7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Government yet prepared the scheme which is its alternative to the fixing of the price of meat recommended by the Inter-State Commission ?
– I told the honorable member yesterday that the Minister in charge of the matter had prepared a scheme for the consideration of the Cabinet, and that it would be dealt with when the Cabinet assembled.
– Did not the Cabinet meet this morning?
Mr.WATT.-No. It does not meet every morning.
– I understand that the recommendation of the Inter-State Commission is that the price of meat shall bo fixed at its export value. Will the Acting Prime Minister take into consideration the advisability of putting the prices of butter and wheat on the same footing, making them the same as the export parity?
– I will ask my honorable colleague who has charge of this matter to note the suggestion.
Supplying op Drink.
– Are steps being taken by the Government to prevent the scandal of returned wounded soldiers being supplied with liquor when they have already had far too much?
– Recently the Government issued a regulation concerning the supply of liquor to invalided soldiers, who are to be specially identified by means devised by the Defence Department. That regulation is, I think, in full operation, and is having the desired effect. I am not able to say whether it covers exactly the field that the honorable member desires to cover.
– It is understood that the Government made a profit of about £250,000 by the sale of rabbit skins last year. Will the Treasurer use some of that money to procure wire netting for sale to the fanners at a reasonable rate?
– I do not know where the profit referred to has gone, and could not, without inquiry, make the desired promise. It is exceedingly difficult to get wire netting now, not for lack of money, but for lack of material.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK.
Non-Reporting of Speeches.
– As there is a publicity agent attached to the Australian delegation to the Imperial Conference now on tour, I ask what is the reason that the speeches of the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Joseph Cook) are not being reported in the Australian press, as are those of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) ?
– I do not know that the Minister for the Navy has made any speeches while away, but as my friend appears solicitous for his reputation, I shall write to him to ascertain.
– On the 20th February a letter was addressed by the acting general secretary of the Australian Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association to the departmental head of the Prime Minister’s Department, and it received a bare acknowledgment on the 28th February, but since that date, that is, for nearly four months, it has been ignored, although all sorts of effort have been made to obtain an answer? Does this meet with the approval of the Acting Prime Minister?
– I am totally unacquainted with the facts, but if my honorable friend will give me particulars, I shall have an inquiry made.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Defence any knowledge of what was done in the case of Private Tom Whitton which I brought before the House some time ago.
Concrete Ships - Payment fob Overtime.
– Has the offer of an Australian firm for the construction of concrete ships come under the notice of the Acting Prime Minister? I believe it is about twelve months ago since the offer was made. If the matter has not come under the honorable gentleman’s notice, will he have the papers looked into and see if it is necessary to bring any one from America to carry out the offer?
– My colleague, the Honorary Minister (Mr. Poynton), and myself have been in close touch with the parties concerning this matter during the last week. We have seen the representatives of the Australian firm in question, and only this morning they submitted a definite proposal for the construction of concrete ships in Australia in a new form. I cannot say anything beyond that the matter is having the attention of the Ministry at the present moment.
– Is the Minister in charge of Commonwealth shipping aware that a circular has been issued to the officers of his Department, of which one clause is to the effect that each member of the staff is requested to note that if overtime is necessary, as is almost inevitable in the shipbuilding business, no payment will be made for same? If the Minister is aware of that circular, are we to understand that if overtime is worked, no payment will be made for it?
– This is the first time the matter has come under my notice.
– In view of the facts that I brought before the House recently concerning the high cost of living at Broken Hill, is it proposed to take any steps to remedy that lamentable s.tate of affairs ?
– The same steps will be taken at Broken Hill as in other parts of the Commonwealth.
– That is, nothing.
– Before the sittings of Parliament close, will the Acting
Prime Minister make a statement to the House and the country as to the various pools and committees that have been formed by the Government, and the activities they control?
– I think that has already been done. Very recently the Government authorized the preparation of a booklet setting forth such particulars.
– That book has been received by honorable members.
– In that book all the details now suggested are included.
Salaries and Allowances
-Will the Acting Prime Minister inform the House as to the number of men, with their positions, who in 1917, as officers of the Defence and Naval Departments, were in receipt of salaries and allowances totalling £500 and under £600, and so on up to £2,000; and also the names and positions of those who drew £1,500 and upwards in salaries and allowances in the same year?
– Of course, I cannot do that now, but I shall endeavour to get the Departments concerned to comply with the request, in the form of a return.
– Seeing that we gather in by direct taxation £8,900,000, and by indirect taxation £15,600,000, I desire to know whether the answer by the Treasurer to me yesterday was strictly accurate, to the effect that the whole of the Government balance in the Commonwealth Bank is war loan money?
– I do not know that my answer implied that at all. I endeavoured to persuade my honorable friend that the bulk of the money in the Commonwealth Bank is war loan money. The honorable member, and the House generally, know that into the public account at the bank go all the receipts of the public purse - revenue, direct and indirect, as well as war loan raisings - and it would be impossible at any given moment to say how much belongs to taxation and how much to war loan, except by a careful analysis of the books. I cannot reply to a question of that kind off-hand.
– Is it the intention of the
Government to appoint a Board of Directors in connexion with the Commonwealth Bank?
– During my term as Treasurer the matter has not been considered. Beyond that I cannot say anything at present.
-I noticed an announcement yesterday to the effect that the Imperial Government has acquired the New Zealand wool clip. Seeing that an early statement will very materially affect the value of stock in the Commonwealth, are we likely soon to have an announcement of the conclusion of the negotiations for the purchase of the coming Australian clip?
– The subject of the purchase of the wool clip ahead has been a matter of cablegraphic correspondence between the two Governments for some weeks, and from indications given in the cables, I anticipate an early decision. Beyond that I can make no promise.
-Can the Acting Prime Minister inform the House how long the prohibition is likely to last in regard to the publication or public discussion of the terms of the sale of zinc concentrates and lead arranged between the British Board of Trade and the lead and zinc producing companies of Australia ?
– I am afraid I cannot answer my honorable friend explicitly on the point. The British Government requested the Australian authorities, when the sale was agreed on, not to publish certain things. We published as much as we could in view of that request.
– Then the prohibition is for an indefinite time?
– It appears to me to be indefinite. Apparently the British authorities think that the information would be of value to the enemy ; and we do not propose to authorize its publication.
– I suppose that honorable members, like myself, are receiving many communications from parents in regard to lads enlisting at about the age of nineteen, and I desire to know whether the Government propose to make any modification of their decision as laid before us a short time ago?
-Since the matter was debated here, and I was authorized by the Government to make public the amended determination, no representations have come to us which warrant our making any further alteration ; consequently, the matter stands as it did when I last spoke on the question.
Information as to Employment.
– In view of the multiplicity of callings and occupations in the Defence Department, will the Assistant Minister for Defence favorably consider the issue of a leaflet, so that those who desire to obtain employment there may know where to go?
– Yes; I shall place the matter before the Minister for Defence.
Consul-General for Italy
– Has the Acting Prime Minister read the very illuminating speech delivered by myself in relation to the Italian Consul? Whether the honorable gentleman has read the speech or not, I desire to ask whether he would be prepared to receive a deputation of Italians in this country, speaking, as they claim, for the great majority of Italians here, to urge the recall of the present Consul?
– I have not read the speech which the honorable member has described as illuminating.
– Nor has anybody else.
– I think the honorable member is wrong. I heard two men discussing the speech this week, and the adjective they used regarding it was not illuminating but lurid. Perhaps the two words may convey the same meaning to some minds. When I have time to spare for Sabbath evening reading I will read the speech. I am sure that in respect of diction and other merits it will be a very good model for many honorable members on this side of the House. In regard to the second question as to whether I, as acting head of the Government, will receive a deputation to request the re-call of a foreign Consul, I answer at once, No. As a Government we have no power to dismiss Consuls.
– I thought the Acting Prime Minister might have disabused his mind on that subject if he had read my speech.
– I promise to tonic my mind a little bit by reading it at the first opportunity, which I hope will be next week-end. But I cannot receive the deputation to which the honorable member has referred.
– Has the
Minister for Trade and Customs given consideration to my suggestion that a sufficient quantity of knitting wool should be commandeered to enable the Red Cross and similar organizations to be supplied at or near cost price?
– Importers of knitting wool will, in future, be required to notify the Government immediately upon the landing of stocks now afloat or awaiting shipment in England, and every endeavour will be made to obtain an equitable distribution, with first preference to the Red Cross Societies. Prices will also be fixed.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether he will make sure that this House has adequate time to discuss the question of the fixation of meat prices, after the Cabinet has considered the report of the Inter-State Commission - if it ever does consider it?
– I object to the honorable member doing as he so often does, concluding an otherwise perfectly legitimate question with a sneer. That conduct is entirely unworthy of the proceedings of this House, and I suggest that he discontinue it. Of course Parliament will have an opportunity of considering the matter of the fixation of meat prices. Cabinet will deliberate on this matter as early as possible. I do not know how long Parliament will take to finish its business, but there ought to be an opportunity for honorable members who have views on that question to voice them before the House goes into recess.
Mr.FALKINER. - Will the Government, when considering the fixation of meat prices, consider also the manner in which the Federal Commissioner of Taxation collects taxation on land and income, and also the manner inwhich he values leaseholds ?
– I suppose that in some distant way the subjects are related.
– The valuation of stock is.
– Probably, but not the valuation of leaseholds. However, Cabinet will take into consideration all the facts that have a bearing on the mutter.
– Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that honorable members have received letters from the Recruiting Committee asking for their attendance on the platform, and pointing out that the Recruiting Conference was convened for the purpose of securing harmony in the community? But while we are asked to assist recruiting, nothing has been done to relieve the situation of the men who were on strike last year, and cannot get work, although the whole of the scab unions are fully employed. Will the Acting Prime Minister approach the State Premiers with the request that they will do something in the nature of the promises given at the Conference?
– I do not think it is fair to ask Ministers to answer round-about questions of this kind, introducing a number of side issues. If the honorable member will give notice of the question for tomorrow I will have the matter investigated.
Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Imperial Government .the desirableness of immediate action in this matter?
– The- answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The Defence Department has no knowledge of the matter. It may be stated that advice was recently received that no women workers from the Dominions were required for National Service abroad.
asked the Assistant
Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
Will the Minister see, when Australians in the Australian: Navy are promoted, that the increase in pay to their dependants is expedited, so as to afford much-needed relief in many cases?
– Payment to dependants is made by the Department only when a man has declared an allotment of his pay in their favour. Therefore, when a man is promoted, it rests with himself whether he will increase his allotment of pay to his dependants. On receipt of declarations by the Department authorizing an increase to a dependant, payments are always made promptly.
Debate resumed from 4th June (vide page 5465), on motion by Mr. Groom -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- I desire the Government to understand that any criticism that I may level against the Bill and the regulations is not brought forward with the object of destroying the scheme. I recognise that honorable members on both sides are entirely in sympathy with the repatriation movement, and desire that such a scheme shall he adopted as will provide the maximum of comfort for our returned soldiers. I recognise also that the Minister in charge of the Department must naturally have experienced great difficulty in drafting a Bill of such far-reaching importance. It is quite feasible to suppose that he may not be able to see in the regulations a number of flaws that can be discovered by the outside public. After a close examination I have found in the regulations a number which need to be remedied in the interests of the returned soldiers themselves. Let me deal first of all with Part IV. of the regulations which relates to the creation of soldiers’ industrial committees -
I think the appointment of a chairman of the Industrial Commttee should he left to the committee itself, and that only in the event of the committee failing to arrive at an agreement should the appointment be made by the Minister. When the Minister appoints the chairman the Government have a larger representation than the unions.
– How could that, be?
– The Government, apart from the chairman, has three representatives of the Chamber of Manufactures on the committee.
-But they are not Government representatives.
– Members of the Chamber of Manufactures are represented by the Government, and they in turn represent the Government, although not, perhaps, in their official capacity.
– The Government represents all sections of the community.
-Por the reasons I have stated I think the chairman should be selected by the committee itself, and that the Minister should be called upon to make such appointment only when the committee fails to agree. I take it that the State Industrial Committee will deal with the positions of trainees in private establishments. Where a returned soldier is a trainee in a private establishment the measure of his efficiency will be determined by the committee at the outset, and perhaps six months later his efficiency will have to be re-assessed. There will thus be room for corruption on the part of the employer. The representatives of the union might consider thata returned soldier, after he had been training” for six months, was worth more than he was receiving, whereas the representatives of the Chamber of Manufacture’ s might hold that he ought not to receive more than was allotted him at the outset. In that case the determination of the question would devolve upon the chairman, who, if he were appointed by the Government, would naturally decide in favour of the representatives of the Chamber of Manufactures.
– Why should he do that?
– That, at all events, is my opinion. I do not say it will happen in every case, but the system for which these particular regulations provide leave room for corruption on the part of the employer.
-Surely the honorable member does not suggest corruption?
-“ Imposition “ would be the better word.
– I shall not use the word “ corruption,” but shall say that the system leaves room for imposition on the part of an employer. In industrial disputes, where the appointment of the chairman of a disputes committee has been left to the Government, dissatisfaction has always arisen, and I think it is likely to occur in this case. We cannot disguise the fact that many employers have taken advantage of returned soldiers, and have failed to pay them the current rate of wages. Beyond a doubt, that is happening every day. If the appointment of the chairman of the industrial disputes committees were left to the committee itself more adequate provision would be made for the returned soldier.
– In any event, he must receive the standard wage.
-Not at all. A trainee cannot get the standard wage.
– His payment is brought up to the standard rates. He gets the award rate for the particular class of work he is doing.
– I wish to be perfectly clear on the point. Are the wages of a trainee in, say, the mechanical section of a certain industry, made up to the rate provided for by the Arbitration Court’s award?
– If that is so, I have no reason to complain.
– Regulation 41 provides that-
A deputy controller may grant sustenance in the case of applicants of not less than 40 per cent, efficiency entered for training in private workshops, so that trainees shall receive at least the living wage.
In regulation 3 “ living wage “ is defined as meaning the minimum rate judicially fixed for the industry concerned by the award of a Commonwealth or State industrial tribunal.
– I am not concerned with the question of sustenance. What I desire to know is whether a trainee, who is not a competent tradesman, will receive, if employed as a mechanic in an industry, the rate of pay fixed for mechanics under an award of the Court?
– Who makes up the difference between his pay as a trainee and the standard rate?
– The Government. His pension is also taken into account.
– So that a trainee in a fitting department, for instance, would receive 14s. 2d. per day, whether he was a competent tradesman or not?
– Yes; he would receive the wage of a journeyman as fixed by the award of the Court.
– If that is the case, I have no reason for complaint, because it will be a benefit to the returned man to learn a trade and at the same time receive a wage of 14s. 2d. per day. I am not prepared to say whether or not the proposal will be acceptable to the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.
– It has been agreed to in practically all of the States.
– The appointment of the chairman of this committee should not be entirely at the discretion of the Minister. It should be left to the committee itself. If the Minister should happen to appoint a partial man, it might cause the greatest dissatisfaction.
The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) was told, in reply to a question, that it was the intention of the Department to provide an artificial limb for any returned man who has lost a limb, but as some men have already purchased artificial limbs at their own expense, it will be only reasonable to permit them to apply for a refund. Is it the intention of the Department to grant refunds if application is made by those who have already purchased artificial limbs?
– I will submit the question to the Minister for Repatriation.
– Part VIII. of the regulations deals with the transportation of returned soldiers. Regulation 62 reads as follows: -
If it appears to a State Board, in the light of medical opinion and general circumstances, that it would he of advantage to an incapacitated soldier that he should be returned to his relatives or friends living outside the Commonwealth, the Board may grant a free passage to the soldier to enable him to return to them, when the Board is satisfied that such relatives or friends are prepared to care for him.
The succeeding regulations define the conditions under which a man may be granted free transportation, but, in my opinion, he should be given free transportation to any portion of the Commonwealth at any convenient time. Some time ago a crippled returned soldier was travelling to the mountains from Sydney, and when the ticket collector asked him for his pass, he could not produce one. He may have said that he could not afford to purchase a ticket, but at any rate, he was brought before a Court and fined. If the Department cannot make it convenient to issue a pass to a returned soldier whenever he desires to travel, it should make provision to give him a free ride on the railways of the Commonwealth at least twice a year.
– Does not the honorable member think that free passes should be given to the Anzacs who have come over here on furlough ?
– Yes . Every soldier should be permitted to ride for ever and a day on the railways of the Commonwealth free.
– That matter is quite outside the scope of repatriation.
– To my mind, it is not.
– The State authorities ought to do it; they own the railways.
-The Commonwealth authorities should be the first to intervene, because they are responsible for the care and treatment of returned soldiers. They have depended too much on the States in this matter, and the result has been that, to a considerable extent, the States have robbed the soldiers without any interference on the part of the Commonwealth. These men are as much entitled to ride free on the railways of Australia as is any honorable member of this House. We do not always travel on business, we often travel on pleasure; and if we are entitled to free passes, every man who has fought for the protection of his country is entitled to the same privilege. The provision in this part of the regulations is not sufficient. It does not meet with all that the returned soldiers desire. We will only be doing the correct thing if we give these men the opportunity of securing a change of climate whenever they feel inclined to have one, which at present they cannot get, because they cannot afford to pay railway fares.
– Is the honorable member dealing only with convalescent cases?
– I am speaking of general cases. I say that the returned soldier, even though he is healthy and strong, is as much entitled to a free pass on the railways of the Commonwealth as is any honorable member of this House. Furthermore, whenever an incapacitated soldier is travelling by rail in order to receive medical treatment, he should be given a first class railway ticket instead of a second class one.
– Does the honorable member imagine that the private would be allowed to travel under the same conditions as an officer travels ?
– The private should travel on a first class ticket exactly the same as other people do who are in the position to pay for one; and the man who is travelling on the railways in order to get medical attention is deserving of more comforts than men who are travelling in an ordinary capacity should look for. I sincerely hope that the Minister will issue first class tickets, and provide the best of accommodation and treatment for incapacitated soldiers who are travelling by rail from one district to another. Regulation 71 stands to the credit of the Minister. It says -
Where, with the approval of a Deputy Comptroller, an applicant has to travel in order to obtain medical treatment or to be fitted with artificial limbs or other surgical appliances, his fare, together with sustenance in accordance with regulation 34, and a travelling allowance of 7s. 6d. per day when travelling by land and 3s. per day when travelling by sea, shall be paid by a Deputy Comptroller both to and from his destination.
Provided that travelling allowance shall not be payable unless such travelling necessitates absence from home for one or more nights.
No complaint can be made in regard to that regulation. That is of advantage to an incapacitated soldier, but no more than should be done for the protection of his interests. I claim, as I have always done, that these men should travel free on our railways, with passes which would last them for their lives. ‘ The granting of such passes would be no sufficient compensation for what the men have done for Australia.
The amount allowed to the widows of soldiers for the purchase of furniture is insufficient. In Part VII. of the regulations it is provided that a State Board may grant, by way of gift, an amount not exceeding £25 in each case for the purchase of furniture for the purpose of the re-establishment of a home or augmenting the means of livelihood. The sum of £25 is not. sufficient for the furnishing of a home. It would enable something extra in the way of furniture to be got, but it is not nearly enough for the reestablishment of a home. At present prices it would not buy more than a table, three or four chairs, and a dresser. I am of opinion that a much larger sum should be granted, so that the homes of soldiers’ widows might be as comfortable as those of other persons. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter, and provide for a larger grant.
Quite a number of members have concentrated their attention on the settlement of soldiers on the land, but not 20 per cent, of our returned men will dream of going on the land. Very many of our men have come from the ranks of labour. They have been pick and shovel men, mechanics of various kind’s, or have been doing other work unconnected with farming, and they will want to get back to the employment to which they are accustomed. To settle a man on the land who has no knowledge of farming is to insure his bankruptcy within a short time. Notwithstanding the provisions for training men as farmers I cannot think that more than 20 per cent, of our soldiers will settle on the land. It would be a good thing if many more became farmers,because Australia will be able to pay her war debt only by increasing her production, and the greater the amount of cultivation the better the chance of that. It is regrettable that we should have to ask the soldier first to fight for us and then to bend his efforts to the liquidating of the debt that has accumulated.
After the soldier’s path has been smoothed, and he has been given a home and provided with bright and happy surroundings, care should be taken to pre vent his exploitation. It will be useless to provide him ‘with a living wage of £3 10s. or £4 a week if it is to cost him £5 a week to live. The cost of living has increased by leaps and bounds, and when men find that their means are insufficient for the maintenance of their homes and their families they become discontented. The Government should make a bold attempt to reduce the cost of living. The profiteers should not be allowed to unscrupulously take from the consumer as they have done since the inception of the waT. There are persons in Australia who to-day are making moTe money than they were making before the war broke out, and, notwithstanding the attempts that have been made to reduce the cost of living, and to protect the interests of the soldiers and their dependants, a manufacturer has only to appeal to the Government for permission to raise the cost of some commodity to get the price of that commodity raised. The inquiry which has been made into the conditions of the boot trade, and of the meat industry, show that the Australian people have been exploited to the fullest extent.
– How can the graziers exploit the public?
– It is not necessary that the graziers should do so. The price of meat, and the cost of living generally, is not due to the graziers or farmers. The farmers, on the average, are not sufficiently compensated for what they do. It is the person who neither toils nor spins who reaps all the profits. It is such persons who are responsible for the enormous war debt of Australia. In the interests of returned soldiers, steps should be taken to reduce the cost of living. They should be able to buy a loaf of bread and a pound of meat at normal prices. That could be easily provided for. At present, however, nothing is being- done by the Government to reduce the cost of living. When the Sugar Combine wanted to increase the price of sugar, it had only to approach the Necessary Commodities Commission to get what it wanted. That sort of thing has been going on since the inception of the war, and will continue until the Government puts a stop to it. Our soldiers should not find that the price of bread is steadily increasing without restriction. But immediately it is proposed to prevent the exploitation of the consumer, those directly interested wait as a deputation on the Minister concerned, and manage in some way to get the action postponed or dropped. What has happened in regard to the war-time profits tax shows that, and there have been other happenings of a similar kind. I lope that in the future the soldiers will be differently treated; that they will be regarded as citizens and as soldiers, that everything will he done for their comfort, and that their life may be made, if possible, more pleasant than that which they were enjoying when they enlisted.
.- The subject of repatriation should not be approached from a party stand-point, and every member should do his utmost to assist the Government and the Minister in charge of repatriation in their arduous task.
– That is what is happening.
– I hope so; and I hope that this feeling may continue. Hence I have listened to the debate with great attention. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) appears to be dissatisfied with fct manner in which the question is being dealt with. If I interpret his remarks correctly, he is of opinion that the repatriation scheme should be administered directly .by a Min.ister, like any other Department. As I differ from him in this matter, it is for me to state my reasons. I am of the opinion that the adoption of the view of the honorable member would mean the creation of a big Department in each State. No one Minister could give personal attention to the many questions arising in connexion with repatriation, and to assist him a departmental head would be needed in each State. This departmental head would have a large staff, and the administration of the scheme would be largely in the hands of the State heads. What is proposed is the establishment of a Commission and Boards, which will be composed of reputable and honorable men, who, though they may differ widely in politics, will make it a matter of honour to conduct the business intrusted to them as soundly as possible. They will administer the Act to the benefit of the soldiers whom they desire to help, although in politics some will be Conservative-, others Liberal, and others Labour. I am of the opinion that Mr. Grayndler, who is to be a member of the Commission, is one of the fairest men in Australia. He has given careful attention to all the great questions with which he has dealt effectively. He is a man not easily led away, as is shown by the even balance on which he has kept the great union which he has controlled during all the industrial troubles we have had since the Avar began. He has clearly shown his ability in the administration of the affairs of the Australian Workers Union. He has consented to join this Commission, and, no doubt, in conjunction with the other gentlemen, will be able to do all that is asked of them; at any rate, I am prepared to give the scheme a trial, and if the Commission operates as I anticipate, there ought to be great saving in the cost of administration and so forth. Then, there are the various Boards, again composed of gentlemen of various occupations and shades of political thought. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) was, I think, in error when he yesterday said that Tasmania had no Labour representative on the Board, for I have made inquiries, and I find that there is Mr. M. H. Eyre, an electrician, who has been associated with working men in the course of his business, and will, no doubt, give every consideration to the cases from the men’s point of view.
– I know that some of the men on these Boards are bitterly hostile to every trade union in the country.
– The atmosphere and influence of the Board-room will remove any idea that the representatives are there for the purpose of conducting any contest as between capital and labour; and surely, in these days, we may look with confidence” to questions of the kind being considered altogether apart from party political feeling, and with the one object of making the conditions for our returned men as happy and comfortable as possible. In addition to the Boards, there are to be about one thousand committees throughout the country districts. All these bodies will work up to the Central Board, while the Central Board will be in constant touch with the Commission, and the Commission, of course, in constant communication with the Minister, who is responsible to this House. The administration of the Pensions Department gives one an idea of how this scheme may be worked. I have been making inquiries, and I am credibly informed that the Department deals with no less than 300 pension cases a day. Of course, the Minister in charge of the Pensions Department does not consider every detail in connexion with these cases, nor is it possible for his secretary to do so; but there is a Commissioner in each State, who calls in the aid of magistrates, of whom there are six in Victoria, in dealing with intricate questions. I mention this to show how impracticable is the idea of some honorable members that the Minister should be called upon to deal with details.
While I differ from the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), I must pay a tribute to the great services that gentleman has rendered in the repatriation movement. He has worked night and clay in his electorate and many other partsof Australia, and, ofcourse, he is quite entitled to the opinion he has expressed.
– I quite agree that the administration may be in the hands of the Commission, but I hold that questions of policy should be decided by this House - not by six gentlemen outside who owe no responsibility to us here.
– I realize the importance of that interjection.
– I admit that the administration is in the right hands, hut under responsible government matters of policy should be settled by this Chamber.
– I agree that this Chamber should have the responsibility of the policy, but I have yet to learn that under the proposed scheme, either the Minister or the Commonwealth may shirk any responsibility. Parliament may be continually called upon to amend the Act.
– Parliament may amend the Act, but it cannot amend the scheme.
– We have to see how the scheme works under the regulations, and whether it is a failure, as the honorable member predicted.
– I did not predict a failure.
– Then I misunderstood the honorable member. At any rate, I have shown reasons for desiring to give the scheme a trial. Our returned men must be treated justly and fairly, and the most important point of all is the finding of the money for this purpose. No doubt we would all like to see many things done for the benefit of our soldiers; but, at the same time, we. should be prepared to show how the necessary money can be raised. For instance, the honorable member for ‘Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) suggested that £50 should be given to any returned man who required it; and we can quite see what an enormous burden would be placed on the country if any very large number of men claimed this privilege. In addition, we have to find funds for pensions, which will grow year in and year out, and keep growing. We should be very careful not to adopt any measures which may land us in a position similar to that of the United States of America in the matter of war pensions. I recollect reading at one time that there were lawyers in America who devoted themselves to preparing cases so that people might claim war pensions. With honorable members who complain that the scheme is not liberal enough, I am perfectly willing to give every possible assistance to the returned men; but I must know where the money is to come from, and, up to the present, we have had no suggestion from tha critics but that of borrowing.
– Our soldiers for three long years have withdrawn themselves from sharing in Australia’s prosperity; and the sum I mentioned is a very small one under the circumstances.
– I quite appreciate the fact that our soldiers have done something for which money cannot pay ; but that does not remove from us the responsibility of financing any scheme which we adopt; we must not erect a structure which will break down of its own weight.
– I hold that the nonparticipants in the war should be held responsible for the minimum sum I suggested.
– And so they ought to be. But when we come to consider the details, we see how enormous- is the sum involved in such a proposal. Since this Bill was introduced in the Senate, I have been searching in various places, which- 1 do not desire to mention, for information that would enable me tomake useful suggestions, for that is what’, is desired by the Minister. Anybody can criticise and pull to pieces; what is. requited is the critic who, while declaringthat a scheme is altogether wrong, is prepared to show why, and how, it can be replaced by a better. Personally, I find’ it extremely difficult to make suggestions as a means of getting over this difficulty. As honorable members know, I have not time to return to my home in Tasmania at the week-ends,, and I occupy myself in travelling throughout Victoria - not on motor cars, as hasbeen said, but a great deal on foot - inorder to see for myself what prospects of development there are. We are told that we should produce all that we require, and last week I had an illustration of how people are retarded when they have enterprise enough to enter upon a new industry. Within 40 miles of Melbourne, <and 12 miles from a railway which is said not to pay, I walked through a splendid belt of timber to a place where a small company, with a capital o’f about’ £2,000, has set up a saw-mill. The company has good plant, including, I may say, a lath-cutting machine, which, it is hoped, will be the means of replacing some portion of the huge quantity of laths at present imported from the United States. They have installed also machinery that will break down the biggest log they can cut in the bush. Working on these lines there is no waste at all. The small pieces of timber that at many mills throughout Australia are called “ waste,” and are thrown upon the fire-heap, are used up by the lath-cutting machine. While I was present I was shown an order for £500 worth of laths. Returned soldiers could be employed at the work of tying laths into bundles and in other light work. But to my astonishment I read a Roads Board notice that the road to that mill was closed to mill traffic for six months. The industryhas been paralyzed by this action. The contractor for the carting of the timber has wide tyres on his wheels, and he is willing to restrict his loads to the prescribed maximum. Yet in this enlightened age, when we are all talking about the necessity for encouraging men to leave the cities and engage in the development of the primary industries, we find a State authority enforcing a lawwhich means the closing up of that mill for six months. The employees at the mill have built their cottages and established their families there.
– Every big mill in my electorate is closed up because there is no shipping to carry the timber.
– That may be so. I am merely pointing out the waste that takes place in Australia through lack of organization. At this mill £80 per week is paid in wages. That flow of money has been stopped. The children are to be taken from the local school and the employees are to be scattered all over the State, and some, no doubt, will come to the city and compete with returned soldiers in the labour market, simply because a Roads Board declares that it cannot make a road over which mill traffic can pass for more than six months of the year.I never before heard of such an astounding policy.
Another important industry that might be fostered in connexion with repatriation is that of gold mining. Returned soldiers who are drawing small pensions, especially those who have been previously engaged in mining, might profitably engage in prospecting. I have done a little fossicking in the creeks of Tasmania, having been encouraged in that occupation by the late Mr. Smith, the discoverer of Mount Bischoff tin mine. I believe that fossicking in abandoned fields would prove a most fascinating and profitable employment for many of our returned soldiers. A few days ago, within 40 miles of Melbourne, I saw 10s. worth of gold that had been washed out in three hours. It was rough gold that had not travelled, proving that the metal was to be found in that vicinity. Give a returned soldier sufficient money to provide him with food and tools, and he may have a delightful time in searching for the precious metal.
– The repatriation authorities will not give assistance of that character.
– I am making a suggestion that may be taken for what it is worth. ‘ If I ever happened to be without a penny I should prefer to be in Victoria fossicking about the old gold-fields, and I guarantee I should not starve. As an instance of the perseverance of the Australian, I recently walked almost upright into a tunnel 930 feet in length, which had been driven by one man, whose only help was in the form of an allowance of 25s. per week from two friends and a small sum from the Government. He has been working on the tunnel eight years, and his tenacity has been rewarded by striking gold at last. I mention this matter as an instance of how attractive fossicking may be made to former miners who may be discharged from the Military Forces with a small pension. In this way we might absorb a good number of men.
It will be the duty of the Government to find work for all returned soldiers, in order, not only that they may have bread and the necessaries of life, but also to insure that they do not become unemployable. When I was in England I spent two nights on the Thames embankment in order to understand the condition of the frequenters of that locality, and I saw men of all stations in life, who had been forced, by the economic system under which they are living, to spend their nights on the embankment.
– And yet the honorable member is sitting on the Government side?
– I am on this side because I think more of my country than I do of myself. Believing as I do, I could not be anywhere else. Where should I sit except amongst honorable members who believe that every man in
Australia should do his duty during this war?
– The honorable member is young enough to be at the war.
– It ill-behoves the honorable member to make such an interjection, when he knows my feelings and why I sit here. From the time that the Prime Minister returned from England and addressed the members of his party in the Caucus room upstairs I realized the necessity for Australia sending to the Front every man it can spare, and I acted according to my conscience, regardless of what my position would be afterwards.
– The honorable member is young enough to have gone to the war.
– I question whether to-day the honorable member’s conscience is clear on this most important question. If it is clear, he has a right to be where he is; if it is not, the time will come when he will have to take the responsibility for what he is doing. I believe that I have shouldered my responsibility. I am on this side by force of circumstances which are well known to every honorable member.
– Why did not the honorable member go to the Front and do his bit?
– I have done as much as the honorable member in the interests of the worker, and I have found out that when one gets into closer touch with those who sit on this side - I refer to my former political opponents - he finds that they are just as honorable as are those gentlemen who sit opposite. They are anxious to do justice to all classes. The honorable member for Ballarat would not fall on the necks of some of those who support him. The time is fast coming when honorable members opposite will have to decide whether they agree to the proposition that Australia should not send another man to the Front. Possibly those who say that Australia should continue its part in the war will be served as the Prime Minister, and I, and other honorable members on this side were served. They will be kicked out of the Labour movement, if they do not dance to the tune of the men who are about to consider the Labour party’s platform.
– What has this to do with the Bill?
– I admit I have been drawn away from the question. We must be careful to find work for each and every returned man. Unemployment is not profitable to the country, because every man who is out of work must be supported by those who are in work. We require all men to be fully employed, so that they may engage in the production of that wealth which is so urgently required at the present time. To that end, the hearty co-operation of every man in the community is necessary. I have never at any time in my public career criticised a man because of the position he held. I realize that some of the men who are employing labour, and who are sometimes called the capitalists, are no more capitalists than I am. They may have overdrafts at the bank, they may be renting the premises in which their businesses are conducted, and they probably work for long hours after their employees have gone home. Therefore, if we are to produce the wealth that is required to enable us to bear the burden of the war, we shall need every man in the community to work co-operatively. The war will change many things. It is doing much to bring men of different classes more into touch with each other. I can quite understand honorable members opposite criticising me, because they think they will deceive the people outside, and bring about my downfall at the next election. A newspaper that is about to go out of existence has libelled me ; it knows that I cannot sue it, because it has no money. It is a venture which I helped to build up, and from which I have never had a shilling in return for the money I paid into it. If I cannot live down criticism that, by means of misrepresentation, appeals to all that is vicious in the minds of the people, I do not deserve to be in this House at all. I throw back in the teeth of the man who lied in the Daily Post concerning a speech that I made, his statements in regard to myself. I challenge him to publish what I did say on the occasion in question, as reported in Hansard. Such misrepresentation, after all, serves no good purpose nowadays. People are getting into closer touch with each other, and are becoming too enlightened to lie misled by misstatements of the kind.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Penton) spoke of broken promises on the part of employers. He said that many who had promised that employees, upon their return from the war, would be reinstated in their former positions, had failed to honour their undertaking. In view of such a statement, I thought it my duty “to make inquiries, and 1 found that one of the biggest employers, whose name I am prepared to give privately to any honorable member, is not only keeping open the positions of his men who have gone to the Front, but is making good the difference between their pay as soldiers and the wages they received while in his employ. Let us at least be just. Is it not most unfair to make general statements of the kind in,dulged in by the honorable member without producing any evidence in support of them? If I knew of any employer who had failed to keep a promise of this kind I should name him, and thus clear those who are honorably doing so. The honorable member for Maribyrnong made another statement-
– He knew what he was talking about.
– Then why did not the honorable member name the employers to whom he was referring?
– Mind your own business, and I will mind mine. I shall name some of the honorable member’s friends, and he will not like that.
– I am prepared to go further if the honorable member will remain in the chamber.
– My troubles about that.
– I thought that this was not a party matter.
– I was simply pointing out that honorable members should not make these statements unless they are prepared to substantiate them. The honorable member for Maribyrnong, who has just left the chamber, made these remarks with the object of hitting the Government and their supporters. He went on to point out what was being done by way of repatriation in France, and implied that the French soldiers, after the war, would be treated better than we are treating our men. As a matter of fact, that is not so. I think I am right in saying that the soldiers of France receive either a mere pittance or no pay whatever. They are furnished with clothing and the necessaries of life, while their dependants are also looked after. I have seen the conditions under which the workers of France labour in time of peace. I travelled the country some few years ago just as I do here, and I found the working men of France living under conditions which Australians would not tolerate. I hope we shall never have a like state of affairs in Australia. Our soldiers will return with a greater love’ than ever for Australia, because they .will know that the conditions existing in the Old World are far inferior to those prevailing here. Under the French repatriation scheme, the men will return from a low-pay, but honorable, service to their former occupations. They may be helped to a slight extent by the State, but having regard to the way in which wealth has been depleted in that great country, I question whether, after the war, the French Government will have much with which to help any one.
Out of this war there will evolve a system of profit sharing and coopera.tion that did not exist before. We have an abundance of raw material, needing only the application of labour to convert it into commodities that can be sold both here and abroad; and we must go in for a system under which our returned soldiers will be encouraged to cooperate in the production of everything that can be sold to advantage. Reference has been made to-day to the manufacture of knitting wool in Australia. Surely there should be no difficulty in establishing such an industry in the Common wealth ! It would find employment for many of our own people, and would furnish us with cheap wool for the manufacture of apparel for our soldiers, as well as our citizens generally. When we talk of increased production, we ought not to lose sight of the equally important consideration of finding ready markets for our produce. Near Neuchatel, in Switzerland, T saw men and women making a living from a few acres of land in such steep country that the - ground had to .be worked in terraces. I saw the same thing being done in the south of France. Such land would not be touched in Australia; but it was cultivated in these places because there was an immediate market for whatever the people produced. It was not necessary for these small farmers to Hold their produce for months until a suitable market offered. They had a ready market for all they produced, and I maintain that we should organize to secure ready markets for all that we produce in Australia.
– I have seen some exceedingly hilly country under cultivation near Hobart.
– I am informed that some Belgians have settled near Ulverstone, Tasmania; and when looking at their holdings one imagines for the moment that he is in Belgium once more. I venture to say that they are producing more potatoes from 1 acre than I am from 3 or 4. They so till the land as to obtain from it the very best results. A return of 10 tons per acre from a 5-acre plot well cultivated is better than 5 tons per acre from a 10-acre block that is merely scratched. We must go in for intense cultivation and the rotation of crops, and we must see that ready markets are provided for what our men produce. Last week-end I visited a home where a boy who had left for the market at 6 o’clock in the morning did not return until midnight. Such conditions are discouraging.
– Many market gardeners who will be in the market to-morrow morning are on the road with their produce at this very moment.
– No doubt. That only emphasizes the point I wish to make, that under such conditions we are not going to make the land attractive to our returned soldiers. In one part of France that I visited some time ago the farm houses were grouped in small villages, and I was told this was done so as to secure greater and better opportunities for social intercourse. All these matters are worthy of consideration.
At the Premiers’ Conference held in January, 1917, it was decided, as set out on page vi. of the official report of the proceedings -
That loans to soldiers for land settlement purposes, as provided by resolution 3, will be advanced at reasonable rates of interest, not exceeding 31/2 per cent., increasing by1/2 per cent, each subsequent year to the full rate of interest at which the money has been raised, plus working expenses; the difference between these rates and the cost to the Go vernment of the money to be borne equally by the Commonwealth Government and the State Government.
That is a fairly good proposition, but I think the loans should remain at 31/2 per cent, for at least five years instead of for only one year, as decided by the Conference. This would give our returned soldiers a much better chance of success on the land. I shall probably be asked how the full rate of interest is to be met by the Government if my proposal be adopted. I would remind honorable members that the Right Honorable Andrew Fisher, when Treasurer, stated that the profits accruing from the note issue would be put into a Trust Fund, and would not be used for ordinary revenue purposes. We have to-day a note issue of £53,642,000, and the profit on that issue - which is really a loan without interest -is £1,215,996 a year. Would it not be reasonable to draw upon that Trust Fund to make good the difference between 31/2 per cent, at which the money is advanced to our returned soldiers and the rate at which it is borrowed by the Government?
– But the Act provides that any loans granted out of that Fund shall bear interest at a certain rate.
– Then let us alter the Act. . After all, it would be only a bookkeeping entry. The Government have to find the money, and we ought not to raise the rate of interest too quickly in respect of loans to our returned soldiers. The profits made by the Commonwealth Bank instead of being accumulated, might also be used for the same purpose. The land that is being acquired for the settlement of returned soldiers must be worth what is being paid for it, and the improvements made by those who settle upon it should make it a sufficient security for the Bank’s advances. I did not anticipate occupying the time of the House so long, but I felt it my duty to demonstrate to the returned soldiers, whose services have been so valuable to the people of Australia, that I realize the great debt of gratitude we owe tothem for pur very existence. With the feeling uppermost in my mind, that it is my duty, and that of every honorable member, to do the utmost to forward a scheme that will make life for these men even better than it was before they went to the war, I say unhesitatingly that I shall be glad to support any Government which brings down a Bill for the purpose of successfully placing in their home occupations those brave men who return to the shores of Australia.
.- I recognise that this Bill is chiefly a machinery measure, and that the practical working of the repatriation scheme is to be found in the regulations which have been gazetted; but inasmuch as this is a new field upon which we are embarking, I dare say this course has been found necessary. It would certainly be a most difficult task for the Minister in charge of repatriation to draft a Bill commensurate with the requirements of our returned soldiers. We cannot do too much for the repatriation of those men who have done so much for us on the field of battle, and the few remarks that I have to make will be uttered not for the purpose of criticising the efforts that are being made by those in authority towards that end, but for the purpose of drawing attention to one or two matters to which I think it is necessary attention should be paid.
The main proposal in connexion with the repatriation of returned soldiers is to settle them on the land. It is a very good proposal, but I warn honorable members that they need to be very careful indeed in regard to what is done in this respect. During my experience as a member of Parliament in a State House, and since I have been in this Parliament, I have come into contact with very many persons who have endeavoured to take up holdings and eke out a livelihood upon them ; and I am sorry to say that in many cases they have failed. The proposal to settle soldiers on the land is an attractive one. It will appeal to our gallant men when they return. They will see in it an opportunity to become independent for life. When they ascertain that they can borrow £500 from the Government and that a piece of land is available for them, they will come to the conclusion that it is the job they should take or. in order to make a livelihood for themselves and their families. Very many men will be actuated by the best of motives. Believing that they will be doing something to secure their future welfare, they will make applications for blocks of land, and come along and ask for loans, which, of course, will be granted; but in probably, half the cases - it may be more - these men will find, after two or three years of toil, or perhaps a little more, that they are not able to make the livelihood on the land they anticipated making, and that the money they have borrowed will hang like a yoke around their necks.
– That will depend largely upon the price paid for the land and its situation.
– It will depend mostly on the man himself. Let me picture myself as a returned man who has no employment. I see in this scheme an opportunity. I put in my name and make an application for a block of land and a loan. I say to the wife, “It is all right; we will be able to pull along ; I am willing to work as many hours as it is possible for a man to work for the purpose of succeeding. Certainly I have had no previous knowledge of agricultural life, and I propose to depend entirely upon my physical strength and upon what I may read from time to time to guide me, or perhaps upon some little advice a friend may give.”
– Is it not necessary for a returned man to produce a certificate of fitness before one can get land?
– I do not think so.
– In Victoria a returned soldier must produce a certificate before he can take up a block of land under the State scheme.
– There is nothing in our regulations providing for it, and it is just the point which I am making. There is no provision for the selection of. men who are fitted for land settlement. As I understand the position, any man is free to make an application, and I suppose that the powers-that-be consider that it would’ not be well to discriminate.
– The land settlement scheme is carried out by the States. The Commonwealth merely advances the money for loans to settlers. Each State has a definite organization for settling soldiers on the land.
– The State finds the land, and the Commonwealth finds the money, but there should be a proper selection in regard to the class of men who are permitted to go on the land. If we permit any man to go on the land and borrow £500, we may be doing an injustice to many brave men who return to us if they are not capable of doing the work they take on. I was pointing out that, with the best of intentions, a man might borrow £500, clear his land, build a home for himself and family, and build the necessary outhouses, and by the time he does all this a couple of years may have passed, and all his money may be expended in the maintenance of himself and his family, and in the improvement of his holding, without his securing any return for his labours.
– Are the States giving land to the soldiers regardless of whether they are fit to follow the occupation of farming or not?
– I do not know that any distinction is made so long as a man is physically capable-.
– In Victoria a certificate must first be obtained showing that a man is fit to go upon the land.
– In South Australia there are training establishments where men have to serve their time and prove their capability before they are given blocks of land.
– Are not men permitted to make application to go on the land, and, if they are physically capable, are they not entitled to get a block and be lent money?
– The Commonwealth does not administer that part of the scheme which deals with the settlement of men on the land.
– I am aware that our regulations do not deal with this matter, but we advance the money to the States, and “make ourselves responsible for the expenditure in this direction. There is nothing in the regulations to show that only men who have proved their fitness for the purpose of land settlement shall be those to whom assistance is granted. That is my point. I am not condemning what has been done. But I am trying to show how necessary it is to use every precaution, because we are taking on a great load. This policy will cost us many millions of pounds.
– Is it not the general wish to try to put these men on the land if it is possible to do so?
– Yes ; but my point is that they should be fitted for the occupation.
– Nothing but time will prove that.
– We have 300,000 men at the battle Front. A large number of them will go back to their old occupations when they, return, but an honorable member has estimated that at least 20 per cent, of them will probably desire to go on the land. I think the percentage is high, but if it is a correct estimate, it will mean that 60,000 men will be anxious to so settle. I cannot speak from my own experience, but I can speak of the experience of others. Many men think that they- have the necessary experience for an agricultural life. They are physically capable, and when they get on the land they may work very hard, but two or three years may go by, and every penny of the £500 they have borrowed may be spent without any return being secured. Consequently, at the end of that time they may not be able to keep themselves or their families. What will happen then? I hope that Parliament will always be liberal in regard to the administration of the scheme, but there is a possibility that we shall say, “ There is no hope of these men making a success. They have gone through their £500, and they cannot possibly pay their way. We must sell them up.” I want to protect these men, who may be thrown on the world after three years of hard work without securing any return. How are we to avoid the position that may arise?
– If proper precautions are taken it can be avoided.
– That is my point.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– There should be some means by which returned men can be classified according to their avocation9. There should be some means of ascertaining what classes of employment they are best suited for, and whatever a man’s bent in life may be he should be given the opportunity to follow it. Any man who can show that he has -had experience on the land should be put in that particular class.
– Before the men leave they give particulars of the work to which they have been accustomed..
– Is that information put to any test?
– Yes; in South Australia it is.
– It is the same in Victoria. Each man must secure a qualifying certificate before he can go on the land.
– Honorable members have the same idea that I have, that this matter should be put to the test; that we should first ascertain a man’s fitness to follow the occupation of a farmer. Evidently this is done in a couple of States, but the Commonwealth Government should have an agreement with the whole of the States to see that it is done properly. We should classify the men, as the Assistant Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) suggests has been done, and then we should put them into the particular positions which they can fill. Because a man thinks that he can succeed on the land, he should not necessarily be permitted to take up land. I may be considered very hard in making this qualification; but I have known so many failures in cases of men who have not had any knowledge of agriculture, and have not possessed sufficient chemical knowledge of the capabilities of the soil they were working, to make a success.
– Very few farmers have that knowledge.
– And very many farmers have failed.
– Not from lack of that knowledge.
– In the Yanko district, in New South Wales, a weir was constructed, and water was provided for a large area of land, on which men were settled. But how many men have already failed on that area?
– It wasnot the fault of the men.. It was the fault of taking the advice of experts.
-The fact remains that those men, who did not have sufficient knowledge of their own, took the advice of other people, and probably failed in consequence.
– Was it good land?
– It was totally unsuitable. Has the ordinary small settlement on Crown lands in New South Wales failed?
– There is always a proportion of failures. I do not say that every one fails. My argument is that it is necessary to be very careful in selecting men to put on the land. If they are not adapted to the work, they will spend the money which we lend them, only to find themselves stranded after they have put in two or three years’ work. As we. can put only a certain number of soldiers on the land, we must make sure that those we put there are suited to rural pursuits, just as we must see that the others are suited to the avocations to which they are allotted. The expenditure to which the Commonwealth will be committed will be so large that, in the public interest, as well as in that of the returned soldiers, we must be very care- ful. The returned men deserve all that we can do for them, but we must be careful that what we do is not something which may injure them in the long run.
– Will it injure them to put them on the land?
– Yes ; if they are not suited to a rural occupation. We must put only suitable men on the land.
– And get suitable land for the men. Then they will not fail.
– The suitability of the land is as important as the suitability of the man for rural pursuits. No matter how capable he may be, a man cannot make a success of farming on land unsuited for agriculture.
– Everything depends on the price paid for the land.
– New South Wales Governments have purchased estates for closer settlement, many at prices much too high. If a Government pays too much for the resumption of land, and passes on the price in subdividing that land for settlement, the persons who have to pay for the over-capitalization cannot make a living on the land. In a scheme of this magnitude, there should be a thorough understanding between the Commonwealth and the States in regard to the purchase of land, the conditions under which it will be placed at the disposal of the soldiers, the advances to the soldiers, and other matters. An advance of £500 will not be sufficient in most cases ; few will be able to make a living off their land after an expenditure of only £500 on it. A relative of mine who took up land at Yanko, with a capital of £1,000, had to come back and do some work before he got enough to keep his wife and family going. There is no harder worker than he is.
– What had he to pay for his land?
– He is paying for it by instalments. It is not the cost of the land that has mattered so much in his case as the cost of improving it. It means a large expenditure to make a decent home, and provide outhouses, clearing, fencing, implements, and stock.
– Money has not to be spent on all those things at Yanko.
– No. My remark applies to land settlement in general, not only to land settlement at Yanko. I should be sorry indeed if we placed 30,000 men’ on the land, and a third of them - that is, 10,000 - subsequently failed, after they had spent several of the best years of their life in trying to make a’ success of agriculture. Often matters are not looked into as deeply as is necessary to come to a right decision regarding them.
– Should not the Commonwealth be represented on the State Boards ?
– I think so. It is ridiculous that the Commonwealth should undertake to spend up to £40,000,000 or £50.000,000 without representation.
– The money will have to be loaned to the States by the Commonwealth, and they will have to repay it.
– If an advance of £500 were made to each of 30,000 soldiers, and a third of the men failed, what would be the position of the Commonwealth ? It could not levy on the land which the men had held, nor on their improvements; these would belong to the States.
– The Commonwealth would look to the States for the repayment of the money that had been advanced.
– A regulation provides that, in the event of a failure, the Commonwealth may sell the goods and chattels of the farmer.
– But the money for land settlement will be lent by the Commonwealth to the States, which will make advances to the settlers through their agricultural banks. The Commonwealth will look only to the States for its repayment.
– The only way by which the advances can be recovered by the Commonwealth will be by selling implements and stock. That is provided for in the regulations.
– The regulation referred to does not deal with advances by the States on behalf of the Commonwealth.
– If a man failed, his horses, carts, ploughs and belongings of that kind could be sold by the Commonwealth; but his land or his improvements couldnot be so sold, because they would belong to the State in which the holding was situated. Then, again, there is no provision in the regulations for the return to the soldier of any excess over and above his debts that may be realized by the sale of his effects. Provision should be made for that. We are going to lend money to these men, at a rate of interest which is not to exceed 5 per cent. , though it may be less ; and on £50 there is to be no interest payable. Therefore, on an advance of £500, the annual interest charge will be £22 10s. ; and as the loan under ordinary circumstances - it may be extended with the approval of the State Board - will be for ten years, the soldier settler will have to find, annually, £72 10s. for capital and interest. This he will be unable to do. We must see clearly where we are going in these matters. The terms imposed on the settlers should be as easy as possible. Young men should not be coaxed into believing that they will be better off on the land, only to find later that they are worse off.
I wish the Minister to review the provision for the granting of a sustenance allowance only within six months of the soldier’s return. A man may find himself able to work, and go straight to work without applying for sustenance; but after some months, the effects of the war may tell on him, and he may find himself compelled to ask for assistance. Why should not a man be allowed to claim assistance even after six or eight months ? It may take even longer than that for him to find out that his constitution has been impaired by the fatigues of war. There should be some one to whom genuine men could appeal, even after an interval of years; and a sustentation allowance should be granted even to men who have gone to work, and, after a time, have found themselves unable to continue to support their wives and families by their own exertions.
– There is a similar provision in regard to pensions.
– Yes ; but we did not get that without a great deal of effort.
I do not agree with all that was said by the honorable member fop Macquarie (Mr. Nicholls) regarding the committees, but I would point out that there may be danger in the provision for the appointment of their chairmen by the Government. The committees are to consist of three representatives of the employers, and three of the trade and labour councils, and their chairmen are to be appointed by the Government. Unless great care is exercised in these appointments, there may be an unnecessary expenditure of money. Men put to mechanical and other work for training may be assessed as able to earn 50 per cent, of the full wage payable ‘for their trade. After three months they will be assessed again, and may then be found to be 60 per cent, efficient. It is left to the committees, on which the chairman will practically have the deciding vote, to determine the extent of the efficiency of the trainee. If a man is assessed at less than full efficiency, but is able to do the equivalent of a full day’s work, the employer will benefit by the allowance given to him. The chairmen will be very important persons, and the honorable member for Macquarie was right in drawing attention to the importance of their position; but I do not agree with him that the committees should appoint their own chairmen. We are told that there will be a large number of these committees, and that they will have to be appointed all over the Commonwealth. They will have large powers, powers such as this Parliament has not got. I do not find fault with that provision - time will tell whether it will work satisfactorily; but we must exercise care in the matter of appointments.
Provision is made in the regulations for the payment to apprentices of allowances which will make their earnings equal to the rates of wages prevailing in their trades. That is a proper provision, because many young fellows who were under indentures when .they left for the war will in their several years of absence have grown into manhood, and it would be unfair to ask them to finish their time on payments of 10s. or 15s. per week. They should get reasonable wages while completing their training. I draw attention, however, to an omission from the scheme. There went to the war many young men who were articled in the professions, so that they might become lawyers, doctors, dentists, architects, engineers, and the like. In many cases, parents, not in affluent circumstances, have undergone hardship to give their lads a chance in life. Many of these lads, when war broke out, said, “ It is my duty to go to the Front, notwithstanding that I have served three or four years of my articles.” When they come back three or four years later, they are men who cannot be expected to accept anything from 5s. to 15s. per week, and it is only fair that they should have the advantage of this measure.
– They do come within the measure according to section 39, which makes provision for those who are being trained for commercial or professional pursuits. I spoke to the Minister about this; and where there has been a broken course of studentship, help will be afforded.
– Oxford, Cambridge, and other universities are giving war degrees.
– A statement will be made later on, dealing with the point raised by the honorable member for Hunter.
– I see on reference to the Bill that sub-section 3 of section- 39 does make provision for -those who are being trained for commercial or professional pursuits; but does that cover the whole of the cases I have instanced ?
– That covers only a few cases, but broken studentship ought to ba arranged for, and, as I say, a statement will be made later on.
– There are, of course, parents in such circumstances that they may be able to look after their lads until their training is completed; and my appeal is on behalf of parents who find it a very difficult task to provide for a mau of twenty-four or twenty-five years of age. In many cases such men, after earning soldiers’ pay, would decide not- to complete their articles or training; and this, of course, would interfere seriously with their future prospects. However, I am glad to hear that a statement on the point is to be made, and that something is to be done to cover such cases as those to which I have drawn attention.
I wish the , Government well in their effort, and I shall give them all the assistance in my power. I am sure that every one in the House desires to do his best in the interests of those gallant men who have risked their lives in order that we may remain in perfect security. The cost may be great, but every penny of expenditure is necessary. We must be careful, however, that in our anxiety we do not permit any leakage or waste of money.
– I compliment the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) on a speech sympathetic to the Government, and to the proposals we are now discussing; indeed, I take the opportunity to congratulate most honorable members opposite for their attitude on the present occasion. It is a great pity that in all important questions of the kind we cannot drop party politics altogether, and work unitedly for the common weal.
I am pleased to hear from the Minister that clause 4 .covers apprentices, or rather those who desire to learn farming. Under the Bill, such a man is treated as an apprentice, and this removes a great many of our difficulties. The regulations generally are most comprehensive. There are seventy-five clauses altogether, and there is not one that, after careful reading, I would eliminate. At the same time, the Minister .has asked us to make suggestions, not only critical but constructive; and all I have to say will be rather to add to than to detract from the proposals. The other day I was attracted to the annual meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Melbourne, having seen an advertisement that these reverend gentlemen intended to discuss the question of repatriation, and I thought that I might there obtain information worthy of communication to this House. It was a pleasure, indeed, for me to hear from the Moderator, Captain-Chaplain Stewart, and other chaplains from the Front, that in their opinion, the scheme of repatriation which we are now considering is one of the best measures yet introduced into this Parliament. They congratulated themselves on having such a Minister as Senator Millen at the head of the Department; and, though some of them had come to the meeting to criticise, they found themselves doing nothing but giving praise.
What I like about the proposed committees is that they are an indication that the Government have a strong desire for decentralization, the idea being, not to leave the control in the hands of the central body, but to distribute it amongst the State Boards and the Local Committees. The shire committees are not to be composed entirely of shire councillors or aldermen, but of others who have had experience of War Council work, and, if necessary, there may be two or three committees in one shire. As to the personnel of the committees, I must say I am very sorry to see that, in the case of New South Wales and Queensland, which, combined, may be regarded as the most important pastoral and agricultural portion of Australia, not one grazier or farmer is appointed. In my opinion, it would be very useful in the administration of the Act if men of experience in this connexion were offered an opportunity to give their services. In the case of New South Wales, one gentleman appointed, Mr. Hordern, though he may not be called a grazier, owns a farm in the Mossvale district, and is president of the Royal Agricultural Society, and altogether a representative man, with sympathies in the right direction. I take a keen interest in Queensland, and my regret is that a similar appointment has not been made in the case of that State.
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Nicholls) urged that every returned soldier should be supplied with a. railway pass, and told us of a case in which a man had been removed from the train by the police because he had not been supplied with a ticket by the Department. It must be remembered, however, that if this man was deserving of a pass, as one returning from a hospital or on some such business; all it was necessary for him to do was to apply to the hospital in order to get a pass. I have travelled with many returned men under such circumstances, and I have always found them, not only provided with first class passes, but sleeping berths, and all. the necessary accommodation for invalids. This is as it should be; and I can only suggest, either that the man referred to was not a returned soldier, or, if he were, that he had not taken the proper course to obtain, a ticket.
We were told yesterday, I think, that the Government intend to supply an omission, and arrange for advances to men in order that they may pay the first instalment in the purchase of homes. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) gave us a case in point, and £50 is suggested as the least that can be offered. I do not observe, however, that the regulations provide any allowance for rent, although it is a question whether a returned soldier would not be better in a rented house than in a purchased house.
– The difficulty is that, very often, in the case of rented houses, the premises are sold, and the tenant has to go.
– In New South Wales there are, I am told, 700 homes rented to returned soldiers; and some such system might be adopted by the Commonwealth Government. I remind honorable members that if a soldier starts to build a home now he will have to pay three or four times as much for material and labour as he will be called upon to pay when peace is declared. Therefore he will be spending all his hard-earned money on a building that will not be worth onefourth of its cost whenthewar ends.
– Does the honorable member believe that the cost of building will fall to that extent?
– I certainly do, because the thousands of men who are at the Front and those engaged in making munitions will return to their various trades and industries. At the present time we have to pay in parts of New South Wales about £120 a ton for corrugated iron. I have asked questions in the House about the high cost of this article, and I have been assured that it cannot be avoided, because supplies are unobtainable. At least a ton of iron is required for the roofing of a house. That one item alone will absorb £120, whereas if the house were built after the war and the iron were purchased for from £20 to £25 per ton, the money thus saved would be in the pockets of the returned soldier. Timber, plumbing material, and paints also have increased tremendously in price.
– That is due to profiteering.
– At any rate the soldier will have to pay the ruling prices. Therefore I suggest that in the interests of the returned soldiers themselves the Government should arrange some scheme of leasing houses to them, and defer the building of homes to a more favorable time. .
The sustenance allowances provided for in regulation 34 are very generous. The honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) acquainted the House with what New Zealand is doing in this way. In an article in The Round Table I find that the New Zealand Government provide a sustenance allowance of £3 3s. for a man with a wife and one child, whereas the Commonwealth’s allowance is 55s., 6d., a difference of 7s. 6d. per family. It must be remembered, however, that the cost of living in New Zealand is slightly higher than in Australia. At the present time Australia enjoys a cheaper rate of living than any other Dominion, if, indeed, the cost of living here is not lower than in any other part of the world.
– I should like to see some of the honorable members opposite trying to keep a family on £3 per week.
– That does not alter the fact that nowhere else in the Empire can one live as cheaply to-day as he can live in Australia. The prices of bread and meat, notwithstanding all the complaints that are made, are only about one-fourth of what the people in the Old Country have to pay.
– That does not make the position any better in Australia.
– I am merely stating the facts. I notice that regulation 34 provides an increase in the sustenance allowance of 3s. 6d. per week for each child to the number of four. For families having more than four children there is no further increase. Is a man with nine children to receive only the same amount of sustenance as a man with four children?
– Usually when there are nine children in the family some of them are earning.
– That should make no difference. We should encourage big families, particularly in war time.
– But we do not wish them to live on sustenance 1 This allowance is not a wage; it is only to sustain the family until the head of it gets employment.
– I wish to put the House right in regard to a point taken by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor), who made it appear that no sustenance allowance will be given to a returned soldier unless application is made within six months of the commencement of the regulations, or within six months of the date of his discharge. The honor- able member overlooked Regulation 35, which reads -
In the case of -
I wish the country to know that, even after the expiry of the six months prescribed in regulation 34, a returned soldier will be entitled to make application for assistance and have his claims considered.
Regulation 44 provides that the number of trainees engaged in any one shop shall not exceed one tosix, or portion of six, fully paid journeymen continuously employed at the trade in that shop during the six months immediately preceding the trainee’s engagement. “We should make that provision more generous. In most of the country districts of New South Wales there are many young fellows who would like to become apprenticed to some trade, but they are prevented from doing so by the Arbitration Awards and Wages Boards decisions, which limit the number of apprentices to the proportion mentioned in this regulation. This proves a great hardship to these men, and it will affect returned soldiers in the same way. We should make the proportion one to four, or one to three, and so give the young men in the country an opportunity to learn a trade.One of the effects of this condition is that many young fellows, being unable to become apprenticed in their country towns, must go to the cities. The employers say that they are turning out very few tradesmen, because they are denied the opportunity of teaching them. I think that we should give to every young man the maximum opportunity of learning a trade.
I was very pleased with the opportunity of visiting Caulfield Military Hospital on Saturday last. What interested me particularly was to see a number of returned soldiers who had lost limbs en gaged in the manufacture of artificial limbs from basket willow. Owing to the lightness’ of this wood it is possible to make limbs weighing only about 6 or 7 lbs. each. The fact of these workers having themselves lost limbs gives a sympathy to their work, and enables them to adjust the limb to the needs of the patient. I hope that, as a result of the work that is being done at the hospital, a number of patients will be taken out, and the comfort of maimed soldiers insured in the future manufacture of artificial limbs.
Regulation 60 allows a State Board to make advances by way of loanfor the purchase of approved businesses, plant, stock, and live stock, not exceeding £150 in each case, to widows with children, married soldiers, &c. But no provision is made for such advances to be made to single men. In the township of Bailey, from which I hail, is a young man who returned from the war about eighteen months ago. He and a friend started a motor garage, and application was made to the Minister for an advance of £100 for the purchase of a lathe. The application was turned down for no other reason than that the applicant was single.
– Had he been engaged in. that business before he went to the war?
– No; but he was a mechanic. This treatment is in striking contrast to the generosity with which men desirous of going upon the land are to be treated. The Government of New South Wales will advance a man £3,000 to buy a farming property, and will also on behalf of the Federal Government, advance a further £500 for improvements and stocking. Yet a single man who wishes to start the business of a motor garage is refused an advance of £100. The Government should reconsider this matter, and make provision to assist a man, up to a certain amount, to go into any business that he may choose.-
I come now to the very important matter of land settlement. I was pleased to hear the remarks of ‘ the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) regarding the treatment of returned soldiers in Victoria. That State will advance up to £2,500 for. the purchase of land, but the New South Wales Government are doing even better. There they are applying to this scheme practically the provisions of the Closer Settlement Promotion Act. Any returned soldier who applies to take part in a ballot for a block of land must show that he possesses the necessary qualifications, and must have sufficient capital to satisfy the Commission that he will be a success on it. The Commonwealth provides him with £500.
– There is no special legislation on the part of the State ?
– And does a returned soldier receive preference over other applicants?
– Does the New South Wales Government take the £500 advanced by the “Commonwealth ?
– The Minister has told us that, in each case, the £500 is advanced to the State Government, which is responsible for the total amount so advanced.
– Are we responsible for the unequal treatment of returned soldiers in different States ? Why should a returned soldier in one State be allowed to take up £2,500 worth of land, while in another State he may take up only £2,000 worth ?
– We are not responsible for that. The matter is left in the hands of the States.
– It should not be.
– With all due deference to the honorable member, I think it should be. The States have their separate Departments of Lands and lands settlement machinery, and -each State can manage its own affairs in that regard.
– Does not the system mean that the Commonwealth advances to a soldier going on the land in New South Wales £500 more than it advances to a soldier settling on land in Victoria ?
– No; the £500 advanced’ by the Commonwealth is for improvements.
– We ought to have a representative in each State.
– That is a good suggestion. We ought, at all events, to have inspectors to visit returned soldiers who go on the land, and to report as to the progress they are making. Some honorable members on this side took exception to the remarks made by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), but I think he was quite right in urging that we need to make certain that those whom we place on the land have the necessary qualifications. We shall do no good by simply taking the first returned soldier who comes along and dumping him on a block of ground, regardless of whether or not he knows anything about farming. Farming cannot be learned in a day. Some men have been practically all their lives on the land, yet have failed. The Government are taking a step in the right direction in proposing to increase the number of agricultural colleges; but I know many young fellows who have been through an agricultural college, and yet have not had the knowledge of farming possessed by an old settler who has had no such training. Under clause 40, the proper sort of training will be provided for those who wish to go in for farming or any new occupation. Under that clause a returned soldier desirous of going on the land may be apprenticed to a farmer, and after he has served a. two or three years’ apprenticeship, he should be on the high road to success. A still better system, however, might be adopted. My suggestion is that returned soldiers should be grouped on large estates, with an experienced manager in each case to look after their interests until they have cleared the land and made it ready for cultivation. If, for instance, the Government purchased at £4 an estate of 22,500 acres, which had ‘been fenced, and the timber on which had been ring-barked, it would realize £7 or £8 per acre, after it had been cleared and made fit for cultivation. If that estate were divided into 750-acre blocks it would mean that thirty returned soldiers could be settled upon it, and that each holding would cost, at £4 per acre, £3,000. If these thirty men were grouped together, they could have a competent manager to look after their interests, and the advance of £500 each would be sufficient to enable them to stock the property. They could go on improving it, and as soon as it was cleared and fit for cultivation, each man could be placed upon his own block. While they were improving the property under this system they would be making a handsome living, and under the guidance of an experienced manager they would not make many mistakes.
– We could not provide for that, seeing that the work rests with the States.
– The Government ought to bring pressure to bear upon the States to take action in that direction. Wirenetting now costs £100 per mile, so that a man who settled on a 750-acre block, and wished to cultivate it, would have to expend his advance of, £500 in wirenetting the property. He would have nothing left for the erection of his house or for the provision of plant and seed. He would be up against a hopeless proposition.
– Surely a man would not take up such a proposition.
– Most men would be glad to secure such an area.
– What deposit does the New South Wales Government ask?
– It requires a deposit of 5 per cent. Payment is made at the rate of 5 per cent. - 1 per cent, sinking fund and 4 per cent, interest - and the whole indebtedness is wiped out in thirty-eight years.
Another flaw in connexion with the bal- loting for land under the present system is the failure to discriminate in favour- of local applicants. A ballot is advertised for land at, say, Cowra, and soldier lads from Albury, Gundagai, and elsewhere scramble for it. I hold that preference should be given to local lads. If a returned soldier were settled near his old home he would have the sympathy and advice of his farming friends. He would be able to borrow farming implements from his relatives, and would also have the advantage of knowing all about the soil and climatic conditions of the district. If this system of preference were adopted greater satisfaction would be given.
Many new industries are springing up in Australia. Recently the GovernorGeneral gave us a very interesting address on the question of afforestation. His Excellency exhibited beautiful specimens of paper that had been manufactured from pulp made from the scrap and leavings of a pirie mill. I was told the other day that the wattle bark taken out of tan pits, and which nowadays is burnt or wasted, makes the best of paper pulp. Prickly pear and spruce could also be used in the. same way. I read recently in a report that if we were to plant 20,000 acres of spruce, and an additional 15,000 acres in every subsequent year, we should be able at the end of fifteen years to cut down the first 20,000 acres, and that the supply of spruce would be sufficient to provide all the paper pulp required in
Australia. This would mean that in fifteen years we should have a forest of 245,000 acres of spruce, which would be sufficient to supply all our needs. As soon as the first 20,000 acres had been cut out we could replant the area, and go on doing so from year to year. These are interests to which we need to be alive.
– Sixty thousand young trees, intended to be planted at Canberra, were destroyed this year to save the cost of putting them into the ground.
– We were so informed on the occasion of a recent visit to Canberra. Afforestation would give employment to hundreds of our returned soldiers.
There are other matters with which I do not propose to deal at present, but I desire to congratulate the Government on the very comprehensive scheme which they have prepared., I realize that the task of the Minister for Repatriation is surrounded with difficulties. He is, so to speak, in a new boat, sailing on an uncharted sea, and has to take soundings as he goes along. Having regard to his ability, experience, and sympathy, I have no doubt that the path of the returned soldier will be made as smooth as possible. The Minister has himself been on the land. He has experienced the ups and downs of life, and his sympathies go out to our returned men. I have no doubt that this scheme, guided by him, and backed up by honorable members generally, will be attended with the very best results
.- In perusing the speech made by the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) when introducing this Bill, I was struck by the personnel of the various State Boards. When the original Bill was before the House, I endeavoured unsuccessfully to provide for the representation of our returned soldiers on such Boards by men selected by themselves. The Government promised’ that returned soldiers, selected, by it, would be appointed to such Boards; but I find that, in reality, there are only two returned soldiers on the six State Boards.
– There are two representatives of returned soldiers on each State Board.
– Are they bond fide returned soldiers?
– Yes. Is the honorable member speaking from knowledge?
– I am speaking from what I gleaned from’ the honorable member’s speech.
– I made the announcement which the Minister for Repatriation made in the Senate, that there are two returned soldiers on each State Board.
– The Minister’s statement did not convey that information. It shows that in Victoria the State Board will comprise one returned soldier, a journalist, a solicitor, a trade union secretary, a pastoralist, a company manager, and a retired soldier.
– Probably the last is a misprint. The Minister said in the Senate that the State Boards would be composed much in the same way, that is, by appointing four business men, two returned soldiers, and a representative of organized labour on each Board.
– There does not appear to be a returned soldier on the Tasmanian Board.
– There is. The honorable member is merely judging by the names themselves. In any case, the list supplied to honorable members was hurriedly prepared. Honorable members asked for the list, and I simply handed then one which I had in my possession at the time.
– That probably explains why the gentlemen who are to represent the returned soldiers are not so described in the list which has been placed before us. However, it does not deal with the principle which I advocated when the original Bill was before us, and which applies with equal force to-day, namely, that the soldiers themselves should be given the right to select their own representatives on State Boards and local committees. My experience in the industrial arena convinces me that if members of an organization are desirous of having their business done to suit them, they can only secure it by having it supervized by men selected by themselves. If the men had the right to choose their own representatives on State Boards there would be radical alterations in the personnel of those Boards, and if the Government and their supporters were anxious to meet the wishes and desires of returned soldiers, and to make a success of the repatriation scheme, they would do well to allow them to select at least two of themselves to work on each State Board. Even then they would be in a minority, because there are seven persona on each Board. The Government would lose nothing by granting this right; in fact, they would gain considerably, because the men would feel more satisfied. They would know that if their representatives did not please them, the power would remain in their hands to remedy the trouble. At present, they have no control over their alleged representatives. I have no desire to cast any reflection upon those persons who have been appointed to represent the returned soldiers and sailors on the State Boards, but they are not the representatives of the soldiers because they do not represent the men’s ideas as expressed by themselves. The experience that the Government have had in regard to representations made by returned soldiers with respect to their various grievances shows that when the men have an opportunity of putting forward their views through a committee or delegation selected by themselves, difficulties have been easily smoothed over, or explained away. At any rate, my experience goes to show that better work is done when the men affected are satisfied that those who are supposed to represent their views do truly represent them, and that every facility is given to them to control their representation, and see that it is a true reflection of their wishes and aspirations.
According to a report in this evening’s Herald of a deputationfrom the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Association to the Acting Prime Minister -
Senator Bolton said that the league asked that it should have proportional representation on the State Repatriation Boards. Members of these Boards should be paid, as it was not right, nor advisable, nor in the interest of returned soldiers, that important duties affecting the happiness and despair, the success and the failure, of thousands of our best citizensshould be left to citizens serving in an honorary capacity.
Senator Bolton’s remarks go to show that I am now voicing views which are in harmony with those expressed by the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Association elsewhere to-day. I have had conversations with a large number of returned men and with members of the executive committee of the Returned Soldiers and
Sailors Association, and I gather that it is their opinion that the men’s best interests would be served by allowing them to have representation which can be controlled by themselves.
The Government will be well advised to reconsider the matter, especially in relation to the representation of returned soldiers on State Boards and Local Committees, which will be entrusted with the task of attending to the details of administration. It would facilitate the smooth working of the scheme if the soldiers felt that in each district men selected and controlled by themselves were looking after their interests on the various Local Committees. I am sure that it will tend more than anything else towards the successful carrying out of the scheme. I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter before we reach the Committee stage, otherwise I shall have to test the feeling of honorable members again, to ascertain whether they have changed their minds or not upon the matter since the scheme was previously engaging our attention.
– I have listened to the debate with a great deal of pleasure, because from both sides of the House I have heard expressions of good-will towards the soldiers. There has been a good deal of helpful criticism in the direction of endeavouring to make the measure and the regulations which are to be operated under it really effective, so that the treatment which the soldier will have meted out to him will be fair and just. It is imperative to do this, because no problem facing Australia’ will more directly affect its future than the manner in which our returned soldiers are treated. If they are given a fair deal, and if we thus secure a contented class of men in the community, we can achieve anything as a nation. But if the returned soldiers feel that they are not being given a fair deal, and that their interests have not been properly eonsi dared, and if in this way they become a discontented class in our midst, Australia will be in a hopeless position. No matter how prosperous or well-governed a country may be, there will always be in it a small section of bad men who are discontented with everything; but if we, by our actions, create a discontented class among our very best citizens - men who have proved their citizenship by offering their lives to their country in the hour of danger - it will be almost impossible for the Commonwealth to do any good. Therefore I heartily welcome the fact that assistance and constructive criticism has come from both sides of the Chamber, and that the Bill has not been treated as a party measure in any sense whatever. “When I received a copy of the Bill and the regulations, I was agreeably surprised. I had heard a lot of complaints in many directions about what was being done in the matter of repatriation, and I had no conception that it had been dealt with so thoroughly, and that the whole position was so well in hand as I found it to be when I read the regulations. Objections have been raised to the fact that Parliament is voluntarily parting with, some of its powers by deputing them to the Central Commission. I do not agree with that belief. I think that it is an excellent idea to hand these powers over to a small body of men who can handle matters quickly and effectively, and come to speedy decisions. If every question of policy affecting returned soldiers has to be brought to this House and threshed out at length, intolerable sufferings will be placed on the soldiers. One essential factor in the treatment of our soldiers will be that matters concerning them shall be dealt with quickly, and that no man shall be kept hanging about indefinitely until some sort of decision has been arrived at. It may be that, because I am engaged in business, I imagine that when business people get hold of a thing they are going to do some good with it. However, the regulations which caused me a great deal of satisfaction when I read them, may be entirely attributable to the Minister. But I have a shrewd suspicion, which it will take a good deal to remove, ‘that the persons who are now on the Central Committee gave their assistance in the framing of the regulations which we are discussing.
In regard to what has been said about the breach by employers of their obligations towards returned men, I would point out that it is the duty of the member who draws attention to a case of this kind to go further, and give the name of the employe! who, having undertaken to re-employ men who went to the war, should they return safely, has failed to do so. The names of all such employers should be made known, and everything should be done to bring their conduct to the knowledge of the community. It- is unfair to the employers at large, who are certainly playing a man’s part in their attitude towards employees who have returned from the” war, to expose them to contempt because of the action of bad employers whose names are not mentioned. Employers who have done the fair thing by returned men, and are prepared to help them in every way they can, should not be stigmatized because of the failures of a few bad men in their midst. Honorable members who have charges to make against employers should give the names of those who have disgraced themselves and their class.
– Many men are reemploying returned soldiers at reduced rates.
– If I promise a man, on his leaving for the war, that I will reemploy him should he return safely, I am under the obligation to give him on his return as good a job as he had when he left, and I do not in the least fulfil that obligation if, when he comes back, I say, “ Oh, yes, I promised to take you on again,” and give him a worse job than he had when he left. Any employer who does such a thing should have his name publicly mentioned, so that his behaviour may be known.
– At the Small Arms Factory, at Lithgow, they took on lads of nineteen who came back from the war, paying them junior rates, instead of giving them the proper rates.
– I am not competent to express an opinion on that matter, but, no doubt, if my honorable friend will state the facts, the Government will look into it. Where unfair treatment is alleged against employers, their names should be mentioned.
With regard to the regulations, it is a pity that there has been omitted any provision for the housing of returned men, either by a rent allowance or by giving them buildings; though the Minister has told us that this matter will be dealt with. I agree with those who have said” that the provision of a house would be the greatest encouragement to make homes that could be given to returned soldiers. While away, the soldier is living in a state of ‘ discomfort, and is wholly outside the influences of home life. Consequently there is a slight tendency for him to become a bit irregular in his habits. The best thing, therefore, that we can do for him on his return is to offer him an inducement for settling down and making a home’ right away. While he has the feeling, “ Thank God I am back, and can now lead a decent life,” we should make a decent life possible for him. It is difficult for the Government to provide for everything immediately, but I regret that provision has not been made for the granting of housing facilities to soldiers as one of the earliest points dealt with.
I understand that a totally disabled soldier, or a soldier’s widow with children, may get an allowance for furniture. This allowance should not be confined to persons of these classes. We ought to try to provide a home for every soldier who is prepared to settle down and make one, whether for his wife or for his aged relatives or other dependants. When a man is in earnest about making a home for himself, we should give him every inducement to do so. But Ave should be very careful how we make direct advances by way of gift. There are bad men wherever you go, and we shall have to see that the man who has a home and furniture cannot take advantage of any arrangement to get what he is not honestly entitled to, and does not need. In every walk of life there are bad men, who ave doing an injury ‘ to their fellows by not running straight, and we must provide against the imposition of such persons. For that reason some discretion should be permitted to the Local Committees. We should not permit every returned soldier to demand, as of right, a certain advance for furniture; but we should allow gifts to be made to those who are in need of, and deserve, them. We have made admirable provisions for the localization of the administration, so that persons knowing something about the men of each district may control the local administration of the scheme. That should be a sufficient safeguard against imposition. It might be left to the discretion of the Local Committees to say whether a man should get, by way of a gift, a certain amount for furniture. That’ will prevent abuse.
The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) pointed out that members of Parliament will play no part in the carrying out of this scheme, and he suggested that it would be a good thing if they were given positions on the Local Committees. The difficulty in the way of adopting that suggestion is that, in every electorate, there will be a large number of committees. What might be done is to provide, not that members of Parliament shall be members of the Local Committees, with the right to vote, but that they shall have the right to attend the meetings of the executive of any committee in their electorate. I make this suggestion because I think that if it were adopted honorable members would realize more the need for occasional attendances at the meetings of the various executives, to assure ourselves that everything is being done properly for the welfare of the soldiers.
– The suggestion is a practicable one, so far as small electorates are concerned, but not so far as large electorates aTe concerned.
– The impression left on my mind by the provision for the industrial and vocational training of men 13 that it is a generous one, and, with proper administration, should prove a success.
There are many difficulties in the way of successful land settlement. I agree with those who say that the Commonwealthy which is to find such a large sum of money for land settlement, should have some say in the spending of its money.
Last night it was contended that an equity should be given in the land acquired by settlers. I would point out, however, that it will be only to a certain number that this equity can be given, because only a portion of the returned soldiers will go on the land. The giving of an equity might result in certain returned men getting a greater benefit than others differently placed. Under no circumstances can soldiers be got to consent to injustice; and if some were to get more than others, there would .be trouble. You can be firm, as I have found from experience, but you must treat the men justly, and every one alike.
One other matter. There are soldiers and soldiers. The average soldier asks only for a fair deal. He does not wish to be treated ‘as an extraordinary animal.
He does not ask for special consideration, nor for charity. Now, the only way in which we can treat our soldiers fairly is by seeing that the good, honest, decent men are not damaged by the tricks of the bad nien. There are bad men in the Army - men who were wasters before they enlisted, who took thundering good care never to get to the Front, who have come back as wasters, and whom nothing will change. We must protect the ordinary soldiers from injury by them. We must see that there is no unfair treatment, and must satisfy ourselves as to the justice and merits of every case. If we do not do that, we shall act unfairly towards the man whom I describe as the good, honest, decent soldier.
Sitting suspended from 6.SS to 7.50 p.m.
– There has always been the desire to do what is necessary for the repatriation of our’ men, but we have only now reached the stage of tending to do something; and it must be admitted that this and preceding Governments have been very remiss in the matter. We knew in 1915 that repatriation on a large and comprehensive scale would be necessary, and we ought to have been preparing then, and were supposed to be preparing; but only now, in 1918, are we making a start. If. the idea is to find employment for the returned soldiers in the industries, trades and callings in Australia to-day, without making any effort to promote and foster new industries, or to open up new country, we are making a great mistake, and the scheme will break down. There are not sufficient officials at the repatriation head-quarters at Jolimont to deal with the cases that now present themselves, and it is a fact that the doctor there has passed a number of. men for light employment without examining them. In one batch of twentyseven men, the only ones examined were those who had lost limbs; and these were the very men who, to a layman, would appear to require no examination whatever, their condition being quite obvious. The remainder of the men, no matter what their physical condition might be, were merely told to report themselves for light work. I cannot think that this was intended, but it occurred some time after the system had been initiated by Mr.
Lockyer. Several weeks ago I took it upon myself to see that gentleman, in order to obtain some information, and he explained to me the whole of the system, which is much that is now proposed, with slight alterations in detail. In a recent newspaper article we were told that 26,000 men out of 47,000 who lune returned have been dealt with under this or some other scheme; and the balance desire to know why their cases have not been attended to also. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to attend to all the cases, for, as I say, large as the staff at the Jolimont establishment is, it is not large enough.
The vocational training section is, perhaps, the most important of all, and though the efforts are well meant, the work cannot be coped with under present circumstances. There is only one doctor to deal with all those who come up for medical examination; and of this fact I hope the Minister will take a note with a view to some improvement. It is evident that 90 per cent, of the men from the Front will not be able to follow their original vocations, and any scheme should enable us to determine what other vocations they are fitted for. We are told that the idea is to find out what a man desires to do, and to train him for employment resembling as nearly as possible that to which he was formerly accustomed. The idea is a good one. but it has not been carried out, and it cannot be carried out with1 the officials at present at our disposal. Of the 300,000 odd men who have gone to the Front, many were out of work for a greatportion of the year prior to enlistment; and under our present economic system there will always be men so circumstanced, for I should say 80 per cent, of the workers are casual in the true sense of the word, with periods of unemployment. It will not do to have our returned men out of work for portions of the year; and, therefore, the whole economic system will have to be changed in order to meet the occasion . If we are not more expeditious than we have bean in the past there must bo trouble, if not chaos, for I need not tell honorable members that, when these men, who have done their bit at the Front, return, they will not take “ lying down “ the treatment meted out to the majority of others who have preceded them. We are only looking for trouble if we do not meet the situation adequately. If we are prepared, with our present economic system, to place the whole of the returned men. in regular work, we must put out of employment those who did not go to the Front, and many of these are family men from forty to fifty years of age, and would not have been accepted had they desired to enlist. There must be the result I have indicated if we provide for all our returned men in our present industries, and the land now available at a fair price. Returned men who are married, and ave provided for, will not think much of the Government who throw their fathers and other members of their families out of employment; and we have to consider, not only the soldiers, but those who have never left our shores.
I know as well as anybody that products from the laud create the prosperity of a country ; but this cry of “ Go on the land “ is a farce, unless, first of all, we settle men who desire to go there, and who have the necessary ability and financial assistance behind them. We cannot expect men with impaired health to take up land in the fashion of the old pioneers, because many of them would not elect to go on the land, even if they were physically fit. If the idea is to provide men with land, cattle, food, and financial assistance, the cost will be about £2,000 each family.
– The State of New South Wales is providing £3,000 worth of land for each soldier. *
– I have suggested what I regard as the irreducible minimum. If the Government intend to spend £2,000 in placing one man on the land, another man will demand the same expenditure on him in connexion with some other industry. So far as Victoria is concerned, the talk of placing men on the land effectively is mere moonshine. What has been the result of -past endeavours to extend land settlement in this State ? Every Government of Victoria has repurchased estates; and, of course, as soon as their intention was known, up went the prices of those and the adjoining estates, and the land was so heavily loaded with capital cost that the men who went upon it had not money enough to enable them to succeed. In some cases, the money paid for repurchased estates represented an increase of about 200 per cent, on the valuation for taxation purposes. On a previous occasion, I suggested that, in connexion with repatriation, we should settle the virgin lands owned by the Government. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald) said that that policy would increase the price of land, but 1 say it will lower the price of land. It is said that none of the available land in the possession of the Government is good enough for the settlement of returned soldiers, and that the Government must repurchase. If that is so, the system will break down of its own weight. I believe there is plenty of good land available. But this question of settlement must be treated in a common-sense way. Instead of spending millions of pounds in repurchasing land, and creating a boom in values for the benefit of the existing owners, the Government should build railways into the forests, clear the land, and make money out of the timber they take from it. If we are to spend money on providing land for our soldiers, let us spend it in that way. Although honorable members may not agree with my political views, they must acknowledge that there is a good deal in the contention that I am putting forward.
On the industrial side of this question also we have been laggard. We have known for two or three years that we ought to be preparing for the absorption of the soldiers into civil life on their return. But we have simply scratched at the question like a lot of old hens, instead of acting like sensible men, and making provision in advance for . their employment. The only new industry with which we have made a commencement is shipbuilding. I am assured by the Minister that at last the steel plate of a vessel has been laid at Williarnstown. But for over eighteen months the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), instead of pushing ahead with shipbuilding, was quarrelling with the unions. In the United States of America, although the wages are double those in Australia, ships are being constructed at a very rapid rate. Ships ought to have been built in Australia long before now. We shall have to open up a number of industries to which we never gave previous thought. There is the tin plate industry, for instance. I may be told that at the present time it is impossible to get the machinery and the skilled men to start such an industry in Australia. I quite understand that the tin plate industry has difficulties of its own. But the Americans, years ago, solved the problem by buying up whole factories in Europe and transporting them and their employees to America. The problems arising out of this war are in no way different from those connected with other wars. Every other large war resulted in a big increase in the price of commodities.
– When was there a large war like the present one?
– In 1914 we recognised that this was a large war, and with their knowledge of the shortage of commodities, those who claim to be statesmen ought to have foreseen and prepared for the problems which confront us to-day.
– Was not the Labour party in power?
– Yes, and it did nothing.
– I am not referring alone to the present Government. I said at the commencement of my speech that I am not discussing this matter from a party point of view. All Governments, and even the people themselves, have been remiss in this matter. I suppose in the wool industry alone we could employ from 10,000 to 20,000 men. Other countries want our wool, and we can handle the wool industry in a way that would be far more profitable to Australia than is the present system of exporting the raw article. A much larger proportion of our wool could be scoured. We could do more than we are doing in the making of wool tops, and we could go a step further and manufacture cloths, and utilize the by-products. Thousands of men could be given employment in that way. But we have made no provision at all for the establishment of the woollen industry. We are engaging in wool top manufacturing to some extent, but no attempt is being made to extend the industry.
– A great deal of the wool that is being scoured at the present time is not scoured properly.
– If the honorable member says that, I accept his word, because he knows what he is talking about. But the honorable member will agree with me that it could be scoured properly in Australia.
– Plenty of it is scoured properly.
– The timber industry is another that has been neglected. To-day we have not sufficient seasoned timber with which to build a few ships. Other countries are building wooden ships; why cannot we do so ? If we had commenced shipbuilding a couple of years ago, and the ships had made only a couple of trips before being placed on the scrap-heap, they would have paid for themselves. The Government should have foreseen the present problem, and seasoned timber in advance. But nothing has been done. We are told that 99 per cent, of the timber to be used in the ships that are to be built in Tasmania will be imported. Australian seasoned hardwoods ought to be good enough for the manufacture of wooden ships in existing circumstances. Yet we are relying upon an imported article.
I know that many of the industries to which I am referring would be of no assistance to soldiers who return in broken health. But they would provide employment for the kith and kin of those men. We must make preparations to extend the timber and woollen industries for the sake, not only of the men who return, but also of those whom they will displace. The iron industry also has immense possibilities. Australia has plenty of iron ore and coal, and it is only lately that the people of this country have made any attempt to produce steel. Shortly after the establishment of this Parliament, the party of which I am a member proposed the nationalization of the iron industry, in order that the Federal Government might produce steel and other commodities that did not seem likely to be profitably produced by private enterprise. We were told that our proposal was unconstitutional. If our policy had been indorsed, what a splendid position Australia would have been in to-day! So far, we have not even entered upon the first stages of the iron industry. But it is not too late to make a start. Now is the time to arange a scheme, and send abroad our orders for the necessary plant. Machinery manufacturers in the Old World will be looking for orders when the war is over, and if we cannot get machinery in Great Britain, let us try to obtain it in America. I believe it would pay the Government to spend £5,000,000 in estab lishing the woollen industry in the Commonwealth. We propose to spend money on repatriation, and Australia might as well get some benefit out of it.
– The first consideration is to get the sheep properly shorn.
– Perhaps the actions of the squatters have not conduced to getting the best results from the men. Pottery is another industry that might be started. Australia has the best of clays, yet we have not encouraged that industry to any extent. The chief reason for the failure of the Government to take these works in hand is the fear that by doing so they would interfere with private enterprise.
– Does the honorable member suggest the establishment of Government woollen mills?
-We should expend at least £5,000,000 in developing the wool industry generally, beginning with wool sorting and concluding with the making of woollens. We should at least produce our own wool tops and yarn.
– If we got so far the rest would soon follow.
– Undoubtedly. The knitting and cloth producing . industry to-day has great difficulty in securing yarn, but the Government will not establish works for the production of yarns, because theydo not wish to interfere with private enterprise. The manager of the Geelong Woollen Mills says he cannot supply the Returned Soldiers’ Handweaving Works with the yarn they require, although only eight men are employed there. But for the action of Messrs. Foy and Gibson, the Returned Soldiers’ Handweaving Factory would not have been able to go on.
– Private enterprise came to its aid.
– It did in that case. The Government say we can do nothing in this direction while the war is on, but I contend that we should have commenced two years ago to organize industry. Hundreds of returned soldiers report themselves for light work day after day at the offices of the Repatriation Department, and until they can get that work they are drawing an additional 7s. per week. That 7s. perweek per man is money thrown away. It would be better to put it into some industry in which the men could be employed. But, as it is, we have to pay this extra allowance because we can find nothing for the men to do. Landlords, we are told, are afraid to accept returned soldiers or the wives of soldiers as tenants. “When a landlord does not get his rent he wants to evict his tenant, even if that tenant is a returned soldier or the wife of a soldier at the Front. If he attempts to do so, however, there is a howl of indignation throughout the community. I contend that we have no right to expect one landlord to suffer in this respect while another is free to evict his tenant if the rent is not forthcoming. It is the community, not the individual, that should suffer. And so with regard to employers who refuse to place returned soldiers in positions formerly held by them. Take the position of two competitors in the same industry. Ten per cent, of the employees of one man might be returned soldiers, whose productive capacity, because of impaired health, has been reduced, while, in the other case, only1/2 per cent of the employees might be returned soldiers so circumstanced. Why should the one man be expected to suffer such a disadvantage? It is the community, I repeat, that should suffer, and not the individual. I am not going to condemn any employer who refuses to take a man back, it is the Government . that should make good any shortage in a returned soldier’s earning capacity.
– Do not the regulations provide for such cases?
– I admit that they do. I think it is just as well that our returned soldiers should not go into private employment. It is far better that they should be employed by the Government. A section of the employing class would be only too glad to employ returned soldiers at reduced wages and to allow the Government to make up the shortage.
– With the object of forcing down wages.
– Quite so. I do not want to hand over our returned soldiers to the tender mercies of the employing section of the community, because I know that if we do so, they will receive lower wages on the ground that their earning capacity has been reduced as the result of injuries received in the war. The Government should employ these men, and the community should gain or lose by the enterprise.
I am very pessimistic as to the success of this scheme. I consider the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) to be a highly capable man, but he has a very big job in front of him, and the responsibility for the success of his Department should rest upon not only him, but every member of this Parliament. I have not indulged in this criticism with any desire to discourage the Minister, but I foresee dangers which he and the supporters of the Government do not. From a political point of view they are not permitted to see them.
– That surely is a mere lapse.
– Not at all. Private enterprise isthe obstacle in the way of the Government establishing new in-“ dustries for the employment of our returned soldiers. The profits of private enterprise must not be reduced ! We have to consider not only the returned soldiers, but the whole community in this regard. The majority of those who have gone to the Front were unemployed for at least ten weeks out of every year. When they come back it will not do to let them remain unemployed to the same extent. If they are to be employed all the year round, others will have to go short, and they will probably be their “ fathers, uncles, and elder brothers. ‘ We cannot go on putting returned soldiers into jobs and putting others out of them. If the Government wish to carry out this scheme successfully, I warn them that they must not try to punish those who have not enlisted. If they do, the scheme will fail. Some people are endeavouring to divide the community into two sections, the one consisting of returned soldiers and their dependants, and the other of those who have not enlisted. If that attempt be persevered with, even families will be divided. We should prepare to meet the danger, and we can best do so, not by repurchasing estates for the settlement of our returned soldiers, but by opening up virgin country for their use.
– And by the establishment of new industries.
– Quite so. So far I have not heard of anything being attempted in these directions by the Government. It is said that we cannot start new industries while the war is on, because we cannot obtain the necessary machinery, but I contend that we can do much in the way of preparation. I hope the scheme will be. a greater success than I anticipate. If it is not, the trouble that will arise will shake the very foundations of civilization in Australia, Britain, and wherever the aftermath of the war is felt.
.- The diversity of opinion shown in ‘ this debate, and reflected, I suppose, by public opinion outside, at least goes to demonstrate the fact that the majority of our people, and our politicians, are anxious that our returned soldiers should receive generous treatment. Whilst that is a most commendable spirit, of which we have reason to be proud, I feel that no one has shown where we are to obtain Aladdin’s lamp, and find the money necessary to settle our men on the land, or to place them in various industries, having regard to the huge responsibility already resting upon us. I hope to be able to put before the House a few opinions based upon a long period of struggle as a settler, and with a sincere desire to do my best for those who returned me to voice my honest convictions in this Parliament. I shall endeavour to do that, quite regardless of whether I offend friend or foe inside or outside this House.
With regard to the Bill immediately before us, it seems to me that the Government, as far as Federal control is possible in connexion with this matter, are doing very well, more particularly with respect to the industrial side of the problem. Whilst we all realize that repatriation is largely a question of employment, we must admit that, were it not for our cumbersome and false system of production and distribution, we should not be confronted with. what is a seeming anomaly. With a mere handful of people, and with the opportunities that we possess in the way of raw material, for the development of industry, it should not be difficult to absorb not only all our returned soldiers, but as many more capable and self-reliant men as the Old Country can spare us. Our returned soldiers, after all, should only, be coming back to the employment they left when they enlisted. Surely those who have filled their places here were not idle before they went away. Unfortunately, however, we have not developed our opportunities. The Government, under this Bill, are, I hope, going to remedy, in some small way, the “great disabilities under which we labour. This system of vocational training - the fitting of men for employment in industries which it is all essential for us to develop, if we are to retain our solvency and our independence - should be but the initial step towards a great movement to develop in reality the resources of Australia. Only last night we heard members of Parliament who have made their mark .admitting that the attempts at land settlement in the various States were largely failures. We need not condemn the- men who were engaged in that work, and who, on their own .admission, have failed to a certain extent, because the history of land settlement throughout the length and breadth of Australia teaches us that the entire system has been largely a failure.
– Except in Queensland.
– I am quite aware that the wide-awake honorable member for Wide Bay is button-holing very strenuously for his own State in regard to the settlement of soldiers. Although I am a resident of New South Wales, I believe that Queensland-
– Is the coming State.
– Yes. lt is really the coming State, but I believe that there are opportunities in Queensland in the shape of good land which has not yet been permanently alienated for the extensive settlement of returned soldiers with some hope of success, but under the provisions of this Bill we have nothing to do with land settlement. Last year, when making my first remarks upon the subject of repatriation, I found fault with the Government scheme as then outlined because of the divided control Which would exist under it between the States and the Commonwealth. And T feel that the same disability will follow the scheme in all matters relating to land settlement. It is idle for the Government to proclaim that the Commonwealth is undertaking the whole responsibility for the repatriation of our soldiers when we are compelled to practically leave to the State Governments the vital and essential matter of finding land for them.
– That is my point.
– The honorable member for Grampians admitted - and it was a large concession from a gentleman whom we all regard as a very large land-owner - that the initial mistake is made when we give men the right to barter indiscriminately an allessential to everybody’s well-being, namely, the land.
– He has his land.
– I do not attribute to the honorable member for Grampians the unworthy motive which the honorable member for Macquarie has just put forward, because no one in this country is more interested in establishing a system by which permanent settlement can be maintained in Australia, and with it our independence, than are people whom we describe as having a stake in the country, whether it finds expression in landed property or in any other form of wealth, or even if it is only expressed in that best of all kinds of wealth, the strength of mind and body possessed by those honest-hearted men and women who have a desire to better themselves and their country, the only form of wealth which tells in a conflict such as the world is now undergoing.
The Government have left the matter of land settlement purely to the States, merely making provision that, as the State Governments make demand upon us in the case of each individual settler, we agree to find, at least, £500. If I understand the Government’s intentions aright, that sum will not be found in one instalment, but will be advanced through the State Governments as the individual settler puts improvements upon his block by the work of his own hands, or as he purchases stock or other things required upon his farm.
Having been engaged for twenty-seven years in a struggle on the land, and having served for seven or eight years on a Land Board assisting in the administration of the land laws of New South Wales, I know just what happens in the struggle to obtain land and some of the motives that animate certain applicants for land. While there is a genuine demand, which is as yet unsatisfied in New South Wales, from men to acquire land, when we see a list of up to 700 or 800 applicants for one block of good land we must not imagine that there are 700 or 800 honest land-workers anxious to secure a piece of land. We often found in the sifting process which it is the duty of Land Boards to adopt before allowing names to go to a ballot that it was very clear that a large number of wide-awake gentlemen were desirous of being in the best of all Tattersall’s sweeps, becauseif they did not win they got their money back.
– In Queensland they are required to reside on the land five years.
– I can show how that condition operates. Let us assume that there is a valuable block of 300 or 400 acres on an old camping site on a stock route, adjoining privately-held land improved at an average expenditure of 15s. per acre, and sweetened by years of stocking, so that it, perhaps, may have a present selling value of £7 per acre. The Government may fix the capital value of the block of 400 acres at about £1 10s. per acre or £2 per acre. Under the conditional purchase system of New South Wales the freehold granted is of a limited nature, that is to say, there is a limitation in regard to the right of transfer. The successful applicant for the block pays a small deposit, and can hold it by a comparatively trivial annual expenditure on improvements. Certainly there is a residential provision compelling him to reside on the land for five years, but once it is ring-barked, and a tank is provided, the block has a grazing value which will be far greater than his annual expenditure in effecting these improvements, and after five years he can get the reward of the efforts of an honest man who has put together a few hundred pounds and is anxious to pay £4 or £5 per acre for this particular block, allowing the other gentleman to go about his business.
The point I wish to make is this : While private ownership in land exists, and unrestricted bartering in land is permitted, while people are not protected from themselves, we shall find just exactly what we have always found to be the true cause of the failure of land settlement in every part of the Commonwealth, notwithstanding the capacity of the men who are at the head of affairs. While that system of bartering in land continues, it does not matter a button whether the settler fails or succeeds, the same result inevitably follows. If he fails he is sold up, and his land goes more cheaply into the large estate. If he succeeds, his holding becomes too small for a man of his capacity, and where does he find a purchaser with the longest purse? He finds him in the man who has the largest holding. If he - the large land-holder - has the capacity and energy to work his land, he is able to pay more than the genuine small settler or the man who is landless and has a limited capital. The aggregation of large estates is a natural result of the present system of unrestricted bartering, whether the settler fails or does not. If he succeeds he wants to operate in a larger way, and there is a huge continent yet to be exploited.
– How does the system which the honorable member has described affect the homestead lease?
– The honorable member, and many who think with him, believe that this system of robbery, which is certainly being perpetrated under the unrestricted bartering of freehold land, would be obviated by State ownership, in which case the result- to the settler would be an increase in rentals, but whether the crime be committed by the voters of the community individually, or by them in a corporate capacity, in the shape of the Government of the country, the result in its moral essence is exactly the same.
– What is the honorable member’s remedy ?
– I am not going into my remedy now. I leave that to another occasion. However, I am not without a theory in regard to the matter. I have given it many years of careful study, and there is some little justification for advancing my views on this question, seeing that I have not proved a failure as a settler.
Under this Bill the Government have absolutely handed over the control of land settlement to the States : but while those principles to which I have drawn attention obtain, which mean nothing more or less than legalized robbery of the people, those who are to come after us as well as those who are landless to-day, the chances are that the. action of the Commonwealth in this regard will be an incentive to a competitive race on the part of the States to obtain moneys for the improvement of their Crown lands or for the purchase of estates, under a system of deferred payments. Where the States are buying private properties by issuing debentures, if largely means a system of deferred payments. This competitive race will mean absolute failure for the majority of the settlers whether they be returned soldier? or not. I am safe in saying that at least 65 per cent, of the capable, able meL who have taken up land under the closer settlement system of New South Wales are financially on the rocks today. Is it reasonable to suppose that these settlers which we shall obtain from among the soldiers will have the same capacity and the same industry as these men who have come from the ranks of share-farmers and other tried bush workers, who have spent their lives up to the present time in land work either as farm labourers or as station hands, but who, at all events, possess a knowledge of the disabilities and difficulties which must be faced when they strike out on their own account?
They are absolutely failing, and, so far as I know the history of closer settlement systems in Victoria, the same thing ha3 happened in this State. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) has mentioned that the Government of New South Wales is going to grant £3,000 worth of land to each returned soldier who wishes to go on the land. It would have been more correct to say that it promises to do so. If 200,000 of our men return, and 1 per cent, of them- notify their intention to go on the land, this will mean a commitment of £6,000,000. Clearly, then, the. discussion of these schemes is only a waste of time. After the war, as we all know, Australia will have to do what she has never done before, that is, she will have to pay her way without borrowing, and she will have, in addition to her ordinary expenditure, the tremendous obligations which the war will have imposed. It is for that reason that I advocated in this Chamber,’ a year and a half ago, the giving of some earnest of our sincerity in respect of those who have gone to the Front, and those who are now balancing between going to the war and remaining to face family and other obligations here, which are becoming heavier and heavier. We should have done this at the beginning; and I say it, though it may be distasteful to many of those who sent me to Parliament.’ As war taxation is not wealth conscription, we should at least have, under some proper scheme, a 10 per cent, conscription of wealth over and above £2,000. This would not be used as a gift to the soldiers, but should be earmarked to be used to enable land to be set apart gradually for settlement, rentals being charged for it to the returned soldiers, which would be a quarter, or less, of the actual rental value, and the amount thus obtained should go into a fund to help to meet the obligations that the war has imposed on us. The adoption of such a scheme would prove that we are not merely voicing our patriotism while we plunge our hands into the pockets of those whom we pretend to benefit. To show that this proposal is not the mere raving of a bush madman, I draw attention to the fact that the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) and honorable members opposite proposed a11/2 per cent, wealth levy, a proposal in which I believed at the time, and in which I believe now. But a number of small householders and others strongly protested against that proposal, with the result that the honorable gentleman and his party dropped it. As’ some justification for this idea, which I have fearlessly expressed before, as I freely express it now, let me cite the case of Great Britain, the richest combatant among the nations contending in this fight.
– What about the United States of America?
– Great Britain was certainly the richest combatant before the United States of America came in. The March number of the Contemporary Review contains a very able article, written, not by a red-hot Socialist, nor a wildeyed enthusiast who would burst up everything regardless of consequences, but by a leading financial authority. In that article it is pointed out that Great Britain’s obligations when the war has ended, and the re-adjustments for which the writer provides have been made, will have reached such tremendous proportions that, taking the war debt and the charges connected with repatriation, military and naval services, and other matters, the raising of £750,000,000 annually will be required, whereas, before the war, only a little over £200,000,000 was the annual revenue of the country.
– Is that for interest alone ?
– Three hundred and fifty million pounds is put down for interest. It is pointed out that, should Russia and other debtors pay the interest that they will owe to Great. Britain, the amount will be reduced by £70,000,000 ; but such payments are doubtful at the present moment. Therefore, the British people will be confronted with a great problem. Without going into the writer’s arguments, I may say that he finds the real remedy for the situation in a wealth levy, and he advocates at least 10 per cent, for a start.
– Does not the honorable member think that the proper way to get what is needed is by income taxation?
– The system of income taxation is notably unjust, and every Government, no matter how Conservative, has been compelled to try to prevent the accumulation of incomes improperly. But if you leave the right to rob, it is hard to find a fair method of income taxation. To take, either by war-time profits taxation or ordinary income taxation, only a portion of what has been wrongly abstracted from the people is unsound, because it is based on no principle of justice. But to take part of the wealth of the country, and hold it, whether it fluctuates upwards or downwards, making the people part and parcel of the enterprise, and gradually using it in proportion to the expenditure, secures that, if there is to be robbery, the State shall have its share in it.
– What would be the effect of a 21/2 per cent, wealth levy on a concern that was not earning so much? Would it not mean the closing down of the business and the throwing of workers out of employment?
– The levy would be a net wealth levy. There could be no net wealth in a losing business, except for the purposes of liquidation, and I do not say that liquidation should take place. You will find the matter clearly argued in the article to which I refer. Until a business can stand it without loss to the particular class of production or distribution in which it is engaged, there will be nothing taken. But I do not wish to digress into a discussion of this matter now.’
The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), among others, has found fault with the Government for not bringing within the repatriation scheme all soldiers of British birth. He forgets that land settlement is left entirely to the States, and that we do not make it part of our repatriation scheme, and, therefore, the scheme can apply only to those who have left these shores. Now, I claim some little knowledge of land matters, and I say that the Commonwealth has quite a number of opportunities for providing for land settlement. There are three directions in which the Government might assist the legitimate settlement on the soil of this country of returned soldiers or other willing workers seeking for homes of their own. In reply to an interjection last night, the idea that soldiers might be settled in the Northern Territory was pooh-poohed. Small settlement there at the present time might be out of the question. The Northern Territory, however, notwithstanding that hundreds of miles of it are desert, has a rainfall exceeding the average rainfall of the rest of Australia.
– Does the honorable member know at what time of the year the rain comes there?
– At the present time, although there has been little or no improvement of its pastoral lands, the Northern Territory raises large numbers of fat bullocks, which is the justification for the meat works at Darwin and other big undertakings. Is there any reason why the Commonwealth Government should not establish a co-operative scheme, under which young lads, capable and healthy, and imbued with the spirit of adventure - both those who have gone to the war and those who have not - might play their part in the settlement of the Territory?’ Is there any reason why they should not co-operate in giving their labour for a number of years, gradually acquiring capital in the form of interest in the stock bred, until they were in a position to carry on pastoral holdings for themselves? Later, perhaps, they might be followed by smaller holdings, when agricultural development had made subdivision possible. A scheme such as this would give every adventurous, cleanliving, healthylad an inducement to help to develop the Northern Territory. It would be a stimulus to development that could not be given in any other way. The problem of developing the Territory must be faced sooner or later. If we face it determinedly now, we may have the opportunity to attract hundreds of thousands of capable and able men from other parts of the world, who will make it possible for us to defend this country. Then the Federal Capital area, about which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman), if he speaks, can give us fuller particulars, should afford opportunities for the settlement of married men, men impaired in health, and men approaching middle age, who could take up in leaseholds for fixed periods, with a right of renewal, areas sufficient for the maintenance of families by agriculture and grazing combined. The land might be so utilized until the city building activities required part of it to be given up. There is no reason why there should not be this kind of settlement there, seeing that small settlers proved their capacity to make good on this same land years ago, when there were not the prices, or the market facilities, of the present time.
– I am afraid that the Commonwealth is tied up in the Federal Capital area with the relations of the officers up there. They ought to be sacked.
– I think those fears may be dispelled, because we have sufficient intelligence to get over any difficulties of that sort. I desire to refer to the thousands of acres of rich agricultural land held now at a price which will render it utterly impossible for the holders or any one else to pay the tax, and which will be forced back on us if we do not reinforce the land-holders by being just and fair to those who wish to take on the responsibility of making their own way in the world. I travelled over a great part of New South Wales as a member of a Royal Commission on rural settlement, and heard the- opinions of the largest landholders as well as some of the smallest, including share farmers, business people, and others.
Convinced, as I am, of the utter absurdity of borrowing countless millions to buy land for the closer settlement of ordinary men, or for returned soldiers, I have come to the conclusion, which has received the indorsement of some of the large holders I speak of, that an arrangement should be made between the Commonwealth and the States, to allow the State Governments collectively, or the returned soldiers or share-farmers individually, to agree to purchase living areas of this rich agricultural and pas- toral land close to railways. The agree-? ment could be to lease the land for not less than ten years with the option of purchase “at a reasonable rate; and. in this way, the lessees would be enabled to become mixed farmers. True settlement must be brought about in some way, and I venture to suggest a method to attain the desired end without destroying values or lessening production. Under such agreements the State Governments would be able to say to share-farmers - who are now compelled to put all their eggs in- one basket, with the danger . of practically perishing - and to the returned soldier and every deserving would-be land worker, “ Here is your opportunity to get a living area.” The State could- guarantee the rent, and all who proved worthless, improvident, or vicious could be weeded out, while, in the case of the capable man, a part of each year’s production could be put into a State fund with a view to exercising the right of purchase before the expiry of the lease. The Commonwealth Government, could give a very real incentive to the movement by remitting the graduated land tax from all such areas while they were subject to the option, and the producer continued to remain on them.
We cannot conceal from ourselves the fact that when our huge debt becomes evident to the people - when they see war prices disappear, together with employments which enable them to revel in high standards of living at present - and when they see the necessity of facing the inevitable taxation, they will inevitably declare for makin? the rich landowners bear it. Every man who, like myself for the last twenty-seven years, has worked on the land and fought his way, knows that while the values at present are real enough, wholesale attempts at realization would cause the disappearance of those values, and the first man to realize the fact would be the land-owner, for ruination would be the lot of all land-owners, both large and small. Those areas, at £3,000 each for soldiers, of which we have heard - and which, after all, are only a drop in the bucket compared with what is required - would share in the depreciation; and after years of struggle, the holders would realize that they had not a shilling of interest in the property. To show what I mean, I may give a brief illustration : We may point out to a small land-holder that the £5,000 exemption leaves him free ; but is it not evident that, if I hold 1,000 acres of land, worth £5 an acre, and the man alongside me has 50,000 acres of equal value and capacity, the instant the latter is struck so heavily as to reduce his value to £2 10s. or £3, the small man’s land immediately drops to the same value? What Henry George said of the Irish landlords is perfectly true - although I am a disciple of George - namely, that if a man owns only an acre or half-an-acre, he stands shoulder to shoulder with the greatest land-owner in the country. Where is that spirit of independence which drove our fathers into the wilds to battle under conditions of existence that were semi-barbarous? Where is that spirit which, as pointed oat m by one of the Australian poets, took our grandmothers, with their men folk, to fight the battle of life under conditions that would make the ordinary lady of to-day hysterical? In my opinion, that spirit is still abroad. It is the spirit that has taken men from the towns - as well as the country - from behind counters, and the most effeminate occupations - to fight the battle of the Empire in .the trenches. The hope of Australia lies in the development of that spirit, which all this talk about waiting until the capital is provided tends to undermine. Capital and labour are two great factors, both essential, but both capable of being abused. I have always believed that, as labour is the parent of capital, it should occupy the fundamental and primary position. But it is not so; and the world trembles to-day because of those outrageous doctrines which compelled labour to stand aside until a thing of its own creation gave it the right to work. The selfishness of the world is finding expression in the clash of arms in which civilization may go down, with all that is good, as well as all that is bad and rotten. I am one who believes that true progress and reform can only come by processes of evolution. We cannot expect miraculous agencies to interpose to bring perfection where so much is imperfect; and, there- fore, we must give opportunities to the’ people of this free continent for development under evolutionary processes, or we must go down in the revolution which threatens ‘ the world. Let us realize the mistakes of the past, and at least try to correct them before it is too late. I am a land-holder myself; and my one desire is to do all of which I am capable for the benefit of this, the land of my birth. When I hear this talk about what we are going to do in millions -with borrowed money, I simply faint at the idea that my country must be decadent - that the strength and courage that formerly sent us out to live under stringybark, or without it, and gave us the courage to not only patch our moleskins, but to wear them, are lacking; and when I hear men preaching and teaching that the less we do the better we serve our fellows, I can see nothing but trouble ahead. And when I find the men who condemn such views all the time fostering the system under which true freedom is impossible, the rottenness appears to me to bc equally divided, and punishment should come on all alike. But I believe the desire of the majority is to do the right thing. Unless true principles are evolved as a result of the war, not only in repatriation of our soldiers, but in the settlement in life of every honest man and woman, we shall have failed - the world will have failed - and we shall revert to that barbarism which is the portion of a people who, having a heritage, prove unfaithful to it.
.- It does one good to listen to such a fine address as that delivered by the honorable member who has just resumed his seat; and I must compliment hi-m on his- effort, which shows that he, at any rate, is true to the faith within him. The problems facing us to-day are serious in the extreme. How to deal with our returned soldiers has been agitating the mind of Australia for the last three years. I arrived in Australia from the Front only a few weeks ago, and in that time I have found that, in my constituency, the great trouble amongst the returned soldiers is how to get on the land, how to get assistance in mining, or work of any kind. I quite appreciate the difficulties of the Government and Parliament. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch) touched the
Crux of the question when he said that in nearly all cases the men will return not quite as good as they were when they left, and will be incapable of resuming their former occupations. A responsibility is placed upon the Federal Go vernment of placing those men on the land or finding work for them. Yet the Federal Government has no control over the land. Had the referenda ‘proposals of the Labour party been carried, we should have had power to deal with some of these difficulties. I have not much faith in the land settlement scheme. I am sorry that the Acting Prime Minister is not present, because I was associated with him in the State Parliament for many years, during which he attempted to grapple with the land problem. Land settlement in Victoria has not been very successful, so far. The more the State repurchased land, the greedier laudholders became.
– Is not that because the area is so small?
– It is not a question of area. In Queensland the same thing has happened. As soon as the State becomes a purchaser those who have land to sell see an opportunity of making a profit, and they advance the prices. I am not in favour of the proposed dual responsibility - the Federal Government raising the money and handing it over to the States, and the States undertaking to provide the land. At this great crisis in the history of our nation old customs ought to go overboard. If ever there was occasion for the use of the War Precautions Act, it is in connexion with land settlement. What is to/ prevent the Federal Government from compulsorily acquiring the land it needs for the settlement of soldiers, and fixing the price, thus preventing the increase in land values which invariably takes place as soon as the Government becomes a purchaser? Unless some such policy is adopted, there will not. be much successful settlement of returned soldiers in Victoria.
I know that both parties in this House are desirous of assisting the returned soldier. Repatriation is not, arid ought not to be, a party question. Our men have gone forth and given the best that is in them. We hope they may come back.’ The more who return the happier we shall be. We desire to do the best we can for them. The honorable member for Werriwa suggested that they should be sent to the Northern Territory. That is the last place to which returned soldiers should be sent. They have fought for the best lands in Australia, they have done a great deal in keeping Australia free, and no land is too good for them to have access to. There are areas in Victoria in which a hundred thousand men could be settled without any trouble. Remember that our soldiers have beer living away from civilization for three or four years. Surely the honorable member is not serious in proposing to drive them into the Northern Territory when they return. Let us adopt some scheme for breaking the land monopoly that exists all about us.
– What about the Murray waters scheme?
– Why has that not been proceeded with? For four years this war has been in progress; for three and a half years Australian soldiers have been returning. All the time there has been unemployment. There ought not to be a man out of work to-day. I wish honorable members could see what I have seen in London - hundreds of women waiting for the shops to open, in order that they might get perhaps two ounces of margarine; six inches of snow on the ground, and wOmen with children in arms standing from 6 o’clock in the morning till 10 o’clock, waiting for the butchers’ shops to open, and considering themselves lucky if they got half a pound of steak or chops. Whenever the war ends there will be a famine in the civilized world. There will be a shortage of foodstuffs, and we ought to be taking time by the forelock,- in order to see that everything is organized and that everybody is producing something. The Motherland may be forced to surrender owing to the lack of foodstuffs. Food is just as essential to the Mother Country as are men. I have been expecting to hear of the launching of the first ship built in the Commonwealth. I remember hearing shipbuilding talked about two years ago, but very little has been accomplished. There has been nothing but words, words, words.
– And strikes.
– Strikes have interfered very little with shipbuilding. For my own part, I deplore strikes as much as any other honorable member, particularly at this juncture, and I feel sick indeed when I see the people who have control of the foodstuffs everlastingly striking against the wives and children of the men who are fighting in the trenches. That ought not to be. The workers ought not to strike, and they would not do so if they had a fair deal. In England, the purchasing power of the sovereign has decreased to 9s. 6d. These are the things that are causing industrial unrest. There is little or no industrial unrest in Australia to-day; the working people are bearing the increase of prices with wonderful moderation. I realize as well as the nest man” the great crisis through which our country is passing, and how much depends on the developments of the next few months. No man in Australia desires to be under German rule. To-day, if ever, we ought to be a united nation; there should be no division amongst us. Shall we have a united nation and great success iu recruiting when returned soldiers are walking about the streets because they are unable to find work ? That is the very worst advertisement that Australia could have to-day. Those men ought not to be out of work. If Ministers have any organizing capacity at all, they ought to be able to devise schemes whereby every returned soldier can be employed. The soldier does not desire charity. Ninety-nine per cent, of the men who went away volunteered for active service because they loved their country. They dared to risk the dangers of travelling 13,000 miles to “the seat of war, and to afterwards face even greater danger in the trenches. Such men do not wish to be the recipients of charity; they do not desire to be walking about the streets of Melbourne, Ballarat, and Bendigo, and calling at the Repatriation Department every week for a little sustenance money. If this policy is continued we shall rob the men of their self-respect, and do an infinite amount of injury to their character. They are not being given a fair chance.
All of the soldiers will not desire to go on the land. As was said by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews), now is the time for opening up new industries. There are many industries to which we could give attention. I have returned from my travels a better Australian that I was when I left, and I am more than ever satisfied that there is nothing made in any other country that we in Australia cannot make. Take, for instance, the clothing and equipment of our boys at the Front. There is no comparison between their outfit and that of the soldiers from other countries. And the material with which they are clothed was manufactured in Australia. Nothing has been made in the Old Country to equal the cloth we are producing in Australia. The Australian workman will do in one day more than the workmen in any other country will do in three days. That is no exaggeration. In pre-war days I listened to people in this country decrying the Australian workers. I had never travelled, and I thought that possibly there was some truth in what was said. To-day I am satisfied that there are no workmen like the Australians.
The honorable member for Flinders (Mr, Brace), in his brief remarks, said some good things. He said that many of the soldiers will not return in as good health and condition as when they left. They will require to be cared for. They have lived a very rough life for two or three years, and they have been a long time away from their homes. For that reason those young men who return and desire to get married should receive every assistance in establishing homes. Remember that many of them, although not wounded, will be found to have somewhat roving dispositions. As the honorable member for Flinders said, they will return “ thanking God they are back in dear old ‘Aussie.’ “ That is the time when we ought to give them every assistance to get a home so that we may keep them here, and so that there will be no inducement to them to leave Australia again. The Government are not doing anything to-day to encourage and assist the returned soldiers beyond providing a sustenance allowance, and letting them walk the streets. Little or nothing is being done to establish the woollen industry. Now is our opportunity to start woollen mills. Our clay deposits are untouched. Timber is going to waste, and at the same time we are importing millions of pounds worth of foreign timber. Nothing is being done with the iron ore deposits. Now is the time for action. Do not wait until peace is declared. It may be too late then. We desire our soldiers to return and become good citizens, and the best assistance we can give them is to have jobs waiting for them when they land. They have suffered much for their country, and it is the duty of the country to do a little for them.
I hope that that assistance will not be rendered by means of borrowed money. The necessary funds ought to be raised by some system of taxation. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch) dealt fully with that point; and I agree with him as to the means we should adopt to find the money with which to settle our returned soldiers on the land, or to establish them in new industries.
I desire now to draw the attention of the Minister in charge of this Bill to the treatment of some of the Anzacs who are home on furlough. It isnot generally known that by practically every transport forty or fifty of the original 1914 Anzacs return to Australia. By the vessel on which I returned there were fiftytwo. Our wounded soldiers deserve the best we can give them, and none deserve better treatment than those who left this country late in the year 1914. As a matter of fact, however, none of our men have been treated worse than have the Anzac boys on furlough. Let me tell the House of the treatment meted out to some of those who returned with me. They were sent direct from the trenches to London, and were dirty and lousy: No change of clothing, however, was allowed them. They were rushed down to Weymouth, and placed on board ship; but still no change of clothing was afforded them. There were about 1,000 soldiers on board, and every one of them, with the exception of the fifty-two Anzacs, received from the Red Cross Society a bag containing about £3 worth of underwear and other necessaries. There was no such provision for the Anzacs. Then, again, they alone did duty on board, although, since they had come straight from the trenches, they ought to have been the very last to be allotted such work. When we reached Melbourne, there was no one to meet them. Every one else left the steamer at 10.30 a.m., but the Anzacs were compelled to remain on board till 1 o’clock.
– To what company did they belong?
– They had come out of various battalions.
– All this was done under our Defence Department?
– Did not the fault rest with the authorities on the other side?
– For the most part, it did; and these things will continue to occur while we have as transport officers staff captains who have never heard a shot fired, and have not very much sympathy for the boys. For the failure to arrange for the reception of these Anzacs on furlough when they reached Melbourne the Defence authorities here must be held responsible. These boys were kept on the steamer till the crowd had disappeared. At 1 p.m. they were allowed off, and had to pay their own fares to Melbourne. There were no motor cars to meet them. Some of them went on to Sydney; and this is what the Sydney Sun, of the 28th ult., had to say concerning them -
They went down to see the Amelioration Committee, but no provision had been made for men who dared to go away in 1914 and come back on furloughin 1918.
Two of them had no private means, so two of them went up to Liverpool Camp - just for board and lodging. That is where they are spending their furlough in “ Aussie “ - in a military camp !
– The matter was explained, both here and in another place, a day or two ago.
-No explanation will wipe away the fact that these men were treated in this way.
The Minister for Defence ought to make representations to the various State Governments that every Anzac returning on furlough should be provided, while in Australia, with free passes over the railways and tramways.
-We received no notice of the return of these men.
– I said, in answer to the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald), that I blamed the authorities on the other side. I blame the transport staff captain at Horseferry-. road.
– Yes; but the honorable member said that the authorities here were responsible for their treatment in Melbourne.
– Certainly. The military authorities in Western Australia should have notified the Defence Department here that these Anzacs were on board.
– They should have inquired and have reported to the Defence Department here.
– Yes. I do not wish to unfairly blame the Defence authorities on this side, but I would point out that we were at Cape Town for four days, and spent one day at Fremantle. Surely the Defence authorities at Fremantle could have notified the authorities here that Anzacs were on board.
– If they did not they were blamable.
– And they are blamable. How are these Anzacs being treated while on furlough ? I know of one man, the father of eight or nine children, who draws 1s. per day. What a fine time he will have in this country on an allowance of 1s. per day! I understand that the State War Council of Victoria is supplementing that allowance by a grant of £1 per week. To some extent, the Council is doing a fair thing by this man, but I hold that our Anzac boys while on furlough should not.be the recipients of charity. The men who come over here on furlough should have a bonus of £50, so that they may have a jolly good time at home. Surely £50 would not be too much to give them. They have to go back to the trenches at the expiration of their leave, and we should send them away with happy memories of a really good time spent on furlough in Australia.
By every transport men are returning on furlough and are not being provided with a change of clothing. I hope the Minister will at once make representations on the subject to the authorities at Horseferry-road, so that the boys coming home direct from the trenches will not be treated as were the first few to be granted furlough.
Mr.Finlayson. - We had the same scandal in connexion with the arrival of the first batch of returned soldiers.
– Yes ; and as a result of an inquiry Major Dowse was reprimanded. He was punished by being promoted to the rank of Colonel ! I hope that those responsible for this trouble will not receive similar punishment. The military seem often to punish officers found guilty of negligence by promoting them.
There are other than returned soldiers for whom we must provide under the repatriation scheme. When the war broke out, there were in Great Britain many Australians who did not wait to return to Australia before enlisting. They enlisted with the British Forces. They could not enlist in the Australian Imperial Force over there.
– Why not?
– I do not know ; but I know of one or two, whose fathers happened to be very wealthy, who were allowed to enlist with the Australian Imperial Force in Great Britain. I have their names.
– They came over here to enlist?
– No ; they enlisted at Horseferry-road, and they joined, not the Australian Imperial Force, but the Army Service Corps. Within a few months they got their commissions, and were duly established in England. I refer to the two sons of ex-Senator Walker, of New South Wales. One of them, I should have said, enlisted here, and the other in England.
– Can the honorable member establish - these facts?
– I can. I pointed out to the High Commissioner that this man had been permitted to enlist in England although other Australians were not allowed to do so. An inquiry was held, and Brigadier-General McC. Anderson reported that he had permitted a son of ex-Senator Walker to enlist there.
– That was why the Brigadier-General was knighted, I suppose?
– Probably. He said he had permitted “ this gallant young man” to join the Australian Imperial Force in England; he would not wait to go back to Australia, but was so anxious to serve his country that he desired to enlist at once. Brigadier-General Anderson went on to say that this young man ought to be congratulated, not blamed. I understand that the young man had been walking about London for twelve months prior to the Third Division Army Service Train going over.
– After the war broke out ?
– I am not quite sure as to that point, although I was so informed on good authority.. . He came into our. camp in civilian clothes, and five days later appeared in khaki. Sir Peter McBride, the Agent-General for Victoria, wanted his boy to go out with his schoolmates - to enlist with the Australian Imperial Force in England - but he was not allowed to do so. He had to go out with the British Forces. _
– Why were not all Australians in Great Britain allowed to join the Australian Imperial Force there?
– I do not know. This question ought to be investigated. We want to know why the two sons of ex-Senator Walker were brought over from France, given commissions as equipment officers in the Flying Corps, and established in England.
There are other Australians who enlisted with the British Forces. They did not use their influence, and did not care what pay they received. They realized that it was their duty to fight for their country. Many of them to-day are in Australia. They were wounded whilst serving with the British Forces. They accepted the British rate of pay, and they have been treated by the British authorities as Australians. They ought to come under this scheme.
– Did they reside in Australia before the war?
– Then they are covered by the original Act.
– I am glad to hear that. I met a number of these men on the transport by which I returned, and some have written to me from Sydney that they have applied in vain for assistance. They are practically destitute.
– Will the honorable member supply me with their names?
– Some of them have already written to the Minister.
– They will come under this scheme. They have only to prove that they resided in the Commonwealth before the war.
– What is the position of munition workers?
– They are not covered by the Act.
– They ought to be. They ran many risks in going over to the Old Country. They lived the life of a private on board the transports, and they ran the risk of being torpedoed. Many of them have done good work.
– And while in England they are on short rations.
– Quite so. They havemade no money out of the work. In many cases they have suffered considerable financial loss. I trust that the Minister will insert in the definition clause? the words “ war workers and munition workers.” The war workers were sent to England, not as munition workers, but as labour battalions, and we ought to make provision for both classes.
– Many of the men were rejects, and enlisted as munition workers because they could not get into the Forces.
– Quite so. There is another matter in connexion with which we ought to do something for our soldiers. I wish to refer to the question ofseparation allowances for the wives of soldiers who have married in Great Britain. We have treated many of our soldiers who have married over there in a very unfair way. Of course, it is a pity that they did not wait until they returned to Australia to marry, but matters of this sort cannot very easily be governed, and they have married very fine English, Irish, and Scotch girls. I have had several cases of absolute destitution brought under my notice. In one case the soldier was married two years ago, and a child was born. He allotted 4s. per day out of his pay to his wife, but 28s. per week will not go very far in London when it is necessary to pay 12s. per week for a room and breakfast. If these wives were in Australia we would pay them the separation allowance, and I certainly think that we should pay it to them over there. I hope that the Minister will consider the advisability of doing so.
Two returned lads who have put £400 into a mine have applied for £100 each “to enable them” to continue operations.
– Were they miners previously ?
– One was a miner, and the other was an engineer. At any rate, they are both plucky enough to put their labour into this mine, and they have a plant worth £250, which they have offered as security for an advance of £200 to enable them to continue their work. Mining is very dead in Victoria. I hope that we have seen the last of deep mining here. I have lived in a mining district all my life, and most of the comrades of my boyhood, who have followed the occupation of miners, are dead. I do not like deep sinking, but there are many shallow auriferous areas which are well worth exploiting, and a little assistance given to returned soldiers who are miners may be the means of developing very fine reefs or alluvial shows. I do not know whether the Bill makes any provision for assisting returned soldiers who may become miners.
– A married man unable to carry on his previous avocation may be given assistance, but not a single man.
– I cannot understand why the distinction is made. In most cases a man does not marry because he has no permanent avocation, and is striving to get a business going, or to establish an industry that will enable him to maintain a wife and family. I hope that the assistance which can be given will be made to apply to single and married men alike.
I trust that the Minister will also consider the advisability of adopting the suggestion put forward this afternoon by the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) to have the returned soldiers’ representatives on State Boards selected by the men themselves. I understand that the Government reserve to themselves the right of appointing the representatives of returned soldiers, but I do not consider that it is fair to do so. Surely the men are competent to select their own representatives. The representatives chosen by the Government might not suit the soldiers, or comply with their wishes. There was a deputation to the Acting Prime Minister upon this very point to-day. I see nothing unfair in the proposition put forward, and I hope that when the honorable member forBarrier brings it on during the Committee stage, the Government will accede to the wishes of the men in this connexion.
I realize the troubles and difficulties that are ahead’ of the Minister. Thousands of soldiers will be returning to Australia. Every ship will be bringing them back. The difficulties attaching to the work of repatriation will be ever increasing. However, I hope that the Minister will remember two things, first, the necessity for the production of foodstuffs in abundance; and, secondly, the necessity for getting them away to the Motherland. In this way, we can assist the people of the Motherland by feeding them, and at the same time provide work for our returned soldiers. No more important task could be undertaken. If there are any powers of organization in the British community let us demonstrate that we possess them. The Germans claim that they have been successful in the fight so far because they have organized. I believe that their claim must be admitted. There are no unemployed in Germany. Great Britain is copying their organization, and there are very few who are unemployed in the Motherland to-day. Everybody is doing something, and in this young continent of ours we ought to be able to do what they are doing in older lands. Our endeavour should be to see that there is not one returned soldier unemployed, not only in the interests of the returned soldiers themselves, but also in the interests of the Commonwealth, of the Motherland, and of the Allies. It should be the object of the Government to see how much in the way of foodstuffs we can produce in Australia, and how much we cau get across the Indian Ocean, even if it is only sent to Egypt. From Egypt it can be convoyed to France, and in that way the efforts of submarines can be defeated. Our troops in France will be fed, and we will be providing work for our unemployed, and establishing returned soldiers in some form of industry. I trust that the Ministry will accept the suggestion which I have offered, and demonstrate that we can settle our unemployed problem. Great and difficult as the task ahead of us may be in the matter of finding work for returned soldiers, I hope that the organizing ability of the British race as displayed in this young country of ours will easily solve it.
.- The debate upon this Bill has been well worth listening to. It has shown that there is a spirit of unanimity among the representatives of the’ people, which I think reflects the opinions of those outside this House, to do the very best for those men who have made such sacrifices for us and for our liberties, and for the dependants of those who have lost their lives in the fight. The Government cannot complain, of the reception which has been given to their proposals. The criticism offered has been genuine. If anything, it has shown that honorable members are prepared to be even more liberal than the regulations themselves suggest. I believe that the Australian people feel that there should be no stinting of money for this purpose. Each request of the Treasurer for money for war purposes is met without demur. We feel that we are in the fight, and that we must see it out, hence there is no stinting of money for war purposes. Surely, therefore, we should not consider the question of money so much as we appear to be doing in providing for the ‘ return to civil life .of those who have taken all the risks and undergone all the sufferings that are borne by those who are fighting for us. This debate has shown what a difficult problem we will have to deal with. The longer the war lasts the more serious will be the financial problems ahead of us. But we have been fighting for some time already, and without any reference to parties that may have been in power I cannot help realizing that the Federal Parliament has been very remiss in getting under way with a scheme for the repatriation of our soldiers. It is inevitable that people should adapt themselves to the circumstances in which they find themselves. In Australia just now there are men seeking for work who are not soldiers, and that makes the difficulty very great indeed of finding positions for men who are not physically fit in comparison with others. A very large proportion of the men who have returned will need rest and nursing for some time to come. They have been returned because they are physically unfit to continue in the struggle overseas. Of course, some of them recover. We have all seen the effect of shell shock and gas upon men who otherwise appear to be all right. Our difficulty is to find employment for these men, and we cannot do it without creating it for them.
The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), to whom we all listened with interest, because, having been at the Front, he knows some of the inside workings there, has told us of some of the things that need to be dealt with, and what has particularly impressed itself on my mind is that we are up against the huge problem referred to in the very able speech of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch), not only in regard to land settlement, but also in regard to the whole social system. The honorable member for Ballarat was right in his short reference to Germany’s claims. Before the war I paid some attention to the organizing methods adopted by the Germans. We have to recognise that if they have so far had the best of the present conflict, it has been due to their wonderful organization, an organization which we might well copy. It has given them great economic strength. I am not referring to their military strength - that was demonstrated later - but to their economic strength, which came into being after the Franco-Prussian war. It is their method of organization which Great Britain is now copying, and which we are just thinking about starting on here. I wish to refer to it brief!)’ in its general principles. Germany linked up in a wonderful way all the forces of the nation, bringing together the activities of shipping, commerce, banking, science, and education, especially technical education. These forces they used to build up the. strength of the nation, and thus they became the strong power that they were when they entered upon this great war.
I think that in a general way the scheme before us is a good one. But we are face to face with the difficulties of placing our men. We must face the financial position, but we should not keep our minds too much on it. We are not going to desert the soldiers; we must see them through. Every man who gets to work more than keeps himself ; he becomes a producer of wealth. The man who is idle is a burden on the country, and is ruining himself. Every healthy man is miserable when not at work. All my life I have found the greatest pleasure in work, and it is an awful punishment for me to be idle. But there are many difficulties in the way of providing for all who need work. I know men who have tried to enlist, but who have been rejected as unfit, and cannot get work. We must not leave everything to our patriotic citizens. I do not think that the patriotic fervour can be trusted to last very long. Every country has quickly forgotten those who have fought its battles, the one exception, perhaps, being the United States of America, which made liberal provision for those who fought in the civil war, arid its pensions scheme was very much abused eventually. I regret that we have been so slow in formulating our repatriation scheme, and for that I must take my share of blame. But the difficulties have been great. Now, however, we have made a commencement. But if there are men in the community who are unable to get work to-day, what chance will the returned soldier, whose capacity has been reduced by sickness or injury, have of getting employment? It is not proposed that our citizens shall be compelled to provide employment. We are not even compelling employers who profess great patriotism to keep their promise of re-employment to those who volunteered, whose names on the honor lists in their workshops they are proud to show to visitors. Nor have we felt that we should go as far as other nations in organizing. We must, however, go further in the way of organizing, or do more for the establishment of Government workshops and other Government activities.
The provision of vocational training for the maimed may prove the most successful part of our repatriation scheme. I agree with the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch) that we shall have most of our failures in the land settlement part of the scheme. The great difficulty will be to provide for the partially fit. Many persons are now giving preference to returned men ; but, to be fair and just to our soldiers, we must not be content merely with finding them jobs on their return, and treating them as off our hands then. We should follow them up, and give them every assistance possible to make homes for themselves. We want the single men to become married men. Our soldiers cannot do better than marry Australian girls; they will not find better wives in any part of the world. In this connexion the problem of industrial development must be faced. It is useless to provide a man with a house to live in unless he can obtain permanent work near to it. A house is useless to a nomad. For many years T was connected with the Australian Workers Union, the shearers’ union, of which 27,000 members went to the war. Formerly they were engaged once a year in shearing tlie sheep of the pastoralists. That was a temporary occupation, and many of them may be unwilling to return to it. I have always held that we should consult the wishes of returned men in providing them with occupation. Our men are coming back broadened by their experience, and many of them have improved by getting a wider mental outlook. We hope that the time has gone when men will be content to carry their swags about the counry. Nowadays, of course, the car has taken the place of horses, and many are able to use motor cycles. But we do not want to leave our soldiers to fight their own battles. Those who return at the end of the war will be in a different position from those who are coming back now invalided, lt is the maimed and only partially fit with whom it will be most difficult to deal. But we must provide also for the sound men who will return at the end of the war.
I do not advocate direct Socialism, because this is not a time for extreme experiments. But we must use common sense in facing our problems, and I see nothing for it but to attempt to build up siew industries. There are many opportunities for doing that. I wish to refer briefly to a few of them. We are in this fight to a finish. After the war, Britain will never become again what it was formerly. That will be a good thing. Never again will there be 13,000,000 persons there on the verge of starvation. The changes that are taking place in Great Britain are revolutionary, and John Bull has a reputation for holding on to a good thing when he gets it. There will be tremendous economic changes, and we shall not be unaffected by them. Instead of helping to build up Germany’s strength, thus enabling her to attempt to realize her ambition to control the whole world, Great Britain will see that she uses her advantages for her own good. She now controls the output of spelter, which formerly went to Germany. Without giving up our rights of self-government or our Protective policy, we can increase our local production and still continue to be Barge exporters. Our primary productionwill always be a big feature of our industry, and we shall have a big market within the Empire itself. There were £29,000,000 invested in dye works in Germany. That was owing largely to the laissez faire policy of Great Britain, where everything was left to private enterprise, which sought always after immediate profit. When the war started, She German dye works were returning dividends of 2S per cent., and British goods were being sent to Germany to be dye’d. Similarly, Australia has been exporting wool to be manufactured into tweed, and to be brought back here at great expense of freight. There are many things that” we can profitably exchange with other Dominions and with Great Britain. We have our zinc and copper, in regard to which an understanding has been arrived at already. It is perhaps well that the tremendous spelter works shall be concentrated in the centre of the Empire. Negotiations have taken place between the Minister for Trade and Customs and the Canadian Minister for the interchange of commodities under the Tariff, .and this can be extended without interfering with our Protective policy. That is a brief look ‘into the future. But we have now to face the immediate present.- If we cannot place the returned men in our existing industries, we shall have to create new industries. But who is to start them ? I have had some experience in connexion with the Advisory Council of the Bureau of Science and Industry, which has done a considerable amount of excellent work that is, perhaps, not so well known as at ought to be. I may mention that connected with the Bureau there are fifty-four experts and scientific men on various committees in the States, collecting information as to the possibilities of new industries, and that the central executive has prepared a record setting forth that information in proper form. This work will be available for the Board of Trade; and the Government have, in my opinion, done wisely in taking steps to establish a number of Boards, for in the past, undoubtedly, too much has been attempted by the Government themselves. Repatriation is an allembracing business, involving the future welfare and prosperity of Australia, and it requires a good start if we are not to find ourselves in a parlous position when peace comes. If the Board of Trade is linked up with the Bureau of Science and Industry, the information to which I have referred will be found exceedingly useful. As an illustration, I may point out that before the war all the tannin made from mangroves was imported from Germany; but now, through the Bureau, a means has been found of making it in Australia from mangroves, and thus founding a new industry, with resultant employment. There is also plenty of other tannin material to be found here, sufficient to make us in this respect quite independent of importations. Some months ago an investigation was made by the Bureau into the methods of producing potash, and it was found that in New South Wales there are large deposits of alunite, which is at present of no value, but from which potash can be made. This is the result of experiments, first at the Melbourne University, and afterwards in Sydney; and the discovery will doubtless prove of great value.
Our attention is very apt to be concentrated on an ideal in the work of repatriation, without taking due note of the practical side; and I emphasize the fact that we ought to be ready with new avenues of employment for all the healthy, fit men who will return when peace is declared. In my opinion, there is plenty of capital in Australia to permit of these new- ventures being undertaken by private persons, if they are shown the way ; and in this the Board of Trade and the Bureau of Science and Industry can give much help. When acting as Chairman of the Bureau, I suggested to the Prime Minister, who agreed with me, that the Advisory Council had reached the limits of its useful work, and that a man of wide knowledge should be engaged as director, and, with two practical scientists, to form a Board devoted, as it were, to the organization of industries. This should be done much in the way adopted when companies are floated, though in the present instance, of course, the element of private interest would be absent.
I listened with great interest to the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) when he told us about the hand-weaving done by some of the returned soldiers. It seemed strange to me that we should be going back to hand-weaving, in these days of machinery; and I did not think it practicable, because, as we know, in spinning and weaving machinery now plays a bigger part than in any other industry. Many yeaTs ago it was estimated that machinery had displaced 98 per cent, of labour in weaving and spinning; but we are now told that men can be trained in three months, with the hand loom, to turn out tweed at 2s. per yard. Prom what we have heard, there seems every chance of such an industry being made permanent, and that, if the merchants and middlemen are wiped out, these hand weavers can compete in the open market. Perhaps it would be advisable for the Government to take the cloth from the men at the price of 2s., which provides a good wage, and supply it to tailors direct. This may seem a small thing to refer to, but it introduces a principle; and, unless some such step as I have suggested is taken, we shall see tha commercial boycott applied as it is ia other directions.
Honorable members -will see that the Department of Repatriation should not be left to, as it were, hopelessly look round for occupations for our returned; men; but that there should be a> linking up of all the Departments to give the movement an effective start. If that is done successfully, then we may go on to provide homes and for land settlement, and all will work smoothly, with the result of added employment and the production of more wealth from our natural resources. I had intended to touch on the land settlement question, but that has been dealt with very fully by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch) and others. I am glad to hear that the Government intend to reconsider the question of repatriation from this point of view, for, when I waa going overland in New South Wales 1 found that the Lands Department officials had set apart for returned men land on which a rabbit could not live, and om. which experienced men with money had starved. It would be cruel to put our soldiers on such land, and probably throw their progress back for years. We must all unite in this work of repatriation, so as to be ready for thedays that will follow the war. The’ shipbuilding industry is a great undertaking, which, I hope, will prove permanent and provide employment for many; and the sustenance provided for the men pending employment will keep them from deteriorating or becoming disheartened. We must disabuse the minds of people of the ridiculous idea, which I! regret to hear expressed,- that there is a desire to lower the standard of living- ira Australia. In my opinion, when peace comes, the people will be prepared to amend the Constitution, for when we own ships, and can control freights, there will be a desire to prevent any possibility of those ships being sold to private companies. I strongly favour the continuance- of Commonwealth ownership. The Constitution will require to be altered to meet the changed conditions which the war has brought about. We must not look forward to any reduction in the standard of living. If we combine our various forces in the way that Germany did, instead of the cost of production being cheapened by a reduction of wages’, it will be cheapened by applied science discovering improved methods. In that respect very valuable work has been done by the science bureaux in the United States of” America. It is on record that in some instances a few months’ research resulted in the discovery of methods by which the cost of production was reduced by 50 per cent. It is to that means we must look for a lessening of costs, instead of seeking to lower the price of labour, which, owing to the extending use of machinery, is continually becoming “a smaller factor in the cost of production. A tremendous problem is before the Government, and I hope that members will realize the wisdom of adding to the strength of the Government by enlisting the assistance of some of the ablest men in the Commonwealth. If the Government think out this problem fully, and set themselves to work earnestly and quickly, a number of industries ought to be established that will absorb all the soldiers who have returned physically fit, and be capable of a big extension when the rest of our boys come back after the war.
.- I congratulate the Government on the introduction of this Bill, and on the fact that they have also submitted for consideration the regulations which are to govern the administration. This procedure, if it does not facilitate the passage of the Bill, certainly enables members to come to a more intelligent determination regarding it. I hope that other Bills will be accompanied by information of a like character. After all, the desire of honorable members is to become acquainted with the complete facts, and so avoid any leap in the dark. To my mind, there are two essentials for the successful working of the repatriation scheme; firstly, that the individual soldier shall receive the assistance for which he applies, and secondly, and the more important, that there shall be no undue delay in granting such aid. In connexion with what has been done to compensate soldiers who have returned to date, there have been very many grievances. Owing to the system that prevails, a number of men with legitimate claims have had their cases deferred from time to time, until they have become thoroughly disheartened. I hope that one effect of the Bill will be that an application will be dealt with by the Comptroller as soon as it is submitted, and will be treated by the Board as a business proposition. That is a matter of very great importance not only to the soldier but also to the whole Commonwealth, because I am inclined to believe that the dissatisfaction which exists in the minds of many returned soldiers today is largely affecting recruiting.
I fear that the Government are about to set up what will prove to be a very costly Department. There are to be a Central Council, State Boards, and Local Committees. In each State there will be a staff. One thing which is causing alarm in the public mind at the present time is the very rapid growth and development of the Public Service. I tremble for the welfare of a country that continues establishing Boards in the way the Government are doing. However, the Government have concluded that this is the only way of doing the work, and I suppose we shall have to bow to their decision. It seems to me from my reading of the regulations, that the lion’s share of the work, and the essential part, is to be intrusted to the Local Committees. That policy commends itself to me, because I think that the Local Committees will be best qualified to give decisions satisfactory to the applicant arid to the country, since they will know something of the local circumstances. But I cannot see the necessity for establishing big departmental boards, in view of the fact that so much of the practical work is to be left to the committees. The Government are proposing to build up a big Department in every State, which will have a fully equipped staff and offices, while, at the same time, trusting to the Local Committees to do the essential part of the business. I offer that criticism in the very best spirit, and I suggest to the Minister that it may be possible to obviate the creation of these Departments, which will involve, in the aggregate, a huge expenditure.
– There must he a Deputy Comptroller in each State, to assist the State Boards.
– I do not object to the Deputy Comptroller. ,
– And we must have officers to prepare the business for submission to the State Boards, and to keep in touch with the Local Committees.
– I believe that one well qualified individual could do this work far better than an expensive Board, and without the maintenance of a huge Department. Experience ‘teaches that every Board that is brought into existence means increased expenditure, and that policy does not commend the Government to the people.
In regard to the sustenance allowance, the regulations make proper provision for a soldier with wife and children, but no provision at all for a soldier’s widow. If there is any person in the community to whom my sympathy goes out, it is the unfortunate mother of a family whose husband has been killed. If we have tender regard for a soldier who returns and is received again into the bosom of his family, we should have a still more tender regard for the unfortunate widow. She should be placed on the same plane as the soldier who returns.
– The honorable member will see that regulation 46 provides that a widow may receive sustenance up to 35s. per week whilst she is being trained in ‘a useful occupation.
– That provision does appear to meet my objection. I wish to emphasize the point which has been already made by several honorable members - that provision should be made in the Bill to give assistance to soldiers in the establishment of homes. I can conceive of no better way of helping a soldier or a’ soldier’s widow than by helping to provide him or her with a home.
– Regulation 5 provides for a rental allowance while the homes scheme is being considered.
– I desire the assurance of the Minister that homes will be provided for those who wish that their assistance shall be given in that form. I would press that as an essential upon the Minister.
There is another matter in regard to repatriation to which I desire to refer. I dare say that there is not in this community one person who has not been saddened by the spectacle so often seen in our city streets of unfortunate soldiers, many of them lacking a limb, in a state of intoxication. I am one of those who think that, sooner or later, the Government will be forced, in the interests of our returned soldiers, to prohibit “ shouting “ for returned soldiers. There is an anti- “ shouting “ law in operation in the United Kingdom.
– Order ! The honorable member is now going beyond the scope of the Bill.
– I recognise that the matter is, to some extent, outside the scope of this Bill, but I think it is a growing evil, and should be overcome.
I propose now to refer to a series of questions which I put yesterday to the Minister, and to which ‘reference has already been made by the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney). These questions, which referred to the School of Hand-loom “Weaving, were put by mo advisedly, for our experience in connexion with that industry appears to suggest that there may be failures even under this Bill. Under the operation of the State “War Council there was brought into existence here, and in some of the other States, I believe, the industry of hand-loom weaving for returned soldiers. I asked the Minister yesterday what remuneration bona fide workers received, and I was informed, in reply, that they were still being paid only what they received as trainees. I asked, further, whether they were promised a remuneration of 2s. per yard plain work as soon as ‘they became efficient. The reply furnished to me was that this hand-weaving school was established by the State War ^Council, and that inquiries from that body had elicited the assurance that no such promise was given. This is a very important matter, since I am advised that returned soldiers were induced to take up the work on the understanding that they would be paid 2s. per yard as soon as they became proficient. The industry is one that can be followed by any soldier, no matter how enfeebled he may be, as long as he has the use of his arms. The men in the factory were induced to qualify, according to a statement made by Sergeant Sinclair, who is head of the school, on the understanding that a recommendation made by him to the Council that they should receive 2s. per yard as soon as they were proficient had been adopted. There are only seven men so employed, but others who have passed through the teaching process have left the industry because they cannot get any satisfaction from the Department as to what their payment will be. If men are to be encouraged to take up an occupation of this nature, and then discouraged from following it by having withheld from them what they were led to believe they would receive, what hope have we of success? This is a matter affecting the industrial clauses of this Bill. If a failure can take place in this direction it can take place in others. Hand-loom weaving is capable of providing employment for many returned soldiers. The work can be done by the men in their own homes. All that is required is an adequate supply of yarn. At present the yarn is not available, although we have a Governmentcontrolled factory in Geelong, which is capable of making all the yarn neces- sary for the carrying on of this industry if additional hands be employed or longer hours worked. I believe that the Minister is not keen on the maintenance of the industry.
– I do not think that is so.
– I venture to think it is. There is, at all events, some influence at work which has prevented the hand- loom weaving school being carried on. If it were encouraged instead of discouraged, it would yield an immediate profit. ‘ The men engaged in the industry could be paid 2s. per yard, the present price for yarn could be paid, and the cloth could be sold to certain business houses here at a clear profit of 3s. per yard to the school’. Seeing that these men were induced to commence operations, I think the Government are in duty bound to carry on the industry. I gather from the answers to my questions, however, that it is being discouraged. The answers were misleading.
– The facts contained in them were supplied in good faith.
– I believe that, but they do not fully state the position. The
Government should get into immediate touch with those who are controlling this industry, and see that the men who have spent considerable time in qualifying as operators, and who, by exercising the knowledge that they have acquired, can make a very fair living without injuring their health, are allowed to continue in it. I have been much impressed by statements I heard to-day from competent authorities on the subject. One of these is a gentleman who came out to Australia to manage the first Ballarat Woollen Mills. He is a man of great experience, and he tells me the industry can be carried on successfully if a supply of yarn is assured. The yarn can be manufactured at the Government Woollen Mills at Geelong, provided that extra hands are employed.
– Some additional machinery is wanted at the hand-loom weaving factory.
– The finishing off process has been done by a private firm, and the cloth produced is excellent. If men are to be induced, as in this case, to acquire a knowledge of an occupation which they cannot put to any account, we may have similar occurrences under the present Bill. Despite all its virtues, and all the good things associated with the regulations, it is quite possible for conditions to be evolved that will lead only to disappointment. Whatever we take up in the interests of the returned soldiers, we should see that no man is encouraged to make himself proficient in a calling that is not likely to be permanently profitable to himself.
I deprecate the attitude taken up by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), and indorsed by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr.Finlayson), in urging that Parliament should exercise some sort of direct control over repatriation. All that this Parliament can do in regard to so important an undertaking is to direct the general policy. We must leave it to others to carry that policy into effect. Any effort to make individual members, or even Select Committees of this Parliament, sponsors for the carrying out of matters of policy must end in difficulty, and I enter my protest against any attempt of the kind. I am satisfied that honorable members on all sides sincerely hope that this Bill will serve the interests of these men, whose valour we all appre- cia te and whose welfare we are so anxious to promote.
– I do not think we have any reason to be dissatisfied with the way in which this measure has been received by the House. Honorable members realize that it is a very comprehensive Bill dealing with an exceedingly difficult subject, but in the course of the debate they have made various suggestions for an expansion of the scheme with which it deals. Were the revenues of the Commonwealth unlimited, the Government would naturally desire to extend the scheme in every possible direction. We must, however, have regard to the limitations upon pur revenue, and we cannot overlook the fact that we are laying the foundations of a scheme which will operate long after the war is over, and will apply not only to the soldiers coming back to-day, but to the hundreds who are still fighting, and who, we trust, will return to participate in its benefits.
There are one or two matters to which I have promised, during the debate, to give attention. In the first place, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) referred to the limitation of six months provided for iu the Bill as the period within which an application must be made. Honorable members will recognise that some limit must be put to the time within which applications may be made, if we are to have any proper grasp of the cases with which we have to deal. At the same time, however, I would point out that this limitation does not apply to all the assistance to be given under the Bill or the regulations; it applies only to the question of sustenance given to those who register for employment, or require to be trained until they become efficient. Even then, under the regulations, where an applicant has failed to apply for sustenance within the time specified, a Deputy Comptroller can give him sustenance for a week, and then the Board can grant extended relief. It. has been urged on all sides that provision should _ be made for a housing scheme, or that we should at least arrive at some method of providing homes for returned soldiers. I ask honorable members to think the matter over and realize what they mean by a provision for homes for soldiers, to what area and to what class of soldiers it should apply, how the money can be provided, and the conditions generally in which it should be applied. If they attempt to> do so, they will find that a scheme for providing homes generally would be an, exceedingly difficult and complicated one requiring a considerable amount of thought before submission to Parliament. In these circumstances the Minister considered that it was better not to wait until such a scheme had been evolved, but to put his whole scheme in operation as far as he could do so, and leave that matter for further consideration. His actual words are -
There are other activities at present under the consideration of the Commission, such, for instance, as the housing scheme. Some disappointment may have been expressed that it has not been included in the present regulations,, but I point out that this question involves tremendous financial obligations, which could not be lightly entered upon. This and other matters are now receiving the attention Qf the Commission.
So far as the views of honorable members have been expressed, I will see that they are collated and put before the Minister in order to give him some idea of the feeling of the House upon that particular question.
The matter of making advances to enable returned men to engage in small businesses is an exceedingly difficult one, an<£ the experience we have already gained in this direction has been very disappointing to the Department. At present, it is not thought desirable to go any further than the regulations already provide in Part VII.
The question of giving assistance to British soldiers has also been raised. 1 would ask honorable members to realize* what the real effect of making such provision would be. The object of our repatriation ‘scheme is to re-establish Australian soldiers, or those who have been resident in Australia and have served abroad, in civil life in Australia. It is not to provide a scheme of immigration and assistance to soldiers all over the Empire on the same scale as is provided for those of our own citizens whom we wish to re-establish in civil life. If honorable members would look at the matter quietly, and see what their proposals would amount to on the scale of the- benefits provided under our scheme, they would realize the tremendous financial liability which would be involved. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) has suggested assistance for Imperial soldiers in connexion with land settlement. The matter was raised at the Premiers’ Conference, and the Prime Minister expressed certain views upon the point; but the trouble was that the States, who provide the land, could not agree upon a uniform scheme on this particular point. The States provide the land, and the Commonwealth simply supply the money for the purpose of enabling the States to make loans to each settler to the extent of £500 for plant and stock. As the States could not come to an agreement, there could be no uniform provision which the Commonwealth could consider desirable.
– Will the Commonwealth prevent any States who wish to make this provision from doing so?
– Each State has absolutely a free hand in regard to its own land policy.
– The States should not “ boss “ us.
– They do not “ boss “ us ; but they happen to own the land, and we cannot “ boss “ them.* In the Federal scheme there must be mutual co-operation. Each State has sovereign control in its own area, and it is our endeavour to lead them to work on a uniform basis.
The settlers are charged 3 per cent, on the capital advanced for the first year, and the rate of interest gradually increases year by year until it reaches 5 per cent. Some of the States are not asking for any payment in respect of the land for the first two years.
The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) has made representations to me in regard to the man who comes back to his own farm on which he has suspended operations, so that he may secure a sustenance allowance while he is getting on his feet again. I have promised to make representations on that subject to the Minister, but a regulation is being issued to provide that, in the early months of a settler’s occupancy, when he is not producing, he may be given a sustenance allowance. That provision should carry out, to some extent, the desire of the honorable member to assist a man in the early stages of land settlement, when he. is just beginning to get his home and his occupation going.
The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) has very properly raised the question of new industries, and other honorable members have discussed the matter. The Minister is desirous of getting new industries established for the purpose of employing returned soldiers in them. He has several under consideration now, aud, if honorable members will come down to the ground and bring under his consideration the specific industries which they have in view, he will be very glad indeed to give them sympathetic consideration.
The whole question of hand weaving raised by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Palmer) is now being reviewed in order to ascertain whether it is a profitable industry in which to employ returned soldiers. It is being reviewed in the light of experience gained in Sydney and Melbourne, and the honorable member’s views on the matter will be , placed before the Minister.
Several honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), have referred to the case of those Who have broken, articles in order to enlist. The Minister tells me that, in regard to “University students, including engineering, medical, mining, and law students, or whatever the profession may be, for which young men are being trained, when they return assistance will be provided for them. Furthermore, provision will be made to meet the case of a young man whose family circumstances have changed during his absence.
– Will that meet the case of those who. are not University students? Architects, for instance.
– I will put that view before the Minister, and I think that he will give it fair consideration. If a man has broken articles in order to enlist, I do not see why lie should not be treated as University students who have broken their course are to be treated.
– In many cases men who have remained behind have got ahead of those who went away.
– Yes, they” may get three or four years’ start. I will make sympathetic representations to the Minister in that regard. I endeavoured to speak to him this evening upon the matter, but he was otherwise engaged.
I think that I have covered in a general way the suggestions made by honorable members. At this stage I will not review the criticisms of the Act that have been offered. I am sure the Minister will be gratified to know that honorable members on both sides have endeavoured to assist him by constructive suggestions. His sympathies are with many of the suggestions that have been made, but honorable members must realize that those sympathies must be limited by the financial capacity of the Commonwealth to give effect to them. However, I shall put each suggestion carefully before the Minister and ask him to take it into account when the regulations are being reviewed.
– Ha3 the Minister considered the question of the direct representation of returned soldiers on the Boards 1
– -No. The Act is only just commencing to be operative. The members of the State Boards have been appointed, and I cannot at present see any necessity for reconsidering the question to .which the honorable member refers. ‘ However, that is a matter upon which representations have been made tu the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), aud upon which I am not in a position to pronounce judgment.
– We will have a chance of dealing with it in Committee.
– Representations have been made to the Acting Prime Minister on that subject to-day. I cannot say what was his answer to those representations. The matter involved is one of poliCy, upon which I am not in a position to make a definite announcement.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
House adjourned at 11.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 June 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19180605_reps_7_85/>.