7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. SPEAKER informed the House that he had issued the writ for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Flinders, of which he had given particulars on Wednesday last.
– The Government is not desirous of answering any questions today, because of the amendment that has been moved to the Supply motion.
– As a matter of privilege, I ask, through you, Mr. Speaker, why honorable members are to be deprived of the right to ask questions and to receive answers to them?
– The amendment moved to the Supply motion last night is one which the Government feels itself unable to accept, because it affects our responsibility for the finances, and, under the circumstances, Ministers ask that it may be disposed of before other business is proceeded with.
– The Government having intimated that it is not its intention to answer questions; no further questions may be asked .
Want, ob1 Confidence Amendment - REpresentation of defence department in House of Representatives - Defence Administration : Reports of Royal Commission: Reception of Wounded Soldiers : Liverpool Camp : War Cripples and Artificial Limbs - Recruiting Policy - Government Agreement with Colonial Combing and Weaving Company - Central ‘ Wool Committee: Mr. F. W. Hughes - Wool Purchases: Japan - Parliamentary Control of Finances - War Precautions Act Regulations: Prosecution of Mr. J. H. Catts - Conscription of Italians for Military Service Abroad - National Party and Unity - Imperial Conference - Australian Labourers for the War: Selection of Unfit Men: Pay and Cost of Living.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 11th April (vide page 3882), on motion by Mr. Watt -
That there be granted to His Majesty for or towards defraying the services of the year 1917-18 a sum not exceeding £5,068,484.
Upon which Mr. Boyd had moved, by way of amendment -
That the sum be reduced by £1.
.- Last night, after a temperate speech, in which I did not make a personal attack upon any one of those who occupy the Treasury bench, I moved an amendment which, so far as I know, is outside the limits of party political strife. I moved the only amendment possible under the circumstances, namely, the reduction of the amount asked for by the Government by the sum of £1. Ministers now say that they will treat this amendment aa a motion of want of confidence, because it proposes to take the responsibility for the finances of. the country out of their hands. Was ever so stupid a statement made before? The Government asks for Supply amounting to over £5,000,000, and when it is proposed to reduce the sum by £1, Ministers complain that financial control is being taken out of their hands. The position is childish.
– How many times in the history of this Parliament has an amendment to reduce an amount by £1 been moved without being considered an inter ference with’ the Government control of public business ?
– Very many scores of times.
– And such amendments have sometimes been accepted by Ministers.
– To persons unacquainted with parliamentary procedure, to move to reduce an immense sum by £1 must appear a senseless thing, but such a motion has significance, because of the ground attached to it. The Senate may make requests concerning money Bills, and thus exercise a certain amount of control over the finances, but it is the members of the House of Representatives that have the real responsibility for finance. If the best answer that Ministers can make to my amendment , is that it is unacceptable because it .takes financial control from their hands, they are gravelled for want of argument. I did not make an attack on the Government as a whole; my request was for the transference of the portfolio of Defence from the Senate to the House of Representatives. Ministers have thrown down a gage of battle. For what reason? For the purpose of .intimidating men who might, if left free and untrammelled, vote for the amendment, believing my views to be right. Last night the possibility of a dissolution was hinted at in covert language by the Leader of the House.
– I did not suggest that.
– That possibility is being put about among members of this party now.
– Speaking with a full sense of responsibility, I say that the Government has no more intention of applying for a dissolution than I have of going to Heaven to-morrow.
– By no suggestion or statement have I made it appear that the Government threatens a dissolution.
– Then what did the honorable gentleman mean when he said last night that he warned members of the responsibility they were taking?
– I was thinking of what was going on overseas.
– That reply is more calculated than any other to irritate me at the present moment. What is happening overseas has caused me to move the amendment, and were Ministers honest and genuine in their desire for the successful prosecution of the war, they would have done more to achieve the end for which they were returned to power - the obtaining of recruits. A recruiting scheme was formulated after two months of preparation, but nothing was done until Parliament reassembled, and then a conference was called by the Governor-General. Is the conduct of Ministers in regard to recruiting that of men who are anxious to fill our ranks overseas ? The Minister for the Ifavy has twitted me with not having done anything for recruiting. In reply, I say that I spoke in favour of recruiting in every one of the twenty-four towns in my electorate, that I spoke also in the electorates of Maribyruong and Batman, in a number of country towns, and in front of the Town Hall, Melbourne. Finally, after a big meeting in my constituency last year, at which there were 30,000 or 40,000 persons present, on the Caulfield racecourse, drums beating and flags flying, we got as an answer to our appeal but one recruit, and he a returned soldier. I then said, “I have done with voluntary enlistment.” Subsequently I was asked by the Recruiting Committee to speak at a mid-day meeting outside the Town Hall, Melbourne, and replied that if the Committee would take responsibility for what I would say, indicating that my remarks would be in the nature of a conscription speech, I would do what it wished. The reply I got thanked me for the work I had done in the past, and stated that, under the circumstances, the Committee thought that if I felt as I had said I had better not address the meeting. I then wrote to the Government stating that if the question of conscription was put before the country they could rely upon my services anywhere and at any time. During both conscription cam- paigns I did not have a night at home, spoke night after night in support of the conscription issue. After all, no matter what may be the opinions represented by honorable members opposite, we on this side represent the Conscriptionist party. Because a majority oi 160,000 turned down the conscription policy of the Government, is that a good reason why the million people who voted for conscription should be voiceless in this House? Are those who voted for con- scription, and believe to-day that it is the proper policy for this country, to have no one in this House to voice their opinions? As long as I remain here, believing, as I do, that conscription is the only policy to meet the situation, I shall be prepared to advocate it. I said, in January last, however, that since the country had twice turned down that policy, it was impracticable at that moment to put it into effect, and that the only alternative was to drop it for the time being. Sir William Irvine, who was then the honorable member for Flinders, suggested that there should be a meeting of all parties in this Parliament to forward the voluntary recruiting movement, and honorable members opposite gave us an assurance that they would do their best to help it. They declared that it was not dead, and that if they could secure a working agreement they would throw all their energies into the task of securing recruits. “Whether or not that can be accomplished is a matter that lies in the womb of the future. I do not know whether it can be.
An Honorable Member. - Will the honorable member for Barrier assist?
– The honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) is not the Labour party, nor does he represent the views of the great mass of those who support the party opposite. I fight with the gloves off, but have never suggested that honorable members opposite are disloyal. Many of them have sons fighting at the Front. Many of them have had sons killed at the Front, and to say that these men are disloyal is furthest from my thoughts. What I have said, and am prepared to say, is that the methods of the Labour party, in my judgment, are wrong. In the recruiting speech which the Prime Minister made at Bendigo, after two months’ cogitation, he declared that without the assistance of the great Labour party the Government system of recruiting must fail. What steps did he take to secure that assistance?
– He insulted us.
– I desire to deliver my own speech without any assistance. I take the full responsibility of all my actions, and have never been afraid to do so. From the time that the Prime Minister delivered his recruiting speech at Bendigo, not one Minister has been on the platform to explain the Government scheme. The casual way in which the recruiting movement is being dealt with by the Government is indicative of their lack of interest in it. I strongly object to the way in which criticism of this kind is received by the Government. The moment it is indulged in, those who utter it are reminded of the awful conditions existing at the Front. No one knows of those conditions better than I do. Members of my family have been in the fighting line for three years, and when these men write to us - when they explain the conditions under which they have been existing for three years owing to the lack of proper support - we should be less than human if we did not consider that our duty led us in the direction of doing our very utmost to get support for our men there. No one has been able to point to me the finger of scorn; no one can say that I have not done all in my power to help the recruiting movement, or to help the nation to which I am proud to belong to do its very best to win the war. The sneer Tn which the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Joseph Cook) indulged last night was merely an attempt to stave off criticism. It was an attempt to use the party machine.
– It was an attempt to indicate to the honorable member that I, at least, have done as much as he has done to help recruiting.
– I am not prepared to say what the right honorable gentleman had done before the meeting of the House in January, but I do not think I do him an injury when I say that he has done nothing since then to help recruiting.
– I have never missed an opportunity.
– I had no desire that my amendment should be treated as a motion of want of confidence in the Government. In submitting it I did my level best to temper my language”, and I so framed my amendment that I thought it could not be considered as a want-of -confidence motion. Since the Government have chosen to treat it as such, however, I am not going to run away from it. I am not built of the stuff that runs away from a fight. There is quite a lot of criticism to which utterance might be given on the floor of the House, but which is not indulged in because honorable members fear that in this time of trouble it “might embarrass the Government. I take the responsibility for saying that the condition of the Defence Department is due, not to the officers of that Department, as the Government said, through the Minister for the Navy, last night, but to the Ministerial head. I dealt last night with the Minister for Defence, and I propose now to quote from the Royal Commission’s report a paragraph dealing with the Prime Minister’s responsibility in this regard. The Auditor-General, who has to certify that the accounts of the Department are correct, continually made applications for assistance to the Prime Min;ister’s Department. The Prime Minister’s Department refused to grant him that assistance. The Commission reports -
The Auditor-General, realizing the continuous increase of his work, has from time to time made application for an increase of staff. He has not been successful in having his requirements fully met in this respect, and to this is largely due the present unsatisfactory condition of the work.
Then follows a letter from the AuditorGeneral to the Prime Minister, dated 20th July, 1917, in the third paragraph of which he writes -
Provision has been made upon the estimates of this office for the assistance applied for, but your sanction of the employment of additional temporary staff has not yet been received.
In this case he was asking for only an additional temporary staff -
As the matter has become extremely urgent, I again respectfully request that, you will sanction the employment of the temporary assistance asked for.
The Commission then goes on to report that “ A reply was not received to this letter.” That places on the shoulders of the Prime Minister the responsibility for the financial muddle at the Defence Department. All other responsibility is on the shoulders of the Minister for Defence. The members of this Government have a habit of leaving the chamber when an honorable member is criticising them.
– That is not fair.
– Of course it is. not fair when the Government are being criticised.
– The honorable member does not seem to be able to be fair this morning.
– It is peculiar that it was only after my amendment had been accepted as a challenge that the whole of the members of the Government in this
House, with the ‘exception of the Prime Minister, were present. There were ten Ministers here when it was thought there was trouble brewing. When there is no trouble ahead, one usually finds only an Honorary Minister occupying the Treasury bench.
The Minister for the Navy last night charged me with saying that I would even criticise Lloyd ‘George. Judging by his tone of voice, “ I thought he was going to say that I would try to move an amendment to the ten commandments. Who is Lloyd George any more than any other member of Parliament? It is true that for the time being he is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and is charged with the heavy responsibilities of the war; but he was instrumental in shifting his predecessor from office. He, by his work in the British Parliament during the crisis - and a greater crisis existed at that time, when Britain was not ready, than exists to-day, when we are ready - succeeded in shifting the then Prime Minister from office. In those circumstances, why should an effort be made to use the war as a stalking horse to keep in office men who are not doing their work ? There is not one of the belligerent nations, not even Germany, that has not had Ministerial changes since the war. All the warring nations have changed their Prime Ministers and their Ministers for War. Even France, the nation most vitally affected, has changed its Minister for War several times since the conflict began. That being so, why, should the war be urged as an excuse for the retention of Ministers who are not doing their work as it ought to be done? Why should those who indulge in even a breath of criticism against them be classed as malcontents who want to obtain office? I have no desire to obtain office; I do not want any of the Ministerial jobs. I have not asked an honorable member to vote for my amendment. Before submitting it I did not ask even one of those who is supposed to share my views - I did not ask the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler) or the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), who spoke last night - whether they would vote with me. I was content to submit my amendment, believing it was right to do so, quite irrespective of how the voting upon it might go. When I saw the Government Whip displaying some signs of excitement, I asked him for information as to how the numbers, were going, and came to the conclusion that the Government were safe. When it was found that the Government were safe, a speech was delivered from the Treasury bench to whip up the more timorous members sitting in the Ministerial corner, or those sitting directly behind the Government who might be likely to offer criticism.
– You are a beauty.
– - I am quite as beautiful as the honorable member is. He is no oil painting. In dealing with’ my criticism of the Minister for Defence, the Minister for the Navy asked why we had not pointed to the bright spots in the report of the Royal Commission concerning his Department. He then went on to read thireports of the factories and the comments thereon by the Commission. I said at the outset that the Minister himself had called attention to those parts of the report in which there was a certain amount of laudatory comment upon the work of the Department. I said also that it would be a very bad state of affairs if there was no good thing in the Department. That was not the ground upon which I asked for a transfer of portfolios. I would emphasize the point that I did not ask that any member of the Government should go out of office. I merely asked for an exchange of portfolios, suggesting that a Minister sitting in this House, and holding an important portfolio, might exchange it for ‘that held by the Minister for Defence, so that the Ministerial head of the Defence Department would be a member of this House. In other words, I proposed to give the present Minister for Defence an easier job. Is there anything in that to make a vote of noconfidence out of it? The Minister for the Navy thought it proper to read out the laudatory comments of the Commission. And when he had read them, he unconsciously gave away his own thoughts and feelings when he said, “This is the one bright spot in the whole sorry business.” That was his own conscientious conviction. When the coalition took place, the Minister for the Navy, with other representatives of this party, fought for two days before the coalition was brought into existence to get the Defence portfolio transferred into this House, and there will be numbers of honorable members on this side who advocated that policy who will probably vote against my motion now.
– Because they are loyally abiding by an agreement to which you subscribed.
– I did not, and I object to discussions in party meetings which try to evolve unanimity on the part of all supporters of the Government.
– Some honorable members object to breaches of confidence in declaring what was confidentially discussed in party meetings.
– I have not discussed anything in this House in connexion with party meetings the particulars of which were not given to the press by members of the Government. But their attitude upon that phase of the subject is not peculiar to this Government. It is the established custom of the gentlemen opposite to take a vote in Caucus, whereby members who may disagree are bound to vote as themajority then declare. But the trouble is that since this coalition came about members have been trying to graft that system on to us, and I am not going to stand for it. The determination of my loyalty does not rest with the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch), but with my constituents, and if I cannot voice the opinions of those who sent me here I have no right to be present. The Minister, in his reply, thought he was going to make wonderful capital out of a retort, which caused laughter at the time, that the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) did not look as if he were under control. May I ask, if an election took place in our party - if there were a new election in connexion with the Works Committee- -what chance the honorable member for Dampier would have of getting on to it?
– Hear, hear! I waa bumped but of the Public Accounts Committee because I did my work too well on it.
– May I recall to the memories of honorable members the fact that when the trouble arose in the Senate last year Senator Bakhap and Senator Keating upset the calculations of the Government by voting against them ? Those honorable members were respectively upon the Works Committee and the Finance Committee. When the re-elections took place they were dropped. And, although the Minister for the Navy was able to point to the fact that the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) by his free criticism last night showed that he was not controlled or influenced by his appointment, the instances of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler) and the two senators in their expressions of independent views and opinions show that when the party came into the election of new committees those honorable gentlemen were quietly dropped. Members of the party who do not open their mouths, who act in the most docile manner with regard to everything the Government may propose - those are the men who get these jobs. And that is a danger to free and independent parliamentary criticism. Since the Government have chosen to regard in that light what was not intended as a vote of want of confidence, and as they have adopted that attitude for the alleged reason that we are endeavouring by the reduction by fi of £5,000,000 to take the finances out of the hands of the Government, then I say that their reply is so paltry that whatever responsibility may attach to me, should this vote be carried, and if that covert threat of the Minister for the Navy is put into operation, I shall be prepared to take all the consequences. I shall cantinue so as- long as I remain on the job, untrammelled in my criticisms of the actions of this or any other Government.
.- I am pleased that the Government have taken this attitude to-day, because it provides opportunities for pointing out other reasons why the Government should no longer hold office. It may be that some members of the present Government are not responsible for the acts of the Minister for Defence, or for the actions of the Prime Minister; but if members of the Ministry continue to defend irregularities which are occurring, then all must be held responsible for the acts of any individual Minister. I have frequently brought forward the circumstances of what I consider a gross irregularity in connexion with the Prime Minister’s Department - an irregularity of which the Prime Minister must be quite well aware, and for which he must be held responsible. I refer particularly to those contracts into- which the Commonwealth Government have entered; that partnership agreement, rather, upon which the Government have entered with F. W. Hughes and Company, otherwise the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company.
The Central Wool Committee, it appears, has accepted the responsibility for these contracts and this agreement. I am not going to say one word about the members of the Central Wool Committee, except that I believe that, hard-headed business men though they are - men who have been a great success in their own affairs - they have been caught napping by Mr. F. W. Hughes, and, possibly, the Hon. J. C. Watson. Mr. F. W. Hughes, a personal friend of the Prime Minister, is a member of the Central Wool Committee. That Committee is believed by the general public to be a body of men who are acting in an honorary capacity doing war work. That Committee, in the eyes of the public, is much in the position of the Government. What would be thought of the Treasurer or the Minister for Customs, or of any other Minister, if he used his influence, in the Government to get Cabinet to enter into a contract by which he might make thousands of pounds? Any member of the Government is permitted, I believe, to be a member of any company consisting of twenty shareholders which may have a contract with the Government. But no member of the Government may be a Government contractor, nor may he be a member of a small company consisting of the seven or eight persons who comprise the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company, for example. I saw in the Sydney Morning Herald some time ago a reference to this company. Thereafter I tried to secure information from the Prime Minister, but he sought to bluff me, and refused to give me a copy of the agreement, or to place on the table of this House a copy of the share list of that company. The more the Prime Minister refused to supply the information, and the more he tried his bluff, the more anxious I became to get the information. And I got it, in spite of the Prime Minister, who by devious methods, had endeavoured to put the matter off as one which was absolutely all right. He - or some one connected with his Department - tried to bring the late Treasurer (Lord Forrest) into it.
Questions were put on the notice-paper and answers were provided, by medium of which the Treasurer might express in this House certain views and supply certain information respecting the company. One answer was prepared for the ex-Treasurer, and words were put into his mouth, to the effect that he had been consulted in regard to all the details of this agreement.
– Have you checked that? I am told that it is not quite accurate.
– I have, and I am coming to that point. I asked who had prepared the answers in the Prime Minister’s Department - who had dictated those answers. How was it that the Prime Minister was endeavouring to pui? into the mouth of the Treasurer that he had been consulted in regard to the details, and what was the object sought to be attained? I was informed in one or other of the various answers to my inquiries that the secretary of the Wool Committee had supplied the replies, and, further, that the Prime Minister had not dictated those answers to the secretary.
– Did they fake it up on the Wool Board ?
– Well, the word “ fake ‘’ will, no doubt, be objected to.
– If it were a matter affecting the Wool Committee’s responsibilities, is there any reason why the secretary should not have provided the Government with the answers?
– Perhaps not.
– That is hardly a fair comparison. Outside bodies do not supply answers for delivery in Parliament.
– They submit matter, and, if it is passed by the Minister, it is the same thing, surely.
– For the information of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly), I may say that my question was directed to the then Treasurer, inquiring what revenue had been received as the result of this agreement, and whether any member of the staff of the Treasury had anything to do with the accounts ; also whether the Prime Minister had prepared the answer for the Treasurer ; and, if not, who did? It now appears, according to the answers given for the Prime Minister yesterday, that the Secretary of the Central Wool Committee supplied the replies to my questions. Those questions were directed to the Treasurer, but the Treasury was so kept in. the dark about the agreement with F. W. Hughes and Company, which was under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s Department, that an officer of the Treasury could not answer the questions, and bad to refer to the Central Woo) Committee, the Secretary of which prepared the replies. He has since stated that he did not include in the replies any statement to the effect that the Treasurer had been consulted in regard to the details. I am prepared to say. that those words were in the answer given to the then Treasurer (the honorable member for Swan), who struck them out, and stated in the House that he had not been consulted.
– It would be interesting to know how the honorable member got this information.
– The Treasurer must not imagine that this information came from any officer in the Treasury or the Prime Minister’s Department. I obtained the information by accident, as I shall be prepared to prove if aRoyal Commission is appointed. Honorable members may think that some officer in one of the Departments has been disclosing confidential information, but that is not so. I think I have proved to the Committee that somebody, either in the Prime Minister’s Department or connected with theWool Committee, was prepared to tell a barefaced lie.
The Prime Minister told the House that Mr. P. W. Hughes, his personal friend, would benefit only indirectly from the profits of the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and “Weaving Company. In referring to him as a personal friend of the Prime Minister it may be thought that I am suggesting that some sinister influence was at work with the right honorable gentleman. All I suggest in that regard is that possibly the Prime Minister has been unconsciously biased in favour of his personal friends, Mr. P.W. Hughes and the Hon. J. C. Watson. The Law Courts recognise that there is such a thing as unconscious bias. I have here a copy of the agreement made between the company and the Commonwealth Government. It sets out certain details about the manufacture of wool tops, and then continues -
For the purpose of this agreement, the net earnings of the company shall be ascertained at the end of each accounting period of the company by deducting from the gross earnings of the company, from all sources, all proper allowances for, -or as a reserve against, amortization of leaseholds, depreciation of plant and machinery, interest, ordinary business losses, and all other expenses and outgoings of, and incidental to, the company’s business (other than any payments of the war-time profits tax referred to in clause 8 -hereof), and such further allowance for amortization of plant and machinery purchased at war prices as will reduce the book value of such plant and machinery to the pre-war value of plant and machinery of the same kind. The first accounting period of the company for the pur; poses of this agreement shall commence on the first day of March, One thousand nine hundred and seventeen (that being the date of commencement of manufacture of tops hereunder), and shall continue to the end of the full ordinary accounting period of the company then current. The net earnings for such first accounting period shall be deemed to be an amount bearing the same proportion to the net earnings for such full ordinary accounting period as the number of working days in the first accounting period hereunder bears to the number of working days in such full ordinaryaccounting period.
The net earnings of the company for each accounting period during the continuance of this agreement (after being ascertained in the manner set forth in clause 6 of these presents) shall be applied by the company as follows, that is to say, the company shall -
hold one-half of the net earnings at disposal of the Commonwealth Government; and
subject as hereinafter provided, retain the balance for its own purposes.
Mr.Falkiner.- Does not the agreement say anything about putting the profits into machinery?
– I have already read that portion of the agreement. This is a serious matter for every member of the Wool Committee. Even if the Committee was caught napping, it bad no right to be so caught by this astute gentleman or the Hon. J. C. Watson.
– Is the honorable member sure that the Hon. J. C. Watson was responsible?
– I will not say, but it is a singular fact that the Hon. J. C. Watson was added to the directorate at about the time this agreement was entered into. I may here remark that the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) said, in this chamber, that the Central Wool Committee was approached in regard to the making of this agreement between the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company and the Commonwealth Go- vernment. By whom was the Central Wool Committee appointed ? Who carried out the negotiations to bring about the agreement ? Was it F. W. Hughes, who is a member of the Central Wool Committee? Was it the Hon. J, C. Watson, or did the Prime Minister approach the Wool Committee ?
– Only one of the three could have done it.
– Possibly. Every member of the Government is concerned in the charge I am making. After due consideration, the Prime Minister told the House deliberately that F. W. Hughes was only benefiting indirectly from the profits of the company, as the profits were put into plant and machinery.
After a lot of bother, I obtained from the Registrar of Companies in New South Wales a list of the . shareholders, and I find that the company has a nominal capital of £100,000, divided into 100,000 shares of £1 each. The first issue totalled only eight shares, one each being taken by Phillip Henry Morton, Frederick William Hughes, Frederick Yelverton Wilson, Laura Maud Wilson, Diana Matilda Hughes, Frank Herbert Hughes, John Christian Watson, and Charles H. Roderick McLean. Later there was a second issue of shares, and F. W. Hughes took up 20,000, paid up to 5s. The latest record in the Registrar’s office shows that F. W. Hughes holds 20,001 shares, and the other seven shareholders one share each.
– That is what is called a bomb-proof arrangement.
– It is. F. W. Hughes seems to have all the bombs and armoury necessary to protect his profits. Yet the Prime Minister stated that this man was only indirectly benefiting. I asked a question of the Treasurer on Wednesday as to what amount of money had been received from the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company as the Government share of profits arising out of the contract with Japanese merchants, and what amount of money had been received from Messrs. S. W. Whiddon and Company in the same way. I was informed that from the first-named company the amount received by the Treasurer was £48,384, and from Whiddon and Company £12,646.
Those replies are extremely interesting, because F. W. Hughes, the gentleman who is said to be only indirectly benefiting, will have received about £48,360, and the other seven shareholders under £20 at the most. The contracts which this gentleman was able to get as a member of the Central Wool Committee amounted to no less a sum than £721,000, and whereas the price for wool tops, prior to the war, was 2s. 4d. per lb., he now receives something like 6s. per lb. The company tells the Government that the profits on contracts aggregating £721,000 amounted to only £96,000. I do not believe that statement. I believe that, by reason of the clause in the agreement permitting the company to deduct from the profits certain sums for the repair and purchase of machinery and plant, F. W. Hughes has been able to mop up probably anything from £100,000 to £200,000.
It is not as though the Government had not been warned about this agreement; I have been referring to the matter in this House for. months past, and in the circumstances it is their duty to grant a Royal Commission to inquire into what is a public scandal. I regret that hitherto the daily press has not given sufficent publicity to this matter. The reason may be that on the last occasion I referred to it I spoke late at night and the newspapers could not ,find space to report my remarks. There can be no such excuse on this occasion, and I hope that the press will give due publicity to the scandal of F. W. Hughes using his influence as a member of the Central Wool Committee to secure contracts of this kind. The failure of the Prime Minister’s Department was not only in allowing Hughes to get the contracts, but in joining the Wool
Committee, in arranging an agreement which has placed the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company beyond the control of this Parliament. By reason of certain clauses in the agreement, no matter what Parliament may do with regard to war-time profits^ F. W. Hughes must get his full share.
– Does the £48,000 returned to the Commonwealth represent the profit for only half-a-year ?
– According to my information, those earnings of the company covered the period ended 31st August, 1917, and as the contract commenced in March, 1917, that profit is for a period’ oi about six months.
There is another instance which shows the methods of ]?. W. Hughes. He recently posted a notice at his Botany-street fellmongery that, owing to the attacks upon him by me in this Parliament, he intended to close down the works. That notification is quite in keeping with the gentleman’s methods. He does not appear in the open too much, but, where possible, seeks to attain his ends through the trade unionists. When he wanted a bounty he enlisted the aid of the workers. Apparently he is now trying the same dodge, in the hope that the unionists will come to me with a request that I shall discontinue my attacks, so as not to jeopardize their employment.
– I tell the honorable member at once that I will vote for a Royal Commission to inquire into this matter.
– I am glad to hear the honorable member say that. I firmly believe that a Royal Commission ought to be appointed. In the Sydney Morning Herald a few days ago the Hon. J. C. “Watson challenged me to make a charge. Surely in my speeches in this House I have made charges enough.
As honorable members know, F. W. Hughes received a bounty for the. manufacture of wool tops. The Inter-State Commission inquired into the matter, and decided unanimously that that bounty ought never to have been paid. Hughes had represented that if he received this bounty he would provide a great deal of employment. But the InterState Commission found that the machinery used in connexion with the manufacture of wool tops is largely automatic, and can be operated by a few girls. To show the devious methods pf this gentleman, I am prepared to prove, if the House will appoint a Royal Commission, that about the time that the bounty for wool tops was being agitated, Mr. F. W. Hughes wanted a certain gentleman to accept some free shares in his company.
– Was this a member of Parliament?
– =-That is a very common thing.
– I know, but it is not everybody that would accept the free shares in the circumstances in which they were offered. This gentleman believed that his influence was desired to get the bounty for wool tops, and, thinking he knew what Mr. F. W. Hughes was after, be refused the shares. In spite of this, Mr. P. W. Hughes actually sent him a cheque for dividends, and, when he refused that cheque, sent him another. Mr. F. W. Hughes, who is a smart commercial man, succeeded in getting the bounty, but when at last the Inter-State Commission showed how improper it was, and the bounty was abolished, he set to work, and succeeded in inducing the Central Wool Committee, with the approval of the Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) to enter into an agreement involving contracts amounting to £721,000,’ out of which the admitted profits to each party amount to £48,000. Mr. F. W. Hughes receives at least £48,000 out of that contract for six months’ work, and all this is done on a capital of £5,008. The business, therefor©, might be described, in the language of the bush, as “ as strong as mustard.” I make this speech in support of the motion of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd), which the Government have taken as a motion of want of confidence. That is only one of the reasons why the Government should retire from office. When I say that, I do not hope that our party will get over there. We are too limited in numbers, but the party opposite are strong enough, comprising as they do two-thirds of the House, and surely they can find amongst their numbers an administration which will carry on the government of this country in a straightforward, open, and above board manner.
– I wish to make a few statements about two or three matters that are not by -any means party in character. I do not intend to support the amendment, nor have I sympathy with the introduction of any aggressive contentious spirit into this House at this juncture. The party to which the honorable member for Henty and myself belong have not sought to limit the freedom of individual members, and are not likely to do so.
– They have cracked the whip, and you are obeying.
– They have not, and individually I shall always retain ray freedom in my capacity as a representative of the people in this House. I believe every honorable member on this side understands and appreciates the privilege of freedom too much to surrender one iota of it, but freedom carries with it corresponding responsibilities in a party like ours, and I neither intend to surrender my freedom, nor to permit any limitation of the responsibilities which are distinctly my own. I shall give reasons why I dp not intend to support the amendment. I believe the Department of Defence ought to be in this House. Pretty well every honorable member on this side believes so, but the Government believe otherwise atthis moment.
– Do they?
– I and other honorable members have to take their express statements. If the Government believe otherwise, the Government must take the responsibility. There has been a serious reconstruction of the Government. They have called to their assistance four honorable members of this House, and I intend to give those men a chance to show whether they are going to improve things. The Government have done more than that, particularly in regard to the Defence Department. They have called, or intend to call, to their assistance three or four of the best experts among the commercial “and financial men of the community. I believe that departure from past practice will give excellent results, and hope it will give a considerable amount of satisfaction to honorable members, and the community as a whole. I intend to assist the new Ministers, with the Government generally, and hope that the promises made by them will be more than fulfilled. I do not intend to go into details about the Defence Department and the Royal Commission’s reports. I have my opinions. I feel strongly on the matter, and, generally speaking, am entirely in accord with the speech of the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory). Almost all his statements about that and other Departments are absolutely unanswerable. I shall deal with those matters when the Ministerial statement is under discussion.
I complain very emphatically about the lack of opportunity this House has had to exercise a proper control of public expenditure. I know Ministerial responsibility thoroughly, and I know that primarily the Ministry are responsible, but in the last analysis this House is responsible, and this House has never asserted its responsibility, and demanded, as it ought to have done, a proper control of the public expenditure of the Commonwealth.
Mr.Fowler. - Does not the responsibility of the House apply to the Defence administration as well?
– It applies to everything, but I want to exercise a proper discretion in dealing with things in their proper order, and at the appropriate moment I shall deal with the question of the economy that has been promised for years, and of why those promises remain unfulfilled. The Estimates - and they are the only opportunity we get to exercise a proper control over public expenditure - come to us at the end of the session. They are forced through in two or three days, with possibly a night or two thrown in, and we never have that proper Ministerial statement regarding the details of expenditure that the House ought to demand. In the ordinary course of things, we may have the Estimates before us next month, and then we shall be told that ten months’ money has not only been appropriated, but expended. Possibly Ministers will have overrun the constable, as they generally do, and the bulk of the money will have been expended. What is the good in those circumstances of crying over spilt milk? Last year the Estimates were submitted for the consideration of Parliament after the financial year had closed. It is of no use for honorable members to talk about Ministerial responsibility and Ministerial failures, because the responsibility rests on the House, and particularly on the dominant party in it, to demand a change. We are not departing from a due sense of loyalty when we demand that in such essential principles the House shall rule. It never has done so. I am not complaining about the conduct of this Government being exceptional in this matter. Going back seven years, Ithink it was in the earlier time of the first Fisher Administration that the financial year had gone before the Estimates were submitted for the considera- tion of the House. On no occasion have we had the Estimates submitted at a proper time of the year, in order to give honorable members an opportunity to discuss them, and to get a proper statement from the Ministry concerning the different items of expenditure. Frequently the Government have fallen back on the Auditor-General, with the excuse that, “ “We have not received the AuditorGeneral’s report,” but that is an excuse that ought to apply only once. The matter ought to be remedied in the following year.
– They will not give him a staff to carry out his work.
– You are getting a lot of encouragement from the Opposition side. ‘
– I am dealing with the conditions that obtain to-day, due entirely to the confusion and chaos into which this country was precipitated by Governments supported by honorable members opposite. I want to express a degree of sympathy with the present Government, because it requires Herculean efforts to undo the mischief-
– They have had twelve months.
– I admit it, and I think they ought to have had more. But they have given us indications that they are grappling with this difficulty, and finding a way out of the maze and confusion of the past. However, we want not only promises, but also performances.
– What is the policy of the honorablemember?
– My policy is that we should demand opportunities to discharge our duties, particularly in regard to finance. Some of the reports of Royal Commissions which have sat in recent times have revealed a deplorable condition of affairs. If every Department of the Commonwealth had been scrutinized as some of them have been, similar conditions would possibly have been revealed. In connexion with the inquiry into the Federal Capital expenditure by Mr. Blacket, part of the defence set up by the Government was that the Auditor-General in his comments, which in themselves were serious and deplorable, had said that, according to his interpretation of his statutory authority, there was a limitation placed upon his powers of investigation in regard to public expenditure. The Minister may remember the circumstances, because I asked him what he intended to do in regard to the statement of the AuditorGeneral in that regard, seeing that he had claimed that, according to his interpretation of the limitation imposed upon him, he could not exercise a proper check over public expenditure.
– The Commission which has just reported on the Defence Department has raised that very issue in connexion with the statutory authority of the Auditor-General.
– In answer to my question, the Treasurer, who was then Minister for Works and Railways, informed me that he was dealing with the matter. I asked him if he would introduce aBill at the earliest opportunity to give the Auditor-General the authority to make his work effective.
– It was not my task then, though probably it is now.
– Does the honorable member wish to give the Auditor-General power to criticise the policy of any expenditure?
– Certainly not. But there were certain irregularities which were not discovered by the audit, and the Auditor-General sheltered himself under the fact that his statutory authority did not give him power to deal with those matters. I should be pleased to learn from the Treasurer that he intends to rectify the Act in that respect;
– I do not say that the Act does not give the Auditor-General the authority to which the honorable member refers, but I admit that certain amendments are necessary. The Act is too detailed, and in that regard somewhat confines the operations of the Auditor-Gene-
– For ten years past I have been endeavouring to drum into every Government the necessity for the appointment of an independent and effective Supply and Tender Board. For many years I have been promised that such a Board would be created, but, so far, nothing has been done except in a sectional way. I understand that there is a Supply and Tender Board connected with the Defence Department. To my mind it is not sufficient for the different Departments to set up their own Boards. A Supply and Tender Board should be appointed to deal with the whole of the Commonwealth expenditure, and! it should be both efficient and independent. If such a Board had been in existence when the war began, a lot of the trouble experienced by the Defence Department would have been obviated.
– And hundreds of thousands of pounds would have been saved.
– I am sure that a few million pounds would have been saved. The report of the Commission of Inquiry indicates that the losses have been enormous. There is nothing novel about the proposal of the Government to secure the aid of business experts in the conduct of their big and increasing activities. This great increase in Government activities is almost entirely due to the fact that what was previously done by private enterprise in the matter of production of many kinds has now come under the control of the Government. I say there is nothing novel about the present proposal. One of the first planks of the policy of the Cook Government in 1914 was the creation of a commercial side to the Defence Department, and if that policy had been put into operation, what the Government are doing to-day - I hope successfully - would have been done at the very beginning. Apart from that, we are simply following the lead of Mr. Lloyd George, who, when he succeeded Mr. Asquith, called to the assistance of the British Government the best brains of the community, and with marvellous results. I am pleased that the Government have done the same thing here. It seems to me that in existing circumstances it is a real and effective way of helping to win the war.
– What about ruling the country by committees?
– I am not a believer in having unnecessary committees. I infinitely prefer the Government’s scheme to the relegation of expert work to non-expert committees. If we secure the services of the best experts in the community, we shall obtain results which will be a blessing to the Commonwealth, and will also behelpful inpromoting its sol vency, its continued prosperity, and its development. Just one word more about economy, which has always been preached but has never been practised.
– That is a complaint which is a hundred years old.
– It is, unfortunately, a complaint against all Australian Parliaments.
– Because we load our guns with blank cartridges.
– Let honorable members put forward a constructive policy and insist upon it. It is within the power of this Parliament to do so. The magnificent result of the last war loan would have been considered the very height of impossibility four years ago, but a big proportion of the money which is flowing into the Treasury by way of loan is drawn from the working capital of the country.
– I doubt it.
– I do not doubt it. I am not complaining about it, but, as this money is drawn from the working capital of the country, that fact only emphasizes the necessity for real economy.
I ask the Government to bring forward next year’s Estimates at an early date, and I ask honorable members to demand that they shall be given the opportunity to discharge their responsibilities to the people by insisting on economy, and the putting aside of public works which are not essential for the moment. We have been talking about doing this, but up to the present there has been no serious attempt to do it. We are spending money on the construction of works that could be set aside for years, and we are doing it at a time when money is dear and when material is dear. A continuation of this policy will drive the Commonwealth into a condition of affairs which will be a positive bar to its development. We are living in a fool’s paradise. Surely we should know by this time that a reaction must set in, yet we are not doing our duty in the direction of making that time of reaction as light and easy for the people to endure as it might and should be made.
.- I am greatly interested in this debate, the more so now that it has been raised to the dignity of a want-of -confidence debate.
My interest is increased by the circumstances under which it has become a want-of-confidence debate. It did not become one when the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) was making his speech, nor for some time afterwards, nor by . reason of anything which the honorable member said. It only became one after a careful canvass had been made of the views of honorable members on the Ministerial side of the House. The Leader of the Government for the time being might be imagined to have said to his Whip, “ How are the numbers? Very well, we will stake the fate of the Ministry upon this question; we will defend to the last ditch our one bright spot.” And then followed that eloquent defence on the part of the Leader of the House for the time being. Of course, I am heartily in accord with those who express their want of confidence in this Government. I am greatly fortified by the fact that I know they not only represent the views of the great majority of the people, as disclosed in the appeal to the electors on the 20th December last, but that they also represent those of the people for whom numerous representative Nationalists spoke during that campaign. Circumstances, therefore, compel us to believe that the. Government sit here in defiance of the views of the great majority of th© people, and in defiance, also, of the fact that they must know perfectly well that their remaining in office and drawing their salaries is in the highest degree prejudicial to what they conceive to be a truly national policy.
There has been much criticism of the Defence Department, partly upon matters of principle and partly upon matters purely of financial losses and gains. So far as this criticism relates to the business mismanagement, to leakages and losses, I confess that at a time like this, when the very life of the nation is at stake, I am not immensely interested. I do not believe that to-day it. is a matter of specially great importance whether w© lose ,£2,500 6s. 3d. on some deal or whether we gain it. It is, of course, important that there should be sound and economic administration; but, to me, there are other issues in connexion with our present financial situation that ar© of infinitely greater importance. My criticism of this Government does not rest upon their faults in administration merely, but upon their violation of matters of principle; upon the fact that they have weighted the scales of justice against some as compared with others; have instituted, permitted, and maintained a censorship deliberately intended to suppress truth so that falsity may be accepted by the people as truth instead of th© actual facts of the case. My criticism rests also upon the fact that for political purposes men ar© thrown into prison without trial. They present, generally, the serious spec- “tacle of a Government disregarding th© sacred responsibility which rests upon them, and cravenly hanging to office regardless alike of the criticism of opponents on this side, of friends on their own side, and the press or independent tribunals such as the Commission to which reference has been made.
But I leave that now to refer to a special matter which caused m© to rise, and which illustrates the conduct of the Government generally. I refer to the fact that the Government, while openly pretending to have repudiated, in deference to the popular vote, the policy of conscription for Australia, are secretly and covertly preparing to deport men from the Commonwealth for compulsory military service beyond the seas. This iniquitous practice is being made applicable to the subjects generally of our Allies, and as a particular instance of what I mean, I direct attention to the measures taken in relation to subjects of our Italian Allies. Th© tragedy of the whole business lies in the fact that no reference may be made to this subject in the press, and, therefore, no reference will be made to my observations in this House by any section of the press - either in that section which for political purposes desires to suppress it, or by that section which, pursuant to its well-established principles, would like to advertise it. Under’ the censorship regulations no reference whatever may be made to what is being done in connexion with this matter. ‘ There are in Australia many men of various nationalities, some of which are Allies of ours; but, so far as I know, it is only in respect to Italians that, up to the present, any deliberate attempt is being made to conscript their bodies for compulsory military service abroad. I refer honorable members to War Precautions Act Statutory Rule No. 61 of 1918, which has been amended by Rule No. 66 of 1918, dealing with this matter. Rule No. 61 says -
A reservist means a subject of the King of
Italy, who, if he were within Italian territory, would be liable to render service in connexion with the war.
No. 66 of 1918 defines a reservist as -
A subject of any Allied State
This extends the definition - or Sovereign who, if he were within the territory of such State or Sovereign, would be liable to render service in connexion with the war.
The regulation goes on to say -
Any reservist -
A reservist so defined may include a naturalized British subject. A reservist is a person who, if he were in the country of his’ origin, would be liable to serve in that country, and it is provided under this regulation that, at the request of the Consul or other competent person, proceedings may be taken to deport him. In fact, proceedings have already been initiated to deport naturalized British subjects from Australia under this regulation.
– By the Commonwealth Government ?
– Yes. I hold in my hand a copy of an order issued by the . Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) in the following terms: -
Commonwealth of Australia.
Department of Defence.
Aliens Restbiction Order 1915
Order for Deportation.
I, George Foster Pearce, Minister of State for Defence, in exercise of the powers conferred upon me by the Aliens Restriction Order 1915, do hereby order that , an alien, a native of Italy, at present residing at shall be deported from the Commonwealth.
Dated this 14th day of March, 1918. ‘
The name of the person to whom the order applies, as well as his address, are supplied, but I have not mentioned them to the Committee. This man is fifty-four years of age, and, though he is a naturalized British subject, it is proposed to deport him secretly, and, in the exercise of powers wrongly taken by this Government, to prevent any public reference being made in the press of Australia to the fact.
– Are you quite sure that the man referred to informed the authorities that he is a naturalized British subject?
– I am not aware what representations he may have made. I could quote at least another case in which a naturalized British subject has been seized under the terms of this Aliens Restrictions Order. I do not want to be misunderstood. I say that, whether a man is naturalized or not, it is an outrage to do this thing secretly, and that if it were attempted to be done publicly and in the light of day it would be a flagrant disregard of the vote of the people of Australia that, not only should no Australian citizen be snatched from the Commonwealth, but that no white man, having been invited to this country, and being in the enjoyment of the protection which the British flag gives to every white man in the Commonwealth, so long as he obeys its laws, should be torn from his family and this country for compulsory military service abroad.
– According to that view, the honorable member would smash all international obligations.
– The interjection of the Postmaster-General seems to indicate that he believes that we are under some international obligation to our Allies to surrender men in this country under the order referred to. If that contention were sound, we would also be under an international obligation to attempt to conscribe ourselves, because Italy, as one of our Allies, has adopted conscription, or we might owe an international obligation - as many members on the other side would doubtless assert - to the British Empire to do this thing. But the fact is the people of Australia, having been appealed to under the laws of the Common wealth, have repudiated any such policy.
– What would be the position of an Australian in a country where conscription is the law?
– Probably, in such circumstances the laws of the particular country would bo applied to him. The policy of conscription should not be applied to any man who has obtained the right to come here.
– You mean whether naturalized or not?
– While I. regard the deportation of unnaturalized aliens as a gross violation of the promises of the Government, after the referendum to the people, I say that it is even more grave and more dishonorable in the case of men whom we have admitted to British citizenship, and to whom we have thus assured all the rights and immunities of British citizens.
– I think the honorable member is mistaken; it is unthinkable that naturalized Italians should be deported.
– I am glad to have that generous interjection from the honorable member, and I hope it represents the view accepted by honorable members. opposite. If it is discovered that those arrests of naturalized persons have been merely consistent with the general blundering of the Defence Department, I should be glad to feel that something at least has been gained by exposing the blundering.
Mr.Fenton. - How can a naturalized British subject be an alien?
– It is perfectly clear that the allegation that the man is an alien arises from a blunder in the particular case. I have already pointed out that this regulation, which defines a reservist as a person who would be called upon to give military service if within the country of his origin, embraces naturalized persons; consequently all the Italian Consul has to do is to make a request that certain persons be called upon for medical examination and deportation, on the ground that, if they were in their country of origin, they would be required to give military service. Apparently, the Defence Department makes no further question, but on that request this regulation is put into operation, and the persons are surren dered. When these men are seized, we have to consider the position of their wives and families. Many of them are married men, and married men, under this order, enjoy no immunity whatever. Many of the wives, who have young families, cannot speak the English language, and we must have regard to their circumstances when the breadwinner is sent out of Australia. Their position will be infinitely worse than that of British subjects whose breadwinners have gone either voluntarily, or, if compulsion had been adopted, would have been compelled to go. The Italians conscripted will be placed in the Allied Army at Italian rates of pay, and all the women and children will have to live on will be such separation allowance as the Federal Government may be generously pleased to bestow on them then. I have elicited, from inquiries, that the Government propose to make provision to that extent; but does any one, on either this side or the other side of the. House, suggest for one moment that the. wife of an Italian soldier and her children can live on the separation allowance in Australia, unless it be supplemented with a large part of the soldier’s pay? Of course, it is impossible ; but there will be no supplementary pay, for the very reason that we cannot commandeer much out of 2d. per day, which I understand to be the Italian rate. Further, many of the Italians are married to Australian-born women, who, technically, have lost their nationality by their marriage. The fact that they have technically lost their nationality does not relieve us from our obligation in regard to them, because they are, in fact, Australian women. They have a claim, which I hardly admit is a greater one, but, at any rate, a claim on us which should all the more readily appeal to honorable members. One would suppose, judging by the acquiescence ofthe Federal Government in the deportation of these persons, that these Italians had rendered no service in the war. As a matter of fact, they have volunteered just as others have, probably to the same extent in proportion to their numbers as have Australians; yet it is proposed to seize the remainder of them, and compel them to serve against their will. It seems to me that if we pursue this policy - if we honour a mere request from an Allied Government to seize the bodies of their subjects in this, an Allied country, an excellent justification will be provided for those who believe in the policy of conscription in this country, or at the heart of the Empire, to urge, “Well, it is intolerable that we should forcibly seize subjects of our Allies within the Dominions, while we do not forcibly seize the citizens of our own country.” It may be thought, as the Postmaster-General seems to think, that all we have to regard is a request on the part of the particular Allied foreign Government; but that is a mistake. We have our own responsibility and our own policy; we have, I may say with the greatest respect to all our Allied Governments, a greater responsibility to foreigners, or any one foreigner, resident in Australia than we owe to the whole of the Allied Governments. We have invited these men to come here, and offered them certain conditions, one of which is that they shall not be subject to continental militarism, but shall enjoy the protection of the British flag, and in due time be admitted to the rights of British citizenship.
-Is that only inferred, or is it specified?
– Will the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Palmer), who has favoured the policy of immigration, and has condemned the Labour party for opposing it, deny that he has always held out to men coming to the country the prospect that they would enjoy all the rights and immunities conferred under the British flag?
– But not that we would relieve them of their responsibilities.
– What we promise is that they shall take the same responsibilities as do the citizens of this country - to that extent, and no further.
– When they become citizens of the country, and not before.
– The honorable member knows perfectly well that we owe obligations to those people before they technically qualify for letters of naturalization, which are a mere confirmation of the promise given when they are admitted to the country.
I rose for the special purpose of re-, ferring to this matter, and. I propose to refer to it again when the opportunity arises. I propose to do this publicly, so far as the laws of this country, administered as they are with wilful and woeful disregard of the best traditions of British jurisprudence, allow me to do so. I propose to say on’ the hustings, as I say in this House, that it is an outrageous and contemptuous disregard of thepromises of the Government in respect to conscription to seize these law-abiding citizens in Australia, and wrench them from their homes and families in defiance of the expressed will of the people. It shows a pitiful disregard of the just claims of the
Women and children of those men to leave them practically unprotected in a foreign country, the language of which many of them are scarcely able to speak. The men, whether naturalized or unnaturalized, may, in a great majority of cases - indeed, in all cases - and in the absenceof proof to the contrary, be said to be good citizens.. Many of them have established businesses here, while others are wageearners; but whatever they may be, they have been attracted to this country away from the curse of continental militarism. It remains for this Government, who, individually and collectively, have condemned the whole policy of continental militarism, to be the subservient instrument of another country in imposing on these men within their jurisdiction and power the curse of militarism and conscription.
Sitting suspended from 12.55 to 2.15 p.m.
– As it is desirable that we should secure a division upon the amendment under consideration this afternoon, I shall condense my remarks as much as possible. I am sorry that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) is not in his place at the present moment. I regret that he has seen fit to launch the amendment which we are now considering, and I have no doubt that he has fully realized the significant fact that it meets with the solid and enthusiastic support of my honorable friends opposite. This morning the honorable member complained that the Government had seen fit to treat his amendment as one of no confidence. I do not see how it was possible for them to do otherwise. The Government could not submit to the dictation of a comparatively small section, even of its own followers. They would have suffered humiliation had they failed to take up the position which they have taken up. I feel very strongly the necessity for unity amongst our party at the present time. The National Party is the creation of the people. It was created for the purpose of promoting concentrated and united effort toward winning the war, and any breach in that party at this juncture carries with it a grave and serious responsibility. I would point out to the honorable member for Henty that that responsibility is especially serious just now, because, as he is aware, the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Cook) are engaged in making the necessary preparations to leave our shores for the purpose of representing Australia at the Imperial Conference.
– My amendment does not prevent them from doing that.
– I can assure the honorable member most distinctly that it does. It practically prohibits their departure, because they can leave this country only if they have the united support of the Ministerial party.
– The honorable member does not suggest that a guarantee covering an indefinite period should be given.
– I suggest that they are going away on a great national mission, and that the importance of local politics dwindles into insignificance when compared with the magnitude of the questions which they will nave to face on behalf of Australia. No men are better qualified -to represent the Commonwealth than they are. “We may, with the utmost confidence, place the affairs of this Continent in their hands for efficient and effective representation.
– And give them a blank cheque?
– Yes, practically. They are intimately acquainted with the aspirations of this party and of the Commonwealth. Do we realize the magnitude of the questions with which they will have to deal ? . Apart altogether from the prosecution of the war, they will be called upon to fully discuss the policy of Australia generally, its policy in regard to the Pacific, and the question of the return or otherwise of the German colonies - in short, the whole question of peace. These matters are of such magnitude that we should sink our own small political differences for the purpose of securing unity and in order that our representatives at the Imperial Conference may be able to say that they represent a united National party which is constituted by the vast majority of the members of this Parliament. I ask my honorable friend the member for Henty how it will be possible for the Prime Minister and’ the Minister for the Navy to leave Australia if they are going to be shot at in the’ meantime ?
– Why have the Government treated the amendment as one of no confidence ?
– If my honorable friend will consult all constitutional precedents he will discover that they could not have done otherwise.
– A similar motion has been moved a dozen times in this House, and no notice has been taken of it.
– Because the circumstances were entirely different.
– The Government are only making use of the war to cloak their deficiencies.
– I will deal with that allegation later. These two right honorable gentlemen should be permitted to leave Australia with the united consent” of the National party. Otherwise they cannot fairly be said to represent ‘ that party or Australia m the Old Country. We must strengthen their hands in every possible way, and it is only a reasonable thing that we should provide them some guarantee. The honorable member for the Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) has asked : “Are we not to indulge in criticism?” Undoubtedly we are’. Our party has a right to criticise in the most vigorous terms every feature of administration, with the object, not of destroying the Government, but of helping it.
– But we must fire only blank cartridge.
– I would remind my honorable friend that before he entered the House it was a definite policy of the old Liberal party to accord the Labour Government of that time the most whole-hearted and enthusiastic support. We voluntarily pledged ourselves to do so during the war. We did so because we felt that this was not a time when we should indulge in political wrangling - that it was a time when we ought to extend to the Government every assistance in connexion with the gigantic task which they had to undertake. But I repeat that our criticism should be of 3 helpful and not of a destructive character. May I point out to the honorable member for Henty that the carrying of his amendment would mean political chaos?
– Rubbish! The honorable member has a “ blue funk.”
– If the honorable member will look at the position fairly, he will recognise the truth of what I have said. If the amendment be carried, my honorable friend may be called upon to form a Government. Of course, he laughs at the idea.
– Of course I do.
– Yet that is the position, and the honorable member would only be. able to carry on the Government of this country with the solid support of honorable members on the other side of the chamber.
-Why, so long as he is true to his pledge of 5th May last?
– There are other honorable members in this House who are equally true to their pledge of 5th May last. Even if the honorable member for Henty were commissioned to form a Government, he could only carry on with the united support of the members of the Official Labour party, and he and they are as wide apart as are the poles, so far as their political views are concerned.
– Mr. Hughes carried on with the support of the Liberal party.
– That was because we had a united object, namely, the winning of the war. I have outlined one contingency which might arise if this amendment were carried. The other contingency is that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) might be asked to form a Government. Then my honorable friends who voted for this amendment would be called upon to give their support to’ the Leader of the Opposition. Can the honorable member for Henty contemplate with equanimity the prospect of a Labour Government being in office at this grave crisis ?
– No; and I would not support them if they were.
– Therefore, the honorable member, if his amendment were carried, would be committing his party to unutterable chaos. He has just furnished me with confirmation of my suggestion that the carrying of his proposal would result in political chaos.
– It would not make political chaos. The honorable member’s imagination must be very limited.
– My honorable friend is not the best judge of that, and it ill-becomes him to make such a statement, in view of his limited political experience. However, I only wish to urge upon him the desirableness of looking the position squarely in the face, and of recognising the gravity of the amendment which he has submitted. The Government, very rightly, have accepted that amendment as one of no-confidence, and the carrying of it will mean a change of Government of some sort, and that would inevitably bring about political chaos.
– That means that the honorable member is going to “ rat “ on his pledge of the 5th May Last ?
– The honorable member has never known me to “ rat “ on any occasion.
– I have not. But if the hon orable member means what he says, that is what he is going to do.
– I was returned as a member of the National party to support the present Government, and that is what I intend to do. On the other hand, the honorable member for Henty is now breaking away from the National party, so that he is the man who is “ ratting “ it on this occasion.
– I was not returned to support the National party, but to support a policy, and I am supporting that policy.
– So am I. The Leader of the House was the Prime Minister who formulated that policy, and the Government are seeking to give effect to it.
– Is this the Government of May last or is it another Government?
– It is not the Government of May last.
– It is by the same father and mother.
– I have already pointed to the two classes of Government which the carrying of this amendment might involve, and, in all fairness, I ask, “Would either of those Governments be able, with greater force or influence, to prosecutethe winning of this war than is the present Government? “
– How far have they prosecuted it? How much have they done towards winning the war?
– The Prime Minister himself hashad the singular advantage of an extraordinary experience, not only in local, but also Imperial politics, during the present war. He has had the advantage of many consultations with the Imperial authorities, and with the parliamentary and military leaders who are responsible for the prosecution of the war. He knows more about the affairs connected with the war than any other man in Australia. His colleagues, too, are men who have been administering their several Departments during the war. It will not be suggested, I hope, that there is on the Treasury bench, at the present moment, any man who is not as desirous as any other honorable member of the Committee that all that is possible shall be done to secure the winning of the war. I say, therefore, that, considering the special qualifications which the Prime Minister and his colleagues possess,a change of Government would, at least, not improve matters ; my own opinion is that it would lessen our war effort. No other set of men would at this juncture prove more competent for the work that has to be done. I do not suggest that there are not outside the Government men who are as capable naturally as the present Ministers, but by reason of their experience during the war, and their inside knowledge of affairs, the Prime Minister and his colleagues are specially qualified for their work, which could not fairly, in the present circumstances, be intrusted to novices.
Mr.Riley. - These arguments would apply equally well in the decision of any proposed change of Government.
– How often has the French Government been changed during the war?
– There Ministers have been supplanted by men of equal knowledge and experience, and, for the most part, the changes have been mere reconstructions of the Government.
– That is what would take place in this case.
– What is aimed at now is not the reconstruction of the Government, but a change of Government.
– Not at all; the honorable member is entirely wrong.
– My honorable friend must admit, at least, that the carrying of the amendment would mean a change of Government.
– Why should it?
– The statement is merely the honorable member’s ipse dixit.
– Ministers have said that they regard the amendment as a serious challenge, and that they cannot accept the dictation of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) and his supporters; therefore, the carrying of it would mean a change of Government.
– In other words, they have cracked their whips to frighten us.
– I do not think that that is the right interpretation of their attitude. I am prepared to do almost anything to secure unity of action by the whole Parliament. I would forego a good deal to get that, and I deeply deplore that at this grave crisis political differences are separating a section of the party from other sections. The national danger is so serious and acute that honorable members are called on to sink a great deal in order to secure united political action. I am persuaded that Ministers would willingly, if they got any encouragement from the other side, make proposals which could be accepted for securing the necessary reinforcements for our Forces at the Front.
– In January we were told that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) could not be spared, because he was the only man who could perform the work of his office at this time. Yet now we learn that he is going to England for six or nine months, leaving two new men here to do his work.
– The fact that he has been asked to go to England to discuss great national issues shows that he cannot be spared in the present crisis. In going abroad he will be performing the most important functions of government, and he is the man most qualified in Australia to represent Australia. I say that he cannot be spared at this crisis. I appeal to honorable members to disregard all feeling, and to look at the question in the light of the gravity of the situation. I do not say that those who are supporting the amendment have a selfish object; I do not think that they would lend themselves to that; but the result of their action, were the amendment carried, would be serious.
– The honorable member suggests that they are not felonious, but stupid ?
– Better be stupid than hypocritical I
– I wish to make a brief reference to the report of the Commission which has investigated the administration of the Defence Department, and to pay a tribute to the splendid work which the members of the Commission have done. They have given most thoughtful and scrupulous attention to the task that they undertook, and I think the results will prove most satisfactory. They have acknowledged most handsomely the difficulties under which the Department has had to labour. Blunders have undoubtedly been committed, but the conditions were so extraordinary that it would have been almost impossible to avoid them. Valuable recommendations have been made by the Commission, which the Government has undertaken to adopt, with the result that in the future we shall have an efficient Defence Department. We have the guarantee that a Board of experts, possessing special business ability, will control the business activities of the Department. Men have been selected for their special business knowledge to supervise the expenditure of, I believe, between £60,000,000 and £70,000,000 annually, and to take responsibility in connexion with the numerous contracts into which the Department must enter. Therefore, we have a guarantee for thefuture efficient administration of the Department, which is what we all desire so much. Knowing this, I think that my honorable friend might see his way to withdraw the destructive amendment that he has moved.
.- As the Government desire an early division, I shall be brief. While hesitating to interfere in a little family quarrel-
– It is much more than a family quarrel.
– I entirely disagree with the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) that the intention of the mover of the amendment, and of those who support him, is the displacing of the Government. In my opinion, they, like many of those who will vote against the amendment, realize that something should be done to improve the administration of the Defence Department, and they wish to place the fact on record.
– This is the only place in which we can get anything done.
– That is so. Today speakers who in the past have held up the Labour party to ridicule, on the ground that its members had not the right to express their individual opinions, are upbraiding members of their own party for publicly asserting their views, telling them that their action may wreck the Government. The contention of the honorable member for Kooyong was that the carrying of the amendment must mean the displacement of the Government. Why should it mean that? Why should not the Committee, when dealing with the administration of the affairs of the country, express its opinion about the administration of the Defence Department? What the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) wishes us to affirm is that the time has arrived when the Minister for Defence should be a member of the House of Representatives.
– And nine out of ten of the members of the Committee, if they voted according to their convictions, would agree with that.
– The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) said, in effect, that he believed that there should be a change, that he was not satisfied with all that had been going on; yet he could not approve of an amendment being moved by a member of the Government party. Why ? Because the Leader of the House (Mr. Watt) last night made the amendment a party question ?
– Not a party question.
– He staked the fate of the Government upon it, and, as a consequence, many honorable members will be prevented from voting for what they think to be right. The whole contention of the honorable member for Kooyong was that the amendment must be regarded as a matter affecting the Government; but not long since, when the right honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Cook) was leading the House, and the Estimates were under discussion, he accepted a. motion for the reduction of a vote by £1 as a direction from the Committee for the practice of economy in certain quarters.
– Was an attack made on Ministers; in connexion with that motion ?
– The discussion of the motion was similar to that which is now taking place. The speech of the honorable member for Henty last night was very mild. I did not regard that speech as an . attack on the Government.
– It was not so intended.
– On the occasion to which I refer, the right honorable member for Parramatta said he was willing to accept the reduction of a vote by £1 as an indication that the expenditure on the Defence Department should be reduced.
– But the amendment now before us is an attack on the Ministry, not on an item of the Estimates.
– I do not agree with the Honorary Minister. The honorable member for Henty has. precedent for what he has done. Even if enough members of this party voted with him to carry, the amendment, it would not follow that the Labour party would come into power. Obviously, this party has no hope, under present circumstances, of administering the affairs of the Commonwealth, its numbers being insignificant in comparison with those of the party by which it is opposed. The result of. the carrying of the amendment might mean, if the present Government did not continue in office, the formation of a new Government, consisting of other members of the Nationalist party.
– The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) did not say that the Opposition would come into power. He said it might take office.
– He said that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) might be sent for and asked to take office. In that event, he said, members of the National party who voted for this amendment would have to support a Labour Government. That does not necessarily follow. If a new Government were formed, I do not think it would come from this side in existing circumstances, and if it were a Government in which we had confidence, I do not see why it should not bring about a better feeling amongst all parties in regard to the prosecution of the war and recruiting. The change might be advantageous in those respects.
– “ God strafe Hughes !” - that is the policy.
– I do not say that. I have no prejudice against any honorable member. I speak as I see things, and, after all, one has to be guided by what one sees, and knows is going on, and by public opinion. If we desire to do our best for our country in the hour of national crisis, those factors must be taken into consideration. If the carrying of the amendment will have the effect I have just mentioned, there can be no cause for complaint. Even if the. Opposition were invited to form an Administration, that Administration would not exist for five minutes after Parliament met. It is to be regretted that the Government have accepted the amendment as a challenge. It would have been far better to allow the Committee -to deal with it. untrammelled by any outside consideration.
I rose chiefly, however, to refer to the position of war labourers who are being sent oversea. A day or two ago I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) how many labourers were sent to England by the Medic, about the middle of last year, and how many were rejected on arrival as unfit and ordered to be returned to Australia ? The answer I received was that 433 labourers embarked for Great Britain by the Medic in August, 1917, but that he was unable to state the number of men rejected from individual ships on arrival The Minister went on to say that -
The vessel named arrived in Great Britain in October, 1917, and of the labourers who left Australia by her eight returned early in December, seven at the end of that month, and twenty-nine have since returned on account of ill-health.
I was led to put this question to the Minister by the fear that some laxity was being shown in the selection of war workers for Great Britain. The Minister’s answer shows my fears were not ill-grounded. I do not know with what Department the responsibility rests, but I have very reliable information from oversea that a large number of the men sent by the Medic were found on arrival to be quite unfit for the duties they were selected to perform. Some of them were lame, and some were almost blind. When they were examined by the doctors there they were immediately rejected. Surely we ought to be able to select men capable of doing what is expected of them in the Old Country. Why should the country be put to the expense of sending men oversea who cannot do the work and have to be returned?
– What Department was responsible for the selection of these men?
– I do not know. It might have been the Defence Department, but I cannot say. Many of these men were rejected immediately upon their arrival in the Old Country, and there was an outcry as to the action of the Australian doctors in passing them. It costs the country £100 to send a man over, and we ought not to select men who can be of no service to Great Britain in the prosecution of the war. I believe the information supplied to me from the other side is correct. I put a further question in regard to the pay of these war labourers, and the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Cook) at once interposed with a statement inferring that I claimed the men were not receiving sufficient remuneration. I made no such claim. What I said was that these war labourers, on leaving Australia, were guaranteed a minimum wage of £2 0s. 6d. per week. On reaching the Old Country they were compelled to insure against accident, and if they had the misfortune to meet with an accident they received only £2 0s. 6d. per week, out of which they had to pay for their insurance. I asked whether the Commonwealth ought not to pay the insurance fees in view of the guarantee that had been given.
I propose to let the Committee know exactly what these men are receiving. They are paid at the rate of113/4d. per hour for a forty-four hours week. Anything over that period is overtime. In the winter months they work seventy hours per week, and make considerably over £3 weekly. In the summer they work fifty-four hours per week, so that their earnings are then less than in the winter. These men had deducted from their wages 10s. 6d. per week by way of separation allowance. The Minister said that, in view of the increased cost of living in the Old Country - when they left they understood that their board and lodging would not cost more than 16s. 6d. per week - the separation allowance had been reduced to 5s. per week. Even the finding of that allowance presses heavily on the men. They have to pay 6d. for an egg, 4s. per lb. for tea, 2s. 6d. for an ox tail, 2s. 6d. for a sheep’s head, 2s. 6d. per lb. for poultry, and so forth, and they are allowed 2 ounces of margarine per week. These figures serve to show the high cost of living in England to-day. We did not anticipate that it would be so high when the men were sent away, and the Government might well consider whether even the deduction of 5s. per week by way of separation allowance should be made. I am informed that for the first twenty-six weeks of their residence in England these men had no deduction made from their weekly wage in respect of the separation allowance, and came to the conclusion that no such deduction was to be made. At the end of that period, however, they were called upon to pay over £13 in respect of arrears of separation allowance. Naturally, they had not the money by them, and trouble arose. The responsible Department, instead of allowing these arrears to accumulate, should have seen that the deduction was made from week to week. As it is, we shall have to shoulder the responsibility. These men who go to Great Britain as war labourers are probably wholly unfit to go into the trenches, and since they have shown their anxiety to do their best for the Empire, they should receive consideration at our hands. I know of a man who went to Great Britain as a war worker, leaving his wife and daughter on a conditional purchase farm here. Their nearest neighbour was a mile away, and when they returned home one evening they found their house had been destroyed by fire. I have tried to obtain assistance for them from a patriotic fund, but found there is no patriotic fund in New South Wales from which such assistance can be obtained. Nothing can be done for the wife and daughter of this man who, animated by the desire to do his best for the Empire, left them here while he went to Great Britain as a war labourer. Such a case is deserving of favorable consideration, and I hope that the Minister dealing with such matters will give it his sympathetic attention.
.- I deeply regret that this manufactured crisis has arisen. I did not want to see this question raised in the House. I did not desire that the fitness of the present Ministerial head of the Defence Department should be brought into dispute in this place, because, whatever might be said either for or against Senator Pearce, it must be admitted that he has done his best at a very difficult time. He has worked hard and consistently, and, according to his lights, has given to his country the best service that in him lies. But when one isforced by a motion of this knd to ask one’s self not only whether this Minister is giving to his country the best that in him lies, but whether he is the man best calculated to get the best out of the country, I think one must give a different answer. When the political crisis arose after the first conscription issue, I pressed as firmly as I could upon those who were then negotiating the present National party that some way, just to Senator Pearce as well as fair to the country, should be found out of this, now urgent, difficulty. After those negotiations, as was published in the press, had failed to bring about this reform by Ministerial reallocation of portfolios, I wrote to the pre- sent Minister for the Navy (Mr. Cook) expressing the sincere hope that this question would not come into the House, because if it did my conscience would require me to vote against the Government.
– Many of us were no party to that arrangement.
– It is ridiculous to suppose that any arrangement made by men at that time should bind them and the country for all time as to what particular members should occupy each particular Ministerial office.
I- merely mention my letter to show honorable members, especially on this side,_ the great reluctance with which I rise to address myself to this question. I have not sought to force my view upon honorable members on either this or the Opposition side of the House. I had hoped that my view with regard to the Minister for Defence was wrong, but now that the matter’ comes before us, at whatever cost I have to honour my own conscience. I ask honorable members to remember that Governments are not the only instruments with responsibilities to this country. Every man in this House owes a responsibility to his constituents, and every man in this House should vote, not as it affects this or that Government, but honestly, as his conscience dictates that he ought to vote in his duty to the men oversea.
– I am going to do that.
– And a man holding those views might consistently vote for the Government; but that is the only basis upon which this vote ought to be taken. I think that the issue is sufficiently serious to make every honorable member vote in that sense, and not to be led astray by the sort of arguments that were addressed t”> the Committee by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best). I was very glad to hear from the Minister for the Navy this morning that the Government itself does not say that if this amendment be carried, ergo, the Opposition will be sent for.
– The Government have no right to say anything of the kind, whatever their views are.
– But we know, as a matter of practical politics, that the “advice” of the Government is allimportant on such matters; and the reason why I realize, from the statement of the Minister for the Navy, that the Government are not likely to offer advice of the kind is that we have always had members of the Government expressing in the clearest and most concise language their views of what would happen to the country if it fell into the hands of honorable members opposite. In the light of those statements, if the Government were to seek to put their opponents into power merely because one Minister was regarded in this respect as unsatisfactory, and in relation to one portfolio only, they would not only be false to the position in which they have been placed, but false to’ their own declarations during the past eighteen months or two years. For that reason, I am perfectly satisfied that the Government, composed as they are of honorable, patriotic men, would not write themselves upon the tablets of history as. the kind of men they undoubtedly would be if they took such action as has been suggested.
I intend to put my own .views with regard to the difficulties of Senator Pearce . in the Defence Department. That honorable gentleman has done his best. There is nobody who, administering that Department upon the same system as Senator Pearce, could do so better. He is a man entitled to occupy a place in any Government of this country - a man of distinct value, an asset at the council table. But, however gifted a Minister may be, if he once allow himself to be “ got under,” the best value cannot be obtained from him. That is what is happening. Senator Pearce has gone into that Department, and has tacitly consented to permit himself to be made and shaped bv men who should accept the responsibility themselves - men on whom he should be able to lean, but who shelter themselves behind the signature of the Minister. He has been made a sort of civilian commander-in-chief of the Australian Forces, because no one under him will accept the responsibility for technical decisions. The result is that he is overloaded with technical decisions which he should not consent to tackle. He is overworked on technical questions, and has no time to supervise non-technical matters that should be strictly within his sphere.
– The general argument tends the other way, namely, that the Minister has been a puppet of his officers. Now you are reversing it.
– No, I am not. There he stands - consenting to take responsibility for technical decisions on all sorts of problems; with the result that the overloaded Minister must necessarily become a mere registration clerk for everything going through his hands. In a sense, that is what Senator Pearce has actually become.
– A registration clerk of what ? Of the views of his officers ? You say that the technical officers refuse to take any responsibility.
– The Treasurer knows perfectly well what I mean. He knows that in every Department there is an inclination, when a Minister first takes office, to get him to sign everything in sight; and he knows that from the time the Minister signs a document handed to him from a subordinate officer, it is he who accepts the responsibility and must defend the action he has indorsed. In the Department of Defence this is what has happened. The volume of business has increased out of all original conception, and the Minister has been turned into a combination decisions-registration clerk and general officer commanding. The result is that he is not able to concentrate with a close or broad view upon the conduct of his office, which, otherwise, he would be able to do. An honorable member asks: Is that not an argument for an extra Minister? God forbid that we should have any more Ministers. I do not want to see Senator Pearce leave the Ministry. I want to see him leave this Department. Honorable members will recall that when the Honorary Minister in charge of recruiting (Mr. Orchard) brought forward charges with regard to the Liver pool Camp, certain persons were sent to see if there were grounds for the accusation. It was on the certificate of those men that the Royal Commission was appointed. Colonel Stanley was among those sent to make the original inquiries and who gave a certificate that everything in the camp was all right. Then the Royal Commission was appointed, and it was discovered that everything in the camp was all wrong. Colonel Stanley could not find anything wrong. He was the Minister’s right-hand man. What has happened to Colonel Stanley? He Has been there ever since. He has been promoted to be a General officer.
– Senator McDougall and Senator Gardiner went to the Liverpool Camp and said it was all right.
– Those gentlemen are politicians, and habitually inaccurate. Here was a. man whose business it was to know. He should have known the facts when he saw them; but he found everything right, while the Commission found everything wrong. He was afterwards rewarded by being made a General officer, and he has been in that Department ever since as Senator Pearce’s right hand. Honorable members will recall, also, the occasion of. the return of the first wounded men. Maimed soldiers were landed here, and there were not proper train arrangements for them. The utmost indignation was expressed throughout the country, and on both sides of this House. Who was in charge of the medical services of Australia?. Colonel Fetherston. What has become of him since ?
– He has gone away for a free trip.
– After this public failure of departmental arrangements he was not “ fired.” He was one of the team. He was one of the men who put documents in front of the Minister to sign. Would he “fire” himself? He was promoted to be a General officer also, and he has been here until recently . Now he has gone to England.
– On a job he knows nothing about.
– I do not say that, and I do not know why he has gone. I do know that owing to these things there is a feeling throughout the country that a, man has only to be on the Central HeadQuarters Staff and he may do what he likes. There was a rumour that the officer in question was going home to replace General Howse, who, as the Principal Medical Officer on active service, had done his best, and with success, in cleaning up a lot of the troublesthat had gone to him from Australia. The rumour was that General Fetherston was to step into the place of that efficient man who was to be sent back here. I interested myself in that matter, and Senator Pearce assured me that there was no ground for the report.
Some people say that GeneralFetherston has gone to England to study the subject of artificial limbs. What do the medical profession think of that? I shall quote from the Medical Journal of Australia for 30th March last. Therein appears a letter from a rising surgeon of Sydney who has already achieved some reputation, and whom, so faras I know, I have never met, and certainly have never heard from in this matter. The letter is headed “ War Cripples,” and is as follows : -
Sir, - In connexion with the leading article in the Journal of the 16th instant, I may state that in December, 1916, the D.M.S., A.I.F., appointed a surgeon from each State ( excepting Western Australia, as there was not then a man available with the necessary qualifications) to visit the bigorthopaedic centres in London and inquire into the arrangements for dealing with the disabled, maimed, and crippled.
I know that three of these men have returned to the Commonwealth within the last six or eight months,’ and, to the best of my belief, no attempt whatsoever has been made by the authorities to make any use of their special knowledge and experience. Instead, the D.G.M.S. has been sent away to study a pro- blem in which he expressed himself to me as having no interest at all, and ‘to learn in a flying visit what it has taken others many months to assimilate.
Meantime our cripples are waiting, and only a fortnight ago one man was. told it would take the best part of six months to repair his artificial leg, which was out of order.
Festina lente with a vengeance!
225 Macquarie-street, Sydney, 19th March, 1918.
I do not know , what ground exists for that statement. As to what may be the purpose of General Fetherston’s visit to England I am also in ignorance; and I have quoted this letter only to show how widespread is the undermining of public confidence in the present occupant of the Ministerial position.
– I do not propose to enter into the subject of artificial limbs. I am now merely trying to point out both to honorable members and to the Government where their duty lies in the light of these facts. The letter which I have quoted should not, I think, be necessarily accepted as a true reflex of the main purposes of General Fetherston’s visit to England. It may or may not be true, but it shows that in the medical fraternity there is this feeling of want of confidence in the Defence administration.
– That is absolutely universal throughout the medical profession of Australia.
– I believe it is, and in other professions as well. And that being the case, I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) what is his responsibility and what is the responsibility of every other member of the Government to the Australian people and Army in this matter.
We all admit that it is awkward to make changes at this particular time, but if it is awkward to change the Defence portfolio at this period, was it not more awkward for the British Commander-in-Chief recently to change the command of the Fifth Army when that Army was falling back? What was the reason for changing the command? It was not that the General had been proved to be lax or recreant in some way to his duties; it was simply that he had failed, and it was not fair to the men under him that he should continue in that command until the whole circumstances of the retreat had been investigated and cleared up.
– The two cases are not parallel.
– To the mind of any right-thinking man they are absolutely parallel. . Is there any man in this chamber, however closely he may be allied to the present Minister, or however friendly he may be disposed towards him, who will say that the Central Administration of the Defence Department is regarded throughout Australia as having succeeded ?
– Into Sir Hubert Gough’s shoes stepped a man as expert as himself in the knowledge of his craft. It cannot be said that any member of this House can step into Senator Pearce’s office with the same knowledge as has the present Minister.
– Could there be any greater proof from the Minister of the truth of what I have said? I started by saying that this civilian had been allowed to turn himself into a sort of amateur general officer commanding. The interjection of the Treasurer supports that statement. The duty of any Minister is to properly choose his responsible officers, who should have to take the responsibility for the technical success of their Departments. It is his duty, not to act as a general officer commanding, but to choose the right man to be Quartermaster-General, the right man to be Chief of Staff, and the right man to be Director-General of Medical Services, and so on. What evidence have we had of any such policy during the last few years ? Every failure has earned its reward in promotion! That sort of thing is condemned right throughout the Commonwealth until this very deserving Minister - for he has ability and industry - has fallen in public esteem. This House owes something to public opinion just as the Commander-in-Chief owes something to the Armies under his subordinate Generals. We have to consider public opinion, and ask ourselves if we are doing our duty by the country that trusts us, and by the men on active service, who depend on the efficiency of the organization in Australia, if we keep in command of the Department a man who has lost public confidence.
– Would that apply to. other Ministers as well?
– It applies with the greatest force to the Minister controlling the Defence Department. He is the only Minister challenged by this amendment. I myself would not have challenged him. I have kept my own view in the background, hoping that I was wrong; but when the question is raised I do not care what threat be held over my head, I will, at any rate, keep my pledge to my constituents to do everything, according to my lights, that will assist to make more efficient the Australian administration and help thereby to do our little best to win the war.
– There is no threat held over the’ head of the honorable member or any other honorable member of the Committee.
– I do not think the Treasurer would hold that threat over us.
– The Government announced their view of the amendment, as they were in duty bound to do.
– Yes; and the Government will resign if the amendment is carried ?
– I am not saying anything further.
– I speak now as an honorable member who, as the Treasurer knows, has no Ministerial ambitions of any kind.
– I know that.
– Only a sense of duty has compelled me to be so frank with the Government to-day.
– The honorable member is very skilfully electrocuting the Minister for Defence with praise.
– I am not doing anything skilfully ; I am being as honest and frank with the Committee as I can be. I have stated both sides of the question, and I wish to add that from what I have been privileged to see of Senator Pearce since I have become associated with the members who Were formerly his colleagues in the Labour party, it would be a pity if he were to leave the Administration altogether.
– I am glad to hear the honorable member say that.
– His retirement from the Ministry is not suggested by this amendment.
– No. Everything I have said of Senator Pearce is in relation to his administration of one Department. We may very well take an analogy from the prize ring. We know that a boxer who has been defeated once or twice by a particular opponent can never fight as well against him as against a fresh opponent. Senator Pearce is in a similar position. He is “ down “ in one Department only, but he has brains that can be, and industry that ought to be, utilized. I wish him to be appointed to some other post, in which he can render this country good service without keeping alive this general feeling of dissatisfaction and want of confidence which is, in my humble judgment, doing a great deal to militate against the efficiency, not only of the Defence Department, but of the Government as a whole.
.- I agree with the honorable member who has just resumed his seat that it ought to be possible for the House to make an alteration in regard to one Minister without that step involving the fate of the whole Government.
In voting for this amendment my support will be given to it, not as a motion of want of confidence in the Government ; but I shall vote for it in exactly the spirit in which it is moved, namely, because it is the belief of many of us that it would be to the benefit of Australia if a change were made in the administration of the Defence Department.
To say that, though honorable members have that feeling, yet because a party interpretation is placed upon the amendment, the House should tolerate an injustice to the countryand inefficiency in the administration of a great Department, is an intolerable argument.
– Would the honorable member support the Government if Senator Pearce were no longer a member of it?
-No ; but I tell the honorable member that I am positive that the establishment of harmonious feelings throughout the length and breadth of the country would be facilitated if a change were made in the administration of the Defence Department.
In the Labour party we had experience of a similar state of things. Two inefficient Ministers were in office, and, by their administration, were bringing the party into disrepute from one end of the country to the other, but the members of the Government stuck to each other like leeches. Every time there was any effort to have a change made that would tend to rehabilitate the credit of the Administration, the Ministry whipped their party with the whole of the influence they could bring to bear to save the two incompetents, and ultimately the party had to take the matter out of the hands of the Government, and say that they would tolerate that state of affairs no longer.
The result was that, after about a year of office, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald) was deprived of his portfolio, because he was found to be absolutely incompetent.
– Because I would not be a Trades Hall lackey.
– The honorable member may place upon the facts what construction he pleases. In the distribution of portfolios we had followed the foolish idea that each of the different States should be given representation. From South Australia we had at that time only the honorable member for Hindmarsh, who had been in this House for some years, and one new member, and to give representation to that State we were urged to include the honorable member in the Ministry. In acting that way we made a huge blunder, and in the long run we had to retrieve the error, after much heart-burning and a great deal of contention and intrigue in the party, by removing him from office and placing another Minister in his stead.
The position of the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Spence) was much the same. He was included in the Ministry. Some of us said that the honorable member was too old for the job, but we were told that he was the father of the Australian Workers Union, that he was one of the old men of the Labour movement, and must give him a show; he would presently pass out, and he ought to be allowed to crown his public career by holding Ministerial office. That was the motive which was responsible for his being allotted a portfolio, but we found that he was absolutely incompetent to handle his Department. It was a mockery for him to be in office, and he, too, had to be removed.
What is the position in regard to Senator Pearce? It is quite true, as was said by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) that Senator Pearce brings to the discharge of his duties a considerable amount of industry and a certain amount of ability. He has certainly been throughout’ a hard-working and painstaking Minister, but he has always been too small a man for his job.
I will give the Committee proof of that. Long before the breach occurred in the Labour party, I urged, in Caucus, that the work of the Defence Department was too big for one Minister, and that the Department should be subdivided into three, and two more Ministers appointed. That proposal was fought by the Government and by none more strenuously than, by Senator Pearce. He declared that he could handle “ the whole Department, which, at that time, included the Navy, and it was a reflection on him that any suggestion should be made for the creation of a Department of the Navy and the appointment of another Minister. Eventually the Government had to adopt that proposal. The Navy Department was removed from the control of the Defence Department, and later an Assistant Minister for Defence was appointed.
The position to-day is exactly the same as it was then. The Department is still too big for Senator Pearce. With all his painstaking qualities, he is not a man who knows how to organize his Department and distribute the work in such a way as to secure the greatest efficiency in the doing of it. Anybody who has followed the administration of this Department can see that Senator Pearce is still unable to handle the work. It is quite true that he’ may be able to handle another Department. There is not any primary necessity to turn him out of the Ministry altogether, but there is a necessity for placing a bigger man in charge of the Defence Department, and giving Senator Pearce some other job.
I can quote cases in support of this contention. Has there been any failure in connexion with the administration of the Department, that Senator Pearce has provided against beforehand, or rectified before anything serious happened? There has not been one. Every improvement in the Defence Department has’ arisen from the absolute failure of the administration, followed by some kind of public inquiry, and an insistence from outside the Department upon the necessary improvements being made within it.
– It will be remembered, in fairness, that the Minister himself brought forward the proposition for the appointment of the Royal Commission.
– Did he bring forward the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into Liverpool Camp affairs?
– I had a notice on the paper for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the administration of the Defence Department. The Government Whip found that there was a majority of our own party in favour of it, and then the Government appointed a Royal Commission.
– I do not think Senator Pearce ever heard of that personally.
– Ministers get the hint and scent of those things pretty quickly, and forestall action that is inevitable. Was not the inquiry into the Liverpool Camp affair brought about through the honorable member for Nepean (Mr. Orchard) finding that the thing was absolutely rotten, and making statements here? Everything was right, so far as Senator Pearce was concerned. He had been there on innumerable occasions, and did not find a thing wrong.
– We told the House about it before the honorable member for Nepean spoke.
– There had been a continuous series of complaints. Unfortunately, as is the case now, the members of the Labour Government would take very little notice of statements- from our own side; but when the attack came fromthe other side, and received some support from our side, there was an insistence upon something being done.
Another case was the administration of the medical services of New South Wales. Things went absolutely wrong there. I have been on the Committee dealing with the military hospitals, and for twelve or eighteen months there had been continuous complaints and instances brought before the Minister where the administration, to put it mildly, was most unsatis-factory. In no case was it possible to obtain any redress, until at last a public inquiry was forced, and then the Minister found it necessary to shift the officer in charge of one institution. That was after a public inquiry, on which both sides of the House were represented.
It is said that Senator Pearce himself suggested the inquiry into the business administration of the Defence Department. About two years ago, in this House, I pointed out, producing documentary evidence from the dealings I had had with the Department, that it was absolutely impossible for there to be any business administration there, because it was impossible for documents to come out in the way they did if there was any ordinary office organization, even in the Minister’s head office.
I heard some statements made here about political influence and favours in the Department. I do not know whether that is a recent development on the part of Senator Pearce. I have known nothing of it until recently, butI will give the House one palpable instance that cannot be got away from. At the Henderson Naval Base there is an officer in charge named Henshaw. The responsible officers of that Department, from Mr. Settle (Director of Naval “Works) downwards, as soon as they found out that this man was in charge of a large section of the work - for which he has never had any qualification whatever–
Mr.Fowler. - Hear, hear! I protested against the appointment when it was made.
– The moment it was brought under Mr. Settle’s notice, he recommended that a man with the necessary qualifications for the post should be advertised for, and appointed. That recommendation was adopted by the Naval Board.
– Has he been replaced now?
– No. He has been there for about two years. As soon as Mr. Settle came on to the job, he put his finger on the weak spot.
– He could not miss seeing it.
– That is quite true. During an inquirybefore the Public Accounts Committee recently, as soon as this man came in and gave his evidence, I said to the Chairman, “ That man is not fit for his position.” When we came to probe into it, we found there had been a determined effort for a considerable period by the responsible officers to make a change. That effort has been blocked. There is somereason for it. Some influence is being used.
– Do you suggest that the Minister is blocking it?
– I do.
– What is your proof?
– My proof is that recommendations have gone forward for the removal of the man from the position from the lowest to the highest of thosein control over him. I know the Director of Naval Services has made recommendations to that effect.
– Is this man a public servant?
– Under the Public Service Board?
– No. There is some one interested in insisting upon an incompetent officer being kept in charge of a large section of the work, and over a large number of workmen. The engineer on the job, Mr. Walton, who is in charge of the arrangements, and who ought to be going round supervising the whole of the works, is so afraid to leave this man in charge of that section of the work, that he takes charge of it himself, in addition to his general supervising’ duties.
– Has the report on this matter been laid on the table of the House by the Accounts Committee?
-Then is it not rather bad taste on your part to bring thematter up now?
– I do not know that the Accounts Committee are going to report on it. I know what has come to my notice.
– As a member of the Accounts Committee?
– Yes. Does the honorable member suggest that when ‘ I hear of something absolutely rotten I should hold my tongue? Does he mean that if I were on an inquiry, and found that bribery and corruption were going on, I should remain silent?
– I think you are most unfair to other members of the House.
– I do not care what the honorable member says. I should not have mentioned that matter but for the question of political influence being raised. Prom what 1 can gather, it will be found that political influence is on the job here, insisting on that incompetent officer being retained. God knows what it has cost the country in the last two years, and how much more it will cost if the thing goes on.
– There is both political and personal influence behind that matter.
– The honorable member who represents Perth, and who knows more about the circumstances than I do, says there is both political and per1sonal influence keeping that unfit man in his position. All I say is that there is an enormous amount of public money being spent there. A sum of £500,000 has already been spent there, and the total figures run into millions. In connexion with the very work of which this man is in charge, we have had a contractor tell us that he could cut the cost down by - I forget the figure, but probably by about half. Another man tells us that he is surprised at the enormous cost per yard for dealing with this work, and cannot understand it. Here is the explanation: that the Minister in charge insists in keeping on the work a man who is known to be absolutely incompetent.
– The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) will tell you why shifting earth costs so much.
– He may be able to give some other explanation; but the responsible officers of the Department cannot be blamed for the work costing a large amount if the Minister persists in keeping there a man in charge of a large section of it who has no qualification for his position. They have insisted on that from the beginning, and the matter has been the subject of numerous reports. If honorable members go to the Henderson Naval Base they will find that this man is not in charge of that section of the work, but that the engineer, instead of going round the whole undertaking, has to take charge of it himself.
– This matter comes under the Minister for the Navy, and not the Minister for Defence.
– That is a very recent re-arrangement.
– Show that the Minister for Defence even knows that the man is there.
– How can I show that? Give me authority to go into some of these Departments, and I will very quickly show the public a good many rotten things that should be altered. The honorable member knows that there are barricades up against all information being given to members of the House. The honorable member for Perth, who represents the adjoining district, and has access to more information than I have, tells the House that the man is there through political and personal influence by this Minister.
Then there is the matter of the ad- ministration of the War Precautions Regulations. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence have been administering that matter with a degree of vindictiveness which it would be impossible to find if any one but an ex-Labour man was in charge. I find no bitterness among the old Liberal members of the Parliament towards us. They have their ideas, and carry them out, and we find no vindictiveness or bad feeling displayed towards us in their administration of any Department of the Government; but in this case there is the utmost bad feeling and vindictiveness. If the House is anxious to bring about a better feeling in this country they cannot do it more successfully than by making a change in this Department. It may not be possible to change the Prime Minister, but I tell honorable members opposite that they will make a very big improvement if they change the Minister for Defence. They have their own men. It does not matter to us, because we know we were beaten at the last election, and that the party opposite are in power. They can make alterations in their Ministers in any way they like. This party does not want power, because we have not the numbers to carry on the government of the country; but if they are going to make a change, I urge the party opposite to give us an old Liberal as Minister for Defence, and particularly an old Liberal with a judicial turn of mind, if he can be found.
Here is an illustration of the methods of the Minister for Defence: A prosecution was initiated. The Government, by their agents, seized a reprint of a speech on the ground that it bore the coatofarms on the front of it. The Crown Solicitor advised that that was not a sufficient ground, but said, on looking through it, that two prosecutions could be founded upon it. Two were founded upon it, and eachin turn failed in the Courts on public trial. What does the Minister do when he is called upon to justify himself? He says, “ This man was quoting from pro- German literature, and we had to stop it.” One of the two papers quoted from was the Chicago Tribune, one of the strongest pro-Ally papers in America. It has been pro- Ally from the beginning, and in every leading article has urged the sending of more and quicker help by America to Great Britain.
The other paper was The New East, edited by Robertson Scott, at Tokio, a gentleman who was for years the foreign editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. Surely the Minister for Defence tells a deliberate falsehood when he makes that assertion. The regulations are being administered with bad feeling and vindictiveness to injure an opponent; but that type of man administering the Department is to be avoided, especially at a time like the present. When we have the Minister for Defence in charge of the War Precautions Act, and on top of that the Prime Minister in charge of the administration of justice, both of them smarting under criticisms levelled at them by the Labour movement both inside and outside Parliament - and there is much more than a suspicion that they are using their offices in those two Departments for the purpose of getting at their old associates - my honorable friends opposite will be well-advised if they make a change. I appeal to them to put a Liberal in charge of the Department which has to deal with the administration of so many of those affairs that regulate the conduct of the people, and where a good deal of feeling is aroused as between different sections of the community.
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster) is seeking to interrupt my remarks. I was at Inverell, in his electorate, during the conscription campaign. The honorable member went there the next day to reply to me, and he said, “ This man will not be allowed to say that any longer. To-morrow we will have him ‘ for it.”
– Who used those words ?
– I have not the report of the newspaper with me; the actual words are of no consequence, and the honorable member need not try to sidetrack me by saying that those were not the exact words that he used. The point is, that two days afterwards the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who was, himself, in the same district as the PostmasterGeneral, gave instructions that I should be prosecuted. It is perfectly transparent that the Postmaster-General communicated with the Prime Minister, and asked him to prosecute me.
– That is not correct. The reporter of the newspaper sent your speech down to the Prime Minister.
– Although, at the time, the Prime Minister was in a country district, I was prosecuted within two or three days. It was impossible for a newspaper report sent to Sydney to reach the Prime Minister in the time. What happened in Court will show clearly enough that it was the Prime Minister who initiated the prosecution. There were four charges. The magistrate found, in regard to the first case, not that I had made an untrue statement, but that’ I had made a statement which was not permissible under the law, because it affected an Ally.
When the second case was called on, the magistrate said to the Crown Prosecutor, ‘ You have had a conviction in one case. No doubt, you will be satisfied not to proceed with the others.” The Crown Prosecutor replied that his instructions were to go on with all the cases. The magistrate thereupon adjourned the case for two hours, in order that the Crown Prosecutor might consult with his principals. Upon resuming in the afternoon, the Crown Prosecutor said that he had communicated with Mr. Hughes personally, who had given him instructions that each case must be pursued. The magistrate refused to inflict any fine in respect of any of the cases. These proceedings showed that there was absolute vindictive ness on the part of the Prime Minister personally initiated by the PostmasterGeneral .
– That is not true.
– The honorable member went to a country district in order to reply on the public platform to certain statements made by an opponent, and his reply was to communicate with the Prime Minister, and ask him to initiate a prosecution against that opponent. That is the way in which former Labour members reply to their opponents. Such disgraceful maladministration of the office of justice would never have come from members of the old Liberal party. As a matter of fact, there has beenno act of personal vindictiveness or bad feeling with which I am acquainted which has originated from any Minister who Was a member of the old Liberal party.
– No member of the old Liberal party would have said what the honorable member said.
– Never mind what I said. I am talking about the means which the honorable member took in order to obtain redress. If there is any crime in the matter, it is the action of the honorable member and a few more imported men in this country, who hold the mad idea that they should sacrifice Australia in order to do a little for Britain out of all proportion to the sacrifice. If it were not for the War Precautions Regulation, which closes my mouth, I would challenge any honorable member on the other side of the House to go on to the platform with me and refute the facts as I know them, and as I could speak them. I will go into any centre of the electorate of the honorable member, and face him on the public platform, any time he has an amendment to the War Precautions Regulation gazetted taking the padlock off my mouth.
– And leaving the honorable member free to slander a certain nation.
– What nation?
– The nation to which the honorable member referred.
– I support no other nation but my own. The honorable member tries to shield another nation at the sacrifice of his own. I wish to God that I could tell the public the facts as. I know them. The only reply that honorable members; have is to use the War Precautions Act to close my mouth.
But this is no party matter; it does not affect the change of party. Honorable members in this Chamber should be in a position to make a change in the administration of any of the Departments when they find that a Minister’s conduct of his Department causes irritation and dissatisfaction throughout the country. If honorable members opposite are patriotic, and have any desire to remove the bad feeling that is rankling between the great sections of this community, they can do it by transferring Senator
Pearce from the Department of Defence to some other Department. Let him have his Ministerial emoluments, but let some better or bigger man take charge of the Defence Department, so that we may have better administration in Defence generally. If that step is taken, it will certainly go a long way towards removing the bad feeling and discord which exist throughout the Commonwealth.
Mr.FALKINER (Hume) [3.53].- I do not intend to detain the Committee long, and I would nothave spoken had it not been for some statements made by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), containing the usual amount of inaccuracy.
Before dealing with that matter I wish to express my surprise andregret at the, incomprehensible attitude which the Ministry have taken up in reference to the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd). Surely it is due to our electors that we should be permitted to express our views upon the administration of the different Departments, but a Ministry which told us a little while ago’ that, owing to the national necessity, it. could not resign after the result of the last referendum became known, now tells us that because half a dozen private members disagree with the administration of the Defence Department, or want the portfolio of Minister for Defence, held by an honorable member sitting in this chamber, it is going to do what it could not dowhen it should have done it.
– Great joy in the house of Labour !
Mr.FALKINER- There is no occasion for any joy in the house of Labour, because, as Milton says, “ The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.”
In regard to the remarks of the honorable member for Capricornia I wish to give honorable members some facts about the wool-tops contract. As a preface I may say that Mr. P. W. Hughes was appointed to the Central Wool Committee at a conference called by the Prime Minister, and at which all branches of the trade were present. He was actually nominated for the position by a trade rival. At that time there was no mention of wool-tops contracts. I was not a member of the Central Wool Board then; I was elected afterwards. When the wooltops contract came before the Central Wool Committee for consideration the position of Mr. F. W. Hughes was disclosed to the sub-committee, which dealt with the question, and investigated his ability to carry out the contract, and it was disclosed that the company, controlled by him, had a share capital of £5,000, undivided profits of £108,000, a contingency fund of £100,000, and debentures amounting to £1S0,000, making a total capital of close on £400,000.
– Who has supplied that information?
– I understand that it is taken from the balance-sheet of the company. While this contract has been proceeding Mr. G. Mason Allard, one of the most competent accountants in Sydney, has conducted a continuous audit of the company’s transactions.
– Was that statement supplied by Mr. F. W. Hughes?
– I take it that the sub-committee obtained these figures from the company’s balance-sheets. In any case, if Mr. F. W. Hughes had provided the figures, he would have been obliged to prove them. Naturally, the members of the sub-committee were too long in the teeth to accept the statement of Mr. F. W. Hughes unsupported.
– Is the capital referred to the capital of the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company?
Mi-. FALKINER.- Yes.
– The figures must be entirely wrong.
– I have no desire to mention personal matters, but the honorable member lost a “ tenner “ to me today on the strength of his statements. It may be manifest to those not connected with the pastoral industry that the manufacture of 3,000,000 lbs. of wool-tops would have obliged this firm to purchase over a million head of sheep if they had to rely on sheepskins for their wool, and those sheep, at an all-round average, would be worth £1,500,000.
The Central Wool Committee were informed that it was the policy of the Government to give every assistance to all the side industries connected with the dis posal of the Australian wool clip, and that is the policy which the Central Wool Committee have endeavoured to carry out.
In order to secure the sum’ of £48,000, representing half the net profits of the contract, the firm, controlled by Mr. F. W. Hughes, had to make tops to the value of £750,000, and carry stock-in-hand to the value of £250,000. That represents £1,000,000.’ These things are not to be judged on a man’s capital, they must be judged on his output, and on the quantity of stuff that he manufactures. The sum of £48,000, representing the other half of the profits, was paid into a trust account in the Commonwealth Bank, pending an adjustment of the war-times profit taxation, to be subsequently paid to the Consolidated Revenue as a licence-fee.
We did not put Mr. F. W. Hughes on the same footing as other manufacturers. They got their wool at 10 per cent, below the ls. 3½d. parity. As Mr. Hughes’ company had a definite price from the Japanese Government, we made him pay the full parity, which resulted in his having to pay £31,000 more than” he otherwise would have paid for his wool. The statement that the company got the whole of the £48,000 as profit, is totally inaccurate, because the sub-committee recommended to the Central Wool Committee, and the latter body adopted the suggestion, that the whole of the £48,000 should be put into wool-top machinery. We recognised that owing to the scarcity of shipping, it was most important that we should have as much machinery as possible in Australia for the purpose of manufacturing wool into wool-tops for the making of cloth. The minimum price for tops was fixed by the Army Contracts Wool Committee, the Imperial body which fixes all these things. There were two companies in Australia which were willing to manufacture wool tops, but a third firm refused to make them on the conditions laid down by the Central Wool Committee. It was remarkable that there should be a desire to injure the Prime Minister over the question of profits, because on the opposite side of the House sit the very members who gave this man bounty to the extent of £17,000 in 1912, £13,000 in 1913, and £12,000 in 1914, over and. above any profits that he may have made. I say now that I regret very much that Mr. F. W. Hughes was ever on the Central Wool Committee, or that circumstances compelled the Committee to have any dealings with him, because it is an open secret that when he got this bounty .he subscribed largely to the Labour party’s funds, or to the funds of some individual members of that party.
– Not the Federal Labour party.
– Yes; the Federal Labour party. It is remarkable that the only member of the Wool Committee who had any connexion at all with Mr. F. W. Hughes was Mr. J”. C. Watson, an ex-leader of the Labour party. I want to say, further, that the contract given to Mr. F. W. Hughes, or the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, put him in the position of being a purchaser of fat sheep, and his competitors - the carcass butchers and local exporters - have put it to the Central Wool Committee that if the wool from skins sold outside of Great Britain’s requirements were allowed to share in the 50 per cent, profit rebated, back to Australia, they would be in the same position as Mr. F. W. Hughes. When Mr. F. W. Hughes came into the market with the rice fixed for his products, naturally he disturbed the market very considerably and put up the price against these men, who have been complaining ever since to the Wool Committee about the matter. Their representations were so strong that a leading solicitor in Sydney appeared before the Pastoralists Union of New South Wales. As the graziers’ representative on the Wool Committee, I was present, and after listening to all he had to say I replied, and they, the people most interested - because, after all, the growers own the wool - decided to take no action. Then, in case there was anything we did not know or understand, the Central Wool Committee allowed the solicitor to appear before a. Committee, which included the chairmen of all the State Boards, and they also came to the conclusion that there was no case.
Another statement for which the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) lost his money was that the Central Wool Committee had not allowed our Ally, Japan, to purchase wool. That is quite incorrect. When the last wool clip was taken over, one-third of it had been sold, and in the disposal of that proportion Japan purchased freely. The Central Wool Committee then had to allocate the balance on the express instructions from the Army Contracts Committee, and made wool available to England, Russia, France, Italy, India, Canada, and the United States. Naturally the bulk went to those countries which had armies in the field. When we brought this scheme into operation it was our duty to see that every one connected with the trade got as much work as possible, and the usual commission out of the sale of the clip as previously. In order to do this, the commission was paid to trustees - of whom I am one - and the commission was allocated in terms of an agreement of which’ the appraisers approved. The wool buyers “and shipping firms of our Ally, Japan, had their full share of the business. We have been able to keep local manufacturers and scourers going to the utmost capacity of their plants. Indeed, they have had more work than ever before, with the result that fresh scouring plants have been established in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Western Australia, and Tasmania.
If the honorable member for Capricornia wants to connect Mr. J. C. Watson as a director of the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company with Mr. F. W. Hughes, all I can say is that it was no fault of the Central Wool Committee. We had to arrange with the local manufacturer for the manufacture of these tops, and the question of Mr. Watson’s association with Mi”. F. W. Hughes did not come within our cognisance. We have kept all these concerns going, and have done our best. I am proud to have been connected with the scheme, which is the largest we have had in Australia, and on which our financial stability depends. For myself, I feel that I am so well known amongst my fellow-graziers that whatever the honorable member for Capricornia may say will have no effect upon me. In the chairman of the Central. Wool Committee (Mr. Higgins) we have a gentleman who works from early morning till late at night. There is no limit to his intelligence or industry.
– I think the honorable member might add «that he is doing all this work for nothing.
Mr.FALKINER.- For that matter we areall doing the work for nothing, but the particular duties assigned to Mr. Higgins render his services invaluable to Australia at the present juncture, and it was on his account that I rose to put the Committee in possession of some facts in connexion with our big industry.
.- As I understand the Minister in charge of the House (Mr. Watt) desires to adjourn the debate, I do not propose at this stage to take up much time, but should like to say that I think there must be some mistake in connexion with the statement by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Falkiner). He said that the capital of the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company was £480,000.
– £400,000 at the time we entered into the contract.
– If that is so, the honorable member should be able to supply the House with a list of shareholders. I have been to a great deal of trouble to obtain this list. The summary made up to 30th November, 1916, is as follows: - Phillip Henry Morton, one share; Frederick William Hughes, one share; FrederickYelverton Wilson, one share; Duncan McMasters, one share ; Laura M. Wilson, one share; Diana M. Hughes, one share; Leslie Pilter, one share; F. H. Hughes, one share. I have tried since to get a complete list of shareholders, and have in my hand an official document from the Registrar of Companies in Sydney, showing that there were eight shareholders with £8 paid up for eight shares, and 20,000 shares in the name of F. W. Hughes paid up to5s., so that the total paid-up capital of the company is given at £5,008 shareholders’ capital.
– But is there not a debenture issue?
– I stated the amount of the capital, and said the undivided profits were £108,000, contingencies £100,000, and debentures £180,000.
– I propose on the next day of sitting to avail myself of an opportunity of replying to the honorable member, and I ask leave to continue my remarks.
House adjourned at 4.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 April 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19180412_reps_7_84/>.