7th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot John- son) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Honorary Minister, in the absence of the Prime Minister, whether, for the benefit of the residents of Melbourne, he will have a list of the prices fixed for bread posted at the General Post Office, together with the name of the official to whom any citizen may complain if charged higher prices.
– I shall bring the suggestion under the notice of the Prime Minister.
– According to to-day/s newspapers, it was stated yesterday in evidence taken by the Inter-State Commission that nearly all the millers and about 80 per cent, of the bakers have entered into an agreement not to sell bread below certain fixed prices. Bakers who sell below these prices are not to be supplied by the millers. I ask the Prime Minister if he intends to establish a subbranch of the National Bureau to give - protection to bakers who desire to sell bread at such prices as they can afford to sell at, independently of the ring to which I have referred?
– I shall be glad to do so, provided, of course, that the bakers who say that they can sell bread at6d. a loaf are not making their profit at the expense of those who work for them. The man who gave the evidence referred to does not pay wages to his wife and his daughter, whom he employs in his business.
– Can the Prime Minister give us the name of the baker to whom he refers?_
– I do not know his name. All I know is that a witness examined yesterday said that he was engaged in the business of making bread and pastry, ‘ and that in estimating the cost of’ his bread he did not allow for the value of the work done In his shop by his wife and daughter. That man is undercutting other bakers who employ assistance at union rates of wages. How can those who have to pay union rates meet such competition?
– Does the Prime Minister impugn this man’s evidence? If so, is it his intention to have him prosecuted for perjury?
– I presume that what he says is true. It was the truth of his revelation that staggered me. Such a man should be put into gaol.
– Will the Prime Minister make special inquiry into the rumour that this baker is a German, and therefore unworthy of being taken notice of?
– Several questions have been asked relating to matters arising out of a Minister’s answer to a question. It is distinctly out of order to ask such supplementary questions, and I hope that the practice will not be continued.
– A constituent who, although a member of the Tramway Employees’ Union, is standing by the authorities in New South “Wales during the present strike, wrote to me yesterday to say that the baker from whom he has been buying bread for the last three and a half years now refuses to supply him, because he is supporting the Government. I ask the Prime Minister if he will see whether this sort of thing can be prevented ?
– I cannot compel one man to sell goods to another if, for any reason, he declines to do so. This is a free country, in which a man may refuse to offer his services or to sell his goods. It is for the community or for those who feel aggrieved by such action to take such remedies as may be open to them. I shall not make fish of one and fowl of another. This conflict, which is engendering great bitterness among all sorts of people, will, in the end, work out its own salvation. Every man owes a duty to hia country and to his fellow citizens, and subject to the law each must determine for himself in what spirit he should perform it.
Strike Committee: Trades Hall - List or “Wild, Reckless, Disloyal Men.”
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to a statement in to-day’s press to the effect that there is at the Trades Hall, Melbourne, a strike committee, guarded by sentries, and apparently defying the law of the land from an impregnable position, Will this be allowed under the Commonwealth, or State, law?
– A number of persons are at present more or less openly defying the law, but my attention has not been directed to this particular case.
– Has the Prime Minister yet compiled a list of those to whom in a proclamation relating to the strike issued a few days ago over his name he referred as “wild, reckless, disloyal men, dominated by secret German agents”? Has he, as the head of the Commonwealth Government, taken action in regard to them?
– I am endeavouring to take action as soon as possible.- Perhaps the honorable member will supply me with names to extend the list already compiled. I shall be glad to have them, and the honorable member may help me to lay hands on the right men. I am particularly desirous that there shall not be included among those upon whom the wrath of the law will descend men who have been misled, designedly, by persons who keep in the background, who are urging foolish, credulous men and women to serve their own ends without regard to the welfare of Australia.
– I understand that there is now in Australia a theatrical company in which a number of German artists are employed who masquerade under French, Russian, and Belgian names. I ask the Prime Minister whether the Commonwealth Government can protect Australian artists against the competition of unnaturalized Germans?
– If .the honorable member will give me fuller particulars, I shall make inquiries. Unnaturalized Germans are not allowed to come here.
– Recently the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked a question regarding the appointment of complaints officers. Some time ago steps were taken to extend the system of appointing such officers throughout Australia. <
– Is the Government prepared to follow the example of the New Zealand Government and make available for local consumption meat and other foodstuffs in cool stores which, although intended for the British Government, cannot be sent overseas for want of freight?
– I do not know what has been done in this matter in New Zealand. If the honorable member will put his question on the notice-paper for Wednesday next, I may be able in the interval to ascertain the exact state of affairs, and determine what action the Government should take in this matter.
– Will the Treasurer say when he gave instructions for the issue of a Commonwealth loan in London, and whether Sir Robert Nivison and Company were .permitted to underwrite it; and if so, what underwriting fees the firm is charging?
– I suppose that the question is based upon a notice appearing in the press this morning. I believe that the information in the press is substantially correct, but I have not the full information as yet. I have approved of the issue of the loan, and it is being issued through the Commonwealth Bank. The terms under which’ it is being issued have been approved by the Commonwealth Bank and its advisers, Sir Robert Nivison and Company, and also by the High Commissioner and the British Treasury.
– The Treasurer has omitted to say whether Sir Robert Nivison and Company were permitted to underwrite the loan, or to mention what fees they are being paid.
– I ask the honorable member to give notice of his question.
Special Impost on Spinsters.
– Will the Treasurer say whether there is any truth in a statement which has been made, namely, that it is intended that the Bill which proposes to place a special tax upon bachelors will also apply to spinsters? (Sir JOHN FORREST. - The proposals of the Government are in the hands of honorable members, and the honorable member will see that they refer to males only, and not to females. There is no truth in the statement referred to by the honorable member, as he ought to be aware.
– Through you, Mr. Speaker, I would like to submit a question to the Leader of the Opposition?
-The honorable member will not be in order in doing so, unless it relates to business of which he is in charge.
TIBOOBURRA TELEGRAPH OFFICE. j
– I wish to ask a question arising out of the disability placed on people in outlying parts of Australia through the reduction of telegraphic: facilities. The telegraph operator at Tibooburra has been removed, and a telephone service has been substituted. The Postmaster-General is absent, but I wash to ask whether the Government will stay the hands of the Postal Department until the Postmaster-General can be approached directly concerning this matter.
– I will see that representations are made to the Postal Department regarding the matter, and have inquiries made, and I will see that the honorable member is furnished with the information he seeks when the Postmaster-
” LOADING “ OF INVOICES.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to thehonorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Honorary Repatriation Boards of seven members each, and the Central Honorary Board of Boven members, will these Boards meet weekly or monthly, and what are to be their duties?-
– This information will bo supplied during the debates upon the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister’s Department has supplied the following information : - 1. (a) D. J. Quinn.
Seven pounds per week to 21st June, 1916. No payment has been made since that date.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government will amend the War Precautions (Enemy Shareholders) Regulations by the insertion of the following clause, viz.: - “Shares which have been transferred to or vested in the Public Trustee under these Regulations, shall be sold by public auction, and all such proposed sales shall be duly advertised in thej Commonwealth Gazette, said advertisement to give the public at least one month’s notice of each proposed sale”?
– The suggesied amendment is nob considered necessary. It is proposed that the sales shall be by auction, and due notice will be given.
Number of Divisions
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
In Committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
– I move -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to grant and apply out of Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum for invalid and old-age pensions.
The object of this Bill is to provide funds for the Trust Fund, out of which invalid and old-age pensions are paid. This fund was established at the inception of the payment by the Commonwealth of invalid and old-age pensions. Moneys ‘are paid into it from revenue, and no money can be drawn from it except for the purposes of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. “We have to provide the fund before we can make payments.
– Is it true that this Bill must be passed before old-age pensions can be’ paid?
– Yes ; in order to supplement moneys already in thefund.
– Then where did the Treasury get the money for the balance of the past year?
– From funds provided under similar appropriations to this one. I ask the honorable member to have a little patience. I shall explain the position. The Trust Fund was also established for other reasons, with which honorable members who were in Parliament at the time are well acquainted. Any balance of revenue over expenditure at the end of a financial year is paid into the fund, because there was some doubt as to whether the balance should go back to the States under section 94 of the Constitution. Under a decision of the High Court, any balance remaining at the end of the year can be paid into a trustfund. This is the fund into which balances are paid.
– Where do you get the money to put into this fund?
– From the consolidated revenue, of course. This measure will authorize us to pay into it from time to time balances up to £10,000,000. Of course, we do not pay anything like that sum in old-age pensions in any one year, but when we have any balance at the end of a financial year we pay it into this fund and draw upon it for old-age pensions. There is a safeguard in the fact that the money cannot be withdrawn, except for this purpose, no matter how much money is in the fund.
– What is the utility of the fund?
– I have told the honorable member. We are asked year after year to explain these matters to honorable members who have been in the House for years. The same practice as I am proposing has been followed ever since old-age pensions were established, and it is necessary to have large appropriations. When the last financial year closed we had a surplus of about £2,000,000, and we might have had some difficulty, because we had almost exhausted the appropriation, and we could not pay the money into the trust fund unless we had an appropriation for the purpose.
.- I understand that this procedure has been followed from time to time. Is it not a fact that there was £3,000,000 in this fund?
– That was taken out for old-age pensions, and the amount was supplemented from revenue from time to time.
– What is the purpose of asking for power to pay in £10,000,000?
– Only to prevent us asking Parliament for these appropriations too often. I think that we had paid up to £5,000,000 on a previous occasion.
– I understand that unless any balance is paid into a trust fund before the end of the financial year there is a possibility of it being claimed by the States in addition to the 25s. per head.
– That question might be raised, but appropriations of this kind prevent that being done.
– I remember that when Mr. Fisher -was Treasurer he proposed a similar appropriation, but I wish to be sure that there is to be no juggling with the funds, and that money shall not be taken out of it in order to make the finances appear to be in a better condition than they really are.
– That cannot possibly be done.
– I think Mr. Fisher originated this fund in order to utilize surplus revenue so that it need not be paid back to the States in addition to the 25s. per head, but I do not think the fund was started with an appropriation of £3,000,000. I cannot understand why the Treasurer wishes to appropriate £10,000,000, because we are not likely to have that amount of surplus revenue. On the contrary we are more likely to have a deficit.
– That will not affect the fund.
– Of course, the old-age pensions would require to be paid whetheror not there was any money in the fund.
– We take out of this fund as much money as we can for old-age pensions, and obtain the balance from revenue.
– Parliament must appropriate money for the purposes of the oldage pensions.
– I do not think so. The old-age pensions must be paid whether we have this fund or not.
– Section 53 of the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act says that the old-age pensions shall be paid out of “ moneys from time to time to be appropriated by Parliament for the purpose.” .
– It is not necessary to have this trust fund at all, but it has been established for convenience in order that balances may be paid into it.
– I am anxious that the balances should go into this fund, to which I have no objection whatever. I have no desire that there shall be any leakage of money to the States in addition to the 25s. per head. What I desire to know is, firstly, why the appropriation is so large; and, secondly, whether the pensions would not be paid even if there were no fund in existence ?
– How much money is required for pensions for one year?
– We shall require £3,830,000 this year. If we had £3,000,000 in the fund we should only ask for £830,000 from revenue.
– Do we not appropriate a sum of money for old-age pensions every year, apart from this trust fund ? I think we should take as much as possible of the money required for pensions from revenue, and take only the balance required from this fund. I do not know whether it is pertinent to this Bill to ask whether the Treasurer is making provision that old-age pensioners who are in receipt of military pensions, as a result of the death of their sons, shall receive the full pension under the Invalid and Old-age Pensions. Act ? In some cases old people have lost their old-age pensions, because they are obtaining other pensions through, the death of their sons.
– That will be discussed under another Bill, which, when passed, will prevent the happenings to which the honorable member is referring.
– I think these old people should receive their full pensions. A widow came to me this week, who had been in receipt of an old-age pension of 12s. 6d. per week. Through the death of her only son, who was her sole support, she is to receive a pension of £1 per week, and her old-age pension has been taken away from her.
– Another Bill on the notice-paper will prevent that being done.
.- I asked the Treasurer whether this Bill was necessary and he stated that it was, and that we cannot pay the old-age pensions without it.
– We must have an appropriation.
– I will not allow the honorable member to talk to me like that. The manner of his remark would lead one to think that I have been saying something untrue.
– I shall try to be very polite to the right honorable gentleman, because he is at all times a Chesterfield in debate, and sets such an excellent example to others. . The Treasurer suggested that the old-age pensions could not be paid without this Bill. Do I understand him to say now that it is not necessary to pass this Bill in order to pay the old-age pensions?
– If we did not pass this Bill we should have to pass another appropriation.
– That interjection would indicate that we cannot pay the old-age pension unless this Bill or some other like it is passed. I should not like to call the Treasurer’s methods juggling with the finances, because that would not be polite.
– It would be near enough for the honorable member.
– The Treasurer does not like my criticism, because he knows that it is merited.
– Order ! I ask both honorable members to avoid personalities, and to adhere to the Bill.
– At page 2 of the Estimates there appears the line “ Balance brought forward from previous year for payment of invalid and old-age pensions, £2,102,177.” That is the estimate for 1917-18. “We passed a measure similar to this to provide for a Trust Fund of £3,000,000 for old-age pensions; but we did not use the whole of that amount, as we drew upon the Consolidated Revenue for portion of our requirements, and consequently this balance of £2,102,177 waa brought forward. When we had surplus revenues such a measure as this was necessary in order to prevent their going to the States. We did not, of course, tell the States in those days what was our object in creating this fund. Had we done so the critics of the Federation no doubt would have drawn attention to the ‘ fact that we had surplus revenue which ought to be distributed amongst the States, and that we had smothered up the fact by passing a Bill, under which we appropriated it for the creation of an Invalid and Old-age Pension Trust Fund. The position to-day, however, is quite different, and I contend that this Bill is unnecessary. _
– The honorable member, when Treasurer, passed such a Bill.
– I was learning. The right honorable member and his party did not allow me to remain in office long enough, otherwise I should have endeavoured to alter the method of presenting to the people the accounts of the Commonwealth.
– It does not follow that the alteration would have been an. improvement.
– That would have remained to be seen. Where does the Treasurer expect to obtain out of revenue this» year a sum of £10,000,000 to pay into this’ fund?
– This is not intended for the current year alone. As wa get the money we shall pay it into the fund.
– Is it merely a myth? We have to pay these pensions, and if we fail to find the money . necessary for the purpose, the public will want to know the reason why.
– Is the honorable member ever going to stop talking?
– I am merely drawing attention to the habits and customs of the , Treasurer.
– The honorable member is a great authority!
– I shall have something to say as to the action of the right honorable gentleman in floating a loan on the London market, as reported in to-day’s papers, without telling the Commonwealth Parliament anything of his intentions.
The Acts No. 22 of 1911, and No. 18 of 1912, were merely special appropriations for the payment of invalid and oldage pensions, and this is only a proposal to enable the Treasurer to present hia balance-sheet in a more or less satisfactory way. It will enable him to refrain from showing the true position of the finances of the Commonwealth. It is really designed to meet his exigencies, and to enable him to juggle with the revenue. He has no £10,000,000 available to be taken out of revenue, and paid into this Trust Fund. If he has he should not be borrowing. The Treasurer will have his own way, since he has a majority behind him, but we have no right to make a needless addition to our statute-book, and to incur the expense of printing a Bill merely to suit the right honorable gentleman, and to lead the public to believe that he is cleverer than he really is.
– I am informed by the Treasury that in previous years as much as £5,500,000 has been paid into the Invalid and Old-age Pension Trust Fund. This is technically an appropriation to provide for the payment of old-age pensions. A Trust Fund is created, and the requisite sum is paid into it. At the beginning of the present financial year there was standing to the credit of this Trust Fund a sum of £1,700,000, but that amount has been reduced by subsequent demands made upon it. When this Bill is passed, money will again be paid out of revenue into the fund. At the end of each financial year, in order to preserve to the Commonwealth the balance existing, the surplus is paid into this Trust Fund to save distribution amongst the States under the Surplus Revenue Act. We have to preserve our right to any surplus revenue because provision has already been made for what was agreed to be an adequate distribution among the States.
– But for that fact we could do without this measure.
– Quite so. The object of the proposed .appropriation is also to preserve any surplus revenue to this Commonwealth Trust Fund.
– I fail to understand why the Treasurer should propose to appropriate a sum of £10,000,000, seeing that a measure of this kind is brought forward annually, and that he is not likely to expend £10,000,000 on invalid and old-age pensions in any one year. Does he intend to provide also for war pensions out of this fund?
– No. What objection has the honorable member to this proposal ?
– To one who is not very conversant with the facts, it would appear that the Treasurer contemplated using some of this money for purposes other than the payment of invalid and old-age pensions.
– Not at all.
– It is remarkable that he should propose to provide £10,000,000 for this purpose in respect of a year in which the expenditure on invalid and old-age pensions is not likely to exceed £4,000,000.
– We did not anticipate a surplus of more than £120,000 at the end of the last financial year, whereas we had a surplus of £2,000,000. How can we tell what we shall have at the end of the year?
– At all events, if the Treasurer hopes to have a surplus of £10,000,000 at the end of the financial year I trust that he will not endeavour to secure it by reducing expenditure on public works, and combing out public employment.
– This is a purely formal matter.
– If the right honorable gentleman were in Opposition and such a proposal as this were brought forward, I think he would say at once that there was no possibility of a surplus of £10,000,000 at the end of the financial year. I hope that this payment of £10,000,000 into a trust fund is not intended as a nest-egg to be used for a purpose other than the payment of old-age pensions.
– No. It cannot be used for any other purpose.
– I think that portion of the amount standing to the credit of the Invalid and Old-age. Pensions Trust Fund was used during last financial year for other purposes.
– Not at all.
– I believe that fact was disclosed in a speech made by the Treasurer himself on 6th March last, and reported in Hansard, Vol. LXXXI.. page 11019. On that page a number of items totalling £6,903,551, and representing “.war expenditure necessarily payable from ordinary revenue,” are enumerated.
– If I were the Treasurer I would withdraw this proposal if it is going to be debated in this way by the Opposition.
– I am merely pointing out that the Treasurer, on 6th March last, showed how he had dealt with the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Trust Fund.- His predecessor in office had left a balance of £3,000,000 in that fund, but in order to adjust his finances and to show a surplus at the end of the year, the right honorable gentleman took that amount from thetrust fund-
– And spent it on invalid and old-age pensions.
– According to his own statement, as reported at the page I have named, he expended it on such items as “ administration Soldiers’ Repatriation Fund,” “war pensions, including administration/’ “ Customs duty remitted on presents sent by soldiers, &c,” Major-General Bridges’ funeral, and so forth. The Treasurer is asking for an appropriation of £10,000,000 to this trust fund, although that sum would practically provide for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions over a period of three years. We have hitherto zealously guarded our In- valid and Old-age Pensions Trust Fund, in which the Labour Government accumulated £3,000,000-
– On the very page from which the honorable member has quoted, the Treasurer is reported as having said that that amount was ear-marked and used for the payment of invalid and oldage pensions. Read what he said.
– I was about to do so. After referring to the items which I have mentioned, the Treasurer went on to say -
It is intended to pay the whole £6,903,551 from revenue, and that is possible, because from the year 1915-16 there was brought forward an amount of £3,000,000 ear-marked for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions, which, altogether, will cost £3,660,000 in 1916- 17.
If honorable members look at the table on page 11026 of the Hansard report, they will find that, while in 1915-16 the sum set down was £3,000,000, there is a blank for the year 1916-17. What I desire to find out is whether this money can be used as a kind of. shifting quantity, so that when the finances are likely to show a deficit, the Treasurer may lay his hand on the accumulated funds, and, by transferring them to genera] revenue, come out with a credit. That is what the Treasurer did with the £3,000,000; and we have a right to ask whether a repetition of this procedure is likely. The Treasurer has asserted that he does not intend to do so.
– By law, I cannot do so.
– But the Treasurer, in his Budget speech in March last, showed that he had transferred a certain sum from the Old-age Pension Fund.
– If there is going to be any debate we shall have to withdraw this proposal, for we cannot spend a whole day over what should be an absolutely formal matter. To my knowledge, such a proposal has never before been debated in this chamber. What is the charge made by the honorable member for Maribyrnong(Mr. Fen ton) ? It is that the Treasurer, at- some time or other, took a few pounds out of this fund for the purpose of repatriation.
– I never did so.
– That is the statement made by the honorable member for Maribyrnong, and that is the reason he is blocking the passage of this very necessary measure to provide for invalid and old-age pensions.
– You know differently !
– I do not, and I followed the honorable member very closely.
– The Minister forgets to say that the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) is against repatriation !
– I will not tell the honorable member he is against repatriation, but I will say that he is now at this moment against invalid and oldage pensions.
– Rubbish !
– The honorable member may say “ Rubbish,” but we now have before us a proposal to allocate £10,000,000 for pensions, and every possible objection is being raised to the Bill. As I say, if there is going to be any further opposition we shall, for the time being, withdraw the proposal.
– In 1914 the Labour Government appropriated £5,500,000 for the same purpose.
– It is a formal, customary proposal, which, to my knowledge, has never before been objected to. -
-It has been debated before.
– The Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Groom) has pointed out that in December, 1914, the Government of which the Leader of the Opposition was a member, appropriated £5,500,000 for this purpose.
– And I, think you objected to that at the time.
– No; I did not. What do honorable members opposite desire? Let us get on with the business.
– I said I would allow the Bill to go through.’
– What is the use of the honorable member saying that, when he has no control over those behind him. If the ex-Treasurer (Mr. Higgs) would give an assurance of the- kind we might have some chance. It is a shocking state of affairs when even the slightest objection is raised to a proposal of this kind. If members are not prepared to let the Bill pass, I am not prepared to allow it to be debated all day to the exclusion of other business.
.- I do not pretend to understand the objects for which this immense sum of money is to be appropriated.
– The honorable member knows that a similar course is taken constantly, and was taken by the Labour Government whichhe supported.
– The honorable member for Batman should not offer criticism if he does not know 1
– I submit that, under the circumstances, it is not too much to ask why this money is to be appropriated.
– It was explained while the honorable member was absent.
– I heard the Assistant Minister’s address on the subject, and I donot think that it was at all conclusive. The nominal object as disclosed by. the Bill itself has to do with the trusts set out in the Audit Act. What are those trusts ? It is theatrical on . the part of the Minister for the Navy to say that we are opposing invalid and old-age pensions. It is perfectly obvious that this money is not to be used for that purpose, and will not be required for it.
– Who says that?
– The very estimate itself, to which the Treasurer referred, shows that there is a balance brought forward from the previous year of £3,000,000, and the estimate for 1917-18 is £2,000,000 odd. It is not contended for a moment that this money is to be used this year or next year. The Bill provides that there shall be payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, for the purposes of the Trust Account sstablished under the ‘ Audit Act, known as the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Fund - a mere technical description of the fund- the sum of £10,000,000 for invalid and old-age pensions.
– That is exactly the same wording that was used in 1914 when the Labour Government appropriated £5,500,000.
– Do Ministers confess that they do not know what the proposal means - that merely because something was done in the past, it ought therefore to.be done to-day?
– Do you say that you did not understand what the Labour Government were doing in 1914?
– Tell us what it is proposed to do with the £10,000,000?
– Let the honorable member propose to reject the Bill, and wo shall know what he means !
– I can look forward to a time immediately preceding an election when the right honorable and distinguished gentleman opposite will tell the public that we on this side did our best to prevent an appropriation for invalid and old-age pensions; indeed, the Minister for the Navy is such a born parliamentarian that he plunged straightway into the fray, and. told us that is our object.
– I can only say that I should be perfectly justified in doing so.
– Of course, if the honorable gentleman had devoted . time which he spent in making political capital-
– The honorable member for Batman is now out of order.
– I thought I was completely in order. I have , not the honour or responsibility- of being the Treasurer, and, therefore, I thought that the Treasurer might : be able to throw some light on the matter.
– When you are Treasurer you. will introduce an exactly similar Bill.
– I may, for one never knows the extent of one’s political degeneracy or its possibilities. I wish to record my protest against the attitude of the Minister for the Navy. It is a reasonable request to be informed for what purposes this money is being appropriated, seeing that it is perfectly clear it cannot be used for . pensions. The payment of pensions does not depend on the passage of the Bill, and, therefore, we ought to know the object of themeasure.
– It is not my intention to take up time on a formal measure of this kind. It appeals to me as one similar to that introduced by Mr. Fisher, whom I sat behind in. 1914, for the purpose of obtaining money for invalid and oldage pensions. It is a sad reflection to me to find honorable members, with whom I was associated so long, and who were the means of introducing old-age pensions, now taking such acourse as may compel the Treasurer to withdraw the Bill, and thus deprive the pensioners of their rights. The attitude assumed by honorable members opposite is purely for party purposes. I should like to know if it is not a fact that not long ago we had the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) telling the people of Darwin that, if the present Government were returned to power, old-age pensions would be abolished ; that was the fulcrum on which honorable members oppositeplaced their lever in their efforts to defeat their opponents.
– It is the biggest appropriation ever proposed in this Parliament for old-age pensions.
– It is, and makes provison for the payment of the pensions for the next three years. Surely, honorable members opposite have not read the Bill. Certainly the honorable member, for Brisbane cannot understand the measure, and I doubt whether he is in accord with his colleagues.
– Hear; hear!
– I am glad to hear that the honorable member condemns the action of the Opposition, an action, as I say, taken purely for party purposes. I hope the Treasurer will not go to the extreme suggested, and withdraw the Bill, though the course taken by honorable gentlemen opposite would warrant such a step, and the responsibility would be theirs. As one who was a member of the Ministry that increased the old-age pension by, half-a-crown a week, I hope that nothing will be done to injure the administration of the Act.
– I am sure that the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) will not accuse me of not understanding this Bill.
When I saw the amount of £10,000,000 I was in hope of further advantage to people in dire need; and it is my intention to move a new clause with that object in view.
– You cannot propose to alter the Bill except in the way of a reduction. You will destroy the measure as sura as fate !
– I am not offering any factious opposition to the Bill.
– The honorable member is suggesting that he will move an amendment to the Bill, but I remind him that only the appropriation message, and not the Bill, is before the Committee.
– According to the latest statistics furnished by Mr. Knibbs, the expenditure on old-age pensions is about £3,900,000.
– The expenditure in 1916-17 on invalid and an old-age pensions was £3,452,000, and it is estimated that the expenditure this year will be £3,830,000.
– Putting the expenditure at £4,000,000 that would leave a surplus of £6,000,000 if £10,000,000 were set apart. This is not the stage at which I can move an amendment, but I give Ministers warning - and I hope that I shall have their support in what I intend to do - that at the very first opportunity I shall move to this effect-
Notwithstanding anything contained in this, or any other Act, any person shall be entitled to. an allowance of 10s. per week upon making a statutory declaration before a magistrate, a clergyman, a sergeant of police, a postmaster, or any easily-found person appointed by the Governor-General in Council, to the effect that’ he or she is destitute, and in absolute need of food and shelter.
I will not rest until some such provision as that is on the statute-book or I am out of Parliament.
.- When we went into Committee, the honorable member for Capricornia asked for information, but there was so much disturbance that it was impossible to hear what was being said. Had the Treasurer given an explanation, there would have been no occasion for the display of temper that was witnessed. I shall not take notice of what was said by the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith), because a convert is often abusive of his former friends.
– Order !
– The honorable member for Denison was not called to order.
– I called the honorable member for Denison to order. This is the second time that the honorable member for East Sydney has imputed improper conduct to me, and I warn him that that will not be allowed.
– I shall insist that the same rights be extended to me as are given to other members. The Treasurer has brought forward a Bill.
– The Bill has not yet been brought forward. We are merely discussing a motion to give effect to the message of the Governor-General.
– The appropriation of £10,000,000 for invalid and old-age pensions is recommended.
– No amount is stated in the message.
– That is the intention. The Treasurer has not given the information that was asked for, and I have already pointed out that members know too little regarding the financial proposals that are put before them. We ascertained this morning that there i3 on the Estimates an item providing for the expenditure of £600 that should not be there. Cases like that create suspicion. Memberg are the watchdogs of the public interest, and when the Bill is before us 1 shall have something more to say about these matters.
– Move to reduce the amount.
– I shall not do that, though I think that there are ulterior motives behind this message.
.- I listened with great attention to what the honorable member for East Sydney had to say, and I received the impression that he possesses information as to the intentions of the Government which has not been made plain to us.
– The Trust Fund was started with £3,000,000, and has grown to £10,000,000, and I wanted to know why.
– I can understand the desire of honorable members opposite for information on these points, and it is unfortunate that our procedure prevents criticism at this stage. Personally, I am grateful to the honorable member for East Sydney for having drawn my attention to the subjects mentioned in his speech, and hope to hear further from him when the Bill is before us.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended, and resolution adopted. v
That Sir John Forrest and Mr. Joseph Cook do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir John Forrest, and read a first time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
I have some reason to complain of misrepresentation. The honorable member for Maribyrnong, who should know better, said that £3,000,000 had been taken out of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Fund and spent in other ways than the payment of invalid and old-age pensions. When addressing honorable members on the 6th March last I said, . referring to the total estimated war expenditure necessarily payable from ordinary revenue -
It is intended to pay the whole £6,903,551 from revenue, and that is possible because, from the year 1915-16, there was brought forward an amount of £3,000,000 ear-marked for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions, which, altogether, will cost £3,660,000 in 1916-17.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong said that it was shown on page 11026 of the Hansard report of last Parliament that this £3,000,000 was spent in 1915-16. But how’ was it spent ? This was my statement on the 6th March regarding it-
Provision made for payment of invalid and old-age pensions carried forward to next year, £3,000,000.
Every one should know that money put into this Trust Fund cannot be spent except for the purposes of the fund. This year we carried to the fund £2,000,000 from a surplus which we did not anticipate. We do not know what may happen in the future; we may again have a surplus ; but it is wise to make this provision. Money is placed to the credit of the fund only as it” is needed. If we placed to the credit of the fund more money than was needed to pay old-age and invalid pensions, we should not be able to get it out without the authority of an Act of Parliament. The plan adopted is to estimate the sum that will be needed for invalid and old-age pensions, and to place on the Estimates an amount sufficient, in addition to that to the credit of the Trust Fund, to pay the commitments for the year. If there were enough in the fund to do that, no amount would be put on the Estimates. We live from year to year in our financial arrangements. We do not need to maintain a nest egg for invalid and old-age pensions. We simply want enough to meet the requirements of the year and a little over.
– On the present basis, this appropriation will be good enough for two years.
– Yes, apparently so. There is no harm in making the provision. Honorable members can reduce the amount if they think it worth while. It would simply mean ‘coming back to this House later on for a fresh appropriation.
– The making of such a large provision “does not look like abolishing old-age pensions.
– Nothing will go into the fund unless there is a surplus. It is only a matter of concern at the end of the financial year so that the money will not go to the States.
– If honorable members opposite wish to reduce the £10,000,000, let them do it, but if Parliament is unanimous in making provision for the future it will show that it has no idea of abolishing invalid and old-age pensions. If it were not for section 94 of the Constitution, we might very well deal with old-age pensions in the same way as we provide for the maternity allowance - vote the money each year for the purpose. However, we do not know what balances we may have, and this Trust Fund provides a method of disposing of them. There is really nothing in the whole thing. If it does last for more than two years, all the better. It will not be necessary to come to Parliament again for some time.
.- After the excitement we have had, the Treasurer tells us that there is nothing in the Bill, and that he thought of doing away with the necessity for having a Bill. No wonder the Acting Prime Minister expresses surprise. He turns to the
Treasurer and says - “Did you. say that you really thought of doing away with this Trust Fund?” and the Treasurer says, “Yes.”
– We could not do that. It would be too risky to do it.
– The remarks of the right honorable gentleman are most inconsistent. “ It would be too risky to do it,” he says now; but a moment ago he said, “ I thought of doing away with it because there is nothing in it.”
– I said that there was nothing in it except in regard to the matter of surpluses.
– Will the Treasurer allow me to make a few remarks?
– The honorable member is talking all day.
– I will have to do so if this War Government does not bring forward some serious legislation. “ We are out to win the war. Nothing else matters,” they say. Honorable members were asked on the platforms what their policy was, and they said, “ To win the war, and nothing else.” Yet the Treasurer comes forward and takes up valuable time with this Bill, though he says there is nothing in it, and that he thought of doing away with the necessity for it. When the right honorable gentleman holds such a poor opinion in regard to the Bill, he might have met our friendly criticism this morning less heatedly.
– I did not expect to hear the honorable member criticising an Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill.
– That is another misrepresentation.
– Not at all. It does not mean anything, if it does not mean criticism of an Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill.
– Order !
– The Treasurer actually applauds the interjection of the honorable member for Wilmot that I oppose invalid and old-age pensions.
– I judge you on your actions. They make one think so.
– The Bill has nothing to do with the payment of old-age pensions; the Treasurer has already told us so.
– It has everything to do with it. They cannot be paid without the Bill. We must have an appropriation.
– When I asked the Treasurer earlier whether he had said that we could not pay old-age pensions without this Bill he denied it, yet now he says that we do require the Bill.
– Did not the Honorary Minister (Mr. Groom) read the section of the Act. The honorable member knows the position very well.
– It is difficult to make One’s remarks in anything like a smooth and connected way when subjected to these continuous interruptions from the Treasurer and the Assistant Minister for Defence, who is evidently brought here as a kind of lieutenant to help the Treasurer in bulldozing the Chamber.
– Is that a parliamentary observation?
– The word “bulldozing”, has often puzzled me. I could not find it in any standard dictionary, but I am told that a bulldozer is an American machine for bending steel.
– I now know why I found a big dictionary in the Treasurer’s office.
– The Treasurer taunts me with having obtained a dictionary. When I went to the Treasury I had great difficulty in getting any quarters - there was no room for a Treasurer’ - and it was necessary, for me to get certain things which are required to enable the Treasurer to cany on his duties. Of course I found volumes of Shakespeare there, which the present Treasurer found it necessary to obtain in order to brighten his Budget speeches.
– I ask the honorable member to connect his speech with the Bill.
– When the Acting Prime Minister entered the Chamber and discovered that we were debating this proposal, he said, “ What is the meaning of this f Are you going to debate this Bill ; because if you are we will withdraw it..”
– I did say that.
– It shows how much the Bill has to do with old-age pensions.
– It is not claimed that the Bill is required immediately. It is a proposal for three years, and the honorable member knows it quite well. His “ stone-walling “ will not do any good.
– I call upon the Minister for the Navy to withdraw that accusation.
– I withdraw it.
– We will pay old-age pensions whether this Bill is passed or not. The Treasurer has told us that the Bill is not worthy of occupying a place on the statute-book.
– I did not say that. Have a little regard for the truth.
– I ask the Treasurer to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it. but the honorable member is making an incorrect statement. He ought to be ashamed of himself; it is a disgrace to the House.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw the statement that the honorable member for Capricornia is disgracing the House.
– I withdraw it.
– I remind the Treasurer that he will have the right of reply.
– I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will agree with me that since this Government has come into office I have been subjected to most offensive remarks
– I cannot allow the honorable member to proceed on those lines.
– If I am insulted any more I shall ask for an apology as well as a withdrawal.
– I ask the honorable, member to address himself to the Bill.
– The Treasurer has told us that there is nothing in the Bill. The Acting Prime Minister said that if we debate it he will withdraw it. Therefore my original contention that we should not encumber the statute-book with Bills that are not necessary holds good. The socalled National Win-the-war Government has pledged itself to economize, and not to spend public money unnecessarily, but when the Treasurer brings forward a Bill which he describes as superfluous, it is a waste of public money. He is taking up the time of the House, and wasting your time, Mr. Speaker, in the reading of messages from the Governor-General, and he is wasting public money by having these messages and so many copies of the Bill printed, and by .having so many copies of the measure afterwards bound in calf. Every pound of revenue we waste will involve the borrowing of more money in London or elsewhere.
– Will the ^honorable member say what these’ remarks have to do with the principles of the Bill?
– The honorable member is playing the goat.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Grey to withdraw that statement.
– I apologize to the goat.
– This man has ratted-
– Order ! The withdrawal is an aggravation of the original offence.
– This man has ratted on every party to which he belonged.
– I ask the honorable member for Capricornia to resume his seat, or I shall have to name him. The honorable member for Grey must withdraw his remark without any qualification or further reflection.
– I withdraw the remark, and I ask that the honorable member for Capricornia be , made to withdraw the statement he made about me.
– The honorable member must withdraw the reflection he made on the honorable member for Grey.
– I decline to withdraw the statement. I say that the honorable member for Grey has ratted on every party.
– Order ! The honorable member is now repeating his offence. I ask him to withdraw his remarks without qualification.
– I respectfully decline to withdraw them.
– Then I name the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) and ask the Acting Leader of the Government to take action accordingly.
-May I remind the honorable member for Capricornia that the observation made by the honorable member for Grey was much less offensive than the observation of the honorable member for Capricornia regarding him. In I hose circumstances, I think I have a “‘i* to ask the honorable member for capricornia to realize what is due from him and to ask him to act accordingly.
– I decline to withdraw my remark
– As I have just entered r!e chamber, I do not know very much about what has occurred, and, therefore, 1 suppose I am best fitted to deal with the situation. Although I have been in the House about sixteen .years, I have not known the suspension of an honorable member to take place more than two or three times. I know that on one occasion I was nearly suspended, but the broadminded view taken by the Speaker of the day made that course quite unnecessary. The honorable member for Capricornia has had ample time to realize that he must pay to the Chair that respect which our position as members of a deliberative body makes necessary. I am the last man in the world to criticise others for making heated and unpleasant remarks, and I do not propose to -criticise the honorable member on this occasion. But, having offended, the honorable member is now asked to withdraw his remark and apologize to the Chair, and I hope he will do that.
– Do I understand that there is a motion before the Chair, Mr. Speaker ?
– I understand that the Minister for the Navy deferred to the Prime Minister without having actually moved any motion. The Prime Minister has now appealed to the honorable member to obey the rules of the House, and to do what is customary in- these circumstances. We all must make allowances, one for the other, for words uttered -in the heat of the moment, but we must likewise realize that the rules of Parliament must be observed .if we are to study the dignity of the House and have regard to what is due to our own self-respect. I, too, appeal, to the honorable member, because it would be very unpleasant for me to put to the House a motion for his suspension. I should prefer not to have to perform so distasteful a duty.
– I respectfully decline to withdraw. “
– In the circumstances I must ask the Prime Minister to make , the usual motion.
– I have no option but to move -
That the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) be suspended from the service of the House.
– I should like to explain that my refusal to withdraw the remark I made about the honorable member for Grey is because of the fact that I have been subjected to-
– Order ! The honor- - able member knows that a motion of this kind may not be debated.
– Do you, sir, decline to allow me to make an explanation?
– The Standing Orders distinctly say that a motion of this kind may not be debated; but I had hoped that the honorable member was, after maturer reflection, about to offer an apology to the House.
Question - That the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) be suspended from the service of the House - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 25
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
The honorable member was, therefore, under standing order. No. 59, suspended for the remainder of the day’s sitting.
The honorable member then withdrew from the Chamber.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– The few remarks I have to offer will not be in hostile criticism of the Bill, because I am prepared to admit quite frankly that in existing circiunstances I can see no way of meeting our liability in. respect of invalid and old-age pensions exceptby passing an appropriation measure of some sort. I should, how ever, like- the Treasurer to explain why, having regard to our present financial difficulties, he asks for the appropriation of so huge a sum as £10,000,000.
– We are not going to pay the whole of that amount at once into the fund. It is only a fund to which contributions are to bo made.
– The fund was created as a sort of reservoir into which would flow the. surplus moneys of. the Commonwealth, and it was determined that out of that reservoir would be drawn the amounts necessary to pay invalid and old-age pensions. According to the Budget papers, the expenditure on these pensions last ‘year amounted to £3,518,987, and the estimated expenditure for the current year is £3,830,000, so that, allowing for the balance carried forward, £2,139,039, the Government will need £1,700,961 to meet its estimated liability in respect of the fund for the current year. That being so, and taking the Treasurer’s own statement, with which’ I cordially agree, that we should finance ourselves from year to year, and should not unnecessarily mortgage ourselves in respect of future expenditure, why does the right honorable gentleman ask for authority to pay £10,000,000 into this fund.
– We shall need £4,000,000 next year. We may have a large balance to carry forward, but, as a matter of fact, I do not think we shall. If the honorable member objects to the largeness of the amount, let him move to reduce it.
– I am not prepared to do that. During this debate the statement has repeatedly been made, by honorable members opposite that any attempt to reduce it would be used as an argument that we were opposed to the payment of invalid and old-age pensions. If I were so to move, the Treasurer would not hesitate to charge me with being opposed to them. I suggest that the right honorable gentleman, who is the responsible financial authority, should tell us why he wants this £10,000,000. Obviously he is looking three years ahead. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. It will be time enough next year, when we estimate our liability under this heading, to make the appropriation necessary to meet that liability. To meet a prospective liability, three years ahead, seems to me to be a system of finance entirely opposed to the generally careful financing of the Treasurer.
– We want to absolutely insure the payment of these pensions for the next three or four years.
– I am certain that, no matter what Government may be in power, their payment is absolutely assured. It is not a cogent argument to suggest that the amount paid into the Trust Fund cannot be used for anything else. The point that appeals to me is that if for this purpose the Government appropriate £10,000,000 out of revenue they must necessarily have £10,000,000 less revenue to use on something else.
– We do not propose to do that. This Bill merely authorizes a total appropriation of £10,000,000 to this Trust Fund. By providing for such an appropriation we shall avoid the necessity of coming back every year, and having a long debate on a requisition for a further appropriation. We are looking two or three years ahead.
– There would have been no debate on this question to-day if the Treasurer had asked for an appropriation of the amount necessary to meet the liability under this heading in respect of the current year. As it is, we are merely asking why the Treasurer is guessing at what may possibly be required in the years to come. For some years hence there may be no surplus revenue available to reinforce this appropriation.
– We shall need no further appropriation until we exhaust this £10,000,000.
– My only objection is that if we earmark £10,000,000 in this way, the Treasurer will have to find another £10,000,000 to meet other expenditure, and that that will give him an argument in favour of going on with the borrowing of money which he does not need.
– Let the honorable member move to reduce the amount, if that is what he thinks.
– I do not want to. If I were in the Treasurer’s position, I should ask for only such an appropriation as would be necessary to meet actual requirements, and- not to meet hypothetical difficulties that may never arise.
– Mr. Fisher asked for an appropriation of £5,500,000 in one year.
– No one will suggest that when Mr. Fisher moved for such an appropriation the circumstances were at all comparable with those which exist to-day. We then had an actual definite surplus.
The Treasurer will recognise that my only objection to this Bill relates, not to the principle, but to the fact that the amount proposed to be appropriated is altogether larger than is required. It is intended to meet a difficulty that may never arise. I contend that it is time enough to meet a difficulty when it does present itself.
.^-1 found it difficult to appreciate the object which the Treasurer had in view in asking us this morn ing -to agree to an appropriation of £10,000,000 for the purposes of this Bill. As one of those who have done everything possible to secure the payment of old-age pensions, I had some doubt as to the intentions of the Government and their supporters; and feared that there might be an attempt on their part to make some alteration in the existing Act, or to reduce the pensions. I do not think this Bill is going to do much to help us to win the war, but since he introduced the proposal the Treasurer has given some information which has certainly relieved my mind. It is only reasonable to assume that no proposal to reduce or interfere with the payment of old-age pensions would come from the Labour party.
– Why do the Opposition want to block one of their own measures ? They have been taking all day on this Bill.
– I shall never vote for any measure until I am satisfied as to the object it is intended to serve. In moving for the appropriation in Committee this morning the Treasurer told us practically nothing as to the object he had in view, and it was almost as difficult to extract information from him as it is to draw a tooth. The right honorable gentleman said that he did not care whether we passed this Bill or not. The Treasurer will not deny that when he asked us to accept this Bill he said he did not care whether or not the amount was reduced.
We know that the War Profits Tax Assessment Bill is scarcely a measure to assist those who are taking part in the war; and it raises a certain amount of suspicion that the Government are not honest when they bring Bills of this kind before us. I feel sure that if the measure were relegated to the waste-paper basket it would not interfere in the slightest with the provision for old-age pensions. However, I am not going to vote against the Bill, being satisfied, after hearing the Treasurer, that it will do no harm, while affording us an opportunity of informing the honorable gentleman that when he desires to have Appropriation Bills accepted he should give us the information to which we are entitled. I assure him that he will make no progress while he continues his present attitude, not only to members on this side but to members on his own side.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1, 2 and 3 (Short title, appropriation, and commencement).
.- I do not desire to take up much time, but merely to press on the notice of the Government many cases in which I feel assistance is needed. There are people who, by absence in England for more than two years, have rendered themselves ineligible for old-age pensions. There are also cases of destitution, more of which, perhaps, come under my notice than under the notice of other members. However, I suppose that all of us have met with instances that are nob covered by the present Act and amending Acts. There is an amendment I should like to move in the Bill before us, which, if accepted, might mean a little more expense, but would be of great value. It provides for pensions for those who are destitute, and who sign the statutory declaration that they are absolutely in need of food and shelter. The persons before whom such a declaration would be made can be named by the Government, and a certain period set aside for inquiry. In the present stage of society it is recognised that every human being who is unable to earn a living must be supported, and that support must be provided either by the Government or by private charity. In Victoria, at one time, Sir George Turner decided that no one should be imprisoned because he was poor - “ without visible means of support “ - and while that gentleman had power no such person was imprisoned. I am sure no one would accuse Australians, by birth or adoption, of being ready to commit perjury for the sake of 10s. a week.
– Such an amendment as that suggested is outside the scope of the Bill.
– Then I think some hope might be held out of an amendment of the kind in the future; indeed, if this House and the Senate agreed, any amendment desired might be made in any Bill.
– Such an amendment could not be made in this Bill.
– If I had a majority behind me I would make such an amendment.
– You could not.
– But I would - I should make a precedent. The amendment I’ propose reads somewhat as follows : -
Notwithstanding anything in the Act, or any other Act, any person shall be entitled to an allowance of 10s. per week.
– That amendment is outside the scope of the Bill, and, further, anticipates a motion that the honorable member has on the business-paper.
– I must bow to your ruling, Mr. Chairman. I had for the moment quite forgotten that motion.
Clauses agreed to. ‘
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, and passed through its remaining stages.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Joseph Cook) read a first time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
In Committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
– I move -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to amend the Freight Arrangements Act 1915.
This is a somewhat technical Bill. Under section 2 of the Freight Arrangements Act 1915, the Treasurer was authorized to charge cost and freight received in respect of Australian produce only. These transactions were to pass through the banking account- entitled, “ Commonwealth Treasurer - Freight Arrangements Account.” However, in order to make the best use of the vessels, particularly i those on voyages to Australia, it has been found essential to utilize them for carrying cargo other than Australian produce; and this Bill gives the necessary authority to enable the cost and freight on such business to pass through the banking account named.
– Does this refer only to freight which is carried in the vessels owned by the Commonwealth, or does it refer also to freight carried by vessels which are chartered by the Commonwealth ?
– When we send vessels away we desire that they shall come back with cargo, which, of course, will not be Australian produce. We wish to treat all cargo alike, and pass it through the same account. I forgot to add that this Bill will also affect trade between Inter-State ports.
.- As the Treasurer says, this is a technical BilL and it is one which, but for the ‘war, would not have been called into existence. It was owing to the difficulty in obtaining freight to carry away the harvest of 1915 that the Act was passed, and I understand that this Bill is to amend that Act.
– That is so.
– I presume that the Bill will apply to the fifteen steamers purchased by the Prime Minister for the Commonwealth, and also to other steamers. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) on a previous occasion drew attention to the fact that the Commonwealth at the present time is compelling all freight to be chartered through Government charterers. He and others have found fault with the present arrangement whereby all the freight business has to go through the hands of the two firms that act as agents for the Government. These two firms may be the most honorable in the world, but it may, nevertheless, not be advisable for us to concentrate the whole of the freight business in the way in which it is now concentrated. I have no objection to the systematizing of shipping by giving the control of it wholly to the Government, with a view to making the best of what freight is offering. We all hope that the time may soon come when freight will be looking for tonnage instead of tonnage looking for freight, which is the present state of affairs.
– The GovernorGeneral’s message recommends an appropriation for the purposes of a Bill to amend section 2 of the Freight Arrangements Act of 1915. That section empowers the Treasurer to borrow from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia “ moneys for the payment of moneys in respect of arrangements for freight on Australian produce,” and the Treasurer is required to pay into the Commonwealth Bank all moneys “ received by the Commonwealth in respect of freight, or arrangements for freight, on Australian produce.” The amendment is merely a technical one to sanction arrangements for freight on other than Australian produce.
– I would not propose any restriction upon the ordinary commercial practice whereby a ship goes from one country to another to get cargo, but I should like to know whether it is proposed to allow our ships to be used for the transport of cargo other than between Australia and Europe. Will a ship be at liberty to take a cargo from Great Britain to America and then to sail from North America to South America, and back to Great. Britain again? The proposed amendment speaks of vessels moving “ from port to port.” It does not say “Australian ports.”
– The amendment is merely to enable us to deal with produce other than Australian produce.
– It is to legalize something already done, not to give further powers?
– Yes. I do not think that the ships would go away to other parts of the world and trade there without returning to Australia.
– I should like the position to be made plain. It was intended that these vessels should be used exclusively for the transportation of commodities between Australia and Europe.
– I understand that the freight arrangements of Australia are in the hands of two well-known shipping firms, but when the Commonwealth fleet was purchased by the Prime Minister, it was stated in a British newspaper that he had secured the services of an experienced and able shipping man at Home, in whose hands the control and management of the vessels was to be placed. Was that statement correct? If so, is the agent acting on commission or is he paid a salary?
– The Bill does not affect the arrangements- for the management of the Commonwealth fleet; it is merely to meet a rer quirement of the Audit Act. When the vessels were bought, it was arranged to borrow from the Commonwealth Bank money to pay for them, and to use the earnings of the vessels to reduce the loan. I understand that they have been very successful.
– The Treasurer’s explanation is outside the scope of the motion.
– I understand that the Bill which is to be introduced will practically give the Government full command of the shipping in this part of the world. Honorable members generally must be of the opinion that a mistake was made when the British authorities did not, at the commencement of the war, commandeer all vessels then under the British Flag. The principal Act provides only for arrangements for freight on Australian produce, but the amendment will enable arrangements to be made for freight on other produce.
– The Bill is needed to get over a technical difficulty.
– It is well to get parliamentary authority for administrative action wherever that is possible. I do not censure the Government for what is being done, because I think that Ministers have been justified by the circumstances of the case. .The honorable member for Melbourne Ports, although he did not say so, seems to think that if the vessels purchased by the Prime Minister do not confine their voyages to Australian and British ports, they will not do what they were bought to do. Those who know anything about shipping know that it would not pay to send vessels here in ballast. That would not help our producers. To make shipping pay, it is necessary to get cargoes both ways, and, therefore, these vessels have sometimes to be sent from the Old Country to America to get cargo for Australia. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) appears to think that it is not wise that the Government should have the whole control of freight arrangements of Australia.
– While I have no objection to the Government having control, I consider that that control should not shut out any vessels that might be brought here by private owners, for the purpose of taking away Australian cargoes.
– I do not know what the position of the Australian producer or merchant would be if the arrangement of shipping had been left entirely in the hands of private individuals. The fa*ct that the British authorities have practically all vessels sailing under the British flag under control has compelled us to follow suit, but I do not know that any great harm would ‘happen if the Government should assist or take cognisance of any person who could get freight on his own account. No doubt the powers of monopoly that the Government are exercising do impinge upon our preconceived notions of the individual’s rights, but we have Hobson’s choice in- the matter. The logic of facts, as Napoleon III. said, has been the guiding principle. The situation to-day is such that we have to exercise this monopoly, even to the extent of preventing any merchant from chartering a vessel on his own. Therefore, I do not see that any harm will follow our agreeing to the motion. It is but a logical conclusion of the Act that we have already passed.
Dr. MALONEY (Melbourne) r3.3].This is the first opportunity we have had since 1915 of discussing the question of freights and shipping. I agree with honorable members that we have very little, information with regard to the vessels that were bought, except the scant paragraphs that one occasionally sees in the newspapers. I do not suppose that any honorable member knows how many .of these ships have visited Australia, or how many have been here on a second trip. No one will argue that the vessels should be permitted to come out here in ballast.
People connected with shipping are very anxious to know if any commission has been paid on the purchase of these steamers. Under a previous Government various commissions were sought from the Navy Department, but, to the honour of the Department, it must be said that these were checked, and not allowed to be paid. There is a State Act which prevents the payment of secret commissions. I would make it a criminal offence punishable, not by a fine, but by imprisonment, to take a secret commission. In regard to the matter of freights, the only shipowners who did not raise their freights at the outbreak of the war were the Western Australian Government.
– They lost money on their vessels.
– The latest returns show that a profit was made, but the matter must be regarded, not from the point of view of making a profit from the vessels, but from the point of view of the saving to the public. Ask any one on the western coast of Australia whether he will agree to giving up these vessels. The Western Australian Government dare not shut down on this venture. I believe that the Prime Minister is the. only person who knows whether any commission was paid on the purchase of the Commonwealth vessels. I do not believe that he has told any member of his Cabinet or any honorable member opposite.
– I think the Prime Minister made the public statement that a commission was paid to the brokers who bought the ships for us. I am not sure “ of the amount, but I fancy that it was £15,000.
– I would be very grateful if I could learn that that was the amount of the commission paid, because I am continually being asked by men in the shipping trade what was the amount. I have not yet met one of them but he has said that a commission was paid. I have no objection to the payment of any commission, but I do object to the payment of secret commissions.
– What does the honorable member know about secret commissions? If he knows anything, why does he not bring it forward?
– I can back all that I have that the honorable member has money in his pocket, but I would not go into a witness-box and swear it. If there are no such things as secret commissions, why did the Victorian Government bring in a Bill to deal with them ? No one can point a finger at Messrs. Gibbs, Bright, and Company, or Messrs. Elder, Smith, and Company, but it is not fair that these firms should be singled out from others equally honest, equally trustworthy, and equally businesslike.
Sin John Forrest. - The honorable member made no complaint in referenceto this matter when he was supporting the Government that effected the purchase.
– Perhaps I did not have the opportunity of doing so. I have a suggestion to offer, that is, to change our wheat into flour, and thus use two vessels in the place of three, because two shiploads of flour are equal to three shiploads of wheat; and to ship our flour to America, ‘because two voyages can be made to America in the time taken to send wheat to France or England.
– And we would be keeping the bran and pollard here.
– By keeping the bran and pollard here we would be conferring a great’” benefit on our producers, our poultry farmers, and our cattle raisers. As the’ Pacific is free from submarines and other enemy vessels, it is practically safe so far as human beings can make it. Another benefit accruing to Australia by carrying out my suggestion would be the large employment that would be afforded to people in every State The mills would be working full time. We should be able .to make an arrangement with America to ship one bag of flour from her east coast to England for every two bags that we land on her west coast. While we have more wheat on our hands than we need, America has less than she needs. If necessary, our troops could also be carried in the vessels taking our flour to America. We know that mines have been laid as far south, in the Atlantic as the Cape of Good Hope, that the Suez Canal route is dangerous, that the Mediterranean Sea is full of danger, that the Gibraltar passage is precarious, and that the Channel cannot be protected as we would wish. Therefore, let us grist our wheat, and send it across the- Pacific to America, and save one ship in every three.
If we also send our soldiers by the Sydney-San Francisco route the combined fleets of the Allies and America need only protect the seaway from America to France. They can concentrate their ships of war between America and France in order to prevent submarine attacks on our shipping. “We know that England, the heart of the Empire, is suffering from shortage of food, and if we can do anything to lessen the strain, it is our duty to do it.
.- The Leader of the Opposition referred to a question I asked of the Prime Minister the other day with regard to the shifting of wheat from our shores. At present the whole of the cargoes of wheat are under the control of Elder, Smith & Co., and Gibbs, Bright & Co., and no freight arrangements can be made except through those firms. A firm in Sydney, on my advice, made application to the Government for permission to transfer a cargo of 6,000 tons of wheat to San Francisco, and the reply received by the firm from the Wheat Board was -
In reply to your letter of even date, I regret to inform you that this Board cannot quote wheat f.o.b. for the Pacific coast, as desired by you. I suggest that you get into touch with the chartering agents, Messrs. Elder, Smith ft Co. Ltd., and Messrs. Gibbs, Bright ft Co., with a view to arranging a charter of the vessel referred to by you to the Wheat Board.’
Our object to-day should be to get rid of the wheat we have in Australia.
– I am afraid that the honorable member is going beyond the scope of the Bill, the object of which is to allow Australian ships to carry other than Australian produce.
– And that involves payment to the chartering agents at so much per ton. I am referring to a distinct offer to carry Australian produce to the Pacific coast. Yet the Government regulations have so tied up the freight question that no person can bring vessels to Australia to load wheat unless those vessels are chartered to the Government agents. Naturally, a firm says, “ We are not going to transfer our charter to the Wheat Board, because, if we do that, the Wheat Board may put the vessel into competition with the business of the owner.” The owner of the vessel in question is one of the biggest millers on the Pacific coast, and he desires to get Australian wheat for milling “at San Francisco.
– Is not that vessel under the American flag?
– I believe it is. ‘ The Wheat Board says that the vessel must be transferred to the agents who control all wheat charters.
– Do you think the owner will’ do that?
– Of course he will not. But the Government ought to allow any vessel that will come to Australia to carry away our wheat.
– I moved the adjournment of the House two years ago on that question, and nobody supported me.
– Perhaps the honorable member did not succeed in making his case clear to the House on that occasion. Perhaps if I read the correspondence I have received on this subject it may state the case more clearly to honorable members.
– Does not the wheat belong to the British Government?
– A lot of the wheat in Australia does hot belong to the British Government.
– All that is to be exported belongs to the British Government.
– We have sold to the British Government only a’ definite quantity of wheat. The letter I refer to is as follows : -
Dear Mr. Boyd,
As requested, we herewith give you the full particulars of our request to the Government « for a quotation for milling wheat f.o.b. Sydney or Melbourne (at the Government’s option), and the result thereof.
Our firm are representing one of the biggest milling concerns on the Pacific coast of the United States of America. About two weeks ago they cabled us for a quotation for 6.000 tons of milling wheat f.o.b. Sydney or Melbourne, one port of loading, the buyers to supply the steamer. We applied to the Australian Wheat Board for a quotation, and we were refused. We asked’ for the reason of the refusal, which they also refused to give. We herewith hand you copies of letters that have passed between the Australian Wheat Board and ourselves. We also give you herewith copy of the cable received from America.
The following are the details of the situation as it apparently affects the Government, and as it does affect ourselves and the community generally: -
Government policy. - It seems that the Government’s policy is to control all freight for the carriage of wheat to the United States of
America or elsewhere, through their chartering agents, Messrs. Gibbs, Bright, and Company and Elder, Smith, and Company Limited, also that the sale of all wheat carried by the Government shall be sold through the sole agents of the Government appointed in San Franciso (Balfour, Guthrie, and Company). To show you the fallacy of this, the Government chartering agents cannot rule all freight between Australia and America for the carriage of wheat, for the reason that our American clients will not transfer the vessel to the Government chartering agents, and they are right in refusing to do so, because if they agreed to transfer the vessel which they hold at present to the Government chartering agents there is no guarantee - and the Government will not guarantee - that the cargo of such vessel would be sold solely to them. Therefore, what is the use of their transferring the vessel? It would be absolute folly on their part to transfer freight which they command to the Government, who might possibly sell the wheat by such vessel to their competitors in America. This is absolute proof in itself of one very great weakness in the Government scheme. It is just possible that our clients are the owners of the vessel, although we cannot vouch for it, or, on the other hand, they may have it on time charter
This will, therefore, show you clearly that we even could, not recommend to out clients to transfer such vessel to the Government chartering agents.
On the other hand, we contend that so long as wo can prove to the Government that the wheat is for a company composed wholly of American citizens, who are now citizens of a country allied with Great Britain, that there should be no objection to quoting us f.o.b. Sydney or Melbourne, as requested by our clients. It would be of the greatest benefit to the Commonwealth generally.
If we could get an outlet for wheat, which is at present rotting in Australia, and we are not making this latter statement without absolute knowledge, we would be very pleased to take some members of the Government to some of the stacks lying in New South Wales, and let them see the deplorable condition of same. It is heart-breaking to see the wheat lying here being riddled with weevil while we have the means of shifting it at a very attractive figure to America, and at the same time such outlet is blocked simply through, we think, the stubbornness of the Government chartering agents in endeavouring to hold to a policy which is impracticable.
If you can possibly shift the Prime Minister from his determination to stick to the present scheme, and induce him to allow us, or any other firm that has the freight, to receive a quotation for wheat f.o.b. Sydney or Melbourne, or whatever loading point the Government desire, we are confident you would earn the everlastingthanks of the Commonwealth and of the wheat shippers generally, and we make this remark knowing that we are backed up here by some of the biggest exporting houses.
From our stand-point,, there is only one man who can alter this at the present time, and that is the Prime Minister. We would like to have your views on the matter.
– Has the honorable member interviewed the Prime Minister on the subject?
– I spoke to the Prime Minister about it, and he said that if this man could send the ship here, he wag quite entitled to a commission, and that the Government were prepared to make the necessary arrangements. That, however, is not the point. The point is that if he transfers his vessel to the Government chartering agents, they may load her up for some other firm. This merchant requires the wheat to mill in his own mill in San Francisco. He will benefit us by -buying our wheat and sending his own steamer for it, and, that being so, what is in the way of the Government giving him a charter and allowing him to bring as many vessels as he can to remove our wheat?
– Would not the shipowner make more money by carrying the wheat to America instead of to Great Britain ?
– Yes; the distance is shorter. This, however, is not an ‘Australian ship. The main point I wish to urge is that we should avail ourselves of every means of removing our wheat and putting it into .consumption before the next crop is harvested. Anything that will help in that direction ought to be encouraged. We should not stand rigidly by the law passed some two years ago, and which created a monopoly, as if it were a law of the Medes and Persians:
– Does the honorable member wish to make the point that the sole chartering agents will not forego their rights ?
– No. I spoke to Mr. Bright, of Messrs. Gibbs, Bright, and Co., this morning. He told me that under the agreement they received 4d. a ton on all freight shipped, so that it did not matter to his firm whether this vessel was brought here car not. His only point of difference with me was that he did not think the vessel would materialize. He said he had heard of other vessels that were coming here, but which had never arrived. That might possibly happen in this case. I understood Mr. Gibbs to say, however, that his firm had no objection to any vessels coming here.
– They should not have any.
– I believe they have none, but an assurance ought to be given to this man, who is prepared to send his vessel here, that he can obtain the freight he wants, and that he need have no doubt in his mind as to his being required to transfer it to the Wheat Board. The firm to which I have referred are quite satisfied to buy the wheat through the Wheat Board. According to their letter they applied to the Board for a cargo, f,o.b. Melbourne or Sydney, and were refused. They were told that the owner of this vessel would have to re-charter it to the Government chartering agents
– A proclamation has been issued that no vessel will be given a clearance unless it is chartered by the Government agents.
– That ought to be altered. I do not know whether we can remedy the position under this Bill.
– Is it not a fact that the price of all wheat for oversea is 5s. 9d. per bushel f.o.b., no matter where it is going ?
– I do not think so. 1 am informed by a wheat shipper that while we are sending wheat to the East at 5s. 8d. per bushel f.o.b. we are sending wheat to South Africa at 6s. 4d. per bushel f.o.b., a difference of 8d. per bushel in favour of the foreigner as against our own people. I do not know whether that is so or not.
-Usually there are three prices quoted in the newspapers.
– I do not attach much importance to the wheat quotations given in the newspapers. My purpose will have been served if I have impressed upon the Government the necessity of so amending the method of controlling the export of wheat through the Government agents as to enable us to loosen the strings in the direction I have indicated. I do not want to abolish Government control over the shipping, but, at the same time, I should so amend the regulations that any man may be at liberty to bring a ship here secure , in the knowledge that he can obtain a cargo of wheat and carry it away to his own mills, whether they be in San Francisco or in any part of the Empire.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended, and resolution adopted.
That Sir John Forrest and Mr. Groom do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented bySir John Forrest, and read a first time.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- Ever since the Government entered into an arrangement for the carriage of our wheat oversea, it has been impossible to ascertain what is the rate per ton for such freight. If there is any reason why such information should be kept secret, the Parliament should know if.
– Most of our wheat is being sent away in ships requisitioned by Great Britain, and not in ships chartered by the Wheat Pool.
– Even in the case of those vessels we do not know what the freight is. .
– So far as we are concerned the price paid for the 3,500,000 tons, of wheat is f.o.b. The Imperial Government have to find the ships.
– Quite so. Prior to that no wheat was paid for f.o.b. This Parliament has a right to know what is the cost of the carriage of our wheat oversea. It must not be forgotten that, in addition to the 3,500,000 tons to which reference has just been made, a further 2,500,000 tons will be available when the present crop is harvested some four’ or five months hence. The rates paid for the carriage of wheat oversea prior to the war are well known to honorable members. Wheat was then carried oversea for 5d., 6d., or 7d. per bushel. The rates ranged from about 13s. to £1 per ton.
– The rate had not been under 25s. within two years of the war.
– It was under 25s. after the war had actually broken out. Ships were then available, but we had no^goods to send away. I do not wish to delay the passing of this Bill, but I think we are entitled to have from the, Government a statement as to what we have been paying in the way of freights on our wheat.
– Before the British Government bought, or since?
– From the sending of’ the 1915 harvest. If I were the representative of a country district, I should want to know from the Wheat Pool what they were paying to the shipping agents for freight overseas.
– I asked for a retiurn of* the freights paid, and the Government’s answer was that it was not in the best interests of the country to make the information public.
– I cannot see that that applies. If the British Government are going to find the freight in the future, it does not matter to them what has been paid in ‘the past. When I was Minister for Trade and Customs, we got freight through the Department for about 90s. a ton from Australia, when 150s. a ton was being paid from the Argentine. What I complain about! is the enormous rise that has been charged in freights by the British ship-owner. I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald) that had the British Government taken over the whole of the shipping at the outbreak of the war, they would have served the British Empire well. In not doing so, they made one of the biggest blunders possible. At the outbreak of the war, steel steam-ships could be launched at a cost of £8 per ton. To-day they could not be bought, even with the two or three years of age upon them, at less than from £60 to £70 per ton, and ship-owners to-day say they expect the cost to increase up to £100 per ton. Mr. Bonar Law stated in t’he House of Commons that where he had invested a sum of about £8.000 in fifteen shipping companies, it had returned to him £7,352 in two years, after paying war profits taxation and insurance to replace submarined vessels. These are the people who have been robbing the farmers at this end of the world, and the consumers at the other.
– What is the use of railing at somebody beyond your dominions?
– We have a right to’ know what is being paid to the oversea ship-owner.
– But we sold the wheat at a certain price.
– Then what does it matter what has to be paid for the freight?
– As regards all the wheat sent from the 1915 and 1916 harvests, and all that will, be sent away up to the end of this year, the more that is paid for freight tihe less there will be for the person producing the wheat at this end.
– Then cannot we find out the freight ?
– I have asked for that information.
– I shall be glad to get it. I shall make a note of it.
– In the early stages of the war, I had a good deal to do with shipping, and the gravest possible complaints were made that neutral vessels coming- here would not take wheat, but preferred to take coal to South America from here. Where you could buy a brand-new ship at £8 per ton, they were getting £20 a ton for the round trip from Great Britain to Puget Sound. Producers here have a right to know what has been paid for the freight on the article they produce, when it is taken overseas.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Amendment of section 2).
– The only term used here is produce.” I presume that that legally covers any kind of cargo.
– I referred that point to the draftsman. “ Produce “ is used here in harmony with the original Act. The opinion given was that it covers practically everything that is produced.
– Then that will cover all that is necessary ?
.- Will the Minister bring before the Prime Minister and the Cabinet the serious question raised by the honorable member for Henty as to the injustice of allowing wheat to rob here when we have an opportunity of sending 6,000 tons to America ?
Clause agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
– I move -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to amend the Sugar Purchase Act 1915.
This is a very small matter. The Act of 1915 authorized the Treasurer to borrow money from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for the purchase of sugar and the payment of Customs duty on sugar imported. The money was to be kept in an account called the “ Commonwealth Treasurer’s Sugar Account,” in the Bank, and the net amount to be borrowed by the Treasurer, after crediting to the account receipts in respect of the sale of sugar, was to be limited to 6£500,000. The Act mentioned empowers the Commonwealth Bank of Australia to charge interest at the rate of 5 per cent, per -annum when the debit balance of the account exceeds the amount at credit of the Commonwealth Public Account and the Commonwealth Departmental Accounts. The Bank has charged interest on the everdraft without regard to the amount at the credit of the Commonwealth Public Account and the Departmental Advance Accounts, but such interest was immediately paid to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The present Bill legalizes this course.The result is ‘that the sugar business is charged with interest, which goes into. the Consolidated Revenue of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Treasury found the money, and, of course, is entitled to the interest. The Bank, therefore, charges the sugar business with the interest, which goes into the Consolidated Revenue. That is the sole object of the Bill.
.-The Bill, I understand, is for a certain purpose in relation to the interest, but there are one or two points in connexion with the purchase of sugar which I think the House should have an opportunity to dis.cuss ; and this is the first opportunity presented. It will be_ remembered that in the closing days of the last Parliament the Prime Minister announced in the House that he had handed over to the Queensland growers £500,000;
– Not handed over.
– Well, he made available to the sugar-growers of Queensland £500,000 in that financial year. This transaction was not carried out by the ex-Treasurer (Mr. Poynton) who would, I believe, oppose such a proposal, but by the present. Treasurer.
– We did not hand it over - we did not charge it. We got £500,000 last year, bub we shall get nothing this year.
– I understand that when the sugar was sold to the public at 3 1/2 d. per lb., there was a neb profit of £500,000. The growers of Queensland took exception to the Dickson award, with which they said they could not comply unless they were paid an extra amount. The adjournment of the House was moved by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) for the purpose of ascertaining how the matter stood, and the Prime Minister announced that ib was intended to make available to the farmers the £500,000 profit which had been made on the sale of the sugar. I took exception to this action at the time; indeed, honorable members on both sides took exception to it; and I wish to know whether, under this Bill, the Treasurer will be empowered to charge the people of Australia more for their sugar than they ought to pay, and to hand over to the growers another £500,000, or a similar sum ?
– The Common- wealth makes the sugar industry pay the interest, as ib ought to.
– I agree as to that, but I think this a proper- time to raise the other quest-ion.
– As I said, we got £500,000 last year, but we will get nothing this year.
– Because you have increased the rate.
– Nob bo the public.
– No; but you are giving the grower more.
– Surely the Leader of the Opposition does not object to the worker getting higher wages ?
– It is not the workers who are getting the advantage. The Dickson award was given on the conditions then existing, and, after that, the Commonwealth made the present to the growers.
– Under the Dickson award, the industry could not exist.
– I remember a deputation telling the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Chapman), when he was Minister for Trade and Customs - and the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Sinclair) was one of that deputation - that the industry could not pay the award of 4 1/2 d. per hour which the Minister had made.
– That is quite a mistake.
– It is not a mistake ; the deputation did say that. I also remember that, on the occasion of every increase of wages, deputations have declared that the industry would be ruined,
– In the case of the Dickson award, the Treasurer of Queensland himself admitted that the industry could not exist under it.
– I do nob blame any Treasurer for doing his best for his State ; but I do object to the Commonwealth handing over £500,000 to the growers at the expense of the consumers of the Commonwealth.
– When that money was transferred, was« there not a condition that the price should not be raised to the consumer 1
– The Government absolutely controlled the price; and if the growers are not content with the £500,000, and wish to make additional profits out of the consumer, they are unreasonable.
– Where was the £500,000 obtained ?
– It was obtained by charging the people of Australia more for their sugar than they ought to pay.
– The honorable gentleman was a member of the Government that tolerated the price of 3Jd. per lb., and he has raised no objection until now.
– We knew that there would be a slight, profit, and were of opinion that the Consolidated Revenue was entitled to it. However, in the last hours of a dying ‘Parliament, the Prime Minister announced that this money was to be handed over to the growers; and honorable members behind the Government were as keenly opposed to this as were honorable members on this side.
.- 1 cannot understand the attack made by the Leader of the Opposition on this industry. In the first place, the statement that the Government handed £500,000 back to the growers is not in accordance with fact; it Went into the Consolidated
Revenue. Nothing was handed back, but at the eleventh hour the present Government have contrived to rectify an injustice, done by the late Government to the sugar industry. Because there was more political influence at the back of those interested in wheat, minerals, fruit, and wool, they were allowed to sell at a higher price than ever before, and not one fraction of the profit went into the Consolidated Revenue. Queensland has not very many representatives, and, unfortunately, honorable members generally know very little about the sugar industry, although it is their duty to study it; and the result is that the late Government have robbed that industry of over £1,000,000- not £500,000. Why should any distinction be made between one class of producers and another ? If it was just to take £1,000,000 from the producers of sugar in Queensland, iti would be equally just to take something from the producers in the southern States of wheat, minerals, fruit, wool, meat, and other products. I never could understand why this Parliament should make fish of one and flesh of another. The action taken was very nearly, the means of closing practically the only industry which can be carried on on the great north-eastern seaboard of Queensland in such a way as to justify the Commonwealth and the Empire holding that part of Australia against other nations who might desire to occupy that territory for their surplus population. Instead of criticising the Government, for trying even at the eleventh hour to do justice to the sugar industry, which, for many reasons, is vital to the defence of the Commonwealth, honorable members should applaud them. The action taken by the previous Government very nearly resulted in half the sugar-growers of Queensland going out of the industry.
– We have heard that tale for the last sixteen years.
– If honorable members do not heed it they will go on in the same direction until they have ruined the sugar industry.- When, by following that course of action, they find the north of Queensland occupied by a coloured population, they will begin to understand who were really the friends of the White Australia policy. The action of the late Government was not in the interests of that policy, but quite the reverse. The only way in which the policy can be maintained is to keep the sugar industry alive as a white man’s industry. I should like to remind honorable members that in one district of Queensland to-day 50 per cent: of the sugar-growers are Italians.-
– The honorable member will pardon me for a moment. He is attributing certain action to the late Government. I wish to correct him. It was not done by the late Government.
– I believe that is so. I have been referring to the action of the Government that immediately preceded the late Government, which held omeo only for a short period. It is as well, I think, that honorable members should know that Britishers are being forced out of the sugar industry in Queensland, and their places are being taken by Italians, who work upon a co-operative basis, and are not bound by the decisions of any Wages Board.
– I ask tine honorable member not to deal with that question at greater length-
.- I intended to ask a question about, this matter this morning. I should like to have information with respect to the whole of the transactions connected with the sugar deal. So far we have been supplied with very little information regarding it. We do not know how it has been conducted, or exactly how things stand. We do know that an amount of some £500,000 is at stake.
– This Bill deals only with the question of interest.
– Before we amend legislation on this subject already passed we should be given details in regard to the whole transaction.
Mr.- Groom. - The Minister would have been out of -order if he had referred to those details.
– I do not think so. I do not wish to reflect upon the Temporary Chairman’s ruling, but I may say that many honorable members were allowed more latitude in dealing with this question than was allowed to the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). The Government control the price of sugar in Australia to-day, and, that being so, I want to know why certain purchasers of sugar are treated differently from others.
– I do not know.
– That is just what honorable members ought to know. They should be informed why the Colonial Sugar Refining Company have been permitted to enforce an iniquitous rule by which a rebate is allowed to certain of their customers and refused to others.
– That is according to quantity purchased.
– We have information that firms purchasing as much as from £80,000 up to £100,000 worth of sugar per annum are allowed by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company but a very - limited rebate, whilst other firms purchasing not nearly so much are allowed a rebate of 6 per cent., because they happen to.be old customers of the company. I have received complaints on this matter from firms in a very large way of business. When the Government undertake to fix the price of an article they should see that these iniquitous trade customs are not used to prevent all purchasers being placed on the same footing.
– I shall bring the matter under notice.
– I have been told that ‘ what is done is in accordance with an old trade custom, but I contend that this differential treatment of purchasers of sugar should not be allowed to continue. As a matter of fact, instead of the Government controlling the price of sugar and the conditions under which it may be purchased, Mr. Knox, of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, still practically controls the whole business.
– These large purchases are for cash, and delivery is extended over eight or nine months.
– The honorable member must be aware that rebates are made to old customer’s of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, whilst newer customers, even though they are purchasers of greater quantities, have not the same privilege extended to them. I repeat that when the Government attempt to fix the price of any commodity they should see that all trading in it are treated in the same way. The whole of the details connected with the sugar’ deal should be made known to honorable members, and I was hoping that, as we are now considering a measure dealing with sugar, they -would be fully explained, ‘and we should be told what has become of the’ £500,000. Are the growers getting the whole of this money, or are some of the rich millers, including the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, getting some of it.
– The matter was fixed up by arbitration, by the Board fixing cane prices, between the miller and grower-.
– Then it is clear that the miller participates in the £500,000 as well aa the grower, and some of the biggest mills in Queensland are owned by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. It would appear that once more Commonwealth funds are being used to grease the fat pig.
– I shall bring the honorable member’s remarks under notice of the proper authorities.
– 1 hope the right honorable gentleman will go further. He is a -very important member of the present Cabinet, and there is no reason why he should not use the weight of his influence with the Prime Minister and other members of the Government to secure fair trading conditions in connexion with the disposal of sugar.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders’ suspended, and resolution adopted. i
That Sir John Forrest and Mr. Groom do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir John Forrest, and read a first time.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That this Bill be now read a second time.’
.- I have no objection to the Government going on as far as they like. They can sit all tonight if they so desire, only I want to know how long they propose to sit.
– “We are anxious to get these small measures out of the way.
– You are anxious to shut up shop.
– How far do the Government propose to go?
– The Government would like to pass Orders of the Day down to No. 1.
– And, perhaps, then you would like us to pass the War-time Profits Bill in our spare time to-night, but I do not think we shall. I make the Minister a fair offer. The Government can pass the Bill now under consideration and the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill. The Senate will not be sitting next week, so it will not facilitate business to go any further.
– There is nothing in the War Loan Bill.
– One of those-Bills makes provision for £100,000,000. We are entitled to see the measures which the Government desires to have passed, and I think I have made them a fair offer.
– I can assure the honorable gentleman that there is nothing in the Bills. I would not ask him to do anything that is not right.
– Then take the Sugar Purchase Bill, the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill, and the Public Service Bill. You can have these three before 4.30 if you like.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
– I move -
That it is expedient that an appropriation nf revenue and moneys be made ‘for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to amend the War Loan (United Kingdom) Act 1914-1916 and the War Loan (United Kingdom) Act 1915-1916.
The Bill is purely formal. What is asked to be done is already being done, but not in a legal manner. The War Loan Act of 1914 authorized a loan of £18,000,000, and the War Loan Act No. 2 a loan of £6,500,000, in the United King-, dom for war purposes. All such moneys were to be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The money borrowed from the Imperial Government prior to the 30th . June, 1915- £14,100,000- was so paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Later it was decided that it would be better to pay what remained into the Loan Fund, and the War Loan Act (United Kingdom) No. 1, 1916,’ directed that the balance, namely, £10400,000, should be paid into the Loan Fund. The amount paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund - £14,100,000 - was appropriated by Parliament in the ordinary revenue Estimates, and the necessity for providing that the £10,400,000 should be paid into the Loan Fund was overlooked at the time, but no by me. The Bill, therefore, makes the necessary appropriation from the Loan Fund. The purpose of the Bill is’ merely to put the transaction on a proper footing.
.- I do not desire to blame the Government in regard to this matter, but I am in a diffieulty, because the ex-Treasurer, unfortunately, is unavoidably absent.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
SirJOHN FORREST (Swan- Treasurer) [4.16]. - I move -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a - Bill for an Act to amend sections 4 and 22 of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1908-1916.
The Bill gives a concession to persons receiving military pensions and allowances who are also the holders of old-age pensions. The definition of “income,” in section 4 of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act necessitates allotments of soldiers’ and sailors’ pay being regarded in some cases as income, and this affects the rate of the old-age pensions. The Bill provides that these allotments shall not in any way interfere with the rates of old-age and invalid pensions. It is proposed to amend the clause so that pensions granted to the dependants of soldiers shall not affect the old-age or invalid pensions held by them. If the dependant of asoldier has or applies for an old-age or invalid pension, any war pension that he or she may be in receipt of will not interfere in any way with the amount of that pension. Under the Act, parents who are adequately maintained by sons at the war are not entitled to invalid pensions, but the Bill removes this bar to the granting of such pensions.
.- I . have studied the Bill in consultation with the honorable member for Batman, and it seems to me to give effect to the intention which the Treasurer has stated. Those who live in districts from which’ large numbers of soldiers have gone know the hardships which have been occasioned by the existing law. A dozen or more cases have come within my notice during the last month in which old-age pensioners have had their pensions reduced upon the death of their sons killed on active service abroad. This is a scandal, and I am glad that the Treasurer is putting an end to it. I think it would have been righted by any man occupying his position.
.- I congratulate the Treasurer on proposing these very necessary amendments of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. I think that I was the first to draw attention to the disabilities which the Bill is designed to remove. One or two cases came before me, and when I mentioned them last March, the Treasurer promised to have them rectified. Honorable members generally recognise that it is a serious defect of the existing law that a widow, supported by an only son, has her oldage pension reduced by the amount of the war pension she gets should he be killed on active service. I am glad that this disability has been removed.
.- I, too, compliment the Treasurer on having brought forward the Bill, which is probably the most humane piece of legislation that we shall pass this session, and the sooner it becomes law the better. One or two honorable members on this side have taken a keen interest in the matter, and as they are not now present, it is only fair to mention their names. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) would say, a small “meed of praise “ should be given to the honorable members for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) and Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) for what they have done in this matter. I am sure that every Honorable member is pleased that thelaw is to be amended in the manner proposed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That the report be considered at once.
Bill read a first and second time, and reported without amendments; report adopted.
Standing Orders suspended, and Bill read a third time.
In Committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) :
.- Sixteen amendments have been made by another place. Most of them are of a technical nature, and only two may be held to have substance in them. The first may be regarded by some as being worthy of consideration.
– This is a distinct breach of faith. The Government made an agreement in regard to the business to be taken to-day.
– I know of no agreement. Clause 12 provides that the Minister may remove any Commissioner from office on an address praying for his removal being presented to the Governor-General by the Senate and the House of Representatives in any one session, or by the House of Representatives alone in two consecutive sessions. TheSenate has deleted the words “ orby the House of Representatives alone in two consecutive sessions thereof” and the following words. The effect of their amendment is that an address for the removal of the Commissioner must foe passed by both Houses.. The Government propose to accept that view. I move -
That the amendment to clause 12 be agreed to.
.- At 4.10 I informed the Treasurer that the Opposition weTe willing to allow the Government to dispose of the Sugar Purchase Bill, the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill, and the Commonwealth Public Service Bill, so that the House could adjourn by 4.30. I did not understand that we were to deal with the Railways Bill. There are certainly one or two things in the Senate’s amendments to this Bill that cannot be disposed of in the time agreed upon. I suggest that the Minister should report progress.
.- I do not wish to be any party to a breach of faith with honorable members. I did not understand that there had been any understanding, and if it is thought that an endeavour to put the Senate’s amendments to this Bill through, at this stage is not dealing fairly with honorable members, I shall certainly accept -the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition.
In Committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) :
– ‘I move -
That the amendments be agreed to.
When we were dealing with the Bill in Committee, honorable members brought forward the case of men who were serving on ships of war on our coasts, and were ordered out on active service. The first amendment has been made so that the men who are serving in the Navy shall be in the same position as those who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, and did not go to the Front. The next amendment deals with the question of accepting the certificate of a university, or other examining body. The Senate has added the words “ in any part of the British Dominions.” The third amendment deals with the question of temporary employment. The provision was criticized, and I promised to reconsider it; and, as a result, an amendment has been made in another place, the effect of which is that, if a report is given by the permanent head of a Department in which a returned soldier has been employed for six months on temporary work, stating that he has performed his duties satisfactorily, the period of his employment may be extended from time . to time by tha Commissioner for such periods as ha thinks fit.
Motion agreed to.
Resolutions reported; report adopted.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
The first business for Wednesday will be the War Loan Bill. Then wo will take the War-time Profits Tax Assessment Bill and the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Bill. We shall probably also sandwich in the Senate’s amendments on the Railways Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative-
House adjourned at 4.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 August 1917, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1917/19170824_reps_7_82/>.