined to become even still more numerous and powerful, and they have adopted the dollar worth 4s. 2d-, as their unit. This coin must necessarily dominate more or less the American trade, while our trade with America, as the two peoples speak the same language, and have much in common, and for other reasons, must necessarily increase year by year.
– They have the dollar in Canada also.
– Canada has been forced by its nearness to the United States to accept the coinage of that country, so that money coined in the United States passes current in Canada. The Committee had seriously to consider whether these facts would not justify the recommendation of the American dollar as the unit for our coinage. The adoption of that unit would make no disturbance in the value of our halfpenny coinage, and it is very desirable to make no change, inasmuch as stamps, tramfares, and many small articles are largely bought for small copper coins. When we looked further into the matter, however, we found that, in view of the position of the British sovereign, the wide-world respect which it has won, its great history and traditions, there would inevitably be a strong resistance to its abolition here, and that the adoption of any other unit would greatly diminish the chance of getting a decimal system adopted in Great Britain. The Committee, therefore - rightly, I think - finally decided to recommend the sovereign as the unit, and to decimalize it down to its one-thousandth part. That would give the most workable money system the world has yet devised. Under that system, a florin would be the coin of account. I noticed in the minds of some of the members of the Committee that there was a disposition not to recognise the florin as the coin of account for fear of the popular prejudice against the adoption of a silver basis. But it will be seen that the basis recommended is not a silver, but a gold basis. In my opinion, it is inevitable that the florin - the tenth part of the pound - =will become the coin of account. The honorable member for North Sydney has pointed out that the American dollar, which is the unit of the United States coinage, is hardly ever seen in that country, and that the halfdollar, because of its size and convenience, is the coin which is most carried. There are very good reasons for adopting as the coin of account the coin which is in general use in everyday transactions.
– If the florin were chosen as the coin of account, very large figure columns would be required for account books.
– Not such large figure columns as are required where the franc is the coin of account. A millionaire in France who counted his wealth by francs would be a mere nobody in Australia. The Committee, in recommending the adoption of the florin as the coin of account, took the happy mean between the American and. the French systems. Another reason for the adoption of the florin is that it isthe coin in general recognition in the Pacific, where we hope to see the influence of the Commonwealth become dominant. It is the dollar of the Pacific. Our two-shilling’ piece is exported in large quantities to the islands, where it is used as the money of account, and also for the purposes of currency. Altogether, it will be seen that the florin, which was introduced, as honorable members are aware, as the first step in the decimalization of the English system, is probably the most convenient coin in the world, both as a unit of currency and as a unit of money account. A further argument in favour of the decimalization of the sovereign is to be found in the fact that quite recently the Peruvian Government adopted the British sovereign as the basis of their new coinage. In the last report of the Deputy-Master of the Mint, which we had not received prior to the drafting of the report now before honorable members, the following statement occurs : -
A law was passed on the 13th December, 1901 , for the establishment of a gold standard, the unit to be the Peruvian gold pound, a coiu 2-2 millimeters in diameter, weighing 7 ‘9S8 grammes and eleven-twelfths fine, identical with the English sovereign. Silver and copper coins issued under the law of 14bh February, 1863, and article 7 of the law of 30th December, 1872, are to be fractional parts of the pound at the ‘rate of 10 sols to the pound. Gold is to be unlimited tender, silver being restricted to 100 sols and copper to 10 cents.
Further than that, I see that a similar coinage has been adopted in Ecuador. The point I wish to impress upon honorable members, is that if these countries, existing within what may be called the trade dominions of the United States, prefer to adopt the English sovereign and decimalize it, there must be some virtue in the system in favour of which the Committeehave reported. I see that virtue displayed in three ways. First of all, we have the world-wide integrity of the British sovereign, and the world-wide knowledge and appreciation of it. It has been said that people far away in the East, in China and India, and in Egypt, put away sovereigns or hide them in the earth for years ; and whatever may happen to disturb the values of currencies, the British sovereign is always worth its weight in gold. In the second place, the tenth part of the British sovereign is the most convenient, as the largest silver coin of account or currency, and when it is further decimalized by tenths and hundredths it furnishes coins which will answer all reasonable requirements. The lowest coin is somethingless in value than thefarthing. Although we do not use farthings very much - and I hope we shall never have occasion to do so - they are found to be of great value in the economics of the poor in the old country. Ecuador and Peru have shown themselves to be appreciative of the value of the sovereign by adopting it as the gold standard of their currency.
– They do most of their trade with Great Britain and Europe.
– But the United States does a great trade with them, and as there is Monroism in trade as well as in politics they must look forward to doing a large trade with the United States. If, in the face of this fact, they favour the adoption of a different coinage, there must be some inherent advantage in the sys-‘ tern adopted over that of the United States. There is a large profit to be derived from the legitimate issue of silver tokens of currency - I am not considering in this connexion what might be done by an unscrupulous Government. To obtain the profit that is to be legitimately made, we must coin money strongly differentiated from that of Great Britain, because it must be made so distinct from the coinage of Great Britain that it will not go back to the old country to be redeemed. We must take the responsibility of renewing the currency as it wears down, and also stand behind it if the circumstances of the world at any time demand that we should redeem it. Therefore if we want to get the profit, and it is just and reasonable that we should, we must distinguish our coins from those issued by the Imperial Government. This brings me to the question of the system which we should adopt. I think that it is generally conceded that the decimal system is the most natural and the best in the world, and there can be no better time than the present for adopting this system in the Commonwealth. The time for adopting a new coinage is at the beginning of our national career, and the decimal system is undoubtedly the best. If we start our coinage upon the same basis as that of England, we shall have very little opportunity of adopting anything else, unless Great Britain initiates the change. We could adopt the proposed new system without an)’ fear of trade friction with Great Britain, and we might very well take the step contemplated in consideration of the profit likely to be derived, and in view of the advantages to be conferred upon the nation. The reference to the Select Committee was extended, at the instance of the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. V. L. Solomon, to include gold within the scope of the inquiry. Personally I did not intend to include gold, because, as the inquiry has since proved, there was no necessity for us to enter into the existing relations with regard to the gold coinage. However, the Committee went into the question, and, as I have previously stated, decided to report in favour of the retention of the sovereign and of maintaining the existing relations between Australia and the Royal Mint in connexion with the branches of that establishment in our midst. Many other points with regard to gold cropped up. The branches of the Royal Mint in Australia are kept going by guarantees furnished by three of the States Governments; £15,000 is contributed by New South Wales, a like amount by Victoria, and £20,000 by Western Australia. This money is advanced by the States Treasurers to carry on the work of the Mint, and when the year’s work is completed, the Mint authorities return any difference of receipts over expenditure to the States Government which has indemnified it. In Victoria, also in New South Wales, some slight profit is made, but in Western Australia there is a loss, and the net result is a loss to Australia. It is inevitable that’ under the Constitution the Commonwealth Government shall take the place of the States Governments in their relations with the Royal Mint. Then we have to consider the question whether the Mints could be so managed as to obviate loss to the Australian people. The loss incurred in the past has been something substantial, because it is only quite recently that any profit has been made. One of the points that seemed to demand some further inquiry was the large export of minted sovereigns to other parts of the world, notably to America, which, in some years, reaches £5,000,000. These sovereigns are exported to the United States, and on arrival are required by the law of that country to be put into the melting pot and reduced down to their original form of molten gold. This seems to be a piece of altogether unnecessary extravagance. In the coinage of sovereigns, every 100 ozs. of gold yields only 45 ozs. of coin, the other gold having to be re-melted and re-coined. This trouble might be well compensated for in the case of sovereigns , which are to have their legal life of eighteen or nineteen years, but it seems absurd to go to all the present labour and expense in order to send sovereigns to foreign countries where they are immediately melted down. I believe that the Mint authorities have recommended a form of gold bar, weighing about 10 ozs., for export purposes. In every piece -of gold out of which sovereigns are stamped, there is a large quantity of waste in the interspaces between the discs. The weighing of the sovereigns by an automatic machine further reduces the coin ultimately produced. The sovereigns are automatically discharged, those which are too heavy or too light being separated from those which are of the proper weight. The proportion of ‘ coins which have to be returned to the melting pot and the waste, make up the large percentage. Improvements in machinery are reducing this proportion, but results so far have not reached any better average than 45 ozs. of coin for every 100 ozs. of gold. If we wish to obtain the profits that are derivable from a silver token coinage in our midst, Great Britain will probably tell us that we shall have to make good the inevitable depreciation of our gold currency. We have it on the authority of bankers, and other gentlemen of experience, that the condition of our gold coinage is anything but satisfactory ; that, in fact, as much as 50 per cent, of the gold currency is below the limit of tolerance. I do not say that we should begin by restoring the present gold coinage to its proper condition, but some system should be agreed upon between ourselves and the authorities of the Royal Mint, for restoring the coins now in circulation to the limit of tolerance, and we should afterwards be charged with the average loss of gold. A large number of these gold coins do not go into ordinary circulation, because I believe that in one case alone hundreds of thousands of them are put into a vault in one of the banks and kept there as a sort of guarantee fund in connexion with the balance operations of the banks. In 1889 the British Government found its gold- coinage in much the same condition as that of Australia at the present time, and it was then estimated that it would cost £650,000 to restore it to a satisfactory condition. I think we shall find that quite a relative proportion of that sum will’ be required to bring our gold coinage up to the standard. From the details supplied by the Master of the Mint, it is apparent that, having once placed our gold coinage in a proper state, we can thereafter maintain it in a satisfactory condition for about £3,000 per annum. The Committee had also to consider whether it was desirable to establish one central Mint for the Commonwealth, in lieu of the three existing Mints, and whether we ought not to obtain our silver coins from Great Britain, at any rate at the beginning. The Committee finally decided in favour of obtaining the silver coinage from Great Britain, leaving the establishment of a central Mint open to further consideration hereafter. I think it is inevitable that the expense of maintaining the three Mints - none of which are working at their full capacity - must be considerably in excess of that required for the maintenance of one Mint capable of performing the whole of the work. I know it is said that these Mints - and particularly the one at Perth - are of great value to the gold producers.
– If one central Mint were established, the Western Australian gold would probably find its way to Great Britain. A great deal of it does now. .
– Yes, a great deal of it does now. But if sufficient gold were not supplied at the central Mint to enable it to undertake all the coinage which could profitably be undertaken, it would pay the Commonwealth better to purchase the requisite gold in Western Australia, and to incur the risk involved in transferring it to Melbourne or the Federal capital, or wherever the central Mint was established. In proof of that statement, I would invite the attention of honorable members to the cost involved in the production of the three Mints at present in existence relatively to the cost of the output of the Mint in Great Britain. I have no desire to touch upon details, but I wish to explain that in Great Britain the charges include many items which are not considered in the working expenses of the Australian Mints. For example, in the working expenditure upon our Mints, no charge is made for rent or interest upon the buildings occupied, the construction of which cost £60,000 or £70,000 ; whereas in Great Britain a sum of £12,000 is. set down as a payment to the Board of Work’s for the use of the buildings and taxes - : £10,000 evidently representing interest -upon the construction of the buildings occupied by the
Mint, and the balance whatever taxation those institutions have to pay. In 1900, I find that in round figures the cost of the Mint in Great Britain was £84,160, whereas the cost of the three similar institutions in Australia was £47,019 - a difference of £37,141. In Australia, the Mints produced approximately 13,000,000 gold pieces, whilst in Great Britain they produced 10,000,000. But in this connexion it must be remembered that Great Britain also produced 41,000,000 silver pieces, 51,000,000 copper pieces, 25,000,000 colonial coins, and supervised the minting of 54,000,000 coins, which were struck at what is known as the “Royal Mint,” Birmingham. Honorable members, therefore, will see that, relatively to its cost, the Mint in Great Britain performs much more work than do the three Mints in Australia. Of course, the fact must be considered that the whole coinage in Australia is in gold, which is the most expensive form of coinage that can be undertaken. But even allowing for that fact, the difference is very much greater than it ought to be. It is necessarily caused by the smaller quantity of work which is done by each of the three Australian institutions compared with that which would be accomplished if one Mint only were in existence. In the first instance, the report of the Committee recommends that we should take advantage of the facilities offered to Canada and other British possessions to obtain their currency coins either at the Royal Mint or at one of the Birmingham institutions under the charge of the Royal Mint. According to the Deputy-Master of the Royal Mint, the Government of Canada has expressed the wish to erect a mint for the coinages which they require, which have hitherto been executed there, and which have not been very extensive. Honorable members will recollect that I account for the limited extent of the Canadian currency coined in Great Britain, by the fact that the American token coinage is current in Canada. The DeputyMaster adds -
They also desired to coin sovereigns, and in this case the new mint will have to be a branch of the Royal Mint.
I have since ascertained that Canada has already established a Mint for the coinage of gold, but I cannot find that any steps have been taken for the coinage of silver there. There is a vast difference of opinion amongst those who are considered experts upon this question, as to the quantity of silver currency required for Commonwealth purposes. Mr. Coghlan, the Government Statistician of New South Wales, estimates it at something over £1,000,000 ; Mr. Von Arnheim, of the Royal Mint, Sydney, at £1,000,000; Senator Walker at £1,500,000 ; Mr. Henry Gyles Turner, who is well known in Melbourne, at £1,700,000 ; and other authorities at £2,000,000. Personally, I think the amount is in excess of £2,000,000, and I base my opinion upon the quantity of loose money which the Australian people carry in comparison with those elsewhere. Another test is to be found in the fact that the regulations under the German Imperial Act to prevent overissue are based on 15 marks (15s.) per head. That would be equivalent to about £3,000,000 for the Commonwealth. In making that estimate as the basis of an Imperial Act, great care would naturally be taken to insure accuracy. If we assume that the amount required would be £2,000,000, I find, on the basis that 66 shillings may be minted out of every pound troy of silver - which was that fixed by Lord Liverpool’s cele- brated letter in 1815 - we should require 606,060 lbs. troy weight of silver. This, at 2½s. per ounce - which is to-day’s quotation for silver - would cost £73 1,059. If we allow the sum of £30,000 for the coinage of this silver, the cost will be increased to £761,059. That would cover both the cost of the silver and of the coinage. A coinage currency of £2,000,000 would, according to the figures of experts, represent more than 40,000,000 pieces of money. In Australia we can coin 5,000,000 pieces of gold for about £15,000, notwithstanding all the processes involved in coining, checking, weighing, and remelting it. Great Britain, however, coins 120,000,000 for an expenditure of about £84,000. About half of those 120,000,000 coins consist of three-penny and six-penny pieces. These are struck off almost as rapidly as are brass buttons and, of course, it necessarily follows that there are fewer rejected pieces as they come down in the scale of value. The rejected pieces of gold average about 15-31, those of Imperial silver 3’33, those of Colonial silver 1 ‘55, and those of copper 1 per cent. The first issue of such a coinage, therefore, would provide the Commonwealth with £2,000,000, less the first cost, namely, £761,059. That would leave a gross profit of £1,238,941.
– Is that under the present system?
– It does not make the slightest difference under which system it is. If we add to the gross profit I have mentioned, the net profit on bronze coin, which would be, approxirnatety, £31,059, it will be seen that there would be a total profit on the adoption of this system of currency by the Commonwealth of £1,270,000. Although we have allowed £30,000 for coinage, we do not propose that we shall coin this ourselves. That estimate of cost was decided by referenceto results obtained at the Royal Mint. If we employed others to carry out the work for us in the first instance - and I think that the Committee’s proposal that we should do so is a wise one - we should have to allow for charges which the Royal Mint imposes for supervision or for the work of coining. We should have to allow for interest in respect of the silver advanced for coinage purposes, and for something in addition to the labour cost.’ If the work were done by Birmingham firms, for example, they would certainly require something more than the working cost of doing this minting for us. After careful consideration of the figures, I have put this down at £70,000. That leaves £1,200,000 as the original profit or seigniorage of the Commonwealth, which at 3 per cent, would give £36,000 per annum. When the Committee was considering if this large profit, or seigniorage, should be funded some of the conservative witnesses suggested that there was no necessity for the adoption of any such course. I think that Senator Walker, . who may be considered a careful authority, expressed that opinion ; but I do not feel satisfied that we can look forward complacently to the maintenance of the existing ratio of value between silver and gold. We have to look forward to possible upheavals in the relative values, and to trouble in regard to metallic coinage generally. The safest course would be to fund this difference, and use only the annual interest, which might be added at once to the consolidated revenue. In support of this suggestion, I would in-vite the attention of the House to a statement which appears at page 42 in the annual report of the Deputy Master and Comptroller of the Mint for 1901. I confess that I cannot clearly understand certain figures which are given there in regard to the coinage of silver at Calcutta and
Bombay. If the figures are as they appear to me to be, they show a profit of £4,500,000. That, however, I think, must be wrong.
– Perhaps the honorable member has applied the wrong decimal.
– No ; the figures are plainly given, and I shall read them to the right honorable gentleman. The receipts of the Bombay Mint for 1900-1 were 32,779,064 rupees, that represents £3,277,906, while the expenditure was £12S,072. At the Calcutta Mint the receipts for the same year amounted to 14,S10,320 ‘ rupees, and the expenditure to 1,044,80.1 rupees. I cannot help thinking that those receipts were swollen by the sale of some silver coined in previous years. It is utterly impossible that such results should be shown on the extent of the work done. But I wish specially to point out the statement made by the Deputy Master, with regard to the profit derived from this Goinage. He sets forth in a footnote that -
The net profit of the rupee coinage was transferred to the Gold Reserve Fund in the accounts of the Government of India.
This shows that they have taken care in India to guard against any possible dislocation of the currency by reason of an altered relative value between the two metals. I think the Commonwealth would act wisely if it adopted the same course. It must also be remembered that with a silver currency we should have to provide for the wear and tear of coin from year to year. My own opinion is that for many years after the establishment of the system it would not be necessary for us to take that matter into account in calculating what we . were likely to obtain each . year. I think the natural increment in the demand for our currency, if silver did not materially advance, would be sufficient to pay all losses experienced in the restoration of worn coin. In England in the year 1897-8, the loss in this respect was £28,563 ; in 1898-9, £55,313 ; in 1899-00, £27,457 ; in 1900-1, £31,129; and in 1901-2, £23,419. That gives an average of £33,000 per annum. The coin which we should issue, however, would be new ; some twelve years would elapse before it would begin to wear to a point at which it would be necessary for us to reritew it. After the lapse of some years we should probably require to expend £4,000 per annum in the restoration of silver coinage. I have already referred to the probable expenditure of £3,000 per annum which we should be called upon to pay in making good the wear and tear in respect of gold coinage, so that we should have a total outlay of about £7,000 per annum in respect of coinage restoration. That would be about the average on the present figures of population and currency.
– But it would not be incurred for twelve years after the introduction of the system.
– That liability would not occur in respect of new coinage until that period had elapsed. The average life of silver coin is about thirteen years. The honorable rnembei will recollect how often we used to see coins in a very good state of preservation which had gone all round the world, perhaps, and had been coined 50 or 60 years before. Mr. Wardell, the Bullion Master-of the Mint, says in his evidence that the Commonwealth is not justified in commencing a coinage with this enormous seigniorage. He was cross - examined on that point, while other witnesses were approached in regard to it, and I think the Committeewere quite satisfied that Mr. Wardell was over scrupulous, and rather pedantic, in this matter. In my opinion the Mint officials generally are extremely conservative. As England commenced with a proportionate ratio of thirteen to one, between gold and silver they consider that it would be radically wrong to commence with a different ratio. Other witnesses like Senator Walker informed us that with ari honest Government behind it, that seignorage was quite the proper thing. This profit is taken by Governments such as that of Great Britain, and utilized by them. Great Britain the year before last passed nearly £1,000,000, representing the profits derived from coinage, into the Exchequer. Last year a further addition of about £500,000 was made in this way, while the average for the last twelve or thirteen years has been something like £500,000 per annum. The profits show a tendency to grow larger, because the price of silver has been steadily coming down. I do not think there is any probability of the Government of the Commonwealth ever incurring the risk of an over issue of silver coin. An over issue of silver coin is one of those curses which always come back to roost, and every country that has over-issued has experienced that result in a very bad form. If it is desired to guard against such a possibility, the lawyer’s maxim of ex aimndcmti cauteld ought to be adopted. A safeguard is offered to us in the principle which has been adopted by Germany. “Under the German Imperial Act it is provided that the Mint authorities shall not issue token money except in exchange for gold; they issue it to the banks and other private institutions in exchange for gold. When a Mint issues its silver only in return for gold there can never be an over issue. The financial corporations will never apply for silver unless there is some special trade demand for such coinage ; and if they have to purchase it with gold they will take only sufficient to satisfy their requirements when there is any danger of it dropping. If we fund the difference or seigniorage, and issue currency money only in exchange for gold, we shall not run any risk. With our English reputation” behind us, and with the high standard ‘of financial morality exhibited by the Governments of the States, there is no possibility of danger. The question of coining silver was considered years ago by politicians in these States. It was raised in the first instance, I think, by one of the Premiers of Victoria, and a correspondence was carried on by Premiers of New South Wales. The Treasurer himself took part in this correspondence. The price of silver dropped. At this time the Colonial Governments, having experienced an actual loss in the coinage of gold, could not understand why they should continue to coin it at a loss, while Great Britain was exhausting her energies in pouring out silver at a profit ; they naturally demanded that some of the profits should come to them. The correspondence, which is interesting, will be found as addenda to the report. Prom the first the British Government recognised-as an honest British Government always will do - that it had no claim to the seigniorage which was made on the quantity of silver currency used in the Australian States. But they were confronted with many grave difficulties. They realized that they could not give each of the States the right to coin silver, and they had to consider which should be given that privilege. If it ‘ had been proposed to give it to Queensland, for example, Western Australia would naturally have objected, and if it had been suggested that it should be given to Victoria, New
South Wales would have opposed such a proposal. They remitted the question from time to time to Australian statesmen, and requested them to come to some agreement under which the colonies could establish one coinage system, and divide the profits amongst themselves. There was the further great difficulty of so distinguishing the coinage turned out in Australia from that coined in the mother-land that it would be possible to saddle the State issuing the coinage with the responsibility of restoring it as it wore out. That was the gravest difficulty of all, and it constitutes the chief reason why we should have a currency for the Commonwealth. It was thought that the difficulty might be met by having a mint mark ; that we should be able to coin half-crowns, and place upon them some distinguishing mark by which it would be possible to tell that they had been coined in Australia. But honorable members will recognise that those marks would be oblitera’ted in many instances ; that the half -crowns, by the issue of which we had made Is. 3d. ‘per coin might be redeemed at1s. or1s. 2d. each in England, and that we might go on re-coining them and continually making Is. 3d. per coin. The Imperial Government could not face a set of circumstances in which that would result. No way out of the difficulty could be seen, but when federation was approaching, the suggestion was made, that as the Commonwealth Parliament would have power to deal with questions of coinage and currency, the whole matter should be allowed to stand over for the consideration of the Legislature. The Federal Parliament has met, and honorable members are now invited by the report of the committee to consider whether we should not have the profits to be derived from the currency ; if so why we should not have a system, and if we are to have a system, why it should not be a decimal one. Still the advantage of a profit I look upon as the very least of the advantages to be secured, though I regard it as a great lever in commanding attention to the importance of the subject svhen addressing popular audiences. But there is a great disturbance throughout the country because it is proposed to spend . £30,000 upon establishing a neeessai-y institution, and the public mind is similarly agitated whenever any other expenditure is talked of. Surely then an opportunity to save £30,000 by any means by which it may be honestly and justly saved, should command attention. If only to increase the national sentiment we should have a coinage of our own. The sentiment of America, in many respects, centres more round the dollars and the dimes than round the stars and stripes, and a national coin, with a national emblem upon it, must contribute as much to national sentiment as does the national flag. The great advantage to be gained by the adoption of the decimal system is the saving of trouble which it brings about in every department of trade and commerce - in buying and selling, in calculating, in bookkeeping, in accountancy, in insurance, and in professional work. An instrument which produces the best results with less labour than is necessary to produce them in any other way must add to the national wealth, whether that instrument be an intellectual one like the differential calculus or a material one like a sewing machine. The decimal system of coinage is something partaking of the nature of both. It is a system by which we buy and sell, count, and regulate our affairs in the smallest space of time, with the least trouble, and with the least chance of error. The chances of error when, the decimal system is employed are much fewer than under our present system, and the troubles of the Minister for Trade and Customs would have been much lessened if the merchants whom he has persecuted for their small mistakes had been allowed to utilize the decimal system. Various estimates have been made of the saving in the national education bill which would follow from the full adoption of the decimal system ; but I am unable to deal now with the application of that system to weights and measures, because it was not part of the subject referred to the committee for investigation. In the opinion of some skilled experts, however, the full adoption of the decimal system in our schools would save two years’ schooling in every child’s career, while no skilled witness has estimated the saving to be less than one year. Surely such a saving would greatly reduce the education bill of the country, and would be still larger than the gains of seigniorage or the profits upon the first issue of the coinage. The chief reason for which I advocate the adoption of the decimal system is that it is a simple one, and will save one to two years’ schooling to every child in the community. I. do not know if honorable members have ever compared the simple arithmetic text-books which are used in the junior forms of our State schools with similar books used in America. If they have, they will know that, whereas in our text-books the children commence to deal first with questions of enumeration, and then go on to problems in figures, and, later, to the pence, shillings, and pounds tables, and so to problems in money, in the American books they deal first with questions of enumeration, and then go directly to the consideration of problems of money, because under the decimal system there is no difference between a money problem and a figure problem. In America a child proceeds from the enumeration of figures to problems involving money, and so on to other problems, right up to the highest scientific calculations. Having pointed out some of the advantages of the decimal system, I know that I shall be asked by many what objections can be raised to its adoption. I shall try to review a few of these objections, and endeavour to briefly answer them. The main objection is that the adoption of the decimal system would mean the disturbance of our present condition. Honorable members know what it means to alter the state of affairs to which people are accustomed. Objection on that score has been taken to every reform which has been advocated from the very dawn of civilization. What we are used to we regard as satisfactory. If we had always slept on boards, a board would be held to be as comfortable to us as a feather bed. But any one who brings his mind to bear upon the two systems must inevitably be led to the conclusion that the decimal system is the better. Then he must ask the question - “ That being so, why should we not adopt it ? “ Here we are met with a further objection, which I hardly like to call the “ Yes, Mr. Chamberlain “ objection, but which is largely founded upon the idea which that phrase suggests - I refer to the opinion that in this, as in other matters, we should await and obey the dictation of the Imperial Government. Now, in a matter like this, which has nothing to do with our loyalty to Great Britain, an objection like that should have no effect. If a reform is good for us, all we have to ask ourselves is can we adopt it without any serious disadvantage to our trading relations with the mother country.
In support of ray assertion that we can adopt the decimal system without any such disadvantage, I would point out that Canada has a coinage which differs more from the English currency than that of Australia would differ, and yet Canadian businessmen tell us that they experience no difficulty in trading with Great Britain. I, as an experienced business man, trading with the United States, know that there is less difficulty in dealing with invoices and statements coming from America, with the amounts set out according to the American monetary system, than there is in dealing with invoices and statements from Great Britain. One knows whether an American invoice is right or wrong merely by looking at it. There is no need to take up a pencil to make a calculation to ascertain its correctness. I cannot see any reason for anticipating obstacles to the freest and fullest trading between the Commonwealth and Great Britain if we adopt a currency slightly different from that of the old country.
– There is a possibility of ISngland herself adopting thedecimal system.
– I intend to refer to that. Yery many people speak and write upon this subject without being able to fully understand the arguments advanced on each side, and the adoption of the system is frequently condemned for reasons . which really show no objection to it at all. For instance, one of the writers in the daily press asks how, in England, would people understand a quotation of Australian butter at 25 cents per lb. ; or, supposing we had adopted the decimal system, how would our people here understand a quotation of butter in England at 12½d. per lb. ! The man who asks a question like that should ask himself another question - “ How is it that business men who buy goods from the United States or from countries like Germany understand the quotations sent to them, and how is it that foreign merchants understand our quotations?” An American merchant never finds any difficulty in doing business with England, although the monetary systems of the two countries are different. Of course, a person who has nothing to do with trade, -if he were suddenly asked what the price of a pair of gloves costing 3s. 6d. , in English money would be in the American currency, would be puzzled by the question ; but in actual trade relations there is no difficulty. What we have most to fear is the friction which will be created amongst our own people by the change. An argument that used to be advanced against the decimal system as adopted in France, and which appeared, I think, in the first edition of theEncyclopcedia *Britannica, but has since been dropped, was embraced in the statement that, if an article were quoted at 1-25 francs per lb., a poor person who wished to purchase½ lb. would be victimized, because, since there is no exact binary division of such a sum which could be expressed in the coinage, be would be compelled to pay about½d . more for thearticle than its exact price. The fallacy of such an objection has often been exposed and ridiculed. If an article were quoted in a Melbourne shop at 12½d. per yard, the person buying half-a-yard would probably be required to pay 6½d. for it. It is notorious that articles are frequently quoted in drapers’ shops at prices like1s.11¾d. a yard, for which, of course, the purchaser of half-a-yard must pay Is. But prices will always accommodate themselves to the money system prevailing in the country, providing that that system offers anything like the necessary facilities, and the decimal system gives a greater variety of subdivisions than any other. The chief objections to the system were very ably expressed by Mr. Thodey, the commercial editor of the ‘Argus, than whom I do not think any one more capable could be found to summarize the arguments for and against the proposed change. But some of the witnesses examined by the committee raised very strange objections. Mr. Wardell, for instance, asked a very strange question, which was repeated by others, and therefore requires an answer. He asked how the wife of a mechanic, unacquainted with the decimal system, could satisfactorily performher marketing under that system! But what do French women and- American women know about the decimal system in the abstract ? In America the children solve these questions while they are at school, because they get toy money ; and a practical experience of the coins used under the decimal system would soon teach any person, however uneducated, its possibilities. I might very well ask - What does the wife of an English mechanic know about the quarto-duodecimo-vicesimal system under which she does her marketing ? Of course, she never even heard the term. People learn how to spend their money to the best advantage by practical experience, and in that way they would soon learn to use the coins of a decimal system. A contributor to thi Sydney Daily Telegraph, who is a very able writer upon commercial questions, objects to the proposals of the committee because they disturb the existing value of the penny, and that is without doubt the most serious drawback to the system now advocated. If, however, we desire to decimalize our monetary system we must disturb something. We might disturb a great deal, but we could not’ disturb much less than is proposed by the committee. No difference whatever is made . until we get down below the sixpence. The present sovereign is maintained at its full value ; the’ half-sovereign is preserved; the twoshilling piece is also to retain its present value under the name of florin; the shilling is preserved under the name of halfflorin ; and the sixpence under the name of a quarter florin. Below that the coins have to be altered, because they do not very closely approach the values of the coins which have to be substituted under the decimal divisions. After a very careful consideration of the interests of the poorer classes, and of the buying classes generally, it was decided to adopt the four-mil piece, which is only 4 per cent, less valuable than a penny.” The same writer complains that the system proposed by. the committee does not divide the coins evenly, one into the other ; that, in fact, it does not provide for a binary division under which each coin would be exactly half the value of the one immediately above it. Theoretically that system is right, and one of the best witnesses who appeared before the Coinage Commission in England, Mr. Frederick Hendricks, proposed a system practically the’ same as that which we are now advocating, except that when he got below the florin in the silver coinage he proposed a 40 - mil piece, a 20 - mil piece, and a 10 - mil piece, thus providing for the binary division of the smaller silver coins. In copper coins, he proposed four-mil, two-mil, and one-mil pieces. No doubt his system is the best for an ideal currency under which the sovereign is retained ; but when it comes to be regarded practically, it must be seen that the 40-mil piece would not correspond with any coin in our present system. Although Mr. Hendricks’ system is I theoretically much better than that proposed by the committee, and would be the best to adopt if we had no history, and were dealing with a perfectly new set of circumstances, we think that the modifications, proposed by us would make the. new system more convenient of application in so farthat it would prove less disturbing. So far as the smaller copper coins are concerned, it might perhaps be desirable to strike more than we have recommended. I acknowledge that, in this respect, some reconsideration is desirable. I do not think we shall require the one-cent piece for the purpose of currency, and if we do not coin it, except as a curiosity, we shall want a. three-cent as well as a two-cent piece in order that we may be able to make up every variety of change in connexion with the use of ten-cent pieces. To adhere to the present system, in view of the fact thatwe have a favorable opportunity of adopting a better one, would be to place ourselves in a position similar to that which would have been occupied by Europe if it had continued to use the Roman numerals instead of adopting the Arabic system of notation. I think it was Macaulay who suggested that a greatamount of interest might be caused by representing the present multiplication table in Roman numerals, and it would, no doubt, be verv interesting to see an attempt madeto multiply MDCCCXXXIV. by XIX.’ I cannot imagine how the Romans worked out their sums, because it seems impossible, without .the use of the Arabic system, tocarry out such calculations as we have to make. I have read a statement regarding a gentleman in China, who, by using numerals in the alphabet instead of the signs which, have been availed of there for so many years, succeeded in teaching blind Chinese to read within a shorter space of time than that occupied under the old system by Chinamen in the full possession of their sight. Under the decimal system of coinage, we should be able to do more work with less energy and at less cost. It is said that we. should await action on thepart of England ; but did we wait for England in regard to the ballot, or the adoption of the Real Property Act. If we wait for England to take action, and if I have the honour to remain a member of this House for so many years that I become its father, I dare say those who are then sitting here will see a tottering old man moving; an annual motion with regard to decimal coinage, and being met with the rejoinder - “ Wait for action on the part of England.” I do not think we should wait for England to take the initiative. We are not likely to gain any time by doing so, but, on the other hand, if we make a start in what we believe to be the right direction, we may give strenuous assistance to those who are advocating the adoption of the decimal system in the old country, and thus more rapidly bring about an Imperial reform. If the decimal system is ever adopted by Great Britain, it will be upon the lines advocated by this report. No other has been supported in Great Britain, ‘and the only alternative to such a system would be something after the nature of the universal currency scheme, which was recommended at the Convention which met in Paris in 1867. After a very protracted discussion on that occasion, it was resolved to recommend the use of the French franc as a universal standard of currency. Of course this coin differed from the English sovereign and the American half-eagle, and the Convention necessarily came to nothing. When the subject was considered in America, Mr. Dunning, a gentleman who seems to know a good deal about the subject of coinage, suggested that the difference between the Prench 25-franc piece and the British sovereign, amounting exactly to 88-hun- dredths, should be met by the reduction of the English sovereign by44hundredths, and the increase of the French 25-franc piece by 44-hundredths, bringing each to the same value. I believe that he also suggested that the British sovereign might be changed to only half the extent indicated, and that the other half might be retained as seigniorage, such as is claimed in respect to the Prench 25- franc piece, but not in connexion with the British sovereign. Then it was proposed that the Americans should change their half-eagle to the extent necessary to bring the three systems into accord. Nothing was done, but if anything is ever done in the way of arriving at an international standard of currency, it will be in the direction of Mr. Dunning’s suggestion, because it is useless to expect that the United States, with its possible 100,.000,000 inhabitants in the near future, will give up its large currency to adopt any other system, or that the Latin races, with hardly less people, will abandon theirs. If we follow the recommendation of the committee, and a. universal currency is afterwards adopted, we shall suffer no more disability than if we adhere to the present coinage. I believe the committee have in their report afforded the House an opportunity of doing something practical, and that their recommendation is in the direction of progress, enlightenment, and economy. Therefore I have great pleasure in submitting it for the consideration of honorable members.
– I have great pleasure in seconding the motion for the adoption of the report of the select committee, of which I was a member. I think it is only fair to say that the members of the committee, and I think also honorable members generally, owe a great deal to the honorable member for South Sydney, for the care and patience he has displayed in connexion with this important subject. I do not know of any work which he has not read, or of any utterance which he has not studied, and he has brought the weight of his interest to the committee, and has helped it materially in its deliberations,” and in arriving at the determination now placed before the House. To-day he has given further evidence- of his knowledge and ability. The subject dealt with is one’ that is very difficult for most persons to follow, and in which no great interest can be worked up. Whilst, however, it is not likely that many people will become enthusiastic over the proposal, there are many practical considerations connected with it which deserve the attention of honorable members. Nearly all those who have studied the subject recommend the adoption of some form of decimal coinage, and it is very significant that at the present time that system has been adopted in every country of the world, except four, namely, the United Kingdom, South Africa, India, and Australia. Therefore we have the full strength of precedent to urge us on in the path of reform. I have not heard of any country which desires to abandon its decimal system ; but, on the contrary, we are well aware that attempts have been made in Great Britain to substitute for that which is now in vogue the decimal system of currency. The first recommendation of the committee is that the seigniorage or profit resulting from coinage for the Commonwealth should belong to the Commonwealth.
When the present Treasurer filled the office of Treasurer of Victoria, I remember that he almost succeeded in inducing the Premiers of the different States to agree to a similar proposition, and I am, therefore, at a loss to understand why the coinage of silver has never been undertaken in this State. But even though the effort in that direction has hitherto failed, no one can question that sooner or later it must be successful. Consequently, 1 do not propose to direct my remarks to that branch of the subject. I take it for granted that the Government intends to obtain for the people of Australia any profit which may result from the coinage for the Commonwealth. Regarding the system of decimal coinage, I have previously observed that every country in the world, with the exception of about four, has adopted it. We have, therefore, an excellent lead, if we feel disposed to follow it. Those who have studied the question agree that so much can be said in favour of the system that there is no need for me to dwell upon its disadvantages, if it has any. The honorable member for South Sydney has ably combated most of th% objections which are usually advanced against -its adoption.” This is not a matter which involves any international complications, and. I do not see any reason why we should hesitate to adopt the system until some move in that direction is made in the United Kingdom. Unquestionably, by establishing it we should facilitate our international trade, besides effecting a considerable Saving. It is, perhaps, worth while pointing out that, although the witnesses who appeared before the committee were drawn from all sections of society, the great majority of them supported this system. Those witnesses included bankers, financial editors, accountants, the representatives of chambers of commerce, of insurance institutes, and of the Trades Hall, and almost without exception they favoured the adoption of some system of decimal coinage. It is also worthy of notice that after giving the matter most careful consideration, the chief objection raised against it has been met by a recommendation in favour of decimalizing the sovereign. The committee always kept in view the fact that the bulk of our trade must be done with the Empire itself. By retaining the’ sovereign as the unit, and by decimalizing it, I feel that the .chief objection which can be urged against the system has been, overcome. It is all very well to say that we should wait until Great Britain has adopted this scheme, but I do not believe in any conservative delay. So many trivial objections weigh with those who have not studied the subject, that it is the duty of the .Government to place it before the public in such a way that they can fully understand it. I am prepared to admit that to a certain extent it would be idle to decimalize our money unless simultaneously we are prepared to decimalize our weights and measures. Some of the witnesses examined by the committee “thought it was not absolutely necessary to touch our system of weights and measures, and that we should deal with our money first. Personally, I think that the two are so intimately connected that a movement for the decimalization of money ought to carry with it the decimalization of weights and measures. One reform without the other will confer very little advantage upon us. Modern requirements demand that our methods of conducting our business should be as rapid as possible. In the United States the whole desideratum is to get through business quickly and accurately. By adopting a decimal system for weights and measures as well as for money, that country has facilitated its business in a way that the people of Australia can hardly realize. The saving of time in connexion with these two matters is so great that all minor difficulties ‘ can be set aside. I have nothing further to add at this stage. I believe that it is to the benefit of Australia and the trading community generally that the report should be adopted.
– There is no doubt that this subject is one of the -most difficult and intricate with which any body of men can be called upon to deal: I agree with the honorable member who has submitted the motion that it is a very interesting one, and I think I should be wanting in a sense of duty if I did not congratulate him upon the able manner in which he has placed it before the House. .He has evidently bestowed upon it many years of consideration, , and I must thank him for the great and honest enthusiasm which he has displayed in this’ connexion - an enthusiasm which, I venture to think, had a great deal of influence upon the other members of the committee. To some degree I am entirely in sympathy with him, though
I cannot see my way to go to the length of carrying out in their entirety the recommendations of the committee, especially so far as they relate to the adoption of a decimal system of coinage. I have come to that conclusion after reading the evidence. I have perused that testimony with very great interest, but I hope that, under similar circumstances, the secretary of any committee or commission will in future be directed to prepare an epitome of the evidence, so that persons interested may be spared the trouble of having to read a mass of questions and answers which have very little relation to the subject with which they are supposed to deal.
– There is an epitomized index.
– That is not of much use. Concerning the question of the coinage of silver, I am entirely with the honorable member who acted as chairman of the committee. For many years that matter has been one of controversy between the Imperial authorities and the States Governments, and more especially the Government of “Victoria. It has been urged time and again that the States should have the right to coin their own silver, but the utmost that the British Government would concede was to hand over to the States the profits made upon their coinage. The latter, however, did not care to accept that profit as a gift. Shortly before I vacated the office of Treasurer in this State, I practically succeeded in making an arrangement by which, we should have obtained permission to coin our own silver. The various Premiers in conference assembled had agreed to the proposal. There were two Mints in Australia at the time, and one difficulty to be decided was whether the coinage should be undertaken by one or both of those establishments. But we should also have had to redeem our own worn coins, and that fact raised another difficulty. However, it was overcome by an arrangement to have a mark sunk deeply into our own coins so as to make them distinguishable from others. But the real reason urged by the British Government against conceding to the States the right to mint their own silver was that they might be tempted in time of necessity to over-issue, in order to gain the profit resulting therefrom. We replied pointing out that only a certain amount of silver could be used by the people, in addition to which we were willing that the quantity should be re’stricted to that issued during the two or three previous years, and that it should be done under arrangement with the associated banks. Then Federation took place, and shortly afterwards I asked the Prime Minister to re-open negotiations with the Imperial authorities. Unfortunately, by some mischance a request by the Commission which was intended to elicit what the Imperial authorities were prepared to do in regard to the adoption of the decimal coinage system, became mixed up with the other matte^ so that whilst those authorities dealt with one subject, they did not with the other, which I think was of far greater importance. Negotiations are now pending.
– For a silver and copper coinage ?
– We were chiefly directing our attention to the coinage of sil> er ; the amount of copper coined was not very great. When we come to terms we shall probably be able to arrange for both a silver and copper coinage. At the outset, I felt strongly that we should carry out our own coinage work, but further inquiries and careful consideration have impelled me to the conclusion that it would be much wiser for us to request the Imperial authorities to do for vis for some years, at all events, what they have done for Canada - that they should have our coins minted for us, allowing us any profit over and abovethe actual expenditure. That allowance should not be made as a grant to relieveus from the loss which we have suffered iii connexion with the coinage of gold, but should be quite a separate transaction. My honorable friend has referred to the immense profits that are likely to be derived from the adoption of a Commonwealth system of coinage. The honorable member shows that they would be something like £1,250,000.
– That is not the amount mentioned in the committee’s report.
– At all events, it is said that it would be over £1,000,000. When I first saw that statement, I felt that we should be prepared to suffer almost any inconvenience in order to obtain so large a sum of money for the Commonwealth. But when we look carefully into the question, honorable members must see that we could not hope to obtain anything like that profit unless it represented the earnings of a. considerable number of years. Whether we had a system of decimal coinage, or adhered to the existing system, there would be no difference so far as that matter was concerned. The profit in either case would be exactly the same. The honorable member for South Sydney has referred to the cost of the three Mints in the States, and the question whether it is wise to maintain them all. That, however; is not a matter which we have at ‘present to consider. No doubt attention will be given to it, but strong objections would be raised, particularly by Western Australia, where a branch of the Mint has only been established of recent years, to any proposal to close them. It was thought that it was only right that in a great gold-producing country like Western Australia, proper facilities should be given for the coinage of its’ gold, and that State would naturallly object to the removal of the local branch. The changing of coins into bars is a very intricate matter to deal with. Doubtless millions of sovereigns, coined at great expense by us, are sent away and immediately melted down. My recollection of the evidence relating to this subject is that some objection was raised to the proposal that- these bars should be merely marked. It was thought that bars marked in that way could not be dealt with so readily as coins, nor would they be acceptable to those who would have to take them. We have to consider whether that expense of minting cannot be saved. My recollection of the evidence, together with what the honorable member for South Sydney has told me, is that the coining of a sovereign costs about Id. With regard to the proposed profit by minting the silver, I take it that it cannot be intended that we should request the British Government to immediately call in the whole of the existing coinage so as to enable us to issue new coins, and in that way secure the profit of £1,000,000 or £1,250,000, to which reference has been made. Our issues would have to go out as the old coinage was in due course called in. The evidence seems to show that the outstanding silver coinage represents something like £2,000,000, and that the annual silver issue is about £60,000. On that issue, the profit, we will Say. would probably be about £30,000. Against that, however, we should have to provide for replacing old and worn coins by new ones. We should also have to provide for any loss that might be incurred in renewing our gold issues, so that the profit would be reduced probably to £20,000 or £25,000. That, however, is a return that we might well seek to secure. We should be justly entitled to it, and if capitalized it might be useful for the purposes named by my honorable friend. In years to come, indeed, it might serve to assist in paying off our national debt. I do not” agree with that portion of the report which says that the interest obtained from the fund should go into the consolidated revenue ; as it is entirely a new source “of revenue. The interest should be capitalized, and after the lapse of ten or fifteen yearS the’ fund would be so largely increased that it could be used to good purpose. I do not propose to deal further with the question of silver coinage. It is not one in which we are particularly interested at present ; the main question is whether we should alter our existing system of coinage. In dealing with that matter we have to consider whether the undoubted advantages that would be derived from the change would not be counterbalanced by the greater disadvantages which, to my mind, would result from putting the system into operation, and which in the old country have prevented successive Chancellors of the Exchequer from carrying out the various proposals submitted to them. Perhaps it is fortunate for the committee that I was not associated with it, because the weight of evidence appears to me to be against the conclusions arrived at in regard.to two subjects of the inquiry. I do not think that the decimalization of our coinage could properly take place before we had adopted the metric system in regard to weights and measures, while the other point on which I disagree with the findings of the committee is the question whether the Commonwealth should undertake this change before it has been brought into operation in the mother country. On both these points I differ from the finding of the committee; and I differ from it because of evidence which I have found in the committee’s report. Theoretically I am somewhat in accord with the views of the honorable member for South Sydney, but I see such practical difficulties in the way of dealing with our coinage as proposed by the committee that I cannot support the report. I would be prepared to. do so if I could, indeed I should be prepared to go some distance in helping the honorable member to carry out the object which he has had in view foi1 many years past. What are the benefits which it is claimed would accompany the change ? The chief ones are that it would simplify -calculations, and lead to greater simplicity n book-keeping. These advantages, however, would apply only to a certain portion of the community, rather than to the great masses of the people.
– They would apply to all classes.
– I think not. The minority, a large minority no doubt, of the people are employed in directions which necessitate an elaborate*3 system of bookkeeping, and require them to enter into intricate calculations. Those people Would certainly be benefited by the adoption of the system. It would simplify their work, ;and also lead to greater accuracy in their calculations. I occasionally use the decimal system when I have to work out percentages ; but I think that the vast majority of the- people find it just as easy to work under the present system of pounds, shillings, and pence. -The primary object of coins, as has been pointed out, is not for the purpose of calculation, but for payment or exchange, and therefore we must dissociate those two matters. Whether we apply the decimal system to our coinage or not, those who desire to use it in working out their calculations will be at liberty to do so. They can make their payments under our existing system, even if they work out their calculations under the decimal system. Their accounts can be decimalized without difficulty.
– Think in German and express in French.
– It would be more difficult for the general body of the people to think in pounds shillings and pence, and to calculate at the same time under the new system which my honorable friend is so anxious to bring into operation. The committee propose to adopt nearly all the existing coins ; but they suggest certain new ones, and that is where great confusion would undoubtedly arise. I. deeply regret that’ the committee have found it absolutely necessary to recommend that that useful coin, the threepenny bit, should be abolished under -their scheme. That coin would be reckoned as worth only 2 2-5d. We know what -a serious loss that would mean to our churches, and to other institutions which occasionally benefit, when we have 2,000 or 3,000 people gathered together, by contributions which generally average 3d. per head. As the Prime Minister reminds me, the change would also make a difference in the hospital collections. The honorable member for South Sydney omitted to point out that numerous Commissions have dealt with this matter in Great Britain. Those which sat prior to 1S59 reported in favour of a change, but the only step which was ever taken in that direction was made in 1849, when the florin was introduced. The last Commission, which sat in 1S59, took further evidence, and although they had the reports of previous Commissions before them, and investigated the subject fully, they reported against any alteration. That seems to be the last occasion upon which the matter was investigated in Great Britain, although different motions relating to it have been moved in the British Parliament.
– That was one Commission against several.
– It was the last, and it had the benefit of all the evidence taken by other Commissions, in addition to the fresh evidence that was forthcoming! We are told that this question has been dealt with and changes made in the coinage of other countries ; but the most striking feature of the matter is that all these countries have dealt with it in a different manner. “We cannot reconcile the German, the French, and the American systems. They are on varying bases, and the evidence shows very conclusively that in every case the change was made because the many varying systems within the country rendered a uniform coinage absolutely necessary. The States of the German Empire had a varying coinage. Evidence given before the committee shows that the same state of affairs existed in Bavaria, while in Canada, under what was termed the Halifax coinage, 4s. worth of English money was worth- 5s., while an English shilling was worth ls. 3d. No doubt, the people of Canada were closely associated with the United States in business relations, and naturally they adopted the coinage system of that country. Let me say that among all the schemes I have seen I think the American is the best and the simplest. There can be no question as to its simplicity. If any change were made I should much prefer the adoption of the United States of America’s system to that proposed by the committee ; but wo cannot do away with the sovereign. In the United States they have 5, 10, 25, and 50 cent, pieces, while the dollar piece, which has been mentioned, is not very often used. They work out their calculations at so many dollars and so many cents, and the whole system is very simple. It has been well put by some of the witnesses, whose evidence I shall quote for the benefit of honorable members - because I do not expect that they will read the whole of the report - that the changes made in other countries were due to the fact that the existing systems were unsatisfactory, and because it was desired to standardize the confused currencies of those countries. If we could have a uniforn coinage throughout the world, it would, undoubtedly, be an immense advantage, and although such a state of things may not come in our own time, I hope it will come eventually. It may be that the Western world will insist upon retaining its very simple system, and the Eastern world will have to devise some scheme for making its differing currencies uniform. But I do not know that that change can be looked for in the immediate future. It lias been pointed out by the honorable member for South Sydney that an immense saving in the time taken to educate our you rig people would be gained by the adoption of the decimal system ; but I venture to say that such a contention is without foundation, and that, instead of any saving, there would be a loss in that respect, if we adopted a decimal system..
– The right honorable gentleman does . not find that opinion stated in the evidence.
– The evidence shows that in Prance and in America, people went on using the system to which they had formerly been accustomed for a generation after the change was made, and one witness stated that people would go on for three generations using an old system after the adoption of a new.
– In their literature only.
– And in their actual money transactions. Unless the decimal system is adopted by Great Britain as well as by Australia, our young people will have to be educated in both the present system and the decimal system. It is not the “Yes, Mr. Chamberlain,” reason, or any such absurdity, which induces me to object to a system which is different from thatof Great Britain; my great objection to the change is that if our system is not the same as that of the old country, our children must unquestionably be taught two systems, the British and the Australian, so that they may be fitted to deal with both when they enter upon the business of life. Quite apart from any question of sentiment, or the advisability of making changes here before they are adopted in the old country, I think that the objection which I have just stated is a very strong one. In my opinion, the reason that an alteration would lemove many inconveniences which are admitted on all hands, is not strong enough to counterbalance the inconveniences which a change of system at the present time would bring about.
– How does Canada get over the difficulty?
– I do not know ; I think both systems are taught ; but Canada was forced to adopt the decimal system because of her nearness to the United States, and the’ importance of her trade relations with that country.
– One hardly sees a British coin in Canada. Nearly all the coins in use there are American.
– Yes ; but my point is that if Australia adopts the decimal, system, and Great Britain does not, our children will have to learn both the British and the Australian systems to enable them to deal with the accounts which pass between the two countries.
– It is only necessary that they should know how to decimalize vulgar fractions.
– It will still be necessary to use fractions, because in many cases it is easier to make calculations by using fractions than by using decimals. Por instance, one witness points out that it is very easy to ascertain the seventh part of any sum by the use of fractions : but as the decimal equivalent of l-7th is142857 recurring, it would be very difficult to divide a sum Into sevenths by the use of decimals.
– The great saving in the education of children to which the honorable member for South Sydney referred depends upon the adoption of the metric as well as the decimal system.
– No doubt if both systems were adopted, and we had not to take account of any other, there would be a great saving ; but if we are to continue our trade relations with Great Britain, and all the figures used in that country are arranged according to one system, while-the figures used in Australia are arranged according to another, no time would be saved in the schooling of children, because they would have to be taught the two systems instead of one as at present. If we could induce the Imperial Government to adopt the decimal system, many of us would be prepared to advocate the change here, because the difficulties then resulting would be only such as could be eventually overcome. There was an extraordinary conflict of opinion on the part of the witnesses who were examined by the committee. Some of them referred to the present system as absolutely perfect, and seemed to think that to get rid of it would be to bring about the greatest misfortune that has occurred since the burning of the library at Alexandria. But the witness who made that statement had himself a pet scheme which he wanted the committee to adopt, in which the halfsovereign would be the unit of value. Every scheme brought forward was con-, demned by other witnesses as utterly unworkable. The witnesses ridiculed each other’s proposals, and showed the weak spots in. them. The great difficulty which the committee had to face was the need for retaining the pound for use in large transactions, and the penny for use in minor retail transactions. That seems impossible under any system of decimal coinage. At the best there must be a difference of 4 per cent., which, of course, would amount to a good deal in a great bulk of transactions. In all probability the difficulty would not arise in large transactions, but only in small retail transactions.
– How often would it affect the purchases of a housekeeper 1 If she bought so many yards of any material, she would not lose4 per cent, on every yard. At most she would lose only on the fractional price of the last yard.
-The loss would occur chiefly in transactions like the buying of stamps, thepurchaseof tram tickets, papers, and in petty matters like that. Somebody must lose, and, of course, some one will gain. The loss to the Post-office would be considerable, but no doubt the public, as they would not have to make it good directly out of their own pockets, would not trouble much about it. The Treasurer for the time being would be blamed for a decrease in the revenue, and that would be all. I admit that the difficulties which a change would create would in time gradually disappear. I should be in favour of the change if I could see that it is practicable at the present time, and could be made without injuriously affecting our people. The witnesses who spoke in favour of the decimal system were to a large extent citizens of countries which have adopted that system, and they had therefore been brought up in familiarity with it. Mr. Bray very fairly stated that it was not right to expect him to give an impartial opinion upon the subject, because he was naturally imbued with the idea that the system in vogue in his own country, and with which he had always been familiar, was the best to be adopted. Other witnesses were probably in the same position. A great many of those who were witnesses before the committee were people who desired to air their peculiar views. I was surprised at the want of evidence from representative commercial men. It is not the fault of the committee that that evidence was not obtained. They tried to obtain it, but they complain in their report that they had very few responses from quarters from which they expected a great deal of assistance. All manner of units were suggested for the coinage - £1, 10s., 5s., 2s., Id., £d., 25s., and 20s. lOd. The last was evidently suggested so that d. might be the’ exact one-thousandth part of £1. The position of the British Government is that there is no general demand for a change, and that it is hardly right to make a change which would so largely affect the whole people until they had expressed the opinion that they desired it.
– Did the masses call out for a reform of the calendar ? Did thev not rather object to it?
– At any rate, there is no popular demand for a change in the coinage system. The honorable member for South Sydney has stated that only a few commercial men came forward to express their views against a change, but, no doubt, if public interest on the subject had been aroused, more objections would have been . offered to the proposal than opinions expressed in favour of it. The people do not want the change. There has been no agitation for it. The honorable member for Bourke and the honorable member for South Sydney tell us that we should not wait for the example of the old’ country : that we did not hesitate to make changes in regard to the franchise, and to adopt the Torrens title system, long before the old country did anything in the same direction. But those were changes which affect only ourselves ; .they do not interfere with our relations to the old country. I have looked at this matter impartially, and I cannot get away from the fact that, if we make a change compulsory upon the whole population, it will create immense inconvenience and annoyance, and a certain amount of loss, for some portion of the community. The only benefit that I can see to be derived would be that the merchants would be able to make their calculations with, perhaps, more accuracy and with less labour. The change, however, would be a great hardship to the public generally ; they would be puzzled and annoyed by it. It is all very well to ridicule the idea of a mechanic’s wife being at a disadvantage in her marketing through having to adopt a new coinage, but the trouble which a change would create in small transactions such as hers would be very considerable. People are accustomed to see prices expressed in the value of certain coins, and if the coinage is altered, it means great inconvenience to them, and some loss either to the shopkeeper or to the purchaser.
– That will always apply to the change.
– I am prepared to go the length of advocating the adoption of a new system if the public evince a strong desire for it, and if we can, at the same time, secure uniformity with Britain and the other parts of the Empire.
– The artisan’s wife would fancy herself a millionaire under the new system.
– She would find it very difficult to calculate in decimals.
– - There would be no need for that.
– Then the people in the shops would have to do the calculating.
– The shepherd counts his sheep in decimals, but he does not know it.
– But he has done that all his life-time. It is not as if he had been in the habit of calculating his purchases in £ s. d., and had been suddenly called upon to give up his life’s practice, and make his calculations according to a system of which he knew little or nothing.
– How did the right honorable gentleman manage when he was travelling 1
– I gave what I w as asked, arid did not know whether it was right or wrong. I know that when I left Italy I carried away with me nineteen lire ; but I do not know how many I left behind me. Mr. H. G. Turner, in giving his evidence before the select committee, pointed out that no demand had been made by the great London clearing houses for a change of currency. He referred to the immense sums of money which passed through those institutions in one day, and stated that they, were able to make all their calculations within a few hours without any difficulty. He also mentioned that the Banker’s Institute in England had not made any demand for the change.
– Still he is in favour of the system.
– Yes, under certain conditions which take away the whole value of his evidence so far as ray honorable friend’s case is concerned. The proposal for the adoption of a decimal currency was brought before Mr. Gladstone, and also before Mr. Goschen, in 1887, and before Sir William Vernon Harcourt in 1S93, but they all took up the same position that I feel forced to adopt.
– They always had the Irish question, or some other of equal importance, to engage their attention.
– I think that the weight of evidence undoubtedly substantiates the proposition that we have no right to put our people to the inconvenience and loss which must result from a change of currency, unless there is a much stronger demand for it than is apparent at the present time. I quite admit that a discussion of the matter may arouse interest, and bring forward enthusiastic supporters of the proposal, and that the public may be taught that the benefits to be derived from the simplicity of keeping accounts, and the lesser schooling required, will compensate them for the losses to which they will have to submit in the first instance. But, at present, they do not take that view. I welcome this discussion because, I think that it will prove use ul> and it may help forward the end which my honorable friend has in view.
– The Australian Natives Association, which is a representative institution, has declared itself in favour of the decimal system.
– That may be ; but even the members of that body would no doubt much prefer to have the scheme brought forward in connexion with the other features to -which I have referred. Without any reference to Mr. Chamberlain I contend that we should not alter our system unless .the British Government can also be induced to alter theirs. At present they are apparently not in favour of a change, but if there were a strong expression of opinion from the people of Australia they might be led to take action in this matter, as I believe they undoubtedly will in connexion with the metric system.
– That will involve a much greater disturbance.
– The Imperial Government are much more favorable to adopting the -metric system than a new currency, and in spite of the report of the committee, I think that offers a much more ready means of saving the time of school boys and girls, and of simplifying the operations of business. If the metric system were adopted, I believe it- would prove of great convenience. The Prime Minister, when he attended the Premiers’ Conference in London, was in favour of that system, and drafted resolutions, now in my possession, which he desired to bring before the House for the purpose of giving effect to a recommendation in that direction.
– The coinage would have to be altered if the metric system were adopted.
– A great many authorities think that the metric system should precede decimal coinage.
– I think that the evidence available to us shows that the metric system is of far greater importance than the question of altering the currency. As one witness, whose evidence I shall quote, says, “it will be putting the cart before the horse “ to adopt the decimal currency before the metric system.
– The French Consul holds the contrary opinion, and Senator Walker also.
– No doubt varying evidence has been given on the matter, but Senator Walker is not favorable to my honorable friend’s contention. After reading the evidence I fail to see how the committee could have arrived at their decision. I think that m)’ honorable friend must have imparted a considerable amount of his enthusiasm to his colleagues. That is the only way in which I can explain the result. One of the witnesses, Mr. McBride, who is apparently the general manager for the Massey Harris Co. in Australia, is among the witnesses, most of whom had particular ideas of their own, who camebefore the committee. Mr. McBride says -
I do not know whether there would be any particular saving there. Your text-books of course would have to be changed to the decimal system. In the Canadian schools children are taught both the decimal and the pounds, shillings and pence systems. I suppose that the same thing would, apply here.
– Hear, hear ! I had to learn them there.
– At a laterstage, Speaking with regard to. the mil, Mr. McBride says -
I think that would be awkward for all time to come, because you would be establishing a different value for your coinage from the values in Canada and the United States.
Evidently Mr. McBride is permeated with the system to which he has been brought upfrom his childhood. Mr. Wardell, thesuperintendant of the bullion office of the Mint, goes very fully into the matter, and says -
The chief argument against its adoption in England was the undesirableness of making a change in the habits of the people unnecessarily. Mr. Gladstone, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, considered “it a very serious matter indeed, and one which ought not to be undertaken on any mere abstract opinion.” It was pointed out that the primary purpose of coins was to facilitate payments, not calculations. Coins areinstruments for adjusting the retail transactions, of the market ; therefore, the greater the divisibility the better. . . . The chief obstacle to the adoption of the decimal system in England appears to be that no Government has j’et cared to face the unpopularity of making a change in the* habits of the people, there being no demand outside certain circles for the alteration. . . . It must not be forgotten that a very large number, probably a great majority if we include ladies, who would be largely affected by any change of the coinage, are unaccustomed to the. use of decimals. The question is asked by the committee- “ Does the decimal system of coinage possess such undoubted advantages as to render its adoption desirable, even in the face of the difficulties occasioned by “any alteration in the value of the coins by which calculations are made, and values expressed.” I cannot bring myself to think so. In making calculations, it is undoubtedly much simpler than our present system, but it seems to me that calculations of value, and the coins we use for payment, are largely distinct from one another.
He also says -
So far as I can trace, no country has deliberately set itself to alter its coinage unless the existing conditions were unsatisfactory and an alteration urgently needed, except perhaps in France, when the Revolution suggested changes in everything. But even as to France there is evidence, before the Decimal Commissions to show that the currency was not satisfactory. I confess that I cannot see any great advantage in altering the present system, of coinage to which we are accustomed, and which suits our requirements. There is no coin at present in use which could be dispensed with without much inconvenience. . ln the Mint we use the decimal system for weighing and calculations, but the money results are expressed in sterling. I do not see how we could gain anything. Values in pounds, shillings, and pence are so easily added up, and so easily understood, that I doubt whether we shoidd gain anything by expressing them decimally. . There is no purely decimal system possible which would retain both the pound and the penny, and so many of our values are expressed in either one or the other that great confusion would attend the abolition of either.
That is what presses upon my mind, and evidently pressed upon the minds of the members of the committee and of the witnesses, because a strong effort was made to arrive at a new coin, which would be worth £1 0s. 10d., without getting rid of the vereign. With regard to the metric sysm, Mr. Wardell says -
It seems to me that it would be putting the cart before the horse to introduce a decimal coinage system before decimal weights. I have shown that the object of a change in currency in any country has generally been to standardize confused currencies. Our currency is not confused. What is confused is oursystem of weights and measures, and if it is desired to make-any alteration, the firsb step would appear to be to standardize them. If, after this has” been done, it should be found inconvenient to make payments in existing currency - for the facility of making payments is the only use of subsidiary coins - then a good case might be made out for altering the coinage to suit conditions which had been found to be inconvenient.
He also remarks -
The vast majority of the people in the country have never worked a decimal sum in their lives. Ladies would certainly be largely affected by the change. Fancy a mechanic’s wife going into a butcher’s shop on the Saturday night, and having to work out calculations in decimals. Of course, instructions would have to be given in our schools as a preliminary.
My honorable friend may be able to show us that all this would be absolutely unnecessary, but although I followed him very carefully, he has not said anything which removes the difficulty which was in the minds of some of the witnesses, and is also in mme.
– In America the dollar’ is the unit.
– I cannot get away from the simplicity of the American system, but -that now recommended by the committee is more complicated to my mind than that under which we are working.
– There is no difficulty in connexion witli the new system.
– There is a great deal when yon go below the sixpence.
– The difficulty in connexion with the American system is in working the dollar into pounds.
– I have been making extensive quotations from the evidence in order that honorable members may have an opportunity of studying it. Mr. Wardell further remarks -
It seems to me that the time to alter the currency is when the shoe pinches ; when the existing system is inconvenient.
Mr.Fuller. - The shoe pinches now!
– I cannot agree with that, because, except for some purposes of calculation, our system is . a good one and works satisfactorily.
Mr.Fuller. - It might be improved.
– No doubt; but I think that by improving it we might create more difficulties than by allowing matters to remain in abeyance, unless we can at the same time make other changes with regard to our measures, and induce the Imperial authorities to join us. . If we could do that I should support my honorable friend inbringingabout thesuggested reform. Mr. Wardell continues -
As I have said, the only reason in the past for any alteration in currency in any country, as far as I have been able to ascertain, has been that the authorities of that country desired to put things right and to avoid confusion.
It cannot be said that there is any confusion, in this country. The witness continues -
They have never deliberately started a new currency from any prospect of advantage in the coinage of it. The great point to consider is that existing values should be altered as little as possible. If you adopt a different system of currency you have to alter everything.
Later on Mr. Wardell says -
If the decimalization of anything is required the first thing should be to decimalize our weights and measures, and then see whether our coinage would fit in with it.
The honorable member for South Sydney has referred to one o”f our bank managers, Mr. Henry Gyles Turner. That gentleman seems to have pretty clear ideas upon this matter. It is significant that some of the witnesses who came forward with written statements, which were utterly opposed to any change in our present system were, after undergoing examination at the hands of the chairman, rather disposed to think otherwise.
– That shows the value of cross-examination .
– It shows the influence which my honorable friend had upon them. Mr. Henry Gyles Turner says -
Speaking theoretically, it appears to me that in its educational aspect a good decimal system would immensely abbreviate the scholar’s time devoted to arithmetic ; but a uniform metrical system of weights and measures seems a far more crying need. As far as I can judge, without the knowledge of an expert, I should say that, of the existing systems, the dollar and cent of the United States is the best, the smallness of the unit in that of the Latin union being cumbersome for the gigantic operations of British commerce. But even the dollar is not free from that objection j therefore I have no doubt that in any alteration which may be made in England the pound sterling will be retained as the unit. I think there can be no doubt that a change to a distinct decimal coinage in the Commonwealth which was not- adopted by Great Britain would be productive of great trouble and confusion, and would seriously intensify the difficulties of bookkeeping and for a time derange commercial operations. It would be better, before taking so important a step, to ascertain whether the agitation for this change, which has been going on intermittently for 40 years, is likely to be successful. It has been ad vocated by combined Chambers of Commerce and other influential mercantile bodies, and has been resisted by more than one Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the ground that ihe general public were apathetic where they were not hostile. Mr. Goschen was emphatic on one occasion, in 1887, in saying that while he could not dein’ that it was a matter of great importance .and prospective benefit to the foreign commerce of the country, no Government would dare to propose such a change without a distinct mandate from the pe’ople that they really wished it, and were ready to submit to some loss and much inconvenience to bring it about. On another occasion, in .1893, Sir William Harcourt, in reply to a very influential deputation, while admitting the theoretical advantages, dwelt at great length on the practical difficulties, and the injuries which it would probably inflict on the working classes and small tradesmen.
The witness then points to the case in which cheques, promissory notes, and bills of exchange all expressed in pounds, shillings, and pence, and representing a total of over £82,000,000 sterling, were paid in six hours of one day without the intervention of a single coin. No difficulty was found in making the necessary calculations under our existing system of coinage. Mr. Gyles Turner was then asked - “ Do you think it likely that that mandate will ever come from the people 1 “ to which he’ replied - “I do not.” That is the opinion of a gentleman who has had very large experience throughout the whole of Australia. Then we have the testimony of Mr. Charles Frusher Howard, author of a new system of reckoning. He wipes the committee out altogether. He says our present system is absolutely the best that could be adopted, and that it would be a crime to alter it. Then he brings forward his own proposal by which he desires to have ten shillings made the basis of our calculations. I really do not know from where my honorable friend managed to get some of these witnesses. Then Mr. Thodey, who has evidently studied this matter very deeply, deals with the objections which have been raised against the system. He says -
The principal recommendation of the decimal system is that some calculations of an ordinary kind are greatly facilitated. It is, within limitations, an instrument for the calculator. Should it be introduced, operations in international finance and commerce would practically continue to be conducted as at present. Education as regards the subject of arithmetic would become more troublesome, for the pupil would for a long time to come have to be taught both currency systems, the new and the old. Only after more than half a century of the decimal system did the French Government prohibit the teaching of the old system in the teaching of elementary education, but up to some years ago (I cannot speak of the present position) the requisition of a knowledge of the old system by advanced students was regarded as proper. No difference would take place with regard to teaching vulgar fractions, the decimal system being hopelessly and absurdly inadequate to express fractions. A child can easily be taught that one-seventh means one of seven equal parts of a whole, but what can he make of -142857 + repeated for all eternity, the decimal mode’ of expressing one-seventh? School exercises in pure arithmetic will not be shortened, and the study of complex numbers will be augmented by the necessity of learning two monetary systems instead of one. Currency relations furnish matter for calculation, and once a rate of exchange is given no difficulty need exist. But additional work would be occasioned by the conversion of a distinctive Commonwealth currency into the currency of the country with which it is most closely connected in trade and finance - the United Kingdom……
I think great difficulties would arise if the penny with its present value (that is 1 -240th part of the British sovereign) were not retained. The retail trade, the transactions of which form by far the largest proportion of the total number of transactions, would be universally affected. Then various Australian products, such as wool, butter, leather, &c. , are sold at so many pence per lb., both here and in England. The difference between .1 -240th and .1 -250th of a pound in low prices would be so small, and so awkward to adjust, that the purchaser might easily gain the advantage.
That would be to the disadvantage of the producers of this country. He points out that under the decimal -system the rates for freight would continue to be quoted in sterling - a difficulty which seemed to strongly impress the chairman of the commitee as one which it would be hard to overcome. He continues -
It would be far better to remain in close touch with the currency of the country’ with which Australian trade and financial relations are the greatest, than to adopt either the Latin Union or American currency system. I do not think that the adoption of a decimal system of coinage would facilitate the adoption of a metrical system of weights and measures. They can be introduced concurrently, or either may be introduced after the other. But if the change is to be made, and as the only accruing advantage would consist in facilitating certain kinds of ordinary computations, it would be sis well to introduce both together.
Then he points to the varying coinage systems. In this connexion, he says -
There is no accord between existing systems. There is the German system, which is a decimal system, the mark being divided in that vw, and the mark differs completely from the “franc, which is also divided into hundreds, while both systems differ completely from the “American system. So that, if a desire arose for an international currency, every country would have to give up something, unless they all agreed to adopt the United States dollar.
He also says -
All accounts in the United Kingdom and Australia are stilted in £ s. d., and, if they are to be intelligible to people coming after, those people must learn the present system us well as any new system that may be adopted. Take a case like this : You go into an auction room and buy ten bales of wool ab6’78d. ; if you alter the penny you will have to go into a calculation to find out how many Commonwealth pence and fractions of a penny yon would have to give. That would be very inconvenient.
Then Mr. Harlin, who appears to be a journalist, and was previously a schoolmaster, deals with the subject. His examination is reported as follows : -
You think there is no advantage in having a decimal relation ? - I think there is an advantage in one direction only - in facilitating computation jbut there are endless disadvantages in other directions.
What form do those disadvantages take ? - The number 10 is a number which admits of only two factors, namely, the factor two and the factor five. The number 12, which is our basis for retail trade “at present - being the parts of a shilling - admits of four factors, two, three, four, and six. As Herbert Spencer pointed ont some years ago, if we exclude the factor five and the factor six as of little value, it remains that our existing division into twelve is three times us valuable as the division into ten would be. The question, as regards wholesale trade, is of very little importance indeed. The importance, to my mind, is in providing facilities for retail trade, and the number which admits of the largest number of divisions is, to my mind, a better number than the number which admits of few divisions.
Would there be any advantage in making the. new coins on the decimal system * - Again I want a little more definition than is given in the question put to ‘me. You say - “If to had to commence a new system.” I take it that we are part of the British Empire, and that our coinage mustbe more or less similar to the coinage of the British Empire. If the system adopted in England is the: system we have at present of the sovereign, the shilling, and the parts of those coins, unless, very good reasons are shown, indeed, in favour of adopting, say, the sovereign and something equivalent to a franc, we had better stick to the shilling.
Then the Deputy Master of the Mint, Mr., von Arnheim, deals with the subject. H© says -
I do not think that any system has been received with favour by the British people. I think it would be impossible to establish a. decimal system in England no>v.
Mr. Rix, another witness, also has a scheme of his own. He says -
It would be unwise for Australia to take independent action in endeavouring to bring about international uniformity of coinage. The British. Government has not yet seen its way to adopt any of the proposed international units, viz., the 25 franc unit, the ten franc unit, or the farthing (the Anglo-Saxon unit),- because each one involves a change in the British gold standard of value. This is a matter for Imperial action, and Australia can do little more than urge upon the Biome Government thedesirability of agreeing to some international unit of value, because of the immense commercial advantages it would give to the whole Empire. But we should consider the wisdom of adopting any practical proposal to decimalize our existingcoinage. During the past half-century only onesuch proposal has been seriously considered, and. agreed to by financial authorities as the most feasible, viz. - To keep the sovereign as the gold standard of value, and decimalize it. This isusually known as the “pound and mil” system, and has been taught in the elementary schools of Great Britain for the last 30 or 40 years, in orderto familiarize the people With it. In 1849, the. florin, or tenth of a pound, was first minted,. avowedly to pave the way for this reform incoinage and computation. But these efforts have been fruitless, and foe the following reasons : -
People do not think of the florin as the tenth part of a pound, but as a two-shilling piece. They do not reckon up small purchases in florins, but in shillings. The shilling is the people’s unit of value and of account in the transactions of retail trade. The florin is only half-a-century old, while the shilling ‘is many centuries old, and among the most conservative of peoples it will continue to hold the field against the newcomer. In several of the United States, notably in New York, the “ shilling,” equal to twelve and a half cents, is still employed as a unit of value in trading, though no coin of that name has been minted there tor over 100 years. The attempt to introduce the “ pound and mil” system is, therefore, I think, doomed to failure.
He is one of the witnesses with whom my honorable friend does not agree.
– Is not that on account, of the man’s training?
– The same remark is applicable to the witnesses who expressed themselves in favour of the system. They have become accustomed to ib, whereas our people are not accustomed to it.
– We have to decide which is the better system.
– Exactly ; and which is the more convenient for the use of our own people. I hold that, without having consulted them upon the matter, it is premature to adopt the report of the committee. Such a step would necessarily mean the introduction of a Bill to carry out the recommendations embodied in that report without the people themselves ever having had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon the matter. Por that reason, I desire to place before the House the adverse testimony of certain witnesses, in order that the chairman of the committee may satisfy me that I am absolutely wrong. I am perfectly open to conviction. The editor of the Bankers’ Magazine, Mr. Davis, who was also called, said -
While it must be admitted the decimal system is attractive apparently in reckoning, we fear in division into fractions, say, thirds, it would be awkward, and it would have a very upsetting effect on small retail traders, and would also be difficult to arrange in settling for fares for trams, &c. , newspapers, stamps, and articles of service now purchased at½d.,1d., l½d., 2d., and for payment of wages. Taken altogether, we do not, ns at present educated, favour the change.
This gentleman appeared to be an ardent supporter of the proposals put forward by the committee, but evidently he was expressing in the magazine what he believed to be the opinion of his patrons. That is to say, he was voicing the view which is. entertained by bankers of this particularsystem. Then Mr. Palmer, who is a Master of Arts, says -
At the same time, if the decimal system is not to be constructed on a scientific basis, if it is nob to be constructed in such a way that it would fit in with all other weights and measures, then I think -it would be very undesirable to adopt it.
Another witness called was Mr. Peter Madden, who said -
To adopt the present sovereign as the decimal standard would create a rebellion in every household, and give endless trouble to every baker, butcher, grocer, and draper in the labelling of their saleable goods, and would not give any satisfaction for years.
His system, I think, was based on the farthing.
– Who is he ?
– He is described as a retired head teacher of a large State school - “1st class, Dublin; science certificate, London ; chemistry, Melbourne.”
– That ought- to be good enough.
– It should carry conviction to the mind of my honorable friend. Then Mr. Pinschof, Consul for Austria-Hungary, was called, and his evidence is reported as follows : -
How does the British system of coinage work amongst the continental nations. Have you heard any complaints about it? - No.
Does it work smoothly at present ? - I suppose so. There is no difficulty at all.
No difficulty in international commerce ? - Not for the foreigners. That is why we do not object to the thingbeing kept.
So far as our commercial relations with foreign countries are concerned, he sees no necessity for a change. The honorable member for South Sydney has said that if the system proposed by the committee had been in force here, the Minister for Trade and Customs would not have had so many unpleasant tasks to perform. Prom my short experience of the Customs Department, however, I am able to say that a very considerable number of the mistakes made there are explained by the fact that the varying systems of coinage of other countries have to be taken into account in the transactions of the Department. Varying coinages have to be changed into our money. Now we are asked to add another to the many varying systems by decimalizing our coinage - by adopting a system which would not agree with any of the other systems of decimal coinage with which the Customs clerks have to deal.
– They agree, in that they are decimal systems.
– They agree only in name. I think the shipping clerks would find it much more difficult to conVert the coinage of other countries into the system of decimal coinage proposed by the committee than to convert it into the existing system.
– Not while the sovereign is retained.
– I think the right honorable gentleman is wrong. He is picking out all the evidence that is against the committee’s recommendation.
– I cannot find very much in favour of it. The chairman of the committee communicated with a large number of institutions, and obtained some replies to his inquiry as to the views which they held on this matter. With the exception of the Consular bodies, nearly the whole of these representative institutions sent answers which are against the proposals contained in the report. Mr. Fenton, the Victorian Government Statist, of course would naturally desire to have the decimal, system for his own purposes, but he says -
I am strongly of opinion that Australia should be slow to add another to the already too numerous currency systems of the world, or to depart materially from the system which prevails in the United Kingdom, with which the bulk of our monetary transactions are carried on. But, if a system could be devised for internal purposes, by which the use of current coins of the realm could be used, it would be desirable, and a step in the right direction.
The Chamber of Commerce at Adelaide replied to the inquiry of the committee that in their opinion -
It would not be to the advantage of the commerce of Australia, and it would be a great inconvenience to traders, to adopt a system of coinage different to that which exists in Great Britain.
The Chamber of Commerce at Melbourne said that they agreed with the evidence given ‘ by Mr. Turner, which I take it was the statement submitted in writing. The Incorporated Institute of Accountants, from whom one might have expected a favorable reply, said that -
Any change was undesirable, unless- as a part of an Empire scheme ; and unanimously that any change to a decimal system of coinage would be ineffective and undesirable unless accompanied by the introduction of the metric system in connexion with our weights and measures.
The Brisbane Chamber of Manufactures replied to the committee’s inquiry -
That, in the opinion of this Chamber, it is not advisable for the coinage of coin on the decimal system in the Commonwealth of Australia, unless first adopted by Great Britain ; at the same time we approve of the coinage of coin in the States of the Commonwealth.
It will thus be seen that the leading commercial institutions expressed the opinion that this change should not take place unless as part of an Empire scheme. Senator Walker, who is also looked upon as an authority, said in regard to this matter -
I think we should certainiy wait the decision of the Home Government before adopting the decimal system, while Mr. Teece, the well-known actuary of Sydney, expressed the opinion that -
It would be useless to attempt the introduction of the decimal system unless Great Britain .took the lead, as it would lead to great confusion for these States to have a coinage differing from that of Great Britain.
Mr. Swan, member of the Suffolk Bar, Massachusetts, wrote as follows : -
I believe that any decimal system which proposes to proceed by dividing the sovereign into decimal parts and to alter the penny, will place a serious obstacle to the attainment, of a desirable international coinage, for the reason that it would, imply an invitation to the United States to debase i ts dollar to the value of only 4s.
No doubt there are many other parts of the evidence to which reference might be made. I have gone carefully through the whole of it ; I have read and re-read it with a view of coming, if possible, to the conclusion arrived at by the committee. But the evidence I have read, together with other portions of the evidence given before the committee, has forced me to the conclusion that we should not be justified in making this change, unless for reasons stronger than those which are now put forth. We should not be justified in making it unless we knew that the majority of the people were prepared to put up with the admitted inconvenience which such a system, would entail.
– What is the present attitude of the British Government ? It was sympathetic.
– According to the last letter on this subject that has been received from them,, the Imperial authorities would be averse to this proposal.
– They simply said that they did not think the question was ripe for practical consideration.
– The following extract is from a letter sent by the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury in reply to an inquiry whether the question of decimal coinage, or any system of international currency, was engaging, or was likely to engage, the attention of His Majesty’s Government : -
In reply, I am to request you to inform Mr. Secretary Chamberlain that, in the opinion of this Board, the difficulties connected with any change of our coinage system are so great that there is no likelihood that the question will engage tho attention of His Majesty’s Government in a practical way.
Like myself, the Imperial authorities are apparently in sympathy with the movement, but do not think it is so urgent that it should be enforced upon an unwilling people. “While I do not think we ought to go to the length of saying that we should have a coin-
Age of our own - a coinage different from that of the mother country - I believe it is well within our province to say that we, as a Parliament, consider that some change should be made in our system of coinage, and also in our weights and measures system. We might even go the length of urging the British Government to reconsider the question, and see whether a change could not be carried out. I would support a proposal of that kind. I hope that this matter will be fully discussed, both in Parliament and in the press, and then we shall be able to obtain some idea of the general trend of public opinion. Personally I am sympathetically disposed towards the proposal; but while I might use the new system, there are tens of thousands who would not be able to do so with readiness. There are thousands who would be confused and irritated by and who would possibly derive no practical benefit from it. The only real benefit claimed for it, so far as I know, is that it would simplify the keeping of accounts. As against that it seems to me that it would be absolutely necessary for us to keep both the old and new systems in force for many years. The rising generation would have to be taught both systems until the time arrived when the old method might be wholly superseded by the new one. I believe that that time will come. The difficulties would gradually disappear.
– They disappear in a month when a man goes to the United States. 3m2
– My own experience is that people who go to the States do not trouble very much about the system of coinage there. They are told that they have to pay so much, and they pay it without making any calculations as to whether the charge is right or wrong. The evidence given before the committee shows that when the present system was introduced in the United States great difficulty was experienced in preventing people from continuing to use the old methods, while in Franco some 50 years elapsed before any attempt was made to make the decimal system compulsory. I do not know whether the committee would say that at the end of two years the decimal system should be made compulsory. If such a course were adopted, it would cause a great outburst of public feeling against it, and unless the change were made compulsory many years would elapse before it came to be generally adopted. In these circumstances, I cannot support the adoption of the report. I feel strongly that the system, if adopted, should be brought into operation in conjunction with the metric system of weights and measures, and that, if it could be avoided, it should not be accepted unless as part of an Empire scheme. I, therefore, move, as an amendment -
That all the words after “that,” line 1, be omitted, with a view to insert in lien thereof the words - “ in the opinion of this House any change to decimal coinage by Australia should in order to confer in any great measure the benefits expected from it, be preceded by its adoption in the United Kingdom, and if possible be accompanied by the metric system of weights and measures. That in view of the fact that the time has not, in the judgment of the Government of the United Kingdom, arrived for the substitution of the decimal system for the existing coinage, it would not at present be advisable to initiate the system in the Commonwealth.”
– -Put that into three words, “ Yes, Mr. Chamberlain.”
– I have already dealt with that old gag, in the absence of my honorable friend. If the honorable member for South Sydney thinks that the course I hare suggested would further the object he has in view, I shall have no objection to an amendment of the amendment providing that the Imperial authorities be strongly urged to reconsider tho whole matter, and, if possible, to effect a change by adopting a system simpler than that which the committee have brought before us. My sympathies are with the honorable member ; but, like those who have had to dealwith this matter in Britain, I fear that the advantages would be com paratively few, while the disadvantages to the bulk of our people would be great. I have pointed out the objections raised by the witnesses, in order that the matter may ‘ be fully considered. I have an open mind on the subject, and I have been guided only by the evidence which has been put before the committee. Upon that evidence I feel that 1 cannot support its conclusion.
– I am not at all sure that I can accept the amendment. When the House met this morning the honorable member for South Sydney gave notice of a motion which, I think, covers practically the whole subject dealt with. in this amendment, and though that motion is not literally uypn the notice-paper at the present time, I think it must be held to be in the possession of the House. If I accept the amendment it will be placed upon the notice-paper, and the motion of the honorable member for South Sydney will alsoappear there, so that we shall have two notices on the businesspaper at the one time dealing with practically the same subject. I askthe Treasurer therefore to let me look again at his amendment, and also at the motion of the honorable member for South Sydney. If upon further consideration I find that they do not conflict, or cover the same ground, both will appear, but if the reverse is the cose the motion of the honorable member for South Sydney, having been given notice of first, will be placed upon the notice-paper, and I shall not be able to accept the amendment of the Treasurer.
– If you, sir, come to the conclusion that the amendment and the motion conflict, it will be necessary to omit only that portion of the amendment which refers to the metric system to enable it to be placed upon the business-paper, because the other portion of it’ does not conflict with the motion of the honorable member for South Sydney. I should like to have the whole amendment placed before honorablo membors if that can be done, but otherwise I should like only that portion of it to be struck out which conflicts with the motion of which notice has already been given.
– I am bound to carry out the standing orders, and I cannot, therefore, allow two notices dealing withthe one matter in practically the same way to appear on. the notice-paper at the . one time. If the motion and amendment are in conflict, the latter cannot appear ; but if they are not in conflict they will both appear.
– Will the adoption of the amendment, or its acceptance as an amendment, in any way curtail the discussion on the main question?
– In no way.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Thomson) adjourned.
At a later stage -
– I have again read the notice of motion of the honorable member for South Sydney, and I see that there is no such conflict bet ween it and the amendment of the Treasurer as will prevent both from appearing upon the notice-paper.
Ordered (on motion by Mr.G. B.
That’ a return be laid upon the tablo of this - House giving, in tabulated form, the undermentioned particulars of all prosecutions under the Customs Act from the coming into, force of the said statute to 30th May last -
Ordered (on motion by Mr. Hartnoll) -
That a return be laid upon the table of the-
House showing the number of private telephones in each municipal or police district in Tasmania (only excepting the cities of Hobartand Launceston) which nave been relinquished. since the regulations issued by the PostmasterGeneral come into force.
House adjourned at 3.37 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 June 1903, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1903/19030612_reps_1_13/>.