House of Representatives
19 June 1903

1st Parliament · 2nd Session



Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.

page 1156

QUESTION

NEW TARIFF GUIDE

Mr A PATERSON:
CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND

– Is it the intention of the Government to issue copies of the new Tariff guide to Members of Parliament?

Mr KINGSTON:
Minister for Trade and Customs · SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · Protectionist

– It is intended to send one copy to each memberwho desires it. We have not thought it necessary to send copies round to every one without application.

page 1156

QUESTION

DUTY ON WORKS OF ART

Sir LANGDON BONYTHON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA

– I wish to know from the Minister for Trade and Customs whether any decision has yet been arrived at with reference to the charging of duty upon the statue of the late Sir Thomas Elder, which was recently imported into South Australia?

Mr KINGSTON:
Protectionist

– Yes; it has been decided that the statue is a work of art, and, as such, it must under the Tariff be admitted free of duty.

page 1156

QUESTION

UNIFORM WHARFAGE RATES

Mr HARTNOLL:
TASMANIA, TASMANIA

asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -

Whether it is his intention to compel Marine Boards and Harbor Trusts to levy-within their jurisdiction uniform wharfage rates, so that freetrade between the States of the Commonwealth may become a reality ?

Mr KINGSTON:
Protectionist

– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -

Wharfage rates devised to interfere with Interstate free-trade are unconstitutional and cannot be permitted. At the same time, wharfage rates which are not so devised, but are simply fair charges for the services rendered, are not open to objection. The value of wharfage services differs at various ports. Special attention will be given to any particular case which is brought under the notice of the Government. The passing of the Inter-State Commission Bill will facilitate dealing with matters of this sort, as the commission is charged by the Constitution with the duty of executing the provisions of the Constitution relating to trade and commerce.

page 1156

QUESTION

TELEGRAPHIC DELAYS

Mr KIRWAN:
KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -

  1. Whether his attention has been called to a statement in the Melbourne Argus of Thursday lost, that a telegraphic press message took twenty hours in transit between Perth and Melbourne ; and if he is aware that these interruptions are of’ frequent occurrence, and canse considerable inconvenience to the commercial classes and press of Western Australia and the othor States ?
  2. Whether, as the additional line now in course of erection is on the same poles as the existing line, any benefit will accrue, in view of the fact that in the opinion of experts the interruptions are due to the proximity of the present line to the sea?
  3. What are the charges to the public proposed to be made by the Eastern Extension Company for sending messages by cable between Western Australia and Adelaide ?
  4. Whether the Government will not make without delay the land telegraphic connexion as near perfection as possible, so as to prevent the public having to pay high cable rates?
Sir EDM UND BARTON:
Minister for External Affairs · HUNTER, NEW SOUTH WALES · Protectionist

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -

  1. The attention of the Postmaster-General has been called to the statement in the Melbourne Argus referred to.He is not aware how the delay was caused, but a full inquiry is being made in all the States through which the telegram was transmitted. With respect to the frequency of interruptions, the Deputy Postmaster-General of Western Australia has reported as follows : - “ Twenty-one days during the year the old coast line worked badly, and business was subject to delay, due principally to leakage caused by bad weather, and distributed over various sections ; two total interruptions occurred between Esperance and Israelite- one caused by gale blowing down poles, and the other by bush fires. Inland line, rod Coolgardie, working badly - once between. Balladonia and Eucla, and twice between Eucla and Eyre, caused by storms ; once between Coolgardie and Norseman, caused by pole falling ; and once through cross with local line.”
  2. In the opinion of the Deputy PostmasterGeneral of South Australia, who is an admitted expert, the additional line to Yardea on existing poles will be a distinct benefit as it will enable the Department to cope with the business.
  3. The charges proposed by the company for the use of its cable are - for ordinary telegrams, 3d. per word ; for Government telegrams,1½d. per word ; and far press telegrams,1d. per word.
  4. The Government proposes to provide a sum of £20,000 for the erection of an additional wire on the line from Perth to Eucla viâ Coolgardie, and this will be proceeded with as soon as the money is available. It is fully anticipated that this, together with the additional line viâ Yardea, will provide for the additional business which has accrued from the great reduction of the telegraph rate between Western Australia and the other States of the Commonwealth.

page 1157

QUESTION

WESTERN AUSTRALIAN TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILWAY

Mr KIRWAN:
for Mr. Mahon

asked the Minister for Home Affairs,upon notice -

  1. . When the final report may be expected from the engineers who are inquiring into the construction of the Port Augusta-Kalgoorlie railway ?
  2. Will the Minister urge the engineers to expedite their final report, so that it may be received in time to permit the question as to the construction of this railway being considered by this House during the present session ?
Sir EDMUND BARTON:
Minister for External Affairs · HUNTER, NEW SOUTH WALES · Protectionist

– I have not received an answer to the question which the honorable member has just asked. I may state, however, that the Minister for Home Affairs informed me that the report in question may be expected very shortly,

And that he is doing all that is in reason to have it expedited.

page 1157

QUESTION

COMMONWEALTH COINAGE

Debate resumed from 12th June (vide page 908), on motion by Mr. G. B. Edwards -

That the report of the Select Committee on Commonwealth Coinage brought up, and ordered by this House to be printed, on 4th April, 1902, be now adopted ; upon which Sir George Turner had moved, by way of amendment -

That all the words after “that,” line 1, be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu 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.”

Mr THOMSON:
North Sydney

– In resuming this debate, I cannot let pass the opportunity of complimenting the Chairman of the Coinage Committee on the very full, able, and effective speech which he delivered last Friday in support of the recommendations of the committee. In some parts of it he rose even to eloquence, and a man who can be eloquent upon the subject of decimals could, I think, extract a poem from the differential calculus. I shall not do him the injustice of endeavouring to amplify the historical and practical treatment which he gave to the subject. The chief object of my remarks is to reply to the objections raised to the report by the Treasurer. The right honorable gentleman stated that he was afraid that the committee came to their finding, not so much on the evidence submitted to them, as under the influence of enthusiasm imparted by the chairman. Although there are differences of opinion in the evidence, and it is not as extensive as the efforts of the committee to obtain expressions of opinion from witnesses justified, the great majority of those examined testified to the value of a decimal system as compared with the presentsystem. The differences of opinion were more as to the kind of decimal system which should be adopted, and the time when it should be brought into operation. But the evidence published with the report by no means covers the whole of the information which we had before us. We were able to refer to the valuable reports based upon inquiries by committees of the House of Commons and commissions appointed by the British Government, and were able to read evidence given on the subject by men of the highest position in the commercial and financial world at home. We were guided in our recommendations by that evidence as well as by the evidence given before the committee, and concluded, as all but one of those committees and commissions did, that, not only would the decimal system of coinage be superior to our present system, but that it is desirable that it shall be brought into operation at the earliest convenient moment. The enthusiasm of the chairman could have had no effect upon the opinions of the members of the English boards of inquiry, and yet we find one of them declaring that-

In conclusion, your committee, having well weighed the comparative merits of the existing system of coinage and the decimal system, and the obstacles which must necessarily be met with in passing from one system to another–

And in Great Britain these obstacles are of the greatest magnitude as compared with those which we have to face here - desire to repeat their decided opinion of the superior advantages of the decimal system, and to record their conviction that the obstacles referred to are not of such a nature as to create any doubt of the expediency of introducing that system, so soon as the requisite appropriation shall have been made for the purpose, by means of cautious but decisive action on the part of the Government.

Subsequently to that recommendation being made, a resolution was carried in the House of Commons to the effect that the issue of two-shilling pieces had proved eminently successful and. satisfactory. That was the first step towards decimalization, but a second resolution was carried without opposition, affirming that a further extension of the system would be of public advantage. It is quite true that the latest British Committee, while acknowledging the value of the decimal system as compared with the present system, did not, on the ground of expediency, advocate its being brought into operation. The Treasurer will find, as I have already stated, that in the evidence brought before the Commonwealth Committee, most of the differences of opinion expressed are not as to the value of the decimal system, but as to the kind of decimal system which should be adopted, and as to the time when it should be brought into operation. It was the committee’s business, seeing that there were those differences of opinion, to come to a conclusion, upon the evidence given before them, and upon the other sources of information available to them, both as to which would be the best decimal system to adopt, and as to when would be a desirable time to bring it into operation. That they have done. The quotations which the Treasurer made from the evidence of various witnesses, giving opinions differing from the recommendations of the committee, express chiefly differences of opinion upon matters of detail coming under those two heads. But it must be remembered that we in Australia are in an infinitely better position than are the people of Great Britain to introduce a system of this kind. Our population is small as compared with that of Great Britain, and our trading relations are infinitely less. I am perfectly certain, from the reports which I have read, that the people of Great Britain regard it as a great pity that advantage was not taken of the opportunity to introduce the decimal system at an earlier stage in the history of the nation, when their population was nearer the level of our own, when their trade was smaller, and when the consequent disturbance of business would have been less. But we cannot, by postponing this alteration, put the question altogether aside, and we must remember that the difficulties in the way of any alteration will not decrease. As our population grows, and our interchange of commodities with other countries increases, the difficulties will increase. I. am therefore satisfied that it would be the truest wisdom not to postpone matters, but to face the question at once. I can quite understand that the Treasurer, in looking through the report, was seeking the line of least resistance, and he must have chuckled when he discovered the opportunity which was given to him by the evidence of several of the witnesses in favour of the postponement of any action on our part until something is done in respect to the matter by Great Britain. The committee were of opinion that if there was any likelihood of Great Britain taking action in the near future, it would be wise to defer moving in the matter here; but inquiries made from the Secretary of State for the Colonies elicited the reply that the difficulties in England were too great to allow of the proposed reform being considered at present. The committee then had to consider whether, in view of this, we should postpone the improvement of our system until a uniform change could be made throughout the Empire. We had every indication of the direction in which Great Britain would go when she did decide to decimalize her coinage, and we- felt that we could proceed on these lines, and that a change could be effected now with far less disturbance than in the future. The Treasurer raised a number of objections to the decimalization of our coinage. First of all he said that the people had not asked for it, and that therefore it was not the duty of the Government to undertake it. I think that the right honorable gentleman forgot one of the functions of government. Have not Governments very properly introduced many measures “for which the people have not asked 1 Have they not frequently taken action which has been repugnant, for a time at least, to the great majority of the people? Did the people ever ask for the change that was made in the Calendar ? Did they npt object to the change, and clamour for the days which they supposed they had lost? Did the people of Australia ever ask that the standard time should be made .uniform in certain of the States ? That reform was never asked for, but it was effected because it was thought that it would be of advantage to the people. Did the people ever ask for a great deal of our sanitary legislation1! Did they not sometimes offer to it a passive, if not an active, resistance ? Was vaccination ever approved of by the bulk of the people before it was adopted ? No. It was urged by a few who had studied the question that it was a desirable thing, and the Government thought the matter so important that they determined to introduce it for the good of the people, even in the face of strong objection. The Government has something more to do than merely to carry out the expressed will of the people. I can understand a Government not wishing to do more than that, because so long as it is content with that it may rest assured of a majority, and as long as it has a majority it can live. But it is required of Government that it should introduce any change which it considers to be for the general advantage, even though a large number of the people may not appreciate it. The Treasurer objected .to the decimalization of coinage because of the practical difficulties which he said no nation had ever faced, except, in order to replace a mixed and debased currency. But some nations with no more mixed or debased standards than out- own have undertaken to effect changes. The French Government faced the decimalization of its weights and measures when their system was no more diverse and no more objectionable than is ours. Further than that, if the mixed and debased character of the coinage compelled some nations to effect a reform, it has to be remembered that the intrusion of foreign money which led to the mixing and debasing of the coinage increased the difficulty attendant upon the adoption of a new system. When the people still had access to the coinage which had prevously debased their system, it could not be expected that the decimalization of the national coinage would take effect quickly and thoroughly. It might be fully relied upon that for years afterwards the mixed coinage would continue in use, and that the difficulties of effecting the change would be increased thereby. Yet in spite of this knowledge the French Government faced the task, and accomplished a very desirable” reform. Australia is so situated that she is not tempted to use coinage other than her own. She is an Island State, cut off from other parts of the world, and so long as we can get a good coinage for ourselves we are not tempted to use outside money. This very fact should operate in favour of simplicity in making the change here. The reform could be brought about promptly and effectively, and we should not have to wait for years in order to completely shut out intruding coins. We should remember that, as compared with older countries, the superior education of our people, and their aptitude and alertness, offers security for their ability to adapt themselves to a system of decimal coinage with very little disturbance. They have been able to carry on their affairs with some of the most debased standards that were ever adopted by any nation. In the early days of New South Wales rum was the standard of currency, and under that extraordinary system the people managed to live and conduct their business. You will find so many gallons of rum mentioned in the title deeds of property in Sydney, as the consideration which passed upon their transfer. The chaplain and other officers of a British regiment in New South Wales actually received their salaries in the form of certificates for rum. I do not mean to say that they actually consumed the rum, but the certificates for rum were the money standard of the time, and the values of other articles were reckoned -upon them. It was the medium of exchange. At another period, Mexican, Spanish, or Eastern dollars were the standard of currency, and for convenience the dollars were cut into chunks to represent smaller coins. Even under this system the people managed to appreciate values and conduct their interchanges. Then we know that in some parts of Australia, hides, sheep, or bushels of corn, have at different times been the standard of exchange amongst the people. Now we have the British coinage, which is undoubtedly a good example of the mixed duodecimal system. Just as the people managed under the rough and ready methods I have described to conduct their affairs with satisfaction to themselves, so have they been able to adapt themselves to our present coinage, and to be satisfied with it. That, however, does not establish the fact that there is no better system than the British. I am supported by the strongest evidence when I declare that the decimal system is superior to our own. It is in this direction that the countries of the world are moving to-day, and it is also in this direction that Great Britain will in the future, more or less remote, have to move. The Treasurer considered that it would be necessary to run two systems concurrently, owing to the inability of the people to adapt themselves to the decimal system. He thinks that the old would stand side by side with the new. I have already referred to the readiness of our people to adapt themselves to new circumstances, and I am confident that there would be no necessity for running concurrent systems. Many of our people move into countries where the decimal system of coinage is established, such as the United States and Canada, and within one week are quite as well able to conduct their affairs in decimal coinage as under the English system to which they have been previously accustomed. The decimal system is more simple than our own, and the relative values of the coins can soon be understood and appreciated by even the least educated of men. The Treasurer has stated that he has nothing to say against the excellencies of the decimal system, to which he is himself favorably disposed, but he has discounted that statement by saying that, after all, it has” evident disadvantages. He quoted some remarks of witnesses to the effect that suitability for calculation did not necessarily mean suitability for payment. ‘ I quite admit that ; but the Treasurer did not go on to prove the unsuitability of the decimal system for payment. I propose to show him by figures that, upon this point, the system proposed by the committee is, if anything, superior to that now in existence. For instance, if, under the present system, 3’ou take the number of coins necessary to make up every sum from one farthing to sixpence - that is, one farthing, one halfpenny, three-farthings, one penny, and so so - you will find that you can make 24 different amounts, and that you will require 61 coins to do so. Now, under the proposed system, ‘ between 1 cent and 25 cents - 25 cents being equal to our sixpence: - you can make, not 24, but 25 separate payments, and you can make them with 60 coins, or one coin less. If you take from 6£d. to ls. under the present system there would be 24 separate sums,’ and it would take S4 coins to make them up, whereas under the proposed system there would be 25 separate sums, and to make them up would require 85 coins, or one coin more. Under the present system, between ls. 0A. and 2s., which is equivalent to 100 cents, 48 sums can be made up, and to make them up 192 coins would be required, whereas under the proposed system there would be 50 separate sums, to make up which 194 coins would be required, or two coins more. What is the total of these 1 If you take from £d. to 2s. - which latter is the unit of the proposed system - under the present system 96 separate sums could be made up, and it would take 337 coins to do that, whilst under the proposed system you could make up 100 separate sums, and to do so would require 339 coins, or two coins more.

Mr McCay:

– Has the honorable member worked out any calculation based upon the substitution of the halfpenny for the farthing, because a farthing is rather an academic basis to adopt 1

Mr THOMSON:

– I will allude to that matter presently, and show the effect of dropping the cent as we now drop the farthing. Had my calculation been made in that- way, it would -have told more against the present system. The figures which I have given show that you can make up four more sums under the new system than under the present system of currency, and that you require only two additional coins to do it, so that you get a greater subdivision with practically the same number of coins. The report of the committee states that if it is deemed desirable to do so, the 1-cent piece can be omitted. It follows then that we should have to coin a 3-cent piece to allow of the making up of certain sums. That would be a desirable addition to the coinage if we omitted the 1-cent piece. By omitting the farthing, as we do at present, from our issue, we could not make up odd farthings or three farthings ; and we should reduce the sums that we could make up by almost a half. But under the proposed system by dropping the cent, and substituting a 3-cent piece-

Mr McCay:

– If you have a 3-cent piece you ought also to calculate upon a 3-far- thing piece.

Mr THOMSON:

– I am quite content to go to any length that the honorable and learned member may wish, so satisfied am I of the superiority of the decimal system. But if you have the 3-cent piece you can make up all the 100 separate sums between that coin and 2s. except one. I admit that if you issue a 3-far- thing piece, you could do likewise as regards the 96 possible sums. But even in that case there is no superiority in our present system. Not merely therefore as a method of calculation are the decimals infinitely superior, but as a means of exchange or of purchase they provide fully all the facilities provided by our present system.

Mr McCay:

– Has the honorable member considered the question in its relation to our present system of weights and measures ?

Mr THOMSON:

– That is rather a separate subject, but I admit at once that the decimalization of weights and measures - if that is what the honorable and learned member means - would provide even very much greater facilities for interchange than the decimal system of coinage. The coinage is only one item in the decimalization of weights, measures, and values, and although our system of weights and measures is duodecimal and mixed - just as our coinage is duodecimal and mixed - that does not give us any facilities for calculating, whilst decimal money can be used as a means of calculation with the present mixed and chaotic system of weights and measures far more effectively than with our present system of coinage.

Mr McCay:

– I was referring to the disadvantage of adopting the decimal coinage system without the decimalization of the metric system.

Mr THOMSON:

– I will, allude to that matter later on. The Treasurer got hold of a piece of evidence by some witness who said that pounds, shillings, and pence are easily added up. It is true that they are just as easily added as are decimals, but you must effect a division at every column besides doing the addition. Even if the single columns are as easily added as are the decimals, does the Treasurer say that you can divide and multiply with anything like the ease that you can under the decimal system? There is no comparison between the two methods. You have to perform divisions even in the addition of pounds, shillings, and pence. In attempting to multiply pounds, shillings, pence, and farthings, there is an enormous risk of inaccuracy occurring under the present system, as compared with the simplicity of similar operations under the decimal system. Then the Treasurer stated that you cannot express one-seventh in decimals except in recurring fractions, which go on through all eternity. I should not like to provide as an occupation for the Treasurer’s eternity in the working out of recurring decimals. As a matter of fact, there is no practical occasion to carry out recurrent decimals to any length. Under our present system of coinage, you cannot express one-seventh of a shilling, and whilst it is true that under the decimal system you cannot express one-seventh in figures without using the recurring decimal, in ordinary calculations there is no need to carry out those decimals to more than two places. In minute calculation the recurrence of the decimal enables you to carry it on till you get practical accuracy, no matter how fine the calculation may be.

Mr McCay:

– We can get absolute accuracy with a vulgar fraction.

Mr THOMSON:

– Yes, because in practice we use less subdivision, but if we want to get absolute fineness we must favour the use of the decimal. Even the authorities at the Mint stated that they work out all their calculations by decimals, and subsequently convert those decimals into the present currency.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Insurance offices do the same thing.

Mr THOMSON:

– Yes, and banks also; they have discovered the superiority of the system.

Mr McCay:

– Its. superior simplicity, but not its superior accuracy.

Mr THOMSON:

– The “ honorable and learned member is right and wrong in that statement. One can go to the length of a ten-millionth part under the decimal system if he chooses to do so. Surely that is accurate enough for most things. It is true that he can make use of a vulgar fraction by putting the figure 1 above 10,000,000, but by so doing he is really making use of the decimal notation. In simple fractions, we jump from ^ to Let honorable members look at the range between these two sums. In a simple fraction these sums are nearest to each other, because 2 follows 3 in our notation. Between these two ranges we can express in decimals sixteen or seventeen different subdivisions. Of course, we could get much nearer than that if we compounded the fractions. We could have 4-9ths for example, and so on. But what does that mean’! That we have then to multiply and divide. We have to enter into two calculations and that is a complication we would avoid under the decimal system, whilst under that system we can get a finer subdivision more easily than can be obtained by the use of vulgar fractions.

Mr McCay:

– The honorable member is referring to calculations only, and not to payments.

Mr THOMSON:

– I have given instances as to payments. I have ‘shown that in all the payments which can be made up to 2s., we require under the present system - by the use of which we can make up only 96 separate sums - 337 coins, whereas under the decimal system - by the use of which we can make up 100 separate sums, or four extra sums - we require only 339 coins, or two coins more. Then the Treasurer objected that the adoption of the decimal system by Australia before its adoption by Great Britain would cause great difficulty in transforming British money into our money. I do not know how the Treasurer arrives at that conclusion. I am not by any means a lightning calculator, but I would undertake to transform without pen or pencil any sum of English money into the new decimal coinage.

Sir George Turner:

– But the honorable member, unlike the ordinary man in the street, has the experience and education necessary to enable him to do what he says, but the great mass of the people are not in that position. I have been practising myself, and it took me some time to effect the transformation. I like the old style better.

Mr THOMSON:

– The objection is only imaginary, as is shown by the fact that the Treasurer admits that there is no difficulty about the calculation.

Sir George Turner:

– I do not say there is no difficulty. My trouble is that I generally get the decimal point in the wrong place.

Mr THOMSON:

– A little practice would soon cause that difficulty to disappear. At any rate, the system of transforming the coinage is so simple that the Treasurer, or any other honorable member, can apply it without pen or pencil. It merely means that ten has to be added to the number of pounds, and the shillings divided by two, in order to get the number of florins ; then there is something less than two shillings remaining, which, when reduced to farthings, gives you the 24th. In that way the transformation is effected easily and instantly. As to the “man in the street,” surely our educational system is accomplishing something. I guarantee that some of the boys in our public schools could do the calculation much more rapidly and effectively than the Treasurer or myself. The point, however; is that the “ordinary man in the street” is not called upon to transform the coinage ; it is only those who have to deal with exchanges who have to do it, and it can be done with the utmost simplicity. All the “ ordinary man in the street” has to do is to make himself acquainted with the new coins, the whole of which are the same as the old coins excepting those below sixpence. The coins below sixpence, excepting the two and two-fifths coin are so close, being within 4 per cent. of the penny, halfpenny, or farthing, that “the man in the street” will not find any practical difficulty. Even as to systems which vary more from our own system, because they do not contain the coins above sixpence - such as the system of the United States or the Canadian system - there is no difficulty to an Australian in arriving at a full appreciation of the relative value of the coins within a week after landing in the countries where they prevail.

Mr O’Malley:

– Within an hour.

Mr THOMSON:

– The evidence which the committee had from witnesses who had been brought up under the British system and had latterly lived under the decimal system, was the strongest in favour of the latter, each witness declaring that he would not dream of desiring to return to our mixed coinage. Another objection raised by the Treasurer was that the threepenny bit would disappear - that this measure of our religion and our charity would not be available, to the injury, possibly, of religion and charity. It might be desirable, from that point of view, to have no silver coin under sixpence ; but I point out to the Treasurer that the threepenny bit, if it is of such importance and value, need not disappear. It could be minted as a coin of convenience, in the same way as is proposed in regard to many of the other coins under the decimal system. We might coin a 12½ cent. piece, or, if the Treasurer wishes to abolish the half, a 12 cent. piece, which would practically take the place of the threepenny piece. I do not think there is much in the objection raised on this score by the Treasurer, but, if there were, I have indicated a means of getting over the difficulty. The Treasurer seemed to favour the American dollar and the retention of our penny, though I do not know whether he has given much attention to the point.

Sir George Turner:

– I did not say I was in favour of that course being followed, but suggested that it would prove the simplier, seeing that we cannot get rid of our sovereign.

Mr THOMSON:

– The Treasurer did not say absolutely that he was in favour of the American dollar and the retention of our penny, but he seemed inclined to regard such a step with approval. The Select Committee went very closely into this matter. Amongst some of the members of the committee there was a predilection in favour of the American dollar, but it was found that the British sovereign is too closely interwoven with the affairs of the United Kingdom - that it is the coin of our records and our statistics - and that, even in countries beyond the British Isles, it has become an important standard of value. That being so, the committee arrived at the conclusion that, unless there was the strongest possible reasons, it would be unwise to depart from the sovereign as a standard, especially when we may anticipate that the direction which a decimalization of the coinage would take in Great Britain would probably be that indicated very emphatically by the reports of all the select committees which have considered the question there, and also by the coinage of the two-shilling piece, avowedly as a first move towards a reform such as is now submitted for the approval of the House. These facts became so evident, and the disturbance of the coinage would be so much less when the1s., which has a very strong position, and the 6d. are retained, as also are the 10s. piece and the£1, that the select committee were first forced to the conclusion that the better course was to adopt the British sovereign as a basis. I believe that if the American coinage had to be constructed to-day, there would be a smaller unit than the dollar, which, as a coin of convenience, is too large to be suitable. In Canada, where the dollar is adopted nominally, that coin is actually never minted, but only the half-dollar, which is about equivalent to the two-shilling piece. It is most desirable that a unit of coinage should be one that will go into circulation. Then there is a great probability that some other countries adopting the decimal system will recognise the supremacy of the British sovereign, and make it the standard of value. We have been told by the honorable member for South Sydney that in Peru and Ecuador, of which the select committee knew nothing at the time their report was issued, the British sovereign has been adopted as the standard and reorganized as currency. That is evidence of the trend of future decimalization, and of the strength of the position that the British sovereign has acquired, partly by its size, weight, and suitability as a coin, but, more than all, by its containing a full 20s. worth of gold without any deduction for minting charges.

Mr O’Malley:

– The sovereign is still used in Canada.

Mr THOMSON:

– That is so. Canada was really compelled to adopt the American system, because there not being, as here, a sea-border, the intrusion of the American coinage could not be prevented. Had Canada not adopted the American system, there would for all time have been a mixed coinage in the Dominion, because it would have been impossible to prevent an influx of coins from over her border. That was the adoption of a coinage system by compulsion of circumstances. We have to face the further fact that there have been attempts to establish an international coinage, which would be of immense advantage to the peoples of the world. Coinage reform, such as I have indicated, would reduce the dead-weight which is felt by producers and consumers in the interchange and handling of products, although people in their ordinary daily avocations may not know of the disadvantages which they at present suffer. A reformed coinage would, as regards account, reduce the labour in the handling of products and the distribution of supplies, and therefore decimalization and unification of the world’s coinage is not merely a sentimental but a practical proposal, which, if accomplished, would, or ought to, do much for the peoples of the world, whether producers or consumers. The trend of a world’s coinage will, the committee think, be towards the adoption of a unit between the American dollar, with its clumsiness and difficulty in handling and circulation, and the smaller units of Europe, such as the franc and mark. The circumstances and conditions of the European peoples are gradually becoming more uniform. At one time only the very small coins were used by a great number of people on the continent ; but as wages rise, these very small coins are being displaced. Under the circumstances the select committee consider that the two-shilling piece would form a compromise between the two great systems of the world at the present time, and that a movement for a world’s coinage would probably be in that direction. Then there is the question of Great Britain being allowed to act first, and of decimalization of the weights and measures ever preceding, or taking place concurrently with the adoption of the decimal system.. The difficulties in the way of Great Britain Acting are much greater than those we have to face here, and whilst I believe that circumstances will force Great Britain not perhaps into the adoption of a decimal coinage, but into the adoption of a decimal system of weights and measures, and that it must then accompany the adoption of that system with a decimalization of the coinage, I see no reason why, with the uncertainty as to the time when it will act, we should not move in the direction in which it is sure to move, and on the lines which, so far as we can possibly see, it is likely to adopt.

Mr Watson:

– Is it worth our while to make a disturbance in regard to the coinage without the compensations which come from the adoption of the metric system of weights and measures ?

Mr THOMSON:

– I agree with the honorable member this far : that the most important thing is the decimalization of the weights and measures ; but we cannot move in that direction very well without Great Britain, for the reason that it does not merely affect the weights of our potatoes, corn, and so on, as those we can ourselves decimalize to some extent. If we adopt a decimal system of coinage without Great Britain we ought to adopt the cental instead of the bushel.

Mr Watson:

– We have done that in the Customs Tariff Act.

Mr THOMSON:

– Yes. If we did that it would be a great assistance when we had the decimal system of coinage. The two would interwork, “and much of the calculation,would be simply done by shifting a dot backwards and forwards. We can do that much, and we ought to do it ; it is of such importance that the sooner it is done the better. But the metric system of measurements will extend far beyond such questions as that. Great Britain to-day is, in my opinion, losing millions per year, and her workpeople are losing a great amount of work, owing to the non-adoption of the metric system. Her gauges, templates, moulds, patterns, screws, machines, are all different from those of the nations that have the metric system. The number of the peoples who have adopted the metric system is increasing from year to year.

Mr Watson:

– And a large proportion of the consumers of Great Britain’s products use the metric system!

Mr THOMSON:

– Yes. Once a country that Great Britain supplies, or has been supplying largely, introduces machinery founded on metric measurements or screws, or a variety of articles in the making of which you require very exact measurements, the chance of Great Britain competing for those things in that market is gone. They become the standards, as they have a right to do, because they are more suitable and more easily worked. For instance, take the erection of a milling plant for any purpose. The speeds and powers are calculated with the greatest ease when all the parts have been gauged to a decimal system of measurement. All that calculation, which is a very difficult thing with our system, is simplified so much that any one having the parts of a machine on that system once, will not have British parts. Those parts cannot be replaced or repaired, except by parts based on a similar measurement. Therefore the users have to go to the producers who work under the metric system. It will be asked, Why does not Great Britain adopt both systems ? It is because of the enormous expense of the machinery. It would cost England millions upon millions to change her system of weights and measures, because of the expense of altering the immense machines they have turning out certain gauges to machines that would turn out other gauges.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– It will cost her more if she does not.

Mr THOMSON:

– Yes; it is costing her more now if you take the loss per annum. That fact must begin to impress itself upon the people of Great Britain. Of course British people are conservative. Very often they have an admiration for old things because they are old, and they do not like facing, as the Americans are prepared to face, a destruction of valuable and very effective plants for other plants, in order to clear out their great works and put in other machinery to produce articles under a new system. That feeling, I believe, will go. The only question is, when will it go 1 When it does go, I believe there will be a decimalization of British weights, measures, and money, and from the reports of the British committees and the evidence afforded by the adoption of the florin and the position of the sovereign I have not the slightest doubt that the decimal system which we propose now must ultimately be accepted by Great Britain.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– Every Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain has declared in favour of the system.

Mr THOMSON:

– Yes ; the declarations of British Chambers of Commerce have been in favour of its adoption. In that connexion I desire to point out a fact to the Treasurer. We took every step to get evidence that was possible. We sent out a schedule of very embracing questions to the Chambers of Commerce, and to many other institutions, such as the stock exchanges and trades-halls in the different States.

Mr Bamford:

– That is where you would get reliable information.

Mr THOMSON:

– We did not get much reliable information, because we did not get any practically from trades-halls. We sent out a schedule to parties who might be expected to regard this subject from different points of view. We got very little information in return, and the great strength of our report lies in the evidence which we had available in the statements made before British commissions and committees by some of the most able men on such questions in the Empire. A great many of those to whom we applied are quite well acquainted with the decimal system and conduct a large part of their operations under it, and is it not clear that there is no opposition or objection to its introduction, otherwise there would have been a very active effort to bring opposing evidence before the committee 1 Most persons seemed to entertain this feeling - “Well, we can work along as we are. We are accustomed to the present system ; we have our staffs and so on. We admit that there would be some saving with the new system, and whilst we shall not oppose its adoption, we shall not bother ourselves about working in that direction.” That is pretty well the situation as evidenced by the results of our very wide-spread efforts to obtain witnesses. Another objection which the Treasurer had to this proposal was the abandonment of the penny and half-penny. We do not propose to abandon those coins. We only propose to vary their value to the extent of 4 per cent. The same coins would do as tokens ; they are not intrinsically worth anything like a penny or a half -penny. We were faced with this difficulty, that if we adopted the 2s. unit we had to make the penny token either a coin worth lid., or a coin worth 4 per cent, less than Id. We did not consider, that in the interests of the public, it was right to give . the penny token the value of lid. Of course, in the matter of wages, it could make no difference,’ because they could be calculated to an exactitude under the decimal system by cents. But in services or articles purchased for a penny or half-penny there must be one of two things done. In a great many cases the quantity of the article, or the extent of the service could be varied to suit, if need be, that difference of 4 per cent.

Mr Mauger:

– How would the newspapers manage ? They would knock off a column.

Mr THOMSON:

– My honorable friend as a member of the committee knows that we discussed that question.

Sir George Turner:

– One witness suggested that they should take one column off.

Mr THOMSON:

– They could do it in that way if they wished, but I do not think that they would be so wanting in enterprise as to do that. There are a few cases such as postage stamps, newspapers, and so on, where the quantity of the article or character of the service practically could not be varied.

Mr Watson:

– Probably the newspapers would charge five cents.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– No; the whole history of newspapers and postage stamps is in the direction of cheapening the price.

Mr THOMSON:

– What the newspapers would do - because some of them would be enterprising enough to do it, if all did not wish to do so - would be to charge the coin which would be equivalent to the present penny, and put up with the loss of 4 per cent. I do not think that eventually it would be a loss even to them.

Mr Mauger:

– They -would not do it without a struggle.

Mr HUME COOK:
BOURKE, VICTORIA · PROT

– They do not make their profits out of the sale of the paper.

Mr THOMSON:

– They reduced the price of the paper, first from 3d. to 2d., and then from 2d. to Id. I am certain that ‘ there is not going to be a retrograde increase of prices. Then we come to the question of stamps. This system provides a fuller subdivision than the old system does. We can issue a 4-cent stamp, a 5-cent stamp, and a 6-cent stamp. It might be that by issuing a stamp at 96-lOOd., or 4 per cent, less than a penny, there would be a loss of 4 percent., but the people individually would benefit to the same extent that the revenue loses. But with the increase of the postal business, any loss so occasioned would soon disappear. With reference to the Customs Tariff, the question has been raised as to the effect of the proposed change upon penny and halfpenny duties. They could be adjusted so that the returns from the Tariff would be exactly the same as they are now. Some duties could be reduced to four cents, or three cents, others increased to five cents, and so on. There would be in the total no loss whatever. There would simply be an adjustment. I think I have answered the objections of the Treasurer as well as I am able, and I will now briefly refer to the findings of the committee so far as I have not touched them. They are practically these : We recommend the adoption of a decimal coinage, and suggest a certain system. Then we recommend that the adoption should be an early one, and should precede action by Great Britain or with respect to the metric system of weights and measures.

Sir George Turner:

– The honorable member would not allow the old and the new systems to run together, surely 1

Mr THOMSON:

– If we adopted the decimal system, we should remove the existing coins as early as possible. We could not do it in a day, but within a reasonable period those Coins should be withdrawn. The Treasurer agrees with the proposals of the committee with regard to coining silver and copper, as he finds that there would be an advantage from adopting them. Of course, there would have to be a mint mark upon our coins to distinguish them. It would be desirable in that case to, as early as possible, have the present British minted coins withdrawn.

Mr Bamford:

– Except the sovereign.

Mr THOMSON:

– I am only alluding to silver and copper coins. The committee also recommend that we should not coin our own gold so long as we use the British sovereign. There is really no profit attaching to the coinage of gold. The British Government are very particular, even though they lose by the coinage of sovereigns, in requiring that they shall be able to guarantee their soundness and value by conducting the coinage under their own officers. There would be some profit by having one mint instead of three - that is to say, there would be a profit by removing our mints to the Federal capital ; but, on the other hand, the facilities afforded to the miners for the disposal of their gold would be diminished. They would have to pay the cost of carriage, and if the mint were in the Federal capital, a considerable amount of gold produced in Australia would be sent to England instead of being coined here.

Mr Watson:

– The miners would be at the mercy of the gold buyers.

Mr THOMSON:

– We should seek to give the gold buyers additional advantages. I do not think it would be wise to remove the existing mints. As to the coinage of our own silver and copper, the Treasurer, as he has told us, was, previous to the appointment of the committee, and is now, in strong agreement with our finding, that to establish a mint for this purpose would be undesirable. The amount of silver ‘ and copper coinage we require would not pay for the expenditure. We can get our silver and copper coinage from the Imperial mint, as Canada does, paying a slight percentage for the actual oversight. That percentage would not be anything like so great as our expenditure would be if we attempted to coin our own silver and copper. . I need not dwell upon that point, except to say that the Treasurer practically agrees with the committee with ^regard to it.

Mr Bamford:

– Would not the coining of our own silver apply in the same way to the silver miner as the coining of our gold does to the gold miner ?

Mr THOMSON:

– It would apply to a much smaller extent, because the quantity of silver which we produce in Australia is large as compared with the very small quantity we require as coinage. We coin sovereigns not only for our own needs - not even principally for our own needs - but much more largely for the needs of other portions of the world. A very large quantity of the gold which is coined here goes out of Australia, and is afterwards simply melted down into metal. The small quantity of silver we should require to coin for our own needs would have no influence whatever upon the value received by the mining companies for the silver they produce.

Mr Watson:

– There is more gold than silver secured by individual miners in Australia.

Mr THOMSON:

– Oh, yes; silver mining is principally conducted by large companies which can make their own arrangements in other parts of the world, and thereare not the intermediate parties between the silver producer and the coining that there are in the case of gold production.I think it unnecessary to state further reasons than I have done for the superiority of the decimal system recommended by the committee. The difference can be shown in a word. If honorable members were to attempt to find out how many twelfths of a foot there were in the table of this House, and had to do it with a rule which was measured to tenths of an inch, they would have a parallel to the difficulties which prevail under our present system. Under our system you are trying, by a notation which is in tenths, to calculate in a system of coinage which is in twentieths and twelfths and other relations. The proper course is to adopt asystem of monetary notation the principle of which is progression by tenths. The advantage of so doing is manifest. As to the saving in our schools, I do not think, personally, that there would be a large saving simply by the adoption of decimal coinage ; but the saving would be enormous by the adoption of decimal weights and measures as well as decimal coinage. It would be an enormous saving of labour to the children. They would get that grasp of arithmetic which at present, even after they have gone through our schools, and have earned high positions in their arithmetical classes, they lack. They do not understand what is the foundation of the system, or the notation of the system, and they cannot see a co-relation between the arithmetical notation and our existing notations of coinage and weights and measures. Indeed, there is no co-relation. If the children had the opportunity of learning a system of weights and measures and of values founded upon the same basis as the notation of arithmetic, they would at once see the whole principle, and would be saved the labour of having to learn all the relations of weights and measures and values that they do now, some of which are so complicated to their minds that it is a hard task to get them afterwards to make calculations correctly, even on Customs entries. We should have a simple system so interknit that we should save an enormous sum if only in the cost of handling and distributing the produce of the world. As to the recommendations of the committee respecting the particular form of the currency, I need not say more than has been said. With respect to the adoption of the system being determined upon as early as possible, I may say that, in my opinion, we cannot have abetter time than thepresentfor the purpose. I quite admit that theTreasurer as a member of a Ministry that has inaugurated several enormous changes that have had the effect of disturbing the people in different directions - sometimes, I am afraid, to their disadvantage - is not very ready to disturb them again, even to their advantage.

Sir George Turner:

– We find the British Chancellor of the Exchequer always taking up the same position.

Mr THOMSON:

– The difficulty is infinitely greater in Great Britain than it is here. If wehad to consider ourselves alone, we could introduce the proposed system, and in three months the people would be perfectly settled down to the change, and would in no way find difficulties occurring under it. But in England it is quite a different matter. People there are not so educated as they are here. They have not had to adapt themselves to new and changed circumstances so constantly as we have had to do. They have not had within the life-time of one man, as we have had, a rum currency, and a dollar currency, and a bushelof corn currency. They have not had all these varying circumstances to adjust themselves to ; and they have not the alertness of mind - I am not wishing in any way to derogate from their powers of mind - which people in a new country, who live under constantly changing conditions, have. If England had adopted the decimal system before her commerce had grown so great, she would to-day bless the fact of having done so. But she has now grown so large, her commerce is so great, her people have been so long accustomed to the old system, that it is very difficult for them to change. I believe it is an excusable thing for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, under the conditions prevailing in England, to hesitate - even although I believe he would be doing the best for the country by the adoption of the metric system of coinage and of weights and measures. But what is difficult in an old country is comparatively simple in a new one ; and whilst I quite admit that the advice to wait is an argument for Great Britain, still it is merely the argument of delay that is always advanced in these matters. I believe that in this, as in other things, Australia could do much to expedite the consideration and adoption of the proposed system by Great Britain. If we can do anything to push forward what will be of value to the British people, that should prove an additional reason for our adoption of the system. As to wedding the metric system of weights and measures to the metric system of coinage before adopting the latter, I see no reason why what is part of the process of decimalization should not take place -seeing that it is an advantage - before we accomplish the whole scheme. Owing to the relation of our weights and measures, our machinery gauges, our textile widths and lengths, and so on, to those of Great Britain, we can only decimalize in that direction when she does so. But I see no reason why the decimalization of our coinage, which I admit is a lesser reform, should await the larger reform which we hope will follow, and which the success of this would assist. I, for one, see none of those great difficulties that the Treasurer sees in the adoption of a decimal system of coinage. After some consideration, and after some tendency to favour delay, I came to the same conclusion - not influenced by the enthusiasm of the chairman of the committee, as the Treasurer has said - that hard-headed men have come to in Great Britain. The members of several. English committees, in spite of the difficulties there, and in spite of the greater importance of the change in its effects upon the people, came to the conclusion that the proposed system ought to be adopted by the British people. I have come to the same conclusion as did the House of Commons, which unanimously passed a resolution to the effect that the introduction of the florin had been a success, and that it should be followed up by a further decimalization of the British coinage. One of the British committees which found that, in spite of the difficulties which might surround the introduction of the decimal system in Great Britain, it was a matter which should be undertaken at the earliest possible moment was not a small one, nor was it unrepresentative or unintelligent. It comprised some of the hardest-headed business men in the British Empire, men of thought, education, learning, and position. The original members were Mr. William Brown, Mr. Cardwell, Mr. John Ball, Mr. Tufnell, Mr. Alderman Thompson, Mr. Dunlop, Mr. Matthew Forster, Lord Stanley - afterwards the Earl of Derby, who was by no means an enthusiast - Mr. Moody, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. John Benjamin Smith, Sir William Clay, the Marquis of Chandos, Sir William Jolliffe, and Mr. Kinnaird. They found as our committee, and prior British committees appointed to deal with the subject, found. As a matter of fact, only one British Commission has reported against the reform. Even that commission admitted the advantages which would attend the change, but reported against its introduction at the time, solely on the ground of expediency. In common with these various bodies, the committee appointed by this House holds that this matter ought to be faced at once, and we have far greater reasons for arriving at that conclusion than had the committees in Great Britain. If our committee has erred at all, it has erred in good company. I have much pleasure in supporting the report of the committee, and the able arguments - which I have refrained, as far as possible, from repeating - put forward last Friday by the chairman, the honorable member for South Sydney.

Mr BAMFORD:
Herbert

– After the very able and exhaustive speeches that have been delivered by the honorable member for South Sydney, and the honorable member for North Sydney, I think it would be futile for me to attempt to traverse any of the ground over which they have gone. I have no intention of taking part in this debate. My only desire is to put a question to the Treasurer. It has been said that if the Commonwealth undertook the coinage of its own silver it would secure a profit, or seigniorage, amounting to at least £30,000 or £40,000 per annum. At the present time, when the desire for economy is so strong, and the “ Kya-Brummagem “ sentiment is so much in evidence, so great a saving would be of much value, and I would ask the Treasurer if he proposes to take any definite steps to secure it ?

Sir George Turner:

– I have been endeavouring for years past to secure that saving. My negotiations on behalf of the Commonwealth commenced on the 1st of May, 1901.

Mr BAMFORD:

– May I take that as an answer to my question?

Sir George Turner:

– Certainly I shall do what I can in the matter.

Mr BAMFORD:

– To see that the coinage of our silver is taken over by the Commonwealth ?

Sir George Turner:

– Not to have it coined here, but to have the minting done for us at cost price.

Mr.BAMFORD.- That would secure the profit for the Commonwealth.

Mr WATSON:
Bland

– I have to acknowledge the good services which the committee appointed, at the instance of the honorable member for South Sydney, has done in gathering together such a mass of evidence from representative people throughout the Commonwealth, and in preparing the very able report upon the subject which ‘they have placed before us.I confess, however, that I am somewhat in a quandary as to the position which one should take up at the present time. While I thoroughly agree with the members of the committee, and with the very able speeches made by the honorable member for South Sydney, and the honorable member for North Sydney, in support of the decimal coinage system, I find myself confronted by a difficulty. That difficulty is that even the comparatively small change proposed by the committee - and I am glad to see that they have decided in favour of the adoption of the sovereign as a basis - would involve a considerable commercial disturbance. I fully recognise the force of the argument put forward by the chairman of the committee and others, that the change would involve the minimum disturbance possible under any alteration to a decimal system of coinage. That some disturbance would necessarily be involved must go without saying; but I cannot see that we should gain anything like a corresponding advantage by making this change in the absence of any attempt to introduce at the same time the metric system of weights and measures.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– One thing at a time.

Mr WATSON:

– One ata time is generally regarded as very good fishing. But I do not consider that it would be wise to have two distinct disturbances of trade in effecting what after all is only the one object. It seems to me that the convenience which would result to the people by the arrangement of our coinage upon a decimal basis would be comparatively small as compared with the great convenience, not to say the absolute necessity, of a reform in regard to our system of weights and measures. That is the most important aspect of this question, and therefore I do not feel disposed to say that the proposed change in our coinage system should be made immediately. So far as the decimal system generally as applied to weights and measures is concerned, there appears to be year by year an increasing body of public opinion in England in favour of its adoption.. Comparatively speaking, it was only a short time ago that the present Prime Minister of England, while holding office in another capacity, declared that the existing system was an arbitrary, perverse, and utterly absurd one. He gave every evidence of his sympathy with the proposal that England should adopt the metric system of weights and measures. The request then preferred was supported by representatives of almost every class in the community; by representatives of those associated with commerce, with labour organizations, with the teaching institutions of Great Britain, and every other class from whom an expression of opinion would be of value. There seems to be, therefore, a growing feeling in favour of this change being made at a comparatively early date. That being so, instead of adopting the amendment moved by the Treasurer, which would appear to prevent an expression of opinion on the part of this House, we should give some expressionof our own desire. We should rather take a course which would clearly define what are the desires of this House. The sooner the change is made the better it will be, not only for British commerce and industry, but also for Australian trade. I believe that a change to the metric system of weights and measures, accompanied by the adoption of the decimal system of coinage, would, materially affect Great Britain eventually, if not immediately, and that with that development of Australian manufactures, which honorable members on all sides of the House agree is reasonably possible within the near future, the change would also affect us very largely in our trade relations with the outside world. This House should give expression to any feeling which it may entertain in favour of the general adoption of the decimal system, and I am prepared at once to go to that extent, in order if possible to encourage the British Government to take the matter in hand without delay.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The next motion on the notice-paper deals with the metric system.

Mr WATSON:

– Quite so; but the position taken up by those who advocate the adoption of the report is that they are prepared to accept a system of decimal coinage for the Commonwealth whether we have the metric system of weights and measures or not. I do not think it would be wise to make one change without the other. If we did so, we should only create additional disturbance. The convenience which would result from any new system of coinage would not in itself be commensurate with the degree of disturbance which it would necessarily involve; but we should be justified in accepting the risk of any disturbance to secure the application of the metric system to coinage and weights and measures. For these reasons, my inclination is to give a vote which will express an opinion in favour of the immediate adoption of the decimal system throughout the Empire.

Sir George Turner:

– I said that I had no objection to the addition of words bo my amendment so as to urge upon the British Government the advisableness of taking the matter in hand.

Mr WATSON:

– That is what I desire shall be done. If the Treasurer will agree to alter his amendment so that it will give an expression of opinion in favour of the change being made, while intimating at the same time that we await the decision of the British Government before taking action, I shall be satisfied. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman has thought of any alteration that would meet that position, or whether he holds that there should bean amendment of the amendment.

Sir George Turner:

– There should be an amendment of the amendment.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– What does the honorable member think of the suggestion that we should immediately secure the seigniorage on our silver ?

Mr WATSON:

– I believe we are all agreed as to the justice and desirableness of obtaining for the Commonwealth whatever profit arises from the coinage of our silver and silver tokens.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– In order to secure that seigniorage it would be necessary to issue different coins.

Mr WATSON:

– Possibly so, but even if we issued different coins the same values could continue to attach to them. In my opinion, that would be a matter of easy arrangement. I propose to move -

That the amendment be amended by the omission of the word “any,” line 3, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ a.”

I shall put that forward only as a preliminary amendment. If it is agreed to, I shall move for a further amendment of the amendment so that it will read something like this -

In the opinion of this House a change to decimal coinage , desirable in Australia, but should be preceded by its adoption in the United Kingdom.

Mr SPEAKER:

– The honorable member will find, if he looks at Standing Order 139, that it provides -

When it is proposed to leave out words in the main question, in order to insert or add others, no amendmenttothe words proposed to be inserted or added can be entertained until the question - that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the main question - has been determined.

So that, while the honorable member can now intimate that he proposes to move in a certain direction, the statement of his amendment and the opportunity of voting upon it must await the decision upon the question whether the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Mr Watson:

– Ishallhavean opportunity of moving the amendment later ?

Mr SPEAKER:

– The honorable member may formally state his amendment now, and he will have an opportunity of moving it at the proper time.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I do not think that it is necessary to say very much in reply to the debate, which, although it has been short, has, I think, exhibited the fact that we have a general consensus of opinion of this House in favour of the adoption of a decimalsystem. The only objection which appears to lie against the adoption of the report of the committee has been forcibly expressed by the Treasurer, but I am inclined to think with the honorable member for North Sydney that that objection is largely accounted for, in the right honorable gentleman’s case, by his well-known mental attitude of proceeding along the line of least resistance. I think that we are not looking at this question sufficiently from the Australian point of view. I can see no reason whatever against our taking this action, even though England does not take similar action. All the arguments used in support of the view of the question that we should delay until England has taken action seem to me to be perfectly groundless. There can be no disturbance of trade and commerce between Australia and Great Britain by reason only of our adoption of a currency slightly different to that used in England. As 1 pointed out originally, that difference exists in a very much greater degree at present in the relations between Canada and Great Britain, and yet nobody in Great Britain, and certainly nobody in Canada, lias felt that difference to be any obstacle to trading operations between the two countries. There will be very little difficulty in expressing a value in the two moneys. The Commonwealth money, should the recommendations of this report be carried out, and the present currency of Great Britain, can be transferred at sight by any one, however well or ill educated he may be, with the exception of small sums at the right of the statement, that is, sums from 5f d. down to a farthing ; and, in the most ordinary transactions of life, the difference that could exist between those sums in either currency would be so slight as to be hardly worth considering. I think we have exhibited in the Commonwealth in the first two years of our history too great a subserviency to use ‘ and’ wont. We will follow old systems, we will await” the action of other countries, and we will look for precedents in all that we do. I know that it was one of the most striking features of early American history that, in all her people did, they had the courage to grasp their own .problems, and to resolve them in their own way, to meet their own circumstances. But as soon as we propose an ything in Australia in the direction of reform, we are met at once with the argument that it is not desirable that we should effect the reform, but that we should rather await the action of the mother country in that direction. When we look into this reform and its past history in the mother country, we find that although, in common with other reforms proposed, it has been supported by the . ablest men and the most powerful representative bodies in’.the community, and although there is actually a majority of the members of the House of Commons in its favour, it cannot find expression in the legislative enactments of the country. Why ? It is because there is always some other question which, in the political eye, assumes vaster proportions

4 P 2

than this great reform, which I think is of more importance to the social and economic well-being o,f the people than many other reforms which might be mentioned. I adhere to my original statement that, if this reform were carried out in its entirety, it would mean over £1,000,000 per annum to the people of the Commonwealth - I mean if we secured the decimalization of the coinage, and followed that up by the decimalization of weights and measures. Against a reform of that magnitude I find that the strongest, and in fact the only objection offered, is that we should wait the action of England. I do-not wish to labour the question ; I feel little personal interest in it ; but I do think that it is the first reform brought before us which ‘ can effect a large saving, and, having regard to the simplicity of its working in its various operations, it is one which should be more favorably entertained than I fear it is going to be by this House. The committee did not come to their conclusions solely upon the evidence accompanying the report, and to which the Treasurer has referred. Although I contend still that that evidence analyzed by the most perfectly judicial mind should give sufficient weight of support to carry this proposal into effect, I say that we were not bound by that. The committee have had one witness, as I have said, in the Library, and that witness was used to the fullest extent. I recollect that in the early days of the proceedings of the committee, my old friend, the late Mr. Piesse - and that gentleman and the late Mr. Groom, the only two members of this House whom, I am sorry to say, we have lost b)7 death, were members of the committee - occupied morning after morning in the Library, and I occupied many days in the Public Library, hunting up all possible information upon this question. The honorable member for North Sydney also hunted up all the political reports and records of this movement, and it was those records, those works and opinions of the great master minds of the age upon the subject, which influenced the committee as much as, and probably more than, the evidence of the merchants of the Commonwealth, or the representatives of the many institutions from whom we sought information, I think the committee did all they possibly could to get to the bottom of the question, and they came to a unanimous conclusion. There was no dissentient voice upon the report, and it is, at any rate, entitled to the favorable consideration of this House. Of course, honorable members cannot always see these things from the same point of view ; but I do believe that there is nothing whatever in the argument that we should await the . action of England. We can take the action recommended by the committee without embarrassing England. If we do take it, we shall help England to carry out this reform. It is admitted that it is a great reform, and I repeat that in adopting it here we shall assist in the carrying out of the reform in England. Apart from that, there is no reason whatever why we should accompany this reform by a similar reform with respect to weights and measures, except that the decimalization of weights and measures is also a great and a desirable reform. It is possibly a more desirable reform than is the one proposed by the committee, but there is no reason why either the one or the other should not be undertaken by itself. The reform here proposed is the simpler of the two, can be more easily carried into effect, and its adoption will help the other reform. For that reason alone, if for no other, I think this House would do well to agree to the motion.

Question - That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the motion - put. The House divided.

AYES: 19

NOES: 18

Majority … …1

AYES

NOES

Question so resolved in the affirmative.

Amendment negatived.

Original question - put. The House divided.

AYES: 21

NOES: 18

Majority … … 3

AYES

NOES

Question so resolved in the affirmative.

page 1172

QUESTION

METRIC SYSTEM

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I move -

  1. That the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia is of opinion that the adoption of the decimal system of weights and measures, now in use in France and other countries of Europe, and commonly known as the metric system, is a most desirable national reform : that it would economize time and money in professional, trading, and mechanical operations ; secure a far higher degree of national education without increased cost ; and would avoid the impending danger of serious loss in the Empire’s trade through the differences existing between our standards and those of a majority of the civilized nations of the world.
  2. Than an Address be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General, praying that His Excellency will cause the foregoing resolution to be forwarded to the Bight Honorable the Secretary of State for the Colonies for the information of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
  3. That the foregoing resolutions be forwarded to the Senate, with a request for its concurrence therein.

I did not think that this motion would be so fortunately situated on the notice-paper as I now find it after the adoption of the report of the committee upon a Commonwealth coinage. It deals with the other, and the greater part of the reform which the committee recommend. Had they been empowered to inquire into the advisability of adopting the metric system, I feel sure they would have reported as strongly in favour of its adoption as they did in favour of the adoption of a system of decimal coinage. But, although the subject was not referred to them, it necessarily had to be considered by them to some extent, and they took upon themselves to recommend that Parliament should take the earliest opportunity of supporting any movement for the adoption of the metric system throughout the Empire. Consequently I felt justified in following up my motion for the adoption of the committee’s report with the motion which I have just moved. It sums up, in the most condensed form in which I can put them, the great advantages of the metric system of weights and measures. Necessarily, in debating the motion which has just bean disposed of, many references had to be made to those ad vantages,, and as I do not wish to go over the ground already covered, I propose to confine my remarks now to the broad outlines of the case for the adoption of the system. I know that the subject received attention during the Premiers’ Conference which was recently held in England, and that the conference came to the determination that it was desirable that action should be token throughout the Empire to secure this reform. I understand further that the Prime Minister is desirous of obtaining resolutions from this Parliament which will assist to carry out the wishes of the members of the conference, and if what he proposes will coincide with my own views on the question, as I have every reason to believe it will, I shall have great pleasure in allowing, with the permission of the House, the substitution of his motion for that of which I have given notice, because I think it is right that in a matter of this sort he should act for the Commonwealth. But I do not think that a motion of this importance should be brought before the House without something being said in its favour. I do not wish to belabour the subject, but, although a great deal is glibly said about the advantages of the metric system, and, on the other hand, a great deal is spoken with equal glibness about the trouble and inconvenience which a change of system would occasion, I should like briefly, by placing some extracts before the House, to outline the great advantages of the system, its present position amongst the nations of the world, and the disadvantages, owing to the non-adoption of the system which it is imposing upon Great Britain in respect to her trade and commerce with other countries. The metric system is now in use by some 480,000,000 people, who comprise all the more highly civilized nations of the world, with the exception of England, America, and Russia. But Russia is almost on the eve of adopting the system, a change to it being now under consideration in that country, and the United States of America and Canada have been agitating for its adoption for some time past. Indeed, in the United States, they have gone so far as to compel its use for chemical and scientific records, and in connexion with the records and statistical information collected under their Customs administration, the weights are estimated, and the records are checked under that system. The adoption of the metric system has also been advocated in Great Britain for a considerable time past, as I showed honorable members when I spoke in favour of the adoption of a Commonwealth decimal coinage, and it has received the support of the most influential bodies in the Kingdom. It has the support of quite half the members of the British Parliament ; it has been favorably referred to by one British Minister after another, and it is safe to affirm that the concensus of competent opinion throughout Great Britain is in favour of its adoption. Moreover, there is a common fear amongst the thoughtful people of that country that, if they do not adopt the metric system now, notwithstanding the f friction and the expense which its adoption will cause, the expense and trouble of the change will become greater as time goes on, and, in the meanwhile, the retention of the present system will so affect British manufacture and trade that her people will lose countless millions of money. I should like to refer briefly to the outlines of the system. Although the metric system is attributed to the French, its adoption was first advocated by our own countryman, James Watt, the celebrated engineer. Prior to its advocacy in 1879 in France, James Watt published to the world his opinion that it was very desirable to adopt a metric system of weights and measures. He proposed to take the foot and decimalize it, to square it for the square measure, and to cube it for the liquid measure. In the latter ease, he took the weight of a certain quantity of water in a given cube, at a certain temperature, weighing it with scientific exactitude, and adopting the result as the unit of weight. This idea of James Watt was exactly the same as that subsequently adopted by the reformers in France, the only difference being, that instead of adopting as a fixed standard some measure then existing in France or some other country, they had a Quixotic notion that it would be better to derive a standard from some great natural feature or great fact connected with the world’s outline. They chose a quadrant of the earth’s surface, scientifically measured it, and then adopted one ten-millionth part of that as their standard. Many opponents of the metric system have referred with considerable glee to the fact that, after measuring the earth’s quadrant and adopting a unit based upon it as their standard, the French authorities subsequently found out that their measurements were not quite correct. As a matter of fact, it did not matter whether they took the earth’s quadrant, or the orbit of Venus, or a bee’s cell, or a second’s swing of the pendulum. The metre was only the x in the problem, and everything else in the system must fall in with it. The metre is very little different from our own yard measure, and if a foot had been taken as a standard it would not have made any difference. If a foot had been the standard and had been followed out upon the metric system, the results would have been precisely the same. The system based upon the French standard has been adopted, as I previously stated, by 480,000,000 of people, and therefore it would be very desirable for the British nation to fall in with it. In our own system of weights and measures there are singular coincidences which assist calculations of certain kinds. But in the metric system you do not find a few isolated case. of this sort, but the whole system is a series of coincidences. Coincidence is the very basis of its origin ; it is a train and tissue of coincidences from one end to the other. Some of these give remarkable assistance to scientific men in working out their calculations. Take water for instance, the standard of weight, a centimetre, the system being properly understood, gives the quantity and weight at the same time. It is not necessary to go through a series of calculations in order to solve the problem. Similarly,’ when the bulk of a particular liquid is ascertained, and is multiplied by its specific gravity, the weight can be at once determined. The whole system is full of coincidences from one end to the other. It has stood the test of time and experience, and provides every facility that is required. Statesman after statesman, merchant after merchant, and philosopher after philosopher, have expressed the opinion that our weights and measures system is a disgrace to our civilization. Everywhere it has been condemned as the haphazard growth of centuries, which, though perhaps primarily framed according to some connected system, has wandered away from original principles until there is no connexion between its various parts from one end to the other. Although the system has been condemned from time to time by able statesmen, who have had it in their power to bring about a reform, no alteration has ever been made. One of the rising statesmen of England, Mr. Arnold-Forster, who is now Secretary to the Navy, foresees that this reform must come about, and in a little book, from which I intend to quote, called the Coming of the Kilogram, he illustrates in a most lucid manner, for the information of the whole of the English people, what it will mean to their trade and commerce, how much can be said in its favour, and even against it, and why it is not adopted. Among the reasons which he gives why the system is not adopted is one which, I think, accounts for the whole difficulty. He says -

No Government ever does anything because it is right, or wise, or logical, or scientifically correct. Changes are made, not because they are wise, but because they are unavoidable. The pressure of public opinion, and the fact that it is more difficult and tiresome to refuse a reform than to grant it are now, in 9D cases out of 100, the prevailing motives which influence an overworked and half-informed administration. What is true in regard to many other matters, is true in regard, to the metric system. Till public opinion has been formed and expressed in a way which cannot be mistaken, no change will be made by British Ministers. Our system of government h&s advantages, but it- is not conspicuous for its readiness to accept scientific: opinion, or to take the lead in any intellectual or scientific movement. In such matters British Governments generally follow a very long way behind, as any one who ii acquainted with the technical and scientific equipment of continental countries is perfectly well aware.

A few years ago. a series of articles was published regarding, and a great deal of consideration was given to, what was called the “ Made in Germany “ question. We shall have to give greater and greater consideration to this question if we are determined not to follow the more scientific methods that have been adopted in France, Germany, arid many other continental countries. Amongst these highly scientific systems, that of decimal weights and measures is probably one of the very highest. The ramifications of this system extend through every province of life, and every operation by which man earns his living, creates wealth, discovers scientific facts, or forms a philosophic thesis. In every operation the decimal system of weights and measures helps man to do what is required of him with less exertion and greater accuracy, and assists the nation to greater national wealth. The honorable member for North Sydney has pointed out some of the reasons which have actuated those who have pressed forward this reform in the interests of the manufactures of the old country. I have here a report of an address delivered by Professor Liversidge at the University of Sydney. That gentleman, who is a scientific man, when addressing his students quite recently referred to the metric system, and pointed out its great advantages, and also what it would mean if we adopted it. He said -

It mustbe borne in mind that to make the change to the metric system would involve a money loss of untold millions, both to England and to the United States of America, since nearly all the present machinery would have to be altered ; to take a single case only, instanced by a writer in a recent review, to adapt yardwide looms to produce metric widths would mean an immense outlay of money, and a great loss of time ; but unless this change be made a still greater loss will eventually ensue. In both countries it is used, to a certain extent, by. some manufacturers and by instrument makers. I need hardly say that it is used by chemists and physicists in all parts of the British Empire. It is quite an easy thing for small, new, and nonnianufucturiug countries to adopt the metric system; it merely means a change in the method of buying and soiling, and it does not involve the alteration or. replacement, at a stupendous cost, of the manufacturer’s plant and machinery.

Undoubtedly one of the difficulties connected with the adoption of the system will be felt - more largely, perhaps, in the old country - in connexion with the abolition of machinery now in use, which will be rendered obsolete. We have, however, either to face this loss now, or to continue our present obsolete system, and face a still greater loss which will recur annually and go on for all time. Quite recently the Board of Trade issued circulars to the various consuls and vice-consuls in foreign parts, asking them for any suggestions they might be able to offer with regard to the improvement of trade facilities with Great Britain. Some of these reports are instructive, as showing what Englishmen in various parts of the world, occupyingofficial positions, which compel them to take notice of what is going on, have thought of the wisdom of continuing our present system of obsolete weights and measures. We are told that in most Central and South American countries -

The metric system, while recognised officially, and used in Government offices and for Customs purposes (although even there it is not strictly enforced), is not used in the interior, where the original Spanish measures are retained. The existence of the two systems naturally give rise to confusion.

In Japan -

The metric system is used side by side with the old Japanese weights and measures, but its use appears to be almost confined to dealing with foreigners.

I have read two of the most adverse reports first, if only to show that in countries where we should expect to see the least desire to adept this modern improvement they have at any rate the two systems, whilst in other countries we find that they have adopted the metric system solely. Mr. Vice-Consul Kerr reports that in Chili - “ The general opinion would appear to be that the use of this system for measures and money has always been attended with great success, and it undoubtedly possesses greater correctness than any other known system. “ The metric system was adopted in Mexico in 1862, but was not made compulsory until1898, the delay being due to the persistency of the lower classes, mostly Indians, in using the old methods.

Regarding Argentina, Mr. F. S. Clarke states that there can be no doubt as to the satisfactory practical operation of the metric system, and he has observed no desire to return to the former system. From Brazil it is reported that the introduction of the new method appears to have been effected with perfect ease. It is considered to have greatly facilitated commercial transactions, and there is no desire to revert to former systems. Other extracts from the British Consular reports read as follows : -

  1. Milan, Italy, 28th October, 1894.- As an engineer of some twenty years’ residence upon the continent, I have no hesitation whatever in stating that the present system of English weights and measures is detrimental to British commercial interests in countries lite this, where the decimal and metrical system is in force. The sooner the decimal system is adopted by Great Britain the more advantageous for her commercial interests when trading with the continent in particular, as also to facilitate home calculations, especially in engineering departments, where excessive accuracy is an absolute necessity.
  2. Varna, 23rd October,1894.- If the quotations and specifications in trade lists are made out in English standards of weights and measures, intending purchasers here generally throw them aside, and consult others which give the required information in metres, kilogrammes, &c.

I will now quote from another Consul’s report,dated Rouen, 24th October, 1894, which reads -

Within the past sixteen years I have served as Her Majesty’s Consul in three countries using the metric and decimal systems, and I have not unf requently had occasionto observe the maze into which an English trade prospectus or circular, if drawn up only on the British system, throws a foreigner, accustomed from childhood to the perfect simplicity of the metric system.

I may add that Lord Cromer has, to some extent, introduced this system into Egypt, where it has been one of the factors that have contributed to his remarkably succesful administration. As previously stated, I desire to confine my remarks to quotations from high authorities regarding the benefits to be derived from the adoption of the metric system, in order to place upon record the opinions of thoughtful minds upon the subject. Writing upon this matter, the Bulletin says -

To most people the metrical system is a mere abstruse fad - a struggling of school men after a useless mathematical accuracy which is of no practical interest or advantage to the multitude. In the common opinion, the man who wants to introduce it ranks with the person who wants to demonstrate that the world is flat and the person who believes in the literal rendering of revelations, andsimilarlearned debrisof thehuman species.Yet the man who succeedsin introducing that system in Australia willbe probably thegreatest benefactor this country has had up to date. He will remove such a load of useless misery from the shoulders of the rising generation as no Australian ever removed before - and not only from the shoulders of the generation that is rising now, out from those of hundreds of generations which will begin rising hereafter. He will get rid of a dull and cumbrous stupidity that has blocked the path of education for ages, and which has no single real advantage to show by way of counterbalance to its uselessness. The present system of weights and measures and money has only one alleged positive merit - its antiquity ; and it has only one negative merit - that the adult community which makes the laws have got used to it in a sort of way, and finds it easier to let things slide than to make them better.

The weights and measures and money which Australia inherited from Britain, are such a sample of the malice of inanimate objects as could only exist in a community which had let things grow up mostly by themselves for 1,000 years or more. It takes the average child a great part of its time from six to twelve months to learn them, whereas the metrical system can be learned in as many days. It takes years of wrestling with arithmetic to become decently familiar with them, even after they have been formally introduced to the mind.

The latter portion of the article reads thus -

Of course, it would be something of a burden on the 3,000,000 or so of adult Australians to learn a new. system. But still they are only 3,000,000 - and the unborn Australians, whose education it would greatly simplify, are 30, or 300, or any other number of millions.

We have to consider not merely the benefits which we shall derive from this system, if we succeed in persuading the Empire to adopt it, but those which we shall confer in futuro right down through the centuries. I have no doubt whatever that by the introduction of the decimal system of coinage and the decimalization of our weights and measures we should effect very large savings in the educational bill of the Commonwealth. It would further save the Empire from the great impending danger of loss of trade throughout the world consequent upon the use of standards which are different from those of other nations. Wherever we. turn for information upon the subject, we are brought face to face with the fact that buyers of machinery in various parts of the world have come to the conclusion thatunless that machinery is constructed according to the metric system they are placed at a disadvantage in obtaining it from England. Mr. Arnold-Forster, to whose book, The Coming of the Kilogram, I have already referred, summarizes the matter in a very popular and lucid way by giving the following testimony to the value of the metric system of weights and measures -

  1. 450,000,000 people use it.
  2. No nation having adopted the metric system has discarded it nor has it made any improvement on it.

The fact is that the system isab initio so perfect that no improvement can be made upon it. He continues -

  1. The Bight Honorable A. J. Balfour, First Lord of the Treasury, remarked, on the 20th November, 1895, in his speech to the deputation of Chambers of Commerce - “ There can be no doubt, I think, whatever, that the j udgment of the whole civilized world, not excluding the countries which Still adhere to the antiquated system under which we suffer, has long decided that the metric system is the only rational system.”
  2. A Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed in February, 1895 - “To inquire whether any and what changes in the present system of weights and measures should be adopted.” This committee, after making a most searching examination, recommended the following measures : -

    1. That the metrical system of weights and measures be at once legalized for all purposes.
    2. That after a lapse of two years the metrical system be rendered compulsory by Act of Parliament.
    3. That the metrical system of weights and measures be taught in all public elementary schools, as a necessary and integral part of arithmetic, and that decimals be introduced at an earlier period of the school curriculum than is the case at present.
  3. The following public bodies have passed resolutions in favour of the adoption of the metric system, viz. : 29 town councils,18 trades councils, 29 school boards, 40 chambers of commerce, 45 public bodies and associations.
  4. British Consuls in many ports of the world (in the interest of our enormous foreign trade) recommend the immediate adoption of the metric system.
  5. It is the opinion of eminent men who have studied the subject, that by discarding the present system and adopting the metric system, one year would be saved in the education of every child.
  6. It is an acknowledged fact that calculations in the metric system necessitate less than onehalf the numberof figures required by the present British system.
  7. The metric system has been introduced into almost every civilized nation, and into many semibarbarous countries without the slightest difficulty. Why then should any difficulty be apprehended in its introduction into our country?

In these extracts Mr. ArnoldFoster has, I think, ably summed up the advantages of this system, and of the reasons why it should be adopted by the Empire. I quite agree with many honorable members that it would be absolutely impossible for the Commonwealth to deal with such a vast reform unless acting in conjunction with the Empire ; and to that end we cannot do better than to refer the subject in the form of an expression of our opinion, which would assist the advocates of the reform in the old country, to the Imperial Government. The system has been taught, not only in the schools of Great Britain, but in the schools of Australia. I have two little daughters who work problems in the metric system far more ably than I could, and I see that in various superior schools in Australia, the system is not only constantly taught, but problems in it are given as subjects for examination. In England the system has been prescribed for several of the forms in the board schools, and even younger boys and girls are taught it, those who enforce the teaching being of opinion that, as sooner or later the system must be adopted, it is necessary to instruct the rising youth. According to Professor Liversidge, the students at the Sydney University have been using the system for some years without difficulty, and find it greatly expedites their work. Seeing that the system has been introduced everywhere, and that there is such a body of opinion in favour of it, is there any reason why it shouldnot be adopted? It seems, as I said before, that the adoption of the system in Great Britain is prevented only by those great questions which loom so large in the political eye, such as the Irish question and the South African question, which, important as they are, possibly mean less to the future welfare and prosperity of the Empire than the reform I am now advocating. I feel very proud to have succeeded this afternoon in getting the report of the Decimal Coinage Committee adopted, and proud also to have been in a position to introduce the present motion ; but all that to me is nothing compared with the satisfaction which we, as a House, should feel in assisting the advocates of the reform in the old country to carry it into effect - to bring about that time when we shall approach very much nearer to what I consider was the highest and the purest ambition of the great Napoleon, who once said that he hoped to see one weight, one measure, one money, and one common law throughout the world. John Quincey Adams hoped to live to see that time when the metre adopted by the French would go right round the world in use, as it did in geographical extension. I desire to ask the leave of the committee to substitute for my motion a series of motions which the Prime Minister desires, and I feel rightly desires, should be adopted in order to carry out the undertaking that he entered into when he represented this Commonwealth at the recent conference of Prime Ministers in London. At that conference a resolution was passed as follows : -

That it is advisable to adopt the metric system of weights and measures for use within the Empire, and the Prime Ministers urge the Governments represented at this conference to give consideration to the question of its early adoption.

The Prime Minister, although I forestalled him, intended to introduce the motions which I now ask to be allowed to submit in lieu of that of which I originally gave notice. The motions I desire to submit are as follow : -

That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that the metric system of weights and measures should be adopted with the least possible delay for use within the Empire.

That the most convenient method of obtaining the object stated in resolution 1 is the passage ofalaw by the Imperial Parliament rendering the use of the metric System compulsory for the United Kingdom and for all parts of the Empire, whose legislatures have expressed, or may thereafter express their willingness to adopt that system.

That these resolutions be communicatedby address to His Excellency the Governor-General for transmission to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

That the foregoing resolutions be forwarded to the Senate by message with a request for its concurrence therein.

Question amended accordingly.

Mr HUME COOK:
BOURKE, VICTORIA · PROT

– I have much pleasure in seconding the motion. As I intimated the other day in seconding the adoption of the report of the Select Committee on Decimal Coinage, I think that both that system and the one now under consideration should be the subject of one reform.

Sir EDMUND BARTON:
Minister for External Affairs · Hunter · Protectionist

– I desire to make a few observations with the object of furthering the end which the honorable member for South Sydney has in view - for the furtherance of which end, indeed, my resolutions, which the honorable member has now submitted, were originally drafted. I may say that it was my intention to seek an opportunity to propose those resolutions during the present session, and I drafted them with that object before the honorable member for South Sydney had, and very properly, given notice of his motion. The object which I have in view in seeking the adoption of the resolutions in the form I have suggested, and which the honorable member has acquiesced in, is that the matter may be brought before the Imperial Government and Parliament in the most concrete and practical form possible, and in order to further the adoption of the system throughout the Empire. It will be obvious that the application of the system to one portion of the Empire like Australia might, of itself, rather impede than facilitate the commercial operations it is desired to make simpler and more general. But if the reform spreads from the centre of the Empire, and if the Parliament of the United Kingdom first legislates in a manner which can be adopted by all parts of the Empire, then the facilitating of commercial transactions becomes co-extensive with its adoption in the Empire, not to speak of the enormous benefits which will result, in the terms of the honorable member’s own motion, in dealing with other countries. The honorable member asked us to affirm that the adoption of the system would - - economize time and money in professional trading and mechanical operations, secure a far higher degree of national education without increased cost, and would avoid the impending danger of serious loss in the Empire’s trade through the differences existing between our standards and those of a majority of the civilized nations of the world.

The honorable member for South Sydney has referred to the resolution passed at the conference of Prime Ministers last year, and there is no necessity for me now to repeat its terms. It would be as well, however, to mention what was the attitude of the Secretary of State, as representing the British Government at the conference. The Secretary of State was opposed to the original suggestion that there should be an adoption, so far as it could be made in any way of effect by the conference, of the system of decimal coinage. If I may mention the matter, it does appear that the Imperial Government, if at all in favour of the adoption of the decimal system, is at any rate not in favour of it at present, or until the metric system can be first adopted. The adoption of the metric system would, therefore, of itself advance a stage further the adoption of the decimal coinage system. It is clear to my mind, however, from what took place at the conference, that if our end is to be secured within a reasonable time, the adoption of the metric system must precede the adoption of decimal coinage, unless, indeed, by some great good fortune the adoption of the two reforms can be made concurrent. The prime object, therefore, is the passage of legislation in the United Kingdom for the adoption of the metric system throughout the Empire, and that is the practical object of the motion which the honorable member has so kindly accepted at my request. It will be seen that the second resolution deals with the compulsory adoption of the system. The experience of authorities on the subject, and the results of inquiries by select committees, and by other methods, have shown that the mere legalization of the system would no more affect the reform than would a similar legalization of the decimal coinage system. The select committee of the House of Commons on weight and measures, whose report the honorable member quoted, recommended in 1895 -

That the metrical system of weights and measures be at once legalized for all purposes.

They were not blind to the fact that this would not be sufficient, and they therefore proposed -

That after a lapse of two years the metrical system be rendered compulsory by Act of Parliament.

The difficulties in the way of both these systems are not in their application after they have once obtained general use, but in the period of transition from the use of the old system to the use of the new one. A remark or two will make it clear what are the difficulties during the period of transition, and how adverse the ordiary citizen will be to make the effort which is involved in that transition, unless there is some legislative authority which may turn his mind in that direction. The metric system is based upon the assumed length of the direct distance from the Equator to the North Pole. The tenmillionth part of this distance was adopted in 1795 by the French Government as the unit of length and called a metre. All other measurements are derived from this unit. The unit of capacity is the cube of a tenth part of a metre, and is called a litre. The unit of weight is the weight of a litre of water at a certain temperature, and is willed a kilogramme. The unit of land measurement is a hectare, which equals 10,000 square metres. If that is not enough to show the initial difficulties, let me give the equivalents under our present system of weights and measures. A metre is equal to39-37 inches,a litre to 1*76 pints, a kilogramme to 2-2 lbs. avoirdupois, and a hectare to 2-47 acres. It is obvious that, in attempting to carry out that change, the difficulties which beset the initial calculations for the purpose are more than the ordinary adult population would care to face, and it is therefore that stress has been laid by those who have inquired into the subject on the teaching of both the new systems in all public and elementary schools, which is absolutely a necessity towards their ultimate and universal adoption within the empire. That recommendation of the select committee of the House of Commons in 1895 is also an essential, and will have to be faced, so as. to give it absolutely full effect in any” measures which we may subsequently adopt. Reverting to the argument, that to be effective the reform must be compulsory, what has been the course of legislation on this subject? In 1S97 the Weights and Measures or Metric System Act, 60 and 61 Viet., c 46, was passed by the .British Parliament. The use of the metric system had been authorized bv the Weights and Measures Metric System” Act 1864, 27 and 28 Vict., c 117. In spite of this it was doubtful, after the passage of the Weights and Measures Act 1878,41 and 42 Viet., c 49, whether section 19 of the last-mentioned Act did not render liable to a fine any person using the physical weights of the metric system in trade. Section 1 of the Act of 1897 renders the use of such weights in trade lawful. . By section- 2 of that Act the Board of Trade standards, which might be made under section’ 8 of the Weights and Measures Act 1S7S, were to include metric standards derived from certain metric standards deposited with the Board of Trade. By section 2 of the same Act the Queen was authorized to make, by Order in Council, a table of metric equivalents in substitution for the table in Part I. of the 3rd schedule to the Weights and Measures Act 1S78. No such Order in Council has yet been issued. The first position, therefore, is that the mere legalization of the system will never lead to its general adoption, and that is very largely shown by what I have said, first, as to the origin of the system, and next as to its history in the United Kingdom, and is further shown by what is advanced in the report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons. It is desirable for the House to resolve that the best and most convenient method of attaining the object stated is the passage by the Imperial Parliament of a law rendering compulsory the use of the metric system in the “United Kingdom and in all other parts of the Empire whose Legislatures have I expressed or may hereafter express their willingness to adopt that system. When the law is passed, as it ought to be passed, first in the United Kingdom, and adapted to apply to other parts of the Empire, it may automatically come into operation in those parts whose Legislatures have not up to that time expressed their willingness to adopt the system so soon as the law is adopted by them, and by its gradual adoption in that way its usefulness will extend to every corner and portion of the Empire. I do not wish to speak at great length, because both on the other question and on this one the honorable member whohas brought the subjects before the House, has performed his duty well, and has given full information to this Legislature. We desire, in common with the honorable member, that the resolutions of the House should be sent to the Senate for their concurrence in order that when they are sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies through the Governor-General they may stand, not merely as the expression of this House or of the Senate, but as the conjoint expression of both Houses, and thus have that added weight which such concurrence will give them. I have nothing more to say, except that as it is one of the matters upon which the Conference of Premiers in London arrived at a resolutipn, the solution which is now presented, as far as immediate needs go, is altogether welcomed by the Government, who take this opportunity, with the assistance of the honorable member, to adopt the step suggested, and so bring the matter into such a practical form as may lead to the earlier adoption of so much needed a reform.

Mr CONROY:
Werriwa

– I should have spoken at some length, had it not been that I think the remarks made by the honorable member for South Sydney have been so extensive that little remains to be said in support of the resolutions. For many years I have been thoroughly convinced that a change of this sort would be for the ultimate advantage of the public. Of course, one difficulty is that, when a change is made, there will be a certain amount of annoyance created amongst individuals, especially amongst the older portion of the population, who are not so ready as the younger portion to welcome any changes. A great deal of that difficulty, however, is being overcome by the schools in New South Wales and Victoria, and, I believe, in other States, in teaching the metric system side by, side with the present system. In that way a very large portion of the difficulties will be overcome. I can only express my great feeling of thankfulness that this question is to be forwarded by a resolution of this House, and that the Ministry have expressed their willingness to fall in with it - that, in fact, the motion is really anticipatory of a resolution that they had intended to submit to the House. It shows all the more courage on the part of the Ministry to do this, because, from the very annoyance which may arise from the adoption of a new system, and which is seen and felt by every one - although it may be followed by ultimate benefits to the community, those benefits are not so readily perceived - a matter of this kind is not always one that politicians care to deal with. I congratulate the Government on having taken advantage of the superior knowledge that they have obtained on the subject, and which has led them to support this resolution.

Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.

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ADJOURNMENT

Governor-General’s Speech: Address in Reply.

Sir EDMUND BARTON:
Minister for External Affairs · Hunter · Protectionist

– I move -

That the House do now adjourn.

May I state that probably Mr. Speaker has a statement to make to the House, which I shall be glad if honorable members will wait to hear ? It has reference to the address in reply.

Mr SPEAKER:

– I desire to remind honorable members that it has been arranged that this House is to wait upon the GovernorGeneral this afternoon at the Treasury buildings at ten minutes past three o’clock, with the view of presenting to His Excellency the address in reply which was recently passed. I shall be glad if such honorable members as desire to do so will meet me here at three o’clock, so that we may proceed to the place appointed to wait upon His Excellency.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 2.34 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 June 1903, viewed 7 November 2016, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1903/19030619_reps_1_13/>.