7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Some weeks ago I asked whether the Government was taking action to restrict the investment of Australian capital in foreign countries, and I was informed that the matter was under consideration. I should like to know the result “of that consideration?
Mr.WATT. - I have endeavoured to ascertain, hy inquiries addressed to our chief financial institutions, what drift of money away from Australia, if any, is taking place,, and the subject has been submitted to the Finance Council for its consideration. No determination has been come to, because those best able to judge are of opinion that no considerable leakage is occurring. I have asked the banks to advise me if any noticeable drift takes place, so that we may take action.
– “Will the Acting Prime Minister, at an early date, announce the intentions of the Government in regard to the establishment of the iron industry? Uncertainty regarding the Government’s intentions in this matter is preventing private enterprise.
– The desire for a statement of the intention of the Government in this matter is natural on the part, not only of the interests concerned, but also of the community generally. One phase of the exercise of the option obtained over the Blythe River Company’s property has been submitted for the consideration of the Board of Trade, and until the Board’s recommendation has been received, the Government cannot announce its policy concerning the iron industry. An announcement on the subject will be made as soon as possible.
-Will the Acting
Prime Minister tell the House at what stage the negotiations concerning the shale oil deposits of Tasmania have arrived?
Mr.WATT.- I should have preferred notice of the question, but I am willing to answer it, so far as I can, from my recollection of the facts.. The honorable gentleman refers more particularly, I take it, to the Latrobe shale deposits, in which the Government of Tasmania is interested ?
– Some time ago the Premier of Tasmania asked this Government whether it would assist his Government, in dealing with these deposits. An arrangement had been arrived at between the Commonwealth and Tasmanian Governments for the supply of a large quantity of oil, the products of these fields, to the Australian Navy, and a ‘ Bill, based on that order, was submitted by the State Government to the Tasmanian Parliament, but was rejected by one . of the Houses. The Tasmanian Government, to make matters easier, desired some further assurance of an order, and possible assistance of another kind.’, from the Commonwealth Government. The matter was referred to the Navy Department, who replied that at the present time the Commonwealth would not be justified even in renewing its order, because the Navy’s requirements, with . nearly all its vessels in the” northern hemisphere, were now very small, and it was impossible to . say when the ships would return to these waters. We communicated this statement to the Tasmanian Government, and we said, too, that we were not disposed to take over the leases as was suggested. That, according to my recollection, is where the matter now stands.
Pay and Allowances
– Relatives of the soldiers who embarked in 1914, and are to be given six months’ leave to visit Australia, wish to know whether the period of leave will count from the time the men leave the lines, or whether they will get six months clear in this country?
– The six months includes the time spent on the voyage, both ways. The men are expected to leave here as soon as their sixty days are up.
Last night the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond), and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) asked a question with reference to the issue of pay and allowances to the 1914 men on furlough. I am now informed that pay at net-drawing rates in advance for a period not exceeding sixty days’ leave in Australia is allowed. Warrant officers, noncommissioned officers, and men draw subsistence allowance of 3s. per diem for the period of leave in Australia, and it is paid in advance for a period not exceeding sixty days. Twenty-five per cent, deferred pay accumulated up to date of disembarkation is also granted if desired.
Mr.FALKINER.- When speaking on the ‘Budget, the Treasurer said that it is proposed that the rates of income tax collected for last year shall be increased by 30 per cent. Did the honorable gentleman mean that three calculations willbe necessary to determine the amount of income tax payable ; that we must ascertain our liability according to the curve, which none ofus understand, and add 25 per cent, to that, and then another 30 per cent., or will a new curve be provided which will give the result in one calculation?
– ‘The taxpayer is not expected to make any calculations, the beauty of the curve being that if the taxpayer does endeavour to use it to illumine his darkness he is bound to be in error.
– I do not think that the Treasurer understands it.
– That is quite true. The assessment officers do not in the ordinary acceptation of the term make calculations. There is prepared for them a ready reckoner, of which I shall bring a copy to the House when the curve is under consideration, to show how easy the system is when you’ understand it:
– In view of the more than alleged difficulties under which the residents of the Northern Territory suffer, due to what appears to many tobe the lack of proper administration by the officials of the Territory, will the Minister recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into matters on the spot, and make arrangements whereby the Commissioner will not be . compelled to accept hospitality from the officials whose administration it will be his duty to investigate, nor from any one else?
– ‘The affairs of the Northern Territory have already been, investigated by several Commissions, one of which visited the Territory not very long ago. I do - not think that the matters, some of which are comparatively trivial, that have been submitted to me justify the expense which an inquiry by aCommission would involve. I am only too pleased that the honorable member has submitted complaints for my investigation, but many of the complaints that we receive are comparatively trifling. On one matter no fewer than twenty-three questions were asked, the answering or investigation of which occupied a considerable time; in other cases questions about procedure in Courts of justice have required a long investigation into, from the point of view of development, immaterial facts. I do not think that the appointment of a Commission to deal with these cases could . be justified. ‘Some time ago I endeavoured to ascertain if we could get some means of preventing disputes in regard to labour, but because of want of concert among the people of the Territory those efforts did not meet with success.
The following papers were presented : -
Navy and Defence Administration - Report of Royal Commission on Navy Administration; together with Report (adopted) of sub-committee of Cabinet thereon.
Ordered to be printed.
Bounties Act - Return of Particulars for 1917-18 of Persons to whom Bounty Paid, Amount Paid, Goods, &c.
Shale Oil Bounty Act - Return of Particulars of Bounty Paid during 1917-18.
– The existence in the Northern Territory of the fungus growth known as citrus canker is causing great alarm among citrus fruit-growers in Southern Queensland. I should like to know from the Minister what steps have been taken to deal with this pest.
– The honorable member was good enough to draw my attention to the matter, which I was already investigating. I secured the services of Mr.
Hill, the entomologist of the. Melbourne University, who visited the Territory, and an Ordinance was passed to prevent the extension of the pest. Since then, on the recommendation of Mr. Hill, all the trees affected with canker have .been destroyed. I think that the Ordinance and the- destruction of the trees have “been effective for the preventing of the extension of the pest.
PREFERENCE to Unionists.
– Is it a fact that the Government have passed an order taking from temporary clerical employees in the Public Service the preference to employment which was awarded to them by the Arbitration Court? If so, what is the reason for this order, and will it be extended to cover other Commonwealth employees ?
– I know nothing of the matter, but if the honorable member will, state the facts more explicitly, I shall inquire into it.
– Does the Government propose to compensate the small retail butchers who have been compelled to go out of business because of the operation of the Government’s alternative pricefixing scheme?
–I am not aware that any butchers have ha3 to go out of business as a consequence of the price-fixing scheme.
– For some considerable time after the outbreak’ of the war copies of official cablegrams relating to the progress of events were posted in the lobbies of the House for the information of honorable members, and then the practice was discontinued. ‘ It would be of great convenience to honorable members were the posting of war news resumed.
– I do not know why the practice has been discontinued. I assume it is a matter for the attention of the authorities of the House, but I shall, if possible, facilitate what the honorable member suggests.
– I desire to ask the Acting Prime Minister whether he is prepared to answer tho question I put to him on Wednesday last as to whether the Government propose to introduce, at an early, date, a Bill for war-time prohibition, and, since, example is better than precept, whether the Government are prepared to prohibit the sale of alcoholic drink in the bar of Parliament House ?
– .So far as the first part of the question is concerned, I tried to make an audible answer when the honorable member put it to me on Wednesday last. There were,- however, so many interjections by honorable members, who thought that they knew more about the subject than I did, that evidently my reply was not heard by the honorable member. The Government are hot prepared to introduce, at an early date, a Bill providing for wartime prohibition. The prohibition of the sale of intoxicants in the refreshment Toom at Parliament House is a matter for the House authorities, and the Government will not interfere.
– I desire to ask the Treasurer whether it is the intention of the Government to apply the compulsory provisions of the Amending War Loan Bill to the present war loan; for which subscriptions are now being invited? If so, should that not result in a curtailment of the expenditure on advertising and general organization in .connexion with it?
– As announced in the Budget statement, it is intended to apply the provisions of the Bill in question to the present, or Seventh WaT Loan. In my judgment, however, it will not result in a curtailment of expenditure in relation to that loan, since the whole organization in connexion with it is now proceeding, and subscriptions will close on the 15th inst.
– Why should it not ?
– I cannot argue the point at present, but there are reasons why voluntarism should be encouraged, as far as possible, in order that the amount of compulsory money - and the compulsion will be irksomely borne and accepted by the community in .some cases - may he a3 little as necessary. As long as I am endeavouring to raise war. loans I intend to encourage people to offer from patriotic impulses all they can to lie funds of the Commonwealth. Only to the extent to which that inducement fails, should compulsion he imposed.
– Will the Acting Minister for Customs inform the House whether machinery has <been installed at Newcastle for the manufacture of wire rods to be used in the making of wire netting? It was promised some four months since that this machinery would be installed forthwith.
– I have no very recent information, but understand that the company which was in negotiation “with the Government at the time for the installation of the plant is pressing on with the necessary preparations, and that the works will be established as rapidly as “possible. If the honorable member will put a question on the notice-paper I will endeavour to secure for him the most complete information.
Exemption of Members of the AUSTRALIAN Imperial FoRcE
– In the event of it being necessary to conscript wealth to insure the raising of the £40,000,000 required for the Seventh War Loan, or in connexion with any subsequent loan for- war purposes, will the Treasurer state whether men who have returned, or will return, to Australia from active service overseas will be exempt from the compulsory clauses of such Bill or regulation as may be considered necessary to enforce the decision of the Government?
– I should be glad if honorable members would allow me, before putting questions of this kind, to introduce the Bill dealing with the subject, and which I hope, in this instance, to have ready for submission to the House as soon as we get to business on Wednesday next. I shall then explain the object of the Bill-, and what I think will be its effect on all classes of the community.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister state whether, during the present sub-session of Parliament, he will afford the House an opportunity to discuss the notice of motion in the name of the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) with regard to the desirableness of having another Convention or some similar body to consider the position that will arise at the end of the war owing to the limited character of our present Constitution?
-I should not like to promise at this stage of the session that time will be afforded honorable members for the consideration of so large a subject as the motion involves, and which, if properly treated, would engage our attention for a considerable period. It depends, of course, upon the progress that the Government is permitted to make with the business that we regard as urgent, and pressing. I shall take care, however, that the matter is not lost sight of, and if there is time to spare at “the end of the present, sittings, I shall see if it cannot be made available for the consideration of some -of the more important motions standing in the names of private .members.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister take into consideration the desirableness of the House meeting on Tuesdays in order that we may get through the business that has been outlined for the session?
– If my honorable friend will read the notice of motion standing in my name on the business-paper, and which I hope to have an opportunity to submit to-day, I think he will recognise that its carrying will obviate, at this stage of our sittings at all events, recourse to what he suggests. I hope the motion will be ‘ carried without much debate.
asked the Acting Prime Minister., upon -notice -
– This matter was, in substance, considered by a previous Administration. In view of the difficulties of a legal and practical character which presented themselves, it was then decided to limit the regulation to cases of soldiers’ relatives. However, I shall ask my colleague, the Acting Attorney-General, to look specially into this matter, with a view to bringing it before Cabinet as early as possible.
asked the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Inquiry will be made of all Departments, and information furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
Audit of Accounts
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
As the Bill for convenience of reference and consequent clearness is a consolidation it would be appropriate, as well as helpful, if the connecting and unaltered clauses, except for the purposes of construction, were ignored and discussion confined to the policy and text of the amendments. Under it all Electoral Acts that deal with general elections, and are part of the machinery of every election, are repealed, but are re-enacted with amendments. The first of these is the Franchise Act of 1902, which first brought about uniform suffrage in Australia, inasmuch as the Constitution declared that until the Commonwealth Parliament should otherwise provide the laws of the State in this regard were to apply to Commonwealth elections. The Franchise Act provides the basis of qualification for voting, namely, six months’ residence in Australia, the fact that the intending voter is a British subject by naturalization or birth, and that his name is on the roll; while the disqualifications under it are an attainder for treason or conviction for an offence punishable by imprisonment for twelve months or upwards. It also provides for the exclusion of the aboriginal races of Australasia, Africa, and of the islands of the Pacific. Those provisions are now incorporated in this consolidating Bill. Section 41 of the Constitution provides that a person who had or acquired the right to vote for the popular State house at the time the Federal Constitution was passed, should not by any law passed by the Federal Parliament be deprived of the right to vote. The intention of this provision was, I might explain - as the only member of the Convention now remaining in this Parliament - to prevent the passing of any Federal law cutting down the adult suffrage at that time prevailing in any of the States.
– That has already been done. This Government, on the occasion of the last referendum, took away by regulation the votes of people who, at the time of the passing of the Federal Constitution Bill, were entitled to vote.
– I am not going to be drawn aside by the invitation to discuss such statements.
– It is just as well to get in the truth when we can.
– The truth is always welcome, but one’s ears are not accustomed to it.
– I ask honorable members to allow the Minister to make his speech without interruption.
– The other Acts dealt with by consolidation are the Electoral Acts specified in the third clause of the Bill, and are included in the Electoral Act 1902-11. There are other laws which deal with elections, but which are not consolidated. These comprise the Senate
Elections Act of 1903, which provides for casual and periodic vacancies being filled at the same time; the Constitution Alteration (Senate Elections) Act of 1906, which shifts the time for the expiration of the senatorial term from the end of December to the end of June; the Commonwealth Electoral (“War Times) Act of 1917, which is a temporary measure applying to general elections and elections for the Senate during war time and for six months afterwards, and, generally speaking, deals with the voting by the Forces, the disqualification from voting of naturalized British subjects born in enemy countries, with certain exemptions, and the substitution of another candidate for a nominated one who dies before the poll. The Bill before us does not deal with these particular measures, but any alterations that may be necessary in the Electoral (War Times) Act 1917 may be determined by this Bill when passed by both Houses. Australia, the land of hope, and, in the light of recent events, of glory, has led the way in many matters of electoral reform, and certainly in the matter of the franchise. If we have not as yet attained to all the provisions that some deputations desire, it should be remembered that activity, a condition of political existence, depends on a sense that there is something still to be done. Australia, in its institutions and laws, as well as in outlook and temper, has done something to make Democracy a reality as well as a name; for” it initiated the ballot, established adult suffrage, the widest basis for a second chamber that the Empire, if not the world, has ever known; the principle that the expense, as well as the provision, of electoral machinery is a legitimate obligation of the State; registration facilities in keeping with the scope of the franchise; in fact, has given the most effective opportunities for making, so far as loyalty to declared political principles will permit, public opinion the controlling force of legislation and administration. Such political rights and instrumentalities, as well as the splendid material conditions and openings we enjoy, have contributed to a much greater extent than some may perhaps realize, to the sportsmanlike dash and vim, the morale and physical prowess, of our fighting forces at the Front.
Something may, perhaps, be said about the electoral administration. In the Senate of thirty-six members, and the House ofRepresentatives of seventy-five, we have one House based upon the principle of equal representation, and the other on that of proportional representation as between States, not as between parties or persons within a State. The official machinery comprises a Chief Electoral Officer for the Commonwealth, whom this Bill invests with specific powers, and, perhaps, more direct control than does existing legislation. But the Bill retains what I consider to be the vital principle of government - the principle of responsibility. My personal impression is that in all- the bodies we create, we ought never to ignore the fact that the British Government is based on the healthy principle of responsibility - that is, that the check of the people, through their representatives in Parliament is not ignored. There is a Chief Electoral Officer for each State, subject to the direction of the Chief Electoral Officer for the Commonwealth; there are Divisional Returning Officers for the seventy-five divisions; and there are Registrars for, I think, 1,050 subdivisions, 597 of these Registrars being temporary, or, in other words, specially appointed, while some of the Divisional Returning Officers deal with more than one subdivision. Latterly there has been an inclination to centralize the work of registration, which renders it more economical and effective, with the result that in the metropolitan areas the Divisional Returning Officers do the whole of the work of registration. In the country the Divisional Returning Officers deal with as many subdivisions as the mail services, distance, and so forth, will permit; the work may be performed by them as well as Registrars; and it is for that reason we find that for the 1,050 subdivisions, some . 597 are temporarily or specially appointed. I give these facts as of some relevance to the provisions relating to absent and postal voting. In the work of registration we have the assistance of the police by arrangement with the States, and also the assistance of the letter-carriers by arrangement ‘ with the Postmaster-General. Incidental to this is machinery for a habitation index. Each postman has a case of cards, in which he records changes of address, and this enables the Divisional Returning Officers and “the Registrars to keep the roll up to date. Then there is the card index system of registration which enables the authorities to identify every applicant for enrolment or transfer, to test signatures and particulars, so as to prevent any attempt at duplication. The rolls also are specially checked after each election and referendum. The principle of continuous enrolment goes on, and, as a matter of fact, our precedent in this respect is teaching the rest of the Dominions. In the latest Act passed by the Imperial Parliament, entitled, I think, The Representation of the People Act, the same provision is made for continuous enrolment, the rolls having to be dealt with every six months. I may say that it is to the credit of the electoral administration here that the last referendum of 1917, which was conducted practically in every sea controlled by the British Fleet - and this almost means the world - and in every Dominion under the British flag, was completed without the slightest error or delay. It is only due to honorable members to tell them the position in regard to distribution. Under section 24 of the Constitution the number of seats for each State is determined by a quota of the population. We take the total population on a given date, say, on the 80th June, 1918, which are the last figures for general purposes approximately correct, and when the population was roughly estimated to be 4,972,829 ; and if this is divided by double the number of senators, namely, 72, we get the quota of 69,068.
– That is population, not electors ?
– Yes. The seats are divided according to the number of quotas in each State, and if there is an excess over half it is regarded as entitled to an additional member. But those figures of June last could not be relied on owing to war conditions.
– The Government know what, men have gone away, and, in this regard, are in a better position than ever to judge.
– According to the law they are not counted in connexion with the assessment. There are, however, other matters that affect the question of redistribution now, such as the shifting of population, and I have tested that by taking the figures from year to year. I merely wish to tell the House that if we took those figures, which are not ordinary census figures, the number of members of the House of Representatives would be reduced from 75 to 74 though by an exceedingly small fractional difference. This was probably recognised by Parliament when it passed an Act in 1916, declaring that no enumeration need take place under the Enumeration Act - in which the period is fixed at every five years - until the next census in 1921.
I should like to give some figures in regard to the redistribution of State representation.
– Is there a redistribution in prospect?
– There may be, but I have not absolutely decided at present whether it is desirable. As to the figures relating to the marginal allowance, if in a fourth of the divisions of a State the electors are more than one-fifth under ot over the quota, a redistribution of seats may take place. For New South Wales there are twenty-seven seats, of which seven are above and four below the margin; in Victoria, there are twenty one, with four above and one below; in Queensland, there are ten, with one over and one under; in South Australia, there are seven, with two above and one below; in Western Australia, there are five, with one above and one below; and in Tasmania, there are five, with one above. In many the excess is exceedingly small, and may disappear at any time.
The chief objects of the Bill are to provide a standard of uniformity with the States; to restore, with modification of its scope and greater safeguards, postal voting; to establish preferential voting for the House of Representatives; to retain absent voting on polling day throughout the Commonwealth, and, before polling day, with extensions, voting before Registrars; to facilitate and make more effective registration; provide additional powers to, in certain cases, correct the. rolls after the issue of the writ by removal or reinstatement of names, and to protect electors against error by officers to simplify and remove duplications in the text; to give statutory sanction to some points of present procedure, such as in telegraphing the issue and contents of writs, so necessary in a large place like Australia; and to reduce the penalties in some cases, such as for offences in relation to advertisements, and so forth:
In regard to uniformity, I think honorable members will agree that a Federal system should aim at uniformity by concert as well as through overriding constitutional legislation. Legislative and administrative uniformity; simplicity, economy, and clearness; ought to be the aim- of our legislation, and those ends may “be attained by agreement with the States as well as by an amendment of the Constitution. As a matter of fact, in a great many States of the United States of America, there are arrangements providing for uniformity in a number of matters without resorting to any interference with the Constitution. Even in Germany, a country which is more conversant with mechanism than with morals, uniformity in many lines has been achieved. For instance, uniformity in regard to Federal and State taxation was introduced as far back as 1910. This matter has not been neglected by the Commonwealth Parliament. In speaking on the first Electoral Bill in 1902, I said -
I look forward to the time when, through a delegation of power solicited by the Federation and granted by the States, we shall have, in the Commonwealth and States, one Electoral Act, and one principle of division, involving, as they will, one suffrage, one set of officers, one roll, one mode of election, and one code to secure the purity of elections.
– A very fine sentiment.
– I wish it had been more effective. Statutory provision was made in 1905 by section 30 of the principal Act for the preparation, alteration, and revision of the rolls, in any manner consistent with the provisions of the Act, jointly by the Commonwealth and States to the extent that the rolls may be used for State elections as well as for Commonwealth elections. The section provides for, marks to distinguish the electors of the State not entitled to be enrolled on the Commonwealth roll, and vice versa. All names of electors are placed on the rolls, and those entitled to vote for only the State elections are distinctively marked.
– Will not endless confusion be caused by asking the elector to operate two systems of voting on the one day - straight-out voting for the Senate, and preferential voting for the House of Representatives?
– I acknowledge that if we are to adopt preferential voting for the House of Representatives, the question as to whether the same system can be adopted for the Senate may reasonably be considered. In 1908, an agreement Was entered into with the State of Tasmania. There the boundaries of Federal and State divisions are co-terminous, and that facilitated the arrangement; but it is not necessary that they should be so, because we can make the subdivisions the basis of both State and Federal electorates. So many subdivisions constitute a State electorate, and so many a Federal electorate. No Commonwealth subdivisional boundary need overlap the boundary of a State electorate. The object of uniformity is to secure one set of registration officers for the Commonwealth and the States; joint regulations, and through them, joint forms of enrolment, and other matters affecting registration; and joint administrative instructions, in accordance with the regulations, given by the Chief Electoral Officers of the Commonwealth and States respectively. This means that we would have the same officials for all electoral work except- unless the States desire it - the conduct of elections. In Tasmania, the same officials attend to all electoral matters for both the State and the Commonwealth.
– Have the States agreed to uniformity?
– I think that they are waiting for us to give them a lead. It was recommended by a Conference of officials in 1915, and by resolution of Premiers and by the Prime Minister in 1916. In Tasmania, the Divisional Returning Officers, as well as the Registrars, are joint, and when any statutory matter affecting both is to be dealt with, the Chief Electoral Officer of the Commonwealth, before taking action, refers the matter for consideration to the Minister or Chief Electoral Officer for the State. The whole cost of the central administration is borne by the Commonwealth; all other expenditure is divided equally. When an election takes place which affects only the State, the supplementary roll is paid for by the State ; if an election affects only the Commonwealth, that roll is paid for by the Commonwealth. Of course, we have also the assistance of the police, without charge by the various States.
– That is not provided for in the Bill; it is merely a matter of administration.
– That is so. The only provision in the Bill is the general provision to which I have referred, and the fact that a great many of the clauses have been modified after consultation with some of the officers of the States, in order to make them a model, or standard, for adoption by the States. There are many amendments of procedure which are directed to secure the correctness of the rolls, but I shall refer to only some of them.
The removal of names takes place on a sub-divisional basis as a result of objections, transfers, deaths, or duplications by reason of misstatements regarding a person’s previous enrolment. All alterations are initialed, and objections may be lodged either by an elector registered for the same subdivision or by the electoral officer. In practice, .all the objections are lodged by the officer, and not by the electors. When an objection has been lodged, a notice is sent to the elector’s last address, and twenty days is allowed for him to reply. The Divisional Returning ‘Officer determines the objection on receipt of th« answer, or, if no answer is received, the Registrar is directed to remove the name from the roll.
– Is -there any fee ?
– There is a fine. I have already said that no objections are lodged by electors.
– Is that provided for in die Bill?
– No; I am merely relating the experience of the administration. I have been told that there are no objections by electors.
– If two ballot-papers are put in the box in the name of the one elector, will both be counted, as is done now?
– They are not counted now if known.
– In one .case the ballotpapers exceeded by 720 the names ticked off on the rolls.
– The honorable member is referring to the Riverina election, in which there were some omissions to check. I have no desire to discuss that now. The Bill contains extensive provisions to guard against duplication. But there was practically no duplication in connexion with the Riverina election.
– Is the Minister prepared to adopt the same precautions against duplicate voting as are in operation in Victoria ?
– We practically adopted the Victorian system in respect of preferential voting. This Bill contains as ample provision as is to be found in any State Act against the danger of duplication; but exceedingly little duplication has occurred. The comments of the Chief Electoral Officer on the report of the Electoral Commission show that there was practically no duplication.
– That was also the opinion of the Commission.
– The Commission did not express that opinion so strongly as did the officers.
– If, after a name has been ticked off, another vote is put in the ballot-box for that same name, it is not ticked off a second time by the Presiding Officer. Therefore the officer has no means of knowing whether or not duplication’s have taken place. .
– I think some mistake occurred in the case of the Riverina election occasioned by the absence of ticking, but that is too complicated a question to be dealt with at this stage. In connexion with the removal of names from the roll, there is additional provision to enable a person whose name by some error has been removed to vote.
– .Suppose somebody else has voted in his name?
– Then the rightful elector cannot vote.
– No; and the false vote cannot be identified.
– That applies to every system.
– Not to the Victorian system.
– The right elector may vote on making a declaration. By clause 122 we make a new provision to permit a person to vote whose name has been omitted by mistake. He makes a declaration that he is entitled to be on the roll, and on that declaration he is permitted to vote. Subsequently an inquiry is made as to the accuracy of his declaration. In connexion with the last election there were a few cases - I think only one or two - in which, through the error of the officers, some names were wrongly removed from the roll. The number of additions, removals, and collections from all causes in 1917 was 1,170,000. There is an immense number of alterations every year, because we keep the roll practically up to date. There must be a return by the letter-carriers at least every two months.
The system of postal voting was abolished in 1911. The present provisions, one of which was brought into force then, are for voting before a Registrar and absent voting oh polling day. A vote may .be recorded before a Registrar by an elector who, on polling day, will not be within a Commonwealth subdivision; he may vote any day after the issue of the writ. That provision applies especially to persons who reside in the Federal territories, to seamen, passengers on vessels, and others who will not be within the bounds of the Commonwealth on polling day. It is not availed of to a very great extent. At the elections in 1914 the number of votes recorded before Registrars was 1,030; in 1917, 1,604; and at the referendum in 19i6-l’7, 4,000. The majority of those votes were recorded by soldiers who were in camp and expected to embark at any moment. The machinery for voting before a Registrar is somewhat costly and cumbersome. Though we are not compelled to do it by Act of Parliament, for the sake of effectiveness, we have to send out ballot-papers, instructions, books, and envelopes; and I do not think that there is more than one Registrar in twenty who receives a vote under these provisions, which, however, are retained in this Bill, with extensions. The privilege of voting before a Registrar after the issue of the writ and before polling day, will apply to persons who will not be within 10 miles by the nearest practical route of any polling place on polling day.
Absent voters are provided for in clause 114. They may vote at any polling place in the Commonwealth on polling day. This provision will affect about 250,000 electors.
– Under which provision will the members of the Australian Imperial Force vote overseas?
– At the present time, they vote under the Electoral (War-time)
Act, and special provisions will be inserted in that measure. They are not dealt with in this Bill. The method of voting will not be the same as was observed at the last referendum, or at the last general elections, where, as honorable members are aware, our soldiers voted on party lists, the identification of those lists being carried out by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
– If there is to be an alteration in the conditions, it must necessitate an amendment of the Electoral (War- time) Act.
– That is so; and I have the basis of an amending Bill drafted, but I want to see the effect of the new policy, or the condition in which the Bill now before the House may become law before bringing in that measure. In any case, its provisions do not affect this Bill. The object of reinserting provisions for voting by post is to supplement the facilities for voting. The postal vote was first introduced in 1902. The provisions were modified in 1905, and repealed and re-enacted in 1909, being finally abolished in 1911. The earlier provisions left it to the elector to declare his belief that on polling day he would be beyond 5 miles - by the 1905 Act 7 miles - from the polling place. It was found, in some cases, but not in many, that the statement of an elector’s belief was not a sufficient test of fact, as it permitted some persons to vote on the allegation, though they could have attended at the polling places. In this Bill, that difficulty is got over by calling upon the elector to declare that he will not be within a certain distance of the polling place on polling day.
– Will there be a provision preventing canvassing for postal votes?
– Any provision applying to postal votes in that respect would apply generally to canvassing for votes. The general principles attaching to the wrongful influence of votes are to apply to all votes. All safeguards which are possible have been provided in this Bill. Clause 85 contains the provision for voting by post, and reads as follows: -
Clause 85 (1) - An elector who -
will not throughout the hours of polling on polling day be within fifteen miles by the nearest practicable route of any polling booth open in the Commonwealth for the purposes of an election; or
will throughout the hours of polling on polling day be travelling under conditions which will preclude him from attending at any polling booth, to vote; or
is seriously ill or infirm, and by reason of such illness or infirmity will be precluded from attending at any polling booth to vote, or in the case of a woman will by approaching maternity, be precluded from attending at any polling booth to vote, may make application for a postal vote certificate and ballot paper.
– In some districts, 5 miles is more than 20 miles in other districts. , -
– I quite agree with the honorable member. However, there are other provisions” enabling an elector to vote at any time before a Registrar on practically the same ground, namely, that he will not be within 10 miles of a polling place on polling day. The provision for voting by post is merely supplementary to that. I think that we have practically covered every facility that electors will require to enable them to record their votes.
The procedure providing safeguards against undue influence is as follows: - After the issue of a writ an application may be made to the Returning Officer, not merely the Returning Officer for the division, but, if time does not permit, a Returning Officer for any division. This is an extension of the old practice. An application has to be filled in before an authorized witness who can identify the applicant. On this application the grounds for submitting it must be declared. The Returning Officer for the division may then see that the name of the applicant is on the roll, and if he considers that he is justified in issuing a postal vote he sends an envelope marked and signed by him, and the ballot-papers, on receipt of which the voter must proceed to fill in the ballot papers and hand them to an authorized witness. The latter must place the ballot papers, without opening them, in the envelope which has been forwarded by the Returning Officer, and the elector must sign a certificate on the face of the envelope. His signature is witnessed by the authorized witness.
– The authorized witness? That has always been the trouble.
– Under the old law, which was repealed in 1911, the authorized witness was bound to post the vote to the Returning Officer. Under this Bill the envelope must be handed back to the elector, and any person to whom he entrusts it is subject to a penalty if he does not post it to the Returning Officer. It is the duty of the latter to keep a numerically-marked list of all postal certificates and ballot-papers sent out by him.
– Is there any penalty on the authorized witness if he posts the ballotpaper ?
– I think it is £50 or £100 for non-compliance with the Act, but that is a matter of detail. At the scrutiny the signature on the face of the envelope containing the. certificate is examined and compared with the signature on the application sent in to the Returning Officer. In this way the Returning Officer is enabled to establish the identity of the voter. If the signatures are found to be identical the ballot-papers are taken out of the envelope and, without being examined, are placed in a separate box and sealed until the regular scrutiny commences. Honorable members will see that every precaution against error and corruption of any kind has been provided in respect to voting by post. The merits of the system are that it will provide voting facilities for about 77,000 electors not now enabled to make use of the absent vote or the provisions for voting before Registrars. The system is in force in all the States except New South Wales, and it has been recommended after full consideration by the Electoral Commission.
Now, coming to the important matter of the methods of election, some people may hold the belief that we - who are in possession - are scarcely in a position of being able to give a judicial opinion upon this question. There are two sayings by Burke, the seer of statesmanship, which may have some application. He has said -
The virtue, spirit, and essence of the House of Commons consists in its being the express image of the feelings of the nation.
If that ideal has never really been attained it is because party organization, with its subordination of some opinions to the working necessities of the times, is essential to success at the poll. Apart from the elections, independence of opinion may be obtained, but for the purpose of the elections, as things are going now, party grouping and party solidarity have almost become a necessary part of the electoral machinery. As regards the merits of party government, which will be somewhat affected by the new methods of election if they be adopted, Burke has said-
Party is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed . . . it is the business of the speculative philosopher to mark the proper ends of government. It is the business of the politician, who. is the philosopher in action, to find the proper means towards those ends and to employ them with effect.
Some men, forgetting that party organization, or action on lines of agreement, is a means to an end, have spoken rather disdainfully of party. Pope called it -
The madness of the many for the gain of the few. while Halifax spoke of -
The fools and knaves that make the wheels of the world turn. They are the world. Those men who have a sense of honesty sneak up and down single, but never go in herds.
However, such academic moralists ignore the conditions of movement, if not progress, and dream of a political perfectibility not likely to be realized in this, the vestibule of eternity. It is just as well for the electors, who wish to test the reputations of politicians by their records on all points, to remember that it is essential to have party organization for the purpose of gaining success at the poll. Lecky gives a sedative to conscience when he says:-
In free countries party government is the best, if not the only safe way of conducting public affairs, but it is impossible without a large amount of moral compromise; without frequent surrender of private judgment and will. A good man will choose his party through disinterested motives and with a firm and honest conviction that it represents the cast of policy most beneficial to his country. He will on grave occasions assert his independence of party, but in the large majority of cases he must act with his party, even if they are pursuing courses in some degree contrary to his judgment.
This condition of corporate policy and action should not be forgotten when, in the outer world of the censorship, the merits of a politician are decided, and personal records are referred to as the test of reputations.
Preferential voting was declared by the Ministry as part of their policy at the general election of last year. For that reason, it has been incorporated in this Bill. Its purpose is to secure majority representation in a division under the single-seat system… If it secures a majority for the same party in every constituency, its success would be its own condemnation from the point of view of representative government. That is my personal opinion. The rule of the many, and the voice of all, is something quite different from the dominance of authority without regard to adverse opinion.
– At the last two elections for the Senate, if the whole of the senators had gone up for election, the Labour party would have swept the polls on one occasion, and the Liberals would have done so on the next occasion.
Later on, I shall give some figures about the Senate. The principle of the single-seat system is to obtain the opinion of the majority in each division, and it is our duty to provide machinery to see that the system is effective; but, as a matter of fact, if majorities for one party only are obtained in every division, it would not be consistent with the principle of representative government. As a matter of working experience, the method of distributing seats prevents that result being obtained. The distribution of mass majorities seldom, or never, gives one party a majority in every division. This fact is due to the statutory conditions affecting the distribution of seats, including community or diversity of interests, means of communication, and physical features. It is also due to the fluctuation of neutral or non-party opinion. There are many voters right upon the margin between, parties who sometimes determine the issue of an election.
– They generally do so.
– They do so more often, perhaps, than some party men are inclined to recognise. Therefore, it may be true, as Bagehot says that -
In the popular House, the results do not always exclude minority representation. In fact, one party only does not at any time command all the representation. The facts were put by John Bright, in 1865, at Birmingham, when he said -
The minority in Birmingham is in a certain sense represented, by the majority of Liverpool, and, taking the majorities in some districts and the minorities in others, if there is an opinion which is worth anything which is held by any constituency, as a matter of course, it has its representation which can speak on that behalf in the House.
Not only are minorities not excluded but in most elections for the House of Representatives a degree of proportional representation is attained. I give in support of this statement the results of the elections for the House of Representatives in 1910, 1913, and 1914. In 1910 one party, which I shall identify by calling it Labour, on the voting won 41 seats, but on the number of votes cast its proper proportion was 39.36 seats. The Liberal party, whose proper proportion on votes polled was 35.64, won 34 seats.
– -That was not too bad.
– Just so, and I am showing that as a matter of fact proportional representation is often attained by the operation of the existing single seat systems and, as I have said, this is attributable to distribution and the fluctuation, of opinion. In 1913 the Labour party, on the number of votes cast, was entitled to 37.25 seats and won 37 seats. The Liberals were entitled at that election to 37.75 seats on the number of votes cast; they won 38 seats. In 1914 Labour’s proportion of seats on votes cast was 39.81, but the party won 42 seats, and the Liberal proportion on votes cast was 35.19, whilst the party won 35 seats. Some seats were of course uncontested, but the figures show that approximately proportional representation was attained. These figures show that you cannot secure by the single seat system the ends of proportional representation, though you may, so far as working necessities go, attain them. In 1917 the Labour party on votes cast was entitled to 33.09 seats and won 22 seats, and the Liberal party was entitled on votes cast to 41.91 seats and won 53 seats. As the minority may succeed through a split it is necessary, to prevent that, or to have some assurance that it will not occur - to have either the Caucus system, the preselection system, or to supplement the single seat with preferential voting. That is the logical position, and for that reason the principle is introduced in this Bill. It could be shown that in the United Kingdom, “where there is, or there was, no Caucus and is no preference, but where there is, of course, some grouping, the results at many elections were very irregular and practically non-representative. In 1906, for instance, the votes were 5 to 4, while the seats obtained were 3 to 1. I noticed that in the last issue of the Edinburgh Review, in an article dealing with some of these matters, it was stated that -
The Caucus which puts men into Parliament logically claims the right to control their votes. And the more necessary the aid of the Caucus becomes to the candidates, the more irresistible will be its control over their conduct.
The preferential method, if honestly applied, provides a remedy for a party split, gives the result of a second poll of the same voters, and scope for the expression of wider electoral opinion than any Caucus can give, since it enables all the electors to hear before giving party support to the candidates. That is not possible in the case of a preselection decision. The significance of this method is that the elector declares in advance his choice in each of the possible contingencies. In advance he says “ These are my contingent choices. Where three candidates are standing for one seat the elector says in effect “ Number 1 is my choice of the three; I prefer him, but if Number 1 is not in the running I shall give my vote to Number 2.” Honorable members will see that only one effective choice, and that is to say only one vote, is applied. There is only one vote, and it is an alteration in the choice of the vote which can be only once recorded, that is given under this system. The candidate is returned by an absolute majority of operative votes, and he then represents the majority of the division. The Party choice is made under this system, not through the Caucus, but at the same time as the choice at the poll, and the electors there may express their preferences between men of their own party.
– Does the honorable gentleman really think that the Government proposal is going to do away with the pre-selection ?
– Not necessarily, but I think it the duty of the legislature to afford opportunities adequate for the purpose. What men do outside will depend upon their own wisdom or folly, and we cannot cure that:
– Both political parties will still indulge in pre-selection.
– Even if they do, that, will not to any extent neutralize the efficacy of this method of attaining the same end. What I say is that the method proposed by the Government will permit of the selections by the party taking place under the very same conditions as the selections by the electors. The platform declarations of the candidates who stand will be a test of their merits, and under this system the elector will be afforded an opportunity to make a fair choice between them. The method if misapplied may defeat its objects. It affords opportunities which can be properly applied and made effective, but if the system be misapplied it may attain the opposite of its end. Competition between candidates for the votes of the same party may result in an opponent’s return. The second preference may be given, and I think I have an instance of it here, to a candidate regarded as having no chance. This is due to an abuse of the system and the want of loyalty amongst the supporters of the same party. People who wish to be loyal to a party should mark their preferences accordingly and they are given an opportunity to do that by this method of election. I take the case of three candidates standing for a seat. A and B stand in the interests of one party, and C is a neutral. The first preferences are found to be - for A 1,900, for B 1,040, and for C, the neutral, 1,060. On the first preferences, there being no candidate securing an absolute majority, none is retired. The second preferences on B’s papers have to be transferred. The majority of first preferences is for A, but he is given only 52 of the second preferences, and the neutral man is given 988. This occurs if there is disloyalty between members of the same party, and if electors give the third candidate, whom they regard as an opponent, their second preferences.
– Why say that they are disloyal? A great many of the electors may belong to neither’ party.
– In that case they would not be disloyal to a party, the phrase used; but they would be disloyal if, belonging to the same party, their preferences were not marked in accordance with the interests of their party. In such a case as I have mentioned for illustration, on the transfer of the exhausted votes according to the second preferences
A would be defeated and the neutral candidate would secure an absolute majority of the votes polled, and so be returned.
– The honorable gentleman’s scheme would make it possible only for a man with money to contest an election, since the working man, without the advantage of pre-selection, is unable to contest a seat.
– The honorable member ignores the fact that what we propose to do is to afford an opportunity to have both choices of parties and electors made at the election.
– I am afraid the honorable gentleman is only pretending to do so.
-There is nothing in the system we propose to prevent a preselection taking place.
– I pointed out that the proposal will permit a man with money to flout a party, and stand, but it will prevent a man who has to work for his living contesting an election.
– The honorable member has said so; but I cannot see that he has pointed it out. It is proposed that the system shall be compulsory - in other words, all preferences must be marked.
– The elector must mark a full preference? That is a scandalous thing.
– Does the honorable gentleman mean to say that if only one preference is marked on a ballot-paper it will be declared informal ?
– That is so; there can be no plumping for a particular candidate under the provisions of this Bill.
– That is disgraceful.
– The honorable member is using rather strong terms. He forgets that, in Victoria, the system is compulsory, and I think it has been found to be effective. It was at first optional in Western Australia, and was subsequently made compulsory there. There are merits in the optional system, no doubt. Men might mark their preferences if they pleased, or if they were afraid that a particular candidate would be in danger of losing the seat, they might plump for him. At the same time, in practical operation, it is shown that, by compulsory preference, what is contemplated is given effect. It has been found to work fairly well in the States where it is adopted. The Bill provides that the marks to indicate preference shall be 1, 2, 3, &c, and if there is not full marking the vote will be declared informal. As honorable members are aware, the course followed is that, at the scrutiny, the votes are placed in separate parcels according to first preferences. If any one candidate does not receive an absolute majority of first preferences, then the last on the list is struck out, and the alternative votes transferred to the other candidate next in order on each paper until one has secured an absolute majority.
– Where there are only two candidates for a seat, will the elector be compelled under the Bill to mark his own preference ?
– No; it is provided in the Bill that, in such a case, if the elector marks one candidate only, the vote will be considered formal, because that will have just the same effect as if he marked both candidates in sequence.
In view of the growing opinion in favour of it, I think I should say something about proportional representation, especially with regard to the Senate. It is not a Government policy adopted in this Bill, but I have received several deputations in connexion with the question, and it is, I think, due to sections of the community who take a keen interest in these matters, that some passing reference to the question should be made.
– An opportunity will be given in Committee on the Bill to test the question.
– I think that it is a matter for honorable members to decide according to their individual opinions, but the Minister introducing this Bill might, in all the circumstances, be expected to make some passing reference to the question. The condition which, at the present time, has led to an agitation for proportionate representation in the Senate has arisen . through the disproportional results obtained under the block system. In elections for the Senate, the parties are continental in scope. The question was raised in the United Kingdom in connexion with the Representation of the People Act of 1918. It was dealt with by a Commission in 1910, and again by the Speaker’s Conference of 1916. All these Commissions or Conferences recommended the adoption for second chambers of some principle of effective voting or transferable vote. The House of Commons rejected a proposal for proportional representation in dealing with the last Electoral Bill. The House of Lords was, I think, favorable to it, and provision was made that a Commission should be appointed to prepare a scheme of proportional representation for 100 constituencies for the House of Commons. These constituencies were to be boroughs and certain re-arranged country constituencies. A report was drawn up, and after some consideration it was, for the present at all events, rejected by the House of Commons. The position here is this: In the election of 1910, under the block system, one party won 18 seats, and the other none, instead of, according to true representation, 12 seats going to one side and 6 to the other. In 1913, the returns were 11 to one side and 7 to the other; while the true representation would have been 10 and 8. In 1914, when there was a double dissolution, and. all the senators went out, 31 seats were won by one party, and 5 by the other; whereas under the system of proportional representation, the figures should have been 24 and 12. At the last election, one party won no seats, and the other won 18; but the true representation would have been 6 and 12 respectively. In making this statement, I am simply putting, by illustration, the position pressed upon me by a number of representative deputations. It is due to them that something should be said on this subject. There are two conditions that may, perhaps, affect the perfect working of the system of transferable voting for the Senate. In the first place, there are generally only three seats to be filled in each State. In the Federal Convention of 1897, I said I looked upon the second House as having a function different even from representing the States as units, and pointed out that the principle of proportional representation would not be fully effective while there were only three seats to be filled. My opinion was that all the Senate seats would have to be vacated at the same time in order to render this method of voting efficacious. Another difficulty is that, with the single transferable vote, the number of surplus votes to be transferred in a Senate election might run into hundreds of thousands. In New South Wales, at the last election, for instance, there were over 750,000 votes to be counted, and there were 2,719 polling places. Honorable members can see the difficulty of recounting, according to the true principle of proportional representation, such a tremendous number of votes. The effect might be to delay the election for a considerable time.
– And all the votes would have to be brought to the one central booth.
– Probably that would be the most expedient method to adopt.
– In view of the fact that there is an absent vote, which can be cast in any other State, the delay might run into months.
– There is no doubt that the absent vote, and the expediency of making the count at the Central Office, would delay the election. Of course, under the Constitution Alteration (Senate Elections) Act 1907, the -periodical vacancies for ‘the Senate occur in July, and the elections can be held within one year before the seats become vacant, so that the only obstacle in the way of having the system properly applied may be the necessity of holding the elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives at the same time. As we cannot always tell when the election for the House of Representatives is to take place, we cannot always decide that the election for the Senate must take place three or fourm onths before the expiration of Parliament. There are, however, other methods which may be adopted.
– The Federal Government do not decide when the Senate elections shall take place. That is a matter for the State Governors.
– There is an arrangement with the States - which, under the Constitution, determine the times and places, but not the method, of elections for the Senate - that the elections shall take place at the same time; but, in any case, the difficulty mentioned by the honorable member could be got over. One possible method is known as the list. Under this, the candidates may group or book themselves for parties before or on nomination, and the seats may be apportioned to the parties in proportion to the votes cast for the list, and tothe candidates according to majorities. The seats would, therefore, be divided amongst the parties or groups, according to the number of quotas they obtained. The quota would be arrived at by dividing the total number of votes cast by the number of seats to be filled. This method has been worked successfully with some modifications in Belgium, and I think an improvement on the Belgian system could be applied here. It was also worked at Petrograd in the elections last November, with the result that although the Bolsheviks, according to the single-seat system, would have got thirteen seats, they secured only six under the list system of proportional representation.
– Was that the election which was upset?
– I do not think it was upset; it was neutralized altogether. Another method was suggested by Professor Nanson at a deputation about a month ago. He drew attention to the difficulty of counting votes under the transferable system in large States, but said we might approximately obtain the same ends where there were three vacancies by providing that any candidate who obtained a little more than 25 per cent, of the votes cast should be returned. I take his theory to be that we might have preference for both Houses, or that we might have the Tasmanian system for the Senate, rejecting the provisions for the distribution of the surplus. Under the first system, that of marking a preference in voting for the Senate, he considers that he would secure majority representation, and under the Tasmanian system he would secure some minority representation. In the case of two considerable parties one must get two seats, and the other one, whilst if there were three such parties they would get one seat each. Any candidate that obtained over 25 per cent of the total votes would be returned, and it would be absolutely certain that a minority which could command more than 25 per cent, of the total votes would secure one of the seats. The professor’s system would dispense with the necessity of counting the transferred votes. I merely mention this as a suggestion made to me by a man who has taken great interest in electoral matters, and one worthy of consideration if anything is to be done in regard to Senate elections.
Honorable members will see from what I have said that we are justified in bringing in preferential voting for the House of Representatives. If it has not been adopted for the Senate it is because the Government did not declare it as part of their policy at the last election. The matter was left perfectly open, and it may be open to question, apart from proportional representation, whether we should not have the system of preferential marking for the Senate also. However, that is not provided for in the Bill.
– Did not the senators tell the Government that they would “ boot “ the Bill out if proportional representation were proposed for that Chamber?
– I have told honorable members what the Government policy is. It is not necessary on the second reading to go into too much detail, and for that reason I have not gone into all the amendments which will be made to bring about uniformity.
I have given full attention to the report of the Electoral Commission, which made a fair examination of the electoral administration, ‘and submitted recommendations, some of which have been adopted in this Bill. The others, if necessary, can be dealt with in Committee.
– What States are likely to come in and use the one roll?
– Ithink all the States will come in. I received a deputation about, ten months ago from representatives of Victoria; in fact, I saw some members of the Government, and they are anxious that we should give a lead to enable uniformity to be adopted. I think Queensland is willing to come in, Western Australia is waiting for a lead, and the New South Wales Government asked that our Bill should be first brought in. I am today sending copies of the Bill to the various States, and drawing attention to the points in respect of which uniformity is proposed.
– Have you considered the question of compulsory voting ?
– Yes; I have not submitted it to the Ministry, but my own opinion is that there should not be compulsory voting. We should, as I said, provide opportunities for the people to do right. For that reason compulsory enrolment operates, but no compulsory voting is proposed. The effect of compulsory voting might be that those who took very little interest in politics could outvote men who took a very keen interest in them. I cannot understand the hilarity of so-called Radicals at that remark. Is not the basic principle of all true Labour parties, and indeed of all Radical parties, to obtain equality of opportunity? Judging by the attitude of honorable members opposite, we must compel men to vote, no matter how little interest they take in politics, perhaps enabling them thus to neutralize the votes of men who pay full attention to public questions.
– That would be better than your system of preferential voting, which will compel people to vote for candidates they do not want.
– The principle of true Democracy is equality of opportunity, without compulsion. So long as we give every man the right to go to the poll and express his opinion, the system has a healthy influence, but it would have a very bad effect upon the people if they were compelled to go to the poll. Besides, probably 10 per cent, of the people voting under compulsion in that way, and consisting of men who did not take the slightest interest in political matters, voting without the impulse of patriotism, might neutralize the effect of the whole vote.
– How many countries have already adopted the principle of compulsory voting?
– I know of none.
– Except Queensland.
– Queensland has never effectively applied it. It has never applied machinery for its adoption. I do not think that State has ever prosecuted a single man for non-compliance with the provisions of that Act. What has been the effect? At the last election the Administration ignored the penalties in respect of postal voting.
Well, it is our duty not to allow party or personal interests to touch too much the consideration of electoral methods, and to make, as far as political temperaments and motives may permit, Democracy effective for government. “Liberty, equality and fraternity the inspiring and partly-applied ideals of our valorous, emotional, and clear-eyed Allies, the French, and in essence the objects of British institutions, can never be fully realized without a healthy public opinion and methods of election that may secure it Parliamentary expression. The development of sound conceptions of government may be a matter for the people whose interests we have in trust; but it is for us to provide machinery that may make the legislature, with at times some inevitable defects of focus, the mirror of the nation’s mind.
.- I ask the Minister to consent to an adjournment of the debate for a fortnight.
– A fortnight?
– Yes. Honorable members take as much interest in Electoral Bills as they do in any other measures that engage our attention. I am asking the Minister to consent to an adjournment for a fortnight. The honorable member for Wakefield is not a Minister yet.
– Say an adjournment until Wednesday week.
– Then I understand that the measure will not be brought forward prior to that day.
– I desire to ask the Minister a question.
– Order ! This discussion is quite irregular. I allowed the honorable member for Yarra to say a few words because I could see that he had a certain object in view which appealed generally to honorable members. But the discussion must now cease.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Tudor) adjourned.
– Will the Minister have his speech upon the Bill printed and circulated ?
– Yes, if it is the wish of honorable members.
*Sitting suspended from 12. 49 to 2.16. p.m.’**
– I desire to move a motion, and, with your consent, Mr. .Speaker, and with the permission of the House, I will read it.
– We ought to make you read it twice, as a punishment.
– If the honorable member got all he deserved, he would be a very much smaller figure than he is today. I wish to read this motion, because the veryreading of it explains itsobject and elucidates its wisdom. I move -
That notwithstanding any provisions inthe Standing Orders to the contrary, therebe forthwith adopted the following standing order, namely : -
Limitation of Debate. 262a. (I.) On the reading of a message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation in connexion with any Bill, on the calling on of a motion for leave to introduce a Bill, or on the consideration of any resolution preliminary to the introduction ofa Bill, or at any stage of a Bill, a member of the Government may declare that the Bill is an Urgent Bill, and, on such declaration, the question “ That the Bill be considered an Urgent Bill” shall be put forthwith - no debate or amendment being allowed - and on such motion being agreed to without dissentient voice, or being carried by an affirmative vote of not less than twenty-four members, a member of the Government may forthwith, or at any time during any sitting of the House or Committee, but not so as to interrupt a member who is addressing the House or Committee, move a further motion or motions specifying the time which (exclusive of any adjournment or suspension of sitting) shall be allotted to all or any of the following : -
The initial stages of the Bill (including any motion or resolution preliminary to the introduction of the Bill) up to, but not inclusive of, the second reading of the Bill;
The second reading of the Bill;
The Committee stage of the Bill ;
The remaining stages of the Bill; and the order with regard to the time allotted to the Committee stage of the Bill may, out of the time allotted, apportion a certain time or times to a particular clause or clauses, or to any particular part or parts of the Bill. (II.) When Estimates of Expenditure are being considered, a member of the Government may at any time declare that the Estimates are of an urgent nature, and, on such declaration, the question’” That the Estimates of Expenditure be considered of an urgent nature “ shall be put forthwith - no debate or amendment being allowed - -andon such motion being agreed to without dissentient voice, or being carried by an affirmative vote of not less than twenty-four members, a member of the Government may forthwith, or at any time during any sitting of the Committee, but not so as to interrupt a member who is addressing the Committee, move a further motion or motions specifying the time which (exclusive of any adjournment or suspension of sitting) shall be allotted to each or any Department of, or to the whole of, the Estimates, (III.) When a Customs or Excise Tariff resolution is being considered, a member of the Government may at any time declare that the proposed resolution is of an urgent nature, and, on such declaration, the question “ That the resolution be considered of an urgent nature “ shall be put forthwith- no debate or amendment being allowed - and on such motion being agreed to without dissentient voice, or being carried by an affirmative vote of not less than twenty-four members, a member of the Government may forthwith, or at any time during any sitting of the Committee, but not so as to interrupt a member who is addressing the Committee, move a further motion specifying the time or times which (exclusive of any adjournment or suspension of sitting) shall be allotted to any portion or portions of the Tariff, or to the Tariff as a whole. (IV.) When any motion of any kind whatsoever has been moved, a member of the Government may at any time declare that the motion is an urgent motion, and, on such declaration, the question “ That the motion be considered an urgent motion “ shall be put forthwith - no debate or amendment being allowed - and on such motion being agreed to without dissentient voice, or being carried by an affirmative vote of not less than twenty-four members, a member of the Government may forthwith move a further motion specifying the time which (exclusive of any adjournment or suspension of sitting) shall be allotted to the motion. (V.) Upon such further motion or motions with regard to the allotment of time being moved, no debate thereon shall be allowed for more than one hour, and in speaking thereon no member shall exceed ten minutes. If the debate be not sooner concluded then forthwith upon the expiration of that time the Speaker or the Chairman shall put any questions on any amendment or motion already proposed from the Chair. (VI.) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion on the expiration of the time allotted under any motion passed under any of the preceding paragraphs of this Standing Order, the Speaker or the Chairman shall at the time appointed under the motion for the conclusion of those proceedings put forthwith the question on any amendment or motion already proposed from the Chair and, in the case of the consideration of any Bill in Committee shall then put any cluases, and any Government amendments and new clauses and schedules, copies of which have been circulated by the Government among members two hours at least before the expiration of the allotted time, and any other question requisite to dispose of the business before the House or Committee. No other amendments, new clauses, or schedules shall be proposed. (VII.) Standing Order “A” (The Closure) adopted by the House on 23rd November, 1905, shall not apply to any proceedings in respect of which time’ has been allotted in pursuance of this Standing Order. (VIII.) Where any time has been specified for the commencement of any proceedings in connexion with any business under this Standing Order, when the time so specified has been reached the business, whatsoever its nature be, then before the House or Committee shall be postponed forthwith, and the first-mentioned business shall be proceeded with, and all steps necessary to enable this to be done shall be taken accordingly.
That will explain as clearly as argument can ormay what the object of the Government is in proposing such a motion. Briefly, the proposal is to enable Parliament to do its work more expeditiously. If adopted, it will provide means of shortening debate when the majority of honorable members desire- that it should be so shortened. The . procedure contemplated, if I may boil it down, is that when the Government declare a measure to . be of an urgent nature, the question of urgency is put forthwith for decision - no delay, no debate, no amendment. If the urgency is properly confirmed, the Government can then, or later, bring down a motion allotting the time for the consideration of a measure, either as a whole or in parts. The motion to allot this time may be discussed for one hour, with ten-minute limitations of speeches. If the allotment motion is carried, then the measure, or the part of it, must be disposed of within the time allotted by the resolution.
This procedure will apply to Bills and motions of every kind. It is founded on a practice adopted on several occasions by the British House of Commons, which practice was designed to bring about, and succeeded in achieving, limitation of debate when unreasonable or obstructive measures were proposed. As a student of parliamentary methods in certain parts of Australia for some years past,I have been impressed with the lack of control which the majority of members in any Assembly have held over their own deliberations. The machine which was designed to accomplish the will of the majority far too- often has become the engine of a minority will. We might, say that that which was designed to effect despatch has become the instrument of delay. And that is largely . because of the antiquity of theforms which British Parliaments the world over, including ourselves, have persisted in using. Many of these have their roots in historic traditions and conditions, which have long since disappeared; and, although we know that the disease has gone, . we persist in swallowing the medicine.
I am optimistic enough, to- believe that some day a Parliament with sufficient time and intention will wipe the slate clean, and will develop totally new rules for its procedure - rules that will be safe and elastic enough to meet the constantly increasing pressure of modern parliamentary assemblies. In the meantime, pending the production of such comprehensive and business-like proposals, which would involve the expenditure of considerable time, the procedure here outlined will remove many, if not all, of the defectsf rom which we suffer; I have often noticed the unfortunate state of affairs at the end of a session, when - as was the case at the close of our sitting a few months ago, for example - we are endeavouring to put through the Estimates, believing, as we do, that it is not right, if time permits, to conclude our business without having given honorable members an opportunity to express their views on expenditure from the public purse. But itresolves itself on nearly every occasion into a test of physical endurance which injures the health and temper of honorable members. My experience, and that of a great many older parliamentary members, has been that long and late hours do not promote good business, or evolve sound legislation. Today, we meet at this stage in the proceedings of a Parliament which has been sitting pretty well intermittently since itslife began. Of course, we could sit all around the clock, and around the calendar ; but if Parliament sat in order . to discharge its work for twelve months out of the year, administration would suffer heavily. There have been certain comments from honorable members on both sides of the House that, even now, administration suffers. I admit it,, but theadministration that a Minister can give during the sitting of Parliament, if he be a senior Minister,, carrying the weight of measures in the House, is very indifferent compared with what he can achieve when recess provides opportunity to devote all his time and attention to his Department. Particularly in time of war, such as this is, we should give to. administration - when administration means so much - as much of our time and. liberty as can be possibly conceded.
– You not only want liberty,, but licence as well.
– If the honorable member got all he wanted he would look like the frog that had swallowed the pond.
– At any rate, I do not make a. fool of myself.
– No; God did that for the honorable member, and thus saved, him time and trouble. That is why the honorable member has so much leisure.
– That is a very clever thing to say;
– The honorable member surely is not a judge of cleverness. We have never seen a sign of that in him.
– Order! I must ask honorable members to cease from interjecting, especially from making interjections of a personal character.
– If honorable gentlemen see fit to pass personal gibes they must not complain if they receive the same in return. There is a limit to the patience of this side of the House.
I recommend this procedure as the best way of getting through our business as the country ‘desires us to do. It could become despotic if it were exercised without discretion-if it were not tempered by judgment. But, if it were used in that way, the people themselves would arise and inflict condign punishment upon the parties guilty of perpetrating such blunders or crimes. The party in power has to take responsibility not only for its measures, but for its procedure. Should the circumstances demand it, this standing order will be used with moderation, but with effect. On that understanding, I hope that it may be accepted by the House, and carried.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Tudor) adjourned.
– I move -
That this Bill bc now read a second timol
The Excise Act, like the Distillation and Beer Excise Acts, all of which were passed in 1901, has never yet been amended, but many complaints have been made to the Customs Department regarding details of administration under it, and it is now thought advisable, for the advantage of manufacturers and merchants doing business with the Department, and in the interests of the revenue, to amend it.
Since 1901 there has been a considerable development of the tobacco industry in Australia. The tendency is, and has been, for control to centre in wealthy corporations, and for the work to be done in centralized factories. As the largeness of the works now operating in some of the States makes supervision more, costly to the Department than it was in the past, it has been thought proper to revise the scale of licence-fees, basing the sum to be paid on the relative output of the f actory. Thus, under Schedule VIII., a factory manufacturing tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, and snuff to an amount not exceeding £5,000 in value in any one year will pay a licence-fee of £5, which is the fee now payable. The charge increases by graduated steps until a factory producing over 500,000 lbs., but not over 1,000,000 lbs., must pay a licence-fee of £500, with an increase of £100 for every additional 1,000,000 lbs. or part thereof of output.
Clause 8 provides for the extension of the period within which licences may be renewed and the annual fee paid. Licences run from the 1st January to 31st December, and then automatically cease;, and, should the fee for renewal not be paid on the latter date, the licence and the security bond given in respect of it lapse, necessitating fresh application and fresh security. The period within which a licence may be renewed is being extended by seven days. This will overcome troubles which have been experienced arising out of the Christmas holidays, and is an alteration wholly in the interests of the manufacturers.
As in the case of the Beer Excise Act, the scale of securities to be given by manufacturers has been amended. It ranges from £200, which must be paid by the small manufacturer, to £7.500 for the largest factory.
The amendments provided for in. clauses 9 and 10 have been made to overcome difficulties in the way of manufacturers who desire to transact business not contemplated or provided for when the original Act was drafted. For instance, under the Act, a. manufacturer when forwarding his goods under bond to another district or State can do so to a “ licensed Customs warehouse “ only at such destination. This may prove highly inconvenient, as he may desire to remove his goods to a port where the purchaser will pay duty on them when landed at the ship’s side, thus obviating the expense and delay of transfer to a licensed Customs warehouse. This the amendments will make possible.
Clause 1’4 adds- to the list of offences specified in section 120 of the principal Act that of obtaining any refund of duty not payable, or, in plain words, of fraudulently obtaining money from the Department in the shape of a refund of duty to which the person is not entitled. In connexion with the manufacture of tobacco and cigars, large amounts are annually paid as refunds on stems and waste. The amendment, which is on the lines of a provision in the Customs Act, safeguards the revenue in this connexion.
One of the most important amendments affects section 144 of the principal Act. That section, provides, in effect, that the averment of the prosecution contained in the information shall he deemed to he proof in the absence of proof to the contrary, a provision similar to that in section’ 255 of the Customs Act. But, in connexion with a Customs case in which reliance was placed, on those words, the High Court ruled, on an appeal from the decision of the magistrate, that in any case in which this section was used reliance must he placed entirely upon the averment, thus precluding the calling of evidence on matters in regard to which proof was possible. It also pointed out other defects in the provision. These defects the amendment seeks to remedy. (Wherever possible, without danger to the revenue, amendments have been made in the Bill to facilitate the transactions of the manufacturers.
Other minor amendments will be explained during the Committee stage. The Bill has two. objects - the protection of the revenue and the enabling of manufacturers to complete their business transactions more” rapidly.
.- I had a glance through the Bill when it was first circulated a few days ago, and also at the memorandum, which I received by post this .morning, setting out the alterations proposed to be made in the Act. I know from my experience in the Customs Department that many alterations are needed to bring the Act up to date. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) will bear me out in that statement, good though this and other similar measures which were passed in 1901 were. These measures were drafted by the late Charles Cameron Kingston, a man who knew as much about drafting, if not more, than any other man who ever sat in this Parliament, and whose work was a model which any Minister or draftsman might well imitate. The Bill, as explained by the Minister, is on right lines. There are some minor matters upon which we shall need explanation in Committee, but I am in favour of the measure being passed as speedily as possible, because it will improve the machinery for the protection of the revenue, and. will prevent unscrupulous traders from getting an advantage over their fellows.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Amendment of section 4).
.- I understand that this amendment of the principal Act is necessary to enable a transfer of authority from the Controller to any officer acting for him.
– Yes; the position at present is very inconvenient.
– Those who have held office as Minister for Trade and Customs know . that the Minister is often called upon to sign authorities for officers to act for the Controller or for collectors, and) others. Will this amendment do away with that requirement?
– Not exactly. The honorable member is referring to delegations.
– Will not this amendment cover delegations of power?
– At present the Collector is the only person who has power to deal with matters covered by the section, and that power cannot be transferred to any one else. ,
– Since this amendment of the principal Act will enable a transfer of power to the person acting for the Collector, I think it is a step in the right direction.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 to 10 agreed to.
Clause 11 (Repeal of sections 64, 65, and 66).
.-Under this clause three sections of the principal Act dealing with the licence-fees paid by manufacturers of cigars, cigarettes, and snuff are repealed. What does the Minister provide in lieu of them ?
– The sections repealed bthis clause are no longer necessary since the matters covered by them are dealt with in clauses 7 and 8 of this Bill.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 12 to 18 agreed to.
Clause 19 -
Section 163 of the principal Act is amended -
by inserting after the word “ State “ the words a Commissioner for Declarations,”; and
by adding at the end thereof the words “ of the Public . Service of the Commonwealth.”
Section proposed to be amended -
Any declaration prescribed may be made before anyjustice of the peace in any State, or before any officer.
.- Under this amendment of the principal Act declarations may be signed before any member of the Public Service of the Commonwealth. Previously declarations had to be made before a justice of the peace, but it is now proposed to allow them to be made before a commissioner for declarations or any member of the Public Service. It might not occur in actual practice, but it seems to me that under this amendment it would be possible to make a declaration before a telegraph messenger regarding evasions of duty.
– Even so, the person making it would be punishable if his declaration were false.
– I recognise that; but it seems to me that the provision that a declaration may be made before any officer of the Public Service is too wide. In the Electoral Bill no such provision is to. be found in regard to the witnessing of postal ballot-papers, and I think the extension in this case is too far-reaching.
– It appears that, under the existing law, great inconvenience, and sometimes expense, are caused to manufacturers in the country districts, where it has at times been found impossible to obtain a justice of the peace before whom to make a declaration. This clause should assist considerably in enabling officers of the Customs, Postal, or Electoral Departments to take declarations.
– There is a good deal of force in the contention of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor). A difficulty in the matter would be to define what a “senior” officer is, and this might affect a declaration rather seriously. If a prosecution took place the defence might be that the declaration was never made, because it had not been made before a “senior” officer, and it would be for the Court to say whether or not he was senior.
Generally our laws very properly provide that declarations shall be made before responsible individuals, and if it is made possible, as proposed by the amendment, to have a declaration made before a junior of the Public Service, it would be against all precedent, and be a source of danger. If the public convenience has to be. further consulted, it would be quite possible to have a commissioner for taking declarations appointed in particular places in order to afford the necessary facilities. The clause, as it stands, is too wide. If the Minister desires to have an officer of the Public Service, he ought to provide that he should be an officer not below a certain class.
.- So far as I remember, there are only beer, spirits, tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes liable to Excise. Starch and sugar used to be liable, but I think they are not so now. It will be seen that the goods that are liable to Excise are practically all manufactured in large centres of population. It may at times be difficult to find a justice of the peace, but there is a certain amount of danger in leaving the clause as it stands. As a matter of fact, the Department might not know that the declaration had been made, and it might be provided that the Department be notified of the fact.We all desire to prevent leakage, and conserve the revenue, and, at the same time, to safeguard honest men who pay 20s. in the £1.
– I think there is a good deal in the contention raised by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) and the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), and, therefore, I move -
That the words “of the Public Service of the Commonwealth “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof, “ of Customs, Postmaster, or Electoral Officer.”
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 20 (Repeal of section 165).
.- All our Acts contain such a section as it is now sought to repeal, and I wonder if this amendment is a forerunner of a similar one in every other measure. At the end of every Act it is provided that all the regulations made shall take effect from the date of publication, but shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament within seven days after publication if Parliament is sitting, and, if Parliament is not sitting, within a certain number of days from the commencement of the next session. Then, if either House of Parliament disallows a regulation by resolution at any time within fifteen days after it has been presented, the regulation shall cease to have effect. I take .it that the Government propose now to strike out that safeguard. I admit that this particular provision in our legislation .has been practically a dead letter, but, all the same, I think we have a right to see regulations that are published.
– It is proposed to repeal this section of the Act because the Rules Publication Act now provides the necessary machinery to make regulations.
Clause agreed to.
Clause .21 -
Schedules VL, VIII., IX.., and X. to the principal Act are repealed, and the following Schedules inserted in their stead : - “ Schedule VIII.
Scale of Fees for Licences to Manufacture.
For every factory wherein the weight of tobacco, cigars, cigarettes and snuff or any of them proposed to be manufactured in one year, shall in the aggregate -
.- Schedule VIII. sets forth the scale of fees for licences to manufacture tobacco, and I am not averse to the increases there shown. This clause affects principally the big factories, for I think it is common knowledge that the manufacture of tobacco is gradually getting into fewer and fewer hands.
– It is a monopoly.
– It is practically. I think I am safe in saying that one firm does at least 80 per cent, of the tobacco trade of Australia, though the manufacture of cigars and cigarettes is more widely distributed. Formerly, if a firm manufactured 350,000 lbs. weight in one year, a licence-fee of £250 had to be paid, instead of, as proposed in the Bill, £350. I am in favour of that increase, but I should like the Minister to say definitely whether he considers that the licence fees to be imposed are adequate, or whether they should not be higher than is proposed. One firm probably manufactures from 10,000,000 to 12,000,000 lbs. of tobacco every year, and has had a great advantage in the past.
– The licence fees will be passed on.
– Qf course. To-day prices of many commodities are .fixed, but I suppose every honorable member has .received letters reporting how the Tariff increases have resulted in the prices being raised to an extent .greater ‘ than the increase of duty or Excise. Will the Minister inform the Committee whether the proposed licence fees will be adequate, and’ also whether any means can be adopted to prevent the passing on of increases’?
. .–IN C doubt the Government think they are doing a great stroke. They will pretend that they are collecting the licence fees from the manufacturers, but there is very little doubt that the general public will have to pay them. The manufacturers will pass the charges on. That fact ought to be taken into serious consideration by Parliament. I do not think the Bill is worth the time and trouble of the Committee. Already tobacco prices have been increased, and another increase will take place in order to recoup, the manufacturers for the higher amount of the licence fees. Parliament should put a stop to this sort of thing. The whole fabric of taxation is wrongly based. Instead of imposing these licence fees, the Minister might as well place au extra duty on the tobacco at once. The industrial section of the community, including the soldiers and their dependants, will have to pay the burden in any case, just as they have to pay the interest on the loans, because the Government are delaying as long as possible the imposing of adequate taxation. The first action of the Government on coming’ into power should have been to raise more revenue by the taxation of incomes: It would, be a waste of time to test the feeling of the Committee on this matter. My object is to draw the attention of honorable members to the fact that any taxation we impose is passed on to those least able to bear it. I admit my incapacity to provide a solution of the difficulty, and I recognise that there will be no reform in this connexion until some men with greater intellectual capacity than is displayed by the present Government take the matter in hand. Vested interests are too strong among honorable members on the Ministerial side of the Chamber, and the probability is that we shall have to wait until after the next election to secure reform in this direction. At present honorable members of the Opposition are powerless to do anything.
.- The proposal is that a licence-fee of £500 must be -paid by a firm which manufactures over 500,000 lbs. and under 1,000,000 lbs. of tobacco, cigarettes, or cigars, and a fee of £100 for- each additional 1,000,000 lbs. manufactured. The manufacturer who makes 5,000,000 lbs. of tobacco, cigarettes, and cigars will be called upon to pay a licence-fee of £900. Thus he will be able to manufacture ten times the quantity that a small man may manufacture, and yet he will not be called upon to pay by way of licence-fee more than £400 more than the other will be expected to pay. The discrepancy is too great. The fee should be at least £500 for each additional 1,000,000 lbs. weight of tobacco, cigarettes, or cigars manufactured by any firm. In our other taxation the graduation becomes steeper in the higher grades of income, but the proposition of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Jensen) is tol et the graduation apply the other way. I admit that the proposal is an improvement on what has hitherto been the practice, where the licence-fee demanded has been £250. Honorable members may say that 1 brought about no reform when I was Minister for Trade and Customs, but it is well known that many Statutes have been awaiting the opportunity for amendment. Here is the opportunity fur amending the matter in a proper way. We ought not to give the big manufacturers any advantage over firms which turn out not more than 500,000 lbs, of tobacco, cigarettes, or cigars in a year. It would be better if the Minister would give further reflection to the matter, and postpone the consideration of the complete schedule until Thursday next, when there will be ample time for sending it on to the Senate.
.- I agree with the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) when he says that the licence-fee will be passed on to the consumer. We cannot impose any taxation which will not be passed on to the consumer. The tobacco industry is a very profitable one, and if we cannot get more revenue from it without the taxation being passed on the Government ought to follow the line taken in .France and Japan, and take over the industry.
– And make bad tobacco, as they do.
– Not necessarily. In connexion with the wool-tops industry the Government took half the profit. I understand that the Government’s share amounted to £70,000. If it is right for the Government to take half the profits of one industry in war time, I think they ought to go further, and say that so much of the profits of the tobacco industry should go into the revenue of the Commonwealth, with a view to helping to pay the war debt.
– The ‘ honorable member has taken an unfortunate example.
– Here is another example: The Government control the shipping trade, in which, in some cases, the profits have gone up to as much as 400 per cent.
– The tobacco trade is not controlled by an Australian company.
– It is called the BritishAustralasian Tobacco Company Proprietary Limited. We have a right to deal with all persons carrying on manufacture in this country, and it is our duty to protect the revenue. The Government are not proposing to handle this question in the proper way. They propose only an increase of licence-fees. That will mean practically nothing to the big Tobacco Combine. They will put up their prices, and be able to make more money out of the Government’s proposal.
– The war-time profits tax ‘ will catch them then.
– If the honorable members opposite knew the reserve funds which have been piled up by manufacturers in this country during the war, they -would be astonished.
– Their strongest supporters in Australia used to sit on this side of the House. .
– Of course, I quite understand that all the’ Democrats are now on the Government side, and I am asking them to do the right thing, now that they have the opportunity. The Government should control this industry, and secure a proportion of its profits for the benefit of the Commonwealth revenue. The Tobacco Combine is one of the wealthiest manufacturing concerns in the Commonwealth, and we know that it is making immense profits at the present time. As a measure of taxation, the Government proposal under discussion is only a make-believe.
– These licence-fees are not charged for revenue purposes, but to pay for the services of Excise officers supervising the tobacco factories.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Jensen) to take into consideration the practical suggestion that the Commonwealth Government should secure some profit from the operations of the tobacco companies. The whole of the profits derived from the manufacture of tobacco in France go into the Consolidated Revenue of that coun-try, and they represent a very substantial sum.
– It is said that they make rotten tobacco in France.
– No doubt the manufac- .turers here say that. <If I were a shareholder in the Tobacco Combine here, I should probably be singing the same song. The manufacture of tobacco is a national concern in Japan, and there, also, it brings in a great deal of revenue for the country. In view of the heavy obligations of the Government, the time must come in this country when it will be necessary that they shall control these big industries, so that the community at large may benefit from their profits. The present affords a golden opportunity to take over this tobacco industry. We should pay those concerned in it adequately for the capital they have invested, but it should be run in the interests of the Commonwealth, and we should no longer permit those interested, in the Tobacco Combine to pass on to the public taxation imposed upon tobacco.
– Honorable members should understand that these licence-fees which the Government propose to charge tobacco manufacturers throughout Australia are intended to compensate the Government for the payments made to Excise officers for the supervision, of tobacco manufacturers’ establishments necessary to secure the proper collection of Excise by the Trade and Customs Department. I may inform honorable members that the Government are proposing to increase the licence-fees by 100 per cent., and in some instances by 200 per cent. The intention is that we shall not in future, as at present, lose money by providing services for which we get no return. In some of the larger establishments, two and three Excise officers are required to be continually engaged to carry out the necessary supervision for the Customs Department. Under the existing Act the highest fee for supervision that can be imposed on the establishment turning out the greatest quantity of tobacco’ is £250. That is too low a fee.
– I always said that it was too low.
– It is too low where two or three officers must be employed in an establishment to exercise the necessary supervision. What we desire to secure by this proposal is that the services we give in the way of supervision shall be paid for by- the tobacco companies. Under the amended schedule, the fees imposed in the case of the smaller establishments have not been increased, but they are increased in the case of the large establishments to a sufficient sum to pay for the services rendered by the supervising officers. It is proposed that the fees shall be increased from £250 to £500 where the output of the factory reaches 1,000,000 lbs. weight, and where the output is over and above that weight a further fee for supervision will have to be paid. Several Governments have been in office in this country, but they never tackled this question. Now, after many years, the present Government proposes to say to the tobacco manufacturers, “ You shall pay for the services rendered by the Commonwealth Government.” This proposal is not to impose a tax on tobacco. That tax was imposed two weeks ago. This is a proposal really to increase the licence-fees to such an extent as to enable payment to be made for services rendered by Commonwealth officers which have not been paid for in the past.
Mr.FENTON (Maribyrnong) [3.27]. - The Minister for Trade and Customs has made out a strong case to show that the tobacco manufacturers ‘should pay more than he proposes to charge them. I point out that he is creating an anomaly when he proposes that the fees shall run from £5 to £500. The fee in the case of an establishment with an output of 1,000,000 lbs. weight of tobacco is to be £500, and for each additional 1,000,000 lbs. of output, there is to be an additional fee of £100. The result of this will be that a manufacturer turning out 2,000,000 lbs. of tobacco every year will be called upon to pay a fee of £600, whilst another turning out 1,000,000 lbs. of tobacco each year will be called upon to pay £500. Can the Minister for Trade and Customs say that that is an equitable method of apportioning the fees?
– There would be about the same amount of inspection required in each case.
Mr.FENTON.- No; the larger the output the more inspection and supervision required.
– The officers of the Department have worked the matter out, and they say that the fees suggested by the Government will recompense them for the expenses of supervision.
– We should provide for a little over and above that, and -pay the money into the revenue. I wish to say in regard to every taxation proposal submitted during war-time that it is the mass of the community who will be paying practically the whole of the taxation imposed. I can assure honorable members that the masses of the people will cry “ enough “ before long, and will say that they cannot continue to pay the taxation imposed upon them. This Parliament, whatever may be its political character, will then be compelled to find some relief for the masses of the people. I have great hesitancy in voting for any increased taxation, because I know that, as the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) has said, a process of filtration goes on, and all taxation ultimately reaches bedrock, and that is the masses of the people.
– I can scarcely understand the attitude adopted by honorable members opposite towards this proposal. This is not additional, taxation in the sense of Tariff duties, but, as the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Jensen) has very properly said, the present Government are the -first who have had the courage to say to the tobacco manufacturers, “ We are going to make you recoup to the Commonwealth the expenses incurred in providing supervision of your establishments by Excise officers. I remind honorable members on the other side, who have been making a big fuss to-day, that it is only a few years since the great Tobacco Combine found its chief sanctuary in their ranks. For some reason or other, it was protected from start to finish. I do not know where its friends are now, but I think they are about yet.
– They are all over there with you.
– I think one or two are still left on the other side. While I agree that this is only an increased charge for services rendered, and is not an increase in the. Tariff, still, in actual effect, it is precisely the same thing. It is, therefore, an increase in the cost of production, and is added to the cost of production, and passed on. I defy the Ministry or anybody else to prevent it being passed on. There has been a lot of. cheap talk on the Opposition side about profiteers, but some of the honorable members on that side are now changing their minds, for a purpose. If they look at the balance-sheet of this big Combine, as published only the other day, they will find that the return did not exceed 11.4 per cent.
– It does not matter how many points you put on; the chief point is that the profits total £500,000.
– I admit that that is a very decent return, but my honorable friends opposite, with their profiteering stock-in-trade, try to mislead the public into believing that this Combine is making 50 per cent, instead of 11 per cent. However, I would not mind putting a little more taxation on, because tobacco is one of the luxuries. The honorable member for Maribyrnong -(Mr. Fenton) every other day for the last twelve months has asked when the Government are going to put a little more taxation on luxuries. What is his attitude now that the Government are dealing with one luxury?
– He never smokes.
– I am aware of it, and I know that he does not do other things. I congratulate the Government, and I congratulate honorable members on the other side on having dropped their affection for this particular Combine.
.- The Government have shown more than courage in proposing this tax. I am greatly interested, because I regard it as a tax upon industry, and the Government are showing their Free Trade hand in trying to interfere with the local manufacturer. The Minister (Mr. Jensen) says that this is a payment for services rendered. What service does the Excise man give to the small manufacturer who does not make more than 5,000 lbs. of tobacco? How does it help the manufacturer to compel him to pay a licence-fee? He would be very glad if the Excise man left the premises. I have come to the conclusion that there are more Free Traders in the Win-the-War party than I thought there were. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Falkiner) and the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) are Free Traders, and there are very few Protectionists in that party. The action of the Minister, who, I believe, does pretend to be a Protectionist, in proposing a tax on the small manufacturer by compelling him to pay a licence-fee, clearly shows the hand of the Government.
.- The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) has really admitted the strength of the contention of members on this side that this charge will be passed on to the purchasers of tobacco. No doubt, to his mind, it is a luxury for the worker to have his “ baccy,” but it is our duty to protect the worker from having this tax passed along to him. This Parliament is too prone to place taxes on the back of the worker. Every ordinary thing that helps to make life pleasant to the worker is immediately picked out as the subject of taxation by honorable members opposite. Instances are the taxes on beer and tobacco and the children’s threepenny tickets, for entertainments. Those are the items which honorable members opposite pick out to produce the bulk of the revenue.
– We are only repeating arguments about the Tobacco Trust that we used to hear from your side of the House.
– We should devise means to make the Tobacco Trust disgorge some of the huge profits which it has wrung out of the people. We should also stop it from passing the increased cost of production on to the worker. One of the best ways of doing this has been pointed out by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley). He said the Government should follow the example they set in dealing with the wool-top industry. They took half the profits of the people engaged in that occupation. , Why single out that industry for special treatment, and allow all these huge combines to carry on as they like? The Government should say to the Tobacco Combine, “ Your profits are so’ much, and you have watered your stock so much,” .because, after all, the watered stock is an even more formidable item than the ordinary profits shown on the company’s balancesheet. We should at least make these people disgorge half the profits shown by the returns on their watered stock.
,- Under Schedule VIII. there is a certain ratio of increase in the licence-fees, and when a weight of 1,000,000 lbs. is reached the fee is £500. But for each additional 1,000,000 lbs., or part thereof, the increase in the fee is only £100. In my opinion, the tobacco manufacturers whose output exceeds the 1,000,000 lbs. per annum should have their fees increased on the basis of the preceding ratio. which works out in this way: Exceeding 10,000 lbs., but not 20,000 lbs., £20; exceeding 20,000 lbs., but not 50,000 lbs., £50; exceeding 50,000 lbs., but not 100,000 lbs., £100, and so on. The incidence of the scale as it stands is so unjust that I hope honorable members will recognise the wisdom of amending it, so that the Tobacco Combine shall not escape its fair share of this taxation, if taxation it can be called. I recollect when the fee was made £5. Upon that occasion a deputation from the great tobacco manufacturers in Melbourne waited on the Minister in opposition to the proposal. But it was, nevertheless, imposed. I intend to move that in paragraphj all the words after 1,000,000 lbs. be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ and shall increase in’ the same ratio as the preceding licence-fees.”
Mr.Riley. - I think that the Minister will accept that amendment.
– While I recognise that the American Tobacco Combine is a monopoly, I cannot avoid uttering some words in praise of it. At one time there were two large companies in Australia which boasted that they would increase their stock, so that they could fight the Combine. They endeavoured to do so. For this purpose these two companies amalgamated; but they woke up one morning to find that their stock was held by certain individuals. That was the end of the fight against the American combine. When I was invited to the works of the Combine, I expressed the pleasure which 1 felt, because 1 regarded those works as belonging to Australia. Mr. Cameron, who was present, and who is a verybrainy man, told me that he thoroughly enjoyed my remarks, but one of the directors did not. I have no hesitation in saying that the Combine have made industrial conditions comfortable for their employees. They have housed them in splendid, healthy dwellings, of which they have enabled them to become the owners on the basis of a 3 per cent, business proposition. In addition, they have apportioned a certain number of the shares of the company amongst the workmen. On the occasion when I visited the works of the Combine, I told its representatives that the better they treat their employees, the better it will be for them when either the State or the Commonwealth becomes wise enough to take over the tobacco monopoly in this country. Anybody who has any knowledge of economics will agree with me that the larger an undertaking is, the better it is able to pay licence-fees such as are suggested in this schedule.
– I rise to a point of order. I desire to know whether the honorable member is in order in moving to increase any amount that is set out in a schedule to this Bill, which is a money Bill.
– In all taxation measures it is not competent for an honorable member to move to increase a tax or burden upon the people. But the amounts set out in this schedule relate to licence-fees, and, therefore, do not come within the ambit of taxation.
– Those fees are imposed for the purpose of raisingre- venue.
– Not at all.
– The Minister said that they were.
– They are licence-fees, and, as such, cannot be classed as taxes.
– They will be paid into the Consolidated Revenue.
– Of course, they will. But, just as in the Lighthouse Bill it would have been competent for any honorable member to have moved for an increase in the light dues, it is competent for any honorable member to move for an increase in the amounts of these licencefees.
Mr.Kelly. - The Leader of the Opposition has put a supposititious case. I submit that there is no warrant for his statement that any honorable member was at liberty, in connexion with the Lighthouse Bill, to move for increases in our light dues. Certainly that question was never tested. Had such a proposal been made, it would have been resisted on the very ground that has been urged by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page). I hold that it does not matter whether a tax is designated by the name of revenue or of a licence-fee. It has to be paid, and the honorable member for Maranoa has found a good point, which invalidates the amendment..
– I desire to speak to the point of order, and to suggest that, in moving for the insertion of the words “ shall increase in the same ratio as the preceding licence-fees,” I have simply endeavoured to alter the incidence of paragraph j. The amendment would mean that the fees would continue to increase in the same’ ratio as the fees previously set out in this schedule. I cannot see that there can be any objection to that
Suppose that all the items up to paragraph i had been carried, and that the words embodied in my amendment had been inserted, that amendment would not have increased the ratio of the fees. Standing order No. 171 states -
No amendment for the imposition or for the increase of a rate, tax, or duty shall be proposed by any non-official member in any Committee on any Bill.
If honorable members will look at the head of Schedule VIII. they will see “Scale of fees for licences to manufacture.” I do not wish to take any unnecessary point, but there is a difference between “ licence-fees “ and a tax or a duty. No honorable member will say that this is a duty, or that it is a tax. It is certainly a receipt of money by the Government, and I could wish it was more; but I hope that you, sir, will rule that it is neither a tax nor a duty.
– While the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) was speaking, I understood that he was going to ask the Minister (Mr. Jensen) to move an amendment on the lines that he himself has followed. When the honorable member moves his amendment, it will be time enough for me then to give a ruling.
– On a point of order,I disagree with the opinion you have just expressed. I distinctly heard the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) say that he would move that the rates be so-and-so. That is why I asked for your ruling on the matter.
– No ; the licence-fees. The schedule is headed “ Licence-fees.”
– Never mind what it is headed; it is the rates which are under consideration.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I was waiting for the honorable member for Melbourne to move his amendment, after which it was my intention to give my decision.
.- I desire to move an amendment, and I trust that the Government will accept it. I hope, indeed, that the Minister himself will indicate his willingness to move it. I move -
That in paragraph j all the words after “ 1,000,000 lbs.” be left out, and the following words inserted : - “ and shall increase in the same ratio as the preceding licence-fees.”
– I cannot accept the amendment, and I hope the Committee will not support the honorable member. The Department has gone fully into this matter, and has asked, in this schedule, for an increase of 100 per cent., and much more in some cases, in the licence-fees payable by tobacco manufacturers for the services of Excise officers who supervise their factories.
Question - That the words proposed to be struck out stand part of the clause - put.
The Committee divided.
Majority … … 13
– The honorable member for Maranoa rose to a point of order. The matter was discussed for some time, and after that I accepted the position that the honorable memberfor Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) had moved a certain amendment. As a matter of fact, however, that amendment had not then been moved, though afterwards it was submitted. When that stage was reached no honorable member rose to a point of order, and I, therefore, put the amendment. Had the point of order been again raised, I would have ruled that the amendment was in order.
– I take another point of order.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I think the honorable member is distinctly out of order now.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment.
Standing Orders suspended and report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That this House do now adjourn.
Lt.-Colonel ABBOTT (New England) [4.5]-. - As a matter of urgency, I wish to draw attention to the questions put by me the other day regarding the proposed Tin Producers Association of Australia, and to the replies to them furnished by the Minister. Although I asked nine questions, the real points at issue were evaded, and no definite reply, was given as to the action contemplated. I think that the primary producers should know what the Government intend to do in controlling such an important industry as the tin industry. Apparently, the interests of the producers are to be handed over to the Tin Producers Association; but there appears to be no representation in that association of the working miner, who is the real primary producer. If we do not safeguard his interests now, we shall probably find later that his position is similar to that of the small woolgrower, whose sales of wool have been restricted to £10. We do not desire any hole-and-corner business in this matter. The public is entitled to know what the Government propose to do. What is the objection to Ministers taking the House into their confidence and putting on the table the papers (containing all particulars regarding the association, and declaring what is intended in regard to the tin industry? Because of the experience that we have had of the action of the Wool Committee regarding the sale of small lots of wool, it is necessary that we should have this information. Members of Parliament stand towards those whom they represent much as directors stand towards the shareholders of a company. I think that this matter, should be dealt with in a Bill. Thaf would allow us to discuss the pros and cons of the case, and every one would know what was happening. We could then impose safeguards against future troubles. The Minister told me that it is intended to promote the manufacture, of tin plates in Australia; but what is there to prevent the Tin Pro- ducers Association from handing over to one company a monopoly of the manufacture of tin plates, so that the whole of the tin sold in Australia must go through its hands, and it will be able to fix a price which the primary producer must accept? The primary producer will not be able to sell in the Old Country, and the result will be that tin will fall in value considerably, as happened last week. I have a lengthy wire in my possession, which shows that since rumours have been in circulation regarding the proposed action of the Government the value of tin has decreased by 6s. per unit on the English parity price. I ask that, before action is taken regarding the Tin Producers Association, the representatives of the tin-producing industry and the working miners in that industry shall have the matter placed before them, so that their opinions may be submitted to this House, and we may know whether they are satisfied with the Government .proposal. We are told that only men or companies producing a ton of tin per week are to he accepted in this cooperative company which is being formed. How many companies produce a ton of tin per week? You can count the number on your fingers. But many thousands of small men gain a living from small tinprospecting shows. Are we going to put them in the position of the small woolgrowers by compelling them to wait three to six months for a return? These men are the backbone of the tin industry, and their interests are entitled to consideration. Such a man wins a half bag or a bag of tin, worth fi or £2, gets rations for it from the storekeeper in the nearest town, and returns to get more tin. This goes on month after month and year after year. It seems to me that if underthis scheme all the apples have to be placed in the one basket, the result will be that, as in the case of the small woolgrower, the producers of tin will have to wait for three months before they get any returns from their labour. I ask the Government to let us know what conferences have taken place. Is there anything to be ashamed of? Surely we are entitled to know what is happening. In the interests of a big section of the community who are deserving of consideration, we should be advised of the actual position before any definite steps are taken in regard to the personnel of this association. Are the directors of the association to be appointed for one month, six months, twelve months, or for life? Who is going- to appoint them? We are told, not that the tin producer is to be represented on the association, but that a Government nominee who will look after the interests of the tin producer will be appointed. That does not satisfy me. There should be direct representation, from the tin producers, who have everything to lose or gain from this arrangement. It is useless to wait until the association has been formed, and to raise a hue and cry after the damage has been done. Let us have direct representation of the small men. Let the Government lay all their cards on the table. Let them tell us what has been the result of their consultations, and if everything is shown to be all right no more need be said of the matter. But do not let us make a mistake which might have the effect of forcing our tin producers to deal with an association which has a monopoly and can ‘ control prices, with the result that the working miners, who should be considered, may be given a lower price for their tin than they ought to receive.
.- The House will have considerable sympathy with the honorable member for New England (Lt. -Colonel Abbott). I can see no reason whatever why every phase of this movement should not be made completely open to the public. I should like the public of Australia to know by means of a Ministerial statement in this House how the scheme originated - who has been behind it; who has suggested it; what purpose it is to serve, and by what policy it is to be. governed. The honorable member has taken a very right action in thus seeking in this House to protect his own constituents.
– We want this information in regard to not only tin, but the base-metal business generally.
– I deeply regret the fact that a good deal of this management of the sale of Australian products has been hedged about with too much, mystery. I have heard all sorts of rumours, which, in perhaps ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, are quite unjustifiable. But there are suspicions in the public mind - in the minds of small men generally - as to whether the British Government are getting the benefit of the special prices placed upon Australian products.
– It is very doubtful.
– Then I urge that the Minister in charge of the Australian Pools ought to give to the Australian public figures and facts guaranteeing to our producers that the sacrifices they are making in selling below the world’s prices are “benefiting the British Government, and. therefore the British people, and are not being reaped by the British middleman. I gather, although I am not aware of the facts, that in this case, as in others, it is proposed that there shall be a reduction below the world’s price for tin for the benefit of persons oversea. I am prepared at any time, and am sure that every honorable member is, to make any reasonable sacrifice in the value of our products for the benefit of the British people, who largely protect us here today. But we want to be sure that it is the British people, and therefore the Empire, that benefits, and not some clever manipulator of affairs at the other end of the world.
Take, for instance, the position in regard to copper sent to England, which may reasonably go to . England at the price fixed; or, better still, take the position in regard to molybdenite, in respect of which there was a still greater disparity between the world’s price and that allowed for the Australian product. At the time I have in mind, the price allowed us was only 50 per cent, of its true value. It has been sent to England by arrangement with the British Government at that price, and we want to know whether the British Government or some middlemen have been reaping the benefit. If the middlemen have been securing the advantage, then our whole pooling system is badly administered. Personally, I think the British Government secures the benefit of the arrangement, but the public should be satisfied that it does. I am delighted that my honorable friend has raised this question.
I wish now to make, in a few words, a correction of a statement supplied on Wednesday by the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise). Some time ago I asked a question in reference to the use of spinal beds. On Wednesday the Assistant Minister for Defence replied in this House - and I give the answer in order to explain how far he has been misled by his officers - as follows : -
In reference to a question asked on Thursday last by the honorable member for Wentworth. (Mr. Kelly) about the equipping of military Hospitals with proper spinal beds, I have ascertained that at every hospital where proper spinal beds are required these can be obtained without difficulty, and have been obtained wherever necessary. The beds have been provided by the Bed Cross Society and private donations, but, if any difficulty should be found in this respect, can be obtained from Ordnance Stores.
The Randwick Hospital, which is known as No. 4 General Hospital, is probably the largest in Australia, and in that hos.pital as recently as six weeks ago there was not one spinal bed. As the result of the action taken by Miss Edith Walker, a public-spirited Sydney lady, in presenting one of them to the hospital, I then ascertained that a particular class of patient could be benefited by the use of these beds. I got in touch with the hospital authorities, and secured a rearrangement of the hospital so that spinal cases should be kept on the ground floor to allow of their ready ingress and egress, on these spinal beds, to and from the open air. I asked the hospital authorities what improvement they could suggest on the bed presented by Miss Edith Walker. They offered certain suggestions,- and I gave the manufacturer here in Melbourne an order for an improved bed. He told me that, curiously enough, the bed as sought to be improved by the Randwick Hospital authorities was the very bed offered to the Defence Department a considerable time ago by the Red Cross, and that the offer was turned down.
I ask the Minister to see the officer who supplied him with the erroneous information that he gave in answer to my question. I do not care what he does with him, but I ask him now and here for twelve beds to be at once forthcoming for the Randwick Hospital. I desire that they shall be of the improved type. I learned only to-day that the authorities at the Caulfield Hospital have found out the faults which they have themselves placed in these beds. I ask for a sufficiency of beds for the Randwick Hospital to begin with, and for every hospital in Australia. In a matter of this kind, these hospitals should not have to wait for the Red Cross to help them. The public generally do not know what chances there are of improving the unfortunate position of returned men suffering from spinal trouble. The man in the street does not seek to inquire what opportunities of this kind offer, but the Department, which knows of them, ought to provide these facilities. I urge the Department to see that every Australian hospital is equipped with its proper quota of spinal beds.
.- I beg to support the honorable member for New England (Lt.-Colonel Abbott) in his request, and also to draw attention to the position of the copper producers. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) is understood to be unable to induce the Home authorities to purchase- copper beyond 31st October, and the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) said the other day that he had cabled to the Prime
Minister, asking how far he was at liberty to suggest to the Home authorities that they should allow our copper producers to sell their product to Allied countries. Australia is so far away from the central markets of the world that producers may be disadvantaged, and the Government ought to be prepared to allow these business deals to be discussed openly by the House.
However, I rose particularly to draw attention to the reply by the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) to my question as to whether the Department was stopping the separation allowance, and, in some cases, the allotment money of soldiers who get into disgrace on the other side of the world. I cannot understand how any member of the Government can continue this practice for a moment after the injustice has been pointed out. These dependants are not responsible for the indiscretions or breaches of discipline by the soldiers. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) the other night forcibly and pathetically showed us how easy it is for a soldier at the Front to get into trouble - how the very dreadful experience he goes through may shatter his nerves, make him liable to be absent without leave, and subject him to a sentence of imprisonment for years. I am sure there is no honorable member outside the Government favorable to the practice of the Department; and I ask how long it is to go on. We ought to be allowed to express an opinion on the question whether dependants are to be deprived of their sole support for such reasons; and it is to be hoped that the Government will see that the dependants are paid. Such soldiers, when they went away, did so to do their duty, and, though they may have failed, their failure ought not to be visited on their parents, wives, or children. We know that, in some mysterious way, the sins of the father are visited on the children ; but there is no occasion for the Government to add to their miseries.
.- I should like some Ministerial statement of the attitude of the Government in regard to the suggestion I made last night about preparing for the return of the Anzacs. Whatever is to he done must be done quickly, if the first men to arrive are to have any benefit.
– I understand that the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) is dealing with the matter, and I shall convey the honorable member’s representations to him.
– This business will involve an expenditure of, at the very lowest, £70,000 before all is over, and if we had even an adverse decision from the Government, we could appeal to the public with, I think, success. We ought to be informed, by Wednesday next, at the very latest, whether the Government are prepared to shoulder the responsibility.
.- I desire to support the request made by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott), in the hope that,_ as the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) said, the whole question of the “ basic metal industry of the country will , be dealt with openly, and all. the facts laid before honorable members. I have endeavoured to obtain information from the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) with regard to the deal in zinc and lead between the British Board of Trade and the Australian companies. This is a matter that vitally interests my constituents, who are mainly engaged in the mines at Broken Hill; but no information can be obtained as to the circumstances surrounding this deal. In reply to my question, the Acting Prime Minister said he had information from the British authorities that it was not advisable to make those circumstances public. I cannot see that the prices or output can, by any stretch of the imagination, be construed as information likely to be of service to enemy countries; and if the present silence is observed, it may lead to grave dissatisfaction outside. When the men employed at the mines seek increased wages, in view of the high cost of living, there are no facts available on which they can base their claim, or on which their claim can be answered. In such an event, they will be placed in a similar position to that which arose when a case was before the Arbitration Court, and certain confidential information was handed to the presiding Judge. Such action in regard to the mines at Broken Hill would be most unsatisfactory from my point of view. Those who are actually employed in the industry are entitled to know the conditions operating from the point of view of the share market. We know that a great deal of gambling goes on in regard to mining shares; and if information is in the hands of relatively few people, and the market keeps jumping about, with large sums changing hands, there is created suspicion that ought not to be connected wilh the business. The Government will be well advised if they take the House into their confidence.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.29 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 October 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19181004_REPS_7_86_c1/>.