4th Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., andread prayers.
Immigrants under Arrest - Outbreak of Measles.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Trade and Customs if he has read the statement that a number’ of men on board the immigrant ship Irishman have been put under arrest? They say that they worked their passage out without receiving wages, but with the promise of a bonus. Does not the honorable gentleman think that that is a barbarous way to bring out immigrants?
– I have not seen the statement referred to, nor am I aware that any men are under arrest. I do not think that immigrants should be allowed to work their passages to Australia. That is prohibited under our navigation law. Vessels leaving here could not take away men to work their passage to some other place.
– Has the Minister any further information regarding the outbreak of measles on board the Irishman?
– The honorable member for Melbourne mentioned the matter yesterday at question time, and again last evening, and informed me that he intended to make it the subject of a question this morning. In view of his doing so, I have been supplied with the following reply -
Yes. I am informed that over fifty cases of measles have occurred during the voyage. It appears that the first case must have been infected before coming on board, and that the other cases were infected from this or other unrecognised cases. It is stated that there was some delay in isolating the first case, and the quarantine officer at Adelaide reports that at his inspection on arrival of the vessel he discovered among the general passengers several caseswith the rash already out. It is through such cases that the disease is widely spread through a ship. The vessel is also reported to be not very suitable for the accommodation of a large number of passengers, being essentially a cargo and cattle ship. The space between decks usually used for the cattle trade has been temporarily fitted up for immigrants. The ventilation is reported to be very defective, and I am informed that it is in the presence of such conditions any infectious disease that may break out is specially liable to take on a serious aspect. The hospital accommodation is reported to be very like the quarters for passengers - only a makeshift. I may mention that the amending Quarantine Act is now in force, and the vessel will be dealt with under that Act on her arrival in Sydney.
– It is scandalous.
– I agree that it is scandalous, but it is the fault, not of the Australian authorities, but of the authorities oversea, in permitting the vessel to come here under such conditions.
Mount Morgan Drill Hall - Supply of Waterproof Clothing - Punishment of Cadets
– Has the Minister of Defence yet arrived at a determination regarding the request for a new drill-room at Mount Morgan?
– It is intended to build a drill hall at Mount Morgan during the present financial year, and negotiations are proceeding for the purchase of a suitable site.
-Is the Honorary Minister supplied with a reply to the question why the cadets in the electorate of Capricornia were taken into camp recently without being supplied with overcoats, although 9 inches of rain fell during the encampment?
– The reply furnished by the Minister of Defence is as follows: -
Waterproof material of light weight had to be specially manufactured for the great coats to be issued in Queensland, and much difficulty was experienced in obtaining supplies of cloth up to the required standard. This difficulty has now been overcome, and nearly all the great coats to meet present requirements have been made and despatched to the Ordnance Stores, Brisbane.
– I direct the attention of the Honorary Minister to a telegram in this morning’s press in which it is stated that a boy has been imprisoned in Western Australia for having refused to take the oath of allegiance. Under what Act was the magistrate prevented from inflicting an alternative punishment?
– I am not aware that the magistrate was prevented from inflicting an alternative punishment.
– It is stated that he was;
– I intimated, in reply to a question asked concerning the punishment of some cadets at Port Pirie, that the matter is entirely in the hands of the magistrates, but I am not aware that in a case like that to which the honorable member refers the magistrate has no alternative but to imprison. I am not of opinion that he is without an alternative.
– Will the honorable gentleman have the press telegram, the accuracy of which I cannot answer for, referred to the Attorney-General, and make a reply next week, so that magistrates may be properly informed in this matter. Imprisonment seems to me very harsh treatment.
– The matter will be submitted for the consideration of the Minister of Defence, and I presume that if there is any legal difficulty he will consult the Attorney-General.
Estimating Revenue from Telephone Lines - New General Post Office, . Perth - Supply of Insulators.
– I have been informed that a new system has been introduced for the estimating of revenue from telephone lines. Will the PostmasterGeneral tell us how the estimate is now made, and how the present system differs from the old system?
– A new set of conditions, such as lowering the poles, has been introduced which, of necessity, alters the estimates, but there is no new system of estimating.
– Will the Minister of Home Affairs lay on the table a return showing the particular blocks of land acquired for the erection of a new General Post Office at Perth, and the prices paid for them?
– I shall lay the papers on the table.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and the desired information will be furnished as early as possible.
Patent Medicines - Bonus on Wool Tops.
– Is it a fact that the experts of the Customs Department have analysed certain medicinal and tonic wine preparations, and have discovered that there is a large percentage of alcohol in them? If there is a report on the subject, will the Minister kindly lay it on the table?
– The Acting Analyst has analysed certain of the medicated and tonic wines, and has discovered that, while the percentage of alcohol in beer and stout varies from 3 to 10 per cent, that, in these wines, speaking from memory, goes as high as 30 per cent.
– And sometimes higher.
– That may be. I have no objection to laying on the table the document referred to.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is - 1 and 2. Owing to jarrah sleepers not being specified in the shipping documents the Customs authorities are, I am informed, not in a position to give the information desired ; but I will have inquiries made amongst the exporters and endeavour to obtain approximate particulars.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable members’ questions are -
Victoria, No. 21308, dated 30th January, 1904;
New South Wales, No. 13846, dated 2nd February, 1904 ;
Queensland, No. 7655, dated 2nd February, 1904;
Western Australia, No. 4800, dated 9th February, 1904;
South Australia, No. 6444, dated 3rd February, 1904;
Tasmania, No. 4021, dated 21st April, 1904; to William Powell, for a process known as the Powell Process, and that such patents were subsequently transferred to the Westralian Powell Wood Process Limited, by whom an application for a Commonwealth patent for an improvement on the process was lodged in September, 1912.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
Solar Time - s.s. “ Imogen.”
asked the Minister of Ex ternal Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
Motion (by Mr. Fisher for Mr.
Hughes) proposed -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act relating to insurance.
– I wish, to know when we may expect to see these Bills?
– There will be no delay.
– Shall we see them to-day?
– Not the Constitution Alteration Bill, but it is certain to be ready by Tuesday.
– I do not think that the Prime Minister will treat the House fairly if he proceeds with this measure on Wednesday, if we are not to see it until Tuesday. The measure is of extreme importance.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Fisher for Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act relating to bankruptcy.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Fisher for Mr.
Hughes) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act 1909.
Motion (by Mr. Fisher for Mr.
Hughes) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to alter paragraph (i.) of section fifty-one of the Constitution.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 7th November, vide page 5242).
Division 15 (The Treasury), , £20,305
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) to have an explanation of the largely increased amount set down for the administration of the Land Tax Office. We have here an increase of £25,000 over the actual expenditure of last year. For what can this 50 per cent, increase be ? We were led by honorable members opposite to believe that the land tax, as it became effective for the purpose for which it was imposed, would be a constantly decreasing amount. It is contemplated that there will be a small easing off of the amount collected, yet there is to be an increase of .£25,000 in the cost of collection. Although the tax has been in operation for nearly three years, the Government are still going to collect between £1,300,000 and £1,400,000, the estimated yield to-day being practically the same as when it was first imposed. We may infer from this that the tax has failed in two important respects. It is evident that it has not reduced values, and that it has not broken up large estates to such an extent as to place them without the pale of the tax itself. Last year we voted £70,000 in respect of the Land Tax Office, and only £55,000 was spent. This year we are asked to vote £80,000 in respect of the cost of administering that Department.
– Every one knows that.
– But the honorable member does not wish some smart people to escape their obligations while others meet them.
– Not at all; I simply wish an explanation of this increase.
– I do not think it is in relation to the ordinary administrative expenses of the Department
– Another point to which I desire to call attention is that there is an enormous decrease in respect of the miscellaneous vote. This, I suppose, means that there is more particularity in respect to the expenditure.
– If the honorable member wants it I shall give him a list showing every penny of expenditure.
– The right honorable member is always promising to give me lists of various kinds or other, but I never see one. ^ It is worthy of notice, also, that these Estimates provide for a large increase in the amount payable for maintenance of old-age pensioners in charitable institutions. I thought that, with, their Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, Maternity Grant, and other humanitarian legislation, the Government were going to do away, to a very large extent, with such an item. But we find it growing instead of decreasing, despite all that this Government can do to prevent it. The problem of poverty appears to be increasing under the regime of my honorable friends opposite.
– Some old-age pensioners are thought to be better off in a charitable institution, and we pay these institutions in such cases for their maintenance.
– These people were left to starve by the honorable member’s party.
– There is not a word of truth in that statement. It is one of those vicious, silly, untruthful, remarks for which the honorable member is so famous.
– I regard that remark as offensive, arid ask that it be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it, and ask that the honorable member withdraw his statement that our party, when in power, left the old people to starve.
– If the remark is offensive to the honorable member I withdraw it.
– -If the Prime Minister’s explanation of this item is correct, it seems to me to point to a more stringent administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act.
– To a more lenient administration.
– These men desire to get out of these institutions, but the Government are evidently forcing them in in greater numbers.
– Is there any old-age pensioner in a charitable institution- who was not put there by a magistrate’s order?
– I am not quite clear as to that.
– Would the honorable member object to that where a magistrate thinks that a man would be better off in an institution?
– I am here to say, as the right honorable member has said about far greater legal luminaries, that magistrates are not necessarily perfect in all their ways and doings.
– During the whole of my administration I do not think that I or my officers have sent one man to a charitable institution save on a magistrate’s order.
– But a magistrate has to be moved to take action. The police are moved in many cases by the Treasury officers, and, in bringing cases of the kind before magistrates, they are the servants of the Treasurer.
– They are the servants of the State, and have to look after the welfare of the people, including old-age pensioners. Probably they find an old-age pensioner uncared for and unable to look after himself.
– And they are asked by the Treasury officers to look after these cases.
– Even if they are, where is the harm?
– I am not saying that there is any. But I know of a case in my own district in respect of which” the Department has taken the word of police officers, and declined to take the word of medical men, with regard to the condition of a boy.
– In no case is an old-age pensioner put into an institution except on a magistrate’s order. He may be put in, for urgent reasons, in advance of the magistrate’s order, but it must almost immediately follow.
– I do not dispute that, but these magistrates’ orders are multiplying.
– Does the honorable member object to the procedure I have described ?
– I want to emphasize the point that a magistrate’s order is made on application, and I suggest that there is a much more stringent administration of the Act, having regard to the increase in the amount paid for the maintenance of old-age pensioners in these charitable institutions.
– There are more old-age pensioners than there were.
– And there will be more still, if we live long enough under the regime of the present Government.
– I see signs of that.
– Another item to which I desire to call attention, relates to interest and sinking fund on inscribed stock. Evidently this Government are beginning to pay interest. I congratulate my right honorable friend on the inaugura tion of an interest-paying era, and I hope sincerely, for the sake of the pockets of the taxpayers, that we shall pay shortly a little more interest. It is better to pay a little more interest on capital accounts, and so to relieve the taxpayers to some extent from the millions they are paying out of their hard earnings for the purposes of evading legitimate interest payments on the capital accounts of the Commonwealth.
Then, again, there is to be another advance to the Commonwealth. Bank. I take it that the item of £60,000 in respect of interest and sinking fund, to which I have just referred, is to pay interest on the loan which was floated last year, or, in other words, interest on the inscribed stock which was authorized to be issued. I presume that the Prime Minister expects during this financial year to spend the whole of last year’s authorization amounting to about £2,250,000, and the £500,000 authorized this year.
– I thought the honorable member was alluding to invalid and oldage pensions. All the loans are debited with interest at 4 per cent.
– Inscribed stock amounting to £2,250,000, or £2,500,000 was authorized last year, and there was £500,000 authorized the other day.
– That meant that the Prime Minister expects to spend £2,250,000 out of loan moneys.
– There is only £153,000 of new indebtedness ; the rest is in connexion with Northern Territory stock. ‘
– But the Treasurer estimates to get rid of £2,500,000 or so of loan moneys this year?
– I do not think we shall.
– Then this is an inflated estimate?
– No, it is not.
– Either the Treasurer is inflating the interest account or he expects to dispose of all the moneys during this year.
There is an item here of £5,000 advanced to the Commonwealth Bank. I hope that the Treasurer will not again ask me why I do not “ let the man alone,” because the Governor of the Bank does not leave us alone, but comes for money, and we have a right to stipulate the conditions, and to make all proper inquiries as to how the money is to be expended.
– The Governor of the Bank paid that money back within a few weeks after he got it. He had no need to pay interest - he was out after interest and not to pay it.
– Is this a second £5,000?
– He has not a penny from me.
– How are the big buildings to be acquired for the Bank?
– Ask the Governor of the Bank.
– What is this money being voted for - for nothing?
– It has been a transaction.
– The great complaint that I have to make about the Estimates is that they are inflated each year by hundreds of thousands of pounds which a prudent Treasurer ought to know will not be spent.
– When dealing with figures why not talk sense? The £5,000 was paid out, and it must appear as a transaction, but since then it has been paid back in money and it falls into another year.
– But it is down in the Estimates for 1912-13 as an advance to the Commonwealth Bank. If the money is not to be paid this year it should be in another column. Was the money paid to the Bank before it was voted or have there been two sums of £5,000?
– There have been two sums of £5,000, and both have been paid back quick and lively.
– The Governor of the Bank must have wanted the £5,000 for something?
– He has asked for neither capital nor funds.
– Then the Treasurer has been forcing money on the Governor of the Bank that he does not want.
– He does not want it.
– Then we may strike this item out of the Estimates.
– We should then be refusing to allow the people to see how the account stands.
– Are there any more transactions like this, I wonder? The Treasurer has paid money to the Bank, and it has been flung back in his face because it is not wanted.
– The honorable member is adding to his reputation.
– We are told that the Governor of the Bank promptly told the Treasurer that he did not want the money - that he was not going to pay interest.
– The honorable member is impossible.
– I should like to know how many items of this sort are inflating the Estimates. The Prime Minister seems to have had loads of dignity for some time.
– The honorable member never had any dignity.
– I said that the Treasurer seems to have had dignity.
– The honorable member does not even seem to have had dignity.
– The honorable member is all “ seem.”
M-r. JOSEPH COOK.- Will the Prime Minister keep those two rude, uncouth Ministers of his in check, and get them to remember that this is a National Parliament in which we are discussing the Commonwealth finances. Does the Prime Minister intend to present the accounts of this Bank to Parliament? Section 18 of the Commonwealth Bank Act provides that the Governor of the Bank shall furnish to the Treasurer a quarterly statement of the assets and liabilities and of the business of the Bank, which statement shall be published in the Gazette, and any such other statements as are prescribed? Has any statement appeared yet, seeing that it is more than three months since the Bank commenced business?
– I do not think it is three months since.
– The Bank was opened in July.
– It is about time that we knew what is doing in connexion with the Bank, but at present all we know is that the Governor of the Bank is touring all over Australia, buying huge properties in the various capitals, and we hear talk of sky-scrapers of twenty-two stories in Sydney. However, my time is up, and I shall have to come again for information.
.- It has been brought under my notice, though I do not know to what extent the complaint holds good, that some of the assessments have not been made even after two years. The assessments to which I refer are those where a taxpayer has land of his own and also shares in a company. The Act provides that such a land-owner pays on his own holding and also on his interest in the company, and that interest is added to his own holding for the purposes of valuation, with the result that it may bring him into a higher grade, and force Him to pay a higher tax.
– That is a technical question that has been under consideration lately.
– I believe so.
– The matter is at present before the Attorney-General’s Department.
– The whole difficulty is that it has been before that Department for so long.
– There is a different phase of the matter now under consideration.
– I am notcomplaining, but merely bringing the facts under the notice of the right honorable gentleman, and pointing out that the position may give rise to a great deal of trouble. There may be delay for another two years.
– I do not think so.
– At. any rate, it will come as a serious surprise, and cause much embarrassment to a considerable number of taxpayers if it continues to engage the attention much longer of an important branch of the administration. I should like the Treasurer to consider whether the additional revenue that will be derived from this particular source is really worth the money spent in this connexion.
– Does this refer to interest in the Australian Mutual Provident Society and similar companies?
– It goes further than that.
– It also applies to interest in private land holding companies.
– I think that legal authorities are at variance on the question.
– I do not think there is much difficulty in the Act, which, I admit, authorizes the Government to collect these additional sums. The difficulty is that there has been great delay in arriving at these assessments, no doubt on account of the complicated character of the business that the clerks have to do, and the number of directions they require.
– The inquiry is nearing completion now.
Mr.W. H. IRVINE.- I am glad to hear that. As the honorable member for
Parramatta has pointed out, the expenditure in the collection of this tax has, for some reason yet unexplained, been going up very rapidly when one would naturally have expected it to be going down.
– That is caused by the complications.
– That may be, but the complications ought to be decreasing.
– I think the honorable member’s profession has something to do with the cost.
– I do not know that my profession can be blamed for asking a fair wage for an honest day’s work.
– The profession cannot be blamed if the Act gives it employment.
– Quite so; if the difficulties created by the administration are such as to require the services of a host of lawyers, they must be paid. This . rather points the moral of the argument I am endeavouring to lay before honorable members. For some reason there are complications, but whether this is the fault of the Act or regulations I do not know. Last year the total expenditure was £55,000, while this year it is over £80,000, showing an increase of 50 per cent., when we should naturally have expected the expenditure to be decreasing. This is a matter on which the Committee are entitled to some definite explanation from the Treasurer. If this expenditure, or any considerable portion of it, is to be accounted for by those complicated assessments, it is a matter of serious consideration whether the game is worth the candle. Apart altogether from the merits of the principle underlying the land tax, I do not suppose that even honorable members opposite desire to impose on any section of the people any unnecessary burden.
– What was the amount of the tax involved?
– We do not know, but it cannot be very much.
– It is not nearly as much as the increase in the expenditure.
– We have no means of knowing, and we are entitled to some explanation from the Treasurer.
– The increase in the expenditure is accounted for by law expenses, the employment of permanent public servants where temporary clerks were employed before, the preparation of most intricate statistical information demanded by Parliament, and the revaluation of properties which were considered not to have been fairly valued.
– Has the Prime Minister any idea of the expenditure attributable to each of these causes?
– I have not the details, but I shall ask the Commissioner to supply them before the debate closes. The revaluations are absolutely necessary, because a law is no law if some may escape their obligations. The only way in which we can protect law-abiding citizens is to see that others do not get an undue advantage.
– Were there no revaluations last year?
– Not to the same extent, or anything like it. The other point referred to by the honorable member for Flinders was as to land-owners who have interest in land corporations and so forth, I am inclined to think will be settled soon in a satisfactory way. Without the direct advice of the Attorney-General, I cannot make any further statement on the point.
– It would be very interesting if the Treasurer could give us information as to the approximate amount of additional revenue to be derived from the assessments in regard to which the complications have arisen.
– It is considerably more than the expenditure, but I shall obtain the exact details.
– Are there reassessments every year?
– Yes; we are watching the assessments every year.
– The Prime Minister has informed the Committee, in reply to the criticism of the honorable member for Flinders, that the extra cost of the Land Tax Department is to be accounted for partly by the permanent appointment of many employes whose positions had been only temporary. For some time I have been endeavouring to have some of the men in the New South Wales office made permanent, but without success. They complain bitterly about being kept in temporary positions, saying that it was unfair that they should have that status, because their duties require the possession of a good deal of technical knowledge, and of an acquaintance with conveyancing law, and are of a strictly confidential nature. The final reply to my letters to the De partment was that the desires of the men could not be complied with. Temporary hands may have been made permanent employes in some of the States, but not in the Sydney office. In my opinion it is extraordinary that the cost of the Department should have increased from £55,000 to £80,000. Had it remained at £55,000 the amount would be very large. When the land tax proposals were before us, it was strongly urged in their favour that the collection of the tax would cost very little, because the returns would be furnished by the land-owners under heavy penalties for false statements, and, therefore, only a. very small staff would be needed. It might have been expected, too, that the cost of collection would have been greater in the first year or so before the machinery had been got into full working order than now, and that there would be a decrease instead of an increase in the expense. At first, complications would naturally arise through the staff being new to its duties, and many unforeseen difficulties would crop up. I understand, however, that the cost of collection is increasing by leaps and bounds, and this year will amount to 25 per cent, more than it did last year. I indorse the remarks which have been made by the honorable member for Parramatta about the unwisdom of erecting enormous buildings for banking premises throughout the Commonwealth. We have no warrant for the expenditure of huge sums on sky-scrapers for the accommodation of the Commonwealth Bank, seeing that it has yet no business. The honorable member pointed out, too, that the Act requires the production of a quarterly return, and that no such return has been made. The Commonwealth Bank is going to compete with the private banks throughout Australia, and yet we cannot be told what business it is doing. At the same time, the Governor is making arrangements for the purchase of blocks of land at enormous prices, and the erection of costly premises all over the Commonwealth. It is not sound that this matter should be intrusted wholly to one man. No one would cast any reflection on the Governor, but one man should not have the responsibility of expending huge sums of Government money. Very often the result of throwing temptation in the way is the downfall of the person tempted, and while I think that the Governor is a man of integrity and honour, I feel it is not right that the business of the country should be conducted in this way.- Some other method should be followed in connexion with land purchases. The way in which the affairs of the bank have been conducted so far do not reflect credit on those responsible for the scheme. They have been conducted in a slipshod fashion, which in the end “will probably bring serious loss on the people of Australia. It was a mistake to establish a Commonwealth Bank to compete with the private banks already in existence. The Commonwealth Bank cannot hope to compete successfully with the long established private banks.
– The Commonwealth Bank is protecting the other banks, and is offering a lower rate of interest on deposits. It offers only 3 per cent, while the State Savings Banks offer 3J and 4 per cent.
– To my mind the manner in which purchases of l’and are being made for sites for bank premises is unsound. This matter should be dealt with by a Board.
– The Home Affairs Department is carrying out the resumptions in accordance with the Commonwealth law.
– Does that mean the Minister ?
– The law provides that certain procedure must be followed, and its provisions are being complied with under the direction of the Minister.
– Who decides what land shall be purchased, and what price shall be paid for it?
– I have already put all the details into Hansard.
– We have had very little information given to us regarding these Estimates, so that it is hard to understand them. The Prime Minister has explained that the contribution to charitable institutions has been increased in connexion with the maintenance of old-age pensioners by those institutions, but I fail to see why there should be an increase from £7,000 to £9,000 a year. It was taken for granted that under a Labour Government very little charitable expenditure would be needed, but apparently for the maintenance of pensioners in institutions £2,000 more is required this year than last. I do not complain of the expenditure of money on charity of this kind. We should spend all that is needed to alleviate the sufferings of the aged and infirm, but I cannot think that this increase in expenditure is necessary.
– The honorable member for North Sydney has spoken somewhat unfairly of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. The honorable gentleman, as a man possessing business knowledge,, must know that it takes time to establish a bank, and that an immense expenditure has been necessary to put the private banks into their present positions. The Governor of the Commonwealth Bank is evidently possessed of one of the essentials to success - confidence in the future of the institution that he is managing. If he had not that confidence he would have no right to his position. The private banks may well have nothing good to say of the Commonwealth -.Bank, because undoubtedly it will compete strongly with them. The Governor has, however, treated the State Savings Banks more than fairly by offering a lower rate of interest than they are offering. This action should! inspire confidence. The State SavingsBanks have already enormous sums invested, and their expenses are not so great as they were at the beginning, so that they can perhaps afford to pay interest at the rate of 3J or 4 per cent. But had* the Governor of the Commonwealth Savings Bank offered a big rate of interest,. I should have felt a little alarmed because it would have looked like “ wildcat” financing. He should be praised5 for what he has done. No doubt, whenthe bank is well established, and the initial’ cost of establishing it has been met, he will gradually increase the rate of interest, arid1 begin to compete more largely with the State Savings Banks. He will have every right to the business he gets if the people choose to deposit their money in the Commonwealth instead of in the State Savings Banks. Regarding the complaint that there has been no quarterly return of the business of the bank, I would point out that it is only the Commonwealth Savings Bank that has commenced business, and? that the general bank will not be open before 1st January next. When that bank has been opened, and is in full swing, I shall join with those who demand quarterly statements of its” business. But the Governor must first be given an opportunity to get things in order. I agree with those who say that the cost of collecting the land tax should Be carefully scrutinized, but I am. prepared to- strengthen the hands of the Minister in obtaining more effective valuations. The evasion of land tax by the making of unfair valuations is as old as land taxation. I am not enthusiastic regarding 4he results of the Land Tax Act. Undoubtedly it has done some good an breaking up big estates ; but I am not satisfied with, its effect in some localities, and local residents admit that it has not been effective there. The suspicion has entered my mind that the chief reason for the ineffectiveness of the tax in those districts is that there has been a dodging of proper valuations. The valuations should be increased to something Hike the level of the prices demanded ‘ for the land which is being cut up. These men are defeating closer settlement by asking enormous prices for their land. They are quite willing to pay land tax on a valuation of £3 per acre, but in offering it to the public they demand from £6 to £8 an acre for it.
– Because they have improved it.
– I am speaking of unimproved values.
– When a man sells his land, ihe sells it improved.
– Then to make (the matter clear to the honorable member, let me say that sometimes a man who has valued his land at £3 per acre for land tax purposes, asks £7 an acre for it when he proceeds to subdivide it, the increase representing only £1 per acre for improvements. I contend that valuations are dodged in all directions. Very considerable savings might be effected if the Commonwealth, the States, and the shire councils interested in securing correct valuations were to co-operate so as to secure a uniform scheme. Such a scheme carried out by a well organized Land Tax Office, could be utilized by all concerned as the basis for ^collecting land tax, and very considerable savings could be effected on the cost of administration. Like others who have advocated this tax, I am tied fast to an exemption of £5,000 unimproved value, and if I altered my mind in that regard I should *have to resign my seat in this Parliament. At the same time I am also pledged to make the tax thoroughly effective. I therefore urge the Treasurer to stand to his guns, and to see that effective valuations are secured, even if the cost of administration is slightly increased.
.- The honorable member for New England seems to think that the land tax is not effective.
– Only in certain localities.
– In that respect the honorable member appears to differ from many of his party, who boasted at the beginning of the session that last year, as the result of the operation of this tax, £22,000,000 worth of land had been subdivided. I do not ascribe to the operation of the tax any such beneficial result. My own opinion is that if large estates had been cut. up to the extent suggested by honorable members opposite, we should not have had this year - as the Treasurer estimates to receive - a revenue within £5,000 of the amount derived from this source during the first year of the operation of the tax. It seems to me that the increase of £25,000 in the cost of administering the Department is unwarranted. If, as a result of the tax, large estates are being cut up, the cost of administration should be reduced, and if from year to year the revenue from this source is to decrease, there is no reason why the cost of administration should be increased. It is an unbusinesslike procedure to convert a number of temporary assessors into permanent employes of the Department. When the Land Tax Bill was before us, we were told that we were going to avoid a very heavy expenditure by the introduction of the self-assessment system. The Bill provided- for the most barbarous penalties where land-holders failed to send in correct assessments, but the assessment notices were no sooner circulated than a whole army of assessors was sent out to check the assessment made by the owners. Either the self-assessment system is a farce, or there, is no necessity to appoint a lot of permanent assessors. In Tasmania we have State assessors as well as Commonwealth assessors, dealing with land valuations, and it seems to me that if this tax is to be as effective as we were told it would be, there should be a lightening of these burdens. As to the suggestion that incorrect valuations are sent in, I believe that people have done their best to put before the Commissioner fair valuations of their property. If that were not so, we should have heard of many prosecutions.
– The assessors in many cases have simply increased the assessments made by land-holders.
– I do not know that many assessments have been so increased. In one or two cases which have come under my own notice, the departmental valuers seem, to have agreed with the assessments made by land-holders.
– I know of several cases where the departmental valuers have increased the assessments made by owners.
– Had the owners incorrectly assessed their properties?
– In the majority of cases, honest mistakes had been made.
– Many land-holders are not experts in making up returns as to the unimproved value of property.
– And some of the valuers who have been appointed are not experts. On the whole, I think that the land-holders have made out their returns, quite honestly, and as well as could be expected. That being so, it is strange that so many assessors should be appointed to travel round the country checking valuations. In passing the Bill, we believed we should avoid considerable expense by providing for self-assessments. Had we not thought so, I do not think that we should have agreed to the system. The New Zealand Government found, after a time, that the self-assessment system was liable to a great deal of abuses - that owners of land far removed from railways arid other means of communication could undervalue their properties with impunity, knowing that there was not much likelihood of the Government ever demanding its surrender, whereas those owning land in favorable localities placed a high valuation on it in the hope that the Government would give them 10 per cent, on their valuations, and take it over. Either the land-owners ought to be relieved of the necessity of furnishing returns to the Commissioner every twelve months, or permanent assessors ought not to be required. If we are to have permanent assessors, let them make the assessments, and let us give the owners the right of appeal. Land-holders would not object to the retention of these officers by the Department if they were relieved of the trouble of making up the annual returns. As to the increases that have been made in certain assessments, I understand that in some cases a decision has not yet been arrived at, although two years have elapsed since the Act was passed. I am informed that some time ago the Department found it practically impossible to assess certain values in cases where men held interests in land as well as in insurance and other companies. The complications with which the Department were confronted in these cases made it difficult to arrive at a decision, and I understand that where they, did come to a determination to make an increase the revenue obtained was barely sufficient to justify the work involved in securing it. It is exceedingly difficult to determine what is the unimproved value of certain land interests. The only other matter to which I desire to refer is the Commonwealth Bank. I hope that when it is well established, the quarterly return, which the Governor is required to furnish under the Act, will be promptly presented, so that honorable members wilt be able to see for themselves what progress is being made by the institution.
.- I am rather inclined to agree with the honorable member for New England, that whilst we are all anxious that the provisions of the Commonwealth Bank Act passed last session shall be complied with, it must ‘be recognised that the Governor has been busily engaged in organizing work since his appointment, and that this is probably the reason why the first quarterly return has not been furnished as promptly as some honorable members would have liked. In view of that fact, I think that some slight margin should be allowed.
– I find that the Governor has sent along a tentative report, the form of which has only to be settled before it is published in the Gazette. The Bank was only opened on the 17th July.
– I think it’ was opened on the 15th July., and it is gratifying to know that in Victoria alone deposits amounting to £350,000 have been made with the Savings Bank branch, an interesting feature of the business being that withdrawals are exceptionally small. This fact proves, to my mind, that even those outside the ranks of the workers are placing money on fixed deposit with the Bank. Then, again, in Queensland, where the Savings Bank branch has been in operation for less than two months, the deposits amount to, I think, about £1.50,000. This shows, to my mind, that the people thoroughly appreciate the system. I met, the other day, an old friend of mine whose confidence in the Bank was such that he had just deposited £100 in it, and I am sure that, before long, such deposits will be general. I am confident that when the general Bank is opened it will do excellent business. As it is, we have made a very good start. The Governor is not advertising the Bank by means of large posters and placards all over the country.
– I saw a huge sign being carried down the street the other day.
– It is about time that we had some large posters sent out. The Victorian branch of the Bank is being carried on in an obscure building in Collins-street ; the name is painted in modest letters on the window, anc? there is nothing to suggest that deposits will be received there. The Governor is moving along modestly and quietly, and I rather admire him for his action; but, notwithstanding that there has been no blare of trumpets, the people are sending along their deposits.
– Especially those who are over the interest-bearing limit in the State Savings Bank. They are getting interest on their deposits in both banks.
– I understand that some of our Ministers have been cute enough to do that ; that they have a certain amount in the State Savings Bank, on which interest is being paid, and that they are also drawing interest on deposits in the Commonwealth Savings Bank. I believe that honorable members opposite admire that kind of financing.
I do not know how many valuers have been appointed in the various States, but it is only a little over twelve months since they were appointed in Victoria. In the first year of the -Land Tax the owners were called upon to make their own valuations, and then valuers were to be appointed in each State to revise them. In many cases in Victoria considerable increases have been made in the valuations, particularly in the fertile Western District. It is a great pity that we cannot prevent the multiplication of officers in this connexion. In New Zealand, where, of course, they have the advantage of only one Government, one set of men make the municipal, the Dominion land tax, and the probate valuations; and such an arrangement, of course means considerable saving. I believe that in New South Wales all the municipalities outside Sydney base their rating on unimproved values, and, that being so, I think all the assessments - municipal, Federal, and :State - might be made by one set of men. In Victoria, the Federal and State taxes are imposed on the unimproved value, so one set of officers should carry out both valuations. Unfortunately, however, the jealousy of State Righters continues to cost the taxpayers of the country considerable sums of money.
– Especially the duplication of savings banks !
– As to that, when I have addressed meetings, some of them in the honorable member’s constituency, people have been astonished when they have learned that the Federal Treasurer offered the State Treasurers 75 per cent, of all the new business while leaving the old business undisturbed, and even a proportion of the remaining 25 per cent., while permitting the post-offices and postal officials to be used for the banking business. When the people realize the true position of affairs, they will not be able to understand why such a munificent offer was not accepted by the various State Treasurers. It is true that we looked forward to the expenses of the collection of the land tax being a light burden on the Commonwealth. We find that in Victoria the cost of collecting the State Land Tax on unimproved values in 1911-12 was £24,349, on a revenue of £293,823, and on an estimated revenue for 1912-13 of £290,000, or nearly £4,000 less than in the previous year, the expenses are expected to amount 10 £3°i538- The Treasurer has promised to explain fully how the £80,000 required to collect the Federal Land Tax is made up. The figures quoted in regard to State tax collection would appear to show that there may be several influences at work which would lead to an increase. A very fair comparison can be made between Victoria and the Commonwealth as a whole in this connexion, because the State Land Tax and the Federal Land Tax, both on an unimproved value basis, were imposed about the same time. In the State, valuers had to be appointed and, of course, they cost money, but I would like to point out that the cost of collection in the case of the State is over 8 per cent., and in the case of the Commonwealth it is less than 4 per cent.
– The Commonwealth Land Tax involves much bigger items.
– Quite so; but the Commonwealth Land Tax covers the whole of this continent, whereas Victoria is only a small State - one fact counteracts the other.. In the case of the vast stretches. of land in Western Australia, for instance, a valuercould not be expected to cover them in the same time and at the same cost as he could cover the smaller spaces in Victoria. Honorable members may take the figures I have quoted for what they are worth, but they prove, at any rate, that the cost of collecting the Commonwealth tax is about half the percentage of the cost in the case of the State. I shall be glad to read the first report of the Governor of the Bank, and I feel confident that, with a shrewd Scotchman at the Treasury the expenses will be kept down to a minimum.
– Can the Treasurer tell us whether any of the deposits in the Savings Bank have yet been invested?
– What is the nature of the investment?
– In banks.
– On fixed deposit in other banks?
– I do not think the money is invested on fixed deposit.
– I should not think they are invested in bank shares.
– I do not think it is wise that the actual nature of the investment should be disclosed.
– The Act requires that there shall be a return of the assets and liabilities, and amongst the assets must be shown the investments and their nature.
– If I told the honorable member that the money was invested on fixed deposit, he might ask me on what terms. I only desire to say that the money is on deposit bearing interest.
– I shall ask no further question on the point.
– I hope not, and for good and sufficient reasons.
– When the returns are presented they will show, as in the case of every bank balance-sheet, how the money is invested, and what interest is obtained. However, I notice amongst the. items in this division one relating to the sugar industry; and I should like to know when the report of the Sugar Commission is likely to be presented ?
– I am unable to say; Royal Commissions are very sacred bodies, as the honorable member knows.
– The Government have announced that on the presentation of the report they will take it into consideration, and then announce their policy. I take it that, under ordinary circumstances, the Queensland Parliament will rise in the first or second week in December, and that we shall not sit much longer than the seconder third week. It will be remembered that the Premier of Queensland informed the Prime Minister that if the bounty and Excise were abolished, he would be prepared to introduce consequential legislation in the State Parliament.
– He did.
– I hope that the Premier will be able to make good his proposal.
– From information received, I expect a report of the Cornmission before the end of this month.
– I hope the Prime Minister will be able to carry out such a policy as that unanimously adopted by the Isis Primary Producers and Cane-growers’ Association, the members of which desire the abolition of the bounty and Excise.
– What do the growers say in Bundaberg? Do not suppose that all the growers are in the Childers district.
– Nor in the Bundaberg district.
– The great majority are.
– A question like this cannot be decided by a plebiscite taken in any one district. It should be settled by the’ adoption of the policy best adapted for the preservation of the industry.
– Does the honorable member desire to kill the little grower?
– On the contrary, I desire to see him encouraged to the fullest extent, and it is in his interest that I hope we shall deal with the matter shortly.
– I hope that we shall not touch it at all !
– I take it that the policy of Australia is not to be dictated by public meetings in any one part of the Commonwealth.
– That equally applies to the remarks of the honorable member.
– If we are to have a plebiscite it must be one of all engaged in growing. At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that public meetings are being held in the different centres, strong opinions are being expressed, and that they represent the only method at present of ascertaining public opinion. I urge the Prime Minister to expedite this matter.
– I am looking to the Royal Commission to use every effort to present their report at the earliest possible date.
– I hope that will be done to enable this Parliament to carry out the arrangement made.
– It is only a suggested arrangement.
– Perhaps it will be better for me to speak of negotiations.
– I announced quite frankly what I thought would be the possible state of affairs.
– And the Queensland Government announced that they were quite prepared to take action.
– To do certain things under the circumstances.
– If the suggested course is decided on, I hope we shall proceed as expeditiously as possible.
– The intention is to have the report in time to declare our policy before Parliament rises.
– The matter is most pressing, and having its effect upon the industry. A communication from the association at Childers is as follows : -
I wish also to say that not nearly as much cane planting has been done here this year (since the issue of the recent regulations) as’ in former years, nor will there be, because a good many of the farmers here intend to allow a certain area to drop out of cane, so much so that for the needs of cultivation they would only need to employ two men in the future where they have employed three in the past. They intend to turn the remainder of the land to such other use as they can manage to do themselves.
– That is an attack on the wages.
– No, it is not; it is only a statement. I noticed from a report of a meeting of small cane-growers, who are protesting against the present position, though not against wages, that one of them was not making above £2 10s. a week.
– Unfortunately, in cane growing, as in every other industry, there are unfortunate men.
– We should not add to their misfortunes by any action of ours, but make the conditions such that even the smallest grower will get a fair return. I see that the Treasurer’s advance has increased from £200,000 in the first instance, and £400,000 a year ago, to £500,000 this year.
– It is now less in proportion than it was in earlier years.
– That all depends on what the proportion is based. The Trea surer’s advance means a large sum of money placed at his disposal to meet contingencies, the expenditure afterwards being submitted to Parliament for approval.
– The Treasurer has nothing except money voted for specified objects - the advance is not in excess of the amount voted.
– But it is voted for unspecified purposes.
– It is not specified what this advance is for.
– Unless there is money saved in other expenditure I cannot use any of this advance. If every item were expended, I should have no advance at all.
– Quite so, but in the vote of £644,296 for the Treasurer’s Department is included the £500,000 for the Treasurer’s advance.
– The honorable member will see that at the end of the Estimates it is cut out again. There is an authorization of £500,000, but unless money is saved on items the advance cannot be expended.
– On page 34 there is a deduction shown.
– If every item was expended we should have no advance at all.
– Why is the amount increased from £400,000 to £500,000?
– There is no particular reason, but it is not by any means an unsafe amount, and is less in proportion.
.- I ask the Prime Minister whether it is not possible to give effect to the suggestion of the honorable member for Maribyrnong, and co-operate with the State and municipal authorities in making land valuations ?
– I shall be glad to cooperate in any way possible.
– Will the Prime Minister make some overtures to the States ? The number of officials connected with the collection of land tax and income tax is so large as to make one fear that Australians are becoming a race of tax collectors. Many of these men could be much better employed in other occupations.
– A difficulty in the way of co-operation is that the Commonwealth law and the laws of the States make it an offence for a Department to divulge the private and confidential information that is supplied to it.
– I am sure that the public would rather run the risk of the leakage of secrets than continue to pay three sets of officials for valuation work that could be done by one set.
– I think that when any information has been asked for the reply has been given that the law would not permit of its being supplied.:
– The honorable member for Flinders has mentioned that although the land tax has been in operation for two years no assessment has yet been made regarding the holdings in companies.
– The companies have been assessed.
– The companies have paid the tax, and so have private individuals holding land, but shareholders in companies and banks have also to be assessed, and do not know what tax they will have to pay. An honorable member to whom I spoke was amazed to learn that he is liable for two years’ taxation. It will probably cost more to collect this tax than will be received, because the difficulties in the way of its collection are enormous. I ask the Prime Minister, therefore, to consider whether it is worth while to collect it. Although honorable members opposite wish to tax the big estates I do not think that they wish to penalize people. When the tax comes to be collected many persons will be unable to pay it, because they will have spent their incomes not knowing of it.-
– The Attorney-General’s Department must deal with that matter.
– The Prime Minister might well consider whether the tax will be worth collecting in view of what the collection would cost. Some very able articles are now appearing in the Argus on the subject of finance.
– They are too political to be of value.
– A matter to which T wish to draw attention is, I think, of importance. The writer deals with the question, how to meet a crisis. Banking crises occur periodically, and the proper time for legislating in regard to them is a time of peace and prosperity. In the Old Country it has been customary, when crises arrive, to suspend the bank charter, and make notes legal tender. It is usually not that the depositors are frightened that they will not get their money, but that they fear that others will get in before them,.and that they will have to wait. The Argus writer says that the Government, having control of the note issue, it is not possible to give the relief which is given in England.In 1893 Sir George Dibbs made the notes of the banks legal tender in New South Wales.
– With the consent of Parliament, which was in session.
– I should like to see this matter gone into. To call together Parliament during a crisis might accentuate the panic, and it would be some time before anything could be done.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the private banks should issue notes?
– The subject needs looking into.
– Any Government that was worth its salt would do what is needed, and come to Parliament afterwards for an indemnity.
– Does the honorable member think that we should have a reserve power to issue notes as legal tender unrestrictedly during a crisis?
– I think that the banks should be allowed to issue them on giving approved security. Under the old system a bank could be authorized to issue notes to any value required, but under the present system, if a run occurred, the bank could only issue the notes that it held, and to get more would have to pay gold for them.
– Would it not be a better way out of the difficulty to empower the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to make advances to the other banks, those advances being a first charge on their assets?
– I should not like to give an opinion offhand, but the matter is one worth considering.
– I have thought for a long time that what I suggest is the easiest way out of the difficulty. The Governor is a practical banker, who will .know the state of affairs and where the pinch is most felt. He could, if necessary, aid a bank, his advances to it being a first charge on its assets.
– Either that might be done, or the banks might be allowed to issue notes on giving approved security.
– The Governor would have to know the state of the bank to which he was making an advance.
– Undoubtedly. I have suggested that he should go through the affairs of the bank and approve of them, but the Prime Minister’s suggestion is the better one. The Government would have the protection afforded by the knowledge of an experienced man. This being a time of prosperity, it is desirable to make provision now for emergencies.
– I hope that the Government will seriously consider the suggestion of the honorable member for Darling Downs regarding the sugar industry. In the Moreton division a number of small farmers grow cane as a side crop, and they naturally desire definite information as to what is to be done in order to know whether it will be worth while to continue growing cane. The present uncertainty is playing havoc with the sugar industry throughout Australia. I should like the Prime Minister to urge the Commissioners to send him an advance report as early as possible. The relations between this Government and that of Queensland seem to be strained, though I am at a loss to know why, because they are both interested in the sugar industry, and should try to work harmoniously to settle the important questions affecting it. Unless matters are expedited”, nothing will be done during the present session of this or the Queensland Parliament, in which case there will be another twelve months’ delay, much to the detriment of the sugar industry.
I wish to know what provision is made for reimbursing charitable institutions for the maintenance of old-age pensioners. I know of one or two cases in which old-age pensioners have had their pensions stopped while they have been in hospitals, but what I am referring to is the complaint of the institutions that they get no assistance from the Government for maintaining old-age pensioners, and I understand that pensioners have been refused admission to some institutions on that ground. In a leaflet circulated on behalf of the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum on Hospital Saturday and Sunday, it is stated that the cost of maintaining the inmates is £21 3s. 9¾d per head per annum, an increase on the cost of previous years. The increase was due mainly to the higher prices of provisions, and to the fact that the institution has had to take in old-age pensioners, in most instances in a deplorable and dying condition, so that they must be placed in a hospital, where the expense of maintaining them is more than would have to be spent were they ordinary inmates. The following statement is made : -
An impression exists that the asylum gains by receiving old-age pensioners; this is a mistake. The fact is the institution does not benefit one penny from their pensions ; but, on the other hand, is put to a great expense, not only for maintenance, nursing, and medical attention, but with burial expenses, which is no small item. This institution is almost daily relieving the Melbourne, Alfred, St. Vincent, and other hospitals of cases, so that they can make room for more serious and urgent cases. These cases can obtain all the medical attention and nursing necessary in the asylum that their condition requires.
These institutions publish to the people of Victoria the statement that they are hampered rather than benefited by taking in old-age pensioners. I think that in the interests of these sufferers, the amount of the pensions should at least be given teethe institutions so that we may secure for them as much relief as possible. The Minister does not appear to be very much interested in this subject, but I hope that he will see that these public institutions receive the pensions payable to inmates if they do not already obtain some allowance in regard to them.
As to the sugar industry, I am very anxious, in the interests of the small growers in my electorate, that the matter to which I have referred shall be settled as quickly as possible.
– We have in these Estimates an item relating to the Royal Commission on insurance, and I wish to ask whether the Government propose to take any action on the report presented by the Royal Commission appointed by the Deakin Government to inquire into the whole question of insurance laws in Australia. That Commission dealt with fire and life assurance, and also, I believe, with social insurance.
– I can only say that we are dealing now with an Insurance Bill.
– -Will the Minister say whether the Bill will cover the whole matter of general insurance?
– The Attorney-General will explain the principles of the Bill when he is introducing it.
– There is need for urgent action, and it seemed to us when we were in office that we should have a complete inquiry before legislation dealing with the subject was introduced. Mr. Justice Hood and Mr. Knibbs were appointed Commissioners, and after making a most careful inquiry into the whole subject, they made certain clear and definite propositions, but although some years have elapsed since their report was presented, no definite action has yet been taken upon it. Strong representations have been made regarding the necessity for a uniform law, more especially in relation to life assurance. Life assurance companies, which, for the most part are conducted on the mutual principle, have cast upon them a costly duty in having to prepare annually six different sets of returns in respect of the six States of the Union. In this way a costly burden is being imposed upon policy holders, which could be avoided by means of a uniform law. The hope has been expressed that some uniform system will be devised, and the whole procedure simplified.
– It seems to me to be an anomaly that whereas the cost of administeringthe invalid and old-age pensions system is only £43,875, the cost of administering the Land Tax Act is nearly twice as much. We were told when the Land Tax Bill was ibefore us that one of the advantages of such a tax was that it cost very little to collect, and yet, notwithstanding that the returns have to be sent in by land-owners themselves, we are asked this year to vote £80,000 in respect of land tax administration. Very great dissatisfaction exists throughout the Commonwealth regarding the way in which the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act is being administered, and the discontent is most marked in relation to the administration of the invalid pensions branch. I have brought several cases of great hardship before the authorities.
Sitting suspended from1 to 2.30 p.m.
.- I think that before we proceed with business we should have a Minister present. I, therefore, call attention to the want of a quorum [Quorum formed]. I regret the absence of the Treasurer, because there are in these Estimates, relating to his Department, two or three items to which I desire to call attention. In the first place there is an item of £800 in respect of note printing. I wish to know when these notes are likely to be put into circulation, and how many are to be printed. I have seen some of the samples, and the printing, design and general appearance, are certainly excellent. Some of the designs are most artistic, and will not be a discredit to the Commonwealth as samples of our first venture into the realms of note printing. In view of the fact that the printing and issue will mark an historical epoch in the progress of the Commonwealth, as well as a distinct departure from the established practice in Australia, I should like the Treasurer to consider a suggestion that a complete set of cancelled notes be given to each member of the Parliament. They would form an interesting and historical souvenir, and if properly cancelled there could be no danger of their getting into circulation. I suggest that the first 11 1 notes printed should be cancelled and distributed as souvenirs amongst members of the Parliament. I am not quite certain, but I think that the notes have been designed and printed in Australia.
– No, the plates are coming from the Old Country.
– I understand, however, that a plant is being obtained, and that experts are being engaged to do the work in Australia. Although the samples so far available have been executed in the Old Country, the notes to be issued to the public will be printed in Australia. If that be so, then honorable members would certainly appreciate the adoption of the suggestion I have made. There is precedent for it, inasmuch as in connexion with the first Commonwealth stamp issue, sets of cancelled stamps were issued to honorable members, whilst on the introduction of the Commonwealth silver coinage the first 11 1 shillings struck were distributed amongst members. I hope that the Minister temporarily in charge of these Estimates will convey my suggestion to the Treasurer, and that he will indorse it. As to the item “ Additional Clerical and General Division Officers, £700,” I wish to know whether these officers are to be employed temporarily or permanently. The growing practice of appointing large staffs of temporary assistants in the Clerical and General Divisions’ of the Service is not a good one. Experience has shown it to be a great mistake. Just at a time when labour of the kind becomes most valuable to the Commonwealth is the very time it has to be dispensed with. Under the Public Service Act, a temporary employe’ may be employed for only six months, and, only in very special circumstances, for another three months in any one year, and it very often happens that such employes have to be discharged when additional assistance is required late in the year when the Christmas season is approaching,. The trouble in dispensing with the services of temporary employes in this way is that permanent officers have to be detached from their ordinary duties, and devote much time to instructing the newcomers, and this gives rise to general disorganization. As a matter of fact, the temporary employes, instead of being of assistance in the various Departments, are, for a considerable time, an absolute hindrance. I should like to know whether the additional officers provided for are to be permanent or temporary. As to lending and borrowing, it would be interesting to know whether it is intended by the Government, in their newly-established policies, to borrow the deposits in the Commonwealth Savings Bank in order to meet some of the commitments for which it is now desired to raise money. The honorable member for Darling Downs endeavoured to elicit some information, but the Treasurer was very reticent and unwilling to impart any. If the Treasurer’s purpose is to borrow the people’s savings for some of the projects on account of which the Loan Bill was recently passed, it may prove a further cause of stringency in the local money market. Indeed, I am surprised that the Government have launched out with a borrowing policy, because I see that no later than the last general election a great parade was made of the fact that the Labour policy was a non-borrowing one.
– The honorable member cannot show that.
– In a circular issued by Mr. Jelley, a defeated Labour candidate, the public were asked to “ compare the non-borrowing policy “ of the Labour party with the borrowing started by the Liberal party, and were asked to vote for Jelley in order to keep the Commonwealth “ free of debt.” As a matter of fact, however, under a Labour Government we are getting more and more into debt every day. It was not until the present Treasurer took charge of the finances that the Commonwealth was involved in any borrowing. The Liberal Government carried out all public works by means of the ordinary revenue, and when they made a proposal to borrow, even for naval purposes, there was an outcry by honorable members opposite.
– Here is the programme of the Labour party, which is in favour of the “restriction” of borrowing.
– What I have read is not in the programme, but is the tale that was told to the people.
– And the Labour party told the people to vote for Jelley and his policy.
– Some of the most prominent members of the Labour party supported Mr. Jelley on the public platform, and not one of them contradicted Mr. Jelley’s version of what was the policy of the party. Mr. Jelley does not merely talk of a non-borrowing policy on the platform, but declares for it in a printed leaflet, which cannot be gainsaid. So far as the Liberal party in this House is concerned, it never did start a borrowing, policy.
– We blocked them.
– Now,, however, we find the Treasurer accumulating all sorts of Trust Funds, and diverting them from the purposes for which they were voted to other purposes not yet authorized by Parliament. This candidate, Mr. Jelley, as I say, declared that the policy of the Labour party was a non-borrowing policy, and that only the wicked Liberal party was responsible for such a policy, although it had never borrowed a single penny. It is just as well that the public should know the truth about these matters - these deliberate attempts to mislead the public by throwing dust in their eyes, and misrepresenting the other side. If it were not for this printed publication of Mr. Jelley honorable members opposite would have denied that anything of the kind was said.
– I never heard of the gentleman.
– Some of the honorable member’s leaders’ know him, however, and sat with him on the same platform. The leaflet is one continual denunciation of the Liberal party for engaging in a policy of borrowing. It is pointed out in the leaflet that before the advent of the Labour party the States under Liberal Administrations had borrowed £251,773,000, and this was condemned as unsound finance. Notwithstanding all these denunciations of the Liberal party in the States for borrowing for reproductive works, we find a Labour
Government enjoying the public distinction of being the first in the Commonwealth to go on the money market for a loan. The Government started their career with a forced loan from the people on the note issue. One of their first acts, it will be seen, was to throw overboard the whole of their non-borrowing policy, and all their professions on the public platform. Many honorable members opposite secured their seats by appealing to the credulity and lack of knowledge of the people who returned them, and how woefully they have been deceived. We have the Treasurer not only borrowing, but starting as a money lender, and I expect before the close of the session to see three golden balls hanging in the portico of Parliament House with the legend, “ Money lent on good security.” I do not think it is proper for a Government to do work of this kind, which should be left to private enterprise.
– Good old “ Ikey Mo “ !
– It is the Labour Government who are playing the part of “ Ikey Mo,” and what I am concerned about is the depletion of the local gold reserves and the savings of the people, mostly of the wage-earning classes. There is a risk of increased financial tightness if this system, inaugurated by the present Government, is continued. Already, through local borrowing, in New South Wales and elsewhere, the money market has tightened wonderfully, and private investors find it most difficult to obtain advances in order to carry out their enterprises. The Government would have been well advised if they had raised their loans, as previously, from British investors, but British investors, with the present outlook, as a result of Labour administration, are very loth to find the money. As a matter of fact, New South Wales had to go to a foreign money-lender, and enjoy the peculiar distinction of being the first Government in Australia to raise a loan in a foreign market. I am certain we are on the wrong track in the management of our Trust Funds and loans from Trust Funds, and we shall presently find ourselves tied in a knot. In the event of a crash we shall find the trouble accentuated, and not relieved, by what is happening now. I do not desire to see the Commonwealth of Australia in such a position, but we are fast approaching a crisis, if we follow the lines laid down by the State and Commonwealth Labour Governments. I see that the Treasurer’s Advances has been increased from £400,000 last year to £500,000 for this year. It will be noted that of the £400,000 voted last year none was expended, and I should like some explanation why, under the circumstances, this amount has been increased to enable the Treasurer, according to a note on the Estimates, to make advances to public officers, and to meet expenditure, the particulars of which will afterwards be included in a parliamentary appropriation. We have no information in this connexion, and apparently are not going to get any until after the money is spent, or we are pledged to spend it. Apparently it is not supposed to be the function of the Government to take any notice of Opposition criticism, or to afford any information, although we have to represent our constituents even to a greater extent than have honorable members opposite. I understand that all these matters are arranged in another place upstairs, and that Parliament is only a secondary consideration; but from the point of view of courtesy alone, members of the Opposition are entitled to be furnished with information regarding the spending of the money they are called upon to vote. Only the most casual references are made by the Treasurer to the expenditure of his Department, although it amounts to hundreds of thousands of pounds, and the Estimates, altogether, represent millions. The same policy of reticence is adopted in regard to all the Departments, and information has to be dragged out piecemeal in a series of questions which ought not to be necessary. We ought to be given full information as to the financial position of the Treasurer’s Department - the commitments, the requirements for the current year - and, if necessary, there should be memoranda supplying the details. As it is, we have to dig and delve as best we may in order to search out the various items, which in many cases are covered up in such a way as to elude our vigilance. I should like information on some other points, but at present I will leave the matter in the hope that it will be supplied by the Treasurer or by some other Minister. The Treasurer himself does not seem to attach the slightest interest or importance to the opinion of Parliament, or to the criticisms offered even by Opposition leaders and the financial experts of our party. The right honorable gentleman waves all criticism aside in an airy way on the principle of the interjection by the honorable member for Maranoa the other day when he told us “ Not to worry.”
– Why not treat the Treasurer with silent contempt?
– And allow the Estimates to slip through without any consideration? Personally, that is what I should feel inclined to do - to meet discourtesy with discourtesy - but I have to recognise a higher obligation, not only to the Treasurer and to Parliament, but to those who sent me here to look after their interests. It is in the interests of my constituents that I am making these few remarks, and I do not desire to go before them and confess that I voted millions without the remotest knowledge of the purposes for which they were intended.
– The honorable member supported the Reid Ministry when it kept us sitting all night, and made us pass the Estimates for six Departments in a few hours.
– My memory does not carry me back so far as that, but I recollect the lively time that we had when the Labour party was in Opposition. The present Ministers have received better treatment from this Opposition than they extended to us. Briefly, the three questions to which I desire replies are these - first, when will the new Commonwealth notes be put into circulation?
– Early in the new year.
– My second question is - Will the Prime Minister consider the suggestion I made that the members of this Parliament should be supplied with the first of the note designs printed, cancelled, so that they shall have no exchangeable value ? The designs are very artistic, and, I understand, emanated from our own people, although they were executed in England,
– They are Treasury designs.
– They are the finest sample of work of the kind I have seen. Members received the first one hundred and eleven shillings of the Australian coinage that were issued. The sum of £750 is set down for additional Clerical and General Division officers. Are they to be temporary or permanent?
– Permanent. They are to be employed in the notes branch, where we have decided that there shall be no temporary hands.
– It would be a dangerous thing to employ temporary hands there.
– There is some misconception as to the purpose of the Treasurer’s Advance. The Treasurer is not empowered to expend money in excess of the appropriations for particular items, but, it being impossible to foresee a year’s transactions, it is necessary to provide a sum out of which to meet emergencies. The Treasurer is authorized to make advances with regard to necessary work, and £500,000, the sum now provided for the purpose, is less proportionately than the £200,000 that was given to Sir George Turner.
– Was the £400.000 voted last year all spent?
– Very nearly. It has never been suggested, during my term of office, that any of this expenditure has had a political purpose, and I should be no party to such expenditure. The Constitution does not permit us to obtain money other than by an appropriation of this kind, and the appropriations of Parliament are not exceeded even when the total Advance is spent.
– And the amount of the Advance is never exceeded.
– No. The suggestion that honorable members should be given specimen copies of the new note requires consideration. Banks, in this and other countries, have cancelled notes by perforating them, but some of these notes have afterwards been successfully circulated, being accepted by the cleverest tellers, because the perforations have been so cleverly filled up. Consequently, it is now often the practice when a note has been cancelled to cut a piece off it. I should not like to give a reply to the honorable member for Lang until I had obtained expert advice regarding his suggestion.
– The honorable member could get one of the notes by paying £1 for it.
–Yes, I have already done that myself, wishing for a specimen of the first issue. If honorable members wish it, the first notes issued can be reserved for them, and they can ballot for them.
– For one of each denomination?
– Certainly, or as many as they please if they pay for them. In that way the Commonwealth will be able to raise a small loan without interest. As the IOS. note is entirely a novelty, honorable members might like to have a specimen of it.
– Each denomination has a different design, and they are all picturesque.
– The design of the IOS note is a beautiful one, which I would commend to the consideration of honorable members. If honorable members wish to have the first notes issued reserved to them I would suggest a ballot, reserving to myself, as the Minister, the first number.
– Is there anything for the Commonwealth Note Printer to do at the present time, or is he merely drawing his salary while waiting for the machinery to be got ready?
– Mr. Harrison is a very active man, and an excellent officer, and has a good deal to do. His first business was to examine the machinery, and to ascertain the best firms from which to get paper. That he did before leaving England. Since then he has had to inspect the premises to be used, especially with a view to providing absolute security. Honorable members can see that it is almost as necessary to prevent the stealing of the unprinted as of the printed paper, and to prevent access to the machinery. We have a building which is being strengthened and fitted up with protective appliances and equipped with the necessary strong room’s and safes.
– Has the Prime ‘ Minister the remotest idea when the Royal Commissions which are now sitting will report?
– I am urging them to do so.
– They have been sitting for a good many months, but there seems to be no end to their inquiries. Of course, they are somewhat handicapped while Parliament is in session, but they are costing a good deal. It may be that we shall find it necessary in the future to insist upon each Royal Commission reporting within a fixed time. The Sugar Commission, although its investigation is an important one, ought to have nearlyfinished its work.
– It could not get the evidence of the most important witness until about six weeks ago. Month aftermonth it was being opposed in the Court.
– Whose faultwas that?
– The Sugar Company’s.
– A silly remark, such as that invites no reply. I would* like to know from the Prime Minister whatmachinery he intends to provide for the disbursement of the maternity allowances,, or shall I call them baby bonuses?
– The Prime Minister does not like the term “ baby bonus “ ?
– It is not descriptive. The allowance is not a baby bonus.
– Every argument used in support of the Government’sproposal shows that the allowance is a baby bonus. The sum of £5,000 is put down for the administration of the Act, and I should like to know what procedure it is intended to adopt. I presume that some inquiries will be made before money is paid away. Surely the sum of £5 will not be returned by post whenever an application is received, no questions being asKed.
– It will depend on the evidence.
– Does the right honorable member intend to avail himself of State machinery?
– I have asked the Secretary to the Treasurer to send each honorable member a copy of the forms which are to be issued. I do not know whether they have been received.
– Not yet.
– They should have been received. There have been prepared three papers showing the way in which the maternity allowance may be applied for, and copies of these have been sent to every post office as well as to every medical man in Australia. A copy has already been laid on the table of the House. The information so furnished is to the effect that where a child lives for more than twelve hours nothing further is necessary on the part of the applicant than to fill in the ordinary forms, and to send them, together with the certificate of registration, to the Treasurer. If the information so supplied is satisfactory, the application is at once granted.
– Suppose a wife authorized a husband to receive the allowance on her behalf, should there not be some attestation of the wife’s signature on the authorizing form?
– Her signature must be duly given. An intending mother may, prior to the birth of the child, fill in a form assigning to her husband or some other person her right to the allowance.
– The Act provides for that.
– Quite so, and we have prescribed the manner in which this may be done. Forms have been drawn up to simplify the whole procedure. The officers of the Treasury dealing with the maternity allowance are not confined to that branch of work. They are general Treasury officials of good standing, capable of dealing with financial matters, and of determining whether an application is bond fide, just as a banker, by reason of his experience, has usually little difficulty in determining the bona fides of certain- documents. The real difficulty arises in the case of stillborn children or those who live for less than twelve hours. In the case of a stillborn child, a medical certificate that it was a viable child must be provided if there is a medical man in the district, but where a doctor is not available a qualified nurse or other witness must certify. We have to take these precautions against the possibility of abuse of a most serious kind; the Commissioner must be satisfied in all oases that the application is a bondfide one. The honorable member asked whether we were using the State machinery, and I am glad to be able to inform him that all the States have agreed to their registrars co-operating with us in this matter. We are making them a small allowance for the work done. The expenditure on the administration of this fund will represent so low a percentage on the actual amount distributed that it is hardly worth mentioning. The desire is to make the payment as expeditious as possible. Where the papers sent in are in order, a money order will be sent out immediately upon their receipt. As the Act came into operation before the whole of the machinery was in readiness, there may be at first some strained cases, but later on the whole procedure will be simplicity itself.
– There is in this division an item relating to coinage, and in connexion with it I should like to refer to a paragraph published in the newspapers some little time ago to the effect that the Commonwealth Government intended to introduce a nickel coin. If any nickel coins be introduced, I trust that the Treasurer will see that they have a hole punched through them. In some countries which I recently visited the nickel coins in use were larger than the silver coinage, although, of course, of less value, and the fact that a hole was punched through them enabled one to distinguish between the two without any difficulty whatever. One of the first statements I read in -the press on reaching the United States of America was that a proposition had been made to adopt the principle followed in Belgium and elsewhere, where a round hole is punched in a nickel coin, so that even if such a coin is of the same size as a silver coin carried in one’s pocket, one can distinguish between the two by the touch. It is recognised throughout the world that nickel coins should have a hole in the centre in order that they may be readily distinguished from others. Usually the hole in such coins is about threesixteenths of an inch, and I am told that the Belgian practice is to be adopted in the United States.
.- In the early days of Commonwealth coinage I favoured the use of nickel coins of low denomination, and, in reply to the honorable member for Capricornia, who has since impressed upon the Government the desirableness of their adoption, I have said that we favour their use. I do not agree with the honorable member for Fremantle, however., that nickel coins should have a hole punched through them. In Italy, and, I think, in India, the nickel coins in use have a carved flowing edge, beautiful in design, which sufficiently distinguishes them from the silver coinage, with a plain or a milled edge. I think that we should have a more artistic looking nickel coin, if, instead of punching a hole through it, we made it with a round flowing edge. Nickel coins are particularly necessary in hot countries, where people do not wish to carry heavy coppers in light dress.
.- I think the Treasurer would acknowledge, if he only saw them, that nickel cobs with! holes in them are very artistic.
– I have seen them.
– I shall be glad to present the Treasurer with a nickel coin tomorrow. While travelling abroad within the last twelve months I have seen all sorts of coins, and have no hesitation in saying that none was more beautiful than the Belgian nickel coin.
– This seems to be one of the first opportunities that the Estimates offer to the Committee to deal with a matter which, in a general way, has been ventilated and discussed, not only duringthe financial debate in this House, but from the public platform, as well as in the press. I refer to the extraordinary increase in the current expenditure of the public Departments. When we have debated this matter generally we have been met with the statement that we were indulging in generalizations, and that we would not condescend to go into details. That is an accusation which can be met only by endeavouring to deal with the particulars when they come before us.
– We cannot charge the honorable member with not going into details.
– I have endeavoured to go into details and they have not been altogether agreeable to my honorable friends opposite. We have in this vote several instances of very unusual and extraordinary increases for the ordinary administration of the Department. I wish to discuss this matter for the reason that whenever we engage in general criticism of the advancing expenditure “required for the carrying on of the government, honorable members on the other side, either in this House or on the platform, accuse us of being opposed to such matters as the payment of old-age pensions and other proposals involving increases of expenditure which the public have demanded. We have our own views upon those matters; but what I am dealing with at present has nothing to do with any increases in expenditure due to the adoption of such proposals, but with increases in the ordinary expenditure involved in carrying on the Department.
– Are we not having good times?
– We have been having good times, or we could not face this expenditure. But when we find towards the expiration of a period of abnormally good times that in one year the expense of carrying on, for instance, the Accounts Branch of the Treasury increases by 23 per cent., we get something which requires a little investigation, and something which is not fully accounted for by the simple assertion that we are having good times now.
– It would be a very bad thing if salaries went up and down with the seasons.
– It certainly would. If salaries and the number of officers employed in conducting a Department were to go up with good seasons they must come down with bad seasons.
– Do they not, generally speaking ?
– Is the honorable member referring to the gross vote?
– Yes; it includes increases due, in some cases, to increments of salary, and in others possibly to the fact that a larger number of officers are employed.
– Is the honorable gentleman dealing with the Accounts Branch only, or with the whole Department?
– I am referring to items which appear on the same page of the Estimates of the Treasury Department - the Accounts Branch, the Correspondence Branch, and Contingencies. I leave out the Australian Notes Branch, because that is a new matter, and is readily accounted for. I invite the honorable gentleman’s attention to these very striking figures. If we compare the estimate of the vote required for the Accounts Branch for 1911-12 - because the actual expenditure is not given - with the estimate for the current financial year, we shall find that it has risen from £4,748 to £5,607, or an increase of about 23 per cent. The vote for the next item, the Correspondence Branch, ‘ has risen from £2,317 to £2,627. The advance there has not been so great, and represents an increase of about 1 5 per cent. . If we compare the estimate for the Correspondence Branch with the similar vote for 1909-10, immediately before the present Government came into office, we shall find that the expenditure for the same work has risen considerably.
– For the same work?
– Practically the same work. The work of the Correspondence Branch of the Central Office of the Treasury cannot have been enormously increased merely because we are getting more revenue. It should increase a little, no doubt, but the increase should not be in anything like the same ratio as the increase in the revenue. The increase in the cost of this branch of the Department is shown to be from £1,777in 1909-10 to £2,627 for the current financial year. Let us now consider the expenditure upon contingencies. The vote in each case covers practically the same things - allowance to State officers, office cleaning, postage, telegrams, office requisites, and so forth - the ordinary contingencies of a Public Department. The vote for contingencies in 1909-10 was £4,403, and it has now gone up to £6,245.Thatistosay,thatinthree years the vote has been increased by about 45 per cent. Can any honorable member dismiss that fact altogether from his mind by merely saying “ Times are better, therefore we are spending more? The revenue has increased, therefore there is greater expenditure upon Contingencies in the Treasury?” Is that a way in which to account for the increase? It is not an answer to the objection tosay that public officers must get increments. We all know that; but in any well-regulated Public Service in which increments of salary are granted in the ordinary way, one would naturally expect that, after some years of working, as young men come in and old men leave the Service, a fairly even annual payment for the whole of the officers in a Department would have been arrived at. After eleven years of Federation, we might expect to have arrived at a stage at which, making full allowance for all increases of pay in the ordinary course, a somewhat uniform annual expenditure upon a particular Department would be arrived at. Sometimes, of course, we must employ more men, and there will be some increase in correspondence, or in the amount necessary for contingencies ; but I submit that an increase in the Contingency branch of this Department of 45 per cent, in three years is a matter which calls for consideration.
– At the time the honorable gentleman is referring to, there was very little work involved in the payment of oldage pensions to be provided for, there was no maternity allowance, andno big works in hand. All these matters involve clerical work. The note issue involves a great deal of clerical work, as well as the work of accountants. The honorable gentleman forgets that some very important services have been established since the time to which’ he refers.
– I am prepared to make allowance for that.
– The land tax will account for a considerable increase in the expenditure of the Department.
– All these filings will account for some increase in the expenditure upon the Department; but I say that the increases disclosed in these Estimates seem to me to be enormous.
– If we were allowed the same amount for each communication that is allowed in the States, five times the vote would be asked for.
– I do not know to what the Prime Minister refers.
– Correspondence covers communications as in the case of the States
– Does the honorable gentleman refer to the cost of each letter written?
– We do not measure the cost of the Correspondence Branch of a Department by the number of letters with which it deals. To double the volume of correspondence does not necessarily involve the employment of double the number of officers in the Department.
– It does, according to the Public Service Commissioner. He must be satisfied that a clerk will be fully employed before he gives one, even to the Treasury. This is an attack upon the Public Service Commissioner.
– I do not think so. Parliament never intended that the Public Service Commissioner should be fully responsible for financing the Departments.
– He will not give an officer to the Treasury unless he is satisfied that it is absolutely necessary to do so. Sometimes I have disagreed with him, and, as a result, we have to work overtime in the Treasury.
– The Prime Minister will agree that the Government are responsible for financing the various Departments. The responsibility for the amount of money which is expended by the Departments has not been handed over to the Public Service Commissioner. Surely the Public Service Commissioner does not dictate to the Treasurer as to the number of clerks he shall employ?
– He does, and he would do the same thing to the honorable member. I thought that the employment of another officer was necessary in the Department, but he thought otherwise.
– I have heard that statement before from honorable members who do not occupy responsible positions. But I attached no importance to it.
– If I thought it absolutely necessary that I should secure the services of another clerk I would have to come down to Parliament, and state my reasons for my belief, and I would also have to say why the Commissioner had disapproved of the additional employment. That is the law. Does the honorable member wish me to break the law?
– I do not desire the Treasurer to break the law. Does he assure me that the Public Service Commissioner dictates to him by telling him. that he must employ more clerks?
– The honorable member is endeavouring to get out of the position by means of a subtle legal quibble.
– I ask whether that interjection is a fair answer to my argument. I leave it to the ordinary sense of honorable members.
– What the Treasurer said was that he could not appoint an additional clerk without the consent of the Public Service Commissioner.
– And I must allow officers to go away if the Public Service Commissioner thinks that there are too many employed in my Department.
– I understand that the Treasurer cannot employ any person who may be in the permanent service of the Commonwealth unless he is recommended by the Public Service Commissioner. That, however, is not my point. My point is that the expenditure in this Department has increased by leaps and bounds.
– Not automatically. The Public Service Commissioner cannot say that the Treasurer is bound to employ a continually increasing number of clerks, otherwise the Treasurer, is a mere figure-head. He is not bound to accept the dictation of the Public Service Commissioner. The Commissioner cannot say to him, “ You must employ five clerks where you are now employing only three.”
– But he can say to him, “You shall not employ another clerk.”
– The Treasurer is employing a larger number of officers without a proportionate increase in the work.
– He says that the work has been doubled.
– If the work has been doubled, that is a complete answer.. But to say, as the Treasurer does, that the Public Service Commissioner requires him to employ more officers is not an answer.
– That is not what was said.
– The Treasurer says that he cannot employ officers unless the Public Service Commissioner certifies that their services are necessary.
– If the blame rests with the Public Service Commissioner
Several Honorable Members. - There is no blame.
– The Public Service Commissioner has no right to say to the Treasurer, “ You are employing three clerks. I insist that you shall employ five clerks, in view of the amount of work there is to do.”
– That was never said.
– Then why was the Public Service Commissioner mentioned at all?
– For the simple reason that no clerk can be put on in the Treasurer’s Department or in any other Department unles the Public Service Commissioner satisfies himself that the employment of a clerk is absolutely necessary.
– That means that if the Public Service Commissioner says to a Minister, “ You have too few clerks to do a certain amount of work “-
– The work is there, and if the Public Service Commissioner is satisfied that there is work to be done he will authorize the employment of additional officers.
– I can understand the Treasurer saying, “ It is true that I have appointed a larger number of clerks, but I left it to the Public Service Commissioner to determine whether there is work for them to do.”
– The Treasurer has not “left” it to him. That is the law, and it is a very proper thing. I quite agree with it.
– Then I am afraid the Treasurer comes before the Committee and says, in effect, “ I wash my hands of the whole thing.”
– I do not. I accept the responsibility.
– Then, for the purposes of this discussion, why not leave out the Public Service Commissioner?
– It would be very convenient for the honorable member to do that.
– When I attempt to arrive at the truth, I am told, in effect, that I have a motive in desiring to eliminate the Public Service Commissioner from this discussion. But I really do not think that such interjections carry very much weight. The Treasurer will admit that if there is a reason for this great increase in the ordinary expenses of government, that reason ought to be presented to the Committee by himself. We have had three Budgetstatements from him, and in not one of them have I been able to find any explanation of the increases which have taken place in this Department. There has merely been a general statement that there has been more work to do. I wish to know why, in the Accounts Branch of the Treasury, for instance, there is an immense increase in the expenditure for 1912-13 as compared with that for 1911-12. Why has that expenditure increased by 23 per cent, in one year? Surely the Treasurer might honour the Committee with his confidence in regard to these matters. It is idle for him to accuse us of talking generalities if he will not give us information upon specific points. We might expect an increase in the Correspondence Branch in three years, though it would surprise me. to learn that there is any good reason - unless the Treasurer, who is in a position to know the facts, can furnish one - for an increase of about 45 per cent. It seems very large. The difficulty is not that we are prepared to condemn these increases, but that we have not the materials on which to form a satisfactory opinion.
– The honorable member can move for a return and get every detail. I will give him any particulars that he wants.
– A return of every item?
– Every one.
– Such an offer as that is not consistent with the Treasurer’s duty to his Department. It is his duty, as Treasurer, to tell this Committee what the facts are. He ought not to cast on me the responsibility of asking for a return which will simply mean throwing a mass of
Departmental figures on the table of the House and leaving us to fish out what we want for ourselves. I suppose the increase in the Correspondence Branch, and in contingencies, is to a certain extent due to the increased payments of invalid and old-age pensions. I think, however, that the Treasurer ought to be able to give the Committee some information on the subject.
– In the Correspondence Branch there has not been one additional officer. The increased vote is due to increments.
– The Correspondence Branch of the Treasury has been in existence for eleven years. Are these Departmental branches to be so managed that we may expect increases of 20 and 25 per cent, in each succeeding year ? Of course, the answer must be that the work of the Correspondence Branch has not increased to such an extent. There is, I suppose, practically the same amount of work to be done, but we are paying 15 per cent, more for it this year than we did last, and 45 per cent, more than we did a few years ago.
– Every few years the officers get increases of salary, which they earn on account of the extra skill acquired in their work. That is to say, they get increments, and are supposed to be able to do more and better work for them.
– Surely a senior officer is expected to be more expert than he was when he was a junior?
– That may be a complete answer. The Treasurer may be able to assure the Committee that the same officers have been employed, but that the increases are due to increments. Possibly we shall have to accept that answer. But that does not apply in the slightest degree to the enormous increase in the vote for contingencies. The Minister of External Affairs smiles. Contingencies mean something to him.
– It depends upon what they are.
– I do not think the Minister of External Affairs is much troubled about anything as long as the revenue is coming in, and he is allowed to develop his own ideas unrestrained. When we come to deal with the Estimates of his Department, we may have something to say that will affect him more closely. The instances that I have given are typical of the increases throughout the whole Service. One can expect that there should be some increases, but these appear to be out of all proportion to the amount of work done or the amount of revenue received. I think the Treasurer might give honorable members a little more information than he has ever yet done, either in his Budget Speeches or by statements in Committee.
– The honorable member for Flinders set out with the object of showing that there has been extravagance in connexion with this Department, and he was going to put his finger on some particular point to show where’ the extravagance existed. My retort to him was that all the officers concerned had received increases in consequence of the action of the Public Service Commissioner. It is his duty to prescribe the number of officers that a Department requires for the particular work that has to be done.
– Does that mean that the Government must employ additional officers if the Public Service Commissioner says that they are required?
– The Government need not employ additional officers, or they may employ more than the Public Service Commissioner recommends ; but if the Government do take exception to the Public Service Commissioner’s certificate, they have to bring down their reasons to this Parliament, and lay them upon the table of the House. The honorable member for Flinders knows that. I will say this for the Public Service Commissioner : that, whatever other complaints may be made regarding him, he is certainly a diligent student of the work that is being performed by the Commonwealth Departments ; and no Department gets an additional officer, and no officer gets an increase in his salary, unless the Public Service Commissioner Kas examined the case for himself, and ascertained whether what is asked for is warranted or’ not. It was for that reason that I said that the honorable member’s attack was virtually an attack on the administration of the Public Service Commissioner. The honorable member speaks of the proportionate increases as compared with the year 1909-10. But I remind the Committee that a large amount of additional work has been placed upon the officers since that time. In 1910 the note issue came into operation, and there was also an extension on account of old-age and invalid pensions.
– My comparisons left out the note issue altogether.
– The honorable member tis in error there. There is a great deal of correspondence attached to the note issue, in addition to the work actually done by the clerks in connexion with the notes themselves. There are communications with banks regarding the return of notes, and various other matters connected with the issue, and there are communications with banks on questions of currency. Correspondence of this kind is very considerable. Then take the item for 1 912-13 regarding bank exchange, £1,500,
– According to the Treasurer’s statement, if we want to get at the cost of the note issue, we have not only to take the items actually set down for the note issue, but also to fish out other items connected with it.
– The honorable member, I am sure, does not desire that every clerk who incidentally writes a letter in connexion with currency business, or the note issue, or bank exchange, shall have his services to that extent debited to the note issue, or whatever the subject may be. Honorable members do not want work of that kind done.
– I agree with that.
– Take the item in connexion with bank exchange. It is a new item. To some extent it relates to the larger purchases of material in London. We had a very good officer indeed in charge of this work. In my opinion his services were worth his salary over and over again. The Public Service Commissioner desired to transfer him to another Department. I was very loth indeed to lose his services ; but the Public Service Commissioner said he was required elsewhere, and was entitled to get his promotion. I am not at all sure that the Commonwealth is benefited by his transfer ; but the Public Service Commissioner was responsible, and the transfer was made.
– I see that what the Treasurer has said vitiates the comparison about contingencies.
– Now, does the honorable member wonder that I laughed when he was speaking on that matter?
– There has been an attempt to fasten down on to some particular item ; but the honorable member has not been able to prove his case in this instance. We have now been able, for the first time in the existence of the Commonwealth, not only to manage bank exchanges to our advantage, but we have also been able to employ to ths last penny our money in
London at short-dated interest. An enormous amount of clerical work is entailed here as well as oversea, and the work is undertaken because it is profitable. The honorable member for Flinders will see now that the whole matter is cleared up.
– But there was £1,471 spent in bank exchanges last year.
– The honorable member need not help the honorable member for Flinders, who knows exactly what is in his mind, and has submitted the strongest point so far as the increases are concerned.
– I should like to say that I omitted to notice that in the earlier years there were no bank exchanges.
– As to the general increases, I point out that the Treasury has to deal with the accounts of all Departments, and these accounts have naturally increased in number. There is a point beyond which an officer cannot go ; he may be able to deal with 1,000 accounts in a working day, but if there happen to be 1,005 accounts, another man has to be obtained to take a share of the work, so that it may be done efficiently. It is here that the Public Service Commissioner comes in, and he considers, on the requisition of the head of the Department, whether the assistance is or is not warranted. We know that an ordinary man, as years go on, and he becomes more experienced, deals more rapidly with his work and makes fewer blunders, and hence the increased expenditure on the same number of men is justified as an advantage. From my experience of life I would rather have few men who can do the work of & great many men than a great many men to do the work of few * men, although the same expenditure might be involved, because then there are fewer mistakes, and the work is better done.
– Are there the same number of men in the Accountant’s Branch this year as there were ‘last year?
– I have no evidence as to that, and, in its absence, I do not care to commit myself to a statement. I am informed by Mr Collins, Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, that there has been an addition by two junior clerks.
– There have been no increases except those provided for by the law of the land.
– The position in regard to the Correspondence Branch is exactly the same, but two additional junior clerks have been appointed in the Accountant’s Branch. Before Parliament rises I shall furnish a detailed account of the developments in these offices for the inspection of honorable members.
– Not one of the increases is what we may call a Government increase.
– The Government cannot make increases. As to the matter of responsibility, I can only say for myself, and I think I may speak for my colleagues, that if I thought it necessary to come into conflict with the Commissioner, either as to an increase or a reduction, I should do so, and then let Parliament know the facts.
– This all means that we ought to have a Committee of Accounts.
– The honorable member is shifting ground. An attack has been made by the honorable member for Flinders, and has not been sustained ; and that honorable member is quite capable of making such an attack without assistance. The honorable member for Parramatta is less frank than is the honorable member for Flinders. Immediately the honorable member for Flinders saw that some item had escaped his eye, he admitted the fact at once, and that is the way to get on. I have no desire to be responsible for financial statements or financial proposals that cannot bear the keenest scrutiny, and I hope- that Parliament will never depart from the course of exercising its full right of criticism. Although I am not in a position to give all the details at the present moment, I think that there are now the minimum number of officers with whom the work of the Treasury can be carried on, in view of the new services.
.-! suggest to the Prime Minister that the note issue, as currency, ought to be under the control of the Commonwealth Bank, and that it would be advisable, I think, to have a report from the Governor of the Bank on the point. If this suggestion were acted upon the size of the issue would be governed solely by the public demand for paper money, as it was before, except that the Commonwealth would, very properly, through its proper officials, govern the issue. My objection to the Government note issue is solely due to the fact that, under the present system, there is a great temptation to any Minister to issue more notes than is necessary, in order to finance various Government enterprises. Every sovereign raised by the issue is a liability which will have to be met sooner or later, and most probably at a time when the country is the least able to meet it. If, on the other hand, my suggestion were adopted, the Bank would, for its own protection, as well as for the protection of the Commonwealth - for the Bank is not interested in what I might call party finance - draw in its horns on approaching financial trouble, and so automatically regulate the issue of paper currency. At any rate, it would be worth while the Treasurer asking his highest financial expert to express his opinion on the matter. I have no knowledge of what the Governor’s views are, but I am satisfied that if the matter is referred to him, he cannot fail to advise the Treasurer more or less on the lines of my suggestion.
We must remember that most of any country’s financial difficulties are because of the party system. A party in power, with a tenure of three years, will try to carry out public works, and finance them in such a way as to increase their popularity in the country, and lead to their return for another period of office. The Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, on the other hand, is responsible solely for the solvency of his institution, and the security of credit generally, with which it is intimately bound up. The result will be that if we put this matter under him, we shall still have Commonwealth notes, but they will be paper currency, and will not be the means primarily of raising money from the public of Australia for the pressing necessities of a particular party. I do urge this upon the Prime Minister.
– The honorable member has discussed it before. It will not be done this session.
– There is no reason why the right honorable gentleman should not ask the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank for a report on this question. I think that it would be very educative to honorable members, and could not fail to assist them. That is all that I am asking for now.
– It is not a question of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank at all.
– It is a question of high finance, and the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, I take it, is the best financier we have in the service of the Commonwealth. In fact, I think that he is the only first rank financier in the service of the Commonwealth at present. We have excellent officials, but they have not been in close touch with general finance in the same way as he has been. I am only asking that his opinion should be ascertained. Surely the Government are not going to shut down on expert opinion in dealing with this question? Surely they are not afraid of the verdict of their highest officer? If they are, of course the public will understand the refusal of my very simple and modest request. I do hope to get a simple, affirmative answer from the Prime Minister before I resume my seat.
– I will reply when you sit down.
– If I sit down now, I shall have no further opportunity to speak on this matter-; for I spoke for a minute last night when the Estimates were introduced contrary to the wish of the right honorable gentleman.
Mr. Fisher. - I have been frequently interjecting, and accused of doing so.
– Will the Prime Minister ask this officer for a report?
– The honorable member says it is a question of currency. That has nothing to do with banking directly.
– Banking is vitally interested in currency. It is the basis of exchange, and a bank’s prime operations are dealings with exchange. If you interfere with currency, you interfere with bills. If you disturb currency, you disturb bill currency, and cheque currency, which is the biggest currency in the financial world to-day. Exchange is the biggest function of any bank,. State or private, at the present time. The big profits of a bank are not made, when all is said and done, by advancing money, and. receiving interest.
– Bills are not national currency.
– No; but they are popular currency. The currency of the world to-day lies in bills and cheques, and the basis of the credit of these bills and cheques is the ordinary medium of exchange.
– They are not interfered with.
– In the time of crisis, the only currency that has an intrinsic value throughout the world is gold. It is, consequently, obviously a matter of vital importance to the Commonwealth Bank that it should be able to be sure of the solvency and the security of a big paper issue of money in the Commonwealth. Not with a view of embarrassing the proceedings at present, but simply to enable the Prime Minister to reply, and give me an. opportunity, if necessary, to speak for a minute, I move -
That the items, “ Australian Notes Branch, £4,126,” be reduced by £1.
– I support the proposed reduction. I have always thought that the moment the Commonwealth Bank was set up the Governor should have control of the note issue. He will have at his disposal immense resources, monetary, metallic, and otherwise. He would be in a better position to gauge the demand of Australia in regard to the note issue.
– If honorable members will stand by me, we will go on with the Estimates.
– We will put the whole lot through now.
– This is government by bludgeon.
– Order !
– What is the matter ?
– The Prime Minister said he was going to say something when I sat down.
– Then I suggest that the honorable member should ask leave to withdraw his amendment.
– Order I
– What is all this commotion about?
.- I ask leave to withdraw my amendment. I should not like to sec the Government in the position of trying to bludgeon the whole Estimates through.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 16 (Invalid and Old-age Pen sions Office), £43,875.
– I had a number of observations to make in regard to the administration of the Old-age Pensions Act. The Government _ are preventing a discussion of that very important question as they prevented a .discussion of the Public Service Commissioner’s Estimates last night.
.- Surely the honorable member for Parramatta can hardly be accurate in suggesting that the Government are going to burke any discussion in regard to old-age pensions.
– Why do not the Opposition discuss the question?
– You are bludgeoning the Estimates through. Not a single member on the Government side has spoken yet.
– Order I Will the honorable member for Wentworth proceed ?
– We have all night before us; there is .plenty of time.
– Is the time1 when honorable members on the other side are strongest in intellect when they sleep at night ?
– Order ! Will the honorable member address himself to the question?
– It is absolutely useless, sir, to do that in the present temper of the Committee, which is using the bludgeon to prevent the discussion of these EstimatesI enter my protest, and leave it at that.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 17 (Land Tax Office), £80,376, agreed to.
Division 18 (Government Printer), £19,690
.- Before this division is passed, I should like to hear from the Treasurer whether arrangements have been made to have the bound volumes of Hansard supplied to honorable members within a reasonable time from the close of the session.
– I regret very much the delay which occurred in issuing the bound volumes of Hansard for the last session. We made frequent representations to the Government Printer, and we found that it was the congestion of work - State work, I think - which prevented the despatch of the volumes, but we have now made better arrangements. After this session, special efforts will be made to enable honorable members to procure the bound volumes quickly. It will also be arranged that a large number of copies of the debates on the referendum proposals shall be available to the Opposition and to Government members for circulation.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 19 (Governor-General’s Office), £4,900 ; and division 20 (Coinage), £17,500, agreed to.
Division 21 (Miscellaneous), £460,626
– A series of important questions ought to be considered in connexion with this division, and I once more make my protest against the manner in which the
Estimates are being bludgeoned through, £500,000 at a time, without discussion being allowed.
– That is not so.
– It is so.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 22 (Unforeseen Expenditure), £1,250, agreed to.
Division 23 (Stamp Printing), £2,252
– Perhaps a simple inquiry may be answered in the haste of the moment. I ask the Government when are we likely to have a Commonwealth stamp?
– Very shortly.
– On the 1st January,
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 24 (Refunds of Revenue), £200,000, and division 25 (Advance to the Treasurer), £500,000, agreed to.
MINISTERS laid on the table the following papers -
Northern Territory - Report of the Acting Administrator for the Year 1911
Ordered to be printed.
Northern Territory - Ordinance of 1912 - Crown Lands.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land Acquired under, at Blyth, South Australia - For Postal purposes.
House adjourned at 4.26 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 November 1912, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1912/19121108_reps_4_67/>.