4th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. SPEAKER informed the House that he had received a return to the writ issued for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Kooyong in the placeof the Hon. William Knox, resigned, indorsed with a certificate of the election of the Hon. Sir Robert Wallace Best.
– Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to the action of the Melbourne Tramway Company in coercing its employes so as to prevent them from taking advantage of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration law ? If so, does he not think that a breach of the law has been committed?
– I have read the report to which, I think, the honorable member refers, and am inclined to consider that what has taken place is a breach of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act; but I shall make further inquiries, and take such steps as may be necessary.
– I wish to know from the Minister representing the Minister of Defence if he will lay on the table of the Library all papers in connexion with a proposal for a new rifle submitted by Mr. John Hylard, of the Defence Department.
– There is no objection to the honorable member having those papers for perusal.
-Yesterday the Minister of Trade and Customs informed a deputation that he intended, before giving a decision on a certain matter, to consult a Mr. Preedy. Will he say what Mr. Preedy’s duties are, and what qualifications he possesses for his position?
– Mr. Preedy is to be Chief Supervisor under the Commerce Act, having been selected for the position from a number of applicants by the Public Service Commissioner as being likely to best perform its duties. 1 thought it advisable to submit the. representations of the deputation to Mr. Preedy before coming to a decision in regard to them.
The Clerk laid upon the table the following paper : -
Telephone Exchange, Ulmarra - Pnrticulars re - Return to an Order of the House, dated 29th July, 1910.
Deaths of Natives
Mr.HIGGS asked the Minister of Ex ternal Affairs, upon notice -
Has the Minister any information on the following points : - (a) the cause of death ;(b) the names of the persons’ who employed the natives; (c) the rate of wages paid to the natives ;
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
When rice or sago is supplied, 1 lb. of sugar, treacle, or biscuit, per week ; or 4 ozs. of cocoa-nut per diem must be issued with it. Maize meal may occasionally be substituted for rice and sago, in which case 1 lb. of sugar or 1 lb. of treacle per week is to be given.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are : -
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– T - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
” Preliminary Sorting “ Test - Wireless Communication with Flinders and King Islands.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the Islands in Bass Straits, namely, King Island and Flinders Island, are being rapidly settled upon by desirable farmers, and that the said Islands have no telegraphic communication with the mainland or Tasmania - Will the Postmaster-General consider the advisability of establishing wireless telegraphy stations at King and Flinders Islands at an early date?
– Upon the completion of the Sydney and Fremantle stations, the whole matter of establishing wireless telegraphy stations round the coast of Australia and Tasmania will be dealt with, and the inclusion of King and Flinders Islands will then be given consideration.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Has his attention been called to the record of votes given by Australian Newspaper Proprietors, published in the Melbourne Argus on Wednesday, 24th instant, with reference to the proposed Federal Capital ?
– I desire to make a personal explanation, and I hope the honorable member for Melbourne is present, because it has to do with a statement he made last night. That honorable member made certain allegations with regard to myself and an institution with which I am. connected, amounting to a charge of unfair dealing on the part of the Commercial Bank of Australia towards a certain gentleman who died recently, and left a large sum of. money to various charitable institutions. When the statement of the honorable member was made, I was absolutely unaware of the circumstances to which he. alluded, and consequently made no response. To-day I have ascertained the facts of the case, and it is only right, in the interest of fairness and truth, that those facts should be made known. The case alluded to by the honorable member was that of a gentleman named Clayton-
– Does the honorable member think that there has been a personal reflection on himself - that he is affected personally?
– It was a reflection on me as a director of the bank.
– I made no personal reflection on the honorable member.
– The honorable member asked me if I had anything to do with the assets of the bank, and. there was an imputation on me personally as a public man; otherwise the honorable member’s words had no meaning whatever. It is only just that I should state the full facts. I do not mean to comment on the facts, but merely to state them.
– I did not wish to interrupt the honorable member, but I understood that he was speaking of a reflection on some other person, and thought it only fair to that person that he should explain.
– Not at all.
– If it is a matter concerning the honorable member himself, he is quite at liberty to make a personal explanation.
– It concerns me as a director of the institution referred to. A man named Clayton was made bankrupt in February, 1901, in England, and was discharged from insolvency in February, 1902. He died in Victoria in December, 1907, and the discharge from insolvency was revoked in July, 1910. This is the man who. left money to the charities ; and it was in this connexion that the honorable member for Melbourne reflected on me and on the institution with which I am connected for unrighteously withholding-
– I did not reflect on the honorable member.
– The honorable member can say what he likes afterwards. I now read from the Times of 15th July, 1910, the following paragraph : -
A Bankrupt’s Secret Fortune.
At Sheffield County Court yesterday the case was dealt with of a Sheffield man who made a fortune in Australia, became a bankrupt, and managed to conceal his money from the Bankruptcy Court. He died in Australia in 1907, leaving £12,000. The Official Receiver now applied to have the unconditional order of discharge granted to the bankrupt in 1902 revoked, and the Judge granted the request. The evidence showed that the man did well at the gold diggings in Australia and then speculated in bank shares. When the financial crash came in Australia in 1903, in order to avoid the calls made on him by the banks, he made all his money over to female relatives, and resumed possession of it after the bankruptcy proceedings. The claims made against him by the banks were for £9,000.
It will be observed that the year of the financial crash is given as 1903, but, of course, what is meant is 1893. This man Clayton practically swindled his creditors by leaving money which belonged tothem to charitable institutions, and those creditors, of whom there are five or six, naturally claimthe money. The directors and others concerned in the management of the bank were in duty bound as the trustees and representatives of the shareholders, who had paid their calls honestly, to insist on the creditors getting the money which belonged to them and not to the bankrupt. That is all I have to say.
– I desire the House clearly to understand that I made no attack on the honorable member. I never accused him of being a director of the bank before its reconstruction. When the honorable member last night said he had undertaken great obligations in regard to the bank, I certainly did point out that he possessed only enough shares to qualify him for a seat on the board of directors.
– I do not think that this is relevant. The honorable member made that charge subsequently, and I answered it last night.
– And the honorable member last night accepted my statement that I had made no attack on him in that connexion. What I asked was whether he was one of the trustees. It is difficult to understand this matter of the trustees, because they seem to be a bank within a bank. They have their office in the Commercial Bank, and they keep their thumb on the unfortunate shareholders.
– Order ! The honorable member is now going beyond a personal explanation.
– If the honorable member’s statements go out unanswered to the press, they will create a wrong impression.
– They will give the right impression.
– My statement is unchallenged that the charities of our community will be robbed of£12,000 by this Assets Company on a legal technicality. This was a man 80 years of age, I believe, and it is stated by a respectable attorney that he handed to him£4,000, which had nothing to do with his property before the insolvency, but came from another source. The Assets Company also has its clutches on that money. For the first time in England, I believe, the Bankruptcy Act was set aside because the man who could give an answer was dead. These charges about his being a. swindler are made against a dead man, who is not here to protect himself. I hope this House, in justice to the memory of this man, and to clear up the matter, will agree to appoint a Commission, if that is possible, to inquire into the assets-
– The honorable member is going beyond a personal explanation.
– My explanation is that I intend, if I possibly can, to get this matter put right on behalf of the charities and the people outside. It will be clear to honorable members that I made no attack. How could I accuse the honorable member for Mernda of having anything to do with the assets unless I asked him the question ? How could I accuse him of being a director in the previous bank - a thing that I never accused him of? As for his statement, the law courts of the country hold plenty of evidence of what many people believe of him and his associates, and he will hear more of it, too.
.- I beg leave to amend the notice of motion standing in my name by inserting after the word “ Commission “ the words “ Parliamentary or otherwise,” and after the word “consist” the words “if practicable.” This would make the motion read as follows : -
That a Royal Commission, Parliamentary or otherwise, be appointed to inquire into the sugar industry of Australia, such Commission to consist, if practicable, of at least one representative of each of the following interests : - (1) The general public; (2) the wage earners; (3) the growers ; (4) the millers ; (5) the refiners.
– On a point of order, I do not think the motion can direct the Crown as to the character of the Commission, nor do I think the word “ Parliamentary “ will express what the honorable member intends. Probably what he means is “ of members of Parliament,” but while not desiring to oppose it, I do not think the honorable member could so move.
– The criticisms submitted by the honorable member for Angas are worthy of the honorable member’s consideration. They indicate that the wording does not convey the meaning intended, and gives a direction which the honorable member has no power to give.
– If there is any objection, the honorable member cannot amend the motion.
– I object. The honorable member can get some one to move the amendments for him afterwards.
– I had no wish to cut the ground from under the feet of anybody. I simply thought the motion in these terms would be more acceptable to the Government and the House. I shall be glad if the honorable member will withdraw his objection. If they so desire, honorable members will have an opportunity of moving an amendment to put the motion into better shape.
– I withdraw the objection.
Leave granted; motion amended accordingly.
– I now move the amended motion. I wish to say, at the outset, that I shall not be a candidatefor a position on the Commission if it is appointed, as I shall not be able to undertake the onerous duties which it would involve. I hope that honorable members will agree to the motion, because there is urgent need for it. The gravest discontent exists through the industry, or that part of it which is in the nature of primary production, and there is considerable discontent among the manufacturers who use sugar as one of their raw products. I believe I shall be able to show that some of the primary producers are in a condition almost bordering upon serfdom. It may sound extravagant to say that any farmer in Queensland at this time of day is a serf, but while the master of to-day cannot, like the mediaeval lord, kill his serf on payment of a fine to the King, he has such power over the tenant farmer, at any rate, that the latter’s liberties are little more than those of the serf, and the return for his labour is exactly what the miller cares to give him. I shall show that the sugar industry is in the hands of a very powerful monopoly, a kind of major baron with a number of minor barons, like the sugar millers, for example, the smaller barons supporting the big baron against all comers on condition that they be allowed to share in the gains. The directors of this powerful monopoly can at their own sweet will raise or depress the price of sugar, but during the last few months, at any rate, we have found no disposition on their part to reduce the price. I am referring to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. The fixing of the price is simply done. After a meeting of the directors, the manager calls in his shorthand clerk, and instructs him to send out a notice to all the consumers stating that after the1st of the month sugar will be, say, £2 more per ton. There is no appeal from the decision of the directors of the company. They fix the price for all Australia. If a lawyer charges his client too much, the client can take him before the taxing master. If a tailor charges too much for a suit the customer can go up or down the street and get a cheaper one. It is the same with regard to boots, and almost any other commodity in Australia, but there is no appeal from the decision of the directors of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company as to the price to be charged for sugar.
– No appeal and no escape.
– As the honorable member says, there is no escape. No man in Australia can buy sugar from any other persons than the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and one or two other refining companies which are allowed to exist on condition that they charge the same price as the. big company. People may object, and, in fact, have objected. They may write to the papers, but mere writing to newspapers does not stir up the affections of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Not long ago, this great combine had one competitor in Melbourne in Messrs. Poolman Brothers, but it bought them out, lock, stock, and barrel, and it has now no competitor in existence. According to Nash’s Australasian Joint Stock Companies’ Year Book, the capital of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company consists of £2,850,000 in 142,500 shares of £20 each. These shares of ,£20, fully paid up, were quoted a few months ago at £47 ros., but, although the profits of the company are increasing, the quotations on 19th inst. were, buyers, £44 7s. 6d. sellers, £44 12s. 6d., a decrease of £2 17s. 6d. per share. That decrease, to my mind, would go to show that some of the knowing ones scent danger, and, whilst raising the price of sugar, and in creasing the profits of the company, are anxious to induce some unsuspecting people to come in in order that they may get out as soon as possible. There are about 1,400 shareholders in this great combine,’ and the directors are the Hon. H. E. Kater, M.L.C., chairman, Mr. Richard Binnie, Hon. C. K. Mackellar, M.L.C., Sir H. N. MacLaurin, M.L.C., and Mr. W. C. Watt. The general manager is Mr. Edward William Knox, who, no doubt, has a good deal to do with the shaping of the policy of the company, the head office of which is in New South Wales. The profits of this company are shown in the following table, for which I am indebted to the financial editor of the Sydney Bulletin -
It will be noticed that in March, 1903, when the company commenced to pay dividends of 10 per cent., as against dividends of 8 per cent, in former years, the profits were ,£100,298. In the year 1907 the directors made a present to the shareholders of £75,000 of reserves, which were distributed in the form of shares. In September, 1908, the directors took from the reserves .£350,000 of capital, and distributed it amongst the shareholders in the form of new shares, subject to the shareholders having paid up some ,£15 per share. In the very year in which the directors took this course, some of the cane farmers of Queensland had to accept is. per ton for their cane. It is claimed by financial critics that the balance-sheets of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company do not disclose all its profits. It would appear, indeed, that hardly any of the balance-sheets of public companies published nowadays are a full and, therefore, a reliable statement of their position. Up to the time of the great banking collapse of 1893, public company auditors were in the habit of stating in the certificates which they attached to balance-sheets of banking companies, that the foregoing was a true and correct statement of the affairs of the company, but ever since that period, when some auditors were brought before the Courts, and made responsible for certain omissions, there has been inserted in every auditor’s certificate a paragraph to the effect that “ the foregoing is a true and correct statement of the affairs of the company, according to the books.” Honorable members will recognise that any intelligent clerk, capable of writing a good commercial hand, could, under direction, make the books of a company appear to show anything. The opinion of the financial critics with respect to the balancesheets of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, may be gathered, for example, from the following paragraph, which appeared in the financial columns of the Sydney Bulletin, and in which the writer criticised the last balance-sheet issued by the combine -
The extraordinary increase in the earnings, in proportion to the book value of assets, points to one of two things, or, it may be, to both. Either the company has put a very great amount of undisclosed profits into revenueproducing assets, or the business is very much more profitable than it was, or there is some of both.
The Sydney Australian Star, in its issue of 6th December, 1909, reviewed as follows the report issued by the company for the half-year ending 30th September of that year -
The half-yearly net profit of ,£i6S,S8o shown in the current report is certainly only ,£6,248 above those stated for March, 1909, but the years net gains of ^331,512 are ^50,000 in excess of those for 190$, which again were £52,000 above the 1507 earnings. Now, an increase of so large a sum in two successive years after a steady annual profit of about ,£200,000 for six years previously (1905 alone excepted, which earned a specially large profit of £267,665) requires some justification. No facts are given to indicate that the business improved to’ anything like the extent necessary to warrant so rapid a rise in the profits. When in the company’s jubilee year in 1905 a special bonus of 2^ peT cent, was paid, the half-yearly profits conveniently rose to ,£155,322, ^50,000 above the previous half-year, to decline in the next to ,£112,343. Then, again, the recent capital issues in 1907 and 1908 raised the dividend charge, but the company found no difficulty in earning larger profits to meet the increase. These facts suggest very strongly that the real profits are not shown at all, and that the amount required for dividends and reserves really governs the profit to be disclosed.
An honorable member suggested not very long since that all of us, if .we had the power, would do what the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is doing. While granting that some of us would be ready to fleece the public to the greatest extent allowed by law, I decline to accept without challenge the statement that we would all do so if we had the opportunity. In all times men and. women have laid down their lives rather than diverge from the path of duty, and, in the gradations from the pinnacle of martyrdom to the plane on which individuals are too weak to resist temptation, there is a healthy proportion of human beings who would not cheat the public if they had the chance. However, because some who are now poor would, if rich, do what the company is doing, and levy tribute on the cane-growers, on the labourers in the fields and in the mills, and on the general public, that is no reason why we should allow it to play the part of a modern highwayman or bushranger.
– The company levies a greater tribute on the fruit-grower.
– There will be another opportunity for the discussion of that question. At present, great discontent exists among the wage-earners employed by the cane-growers, sugar-millers, and refiners, and a worker has written to me, asking that Parliament may be moved to rescue them from the degrading conditions under which some of them have to work. I have also received a petition from Mr. Harry Hall, the secretary to the Workers’ Union, at Bundaberg, which is signed by a great number of workers. I ask honorable members to hear the following statement of grievances -
The wages, of course, include rations. The men ask for 5s. a day and keep, for a week of 48 hours. They give as a reason for claiming to be paid during wet weather the statement that every inch of rain that falls puts hundreds of pounds into the pockets of the farmers who employ them -
The farmers complain that, in some cases, the millers do not pay for the cane enough to enable them to afford the wages now given to the labourers, putting out of the question any increase. The following table, prepared by the Customs. Department, gives a comparison of the rates of wages paid in the various sugar districts prior to and since Federation : -
Those figures must be a revelation to many in the southern parts of Australia, who were told that white men could not work in the sugar-fields and mills of Queensland. The return shows that from Cairns, right down to the Clarence River, plenty of labour is available, even at the low rates of remuneration now given. Another contention of the farmers is that, in good times, their prices are not increased, whereas in bad times their prices are reduced. Cane is paid for in several ways. Sometimes it is paid for onwhat it known as the “ P.O. C.S.” basis, the letters standing for “ Possible obtainable cane sugar “ ; another basis is arrived at by striking a general average for a district. If 10 tons of cane will yield a ton of sugar, the millers will pay 10s. a ton for the cane, should they be receiving £9 7s. 6d. per ton for raw sugar ; and by an arrangement with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company they get that price if refined sugar is bringing £19 per ton. For every increase of£1 above £19 in the price of refined sugar, the millers get an increase of 18s. per ton for raw sugar. It may be wondered why the company gives so large a bonus, but it must be remembered that it owns a large number of mills, from whose operations it makes a huge profit, and, as I said once before, the major baron, by allowing the minor barons to share in these profits, has created a ring so strong that it will be difficult to break it up. Sugar cane varies in value. While crops on the high land are generally smaller than those on the low land, their sugar content is usually greater. The farmers in the Bundaberg district, which I particularly represent, desire that their cane shall all be paid for according to its sugar density, as determined by analysis, claiming that it is as easy to discover the sugar value of cane, as to discover the butter value of milk. In May of this year I was asked to meet a deputation representing about 250 canegrowers of the district, and the question of the prices they received came up for discussion. Mr. Boyle Hill, on that occasion, said -
I was paid two years ago 6s. per ton for my cane.
Mr. Dahl said
Some of the farmers down my way only re. ceived1s. per ton for their cane.
Mr. Handley said
Some of the growers got as low as 6d. per ton for their cane in 1908, but he knew that very large quantities of cane were paid for at as. 6d. per ton.
– Would it pay to put cane through the mills which was only worth as. 6d. per ton ?
Mr. St. Ledger and others. No, certainly not, if that was really the actual worth of it.
– Who decides to what extent cane is damaged by frost or otherwise?
Mr. Handley and several others. The miller.
– Do you have a say in that opinion ?
Voices. - No, no.
The report of this conversation may be seen in the Bundaberg Daily News of the 8th May, 1910. It is only fair to say that Messrs. Gibson and Howes, in a letter to the Bundaberg Daily News, denied the statement made by Mr. Handley. The Bundaberg Daily News of11th May, 1910, states prices paid by that firm in 1908, as follows : -
Prices for cane paid by Messrs. Gibson and Howes Ltd., of Bingera Plantation, for 1908. 44,876 tons of cane were supplied by farmers, of which 31,088 tons were paid for at full price per agreement. 3,278 tons at 10s. 2,284 tons at 9s. 6d. 5,321 tons at9s. 867 tons at 8s. 6d. 1,502 tons at 8s. 271 tons at 7s. 96 tons at 6s. 6d. 25 tons at 6s.
In the same letter Messrs. Gibson and Howes say -
There was only one of our Watawa tenants who was paid at the minimum rate of 6s. 6d. per ton on trucks, Watawa, for 27 tons of cane, and that after much pleading with the firm, so that his crop would not ‘be a total loss to him. The analysis of this cane showed 5 per cent, p.o.c.s., and many of the Watawa farmers know that the firm discarded about 50 tons of its own equally good; they considering it unfit to come to the mill.
This opens up a considerable field for inquiry. We have the fact that Messrs. Gibson and Howes are willing to treat cane of low value.
– While discarding their own.
– Quite so. The farmers, state that the cane condemned by some of the millers was valuable, and that cane, for which they received only 5s. or 6s., and. even 2s. 6d., was of very much higher value. According to a statement in the proposed new agreement of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, that company will not pay anything for 5 per cent. cane, which is the density mentioned by Messrs. Gibson and Howes. A Royal Commission would, of course, inquire why it is that the millers are prepared to treat cane of such low value. I suppose we may take it from Messrs. Gibson and Howes’ letter that they treated this low density cane in order that the farmersmight get the bonus of 6s. a ton - in order that, as I have read, the farmers’ crop should not be a total loss. That, however, was never intended by the Commonwealth when it was so generous to the industry.
– The honorable member says that this is for the purpose of getting the bounty.
– So it would appear. Bear in mind that the farmers claim their cane is not so bad as stated, and they urge that they have no means of obtaining an analysis, of their own.
– The company will give an analysis if the growers ask for one.
– But the growers have no means of checking an analysis. In order to show the difference between the prices paid to some farmers, and the prices received by other farmers who are associated with the Central Co-operative Mills, I propose to read a table furnished by the Department of Trade and Customs. The Queensland Government advanced a considerable sum tofarmers in various districts to enable them to establish Central Co-operative Mills; and although some of these mills have not answered expectations and have had to be taken over by the Government, others have been a great success.
– They also go a step further, and have a co-operative refinery.
– Later on I propose to show that there is a demand for a national refinery. The following is the table: -
Honorable members will see the great disparity there is between the prices paid by the Central Co-operative Mills and the prices paid by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and other sugar companies in which the farmers have no interest. The farmers in the Bundaberg district are asking for a share of the increased price of sugar. As honorable members know, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has been gradually raising the price of sugar until it has reached £.22 1.5s. per ton wholesale. The company, of course, pay the bonus of 18s. per ton to the raw miller in the case of mills which do not belong to the company; hut the farmers claim that they ought to have a share in the increased price. At (lie last meeting of the Australian Canegrowers’” Union in Bundaberg, a set of figures were drawn up showing the profits made by the millers and refiners, after paying the Excise and the bounty. The following are the figures : -
– Has the £3 per ton not to be paid out of that profit?
– No j the Excise is allowed for in the £9 for the grower’s share, and the other £1 is allowed for in the Federal Treasurer’s share. These two items are apart altogether from the total of £6 profit in the case of the millers and the refiners. The public are paying about £28 for sugar; and T do not. for a moment, say that that price is too high, because sugar was at one time very much dearer.
– And very much cheaper, too !
– That is true; but the honorable member will know from his reading that sixty years ago sugar was 7d. and 8d. a lb. A great deal of difficulty surrounds the question of what is a fair and equitable distribution of the money which the consumer Days. Mr. H. A. Cattermull, President of the Australian Canegrowers’ Union, at a meeting in Bundaberg, on the 8th May last, said, as reported in the Bundaberg Daily News -
The average tonnage of cane per ton of sugar for the four years ending 1909 was 9.5 tons, and the average price paid was irs. . . . Taking 9.5 tons of cane at ns. that made £$ 4s. 6d. for sufficient cane to make a ton of sugar.
The Honorable Angus Gibson, M.L.C., is reported to have stated to the Minister of Customs, in 1909, that it cost Messrs. Gibson and Howes Limited £2 8s. 2d. to make a ton of raw sugar. Mr. W. A. Cribb, of Nambour, Queensland, stated that an American sugar journal gave the cost of refining at £2 5s. per ton, but he also stated, as may be seen in the Australian Sugar Journal, of 4th November,
T909, that the cost of refining is generally believed to be £1 :15s. per ton. Adding these prices together we get the following -
– An official of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company put the cost of refining at ?i 15s. 6d.
– If we take that official’s figure it will mean that the total cost is ?13 16s. 8d. With sugar at an average price of ?22 13s. 5d., there is left a balance of j?8 6s. 9d., which, of course, is not all net profit, because there are certain administrative charges to be met. We are not in a position to say how much the Colonial Sugar Refining Company make in net profits. That would be a matter that the proposed Commission would try to find out, in order .to do justice to the whole of the interests concerned in the industry. Another method by which the Combine is able to entrench itself is what is called in Queensland the zone system. Sugar-cane is a very different crop from maize, oats, barley, or apples, oranges, and grapes. The farmer can very often sell his maize on the ground, but, if he so wishes, he can take it to the market himself. The same applies to oats and barley ; and in the case of fruit, some farmers can even go so far, if they are not satisfied with the price offered, as to hawk it round the town, because there are always plenty of buyers for it. There are thousands of buyers for the particular commodities I have mentioned, but there is only one buyer for the sugar-cane. I understand that it costs the sugar-cane farmer <5 an acre before he gets his crop brought to maturity, and he has only one buyer. If that buyer does not take it, it is of no further use to him, and he might as well burn it. How is it that there is only one buyer for sugar-cane? The Colonial Sugar Refining Company and the millers, and also the Central Mills, which are operated by the Queensland Government, have entered into an arrangement to cut up the sugar districts into zones, and the farmer is not permitted to sell his cane outside his particular zone.
I submit that that is tyrannical, and partakes of the nature of the very restrictions which used to bind the serf in the Middle Ages. At a deputation referred to by me a few minutes since, I put the following questions -
– To whom do you sell your cane?
Mr. Handley. To the firm of Messrs Gibson and Howes, of Bingera.
– Have you ever tried to sell your cane to any one else?
Mr. Handley. We are not permitted to do so. We are lessees of Messrs. Gibson and Howes. But I know that outside our group they cannot sell their cane to the Central Mill (Gin Gin) because they are in what is known ?s Messrs. Gibson and Howes’ district. Mr.
Hawthorn, the (State) Treasurer, has given this ruling. He (Handley) knew this to be a fact.
– If you sold your cane to any one else, you would break your agreement?
Mr. Handley. Yes, even if there were any one else prepared to take it.
Mr. St. Ledger said
Even the Queensland Government has entered into a combine against the growers at the Central Mill at Gin Gin. A supplier to Bingera Mill had asked the Treasurer, Mr. Hawthorn, if he would take cane at the Central Mill, and Mr. Hawthorn had said, “No; I do not think it fair to poach on another firm’s or mill’s areas.” That would show that a grower was without a market outside the mill in his own locality.
It is only fair to say that Mr. Hawthorn, the State Treasurer, on 10th August last, in reply to a deputation asking for the abolition of the zone system, which it was contended prevented a grower who happened to be just within the zone of one mill from sending cane to another mill which might be more convenient, and where higher prices might be obtained, made the following statement -
As far as the Central Mills were concerned, the zone system did not exist.
As against Mr. Hawthorn’s statement that there is no agreement, we cannot ignore the following resolution carried at the annual Conference of the cane-growers on 23rd June last, at Bundaberg, on the motion of Messers. Cattermull and Donelly -
That, in the opinion of this Conference, the Zone System as adopted by the Queensland Government Central Mills and shown by their refusal to take growers’ cane from any source, even when the mills are not otherwise fully supplied, is detrimental to the public interest, deplorable, against the spirit of fair trading, and should be abolished.
If this inquiry takes place, I believe that one witness will be able to give very valuable evidence. I asked that gentleman whether it would be possible to buy raw sugar in Queensland, and the statement he made to me was -
The only buyers of raw sugar in Australia are the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and the Millaquin and Yengarie Sugar Company, of Bundaberg (otherwise the Queensland National Bank). The latter buys most of the raw. sugar made in the Bundaberg district. Millaquin only exists as a refinery, however, on sufferance, and by the good-will of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company the Millaquin directors are allowed to buy a certain quantity of raw sugar but no more. A few years ago they over-bought to the extent of some thousands of tons, but were not allowed to refine the surplus, and had to re-ship it to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s refinery in Brisbane. A similar state of affairs exists in connexion with Bingera mill, owned by Messrs. Gibson and Howes Limited, sugar-growers and manufacturers, Bingera Plantation, Queens- land. Messrs. Gibson and Howes do not buy taw sugar, but they make white sugar, and the amount of the latter that they are allowed to place on the market depends upon the amount of raw sugar they supply to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, of Sydney, Brisbane, Fiji, and elsewhere. Some arrangement also exists between Messrs. Young Brothers, of Fairymead Plantation, Bundaberg district, and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, but the exact terms are unknown. Fairymead neither sells nor buys raw sugar, and their refined article brings pretty much the same price as the Company’s sugar. In the event of over-production making it necessary for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to export, Fairymead has to bear a share of any loss incurred thereby.
I am in a position to say that a great deal of what 1 have stated this afternoon is absolute fact, and I submit that the other statements are also facts, on the authority of the men whose names I have mentioned. Many of the farmers feel that the only way out is to get a national refinery. On 22nd June, 1906, representatives of 528 canegrowers waited on Mr. Kidston, the Premier of Queensland, and asked him to purchase the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s mills, or advance money to enable them to establish their own mills. They complained that the prices offered by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company were unsatisfactory. The deputation consisted of the following gentlemen : - Messrs. C. E. Jodrell, chairman of the Conference representing Johnstone River growers ; W. L. Hawkins, Cairns; G. Pearson, Herbert River; C. Lacaze, Herbert River; R. Gant, Childers; and F. J. Stevens, Mackay. The Premier said he did not see his way clear to advance money to establish Central Mills, and thought it very unlikely that the Government would be able to buy the Company’s mills, for the simple reason that the Company would put up a prohibitive price. He suggested to the deputation that they should approach the Federal Government, either to get money for mills, or for the Government to establish a national refinery. That would be a matter for the Commission to inquire into. I am not very keen on the Commonwealth establishing a national refinery unless the State refuses to establish a refinery. It would be better for the State to do it, but if the State will not take up these matters and deal with them, the public of Australia are not going to wait, but will ask the National Parliament to take action.
– What is the honorable member’s opinion of a co-operative refinery ?
– It would not be a success. I am afraid it would take too long to induce all the people interested to put up the capital necessary to establish a refinery. The honorable member for Herbert informs me that a scheme propounded in the Mackay district for a co-operative refinery has failed. The question whether there should be a co-operative, or a State, or a Federal refinery is a matter which might very well be inquired into by the Commission. My request for a Royal Commission is not new. An agitation for it has been going on for some time. A. Commission has been asked for, no doubt, with various objects in view ; the cane-growers, perhaps, asking it for one reason, and the refiners for another. The petition received by this House, and read, on 21st October, 1909, puts very clearily and in concise terms the reasons why the cane-growers want a Royal Commission, as follow: -
As the representatives of sugar growing districts know, sugar cane is a very hungry crop, and takes a very great deal out of the soil. It is said, indeed, that after land has been devoted to sugar-cane production for twelve or thirteen years, it becomes so impoverished as to be useless for cane growing, unless it is renewed by the use of manures. The farmers’ contention, therefore, is very clear. In some cases they receive only from 6s. to 9s. per ton for their cane ; they have to pay prescribed rates of wages, and the returns they get from their crops are just sufficient to enable them to exist. They are by no means sufficient to enable them to observe the prescribed conditions, and, at the same time, to restore to their land, by the use of manures, that which has been taken from it by the steady production of cane. A request for a Royal Commission was granted by the late Government, and on 2nd March, 1910, the personnel was announced by Sir Robert Best, then Minister of Trade and Customs, as follows : - Mr. Justice H. E. Cohen, of New South Wales (Chairman) ; Mr. George Crompton, Auditor of the Queensland Central Mills; and Mr. W. E. Desplace, manager of the Government Sugar Mill, Gin Gin. The Commission received comprehensive instructions to proceed with its work, but Mr. Justice Cohen, in April last, announced that, owing to pressure of business, he would have to resign his post, with the result that not a meeting of the Commission was held. No one was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mr. Justice Cohen, and the Commission has consequently been in a state of suspension. My own opinion is that the appointments to that Commission were not sufficiently numerous, and I am asking, as the motion shows, that the representation upon the Commission for which I am moving should be of a much wider character. The appointment of a Select Committee would not meet the requirements of the case. A Select Committee, as you know, Mr. Speaker, has power to send for persons and papers ; but if a witness in Queensland refused to give evidence before such a body, it would have to return to Melbourne, and ask this House to deal with him. On the other hand, a Royal Commission can take evidence on oath, and has plenary powers with respect to the conduct of witnesses who refuse to disclose information sought from them. I sincerely hope that honorable members will deal with this motion this afternoon. A great deal of work yet remains to be done by the House this session, and we shall have only two months within which to do that work if the Prime Minister is to visit South Africa. In the circumstances, therefore, I cannot consent to an adjournment of the debate, and 1 hope that a request for its adjournment will not be made. I trust that I have put before honorable members sufficient reasons for the appointment of a Commission, consisting either of members of Parliament, or persons outside this House, or a combination of both, to inquire into the industry as a whole.
– Why should the interests represented on the Commission be so numerous ? What we want is the evidence of the representatives of the different branches of the industry.
– The growers ask to be represented upon the Royal Commission. They think that, being directly concerned in the industry, they are best calculated to say what its requirements are. The position is the same with regard to the wage earners. Doubtless they think that they, too, would have a better opportunity of getting their views before Parliament if they were represented on the Commission, and could thus take part in the preparation of its report. I am not particularly anxious that the Commission shall not consist of members of Parliament, for I believe that the objection to Royal Commissions, so constituted, which has appeared in the press, is a very shortsighted one. The appointment of a Royal Commission consisting of members of Parliament is a very inexpensive method of obtaining information, whilst there is the additional advantage that members who serve on such a Commission can rise in their places at any time, and give the House the benefit of their personal hearing of evidence. My own experience is that honorable members are not prepared to dip into huge tomes of evidence, and that the most satisfactory course to adopt is to appoint a Royal Commission consisting of members of Parliament. At the same time, I have been led to couch my motion in the terms submitted because of a very strong desire on the part of the various interests that they shall be represented. I trust that the House will deal with this motion this afternoon, and that its decision will be favorable to the appointment of a Commission.
.- I am sure that no one can take exception to the manner which the honorable member for Capricornia has adopted in moving for the appointment of this Royal Commission, and my own feeling is strongly in favour of such an appointment being made. The policy of the late Administration was that a Royal Commission should be appointed to make a full and complete inquiry into the working of the sugar industry. Our desire was that such a Commission should present its report this year, so that Parliament might legislate in relation to the sugar industry in the light of information so obtained.
– Why did not the late Government appoint a Commission?
– They did. They issued a commission, but subsequently a difficulty arose.
– Because the Chairman, Mr. Justice Cohen, would not act. Mr. Wade would not give him permission to act.
– Quite so. Still, it was our desire that the Commission should make a thorough investigation and report to the Parliament, so that we might legislate in the light of the information so obtained, and that the conditions then existing should remain until a report was furnished. As it is, the procedure will now be reversed. We are to legislate, first of all, with regard to the industry, and after we have done so, a Royal Commission is to be appointed to inquire into the whole question. If this Commission be appointed, it may be necessary for us, upon the receipt of its recommendations, to amend the proposed legislation. Without desiring to discuss the measures before die House in relation to the sugar industry, I quite agree with the legislation to allow the conditions existing to-day to continue until the Commission has reported to Parliament in favour of a better scheme of legislation. The honorable member for Capricornia was right 111 saying -that there are in existence many conditions which necessitate a full and complete investigation. All inquiries, however, should be based upon two conditions. It must be recognised, first of all, that the sugar industry must be preserved as one of Australia’s great enterprises, and, secondly, that it must be carried on under the conditions of a White Australia. Those are the two conditions which the late Administration had in mind when the Royal Commission was appointed. At the present time, the industry is working under statutory conditions with respect to the payment of bounty and regulations as to the observance of White Australia labour conditions ; and the only interests really regulated are those of the sugar-grower himself. He alone has imposed upon him conditions and restrictions. In 1908 1 had the privilege of accompanying the then Minister of Trade and Customs on a tour through Queensland. We received deputations at almost every sugar-growing centre, from the south right up to the distant north ; and, judging from the complaints that were made to us, it seemed to be absolutely essential that an inquiry should be made by an independent tribunal, and the facts placed before Parliament, in order that justice might be done to those concerned in the industry. I do not think it is wise to put the several interests concerned in sugar production in antagonism to each other. We have to recognise that, but for the grower, there would be no sugar industry, and, further, that there would not be that fixed agricultural settlement of the northern parts of Australia by white people that is now going on. That being so, the one man whose interests we have specially to conserve, and whom we have to encourage in every way, is the sugar-grower who is taking up small areas of land, converting them into sources of wealth for Australia, and, at the same time, rearing on the spot future defenders of the Common wealth .- As one travels north, one cannot fail to be deeply impressed by that fact. We can see what has been the effect of this policy, of ours in promoting settlement in the northern parts of Queensland. One of the’ problems before us is how best to encourage the white races to settle in the north. When I went north, and heard the complaints of the growers of cane, and saw the conditions under which they were labouring, I recognised’ that they were, in spite of difficulties, translating with wonderful loyalty and patriotism into actuality our ideas in regard to a White Australia,and my heart went out to them. Our legislation laid down the conditions under which they must work, and they have had to translate our policy into actual living fact. They have had to get rid of the labour which they were employing prior to Federation, and to suit themselves to a new set of surroundings. Any one who impartially considers the work done will find in it a sufficient answer to those who say that our population is lacking in virility. The men who have made the sugar industry a success under White Australia conditions possess the hearts of lions. This industry must be preserved to them for the benefit of the whole Commonwealth. The result of bringing it under White Australia conditions has been to increase our shipping trade and other industries dependent on sugar production. In Northern Queensland, towns which are fixed and increasing centres of population depend on the sugar industry, and Australia cannot afford to do anything which would imperil its existence. It is not enough to cite statistics showing the number of persons for whom it provides a living ; it is necessary to see what is being done to realize how the development of the northern parts of Australia has assisted the south. The more the north is settled and its land opened up, the greater the market for southern productions, and the better the defence of Australia against invasion. Any Commission that is appointed must keep in view that whatever legislation may be introduced, the industry must be supported and preserved. There is ample cause for inquiry regarding the prices paid to growers for cane. It has been shown that they vary, and that it is necessary to have an impartial tribunal to inquire into the causes and to determine, if practicable, some fair method of regulating them. As the honorable member for Capricornia has pointed out, the cane-grower is fixed on the land. As a rule, he is not wealthy. He is gradually acquiring a freehold, and making a home for himself and his family, but the process must continue for years before he can become independent and affluent. It is such men who are helping to build up Australia. As they have practically only one market for their cane, we must see that they get reasonable prices for it. It seems to me that the prayer of the petition presented by the Sugar-Growers Union last October should be granted, and an effort made to ascertain the conditions regulating the price of cane. Such an inquiry need not be a long one, because the facts are not so difficult to ascertain now as they might have been some time ago. The report of the Auditor-General of Queensland contains a very complete table, showing the operation of the mills throughout Queensland, and making it evident that there is in the possession of the Queensland Government a large mass of information which could be easily obtained and sifted. The sugar-growers say that the benefits given by the protective duty of £6 a ton on sugar are not equitably distributed amongst those interested in and dependant on the industry. That statement raises a distinct issue which is a fair subject for investigation. The intention of Parliament in imposing the duty was that every one connected with the industry should be reasonably remunerated for the work he did ; that the labourers should be fairly paid, that the growers should make a good living, and that the manufacturers and refiners should obtain the profits which might reasonably be expected from their operations. The growers having made out a -prima facie case, we should inquire whether our protective policy is doing what we wish to accomplish. Not only have the sugar-growers asked for an inquiry, but the sugar-workers have also done so. On the 20th October, 1908, the Sugar Workers’ Union presented a petition complaining of the rates of wages, and pointing out that the farmers could hardly be expected to pay proper wages, because they are not getting fair prices for their cane. The farmers have to pay certain rates of wages to entitle them to receive the bounty, and to that extent the workers are assured of fair remuneration, but the farmers have to take what they can get for their cane. The farmer is between the mill-owners and the workers, and we are justified in inquiring into his complaints. . Not only have the sugar-growers and the sugar-workers’ unions asked for an inquiry, but the Australian Sugar Producers’ Association also desires an investigation. In the report of the annual meeting, held on the 21st June last, it is stated that -
The Federal Government, of which Mr. Deakin was Prime Minister, decided to create a Royal Commission to inquire into the sugar industry, and formally appointed Mr. Justice Cohen, of New South Wales Supreme Court,, chairman; Mr. G. H. Crompton, the auditor of accounts of Central Sugar Mills for the Queensland Government; and Mr. W. E. Desplace, manager of Gin Gin Central Mills. … It is to be regretted that the Commission as constituted did not proceed with their work, simply for the reason that it washoped and expected that the report of the Commission would have furnished such information as would have prompted the Federal Parliament to adopt some satisfactory and sustained policy in regard to the sugar industry, and to have dealt once and for all with it in a manner which would have given industrial peace and have placed the industry on some permanent footing legislatively, so that those engaged in it would know exactly where they are. It is of paramount importance that this should be brought about, particularly for the reason that it would’ materially assist in developing the industry by giving security to those who have already invested in it, and by attracting additional capital’ to it.
This resolution was passed -
That this Association press for a Commissionof Inquiry into the sugar industry, and that should it be proposed to add growers’ and manufacturers’ representatives to the Commission, such, representatives should be elected by the growers, and manufacturers respectively. Also, that it is of paramount importance that the findings of the Commission should be in the hands of Parliament before fresh legislation is enacted.
– Was not a resolution carried at a previous meeting, to the effect that the Commission appointed by the Deakin Government would have done all that the Association wished?
– I know nothing of such a resolution. If one was passed in those terms it was absolutely incorrect. Mr. Justice Cohen is an altogether independent man, and I am sure that the honorable member for Capricornia would not desire a more independent person than a Supreme Court Judge to represent the public. Of the other Commissioners, one was a Queensland Government official of integrity, and the other occupies a high standing in the sugar industry in that State.
– The consumers also ask for an inquiry. Mr. GROOM. - I am about to come to that. In j 905, as will be seen by referring to the Hansard, reports for that vear, vol. xxviii., page 4903, a report on sugar production was presented to the Government of the day by Mr. Maxwell. This is an extract from his evidence -
What are the main factors which govern the cost of sugar to the consumer, and what modifications are possible that can lower the cost? The costs of and profit from refining has an essential bearing, not only upon the cost of the finished article to the consumer, but also upon the selling value of raw sugar, and upon the position of the producer in the field. The refining business, however, could, with greater advantage, be kept separate from the present considerations and be made a matter of special inquiry.
The consumers’ interests are very important. Many manufacturing industries depend for their success on the reasonable price of sugar. The fruit-growing industry, which is interested, is extending over a very large area of Australia, and, to my mind, it is only in its infancy, seeing that we have magnificent fruit lands all over the Commonweal th ; so that there are very important matters deserving of inquiry and consideration. What is the proper tribunal to conduct such an inquiry? Speaking from some experience of Royal Commissions, my view is that it is not wise to appoint a heavy and cumbersome body, fcu’ rather one essentially to elicit information and obtain the truth, and nothing but the truth. We do not desire on a Commission men who are violently partisan, and who cross-examine witnesses with the sole object of obtaining evidence to confirm preconceived ideas. What we require is a fair and complete inquiry into the actual facts.
On economic questions, generally speaking, it is inevitable that there should be a Department in connexion with public affairs, being an independent body, whether in connexion with the statistical or any other branch, to watch the trend and effects of legislation ; and the question before us is essentially an economic one. In this particular instance, seeing we have no such body ?s an Inter- State Commission, we desire to ascertain, by a Royal Commission, how the interests of the parties concerned are distributed, and, if possible, to devise some means by which the rights of those interests may be equitably adjusted.
– Are officials the best men for such work?
– I do not say that they are, but I fancy that the Government, when they set out to seek men of integrity and of judicial mind, will find that they have a very difficult task in their selection. That is one reason why I suggest the wisdom of inserting the words “ if practicable.” The Hon. A. Gibson, at the meeting in June, initiated the discussion, and is reported -
In doing so he stated that the Chairman of the Bundaberg Sugar Manufacturers’ Union, in a recent interview with the Prime Minister, received from Mr. Fisher the assurance that neither the grower nor the manufacturer need fear for the future ; that the worker, the grower, and the manufacturer would each receive due consideration, and that the industry must be a part of the life of the Commonwealth. He (Mr. Fisher) could not allow it to die or to be injured ; but he thought there was a possibility of so framing a scheme ‘ as that all would derive fair advantage from the sugar produced. Mr. Gibson added, in his opinion, this showed the Prime Minister was fully seized of the necessity of something being done. lt will be seen that the Prime Minister was speaking of some future scheme, and 1 think he expressed pretty we’ll die feeling of the House generally- - -that we desire to see some such scheme adopted.
– The consumer is not mentioned, and he ought to be considered.
– I am sure the Prime Minister had. also the consumer in his mind. We desire an inquiry which will be conducted on the lines of the settled policy of the country - the preservation of industries and a White Australia - and yet a tul inquiry into all the interests affected, with, if possible, a suggestion for a better scheme if it be found that the present conditions produce friction or difficulty. Unless we have a thoroughly capable Commission, we shall simply have a Commission for taking evidence, and though we may have presented a large mass of probably very useful and helpful information, we shall get no valuable recommendations. If it can be shown, for instance, that there could be a more satisfactory method, without the Excise regulations and restrictions, all parties would, I am sure, be satisfied to see those restrictions swept away. I am perfectly certain that the Minister does not like to have to settle labour conditions.
– I have said that I do not.
– I dare say the Minister feels naturally diffident, seeing that he is some distance away from the industry, and has to be guided by reports. However, the various Ministries have done their best under the circumstances, and, so far, what has been done is good. It might be found on inquiry that a body like a Wages Board would give more satisfactory results; and if that. were so, one of the conditions regarded as more or less restrictive would be removed. I would rather that a Select Committee of the House were not appointed, because we require a body to consider the question judicially. I do not for a moment suggest that members of Select Committees do not give just decisions or recommendations, but such a’ body would mean seven or eight members, and prove somewhat numerous for moving from place to place. Of course, with a Select Committee, we should have the benefit of the explanation of the members in the House; but, on the whole, I think that an inquiry by a Royal Commission would have more weight with the public, in presenting the economical aspects of the question. It is a misfortune that a political atmosphere should have surrounded this industry in the past. That, however, was inevitable, because the industry was carried on by means of a class of labour which the Commonwealth felt it necessary to change. The conditions necessarily created a political atmosphere, and it would be a good thing if those political and national considerations could be removed, and the sugar industry conducted like any other branch of agriculture. If a Select Committee were appointed, the idea might be conveyed that, under the circumstances, it was a sort of political inquiry. I think it is hardly fair that we should, by motion, direct the Government in this matter. The appointment of a Royal Commission ought to be the exercise of the Royal prerogative, which is only exercised on the advice of responsible Ministers. I speak feelingly when I say that the Government will find difficulty in appointing a Commission compatible with their ideals, and it is unwise to restrict the Administration in any way. For that reason, I much prefer a. simple declaration that it is advisable reappoint a Royal Commission. Like the honorable -member who submits the motion. I shall be glad to see this question disposed of, so that those engaged in the industry may feel that legislation is at an end, and devote the whole of their energies and capital to further production. Whathas really prevented the industry from expanding in the past has been the uncertainty in regard to its future, and we ought to bring that uncertainty to an end1 as soon as possible.
– How can we do so?
– By having a report from a Royal Commission, and passing the necessary legislation, though, of course, we cannot control future Parliaments.
– It depends entirely on the Tariff.
– In Australia to-day there is a much more settled state of mind in regard to Tariff conditions. I hope that the Royal Commission, if one be appointed, will report speedily, and that Parliament will deal fairly with the question, so that the industry may prosper, and lead to considerable augmentation of the wealth oi the country.
– - I intend to support the motion, or some amendment of it, because I regard1 the sugar industry as one of the most important and difficult subjects the Legislature has had to deal with. It has been before us on several occasions already, and I do not think that, on the whole, any preceding Parliament can compliment itself on its grasp of the subject. The legislation has been more or less tentative, and legislators have had to confess themselves ignorant of some of the bearings of the problem. It is a very large and complex problem, and political considerations have led to stil? greater complexity. I have never been satisfied with the decisions of previous Parliaments, nor can I believe that any rightthinking person could be satisfied. We are paying an immense price to uphold and preserve the sugar industry; but, in my opinion, it is not absolutely necessary that we should pay that price, or, at any rate, pay it in the way we do, seeing that its unjust incidence falls inequitably upon the taxpayers. The difficulty I have always experienced is the difficulty that confronted
Sis the other day when legislation was introduced for removing the limitation of the present Excise and Bounty Acts, and continuing them indefinitely. The Prime Minister has told the growers of Queensland that the industry will be preserved - that the interests of the growers, millers, and labourers alike shall not suffer - and it is easy to make such statements; but under what policy are those interests to be preserved? The Minister of Trade and Customs must admit that, in submitting the two Bills the other day, he was unable, or did not think fit, to outline a consistent policy which should govern the action of the Legislature in the matter. I intended to speak on that question ; but we should not approach this motion from the same stand-point, or in the light of the facts upon which we should deal with proposed legislation. The arguments in favour of the appointment of the Commission should not be intended to buttress up any preconceived view or theory. The only right attitude to take up in asking for a Royal Commission on any subject, or in favouring its appointment, is the totally unbiased one of desiring information on the subject, in order to guide the Legislature. If we could get that in the proper way, it might lead to some Government being able to bring down a series of measures that would have a definite policy behind them, and be such that the House could, in its wisdom, consider and pass, to the satisfaction of most of those interested. In the early days of the Commonwealth Parliament, in my desire to see achieved the cherished ideal of a White Australia, I was prepared to sink a good many of my public principles, and a certain quantity of my private interests. Although a Free Trader all my life, I voted for a heavy duty on sugar, in order that we might carry out the White Australia policy. Fur,ther, in agreeing to the Excise duty, I imposed a very heavy restrictive burden upon industries with which I was connected, and we felt it very severely for two or three years afterwards. However, I thought it absolutely indispensable at the time, in order to help the Commonwealth through that transition stage of terminating the employment of black labour, and putting the industry on its feet, with the white labour of the future. But, after that legislation had been in operation for three years, I took up the attitude - and was supported
Jit the time by some gentlemen who now occupy seats on the Treasury Bench - that there must come a time when we should review the position, give those interested in the sugar industry a less concession, and put less onerous conditions upon the people generally, in our endeavours to support it. We are now face to face with proposals to continue these concessions to the industry indefinitely. I am not saying that it is not very important, but there are, in our midst, other most important industries which depend upon having a cheap sugar supply. If you aggregate the number of men, and the amount of capital, employed in those occupations, it is easy to see that they outbalance the whole of the sugar industry. A Commission of this sort is required to adjust tha conflicting claims of the various industries that rely upon the production or use of sugar. The honorable member for Darling Downs said that it ought to be conceded, on all sides, that the Commission, if appointed, should be instructed that the sugar industry should be preserved as an Australian industry at any cost. That is rather a rash thing to say, and goes beyond any instructions that we should give in appointing a Commission of this sort. It might have been a lapsus Unguis on the part of the honorable member, but to say “ at any cost “ is to go much too far. Every indus- . try in Australia should be preserved as far as possible, but if the honorable member, by “ cost,” means “ at any cost to the taxpayer and to other industries,” then I deny that that is the way in which to instruct a Royal Commission. It may be possible for a Commission to show us how the industry could be supported and upheld without the present cost. Several propositions have been made, including the establishment of a national refinery. That might be a way of greatly reducing the cost. I do not think so, but it is absurd to say that the industry should be upheld at any cost, because other industries might also demand to be established at any cost to the taxpayer. The honorable member also says that the White Australia policy must be upheld. Again I say that we want some limitation of what is conceived by upholding the White Australia policy. I think that policy is fixed for all time. I do not think we are ever going to re-open it, nor do I believe that any future legislation can be conceived that will re-open our doors to coloured alien races. But there is another point to consider. Having established a perfectly satisfactory White Australia policy, it has always seemed to me an absurd restriction on trade, and an injudicious and inhuman attitude towards the coloured labour now in our midst, to say that it shall not be employed in any industry, and especially in the one industry above all others that is best fitted for its employment. The time has come when we should be reasonable and humane, and remove the restrictions from the employment of coloured aliens who are legally in our midst. They are here, and are tolerated. They are to remain here, and will be absorbed in the ordinary mass of the population as time goes by. The Commission should be entirely free to consider whether the restriction on the employment of such coloured labour as we have should not be removed, and the sugar-growers and millers left free to employ such black labour as is here without incurring a penalty in the way of loss of bounty or increase of Excise duty. The effect of the prohibition of the employment of our existing coloured labour in the sugar industry must be considered. The men must work - or thieve, which is worse. If we push them out of the sugar industry, and they remain law-abiding citizens, they must invade other industries, and compete there for a living against white men. It would, therefore, Be far better to remove the restriction, and let them be employed wherever they can get employment. In that way we should be assisting the sugar-grower, and also taking away some of the difficulties that face us with regard to the solution of the other phases of this question. I hope the Commission will be left free to inquire into the subject in all its bearings, in the interests of the producer, the consumer, the grower, the miller, the refiner, and of the White Australia policy of the Commonwealth. We must not interfere in any way with the restriction on coloured alien labour coming here ; but if the Commission thinks it right that the avenues of employment provided by the sugar-growing industry should be re-opened to those who are here, let them so report, if in their wisdom they think that course would help the sugar industry or assist us in solving the difficulties surrounding it. Royal Commissions for the settlement of these questions have been subjected to considerable ridicule, and the results of some of them have almost justified the scorn heaped upon them. I am very strongly of the opinion of the honorable member for Darling Downs, that a purely political inquiry is absolutely useless. In the appointment of a political
Commission, some semblance of justice must be kept up, and, consequently, a certain number of members representing what would possibly be, in this case, the Free Trade view, and a certain number representing the Protectionist view, would be appointed, and those two bodies of men would set to work to individually twist and torture the evidence to support their own convictions.
– Not necessarily.
– I have seen it done on inquiries with which I have been associated, and have very good reason to believe that the same thing operates in many other inquiries. The honorable member for Darling Downs is quite right in saying that we want no political inquiry of that sort. The highest ideal, to my mind, of an inquiry by Commission to guide thisHouse, would be a scientific one.. It should be not even a judicial inquiry, ‘ and still less a political inquiry. There was never yet a purely scientific inquiry that did not set out, without prejudice, and with the single resolve to get at the truth. It is not only necessary for them to get the facts, which are easily accessible - I believe a voluminous mass of facts connected with the industry, sufficient to fill several large volumes, such as are used for embodying the reports of such investigations, could be quickly obtained - but we want more. We want a Commission composed of scientific minds, that can collate the facts in their bearing; upon one another, and draw sound deductions from them to guide the House in the legislation which it- ought to pass for the settlement of these important questions. If we could get such a Commission of mindstrained to sift difficulties of this sort, togather and assimilate and draw deductions from the facts, and bring up a report which would help members by pointing to special’ evidence in support of their deductions, wemight come to finality in the matter. But if we seek only to uphold the sugar industry by what is practically a poll tax of” 6s. on every man, woman, and child, inthe Commonwealth, our action will be unjust, and not characteristic of the wisdomthat ought to guide this Parliament. If” we had to defend this great country againstinvasion, or, as we have now, to build upa defence force as an insurance against attack, what would be thought of a policy that proposed to impose a poll tax of 10s. a head for the purpose? Yet that is what we are doing in the sugar tax, in order to uphold the industry. We impose on the: whole community something very much worse than a poll tax of 6s. per head, because the poor are larger consumers of sugar than the rich, and the young than the older in growth. An analysis of the average consumption of sugar throughout the Commonwealth would reveal the fact that those who have the greatest struggle to live are paying the largest portion of the tax for upholding the industry. If, by a Royal Commission, or by any other means, we could be shown some way to get rid of that glaring injustice and arrive at a solution of the difficulty that will not impose the burden in such a way that the poor have to shoulder the greatest share of it, that result would be eminently satisfactory to every one. I wish that the Commission may be appointed, and that it will terminate in giving us such facts and such deductions from those facts, that wiser legislation may be enacted to uphold this important national industry.
.- As 1 am anxious that a vote should be taken on this question this afternoon, I shall not occupy much of the time of the House in discussing it, but at the outset I would suggest to the honorable member for Capricornia that, since he wishes to give the Government power to appoint a Royal Commission, parliamentary or otherwise, it would be well to amend his motion. I therefore move -
That all the words after the word “Australia” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words :- -“ and that such inquiry shall cover the interests of (1) the general public; (2) the wage-earners; (3) the growers; (4) the millers; (5) the refiners, and to report prior to ist July, 1911.
I propose this amendment with the consent of the honorable member for Capricornia, and it will have the effect of making the Royal Commission, if it be appointed, a judicial body. The objection that I saw in the motion as originally moved was that it provided that the general public, the wageearners, the growers, the millers, and the refiners, were each to have a representative who would take up, no doubt, a particular attitude and inquire into the whole scope of the industry from their own special point of view. I do not think that that would be wise, and I agree most heartily with the honorable member for Darling Downs that the members of the Commission should act in a purely judicial capacity. That the scope of the investigation should cover the whole of these interests I fully believe, because we cannot reach the bedrock of an inquiry in relation to an industry of this sort without considering all the interests concerned. There is no doubt that two, if not three, of the interests set out in the motion are most vitally concerned. That the public are vitally interested there can be no question, for we are probably paying more for our sugar than we have any need to pay. Then again, the growers are deeply interested in this question, because, as I know from associating with them, the margin of profit which the sugar-growers in the northern parts of New South Wales are making is practically nil. Unless a man has in his own family sufficient labour to work the land that he devotes to sugarcane, he makes practically nothing out of it. The figures with which the honorable member for Capricornia has supplied us show very conclusively that that is so. The honorable member says that the average price which the grower receives for his sugar is about £5 4s. 6d. per ton, and that the cost per acre of working die sugar fields leaves so small a margin of profit . that it does not pay to grow sugar-cane unless one has in one’s own family the labour to work it as an adjunct to some other industry. That, at all events, is the position in New South Wales. In Queensland many persons are interested solely in sugar cultivation, and where those conditions exist the position must be far more acute than it is in New South Wales. That in the lastnamed State the sugar-growers are not receiving the price that they ought to get for the cane, I am perfectly confident. Where the leakage is I am not in a position to say, but that there is a leakage between the price of the refined article, as placed on the market, and that which the grower of the cane actually gets, I am satisfied. If the scope of the inquiry be made sufficiently wide, it is possible that we shall ascertain where that leakage is, and.be able to give the producer a better return for his labour.The wage-earners are also vitally interested in this subject ; but, as has already been pointed out, it is impossible for the farmer and the producer to pay large wages when they are practically out of pocket in carrying on the industry. There are certain scales of wages which the grower is bound by Statute to pay if he wishes to receive the bounty, and unless he does secure that bounty he is in a very bad position. The bounty certainly reimburses him to some extent for the wages he has to pay, but in “the end there is very little left for him. The result of this condition of affairs in
New South Wales has been that the quantity of sugar produced there has been getting less and less. Farmers are finding that the only way in which they can carry on the industry is to work it with their own families, and practically employ no outside labour save in the harvesting season. I am in accord with the motion, believing that there is an absolute necessity for an inquiry, and I hope that if it be amended as proposed and agreed to, a Commission will be wisely chosen so that the members of it will be in a position to get at the facts in a proper way, and to make such recommendations as will enable this Parliament to pass legislation which will establish the sugar industry on such a firm basis that its position will never again be challenged. That, I believe, can be done, and I feel confident that the industry is one that is well worth preserving to Australia. It gives employment to a great many people, and is eminently suited to the requirements of the small man. As to whether it would be better to establish a national refinery or refineries on co-operative lines I am not in a position to judge. I am a firm believer in the principle of co-operation, and the success that has attended other forms of co-operative effort in Australia, particularly in connexion with the producing interests, is so great that sugar-growers should consider such a proposition very carefully before they finally commit themselves to any other. There is room by co-operation to establish the industry upon a firm and sound foundation. That, however, is a matter into which the Commission will be able to thoroughly inquire, and upon which it will, no doubt, make recommendations to Parliament. As several honorable members wish to speak I shall not take up the time of the House any further, save to express the hope that the motion as I propose to amend it will be carried.
.- I second the amendment, which is an improvement on the original motion. My whole desire is to have instituted such an inquiry as will commend itself to the favorable consideration and good sense of this Parliament and the people of Australia. There is need for an inquiry, if on no other ground than that a good deal of political capital has been made out of this question during the past few years, and the industry, I may say, in passing, has cost the people a good deal of money. The important point, to my mind, is to see that this inquiry is of a judicial character.
I am glad that the honorable member for Capricornia has so amended his original motion as to show that this House does not necessarily desire a parliamentary inquiry. He gave a clear indication to the Crown, by the use of the words, “ parliamentary or otherwise,” that it is immaterial, from the point of view of the House, what the composition of the Commission is so long ns inquiry be made with due consideration to the interests mentioned. The only difference between the honorable member’s motion and the amendment moved by the honorable member for Richmond is that, whereas the honorable member for Capricornia holds that the Commission should be constituted on a sort of Wages Board principle - that there ought to be persons on this inquiry representing the several interests affected - the honorable member for Richmond thinks that equitable consideration will be better given to the great problems and interests involved if we have a competent tribunal to consider these interests. I am inclined strongly to agree with the honorable member for Richmond. One of the difficulties I see in regard tothe constitution of a Royal Commission in the way proposed by the honorable member for Capricornia may be briefly stated : Sugar is used by a vast number of manufacturing concerns in Australia, and it isalso a means of livelihood to producers, refiners, and others. If honorable members have any knowledge of trade conditions - and they have the knowledge that I have - they will realize that a businessman is essentially jealous of the profitsthat some other person is making out of a mutual bargain. I am speaking now of the generality of business men. There issomething in human nature that makesa man prone to imagine that the other party to a bargain is invariably making more out of the deal with him than he thinks he should be permitted to make. Consequently, the jam manufacturers, fruit canners, and many other manufacturersnow complain that they are being injured by the sugar refiner. I do not now put in a plea for the latter, for I desire an. exhaustive judicial inquiry, which shall commend itself tethe good sense and conscience of the people, considering, first, the interests of the community, and, secondly, those of the industries producing and dependent uponthe production of sugar, in the order of their importance. To illustrate my position, let me point out that the orchardists- allegedly now consider that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is their enemy. But the fact is that they sell their” produce largely to the jam manufacturers, who have recently been doing very well. While the low price which is given for fruit may be due to the high price which the jam manufacturers have to pay for sugar, it may also be due to want of co-operation among the orchardists, and to the fact that the jam manufacturers are not paying as much for fruit as they could afford to pay. On these points I now express no opinion, but await the result of an investigation. If representatives of all’ the sections mentioned by the honorable member for Capricornia are appointed a Commission, I am- afraid’ that each Commissioner will, consider only the interests of those whom he represents, and will fight for them, the meetings of the Commission becoming a sort of battle-ground of selfinterest. What we really desire is an inquiry, by an impartial body, which will give us Information to guide us to sound conclusions. I was surprised to receive last month from the Melbourne manager nt the C0I011V1I Sugar. Refining Company, whom I did not know, the following letter, dated 14th July, which is about the time when notice was given of the motion now under discussion, and of a similar motion in the name of the honorable member for Franklin -
We understand that a motion foi the appointment of n Royal Commission is likely to come before the House, and I have been instructed by the board of directors of this company in Sydney to ask if you would be so good, in that event, as to make a statement on our behalf to the effect that we would welcome the appointment of a Royal Commission, because we (ear no authoritative investigation into our relations with nil employees, suppliers, and customers, and are certain that inquiry would result in a stoppage of the attacks, now made on our business.
I may say that the general ‘manager of the company is one of my constituents. Honorable members ‘will not be swayed by the statement made on behalf of any industry that those concerned in it do, or do not, desire an inquiry, but the letter is of value as evidence .that the refiners da not wish to block authoritative investigation. Fuller information respecting the sugar industry has been needed for some years past. The time has come when we should reach finality regarding the sugar industry in Queensland and northern New South Wales. T shall he found eager to assist in any way to promote the interests of the general community, the growers, the manufacturers, and the users of sugar. As a Free Trader, if the repeal of the duty be recommended, no one will be better pleased than I shall be, but I express now no opinion as to the desirability of thaicourse, pending inquiry. The House might well agree to an inquiry, and I hope that ‘ the Government will appoint a Commission which will be entitled to the respect of the people. In the interests of expedition and equity, the adoption of the amendment is to be commended. I trust that the amendment will be agreed to, and that the whole matter will be settled this afternoon, so that the Government may appoint an authoritative tribunal in whose findings we may haveconfidence, as being determined, not by this or that selfish interest, but by what is nest for the. whole people.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta. [5.18]. - The honorable member for Capricornia is taking a step in the right direction. How to control the sugar industry is . one of the mostcomplicated questions with which we have had to deal, being far from settled yet. although we have been experimenting with it for nearly ten years. The variety of the interests concerned, and their importance, make it necessary to deal conclusively with the matter at the earliest moment possible, and, as it will not be long before the present arrangements expire, there is no time to be lost. Reference has been made to the wide ramifications oi the sugar industry. Rightly or wrongly, the fruit-grower thinks that he is suffering by reason of the high price of sugar. We should know why sugar is steadily increasing in price, seeing that it not only appears on the breakfast table of every home, hut also is . largely used by many manufacturers, and is a staple ingredient of jam, biscuits, preserved milk, confectionery, and other like productions. When the Tariff was under discussion, the imposition of a protective duty on sugar led to the imposition of duties on articles of consumption into whose composition sugar enters. In my opinion, better results would he obtained hy making the Commission smaller than is proposed. T do not think that it is necessary to appoint direct representatives of the wage-earners, growers, millers, and refiners connected with thisugar industry. The body chiefly concerned is the general public. ‘ One of our problem is how to people our tropical areas so as to better develop our country, and provide for its defence. This consideration alone makes the sugar question of importance. I do not think that any other country has a problem exactly like ours to solve: Nowhere else is the sugar industry being conducted with the same requirements regarding the living standards of the workers. My knowledge is not very wide, but I think this is- the only case in the world where sugar is being produced precisely under such social conditions. We say. that no coloured labour shall be employed, and we have deported the kanakas - a course I heartily approve. lt has been for long one of my strong desires to see this part of Australia made white. I remember that, when I entered this Parliament ten years ago, one of my very first actions was to dissent from the proposals of the Government at that time, because I did not think they attacked this ‘ problem in the serious way it ought to be attacked. However, as time went on, the Government did address themselves to the question, and to some extent solve it. But the result of whatwas done at that time has only made more acute the remaining economic and social problems as they affect the users of sugar, and the occupation of sugar lands. Everybody now says that it is demonstrated beyond possibility of doubt .that men can work there and thrive, and do all that makes for a vigorous and virile civilization. I should not like to be quite so confident on that point as some honorable members at present are. I am full of hope, however, that the present satisfactory conditions will remain - that the industry will continue to thrive under such social conditions as we have so far imposed. I confess frankly that I should like to see these social conditions improved. If an industry, which is protected as this is-protected notwithstanding the fact that the production is the raw material of so many other industries - cannot pay decent wages, such as ought to be .paid even in the north, the House should seriously consider whether we ought to exact the payment from the public which is required to keep it in its present position. I, therefore, heartily applaud the honorable member for Capricornia in his desire for a full and thorough investigation of the whole of the social surroundings of this industry, as well as of the problem in which I take it he is more immediately concerned, of apportioning fairly the modicum of protection amongst those engaged in the various branches of the industry. I do not know whether the honorable member is satisfied as to what proportion of the high price of sugar is finding its way into the pockets of what he has spoken of as a great monopoly, and what: proportion goes into the pockets of the growers and labourers. I confess that I have not satisfied myself. I was in Queensland, and heard all that those, interested had to say, and had several aspects of the question put before me; but I came away feeling thoroughly puzzled. One set of people demonstrated to me; through their representatives, that they ought to be get ting, I think, £z more per ton for sugar, while another set demonstrated that there was the barest margin of profit, and that they could not. afford to lose one penny more to either grower or labourer. . I know that the work there is hard - such work as I should not like to do -in the tropics. It is confidently said that white men can work and thrive there, but I can only feel glad that I live in a more temperate latitude.
– -It is better than working underground - in a coal mine 1
– There is no accounting for tastes j but if I had the choice between working under the burning sun ,in the moist climate of some parts of Queensland and working in a coal mine, I should prefer the latter. I do not regard the conditions as ideal ; and this presents one of the most serious aspects of the problem. Can we keep white people there in such vigour as will enable the enterprise to be carried on for the benefit of Australia as a whole?
– If we cannot do that, we cannot keep Australia.
– I am saying that the problem is to settle people there for the purpose of holding that portion of the continent, which seems to me, perhaps, more vulnerable, from the point of view of invasion, than any other part of Australia. I read the other day the opinion of one of our soldiers that, if an invasion should take place, the invaders would come straight to one of our cities ; but my opinion is quite the contrary. If we are ever subjected to invasion, especially by Eastern races, I can conceive of no better spot for settlement than in that tropical climate, where the invaders could distribute themselves along one of the mighty flowing rivers, and there grow rice, and wait for us to dislodge them. That is the danger I see; and it makes the problem the more acute. We cannot separate the question of the settlement and occupation of Australia from economic and social considerations. I, therefore, think that the honorable member for Capricornia does right in insisting that the general public shall be represented in such an inquiry as is proposed. Then I venture to say that the fruit-grower is entitled to a “ look in.” I know something of his occupation from practical experience ; and if there is a man who requires encouragement, it is the fruit-grower of Australia. What with pests and troubles, Inter-State and oversea, he is entitled, if anybody is, to national encouragement and consideration. Only the other day I was talking to a man of high integrity, whose word may be absolutely relied on, and he told me that Inter-State inspection alone was costing him£70 a year.
– That is the double inspection - at the port of shipment and at the port of arrival.
– The same man said that a shipment of Tasmanian apples cost over , £100 for inspection.
– And it was not a Tasmanian, but a Victorian, who made the statement; last year he paid £70 out of his hard earnings for the purpose of satisfying the exactions of some of the State Governments.
– That is pretty good from a New South Welshman!
– I am not talking as a New South Welshman, and I denounce the Minister’s provincialism, and tell him it is time he regarded such matters from a Federal point of view. I know no more perplexed or” sorely tried person than the Australian fruit-grower. After he has grown his fruit he has to sell to the jam maker ; and then fresh trouble arises. Prices are low, and have been so for years, and, if anything, they are getting lower. Duties have been imposed to help the grower, but they do not seem to have much effect. That is so in the case of citrus fruits, at any rate, though, I think that, as to apples, the conditions are rather better. The fruitgrower, altogether, is deserving of the sympathy and consideration of this House, and he asks that he shall be represented, and’ that the inquiry shall be made as thorough as possible. He desires to know why it is that, when he desires to put that portion of his crop which does not go into immediate human consumption-, into preservation in the shape of jam, the cost of the raw material of jam is increasingly high.
– But the fruiteater also has his grievances.
– Quite so; all are interested.
– How much sugar, isthere in jam?
– There is 40 per cent.
– The Minister’s estimate is very conservative, because I should say it is nearer 50 per cent., or, roughly, one-half of sugar. Thus it is that the whole public are intensely interested. On the one hand we have to address ourselves to the task of maintaining the occupation of tropical regions, and, at the same time, find out how the money paid by the people is apportioned - whether we are paying too much or too little for our whistle. I support the proposal most heartily, and I may say that, had the late Government been allowed to remain in office, such an inquiry would have been in operation long ago. I am not sure whether the honorable member for Capricornia is not multiplying the personnel of the proposed Royal Commission too much. I am afraid that the largerepresentation suggested will make the body unwieldly ; and I do not see why some of the interests might not be combined in one representative.
– What interests would the honorable member combine?
– I do not see, for instance, why the wage-earners and the growers could not be combined for these puropses. All matters as be- ‘ tween those two parties are now to be settled in the Arbitration Court or by a Wages Board, and the inquiry, after all, is not to embody the final settlement of the question. It is simply for the purposes of investigation and report to the House, which will have the final say in the matter. Therefore, the more expert and less unwieldy the inquiry can be made the better for all concerned.
– The growers would not be satisfied to be represented by a wage-earner, and why should the wageearners be satisfied to be represented by a grower ?
– Why not? I take it that the chairman will be a man in whom the whole community will have the fullest confidence. ‘ I hope he will be a’ Judge, so that his appointment may be put entirely beyond the possibility of cavil from the point of view of any interests whatever. Let him be the best Judge that can be found to preside over the inquiry, and -then some of the interests mentioned by the honorable member in the motion could be combined without any detriment to those who are not directly interested. There is nothing to stop any interest which is not directly interested from putting its case before the Commission.
– Why should any interests be represented on the Commission ? Why not have one Commissioner of the character which the honorable member has recommended for the chairman?
– I should not at all mind that, but I do not know what man could be got to undertake such a task. It will be one of the biggest and most puzzling inquiries that any Judge has ever had to . undertake in this country. It may- have far-reaching consequences in our future history, and I doubt if one man will be found prepared to undertake it on his own account. . I should think he would rather have with him a couple of men of judicial temperament and possessed of the requisite knowledge and experience to inform him fully upon all the points to be decided. I do not think the honorable member for Capricornia would suffer if he limited the personnel of the Commission to three instead of multiplying it as he proposes. I should not make the suggestion if I thought’ any one of the interests mentioned would not receive the fullest and fairest consideration. The motion would mean six members at least, and I very much doubt if the best results would be obtained from a large Commission of that kind. There would be so much cross-firing and possibly so much friction developed Aat the best results might not be attained in order to get the fair final judgment of this House. However, I put the point for what it is worth. I have nothing but commendation for the proposal to appoint a Commission. The sooner it gets to work the better, so that the problem may be put finally upon a fair and satisfactory footing.
– - With other members of the last Parliament I was able to persuade the late Government to appoint a Commission for this very purpose, but for some reason which we need not go into now that body did not commence its .labours. I am pleased that the honorable member for Capricornia has resuscitated the question. This great Industry has been before the House in quite a number of ways. ‘ Each time the Tariff has been before the ‘ Federal Parliament, t r before State Parliaments, the question of the duty on sugar has been one of the most prominent features of the debates. Later, the question of establishing .a White Australia policy for the -north was seen to depend very largely on the growth and success of the sugar industry. It has been admitted by most people that the tropical parts of Australia are, particularly suited to the industry, and that if we are going to make use of our tropical and sub-tropical territories, as we are entitled to do, and discharge our responsibility of peopling the north, the growing of sugar must play a very important part. For that reason. Governments which did not- sympathize with the policy of Protection have at different times in all the States offered in their Tariffs Protection for this industry, recognising that it deserved a considerable amount of help. In the present Tariff we provide- a large modicum of Protection for it. In order to establish once and for all the fact that the tropical portions of Australia can be habited by white people, and its industries carried on by white labour, we have introduced a system of Excise and bounty, and the returns before the House and the country have proved unmistakably that the ‘ sugar industry can be carried on under conditions in which white men ought to work. But there is still a considerable amount of dissatisfaction with regard to other branches of the industry. One of the reasons is that sugar occupies a somewhat dual position. It ‘is the manufactured article of one industry and the raw material of several others. Consequently, as with other interests discussed during the Tariff debates, we find the persons engaged in the primary industry establishing a claim, which cannot be ignored, to a considerable amount of assistance from the House, and other persons engaged in the manufacture of jams and confectionery demanding that sugar, which is one of their raw materials, shall be made available to them at the lowest possible price. ‘ We have no right to complain of them for taking that attitude, but the trouble seems to be that there is a margin between what is a payable price for the producer of manufactured sugar,, and the price at which it pays the jam manufacturer and confectioner to buy it for their purposes. The general impression seems to me that that margin has been monopolized by a company which practically controls the whole of the sugar - business of
Australia, and that, before the House will be in a position to decide how the industry shall be carried on, and what assistance it shall receive, we ought to have the very best evidence placed before us. There are in die House a number of persons who are familiar with the sugar industry from A to Z. They know that it is impossible for people to engage in growing sugar cane under the conditions which we consider desirable, and pay proper wages to those whom they employ, without receiving some assistance. It is in the consideration of the question of the control of the sugar industry and the destination of the profits derived from the growth of the cane that we require the help of the Royal Commission. A number of honorable mem.bers know a good deal about the growth oi the cane, and others understand the facts regarding the use of sugar as a raw material for other industries, but even those honorable members do not feel themselves thoroughly competent to pass laws for the government of the industry without having before them the fullest evidence on all its complex phases. One of the complaints of those engaged in the growth of sugar cane is that they never know what is going to happen next. People do not produce sugar cane in the short space of time in winch Other crops are produced. Two or three ot more years are required to produce the article, and before a sugar-cane grower buys or clears, or even crops his land, he is entitled to know as far as possible the character of the legislation likely to affect him. Therefore, if we are to establish the industry in tropical Australia, and carry out the “White Australia policy, we must decide in the most perfect manner possible the conditions under which the industry can be carried on, and how we can best assist it. I do not know of any person here who thinks the assistance given by the Protective duty excessive. There are some who think that the Excise and bounty should be balanced, so” that the country may get its White Australia policy carried into effect, without expecting to make a profit of £1 per ton out of it, as now happens - the £1 being the difference between the bounty and the Excise.
– There is a slight profit, but nothing like that.
-If the amount is not as I have stated I shall be glad to hear from the Minister what the profit is; but, in any case, the two items should be more nearly balanced than they nr.-: now. Further, we say, as has been fully shown by the figures given by the honorable member for Capricornia, that more than a fair share of the profit is going to the middleman. We want to ascertain how that is brought about, and how it can be obviated. The honorable member has put forward some methods which have been suggested by others. The popular one seems to be that the Government should interfere in some way, but we should be prepared to listen to the evidence, and to consider it with an open mind when the report of the Commission is submitted to us. Our plain duty at this’ stage is not to come here with preconceived ideas. It is not desirable for us to approach the subject of remedies now, although no doubt a great many of us have our minds made up as to what should be done. We must first find out from the fullest investigation possible the best way to deal with the problem. It appears that, while it is competent for the growers to provide their own means for manufacturing raw sugar, the cost of a refining plant is too great tor the average grower, or even for any but a considerable combination) of growers, to face. The statement has been made during the debate that the growers should be able to do in their industry what the dairy-farmers have done in theirs. The latter have, in some cases, with the assistance of other people who have found some of the money, been able to _ do without the middleman in their trade altogether, and evidence was placed before the Minister yesterday to show that practically the whole of the butter trade of Australia is now in the hands of the farmers themselves, by means of their co-operative movement. They do not confine their co-operative effort solely to the manufacture of butter. They extend it to the handling and disposal of their butter in the markets of the world ; and that has been done with the greatest satisfaction, not only to the producers, but to the trade generally. We should be glad if the same course could be followed by the sugar-grower ; but, as has been pointed out, the cost of establishing a sugar refinery is far greater than is the cost of providing the plant and machinery necessary for the manufacture of butter, and for its refrigeration and cold storage. The work of refining the sugar has been taken up by an outside company, which has entered the industry and expended capital and skill in the manufacture of this commodity. It has succeeded in placing on the market an article with which we have no reason to find fault. The sugar produced by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company will hold its own with that produced in any other part of the world. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company has shown thatthe industry can be carried on with success in Australia. It has also assisted the farmers considerably by introducing new varieties of cane, and conducting experiments designed to show the varieties best suited to the conditions of the several sugarproducing districts. That has not been done by the company from merely philanthropic motives, or solely because of a desire to benefit the country. It has been undertaken because the Company has been able in that way to give an impetus to the industry, and to make considerable profits. The only question with which we are now concerned, in relation to the Company, is, as to whether it is receiving more than a fair reward for the services it renders. I do not think that any honorable member will say that a company which invests capital in an industry, produces an article of the desired quality, and at the same time conforms to the labour conditions in which we believe, should not receive a fair return from its outlay.
– But it should not sweat the producers.
– Or the consumers.
– I was coming to that point. We certainly say that the Company should not receive more than a fair reward for its services, and that it does sweat the people through different channels. In the first place, it begins with the sugar-farmers themselves, who are the very foundation of the industry. The honorable member for Capricornia, and others, have referred to the conditions with which the sugar-cane farmers have had to rest satisfied ; and sufficient has been shown, I think, to satisfy us that the men who grow the cane, and place it at the disposal of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, do not receive as much as they ought to get. Another detail, which time will not permit me to go into at this stage, relates to the method by which the farmers are paid for their cane, and as to whether it is the best that could be adopted. On that subject, there is room for a considerable difference of opinion. The honorable member for Capricornia expressed the opinion that the sugar-growers should be paid for their cane in accordance with the system adopted in the payment of dairymen who send their cream to butter factories. That is to say, he suggested that they should, after a pro cess of testing, be paid according to the relative merits of the cane that they produce. That would certainly be a fair system. The only question is whether it could be carried out.
– Every truck of cane would have to be analyzed.
– The company does that now ; but it does not pay enough.
– No doubt such a system could be adopted; and the question is one of the most important into which the Commission will have to inquire. It will have to inquire into the question of how the cane is to be weighed and paid for, and there is a number of other considerations of much importance which must engage its consideration. I think the result of the inquiry will be to show that the treatment which the farmers are receiving is not what might be considered fair and reasonable. We have imposed upon the farmers, at various times, certain conditions as to the payment of wages, and we have now before us a Bill which will affect them in another direction. When we legislate in this way, we should take care to protect them from any improper squeezing. In other words, if we say that their land shall be taxed, and that they shall pay their men reasonable rates of wages, we should also take care that, if possible, they shall not also be squeezed from the other side. The proposed inquiry will show, I. believe, that some sections of the industry, and particularly the growers of cane, are in a very unfavorable position. I know that several other honorable members wish to speak; and as the time allotted to private members’ business has almost expired, I shall not deal with other features which I should have liked to discuss, since we are anxious that a vote should be taken on this question to-night. I support the motion most heartily, and am confident that there are in this House men who are prepared to extend fair play to this, and every other industry, when in possession of indisputable evidence. I believe that honorable members are prepared to give the growers of the cane, the users of the raw material - such as the manufacturers of jam and confectionery - and the general public who are interested to the extent of every teaspoonful of sugar that they use, the most complete justice. I can only hope that the motion will not be shelved, and that the work which was started by the late Administration will be carried out. The personnel of the Commission appointed by the late Government was acceptable to all concerned. The sugar-cane farmers were certainly pleased with it, and I hope that if this motion be agreed to, a Royal Commission will be speedily appointed, and will enter upon its work without delay, so that we shall be able to act upon its report, and to give those concerned in the industry that security which will assist, not only them, but those engaged in correlated industries. I hope that we shall show that we are really in earnest in our desire to carry out the policy of a White Australia, which means the occupation of the northern parts of the Commonwealth by the white races, and that, as the result of the proposed investigation, sugar-cane growing will be placed on a secure footing. I should have liked, had time permitted, to refer to the beet sugar industry, in the establishment of which is to be found one of the cures for the monopoly now existing. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company has obtained on the sugar-cane growing industry an octopus-like grip which, I am afraid, will require a good deal of legislation and money to relax ; but I have been watching, with a great deal of interest, the efforts of the Government of Victoria to encourage the cultivation of sugar beet. I shall be very pleased if the beet sugar industry can be established in Victoria, for I think it would not only be a keen competitor with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, but would prove advantageous to many other parts of Australia where there is land eminently suited for the cultivation of sugar beet. If a mill can be kept going at Maffra, Victoria, it should be possible for other beet sugar mills to be kept in full swing in other parts of the Commonwealth. The cultivation of the beet sugar industry is one of the means of counteracting what are now considered the most unsatisfactory conditions of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
– Sugar beet growing does not settle the tropical difficulty.
– But it will settle the monopoly.
– Are there not other means of settling that monopoly?
– I do not wish to criticise the methods with which the Government propose to deal with monopolies. I am glad that the honorable member for Capricornia considers that we cannot do better than act on the lines followed by the late Administration, and appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole question.
.- I hope that a vote will be taken on this motion before dinner, and, therefore, will detain the House for only a few minutes. Some of us have been endeavouring for many years to secure a full inquiry into the position of the sugar industry generally, and I intend to move an amendment, of which I have given notice, providing that the Royal Commission shall consist of members of this House. I submit such a proposal for the reason that I think that difficulty would be experienced in forming a Commission from outside that would give complete satisfaction and gain the confidence of all the different branches of this industry. I have always held that for us to say that members of Parliament should not deal with a question of practical politics like this is tantamount to passing a vote of want of confidence in ourselves. Surely from a House of seventy-five members there can be selected six or seven men competent to make a thorough investigation into this industry. The general work of the Commission will lie in the direction of securing evidence, and a Commission composed of members of this House should be in a better position to obtain that evidence than one consisting of outside persons. Have we not in the House representatives of the sugar-growing industry in Queensland and New South Wales - men like the honorable member for Herbert, the honorable member for Capricornia, the honorable member for Richmond, and the honorable member for Cowper - who have been associated with it for years, and who should, therefore, be in the best position to judge of the real difficulties under which the sugar-grower is labouring? The sugar producer - the man on the land - is being sweated by a huge monopoly, which is also sweating, to a very considerable extent, the manufacturer who uses sugar.
– If we know that, why do we need to appoint a Royal Commission ?
– Because we wish to obtain evidence showing whether or not our contention is correct. I believe that a Commission consisting of members of this House would obtain that evidence, and would be infinitely cheaper than an independent Commission appointed from outside. We could select from this House members of a Commission who would represent the sugar-grower, the wage-earner, the jam manufacturer, the fruit producer, and the refiner, and in whom there would be the most implicit confidence. As it is desired to take a division before dinner, I shall not labour my points, especially as there will be another opportunity for dealing with the matter. I shall conclude by moving the following amendment -
That the words “ Parliament or otherwise “ and “ if practicable “ be left out, and that all the words after the words “ consist of “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ seven members of this House.”
What I desire is that the Royal Commission shall consist of seven members, and I urge upon the honorable member for Capricornia the desirability of providing for that. I am confident that a Commission composed of members of this House would give better results than that which he proposes, and the investigation would be of inestimable value in enlarging the knowledge of those who took part in it, so that in the end Parliament would be better able to deal with what is admittedly the most complex industrial question coming before us.
– The honorable member for Richmond has moved to leave out the words, “ such Commission to consist of at least one representative of each of the following interests,” but with his consent, I shall put to die House only the omission of the words ‘ 1 such Commission to consist,” which will enable a test vote to be taken without precluding the moving of the amendment which the honorable member for Franklin wishes to move.
– I am agreeable to that.
– I wish to say a word or two on the questions presented to us by the motion, and the proposal of the honorable member for Franklin. Whatever may have been the state of affairs at the inauguration of Federation, and the need for an investigation of the conditions of the sugar industry then, Parliament has now a considerable amount of information regarding all the questions at issue, the matter having been almost continuously before us for years. In considering the possibility of successfully developing the tropical portions of Australia by white labour, instead of bv the coloured labour which was previously so largely used there, we have had many problems set us, and the motion under discussion asks for the appointment of a Commission to acquire still further information than we already have. I am not opposed to investigation, because we need as much information as we can get, but we are in a much better position to deal with the problems which face us than we were when we first took the matter .in hand. The honorable member for Capricornia proposes the appointment of a Commission to consist of representatives of a number of interests, to which objection is taken on the score that such a Commission would be unwieldly. The honorable member for Parramatta suggests that some of the interests named could be represented jointly, and, when pressed, said that the workers and growers might have one representative between them. .1 interjected that 1 did not think that the growers would be satisfied to be represented jointly with the workers by a worker, and I ask now why should the workers be satisfied to be represented jointly with the growers by a grower? It would, perhaps, be more reasonable to suggest the joint representation of the millersand refiners. It is thought that, at the head of the Commission, there should be an able and capable man. I am not convinced that the representation which is sought is at all necessary. If we can secure the servicesof a man of ability and character to act as head of the Commission, the witnesses who will be brought before it should be able tostate fully and clearly the views of the interests whom the honorable member for Capricornia thinks should be represented. In the view of the honorable member for Franklin, there should be a Commissior, consisting of seven members of the House. No doubt from this assembly there could be chosen representatives of the interests which have been named. But does not his proposal suggest that we already have among us men who are possessed of all the information necessary to deal with the whole question?
– Would the honorable member take the evidence of those who are here?
– It is not altogether a matter of taking evidence. A great deal of evidence has already been submitted to Parliament, and I am not satisfied that it is possible to obtain fresh light in this way on the problems which confront us. It is generally recognised that consideration must be given to the interests of the cane-growers and their employes, to- those of the mill workers and proprietors, to those of the refiners, but, above all, to those of the consumers. Apparently, at present, whoever may suffer. the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which has an octopus-like control of the industry, is in clover. According to the evidence of press, platform, and Parliament, however sweated the growers and labourers may be, and however much the users of sugar may have cause of complaint on the score of high prices, the Company does not suffer, its shareholders receiving dividends on the large profits which regularly accrue to it. We do not need a Commission to tell us where the trouble is, or to inform us as to the extent to which the Colonial Sugar Refining Company controls production and lays down the conditions for consumption. That is not only the opinion of a few ; there seems to be a general consensus of opinion amongst the sweated producers, on the one hand, and the overcharged consumers on the other, that herein lies the real source of the trouble. A Royal Commission cannot inform us on that point any more completely than we are already informed, and cannot solve the problem for Parliament. The only solution is one of two alternatives. The farmers and workers should combine as a co-operative association, and become their own refiners and distributors, or the Government should take control of the refineries and run them in the interests of the producers, the consumers, and the community generally. That solution is a simple one, and this Government, of all others, ought to have the courage to face the difficulty and provide the remedy.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Sinclair) adjourned.
Sitting suspended, from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
– I move-
That, unless otherwise ordered, the House shall meet on each Wednesday and Thursday at 10.30 o’clock a.m., and that General Business shall, on the latter day, have precedence until 3.30 o’clock p.m.
This motion represents what I believe honorable members will regard as a laudable desire on the part of the Government to get on with business as much in the daytime as possible, so as to avoid late sittings. It is not submitted with the idea that business shall be carried on until the late hours of the night, but to enable fairly lengthy sittings to take place and to afford every facility to honorable members on all sides of the House to discuss fully and freely all business brought forward. It is the desire of the members of the Government, and also, I am sure, the desire of the Opposition, that every measure submitted shall be thoroughly discussed.
.- The Prime Minister’s explanation must not let us forget that in no preceding session of any Commonwealth Parliament has a request of this nature been made until, as a rule, within a month of the closing of the session, and after the bulk of the business has been disposed of or well examined. Even then it has been recognised that the strain put on honorable members was often more than a great many of them could bear. Measuring this session by those that have preceded it, we are really, so far as time goes, at the beginning of our business; and it cannot be said that there has been any delay ; on the contrary, this House has already established a record! for work in the first two months of its sittings. I have refreshed my memory by turning to the last session of the last Parliament, and find that in the same number of days we had passed one measure - a Supply Bill for a month. Even in the first three months, about half of last session, we passed only four measures, one of them a Supply Bill, another making slight technical amendments in the Invalid and Oldage Pensions Act, with an Appropriation Act which annually requires to be made,, and the fourth a small amending Audit Bill, in regard to which there was no dissent. During the present session we have not been sitting two months, yet we have already passed seven measures, including one of first importance - the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, which now only awaits the Royal Assent - three others of very considerable importance, and other minor measures. Consequently, it is ratherodd that this motion should be submitted at a time when greater expedition has been displayed, and a larger amount of business done, than in any preceding session of the Federal Parliament. In point of fact, I must say there is only one aspect in which this motion appears to me to be at all reasonable, and that is so far as it is intended to substitute day sittings for nightsittings.
– Hear, hear.
– In that I cordially agree, for, although it mav be inconvenient to us who happen to reside in Melbourne, it is in the highest degree convenient for- those who, living elsewhere, necessarily pass the whole of their time during the session in this city, and may reasonably prefer to work in the daytime. If the motion means only such a shifting from the night to the day time, I have so far no objection, although it appears to me unnecessary at the present juncture, and although it will impose great stress on those who endeavour to keep up with the business of the House, particularly members on this side, upon whom the task of criticising the Government measures devolves. For my own part 1 make no complaint, but must say that up to the present the effort to keep up with the business has absolutely occupied the whole of my time and strength to the exclusion of other matters to which I ought to attend.
– I felt that myself when I occupied the position of Leader of the Opposition.
– On the notice-pape , there are ten measures, six or seven of which demand very careful examination. The other Bills also demand examination, but as they relate to parliamentary witnesses, patents and trade marks, and other matters, although we may take a great deal of interest in them, they do not seem to promise pressure. The serious difficulty is that, if the two mornings be taken away from us, there will be no time left to scrutinize measures in advance, and keep up with the proceedings, except on the days on which the House is not sitting, namely, Mondays and Saturdays.
– -“There will be the nights.
– The honorable member will” notice that there is no restriction as to the hour we may sit at nights. We have a great deal of work before us, and it is comparatively early in the calendar year. The honorable member for Capricornia today, when pressing his motion in reference to the sugar industry, urged as a reason for shortening debate that it was desirable the Prime Minister should be afforded an opportunity to attend in person the very important demonstration in South Africa which is to mark the opening of its first Federal Parliament. I am sure that if the Prime Minister wishes to attend, or his colleagues wish him to go, there will be no opposition from any part of the House, because it is quite proper that Australia should be represented on that occasion. It does not by any means follow, however, that this need involve the closing of the session, unless, indeed, we have disposed of the work before us without finding it so unduly burdensome as to interfere with the effective discharge of our duties. When we conclude depends, of course, on the amount of business the Government bring forward, and the consideration that those measures cast on us; but, looking at the notice-paper, one certainly derives the idea that it will be more, and not less, than the usual amount of business that will be submitted this session, and it certainly will include problems as grave as any which this Parliament has yet encountered. These must, under normal conditions, point to a longer, instead of a shorter, session than usual. Yet this proposal calls upon us, before we have completed two months of the session, to give up yet another portion of the time which at present remains at our disposal to prepare for our parliamentary obligations. Under the circumstances, I must say that the proposal, in its present form, since it implies the addition of two morning sittings without any restriction on the evening sittings, does not appear to me to be at all fair, especially at this early stage. If we are asked to sit from half -past 10 in the morning until half-past 10 at night, that appears to me to be the utmost extent to which we ought to go under any conditions. Even then we shall be endeavouring to carry a heavier burden than we. have succeeded in carrying in any preceding session. The number of members who have broken down in the Commonwealth Parliament, owing, so far as we can see, to their parliamentary duties, is already large. We shall certainly add to the number if the pressure is increased, as this crowded notice-paper threatens. We have other great measures, such as the Defence Bill, the Navigation Bill, and the Northern Territory Bill, already imminent, besides others which are not at the moment in print. We have an almost appalling amount of work before us. With every desire to meet the Prime Minister, I feel that to ask us to attend at 10.30 in the morning, with no guarantee as to when the sittings are to close, is to ask more than flesh and blood can be expected to bear.
– I said I did not want to sit late.
– The Government sat late last night for no reason at all.
– A couple of hours were wasted earlier in the evening.
– That is not the question. The only standard by which to judge the amount of time that an honorable member occupies is his own sense of what he believes to be due to his constituents and the country. No one but himself can measure that for him, and it is in the highest degree improper to attribute a waste of time to any other member.
– The Government have to see that the work is done.
– And our Governments always have seen that the work was done. We are further advanced this session than ever before. We have before us a great amount of business, which requires examination outside as well as in the House. We are to sacrifice nearly all the few daylight hours now left to us, and yet have no security that we shall not be asked, in addition, to sit beyond a twelve hours day. Yet that represents the maximum time that we can devote to the work of legislation, if we are to do our duty to the business before us.
– They would sing a very different tune if they were in Opposition.
– We have been there, and were well “ gagged.”
– -The answer to that is that during the same number of days during last session one Supply Bill had been passed. I put it to the Prime Minister and his colleagues that, onerous as it may be to them, they are asking the House to do too much. I do not forget that they have their administrative duties. If they have to discharge them at the House the officers must be brought here, and the work done from time to time as opportunity arises, under great difficulties through papers not being available, and so on. I know that Ministers are assuming an onerous burden, but we have one already, and no reason has been shown why we should be called upon to work still longer hours. Unless the Prime Minister can accept the reasonable condition that we should work the extra time during daylight, when we do better work than after a late hour in the evening, the request ought not to be pressed at this time of the session, and with this business-paper before us.
.- If the proposal is to substitute day for evening sittings, I am entirely opposed to it. If an hour is fixed for rising, the work will never be done, because it is very easy then to talk matters over a particular time. Less work is done on Friday, for that reason, than on any other sitting day. Any party in Opposition, if they know that they have only to keep a matter going till a certain hour in order to block it, will naturally take advantage of the opportunity. I understand, from a reference made by the honorable member for Capricornia to-day, and from what has appeared in the press, that the Government wish to finish the session towards the end of October. If that is the idea, there may be some reason for asking us to put in the extra hours in the mornings, but if it is not the idea, and it means that at a very early stage of the session we are asked to give the mornings as well as the afternoons and evenings to the work of the House, we are asked a little too much. I am always prepared to sit to any hour of the night to get the work done, and it is better to get it done in a short session than to keep us here for months when we might be in our respective constituencies. It is, however, equally true, as the honorable member for Ballarat said, that if we are to consider measures we must have time to study them, and a good deal of reading is required in connexion with the work of this Parliament. We have access to the Library in the forenoon, but if the House is closed at night we have none. To ask us to study matters in the evening is to expect us to study them in the rooms of this building without the assistance of the Library, or in our lodgings. Day sittings are more disadvantageous to members who come from the country than to those who have homes in the city. I prefer having the forenoons to consider Bills and read up questions in the Library, or to do any business that can be done in town, rather than to sit here during the morning and afternoons, and be told that I have the nights to myself, when I can get no access to the Library and do no business outside. I am prepared to do the work in the afternoons and nights, if necessary, in order to get it through. When the last Liberal Government - the DeakinLyne Administration - was in office, we sat during the last three or four weeks before Christmas, and during the early part of the next year, for fifteen and sixteen hours a day on five days a week, and I was prepared to do it, because the work had to be got through. I agree with the honorable member for Ballarat that some honorable members may stand the strain, but that others cannot. I have been blessed with a strong constitution, but others may not be so fortunate, and, therefore, the motion can only be agreed to on the understanding, that the session is to be curtailed. If so> we may face the disadvantages of sitting practically continuously from 10.30 in the morning until late in the “evening. Every one who takes an interest in the legislation that is being passed must devote time to its study. Some honorable members have no occupations to follow, but unfortunately I am not independent of my business, and must devote some time to it. I, therefore, cannot give up all the day time as well as the night time to the work of the House. I am prepared to support the motion if it is understood that the session is to terminate towards the end of October, but, if it is not, it is unreasonable at this stage to ask us to sit from half-past 10 in the morning until such an hour of the night as the Government are satisfied with the progress made with business.
.- The question of all-day sittings need not concern us very much at this juncture. I understand there are special reasons why the Prime Minister desires to close the business of Parliament earlier this year than usual, because it is necessary in the interests of the Commonwealth for him to be in South Africa in October. If his presence in South Africa is essential for the advertisement of this country, that of course is a grave reason why Parliament should be driven in the meantime at express speed, under almost sweating conditions ! In view of the general nature of the business submitted by the Government, it is of exceptional importance in the interests of the country as a whole that we should examine most carefully every provision in it. I do not profess to be any quicker than my honorable friends, and I do not know that I am much slower, but my whole day is taken tip now in answering correspondence from my constituency on public matters dealing with Government measures, and preparing for Government business generally, in addition to the work we do in this Chamber. It is as much as any man can reasonably undertake, to consider measures before they actually come on for discussion, to deal with one’s ordinary departmental work as ti representative, and to take part in the work of criticism in the . Chamber. We are absolutely debarred from an opportunity of discharging our public duty of criticising Government measures if a reasonable time is not allotted to us to consider what they really mean. I do not know what further measures the Govern ment propose to introduce. They may have come to the end of their businesssheet. If they only mean us to deal with what is now on the business-paper, well and good.
– There is the GovernorGeneral’s Speech.
– I heard the speech read, and was immensely impressed by it, but I do not think that everything contained in it can be done between this and 1925. If it is proposed to bring on more business than is already on the paper, the motion for an all-day sitting, in addition to the evening sitting, is a gross invasion of our rights as members, and a serious infringement of the usefulness of the Chamber as a criticising assembly.’
– Is it not against the principles of unionism?
– I think that to ask us to work sixteen hours a day is opposed to the principles of the Ministerial party, but I understand that honorable members opposite think that this is such a Parliament as has never been known before in the world’s history. Those who have some regard for the value of public criticism will deprecate that fact, if they find the House sitting sixteen hours a day, and our powers of criticism being ruined by a process, not of gagging, but of physical and mental exhaustion ; and the people will rue the day that this Parliament was elected. I understand that the Prime Minister is going to gracefully represent the Commonwealth at the opening of the Union Parliament of South Africa.
– Order ! The honorable member must not discuss that question.
– I shall not do so. I am assuming that the newspaper statements are correct, and that that is the reason for this proposal. I have no objection to the Prime Minister going to South Africa. That question raises, to my mind, the very serious consideration whether it would not be better for Governments, in the future, if it is necessary that the Commonwealth should be represented-
– The honorable member is now discussing the question.
– I shall not traverse your ruling, sir. I realize that perhaps it is not altogether fair to refer to the matter ; but I should have preferred the Prime Minister to state his reasons for instituting this proposal so early in the session.
– Anything that will allow the Prime Minister to get away, I am sure we will be happy to do.
– I should be most happy to do everything in my power to help him to leave the country ; but I am debarred by Mr. Speaker’s ruling from discussing that question. I deeply regret that the Prime Minister has found it necessary to make such a proposal as this sn early in the session. We usually sit until shortly before Christmas; and I should like to ask, “ What is the business before us this session that renders it necessary now to lengthen our sittings?”
– There are ten or twelve Bills already on the business-paper.
– And the honorable member for West Sydney, who is an authority on this subject, says that there is to be much more business to be presented ! In addition to those measures, we have this session to criticise the Estimates. That, in itself, is a task of no mean magnitude. If the Government ask us to sit longer hours they ought to give us some guarantee that we are nearing the completion of our labours. If that is their reason, they should submit the Budget as early as possible, and so give us some guarantee that we are being asked to work overtime because our labours are nearing completion. Our honorable friends opposite complain bitterly, and rightly so, if any public servants are asked to work overtime. Why should we, since we are entitled to be included amongst the public servants of Australia-
– Does the honorable member call this work?
– 1 assure my honorable friends that I have never put in such heavy strenuous labour as I have in this Parliament.
– We all agree.
– My honorable friends opposite imagine that there is only one type of labour that can seriously tax the energies of man. The Attorney-General, the other day, I understand, challenged me to some competition with pick and shovel. I do not know that he is more competent than I am to engage in pick-and-shovel work, but-
– What causes long sittings is the action of honorable members who, like the honorable member for Wentworth, make asses of themselves.
– I wish that were possible, with my honorable friend. The business immediately before us relates to a measure of a most far-reaching character. If we are to meet here every Wednesday and Thursday morning, and if the Government show, as they have done, a disposition to jump backwards and forwards with their measures, then we shall be worked to death. I suggest to my honorable friends of the Government that, although it may suit their temporary convenience to try to drive us, by a process of physical exhaustion, beyond our powers of public criticism, it is not a good thing for the country, nor for future Parliaments. After all, minorities have rights ; and a minority in ari assembly like this has not only a right per se, but a right in relation to its public duty that should not be overlooked by those who happen to be in temporary possession of the responsibility and powers of government.
– It is a pity that the honorable member did not hold that view in the last Parliament.
– 1 do not know to what the honorable member refers. If the present Opposition behaves as honorable members opposite did last session, they will deserve treatment infinitely more stringent than they received, lt cannot be urged that the present Opposition have protracted discussion into anything more than legitimate criticism of the public actions of, and public business submitted by, the Government. We have not engaged in a six weeks’ discussion on a Ministerial statement, nor in a four-weeks’ discussion of one Government measure.
– Nor in tenhour speeches.
– We have endeavoured to criticise, without indulging in ten-hour speeches - as some honorable members opposite did last year - the conduct of public business. If we are not to be permitted to do that in the future, then Parliament ought to be shut up, and we might very well do all the business of the people shamelessly in the caucus room, instead of pretending to do it in this Chamber.
– I understand that the Prime Minister desires these morning sittings to enable him to leave for South Africa in time for the celebrations in connexion with the inauguration of the new Union.
– Not especially.
– I hope that this motion does not mean the substitution of morning for after-dinner sittings, and I wish to prevent any misapprehension on the point. It was stated in the press some time ago that the intention of the Government was to introduce morning sittings, and not to ask the House to sit after dinner. Such a change would be a great inconvenience to those who come from other States. We should either have to march up and down Bourke-street, or to visit one of the many pictorial exhibitions, where we might see representations of ourselves.
– I do not wish to exhaust honorable members, but I hope that they will sit for a reasonable time every even ing.
– I shall be very pleased to meet the Prime Minister’s convenience. We used to commence our sittings of the Federal Convention every morning at halfpast 10.
– But it was terrific work.
– I did not die under the strain. I know that it is difficult for the Prime Minister to give an undertaking that the House shall adjourn at a certain hour every night, but I ask him to agree that, as far as possible, there shall be an adjournment at an early hour.
– I shall go so far as to endeavour to arrange with the Leader of the Opposition for a certain amount of business to be taken.
– Under the circumstances, and remembering that there is really to be a formal celebration, such as we had, in connexion with the Federal Union in South Africa, I do not think that this motion should be regarded as a precedent.
– I had not the advantage of hearing the Prime Minister, but I understand that he gave the House no reason for taking what I think is a step unprecedented in the Federal Parliament at this stage of a session. I was very glad to hear the honorable member for Gippsland, who is a supporter of the Government, make it a condition to his approving of the motion that the object of the Government was to shorten the session. The Prime Minister has already said that he wishes, as early as October, to visit South Africa, and 1 am sure that every member of the Opposition will be delighted to help him to get away. I am not as anxious as the honorable member for Wentworth is to get rid of him from the country. If Parliament continued to sit, we might possibly have a more objectionable Leader of the Government in his absence. I hope that the- Prime Minister will stay in the House during the remainder of the session. The honorable gentleman ought to give some substantial reason for submit ting this motion, and assure the House, if such is the case, that the object is to enable the session to close at an early date, in order that he may visit South Africa. If he does, I am sure that every honorable member will help him to pass the whole of his programme, and so enable him to get away.
.- With a view to saving the time of the House, I rise to make a suggestion. Most honorable members will agree that it is a perfect farce to devote every Thursday afternoon to the consideration of private members’ business, for nothing ever results from the debating society discussions that take place on such occasions. That, at all events, is my opinion, after seven years of political life.
– Was the honorable member present this afternoon?
– I do not deprecate the honorable member’s desire to put the case for an inquiry into the sugar industry, but I think that the whole question could well be considered when the Bill relating to the sugar bounty is before the House. On only one occasion did I attempt to get a Bill passed in the time set apart for private members’ business. The title of that measure was the Ancient Lights Bill, and after two years of hard struggling it beat me, although I believe that it has been passed since I left the State House.
– I once got a Bill through in five minutes.
– The honorable member gives away the whole show when he boasts that after nearly a quarter of a century in politics he has succeeded in passing one Bill, and that, no doubt, a very unimportant one, in the time allotted for private members’ business. We have important business to deal with, and we wish to do our work well. I suggest, therefore, to’ the Prime Minister that he should test the feeling of the House as to the desirableness of confining the rest of the session to the consideration of public business, and of doing away with the weekly debating society afternoon, which is really a waste of time.
– In previous sessions, when this subject has been under discussion, I have suggested to the Prime Minister of the day that it would be better and fairer to the House to sit on Monday and Saturday mornings.
– Why not on Sundays, too?
– An interjection like that is made every session by some member who is able to leave Melbourne on Friday night and spend the week-end in his own home. The Victorian members, and those who live in Adelaide and Sydney, can do that; but the representatives of Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, and some of the representatives of New South Wales, have to remain in Melbourne continuously for practically the whole session. Those who are able to spend the week-ends in their own homes are indifferent to the comfort of others less fortunately situated. What I propose would, I think, be fair, and better than the arrangement proposed by the Prime Minister. Under it, Ministers would be able to devote to the work oi their offices the morning of every day from Monday to Friday. But, as a matter of fact, there is rarely more than one Minister at a time in the Chamber. To have two here is to have a large attendance. I urge, for the sake of those who come from distant States, that if our sittings are to be increased, we should sit on Mondays and Saturdays, rather than for a longer period on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
.- The Prime Minister is adopting an unusual course in asking the House to sit on Wednesday and Thursday mornings so early in the session. ‘ He may have good reasons for his ‘proposal, and, if so, should have stated them. If we are to sit every morning, members will have very little time in which to study the measures brought before the House; and, in legislation, it is not quantity, but quality, that counts. If our Bills are to be properly considered, members must have time in which to read and think about them. It is easy to make long speeches ; but it is another matter to deliver oneself intelligently and usefully on the proposals of the Government. Not only is there the danger that legislation will be insufficiently studied; there is also the; danger that, by meeting every morning, and sitting in the evening until 10, we shall exclude from Parliament all but professional politicians. The best brains given to politics in Australia are often possessed by men who can attend the meetings of Parliament only in the afternoon and evening. The country should not be deprived of the services of such men. But they cannot be expected to sit here all day and at night as well, and if it is to become the practice of the House to meet every morning, none but professional politicians will be able to enter Parliament.
– Even a professional politician will not have time to study the Bills to be brought before the House.
– He could bring his case before a Wages Board.
– It has been suggested that we should abide by union rules and customs, and not prolong our sittings beyond eight hours a day.
– Eight hours are quite enough for a sitting.
– Yes. The quality’ of our work would probably be better if our sittings were shorter. Not infrequently an Act has to be amended a few sessions after it is passed, and sometimes it is amended beyond recognition. Yesterday’s sitting extended from half-past 2 in the afternoon until nearly 3 a.m. this morning. Had the Prime Minister consulted with the Leader of the Opposition in regard to matters of vital interest affecting the measure under discussion, every one would have been satisfied, the House would have risen at about 10 p.m., and die resulting legislation would have reflected credit on us; but he would not accept reasonable amendments.
– The honorable member must not discuss that matter.
– The proposal of the honorable member for Franklin is worthy of consideration. The representatives of distant States are kept in Melbourne during the week-ends, whereas those of Victoria, and members living in Adelaide and Sydney, can leave for their homes every Friday night, and come back on the following Tuesday, with the result that every Friday afternoon there is a general hurry to catch trains. If we sat every day of the week, but for fewer hours each day, we should probably do better work, and the sessions would be shorter.
.- 1 was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say that he thinks that our sitting hours should be increased. He desires to go to South Africa very shortly, and it is our duty to facilitate his departure. We should be proud to have him representing Australia, and he should be allowed to leave without cares on his mind. That cannot happen if he has to go away before the prorogation of Parliament. Being a canny and careful Scotchman, he will not be inclined to leave while Parliament is sitting. There are not many of his countrymen more level- headed than he is, and I should like to see more of them in the country. If by sitting on Wednesday and Thursday mornings we can expedite business, we should agree to the motion. I do not think that long sittings are a good thing. Generally they make members cross, with the result that long and angry speeches are delivered, and business is delayed. Little good comes from long speeches at any time.
.- I protest against the suggestion of the honorable member for Fawkner. The proposals of private members may not always be of a directly practical nature, but those who have been here since the inception of Federation will agree that much useful work has been done in the few hours set apart for private members’ business. In the case of the British Parliament also, some of its best legislation has been due to private members taking advantage of the few hours at their disposal. The suggestion of the honorable member for Fawkner may have merits in the eyes of business men, who wish to devote the best time of the day to their affairs, and give only their waning energies to the business of the country.
– That is an old gag.
– If it is an old gag it is not inapplicable to some honorable members here now. If the honorable member grudges to private members the four hours a week which they are allowed under the Standing Orders, he could make up the time in some reasonable way. The private member is being reduced to such insignificance in this and other Parliaments, through the gradual extension of the power of Cabinets, that I am surprised that the honorable member did not suggest that the country might be governed entirely by the Cabinet, members of Parliament being abolished altogether. If that is the idea of the honorable member for Fa-wkner, he will be able to give expression to it on the motion which is to be brought before the House at an early date.
– - I have been awaiting an explanation from the Prime Minister as to the reason for the proposed change. In a speech lasting a minute and a half, he asked us to create what is a precedent in this Parliament. Honorable members opposite are never tired of. saying that they are here to make precedents, not to follow them; and they are making a precedent now by proposing to do at the commencement of a session what has hitherto been done only at the end. As a matter of fact, this session has really only commenced, and any idea that there has been delay in pressing forward the business - a fact I do not admit - has been dissipated by the Leader of the Opposition. The fact is that we have done more business during the present session than in any session during a similar time.
– That is not complimentary to past Governments !
– The honorable member is a great critic, and I am sure his value as a legislator is already realized. If the honorable member had been here last session, and seen the behaviour of his own side, he would have a different tale to tell.
– It was warranted by circumstances !
– If there has been any delay in the public business, the Government must be held responsible ; but, as a matter of fact, the business of the session has not yet been submitted. Yet we have a proposal which is almost invariably associated with the winding up of the session, and with a declaration from the Government that it is necessary, in view of the business yet to be done. As a matter of fact, we have not yet had the Budget submitted, and the Government are setting another example, and making another precedent, in that they are taking longer to compound and submit the Financial Statement than has been taken by any preceding Government. Of all the critics of previous Governments in this respect, the palm must be given to the present Prime Minister, who, when in Opposition, was never tired of saying that the Budget could be tossed off in about ten days, though now, at the end of ten weeks, he is not able to tell the House when he is likely to submit for our consideration the finances of the country. Where is there the slightest evidence of any attempt to unduly delay business? The only reference on this score has been that from the honorable member for Gippsland, and a more ungracious interjection I never heard. The fact is that in one sitting we passed through the whole Committee stage one of the most important measures that lias ever been submitted to this House. That was a Bill dealing with the whole currency of Australia ; and from start to finish there was never the slightest attempt to do otherwise than criticise it fairly. As to last night; perhaps the honorable member for Gippsland and other honorable members are unaware that they were kept out of their beds for no reason whatever - that there was no object to be gained by sitting until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Are honorable members aware that, when the Prime Minister intimated to the Leader of the Opposition what business was proposed for last night and this evening, he was immediately met by an offer to put the business through by to-night ? In spite of that offer of help, the Prime Minister insisted on keeping honorable members on his own side, as well as on ours, out of bed. There never was a greater piece of crass stupidity than that displayed in the conduct of the country’s business. Both the Leader of the Opposition and myself told the Prime Minister that all he proposed to do on the two evenings should be done in good time, and the Prime Minister gave no reason for the position he assumed, except that he “ could not break faith,” I do not know with whom or as to what. Instead of making reasonable arrangements to get practically his own way, he insisted on conducting business in the early hours of the morning, so that honorable members opposite had better turn to the Government than seek to blame members of the Opposition. There has been nothing. so far, in the conduct of business this session but what is creditable to both the Government and the Opposition, having regard to the celerity of the business done and, certainly, to its range, magnitude, and importance. Never before has such important business been put through in such quick time; and yet we are to be penalized by being made to sit twelve and thirteen hours on two days of the week. T never heard a more unreasonable proposal ; and, after twenty years of parliamentary life, I do not think that such sittings as are proposed get any Government through their business one minute earlier. Honorable members may turn Parliament into a political sausage-mill for grinding out work without respect to quality or to its consideration; but that is not to do the country’s business. The honorable member for Franklin, on numerous occasions, has expressed a desire that the House should sit on Saturdays and Mondays - in fact, every day of the week; but that is not to legislate. If I am any judge, we are exhausting the capacity of the House for useful legislative work in four days of the week.
– Look at the time occupied in travelling by train at the weekends !
– I am not talk- vl.% of travelling by train. If I have to attend here, I shall attend; but I submit that, under such circumstances, we shall not have measures that reflect credit on the House or do good for the country. We may turn out the quantity, but the work will have to be done over again - only mischief, and not good, can result. The Government ought not to press this motion, unless they give a- guarantee that we shall rise at a reasonable hour on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I remind honorable members of the spectacle we have had this session in regard to the business accomplished. Only last week we found Ministers not knowing their own minds about a very important measure, and putting proposals into the mouths of Ministers elsewhere, only to negative those proposals when they arrived here. That is not the way to facilitate the country’s business, and it ought not to be charged to the account of the Opposition if a little time is necessary to put these matters right. On all these grounds I submit that we ought not to be expected to subscribe to this motion. The Prime Minister has been the first to admit that the Opposition have done their best so far to help the Government. I am surprised that the Attorney-General should smile at that suggestion; why he, of all others, should do so, I cannot understand. Any one looking at the business of the Chamber would come to the conclusion that the Attorney-General, by some mischance, had been sitting on the Opposition benches rather than on the Government side. The honorable member has been largely occupied elsewhere doing useful work, I have no doubt ; but I tell him that the help that has been accorded by the Opposition to the Government in connexion with the drafting of measures, and in dealing with constitutional questions that have arisen from time to time, has never been equalled in the history of any Parliament. For all this, we are to pay the penalty of sitting longer, as if we were a set of obstructionists, trying to impede business. The protest I am making is a reasonable one ; and if the Prime Minister is not able to assure us that we shall rise early “ on Wednesdays and Thursdays, I shall feel it my duty to press this matter to a division. In the meantime, I beg to move as an amendment, which I can withdraw if necessary -
That the following words be added : - “ Provided that the House shall not sit later than 16 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays.”
– I hope the Prime Minister will not agree to the amendment. I think he is justified in asking us to meet in the morning instead of beginning at half-past 2 in the afternoon. Any one not accustomed to the actions of the honorable member for Parramatta would think he was a very innocent young man. The honorable member seems to forget die obstruction that took place two or three sessions ago, when he was a member of the then Opposition, and we were trying to get the Tariff through.
– What about last session ?
– Last session was not a patch on the session in which honorable members obstructed the Tariff. What happened then never happened before in any Parliament that I am aware of. There was no serious obstruction last session, but if there was there was great cause for it, as has been proved by the recent elections. It was estimated by the members of the Federal Convention that the Federal Parliament would not sit for more than about three months in the year, yet we have been sitting almost continuously since the first Federal Parliament met. Why can we not get through the business in a businesslike way ? If we sit in the mornings, we shall have a chance to get die business done in reasonable time, but the Prime Minister should not tie himself to a fixed hour for rising. I have been in Parliament longer than the honorable member for Parramatta, and my experience is that if a Ministry fix an hour for rising, the House will never, by reason of the obstruction which will be resorted to, rise before that hour, and they will not get the business through. In some cases, it is only by sitting late that the work can be finished.
– Perhaps the Prime Minister intends to rise earlier than 10 o’clock.
– If the House will do business, it will be a wise thing to do as the honorable member suggests, but it must be left entirely to the Ministry to decide whether the business is or is not proceeding as rapidly as it should. I agree with the honorable member for Fawkner that every Thursday a lot of time is wasted by private and unimportant business which could be utilized for Government business. Thursday is the day when most Government business could be done, as it comes in the middle of the week, when honorable members have got into the swing of their work, and it would be a good thing if the time for taking private business were shortened. Morning sittings are a greater inconvenience to .Ministers than to private members, because it is in the mornings that Ministers attend to their office duties. If they can manage to attend morning sittings, every other member in the House should be able to put up with the loss of time, in order to get on with the business. I trust the Prime Minister will not accept the amendment, and I think we should shorten our sessions very materially if we can possibly do so.
– It would be a mistake to fix an hour for rising. If we could get away at 10 o’clock, or half-past, in the evening, it would be better for every honorable member, and probably the work would be better done than by having late sittings. I agree with the honorable member for Fawkner and the honorable member for Hume that private members’ business takes up a great deal of time, and is not of any great value to the country. One day in a month would be ample for it. Another good rule to introduce would be the limitation of speeches to half-an-hour. If a man cannot say in half-an-hour all that he has to say, his remaining remarks can be of very little benefit to the country.- I shall not support the amendment, and trust the honorable member for Parramatta will not press it to a division.
– I regret that I cannot accept the amendment, and repeat that it is the desire of the Government to rise as early in the evening as possible. When moving the motion, I also said that the Government would be glad to co-operate with the Opposition in getting through the business.
– As the honorable member did last night, for instance.
– This is not the time to wrangle about what has or has not been done. Our desire is to get the business of the country through in the best possible way. Reference has been made to myself personally ; and I wish to say that I do not base this motion on the fact that an invitation has come to the head of the Government to represent the Commonwealth in South Africa, at the inauguration of the new ‘ Union Parliament. I feel that it is a great personal honour, and a compliment to the Commonwealth, that an invitation of that kind should have been extended, and if this motion helps to facilitate business, good and well ; but I am not here to say that honorable members should be asked to pass business hurriedly because of that event. The Government will endeavour to cooperate with honorable members to shorten the sittings; but it is impossible, in view of our knowledge of parliamentary procedure, to accept the amendment, because it would probably defeat the very object we have in view. I wish to state, on behalf of the Government, that we shall endeavour to rise in the evenings as early as possible, and certainly never sit late if- it can be avoided.
.- My only objection to the motion is that it gives little time for one to do anything in the mornings. I have always thought it a mistake to meet at half-past 10. Halfanhour later would be much more convenient for honorable members, and certainly for me. to write letters and attend to business before coming to the House. I should have been glad if the Prime Minister had made the hour of meeting n o’clock. I, of course, sympathize with those who are away from their homes and want to shorten the session, and I have always thought that our sessions are too long. Four months ought to be ample for the business of the country ; but the fact of the matter is. that honorable members talk £00 much and for too long. That does not apply to any member or party in particular. The Opposition perhaps speak more than do the Government side ; but that is not singular, so far as this party is concerned. We speak very much less than honorable members opposite did when they were on this side. We have no nine-hour speeches, nor was a month taken to deal with the Address-in-Reply. The worst session of all was last session, when the Labour party were in Opposition. It was the most unseemly and riotous session that we have ever had.
– Order ! The honorable member mus!t withdraw that statement.
– I withdraw it; but it was a session we were glad to see ended. It reflected no credit upon us, and I hope we shall have no more like it. I shall be glad to see the session shortened, and the business dealt with; but we ought to have an explanation of why we were asked to sit long after midnight yesterday, after the Leader of the Opposition had offered to do the business that the Government required yesterday and to-day. No Prime Minister has the right to do as he likes in the face of the whole of this Assembly, and keep people up at night, unless there is real necessity for it. I am informed ‘ by the Leader of the Opposition that he made proposals to the Prime Minister which would have given him all he desired yesterday and to-day; but if he did not treat the application with contempt, at any rate he did not comply with it. That requires explanation, because such conduct is not treating the House or individual members fairly. I should like the sittings on Wednesdays and Thursdays to commence at 11 o’clock; but I have no objection to lengthening the hours. I favour getting the business of the session done as quickly as possible, because while it lasts many of us are away from our homes, and naturally desire to get back to them as soon as possible.
Original question put. The House divided.
Majority … … 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 10th August (vide page 1374) on motion by Mr. Fisher -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– In order to save the Government from embarrassment, owing to their not being ready to proceed with business, I step into the breach to make a few remarks while they pull themselves and their business together.
– Did not the honorable gentleman move the adjournment of the debate when the Bill was before us on the last occasion?
– I did, and I certainly expected that the Government would have been ready to proceed to finality with the Australian Notes Bill. For some reason they were not ready to do so this evening, and I hope sincerely that the delay in connexion with the passing of that measure will not be charged to the Opposition. No sooner had the Government passed a motion designed to expedite the consideration of the business than they had to plead that their business was not ready, and that it should be postponed. Coming to the Bill itself, we see that it is more or less consequential upon the Australian Notes Bill, and is designed to impose a tax of 10 per cent, on the notes of private banks now in circulation in Australia. Simple as this proposition is, it also establishes a record in that it is one to confiscate and to put away for ever, I suppose, the notes of private banks now in circulation in the Commonwealth.
– The use of the word “ confiscate “ is ridiculous in that connexion.
– I admit that the honorable member is a good judge of what is ridiculous.
– I am ; I have been watching the honorable member for some time.
– I ask your protection, Mr. Speaker, and request that that remark be withdrawn.
– I did not hear the expression actually used by the honorable member, but I am sure that if it was offensive he will withdraw it. May I mention that every morning I have sent tome the Hansard proofs showing where I. have had to intervene, during the course of a debate, in order to ask that interjections, shall cease, and that I notice that in every inch or two of the report of an honorable member’s speech there is a record of an interjection. It is unpleasant to have to intervene when an honorable member is speaking, but I must appeal to honorable members to assist me in maintaining order, and I urge them to cease interjecting. I ask the Minister of External Affairs to withdraw the remark to which exception has been taken.
– I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker.
– The honorable member for Parramatta is very- touchy.
– The Ministry is anxious to push on with business, and the least the honorable member can do is to behave himself. This Bill, simple as it is, maps out a course that has never been taken before, so far as I know, except in -the State of Queensland. The financial history of the world records many proposals for the establishment of national currencies, but never to my knowledge has an Act to establish a State currency provided, for the abolition of a private currency. For instance, when the Bank of England decided practically to monopolize the note currencies of Great Britain no such proposition as this was made. The 279 local banks which were then circulating their own notes throughout Great Britain were allowed to continue to do so. The notes of the Bank of England entered into competition with them, and the superior note eventually- made its way as against those of the private institutions. The Banking Act to which I refer was passed in 1844. There were then no less than ^8,500,000 worth of private bank notes in circulation, and, as a matter of fact, to-day - nearly seventy years later - there are still over ^1,000,000 worth of private bank notes in circulation in Great Britain. Then again, we have been invited very often during this debate to look to Canada. The Attorney-General said that in this respect we were following the example of the Dominion, but I find that Canada in establishing a national currency did not drive out any private bank notes that were at the time in circulation. As a matter of fact, there are to-day in circulation there notes to the value of ^15,000,000 issued by the private banks and there are also -£15,000,000 of Dominion notes in circulation. As a matter of fact, the latter do not circulate largely in Canada. They are used mostly as a reserve behind the paper currencies of the private banks, and form one of the best means of establishing the soundness of those private currencies. The Prime Minister has urged throughout the consideration of the measure relating to the establishment of an Australian note issue that he is bringing no compulsion to bear upon the banks. Certainly there is no compulsion on them to take these notes except the compulsion that they must take them in order to live and do business. The Prime Minister, by means of the issue of Australian notes, is forcing out of circulation the notes which the banks now issue. Yet he coolly says, “There will be no compulsion. You can buy these notes for sovereigns, or you can transact your business without them.” He Knows that the banks cannot carry on without a large number of notes, though I do not think that they will need as many as he has taken power to issue. The Bill is really a measure establishing a Government trust in regard to currency, and the method to be adopted by the Government towards the banks is similar to that adopted by trusts towards their competitors. Who ever heard of a trust saying to a competitor, “ We are going to prevent you from doing business “? Their method is to quietly make it impossible for small concerns to compete with them. Having ruined them, they swallow them up, and the competition ceases. It will be compulsory for the banks to accept these notes, because they will not be able to do without them. In other words, the Bill is intended to drive out of circulation the notes of the banks, and to instal the Government note issue in their place. However, as the House seems in no humour to discuss the matter, I shall not occupy more time, because I am desirous of assisting the Government to get through its business.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
This Act shall commence on a day to be fixed by proclamation.
– - The proclamation fixing the commencement of the Act will not be issued until the Government is able to supply sufficient notes to meet the demands of the banking institutions, and that is not likely to be before ist March next. Though Australian notes will be in circulation as early as December, their use until March will be wholly voluntary. We feel that it would be wrong to impose a tax on the notes of the banks until we can supply Australian notes. I pledge the Government not te bring the measure into operation before is.i March next.
– I ask the Treasurer how the Bill will affect the present note issue of the banks? As I understand it there is nothing to pre vent it from continuing in circulation, but that when the notes come back to the banks they cannot be re-issued unless the tax provided for is paid on them, and it seems to me that it will be additional to that imposed by the States.
– - Between December and March. Australian notes, as well as the notes of the banks, will be in circulation. The Australian Notes Bill may have to be amended to meet a technical difficulty brought under my notice by the honorable member for Richmond. This measure, however, is merely one to provide penalties to compel the adoption of the Australian notes.
– But the notes now in circulation will not be interfered with until they get back to the banks in the ordinary course of business.
– -The tax will be imposed only on notes issued after this measure has been proclaimed, or on notes reissued after that date. No note now in the hands of the public will be taxed unless re-issued after the proclamation provided for in the clause. The Bill does not affect the State note issue of Queensland, which is provided for specially in the Australian Notes Bill. I have pledged the Government that this measure shall not be brought into operation earlier than ist March next, or until such time as we may be able to supply sufficient notes to meet the demands of the banks.
.- There is one point which I should like to have cleared up, and it, is this. Will the banks be compelled to pay a tax on the notes issued by them, but not returned, because they have been lost or destroyed ? If any one should make a profit by the loss of a bank note, it should be the community at large, and I want to know whether, when a final adjustment is made, an amicable arrangement cannot be come to with the banks whereby the community will share with them any profit made by the loss or destruction of notes?
– The honorable member will have an opportunity to deal with that question when we come to clause 4.
– I was asking a question in connexion with something said by the Prime Minister. If the rules of debate are to be strictly applied, it would be better to treat all alike.
– The honorable member must not reflect on the Chair.
– I am not doing so. I merely wish to speak on a subject referred to by the Prime Minister.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 - -In this Act - …. “ Bank Note “ means a promissory note issued by a bank and payable on demand. ….
– I desire to amend the definition of a bank note, to bring it into line with that in the Australian Notes Bill. I move -
That the words “ ‘ Bank note 1 means a promissory note issued by a bank and payable on demand “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “‘Bank note’ means a bill or note for the payment of money issued by a bank and payable to bearer on demand and intended for circulation.”
.- I think the Prime Minister is wise in moving this amendment. Some of the State Acts contain a provision defining “bank note” in the terms of a bill of exchange as well as a promissory note. The definition in the Bill as it stands is correct, but it is the short definition given to bank note, and probably the draftsman copied it from the text-books. It is possible that a bill of exchange might be issued as a bank note, and would not come within the definition; and, therefore,. I think the amendment is necessary, but I do not know why it is intended to insert words “and intended for circulation”; that would be presumed, I suppose.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 (Imposition of Bank-note Tax).
– An opportunity is presented now to reply to the question of the honorable member for Melbourne. When the representatives of the banking institutions were good enough to call on me to discuss the question of the issue of an Australian note, I made a sporting offer to them, on behalf of the Government, that I would take up their current issue and pay for it in gold, if they would find a sovereign for every £1 note they had in circulation. These gentlemen did not accept the offer, but said that they preferred to retire their own notes; and we cannot make any complaint on that score, since that is their business. There is, however, a misapprehension in the minds of some people regarding the number of bank notes destroyed or lost. I have information that, after seventeen years of a State note issue in Queensland, notes of the banks are still coming in gradually, and that there are now less than ;£ 1,000 worth Outstanding, an amount which is really very small, comparatively speaking. I was further informed that only a fortnight ago a few more of the bank notes had come in, showing that people take more care of them than may be generally thought. The honorable member asked whether the banks would be called upon to pay on outstanding notes, and I have to reply that I think they will until they make a compromise with the State Government in regard to the State tax. They are not our notes, and we, as a Commonwealth, do not seek to interfere with them, except by means of this Bill, to prevent their possible circulation.
– Will the banks be taxed on notes that are lost - ‘notes that can never come back ?
– ‘There may come a time when, say, the Australian notes have been in existence for twenty years, and the banks may think it reasonable to assume thai notes outstanding will never be returned, and they may then compromise with the State Governments to be relieved of the State tax.
– I am pleased to hear the reply of the honor-: able Treasurer. I have known banks to be very, very considerate in the way, of cashing partly burned and other par,tially destroyed notes if there was the slightest means of identification, and I do not desire the tax of 10 per cent, to be imposed on outstanding notes that can never be returned. I understand that whatever notes are out will form the subject of an arrangement between the banks and .the State Governments, as to the payment of the tax of 2 per cent. ; and I do not think any bank will object.
– Until this Bill is proclaimed and afterwards, the 2 per cent. tax will remain on outstanding notes, so that they will really bear a tax of 12 per cent.
– The tax is not imposed on outstanding notes, but only on notes issued after the commencement of the Bill.
– But they will then bear taxation to the amount of 12 per cent.
– The Commonwealth has nothing to do with the tax of 2 per cent.
– We cannot relieve the banks in any way as to that tax, which will remain until the notes are redeemed?
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 (Tax to be paid to the King).
.- I presume that the only machinery for the recovery of the taxes due will be to sue for the debt ?
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report, by leave, adopted.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
.- I move-
That a Land Tax be imposed on the unimproved value of all lands within the Commonwealth which are owned by persons, at the rates set out in the following schedules : -
Rateof Tax whenOwner is not an Absentee.
For so much of the taxable value as does not exceed £75,001, the rate of tax per pound sterling shall be One penny where the taxable value is One pound sterling, and shall increase uniformly with each increase of One pound sterling in the taxable value, in such manner that- the increment of tax between a taxable value of£15,000 and a taxable value of £15,001 shall be Twopence; the increment of tax between a taxable value of £30,000 and a taxable value of £30,001 shall be Threepence ; the increment of tax between a taxable value of £45,000 and a taxable value of £45,001 shall be Fourpence ; the increment of tax between a taxable value of £60,000 and a taxable value of £60,001 shall be Fivepence; and the increment of tax between a taxable value of £75,000 and a taxable value of £75,001 shall be Sixpence.
For every pound sterling of taxable value in excess of £75,000 the rate of tax shall be Sixpence.
The rate of tax for so much of the taxable value as does not exceed £75,000 may be calculated from the following formula :
Rate of Tax when Owner is an Absentee.
For so much of the taxable value as does not exceed £5,000, the rate of tax per pound sterling shall be One penny.
For so much of the taxable value as exceeds £5,000, but does not exceed £80,001, the rate of tax per pound sterling shall be Twopence where the excess is One pound sterling, and shall increase uniformly with each increase of One pound sterling in the taxable value in such man- ner that - the increment of tax between a taxable value of £20,000 and a taxable value of £20,001 shall be Threepence ; the increment of tax between a taxable value of £35,000 and a taxable value of £35,001 shall be Fourpence; the increment of tax between a taxable value of £50,000 and a taxable value of £50,001 shall be Fivepence; the increment of tax between a taxable value of £65,000 and a taxable value of £65,001 shall be Sixpence ; and the increment of tax between a taxable value of £80,000and a taxable value of £80,001 shall be Sevenpence.
For every pound sterling of taxable value in excess of £80,000 the rate of tax shall be Sevenpence.
The rate of tax for so much of the taxable value as exceeds £5,000, and does not exceed £80,000, may be calculated from the following formula : -
The motion sets forth in a formal way the proposed amounts of graduated taxation as put before the country by our party at the last election.
– No; but now that the honorable member has suggested it, we shall have tables prepared for the convenience of honorable members. The motion has been drawn up very carefully, and is practically equivalent to what was previously announced, except that instead of there being what I call jumps of a penny, every £1 of increase in the unimproved value bears its own. burden on a graduated scale. Thus, instead of the tax rising by a penny at the end of , £5,000 on the first £1 of the second .£5,000, the scale is graduated all the way. It is, therefore, a more equitable proposal, and is simplicity itself so far as regards discovering what the taxation will be on any estate. It is an improvement upon any scheme rising either by sixteenths of a penny or half-pennies.
– A man’s position will be fluctuating from month to month.
– No; there is a date of assessment, and that assessment lasts for 1 year. I think this is the most scientific way of dealing with the question of graduated land taxation.
– Does the Prime Minister say that the proposal was placed before the electors in the exact form of chat schedule?
– No, but it is practically the same proposal on a scientific basis.
– I thought the honorable member’s proposal did not go above 4d. ?
– At Gympie, I illustrated the tax up to 4d., but I did not in any way commit myself to the statement that the tax would not go higher.
– It was generally assumed.
– I thought Mr. Watson’s policy was 4d. ?
- Mr. Watson was accused of going as high as is. in the £1.
– He did once say it.
- Mr. Watson always stated that he never really advocated a tax of is. in the £1.
– The honorable member himself only announced a tax up to 4d. at the last elections.
– No; I only illustrated the proposal up to 4d. in the Gympie speech, which is a good deal further back.
– What revenue does the Treasurer expect the tax to produce?
– £1, 000,000 in the first year.
– Is that a Treasury calculation?
– I take the responsibility of it. It has been worked out in various ways with the best statistical information that we could get. It is not as thorough information as I should like to have, but we have made the best estimate possible on the data at our disposal. Some say that the revenue will be £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, and others that it will be considerably under a million. At any rate, the Treasury and the Government will stand by an estimate of £1,000,000 in respect of the first year.
– Should the revenue greatly exceed £1,000,000, would there be a chance of the rate being reduced in the future?
– I should not like to anticipate what honorable members would do in the way of advocating either an increase or a decrease. The taxation is imposed from year to year, and it will be for the Parliament in its wisdom to adjust it from time to time according to policy and the necessities of the Treasury.
– Was the rate so fixed as to bring in a revenue of £1,000,000?
– I hardly like to deal with that question. A much better way to put it is to say that the estimate is that this taxation will bring in £1,000,000 sterling. I shall comply with the honorable member’s request to furnish a number of tables in order to assist the House to ascertain, if so desired, what tax will .have to be .paid on the unimproved value of cer- , tain properties.
– Does the honorable member say that there must necessarily be a fresh Bill every year to impose the tax?
– No. This proposal may last for many years.
.- I think I grasp the gradation ; but, as there has been some obscurity, let me repeat what I believe the Prime Minister to have said under that head. First of all, for all who are not absentees, there is a margin of £5,000 upon which no levy whatever is made. The man who possesses £105,000 of unimproved land value is taxed only on the £100,000, because he, too, has the £5,000 exemption. Then, from the untaxed £5,000 we go first to the £10,000; this first taxable £5,000 pays id. in the £1, and that particular £5,000, that is, the first £5,000 pays only id. in the £1 whether a man has £10,000 or £100,000 worth of land; The next step applies only to the third £5,000 ; so that the different rates apply in every case to the same amount all through.
– There is a slight difference, because the tax is graduated instead of jumping from penny to penny as the honorable member suggests.
– That is another point. Instead of jumping the whole penny, there is a step for every £1 increase in value. There have been doubts about the principle of the proposed tax ; but it has now been affirmed by the Treasurer in a way that I think every honorable member will understand. They will see the steps and stairs of gradation, which are the same right through. Men cease paying the tax at different stages, as their possessions end ; but at each stage the millionaire and the man with a smaller amount pay exactly the same tax with respect to the first taxable , £5,000, or £10,000, or all through.
.- Has the Prime Minister considered the question of the power, as well as the policy, of allowing a rebate for any amounts paid under a similar tax of a State? The policy of that ought to recommend itself to the Treasurer. As for the power, I should like to know if it is considered that we have it. This is not only a severe tax, but there is no doubt that it will mean duplication. In some States, there is a land tax which is somewhat progressive. There is in South Australia a taxof1 d. over£5,000. Does not the Treasurer believe in the policy of allowing to a man who has paid1d. in the £1 under the South Australian law credit for any obligation which he may incur under this Act, the object being similar? Secondly, does he think we have the power to make such an exemption?. I do not want to offer an opinion on the point now ; but the power may be deduced from a statement made in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s case, decided a few years ago; because there we allowed credit against our Excise payment to persons who had paid amounts under the Excise laws of the States, and the High Court declared that it was no breach of uniformity so far as it applied to our Constitution ; and that there was no discrimination between States or parts of States involved in that somewhat just exemption. I do not want to deal with the question of policy now; but if an exemption is to be made, now is the time to make it, while we are dealing with the general motion, because, as private members, we may be somewhat embarrassed afterwards if an amendment of that sort is attempted when the Bill is before the Chamber.
– The matter has been very carefully gone into ; and, in any case, it appears to me that what the honorable and learned member for Angas suggests will lead to the very state of affairs that he wishes to avoid. The Commonwealth must not differentiate, nor does it do so in this tax. But under the honorable and learned member’s suggestion it might do so, and there would always be uncertainty and an endless state of confusion. And the Commonwealth taxation would be subject to an attempt to adjust itself to changes in State laws. There might be to-day in South Australia an exemption up to £500, which next year might be , £750, and the following year , £250, and the year after disappear altogether. It appears to me that what the honorable and learned gentleman suggests is neither desirable nor practicable. The position taken up in the Bill to which this motion relates is perfectly constitutional, and I do not think there is any necessity at this stage to discuss it further.
. -I wish to ask the AttorneyGeneral whether this tax will apply to a Crown lease in perpetuity?
– The question put by the honorable member more properly relates to the discussion on the machinery measure. A Crown lessee would pay in proportion to the interest that he had in the unimproved value of the lease. That is to say, his interest would be estimated by the difference between his annual payment and the full annual value of his lease. Where he paid the full annual value of his lease, he would have no other interest than that which he commuted or paid for by his annual rental. Therefore he would pay no tax. Where be got the land for. less than the full annua] value, he would pay on that, multiplied by20 or 25 or whatever was necessary to capitalize its value. Provided, of course, that he would not pay in any case unless his interest exceeded £5,000.
Mr. McWlLLIAMS (Franklin) [10.12]. - Although, the tax will not differentiate per se, it will really be most uneven in its application. There are some States in which this will be a virgin land tax, whereas in others it will be superimposed on the State land taxation.
– Land-owners will not have to pay two taxes in respect of properties the unimproved value of which exceeds £5,000. In their case the Federal will supersede the State tax.
– The honorable member is in error. The opinion which he has just expressed appears to be very prevalent, but I assure him that the revenue, of some of the States is in such a condition that there will probably be no remission of taxation. For instance, I can see no probability of the Parliament of Tasmania being able to remit the land tax on estates having an unimproved value of over ?5,000. The Tasmanian State land tax is heavier than that which is now being proposed, and in some of the States, therefore, land-owners will have to pay riot only the Federal land tax, but a local tax, which will be a still heavier burden. That being so, this taxation will not be even in its application.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn,
I wish to state that it was intended that the Land Tax Assessment Bill should be the first business for to-morrow, but that, to meet the convenience of the Leader of the Opposition, the debate on the motion for the second reading of that measure will not be resumed. until Tuesday next. The AttorneyGeneral will follow the Leader of the Opposition, and the debate will be continueduntil the motion for the second reading has been agreed to.
.- I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether honorable members willbe afforded an opportunity during the discussion of the Land Tax Assessment Bill to refer to the measure with the preliminary stages of which we have just been dealing in Committee ?
– Yes, so far as Mr. Speaker will allow that to be done.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.18 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 August 1910, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1910/19100825_reps_4_56/>.