2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m.,. and read prayers.
– I desire to a«k the Prime Minister whether it is usual for the Imperial ‘ authorities to furnish the Commonwealth Government with official copies of the treaties, alliances, or other engagements entered into with foreign Powers? If not, does he think it advisable to request that the Commonwealth authorities should be so supplied ?
– There are copies of a number of treaties and agreements on the files of the papers relating to such subjects, in the office of the Department pf External Affairs; but I am not in a position to say whether they were forwarded with or with<out request. I shall inquire into the matter*
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question regarding the Federal Capital Site. It is stated in a Sydney telegram in this morning’s newspapers -
The State ‘Attorney-General returned from Melbourne to-day, after conferring with the Federal Attorney-General in respect to the Federal Capital. Mr. Wade does not take a very hopeful view of the proposal for driving in a peg aB constituting the case for the High Court. A com- munication is expected from Mr. Deakin on the subject to-morrow.
Does the Prime Minister hold a similar view, and, further, is it his intention’ to propose an amendment of the Seat of Government Act, altering the permissive clause relating to the territory to be acquired, by making it mandatory and thus permitting of a case being submitted to the High Court ?
– I can hardly be expected to be acquainted with the state of Mr. Wade’s’ mind at the time of his return to Sydney after his visit to this city. But I can inform the honorable member that last night I received a memorandum from the Attorney-General relating to the interview between himself and the Attorney-General’ of New South Wales, and that as the question is still one of a strictly legal character, I have asked him to communicate with the Attorney-General of New South Wales. His letter will be forwarded by this afternoon’s or to-morrow’s mail.
– Will the Seat of Government Act be amended?
-The honorable member will have an opportunity of ascertaining that later.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister of Defence whether it is true that the Government are purchasing torpedo boats’, and torpedoboat destroyers, and if so, whether he is prepared to give the House any information on the subject?
– I have no information to give the honorable member on that point. I do not know whence he derived his information, but if he will repeat his question, and I have any information to impart,. I shall at once give it to him.
– I desire to know from the Prime Minister when the report of the Secretary for External Affairs, relating to British New Guinea, will be presented to the House?
– The report is very nearly completed. It will be laid on the table, and be printed for the information of honorable members, as soon as it is ready.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs,. upon notice -
Were the hats recently seized by the Customs Department invoiced as “Panama” hats? z. Are the hats “Panama” hats?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow -
The hats were passed by the importers under sight entry only, and no invoice of them was presented.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice- -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The question of the honorable and learned member is a very long one, and assumes the form of .1 series of interrogatories such as are prepared for use in the Courts. The answers are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 2.£37. As this is a non-official office, accommodation is provided free.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– I move -
That the House approves of an extension of the arrangements entered into on the 30th October, 1903, by the Commonwealth Government for the carriage of mails between Australia, Fiji, and Canada, by the steamers of the CanadianAustralianRoyal Mail Line, upon the following terms : -
That the period of the contract be further extended from 1st May, 1905, to 31st July, 1906, with a proviso that if neither party gives not less than three months’ notice of termination prior to the latter date, the contract shall continue until the 31st July, 1907.
That the amount of subsidy payable by the Commonwealth be at the annual rate of£23,863 12s. 3d. for the period from 1st May to 31st July, 1905, and at the annual rate of£26,626 16s. from the 1st August, 1905, the difference between the two amounts being the Commonwealth proportion of a total increase of£6,000 per annum.
Thiscontract, or rather, extension of contract, with an addition to the subsidy, was entered into by my predecessor. The particulars relating to this mail service are so well known to honorable members that it is unnecessary for me to enter into details, especially in view of the fact that the extension applies to such a short period. Moreover, the route traversed has been so well advertised, not only in this House, but outside of it, as the “All Red” route, that it would be unwise on my part to take up the time of the House at any length. For the information of honorable members who are not familiar with the detailed history of the service, I might say that a contract was entered into, in 1893, for a service between Sydney and Vancouver. At that time, New Zealand was a party to the contract, which was made between the Postmaster-General of New South Wales and Mr. James Huddart. In 1896 the contract was extended for three years, and in 1899 for a further term of four years. Under the latter extension, Messrs. Burns, Philp and Co. replaced Mr. Huddart, and the contract provided that a steamer should be despatched every four weeks instead of once every calendar month. In 1899 Queensland replaced New Zealand as a party to the contract, and Brisbane replaced Wellington as a port of call. In 1903 the Commonwealth Government extended the contract for a further- period of two years, the Union Steamship Company then replacing Messrs. Burns, Philp and Co., and during the present year the late Postmaster-General entered into a contract, subject to ratification by Parliament, extending the contract for a period of fifteen months. That is, for three months at the old subsidy, and for twelve months at the increased subsidy. The resolution is made to cover fifteen months, for reasons of a legal character, and because the ratification will thereby be simplified. The contract contains a provision that if either party to it desires that it shall terminate at the end of its present currency, notice must be given before 30th April, 1906. Otherwise it will continue inforce until 31st July, 1907. For the period from 1893 to 1903 the subsidy paid to the contractors by New South Wales was at the rate of£10,000 per annum, and from 1899 to 1903the contribution by Queensland was at the rate of £7,500 per annum. Consequently the total subsidy paid by the two States up till 1903 amounted to £17,500 per annum.
– Will those States still pay the subsidy ?
– No. It is to be paid upon a per capita basis. I will supply the Committee with particulars as to the way in which the expenditure works out presently. Under the agreement entered into in 1903 between the contractors and the Commonwealth Government, the Australian subsidy was increased from £10,000 to £13,636 7s. per annum in the case of New South Wales, and from £7,500 to £1,227,5s. 3d. per annum in the case of Queensland - or froma total sumof £17,500 to £23,863 12s. 3d. per annum. Under the proposed extension of contract now before the House, it is intended to increase the Australian subsidy from £23,863 12s. 3d. to £26,626 16s. per annum. Of that amount we shall receive about £600 back in poundage rates from New Zealand. The actual amount received by the Commonwealth as postage on its mail matter would be about £3,200 per annum.
– Are the two States to which reference has been made still paying this subsidy?
– Not from the 1st July last. Canada, and Fiji have regularly subsidized the service, and prior to Queensland becoming a party to the contract, New Zealand paid the contractors £7,500 per annum. It has been stated in the press - indeed, only this morning I received a newspaper clipping to the same effect - that the Postmaster-General of New Zealand is prepared to subsidize these vessels to the extent of £20,000 per annum. At the time this contract was being dealt with an offer was made to supply us with a service for £20,000 per annum, which really represents a reduction of over £6,000 per annum if the vessels were allowed to call at New Zealand instead of Queensland. It is well known - in fact, it has been openly stated - that the Queensland Government do not attach much value to this service. The subsidies1 received by the contractors have been as follow : - For the first ten years, ending 30th April, 1903 at the rate of £44,000 per annum, viz., Canada, £25, 000 per annum; New South Wales, £10,000 ; New Zealand first, and then Queensland, £7,500 per annum; Fiji, £1,500 per annum - total, £44,000; for the two years and three months ended 31st July, 1905, at the rate of £60,000 per annuum, viz., Canada, £34,090 1 8s. 8d. ; New South Wales, £13.636 78; Queensland,, £10,227 5s. 3d. ; Fiji, £2,045 9s.1d. Under the proposed extension of contract the payment will be at the fate of £66,000 per annum, viz., Canada, £37,090 18s. 8d. per annum ; Australia (six States on a per capita basis), £26,626 16s.; and Fiji, £2,282 5s. 4d. Australia’s contribution works out as follows: - New South Wales, £9,738 9s. 9d. per annum; Victoria, £8,088 4s. 2d.; Queensland, £3,486 2s. 3d. ; South Australia, . £2,49011s. 4d. ; Western Australia, £1,619 3s. 66.; and Tasmania, £1,204 5s.
– It is really an old service.
– This is a new contract. From’ a perusal of these figures honorable members will see that we pay about £23,000 per annum more than we ought to contribute from a postal standpoint - that is, if our mail matter were carried at poundage rates. Consequently,this subsidy of £23,000 per annum is to a very large extent a trade subsidy.
– What do we get for the increased subsidy that is nowproposed?
– We really get nothing. The whole trend of these contracts has been towards an increased subsidy. There has been no increase in the speed of the boats, and no improvements in the vessels themselves. The only change has been in respect of the price which we have to pay for the service. In this connexion I would point out that the Canadian subsidy is not paid by the Postal Department, but by the Department of Trade and Commerce. Regarding our trade with Canada, it may be interesting to honorable members to learn that its present tendency is downward. In 1900 the value of our imports from Canada was £237,707, in 1901 it was £330,788, in 1902£346,560, in 1903 £352,939, and in 1904 £222,064.
– Was the whole of that trade carried by these steamers?
– Practically the whole of it.
– What goods did they take from us in return?
– As a matter of fact, a great proportion of the postal matter carried by these vessels comes from
America, although we have another line of steamers running to San Francisco, which carry a much larger quantity of mail matter than do the Vancouver vessels.
– And without a subsidy?
– Yes. Honorable members will see that in 1903 the value of our imports from Canada was £352,939, and that the following year it dropped to £222,064 - a very serious decline. The value of our exports to Canada in 1900. was ,£67,857, in 1901 £37>543> in 1902 £33,622, in 1903 £24,837, and in 1904 £29,352, or a total volume of trade in 1900 of £3°5>564, in i9°i of £368>33I> in 1902 of £380,182, in 1903 of £377>776! and in 1904 of only £251,416.
– In other words, we are paying these steamers to bring their goods here.
– Has the Postmaster-General any notes as to the articles of trade to which his figures relate, because I think he will find that our imports from Canada were largely in consequence of a “ slackness “ in wheat.
– The chief items of imports last year were : Apparels and textiles, £20,656 ; boots and shoes, £9,854 ; drugs, chemicals, medicines, and perfumery, £17, 747 ; fish, £23,495 ; agricultural implements and machinery, £26,926 ; machines and _ machinery, £’10,498; timber, £59,966; bicycles and parts, £13,648 ; whilst the chief items of export during the same year were : Butter, £3,054; coal, £4)347 ) cocoanut oil, £2,022; skins and hides, £4,684; undressed timber, £2,307 ; and wool, £2,620. I have here a statement showing the relative value to Australia of the Vancouver and San Francisco mail services from a postal stand-point. I find that the weight of mail matter carried in 1904 via Vancouver was as follows : - Letters, 3,000 lbs. ; parcels, 2,000 lbs. ; other articles, 33,000 lbs. ; total, 38,000 lbs. The weight of mail matter carried via the San Francisco service was : Letters, 8,000 lbs. ; parcels, 1,000 lbs. ; other articles, 72,600 lbs. ; total 81,000 lbs. Thus the amounts which we should be called upon to pay at the regular poundage rate would be : Via Vancouver, £370 1 via San Francisco, £930. At Postal Union rates, and charging 2d. per lb. for parcels, we should pay to the Vancouver service £1,150 per annum, and to the San Francisco service £2,750 per annum. As honorable members are aware, the average time of transit of the mails between Sydney and London is 37 days 10J hours by the former line, and 35 days 7^ hours by the latter. More than two-fifths of the correspondence conveyed by the Vancouver service is for the United States of America and Honolulu, for the conveyance of which mail matter the San Francisco service is chiefly used. It will thus be seen that, from a postal point of view, this service is of very little value. The vessels employed are of small tonnage - about 3,500 tons - and their average speed is only between 13 and 14 knots per hour. During the whole period of its existence the service has not been accelerated, and the weight of mail matter carried is comparatively small. The contract was originally entered into largely from a sen.timental consideration, viz., to provide an all -red route, and that must be the chief reason for its continuance, Canada being very desirous of maintaining direct communication between that country and Australia. The service is a sort of Empire connexion, and it was hoped that it would be the means of developing trade with our own people. Of course, the San Francisco boats are very highly subsidized by the United States Government, and they receive in addition a large sum of money from New Zealand. The interjection of the honorable member for Bland, a little while ago, was a very pertinent one, and his remark is applicable to this service as well as to that which is provided by the Orient Steam Navigation Company. It is perfectly true, as he suggests, that while the subsidy has been increased with the renewal of each contract, better steamers have not been provided, no increase has taken place in their speed, and trade is falling off.
– The Minister did not give the House the figures relating to our imports via the San Francisco service.
– I am afraid that I have not those figures. The speed of these vessels averages from 13 to 14 knots per hour, and1 the subsidy per mile works out at about 5s. 3d., pf which our share would be 2s. id., Canada and Fiji paying the balance. The contract is for a service every four weeks, and the vessels are required to call at Brisbane, Fiji, Honolulu, and Vancouver. The time occupied in the delivery of mails from Brisbane to Canada isi about 22J days, or 37 days 10 hours to England, as against 33 days 7 hours by the Orient Steam
Navigation Company’s vessels, and 31 days j 6 hours by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company liners. These facts are pretty well known to honorable members. I repeat that the service was primarily established with a view to promoting trade. Unfortunately, our trade has not increased as we should have liked, and from a postal stand-point the service does not commend itself very much to us. There is no doubt - and the fact can be borne out by those who have crossed the Pacific - that if a better service were provided, by means of larger steamers travelling at an increased rate of speed, a great development might be made in that particular direction. So far, however, we have not managed to attain that desirable result. I presume that one of the reasons which prompted my predecessor to extend this contract for twelve months was his desire to afford us an opportunity to arrange for a better service in the interim’. My predecessor in office was at the time confronted with great difficulties in regard to the renewal of the mail contract with the Orient Steam Navigation Company, and consequently had to proceed very warily. I think that under the circumstances the best possible course has been pursued, and that we should ratify this contract, knowing that we shall have an opportunity before it expires to ascertain whether some improvements cannot be made in the service. From a postal stand-point, the service is of little or no va.lue to us, and, unfortunately, the trade carried on by means of these steamers is also on the down grade. That, however, may be due to special circumstances which can be remedied. I am sure that if we could do anything to improve this service, and so place us in closer communication with other parts of the Empire - if we could, at a reasonable cost, do anything to promote trade between Australia and Canada, in addition to giving facilities to travellers - it would be a step in the right direction.
– What is the net increase in the cost to the Commonwealth ?
– Nearly £3,000 for th’e one .year. Having all these facts in view, I think I can with confidence ask the House to agree to the motion.
– There does not appear to be a disposition to discuss the motion, but surely one of the exPostmasterGenerals will speak to the question.
– It is merely an interim arrangement.
– But the PostmasterGeneral appeared to damn it with faint praise. I should therefore like some one more conversant with the details of the contract than I am to throw some further light on this part of the preferential trade proposals of the Government. It cannot be denied that this is part of the Government’s Imperial scheme to keep trade routes open on the easiest terms, and to increase trade with the rest of the Empire by preferential rates. It seems to me that the failure to extend our trade by means of this subsidy throws a very curious light on the other preferential trade proposals made by the Ministry. If we have been unable, by means of a direct subsidized steam-ship service, to encourage trade between Australia and Canada, I fail to see how we shall accomplish that object by the remission of a small part of our import duties in favour of the exports of that part of the Empire.
– The trouble is that Canada and Australia produce the same class of goods.
– That is so ; but the result of this subsidy shows the folly of resorting to artificial expedients to encourage trade which, under ordinary circumstances, follows the line of least resistance. As the proposal, however, is merely to extend the contract for twelve months, I do not feel disposed to oppose it.
Mr, SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).I did not think it was necessary to speak to the motion, but in view of the remarks of the honorable and learned member for Angas, I may say that I accept the full responsibility for having entered into this contract when holding office as PostmasterGeneral. I think that the contract was originally entered into some years ago by Sir Edmund Barton, who was at the time Premier of New South Wales.
– I think it was first entered into by the State Government of which I was leader.
– At all events, T know that Sir Edmund Barton made a promise to enter into such a contract, and that the proposal met with the approval of Queensland.
– What reasons did’ the company give for demanding an increased subsidy ?
– I shall deal presently with that point. I thought at one time that it might be possible to avail ourselves of this service for the conveyance of our mails to England, and I inquired whether the company could put on a fast line of steamers between Sydney and Vancouver, with a view to our making more satisfactory arrangements with Canada for the speedy delivery of our mails in London at a much lower rate than that at present paid. I was informed, however, that the company would require two years’ notice to enable them to secure the steamers necessary to land our oversea mails within anything like the time occupied by the vessels of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and that a much larger subsidy would be required.
– How did the subsidy which they demanded compare with that paid to the Orient Steam Navigation Company ?
– I think that they asked for a subsidy of something like £240,000, but that was a proposal that I could not accept. I felt, however, that it would be undesirable to allow the contract to lapse while the House was in recess. The service connects us with an important part of the Empire-
– But Canada is entering into arrangements with France and other countries.
– At all events, I was anxious that, if possible, we should maintain this connexion between Australia and Canada, as it would be free from many of the complications that might arise in time of war in connexion with our mail service via the Suez Canal. It seemed to me that we might be able to arrange for a more expeditious service, which would possibly enter into competition with those of other companies.
– - Why should we give them this increased subsidy?
– When the company were first approached with a view to securing a renewal of the contract they demanded an increase of something like £20,000, but eventually agreed to accept x an increase of £6,000 per annum, our share of the increased payment being less than £3,000 per annum. The company stated that the line had not been as successful as had been anticipated, and, while it was hoped that it would develop, they would be unable to continue the service in the ab sence of an increased grant. A proposal was also made that the vessels of the company should call at New Zealand instead of at Queensland ports, but it did not meet with the approval of the late Government. We considered that it would be undesirable to terminate this connexion between Sydney, Brisbane, and Vancouver, especially when there was a possibility that it might be used as a mail service.
– Apparently it is a 20 per cent, subsidy on the trade.
– I recognise that the subsidy is a large one, but we have to remember that Canada contributes largely to it.
– Her trade with Australia is greater than is our trade with her.
– That is unfortunately the case, but having regard to all the circumstances, I thought it desirable to renew the contract for another twelve months, so that Parliament might have an opportunity to consider the whole question. Had I remained in office I should have taken steps - and I dare say the present Minister will adopt this course - to ascertain whether we could not secure an improved service, and ‘so develop our trade relations with Canada, and have come to Parliament with a clear and definite policy with respect to this and other oversea mails. It would have been a mistake to abandon the .service whilst Parliament was in recess, rather than agree to pay the increased subsidy. We all hope that the Empire line, as it has been described, will grow in popularity, and that the time is not far! distant when it will be greatly improved. In that event it is quite possible that we shall be able to land our mails in England nearly as quickly bv this service, as by that of the Orient Steam Navigation Company. If the service had been abandoned great difficulty would have been experienced in inducing another company to take it up.
– Who seeks for it?
– It may be a matter of sentiment, but I must say that I am strongly in favour of maintaining the connexion between the old country and Australia by means of this route, if it can. be secured for a reasonable rate of subsidy. In view of all the circumstances, it seems to me that the best thing was done when it was determined to continue the service for another twelve months. In the. meantime the Government and the Parliament will again have the opportunity to deal with the whole question, and possibly the present company, or some other, may then see its way clear to put on better and faster boats, and thus relieve us of the possibility of trouble such as we have recently had in arranging for our mail service with the old country via Suez.
– I do not blame the ex-Postmaster-General for having made a tentative arrangement to give an opportunity to allow this matter to be looked into again, with a view to securing a mature decision in regard to it ; but it appears to me that, unless circumstances change very much indeed, the service will not Le worth subsidizing in the future. In regard to what has been said about our trade with Canada, I think that most of the timber coming here from the Dominion is brought by sailing vessels, and will continue to come here, even if the present line of steamers ceases to run. The point that concerns us is that, while we have a contract with the Orient Steam Navigation Company, and various other outlets for our mails, the Canadian service is worth comparatively little from the postal stand-point; and the subsidy really means that we are practically paying £r for every £1 worth of goods exported from Australia. Last year we exported £2*9,000 worth of goods, and paid a subsidy of £23,000; and this year we shall pay a subsidy of £26,000.
– We also imported a large quantity of goods.
– Yes; but we cannot be expected to subsidize the carriage of goods sent here from other countries. When the period for which it is proposed to renew the contract expires, Parliament will have to seriously consider whether it is worth while to continue the subsidy. On present prospects, I do not think that it will be; though, of course, the circumstances may change.
– It would be a pity to abandon the service until the whole matter can be thrashed out.
– I do not think that it will be wise to continue to pay a large subsidy for the maintenance of the trade referred to bv the Postmaster-General. I believe in giving new avenues of trade a fair opportunity to develop ; but this line has been in existence now for a number of years, and its business has shown verv little im provement. Unless there is a considerable improvement in the near future, I think that we should discontinue the subsidy
– As ari old parliamentarian, sir, I ask if you have ever heard a Ministry urge the passing of a motion more apathetically than the PostmasterGeneral has urged the passing of this motion. He practically condemned the proposal throughout his speech, although he concluded with the expression of an earnest desire that the motion would be agreed to. The Prime Minister has only just returned from Sydney, where he unfolded a banner on which is inscribed “ Australia for the Australians,” and yet the first thing he asks us1 to do ite to subsidize a line of steamships to convey the exports of Canada to this country. Have honorable members opposite been converted to the creed of fiscal freedom, so that they are ready to open Australia to the trade of the world? For the next few days, I suppose, we shall hear of practically nothing else but harvester machines. I notice the Minister of Trade and Customs getting quite red about the gills already, because of what has been said. Yet, despite what he has clone to keep out these machines, he now finds himself committed to a proposal to subsidize a line of steamers for bringing these machines to Australia.
– The honorable member ought to be delighted at that.
– So I am; but it seems very strange to find a Ministry declaring at one moment that they are for the policy of Australia for the Australians, and then, in the next, asking Parliament to vote thousands of pounds to support a line of steam-ships to bring the manufactures of another country to Australia. The honorable member for Bland spoke in condemnation of the present proposal, but only two years ago he favoured the granting of this subsidy, his argument then being that the Canadian- Australian steam-ship line should be supported, because it would reduce the time of transporting our mails to London to twenty-six or twenty-seven days.
– He now sees how things have worked out.
– He is now willing to agree to a renewal of the contract for another twelve months ; but surely if two years were not enough to allow the company to obtain better boats, another year will not be of much advantage to it. The honorable member for Bland said that a two years’ contract would induce the company to put on faster boats, and to provide better facilities for the carriage of perishable produce; but they have not done so. The fact is, that this company, which is subsidized by Canada, the Commonwealth, and Fiji, has to meet the fiercest competition from an American subsidized line, whose boats run from Sydney to San Francisco, and are owned by Spreckels. the sugar king. That line is running the Canadian British-owned and British-manned service off the Pacific. The Union Steam-ship Company is also making it more difficult for the CanadianAustralian line to get trade. The volume of our trade with America is to be measured, not by what the Canadian-Australian boats carry, but by what is carried by them, and by the San Francisco and Union boats. I am not prepared to say at this juncture that I am entirely opposed to the payment of subsidies. When nations like America and Germany are forcing their trade throughout the civilized world by means of subsidized steam-ship companies, it is necesary for us to consider whether it would not be wise for British communities to follow their example. No doubt, if I voted for such a line of policy, I might be considered as acting contrarily to the creed of a freetrader; but my action would certainly not be stranger than that of the present Ministry, who at one moment declare for the policy of Australia for the Australians, and the next bring forward a proposal like that now under discussion. I presume that twelve months hence we shall be asked to renew this contract again, if not on the terms now arranged for, still under terms which will involve the payment of a heavy subsidy. When Sir Edmund Barton urged the payment of ‘this subsidy, he argued that the existence of the Canadian-Australian line would make it possible for the Commonwealth to make better terms in connexion with the mail service v id Suez ; but it was recently shown, when the contract with the Orient Steam Navigation Company was being arranged for, that the Commonwealth received no advantage from the existence of the Canadian- Australian Company.
– I am not so sure about that.
– Of course, the honorable member knows more about the matter than I do, and I am sorry that he did not refer to it when addressing the Committee. In arranging the contract, I am sorry that an opportunity was not taken to require the company to undertake the training on board its vessels of a certain number of boys from our reformatories. If they were apprenticed to these subsidized lines, we should gradually build up a force to man our Australian Navy and mercantile marine, a very necessary thing, seeing how difficult it is to induce our people to go to sea. I believe that the shipping company would have been willing to take a certain number of these lads as apprentices, and the training of them would have been of great future advantage to the Commonwealth. I intend to vote for the motion, but I again emphasize for the comfort of the Minister of Trade and Customs the fact that it strikes a direct blow at his action in resisting the importation of harvester machines.
– I am glad that Parliament is being” asked to ratify this contract. The statement of the PostmasterGeneral shows that the business of this steam-ship line is not increasing as we hoped it would. At present in our trading relations with Canada, the balance is against us ; that is, Ave are importing more goods from that country than we are exporting to it. One of the reasons for this is, I think, that Canada has representatives in Victoria and New South Wales, whose business it is to push her trade in Australia. But we have in Canada no representative to push our interests, and in that respect we are failing in our duty to our producers. I was recently in the Dominion, and: met the members of its Board of Trade, who expressed a desire to reciprocate with us. They referred to the large amount which Canada pays to maintain this steam,-ship line, and spoke of their desire to see its business increase. Unless special inducements are offered to passengers and traders in the shape of better accommodation and increased speed, the Canadian service will never take the place of that which is conducted via the Suez Canal. I feel that we can, do nothing but ratify this contract. It would be disastrous to our relations with Canada and the Empire, as a whole, if the service were to be discontinued, and I think the late Postmaster-General acted wisely in extending the contract. It is painful to notice the lack of interest on the part of honorable members in this important subject. It is quite true that the lion’s share of the trade between America and the Commonwealth is being absorbed by Messrs. Spreckles and Co., whose line of steamers between San Francisco and Sydney is heavily subsidized by the United States Government. I have been unable to ascertain the amount of the subsidy paid to Messrs. Spreckles .and Co., but I am sure that it is much larger than the amount paid to the Union Steam-ship Company. The traffic over the Vancouver route will never increase until we have placed on it steamers similar to those of the Empire line, trading between San Francisco and Yokohama. Those vessels are perfect palaces, travel at a high rate of speed, and return a handsome profit to their owners.’ The Postmaster-General should seriously consider the whole question, and inquire into the reasons why a large trade is being developed between the United States and Japan, whilst our trade with Vancouver is dwindling away. I think it is due to us that the Postmaster-Genoa! should say what steps he proposes to take in anticipation of the expiration of the present contract. Within a very short time the present arrangement will come to an end, and it will be necessary to enter into a fresh contract. Surely the Postmaster-General will not allow matters to drift as was done in connexion with the last English mail contract, at the termination of which the Government found themselves at the mercy of one or two influential shipping firms. I was surprised to find that such a small amount of mail matter was carried over the Vancouver route, but I trust that when better facilities are provided the service will be more largely availed of for the carriage of mails, passengers, and cargo. The Union Steam-ship ‘Company are progressive, and I think we should help them in every possible way to compete with the heavily-subsidized line of steamers owned by American capitalists now trading between San Francisco and Sydney. Our trade with San Francisco is a very valuable one, and I do not wish to see it interfered with ; but there is something wrong in the present conditions, and we should seek to apply the remedy. I think that arrangements should be made for the representation of the Commonwealth in Canada. Canadian merchants are fully alive to their own interests, and they have in Mr. J. S. Larke, their commercial representative in Sydney, a very able and efficient officer. We should spare no efforts to develop our trade with the Dominion, and I am sure that any work that the Postmaster-General may be able to accomplish in that direction will meet with the cordial approval of the whole community.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).It would be affectation on my part to say that I was not disappointed at the condition of affair’s revealed by the PostmasterGeneral with regard to the Vancouver service. After having subsidized the line for from twelve to fourteen years, it is not encouraging to find that our trade is a dwindling quantity, and that the outlook for the future is anything but hopeful. I certainly expected that, on the inauguration of the Pacific cable, a great fillip would have been given to our trade with Canada and other parts of Northern America. However, it seems that the more we multiply the means of intercourse, and the more we pay for them the less we get out of them in the way of business, and direct intercourse between the various peoples of the Empire. I agree with the honorable member for Kooyong that it is time that the Government seriously tackled this problem, and made a thorough investigation into it, with a view to recommending a policy for the future. We certainly cannot continue for an indefinite term to pay a larger amount by way of subsidy than the value of our total ‘export trade with Canada. I was bitterly disappointed when I heard the figures that were read by the Postmaster-General. Ten years ago our export trade with Canada was something substantial, but gradually it has dwindled away until it now represents a value of only £29,000 per annum. I felt the more keenly disappointed because of the very great interest I took in this enterprise some years ago. I .remember that, when the mail service was first started in New South Wales, a very great struggle was entered upon, and one man - the late Sir James Huddart - is now in his grave largely owing to the difficulties he had to encounter. He was the pioneer of the line, and if it should succeed in the future, to him will belong the chief credit for having established this means of intercourse between Canada and Australia. He embarked upon the enterprise in the hope and belief that the development and expansion of our Empire trade would assume proportions far greater than we have seen in recent years. Tt h-is been said by the Postmaster-General that this is not merely a mail subsidy. It has never been so regarded. As a mail service it has been worth very little to Australia, because the mails cannot be so expeditiously sent by that route as via the Suez Canal. Our support of the service has always been based upon sentimental and Imperial considerations, as well as upon those relating to the carriage of the mails; and the case made out abundantly justified the inauguration of the service. We cannot, however, go on in the present lackadaisical and haphazard way. I hesitated to speak upon this subject, because I felt that I should much prefer to have been able to say something in favour of the service. It is unusual for a Minister to make a proposal of this kind without having anything to say in its favour ; but we must sympathize with him when we investigate the facts, and find them so unpromising. In my opinion, there are several directions in which we might conduct inquiries in order to ascertain what our prospects are. In the first place I would refer to the advent to our shores of Earl Jersey, who has been in Canada, who has taken a very keen interest in all matters relating to Inter-Imperial trade, and who is, perhaps, one of the best authorities upon such subjects. He has also taken a keen interest in the inauguration of the Pacific Cable, and I believe that he attended one or two conferences on the subject in Ottawa, and is, perhaps, more du fait with our relations with Canada than is any other disinterested man in- London to-day. I think the Government might very well obtain his opinion as to the prospects of our trade with Canada as well as with regard to the successful working of the Pacific Cable. Whilst we are paying a subsidy of -£30,000 per annum for the Pacific Cable connexion with Canada, and £26,000 for our commercial connexion by means of the Vancouver mail service, the volume of our export trade represents a value of only £29,000 per annum. These facts cannot be regarded as unsatisfactory. We have recently received some large importations from Canada, but T regret to say that these are on the down grade - instead of increasing, thev appear to be decreasing very materially. The statistics for the last year, for which we have the returns, show a falling 6Ff of £100,000 in the value of our imports from Canada.
– That will chiefly represent wheat.
– Very probably, it consists of grain, and our large importa tions in recent years may have been due to the scarcity of that product in Australia. The fact that we are now more nearly satisfying our own requirements may account for the tremendous drop in our imports from that country. But whatever may be the nature of that produce, the fact remains that the total trade between the two countries is not increasing, but, on the other hand, is decreasing. I am not quite sure that we ought not to accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Kooyong. I am of opinion that we ought to appoint a commercial agent in Canada, just as the Dominion has already appointed commercial agents here. Surely if we are justified in expending -£26,000 annually by way of subsidy to a mail company, and a further sum of £30,000 in connexion with the Pacific Cable, for the purpose of developing trade, we are warranted in spending a few thousand pounds per annum extra upon a commercial agency, with a view to attracting trade to the routes that we keep open by means of these subsidies. Unless we are going to adopt that course - a course which would be followed by any large commercial house - we had better not enter into the matter at all. That is one direction in which I think the Government might see their way to make a beginning. They might well appoint a representative in the Dominion, whose duty it would be to search out avenues of trade, and ascertain if there is not a possibility of developing commerce between the two countries. There is another reason why I would hesitate to interfere with this arrangement bv the Government. I recognise that the Vancouver service keeps open an avenue of communication between Australia and another part of the Empire, and we have not too many of those avenues. We do not enjoy the special facilities that are enjoyed by some other countries, and we cannot afford to sacrifice any of those means of communication which link us, so to speak, with the enterprise and commerce of the world. For that reason alone, I would hesitate a long time before doing anything that would obstruct the further extension of this contract. Nevertheless, I think it is due to the House that the PostmasterGeneral should inform us of what he proposes to do in connexion with our mail services. The Government ought to have some policy upon this matter. The present contract via Vancouver is running out, arid unless some fresh arrangements are speedily made, we shall inevitably find ourselves in the position that we occupied in our recent negotiations for a renewal of the agreement with the Orient Steam Navigation Company. It is high time that some policy was announced in respect of all these oversea mail contracts. In the old days we used to consider that two years was a short enough period to allow for the expiration of any of these ocean-going contracts. It is certainly little enough notice to give those who own the boats to make fresh arrangements for meeting changed requirements in the service, and it is little enough time to allow us to complete our arrangements, in case we desire to terminate any of these contracts. In the present instance, we are extending the contract for a year only. I think that some definite policy ought to be submitted to the House in regard to all these mail contracts, seeing that they link us up with the world at large. I would suggest that the Postmaster-General should make a complete declaration of policy in regard to the mail communication of Australia with the rest of the world.
– Before the present contract expires ?
– Yes. There is not a moment to lose if the thing is to be done effectively and in a business-like way. Of course, we cannot blame the present Postmaster-General for not having submitted such a policy, because he has not been” in office sufficiently long. At the same time, I do earnestly ask him to tackle this question at the very earliest moment, and to see if we cannot make some better arrangements in regard to our mail communications with, and our trade routes to, oversea countries. As I have already said, we should have some commercial agency in Canada, so that we might be in a position to thoroughly exploit the possibilities of the Canadian market for our own exports. Personally, I am not so sanguine as to the lines of trade which we might develop with Canada. For instance, I find that our exports at present consist of butter, hides and skins, a little coal, and a small quantity of wool. We do not export much in any of these lines. The total value of our exports to the Dominion, viz., £29,000, is split up amongst these four main items. Honorable members will, therefore, recognise that any one of them must represent an insignificant sum in itself. I suppose that our coal comes very severely into competition with the coal of the’ Dominion, of which there is an abundant supply. Our butter, I am afraid, is not likely to find a permanent foothold in competition with the Canadian article, at any rate, in the Dominion market. I see no reason why it should not compete with Canadian butter elsewhere, but I scarcely think that it can do so in the Canadian market, having regard to the high Tariff which is operative against Australia as well as the rest of the world. It will thus be seen that all our exports to Canada are such as that country itself produces in abundance. Consequently, the outlook in the direction of developing a permanent export trade with Canada does not appear to be very rosy. Our imports from Canada also consist of commodities which are common to both countries, and in the production of which both excel. As an example, take the item of timber. We have an abundance of that in Australia.
– Not of the same class.
– I am not quite sure that we have not every class of timber that Canada exports here. Of course, it is more profitable commercially to obtain certain kinds of timber from Canada, otherwise we should not do so. It seems to me that the possibilities of developing an export trade with Canada are not of the rosy character we could wish, entertaining as we do a sincere desire to keep open our means of communication with every part of the world with which they are possible. However, this is a matter for further inquiry. I do not think that the possibilities of the situation have been exploited at all. We have been content to allow trade to come here if it cared to do so, and to do the other thing if it did not. None of the big trusts of America or Canada would act in that way where their own interests were concerned, and this Parliament should not vote large sums without taking care that they find their way into remunerative channels - that is, into channels which will bring us an adequate commercial return. I do not suggest that we should embark upon these enterprises simply for commercial gain. I think that for us to be linked up with one of the countries of the Empire is worth something, and I shall always be prepared to pay a subsidy to any line of steamers for that purpose alone. But we ought to know exactly what we are paying this subsidy for, what are the prospects in regard to our means of communication, and whether trade with Canada is likely to be developed after we have tided over our present difficulties. I suggest that advantage should be taken of the advent to our shores of that nobleman, of whom I have spoken, who takes such a keen interest in all these matters, and who would be able to give us as much information upon this subject as any individual with whom we could communicate to fully inform ourselves upon this question. I trust that we shall soon hear that the Government have formulated a complete plan in respect of postal communication with the rest of the world.
– It appears to me that the motion under consideration does not relate to a mail service pure and simple. If we view the matter merely from a commercial stand-point, I do not think that we are likely to get very much out of it. The commodities which we can export to Canada are very similar to those which that country itself produces, and consequently I do not think that we can ever develop a large trade with the Dominion. Whilst the honorable member for Parramatta was speaking, I made an interjection to the effect that our timbers were exchangeable with those of Canada, and that possibly we might increase our trade in that direction, and that direction only. Of course, Australian wool is altogether different from the Canadian article, and for the finer manufactures of the Dominion we might perhaps increase our trade in that staple. In Australia, our great timbers are hardwood timbers. Our. softwood timbers - if we except cedar, which in many places is nearly worked out - are of a very inferior character when compared with the softwood timbers of America. Con.sequently the only trade which we ‘are likely to develop with Canada is by exchanging our hardwood for her softwood timbers. Take Oregon as an example. We have not any timber of that character in Australia. ‘All the softwood timbers of Canada are very much. better than our own.
– We have good softwood timbers in Queensland.
– Queensland: pine is not equal to American pine.
– Does the honorable member say that Queensland pine is of no use?
– I do not say that; but I do say that it is not equal to the pine of “America. Our large importations from Canada during the past vear or two have been chiefly due to drought, which left us in need of foodstuffs. Personally I have not a strong opinion either way in regard to the Vancouver mail service. No doubt that ser vice provides us with an Imperial connexion, and possibly on that account we ought to encourage it. It is upon that ground alone that this motion can be supported.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported and adopted.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 17th October, vide page 3647) =
Department of the Treasury.
Division 27 (The Treasury), £8,631
– I should like to learn what steps the Treasurer is taking with a view to bring to an issue the great question of the division of our surplus revenue among the States - what he proposes to substitute for the Braddon section when the time fixed for its operation expires. This is a matter which intimately and vitally concerns the whole of the States. The States are by this time upon tenterhooks; they are beginning to look askance at the Federation, and are wondering what is going to be their fate in the time to come. The Treasurer might very well take advantage of the present opportunity to declare his policy with regard to financial matters generally. He has already hinted on several- occasions the course of action that is likely to be followed by him and by this time he has doubtless matured his proposals. I recollect, for instance, that a little while ago the right honorable gentleman said that he inclined more and more to the proposal to pay annually a fixed amount to the States, instead of allowing them to take what may be left after we have made onslaughts upon the public revenue in any way that may seem suitable for Commonwealth purposes. There is much to be said for the allocation of a stated sum year by year, so that the States Treasurers may know exactly what is their financial outlook, and what arrangements must be made by them. At present they are not in that position. Every effort is made by the Treasurer of the Commonwealth to meet their demands from time to time, and to forecast as ‘accurately as possiBle what the eventualities of the year are likely to be; but even in these circumstances the States Treasurers find themselves out in their calculations, and at a loss to know how to make ends meet. A proposal to give them a fixed sum has much to recommend it ; but whatever the proposition may be, I hope that the Treasurer will now speak his mind fully, and make a much more definite pronouncement than he has done.
– The right honorable gentleman speaks definitely, but on both sides.
– I shall not say that; but he has a habit - just as has his chief - of flying beautiful political kites. While these float gaily to the breeze, and make a very fine spectacle, when the political sky is bright and the environment is kindly, the fact remains that when we get down to bedrock these honorable gentlemen do not do much to solve the difficulties with which the Commonwealth, and in particular the States, are confronted. In this respect we are the trustees of the States ; under the financial scheme propounded in the Constitution we are the guardians of their finances. I therefore ask the Treasurer whether he has matured any proposal to meet this condition of affairs, and, if he has, whether he will definitely and clearly state what course of action will be taken by the Government.
– I regret that I am unable to- give the definite information which the deputy leader of the Opposition desires. I may say, however, that my views on this question to-day are exactly what they were when I delivered my Budget speech on 22nd August last.
– So that the right honorable gentleman’s proposals are still in embryo ?
– I have since had an opportunity to further consider the question, and am more convinced than ever that the proposal which I then foreshadowed is the one which it will be best to adopt in the interests, not only of the Commonwealth, but of the States. I said, in the course of my Budget speech, that -
My judgment leads me to believe that it will be found advisable to consider whether it is not possible to adopt the Canadian plan, or some scheme which will be equitable and acceptable, under which it might be agreed that a fixed amount, subject, if necessary, to periodical adjustment, should be annually returnable to each State. The suggestion is, I think, worthy of some consideration. If some such proposal could be given effect, the Commonwealth and the States-
And this is the great object to be aimed at - would be in the position of financial independence, and would be able to work out their financial problems in their own way. There would be no room then for complaint on either side.
– Does the right honorable gentleman mean a fixed total sum, or a fixed per capita amount?
– Mv idea is that a fixed sum should be annually returnable to the States. I do not say thai! it should be. paid immediately on a per capita basis, inasmuch as such a system at this stage would operate unjustly to the States. To my mind, the sum to be returned to the States should be based upon the amounts which they receive during the operation of the Braddon section. Our ultimate goal, however, should be to make a fixed distribution. That should be part of any arrangement made, but it would be a matter of no moment, if it were provided that a per capita distribution should not be made for many years hence. We should take care not to adopt a system that may cause injury to any State. I take it that all that the States desire is to secure what is really their own. I have heard it said by representatives of Tasmania and Queensland, that it is desirable that a per capita distribution should at once be made. A perusal of the figures shows that such a distribution would probably be advantageous to those States, and that may account for this desire on the part of their representatives. I am confident, however, that it is only a passing fancy. It should be our object to see that each State shall, as far as possible, have its own, and to work towards the making of the distribution on a per capita basis. I see no reason why a fixed sum, based upon the amounts the States have received during the operation of the Braddon section, should not be acceptable to the States.
– As a substitute for the Braddon section?
– That is so. I should not, however, favour such a proposal, unless there went with it financial independence for the Commonwealth, as well as for the States. As honorable members are aware, after the’ expiration, of the Braddon section, the whole of the Customs and Excise revenue will be absolutely at the disposal of this Parliament. We may expend every penny of it upon: public purposes, leaving the States to raise from their own resources even the money necessary to pay interest upon their loans.
– Why not take over the debts of the States?
– We must take care not’ to confuse the two matters. Even if we took over their debts, we should not relieve them of the responsibility of providing the interest. They are liable to indemnify the Commonwealth in regard to any deficiency that may occur in the amount requited for interest on transferred loans, so that after the expiration of the Braddon section, we might expend the whole of the Customs and Excise revenue, and still call upon the States to pay the interest on the loans taken over. That being so, my honorable friend’s proposition would not assist us. As long as the Commonwealth is bound, as it is, under section 94 of the Constitution, to return to the States any surplus revenue, we can never have financial independence for the Commonwealth, and security for the States. My own idea is that the sooner we secure financial independence for the Commonwealth, and arrange a carefully prepared scheme, by which a fixed amount will be payable to’ the States, the better it will be. Those are the ideas to which I gave utterance in my Budget speech, and I have since seen no reason to change my views in this matter. I am glad that the Premier of New South Wales has accepted the proposition, and has communicated with this Government in regard to it ; but I am not aware that any of the other States has moved in the same direction. Some of those in power in the States act as if the States were the masters of the situation, whereas it is the Commonwealth that is in that position. I do not wish to take advantage of the States, and I hope that it will never be said of me that I had any desire but to help them. I am as ready to be the friend of the States as to be the friend of the Commonwealth. Indeed, I consider that Commonwealth Ministers and members of Parliament are all trustees for the people of Australia, who are the same people as the people of ‘the States. If we do anything to injure the States we injure the very people whom we represent. It seems to me that the States are technically, at any rate, in a position of insecurity, so far as their finances are concerned.
– There is not much security for Queensland and Tasmania.
– All the States may, I feel sure, rely upon receiving fair consideration from this Parliament, but, notwithstanding foat, the States should not act as if they were independent and able to impose what terms they like. This matter has to be dealt with on business lines, so that what is best for both States and the Commonwealth may be done. I have given it a good deal of attention recently, and the solution of the difficulty, which appeals to me, is to free the Commonwealth from the condition which will hamper it in the future, and to give to the States the security which is necessary for their financial” stability. The taking over of the debts of the States is another matter which is not necessarily associated with the return of the surplus. The States are responsible for the debts which they ‘have incurred, and no proposal’ has yet been made or suggested which would relieve them of that responsibility. It is impossible to deal, on a -per capita basis, with the £203,000,000 which’ was borrowed by the States prior to the inauguration of .Federation, as the amounts, per head are different in each State. I desire, however, that the debts of the States shall be taken over by the Commonwealth, because I think that such action will be of advantage to both States and Commonwealth. The Commonwealth will, in the future, be in a far stronger position to finance these loans than any State can possibly be in. Any saving that may thereby accrue should go to the State in regard to whose debts it is made, and thus assist its finances. I did not intend to speak on this matter, but as the deputy leader of the Opposition invited me to disclose my opinions, I have willingly done so, freely and unreservedly.
– I do not know whether it is intended, because of the financial statement which the Treasurer has been drawn into making, that there shall be a general debate on Commonwealth finance, but if that is to take place, I would suggest that the Committee requires additional information from the Government. If there is to be guaranteed to the States the return of a certain amount of revenue each year, the question must be asked, How is that revenue to be obtained by the Commonwealth? If the present Government is true to its ( protective principles, and imposes a Tariff which will benefit the industries of Australia, our Customs revenue must decrease as our industries increase, and, consequently, we shall ultimately not be in a position to return to the States as much revenue as they require. It seems to me that the Government might declare in favour of the imposition of direct taxation. I should like to know whether they would favour a progressive land tax, or whether, when the Braddon provision ceases to operate, they will be content to allow the Commonwealth to pay for its administration out of the revenue derived from narcotics and stimulants, and leave the States to obtain what revenue they require for their own purposes. In my opinion it would be a good thing if the States were forced to impose a progressive land tax, sufficiently heavy to break up the big estates which are now such a curse to the community and so great an obstacle to progress in all the States. Such an arrangement would make the States and the Commonwealth mutually independent in regard ‘to finance. Unless some such arrangement is made, we must ultimately adopt the policy of the direct Opposition, and impose a revenue Tariff, reducing certain rates of duty in order that more revenue may be obtained. Some of the States are already crying out that not enough money is being returned to them. No doubt their people individually are benefited by keeping the money in their pockets, but the Governments of the States are hampered, though, in many cases they have made little effort to reduce expenditure. I think that it would be a good thing if the responsibility of collecting their own revenue were put on the States. At the present time the Commonwealth has the unpleasant task of imposing, taxation and collecting revenue, while the States have most to do with the spending of the money raised. The State of New South Wales has made many complaints against the actions of the Commonwealth, but there has been returned to it since Federation £4,000,000 more than it would have collected in revenue under its former financial arrangements. That means that since Federation the people of New South Wales have been taxed so much more heavily, and the Government of the State have had so much more money to spend, though, notwithstanding, thev have continued to borrow, and have not materially reduced their expenditure. I do not think that it is quite fair to expect the Treasurer to make a declaration of the policy of the Government when we are dealing with the Estimates in detail. He did that in making his Budget speech. If the matter is to be gone into now, the Committee will require a great deal more information than has been placed before it, and unless these matters have been discussed by the Cabinet, the Treasurer can not be in a position to state the views of the Government in regard to them. Sooner or later the whole question will have to be faced in connexion with the renewal or otherwise of the Braddon provision. I hope that the Government will then stand by the view which the Treasurer has indicated, that there should be no renewal. I am strongly opposed to a renewal. When the adoption of the draft Constitution was being opposed in New South Wales, the Braddon blot, as it was called, was one of the clauses which provoked special objection, and I think that as the years go on it will become increasingly clear that it works badly. The Commonwealth expenditure has not yet reached the full amount of one-fourth of the Customs revenue, but even now some of the States are complaining that they do not get back enough ; and if our expenditure, which is increasing, is likely to exceed the one-fourth, we shall have to raise four times the amount we require to meet the increase. As I have stated, the people of New South Wales have had to raise £4,000,000 more than they would have had to raise had their old financial arrangements continued in force, though, as the Treasurer has shown, the average of taxation throughout the Commonwealth is practically unchanged. While the people of some of the States are now paying more taxation than they did prior to Federation, the people of other States are paying less. Although this is not the proper time to discuss the matter, I take the opportunity to offer my strong objection to a renewal of the Braddon provision, for which there is already an agitation. I think that we have no right by any Act of legislation to bind posterity for a number of years. Some better method of finance could be arranged for. I am glad that the Treasurer has expressed himself in favour of financial independence on the part of the States and the Commonwealth. I think that that can be best secured by allowing the States to raise by direct taxation what revenue they may require. The Commonwealth would have sufficient revenue for its own purposes from the duties on narcotics and stimulants. But I do not know if there are any free-traders left. I doubt whether the Free-trade Party would now support a legitimate free-trade policy, providing for absolutely open ports. The so-called Free-trade Party is made up of revenue tariffists, who are in favour of what appears to me to be one of the very worst systems of raising revenue. Customs duties call upon the poor man to pay far more in proportion than the rich man, and the principle underlying the system is not a fair one. If there are any absolute free-traders amongst us, they will probably support the suggestion that Customs duties should be abolished and our ports thrown open, and that the States and the Commonwealth should raise the revenue they require by means of a good land tax.
– Then the honorable member is in favour of taxing one section of the community.
– Nothing of the kind. Land is the source of all wealth, and all revenue should be raised by means of taxes upon it. We must either adopt a protectionist’ policy that will have the effect of entirely shutting out imports, or we must throw our ports open and raise our revenue by some other means than Customs duties. When we come to consider the fiscal question, the discussion should range between these two extremes.
– The protectionists were the first to seek for fiscal peace.
– That does not concern me, because I am regarded as a fiscal atheist. I am now seeking to outline a policy for the Government, and as Ministers are protectionists I anticipate that they will prefer to adopt a reasonably high Tariff, which will have the effect of shutting out imports. If that course be adopted, the revenue now derived from Customs duties will be lost, and the Commonwealth and the States will have to raise money by some other means. The States could impose a land tax to meet their requirements, and I think it is preferable that they should do so, because if they have to collect their own revenue they will be more careful in spending it. At present we have to perform the disagreeable work of collecting revenue whilst the States engage in the pleasurable occupation of spending it. I would suggest that the discussion of this great issue might very well be postponed until we are called upon to consider the extension or otherwise of the Braddon section.
– The Treasurer told us that the Commonwealth was the master of the financial situation, and I was glad to hear him qualify that statement by indicating that he had no wish to act in any manner antagonistic to the interests of the States. I think that it will be a subject for lasting regret if, in connexion with the settlement of the States debts question or the extension of the Braddon sections, we fail to carry the States with us. We are sometimes apt to forget that the people of the States and’ of the Commonwealth are one, and that they have to carry the burdens imposed both by the States and this Parliament. I believe that the extension of the Braddon clause will be necessary in the interests of the States, unless we can make an arrangement for the payment of a lump sum to each of them. I did not anticipate a full dress debate upon the States debts question to-day. Indeed, I do not think it would be fair to the Treasurer to discuss that matter, except incidentally, at this stage. Perhaps I may be pardoned for once more referring to the fact that a motion upon the business-paper standing in my name contemplates the appointment of a Select Committee, which would be of great service to us in dealing with those complex questions of finance which must be settled in the near future. I know that my motion has the approval of the Government and of a majority of honorable members, and I regret that an opportunity has not been presented for the full consideration of the proposal and the appointment of the Committee. I have no hesitation in saying that if the proposed Committee had been appointed we should by this time have had before us some practical recommendation, which could have been remitted for the consideration and approval of the States. I believe that the opposition to the appointment of the Committee proceeds from the desire of some honorable members that the Treasurer shall bring down a specific scheme, which may be torn to shreds. I hold, however, that this great question should be dealt with, apart from party considerations, and without any regard to the personnel of the Ministry. A practical scheme should be formulated, and it seems to me that the readiest means of bringing about that result is by appointing a Committee such as I propose. I hope that before the session closes that course will be adopted, and that within a short time we shall have made substantial progress in the direction of solving the intricate problems which will soon have to be faced. The difficulties in detail connected wilh the great financial questions affecting the relations between the States and the Commonwealth cannot be dealt with effectively upon the floor of this House, but must be threshed out by members in close consultation. These matters should be considered by us, not with any desire to have our statements recorded in the public prints, but with a determination to submit business-like and practical proposals. I trust that I shall receive the cordial co-operation of honorable members iri securing the appointment of the proposed Committee, which will be able to consider the financial problems involved in the States debts question, the extension of the Braddon clause, and the determination of the bookkeeping period.
– I expected that the Treasurer would have made some statement with regard to the policy of the Government upon the important financial questions with which we shall soon be called upon to deal. He has indicated his own ideas, but he has not positively set out the intentions of the Government in regard to these matters. I think the sooner we provide for the financial independence of the States and of the Commonwealth the better for all parties concerned. The States should be left free to take their own course in regard to raising revenue, and the Commonwealth should have corresponding liberty.
– Is the honorable member in favour of absolutely free ports?
– I am not in favour of any sham policy such as the honorable member has advocated. It is all very well for the honorable member to talk hypocritically upon taxation matters. I strongly urge that provision should be made for giving back to the States a fixed sum annually, instead of a proportion of the receipts from Customs duties. When I entered upon my first Federal campaign I took up that attitude.
– How does the honorable member propose to raise the money ?
– I would not restrict the Commonwealth to any particular method of taxation. Let us simply say to the States, “ We shall return you so much a year.” We should submit to no dictation as to how the amount should be raised.
– Why bind this Parliament! to the return of a fixed sum?
– To make the position perfectly clear, I would return a fixed amount to the States Treasurers. The sooner that is done the better. To-day the States are asking for an extension of the Braddon section of the Constitution. They wish to place this Parliament in the posi tion of having to raise the revenue, whilst they expend it.
– They do not refer to that section as the “ Braddon blot “ now.
– They do not. Nevertheless, I have always regarded it as a blot. Of course, my action in questioning the wisdom of the very eminent men who drafted our Constitution may be regarded as very ridiculous, but I think that the way in which they dealt with this matter was absolutely absurd. In many respects, our Constitution is not what it should be. Its framers apparently preferred to follow that of America, rather than the freer Constitution, of Canada. The Dominion confederation started its existence by returning to the States a fixed sum. If we had adopted that course it would have been very much better. If we desire to take over the States debts, it would be wise for us to return to the States Treasurers a specific amount each year. We should then be able to make better terms upon the London money market, and any advantage which might be secured in that direction would be enjoyed by the States, which would be called upon to contribute a smaller amount by way of interest. I wish to know what the Treasurer proposes to do in this connexion? Ha is always so beautifully indefinite that we can never extract any statement of policy from him. Indeed, the entire Government are very indefinite in regard to everything that they undertake. Their policy is one of drift. They cannot control even the business of the House in the way in which they ought to control it. Any statement which is made by them appears to come from dreamland. In the interests of the Commonwealth, and of the States, the sooner the debts problem is solved the better. I am not at all opposed to the Treasurer’s idea in respect of this matter, if he will only give effect to it I merely ask him to act, and not to be content with mere talk. I do trust that the Ministry will make up their minds, and let us know what are their intentions in. respect of returning to the States a specific sum annually, in lieu of continuing the existing system. If the present position continues much longer, our power to do anything will be absolutely crippled.
– It seems to me that honorable members have entirely overlooked the fact that the Commonwealth Parliament and the States Legislatures are elected by the same people. Within the next fifteen months we shall be called upon to give an account of our stewardship, and I say emphatically that, so far, our stewardship has been bad. Time after time we have seen burdens cast upon the smaller States - burdens which they should not be asked to bear. We had an instance of that Only this afternoon, when the Vancouver mail contract was under consideration. We then saw how responsibilities which were originally assumed by New South Wales and Queensland were transferred to the whole of the States. It is admitted that the Vancouver mail service i’s being carried on at a loss, and that it is doing no good to Australia, although it is benefiting Canada. I presume that we have no power to stop the payment of the subsidy during the next fifteen months; but I do hope that before the contract is renewed this House will be consulted upon the matter. I should not have arisen to address the Committee but for certain statements which were made by the honorable member* for Darling. He argued, inferentially, that if money is not exacted by taxation from the people, it must remain in their pockets. That is an absolute fallacy. It is quite possible that a protective duty may be imposed upon any article, and that people may be compelled to pay just as much for it as they would be if no such duty were operative. The money may not find its way into the revenue, but it may go into the pockets of certain manufacturers. For example, there is a duty of 2d. per lb. upon starch. The other day, as the result of inquiries, I ascertained that practically no revenue was derived from that item.
– What about the Excise?
– There is no Excise duty upon starch.
– There is an Excise duty of id. per lb.
– I find that starch locally manufactured is being sold at 5jd. per lb., and that 6d. per lb. is being charged for imported starch. Naturally, the people use the cheaper article, and, as a result, very little imported starch is consumed. Thus, whilst the present duty prevents the importation of starch, the consumers still have to pay for that article within Jd. per lb. of what they would be required to pay if to duty were operative.
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing the Tariff.
– I am merely replying to a statement which was made by the honorable member for Darling. Take another article as an illustration ; I refer to sugar. Prior to Federation, Tasmania received between £60,000 and £80,000 per annum from the duty on sugar. During the past two years she has obtained only about £27,000 per annum from that source. But under the per capita system she has been compelled to return about £13,000 annually by way of sugar bounty. Consequently, she is £40,000 a year worse off that she was previously. Yet colonial sugar is being sold at the same price as is the imported article. Although Tasmania is losing that amount of revenue, the money doss not find its’ way into the pockets of the people, but into the coffers of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
– Why not increase the Excise dutv ?
– Let us nationalize the production of starch, and allow the State to obtain all the profits.
– The honorable member’s party declares itself in favour of the nationalization of industries, but does not accomplish anything. The statement of the honorable member for Darling is absolutely nonsensical. Personally, I intend to support an extension of the Braddon section. I do not trust the members of this Parliament, and the people outside do not trust them.
– The honorable member would not allow us to appeal to them.
– The honorable member’s party wished to appeal to the electors, not upon the question of whether this Parliament was to be trusted with the distribution of the Customs revenue, but upon the question of whether the Labour Party should be permitted to carry on the government of the country. Upon that occasion I had to recognise that a general election had been held only some eight or nine months previously, and I was called upon to consider whether I should be justified in involving the country in a further expenditure of £50,000 upon another general election.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.That is a matter which is not before the Chair.
– I think that at the next general election the people should be asked, by means of a referendum, to say whether they have sufficient confidence in the Federal Parliament to intrust it with the work of making a fair distribution. If they are not prepared to give us that power, I do not think that we should attempt to usurp it. Many of the States are in very serious difficulties, and I hold that it would not be right to allow the Braddon section to expire unless1 some scheme that would give satisfaction to the people of Australia as a whole could be substituted. I have risen merely to say emphatically that, unless a more advantageous scheme be proposed, the proposition that the Braddon section shall be renewed will have my support.
– The statement made by the Treasurer deserves very serious consideration. I wish it to be distinctly understood that I shall favour the renewal of the Braddon section, unless an equally satisfactory guarantee to the smaller States can be substituted far it.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– I should like the Braddon section to be continued. If that were done, and the book-keeping provisions of the Constitution were not operating, leaving the surplus revenue to be disbursed in ai truly Federal spirit, we should more nearly approximate to a sound financial position than we have yet done. The Braddon section has been the salvation of the smaller States. Although the Federal Parliament has practically undertaken no new works of any magnitude, we have almost reached the limit of our expenditure, so far as our revenue from Customs and Excise duties is concerned. For nearly two years Queensland has not had her full share returned to her.
– Does not that prove that the Braddon section is no protection to the States?
– Although Queensland has suffered to the extent of something like £180,000, I think that her losses in this respect have almost reached high-water mark. Tasmania is in- much the same position. If we allowed the Braddon section to lapse, the Commonwealth would be able to expend the whole of the Customs and Excise revenue, leaving the States to make good the deficiency thus created in their revenue by means of local taxation-
– Does the honorable member think that the Commonwealth should Le forced to resort to taxation before the States are compelled to do so ? If the States wish to raise more revenue, why do not they take action themselves?
– I join issue with the honorable gentleman. If the Government of the Commonwealth had to face the music - if they were responsible directly to the electors for imposing taxation - the position would be very different from what it is. If the Braddon section be allowed to lapse, the Commonwealth will be in a position to financially embarrass the States.
– Is that likely to happen ?
– We have already embarrassed Queensland and Tasmania. The financial provisions of the Constitution are most unfair to the States. A perusal of the report of the debates in the Federal Convention shows that it was not until the last moment that it was able to frame a financial scheme. It was on the eve of the termination of the proceedings that the members of the Convention, who appeared to be ashamed to have to return to their constituents and confess their inability to arrive at a settlement of the difficulty, hit upon the financial hotch-potch now embodied in the Constitution. Whilst the Commonwealth Treasury is overflowing, and we have money to devote to almost any fad that we please to take up, the States Treasurers are compelled to impose taxation of the most drastic character to enable them to pay their way.
– The Braddon section has been of no service to Queensland.
– If the Braddon section be allowed to lapse, the Commonwealth, instead of expending one-fourth of its Customs revenue-
– We do not expend our one-fourth.
– We are spending more than one-fourth so far as Queensland is concerned.
– So that the Braddon section does not assist the smaller States.
– If we allowed “that provision to lapse, the Commonwealth might not return anything to Queensland.
– The Commonwealth Parliament is not likely to be so dishonest.
– Taking all the States into consideration, the Commonwealth is returning more than three-fourths of the total Customs and Excise revenue.
Mr.Mcwilliams.- That is so, but he full proportion has not been returned to Queensland, and Tasmaniawill shortly be in the same position. We have practically reached a stage at which three-fourths of the total revenue will be returned only to the States as a whole. Although I do not think that the Parliament would be so reckless as to allow any Government to expend anything like the whole of the Customs and Excise revenue, whilst financially embarrassing Queensland and Tasmania-
– Leave Queensland out of it - she is not begging for anything.
Mr.Mcwilliams.-I think thatI am speaking by the book when I assert that, as the result of the Federal expediture, the finances of Queensland have been embarrassed. That is certainly the position in regard to Tasmania. Considerations for the financial safety of that State will not allow me to agree to the Braddon section being allowed to lapse unless something that will give equal security to the States, and insure their receiving at least as much revenue as is now returned to them, is substituted for it.
– The question raised on this division is a large and important one. It is somewhat strange to hear the honorable member for Franklin and the honorable member for Wilmot, in one breath, eulogising the Braddon section, and in the next asserting that it has not saved the smaller States from financial difficulty.
– I did not say that it had not protected the States.
– It is remarkable that considerations as to the financial positions of the States should . be constantly imported into debates in this House, when we know that under the Constitution another place was specially created to safe-‘ guard their interests. I think that it is time that we had some display of that Federal spirit about which we hear so much, and that we should hear no more of the suggestion so frequently made, that honorable members have been elected to this House practically to wreck the finances of the States. The point of view from which I regard the situation is that the position of the Parliament can never be satisfactory whilst it has to levy taxation in order to raise revenue for other powers to expend.
– Hear, hear. It is ridiculous.
– Does the honorable member suggest that we should earmark the revenue ?
– Bythe Constitution it is earmarked for other powers to expend, lt is unreasonable to assume that honorable members of this Parliament would at any time attempt to do anything to embarrass those responsible for their return, because the electors of the States are the electors of the Commonwealth. At present nothing is to be gained by an abstract or academic discussion of this matter ; but, when the time arrives to deal with it, I hope that the Commonwealth will take over so much of the debts of the States as will, in interest, be equivalent to the amount which the States now receive in Customs and Excise revenue, and that an end will be put, once and for all, to the present condition of affairs, under which the Commonwealth levies taxation for the States to spend as they think fit. Nothing can be done until the period for which the Braddon provision has force has come to a close ; butI shall welcome the settlement of the question. I do not think that the Braddon provision should be continued for any lengthy period. If what i suggest is done, the Commonwealth will have its finance entirely in its own hands, and will be under no obligation to hand over so much money each year to the States. I admit that at the present time the Treasurers of the States are in an awkward position. No matter what foresight or judgment may be exercised in formulating a scheme of taxation, we know that the revenue from Customs and Excise duties fluctuates considerably. On one occasion it was the experience of Victoria that her Customs revenue decreased within the space of three years from £9.000,000 to . £6.000,000, and a similar decrease is possible with the Commonwealth revenue. Should such an event occur, it would embarrass both the Commonwealth and the States. I trust that the present Government will remain in power for a considerable length of time, and that, before it is absolutely necessary to deal with the matter,they will lay before Parliament a proposal embodying their intentions, so that the taxpayers of the Commonwealth may know what is likely to be done. I see no salvation for the Treasurers of the States in the continuation of the Braddon provision.
– Ask the electors.
– The electors are the masters of the situation, and will determine what shall be done; but, as I have said, the electors of the States are the electors of the Commonwealth. I trust that the Government will take Parliament into its confidence on this subject as early as the necessities of the situation may require, so that the matter may be discussed from every stand-point, and the best arrangement possible come to.
Mr. HENRY WILLIS (Robertson).The speech of the Treasurer came to me somewhat as a surprise, because, if I understood him aright, he raised a difficulty respecting the taking over of the debts of the States which had not previously been, placed before this Parliament. I think that he said that if the Commonwealth took over the debts of the States they would still be responsible for them.
– Read section 105 of the Constitution.
– The States would be responsible for their debts if they were taken over by Act of Parliament and the creditors were not a party to the transaction ; but- 1 take it that if there were a conversion, the creditors would be a party to it, and the responsibility of the States would not continue.
– The Constitution makes the States responsible.
– Do I understand that the conversion is impossible under the Constitution?
– The States cannot be relieved of responsibility, unless the Constitution is amended.
– If there were a taking over of the debts without conversion, the States would continue to be responsible, but if there were a conversion, the Commonwealth would be responsible. I am surprised that the Treasurer should raise this bogy. I see no difficulty in the Commonwealth taking over the debts and getting an indemnity from the States for the payment of the interest. The proposal to guarantee the States the return of a fixed amount of Customs revenue is one upon which I shall speak upon another occasion.
– The Committee seems to be entering into an academical discussion about taking over the debts of the States, and the relative financial positions of the Commonwealth and the States ; but I think that the matter is one which might be allowed to stand over until some future occasion, because it is hardly ripe for settlement yet. It should have been discussed, if necessary, during the debate on the financial statement, though 1 do not think the Treasurer put before us any definite proposal. Something must be done in the future, and whatever is done should be in the direction of ending once and for all the financial dependence of the States on the Commonwealth. If the Braddon provision is not renewed, and I believe that ultimately it will cease to have effect, we shall have to relieve the States of their debts, and to adopt some scheme of finance under which will be known the burden which the Commonwealth has to bear, while the States will be aware that if they require further revenue they must provide it for themselves. I wish now to make some suggestions which I think are capable of yielding fruit immediately. In discussing the Treasurer’s Financial Statement, I asked the Government if they would take into consideration - as two previous Governments promised to do - the advisability of appointing a Committee of Public Accounts. I pointed out that such a Committee would greatly assist the House in dealing with the Estimates, and would give more security to honorable members that proper economy was being observed. The Estimates for the present financial year have now been under consideration during several sittings, but I must confess that, after each succeeding dispute in regard to particular items, I have been still more in the dark than I was before; and I think that other honorable members have been in the same position. If the Committee which I suggest were appointed, its members would obtain information in regard to the Estimates from the heads of Departments and other officials, and would submit a report to this House, which would guide honorable members in their subsequent action according as the evidence disclosed that there was or was not warrant for the proposed expenditure. I know that a proposal of this kind, when made to a Minister, generally goes into one ear and out of the other, but I hope that the Treasurer will consider this matter. In my opinion, the appointment of the suggested Committee would facilitate the transaction of business, and ease the consciences of individual members, who now have to vote for items in regard to which they cannot get proper information, sometimes because the Minister himself does not possess it.
When, as in this case, Estimates are prepared by one Government and submitted by another, the Minister in charge of a Department is not always in a position to give honorable members the information which they should have in regard to particular items ; but if the Estimates were critically scrutinized by a body of capable men who had power to inquire thoroughly into every proposal they contained, the position would be different. In the House of Commons there has been such a Committee for many years, and if honorable members turn to its reports they will see that it has done very good work.
– There is a similar Committee in Victoria.
– I may point out that most of the troubles in connexion with the War Office scandals and the wasteful expenditure of money were first discovered by the Committee of Public Accounts, connected with the House of Commons. A similar Committee has been in existence in Victoria, and I find, upon inquiry, that, although for some time it did not work with any great degree of success, it has at last settled down to the discharge of very useful functions. I notice that the press, in referring to the last report of the Committee, admitted that the results of its inquiries were most valuable, and most instructive to Parliament, and that they facilitated the transaction of business. Under these circumstances, I think the Government might consider whether such a Committee should not be appointed, and also be given power to sit during recess to inquire into the various ramifications of our Commonwealth finance, and ascertain where economies might be effected in connexion with the expenditure upon our Departments. The other matter to which I wish to refer is the difficulty I have experienced with three Ministries in connexion with the decimal coinage system, of which the House has approved on two occasions. I think that this is a fitting opportunity to refer to the matter, and I desire first of all to ask the Treasurer why no provision is made in the Estimates of his Department for the expenditure that would be incurred in taking the preliminary steps to carry out the expressed will of Parliament in this connexion. We were engaged yesterday in discussing a proposal for the appropriation of £25,000 for a very high and noble purpose, and it was regrettable to notice that so much noise was made with reference to the expenditure of that amount. The Decimal Coinage Committee, after the most careful inquiry, made it clear that the Commonwealth, by minting its own silver coinage, upon the decimal system, could derive a profit of £30,000 per annum. Whilst a great outcry is being made about the expenditure of the £25,000 to which I have referred, honorable members are content to allow Ministry after Ministry to occupy office,’ without insisting that effect shall he given to its will in reference to coinage.
– Has the honorable member considered how we shall be able to get rid of our present silver coinage?
– I might ask the Treasurer whether he has considered the question.
– Yes, I have ; and I think there is a difficulty.
– There is no difficulty whatever, and! the Treasurer is quite at sea if he thinks that any serious obstacles present themselves. There is nothing to prevent the Commonwealth from transferring the whole of its silver coinage to some other part of the British Empire.
– Who would take it?
– I would take it at its face value, if the Commonwealth paid, me a commission for placing it elsewhere. I know what I am talking about, because I have made inquiries which the Government should have entered upon long ago. I have ascertained from leading bank officials that there would be no difficulty whatever in removing the. coinage we now have here to other parts of the British Empire, and replacing it with our own. The Commonwealth would be required to pay a commission to cover the cost of transferring the coin to the agents of the banks abroad, and the loss resulting from its temporary withdrawal from circulation. I acknowledge that if we shipped the whole of the present silver currency to England in one lot, and distributed it there through agents, we should act in a most unfriendly way towards the mother country ; but there is no necessity for us to proceed to such an extreme.
– What about the gold?
– I am content to confine my remarks to silver for the present.
– But the gold and silver coinage are inter-related.
– They are not inter- related to the extent of presenting any difficulty. We could defray the cost of rehabilitating our gold coinage out of the profits derived from the minting of our silver coinage, and still show a credit balance of from £25,000 to £30,000 per annum. What is the use of our meeting here and declaring upon two occasions that a system of decimal coinage should be adopted, and that the Commonwealth should mint its own silver coins, if no action is to be taken to give effect to our decisions? Is the resolution of the House to come to naught because Ministry after Ministry, are occupied with other subjects which should not occupy their time to the neglect of a matter which has the most important bearing upon the economic working of this young nation? The report of the Decimal Coinage Committee has been pigeon-holed.
– No ; it has not been pigeon-holed ; we are waiting for a reply from the Imperial authorities.
– If the Treasurer had been managing a business outside, and he had been required to wait for a reply as long as the Government have been kept waiting in this instance, he would have taken some steps to stir things up. The late Government were about to enter into an arrangement which would have had the effect of perpetuating the present nonsensical system of coinage. They did not understand the question, and they thought that they would be doing a good stroke of business if they could secure a douceur of £10,000 per annum from the British Government in respect to the silver coinage in circulation in the Commonwealth. I arrested that movement and the late Prime Minister promised me that nothing should be done until the question was again submitted to the House. The correspondence that has since taken place reveals the fact that, in the first Instance, the late Ministry misinformed the British Government as to the intentions of the Commonwealth in this matter. They represented that we desired to obtain the profits to be derived from ‘the minting of our silver coinage, whereas this Parliament decided to adopt the decimal system. The late Government actually asked the Imperial authorities to furnish them with designs for half-crowns and threepenny pieces that would not be required under the decimal system, and they were thus flying in the face of “the decision of the
House. The correspondence proceeded until a correction was made, so far as that aspect of the question was concerned. I do not wonder that the Imperial authorities deferred their reply, because it appears, from the correspondence, that we do not know our own mind. Finally, the British Government were informed that we desired their assistance in getting rid of the present silver coinage to the extent of £200,000 per annum. It was proposed that the Imperial authorities should reduce their mintage of silver coins by that amount, and that they should utilize the £200,000 worth of silver coins withdrawn from circulation in Australia for supplying requirements in other parts of the Empire. The intention was that the silver coin thus withdrawn should be replaced year by year by Commonwealth coinage. I think that such coins should be minted here. We have a protectionist Ministry, and as we have the silver we might as well mint it here. If, however, it is considered undesirable to establish a silver mint, we might arrange for the minting of the coins at Birmingham, where work of that kind is largely carried on. If we withdrew from circulation every year £200,000 worth of the present currency, and replaced it with Commonwealth coinage to a similar amount, plus £50,000 or £60,000 worth to provide for the natural increase, we should, within ten years, have a currency entirely our own. That coinage would cost us only 75 per cent, of its face value, and we should have an amount equivalent to 125 per cent, of the face value of the coins stored away somewhere, earning interest which would yield us £30,000 per annum, after defraying all costs, and making allowance for the wear and tear of the present gold coinage - for which no provision is made at present. The House has twice decided that the decimal system of coinage should be adopted, and I intend to persist in asking the Treasurer for information as to the intention of the Government in regard to this question.
– We are awaiting a reply from the Imperial Government.
– I wish to know whether the Government intend to give effect to the report of the Select Committee upon decimal coinage, and. if so, what steps thev intend to take in this connexion ? It is idle for the Treasurer to say that they are corresponding with the Imperial authorities upon the matter, in view of his statement that he does not know how to get rid of the present silver currency. . Evidently the matter has not been considered by the Cabinet. We have a right to know what is the mind of the Government upon this question.
– I have told the honorable member that it will have our consideration.
– Some months ago, when we were discussing the Government programme, I referred to the question of the wisdom or otherwise of returning to the States any available surplus upon a per capita basis. At that time the Prime Minister assured me that the Government would deal with the matter at the earliest possible opportunity, and would inform the House of their policy in that connexion.
– Does the honorable member mean after the bookkeeping period has expired?
– But the bookkeeping system will not end till next vear.
– It will expire in less than twelve months. We must recollect that we are approaching the end of the session. I do not know whether the Government has fixed upon a date for the opening of the next session of Parliament. It may happen that we shall not meet till about the middle of the year, and, if so, between that period and October, when the bookkeeping, system will expire, we shall have very little time to discuss such an important matter.
– The bookkeeping system will continue in force unless it is repealed.
– I am aware of that. This is a matter upon which this House has a right to be consulted. If the Government have satisfied themselves as to the feeling of honorable members upon the subject, and if they are prepared to accept the responsibility of taking action during the recess, I have no more to say. But I think it would be much better from their point of view if they announced their intentions now, and afforded us an opportunity to discuss the subject during the present session. The States which will be more particularly affected by any suggested change have a right to know, before their respective Parliaments assemble next year, what is the policy of the Commonwealth in respect of this question. As the Treasurer is very well aware, the States Treasurers, in preparing their Estimates for next year, ought to have some idea of what the financial policy of the Commonwealth will be for that year. It is unfair to delay an announcement upon this matter until next session, and then to spring it upon the States, especially if we decide to make some radical change in the existing arrangement. If, by timely action upon this subject, we can avoid engendering further friction with the States, we ought to do so. From press reports which I have seen, I understand that the Treasurer leans towards a continuance of the bookkeeping system. If that be. so, he should experience no difficulty in convincing the Government that it is the best system. At one time I was of opinion that it would not be necessary to continue the costly bookkeeping system in the case of every State. I thought that some arrangement might be made, whereby those States, which would be adversely affected by any change, should receive some special allowance.
– What States will be adversely affected by it ?
– Only two States will be considerably affected by the change. If no alteration can be brought about without making it apply to the Commonwealth as a whole, then the Government should at once say so. I think it would be to our advantage, and to that of the States Treasurers, if the Treasurer informed us of the intentions of the Government at the earliest possible moment.
– This afternoon the honorable member for South Sydney attempted to extract from the Government a statement of its policy in. respect of the introduction of the decimal coinage system. In doing so, he pointed out the absolute folly of appointing Select Committees and Royal Commissions. They are costly bodies, and their reports are generally buried in the archives of Parliament.
– The Select Committee on decimal coinage cost only £40.
– That is a large amount to expend if its labours are to prove fruitless. The honorable member for South Sydney declared that Governments are prone to take no notice of the reports of Select Committees and Royal Commissions. That is his declaration - not my own. I am sorry that the report of the Select Committee on Decimal Coinage has been lost sight of for some time. But I wish specially to address myself to the question of the Braddon blot.
I am informed that the Treasurer made a declaration this afternoon of more than usual importance. He stated that he believes in substituting another system for the Braddon blot. That is the first outspoken utterance which we have had from any Treasurer of the Commonwealth.
– I never mentioned the Braddon blot.
– I am informed by the deputy leader of the Opposition that the right honorable gentleman made the statement which I have attributed to him. He affirmed that he was in favour of returning to the States a specific sum annually. That is a very different thing from returning an amount upon’ a per capita basis. Personally I favour the annual return to the States of a fixed amount per capita. The Treasurer has admitted that he now has a surplus of some £480,000 available. I understand that he is making arrangements to pay the States for the transferred properties. Those properties are valued at not less than £10,000,000. Interest upon that amount, at 3J per cent, would mean £350,000 per annum, and a sinking fund of 1 per cent, would mean a further sum of £100,000. Thus by paying for the transferred properties alone, the Treasurer will be called upon to contribute ,£450,000 annually out of his surplus of £480,000. In addition, funds require to be provided to carry out the programme of the Government. The Ministry profess to be anxious to adopt a scheme for the payment of oldage pensions. Mr. Coghlan estimates that any such scheme will involve an expenditure of £1,500,000 per annum.
– There is nothing in these Estimates relating to old-age pensions.
– I am now dealing with the financial proposals of the Government.
– I would point out to the honorable member that this is not a Budget debate. I have already allowed honorable members a considerable amount of latitude, and I must ask them to confine their remarks to the matters which come under this division.
– You say, sir, that you have already allowed a certain amount of latitude. Am I to understand that you cease to allow that latitude the moment I rise to address the Committee?
– The honorable member must not reflect on the Chair.
– The matter which I intend to present comes under the heading of “ unforeseen expenditure,” which has to be provided bv the Treasurer.
– I would point out that any item might come under that heading. That fact in itself is not sufficient to bring the matter to which the honorable member desires to refer within the scope of this division.
– Do I understand that you rule that I cannot refer- to certain matters with a view to showing that our finances are not in a position to enable the Government programme to be carried out?
– If the honorable member will proceed, I shall be in a better position to know whether or not he is in order.
– It is idle for the Government to submit a programme to which effect cannot be given by reason of lack of funds. I repeat that Mr. Coghlan estimates that the sum of £1.500,000 will be required to pay a Commonwealth old-age pension. The adoption of a system of penny postage will mean an additional expenditure of £200,000. The undergrounding of the telephone wires will cost £100,000, and ,£500,000 is required to pay the sugar bounty. Then the Treasurer will be called upon to provide an additional £300,000 in connexion with the Manufactures Encouragement Bill. At the present time the proposal to pay a bonus upon the production of iron is like Mahomet’s coffin, suspended between heaven and earth. Weather telegrams will involve an expenditure of £60,000; the naval subsidy, an increase of £80,000; the census - in connexion with which a Bill was passed by this House only a few days ago - £25,000; quarantine and meteorology, £25,000; and the High Commissioner,^©, 000. These items, for which provision will have to be made in addition to the ordinary expenditure, total no less than £2,780,000. In these circumstances, the Treasurer might well take the Committee into his confidence, and tell us how he proposes to provide for this increased expenditure. Does he suggest that it shall be met by increased taxation? If not, what other proposition has he to make? I have referred to these matters for a specific purpose. It is idle for us to pass Bills or resolutions involving expenditure if we have not sufficient funds to give effect to them.
The Treasurers of the States view with alarm the proposals for increased expenditure that are made from time to time by the Commonwealth Government, and are anxious to ascertain how these schemes are to be carried out. The question of the appointment of a High Commissioner may well be discussed on these Estimates, as the Treasurer will have to provide the amount necessary for the office. I wish to say emphatically that in my opinion no Ministry will be justified in appointing a High’ Commissioner before the ‘Commonwealth has taken over the debts of the States. The most important work which that officer will be called upon to perform will be that of dealing with the finances of the Commonwealth. He will have little else to do, except in’ regard to immigration, and we could not expect him to travel all over the United Kingdom as an immigration agent.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member is now anticipating a debate on the Bill relating to the appointment of a High Commissioner.
– The statement made by the Treasurer, that he proposes to substitute for the Braddon section a scheme by which a fixed amount will be returned to the States does not meet with’ my approval, nor do I think it will meet with the approbation of the States Governments. I could understand a distribution being made on a per capita basis, the amount returned to each State being varied according to the rise or fall of its population, and the extent to which its contributions to the revenue was consequently affected.
– And an increasing amount ?
– As the population of each State increased, the amount which it contributed to our revenue by means of Customs and Excise taxation would be swollen, and it would therefore be entitled to a corresponding increase in the amount returned to it. I fail to understand why we should decide that a fixed amount shall be annually returned to-day, say, to Victoria and New South Wales, and shall be paid for years, irrespective of any increase in the amount which those States may contribute by way of taxation to the Commonwealth revenue.
– The Commonwealth expends all its revenue in the different States.
– My desire is that the finances of the States shall be made secure.
I agree with the honorable member for Moira that it is unsatisfactory that we should be called upon to impose taxation in order to raise revenue for other powers to expend. We incur all the odium of imposing certain taxation, while the States Treasurers secure the credit of expending the revenue so collected. The people of New South Wales contribute largely to our revenue, and the amount which we return to that State goes, not into their pockets, but into the coffers of the Treasury. The result is that, whilst the Commonwealth is blamed for, imposing this taxation), the finances of the State are improved. The time is fast arriving when the Commonwealth must have the power to expend-
– The honorable member is now coming round to what I suggested.
– I do not disagree with the Treasurer on every point, nor do I consider it my duty to object to any proposal that he makes simply because I am a mem ber of the Opposition. I respectfully suggest, however, that the questions which I have put to the right honorable gentleman might well be answered by him. I am particularly anxious that he should make a statement as to the intentions of the Government in regard to the payment of interest on the transferred properties and also as to the way in which they propose to meet the cost of the new services to which I have referred.
– I desire to indorse the remarks made by the honorable member for South Sydney in reference to the question of coinage. The matter is one that has been discussed in this House on several occasions, and it appears from the official correspondence that the Common wealth is losing £30,000 per annum simply because the Government cannot arrive at an agreement with the Imperial authorities with respect to the question of silver coinage. We mint our own gold coinage - from which a loss is made - whilst the British Government is securing the profit derived from the coinage of our silver.
– They renew the gold coinage.
– But we make a loss on our gold coinage.
– Taking the mints of Australia as a whole, they are not making a loss.
– The fact remains that the profit which should come to the Com- monwealth from the minting of our silver -coinage is lost to us. Although it was stated twelve months ago that a new system was to be introduced, there has been a sudden change of front.
– We are awaiting a reply from the Imperial authorities.
– In the meantime, our silver coinage is being minted in England, and the British Government is making a profit that should really be secured by the Commonwealth.
– It was only in March that the last letter was written.
– This House appointed a Select Committee to deal with the question of coinage, and has thoroughly discussed the whole matter. The right honorable member for Balaclava read a letter some time ago which suggested that finality had almost keen reached in the negotiations, but, judging by the statements made to-day by the Treasurer, a settlement of the question is impeded by some difficulty as to what shall be done with our present silver coinage. There must be some way of absorbing it in Great Britain, and it seems to me that unless the Government are prepared to take a decisive step we shall have to wait some time for the reforms necessary to enable the Commonwealth to secure from this source the profit to which it is entitled.
-^! was pleased to hear the statement made by the Treasurer that he was not disposed to favour an extension of the Braddon section. I have been from the first strongly- opposed to the principle embodied in that provision, and fail to see that it affords any protection to the States. It certainly does not conduce to economy on the part of the Governments of those States in which a large amount of revenue is raised by means of the Customs and Excise duties. Our experience of its operation is that, whilst the States which lost revenue by the transfer of their Customs and Excise Departments to the Federation have had a hard struggle to pay their way, the other States have gained enormously, but those that gained with those that lost have been faced with financial difficulties, .the difference being that while the needs of the one compelled economy, the extravagance of the other rendered it equally necessary. New South Wales has gained more largely than has any of the others by reason of the transfer, and the question of economical administration has now to be faced by it. The Braddon section requires the imposition of an enormous tax upon the people. Turning to the Budget papers, I find that at the end of the current financial year - if the Treasurer’s estimate be correct - New South Wales will have contributed something like £12,779,000 to the revenue by way of Customs and Excise duties. When that State entered the Federation her Customs and Excise taxation amounted to about £1 6s. 4d. per head of the population ; but, as a result of the Federal Tariff, it amounts to-day to £2 os. 9§d. per head. During the drought, when New South Wales was compelled to use a larger quantity of imports than she requires in normal seasons, her taxation under this heading increased to £2 9s. 7jd. per bead of the population. If the State Parliament during this period had had the control of the Customs and Excise Department, it would not have levied such enormous taxation. When the fiscal question was handed over to the Federal Parliament, the people of New South Wales no longer had the sole determination of their Customs taxation, and consequently duties were imposed which gave a very much larger return than the State was in the habit of getting. I find from table F, inserted in the Treasurer’s Budget tables, in which are given the gains and losses of the States from Customs and Excise revenue, and the net gains and net losses, after deducting the cost of Federation-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I would remind the honorable member that this is not a Budget debate. He is now quoting from Budget papers.
– On a point of order, I submit that any subject affecting the whole range of Ministerial responsibility may now be discussed.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.If that were so, almost any subject could be discussed on this vote, and the advantage of dealing with the Estimates in separate divisions would be lost.
– Many a Government has been put out of office on a point of vital Ministerial policy raised during the discussion of the Estimates.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.That has nothing to do with this point of order.
– My point is that on these Estimates the whole policy of the Ministry in relation to the finances of the Commonwealth comes properly under review.
– I consider the point of the deputy leader of the Opposition a very important one. It is the duty of Parliament to safeguard the public funds, and I submit that an honorable member, in dealing with a matter with which the States are so much concerned, as they are in the matter to which the honorable member for Canobolas is referring, is quite in order in advancing the illustration which he is about to put forward. It is obvious that this is not a “ stone-walling “ discussion, and, therefore, it would be a serious matter to curtail the rights of any honrable member.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The only items which are now properly open for discussion are those which appear on page 33 of the Estimates; but, in accordance with the practice of the Committee, I am allowing greater latitude until the first item of Division 27 is passed. At the same time, I ask honorable members not to allow the discussion to develop into a Budget debate, covering the whole range of financial policy.
– If the Committee were confined to the discussion of the items on page 33. we could refer to only the Administrative division, the Accountant’s branch, and the Correspondence branch of the Treasury Department.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Those are the only items which are formally before the Committee, and properly open to discussion.
– But the custom of this Committee has been to have a general discussion of the administration of a Department on the first item of its Estimates.
As I have said, it has been the practice to allow greater latitude while the first item is before the Committee; but if honorable members attempt to debate the whole of the financial proposals of the Government, I must, to conserve the time of the Committee, and to conform with the rules of debate, ask them to confine their remarks to the matters immediately before the Chair.
– I do not think that it is a question of the Chairman giving a certain amount of latitude, but of the rights of honorable members. If honorable members are in the ignoble position of having to seek a favour from the Chairman to enable them to discuss these matters, we shall have to resort to other methods, and I shall be compelled to ask Mr. Speaker to give a direction on the subject. All we desire is to exercise our right to enter upon a general discussion of the administration of the Department of the Treasury.
– I take it that you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, do not propose to curtail the latitude which it has been usual to allow in dealing with the first item of the Estimates of a Department.
-I have already stated that.
– If that latitude were not allowed, I donot see how we could get on. It is a very old custom to move to reduce the salary of a Minister in order to give an, opportunity to debate the administration of his Department. The last Liberal Government went out of office on a proposal connected with cordite, which raised the whole policy of defence, just as the question of the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States is being raised now. I take it that the honorable member for Canobdlas may, if necessary, move to reduce the salary of the Secretary to the Treasury, to open up the questions he wishes to discuss.
– I have come here prepared to discuss the effect of the Braddon provision upon the relation of the States ant the Commonwealth, and thought that I had ample precedent in the speech of the Treasurer this afternoon. I would also remind you, Mr. Batchelor, that other speakers today have been allowed considerable latitude. One of them urged the adoption of a certain line of policy in regard to this very matter, while another dealt with the coinage of silver. I should like to know to what extent your ruling curtails my right to address the Committee on the subject which I wish to discuss?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I wish to assist honorable members, and have no desire to unnecessarily curtail debate; but, at the same time, it is necessary to keep it within reasonable limits. If we go into the whole scope of these financial proposals, we shall have practically a Budget debate, which would not be proper at this time. I believe that I am correct in saying that, properly speaking, no honorable member has a right to discuss now any subject other than the items immediately before the Committee; but it has been customary to allow some latitude while the first item of a Department is before the Chair. I ask honorable members not to construe that into a licence to discuss anything and everything under the, sun. Will the honorable member for Canobolas, therefore, confine himself, as nearly as possible, to the lines of debate already followed, and not attempt to go outside them ?
– I do not know to what extent my remarks will .comply with your ruling, sir; but I was proceeding to point out that the State of New. South Wales has received very much more from Customs and Excise taxation since the inauguration of Federation than she was previously receiving. While Queensland has received- less revenue from that source, to the extent of about £2,000,000, during the first four financial years of the Commonwealth, New South Wales has received £5,941,000 more than would have been collected under the State Tariff. Of course, the people themselves have not benefited thereby. That represents the additional taxation which they have been, required to bear. During the drought the Customs taxation of the State increased, from £2 os. 10¾d. per head to about £2 9s. 7fd. per head. Had the control of the Customs and Excise been left to the taxpayers of New South Wales, it would have been impossible for the Government of that State to raise this large amount. The obtaining of this extra revenue, instead of benefiting the State, has led to great extravagance, and the need for economy in administration there is now as great as it is in the State of Queensland, where the amount of revenue returned has been very much less.
– I think it is desirable that we should have a quorum. [Quorum formed.]
– I would point out that whilst the State of New South Wales has benefited under the operation of the Commonwealth Tariff to the extent of nearly £6,000,000 over and above the amount which she would have received from Customs duties upon the basis of the State Tariff, Queensland has lost £2,180,000 by the .substitution of the Commonwealth Tariff for her own. In other words, the people of New South Wales are nearly £6,000,000 poorer than they otherwise would have been, whereas the people of Oueensland have benefited to the extent to which the Govern.ment have lost revenue.
– But the people of Queensland have been called upon to pay more taxation in other directions.
– That is a matter entirely for the State authorities. One of the great troubles that has arisen in connexion with the Braddon section, is that the States desire to shirk their own responsibility in the matter of rai’sing direct taxation. They are endeavouring to convert the Commonwealth into a mere taxing machine for their purposes. It is with this object in view that they are advocating the extension of the Braddon section.. The principle now in operation is a vicious one. It imposes burdens upon the Commonwealth, which it should not be called upon to bear. The spending power should be required to appeal directly to the taxpayer to foot the Bill, but under the present system the States Governments spend the money, and leave the Commonwealth to bear all the odium attached to the levying of taxation. Whilst the States’ Governments are advocating the extension of the Braddon section, they are keenly watching the expenditure of the Commonwealth - -so keenly, that apparently they have no time to look after their own. They have no legitimate ground for complaint in respect to extravagance on the part of the Federal authorities, but the taxpayers of some of the States have every reason to feel aggrieved at the way in which the revenue raised by the Commonwealth has been expended by the States authorities. Under the Constitution, the Commonwealth is entitled to retain, one-fourth of the revenue derived from Customs and Excise, but since the inauguration of the Federal Tariff, we have returned to the States out of that onefourth a total of £4,500,000. Of this amount, New South Wales has received £1,830,000, and Victoria £1,200,000. The only State which shows any shortage is Queensland, whose revenue has been trenched upon to the extent of £18,000. I am glad to know that the Treasurer is not disposed to view with favour the proposal to extend the Braddon clause for any considerable period beyond the time fixed in the Constitution. He proposes to return to the States a fixed sium annually, but I shall strongly resist any attempt to make the Commonwealth a mere taxing machine for the States. We should be left to exercise a free hand in the matter of taxation, on the understanding that any money we might have to spare after meeting all our requirements should be handed to the States Governments. Of all forms of raising revenue, I think a revenue Tariff is the most objectionable, because under the system, the burden of taxation is unequally distributed], and falls most heavily upon those who are least able to bear it. The wealthier classes of the community who derive the most benefit from the operations of Government and the expenditure of public money, are enabled to shirk a large share of their responsibility. The further we proceed in the direction of requiting the States Treasurers to rely on direct taxation, the more we shall safeguard the interests of the taxpayers, which have been disregarded to a very large extent since the Braddon section has been in operation. I trust that this matter will receive the serious consideration of the Government, and that there will be no further extension of the Braddon section. If the Treasurer adheres to his proposal to return to the States a certain fixed sum annually, I hope that the amount will be fixed upon such a low scale that our hands will not be tied.
– I do not propose to soar into the upper ether of abstract politics, but to deal with a prosaic matter affecting the undoubted claims of a certain class of persons in the community. Honorable members will, I am sure, agree that if we have incurred obligations in respect to any body or class of men, our liability should be’ discharged at the first opportunity. For some time past, both the States and’ Commonwealth authorities have been considering the question of the amount 1 of retiring allowance to be paid to public officers. Perhaps it will be advisable for me to relate the circumstances connected with one particular case - in order to show what may happen - and then to ask the Treasurer if some action cannot be taken by the Government in respect of it. The case to which I refer rs that of a man named Hardstaff, who was for twenty-five years in the Postal Department in New South Wales.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Does the honorable member say that the case in question has anything whatever to do with the item before the Chair, or with the administration of the Treasurer’s Department ?
– ;It has1 something to do with the administration of the Treasurer’s Department.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Will the honorable member be good enough to establish the connexion?
– The Treasurer has been advised by the Attorney-General’s Department that the claim of this man should be discharged, and yet the right honorable gentleman has neglected to pay it. That being so, I submit that I am perfectly in order.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Certainly not. A discussion in detail of a grievance such as that to which the honorable member refers, does not properly come under this vote, nor does it enter into the administration of the Treasurer’s Department.
– I can put. myself in order at any moment by moving that any item in this division should be reduced by £i. I have no desire to adopt that course, because I do not wish to block business.
– I do not think there is much in the honorable member’s complaint.
– I venture to say that the individual whose claim has been ignored is under the impression that there is a great deal in it.
– I have been fighting his battle against the Government of New South Wales.
– The Treasurer has been advised by the Attorney-General’s Department to discharge this man’s claim.
– Why did not the honorable member speak to me about it?
– I have been writing to the Department concerned for the past six months, but I have not obtained any satisfaction.
– I have never received any letter from the honorable member.
– I made inquiries into the case recently in another Department. Is it necessary that I should interview the Treasurer before the just claim of this man can be recognised? Briefly stated, the position is, that if a man belongs to the Public Service of a State, and retires from it, he is entitled, as a permanent officer, to an allowance of one month’s pay for every year of service.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Is the retiring allowance of the officer to whom the honorable member refers included in this vote?
– The Treasurer has refused’ to recognise his claim.
– I have not refused it.
– At any rate, it has not been paid. Should nine months be required to settle an honest obligation?
– I interested myself in two cases, the settlement of which occupied twelve months.
– I settled those cases, and I believe that the claim of the individual referred to by the honorable member for Wentworth falls within the same category.
– Will the right honorable gentleman undertake to settle this case forthwith ?
– I will.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- The action of the Treasurer in undertaking to settle a case without making himself acquainted with the facts connected with it is indeed an extraordinary one.
– I did not say in what way I would settle it ; but I will see that justice is done.
– I think it is time that the Treasurer made some definite statement as to whether the claim of Mr. Hardstaff is to be honoured or not. This afternoon I said that it was impossible to obtain any definite declaration from him upon any subject. I do hope that he will not treat this matter so lightly as to promise to payaway public money without first ascertaining the whole of the circumstances of the case.
Mr. KELLY (Wentworth). - In reply to the honorable member for New England, the Treasurer stated that he did not say how he would settle the case of the individual to whom I previously referred. I trust that he does not mean that, because, if so, his first statement was calculated to deceive.
Sir JOHN FORREST (SwanTreasurer). - I certainly cannot promise to do what the honorable member desires without first looking into the matter. A correspondence has arisen between the Government of New South Wales and the Commonwealth authorities in regard to the claims of several officers for retiring allowances. Two of these were referred to by the honorable member for South Sydney, and I understand that the case cited by the honorable member for Wentworth falls within the name category. It appears that under a provision of the Superannuation Act, which ls not compulsory in any of the States, these officers were entitled to a month’s pay for every year of their service.
– That is statute law in New South Wales. ^ Sir JOHN FORREST. - Since Federation was consummated the regulations have been altered by the States to provide that these officers shall be entitled to only a fortnight’s pay for every year of service. The claimants naturally expect to receive a month’s pay. I have looked into the matter, and I have come to the conclusion that their claim is a just one. The Constitution provides that these officers shall be entitled to such pension as is “ permitted “ by the law of the State concerned. The Commonwealth authorities are therefore the judges of what the amount shall be, so long as it is “ permitted “ by the law of the State. That being so, I had no hesitation in deciding that the officers in question were entitled to one month’s pay for every year of service. I am assured by the Secretary of the Treasury Department that the case referred to by the honorable member for Wentworth is upon all fours with those that I have mentioned. Instead of endeavouring to prevent these men from getting their pensions, I have actually been fighting their battles.
Mr. KELLY (Wentworth).- The Treasurer’s statement is correct in every particular save one. He omitted to mention that he was authorized to pay the claims of these officers in full months ago. That information I have obtained from the Postal Department.
– The Postal Department does not arrange for the payment of pensions.
– That Department knows whether the Attorney-General has advised the Treasurer in a certain direction. The Postal authorities assure me that the Treasurer has been authorized to pay the amount involved in full.
– Does the honorable member refer to a specific case? Mr. KELLY.- Yes.
– The AttorneyGeneral’s opinion is’ a general one.
– This case is upon all fours with the others, and the moment that the Treasurer was authorized to pay the claims in question, they should have been liquidated.
– The Treasury deals with all claims for pensions, and it is not authorized by any other Department to make these payments.
– The case that I have put is absolutely correct. The Postal Department has informed me that the AttorneyGeneral has assured the Treasurer that Mr. Hardstaff ‘s claim is a just one.
– We have first to refer the matter to the State, I suppose ?
– That had already been done.
– I do not believe that there has been any delay in the Treasury Department. I will promise to let the honorable member know my decision in the matter to-morrow.
– What is the use of that ?
– If the honorable member does not care to accept my assurance, he is at liberty to proceed.
– I resumed my seat previously because I was thoroughly content with the assurance of the right honorable gentleman. But he at once informed the honorable member for New England that his assurance meant nothing.
– It does not mean that I am going to settle the matter before looking into it.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member is aware that he will have an opportunity to bring, this matter up upon grievance day, which, I understand, is to-morrow. He will facilitate the business of the Committee if he brings it forward then.
– I understand that the honorable member is complaining that the Treasurer has not paid certain sums which have been recommended for payment by other Departments.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.So far I have allowed the honorable member for Wentworth to proceed ; but he now proposes to enter into a history of the case to which he has referred. He will not be in order in doing that.
– I think, sir, that you have misunderstood my intention. I merely desire to give a brief resume of the case of Mr. Hardstaff, in order to show what are the matters in dispute between the State and the Commonwealth authorities. There are some of these cases which’ are not quite on all fours with those to which the Treasurer has alluded. It is a matter relating entirely to the administration of the Department, and I think you will agree with me, sir, that if we have a right to bring these cases forward at the present time, the question of whether we should or should not avail ourselves of that right rests entirely with the honorable members concerned.
– I rule that the only matters that can be discussed are those which come properly within the scope of the Estimates now before the Committee.
– The first division of these. Estimates relates to the Treasury. I hold, therefore, that I shall be in order in discussing its administration. If the Treasury refuses to disburse amounts which it has been authorized to pay, then, according to your own ruling, sir, I shall be in order in referring to that fact. The case to which I allude arises out of the retirement, owing to age, of a public servant, who had for twenty-five years acted as a mail-driver in New South Wales. Had he been paid the full amount to which he was entitled on the basis of his being a permanent servant of the Department, he would have received £148, whilst had he been paid on the basis of his being only a temporary servant, he would have received £72 odd. The State Government held that the man was not a permanent servant, because he had not been appointed by the Public Service Board. The Commonwealth, which took a more reasonable view of the case, held that continuity of service for twenty-five years should entitle any man to be considered a permanent servant of the State. Whilst the matter was being discussed by the two authorities involved, thisman, who was in most needy circumstancesowing to the long and eventually fatal illness of his wife, had to go without his money. After a considerable period, the Commonwealth decided that it might, at any rate, pay one-half, or the least sum that he could possibly receive. He received that half. His friends again drew the attention of the Commonwealth Department concerned to the advisableness, in view of his circumstances, of immediately settling his claim in full, but were told that the matter had been referred to the Government of New South Wales, which, after all, is not the body responsible for these payments. The man wasonce more put off. In June last I was requested to interest myself in the matter, and about four months ago wrote to the Post and Telegraph Department a letter, which concluded as follows : -
I feel sure that- you will agree with me, that where questions are at issue with regard to the amounts due by the Commonwealth to her creditors, these questions should be settled with the least possible delay, and I would be glad to hear from you at your earliest convenience when your Department thinks it will be in a position to finally deal with this matter.
To this I received no satisfactory reply. I eventually called at the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and was assured that the Department of the AttorneyGeneral had definitely decided that the tenure of this man’s office entitled him to full payment, and that the Treasurer had been advised accordingly.
– When was that?
– It was at least a month ago. The right honorable gentleman, instead of promptly paying the amount, on receipt of that authority, has not yet done so. He told me this evening that he would endeavour to settle the case, and, having the authority to pay the money, I trust that he will see that the matter is finally dealt with before the week closes. It is a public scandal that ex-public servants, whose lengthy service entitles them to consideration on the part of the Commonwealth, should be kept waiting, month after month for that which is their due, when they ought to be paid promptly, as persons deserving well of the State.
Mr. WILKS (Dalley).- I endeavoured this afternoon to plainly place before the Treasurer the position in regard to the transferred properties, and I sincerely trust that he will explain to the Committee how he purposes to raise the revenue necessary to meet the interest charges in respect of those properties, as well as the cost of other services to which I have already referred. There is an inclination on the- part of the House to agree to the appointment of a Finance Committee. Some weeks ago I spoke in opposition to a motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the question of the transfer of the States debts, and I take this opportunity to ask the Treasurer -
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member is anticipating debate upon a motion on the notice-paper.
– I do not intend to deal with the matter in detail ; but I wish to know whether the Treasurer is prepared to surrender his rights to a body of men-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member must recognise that he is now proceeding to express opinions on the merits of a proposal to appoint a Select Committee. I must ask him to assist me in keeping the debate strictly within the limits of the question before the Chair.
– I regret that obstacles should be placed in my way every time I rise to speak. *In view of your ruling, Mr. Batchelor, all that it will be necessary for the Government to do in order to avoid a discussion on the Estimates is to load the business-paper with various notices of motion.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I am not responsible for Standing Orders, which expressly prohibit the anticipation of debate upon any business of which notice has been given.
– The division with which we are now dealing provides for a proposed vote of £8,631 for the Treasury. I wish to know whether the Treasurer does not consider that a Department upon which so large a sum is expended should be able to discharge the duties appertaining to it without outside assistance. Surely, as the Secretary of the Treasury receives a salary of £800 per annum, and has twenty-four officers to assist him, he should be able to supply the Treasurer with the information necessary to enable him to settle the question of the transfer of the States debts, without the appointment of a Select Committee to deal with it. The right honorable gentleman appeared the other day to favour the appointment of the Committee in question,, but I do not think that he had fully considered the proposal. I trust that he will inform the Committee this evening whether he is prepared to surrender the work of his Department to an irresponsible body of men–
– I have carefully followed the honorable member, and it appears to me that he is still discussing a motion of which notice has been given.
– Am I not in order in pointing out to the Treasurer that if it be necessary to appoint a Select Committee to deal with this question, his Department must be absolutely inefficient. In so doing I must give the illustrations which I am giving. I have no wish to discuss the motion of which the honorable member for Kooyong has given notice, but I wish to insist upon the Treasurer defending his officials. The Treasurer will be called upon to provide funds for the High Commissioner when appointed, and the most important work which that functionary will have to perform will be in connexion with the conversion of the debts of the States.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member may not discuss the appointment of the High Commissioner. In doing so he would be anticipating a notice of motion on the businesspaper.
– Then I move-
That the item, “ Secretary, j£8oo,” be reduced by £1.
– More waste of time.
– I consider it a waste of time to allow the Secretary to remain in the Department if he is not able to carry out the duties of his office.
– Who declares that he is not?
– I declare it, and I challenge the honorable member to refute the statement in debate. I should like you, Mr. Batchelor, to call the honorable member for Gwydir to order for interjecting. We have a Chairman to-night who is a stickler for the rules of debate.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Will the ‘honorable member proceed to discuss his amendment.
– The honorable member for Gwydir tried, by his interjection, to put me out of order, but I hope that on the next occasion that he does so I shall have your assistance, Mr. Acting-Chairman, in keeping him in order. If the Secretary to the Department is able to carry out the duties of his office - I say that he is not - the Treasurer should defend him, and prevent the appointment of a Select Committee to perform his functions.
– There will not be a Finance Committee appointed.
– I am glad to hear it; but I think that it is a surrender by the Treasurer of his responsibilities for him not to defend his Department against the appointment of the proposed Committee.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member will not be in order in discussing, under his amendment, the merits of that proposal.
– I will get over that difficulty very easily. Surely I shall be in order in giving reasons for the proposed reduction ? The reason I give is that the Secre- trary to the Department cannot be competent to do the work of his office, because the Treasurer is willing to allow a Select Committee to be appointed to assist him.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member will not be in order in discussing the proposed appointment of. a Select Committee.
– I am not discussing the proposed appointment of a Select Committee ; I am merely saying that the Secretary to the Treasury is not worth his salary if he requires the assistance of a Select Committee.
– The honorable member is making an exhibition of himself.
– The honorable member could not do otherwise. If the Treasurer will announce that he intends to make a statement to the Committee on the subject of the proposed Select Committee, I will let the matter drop, but, if not, I must argue it further. I do not see why theEstimates should be passed until the Treasurer has told the Committee whether he will allow the duties of his staff to be performed by a Select Committee. The Secretary would not be needed if this proposed! Committee were appointed. I am compelled to take the course I am now taking because the Chairman, on every occasion, seems to. be willing to go out of his way-
– The honorable member must not reflect on the Chair. To do so is entirely out of order.
– While other honorablemembers have been allowed to discuss otherquestions, you, sir, have availed yourself of the position you now occupy to prevent me from doing so.
– That is a reflection on the Chair.
– It is a .reflection which I shall not withdraw, but will allow the ActingChairman to use his powers in regard1 to the matter.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Will the honorable member finish hisspeech ?
– I have finished. I havemade my reflection, and I will not withdraw it.
– I amsorry that the honorable member for Dalley has taken this action. A few minutes agohe spoke of the Secretary to the Treasury as a very highly-paid officer; but while weall know that his amendment is merely a formal one, moved for a special purpose, I should like to point out that this officer isat the head of a Department which controls a revenue of about £12,000,000, and’ its distribution among the States or expenditure by the various Commonwealth Departments, and in no commercial centre in the world is any person controlling such an enormous sum, and having such responsibilities, paid so small a salary. I think that £800 is by no means too much for this office. It is about time that honorable members ceased from reflecting on the high salaries paid to those who hold the responsible positions of heads of Departments.
Mr. KELLY (Wentworth). - The honorable member for Corangamite is hardly fair to the honorable member for Dalley, who did not mean by his amendment to reflect on the Secretary to the Treasury.
– Did the honorable member hear the remarks made by the honorable member for Dalley prior to moving his amendment ?
– I regret that I was out of the Chamber during the early part of his speech; but I understand that the honorable member for Dalley has moved to reduce this salary solely to put himself in order in regard to the discussion of quite another matter.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- I do not think the honorable member for Corangamite was quite fair to the honorable member for Dalley, who had no wish to reflect on the talent or ability of the Secretary to the Treasury, but desired to obtain an opportunity to address the Committee on a subject in regard to which the Chairman had ruled his previous remarks out of order. All the honorable member for Dalley desired to do was to complain that the Treasurer is not doing his duty in allowing himself to be dictated to in regard to a matter of policy. I say, myself, that the Treasurer should tell the Committee what the financial policy of the Government is. That is a matter which he alone can put before us.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member is not now discussing the amendment before the Chair.
– The Treasurer should be called upon to place before us his policy with regard to the States debts, the sugar bounties, the transferred properties, and the extension of the Braddon section. We should rely upon him for information on these subjects, and no outside body, even though it be composed of members of this House, should intrude. I think that the honorable member for Dalley was quite within his rights in demanding that the Treasurer should discharge to the fullest extent the responsibilities attaching to his position. He has done nothing more thanhis duty in calling attention to the neglect displayed in regard to the important financial questions which demand attention. These matters have been before the Commonwealth Parliament from its inception, and yet no attempt has been made by the Treasurer to afford us any guidance. The honorable member for Dalley does not in any way seek to attach any reproach to the Secretary of the Treasury, whose salary is not too large in view of the work which has to be performed. We are justified in insisting that the Treasurer shall demonstrate his fitness for the position he occupies.
Mr, WILKS (Dalley).- I listened carefully to the speech of the honorable member for New England in my defence, but I think I am well able to take care of myself. I am aware that some bank managers receive salaries of £3,000, and I am willing to admit that their duties may Le no more important than those discharged by the Secretary of the Treasury. I am not cavilling at .the salary provided for that officer, but I am proposing the reduction of the item in order to emphasize my objection to the attitude assumed by the Treasurer in regard to important financial questions upon which the policy of the Government should be announced. It is the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury, amongst other things, to supply his Ministerial head with information with regard to the States debts, the financial relations of the Commonwealth with the States, and a number of other matters of importance. If he is capable of doing that, his position should be defended. If, on the other hand, he is not competent to do it, his services should be dispensed with. Apparently it is intended to interpose between the Secretary of the Treasury and the Treasurer a foreign body, in the form of a Committee, consisting of members of this House. I desire to ask whether the Treasurer now holds the same opinion that he expressed three or four weeks ago in regard to the proposal of the honorable member for Kooyong for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the States debts question.
– Certainly I do.
– Then it appears to me that the Treasurer is prepared to shirk his responsibilities and impose them upon the proposed Committee. He is practically condemning the Secretary of the Treasury by proclaiming his inability to furnish the information required with regard to an important question of finance. I do not believe that the Secretary of the Treasury is so inefficient as the attitude assumed by the Treasurer would lead one to infer. I believe that he is a competent officer, and that his salary is none too high; and that the Treasurer is demonstrating his own unfitness for the position he occupies.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta). - I consider that the matter referred to by the honorable member for Dalley is very important. Select Committees have been multiplied until efforts have been made to transfer nearly the whole of the functions of Ministers to bodies constituted of members of this House. I can find no trace in the Estimates of any provision for the expenses of the Select Committees and Royal Commissions which are now sittirg - particularly the Tariff Commission and the Old-age Pensions Commission. There must have been a very considerable sum expended upon both these Commissions.
– The members of Parliament serving upon them do not receive any payment.
– Last year the expenditure in connexion with these two Commissions was included in the Estimates of the Department of Trade and Customs. It is not so included this year. I wish to ask the Treasurer, who is primarily responsible for the payment of all these moneys, where the expenditure is to be found ?
– I would point out to the honorable member that the question before the Committee is an amendment by the honorable member for Dalley, that the item “ Secretary, £800,” be reduced by £1. The honorable member’s remarks would be in order, if the whole subdivision were under discussion, but they are not in order upon that amendment.
– The honorable member for Dalley submitted the amendiment with the idea of extending the scope of the discussion, butinreality he has succeeded in curtailing it. Consequently, I would suggest to hiim the wisdom of withdrawing his amendment. I should like the Treasurer to explain from what fund payments in connexion with Royal Commissions are made, and what is the method of disbursement. A few minutes ago the honorable member for Bland interjected thatmembers of Parliament serving upon those bodies receive no payment. That statement is quite correct. ‘ Honorable members give their services gratuitously, and nowadays, when people are so critical in regard to Commonwealth1 expenditure, it seems to be necessary to emphasize that fact.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan- Treasurer). - In reply to the honorable member for Parramatta, I desire to say that, in the first instance, all expenses connected with Royal Commissions are charged against the Treasurer’s Advance. Eventually, when the financial year comes to an end, they are included in the Supplementary Estimates, and are shown in the expenditure column of the Estimates.
– Can the right honorable gentleman tell us what Royal Commissions have cost up to date?
-I cannot give the honorable member that information, offhand, but a return has been called for, and is being prepared.
– In subdivision 2, I notice an item, “ Office requisites, exclusive of writing paper, and envelopes, including a ‘ Millionaire ‘ calculating machine, £105.”I view that line with alarm. We all know that d.uring the past three years Federal expenditure has been subjected to a great deal of criticism, and we also are aware that the Treasurer - quite undeservedly, as he says - has acquired the reputation of being somewhat extravagant. With the aid of a calculating machine, possessed of such an ominous name, I can picture the right honorable gentleman, who has often asked, “ Oh, what is a million “ ? sitting down, and calmly squandering the money of the Commonwealth. I should like his assurance that this machine will not lead him into mischief.
Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan- Treasurer). - I may inform the honorable and learned member for Corinella that the calculating machine to which he refers cost £65, and has been found very useful in the Treasury. It was purchased when the Government of which he was such a distinguished luminary were in office.
Mr. KELLY (Wentworth).- I wish to direct attention to the item, “ Temporary assistance, £5” It seems to me that that amount is so small that its inclusion in these estimates is scarcely justified. The item, “Office cleaning, . £58,” comes within the same category.
– The items may be small to the honorable member, but they are not considered small by the persons who receive them.
– That is a cruel retorr. At any rate, I should like to know why it is necessary to include them? Will “office cleaning “ include the removal of dirt, which is, I understand, now a staple article of diet with the Treasurer.
– The reason for the vote is that we have to secure the services of an officer for a few days, and of course we have to pay him.
– Does that only happen to the extent of £5 per annum ?
– We are very careful in our expenditure.
– I do not agree with the strictures which have been passed by the honorable member for Wentworth upon the Treasurer. At the same time, there are some items in this division which require explanation. For example, the amount of £1.385, which is provided for allowances to State officers acting as officers of the Commonwealth Sub-Treasuries, seems to me to be unduly large. Similarly, the sum of £300 for postage and telegrams appears to be excessive.
– , £305 was spent last year.
– That seems to me a large sum to expend, seeing that there are so many clerks and other officers employed in the Department.
– The honorable member must recollect that that expenditure is for the whole Commonwealth.
– It seems to be a large amount. As to the item relating to the purchase of a “millionaire” calculating machine, I think some explanation should be made.
– The machine was purchased by the late Government, and it saves an immense amount of work.
– It may be useful to one who is not an adept at figures, but since so many clerks are employed in the Treasury it is difficult to understand why it should have been purchased.
– It will do as much in an hour as they would do in a week.
– If that be so, there should be a reduction in the number of clerks employed in the Treasury. No economy will be effected if the expense of the Department is to be the same as before plus the cost of this machine. Perhaps the Treasurer will give the Committee some information in regard to the point I have raised
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 October 1905, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19051018_reps_2_27/>.