5th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– An attack of a more or less personal character was made on me yesterday by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. I should have left it unanswered had it been directed merely against my personal honour, but I understand that it was not; that the honorable member expressly disclaimed his intention of making an attack of that kind. The attack was made because, in his opinion, the acceptance of the directorship of a bank and the continuance of one of the general retainers which I hold create a conflict between my interest and my duty. I say, at the outset, that that opinion, if held by honorable members generally, would not be permitted by me to be used as a weapon against the Government. Should the House adopt the views at the basis of the honorable member’s argument, I should immediately take steps to relieve my colleagues of any embarrassment that might thereby be caused to them. The subject is, therefore, of sufficient importance to warrant me in claiming the indulgence of the House for a few minutes, while I deal with what seem to be the principles underlying the facts on which the attack was made.
– I think that this is going beyond a personal explanation. The Attorney-General is proceeding to argue the question.
– Put on the gag, of course !
– If the House does not desire to hear me now, I shall take another opportunity to speak on the subject.
– I, for one, desire to hear what the honorable member wishes to say.
– Is it the wish of honorable members that the AttorneyGeneral be allowed to make a statement?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
– I propose to make use of argument-
– Will a reply be allowed?
– I have no objection to any reply being made. It is right that my remarks should be replied to, if honorable members wish to reply to them.
– Do we understand that we are to have a general debate ?
– That cannot be permitted.
– I shall proceed with my statement, and, if I go beyond what is legitimate to a personal explanation, I am sure you, Mr. Speaker, will stop me.
– On the motion for the adjournment, the honorable member will have absolute freedom to say what he likes. Of course, I am not opposed to the making of a statement now.
– As the honorable member will have perfect freedom to say what he likes on the motion for the adjournment, why should he not be permitted to say it now?
– Others could reply to him on the adjournment.
– The honorable member for Kalgoorlie raised a question which I consider of great importance, and the assenting cheers with which his statements were received by members supporting him cannot be regarded as dictated by purely party motives. This is not a matter affecting merely a section of the House, and some definite understanding should be arrived at in regard to it. Replying first to the charge that I did not return one of the general retainers that I hold - that from the Marconi Com pany - I ask honorable members to consider what a retainer is. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie seems to think that the holding of a general retainer involves a confidential relationship between the giver of the retainer and the counsel who is retained. Nothing is further from the truth. A general retainer does not entitle the person who gives it to consider the barrister as in any way bound to tender advice or to accept a brieffrom him. The barrister so retained may at any time, if there should be any reason whatever, public or private, which would embarrass him in accepting a brief from one who has given him a general retainer, decline it. It is a common thing, and it has happened more than once in my experience, for a barrister to hold general retainers from individuals or companies who are engaged in litigation between themselves. That position is often inevitable. The fact that the giver of the first general retainer has the prior right to claim a barrister’s services if he is in a position to give them does not require the barrister to hand back the general retainer to the other party in the case by whom he has been retained, because that party may desire to retain his services in other litigation. A highly confidential relationship is established in another way. As soon as counsel is called into consultation with a client, whether on a retainer or a special retainer or without retainer, there is a relationship established of the highest degree of trust and confidence that can exist among men. The honorable member spoke of the code of honour among lawyers. Let me say that no profession, and no occupation demands from those who would be successful in it a higher standard of personal honour than is demanded of barristers. From the moment that he commences practice, the barrister learns - if he did not learn it he would not get very far - that he must keep absolutely good faith with the Bench, and with his clients, and the important information and secrets which come to his knowledge in the course of his practice he learns to separate entirely from the knowledge of which he may make use.
– There may be an unconscious lapse occasionally.
– I do not know what the honorable member wishes to insinuate, nor do I care; but I resent strongly, on behalf of the profession to which I belong, the suggestion that it has not as high a standard of personal honour as that of any other body of men in the community.
– No one denies that.
– Mr. Asquith has recognised the high code of honour that generally prevails.
– And I recognise it, too, in the quotation read by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. The barrister who holds a general retainer has not the right to give it up unless for a good reason, but when any man takes office as a Minister of the Crown he must at once place himself in a position in which his duty and his interest cannot conflict. That is generally admitted. In accepting the position of AttorneyGeneral I felt it my duty to make a complete and absolute severance of my relations with the Marconi Company in its litigation with the Commonwealth.
– Surely the honorable member would do that.
– Of course, and I have done it. Not only did I do that, but in every kind of litigation in which I was engaged in which there was any possibility of conflict with the Commonwealth I severed my connexion absolutely. I might give instances, but I do not propose to do so. Reference was made to the Marconi case in Great Britain. That is a case in which two Ministers of the Crown had become shareholders in a company
– I rise to a point of order. Whilst I am anxious that the honorable member should have every latitude, I submit that he is going beyond the limits of a personal explanation in dealing with the Marconi Company.
– I would point out that when the Attorney-General first rose I understood that he was about to make a personal explanation, but when he intimated that his remarks would probably go somewhat further than a personal explanation, I took the precaution to ask whether it was the pleasure of the House that he be given leave to make a statement. -That leave was granted.
– Leave to make a personal explanation.
– No ; as I have just pointed out, leave to make a statement. The honorable member should have objected when leave was sought. Leave to make a statement was granted to the Attorney-General without any objection, and he is therefore in order.
– I rise to a point of order. The Attorney-General did not receive the unanimous assent of the House-
– To enter upon a debate. I was quite willing that he should make a personal explanation-
– I am raising a point of order. Do you decline, sir, to hear me? If so, I will sit down.
– The honorable member is not raising a new point of order, but is arguing the point already decided. Leave was granted to the Attorney-General to make a statement, and in pursuance of the leave so granted he is making a statement to the House. No dissent was raised when leave was granted. Had there been one voice raised in dissent at the time, the desired leave could not have been granted.
– There were objections. However, the Attorney-General has invited a motion, and he now wants to be out of the trouble he has got into.
– The facts of the Marconi case in Great Britain are that two Ministers of the Crown, during the currency, I think, of negotiations between the British Government and the Marconi Company for a large concession or contract, had become shareholders, not in the English company, but in another company, whose fortunes would be necessarily largely affected by the fortunes of the English company.
– The American company had a dominating interest in the English company.
– I think that is so. The question was as to whether the American company’s shares must necessarily have been affected by a successful contract made by the English company with the British Government. I do not wish, however, to enter into that point. Whilst the negotiations were pending, these two British Ministers had taken up shares in a company closely allied, at all events, with the British Company which was obtaining a large contract from the Imperial Government. The most serious part of the charge, however, was not that fact, but that these Ministers when the contract was brought before Parliament had not given the Legislature a full knowledge of the exact position in which they stood. It was on that ground, ultimately, that, whilst the two Ministers in question were acquitted of all wrong-doing in continuing to be members of the Cabinet whilst they held shares which gave them a direct personal interest in the contract, the opinion was expressed that they were guilty of indiscretion in going on as they had done and failing to take Parliament into their confidence. The other ground of the attack made upon me is that I am a director of a banking institution.
– Before the honorable member leaves the point as to the Marconi Company, will he answer the position I raised as to what would happen in the event of his colleagues presenting to the Cabinet a proposition for a compromise.
– I am glad that the honorable member has reminded me of that point. He said that there might be a proposal for a compromise. I replied that I did not know whether there was or was not because the whole matter had been handed over by me, as I had pointed out previously, to the Minister of External Affairs. It is quite possible that the Minister of External Affairs may bring forward a proposal for a compromise between the Commonwealth, and the Marconi Company, and I should not feel the slightest embarrassment in voting upon such a proposal. What should embarrass me? I am now in no more relation to the Marconi Company than I am to any one of the number of persons who have given me general retainers. They are not clients of mine, and I owe them no duty save that I must give them notice before I accept a brief in an action against them.
– That is all.
– That is all. I arn free to devote my best judgment to the Commonwealth’s interests in respect of any such compromise which may be brought before us, and I give the House the assurance that I shall do so. As to my position as the Director of a Bank, it was said that sometime or other it might be my duty as the Attorney-General to draft banking legislation, and that .in drafting that legislation - I do not know what its character might be or how far it would affect any particular bank - my duty and my interest would come into conflict. How far are honorable members opposite going to carry that proposition?
I have been for the last ten years or more a director of one of the leading insurance companies. It will be my duty, probably this session, to bring forward a Bill dealing with all insurance companies. In doing so I shall inform the House, as I do now, what my relation to this particular company is. Do honorable members say that a man who is a director of an insurance company cannot become a member of a Cabinet that may have to bring in an insurance Bill ? Let me carry the point a little further. I ask honorable members in dealing with this question to put aside, if they can for the moment, all party feeling, since it is a matter that affects all sides and all people. It affects honorable members on both sides who may or may not be directors of different institutions. The interest which a director of one of these institutions holds is small compared with that of a large shareholder. The services of many persons are sought as directors of these associations or institutions, not because they are large shareholders, but because for various reasons, right or wrong, those who conduct them think they are desirable. In the case of the bank referred to I have nothing but a qualifying interest. There are hundreds of people who, as shareholders, have large interests in banking companies, insurance societies, and trustee or other companies. Do honorable members say that in these cases a man may not become a Minister of the Crown - that he may not become a member of a Cabinet that will have to deal with these matters- unless he first divests himself of his shares ? What is a man to do in such cases? Is he to withdraw all his interests from investment in this country and put them into British consols or the stocks of some other country that cannot possibly be affected by any legislation we may bring in ? Then, again, is a large land-owner not to take office because land-tax legislation may be introduced by the Government? Is he to strip himself of all his land before lie takes office, because he may be directly affected by legislation that may be brought down? Let me take still another case, and I ask honorable members opposite to give me their real attention while I do so.
– Take the case of mining shares.
– That is yet another point. I ask honorable members to take the case of the Tariff.
– And also the case of industrial laws.
– I am coming to that. Is every merchant carrying on business to divest himself of his active and direct interests in that business before he can accept office in the Cabinet which has to deal with the Tariff? The Tariff is perpetually coming up for consideration.
– A merchant should do so before becoming a member of a Commonwealth Cabinet.
– I simply wish to know how far this position is to be carried. I tell the honorable member plainly that if his view is that a Commonwealth Minister should divest himself of all his interests in his own business, let the House assert that in a definite way. That is how I challenge the honorable member.
– Put it to a vote of the people.
– Let the House first decide, and I challenge the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to enable the House to come to some decision, so that, apart from the present vote, we may know where we are. What the honorable member’s assertion means is, that a man must strip himself of any connexion with his own business or profession, no matter what it may be, if he becomes a Commonwealth Minister.
– The honorable member is now going into very controversial and debatable matters. I do not object to his continuance, but I think that what he is referring to now is a subject for debate.
– I am not going into any debatable matter further than is necessary for the purpose of maintaining the defence against the attack made against me.
– I wish to hear the honorable member.
– To carry the matter a little further, I may point out that this Parliament will have to deal with legislation regulating combinations in restraint of trade. Are any of my honorable friends on the other side disposed to say that they cannot take office in a Ministry of the Commonwealth before they sever themselves from the trade unions to which they belong, or from any official position in a union? I hope the Leader of the Opposition will take some opportunity to deal with this matter, because I desire to see it settled. As for myself, my course is quite clear. The points raised by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie are worthy of the gravest consideration of the House; and I, for one, take a certain position with regard to them. I say that it would be detrimental to the interests of the country, and to the interests of the Parliament which governs the country, that we should adopt a principle which would render it impossible for those who are engaged in ordinary business that may be affected by the legislation before the House, to take part in the administration of the Government.
– Or evento be members of Parliament.
– If we carry the argument a little further we can make no logical distinction, because every member has to pronounce an opinion on the measures before us, and he cannot divest himself of any direct and active interest he may have in an ordinary business. This matter was dealt with by the framers of our Constitution, and it has been fully considered under many other similar Constitutions. Recognising that it is desirable that members, as well as Ministers, shall be as free from direct interest as possible in matters with which they have to deal, the Constitution actually permits members to be interested in contracts with the Government, subject to certain limitations which are laid down. Section 44 of the Constitution provides -
Any person who - (v.) Has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than twenty-five persons.
– Is the honorable member’s firm a company consisting of that number of persons ?
– My firm? I do not understand the honorable member.
– The honorable member is seeking to show that a man who is a member of a company may become a contractor with the Government; but his own position is quite different.
– I have no contracts with the Government.
– Then why quote that section ?
– I am pointing out that the framers of our Constitution, recognising that public business could not be carried on if it were made a condition precedent that members of the Parliament must divest themselves of all their business interests, provided that members may even be interested in direct contracts with the public service of the country, if that interest is through companies of which they are members.
– A member of Parliament may contract with the Government through a company in which he is a shareholder consisting of not less than twentyfive members, but not if the company consists of a fewer number ?
– Quite so.
– It was recognised that there must be some limit ?
– Yes. Personally I am not interested in any contract whatever, directly or indirectly, with the Government; and that charge is not made against me. But if the charge enunciated by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie be carried to a logical conclusion, it means that no man can accept a position in the Government of the country unless he first divests himself of any interest which, directly or indirectly, may come into conflict with any decision he may have to give as Minister. I state in that broad way a principle the application of which would be destructive of the whole character of our present parliamentary institution.
– I think that I also am entitled to make a statement.
– As intimated previously, I cannot permit a general debate. At the same time, of course, it is for the House to decide whether any honorable member shall have leave to make a statement. If the honorable member for Kalgoorlie desires to make a statement I shall ask for the leave of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that the honorable member have leave to make a statement?
– No; unless the honorable member has a personal explanation to make to the House.
– I shall take an opportunity to refer to the matter on the motion for the adjournment of the House.
– Is there any objection to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie making a statement?
– An objection has been made.
– I desire to make a personal explanation and correction, and shall deal with facts only. The other night the Prime Minister - and I am indebted to him for handing to me the proof of his speech - made a statement about Cockatoo Island, and my relation to its administration. He said -
If it is such a goodplace, why did the honorable member’s leader who was thenPrime Minister, say in his policy speech that the Government did not intend to use Cockatoo Island for ship-building at all, but only to effect repairs and look after the ordinary current work of the Departments? That is what the honorable gentleman’s leader said at Maryborough the other day. He condemned the dock as a shipbuilding proposition long before we said a word about it. 1 shall quote exactly what I said at Maryborough, and as I was reported in all the papers -
In view of the fact that there will be a considerable amount of ship-building and dock-yard work associated with the Customs Department for its quarantine, lighthouses, and navigation subdepartments,and with the Department of External Affairs in connexion with the Northern Territory andPapua, it is proposed to eventually concentrate that work at the Cockatoo Island Dock, and to commence the work of establishing a naval ship-building yard at JervisBay, in Federal territory, to be utilized for the purposes of the fleet.
I amsure the honorable member did not wilfully misquote that. “ Shipbuilding “ is the very first term used.
– I wish to make a persona] explanation. The honorable member evidently in his statement gets back to the mere verbiage of the matter. The facts as stated are substantially correct. The honorable member did say they proposed to transfer the shipbuilding to Jervis Bay, and retain the dock for the ordinary current work of the Departments.
– No; for shipbuilding.
– Building the little boats that have to do the ordinary current work of the Departments, not building ships for the Navy. That is the difference.
– Order ! The honorable member is going beyond a personal explanation.
– I desire to make a personal explanation, and I am not going to touch the Marconi business.
– They will not allow you to do so; they are afraid.
– Will we not ?
– In this morning’s Age this paragraph appears in the leading article -
Mr. Frazer is evidently very sore that his pet kangaroo has been sentenced to overdue extinction, and indignation quite mastered him when he referred to the fact that the sad marsupial is to be replaced with the head of the King, “ who is certainly no ‘bute’,” as the ex-Postmaster- General elegantly phrased it.
That is one part. At a later stage, speaking of the Tariff, the same leading article says -
Mr. Frazer was well advised not toundertake the job. He is better qualified, as we have seen, to indict the features of the King, an enterprise peculiarly suitable to an ex-Minister of the C rown.
I wish to say to the editor of the Melbourne Age, or whoever was responsible for this particular article, that I did not make use of those words, “ the King is no ‘ bute.’ “
– No honorable member should allow another honorable member to be blamed for a thing he has himself done. I am the individual concerned in this matter, and if the Age has made a mistake I am sure they will remedy it and do justice to the member for Kalgoorlie.
– I am sure they will not.
– I am trying to make an explanation, if the irrepressible member for Yarra will allow me to do so.
– Order !
– The Age will not do you justice.
– Day after day I have t he same difficulty in trying to keep order on account of members keeping up a fusilade of interjections. I must now insist that when I call for order, order must be maintained, and a call to “ order “ must not be immediately followed by another interjection. I take this opportunity of intimating to honorable members that I shall have to resort to another of the Standing Orders to assert the authority of the Chair if that authority is continually disregarded.
– It was not the honorable member for Kalgoorlie who made the remark attributed to him by the Age. Hansard shows that I interjected -
The King is not a beauty at any time, though he is a good fellow.
I saw the picture of the King’s head on the top of the kangaroo, and I could not help laughing. I believe our King is as good a king as any who has held the reins in England, and if he was a private man I would still have the same opinion of him.
– On a matter of personal explanation arising out of the speech made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, the honorable member said yesterday, in regard to myself -
The honorable member was a member of a union whose aim was up with the price of flour and down with the price of wheat.
Later, the honorable member said that I was a member of the Flour Millers’ Association. I was a member of that association some years ago, but I wish to assert that at no time in the history of that association was it used for the purpose of putting up the price of flour and keeping down the price of wheat.
– For what did they band together - to play marbles?
– The honorable member’s remark seems to me to be a clear indication of the object of the unions to which he and his friends belong - selfbenefit.
– Order ! The honorable member must make a personal explanation.
– It was a dastardly attack upon me to say that I was a member of an association whose purpose was to put up the price of flour and keep down the price of wheat. I am not a member of such an association. I deny it intoto.
– As a member of the House, I would like to know the privileges I enjoy. I wish to know whether, on a motion for adjournment, it is competent for a member of the House who has already addressed himself to a particular subject before theHouse to reply to the arguments of another honorable member in regard to the question he has already spoken on.
– Every member has the opportunity of speaking on a motion before the House, and to use the adjournment motion for further discussion on the same subject is not in order, especially when debate on that subject has been adjourned until a future day.
– I am in a difficult posi tion, as I am of a somewhat nervous temperament.
– Does the honorable member desire to make a personal explanation ?
– Yes; I feel I have been somewhat slighted by the Minister of Trade and Customs with regard to smallpox in Sydney. I would like to ask him if he has seen the two daily papers published in Melbourne this morning, and whether what he has seen is not sufficient to arouse him to a proper sense of his public duties?
– The honorable member knows I cannot answer questions at this stage.
Mr. KELLY laid upon the table the following papers: -
Lands Acquisition Act -
Land acquired under, at -
Launceston, Tasmania - For Defence purposes.
Malvern, Victoria - For Postal purposes.
Lease of land in Federal Territory - Approval granted - C. H. McKeahnie.
Debate resumed from 21st August (vide page 390), on motion by Mr. Ahern -
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to by this House : -
May it Please Your Excellency -
We, the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, beg to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament -
Upon which Mr. Fisher had moved -
That the following words be added to the proposed address : -
But regret your advisers -
.- I need not say that I am proud to be privileged to take a part in the public debates of this National Assembly, not because of a personal achievement in securing a position in this House, but because my return enables me to assist in restoring responsible government in this great Commonwealth of ours. I desire to take advantage of the opportunity to congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, upon your elevation to the high office which you now fill, and upon the action you have taken in restoring the mace to the table of this House. I have been an interested listener to the criticisms of honorable members opposite upon the attitude of the Government. I desire, first of all, to refer to the criticisms of Liberals by the honorable member for WestSydney. Speaking of the manner in which we conduct our conferences the honorable gentleman maintained that conferences of Liberals are always held with closed doors, and that the press are excluded from them. I have personally attended five Liberal conferences since these conferences were initiated, and I am in a position to give the statement of the ex-Attorney-General a flat contradiction. As a matter of fact, when these conferences are being held the doors are left widely open, and we should be pleased to see every reporter in New South Wales present, because the greater the opportunities afforded them to disseminate our proposals and ideas the better pleased we shall always be. The honorable member for West Sydney said, speaking of the Labour party, “ We conduct our business in the open.” Every one knows that it is impossible forany person who is not a member of the party to attend the Labour conferences held at Goulburn-street, in Sydney. The press are excluded, and everything is done in secret. The doors are closed and locked, and the blinds on the windows are sometimes pulled down. It is the practice to exclude the press generally, and the only press representative who is allowed access to the chamber in which the conference is held is the editor of the Sydney Worker. The honorable member for West Sydney said -
Any man may come in and hear our conferences, but no man from outside the party has ever yet been allowed to attend a Liberal conference, and no report of a Liberal conference is ever published except that which is handed to the reporter.
– Will the Liberal party permit a representative of the Worker to attend one of their conferences?
– Yes. We should be pleased to see a representative of the Worker there. To show how fair newspapers supporting the Liberal side are, I may remind honorable members that the honorable member for West Sydney has for some time been in the habit of writing a series of articles on” The case for Labour,” which have appeared biweekly in the Sydney Daily Telegraph. I believe the proprietors of that paper have paid the honorable member something like £i per week for writing these articles. I suggest that the authorities controlling the Worker might pay our Attorney-General £4 per week to supply a series of articles on “ The case for Liberals,” for publication in the Worker. I think that if they did so the result would be beneficial to them, but I feel sure that the reply to my suggestion would show which political party is the more liberal. The ex-Attorney-General went on to say -
We, however, conduct our business in the open, because our movement, as it springs from the people, gathers strength from publicity. What has it to lose by giving publicity to its doings? Have we not gained everything that we have by that very publicity which our friends opposite shun?
I should prefer to advocate the principles advocated by Dr. Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America. If my honorable friends opposite were well advised, they would take a lesson from these words of President Wilson, published in the World’s Work -
The first necessity is to open the doors and let in the light on all affairs which the people have the right to know about.
If our friends on the other side put forward proposals calculated to raise the standard of humanity, they might open their doors to their opponents.
– Is the honorable member not aware that, in regard to most meetings of Liberals, no one could attend who was not provided with a ticket?
– I can only say that I belong to the Liberal Association of New South Wales, and happen to be a member of the Council, and I have never seen the doors closed against any one at a meeting of the party. What the honorable member for West Sydney has said on this matter is an absolute misstatement of the facts. It is amusing to hear honorable members on the other side twit those on this side with being members of a “ fusion.” I should like to know which fusion is referred to, because, after all, there are two fusions in this House. We have been called a Fusionist party because Free Traders and Protectionists on this side have agreed to drop their fiscal differences to further the principles of Liberalism. On this ground, our friends opposite are equally Fusionists. I venture to say that they have done exactly the same thing. The exAttorneyGeneral is one of the strongest Free Traders
New South Wales ever had, whilst the ex-Prime Minister, Mr. Andrew Fisher, is a strong Protectionist and the archpriest of Protection in Australia.
– The honorable member would not say so if he heard the speeches of the honorable member for Wide Bay on the first Tariff.
– Honorable members opposite have dropped the fiscal issue, and are a huge Fusionist party. They represent all kinds of Socialism, and included in their ranks are some of the Industrial Workers of the World.
– The Industrial Workers of the World do not believe in political action.
– My honorable friends opposite do. I think that honorable members on this side have every reason to be proud of their chief. On the 31st May last, the Opposition had a majority in this House of eleven, but we were returned with a majority of one. Our majority would have been three but for a couple of accidents which prevented the return of two of our candidates. We have reason to be proud of our chief, because we have not only secured a majority in the House of Representatives, but our representatives in the Senate secured a majority of the votes of the electors of Australia. Eight hundred and sixty thousand votes were recorded for the Liberal senators, as against 840,000 for Labour senators. Although we have a minority of members in the Senate, the last election showed a majority of 20,000 votes in favour of the few senators who were returned on our side, and it is gratifying also to know that the referenda proposals of the late Government were turned down by a majority of about 8,000 of the electors. So that we have reason to be proud that we have secured a majority of votes for the House of Representatives, a majority of the votes cast for the Senate, and a majority against the Referendum proposals of the late Government. The occupants of the Treasury bench have every reason to be satisfied with their achievement at the election, and with what they have done since. Honorable members opposite have thrown down the gauntlet in asking us to resign our seats and go to the country. No doubt they would be very pleased if we would accept their challenge. But we are not considering our own individual interests. We are considering the in- terests oof the country. What we propose to do is to put forward useful legislation, and ask our friends in the Senate to give it their confirmation. If they refuse to do so we want to have the satisfaction of bringing them before the electors together with ourselves. If it is a good thing for the members of this House to face the constituencies, surely it must be an equally good thing for the members of the Senate to face them at the same time. The country has every reason to be glad that Liberals are again in control of the administration. If a question is raised as between legislation and administration, my own opinion is that the people of Australia are sick and tired of over legislation. The statute-book is crowded. What the country really wants is rest, accompanied by such good administration as we always get from a Liberal Government. Never in the annals of this country were the departments so badly administered as during the term of honorable members opposite. This was to be expected. We notice a similar state of things in New South Wales. The fact of the matter is that honorable members opposite fail to take advantage of their opportunities, with the result that what has been revealed is a crushing indictment of their policy. The Assistant Minister of Home Affairs has pointed out the extravagance that has occurred under the daylabour system. A cottage at Jervis Bay built by contract cost £70 per room, whereas a cottage of the same class built under the day-labour system at Duntroon cost £162 per room - or nearly three times as much. That is merely a repetition of what has taken place elsewhere under the Labour regime. I have in my mind several cases in New South Wales not far from the township in which I reside. In Millthorpe a building was required to be erected under the Education Department. Tenders were called for, and a local contractor undertook to do the work for £800, completing it within three months. But Mr. Beeby, then Minister of Education, decided to adopt the day-labour system, and cancelled the tenders. The result was that instead of the work taking three months it took twelve months, and instead of costing the taxpayers £800 it cost exactly £1,600. A similar case occurred not far from Blayney, at Greshamstown. A residence was required for a school teacher. At the same time another building was required to be erected of exactly the same class. In each case the material was the same and the design was the same. One house was built under the contract system and cost £600. The other was built under the day-labour system and cost the country something like £935. Those are examples of the way in which the money of the country has been lavished. What is there to show for it? I am pleased to see that a vigorous policy of immigration is to be carried out by this Government. If there is any country in the world requiring immigration surely it is Australia. Honorable members opposite have always been advocates of the White Australia policy. I am proud to think that both sides of this House maintain that policy. We desire Australia to be peopled by a white race. But how shall we be able to maintain that policy if we keep the continent empty? If we do not people it it will some day or other be filled up with the black and tan races of Asia. To uphold the White Australia policy we must introduce into this country a high-bred white race, who are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.
– Send the immigrants into the country where members of the honorable member’s party will not pay them proper wages.
– If honorable members would devote a little more of their time to the study of political economy they would not entertain such erroneous ideas on the subject of immigration. They constantly lose sight of the important fact that every immigrant brought into this country is a producer as well as a consumer. Every man who produces in Australia adds to its wealth and increases its industries by what he consumes. I will just give my friend an illustration. In New South Wales we have millions of acres of rich agricultural land, originally clothed with box and pine trees - land which has been ring-barked for years and which still awaits clearing and cultivation. If only one immigrant could be placed upon 3,000 acres of that land, which is in close proximity to a railway, within twelve months he would have cleared 100 acres, and within thirty years he would have cleared practically the whole block. By his own efforts, therefore, he would provide permanent employment for twenty immigrants who might come after him. Then we have to recollect that if he earned £100 a year whilst clearing the land he would spend £80 or £90 annually upon his requirements, thus finding occupation for other persons, not only in the country, but also in our cities. We require to make Australian conditions as attractive as possible to immigrants. In leaving the control of this department in the Old Country to the High Commissioner, the Government are adopting a wise policy. I think, too, that it is wise to allow each State to look after its own immigrants upon their arrival here. Last Sunday I had great pleasure in going out to the little seaside village of Manly, near Sydney, for the purpose of inspecting the Salvation Army Home there where the waifs and strays of that great city are collected. The Army has established two or three farms near Pittwater where these persons are taught the art of cultivating the soil. If when immigrants arrive here they cannot find immediate occupation, it would be a good plan to introduce them to similar homes, where they might be taught farming under Australian conditions. Then, when they had found their stride, they would be able to hold their own in the wide spaces of this country. I am a firm believer in the repeal of the Immigration Restriction Act so far as it is applicable to British subjects. I do not think that the restrictions imposed under that statute should apply to people of our own nationality. British subjects, whether they hail from England, Africa or Australia, should be treated as on an equality.
– What then will become of our White Australia policy?
– My remarks refer only to white British-born subjects.
– What about coolies? They are British-born subjects.
– What about the six hatters ?
– The honorable member should talk about a subject of which he knows something. He should not make himself look so ridiculous.
– When the six hatters were prevented from entering the Commonwealth it was not a very good advertisement for Australia.
– The honorable member is doing Australia good by reviving memories of it.
– I certainly believe in the repeal of the Act so far as white British-born subjects are concerned. I consider that any white person born under the British flag has as much right to enter Australia as we have to enter England. There, no restrictions are imposed upon us, and we have no right to place restrictions upon others of our own nationality.
– Is the black labour party in Australia still alive?
– Order .
– The honorable member himself is white I think ? Certainly there are no honorable members upon this side of the Chamber who are black or tan. During the course of this debate we have heard a good deal about the Electoral Act. I must certainly compliment the late Government upon having introduced and given effect to a system of absentee voting. It is a good system. It is not the system to which I object, but to the way in which it was carried out. We ought to make the facilities for voting as easy as possible ; but in order to do away with what is alleged to have taken place at the last election, I would respectfully suggest that the Ministry should introduce a system of electors’ rights. We had that system in operation in New South Wales, and it worked very satisfactorily. Under it double voting is almost impossible.
– Why, a man could buy an elector’s right for half-a-crown.
– If a man really prizes his vote there is no fear of him parting with his elector’s right. I would further suggest that every voter should be asked to indorse his elector’s right.
– It is lovely in principle, but effect cannot be given to it.
– Regarding the postal vote, I was indeed shocked when that portion of the Electoral Act relating to it was repealed at the instance of the late Administration. Years ago I recollect hearing many members of the Labour party vigorously advocating the adoption of postal voting. Whilst speaking at Cobar the other day one of the Senate candidates for New South Wales said in effect, “ Of course we are going to do away with voting by post. It is no good to us. Do you not know that the Liberal party got a majority of from 10,000 to 12,000 by this system?” I think that the real reason why the Labour party repealed the postal vote was because more advantage from its use accrued to the Liberal party than to themselves. I fail to see why far distant settlers and workers should be disfranchised. A few years ago I had the pleasure of taking a trip along the Darling. I went as far as Winbar Station, which comprises half a million acres. In a back part of the run, 40 miles from a polling booth, I met a boundary rider and his wife. They informed me that they never had an opportunity to vote, because they could not go to a polling booth, seeing that they would have to ride about 40 miles each way. Why should a man be forced to ride that distance to record a vote when the trouble could be simply remedied by introducing the system of voting by post?
– That is not what it was introduced for. It was introduced for the convenience of persons who were sick.
– Why have voting by ballot? Why not have voting by post?
– Voting by post is not a bad system, and I am not objecting to it in the slightest degree. I am very pleased to find that honorable members on the other side are in accord with me in this matter, and, therefore, an extract I am about to read from Hansard will be very gratifying to them. This is what the ex-Prime Minister had to say on this important question-
I am sorry to hear so many of my friends attacking the postal vote provisions of the Electoral Act. I regard those provisions as the necessary corollary to a universal franchise….. Because certain persons may have misused the privileges conferred by an Act of Parliament, we ought not to deprive even one eligible voter of the opportunity to exercise the franchise.
I am quite in accord with the sentiments then expressed by the ex-Prime Minister, and I hope that no obstruction will be offered by him when an important amendment of the electoral law is brought before the House. I think that the late Government are to be condemned on more grounds than one for the method in which they conducted the last elections, especially in respect to the issuing of the rolls. At their instance Parliament enacted a provision under which, if a man did not enrol himself, he was liable to a fine of £2. So far as my experience went, hundreds of electors in New South Wales were unable to find out whether or not their names were enrolled.
– That was not the fault of the Government.
– It was, because the rolls were not printed. The writs were issued on the 24th April. I obtained a roll from Sydney on the 14th April, but many country post-offices had not received a roll on the 22nd April.
– That was not the fault of the Government.
– Under the Electoral Act a man is liable to a fine of £2 if he is not enrolled, but the late Government did not supply the electors with the means of finding out whether or not they were enrolled. On the other hand, if men speculated and had their names put on the roll, they were liable to be hauled before a court for the offence of roll stuffing, so that whether they had their names put on the roll or left them off, in the eyes of the late Government they would be guilty of committing a criminal act. In my opinion the late Government are not to be complimented upon the attitude they took up in that matter. There is another system which 1 have always advocated. As honorable members know, I represent a rural constituency. I have always maintained that in order that Australia may progress as it ought to do, bigger representation should be given to country districts than is enjoyed by cities and towns. In the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales there are forty-two members representing the city and fortyeight members . representing the country, whereas Sydney holds only 36 per cent. of the entire population of the State. My honorable friends on the other side of the House profess to have great regard for British parliamentary traditions. I recommend to their consideration a method which the Old Country adopted years ago. Great Britain is a country which is fully developed. When we come to consider how the representation of country interests is dealt with there, we find that in the electorate of Romford, which is practically under the shadow of Parliament House, 49,000 electors return to Parliament one member, whereas across the water in Ireland the electorate of Kilkenny, with only 1,500 electors, returns one member.
– Do you advocate that principle ?
– Most certainly.
– Is he not a lovely Democrat ?
– The honorable member for East Sydney says that the principles I am recommending are not democratic, but I think that they are just as democratic as the principles adopted by the
Labour party. Now, let us see how representation is regulated at the Labour Conference, which governs the destinies of Australia. We find the people of New South Wales, with 200,000 trade unionists, sending six representatives to the Hobart Conference, while the people of Tasmania, with 20,000 trade unionists, also send six representatives.
– What has that to do with you ?
– Twenty thousand unionists enjoy equal representation at a Labour Conference with 200,000 unionists.
– Equal representation, as in the Senate.
– It is all right so far as the Labour party is concerned, but not as regards the country. Let us have a little more consistency in these matters from honorable members opposite. According to their view, if Kilkenny is entitled to one member, Romford should be entitled to thirty-two members, whereas each electorate is equally represented. Why was that system adopted ? Simply because the British Parliament knew that a city enjoys so many advantages. I want now to call the attention of the House to the electoral position in New South Wales. The electorate of Surry Hills, which comprises 170 acres, has one member, while the Cobar electorate, with 29,000,000 acres, has also onlyone member. The people living in Surry Hills, Sydney, enjoy all the advantages given by civilization. They have tramways and railways; they can send their children to primary and secondary schools, and to the universities; the postman calls at their doors three or four times a day; and a candidate for Parliament could, from an elevated position, make himself heard by the whole constituency with the aid of a megaphone. Contrast Surry Hills with a district like Cobar, in which it would take three years to visit every elector, even travelling by motor-car. Those living in the interior are doing the work of the country; they are its brawn, muscle, and sinew.
– Why not give these large land-owners two, three, or four votes ?
– It is not the large land-owners to whom I am referring, but the working people in the country. I would condemn any attempt made by a Government to give preference of any kind. The Prime Minister has pointed out that we all belong to one big union - the union of the States. Every person in the community, whether humble or great, contributes to the funds of that union, and should have the same opportunities as his fellow members. Preference was given to an alarming degree by the Labour Government to those belonging to their party. During their three years of office they made 137 appointments to the Public Service, carrying an average salary of £550 a year. Those who enter the Public Service as youths, beginning at the lowest rung of the ladder, have the right to be permitted to climb to the highest position, but under the administration of the last Government, men who thought that they were about to reach the top found Labour adherents placed over their heads in lucrative posts. Take, for example, the appointment of the Land Commissioner of the Northern Territory, a gentleman named Ryland. I say nothing against him personally. He had occupied an important position in a trade union in Queensland, and was afterwards elected to the Queensland Parliament, but on his losing his seat the honorable member for Wide Bay found him a comfortable billet in the Northern Territory, at a salary of £800 a year.
– After which he went out on strike.
– When he had been in the Northern Territory for a few months, a strike occurred, and he was called out. We then had the spectacle of the Commissioner of Lands acting as a picket outside the Lands Office. Persons who had gone to Port Darwin to obtain information regarding land in the Northern Territory, instead of learning what they wished to know, found the Commissioner marching up and clown outside his office on strike. What were Mr. Ryland’s qualifications ? Certainly he had a union ticket, but could not a more competent person have been found in the Public Service of Australia? Applications were called for, and, I believe, several were received, but five days after the date fixed for the receiving of applications Mr. Ryland’s application was received, and it was given priority over the others.
– Were fresh applications invited ?
– That was an irregularity.
– Was not everything irregular during the three years that the last Government were in office?
– This Government is to be complimented for proposing to take the rural workers out of the Arbitration Act, In my opinion, their conditions can best be dealt with by the State Governments. Australia is a huge continent, where climate and conditions vary greatly, and it would be unwise to leave it to one tribunal to make common rules respecting wages and other conditions applicable alike to, say, Tasmania and Northern Queensland. The honorable member for Grey gave us a picture of his earlier life. He said that forty years ago in South Australia he had to work for 10s. a week and his food, and that as a shearer he got only 10s. and his food for shearing 100 sheep. But let us compare the conditions of forty years ago with those that exist now. I am very glad to know that shearers to-day get 25s. per 100 sheep, finding their own food. . An ordinary shearer shears eighty sheep a day with the machine shears, and thus earns £1. From that must be deducted 3s., the cost of his living, his net profit on the day’s work being 17s. Comparing this with the wage earned by the honorable member for Grey, it will be seen that the earnings of shearers have increased by 70 per cent, in forty years. They have improved their position in forty years to the extent of 70 per cent.
– That is the result of organization.
– Quite so. Let us look now at the position of the farm labourers. The honorable member for Grey said that as a farm labourer, forty years ago, he received 10s. a week and his Keep.
– I did not.
– The honorable member will pardon me; he did say so. Farm labourers to-day, as a matter of fact, are receiving from 25s. to 30s. a week and their food. In’ other words, whereas the shearers, with the aid of a powerful organization, have improved their position to the extent of only 70 per cent., the farm labourers, without the assistance of any labour organization, have improved their position by 150 per cent
– Forty years ago I worked as a farm labourer for 6s. a week and my food.
– I suppose they paid by results.
– I am basing my arguments on the figures that were used by the honorable member. We who live in the country districts do nob hear any clamour for a change on the part of the rural workers. They seem to be perfectly satisfied. We “do not hear of indignation meetings being held all over Ihe country. Their lot has improved, and will continue to improve as long as the prices of commodities keep up the high standard that they hold to-day.
– A number of the best farm workers voted against the Labour party at the last election.
– That is so. Another point to which I desire to refer has reference to the Australian Notes Act of 1910, which was carried by the Fisher Government. I have lived in country districts many years. I have been on the land ; have engaged in business pursuits; have been a bank manager for some considerable period, and latterly have carried on business as a stock and station agent. In the course of my business, I have to deal with people who buy and sell sheep, and engage in various investments, and I say, without hesitation, that during the whole of my twenty-eight years’ experience of life in country districts I have never known the money market to be so stringent as it has been during the last three years.
– And yet the Commonwealth Bank was going to make money cheap.
– We were told that it was going to give us cheap money. In the first place, the Fisher Government introduced a Bill by which the Associated Banks were compelled, under penalty of having to pay a 10 per cent, note tax, to withdraw their notes from circulation. At that time they had a note circulation of £4,000,000, and all this had to be withdrawn. It was no difficult matter for the banks to keep their notes in circulation. They had something like £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 in till-money, and a note presented by a member of the public and cashed would, perhaps, a moment later be taken out by another member of the public, who would leave cash in exchange. With the coming into operation of this Act, notes to the value of £4,000,000 had to be withdrawn from circulation, and to do this the banks had to dip into their reserves. Then we find that the Fisher Government compelled the banks to find £6,000,000 in gold in exchange for Commonwealth notes, thus making a difference of about £10,000,000 in the gold available to them. The banks had practically to find £10,000,000 in sovereigns, and to take notes in lieu of that money. Of that amount, the public were carrying £4,000,000, while the balance of £6,000,000 in gold is to-day in the Treasury. Our friends of the Opposition will say, “ Of course, they had to find that money, but we were hitting at the banks.” In reality, however, they hit, not at the banks, but at the public who were dealing with those institutions. That is the point. Never before have I seen, money so scarce as it is at present. Today, it is a question, not of getting money at a cheap or a high rate, but of getting it at all. The system which the Labour party have inaugurated is rotten to the core. The note issue has a gold reserve of only 25 per cent. That does not accord with right principles. Ricardo, in his standard work on political economy, says on this important question -
If by the general operations of commerce ten millions of pounds sterling of a known weight and fineness of bullion should be the portion of England, and len millions of paper pounds were substituted, no effect would be produced on the exchange; but if by the abuse of the power of issuing paper money, eleven millions of pounds should be employed in the circulation, the exchange would be g per cent against England ; if twelve millions were employed, the exchange would be 16 per cent. ; and if twenty millions, the exchange would be 50 per cent, against England.
Putting our argument on that basis, we find that since we have a gold reserve of 25 per cent, in respect of a note issue of £10,000,000 in circulation, our exchange rate, in the eyes of the world, will have dropped to the extent of 75 per cent.
– We have a gold reserve of 41 per cent, to-day.
– But the law is that it may be reduced to only 25 per cent.
– The gold reserve to-day is 41 per cent.
– Then, on that basis, I can show that ‘the exchanges of Australia will be at a discount of 59 per cent. We have the history of other countries to guide us in this matter. The Leader of the Opposition said that we could issue these notes with perfect safety, since we would have behind them, as security, the whole of the resources of Australia.
Doubtless the same argument was used by the French during the French Revolution, when they said, “ We would like to issue £170,000,000 of assignats. We have the right to do so, because these assignats will have behind them, ‘as security, the whole of the wealth of the French nation.” But what was the result? Carlyle, in his History of the French Revolution, tells us that these notes or assignats lost their original value to such an extent that for every one of the value of £100 in English money the purchasing value was reduced to something like 6d. or 8d. He tells the story of a gentleman who asked his cabman what his fare was, and received the reply, “ Two thousand livres,” but it will be seen that the value of the 2,000 livres was reduced to about ls. Another man went into a cafe, and was told that the price of a cup of coffee would be 1,600 livres, or about £80, showing a reduction of value to about 6d. The policy of the Labour party is much the same as that advocated by the National Convention of France, which adopted a system of fixing the prices of wheat, butter, and almost every commodity produced in the country districts and consumed in Paris. The late Government not only introduced a note issue, but also promoted legislation on similar lines to those adopted in France just previous to the Revolution; and if the policy be persisted in here the results will no doubt be much the same. In regard to the Commonwealth Bank, the late Government were very singular in their appointment of a governor. No doubt Mr. Miller is a man of inestimable character, but there were twelve officers senior to him in the Bank of New South Wales. The manager of the latter institution, like the manager of the Bank of England and every other similar institution in the world, has an advisory board in the direc-tors; but, in the case of the Commonwealth Bank, if we have not an ‘ ‘ autocrat at the breakfast table,” we have one at the banking table, with complete and absolute control. Is it wise to place a man in such a position for something like seven years? In my opinion, it would have been much better to appoint three governors instead of one, and I cannot congratulate the country on the manner in which the National Bank is being conducted. The Commonwealth is competing with the State Savings Banks, which collect the funds of the people and pro- vide the means for extending settlement in rural districts. In New South Wales there are the Closer Settlement Promotion Act and the Closer Settlement Act, and these Acts are administered with the aid of funds from the State institution. It is absurd that one Government should compete against another ; and the position presented is very much like that of a draper, for instance, who, having successfully established himself in business on one side of the street, immediately opens a competing establishment on the other. In the country towns throughout the Commonwealth we see the State Savings Bank on one side of the road and the Commonwealth Savings Bank opposite, and the only result is the creation of about 10,000 more Government employes. The State Savings Banks are very ably conducted, as is shown in the fact that for every £100,000 deposited the cost of administration is only about 8s. per cent.
– The postmasters conduct the Commonwealth Savings Bank business.
– But we .are all interested alike in the various institutions. My opponent at the elections told the people that the Commonwealth Bank was established in order to lend country residents money at a cheap rate, but I have heard since I came into this Chamber, from the honorable member for EdenMonaro, that no less a sum than £300,000 has been lent to the Metropolitan Board of Works in Melbourne at 4 per cent.
– How much has been lent to small, struggling farmers?
– I have just one case that illustrates that point. A grazier in the Mudgee district applied to the Commonwealth Bank for an advance of £8,000 at 6 per cent, against security valued at £23,000. He was refused, but on going to Sydney he found a capitalist there who was prepared to lend him £10,000 on the same security at 5 per cent. At the same time, as I say, the Commonwealth Bank is prepared to lend money to bodies like the Metropolitan Board of Works at 4 per cent., and I suppose the same thing is going on in the other capitals of the Commonwealth. We were told that one reason for the Commonwealth note issue was that if a man happened to be travelling from State to State he had to pay exchange on his notes. There was, however, no such thing as exchange, but the stamp duty under
State enactment, which might have been repealed.
– Was there never exchange charged on notes?
– There was a charge of 6d., but the tax really represented stamp duty. They also said that if a person who took home a note for £100 had his house burnt down, and the note was burnt also, the bank would benefit to the extent of the £100, but that is not the case. The banks were compelled in different States to pay a varying percentage on their note circulation. In some States it was 2 per cent., and in other States 3 per cent., and though that note was not in circulation, the State would benefit to the extent of 2 per cent, or 3 per cent. It is just as well to clear up these little difficulties, and show that the facts stated at the last general election did not square with the truth.
– Do you believe in the Australian note issue ?
– Then make your leader abolish it.
– I do not think that the position of the Commonwealth Bank is very enviable. We know that the Associated Banks hold notes to the value of something like £6,000,000, against which we hold a gold reserve of only two and a half millions.
– The Commonwealth Bank has nothing to do with the notes.
– Then put it down to the Government. It is the same thing.
– Put it down to anything you like, but when you do put it down to anything stick to it.
– I am always open to correction. * I am not cast-iron. To put the matter exactly right, I shall say “the Treasury.” We know the Treasury holds two and a half to three million pounds in gold as a reserve against a circulation of notes to the extent of ten million pounds, and the Associated Banks hold notes to the value of about six million pounds.
– You are only two and a half millions out.
– Even if the Treasurer held gold reserve to the extent of £4,000,000, the Associated Banks hold notes to the extent of £6,000,000, and if they made up their minds to present these notes simultaneously to break the credit of the Commonwealth, what a happy position we would be in. I say the legislation is rotten.
– How much gold did Sir George Dibbs have when he made the notes in New South Wales legal tender ?
– In the case of a panic we would have no such remedy as that adopted by Sir George Dibbs. It was claimed by honorable members opposite that with the institution of the graduated land tax we should have any amount of cheap land in New South Wales, and that estates would be burst up, but I defy any honorable member to point out in my electorate, which is a farming constituency and a grazing constituency, one estate which has been cut up in consequence of the tax. When Labour members were speaking in my electorate during the last campaign, I challenged them to point out one instance. They could not, but they said there were some in the New England district. Then when the Liberal candidate in the New England district threw out the same challenge to them they said there were estates cut up in the Calare district. And so it was right through the piece. The tax has not achieved its purpose.
– Are you in favour of abolishing the tax ?
– Yes. The Labour party said that if we had a graduated land tax there would be any amount of settlement, and so they caught the vote of the unthinking farmer, who thought that by adopting this principle settlement would be advanced, but the tax has not brought about settlement, nor has it helped these people. In New South Wales we had the Closer Settlement Act and the Closer Settlement Promotion Act. If three or four farmers desired to take up land held by a squatter, the Government and the purchaser and the vendor would come together and fix a price on the land to be paid to the vendor, and the Government would find the money, and sell the land to the purchasers at a low rate of interest on forty-years’ terms. The graduated land tax has not found money for the purchase of land, and has not found the land, so I do not think it has carried out its purpose. The late Prime Minister, in his policy speech, at Maryborough, said there were 300,000 acres in Victoria and 150,000 acres in Queensland less cultivated last year, which does not look as if cultivation is going ahead as the result of the graduated land tax. I am taking Mr. Fisher’s statement from the Worker of 3rd April last. Like honorable members opposite, I do occasionally read the Worker, but it is generally at election time. I think Mr. Fisher’s figures a poor argument in favour of the graduated land tax.
– Are you sure those figures are correct?
– Yes; and I am prepared to make a statutory declaration to that effect before the honorable member for Bass - the justice of the peace of honorable gentlemen opposite.
– The figures are wrong in the way you apply them. That is the acreage that should have been cultivated in proportion to what had previously been cultivated.
– The ex-Prime Minister said that the increased area cropped in the whole of the Commonwealth, when he came into power, taking the year 1911, was 1,000,000; but, to the end of 1912, the increase was only 200,000 acres. The total value of our primary products has decreased to the extent of £5,000,000. We seem to be going backward, and this, again, cannot be regarded as an argument in favour of the land tax. I should like to direct the attention of the Government to the unfair manner in which valuations are made for the purpose of the land tax. The Federal check valuators have assessed values at from 50 to 75, and even 100 per cent, beyond local valuations. I am prepared to argue with my honorable friends opposite on this very important matter. I give them credit for being fair men in dealing with many questions. I believe that they are always prepared to advocate the principles of justice, but it is not fair to be just only to men of their own class, and not to persons of other classes. When we find Federal valuators going through the country, and putting up the valuations of local governing bodies by 75 and 100 per cent., it seems clear that some system of valuation other than that at present in vogue should be adopted. I think that an equitable method of arriving at valuations for the purpose of Federal land taxation would be to adopt the values of the local governing authorities. I think their valuations should be accepted.
– There should be a uniform system of valuation.
– I quite agree with the honorable member, and I say that in this matter the valuations of the local governing authorities should be accepted.
– Which of them? They vary so much.
– The Federal Government, for the purpose of land tax, should adopt the local authorities’ valuations of the land within each shire or local division. The local valuers, knowing the country, must necessarily know more about the valuation of the land within their respective districts than any person coming from Melbourne. Unfortunately, we have iu Australia four different valuers of land. First of all, the owner fixes the value, then we have the local authority or shire valuers, then the State Government valuers, and, finally, the Federal valuers. If I have a sovereign it has only one value, and why should land have four values differing from each other by 10, 75, and even 100 per cent. ? I have two or three concrete instances of varying valuations to put before the House, and I am prepared to mention names. I give the case of a property known as “ Grawlin,” in the Forbes district, and owned by Mr. Thomas Gordon. His valuation of it was 38s., the shire valuation 40s., and when the Federal land tax valuer went out to value it he put the value at 65s. This involved an increase in the taxation of over £70 a year, and the effect being retrospective, the owner of the land was called upon to pay the substantial sum of £219 additional taxation. I may inform honorable members that while the Federal valuer fixed the value of this land at £6 8s., the State Government, proposing to resume an adjoining property, “Wandary,” fixed its value at £4 2s. 6d., a difference of over £2 5s. 6d.
– How does the honorable member account for that?
– The State Government wanted to resume the adjoining property at a low price, and, on the other hand, it was to the interest of the Federal Government to put a high value on the land in order to increase the revenue from the land tax. I have before me another case of land owned by a gentleman living not far from where I reside. I refer to Mr. Charles Young, of “ Hilltop,” Garland. He had to send in a Federal land tax return, and he asked me to go over his property and make a valuation. I did so very carefully, and he added 25 per cent, to my valuation, because he thought the State Government would probably desire to resume the land, and he thought the extra 25 per cent, might be added tothe valuation by way of insurance against resumption. The valuation return waa £9,094, which represented 25 per cent, more than, in my judgment, the property was worth. The Federal valuer came out later and added £5,737 to that valuation, putting the value up by 63 per cent., which brought the property under a higher scale of the graduated land tax, and so put the rate of increase up by 86 per cent. I do not think that that could have been the intention of the Act. I can give honorable members full particulars of this case. The Register number is 335. The notice was issued to Mr. C. Young, “ Hilltop,” Garland. The unimproved tenable value, as per “ original assessment,” is stated at £9,094; and by addition on account of check valuation - £5,737. I have given all the facts, and am prepared to show the papers to honorable members opposite if they desire to see them. I have another case which may be quoted from my own district. The valuation of a property there by the shire council in 1913 was £17,005. The owner valued the property at £22,087, and the Commonwealth check-valuer put the value up to £29,386, increasing the amount of taxation by £71 7s. 3d., and the rate of taxation by 76 per cent. Whatever may be our ideas on the subject of this method of taxation, honorable members on both sides can agree that we should be guided by the principles of bed-rock justice, and should give all people a fair deal. That is all that I advocate in this matter. I am thankful for the suggestion of one of my honorable friends on the opposite side. I agree with him that a uniform system of valuation should be adopted. We require a uniform method of arriving at just valuations. In New Zealand there is a valuation bureau, which fixes the value of all property in the Dominion, whether for shire or State or for buying or selling purposes. The value so determined is always accepted. If we had a system of that sort in Australia, it would be a move in the right direction. There is one other point upon which I desire to touch, having reference to the absentee tax. I would urge the Government to repeal that impost. If they did, it would have a beneficial effect upon the finances of this country. I am satisfied that the absentee tax has done great damage to Australian interests. It brings into the revenue of the Commonwealth about £20,000 a year. The British people have taxed themselves to the extent of something like £70,000,000 per annum to protect Australia and the outlying dominions. The great and noble British fleet rides supreme upon the seas. It serves to protect our interest in every quarter of the globe. What gratitude have -we shown to the British people for what they have done for us? We turn round and tax them to the extent of £20,000 by this miserable absentee tax. I am satisfied that the effect of it has been to drive capital out of the country. An eminent authority, Mr. Williams, has written some articles on this subject, and he estimates that £57,000,000 of capital has been driven out of Australia during the last three years. Put the £20,000 which we derive from the absentee tax in one scale, and the £57,000,000 in the other. The £20,000 amounts to 1½d. per head of the entire population of Australia. But it has had the effect of driving out £57,000,000, which amounts to £14 per head of the population. If any honorable member were to go to the dullest schoolboy in the city of Melbourne, and hold out to him in the one hand 1½d. and in the other fourteen sovereigns, saying to him, “ Which hand will you have?” he would clutch the £14 without any hesitation. But not so with the exPrime Minister of Australia. Put l£d. in one hand and £14 in the other, and he grabs the 1½d., and allows the £14 to go out of the country. They call themselves financiers, do they ? Yet there is the position. Although this absentee tax is a pinprick, it is insulting to our brothers across the seas, and should be repealed. We should hasten to place ourselves in a similar position to South Africa, Canada, and the other outlying dominions of this great Empire.
Sitting suspended from 18.56 to %.15 ‘p.m.
– As one who has recently been elected to this House, I am naturally somewhat diffident, not to say a trifle nervous, in rising to make a few observations on the amendment which is now engaging our attention. I have always striven to fight my political battles fairly and cleanly, and I can assure my honorable friends upon the other side of the Chamber that they will always receive from me absolute justice and fair-minded consideration. At the same time, I intend to uphold to the best of my ability the principles for which I stand, and I am satisfied that we might have proceeded with the business of the country much earlier than we can do now. As a new member, I was rather disappointed to find when Parliament met after the elections that a request should have been preferred by the Government for an adjournment for several weeks to enable them to prepare their policy. That policy is now before us, and I am sorry to say that it does not contain anything new. There is nothing in it of a distinctly novel character, and I cannot understand why the Ministry sought the adjournment, which .was readily granted to them. During that adjournment, the attitude which Ministers ought to adopt was discussed by the leading newspapers throughout the Commonwealth. Each journal appeared to be full of eagerness to place its own political views before the Government. As a matter of fact, the daily newspapers seemed to occupy the position of honorary advisers to the Ministry. They attempted to influence them to follow the lines which they desired them to follow. Whilst honorable members upon this side of the House have been accused of wasting time, the Ministerial manifesto, which is now before us, impresses me as being exactly what one honorable member has already described it, namely, “ a gauge of battle.” There is in it a definite statement, which clearly shows the dividing line between the two contending political parties, and I feel sure that if we could appeal to the people upon that issue, the result would not be in doubt. The Cook Government would cease to exist. I must confess, to my surprise, that no mention is made in the Ministerial statement of policy of an intention to repeal the Federal land tax. During the last election campaign, the statement was made by many honorable members opposite that that tax was one which ought not to be imposed, and that it was wrong for the Commonwealth to invade what ought to be the exclusive domain of State taxation. However, this precious document does not contain a word in that direction, although honorable members opposite affirmed that they were in favour of the repeal of the land tax.
– Some of us declared that we were in favour of the principle.
– The honorable member’s party appears to be divided upon the question. Then a great deal was made of the introduction of the initiative and the referendum. I believe that that would be a step in the right direction. I am firmly of opinion that the people of this country should be afforded an opportunity of initiating legislation, and that Parliament should, at all times, be, as far as possible, a direct reflex of the will of the electors. In view of the statements made by some of the present Ministers during the recent election campaign, I naturally looked in the Government memorandum for proposals to amend the Constitution in conformity with the opinions which they expressed during the last session of the last Parliament. Before Ministers had become well established in their offices, a very august gathering of representatives of the different Chambers of Commerce throughout Australia took place in Sydney. These gentlemen asked for a uniform companies law. I have been to the trouble of extracting from the Age, of 19th June, a copy of the resolution which was submitted by the Chairman of the Conference - Mr. Bradden. He moved -
That it is highly desirable that there should be a uniform company law throughout the Commonwealth, and that this law should follow the English law as far as practicable.
He said -
He would prefer to see the Federal Government invested with these powers rather than have no uniformity of the law throughout Australia.
As I understand this question of a uniform companies law is a vital one to many who are interested in our commercial life, I am astonished that no reference should have been made in the memorandum of Ministerial policy to an amendment of the Constitution upon those lines. Then when the House met, we had a conference of representatives of the different States, which was convened for the purpose of dealing with pure food standards. These gentlemen have submitted their report, and have urged the necessity for uniformity in that matter. I am sure that honorable members opposite must recognise that where the food supplies of the people are concerned, it is necessary to take strong action, and consequently I am of opinion that some reference ought to have been made to this important matter. I regret the proposal of the Government to alter the Maternity Allowance Act. I regard that as a most humane piece of legislation, and I believe that the grant should remain universal instead of making it tantamount to a charity dole. I recognise that the system of old-age pensions may be used as an argument against my suggestion, and I am sorry indeed that there is no possibility at the present time of introducing a universal old-age pensions scheme. I believe that that would be the right course to follow, and I would urge upon the Government to abstain from interference with the incidence of the present maternity allowance. To my own personal knowledge, that grant has brought comfort to many women in their hour of trial. I feel satisfied that if the Government could realize how large is the number of persons throughout Australia who have been benefited exceedingly at a critical period, they would not like to interfere with the Act. In the Ministerial programme, too, we have a proposition for the liberalizing of the old-age pensions system, and I am glad that it is to be submitted to our consideration, because in the constituency I represent there is an old men’s home, to which, as the Treasurer knows, many men resort for two or three months in a year. The rest of the year they can spend very well in the open without any difficulty or inconvenience to themselves. Hitherto, these men have been prevented from securing the benefit of the Old-age Pensions Act. I think it is only right and fair that a man who is qualified in every way except that he occasionally goes into a Government institution should not be deprived of a pension. Having had something to do with the Public Service of Western Australia, I am pleased to notice that the Public Service of the Commonwealth is to receive attention in the matter of establishing a superannuation fund. We do not know yet, of course, the exact way in which the fund is to be established, but I hope that it will have a very liberal basis, and prove satisfactory to the officers. The first paragraph of the policy memorandum deals with the electoral law. No one desires more than I do that all elections should be fought on clean rolls, and, further, that in every possible way fraud should be prevented. The undue inflation of the rolls can, I think, be easily explained. In connexion with the last elections, we had for the first time compulsory enrolment. It of necessity brought about a great increase in the number of registrations, and, as an honorable member pointed out this morning, it was not always practicable for the officers of the Electoral Department to keep pace with the volume of work coming forward, nor could they always notify persons whether their names had been placed on the roll or not. This led to a certain amount of confusion and duplication, because, naturally, persons did not wish to run the risk of rendering themselves liable to the infliction of a fine for non-enrolment. In my opinion, compulsory enrolment was desirable and necessary. The great majority of the people throughout the Commonwealth have been enrolled, and once the rolls are purified the value of compulsory enrolment will be made manifest. As regards undue inflation, I would point out that under the present Act it is not possible to close the rolls until the day on which the writs are issued. I would remind those honorable members who have been making complaints that a similar provision was made in the Electoral Act of 1902, and has been continued in force ever since. It is not a new provision at all. I think that the electoral officers throughout the Commonwealth did their work to the best of their ability. I believe that they not only worked long hours, but did everything within human range to see that the rolls should be thoroughly clean and pure for the elections. I occupy a very peculiar position in regard to the electoral law, and I regret that circumstances have arisen which preclude me from making any direct reference to the electorate I have the honour to represent. I believe that, throughout the length and breadth of Australia, there have been very few cases of personation. I consider that the people of Australia are sufficiently honest and honorable not to attempt to take advantage of any weakness in the electoral law. I venture to say that in the Fremantle division - I shall leave the matter at this, sir, in view of the reason which you suggested to me last night - the electors are as honorable as the electors in any other part of the Commonwealth, and I am not prepared to acknowledge for a moment that there was any underhand dealing in connexion with the recent election there. I have now finished so far as that matter is concerned, because I recognise the difficulties of the position. In regard to electoral reform, however, I would urge that permanent divisional returning officers should be appointed. Men who fill the dual position of postmaster and divisional returning officer cannot be expected to give the necessary time to electoral work to secure a clean roll and insure the smooth and perfect working of the law. We have men put in the position of divisional returning officers who receive an allowance each year. These men find that when an election approaches they are suddenly transferred from routine postal work to electoral work, which is more or less strange to them. The transfers which are made in the Postal Department very often result in a new officer occupying a position carrying with it the duties of divisional returning officer. It might be argued that permanent divisional returning officers would not have sufficient work to occupy their time. But I would point out that these men could also act as permanent divisional registrars. I believe that in keeping the rolls in thorough order, and following up the question of transfer and change, they would find any amount of work to keep them going continuously.
– Would you make them responsible for mistakes?
– I feel that if an officer is appointed for specific work he should accept the responsibilities of the position, and I know that if I were in that position I would have no hesitation in doing so. There is great expense incurred by the Postal Department in providing relief officers. I believe that a smoother and more satisfactory working of the electoral law could be obtained very easily by the appointment of permanent divisional returning officers. I purpose saying a word or two about the Naval Base at Cockburn Sound, where a serious situation has been created. I have looked through the memorandum of the Prime Minister in the hope of finding a definite statement on the subject of naval policy, but in vain. In the debate, members have referred to the stoppage of work at Fitzroy Dock. There has also been a stoppage of work in connexion with the primary base on the Western Australian coast. The Prime Minister, when answering a question on the subject put by me, taunted me with the employment of men there just prior to the last election. I would point out, in reply, that the official opening of that Naval Base took place on the 6th May, aud the honorable member’s knowledge of the electoral law should teach him that the men subsequently employed could not affect the election, because they could not vote for the Fremantle division, having come from other places. During the electoral campaign it was charged against the last Minister of Defence that he had not sufficiently expedited the work at Cockburn Sound, and after the elections the leader of the Liberal party in the State - The Hon. Frank Wilson, M.L.A. - announced that under a Liberal Government Western Australia would, at last, receive something of her own. So far as Commonwealth expenditure is concerned, Western Australia seems to be in an unfortunate position. Difficulties have arisen in the construction of the railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, and we have been informed that a certain company in New South Wales is responsible for the nonsupply of trucks. If, as there should be, there are penalty clauses in the company’s contract, they should be enforced at once, but I ask is it not possible to obtain from the Government of New South Wales waggons that would do what is needed ? I was for a number of years connected with the railway service, and know that there are usually many waggons available which, though not fit for main-line traffic, would serve for the construction of a new railway.
– I am afraid that the New South Wales authorities have not enough rolling-stock for their own need.
– There are rails, but no trucks, at Kalgoorlie.
– There are- rails and sleepers stored up there, but no waggons to convey them along the route of the proposed line. I suggest the borrowing, not of new rolling-stock, but of old waggons. It is to the New South Wales Government that application should be made, because the railway gauge of that State is the same as that of the transcontinental line. It is stated in the Prime Minister’s memorandum that the proposals in Admiral Henderson’s report will be generally adhered to, but the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs told me, in answer to a question, that it is intended to stop all work in connexion with the base at Cockburn Sound, except surveying and boring. Information received from Western Australia, however, shows that surveyors have been put off, and that one or two of the boring plants have been stopped. It has been said during the debate that Captain Clarkson runs the Naval Board. Is it possible that he is responsible for this stoppage of work at Cockburn Sound? Admiral Henderson, on page 12 of his report, says, “ Port Western is a very good harbor, and until Cockburn Sound (Fremantle), which is far more important from a strategical point of view, is ready, it should be utilized by the Western Division as one of its principal anchorages.” He advises, too, that “ the harbor of Cockburn Sound, including Owen’s Anchorage and Jervoise Bay, should be examined thoroughly, as soon as possible, by experts.”
– Hear, hear!
– Has the harbor been examined in any way?
– Not by any engineering expert, I think.
– Surely the Treasurer does not say that the Director of Naval Works is not in a position to set out work for the surveyors who have been engaged for the last fifteen or eighteen months?
– Does the honorable member think that he is the stamp of person the Admiral had in view?
– Captain Fanstone is eminently fitted for undertaking the work.
– I do not think so.
– He is one of the most distinguished men that the British Navy have sent out here.
– Borings made on the Parmelia and Success banks show that it is not possible that rock will prevent the successful dredging of them. A point that the honorable member for Swan must recognise is that the Challenger Passage itself will enable, with very slight alterations, another entrance to be effected to the site for the Naval Base.
– It is condemned by every one. Better stick to the dredging. That is all right.
– I ask the right honorable member whether there are not already available in Western Australia sufficient data to enable us to say what the ocean currents are, and whether there is not a reasonable hope that once these banks are dredged they will remain free from silt?
– I hope and believe so.
– Then why delay the work?
– We must have dredges and plans of the work.
– Are there no plans in existence ? Did not Admiral Henderson report that plans and estimates had been framed for carrying out the greater part of this dredging? He was on the spot, and evidently saw the plans, otherwise he would not have mentioned them.
– What does the honorable member think the work is going to cost?
– That is not the question. Plans and also estimates of the cost have been prepared. When the honorable member for Kalgoorlie was speaking yesterday, the Treasurer objected to a statement that Admiral Henderson had recommended the Jervoise Bay site. The right honorable member mentioned Mangels Bay - a name which, although I have been up and down the coast a good many times, I had never heard before.
– The honorable member has heard of Rockingham ? That is the place.
– Rockingham is 10 or 12 miles distant from the site of the present works. I believe that it is highly desirable that we should adopt Admiral Henderson’s recommendations. The Admiral, at page 56 of his report, writes -
It appeared to me that a site in the vicinity of Jervoise Bay was best suited for naval dockyard requirements.
– It is not half as good as Mangels Bay.
– That site is, I think, too far away. I agree with those who have said that this question of the naval policy of the Commonwealth should be above mere party politics, and I assure the House that I have no intention of dealing with it from a party point of view. I wish only to say that, on the evidence available, the Government were not justified in stopping the work in connexion with the Cockburn Sound Naval Base at the present juncture. According to Admiral Henderson, there is ample work that could be undertaken, and complete plans should be available. I read with some concern a statement made at Bunbury on 5th March last by the present Treasurer, that the Liberal party believed in the promotion of Australian defence on the lines of Imperial co-operation. Whilst I recognise that Imperial co-operation may involve the question of the co-operation of the vessels of the British and Australian Navies once the latter are built and are manned by Australian seamen, it seemed to me that the right honorable gentleman’s utterance was a rather cryptic one.
– That is the policy of the Liberal party.
– The right honorable member’s interjection confirms my suspicion that, after all, honorable members opposite are proposing to revert to the old order of things; that they are going back to the days when we paid a subsidy to Great Britain ; and that, instead of pushing on with the construction of the Australian Navy and its necessary corollary, the construction of naval bases, there is going to be a cessation of work, and that there is doubt whether a naval base will ever be constructed.
– That, perhaps, is the reason why the Government have stopped the work at Cockburn Sound.
– That is what I fear. My opponent at the recent general election heard a rumour that the naval base was to be removed to Albany. We all admit that Albany is an excellent harbor, and has served its purpose very well. But one of the reasons why Admiral Henderson made his recommendation in favour of Jervoise Bay was that the proposed dock should be available also for the merchant service. As every one from Western Australia knows, the port of Fremantle is immeasurably more used than is Albany, and it is only natural, therefore, that he should have tried to get a site as close as possible to Fremantle, in order that the dock may be of advantage to both the Navy and the merchant service. I should like the Government to be perfectly frank in regard to their proposals affecting the Cockburn Sound Naval Base. They should tell us exactly what is in their minds, and give us a definite statement on the subject. I have listened with a great deal of attention to> this debate, and have been much impressed by different speakers. If those who have preceded me will pardon a new man for indulging in a few criticisms, I should like to refer to some of them. The honorable member for Calare this morning referred to the Fusion which took place some four years ago, and said that all who then agreed to amalgamate their forces were Liberals. I could not help wondering whether that statement could be accepted at its face value, because I have a rather distinct recollection that there were among the parties to the Fusion some who had most bitterly opposed each other, even on questions other than the Tariff. The same honorable member said that the system of absentee voting was a good one, and that it would receive his support. I was delighted to hear this frank admission on his part, because we have had the newspapers filled day after day with abuse of the absentee voting system. I hope that when the question of electoral reform comes before the House we shall have the assistance of the honorable member for Calare in retaining the absentee voting facilities of the Act. The honorable member made allusion to the representation of rural districts, and, apparently, he does not recognise the necessity of maintaining the principle of one vote one value. I believe that all sections of the community are entitled to the fairest and best representation in this Chamber; I am not prepared, however, to give votes to areas of land and not to individuals. The same honorable member referred to the note issue, and, if my memory serves me aright, expressed the opinion that the legislation in connexion therewith was “rotten.” May I remind honorable members that the Treasurer, when speaking in Western Australia, and, also, I believe, in this House, has stated that the note issue was an idea of the Liberal Government, and that it had been “ filched” by his successors.
– That is right.
– I really sympathize with the honorable member for Calare, or, perhaps, I should sympathize with the Treasurer, on this criticism from the Government side. During the election campaign repeated reference was made to the high cost of living, which forms the subject of a part of the amendment now before us. It was interesting to a new member like myself to hear the honorable member for Wannon, whose absence at the present moment I regret, admitting that the increased cost of living is world-wide, and by no means peculiar to Australia. The allegation, however, made during the election campaign, and also the allegation made by the honorable member for Dampier last night, was that this high cost is entirely due to the Labour party. That was the charge constantly levelled against Labour candidates in Western Australia.
– And elsewhere, too.
– Quite so; and the admission by the honorable member for Wannon is refreshing. We had a very warm quarter of an hour at the hands of the honorable member for Robertson, who declared that we required honest and clean men to conduct the government of this country. I resented at the time, and I still resent, the suggestion that all the honorable and clean men repose on the Government benches, because, on this side of the House, there are men just as honest, clean-minded, and pure in every respect.
– The honorable member for Robertson did not intend to be understood otherwise, I am sure.
– If not, the honorable member for Robertson can say so. I said at the outset that I wished to speak honestly and fairly; and I do not desire to depart from that ideal for one moment. If I have misunderstood the honorable member I shall be quite willing to acknowledge my error.
– If the honorable member misunderstood the honorable member for Robertson, we all misunderstood him.
– Probably so.In view of some of the remarks of the honorable member for Robertson I have made inquiries, to satisfy my own curiosity, as to how many on this side of the House acknowledge Australia as their native place, and I find that of such men we have a majority.
– The poor men cannot be blamed for that !
– At any rate, they can take no credit for it.
– Perhaps not, but I may say that I am Australian born, and I am proud of the fact. We were told by the honorable member for Dampier that the members of the Labour party had to do what their “ masters told them to do,” or words to that effect, and in support of his statement he quoted from the Vanguard, a publication issued in Western Australia during the last State election. The honorable member also mentioned a late member of this House as having written that what the
Labour party had prepared in the way of a platform’ they could amend, and that the amended platform would become binding on every Labour member.
– The platform, or any alteration of it.
– That is exactly where the honorable member and I part company. Before I became a candidate at the last election I signed a certain definite platform; and I am not going to alter that platform in any shape or form - and I say this straight out - until there is another election, and I once more go before the people. It is on these points that we have the misrepresentation.
– I quoted other persons, and did not give my own opinion.
– I am giving facts, and every honorable member on this side will support me. The honorable member for Dampier went on to speak of the independence of members on the Liberal side, whom he declared were controlled by no Caucus. I wonder whether the honorable member for Dampier remembers an old colleague of his in the Western Australian Parliament, because I feel tempted to mention an incident connected with that gentleman and the elections in May last. The gentleman I refer to represented Claremont in the local Parliament - the honorable member for Dampier will know to whom I refer - and he told me that the old bogey of the Labour “ Caucus “ did not hold water na between members of Parliament, and that he personally had been carpeted by his own party four times in one session for statements he had made in the House.
– Is he a Liberal ?
– Yes. Further, prior to the last State elections in Western Australia there was a Redistribution of Seats Bill introduced, and, when it was before the House, a member was carried in on his sick bed in order to vote. The point I wish to emphasize, however, is that the whole question of the alteration of the boundaries of the State electorates was fixed up at a Liberal Caucus meeting. It has to be said, however, that the whole question was discussed during the State elections, and that the Government responsible for the redistribution did not retain the confidence of the people. The honorable member for Dampier referred to the Electoral Act as being a bad one from beginning to end. It occurred to me that the honorable member might have been referring to the whole Act, or, perhaps, to only the amendments during last session. He was not clear on the point; but if he meant the whole Act, then those who preceded us in this Parliament must have been sadly lacking in common sense and the knowledge of affairs. The Electoral Act now in force is built on foundations laid as far back as 1902. There has been a great deal of debate on the question of preference to unionists. I believe that when men have given the best part of their lives to trade unionism, and have devoted the whole of their time to it, and been consistent in their work, they are entitled to preference in their employment. As I have followed the debate, the whole question appears to hinge on two things - preference granted by the President of the Arbitration Court, and the preference in reference to casual employment mentioned by honorable members on this side of the House. I cannot understand how any one can bring forward an argument to exclude rural workers from the operation of the Act. The honorable member for Calare agrees with the benefits of organization and with unionism. In my opinion the Commonwealth Arbitration Act should cover all workers throughout Australia. We have heard of the tyranny of unions, but it seems to me that there is also need to ask what of the tyranny of those opposed to trade unions. I remember that when the honorable member for Dampier was Minister of Railways in Western Australia, his Government discharged me because I had the temerity to stand for election in connexion with the State elections. The Wilson Administration in Western Australia, in 1911, discharged three railway men because they stood for parliamentary honours.
– Would not the same thing apply in the Commonwealth?
– No, because the Commonwealth is under a different Constitution altogether. I thought the remarks of the honorable member for Dampier did not come very well from him, seeing the personal experience I had of his Administration.
– Could you attend to your work and attend to politics also ?
– The honorable member wishes to get me on to the whole subject. After the House adjourns, I shall be glad to give him the whole his- tory of it. The honorable member for Dampier raised the question of Wages Boards, but I may explain to the House that the honorable member is no newcomer to political life, and I have taken more notice of his utterances than I would of another honorable member similarly situated to myself. The honorable member for Dampier supports Wages Boards to-day, but in 1902, when the Arbitration Act was amended in Western Australia, and the whole arbitration law was before the State Parliament, the honorable member was a member of the Administration that introduced the measure.
– And I supported it.
– So I cannot understand the honorable member’s position today with regard to Wages Boards. Much has been said concerning the sugar bounty and Excise. I frankly acknowledge I have had little opportunity to study the subject, but during the recent campaign I met a lady who knew a great deal about sugar, and, under her tuition, I learned much concerning it. To one who has simply heard the arguments for and against during this debate, it seems there has been a very serious blunder made. If only on the matters affecting our Naval policy and its administration, and affecting the sugar bounty and Excise, the gentlemen at present occupying the Treasury bench seem to have failed very much in their task.
– Do you not think the blunder was in the Act itself ?
– No. I consider that an appeal to the people of Australia cannot be very long delayed. I shall welcome an opportunity of going before the electors who sent me here. That is a statement I have made repeatedly since the elections, and when my friends who are members of the Cabinet to-day decide that they shall go to the country, I am quite prepared to go also, and see whether the electors throughout Australia will not recognise the good work of the Fisher Administration, and see that they have a sufficient majority to place those at present in charge of affairs on the left hand of the Speaker, and the Labour party on the right.
.- I think the debate, as far as it has gone, will serve to clear the atmosphere, and when the division is taken we will be able to proceed with business generally. It has been stated that the Prime Min ister’s manifesto contains a lot of matter that means the repeal of the legislation previously passed by the Labour Government. Of course, it does refer to the repeal of certain legislation, butit was the fact that the previous Government piled up legislation of an objectionable character that compelled the present Government to bring down proposals for its repeal. I believe the previous Government put up a record for legislation. In their three years of office, they passed eighty-three measures. They boast of the fact that they put up a record, and as Australia is much inclined to put up records in connexion with legislation, probably they are proud of their achievement. I have been looking through the list of achievements or supposed achievements, and J can find only three matters they tackled that might be regarded as requiring the qualities of statesmanship, and those three were handled in a way that showed their want of statesmanship. The first. I shall refer to is the note issue. I have always believed that the Government of a country should control the issue of its paper money, as they are in a position to know how far it is safe to permit paper money to take the place of gold in order to preserve the stability of the nation, for which they alone are responsible. My complaint against the late Administration in connexion with the note issue is that in this young country, that is continually faced with the necessity for the construction of public works, and constantly applying in the money markets of the world for funds for that purpose, their note issue was based upon a lower gold reserve than is provided for in any other country in the world. We could not afford to make an experiment of that character. In a young country such as this, I believe it was necessary, in the interests of our national credit, to provide a higher gold reserve than would be deemed sufficient in the older countries of the world. I know of no other country in which the gold reserve for the paper currency is as low as 25 per cent. In Germany, they have the lowest reserve required in any country, with the exception of Australia, and, under Statute law, the minimum reserve there is 33 per cent., which means that considerably more than the minimum must be kept in order to prevent a violation of the law in the contingency of a sudden demand. Dealing with the banking system introduced by the last Administration, I believe that a Commonwealth Bank might have been established to perform great and important services for the Commonwealth. It should have been associated with the borrowing of the whole Commonwealth., and the conversion of the debts of the State, which this Parliament has a constitutional mandate to carry out. The late Government, in failing to make the conversion of the State debts an integral part and prominent feature of their banking scheme, displayed a. lack of the statesmanship necessary for the proper management of the finances of the country. Commonwealth borrowing and the conversion of the State debts formed the chief justification for bringing a Commonwealth Bank into existence, and these important matters were left out of their consideration of the question by the late Government.
– The honorable member admits that the bank had to be established.
– It should have been established to carry out those great purposes, and my objection to the present Commonwealth Bank is that it has not been established on proper lines. The Government should, first of all, have entered into negotiations with the State Governments.
– They did so.
– They did not do so until the Commonwealth Bank was established. Then the ex-Prime Minister came down with a proposal that the State Governments rightly regarded as an insult to them. The Commonwealth Bank was so established as to interfere with the operation of the splendid banking institutions established by the State Parliaments throughout the States. Finding that the Bank was not as successful as they anticipated, the Commonwealth Government came down with a proposal to the State Governments. I gave the ex-Minister of Home Affairs credit for displaying in the banking scheme which he proposed to the Commonwealth the only evidence of statesmanship that I have been able to discover on the other side in connexion with their banking proposals. His proposal was that the States should be brought into association with the Commonwealth in the establishment of a banking institution, the Commonwealth Parliament being supreme in cases of dif ferences of opinion with the States in the management of the concern. If a banking scheme had been introduced on those lines, taking the States into partnership with the Commonwealth, I believe it would have been successful. I should not object to the Commonwealth having a predominating influence in the management of the bank on vital questions. In those circumstances we should have had the whole of the State Parliaments in association with this Parliament in dealing with the financial, problems which confront us. I venture to say that our financial problems would be much more easily handled under such a scheme than they are likely to be during the next decade under existing circumstances.
– Does the honorable member think that the State Righters would have been satisfied with such a scheme ?
– They were never given the opportunity to say whether they would be satisfied with it or not, and the overtures should, in the first instance, have come to them from the Commonwealth Parliament.
– Does not the honorable member know that in Sir George Turner’s time the State Parliaments were against the proposal?
– I do not know how it could be said that they were. Under Sir George Turner’s scheme the State Parliaments were to be asked to give over their railway properties as security.
– His scheme was that they should borrow through the Commonwealth, and they would not agree to that.
- Sir George Turner’s scheme of ten years ago should not furnish a precedent for the action of this Parliament for all time. I remind honorable members again that this Parliament has not yet exercised its constitutional power to bring about a consolidation of the State debts. The Constitution gives this Parliament the power to take over the State debts, with power to compel the States to pay up any deficiency of interest on those debts; and in 1910 that constitutional power was extended to enable us to take over all the State debts up to date.
– Would the honorable member consolidate the State debts, and permit the State Parliaments to continue to borrow in London as much as they pleased ?
– I do not know that that represents a very serious objection, because I believe that if a Commonwealth bank were established in a proper and statesmanlike way, Australian consols on the London market would be so much more easily negotiated, and loans could be obtained by the Commonwealth on so much better terms than by the individual States that the various State Parliaments, in .the course of a little time, would find that it was to their interest and advantage to borrow through the Commonwealth. I did not, on rising, intend to refer at such length to ‘ this matter, but I have been drawn into the discussion of it. If the Commonwealth Bank had been established on the lines of a partnership between the Commonwealth and the States, it would have secured the confidence of the State Parliaments. They would have had no objection to do their business through what would be their own institution, and would offer less objection to the conversion of their debts through the Commonwealth Bank into Commonwealth stocks. This is where the previous Administration lacked perception and statesmanship in dealing with a national question. Here was a magnificent opportunity for the Commonwealth and States to combine to form a great and powerful banking institution, which could deal with the conversion of the State debts, prevent overlapping of borrowing in the different States, secure a reduction of interest on loans, and deal with the whole of the financial business of both States and Commonwealth. That in itself would represent a considerable turnover to the bank, without going into every corner of the Commonwealth to compete with existing institutions which have been serving the public well. The Government have tackled another question. They propose to provide to some extent against sickness.
– Any lodge will do that now.
– To a limited extent, but if the honorable member were acquainted with the recent history of England, he would know that provision has been made there for a large number of people to receive the necessary assistance when they are sick.
– Would the honorable member make a scheme of that kind compulsory here ?
– Yes, and I would make it far-reaching. This is one of the best planks in the platform of our party, and shows that the Government has some constructive ability. The maternity bonus passed by the last Government is costing the Commonwealth from £600,000 to £700,000 a year. If it had been made part of the scheme to provide for sickness, widowhood, and unemployment, probably the total expenditure from the Treasury would have been only a little over the amount that is now being paid out on account of one branch of incapacity. There was a want of statesmanship and of perspective in the policy of the late Government in this respect such as are necessary for the framing of laws to suit our complex sociological system. It has been claimed that the previous Government were responsible for carrying out the defence scheme. I do not wish to take away the credit that belongs to them in that regard, though the scheme was initiated by the preceding Government. It was the Liberal Government of 1909 that originated the defence scheme,’ both with respect to naval policy and compulsory training. That scheme has upon it the impress of statesmanship, and I must give credit to both Governments for having carried it out as far as we have gone. There are several other questions to which I wish to allude, but perhaps it would be convenient to adjourn the debate at this time, and allow me to continue my speech on Tuesday.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
The Attorney-General and the Marconi Company.
Motion (by Mr. Joseph Cook) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Owing to the ideas of courtesy entertained on the Ministerial benches this morning by at least one honorable member opposite, I was prevented from making a statement in reply to the Attorney-General.
– That honorable member afterwards withdrew his objection.
– The fullest opportunity was given, after a little bit of eruption, to the Attorney-General to state his case. I take no exception to the attitude of honorable members opposite in refusing me the right to make a general statement.
– They did not. The objection was withdrawn.
– Nothing of the kind.
– I myself crossed the floor and told the honorable member that the objection was withdrawn.
– Does the Minister think that I am going to beg for permission to speak in this House from honorable members opposite? The permission was twice refused by the honorable member for Werriwa. Was I to go on my knees, and ask him to withdraw his objection ?
– The honorable member might be frank, and acknowledge that I told him that the objection was withdrawn .
– The Minister did come over, but he had no authority to do so.
– I had authority to tell the honorable member.
– The only persons entitled to speak on that subject were the Ministerial Whip and the Prime Minister. But it does not matter whether I was refused or not this morning. I am entitled to speak now.
– After the honorable member has had time to consider what he should say.
– Yes, I have considered the matter, and I wish to say that in my judgment the explanation of the AttorneyGeneral’s position, as presented to the House this morning, is entirely unsatisfactory. I share with the honorable gentleman the view that it would be a good thing in the interests of the future government of the Commonwealth if we were to have a vote in the House as to whether his attitude is approved or not. The Attorney-General has admitted his pecuniary association with the Marconi Company. That is the first thing. He has accepted a retaining fee from them. The dictum laid down in the minute of Mr. Asquith, after a bitter experience in England, does not appeal to the honorable gentleman. I could not frame language that more accurately states the true position - £fo Minister ought to accept any kind of favour from persons who are in negotiation or seeking to enter into contractual or pecuniary relations with the Government.
I have quoted that before, and shall probably quote it again as long as the “present condition of affairs continues. I say that the Marconi Company is at present in contractual negotiations with the Commonwealth Government. The AttorneyGeneral is in receipt of a retaining fee from the company. The honorable gentleman, if I understood him rightly this morning, states that the obligation associated with that retaining fee is simply that he would have to give notice to the company before he could represent another party against them. Is that the Attorney-General’s position ?
– The honorable member must not expect me to answer any more questions.
– Then I am not prepared to accept that interpretation as to what the taking of a retaining fee involves.
– It does not matter to me or to any one else in the House what the honorable member thinks.
– The honorable gentleman does not seem to think that it matters much.
– Not a bit.
– I tell him that his insurance, banking, and Marconi interests are entangling him in a way that is impressing itself upon the people of this country. A retaining fee, as I understand it, entitles the person paying it to the first call upon the services of counsel so retained. Why do men pay retaining fees if that be not the case? Do they do so for fun? Is the barrister who receives such a fee in a position to turn round and say to the person employing him, “ I give you notice that I intend to appear on the other side?”
– What is the amount involved ?
– That does not matter. I do not care whether it is 5s. or £500 - the principle is the same. The Treasurer is quite satisfied while he retains a seat on the Treasury bench.
– The honorable member is off it.
-Still, the honorable gentleman’s position is a very precarious one, because, in all probability, the party with which I am associated will soon be back in power again. I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he can recollect the time when the present Mr. Justice Isaacs occupied the position of Attorney- General in this Chamber? Unfortunately for him, Hansard is one of those records which are kept in our cupboards. The present Prime Minister was a member of the Opposition at the time Mr. Isaacs filled the office of Attorney-General, and, in speaking in this House on the 23rd August, 1905 - as will be seen by reference to Hansard, page 1329 - he said -
The question to which I wish to draw attention is, as I view it, of very serious importance, affecting as it does the relation of the AttorneyGeneral to the judicial powers of the States and the Commonwealth.
I may mention that, at that time, Mr. Isaacs was giving an opinion for the State of South Australia upon the question of the Murray waters.
– He was representing South Australia as against the Commonwealth.
– Not as against the Commonwealth .
– I can quote the Prime Minister’s own words to show that he was not representing South Australia as against the Commonwealth. The honorable gentleman put it that the time might come when a stage would be reached at which the Commonwealth interests would be involved. But, in the case of the Marconi Company, the Commonwealth interests are already involved.
– The case I referred to was an actual concrete one which was then being dealt with.
– And this is an actual concrete case which is now being dealt with. The Prime Minister went on to say-
I expected some such objection as that from honorable members seated on the Corner benches, and it has come. Surely the AttorneyGeneral might have been left to make that kind of apology.
He called upon the Attorney-General to apologize for the position in which he found himself as the result of expressing an opinion as the representative of the South Australian Government on the Murray waters question. He further said -
It is quite clear, however, that he cannot be our legal watch-dog, and at the same time the legal watch-dog of the South Australian Government.
Can the present Attorney-General be the legal watch-dog of the Commonwealth, and at the same time be liable to be called upon to render service to the Marconi Company ?
– The honorable member does not understand the position.
– I have understood too much about it for the Attorney-General.
– It is so obvious that the honorable member does not understand it.
– It is so obvious that the Attorney-General rose this morning and broke all the rules of the House in an endeavour to explain it away. Then one of his generous supporters refused me the right to reply.
– He withdrew his objection. Be just!
– He has withdrawn it now that the motion for the adjournment of the House has been reached.
– He withdrew it at the time.
– How very anxious the honorable member is. There is not the slightest doubt that there are quite a number of honorable members occupying seats in the Ministerial corner who are not prepared to indorse the attitude of the Attorney-General in this connexion. The Prime Minister affirmed, on the occasion to which I have referred, that the AttorneyGeneral could not be the legal watch-dog of the Commonwealth and of South Australia - that he could not occupy the dual position. He further said -
It is quite clear that the Attorney-General cannot be for us against South Australia, and for South Australia against us, at one and the same time, unless he has a dual personality like that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I know that at times lawyers do very strange things, but I think that we should keep the domains of these functions very clear, and should see that our law officers are in a condition of absolute independence.
Does he indorse those sentiments to-day?
– Then the Prime Minister must be in a very restless frame of mind when he meets some of his colleagues in Cabinet. He further said -
The honorable and learned member has bound himself by oath to guard the judicial power of the Commonwealth, and, therefore, he should not be retained by a Government whose interests may conflict at any given point of time with those of the Commonwealth.
He should not be ‘‘retained” - that, is the word upon which the present AttorneyGeneral places so much reliance. In the case of Mr. Isaacs, that gentleman was not engaged in Court, because, as a matter of fact, the question of the Murray waters has never come before a Court, although it has been the subject of many conferences. These are the views which were expressed by the Prime Minister when dealing with his case. But to-day he is not prepared to turn round and say to his majority, “ I do not approve of your action in being associated with these banking, insurance, and Marconi cases.”
– I cannot see any parallel between them.
– The Prime Minister cannot see anything at present. He has been down the street to-day and has had some drops put into his eyes by an oculist. This is a further quotation from his speech -
I remember a somewhat similar case in New South Wales, in which two members of the local Legislature who are now Justices of the High Court were involved. They had accepted -
Will the Prime Minister listen to these words ? -
They had accepted retainers against the Railways Commissioners of New South Wales, and the New South Wales Legislative Assembly censured them for doing so in the severest terms it could use.
– Will the honorable member let me say that that language does not correctly convey my meaning. They had accepted briefs.
– If the language does not correctly convey what the honorable gentleman meant he had an opportunity of correcting his proof. Why does he find out seven years afterwards that it is not correct? It is an extraordinary thing that when these points are being made against him it is always the newspaper reporter or Hansard that is wrong.
– I am not blaming anybody. I simply say that the historic fact is that they had accepted briefs.
– Do you deny that?
– You cannot deny it.
– I have never denied anything in this House when the facts have been presented to me and I have been shown to be wrong.
– You denied that I withdrew my objection.
– I do not deny that the honorable gentleman withdrew the objection.
– Oh; I beg pardon. I understood that you did.
– I said that an opportunity for me to make a statement waff denied twice, and that I was not going to beg for an opportunity. Dealing with this case the Prime Minister continues -
I submit that the Attorney-General ought tobe able to tell the House that he is absolutely free and untrammelled in his office - which, I venture to say, he will have some difficulty indoing, in view of the facts as we know them - or he should no longer retain his position assupreme guardian of the rights of the Commonwealth against the States.
If I were to speak for a week I could not bring a more emphatic indictment against the position of the present AttorneyGeneral than the indictment which fell from the lips of the Prime Minister when he was in opposition.
He cannot be said to be free so long as he is in the pay of a State Government.
Can the honorable gentleman say that hia Attorney-General is free so long as he isin the pay of the Marconi Company?
– There is a difference between accepting a brief and accepting 6v retainer.
– Ministers are as silent as the Sphinx, but we shall have them as gentle as cooing doves before we are finished with this business.
– Because you and the Prime Minister happen to agree for once, that does not show that you are not both wrong.
– We shall attributethat generous remark to the modesty of my honorable friend. I cannot leave off quoting the Prime Minister, because he puts the position better than I could do. He said -
I assure honorable members that the statement which I saw in the newspapers last week was the first intimation that I had of the facts, and I do not hesitate to say that if I had known that Senator Sir Josiah Symon, when AttorneyGeneral, had been retained by the South Australian Government in such a matter, I should have instantly brought it under the notice of the House.
That was a case of accepting a retainer, being exactly similar to the position in which the honorable gentleman finds his Attorney-General to-day. There is no getting away from that fact. Let me say here that, bo far as anything that, falls from my lips is concerned, the honour of the Attorney-General or the honour of Mr. Justice Isaacs is not involved. I assure my honorable friend opposite that his personal integrity and probity I am not questioning for a moment. I am dealing with the principle of whether a man can serve two masters, and I say that he cannot, and that the Attorney-General’s position is intolerable. The Prime Minister went on to say -
The moment that I saw this announcement in the newspapers, I. decided to bring the facts before the House, and, in the discharge of what I conceive to be an obligation upon my part, I am making these remarks. “In my judgment, however, he cannot simultaneously accept payment from a State Government and from the Federal authorities, and still retain his independence absolutely.
It is not often that I do agree with the honorable gentleman, but on this question we are at one. He also said -
In bringing this question under the notice of honorable members. I feel that I am discharging a simple duty - a duty in the interests of the purity of the administration of the judicial powers of the Commonwealth.
The honorable gentleman was really better on the point than is Mr. Asquith. Speaking on the same question, the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs said -
That, obviously, refines his case down to a consideration of whether the Attorney-General did or did not know or think, at the time he accepted his retainer, that the Commonwealth would eventually be brought into conflict with the State of South Australia upon this matter.
He uses the simple and only defence of the Attorney- General, that it is only a retainer.
– What page of Hansard are you reading from?
– I am reading from page 1342.
– Of what year?
– I shall give the honorable member the marked passages in a minute. That will save him a lot of trouble, and, if it will keep him quiet, I shall be well repaid.
– You might give the pages before you conclude your speech.
– I started by quoting from the Prime Minister’s speech, on page 1329 of Hansard for the 23rd August, 1905. On page 1342, the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs is reported as having said -
But when the Committee are entering upon a debate of supreme constitutional importance, it is at least due to us that he should obtain and render all the help that he possibly can.
Apparently, Mr. Isaacs was where the Attorney- General frequently is - in the Courts. I do not propose to labour this question much further. I have quoted the remarks of the Prime Minister pretty fully. I shall now read a few little gems of the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs, who was not satisfied with having one attack at the Attorney-General on that day. In a second speech he said - in order to take our attention from the fact that the Attorney-General has accepted from the State of South Australia what practically amounts to an office of profit.
– Will you deny that every single member of the Labour party supported the honorable member for Parramatta on that occasion?
– Very likely a number of them did.
For he has been asked to give an opinion on matters connected with the control of the navigation of the rivers of the Commonwealth ; and he will be paid for that opinion in hard solid coin of the realm.
The honorable gentleman always did have his eye on the main chance. It is not surprising that he and Mr. Isaacs were in agreement on that question. He continued -
The Attorney-General is paid, as AttorneyGeneral, a certain salary - and no one is better worth it than he - for the discharge of certain services to the Commonwealth, and when the House demands that he shall attend to explain his actions he has no right to stay away.
There is a nice dictum to come from honorable gentlemen opposite, who want pairs. They do not preach a theory now. Our distinguished friend, the late member for Robertson, Mr. Henry Willis, made some remarks on the question; but, as he is politically extinct, it does not matter what he said. The Prime Minister finished up the debate-
– Are you going to let us go home?
– If the honorable gentleman had got his followers to give me an opportunity this morning, all this would have been over now.
– I did my best, and you did get an opportunity.
– This is what the Prime Minister said towards the conclusion of the debate, he being the last speaker but one -
I would point out that this is a matter that should not be left to the sense of honour of the Attorney-General.
Apparently, in this case, he thinks the matter should be left to the sense of honour of the Attorney-General.
– What did the honorable member for Wide Bay say on that occasion ?
– The honorable member can read the speech for himself. I have been at pains enough to go through his speech, and that of his Prime Minister. To continue the quotation -
It is a question for the House to determine. The Attorney-General is a servant of Parliament.
In this case an exception is to be made -
Mr. Isaacs. The honorable member has said that for the fourth time.
– I shall say it for the fifth time if I think fit. I advise the AttorneyGeneral to be a little less impertinent.
The Prime Minister was as courteous then as he is to-day. Time has not altered him. To continue -
It is not sufficient for the Attorney-General to say that he will retire from the position he now occupies if he finds that a conflict of interests is likely to occur. We know that he is a perfect martyr to duty.
The action of the present AttorneyGeneral in keeping a retainer from the Marconi Company could not be more decidedly condemned than it is in the code of rules of positive obligation laid down by the British Prime Minster, the fifth of which reads -
No Minister ought to accept any kind of favour from persons who are negotiating with or seeking to enter into contractual or pecuniary relations with the Government.
The Marconi Company desires to enter into contractual relations with the Government, and the Attorney-General, by reason of his acceptance of a general retaining fee from the company, is receiving pecuniary assistance from it. He has recognised the ‘difficulty of his position by transferring the business concerning the actual litigation between the company and the Commonwealth to the Minister of External Affairs; but the latter may, at any time, bring before the Cabinet a proposal involving payment from the Treasury, and the AttorneyGeneral, by reason of his association with the company, will not be a free agent, and unbiased, in dealing with any such proposal. He received the confidence of the company when he was advocating its claims against the Commonwealth, and is not, and cannot, be free where the company’s interests are concerned. He is also a director of a bank which is working in opposition to the Commonwealth Bant. As Attorney-General, he is the Commonwealth’s chief law adviser respecting legislation for the general control of banks; the management of the Commonwealth Bank, and the note issue. But in giving advice, his private interests as director of a bank must come into direct conflict with his duty to the Commonwealth. Furthermore, being a director of an insurancecompany, his private interests will conflict with his duty when he is called upon ta advise on proposals for the amendment of the law relating to insurance generally, or for the consolidation of the Statutes of the States into one Commonwealth law. His position is condemned by the first and fifth of the rules framed by the British Prime Minister, apparently to meet a case of this description. It cannot have the approval of his Prime Minister, if that gentleman holds the same views now that he expressed so vigorously a few years ago, when Mr. Justice Isaacs was Attorney-General. Under these circumstances, the invitation that the AttorneyGeneral has extended to test the opinion of honorable members generally regarding his position is one that should receive the indorsement of his supporters.
– I shall not detain honorable members more than a few moments. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie said that he did not impugn my honour and integrity, but his speech was couched in the form of a deliberate personal attack. Every word, phrase, and tone that he used conveyed that impression. Whether he has -wilfully blinded himself to the ‘true position, or has spoken out of pure ignorance, I leave him to say. He has wilfully misunderstood the explanation which I gave this morning.
– I am sorry that I wasso generous, now that the honorable member talks in that way.
– The honorable member’s idea of generosity is a remarkable one. I shall show how, to support the arguments which he used, he presented a distorted version of the facts. This morning, and on a previous occasion, I explained the position of a barrister who’ holds a general retainer. I pointed out that a general retainer differs from a special retainer in that it does not put upon the holder any obligation to advise, or accept a brief from, or to act in any way for, the person who gives it. I repeat that. I have shown exactly what a general retainer is. It is a fee paid to a barrister in order that the person who pays it may receive notice from him of any contrary brief that he may get. A general retainer imposes no obligation upon the person who accepts it to do anything on behalf of the person who gives it, except to notify him, should it be necessary, of the offer of a contrary brief. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has spoken of serving two masters. At the present time, I serve only one master, the Commonwealth, and am concerned only with the interests of the country. I am not concerned with the interests of the Marconi Company, and am under no obligation to that company, except to give it notice should a brief in an action against them be sent to me. Let me now inform the House of the facts of the case on which the Prime Minister spoke, on the occasion referred to by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. There was no question of a general retainer then. The point was whether Mr. Justice Isaacs, who was at the time Attorney-General, could, in accordance with his duty, tender advice, and give an opinion on a certain matter to the Government of South Australia. He was asked to, and did, give an opinion in connexion with a matter which the present Prime Minister not unreasonably thought might embarrass him in dealing with the rights of the Commonwealth respecting the navigation problem which then existed. Mr. Isaacs pointed out that, although he was asked to give an opinion with regard to South Australia’s navigation relations with the Commonwealth, he declined to do so; that he gave an opinion to the Government of South Australia with regard to its relations with Victoria, but not in respect to navigation, for the reason that the giving of -such an opinion might embarrass him in forming an opinion, as Attorney- General of the Commonwealth, on a matter brought into clear conflict between South Australia and the Commonwealth. I am going to cite the language used by Mr. Isaacs on that occasion, and to adopt it as justifying completely the position that I at present adopt. I refer honorable members to Hansard, vol. XXVI., page 1376. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie, in picking out certain sentences from the language used on that occasion by my honorable friend the Prime Minister, chose to omit entirely the statement of the case made by the only honorable member then present who knew the whole of the facts, the whole of the law, and the code of honour relating to these matters. Mr. Isaacs said -
I can have no justification for refusing to give my advice and opinion to the Government of South Australia unless I can offer them some fair recognised reason for that refusal. But if my position in regard to that State were to bring me ever so slightly, or by any possibility, into conflict with my duty as Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, the State of South Australia would have to stand aside, so far as I was concerned. . . . Honorable members will recognise that it must be a strong feeling of duty that impels me to accept a retainer from South Australia in a case against Victoria, the State to which I belong. The position occupied by counsel at the Bar is a public one. He must not pick and choose his clients. When a client offers him a retainer, unless he has some fair and justifiable reason for refusing it, he is bound to give him his assistance as well as he can. In these circumstances, I was compelled to accept the retainer of the South Australian Government, and unless, as I say, the paramount duty that I owe to the Commonwealth is imperilled, or may be imperilled - I shall go as far as that - I have no right to reject that retainer, and do not intend to do so….. With regard to the position of the AttorneyGeneral of the Commonwealth, I wish to repeat that if at any moment it appears to me possible that a question may bring me into conflict with my duty as Attorney-General, or if at any moment it appears to me possible that my opinions in the future, which I am bound to tender to the Government of the Commonwealth, may be affected by anything I do with regard to the South Australian, or any other case, my duty as Attorney-General must prevail, and everything else will have to go.
I repeat and adopt every word of that language, and have only to add that that position was accepted to the full by every honorable member then present who is now sitting on the Opposition side of the House.
.- I wish to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie was correct in saying that I objected to his making a statement this morning. I asked whether it was an attack or a personal explanation that he desired to make, and he declined to give me an answer. Notwithstanding that, however, I withdrew my objection.
– After objecting twice.
– Did the honorable member for Werriwa think that I was going on my knees to him ?
– It is not a matter of the honorable member going on his knees; hut if that is a position he cares to assume, it has nothing to do with me. I did withdraw the objection. The honorable member for Wentworth went across to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, and when the latter looked towards me, I nodded my head, so that there is no doubt that he thoroughly understood that the withdrawal was made. When this similar case did arise, and the present Prime Minister used language concerning the honorable member for Indi, I, although a supporter of the present Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the
– He was the deputy leader.
– No; he was not.
– At all events, although I was then on the same side as tlie present Prime Minister, and as strongly opposed as any man in the House to the party to which the honorable member for Indi belonged, I felt bound in justice to that honorable member to give him my support. Even when Mr. Isaacs was giving his reasons I interjected, and pointed out why no counsel is allowed to refuse a retainer. The reason is that parties may be prejudiced by the refusal of counsel to take up their case, and we can easily see what harm might arise if there were liberty to refuse retainers when offered. This retainer was offered to the present Attorney-General three or four years ago, and we are asked to say that, on becoming a member of this House, he ought to have declined the retainer, because some case might arise in which he was interested. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie, who was at that time studying law, ought surely to have learnt the first part of a barrister’s duty, which is to look after his fee; but, apparently, he had not even grasped the meaning of a retainer. It would seem, however, that he did understand the position, for on looking at the division list I find that he voted on behalf of the present Attorney-General. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has not given any reason why he has since changed his views, and, until he does so, he cannot expect us to believe that his action was dictated by other than political motives; and, under the circumstances, he cannot be regarded as sincere. The present
Leader of the Opposition, when speaking on that occasion, said -
Honorable members bait a Minister, and then,, if he will not do exactly what they want, they direct the whole strength of their forces against, him and the Ministry with which he is connected. What Government, and what Minister, would be worth supporting who would conciliate an Opposition which had pursued tactics of that kind ? They first use every parliamentary means . tohumiliate the Minister in the eyes of the House and of the public, and then, because he will not concede the points which they wish to gain, they take the most extreme course open to them. I do not know what view the other members of the Labour party take, but I trust that they hold the opinion in regard to this matter that I hold, and will vote against the amendment.
The honorable member for Kalgoorlie so absolutely believed every word of that portion of the speech that he voted with the honorable member for Wide Bay.
.- It is unfortunate that this morning this matter was debated in a most controversial manner, when there was no opportunity to thoroughly discuss it. It is a bigger question than one involving merely the position of the Government.
– If it is so big a question why should it be brought up on. the adjournment of the House ?
– The adjournment isthe only opportunity presented to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to make any reply to the very pungent and bitter remarks of the Attorney-General this.. morning.
– Yes, though the AttorneyGeneral may not be conscious of ‘ the warmth he put into his remarks this; morning. This is a matter of more farreaching consequence than any chargeagainst the Attorney-General or against the Government. It has to be determined’, by this, and every other Government, . how far Ministers are at liberty to act in their private capacity in such a way as ; may at certain periods cause conflict between their professional or private interests and those of the Crown.
– The honorable member knows that such a question can only be decided on a motion directly dealing with it.
– It can be dealt within a non-party spirit altogether. .
– Not in the middle of the discussion of a no-confidence amend- - ment.
– The honorable member does not think, I hope-
– The question was raised yesterday by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, though itis not connected with or relevant to the noconfidence amendment; and I take it that if the question is to be discussed, it ought to be put into proper shape, and the House permitted to decide it.
– Quite so ; I have never had any other idea. My rejoinder to the Attorney-General’s last statement is that nearly all such questions are raised during a debate of no-confidence, but I agree that this question cannot be properly decided in the heat of party conflict, which is another matter altogether. The question immediately before us is an abstract one dealing with the rights and privileges, and the honour and integrity, of members of this House and of the Government, and our object is to safeguard the interests of Parliament. The question cannot be decided on a proposed amendment on the Address-in-Reply, but it can be decided as a matter of procedure. Honorable members on both sides may see fit by a large majority to say that certain rules shall be observed by this Parliament and Government now and in the future. I think the issue is bigger than party. The honorable member for Werriwa has left the chamber. He quoted part of my remarks on this question ; but there are other parts of my remarks just preceding which I wish to quote, from page 1379 of Hansard of the 23rd August, 1905 . I remarked that the honorable member for North Sydney proposed not to vote for the motion. Hansard proceeds -
Mr. Isaacs. He admits that there is nothing wrong.
– The honorable member for North Sydney stated that he would not vote for the amendment.
– But he said distinctly that he thought the Attorney-General ought not to accept any more retainers.
– He said most clearly that he thought it would be an error of judgment on the part of the Attorney-General if he renewed his retainer.
I also held the opinion that it would be a distinct error of judgment on the part of the Attorney-General if he renewed his retainer; and I wish to say now, the attack having been made in that way, that I said exactly then as I Bay now, that it is a matter that cannot be settled on a party issue. It was unfortunate it was raised this morning in the way it was, and I am sure the Attorney-General, when he thinks of it calmly, will regret that, on a question of privilege, he made a statement prejudicing the whole matter, and compelling the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to raise it again on the first opportunity. When an honorable member is attacked by a gentleman occupying the most prominent legal position in the Commonwealth, he must necessarily make some rejoinder.
– The Attorney-General was merely replying to an attack made on him yesterday.
– It was more than that. The Attorney-General addressed himself to this question for twenty-five minutes, and used the scimitar here and there in the nicest language, but in many cases with bitter thrusts at the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. The AttorneyGeneral may not know it, but honorable members are aware of the ability of the Attorney-General to do this, and there are ways of doing it without shouting very loudly. I do not think the matter can rest here, now that it has come on; but it is bigger than party, and bigger than individual issues, and really concerns the House, and may only be finally decided as a non-party question. My last words are that the Government cannot accuse the Opposition of being unduly partisan in this and other matters. I have been in the House since the first meeting of this Parliament, and I have never known such bitter and biting statements as have been made from the Government side this session.
– From what I have heard of my speech on the occasion referred to, I see no reason to withdraw the substance of the argument used by me. I think it expressed the correct attitude. The distinction that I see between that matter and the present one is very plain. At that time, the then Attorney- General was in the pay of the Government of South Australia with respect to the dispute over the Murray waters, and he had a brief from the South Australian Government, and received payment.
– It was merely a dispute between two States.
– I took the point that at any moment the Commonwealth might be brought into that question.
– The Commonwealth is in this case.
– And the present Attorney-General has cut the connexion between himself and the Marconi Company absolutely, He has returned his brief and cut the connexion, That was not the case with respect to the AttorneyGeneral on the previous occasion.
– But the AttorneyGeneral says that he is still getting a general retaining fee.
– I say the connexion has been cut completely, so far as that litigation is concerned, which differentiates the present case from the one in question. On that occasion, honorable members now in Opposition agreed that the Attorney-General could do anything he liked, because they all voted solidly with him. The ex-Minister of Trade and Customs was one of those who counted the division on that occasion, the honorable member for Barrier voted, and so did the honorable member for Kennedy, and everything was right as right could be then; but now everything is as wrong as wrong can be.
– How did you vote on that occasion?
– I voted for the motion. The matter was only taken as one of censure by the then AttorneyGeneral ; but I made it very clear that we were not anxious to attack the Government for it. We never thought of such a thing as want of confidence in submitting the motion.
– But you divided on it.
– We divided to mark our sense of the conduct of the then Attorney-General in taking fees and in being actively engaged in connexion with a matter concerning State Governments which might bring him into conflict with his own Government. That is a position that ought not to exist anywhere or at any time. I take the same view to-day. But the present Attorney-General has completely severed his connexion with this litigation, and is, therefore, in an entirely different position from that of the AttorneyGeneral at that time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 August 1913, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1913/19130822_reps_5_70/>.