7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister any statement to make to the House in connexion with the newspaper announcement that the Government has arrived at a decision regarding the fixing of the price of meat?
– At this stage there is nothing to announce beyond what has appeared in the press.
– In view of the great urgency of the matter, will the Acting Prime Minister make an announcement during the day as to the intention of the Government with regard to the fixing of the price of beef and mutton ? Sales are taking place all over Australia, and much confusion would be avoided if an early announcement were made by the Government.
– The Government is well aware of the importance of the question of the fixation of the price of meat, but it will not be prepared to make a statement to-day.
– In view of the notorious fact that the war-time profits tax is the chief influence contributing to the high cost of living, will the Government take into consideration its early repeal, so that the commercial and trading community may conduct their business on a sound footing, and encouragement may be given to wholesome competition and the establishment of new enterprises ?
– I do not accept the view that the war-time profits tax is the chief factor in the high cost of living. As I have before announced, when the financial year has closed, and Ministers are able to give sustained attention to the effect ana incidence of the tax, which will then be better known, the whole matter will be reviewed. I can give no promise to repeal the measure.
– Has a decision been come to as the result of the conference between the Acting Prime Minister and the Central Wheat Board, fixing the price to be paid in future by the Commonwealth for wheat?
– At the conference last week it was agreed - and the Government has confirmed the agreement - to increase the guarantee for the next crop to the rate recommended by the Wheat Board and approved by the Premiers’ Conference, namely, 4s. 4d., less freight from country stations. Beyond that, we have not gone.
– It has been announced that the sittings that are to commence in the middle of August, or thereabouts, will be a financial session. Is it meant by that statement that the Government does not intend to introduce any other measures, such as measures for the scientific protection of our industries, or the improvement of industrial conditions? Is the legislation of the session to be confined wholly to taxation measures?
– It is not intended to exclude other subjects, but the chief legislation, and that demanding the earliest consideration, will comprise measures of finance.
Soldiers’ Wives and Widows
– On 22nd May the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) asked me whether the regulations governing the actions of landlords against tenants who are widows or dependants of soldiers are still in force, and, if so, why it was that soldiers’ wives and widows were still being victimized by avaricious landlords. In reply, I asked the honorable member to furnish me with particulars of the cases to which he referred, and he thereupon supplied particulars.
The matter has been investigated by the Crown Law officers, and it appears that in one of the two oases referred to complaints had been made that the tenant was not taking reasonable care of the property, and it was proposed to increase the rent in consequence. In the second case there was apparently no sufficient reason for notifying the proposal to increase the rent. As a result of the inquiries made, it has been decided by the owner of the premises not to increase the rent in these cases.
It may be mentioned that the War Precautions (Active Service Moratorium) Regulations specifically provide that before any increase in rent is made by the owner of a dwelling-house tenanted by a member of the Forces, or a parent or female dependant of a member, the leave of a Court of summary jurisdiction is required. The leave is, however, not required where -
Further consideration is being given to the question of instituting proceedings in the cases brought under notice by the honorable member for Maribyrnong, and I should like to take this opportunity of intimating that the Minister for Defence, . who administers the War Precautions (Active Service Moratorium) Regulations, is determined that the regulations shall be fully complied with, and that any breach of them which is reported in the future shall he investigated with a view to the institution of proceedings.
– Is the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) aware that the moratorium regulations are expressly excluded from all contracts for the sale or leasing of properties of any magnitude? I have been engaged in two transactions in which there would have been no sale if consent had not been given to such exemption being stated in the contract of sale. Will the honorable gentleman state whether the owner of a house occupied by the dependants of soldiers in the same way could contract himself out of the provisions of the moratorium ?
– I shall look into the matter and advise the honorable member later on.
– Is the Acting AttorneyGeneral aware that propertyowners, knowing that they cannot evict the wives of soldiers, are now refusing to let their houses to such persons, and will he take steps to so extend the moratorium regulations as to meet such refusals?
– If the honorable member will repeat his question to-morrow I shall be pleased to make a statement upon the subject.
– Was an officer of the Royal Naval Air Service recently brought to Australia to advise the Government upon matters of policy, or was he brought here merely to carry into effect a policy already arrived at by the Government, and, if so, will the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy inform the House of the nature of the policy arrived at?
– An officer was imported for aerial work, and he has been asked to furnish a report based on his experience. The report has been received, but it has not yet been considered.
– Is it true that the Department of Trade and Customs has destroyed a considerable quantity of tea for some infringement of the Customs Regulations? It is rumoured in. my electorate that a large quantity of tea, after having been held by the Department for a considerable time, was destroyed. I should like to know who is responsible for the deliberate waste of a necessary commodity?
– I shall cause inquiry to be made. I know nothing of the circumstances.
– As pastoralists, agriculturists, and dairying settlers are seriously handicapped by the impossibility of obtaining fen cing wire and wire netting, except in small quantities and at exorbitant prices, will the Acting Prime Minister take steps to import from America or Japan by steamers coming to Australia for wheat sufficient supplies of these necessities to meet the requirements ofbona fide settlers at cost price?
– The honorable member was courteous enough to notify me of his intention to ask this question, and I have had sent to me from the Director of Munitions a memorandum which I shall read for the information of country members generally -
With regard to the fencing wire, before supplies could possibly be obtained by steamer either from the United States of America or Canada, or Japan (and supplies from the last-mentioned country are very problematical), the Broken Hill Proprietary Company’s Steel Works will be producing wire rods from which fencing wire is manufactured by the Australian Nail Company, who are establishing a new works at Newcastle for the manufacture of this material. It is anticipated that the rod mill will be in operation by the end of August. The supplies of fencing wire will then be ample for all Australian requirements, and the wire will be able to be produced at a price as low as the price at which it can be imported from any other country at the present time.
– That is not very consoling.
– We are dealing with the anxiety in regard to supplies during the war period, and the answer is drafted from that point of view -
With regard to wire netting, the wire from which the netting is manufactured will be produced in Australia in the same manner and by the same company that will be manufacturing the fencing wire at the Broken Hill Proprietary Company’s works, but the output of the wire netting itself will depend upon the capacity of the machines at present in existence in Australia. Messrs. Lysaght Bros. Ltd., Sydney, have the only plant now being operated. It is understood that the plant at Pentridge Gaol is now standing idle, and if this plant were put into operation, it would help somewhat to relieve the position. Applications made to the Minister for Munitions to allow of the exportation of wire netting making machinery have been refused, otherwise more firms would now be manufacturing wire netting in Australia.
In view of the above facts, it will be seen that very shortly Australia will be selfsupporting as regards the production of fencing wire, and that there is no need whatever to consider the questionof importation if the principle of giving preference to Australian manufacturers is to be carried out.
With regard to the importation of wire netting from America, it is very doubtful whether the American authorities will allow exportation of this material at the present time. A cablegram received from the British Embassy last week with reference to steel supplies reads as follows: - “ Owing to shortage steel War Trade Board refusing licences for applications unless accompaniedby statement that they would contribute directly purposes of war, and sufficient details to enable them to judge of the urgency and whether not possible to substitute another material.Railway waggons are instance, contention being that steel platescould be replaced by wood. Licences accordingly are being refused material specified munitions telegrams 9, 45, 55, and 413 as Board contends that further proof necessary production lead and spelter in Australia would contribute war.”
P.S. - The material referred to in the above cablegram consists of black steel sheets, boiler plates, and tank plates.
The only extraordinary part of that telegram is that it should not have been obvious to the American War Trade Board that lead and spelter are intimately related to the war. But the message shows the rigid control which the American authorities are exerting over the export, even to Allied countries, of materials that are not proved to be directly relatedto the war.
– In reference to the schools which the Postmaster-General proposes to establish in connexion with his Department, and his remarks about the present method of selecting officers for the Public Service, do the Government propose to modify the Public Service Act in the direction indicated by the Postmaster-General, namely, that the assistance of schoolmasters shall be sought in the obtaining of officers for the Public Service ?
– That is my view of what should be done, and I shall try to give effect to it if possible.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) asked me on Thursday last to make a statement as to the position in regard to jute goods in Australia, and I now submit the following reply: -
The Government is fully alive to the acute position regarding the jute trade in Australia, and is in every way straining to make provision to meet the emergency.
Woolpacks. - At the present moment the most urgent requirements are for woolpacks. The last shipment relieved the position in Western Australia and South Australia to a very great extent, but the needs of Victoria, New South Wales (particularly theRiverina district), and Queensland are particularly urgent. At least two-thirds of the requirements are still to be landed here, and of these16,000 bales should be in the first boat to leave Calcutta.
Bran Bags. - Bran bags, though in very strong demand, are practically unobtainable, and the necessity of a substantial shipment for all the States, and particularly Western Australia and Victoria, is most apparent.
Hessian and Sacking Cloth. - There is a distinct shortage of these materials in Australia at the present time, and the local bag manufacturers, though besieged with orders for bags for salt, cement, &c., are unable to supply same or to fulfil existing contracts.
Cornsacks. - Although there is apparently a shortage of cornsacks in Australia, this class of jute goods at the present moment is the one that can be most done without. Very soon, however, the needs of cornsacks will become most urgent, and, anticipating this, the Government is doing everything in its power to secure shipping to bring the 200,000 bales purchased to Australia in time for requirements. Arrangements have been made whereby 10,000 tons (about 30,000 bales) will be available for shipment from Calcutta by the end of June, and 10,000 tons each month thereafter until October, and 7,000 tons (about 21,000 bales) in November, December, and January. This contract is now practically completed, but the actual price cannot be stated until definite particulars as to exchange are available and the insurance (which is being effected in Australia) is completed. The Government is still in communication with the Viceroy of India regarding these matters, and no definite announcement can be made as to the price until this part of the negotiations is completed.
Generally the jute position in Australia today is most serious. The first boat in sight is not due to leave Calcutta until the end of the present month. Most urgent representations have been and are still being made to the Imperial authorities to place steamers on the berth at Calcutta immediately, and if such be secured the position will be greatly relieved.
Shearing will commence in Victoria and New South Wales in less than a month’s time, and, realizing the urgency of woolpacks, the Government has placed these goods first on the priority list of shipment, which now stands as follows: -
Hessian - meat wrappers.
Cloth - sacking.
Although every effort is being made by the Government to secure adequate shipping from Calcutta, it is by no means certain that these efforts will be successful, and persons using jute goods would be well advised to make all possible provision against a lack of supply.
The effects of the war are being more closely brought home to Australia day by day, and privations caused by it must undoubtedly be felt to a very great extent in the near future. Too great stress cannot be placed on this aspect of the position.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister inform the House whether the Commonwealth or the British Government are paying the. expenses of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Cook) and party in connexion with their visit to the Old Country?
– The delegation expenses will be paid, as are the delegation expenses of all the Dominions, by the Dominion itself.
– Representations have been made to me that the tanners of Queensland have been unable to export any leather owing to the space set apart for such exports having been taken up by shipments from New South Wales and Victoria. Will the Acting Prime Minister see that, if further opportunities offer, the tanners of Queensland are allowed a proportion of any freight that may be available?
– I am not aware that preference has been given to any particular port in the shipment of leather, but, if so, the freight should be as far as possible regulated. There should be an equitable apportionment of the accommodation as between all the States that desire to export leather.
– As the sugar season is now upon us, and an enormous quantity of bags will be required for this season’s crop, will the Minister in control of the Price Fixing Department state whether provision has been made for a supply of such bags to the sugar manufacturer?
– The requirements of the sugar producers have been fully considered by the Government in connexion with all the negotiations that have taken place relative to the shipment of jute to Australia.
Offences and Punishments
– On 11th April last the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
I then stated -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
It is not considered advisable in the public interest to do this.
No fines are inflicted.
The following additional reply has now been supplied to me -
With reference to the above questions it was understood, when previously replying thereto, that they related to punishments inflicted on internees in the camp. It appears, however, that the honorable member was referring to punishments inflicted on members of the guard.
Fines on members of such guard are inflicted under the powers conferred by section 55 of the Defence Act and paragraph 490a of the Australian Military Regulations.
Any money received in payment of fines is paid into revenue.
Australian Pension Rights
– On Thursday last the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) asked me, upon notice -
I then replied asfollows: -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
No provision has been made in the War Pensions Act or regulations, or in the Financial Instructions issued by this Department, for the payment of pensions to dependants of Italian Reservists.
This matter has not been considered, but will be brought before Cabinet for their consideration.
I desire now to make the further reply that -
In view of the provision made by the Italian Government, Cabinet has decided not to supplement.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister endeavour, in conjunction with the Victorian State Government, to have the machinery for the manufacture of wire netting, which is now lying idle at Pentridge, put into operation and other than prison labour employed in the industry, so that the requirements of the Commonwealth in this regard may be satisfied ?
– As the honorable member’s question infers, I know something as to the installation of this machinery and am aware that for a time it produced a quantity of excellent wire netting. I was surprised to learn, through the agency of the Board of Trade and the Director of Munitions, that it was idle. That may be due to the shortage of prisoners. My honorable friends opposite will not admit, I suppose, that any such shortage is due to the benevolence and elevating influence of this Government. Whether it is or not, if the machinery can be utilized either within the walls of Pentridge or outside-
– Preferably outside.
– If there is not sufficient prison labour and the Victorian Government will allow us to remove this machinery from Pentridge, we shall have much pleasure in removing it. I shall communicate with the State Government on the subject.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister say how far the Government have been instrumental in having arrangements made for the manufacture of wirenetting and fencing wire in Australia?
– The activities of the newly-created Board of Trade have been more or less responsible for what has been done. At the steel works of the Broken Hill Company, at Newcastle, they have apparently for some time been considering the development of subordinate industries arising from their manufacture of steel and iron. The Government are anxious, while we suffer great disadvantages during war time, that that manufacture may lead to the establishment of new industries. That is why the attention of the Board of Trade has been so keenly directed to this matter, and it has no doubt been largely instrumental in bringing the proposal to its present stage of fruition.
– Is there any utility in going further? We are manufacturing wire netting-
– Order! I direct the attention of the House to the fact that a number of questions have been asked upon this subject arising out of a reply given by the Acting Prime Minister to the first one, and quite a debate of an irregular character is developing. I ask honorable members not to proceed beyond the legitimate privilege of asking questions by attempting to debate the replies thereto.
– On the 22nd May, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) asked me the following questions: -
An interim reply was furnished, and I now give the following additional information : -
It has now been ascertained, as the result of inquiries,that the secretary of the TweedRiver Fruit Growers Association recently interviewed the Hon. J. D. Fitzgerald, who is Minister for Local Government in New South Wales, and asked that Fiji bananas might be kept out of the Tweed River district. The question of importation in New South Wales is not raised. The matter, therefore, at the present moment is one of State jurisdiction entirely. Inquiries made have established the fact that the precautions mentioned in the reply to question 2 are being observed.
– Will the Acting Prime
Minister say whether it was the decision of the Government, or of the Minister in charge of the Department, that the question of formulating the policy for Australia of an aerial defence should be left to an officer brought into the country from England as an expert advisor ?
– I thought that my honorable friend, the member forCapricornia (Mr. Higgs),was the only member of the House who was in the habit of submitting conundrums to the members of the Government. I know that that honorable member has spent a great deal of time in doing so. But the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) has now asked me one, for answer to which I must depend entirely upon my memory. So far as I can recollect, the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Joseph Cook), who is now absent from Australia, secured the consent of the Government to the importation of an expert naval aerial advisor in order that he might consult with the Government as to the formation of its policy. Beyond that, I know nothing of the matter. I heard the answer to the question put this afternoon, and it was in conformity with that view.
– It is unusual for a subordinate officer to give the Government their policy.
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether he will inform the House -
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Assistant
Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers tothe honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Conditions in Prime Minister’s Department.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows : -
Nos. 1 to 7. Yes; I have read the correspondence referred to. The Secretary of the Department has informed me generally as follows : - The officers of the Prime Minister’s Department have, as a result of the war, been called upon to discharge largely-increased duties. A good deal of the work is of a secret and confidential nature, and this must, obviously, be dealt with by specially selected officers. Apart from that, much of it is of an urgent nature, which necessitates prompt action. Telegrams and cablegrams are received and require to be despatched daily after the usual office hours. Many officers voluntarily and cheerfully work prolonged hours; but, in order to distribute the burden equally, instructions were issued some little time ago that all officers should remain on duty until 5.30 p.m. when occasion required. Even under these conditions, great difficulty is experienced in carrying on satisfactorily. Pending the rearrangement of ‘ some of the administrative functions of the Department which were in contemplation for some time, it was not considered advisable to appoint additional officers, but this has now been found imperative, in order to give some relief, and action is now being taken to secure more assistance. It may be added, however, that, in the existing circumstances, due to the war, it is thought all officers should be prepared to make sonic sacrifices. The majority of the officers have cheerfully and voluntarily made sacrifices in the matter of extra service, and, so far as I am aware, none of them is smarting under what is conceived to be an injustice. I should mention that payment of overtime is made in all cases, as prescribed in the Public Service Regulations and in awards ofthe Arbitration Court.
asked the Assistant
Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answerstothe honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The following papers were presented : -
The War - Shipping -
Merchant Tonnage and the Submarine -
A Statement issued by the War Cabinet at the request of the Board of Admiralty, showing for the United Kingdom and for the World, for the period August, 1914, to December, 1917 -
Correspondence with the Netherlands Government regarding the requisitioning by His Majesty’s Government of British-owned, or chiefly British-owned ships under Neutral flags. (Papers presented to British Parliament. )
Public Service Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1918, No. 129.
In Committee of Supply: (Consideration resumed from 8th August, 1917, vide page 837), of motion by Lord Forrest -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division 1, the Parliament, namely, “The President, £1,100,” be agreed to.
. -Within eighteen days of the close of the current financial year we are asked to pass Estimates covering the whole of the expendi- ture that has been incurred during the past eleven and a half months. I maintain that it is utterly impossible for us to adequately consider the whole of these Estimates within the week that we are told the House will remain in session, even if we devote our attention exclusively to them. I know that the statement has been made outside that there will probably be some all-night sittings this week.
– Do not say that.
– I do say it; but I am not the person who will decide whether or not there shall be all-night sittings. Those who will arrange that matter are to be found on the front Ministerial bench. So that honorable members who have any criticism to offer regarding the fixing or non-fixing of the price of meat or of other commodities, or in connexion with the War Precautions Act Regulations, which fall under the Department of the AttorneyGeneral, or who have any complaints to urge against the Post Office - assuming it is possible that there can be any such complaints - will have only a very limited opportunity to voice their views. I candidly admit that the superior attitude adopted by the Postmaster-General makes rae doubt whether there can be any wellfounded complaints against the administration of his Department.
– The honorable member was never more correct.
– That interjection satisfies me that I am wrong.
– He himself has said it.
– And “greatly to his credit,” as the comic opera says. I say, without hesitation, that it is impossible for us to thoroughly discuss the whole of these Estimates during the brief space of one week. The Acting Prime Minister informed me about a fortnight ago that it was the intention of the Government to pass a three months’ Supply Bill before Parliament went into recess. So that, before the current financial year has expired, we are to be asked to pass a three months’ Supply Bill, in order to allow the Government to do whatever they may think it is necessary to do. Of course, I know that there is one newspaper in Melbourne which believes that it is wise for Parliament to close its doors, so that the Government may be allowed to run their Departments as they choose, and to bring into operation whatever
War Precautions Regulations they may deem fit without the voice of the people’s representatives being heard. But I7 for one, think that, as far as possible, we should adopt the practice which has been followed by the British Parliament ever since this war broke out; and, as honorable members know, that Parliament has been in practically continuous session since the outbreak of war. I recognise that we have not the vast problems to deal with here that confront the Imperial Parliament; but we have similar problems, though they are not of the same magnitude. We have problems of our own which must be faced. Then there are many important positions in our Public Service which have been vacant for quite a long while. The only Public Service Commissioner the Commonwealth ever had - Mr. McLachlan - retired in May, 1916. The filling of the vacancy thus created was postponed, in the first instance, because the Prime Minister was absent from the country; but the office was to be filled soon after his return. Last week we were told by the Acting Prime Minister that the Government are awaiting a decision as to whether or not the Post Office is to be placed under the control of a Commission.
– It is time that the Government made up their minds upon that question. I know that it is customary for some Ministers, to do things off their own bat, and when their actions are challenged, for them to explain, “Oh, this is a bit that I did on my own ; the matter has not been before the Cabinet.” But that is not the way to conduct a Cabinet. No doubt the Acting Prime Minister objects to that sort of thing more than does anybody else.
– It weakens solidarity a bit.
– Of course it does. I have no doubt that there will be a little heart-to-heart talk with some Ministers in view of certain announcements which have recently been made in the press as tq the way in which they intend to run their Departments. If one Minister is permitted to say that he proposes to conduct his Department in a particular way, there is nothing to prevent the other eleven Ministers - if that be the correct number of the present Ministry - from doing the same thing. Speaking of the number of Ministers, I am reminded that only the other day I read in the newspapers a statement that the Government have just provided a new Cabinet table, made of Australian timber, and covered with cowhide. It is very appropriate that the table should be covered withcowhide, in view of the toughness of the hides of some Ministers who will sit around it. This table has been constructed for the purpose of accommodating the numerous Ministers who compose the present Government. I can quite understand that if the numbers of that Ministry continue to increase as they have been increasing it will soon be necessary to knock out the walls of the building, regarding the construction of which the present PostmasterGeneral was responsible for an inquiry. I have no doubt that he will then be able to inform us how a wall or two can best be taken out of that structure with a view to improving it and to accommodating the additional Ministers.
– That will be very encouraging to the rank and file.
– But in view of the fact that there are fifty-five members of the National party in this Chamber and twenty-four in another place, I can scarcely believe that the Government intend to create a Cabinet of seventy-nine Ministers. It is true - as the honorable member for Henty pointed out - that today there are a great number of paid positions which are practically within the gift of the Ministry.
– He also pointed out why an addition had been made to the number of Ministers.
– He did. I repeat that if Ministers are permitted to make statements in the press to the effect that they intend to run their Departments as they choose, and that they propose to do away with Public Service examinations, there must necessarily be a weakening of Ministerial solidarity.
There are one or two matters to which I wish particularly to refer, and I desire to direct the attention of the Acting Prime Minister to one of them. It relates to a class of Public Service employees, namely, the women office cleaners. They are exempt from the provisions of the Public Service Act. They are under every Minister, but it would be fairer if they were placed under the direct authority of one Minister if that were possible. I wish the Acting Prime Minister would either deal with their position himself or allocate the task to one specific Minister. The hours and pay of these women have been discussed by various Cabinets from time to time. In 1910 or 1911, the Ministry of which I was then a member increased their wages from £1 to 25s. a week. In the Victorian State Service they had been getting 25s. for a number of years, until the Patterson Government came into office. Thereafter the rate of pay was reduced, until these women were getting only £1. Now it is indisputable that if 25s. was a fair rate in 1911, 25s. is not a fair wage to-day. The women have to put up with unusual hours of employment. Their duties do not cover a straight-out period, as is the case with ordinary workers. In the case of the majority of them, the earliest trains into Melbourne must be caught, and they arrive at their duties at about 6 a.m. They work for about an hour and a half to two hours, and then return home. Then they are in attendance at the Government offices again at the close of the day’s work, and they again have to work for about two hours or two hours and a half. If the women cleaners are living near a railway station, they naturally avail themselves of the benefit of monthly tickets. Most of them, however, live as close as possible to the scene of their work, and that means that they come in on the trams. The majority are widows with children, since it has been a rule with the authorities either to give such work exclusively to widows, or, in extreme cases, to the eldest daughters of widows who have become too old or unfit to carry on.
The VictorianWages Board, recognising the need for granting higher rates of pay when the Federal Government gave 25s. a week in or about 1911, fixed the rate at 22s. 6d. for this work. Since then the Board has granted 27s. 6d. for a thirtyhour week. The reason why the Federal Government office cleaners did not receive as much as that was that their hours were shorter. I trust that the Acting Prime Minister will remit this matter to one of the Ministers direct. It is not a very large matter, but it is very important to the women concerned, and I trust that it may be dealt with effectively, and the women thus placed upon a fair basis of payment. Speaking from memory, I think it was the Public Service Commissioner who considered the point when Cabinet remitted it to him at the time I have mentioned, and it was he who fixed the rate at 25s. In the Victorian State Savings Bank employ the rate is 28s. 6d. for a week of thirty hours; and, in connexion with the Railways Department, the wage is 36s. for a week of twenty-five hours. Any Minister who has been compelled to remain in his office after ordinary hours will have noticed, no doubt, that the cleaners are always waiting to attend to their work; and I am sure that in every instance this waiting has been undertaken uncomplainingly.
– The matter will be looked into.
– One other matter to which I desire to draw attention is the action taken by various Federal Departments in dispensing with the services of married men and giving their positions to returned soldiers. I have several specific cases before me. One is in respect to J. A. Barnett, who is a married man with three children; and another refers to G. Campbell, a married man with one child. The latter has been in the Defence Department for three and a half years. He received notice to go on the 30th April, but his time has since been extended until the 30th of this month. Among the married men who are finding themselves out of employment, and who have received notice, are numbers of rejects and others who are beyond the military age. The Clerks Union has made representations to me, and has asked whether I think it is a carrying out of a definite promise of the Prime Minister at the Governor-General’s Recruiting Conference that there would be no economic conscription in the Public Service, and I certainly do not think it is a fair interpretation of the promise of the Prime Minister. Members of the union naturally feel very sore. If the Acting Prime Minister cares to look at the columns of the Herald every evening, where the occupations of enlisted men are set out, he will note that clerks form a considerable portion of the recruits. No fewer than 1,500 members of the Clerks Union in Melbourne alone have enlisted for active service. The union feels that it is very hard on its members - some of whom have endeavoured to enlist, and others of whom are beyond the military age - that they should now be dismissed. I will read a notice issued by the Customs Department. It reads -
Department of Trade and Customs,
Melbourne, 30th May, 1918
To whom it may concern,
Mr. W. J. Higginbotham has been in the employ of the Department of Trade and Customs in the capacity of shorthand writer and. typist from 30th October, 1916, to 31st May, 1918, and during that time has performed his work in a satisfactory manner.
Mr. Higginbotham is a conscientious and most willing worker, and his services would possibly have been retained for some time to come but for the fact that it has been decided to give preference to returned soldiers. (Signed) R. McK. Oakley,
This man has four children. He received thirty-six hours’ notice, after having had twenty years’ experience as a typist and stenographer. Here is another notice issued by the Ordnance Branch of the Defence Department, in respect of a Mr. Carlton -
I have to inform you that, owing to a reduc tion in staff and also owing to the policy of the Department regarding the employment of returned soldiers, your services will not be required after 14th inst. (Signed by Acting Senior Ordnance Officer.)
If the Ministry intend that every married man in the Service, although be may be a reject, or over the age, and, therefore, not eligible, or having sons at the Front, is to be dismissed, then it is not only harsh, but it brings up the question of the Prime Minister’s promise that there would be no economic conscription. I maintain, of course, that returned soldiers should have the fairest of fair deals.
– I say that every returned soldier in search of employment should, if he desires, be able to get back to his old position. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) pointed out the other night that some private employers were honouring their promises to former employees, but I am afraid that some are honouring the pledge in the letter, and not in the spirit, by taking men back and finding shortly afterwards an excuse to get rid of them. I am absolutely opposed to that policy, and I shall do my best in all cases to see that the men are given a fair deal. Recently there was brought under my notice the case of a man who was offered a position in the Defence Department as an examiner. He told me he did not like to take it because he knew that if he did so a married man with five children dependent upon him would have to be dismissed ; but he also knew that if he did not take the position some one else would. The responsibility is on the Government to treat every case on its merits, and while married men with heavy obligations upon them should be considered, the Government should see that perfectly fair treatment in the matter of employment is meted out to returned soldiers.
I desire now to refer to another matter which has been mentioned in this House from time to time, namely, the inquiries being made by Mr. Barnett into the question of enemy origin of employees in the Public Service, I have here what is alleged to be, and what I believe is, an accurate statement of questions submitted to a particular member of the Public Service. I shall not give his name, but I might state it is not of foreign origin, and when I mentioned the matter to the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) the other night he told me that he had known the boy’s parents for a long time - long before they were married. They had lived in the Avoca district, he said, for a number of years, and were of Irish descent. The young man to whom I refer was instructed to call on Mr. Barnett at his office. He had no idea at that time what he was wanted for or why the following questions were put to him: -
Where employed, and for how long?
He answered these questions, and was then required to supply answers to the following : -
Married or single? - Married.
How many children? - One.
Age of the eldest boy? - There is not one.
Age of daughter? - Two years.
Any brothers? - One.
Has he tried to enlist? - Yes; he was rejected.
What doctor rejected him? - I do not know.
The magistrate might just as well ask me what doctor passed my son, for I do not know, and I will guarantee that honorable members with brothers or sons at the Front could not tell what doctors passed them for active service.
– At all events, I do not know what doctor passed my son. The further questions were -
Where was he examined? - I do not know.
Where were you born? - (Full information given. )
Birthplace of father and mother? - Victoria, but do not know exactly where.
Birthplace of grandparents? - I do not know.
The magistrate, referring to this answer, told the young man that he had better find out where his grandparents were born. I will guarantee that not 50 per cent. of honorable members, who, I presume, regard themselves as of average intelligence, could tell where their grandparents were born.
– You could look up your birth certificate?
– A person is required to pay 2s. 6d. to get a copy of a birth certificate - and I know that it would be quite impossible for me to find out where my grandparents were born, because the whole of my father’s and mother’s people are dead. The young man was asked the following further questions: -
What relations on active service? - Two cousins.
How related? - Father’s brother and mother’s sister’s children.
Name of cousins? - (Name given.)
Where are they? - France.
How many War Bonds have you purchased? - £10.
Where are they? - I sold them.
Did you pay for them? - Yes.
How much have you subscribed to theRed Cross? - I do not know.
In regard to the last question, also, the young man was told that he would have to find out. If this is the way the inquiry is to be conducted, I am afraid we are not likely to get much satisfaction out of it. Apparently, the Commissioner has made up his mind to suspect every person who comes before him to be of enemy origin ; and in the case of this young man, because he could not tell where his grandparents were born, he was assumed to be stubborn or insolent.
Another important matter that is agitating the minds of the people of Australia at the present time is the high cost of living, and the failure of the Government to act upon the report of the Inter-State Commission presented in October last. On the 9th August last, the Prime Minister instructed the Inter-State Commission that, as a result of representations to the effect that the increased cost of living was seriously affecting large numbers in the Commonwealth, the Government was desirous that the Commission should inquire, forthwith, into ‘ ‘ the causes of increase in the price of commodities in general use,” and particularly to take evidence and report upon -
Causes of the increase of prices of the staple commodities consumed by the great mass of the people;
Following this request, the Prime Minister submitted the undermentioned list of articles into which the Government desired the inquiry to be made, and requested that they might be dealt with in the order stated: - Bread; meat; butter; cheese; bacon; vegetables and fruit; milk; groceries; clothing; boots; house rent. Report No. 1 deals with bread, and the above questions are not repeated in connexion with any of the other reports. That reference was sent to the Inter-State Commission on the 9th August, 1917, and, probably, they received it the next day. The first report dealing . with meat was submitted by the Commission on the 3rd October, and was signed by Messrs. A. B. Piddington, George Swinburne, and N. Lockyer. It was not presented to the House and ordered to be printed until 24th April of this year. The House had met in January, and the report could have been presented then. But, apparently, other influences were at work in the meantime, because, according to Appendix A of Report No. 7, dealing with meat, the Prime Minister, on the 23rd February, before this Parliament had an opportunity of seeing the first report, sent the following letter to the Chairman of the Inter-State Commission, Sydney : - ‘
Dear Sir, - Two deputations, representing the wholesale meat traders and the Producers As sociation of New South Wales waited upon me to-day in connexion with the proposal of the Government to adopt the recommendation of the Inter-State Commission to fix the local price of meat on the basis of the Imperial Government contracts, and made statements which appear to call for further consideration. As you are aware, the Government have instructed Mr. Whitton, Chief Prices Commissioner, to take the matter in hand with a view to giving effect to the Commission’s recommendations, but after hearing the statements of the deputations I have come to the conclusion that it is> advisable to re-open the question, to give them an opportunity of placing fresh evidence before you. In the meantime, I have promised to stay proceedings. Will you be good enough to arrange for the persons interested to have an opportunity of placing their case before the Commission as early as possible? I should be glad if Mr. Whitton could attend in his official cap’acity to take such, part in the inquiry as may be necessary.
That letter was sent before honorable members had an opportunity of seeing the report. The report was not ordered to be printed until 24th April, so that we would probably not get it before May. When the Commission dealt with the question, Messrs. Piddington and Mills, Deputy Commissioner, reported : -
The evidence showed that the parties who asked for a re-opening of the inquiry had not read the previous reports, and that they held mistaken opinions upon two important points, namely, the recommendation of the Commission, and its reasons.
Could any denunciation be more scathing ? The people who asked for the reinvestigation had not read or even considered the report, and based their application on mistaken opinions on the only two points that mattered.
– You said members could not get the reports.
– I said that members do not get them. I do not know whether the other parties did.
– They did not either.
– They saw the announcement in the press.
– I presume that was so. The Prime Minister, in his letter to the Commission, said- it was the intention of the Government to carry out its recommendations, but, apparently, the Government are willing to hang tha matter up, I am anxious that it should not be hung up any longer. I regret that we did not have from the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to-day a complete and definite statement of the Government’s intentions. Practically every -witness before the Commission proved conclusively, on oath, that the Imperial contract price paid them well.
– It was double that of 1913.
– Yes; I will deal with that point later. We have been told that if the prices are fixed these people will not send their cattle* to market. On that point the Commission sayIn spite of one or two imprudent individual utterances, the Commission cannot anticipate a deliberate conspiracy of sabotage against Governmental regulation on the part of a lawabiding class such as the graziers and farmers of the community.
If the Government do as some of the press have advised them to do, are these people going to withhold their sheep and cattle from the market? Is that to be their attitude if the Government direct that the price which they have accepted for shipment overseas shall be the price to prevail in Australia? When I had the honour and privilege of being Minister for Trade and Customs, I said that the people who were sending food stuffs out of Australia, particularly mutton, which I was dealing with then in New South Wales and Victoria, must make them available to the people of Australia at the same price. The Government to-day are only getting back to where we were in September, 1915. Certain Governments in the Commonwealth at that time endeavoured to get the shippers of mutton to send their mutton down to the ship’s side to send away. That was done in New South Wales. They ordered large shippers to send trucks of mutton down to the ships, and said that it should go away; but I gave instructions to the Collector in New South Wales and other States that they were not to be allowed, to send any meat away from AusT tralia unless it was made available to the people of Australia at the same rate. I am opposed to the dumping into Australia of the manufactured goods of other countries so as to ruin our manufacturers, and I am also opposed to the dumping of the goods of Australia outside Australia to be sold to the people of other countries cheapen than they are sold at here.
– You know that iB not done.
– I know that the Imperial Government contract price has been cheaper than the rate at which meat has been sold in Australia.
– Not at the same places.
– If shippers put mutton on board at 5d. or 5d., they should be prepared to sell it at the same price locally, less the freezing charges.
– So they are.
– I am surprised to learn it. If they are doing that, there is no need for them to object, to what the Inter-State Commission recommend; but they have not been doing it.
– They have.
– No one, by the wildest stretch of imagination, could say that the Inter-State Commission was a Labour Commission. For a little while the Trades Hall Council of Victoria paid for a representative to watch, the inquiry in the interests of the workers of the community.
– He was a good man.
– He was not bad. The Commission went to New South Wales to inquire into the price of meat, and in the issue of the Sydney Sun of 6th March of this year the following appeared : -
No one seems to care what price Commissioner Piddington fixes for meat. v
Yesterday he heard some .evidence. There were just a few to help him to carry out his onerous duties.
Mr. Adrian Knox, K.C. (instructed by Messrs. M’Lachlan and Murray), appeared for the Producers Association Central Council.
Mr. Shand, K.C., and Mr. Weston (instructed by Messrs. Sly and Russell) represented T. A. Field.
Mr. Blacket, K.C. (instructed by Messrs. Weaver and Allworth), represented the selling agents.
Mr. H. E. Manning (instructed by Messrs. Norton, Smith, and Co.) represented the Riverstone Meat Co.
Messrs. Mallett and Nichols appeared for the Master Butchers Association.
Now, if any one was really interested in the price which Mr. Piddington will fix for meat, something in the way of a representative Bar would certainly have appeared before him.
As it is, Mr. Piddington will have to come to a determination as best he can.
Why were these King’s Counsel and a number of* solicitors in attendance ?
– In order to rob the public.
– They were there for the purpose of endeavouring to have the price of meat fixed as high as possible. We are told that these people are concerned about seeing that the public are treated fairly, and yet they employ such a powerful Bar in order to try to” keep up the prise of meat. In 1915, fourteen months after the war broke out, when the Labour party was engaged in an endeavour to obtain an alteration to the Constitution, the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who was then a member of that party, said, “ The cost of living has so increased that it is with the utmost difficulty that people can exist to-day. There, are people in this country who pose as patriots, who give £50 to a patriotic fund and yet fleece the public of £5,000 by means of increased prices.” In their report the Inter-State Commission have analyzed the evidence given by some of these gentlemen who have sought to keep up the price of meat. They say -
It was common opinion that the- grazing in-‘ dustry has never been so prosperous, more particularly for the mixed farmer and “ the small man,” as it is now. . . . Figures are quoted later tending to show that the industry - viewed as a whole - has already recovered the losses of the drought year, and if meat prices are now fixed on the basis of ordinary season conditions, the position might be reviewed in the face of any calamity, such as drought, just as the railway systems frequently carry starving stock free or at reduced rates.
Upon an examination of a number of pastoralists’ accounts in Queensland, Kew South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, it has been found that, coupled with the recent good seasons, the high prices of meat and of wool have resulted not only in the losses of the drought being overtaken, but in such profits being made that, taking the losses of the drought with the profits since, the four years 1914-1017 (both inclusive) show a better total position than the previous four years.
It will be seen shortly that the aggregate flocks of the Commonwealth have now reached at least the numbers existing before the drought, and the herds nearly so.
– That is not correct.
– I would rather believe the Inter-State Commission than I would the honorable member. The Commission was in a better-,position to learn the facts, seeing that they made inquiries all over Australia, whereas the honorable member is interested in one corner only of the Commonwealth.
– I base my statement upon the reports furnished by the Stock Departments of the States.
– The honorable member will have the opportunity to put the case for the fleecers. I shall put the case for the community as best I can.
– We are 6,000,000 sheep short.
– I shall deal with the question of what the pastoralists are getting for their sheep. The ‘ wool -owners were paid £45,000,000 for their, wool last year as against £25,000,000 which they received in the year 1912.
– Your man says that his figures are merely an estimate.
– My man? Mr. Piddington was appointed by the Government which is in power to-day. He was appointed by the Cook Government. No one can say that he and his colleagues have not carried out their duties in a fair way.
– They are good Commis- sioners
– It has been generally recognised that they are good Commissioners, and I am quoting from their report. We have heard comments upon some Government appointments. The appointment of Mr. Justice Higgins to the High Court has been questioned in this House. Some people have said that His Honour was appointed by a Labour Government, but they did not know what they were talking about, because the appointment was made by the Deakin Government at the latter end of 1906.
– Mr. ©eakin was supported by the Labour party.
– The honorable member* cannot refrain from his dirty insinuations. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) was a member of the Government which appointed Mr. Justice Isaacs and Mr. Justice Higgins, and the Labour party were not consulted by that Government in regard to it or in regard to any other appointment. The honorable member for Kooyong can contradict me if I am wrong in that statement. I merely mention, in passing, that the Inter-State Commission is a fair one, and that it was appointed by the Government which the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) sat behind when he first came into the House. Their report which I am quoting proceeds -
The requirements of the population, on the other hand, must be less than before the war, in view of the large number of men who have left Australia. The opinion waa expressed by witnesses that prices must soon fall automatically to something like export level. Mr. Angliss, M.L.C. (Victoria), pointed to the recent resumption of export in Victoria as an indication of this tendency. A like prediction, however, was made before the Commission by the same witness in August, 1917, the expected relief to the consumer being foreshadowed for. September or October of that year. That prediction has not been fulfilled, partly, no doubt, because once the community has grown used to high prices, the tendency is for them to be maintained, even when they might, and should, come down.
This shows Mr. Angliss, as a witness, to be absolutelyunreliable.
– As a prophet,not as a witness.
– Mr. Angliss said that prices were coming down last year, but they did not come down.
– He was a bad prophet.
– And others with him were bad prophets, because Mr. Reynolds said the same thing in the press. I am afraid that in their case “prophet” should be spelt in another way.
– And with “ eer “ at the end.
– Quite so.
– I do not think that, because a man’s one prophecy is unfulfilled, he should be described as utterly unreliable.
– Then I shall merely say that Mr. Angliss is very unreliable. Evidence was also given by Mr. R. Griffiths, grazier, and president of the New South Wales Country Stock and Station Agents Association. The following is an extract from his evidence: -
The Chief Commissioner. - Would the prices of the Imperial contract pay the grower in normal seasons with normal conditions, starting from our present position as far as the stock in the country is concerned? Would they give him a reasonable profit over and above what he would have to spend in raising the meat? - A. Yes, I admit frankly those prices would pay him.
Mr. T. A. Field, Sydney, who, according to report No. 4of the Inter-State Commission, was believed to be at one time in control of 50 per cent. of the stock market of New South Wales, said before the Commission -
The Imperial contract prices will pay, provided seasons are good and store stock can bo bought at values which allow a margin for the fattener.
Sir Richard Butler, Adelaide, said
I should say, under ordinary conditions, the
Imperial contract price is a payable one.
Mr. Sydney Kidman, of Adelaide, said
I am quite satisfied to sell my cattle in Queensland at the Imperial prices.
In seasons like those we have had recently I think the Imperial price for sheep is a payable one in South Australia. The wool is so high.
I am making quite enough out of my cattle. I reckon we get more than they are worth. The same way with the wool.
If Mr. Kidman states, on oath, that he is making quite enough out of his cattle, and reckons that he is getting more than they are worth, we may take it that such is the fact; and it is time the people of Australia had a chance to get meat at a fair price.
– Quote the letter which appeared in the Argus on the 1st June.
– The honorable member may do that; he will have his opportunity to appear for those people who desire to make the public pay more than they ought to for their meat. I appear for the people who demand meat at a fair price. In report No. 2, page 10, the Inter-State Commission says -
It was mentioned that in the opinion of one witness (Mr. Jowett, now M.H.R.), the price given by the Imperial Government for meat has had an encouraging effect on the raising of stock, since the grazier looks upon that price as something in the nature ofa guarantee. There can be little doubt that a local fixed price on export parity would be regarded in the same light.
– I did not say that.
– The honorable member will have an opportunity to explain if he thinks the Inter-State Commission has done him an injury.
– It has not; it has paid me a great compliment by quoting me.
– I suggest to the honorable member that he should say to Mr. Piddington, “Don’t say that.” In a paragraph headed, “ The Drought More Than Overtaken,” the Commission says -
In view of the above figures as to the earnings of the industry as a whole, it is clear that, disastrous as was the 1914-1915 drought, the singularly fortunate succession of two “universal” seasons (i.e., seasons where there was no drought in any considerable area of Australia) has operated in conjunction with the increments in the price of wool and meat to wipe out completely the financial losses of the drought and to leave the industry with a substantial balance to the good. . . .
From figures that will follow it will be seen that there are now as many cattle and more sheep in the Commonwealth than in 1913 -
– Absolutely incorrect !
– The honorable member uses that phrase like a gramophone; and I wish he would put on another record.
The Inter-State Commission went on to say -
The capital value of each class of stock is much higher than in 1913, and would remain much higher if prices fell to export level.
The income from all stock has been £27,000,000 more in the two “fat years “ than in 1913.
As to Victoria, it is said -
While the losses of sheep were heavy in 1914-1915 drought, the recovery has been very rapid, and the number of sheep in the State at the end of March, 1917, was recorded as 12,570,587. There was a good lambing subsequent to that date in 1917, and the lambing now in progress is believed to be highly satisfactory. The number of sheep now in the State is believed to be about 15,000,000. The highest number previously recorded was 13,857,000 in 1911.
The position in South Australia is described -
The recovery of the State of South Australia in sheep has been very marked. The latest figures available - those up to 30th June, 1917 - give the numbers of sheep in the State at about 5,100,000, or a little more than those existing in 1913. With the present lambing, it is estimated that the State will have at least 6,000,000 sheep, or about the same as the maximum numbers in the State for any year since 1900. The greatest number ever recorded was in 1890 (about 7,000,000).
After no previous drought have we had to wait for two years for the price of meat to come down. In 1902 we had a bad drought, and we certainly had not to wait until 1904 for lower prices.
– Yes, we had.
– No, we had not, as was shown every day by the newspaper records of the stock and meat sales. We all know that the price has gone up because of the war on the other side of the world.
– It would be only fair to say that in 1902-3 all other standards of value, including those of wages and interest, were low.
– They were not 100 per cent. lower, while meat to-day is 100 per cent. higher than it was in 1914.
– That is absolutely wrong.
– The figures are on record. In the Pastoralists Review, an extract from which I have received with the editor’s compliments,there are shown the average weekly quotations of Australian frozen meat in the Smithfield market for the season 1911-12.
At that time, according to this journal, the price of light mutton was 3.39d., and heavy mutton, 3.28d.; while, in beef, hinds were 3.55d., and fores or crops were 2.71d.
These prices were after freight, commission, and all overseas charges had been paid.
– That was when the American Meat Trust was trying to destroy the Australian meat trade.
– Then which year would the honorable member like me to quote ?
– Any year when the American Meat Trust was not trying to destroy the Australian trade.
– The honorable member may select any year between 1911 and 1915. The Pastoralists Review does not say anything about the American Meat Trust; and meat was being sold at those rates before that trust went on the market.
– It was so, for I, myself, have seen Australian meat sold at Smithfield at cheaper rates than I have quoted.
– In what year?
– In 1889-90.
– Not much cheaper.
– Perhaps not; but much cheaper than the rates now obtaining. I remember that any poor stuff was then sold at Smithfield as Australian meat, and I resented it. There has been an increase of 65 per cent. in the price of hind-quarters of beef and of 80 per cent. in the price of “fores” and “crops.” The price of mutton has increased from 3.39d. to 5.27d., and of beef, from 3.55d. to 6. 2d. for “ hinds,” and from 2.71d. to 5.59½d. for “fores” and “crops.”
– This Government is not responsible for the price of meat in London.
– My point is that here, without any good reason, the price of meat has increased by 100 per cent. The profiteers, whom my friend, Mr. Hannan, recently spoke of as political pirates-
– Whom does the honorable member believe to be the real profiteers in meat?
– I am not here to pick them out; there are so many of them. Each one puts on a bit, and increases the cost.
– How can the grower put on anything, seeing that he sells in the open market?
– The growers are getting for their wool more than twice what they used to get. This Government should have done what the British Government did. In August last this Government referred to the Inter-State Commission the question of the price of meat. The mention of that Commission reminds me of the reference of the question of luxuries to another Commission. This was done, to quote the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), at a time “when thrones were tottering,” to save the Empire, and, in the end, the Government prohibited the importation of scent and bay rum ! The importation of motor cars was also prohibited, yet motor cars are still coming in; and the importation of confectionery was prohibited, and still the confectionery shops are full of imported confectionery. The Government slept on the report of the Inter-State Commission. Even honorable members opposite cannot ascertain what Ministers intend to do regarding it.
– Does the honorable member say that the retail prices of beef and mutton have been increased by 100 per cent. ?
– In the pre-drought year there were in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia 4,696,000 cattle. Those figures take no account of Queensland, where there are more cattle than in all the other States of Australia put together.
– About half the cattle of Australia are in Queensland.
– In 1916-17 the cattle in the three States that I have mentioned numbered 4,229,000, the sheep being 56,888,000 and 53,847,000 before and after the drought, respectively. The South Australian Statist, in Bulletin No. 1, of 1917, stated that about 40 per cent. of the 5,000,000 sheep in that State were breeding ewes, which produced 1,548,000 lambs, an average lambing of nearly 79 per cent. I do not suppose that any honorable member will say that the average lambing of Australia is much below 60 per cent.
– It is probably more.
– At any rate, I do not wish to exaggerate it. If the estimate of lambing be correct, there must now be more sheep in Australia than there were before the drought. In the three States that I have mentioned reside nearly three-fourths of the population of Australia.
– The price of wool has kept up the price of mutton.
– Then I hope the price of wool will come down. The women who are knitting socks for husbands, brothers, and sons at the Front pay twice as much for it as they did. They have difficulty in getting supplies; and they find that the worsted is of poor character, and contains a large percentage of cotton, as can be seen by burning it.
– That has nothing to do with the price of raw wool. We do not manufacture knitting wool here.
– In 1911-12 there were 93,000,000 sheep in Australia, and the wool clip fetched £26,000,000, whereas in 1916-17 there were only 76,000,000 sheep, and the wool clip fetched £45,600,000.
– Your figures show that in 1916-17 our sheep were 20,000,000 fewer than in 1911-12.
– But I have shown how the flocks have been increased since by the lambing. I have been informed by a member of the Central Wool Committee that the value of the wool and skins sent from Australia thisyear will be over £50,000,000.
– About £45,000,000.
– If there were divided among honorable members the difference between £45,000,000 and the value of these exports this year, we could, all of us, safely retire from politics to live on our means.
– Would honorable members be prepared to make good any difference between a smaller return and £45,000,000.
– The return will be over £45,000,000. On page 49 of the InterState Commission’s report, the average prices of beef, mutton, and lamb are given as deduced from the sworn declarations of value at the time of exportation. Whereas in 1911-12 the prices of beef ranged from 2½d. to less than 3d., in 1916-17 they went to nearly 6d., it being only in Queensland that the price was kept down to 4.91d., which was under the Imperial contract rate. The prices of mutton ranged from under 2½d. in 1911- 12 to nearly 5½d. in 1916-17.
– Mutton could not be produced in the southern States for 2½d. Victoria could not produce mutton at that price.
– Victoriahas to-day nearly 15,000,000sheep. She had 1,500,000 cattle, and now has 1,200,000. She exported beef in 1912 at a little over 2¾d. a lb. The graziers of Victoria are not in business for the good of their health; their object is to make the consumers pay the biggest prices possible for meat. I am surprised that Mr. Kidman has said that he is getting quite enough out of the meat he is selling at the Imperial contract price. Before goods are exported their value has to be declared, and this gives a basis on which to calculate prices. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) in this way calculated the export price of wool tops to Japan before the war, and compared it with the price that is being paid for them now.
– Most of the increases in cattle to which the honorable member has referred are still immature.
– When I was in the Government I discouraged the killing of female and immature stock, but of late the price of lambs and calves have been so high that very few female animals can have been killed.
– That is so.
– Some farmers may be compelled to market female stock, just as a business man may be compelled to realize good securities; but for the most part female stock are not sent to market so long as they can be used for breeding. The Inter-State Commission, on page 12 of the report, says -
The conclusion drawn is that, in the six States (excluding the Northern and Federal Territories) there are now 11,000,000 cattle, and 00,000,000 sheep. In 1913, the figures were 11,000,000 cattle, and 85,000,000 sheep.
Viewing the internal conditions of the Commonwealth as a whole, there appears, therefore, no valid reason why the supplies of beef and meat should be dearer than in 1913, except that the causes enumerated on page 10 of report No. 2 had increased the working costs of grazing properties.
The present prices for meat are found to be 100 per cent. higher in the case of beef and mutton (wholesale) than in the year before the war, though the country contains as many cattle and more sheep than at that period.
– Now give us a comparison of the retail prices.
– I direct the honorable member’s attention to Labour Bulletin 19 for the period April to June, 1917. In that he will see the average predominant retail prices in each capital city from July, 1914, to August, 1917.
– The net increase in retail prices was 59 per cent.
– I am pointing out that the Inter-State Commission reports that the wholesale price of meat is 100 per cent. dearer than it was in 1913. If the retail price is not 100 per cent. dearer, the butchers must be at a disadvantage, and the growers must be receiving the full increase of 100 per cent. I think that both retailers and wholesalers are doing extraordinarily well. The Imperial contract prices are set forth on page 52 of the Inter-State Commission’s reports, and on page 53 are these words -
The Commission is satisfied that the Imperial contract prices allow for such considerations, and that, in Mr. Kidman’s words, pastoralists “are getting more for their cattle and wool than they are worth.”
– Mr. Kidman has since contradicted that statement by a letter to the press.
– When Mr. Kidman gave evidence before the Inter-State Commission, he was on oath; and I would sooner believe Kidman on oath than Kidman not on oath.
– He said, in the press, that he was speaking of the position in Queensland.
- Mr. Kidman said before the Commission, “In seasons like those we have had recently, I think the Imperial price for sheep is a payable one in South Australia.” Did he mean Queensland when he said South Australia? Does not Mr. Kidman know his geography? I would sooner believe his evidence on oath than his letter to the press, because in writing to the press he was bound to do the best for himself by helping to maintain the high price of meat. The summary and recommendations of the Commission include -
On page 52 it is shown that the sheep have increased by 5,000,000 since 1913.
That is their admission, after having had the assistance of a big Bar, including Knox, Shand, Blacket, Manning, Mallett, and others.
– Has one of the lawyers who took part in the investigation been knighted since for his service?
– I think that Mitchell appeared for Nestle’s Milk Company. The Argus has criticised me because I asked if Mr. Cuthbertson was president of Nestle’s Anglo-Swiss Milk Company. I find that he is. These are the people who put up the price of condensed milk. The Inter-State Commission report points out that in Great Britain the Food Controller ordered that there should be an increased ration for boys between the ages of eleven and eighteen years.
– Does the honorable member compare the circumstances in England with those of Australia?
– I do not; but I say that the people who are making profit out of the community in this time of war should be brought to book by the Government. I regret exceedingly that the Government have allowed them to continue their depredations since October of last year, when the Commission submitted its first report. The Government did not wake up until February. They found plenty of time to consider other questions, and to throw the country into the turmoil of a referendum campaign in regard to compulsory military service overseas. But they had not time to deal with the meat question. Months went by without them attempting to say that the people should have meat at a fair price. That is all the people ask for. No person in ‘Australia or elsewhere has a right to make a profit out of the miseries of the people. The Inter-State Commission considered this matter fairly, and its recommendation is: -
That the Imperial contract prices, less a deduction ofd. per lb. (freezing charges) be fixed as the maximum wholesale prices for meat in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth (including Fremantle), Hobart, and Launceston, such prices to include delivery by wholesaler, where, as in Sydney and Melbourne, that is the custom of the trade.’ In Adelaide, the maximum wholesale price for beef to be id. per lb. higher than in the other cities named, the maximum wholesale prices for mutton and lamb to be the same as in those cities.
– Would the honorable member be satisfied to accept the prices, terms, and conditions set out in either the first or second report?
– I believe that the people of Australia are entitled to get meat at a fair price; and if the people who are engaged in the industry have made £27,000,000 out of it in two years, the great bulk of the community should not be asked to make up any portion of that amount. As at least four-fifths of the meat that is produced in the Commonwealth is consumed by our own people, I think we are entitled to at least as much consideration as the people to whom we sold the other one-fifth.
– The honorable member is complaining that the recommendations of the Inter-State Commission have not been carried out. Is he prepared to accept them?
– Parliament will shortly go into recess, and the House is entitled to hear a statement from the Government as to their intentions in this matter.
– That is what we on this side say.
– Did not honorable members opposite hear what the Government intend to do at their party meeting upstairs when the meat position was placed before the National Caucus by the Assistant Minister for Customs? Do not honorable members in that other Parliament fix up everything before they come downstairs into this chamber?
Mr.McWilliams. - I assure the honorable member that we do not.
An Honorable Member. - From the room below we sometimes can hear the stamping of feet in the National party’s Caucus room.
– That may have been applause when the Minister was making a point in favour of the “ fleecers “ of the public. I agree with what the Prime Minister said about those people who prate of their patriotism, who put the
Empire first, wave the flag, and rob the people - who give £50 to a patriotic fund and “ fleece “ the people of £5,000.
– Will the honorable member say whether he agrees with the Commission’s recommend lation that retail prices should not be fixed?
– I accept as much of the Commission’s report as I think is right. It is the duty of the Government to say what they intend to do.
– How does the honorable member know that they are not doing , something?
– We have not heard anything from the Government except the paragraph that appeared in the press. They have been sleeping on this matter too long. Tn this country a man can insure against anything - against fire, accident, and death; and I say deliberately that the people who paid money into the National party’s fund insured themselves against the fixation of prices. That is why the Government take no action in this matter. They do not wish to run counter to the people who are their backers outside this House. That is why they did nothing with the first report, which they received from the Inter-State Commission on Srd October. Their friends are the people who profess their patriotism, while at the same time robbing the public by increasing the prices of commodities. The Government received the Inter-State Commission’s report in regard to the meat prices in Victoria on 3rd October, 1917, and on 23rd October they received a report regarding New South Wales and Queensland. - No honorable member was able to see either of those reports until they were ordered to be printed on 26th April last. All we could get of the contents of the reports were the odd bits which were dropped here and there. We have not been able to get the reports regarding other matters that have been referred to Commissions. When a report suits the Government they publish it; .if it does not suit them they refer it back for further consideration. The supporters of the Government have made a similar complaint against them. Some time ago a Board composed, not of Labourites, but of business men, was appointed to inquire into the working of the Defence Department. It presented a report, but because that report did not suit the Department it was held back, and honorable members opposite complained of the delay in publishing it. The position is much the same in this case. The Prime Minister said that the Government had decided to adopt the report of the Inter-State Commission, but since it was thought that the decision of the Commission was not based upon the best of evidence they were referring it back to them. The reply of the Commission was that those who wished the report to be referred back could not have read it, or,* if they had, did not appreciate the reasons (or their recommendations. The report was returned to the Government, and they slept on it. The Honorary Minister (Mr. Greene) announced last Thursday week that he had received it from the Inter-State Commission, and as it was then in print the Ministry must have had it in their possession at least a fortnight before. The report having been printed, copies of it were supplied to the newspapers, but not to members of this Parliament. It was only on Friday last that we were allowed to see it, or to learn anything of it except that which we could glean from the newspapers. Surely it should have been circulated amongst honorable members simultaneously with its distribution amongst the newspaper offices.
– The Acting Prime Minister to-day referred us to the newspapers for the Government policy in regard to this matter.
– Yes. In answer to my question he said that he could not add anything to what had already appeared in the press on the subject. The Government and their supporters may say that this question is unworthy of serious consideration. I ask them whether the people are not entitled to obtain their meat supplies at a fair rate. We are told by an honorable member opposite that the price of meat here is cheaper than in other countries. What satisfaction is to be found in such a statement? If a man has a finger crushed in a machine, it is no consolation to him to be told of another who has lost four fingers in the same way. And it is no satisfaction to the people of Australia to learn that the price of meat in other countries is higher that it is here. Are not the mothers, thewives, and the children of our soldiers overseas entitled to consideration ? Many of our men who have died at the Front have left families of four, six, and eight children. Are they deserving of no consideration?
– They are being considered.
– In some respects this Government and previous Administrations have tried to protect them in the matter of rentals by a moratorium regulation. That, however, is a double-edged weapon. Because of its operation, owners of property will not let a house to a soldier’s wife.
– The moratorium regulation can prevent that sort of thing.
– It does not prevent a landlord asking a prospective tenant whether she is the wife of a soldier, and, if she is, refusing to let his house to her.
I regret that the Government have not seen fit to come forward to-day with a definite statement as to what they propose to do in regard to fixing the price of meat. The question has been carefully considered by them. If we are to believe a statement which appeared in a Government organ, their supporters knew last Thursday what their proposals were. They discussed the matter before they went into Caucus; they discussed it again in Caucus; and they discussed it a third time in Cabinet last Saturday. In these circumstances the Acting Prime Minister should have been able to say today what the Government intend to do in regard to fixing the wholesale and retail prices of meat. The people of Australia are being called upon to pay more than they should for meat, and since meat is one of the biggest factors in the cost of living, this question is of the utmost urgency, and should have been dealt with by the Government prior to any other matteraffecting the price of foodstuffs.
– This is pretty cool, coming from the honorable member, seeing that he held office for so long a time as Minister for Trade and Customs.
– As to that, I took action, in spite of the Government of the day, by preventing the export of meat in certain circumstances.
.- I gladly avail myself of this opportunity to publicly protest against the policy of the Government in regard to the exploitation of the people, particularly with respect to the prices of necessary commodities. There are some honorable members on the Ministerial side from whom neither protection nor sympathy could be expected in regard to the mere matter of the people’s food supply.
– Do not say that of all on this side.
– I do not, but I say it with great confidence of the Honorary Minister (Mr. Greene), who ably and conscientiously represents the producers of the particular commodity with which my honorable leader (Mr. Tudor) has dealt, but who cannot be expected to represent the great masses of the consuming public. It is a flagrant scandal, and one that cannot be lightly regarded, that we have erected tribunals to determine the prices of certain commodities, and that when those prices have been fixed, in this time of war they have been disregarded by the persons whose business it is to produce and retail those commodities. When we remember that the present Government employs a machine, sometimes vulgarly called “the sausage machine,” to grind out every day regulations under the War Precautions Act, and that persons, whether familiar with those regulations or not - and it may well be supposed that they cannot be familiar with a tithe of them - are nevertheless prosecuted for any transgression of them, it is a public scandal that these food prices are not promulgated when they have been fixed by competent authorities. They are not made known to the general public, and the persons who ought to know them, and who are under a special duty to obey them, have flagrantly disregarded them. These people have not been punished.
– The honorable member is in error; a very large number of prosecutions have taken place.
– I grant that some prosecutions have taken place; but not until the fact was exposed, through the Inter-State Commission and other sources, that in a number of cases the prices fixed had been disregarded.
– That is entirely contrary to the facts.
– As one witness has said, “ The people concerned knew that this Government would not prosecute them.” They knew that this Government dare not prosecute them. The Government were sent here for a different purpose. I do not blame those members who were returned as the representatives of the squatters and large land-owners, or vested interests, but I do blame those who were reared in the lap of the Labour party, who imbibed its principles, and who prated in this House, and out of it, against the spoliation of the people by exploiters. Surely they should not sit quietly behind the Government and indorse this legalized robbery.
– We did more for the Labour movement than the. honorable member has ever thought of doing, and we did so long before he was a member of it. He is one of the black-coated brigade.
– Whatever these honorable members may have done in the past, it does not for one moment excuse their action in mildly acquiescing in the policy of the Government in exploiting the people of the country for the purposes of the squatters.
I propose to join my honorable leader (Mr. Tudor) in bringing to book the Government, and the party which supports them, with regard to this special matter of the price of meat. A representative of the Government, when questioned on the subject to-day, made the cynical reply, “ I should like the honorable member to give notice of his question in regard to what is proposed to be done with the findings of the Inter-State Commission as to the price of meat.” Then, again, the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), when a similar question was put to him, said, “ I have nothing to add to what honorable members have seen in the press with regard to the price of meat.” A week or two ago the honorable gentleman assured me, in answer to a question, that we would have ample opportunity to discuss this matter in the House. But here we are, in the last week of the session, with still a number of important matters to be disposed of, and neither the Acting Prime Minister nor any other member of the Government has ventured to tell us what their policy is with respect to the contemptuous disregard of the recommendations of the Inter-State Commission. Let us see what are the facts. I did not hear the whole of my leader’s speech.
– It was a good speech.
– I have no doubt it was. I was amazed that, when he sat down, of all those honorable and distinguished representatives of the large land-owners who sit behind the Government, not one rose to reply to him. There is, for instance, the honorable and chattering member for Calare (Mr. Pigott), who constantly interrupted my honorable leader, so that I thought the measure of his wisdom had so far overflowed that he could not wait his opportunity to reply. Then there is my genial and interrupting friend, the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), who, while the Leader of the Opposition was speaking, seemed to be bursting with a desire to put the Committee right on the question of meat. But when the honorable member for Yarra sat down the honorable member had nothing to say in reply. Cannot the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Falkiner) tell us something about the retail price of mutton and beef which would be of use to honorable members?
– Yes; but none about the tripe the honorable member’s leader was talking about.
– Tripe is a very useful by-product, which I should have thought the honorable member would know something about also. We have heard the honorable member for Wannon addressing a number of questions to the honorable member for Yarra with a view to putting him right, apparently because he was under some misconception, but the honorable member has not helped us so far.
– Let the honorable member resume his seat, and I will speak straight away.
– The honorable member missed his opportunity, and he will not get another for some time now. The final report of the Inter-State Commission on this matter opens with these words -
On the 23rd October, 1917, the Commission forwarded a report (No. 2 in the Prices Investigation) dealing specially with meat in Victoria. On the 20th December, 1917, the Commission forwarded a report (No. 4 in the Prices Investigation) dealing specially with meat in New South Wales and Queensland, but covering the general position in the Commonwealth. In February it was announced that the Government, after consultation with the Chief Prices Commissioner, propose to give effect to the recommendation of the Commission, which contemplated - as a maximum price for meat sold wholesale in its several capitals of the Commonwealth - a price on a parity with the Imperial contract prices at Brisbane and Sydney. On the 23rd of February the Prime Minister requested the Commission to re-open the question, so as to provide an opportunity of placing fresh evidence before the Commissioner.
What I wish to direct especial attention to in this regard is that the Inter-State Commission on two separate occasions exhaustively dealt with the question of the price of meat, and tabled their reports thereon.
– Does the honorable member think that the Chairman of the Inter-State Commission is capable of understanding this practical question? He is a second class lawyer.
– Yes, I absolutely do think so.
– The honorable member is only standing up for his own profession now.
– I am not in this particular instance standing up for my own profession. The Chairman of the Inter-State Commission is a gentleman appointed to fill an almost judicial position on probably the chief investigating tribunal of Australia. This tribunal has at its command the whole of the resources of Australia for the purpose of obtaining information. It has unlimited power to derive all the information and evidence that can be obtained to satisfy the minds of its members or of any reasonable persons in connexion with the question in hand.
– Yet the report of the Commission is teeming with instances which show that the members lack practical knowledge.
– And they did not recommend retail prices.
– The honorable member for Hume says that the report of the Commission teems with inaccuracies, and with evidence of the want of knowledge of members of the Commission.
– And I added that they did not recommend retail prices.
– I do not wish to know what the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Poynton) added. I have put him in his place already. His interjections do not assist the consideration of the matter. I am answering an honorable member who apparently quite honestly odesired to make a point. My answer to him is that whatever may be the misconceptions in the mind of the Chairman of the Inter-State Commission, and whatever the imperfections of that tribunal or lack of qualifications to deal with the question, there has been no answer to the finding of the Commission. There has been no reply to the reports of the Commission from the other side or from any other authoritative source.
– The honorable member will have a full answer directly.
– If we are to have a full answer, all I can say is that once again, out of many times, the party to which I belong will have done a very useful service to the country.
– The honorable member’s supporters will derive very little comfort from the adoption of the report of the Commission.
– I should like to put as clearly as I may, in the time at my disposal, this, which I conceive to be a damning case against the Government.
When these two reports had been furnished hy the Inter-State Commission steps were taken, through the Chief Prices Commissioner, to give effect to the finding of the Commission. So far from the Government then rising in indignant protest against the finding of the Commission, they put themselves into communication with Mr. Whitton, the Chief Prices Commissioner, and instructed him to give effect to the finding. What occurred then? A deputation representative of the interests so well represented by the honorable members for Hume, Calare, and Wannon waited upon the Prime Minister. The members of that deputation put certain facts, or alleged facts, before him. What would one have expected from such a deputation and what would one have expected the attitude of the Prime Minister to be towards a deputation of that kind? One would have supposed that he would have said, “ Here is the report of the Inter-State Commission. This is the result of an exhaustive examination of competent witnesses by a competent tribunal. What do you say to this?”
But it would seem that the Prime Minister did not take the slightest trouble to acquaint himself of the sources of the information which the deputation put before him, because on the third hearing of the matter before the Inter-State Commission it appeared that the eminent gentlemen comprising the deputation had not taken the trouble to read the reports of the Commission at all.
– The reports were not issued then. How could they read them?
– Who did not read them?
– The members of the deputation.
– I had the privilege of introducing the deputation. I had the report of the Inter-State Commission in my hand at the time, and knew it from A to Z.
– Thethird report of the Inter-State Commission contains, amongst others, a clause, as part of its finding, to the effect that it appeared that the evidence showed that the parties who asked for a re-opening of the inquiry had not read the previous reports, and that they held mistaken opinions upon two important points, viz., the recommendation of the Commission and the reasons for it.
– That deputation approached the Prime Minister in Sydney.
– That was not the deputation that approached the Prime Minister here.
– It was the deputation which moved the Prime Minister to call for a further inquiry. I want to say a word or two about the propriety of that deputation, and also of the action of the Prime Minister in regard to it. I have already said that the Inter-State Commission is probably the highest tribunal in Australia, for the purpose, not of making judicial decisions, but of making recommendations. It had held two inquiries, two series of exhaustive researches, and the members of this deputation, though not familiar with its recommendations or the reasons therefor, induced the Prime Minister to call for a further inquiry. The members of the deputation represented those interests which have been so keenly and so ably exposed in the Age. The Age and I are not accustomed to bandy compliments, but I am glad to be able to say that the skilful exposure of the methods of the persons responsible in this matter, by the Age, has been of the very highest value to the people of this country.
The deputation waited upon the Prime Minister, and he, influenced by their representations, and feeling, apparently, that he holds his office by virtue of their good will, and only so long as his behaviour shall be good behaviour in the view of the persons who so control him, addressed a letter to the Chairman of the Inter-State Commission in these terms-
– A rather indecent thing to do.
– In my opinion, an absolutely indecent thing to do. This is the letter : -
Two deputations representing the Wholesale Meat Traders and the Producers Association of New South Wales waited upon me to-day, in connexion with the proposal of the Government to adopt the recommendations of the Inter-State Commission, to fix the local prices of meat on the basis of the Imperial Government contracts, and made statements which would appear to call for further consideration.
As you are aware, the Government has instructed Mr. Whitton, Chief Prices Commissioner, to take the matter in hand, with a view to giving effect to the Commission’s recommendations, but, after hearing the statements of the deputations, I have come to the conclusion that it is advisable to reopen the question, to give them an opportunity of placing fresh evidence before you.
In the meantime, I have promised to stay proceedings. Will you bo good enough to arrange for persons interested having an opportunity of placing their case before the Commission as early as possible?
I should be glad if Mr. Whitton could attend, in his official capacity, to take such part in the inquiry as may be necessary.
What was that letter, in the circumstances, but a deliberate recommendation by the head of the Government to the Inter-State Commission to bring in another finding different from that which it had already brought in ?
– I do say that; and if the Commission had done what was suggested by the Prime Minister they would have been unworthy of their positions. But to the credit ofthe members of the Inter-State Commission, be it said, they did not do that.
– If they had done so they would have been boomed by the squatters as the most intelligent Commission that ever sat.
– If they had done what was suggested, they would have been unworthy of their positions, but they showed themselves worthy of their positions.
– Yes, they did; they are a good Commission.
– Nevertheless, at the request of the head of the Government, with their personal views on the subject, of which we are not aware, because they are not disclosed, they went again exhaustively into the whole question, and again made a recommendation parallel to the one which they had already made.
But did the Government, who had gone to such trouble to have the views of their friends and supporters put with greater force, and, for the third time, before the Inter-State Commission, hasten to cover their face by immediately giving effect to the Commission’s report? Certainly not. On the contrary, having had their third try, a representative of the Government rises in his place in this? House and tells us that they consider it impracticable to give effect to the recommendation of the Commission. But they did not think so when that body brought in its finding in the first place. They went to Mr. Whitton to give effect to that finding. They thought it was impossible to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission only when representations were made to them by the land-owners, and by the vested interests which are concerned in keeping up the price of meat.
– Would the honorable member be content if the Government gave effect absolutely to the recommendations of the Commission?
– I heard the Honorary Minister put a somewhat similar question to my honorable leader. My answer is that, had the Government given literal effect to the recommendations of the Commission, they would have saved their face as a decent Administration.
That is all I am concerned about saying. I do not for a moment pretend that if they had done so, everything they had done would have been above criticism. That is not part of my case. I am not bound to say that. I do not even pretend to know whether, word for word, I would be willing to adopt the recommendations of the Commission. It is not necessary for me to say yea or nay to a proposition of that kind. I do say, however, that the Government would not then have been deserving of the censure which they have brought upon themselves, and which they unquestionably deserve by reason of their disregard of those recommendations. That is the history of the matter up to date. The Commission have anticipated and answered quite a number of objections which have beenraised to their finding. It has been said, and it is a familiar argument which I must admit has some force, that in the matter of meat supplies - as in that of other commodities - the most important factors are those of supply and demand. But when some of the large land-owners were threatened with prices less than 100 per cent. in advance of those that were paid in 1913, the cloven hoof was immediately disclosed, and men like Mr. Austin, a rich land-owner in the Western District, and others, were heard to say “ We will not sell. We will not produce. We will place the clamp of our arbitrary power on the law of supply and demand. We will apply that hateful system of sabotage to the production and sale of live stock.” The Commission further say -
Another argument was that the capital value of the flocks and herds of the Commonwealth would be seriously lowered by a reduction in the price of meat.
To that argument the Commission replies -
The prosperity of the pastoral industry, however, depends, not on calculations of the capital value of stock, but on the actual income derivable from that stock from year to year.
Mr.Falkiner. - Upon what do the meat producers borrow but the capital value of their stock?
– I suppose so. The Commission further says -
Secondly, it is equally certain, though not so obvious, or so often voiced, that the real monetary value of Australian incomes and wages has been, and is, seriously lowered by the great increases which have taken place in the price of meat.
– I suppose that is why the shearers secured an extra £4,000,000 anually under the award of the Arbitration Court?
– Order! These interjections only lead to further exchanges .
– I do not complain of them. There has never been any denial of the fact that the fixation of the price of meat on the London parity, in accordance with the recommendations of the Inter-State Commission, would be remunerative to the grower. True, there have been some attempts to show that, while that remark may apply to Queensland and New South Wales, it does not necessarily apply to Victoria. But even if it does not apply completely to Victoria, or to the southern States, by reason of the cost of transportation or from some other cause, the Commission had taken these details into consideration, and had recognised that in respect of them there might need to be an adjustment. It has been said that the prices of meat in Australia, although 100 per cent. in advance of what they were immediately prior to the war, are none the less the lowest ruling in any part of the world. A comparison has been instituted between the prices of meat here - where prices have not been fixed - and prices in London, where they have been fixed, which shows that the London prices are greatly in advance of those ruling in Australia. But that is a comparison which needs to be submitted only to the most cursory examination to demonstrate its absurdity. We, with our large unoccupied spaces, are producing much more meat than is required for local consumption. We are not affected by difficulties of transport and a thousand other difficulties which affect the insular situation of the United Kingdom. But when we compare the prices of meat in London, where those prices are controlled, with the prices that obtain in Paris, where they are not controlled, we are able to form some estimate of how far exploitation in war time will go if it be untrammelled by regulation. Here, again, I am indebted to the Age of Saturday last, which gives the following comparative quotations: - Leg of mutton, per lb., London,1s. 7d. - a price which is shocking enough in itself - Paris, 3s. 4d. Rump steak, per lb., London 2s. 2d.; Paris, 4s. 2d. Fillet of steak, per lb., London, 2s. 2d.; Paris, 5s. Pork, per lb., London,1s. 7d. ; Paris, 3s. 4d. Bacon, streaky, per lb., London, 2s. 6d. ; Paris, 5s. Butter, per lb., London, 2s. 6d. ; Paris, 5s. Cheese, per lb., London,1s. 4d. ; Paris, 4s. 2d. Rabbits, each, London,1s. 9d. ; Paris, 5s. Tea, per lb., London, 2s. 8d. ; Paris, 6s. There we have an interesting comparison between the prices ruling for meat in two countries, both of which are at war, and both of which lie alongside each other geographically. These quotations enable us to form some conception of the service which has been rendered to the people of Great Britain by reason of the Government controlling the prices of necessary commodities.
– Can the honorable member say what are the Canadian prices ?
– I have not got them at hand. If the honorable member feels so disposed he is at liberty to quote them.
– I have been unable to get them. That is why I ask.
– There never was a time when grazing generally was so prosperous as it is to-day.
Mr.McWilliams. - Some of the States have experienced a bad time within the past two years. Tasmania has experienced a very bad time.
– Milch cows and calves are commanding exorbitant prices.
– When the price of stock is high in Australia, it is because we have experienced bad times previously.
– That was a very weighty argument, and one which was bound to receive sympathetic consideration in 1914, when the great drought was with us. But it is sufficiently answered by the fact, so rapid and complete has been our recuperation, that there is in Australia to-day a larger number of stock than there was in 1913.
– I asked the question in order that the honorable member might fall into the same mistake as has the Inter-State Commission. Ifthere was a drought in 1914 - which there was - with little or no branding of calves in the cattle-bearing areas, does it not follow that there must be a shortage of threeyearold killable bullocks to-day?
– Of course, our recuperation may not have been complete, so far as full-grown stock is concerned. When that argument was advanced in 1914, the people accepted it as a satisfactory answer to the high prices which then obtained. In 1915, 1916 and 1917, they still accepted it as more or less satisfactory, but now that we are in 1918, when even the young stock of 1914 have got beyond the killable age-
– The young stock of killable age now does not exist.
– The honorable member will agree with me that if a bullock has been depastured upon decent land, he is killable at three years old.
– Provided he lived after he was born.
– I am assuming that he lived. I thought that that point would have been conceded in my favour. I was speaking the other day to a grazier in reference to this matter, and although I have taken up the more speculative and often more embarrassing business of an attorney, in a city such as Melbourne, I have been closely interested in, and connected with, the cattle business. Therefore I can claim that I know something about it. Speaking with a grazier friend a day or two ago - a man who is growing stock in a fairly large way in southern Victoria - he said to me : “ You may take it from me that this claim on the part of graziers and squatters that the prices of meat may not be fixed is so much moonshine.” He added, “ There is a discrepancy between the prices in Victoria and those in Queensland.” I know that is so. One can fatten stock much more quickly and cheaply in Queensland than in Victoria. I remember that in the Bendigo market a Queensland bullock could compete with a bullock from northern Victoria. The beast from the other State could be brought all that way, and, because it was a bigger-framed animal, and more rapidly grown, in spite of the cost of its importation it could be sold upon terms equal to the Victorian stock.
– A man would not think of putting a beast on the market at three years old.
– Well, at what age?
– About five years.
– Five years is absurd. A bullock is almost fully grown at three years, if it has been on good pasture.
– But it has not put the weight on.
– My grazier friend remarked to me that, allowing for the purchase of a yearling beast at £5 you should allow1s. a week for the grazier on to that animal for an additional two years. You would probably then have a beast of 550 lbs., or up to 600 lbs. If you sold at the price fixed or suggested by the Inter-State Commission, namely, 4½d., and allowed for wastage and so on - although, by the way, there is not much waste in the fat beast in these times - there would be realized a very fair sum to the grower. And that would be the case even though the grower had not raised the beast, but had purchased it as a yearling at the high figure of £5. Thus my grazier acquaintance made what he considered a sufficient answer. And he was satisfied in his own mind, as I am in mine, that beef can be properly retailed at the price indicated by the Commission.
There have been numerous interjections this afternoon, such as, “ Are you in favour of fixation only as to the wholesaler, and not as to the retailer?” The reason for suggesting that the price should be fixed on the wholesaler only, and by reference to the value on the hoof in those places where there were no wholesale markets, was stated by the Commission to be the very simple and sufficient one, namely, that the fixation at those points in the transaction would inevitably control and fix the price of the retail market. Of course, I am well aware that it is the middleman who is making huge profits at present - largely more so than even those of the producers, and they have been large enough. It is obvious that at whatever point one has fixation it must regulate prices at the other points along the line.
– Not the retail.
– If you fixed the retail it would affect the wholesale price; but if you fixed the wholesale, it would not necessarily affect the retail price.
– I would like those gifted and expert honorable members on the other side to expound their knowledge to the benighted heathen on this side, who have waited so long for words of wisdom and have been so hard pressed for information that they have had to make a special study of the meat question for themselves in order to try and do justice to the interests of the public.
Mr. Angliss represents a classwho do particularly well in connexion with meat. He is one of a number of those who grow beef, and who are both wholesalers and retailers. The Commission pointed out that Mr. Angliss, M.L.C. (Victoria), had pointed to the recent resumption of export in Victoria as an indication of the tendencyof meat to revert to normal prices. But, unfortunately, a like prediction was made before the Commission by that same gentleman as a witness in August, 1917, the expected relief to the consumer being foreshadowed for September or October of that year. The report adds: -
That prediction has not been fulfilled, partly, no doubt, because once the community has grown used to high prices, the tendency is for them to be maintained, even when they might, and should, come down. It must be borne in mind, too, that many carcass butchers - leading buyers both at sales and on stations - are also pastoralists, and their interest in high prices as pastoralists is not modified by their interest in low prices when buying for the butcher’s trade, since they can always pass on high prices to the retailer.
– Do you accept that statement as correct?
– I do.
– It is absolutely incorrect.
– I accept it as being, if not incontrovertible, then, at least, as having been uncontroverted.
– Are you aware that figures have been published by that same person in the Sydney papers, and that he says there is not enough stock to influence one day’s market.
– Well, at any rate, we shall be hearing, during this debate, from some of the great guns among the producers, even although they did not see fit, apparently, to go before the Commission and put that body right in its investigations. I shall quote now from the Commission’s report, page 43 -
From figures that will follow (vide p. 52), it will be seen that there are now as many cattle and more sheep in the Commonwealth than in 1913. The capital value of each class of stock is much higher than in 1913, and would remain much higher if prices fell to export level.
The income from all stock has been £27,000,000 more in the two “ fat years “ than in 1913. It has cost more to earn that income, for the reasons set out on page 10 (Report No. 2). And during the drought there was what may be cited “ salvage expenses,” such as hand-feeding or rent of land in such spots as Gippsland to keep stock alive. But all additional expenditure of raising stock or in salvage is amply covered by the amount of £27,000,000 over and above the incomes earned by the aggregate flocks and herds in the normal year 1913.
– Do you accept that as correct ?
– Again I accept it as being, if not incontrovertible, then as being at least uncontroverted ; and I shall await the evidence which expert gentlemen on the other side may bring forward against me. It is not sufficient to have a secret or any other kind of deputation to the Prime Minister, and to load him up with an ex parte statement, and to induce the Commission to re-open the question, and have all that additional evidence brought before it so that it might be weighed over again. That having been done, it is not sufficient to say, “ That is incorrect,” unless you can produce some proof in the face of such a deliberate finding by so authoritative a body.
The conclusion drawn by the Commission is that in the six States, excluding the Northern Territory and Federal Territory, there are now 11,000,000 cattle and - 90,000,000 sheep. In 1913 the figures were- 11,000,000 cattle and 85,000,000 sheep. What is wrong with those figures ?
– Where did you get them?
– The Commission came to its findings from its own evidence.
– No one doubts those figures.
– Then why did not honorable members and others who might question the Commission’s findings go before that body when they saw their cause going against them? Another portion of the report states -
Broadly, the present prices for meat are found to be 100 per cent. higher in the case of beef and mutton (wholesale) than in the year before the war, though the country contains as many cattle and more sheep than at that period. … It was pointed out, on behalf of pastoralists, that meat is scarcer and dearer all over the world than in Australia. This is no doubt the case, but no
Government in any belligerent country allows meat to be any dearer than it need be under judicious control.
I have already pointed out the special circumstances under which we live in Australia, where meat is a stable quantity, and should be, and could be, made available to the people at reasonable rates. The report goes on -
Witnesses in the re-inquiry who were asked the specific question whether the Imperial contract prices pay the grower, uniformly answered in the affirmative. Indeed, seeing that the prices in question are about 100 per cent, higher than export prices before the drought, while, compared with the same period there is a practically equal “ visible supply “ of cattle and a greater supply of sheep now in the Commonwealth, the profitableness to the industry of this scale of prices is almost selfevident.
As the export constituted 32.8 per cent, of the total slaughtering, the increased Tetum on the whole of the meat slaughtered, after deducting freezing charges, id. per lb. on the portion locally consumed, would have been £13,500,000.
– That is a ridiculous way of putting it.
– The honorable member should have been Chairman of the Inter-State Commission, or should have enjoyed some such position in which his illuminating wisdom would have been of great advantage to the whole of the people.
– But that is an estimate of the position some years ago.
– The Commission stated that there was nothing to add to the views expressed in Reports Nos. 2 and 4 as to the position of the carcass butcher and the retail butcher under lowered prices. The report has been published abroad, but I should like to have included in Hansard the summary and recommendations, in order to insure for them a wider circulation than has been obtained in the report. The following is the summary : -
In New South Wales, export under the Imperial contract prices, which has never altogether ceased in either beef or mutton, has been resumed as to mutton on a fairly large scale. In Victoria the fair inference from the evidence is that the export of mutton and Iamb will reach normal proportions in a few months’ time.
On these facts it seems to the Commission impossible to avoid the conclusion that, considering the Commonwealth as a unit, the home consumption equivalent of the Imperial eontract prices would be fair to producers as a basis of prices for home consumption.
If that conclusion be accepted, the only question is, what adjustment, if any, should be made to meet the special circumstances of any State.
As to Queensland and Western Australia, it is clear that no adjustment is necessary, and the home consumption equivalent of the Imperial contract prices could be fixed as the maximum wholesale prices for local supply.
With regard to New South Wales, after full consideration of all the facts the Commission is of the opinion that there also the same maximum prices might reasonably he adapted.
It is very curious that these gentlemen, who have made their influence so strongly felt in opposition to the fixation of prices for meat, have been silent in regard to fixation of prices for other commodities. Occasionally they may have expressed views as to the wisdom or efficacy of price-fixing generally, but their influence was by no means made evident in the same way or to the same extent as when the question came home to those who constitute such a powerful corporation in this country. What would have been the position in connexion with this investigation by the Inter-State Commission if, after having heard the evidence and adopted the finding, it remained, say, for the Australian Workers Union or the Waterside Workers Union to approach the Prime Minister and suggest, from their point of view, reasons why the findings might be amended and the inquiry reopened, in order to influence the minds of the Commissioners in another direction ? What would have been the opinion of the press which supports my honorable friends on that side if the influence had come from a source of that kind ?
– Exactly what it was when the AustralianWorkers Union came down and had the Arbitration Act altered while a case was sub judice.
– I do not know enough about the case to which the honorable member refers to say whether it was parallel to the one which I am now referring to or not.
– The innocent abroad !
– If it were anything like the case to which I am referring, I invite the honorable member to expose it in this debate, as being a parallel wrong to this one to which he is a party, in connexion with the fixation of meat prices. I say, with some deliberation, that the action of the Government in this matter is nothing less than scandalous.
– I thought the honorable member was going to read the recommendations. He has only given us the summary.
– The Minister is quite right. I was reading the summary and as he has now invited me to read the recommendations I shall continue -
In Report No. 2, dealing with Victoria, it was intimated on the evidence taken prior to that report that the cost of transportation from northern States might he an element to justify a higher price in Melbourne than in Brisbane and Sydney - upon further evidence and after consideration of figures put forward in this re-investigation, the Commission sees no reason to recommend any distinction between Victoria and the northern States. In South Australia the proportion of cattle drawn from other States is still so high as to warrant some addition to the maximum prices for beef suggested above.
– Hear, hear !
-The honorable member for Hindmarsh is applauding this exploitation of the people !
– So long as the price fixed is on export parity, it is all right. And if the honorable member knew as much about it as I do he would know it is right, too.
– The honorable member is now suiting his political economy to his altered circumstances. The Commission stated -
On a careful consideration of the evidence this addition would amount to about¼d. per lb.
As to sheep, since the numbers are now approximately 20 per cent. greater than in 1913, the State may fairly be considered to be selfproviding, with the consequence that the same maximum prices for mutton might be fixed as in other States. In Tasmania, the position of the State with regard to both sheep and cattle is such that this State also might be taken as self-providing, and not in need of any special consideration in the matter of prices. Certain witnesses contended that the fixing of uniform maximum prices in the three Eastern States would, in the case of beef, lead to a shortage of supply in Sydney and Melbourne. There is no reason to believe that this result would occur to any material extent. In any case, such a difficulty could be met by bringing supplies of beef from Brisbane to Sydney and Melbourne. Evidence has been given that the Queensland Government has always been willing to assist in this direction.
The Queensland Labour Government, through its State meat shops, has done a service to that State which has made, and will make, its name immortal in Australia. These are the recommendations which the Minister asked me to quote -
– Now give the addendum, where they admit the mistakes they made in their previous reports.
– It is all very useful matter, and I shall read it.
– Will the honorable member admit that the concluding paragraph shows where the wholesale price did not regulate the retail price, seeing that with a7½ per cent. Government guarantee, the Pool made meat dearer instead of cheaper?
– The portion the honorable member asks for is as follows : -
It has been pointed out that, in its former reports, the Commission dealt with the question of fixed prices for meat on grounds independent of the manipulation of the Sydney market, alluded to in Report No. 4. What the Commission reported under that head was relevant to the fourth specific question in the Prime Minister’s original request, viz., whether ruling prices were due to combinations or manipulation of markets. It is not relevant to the present re-inquiry, but, in fairness to parties who either were, or deemed themselves to be, implicated in certain strictures in that report, full opportunity was given to such parties to deal with the statements in question.
Showing how wide was the area of the Commission’s inquiry, and how just they endeavoured to be to all the interests concerned. -
In reporting on the combination of interests controlled by Mr. T. A. Field, a mistake, due to resemblance of names, occurred as to the participation in that combination of what is described on page 28 as the interests of “ Oldham.” The firm of Oldham and Wheeler, now operating in Sydney, is wholly unconnected with, the earlier business of the late Mr. George Oldham, which didso work with Mr. Field. The conclusion that the Field Combine covered about one-fourth of the total slaughtering of rattle in 1915-17, though based off figures which included, erroneously, the slaughterings under the name of “ Oldham,” would yet appear to have been an actual underestimate of this influence. When the Pool was formed, its members made an estimate of the capital each member ought to contribute, based on the usual proportion of his trade to the total number of slaughterings, and the Field interests were then appraised at 31 per cent. of the total. It was not suggested that any other carcass butchers than thosenamed in the report worked in conjunction with. Mr. Field, and the disclaimers of other carcass butchers, such as the Colonial Wholesale Meat Export Company, and of the Riverstone Meat Company, were unnecessary, though perfectly true. The practices noted on page 29, as to shoving the market along,” and as to cloaking the names of the real sellers at the yards, were disproved by more trustworthy evidence than that which was left uncontradicted in the last inquiry. It appears, too, that the bidding of owners when their own cattle are put up does not take place to any substantial extent.
– In the first reports, all those statements were given out as absolute facts.
– Some of the minor corrections show the detail and thoroughness with which the Commission did their work -
Evidence was given that a practice, formerly universal of “punching the market” when a new buyer comes in, still exists, though not to anything like the same degree as formerly. For example, in 1915, the Government of New South Wales had a buyer in the market for the purpose of trial workings at the new abattoirs. There was an impression that the Government intended to inaugurate butchering generally as a State service. The market reports show that prices at once rose. With regard to the Pool - which is not to be confused with the Field Combination - it should also be mentioned that the stock owned by Mr. Field actually yarded during the Pool were not important in number. This leaves untouched the general question of the advantage to Mr. Field of high prices for stock, since, as a pastoralist, he owns and is interested in a large number of stations. On the Pool’s operations, the fresh fact was elicited that the Pool acted under a Government guarantee of 7½ per cent. on the capital put in by the carcass butchers for the purchase of stock and the conduct of the business.
– I suppose the honorable member knows that that was during the strike in Sydney ?
– Is that so ?-
Its accounts show that expenditure and returns about balance; but, as the Pool was in existence for two mouths only, a return at a rate equivalent to 45 per cent. per annum on capital should have enabled the members to sell meat cheaper instead of dearer than before the Pool was formed. Subject to these corrections in details, the general view expressed in Report No. 4, that the Sydney meat market is needlessly high, in part as a result of the control of powerful interests, remains unaffected.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
.- The Committee may well regard the proposal’s of the Government and the clamant call of the Opposition in regard to the matter of fixing the price of meat as a fair test case for judging the extent to which the economics of a policy of pricefixing may be applied in Australia either in war time or in peace time. I draw a very wide distinction between Australia at war and the rest of the belligerent countries - between the conditions operating in Australia and these under which the great masses of the people who are active belligerents in the theatre of war are compelled to live. While the position of Great Britain is such that sufficient vessels may not reach her laden with foodstuffs for the sustenance of her people, upon whom the responsibility for waging the war is resting, our position in Australia is such that sufficient ships do not call here to carry away our surplus products. Our larder is full and overflowing with foodstuffs and raw materials which we are unable to get away. The
Mother Country cannot get the foodstuffs she requires to sustain her people because she is unable to draw sufficient tonnage from the rest of the world to supply her with them, and with the raw materials of which we have an abundance. There is no parallel.
My mature judgment, as also my advice to the Government, is that we should follow a policy of “ hands off the flocks and herds of Australia “ in any policy of price-fixing. When we are tinkering with sewing twine and the odds and ends of the community, it is a matter of very little concern; but there is underlying the greater question of fixing the price of meat the test, to which I have already alluded, as to how far such a policy can be pursued in war time or in peace time. I am glad that this matter has cropped up. I have not the slightest feeling of ill-will against any honorable member of the Opposition who has raised it, or against any honorable member sitting on the Ministerial side who believes in a policy of fixing the price of meat; and I do not think that I can be charged with having no concern for those who are carrying on the war in this country without seriously undermining industry. I am in great sympathy with those members of participant families who remain in Australia, and have to stand up to the present high prices of commodities, but I hope to show them that there is a better means of handling this question than .that which has been propounded. I admit that the conditions obtaining during the war are the very reverse of those which . obtain during peace; and if I thought that it would be wise to place on the people of Australia the same restrictions and bans as are imposed in belligerent countries, which are parcelling out in the smallest quantities every atom of national resource in order to sustain their people, I would say, ‘ 1 By all means, let it be done.” Everything else must stand aside for the ‘successful prosecution of the war. No man should emerge from this struggle richer than when he entered it; but while making that admission, I maintain that it is devilishly hard to successfully substitute any economic condition for natural laws. I am not purblind in regard to these matters, nor do I follow any old or time-worn policy in regard to them; but having looked around all the phases of this subject, I claim that, in the best interests of the masses of the people, it is better to encourage the natural and normal increase in the production of the country, so far as its flocks and herds are concerned,rather than to follow a policy of fixing prices.
If we pass aside; without any action, the recommendations of the Inter-State Commission, we are placing that body on trial as to its efficacy. It has a constitutional position in the life of our country, and it has. been intrusted by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) with many investigations; but I have carefully scanned its two reports on the fixing of the price of meat, and, while I recognise that it has shown evidence of industry and fair play, as far as it can come from a body which is not a practical one on such a question, I fail to find any evidence to show that it has succeeded in gripping the great fundamental principles upon which the flocks and herds of Australia rest. In its Report No. 2 it does not venture to advise the Government. It simply makes the following suggestion : -
Should it bc desired to fix the price of meat in Victoria, the Commission would draw attention to the fact that the wholesale price paid by the British Government is a payable one in Queensland. That price is 4Jd. per lb. for hinds and fores. It would be necessary to consider, in conjunction with that price, the cost of transferring cattle from Queensland to Victoria, which could be ascertained by the Chief Prices Commissioner. lt appears to the Commission that, if meat prices arc to be fixed, the simple plan is to fix the wholesale prices, rather than attempt the detailed fixation of the retail prices for different cuts.
If there be any recommendation in the report it is embodied in that suggestion.
Two matters will need careful attention. One is to avoid fixing prices in such a way as to encourage abnormal exporting. The other is the question raised before the Commission of commandeering cattle and sheep on the hoof to insure supplies coming forward. The Commission secs no reason to assume that, even if the ruling prices for wholesale meat were reduced, graziers would deliberately withhold supplies from the market. The question of compulsion, therefore, is prematurely raised.
That, in substance, is the suggestion of Report No. 2. Later on the report deals with further matters called “Answers to questions,” which do not crop up at the present juncture.
No. 7 Report, to which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) drew attention this afternoon, contains three definite recommendations, which, of course, cannot be overlooked by any Government which has consideration for the semijudicial findings of a constitutional body. These recommendations are as follow: -
Assuming that the policy of price-fixing is to be applied to meat, the Commission recommends: -
That the Imperial contract prices, less a deduction ofd. per lb. (freezing charges), be fixed as the maximum wholesale prices for meat in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth (including Fremantle), Hobart, and Launceston, such prices to include delivery by wholesaler, where, as in Sydney and Melbourne, that is the custom of the trade. In Adelaide, the maximum wholesale price for beef to be¼d. per lb. higher than in the other cities named, the maximum wholesale prices for mutton and lamb to be the same as in those cities.
That the prices so fixed be used as a basis for fixing the price on the hoof of cattle, sheep, and lambs in the centres where there is no wholesale meat trade. In those centres, an official declaration should be made of the maximum weights upon which the bidding is to be based.
No action seems necessary with regard to retail prices, which (the evidence shows) will conform to wholesale prices. a.b.piddington.
Gentle simplicity! If all the work of the Inter-State Commission and its reports, findings, and recommendations be as valuable to the maintenance and continuance of industry as are the recommendations which I have just read, the Commission has failed to justify itself as a semi-judicial and advisory body, and the Government have acted wisely and sensibly in not attempting to try to give effect to them. Let.me analyze them. The first suggestion, rather than recommendation, is that the wholesale price of meat be fixed. I take it that the Prime Minister’s object in referring the matter to the Inter-State Commission was first of all to ascertain if a fair price existed for supplies of meat in this country ; and secondly, if that was not the case, to ascertain what recommendation should be made to regulate fair prices. Any one familiar with the meat trade knows that outside those markets where carcass butchers operate the suggestion of the
Commission would not affect one pound of meat, the price of stock on the hoof, or the retail price of meat sold in shops in any part of the Commonwealth where the carcass butchers do not operate; and that where these wholesale men operate they would still be able to buy meat for whatever price they liked to give in the open market, and retail it through their own shops, of which they have many in the metropolitan area, at whatever price they liked to fix. The only ban upon the carcass butcher would be that in regard to his supply of meat to the metropolitan butchers buying carcasses from him he would be under an obligation to sell to them at a fixed price, but they in turn wouldnot be under any obligation to provide one pound of cheap meat to any person in the Commonwealth.
– That was an impossible proposition.
– That was the position facing the Government so far as the first recommendation or suggestion of the Inter-State Commission was concerned. Under the second recommendation the master butcher would be in exactly the same position, and the retail butcher would be in exactly the same position. The only difference would be this : In order to bring in all markets other than metropolitan markets where master butchers operate, the Commission added what might be called an official guessing competition, by which some official was to be specially appointed to attend the markets and declare the maximum weight upon which bidding was to be based. It may be said that those who attend the market now guess as to the weight when buying. Of course, but there is the difference that they buy successfully only so long as their guessing is right. They have a direct interest in the guessing, as it is their business; and if their guessing is wrong, they go out of business.
Mr.Falkiner. - They always allow a fair margin.
– Of course. The Government is to be congratulated on not rushing headlong into a fallacious position - on not throwing dust into the eyes of the people by fixing the wholesale price in the absence of any machinery to fix the retail price. They might have written down the flocks and herds of
Australia by millions without guaranteeing one pound of cheap meat to the country.
The basis which the Inter-State Commission recommends the Government to adopt, namely, the price fixed for the Imperial contracts, does not to-day represent the London parity, if I so might call it, of beef, mutton, or lamb. It is the result of a price determined upon a considerable time ago, when the exporters and Government agreed that it was “ up to “ Australia to provide beef and mutton as cheaply as possible for the fighting battalions abroad, Imperial or otherwise. The price fixed is for the frozen surplus beef and mutton, as distinguished from the local or fresh meat of the country. We remember that after the drought there was a period in which there was not sufficient fresh beef and mutton in Australia to meet the requirements of our own people, and it was then the hardest thing to induce our public to eat the frozen commodity.
– Although the grower was living on salt meat.
– Quite so. I remember assisting a number of producers in their efforts to dispose of some 40,000 or 50,000 carcasses of lambs from an inland Freezing Works, and although we hawked the meat about Melbourne at 6d. per pound, it was a considerable time before we succeeded in selling it, while fresh lamb was at the time about1s. per pound. When our frozen meat goes Home it meets in competition the local beef and mutton, which is worth considerably more than our meat. It will be seen, therefore, that we are concerned with different commodities, one the fresh meat, and the other the frozen meat, and the people desire to have the fresh meat at the same price as that at which we sell our surplus meat for export.
As to the numbers of the flocks and herds of Australia, I do not propose to attempt to refute the figures contained in the report of the Inter-State Commission.
– There has been a healthy increase.
– Assuming the figures to be correct, I recognise with satisfaction that, as the honorable member interjects, there has been a healthy increase since the drought period. The point is, however, that the Inter-State Commission has not, from the inception, attempted to ascertain the true basis on which price fixing, if it be a sound principle, must rest, namely, the cost of production. Has this or any preceding Government ever attempted in price fixing to ascertain the cost of production ? They have not done so in the case of meat, butter, or any commodity in which we deal. If price fixing is right in principle, it must be applied to the whole of the industries of the country. We cannot say to one section that the product of its labour shall have the price fixed, while the product of another section shall be sold at whatever economic price it will fetch in the market. Had the Inter-State Commission sought accurate information on which to base values, it would have inquired as to the numbers of the flocks and herds in Australia, and the proportion that are fat and immediately available for market, for it is a false economy to put calves into the pot when mature beasts are ready. Next, the InterState Commission should have ascertained the proportion that are stores, and likely to remain stores till mature. We have not been furnished with anything like reasonable data on which this Committee is able to say whether the Government is taking a wise or unwise step concerning the beef and mutton for consumption in this country.
For the purpose of argument, we may divide our commodities, first taking beef, and remember that, as between Queensland and Victoria, the fundamentals on which the price may be fixed are altogether different. First of all, in Queensland, the cow rears the calf, and land is cheap.
– You cannot say that now of Queensland, considering the way leaseholds are being taxed.
– I admit the conditions are getting harder. In Victoria, the position is what I might call an artificial one. We interpose, and take away the calf, and artificially rear it, the cow performing the other duty of buttermaking. It will be seen that the conditions are altogether dissimilar; and to attempt to fix prices on anything like the same fundamentals is simply to beg the question. I am, as I have said; glad that this question has been raised on an occasion when we may thresh it out altogether apart from those schools of thought to which we are attached in peace times. If I could be shown that the industries on which the credit of the country rests could be maintained under a sound principle of price fixation in the middle of the war, I” would not be averse to it. But I ask my honorable friends in’ Victoria who support this proposal, where do they start? Wo have been told here and in the press, that it is the big, fat pastoralists who are to be benefited by price-fixing. So far as Queensland is concerned, if the recommendation of the Inter-State Commission is carried out, the consumer there will pay more for his local beef than he is paying to-day. The price proposed for that State is in excess of what is paid today. In Victoria, on the other hand, who will be hit first ? We are indebted in Victoria to the dairyman whose calves oi poddies go to our grazing and pastoral lands; and it is the dairyman who will be the first to be hit. It is not a matter of hitting the owners of the great herds of Queensland, but of writing down the value of the calves by the first levy in Victoria.
– Will the honorable member deal with the Inter-State Commission’s contention that the dairy farmer should not desire to raise the price of cattle ?
– The Inter-State Commission, and the press, point to the seeming anomaly that the dairyman * should desire to raise the price of stock against himself. I remind the honorable member, however, that half the dairyman’s calves are steers, which do not go back to the dairy, and, in the natural course of events, it does not take half his heifer calves to keep up his herd. The argument, therefore, is fallacious; the dairyman knows on which side his bread is buttered, and he may be left to look after himself. In the representations made to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to re-open this question, the dairymen in Victoria wore most prominent, though I did not observe the big squatter in the proceedings. I hope that the press of the country will not continue to circulate the fallacy that the great squatter is going to be hurt by price-fixing. I venture to say that if the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) considered his own interests, instead of being, as he is, the stal wart representative of the small men in his constituency, he would not raise his voice against the Commission’s proposal to give him more on his Queensland cattle than he could possibly get to-day. If the proposal is carried there will be immediate conflict between two governing activities in pricefixing. The price fixed in Queensland is immeasurably lower than that which would be fixed by the Commonwealth. Does the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) assent to a proposal that will increase the price of food to tlie poor people in that State? To a limited extent the same argument applies to the back country iri New South Wales. In Western Australia, as the result of good seasons since 1914, the flocks and herds have been built up. That State, unlike Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales, is not highly organized so far as export is concerned. There are very few export facilities, with the result that the value of sheep and cattle there is much lower than in- the eastern States. In Victoria, had we been left alone until the end. of the breeding season, we should have almost overtaken our pre-drought tallies. Then would disappear one of the factors in the inflation of prices, namely, drought conditions, which force the landowner into the market to replenish his flocks ‘and herds at almost any price for breeding stock. Then there have been abnormally good seasons since the drought - probably three of our best years - and all these influences, in Victoria in particular, have tended to raise the price of beef ‘ and .mutton. We have just about overtaken our shortage. In the coming season the graziers’ competition will disappear so far as sheep are concerned. It is generally anticipated that in the coming lamb season the freezing exporter will re-establish himself in the Victorian market, and be the chief buyer. All the raisers of sheep and cattle are not fatteners, and they are not all breeders, both breeding and fattening areas being limited. When you fix the price of beef, mutton, and lamb, you write down the value of the flocks and herds of Australia.
Not one proposal has been made by the members of the Opposition, by the Government, or by the InterState Commission which will deprive the so-called profiteer of any opportunity that he now possesses for fleecing the people. I hope that it will not he said that the producers, whose business it is to breed, rear and fatten stock for sale to the highest bidder in the openmarket are profiteers. They cannot properly be called profiteers, being ready sellers to the highest bidder. The proposals of the Government, though more reasonable than the recommendations of the Inter-State Commission, will not deprive one branch of the meat trade of the opportunity of making as much as has hitherto been made out of a beast. All the cuts from tail to tongue are scheduled and setdown. Say, for the sake of argument, that a 600-lb. beast cuts up worth, at present prices, £30, and that under the Government list of prices those cuts will bring only £26. Will the trade set to work to reduce its profits? No. It will send instructions to its buyers, telling them to purchase the 600-lb. beast for £4 less than has hitherto been paid, and thus the process of writing down the value of the flocks and herds of Australia will commence. I ask the Government what satisfaction can it find in placing the burden of price reduction on the producer ? He has played the game. He has suffered, had his ups and downs, and borne the vicissitudes of country life, its droughts and good seasons. He is a worthy citizen, and members of his family are away fighting the battles of the country. The producer in the country stands in no different position, so far as war work is concerned, from the city resident. Yet on him is to be imposed the whole burden of this price reduction.
– Why should not the local consumer be able to get meat for the price at which the Imperial Government gets it?
– What the Imperial Government gets is our surplus beef and mutton, which is frozen, and is not worth in Great Britain, to within a margin of many pence, the gravy-laden, fresh meat sold in Australia.
The squatters need not worry. Their domicile is the northern areas of Australia, where the cost of production is little, and flocks and herds prosper. In Victoria, where population is greater, the farmers have to look to the cow, the most “highly-powered” animal for the purpose, to convert the grass into cream and milk, while the calf is being artificially reared. Why should these farmers have to bear the whole burden of price fixing ? Is another nail to be driven into the coffin of the producer? Why is he to be penalized: The trade, retail and wholesale, will continue to make its present profits. The consumer may get cheaper meat, but at whose cost? In Victoria it willbe at the cost of the small dairymen. The grazier, if he can buy poddy calves sufficiently cheap, will continue to make a good profit out of them.
– They will not be reared if a good price cannot be got for them.
– No doubt, as soon as it becomes unprofitable to rear calves, the dairyman will go back to the rearing of pigs. Men who have been mating ewe lambs and two-toothed ewes in the endeavourto re-establish our flocks, will turn from this work of breeding to wool growing only. The effect of the proposals of the Government will not be to increase production. Our financial participation in the war mustdepend to a great extent on the maintenance of values. Yet the Government have set themselves to reduce the value of our flocks and herds. It is reported from Dookie that, as the result of the announcement on Saturday that the prices of meat were to be fixed, stock was almost unsaleable there yesterday, and the sheep that were sold realized 5s. per head below former ruling values, and beef 50s. per head below those values. Let me speak from personal knowledge of what happened on the last occasion when the Government announced their intention to interfere. The result was that sheep all over Victoria dropped in value 3s. per head, and cattle from £3 to £5 per head. Thousands of pounds were lost in consequence of this, but chops were no cheaper to the consumer.
– Who made the money?
– The trade; the profiteers whom my honorable friends opposite denounce. The reduction of prices is at the expense of the industry.
Simultaneously with the proclamation of the Government intention to fix the prices of meat, there should have come a complete list of prices. In the interval between the announcement that prices are being fixed and the publication of the list of prices true values will disappear, and fictitious values will be created. There will be more gambling in stock than there has hitherto been, because no one will have a basis on which to compute values. On the last occasion when the Government interfered, I was in the Warrnambool and Camperdown district. There stockowners telegraphed to auctioneers all over the country, “ We will not inspect such and such wethers, or such and such lines of steers.” Why? There was no basis of “values on which to buy. During the interval which must take place now between the announcement that prices are to be fixed and the publication of a list of prices, there will be great loss, disappointment, heart-burning, and restriction of credit. Promissory notes have to be redeemed, contracts have to be kept, markets have to be held. But there will be chaos and confusion. If there could be a compromise between the producer, the trade, and’ the consumer, under which there might be an equitable reduction of prices, I would waive my objections to an unsound economic proposal, because I recognise that the country is at war, and that, beyond and above the interest of any one section of the community, are the interests of the whole people. Any adjustment should be fair; the trade should not be allowed to get its usual profits while producers are cut down.
The consumers are largely responsible for the present position, in having failed to organize themselves in such a way as would prevent the enormous difference that exists between prices of beasts on the hoof and prices for meat delivered at the door. The disparity is too great. To-day the waters around our coast teem with fish, which have grown to maturity at no cost to any one. So it is with the game, and with the rabbits.
– The rabbits have grown to maturity at great cost to the land-owners.
– I admit that. These three commodities have all matured without cost, but there is no householder but complains of the prices at which they are sold to them. Are those prices the fault of the producer ? I warn the Government that once they create discontent amongst the producers on the land, they will have a big task to remove it. Let them be careful not to undermine the enthusiasm with which the pastoralists have built up their flocks and herds. We owe a lot to people like the family of the honorable memberf or Hume (Mr. Falkiner), and to the shorthorn breeders throughout Australia, who have added shillings and pounds per head to the value of the Australian flocks and herds by the importation of highly-priced stock; and there have been years and years when they have had no reward. The Government are playing with a matter that is too dangerous to be left in the hands of officials.
– Do you wish the pastoralists to get a profit out of the war?
– I have already dealt with that aspect of the question. But in answer to the honorable member, I think the owners of the flocks and herds should be allowed an opportunity of recouping themselves for the losses of millions of pounds in 1914.
– Because the war is on?
– That question is not affected by the fact of a war being in progress. The honorable member knows that were it possible to-day for the producers to get the world’s parity for their products, whether beef, mutton, or wool, their profits would be enormously greater than they are.
– Because of the war.
– The war is one of the factors; but long before the war I forecasted that the flocks and herds of Australia were approaching new values. Much earlier than 1914, a good ewe in New Zealand was worth from 21s. to 25s. Today a ewe in Australia is worth 30s. On account of the flocks and herds of the rest of the world having been decimated, our stock are attaining new values. We can only sustain Australia’s enormous debt by increasing our assets.
– Let the producers get the high prices abroad, but let us look after the women and children in Australia.
– I said, earlier, that I was perfectly prepared to compromise in this matter, so that the producers should bear their fair share of war conditions, that those in the trade should reduce their profits, and the consumers should organize so that there should not be the present enormous cost in the distribution of beef and mutton. In the metropolitan area, dozens of carts, each worth £50 or more. can be seen rushing backwards and forwards, delivering a pound of sausages here and a pound of chops there. It is time that the community organized. Let the consumer use his children and himself in reducing the cost of distribution by going to the shop for what he requires. The cost of distribution is no small portion of the enormous increase in retail prices.
– We need a little practical Socialism.
– The difficulty of the Government at the present time arises from listening to Socialistic theories.
This Socialistic doctrine that price fixing will remedy everything is beginning to be proved a fallacy. Some of the commodities which have been the subject of price fixation during the war would have been enormously cheaper if there had been no interference with the prices. Price fixation may be good in the belligerent countries-
– It is not too good anywhere. We ought to go very much further than the mere fixation of prices.
– I am glad to have that admission from the honorable member. There are probably three schools of thought - firstly, those who believe in the natural law of supply and demand, plus good regulation; secondly, those who believe in the Socialistic nostrum of price fixation; and, thirdly, those who believe entirely in nationalization.
– We cannot expect Socialism to be well administered by Conservatives.
– At any rate, I think that by the time the Government have finished with the meat question they will have discovered that price fixation is not the simple thing they think it is. There is no force in this country that can ever restore the losses that will be made by the bungling of officials until price fixation is abandoned. In the meantime enormous losses will be incurred by the writing down of values, and by persons buying store bullocks at prices which will not enable them to fatten the stock and sell at a profit.
– Is it not a fact that there was an immense fall in prices yesterday because of the talk of fixation ?
– I have already dealt with that. Does the honorable member think that dairymen should suffer a drop of £2 per head on their calves ?
– Give notice of that question.
– The fixation of the price of cattle in Victoria starts with the dairyman’s poddy calves raised round the coastline upon which the stock raisers draw for the stocking up of other areas. Very few graziers in Victoria breed their own cattle for rearing on their holdings. Their runs are stocked from the dairymen’s herds, and that is the point at which fixation must commence. My fiscal faith when I entered this Parliament was that of what I believe to be a thorough-going Protectionist. I believe it to be a sane policy to build up and maintain all our industries, and I am anxious to protect the pastoral industry from those who know nothing about it.
– That is rough on the Age.
– It is the officials of this country from whom 1 wish to protect our flocks and herds. Once they are put under official control, where will the interference end?
I desire to place on record the findings of the Inter-State Commission in its first report on meat. It set down the causes of the increase in the price of meat as f ollows : -
That is incontrovertible.
Although I know the embargo against the export of meat from Queensland has been withdrawn, the Government of that State were the first offenders in raising the price of meat in the southern States. Their action affected South Australia most. With very great deference to the Queensland members,I admit that on the intercession of the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Tudor) we did get a ship-load of shin beef, plucks, tripe, and so forth, from Queensland, but the Victorian Government declined to accept the consignment, and it was disposed of at the Queensland Government’s risk. The fact remains that the first offenders in raising the price of meat in the southern States were the Queensland Government, who, although they had more than sufficient supplies for their own State, put into operation an embargo which denied the Australian market to the Queensland grower.
That is a fact of whichevery honorable member is fully aware, and I blame the Inter-State Commission for, though stressing the increased value of the flocks and herds to-day, absolutely omitting from their last report any reference to the real cost of raising stock. Nowhere has the Commission got downto fundamentals. If there be anything at all in price fixation, it does rest upon the cost of production, and not upon what the prices were years before, if in the interval there has been a drought which has caused a loss of £100,000,000 to the flock-owners, not only because of the decrease of their flocks and herds, but because of the enormous cost of keeping alive those that survived, and of keeping in operation an unproductive proposition. I have not much hope of the Government doing the right thing in this matter, because if the Minister in charge of price fixing (Mr. Greene) were much concerned in hearing the producers’ point of view, he would be in the chamber. In round numbers, . there are in Australia80,000,000 sheep and 10,000,000 cattle. The sheep are worth, approximately, £120,000,000, and the cattle £80,000,000 to £100,000,000. By one stroke of the pen - by the decision to fix prices lower in all the States except Queensland - the value of these flocks and herds will be reduced, credit correspondingly restricted, and discontent and heartburning occasioned to the people on the land. What shall we have in return? It is simply an attempt to undermine one of the greatest industries in Australia. I hope that in this matter the Government have no desire but to serve the welfare of the people. I should be sorry indeed to think there was any other consideration on their part. If I could he shown that by fixing the prices of meat we would bring corresponding benefits to the masses of the people without putting our hands into the pockets of one section of the taxpayers - the people who have always been the hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Commonwealth, the people who have borne the heat and burden of the day - I should think that the supporters of this scheme had made out some case for it. That, however, cannot be done. I regret that in this matter I am diametrically opposed to the Government.
– And will do everything but vote against them.
– I am not concerned as to where the votes lie. I am aware that the food-eating constituencies far outnumber in votes the food-producing constituencies, but that is not a factor which should weigh with the majority in deciding this matter. If we are to adhere to sound principles of government, then I say, “Hands off the flocks and herds of Australia,” and leave to the people who have worked hard - especially to those who have come through a period of drought - what they have. If the Government want to look to them to sustain their share of the financial burdens of the Commonwealth they must not write down their assets, but rather encourage them to increase them.
.- There are one or two questions to which I wish to make special reference. The first has regard to the appointment of Mr. Burnett, stipendiary magistrate, to make inquiries, according to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) - into the origin of birth and parentage of all persons now in the Commonwealth Public Service or employ who are or may be reported or believed to be of enemy origin or descent, and in any matters incidental thereto, and to make recommendations as to their continuance or otherwise in the Commonwealth Government service or employ.
The Minister representing the Minister for Defence informed me to-day that no progress reports as to this inquiry had yet been received. I wish, however, to call attention to certain questions asked by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Palmer) on 11th April last, and to a statement in reply which was laid on the table on 31st ult. by the Acting Prime Minister. That statement showed that in the Defence Department there were three persons of enemy birth employed - one in Queensland, one in New South Wales, and one in the Clothing Factory in Victoria. Further, that there were of enemy descent in the Public Service of the Commonwealth, three in Queensland, two in New South Wales, five in Victoria, eight in South Australia, and four in
Western Australia, while one was employed in the chemical adviser’s branch, two in the Small Arms Factory, four in the Clothing Factory, and one in the Cordite Factory, making a total of thirty. My only reason for referring to this matter is that, as far as I am able to discover, the only persons affected by this return are those receiving low salaries. For instance, of the three of enemy birth to whom I have already referred one is in receipt of a salary of £290 per annum, another receives £254 per annum, and the other, a young lady, receives £1 16s. per week. The salaries of those of enemy descent are as follow : - £354 a year, £180 per annum, 10s. 3d. per day, 12s.8d. per day, £198 per annum, 5s. per day, 9s. 4d. per day, 10s. 6d. per day, 9s. 6d. per day, 9s. per day, £174 a year, £31s. per week, 10s. per day, £168 a year, 12s. 6d. per day, 2s. per hour, £324 a year, £5 8s. per week, £3 5s. per week, £3 10s. per week, £2 4s. 3d. per week, £1 9s. 6d. per week, and £2 8s. per week. The peculiar fact is that quite a number of highly-paid officers of enemy birth or descent are employed in the Defence Department, but have evidently been overlooked in this return. While the low-salaried men are singled out and their names published to the world, not a word appears in this return regarding highly-salaried officers in the Defence Department who are of direct enemy descent.
– Why does not the honorable member name them, and we will have them dismissed.
– I am not going to name them. My only reason for referring to the matter is that I think that if an inquiry is to be held it ought to be an impartial one. I was informed in reply to a question that I asked to-day that the inquiry was not limited to certain grades and positions, but covered every part of the Service. I understand that Mr. Barnett is now inquiring fully into this matter. Evidently the return laid on the table of the House does not cover the whole of the facts, and I am anxious that the magistrate, in his inquiry, shall have so much liberty granted him by the Government that his report will cover not only the lower paid men, but the higher salaried officers, who are equally involved.
I have no complaint to make against the employment of these men in the Department. They were not employed because they were Germans; there was no discrimination because of that fact. At the time they were engaged they were reputable citizens. They were men and women - there is quite a number of women involved - who had the qualifications for the position, and were accepted as such, and they have occupied these trusted positions without question until now. The fact that we are at war with Germany is taken as sufficient justification for at any rate inquiring into their position and doubting their loyalty. I am not taking up that aspect of the matter to-day. The point that I wish to make is that if there is any danger at all, those capable of doing us the most damage, because of their enemy origin, are not the men occupying the lower positions in the Service, but those in the higher ranks. It is those very men, occupying positions of high responsibility, acquainted with the most intimate secrets of our defence system, who are capable of doing us so much injury that if the complaint that these people should not be associated with the Public Service, and particularly with the Defence Department, is at all well founded, then they, first of all, should be affected by the inquiry, and should be dealt with if it is proposed to displace any of these people. From that point of view I shall await with considerable interest the result of Mr. Barnett’s inquiry. I understand that up to the present no reports have been received from him.
– I think he is waiting until he has finished his inquiry.
– Perhaps so.
– That is very unfair to the men who have been suspended.
– Is the honorable member taking exception only to the men of enemy birth or descent employed in the Defence Department?
– The only information I have at present is that furnished by the return to which I have referred. If the position is the same in the other Departments, then equal exception may be taken to them. What I urge is that we should have fair play: I do not want to see any discrimination as against the lower-paid men. If one man is to be put out of the Service because lie is of enemy birth or descent, let them all go out. It should bc a case of all in or all out. One nian whose name is mentioned in this return has already been discriminated against. He has a splendid record in the Public Service, and is a man of my own acquaintance. He is of German birth. There are others of German birth whom I know to be occupying very important positions in the Defence Department and concerning whom not a word appears in this return. In fact, we hear of their promotion and continuance in responsible positions. This inquiry is not fair to those who have no opportunity for redress, and if the making known of the result of it is to be delayed until the whole of the Public Service has been inquired into, those under suspension will be most unfairly treated. I hope the Government will see that those whose positions are being inquired into receive some protection during the progress of the investigation.
Another matter to which I wish to refer relates to the question I raised in the House some two months ago, in regard to the unfortunate and appalling state of affairs in Fiji, in connexion with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s operations there. In the last annual report of the company, the following passage occurs : -
Some of you may have noticed attacks on the company in various Australian newspapers about the conditions under which the Indian labour is housed and worked in Fiji. About these it is only necessary to say that all details of the living conditions of these people, and their relations with employers, are strictly ordered in accordance with regulations laid, down by the Indian and Colonial Governments. It is certain, moreover, that in respect to health, earnings, and prospective employment, immigrants are much better off in Fiji than in India, the one serious defect being the discrepancy of the sexes - a point inseparable from emigration from every country. The attack, though apparently directed at’ the company, is really on the Fiji Government, and it is, we believe, instigated and carried out by the party in India which has for its object the weakening of British rule in that country.
From the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s point of view, that statement may be quite satisfactory, but from the point of view of the public, and especially that section of the public that lias regard to the good name of Australia, and wishes to keep it free from any stain with regard to the ill-treatment of other races, it will not be at all satisfactory.
– We have no control over Fiji.
– Thai, is the main difficulty. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) is aware that the Indian Government know quite well our limitations in regard to the control of affairs in Fiji, yet claim that since the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is an Australian enterprise we ought, at all events, to exercise some pressure upon it to make the condition of affairs in Fiji not such a disgrace to civilization as it is at present. The position recalls the worst episodes of the slave days, and was not equalled during the worst days of the kanaka traffic in Queensland. The facts are not denied in the company’s report. The only qualification is that the treatment of these people conforms to the demands of the Fijian Government, and that the housing conditions are according to the regulations laid down by the Indian and Fijian Governments. The peculiar thing is that the Indian Government, so far from being satisfied, has twice sent Commissioners to Fiji in connexion with the matter. Professor Andrews, M.A., who was in Australia recently, appealed to the Commonwealth Government, and also to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, for some redress for the subjects of India, aud for considerable alterations in these matters. Here is an extract from a letter received quite recently from India, referring to the return of Professor Andrews to that country -
Mr. Andrews stayed for over an hour, and we did talk, as you may imagine. He then had to hurry off to the Palace, where he was to dine with his friend through twenty years’, the dear old Bishop. Mr. Andrews had a good time in Bombay, the folk there raising £1,100 for the nurse he is so keen on having sent to Fiji; and then in Simla, the Viceroy, of course, brought a certain amount of knowledge previously gained in Australia to the question in hand. But, knowing as he does the high respectability of the Colonial Sugar Refinery shareholders in New South Wales, for instance, Lord Chelmsford found it hard to believe things were quite as bad as Mr. Andrews declared. However, the Fiji Government report convinced both the Viceroy and the Bishop.
That is an Unequivocal statement that, however exaggerated Professor Andrews’ report might have appeared, he submitted such facts as proved the soundness of his contentions.
– What would the honorable member think about sending a
Royal Commission to Fiji to investigate the matter?
– I am not concerned about sending a Commission to investigate the matter but I am concerned that the good name of Australia should be dragged in the mud in order that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company may make money in Fiji. I am concerned that, later on, we might find ourselves involved in unfortunate complications with the Indian Government, who make no secret of the fact that unless, by some means or other, whether by representations to the Imperial Government or by pressure upon the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in Australia, we bring about some alteration in the state of affairs there, India will boycott Australian trade.
– Does the honorable member not think that if the Indian Government made representations to the Imperial Government, they might have the matter settled ?
– One would think so; but the Indian Government have made such representations. They have made representations to us. Professor Andrews, when in Melbourne, had an interview on the subject with the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Glynn). Our difficulty is not a lack of interest, but a lack of power, because we have no control over Fiji.
– What would the honorable member suggest should be done with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company ?
– I think that there should be such a stirring-up of the public conscience of Australia in regard to this matter that the highly respectable gen tiemen to whom reference has been made as shareholders of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, may be led to feel ashamed of the fact that the company from which they draw their dividends should be open to such charges as are being levelled against it.
– Does the honorable member think that the report can be true, in view of the fact that a number of the directors are pure Scotch ?
– I do not know that that helps them very much. It only shows how far they have degenerated from the splendid stock from which they came.
– It will help them in the next world.
– There are fallen Scotchmen, as well as fallen angels. But the facts remain as I have stated them. I am trusting that by arousing the public conscience in Australia, some alteration may be secured in the conditions in Fiji, By calling attention to the facts, I hope that I shall induce the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to make some alterations. I am very much concerned about the fact that the Indian Government have explicitly stated that unless we can assist them in this direction by bringing pressure to bear on the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in Australia, we shall have to be prepared for some reprisals upon Australia through trade with India.
– How are we to avoid that ? ‘
– The honorable member for Herbert would like to know what form such reprisals are likely to take. There is one very obvious and easy course which the Indian Government might follow. Professor Andrews, in a conversation I had with him when he was here, told me that the method which the Indian Government proposed to adopt was to boycott Australian trade. Only to-day references have been made to the difficulty of obtaining jute goods from India, and the absolute dependence of the Commonwealth upon that country for jute supplies. We Can realize what it would mean to Australia if, through any unfortunate incident, we became involved in a difficulty with the Indian Government, and our supplies of jute goods were stopped. I think it is very necessary that the Indian Government should be assured that, while our sympathies are entirely with them in this matter, and, so far as our powers go, we would gladly help them to remedy the condition of affairs in Fiji, we do not desire to be on any but the best terms of friendship with India, and to assist the Government of that country to secure reasonable protection for its people in Fiji.
This question must affect very largely the policy of Australia in regard to the Pacific. It is, therefore, a matter which the Australian representatives might well ask should be considered at the Imperial Conference. It is accepted that the future theatre of international operations will be in the Pacific, and it is, therefore, necessary that we should surround ourselves with such a protection of friendly nations as will secure to us, so far, at any rate, as Australian Possesions in the Pacific are concerned, a fair and reasonable opportunity of living in peace and security. The Imperial Conference is a very reasonable and proper place at which to discuss this matter, and perhaps to arrive at a solution of the difficulty. At any rate, there would be no harm in the Government suggesting to Mr. Hughes and Mr. Cook that this matter should receive their attention while they are at the Conference. I can only promise that later on as these matters develop I shall continue to draw attention to the position in Fiji, with the hope of securing som< redress for the people there.
This brings me to the consideration of another matter which I consider of very great importance at the present time. We have received fresh reports of a speech made by the Prime Minister of Australia (Mr. Hughes) in New York. I quote from the Argus of the 1st June -
He said: - “Australia and New Zealand look to America to stand by them at the peace table, as well as on the battlefield. If Australia is to continue a free Commonwealth, she must have guarantees against a future aggregation. This involves the Australian Monroe doctrine in the Southern Pacific. Whoever controls the islands within the Australian waters also controls Australia and New Guinea, which is alongside Australia, and is as large as Cuba, the Philippines, and Japan together, and many smaller Pacific islands near New Guinea, suitable for coaling stations or submarine bases. You therefore understand that unless, the Allies are triumphant peace will be worse than war for Australia. Our destiny, like that of your Western States, lies in the Pacific. America and Australia have common interests in the great ocean. We therefore seek America’s steadfast co-operation, and we are committed by inexorable circumstances to the doctrine, ‘ Hands off the Pacific’ We shall strive against all predatory nations to give the doctrine our .last ounce of strength. America’s entry into the war assured the Allies’ ultimate victory. It was a ringing answer by the greatest democracy to democracy in peril.”
Mr. Hughes went on later to say “It is a life and death fight to us, and we will fight to the end, not making peace with the Hohenzollerns. We ask America not to cease fighting till we strike the sword from the hand of the homicidal megalomaniac in Berlin.”
That kind of bombast may sound very well, but what I object to is that it is not the kind of thing that will help to end the war satisfactorily. It will increase the bitterness, of the conflict, and render a satisfactory ending of the war much more difficult. There are already two things standing like a barrier across the way to peace. One is, of course, the Paris Economic Conference, than which there could be no more direct incentive to the enemy nations to continue the war. At that Conference they were actually told in plain terms that even when they were defeated in battle, the war against them would be continued in the economic sphere, and they were, therefore, fighting for their actual bread-and-butter existence as well as their national existence. Then we have the famous speech of Mr. Lloyd George, known as “the knock-out blow” speech. I am not greatly concerned as to whether we are going to have a knock-out blow or not-
– Are you not?
– Other than this, that the kind of talk indulged in by Mr. Lloyd George, the resolutions of the Paris Economic Conference, and the bombastic style adopted by Mr. Hughes, are not going to help us to secure that just and honorable peace which Mr. Speaker leads us in praying for at the opening of every sitting of this Parliament.
– It might help us to secure victory, though, -by arousing the determination of English-speaking people throughout the world.
– One peculiar thing noticeable about the war is what I may call the sliding scale of peace terms proposed.
– What is there in the speech by Mr. Hughes to which the honorable member objects ?
– If the honorable member listens to me long enough I shall come to it. I may be a bit slow, but I shall get there all the same. Over and over again, during the progress of the war, we have, unfortunately, been favoured with a variety of speeches from the Germans and the Allies in regard to the terms upon which peace may be concluded. So much has this been the case that it is very difficult to arrive at any understanding as to what we really do want in connexion with the war. There are two things connected with the war that are accepted, and about which there is no .dispute. The first, of course, is that Germany deliberately planned and brought about this war - that she meant this war. The second isthat the Allies, and our own Empire in particular, went into the war in response to honorable undertakings with other nations involved. Our. entry into the war was based on the purest and best motives. I think that is accepted. There is no need to debate those questions. But since we entered the war on high, and just, and noble principles, we have been treated to a variety of suggestions as to the terms upon which we are prepared to get out of the war and conclude peace. Germany has also submitted various terms. It is notorious, but quite natural, that when Germany has been winning she has been most aggressive and dogmatic in the terms she has suggested. When we were losing, our terms were correspondingly weaker. With each reversal of the scale there was a reversal of terms. But one or two things stand out quite clearly, and appear to be generally accepted as being of a permanent character. Mr. Lloyd George, in addressing the Trade Union Conference in January of the present year, definitely stilted the terms upon which we were prepared to enter upon peace negotiations. He laid down three permanent conditions. He said -
That stands firm and sure.
– What is the matter with that?
– I am anxious to know whether the honorable member accepts it. I do most heartily and fully. But I do not think that honorable members opposite do. Presently I intend to show them where they trip on it.
We all say “Hear, hear!” to that. In regard to the German colonies, Mr. Lloyd George said that they were to be held at the disposal of the Peace Conference. But Mr. Hughes, speaking in New York, says that there is no decision on this matter for the Peace Conference. “Hands off the Pacific!” he exclaims. The future of the German colonies is settled.
Sirrobert Best. - German hands off the Pacific.
– Yes, but Mr. Lloyd George says that the fate of the German colonies is to be at the disposal of the Peace Conference. I learn from to-night’s Herald that Sir Joseph Ward says it is unfortunate that Mr. Hughes should have made the speech which he did in regard to “ hands off the Pacific,” as that is a matter which should have been left to the Peace Conference. Then the President of the United States, than whom no man has more clearly and categorically stated the basic principles underlying this war, says that our peace objectives should be -
We all subscribe to that. It is a splendid statement of the case.
What about that? I agree with it thoroughly. I give it my whole-hearted approval.
That is a complete contradiction of Mr. Hughes’ policy of “hands off the Pacific.”
– Certainly not.
– President Wilson proceeds - 4; That all well-defined national aspirations shall be accorded the utmost satisfaction that can be accorded them, without introducing new or perpetuating old elements of discord and antagonism that would be likely in time to break the peace of Europe, and, consequently, of the world.
There we have four clearly expressed and well-understood statements.
– They can be understood only by reading the context of that speech and of previous speeches.
– I have the whole of that particular speech here, and I shall read a few extracts from it.
– Read the extract about the destruction of German mill.tarism
– If the honorable member will allow me to do so without interruption, I will read three short extracts from it. Referring to the speech by Dr. von Hertling in the Reichstag, President Wilson says -
But the German colonics, he demands, must be returned without debate. He will discuss with no one but the representatives of Russia what disposition shall be made of the people and the lands of the Baltic provinces; with no one but the Government of Franco the “ conditions “ under which French territory 6hfl.ll be’ evacuated; and only with Austria what shall bo done with Poland. In the determination of all questions affecting the Balkan States he defers, as I understand him. to Austria and Turkey; and with regard to the agreements to be entered into concerning the nonTurkish peoples of the present Ottoman Empire, to the Turkish authorities themselves. After a settlement all around, effected in this fashion, by individual barter and concession, hu would have no objection, if I correctly interpret his statement, to a league of nations which would undertake to hold the new balance of power steady against external disturbance. It must be evident, to every one who understands’ what this war has wrought in the opinion and temper of the world, that no general peace, no peace worth the infinite sacrifices of these years of tragical suffering, can possibly be arrived at in any such fashion. . . The peace of the world depends upon the just settlement of each of the several problems to which I adverted in my recent address to the Congress. I, of course, do not menu that the peace of the world depends upon tha acceptance of any particular set of suggestions as to the way iu which those problems are to be dealt with. I mean only that those problems each and all affect the whole world ; that unless they are dealt with in a spirit of unselfish and unbiased justice, with a view to the wishes, the natural connexions, the racial aspirations, the security, and the peace of mind of the peoples involved, no permanent peace will have been attained. They cannot be discussed separately or in corners. None of them constitutes a private or separate interest, from which the opinions of the world may be shut out. Whatever affects the peace affects mankind, and nothing settled by military force, if settled wrong, is settled at all. It will presently have to be reopened.
President Wilson there emphasizes what Mr. Lloyd George has repeatedly stated, namely, that in this war the Empire is not actuated by any selfish motive - that it desires no annexations and no indemnities. Yet our own Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, has declared that Australia does not agree with that principle, and that it is in favour of annexations.
– The object of those annexations is not so much the individual profit of Australia as the prevention of militarism.
– That argument will apply equally well to AlsaceLorraine and Poland from the French and Russian point of view. We cannot apply it only to Europe. Honorable members will recollect that on the 22nd May last I called the attention of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), to a statement which appeared in the London Baily Mail of 11th March, 1918, to the effect that considerable uneasiness exists in Australia lest the people of New Guinea be consulted at the Cud of the war as to whether they wish to go back under the control of Germany or not. That newspaper continues -
The ordered discipline of Australian administration is unpopular by contrast with the previous licence allowed under German rule. Germany’s favorite method of colonization hereabouts is to demoralize the populace by a system of pampering preparatory to the establishment of a system of slavery. New Guinea, when it was captured, was enjoying the pampering process, hence the resentment here.
When I drew the honorable gentleman’s attention to that extract, the Acting Prime Minister said -
I am not aware that there is any uneasiness in Australia in regard to this matter. I do not pretend to know any more than other honorable members may know about it; but I think that if that feeling of uneasiness does exist we would have heard of it in this Chamber. The statement of the Daily Mail is without warrant as far as my judgment enables me to speak.
In replying to the other part of my question as to whether the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Cook) had been fortified with any decision of the Cabinet in regard to the future of New Guinea, the Acting Prime Minister said -
The Prime Minister is going to do his best, as far as that best will allow, to represent to the Imperial Government that the holding of these islands is vital to the interests of Australia.
– Does not the honorable member think so too?
– Certainly not. I would hand them back to-morrow if I could secure an honorable peace.
– I frankly admit that I am not prepared to echo the sentiment expressed by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews). I have no objection to seeing Germany’s Possessions in the Pacific taken from her for ever. I am not for one moment advocating that captured Possessions should be returned to Germany, but I am complaining that the Prime Minister, without the warrant of this Parliament, and certainly without the warrant of the people of Australia, has, before reaching London, announced to the world a policy of “ Hands off the Pacific “ so far as Germany is concerned.
– That is merely safeguarding the people of Australia.
– It is not a question of what is the Prime Minister’s purpose. Honorable members are endeavouring to get away from my argument entirely. My point is that the Prime Minister of Great Britain, speaking on behalf of the Allies, and laying down the conditions upon which they are prepared to discuss terms of peace, has declared that the future of the German colonics is to be determined at the Peace Conference. That is the place, and the only place, where Mr. Hughes has any right to make the statements which he is now reported to have made in New York. He, more than any one else, was responsible for those Paris Economic Conference resolutions. We all know what an enormous amount of trouble that Caused in Great Britain. It has been a perfect bane in connexion with the statements made by the Imperial Government iis to its position regarding the war. The Paris Economic Conference is now generally admitted to have been a huge mistake : it has done more than anything else to incite Germany to exercise its utmost efforts to find a successful issue to the war.
– That was all agreed upon long before the Paris economic resolutions were passed.
– It was not; and the Paris economic resolutions to-day are not accepted by the Imperial Government. They have been denounced repeatedly. In support of that I quote Lord Lansdowne, speaking in regard to the speech made by Mr. Lloyd George, from which I have already quoted -
I am in agreement with the Prime Minister in believing that a just and lasting peace can only be based upon the three conditions specified. The acceptance of these conditions by Germany would imply that the old spirit of military domination had been finally exorcised.
And Mr. Arthur Henderson, Leader of the Labour party in the Imperial Parliament, said -
We accept the principle of self-determination of nationalities. The future of Ireland depends on the decision of a convention of Irishmen now sitting in Dublin. - Further, the Labour party accept the principle of selfdetermination for all peoples, and believe that this can bo secured for Egypt and India by a rapid extension of self-governing institutions on dominion lines.
We accept the principle of no annexations. We will take no territory out of the war. In the case of populations which desire to be freed from their present governors, but are not strong enough to stand alone, we regard ourselves as under a moral obligation to secure them international protection. But we do not desire to take this task on ourselves alone unless we are explicitly requested to do so by the Peace Conference or some similar international authority.
As for indemnities, we want none. But, like our Russian comrades, we demand reparation according to international law for definite wrongs done to nations or individuals.
I have quotations here also from Mr: Philip Snowden, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, Mr. John Hodge, and Mr. Victor Fisher, all of whom approve of the statements of Mr Lloyd George concerning territorial aggrandizement. The idea of annexations is now repudiated by all the Allied Powers. Even France does not want territorial aggrandizement, in the sense of adding new territory to her Possessions. All that France is claiming - and rightly so, too, in my view - is that her lost Provinces, so ruthlessly taken from her by the Germans, should be restored.
– Will Germany agree to that?
– Of course not, unless she is made to ; but that is no justification for our declaration that we demand annexations. And what else are we doing, if not that?
– You said you would’ not agree to giving back the Pacific Islands to Germany.
– I did not say that. I said I was not here begging that they should be given back. I said then, and repeat, that I am not advocating that they should be given back to Germany. But I am advocating that the future government of these German Possessions in the Pacific is not a matter for Australia to make a declaration to the world Upon but for the Peace Conference to settle.
– Surely it is a matter in which we should have a say.
– Our say is undeniable, and the representations of Australia will secure very favorable and sympathetic consideration at the Peace Conference; we need have no fear on that score. I believe the Imperial Government would rejoice if the Australian Government would take over the responsibility of government in New Guinea. But the time to say that has not yet come. To say it now means to unnecessarily prolong the war, and to render an honorable peace more and more distant.
– You do not expect an honorable peace until Germany is absolutely beaten ?
– I notice that you do not read extracts in connexion with Prussianism being beaten down.
– That is not cognate to my argument. I am not talking upon German conditions, or upon the terms we are going to get from Germany.
– You want a German peace. Why don’t you say so ?
– If you, Mr. Chairman, would allow me to do so, I could tell the honorable member what he is; but if I did I would have to withdraw the words, so I had better not use them. I am not discussing terms of peace, or when, or how, or where we should get peace. All my argument is that to say or do anything unnecessarily placing an obstacle in the way of peace is playing into the hands of Germany and not into the hands of the Allies. The speech of the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth (Mr. Hughes) is only embarrassing to the British Government, and not helpful to the Allied cause.
I am not going to he dragged into a discussion on peace. I have stated in this House my views upon that subject. The mere -suggestion that I am in favour of a German peace does not make any difference to my opinions. Germany, prior to the war, held Possessions in the Pacific totalling about 96,000 square miles. The principal Possession was German New
Guinea. Honorable members are aware that it was through the blundering of Lord Derby, then Foreign Secretary, in 1S93, that Germany got her chance of securing any part of New Guinea. Sir Thomas Mcllwraith, one of the best and most farseeing statesmen Australia has ever had, secured the whole of New Guinea in 1893; and he was then told by the Imperial Foreign Office to mind his own business, while the flag that had been run up as a symbol of our annexation of the country had to be hauled down. Later on, Germany having taken possession of the northern part of New Guinea, and the Dutch also putting in a claim, a partition of that territory had to be undertaken ; and we secured Papua. The whole of that island would have been ours but for the British Foreign Office. It is peculiar that the two great missionaries, who were then the most notable identities on the island - Dr. Lawes and Dr. Chalmers - both approved of the action of Lord Derby. They were both very fine men, and Australia has been very largely indebted to them and their successors for the peaceful government of Papua. Not one word can be said against the character or loyalty of either. Yet Dr. Chalmers wrote that Lord Derby was right in leaving room for Germany, and that the Colonies were angry from ignorance. Dr. Chalmers, good man though he was, was wrong in his estimate of what the future of New Guinea should be.
– He did not know Germany.
– Neither did we until a few years ago.
– But we do not want to repeat that error.
– No, we do not; and, as far as the possession of German New Guinea is concerned, if we are to have the Monroe doctrine applied to the Pacific, it will be well for us to” know just where we stand.
Here is an extract from the doctrine submitted by Dr. Monroe. I quote from Stead’s War Facts, and I may say that I do not know of any book or magazine available in Australia that gives more useful and reliable information. Stead states -
Washington recommended that the United States should avoid entangling itself in the politics of Europe. That that policy has been consistently followed was given formal expression to when the United States delegates signed The Hague Conventions, with the proviso that nothing contained therein should be so construed as “ to require the United States to depart from its traditional policy of not intruding upon, interfering with, or entangling itself in the political question or policy, or internal administration of any foreign State, nor shall anything contained in the said Conventions bo construed to imply a relinquishment by the United States of its traditional attitude towards purely American questions.”
And there yon have the Monroe doctrine in its particular application. Here is the position now: The United States, which, under that doctrine, asserted its determination not to interfere in European politics or permit European nations to interfere in American affairs, finds itself in the thick of the war. That, of course, is a most satisfactory situation from our view-point, namely, that the Monroe doctrine, as far as it affected the right of America to interfere in European politics, has been abrogated. But next we have the declaration of an Australian Monroe doctrine; and I want to know whither this policy is to lead us. I am not affected by any craven fear as to Australia ever becoming a great nation. I have a most hopeful opinion of Australia in future dominating the Pacific.
– We shall require a very much larger population before we can do that. -
– What I am immediately concerned about ‘is - Are we prepared, at the present time, to accept this tremendous responsibility t We have been charged, and, I think, truthfully, with not effectively occupying Australia. Our right to hold this country has been .challenged, and only because of the protection of the Empire have we been able to hold it.
– We have made a good attempt.
– We have made an excellent attempt, with 5,000,000 of people, to hold this continent. I am not complaining that we have failed in our duty. I think very few people in the world in similar circumstances would have shown greater ability or enterprise than we have. Those men and women who have gone, those early settlers who pioneered in this country, performed a wonderful work. But we are only at the fringe. The subject is big enough, the opportunities wide enough, and the responsibilities great enough, to occupy the attention of the Commonwealth for many years to come. And now it is suggested that we should undertake much wider responsibilities,’ that, although we are unfortunately weak in our occupation of this continent, we should stretch out and administer more distant Possessions.
– That argument does not do you justice.
– The honorable member should not run away with- the idea that I am objecting to Australia taking up this responsibility. He and other honorable members who hold that view have allowed their minds to run along grooves of their, own, and are not following my argument. I am not arguing that we should not accept the responsibility of administering those Possessions. I am not saying that even if the Peace Conference request us to take charge we should refuse to do so. I think the handing over of Samoa to German rule was one of the most unfortunate events in our history, and now that New Zealand is in occupation of that territory, I hope the Dominion will be allowed to retain it. Itwould be a most excellent thing foi* Australia to hold on to as much of New Guinea as possible, because I believe there are splendid opportunities there for the production of certain raw materials that will be of immense value to Australia.
I am only’ concerned to-night in an attempt to point out that in doing all these things in the Pacific, or that we should only allow these Possessions to fall into the hands of a friendly Power, we are, in effect, repudiating the statements made recently on behalf of the Allies by the Prime Minister of Great Britain (Mr. Lloyd George), by President Wilson, and by President Poincare, who have declared against annexations as the result of this war.
– But you mean, all the same, that we are not going to hand them over to an unfriendly nation.
– I am greatly amused when I hear some honorable members talking about a friendly Power. Why, sir, Powers that are friendly to-day may be our enemies of to-morrow, and likewise our enemies of to-day may be our friends of to-morrow. The great statesmen of our Empire have, in the past, persistently urged that we should’ remain on friendly terms with Germany; but, instead of that, jealousy and hatred were promoted. If we had taken the advice of Lord Roberts, we should have been iri a better position than we are” in to-day. But I point out that Lord Roberts took the view that war was inevitable, as we did not follow the course laid down by Lord Palmerston and those other great men of the Victorian era, .namely, that the traditional policy of Great Britain was to remain on the most friendly terms with the Scandinavian races and the German Saxon race, which, they held, were our natural allies. I am not concerned about that now. I am no more a friend of Germany than any other honorable member, but we have to discriminate between the German people and the Prussian military autocracy.
– They are both the mme now.
– They are not. Mr. Lloyd George, President Wilson, Lord Lansdowne, and President Poincare all point out that we have no quarrel with the German people.
– I do not think they would say it to-day.
– If the Minister reads the latest speech delivered by Mr. Lloyd George he will see it clearly stated that we have no quarrel with the German people, but that we have to fight the Prussianism of the military caste, and, of course, just at present we are up against the German people also, because they are supporting this system. After this war, however, there will be no enemy nations, because Germany will then be a friendly Power.
– God help us !
– If not, the war will not end.
– Yes; it will.
– It cannot end unless we are prepared to be friendly with Germany.
– Then it will not end.
– The present generation, and perhaps the next, will have to die out before we can forget and forgive what Germany has done in this war, and a friendly feeling must be promulgated from within.
– How. can it be promulgated from within Germany?
– In Germany there are people who are just as progressive as people in any other country in the world. Unfortunately, they are in a minority to-day, but this war may help to bring about the regeneration of Germany.
After the war we shall have to create a satisfactory position of affairs in the Pacific in order to secure us, as “far as possible, against future aggression or disturbance of our peace. When the representatives gather at the Peace Conference, which must come sooner or later,, to determine on what basis war shall cease and normal relations be resumed, one of the questions to be determined will be the disposition of German Possessions in the Pacific.
– They may be restored under certain conditions.
– If Great Britain and her Allies, who have expressed themselves against indemnities and annexations, are true to their principles, we should be the last to complain.
– But we can fight for conditions, at any rate.
– Certainly we can. And that brings me back to my starting point. I say that the speech delivered by Mr. Hughes in New York was illadvised.
– It was unnecessary, and it must necessarily increase the difficulties of the Imperial Government. I was hopeful that, on this occasion, the Prime Minister would have been more cautious in his public statements than was the case when last he visited Great Britain, that he would have realized that, after all, Australia’s voice will only represent a fraction of the interests to be harmonized at the Peace Conference. It is remarkable that the Prime Minister, whose views are evidently supported by certain members in this chamber, has had more to say than any other public man in condemnation of the Allies’ war policy. We have heard of no such statements in
France as our Prime Minister is making in ‘regard to German Possessions.
– But the people of France only talk about Alsace Lorraine. That is all they are concerned with.
– France is just as much interested in overseas Possessions as we are, and because of what she has suffered, and of her present tragic position, she should receive the most sympathetic consideration. On the occasion of his previous visit the Prime Minister of Australia unfortunately .caused the Imperial Government and the Allies a great deal of trouble, and it appears likely that we will have a repetition of his jingoistic and bombastic utterances through the Northcliffe press. I wish here and. now to repudiate the doctrine announced by Mr. Hughes, “ Hands off the Pacific,” as far as our right to settle that matter is concerned. The Peace Conference will be the place to determine that matter, and when it is settled, I for one, as a loyal Australian and loyal Britisher, will be quite prepared to accept the responsibility of German Possessions in the Pacific, or to acknowledge the right of Allied Powers to determine what shall be done with them.
– But I think the Prime Minister’s speech was really made to awaken American interests in the Pacific.
– The honorable member has made a peculiar suggestion, because Australia’s interests in the Pacific are a bagatelle compared with American interests there. America has much reason to be vitally interested in the Pacific, and has not slackened in her concern as ,to its future. It is much to her advantage, and much more to ours, if we can secure a satisfactory understanding with her in regard to the future of the Pacific. It would be a most excellent thing for us, and helpful to them, in spite of our being a comparatively feeble people. But I hope the Prime Minister will understand that Australia does not want him to proceed on the line of instructing the Imperial Government and the Allied Powers as to how they shall carry on the war, and when or how they shall finish it.
– As your great countryman said, if he is giving advice before it is asked, it is not before it is needed.
– That, after all. is a matter of opinion. Mr. Lloyd George, President Wilson of America,- and President Poincare of France, know much more about the condition of affairs in Europe than Mr. Hughes does; and there is no need for him to go from Australia to “ teach his grandmother how to suck eggs.” I hope we shall have a lot less of those outrageous and perplexingly difficult questions that the Prime Minister created during his last visit to Great Britain. Personally, I repudiate his “Hands off the Pacific” doctrine at the present time. When the proper time comes, when we shall be in no danger of hampering the negotiations of the Imperial Government or creating unnecessary difficulties, and putting obstacles in the way of peace, when the time comes to decide the future of the German colonies, it will then be for us to put forward our proposals; but at present all this talk in New York, all this parading of great ideas, may to Mr. Hughes’ mind denote a great statesman; but to the great majority of people it denotes simply an attempt on his part to create a scene for himself, and to drag the limelight on to his own personality.
– He is only saying what you said you believed in - the “ Hands off the Pacific “ doctrine. You only object to his saying it.
– I do object to his saying it just now, because it is in direct opposition to the policy of the Allied Powers.
– You are prepared to back him up to argue it at the Peace table.
– If the Peace Conference determines that Australia is to take over the German Possessions in the Pacific, well and good; but until that time comes, we have no right to say it, and certainly we have no right to advocate it just now. It is just in line with the Prime Minister’s previous conduct in Great Britain, and the outrageous proposals he made at the Paris Economic Conference, which have caused so much trouble to the Imperial Government and the Allies ever since. If the Paris Economic Conference proposals incited Germany to a stiffer resistance, I ask honorable members to consider whether Mr. Hughes’ suggestion will not have exactly the same effect now. Mr. Lloyd
George made a fair proposal : that the future of the German colonies should be determined at the Peace Conference. Mr. Hughes says “No; we have settled it, so far as the Pacific is concerned.” What if we said that the German prewar Possessions in Africa should not be returned to Germany, in any circumstances !
– That is what South Africa is saying.
– Yes ; but they are not putting it in Mr. Hughes’ bombastic style.
– General Smuts has said it just as determinedly.
– They are putting it forward as a suggestion, but with the reservation that it is a matter for determination when discussing the terms of peace.
– Oh, no !
– I am sorry I have not General Smuts’ speech here, because I think I watch these things very carefully. My regret is that, instead of helping us, speeches like those of Mr. Hughes are going to hinder us. Instead of bringing peace nearer they will make it much more distant and difficult.
– They are not going to affect the question a bit.
– I most fervently and sincerely hope the honorable member is right. If I could think so I should not have needed to say a word of what I have said to-night.
– Yes, you would; because it is Mr. Hughes that has said it.
– I suppose it is only the signal blast of the bombastic oratory to which we are likely to be treated. I shall carefully watch the development of this argument, and the expansion of this Pacific-Monroe doctrine. Later on we shall see which of us estimated most accurately the effect of the arguments put forward by the Prime Minister.
.- I should have dearly liked* to follow my eloquent and learned friend, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) in his academic discussion of recentspeeches made by the Prime Minister on his tour through the world, but matters of much more pressing importance to the people of Australia and the Empire claim our attention.
– We want a cheap breakfast table.
– That is undoubtedly the question before the Committee. I feel’ much indebted to the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) for introducing the question of the price of meat to-day. I regret that it had to be discussed on the Estimates, and would have much preferred that the Government, of whom I do not see one solitary representative present at this moment - after all, I notice that the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) is in the chamber - had set apart a few hours for the discussion of the question of fixing the price of meat, which is now occupying the public mind. At a suburban meeting, the honorable member for Yarra made a speech which was reported under the headings, “Patriotic Pirates,” “Speech by Mr. Tudor.” That was a most excellent phrase.
– It was not mine, although I used it.
– That appeared in the Age of 8th June. I do not know whether in the present state of friendliness between that newspaper, for which I have the highest possible respect, and the Leader of the Opposition, the. reference is to Mr. Tudor as one of the patriotic pirates, or whether the honorable member was referring to some one else. I presume the honorable member was alluding, among other things, to the present price of meat. Do honorable members on the other side mean to infer that the graziers of Australia have, by unfair or improper means, raised the price of meat to its present level 1
– People are paying too much for it.
– That is not the point. When my honorable friend uses such a phrase as “Patriotic Pirates,” which, in the minds of the people who read the headings, if they do not read the speeches, can only mean one thing, does he imply that the graziers of Australia are “ patriotic pirates “ ? Is the suggestion that the graziers have had anything to do with raising the price of meat to the consumers by any improper means ?
– They did not need to; the Government are looking after their interests.
– The honorable and learned member for Batman very fairly admits that the graziers had nothing to do with it. Then what becomes of the “ patriotic pirates “ in connexion with the meat, question?
– I think Angliss is one.
– The honorable member for Melbourne is entitled to his own opinion. The question is the price for meat that has to be paid by the consumer. There ure two classes of people in the community who may be said to affect the price of mea”t._ First, there are those people who produce meat, and then there are the rest. If the price of meat is high-
– You will admit that it is.
– I do not deny it, and on that point my evidence is quoted with approval in the report of the Inter-State Commission. When we come to consider the question of the high price of meat, and the scarcity of meat, can we blame the graziers in the slightest degree?
– There is no scarcity. The trouble is that there is plenty of meat, and yet the price is high.
– Putting aside for the present the question of scarcity, let us deal with the price that has to be paid for meat by the consumer.- It cannot be said with any fairness or justice that these people, who have devoted their lives to making meat as abundant and cheap as possible, are responsible in the remotest degree for the scarcity of meat and the high prices.
– Where are those philanthropists?
– There are a great many of them. I could take the honorable member into the country districts of Victoria and Mew South Wales, and show him men who have devoted their lives to making meat cheap and abundant.
– They are not in the business for the good of their health.
– I do not claim for myself or for my friends that we are philanthropists any more than members on the other( side are. As comparisons are odious, I ask the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) not to recklessly fling those jeers or sneers at people who have devoted years of honest industry to make meat cheap and abundant. It is quite an easy matter to make charges about the graziers not being philanthropists, but it is unworthy of any honorable member to indulge in reckless jibes when we are dealing with a serious question. I am speaking to-night on behalf of the graziers as I would speak on behalf of any honest citizen whose name had been unfairly impugned.
– Some of them are dishonest.
– The honorable member may know some dishonest graziers among his friends, but I do not know of any. These graziers have devoted their lives to making meat abundant, and, therefore, have tended to make it cheaper.
– Tell that to the woman who buys it in the shop.
– I should be pleased to do so if the honorable member would introduce me to her. I only fear that in his presence the lady would not listen to the voice of the charmer. However, to return to our mutton or beef, as the case may be, it cannot be said in the remotest degree that the graziers of Australia are in any way responsible for the present high price of meat.
– Then tell us who is responsible for it.
– If I am allowed to continue my remarks I shall tell the honorable member. At any rate, the graziers are not responsible for it, and I shall quote from the Commissioners’ report to prove this. There is only one way in which the graziers could do anything to raise the price of meat, and that is by forming a combination for the purpose of withholding supplies, or preventing the people from getting meat at anything but the price fixed by them. By producing their meat and selling it they tend to lower the price. In Report No. 2 the Inter-State Commission say -
The Commission is satisfied that there is no combination among farmers, graziers, stock and station agents, wholesale dealers, or butchers in Victoria, either to keep back stock or maintain prices.
In No. 4 Report they say -
There are no combinations foc the manipulation of prices among the meat companies (who are tied down to contract prices for the whole of their output), amongst the retail butchers or amongst the graziers supplying stock to the’ market.
Those remarks apply to Queensland and New South Wales.
– What is said in regard to Mr. Field in the same report?
– Nothing that they say about Mr. Field contradicts or qualifies this summary of their remarks. After having heard all the evidence in regard to Mr. Field - that is their summary. If my friends opposite, or those able advocates of the fixing of wholesale prices outside the House, have any jot or tittle of evidence to show that the graziers of Australia have been in any way responsible for the raising of the price of meat against the consumers, it is desirable that they should bring it forward.
– Then why are the graziers protesting against the fixing of the price?
– For the very obvious reason that they consider it is totally unnecessary, and that it will be unfair to do so, particularly by the method .recommended by the Inter-State Commission, As the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) has pointed out, although the method recommended by the Commission may inflict an immense injury on the graziers who are responsible for the production of meat, there is no evidence to show that it will lower the retail price of meat to the consumers one iota.
I think that I am the only honorable member in this House whose name has been mentioned in any of the reports submitted by the Commission upon this question, and I would like honorable members to understand exactly what has been said about me.
– I have read it all to the House.
– But there are ways of reading things. The honorable member meant well, “and was perfectly innocent in regard to the way in which he read out what he did, but as the Commission’s report does not profess to give an accurate quotation of my words, an honorable member in attempting to read them may easily pass beyond what I actually said, and attribute to me something which I did not say. That is really what happened in this case. In No. 7 Report the Commissioners say -
In Report No. 2 (page 10) it was mentioned that in the opinion of one witness (Mr. Jowett, now M.H.R.), the price given by the Imperial Government for meat has had an encouraging effect on the raising of stock, since the grazier looks upon that price as something in the nature of a guarantee.
That is a perfectly correct report, not verbatim of course, of what I said, but the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) went on to read what immediately followed, containing a statement . of opinion to which I am entirely opposed. This was as follows: -
There can be little doubt that a local fixed price on export parity would be regarded in the same light.
That is where I differ entirely with the Commission. It is quite true that an arrangement, made between the Imperial Government and the Queensland Government, on behalf of the Queensland graziers, might have the effect of encouraging production by guaranteeing a minimum price. I do not think honorable members are very clearly seized of the exact arrangement. The Imperial Government arranges to buy whatever meat comes forward, no matter whether in large or small quantities, at a fixed price.
– It is a contract
– No ; in one sense there is no contract; the Queensland graziers do not contract to supply one single beast. It is an arrangement that whatever cattle or sheep the graziers bring forward, and supply to the meat exporters, the Imperial Government will buy at a fixed price.
– It is a mutual understanding.
– It is an agreement by the Imperial Government to take whatever the graziers like to offer.
– After inspection.
– Of course, subject to their approval of the meat ; but there is no contract on the part of the graziers to sell a single beast.
– The contract with the Queensland Government is to supply 100,000 tons.
– Not at all, so far as I am aware; there is no contract to deliver one beast.
– That is the contract with the Queensland Government.
– No. That may have been the offer the Queensland Government made to the honorable member when it desired to get rid of some frozen meat.
– I am referring to the contract with the Imperial Government.
– There is no number stipulated.
– There is; I have seen the contract.
– The arrangement is as I have described, and there ought to be no misunderstanding on the point. It is an absolute guarantee to every grazier in Australia that all the beef and mutton of proper quality that they like to bring forward will be bought by the exporters at a price which, in some way or other, is supposed to be on a parity with the fixed price. It is, as I have said, a guarantee of a minimum price. I have the highest respect for the Inter-State Commission, the members of which have done their work well, and to the best of their ability with the knowledge they could obtain. But the recommendation they make is totally different from the arrangement I have described ; they desire to make the minimum price offered by the Imperial Government the maximum price; and there is no guarantee that any purchaser in Australia will take even one carcass. The Imperial arrangement provides no justification for the recommendations of the Commission.
Reference has been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) and others to the graziers selling at two prices : one to the Imperial Government, and one to the people of Australia. As a matter of fact, at the same time and place, there is but one price. Mutton can scarcely bo said to be exported; but when beef is freely exported at the price paid by the Imperial Government, every grazier who sends his stock to market is prepared to sell to the consumers of Australia at exactly the same price. I speak with con siderable knowledge gained in the ordinary course of my business. I have sold beef in the Brisbane market at exactly the same price as to the exporting agents. When a grazier can sell either to the meat companies or in the market, two influences are at work offering means of disposing of his stock.
– Do not the auctioneers, or stock and station agents, regulate the market ?
– Oh, dear no!
– Do not the graziers get notice from the auctioneers and agents not to flood the markets with stock?
– That is not regulating the market.
– It is a gentlemanly understanding, I suppose?
– These people, if they induce graziers to send stock to the market, have the responsibility of selling it.
– They do not induce the graziers to send stock, but to regulate the price.
– They do induce the graziers very strongly to send stock. I am always receiving the strongest possible recommendations from auctioneers and agents to send my cattle and sheep to market. I have over and over again sold to both the meat exporters and also to the local butchers; and I am bound to admit that, since the arrangement with the Imperial Government has been operating, I have sold meat to the consumers of Queensland more cheaply through the Enoggera market than I have sold it through the meat exporting companies. I was not prepared for this debate to-night; but, speaking from memory, Messrs. McTaggart Brothers, of Brisbane, said in one of their reports for February this year that, owing to export companies coming into the market, the price had been actually raised 10s. per head. Obviously, therefore, the week before this occurred the consumers of Queensland were obtaining fat cattle 10s. per head cheaper than the export companies were prepared to pay.
– The honorable member is dealing only with one State.
– Queensland is practically the only State that has exported meat under the contract. It is the only State which has a considerable surplus of fat cattle and sheep to export to the other States. I say emphatically, because it is important that a correct public opinion should be formed on this most important subject, that the answer to the question, “Why have the consumers of Australia to pay more for meat than the Imperial Government pays ?” is that they do not pay any more in the wholesale market, at the same place and at the same time.
The honorable and learned member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) made use of . arguments which, from the Opposition stand-point, were most effective, and will remain effective until refuted. He recapitulated with great force and eloquence the circumstances of the meat question to the InterState Commission, and the presentation of the Commission’s first report. The question was referred a second time to the Commission in a letter written by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) on the 23rd February, which the honorable and learned member has read to the Committee. The Prime Minister in that letter said - according to the honorable and learned member most improperly, although, as it has turned out, quite necessarily - that two deputations representing the wholesale meat traders and the producers’ associations of New South Wales had waited on him in connexion with the proposal to adopt the recommendation of the Commission. The honorable and learned member pointed out that the report of the Commission reflected adversely on some of the wholesale meat traders in Sydney, and either he or the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) referred pointedly to the fact that there were several members of the legal profession in attendance when the Commission took evidence the second time.
– Eight, I think.
– I am under the impression that that was the number. They were present because certain gentlemen representing important interests were to be called to give evidence again.
– And one of them had been accused of perjury.
– The Commissioner recommended that Mr. Tom Field be prosecuted for perjury.
– But the AttorneyGeneral of the State refused to file a Bill.
– Surely it would have been enough to have one lawyer to represent Mr. Field, instead of employing a whole crowd for the purpose of keeping up the price of meat.
– The lawyers were not present to keep up the price of meat. One King’s Counsellor was in attendance to represent Mr. Tom Field, and other9 were there to look after the interests of other gentlemen, who might be called on to give evidence, to save them from a similar charge. Would any honorable member be prepared to give evidence before a Commission by which he was likely to be charged with perjury unless he had the assistance of a lawyer?
– What would be the position of a man of humble means?
– He could say .what he liked, because he would have nothing to lose.
– I ask the honorable and learned member for Batman whether it is not likely that there would be a host of legal gentlemen ready to defend, free of cost, if necessary, any penniless person who might be treated adversely by a Commission ?
– Does the honorable member suggest that one member of the profession would undercut another ? That would be a breach of union rules.
– I have the highest respect for the members of the legal profession, though I advise every one to keep clear of them if he can. It is only fair to say that when the New South Wales Government had “investigated the charge against Mr. Field they saw no reason to prosecute him for perjury.
– All the lawyers were present every day that the Commission sat in Sydney.
– Under the circumstances, I do not wonder at it; probably they were well paid for their attendance. The honorable and learned member for Batman suggests that the Government did wrong in not adopting on its second presentation the recommendation of the Commission to fix the price of meat wholesale in Australia. It seems to be forgotten that the Commonwealth is under responsible government. A Commission may recommend a certain course, but a Government which gave effect to recommendations which it considered wrong would be unworthy of the confidence of the electors. It is to the credit of the Government that, in spite of the second recommendation by the InterState Commission that meat prices should be fixed in a way which it considers impracticable, it decided to deal with the matter in another way.
– Why could it not have done that when the Commission made its report?
– Honorable members opposite have kept the Government pretty busy, and I do not think Ministers have had much spare time to deal with this matter.
– We are the most lenient Opposition that there has ever been in this Parliament.
– I admit that the Opposition has been in many ways very lenient, most courteous, most amiable, and certainly most eloquent. They have occupied so much time in discussing other matters - no doubt they think them to be of very great importance - that the Government has not, and will not have, an opportunity of considering any matter until Parliament goes into recess.
As to how this question will be dealt with in detail, that is a matter for the Government to decide. I think I have absolutely absolved it from the charge of having adopted any improper or unconstitutional course, and have shown that there is not the remotest justification for the. allegation that the graziers have done anything wrong or that they are in the slightest degree responsible for the pre- ‘ sent high price of meat.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister agree to the adjournment of the debate?
– We have not made much progress to-day. It is difficult, but not impossible, to arrive at an understanding as to when we may pass the Estimates. I am loath to suggest anything that will deprive honorable members of their rights and opportunities, but if we can have an understanding to pass the Estimates some time to-morrow it will condition the length of our sitting to-night.
– The Government will get no guarantee to that effect. They must call up their reserves to apply the gag.
– Very well, if that is the answer, we shall continue. We have plenty of reserves, and we are not threatening the gag.
– I was very much interested in the opening remark of the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) that we are dealing with the breakfast table. I, also, intend to deal with the breakfast table. But there is one prerequisite to a satisfactory price of meat, and that is that the people shall have the wherewithal to buy meat. After the Governor-General’s Conference the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), before leaving for the Old Country, said that, as far as lay in his power - and I infer that he meant the Government - he would restore the industrial conditions that existed prior to the last strike. I wish to refer generally to the conditions of the waterside workers throughout Australia. It is quite within the power of the Government to restore the old conditions to those workers. The New South Wales Government have promised to call a special session of the State Parliament to deal with the reregistration of unions, for the purpose of restoring them to their original status. Since January last, the waterside workers have been endeavouring to get redress in the Arbitration Court, but, so far, have been unsuccessful, not because the Judge is unsympathetic, but simply because of the hostility displayed by the ship-owners. By Statutory Rule 87, the Commonwealth Government have assumed complete control of the shipping industry, and consequently they also control the employees in that industry. Paragraph 6 of that rule reads -
With the object of utilizing to the best of advantage vessels engaged in the coasting trade, in order to make more vessels available for the oversea shipping service, there shall be an Inter-State Central Committee (in these regulations referred to as the Committee), consisting of the Controller of Shipping, the Deputy Controller of Coastal Shipping, and six other members.
This Committee has control of the whole shipping industry, and possesses wide powers. It, in turn, is responsible to the Acting Minister for the Navy; and it is within his jurisdiction to order .that employees on the vessels controlled by the Committee shall be engaged for whatever source lie names. The. rule continues - 9. (1) The Committee shall give such directions as it thinks fit in relation to the movements and use of vessels requisitioned by .the Controller of Shipping and in relation to the carriage of passengers and cargo by those vessels.
All expenses in relation to the movements and use of the vessels and the carriage of passengers and cargo shall be paid out of the revenue of those vessels.
The net profits (if any) which have accrued at the expiration of the period for which the vessels arc requisitioned under these regulations shall be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Every direction given or to be given by the Committee in relation to the movements and use of vessels and the carriage of passengers and cargo shall he deemed to be a direction lawfully given and enforceable, and compliance therewith shall excuse any person for any nonperformance of any contractual obligation which by reason of Such compliance could not be performed.
Employment of labour on those vessels comes completely under the jurisdiction of the Shipping Committee, and any opposition in the Arbitration Court to the application of the employees, although ostensibly by the employers, is really by the Federal Government. The Committee is composed entirely of ship-owners, and is really the old Inter-State Shipowners’ Federation, formed into a Board under Government control. That Committee is opposing the application of the Waterside Workers Union to have certain industrial conditions restored. The conditions for which these unions are asking are only fair and reasonable. They seek no special favour. All they desire is that they shall be restored to their original status. To-day the waterside worker is treated more like a convict than a reputable citizen. When seeking employment he has, first of all, to apply for a disc at a registry office, and in order to obtain one must produce a reference as to character. The disc having been furnished him, he has then to take his chance of securing employment. He has a number, and if he does not happen to be close to the office when his number is_ called, there is a scramble, and the man in charge tells him that he has lost his chance. Many men on the water front in my electorate have grown old in the calling, and cannot compete with young men in the wild scramble for work. The consequence is that many of them are practically starving. It was roughly estimated some six weeks ago that 1,500 families in the electorates of East Sydney and West Sydney were without the means of subsistence. This was due to the new method of employing labour on the wharfs and to the employment of volunteer labour. Investigation will show that the volunteers are not the men who went to the assistance of the Government at the time of the strike. The original volunteers came from various country districts, and as soon as the strike was over they returned to their former callings. Those who have succeeded them are for the most, part men who, during the strike, left other employments which had become disorganized. They arc now receiving preference of employment on the wharfs. Most of them are young men who are better fitted to battle for work in the country than are some of the old residents of the water frontages. If the Government are really anxious to give effect to the promise of the Prime Minister, let them take this matter into consideration, and withdraw their opposition to the claims of the waterside workers in the Arbitration Court. If that opposition be withdrawn, the Court will grant what they desire. They merely ask that certain picking-up places shall be appointed, and that every man shall be allowed to secure a disc. They urge that a man should nob, be debarred from employment merely because he is an ex-member of a union. Surely this is nob boo much to ask of the Government The granting of this request, after all, would only be in conformity with the promise of the Government that they would restore the unions bo their former status. With such an alteration in their conditions the waterside workers might be able to purchase meat if the ,prices were reduced.
The increase in the cost of necessary commodities calls for drastic action. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) says tha,t it can best be met by organization on the part of the people themselves. I agree with him. What is required is co-operation and the elimination of the operations of middlemen and speculators iii the people’s foodstuffs. There is, unfortunately, a difficulty in the way of co-operation, since co-operative stores cannot purchase except through the agency of middlemen or speculators. Pricefixing might meet the trouble to some extent, but what is necessary is direct Government intervention. Let me quote an experience of my own : We wished to purchase some chaff, and meeting a farmer who I knew was sending chaff to town, I asked him whether he could let us -have some He agreed to sell us 5 tons, and in due course we received a truck of chaff which was good and fairly cheap.” It sold rapidly; but when we asked this man to supply another 5-ton lot, he replied that the Sussex-street merchants had told him that if he sold any more to us direct they would not buy from him. That is the sort of thing that the people have to combat. If the high cost of living is to be dealt with, it is up to the Government to assist the people to organize for their own protection. Just as Boards have been appointed to control the shipping and other industries, so we should have in each State Boards to control the sale of necessary commodities. If that were . done, we should be able to eliminate the operations of the speculator and the middleman, and make an alteration in the cost of living. While we hold that price-fixing will prove satisfactory to a degree, We do not think it goes quite far enough, and unless we have a sympathetic administration, and inspectors to see that the prices fixed are observed, I am very much afraid that the poorer classes will riot secure any great reduction in prices as the result of it. The price of butter, for instance, has been fixed; but those who purchase it in small quantities know that thev are supplied with only third-grade butter at the maximum price fixed for butter of first quality. And so with every commodity. There is really no protection for the consumer. The consumer can be protected only by the formation of Boards such as I have just suggested, and by the appointment of inspectors to see that the prices fixed are duly observed. I fail to understand how the fixing of prices is likely to ruin the squatter or the dairyman. They have fixed their own prices in normal times, and although we are at war, it does not necessarily follow that because the people of other countries, owing to profiteering and other reasons, are paying very high prices, the profiteers here must also be allowed to make huge fortunes.
In Report No. 3 issued by the InterState Commission, and dealing with farm products, milk, butter, &c, it is stated *at page 15 that the Commission found that there was an understanding between different companies as bo the sale if condensed milk. In other words, there was a monopoly in regard to it. It is stated that the principal matters provided for in the agreement, are as follow:
Clause 1. The companies, in the agreement are bound to abstain from competition with one another.
Clause 4 eliminates the Standard Company and the Australian Milk Products Limited from competition in unsweetened condensed milk and other milk products. They are to “concentrate” on sweetened condensed milk.
That is to say that they could only sell one particular line.
Clause 5 defines the proportions in which the products of the different companies shall be sold. ,rhat was to regulate the market for themselves.
Clause 11 debars the Nestle Company from making any contract for delivery of condensed milk outside the assigned proportions.
Clause 13 defines the Nestle Company not to charge more for its sweetened condensed than 2s. 6d. per case above the lowest price for any brand in the agreement.
Clause 14 provides that the retail prices ruling at the time of the agreement are not to be increased except as a result of increased cost of manufacture or distribution.
Clause 24 provides for the carrying on of the agreement to any purchaser of the business of any of the contracting companies.
There is also an interesting schedule comparing the different prices which shows that they advanced in a couple of years from 25s. to 32s. 6d. I was reading the London Daily Mail the other day, and I found that there is also a Milk Trust in Great Britain. The profiteers overseas, and those in Australia, would appear to be working in conjunction. If there is an increase of prices in Great Britain, it seems to be followed by an increase here. I quote the following from the Daily Mail of the 11th March, 1918: -
Milk Trust Methods.
Allegations by Dairy Farmer.
A resolution, viewing with considerable alarm the formation of the £4,000,000 milk combine in London, has been passed by the Eastern Counties Dairy Farmers Society. The society were strongly of opinion that any effort to monopolize the milk business is likely to seriously affect milk production after the war.
At a meeting of dairy farmers, called by the society, at Chelmsford, Mr. J. S. Corbett, director-general of the Agricultural Organization Society, warned them against the milk combine. He said he would like to know how it was that two prominent officials of concerns taken over by the combine, who had to join the Army, were now released, and occupying important positions at the Ministry of Food.
In the West of England newspapers advertisements had appeared under the names of twelve different firms, asking farmers to make contracts for the supply of milk to London during next summer, but every one of these firms was in the combine, though there was nothing to suggest it in the advertisements. Unless farmers organized and fought the combine he predicted that they would be at the mercy of this great capitalistic concern as soon as controlled prices were removed.
It would appear from this that the methods adopted in the Old Country are the same as those adopted here.
In connexion with almost every commodity that could be mentioned, there is a general rise in prices, whether they are manufactured here or are imported. The Government should deal very drastically with profiteering ofthis nature, which is the matter that most concerns the people of this country to-day. Last July, it was referred to in this House, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) promised to appoint commissions to inquire into the exploitation of foodstuffs. The wharf labourers refused to load certain consignments of onions and other produce into boats leaving this country, because of the enormous prices that were being charged for those products here in Victoria. As a result, the Government decided that, sooner than let the wharf labourers do the pricefixing, they would do it for themselves. But here, twelve months later, the Government have just decided upon fixing the price of meat. I spoke to the Chief Prices Commissioner at the Commonwealth Offices in last February, and he told me that he had sent in a recommendation to the Prime Minister, and was awaiting a reply from him on the matter of fixing the price of meat. On the same day the Prime Minister came to Sydney, and a deputation, led by F. W. Hughes and Company, having waited upon him, he decided to re-open the whole matter. A couple of days later I left for Queensland, and on the train I met three or four very much perturbed graziers. We discussed general topics for a tune, and then got on to the meat question, and these poor fellows said that it would practically ruin them if the Government fixed the price of meat at that time. What they wanted was a little time to get out of the obligations they had contracted. I sympathized with them, and told them that if it rested with me I would give them four or five years to consider the matter in a place where they would not be disturbed. That did not console them very much. This was in February last, and the graziers must, in the meantime, have got rid of the stock in which they speculated. We are now in the middle of June, and yet we have the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), and two or three other honorable members opposite, putting up arguments in favour of the poor squatters.
– Things have been pretty dry in New South Wales since.
– One of the principal arguments put forward to account for the scarcity of cattle was that there had been good seasons, that the grass was green, and so the cattle did not do as well on it as they did in dry -seasons.
– And that, too, is true.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the price of the dairyman’s calf should be reduced from £6 to £4 ?
– It is a singular fact that the dairymen did as well when they did not rear their steers at all.
– Is that a good thing for the country?
– It may not be, but when the dairymen did not rear their calves beef could be purchased for 3d. and 4d. per lb. Now that they are rearing their calves it cannot be purchased for less than ls. per lb.
– They are making up the deficiency now.
– The population has not increased in the meantime, and the consuming power of the community has not increased in such a way as to account for an inflation of over 100 per cent, in the price of meat.
– But the drought killed one-third of the cattle.
– According to the Commissioners’ report there are as many cattle in Australia to-day as there were prior to the drought.
– The Commissioner does not say that there are as many fat cattle.
– I shall not go into that. The fact remains that we have had two or three beautiful seasons, and if the cattle are not fat now they never will be.
– This is the butcher from West Sydney.
– The butchers from West Sydney know as much about cattle as do some honorable members opposite. I put in some years on a farm on the Richmond River, and I know a little about dairy cattle and dairying. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Greene) will bear me out that when the dairymen formed a co-operative factory they improved their position. When they were in the hands of Foley Brothers and a few more of our friends, the speculators, they had to ride into Lismore on an old horse, and carry back the week’s provisions with them. When they started a co-operative factory, and fixed the price of cream at lOd per lb., they were able to buy motor cars. By means of cooperation they eliminated the middleman, and as a result the dairymen in that portion of the country are now amongst the richest to be found in Australia. I believe that the price of cream to-day is ls. per lb., and of course any reserves accumulated by these co-operative factories are distributed in the form of bonuses.
– Can the honorable member tell us how to get rid of the middleman on the telephone?
– I admit that he is a pretty difficult man to deal with. But if the Ministry propose to nationalize industry, why do they not establish a Board under their control, with a view to entirely eliminating the middleman ?
In Queensland the Ryan Government did not experience very much difficulty in dealing with the meat problem. They tackled it in a statesmanlike manner, as any honorable member will see who chooses to peruse the little pamphlet which I hold in my hand, and which is entitled Socialism at Work. I have noticed that a good many magnates who have a decided objection to Socialism when it is applied to the “ other fellow “ have no objection to it whatever when it is applied to themselves. I have been considerably amused at finding honorable mem bers opposite ask.ing the Government to undertake the manu facture of certain commodities, and to sell them at cost price to the poor farmer. Evidently they hold that Socialism, when it is applied to the worker, is bad, but when it is applied to the farmer or capitalist it is quite all right. In Queensland no difficulty was experienced in eliminating the speculator. Upon page 27 of the booklet to which I have already referred, I find the following: -
State operations caused a sharp and immediate fall in the price of meat. Beef which a few months earlier had been selling at1s. per lb. was offered by the State shop, as soon as it opened, at 7½d., and a little later at 6½d. Competition as vigorous as this exercised a potent effect on private enterprise, and the private butchers were forced to bring their prices down both by direct Government control and because of the rivalry of the State.
– How were they able to sell meat at that price? The Ryan Government compelled them to sell at a lower price than meat was being purchased by the Imperial Government.
– The Government started their butchers’ shops, with the result that prices were immediately reduced. Let me give an example of the difference between the prices that prevail now and those which prevailed in Queensland in 1915. On the 12th November of that year the Butchers Association price for roast sirloin was 9d. per lb., whilst the price in the State shops was 7½d. On the 12th June last year the same beef was being sold at 8d. per lb. in the proclaimed retail shops, whilst in the State shops it was being sold for 6½d. per lb. Similarly, on the 12th November, 1915, the Butchers Association price for sausages was 6½d. per lb., whilst the price at the State shops was 4½d. per lb. On the 12th June, 1917, the price of sausages in the Butchers Association shops was 4½d. per lb., whilst in the State shops it was 4d. per lb. On the 12th November, 1915, the Butchers Association price for steak was 9d. per lb., whilst the price in the State shops was 6½d. per lb. On the 12th June last year the price in the Association shops was 7½d. per lb., whilst in the State shops it was only 5d. per lb. Anybody who chooses to peruse the report of the Inter-State Commission upon meat prices will find that the price of meat has increased practically 100 per cent. within the past three years. But in Queensland its cost has decreased by more than 100 per cent. during the same period. Thus the people of Queensland are actually buying meat to-day at a less price than was being paid for it in the other States three years ago.
– How do they get it ?
– I know that the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) is an authority as to the price of meat in Queensland. I think that he owns about forty stations up there, and he naturally resents very much the fact that the Ryan Government have fixed the price of meat. I say that if the Commonwealth Government chooses to control this industry it can do so just as effectively as does the Ryan Government. The latter purchases its meat at the meat works for 3½d. per lb., and it has paid the meat companies to sell at that price.
– Oh, no !
– I have not noticed that the American Meat Trust is about to leave Australia because the Ryan Government does not allow it to make a sufficiently large profit. As a matter of fact, that trust is erecting abigger plant there.
As far as the poor squatter is concerned, I will quote from the Pastoralists Review. In its issue of 16th October, 1917, it stated that the pastoral industry has managed to secure within five years over 100 per cent. added value for wool. In the season 1911-12 the gross value of the Australian wool clip was £22,682,090, while in the season 1916-17 it was no less than £45,631,102 - an increase of £22,949,012 in the season; and this, be it known, despite the fact that from 1911-12 to 1916-17 the number of sheep had fallen from 93,000,000 to 72,000,000.
– Do you object to their getting that price?
– No, I have no objection at all if the people are foolish enough and the Government are prepared to allow the squatters to exploit the community, for the blame rests with the Government. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
House adjourned at 11.34 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 June 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19180611_reps_7_85/>.