7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the
Honorary Minister (Mr. Greene) seen the long and remarkable statement published in to-day’s Age, in which Major Parcel!, the Assistant Director of Remounts, says in effect that the Government by purchasing woolpacks and cornsacks through the merchants instead of from the factories, has increased their cost to the producers , of Australia by something like 50. per cent. more than is paid in the Argentine, and that had the sacks during the last three seasons been purchased at the mills the Commonwealth would have saved from £1, 000,000 to £2,000,000? The matter is so important that the Minister may not be able to reply immediately, and I ask him to go into the subject and make a complete statement when the House meets next Wednesday.
– My colleague, Senator Russell, has charge of this matter. I have not seen the statement referred to, but from what the honorable member has said. Major Purcell seems to be labouring under a misapprehension. Until this season the Commonwealth Government had not bought any bags, these having been supplied to producers through the ordinary trade channels, the Government merely making necessary arrangements for freight and distribution. This year the Government has bought bags, not from the merchants, but direct from the mills through the Jute Controller of the Indian Government. I shall make a complete statement of the facts on Wednesday, When I hope to have all the details at my command, but I should like to say now that our operations have saved the producers of Australia a very large sum.
– Will the Honorary Minister include in his statement an explanation of the manner in which the bags are distributed?
– I direct the Minister’s attention to the great scarcity of bran bags and woolpacks, particularly in Western Australia, because of the failure of the last steamer to take over a sufficient supply. When the honorable gentleman makes his statement next Wednesday, will he let the House know the intentions of the Governmentin regard to the distribution of bran bags and woolpacks, so that our primary industries may not be in any difficulty in regard to the supply of these articles?
– I shall deal with that matter in my statement, but it has already received the attention of the Government, steps having been taken to meet the urgent requirements of Western Australia.
– According to the press, the gentleman in charge . of the boring operations on the Papuan oil-fields is now in Melbourne. I should like to know from the Minister whether a good flow of oil has been struck?
– I cannot say that a good flow of oil has been struck, though a number of experiments are being conducted. There is a new field about eighteen miles from the present one, towards which operations have been directed, though I cannot say that a flow has been obtained there yet. The geological indications are favorable, and justified boring, andwe are now putting down a new bore - No. 8 - though operations are suspended pending the adjustment of machinery.; new machinery known as the standard machinery is now on the site. Oilis being obtained from every bore that has been put down, though not in payable quantities. In the No. “7 bore, which is now down 1,800 feet, oil was obtained at the 197 feet level, but it had to be shut off to enable the boring to be continued. There has been delay in connexion with the No. 8 bore. All I can say in regard to the operations generally is that the conditions are favorable, but that there is great risk attendant upon oil -boring experiments.
– I wish to know from the Honorary Minister the reason for the increase in the price of butter. Will he tell the House whether the production and exportation of butter during the past six or eight months has not been higher than it was during the same period of 1916-17, when butter was selling at a cheaper rate? Is it necessary to import into Victoria 3,000 boxes weekly, and has that not caused the price of butter to increase over the whole field of production, although the quantity I have named is only a fourth of the weekly consumption of the State?
– I cannot, from memory, give the exact figures of production and exportation. We have been shipping to Great Britain as much butter as she wished for, for which she provided space. It has always been the case that importations of butter into a State to fill its requirements have caused a rise in price over the whole field of production within that State, and that will always happen.
– Must the quantity I have mentioned be imported every week?
– It is impossible for me to say.
– You can estimate to a ton what is needed each week.
– Yes, but the honorable member was long enough in the Customs Department to know that it is impossible to estimate the quantity of butter that will be produced in the State each week. If a few cold nights come, the production will be much less than it is now, and consequently the importation will he greater. I cannot say whether it will be 3,000 or 5,000 boxes.
– Is the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) aware that in March of last year there was exported from Australia 10,000,000 lbs. of butter, while in March this year over 17,600,000 lbs. has been exported, showing an increase in the exportation of over 7,000,000 lbs. Last year the price of butter was kept down to Is. 4d. per lb., wholesale-
– I am afraid I must intervene. It is quite clear the honorable member is endeavouring to give information to the Minister under the guise of asking a question. That is quite against the rules and practice of the House.
– I apologize. I had no intention of doing so. I ask the Minister if he is aware of the facts as I have stated them?
Mr.GREENE. - I explained this matter in the answer I gave to the honorable member at an earlier stage to-day.
– Will the Honorary Minister (Mr. Wise) suggest to the Minister for Defence that representations should be made to General Birdwood as to the need for allowing men in the Australian infantry to transfer in England to the Royal Flying Corps? Thousands of our men wish to do this, and the British authorities consider that Australians are the best men to take charge of flying machines. We all know the important part that flying machines are playing in this war, and that they will play a much more important part in the future. The authorities are having to employ plumbers and blacksmiths in the Royal Flying Corps, although Australia could supply thousands of skilled mechanics, men of the very class that are most needed. These men are in our infantry battalions, and are desirous of transferring.into the Flying Corps. When in London I saw hundreds of letters from lads who wished to make this transfer. Because of the outdoor life that he has lived, and his initiative, the Australian is pre-eminently the best man to take charge of a flying machine. I believe that if 10,000 Australians were put into the Flying Corps the Hun would not come over our lines as he does now, without fear of attack. The British authorities have any number of flying machines, but the men necessary to take charge of them are lacking. General Birdwood has allowed a few transfers, but will not consent to the transference of the large number of men that are needed, skilled mechanics, and other men having the necessary qualifications for the work of piloting and observing.
– I shall bring the honorable member’s remarks under the notice of the Minister for Defence.
– I ask the Honorary Minister who is controlling shipping if he will do his utmost to maintain the existing shipping service between the mainland and Tasmania?
– I shall do all that is possible to leave things as they are. We are trying, to make the dislocation of the ordinary shipping arrangements as little inconvenient as possible, but I cannot promise that under no circumstances will existing arrangements not be interfered with. I recognise the isolation of Tasmania, and therefore I shall do all that I can to prevent inconvenience to the people of that State, but I cannot make promises binding my future action.
– In view of the widely-spread feeling that soldiers’ dependants do not receive a fair allowance from the Government, this view injuring recruiting, will the Treasurer see that at least as large an amount is given for the support of the child of an Australian soldier as is given for the support of a child of a New Zealand soldier ? I direct his attention to the statement in today’s Age regarding the allowance to wives and other dependants.
– I have not seen the paragraph, but I will take the matter into consideration as early as possible.
– In view of thecomplaints of the Returned Officers’ Association with respect to eligible officers being retained here on home service, will the
Minister representing the Minister for Defence endeavour to see that those eligibles are compelled to go to the Front, or get out?
– I will bring the honorable member’s question under the notice of the Minister for Defence.
– I have received informa tion from Sydney that packets of tobacco, containing1¾ oz., which were previously sold at1s. per packet, are still being sold at the same price, but that the quantity of tobacco in each packet has been reduced to l½ oz., though placards are still exhibited in retail shops notifying that packets containing1¾ oz. are sold for1s. per packet. I would like to know from the Minister in charge of price fixing whether this is not an evasion of the price-fixing regulations ?
– If the honorable member will supply me with the evidence that he has in regard to that matter, I shall have it inquired into. If what the honorable member says is true, it is an evasion of the regulations, and the necessary action will be taken to deal with it.
-Can the Minister say when the matter of fixing the price of tobacco will be finalized, because tobacco companies are now refusing to supply the public at the prices which were in existence on 1st March last, and this is causing considerable inconvenience in many parts of the Commonwealth.
– The utmost expedition is being displayed in connexion with the inquiry. It will necessarily take some time, but not a day will be lost in attempting to finalize the matter.
Mr.CONSIDINE.-Can the Minister for Home and Territories say whether or not any conditions were attached to the issuing of a passport to the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) ?
– As a rule, I do not disclose the grounds upon which passports are granted in particular cases, because it is scarcely desirable to tell people’s private affairs to the public unless special circumstances justify one in doing so. The honorable member for Bourke made an ordinary application for a passport, stating the grounds upon which he desired to go to England. In such cases I exercise my discretion as to whether or not the applicant should be allowed to go. So far as I can recollect, the grounds stated in the application of the honorable member for Bourke were sufficient, although private ones, and I therefore granted it.
-Seeing that the
Government are boring for oil in Papua, will they take into consideration the advisability of encouraging boring for the same purpose in Australia?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has been attending to this matter. It has already been brought to Cabinet, and has recently been referred for consideration to the new Board of Trade, from which we expect an early report.
– As there are nearly 1,000 men out of work at the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, has the Minister representing the Minister for Defence any reply to the question which I asked on
Wednesday concerning the matter in dispute?
– I am sorry to say I have not yet received any reply, but I shall endeavour to get one during the day. If it comes to hand I will furnish the honorable member with the information on the adjournment.
– I would like to know when the Prime Minister expects to be in a position to make a statement in reference to the extension of the guarantee regarding the price of wheat, which runs out this year. There are many contract growers, share farmers, and so forth, who have no beneficial interest in the land which they are cultivating, since they cannot carry on any grazing upon it; and it would greatly increase thearea put under fallow this year for sawing next year if an early announcement was made on the matter. Already many of these men are selling off their plants, and leaving, with their families, for the cities, so that it will be seen the matter is an urgent one.
– I have recently been paying more attention to the pressing question of further advances on past Wheat Pools, so that the matter to which the honorable member has referred has not been before the Government during the last few weeks. However, we realize that winter fallowing is a considerable advantage to growing in the following season, and I think that we shall be able to indicate the attitude of the Government in ample time to give the required assurance to the honorable member and those for whom he speaks, more particularly as the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) will be in England at the time, and be better able to realize the likelihood of the market and the position that the British authorities will take up.
– I would like to ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether a jetty has been constructed at Bruni Island, Tasmania, and, if so, whether it was carried out by his Department, and at what cost? .
– A jetty has been rebuilt at Bruni Island at a cost of £588 8s. 7d. By adopting a considerably cheaper design than was originally proposed, and by cutting all the piles on the site, and thus avoiding cost of material and the freight for delivery, the estimated cost has been reduced by over £400. The Lighthouse Engineer recently visited the jetty and reported that an excellent job was being made.
– In accordance with the decision of the Government that reprints of members’ speeches made in the House must be submitted to the Censor, I submitted a speech which’ I made last week, and the Censor has struck out two parts whichwere merely extracts, one from the Glasgow Herald of a meeting held in Glasgow addressed by Sir Auckland Geddes, and the other from the London Herald. None of my comments upon these extracts were omitted, but the extracts themselves’ were excluded. Will the Acting Prime Minister say that that was a fair exercise of the censorship, and that the publication in Australia of matter already published in Great Britain is to be considered as prejudicial to recruiting or as being of value to the enemy ?
– I am a great believer in the old Grecian proverb, “ Every matter hath two handles.” I would not like to express any opinion upon the matter at this stage, but if the honorable member will put his question on the notice-paper I shall see that the Censor’s view is known before giving an answer.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The other: day the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) said that I had been responsible for the non-appearance of a newspaper which he called the Labour World.
– The honorable member was one of those who were responsible.
– I drafted the original scheme accepted by a ballot of members of the Australian Workers’ Union for a Labour daily newspaper in Sydney. This scheme was departed from some years ago against my desire. . I have not at any time had any position on the directorate or any voice in the control of the company. If my advice had been followed, an evening paper would have been published long ago.
– I am very pleased to hear that statement; I was not aware of it.
– Will the Minister in charge of price fixing give some attention to the high prices which are being charged for felt used in. machinery?
– I shall be very pleased to inquire into the matter.
– Where a wife is liv- ing separate from her husband at the time of his enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force, and is therefore not, in fact, dependent upon him, she is not allowed a separation allowance. Would not the Minister representing the Minister for Defence consider it fair to give the wife a separation allowance if the fact that she is living apart from the husband is not due to her fault? In many such cases the husband is a de serter who has left his wife without means, and his separation allowance goes to some much less deserving person.
– I will give consideration to the matter.
– In reference to the statement made by Senator Pearce some little time ago that I had quoted from a pro-German publication, is the Minister representing the Minister for Defence yet in a position to give me the name and date of the publication referred to ?
– I asked the Minister for Defence yesterday for an answer to the honorable member’s question, but I have not yet been supplied with the reply. I shall endeavour to get it by Wednesday next without fail.
– Yesterday we had a most interesting debate in this House upon the matter of the deportation of Italian citizens, and the Acting Prime Minister favoured us with a very illuminating address, but no report of the debate or of the honorable member’s address appeared in this morning’s newspapers. Is that because of a censorship imposed by the Government, or is the Censor acting under instructions from the Government in refusing the publication of such matter for the information of the people ?
– I cannot answer the question, because I do not know why the report did not appear. My vanity was very much injured when I saw that my speech was not reported in the newspapers.
– In view of the fact that, as head of the Government, the Acting Prime Minister is unable to advise as to under whose instructions the Censor is working, to which Minister may we address questions relating to the censorship in order to obtain a definite understanding as to whether the Government are acting in the matter or not?
– Duplicate questions, I understand, are against the Standing Orders. If the honorable member will give notice, I shall see that an answer is furnished to him.
– I desire to make a personal explanation in regard to a statement I made on the 12th April as to an officer at the Henderson Naval Base, who, although competent for other duties, is admittedly incompetent for the position he now occupies. In bringing the matter under the notice of the House, I was acting upon evidence and observation in connexion with a visit of the Public Accounts Committee to the Henderson Naval Base. I then not only had access to documents, but heard evidence, and, what is of equal importance, an opportunity to observe the demeanour of the witnesses and the hesitancy of some when particular questions were asked. It appears, however, that additional evidence was given by Mr. Settle, the Director of Naval Works, on 8th April at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee at which I was not present, and of which I was unaware at the time I made my statement on the 12th. In making that statement I was also influenced to some extent by the observations of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler), who went a little further than I did. That honorable member said that he had protested against the appointment of this officer when it was made some time ago, and that there was both political and personal influence behind. I find now that Mr. Settle, in his evidence on the 8th April, says : -
I reported strongly against him, but, equitably, pointing out his defects, and indicating what the man was suitable for. That wasto the Naval Board. The Minister (Mr. Jensen), In October, 1916, gave me authority to discharge him, but I told the officer in charge of works that if Henshaw had not the capabilities of a General Foreman of Works he was not to be so employed, yet, at the same time, if he was a good carpenter, we wouldbe requiring his services shortly.
Later on Mr. Settle said, in answer to another question, that he had no power to discharge such an employee without the consent of the Minister. Myremarks on the 12th April must be qualified by this later evidence, of which I was unaware at that time. But the matter is still in a very unsatisfactory position, in so far as it is admitted that it had passed through all its stages to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Jensen) in October, 1916; and we know that considerable time is taken up in arriving at that stage. We see that in October, 1916, the
Minister for Trade and Customs gave authority for the discharge of this employee, and yet now, eighteen months or more afterwards, he is in the same position that he was then.
– And he was never fit to hold his position from the beginning !
– It is admitted that this employee has not the necessary qualification. As I say, my remarks must be qualified by the later evidence of Mr. Settle; and I hope that my explanation this morning will put the facts in a different setting, and eliminate any unfairness which may have been occasioned by my ignorance of that evidence.
Use of Simpler Language
– Seeing that Acts of Parliament are being brought into operation at an exceptionally rapid rate, and that the community suffer very much in their endeavours to interpret them, has the Attorney-General’s Department ever considered the advisability of couching these Acts in language that the people can understand ? If not, will the Department kindly undertake to consider that reform?
– It has been tried before.
-I do not think there is any country where Acts of Parliament are drafted in more simple language than in the Commonwealth of Australia.
– The late Mr. Kingston was the man to draft Acts in simple language!
– And the precedent he set has been followed ever since.
– The language is getting worse every day.
– I remind honorable members that sometimes attempts are made in this House to improve on the Parliamentary Draftsman’s work, and these may occasion some difficulty in understanding the sections. I appreciate the desire of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), and I shall place his remarks before the Parliamentary Draftsman. I presume the honorable member desires that in the drafting of Acts short concise sections instead of long sections shall be adopted.
– Why should a man not be able to read and understand an Act of Parliament as he reads and understands his daily newspaper?
– If the honorable member realizes all the differences of opinion sometimes held in regard to the meaning of a newspaper paragraph he will see how difficult it would be to use newspaper phraseology to make a parliamentary section absolutely clear and simple to all.
– Is it because of the careful, concise-
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable member may not ask a question arising out of an answer to a previous question.
– I have not yet said a word.
– If honorable members will cease these interjections, I may be able to hear the question.
– If I may be permitted, as a layman, to intervene, I should like to ask if it is because of the concise wording of our Acts of Parliament-
– I remind the honorable member that he cannot ask a question founded on an answer given by a Minister to a previous question. If that practice were allowed we should become involved in an irregular debate, which is against our own Standing Orders and the practice of Parliament.
– I should be obliged if you would inform me, sir, how you arrive at the conclusion that my question arises out of an answer to a previous question without hearing what my question is? The concluding portion of my question is quite different.
– It is for the Speaker to determine those matters. The honorable member’s question had direct reference to the Minister’s reply, relating to the concise wording of Acts of Parliament.
– In connexion with the secret acts of violence which are being perpetrated in the homes of some of our Allies, the Italians, for the purpose of deporting them, is the Assistant Minister for Defence aware that officers-
– I rise to a point of order.
– I remind the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) that a question couched in such terms is quite improper.
– Hear, hear !
– I shall endeavour to couch the question in more-
– Decent language.
– In more satisfactory language.
– Would it not be better to give notice of the question ? I cannot answer a question of that kind without notice.
– I shall consider the matter for an hour, when I may be able to put the question in better language.
– When may I expect some information about , the important matter of the alleged improper practice in connexion with the examination for the Federal Public Service, about which I asked a question without notice a week ago?
– I shall endeavour to get the information by Wednesday next.
ADJOURNMENT (Formal) .
Price Fixing of Rabbits and Rabbit Skins.
– I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The price-fixing of rabbits and rabbit skins.” Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– I am extremely reluctant to take the step of moving the adjournment of the House, and I should not have done so had I been able to obtain any redress, or even consideration, from the Minister who is dealing with price fixing. I do not refer to the Assistant Minister (Mr. Greene) so much as to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) and the Assistant Minister (Senator Russell). The sinister manipulation of the rabbit and rabbit skin trade in Australia has become a by-word outside, and it concerns a good number of honorable members of this House, especially those who represent agricultural and pastoral districts. This question has received considerable attention from me, and for the past eleven months I have been working almost every day, at least every week, in trying to get a price fixed for rabbits and skins, and to place the rabbit trade on such a footing as would not only insure to the trapper a fair remuneration for his labour, but would also help those men on the land who, because of the high price of netting and other materials, are unable to clear their land of the pest. Those honorable members who know of the way in which land is depreciated by rabbits are well aware that if sufficient remuneration is paid to the trappers the rabbit pest will soon disappear. There are approximately 8,000 men working in this industry in Australia, and up to date they have not been able to get a satisfactory price for their rabbits and skins. Deputations, letters, telegrams, and conferences in relation to the matter have been many during the last eleven months. Some time ago I convened a conference to consider the matter. The Australian Workers Union, which I represented, brought together delegates from all parts of Australia at very great expense. The conference practically arrived at an understanding whereby the Price-fixing Commissioner should fix the price for rabbits, but evidently some persons who are keenly interested in preventing any such fixation of prices seized upon the happy idea of getting from the Solicitor-General a legal opinion that any action by the Commissioner to fix the prices of rabbits was ultra vires. I immediately communicated with the Prime Minister, asking him if he would make such price-fixing legal. I received no reply. At about that time the control of price-fixing was transferred to SenatorRussell. Conferences again took place, and many letters were written, but without avail. We had a conference between representatives of the Australian Workers Union, the Rabbit Combine, the Minister, and the price-fixing Commissioner.
– Is there a Rabbit Combine ?
– Yes, and it is so strong that it is able to defy, not only the
State Governments, but also the Commonwealth Government, as I shall show later. The Minister and the Commissioner had agreed upon certain prices, namely, 8d. at the depots, and 9d. at the works in summer, and 9d. and10d. respectively in winter. Those pricesWere fair, and would have given a reasonable remuneration to the trapper whilst allowing the Rabbit Combine to make a profitable deal. The combine at that time was receiving 19s. per crate, but, unfortunately, when negotiations had reached the stage at which the authorities had agreed to fix a fair price, which would enable the squatters and farmers to obtain, without cost, a sufficient supply of labour on their land to eradicate the rabbit pest, the contract with the British Government was cancelled. Therefore, the Commonwealth Government had no power to fix prices for overseas requirements, but they could have fixed the prices for local consumption. That they refused to do. Recently I learned that the Rabbit Combine, acting in conjunction with the New South Wales Government, had arranged a contract with the Imperial Government. I may inform the House that only those people who are connected with the combine are allowed any share of the contract.
– Does the Rabbit Combine comprise rabbit exporters or freezers ?
– It comprises both freezers and exporters. This is the contract which has been arranged between the New South Wales Government and the exporters -
The Board of Control under the Meat Supply for Imperial Uses Act will act as agent for the Imperial Government.
Quantity and Allocation. - Six hundred thousand cases skinned rabbits allocated between States as under: -
Description and Packing. - All rabbits to be skinned by hand or hook, heads and feet off, graded and packed under Commerce Act Regulations case to contain not less than than60 lbs. net. and not more than thirty-six rabbits in each case. All rabbits to be well chilled before grading and packing, and stored in one of the following stores: -
Aberdeen. and any other store that may be approved by the Board. All rabbits to be equal to standard hitherto packed as Government grade, excluding small grade. Cases to be of approved size and shape, bound with hoop iron or with wire if approved by Committee, and’ contents wrapped in double wrapping of grease-proof paper.
Net weight to be clearly marked on case.
Price. - 17s. (Seventeen shillings) per case, f.o.b., including free storage for sixteen weeks from last day of week in which rabbits were packed.)
Packers to provide and pay for fire insurance until shipped.
Payment. - Cash against bills of lading, invoice grade and freezing certificates, certified to by State Supervising Officer. In the event of shipment not being made - within sixteen weeks after end of week in which rabbits were packed, purchasers to make progress payment of 75 per cent, of contract price against store warrants, and pay storage until shipped, at the rate of one penny (Id.) per crate per week after period of free storage expires.
Inspection. - In addition to complying with regulations of Commerce Act the Board of Control, as agents for the Imperial Government, will appoint four (4) Inspectors to supervise the grading, packing, and freezing of all rabbits purchased under this contract - the cost of such inspection to be paid for by the packers proportionately, and for this purpose a levy of twopence (2d.) per crate will be made, to be paid weekly.
Packers will be held responsible for any loss through bone taint.
Advisory Committee. - The Board will appoint a Committee of four, including the State Supervising Officer as chairman, to generally act as between tEe packers and the Board of Control.
That is a very interesting document, inasmuch as it provides for the absolute control of the contract by ‘the Babbit Combine, instead of by the Commonwealth Government. To New South Wales, where the Babbit Combine is strong, have been allocated 500,000 crates, the supply of which is confined to members of the Combine exclusively. In this regard I would suggest to the Minister that this contract constitutes a restriction of trade, because it prevents any person who may be in the rabbit industry from participating in the contract. That should not be so. Whilst New South Wales has been allocated 500,000 crates, Victoria is allowed only 83,000, South Australia 9,000, and Tasmania 8,000. The Babbit Combine has succeeded in having a bigger proportion of the contract allotted to New South Wales than to other States through being shrewd enough to induce the New South Wales Government to usurp the rights and privileges of the Commonwealth. .
The Meat Board entered into the contract on behalf .of the New South Wales Government, but there is an Advisory Committee to help the Board, and that Committee consists of Mr. McKinny, of the Country Freezing Works of New South Wales; Mr. Curtis, of Curtis and Curtis; and Mr. Patterson, of Patterson and Company Limited - all members of the Combine - and Mr. Butler, who is one of the inspectors of the New South Wales Government. Those men absolutely control the whole contract. The price paid is 17s. per crate of three dozen rabbits, beheaded and without the feet. The old price was 19s. per case of two dozen rabbits. Whilst the price under the new contract is nominally 2s. per crate less, it is really higher, inasmuch as there will be less expense on account of crates, and the skins are returned to the Combine. The skins of three dozen rabbits are worth not less than 6s., which, added to the 17s. per crate, makes ,the price under this agreement 23s. per crate, as compared with 19s. previously. Whilst the cost of skinning the rabbits will be considerable, and will necessitate the employment of a large number of men, the returns from the sale of rabbit skins will more than pay for the cost of that labour. I come now to the question of the rabbit skins. As the result of action taken by the Australian Workers Union, the Government fixed the. price of rabbit skins, and the system was fairly satisfactory save that the price so fixed was considerably below the rate ruling in the open market. The result was that the Government made a profit of £308,000, that amount representing the difference between the price, they paid for the skins and the price at which they sold to the exporters. That money should, of course, go to the trappers who supplied the skins. Later on, for some reason, the Government decided that the price of rabbit skins should no longer be fixed. Many of us thought at the time that it would be possible to counteract the movement of the rabbit combine to bring down the price, but freight difficulties arose almost immediately, and it was found very hard to obtain freights to carry our skins overseas. The Government having annulled the price-fixing regulation, the skins were thrown on the market, with the result that the bottom fell out of it, and a recovery has not yet been made. This is owing chiefly to the freight difficulty. It is very necessary, however, that the Commonwealth Government should immediately take control of the contract now in existence between the New South Wales” and British Governments. Sufficient notice was given the Commonwealth Government to enable them to take action to prevent the signing of that contract. Nine days ago - before the contract was signed - I warned the Honorary Minister (Senator Russell) that the combine was meeting in conference in Sydney, and that certain action was to be taken. His reply to-day is that he has made representations to the British Government that the contract should be given over to the Commonwealth.
I am not at all satisfied that everything in regard to this particular contract is clean. I firmly believe that dishonest methods have been used, and also that the Government have failed in their duty in permitting the rabbit combine to take control of the rabbit trade. The Commonwealth Government have allowed the rabbit combine, through the State Government of New South Wales, to usurp rights and privileges that essentially belong to the Commonwealth. That is a very serious position. The rabbit combine, through the New South Wales Government, and the Meat Control Board, Sydney, are controlling the rabbit trade of the Commonwealth. I am not prepared to say whether such an arrangement is legal or not, but I am quite ready to say that it is most immoral. The rabbit combine decides what grading and inspection shall take place in Victoria in respect of rabbits purchased under the contract, and it decides what South Australia’s conditions shall be in regard to it. In a nutshell, it ifr. Blakeley. t ; is taking over what is essentially a Commonwealth matter, and the Government should not allow this usurpation of its rights to continue. I ask the Honorary Minister (Mr. Greene) to go carefully into this matter, f asked for a special Committee to investigate it, but to this the Government would not agree. The question involved is a very big one. It affects not only over 8,000 men who are employed in the rabbit trapping industry, but the whole of the agricultural and pastoral interests of Australia. If a fair price be fixed for rabbit skins and rabbits, a very large number of men will be attracted to the industry, and instead of having to pay exorbitant prices for wirenetting and other material to keep down th rabbit pest, farmers and others will be able to get as much labour as they want in return for the right to trap rabbits on their land.
– The one fact has no bearing on the other. There are fewer men trapping to-day than there have been during the last eight years, and it stands to reason that with fewer trappers there must be more rabbits. Three or four months ago rabbits at Stuart Range were as numerous as any trapper could desire, and one can well understand that the good seasons we have enjoyed have caused the rabbits to increase tremendously. I have nothing further to say, but would commend the attention of the Minister to the matter to which I have referred.
– Immediately before the House met this morning, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) informed me of his intention to move the adjournment, and, as the rabbit trade does not come within my control, I am not in a position, at such short notice, to answer as fully as I should have liked, the statements he has made. The honorable member has stressed the circumstances under which the contract has been made with the Meat Control Board in Sydney. I propose to review, very briefly, the action taken by the Commonwealth Government, particularly during the last few weeks, in regard to the whole question. Early this year, the Imperial Government intimated that they would be unable to take the 1918 pack. Subsequently, they stated that they were prepared to purchase 2,000 tons of the 1918 pack, and asked that the remainder of the pack be not sold as a whole to the Government of the United States of America. This the Commonwealth Government, believing that the Imperial authorities were unable to take the’ 1918 pack, had been prepared to do. The British Government, however, in requesting that the balance be not sold as a whole to the United States Government, said there would be no objection to our making sales to that Government, provided that the arrangements were such as would enable the Imperial authorities to resume buying at any time. A little later on, we notified them that we were able to make extensive contracts in America-
– For the rabbits in the skin or without the skin? -
– “Without the skin.
– I am inclined to think that the contracts were to be for skinned rabbits. On the 8th April last, the Imperial authorities informed us that this offer was being brought to the notice of the Government of the United States, and that, in the meantime, it was Understood that the British Board of Trade was arranging for the purchase of 6,000 crates of hooked skinned rabbits from this year’s pack, and were communicating direct with the Meat Board, Sydney. So far as I am aware, that was the first intimation received by the Commonwealth. Government that any proposals were being promulgated by the British Board of Trade to deal with the Meat Control Board, Sydney. ‘ Immediately upon receipt of this communication, we despatched a cablegram pointing out that the contract for the 1917 rabbit pack was made direct with the .Commonwealth Government, and that the offer of the 1918 pack had also been submitted through the same channel to the British Government. We went on to point out in our cablegram that it was very desirable, in view of the previous arrangement and organization, that the Commonwealth Government should deal with the matter, more especially as a contract with one State would be sectional in character, and would cause much dissatisfaction in the other States. Those were the terms of our cablegram. - We stated, further, that if such a contract had been completed, we desired to be supplied with full particulars as to price, and so forth. We also strongly urged that, if the purchase referred to had not been completed by the British Board of Trade, the matter should be held in abeyance until the receipt of further representations from us. Up to the present, we .have received no reply whatever to our message to the British Government.
– When was that message sent ?
– Several days ago. There has been ample time for a reply to have been received from the Imperial Government. I can only say, at the present time, that the Government feel that all such contracts as between the Imperial authorities and any authority in Australia, should be made direct through us. We consider that this contract should not have been made as it has been ; and, so far as lies in our power, we shall endeavour to rectify matters.
.- I listened with interest to the statement just made by the Honorary Minister (Mr. Greene). Such a Contract as that entered into with the Meat Control Board of Sydney should not be allowed. No combine should be permitted to ignore the Commonwealth Government, and to enter into contracts direct with the Imperial authorities. On my way to the House this morning, I met a resident of the South Gippsland District, who told me that, just beyond Leongatha, the best rabbits are bringing only 5d. per pair in the skin, whereas they are retailed in Melbourne at ls. per pair, without the skins - and the skins to-day are worth at least 3d. each. The May skins are good winter skins, and should be worth more than the sum I have stated. I do not know whether the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) mentioned this, but I believe that both the Australian Workers Union, some of whose members are engaged in the rabbittrapping industry, and the hat manufacturers and employees, are desirous that the Commonwealth Government shall control the industry. Last year the Government made a profit of £308,000 out of it ; but I understand that skins that were bought here from the trappers at 2s. 4d. per lb. were sold in Great Britain for 12s. per lb., which was equal to 2s. od. a skin. Of course, if that price had kept up, it would have been impossible to continue making ordinary felt hats from fur. I am opposed to the Minister on many matters, but I believe that he is on the right lines in this instance. The Government should control the export of rabbit skins, so that those who are trapping the rabbits may get a fair deal. These latter are more likely to get a fair deal from the Government than from private individuals, who are not in business merely for the good of their health. I hope that negotiations with the British Government will be continued so that this Government may obtain full control of the industry.
– I should like to know from the Minister whether the New SoUth Wales Government is aiding and abetting the arrangements against which so much complaint is being made.
– 1 am unable to say.
– Have there been communications between this Government and the Government of New South Wales on the subject? It is most strange that, while the Commonwealth Government had sole charge of the business during the 1917’ season, the matter has been left with the New South Wales Government for the 1918 season.
– It is probable - though this is mere conjecture - that the 1917 arrangements were made through the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and that some other body - perhaps the Board of Trade - has acted independently this year without acquainting the Secretary of State for the Colonies of its action. I am sure that the British Government had no intention of ignoring the Commonwealth Government.
– I am sure that that is correct
– What hand is the New South Wales Government playing in this matter?
– A lone hand.
– It generally plays a lone hand, and tries to humiliate the Commonwealth Government. It will be a good thing if our Government can make satisfactory arrangements with the Imperial authorities, and I gather from what the Minister has said that when these understand what is being done, there will be no difficulty about renewing the old arrangement and cancelling the new contract. When I was closely associated with the rabbit export trade of Victoria, the exportation of rabbits and rabbit skins from this State was as great as from New South Wales, and it is therefore surprising to find that an arrangement has been made under which 500,000 out of a total of 600,000 crates of rabbits are to go from New South Wales and only 80,000 odd from Victoria. Rabbit flesh is becoming an important article of food, meat being very short even, in the United States.
– But the rabbit industry is a pestiferous one, and should be wiped out.
– Yet the rabbit trapper helps the land-owner considerably. The various State Governments are the greatest offenders in regard to the rabbit pest, because it is on Crown land that the rabbits breed freely, while private landowners are being heavily fined for not keeping down rabbits on their land. The rabbit industry, however, should not be controlled by a monopoly. The names mentioned this morning include those of some of the cutest men in the rabbit trade, who, of course, would endeavour to make such arrangements as would be most likely to swell their banking accounts. I hope that the present contract may be wiped out, and that the Commonwealth Government may take over the whole matter.
Question resolved in the negative.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
If he will afford the House an opportunity of discussing the question of the price-fixing of meat after the presentation of the Commission’s final report, and before a final decision is arrived at?
– I shall give consideration to the suggestion; but I cannot promise, as it is impossible at this stage to indicate the length of the sessional sittings.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What was the quantity o’f greasy and scoured wool exported during the twelve months ended 31st December, 1917, to each of the following countries, viz. : - (a) France, (b) Italy, (c) United States of America, (d) Russia, (e) Japan?
– For war reasons it is not considered advisable to publish this information, but I shall confer with the Minister for Trade and Customs, and the honorable member will be supplied with the information which he desires, for his own private use.
Speech by Mr. Wallace, M.H.R.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I have some information on the subject, but as I have not had an opportunity to confer with the Attorney-
General’s Department, I should like the question to be postponed until next week.
Insurance - Age Limit
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Mr. WEBSTER (for Mr. Wise).The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Leaving an apparent balance of 5s. 7d. per ton to meet interest on cost of sugar (surplus), estimated at 80,000 tons; depreciation in strength of sugar in stock; war risk insurance; insurance on raw sugar in -store; increased freight on refined sugar; extra costs caused by strikes. It is estimated that more than 5s. 7d. per ton will be required to meet the above items.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The High Commissioner was asked by cablegram to inquire and furnish particulars in respect of the report. A further cablegram has been sent asking whether any information is yet available. No reply has up to the present been received.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– I have not had an opportunity of looking into this question, but. will do so, and give an answer next week.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the necessity for increasing the revenue, consideration has been given to the increase likely to be created by imposing a war-time postage stamp of1d., in addition to the ordinary stamp?
– The matter has been receiving my close attention recently.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 2nd May, vide page 4372) :
Clause 2 (Amendment of Section 3).
– Last night the Minister for Home and Territories, in the absence of the Treasurer, informed the Committee that paragraph c of the proposed new definition of “ Income “ would not increase the taxation on co-operative companies or societies. If that assurance is repeated by the Treasurer it will avoid a lengthy debate upon the matter, because there are several honorable members who are anxious that the position shall be clearly stated.
– I am advised that the amendment does not increase the taxation on the societies to which the honorable member has referred, but as many tangled matters are dealt with in this Bill, and none of us can dogmatize finally upon them, I shall make quite sure of the matter before the Bill disappears from this Chamber.
– I would like to have an explanation in regard to paragraph b of the proposed new definition of income. I would like to know whether or not associations, such as the Caledonian Association, or St. George’s Society, or such bodies as farmers’ unions, will be included among those institutions which will be called upon to pay taxation on the subscriptions and entrance fees of members? It seems to me to be most inadvisable to include such organizations.
– I do not know that I can give a description which will be satisfactory to all honorable members of how far this provision reaches. It is primarily designed to meet a case recently decided by the High Court, affecting the Bohemian Club. It was ruled in that case that the profits or surplus income of the club were taxable, but that members’ subscriptions should not be included for the purpose of ascertaining the profits or surplus income. The Taxation Department held, with propriety, I consider, that if the surplus income of a club is taxed the income derived from members’ subscriptions should be included. Paragraph b will remedy the omission in the Act and give the Commissioner of Taxation power to include members’ subscriptions in assessing the profit or surplus income of a club. I admit that it is arguable whether we should tax these institutions or not, but if they are to be taxed at all the tax should apply to the whole of their profits or surplus income.
– A man’s subscription to a club is the residue of his income after he pays his income tax.
– The honorable member’s interjection opens up a fallacy which is visible in one of the articles appearing in this morning’s press. It is assumed that, because a man devotes portion of his income towards the facilities which a club affords, he is being taxed twice if the club is also taxed; but that argument holds good in regard to every bit of income. If a man earns £1,000 a year, and pays income tax on it, he pays out of his earnings to other people sums for services rendered to him or for commodities purchased by him, and what he pays out to other people is made the subject of taxation upon these other people. That is the inevitable effect of taxation wherever it is applied. Honorable members may say that some clubs should be taxed, and that others should not be. The paragraph in the proposed new definition includes them all broadly. I have had representations made to me from clubs claiming that they should be totally exempt. Surely honorable members will not say all the income of a beneficial but important organization, such as the Commercial Travellers’ Club, should be exempt. In the matter of bar takings that particular club undoubtedly competes with city businesses, which pay income tax on the sales of cigars and liquors. Why should not an institution which is called a club be subjected to the samekind of impost for revenue purposes when it is doing the same kind of business? Representations have been made to me that athletic associations, embracing football, golf, swimming, cricket, and bowling clubs, and also educational institutions, should be exempt, particularly if it can be clearly shown that they do not distribute dividends or profits among their members. I frankly admit that in dealing with such institutions we are on the border line of the question of what clubs should or should not be taxed.
-Will the Commissioner have any discretion in the matter?
– I cannot pronounce definitely on that point. I do not wish to give the Commissioner discretion except where it is absolutely necessary, and I say this without any disrespect to the Commissioner or his staff, which is doing its work with admirable fairness and effect; but the taxpayer is better satisfied if he is sure of his law, and is sure that options or discretions which are doubtful are not to be found in the Act. It is our purpose to make the measure as definite as we can. In this matter we do not disturb the existing law with regard to clubs; we simply give to the Commissioner a power which he thought he had but which the High Court said that he did not have, that is, to include members’ subscriptions in assessing the surplus income of clubs. Some honorable members have submitted that a club, not being promoted for profit but for a convenience of service, is a union of men who meet together with certain restrictions and rules in certain premises, those members agreeing to make up any deficit which may be shown in providing the service. The subscription is supposed to be paid in advance as the equivalent of a contribution to that anticipated deficit. I cannot accept that view. It is a very strange view. Men join clubs for something which they will get in the way of enjoyment, service, or convenience. The members agree to pay sums from f11s. to £12 12s. per annum, not to meet a deficit, but to finance the institution. If there is a profit on that basis of partnership or contract, it ought to be taxable on the broad general principle, which I hope honorable members will admit, however much they may desire now or later to argue for the exemption of certain clubs or associations.
– Would it not be possible to exempt subscriptions and entrance fees, leaving taxable the profits on the sale of food and so forth ?
– At the present time, under the decision of the High Court, the law is that subscriptions are exempt. We were under the impression that the old law made it possible to assess the whole income of the club in order to determine profits; but the protest of the Bohemian Club was upheld by the High Court, and the Commissioner is advised that he has no power, in assessing clubs, to include the subscriptions of members. It is those subscriptions, that we now desire to include.
– TheActing Prime Minister seems very emphatic in his reply, but I wonder whether the Commissioner has any way of distinguishing between co-operative and other associations. The ramifications of co-operative companies are very similar to those of ordinary companies, so much do they enter into general business life.’ In Victoria, there are some companies under the Provident Societies Act, and a greater number under the general Companies Act; and I should like to know whether there is any difference in the definition. Will this clause apply to all classes of companies, such as those who distribute groceries and dairy produce, and others which include “ co operative” as part and parcel of their title. These latter carry on business on much the same lines as do other companies, so that we find big private organizations working alongside such companies as the Western District Co-operative Company.
– I am advised by the Commissioner that it will make no difference in the mode of assessment, whether they are registered in one way or the other.
– Do you include all co-operative companies ?
– We are including them all for certain purposes.
Mr.KELLY (Wentworth) [12.48].- I dare say that the Acting Prime Minister gave the Committee the same information regarding the subscriptions and entrance fees of clubs that he gave me in good faith, namely, that he proposes only to tax the profits of those institutions.
– That is the effect of the amendment.
– It is not the effect of the amendment. I have inquired into this matter, and I find that the Department, by this little simple amendment, seeks to declare as income what the Court has declared to be not income but capital subscription, and insists on regarding as capital accretions to all upkeep outlays against that income. In the case of a cricket club, the size of the pavilion necessarily depends on the membership, and if the latter increases, so has the pavilion accommodation to be increased. By the proposed amendment, it is declared that every ounce of income received through the increased membership is to be taxable income, and the club is not allowed to deduct one penny of the money spent in increasing the accommodation.
– The issue is not now whether subscriptions shall be taxable.
– It is the vital issue.
– Not on the question before us, which depends on whether we are going to tax the surplus income or profits of a club, and not on whether or not subscriptions come in.
– If it is desired to include these capital subventions as income, the club must be allowed to deduct all capital expenditure to provide new accommodation, or to keep existing accommodation in running order. The Commissioner cannot have it both ways; in common fairness it must be one way or the other. The Court has held that subscriptions are additions to capital, and the judgment which I have read signifies that the same view is held in England, and, apparently, everywhere else. I have been supplied with an illustration, and although I am not in a position to five names, I have satisfied myself of the act that one club made an actual loss last year of £462, owing to the loss of members, mainly on service abroad. As a rule such losses are met by a call on the members, and in the case I am citing, in spite of this loss of £462, the club is called upon to pay £67 in income tax, because the Department will not allow, as an off-set against the subscriptions, the actual amount necessary to keep the club in going order.
Mr.Watt. - I take leave to say that that is not a good presentation of the issue.
– Is there no allowance for expenditure in increasing the furniture?
– If the membership is increased the furniture and accommodation must be increased, but the Commissioner will not allow any deduction on that account.
– Is not that an increase of assets?
– Of course it is; just as subscriptions are held by the Court to be an increase of capital.
– In private business, if a man increases his rolling-stock he is not allowed to write that expenditure off as a loss, but it is regarded as an addition to capital. Why not the same in the case of clubs?
– Exactly; and if a man to increase his rolling-stock raises fresh capital he is not charged additional income tax.
– It figures as additional
– The Court has held that anything in the way of subscriptions is an addition to capital, and not to the income.
– If this Bill becomes law the Court cannot hold that.
– The Court, which is not a partisan, takes the view I have indicated; and I believe that if the Acting Prime Minister were to ask his learned colleague (Mr. Glynn), the latter would tell him that is the actual position.
– That is as the Act is understood.
– Unless the Bill declares to be income something which the Court holds to be capital, it will remain capital.
– How can subscriptions be held to be additions to capital if you say that subscriptions are often to meet a deficit?
– It is not subscriptions, but special calls that are made to meet a loss.
– The tax will have to be paid on all.
– Quite so. If the desire is to tax a club really on its profits, a fictitious profit ought not to be created by an unfair manipulation of what is allowed as deductions.
– And let clubs pile up large assets?
– So long as clubs are increasing their accommodation to meet the membership, or so long as they are keeping in repair the accommodation for which the members provided by these yearly capital calls or subscriptions, the expenditure should be allowed as a deduction against the subscriptions which the Bill seeks to declare to be income, and which the Court has declared to be not income, in fact. The illustration afforded by the cricket club is unanswerable. The simplest way would be to observe the ruling of the Court, unless we differentiate between proprietary clubs and cooperative clubs.
– How would you deal in normal times with a flourishing racing club?
– It would depend on whether the club was proprietary or nonproprietary.
– I mean a genuine racing club.
– In any case, we are not in normal times; and this is a war tax. The Government cannot do what they propose unless they allow the deductions I have suggested.
– Not for permanent assets purchased - we cannot do that.
– Then I shall be reluctantly compelled to do everything I can to show how grossly unfair is the action taken, by the Government to reverse a just decision of the Court. We know that when a taxing Department, or any other Department, is beaten in the Courts it resents it; and while I have great respect for the gentleman at the “head of the Taxation Department - in whose services -the Commonwealth is very lucky - he, and those associated with him, are subject to the ordinary influences of human nature. It will be bad for the country if any Department, the moment it is beaten, may appeal to Parliament and secure a reversal of the decision of the Court.
– It depends on the equities. There is no sanctity in law after it has been altered.
– But you do not propose to make this alteration sacrosanct from now on ; the operation of the Bill is to date back prior to the time of the decision of the Court.
– That is another matter.
– A subsequent clause distinctly makes the Bill retrospective.
– When we come to that clause we shall deal with the question of retrospection.
– This reminds me of the “ thimble and the pea.”
– The law has now to be altered. If, on the equities, honorable members approve, well and good; and if not, well and good.
– The best course would be to allow the Minister to make these subscriptions income, and then, by amendment, endeavour to have the proper deductions made on that legalized income.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– As another illustration of the iniquity of the proposed amendment, I may mention a swimming club. Fifty or 100 men get together to form a swimming club, and they erect an enclosure to protect them from the sharks. In the course of time the piles rot, and must be replaced, or sheathed in copper. The Taxation Commissioner will tax the club for every penny of subscriptions, but will not allow any deductions for the expenditure on account of repairs or replacement. That is inequitable, and it seems to me that the Bill will create a great deal of dissatisfaction for a very small return. In a cricket club every bat bought with the subscriptions is a club asset, but that expenditure cannot be deducted from the taxable income. I suggest to the Treasurer that this proposal should be limited to proprietary clubs - clubs run by individuals in cooperation with other persons for purposes of profit.
– Would the honorable member include, all clubs?
– I would include all proprietary clubs, but ordinary cooperative institutions which are not run for profit should be exempt. The alteration I suggest would allow of the taxation of proprietary racing clubs, which are clubs only in name, and are in reality moneymaking institutions. Will the Treasurer accept an .amendment to insert the word “proprietary” before “club”? If he is not prepared to consider that point at this moment, I suggest the postponement of sub-paragraph b of paragraph e in order to allow of its further consideration.
– I am not unprepared to argue the point which the honorable member for Wentworth has so lucidly placed before the Committee, but if it will facilitate the consideration of other important issues, and lead to progress with the Bill, I have not the slighest objection to postponing the whole of clause 2 and proceeding with the other clauses in the Bill.
– Does the Treasurer propose to tax subscriptions to friendly societies ?
– No; they are specially exempt under the principal Act.
.- An honorable member mentioned yesterday the case of persons buying sheep off the shears, keeping them for ten. months, and then selling them with the lamb at foot. Any profit made on such a transaction is certainly income, but the Department regards the transaction as the sale of assets, and does not tax the profit.
– There is the tax on the increment, but not on the capital.
– I understand that the whole proceeds of such a sale are regarded by the Department as capital, and are not taxed.
– The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Falkiner) directed my attention yesterday to the point mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. I candidly confess that I was surprised to hear that the invariable practice of the Department is as was stated by the honorable member. It seems to me that the proceeds of such sales are a legitimate subject for income taxation, and I will confer with the Commissioner in regard to the matter before the Bill leaves this House.
.- I should like to bring under the notice of the Treasurer the position of the Sydney Trades Hall. The building is owned by the trade unions subject to a mortgage of £24,000 to the Commonwealth Bank. No profit is made from it, and there is no possibility of a profit being made for the next twenty-five years. The hall cannot be registered as a trade union, because there is no contribution. We are compelled to register it as a company, and we have had to pay taxation. It is the only hall that is taxed.
– Why have you had to pay taxation if there is no profit?
– Because owing to the fact of the hall being registered under the Companies Act the Commissioner has no power to exempt it from taxation. The Commissioner himself has no power to deal with this matter, which rests entirely with the Treasurer. I have no objection to the Bill, because I know that it is necessary we should secure additional revenue. I am content, therefore, to leave the matter in the hands of the Acting Prime Minister, who, I hope, will consider my representations.
– I will confer with the Commissioner of Taxation upon the matter.
.- Before the clause is postponed I wish to direct the attention of the Treasurer to the practice of the Department in regard to income derived from property. I think that any income from property that is spent upon rabbit destruction, which is a national benefit, should be allowed as a deduction from the owner’s taxable income. At the present moment, if a landowner chooses to fool away, say, £400 a year upon the poison cart, he is allowed to deduct that expenditure from his taxable income. But if, on the other hand, he decides to thoroughly eradicate the pest in one year, either by ploughing in, or digging out, the warrens, the expenditure which he thus incurs is not treated in the same way. It is regarded as expenditure upon an improvement. As a matter of fact, the eradication of the pest does not constitute an improvement, because the land-owner, by so acting, is merely maintaining the income-producing capacity of his land. For this reason I claim that any expenditure upon rabbit destruction should be allowed as a deduction from a land-owner’s taxable income. The present practice of the Department is an absolutely vicious one.
.- I should like to see co-operative societies exempted from the provisions of this Bill. Upon the Barrier we have a co-operative society which deals in various commodities, and which was established primarily for the purpose of reducing the cost of living to the consumers there. In connexion with this matter I received a communication from the Barrier district of the Political Labour League some time ago - a copy of which was forwarded to the Prime Minister - in which that body demanded “ that immediate action be taken by the Federal Government against the ever-increasing cost of commodities in Broken Hill.”
– Was it a “ demand “ or a “request”?
– A demand. I may add that the principal cause of the industrial unrest in Broken Hill is the enormous increase which has taken place there in the cost of living. Upon the occasion of my last visit to that centre, I had a list drawn up for me by the managers of one of the business concerns there, in which the prices that obtained for commodities in March, 1918, were contrasted with the prices that obtained in May, 1916 - two years after the outbreak of war. That list comprises every day articles which are used by the men and women on the Barrier.
– The honorable member must connect his remarks with the motion for the postponement of this clause.
– I wish to see cooperative societies exempted from the operation of this Bill.
– Co-operative stores are competing stores. They compete with other businesses.
– Nothing of the kind. The co-operative society at Broken Hill was established for the purpose of reducing the cost of the necessaries of life. If this institution be taxed it will only impose an additional hardship upon the people.
– Why cannot it reduce its prices so that it does not make a profit ?
– Because the retailers in Broken Hill have to sell at the prices which are fixed by the wholesalers. The honorable member knows that as well as I do, and perhaps a good deal better. Co-operative societies are established primarily for the purpose of making,the conditions of life easier for the people, andconsequently they ought not to come under the provisions of this measure.
– Why should they noil?
– Because they have no real income.
– I have said that the industrial unrest in Broken Hill is mainly due to. the high cost of the necessaries of life-.
– Some of these societies charge more than do the businesses which deal with them. The honorable member knows that unionists are obliged to deal with them.
– There is no compulsion on any man in Broken Hill to deal with a particular store. There has never been, except in strike time, when coupons. have been distributed.
– There has been in ordinary times.
– Do not co-operative societies divide their profits amongst their customers ?
– Yes, when there are any profits to divide. My point is that under this clause an added burden will be imposed upon the people of the Barrier. The prices which, with your permission, sir, I propose quoting, go to show the necessity of exempting from the provisions of this measure all co-operative societies that materially reduce the cost of living to the workers.
– The honorable member cannot do more at ,this stage than give reasons why the clause should not be postponed, as proposed, by the Treasurer.
– I do not wish to object to the postponement of the clause ; but, as I may not be here when its consideration is resumed, I wish to make a few observations in favour of the exemption of co-operative so cx6 1 16 s
– The -honorable member cannot do so at this stage, as the question before the Chair is that the clause be postponed.
Clauses 3 to 14 agreed to.
Clause 15 (Special deduction).
– I desired to deal with clause 14, but the business is being pushed through so rapidly that one has no time to compare the clauses of this Bill with the sections of the principal Act which they are designed to amend.
– I will consider the question of recommitting clause 14 later on.
– Will that promise hold good also in regard to clause 12. I have the greatest objection to mining companies which reduce their output as the price of their product increases, being dealt with as proposed in that clause.
– If the honorable member will give me later on a good reason for recommitting clause 12, 1 shall consider it.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 16 (Amendment of section 20).
.- I know that the object of a Government at all times is to have its measures passed as quickly as possible, but our experience is that the hasty passing of legislation frequently necessitates an amendment of the law. The Treasurer gave us a full and elaborate exposition of the principles of this Bill when moving that it be read a second time, and his speech has since been made available to honorable members. But it is quite impossible, when clause after clause is hurriedly passed, to compare the Bill with the principal Act, and so to gather the effect of the proposed amendments.
– We hardly have time to breathe, let alone pick up anything.
– Our object is to tax those who are picking up income, and to tax them fairly. I understand that it is desired by honorable members that one or two clauses already dealt with shall be recommitted, and I believe the Treasurer will have no objection to that.
– I wish to express my surprise that we have made such rapid progress with the Bill. When we adjourned for lunch, we were at clause 2, and now, within less than three-quarters of an hour of the resumption of proceeding, we have reached clause 16. I had intended to call the attention of the Treasurer to the provisions of clause 12, which are of very considerable importance to citizens of “Western Australia. I understand that the Treasurer has offered to recommit that clause.
– I do not desire to give any general promise, but I have already undertaken to consider a request to recommit clause 14. In reply to the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Falkiner) I said that if proper representations were made to me, I would also consider the recommittal of clause 12.
.- I have much pleasure in suggesting to the Treasurer that clause 12 be also recommitted. I discussed a matter with him this morning before the Bill came under consideration–
The ACTING CHAIRMAN (Mr. Charlton). - Clause 12 has already been passed. If the honorable member desires its recommittal it will be necessary for him to move in that direction when the Bill is reported to the House.
– I will discuss the matter with the honorable member later.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 17 (Amendment of section 21).
– Section 21 of the principal Act deals with the setoff of- losses against profits generally where a taxpayer carries on one or more businesses.
.- May I suggest to the Treasurer that, instead of simply allowing a taxpayer to deduct the loss he makes on one business from the profit he makes on another, it would be much fairer to have a continuous balance-sheet? The Income Tax Commissioner has our balance-sheets from one year to another, and if we make a loss one year we should be allowed to carry it forward and set it off against any profit in the subsequent year, as we do in our ordinary business. If a man makes a huge loss one year and a small profit the next year, it may place him in great difficulty to call on him to pay income tax on that profit, which, in many cases, especially with, primary producers, is purely a book profit, the income not being realized. Now that taxation is becoming so heavy, the Treasurer might give attention to that suggestion.
– I thank the honorable member for the suggestion, but ‘at this particular time, reaching out for better equity and more money, as we are doing now and shall do shortly, I do not want to listen to suggestions involving any large release of current revenue. The honorable member urges a counsel of perfection when he advocates an income tax system which would look backwards and forwards at every assessment.
– Would not the same suggestion apply to personal exertion?
– It might be argued that if a man was unemployed in one year, and had a good year the next, he should be allowed to set one off aganist the other. I do not know any country in the world that has adopted that system.
– Why not do what tha members of the Opposition say they do - make precedents?
– I should ask the Committee to make it if I thought it would lead to a better system or better revenue. While it might lead to an improvement that would be appreciated by the community, the sacrifice of revenue would probably be very large.
– Then why not put on a higher rate?
– I can assure my honorable friend that he will get that, too, later on, and not as* a substitute for anything that is being done now. If we can get the principles of assessment placed in a healthy condition, as we are attempting in this Bill, the rate questions will come up next year, the finances for this year having already been settled by the Budget. I ask the honorable member to accept the wording of the clause as more equitable under the present law.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 18 (Ship charterers; amendment of section 22).
.- Under section 22 of the principal Act every person whose principal place of business is out of Australia, and who, either as owner or charterer of any ship, carries passengers, live stock, mails, or goods shipped in Australia, must by his agent in Australia make a return of the full amount payable to him, whether in or beyond Australia, for the carriage of such passengers, live stock, mails, or goods, and the agent is assessed and liable to pay tax on 5 per cent. of the amount so payable. I understand that this clause substitutes 10 per cent. for 5 per cent. of the value of the freight.
– No; he was assessed oh 5 per cent. of the net profit. This clause makes it 10 per cent.
– Is it not on the freight?
– No; it is always on the profit.
– And the Government are now taking double?
– I do not object.
Clauses 19 to 23 agreed to.
Section thirty-three of the principal Act is amended by adding at the end of sub-section (2) thereof the following proviso: - “ Provided that where the alteration in the assessment is due to an application by the taxpayer no refund shall be given if the application has not been made within two years after the payment of the tax.”
Previously there was no time limit in the case of an application for a refund. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) argued on the second reading that it was not fair to limit the right of the taxpayer to a refund to two years when the Income Tax authorities had the right to go back as far as they liked to recover arrears of tax. I admit that very few people overpay, and that is borne out by my. experience in the Customs Department; but I do not see much advantage in imposing a time limit of two years, nor am I at all sure that we are going on right lines.
– Is it a fact that disputed claims have been in the Taxation Office for more than three years ? It has been stated that it is exceedingly difficult to obtain a resolution of some of the claims sent into the Taxation Department, and that these are hung up for an unconscionable time. Will this limitation debar from redress persons whose claims have not been determined, not because of their fault, but because of the delay of officials.
– It is the application that must be made within two years, not the payment.
– The Commissioner informs me that so far as he knows it is not correct that there is a large number of arrears in the office. He speaks, of course, with complete knowledge of the business of the head office. There may be a few difficult cases still unsettled in New South Wales, but they do not go back so far as 1916, when the income tax was first imposed. Attempts have recently been made by the administration to catch up with all the arrears, and considerable progress towards that end has been made in most of the States.
– As I read the clause it is the period within which application for a refund must be made that is limited to two years.
– That is the effect of the proposed addition to the original section, which provides that when an alteration in an assessment has the effect of reducing the taxpayers liability, the Commissioner may refund any sum that has been overpaid. What is desired is finality in regard to applications for refunds.
.- The honorable member for Kooyong has complained of the iniquity of limiting taxpayers to two years in the matter of refunds, while the Government may go back as far as it likes to collect what is due to it. My view is that we should give others the treatment that we insist upon getting from them. If taxes have been wrongfully collected, or there has been an overpayment, the taxpayer should be able to get redress after any period. This provision may have been copied from one in the Customs Act, which limits exportation in certain cases for a period of three years.
– I have pointed out that the clause is one-sided, as the taxpayer can obtain redress only within a period of two years, whereas the Government may go back twenty years. I suggest that we should follow the South Australian Act in this particular, and make the period three years.
– The Conference of Taxation Commissioners agreed to the two years’ limitation.
– That isnot final. Three years would be a fair compromise.
Amendment (by Mr. Watt) proposed -
That the word “ two “, line 8, be left out, with a view to the insertion of the word “ three “.
– I understand that if the amendment is carried taxpayers will not be able to get a refund of an overpayment if more than three years have elapsed before they discover that they have overpaid.
– The object of the provision is to limit the period within which applications for refunds may be made.
– The Statute of Limitations applying to private debts has a period of six years.
– The man who does not discover his rights within three years is not likely to wake up at all.
– Injustice might be inflicted which could only be discovered by the decision of a Court, or in some other way after three years. However, as the money will go into the public Treasury, perhaps no great harm will be done.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 25 agreed to.
Section 41 of the principal Act is amended by adding thereto the following sub-section: - “(3) Whenever the Commissioner has reason to believe that any taxpayer establishing or carrying on business in Australia intends to carry on such business for a short time only, ho may at any time and from time to time require the taxpayer to give security by way of bond or deposit or otherwise to the satisfaction of the Commissioner for the due return of and payment of income tax on the income derived from the business.”
.- Surely a definite sum, or some percentage of the approximate income, should be stated as the amount of security provided for in the proposed new sub-section.
.- The object of the proposed new sub-section is to provide for the taxation of visiting theatrical and musical artists and business people, who, I presume, will be taxed on their earnings here at the rate which would apply to them were they resident in Australia.
– And security is demanded to prevent them from absconding without paying their tax.
– The clause does not say the amount.
– It is impossible to say the amount. It has to bear a relation to the expected profits.
– Quite so.
– The Commissioner of Taxation can better determine that than we could in any clause of this Bill. Cases have occurred where persons have visited Australia for a brief period, have made substantial sums of money, and have sometimes left the country without paying any taxation. In some cases, after much trouble, such persons have been compelled to pay. A provision of this kind has been included in the law of Tasmania for some years, and. has worked satisfactorily. It is now recommended for the careful consideration of the Governments of all the States and of the Commonwealth by the Taxation Commissioners’ Conference. I think we can leave the discretion provided for in the clause to the Commissioner of Taxation with complete confidence.
.- After listening to the Treasurer’s remarks I think there should be a definite percentage of the approximate income stated. The clause is too wide as it reads at present.
– How could that be done? It is impossible to say what the rate of taxation would be.
– As the person is carrying on business in Australia the Taxation Department should have some idea of the income from that business.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 27 -
Section 43 of the principal Act is amended by omitting from the proviso thereto the words “The Commissioner shall furnish to the Treasurer annually for presentation to Parliament, a report of all such remissions with a statement of the reasons therefor.”
– Perhaps the Treasurer will give the Committee some reason for the omission of these words.
– It is regarded as improper to furnish publicly, as the original section required, such information as this. We took a similar course, when dealing with the War-time Profits Tax Bill, to prevent what Parliament has sought to prevent in connexion with many taxation measures, namely, the giving of publicity to the private affairs of individuals, whether defaulters or not.
– This provision is the same as that in the War-time Profits Tax Act?
– In this respect, yes.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 28 to 31 agreed to.
Clause 32 -
After section fifty of the principal Act the following sections are inserted: - “ 50a. - ( 1 ) In any case where any taxpayer employed by or receiving a pension from any person, local authority, corporation, board, commission, or body has in any year failed to pay the income tax payable by him within sixty days after he has been required to pay the same pursuant to the provisions of this Act, the Commissioner may declare such person, local authority, corporation, board, commission or body to be the agent of such taxpayer so far as respects the income by way of earnings, salary, wages, allowances, pension, or stipend paid or allowed by him or it to the taxpayer. “ (2) The Commissioner may give notice to such agent setting forth the fact that the taxpayer has failed to pay the tax payable by him, and requiring the agent to pay the same on behalf of the taxpayer. “ (3) The agent shall thereupon deduct and retain from time to time out of the earnings, salary, wages, allowances, pension, or stipend respectively payable by him to the taxpayer so much as is sufficient to pay the income tax, and shall pay the same in pursuance of this Act; and for any default in so doing the agent shall be liable, in addition to the tax, to a penalty not exceeding Five pounds. “(4) For the purposes of this section tax ‘ includes ‘ additional tax’ required to be paid in accordance with this Act. “ 50b. Where the Commissioner is of opinion that a person in receipt of income is liable to pay tax and that it is difficult to ascertain the whereabouts of that person or to collect the tax from him, the Commissioner may require any person making payments to that person -
to deduct from any payment which is or will become due to that person such an amount as will be sufficient to pay the income tax which the Commissioner may assess to be paid by that person; and
to pay the amount to the Commissioner forthwith.”
.- This clause makes provision for the collection of an employee’s income tax by his employer. It is one of the greatest innovations ever proposed in connexion with a taxation measure. I am not averse to treading new ground, or to the creation of a precedent; but, to give an employer the right to withhold moneys due to an employee in order to secure the payment of the employee’s income tax, is throwing upon the employer the responsibility for doing work which should be done by the Taxation Department.
– The employer is not obliged to do it.
– He will be obliged to do itunder this clause.
– Not unless he holds the money.
– He may be obliged, under this clause, to see that every one of his employees pay his income tax.
– Only if the Commissioner of Taxation asks him to do so.
– Just so, and immediately this measure is passed the Commissioner of Taxation may issue an instruction to every employer throughout the Commonwealth to hold sufficient moneys due to his employees to cover the payment of their income tax.
– No. Where an employee has failed to pay his income tax, the Commissioner of Taxation may go to his employer and say, “ I want you to collect this man’s income tax.”
– It is like a garnishee order.
– Yes, it is.
– It is a much more summary method than that provided by a garnishee order.
– A man must go to a Court to obtain a garnishee order.
– This is better than proceedings in a Court.
– How is it better? The Government in this clause are throwing upon the employer the responsibility of collecting income tax due by his employees. That is not a proper provision from the employees’ point of view, nor is it fair to the employer. I had some experience of a somewhat similar provision when I was in charge of the Department of Trade and Customs. In order to obtain the bonus granted by Parliament in aid of certain industries, employers had to comply with certain conditions and to pay certain rates of wages. The Minister had no authority to pay the bonus until he was satisfied that the conditions were fulfilled. It was found in a great many cases that the conditions were not complied with.
– In connexion with the sugar industry.
– Perhaps I should have mentioned that this arose particularly in connexion with the sugar industry, although similar provisions applied to the payment of bonuses in other industries. “Workers in the sugar industry are somewhat nomadic, and when they leave their employment it is often difficult to trace them. The employers could not obtain the bonus until they had paid their men the standard.rates of wages, and in some cases the Department had to deduct the wages due to workers, and was then unable to trace them. Under sub-section 3 of the proposed new section 50a an employer may be required to deduct from the wages due to an employee an amount sufficient to pay the income tax due by the employee. “What would happen if the employer retained more than was necessary to pay the tax ? I think that this is a clause which the Committee should not pass. “We should let the Taxation Department do its own work. There are proper Courts to which the Department can apply where income tax is not paid, and we should not require an employer, who may be compelled by an Act of Parliament to pay an employee a stipulated rate of wages, to retain any part of those wages to cover the payment of income tax.
.- While the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) was speaking, it occurred to me that this clause may give rise to confusion in the case of institutions employing large staffs, and making provision for superannuation and other such funds. I should like the Treasurer to say whether a provident or superannuation fund of such institutions would be regarded as a fund from which money might be deducted for the payment of income tax due by employees.
.- The clause is objectionable, because it amounts, not only to an act of garnishee, but also to an act of garnishee without judgment having been previously obtained. The power which is vested in the
Commissioner of Taxation to seize this fund without any proof, according to the ordinary standards of proof of debt, that the money is due, is not only unfair to the person against whom the claim is made, it is also unfair to the employer. He is naturally under the constant necessity of seeing that hia employee pays, and is always under the apprehension that he may get into trouble if the amount is not paid. Is it a fair thing to hold that an employee is justly indebted until bis debt has been proved in the ordinary way? If I furnish a return and do not pay my tax, judicial proceedings are taken against me in order . to establish the right of the Commissioner .to seize my goods; but here no such procedure is necessary; the Commissioner simply says, “ The money is due, and I am going to take it from the agent, as I have the power to penalize him if he does not pay.” The usual procedure is for garnishee orders to follow a judgment of a Court, but we have an inversion of that procedure when it is proposed to make the seizure before establishing the proof of debt.
.- If any individual does not pay his tax by a certain date proceedings are taken against him by the Commissioner, and if an employee does not pay his tax within sixty days he is in the same position. I do not think that the clause is aimed at the employee any more than it does at tie ordinary taxpayer.
.- I object’ to the Commissioner having the power to seize the wages belonging to an employee, or the power to authorize an employer to seize an employee’s wages. If we concede this power to one Department, we shall have all other branches of the Service adopting the same procedure.
– It is simply an act of garnishee.
– A garnishee is’ obtained by civil process; but, as the honorable member for Batman has pointed out, this clause aims at direct action. In New South Wales garnishee proceedings were introduced into the Industrial Arbitration Act. If a ‘ man committed a breach of the Act, the garnishee order of the Government was the first charge on his wages;but that order could only be obtained after civil process.
– Because the debt had not been proved to be due. In this case the Commissioner has the power to say that the money is due, and then he garnishees it.
– I object to giving the employer the right to make any deduction from the wages of an employee whom the Commissioner may say is liable for the payment of the tax.
– This provision does not interfere with the right of the taxpayer to sue for the recovery of any amount which has been improperly deducted from his wages.
– An employee should not be put to the expense of recoveringby legal process anything taken from him illegally. This provision is on a par with the attitude that the honorable member’s party have assumed in regard to the War Precautions Regulations, which place on the individual the onus of proving his innocence, when the usual practice in British countries is for a man to be deemed to be innocent until he is proved to be guilty.
– In this case we are dealing with a pretty fleet individual, who is evading the Commissioner of Taxation.
– I do not care how slick the individual may be, Iobject to any Government Department having, the power, by arrangement with an employer, to deduct anything from an employee’s wages. There is nothing to prevent an employer making deductions from an employee’s wages and telling him that so much has been deducted for payment of income tax. I object to the employers being utilized as policemen. I object to employers interfering with wages received for work done by their employees. I object to giving the opportunity to unscrupulous employers to deduct amounts from the wages of workers who are travelling throughout Australia.
– That system is in vogue in Great Britain.
– I do not care if it is. We are dealing with this matter from our point of view, and not that of the Imperial Government. If they have adopted what we regard as an improper system, there is no reason why we should follow them.
– But members of your party were quoting the Imperial Government a good deal yesterday.
– But we were then referring to their lapse from grace, and allowing how far the Imperial Government had departed from the traditions of the British race. The principle contained in the clause would be a bad precedent to establish, because it would place in the hands of unscrupulous employers - and I suppose honorable members opposite will not deny that there are unscrupulous employers - a power by means of which they might bamboozle employees, and make certain deductions from their wages.
– But before doing that they would have to produce their authority.
– It is quite possible that some workmen would accept a statement from their employers that a communication had been received from a Taxation Department instructing them to deduct portion of wages in payment of income tax. From the working-class point of view, the principle is objectionable and I should think that the employers themselves have no desire to be placed in the position of agents for the Taxation Department.
.- I have no wish to make any digression upon unscrupulous employers and so on, but I have had some experience of human nature, and have found that both the employer and the employee are, as a rule, pretty full of original sin. I have been “ had “ by both. In regard to the clause under discussion, I do not think that the ordinary employer has any desire to undertake the duty of collecting the tax. Let the departmental officials, if they can ascertain the whereabouts of a taxpayer, collect the tax direct, and not lay the duty upon the employer. The obvious objection to this course is that by the time the Department finds out where a taxpayer is employed, and sends a notice along, the employ ee - bearing in mind the short stay which they usually make with employers nowadays - would probably be gone. The ordinary employer has no desire to undertake this job. I admit, of course, that the nomadic instincts of a certain section of the workers causes a large amount of trouble to the Department. Some of these men change their names more often than they do their coats; with every job they take they have a new name, but this is the responsibility, not of the ordinary employer, but of the Department, and the Department should shoulder it.
.- I think paragraph 3 of the proposed new clause will have a very far-reaching effect. It will establish a precedent which, to my mind, cannot be regarded as equitable. I do not think any honorable member can contend that it is right to ask an employer of labour to deduct wages from an employee who may be in default with his income- tax payments. Icannot, for one moment, understand why the Department could not take action against a defaulting taxpayer by the ordinary process of law.
Lord Forrest. - They cannot catch him; he changes his name.
Mr. CHARLTON. _ A taxpayer charged with default should have an opportunity of defending himself; and I am not going to accept the statement that defaulters cannot be found in this country, because, as a rule, they are traced easily enough. I cannot imagine that this clause will apply to anybody but the working men, and I quite agree with the honorable member who preceded me that employers do not wish to have this duty cast upon them. In fact, if we compel employers to collect the tax, I can f oresee the time when, if a man asks for employment, his prospective employer will say to him, “ Have you paid your income tax?” If the man says, in reply, “I am not quite sure if I paid last year’s tax,” the employer will say, ““Well, you cannot get employment here, because I do not want to be obliged to deduct money from your wages.” Let us consider, also, what would be the position in cases where men are paid by results. It may be simple enough for an employer whose men are on a weekly wage to deduct a certain amount each week; but where a number of men are’ paid by results, in, say, metalliferous mines, or in coal-mining districts, it would be very awkward for the employer to deduct so much money from the ‘varying amounts due to different men.’
– Another set of books would be required.
– It would cause a good deal ‘of trouble, and certainly would not lead to good fellowship, and
I am very much afraid it would interfere with employment of men in the mining industry. The Minister in charge would be well advised to eliminate the clause. I cannot see any insuperable difficulty inthe way of collecting money due for income tax by the ordinary process. Indeed, unless this course is adopted, the men charged with being defaulters will not have a chance of proving whether they are in debt to the Department or not. Excellent though the officers of the Department may be, they are capable of making mistakes ; and as many workmen are not accustomed to filling in income tax forms - the procedure being quite new - and as many of them do not know at the end of the year whether they have earned sufficient to bring them within the provisions of the income tax, difficulties are likely to arise if employers are required in certain instances to deduct money from amounts due to their employees. When a return is sent in by an employer showing the number of employees and their earnings per year, the Income Tax Commissioner may see the case of two men working together, and receiving £320 between them. The Commissioner discovers that one of the men has not sent in a return, and comes to the conclusion that half of the £320 has been earned by him, because the two men are described as working mates. When one of the men does not send in a return,- the Commissioner after a time writes and informs him that his income has been assessed at so much, although that man may not have been working for half the year, or may have been in hospital, with the result that his earnings may be only £74. However, because of the return from the employer, which the latter is bound to send in, the Commissioner has to take steps to recover. The man involved may be illiterate, and not know what to do, and if he seeks employment elsewhere, his new employer is directed by the Commissioner to deduct from his wages the 10s. or £1 said to be due as income tax.
– The man has had an opportunity to check the amount.
– Not at all. The result is that this money is deducted from the man’s wages, and, probably, an injustice done by the collection of money to which the Commissioner is not entitled. As I say, the employer cannot help himself, because, under penalty, he has to send in a return. Let me state a case in point. A few weeks ago,’ a man came to my house, and informed me that he was in trouble because he had not sent in a return to the Commissioner. In answer to inquiries, he said that he might have earned over £156, working as he did for a daily wage of lis. a day, and, as it turned out, he had earned just a trifle over. But he had four children under the age of sixteen, and he had not sent in a return, believing that he was not taxable; and the result was that the Commissioner assessed him without any return. Such mistakes are bound to-be made, and the Commissioner, of course, is not to blame.
Lord Forrest. - If something is not done, people will not send in returns this year, or the year after.
– Once it is shown to be necessary to send in returns, people will take care that returns are furnished. This, it must be remembered, is a new process, which places both the employer and employee in a wrong position. The Taxation Department ought to take the responsibility of proving that a person is indebted; and that cannot be done if this clause is allowed to pass as it is drafted. I feel sure that the provision, if accepted, will prove to the detriment of working men; and although I hope that the Minister will see the necessity for an amendment without any formal action, I move -
That sub-clause 3 be omitted from tlie proposed new clause 50a.
.- In my opinion the two or three previous speakers have altogether magnified the position,_ particularly the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton). According to the Act there is a clear method of proof of liability, and there can be no question of liability after a certain time, whether it be the case of a working man, or of a business man. Notice is sent out. and sixty days are allowed in which- an appel may be made, as set forth in the clause. The liability is created before the taxpayer is called on at all, and the same law applies to the whole of the community. “ On both sides of the House there are many advocates of a social insurance scheme, under which provision would be made for the deduction of the premiums by the employer from the wages of his employees, and the clause before us presents only a modified form of the immense amount of bookkeeping that would be necessary under such a scheme.
– Does the honorable member regard income ^taxation as a social reform ?
– Do not confuse two issues: Employers have ‘ undertaken a much more difficult task in connexion with the recent war loans. Right throughout the community employers have appealed to employees to subscribe to these loans, with a provision for the periodic deduction of the subscriptions from wages. There seems to me, to be no real difficulty in* the business, and while there have been general statements from honorable members opposite as to the liability thrown on employers, it is forgotten that that liability exists only in respect of the employee who is a defaulter. We may assume that the great body of taxpayers will themselves see to the payment of the tax, and the only man with whom we are now concerned is the man who has become an actual defaulter by process of law.
– You’ have left out one stage, and that is the procedure by which the money is finally recovered.
– That is a detail. I remind the honorable member that if it were necessary for the Commissioner to proceed in a civil Court, he could, on a judgment, garnishee the wages of a defaulting taxpayer. Under the Bill, for the purpose of conserving the revenue, an obligation is thrown on both the employer and employee, and I cannot see how any injustice can be done.
– In the case I quoted, the man had to pay 25s. before he could appeal.
– Surely there is ah obligation to either pay or appeal ?
– But the man is not a taxpayer - that is the trouble.
– That does not affect the matter at all. If he got an assessment he had recourse to law, of which he did ‘not avail himself. All he had to do was to lodge his appeal, or make a personal statement, supported by affidavit. Honorable members opposite seem to be concerned solely about the defaulter, who will neither take the trouble to lodge a return, nor interview the taxingmaster within the time allowed. I cannot see that any reasonable objection can be taken to the clause. I would like the Minister to answer the point I raised previously, that is, whether funds specially created for such purposes as superannuation will be liable for payments in the ordinary way that current salary would be. Such funds as that which I have indicated are created, and they pass out, for the time being, from the control even of the employer, and are specially invested by trustees for superannuation purposes later on.
– Such funds cannot be touched, because the payments would be appropriated to something else, and could not be due, therefore, by the employer. All he could levy on would be payments directly due by him, and for that reason in clause 3 reference is made to “earnings, salary, wages, allowances, pensions, or stipends.” That would exclude payments of the class to which the honorable member refers.
– With respect to some funds there are allowances made by the employer as well as the deductions from the employee’s wages.
– Yes, but any payments allotted according to some scheme, such as is provided for earlier in the Act, would be in the nature of obligations. This is only to cover moneys not paid to the employee which would otherwise be due to him. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) mentioned that he considered it unfair that we should takethe whole of those payments when we had not really found out whether they were due or not. The same applies to all garnishee payments. All one can do is to try to garnishee moneys due. It is the same principle. It saves expense. The Commissioner of Taxation, of course, must exercise a liberal discretion in relation both to employees and employers. He must not give notice and proceed against them for not paying up, because if he did that the payments might be challenged, and it is the duty of every administrator to avoid litigation. I may say that I am speaking now as a politician, and not as a lawyer.
– Much has been made of the argument that a grave hardship will be inflicted by this clause upon the employees. So far as I am concerned, the clause, as a whole, is not acceptable from any stand-point. Probably it will be resented as much by the employer as by the employee, because it will be a disagreeable task for the former to have to make deductions from wages. The clause is inserted, however, to meet a very serious difficulty - one which has occasioned considerable thought on the part of the Minister and the Commissioner of Taxation, owing to the vast number of men who, unhappily, shirk their responsibilities, and refuse to send in their returns. And it does not pay to pursue such persons, either. The clause under discussion is devised, therefore, to make them shoulder their responsibilities. The first thing is that the employee has to be served. He is not to be judged liable without notice. If he is wrongly charged he has the right to make representations to the Commissioner of Taxation. He may resort to appeal, but he will not be adjudged as owing the money without notice; it will not be deducted from his wages without notice having been given. He has, in fact, the fullest opportunity of appeal. This does not refer to a case in which notice has not been actually served. Then, if a person remains in default for 60 days, notice is given to the employer, and on him is imposed the disagreeable task of making a deduction.
– Why is it that the employee should be the only person deprived of his right, with the ultimate result of being sued, and of having to defend a claim, under this clause?
– There is a degree of difference, by reason of the daily experience of the Commissioner of Taxation, who states that it is almost impossible to trace hundreds of people. This is the only means of collecting the money, because such persons, in vast numbers, deliberately refuse to pay. The provision here is intended to make them face their responsibilities. The principle is practically the same as that of garnishee. The clause only partially meets the difficulty . in which the Commissioner is placed in respect of persons who refuse to send in returns, and who cannot be traced at all. I refer particularly to the nomadic section of the community. As for the British law, there is no such provision, I believe; but there is provision adopting the same principle so far as insurance is concerned. That is both under the German and the British law. It is a matter of throwing on the employer the responsibility of making deductions for contributions to funds.
– Yes; but those funds are controlled by the employers’ organization in Germany.
– It is a system of compulsory insurance. I am referring only to the principle. As for this clause, I do not like it; yet it is a matter of grim necessity.
Censorship: Deportation of Italians - Unemployment at Lithgow - Recruiting Conference Agreement - Case of Private Tom Whitton - Repatriation: Medical Examination - Country Racing Clubs - Mr. J. H. Catts and Senator Pearce.
Motion (by Mr. Glynn) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I ask the Government to reconsider the matter of the censorship. I find that the press of Melbourne did not publish to-day a single word concerning the discussion that took place in the House yesterday about the deportation of Italians, and I have the best of reasons for believing that the Censor instructed the press to make no mention of the matter. I read papers from England and America, and I assure honorable members that in those countries there is nothing like the restriction upon the pressthat is imposed in Australia. We are keeping the people in the dark, and no good military purpose is served thereby. A great deal of unrest and disturbance is occasioned in the community by the manner in which the censorship is conducted; and no one can persuade me that the Minister for Defence knows nothing about what is being done. I believe that he, in the absence of the Prime Minister, is responsible for the censorship. I sincerely hope that the Government will look into the matter.
– On Wednesday I promised the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) that I would obtain a reply to a question he asked in regard to unemployment at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. I am now in a position to supply the following answer : -
Two of the four barrel-setters whose absence from work was the means of rendering most of the employees idle have returned to duty on conditions laid down by the manager. With the assistance of these men and two setters who remained loyal to the Department, together with other men who are being trained in barrelsetting, arrangements have been made for a resumption of work. It is unlikely, however, that the same number of men will be employed as existed before the strike, the reason for this being that the satisfactory position of Australia in regard to supply of rifles renders it possible to abolish the greater part of the second shift. This has also been made possible by the bringing into use of the duplicate plant ordered some time ago, and by improved methods introduced from time to time. In accordance with the policy of the Government, preference to returned soldiers and to men ineligible for active service is being given effect to. When these have been exhausted, then preference will be given to married eligibles. It is unlikely that any positions will be available for single eligibles formerly employed, with the exception, perhaps, that certain men possessing special qualifications will have to be retained for the time being, until returned soldiers competent to fill their places are available.
It cannot be expected, however, that there will be a wholesale resumption of work, as it takes time, after a prolonged disruption and reorganization now being effected, before all the men required can be started at their work. It is a gradual process, but every effort is being made to employ the maximum at the earliest possible moment.
The Minister does not see how it can be alleged that victimization is being practised, seeing that the manager is re-engaging men in accordance with the policy of. the Government, which is that returned soldiers and persons ineligible for active service abroad arc to receive preference over others.
The honorable member for Cook (Mr. J. H. Catts) asked me to-day to ascertain from Senator Pearce the publication to which he referred when he said that the honorable member had quoted from a pro-German journal, published in the United States before that country entered the war. The Minister has informed me that he was referring to the honorable member’s quotation from the Chicago Tribune, and he assumed from the nature of the quotation that that journal was pro-German, as no person loyal to the Allied cause would try to create distrust and dissension among the Allies. He finds that he was in- error in saying that the quotation had been published before America, entered the war.
– The state of affairs indicated by the reply of the Honorary. Minister regarding unemployment at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory is very serious for the employees concerned. Apparently, the managers of that establishment do not know their own minds upon any question. A few months ago the Acting Prime Minister, when Minister for Works and Railways, visited Lithgow for the purpose of dealing with the housing question. Presumably, he was given to understand that the then activity of the factory represented its normal condition, and that owing to the great number of employees it would be necessary for Parliament to provide money for the housing *of the men and their families. Now we are told by the manager that, in all probability, the factory will never again be able to employ the same number of men, because of the abolition of the second shift. I have always been opposed to working any establishment for more than one shift of eight hours, but less than three months ago the Minister was asked to provide increased housing accommodation, and now we are told that a great number of the men are not likely to be required. I have received from the secretary of the employees union at Lithgow the following letter, dated 27th April: -
The barrel-setters have resumed work from last Friday week. There is very little alteration in the re-engaging of the men up to the present. There are 950 men still unable to secure employment. There has been no effort put forward by the Department or the management to reinstate the men who were put off owing to the late trouble. It seems to me that economic conscription is rampant in its very worst form. Only returned soldiers are put on, with a few exceptions of married men, whom they say are indispensable men. Single men are told point blank that there is no possible hope for them. Married men who have large families are asked to produce reject papers before they are re-engaged. Even men at this present stage are being put off who have been working at the factory for years, married mcn in particular, with families, who are being replaced with returned soldiers. ‘ I have asked the Department to supply the union with the names of the men whose services are no longer required at the factory, and I cannot get one name submitted to me. The members consider it on unjust position for the Defence Department to take up. There has been no satisfaction given to the union officials by the manager; every time a deputation waits on the management, it is always referred to the Defence Department, with the result that they are playing one Department off against the other. There are instances where complete strangers are put on in place of men who have previously worked there four, five, and six years. Victimization is also being resorted to to men who have taken an active part in unionism. Everything is far from being satisfactory. There are a terrible lot of distress cases caused by this trouble. It is going on ten weeks now since the stoppage took place, and no satisfaction yet as to when the factory is to resume normal conditions. The above union is anxious for you to place the whole matter before Parliament at your earliest convenience.
At the Recruiting Conference which commenced three weeks ago, certain suggestions were put forward for the promotion of harmony in the community, and I informed the Conference that the victimization of men eligible for military service was one of the causes of discord. I yield to no man in my admiration of the men who have done their share at the Front, and I desire to deal fairly with them. But I know of single returned soldiers who have replaced married men who had been doing temporary work in some of the Departments. One single man came to me, and said: “What can I do? I do not wish to take a married man’s job, but if I do not take it it will be given to another single man.” The Government have no right to victimize married men. I said at the Conference that there should be no economic conscription, and the Prime Minister, acting in behalf of the Commonwealth and State Governments and the private employers, wrote against that condition the one word “ Agreed.” When the strike occurred at the Small Arms Factory, the union ordered the men to resume work. Though they were not absent from the- factory many hours, when they returned tp it they were told that there was no work for them; and the married men who were previously employed in the establishment are now required to produce reject papers before they can be reinstated. I am going to address a recruiting meeting with the Acting ,Prime Minister on Monday night, but I say that while grievances of this kind exist we cannot hope that our efforts will bear much fruit. Only the other day I was informed, in reply to a question which I put upon the business-paper, that -
In accordance with the policy of the Government, preference to returned soldiers and to men ineligible for active service is being given effect to. When these have been exhausted* then preference will be given to married eligibles.
Last week, when the Massey-Harris Company dismissed the single men in their employ, they received a reprimand from the Honorable W. Brooks, the President of the Employers’ Federation in New South Wales. He said that such action was opposed to the agreement which was arrived at by the recent Recruiting Conference. I ask the Acting Prime Minister to see that that agreement is also respected by the Small Arms Factory.
.- I had hoped that with the departure of the Prime Minister for another sphere we would Have secured some reform in regard to the mischievous operation of the censorship. The attitude of the Government and of the Acting Prime Minister during the past few days does not inspire me with very much confidence’ in that direction. I cannot express disappointment that the speech which I delivered here yesterday was not reported in the public press to-day, because I pointed out at the time that, owing to the iniquitous operation of the censorship, no reference would be made to my address. Only a few weeks ago I attended a meeting in the Democratic Hall, Exhibitionstreet, Melbourne, at which 3,000 persons were present. That gathering was marked by extraordinary enthusiasm and unanimity. On that occasion I had the honour of associating myself on the platform with three other members of Parliament. And, although we are Labour men, who hold certain views upon, international questions, we are, I would remind the House, still members of this Parliament, although one would scarcely think so. We are here by the votes of the people, and not by accident. The only reference which was made to that great meeting of citizens, to which I have referred, and to the addresses which were delivered by four members of this Parliament, took the form of a very laboured and heroic joke on the part of the Age reporter in regard to the difficulty which I was alleged to have experienced in reading a certain resolution. The object of the gathering was not even mentioned. I wish to warn the Acting Prime Minister that he must not imagine that public indignation outside does not exist merely because nothing is said about it in the press. He must not think that in this country he can employ armed soldiers with fixed bayonets to swoop down like wolves upon their prey, and to invade the houses of peaceful Italian citizens with impunity. Hitherto it has been said that the Englishman’s home is his castle. But it cannot be said that the Italian’s home in this country is his castle because of the differential treatment that is meted out to him.
– The Italian is fighting for his country.
– The honorable member should be fighting for his country. He should do something more than employ his agents to go into the homes of Italian residents and take away the bread-winners from them. The maledictions of the women and children who have been thus outraged will possibly follow the authorities responsible for this treatment to their graves.
– Other maledictions will follow other people.
– I suppose that some of them will follow me. But I disregard that fact. I shall do my duty, as I have always tried to do it, no matter what may be the consequences.
– I hope that the honorable member will give honorable members on this side of the chamber credit for adopting a similar attitude.
– I cannot give the Acting Prime Minister any credit, either for consistency or for common decency, in connexion with this act of violation.
– I have not refused any inquiry into the censorship since I have been in charge of the House, which is only four days.
– It is not sufficient for the honorable gentleman to say that he has merely adopted a negative attitude. He is perfectly aware that a debate of the very first importance took place in this House yesterday.
– I complained of the omission from the press to-day of my own speech.
– The honorable gentleman is the Leader of the House, and yesterday he delivered a speech here which was of the very first importance - a speech, regarding our international relations, our duty to the persons who are domiciled here, and to Britain and our Allies. Yet not one word of that deliverance is reported in the public press. How, then, can the people of this country be wisely informed upon these matters? I cannot understand, how the honorable gentleman can pretend to justify his position as head of the Government by merely saying, “ I have not done so-and-so. I have not denied the right of honorable members to inquire into the censorship.” It is for him to take definite action to insure that this gross abuse is removed from Australia.
.- I wish to draw the attention of the Government to the unnecessarily severe action of the military authorities in a case which has been reported to me. The facts are as follow: - Private Tom Whitton enlisted from Borea Creek, in the Riverina electorate, shortly after the outbreak of war. After serving in Gallipoli, he was sent to France, where he lost both legs by a German shell. He is at present in the Randwick Hospital, Sydney, and has to be wheeled about. The military authorities refuse to give him his back pay, and say that he is a deserter. His desertion, I understand, consists of his having gone from Egypt to Gallipoli with his pals, and without authority. He was punished for this offence by imprisonment for fourteen days. Seeing that he has been punished, I say that he has expiated his guilt. He is entitled to his back pay, and should certainly get it.
– In to-day’s issue of the Age there is a leading article dealing exhaustively with the work of the Repatriation Department, and setting forth that some thousands of soldiers have been satisfactorily handled. This morning several returned soldiers waited on me and asked why they could not be dealt with as others had been. The Minister for Repatriation ought to make it possible for every returned soldier to go to an official who can deal with his claim. I have seen the Director of Repatriation (Mr. Lockyer), who is one of the best officials the Commonwealth has ever had, and who is doing his best for these men. Indeed, * I believe he has injured his health in devoting himself as he has done to the work of his Department. The fact remains, however, that there are returned soldiers who to-day cannot reach the proper official to deal with their claims. They go to the State War Council’s offices in Jolimont and are received, perhaps, by a young man, who gives them certain papers to fill in. They are then sent to a doctor for examination as to their physical condition. Instead of examining them, however, the doctor, after glancing at them, says, “You are fit for light duties. Go and register.” If they register for light duties, they receive an addition of 7s. per week to their pension. We are told that the Repatriation Department is endeavouring to allocate men to situations for which they are fitted, and that if their health is impaired they will be trained in suitable occupations. Some have been so trained, but there are others who can obtain no help in that direction. I cannot do more than tell these men to appeal to the State War Council, and if that Council is not able to give them the attention they deserve, it is up to the Government to augment’ its staff or to introduce a more effective system. In any event, when a returned soldier is sent by the Repatriation Department to a doctor for examination as to his physical condition, the least that can be expected of that doctor is that he shall give them something more than a mere superficial examination. If this state of affairs is to continue, it is the Government, and not the Opposition, that will be condemned.
.- I desire to bring under the notice of the Acting Prime Minister the unfair treatment meted out to country racing clubs as compared with that extended to the racing clubs of the capital cities. Racing in Sydney has been reduced by 50 per cent., but forty-eight race meetings, or twelve for each club, are still allowed for the year. Country racing clubs, whose custom it has been to hold three or four every year, are, however, denied the right to hold one meeting. The secretary of the Western District Racing Association of New South Wales has written to me that racing clubs at Cowra, Canowindra, Bathurst, and Mudgee, as well as in seven or eight other country centres, have been denied the right to hold a meeting. If pony racing is interfering with recruiting, then it might be a good thing to stop it altogether; but if it is allowed in Sydney and Melbourne, surely an occasional meeting should be allowed in country districts? I ask the Acting Prime Minister to look into the matter. I have seen the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) in regard to it on several occasions, but cannot obtain any satisfaction from him. I understand that quite a number of representatives of rural electorates have had complaints of this character brought under their notice.
– I wish to refer to a matter to which attention has already been drawn by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). I ask the Acting Prime Minister to seriously consider the position in which honorable members are being placed by the present exercise of the censorship. We had indulged in the hope that there was to be some relief, and honorable members naturally feel resentful when they find that instead of any relief there is actually an extension of the trouble. Up till recently, at all events, speeches made in this House were protected from the censorship. We presumed that statements made by us in the House would be entitled to the same protection outside. We now discover that our constituents are not to be allowed to know what their representatives say here.
Mr.Watt. - That is not new. Ever since the war broke out the parliamentary utterances of honorable members have been liable to censorship.
– But there has been an extension of the censorship. It now applies to speeches made in the House.
– When we were in Opposition quite a number of debates which took place in the House were not allowed to appear fully in the press.
– I believe that is so, and it was much against the wish of the majority sitting behind the Labour Government of that day that such a censorship took place. It was the result of the exercise of the autocratic power of the present Prime Minister.
– But I am speaking also of the time when Mr. Fisher was Prime Minister.
– During his regime the censorship was very mild.
– Perhaps so; but what I say was done did actually occur.
– There has been no restriction whatever on the circulation of honorable members’ speeches until within the last month.
– That is not so. In many cases parliamentary utterances have been cut out of the press.
– I admit that.
– But was Hansard interfered with?
– Yes; before our time.
– I am not complaining of the censorship of press reports of our speeches. We are accustomed to the press not only restricting their reports of our speeches, but misrepresenting them.
– I well remember a speech delivered in this House by Sir William Irvine which was censored in Hansard.
Mr.Considine.-Who was in power at that time?
– I forget for the moment, but it was a long time before we , took office.
– I remember the circumstances very well. It happened while Mr. Fisher was Prime Minister.
– I accept the honorable member’s statement, but I should like some corroboration of it. I had no idea that any such censorship was exercised. When I was sitting behind the Labour Government I protested just as strongly as I have done in Opposition against the exercise of the censorship in such a way.
– Sir William Irvine stated at the time that he knew what he was about to say would not be allowed to appear in Hansard.
– I think he requested its omission.
– No ; he did not.
– Apart from that, we all had hoped that there was going to be not exactly an abandonment, but at least a relaxation of the Censor’s restrictions. We find, however, that there is an extension of them. The matter has already been referred to in questions put to the Acting Prime Minister to-day. The honorable gentleman cannot be expected to know of everything that is going on, and to that extent I do not propose to attach any blame to him. It is not enough for honorable members to be told by the Acting Prime Minister that he does not know by what authority these things are being done, or who are doing them. Some responsible Minister must be instructing the censor, and what we want to get at is whether the instructions have been stiffened lately, or whether the censor is himself exercising wider powers. We have a perfect right to know who is the Minister to whom we can apply for redress. What was censored last week out of my own speech, made in the House, is matter that had already appeared in public prints in Great Britain, and I am advised that it has also appeared in certain newspapers in Australia.
– Do you mean that it was censored from the press or from the columns of Hansard?
– Neither; it was censored from the reprint of a speech of mine in this House. I am certain that what has been excised by the censor will appear in the official Hansard, but I desired, according to an ordinary practice, to have my speech reprinted for circulation amongst my constituents. I cannot do that without the permission of the censor, who has refused to allow me to reprint certain extracts that I quoted from Home papers. At the same time Hansard circulates with those extracts in them.
– I heard the honorable’ member make one quotation from a paper he called the London Herald.
– I read the extracts from Home papers that I had in my possession. I accept the responsibility for them as correct verbatim quotations, although I do not necessarily identify myself with them. Can the Acting Prime Minister justify the stoppage of the circulation of those things amongst my constituents in a reprint of my speech when they are already public property ?
– The censor did not stop your comments on them.
– That is the joke of it. He has cut out certain interjections of the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), which shows the vindictive spirit in which the censorship is being exercised. Will the Acting Prime Minister inquire into these matters, and see if it is not possible to afford the debates in this. House reasonable protection against the stupid censorshipnow existing? It is obviously and utterly foolish to suggest that any quotation I made would affect recruiting or prejudice the cause of the Allies.
.- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) on the question of the proposed wholesale suppression of country racing while such an enormous amount of racing is being allowed in the more populous centres, particularly the great seaport towns and capitals of Australia. I am moved to do this largely by an announcement made in the press by the Minister for Defence, that he intended to abolish, or largely curtail, what are known as unregistered race meetings in the country centres. No doubt, the term “ unregistered “ is technically correct. These unregistered meetings - so called - are largely amateur, and almost entirely conducted for raising funds for patriotic purposes. They are almost invariably in the hands of leading citizens of repute, who are elected because they are trusted by the residents. They are not held for any profit or gain whatever. Many people feel that racing in Australia is ‘ being carried on now to an excessive extent in view of the war. I hold that view myself, and, as a representative of a country electorate, I shall be quite prepared to see every country race meeting abolished until the end of the war, so long as the same is done in the city. Australian race meetings can be divided, roughly, into three classes : first, the country race meeting such as I have described, which is the most innocent and innocuous of all, and gives the most pleasure with the minimum of harm and evil ; secondly, the great race meetings in the large cities, conducted by clubs and committees, without any hope of profit to those running them; and thirdly, the proprietary race meetings in or near the populous centres. Any further restriction of racing that takes place in Australia should be applied first to the proprietary courses. I wish to say nothing derogatory to the gentlemen conducting them, except that experience all over the world is that sport to be carried on to. the highest degree of benefit with the minimum amount of evil should be controlled by people who obtain no profit or gain whatever from it.
– That is not the American experience.
– I can give the honorable member the American experience.
– Baseball was notorious.
– I will deal with horse racing in New York State, that I know something of. It was in the hands of proprietary courses or clubs, and fell to such a low ebb that the only way in which it could be redeemed and put on a fair and honest basis was by creating’ a club similar to the Jockey Club of England. I was there when that club was formed, about three years ago.
– They have wiped it out since then.
– Horse racing itself may have been abolished there by the creation of a public conscience, which considered that it should not be carried on ip time of war. At that time a number of gentlemen met who were trusted by the whole of the people of the State as the most honorable and upright men connected with racing. They formed themselves into the New York Jockey Club, and the total number of members was limited to fifty. When the number fell below fifty, it was not necessary to fill any vacancies, unless a man could be found who was in every respect suitable and trustworthy. This body took over the entire control of racing in New York , State
– Who chose the fifty men?
– I am not informed of all the details. Racing had fallen’ so low in that State that it was recognised that the only way in which it could be purified and put on an honest basis was by adopting the course I have described. I mention the matter to show how opposed the action taken in America was to the principle of proprietary racing. If any further reduction is made in the number of racing fixtures in Australia, the first to be abolished should be those connected with proprietary courses. When they have been dealt with, it will be time enough to consider the wholesale abolition of racing in country centres.
– I wish to briefly refer to the censorship, of which I am one of the latest victims. It seems to me that the censor does not exercise sufficient intelligence. According to the Acting Prime Minister,’ the report of a recent speech made by me in this House was censored for military rea sons, though I cannot see how the publication of what I said could affect the conduct of the war. The Age of the 26th April gave my, remarks a fairly large amount of space, for which I am duly grateful. The main features of my speech are set out in that report, of which I will read this portion-
– The honorable member is not at liberty, on the motion of adjournment, to revive a previous debate in the House.
– Then I content myself with saying that members who are interested in the subject can read the Age report. The censor in his note to a newspaper which wished to reprint my remarks from Hansard, said that the references to the Sinn Fein organization and the case of Father Jerger could not be published. That leaves me in this position: The Hansard report of my speech will be widely circulated, but I shall not be allowed, in addressing a public meeting, to answer any questions regarding it, nor to refer in any way to the matters which have been censored. This is carrying matters too faT. I do not object to the censoring of any statement likely to benefit the enemy, or to cause strained relations between the Empire and its Allies. The abuse of the censorship is assuming gigantic proportions, and this should be stopped. Who has control of the censorship ? With regard to the reprinting of the Hansard reports, I would suggest that all questions of censorship might be referred to a Committee consisting of two members from each side of the House. We should then get fair decisions. Otherwise it may .happen that the political opinions of members of this party will be wholly suppressed by the censor, with the result that twenty-two men, who represent Labour in this chamber, will be muzzled, and might as well not be here.
– Several minor matters have been referred to; but as those who raised them have left the chamber, I take leave to pass them over for the present.
Two major matters were dealt with at some length. The comparison of the privileges in the matter of racing given to town ‘and country is important, and I share largely the sentiment expressed by several members, that, to the extent that there is curtailment, town and country should be treated alike. I am -of the opinion ‘that, generally speaking, country racing is more innocent than town racing, though I ‘do not go so far as the honorable member for Grampians, who seemed to think that no evil thought or deed is possible on a country race-course. I advise him to read “Banjo” Patterson’s Idyll of Dandaloo as an antidote to that opinion. Broadly speaking, town and country should be treated alike in this matter.
Of the censorship, two gentlemen have spoken in respectful terms and one in disrespectful and unwarranted language. The manner of address adopted by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) was unworthy of a member of the House. He seems to think that a Minister should be able to straighten everything in a Department within fortyeight hours of his assumption of office. At the pace at which we Ministers have been working here and in the Departments, it has been impossible to investigate fully all of the many problems that have been thrust before us. To-day for three-quarters of an hour we were peppered with questions without notice. I take leave to tell honorable members quite clearly that henceforth I shall ask Ministers to answer, without notice, only urgent questions. Honorable members have many facilities to ask, with- due notice, all questions that are not pressing.
On the question of the censorship we have recently had two Conferences which dealt with the matter, one exclusively, and the other incidentally. The Conference which dealt with it exclusively was a gathering of the most responsible representatives of the press world of Australia. The Conference sat in Melbourne for many days. -The members heard the points of view of the Departments of the Navy and the Military, the Departments most interested in the war activities and the preservation of the war spirit. They learned, for the first time probably, though they should have learned it from the start of the war, that what the Government are aiming at is one definite policy. They were able to appreciate the difficulties confronting the Government in connexion with the matter, and they agreed to co-operate henceforth with the Departments concerned in a proper discharge of the censorship function. T hope that the machinery that is about to be set up, as the result of the delibera tions of the Press Conference, will give rise to less of the kind of complaint that we have had to-day. But that does not deal finally with some of the matters which affect honorable members opposite.
– It does not touch the political censorship.
– I am about to refer to that. I hope that as a result of the’ Press Conference, and the co-operation of the press and the Government - and when I say the press, I refer to it without distinction of party, because there were sitting at the Press Conference representatives of journals as wide apart politically as are the Sydney Morning Herald and The Worker - we shall have less complaint of the censorship generally than we have had in the past. The members of the Press Conference were intrusted with information which the Government felt that they should have, in order that they might see exactly what is being done in Great Britain and Australia, and might determine upon a working basis for the future. That, I think, is not only P9S.sible, but will probably be achieved in the near future.
There arose incidentally out of the Recruiting Conference summoned by His Excellency the Governor-General quite other requests with which my honorable friends opposite are probably more concerned . The question of the utterances of public men, and the way in which they should be treated, was considered. There are utterances of the kind which are on the border line of the political and the military. My honorable friends opposite will not need any explanation of what that means. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Wallace), as a politician, speaking through this House to his constituents and the country generally, may often refer to matters which vitally concern the Military Department. On the other hand, his remarks may also have a strong political bearing, and the two may merge in an indistinguishable line. It was proposed at the Recruiting Conference to set up some tribunal representative of political parties in this Parliament which would determine cases of that kind.
– How are we to remedy what we regard as military abuses if our utterances are considered to be militarist utterances, and as such may be censored ?
– In my view, some such remarks, if censored, would be improperly treated. I can quite conceive that remarks of the kind might greatly help the Government to remedy evils in the Army or in the Navy, and such remarks will be welcomed, and publicity given to them, provided that the information supplied is not of use to the enemy. That is a vital consideration in connexion with such utterances. From the other side of the Chamber I have in the earlier stages of the war directed the attention of the Minister for Defence to mistakes in connexion with camp life and matters of that kind, with the object of helping the Administration. Criticism is often most helpful, even though the motive may not be to help. In matters of that kind the function of the censorship should be operated with great care.
On the question raised by the honorable members for Batman (Mr. Brennan) and Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson), that statements published in the Old Country can with safety be published here, let me say that there is a deep fallacy in that argument. It is possible often to say things in a country that has adopted conscription that it would be quite improper to say in a country that has refused to adopt that system, because the publication of such statements might vitally affect the recruiting movement.’ In a conscriptionist country the need for care to preserve voluntary recruiting does not arise, because they do not need it since they conscript. Here we depend entirely on the good will and co-operation of all classes, and above all, of the working classes, who form the .bulk of the community, for the success of the voluntary system, and we must, therefore, be very careful about what utterances are published, because of their possible influence upon recruiting. I ask honorable members opposite to in future keep that distinction before their minds.
– There is a very wide scope for the exercise of the censorship when the censor may construe any statement as one likely to be prejudicial to recruiting.
– I quite admit that phrases such as “ prejudicial to recruit ing,” “harmful to the Allies,” and “ against the interests of the Empire,” must be interpreted by the censor with considerable discretion and judgment. Honorable members must not forget, however, that the human element has to be reckoned with in the administration of all regulations. I have known cases of the exercise of the censorship, in which my interpretation of the regulation would have differed from that of the censor. The Government while accepting responsibility, as they must do, for all that the censor does, do not necessarily approve of his every act or judgment.
– There should be some one over the censor.
– That merely means the superimposition of another authority - a deputy .censor and. a chief censor, and so on ad infinitum. We have a man in charge of the censorship who is responsible to the Government.
– The difficulty is that there is no one responsible to us.
– I find that by answering interjections one invites others. Let me refer now to the question raised with respect to the debate on the conscription of Italians resident in Australia. I have no knowledge as to why that debate was excised from the public press, but I draw my own conclusions. From one point of view, some of the speeches delivered here on that subject would be very informative to the public had the censor permitted them to be published. The reason which in all probability induced him to censor them was that their publication might easily be harmful to the relations between this branch of the British family and the Italian nation. We have to be careful that the principles and spirit which cement the Allies together are not wantonly broken or risked. If the censor, in the discharge of his public responsibility, considers that a statement is not harmful to recruiting, is not dangerous to the British Empire, or destructive of the spirit of our alliance with other nations, he ought not to prohibit its publication. I am hopeful that in the near future we shall have achieved a censorship which will be mutually satisfactory to all parties in this House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House, adjourned at 4.54 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 May 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19180503_reps_7_84/>.