6th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of the following message from His Excellency the Governor-General in reference to a resolution of the House on the 4th August: -
Commonwealth of Australia.
Melbourne, 10th August, 1915.
Memorandum from the Governor-General.
To the Honorable
House of Representatives.
The Governor-General transmits herewith copy of a cablegram which has been received from His Majesty the King, in reply to the Resolution agreed to by the House of Representatives on the 4th instant.
Decode of cablegram from Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated London, 7th August, 1915, 3.20 p.m.
His Majesty the King was much moved by your telegram,5th August, conveying the Resolution passed by both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament recording their determination to continue to a victorious end the struggle for the ideals animating the allied nations.
I am commanded by His Majesty the King to desire you to express to the Senate and the House of Representatives his warm appreciation of the generous support which the Parliament and people of the Commonwealth have given to the common cause, of the sacrifices theyhave made and are making, and of the brilliant and effective services which His Australian Naval and Military Forces have rendered in the prosecution of the war.
– I ask the Attorney-General if the chartering agreement for the export of wheat is yet ready to lay on the table?
– The matter is not yet finalized. I have seen the agents and Mr. Owen Cox to-day in regard to it, and they are now discussing certain points. Once a settlement is arrived at, terms will be made available to honorable members without delay.
– Has the Minister for the Navy seen the statement attributed to a young soldier, who was severely wounded at the memorable landing on Gallipoli, and returned invalided by the Ballarat, to” the effect that, at Mena House, Red Cross goods made for free distribution by the young women of Australia, some of them containing messages to the soldiers, were offered for sale, the caps at ls. 6d. each, and socks at ls. a pair? These articles, according to the soldier, were evidently obtained from the quartermaster’s stores, and were exhibited for sale on the mess-room table by the chaplain, who told the soldiers that the money that was got for them would be used to buy travelling kitchens, which the soldier said he had never seen, and which were not likely to be seen.
– I have read the statements referred to. The Minister is having an inquiry made concerning them.
– Last week the AttorneyGeneral said that he would shortly be in a position to inform the House of the details of the arrangements with the Queensland Government and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company respecting the distribution of sugar. Is he yet in a position to make a statement on the subject?
– Broadly, the position is as follows: - A settlement, has been arrived at, the manner of distribution amongst the refining companies being determined last week; but as some points of moment to the Commonwealth remain to be dealt with, I ask honorable members not to press for information until the interests of the Commonwealth have been amply safeguarded.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy why, although the need for military camps at Newcastle, and at coun-try centres in New South Wales, was represented to the Defence Department, it would not do anything in the matter, and why it is now establishing so many camps in Victoria? I am not raising the State issue, but I wish to know why the other States are not treated as Victoria is being treated, and why an effort is not being made to minimize the chances of disease by not having too many men in one camp ?
– The alterations which had to be made at Broadmeadows rendered it necessary to establish another camp in Victoria, and the recruiting in this State during the past few weeks has been so brisk that other camps have become absolutely necessary. In New South Wales the conditions are different from those in Victoria. The New South Wales Commandant has power to recommend to the Minister the establishment of other camps if the men cannot be accommodated at Liverpool, but he has not made any such recommendation. Were he to make such a recommendation, the Minister would agree to it. But the need for another camp has not yet arisen in New South Wales.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy if he will have a simple will form printed, so that Australian soldiers and sailors going to the front may sign such wills before leaving, and thus secure their dependants from unnecessary trouble ?
– The suggestion is a good one, and I shall bring it under the notice of the Minister of Defence.
– Is it a fact that while the retail price of sugar is the same in all the States, sugar in some States, if bought wholesale, costs £1 per ton more than it can be bought for in other States ?
– The Government, with all the goodwill in the world, cannot annihilate distance or abolish freights. The honorable member, no doubt, has in mind the position of Tasmanian buyers of sugar. For many years, as I have been informed, it has been the custom to sell sugar f.o.b. in Melbourne or in Sydney, and for Tasmanian purchasers to pay the cost of conveying the sugar to Tasmania. I have been able to make arrangements for the sale of sugar only under the conditions: which prevailed hitherto. Therefore, whatever may be the freight on sugar between Melbourne and Hobart, or Sydney and Hobart, is the difference between the wholesale price of sugar in Tasmania and its wholesale price in Melbourne or Sydney, as the case may be.
– Is the AttorneyGeneral aware that a practice is growing up in the sugar trade under which men who do not even handle the sugar, but only have a cross entry in their books regarding it, obtain 6 per cent., and that this charge increases the price to the public? Can the Attorney-General see his way clear to insist that the 6 per cent. shall not be passed on to the consumer? The honorable gentleman is making arrangements whereby the people shall get sugar at a fair price, and the grocers are losing profit; and, under the circumstances, something ought to be done.
– The position is that the wholesale distributor is allowed 6 per cent., though, as a matter of fact, he does not get all of that 6 per cent., but only, I think, 3½ per cent., while the other per cent. - though I am not quite sure as to the proportion - goes to the retailer.
– For spot cash it is 3 per cent.
– And if I do not make any mistake, 1 per cent. goes to the carrier. I shall refresh my memory in regard to the matter. I know, however, that the wholesaler does not get the whole of the 6 per cent. ; and the retail grocers, when they were before me, carefully omitted to state that they got the sugar, not at the wholesale price, plus 6 per cent., but that they got it plus, say, 3½ per cent., leaving only the balance to the wholesaler for his labour. I venture to say that the wholesaler has a good deal to do in distributing sugar throughout the country parts of Australia. I have made inquiries with a view to ascertain whether the Commonwealth could do this distribution any cheaper, and my investigation goes to show that we have not the machinery at our disposal, nor could we create any, to do it at less cost.
– When does the Postmaster-General propose to lay on the table Mr. R. McC. Anderson’s report on the Post Office? Why is it being kept back?
– I shall lay it onthe table as soon as some of its recommendations have been considered in Cabinet.
– I should be glad if the Postmaster-General would explain a little further as to what is the trouble in connexion with the delay in presenting Mr. Anderson’s report ?
– It is only just to hand.
– We are told by the newspapers that it came to hand a good many days ago. Is there any reason for the delay in the presentation of a report of the kind? Could its presentation prejudice any consideration of it by the Cabinet?
– I suppose that there have been about two days in which I could have given any consideration to the report since I received it. Important departmental business kept me three days in Adelaide, and I could not deal with the report until I returned. There has been no chance to present the report for consideration by the Cabinet.
– But would placing the report on the table prejudice its consideration by the Cabinet?
– There will be nobody more ready than the right honorable gentleman to ask a series of questions as soon as the report is laid on the table, with a view to ascertaining what I propose to do regarding a number of the recommendations. I, therefore, intend to have the whole of the answers to such questions ready before I lay the report on the table.
– That is a new doctrine to lay down.
– In view of the fact that the State Government of Victoria are using large quantities of native timber in the erection of public buildings, notably State schools and railway stations, and also that flooring of mountain ash is being used for the Commonwealth Buildings in London, will the Minister of Home Affairs give instructions to his officers that local timbers must be used wherever possible in the erection of drill halls, instead of so much imported timber.
– It is, I understand, the policy of the Department at the present time to use as much local timber as possible. If the honorable member will be kind enough to put his question on the notice-paper, I shall have an opportunity to inform him what the Department is doing in this matter.
Employment for Wounded Soldiers : Militia Officers : Liverpool Camp
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Navy a question regarding the employment of returned wounded soldiers. One or two cases have come under my notice, in one of which the man has been discharged as unfit for further service; and I desire to know whether any facilities are being provided by the Government for the employment of such men in the various States, if the men desire employment?
– It is the intention of the Government to assistreturned wounded soldiers as far as possible in the way mentioned by the honorable member; and the Minister of Defence is endeavouring to see that that intention is carried out. That is all I can say at the present juncture.
– Is the Minister for the Navy aware that a number of militia officers, who will not volunteer to go to the front, are being put into every position of profit in connexion with the forming of new camps?
– I am not aware that such is the case, but I shall bring the honorable member’s question under the notice of the Minister of Defence.
– When will the Minister for the Navy place on the table Mr. Justice Rich’s report on the Liverpool Camp?
– At the earliest possible moment.
Proposed Removal to Canberra
– May I ask the AttorneyGeneral, in the absence of the Prime Minister, whether it is the intention of the Government to give this House an opportunity of discussing the advisability of removing the manufacture of small arms from Lithgow to Canberra, if the removal is still in contemplation?
– Yes. The Minister of Home Affairs proposes to give the House an opportunity of discussing the whole subject.
– Will the Minister of Home Affairs lay upon the table of the House a plan of the town of Lithgow showing the area of 10 acres at £300 per acre, and the 100 acres at £250 per acre, which the Director-General of Works stated would be necessary if the works were to be continued at Lithgow?
– The honorable member was kind enough to give me notice of this question, the answer to which is as follows: - The DirectorGeneral of Works states that he had to make an approximate estimate at short notice, and that he did not refer to any particular block of land, but to the locality between the Small Arms Factory and Lithgow, which, some years ago, had been inspected by Mr. Scrivener and himself, and considered a likely site for workmen’s dwellings. He was informed, during a visit to Lithgow with the Public Works Committee, that land in this locality had been sold at £1 per foot, and upwards. The only recent valuation of land at Lithgow in the Department at the moment was in respect of 11 acres on the north of and adjoining the Factory, at about £650 an acre. Under these circumstances, he considered a fair approximate price was about £250 an acre, based upon £1 per foot.
– May I ask the Minister of Home Affairs if he can tell the House what is the price per acre of the land at Canberra required for the purposes of the proposed Factory? Will the Minister also say whether it is the fact that the land-owners at Lithgow have reduced their prices very considerably since they saw that the Factory was vanishing ?
– I think that, in the report of the Works Committee, the land at Canberra was put down at £4 10s. per acre. I am only able to speak offhand, however. If the honorable member will put his question on the notice-paper, I will endeavourto get him the exact figures.
Reduction of Working Hours
– Is the Minister of Home Affairs aware that, with the exception of the gangers and time-keepers at the Cotter works, the men’s time has been reduced four hours per week at all the works at the Federal Capital? In view of the high cost of living, and the fact that some of the workmen are married men, who have to keep two homes going, will the Minister take into consideration the desirability of restoring full time ?
– The honorable member was again kind enough to give me private notice of his question, the answer to which is as follows : - This work is carried out under the Builders’ Labourers Award, which provides for forty-four hours per week, and an hourly rate, and those hours are worked accordingly, with the exception of the clerk of works and the foreman, who, in accordance with general practice, have to be available for longer hours, and are paid a daily rate.
Export of Wheat and Flour : Chartering of Freights
– I have received a letter from the honorable member for Wannon in which the honorable gentleman expresses his desire to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matterof urgent public importance, namely, “ the export of wheat and flour, and the chartering of freight space for the forthcoming Australian wheat harvest, and any agreement or arrangements in relation thereto.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
.- I regret that this motion should have happened to make its appearance on the day that we are expecting so important a statement as that which I understand is about to be delivered by the Treasurer.
– Why not postpone this adjournment motion ?
– The only object I have in bringing this motion forward is to enable the fullest consideration possible to be given to the best means that should be adopted in these troublous times for handling the wheat harvest, the exportable surplus of which, ranging as it possibly will, from 60,000,000 to 70,000,000 bushels, will no doubt be a big factor in the successful financing of the country’s operations during the next twelve months. My desire is to enable every aspect of the question, apart altogether from the arrangement recently made by the Government through the Attorney-General, to be brought under review. So far, the House has been placed in possession of only very indefinite and incomplete information on this subject. That is one of the reasons why I moved the adjournment of the House at this particular stage. I am aware that on Friday next a conference will take place between some of the partners to this arrangement, and that the Attorney-General has been invited to the conference. I take it that the conference has not been initiated by the Attorney-General, but by one of the partners, who, apparently, does not see eye to eye with the methods adopted by the Attorney-General.
– That is not so.
– I assume that is the case, judging from the conflict between the public statements made by the AttorneyGeneral on the one hand, and by the Minister of Public Works in the Victorian State House, Mr. Hagelthorn, on the other.
– There is no conflict as to freight.
– I did not say there was; but there seems to be a great deal of conflict between the interpretations of the agreement, that have been arrived at as to the methods to be adopted.
– Not as to freights.
– The first intimation that honorable members had of any action at all in this matter was in an announcement which appeared in the public press of 24th July last. This statement, carefully prepared and presented by the Attorney-General to the press of the country, was as follows: -
As already stated, the wheat-producing States - New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia - have, as the result of negotiations, decided to place the arrangements for securing freight for transporting the wheat available for export at the next harvest in the hands of the Commonwealth, and the Federal Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes)has the matter in hand. For some time past he has been negotiating for this purpose, and yesterday an agreement was arrived at whereby the freight arrangements to be made, by the Commonwealth have been placed in the hands of Elder, Smith, and Co. and Gibbs, Bright, and Co., who are to act as exclusive agents of the Commonwealth for the above purpose. Mr. Hughes was quite convinced that the Commonwealth’s representatives would carry out the task in a way satisfactory to the Government and to the producers. It would no doubt be a great relief to the farmer to know that arrangements for the successful marketing of his crop were thus provided for.
Speaking as to the amount of wheat that would probably have to be dealt with, Mr. Hughes said that this must be largely a matter of speculation, and much would depend upon the season, but a fair estimate on which the Government agents intended to act was that the exportable crop would amount to about 1,500,000 tons. Elder, Smith, and Co. and Gibbs, Bright, and Co. had expressed confidence that they would be able to secure freight which, with that already available, would be sufficient to meet all requirements. The arrangements made were entirely satisfactory to the Government, and were such that would not be open to criticism.
That was the first announcement made, and honorable members availed themselves of the first opportunity that offered to seek from the Attorney-General definite details of the arrangements made. On the 28th ultimo the honorable gentleman was asked in this House the following question : -
Has the Attorney-General, acting on behalf of the Government, concluded an agreement with Messrs. Elder, Smith and Company and Messrs. Gibbs, Bright and Company, under which they will have the exclusive right to engage the charters necessary for the exportation of the wheat gathered during the approaching harvest?
I shall not read the whole of the question, or others that were put on the same subject, since they are already on record. The Attorney-General’s reply was -
The Government have made an agreement with Messrs. Elder, Smith and Company, and Messrs. Gibbs, Bright and Company, with a view to obtaining sufficient freight for the exportation of wheat and other commodities from Australia, flour being included with wheat. In -doing this we have carefully considered the wheat buyers. I had an interview to-day with Messrs. Dreyfus, and one yesterday with Messrs. Darling. Messrs. Elder, Smith and Company, and Messrs. Gibbs, Bright and Company are in daily consultation with those firms. The arrangements which the Government have made include and depend on the heartiest cooperation of every interest and every agency concerned in the harvesting, handling, and transporting of these commodities. . . .
I have every reason to believe, as the result of deliberate inquiries, that the AttorneyGeneral, prior to concluding this arrangement, had not consulted those interests which are primarily concerned in producing wheat in this country, nor those interests concerned in buying it, in arranging for its shipment, and in financing the harvest. The States, we are told, are to be copartners with the Commonwealth in this transaction, but I believe, from subsequent statements made by the AttorneyGeneral, that a full and sufficient conference had not taken place before the making of this arrangement. The Attorney- General, in my opinion, entered into it with an insufficient knowledge of the conditions under which the whole of the har vest has to be handled, and of the various conflicting interests connected with it. I shall not weary the House by going into details, for I know that the Treasurer has an important financial statement to submit, and that engagement necessarily restricts my opportunity of dealing with this matter. The Attorney-General made a statement in this House that he had consulted all the interests concerned, that they were in harmonious co-operation, and that he had appointed the two firms named to act as the exclusive agents of the Commonwealth. “We may take it that, since they were to act on behalf of the Commonwealth, it was intended that they should deal with the whole of the wheat harvest of the Commonwealth, and in view of the Attorney-General’s clear statement that they had been appointed exclusive charterers for Australia we may reasonably assume that he would have required the assent of the State Governments concerned to that arrangement. I now propose to read a deliberate and carefully prepared statement made on behalf of the Victorian Government, one of the partners in this arrangement, by Mr. Hagelthorn, speaking on behalf of the State, in the absence of the Minister of Agriculture, which has an important bearing on the subject. In the Argus of 9th inst., the following paragraph appeared : - ‘
At the conference of Ministers for Agriculture of the four wheat States, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia, which will be held in Melbourne on Friday, a number of questions affecting the disposal of next season’s harvest will be considered. The main subjects to be submitted by the Victorian Minister (Mr. Hutchinson) are: - (1) The supply of cornsacks; (2) transport to the seaboard; (3) storage of grain in bags and, if necessary, in bulk. These are the main questions that affect the States only, but the principal question to be considered by the States, in conjunction with the Commonwealth, is the shipping of the grain. “We come now to the deliberate statement of the Minister - “Tlie present attitude of the Victorian Department,” said the Minister for Public Works (Mr. Hagelthorn) on Saturday, in the absence of Mr. Hutchinson, “ is that, as far as possible, shippers of wheat who have been conducting this business for many years in Australia should still be allowed to “conduct the business without any interference by Government, just as in the case of cornsacks it was decided by Victoria to allow trade to operate through the ordinary channels, and that, as faT as can bc gauged at present, is having the desired results.
There is no reason to suppose that those en–< gaged in the shipping of wheat are less able to handle the business economically and efficiently than they hove in years gone by. In view, however, of the abnormal conditions at present prevailing, the four wheat States and the Commonwealth will no doubt be able to render some help in supplementing the efforts of the exporters in finding shipping space. The financial side of the shipping proposition is of supreme importance, and must be thoroughly thrashed out, involving as it does anything from one and a quarter to two million tons of shipping space, and covering in money probably from five to six millions sterling. The Federal Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes), I understand, will be present -
This clearly indicates that the conference had not been arranged by the AttorneyGeneral - on behalf of the Federal Ministry, and the probabilities are that a permanent committee, representing the Commonwealth and the Ministries of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia, will be appointed, and will act for all in the best interests of the producers.
The preliminaries, to my way of thinking, have not been handled as they deserve to be, having regard to the magnitude of the interests involved. It is difficult to make a pre-harvest estimate, but in the harvest of 1913-14, which was the largest ever garnered in the Commonwealth, about 110,000,000 bushels were gathered. Prompted by the various State Governments, and moved also by a desire to recover lost ground, the agriculturists of the Commonwealth this year have vastly increased the area under cultivation. In Victoria, according to statistics that have been compiled, an additional 1,000,000 acres have been placed under cultivation. The prospects are uniformly good in every State, and it is therefore reasonable to assume that we shall have this year a record harvest. Let us put it down for the sake of an approximation at 120,000,000 bushels, and then consider how this harvest will be distributed. Let us look, first of all, to the needs of this country. With a population of approximately 5,000,000 people, Australia will require for home consumption, allowing 6 bushels per head, 30,000,000 bushels. Approximately the area cultivated each year in the Commonwealth is 10,000,000 acres, and allowing for seed purposes one bushel to the acre we account for a further 10,000,000 bushels. In view of our recent experience, of which I hope we shall never have a recurrence, the people of Australia will naturally desire that a sufficient reserve of wheat should be retained to carry us well over until the following season declares itself, and if we allow for 20,000,000 bushels being so retained we have a total of 60,000,000 bushels, or one-half of the estimated crop leaving us with a possible exportable surplus of 60,000,000 bushels.
– Allowing for seed wheat?’
– Yes, I have allowed for that. Taking the standard price of 10s. per bag, which is not excessive, as the price that will be obtainable, we shall have then an exportable surplus of £30,000,000 worth of wheat. My contention is that, having regard to the magnitude of the interests involved, and to the fact that the export of wheat will be a tremendous factor in the successful financing of our war operations, the AttorneyGeneral has entered too precipitately into this arrangement. When he jumped into it he had at the time an insufficient knowledge of the great disturbance and dislocation of trade that would result from his action. Since the first step taken by him, however, he has very much mended his hand. In many respects his mind has undergone modifications, and the task before him is not likely to be the easy task which he thought it would prove. In answer to an interjection made a few moments ago by the Minister of Home Affairs, I assure the House that the only interest I have in this matter is a direct interest as a wheat-grower. Nor am I concerned with anybody who has any other interest.
– You do not yet know what the agreement is.
– I am capable of reading what appears in Hansard and the press, and I have made probably more inquiries than the honorable member has. The Attorney-General has told us that the Government, through the agency of two private firms, have undertaken’ the exclusive chartering of the Australian wheat crop, and if we require confirmation of that statement we have it in the records of this House. Further than that, a cablegram from England discloses the fact that immediately these two firms were appointed by the Commonwealth to control the wheat harvest they proclaimed themselves on the great wheat exchanges of the Old World as the elect of the Commonwealth. I have three substantial reasons for opposing the attitude adopted fey the Attorney-General in this matter. First of all, I claim, with all deference, that not having said that this stepwas a war measure, or that it was prompted or requested by the Imperial authorities, he has no statutory authority for directly purchasing on behalf of the Commonwealth through these two agencies the freights that may be necessary. I question very much if the statutory authority vests in the Attorney- General as such to purchase freights for the Commonwealth.
– The Commonwealth’s power over sea commerce is plenary.
– The Commonwealth’s power over sea commerce does not vest in the Attorney-General the right to exclude any person from chartering freight anywhere outside Australia and engaging in legitimate trade in the Common- wealth. To-day the export of wheat from Australia is disallowed, but I venture to say that the Attorney- General will not contend that when there is a great surplus of wheat he can discriminate between the man who can ship and the man who cannot ship, or dictate as to the boats in which he. shall ship and the boats in which he shall not ship. In the ordinary course of events the embargo on wheat export must be lifted, and the Attorney-General will not set up the argument that he will then have a right to dictate as to the vessels in which persons shall or shall not ship grain. My second reason for opposing the agreement is that in selecting two favoured firms to the entire exclusion of their trade competitors, the AttorneyGeneral has taken a course which I believe to be subversive of public policy and detrimental to the best interests of the community. I ask the Attorney-General, in all fairness, why these two firms were selected, and why the whole of the shippers were not consulted, and asked to select from amongst themselves two firms who might, in the opinion of the entire trade, possess the organization, the knowledge, and the experience in securing charters that would fit them above all others to undertake this work. I regard the selection of these two firms as a form of favoritism that is very bad indeed in the public life of the country. May I ask the Attorney-General whether this is the first transaction the Commonwealth has had with these firms? Was this agreement initiated by the Attorney-General, or was it suggested to him by the firms themselves? As the result of honest trade and competition there are established in this community many shipping firms, all of whom are reputable. The two firms under discussion I believe to be entirely reputable. I have Had business relations with Elder, Smith and Company, and I have found them in business honorable, straightforward, and satisfactory. But I ask the Attorney- General to state the reason why the two firms mentioned are the elect of the Commonwealth in respect of the wheat charters. I find that the Attorney-General is to be asked by an honorable member in this House whether Elder, Smith and Company were agents for Beer, Sondheimer and Company, of Frankfort, prior to the outbreak of the war. What the answer of the Attorney-General may be I do not know.
– And you do not wait for it.
– There is no necessity for me to wait for the Attorney-General’s answer in this matter, for I find in the Shipping and Commerce Journal - the motto of which, by the way, is, “The Great Objective, the Advancement of Australia “ - dated 1st October, 1914, two months after the declaration of war, an advertisement by Elder, Smith, and Company. That advertisement sets out the capital, business, and agencies of the company, and declares the firm to be agents for Beer, Sondheimer, and Company, of Frankfort. Therefore, I need not wait for information fromthe Attorney- General, but I think the honorable gentleman owes it to the community to explain why a firm, which two months after the declaration of war announced that it was still an agent for an enemy firm, has been made the elect of the Commonwealth. My third reason for objecting to the arrangement which the Government have made is that I believe it to be an unnecessary interference by the Commonwealth, and that it practically disturbs the wheat trade in all its ramifications. I take this view on behalf of the producers - that they are satisfied so long as they have the free marketsof the world for their surplus production. They are always prepared to pay the world’s price for freight. My belief unequivocallyis that no arrangement which may be made in Australia, either by the Government or anybody else, will have the effect of bearing down the wheat
– I never did anything of the sort.
– I have not said that the honorable gentleman did. If he did not hear what I said, I am’ sorry. I repeat that the Attorney-General has assumed a very illogical position, seeing that within a few months he will be before this country advancing reasons why combinations of capital are harmful to the community, and affirming that they ruin competition.
– When they are not regulated.
– I will come to their regulation presently. Here we find the Attorney-General forming his first wheat charter vend - his own pet creation. We heard him make the announcement in this House that these shipping agents are not acting as .charterers for the Commonwealth as a business transaction on business lines. Is it, then, a matter of philanthropy, or of charity, or of patriotism on their part? Then the AttorneyGeneral interpreted to the House the commission under which these firms are operating. As is well known in the trade, full commission of 5 per cent, is allowed by the ship-owners. Three and three-quarters per cent, of that commission goes to the charterers of the ships, and the remaining lj per cent, finds its way in the ordinary course to the shipping broker.
– Will this arrangement make freight cheaper or dearer to the farmer?
– When I have finished my remarks the honorable member will be in a better position to judge.
– The honorable member has not seen the agreement.
– I am interpreting the agreement in the light of the At;torneyGeneral’s statement. He has declared that these two firms are not acting in this matter on business lines.
– Not from business motives.
– The AttorneyGeneral’s words are here.
– I intended to have said lj per cent., but I said subsequently and many times that these arrangements have not been finalized. Nor have they.
– The honorable gentleman told us that they were the arrangements under which he had entered into the bargain.
– I did nothing of the sort. I was speaking of the arrangement that was commonly made, and I said, over and over again, that the arrangement in this case had not been finalized.
– For the benefit of honorable members, I desire to show what have been the freight charges from the Old Country during the past three seasons, excluding the season of drought. In 1911-12 the sailing freight from Australia worked out at an average of 25s. lOd. per ton, and the steam freight at 29s. 5d. per ton. In 1912-13 the freights were 33s. 5d. and 39s. lOd. per ton respectively.
– The war makes no difference, does it?
– I wish the Minister of Home Affairs would allow me to proceed. In 1913-14 the freight charge for sailing ships was 31s. 5d. per ton ; and for steam-ships, 31s. 2d. per ton to the end of January. In April, 1904, a curious position was witnessed, in that the freights declined to 21s. 5d. per ton, owing to a heavy fall in the River Plate rates consequent upon heavy rains in that country. Now, if lj per cent, to the ordinary broker is a fair commission when freights are at the figures I have quoted, what is a fair charge for exclusive brokers when they are between 70s. and 80s. per ton?
– I have told the honorable member again and again - and he must accept my declaration - that these arrangements were not, and are not, finalized, nor do they cover the whole ground.
– I accept the assurance of the Attorney-General that they are not final; but I must also accept his prior statement that these rates represent the arrangement under which the wheat was to be carried.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I ask leave of the House to continue my remarks.
– Order ! I would point out that there is a specific standing order dealing with this matter; but, of course, it is within the competence of the House to extend the time allotted to the honorable member. Is it the pleasure of the House that the honorable member be granted an extension of five minutes?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
– I come now to the crux of the matter : Is this arrangement, however it may be finalized - seeing that it will disturb the ordinary and regular course of wheat operations in this country - in the interests of the producers? I challenge the Attorney-General to say that it represents anything more than a pious hope on his part that it will do so. Crediting him with the best possible motives, I tell him that the shipping interests on the other side of the world determine freights, and that any arrangement he may make within Australia will not result in reducing the world’s freight charges. Two of the greatest wheat shippers in this country, Messrs. Dreyfus and Messrs. Darling, have their own arrangements for chartering in other parts of the world. Other operators in Australia employ some of the keenest wheat charterers it is possible to get anywhere. Of my own knowledge, I know what clever men they are. I do not believe that any arrangement the Government can make will take the place of the ordinary trade channels. I tell the AttorneyGeneral that it will be impossible to get the buyers back, excepting by a joint undertaking by the Commonwealth and the States. Much, of course, depends upon the ability of big firms to make a successful bargain in the charter of tonnage. Two forces operate in this connexion - their ability to sell their cargoes abroad, and to outstrip each other in the matter of freight. The Attorney-General is asking the lion and the lamb of the trade to lie down together. He is seeking to disturb the arrangements which make for competition. The action of the Government has brought the -wheat buyers together in conference in self defence, and has forced them to make common cause. The Government will never be able to restore that keen competition that has been the life of the trade, and the one protection to the farmers, always giving them a fair margin. If the price fixed is persisted in, it means dividing a war fortune of between £75,000 and £S0,000 between two firms; but I am pleased to hear the Ministerial statement this afternoon that it will not be insisted on. That will mean some relief to others concerned. Have not those who have for years successfully carried through the financing of the wheat export business no vested interests? Have their employees none? Have the export charterers and their staffs no interest? If they had won their positions in the Public Service, no Minister of the Crown would dare to tell them that their livelihood was gone, and that they must stand aside because the exigencies of the case demanded it. This is only another of those cases where State interference in the broadest sense may dislocate trade, but can never restore it. Every State which, in this country, has attempted to regulate shortages in production has failed. I believe blunders have been made practically by every State. Later, when the Attorney-General is putting his referenda proposals before the country he may say, “ On previous occasions the charge made against us was that our Socialistic ideals were experimental.”
– Is all this rot in order?
– I claim that this arrangement disturbs private arrangements and private trade, putting the State in place of private enterprise. This will be another argument used by the AttorneyGeneral later on in urging that the State can better control these matters.
– Order ! The honorable member is now going beyond the question before the Chair.
– I shall not pursue that aspect of the case at present. Has the Attorney-General taken into full cognizance the fact that wool is a competitor with wheat for freight space? That freight is fixed in Melbourne, probably through London arrangements; but it is fixed here every year. It may be claimed also by the Government that Che arrangement for freight space for meat has been entirely satisfactory. The AttorneyGeneral has had a conference with Mr. Owen Cox in the matter; but entire satisfaction has by no means been given in the allocation of space. I believe that the arrangement will be unworkable. It will be impossible for this one channel to amicably and satisfactorily allocate between the various interests in the different States the space that will be ordered or required. The arrangement is not in the best interests of the country, and the Attorney-General will serve the country well if, before it is too late, he attends on Friday next the Conference called by the States, and puts the matter on a better business basis than it is at present. I offer no excuse for bringing the question forward. What I have done I have done, in the public interest. If we are to have fair competition for the coming harvest, there must be as little State interference as possible, and the freest possible flow of trade. The Commonwealth and States, should seek only to give additional facilities for the securing of freight, and not attempt to “ collar “ it or create a combine in connexion with’ it.
– The honorable member for Wannon, who was, no doubt, actuated in taking so unusual a step by the sincerest desire to help the producer in particular, and the country in general, has taken the very worst way to do it. I can conceive of no better way to advertise the circumstances m which Australia finds itself, and thus hamper Commonwealth and States, which, after all, have some right to speak with authority in this matter, since they represent all sections of the community, than that which the honorable member has taken. He has criticised the proposals of the Government without understanding them, and without even knowing what they are. He has condemned our action ; but he does not in the least know what that action is. The one word of commendation which he saw fit to utter in regard to the Government proposal is that these two firms are reputable firms, but that one of them has been undoubtedly connected with the Germans. If the honorable member had commended us a little more, we should have been utterly undone. The only part of his speech which I thoroughly appreciated was that in which he left the question of wheat freights and launched into a denunciation of Socialism and the referenda - subjects on which he was ap parently much more at home, but on which he knows even less than of the Government’s policy on wheat freights. He has hatched this afternoon the monstrous egg which he has been so long incubating, and which I besought him to sit on a little longer. However, he declined to do so, thus preventing the Prime Minister making his financial statement. He told the country that we are in a very parlous state, because the Commonwealth dares to lay its iconoclastic hand upon vested interests. There are in this country great interests which, apparently, we must in no circumstances touch, even to benefit the producer. Yet the honorable member says he is the friend of the producer. The honorable member said it was by competition between these great vested interests that the farmer got a fair price; that the proposal that the Commonwealth and States should act jointly for the benefit of the producer would have the effect of preventing that competition, and reducing the price that the farmer will get for his wheat. His statement, boiled down, is that the endeavour to secure the co-operation of every interest in this country will be to the detriment of the farmer. I put that statement on one side as too childish to consider. Of course it is abundantly clear, as the honorable member knows, that the wheat shippers are not going to hand over their interests to any common pool, but propose to carry on their own business in their own way, so far as they are allowed to do it, each getting as much business as he can for himself. I come now to the question of freight. The honorable member complains that we made a bad bargain, that we ought to have made no bargain at all, but should have left things alone, for by leaving things alone, so he says, freights would be easier. Shortly, that is his argument. It is one that will not bear a moment’s investigation. If any one will consider for a moment the present position of the freight market, and bear in mind that from 20 to 25 per cent, of the world’s mercantile marine is now out of action, either interned, at the bottom of the sea, or engaged in transport work, he will realize what would probably happen if nothing at all were done to organize freight. The honorable member quoted freight rates at 25s. some years ago. I was unable to see the relevance of his quotation. Does the honorable member not realize that if wheat were at the price it was two or three weeks ago in London, and freights were at the rate they were at that time, the farmer could not hope to get more than 3s. per bushel for his wheat? Does not the honorable member understand that the whole question is one of freight?
– I do.
– Does the honorable member not understand that in the freight market, as in every other market of the world, the more operators there are the higher will be the rates? I take his own argument. He says that the more competitors there are for the farmers’ wheat the higher will be the price. Does he not see that if there is only one operator in the freight market it is absurd to say that that will make for higher freights ?
– I say you are powerless to alter it.
– Let me quote a concrete case as set out in the Argus of yesterday, and based on the opinion of the London Times -
The Times of June 30 states that freight rates and the price of grain have during the past few months been moving strictly in unison. When grain was rising in price, freights also advanced, and lately, when grain was falling heavily in this country, freights likewise declined. They dropped because, with wheat markets in so weak a condition, there was no inducement to merchants to charter tonnage, and now, with the price of grain holding its own again, freights are once again firmer. Fifty shillings a ton was yesterday paid for the voyage from River Plate ports to this country, which compares with 42s. 6d. accepted a few days ago. The recent movements show how quickly freight markets answer to any falling off and increase in demand, and, incidentally, that there is no “ ring “ in the cargo steam-ship market. It was competition among the merchants themselves which forced the freights up to their extraordinary level, and the most natural preventive of any similar movements in future would be a perfectly cool attitude among the merchants.
That is a plain statement in the commercial columns of the Argus, dealing with a principle as old as the hills, that the more buyers the higher the price. This is a fundamental principle that operated long before our time and which will last until long after. The Commonwealth is acting on that principle, and is organizing for freights through one channel. All sellers of freight must deal through that one channel: Thus we have reversed the position; there are many sellers, but only one buyer. We are acting on behalf of all the producers of Australia, and in their interests, when we say that there shall be only one buyer of freights so far as wheat is concerned, and that that buyer shall be the Government, representing the whole of the people of Australia. In the face of this the honorable member says that we have not given consideration to the interests of the fanner. He utterly fails to appreciate the danger in which the farmers stand, for while it is quite true, as the Times says, that the freight market rises and falls with the value of the commodity which is to he carried, we must remember that our wheat represents hardly 5 per cent. of the world’s requirements. We must secure freight at a reasonable rate and in sufficient quantity, and the arrangements we have made will effect that if anything will. I have no extravagant opinions on the matter, because, no matter what we might do, we cannot place on the surface of the water the 25 per cent. of the shipping that has gone. But, acting on behalf of the whole of the people of Australia, and on behalf of those who have wheat to sell, we can provide one channel, and secure freight on the most reasonable terms.
– Will the Minister answer one question ?
– Order! The honorable member has already spoken.
– I want to say, further, that in every step we have taken we have endeavoured not to disturb any existing agencies or interests.
– But you have done it.
– We have always sought the active and cordial co-operation of every agency.
– My complaint is that you did not do so in time.
– Of course it is inevitable that some gentlemen would never be satisfied, and I do not hesitate to say that one particular interest is responsible for all the noise that we hear abroad to-day in connexion with this particular matter.
– I deny that.
– I want to point out that when the State Government in Victoria appointed one particular seller nothing was heard by way of criticism, but when the Commonwealth steps in to do a service on behalf of the community, we have an avalanche of criticism from gentlemen who profess to regard this as a blow at their vested interests and the right of freedom to trade. The fact is we are proceeding along sound business lines. We are endeavouring to secure, and we are securing, the active co-operation of all the agencies interested in this matter in all the States of Australia. I had an interview to-day with the chairman of the Overseas Shipping Committee of New South Wales, and he assured me of the cordial co-operation of that body. There has been a meeting in this city of the Overseas Shipping Companies, and they also have approved of the arrangements which we have made.
– They are not the persons concerned. They are not the producers.
– It is proposed that the representatives of the various States shall meet on Friday to consider other aspects of this matter. But I want to make it clear that the arrangements made in regard to freight, .whereby all freights shall proceed through the Commonwealth agencies, is definitely fixed. I had the positive assurance on Wednesday or Thursday of last week, from Sir Alexander Peacock, the Premier of Victoria, that no attempt will be made by Victoria to disturb the arrangement already arrived at. Sir Alexander informed me that he had no doubts as to the wisdom of the course adopted by the Commonwealth Government. The honorable member thought fit to say something about Elder. Smith, and Company.
– I &aid nothing against them personally.
– They require no championship from me. If I may say so, without offence, it was a very contemptible thing for the honorable member to do. If he was going to tell the story, he should have told the whole story. The whole story is that when the war broke out amongst all the firms that were tied neck and crop to the Germans, Elder, Smith, and Company was the only firm that had the manliness, courage, and decency to cut themselves wholly free. Whilst this firm was never tied to Beer, Sondheimer, and Company, they held a number of shares in the Elder Metal Company, and they went into voluntary liquidation at the very first opportunity. Honorable members are aware that I have been diligently pegging away at this matter almost from the moment that the present Government came into office. This firm gave me no trouble whatever. They did not have to be invited to do what every one of the firms should have done. They cut themselves away from their German interests at a loss to themselves of many thousands of pounds. They incurred heavy obligations which at the end of the war they may have to meet. They did not hesitate to do so. After what the honorable member for Wannon has said, I think it is only fair that these facts should be made known. Having heard what I hav, had to say, I think the honorable member should accept the position as I state it.
– Hear, hear.
– There may be something to be said against Elder, Smith, and Company, but as a firm I know nothing against them, and the honorable member did not dare to advance anything. I never before met one man connected with these firms. I am perfectly satisfied that both firms are firms of good reputation. Neither were known to me previously, but I have never met one representative of any shipping firm who has not said that these are firms of good standing, and firms to be relied upon. I propose to rely on these firms. At this juncture I believe that they will do what is fair and proper by the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Leave to continue granted.
– I have only a word or two to add. AN to the rate of remuneration, that is not fixed definitely. It is not the rate mentioned by the honorable member for Wannon.
– It was mentioned by the honorable gentleman himself.
– No, I did not say that that was the rate.
– I have the honorable gentleman’s statement here.
– The honorable member may turn up my statements until he is black in the face, but that will not alter the fact.
– I have quoted only the records of the House.
Mi-. HUGHES. - When the rate is fixed, I shall put the whole agreement on the table, and will afford the House an opportunity to express its opinion about it.
Mr. RICHARD FOSTER (Wakefield) £4.25]. - I intend to say only a very few words, for the obvious reason that the agreement is not before us. I would greatly have preferred that any comment to be made upon this matter should have been held over until the agreement is before honorable members. When this matter was last before the House the statement made by the Minister, in reply to a question of mine, was such as to give me the impression that the business was practically concluded. He said that he hoped to be able to lay the agreement on the table that week. My attitude in this matter is not at all unfriendly to the Government I believe that they have done the right thing, but I am not convinced that it has been done in the right way. I am satisfied that, under existing abnormal conditions, it would not have been good business to permit ten or a dozen people in different parts of the world to make offers for charters, one better than the other. It is in the interests of the producer that I speak on this question; and it was essential, in the interests of the producer, that there should be a concentrated authority that would be in a position to get the best conditions of charter. The better the conditions of charter, the greater the likelihood of better prices for the wheat-grower. The Attorney-General, in his reply, has stated that he has not interfered with any existing interests in this matter. On that statement I join issue with the honorable gentleman right away, because he has negotiated with shipping firms that are outside the wheat trade altogether. Let me say that these firms are both of the very highest repute.
– No one has challenged their repute.
– I was sorry that the honorable member should have made the reference he did to Elder, Smith and Company, a firm that I have known for thirty-five years.
– I merely quoted from a question on the business paper.
– There is not a firm in Australia with a higher reputation for business integrity than this particular firm.
– No one challenges its integrity.
– I was glad to hear the Attorney-General’s statement in that regard. I am sure that every one in South Australia- is convinced that Elder, Smith and Company have clean hands in connexion with the German trading question. My objection from the very beginning is that the AttorneyGeneral did what he says he has not done. He must have done so unwittingly, because I am satisfied that he has been prompted by the best intentions. As a matter of fact, the honorable gentleman has interfered with existing interests. He has gone outside the wheat trade, and those concerned in the shipment of wheat, to two outside shipping firms that have never been recognised as operating in the business of the transport of wheat oversea. I regret exceedingly that the honorable gentleman did not do in the beginning what I hope he will do before this week is out, and that is, call representatives of the wheat buyers of the Commonwealth together and consult them. He should ask the representatives of the wheat trade in each State to send, say, two delegates to Melbourne to consult him in regard to this matter. If that course had been followed in the beginning, there would not have been the unrest that there is at present, particularly in the wheatgrowing States of the Commonwealth. The Attorney-General has told us what he proposes to do with the 5 per cent, discount on charters which is always payable when a vessel is loaded. He has said that per cent, is to be given to the two firms in question. This percentage has been for many years the recognised charter broker’s charge. That is so when the charter broker has had to look around for business to sell the charters he has obtained; but when this percentage is to be paid to two firms that have been given the monopoly of the wheat transport business of the Commonwealth, it represents a very handsome payment indeed. I think the honorable gentleman told us the other day that the other 3 per cent, would go to the shippers who obtained their charters from the two exclusive firms named. I am concerned to know how much of that 3 per cent, is going to get into the hands of the wheat-growers in the shape of better prices for their wheat. I am aware that it is very popular to condemn the biggest wheat firms of ‘the Commonwealth, but those who understand the matter from practical dealing with these big firms will say, what I say now without fear of contradiction, that very often a very considerable proportion of the 5 per cent, discount goes into the hands of the farmers in the shape of better prices for their wheat. The Minister has disturbed existing interests because at least two firms, possibly more, operating in Australia practically do not deal with brokers for charters. It is in London where charters are engaged, because it is there that the wheat is sold. In London, those two firms have, in connexion with machinery for chartering purposes alone, a secret service by which they know the position of nearly every bottom on the ocean. It happens very often that a big operator in his London house, if .he cannot obtain the price he wants for a shipment of wheat, can get the man to pay a trifle more, or get the charterer, who is on the spot, to take less. With that kind of machinery in London he can very often make a deal which would fall through if he had to cable to Australia. A firm I know of - I do not propose to mention the name - has its machinery in London, and at a considerable annual cost the machinery is kept going. But under this arrangement there will not be anything for that expert piece of machinery for chartering, and chartering alone, to do for twelve months. However, I do not intend to go into any details. The Attorney-General told us on the first occasion, in answer to questions, that he had the approval of several State Governments, which he named, and which I think included all the wheat-growing States except, possibly, Western Australia, as he had not an opportunity to conclude an arrangement with that State. It seems very strange indeed, if such were the fact on that occasion, that there is to be a conference of Ministers of Agriculture from the wheat-growing States held this week, and that the president of the Associated Chambers of Commerce in Melbourne has invited the chamber in each wheatgrowing State to send two members to meet in conference here on Friday. I take it that each Chamber of Commerce will select from its members two men in the wheat trade. If, as the Minister assured us to-day, the only thing concluded has been the employment of two firms as exclusive agents - if there has been no other arrangement absolutely concluded, I urge the honorable and learned gentleman to meet in conference the men who will represent the trade interests, and put every phase of the question before him. If the trading interests are thoroughly satisfied, I consider that an arrangement such as has been indicated by the Attorney-General will be for the benefit of the Commonwealth. And, while a wrong step may have been taken which cannot be retraced, I believe that the wheat-buyers will be patriotic enough to co-operate, because without earnest and sincere co-operation this scheme cannot be as successful as it ought to. Still, I regret that every penny of the discount of 5 per cent, is not to filter through the ordinary channels - which must be the best and most expert machinery - that have handled the wheat business of the Commonwealth for the last forty or fifty years, and has not only shifted the surplus to the Old World, but gone a very long way to assist in financing the harvest. The effect of the action of the AttorneyGeneral, instead of checking the middleman, has been to introduce into this business a second middleman with vested interests, if we are to talk in this connexion about such interests.
.- I hope that as a result of this discussion the Attorney-General will not conclude the agreement until the conference of State Ministers of Agriculture, to assemble on Friday next, has finished its deliberations. Before making up my mind as to whether the agreement requires to be discussed here, I would like a copy to be tabled, so that I might be able to ascertain really what are its provisions. In the circumstances, seeing that we have had from the honorable and learned gentleman to-day an admission that certain details have yet to be settled, I think that he might well wait until the conference has been held before concluding the agreement with the agents he has appointed.
– He promised in his speech that he would submit the matter, and take the judgment of the House on it.
– Yes, but I hope that before putting his signature to the document the Attorney-General will wait to hear the views of the Ministers of Agriculture, who, I believe, have already entered into communication with other interests in addition to the shipping interests. There are three important elements to be recognised, namely, the provision of sufficient space for taking away the grain, and the large interests associated with the purchase of the grain, and its consignment, and the growers. “We have shipping agents who sometimes arrange for shipping space. “We also have intermediary brokers who arrange space with the shipping companies on behalf of the shippers of wheat. In my opinion, those various interests should have been consulted before a final agreement was come to.
– That is the whole of the trouble.
– The AttorneyGeneral has already assured us that the whole of the important interests involved in the export of our surplus grain have been -consulted. But in his speech to-day he certainly did not satisfy the House that he had consulted the whole of them. Before we can hope to get a combination strong and united enough to secure a sufficient amount of space at the lowest possible price, and to regulate the export of grain, it is important to see that those interests and the machinery for export, which has been growing for ti considerable time, are brought into unison. I believe it is highly desirable that the Commonwealth, which has the control of exports, should make a definite arrangement for securing sufficient space for the transport of our surplus grain. I understand that at this early stage, before the volume of. the harvest can be ascertained, certain overtures have been made to various interested quarters. The danger is that we may have in the various- States a competition “between the shippers of grain that will have the effect of putting up the prices without any guarantee that we shall get the necessary amount of space. The first thing to be considered in connexion with the export of grain is the provision of sufficient shipping space. We know that one of the results of the war has been the curtailment of shipping space, and we have to face what may be a record harvest with less than normal shipping space for its export. Next, it is the duty of the Government to see that space is obtained at the lowest rates possible, so that our farmers may obtain a reasonable return for their labour. Before an important arrangement such as that which has been come to by the Government was made, those largely interested in the purchasing and handling of grain - as well as the city brokers - should have been taken into the confidence of the Attorney-Gene ral. The honorable members for “Wannon and Wakefield pointed out that that could have been done best by the creation of a committee representing all important interests. The loss of a week or two which that would have meant would have made very little difference. The AttorneyGeneral should have conferred with the Ministers of Agriculture of the States in which wheat is grown for export, and should then have consulted the wheat purchasers and shippers, and the ship-owners or their agents.
– What has the Indian Government done with the Indian harvest ?
– That is a matter with which I am not now concerned. I am not discussing the subject as a party question. The primary producing interests of Australia are an important factor in this war.
– It* is the dealers with whom I am concerned.
– Any one purchasing grain in Australia must base his price on the London price, less charges and freights. My complaint is that the AttorneyGeneral has appointed two firms to be the exclusive agents of the Commonwealth, and that he has done this without consulting all the interests which could have informed him as to the true position, and would have enabled him to secure the best bargain possible for the country and for the growers of wheat.
– Does the honorable member mean that the Attorney-General should have consulted other shipping agents?
– I am inclined to think that shipping agents are not the best persons to approach to secure low freights. Messrs. Elder, Smith, & Co., and Messrs. Gibbs, Bright- & Co. are reputable firms, but they are agents for shipping companies, and such agents are not the best persons to go to to obtain the lowest rates of freight, though they may be the best persons to go to to secure space. To my mind it, would have been better to go to brokers who are independent of the shipping companies.
– We might then have had to pay two commissions - one for securing freight, and the other for selling the grain.
– Two commissions would not have to be paid. The practice has been for the shipping companies to allow so much per cent, on the quantity of space secured. Whatever double commission might have been possible, had the procedure which I suggest been followed, is possible now.
– Would not the brokers have had to approach the shipping agents ?
– Yes, but shipping agents are not the best persons to approach to secure low freights. The AttorneyGeneral has acted without sufficiently consulting all the interests involved, though, no doubt, it is the desire of the Government to protect those interests. By giving to two shipping agents a monopoly affecting a very large freight, the Government is practically ruining shipping brokers who have spent their lives in building up their businesses, and who should, with the other interests involved, have been consulted. I hope that on Friday the Attorney-General will consult with the Ministers of Agriculture regarding the agreement, and that if a wider consultation is possible, he will consult also with the representatives of all the interests concerned, so that an agreement may be arrived at which will have the hearty approval of the growers of wheat, and of those who control the machinery for the effective marketing of wheat in London.
.- To my mind, the action of the honorable member for Wannon in moving the adjournment this afternoon is premature, and also ill-advised, because we are waiting for an important financial statement from the Prime Minister which the country desires to hear. The honorable member for Wannon knew nothing of the terms of the agreement about, which he spoke, and every remark that he claimed to found on statements made by the AttorneyGeneral was contradicted by that honorable and learned gentleman. The honorable member for Wannon must, I think, have felt some regret on finding himself “ left,” if I may use the word, by the two honorable members who succeeded him on his side. The honorable member for Wimmera took up a very fair attitude - and it is how the matter appeals to me - when he said that the first consideration of the wheat-growers is space for the transport of their produce abroad.
– Which is not guaranteed under the arrangement; and it cannot be guaranteed.
– That, however, is the first consideration. I represent a wheat-growing district of equal importance with that represented by the honorable member for Wannon; but, unlike him, my first interest is in the real producers of wheat - the men who grow it, and wish to get it away. I am not concerned so very much about the brokers’ interests.
– That is a failure to accept my statement.
– The honorable - member left me in doubt as to whether it was the real farmers who took the first place in his mind, or the men who farm the farmer.
– The brokers !
– It seemed to me to be an appeal for the brokers. I do not desire to misquote the honorable member for Wimmera, but I understood him to say that the first thing the Attorney-General should have done was to consult those who have always taken a leading part in the transport of our primary products.
– To take advantage of the ordinary machinery.
– Yet the first persons mentioned by the honorable member were the brokers.
– That is only begging the question; I enumerated the whole of those concerned, from Ministers of Agriculture right down to the buyers of wheat themselves.
– But the honorable member led off by referring to the brokers, about whom the honorable member for Wannon also had a great deal to say.
– This is quibbling!
– As one representing a district where a great deal of wheat is produced, I am concerned about those who grow the wheat, and whose first care is to get this wheat to the markets of the world; and the first object of the Attorney-General should be to secure the requisite space.
– Which he has not done.
– The AttorneyGeneral has definitely told us that the arrangements are. almost complete
– To do the best to secure space.
– To do the best. The honorable member for Wannon did net condemn the Attorney-
General for what he has done, but condemned him because he did not go to another set of people, who, I think, will be cut out by the arrangement made by the Commonwealth.
– I did nothing of the kind; I suggested leaving the course free. The honorable member misrepresents me.
-The arrangement will, I think, secure to the producers available space, and cut out a number of undesirables, who frequently stand between the producers and the consumers. That is the virtue, I take it, in the arrangement; and it is evidently a virtue that is disagreeable to some people.
– You must remember that there will still be brokers - that both these firms are brokers.
– I am as much at liberty to anticipate what is going to be done as the honorable member for “Wannon is to anticipate something that is evidently not going to be done. The position, as pointed out by the AttorneyGeneral, is that we will be short in our mercantile marine to the extent of 25 per cent., and, considering that this is a time of war, I cannot see the object of the honorable member for Wannon in enumerating the freights for the last five or six years.
– To show that the rate of commission is exorbitant.
– There, can be no analogy between a time of peace and an abnormal time like the present, when there must be great restrictions on our producers in getting their wheat and wool away. That is the one problem that agitates the minds of our producers now, and the Commonwealth Government have come forward and declared that they are not going to leave the producers to be “victimized, or in danger of being victimized, because of the restricted accommodation. I can see immense possibilities under the proposed arrangement. We shall be able to put our transports at the disposal of our producers.
– That would have been done in any case.
– Then we have a number of interned enemy vessels which may be made available. We know exactly how many bottoms we have as between interned vessels and transports, and, consequently, the Attorney-General has been saved the trouble of seeking much information that the honorable member for Wannon suggests he should obtain from brokers and agents. The Government are in a position to tell the producers that they will be saved from the results of a position which would have meant a great increase in freights and serious loss. We do not know exactly what the arrangement is, but, with the honorable member for Wimmera, I express the hope that it will not be finally settled until an assurance is given to the producers that the most available space at the lowest possible cost will be secured.
– That is all we ask.
– That is the object of ray action to-day.
– But I cannot follow the honorable member for Wannon when he points out the sources to which the Attorney-General should have gone.
– I told the AttorneyGeneral to leave the matter alone.
– It is easy in a time like this, when questions of the kind are under discussion, to pose as the champion of the farmers. Something happened not long ago which vitally concerned the farmers in a very detrimental way. The Price of Foods Board in Victoria fixed the price of wheat at 4s. 9d., and immediately after the State elections that Board was wiped out, with the result that the farmers who had sold at that . price had to buy back from speculators at nearly double. I never heard the honorable member for Wannon condemn the State Government for its action.
– I did so here in the House.
– Then there is hope for the honorable member.
– The reason the honorable member for Wannon condemned the State Government was that he had sold his own wheat at 4s. 9d.
– I also condemned the Labour Government of New South Wale3 for similar action.
– On that occasion I did not hear the honorable member backed up by any great number of honorable members on his own side, and this, I suppose, was because the action in Victoria was that of a Liberal Government.
– Order !
– I shall not further pursue that line of argument. When the Commonwealth Government does take action, the honorable member for Wannon, before he knows the terms of the agreement, poses as the champion of the farmers.I am not less sympathetic than he is with the farmers, and I conceive the agreement may possibly mean that the farmers will not be fleeced as they have often been fleeced in the past.
.- It is to be regretted that this motion has been submitted. With the exception of the Attorney-General, there is no honorable member who knows what the agreement is.
– We have the statements made in the House.
– But whatever the agreement may be, it has not done away with the middleman, but has created what I may call a super-middleman, who will have to treat with other firms whose special object it has been for years past to obtain freights. The ships which will be available to the Government after the matter of sending recruits away has been dealt with will be increased.
– Order ! The time allotted for the debate under the Sessional Orders has expired. I desire at this stage to direct attention to a practice that does not appear to me to be a very desirable one, but that seems to be growing in the House. The standing order dealing with a debate like that now concluded stipulates that each member who speaks shall be allocated a certain time for his speech. If a member has desired to go beyond that time, under the practice to which I refer, leave has usually been granted to him. That is a violation of the Standing Orders, and it seems to me that sooner or later trouble will be caused if the practice is persisted in. Now that the matter is under notice, I desire to say that if members wish the period allowed to them under the Standing Orders to be extended, they must take the proper course of moving the suspension of the Standing Orders, and the motion must be carried by a statutory majority.
Debate interrupted under standing order 119.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Accidents and Fatalities
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– I lay on the table of the House , a statement giving particulars of accidents on the East- West railway, and of compensation in each case. It will be seen that compensation has been approved in fourteen cases - three being in the eastern, and eleven in the western division. The particulars are as follow : -
In addition, a number of employees have been granted 50 per cent. of their average weekly earnings in the case of minor in juries, as provided by clause 1 (b) of the first schedule of the Commonwealth Workmen’s Compensation Act 1912.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– In the momentary absence of the Minister of External Affairs may I say that the answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The Public Service Commissioner has furnished the following replies : -
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The whole question of stores for the Department of Home Affairs is under consideration, also how far it is possible for the various Federal Departments to co-operate in purchasing stores. A decision is not likely to be arrived at immediately, as Mr. Anderson is now inquiring into the methods of various Departments.
Stocks in Hand.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he have further inquiries made as to the approximate value of the stock in hand at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory, stated to be £111,000 in value, as, according to the evidence of the manager on the value of material in each rifle,£ 111,000 would provide material for the factory working one shift for eight years, whereas it was stated in evidence that there was only sufficient material on hand some three months ago to keep going eight or nine months ?
– The Prime Minister consulted the Minister of Defence with regard to the question asked by the honorable member. The Minister of Defence is of opinion that information of the nature sought should be regarded as confidential. If the honorable member so desires, it will be made available to him confidentially.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
The following papers were presented : -
Steamship Service to Darwin - Contract with the Eastern and Australian Steamship Company Limited.
Ordered to be printed.
Neutral Shipping - Policy of His Majesty’s Government - Despatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies forwarding copy of Memorandum communicated to the United States Ambassador.
Prisoners of War, etc. -
Treatment of Prisoners of War in England and Germany during the first eight months of the War. - Paper presented to British Parliament.
Civilian Internment Camp at Ruhleben - Note from the United States Ambassador, transmitting report, dated 8th June, 1915 - Presented to British Parliament.
Correspondence (further) with the United States Ambassador respecting the treatment of British Prisoners of War and Interned Civilians in Germany.
Public Service Act - Regulations Amended (Provisional) - Statutory Rules 1915, Nos. 132, 133.
War Precautions Act - Regulation (Provisional) - Statutory Rules 1915, No. 135.
Northern Territory -
Ordinance of 1915 - No. 5- Health.
Norfolk Island -
Ordinance of 1915 - No. 6 - Marriage.
Lands Acquisition Act -
Land acquired under, at -
Copmanhurst, New South Wales - For Postal purposes.
Kingoonya, South Australia - For Railway purposes.
Port Lincoln, South Australia - For Defence purposes.
Queanbeyan (near), New South Wales - For Federal Capital purposes.
Sandy Bay, Tasmania - For Defence purposes.
Transcontinental Railway Route - South Australia - At 250½ miles from Port Augusta - For Railway purposes.
Urayarra and Tidbinbilla, Federal Territory - For Federal Capital purposes.
Wangaratta, Victoria - For Defence purposes.
Customs Act - Regulations Amended (Provisional) Statutory Rules 1915, No. 87.
Public Service Act - Promotion of E. T. Hall, as Inspector, 1st Class, Landing Branch, Victoria.
Defence Act -
Military Forces -
Regulations Amended(Provisional) - Statutory Rules 1915, No. 123.
Financial and Allowance Regulations Amended (Provisional) Statutory Rules 1915, Nos. 124, 125, 126.
War Precautions Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1915, No. 130.
Adjournment of the House - Wheat Charters: Personal Explanation - Expeditionary Forces : Officers in Charge of Military Encampments: Drill Instructors : Soldiers Reported Missing: Non-delivery of Letters - Forage Allowance to Country Letter Carriers - War Pension Claims - Unemployed: Plan of Selection at Broadmeadows.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn,
– I should like to know why it is proposed that the House shall adjourn at this early hour?
– There is no business.
– The Prime Minister was present this afternoon.
– He was too ill to remain.
– I was not aware that he was so ill that it was necessary to adjourn the House, and I think that the Attorney-General should explain why it is proposed now to adjourn. I do not consider this to be an unreasonable request.
.- I desire, by way of personal explanation, to refer to a statement made by the AttorneyGeneral at the conclusion of my remarks on the motion for the adjournment of the House to discuss the wheat charter question. The honorable gentleman attributed to me a. statement “ reflecting contemptibly,” as he put it, on Messrs. Elder, Smith, and Company. I desire to explain that the statement to which he referred was not made by me. All that I did was to quote a question of which notice had” been given by another honorable member, and to draw the Attorney-General’s attention to the fact that that question was answered by the company’s advertisement in the Shipping and Commerce Journal of Australia. I did not say that Messrs. Elder, Smith, and Company were associated at any time with an enemy firm, and the Attorney-General has done me an injustice in attributing such a statement to me, in view of the fact that I stated that I had had business relations of an eminently satisfactory character with the firm. I am thoroughly familiar with the reputation of Messrs. Elder, Smith, and Company. Every one in the Commonwealth has perfect confidence in the firm, and the Attorney-General should at least do me the justice to say that I merely quoted a’ question on the business-paper to-day in reference to the particular matter mentioned by him.
.- I wish to draw attention to a matter relating to the Department of Defence. We are all endeavouring to-day to induce lads to enlist for active service. I, like others, have been doing all I can to induce our young men to go to the front, but I find that the military authorities are doing their level best to discourage enlistment. We have in Australia a number of militia officers who have been associated with our Defence Forces for many years, and who have been trained and paid by the country for their services. These men are fit to go to the front, and ought to volunteer. Many of them, however, have what is colloquially known as “ cold feet.” They will not volunteer, but, instead of disapproving of their attitude, the military authorities appear to be doing their best to encourage such men not to volunteer. A military encampment has recently been formed at Ballarat, and has been placed under the control of Major Sauer, a militia officer, who would not enlist, and who ia a Clerk of Courts, for which he receives a salary of something like £300 or £350 a year. “Sauer” is a rather peculiar name for an officer in charge of a military encampment. It does not suggest British origin.
– It is not sauerkraut?
– It suggests sauerkraut. This officer would not volunteer for active service, but he has been taken from his position as clerk of courts and placed in charge of the encampment at Ballarat at a salary of something like £700 a year. This is patriotism. How patriotic these men are ! They are prepared to avail themselves of all the good things going in the country. The second in command of the camp is Captain Vickers, who is also a militia officer. He i9 about thirty-five years of age, is physically well fitted to go to the front, and should have been one of the first to enlist. He has been receiving about £9 per week, but has been selected as second in command of the encampment at Ballarat, and in that position will receive anything up to £500 per annum. Young fellows in Ballarat are naturally asking why these men are not going to the front, and why they are not prepared to take some of the risks of war. They have been trained at the cost qf the country, and it was naturally expected that they would be amongst the first to enlist. We cannot compel them to do so, but they should be the last men to be engaged by the military authorities to control our various local encampments. I trust that the Minister for the Navy will bring thismatter before the Minister of Defence, and that the services of these men will be dispensed with without any delay. No difficulty will be experienced in finding efficient officers to train our men. I visited the Department of Defence to-day, and the answer I received there to my complaint was that there were 20,000 additional men to train, and that it was difficult to find officers to give them the requisite instruction. If the Minister would give the sergeant-majors a chance, the difficulty would disappear. . They are well fitted to occupy higher positions ; and if the Minister would do away with a little of the class feeling existing in connexion with the Army to-day, and give a few of the non-commissioned officers an opportunity to demonstrate their fitness to hold commissions, he would experience no difficulty in securing competent officers to train the men.
– I would suggest that the officers’ schools of instruction should be expanded.
– I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that that would be a wise course to adopt. Some of our sergeant-majors should be given commissions and afforded an opportunity to fill positions that are being given to-day to militia officers. Those who are not prepared to enlist should not be encouraged in the attitude they take up by being appointed to the good positions that are offering in Australia. I recognise that among our militia officers there are young men who have volunteered for service abroad, but who have not been allowed to go to the front because their services are required at home; and my objection applies only to those militia officers who have not volunteered, and will not do so. They realize that by staying at home they can obtain good appointments worth about £700 a year. It is unfair that a major fighting in the Dardanelles should receive no more than an officer of the same rank placed in charge of a camp at Ballarat or elsewhere in Australia. The one man is risking his life, while the other is taking no risk, and is making no sacrifice. When it is suggested to the Department of Defence that sergeant-majors should be given the opportunity to fill these positions, the reply made is that we have no one to take their place. I would point out that in Ballarat there are one or two retired sergeant-majors of the British Army who are anxious to serve the Commonwealth. One of these, Sergeant-Major Burrowes, superintendent of the Benevolent Asylum, is in the very prime of life, and has offered his services. He is willing to do anything to assist the Commonwealth.
There are dozens of men of this class throughout Australia, and they could be made acting sergeant-majors, and could do the work being done by the sergeantmajors. In regard to the instruction of officers, no man under the age of twentythree is permitted to enter the schools. I recognise that we should not send men under that age to the front as officers; but, judging by appearances, this war will last a long time, and we must look into the future. We have not only to train officers to send abroad. There are plenty of brilliant youths in the community who have passed severe examinations, and who could be qualified by twelve months’ instruction to take military positions in Australia. The Defence Department would, be well advised to allow those young fellows to enter a school of instruction. By a course of study, they would become competent to take the place of many permanent officers, some of whom are anxious to go to the front, but who are not permitted by the Department to do so. I trust that some action will be taken in regard to ..the militia officers in the camps. We must not encourage the officers who are showing “ cold feet “ at this juncture. We must not give them the good positions. Let us give an opportunity to the sergeantmajors to fill these positions. In times of peace they have done splendid work in building up the defence scheme, and they are receiving to-day no encouragement from the Defence Department. There is another matter of importance. I have heard that a person at Ballarat with a German name has been the successful contractor for the supply of certain articles to the Defence Department. Another person of strong German proclivities has been appointed to a position. To my mind, the position is serious, and we ought to make very full inquiries before we appoint any one with a German name. I feel sure that if we we were in Germany we would not be treated as considerately as we are treating many Germans to-day.
.- I desire to say a few words in regard to camp drill instructors, concerning whom a question appears on the notice-paper. To my knowledge, an experienced man who has had active service, and is well qualified to act as drill instructor, but who was refused for active service on account of age, has proffered his services to the Department in the capacity of a drill instructor in the camp. Eis offer has not been accepted; he baa been rejected because he is not a unionist. That is a very serious matter. One almost trembles for the welfare of the country if a question of party politics, such as preference to unionists, is to bo allowed to obtrude itself into the administration of the Army which is playing such an important part in the present great war. This action on the part of the military authorities is very much to their discredit. Another matter that I should like to mention is that two fine strapping young fellows who are in the prime and vigour of life, but who are not prepared to volunteer for service at the front have been appointed camp drill instructors.
– That is correct; those men get all the fancy jobs.
– The policy of tie Department should be to appoint experienced men as drill instructors, because the men entering camp resent being instructed by young fellows who have no qualification other than book knowledge. Those instructors, merely because they have been able to pass a certain examination, have been appointed as over-lords to men whose shoe latchets they are not fit to unloose.
– Are those men unionists ?
– I suppose so; otherwise they would not have received the appointments. I shall endeavour to produce the letter from the man whose services were refused on account of his not being a unionist. I . do urge upon the Minister that he should give attention to this matter. There are men in this country who are qualified to act as drill instructors, and who would volunteer for the front if they were not beyond the age for active service. They are willing to serve the country in another capacity, and they should be appointed drill instructors, while the younger men should be allowed to go to the front.
– The first casualty lists which were received from the Dardanelles included the names of a great many men who were reported missing. In several instances nothing further has been heard of those men from official sources. There has been brought under ray notice the case of a young man who was reported missing, and several private advices which have come to hand indicate that he was killed and buried on the peninsula. Yet no official information of a specific character can be obtained from the authorities. In another case, a young soldier has been officially reported missing, but private information, received by cable, is to the effect that he is in hospital at Lemnos. I suggest to the Minister for the Navy that he might send a special request to the authorities overseas to have the cases of the missing men re-investigated, so that final information may be conveyed to the relatives. Nothing could be more painful to relatives than the state of suspense in which they are kept by the fact that these men are officially reported missing, whilst private advices state them to be either dead or in hospitals. If a special appeal were made to the commanders of the different battalions a final answer would be obtained which would set at rest the doubts of the relatives. Complaints are still received of the non-delivery of letters to the troops at the front, and I should like the Postmaster-General to inform the House whether he has received any information in regard to an improvement of the postal service to Australian troops overseas. There is another complaint affecting the local administration of the Postal Department. Those mail contractors whom the drought had affected seriously received an allowance from the Department. In some country districts where the drought was experienced in all its intensity, the letter carriers are obliged to go their rounds on horseback, and they provide their own horses. They receive the same salaries as the postmen who deliver on foot, but an allowance for’ the upkeep of the horse is made on the basis of the prices that prevail in normal seasons. I am informed that the cost of feeding a horse is in excess of the allowance made to these men, and the consequence is that they are obliged to devote portion of their earnings to pay for the carrying on of a service of the Commonwealth. In view of the concession which has been granted to mail contractors - and which I regard as a reasonable one- I would like the Postmaster-General to make a public statement on this matter. I understand that some arrangement has been arrived at. Then, in reference to war pensions, the Bill at present engaging the attention of the House provides for the transfer of the administration of the Act from the existing Pensions Board to the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Department. In the meantime,a number of claims are being considered. In one case I know that a claim has been under consideration for some time. It is that of a young man who has been in several hospitals, and who is now going about practically is a crippledcondition. His pay has been stopped. Is the Board still considering these claims, or are its hands tied until the transfer to the Invalid and Oldage Pensions Department?
– It is still considering them.
– I hope that is so. I would like the Minister for the Navy to inquire into the matter. If claims are to be hung up for any considerable time, a great hardship will be inflicted upon men who are incapacitated, and who, pending the decision of their claims, will be left without means of support. I cannot conceive of anything more prejudicial to our recruiting campaign than to have invalided soldiers, after having rendered this country such gallant service, kept without pay.
.- I wish to bring under the notice of the Minister of Home Affairs the method that is being adopted in regard to the engagementof men at Broadmeadows, or any other place where work is being carried out byhis Department on behalf of any other Department. If, for example, there are six vacancies for carpenters or labourers at Broadmeadows, instead of the Department selecting that number of men to fill the positions it probably sends out fifteen or twenty applicants to the officer in charge of the work, who is intrusted with the task of making a selection. I say that this plan inflicts a hardship upon men who are unemployed. It puts them to unnecessary expense and trouble in travelling to Broadmeadows, andpossibly having to return to the city again. I trust that the Minister will take the matter into his consideration with a view to devising some better method of selection.
– In reply to the honorable member for Darling Downs, I wish to say that the arrangements made at the other end for the delivery of letters are in the hands of the Defence Department. My information is that those arrangements have recently shown a very considerable improvement. Indeed, I think they are now about as good as they can be made. Admittedly; great difficulty is experienced in tracing the wounded. The two Departments, however, are co-operating with a view to making the postal arrangements as perfect as possible. In regard to the matter of assistance to mail contractors and others affected by the drought, the Deputy Postmasters-General were authorized some time ago to make an additional allowance to postmen who have to pay an increased price for fodder for their horses. If the honorable member has any specific complaint in that connexion, I shall be glad to have it investigated.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 5.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 August 1915, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1915/19150811_reps_6_78/>.