6th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Prime Minister a statement to make concerning the purchase by the Imperial Government of the Australian stock of wheat of the two harvests, and the conditions attached thereto? Will he also tell us what is to be done about the wool?
– Although some details of the transaction are still unsettled, the negotiations with the British Government have proceeded sufficiently far to enable me to make a general statement furnishing in the main the information for which the honorable member asks. In brief, the position is that the British Government has bought the balance of the old wheat crop, and the whole of the now, excepting only so much as may be needed for Australian consumption. The price to be paid is 4s. 9d. per bushel f.o.b. It is estimated that 3,000,000 tons are covered by this sale, and this quantity is not to be exceeded in any event. For its removal, the British Government will find the necessary shipping, and arrangements are being made by which it is hoped the wheat will be shipped away within the first six months of 1917. It has beon arranged, further, that an advance of 2s. 6d. per bushel shall be made to the farmers immediately on the delivery of tha wheat.
– Is that net?
– Yes. No information has yet been received as to the quantity of flour that the British Government is prepared to take, but when a reply to our inquiry on the subject comes to hand, I shall make it public. I assure the House and the country that the Wheat Board is very much alive to the importance of encouraging the milling industry, and of retaining in Australia aa much as possible of the offal of the wheat. As to the 1918 crop, I hope to be able to make an announcement later. I can say nothing about the wool clip at present.
– In view of the rumours that have been in circulation regarding sabotage on the Brisbane, can the Minister for the Navy give any definite information to the -House as to what has occurred on that vessel ?
– About two months ago I received from the General Manager of Cockatoo Island the statement that some person or persons had deliberately cut the whole of the wires leading from the controls on the bridge to the holds, engine rooms, and other parts of the vessel. The replacing of the cut wires has cost a good deal of money. The manager states that the action of some men at Cockatoo Island has given him a lot of concern. It ia also adding materially to the cost of the work done there, because, extra detectives have to be employed to watch everything that is going on.
– Why did he not shoot the men when he caught thom at it? That is what I should have done.
– It has not been found out who did this mischief. I have instructed the General Manager to immediately dismiss any members of the Industrial Workers of the World whom he may know to be working on the Brisbane.
– Considerable hardship is experienced by the wives of soldiers through not receiving their pay regularly, and, in some cases, through not getting the full amounts to which they are entitled. As the festive season is approaching, will the Assistant Minister, representing ‘ the Minister for Defence, see that the various paymasters are instructed to have all payments made before Christmas?
– I am not aware of the existence of the state of things mentioned, but I shall look into the matter, with a view to having any complaints remedied.
– In view of the proposals for peace proclaimed by Germany, which contain the condition that all her former colonies must be handed back, will the Prime Minister say, whether his Government has formulated’ any policy in regard to the handing back of Rabaul to that power ?
– The question has been asked, I assume, because of a speech of the Imperial Chancellor reported to have been made in the Reichstag recently. I think it would be prudent for me to refrain from expressing any opinion on the matter.
Mr.FENTON. - Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the policy of the Government in regard to providing employment for returned soldiers and others during and after the war? What steps do the Government or the Science Bureau intend to take to organize, maintain, and establish’ industries in Australia ?
– The policy of the Government is to create an organization which will make available for the services of industry the scientific talents and the results of the researches of scientists for the purpose of encouraging and promoting the industries of Australia. As the nucleus of the scheme, the Government have appointed an advisory committee of scientists to make preliminary investigations. A number of matters of first importance was remitted to them. The various sub-committees have been engaged in research work and in general investigations in regard to several matters relating more particularly to the primary industries. Progress reports have been submitted, and are now being considered. It is proposed to re-assemble at an early date the conference of representatives for the purpose of establishing the organization on a permanent basis.
– Cannot the Government arrange for an increased output of iron and steel at Newcastle and Lithgow, instead of curtailing supplies for the public works of Australia ?
– I am unable to answer directly the particular question asked by the honorable member, but I will endeavour to ascertain whether our output of iron and steel can be increased. In the meantime I may be permitted to give to the House such information as we have at our disposal in regard to the whole transaction out of which the question arises : -
Although’ there was general knowledge of the shortage of steel in Great Britain, it was not till July this year that the Ministry of Munitions stated definitely that there was a shortage. The first intimations were in connexion with the regretful refusal to sanction exportation of steel locking bars and rings for the Adelaide waterworks and the supply of boiler plates and blooms for railway locomotive construction. In January, 1916, the Imperial Government ordered 500 tons of shell steel from the Broken Hill Proprietary Company as a sample, and in August, after receipt of the steel, they ordered the balance of the unused Australian shell steel, 1,500 tons. In September, 1916, another order was placed for 10,000 tons of round mild steel bars for munitions. Two thousand tons of this has already been shipped. On the 15th November a long cablegram was received from the High Commissioner regarding economy in the use of railway material in Australia, and in view of its importance a copy is attached.
On the 15th November a cablegram was received from the High Commissioner as follows : -
Ministry of Munitions asks -
What is the total estimated steel output of Australia for 1917, and could it be stated for two half years separately ?
How is output distributed as between domestic requirements and manufacture munitions?
Could any material at present being devoted to domestic requirements be made available munitions requirements without unduly hampering trade ?
Is there any increase in output in view at the present moment, or could any increase in output be arranged for if necessary ? If so,, what would increase be, and ‘what steps will have to be taken to arrange for it?
Immediate reply requested by Ministry of Munitions.
The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, Newcastle, and Messrs. G. and C. Hoskins, Lithgow, were asked to furnish returns of their estimated production for 1917, and a statement of how their production is disposed of. Their estimated production for half-year ending 30th June is as follows : -
It will be seen that of the production of 93,000 tons at the Broken Hill Proprietary Company’s works, only 17,150 is for domestic use, leaving a balance of 75,850. This balance is made up - 57,000 tons for rails; Australian Government railways), 10,070 for structural steel (Victorian and New South Wales Governments) ; 7,500 tons of mild steel for the British Government, and 1,280 tons surplus production.
At Lithgow, of the production of 38,096 tons, 13,700 tons are used for Government work, 1,011 tons for domestic structural steel, and the balance, pig iron 23,385 tons, used for domestic purposes.
Note. - A large proportion of the pig iron for domestic use is utilized for making castiron pipes.
A cablegram was sent to the High Commissioner as follows : -
Answering your telegram of 15th inst.. steel for Ministry of Munitions -
Early decision Minister of Munitions regarding steel will be appreciated; enable Government make necessary , arrangements apportion balance domestic steel.
After Messrs. Hoskins’ return came in the figures were amended as follows : -
As a result of this cablegram the Broken Hill Proprietary Company has received a message from its London office as follows : - “ Munitions inquire price per ton for 75-lb. per yard steel flange rails and fish-, plates. Delivery at approved British port or France. Shipment before 30th June, 1917. Important know when delivery can be commenced, and at what rate.”
Briefly, the figures show for the six months ending30th June, 1917, a total production of 121,000 tons. To be made available for export, 50,000 tons. This leaves 71,000 tons for Australian consumption, of which 41,000 tons are required for domestic use. (Copy of cable from High Commissioner, dated 9th November, 1916.)
The Minister for Munitions states that the shortage in supply of various metals necessary for. the maintenance of railway stock and permanent way is becoming increasingly acute, and, with a view to an equitable apportionment of such’ material as is available, and to meeting the urgent need of various railways in the Empire, will you be good enough to furnish, at the earliest possible date, the following particulars arranged in conformity with the following schedule and certified by a competent authority : -
Of the items scheduled there are difficulties in particular in supplying -
And, in fact, possibilities of supply of any of the last four mentioned . items by United
Kingdom manufacturers at the . present time are remote.
The Minister for Munitions also points out that the requirements of the Admiralty, War Office, and the Munition Department exceeds the supply available, and requests that every effort should be made, and every device employed, to diminish the consumption of material for railway purposes. The Minister further adds that this action is of vital importance from the point of view of the prosecution of the war. Since the outbreak of war passenger services of British railways have been largely curtailed, and probable further reductions of these services may be necessary in the near future. The Minister is advised that a considerable saving in material required for maintenance can be effected, and he hopes that favorable consideration may be given to the desirability of adopting similar economical measures in the various Australian State railways.
The following papers were presented : -
Science and Industry - Commonwealth Advisory Council. - Memorandum on the Organization of Scientific Research Institutions in the “United States of America by Gerald Lightfoot, M.A., F.S.S.
Ordered to be printed.
Customs Act - Proclamation prohibiting the Exportation of Wire Ropes and High Speed Tool Steel (unless under certain conditions) .
Defence Act - Regulations Amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1916, Nos. 294, 295.
Defence Act and War Precautions Act - War Service Regulations Amended and RepealedStatutory Rules 1916, Nos. 296, 305.
Northern Territory - Ordinance of1916 -
No. 2 - Noxious Weeds.
Papua - Ordinance of 1916 - No. 11 - Post and Telegraph.
War Precautions “Act - Regulations Amended. &c- Statutory Rules 1916, Nos. 250, 252. 254, 255, 263, 272, 283, 284.
Conveyance of Mails - Amendment of Public Service Act - Commission on Sale of Stamps.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether a fresh agreement has been arrived at between the Postal Department and the Railways Commissioners of the States for the conveyance of mails over the railways of Australia, and, if so, whether he will place the agreement on the table of the House?
– The case of agreement with regard to the conditions and charges For railway carriage of mails was to have been heard in July, but the matter has been postponed by the railway authorities. However, I am hopeful that the case will be taken not later than February next. I cannot anticipate the decision, and, as I do not control the railways, cannot alter the conditions which have been applied to recently-opened State railways. I much regret the delay, but I am in no way responsible for it.
– Does the Postmaster-. General propose to bring down this session an amendment of the Public Service Act, which will enable him to administer his Department efficiently?
– Whatever may be my intention with regard to legislation concerningmy Department this session will depend largely on the generosity of my friends on the other side.
– In connexion with the proposal of the PostmasterGeneral to reduce the rate of commission allowed to vendors of stamps, will he give consideration to the hardship which the proposed change will entail on a number of persons whose sole or partial means of existence is the commission received from the sale of stamps?
– A custom has so grown up whereby people have made the selling of stamps a business - in fact many people have made it absolutely their sole means of livelihood - that the selling of stamps seems to be regarded, not as a convenience to the public, but merely as a means of defeating the legitimate functions of the Post Office. Therefore, I have had to take certain steps in the matter; but in regard to those cases where hardship is involved, I have already promised to give them full consideration. If I can give relief, while at the same time doing justice to the public generally, I shall endeavour to do so.
– Is the Minister for the Navy aware that a young man who was employed on the s.s. Tingira, and was called up for home service under the recent proclamation, has been refused to be reinstated on the vessel on returning to his employment on the withdrawal of the proclamation, and told to enlist?
– I know nothing about the matter. This is the first I have heard of it.
– As there is a general moratorium in the air, and as the festive season is approaching) will the Prime Minister remit the fines imposed on men at the front for what may be called trivial offences, which fines have been deducted from the allowances to the wives and dependants of men who have died or have returned from the front?
– I cannot give an answer without understanding the position. I suggest to the honorable member that he should furnish me with some concrete case so that I may see how it will apply.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether- any developments have taken place with regard to the sale of the wool clip ? If nothing has been done, does he not think that it is time the embargo was lifted so that the export of wool may proceed ?
– I do not propose to express any opinion as to whether it is time or not to lift the embargo. I hope to be able to make a statement in’ regard to wool to-morrow. As I explained last week, the delay has arisen from the political crisis in- Great Britain, which is sufficiently great to excuse very many things.
– Is the Assistant Minister for Defence aware that on Tuesday last, in Brisbane, a deputation of returned soldiers waited on the Premier of Queensland and pointed out their inability to get work, and that employers were endeavouring to make use of them for the purpose of reducing wages? As Mr. Ryan, the Premier of Queensland, is now in Melbourne, will the Assistant Minister make inquiries into the matter, in order to remedy such an unfortunate state of affairs?
– I am not aware of the facts as stated by the honorable member, but I shall bring them under the notice of the Minister for Defence, and I feel sure that inquiries will be made by him.
– Provided that the cabled reports are true with reference to Dr. von Bethmann-Hollweg’s speech in the Reichstag, in which he made certain peace proposals, I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether the Government will use its influence to bring about an honorable peace in view of Germany’s overtures for the cessation of hostilities?
– That question ought rightly to -be directed to Dr. von BethmannHollweg.
Export of Ironand Steel to England.
– I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a ‘definite matter of : urgent public importance, viz. : - “ The intention of the Government ‘toexport . half the iron and steel produced inAustralia, thereby . causing ‘.unemployment and restriction of . industry here without any appreciable benefit . to the Empire.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places -
– I recognise that ray : action in submitting this motionwill’ beunpopular in certain quarters, and that I shall -be charged with all the crimes in the calendar for taking this stand, but I have a duty to perform, and I intend -to carry it out.
– You do not sayso !
– If some of those who laugh were amongst the number outside seeking employment, they would laugh no more. I should not have taken this stand if I did not feel that Australia was being made the scapegoat of the Empire. In making -that statement no doubt I am opening up a rather wide avenue for debate. Up to the present Australia has not had, in the manufacture of iron and steel products, the opportunities that have been enjoyed by some other parts of . the Empire. The Prime Minister notified us of the Wheat deal ‘to-day, and this is about the first time we have received anything from the ‘British Government during this war.Canada has -done millions and millions of pounds’ worth, of trade with the British Government, and we should have had our share. We have in Australia to-day mechanics who can hold theirown with those of any country. We have . here men who have been trained in other lands, as well . as men who have learned their trade here, and who, having regard to the opportunities they have had, show a marvellous adaptability, and can do work that would be a credit to mechanics -in any part of the world. As far back as November, 1914, the Minister for Defence endeavoured to obtain from the British Government the formula for the construction of shell steel. About July or August of last year, I introduced to him a deputation consisting, not of men in my own party, but of . iron manufacturers in my constituency., who were prepared, if that formula were supplied, either to place their establishments at the disposal of the Minister or themselves to make shells for the British Government. We obtained a second-hand formula from America. Mr. , H. V. McKay, who had travelled through Europe . and America., brought back with . him a formula w’hich proved useless. Had we been supplied with the correct formula, we could have made shells here. Instead of that, however, we have been sending mechanics to make shells in Britain, and we are now told that we are also to send iron and steel for the same purpose.
– Did not the British authorities condemn shells made out of our steel in Australia, and then accept Australian steel for the manufacture of shells in the Old Country..
– Exactly. We are told that the Broken Hill . Company is to supply 20,000 tons of shell steel to the order of the British Government. I recognise that it would be folly for us to manufacture shells that would not meet the requirements of the . authorities. A shell that would be useless when it left the gun’s mouth would be dangerous instead of helpful. But since we have the skilled labour here, and can manufacture shells, if we be supplied with the proper formula, it is time to take exception to . the action of the Government. We are told by the Minister for Defence that the reason why we cannot make shells here is that the authorities are constantly changing the methods of construction. We have information in the press that thirteen changes have been made during the last twelve months.
– Shells are being turned out at a cost of 4s. each in the Old Country.
– If the Imperial authorities could supply Canada and the United States of America with the information necessary for the proper construction of shells, why can they not supply it to Australia ? I doubt the accuracy of the Treasurer’s statement that these shells are being turned out at a cost of 4s. each in the Old Country. What I do know is that a number of our mechanics have left for England, where they are to engage in the industry. Quite a number left by the Orsova the week before last. They are to receive current rates of wages, and all their expenses are being paid. If our men are to receive in England the wages that they could demand in Australia, then we should be able to make shells here at the same cost if the proper formula were supplied to us. In spite of the information given us today by the Prime Minister, that there is a demand or a desire by the British War authorities to know how much steel and iron we can give them - information which shows that the authorities are short of these commodities at Home - I doubt whether the small amount we can afford will prove of any great use in the present European struggle. Instead of asking Australia, to supply iron and steel, the British Government might very easily have released plates for the construction of vessels in this country. The Prime Minister spoke to-day of the supply of “ scrap “ to the. British Government. This is a matter with which the Metals Board would not deal - as I know, because I brought the matter before the honorable member for Yarra when he was Minister for Trade and Customs - and we are aware that in Australia now scrap wrought iron and steel can be got for £2 10s. a ton. The railway authorities of Victoria, under special conditions, pay as high as £20 10s. for wrought iron and steel, and yet only £2 10s. can be got for the “scrap.” If we can send iron and steel, together with men, to England, and there produce the finished article cheap enough for the British Government, surely we might have been allowed to carry on the manufacture here, and thus give employment to our own people ? As I said before, I do not think that the British Government have dealt fairly with us in this regard. In spite of what those opposed to me may say, I contend that we in Australia have done well in the present crisis, and that the British Government have not rendered us that assistance they might. If the British Government had been as much concerned for Australia as Australia has been concerned for the Empire, we should have received a great deal more consideration.
– They have considered us in every possible way.
– To-day is the first time we have heard of anything that has been done by them.
– You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
– Ashamed of myself ! I am as much versed in what has been done as is any honorable member of the House. There are about 2,000,000 tons of wheat stacked, in Australia, the British Government taking almost all the wheat possible from the Argentine and Brazil, while they left our product rotting here. In this connexion, the British authorities, could have relieved our financial situation, as, indeed, they are now doing at this belated hour. At the same time, however, they are taking from, us one of our- principal, commodities that is scarce..
– That is not the fault of the Govornment; but of the Shipping Ring.
– The British Government should have handled the matter, and our Government should have insisted on the point I am making. We are told that the State Government dockyard and shipyards at Williamstown cannot be taken over, and the work of construction is stopped, while both men and material are being sent to England. The Prime Minister may be a strong Empire man, but he should not forget that he is head of the Government in Australia, and that the people of this country deserve some consideration. I strongly object to Australia being made a scapegoat, and numbers of our men being thrown out of employment. Every occurrence duringthe last few months shows that if men will not enlist voluntarily they will be. forced to join by some form of compulsion or another, and one form is the throwing of them out of employment. That was an old practice in England in days gone by in order to force men into the army ; and: if that is- the’ intention here we ought to be told so. I hope that, instead of sending material and men abroad, the necessary commodities will be manufactured here, and employment thus afforded to our own people.
.- I cannot allow the present opportunity to pass without ‘ reviewing to some extent the action of the late Government, and, more particularly, the ex-Minister of Trade and Customs, in regard to the Tariff. Very many of the men who have gone abroad might have been kept here in lucrative employment if proper encouragement had been given, by an alteration of the Tariff, to ironfounders, who, at considerable cost, have endeavoured to establish steel works here. However, the ex-Minister of Trade and Customs would not make the necessary fiscal alterations, although I know of one firm alone which provided a plant at a cost of over £12,000 for the purpose of constructing steel wheels and other commodities, but which was not able to keep it going more than a fifth of the working time.
– I must ask the honorable member not to ‘follow that line of argument.
– I only wish to point out, in reply to the complaint that men have had to go to Great Britain to find employment, that the fault lies with the late Government, who failed to provide employment for them here. The necessary machinery and the steel were at hand, and yet we had to import the manufactureed goods from Home. These goods are imported from Great Britain free of duty, and with a small duty if brought from elsewhere. The completion of a large number of locomotives for South Australia, Queensland, and elsewhere has been delayed by the fact that the wheels could not be procured, although they could have been manufactured here had the protection been sufficient.
– The honorable member is now going beyond the question before the House.
– I know that the Tariff is on the notice-paper, but I think the statement I have made is an answer to that of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports in regard to men having gone to England to seek work in making munitions of war.
– They were sent away.
– I feel quite sure that if more attention were given to the encouragement of manufactures in Aus> tralia we should find fewer men leaving our shores. With a sympathetic Government in power ample work could be provided.
.- If it could be. shown that there was any dire necessity for Great Britain to receive steel from Australia, no honorable member would object to the proposal of the Government.
– Do you not think that there is that necessity ?
– When we began to make munitions in Australia, we were told that our steel had been found unsuitable, that because of a hair-line flaw in it a great deal of material had had to be rejected. That seemed a fatal objection, and the manager of the Broken Hill Company told me that steel could not be produced without this microscopic flaw. We “now find, however, that this company has agreed to send to Great Britain 10,000 tons of steel for munition work. If the company can produce steel good enough for munition making in Great Britain,- it should be able to produce steel good enough for munition making here. The Treasurer has interjected that the shells are made at 4s. each in Great Britain, but we found that the cheapest shells were those being made at Toronto by the Massey Harris Company, which was getting 6s. each” for them. That company pays higher rates of wages than are paid in Australia, and gives as good conditions to its workmen as can be obtained here. The company commenced making these shells when the price was 13s. 6d. each. It put in £60,000 worth of machinery, which was paid for out of the profits of the first order,, and a profit is still being made out of the present price. We were offered 21s. a shell. It seems to me that what Canada can do Australia could do, and that work should be found for Aus.tralians. The Massey Harris Company does not employ any women at its Toronto factory. Australia ought not to be sending away raw material, and thus throwing large numbers of men out of work, when it could keep all its people employed. I think that there is some justification for the remark of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that it seems to be the policy of the Government to bring to bear economic pressure to force men to enlist. That suspicion is in the public mind. It is our duty to do all that we can to prevent that sort of thing, and to increase our output. The manager of the Broken Hill Company told me that the possibilities of their output were unlimited, and the excuse given to-day by the Prime Minister, when asked why certain work was not done in Australia, was that they are waiting for something from America for the building of a fresh retort, and a similar excuse was made by the Minister for Defence. As a matter of fact, all the machinery that may be needed for the manufacture of munitions, or for any other work, can be obtained without difficulty. I doubt the statement that production cannot be increased at Newcastle and Lithgow for want of machinery. A man was engaged to manufacture munitions at Dublin, who, within four weeks, had his factory up, and 750 persons employed. He kept his hands going all through the rebellion. It is men with go, who know how to do things, and are not forced into making excuses for not doing them, that we need. If we did something like what Mr. Lloyd George- did in regard to the making of munitions, it would increase Australia’s steel production, and men would not be thrown out. of work. To do that would benefit the Empire more than the policy which the Government is. now following.
.- I enter my protest against the proposed action of the Government. At the present time, about 2,000 men are out of work because our Naval workshops cannot get steel plates and other material which they need. Naval defence is vital to Australia, and to make it adequate we must have the steel necessary to construct vessels of war. Iron and steel have been produced in Australia, and with properly equipped roller mills we could manufacture the plates necessary for the construction of war vessels. Notwithstanding the fact that skilled mechanics and iron workers have been thrown out of work within the. last three weeks for want of material, the Government proposes to send half of our output of steel and iron to Great Britain, which will increase the local shortage, and bring about the dismissal of still more ironworkers. No man knows better, than the Prime Minister the needs of the shipping industry. Material is required for the repairing of warships, transports, and merchant ves sels trading along our coasts and with other countries. I cannot think that the British Government wishes to ruin our shipping industry, but it. will cripple it seriously to reduce by one-half its supplies of iron and steel. No doubt some of our war vessels are engaged in protecting our trade routes. If anything were to happen to such a vessel, where shall we get material to repair it if the Government policy is proceeded with ? If we had more material than we needed for our own purposes, I would have nothing to say against the present proposal. It is, however, essential that we shall be able to repair war vessels and merchantmen, and also that we shall be able to construct war vessels. If the British Government were to place any part of the Dominions in such a position as to cause it to become impotent, it would do an injury to the Empire aa a whole. I think, however, that those who have been intrusted with the administration of the affairs of the Empire are actuated by the’ highest of motives, and wish to do their best for every, part of it. Therefore, I point out that it is not in the interests of the Empire to hamper Australia. If the Government can show me that what is proposed will not do this, I shall withdraw my opposition to its proposal ; but I know that there is a serious shortage of material for ship repairing and construction. If we are to believe the press reports, supersubmarines have already crossed the Atlantic, and there may be nothing to prevent them from operating from a secret base in South America, and crossing the Pacific. To meet this menace we must have destroyers and fast cruisers. Without such protection, we may one day wake up to find our coastal towns being shelled. I have no desire to criticise the Government policy in a carping spirit, and I am prepared to assist in every way to defend the Empire, but I am anxious that nothing shall be done to impair the defences of Australia. What effect can the mere sending away of iron and steel have in bringing about the termination of the war? I cannot see that the small quantity of metal which Australia can make available will do any serious good. T believe that it is of greater consequence to the Empire that we should endeavour to utilize our iron and steel in the building of merchantmen. On the termination of the war, one of the greatest problems. that will confront the British Empire will be the scarcity of bottoms, and if we can undertake shipbuilding in Australia, no matter on how small a scale, we shall be doing greater service to the Empire than by merely sending iron and steel to Great Britain to-day. Like the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, I have a fear that the sending of these metals to Great Britain is not merely for the purpose of winning the war, but is intended to throw men out of work and bring pressure upon them to enlist.
– That is a most unworthy insinuation.
– The Government are quite able to defend themselves without the assistance of. the honorable member. If thousands of men are thrown out of work, particularly married men who have to support wives and children, they will be left no option but to enlist. Economic pressure is the greatest recruiting force than can be brought to bear on men. When a man feels the pinch of want, and knows that” his wife and children are to be denied the necessaries of life, the one thing left for him to do is to join the colours. I hope that is not the motive actuating the Government in this matter. In conclusion, I ask the Government to prove to the House and the country that these metals can be sent abroad without injury to that class of industry of which I have spoken. If they can show that this step can be taken without hampering those industries, and bringing misery and trouble on Australia, they will have the support, not only of their own side, but, I believe, of all parties. But the onus rests upon the Government to show that that condition can be fulfilled.
– I thought that when I had read to the House the lengthy statement explaining the position in regard to the production of steel honorable members would have been satisfied with the information supplied. That appears to have been a vain expectation. The mover of the adjournment and the honorable members for Bendigo and Dalley have all stated that they are willing to help the Empire, but they have a great fear of the effect which the export of steel from Australia will have upon our industries, and particularly in imposing upon those engaged in the steel industry that amount of pressure which would, in effect, compel them to enlist in order to avoid the consequences of unemployment. I do not propose to follow up those arguments, because they are obviously by the way, but I may observe, by way of comment, upon their protestations of loyalty, that loyalty requires something more substantial in these days than mere protestations. It needs to be supported by deeds. Like the classical cobbler, I shall content myself by sticking to my last. First, let me point out that the proposal of the Government, as honorable members might have gathered from my statement, had they listened to it, is to provide the British Government, at its own particular request, with steel rails, which are to be manufactured in Aus tralia. Once honorable members grasp’ that fundamental fact, a good deal of the fire in their oratory is quenched. Hav- ing reiterated that fact-that it is proposed to export this metal in the form of rails and fish-plates - I pass by all references to unemployment and other more or less relevant observations upon the matter. All that has been said about unemployment and paralysis of industry likely to arise from the proposal falls to the’ ground. I need say no more.
.- I had no intention of entering into this debate,, but I think that the public ought not to be left under any possible misapprehension that may arise from the statements made by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who, no doubt, is looking at the matter from one aspect, and with a keen sense of the public interest. In the course of his speech, however, he used an expression which, however unintentional on his part, might lead to the assumption that the Imperial Government is disregarding some of the essential interests of Australia in connexion with the war.
– That is my opinion, at any rate.
– I doubt very much if that is so. I have recently been to London, and have been present at more or less confidential discussions which incidentally touched this very question of the assistance rendered by outlying portions of the Empire to the Mother Country, and the different forms in which, our moral support and material assistance, were manifested. In the course of thosediscussions, it was mentioned casually that. Australia’s supply of shells was not as. great as the Imperial Government would have been prepared to take. I pointed out that distance may have had an effect “.upon the proportion in which Australia sent shells as compared with Canada. The inference from what was said is that there is nothing to prevent private enterprise in Australia manufacturing any number of shells of the ordinary standard of which they are capable, and they will be accepted by the Mother Country.
– What about the secret, formula ? ‘
– I think the honorable member is under a misapprehension. I believe that at the commencement of the war there was a difficulty in that respect, which affected not only Australia, but the various portions of the Empire and the United States of America. One may not go into details on this point, but I believe the Government are in a position to say that any objections at the commencement of our manufacture of shells as to their not being up to the standard, have been removed, and, if I -ani not mistaken, Australian steel now is of a superior quality, and quite up to the standard required for shells. I believe that there were more rejections proportionately in the raw material and manufactured products from other portions of the Empire than in the steel and shells sent from Australia.
– Our information is that the cost of making an 18-lb. shell in Australia is 12s. 6d.
– The cost in Ireland when I was there was only about 8s., and, as has been mentioned to-day, in Canada the cost is as low as 6s. However, the point is that the Imperial Government is prepared to take shells at a reasonable price, and it is open for private enterprise to supply them at any time. As to the explanation which the Prime Minister has just given, it has been stated in the House of Commons that about one-third of the steel output of Great Britain is being sent to Prance. Does that not show the dearth of raw material in proportion to the Mother Country’s requirements? If one had time to go into particulars of the supply obtainable from other countries, one might be able to explain why the Mother Country asked us to send raw material instead of shells. To get an idea of the sacrifices being made by the Mother Country one need not go beyond the statement made by Mr. Asquith on the 11th October - that the war votes by the Imperial Parliament to the 31st March next will amount to no less a sum than £3,123,000,000 of which amount £450,000,000 has, or will have, been lent to our Allies and the Dominions principally in supplies. As a considerable proportion of the latter sum has been made available for Australia and the other Dominions, it is not for us to say that the Mother Country is neglectful of our interests. Do not those figures give us an idea of the enormous material sacrifices being made by the Mother Country? And in the interests of whom ? Not only of herself, but of the common integrity, prestige, and traditions of every part of the British Dominions. I can assure bon* or able members that neither in France nor in the United Kingdom did I hear a single statement that could leave any impression that our kinsmen and our Allies are not conscious of the material support we have given them. Not one ungenerous word was said. And, on our part, it devolves upon us to realize the great material sacrifices which the Mother Country has made for us. Nothing could have been more gratifying to all of the oversea delegates, regardless of their political views, than the impression left by our visit to the Grand Fleet in the North Sea. I shall never forget the sight of those great ships, stretching, one after the other, away into the dim distance, and the cheers that came from the crews lining the decks of every vessel - a refrain of gratitude and recognition of the splendid efforts made by the Dominions in support of the Mother Country. It is a great satisfaction to all of us to be able to convey to our own countries the gratitude expressed by that Fleet for the efforts of the Dominions in connexion with the war.
.- Most honorable members will admit that it was difficult to understand the statement as to the steel and iron supply when the Prime Minister was reading it. When an important statement like that is to be made, if a copy cannot be made available to every honorable member, the Prime Minister might at least allow the Leader of the Liberal party and the Leader of the Labour party to have a copy simultaneously with his reading of it. The honorable members for Melbourne Ports, Bendigo, and Dalley, who represent ironworking constituencies, have a fear that if the raw material for the manufactures in their districts is allowed to be sent abroad, great numbers of people will be thrown out of employment. It was that fear which has actuated the honorable member for Melbourne Ports and those who have supported him in the action he has taken to-day.
– They should first have asked a question and got an answer.
– A question was asked by the honorable member for Bendigo, and the Prime Minister read a statement. I did not hear the whole of it. I had not the remotest idea, nor could one judge by the statements in the press, that the steel was going away in the shape of rails and fishplates.
– The Prime Minister told us that 10,000 tons was going away as shell steel.
– If that was in the statement read by the Prime Minister I did not hear it. I could not have been in the chamber at the time. No honorable member was aware that the steel was to go away in the shape of rails and fishplates. If some of it is to go away for the purpose of making munitions, I do not object, but it is rather peculiar that, while the thousands of shells that were made in Australia were condemned, we are able to send away steel for the making of munitions.
– Have they not tested our steel in Great Britain and used it?
– Is that not sufficient for the honorable member?
– But surely our own people could manufacture the shells? Australian workmen are just as capable as workmen in any part of the world. I did not have the opportunity that some honorable members have had of passing through factories, as some men pass through universities - in at the front door and passing straight out at the back - but as an Australian workman I had the experience of working in two other countries, viz., England and the United States, and from the experience I gained I know that the Australian workman can hold his own with any workman in the civilized world so long as he has the opportunity.
– The constant alteration of specifications makes it almost impossible to produce shells in Australia.
– As the honorable member says, specifications do change frequently.
– Do they not change also in regard to America?
– I presume so, but America is nearer to Great Britain, and the changes can be made known to the American manufacturers.
– A cable does not take any longer to reach Australia.
– I can readily understand that they do not trust these specifications to the cable. I do not object to the keeping of the specifications absolutely secret. However, I am pleased to note that we are apparently in the position of being able to export steel rails and fishplates. I have with me a publication issued by the Statistical Department last week containing the statistics to the end of June of this year, and I see that during the twelve months ended June last we imported rails, fishplates, &c, for tramways, and railways to the value of £673,000.
– The honorable member is to blame for that.
– I am prepared to accept my share of the blame as one of a Government of ton. No member of a Ministry has his own way. If he finds his position difficult, he must leave the Ministry, or do what the other members of the Cabinet agree to. I remember the present Minister for Trade and Customs when he was Minister for Home Affairs saying with regard to the firm of Hoskins of Lithgow, one of the firms which proposes to send away ‘ this steel, that he would not give it another contract, because it was months and months behind in its contract to supply rails for the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway. I am pleased to see that the Broken Hill Company is so satisfied with the prospects of the iron industry that it intends to erect another blast furnace at Newcastle. With many honorable members, I realize that the iron industry is the basic industry of almost all, if not all, other industries. We must have it established in Australia.’ The honorable member for Wide Bay will recollect that one of the last actions I took as Minister was to present to the House the report of the InterState Commission on Iron and Steel. The honorable member complained that some people made representations to rae in May of this year, and have not yet received a reply. But the honorable member has only to repeat the representations to the present Minister, whom he is keeping in office, and if he requires anything done, he has only to make a request, and I have not the slightest doubt it will be done. While the honorable member was opposing me when I was Minister, he would not accept any blame for lack of action on my part ; but as he is keeping the present Government in office, he must accept the responsibility as to whether they bring forward the Tariff in an amended form or stand by the Tariff that I submitted. I do not question the bona fides of the Government ; but I say that the honorable members for Melbourne Ports, Bendigo, and Dalley had every right, as representatives of iron-manufacturing constituencies, to know exactly what was intended. If they had known that we were sending away only rails and fishplates, I am sure that the adjournment would not have been moved.
– The Prime Minister admits that we are sending away 10,000 tons of steel for munitions.
– In his speech the Prime Minister said just now that what were going away were rails and fishplates. Nothing was said about the other matter. I recognise that at present the needs of Australia must come second to those of the ‘Empire.
– Australia should not be made a scape-goat.
– If we are to allow the finished product to go away, the embargo on scrap steel and scrap iron should be lifted. When I was Minister for Trade and Customs an embargo was placed on scrap iron and scrap steel, so that our own manufactures could be kept going. They would only pay £2 10s. a ton, when the material could be sold abroad for £5 a ton. If we are to release the embargo on the finished product, we should release it on the scrap material, so that those who deal in that article may have a fair market for it. I trust that we shall have an opportunity of reading the statement made by the Prime Minister to-day. Had it been made available to other honorable members, I feel sure that the adjournment would not have been moved.
.- I regret the attacks that have been made on the British Government. At the outset of the war, no one could realize that the British Government could build up and fully equip the magnificent army they now have on the western front, where it is occupying a position quite equal to, if not better than, that of our antagonist. Seeing what has been done, there should be heard in this chamber nothing but praise. Something has been said in regard to shells made in Australia, and their condemnation in Great Britain; but that this has happened is not surprising to me, because those honorable members who had the opportunity of visiting Great Britain discovered that in quite a large number of cases shells manufactured there, under the most expert management, and with the advantage of all the experience that was to be had, were condemned. It is the practice to take one shell out of every 100, and apply to it every conceivable test, even that of firing it off, in order to discover if it has the necessary penetrating power. If the shell does not answer every test, the whole 100 are condemned. Therefore, to say that the condemnation of the shells made in Australia is condemnation of the Australian workers, is an absolute fallacy, because, unquestionably the workers in Great Britain are skilled artisans. It is solely a question of the quality and temper of the steel, and the fact that we have not here the expert knowledge to enable us to make these shells as well as they can be made in Great Britain. In view of the fact that the war is just as much our war as that of Great Britain, surely we ought to be content that our army is provided with shells and munitions made under the most approved conditions, so that the best results may be obtained at the front. Seeing that we have not the experience and knowledge possessed in the munition factories, of Great Britain, it is only reasonable to acknowledge that they can do a little better than we can. If our workmen were in Great Britain, and were working under the conditions that I have described, no doubt they would do as well as the British munition workers ; but with the somewhat meagre knowledge that we possess, we cannot expect to stand exactly on all fours with others who have had so much more experience.
– What about the rapid alterations in specifications?
– Every day there are fresh developments; every day’s experience is. made full use of; the experience gained to-day forms the basis of determinations as to what shall be done tomorrow. I cannot imagine that the British authorities would alter their specifications out of pure cussedness. They do it because of their increasing knowledge, which has given them a better conception of what is necessary. Take, for example, the experience in regard to Zeppelins. There was a time when the Zeppelins could fly over the British coasts with almost perfect impunity and safety. It is not so now. ‘ Experience gained day by day has enabled us so to improve our guns and our shells that it is questionable whether there is now any safety for Zeppelin crews. We shall bring down an increasing number of these airships. All along the line, in connexion with every branch of munition works that we saw, developments and improvements are taking place day after day, and Australia is so far distant from the Old Country that it is almost impossible for us to be kept up to date with them . That, I think, is a reasonable solution of the problem that has. been put before us.
– Why should we have to stand a lecture from honorable members who went Home recently, whenever an opportunity offers for the delivery of one ?
– I thought that the honorable member would be pleased to hear of the experience we had gained. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports said that the British Government were taking wheat from the Argentine, and were not ready to draw supplies from Australia. In this connexion, there is one very important consideration which we must bear in mind. The voyage from the Argentine to Great Britain, I dare say, would not occupy more than a fortnight, whereas the voyage from Australia to the Old Country takes something like six weeks. Having regard to the insufficiency of tonnage to transport what is necessary for war and other purposes, if a commodity can be carried in a fortnight from one place to the Old Country whereas it would take six weeks to convey the same commodity from another place, the value to Great Britain of theshipping on the shorter trip is three timesthat of the shipping employed on the longer trip. We must have patience with the British Government. They havedone magnificently for Australia. In the early days they financed us with loans.
– And protected us.
– At the present timewe enjoy the protection of the British fleet. But for that fleet we could not send a bushel of wheat or a bale of wool to the markets of the Old World. . The Australian who fails to recognise that fact, and particularly the Australian . who, occupying a public position, seeks to prevent the general public from viewing the position from that aspect, is playing; false to the best interests of the Commonwealth and the great Empire to which I am proud to belong.
– In one respect Australia has contributed a good deal to the manufacture of munitions, and that is by sending to the Old Country a number of mechanics to engage in that work. As an Australian, I should have preferred to see the 3,000’ Australian mechanics so employed, working here instead of in Great Britain. We ought to have been able to employ them here in doing practically the same work.
– Does not the honorable member think they will learn a lot more than they would learn here?
– They may or may not.
– The sending of those men to the Old Country was one of the best things the late Government did.
– I wish the honorablemember would make a speech after 1 have finished. These Australian mechanics instead of lagging behind British workmen are a long way ahead of them. It has been proved in British workshops that they are not only equal, but in many cases, superior to their British fellow workmen.
– But they have more expert directors there.
– I was about to mention that at the inception of the war we were rather handicapped in the manufacture of munitions. A certain Colonel Watt, I understand, was employed by the Commonwealth Government to obtain special information respecting the manufacture of shells, so that we should be able to enter upon the work here. But he had not been long pursuing his work before he was commandeered by the British Government, who considered that his services were essential to the industry in the Old Country. The services of another man, who was inquiring into the manufacture of big-gun cordite - Mr. Leighton, the manager of the Cordite Factory here - were also required at Home. These are two instances where we were, in a sense, prevented from doing as much as we should have liked to do in the making of munitions here. i
It is due to the lack of industrial organization in Australia that we are not able to play our fair part in the manufacture of munitions. No sooner had the war broken out than Canada set experts to work to organize her industries. At that time there were only 300 employees -in the Quebec arsenal. There are now from 100 to 150 factories In Canada, turning out munitions, not only for Great Britain, but for the Allies. During the first twelve months of the war the revenue which that country derived from this source amounted to no less than £78,000,000. At the present time, no - doubt, Canada and Canadians’ are earning from the manufacture of munitions £200,000,000’ a year.
– Canada has also started t,o build submarines.
– Quite so. From 100 to 150 articles and commodities necessary for the prosecution of the war are being manufactured by Canada for Great Britain and her Allies. My contention is that instead of having only two steel works in Australia - the Lithgow works and the Broken Hill Company’s works at Newcastle - we should have many more. The Governments in power_ since the outbreak of war should have made greater efforts to increase such works in Australia.
– The honorable member’s party were in power for two years after the war broke out.
– If the honorable member and his party had supported me in my demand for the organization of our industries we might have made a little more headway. Unfortunately, however, the Liberal party never supported any protest that I made regarding the lack of industrial organization. We have ip Australia iron-ore deposits that should have been developed far more than they have been. Had they been properly developed we should have been able to supply Great Britain with far more iron and steel than we now propose to send, and to do so without limiting the supply to our own local works. As it is, we are a long way behind other countries in this respect. Great Britain, France, and Canada can teach us a lesson in the organization of industries. I hope that this discussion will at least tend to induce the present Government- if it can be induced to do anything at all - to make some effort to organize- our industries. The reply that the Prime Minister gave this afternoon to a question which I put regarding the establishment of industries and the work of a bureau of science was altogether unsatisfactory. Unless the Government bestir themselves in this direction, I hope that the combined Opposition, under the leadership of the right honorable member for Parramatta and the honorable member for Yarra, will put them off the Treasury benches. I sincerely trust that as the outcome of this debate more earnestness will be shown by the Government in the establishment and organization of industries in Australia.
– I am always ready to accept a fair challenge, and when I am asked by the honorable member for Maribyrnong to join his leader in dispossessing the Government of the Treasury benches, in order that we may have an Administration that will proceed more expeditiously in regard to the problem of industrial organization, I am reminded that the honorable member’s leader presided over the Trade and Customs) Department for many years, and helped to bring about the very condition of affairs that he has so vigorously denounced. I am afraid, therefore, that, with every desire to meet my honorable friend in anything that will develop our industrial capacity and efficiency, I shall look in vain to the official Labour party for help in that direction. I am one of those who believe that this work is very much belated. It is now about five years since, at this very table, I urged the honorable member for Yarra, who was then Minister for Trade and Customs, to proceed as expeditiously as possible with the development of our iron industry. I asked him so to arrange his duties as to see that that basic industry received all the encouragement that this Parliament could give it. The result of all such appeals, however, is the condition of affairs of which the honorable member for Maribyrnong now complains. I admit that no greater obligation rests upon the Parliament as a whole than that of developing this basic industry as speedily and efficiently as it is possible to do. But again I look in vain for any light on this subject from the critics of this afternoon. They have never once made a constructive proposal in this direction. All they are doing is to damn the Government’s proposal with’ faint praise.
I agree that we should multiply to the fullest possible extent our workmen who are engaged in the making up, shaping, and adjusting of the raw material that is latent in Australia. But when I think of what our efforts have been to date - when I remember that the Brisbane has not yet put out to sea, after seven years spent upon her construction - it seems to me there is not very much light to be gained from the official Labour Corner.
– She has made her trials.
– If she has gone out, it is only within the last few hours. If we can do no better than that - if we can build only one warship in every seven years - it seems to me that the raw material by which we are manipulating and shaping these needs of ours had better be sent, for the purposes of the war, to hands which can deal with them more expeditiously, while, at the same time, we develop our latent resources here. Sending this material overseas immediately will not prevent our betaking ourselves with all -the vigour that we possess to the development of our native ores. I admit the importance of this work. But here we are at war, and here we have an urgent appeal from the Mother Land ! She says that she wants this material for the purposes of the war, and it is infinitely preferable to send her all we can at the present time, for war purposes, retain the balance here and work it up. in such ways, at such times, in such circumstances, and under such conditions, as we may be able to do in times of peace. I hope sincerely that the Government themselves will send every available pound of this material that they can.
My own opinion of this war is still that we lack munitions; and I believe firmly that the moment we can overtake that lack overseas we shall begin to see Germany crumple up on the western front. I am not speaking without my book when I say that. Only on Saturday last I had a conversation with a man from the Old Land, who is right in the heart of this matter of munitions, and that is also his opinion. He says that we have not nearly got up to our maximum as yet, and he believes that when we do we shall see a great change in the condition of affairs on the western front. If this be the outstanding requirement of the moment, our duty to our own country, as well as to all our Allies, is to allow every available pound of raw material to go away that can be. spared. There should, at the same time, be a concurrent effort on the part of the Government to get a little life into the matter of stimulating our own basic resources, because it is quite time that we got a “ move on.” I am not at all satisfied with what has been done during the last two or three years ; and no man could or ought to be satisfied. With all the raw material we have, and with all the possibilities of stimulating these industries, we ought to have developed to an infinitely greater extent. -We could do this if only we betook ourselves to the one object with the same diligence that we ‘ devote to our political squabbling from time to time. If only we could get these squalid squabbles set aside, and the whole Parliament devoted itself to these subjects, we should soon see a great change.
– Surely there is una*nimity of opinion as to the development of our resources?
– Unanimity of a sort. Does the honorable member talk of unanimity in the face of all the carping criticism we have heard this afternoon ? There is not a man here who is not as anxious as any of my honorable friends in the corner to conserve our resources; there is not a man on either side who does not want to see Cockatoo Island go ahead, and in Victoria, Queensland, and every part of the Dominion these works developed to their greatest possible capacity. The raw material is here, and has been here all along. Duties were imposed years ago; and if these are not enough, whose fault is it? Whatever the defect is, let it be remedied at once, for this is one thing that cannot wait in its solution, and the sooner we deal with this problem in a business-like fashion the better for all concerned. I repeat that I hope the Government will do what they have been asked to do by the Motherland, and that, at the same time, they will try to infuse a little energy and spirit, and more encouragement, into the development of these great industries, without which no nation can be self-contained, so far as its own safety is concerned. But if we are to do this, many changes will have to be made. Government stimulation alone will not do what is necessary; there will have to be peace in the land instead of constant friction and industrial turmoil in all the basic industries.
– I suppose you would like to see all the workers put into gaol in order to have industrial peace?
– I should like, to hear the honorable member interject with a little sense]
– What do you want?
– I should like to see the workers at work instead of on strike. ‘
– And every one else is of the same opinion.
– Why do the bosses stop the men from getting to the Arbitration Court? Why do the employers compel the builders’ labourers to go to the Privy Council ?
– Because of the clumsy and defective legislation of the late Labour Government. It is all the result of the blundering and clumsy efforts of the honorable member and his friends to rectify these things.
– Why did you not alter all this?
– Because, when the late Government were putting their proposals forward from time to time, they declined to adopt reasonable suggestions from this side of the House - because they declined to take any suggestions from those who have experience in industrial matters.
– You were in power, and you did not do anything.
– My honorable friend and his colleagues took good care of that. For fifteen solid months they prevented anything being done in this Parliament; indeed, they publicly declared their intention of not permitting us to do anything. Now, however, we are asked what did we do in those fifteen months.
– Well, what did you do?
– We did what we could; and, further, I tell the honorable member that no one can do anything in this country unless he has a sufficient majority behind him.
– You had a majority.
– That I never had.
– The then Speaker, the honorable member for Lang, was your majority.
– We are now getting at the true inwardness of the posi-tion, and we see how much honorable members in the corner care about our local industries. They would rather, at any time, achieve an ephemeral party triumph for their own propaganda than address themselves to the great national problem of the moment.
– Was not Johnson a national problem?
– The honorable member is only making clear the attitude of the mind of his Leader, and those who follow him. With their tongues in their cheek, they talk of what the Government should or should not do; but they know in their hearts that the trouble is not with what the Government do, but to get the Government out of office, in the hope that their own social programme and propaganda may be proceeded with.
– Only as a means to an end.
– I am pointing out that the reason we are in our present, position to-day - why it takes seven years to build a Brisbane, and many years to develop shell steel - is that we have had men at the head of affairs in Australia who do not at all understand the reasonable business requirements of the country.
– Who is decrying the workmen now?
– I am not talking about the workmen of Australia, but about their representatives in this Chamber. What we have to do to-day is to stop the kind of criticism . we have just heard, and to make an effort to get “ square up “ with the problem before us, than which there is no more important problem in the land. We should strive by every means in our power to solve that problem in the interests of our own safety and the safety of our Allies. I commend the Government for their decision to send this material Home; and, at the same time’, I hope they will take to heart the lesson derivable from this debate, and see if they cannot “ get a move on “ in the production of raw material in Australia. This production is years behind its proper development now, and , no Government can remain in power long that does not address itself with all its capacity to -this fundamental question.
Debate interrupted under standing order 119.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he submit approximately, in detail, the items constituting economies in public works expenditure referred to in the financial statement?
– The reductions in the Estimates of Expenditure for the current year for Additions, New Works, and Buildings are as follow: -
asked the As sistant Minister, representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence has supplied the following information : -
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
The number of votes recorded under section 9 of the Military Service Referendum Act on the 28th day of October, 1916?
– Twenty- two thousand and ninety-seven.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether arrangements can be made for the Commonwealth Bank to advance on war loan bonds, where temporary accommodation is needed by the holders, on the basis of a 75 per cent, advance on face value, at the rate of 6 per cent, interest?
– The Governor of the Bank has furnished the following reply : -
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia already advances against war loan bonds or stock where temporary accommodation is needed by the holders, at rates of interest not exceeding 6 per cent.
asked the Assistant Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
If the Labour Leader newspaper has not been suppressed in Great Britain, who is responsible for the prevention, of this paper coming to Australia?
– The Minister for Defence has furnished the following reply : -
No instructions have been issued to censors to prevent the circulation of the Labour Leader newspaper in Australia, nor have any copies of this paper come under the notice of the censorship.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the large amount of unemployment, especially among clerical workers, will he explain why so many pensioners are in the employment of the Commonwealth?
– The number of pensioners employed is negligible. A few are engaged in such intermittent work as paying out old-age and maternity pensions.
– Last Friday week, the honorable member for Yarra asked a question with reference to a Mr. Bird, of Abbotsford, and Private Bent, of Richmond, both of whom were said to have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment. The Minister for Defence has now received the following replies : -
The proceedings in both of these cases have been cancelled.
In the case of Private Bent, it has been ascertained that, owing to the letter notifying his enlistment not having been referred to the Chief MilitaryRegistrar, the countermanding of the order authorizing proceedings against him was not carried out. The officer concerned has been suitably dealt with, and action has been, taken to have the matter expunged, from the records of the Court.
An inquiryhas been instituted in regard to Private Bird.
Motion (by Mr. Poynton) agreed, to -
That leavebe given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Income Tax Assessment Acts 1915 as amended by the Income Tax Assessment Act 1916.
Bill presented, and” read a first time.
In Committee of Supply:
Motion (by Mr. Poynton) proposed -
That there be granted to His Majesty for the service of the year ending the 30th day of June, 1917, a sum not exceeding £2,702,760 for the purposes of additions, new works; buildings, &c.
– I can understand that the Commonwealth Treasurer, like the State Treasurers, feels himself under an obligation to reduce expenditure, the cry for economy coming from various directions. We are told that we should reduce our works expenditure in order that we may have more money to devote to the carrying on of the war. I suppose that at no other stage of our history has there been heard such a demand for economy. If it were true- economy that was aimed at, and if the cry did not come so much from the newspapers and the Conservative elements of the community, which have been so much in evidence of late, I should be more inclined to . support it, but as it is, I am somewhat suspicious of it, because I fear that behind it is the desire to throw men out of work for the purpose of forcing them into what I think they should not be forced to-‘ do. But while I am in favour of economy generally, I am somewhat surprised that the Treasurer has asked for so small an amount to spend on new works and buildings. I think that he asked for altogether too much in the Supply Bill with which we dealt last week. Money must be spent on necessary works,, and on the keeping of men in employment.
– At Canberra.
– The judicious expenditure of money at Canberra will be wise, because reproductive expenditure there, instead of being a drag on the community, will produce a valuable asset. The expenditure that has already taken place has enhanced the value of the public estate, and further expenditure should create a self-supporting community strong enough to bear its own burdens. I was, however, opposed to the granting of three months’ Supply for the ordinary services of the Government, because, in my opinion, at a time like this, Parliament should not adjourn for long periods. I think that we should meet again in February. In every country in the world to-day there is political, financial, and industrial unrest, demanding parliamentary, attention, and we should be unwise to adjourn for a longer period than two months. Besides, I do not trust this Government too well, and am unwilling to give Ministers too long a recess. Therefore I object to the closing of Parliament for three months.
– Will the honorable member confine himself to the motion?
– I hope, sir, that you will not restrict this debate too closely. We are discussing Supply, and’ were promised that latitude would be allowed for the expression of our opinion on subjects generally. May I point out further that the request for money for works to be carried out by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department gives an opportunity to refer to the “ wool gathering “ of the Minister at its head, and that similar opportunity is offered for the criticism of the action of the other members of the Ministry ? Furthermore, the debate on the Supply Bill closed hastily on Friday, and the Government are not antagonistic to a debate on the matters with which I wish to deal. We are asked to vote amounts for hospitals connected with the Defence organization. The men who fill these hospitals, unfortunately, come from far afield, and I should like to deal with the particular locality in which they contracted their illness. There are in Australia hospitals for returned soldiers, and a demand is now being made for further conveniences far in excess of what should be necessary. If the treatment of our soldiers in Egypt, on Salisbury Plain, and at the front had been such as we might have expected, we should not have the same need for this extensive hospital accommodation in Australia. At the commencement of the war, the treatment accorded to our men in Egypt was not that which should be meted out to human beings.
– Order !
– Our hospitals are full of men who were drilled so much that their feet gave way, and they contracted all sorts of ills.
– Order ! The honorable member will not be in order in discussing the hospitals in detail.
– It is not sore feet, but cold feet, which the honorable member wishes to discuss.
– Like myself, the honorable member for Herbert is one of the “ Would-to-God-I-was-younger “ brigade. It is quite possible that we might both be at the front if we were young enough to be enlisted, but, unfortunately, we cannot prove that. I wish to show that we have too many hospitals in Australia.
– The honorable gentleman will not be in order in doing so, and I ask him to confine his remarks to the motion.
– If I am to be stopped in this way, I will sit down. This is ‘ the third time I have been prevented from speaking. I will see that it does not happen again. I do not knowwhether there is an arrangement with the Chairman or not.
– Order ! That is a distinct reflection on the Chair.
– It looks as if there were an arrangement, anyhow.
– The honorable member must withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it. You cannot put me out. What sort of treatment is this? I yielded last Friday, and-
– I know of no arrangement such as the honorable member alleges to have been made. I am here to do my duty.
– I know the latitude which is allowed on Works Estimates, and you are not allowing it to-day.
– That is a reflection on the Chair.
– Well, I withdraw it.
– The honorable, member must apologize, also.
– I apologize.
.- The Committee is asked to vote a lump sum of £2,702,760, and this is the first time iu the history of the Federal Parliament that honorable members have been denied information as to what a vote is required for. The right honorable member fox F’arramatta lectured those of us who sit on the Opposition cross benches as to what we should do in regard to the carrying on of the war, and I shall give the right honorable member an opportunity to practise what he preaches. I move -
That the vote be reduced by £1.
– Why disturb the harmony?
– I am not disturbing the harmony. The vote could not have been taken on Friday if there had not been an arrangement with the Treasurer that honorable members who had not spoken on the Supply Bill would have an opportunity to speak on the Works Estimates. However, to-morrow is grievance day, and anything which honorable members may wish to say may be said then without any fear of their being stopped.
– We may not reach tomorrow.
– There is no danger of that happening. The honorable member will get his full opportunity to-morrow to say what he has been prevented from saying to-day. A promise once given should not be broken.
– Let the Bill be introduced, and then the honorable member may speak.
– The honorable member for Wimmera cannot catch old birds with chaff. Once this motion is disposed of, we shall be confined to the items.
– We will have ten minutes on each item.
– I am satisfied that better counsels will prevail after a while. The right honorable member for Parramatta said that the members of the Labour Opposition had their tongues in their cheeks.
– The honorable member is not in order in referring to anything that took place in the House during the present session.
– Well, I will say that the honorable member for Parramatta has said, outside the House, that the party in this corner are talking with their tongues in their cheeks, and do not know what they say. I am prepared to stop all the works in the Federal Territory, because, with that great organ, the Age, I believe that the money is being spent in a desert land and is wasted upon the desert air.
– What about the East- West railway?
– That is a work of great national importance, which should be concluded at the earliest possible moment.
– In his references to the Federal Territory, does the honorable member include the arsenal ?
– Three years ago, I voted to have the arsenal built at the Federal Capital, but the site has been shifted about from place to place, and now, like a balloon, it is still in the air. I hope that provision is made in these Estimates for improving the site at Lithgow and for putting up additional buildings for the manufacture of rifles, also munitions and big guns, equally as good as the rifles they are now making there, but not at the same expense. The honorable member for Parramatta is prepared to sacrifice all and sundry with the object of securing economy in the expenditure of money. In order to give him the opportunity of showing whether he has his tongue in his cheek when he says it, or whether he will vote to reduce this grant by £1, and in order that the country may see who are really the true economists in this Parliament, I move the amendment.
.- It was understood that honorable members would have the opportunity to-day to discuss more fully the financial statement if they refrained from speaking on Friday.
– That was the distinct promise.
– In my remarks I do not intendto encroach upon the time of honorable members, nor to’ get off the track of the works embraced in the motion, but I hope that, in the circumstances, I shall have a little consideration shown to me. I am pleased that the Treasurer has seen his way to reduce expenditure and also taxation. Every honorable member is alive to the necessity for imposing sufficient, taxation to enable the war to be carried on to a successful issue, but there are certainly very great differences of opinion as to how the money should be raised for the purpose of financing the war and carrying out new works. A great deal of economy can be practised, even in connexion with the works policy as now foreshadowed. The Treasurer claims to have effected a saving of £2,413,807, but of this amount £1,445,222 represents the curtailment of the contribution to the sinking fund provided for by the exTreasurer in bis financial statement. The permanent’ saving- is £968,585, of which £637,900 represents a reduction in the expenditure on new works and buildings. In the year 1913-14, prior to the war, the normal expenditure of the Common- wealth was higher than it had been in any previous year. It amounted to £23,161,000. For the present financial year, the estimate of expenditure is £32,586,000, meaning an increase - not for war expenditure - mainly for works, I suppose, of £9,425,000. The estimated expenditure for this year on the war is £78,956,001 from loan moneys, and £6,343,499 from revenue, or a total of £85,299,500.
– Order !
– I merely desire to show why that economy is practicable. The ex-Treasurer authorized an expenditure of £1,700,000 since the 1st July last from the Treasurer’s Advance Account. It is too much power to give to any Treasurer to handle so much money without bringing the items before Parliament. A great deal of economy could still be practised on the Western desert railway and in the Northern Territory. These matters should have very serious consideration from the Government, and, especially, the Treasurer. In the Northern Territory many millions of pounds have been squandered through lack of experience on the part of those guiding the expenditure. Then, again, we have the Naval Dockyard at Cockatoo Island. According to the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, dated the 28th October. 1915, the expenditureon the dockyard up to that date was £1,513,188 ls. That Committee’s report discloses the fact that, while the cruiser Sydney, cost £385,000, and the cruiser Melbourne £405,000, the estimated cost of the cruiser Brisbane up to the time of leaving the slips was £610,000, and it was generally assumed that by the time it was completed it would cost over £1,000,000. I should like to deal with the reasons assigned for the excessively, high cost of this vessel as compared with the other two vessels of a larger tonnage. The building of the cruiser was well advanced before war broke out. so that it cannot be- contended that the material’ put into hercost so much more becauseof the war. Most of it must” have been purchased by the Navy at Home, and was at. Cockatoo Island, or was on the way from Great Britain, before the outbreak of war. In fact, as the contract between the Commonwealth and the New South Wales Government - stipulated that theBrisbane was to be completed by the 1st December, 1914, all of the material ought to have been bought before the war startedAccording to the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, the work in preparation for the laying down of the cruiser was commenced in October, 1912. There is another matter I may as well mention here. According to. the report of this Committee, two sister launches, the Creswell and the Jenner, were built, the former at Cockatoo Island, and thelatter by Robinson Brothers/ in Melbourne. The Creswell cost £12,800; theJenner cost £5,000.
– The contractor lost money on the Jenner.
– The Joint Committee of Public Accounts state that Robinson Brothers lost £1,000 on their contract, but it was also pointed out that an additional £500 had to be spent on the Creswell, which practically wipes out £500 of the £1,000 said to have been lost by thecontractor on the other boat. The general manager of Cockatoo Island complained to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts that he had to work under fiftyone arbitration awards, and that it was absolutely impossible to run the works oneconomical lines.
– Those awards apply also to private individuals.
– Those conditions donot apply to private establishments, according to my experience. I do not know of any works in Australia that are managed more economically than is the establishment of Walkers Limited, at Maryborough, Queensland. They never have friction there, and from time to time their work pans out very well up to their estimates.
– They charged the Victorian Government more for locomotives than it costs to make them at the New- ‘ port workshops.
– The cost of bringingthem down- to Melbourne would, in itself, account for some difference. The fact remains that the Victorian- Government saw fit to give this firm- an order for twenty locomotives, whilst the South Australian Government gave them a contract for, I think, eighty. I know that 150 locomotives have been constructed by them for the Queensland Government, and that the Federal Government have also given them a contract for the supply of ten or twenty heavy locomotives. This does not suggest that their rates are above the price at which these engines can be manufactured elsewhere. The general manager of the Cockatoo Dockyard called the attention of the Committee of Public Accounts to the bonus, or piece-work, system in operation in other parts of the world. At page 14 of the report it is stated that -
In all the Home dockyards, including those of the Admiralty, bonus or piece-work systems were in operation wherever practicable, although day labour out of necessity had to be adhered to in some branches. At Cockatoo Dockyard day labour is universal. On daylabour comparisons regarding the amount of work turned out at Cockatoo and in Great Britain there was not perhaps much difference, though, as regards one branch of industry on the island - “ the riveters “ - the opinion was more than once expressed by witnesses in responsible positions that the output was less than it reasonably ought to be. Witnesses engaged on this work challenged this statement, and claimed that delays in connexion with the staging, materials, &c, were responsible for any decrease in the output. When it came to a comparison between the results of the day-labour system here and the piece-work or bonus methods of the British dockyards, the Cockatoo output showed to very great disadvantage. This is also the experience in Great Britain. One witness informed the Committee that the men on piece- work at “Home do two and two-thirds more than the men on the day work here in the same time. Another stated that in the case of the boilermakers - the output here is only about one-third of the output in England. A third witness declared that a set of riveters, comprising three men and a boy, at Home would do four to five times as much work as a set does in Australia.
That is a very serious charge, and should be looked into by the Minister. This report has been in existence since 28th October, 1915, but it would appear that the state of affairs complained of is still going on, otherwise the cost of the 5ns- bane would not have been so great. There must also be something very faulty in the supervision of the works. We heard only to-day that certain electric power was cut off either by a workman or some one who had access to the Brisbane. This would tend to show that there is no disposition “on the part of some people to retain work in Australia by protecting the industry that gives them employment. As a Protectionist, I should like to see industries multiplied in Australia - the more the better - but 1 believe that all those who control such industries should see that the cost of their products, which has to be paid by the people, is fair and reasonable. If such a state of affairs as is disclosed in this report is allowed to continue, then the Australian public will not get value for their money.
– The Australian iron workers are the best and fastest in the world.
– I believe that is so. My experience of men in the iron trade is that they are the best one can get; but there must be some inexperienced men or slackers at the Cockatoo works. There is something wrong with the system under which they work. Men are not encouraged to do their best. They are discouraged, as a matter of fact, by the disputes which arise between the different unions. According to the Committee’s report -
In the Royal Dockyards nine-tenths of the constructional work was done on the piecework system, which also prevailed extensively in private yards.
Here is a recommendation signed by no less than four members of the Committee -
The undersigned members of the Committee are of opinion that the adoption of the Admiralty’s systems of piece and premium work on a scale in accordance with recognised rates of pay in Australia would produce the best results in connexion with the industrial output at Cockatoo Dockyard, and give increased remuneration to energetic and capable ‘workmem
– Who signed that report?
– The recommendation I have just read was signed by the honorable member for Cowper, the honorable member for Perth, the honorable member for Wilmot, and Senator Bakhap. The rest of the report from which I have quoted was signed by the chairman, the honorable member for Hunter.
– The four members who signed the recommendation are, of course, all expert workmen !
– They are able, at least, to sum up sworn evidence.
– The evidence was given on oath, and any man of common sense, on reading that evidence, can judge whether the deductions drawn from it by the honorable members I have named were correct or not. I have heard it said that, in some cases, disputes arise at the dockyards because of two unions representing one class of work - that an ironworker, for instance, cannot touch a piece of timber that he requires, but must cross the dockyard, perhaps, to get a timber- worker to carry it for him.
– It is not as bad as that.
– That, at all events, is what has been reported to me as being the position. According to the Committee’s report -
The dockyard gives employment to about 2,500 men, representing some fifty, trades and callings. There has been a considerable increase in the number of men engaged since the war, particularly in connexion with the equipment of transports for the conveyance of troops. The industrial conditions are, for the most part, governed by the Arbitration Court awards of the State of New South Wales. There are no less than fifty-one of these awards operative on the island. Difficulties in connexion with “ demarcation “ have not infrequently arisen. The building of warships being a new industry in Australia various leading hands have been specially engaged from Great Britain. In addition, several Australian workmen were selected and sent to Great Britain for special training..
Everything seems to ‘ have been done to insure the work being carried out as effectively as possible, but the result, unfortunately, has not been satisfactory. The sooner action is taken to bring the dockyard up to the level of the dockyards in Great Britain, so far as their working is concerned, the better it will be for the employees and for the people. Such action will tend to encourage the establishment in Australia of large works, such as ship-building yards, which I should very much like to see.
– The Cockatoo Island Dockyard took seven years to build the Brisbane,
– She is on show at Brisbane now.
– I do not know that she has yet sailed. She was to have been completed in 1914.
– But they could not get the necessary material.
– The bulk of the material must have been ordered long before the war. The Brisbane was laid down in 1912, and was to have been completed by 1st December, 1914.’ The war did not break out until August, 1914, so that the necessary plant for her construction should have been on the water before that time.
There are other matters to which I should have liked to refer, but I may have an opportunity to allude to them to-morrow. Money is certainly required for public works, and economy ought to be practised, so that we may secure the best results. I do not think it is good business that £20,275,570 should be allowed to remain on current account at the Commonwealth Bank earning no interest, particularly at a time when the interest rate is rapidly rising. Surely that money could be turned to some profitable account. Then, again, I think 2 per cent, is a very low rate of interest on the further sum of £2,000,000 also lying to the credit of the Government in the same Bank. I trust [ shall have an opportunity to deal with that matter at a later stage.
- Mr. Chairman-
– The honorable member for Wimmera.
– On a point of order, I wish to know is it fair that another supporter of the Government should be called on when a member of the Opposition desires to reply to the charges just made by a Government supporter?
– There is no point of order.
– On a point of order, if an honorable member who sits on the Opposition side chooses to cross over, as the honorable member for. Wimmera has done, is he entitled to be called before another honorable member, who rises at the same time from his proper place on the Opposition benches?
– I can assure the honorable member that the fact that the honorable member for Wimmera rose from the Ministerial Corner did not guide me in giving him the call.
.- I first desire to congratulate the Treasurer on his amended statement.
– This discussion is out of order.
– I desire to congratulate the Treasurer on the modifications he has made in certain forms of taxation proposed by a previous Administration, of which the honorable member for Yarra was a member.
– Is the honorable member right in stating that I was a member of the Government which brought in the taxation to which he is alluding? I had left that Government before those proposals were made, and the honorable member is making a deliberate misstatement.
– That is not a point of order.
– If the honorable member for Yarra resigned office before those taxation proposals were brought forward, I withdraw what I said. A few nights ago we had a very full statement from the right honorable member for Swan in regard to proposals for the carrying on of public works out of revenue. This is a serious question, and’ I think we ought to have a statement from the Treasurer as to whether the works that have been foreshadowed are to be constructed out of revenue or out of loan money.
– I am sorry to intervene, but I must ask the honorable member to confine himself to the question before the Committee.
– I do not wish to traverse your ruling, but it seems to’ me. very important that we should know how the necessary money is to be found. We are faced with heavy additional taxation for the purpose of financing the war, and we are placed in a difficulty if we do not know where the money is to be obtained for carrying out the proposed public works.
– The question before the Committee is the reduction of the amount proposed by £1, and I have already asked honorable members to confine themselves to that proposal. The honorable member now desires to debate the whole financial statement.
– With all respect, sir, that is not my desire.
– When we are in the Committee of Ways and Means, the honorable member will have an opportunity to discuss where the money is to come from, but he cannot do that on the motion now before us. When that motion has been passed, the Bill will be introduced, and the honorable member will then know exactly what is proposed.
– Shall we then have an opportunity to debate the matters to which I am referring ?
– Yes; the Bill will disclose what is proposed.
– In my opinion, we are left in the dark as to where the money is to be found to pay for the services proposed in the Bill under discussion.
– The only way by which the honorable member can get light is by permitting the Bill to be introduced.
– Am I in order in discussing the details of the measure about to be introduced ?
– Neither honorable members nor the Chair know the details of the Bill, which has yet to be introduced.
– Am I in order in discussing the general question of public works ?
– Then I desire to offer a few observations regarding the expenditure on the Northern Territory. I have had an opportunity of traversing that part of Australia, and I have come to the conclusion that some drastic alterations are required in this direction. The Northern Territory is a great incubus that the Commonwealth to’ok over from South Australia in 1911; and since then we have been expending money there with very little result. There is a great area of 521,000 square miles without people, and the Territory is a standing daily menace to the integrity and safety of the Commonwealth. After repeated efforts, extending over fifty years, the South Australian Government was able to make very little progress in any real development, or in the encouragement of settlement. When the Commonwealth took the Territory over, the argument in favour of that step was that it represented too big a contract for one State to handle, and that it was necessary for the strength of the whole Commonwealth to be brought to bear. I am sorry to say that, after holding the Territory for the last five or six years, the Commonwealth has very little to show in the way of development. This is because the Government have failed lamentably to bring down anything like a policy that would assist development in the essential branches of production possible there. Before we adjourn at Christmas, Parliament should determine whether it intends to introduce such a policy, or whether they will cease operations during the period of the war. In my opinion, we have not the necessary money to carry out a really effective policy under present conditions. It is ten years ago since I previously visited that part of Australia, and my views regarding it have not altered since. Tens of millions of pounds will be required before there will be a chance of creating anything like a large population, and an expenditure of this kind is necessary if we are to hold this great area as part of the Commonwealth of Australia.
– Will people settle there ?
– It think it is quite possible, but to that end it will be necessary to have a great public works policy, involving a vast expenditure. As I have said, it would be impossible, under present conditions, to lay the foundation of such a policy. I only desire now to suggest that the Government should take into consideration the question of curtailing the expenditure on the Northern Territory until it is feasible to introduce a comprehensive policy with the object of encouraging population and materially aiding production. In 1901 the population of the Territory was 3,500 ; and in 1915 it was 4,500, including, in each instance, probably 1,000 Chinese. The only reason for the increase in the white population is furnished in the railway construction works, and in the erection of Vestey Brothers’ freezing works. With two exceptions, the policy of each Minister has been the continuation of a policy which had failed in previous Administrations. The exceptions are furnished in the administration of the honorable member’ for Barrier and of the honorable member for Angas, which meant the extension of the railway from Pine Creek to Katherine River, and the agreement, ratified by the Cook Government in 1913 for the erection of the meat works at Port Darwin to which I have already referred. These two undertakings represent the only big effort and expenditure in the Territory calculated to . give an impetus to production.
– How many settlers did you see along the railway line ?
– As a matter of fact, the policy of land settlement has been a complete failure. It is impossible to settle people for agricultural purposes in any number in a country where the rain falls for only five months in the year. This leaves the only possible encouragement for agricultural production in the storage of water and the establishment of irrigation settlements. Some good has been done by the Government in boring for water for a supply for pastoral districts; but in regard to general development and increase of population, we are very little further on than when we took the Territory over five or six years ago. An enormous interest bill has to be met in connexion with the Territory, amounting to not less than £550,000, and increased in the last twelve months to close on £600,000, in order to keep about 3,000 white people there. This will be seen to amount to a subsidy of something like £150 per head, without any real progress to show for the expenditure. The labour conditions in connexion with the two big works I have mentioned make it impossiole for cattle to be frozen at anything like reasonable rates. Rail freights for produce must be permanently fixed at a high rate, unless the deficiency is to be paid out of general revenue. The works of Vestey Brothers were designed to deal with 30,000 or 40,000 head of cattle per annum, and the original estimated cost was £250,000. However, when all the extra war costs, including increased wages, and so forth, were taken into consideration, the estimate was altered to £300,000. Already Vestey Brothers have lost one valuable year because of labour troubles; and they now estimate that before the works are completed they will cost £500,000. This means that for all time there will be an increased interest charge against these works, as compared with works in other parts of Australia.
– That comes under an agreement.
– There is an agreement regarding the railways, but the freezing charges under certain circumstances will have to increase. In regard to the construction of the railway, conditions are operating which are altogether unsatisfactory. We were told of cases in which men engaged on piece work, at prices based on wages awards, were earning as much as £50 a month. Many of these were Russians, or natives of the Balkan States, and Greeks.
– It is costing only 5s. 6d. a yard to take stuff out of the cuttings.
– The cost of making cuttings depends on the material that has to be dealt with, and the distance to which it has to be removed. When the line is finished it will have cost so much that it will be impossible to carry produce over it at fair rates. I saw boys of between ten and twelve years of age who were making £3 a week on the line. That was under an award fixed in the southern parts of Australia by an adjudicator who had no opportunity to visit the Territory and acquaint himself with local conditions.
– But there has been no rush of boys to the Territory.
– Then, is a fair number there. The rates that are being paid for railway construction are attracting men from other countries, but, although we desire immigrants, we do not wish men to come here for a few years only, sending away the bulk of their earnings during that time, and taking the rest away with them at the end of it. I hope that the Minister for Home Affairs will have some regard to the suggestion of the Administrator, contained, I believe, in his reports, and made also to members of the Public Works Committee, that in future persons from overseas wishing, for employment on public works in the Northern Territory must give a guarantee that they will send for their wives and families, and settle in the Territory.
– A man might not be married.
– Then he could marry here, or go elsewhere for employment. During the past five or six years there has been no continuous policy in regard to the Northern Territory, and, in the absence of this and of something like uniform control, not even an archangel could have given satisfaction at the head of affairs. The Administrator of the Territory is hampered in every direction by the division of control. He represents the Government, but has no control over the postal officials, over much of the railway work, over land settlement, or over the Customs. To properly govern the Territory will be impossible so long as the control of its public affairs is divided among half-a-dozen Ministerial Departments in Melbourne. I think that the proper thing has been done in removing the control of the Territories of the Commonwealth from the Department of External Affairs to the Department of Home Affairs. The affairs of the Territories are in no sense external affairs. But if we are going to develop the Territory we must lay down the foundations of a policy which’ will be pursued’ continuously for a period of from ten to twenty years, and must make provision for an expenditure which may amount to £10,000,000, £20,000,000, or even £40,000,000. Victoria, which is in size only one-sixth of the Territory, has a public debt of nearly £60,000,000, which was incurred in its development. In the Northern Territory provision must be made for a special form of settlement, under white-labour conditions. At the present time, of course, we have no money to spend on the comprehensive development of the Territory. All that we can do during the war is to curtail expenditure as much as possible by decreasing the number of executive officers, and give something like uniform control to the Administrator. I commend these suggestions to the consideration of the Minister, and hope that he may be able to put before the House a statement of policy which, while providing for the proper curtailment of expenditure at the present time, will allow a wider and more progressive development to begin as soon as the war is ended.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
.- The honorable member for Wide Bay endeavoured to relate to the Committee the history of the construction of the cruiser Brisbane from the date on which the keel was laid. As a matter of fact, the keel of that vessel was laid before the outbreak of war, and much of the material required was not then in the Commonwealth. The delivery of that material was delayed, and neither the workmen nor the Government can be held responsible for that. The whole of the civilized world became disorganized in regard to supplies of materials, and we in this remote part of the Empire, suffered a’ great deal through the scarcity . of shipping. Whilst the workmen at Cockatoo Island may not be all that is desired, I do say that those engaged in shipping construction in Australia are equal in skill and intelligence to the workmen in any part of the world. There may be some fault in the management, and in the handling of the men; but it must be remembered that the Brisbane was the first ship- of its kind to be built in the Commonwealth, and in the undertaking of work of this character for the first time it was not to be expected that we should turn out the vessel with the same expedition and at the’ same cost as is possible, in older countries. The first ship of the Brisbane class built in England was. three years on the stocks, because it represented, a new type, and we cannot expect our new naval docks in Australia to compete with shipyards in the Mother Country, which are experienced in that class of work. Our men have to he trained to the building of warships, designs must be constantly referred to the draughtsman and the patternmaker, and in that way delay is caused. Nevertheless it is well that we have made a start in the building of warships in Australia.
– This ship was only put together in Australia, the pieces having been sent out from England.
– The material was sent from England, but the angle line had to be turned in Australia to suit the design. In every particular the vessel was built in Australia. Many times the workmen have been held up through the absence of some particular design or of material. One great cause of delay and trouble is in the fact that the Naval Board, which sits in Melbourne, is in charge of the dockyard, and if the constructional authorities require any particulars they must send to Melbourne for them.
– The main draughtsmanship work is sent out from England.
– That is so, because we are not yet able to design a shi,p of that class in Australia. My complaint is that all the plans and sketches are kept in Melbourne under the control of the Naval Board, and if anything is missing the dockyard authorities must send to Melbourne for it. Sometimes they have to wait weeks or months before they can obtain the particulars they require, because the Board will not allow originals to leave the office, and copies must be made.
– Are you opposed to that on principle?
– No, but if shipbuilding at Cockatoo Island is to be successful all plans and particulars should be available on the spot. ‘
– They are available, and there is a large draughtsmanship establishment at the dockyard. The delay is principally over questions of demarcation.
– There is trouble in that respect, I admit, but the dockyard will never be satisfactorily managed from Melbourne. If the Government wish to make shipbuilding, at Cockatoo Island a success they must give the manager complete charge of the work, and hold him responsible. While the dockyards are under the control of the Naval Board in o Melbourne the Government cannot expect satisfactory work to be done on the island.
– Does that argument apply to the British Admiralty as well?
– Not being a “commander of the King’s Navy,” like the honorable member, I cannot answer that question. I know that the’ British Admiralty can build ships quicker than we can in Australia, because in England they have had practice and experience in this work.
– The Admiralty is not troubled with details.
– The Naval Board has too much control over details. The late manager, Mr. Cutler, asked for certain machinery the installation of which would enable ship-building to be carried on more cheaply and expeditiously. But nearly a year elapsed before he was able to get that machinery. The manager of the ship-building yards ought to have supreme command, and, within reason, any machinery he requires he ought to be able to get.
– The manager complains that he has very little command at all. The unions are in command.
– The services of that manager ought to be dispensed with if he has not sufficient backbone to stand up against the men. If he complains that he cannot build ships successfully because the unions are too strong, he is no manager.
– I assure the honorable member that the manager is going to have charge henceforth.
– I hope so. But I advise the Minister that he cannot bring into existence in ‘this country the conditions that obtain in naval dockyards in the Old Country, where every man has to salute his superior officers. If the men of this country get a fair deal, they can turn out ships a good deal cheaper than they are now being constructed. Of the three destroyers built in Australia, the last to be launched, the Swan, was built quicker and more cheaply, and was a better job, than either of the other two. The reason was that the men had gained experience. I regret to say that the dockyard has suffered from dislocation of its staff. If men who have been trained for two or three years for a certain class of work are dismissed on account of lack of employment, the management experience’s difficulty in getting together another expert staff. Above all things, Australia should be self-contained in the construction of destroyers and submarines, and no effort should be lacking on the part of the Government to make the Cockatoo Island Dockyard a success. I believe that Parliament will assist them in that endeavour.
– Have we not sent engineers to England to learn submarine construction ?
– I believe the Minister is doing his best in that direction. But if, after these men have gained experience in England, they are brought to Australia, given employment for twelve months, and then dismissed because of the discontinuance of that class of construction, all the money expended on their training will have been wasted. The first essential to successful ship-building is continuity of employment, in order ‘to keep on hand expert workmen. If the men are constantly changed, the authorities have to start de novo in the training .of workmen for each job, and the construction costs a great deal more.
I notice in the Works proposals a reduction of over £700,000. We should have some statement as to the policy of the Government, because I believe that a majority of honorable members wish the Government to continue the carrying on of public works throughout the Commonwealth. So far Australia has not suffered serious depression on account of the war to the same extent as other parts of the British Empire, and the reason is that until the present time the Government have been determined to carry on a vigorous public works policy.
– We cannot borrow money for war and public works, too.
– Do the Government intend to stop all public works’? If so, the effects will be most seriously felt by the workmen, who are less able to bear unemployment than any other class in the community. The community is better off if men are employed on reproductive public works than if they are unemployed, because they must be fed and they must have homes.
– Have not the working classes drifted into new channels through the excessive borrowing in Australia in recent years ? ‘
– If works are reproductive we say that the Government are right in borrowing money for the purpose, because the money is well spent.
– Who is going to lend the money to you now ?
– Surely we have not come to the end of our tether?
– Is not the Labour party opposed to borrowing ?
– The policy of the Labour party is to borrow only for reproductive works. I hope the Government will not listen to their Liberal supporters, who are urging them to stop all public works. Such a policy will mean ruin to, not only the workers, but also the business men and those who have money to lend. We, as a party, will stand by any Government that will carry out a vigorous public works policy. We desire to see the industries of the country kept going, and any Government that fails in that direction cannot expect the support of those who represent the industrial class. I shall scan the Bill carefully, in order to see upon what items the expenditure is to be reduced. I notice that the Government have reduced the estimates of expenditure on the Customs House in Sydney and other works. With regard to the Federal Territory, the Government would be well advised if they would terminate the expenditure that is involved in the employment of Mr. Griffin and his staff, who have cost the country thousands of pounds. If the Government propose to stop public works, let them start at the fountainhead, and not among the workmen and mechanics; let them be genuine in their reform and stop the drawing of plans and the preparation of reports; let the heads of the Departments receive their due share and do not let the reduction be aimed simply at the labourers and the mechanics. When the Bill is before us, I shall ask what are the proposals of the Government with regard to an arsenal.
We have a large continent to defend, and we talk about what we have done in the war, and what defence we can put up, but we are not able to make a field gun or any explosives. For twelve months we have dangled before the people the question of an arsenal, notwithstanding that a site has been surveyed and recommended. Some underhand work is going on or there is some dispute among the authorities with regard to the site.
– How does the honorable member know that the Government is not doing something ?
– The Minister does not know as much as he pretends to know. A site has been recommended, but I do not know that anything has been done beyond the drawing of plans. If the Federal Government were serious in regard to this matter, the building would have been commenced long ago. The details of the lay-out have been known for some time, and I think that every honorable member will agree that the work should have been proceeded with.
– And a building put up like that which it was proposed to build on the No. 1 site - one that would not suit the machinery?
– Does not the Minister know the’ difference between a small arms factory and an arsenal ?
– If the Department could not build a small arms factory, it could not build an arsenal.
– Hear this remark from a’ member of the Cabinet. If the Minister does not know the difference between a small arms factory and an arsenal, I can readily understand how it is the Government are in such a dilemma over this woTk. The Minister is a man of great capacity. He can put in all his time at an inquiry, and yet claim that he is giving great attention to the Postal Department. . I say God help the country and the Postal Department. I will give the Minister one or two things to look into in the interests of the workers whom he is supposed to represent in this Chamber. If a union approaches the Arbitration Court and is awarded an increase of £10 a year in wages, the insurance premium of each man has to be increased. I know of cases where an increase of £10 per annum has been given, and each man has had to pay an additional £6 per annum to the insurance company.
– That is not correct.
– It is correct; and any one who knows me will take my word against that of the Minister. I have proof of dozens of such cases, yet the Postmaster-General, who should be looking after the interests of the public, is neglecting them. Does he approve of half the increase given by the Arbitration Court going to the insurance companies?
– I say that it is not true.
– I say that it is true, and the Minister must take my word for it.
– I would not take your oath for it.
– I know that an oath is of no use to the Minister, seeing that he is so great at breaking his oath. If there were any way of getting rid of the PostmasterGeneral by reducing the vote, the majority of honorable members would do it.
– Order ! The honorable member must address himself to the question before the Chair.
– I am speaking to the Supply Bill. The Postal Department has never been conducted worse than it has been under the present Administration.
– Order !
– If I am not in order in speaking on that point now I shall take another opportunity. The PostmasterGeneral has no time to look after his Department, because he is so busy on another matter. In regard to the reduction of £700,000, I suppose the Government have received their instructions from their Liberal supporters. There are one or two other things I would like to speak about, but I suppose that I will not be in order in doing so. I challenge the right of the Government to sit on the Ministerial . benches. The Prime Minister went to the GovernorGeneral to tender certain advice.
– Order ! The honorable member is out of order in referring to that matter on this motion. ‘
– I would like to know what advice he did tender.
– Order !
– Very well. As tomorrow is grievance day, I shall have the opportunity of developing the argument then. So far as the Government propose to carry out public works, we will do- all we can to give them Supply, but if Ministers keep on cutting down public works we hope to have the opportunity of cutting them out of office before very long.
– I am delighted to hear from the Ministerial benches that we are to have real reform in regard to economy, that we are going back, not only to constitutional government, but also to a condition of .effective administration of public expenditure, which will be controlled by the Government under Parliament, and not by outside agencies and institutions. I am also delighted to hear the honorable member for South Sydney say that a man in a responsible position controlling a big body of men should have absolute responsibility on the spot, and should not be interfered with in the matter of details by some one hundreds of miles away. That state of affairs applies, not only to Cockatoo Island dockyard, but also to every big undertaking of the Federal Government. In regard to the reference of the honorable member for South Sydney to the Liberal party having directed the Government in the matter of economy, I may say that the attempt at economy is regarded as very inadequate by the Liberal party. I want to see rational economy. I do not seek to interfere with public, expenditure in such’ a way as to fill the streets with unemployed, but there are ways of economizing and improving very considerably on the administration of public expenditure without having the effect which the honorable member fears. The economy which seems to satisfy the honorable member amounts to £740,000 only, covering quarantine buildings, lighthouses, Sydney Customs House, defence buildings and sites, postal buildings, military stores, and naval works; but there are many other public works which will have to be tackled. ‘There are many proposals that are not altogether approved, and there are many that have been approved, which can be set aside for a considerable time without any loss to the country, and which ought to be tackled apart from war conditions, because the state in which we find ourselves today in consequence of the war makes very definite and rigid economy absolutely inevitable. It is not a matter of expediency or a matter of what we would like to do. It will be a matter of shortness of cash, especially borrowed money, so far as the Federal and State Governments are concerned. If the Government do not take time by the forelock and provide for very effective and extensive economy gradually brought about, it will have to be brought about abruptly when the money runs out, which will not be very long ahead. I believe that the Government intend this £740,000 reduction as merely .preliminary to what will prove to be a rigid cutting down and putting off in the matter of public expenditure on works which are not absolutely necessary to-day, and will not be necessary for the next few years to come. The Federal and State Governments have been going ahead at a break-neck pace in public expenditure from loan moneys and revenue. Seeing that 300,000 of the adult male workers have been withdrawn from the industries to go to the front, I maintain that even with a shortened expenditure we should be able to provide fairly and squarely for the employment of the workers of’ the country. I wish to direct attention to the question of administration, and to deal again with the expenditure of public moneys in the construction of the East-West railway, a matter to which I have already referred on several previous occasions when I appealed to the House, I often think with very little effect. I wish to bring again under the attention of honorable members the vital question of the lax administration and the want of proper ministerial and parliamentary authority in the expenditure of money on our big public works.
The construction of the East- West railway was estimated to cost something in the region of £4,000,000. The expenditure up to date, together with that foreshadowed by the responsible executive officer, is going to. bring that amount up to £7,000,000. A great many railway men in the States concerned, who are familiar with the development of this work - and the undertaking has become notorious among railway men in the Commonwealth - say that unless there is a radical change in the system by which the line is being constructed, £7,000,000 will not anything like cover the cost of building the line and completely ballasting it.
I propose to deal with the statements and the defence of the responsible officer. It seems to me that, from the day of his arrival here, he has had no regard for real economy in the expenditure of public money on this railway, viewed from the stand-point of the possible revenue it is likely to earn. The responsibility rests not merely with the chief executive officer, but with the successive’ Governments that have been in power since the work was commenced. Parliament authorized this undertaking at a cost of £4,000,000, or a little more; and that estimated cost, as far as I can gather, is likely to be exceeded by from 50 to 75 per cent. I have asked, for Ministerial and Cabinet minutes, and I say advisedly that this additional cost of from 50 per cent, to 75 per cent, is due to the fact that the responsible executive officer has simply been marching along, very often getting mere verbal authority for additional expenditure. There has been no adequate Ministerial supervision, and there has been no Ministerial minute approving the excess expenditure -from time to time. The responsible executive officer has gone on without Cabinet and Executive minutes approving large sums that have been asked for. I want to know who does give approval for these expenditures. Is there no authority responsible to this Chamber? In the last analysis Parliament is responsible. When no protest is raised, silence must be taken to give consent, and, therefore, the Government and the Parliament of the day must accept their responsibility. I challenge any of the Governments that have been concerned in this undertaking to produce minutes indicating authority for many of the excesses from time to time. In the absence of this evidence of proper official Ministerial indorsement, I want to know what the country and the Parliament are drifting to.
– What has been done without Ministerial authority?
– I want to know where these Ministerial indorse ments are. I have asked for minutes, and they have been produced, and have been printed. They are public records, such as, I venture to say, would have been looked upon with scorn and ridicule in many of the Parliaments of this country, and they prove to demonstration that no proper authority is exercised over departmental expenditure. Such is the want of responsibility that, it seems to me, the executive officer adopts the policy of going on extravagantly and blunderingly, as long as the money can be ladled out, as it has been ladled out, to him.
– Where is the extravagance ?
– I am astonished at my honorable friend’s question. He held office as Minister for Home Affairs for twelve months, and I can only say that if he does not know a great deal about this extravagance, every one outside does. The taxpayers know that they have to face a liability of £7,00.0,000 instead of £4,000,000 for this work.
I am going to handle this matter very definitely, but can deal with it only piecemeal, since I have not at my disposal the time necessary to enable me to put before the Committee one-fifth of the material relating to it, and facts and figures which prove my statements up to the hilt. I have from the very beginning protested against the mismanagement of this railway.
– In what respect?
– It is due, as the honorable member for South Sydney said in regard to the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, to the attempt to control all the details from an office in Melbourne. The secret of the whole mismanagement is that the Federal Government has endeavoured to build a railway between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie from Melbourne, instead of having a responsible executive officer on the spot.
– When is the line to be finished ?
– Not for many a long day. In connexion with war economy, I am proposing that a very large slice can be taken out of the expenditure on this work for the present. When additional expenditure is demanded as necessary, it can be undertaken. I make the definite charge which I have made before, that if this railway is to cost £7,000,000, it will cost as much as should be necessary to construct a line from Kalgoorlie to the Macdonnell Ranges. The executive officer responsible for the construction of this railway lives in Melbourne and was in charge here for twelve months before he saw the western end of the line. He has only once gone through the country to be served by it - once.
– He came from Queensland with a good record.
– I know that and I regret that he has not maintained that record.
– He has.
– I am not going to be side-tracked. I am going to state common-sense facts, that should appeal to any man who knows the alphabet of business management. The chief executive officer responsible for the construction of the line has been once through the country to be served. On that occasion he travelled with Mr. Andrew Fisher, and part of the journey was made at night and part in the daytime.
– Does the honorable member desire that the work should be stopped ?
– No; I want it to be properly managed. Next to the chief responsible officer, we have the Director of Transport and Supply. He, too, lives in Melbourne, whereas he ought to be on the work.
– At which end of the work?
– He should be constantly travelling over the whole of it. Then, again, the Chief Mechanical Engineer also lives in Melbourne. He ought to be where his engines are.
– Where is that?
– All over the line. A good practical man should have been on the spot from the very first. Some months ago I raised the question of the expenditure of £269,000 proposed by Mr. Bell for the construction of workshops. I insisted that there should be an inquiry by practical competent men as to whether the merest trifle of that enormous sum would not be sufficient to temporarily provide all that was necessary until further developments determined what revenue would be earned by the railway. A Commission, consisting of the Chief Assistant Mechanical Engineer of Victoria and Mr. Combes, Consulting Engineer to tne Federal Government, was appointed.
– What does Mr. Combes know about it?
– He is only a surveyor.
– I shall tell the Committtee. The Commission recommended an expenditure for the present of, I think, £32,000, and extensions as traffic development justifies. This, it declared, would be adequate for the requirements of the next five years. Honorable members have fresh in their memory further extensions that might possibly be required. Even assuming that all that the Commonwealth railway officials stated would be necessary to be actually carried out, the Commission said that it should be done for, at the most, nearly £100,000 less than the amount asked for by Mr. Bell.
– They said that would do for five years.
– They said that £32,000 would do for five years. I wish now to tell the Treasurer that when this report, which I got laid on the table, printed, and distributed-
– It took a long while to get it, did it not?
– It took a long time to get any information when the honorable member was in office; and if I am provoked I shall tell him why. However, when this information was printed, the railway authorities in South Australia said the amount was adequate, and more than adequate. I ask the Treasurer now if he will make the same reflection on the railway authorities in South Australia, particularly in the mechanical department, as he has made on Mr. Combes.
– I do not know. what you submitted to them.
– I submitted nothing but public documents.
– There are no better men in Adelaide than Mr. Bell and Mr. Henderson.
– If the honorable gentleman wishes me to discuss those men I shall state what their experience is.
– You have been discussing them all the evening.
– I have only just begun. When this report was presented the officers ‘took exception to it because they had not seen it before it was laid before Parliament. The report, however, was not a departmental report, but one presented by commissioners appointed at the instance of Parliament. After it was submitted - and after the awful, outrageous, extravagant provision made had been cut down nearly to disappearing point, at all events for the first five years - the two responsible officers, the Engineer-in-Chief and the Mechanical Engineer, offered what, so far as the chief executive officer was concerned, was a sneering criticism. When I read it I could not make myself believe that a gentleman of Mr. Bell’s character could have so condescended. He said that Mr. Combes was a surveyor, and not a mechanical engineer; and her© I might say that Mr. Bell is not a mechanical engineer. Mr. Combes was there to report, not altogether on the mechanical side, the gentleman who was selected for this work being Mr. Henderson’s superior and much senior officer in the Victorian Railway Department before Mr. Henderson came here. I did not know very much about Mr. Combes, but when I read this criticism I told the present Minister that it was a scandal, and that it was only due to the gentlemen who had acted as commissioners that they should be asked if they had anything to say in regard to it. I went further, and ascertained what the character, standing, and professional ability of Mr. Combes was in the Victorian service, and I found that, while he is a surveyor, he is regarded1 by the Railway Commissioners and the Government as a very expert one.
– He is a very good surveyor for locating country.
– I am glad the Minister admits that Mr. Combes knows something. I was told that this gentleman was regarded as an invaluable surveyor in locating new country for the purposes of pioneer railway services.
– The only thing he knows anything about.
– It was just the kind of thing that was required on the East-West railway, and it was high time that somebody was consulted who knew something of the matter. In my opinion, the remarks and reflections of the Engineer-in-Chief and the Chief Mechanical Engineer were unworthy of them, to say the least. Let us see whether the two experts, or two responsible officers, who prepared and submitted this criticism to the Government, have had half as much experience as Mr. Smith or the others who supplied the data and advice which formed the basis of the estimates for the East-West Railway from the beginning. Since Ministers have referred to the qualifications of these men, let me say that, while the Chief Mechanical Engineer is an exceedingly clever designer and draughtsman, and a professional man of the highest character, he was only two years in the locomotive department of Victoria, being engaged prior to that in the Ways and Works Branch. I am not disparaging him, because I know he is a thoroughly efficient mechanical engineer, particularly as a designer and a draughtsman, but he has not, at any time, so far as locomotive work is concerned, had outside experience, whereas the Chief Assistant Engineer of Victoria has had a great deal of such experience.
– If you were to speak to Mr. Smith, he would acknowledge that Mr. Henderson is one of the smartest men in Australia.
– I do not know whether that is so or not, but if it is, we have to be mighty careful of smart men, because Mr. Henderson is oneof the most extravagant men in Australia. Since the Treasurer has challenged me on this point, I propose now to give an idea of how dangerous these smart men without experience are.
– The honorable member’s time limit has expired.
.- I should like to place on record some facts which I have gone to a great deal of trouble to collect, showing, comparatively, the time occupied in the construction of various warships in other nations, and the time occupied in the construction .of the Brisbane. In view of statements made here this afternoon, this information ought to be interesting and instructive. The older nations have, for many years, been engaged in warship construction, whereas Australia is just starting the industry, and the Brisbane represents our first really serious attempt. The information I have gathered is contained in the following table: -
The vessels whose names are given in the table that I have just read are cruisers and light warships of much the same character as the Brisbane, .and the information respecting them will therefore give honorable members a basis on which to criticise the work done in our own naval dockyard. Remembering that we are only beginning to build war vessels, it must be admitted that we have done very well under the trying circumstances and various disabilities with which we have had to contend. I shall now read another table giving similar information respecting the construction of His Majesty’s Australian torpedo-boat destroyers. It is as follows: -
A significant fact is. that the time necessary for the trial of the vessels built in Australia was much less than that required for the trial of the work -done in the British dockyards, the work done at Cockatoo Island being of such a character that the trials were completed almost as soon as they were started. For instance, the Swan completed her trials in nine days. That is a remarkable performance. The explanation ‘of the fact that the Torrens took three years and four months to build is that, after the vessel was begun, a start was made on the cruiser Brisbane, and it was decided to allow the work on the Torrens to wait until the Brisbane was well under way. I ask honorable members to remember, when criticising our naval dockyard, that it has done good work. Give them a chance, and our Australian dockyard workers will show that they can hold their own as well in their field of labour as “our soldiers have done at the front.
– I wish to test the sincerity of Ministers in regard to economy.
– On a point of order, is a member at liberty to speak twice in regard to a message?
– The Committee has before it a motion, on which every honorable member may speak twice for a period of thirty minutes.
– I wish to point out that Mr. Bell’s criticism of the report of Messrs. Smith and Combes was unfair, and contained many inaccurate statements, and that its deductions have been arrived at by the shameful distortion of their proposals and recommendations.
– That is a serious statement.
– I make it advisedly, and I ask the Minister to give the officers concerned an opportunity to defend their report, and to say again in plain language what they have already made clear. The latest report of the Victorian Railways Commissioners gives the cost, including equipment, of the Newport workshops as £561,887 up to the end of 1915. Mr. Bell and his mechanical engineer have recommended - and obtained approval of the recommendation - that £266,650 be spent on the building and equipping of workshops at Port Augusta to meet the needs of a railway on which probably only one passenger and one goods train will be run every week.
– What was the recommendation of the Committee on the subject?
– That £32,000 should be expended to make temporary provision for a period of five years, or until it could be proved whether there would be a big development of traffic.
– The ‘honorable member tells us this tale every session.
– I shall have to tell it again and again, and many honorable members will be telling it to the country at the next election. The enormous expenditure on the East- West railway is a public scandal, and is provoking remark in every part of Australia. The original estimate of the cost of the line- a little over £4,000,000- was prepared by five gentlemen, who then occupied the positions of Engineers-in-Chief in the States of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia, and they had the benefit of the advice and assistance of the Railway Commissioner, the Chief Superintending Surveyor, the Chief Mechanical Engineer, and other railway officials of the States through which the railway would run. Subsequently Mr. Deane, the first Engineer-in-Chief for Commonwealth Railways, made a revised estimate, which was practically a repetition of the original estimate, and Messrs. Smith and Combes’ report is right on the lines of such experienced experts. Has there been anything to justify the exceeding of that estimate by about 75 per cent. ? It must be remembered that the original estimate contained an estimate of revenue which was excessive. It is now admitted that the revenue to be expected is not more than one-half of the original estimate, which was made when times were abnormal. It was made when the Western Australian gold-fields were in full swing, when Western Australia was not supplying her own needs, and the traffic between the eastern States and the West was enormous. At that time, every wharf in the eastern States was loaded from Monday morning till Saturday night with goods awaiting transport by any tub that would take them. Passengers for the West were crowded on the decks of steamers, and were far in excess of what the Board of Trade would consider proper. But to-day the Commonwealth Traffic Department - which, by the way, ought never to have been created during construction - does not expect anything like so much revenue. Mr. Bell in his official report estimates the revenue from cattle and goods traffic for the first year at only £5,600,.- In regard to engine power, a committee of all the engineering talents, having available the data in all the States through which the railway is to run, allowed for rolling stock of every kind to the value of £330,000, whereas the rolling stock already delivered or expected to be delivered within a few weeks represents a value of more than £805,000. In addition to that amount, there is still to be provided first and second class sleeping cars.
– Where did Mr. Bell say that?
– Mr. Bell’s report states -
The foregoing (£805,475) does not include any prospective amounts in connexion with first and second class sleeping cars, day cars, dining cars, mail bulk vans, and diversional brake vans; neither does it represent the cost of sixty-five hopper waggons, tenders for which were recently called, but none of which have been accepted. Figures in regard to these are now in course of preparation.’
– What sort of rolling stock has the Department got?
– It is all constructional stock and passenger coaches. The Department has seventy-five engines, and contractors say that only ten engines at either end of the railway, with about three spare engines for a margin at either end, were necessary for construction.
– Originally the departmental estimate for construction engines was twenty-six, but I understand that the increase is said to have been necessitated by engine troubles due to defective water.
– Contractors say that three spare engines on. either end would have been sufficient to provide, against troubles due to defective water, but with contractors, system and management mean everything. Yet the Commonwealth has seventyfive engines for a railway that is estimated to do goods and live stock business to the extent of £5,600 of revenue in the first year. South Australia handles with forty-five engines the Broken Hill traffic, which at the beginning of the war had a volume of 1,360,000 tons annually. After Mr. Combes and Mr. Smith had presented their report, and presumably the Engineer-in-Chief and the Chief Mechanical Engineer had studied it, Mr. Bell said that he did not ask for all these engines, but there is no previous record of Mr. Bell ever having said that he did not want them. On a very generous calculation it looks as if Mr. Bell will have when the railway is finished £200,000 or £250,000 worth of engines more than he needs.
– What was Mr. Bell’s record prior to his joining the Federal service ?
– I have nothing to do with Mr. Bell’s record. I am representing the people of this country in criticising expenditure under the authority and jurisdiction of Mr. Bell.
– I suppose the trouble ia that Mr. Bell was not appointed from South Australia.
– I treat that statement with the contempt it deserves. I am stating facts, and it is time they were inquired into. When I first looked into this business the Ministry did not know what was happening, and had not been advised. While I am in this House they shall know, and this business will not be finished until the whole mat- .ter has been inquired into and determined. Mr. Bell’s report states -
In explanation, it is necessary to state that (when locomotives, now under construction by Messrs. Walker Limited, of Maryborough, Queensland, and S. Perry and Co., Gawler, South Australia, were tendered for, the Department asked for_ twelve only. Messrs. Walker Limited made representations that to permit of economic construction the number should be increased to twenty, and the Government, having no doubt in view primarily the possibility of other railway construction being undertaken by the Commonwealth, and secondarily, the fact that locomotives in any case would be a good asset, particularly under war conditions -
Can any honorable member understand what Mr, Bell means? The Department must surely pay war prices in war time, and how can that be good business, and excess purchases good assets?
– The mistake was in placing any orders in South Australia.
– It was a mistake to give an order to ‘any State when the Commonwealth did not need the engines. The Government are appealing to the States and to private individuals to practise economy, and yet they are throwing money about recklessly. Where does Ministerial responsibility come in? Who authorized the ordering of twentysix engines when only twelve were required, especially having regard to the fact that even those twelve were to be added to a stock of locomotives 50 or 60 per cent, greater than would have been necessary if the. South Australian and Western Australian Governments had built the railway within their respective borders. The reckless extravagance and demoralization of everything in connexion with this railway from beginning to end is such that one of the most practical and capable of the Government’s employees, a railway man with thirty years’ experience, who is competent enough to be superintendent of construction, and occupied”, next to the engineer, the most responsible position on the railway, stated that he could show the Government where £50,000 had been thrown away. The mismanagement from Melbourne, where the responsible executive officers live, has cost the country more than £1,000,000 that might as well be thrown into the sea. I appealed to the Prime Minister, no matter what his differences with his Ministers might be - and they did not concern me - not to veto an inquiry arranged by his responsible Minister at the instance of one of his best and most efficient officers, and various and repeated public criticisms. The Prime Minister said that he would not have a word to say against the inquiry being held if it were found to be necessary.
– What inquiry was that?
– That was the proposed inquiry into the construction of the line and the charges made by one of the most practical and experienced officials in the service to-day. .There is demoralization in connexion with the work from beginning to end. How can there be anything else when the Director of Supplies lives in Melbourne, and when the officials on the job have no, power to determine matters except by urgent wires to and from Melbourne. Recently the Great Northern Railway, which is the property of the Commonwealth, was nearly forced to. discontinue operations because of the lack of coal. The Commonwealth had a good stock of coal at Port Augusta, and the railway was to receive 1,000 tons. The - responsible officer sent his train and men to Port Augusta to get the coal, but the storekeeper, not the unionists, would not allow the Northern Railway men to handle the coal, because they were paid 9s. 6d. a day and the men who ought to handle coal belonging to the Commonwealth at Port Augusta were paid lis. a day. On the second day the Northern men had to return home and allow the Commonwealth men, at Ils. per day, to load the coal. A few months ago, there was a similar case. These cases are of almost daily occurrence, and a previous Minister told us that there were sixty-one strikes in a year, and that they were all organizers’ strikes. I was there a little while ago when a steamer came from Port Adelaide full of goods. The people from Quorn to Oodnadatta, who were waiting for supplies, had telegraphed to know whether they were to get them by that steamer, but there was a strike amongst the clerks. The men who handled the stuff on the wharf knew that the goods were required, and they said that they would put them over the wharf into the Federal Government’s shed, but the man who was supposed to have authority - when he got it from Melbourne - said that he could not allow them to do this until he had received authority from Melbourne. He was the officer next to the transport officer. Accordingly he telegraphed to ‘ Melbourne, but, for some hours, they could not find the man who had the authority in Melbourne. The ship could not wait, and turned round, and went back to Port Adelaide with its cargo unloaded. These are only one or two trifling instances of the demoralization that the people in South Australia know about, because they are continually seeing it; and such instances will continue until there is something like business management in connexion with this railway. For the last three years, in order to save the interest and the money of the taxpayers, I have been appealing for some one to be given authority on the spot, and for a cessation of this method of .deputed authority, which is no authority at all. For months at a time, the Port Augusta telegraph office has been of very little use to the public, because it has been ‘ monopolized by the Commonwealth men wiring urgent telegrams to and from Melbourne. The -.Traffic department is crowded out with men. On Monday last I spoke to one of the most highly placed traffic officers in the South Australian railways. He had been up to Port Augusta, and he told me that there were twelve clerks in one office where the South Australian Department would have employed two. But then he explained there would be a system, and a man on the spot who would be allowed -to manage the business. The House will yet have to look into what is going on in connexion with this railway, and into public expenditure, not only on this railway, but also in many other directions. If, so far, we have not been prepared to pull up, we are bound to- pull up soon, because it will not be many weeks before Australia will be pulled up for lack of money. I have said before, and I say again, that nothing would pay the country better than Parliament’s devoting a whole session to the question of administration. When these matters are brought up in the House, honorable members speak to empty benches. Honorable members are paid’ £600 a year to look after the finances, yet this kind of thing goes on, and it will continue, I was going to say, but it will not, because supplies will soon be stopped. That will be about the only thing which will bring to an end this lack of interest in the public expenditure.
.- I may be a little prejudiced against one aspect of the remarks of the honorable member, who has dealt in a characteristically faithful way with the administration of the transcontinental railway, and that in his implication - perhaps an unintentional implication - concerning the engineerinchief. One must judge a man’s capacity for the office he holds largely by his record. Mr. Bell’s record is, perhaps, the best of any railway man’s in Australia. We had a number of applications for the position, and undoubtedly the record and abilities of Mr. Bell singled him out for the office to which he was appointed.
– In Queensland we were very sorry to lose him..
– I was dealing with Mr. Bell’s business ability. I admit all you say about him as an engineer. , I did so the last time I spoke in this House.
– I know that the honorable member would be the very last to do any public servant an injury, and I am glad that he has made that statement. As for the business side of the construction of this railway, it started in misconception, and has been continued in chaos. “It was estimated to cost so much before it had been really surveyed. Hundreds of miles with the heaviest earthworks were discovered where it was imagined the line would pass over flat country requiring practically nothing but surface formation .
– The South Australian engineers knew every hill along the route.
– From my own knowledge, gained during my term of office, I can assure the honorable member that beyond the sand hills there were 100 miles of the heaviest excavation on the whole line, where it had previously been estimated to provide no difficulty. These are the facts to which we must look. The original conception of this line was worthy of a kindergarten.
– It was the easiest 1,000 miles ever proposed to be constructed.’
– I suppose that the average of earthworks per mile on that railway would not be as high as the average earthworks on an average 1,000 miles of Australian railways generally; but the water difficulties, and other difficulties in connexion with construction that must be taken into account in arriving at the cost, were infinitely greater than on other lines.
– The original estimates of the engineers have all been exceeded.
– I am not contradicting the honorable member. I am merely stating the position as I see it. The estimates, so far -as water was concerned, were merely estimates on paper, without sufficient data to make them of any real value; but apart from these facts, for which the House in its past must take full responsibility - because it was the House which authorized going ahead on insufficient data - we must remember that the business arrangement was foolish in the extreme. By building from east to west, and west to east, we started with two separate local managements; and at the western end we started with a tremendous handicap. Instead of being able to get our supplies at our own rail-head, and at our own cost, and without transhipment, we had to send them over a State narrow-gauge line from Fremantle to Kalgoorlie before starting work at all, and then we had to tranship them at Kalgoorlie; and we had to pay the heaviest freight.
– That was all in the original estimate.
– I am merely saying that the proposition to handle the matter in that way was, to use a mild phrase, childish. If this country wished to construct that line, it should have made quite certain of what was going to happen from Kalgoorlie to the coast before starting to build the railway. It should have carried the line from Kalgoorlie eastward only when the broad gauge line had been constructed from Fremantle to Kalgoorlie, and then we would ‘have constructed our line infinitely more cheaply. I am mentioning these matters not with ‘the idea of detracting from the honorable member’s remarks concerning chaos, but in order to show that the whole thing was founded on folly.
– It would have been infinitely better to have run in a line from Eucla.
– That proposition had also been considered, but there were difficulties in connexion with it. But what I wish to suggest to my honorable friend is this : These follies are follies for which, in the main, this Parliament must accept the complete responsibility. Upon insufficient data - upon data upon which, I venture to say, no State would have constructed a railway - we started out to construct a line on a basis no business man would have dreamt of acting on.
– We had neither plan nor specifications.
– We did not even have a survey. A man had gone across that country on a camel ! On that basis Parliament gave the authority of a blank cheque to start on the construction of the line. All parties will admit that it was built under political pressure, without data; and for that fact the House, and not the officers, must take the complete and sole responsibility.
– They started twelve months before they were ready.
– Of course, and when they did start, the business arrangements were such that it was a matter of the greatest difficulty indeed to construct the line with any sense of economy.
– That is not Mr. Bell’s fault.
– Certainly not.
– No one ever said that it was.
– Then what has the honorable member been blathering about all night ?
– What my honorable friend has been drawing attention to is what he states is gross extravagance in connexion with the line. One statement he has made should be tested by the Government at the earliest possible opportunity, and that is where he has referred to the engine requirements. I am not concerned with what contractors say they can do. My experience of contractors is that where there is legitimate competition among them we get cheaper service by employing them than by doing the work ourselves. I do not want to go into that question now.
– I did not institute that comparison. I instituted a comparison with South Australia and Western Australia at £330,000, as against the Commonwealth at £890,000.
– I do not accept what a contractor says, unless he puts in a tender as to the price at which he will do the work, as to what plant he will require, or the price he would want. The contractor is naturally at war with the Government operation of these works, and naturally he is a little optimistic as to what he could do when he is not bound by the result of his words. When he is comparing what he could do, not bound, with what the Government are doing with the full responsibility, one cannot place any reliance on his rough, loose, and unpledged estimates as to the number of engines he would require; but when he says that he can do the work with ten engines at each end, and three in addition, we are getting very close to the officers’ original estimate of the enginepower required for constructing this line. I can remember that that estimate was twenty-six engines.
– They have seventy-five now.
– I know that they have seventy-five; and the statement of my honorable friend, to which I think the closest attention should be paid by the Government, is the remark that Mr. Bell has not asked for some of the engines that were supplied. We have reached an extraordinary position if a responsible officer is to have forced on to his hands engines that he does not require for the construction of a line.
– But he never raised this point at all until it was mentioned in Mr. Combes’ report.
– A public officer is not in a position to betray his Minister. Let us assume for a moment - I am not stating it as a fact, but I glean it from the information we have from the honorable member - that an officer in the position of the Engineer-in-Chief puts in a recommendation which is ignored and turned down by his Minister. If it is it is no part of his duty to make that fact public. It is impossible for him to do so.
– Unless he resigns.
– Unless he resigns. It would appear from the statement we have heard to-night as if a number of engines were forced on Mr. Bell, so loading unduly the cost of the line. If that statement is correct, the sooner the Committee knows it the better. This line will never carry a greater traffic than it is carrying now, during construction. The quantities of material such as sleepers, and ballast, and many other things, that is being carried for the construction of the line, are infinitely greater than the ordinary goods or passenger traffic- that will be carried across it. For the passenger traffic these engines are entirely useless. The line is being built to provide for an average speed of forty-five miles with grades and curves, to which no other line in Australia has been constructed. The “ P “ class of engines with which this line is being constructed are excellent for their purpose, but will be of no value for the main traffic which will be, if you have a uniform gauge from Fremantle to Adelaide, a big and very fast passenger service. The goods traffic will be necessarily small and somewhat local in character, and we shall not need for that purpose anything like the number of engines that are now necessary for the enormous works requirements of the line. That being so, the sooner the Government look into this statement that the Engineer-in-Chief had forced upon him engines that he did not ask for, and did not want, the better for the country and the future administration of the line.
– He did not say they were forced upon him.
– If they were not asked for,’ and he did not want them, they must have been forced upon him. .
I wish now to reply to some remarks passed by the Chairman of the Public Works Committee with reference to Mr. Griffin. In Mr. Griffin the Government has an officer who, if used properly, will be of the greatest possible value to the Commonwealth, and also, incidentally, to other public activities.- He understands his work from A to Z. I do not propose to-night to defend Mr. Griffin. His record and capacity are sufficient for that purpose.
– He has not been attacked.
– I think it was suggested that he should be retrenched.
– Before working men were retrenched.
– The honorable member said that if the Government were going to retrench working men why should they not retrench big officers. That was his point.
– If that is the only point there is nothing in the statement to which I can take any particular exception. The only excuse for retrenching Mr. Griffin would be a determination on the part of the Government, in view of the war, not to proceed with the building of the Capital. If they arrived at that decision, they would have an excuse for retrenching him. But from what I learned as a Minister I say it would be a gross wrong to the Federal Capital to retrench its originator and planner Until it is in such a state that it can be gone on with without possibility of alteration.
– It should be gone on with.
– Then it should be proceeded with under the supervision of the man who planned it, and not under the supervision of men who planned something else, and have not seen eye-to-eye with Mr. Griffin in connexion with a number of vital features of his plan.
– And who are destroying his plan.
– Quite so. There is one thing in connexion with the Public Works Committee to which I have seen allusion in the press, but of which I have heard no whisper here to which we could pay attention. It would appear from statements in both Melbourne morning newspapers that the Public Works Committee have been inquiring into the lakes scheme for the Capital. That is no, part of the Committee’s duty, if this work has not been delegated to it. The scheme must be taken as a whole. I venture to say, without any disrespect to the Works Committee, that its members would hardly be accepted in any part of the world as authorities on town-planning. All that this country expects as a matter of policy in the putting into operation of Mr. Griffin’s excellent plan, is that the work should proceed as economically as possible, without reference, section by section, to a body of men who are not qualified to judge Mr. Griffin’s plan upon its plain merits. I shall go further, and say that the last time to make an investigation of this kind is now, when a Royal Commission is inquiring into this, amongst other, subjects. We have a Royal Commission presided over by a very capable, very energetic, gentleman - a Commission to which the Postmaster-General is giving a great deal of his time very disinterestedly, and without expense to the country.
– The case is sub judice, and should be left there.
– That is so. I regret exceedingly that the Public Works Committee should have inquired into the matter at this juncture.
– Who referred the question to the Committee?
– I think the reference was made to the Committee long before tha Royal Commission was appointed.
– Twelve months ago.
– In these circumstances, it strikes me almost as an act of indecency that the Committee, having allowed the matter to stand over for twelve months, should start to inquire into it after the Commission has begun its proceedings.
– That is incorrect and unfair.
– If it is incorrect I regret the statement. I would be the last to say anything that is unfair.
– We started the inquiry long ago, and are just completing it.
– Then I shall say that it was not right to continue the inquiry after the Royal Commission had been appointed.
– And not right for the Chairman of the Public Works Committee to attack the designer.
– At this particular juncture it is deplorable.
– He did not attack him.
– He said that Australia could do without him.
– I was not present when the Chairman of the Public Works Committee spoke, but if he made the statement attributed to him by the Minister for the Navy, he did attack Mr. Griffin.
– He did not make the statement.
– I shall only say, in conclusion, that I hope my honorable friends will be prepared to receive without prejudice, and without seeking in any way to prejudice it, the verdict of the Royal Commission. It has gone to a great deal of trouble. It has taken evidence fairly and impartially, and the House owes it to itself , and to the late Government, which appointed the Commission, as well as to the Minister who was responsible for its appointment, to give it a fair deal. I regret exceedingly that that fair deal has been in any way prejudiced by the action of the Public Works Committee, or of its Chairman here, in throwing any doubt at all upon the value of Mr. Griffin to the Commonwealth of Australia.
.- I have some criticism to- offer regarding the expenditure proposed by the Government in the very near future. I do not think they are competent to carry out the duties attaching to such a heavy outlay.
– That ought to make any one resign.
– I shall tell the Post- master-General before I resume my seal the reasons why I hold this view.
– I may not understand them.
– Having regard to the many anomalies in the Postal Department, for which the honorable gentleman is responsible, he is not likely to appreciate what I shall have to say. My desire is that certain grievances associated with the Postal Department should be properly ventilated. Judging by answers to questions which the PostmasterGeneral has given, he is not in a position to govern the expenditure of his own Department, and I do not think he should be granted the vote for which he asks tonight.
– Wait till the honorable member asks for something for his electorate.
– Many requests that I have made on behalf of my electorate have been refused. The Postmaster-General is to-day practising a system of so-called economy that is detrimental to the efficiency of the service, and it is only in this way that, during the last five months, he has been able to show a saving of £218,000. This saving, such as it is, is made at the cost of the wages that should be paid to the - members of the Public Service employed by him.
– The Arbitration Court award has been paid in all cases.
– The Arbitration Court award has been evaded wherever possible, and the Postmaster-General, in the interests of economy, has evaded his obligation to lay on the table of the House an award that we ought to have had placed before us three months ago. Is that fair or just to the men who are serving the public? Then, again, those in charge of allowance post-offices have been dismissed,, or had their emoluments reduced, all with the object of snowing a saving.
– That is not so,.
– The PostmasterGeneral has never shown any inclination to improve the service except in the way of sweating the employees in a manner more despicable than would be adopted by any private institution. The heavy expenditure to which the nation has been committed, and the additional taxation that has been foreshadowed, means very heavy burdens on the people in the near future. Honorable members in the Opposition corner are not in agreement with that (proposed additional taxation, but those who profess to be the Liberal Opposition show by their action in keeping the present Government in power for a short period, that they are about the most hypocritical parliamentarians that have yet come under our notice. Heavy taxation means increased cost of living; and it would be well if we could have a change of Government. If some of the. honorable members on the front Liberal benches could be replaced . by younger men we might possibly see a Government that would be the means of saving the present position. Such changes have taken place in every country which is faced with similar difficulties, but merely because of an affection for the old men of the party, there is an indisposition to displace them. That is why I fear we are not likely to have a change of Government in the near future; though any Government would be better than the present Government, and men of new ideas are always anxiously looked for. If we cannot have a change by a displacement of the Government here, there must be an appeal to the people. It is impossible to regulate the prices of commodities in the interests of the masses, so long as we have this continuous increase in the taxation. To-night the honorable member for Wimmera devoted some time to the question of the development of the Northern. Territory, and mentioned the undertaking of Vestey Brothers at Port Darwin. These people are, in my opinion, associated with the Beef Trust.
– You have got to that at last!
– I have not referred to the Beef Trust of late, because those who are operating in Queensland at the present time are shipping away their meat to the Government of Great Britain. Why should I refer to them while they are under the control of a State Government ? Messrs. Vestey Brothers will prove most detrimental to this nation within, a nation. After human beings, cattle and sheep are Australia’s greatest asset, and the supplies of both are very poor at the present time, and are being depleted. Last year, our cattle numbered 2,000,000 less than in previous years. This Government and the preceding Government have put down bores to provide water for the cattle belonging to Messrs. Vestey Brothers, although these people have no intention of slaughtering a single beast during the present war. Any one who says that their operations are of value to Australia is false to his principles and a hypocrite. Let me read a statement showing the property owned by this trust. It is as follows: -
The railway in the Northern Territory has practically been built to suit these people, and is being run to feed their works. Moreover, the Government have decided to build a wharf for them at Darwin, which will cost £10,000. There is no prospect of Australia gaining ls. from their operations. Our public expenditure should give a return to our people, and the Northern Territory, which we own, should provide our people with meat. As settlement increases elsewhere, wo shall have to depend on the Northern Territory for our meat supply. The honorable member for Wimmera complained about the class of labour which is coming into the Northern Territory. It is Messrs. Vestey Brothers who are importing foreign labour of all kinds there.
– The honorable member for Wimmera was referring to the labour employed in constructing the railway. That labour was not imported by Messrs. Vestey Brothers.
– It was imported by them for their meatworks, and has drifted to the railway works.
– Messrs. Vestey Brothers are paying union rates of wages. Their men are members of the Australian Workers Union.
– If they are valuable citizens, no exception can be taken to them. The complaint against them came from a supporter of the Government. The occupation of Messrs. Vestey Brothers will prevent the Northern Territory from being successfully developed. They have the best properties in the Territory, and, as the members of the Government know, will eat the life out of it if allowed to remain there.
– The . honorable member would not talk like that if he had made a trip to the Territory. I have been on many of the stations that he has referred to, and was informed by the manager that there are 15,000 head of cattle on Willaroo, and 75,000 on the adjoining property.
– I have particulars relating to all these properties, but the time at my disposal will not allow me to give the information to the Committee. My object is to bring it under the notice of honorable members that we are committing ourselves to expenditure which will assist a branch of the Beef Trust. There can be no doubt about that. The firm to which I have referred is a branch of the Beef Trust, and the Government, in assisting it to become prosperous, is committing a crime for which Ministers will be sorry.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I indorse what has been said by the honorable member for South Sydney, who objected to the proposed large reduction of expenditure on public works, and pointed out that, although this would mean the dismissal of an army of mechanics and other manual workers, heads of Departments and other highly paid officials would be retained. Some fifteen months ago, Mr. Fisher, who was then Prime Minister, appealed to the Governments of the States, and to private employers, to keep as many men as possible in employment, but within the last month or two there has been a tendency on the part of employers to dismiss their men. I deeply regret that the Governvent proposes to reduce its public works expenditure by something like £730,000. The cry of the newspapers is for economy, and pressure is being brought to bear on the Governments of the States, and, apparently, on this Government, to reduce expenditure. I regret that this Government is giving way to that pressure. Influences are at work which honorable members are not able to trace. The Government are to be kept in power until something takes place. A Ministry that has a following of two only must be susceptible to pressure of a certain kind, and this Government is yielding to that pressure. I take the motion of the Treasurer as a fair indication of that yielding, apart from the proposals introduced into the House last week, which extended a privilege to a section of the community which is already the most privileged. The Government, lacking sufficient sup-, porters of their own to assist in carrying their original proposal through the House, are now looking for support from another section, to whom they are prepared to make concessions. For how long?
– So long as they ask us to do what is right.
– The Government will receive the support of the Liberal party pending an appeal to the people. The Liberal party and the Government cannot go to the country as a Fusion party, and be successful.
– Order! The honorable member cannot discuss that question.
– To what works is the honorable member referring now?
– I am dealing with the’ quarantine item, and the thirteen members of the isolation camp. When the appeal to the people takes place, certain individuals, who are now on Government benches, will be thrown to the wolves.
– I am taking this opportunity of expressing my disapproval of the action of the Government in reducing the amount originally intended to be expended on works. We are told by some people that there is in operation today, as there was at the commencement of the war, a form of conspiracy to crush men out of employment. I hope the Government, in placing these proposals before the House, are not participating in that conspiracy. If that is their object, this expedientrwill not avail them, for 1 notice in the streets that it is not the men of military age, but the men who are over the military age, who are being thrust out of employment. There is a shortage of young, ‘virile men in the community to-day, and those employers who have young men in their employ are anxious to keep them.
– How does the honorable member conned these remarks with the motion before the Chair?
– If effect is given to this proposal for the reduction of the works vote by £700,000, men will be thrown out of employment.
– That question is not now before the Chair.
– The honorable member for Wakefield dealt with the matter when you, sir, were in the chair, and you did not pull him up.
– I look to the honorable member for Yarra as Leader of a party in this House to support, and not defy, the Chair. I appeal to all honorable members to support the Chair. The honorable member for Wakefield was allowed no greater privileges than any other member of the Committee. I have asked all members to confine themselves to the resolution.
– I desire to apologize to you, sir, if I have offended; but the very figures used by the honorable member for Fawkner were obtained by me from the honorable member for Wakefield, who used them to-night when you were in the chair.
– Order! I’ am not objecting to the figures; but the honorable member for Fawkner was dealing with conditions between employers and employees. I ask him to deal with the provision for Government works.
– At the outbreak of the war the then Prime Minister, Mr. Fisher, requested the State Governments and private employers to push on with all works that would give employment to the people, and the Government of which he was the head tried consistently to give effect to the gospel they were preaching to others, so as to minimize the unemployment resulting from the general disturbance of conditions. It should be our endeavour to continue that policy ; but the Government do not propose to do that. I wish to take exception to the opinions expressed by several speakers during this debate with regard to the cost of work performed at Cockatoo Island Dockyard. This Parliament adopted a protective policy, because it was recognised that, on account of the hours of labour and the higher wages paid in Australia, it was impossible for our manufacturers to compete successfully with manufacturers in other countries where the conditions of labour were different. The argument which applied to the private manufacturer and his product must apply equally to the work performed for the Government, whether at Newport, Eveleigh, or Cockatoo Island. Ship construction is practically a new industry in Australia. Our workmen had to gain experience in that particular class of work. In addition, there is a difference of probably from 60 to 75 per cent, between the wages paid in Australia and those paid in the Mother Country, and the hours of labour also are much shorter in the Commonwealth. Further than that, practically the whole of the material used in the construction of vessels at Cockatoo Island had to be imported, and the work had to bear the expense of sending the material to the water-side in England, the freight to Australia, and the cost of handling from the vessel’s side to the dockyard. I believe that, so far as labour is concerned, investigation will ultimately prove that the Brisbane was constructed as cheaply as it could have been in any other part of the world under similar conditions.
-What did the vessel cost?
– I think the cost was about £700,000, as against £450,000 for a vessel of the same class built in the Mother Country. The same difference in cost applies to almost every article. A pair of boots which in Australia costs 14s., might be made in some other part of the world for 7s. I believe that the cost of a Ford motor car in Australia is practically twice the cost in America.
– The wages paid to the workmen who make the Ford cars are higher than the wages paid in Australia.
– That may be so; but the article sold in Australia has to bear the cost of freight, duty, &c. In like manner, a great portion of the material required for the cruiser Brisbane had to bear duty.
– If the duty were wiped out, we could get the work done more cheaply.
– Yes; but there would be less work.
– The wages in Australia are less than those paid in America.
– That may be perfectly true. The wages in Australia in many trades are lower than those paid in America, and our cost of production is higher. But the fault does not lie with the workmen. Many engineering firms in the Commonwealth have not installed a piece of up-to-date plant in their establishments for fifteen or twenty years.When the increased cost of production is referred to, the only explanation advanced by some honorable members is the “horrible slowing-down policy” of the Australian workman. The cause is not the slowing down of our workmen in either Government or private employment. When Australian workmen went to South Africa they became very unpopular. The reason was that the worker in South Africa believed that the Australian worker did too much work. For the same reason the Australian worker was unpopular in the Old World. The experience of the State Governments and of private employers is that in the matter of speed and experience the new arrival cannot compare with the Australian workman. The opinion is often expressed in other parts of the world, as well as here, that the Australian workman is second to no other workman on the face of the earth. Yet we have complaints from men in this House, who have not a good word to say about him. The cost of the cruiser Brisbane may seem high to some, but the high cost is due to the fact that it is the first vessel of the kind built- in Australia. The honorable member for Dampier knows that the first cost is always high. In Western Australia not many years ago cast-iron pipes cost £16 to £17 a ton, but the price was paid because it led to the establishment of a new industry in that State, and now as the result of the teaching of men and improved methods of ‘ production, the State Government are producing these pipes cheaper than they can import them. What applies to the making of pipes applies to bootmaking and any other form of industry that we have established in Australia, and will apply in regard to shipbuilding generally. I disapprove of the action of the Government in cutting down the money that they were going to spend on public works, because this is not the right time for cutting down such expenditure.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended, and resolution adopted.
Resolution of Ways and Means covering resolution of Supply reported and adopted.
That Mr. Poynton and Mr. Hughes do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented and read a first time and second time:
:The question of the arsenal has been before the House for some time, and I understand that, during the recent adjournment a sum of £40,000 was placed by the ex-Treasurer at the disposal of the Home Affairs Department for the purpose of establishing one. As I think this matter should be delayed, I ask the Treasurer whether in the Bill before us there is any money provided to be at the disposal of the Government for the further prosecution of the work.
– I understand that there has been only £200 or £300 spent up to the present.
– I am in possession of information in regard to the work that is being carried on at the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow. I have no desire to repeat the statements that I made before, but I say that it would be the gravest scandal we could commit if we allowed money to be spent in connexion with this proposed arsenal. The site has been stated as magnificent for a monastery, but not for a great work of this sort. There is neither population nor coal, nor any of the requirements of an arsenal. On those grounds alone the matter should be discussed, and parliamentary approval obtained, as to whether we should build the arsenal on the site proposed. But, apart from those grounds, we have no expert in the manufacture of munitions who has reported on the matter. I make- no reflection on Colonel Owen, but I do not think he ever saw an arsenal until he went to India - India, of all places. After the war we will’ be able to get the finest experts that can be obtained, and be able to take advantage of all the improvements that are being effected as the result of the experience gained during the war.
– I understand that this matter has been referred to an expert in Great Britain, and that nothing will be done until he reports fully on it. That will take some time.
– If I have the assurance that the Government will be guided by that report, I have nothing further to say.
– That is the case.
.- I regret the statement that has just been made by the Treasurer. If there is one work that should be gone on with, and on which the House should be unanimous, it is the arsenal. If anything happened to Australia, we should be absolutely dependent on places outside for all our munitions.
– Just as we are to-day.
– Because we are dependent on outside countries to-day, are we to let the matter stand over? If there is one establishment that should be absolutely removed from all private interests, and built where the Government can reserve a mile or more of country around it, so that no one can get near to it, it is an arsenal; and nowhere can that be done better than at Canberra. I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter, and proceed with the work. I have not asked that any other work should be proceeded with. Other works at the Federal Capital could be absolutely stopped, but the arsenal is quite distinct from other public works, and should be gone on with as soon as possible.
– The honorable member does not object to expert advice.
– No ; but I do object to hanging up the matter. I know what happened in connexion with the arsenal. A site was selected, and then Mr. Griffin came down and said it would spoil his plan. He said, “ I have run out on paper a nice fancy city, so do not have the arsenal there.” Then people started pulling the strings to get a site near Queanbeyan, so that they might receive the unearned increment. Then an Arsenal Committee was elected, comprising Mr. McKay, who is in charge of Walkers Limited, Queensland ; the Professor of Engineering at the Melbourne University, Professor Payne; and two others, as well as Colonel Owen, and the Committee went to India and saw the arsenals there. . If there is one thing that Australia has neglected, it has been the making of preparations in certain directions for its defence. We call ourselves sensible men, but we are absolutely dependent on the outside world. We know that there are nations opposed to us, who are making it absolutely impossible to know whether a ship leaving any port of the world will arrive at its destination without being submarined. Yet some people claim that we ought to be dependent on munitions made elsewhere, and that we need not prepare to make them here; and the Government say, “ We will engage an expert to consider the question.” I hope that the Government will not postpone the matter any longer. They are likely to have pressure put on them by their one indepen dent supporter, the honorable member for Lithgow, and they are likely to be pressed by the Opposition to postpone the work.
– I can assure the honorable member that no one has approached me one way or the other.
– The Government should go on with the work, and not allow it to be hung up.
– The Government are going on with it.
– But the Treasurer tells us that they have deferred it. I was anxious to get this Works Bill through, but the Treasurer, at the request of the honorable member for Dampier, said that he was prepared to postpone this work.
– I did not say anything about postponing it.
– There have been interjections to the effect that nothing will be done until expert advice has been received.
– The matter is now in the hands of an expert.
– Where is the expert?
– The honorable member knows all about it.
– I do not know all about it. If the Government postpone this work, it is possible that we shall all be sorry for their action. I protest against any postponement of this very necessary undertaking.
– If there is one question on which we require expert opinion, it is that of the arsenal. Can any one read the history of that rotten farce, the Lithgow Small Arms Factory, and say that further information on this subject is not necessary? I am not going to question the ability of the experts, to whom reference has been made, within their own several spheres; but their expert knowledge of arsenal work consists solely of information which they gained, by a visit to an arsenal in India. We are turning out, at a cost of from £13 to £15 each, rifles . which in America cost under £4.
– The Lithgow rifle is not costing that now.
– For the reason that during the last three or four months no rifles have been turned out at Lithgow.
– The Public Accounts Committee says that the cost of the Lithgow rifle is £7 12s.
– My information is that they are costing from £13 to £15 each. No Minister for Defence has^ yet been able to toll us their exact cost. I do not intend to say much regarding the quality of the Lithgow rifles, since it would be inadvisable to do so; but God help Australia if she has to. depend for her defence on a class of arm such as the rifles that have been turned out at Lithgow at three times more than they ought to cost. When I was in Perth in June last, tens of thousands of shell cases were being turned out there with the full knowledge that not one of them would be charged with an explosive. The Department was turning them out, knowing before the steel went into the factories that they could never be used. Thousands of shell cases were also turned out in Sydney, and are still stacked there. No member of this House - no member of any Committee - is able to tell us what these shell cases cost the country. We cannot ascertain the actual cost of the Lithgow rifles, nor can we learn what the building of the *Brisbane at Cockatoo Island dockyard cost the country. So far as I have been able to ascertain, however, she has cost just about twice as much as we had to pay for her sister ships in the Old Country. It would be a criminal waste of money to establish an arsenal on the lines that have been followed for years in connexion with the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow - an arsenal that would produce an obsolete gun of inferior quality at three times its reasonable cost. I hope that before proceeding any further with these arsenal works, the Government will obtain such expert advice as will prevent a repetition of the costly blunders of the past.
Mr.RILEY (South Sydney) [10.50].- I trust that the Committee will insist upon the Government pushing on with the work of building the arsenal. This is not a party question. We are. engaged in war, and should take such steps as will place Australia in the position of being able to defend herself after peace has been declared. The honorable member for Franklin says that it was absurd to send a committee of experts to India to prosecute inquiries regarding the establishment of an arsenal. I understand that the British Government, in response to the inquiries of the Commonwealth Government, recommended that the committee should pro ceed to India, where the most up-to-date buildings and the latest plant for an arsenal would be found. ‘Acting on such advice from the Imperial Government, a committee of experts was sent to India, and obtained the latest information on the subject.
– Does the honorable member think that, as the result of the visit to India, the most modern methods were learned?
– Yes. In my opinion, the British Government gave us the best possible advice. My information is that munitions are being made very cheaply in India. We have in our Federal Territory a magnificent site for an arsenal, which is close to an abundant supply of water such as is required for arsenal purposes. Why should we want to learn the opinions of outside men? This country, to its cost, has had too much outside expert advice. We are not duly sensible of the skill and ability that we have in Australia. Some of the men holding high positions here, and who have been turned down, could do much better than many men in other parts of the world.
– If any one votes “Yes” on this question, will the executive turn down his nomination?
– This question, involving, as it does, the defence of Australia, is a serious one, and I am dealing with it as such. I hope that there will be no curtailment of expenditure on the arsenal. The work ought to.be pushed on. We have the raw material and the skilled labour necessary for the manufacture of munitions and guns in the Commonwealth. All that we need is to erect the necessary buildings, and to install tha requisite machinery. If the Liberal party were to displace the present Government, I believe they would carry’ on this work,, because they take a national view of the question of defence. I hope they will use their influence to induce the Government to go on with the work of erecting the arsenal. Two members of the present Ministry, who I am glad to see there - Senator Lynch and the honorable member for Denison - recommended this work when members of the Public Works Committee. They heard the evidence, and should have a well-stored mind on this question. The Treasurer is going to make a great mistake if he ties up this work.
– I did not suggest that I would.
– Will the Treasurer give me his assurance that there will be no delaying of this work pending the receipt of further expert advice? Are the Government going to suspend operations until the opinion of a foreigner who is not a naturalized British subject can be obtained ? Such is the class of men advising this Government. I shall take the assurance of the . Treasurer that this work is not going to be held up until the opinions of outside experts can be secured. The Government have a good site for the arsenal, and there is a demand for guns and ammunition. It is twelve months since the Public Works Committee reported on this question as a matter of urgency, and decided that the proposed site is a good one.
– Is there any money on the Estimates for the arsenal?
– I do not know, but I hope the Treasurer will push this matter on.
– It has been stated that the rifles manufactured at Lithgow are costing from £16 10s. to £17 10s. each, while the Honorary Minister the other day informed us that the Public Accounts Committee had reported that the cost was about £7 10s. Under the circumstances we ought to be told what is the real cost, and whether the rifles manufactured there duringthe last four months have been condemned because of some . fault, or merely because the standard has been altered and that information is awaited on the latter point.
– I repeat what I said last year - that, in my opinion, the proposed’ site is not the best one, but that it should be further inland, and much less accessible to invasion by seaplane or otherwise from the sea coast. The arsenal ought not to be in such a position as to endanger the Capital City, but rather, as I suggested previously, should be inland, near Bourke, somewhere on the strategic line between Port Augusta and Brisbane. I make the further suggestion that there is no particular hurry to push on with this work. The war has shown a remarkable advance in the manufacture of warlike materials. The Minister for Defence stated the other day that changes in the methods of warfare are so quick that no sooner do we receive by letter specifications on shell manufacture than a cable is received cancelling them. We ought to wait to ascertain the best results gained by the experience of this war before we spend money on machinery for the manufacture of war material. The arsenal can be of no possible use for. the present war, and we hope the interval between this and the next war will give us a sufficient margin of time to decide as to the best site and the best methods. This would avoid another costly mistake like that of the factory at Lithgow, which has been mismanaged from the beginning. The present manager does not profess to have had any experience in the manufacture of rifles.
– He makes a better job of it than the previous -manager.
– I believe that is so. I think . that the previous manager was here only in the interests of the people who supplied the machinery. What is really required at the Small Arms Factory is a proper management. The honorable member for Wide Baycould tell of a man in his constituency -whose qualifications are second to none, and who has already been tried and gained the confidence of the public in the management of such affairs. What is required above all is a change of management.
Bill agreed to, and passed through its remaining stages.
House adjourned at 11.1 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 December 1916, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1916/19161213_reps_6_80/>.