4th Parliament · 2nd 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 Boothby, in the place of the Honorable Egerton Lee Batchelor, deceased, indorsed with the certificate of the election of David John Gordon, Esquire.
Mr. GORDON made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.
Mr. WISE (for Mr. Austin Chapman) presented a petition from H. J. S. Hungerford, a resident of the Federal Capital Territory, praying that its residents might be given representation.
Petition received and read.
– Two or three weeks ago, the honorable member for Fremantle, referring to an alteration of the specification for wireless telegraph stations, said that a clause had been added. I interjected that it had been done at the request of the British Admiralty. Yesterday the honorable member read a statement which practically suggested that I had misled the House. I wish therefore to read a cablegram sent from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Prime Minister of Aus tralia on the 21st December, 1909. It is as follows -
Referring to my telegram dated 20th December, Admiralty suggest for sake of clearness that following be added to paragraph No. 2 of clause 25 of specification : - “ both for sending and receiving,” and that following be added to clause 26 : - “ preference will be given to a system which will emit a definite musical note.”
Do your Ministers concur? Admiralty think it would be of service if they could advise on tenders when received,
The Prime Minister - the honorable member for Ballarat then held that office - minuted the cablegram -
Refer to Postmaster-General. This seems wise - approved subject to above reference.
He attached his initials to the minute, which is dated 22nd December, 1909.
– As a personal explanation, let me say that what I read yesterday was a letter signed by the Admiral, stating that we could adopt whatever system of wireless telegraphy we might consider best, so long as it was one which would enable communication to take place between the proposed stations and British war vessels. The Minister of External Affairs should go further, and explain what’ he said, to the Admiralty.
– He was not in office at the time. The honorable member’s party was then in power.
– Has the attention of the Minister of Trade and Customs been directed to the statement in the Herald of Thursday last, to the effect that the Australian sugar crop will probably be less this year by 40,000 tons than it was last year, and that it willbe necessary to import 80,000 tons of sugar?
– The honorable member for Darling Downs brought the statement under the notice of the Department this morning. Probably the crop will be less than was estimated by the Treasurer inhis Budget speech. I am having the state ment verified, and have caused the head collector in Queensland, and the subcollectors, to be communicated with, in order that definite information may be obtained.
– In the event of a shortage, will the Minister consider the advisability of importing the sugar required, and selling to the consumers at cost price?
– I should like notice of the question.
– Will the Minister con sider the expediency of reducing the duty, as the best means for getting over the difficulty?
– I have no intention of suggesting that at present. It is a matter for the Parliament.
– Has the Prime Minister yet received through the High Commissioner a statement from the London representatives of the Australian dairy farmers regarding the difficulties which are met with in the distribution of Australian butter inLondon and elsewhere in the United Kingdom?
– I am quite unable to say. The matter relates to trade and commerce, and I ask the honorable member to give notice of his question, and address it to the Minister of Trade and Customs.
– The report ought to have reached here before now,
– I do not remember having seen it
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister, in view of the urgency of establishing without delay a Naval College, when the House will have an opportunity of deciding whether or not it should adhere to the recommendation of its expert advisers as to the location of the College?
– I shall make an announcement to the House to-morrow.
Mail Branch, General Post Office,
Sydney : Additional Officers. - Appointment of Senior Sorters
asked the Postmaster- General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are - 1 and 2. The number of additional officers for which provision is made on the Estimates for the current financial year for the Mail Branch of the Sydney General Post Office is 171. .. The total number of additional officers provided for on the Estimates of the. Department for the State of New South Wales is 568, while 660 additional officers for that State were provided for on last year’s Estimates.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow -
4 and 5. A claim was recently received from the New South Wales Government, but same has been held over pending the passing of the Works Estimates by Parliament. Such Estimates having now been passed, steps will be taken to cause , payment to be made without further delay.
Case of Mr. G. S. Brown
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow -
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– Sovereigns for every one.
– The object of this Bill is to provide for the establishment of a Commonwealth, State Bank; but as to the interjection made by the honorable member for Parramatta I may say at once that this Government will not be responsible for any such scheme as that of which he apparently approves. For over twenty years, to my own personal knowledge, the question of a State bank has been prominently before the people of Australia. The proposal has had the approval of at least one great party in every State, and those who are contending for a State bank have, as circumstances have developed, proved their case. This will be a bank belonging to the people, and directly managed by the people’s own agents. As I have just stated, the subject has been a theme of discussion both in Australia and outside the Commonwealth; but while it has had a place in platforms other than that of the Labour party, no one has really pressed it. The time has arrived for this Parliament to take action to give statutory authority to the Government to start a bank on the lines laid down in this Bill. Honorable members who have had the Bill before them for some time, and who have examined it, will know that it is divided into two parts. In the first place, it provides for a general banking business ; and, secondly, for a savings bank business. A clear division is indicated.
– Will this institution absorb the State postal banks?
– I shall deal later on with that point. Honorable members will have noticed that the Bill is to come into operation on a. date to be proclaimed. Obviously that is not only a convenient, but the right course to follow, and we propose that if shall be pursued in this case. The bank is to be a body corporate with perpetual . succession and a common seal, and it may hold land, and may sue and be sued in its corporate name. It is tohave power to carry on the general businessof banking ; to acquire and hold land on* any tenure; to receive money on deposit,, either for a fixed term or on cur-, rent account; to make advances by way of loan, overdraft, or otherwise;, to discount bills and drafts, to issue billsand drafts, and grant letters of credit, todeal in exchanges, specie, bullion, gold dust, assayed gold, and precious metals, to borrow money, and to do anything incidental to any of its powers. That clauseis, I think, very comprehensive in itsgeneral provisions. The bank will not have power to issue bills payable to bearer on demand. That is purposely forbidden because it is the policy of the Government to continue the Australian notes issue asnow provided for.
– Will this bank get thenotes on the same terms as the other banks ?’
– Exactly. No one knows better than the honorable member for Darling Downs that the Treasurer hasno power to grant special facilities to that or any other bank. The capital of thebank is to be 000,000, to be raised by the sale of debentures. In my opinion a capital of ,£1,000,000 will not be required, but I think that it is wise to makeample provision when we are setting out on a scheme of this kind. The capital of the bank will be available for all purposes. That provision indicates what will be seen all through this Bill - that there is to be absolute trust in the persons who will have the responsibility of conducting thisnational concern.
– The honorable member should speak in the singular. There is to be only one man.
– The honorable member for Angas is quite correct, but the circumstances are new and peculiar. I do not think the fact that there is only one man” makes the conditions dangerous. I believe they are stronger and safer because we are putting our whole trust in one man, withanother man ready to take his place. I should have thought that the Opposition were more likely to complain of a large number being appointed than that one firstclass man should be trusted and given ample powers. Later in the Bill the Treasurer is authorized to provide money for the incidental preliminary expenses in addition to the capital of the bank.
– I suppose that money is only lent to the bank.
– It is to be repaid to the Treasury. I think that is a very proper and necessary provision, to enable the incidental expenses to be met, before the capital is raised by debentures. It provides for the appropriation of the money, and will enable the Treasurer to advance it without further legislation of any kind. Part III. mates provision for the management of the bank, which is to be delegated to one person whom we designate as the Governor. He is to have an assistant called the Deputy Governor, who will act in his absence from any cause. It is proposed that they shall be both appointed by the Governor-General for a period of seven years with the right of reappointment. Some authorities think that their position would have been more secure if their appointment had been for seven years, with a provision for one year’s notice. Others are of opinion that it is “better to appoint them for seven years with the right of re-appointment for a similar term. At any rate, that is not a material point. It is only a question of opinion among experts, and I think the balance of authority is in favour of the Bill as it stands.
– I presume the Deputy Governor will hold some other office while the Governor is acting?
– The Deputy Governor will be the second officer in the bank. Obviously he should have the same kind of security that the Governor himself has, because he will act with all the powers and authority of the Governor in his absence. He, therefore, is also to be appointed by the Governor-General. The salaries and travelling allowances of these two officers are to be prescribed, so that they will know exactly what their position is. That is to insure them the greatest security against interference by this or any other Government that legislation can give them.
– Would the Treasurer indicate at this stage what the salary of the Governor would be?
– I should be very sorry to be called upon to state what salaries should be paid to the Governor and Deputy Governor, but I have no hesitation in expressing my own opinion that the question of salary is not a material point when you are appointing a man with the authority that we propose to give the Governor. I should not be able to agree to any sugges tion to put the salary in the Bill. That will be’ quite unnecessary. It would be advisable to leave the amount of salary for the Government to decide at the time they are making the appointments. Honorable members will see that the Governor has not only exceedingly great powers in the management of the bank generally, but also great and far-reaching powers regarding the staff of the bank. He will be able to appoint, dismiss, promote, and add to the salaries of his officers. In some respects he will have an autocrat’ s position, and if we get the right man, I have no doubt that we are pursuing a right course in that regard. No doubt there will be criticism of this proposition, and it may be contended that the general manager of any of the existing banks is controlled by his directorate. I have heard, however, on excellent authority, that about the best thing the board of directors of a bank ever do is to select a competent general manager, and then religiously draw their fees. In our case we have what is equal to a Board, but without the information. What I mean is that Parliament meets at least once a year.
– The Treasurer does not suggest that Parliament is to be a Board of Directors?
– I say that we have what is better than a Board of Directors. If any failure should occur through want of ability, or from some other cause on the part of the Governor of the bank, provision is made to enable Parliament to be informed, and. Parliament can by legislation provide a remedy. It will be seen, that the powers and duties of the Governor are prescribed by regulation. Two or three important clauses of the Bill are those which provide that the AuditorGeneral shall make periodical audits of. the bank books, and also make a state-, ment to the Treasurer regarding the accounts. It is provided that there must be a quarterly statement published in the Government Gazette, and a half-yearly and an annual statement. The AuditorGeneral has authority to make a report to the Treasurer. It is obvious that the AuditorGeneral, who examines the accounts, might find it wise or necessary to first apprise the Treasurer before he made a public statement regarding his examination, but the quarterly and other periodical reports must be made public. As regards the balancesheets, these must be submitted to Mr.;
Speaker and to the President of the Senate. It will be seen that provision is made for the fullest publicity and the protection of the public. Amongst the other powers possessed by the Governor of the bank is that to fix the place for the head office. Some honorable members, no doubt, would suggest that the head office ought to be at the Seat of Government, but I am not of that opinion. This is a business concern pure and simple, and not a matter for idealism. It would be of no use our having the head office at a place where no business was being done. I speak, of course, with the greatest deference to those who differ from me, but that is my idea. It has, therefore, been decided to leave the decision of this matter to the expert heads, on whom will rest the responsibility for the” success or otherwise of the selection.
– That means to the Governor of the bank?
– Yes; the Governor of the bank is given absolute authority, and his responsibility cannot be shifted. I have no doubt that a wise Governor may think it worth while sometimes to consult the Deputy Governor ; but that is a matter for himself, and not for us. The Governor of the bank will also have power to institute branches anywhere in Australia or Australian territories without any further authority. If, however, he desires to have a bank outside Australia the Treasurer’s consent must be obtained. For instance, if the. Governor of the bank desires to institute a branch in London he would have to get the consent of the Treasurer. Clause 27 is intended to enable the bank to get the best result out of any properties which may fall into its hands. This, I understand, involves a delicate point of law regarding what a bank may do with property that may come into its possession” either with consent or without any desire on the part of the bank. The clauseprovides that if a property does fall info thehands of the bank full authority is given to make such use of the property as will give the best returns.
– That depends on the charter of the bank and the conditions of the mortgage.
– I understand there have been doubtful cases in Australia; and the clause is intended to place it beyond doubt that, when it is not desirable to sell an acquired property, there shall be power to make the best use of it meanwhile in the interest of the bank. Honorable members will agree that we are starting on an experiment of a very wide character ; and we ought to take every care in drafting the provisions of the Bill. In clause 30 provision is made for the distribution of profits; and this, of course, suggests that profits shall be earned. That is so; and I think the proposal embodied in the clause is fair and reasonable. The clause is as follows - (1.) The net profits derived by the Bank shall be dealt with as follows : -
Honorable members may think that that clause is very far-reaching in its suggestion; but in my opinion it is not. If this bank is a success - as I venture to say all honorable members hope it will be - the profits in time to come, although small compared with those of the present banks, will be enormous so far as reserve and redemption purposes are concerned. The proposal to set half the profits aside for. bank reserves, and half aside for redemption of capital advanced, with power to use the money to meet Commonwealth obligations, is, in my opinion, far-seeing, wise, and prudent. I hope that it will be found as effective as some of us believe that it will be. The Governor may, with the consent of the Treasurer, make such general rules as may suggest themselves to him, and these are to be approved by the Governor-General in Council.
– Will interest be payable on the advances made to start the bank?
– I should say yes, if they are for a long period, but if only temporary, it will be hardly worth while to provide for interest. If the Opposition think that a principle is involved,I shall have no objection to providing for the paying of interest.
– Everything depends on the interpretation given to the word “ temporary.”
– My opinion is that the advances will not be for more than a year.
– Will the bank provide the interest paid on the debentures which are to form its capital ?
– Those debentures will bear interest, which the bank will have to provide.
– The bank will be responsible for that interest?
– Yes. A very important matter is the guaranteeing by the Commonwealth of all moneys deposited in the bank by any persons whosoever, and of all creditors to whom debts are due by the bank. The Commonwealth will stand behind every penny put into the bank, but persons having a grievance against the bank must sue it, and not the Commonwealth. That is a necessary provision, because there may be cranks who would regard it as an honour, if they had a case against the bank, to sue the Commonwealth instead of the bank. The Commonwealth will honour all the obligations of the bank, which must therefore be as safe as any bank can be. The Consolidated Revenue of the Commonwealth will be available to meet the bank’s obligations. There is an absolute guarantee to all persons doing business with the bank that the Commonwealth will see that their legal claims are met should any disaster overtake it.
– That amounts to an undertaking that Parliament will appropriate money to pay the liabilities of the bank.
– An undertaking which cannot be enforced.
– Unquestionably, Parliament will stand by the bank. With the Treasurer’s consent, the bank may invest any moneys held by it in Government securities approved by the Treasurer, or on loan on the security of lands, or in any other prescribed manner, and nothing shall prevent the bank in carrying on banking business from making advances to a customer on any security which the Governor may think sufficient. The Treasurer will have something to say in the management of certain investments, but I do not think that that will amount to any interference in the management of the bank generally.
– May the Governor lend on personal security?
– He may borrow and he may lend in the usual transaction of banking business. The Bill dennes the general powers of the Governor, who will not be further restricted than is the general manager of any large private banking concern. With the safeguards regarding audit to which I have referred, we can, place confidence in the Governor. As his honour, good name, and integrity will be involved, he will have power to appoint and to’ dismiss employes of the bank as he chooses ; this party takes all responsibility for that proposal.
– Is the fixing of salaries left to the Governor?
– Yes, and of increments, and everything else.
– Subject to the condi- tion that the employes of the bank, like other public servants, will have the right to have their terms of employment reviewed by the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. The honorable member for Flinders hardly agrees with that?
– I certainly do not.
– In my opinion, a Parliament that is afraid to allow the conditions of its employes to be investigated by the highest judicial authority in the country would be afraid of its own shadow, and is anchored to the traditions of the past.
– The functions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Courts are not judicial.
– They are higher^ than judicial functions. That Court is not tied down to rules of legal procedure, but is rather a Court of equity. .. There are general provisions for the-enforcement of contracts, empowering attorneys to act for the bank, giving the’ “Governor authority to attach the seal of the bank to any document, and so forth,” to which I need not further refer. I come now to the division of the Bill which provides for the establishment and management of a savings bank. The Savings Bank will have a head office and branches, and will receive as deposits amounts as small as is.
– With what maximum?
– No maximum is prescribed, and I do not counsel the -fixing of a maximum.
– Will there bean annual charge for keeping accounts in the Savings Bank ?
– That is a matter to be dealt with by regulation on the authority of the Treasurer, but were I in office I should veto such a proposal.
– Will the bank have to bear the expense of the Savings Bank business ?
– Yes, but we hope there will be a profit from that business.
– The Bill takes power to use all or any of the Departments of the Commonwealth for the purposes of the Savings Bank.
– We take power to make any Commonwealth officer an officer of the Savings Bank, and the services of State Officers may also be used. Where a State officer is employed, the bank will have to pay for the service rendered.
– The postal officials are already acting in many cases for State Savings Banks.
– Where work is done for the bank, reasonable payment will be made for the service rendered.
– In addition to the salaries now paid to the officials who Will do that work?
– It does not matter to an official who is paid for an eight hours day, Whether he works for three Departments, or for one only. His services belong to those who pay him, especially when all the work done by him is done for the public of Australia.
– The more important question is whether the same officer can act . for the two banks - the Commonwealth and. the State Savings Banks.
– I desire to say quite frahkly thatI think that the passing of this Bill will mean that there will be ultimatelyonly one Savings Bank in Australia. Let me add, however, that no citizen of the Commonwealth will be a penny the Worse off on that account. On the contrary, he will be better off. This Government Will provide, so far as it can possibly do so, for taking over the liabilities and responsibilities of the State Savings Banks if the State banks so desire after this Bill comes into operation.
– Will that include the taking over of their land loans, and so forth ?
– I said that we should make arrangements for this transfer sub ject to the consent and desire of the State Savings Bank authorities. We are not proposing that they shall do this or that under pressure from the Commonwealth. I wish the State Savings Banks well in thecarrying on of their own business in their own way; but my own individual opinion is that the advantages of a Commonwealth Savings Bank will be such that probably, in addition to securing new depositors, it will obtain some of the money now deposited in the State Savings Banks. I am not advocating the transfer of deposits from the State Savings Banks to the Commonwealth. Savings Bank; but I think that in the evolution of things that will be the inevitableresult of the establishment of this institution.
– The Commonwealth. Bank will supplant them.
– Because it will probably be superior to and more convenient than the State Savings Banks, it will ultimately grow, perhaps not at the expense, but to the disadvantage of, the State Savings Banks so far as their growth and” development is concerned.
– Will the Commonwealth Government continue to do their work as they are now doing it?
– I shall not commit myself to that. I think it is impossible for two Savings Banks to be carried on in thesame post-office without some difficulty arising; but I do not say that the StateSavings Banks conducted in postal buildings should be interfered with immediately.
– Not until the Commonwealth Savings Bank is strong enough.
– That interjection requires no answer ; no parliamentary term would suitably describe it.
– The Opposition are trying to work up an anti-State agitation.
– I hope the House will not misunderstand me. This is not a question of the States versus the Commonwealth; it is rather a question of what is the best that can be done for the people of the Commonwealth.
– What are the advantages ?
– A Commonwealth Savings Bank, as compared with State
Savings Banks, will at least provide for uniformity, and also, I venture to think, for a cheaper exchange in every part of Australia. It will probably have a common stock ; and in the course oftime, as the bank develops, interest bearing debentures or bonds of every kind will probably be available in every part of the Commonwealth. Whilst I do not cast any reflection upon any State, I think that there will be greater security in depositing with a Commonwealth Savings Bank than is obtained in connexion with any other banking institution.
– Including a State bank ?
– I said, “ Any other banking institution.”
– I am satisfied with the credit of my State.
– So am I. It is a rather small matter, but it is yet worth mentioning that the Bill provides that deposits in the Savings Bank branch are to be made during office hours. There have been many complaints regarding money having been taken in the streets and in other places, and accounts not having been credited with such amounts.
– What does the honorable member mean by his statement that deposits are to be made during office hours ?
– That no officer authorized to accept deposits will be allowed to take them from a person in the street, or anywhere else, save in the office and during office hours.
– Surely the Government would allow an officer to take deposits from menengaged on public works, as is done in Queeusland ?
– The honorable member really asks whether we should object to an officer of the bank following, for example, railway construction works, and taking deposits from men engaged upon them. We certainly should not object, but the office hours of such an officer would be prescribed, whether he was seated in a tent or on a log when accepting deposits.
– Has it been the practice of officials in State Savings Banks to receive deposits in the street?
– No State has allowed that to be done; but in some places there has grown up a practice of allowing officers ofthe Savings Bank to receive money dating other than office hours, and ‘to initial the pass books of. the depositors, with rather disastrous results, in some cases, to the persons making the deposits. The Bill provides further that interest shall be allowed in pounds sterling,
– Is it intended that the Commonwealth Savings Bank shall offer better interest or any other advantages as against State Savings Banks ?
– No; this bank will not be in competition with the State Savings Banks with the object of cutting them out. The entire management of the Bank is to be left to the Governor.
– But is it intended to give better rates of interest ?
– If the Commonwealth Savings Bank is able to offer better rates, that, I presume, on the basis of ordinary reasoning, will arise from better management. There is no reason why theGovernor should be prohibited from offering better terms to depositors if he can do so, and still make a profit.
– That means that the Commonwealth Savings Bank will come into competition with the State Savings Banks.
– I need not argue ithe point any further. If there is better management in the case of the Commonwealth Savings Bank, then it will be possible for it to pay higher rates of interest. The Bill provides that minors may make deposits, and be recognised, and also that deposits by married women shall be deemed to ‘be their separate property. Following a rule which I understand is observed in connexion with the Savings Bankof Western Australia, it is providedthat where a depositor, having an account not exceeding £100 dies, the Governor may,in certain circumstances, allow his funeral expenses to be paid out of his account, and may return the balance to the widow, or some relation of the deceased. That, I think, is a very convenient provision. It has been pointed out that the Commonwealth will have an advantage over nearly all the States, inasmuch as it has postal buildings where savings bank business can be carried on. That is an advantage of which we are entitled to make use, and, in my opinion, it must lead to economy of management. I would remind the honorable member for Parkes that in that respect the Commonwealth will undoubtedly enjoy an advantage over the States, and that with one general manager and one common staff there should undoubtedly be economy.
– Does the right honorable member see how disastrous it might be if the Commonwealth Bank offered a higher rate of interest, with the result that many millions were withdrawn from the State banks?
– I have already said that it is not the desire of the Government, nor will it be the desire of the Governor, I think, to try to cause the transfer of accounts from the one institution to the other. In a country like our own, which is growing in wealth and population, there is ample room for the establishment of another bank. A new bank has not been established in Australia for a long time.
– Does not the main advantage of the Commonwealth lie in ‘.he fact that it has control of the agency of the Post Office?
– That is not the main advantage. Uniformity is the first consideration, and as I have said we are prepared to meet the States in every way. I have also stated quite frankly that I do not think the Commonwealth ought to be asked to run the two systems, although it is not my desire that the existing system shall be interrupted in a jarring way. The establishment of a Commonwealth Savings Bank will lead to uniformity throughout the States, and to economy. There must be more scope for economy in connexion with the larger concern. My honorable colleague, the Minister of Home Affairs, sometimes speaks of America, and I notice that Congress lately passed an Act providing for the establishment of a savings bank in the United States which has proved a very great success.
– Because they had not one before.
– The Act was passed Inst year, and came into operation two or three months ago. The authorities are greatly pleased with its success. Inci dentally, I might mention that the Times correspondent report’s that one feature of the opening of these Government banks throughout the United States has been .the unearthing of quite a number of old stockings that had been hidden away for many years. Much of the gold, silver, and other currency, instead of being deposited with banks, had been hidden away until, it became mildewed.
– The establishment of Government Savings Banks met a want which existed there, but that want has been supplied here long ago.
– The money was unearthed because the people trusted the United States Government.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh has touched the point. I am not here to raise the question of State versus private banks, but we often hear references to the security which a State bank affords. Here is a recently passed Act of Congress which has astonished its authors by the amount of money deposited and the alacrity with which the citizens of America have made deposits.
– Would the Prime Minister say if there were State Savings Banks in the United States also?
– I am unable to say. I will hand the honorable member the Times with the report in it. It may also be interesting to honorable members to know that the total amount of interest which it is proposed by the Act of Congress to give on those deposits is 2 per cent. Notwithstanding that low percentage, money is flowing in at a greater rate than was thought possible. Part VI. of the Bill makes the provision for the issue by the bank of debentures not to exceed £1,000,000, and prescribes the form. They are to be for £10, or any multiple of £o, and the rate of interest is to be fixed before issue. That, I think, is a fair provision. Ten pounds, or a multiple °f is in Australia a fair amount, en abling most people to buy a debenture or debentures, while fixing the rate of interest and making them negotiable instruments, will, I think/ make them very handy. At first it was intended to make them fall due at fixed periods, but I think the provision in clause 56 is much better. They are to be redeemable at par at times specified therein, being on a. fixed date, or after a fixed date on twelve months’ notice, or between fixed dates on twelve months’ notice. The provision as to twelve months’ notice has this value, that, as interest will be paid annually, when holders are receiving their second last interest upon their debentures, they will be notified that the instruments will be redeemable on the next occasion on which they are presented. The debenture holder will, therefore, have twelve months’ time in which to make other arrangements. That is a very convenient provision. The Government will also guarantee principle and interest on these debentures.
– If the Government are guaranteeing the interest, what is the objection to the Government also raising the debentures instead of letting the bank do it?
– The honorable member has evidently not read the Bill. If he had, he would see that this is the method by which the bank is to raise its own capital. The Governor of the bank will be responsible for the interest on these debentures, in addition to making a profit out of the bank. If the Government were to issue the debentures, and hand the money over to the bank, the bank’s interest in them would disappear. Provision is also made for the substitution of inscribed stock for debentures.
– What is the provision for inscribed stock?
– That provision will be made in a general Bill which the Government propose to bring down dealing with the inscription of all stock. I am legally advised that that is the proper course to take. Provision is also made so that debentures may be transferred to inscribed stock, or inscribed stock back to debentures. Penalties, forfeitures, &c, are provided for in later clauses, which, I think, will be of very little interest to honorable members. All I need say is that the usual and necessary penalties are provided against forgery. I may be asked,
Is .there any necessity for this bank at all ?” I think there is. Honorable members will see that the banking returns are growing rapidly, and I anticipated this by stating that our population and wealth are happily increasing also. The returns for 1910 for four banks - the Bank of Australasia, the Bank of New South Wales, the Commercial Bank of Sydney, and the Union Bank - show that the paid-up capital was ,£7,100,000, and the reserves £6,130,000, or a total of ,£13,230,000. The dividends were ,£850,000, and the amount paid to reserves was ,£230,000, or total profits equal to ,£1,170,000. That represented over 16 per cent, on the paidup capital, and nearly 9 per cent, on the combined capital and reserves. These banks had fixed deposits in Australia amounting to £40,209,449 for the June quarter of 1910. An increase of per cent, on fixed deposits would have reduced that large amount of total profit by only £^200,000, leaving still a profit of £970,000, or an average of 13J per cent, on paid-up capital, or 7^ per cent, on the combined capital and reserves. In these circumstances I think there is an opening for a Commonwealth bank.
– The honorable member will find that the drapers are making more than the bankers. Why not go into the drapery business, then?
– I am not making an attack on the banks. The question was put from that side, “ Is there a necessity for this bank ? “ My reply is, “ There is the evidence”; and surely the public, as a whole, as well as private institutions, have a right to be heard in this matter. Surely those people who are always thundering in -favour of private enterprise and private competition, and deprecating the coddling and protecting and sheltering of persons or institutions, can have no objection to a Commonwealth bank being brought into existence, especially when that bank has to pay back the whole of its capital and pay interest on it also. It is quite true that the Commonwealth Bank will have the advantage of the Government credit, and the Commonwealth account, but of that more anon. I have here a paper, which I hope has been circulated, giving figures relating to the capital, dividends, and reserve funds of banks trading in the Commonwealth, for the whole period from 1885 to 191 1. The figures are as follow -
It is of no use denying, and this party do not wish to deny, that banks have played an important part in the development of Australia, and we want to give them full credit for all they have done. It must be freely admitted that they have made mistakes, and that, stern old seasoned financiers as those in charge of them were, they were in the late eighties and early nineties swept into the current of - shall I say imbecility ? - like ordinary folk. They borrowed largely from abroad in the good times when money was easily got, and when that money fell due, and was demanded by their creditors abroad, they found themselves unable to meet their obligations, and everyone suffered.
– There was then a big land boom on.
– The land boom was a consequence of the banks getting money and raising land values ; and the most sensible and sane financiers were swept into the vortex. I know of what I am speaking, because one of the largest banking institutions in my own State was involved, and very few men foresaw what was coming.
– Will the Treasurer tell us what safeguard there is against the Commonwealth Bank having the same experience?
– I accept the invitation of the honorable member, and say that, while there is no desire to prohibit the Governor of the bank from accepting land as collateral security, or from lending money on land, I hope that he will have the wisdom to see that that does not mean the first principles of banking.
– That is what we all thought the bank managers would have had the wisdom to see.
– The question has been asked of me, and I express the hope that while the bank may deal in land securities and other securities, it will in time grow to be rather a bank dealing’ in ordinary bills of exchange and liquid securities of the kind - that it will ultimately become the bank of banks rather than a mere money-lending institution. At any rate, I hope that nothing will be’ done to increase land values when such values produce nothing to the community.. If, however^ anything can be done in the way of assisting men to produce something,, then, in Heaven’s; name, let us do- it quickly ! That is well, amd’ much to be desired in preference to land speculation.
– How are we going to discriminate?
– We hope to have a wise man at the head of this institution, and, though it seems unnecessary, I may say that, so long as there is a safe, steady party like our own in office, there is nothing to fear.
– This has to be left to thediscretion of the Governor of the bank,, and not to the discretion of a party.
– The honorable member ought to know by this time that the AuditorGeneral has power to inspect the accountswhenever he chooses.
– That will not show anything.
– The Auditor-General’ has power to inspect the securities.
– The Auditor-General isnot a banking expert.
– The word “ inspection”’ is used; and the Auditor-General is in an. absolutely independent position to report to the Treasurer and Parliament.
– Will the Auditor-General report on the policy of the administration.’ of the bank?
– I do not think so-; and if I were in the honorable member’sposition I should not ask the question. A great deal has been said about competitionin banking; and it is no reflection on the present banks to say that there is a little understanding amongst them in regard toexchange and other matters. It shows theconfidence we have in the man we are about to appoint as- Governor of the Commonwealth Bank that we do not even pre*hibit him from entering into that understanding, or doing’ anything’ he considerswise. I do say, however, as a privatecitizen, that’ there is room in Australia for a reduction in the exchange rates-
– What advantage wilt anybody have in dealing with the Commonwealth Bank, rather than with an outside bank?
– That will have to bediscovered by the depositors.
– 1 was thinking of borrowers.
– If there is- no advantage depositors will not trouble the Commonwealth Bank,, and the troubles of” the bank will soon be over. We shall just adel, this one bank to’ the- others, and see how it is accepted by depositors. If the other banks- are. making: profits that are too high- they are extracting; those profits from the industries of the country. The slightest reduction in the rate of interest should, if properly applied, add to the productivity of the country, and, therefore, be of distinctive advantage to the Commonwealth. If dividends are reasonable all is well. I should now like to say a word about introducing the Bill at this time. This is the time to legislate - a time of prosperity and financial calm. We are singularly fortunate in that we are able to deal with a banking proposal of this kind under such conditions. This bank is to be conducted on business lines, as I have already told honorable members. There must be absolute security for all investment, and we propose to meet public requirements at the lowest rates of interest. Our chief aim is not to make profits, but to insure safety and security to depositors. Any profits which are made must be placed to a bank reserve, and devoted to the redemption of Commonwealth and State debts. Any profits made will not be paid into the Consolidated Revenue; and, therefore, on that point the critics of the Government are disarmed. No Government can benefit a single penny piece from the profits of the bank, and, therefore, there can be no inducement to. enter into speculative ventures for the purpose of raising revenue for ordinary purposes.
– Surely it is intended to make profits?
– I have before stated that it is hoped there will be reasonable profit from reasonable business. I think the honorable member for Mernda was rather ungenerous in his sarcastic remarks as to paying off the debts.
– I am glad to hear that the remark was not sarcastic. As I have before said, half the profits are to be paid to the bank’s reserve, and the other half, after paying off the capital, are to be paid to a fund for the liquidation of the Commonwealth and State debts. No doubt the profit will be small at first, but, as time goes on, the bank will have great financial effect.
– I think the Treasurer is very optimistic.
– I was told I was too optimistic in another matter, but it turned out I was not half optimistic enough. I venture to say that the establishment of this bank will have the effect of developing a pure banking business. This proposal deals with a matter of serious importance, and may affect our national life and progress more than we can foresee at present. I cannot leave any one to think that I am apprehensive of failure owing to this being a State Bank. Its future is largely in the hands of the man who, for the time being, is the Governor of the bank. But just as we trust the Governor, we place an equal trust in the wisdom of the men who, from time to time, will be returned to this Parliament to represent the people and safeguard their interests. I counsel patience as to its development, and an avoidance of that “ raw haste which is half-sister to delay.” A National Bank is a necessity. It will do the Government’s business here and in London better than any other bank could do it. Time and experience will show how its functions for usefulness may be extended. We can rest assured that if this proposal, which is new in many important features, is a success all parties will ultimately lay claim to a share of the honour of having brought it into existence.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Glynn) adjourned.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers : -
Banks Trading in the Commonwealth - Average Liabilities and Assets - 1880 to 1910. Capital, Dividends, and Reserve Funds - 1885 to 1911.
Ordered to be printed.
Public Service Act - Regulation No. 104 Amended (Provisional) - Statutory Rules1911, No. 181.
Australian Notes Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 191 1, No. 165.
Land Tax Assessment Act - Regulation No. 23 Amended (Provisional) - Statutory Rules 1911, No. 177.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 14th November, vide page 2578), on motion by Mr. Fisher -
That the first item in the Estimates, under Division L, The Parliament, namely, “The President,£1,100,” be agreed to.
– If we let this chance pass, our mouths are closed for the next twelve months. I am longing to hear something from the Minister of External Affairs with regard to the Northern Territory. We have had this Territory for some considerable time, and we are doing no more with it than did the South Aus- tralian Government in the course of so many years.
– We have had the Territory for only eight or nine months.
– Something should be done with it ; whereas we are in exactly the same position that we were in when we took it over.
– I hope not.
– It is not correct; but I suppose the honorable member must go on.
– It is all very well for the Prime Minister to try to pass the matter off, but he has had every opportunity to state the Government, policy regarding the Northern Territory.
– The right time for that to be done is on the consideration of the Estimates of the Department of the Minister of External Affairs. For seven or eight years, honorable members opposite did nothing.
– I, with others of the Labour Party, have been asserting that our intention is to do something.
– The honorable member forgets that the honorable member for Barrier has only recently taken charge of the Department of External Affairs.
– I do not speak in any carping spirit, but, as the representative of the Queensland electorate adjoining the Northern Territory, I have a right to know what is being done. The honorable member is equally desirous of the information, but is not game to ask for it. My fear is that the Territory will be overridden with officials. I ask the Prime Minister, whether, if persons wish to settle there, he is in a position to provide for them ?
– Yes; there is land there for them.
– I am pleased to hear it. I was informed that, on Monday last, there was not an acre available there, and that most of The best grazing areas were under lease, and not being used.
– The leases should be cancelled, if the land is not being used.
– How are we to reduce the cost of the Northern Territory, if we do not make use of it ? I am longing to know what the policy of the Government is.
– I hope that it is a progressive policy.
– The amount set down on the Estimates does not allow of much being done. A large expenditure will be necessary there, and the Committee is prepared to vote all the money needed. The Government has been particularly fortunate in obtaining the services of Professor Baldwin Spencer for the protection of the aborigines. Until we took over the Northern Territory, the aborigines there got a very bad show. Years ago, when there, I saw enough to make me think it wise to get back to Queensland as fast as my horses could carry me.
– It is a good country.
– The Northern Territorywas a good country to leave. I hope that the policy of doing nothing will be discarded and that next year we shall have something, to our credit in connexion with it. When the Prime Minister was explaining the expenditure of the Postmaster-General’s Department, I said that there had not been a mile of developmental telegraph lineerected in Queensland since the inception of Federation - a statement which I repeat to-day with emphasis, because I am informed on reliable authority that it is correct. The work to which the Prime Minister referred has not been done on new developmental lines, but on lines for thefacilitation of business between the State capitals and the different telegraphic termini. Credit is taken for connecting up the line which for several years was dangling at Woltongarra.
– That connexion has been made.
– Yes ; but for several years we were waiting for a connexion between Brisbane and Sydney.
– Waiting for a progressive Government to make it.
– It was ordered by my predecessor.
– It was one of the best constructed lines in Queensland, between Brisbane and the New South Wales border, but at Wollongarra the end of the wire dangled for years awaiting connexion with the line from Sydney. The sum of £23,000 is to be spent in and around Brisbane, on conduits, metallic circuits, and a pneumatic tube between the Post Office and the Stock Exchange, to do work which has been satisfactorily performed by a boy getting 10s. a week. These tubes have been found to be a failure elsewhere. Is it the intention of the Government to do more for the people of Western Queensland, or to allow them to help themselves? In many instances the Department will not allow the public to provide conveniences for itself. Mr. Sydney Smith, during the short time that he was Postmaster-General in the Reid-McLean Administration, did more for the country districts than any other Postmaster-General has done.
– Does the honorable member speak for the country districts of Australia, or for the country districts of Queensland? I do not think his remark applies to the whole Commonwealth.
– The honorable member merely represents a city constituency, and one that has been particularly favoured, £50,000 having been spent there. If I could obtain . £5,000 for my district, I should be more than satisfied, but I cannot even get £5 for a telegraph or a telephone line. In Melbourne there are four deliveries of letters daily, and should the postman be a quarter of an hour behind time, there is a deputation from the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Manufactures, the Employers Federation, and the mayors and councillors of the city and suburban municipalities, asking for an explanation; but in parts of my electorate there are only twelve mails a year.
– In parts of the Northern Territory there is only a mail every six months.
– In parts of Western Australia there are no mails at all, and no population. In my electorate there is population. Were it not for the pioneers who are blazing the track in the far west of Queensland, these big towns would soon begin to quake. Five years ago we saw in them, Melbourne included, bands of v.nemployed seeking relief. Why? The reason was that the western districts of Queensland and New South Wales were drought-stricken. There was no grass, stock were dying on every hand ; and in the Melbourne sale-yards I saw sheep sold at is. per head. In consequence of the pastoral industry being pinched, and its back bent, but not broken, in this way, the residents of all our large cities suffered severely. But now that the lean years have passed away, their representatives, when asked to assist country members to secure better postal, telegraphic and telephonic facilities for their constituents, have the audacity to say, “ The time is not ripe, for action; you are doing well enough.”
– Idonot think that a town representative has ever objected to a country want being supplied..
– If as soon as we reached the Estimates relating to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, I moved that the Estimates be reduced by £1 owing to the failure of the Government to supply western Queensland with necessary postal and telegraphic facilities, I do not think one town member would vote with me. I want some assistance from the Opposition on this occasion, because I cannot get any from the Government behind whom I sit.
– Have we come to the parting?
– We have almost reached the parting of the ways.
– The new leader of the Country party !
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong is “throwing mullock “ at me, but I ran tell him that the Country party is going to be a thorn in the side of the Government. I was almost elected chairman of the Country party this morning. I had a meeting of the party.
– Who is there in addition to the honorable member?
– The Minister is receiving my remarks in a jocular spirit.
– I represent a country constituency, yet I was not asked to attend that meeting?
– I had intended to ask the honorable member to attend, but he told tne that he had to go to another meeting this morning?
– Had he attended he might have been elected leader.
– I shall take very good care that he does not lead our party. The Country party is being formed, and, as I have said, I was almost elected leader this morning. At the adjourned meeting next week we shall elect our officers, and I shall then announce to the House and the country the creation of a third party.
– Where does the honorable member want this telephone?
– The telephone party.
Mr.PAGE.- It is all very well for the honorable member to say that I am forming a telephone party ; he may find that we are a telegraph party capable of giving an electric shock.
– There are more postoffices than hotels in the honorable member’s electorate.
– Then practically every hotel must be a post-office. I shall not deal further with this phase of the matter, but I thought it as well to give this information to the Minister of External Affairs in order that he might tell the restOf his brethren in the Cabinet that there is going to be a third party in this House. I hope to be able to announce the names of the leader, the secretary, and the treasurer of that party before the House rises.
– The honorable member will have the honorable member for Echuca with him.
– Yes, and I shall be glad to support him in securing increased postal, telegraphic and telephonic facilities for his electorate. When the honorable member for Barrier was appointed Post- master-General, I said, “ We shall get a square deal this time, because no one knows better than he does, the disadvantages suffered by those in the bush; yet I had to drag from him any little concession that I obtained.
– Did the honorable member obtain any concession from him?
– Only one, and I have not got that yet - it is only a promise, and political promises are seldom honoured after a general election. As I shall not have another opportunity to deal with the motion moved by the honorable member for Gwydir with regard to the adoption of the report of the Royal Commission on Postal Services, I desire now to refer (briefly to it. In an oration extending over five hours, the honorable member dealt with many matters relating to the Postal Department. It was a mighty effort, which must have caused him much work and worry ; and if it took him four years to do what he did, then he has put another five years on his life. The whole of his remarks were in the interests of the employe, and not of the employer. The people of my constituency, amongst others, shave to find the money to finance our various Departments, and many of them who have wives and families to support do not average £30 per annum. Many of the station hands in western Queensland do not get £1 a week all the year round.
– The pastoral industry is a great one for wages.
– The pastoral industry is a great one, but the station hands and rouseabouts are amongst the poorest paid members of the community.
– The position is better now.
– I am pleased to say that at is. These men lead an open-air life, and they are the finest type of manhood that we have.
– Next to the miners.
– The miners are a fine body of men, but we have no finer type of manhood than are the men of the western districts of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. These men have to assist in financing our various services, and I venture to say that an advertisement published in the newspapers of western Queensland intimating that the Postal Department had vacancies for men in Melbourne at 50s. per week would result in a veritable rush for the positions. Just imagine a man “ waltzing Matilda ‘ ‘ in Queensland under a tropical sun, with the temperature at anything between 113 and 119 in the shade?
– And providing their own music.
– Providing their own music, doing their own cooking, and carting their own labour from station to station. Compare the lot of those men in western Queensland with that of the average postal employe. If the honorable member for Gwydir had put up as great a fight for the grafters of western New South Wales as he put up for the public servants in his five hours’ speech, I venture to say that his constituents would have crowned him. He made a personal attack on the Public Service Commissioner, who I and many honorable members of both sides of the House consider has done heroic work. I ask honorable members to consider what that officer had to do when he first took over the management of the Commonwealth Public Service. At the inception of Federation each State service was seething with discontent. In Melbourne there were employed as telegraph messengers men with whiskers down to their waists - married men with three or four children - receiving only £74 a year. That was actually the position in Victoria when the Department was taken over. During the first session of the Federal Parliament the position of these men was brought under my notice by the honorable member for Yarra. I thought it was almost impossible that such a state of affairs could exist, but I made inquiries, which satisfied me on the point. During the first two or three years of Mr. McLachlan’s regime I did not agree with all that he did, but having gone thoroughly into his work - having become seized of the enormous task that was set him when he entered upon the management of the service - my feeling is that we ought to be proud and pleased to have such a man at the head of the Commonwealth Public Service.
– Hear, hear; he has done his best.
– And has done it fearlessly. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to bend to every passing breeze, and make himself popular in the service by granting every increase demanded. But Mr. McLachlan has done what very few men would do, and has fearlessly stood up to his duty. He has protected, not only the public purse, but the individuals in the service themselves. I know one or two instances where men were going to be “ gruelled,” and the question came to him for final decision. He was not satisfied with the treatment meted out, and asked for further information, and I know that in three instances in Queensland he saved men from being dismissed from the service. Yet they say he has the civil servants “ set.” He has nothing of the sort. He is their friend, as well as the friend of the public. He is there between the public and the civil servants, and my opinion is that he does his duty well.
– And between members of Parliament and the civil servants.
– I often say, “Thank God there is a Public Service Commissioner.” Many of us remember what Ministerial control was. In those days there was no hope for a man, however able he was, to get into ‘the service unless he could get the ear of some social or political individual.
– The honorable member will recollect the form in which the Bill was originally introduced in 1902, the power being left entirely in the Minister’s hands.
– Yes, but we knocked that out. The House very wisely said, “ No ; if we are going to have a Public Service Commissioner he shall be all powerful.” If an amendment of the Act were brought in to-day, to take the power out of Mr. McLachlan’s hands, I should be one of the strongest advocates of leaving it where it is. The honorable member for Gwydir called Mr. McLachlan a political acrobat. I do not know what Mr. McLachlan’s politics are, and honestly believe he has none.
– I do not think the honorable member for Gwydir used the term “ political acrobat.” He referred to the Commissioner’s statements that certain things ought not to be, and his subsequent statements that he supported them.
– If we cannot accept what a man says, how can we arrive at what he means? I remember the phrase quite well. I thought, at first, the honorable member meant something else, but he persisted in saying it. Not only has Mr. McLachlan no politics, so far as I know, but he has given loyal service to every Ministry. Members of this Government who have had dealings with him one and all say that he has given them loyal service. What more could we expect from any man ? We know what happened in the old days when a man had to have either social or political influence, and we know very well how the civil services were stuffed. We are suffering from that to-day. Men occupying high positions in the different’ States are not competent to fill them, and unless the administrative head will make a charge under the Public Service Act the Commissioner ‘is powerless to dispense with the services’, even of a telegraph messenger. So far as the Public Service Commissioner is concerned I am afraid the honorable member for Gwydir is barking up the wrong tree.
The honorable member laid great stress upon the recommendation of the Commission that the telegraphists should be paid £210 per annum. I am sure the honorable member did not give this question the close study and application that it deserves. If he had, he would never have made the statements that he did. In the first place, men in the clerical division go up to £200 per annum, and the honorable member wants the telegraphists to go up to £210. As they have the same status as the men in the clerical division, the consequence would be that as soon as ever they attained the £210 mark they would become senior to every man in the clerical branch who is getting only £200, and not one man in the clerical branch of the service could become a postmaster. A bar would be put up against every man in the clerical branch, and we should get the whole of our postmasters from telegraphists. I am sure the honorable member did not want to do the great majority of the men in the fifth class of the clerical division so serious an injustice. To put it shortly, the Commission proposed that telegraphists should go to £210, and if that were agreed to they would get seniority overevery fifth class clerk and postmaster in Australia. Thus, they would get almost a preferential right to all the vacant positions in the postoffice above £210. How unjust this would be to the postmasters and clerks I leave it to the honorable member to judge. The honorable member asked us to swallow the report of the Postal Commission, in toto, whether we liked it or not.
– We ought not to decide the salaries of telegraphists in relation to the salaries of the clerical division. We ought to judge a man’s salary by the position he occupies, and the work he does.
– If it is good enough for telegraphists to go to £210, why is it not good enough for the rest of the staff ? Why should one man get an advantage over another because he happens to be a telegraphist ?
– Why do we give an engineer 15s. a day and a labourer 9s. ?
– That is no comparison.. There are men in the clerical branch much more competent to take higher positions than telegraphists are.
– And they take them. Clerks go up to £900 a year.
– The telegraphists can go up also. All the grades of postmaster are open to them, and there are postmasters in Queensland getting £500 a year. No more privilege should be given to one class than to another. These men should all go up alike. I have no objection to making the pay £210, but I have a serious objection to telegraphists being given £210, and men of the same class in the clerical division only £200, because that £10 of an advance would give a telegraphist a seniority claim for any position that might be open. According to the Commissioner’s annual report, the estimated amount on an annual basis to be paid to officers by way of ordinary increments and increases of salary during the present year is as follows - Professional division, £2,000; clerical division, £38,000 ; and general division, £50,000, making a total of £90,000, which, added to an increased annual expenditure, due to amendments in scale of pay, of £112,800 for this year, makes a total increased expenditure for the present year of £202,800, or nearly a quarter of a million pounds in one year. I do not want to make comparisons, but the service is getting increased remuneration to that extent, and these increases would have been given whether the Commission sat or not. The Commission now wants to take the credit for them, but that claim is monstrous in the extreme.
– A large proportion of that amount is going to the poorer-paid men in the service.
– I have no objection to the money being paid. The lower branches of the service, in many instances, have been poorly paid, but it should be recognised that the Government are trying to do something in the direction in which all of us sitting on this side are anxious to see action taken. The increases I have indicated had nothing whatever to do with the Royal Commission, although the Commission are taking credit for them. They would have been granted whether the Commission had been in existence or not. The Public Service Commissioner is always watching the movement of wages outside, and as they moved up considerably in all directions after the Commission was appointed, the increases would have been given in the natural course of events. The Commission, however, are setting up the assumption that they did all this.
– The awkward fact remains that these things did not occur until after the Commission reported.
– The world was not created until the upheaval. The figures I have quoted go to show to what extent the service has benefited lately, but some people, apparently, imagine that the Commonwealth is a kind of artesian bore, which will go on indefinitely pouring out streams of gold. The people outside have to find the money, and they will begin to ask us as their representatives, where the cash is to come from to pay these increased demands. I know there are several grievances among the lower-paid branches of the service, especially inthe general division, and they should be remedied, but we cannot do everything at once. What, however, is the position of the service to-day as compared with what it was at the inception of the Commonwealth? The Minister, on Friday, gave some indication of the real facts, and here I have a report from the Postmaster-General’s Department showing the remuneration of sorters in the six States in 1901 and in1911 -
Queensland. from the statement below it will be seen thatthe- sorters in this State occupy an improved position under Federation, the present minimum salary being £144 as against £60 paid under the State.
Upon reference to the subjoined comparison, it will be observed that the average salary of sortera in this State has been increased since Federation by £33 per officer, and that while under the State only twelve officers received a salary over £150 per annum, under the Commonwealth 67 officers exceed’ that salary.
– That is a cruel thing. The report proceeds -
In this State the average salary has also increased under Federation, and, while prior to transfer 25 Sorters were receiving more than £ 150 per annum, the present number is 71.
Prior to Federation, more than one-half the sorting staff were in receipt of salaries lower than the present minimum (£144), and the average salary has increased by £30 per officer.
Summarizing the increased cost of sorting work due to the application of Commonwealth rates of pay, it is found that the Department is paying nearly £17,000 per annum over and above State rates for the same number of sorters. In other words, assuming the State rates had continued to operate up to the present time, the remuneration to sorters would be less by that amount. The large number of overpaid sorters in Victoria is taken into account in this computation, although it is recognised that number was a diminishing one.
Increased Remuneration of Existing Sorters singe Transfer to Commonwealth.
Of the 951 senior sorters and sorters at present employed, 910 come over with the Department either as sorters or in some other capacity at the date of transfer to the Commonwealth. The total salaries received by these officers at the date of Federation aggregated £120,824, while their present salaries amount to £150,726, or an average of £165 per officer. The average increased remuneration to each officer since Federation is £33, which is held to be n high average, bearing in mind the number of overpaid sorters in Victoria whoha ve continued to receive their State salaries.
It will thus be seen that the 910 sorters who came over with the Department at Federation, but who were not necessarily sorters at that date, have since 1901 divided between them nearly £30,000 in increased remuneration.
There are other matters in this report, such as the remuneration paid in other countries ; but with these I shall not deal now. I should like, however, to quote a passage from the report of the Public Service Commissioner issued this year, which seems to me to put the whole case in a nutshell. This has reference to the proposed Staff Committees which the honorable member for Gwydir would have us swallow wholesale. We know very well that in the different States different conditions prevail, necessitating different methods of working. If the staffing were left to the proposed Committees, I am afraid we should have a repetition of what occurred in Victoria before the Public Service Commissioner was appointed. The head of a branch was a great fancier of a certain kind of dog, and an officer in the branch, who presented his superior with dogs of the desired breed, was promoted by leaps and bounds over the heads of older men.
– Quite so; but it was a fact. The Commissioner, in his report, said - there can be no proper valuation of officers and their work except by an independent outside authority free from official environment and influences, and any attempt to control staff arrangements in the manner recommended by the Royal Commission would involve the creation of many anomalies and departure from the principles at present governing promotion. These Staff Committees would create more anomalies than ever in the service. In each State they would have different ideas of the value of the work or the merit of officers, with the result that there would be a different standard and a different assessment of values of work and of officers in every State. If heads of branches were permitted to classify positions and officers under their control, and this is exactly what would occur under a Staff Committee system, not only would the cost of maintaining the service rapidly become disproportionate to the value of the work, but grievances would be multiplied and sooner or later an agitation would be commenced for a return to the former condition of affairs. At present there is a very definite check upon any attempt at departmental or other patronage ; under the Royal Commission’s proposal there would be no check, and heads of branches and of the Department would be open to pressure on every hand. In fact, the worst evils of the old days of political and social influence would be revived with undoubted detriment to departmental efficiency and discipline.
It is much better to have an independent man to control the staffing; and I venture to say that, if the experiment of the Staff Committee were tried, we should, at the end of two years or so, be asked to revert to the present conditions. As to handing the whole Department over to a Board of Control, I say that we in Australia have had a taste of what Commissioners may do. We know what Commissioners are doing with the railways in Victoria; and surely we do not desire to see the Post and Telegraph Department under equally unsatisfactory management? This applies, not only to one, but to every State.
– Not to New South Wales.
– I have never yet travelled in the Sydney to Brisbane train without finding it late.
– What system does the honorable member suggest to take the place of the present system of Railways Commissioners ?
– I have not gone into that matter. I shall deal with it when the Commonwealth has a railway system of its own.
– Does not the honorable member think that a Deputy PostmasterGeneral knows more about the qualifications of an officer than does the Public Service Commissioner ?
– No, I do not. I have known the best Deputy Postmasters-General to fail.
– And the best Commissioner would fail at times.
– No man is infallible. The Public Service Inspector must sink or swim according to the recommendation he makes to the Commissioner.
– Is not the reputation of the Deputy Postmaster-General at stake when he makes a recommendation?
– The Public Service Inspector is independent of the PostmasterGeneral and his Deputies, and responsible only to the Commissioner.
– He is not responsible for the successful working of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
– I have never heard, in this Chamber, a charge of incompetence against a Public Service Inspector. In regard to any important matter concerning the staff of an office, the Deputy PostmasterGeneral and Inspector would form a committee to talk things over.
– The Public Service Commissioner is causing discontent in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
– I have not seen evidence of it in Queensland, which is a country of vast extent, and of great extremes. If a man did not make mistakes, he would do nothing. The Queensland Deputy PostmasterGeneral will not say that his staff is insufficient because of the action of the Commissioner. The Public Service Inspectors have saved the Commonwealth thousands of pounds. Any Deputy PostmasterGeneral who is aggrieved by an Inspector’s recommendation may appeal to his Minister, and the Minister, or the Central Office, can put the matter directly before the Commissioner. In many instances, the Commissioner has put aside the recommendation of an Inspector.
– To meet the wish of a Deputy Postmaster-General.
– The Commissioner has more often over-ridden a Deputy PostmasterGeneral.
– A Deputy PostmasterGeneral is not infallible.
– What is the need of Inspectors if their advice is not taken?
– Inspectors are needed to inform the Commissioner. I do not say that their advice is not taken; I say that sometimes their recommendations are put aside. I suppose the honorable member would not have Public Service Inspectors.
– That is where we differ.
– Perhaps the honorable member for Denison would like to re-introduce the system of political patronage.
– I am opposed to both social and political patronage, and know that it can be prevented only by having an independent Commissioner. I shall not detain the Committee longer, because there will be an opportunity to speak more fully regarding telephone and telegraphic proposals later. I merely wish to add that a responsible officer, who cannot come here to defend himself, should not be made a cockshy for every one to have a fling at.
.- I am pleased that the Budget is receiving so much consideration, because the time has arrived when we should look carefully into our finances. There are signals standing out which every one may read, showing that we are on the crest of the wave of prosperity. This year there is a drop of 15 per cent, in the price of wool, which is our main export. That will mean a loss of ,£4,500,000 to the community.
– Will all the wool be sold at the lower price?
– Most of it has been sold already. Owing to a bad season, there will he a shortage of wheat, meaning a further loss of about ,£4,000,000, and a loss of ,£1,000,000 because of the falling off in the production of butter and other commodities.
– A decrease in the sugar production is also estimated.
– Yes. The people will have less to spend during the coming year, and the Government less revenue. The exports of the Commonwealth during the year ended 30th June last were valued at ,£74>49i.i5o, a record for Australia. This year their value is not expected to be within £[10,000,000 of that amount. The Commonwealth has undertaken enormous responsibilities, and we do not wish the ship of State to be run ashore for want of sufficient funds. The criticism of the Budget should impress on Ministers the need for looking at every penny before spending it. I have always advocated the commercial management of State concerns, and am pleased that, after many years of haphazard management, there is a disposition among honorable members to require administration on proper lines. The Commonwealth Bank is to be managed like a private concern, !all responsibility being thrown on the Governor, and I hope that other undertakings will be similarly dealt with. In eleven years we have had twelve Postmasters-General. How is it possible for the member who is pitched into that office, to remain there for less than twelve months on the average, to properly control the great Department of which he becomes the Ministerial head? The feeling is general that a change should be made in regard to the management of the Department. The right honorable member for Swan has suggested that a good man should be appointed to control the responsible heads, a suggestion deserving of great consideration. The Minister should be responsible for the policy of the Department, but there should be a permanent official responsible for its commercial control.
– Where does one finish and the other begin?
– There will always be friction ; but as we go on we shall find it possible to delimit these functions. I suggest getting a man experienced in business management.
– Where would the honorable member obtain a man possessing the necessary experience of the post, telegraph, and telephone work of the Commonwealth?
– Has the honorable member a man in his mind?
– I am not prepared to suggest any particular man. What is needed is a man of common sense, skilled in conducting large undertakings.
– He must have had experience in connexion with post, telegraph, and telephone work.
– That is the last thing I would look for; indeed, it would be almost a drawback. What experience had the honorable gentleman before he became Postmaster-General ?
– A Minister is responsible only for the policy of his Department; it is the Secretary and Deputies who are responsible for the details of administration.
– I would suggest an organizer, who would see that the others did their work.
– If he were not an expert, he would not know whether they were doing it properly.
– He would soon find that out.
– An expert has made a. wonderful change in the work of the Postal Department in Victoria.
– The man whom I would appoint to control the Department would be one possessing a capacity for choosing experts to carry out the detailed work. The directors of a mining company, as a rule, know little of the practical work of mining, but they are men of business experience, and can select a man who is fit to manage the mine for them;.
– The general manager is responsible for the working of a mine, and he has experience in mining.
– Such a man must have experience, but I do not think it is necessary to have at the head of the Postal Department a man who has had postal experience. What we require is a thoroughly trained business man, and I admit that it is exceedingly difficult to obtain such a man. By way of illustration, let me remind honorable members’ that Mr. W. H. Smith, who had been engaged all his life in bookselling - he was interested, as honorable members know, in the railway book-stalls - was said to have been the best man ever placed at the head of the Admiralty. He was the original of Sir Joseph Porter in Fina fore; and, although he knew little or nothing about the navy when he first entered the Admiralty, he was an excellent organizer It was said of him that he hardly knew the stem from the stern of a ship.
– It is said that the first time he looked down a ship’s hold, he said, “ Why, the durned thing is hollow.”
– We want the same class of man for this service. Mr. Smith knew how to select an expert, and I have been informed by many who knew him that the Navy was never conducted in a more satisfactory manner than when he was at the head of affairs. I do not say that a knowledge of postal work is an actual drawback to a man at the head of the Postal Department; all that I contend is that such a knowledge is not altogether essential to success. We need a man of business experience who can select the proper men, and prove by analysis and investigation that the work of the Department is being properly carried out. When the exPostmasterGeneral took office, he told us that we were to have a balance-sheet showing the position of the different branches of the Department. I thought he really meant what he said.
– We have appointed an accountant, but the work cannot be done for another year.
– The promised balance-sheet has become -another “ hardy annual.” Had I been at the head of the Department, I should have seen that a proper balance-sheet was prepared for submission to Parliament. I know enough about business to lead me to believe that I could prepare such a balance-sheet myself if I could not get any one else to do it for me.
– I do not think that the honorable member could prepare the Departmental balance-sheet in less time than Mr. Triggs can prepare it. I do not think the honorable member has ever struck such a proposition as the Postal Department.
– I do not suggest that We should have immediately a balancesheet regarding the whole Department, but year after year we have been promised a balance-sheet relating to the telephone branch of the service. Let us have such a balance-sheet to begin with-.
– It will come in time.
– At the end of another year we shall have the same old “gag.”
– The officers are the “ bosses,” and will not let the Minister have a balance-sheet. I hope that the new Postmaster-General, who has a bit of go in him, will give us, without delay, a balance-sheet relating to the telephone branch of the service. I do not desire to set Minister against Minister-
– The exPostmasterGeneral appointed a Chief Accountant, and instructions will be given to him to analyze and investigate the accounts of the Department as far as possible so that we may know how it stands.
– It is “ going to be done.”
– Some day in the dim future, we are going to have a balancesheet.
– It is a shame that such an officer was not appointed years ago.
– The work ought to have been done years ago. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department is a great commercial concern, and it is remarkable that such an institution should be carried on without the presentation of” a balance-sheet from time to time. Honorable members cannot be expected to express an intelligent opinion on these matters when they do not know whether or not the service is paying. I do not say that we should make the Department pay its way ; that is a question of policy, but we ought to know whether it is paying, and I hope that this “hardy annual ‘ ‘ . will not make its appearance again next year. We now have the explicit promise of the Postmaster-General that we are to have, next year, a balance-sheet relating to the telephone branch of the service.
– The Department has promised to give a full account of all the services next year.
– Very well. I wish now to recall to the Prime Minister’s mind a promise that he made to a deputation which waited upon him in London in regard to the land tax. The right honorable gentleman then said that he would give consideration to many hard cases that were occurring in connexion with that tax. In the course of his Budget statement he said that he estimated to receive from this source in respect of the current year a revenue of £1,430,000; but when the
Bill was before us he said that £1,000,000 a year would be a fair amount for the tax to produce.
– My estimate was nearer the mark than was that of the honorable member.
– I shall explain how my estimate went astray, but that is not the point with which I am now dealing. I had hoped to hear the right honorable gentleman refer in the course of his Budget statement to his promise that he would look into these hard cases. He has received from the land tax 50 per cent, more than he anticipated it would yield, and it is only reasonable that some of these hard cases should be looked into. A good deal of distress exists amongst the very people whose cases were brought under the Prime Minister’s notice, and he is in honour bound to inquire into the matter. When the Bill was before the House I made the suggestion, which was received with a good deal of favour, that the amount originally paid to the Crown for land should be exempt from taxation. If that suggestion were adopted many of these cases of distress would be relieved. The amounts originally paid to the Crown in respect of rural lands varied from 10s. to 25s., and even 30s. per acre. The position in regard to town lands is altogether different. The owner of town lands can pass on his tax, and as a matter of fact is doing so, so that he does not suffer the same hardship as does the owner of country lands. The latter has to produce for the markets of the world, and with low prices and seasons that are not too good, as the honorable member for Darling knows, he is having a rather bad time.
– That remark does not apply to all land-owners. Magnificent prices have been obtained for butter.
– The honorable member has in mind the position of Victorian farmers, whilst I am speaking of land-owners all over the Commonwealth. The fact that magnificent prices are being obtained for butter is of no concern to the man who has no butter to sell, and that has been the experience of many farmers in New South Wales and Queensland. A lot of the dairying land originally acquired from the Crown at £1 an acre is now worth up to £40 per acre.
– There is very good land in the Western District of Victoria.
– Much of it was obtained from the Crown- at £1 per acre, and it is worth now ^40 per acre. If my suggestion were adopted, the owners of such land would still have to pay the tax on a valuation of ^39 per acre. They would simply be allowed an exemption in respect of the £1 per acre originally paid to the Crown. This proposition was first embodied in an amendment moved by the honorable member for Fremantle, and I think that the Prime Minister would meet a great many of these hard cases if he would provide for an exemption in respect of the amount originally paid to the Crown. I have felt a great deal of concern in regard to the delay in establishing a Small Arms Factory.
– The factory is nearly ready.
– I am glad to hear that it is; but I think that the Minister representing the Minister of Defence should make an explicit statement on the point. I do not suggest that the Minister of Defence is altogether responsible for the delay that has occurred, but” we ought to have an explanation as to why the work has not been pushed ahead. Like the promised postal balance-sheet, this Small Arms Factory threatens to become another “hardy annual.” The Minister should make a clean breast of the whole matter, and tell the House exactly how it stands. lt is of vital importance to Australia that the Small Arms Factory should be speedily established. A date ought to be fixed upon which the factory shall be opened.
– Has the honorable member seen the pictures of the interior of the factory which are now on view in the Library ?
– I have not, but I am glad to hear that the building is nearing completion. There has been a good deal of discussion on the question of old- age pensions. The right honorable member for Swan has pointed out that about onehalf of the people of Australia who have reached the pension age are actually drawing pensions, and I agree with him that that is a sad state of affairs. One would expect, as he remarked, that in a new country like this the people would have had opportunities to make some provision for their old age. We have adopted a haphazard scheme which is filling a gap, and filling it fairly well, but I do not think that the last word has been said on the question of making provision for our aged poor. This is an opportune time to consider how we are going to better the present old-age pension system. Such a system does not make for stability of character. It is not altogether a good thing that a man should know that no matter what he spends, when he reaches a certain age he will be able to lean on the old-age pension system. In this connexion I should like to read some extracts from a report by Sir John Cockburn regarding a conference held at the Hague in September, 1910. There were representatives present from all parts of the world, and they took a great interest in the question of social insurance. The first thing they did was to discuss the system, and on that Sir John Cockburn says -
In my report on the Congress in Rome, 1908, I alluded to the dislike of noncontributory pensions from the State on the part of those who were accustomed to systems of insurance. Since that time this has gathered strength, and much of the discussion at The Hague turned on the subject. Some warmth of feeling was displayed ; Great Britain and Australia were adversely criticised for having introduced a system which was stigmatized as revolutionary and destructive of the spirit of independence. On the other hand, Dr. Manes, who had lately returned from investigating onthe spot the social and industrial legislation of Australia and New Zealand, spoke in the highest terms of the Acts there in force.
So that there was an advocate at the time for the system that we have adopted in Australia ; but a great deal of the intelligent opinion of the day was that it should, at any rate, be accompanied by a further system in which every employe* should have to participate. The report further states -
It should not, however, be concluded, because this short cut -
That “ short cut “ refers to the method we have adopted of allowing any man to earn UP to & a week, anything below £1 a week to be paid by the State - towards the end in view was adopted that therefore Australia undervalued individual contributions as a means of promoting self-reliance in the community. In no part of the world was provision by the worker for a rainy day more marked than in Australia, where the amount in the Savings Bank to the credit fer capita of the population was phenomenally large. It was quite likely that the provision made by the State for the actual daily wants of the aged and infirm might in the future be regarded as the minimum for their necessities, and that further provision for additional comforts might be made on a contributory basis. As was welt said by a previous speaker, the question was not so much one of State aid versus insurance, but of State aid towards insurance.
That was exceedingly well put. It is an excellent suggestion, to which the Government ought to give a good deal of attention, because it was admitted at the Con- ference that the haphazard method which we have adopted, particularly if amplified by insurance against sickness, as we have done in the case of invalid pensions, is liable to a great many abuses, and that the recipients are not themselves interested in seeing that no abuses occur. The following statement was also made: -
Similarly, a state of nerves known as neurasthenia, not previously known among workers, has lately become alarmingly prevalent.
– Neurasthenia is a very serious matter.
– The “ neurasthenia “ referred to there is, I think, malingering, from which no system is free. We ought to have a complete system, under which the recipients themselves contribute towards the pensions, so that we may have their assistance in seeing that there are no abuses. Another part of the report is as follows: -
In the absence of a system of general and compulsory insurance, some results untoward to the worker are apt to follow if the whole of the burden is thrown on the employer. This gives rise to an increasing tendency to refuse employment to older men, who are, of course, more liable to injury. Being unemployed, they fall into bad health, benefit societies suffer, and the work-house is replenished. Workmen are often driven to the subterfuge of understating their age. Hair dye, which is used by the privileged classes for motives of vanity, sometimes becomes a necessary of life to the worker.
I am sorry to say that I have seen hair-dye used by many of my old friends among the workers. They have to use that means to make themselves look younger than they are, and it is a very sad sight. We ought to go into the whole question in an intelligent way, because in a civilized State we ought to make such provision that nobody shall suffer. To achieve that end, I think a certain measure of compulsion will have to be resorted to, employers as well as employes having to contribute a fair share, and the Government adding a portion.
– The workers contribute now. Everybody pays taxes.
– In that way they do contribute, and they get their little bit back by our present haphazard method. Another extract is the following: - 57.8 per cent, of the workmen and 15.5 per cent, of the workwomen in Denmark, not including agricultural labourers, are insured against unemployment. Most of the associations were formed from pre-existing trade unions. More than half the workmen in Denmark are trade unionists; and, thanks to the discipline of the unions, all of them are insured.
I had hoped that the Government would give their attention to this matter before. We have adopted a short-cut, haphazard method of preventing men and women from starving, and we ought now to carry the system a little further by providing in these piping times of prosperity for the periods of adversity that are sure to come. This report deserves to be read by every honorable member opposite, particularly by those who have to deal with their unions. In Denmark, thanks to the discipline of the unions, all their members are insured. If the unions in Australia turned their attention a little more to that matter, and a little less to strikes, we should get along a great deal better. I am sure I should, at any rate. I have dealt with only a fragment of the matters which this most important Budget brings before the people. The question of the Northern Territory alone would occupy one for several days if he did it justice. I am sure that the Minister, who is now in charge of that matter, will give us a really sound scheme by which this great waste space will be developed. I am looking forward anxiously to his statement. He is a new broom in the Department, and so, I suppose, he will have a great scheme to bring before us. I hope he has noticed that, at the Medical Conference, recently held in Sydney, the two scientific gentlemen who addressed themselves to the question declared that the white races could not permanently live in the tropics. That is a very serious question, which I hope the Ministry are taking into consideration, because it strikes at the root of our white Australian policy. Every one of us hopes that the problem of tropical settlement in Australia will be solved by white people, but we must look these scientific questions straight in the face. We must continue to encourage the schools of tropical medicine to investigate these matters, because the peopling of the Northern Territory is Australia’s great question.
– I listened with pleasure to the honorable member for Fawkner, because he goes into detail on the questions with which he is dealing, and also to the honorable member for Flinders, and the honorable member for Wilmot last’ night. There seems to be a desire to find some better method of providing old-age pensions. The sum which we are paying now seems to frighten some honorable members. It has now mounted up to £2,190,000, and the tenor of their remarks has been to seek to prove that 1 system under which the employer and employe both contributed would be a better one. I take an entirely different view. The history of Denmark, whose system we have followed, goes to prove that it is superior to that of Germany. Denmark takes the money for pensions out of the Consolidated Revenue, just as we do. When Prince Bismarck initiated his old-age pensions scheme in Germany he tried to build up what he called a self-reliant scheme, under which employer and employe had to contribute.
– Can the honorable member substantiate his statement that the Danish system is better than the German?
– Yes ; I shall try to prove it. I interjected last night when the honorable member for Flinders was speaking that the contribution system involved so much labour and clerical work that it was overburdened, and, to a certain extent, broken down. I have since taken the trouble to look into the figures. These make it clear that we are on the right track in not going in for a contributory system which would create a whole army of civil servants to carry it out - a result which, I am sure, honorable members opposite do not desire. I do not think that any scheme which would have that effect would be acceptable to this House. In Germany it costs, to work the scheme, no less than 19s. 8d. per annum per head of all those who come under it.
– But that 19s. 8d. covers, not only provision for old-age, but accident, sickness, &c.
– It is simply the cost of the management.
– Oh, no.
– I can assure the honorable member that these figures are reliable. The system in Germany is most elaborate. On every pay-day the employer has to put a stamp on the card of the employe, showing the amount of money he has paid. The employe also has to contribute, and that amount is put on a card. At the end of each year the cards are collected and stowed away, with the result that great buildings are filled with them. There are different grades, and the man receives a pension according to the amount of money he has paid in. The whole system is so heavy and ponderous that it would not work with a scattered population like ours, in which many men are their own employers. The amount per head under the present Administration is 9s. 5½d.
– It comes to about £41,000 a year.
– Yes. When the New South Wales Government were administering their own Act, it tost about £23,000; but the business has been more economically managed under the Commonwealth.
– Is the honorable member quite sure that the amount per head covers all the matters I mentioned?
– I had some doubts, so I rung up Mr. Knibbs, who assures me that it is the right figure. We pay, on an average, in old-age pensions £22 19s. 3d. per head per year; while under the German system, which some honorable members say is the best, the amount is only £7 12s.11¼d.
-It is not suggested that the amount paid should be the same as in Germany.
– No; but the two systems are contrasted, and, in my opinion, the better way is to take the money out of the Consolidated Revenue. If we collect week by week from the employers and employes, we take the money from those who are the bulk of the community, whereas all the people contribute to the Consolidated Revenue. Besides, by taking the money out of the Consolidated Revenue, a great deal of clerical work and supervision is saved ; and the simpler the administration, the better it is for the country. It is true that the expenditure under the Old-age Pensions Act is growing; but we have to remember that the expenditure is also growing in connexion with our Defence Forces, especially the Navy.
– The expenditure on the Navy will have to be increased largely.
– That is so. But our population is not large enough to bear the burden, splendid asset as the Commonwealth is. If we look at the figures we see that, in our expenditure on the Military Forces and the Navy, we stand almost at the’ head of all other countries.
– Only 14,000 people are supplying the money for the naval expenditure !
– The honorable member is referring to the land tax ; but it would be just as reasonable to say that the revenue from the land tax had been expended on old-age pensions.
– We have £1,500,000 from the one source.
– I know; but that is not the point at issue. We must see to the comfort of the old pioneers of this country ; and such money is well spent.
– Does the honorable member admit that there are many working men who are not receiving pensions, and who yet have done just as much service to the country as the pioneers?
– I admit that; and, doubtless, there is great trouble in connexion with such anomalies.
– The only solution is that all persons shall have pensions, irrespective of their financial position.
– I believe the time will come when it will be only necessary for a man to prove his age, and his residence in the country, to entitle him to a pension, whether he be in want or not.
– That is the only way to remove the anomaly.
– The honorable member for Flinders, and the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, have told us that people who receive pensions, without contributing to the cost, have taken away from them their stamina, or incentive to exertion, and are, as it were, made paupers. I do not think that is a correct statement of the case, because some of the highest-paid public servants in Australia, including the Judges, receive pensions without in any way contributing to the cost. I do not say that these officials suffer in their manhood in consequence.
– There is no suggestion of pensions for politicians I
– Parliament has been very slow in providing for old politicians who have given up their lives to their country ; and I know that some of the best statesmen in New South Wales have died very poor men.
– One was placed in the Liverpool Asylum the other day 1
– I was pleased to notice that the honorable member for Flinders said that, although he advocated a new system of pensions, we should have to recognise the people who come here, and give them an opportunity to contribute.
– That is absolutely necessary.
– It is a fair statement to make. In regard to the Northern Territory, we ought to deal with it in no piecemeal way. It will be a disgrace to this Parliament unless that Territory is so ad ministered as to be of .’ benefit to the country generally.
– What is the honorable member’s solution?
– I am told that in the Northern Territory is to be found some of the best grazing country in Australia. My suggestion is that the Government ought to appoint a Commission to pick out some of the best lands and stock them with sheep, cattle, and horses.
– Add the squatting business to the other enterprises of the Government ?
– Quite so; we have not to pay for the land.
– Have a bloated squatter up there?
– The Commonwealth is to be the squatter - State Socialism on a big scale !
– If the’ Government were to spend £200,000 or £300,000 in stocking the Territory, the profits would pay the working expenses of the railway, and so develop the country as to make it fit for occupation.
– Squatting does not employ so many people.
– I advocate this squatting proposal with a view of raising revenue so that people can be placed on the land.
– We require people, not sheep.
– But one of the best ways of opening up a country is by squatting and sheep-breeding.
– We say so, but we did not know that the honorable member agreed with us.
– Some of the best parts of the Commonwealth have been developed by early pioneers as squatting graziers.
– There are squatters in the Territory now.
– I know; and one sends 1,100 head of cattle into the Queensland market. I have no doubt that if the suggestion I have made were carried out, it would meet with success.
– Whatever the Government do, they will be charged with spends ing money wastefully.
– And justifiably so.
– Why not suggestthat the Government take up mining in the Territory ?
– It might not be a bad idea. I am against bringing people to Australia unless we can give them something to do. The honorable member for
Flinders last night said that there ought to be no spoon-feeding - that what we want is the hardy pioneer.
– But the honorable member for Balaclava advocated building houses and erecting fences for settlers. What can the Government do?
– If we could assist settlers by money advances, it would be a step in the right direction. As to the Federal Capital, a great deal more has to be done than has been done ; and I am not satisfied with the progress made. The Minister of Home Affairs tells me that the plans for the buildings cannot be drawn until we have the plans of the city settled. That is all moonshine. It is possible to draw the designs of a building, and then to lay out the foundations and basement. If we have to wait until the general plans arrive, at the end of January, the whole project will be “hung up” for years.
– In the meantime, reports could be got from all the Departments as to requirements.
– Quite so; but we find that the £[50,000 that we voted last year was not all expended. My own opinion is that we could erect brickworks, and prepare telephone, telegraph, and sewer tunnels - that we could do much other work of a substantial character, instead of simply “marking time.” Another suggestion I would make is that the Commonwealth ought to have a Public Works Committee. It is not fair that millions of money should be spent on the advice of officers ; and I am sure that the Minister of Home Affairs would be only too glad to have the assistance of such a body. I am confident that much money would thereby be saved. I should like to see the present pensions extended, if possible. When the weekly pension was fixed at 10s., the cost of living was less than it is now, when the purchasing power of a sovereign is not more than that of 17s. 6d. a few years ago.
– 15s. would be a nearer estimate.
– In view of these facts, Parliament should take into consideration the wisdom of increasing the pension rate by is. or 2s. a week. If the expenditure on pensions increases, we must find a means for meeting it. Personally, I would rather, if necessary, curtail expenditure in other directions. I hope that the Northern Territory will be stocked with horses and sheep, and will return a revenue which will enable railways to be constructed, and alarge settlement provided for.
.– The Minister of External Affairs has promised to state the Government policy regarding the Northern Territory, which weshould have liked to hear earlier in thedebate, because we should know what plan? of action, if any, underlies the Estimates. Judging by the items, no great departures are contemplated. I view with satisfaction the attitude of the Government towards theaborigines of the Northern Territory as it was expressed by the late Minister, and am sure that the Committee feels that anything that can be done to make happier the lot of what has been called “ the remnant race of Australia ‘ ‘ should be done. According to the official returns, the fullblooded aborigines of Australia now number 19,939, of whom 1,223 are in the Northern Territory, but I understand that these figures include only aborigines near centres of civilization, and that those whosework is connected with the aborigines say that they are three times as numerous as the statistics show them to be. I should like the Commonwealth to join with the States in securing a uniform method of dealing with the aborigines. The problem is a big one in the northern parts of Western Australia and Queensland, and in the Northern Territory, though, for many years past, Queensland, at least, has done good’ work in protecting its natives. We wish to know how the Northern Territory is to be opened up and settled. It will not be profitable to the Commonwealth until a considerable sum of money has been spent on its development. At present it has only one railway, a short line running inland from Port Darwin. What is needed is aproper examination of the lands, and their classification, so that we may know which are, and which are not, suitable for close settlement. Railways should be pushed, out into the districts where they will dcrmost good. We must have a liberal land’ policy, and a vigorous immigration policy, and we should know how everything is tobe financed. If the Government takes advantage of the experience of Western Australia and Queensland, it will not find it necessary to hand over the Territory to large syndicates. Queensland has adoptedthe policy of making lines from the coast into the interior, and throwing open herlands on the easiest terms, thus giving every encouragement to settlement. Presumably, a policy has been worked out by the Department; b.ut what is the policy of the Government as revealed by the Estimates? It is proposed to expend £2,000 on artesian bores in connexion with the overland route to the Tanami gold-field, and the stock routes ; to provide £500 for the survey of a route for a line from Pine Creek to Katherine Creek ; to spend £8,000 on experimental farms, and £2,000 on a horse-breeding farm. Apparently no general examination of the country is contemplated to ascertain whether developmental railways should not be taken over the Barkley Tableland to join the Queensland system, and we may take it for granted that no immigration policy is to be pursued during the next twelve months, because nothing is set down under that head. We shall look eagerly forward to the promised policy, which is to be explained by the Minister of External Affairs. I should like to see the Commonwealth co-operate with the States in assisting immigration to Australia generally, but the Estimates do not show any great forward movement in the advertising of Australia. The High Commissioner, in his last report, presses strongly for the expansion of advertising. He says -
Some of the chief benefits that could fairly be expected from a vigorous policy of that sort would be -
A more satisfactory stream of desirable emigration to Australia.
A wider knowledge of and a better sale for the exportable products of the Commonwealth.
Increased attention to Australia as a field for enterprise.
A fuller recognition of the value of our public securities.
In the report of Mr. Smart we find this statement -
There have been many applications for lectures on Australia, but owing to the fact that no funds were placed at our disposal during the present year for lecturers, we have been unable to avail ourselves of this opportunity for publicity.
– That is one of the best ways of advertising.
– Yes, they are using a biograph tent, and the schools, and as to results generally, Mr. Smart says -
Since April last, 12,700 inquiries relating to emigration have been dealt with at this office, and over 100,000 publications distributed to inquirers. Of this number, the greater portion of inquiries are from farmers with capital, farm workers, rural workers, and domestic servants.
It is immigrants belonging to those classes whom we need, and the Government should co-operate with the shipping companies in providing vessels to bring people here. Yesterday the Minister of External Affairs suggested that there are not steamers available, but, according to the newspapers, there are steamers available for carrying coolies from India to the Pacific Islands, so that Australia ought to be able to get vessels for bringing white persons to its shores. Mr. Smart reports that -
For a sound indication of the practical value of this advertising, it is only necessary to point out that during the last six months (JulyDecember), 28,758 passengers left the United Kingdom for Australia, as compared with 19,105 for the same period of 1909. There is no doubt that the increase for 1911 will be even greater. This is, perhaps, the best justification for the Commonwealth advertising scheme.
The figures for the first half-year of this year justify the prophecy. A large number of immigrants has come out. We know from the newspapers that the High Commissioner has conferred with the AgentsGeneral of the States as to how more immigrants can be brought here. Whilst Ministers tell us that there is no official information in regard to the matter, we find that the representative of Australia in London is conferring with the representatives of the States, and facing the very problem which we as a Commonwealth should be facing. In 1906, the then Prime Minister put before the State Premiers it Conference at Sydney a definite and distinct offer on behalf of the Commonwealth to make a grant to the States to assist them in chartering special vessels to bring immigrants to Australia.
– What was the decision of the States?
– The States, I regret to say, were not then prepared to enter into an arrangement.
– Did the Government of the day have any definite reply from Victoria ?
– The States at the time were not prepared to take action, but since 1906 there has been, on the part of the States, a very considerable advance in the movement in favour of immigration. I believe that if the Commonwealth Government adopted a truly sympathetic attitude, and made a substantial offer to assist the States in this respect, that offer would not be refused. I should be very sorry if it were. Even if only two or three of the States would combine with the Commonwealth - the States which most need the people - the Federal Government would be perfectly justified in taking action accordingly.It matters not to the Commonwealth to which individual State immigrants go so long as they go to a State where they can find employment. The chief desire is that Australia shall be occupied, and we know very well that an immigrant when he comes here is free to move about the continent according to the various vocations offered him. We shall, therefore, be fully justified in co-operating with any of the States who are willing to join with us in this movement. I should like the Minister of. External Affairs to study the High Commissioner’s report very closely.
Sitting suspended from 6.28 to 7.45 p.m.
MrGROOM. - A deputation representing almost every State in the Union recently waited on the Minister of External Affairs, and requested him to undertake a morecomplete advertising of the products of Australia, and particularly of our meat and dairy produce. The Minister promised to take the matter into consideration, and I should be very glad if he could see his way to further the object which the deputation had in view.
– I shall bring the matter under his notice.
– On 13th May, 1910, the High Commissioner placed before the Minister of External Affairs a series of suggestions, in the course of which he said -
I am already convinced of the wisdom of making a beginning in the above directions -
He was referring to lecturing tours -
Whether they would result in any considerable stream of emigration to Australia is not yet clear to me.
In a subsequent report he strongly recom- - mended that these tours should be undertaken.. He went on to say -
But, notwithstanding their duties of imports, the great populations of Europe and the United States present a fine field for commercial propaganda, backed up by ocular demonstrations of the excellence and cheapness of many of our great exportable products. By such means, our export trade may, I think, be largely increased. Further, if we convey to Americans and Europeans a better knowledge of the fitness of our products for their wants, we may be clearing the way for more favorable treatment in future Tariff revisions.
In his report dated 1st May, 191 1, the High Commissioner devotes special attention to the question of opening up new markets for Australian produce, and I am rather sorry that we have not yet had from the Government any declaration of their policy in this regard. The High Commissioner reports -
Next in importance comes the duty of spreading knowledge of the excellence and cheapness of Australian produce. There is a growing movement in Europe in favour of reducing the Tariff obstacles standing in the way of our trade. This is caused, perhaps, entirely by a demand for cheaper food, especially in the shape of meat. There are vested interests of great strength to be overcome or conciliated before any decided change can be looked for
He then proceeds to give an account of an Austrian delegation which visited London, and with some of the members of which he had an interview. He states that he offered to pay the expense of conveying a sample quantity of 5 tons of Australian meat to Vienna, in order to make known to the people there the importance of Australia as a source of supply, but that the offer was not accepted. His concluding recommendation is -
I strongly favour the establishment of agencies, which need not cost much, in two or three leading towns in the United Kingdom, and one each in Paris, Berlin, and New York, for a display of our leading products, and the spread of information relating thereto. I believe experience would lead to much greater developments in that direction.
This report must have reached the Department long before the Estimates were submitted, and I should like to know whether the Government intend to carry out the High Commissioner’s recommendations.
– They are socialistic.
– It is a matter of indifference to me how they are described. I am prepared to adopt any proposal which I conceive to be in the interests of Australia. What is the use of our having a High Commissioner, with a large retinue, in Great Britain, unless we are going to adopt the recommendations which he, on the spot, makes, with a knowledge of what is good for Australia?
– We thought that he was an anti- Socialist when we sent him to England..
– The last recommendation is specific and clear, and the honorable member for Werriwa, instead of treating it as a joke, should remember that his constituents are producers, and that the recommendation is made in their interest. He would be doing better work for his constituency and the producing interests of that fruitful area if he were to press upon the Minister of External Affairs the desirableness of adopting this recommendation. I can see by the serious look on his face that he now agrees with me. The matter is of great importance to Australia, and the Government should seriously consider whether it ought not also to give attention to the opening up of markets in the East. We should like, also, to have from the Government some statement regarding the suggestion made by the officer placed in charge of the Intelligence Branch of the Department of External Affairs some years ago as to the desirableness of Australia combining with other countries, with a view of making better known to the world the tourist resorts of Australia. That policy was approved, and it was thought that something might be done in conjunction with the United States of America and Canada to make better known in England and America the attractions of Australia from a tourist’s point of view. The tourist trips to many parts of Australia have been followed by considerable results in the way of the investment of capital and the taking up of land. I should like the Minister to state what the Department is going to do regarding this important matter. I hope that the High Commissioner’s report will be carefully considered. If it is simply to be pigeon-holed, then I am afraid that the full benefit of his appointment will not come to us. Australia has reason to congratulate itself upon the excellent work which Sir George Reid has done in the Old Country. So far as we can gather from every returned Australian, as well as from every report that reaches us, Sir George Reid has done a great deal to advertise Australia by his own efforts and energies and his able addresses. I was pleased to notice in a report of a speech by Sir Thomas Robinson, Agent-General for Queensland, a paragraph in which, while pointing cut the important work done by the State Agents-General, he acknowledged the splendid services being rendered by Sir George Reid. The High Commissioner and the States Agents-General are working in that spirit of co-operation which should underlie the operation of all our Federal and State institutions.
– I thought that the appointment of the High Commissioner would make the States Agents-General superfluous.
-I do not think it was ever intended to supersede them. I believe, as Sir Thomas Robinson points out, that Australia, having federated, and having appointed a High Commissioner, now speaks, as she ought to do, with one voice on all great occasions in the Old Country.
– But she is wasting a lot of money in maintaining all these unnecessary Agents-Generals’ offices in London. All ought to be in one office.
– They should be all in the one building, so as to prevent persons running about all over the city in search of them. I dare say by that means cooperation for the common good would be greatly increased. An important matter affecting the Defence Department has come under my notice. We are all exceedingly anxious to see the system of com pulsory defence completely successful. According to Lord Kitchener’s report the crux of the whole scheme is the area officer. Lord Kitchener points out in paragraphs 24 and 25 -
Each area should be designed to provide a definite proportion of a fighting unit, and should be in charge of a thoroughly trained permanent instructional officer assisted by one or two noncommissioned officers.
By this means a trained officer will be supplied to live permanently amongst a definite number of the Citizen Forces, whose military proficiency will entirely depend on his efforts to assist them in home training, as well as in maintaining the military spirit of self-denial and esfrit de corfs amongst not only those who are under training but also the whole community. He will thus be readily available on alloccasions to assist both officers and men in his area in their endeavour to render themselves efficient defenders of their country.
He adds in paragraph 29 -
In this connexion may I repeat that the whole success of the Citizen Force depends upon the thoroughness and amount of the home training under the area officer.
He sets out in paragraph 31 the duties of the area officer, as follows : -
The duties of the officer in charge of an area would include -
The inspection of the junior cadets training in the schools.
The organization and training of the senior cadets.
The enrolment, equipment, and training of the adult from eighteen to nineteen years of age.
The equipment, organization, and training of the trained soldier from nineteen to twenty-five years of age.
The supervision of the registration of all male inhabitants under clause 142 of the Act.
The maintenance of lists of males twenty-five to twenty-six years of age who have just completed their training.
Communication to other areas of all changes of residence of men under training, with particulars of their military proficiency.
Information regarding the numbers, residence, and classification of the reserve men in the areas, and the organization and maintenance of rifle clubs. ‘
A thorough acquaintance with the inhabitants of his area.
In paragraph 44 he very properly adds -
If men of the right stamp are to be attracted to the corps, the pay of each rank must be good ; and in this connexion it must be rememberedthat the circumstances of an officer’s services prevent, and rightly so, his participation in commercial ventures.
The efficiency of the whole force is going to depend on the area officer. If he is a thoroughly competent and good man, and has the necessary patriotism and esprit de corps he will make our Citizen Forces a success. In fact, in another part of the report Lord Kitchener lays it down very strongly that the area officer is the key-note of the whole system. What are the duties of the position to-day? Upon the area officers who have been appointed has been thrown the whole duty of the initiation of this great scheme. They have to bear the whole heat and burden of it. They have had to ascertain the requirements of their districts. They had to carry out the whole system of registration in the beginning. They were connected with the medical examinations, they had to do all the preliminary work of educating the public as to the nature of the duties cast upon them, to follow the movements of all the young lads who were registered, and to inculcate in them the habit of attending drill. Each has to travel all over his area, and carry out the whole of the duties of administration in it.
– They have too much work to do.
– Under existing conditions, I say yes, but how are the Government treating them? When the scheme is subsequently in complete operation those young officers who are being trained in our own College at Duntroon - and those associated with the College are to be congratulated upon the efficiency with which the work is being begun - are to be put in charge of the areas. Their salaries are then to range from £250 upwards, but the first of them cannot be available under five years. In the meantime the Government are obtaining the services of a number of militia officers. The young officers now being trained at the Military College will afterwards reap the benefit of all the work done for the next five years by the present area officers, and in the circumstances one would imagine that the Government would treat the latter with considerable generosity. But the present area officers do not hold permanent positions, and are given a salary of £150 per annum, with certain allowances, and are allowed to carry on their own occupations concurrently with this work. Considering that the permanent officers who are to take possession subsequently are to start at £250, with all their opportunities of promotion, it is not speaking too strongly to characterize the present salary as practically sweating the men who are doing the work. The work is so heavy that if it is to be done efficiently an area officer cannot carry on his own private occupation as well. Either his own business or the training of the Citizen Forces must suffer. Seeing that we are starting the system, the Commonwealth ought to have no hesitation in saying, “ If these men are prepared to make a break in their ordinary pursuits and undertake this work, we will give them adequate compensation for the services they are rendering to the country.” When it is remembered that some of these area officers are also called upon to perform the duties of militia adjutants, which formerly carried a remuneration of £90 per annum, it will be seen that they are not being treated with the justice which they should have received at the hands of this country. I understand that in some instances the officers who started the work found, by practical experience, that they could not go on with it, and had to throw it up in order to earn their livelihood. Lord Kitchener pointed out in his report that “ the circumstances of an officer’s service prevent, and rightly so, his participation in commercial ventures.” If these area officers try to earn their livelihood in private pursuits the public work of training must be neglected, and I hope the Government will earnestly consider whether they cannot be treated with a greater degree of justice. The whole House is entirely sympathetic with the Government in their desire to promote compulsory training. I am sorry the Honorary Minister was not present when I was dealing with this question, but I would ask him particularly to read my remarks. We should like to hear from the Treasurer a little more information with regard to the future expenditure of the Commonwealth, and how it is to be met. We have had several interesting propositions put before us, showing that the Commonwealth is to be committed to very heavy expenditure. I think the Minister of Home Affairs contemplates an ultimate expenditure of £3,000,000 on the Federal Capital.
– To complete it, but that amount would be spread over forty or fifty years.
– What does the Minister contemplate spending in that direction during the next ten years?
– I should imagine a million pounds. Of course that includes the resumption of land.
– That is a very modest estimate. The development of the Northern Territory will require some millions for rail way construction, water conservation, the establishment of experimental farms, grants to assist mining and open up roads, the improvement of rivers, harbors, and so forth. It is hard to estimate how many millions will be required there during the next ten years if we wish to make the Territory reproductive. We are committed to an expenditure of at least £4,000,000 on the .Western Australian railway, which is to be constructed, according to the Minister’s statement, at least within three years. Those three items alone, without touching on the question of defence, show clearly that the Government will have to face at a very early date the serious problem of how Australia is to be financed. We ought to have had some indication from the Government as to the probable trend of their future financial policy. So far we have only had thrown before us a series of figures, which should have been separated to show exactly how much we are spending, and how much we are committed to spend, with regard both to the annual services and to the public works in connexion with each Department. Finally, there should be a clear statement of the ultimate expenditure to which the Commonwealth is bound to be committed during the next few years in developing the Northern Territory, building the railway to the West, and opening up Australia generally. Some statement should have been made to us, showing what is really the annual expenditure and revenue of the ordinary services, and what expenditure is going to be capital expenditure, so that we may have some idea of the direction in which our finances are leading us. The Treasurer, however, has given us no guidance whatever. He has laid down no financial policy for the future. He has simply shown us a large revenue of £19,500,000, and an expenditure of about £21,000,000, and every penny that is raised is going to be spent, including the surplus °f £1,800,000 from last year. There is no indication of any sound financial policy, or of the trend of the financial future. We have just freed ourselves from the trammels of the Braddon section, and we have the whole of the finances at our disposal. Seeing that we are in that happy position, we might expect from the Government some lead on the question. However, we hope that before the debate closes, the Treasurer, in replying to the criticisms offered, may be able to give us what we have not had presented to us yet - a complete financial policy for the development of Australia.
.- We are now dealing with the most important question that has occupied this Parliament from the day of its inception, and we ought to grudge no time in discussing our financial position. The views of honorable members ought to be welcomed, though we may differ; and this House, which prides itself on its control of the finances, ought to be willing to devote any amount of time to proper and relevant discussion. In all my experience of thirty years, I have never known an occasion so important as the present. No Government in the Commonwealth, or, perhaps, in any of the States, have had imposed on them so important a duty as the present Government, under the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The Government have enormous opportunity .to do good, and an enormous responsibility if they fail to lead the House and the country in a proper direction. To me, it is significant that there should be so small an attendance of honorable members during such a momentous discussion.
– It is the night before the State elections !
– I admit there are reasons for. a paucity of members, but it has been painfully evident since we resumed this discussion two days ago, that the meagre attendance is not confined to this evening.
– There were strong attractions last week, too!
– I do not know ; at any rate, there was no attraction for me. Attractions, however great, should not keep us away from our duty within these walls.
The present Government came into office after a series of prosperous years, and under circumstances which I think entitled the Prime Minister to consideration. Last year the right honorable gentleman had, practically, to submit the Budget prepared by his predecessors, and we all felt that it would be unreasonable to ask him to set out a chart of the course of finance which he and his colleagues intended to follow. On that occasion he simply balanced the accounts to a penny, appropriating all the money that was expected to come into the Treasury. At that time, too, he had the prospect of a new tax, which it was felt would cover any possible deficiency; so that the question of ways and means, or how to meet the expenditure, did not arise as urgent. We all knew that there would necessarily be a considerable surplus over the expenditure.
This year we meet under totally different circumstances. The Government have been eighteen months in office, and it has been their fortune, or misfortune, to have forced on them a programme prepared largely by people who, however estimable, are certainly not responsible to either the country or this Parliament. I am not going to question the right, obligation, or duty of the Government to bring forward a greater number of proposals affecting the financial position of Australia than any Government have ever introduced before, or, I think, any Government ever will again. I am not now speaking from a party stand-point. When I was supporting the late Government, in which the right honorable member for Swan was Treasurer, I never refrained from criticizing any financial policy which I deemed unwise or injudicious. Honorable members on the Government side to-day will, I think, admit that I have not been what I suppose is called “a good party man “ - that I have not “ stuck to my party “ right or wrong - and that_ I may be absolved in any criticism I may utter to-night from any party feeling. Sound finance is the kernel of all our procedure - it governs and overshadows everything. Such a question is not one of this or that party, and my only object tonight, if I have the strength, is to place before the Committee certain views which I hold on the general position. I have no desire to attack the Government ; and I am sure there are many honorable members on this side who would help the Government along lines of sound finance without reference to party con- siderations. It is sometimes said that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose; but I am not dealing with the question of finance in order to oppose for opposition’s sake, or to raise factious or party considerations. My object is to deal with the grave problem which affects this country, and which will affect it in the future more than, I think, honorable members at the present time thoroughly realize.
I said just now that it had been the fate of the Government to bring before us questions raised for them by the party behind them - by those persons who, it seems to me, are the least qualified to settle the policy of a party. Honorable members opposite, for many of whom I have the greatest respect, are supposed to be the leaders of the Labour party, but in this matter, apparently, they are not leaders. The consequence is that we are being led under the guidance of the Government into a position of very serious import, and of considerable danger. With the close of the year lo io, the Braddon section ceased to operate, and for the first time this Parliament has control of the whole finances of the Commonwealth. During last session, an Act was passed under which the Government took from the private banks the right to issue notes. That, in itself, is a most important financial transaction which I am not going to criticise further than to say that, on principle, when a Government or a Parliament has many things which it can do, and which only it can do, it is not wise or prudent to attempt to do other things, which, however suitable in certain circumstances, can be left to a more convenient season ; Parliament and the Government should attend to matters which lie to hand, and attend to them at once. Another vast financial change was introduced in the form of the land tax, on which I gave my views last year, I do not object to a fair land tax. If a land tax, or any other tax, is necessary, the people must meet their obligations ; and those best able to do so should be prepared, as I have always been, to do their duty by contributing their “share. The land tax has contributed largely to the revenue. The fault I found with it was not that it was a tax on land values, but that it was so imposed as to cause a justifiable feeling of injustice to rankle in the minds of many people who have made investments in Australia, and was thus likely to seriously interfere with future financial transactions in connexion with the enormous liabilities which the country has to face. This afternoon the Treasurer moved the second reading of a Bill to establish a Commonwealth Bank. Such a proposition, if based on certain lines, should receive the serious consideration of Parliament. But such a proposal should be part of a scheme dealing with the whole financial arrangements and organization of the country. I hope that I may consider myself a prudent politician, and, as such, I should like the right honorable gentleman to defer the presentation of his banking proposal until he, his party, and the country have more thoroughly mastered the question and the results which will necessarily follow from the other financial undertakings of the Government.
The Prime Minister has, in unfolding his Budget, missed a great opportunity to show what he and his party mean to do in regard to the enormous financial responsibilities to which they they are committing, and have committed, the Commonwealth.
Every thoughtful man must experience a feeling of disquietude in regard to our expenditure, in view of the fact that no adequate plan has been put forward by the Treasurer for dealing intelligently with our (finances in the future. At present we have plenty of money, and it is proposed to spend it. What alarms me is that there is no thought for the future. Every £1 of an income, which is admitted to be abnormal, is to be spent. According to the papers submitted by the Prime Minister, the expenditure of the Commonwealth during 1909-10, the year before this Government took office, was £7,499,000, and it increased during the first year of the present Administration to £13,156,000, . and for the current year to £13,738,000; that is, the expenditure is nearly doubled in two years. I do not wish to unfairly state the position. The increase is partly accounted for by an expenditure of £1,500,000 for the construction, of a Fleet,, a vote of £468,000 for special defence material, and the payment of £[600,000 into a Trust Fund for special telegraph and telephone works.
– And £2,000,000 for invalid and old-age pensions.
– Yes. I am not reflecting on the items. I merely call attention to the greatness of our expenditure, and the point I wish to make is that we should have a clear perception of how we shall meet not only our present obligations, but, as well, those which will fall on the taxpayers later. Our expenditure in this year will be provided for by the additional taxation which we have imposed, and the abnormal income from Customs and Excise and other sources.
My recollection goes back further than that of most honorable members, and I remember the day, some twenty-five .years since, when, as a member of the Legislature of Victoria, I heard Mr. Duncan Gillies, a man of .great ability, explain what was called the “ Boom Budget.” The honorable member for Ballarat was a member of the Administration of the day. Mr. Gillies had an enormous Customs revenue, and his Budget showed a surplus of nearly £2,000,000. Notwithstanding a higher protective Tariff than the Commonwealth has, the Victorian Customs revenue increased year after year, until it provided the surplus I speak of. Instead of husbanding his resources, and putting the surplus aside, as he could have clone in ways that I then pointed out, Mr. Gillies raised salaries and wages, increased public works construction, and attracted people off the land into Government employment. It was my unpleasant duty, although a staunch supporter of the Government, to point out, almost alone, that the Customs revenue was abnormal owing to seasons of great prosperity, and that speculation had (brought things to a dangerous pass, the probability being that the revenue would suddenly shrink, and that the Treasury would be placed in a difficult position. It seemed to be thought at that time, apparently, that all economic laws had been suspended in favour of Australia, and that what happened elsewhere would not happen here. I was severely taken to task by Mr. Gillies, Professor Pearson, and by Mr. Munro, the Leader of the Opposition, for my pessimistic views, but within two years my forebodings were justified to an extent that I had not conceived possible, and a terrible financial crash occurred. Tha Treasurer said to-night that the land boom of that day was created by the banks. He was a new colonist then, and, consequently, could not know what I know. The banks were not responsible for the crisis, but, like other financial institutions and private mortgagees having money to lend, they had to advance it on the values of the day, which were fictitious.
– Not intentionally.
– They were fictitious in the sense that they had been artificially raised by speculation and the plentifulness of money, and when bad times came, and credit contracted, our prosperity fell like a house of cards. I would remind my right honorable friend the Prime Minister, who talks about bank failures, that these things happen periodically all over the world. When I was in Canada I found that the city of Winnipeg, in the year 1893, had a crisis just as severe as we had in Victoria. The banks were not responsible for that. Again, in Southern California - and this will appeal to the Minister of Home Affairs - I saw, on the Southern Pacific, 100 miles away from any city, townships that had been laid out into allotments with their “ Washington Avenues “ - and it may be their “ O’Malley Drives” - monuments of the speculative madness which prevailed at that time in the country. I saw there the foundation of an enormous hotel, which had been raised about 6 feet above the ground and left unfinished. Herbage was growing over it, and the whole area was deserted. The point I wish to make is that we ought not to be carried away with the idea that fluctuations in values are improbable, and that we have only to pass laws to bring about certain results, and those results will follow. Experience teaches us the contrary. I feel that it is my duty to-night to call attention to these matters. I am not a croaker, and the part of Cassandra is an ungracious one to play ; but there are already indications of a change of conditions in Australia. We have had nine or ten good years, just as we had before the last period of depression, and this Government has come into power on the crest of the wave. There are, however, symptoms which I and others, as business men, have to keep our eyes upon, that the present prosperity is not going to continue indefinitely. When the change is to come, I, being neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, shall not venture to predict; but we all know what happened prior to the last great drought. Since the first settlement of Australia, there have been six drought periods of varying intensity, and they, as a rule, began with sporadic droughts in different parts of the continent. The drought-stricken areas gradually increased until, in two or three years’ time, we have had a great general drought. I am not going to say that that will be our experience next year, or the year after, but there are not wanting indications that make the wary man pause and ask himself what is going to happen by-and-by. Another point to remem- her is that we have had a period of exceedingly high prices in respect of all our products. Wool, wheat, butter, and other produce which Australia so largely exports and so largely depends upon have realized high prices; but there are symptoms of a change in this respect. During the last drought I have heard business men say, “ Well, the price of wool must remain high because there is so little of it.” But it is a curious fact that it frequently happens that, concurrently with decreased output of wool consequent upon the droughts which so impoverished this country, there was a decreased price.
– The consumption was less.
– I do not know what was the cause. I am merely pointing out that the Legislature, with all its potent forces, is as a mere straw on the surface of the stream, and can do nothing to ward off these mysterious physical and financial changes which take place, no one can tell how. It is curious also that periodically men become excited and speculative, lose their sense of financial proportion, and forget that there ever has been a time when things were different. It is likewise curious that very often the demand for an article falls off at a time when one might naturally expect, because of the smallness of the production, that it will increase. These are facts which weight with me, as a member of this House, and I feel that, without some explanation from the Government as the leaders of the House, who, I admit, have enormous responsibilities in this connexion, it behoves us, as representatives of the people, to be very careful what we do. I appeal to my honorable friends on the Government side of the House to proceed warily - because they have the power to do what they choose, but the responsibility is equal to the power. My duty is to point out the considerations that weigh with me, and which, if I were in their position, would affect my actions. I may say at once that I am not desirous of occupying the position held 6y them. It is an enormously difficult one, and, whilst I do not shrink from difficulties, one does not choose them if one can keep away from them. Having put the matter to them I think it is well for them’ and their well -organized party to consider whether it is not better for them to hasten slowly. These Estimates only show a part of our commitments. We have taken over the Northern Territory, we have undertaken to build a railway there as well as to Western Australia, to build the capital, and Parliament has undertaken, above all, that which every honorable member in this House is agreed was our first duty - the great duty of the defence of Australia by land and sea. According to the reports of the eminent military and naval officers who were invited to advise us, we have in front of us an enormous expenditure in this respect. I would ask my honorable friends of the Government to explain what they are going to do, and what they think their successors will have to do to meet all obligations. My view is that in the circumstances the cry which we hear from certain quarters that there should be no borrowing is unreasonable.
An Honorable Member. - Now we have it.
– The honorable member is quite mistaken. I am not interested in borrowing, and I am not in favour of borrowing unless it is necessary and advantageous to borrow. But, as businessmen, are we taking a practical step in engaging in all these schemes, and incurring all these liabilities for future expenditure, with the intention of providing for them entirely out of revenue raised by taxation ? If my honorable friends opposite think that we ought to do that, then I must tell them at once that even if it were fair, it would be absolutely impracticable. I shall be able to show later on that it is eminently unfair. In the first place, however, I wish to point out that it is impracticable. We have in this year’s Estimates provided for the cost of a ship of war, and we shall have some more to pay for the additional parts of the naval unit. When those payments have been made out of revenue, and the ships arrive here. Ave shall have to maintain them. That will mean an enormous addition to our annual expenditure. What is to be done ? We have the ships, and, I presume, we have the men, and we shall have to pay the men. We shall have also to prepare docks, harbors, colleges, and provide what I may describe as all the necessary machinery to carry on our Navy. The building of the Navy has not alone to be considered. I may illustrate the position of the Commonwealth in this regard by likening it to that of a man who buys a motor. It is not the price of the motor that troubles him, but rather the price of maintaining and running it. And so with us. We have bought our motor - in other words, we have arranged to buy our ships of war - and we shall have to provide forts, docks, colleges, and training facilities, all of which will be fairly chargeable to capital account, lt is idle to say that we are going to provide for them out of revenue, because we shall not obtain the revenue. It would be not only unreasonable, but unfair to do so. We have, at present, in this country, a population of about 4,500,000. We hope that we shall have a population of 10,000,000 before many years have elapsed, and I should not find fault with the Government if they were to unloosen the purse» strings a little with the view of hastening the day when we shall have that population. But is it fair that we should tax the people of to-day not only for the up-keep of our fleet, but for the great establishments that we shall have to set up in connexion with our military and naval expenditure? We ought always to meet up-keep out of current revenue, but the further proposal is unfair. It is unfair to the large population which exists in two States that the people of those States should be called upon at once to provide all the money for this permanent work. Would any reasonable man view such a project favourably from a business stand-point? No. A man establishing a factory probably says, “I want £50,000 to establish this factory, and I will provide for it by borrowing a certain amount which I shall pay over twenty years, or some other period, out of my earnings, in addition to paying for the cost of running the concern. I will cover depreciation, and meet the original cost in a reasonable time.” That is what ought to be done by the Commonwealth in this regard. When people talk about the unwisdom of borrowing, they satisfy me - and I do not wish to depreciate the intelligence of my honorable friends opposite - that they have not sufficiently considered the position. It is impracticable, and it is also unfair to those at present in the Commonwealth. Take, for example, the Post and Telegraph Department. An enormously large sum is being taken out of our ordinary income for the purpose of equipping our establishments. This is a business concern which is being carried on by the Government, and the proper thing to have done in that case was to borrow £2,000,000 - and the Government could probably have borrowed it within the Commonwealth - which would have put all the establishments in proper order, and then put to the debit of current expenditure, along with the working expenses, onetwentieth part of the outlay, so as to liquidate that debt as against, the establishments in twenty years. That would have been a reasonable thing to do, but, at present, by taking this large sum of money out of the taxes which are raised, mainly in Victoria and New South Wales, the Government are practically giving facilities - which I do not grudge, and which all of us say should be afforded - to Western Australia, Queensland, and other places, without them having any share of the obligation, or recouping us for the money we have, advanced. I say it is a fair thing to borrow money, and give every place the proper equipment, and then let the whole body make one fund of the income, and from that fund repay the outlay. Although Western Australia might have received a far greater amount than its population justifies, still it would be a fair deal, Federal in its intention, and Federal in its operation ; but it is not a fair thing to take the whole of the money out of the taxation paid by a certain portion of the States, apply it all over the States, and not refund it in any way.
– Why borrow when we have the money in hand ? No business man would do that if he had the cash in his pocket.
– I think I have shown that we have not the money in hand ; that is just my trouble.
– The present high revenues will not last.
– I do not think the honorable member expects that they will last.
– I do not; but boom time is the time to spend the money.
– Boom time is the time to draw in, and not to do as was done in Victoria, when our public men took a “ blue funk.” and instead of judiciously expending Government moneys to do necessary works, they stopped all expenditure and allowed the people to leave the State. I was never an advocate of that policy. That is where good public finance comes in. At the time when the community is on the crest of the wave, pull in quietly. But I would point out that when financial institutions do that, loud-mouthed demagogues denounce capitalists and bankers because they insist on payment of overdrafts and their reduction just at the time when it is most inconvenient. The Prime Minister has indicated that, so far as the Commonwealth Bank is concerned, he is going to trust everything to the Governor of the bank, but all I can say is that if he getsan angel from heaven for that position, he will find himself in similar circumstances in exactly the same position as other managers are. If he is to preserve his bank, he will, have to lend cautiously, and to contract, advances when circumstances show that contraction is necessary. He will be neitherbetter nor worse than other men. These are lessons that have been learnt.
We have to consider the position, and. we have no guidance so far as to what, scheme of public finance this House is expected to follow. We ought to have a clear statement, not only of the current obligations which we have to meet this year., but of all other obligations put together, with> the payments likely to accrue upon themfor capital account, and those that arelikely to accrue for working account. Such a statement would make the position clear,, and if the Government then said, “ Notwithstanding the amount, we are going to> raise all this money by taxes,” we might not agree with them, but they would have assumed the responsibility of doing it with full information. On the other hand, they might say, as I hope they would say, “ This is a stiff proposition, and it is unreasonable to finance the whole amount out of current revenue.” In this matter it is nothing to me whether the Labour party or my own party are in power. It is theduty of both parties to see that we initiate a system of sound finance, and we ought to have from the Government, as the leadersof the House, a statement such as I have indicated. They ought to have formulated it for their own satisfaction and knowledge, as a merchant would his balance-sheet,, marshalling his liabilities, putting in his; assets, and showing clearly how he waslikely to be able to meet his obligations. We have seen no such statement, and it is not fair to this House that one should” not be forthcoming. I do not think the people of this country will appreciate our efforts if we do not facethe question in a reasonable and satisfactory way. The honorable member for Darling agrees with me that the revenue isnot likely to continue so high. The Government anticipate a revenue of nearly;£i 4,000,000 this year from Customs and’ Excise. That is a big sum, but what happened in Victoria on the occasion towhich I have referred, when we had an» enormous revenue? We had had prosperous times, the people were living ex- pensively and indulging in all sorts of extravagance. Therefore, our imports were up, and our revenue was high. Would honorable members believe that in twelve months our revenue fell from about £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 by from £2,000,000 to £3,000,000? We have a Customs revenue of £14,000,000 for Australia; but if seasons change, and there is no doubt that, to a certain extent, they have changed, and if our production decreases, then our people will have to come back to reasonably economical conditions. They will not have so much money to spend, and it is quite within the bounds of probability that three years hence, if we have the same Tariff, we may not get within 25 per cent, of the revenue we are getting now. What will be the condition of our finances then ? We should have a repetition of the dislocation of everything such as we experienced in 1893. We shall have all that again if a time of reaction comes. I do not say it will work out in precisely the same way, because things differ every time ; but in the essential results we may have a repetition of the period from 1888 to 1893.
– If the analogy is complete the Naval Unit will be wiped out as the result of retrenchment.
– That is what I am coming to. The Government say they will not borrow for defensive or other purposes. What happened in Victoria in connexion with defence? We spent millions on defence, and we might as well have put the money into the Yarra, because we started large schemes, which were to be carried out over a series of years, without providing the necessary money. The Treasury became hard up,- and dropped them. Our forts, guns, ships, and all the paraphernalia which had cost millions of pounds, became absolutely useless. Had we been attacked by an enemy we might as well have expended nothing. If we are not careful now, I apprehend that that is a condition which we run a great risk of getting into in the Commonwealth. When we have our unit and our ships, what are we going to do with them if we have no docks to put them into? What are we going to do if we have no large guns with which to defend ourselves should we be attacked ? Of course, if we were sure we were not going to be attacked we should not go to this expense, but we are going on the assumption that there is a liability to attack. I ask the Government, “ You have your ships, you have your men, and if the ships were engaged outside in a contest with an enemy, and were disabled, and you had no dock to put them into, where would you be”? Docks mean a large expenditure which, according to the Government, must be met by taxation. I am sure that if a time of financial stringency comes the cost will not be taken out of taxation. The works will simply be left undone, and the people will find that, after having spent an enormous sum of money the equipment will be left incomplete. A system of defence that is incomplete is no defence at all. I notice some honorable members opposite are advocates of this fad about nonborrowing. Senator Russell was very emphatic about the Government not borrowing, but have not the Government borrowed ? I think they have borrowed, and they have aided and abetted the States to borrow. I do not see where their consistency comes in. Up to the time when the Australian Notes Bill was introduced, and the Government demanded from the banks all the money they had represented by notes, the banks considered that the notes which they put out represented practically a loan from the public. Each note was an IOU for £1 or £10, as the case might be, representing a loan from the public for which the banks were responsible. The position now is ludicrous, in view of the Government policy of not borrowing, when one reduces it to first principles. The Government say, “ We are going to assume the position of creditor to these people, and the banks shall not do it any more.” The £8,000,000 paid into the Treasury under the Australian Notes Act, up to the 20’th June last - and the amount has been increased since then - represents eight million of debt which the Government have incurred. If they simply put the money into their safes and kept it there, one would say that they were simply insuring the public, perhaps unnecessarily,, that they would get a sovereign for every note when they wanted it, but they have done what any banker does. They have let the money out, and are getting interest out of it. Can what they have done be said not to be borrowing? I say they are borrowing. When a man tells me that he is not borrowing, and at the same time he is taking sovereigns from all and sundry on his IOU’s, he is certainly a borrower. The inconsistency is doubly ridiculous when we consider that, if it is right for the Commonwealth Government not to borrow, it should be anathema for the State Governments to borrow. As a matter of fact, however, the Prime Minister says to Victoria, “Here is ,£1,000,000; pay us in 1 92 1.” While to New South Wales he says, “Here is ,£2,000,000; pay us in 1915.” I am not sure of the dates; but I know that the Prime Minister offered these sums to the States. He also lent New South Wales £[1,000,000 on deposit at 3 per cent., because the money may be wanted. It is evident that the States do not believe in a no-borrowing policy ; and we have this conduct on the part of the anti-borrowing Federal Government, the supporters of which talk about “ Cohen,” and all that sort of thing. At the same time, we hear of the Commonwealth Government asking for 3! per cent., whilst the States are agreeable to pay only 31 per cent. ; so it will be seen that there is somewhat of a likeness to “ Cohen “ in the exacting of good terms.
– It is good business.
– I would rejoice to do all this if the money were in the country. A feature that has not been alluded to in the press, and which I have not heard alluded to here, is that all this financial business does not end with what we see on the surface ; the effects must react on the community, and have important results on our future welfare. In the case of the note tax, the honorable member for South Sydney might say that it is good business ; and so it is, in one aspect. But I observed some time ago that the Treasurer was contemplating the possibility of lending out more than the present proportion. The right honorable gentleman seemed to think it a shame to keep such a large sum in gold lying in the vaults ; but I hope he will consider well before he does anything in this direction, and give the House a chance to discuss the matter
– The Treasurer cannot do anything without an amendment of the Act.
– Under present circumstances, if the Treasurer desires an amendment of ihe Act he can have one - I am dealing with actualities. If a tight time should come, what will happen? Of course, this note issue did not matter to the banks, which are just as well off as they were before.
– And yet they growl.
– While I do not wish to under-rate the knowledge or intelligence of any Honorable members, I must say there are certain things that they do not know. None of us knows everything - some men know some things that other men do not. It has been my lot and experience to have had a good deal to do with such matters; and I am going to tell honorable members about one aspect of this question which they cannot possibly know, because they have not had the opportunity. The banks collect money in their coffers during six months in the year, from, say, April up to October, in order to have coin to move and ship the wool and grain and other produce of the country, because those have to be paid for. Therefore, let the Prime Minister beware. The fact that there are £[10,000,000 in notes out now does not mean that three months hence there will be £[10,000,000 out. If there is any shortness in our ordinary productions, the banks will have to ship coin ; and under these circumstances they will ask the Treasurer to “ dub up.” If the Treasurer has lent the money to New South Wales, Victoria, and the other States upon their bonds payable some years hence, and he offers the banks these bonds, he will be told, “ No, thank you; we want sovereigns.” If the Government lend out any more of this money they may find themselves in a serious difficulty that will be far-reaching in its effects on the credit, not only of the States, but of the Commonwealth. If the banks cannot depend, in the last resort, on the Treasurer to give sovereigns they will be compelled to keep an additional reserve of their own ; and this will mean that every borrower, business man, and user of money will have to pay more for his loans, owing to this artificial state of things created by the Commonwealth Government. If the Treasurer lends out a large proportion of his money on some form of security not convertible at once, the banks will not be able to depend on him, and must, as I say, keep sufficient sovereigns in their own coffers, irrespective of the notes. That means a drying-up of the metallic resources of the community. We cannot eat gold, or do anything with it except tender it in exchange; and if we have to send away to meet our liabilities more than the value of our products we must send gold. It is of no use to send Commonwealth notes or State securities ; if it were known that there was such a tight corner, these securities would come down possibly twenty points at once. These dangers are not on the surface, but they are very real, somewhat like the derelict in the Bight, the presence of which is not known until it is struck by a passing vessel. As to borrowing, the most amusing part of the business is that the proposed Commonwealth Bank is to be established on borrowed money. This bank is to be started practically without any capital, with the idea that, if money be wanted to go on with, debentures shall be issued. But the Government will not issue the debentures - that will be done by the bank, the object being to avoid the unpleasantness, if anything happens to the venture, of the Government being sued directly. Under the scheme the money can only be claimable from the bank ; and I apprehend that it would rest with this Parliament to say whether the money should, or should not, be voted.
– We should be behind the bank.
– Both the honorable member and myself might be dead when such a contingency arose.
– The Commonwealth Parliament will not be dead.
– I must ask the honorable member for Mernda not to discuss the proposed Commonwealth Bank.
– I am merely pointing out that, in the case of the bankA a change might come over the spirit of the dream, and Parliament might not recognise the obligations entered into by the present Government.
– Does the honorable member really think that any Parliament ever constituted would repudiate such obligations ?
– I must ask honor- able members not to discuss the proposed Commonwealth Bank.
– As a student of history I have read about a good many Governments - and the Minister of Home Affairs knows some of those Governments - who have failed to honour their engagements.
– Not Australian Governments !
– Australians are the same as other men ; human nature is the same in Australia as elsewhere.
– They are human beings !
– Quite so. I do not suppose that the Minister of Home Affairs would admit that the Australian is a better man than the Virginian.
– I say that he is.
– The honorable member is prejudiced.
– Our business men are more honest than those of America.
– It does not lie in my mouth to say that they are not. In America there are a great many sound business and honorable men, as well as others who are unsound. My honorable friend had a trip abroad recently, and I hope that he now thinks better of the country of his origin than he did before. I found on visiting America that its people are better than they are described in many quarters. But human nature is the same all the world over, and he should not allow himself to be carried away with the Pharisaical “ Thank God, I am not as other men.” We must deal with facts. Why should not the Government float the debentures, and put the money into the bank?
– I ask the honorable member not to discuss that question.
– I admit that I am out of order, and apologize for it. I am sorry that the honorable member for Denison is not here. He is a young man, and a little plain speaking occasionally might do him good. When the right honorable member for Swan was pointing out that statistics show that the enormous proportion of one in fifty of our people draw old-age pensions, he interjected, “ It shows how unequally wealth is distributed.” His remark shows how unequally sense is distributed. If the juvenile member for Denison had taken the trouble to look at the figures with which the Treasurer has supplied us, he would know that many people draw oldage pensions who have had the opportunity of being in better circumstances. In the ten years since the Commonwealth Parliament first met the population of Australia has increased by 1.61 per cent. In the same period the deposits in the ordinary banks have increased from £91,000,000 to £I35,000,000, or 50 per cent., and the deposits in the Savings Banks from £33>000>°°° to £53,000,000, or 60 per cent., the depositors in the Savings “Banks, who are the mass of the people, and I suppose come nearest to the class drawing ordage pensions, increased in number from 1,022,841 to 1,483)573) or 50 per cent. The cant is talked every day that the population of this bright Australia of ours is practically in the position of the unfortunate populations of Europe. It is nothing of the kind.
– Our conditions are not so bad, but we are gravitating to them as fast as we can.
– The figures I have given prove quite the contrary.It is not the inability to acquire a competency or a retiring allowance, but want of reasonable carefulness and thrift that causes so many persons to be drawing the old-age pension. The country is belied by those who say that its conditions are as bad as those of Europe. Having examined carefully the statistics of both countries, I challenge any one to prove that there is any land under Heaven where wealth is so widely distributed, and where the masses are so well off, as they are in Australia. I trust that the slandering of this country will not be persisted in.
– About 10,000 persons hold more than half the accumulated wealth of Australia.
– That shows that, even before the advent of the Labour party, conditions here were so good that the man landing with only 5s. in his pocket might, by hard work, within a quarter of a century become worth from £20,000 to £30,000. Of course, we are not all alike. Some are abler than others, or more acquisitive.
– The honorable member would not argue that opportunities now are as good as they were years ago.
– I do not know when the honorable member came to the country.
– I was born here.
– I came herein the early fifties, and my family had to rough it. We had to pay 5s. for a cask of water, about £1 for a load of wood, which we hewed ourselves, and had miserable quarters, with no one to help us in any way. Those who come here now do not know how well off they are. The opportunities to-day for the energetic and saving are as good as ever they were. If a man getting £100 a year resolves to spend only £95 of it and to put by £5, he will become independent in a few years, and need not then fear any employer.
– Years ago a man could buy an acre of good land for £1, paying for it at the rate of1s. a year.
– What could he make of the land in those days? I once travelled from Edinburgh to Glasgow, as a boy, on paying sixpence for the return journey, and to-day would be charged 10s. for the trip. Why should I say things are worse nowadays because of such changes as that? ‘On the first occasion the conditions were abnormal. It is not opportunities that are wanting nowadays, but the want of spirit by which those who came here fifty years ago were animated.
– Has the honorable member ever been to the sweated areas of our great cities?
– Yes ; and I have employed hundreds of persons. Sometimes men are unfortunate, sickness overtaking them and putting them in a position from which they cannot recover for years, and, perhaps, not at all.
– Does the honorable member say that any one working for a normal wage can become wealthy?
– Yes. I speak as one who knows. The honorable member thinks that the man who employs others must be the enemy of his employes. That is not my view.
– Two million people in this community have not banking accounts.
– Perhaps they will not trust the banks, and are waiting for the Government to establish a Commonwealth Bank.
– It is because they have not the money.
– I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Besides a good education, I had no special opportunities. But I worked for eighteen hours a day, and it did me so little harm, that I have now reached an age when I think I am entitled to respect. Like the honorable member for Flinders, I believe in State assistance for every person who, in his old age, has become indigent, either through misfortune or even because of improvidence. But the system that we have adopted, and which has been adopted in England, strikes distinctly at the independence of the character of the people. Like the Prime Minister, I am a Scotchman, and a noteworthy feature of the Scotchman is that he likes to get as much as he can-
– And give away as little as possible.
– The honorable member should speak for himself. He, too, is a Scotchman, but of a different kidney. Nothing has more characterized the Scottish race throughout the world than their manly independence, their determination to make their own careers, and to cut out their own course in life.
– Do not say the Scottish - speak rather of Britishers.
– I hope that the honorable member is not envious. The honorable member for Flinders was the first to refer to the Scottish people; hence the connexion of my remarks.
Another omission from the Budget statement is the failure of the Government to make any provision for the assumption by the Commonwealth of the State debts. The Prime Minister alluded to the matter very much in the same terms as he used last year. He said then, and I quite agreed with him, that it needed attention, and that he hoped that he would be in a position this year to take action. The question is one to which I have devoted a great deal of attention. I believe that we should accomplish the assumption of the State debts by the Commonwealth; and I should have been delighted had my right honorable friend the Prime Minister taken up the work and carried it through. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will probably think that I should not say this ; but my sole desire is that the work shall be done, and I do not care who does it.
– Hear, hear !
– Now is the time to take action. We are on the crest of the wave, but we have made a bad beginning. When I spoke on the subject upon a previous occasion, we had not then the power to take over all the debts of the States. We now have that power, but we have not, however, the power - which I have maintained in my previous speeches and pamphlets on the subject is necessary - to exercise some control over the future borrowings of the States when we take over the debts. I do not suggest that we should stop the States from borrowing, because I recognise that they must borrow to develop the country. The development of Australia is as yet in its infancy ; but as reasonable business men, the Treasurers of the States must know that if they all rush into the London, or any other money market, at the same time - especially when loans are falling due for payment or renewal - they would either be unable to get the money, or the terms would be such as they could not afford to pay. We need some power of concentrating, as I proposed, in the hands of an independent, absolutely non-political Commission, the raising of all loans and providing for the loans of the States as they fall- due. I have never ceased to believe that the scheme which I submitted to the Housetwo years in succession, and which was ultimately taken up by the honorablemember for Hume when Treasurer, is absolutely the right one to adopt. I do not say that, in its details, it may not becapable of improvement; but it should betaken up, and the States themselves should be put at their ease .as to the position they would occupy under it. We cannot expect the States to do anything to facilitate theoperation unless we give them every reasonable guarantee of a rational proposal. Their present necessity to borrow should’ make them more anxious than ever toenter into an arrangement with us. When I first dealt in this House with the subject the borrowings of the States amounted to- £240,000,000; I find that they have now borrowed £260,000,000.
– They are still goingstrong.
– Quite so. I think, that my right honorable friend played a very bad card when he lent the States£3>500>00°
– I was a trustee.
– But trustees are not compelled to lend money.
– They are not compelled to lend to a particular borrower. Had I been Treasurer, I should have said’ to the State. Premiers when they came toborrow a million or two, “I am prepared to take over all your debts, and to enter into an arrangement with you. If you. want to go into the London market, you had better consider my proposal.” ThePrime Minister, however, lent them money. He destroyed his claim for consistentopposition to borrowing by assisting themto borrow, since the accessory is just asguilty as is the criminal. The right honorable gentleman missed an excellent opportunity to bring the whole matter prominently before the States. He could’ have left the £3,500,000 in the banks, or he could have taken other steps in regard to it. No doubt the banks would’ have given him 3 per cent, for it; and if he did not wish to place it with them, he could have found other means of disposing of it temporarily. Instead of” doing so, however, he gave away histrump cards.
– What would the honorable member have done with the Queensland Government, which refused totake the Commonwealth money offered to them?
– The Commonwealth Government is well rid of them. The position is calculated to give considerable cause for anxiety.
– Does not the honorable member think that the Commonwealth Bank will take the place of the Board of which he spoke?
– Who is going to trust the bank ? I cannot, however, at this stage, refer to the proposed Commonwealth Bank as I should not be in order in doing so.
– The bank which the Government propose to establish is not that which the Minister of Home Affairs suggested.
– No, it has not one of the features of his proposal. This is not a trifling matter. We should recognise that we are approaching a time when something will have to be done. In the years 1912 to 1915, £43,000,000 of loans will have to be converted, or, in other words, an average of between £8,000,000 and £9,000,000 a year. Those loans are falling due, and will have to be paid or renewed. In the following four years £46,000,000 will have to be converted, and in the succeeding four years £38,000,000, whilst in the year 1924, which is not so far distant, loans amounting to no less than £32,000,000 will have to be converted. This Parliament, which will be regarded by the people throughout the world as the conserver of the credit and the interests of Australia, has a right to look this matter in the face. If any of our States got into a difficulty could the Commonwealth Government allow them to become defaulters? Supposing, for the sake of argument, that they could not get the money and could not renew their loans - and that has happened to other countries - would the Commonwealth allow them to become defaulters ? It is a most serious matter. This is not the first time that. I have called attention to it, and it should not be allowed to rest for an hour. We should deal with it in some way or other. The States are exceedingly short-sighted in allowing the matter to drift. They do not realize what may happen to them. They may not be able to obtain the money. That gives rise to a further consideration. I have alluded, although not critically, to the character of our land tax. I have pointed out that I object to it, not as a land tax, but because it is unfair in its incidence, and that is, at present, the universal feeling in Great Britain. I am not speaking of things that are not within the bounds of possibility and reasonable probability when I say that, when we go to the London market to raise or to re-borrow these huge sums - even assuming that we do not borrow any more - the British moneylenders may say, “ We want 5 per cent.,” or “ We will not give you the money you require.” That is quite on the cards. The Minister says that he would find the money to convert these loans by means of his own bank. But, even if he drew into his bank all the money in the States, where would he find the money with which to promote the industries and the development of the country? We cannot have our cake and eat it, too. I have always maintained that when Governments want money they ought, since they ought to be in the best position to borrow abroad, to borrow abroad for actual necessities, and that the money which accumulates in the country as the result of our development should be kept here for future development. Plenty of money to use in the development of the country, the extension of its interests and the promotion of the welfare of the people, must make the working classes prosperous. If we borrow abroad we must, of course, send abroad the money to pay interest upon our borrowing. People speak of that operation as if it were a shocking imposition. They ought to remember that we use our loan moneys for railway construction, amongst other purposes, without which we cannot develop the country. Those railways pay interest to the great advantage of the people, and where is the harm or the wrong to the country in borrowing abroad? I ask the Government to halt in the course they are taking. I am perfectly well aware of the difficulty of their position, and the fault lies with the organization which has brought them here. I shall be perfectly candid. I have made the same statement from many platforms, and if I could put my honorable friends opposite in the Temple of Truth 1 am sure they would agree with me that it is an absurdity that persons, other than the leaders of the party, should formulate their schemes. I have seen all the members of Government come into office. Many honorable members of the Labour party entered this House with me, and, no doubt, they will agree with me that our parliamentary experience has been an education to us. When I entered Parliament I thought I knew a good deal; in fact, like some honorable members, I thought that I knew everything, but I soon found that it .was astonishing how little I knew. I discovered that, provided men were straight, honest, and public spirited, there was a community of interests between us, irrespective of the parties to which we belonged. Most of the members of the Government have had now a long experience, and taking them, man for man, they are probably just as capable as are any other similar number of men who could occupy the Treasury bench. They will admit also that on this side there are men just as honest in their intuitions and feelings as any on that side. The difference between us is simply that while we are all wanting to do the right thing, we do not agree as to the best means of doing it. If the men now composing the Government .were the real leaders of their party, and responsible for its policy, and those sitting behind them were like honorable members on this side, who could make a change if they thought the Government were going too far, as I did in the last Parliament, all would be well. I do not care whether it is Mr. Fisher or Mr. Deakin who is leading the Government in that aspect. We could get on with honorable members opposite, and the country would get on with them, if they were allowed to follow their own intuitions and their knowledge of what is practicable, and to profit by the knowledge which they acquire after entering Parliament. We all learn in Parliament something that we did not know before, and, above everything else, we learn that there are two sides to every question. The policy of the party opposite, however, is formulated for them by men conducting Labour newspapers, and others who are not in Parliament, but hope to get there, and who are like wolves on the heels of the men who are in. Immediately those who are in Parliament do not carry out what is in the programme, or do not carry it out as fast as was expected, these men outside are prepared to go on the platform and denounce them, saying, “ Look here, what did Fisher promise? What has he done for you? I am the man for the £600 a year.” I am not drawing a fancy picture.
– You are.
– No one can teach my wily friend much, and I do not pretend to.
– You are very offensive to the people that support us.
– I am astonished that the honorable member takes it so hotly. What I said refers to certain leaders, and not to the mass of the people, whose votes put the honorable member’s party in. My point is that honorable members opposite do not formulate their policy.
– Who formulates your policy ?
– The Age and Argus.
– I do not pretend to speak for the party on this side. I speak for myself. I have had the opposition of the Argus, and I have had the opposition of the Age. They have been perfectly impartial to me, and I to them.
– I wish they would be impartial to us !
– I wish they would. I quite agree with the honorable member. I do not think, so far as I have observed lately, that there has been so much to complain of, but I have often regretted-
– You should have read the article on myself yesterday.
– Oh, the honorable member, according to that authority, is beyond hope. I am sorry the new Minister should be so thin-skinned.
– I am not thin-skinned; but I did not like to hear you slander a number of our supporters.
– I did nothing of the sort. I merely stated an absolutely incontrovertible fact. I have had a copy of the programme of the Labour party. We do not know the details of the debates, because they take place in secret; but we see the results, and we know perfectly well that when Mr. Watson retired there was on his part a feeling of very serious dissatisfaction because he would not be put upon.
– No such thing. It is absolutely incorrect.
– The honorable member need not say that.
– Then I shall say it on behalf of Mr. Watson. It is a slander on him.
– I should be very sorry to slander Mr. Watson, but I cannot forget that he made a pledge to certain members who had voted with the Labour party that they would not be opposed.
– Neither he nor any other man had a right to make that pledge.
– The enemy has given himself into my hands.
– No man can pledge the organization.
– Honorable members opposite said I was not correct, but the honorable member for South Sydney has proved that I am correct.
– What Mr. Watson said was that he would do his best to see that they were not opposed.
– I think I have proved my case out of the mouth of the witness for the defence. If Mr. Watson, as head of the party, had had the support that a man on this side would have, the result would have been different. If our chief had given a pledge, which on the face of it was reasonable, even if he was not permitted by the strict rules to do it, I do not think one of us would have raised any objection. I admit that it was not the Federal, but the State, Labour party that played Mr. Watson false, but the incident illustrates my contention that the position of the Government is a difficult one. A policy has been promulgated, and they are expected to carry it out in a hurry. If they have passed bad laws, that is a bad thing, but it is comparatively innocuous, because these laws can be altered; but it is a different matter when they begin to interfere with credit and finance, because public finance is inextricably mixed up with private finance. It is like throwing a pebble into a smooth sea. The rings extend everywhere. The Government do not know what they are doing. We should have had a clear and definite programme of finance as is usual when a Budget statement is made, especially in present circumstances. Any changes that were to be made, such as the issue of Commonwealth notes and the establishment of a Commonwealth Bank, should be made tentatively, and only after full inquiry and consultation with those who know. Look at what happened recently in Germany. The PanGerman party were hot foot to ride roughshod over France. Then we heard of withdrawals of money, of runs on banks, and then of a pause in the negotiations, so that the negotiators might go to the baths and drink the waters for their health, and next we heard that £14,000,000 in gold was sent over to Berlin to ease the financial crisis. That speaks volumes.
– It speaks peace.
– But it might also speak war. The moral of my story is this : A people that owe over £200,000,000 to capitalists in Great Britain, to say nothing of the £60,000,000 that is owed to our own people, cannot slap them first on one cheek and then on the other with impunity. A day of reckoning must come. We are largely indebted, not only publicly, but privately. We are only four and a half millions of people. If we mean this country to go ahead, and be reasonably developed, we can absorb another £250,000,000, and we should put ourselves in the position to get it. Those gentlemen who represent the working men, instead of devoting their attention so much to getting them is. a day more, ought to recognise, what all history teaches us, that the working men and all other men are better off when there is plenty of capital. I trust I have not trespassed too much upon the time of the Committee. I did not mean to speak for more than half an hour, but the subject is to me of surpassing interest, and I desired to speak plainly to my honorable friends, not in any spirit of hostility, but rather to induce them to think, “mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” If my words have any effect in that direction, I shall be amply rewarded. I think that a great opportunity has to a large extent been lost. This Budget should have furnished a full-dress debate, but owing to the delay, which was perhaps inevitable, and to the sparse attendances, its importance as a subject for debate has been largely frittered away. My desire in speaking has been to encourage the Government and their supporters to consider well where they are going, and what they are doing, and to hasten slowly.
– Will the Prime Minister consent to report progress?
– It is rather early. We must get on.
– I understood that the honorable member for Calare was to speak next. An arrangement was made to-night that we were to take no advantage of each other. That understanding appears to have Been broken.
– If the honorable member will agree to close the debate to-morrow night, I have no objection.
– I wish I could agree to that proposition, but there are too many absent. It would have been fair if some honorable member on the other side who we knew wished to speak had risen instead of my having to rise.
– It is rather a big proposition to ask somebody on this side to stop the Estimates going through !
– I do not think that is a fair way of putting it. At any rate, I hope that when we are making arrangements in the future we shall remember this kind of thing.
.- After the very able speech of the honorable member for Mernda - after the eloquent, direct, straightforward, and impartial way in which he has examined the country’s finances - it is most lamentable in a National Parliament of this character to hear from the Honorary Minister that it is too much to expect a member of the Labour party to use the opportunities afforded by this debate “ to delay the passing of the Estimates.” Can any member or any person who heard the speech of the honorable member for Mernda say, with any pretence to honesty, that that speech was delivered with any such intention? The Honorary Minister, the Prime Minister, and every member of the Labour party, knows that this is the only opportunity the country has to look to the state of its finances. Therefore, it is regrettable that we should have this sort of contemptible insinuation thrown out merely because honorable members opposite think that the opportunity now afforded, at this late hour of the evening, is a suitable one for advertising themselves in that press which they are constantly denouncing, but in which they desire to see their remarks reported. It is with the deepest regret that I enter the discussion in this spirit.
– Does the honorable mem- ber refer to his friends on the Age?
– I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will remember Ministerial dignity sufficiently to permit me to proceed on the even tenor of my way. Honorable members on the Government side are at. present smarting under the criticism of the Age newspaper. I have read in that organ recently articles, the vigour of which was only equalled by their truth, and I hope my honorable friends will take that remark into their inner consciences. I do not, on all occasions, approve of the Age newspaper, and I am happy to say that it does not always approve of me. I have, however, read in its columns some of the frankest criticism of the methods of my honorable friends opposite. And I think they would show more befitting modesty, and a great sense of the real feeling they possess of insecurity, if they endeavoured to pass over that criticism instead of always harping on it.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the remarks of the honorable member for Mernda was that in which he asked this Chamber to endeavour to arrive at some sort of balance-sheet for the future with regard to our national undertakings. I was signally struck with the honorable member’s comments on our defence preparation. He touched on what has happened in the past in Australia through the failure of the Governments in the various States to take stock of their defence position. If honorable members will cast their minds back they will find that in every State of Australia and Tasmania public opinion forced the Parliaments to create naval armaments in order to defend the interests of this country against the Russian fleet, which was present in the Pacific in the early eighties. Victoria, which was the most advanced in these preparations, had, I think, something like eleven vessels in commission, and a couple of post-captains were imported, and the enterprise entered into on the same ambitious scale, proportionate to population, that the Commonwealth to-day, in answer to a similar public opinion, is entering on the construction and maintenance of the Australian Naval Unit. In 1893 there was the financial crisis to which the honorable member for Mernda referred, and the causes of which he demonstrated so clearly. The moment that crisis arrived the Parliaments of the States, no longer pushed by public opinion in regard to the Russian fleet, which was still in the Pacific, but still influenced by the public opinion that the Augean stable of the Colonies’ finances should be cleaned and put in order, started retrenchment where retrenchment was politically most easy; and the navies of the Colonies were wiped out of existence. The cause and causes that had brought the navies into existence were still there, but our insurance against those risks was suddenly, with a stroke of the political pen, wiped out of existence !
One reason for this was, as the honorable member for Mernda pointed out, that the Colonies had taken no stock ; but there was also, I venture to say, another reason on which my honorable friend did not touch. The chief reason for this extraordinary absence of consistency in the past is one which essentially is above party, and one to which every honorable member might give his earnest attention. Under the Imperial Constitution Australia is charged with the responsibility of defending her-v self, while the Mother Country is charged with rinding out what Australia has to defend herself against ! We in Australia have no official channels by which we can ascertain what we have to defend ourselves against. In the early eighties, the Australian Colonial Parliaments brought into existence navies to meet a danger of which they had no official information, but which public opinion, urged thereto by the press, said was a menace. The Parliaments acted, not from any information at their disposal - not from any official information collated in other countries - which would give a sure guide, but on press-created public agitation. What position are we in today? Why are we building the Naval Unit? Is it because the Australian Parliament has any official information? Or is it because a feeling of danger has permeated through the Australian public - a danger which my honorable friends opposite once claimed to be purely press created ? The Naval Unit came out of the so-called Dreadnought scare; and so soon as the press-created interest in these matters declines, so will our interest in the Australian Naval Unit decline, and so soon will ruin, through retrenchment, face our naval organization.
It seems to me that we might take a lesson from the Mother Country, where the great check’ on Parliamentary inconsistency is the Foreign Office and the Foreign Intelligence Bureaux of the Army and Navy. When I was in England, five or six years ago, the Liberal Government, headed by Sir Henry CampbellBannerman, had been returned to power on a mandate, amongst others, for a reduction of naval armaments. Curiously enough, the Government, shortly after accepting office, indorsed in toto the Naval Estimates of their predecessors. There was agitation within the Liberal party, and, having friends in the House of Commons, I knew and realized what was happening. Little cabals were formed in the Liberal ranks, and efforts were made to keep the Liberal Government up to their platform protestations; and those cabals found their way eventually to the Ministry. The Government pointed out, how ever, that the facts were not as they were thought to be when the election pledges were given. The reports of the naval and military attaches in the European capitals showed the need for naval preparation, and the reports of the ambassadors at the disposal of the Foreign Office were hinted at. Thus Liberal Ministers, who had come into power on a mandate for the reduction of naval armaments, realized that they would be false to their public trust if they carried out the promises they had made when not fully seized of the official information. The Government told their supporters the position, and those supporters went into the country and told the. constituencies that the situation was such that the Government could not reduce the Naval Estimates. By means of official information from without the country, the Liberal Government were forced to maintain the expensive preparation that their predecessors had made.
A Democracy may within its own borders know what is best for it, but obviously it is not in a position to know what is being done beyond its .borders. In fact, any country truly national has throughout the world official sources of international information. We call ourselves in Australia a nation, and we realize that we are charged with the first responsibility of nationhood, namely, that of defending ourselves. At the same time, we have no power or right to know what we are defending ourselves against - what risks we have to face. That is one of the reasons the wrecks of past Australian navies are lying about the Australian coastline to-day - and that is the reason why, in my humble judgment, the wrecks of this Australian unit will be found lying about the Australian coastline as soon as a financial crisis faces this Parliament. The only way, in my opinion, to get over the matter is by some re-arrangement, under the Imperial Constitution, that will give Australians autonomous rights to know what they are defending themselves against - that will give them some shareholders’ right in the Empire’s official information. Until, that is done, we shall not be in a sound position to make sane and continuous preparation to defend ourselves.
– Will the honorable member agree to represent Australia in that connexion ?
– No; I give way to the honorable gentleman, who, on a previous occasion, was, I understand, the only can- didate in his party for the High Commissionership
– Wrong again.
– Then I withdraw the imputation against the party. The Prime Minister had the good sense to realize the difficulty to which I refer, and at the last Imperial Conference endeavoured to make himself, and the Ministers who accompanied him, officially aware of the dangers of the Empire. He, the late Minister of External Affairs, and the Minister of Defence, were, in the Committee of Imperial Defence in Great Britain, made acquainted with the whole foreign situation, and Australia was thereby placed in a better position than she formerly occupied. Since their return, however, the late Minister of External Affairs, one of the best men we have known, has passed away; and, in his place, we have a Minister who does not know what he knew, while we have it in Hansard that his colleagues are under a pledge not to divulge to him what was told to them. Thus the present Minister of External Affairs does not know a tithe of what two of his colleagues know regarding the external affairs of the Commonwealth ! He is in no way responsible for this ; the responsibility rests upon an inefficient Imperial Constitution. I do not urge that a Constitution should be tampered with until its possibilities have been exhausted, but I say, without fear of contradiction, that we shall do Australia a disservice if we do not endeavour to place the Minister of External Affairs in a position to thoroughly understand the external affairs of Australia by sending him Home at the earliest opportunity to freely and frankly discuss them with British Ministers, as his predecessor did. There are external affairs affecting Australia which make it necessary for us to tax our people to the extent of 2 is. per head. Why should not the Minister of External Affairs know what they are? I Believe that the Constitution is defective, and that efficient Imperial Defence is mortgaged to an inefficient Imperial Constitution.
It cannot be objected that I suggest the sending Home of the present Minister because of my friendly political relations with him. I do it because I think that every occupant of his office should have an opportunity to inform himself of the foreign affairs of the Empire. It was not my intention to speak to-night, as I thought we should have a criticism by the honorable member for Calare of the statements of the honorable member for Mernda, but as that criticism is not forthcoming, I have stepped into the breach, not thinking it fair that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should be asked to speak at this late hour.
I would suggest to the Prime Minister that it is about time for an adjournment.
– We had better go on until ii o’clock. It is the complaint of the Opposition press that we are not getting on with business.
– I wish to again call the attention of the Government to a serious defect in the control of the note issue. There is now very little opportunity for the detection of forgeries, notes being in circulation in centres where the tellers are not familiar with them. If you change a cheque in a Melbourne bank, you may receive in return a large number of notes on paper originally printed for banks in Western Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, which, in the ordinary course of business, would rarely pass through the hands of Melbourne bank tellers. Of recent months, the Government have been circulating such paper largely in Victoria and New South Wales. Formerly, when notes were paid into a bank, the practice was to return them to the original banks of issue, where they were inspected, with a view te the detection of forgery. Nothing of the kind is now done.
– How many forms of notes are now in circulation?
– I should think at least sixteen.
– A great many, at any rate. What the honorable member says is perfectly true.
– I have already directed attention to the matter, but no steps have been taken to lessen the risk of forgery. No great harm has yet been done, so far as amateur investigation can discover, but what is required is rigid inspection and supervision. When notes are paid into a bank, they should be tested.
– I understand that notes of different sizes are now in circulation.
– Notes of all sizes and shapes. Within the last day or two, I have seen notes that I have never seen before. Under the old system, notes generally remained within the State in which they were issued. If a Western Australian note were paid into a Melbourne bank, it would be at once sent back to the bank of issue, and checked.
– When we get the new issue, the trouble will be removed.
– When we have the new issue, there will be only one form of note, with which the public will soon become conversant, but the public of any of our cities cannot become familiar with all the forms of notes now in circulation. Any one could print a superscription over a note which would deceive a large number of persons. I hope, and think, that that is not being done, but, nevertheless, rigid supervision is necessary.
– There is now a bright prospect for a forger.
– Certainly. I pointed it out months ago, but nothing has been done. The fault, consequently, does not lie with the Opposition.
There are one or two other matters to which I should like to direct attention. There is, first of all, the question of the working of the Australian naval unit. The honorable member for Mernda never made a truer statement than when he declared that if we leave incomplete in any particular the organization of the naval force we must practically wipe out its value. This naval scheme must impose upon us in the future large annual votes. There must be, if there is going to be efficiency, a large coal bill, a large ammunition bill, a bill for the proper maintenance of guns, &c, and so forth, and I think that we ought to insure this efficiency against any risk of parliamentary retrenchment, due to bad seasons. We ought to make the position perfectly safe by having a war fund, in which, in the good years, we can place a little more than we require, so that we can work upon it in bad years, and thus maintain the efficiency of our Navy. Almost every public company of which I have heard has an equalization of dividends account into which it pays the surplus profits of an exceptionally good year, in order to meet the sudden falling off of a bad year. We need to adopt some such principle in the financing of our Naval Unit. We shall have to exercise the unit, we shall have to see that it is efficient, or we might just as well not have spent the money.
Honorable members may remember that at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese war, when it was simply a question of fleets on paper, the balance of opinion in the Australian press with regard to what was going to happen when war was declared was in favour of Russia. Russia had a battleship more than Japan, and Russia’s ships were said to be more powerful! as contrasted with those of Japan; but what actually happened was quite different from what was predicted. It was found out when war was declared that the Japanese Fleet was an efficient organization. It had been trained and manoeuvred ; it had enjoyed gun practice and battle practice, whilst the Russian Navy was only a paper navy.
– Better still, the Japanese fleet had patriotism behind it, whilst the Russian fleet had not.
– If the Australian Navy is going to be anything more than a mere pretence at the patriotism to which the honorable member for Calare alludes, then it will have to be manoeuvred every year.. In time of peace it will have to be kept up to date ; it will need to have a coal bill and an ammunition bill. Where is the money to come from? We shall obtain it if things are flourishing, as they are at present; but speaking, not as an Oppositionist addressing opponents, but as an Australian addressing Australians, I ask my honorable friends opposite what chance of a coal vote and an ammunition vote an Australian Navy would have from, I might say, any party in this Chamber if times were tight, and we had to decide between keeping the Australian Navy really, and not merely apparently, efficient, and reducing the old-age pensions ? Not a man in this Chamber but knows what would be done. The retrenchment of the Australian Navy’s real, but not perhaps apparent, efficiency would follow. It would still be efficient on paper, but that is all.
– Hitherto the Defence Department has always been the first to be retrenched.
– That has been the experience of every country.
– Every country is not in the position that we occupy. Other countries are faced with the official responsibility of foreign affairs. We are not. There is the check of official foreign information in other countries ; there is no such check here. If such a thing were done in England, the ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs and the ex- War Minister would be touring England with official information at their finger-tips to tell the English people of their danger. Here all that we have to depend upon is our own guesswork ; and guesswork would not stand in any degree as a surety for national safety in such circumstances as I have foreshadowed.
I am not speaking as a scarehead; I am putting before honorable members an ordinary business proposition. Our defence preparation must be continuous. If we start it at all, it is worth keeping going. If we are not going to keep it going continuously, do not let us waste money by starting it. We might just as well depend upon this Chamber to persuade any one from overseas that this was not a good country to come to ! If we do start it, however, and if we are going to keep it going continuously, the least we can do is to make some provision for continuously running the fleet, for giving it an efficiency supply without having to provide for every penny upon individual Estimates. We need a war fund or a war chest.
Honorable members must never forget that if we are going to defend Australia proportionately to the possibilities of attack, that war chest must increase with foreign preparation. It is a deplorable situation, but, nevertheless, it is a fact. The risks that we must suffer must increase with the preparation of, let us say, for the sake of the argument, the Pacific Powers. It is only a year ago since there was furnished to the Commonwealth Government a report advocating, I think, the expenditure of £22,000,000 on Dreadnought cruisers. During the last few months a Pacific Power has taken a step which makes that report as out of date as Queen Anne. A Northern Pacific Power is going to have twenty super-Dreadnoughts within the next few years, and as against such a fleet we might as well have nothing as have our Dreadnought cruisers.
– To what power is the honorable member referring ?
– To a power with which we are in friendly alliance, and with which I hope we shall continue to be in friendly alliance - the Empire of Japan.
– Has not the Japanese Legislature refused to sanction that proposal ?
– I have not heard that it has decided the matter.
– There is a cablegram in this morning’s newspapers to that effect.
– Then I missed “it; but I will take the analogy a stage further by speaking of what I have seen. Whilst we in Australia think that the safety of Australia in certain contingencies, which, we hope, will never arise, is made reasonably secure by the existence of the Australian naval unit, I myself saw being built at Barrow for that same power a ship which is an effective answer to our naval unit - a ship which could wipe the whole unit off the sea in five minutes. It was a superDreadnought, equal, I should think, to the Princess Royal. I was not shown over it, but saw it in the distance, and I gauged it as being capable of wiping off the face of the waters the whole of the Australian naval unit in five minutes.
– Then what is the good of our having a naval unit?
– That is not an answer to my argument. The answer to it is that it is of no use having anything unless you know what you want it for.
– We cannot compete with Japan in the matter of a navy.
– Then the only thing we can do is to endeavour, by organized unified effort, to get the people of our race all over the world to help us to maintain our common safety. The existing Imperial constitution, however, gives us no opportunity of efficiently doing that. One section of the Empire is charged with the responsibility of ascertaining our foreign risks, and the balance of the Empire, in no way correlated, are asked to defend their special interests - as if we could divide the interests of our race into watertight compartments ! The thing cannot be done. The ‘conclusion to which my honorable friend from South Sydney has come is one at which I arrived some years ago. I was at first accused of being a bad Australian because I came to it. As a matter of strict fact, however, I do not think that a unionist is a bad individualist in the sphere of Labour. I do not think a man who joins a union is blind to his own interests in doing so. I quite agree with my honorable friends opposite, that, generally speaking, the best chance the worker has to get good terms from a force - the force of Capital - which is necessary and yet antagonistic to him - is by combination. And so I believe that when we have a country, like this Australia of ours, faced with a proposition which is demonstrably beyond our powers, so surely should we enter into a union of our race to endeavour unitedly to do what we cannot hope ever to achieve alone. I believe that the external pressure which is now being felt in Western Canada, which has already made persons who were at war with us a few years ago in South Africa realize our mutual interdependence - the external pressure all over the Empire - is driving the oversea subjects of the King to realize that until we have some modification of the existing Imperial Constitution, oversea Britons, including ourselves, are not really autonomous.
We have rights of local government with regard to all sorts of conditions and matters, and, in my judgment, if we are wise, we shall always retain these local powers of selfgovernment. But there is something which we have not got under the existing Imperial Constitution, and which, so far as I can see, we cannot obtain under it, and that is systematized united corporate action in defence pf corporate interests; and, still more, corporate action to find out how those interests are affected vitally from other quarters. I think the case is overwhelmingly strong for a general review of the whole situation, but I think that we should proceed with infinite caution. A good deal of harm, perhaps, was done at the last Imperial Conference by an effort to jump the position, as if Constitutions could be altered by a mere stroke of the pen ; but I really think that the time is ripe for Australians on both sides of politics to take thought before taking action. My honorable friends opposite are better fitted to lead any movement of this kind than are members on this side of the House. All their lives they have been speaking of the value of united action. All their lives they have been appealing for the principles of united action. The time has come for both sides, and especially for them, to consider whether Australia, in existing circumstances, is in a position to defend herself against risks of which she is officially not cognisant. I do not wish to touch upon this question more fully than I have already done. I wish only at present to urge upon the Ministry that their first responsibility in the present situation is to exhaust every opportunity of the existing Imperial Constitution. It is a misfortune that this Parliament is called upon to vote 21s. per head, from the pockets of the Australian people, without clearly knowing for what purpose - to meet what danger - the money is to be voted. It is doubly unfortunate if the responsible Minister in the Cabinet is not in a position to have that information. With the increase in the cost of Dominion armaments will come a demand from the business sense of the Australian people to learn why this money is being spent. I believe, personally, the expenditure is necessary. If you ask me why I believe it, I simply do not know. I am guessing at it. I am not in a satisfactory position to know, and there is no man in this Chamber to whom I can look, as the House of Commons can look to the Foreign Secretary, for an assurance that the expenditure we are incurring is absolutely necessary in the interests of the Australian people. That is my position as a trustee of the Australian people in this matter of defence. I ask the Prime Minister and the party opposite to send the Minister of External Affairs home to England in the recess, and let him find out the true facts of the external problems of Australia.
– He is cheering you under his breath, the whole time.
– I do not care whether he likes my proposal, or does not. If he does not like it, he is not fit for his position, because no man in that position can fail to realize that it would be an absolute absurdity to hold it without knowing the real external problems of the Australian people, requiring the expenditure already of21s. per head of our population.
Mr. SPEAKER laid upon the table his warrant nominating Mr. Bamford as a temporary Chairman of Committees, to act in the place of Mr. Roberts.
Insertion of Table in “ Hansard.”
– I have been requested to take the sense of the House as to whether certain figures, a portion of which was read by the Prime Minister in moving the second reading of the Commonwealth Bank Bill this afternoon, shall be published in Hansard. I have hitherto laid clown the rule that matter which is not read to the House should not be allowed to be inserted in the official report of the debates. A number of honorable members, however, have pointed out that the table in question contains most valuable information. If the House desires that it should be included in the Teport for the convenience of honorable members, I shall direct that that be done.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
– I wish it, however, to be understood that this is not to be taken as establishing a precedent, because if the practice is once allowed it is a difficult matter to say where it will end.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 November 1911, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1911/19111115_reps_4_62/>.