7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W, Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Yesterday, when the honorable member forBrisbane (Mr. Finlayson) was speaking, I made an interjection, which I find, as recorded in the press, was quite inapplicable. I thought that the honorable member wasreferring to Ministersof State, whereas his observations had reference to ministers of religion.
– What did you say?
– Something about skiting on the platform. I wish to make it perfectly clear that my remark had reference to political Ministers, and not to clerical ones.
– I do not know that the explanation has made the honorable member’s position any better.
– Is it intended, under the Entertainments Tax Act recently passed, to impose a tax of1d. on tickets issued to children to enable them to ride on merry-go-rounds, ocean waves, and similar contrivances for amusements!
– I have observed the statement in the press that the Income Tax Commissioner is levying in a new way on certain forms of entertainment. Of that I know nothing, but I shall make inquiry to ascertain the facts. It was not the intention of the Government that the law should be altered except as to rates of tax, the alteration that Parliament authorized. The incidence of the tax was not affected by the Act recently passed.
– Has a decision been come to regarding the giving of a rebate to jam manufacturers in respect of sugar used for the manufacture of jam ?
– The jam manufacturers will continue to get at concession, rates the sugar they use for the making of jam for Army contracts ; they will not get arebate in regard to the sugar used for the making of other jam.
– As the Government has ceased to enlist men for service abroad, I ask the Acting Prime Minister if he will see that Captain Dyett and the officers under him, who have done splendid recruiting work, and have suffered because their sense of duty has kept them from applying for positions in the Repatriation and other Departments, get fair play, in common with other returned soldiers, in regard to appointments to any posts that may be open?
– It is not the wish of the Government that the returned officers or men who have assisted in recruiting work shall suffer because they have devoted themselves to that work, which, in its nature, was temporary. I have the Highest admiration for the organizing ability of Captain Dyett, and for such of his officers as I am acquainted with. It will give me great pleasure to assist them, should thatbe at all possible, in the manner suggested by the honorable member.
– Will the Acting. Prime Minister consider the suggestion that a British squadron shall be invited to visit Australia to commemorate the Allied victory, in the securing of which it played so great a part ?
– I have seen the suggestion in one of the metropolitan newspapers, but I have not yet given it consideration. I shall consult with the British Government on the matter.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister say whether he proposes to withdraw the Estimates which have been presented to the House, with a view to substituting others drawn up in accordance with post-war requirements?
– The honorable member was at the head of the Treasury Department for some little time, and should know that the Estimates of expenditure from revenue deal with no war expenditure that needs to be altered. The general war expenditure of the Commonwealth is being met out of loan money. How far it may be necessary to alter our loan expenditure proposals, circumstances alone will determine, but the signing of the armistice does not make it necessary to remodel the ordinary Estimates of expenditure.
– There is in to day’s newspapers a long paragraph, apparently inspired by Ministerial authority, which contains a statement to the effect that the Government has it in contemplation to send the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) to England. The paragraph alsocasts a slight reflection upon the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph
Cook), inasmuch as it regards him as nob equally capable of taking part in the business of demobilizing our troops. I wish to know whether the Government intends to send the Minister for Defence to England, and I should like to know also whether military men are notmore suited for the work tobe undertaken than a civilian Minister?
– I have seen the paragraph referred to, and disclaim at once the suggestion that it was inspired in any way by any Ministerial mind or utterance. As I have already announced’ in this House, the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), in conjunction with the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) was to consider and report to the Cabinet as to the advisability of a Minister proceeding to London for the remaining period of the war, some of the other Dominions having sent Ministers there.
– I notice that the honorable gentleman emphasized the words “in conjunction with the Minister forthe Navy.”
– King Charles’ head again ! Apparently the governing desire of the honorable member is to stir up strifebetween two of the most amiable men in the world; I refer to the two senior members of the Cabinet who are now in London. In accordance with the understanding with his colleagues here, the Prime Minister has been in consultation with usas to how far administrative work in connexion with the demobilization of Australian soldiers, &c., requires the presence of a Minister in London. Just before the signing of the armistice, we were considering with him the subject of demobilization in the event of a possible termination of hostilities. We asked him to take charge of the matter while he was in London, and he is now doing so. How long he will be able to stop in London must be determined by the events of the next two or three months. All that is known at present is that a Minister will be called upon to direct from London the demobilization and the embarkation of Australians for Australia until the bulk of our men are returned. That will be done in conjunction with the highest civil and military authorities, for the use of whose brains we can arrange. When the Prime Minister knows when it is likely that he will leave London, we will be able to determine whether the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) should be asked to remain, or whether a Minister should be despatched from Australia. There the matter stands - just as I have told the honorable member.
– Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that, owing to the lack of arrangements for the further sale of Australian copper, many thousands of men will be thrown out of employment early next year, and will he take immediate’ steps to finalize the matter of selling the copper produced next year? Failing that, will he allow the copper companies to make their own arrangements to dispose of their own product?
– The Government have done everything possible to secure an extension of the copper contract made with Great Britain. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has handled - the matter week after week, and the only result of his efforts so far has been the extension of the contract from 30th June last to 31st December next. I can obtain no better information than that; but in the last communication on metals generally that I had by cable from the Prime Minister, he said that he thought the termination of the war would render it difficult, if not impossible, to secure an extension of any contract for which provision had not already been made. I notice, according to press statements - I have no direct information on the point myself - that the British authorities have made a free market in certain metals. If that report be confirmed by cable. I shall take steps to see whether Australia cannot obtain the advantage of that free market.
– Will the Minister for Price Fixing furnish a short return setting out the sources from which the revenue of his Department, as mentioned by him a few days ago, is derived, or’ will he give the House the information in any other form?
– I shall be glad to. see that the information is supplied.
– My attention has only been called to-day to the fact that, on 4th June last, the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) asked the Minister for Price Fixing (Mr. Greene) certain questions arising out of statements that had been made by myself in regard to wheat payments. I think that the honorable member who sought to controvert my statements should, at least, have intimated to me his intention of putting those questions .to the Minister.
– The questions were put in the House.
– ‘The honorable member evidently waited until I was away.
– The honorable member put these statements into my local paper.
– The honorable member, in putting his question, did not correctly set out the statements made by me, but paraphrased them in his own peculiar way. I propose, first of all, to correct the statements which he attributed to me. The honorable member asked the Minister -
Whether he lias seen a statement by the honorable member for Cook, published in a New South Wales newspaper, in which Mr. J. H. Catts states -
The statement that I made was -
Mr. Hughes claimed to have sold 3,000,000 tons of wheat to Britain, yet £75,000 in commission was paid on the transaction. Mr. Hughes said farmers got market price for their wheat, yet Mr. Prothero (Chairman of the British Board of Agriculture) said, on 10th February, 1917, “ that the Australian farmers had sacrificed their profits to feed Britain.” At this time British, American, and Canadian farmers were being paid double at their farms for their wheat than was paid to the Australian farmer.
The second paragraph in the question put by the honorable member set out that 1 had made the following statement: -
That a representative of Armours, the great wheat-buyers of Chicago, had sought, in the middle of 1916, large quantities of Australian wheat on the basis of 12s. 6d. per bushel Chicago, and were prepared to arrange freight equal to from 8s. to 10s. net.
The statement that I made was -
He (Mr. Catts) knew for a fact that a representative on behalf of Armours, the great wheat-buyers of Chicago, had sought in the middle of 1916 to buy large quantities of Australian wheat on the basis of 12s. 6d. per bushel Chicago, and were prepared to make their own arrangements for freight. This would have worked out at from8s. to 10s. per bushel net. This sale was refused on the ground that the British Government wanted the wheat to feed her armies and the civilian population. He applauded the farmers for their great patriotism and generosity to Britain. But the farmers should get credit for their self-sacrifice, and not have it drummed into them until the story became nauseating that they should go down on their knees and thank God for Billy Hughes, their saviour.
The third statement attributed to me in the question put by the honorable member was -
That the payment for wheat to farmers worked out at from 2s.6d. to 3s. per bushel, instead of 4s. 6d., as promised.
What I said was -
Farmers so far had received 3s.11d. per bushel for their 1915-16 crop, and 3s. for the 1916-17 and 1917-18 crops.
– When was this statement made ?
– On 23rd March last. My statement continued -
As a matter of fact, the payment for wheat to small struggling farmers only worked out at from 2s. 6d. to 3s. per bushel, instead of something like 4s. 6d. net as promised. The first dividend of 2s. 6d. did not clear the farmer of the expense of producing his crop. He was left in debt. The storekeeper in many cases supplied inferior goods athigh prices because the farmer could not pay cash. The farmer was then charged from 8 to 10 per cent. interest on the account. When a “ divvy “ of 6d. came along it was mopped up with interest charges and excess charges for goods, and still left the farmer in debt. The same operation took place when the next “ divvy “ of 6d. was paid, which meant that those small dividends did not really go to the farmer, but to the army of middlemen supplying him with financial accommodation.
I notice that the Minister (Mr. Greene), in answering these questions, challenged the accuracy of my statements generally. In the first place, my information as to the price being paid to farmers in Canada was taken from the records of the British House of Commons, in which it was set out, that the farmerswere being paid something like 8s. 2d. per bushel for their wheat on the farms in Winnipeg, Canada. Secondly, as to the offer of Armours to buy wheat in Australia in 1916, it is within my own personal knowledge that that offer was made. The Minister referred to Armours as the “ great meat-packers,” insinuating, with something approaching levity, that it was ridiculous to suggest that meatpackers would be seeking tobuy wheat. As a matter of fact, his own information on this subject needs to be corrected, since Armours have a great wheat-buying department.
-I am afraid that the honorable member is now going beyond the making of a personal explanation.
– I hope to keep within the bounds prescribed by the Standing Orders.
– The honorable member will be in order in showing in what respect he has been misrepresented, but he will not be in order in traversing the whole subject.
– I contend, sir, that I was misrepresented by the Minister in his attempt to throw doubt upon my statement that Armours, whom he described as meat-packers, were a big wheatbuying firm. The truth is that they have a large wheat-buying department, and are one of the largest buyers of wheat in the world. Their wheat-buying department is managed by a Mr. Massey. In the middle of 1916 Mr. Calkins, the manager of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul railway, was in Australia endeavouring to arrange with the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) for a new line of steam-ships to connect with the port of Seattle.
– The honorable member is now going beyond the reasonable limits of a personal explanation, and is making a speech.
– I wish to give the facts in connexion with the offer of wheat purchase.
– The honorable member cannot do that under cover of a personal explanation.
– If the honorable member is going to make a speech, let it be a speech t
– I have no opportunity to make a speech.
– Order !
– The representatives of the wheat districts seem very anxious that the truth should not come out.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to make his personal explanation as brief as possible.
– This great railway company , the representative of which was in Australia, made an offer on account of Armours to purchase 1.000,000 tons of wheat at the price ruling in the Chicago market.
-The honorable member will not be in order in going into that matter in a personal explanation, but must confine himself to correcting any misrepresentation of his own statements; he will not be in order in traversing the whole position.
– Am I not in order in correcting the statement of the Minister ?
– What was the statement?
– The honorable member will not be in order, except in so far as his explanation refers to a” misrepresentation of something that he himself has said. The honorable member cannot open up the whole case - explain the whole position, and cover the whole field of the subject.
– According to your ruling, sir, there is not sufficient latitude to enable me to show that the questions asked by the honorable member were wrong, and that the answers of the Minister were absolutely wrong.
– The honorable member cannot do that by way of personal explanation; he may refer only to something which he himself had said or done, and which has been misrepresented. To that extent, he will be in order in setting himself right - in putting the right complexion on the matter, so far as he himself is personally concerned. Beyond that he will not be in order. A personal explanation is allowed by indulgence of the House; but it cannot be reverted to as a, means of debating a subject generally, or criticising the views or actions of other honorable members.
– I desire to saythat the offer was made, and that the offer was refused, and I know from my visit to America that the price of 12s. 6d. in Chicago was, at that time, the ruling rate for wheat.
– I have no apology to make, but simply desire by way of personal explanation to say that the questions I put were founded on remarks by the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts), at, I think, Beechworth, as reported in a newspaper.
– I was never at Beechworth.
– Then at some town in the vicinity. I can, later, find out what newspaper I quoted from, but it was a newspaper sent to my electorate. The honorable member’s reported remarks were repeated in the Western People, a Labour paper, and the questions I put were founded ‘on the newspaper report.
– The Government have had the control of the sale of metals for some time, and it is hardly likely that there will be any relief given until peace is completed. At the present time there is a good deal of fear that a large number of people may be thrown out of employment unless some guarantee is given in regard to price. Will the Government consider the advisability of giving some guarantee for a short period, say, quarter by quarter, in order to keep the industry going ?
– I do not gather from the honorable member’s remarks what metal interest he is talking about. Certain contracts have been entered into, and will, of course, be observed.
– I am speaking of copper principally.
– I have just explained the position in regard to copper as fully as I think I ought to at this stage. I waa under the impression that the general desire of certain members, and of certain interests in the country, is that we should relax all these things at once. Relaxation if it means the freeing of the market is one thing; but if it involves such action as guaranteeing price, I think that is equivalent to Government control, because we should have to play some part in the industry. In present circumstances, I am not prepared, to make a guarantee to the copper producers of so much per ton of yield, but I am prepared to stand by the statement I made to the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) a moment ago.
– Has the Assistant Mi. lister for the Navy observed that the freight on goods from England to ‘New Zealand has been reduced1 by 25 per cent. ? Can the honorable gentleman say whether a similar action has been taken in regard to Australia or give the House any information on the shipping position ?
– I notice that freights have been reduced. Only today I brought the matter under the notice of the manager of Australian shipping, and I expect to have a reply, probably to-morrow, when I shall let the honorable member know.
– In view of the early return to Australia of many thousands of troops “from overseas, and the difficulty that is likely to confront us in finding suitable employment for them, will the Government, as one of the largest employers of labour, remove the “ cold-footers,” particularly out of the Defence Forces, in order to make room for those who have seen service abroad ?
– The Government will see, as it has endeavoured to see during recent months, that the policy of preference to returned men is given practical and actual effect to.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) tell us whether the Imperial Government has ceased to exercise control over lead and zinc products, and, if not, can the hon orable gentleman give any information as to the sudden increase in the Price of lead as recently reported?
– We have no ‘advice from the Imperial authorities that they have relaxed control in regard to these important munitions of war. I am altogether unacquainted with the cause of the rapid rise in the price of lead, of which I was informed for the first time by to-day’s newspaper. I shall make inquiries, so far as it is possible, to obtain information in the matter.
SHORTAGE op Phosphorus.
– Is the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) aware that, owing to severe drought conditions over a great part of our continent, the rabbit wave is now making itself felt very heavily, and that pastoralists who have to deal with the plague are unable to get stick phosphorus in Australia ? Will some effort be made to provide a stock of the commodity ?
– The Government - have been trying for some considerable time to get a supply of phosphorus, but owing to war conditions, our efforts have not been very successful. Now. however, that the armistice is signed, and peace is close at hand, I hope we may be able to get a good supply.
– Can the Assistant Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) say whether it is intended to proceed with ship-building at the long overlooked port of Portland?
– The matter is under consideration, and to-morrow I hope to be in a position to inform the honorable member definitely as to the result.
– -A week ago I asked the Acting Prime Minister a question relating to certain literature which was addressed to returned soldiers by one of the Government Departments, and I placed in his hand a pamphlet entitled, Bach from the War, which I suggested was calculated to promote bad feeling between returned men and citizens of this country. I now ask him whether the practice of sending out these pamphlets is to be continued or discontinued?.
– In accordance with the promise which I gave to the honorable member on the occasion he refers to I have conferred with the Minister in charge of recruiting, and ascertained that the literature to which he drew attention was promoted by the Minister’s Departmen’t, with the object of stimulating recruiting. In view of the fact that an armistice has been arrived at, and after consultation with myself, the Minister has decided not to issue any more pamphlets. As far as I am able to judge not more than one issue was at any time sent to returning men.
– In view of the enormous increase in the cost of living since the War Pensions Act was” passed will the Treasurer consider the equity of increasing the pensions to those who have been totally incapacitated or deprived of their sight?
– As there is a question on notice in relation to blind soldiers I am not at liberty to answer portion of the honorable member’s question, but in regard to the other matter I may say that there seems to be a misconception of Australia’s position in regard to pensions. In the earlier days of the war we did fix what the pension should be for officers and men, but since then we - probably the first country in the world to do so - have brought forward a repatriation scheme which is superimposed on the old pensions system. It is not fair to judge the reward that the soldier gets in any of the circumstances the honorable member has referred to entirely from the scale of pensions appearing in the schedule to the War Pensions Act, because there is added to it a liberal supplement, which the Minister for Repatriation is giving in certain circumstances. I am not qualified to say whether in every case it meets the circumstances of the’ individual applicant’s life, but I do say that the two - the war pension together with the supplementary grant given by the Minister for Repatriation - form a more generous allowance than any other country has yet provided for its soldiers.
Discharges from Hospitals - Allowance for Civilian Suit.
– Is it the policy of the Defence Department to discharge, while still in hospital, members of the Australian Imperial Force whose papers are marked “ six months free from duty, and three months sedentary duties?
– I have no knowledge of the facts, but I shall make inquiries.
– Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that returned soldiers employed in the Naval Guard, whose services have recently been dispensed with, are given 30s., or an order for that sum, with which to purchase a civilian suit of clothes; and does he n8t think that it is a most inadequate provision? Will he consider the advisability of increasing it to enable the men to purchase a decent suit of clothes?
– I am not acquainted with the facts, but I shall ascertain what the policy of the Defence and Navy Departments is in regard to the matter. If the allowance is not considered sufficiently liberal, I promise that it will be reconsidered.
– A few weeks ago, the Acting Prime Minister promised to take steps to have professional and disinterested balance-sheets prepared in regard to all Government .enterprises upon which the Commonwealth has embarked. I wish to know whether any progress has ‘been made in the matter of employing professional accountants to prepare these balance-sheets?
– As far as my recollection goes, the Business Board of the Defence Department has been dealing with the balance-sheets of several of the Factories under the control of the Department, and I understand that they have secured the services of the best men obtainable for the purpose. The balancesheet of the shipping line was prepared on the advice of professional accountants, and is now the subject of correspondence between Treasury officers and these accountants, in order that the exact circumstances of the life of the vessels may be stated.
– In the course of his duties, lyrical and otherwise, have complaints reached the Postmaster-General albout the management of trunk-line telephones; and does the Minister know that senior officers - lady telephonists in particular - who had obtained an award from the Arbitration Court increasing their wages have been removed from their positions in the trunk lines department and replaced by juniors at a lesser wage, with a view to economizing and making favorable balance-sheets for the PostmasterGeneral ?
– If I were not more capable of making favorable balancesheets than the honorable member is of putting a question decently, I would be a great failure. As the matter referred to by the honorable member concerns the Public Service Commissioner, I shall submit it to him, and let the honorable member have his reply.
Brisbane Staff: Perth Staff
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Eepatriation, upon notice -
– I will furnish a reply to the honorable member’s question at a later hour of the day.
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the resolution passed by theReturned Soldiers Association of Western Australia, in which they deem it an affront to Western Australian returned soldiers that most of the principal offices in the Defence Department in Western Australia are held by men from the eastern States, the Minister will have inquiries made with a view to giving consideration to the claims of some of those soldiers who enlisted from Western Australia?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
The Australian Military Forces are a Commonwealth, and not a State, organization. In the allotment of officers to staffs of Military Districts, the exigencies of the service as a whole are considered. It is frequently neither practicable nor advisable to allot officers to the district in which they originally served.
Competitive Designs for Parliament House
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The information desired by the honorable member will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether he will consider the advisability of increasing the pension rights of totally blind returned soldiers, and particularly those who are single?
– Totally blind soldiers receive full pensions, together with an allowance, in certain circumstances, of £1 a fortnight to provide for an attendant. As the Repatriation Department is arranging for additional benefits to blind soldiers in special cases, an increase in the pension rights to blind soldiers will probably not be necessary. The matter will, however, be kept under notice in connexion with any amendment of the law.
University Training in Great Britain.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the necessity of stabilizing commercial, industrial, agricultural, and pastoral interests, thus helping the repatriation of our returning soldiers, he will take into consideration the further extension of the Moratorium Regulations for a period of three years ?
– The Government is at present carefully considering the question of extension of regulations under the War Precautions Act as indicated in the speech of the Acting Attorney-General when introducing the Bill at present before the House. It may, however, assist the Government if the honorable member will indicate how the commercial, industrial, agricultural,pastoral, and repatriation interests of Australia willbe stabilized by the non-payment of the legally secured debts of the citizens.
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
With reference to thecase of Mr. J. C. L. Asmus, of 122a Asling-street, Elsternwick, who has been dismissed from the Railway Department through the action of the Defence Department, will the Minister lay the file of papers on the Library table, in view of the fact that the Department refused to state charges, and that Mr. Asmus is an Australian native, born of Australian parents?
– It is not thought that it would be advisable to lay this file on the table of the House.
Sydney Telegraphists : Holiday Pay
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– This matter is now the subject of inquiry, and I will reply to the honorable member’s questions as early as possible.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and replies will be- furnished as early as possible.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
In view of the loyalty to the Department shown by the Sydney telegraphic and telephonic staffs and other sections of the Service in carrying out exhausting duties on Wednesday, the 13th inst., which day was proclaimed a public holiday in New South Wales, will the Minister consider the desirability of recognising their services in some practical manner?
– All officers of this. Department were either given a holiday on the 12 th instant - the holiday proclaimed by the Commonwealth in connexion with the signing of the armistice - or will receive double pay as an equivalent. Similar arrangements cannot be recognised for the following day, the 13th, which was a State holiday.
asked the Acting Attorney-General, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the Standard Woollen Company, of Sydney, was declared an enemy firm, and the stock disposed of toy the Government, will the Minister furnish the names and addresses of the various firms who purchased the stock, and the value of the stock purchased by each firm?
– The Standard Woopen Company was wound up in pursuance of an order made by the Minister for Trade and Customs under section 9h of the Trading with the Enemy Act 1914-1916. A Controller was appointed by the Minister, and such powers as were necessary for the winding up were conferred upon him.
It is not considered that the circumstances justify the furnishing of the details asked for.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will the Government supply the serum for the disease known as Spanish influenza to private medical men on the same terms as vaccine, that is, free on condition that the medical men charge a nominal fee to the public?
– The Government will supply the vaccine free in bulk to ‘State Governments for use in free public inoculation. Private practitioners who require individual doses of the vaccine will still have to .pay the prescribed charges.
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Will the Government avail itself of the power under the War Precautions Act to compel the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, Newcastle, to ship directly to Lysaght & Co., Sydney, sufficient rods to prevent the wiredrawing, wire-netting, and nails mills from closing down, and men toeing put out of employment?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Government has no intention of using the War Precautions Act for the purpose indicated.
The Government is informed that -Lysaght Brothers have taken no steps to procure the 100 tons per week of heavy wire which the Government has already stated had been offered to them by the Broken Hill Pty. Company and the Austral Nail Company.
As soon as the rods are satisfactory, and a surplus is available above the requirements of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company and the Austral Nail Company, they will be only too anxious to supply local demands.
The Government has given every assistance to Lysaght Brothers possible by indorsing orders for rods in America, in Canada, and in Great Britain, and by making the necessary arrangements to get >100 tons per week of locally made wire made available to tide over temporary difficulties until imported rods ordered by Lysaght Brothers arrive.
– I call attention, sir, to the fact that while the Minister was answering the question, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) interjected a direct contradiction. If honorable members are guilty of discourtesy of that kind, Ministers will not answer their questions.
asked the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether the Minister will consider the advisability of abolishing the local price-fixing of butter, for the reason that the Inter-State Commissionhas reported that farmers engaged in the dairying industry have difficulty in making a living wage from the same; also, that, after inquiry, there is no exploitation in the industry ?
– The matter hasbeen receiving consideration; but it is not intended to abolish the fixing of prices at the present time.
asked the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
As theMinister has stated that the gentlemen who were appointed a Board of Control of the Butter and Cheese Tool were not consulted before he decided to reduce the price of butter from 168s. to 149s. 4d. per cwt., will he state what are the functions of this Board?
– It is no part of the functions of the Board to fix the price of butter or cheese. At the same time, it is open to it (the Board) to make any suggestion or recommendation it may think fit to the Chief Prices Commissioner. The functions of the Board are set out in Statutory Rules 191S, No. 278.
asked the Acting Minister for the Navy, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1. (a) Estimated cost of steel steam cargo ships approximately £28 per ton dead- weight; (b) from £28 to £33 per ton dead-weight on a sliding scale.
– On the 26th November the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) asked the following question : -
Is it a fact that Mr. Walter Burley Griffin, Commonwealth Architect, was drawing the plans for the workmen’s cottages at the Arsenal “ free gratis “ before the Government engaged Mr. Morell at a salary?
I am now able to inform the honorable member that Mr. Griffin is provided for on the estimates of the Department of Works and Railways, and is subject to the instructions of the Minister of that Department.So far as that Department is aware, the Minister has never asked Mr. Griffin to design cottages; he has never submitted any such designs to the Minister, and this work does not come within his agreement.
The following paper was presented : -
Electoral Act and Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act - Regulations Amended- Statutory Rules 1918, No. 310.
– (Byleave.) - Before formally submitting the motion which stands on the notice-paper for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the War-time
Profits Tax Act, I should like to put before the House the difficulty which occur under standing order 159 in relation to this and similar measures. For some unknown reason that standing order does not permit the first and second readings of a Bill to be taken on the same day, and, as a consequence, only three courses are open to Ministers. The first is to circulate the Bill for press and public criticism before it has come before Parliament, which is an objectionable practice, and should not be permitted to contiuue. The second course is for the Minister to explain the measure on the motion for leave, but that presents two disadvantages, viz., honorable members have not the Bill in their hands, and cannot follow the explanation in detail, and, also, there is induced a double second-reading debate. The third course is to obtain leave to suspend the Standing Orders, so that the first and second readings may be taken on the same day, and the explanation of the measure given when a copy of it is in the hands of honorable members. I propose later to ask the Standing Orders Committee to consider this matter, and recommend a reform measure. In the meantime, I shall ask the House to suspend the Standing Orders so that the second reading of the Bill, which is now to be proceeded with, may be taken immediately after the first reading. That course is particularly necessary in connexion with this Bill, which involves an amendment of a highly technical Act, and unless honorable members can follow the explanation in detail, their difficulties will be intensified tenfold.
– After the second-reading speech, will the Acting Prime Minister agree to a reasonable adjournment of the debate, so that honorable members may have an opportunity to study the measure ?
– I wish to ascertain at this stage if it -is the will of the House to grant leave for the second reading to be taken immediately after the first reading, so that the explanation may be given as I have suggested. If not, I must give the explanation on the motion for leave to introduce the Bill, because it is highly important that this measure should not be allowed to be circulated, and mislead the public before it has been officially explained. -
– (By leave.) - I have no objection to the Acting Prime Minister bringing forward a Bill to amend the War-time Profits Tax Assessment Act, and advancing it sufficiently far to make his second-reading Speech upon, it, but it would be unfair to expect honorable members to proceed to-day with the second-reading debate. The Standing Orders safeguard the rights of honorable members. I presume that there will be distributed with the Bill a memorandum showing how the proposed alterations will affect the principal Act.
Motion (by Mr. Watt) agreed to -
That ‘leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the War-time Profits Tax Assessment Act 1917.
Bill presented by Mr. Watt, and read a first time.
– (By leave.) - I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill provides for certain amendments in the original Act, which experience has shown to be necessary. The Government is alive to the fact that during the past twelve months there has been a sustained agitation for the repeal of that Act, but having considered the matter carefully, Ministers have decided that they would not be justified in proposing its repeal. They have been guided to this conclusion by two considerations: the prospective yield of the tax for the coming year or years - a sum which the Treasury badly needs to cover its necessities - and that it is within the knowledge of the Commissioner for Taxation that excess profits have been “registered during war-time by many different classes of business. We feel that the necessities of the Treasury make these profits a legitimate object of taxation, k am aware that the Act has proved irritating to many persons ; one could not be many months at the head of the Treasury without knowing that. I believe, too, that to some extent it has retarded new business enterprises, and has discouraged the expansion of existing undertakings. I hope that the proposal now submitted may relieve the situation, causing the tax to operate more equitably and with a less repressive effect. Accompanying the Bill is a memorandum showing the effect of the proposed alterations, additions being given in black type and omissions marked in erased type.
I propose to take in order the sections that we desire to amend. Section 8 deals with exemptions. We propose to increase the exemptions. First of all, the profits of shipbuilding undertaken under contract with the Commonwealth are to be exempt. There is ample justification for these exemptions in the need for stimulating and encouraging an industry which is a war-time and post-war necessity. We feel that we should relieve those who embark in this industry from theanxiety or difficulties which might be caused by the taxing of their excess profits.
– Does the exemption cover profits made by the building of ships privately ?
– The amendment is framed to apply only to the profits arising from the building of ships under contracts made with the Commonwealth between the 4th August, 1914, and the Declaration of Peace. The profits of certain mining businesses - such mining businesses as shall be specified by proclamation - are also to be exempted. The proclamation will set out the extent and conditions of the exemption. Coal mining is not to be exempted. Gold mining is exempted under the principal Act, and so is the mining for certain metals, such as tungsten and allied ores, if the output is disposed of to the British. Government, and if it was begun within the time prescribed by the original Act. The proposed amendment will permit of the exemption of tin mines begun since the 4th August, 1914, and of the mining for other metals if for any reason, such as the low-grade quality of the ore being worked, it is considered desirable to give an exemption. The provision is framed in an elastic way, and it was due originally to the strong desire evinced by the large section of the community interested in tin mining to obtain relief for that industry.
– What about copper ?
– If there were a copper mine in which low-grade ore was being worked under great difficulties, the provision is elastic enough to allow an exemption to be given, but copper mining generally, which has proved fairly lucrative since the war began, ‘will not be exempt.
– Is there any special reason for excluding coal mining from exemption?
– It is excluded from exemption in the original Act, and there is a good reason for the exclusion. The price of coal has risen enormously since the war began, and, although charges have increased, certain mines, even with a diminished output, have made profits which should be taxed. However, I propose to deal in detail with objections when the Committee stage is reached. The profits of agency work arising exclusively from commissions on purchases or sales, wherein little or no capital is required, are exempted. This will probably involve a loss of revenue amounting to £20,000. Under the original Act commercial travellers, and those whose remuneration is fixed regardless of the business done, are the only agents whose profits are exempted. Under the Bill it is proposed to exempt from taxation agents whose business income is derived exclusively from commission, and whose capital expenditure is little or nothing. The provision in the original Act has, of course, been much debated, and I think that a reasonable compromise is now proposed. We shall still keep within the scope of the original. Act agents whose business is not the result of personal exertion, butis chiefly the reward of capital.
Under section 11, where a business has not had one pre-war year, or the business has become remunerative only since 4th August, 1914, the Commissioner may grant concessions regarding the tax, but he can do so only to insure the financial stability of the business concerned. Under this provision it has been impossible to avoid harshness in some cases. It is now proposed to widen the discretion of the Commissioner so that relief may be given not merely where the paymentof a tax would affect the financial stability of the business concerned, but also in cases in which, in the judgment of the Commissioner, the severity of the tax should be abated. There may be a difference of opinion on this, as on other provisions, but the Commissioner has plainly expressed his view that the discretion proposed would be exercised without hardship, and would considerably improve the operation of the law. The Commissioner will also be empowered to allow to any new business such a percentage return on capital as he may determine to be just by reference to the pre-war profits of established taxable businesses of the same kind. Where- the new business is not of the same kind as any other established business, but is actually a new industry, the Commissioner is to be authorized to allow such percentage return as he may think necessary in the circumstances of the particular ease. A “ new business “ is defined in the Bill as one that was not commenced until on or after the 4th August, 1913, and was not reasonably established until on or after the 4th August, 1914. “ Established businesses “ are all other . than new businesses. These proposals ave, from many points of view, the crux of the Bill. The argument against the original measure was that it would operate not only to discourage, but even to crush, new enterprises. Of course, there were other objections, as that no allowance was- made for the growth of existing enterprises resulting from the prudent employment of capital. In studying, the circumstances of the new businesses that have come within the 1915-16 assessment,, it is plain that the tax has operated with repressive effect. The Act allows to new businesses. a maximum return on capital of. only 10 per cent. A new boot-making business may have to compete with an old-established business, which made on the average, in pre-war times, a profit of 15 per cent. The old-established business would still be allowed to make that profit during the period of this accountancy and taxation. But the new man, who has to buy and. sell in the same market, is allowed a maximum profit of only 10 per cent, on his capital. The amendment now proposed will have the effect of asking the Commissioner to allow to such businesses as these which are in competition with old businesses, and have not a pre-war standard, the average rate allowed to the old businesses with which they are in competition. Tn this way we feel that the load will be lifted off new enterprises, and that they will start off scratch with the old businesses with which they come into direct competition
– What would be the position of a new business founded on the discovery of a new patent?
– I was about to deal with that matter. My explanation has dealt only with new businesses relating to familiar occupations and industries. But there are in Australia a number of new industries having no competitors in respect of which any pre-war test can be made. In such cases one can adopt only arbitrary methods. This Bill, therefore, gives the Commissioner power to look into the circumstances in which such a new industry is established, to take into account all its risks, and the possible difficulty of continuing it when post-war conditions” arise and international competition is re-created. He will have power to allow as he thinks fit a fair profit rate before excess is awarded. This is safeguarded to the Commissioner and to the individual taxpayer by the other main provisions of the principal Act. The Commissioner does not finally decide all these matters. The principal Act provides for a Board of Referees to whom appeal can be made if the decision of the Commissioner is not regarded as satisfactory. If the decision is regarded as niggardly or as not being fair in all the circumstances of the case, appeal may be made to the Board of Referees. We are really giving primarily to the Commissioner, and secondly to the Board of Referees, power with regard to new industries, to take into account all the related and attendant circumstances, and,’ before taxing excess profits, to allow what, in their judgment, is a fair amount of profit, having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
– They are likely to be kept fairly busy.
– I think not, because, whether we appreciate the fact or not, there have not been very many new industries established in Australia during the war period. We could well do with a great many more. At the same time a number of new industries have been started, while others have been diversified ; but the task of the Board of Referees an regard to this class or group of businesses will not be beyond their compass.
– We want to> encourage new industries.
– When they become permanent and “ stabilized “ - to use the honorable member for Darling’s favourite expression - then they properly come within the reach of ordinary taxation. This, however, is special and extraordinary taxation, and we do not think we should cripple such businesses to the extent that the original Act unfortunately did.
– This means a concession of 5 per cent, to new businesses.
– It might mean far more. Before the war some businesses’ were earning 25 per cent., and in regard to competitive businesses, under the provision I have just explained, if the prewar test was 20 per cent, or 25 per cent, new enterprises will be given the same allowance as the old ones received. By this means both classes will be put on an equality.
– Equality of opportunity.
– And equality of responsibility so far as the tax-gatherer is concerned. I do not recommend these as ideal provisions, but, after studying the matter for many months with the expert officers of the Treasury and Taxation Departments, I feel that they will meet the circumstances, and that they are such as may be accepted,, without fear, by the House.
– Does this Bill make provision for the position of co-operative societies 1
– I shall deal with them later on.
– Does the Acting Prime Minister think that sufficient provision is made in this Bill for new businesses founded absolutely on a patent, in respect of which, in ordinary times, they would be protected under the Patents law for fourteen years ?
– The conditions that applied before the war apply now in that respect. The Patents law has not been abrogated by the conditions imposed by the war.
– But there is a difference in this regard: If a new business founded on a new invention is set up, there can be no guide as to the pre-war standard.
– I have already dealt with that phase of the question. In the case of such a new industry, it will be within the discretion of the Commissioner to fix an arbitrary standard.
– I thought that the Government might have gone further in regard to the position of new businesses founded on patents.
– I shall be glad if the honorable member will refrain from dealing with details until we reach the Committee stage.
I come now to section 12 of the original Act dealing with alterations of capital. Additional capital is at present entitled to the same rate of profit as the- old capital. This means that a business is exempt from tax on profits earned by new capital up to the percentage of the pre-war profits, or 10 per cent., whichever is the greater. It is now proposed to allow only 10 per cent, in respect of the new capital. Reversely a reduction of capital,- under this amendment, will affect the case at the rate of 10 per cent., whereas under the present law the rate of the pre-war standard is used in the calculation. To put the position more clearly before honorable members, let me explain that if a business which, before the war, had a capital of £100,000 and earned 25 per cent, profit, doubled its capital during the war period, them- under the principal Act, it was allowed a 25 per cent, profit in respect of the new £100,000 of capital. We think that that was excessive liberality on our part. We therefore propose that with respect to capital existing in a business, and brought forward from the pre-war time, the pre-war rates, whatever they were, shall be allowed, but that with repect to capital added during the war,- instead of the pre-war rate, only 10 per cent, shall. be allowed. This provision will be objected to strenuously by a certain class of taxpayers who,- in a quite unexpected way, escaped taxation under the original Act. I am quite satisfied, however, that when honorable members come to deal with the matter as a principle, quite apart from the incidental effect of its operation as a tax, they will see that this is a fair provision to make. It is impossible to estimate what revenue this new provision will yield, but I think it will bring to the Treasury a fairly substantial sum. Hence honorable members may expect that it will be resisted by certain individuals; but it is a tightening up of the Act where it should have been tightened up originally.
– Will this apply to watered as well as to real capital ?
– It will apply to every kind of capital, and with respect to. new capital,- it will confine these businesses to the absolutely non-increasing maximum of ]0 per cent. That, I think, is fair. It will not depress the reward of old capital in existence before the war; but we say to those who have extended old businesses by the addition of new capital, “ We shall allow you in respect of these tragic times, when you might well have expected less encouraging conditions, a return of, at least 10 per cent, on your capital.” That, I think, in view of all ‘the circumstances, is very reasonable.
– It seems very fair, but a number of persons might have bought shares on the basis of a return of 25 per cent, on the new capital put into such a business. They will be left lamenting.
– Those who speculate in scrip, or values of any kind based upon securities, mobile or otherwise, must take the risk of any alteration of the law of taxation.
– This will be retrospective for three years?
– That is one of the difficulties with regard to the operation of a War-time Profits Act; but, since our financial necessities are great and increasing, we cannot write an immunity ticket for any citizen who speculates. We cannot tell him that we will regard his position as unalterable because he had regard only to the existing law at the time he purchased. Parliament must .be free to impose what taxation it thinks right and proper.
– Capital might have been increased in. some cases to avoid taxation.
– I do not say that; there might be a bond fide extension of business by way of the introduction .of fresh capital; but we say, in any event, that in. respect of new capital introduced, the profit allowed shall be only 10 per cent. This law is retrospective. The Act as originally imposed was to apply to the year beginning on 1st July, 1915, and closing on 30th June, 1916. That was the first year in respect of which an assessment was to be made, and the taxation in respect of that year has already been collected. Whether this Bill be carried or not, we have yet to collect the tax in respect of 1916-17, 1917-18, ..and 1918-19. We are, so to speak, by means of this Act looking backward to the extent of two and a half years. If these amendments in the principal Act be adopted, they will apply to all assessments covering the accounting periods beginning on 1st July, 1916.
– It will apply to all years in respect of which assessments have not been made? It will not go back to the year in respect of which the people have already paid?
– No; it will ‘not be retrospective in that sense, but will go back to 1st July, 1916.
The Government have consulted, I think, the convenience and necessities of the taxpaying community by not collecting more than one taxation yield in the one year. It would have been possible, under the Act, for the Commissioner to levy at once in respect of the three years, but because of the retrospective effect of the Act, he has regarded such a course as being likely to inflict undue hardship, and has therefore not followed it. He is, so to speak, two and a half years behind the clock, but he hopes in time to catch up arrears.
– - The Government does not propose to limit the profit in respect of new businesses to 10 per cent. Why. then, should the profit be limited to 10 per cent, in respect of capital introduced into old businesses?
– I have already explained that matter. I am aware that explanations are conditioned by two considerations : the power of the speaker to explain, and the power of the recipient to understand.
– I listened most carefully to the Treasurer’s explanation.
– Then the fault is obviously mine. I presume that both the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) appreciate the fact that this- is a second reading motion. The 10 per cent, arrangement on. old businesses is different from that in connexion with new businesses. I think that the 10 per cent. maximum allowed on new capital is fair in view of all the circumstances. That “boils down “ the somewhat long explanation I made, and which the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) inadvertently overlooked. Under the Act - section 13 - as it now stands, the Commissioner has power to grant special relief -
In both these cases the Commissioner is restricted, in giving a concession, to what is necessary to insure the financial stability of the business. It is proposed to abolish the restriction, because in practice it has been found unfair. As an example of the first of the conditions referred to, it may be pointed out that fire insurance companies employ very little capital in the actual business of insurance, but the capital necessarily at stake is large. The premium income is, therefore, a better basis than capital for the comparison between pre-war and war time. May I say in explanation that the ordinary normal business of an insurance company is the reception of premiums and the payment, out of premiums, of working expenses and losses. Although capital has, as insurance to the insured, to be necessarily much larger than the premium income per annum, that capital is frequently invested apart from the business altogether, and is only there in case the premium income should not be large enough to allow the company to pay the losses. Difficulty has arisen in the assessment of such companies, because if it is based on the capital actually used in the business, it seems to be unfair, as compared with other businesses. The premium income is deemed by the Taxation Commissioner to be a better basis than capital for the comparison of pre-war and war-time results. If this amendment is made,the actual operations of the company and their effect on yearly profits will be more in the form of premium income, and not in the form of capital nominally employed in the business.
– You are actually going back to the income tax assessment.
-We distinguish these companies from most, if not all, other enterprises because they are not identical. In consultation with the principal insurance men, I find that they see the utter futility of endeavouring to measure the results of their business by what capital they have in it. We have only made capital the measure of value, or of allowance before the assessment of excess, where it really operates in all the phases of the business.But in cases where it is merely nominally employed, and invested outside altogether, or in advertising, or in the insurance of the company, we have to seek a better basis, and the premium income is considered to be the ideal basis of a fire, accident, or marine company.
– Do you limit the operation of this clause to that class of company?
– No; ‘it is in general terms, but it will be employed only in such cases.
– Can you do that?
– If you read the clause carefully, you will see that it is allowed.
– And what of interestearning investments outside the business?
– Under the principal Act, they are not brought into the profits. I now come to section 15, dealing with the exemption of profits. It is believed that there have been many cases of advertising on an extravagant scale, thus reducing profits, and really causing the Commonwealth to pay 75 per cent. of the cost of the excessive advertising.
– This has been adopted by many companies, drapery and otherwise.
– Not by this Government; we have goodwill, but no advertising.
– You have about a dozen publicity officers.
– For war loans, yes. As I say, it is believed there have been many cases in which advertising on an extravagant scale has been resorted to, thus reducing profits and the resultant tax. To keep such expenditure down to a reasonable sum the Bill provides that, the
Commissioner may disallow expense of advertising if, in his opinion, it is excessive, having regard to the outgoing for that purpose in the last three pre-war trade years. In other words, if the balance-sheet of a company or person shows that that company or person has been pelting money away in advertising, rather than paying it to the Treasury, the Commissioner is empowered to place an advertiser, in regard to that deduction, where he was in 1913-14, and any one who endeavours to evade the tax will find that he still has to pay it, and will be left lamenting.
– We may take it that there are reasons for this?
– I think very good reasons, as the honorable member must know, if he has read the advertising columnsof the Sydney and Melbourne papers during the last six or twelve months.
– We are “ scattering seeds of kindness,” all right !
– I am giving relief with one hand to one class of men who are hit unduly, and reaching out to get those who have escaped fairly lightly; and that, I think, is an ideal attitude for a Treasurer.
Mr.Sampson. -Does the Treasurer say that the Commissioner will have absolute discretion in regard to the charge for advertising in regard to new businesses, where there is no pre-war standard?
– That is a totally different matter. I am now dealing with established businesses, and there is set up a pre-war standard.In the matter referred to by the honorable member, the clauses dealing with new businesses will govern each decision.
Under the existing law, there is a strong temptationfor taxpayers to indulge in unnecessary embellishment of business premises, as three-fourths of the cost may be withheld from the Treasury. The Commissioner in administration cannot now check this; but under theBill he will beable to disallow unnecessary expenditure.
It is considered proper to grant exemption from war-time profits tax in respect of donations to patriotic war funds or to the Repatriation Department. The provision in the income tax law for such de ductions has, therefore, now been included in this Bill.
Income tax is allowed in calculating war-time profits, and war-time profits taxation is allowed as a deduction in the calculation of income tax. The result is not quite exact in practice, and a slight amendment is suggested to make the calculation definite. As an illustration of the effect of the amendment, the case may be taken of an individual taxpayer with war-time profits of £5,000 and a pre-war standard of £3,000; his apparent excess profits would be £2,000. From that amount there must be deducted his income tax, say, £566, leaving £1,434 as the taxable excess profits. The tax at 75 per cent. would be £1,075 10s. The income tax assessment of the profits would then be amended by deducting £1,075 10s. from the £5,000 profits, and calculating the income tax on the balance. Any over -payment would be deducted from the excess profits tax or refunded, as the case required. The present law interpreted strictly would require the adjustment to be continued at length in both assessments.
In the case of mining, the income tax law allows a. deduction in respect of profits expended on development or appropriated for development and new plant. The War-time Profits Tax Act only allows deduction of profits appropriated for development or new plant. Experience shows this to be unfair to small mining businesses, because they generally expend all their income on development as it is received, and have nothing at the end of the accounting period to appropriate. Large businesses did not suffer in this respect. The income tax law enables large and small mining businesses to enjoy deductions of expenditure on or appropriations for development and new plant, and it is proposed to embody the same provision in the War-time Profits Tax Act.
– Will that mean a reserve for development?
– The way the amendment will operate if accepted, and the way a similar section operates under the income tax, is that a big company first of all, at the end of a year, ascertains its profits, and sets aside by resolution of the shareholders, on the recommendation of the
Board, certain sums for development during the coming year. The Commissioner allows that, and deducts it from the taxation of that particular year. If the money is spent in development in the following accounting period well and good; it is not accounted for taxation purposes. If al!, or some of it, is not spent it is brought into the next accounting period. That is the law as it at present stands in regard to appropriated moneys, but expended money is not treated in the same way. I think that with fairness we ought to bring the War-time Profits Act into line with the Income Tax Act in relation to large and small mining companies engaged in business.
Where, since the first of the three prewar trade years up to the beginning of the accounting period under assessment, a business has shown a loss, and the profits of such accounting period have been applied in extinction of that loss, then a deduction is allowed under the present Act in reckoning profits for tax. Owing to faulty drafting the relief can be given only where there are three full pre-war trade years. An amendment is submitted to apply the concession where there are less than three such years. It has been found that the present law acts with undue severity on some businesses established one or two years before the outbreak of war.
The Act now permits a deduction to be made from profits equal to the difference between interest paid on borrowed money which has not been repaid at the end of the accounting period and the statutory percentage thereon. Let me make this matter plain. If a man has a capital of £10,000 of his own, and £5,000 borrowed, the latter by way of bank overdraft or otherwise, he is allowed on his own capital, either the pre-war test or 10 per cent., whichever he elects. On the borrowed capital he is allowed the same rate that he pays for it. If he pays 6 per cent. for the money, and elects to take the 10 per cent. rate, he makes a profit on the borrowed money of 4 per cent. nominal, but he is allowed only the amount that is owing, at the end of the accounting period, on the 30th June or 31st December. It is felt that the aver age amount of borrowed money used to produce the profits in the period under review is the proper factor to take into consideration, and not the amount accidentally owing at the end of the accounting period.
– How will that be arrived at by the average taxpayer?
– It is arrived at by consideration of the facts. In the balancesheet to be assessed the taxpayer can show that in daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly rests, his overdraft, or borrowed money, ran at so and so. On this it is a very easy thing to fix the average amount of money borrowed, and assess that sum rather than the particular moneys actually owing at the end of the accounting period. The Bill, therefore, provides for basing the calculation on the average borrowed money used in the accounting period. The deduction will not be made when ascertaining the pre-war standard, as that would penalize the business. It will operate only during the war period under review.
Another amendment will allow the Commissioner to recognise interest which has accrued and become due, but has not been paid. If a man’s balancesheet at the end of his accounting period is prepared in June, and the bank in which he- does his business closes its books on the 31st March or the 30th September, the actual interest on his overdraft is not paid at the date of the preparation of the balance-sheet, because the adjustments between the bank and the customer do not synchronize, but, nevertheless, the money is due, and he can bring it into account in the year as if it were paid. This simply applies a principle which is operating for deduction purposes in the Income Tax Assessment Act.
A new sub-clause is proposed to exempt such portion of the profits of co-operative societies as is distributed by way of bonus or is set aside for that purpose, but the tax will apply to reserve profits. This amendment deals particu larly with an inquiry submitted by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton). This is a Bill that either sets out to catch or will catch what are popularly called profiteers - the original Act was designed in that way - ‘but the particular institutions dealt with in this proposed addition to section 15 are the very antithesis of profiteers. They are co-operating units, which seek to prevent men from battening upon them, and to procure supplies for themselves and their families with the abolition, as far as possible, of all secondary or tertiary charges, by cutting out the middleman and getting as close as possible to the producer. The Act, ‘as drawn, has shown a danger - I am not sure that it is not more than a danger - of reaching people whom we never intended to reach, who may make a dividend at the end of a year, of, say, ls. or 2s. in the £1 on purchases from the co-operating unit, which is equivalent to a reduction in prices when profits are ascertained. We say that all money that comes back to the co-operators or is set aside for that purpose will be free of taxation under this Bill.
But there are other companies - and this is why we cannot exempt co-operative companies entirely without great risk - that work under the clothing of cooperative companies, but are merely such in principle and not in effect. I could name numbers of them, but I have no wish to particularize, because they are beneficial organizations. However, mostly they arc trading propositions, which should pay this tax if they are liable for it. This provision will bring them under the tax, because it will apply to profits made by trading with people other than members of the societies. Honorable members know of societies in Melbourne and Sydney which started as co-operative societies, whose chief “business how is with the general public. We do not propose to release from the grip of the tax gatherer profits made from non-members in the ordinary wholesale and retail trade.
– Will the exemption apply in the case of co-operative butter factories, where some of the suppliers are not shareholders, and a bonus is given back to them?
– In Victoria, the aim of the’ Victorian co-operative butter men is to have the shareholder and the supplier in common, but that is not always possible, because some men’s interests die out and others come in. I take it that the effect of this legislation will be to release from taxation the man who is common to both, that is to say, the man who is both supplier and shareholder.
– More than 50 per cent, of the suppliers of co-operative butter factories are non-shareholders.
– They -will not be taxed because they are not interested in the profits.
– The Bill deals with bonuses, and they receive bonuses in the subsequent year.
– In any case there is an exemption of £1,000 provided in the Act, and dairymen are already exempt from the war-time profits tax.
– All the co-operative companies have been liable to pay so far.
– Not under the present law, with its £1,000 exemption, and the effect of this amendment will be to give relief equal to total exemption to the iona fide co-operative companies. The tax will only affect those concerns which are co-operative in principle, but not in effect.
The last amendment I desire to explain is a simple one, but its effect may be very beneficial. It deals with section 59 of the original Act. Under the Land Tax Act a Board consisting of the Commissioner of Taxation, the Secretary to the Treasurer, and the Comptroller General of Trade and Customs may release taxpayers from the payment of the whole or any part of their land tax if by reason of drought, adverse seasons, or other conditions the returns from the land have been seriously impaired. It is proposed’ to give similar relief in connexion with the war-time profits tax. The effect of the amendment will be to say to the primary produce* who is subjected to conditions over which he has no control, “ We propose to apply to you in connexion with the war-time profits tax the same principle as we apply to you under, the land tax.” I think this ought to be regarded as a relief. If drought should strike any particular group of landowners or any particular section of the community, 1 do not want to feel that we are taking, under this measure, any more than we do under the Land Tax Act from a man at the time he is smitten most, and calling upon him to pay taxation for an earlier period, with the prospect of ruining himself in the attempt to do so. The provision in the Land Tax Act, which was so very novel when the measure was first introduced, has proved safe and beneficial. Regularly the officers whom I have mentioned meet and hear appeals from taxpayers. A great many of the appeals are turned down. A substantial number is dealt with sympathetically by remissions or reductions. Returns axe made to this House once a year of what remissions are made, and the officers know that the eyes of Ministers and Parliament are upon them in making remissions. The same conditions should apply in regard to the war-time profits taxation. While giving substantial relief in cases where hardships strike the primary producer, we provide a safeguard so that he may not improperly evade the tax.
I do not pretend that this Bill will relieve the anxieties of every man who has had to pay this taxation under the 1915-16 assessment, or is expecting to pay under the three succeeding years, but while keeping in view the huge obligations that are mounting high on the Treasury, I say that we cannot alford to let this tax go, especially when we know that it rests mostly on those who, by reason of having made excess profits, are well able to pay, or can finance themselvesso that they can make themselves able to pay. Having endeavoured, after many months of careful study, with the officers of the Treasury, to understand the diffi. culties of assessees, and keeping in view the needs of the Treasury, I feel sure that this Bill, when studied by honorable members, will be regarded as a reasonable advance which, while taking out most of the sting of the original Act, will yield to the Treasurer what he is entitled to get at this particular time.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Tudor) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 22nd November (vide page 8249), on motion by Mr. Groom -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- When the Acting Attorney-General concluded his speech on this Bill on Friday last, and I asked for the adjournment of the debate, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) asked that the resumption of the debate be fixed for Thursday. The Minister said that he would fix the date for Wednesday, and would then meet the convenience of honorable members as to the actual resumption of the debate.
– I said that I would do so as far as practicable.
– I did not receive a copy of the Minister’s speech until yesterday. I do not think that the Minister is keeping faith with the House.
– That was what I was about to say.
– We are going on with this Bill. The honorable member has no right to allege a breach of faith on the part of the Minister.
– I regret that I happen to bethe individual between two buffers, simply because the Acting Prime Minister happens to resent the remarks of the honorable member for Henty, who considered that he was justified in attacking the Minister. I regret that we have not had an opportunity of going through the Minister’s speech carefully. I am opposed to the extension of the War Precautions Act by even one minute beyond the period fixed by the original Act. The Act was assented toon the 29th October, 1914, and honorable members will see, by referring to Hansard, that from the motion to introduce to the carrying of the third reading, less than two hours elapsed.
– It was introduced by the honorable member’s Government.
– By the Government of which I was a member. The honorable member is now just a political hack for the Government of which he is a supporter. He is always making sneering remarks. He has descended lower in the political scalethan any other honorable member in this House.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) not to interject, and the Leader of the Opposition not to reply to interjections, which are disorderly.
– If the honorable member inter jects, and I have the opportunity to reply I shall do so.
– The honorable member knows quite wellthat he must not proceed on those lines, and that interjections are disorderly, and should not be replied to. I have asked honorable members not to interject, and I request the Leader of the Opposition to confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– The importance of this debate demands a quorum. [Quorum formed.]
– Hansard shows that on the 28th October, 1914, leave was given to introduce the Bill, and the Standing Orders having been suspended, the second reading was then moved by the then AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Hughes), at 3.46 p.m., and the Bill was read a third time at about 5.40 p.m. on the same day. Only about half-a-dozen honorable members spoke to the Bill. Amongst them was the then honorable member for Flinders (Sir William Irvine) who said that the provision in clause 5 was absolutely unlimited, and he continued-
It invests the executive Government of the. duy with the most complete power to legislate, whether Parliament is sitting or not sitting, on any matter touching the action or conduct of any member of the community.
Thepresent Acting Prime Minister (Mr Watt) said when the Bill was in Committee -
I believe that the Government are wise in asking for the widest powers, provided they are prepared to exercise them with discretion, and to take the fullest responsibility.
The only honorable member who expressed any opposition to the Bill was the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs).
– I fought it when the honorable member was assisting the Government to put the acid on.
– The honorable member for Denison did not speak on the first War Precautions Bill. He opposed some of the provisions in the second War Precautions Bill, which was introduced iu 1915. The first man to oppose the second Bill was the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews). Later, opposition was expressed by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), and the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith). The Minister in charge of the second Bill was the present- Minister for Customs (Mr. Jensen), who said on page 2680 of Hansard (28th April, 1915)-
The Bill will operate only so long as the war lasts.
– I call attention to the fact that there is not aquorum present. [Quorum formed.]
– The present Prime Minister, when introducing the first War Precautious Bill in 1914, said -
The Bill confers upon the Government power to make orders and regulations of a farreaching character, and, as honorable members may see in clauses 4 and 5, is mainly directed to preventing the leakage of important secrets, to secure the safety of means of communication, railways, docks, harbors, or public works, and to deal effectively with aliens, and, in certain circumstances, with naturalized persons. Its aim is to prevent the disclosure of important information, to give powerto deport and otherwise deal with aliens, to interrogate and obtain information in various ways, and to appoint officers to carry into effect any orders or regulations which may be made under the Bill.
To what extent has the Act operated in regard to those things which were said in 1914 to be the most important considerations governing its introduction ? It has operated in a manner different from what was expected by any honorable member.
– It is building up trusts and combines all over Australia.
– No one will say that the Act was intended to operate as it has done. The Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom), in introducing this Bill, said that certain persons had been asked for advice as to whether the Act should continue, and they had given an affirmative recommendation .
– I said the Defence Department had asked the various Boards to report on the subject.
– I have never known people to be ready to surrender any powers which they had acquired.
– Some of the members of those boards were acting in an honorary capacity, and did most patriotic work.
– I say not one word against those mcn. Some of the members of the boards have done good work for the Commonwealth during the war period.
– And have acted in a disinterested manner.
– I admit that, but I am not prepared to hand over the legislation of the Commonwealth to persons who have not been elected by the people.
– The. House is. not asked to do that.
– Regulations are framed and brought into existence at the instance of these boards; we no longer have government by the Government or legislation by Parliament. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) made one of the smartest remarks I have heard in this Chamber when he said that the two* men who are governing this country are the Prime Minister and the Government Printer. Before us on the table are five bound volumes comprising the regulations issued under the “War Precautions Act.
– That is a gross misrepresentation. All the War Precautions Regulations are contained in a small papercovered booklet which I hold in my hand.
– That is not so; there have been dozens and dozens of War Precautions Regulations. At the GovernorGeneral’s Conference the Prime Minister said that he would wipe out “the whole damned lot,” but the Government have not wiped out one of th en]. The War Precautions Act has. been used for purposes entirely .different from those intended when it was passed.
– The honorable member knows that he is not correct in stating bli at no regulations were wiped out as the result of the Recruiting Conference.
– If the continuance of special boards and powers is required, a special Bill for that purpose should l-e introduced.
– Yes. Members are receiving new regulations under the War’ Precautions Act every week, and I have previously referred to one regulation which amended no fewer than twentyfive others. A man .requires a legal training to be able to understand the effect of all these regulations. We have been governed during the last four years, and will continue to be governed for another twelve months if this Bill is passed, almost entirely by the War Precautions Act. The Peace Conference is not likely to reach finality for some time because of the disturbed condition of the enemy countries. Germany particularly is in such an unsettled state that the Allies’ delegates cannot meet representatives of Germany at the Peace Conference with any certainty that the terms agreed upon will be carried out.
– I hope the enemy will never be met in conference.
– Whether enemy delegates do or do not sit at the Peace .table, any agreements arrived at must be with enemy authorities, who we know can be held responsible for the acts of the nations they represent. That being so, the Peace Conference is not likely to come to a determination in the near future, and until peace is signed a state of war will continue. We are told by the Minister (Mr. Groom) that -
In the United Kingdom, a special legal committee, consisting of Mr. Justice Atkins, Mr. Justice Roche, Mr. J. H. Balfour Browne, K.C., Mr. C. 0. Lawrence, K.C.. Mr. C. A. Russell, ICC, Mr. R. F. Norton, K.C., Mr. G. A. H. Branson, and Mr. Roland Burrowes as secretary, was appointed to inquire, inter alia, “ into the legal questions that may arise as to the determination of the date of termination of the war for the purpose of the various Acts, Orders and regulations, the duration of which - depends directly or indirectly upon that date.” In the Commonwealth we have passed a large number of Acts in which that or similar terms are used. This committee in Great Britain reported as to the date of the end of the war - “ We assume that the war will be ended . by a treaty or treaties of peace. In order to arrive at a final conclusion of the treaty, various stages will probably be required, such as agreements for armistices, cessation of hostilities thereunder, articles, of peace, agreement of terms, signature of terms, ratification, exchange, or deposit of ratification. In our opinion, speaking of legislation generally, the war cannot be said to have ceased until peace is finally and irrevocably obtained, and that point of time cannot bc earlier than the date when the treaty of peace is finally binding on the respective belligerents, and that is the date when ratifications are exchanged.”
Sir Robert Best .interjected that the Bill really means the extension of the Act for twelve months, to which the Minister replied -
It is impossible for us to say at this stage exactly on what date the war will end. It may be that the Peace Conference will meet early and come quickly to a decision. On the contrary, the discussions may be very prolonged.
In voting for the Bill, honorable members will vote for the continuance of regulations some of which are necessary, although others would be wiped out tomorrow if they were brought before a Court. We were promised at the beginning of this series of sittings that a Bill would be introduced to put price fixing on a better basis, but last Friday the Government told us that that measure was not to be proceeded with. If there is one thing that needs to be put on a better basis, it is price fixing.
– Would not a Bill to put price fixing on a better basis be unconstitutional ?
– Yes. Price fixing is unconstitutional now. I say that on the authority of Chief Justice Griffith.
– Has he said that? The judgment of the Court in the case to which the honorable member is referring was that price fixing was legal and constitutional.
– The decision of the Court was that in so far as the cost of commodities might interfere with recruiting and prevent Australia from taking her part properly in the war, price fixing was valid, -but that otherwise it would not be valid. If the Master Bakers’ Association took the case again to the Court, or if any other employers’ association took a similar case, price fixing would go by the board. No one knows that better than does the Minister.
– Sir Edward Mitchell gave a luminous opinion on the subject.
– That opinion was given in connexion with the meat industry. Now that the armistice . has been signed, the position is different. The Minister (Mr. Groom), no doubt using the law reports, quoted Sir Samuel Griffith to this effect -
I agree generally with Mr. Mann’s argument that the power to legislate with respect to defence extends to any law which may tend to the conservation or ‘ development of the resources of the Commonwealth so far as they can be directed to success in war,
That is absolutely gone; the war is over.
– No honorable member thinks that it is likely to break out again. In my opinion, the Chief Justice would now give a judgment contrary to that from which I have quoted.
– No one respects a dictum of the Chief Justice more than does the Acting Attorney-General.
– 4That is quite true. He is probably one of the most eminent lawyers that the Empire has ever seen.
– -I believe that his decisions will be quoted long after many of us are forgotten.
– We were fortunate in getting him as our first Chief Justice.
– To continue the quotation from his judgment - or may tend to distress the enemy or diminish his resources, as, for instance, by the prohibition of trading with him or with persons associated with him. But this definition is not exhaustive. The control of finance or trade may be the most potent weapon of all. One test, however, must always be applied, namely: Can the measure in question conduce to the efficiency of the forces of the Empire, or is the connexion of cause and effect between the measure and the desired efficiency so remote that the one cannot reasonably be regarded as affecting the other? . . .
Applying this well-established doctrine, the question is whether the Act and regulation - the .validity of which is now called in question - can be regarded as substantial laws relating to defence; in other words, whether the provisions of the regulation can conduce to the more effectual prosecution of the war. It is not necessary for the Court to point out the particular way in which they can have that effect. But the Court may, I think, take judicial notice of the fact that the past season’s harvest was most abundant, and that vast quantities of wheat, far exceeding the possible consumption of the Commonwealth, are awaiting export; while, owing to the operations of war, the supply of freight is deficient. It is obvious that for economical, as well as other reasons, the export of the surplus to the United Kingdom or the Allied nations may be highly desirable for the more efficient prosecution of the war. It seems to follow that any law which may tend, ‘with or without the aid of other measures, to encourage such export, may be conducive to the more efficient conduct of the war.
Sir Samuel Griffith, repeated continually that price.fixing was valid only as it conduced to the more effective conduct of the war. There will be no need for this Bill until peace has been signed.
– I am sure that the honorable member realizes that we- could not have a sudden stoppage of all the regulations.
– I would put a stop at once to the operation of the censorship, and certain other administrative acts which are being done under these regulations. I know how harassing many of the restrictions have been.
– The honorable member also knows that many of them are essential.
– I fail to see that many of them are essential to-day.
– It is not proposed to abolish the censorship.
– No doubt it will operate in the future as it has operated in the past.
– I made a contrary statement.
– I draw the attention of honorable members to a report of a. speech which I delivered in Adelaide twelve months ago, which was so absurdly censored that things which I had said at an afternoon meeting were allowed to be published, but when repeated at an evening meeting were suppressed. The two speeches were censored by the same man. Perhaps he got tired of reading the report. The Minister, in introducing the Bill, said -
The far-reaching nature of the operations nf the war necessitated the exercise of extraordinary emergency powers, the administrative intrusion on the part of the Government into areas of finance, industry, production, and distribution never before contemplated, and an interference with the rights of individuals and their freedom of action of a character quite alien to the customs of our Tace.
We have had more than enough of the Act. It has not been fairly administered. It may be said that I was a member of the Government that introduced it. That is so. But I would have left that Government at once had the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in introducing the measure, made plain the manner in which it would be used. He spoke of it as a measure affecting aliens, and as designed chiefly to prevent the enemy from getting information. Only last week-end we had an illustration of the manner in which the Act is administered. Some girls had cameras with which they were trying to get pictures of returning Anzacs, but these cameras were seized by the police, and the possessors told that they could not get them back until they had gone 1,000 yards from the pier. Of what use to the enemy could any picture that they might have taken have been ? The mere photographing of an empty wharf would result in the seizing of one’s camera. Although these unofficial photographers had their cameras seized, the newspapers were allowed to take and ? publish photographs of the Anzacs coming down the gangway to the wharf. The incident illustrates the absurd way in which the Act is being administered by the Defence Department. Yet we are asked to extend its operation for virtually twelve months- longer. I hope that the peace treaty may be signed earlier than seems likely, though I think that it will be some little time longer before we have peace.
– We are at peace now practically.
– According to the eminent legal gentlemen referred to by the Minister -
The war cannot be said to have ceased until peace is finally and irrevocably obtained, and that point of time cannot be earlier than the date when the treaty of peace is finally binding on the respective belligerents, and that is the date when ratifications are exchanged.
The original Act was to remain in operation for the period of the war and six months thereafter, and this opinion sou* out when, from a legal point of view, the war may be said to have ceased. The Minister said -
The sudden cessation of the activities which have arisen in consequence of the war could not be accomplished without danger to the community, financial and commercial loss of a serious character, and a grave disturbance of social and economic conditions.
He failed, however, to show in respect of what activities danger was likely to arise.
– What about the shipping?
– Should not the burden of showing in what direction it is necessary to continue these activities fall upon the Government?
– Precisely .
– They want six months in. which to think about it.
– Quite so. The Minister has failed to show why this extension, of the Act is necessary.
– Surely the Minister should schedule those regulations which, in the opinion of the Government, ought to be continued.
– Undoubtedly. The honorable gentleman said that I have done him an injustice in referring to the numerous regulations that have been passed under the War Precautions Act.
– I think so, having regard to the fact that the honorable member held up several volumes of regulations covering the period from’ 1901 to 1914, thus leading the House to believe that they consisted solely of regulations framed under the War Precautions Act.
– I held up five volumes, two of which contained all the regulations framed under Acts passed by this Parliament from 1901 to 1914. The remaining three volumes consisted of regulations framed under Acts passed since then. Most of them were regulations passed under the War Precautions Act.
– Putting aside themere question of bulk, should not the Government go through the whole of the regulations under the War Precautions Act, and set out which of them they need to continue ?
– We. are doing so.
– They will have ample time to do that before the existing Act peases to operate.
– We should then know what regulations we were really continuing.
– That is so.
– The Minister has four months in which to do that.
– I cannot say whether he has four months or six months, but he certainly has a considerable time in which to take that action -before the existing Act ceases to operate.
– The Ministry had better accept that suggestion, otherwise I do not think they . will have much chance of carrying their Bill.
– The Government would certainly improve the position by setting out what regulations they desire to remain in operation.
At the Recruiting Conference convened by the Governor-General the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) promised that if I and other representatives of Labour supplied him with a list of the War Precautions Regulations to which we objected, he would see if something could not be done in regard’ to them. A day or two later he left for London, and on the 10th May I addressed the following letter - which appeared in the press - to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) : -
Melbourne, 10th May, 191S.
With further reference to the Recruiting Conference, and Statutory Rules, Regulations, and Proclamations regarded by the Labour party as objectionable in themselves or in their administration, and calculated to engender unnecessary bitterness, I beg to submit for the consideration of your Government the following principles and illustrations: -
Rules or gazetted prohibitions forbidding the introduction into Australia of papers and other periodicals published and freely circulating in Great Britain - e.g., the habour Leader - should be withdrawn, and the ban removed from publications, the attitude of which to the war is purely Christian and ethical, and entirely free from the taint of disloyalty, e.g., The Ploughshare, The Weapon, Defeat, Tlie Fiddlers, and many others now prohibited.
Finally, the Labour party believes that the Statutory Rule is no just substitute for an Act of Parliament, and deplores the extent to which this method of legislation has been re; sorted to. It, nevertheless, thinks that, in the absence of the larger reform, much progress could be made towards a better feeling in the community on the lines tentatively laid down herein as a basis on which the Government might be expected to redeem the promises made at the Recruiting Conference, and we trust that we shall soon have necessary administrative evidence of the removal of all obstacles to more harmonious relations amongst the people.
This letter was acknowledged by the Acting Prime Minister on the 16th May in a communication in which he stated that he would have to consult the AttorneyGeneral’s Department before sending me a final reply.
The Government have resorted to statutory regulations to do what should have been accomplished only by legislative enactment.
The Minister, in introducing the second Bill, stated that every regulation made under the Act ‘ would come before the Parliament. We know, however, that not one regulation framed under the War Precautions Act has come before Parliament.
– Copies of every regulation have been supplied to honorable members. We have all been fairly treated in that respect.
– We certainly have re-, ceived copies of every regulation framed under the Act, but we have not had an opportunity to discuss then’, in the House. On the business-pa,per at the present time there are at least five notices of motion for the disallowance of regulations made under the Act, but no time has been set apart for their consideration. Those regulations, relating chiefly to industrial matters, are in operation to-day, and much of the industrial turmoil that has arisen has been due to them. Last year I gave notice of my intention to move for the disallowance of .Statutory Rule 217 of 1917, relating to the deregistration of unions. A big industrial dispute was then in existence. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Wallace) also gave notice of motion to disallow Statutory Rule 190 of 1917.
– The deregistration of unions was an act of default.
– No; Mr. Justice Higgins declined to act in the matter.
– Some of the other Judges did.
– But I am referring now only to regulations framed under the Commonwealth law. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West), the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), and the honorable member for Cook (Mr. J. H. Catts) all gave notices of motion for the disallowance of certain statutory rules under the War Precautions Act. However, we have had no opportunity to discuss these regulations. On the 10th May, I wrote to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), but received no reply until the 11th June. The reply was- -
In reply to your letter of 10th ultimo with reference to the Recruiting Conference, and the Statutory Rules, regulations, and proclamations regarded by the Labour party as objectionable in themselves or in their administration, and calculated to engender unnecessary bitterness, I desire to inform, you that I have given the fullest consideration to the principles and illustrations detailed by you in your communication, with a view to reconsidering such of the rules, regulations, and proclamations as might reasonably be regarded as obstacles to recruiting.
t note, with gratification, that the Labour party, being desirous of doing everything necessary and proper for the conduct of the war, takes no exception to any regulation which is capable of reasonable and equitable interpretation, and which is employed only in helping to secure the national safety and wellbeing. The general body of the regulations issued under the War Precautions Act is capable of such an interpretation. The importance of the impartial administration of the regulations is fully appreciated by the Government; but, in the exercise of their discretion, whilst desirous of securing the good-will of all sections of the community, the Government must be guided more by the nature of the acts, and the national interests involved, than by the consideration of the effect that any official action is likely to have in giving offence to any particular class of persons in the community.
The Government appreciates with you the value of free discussion, the right of public meetings, and the freedom of the press; but in war time, rights fully recognised in peace are necessarily subject to certain limitations in the national interests. You mention the limitations imposed to withhold matters advantageous to the enemy or likely to give offence to an allied Power. The Government hold strongly the view that the further limitation not mentioned by you is also necessary - the prohibition of matter prejudicial to recruiting. You make reference to the censorship of the press, but you suggest the repeal of no particular regulation in this regard. It is presumed, therefore, that you are more concerned with the administration in this connexion. In reply, I desire to inform you that recently a conference of representatives of the press was held to consider the question of press censorship. A committee of four (4) were constituted as a Board of Appeal. The Labour press is represented, and any matter on which the press feel themselves aggrieved can be referred to this Board and dealt with. It is considered that this should remove any objections which have been raised in connexion with the administration. You specify Statutory Rule 1917, No. 304, and various amendments, and presumably refer particularly to Regulation 42 of the Military Service Referendum Regulations, which deals with the making of false statements of fact of a kind likely to affect the judgment of electors in relation to their votes. As regards administration, instructions were given some time ago to take no further action in any matter arising out of this regulation, and the Government is prepared to repeal it. As regards Statutory Rule 1917, No. 182, mentioned by you, that is the regulation which prevents the unlawful assembling of individuals in and around Parliament House. This regulation corresponds with the statutory protection which exists in connexion with the State Parliament. The area in which it operates around the Federal Parliament House is the same as that which previously existed in connexion with the State Parliament, and it in no way affects the general rights of citizens holding public meetings anywhere except in the prohibited area. The
Government cannot see how the existing regulation can be said to interfere with the right of citizens to freely discuss public matters.
With respect to those Statutory Rules which, in your judgment, prejudicially affect the status of industrial organizations, and the conditions of labour and employment, I desire to inform you that the view of the Government with regard to those specifically mentioned by you is as follows: -
Statutory Rule 1917, No. 190, imposes a penalty on those who interfere with or hinder the discharge, loading, coaling, or despatch of shipping, or with industrial operations connected therewith. This regulation being necessary for the protection of transports in time of war, its continuance is considered necessary for the national well-being and the efficient prosecution of the war.
Statutory Rule 1917, No. 196, prevents the institution , of certain actions arising out of the failure to perform certain contracts for the sale and delivery of wheat. As the regulation was intended by the Government for the protection of the Commonwealth and State Governments, and officers and authorities of the Commonwealth and the States in respect of action taken in the public interest in connexion with the Wheat Pool, it is difficult to understand why the repeal of this regulation is asked for. Several regulations of a similar character exist, and are necessary for conserving public interests. This regulation can in no way be construed as an obstacle to recruiting.
To only one of our requests in this regard did the Government agree, and that was in connexion with the referendum -
Statutory Rule 1917, No. 212, confers upon the Governor-General the power to de-register organizations registered under any Commonwealth or State Act. This regulation was intended only to deal with the general strike conditions then existing, and the Government are now prepared to repeal it.
Has that regulation been repealed?
– The Government have repealed every regulation that they promised to repeal.
– Have they repealed this one?
– Yes; all the regulations referred to in that letter were repealed at the time.
Statutory Rule 1917, No. 213, prohibits interference with shearing operations, and the loading, carriage, handling, or storing of wool. As the supply of wool to the Imperial Government is essential to the operations of the war, the Government cannot see its way to terminate this regulation. Moreover, its object is, and its retention is calculated, to assist industrial unions in the exercise of their lawful rights.
Statutory Rule 1917, No. 222, confers upon the Governor-General power to cancel provisions in industrial agreements giving preference to unionists. This regulation was intended to deal with strike conditions that have passed away, and it will be repealed.
Only three of the hundreds issued have been repealed. During the whole of this time we have been governed by regulations, and no opportunity, as I say, has been presented to Parliament to discuss the matter.
– You refer to the numbers on the regulations, but it does not follow that all the regulations were issued under the War Precautions Act.
– The- great bulk of them were. The letter goes on - ,
Statutory Rule 1917, No. 281, deals with the partial avoidance of the provisions of certain agreements and awards conferring preference. As certain rights have accrued to persons under this regulation, it is not considered just that those persons should be deprived of whatever protection the regulation gives them.
Statutory Rule 1917, No. 233, of which you seek the repeal, is the regulation which gives the Government control over race meetings and other sporting events. It has been found necessary, in the public interests, to limit horse-racing and boxing. The Government cannot see its way to repeal this regulation, especially in view of the strong public opinion which exists that unrestricted sport is prejudicial to recruiting.
1 presume you refer, in paragraph 5 of your letter, rather to the administration of Statutory Rule 1917, No. 255, than to its repeal. It is essential that the Government should have the power to prohibit the publication, possession, or transmission of certain prohibited publications. You mention a number which have already been proclaimed as prohibited publications. The Government have already reviewed the list with reference to the publications mentioned by you, and will further consider how far it is necessary, to continue the prohibition of any particular publication.
The Government will take immediate steps to repeal such of the above regulations the repeal of which are specifically indicated.
In conclusion, the Government recognise the desirableness of parliamentary action as a general rule, but the object of the enactment of the War Precautions Act was to enable prompt and effective action to be taken’ in war time. Moreover, the vast majority of the regulations made under that Act are distinctly of a type usually made by the Executive, acting under statutory authority. The Government have already, by the release of persons in prison, the remission of outstanding penalties, and the abandonment of prosecutions, redeemed the promises made at the recent Conference; and assures you that, in the administration of the. regulations, regard will be had to the attitude taken by the Government at that Conference.
The regulations relating to publications have been discussed by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) on several occasions. There are papers and books circulated freely in England which are not allowed to enter Australia. Action is taken in three different ways - under the Commerce Act; under the War Precautions Act, and by the Postmaster-General under the Postal Act. When the Government sent round to the chairmen of the various Boards and other public bodies asking for their opinion in regard to the repeal of regulations under the War Precautions Act, the Defence Department replied that, after careful consideration, the conclusion had been arrived at that immediate action should be taken to extend” their operation for six months after the war. That in itself would be enough to cause me to vote against the Bill, for we have been dominated by the military right through the trouble.
– It is the military who have saved the country!
– It depends on what the Minister means by the “military.”
– I mean the whole of the Forces.
– I heard the Minister say that, in his opinion, the Navy has saved the nation.
– I include the Naval Forces.
– I mean the Headquarters Staff.
– Those “chocolate soldiers” !
– Of course.
– Some of these soldiers have proved heroes of the Empire.
– Where? At the barracks?
– On the field of battle.
– That is another joke!
– The opinion of the soldiers fighting in France, wounded in England, ot on their way to Australia could not be asked in the matter, and the Government were compelled to apply to the Head-quarters Staff. These military men desire to retain the power that they have as long as possible, and I believe that, if they were asked whether, in their opinion, the Act should be operative interminably, they would reply in the affirmative.
– Surely the honorable member gives credit to public servants for some sense of duty?
– I give credit for it to public servants, but not much to some of the military people, if I may judge from the way in which these regulations have been administered. Just remember the seizure of cameras when the transport came in recently!
– That was not the action of the Head-quarters Staff.
– There must have been instructions from Head-quarters. In another case, a military man seized a camera, it being thought that, because the person concerned happened to be a relative of a member of Parliament, she might get to know all about the war regulations. I doubt very much if there is a member of the House who knows the effect of a hundredth part of these regulations; it is only when one “ bumps “ up against them that their effect is felt.
The Director of Munitions, the Comptroller of Shipping, the chairman of the Wool Committee, and the Chief Prices Commissioner were asked to give their opinion as to the repeal of these regulations; and’ I wish to put on record that some of these men have rendered valuable service to the community during the conduct of the war, many of them in an honorary capacity. But it is only human nature to seek to retain any power that one may possess; indeed, that was one of the reasons which actuated the people in voting in the negative at the conscription referendum. By the way, there was a very instructive article in the Age a month or more ago, giving a list of the Boards and other bodies to which the powers of the Government have been delegated; and now we are told in the press that a Board is to be appointed to discover where economies can be effected. It should be the responsibility of the Minister of the day to undertake this task. Some per-; sons have done good work in an honorary capacity on various Boards, but if we are to believe statements which have appeared in the press, others are fairly well paid for the services they have rendered, particularly the members of one Board attached to the Defence Department. We are told that a Daily Pool has just been established. The Minister says in his speech -
Though the operation of the Act be extended, it is the intention of the Government that immediate action shall be taken to consider and repeal regulations or orders no longer necessary.
The step should have been taken before this. I know that many of the regulations are not operative, but it is the manner in which the Departments, particularly “the Defence Department, have been administering those which are enforced which makes me oppose the extension of the Act. In my opinion, the Government should select the regulations dealing with business matters, the sale of wool, shipping, or anything else.
– The regulation dealing with the Shipping Board is the first that ought to go.
– Of course, directly the Government commence to specify regulations which ought to. be retained, we shall find that many honorable members will have something to say in regard to them. We are told that all these business regulations are necessary, but we are in the dark - we do not know what they are. The Government should come forward with a list of those which they consider necessary for maintaining the financial position of the Commonwealth. They have not acted wisely in asking Parliament to extend the operation of the measure. They would have done better by saying, “ In order to bring these Boards into existence, we have taken powers, under the War Precautions Act, for which we had no constitutional authority, and in order to keep this power, which has proved beneficial to the community” - they have to prove that - “ it will be necessary for the people to give us greater powers under the Constitution than we have now.” They could have obtained them in a constitutional manner, and not by means of war precaution regulations, upon which, although they have the effect of Acts of Parliament, members of Parliament have not had the opportunity of voting. For these reasons, I shall oppose the second reading of the Bill. I trust that the Government will adopt my suggestion, and bring forward a list of regulations, to which the House can give fair and full consideration.
– I think that we should have a quorum. [Quorum formed.]
.- When the Government resumed the debate on this Bill this afternoon, I took exception to it, and said that the Minister hadbroken faith with the House. When the Minister on Friday last had moved the second reading of such an important measure, I asked whether he would circulate his speech, and he agreed to do so. I also pressed for the delay of the debate until to-morrow; but the Minister moved that the debate be made an Order of the Day for to-day. The Hansard report shows that I interjected, “Make it Thursday,” whereupon the Minister said that his only desire was to fix a day, and that the debate would be resumed on a day to meet the convenience of honorable members.
– I said “ as far as practicable.”
– Yes, I find that that is correct. However, in face of the Minister’s remarks,I was considerably annoyed when I found that the Bill was called on to-day.
I am an uncompromising opponent of this Bill. The original Act was introduced for the purpose of dealing with war conditions in times of war, and in orderto take precautions against our enemies, not against ourselves. As the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, if honorable members had known that the original Bill was being asked for to give power to frame some of the regulations which have been issued under the measure, it would never have been passed. When tremendous power is placed in the hands of any body of men, military, naval, or civilian, the same result is always achieved. I admit that, had I been the Minister controlling a Department issuing these regulations, and if I had been surrounded by bureaucrats pressing continuously for the passing of regulations to govern this thing or that tiling my view might have been just as circumscribed as that of the Minister, but looking at these matters from the point of view of the man outside, I feel that, after four years of stress and strain, the time has arrived when fears for the safety of the realm have passed, and there is no further need of the powers asked for in this Bill. At any rate, in times of peace Ministers should not combine the authority to control their big commercial operations with the general power to do just what they please.
– The Government might reasonably have made a selection of the powers they wish to retain.
– It was their duty to do so. No one ever contemplated that they would ask for an extension of the Act in its completeness. That they have done so indicates either their desire to keep the control which they have been exercising, or laziness on their part in not going through the regulations, and selecting those which Parliament should be asked to retain. Certain pools may not yet be cleared up. An indefinite time may be occupied in clearing them up. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the details relating to them to know whether they should be extended or not, but it was the business of the Minister to come to us and say, “ Gentlemen, as a. result of the War Precautions Act we were involved as a Parliament in certain problems which have been carried on outside the mere matter of the preservation of the safety of the realm, and come within the area of commerce, and we ask you to extend the War Precautions Act in so far as .it relates to those specific details. We are prepared to give reasons for asking for this power.” Had that step been taken, and if sufficient reasons had been put forward to justify the retention of certain powers to the extent of providing means for clearing up the financial pools in which the Commonwealth might be involved in difficulties, the measure would have had my support. In no circumstances would I hand over to the Government unlimited power to do in times of peace what it had authority to do in times of war. Since the passing of the War Precautions Act,- Parliament has been a mere cipher. Honorable members have been asked to come here and “vote money to enable the Government to .do just as they pleased, and our justification for voting the money was that we believed that we were giving the Government power to protect the lives and liberties of citizens of this country from the depredations of the enemy ; but now, although there is no signed declaration of peace, seeing that Germany has handed over her navy, that her soldiers have retired to the Rhine, and that eight or nine Republics have replaced the once powerful Empire, does any one believe that she is going to get together again a fighting force capable of defeating the Allied armies? No one with sense would make such a statement. Therefore there is no necessity for the extension of the powers given by the War Precautions Act.
Whenever the Minister, in introducing the Bill, quoted a specific case as an argument for extending the powers given by the Act, his statement contained a qualification. I shall quote a few notes which I have made from the Minister’s speech to show how he did this. He must be an excellent lawyer, and, as in the case of the medical man who is able to give professional advice without committing himself too closely, so that he cannot be pinned down if anything should happen afterwards, itis hard to pin him down. Honorable members noticed how he brought me to book when I questioned his statement regarding the fixing of the day for the resumption of the debate. He said that the words,- “ as far as practicable,” were included in his remarks. I found that such was the case. I ought to have known that he was right bv the quotations from his speech which I have written out. At first one would think that they are definite statements, but afterwards one discovers that they are not. This is the- first -
When the war finished the regulations under the War Precautions Act would, generally speaking, cease to operate.
There is the first qualification, the insertion of the words “generally speaking,” in what otherwise would appear to be a definite statement. Again, he desired the Act extended so that the various Departments might make a most careful review of the regulations, and decide which of them could be brought to a speedy determination. The Act itself brings them to a speedy determination by specifying that they shall last only until the cessation of the war. It is the Minister’s duty to find out which powers or activities cannot be terminated straight away, and ask Parliament to continue them, although not indefinitely. In reply to an interjection by the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister said it would not be necessary to ask ‘for the extension of the War Precautions Act for more than six months.
– I did not say that.
– The Leader of the Opposition argued that this Bill meant the extension of the War Precautions Act for twelve months, and that even then a further extension might be necessary, and the Minister shook his head. He said -
It may be necessary in some cases in the future to ask Parliament to extend the existing activities and regulations beyond the, period contemplated by this measure.
– And that is the position.
– In regard to the Wheat Pool, the Government could easily appoint receivers or managers fo conduct the operations for the balance of the period.
– Quite a lot of things could be done, but the Act itself provides that all the war precautions powers shall terminate at the end of the war. Another statement by the Minister was -
The Government does not want power to initiate new matters of policy.
One would think that statement was definite enough, but this paragraph follows -
Power to make new regulations will be exercised only in cases of national necessity. Who is to determine what is the national necessity ? Parliament ? Not at all. National necessity in these cases will be determined by the clerk who has to deal with that particular matter in some Department. He will report to the head of his Department, who will refer the matter to the Minister. The Minister will say, “ I am busy. What do you want?” The head of the Department will say, “ We want a new War Precautions Regulation to deal with so-and-so,” and the Minister will reply, “Very well, draft one.”
– Is that how the honorable member would administer a Department ?
– No; but it is how Departments are administered nowadays.
– That is not so.
– If the Minister takes responsibility for all the regulations under the War Precautions Act, the sooner he is thrown out of his job the better. Not thatI wish to throw him out, because I think he is an excellent PostmasterGeneral, despite the jokes that are made about him. I do not think the average honorable member will contradict me when I say that the first stage in the initiation of a War Precautions Regulation is when a clerk in the Department, whose business is to deal with a certain difficulty that has arisen, concludes that the easiest solution of the trouble is to prepare a War Precautions Regulation. The suggestion filters through to the head of the branch, who places it before the Minister.” The Minister does ‘not waste too much time over the matter after it has been recommended by the head of the Department. Why should he? He has not to run the gauntlet of criticism in this House. All he has to do is to get the Attorney-General to draft a regulation, and the Government Printer to issue it. The first thing that an honorable member knows about it is that he finds in his letter-box some morning 10, 20, or sometimes 30 War Precautions Regulations. Some appeal to him as being of interest; the others he throws into the waste-paper basket. To some he takes very strong exception, and he knows that he has an opportunity under parliamentary rules of objecting within fourteen days after Parliament meets if the regulations are laid on the table. He goes to the House prepared to assert his rights as a member, and gives notice of a motion to disallow certain regulations. But that motion is placed at the very bottom of the list of private members’ business, and the Government who control the business of the House, then induce their supporters to pass a motion abolishing private members’ day.
– I have had a notice of motion on the paper for two years.
– It will be on the noticepaper for ten years if this Bill ispassed. An honorable member never arrives at the position in which he has the slightest opportunity to exercise authority over these regulations. We handed over every vestige of power we possess as representatives of the people when we gave to the Labour Government in 1914 power to deal with the legislation of the Commonwealth under the War Precautions Act.
– Do not forget that that power was given unanimously by the House.
– That does not affect the argument. I voted for the measure, and would vote for it again to-morrow if the country were in danger. But, surely, the test is - Is there any risk of our country being submerged by the enemy? If so, I would give the Government or an autocrat any power necessary to save the country at such a time. If it is not necessary there is no reason why such a power should be given. . To-day the nation which has been the bugbear of Europe for the last forty years lies in the dust, down and out. And where do we stand ? Great Britain stands on the very pinnacle of both military and naval power, a position which it has never occupied at any previous time in its history. Even Australia has more than twice as many trained soldiers who have been in action than Britain had in its entire army when war broke out. And other Dominions of the Empire stand in exactly the same position. The only other nation of any consequence that could challenge the’ might of Great Britain is America, which is now linked with the British Empire on more friendly terms than have ever subsisted between the two’ nations since the American colonies won their independence. With such a power in the hands of the Anglo-Saxon race, what chance is there of any further war in the near future? The present war is practically finished, and if we accept the definition given by the British Legal Committee of the time when the war will end, as the date when the ratification of the peace terms is accepted by the belligerent nations, the War Precautions Act will cease automatically on that date. The Government have all the time between now and then to prepare what this House desires, and ought to have, namely, a .measure continuing those functions which the Government desire to continue to operate after the declaration of peace. To such a measure I do not think there will be any opposition; but unless the Government are prepared to take some means to meet the views of the House in that regard, they will have an extremely difficult task in placing on the statute-book a Bill to extend the duration of the War Precautions Act.
This remark by the Minister in his introductory speech is a gem -
If the Act is extended immediate action will be taken to repeal regulations or orders no longer necessary or remove Government control as soon as” possible in all cues where it is practicable or advisable to do so.
What does that mean ? Absolutely nothing. It sounds very well, but its only effect is that Parliament will remain a cypher. As I have pointed out before, the modern tendency of Democracies which have constitutional government is to drift the power more and more into the hands of the Government, instead of the people’s representatives. And within that charmed Ministerial circle there is a tendency observable, in Australia at any rate, to drift the power from Ministers into the hands of the Prime Minister until he becomes an absolute dictator.
– And he farms out power to unofficial dictators.
– Exactly; we cannot get a better illustration of that than the position of William Morris Hughes, as Australia’s dictator under the War Precautions Act. Realizing the position in which the Empire stood during the war we have had to agree to that state of affairs, because we believed that it was in the best interests of our country. But now that peace is at hand, I no longer believe that any man, no matter how shrewd or capable he may be, is able to control the affairs and destinies of this country merely through the inner consciousness of either himself or his colleagues. The assistance of Parliament is essentia] to the good government of this country, and people have only put up with the effect of the War Precautions Regulations for the reasons I have mentioned. Here is another carefully thought out and definitely expressed opinon given by the Minister - “The Government have no desire to control the censorship.” It would have been all right had the honorable gentleman stopped there, but he added,- “ beyond what is absolutely neces sary. Of course, the Government lias no such desire. “ Why,” the Minister asks, “ don’t we allow you to publish the departure of ships, and tlie fact that a troopship is arriving next week?”
– Does not the honorable member think the continuance of the censorship necessary ?
– Not while the peace negotiations are proceeding?
– Then the honorable member differs from the British Government.
– I do not care if I do. There were a lot of stupid persons in the British Government who lost their billets during the war.
– The opinions of the British Government are a pretty safe guide for the Empire.
– Yes; but an Imperial Prime Minister and a lot of his colleagues had to be removed before the right men were obtained.
– The honorable member should not forget the good work done by the gentleman to whom he refers.
– I am prepared to pay tribute to the work of those who have steered the Empire through this crisis. No one doubts my loyalty to the Empire. There is no special genius in the British Government above other Governments. A British Cabinet is composed of men with the ordinary human frailties and liability to err. During the war I have, on more than one occasion, expressed in this chamber my opinion about the censorship. The manner in which the American Government has dealt with war news is in sharp contrast to the practice of the British Government. Every week the American Government has made public the number of American troops in Prance, and the list of casualties has been published daily. The advances made by American troops have been made known ; only details as to battalions and the like have been withheld. Ali that information was published in the American newspapers during the war.
– Together with the number of ships leaving America.
– -Yes. The number of transports leaving was published. What happened ? Net one transport was lost on its way from America to Great Britain. What is more, the American public was satisfied with the information it was getting. The British Government sometimes gave false information. It stated that the A Audacious, which was torpedoed in the Irish Channel, was towed into port and repaired.
– The information which America published was ‘all of it ‘advantageous to the Allies. America was not in the war when the Allies were being kicked from pillar to post.
Mi-. BOYD. - Doubtless the information .published in America had a bad effect on the other side. It made them the more inclined to give up the struggle.
– In Great Britain the censorship is not so severe as in Australia.
– No. Information which was censored in Great Britain has been censored again before being published in Australia. What does the Government mean in saying that it has no desire to control the censorship beyond what is absolutely necessary? The determination of the necessity lies with Ministers, not with Parliament. If Ministers think it necessary to prohibit the publication of a mem- - ber’s speech, there is no preventing it. Parliament has given them the power to do this. Another statement made by the Minister was that “ the general policy will be to restore the right of expression of public opinion and freedom of discussion as speedily as possible.” Peace has practically come, but the Government still has power to prevent the publication of speeches delivered in .this chamber upon measures affecting the welfare of the country. What right have Ministers to say that there shall or shall not be an expression of public opinion and freedom of discussion ? They draw from the people the powers that they wield.
– There is always freedom of opinion.
– Yes, but during the war some persons have had to serve sentences for expressing their opinions, and rightly so, too. But the necessity for war-time restrictions dees not continue in time of peace. The Government should take the earliest opportunity to wind up the different Pools, instead of continuing them a= a function of government. The. party that sits on this side is opposed to the policy represented by the establishment of these Pools. My friends opposite, who are believers in Socialism, approve of it.
– We want it to be done in a proper way.
– A great majority of those on this side are totally opposed to this policy.
Silting suspended from 6.30 to 7.1,5 p.m.
– The Minister seems to have developed an extraordinary state of mind in contemplating the difficulty that would follow the non-continuance of the Act. I am led to that conclusion by the words that he used in referring to the extension of control over matters affecting the financial and business interests which have been handed over to Government Boards. After dealing with the Wool Pool., he said, “ The activities of the Wool Committee include, also, the handling of sheepskins.” He then went on to say, “ A mere reference to this activity shows how impossible it is to contemplate its sudden termination.” I do not know that there is anything extraordinary in the control of sheepskins. It seems to me an exceedingly simple matter.
– I was referring there to the whole of the wool activities.
– I am a member of the council of the Chamber of Commerce, which, at a meeting held yesterday, passed the following resolution, and directed that it should be forwarded to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt): -
That this Council re-affirms the principle that the interests of the Commonwealth will be host served as regards production, trade, and commerce by the cessation, as soon as practicable, of the restrictions and control considered necessary in time of war.
Further, that this Council considers it is now practicable to repeal many, if not all, the regulations restricting trade and commerce under the War Precautions Act.
This resolution was passed by a body representing the commercial interests of this State, and the members of which are accustomed to deal with large business matters. They see no difficulty whatever in controlling activities which the Minister says must be controlled by Government Boards unless the commercial and financial interests of the country are to become disorganized. If these interests were controlled by a huge company which suddenly failed, they would not be in the least disorganized if handed over to a receiver. All these gigantic interests, the control of which seems to worry the Minister, would be attended to by capable mon if handed over again to those who were in the habit of dealing with them before the war. The Minister’s attitude in this regard reminds me of the story of the young lady who for some months had been expecting her intended to propose, and who, when the proposal did at last come, professed to be surprised, and exclaimed, “ This is so sudden.” We have been anxiously looking forward to the termination of the war.We knew and believed that with the coming of peace the War Precautions Act would cease to operate. We knew, also, that there would be difficulties to overcome, but that they would not be insuperable. The difficulties attending the getting of these various activities under control during the war were infinitely greater than those which will surround their return to normal conditions in time of peace. The Minister says that the Government are gradually going to allow conditions to filter back to their pre-war state as times become normal. But will they ever become normal ? What will be normality ? We have undergone changes during the war that may prevent our ever returning to the conditions of life that prevailed before the war occurred. In any event, we are not likely to return to them for many, many years. Would that, however, be any justification for the continuance of Government control of these activities ? I venture to say it would not, and the sooner we get back to the conditions prevailing before the war, the better for the community and for this Parliament.
One of the activities referred to by the Minister was that controlled by the Dairy Produce Committee, which has just been constituted. The Minister readat great length the functions assigned to that Committee, which has just begun its work. But if the work ceased to-morrow, would the cows give less milk, or go dry? Are the owners of the cows, and the sellers of the milk, not possessed of sufficient brains to enable them to deal with their own products? Has the success of these Government institutions, which have interfered with the commercial life of the community, been such that we should withdraw everything from private enterprise, and hand them over to Government control ? We know that these matters are being controlled by officials who have been trained in the Public Service, and who may be very efficient public servants; but when they are asked to administer affairs which they do not, and never did, understand, what can we expect but inefficiency ?
We come now to another item. Let us consider for a moment the attitude of tha Government with regard to price fixing. The Minister, in his speech, said that they had changed their policy practically as the result of the armistice. He said, in referring to the desirability of introducing legislation to provide for the continuance of price fixing -
The termination of hostilities and the prospects of an early peace, in the opinion of the Government render this course unnecessary. . . The position will, however, be carefully watched. . . . We say that as the conditions gradually come back to normal there will be a relaxation of the powers. It is not intended to extend the operation of the Price Fixing Department unless there appears to be grave cause to do so.
In this statement we have the promise that the Government will abolish the right to control such matters, but will retain in their hands the power to interfere if they consider that there appears to be grave cause for interference. In the earlier part of the speech, the Minister made this statement, which I consider to be one of the most important uttered by him -
The far-reaching nature of the operations of the war necessitated the exercise of extraordinary emergency powers, the administrative intrusion on the part of the Government into areas of finance, industry, production, and distribution never before contemplated, and an interference with the rights of individuals and their freedom of action of a character quite alien to the customs of our race.
What sort of representatives of the people would we be if we tolerated the continuance of that state of affairs five minutes longer than was necessary after the termination of the war? The public will not support the attitude of the Government, and it should be, as far as possible, the object of honorable members - I, for one, am prepared to give what assistance I can - to help the Government to classify those subjects in respect of which they feel it is necessary to have some power. But for the Government to ask for general power to control .anything that it may occur to them to control - or which it may be suggested to them should be controlled - is unreasonable. In seeking authority to do that without consulting the repre sentatives of the people, they are asking for dangerous and autocratic powers which ought not to be granted to them.
The Minister told us that the War Precautions Act was passed, in the first place, to secure the public safety and the defence of the Commonwealth. All that has been accomplished, and there is no further necessity for it. The honorable gentleman quoted the decision, of the High Court in the Bread case - the only case relating to price fixing that went before it. The quotations that he made from the law reports, however, provide absolutely the best evidence we could get that there would be no possible chance of the Act being upheld in time of peace. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has quoted from the judgment of the Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Griffith, from which I propose to make the following short extract -
I agree generally with Mr. Mann’s argument, that the power to legislate with respect to defence extends to any law which may tend to the conservation or development of the resources of the Commonwealth so far as they can be directed to success in war, or may tend to distress the enemy, or diminish his resources.
Clearly , the Chief Justice had in mind the view that the only ground upon which he could hold that price fixing came within the War Precautions Act, and that that Act was constitutional, was because it might be used for the maintenance of the integrity of the Empire, and more particularly of this country. Mr. Justice Isaacs, in his judgment, used practically the same argument. He said -
As I read the Constitution, the Commonwealth, when charged with the duty of defending the Commonwealth and States, is armed as a self-governing portion of the British ‘Dominions with the legislative power to do in relation to national defence all that Parliament, as the legislative organ of the nation, may deem advisable to enact in relation to the defence of Australia as a component part of the Empire.
The judgment of the High Court rests upon the foundational consideration as to whether this law tends towards the defence of Australia. If it does, it can be justified. If not, then, according to- the Court, apparently it cannot be justified.
– The question was, “ Is it necessary to enable us, as a nation , to win the’ war ?”
– It was necessary. The decision of the High Court was that it was necessary at. the time that the Court was appealed to. In answer to the honorable member, I venture to say that if such a case were to go before the Court after the signing of the declaration of peace, it would not be upheld. The end of a war, as understood by ‘the average layman and, after all, we are average laymen representing average laymen - is the cessation of hostilities, and there is no body of opinion worth considering which thinks that the war will ever be restarted .
– You do not object to the Act continuing ?
– It will continue in any case, and there is no need for me to object; it will operate until peace is ratified. We are told that until the different nations concerned agree to a ratification of the peace treaties, the war cannot be regarded as ended. But what is this measure for ? It is only for the legal technicalities iu connexion with the regulations passed under the War Precautions Act, and the longer the ratification of the peace treaties are deferred, the greater time will the Government have for winding up these affairs.
– Is it safe to interfere with war supplies until peace is actually signed?
– The troops are being demobilized both in Britain and America. The question may arise whether we have power to put this legislation into effect if the War Precautions Act is abolished. According to my way of thinking, and I am not a lawyer, there are certain powers under the War Precautions Act which enable the Government to interfere in trade and commerce, and we are asking that the Government shall deal with these particular interests directly by a Bill. It may be argued that the Government have no power - that such an Act would be ultra vires; but if that be so, there is no question that the War Precautions Act will also be ultra vires on the declaration of peace. Whatever the security of the foundation may be, one measure will be just as secure, and no more, than the other.
I take it that the less interference there is with the business of” the com munity the better ; and the last to whom I should have looked to for advice with regard ito the continuation of the Boards would have been those employed on them. I do not care how patriotic a man is, the first thing he looks to is his livelihood; and there are many men employed by the Boards who have got into pretty good billets. I do not say that that is a reason which would actuate them in keeping the Boards going against, perhaps, their better judgment; but there is prim.d facie evidence that they will not throw themselves out of a job if they can find reason for continuing it, and it is easy enough to find reasons. If an honorable member were likely to lose a job of £1,500 a year he would no doubt find lots of reasons why he should not - he could even find many reasons for not giving up his job of £600 a year.
There is a Government Department - 1 do not intend to mention the name - to which people have to go to get permission to do certain things. One man who put a proposition to the Department the other day said, “ Oh, well, peace will soon be declared, and I will wait until then.” “ Don’t make any mistake,” said the official, “ tins Department is here permanently, and we will take fine care you don’t.” ‘
– What Department is that?
– I do hot intend to tell you, because, if I did, you would be able to locate the official. . The impudence of a public servant saying to members of the community that they shall not do certain things because the public servant is going to see that the Board is kept in existence! Is that what we have to expect under a continuance of the War Precautions Act? If so, the sooner we have a peace Parliament, instead of a war Parliament, the better it will be for the country. That may not be a popular statement, but I am not here to make popular statements.
– It is not appreciated by the honorable members opposite
– Nor on this side. This Parliament was elected in time of war, and I point out that the British Parlia- ment did not wait, but took the first opportunity to have a peace Parliament elected. If we are to preserve our war ideas in times of peace it is time we had a peace party; and after eighteen months’ experience we ought to be able to meet the wishes of the people, and get back to peace- conditions.
– Prices would soar higher than during the war.
– Some men have only one idea. We have had a most extraordinary reason, amongst many, for the preservation of the moratorium. We have been told by the Minister that the Farmers Union has asked for a continuation of the Wax Precautions Moratorium, as applied to pastoral and agricultural interests. I did not know that this Government stood for the Farmers Union or any other kind of union.
– They are thinking of the mortgagors.
– We have a new member for Swan (Mr. Corboy) who got his seat through the intervention of the Farmers Union. Has that anything to do with the attitude of the Government? Is it because the Farmers Union interfered- in the Swan election, and is interfering in the Corangamite election, that that union has to be placated? It is a new doctrine to me that, because some union, farming or otherwise, desires the extension of the moratorium, they should get it. It means that men who have certain obligations do not wish to pay their debts.
– It is not a bad idea!
– Not if it can be made to apply generally.
– Why should one section be picked out?
– Why should any section be picked out?’
– The moratorium applies to all sections.
– There is as much hardship suffered in the community generally by people who are owed money under mortgage as there is by those who owe the money. Any interference by the War Precautions moratorium is not in the best interests of people who have invested in this country. Perhaps a reasonable time’ ought to be given to clear things up, but this is one of the matters for which the Government should bring in a Bill. We are asked to consider what would be the effect on the community of a declaration that the War Precautions Act. and the regulations under’ it, had ceased to operate. One would think the Government were standing on an avalanche. My own opinion is that the .effect would be a mighty good one on the community. If the Minister were standing on the brink of a bath on a cold morning the best advice I could give him would be to jump in at once, and rely on being nice and warm when he got out. This Parliament draws its power from the people, and not from the War Precautions Act.
– -That side has been living on it for years.
– And your side also lived on it for a while. What our soldiers have fought for, and our people ha,ve suffered for, was to preserve the freedom of the race ; and axe our men to find when they come back that they are to be governed in a manner the Constitution does not contemplate’? I venture to assert that there will be trouble when this House goes to the people if such conditions prevail. The members of this Parliament who are prepared to sell the people’s birthright by re-enacting this Act will, no doubt, find a resting place in oblivion when next they meet the people.
– They may not rest when there.
– They may not, but they will be given a spell from their arduous duties. As a representative of the people, I know that they feel keenly that they ought to be allowed their freedom now that the time has come for it. If there are honorable members who desire to shelter under the wing of the Government, they will find that Governments, like other, things, go like chaff before the storm when an indignant public is aroused. If the Government will specify - and they have four or six months to consider the matter - the things they want power to do they will get my- support, but if they seek all the powers they have had for the last four years they will have my- uncompromising opposition.
– I have read very carefully the speech of the Minister in which he sought to justify the extension of the unlimited powers enjoyed by the Government under the War Precautions Act. A weaker and a more puerile speech has never been submitted to this House. The kind of contemptuous way in which the House was treated in this respect should arouse general indignation. After having this meaningless essay put before us, we should demand that the Government give us their real reasons for wanting the perpetuation of this obnoxious measure. What do the so-called reasons amount to, boiled down ? -
It is stated the War Precautions Regulations were devised -
It is asserted that -
The extension of the Act has been asked for, it is said, by -
Dairy Produce Pool, on account of moratorium and patents.
We are not told how long in the opinion of the Government this extension will be necessary, except by a reference to the following decision of a tribunal in England of a legal character: -
We assume that the war will be ended by a treaty or treaties of peace. In order to arrive at a final conclusion of the treaty, various stages will probably be required, such as agreements for armistices, cessation of hostilities thereunder, articles of peace, agreement of terms, signature of terms, ratification, exchange or deposit of ratification”. In our opinion, speaking of legislation generally, the war cannot be said to have ceased until peace is finally and irrevocably obtained, and that point of time cannot be earlier than the date when the treaty of peace is finally binding on the respective belligerents, and that is the date when ratifications are exchanged.
How long will this be? After the war in 1871, when Germany had absolutely conquered France and annexed AlsaceLorraine, eight or nine months were occupied by the German and French delegates in determining matters which were trifling in comparison with the enormous difficulties that have to be settled as arising from the present war. By day-time the German surveyors would put in pegs to determine the territory to be annexed ; at night-time the French would pull them up, and so the work had. to be done all over again the next day. Although the Germans were absolutely in the position of dictators, the Peace Conferences extended over a period of eight or nine months.
The present task of settling the. peace terms will be infinitely greater than the problems the Allies have had to deal with during the progress of the war. The Central Empires and Russia are in a state of turmoil and chaos. A hundred or more distinct nationalities are claiming to be set up as independent States or Republics. Ordered government hasto be arranged in connexion with the affairs of all these different nationalities, covering upwards of 100,000,000 or 150,000,000 people.
There are also slight differences among the Allies themselves. It is perfectly true that they have had their preliminary conference, and determined on thebroad general principles outlined in President Wilson’s fourteen points, but there are not wanting signs of disagreement which may hold up even the commencement of operations so far as the Allies are concerned. Is not our own Prime Minister striding up and down Great Britain sowing seeds of disaffection and sedition against the British Cabinet ? If any man in this country sought to say what he has said against Mr. Lloyd George and the British Government, he would have been given a very short shrift under the War Precautions Act; he would have been interned immediately.
– Is the honorable member opposed to his attitude ?
– Yes, absolutely and irrevocably. He is not representing Australia in the attitude he has taken towards the British Government.
– He is trying to do his best for Australia.
– The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I have no doubt that he hastried to do his best on a number of occasions, with the result that the administration of this country has been besmirched and blotted in an unparalleled fashion. The public will realize this later on. When the lid is lifted off the War Precautions Act such a stench will arise as will, metaphorically speaking, knock Australia down.
There are other nations, without referring to them by name, associated with the Allies during the war, which are putting forward statements of their aims in regard to the peace settlement, and these are at variance not only with tha Allied terms, but also with the general aspirations of the people of Australia.
Again, we see that, although the Central Empires cannot commence military operations again, seeing that they have been practically disarmed on both land and sea, America is going ahead with the building of a huge navy of a size that was never contemplated previously in the history of the American people.
– Three times what it was at the outbreak of the war.
– There must be some purpose, some fear of further fighting behind this great naval preparation. It is quite evident that it will be a long time before peace is signed. Certainly it will not be signed inside three years. It is quite possible that it will be five years before it is signed. As I have said here before, if peace is signed and ratified without another war breaking out, every man in this or any other country who has a sincere desire for peace, can go down on his knees and thank God that such is the case, because if ever there was material to engender dissension and disagreement among the Allies it is plainly to be seen by any one who seeks to analyze the position today.
The Government say that they require some time in order to taper off, so to speak, in regard to the administration of the War Precautions Act. What have they been doing during the last four years ? Did they not realize that the war would come to an end some time? It is the same with repatriation. They will wake up to the fact that repatriation is necessary when we have 200,000 soldiers knocking at our doors for employment. In the four years of fighting, the Government have not done one thing to prepare for the day when the war will cease, and enable the country to revert to normal conditions. There has never been a greater admissiou of incompetency on the part of a Government than the admission which is suggested in the Minister’s own speech that the Government are not ready for peace.
– There is no such admission in it.
– Profiteers who have made millions out of the war are shedding crocodile tears on realizing that the war is ended, and there are political profiteers who are likewise weeping copiously, realizing that when the waving of the flag and the beating of the big drum are over their occupation will be gone, and they will disappear into outer darkness. When I heard that the Government were commandeering all the kerosene and petrol tins,I wondered why they required them. I see now that they were to be used in collecting all the crocodile tears shed by the people in this country who are sorry that the war is coming to an end.
We are told by the Minister that various Committees and Boards require the extension of the War Precautions Regulations. What are these Committees and Boards? The list of Committees operating under the patronage of the Government is as follows: -
Central Wool Committee.
State Wool Committees.
Sheep Skin Sub-committees.
Control of Shipping.
Inter-State Central Shipping Committee.
Sydney Committee, Metal Exchange.
Navy Contract and Purchase Board.
Central Coal Board.
State Coal Boards.
Commonwealth Flax Industry Committee.
Price Fixing Department.
Council of Finance.
War Savings Council.
Central Stores Supply and Tender Board.
Board of Business Administration.
War Railway Council.
Commonwealth Repatriation Commission.
State Repatriation Boards.
Commonwealth Board of Trade.
Bureau of Commerce and Industry.
Institute of Science and Industry.
State Committees of Science and Industry.
Australian Wheat Board.
Wheat Storage Commission.
Commonwealth Winter Butter Pool.
Federal Butter Committee, and State secretaries.
Leather Industries Board.
Sulphate of Ammonia Board.
The Paper Controller has just resigned his position. We are told by the Government that this army of friends and supporters which they have appointed to take charge of these Boards with their staffs, hangers-on, and camp followers, have said that it is absolutely necessary that the War Precautions Regulations should be extended. Of course it is. Otherwise, what would this great army do? They would have to go about their own business again. They would have to find work. I have had men come to see me who were employed in various branches of war activities which the Government have shut down. Is there one of them who is not bewailing his fate? Are they not all putting forward innumerable arguments why they should be kept on ? If the Government require arguments and reasons why these activities should be continued, and why the War Precautions Act should be extended, with the special powers and privileges it confers, they will get them from these camp followers, and from those who have been enjoying special privileges as the result of the war. They will advance innumerable reasons why the War Precautions Act should operate, not only until peace is signed, probably some years hence, but also until the crack of doom, or, at least, for the term of their natural lives.
-How long has the honorable member been so opposed to State control of industry?
– As Illawarra will send the honorable member into outer darkness when this Parliament ceases, he is not worthy of notice.
The newspapers indicate that there is to be a relaxation of the censorship. We were promised that the administration of the War Precautions Act would not be abused, but there is not a Department of the Governmnmet in which there has not been the most outrageous and violent abuse of the Act since it was passed. Every promise given when the Act was introduced has been broken. I have a letter signed by four democratic newspapers showing what the Government mean by the relaxation of the censorship. It is as follows : -
Melbourne, 26th November, 1918.
To the Acting Prime Minister,
We desire to draw your attention to the increased abuse nf the censorship which, in the case ot some papers, seems to have reached its heightsince the signing of the Armistice. Not only words or sentences, but whole articles, the trend of whose argument is objected to, have been struck out in papers which have not received such treatment in the past.
Over and over again news that has appeared in other Australian papers has been refused publication in ours. What we really have in Melbourne is a censoring of the already censored, a super-censorship. Papers like the Argus, Age, SydneyDaily Telegraph, &c., with a circulation of hundreds of thousands, have been permitted to publish what has been refused to papers like ours with a much smaller circulation. Such phrases as “ Against Imperialism,” “ For a Constructive Peace by Negotiation,” have been struck out, though one would naturally suppose that the qualifying word “ constructive “ would rob the word “ peace “ of all fears that are attached to it.
We are not making complaints against individual censors, with whom our relations have always been most friendly, but against the system which permits the political instead of the military censorship of a writer’s contribution to public opinion, against the system which permits such subjects as freedom, Democracy, social and industrial reconstruction, to be dealt with from only one political stand-point, against the system which permits the free expression of hate and malice, and forbids the voicing of contrary sentiments.
For a hundred years, British people have accepted the fact that a free press is the only real bulwark of freedom, and we would remind you that both Mr. Fisher (Prime Minister), and Mr. Hughes (Attorney-General), in 1914 gave solemn pledges to the House, and, therefore, to the people, that the liberties of the people would not be interfered with under the Act; that it was merely devised to meet military needs, such, for instance, as preventing news of military importance being conveyed to the enemy; and Mr. Hughes declared unequivocally that “ no general powers “ would be conferred under the Act. As far as the democratic papers of Australia are concerned, nothing but “general powers” have been directed against them since the Act was passed. Although our patience and forbearance have been severely strained, we have opposed all proposals to circumvent the censorship by a secret press, &c., trusting that, with the cessation of hostilities, the Government would gladly re-establish the freedom of the press.
We now appeal to the Government, through you, to honour the pledges given by the Prime Minister and Attorney-General in 1914, and to remove at once all “general powers” from the censorship.
Editor, Labour Call.
Editor, Woman Voter.
That is an indication of the revised, kindly, and considerate methods by which the Government are restricting the operation of this hitherto vindictive and political censorship.
Another indication of the Government exercise of their power under the War Precautions Act was given by me in this House when I mentioned the criticism by Mr. Giles, the farmers’ representative on the Wheat Board of the operation of the Wheat Pool by the Government. He said at a farmers’ conference at Ouyen that £75,000 had been mysteriously paid to some person or persons for work which the Prime Minister said he himself had done, and when other serious questions as to the general administration of the Wheat Pool were voiced, what did the Government do? A report of the conference was telegraphed to the Melbourne Age, but the censor prohibited its publication, and sent a letter to the editor of the local paper at Ouyen, stating that the report of the conference was not to be published in any local newspaper. The suppressed report was not news of military value to the enemy; it had solely to do with the administration of the Government and the functionaries which they had set up. The administration of the Government and its pets must not be criticised; consequently, the facts disclosed at that conference were prohibited from receiving publicity.
Price fixing to-day is being carried on under a cloak of secrecy, and if there is not in existence in Australia the most rotten corruption that has ever existed in any country, it is only in spite of every invitation to such a condition of affairs, for the Government, by their censorship of the press and the secrecy of their methods in connexion with price fixing, have created those conditions which on other occasions and in other countries have produced everything undesirable in public life.
In Sydney a few weeks ago the milk vendors complained that the large milk companies were charging them a price in excess of that fixed by the Government, and their outcry became so insistent that the Government were at last compelled to initiate a prosecution. The cases came on before the Central Police Court, Sydney. The representative of the companies asked for an adjournment of the hearing for a fortnight. When the cases were called on a fortnight later the Crown Prosecutor, without offering any explanation, withdrew the charges, and there has been no further action since. There was undoubted evidence which would have led to a conviction of the companies, and had that happened the small vendors could have taken action against the big companies to recover thousands of pounds which they had been overcharged. It is said in Sydney that such adjournments are common, and that immediately they have been granted in connexion with cases for offences against the price fixing laws, there is a pilgrimage to Melbourne, which results in the prosecutions being withdrawn.
– I should like the honorable member to state the facts of that case. The general statement he has made is absolutely incorrect, and unworthy of the honorable member.
– It is impossible for me to make anything more than a general statement. The facts are that complaintswere made in behalf of the Dairymen’s Association in Sydney in regard to the outrageous violation of the price fixing laws by the great milk companies. Prosecutions were initiated in the Central Police Court, an adjournment was granted, and a fortnight later the cases were withdrawn without any explanation.
– The honorable member is making a general allegation, which he knows is without foundation in fact.
– That allegation is specific, direct, and true. The Government have issued a regulation, in consequence of whichno officer associated with the Price Fixing Department dares to say one wordabout its operations, on pain of being sent to gaolor fined £100. If the Government had desired to create a condition of affairs that would lead to rottenness and corruption, they could not have offered a greater inducement than their administration of the law in that respect.
-Quote the regulation to which the honorable member refers.
– The honorable member can turn up the regulation for himself. Does the Minister deny that there is a regulation in existence prescribing a penalty for anybody connected with the Price Fixing Department who gives information to any outside person in regard to the work of his Department ?
– If a trusted officer gives information to persons outside the Department he ought to be punished.
– Does the honorable member refer to the regulation which requires a declarationof secrecy to be made by the officer, andprovides that any officer who directly or indirectly divulges any information that comes to his knowledge in consequence of his employment shall be punished ? Does the honorable member contend that an officer should tell everything he learns in connexion with his official duties?
– If conditions like those are imposed, and officers know that although rottenness exists, they cannot make it known to public men, a very undesirable state of things will be created.
– Officers in Government employment know that it is not their duty to go prattling to everybody outside the Department.
– There is no need for prattling, but there is need for Parliament to know about the hundreds and hundreds of prosecutions which are recommended to the Government, and in respect of which the Government have refused to takeaction.
-The honorable member speaks of hundreds and hundreds. Can he name five cases ?
– Prosecutions recommended by whom?
– Recommended by the price fixing officers. I shall obtain for the Minister the names ofsome firms the prosecution of whom was recommended. I believe that there have been a hundred recommendations for the prosecution of one particular firm.
Mr.Groom. - When the honorable member makes a charge like that he should be specific.
– If the Government will give me permission to make inquiry in the price fixing offices throughout the Commonwealth, I shall furnish the House with plenty of instances. Why should a public man be not able to go into any Government office and obtain a list of traders who violate the law and rob the public? If there is nothing wrong, why should anybody keep the facts secret? I say deliberately that hundreds of prosecutions have been recommended, but never proceeded with. If the Government will give me authority to go into the price fixing o’ffiees, I shall state to the House hundreds of instancesin which the Government have been recommended to institute prosecutions, but in which no prosecutions have taken place. There is noneed for secrecy in this matter at all. I understand that since the present Minister (Mr. Massy Greene) has been in charge of price fixation no prosecution has been agreed to by him except such as were under wav before he took charge of the office. In fact, I am told that an instruction has been issued that if tradesmen disobey the price fixing regulations they shall be warned; then if they do not discontinue their illegal practices, a prosecution will take place.
– That cannot be so. I know one firm that was fined £50 the other day.
– That prosecution must have been instituted before the honorable member for Richmond took eharge of the Department. Some of these cases take a long time to come to a head.
The Government issued regulations to fix the prices charged by the Inter-State Shipping Ring. That combine has never made greater profits than during the last two years of war. In fact, they have doubled and trebled their pre-war profits. Some companies which made a profit of £200,000 in 1916 have increased their profit to £400,000 in the year just closed.
Again, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the price of whose commodity was fixed under regulations issued by the Government, has during the last two years increased its profits from £600,000 to £1,200,000.
In quite a number of instances the Prices Commission has recommended to the Government that there should be no increase in prices, but the Government have acted in direct opposition to the report of the Commissioners and the evidence taken by them.
That is the case in regard to fertilizers, condensed milk, and boots. In regard to boots, the Inter-State Commission showed that more profiteering is taking place now than at any other time, but in spite of their recommendation the Government have taken no action.
I turn now to the Government Metal Exchange, with its regulation of prices of metal products. Here is a letter that has reached me during the last two or three days -
Lower Bendoc,viâ Delegate. 21st November, 1918.
Mr. J. H. Catts, M.H.R.,
Commonwealth Office, Sydney.
During the past two or three years, we have been keeping afloat by picking out and bagging ore. This was sent to the Sydney Export
Company, whose works are situated at Pyrmont.
Their crushing and concentrating charge varied from £3 10s. to £5 per ton.
The resulting bismuth-wolfram concentrates were next put through the magnetic separator, at a cost to us of £10 per ton.
The wolfram was sold to Dalgety at Government price. The bismuthic residue was sold to Mr. O. E. Charlwood, representative of Johnson Matchey, of London (BismuthRing). The Export Company collected the proceeds, deducted their charges, and forwarded to us the netcheques.
Lately, we erected a small water-power stamper battery, treated second-grade ore, and sent on to the Export Company our concentrates.
The first lot, in February, 1918, was separated, and sold to the buyers as usual - result, a satisfactory price. That is, we got the Sydney market values, less the £10 a ton separation charge for use of the magnetic separator.
But our last parcel, about half-a-ton of concentrates, was purchased by the Export Company at a price per ton, they having ceased to treat ores and concentrates as a Customs treatment plant. They acted as buyers, offering us £60 per ton. As we had sent our ore to them to defray an advance, and they were both consignees and buyers, we had to take what was offered.
By the former method - Customs treatment - this same parcel would have realized just about double what we actually got.
Now, when one considers that the Government fixed price is somewhere about half the foreign market price, and then, on top of that, the ore buyer again collars half of what is left, it puts us - the producers- off with only about one-quarter of our product. The middlemen get the other three-quarters, and we are left to pay expenses and live, and produce these necessary metals on 3d. out of the1s.
It is all very well to mention legality, or. custom, or business methods. The goose that lays the golden egg must soon dieunder this process. Imagine our squatters getting 3d. for wool that is selling in London for1s.
Can you not do something to assist our unfortunate industry. We, in our particular case do not require financial help. All we ask is a chance to get our product marketed without undue interference from middlemen bloodsuckers.
I have, for the past three years and more, kept record of our transactions, and would gladly give any such evidence before a Commission appointed to sift out the matter, and set right our grievous wrongs.
I am, sir,
Your very truly, (Sgd.) Albert E. Church.
Theseare some of the injustices that are operating under theWar Precautions Regulations. They are but illustrations of the general effect of Government activities under the War Precautions Regulations. And they could he multiplied indefinitely.
This tyrannous Government has almost a complete’ scheme for the suppression of public discussion, for the manipulation of public opinion, and for the control of the affairs of the country by an oligarchy, which prevents the rights of the people operating through their representatives in the National Parliament. Let us consider some of these subjects.
The suppression of free speech on the public platform. There is no such thing as free speech in this country to-day. There is a limited number of things with which one may deal on the platform; to go beyond them is to get outside the area prescribed by the Government, and to get into a danger zone, because certain criticism of the Government is visited with pains and penalties under the War Precautions Act and Regulations.
The coercion of the press and the pollution of the channels of public information. No newspaper in this country can to-day print facts as they come to it, and as they affect the general community. There is a revision by officers of the Government, acting under the War Precautions Regulations, of what the public may know. They tamper with the public press. We have a tyrannous control over the printing press and the publication of pamphlets. This tyranny extends also to the publication of hand-bills and of any other matter produced by a printing press. It has gone to this extent, that I myself have had an order submitted to me by the Chief Censor at Sydney in person, instructing me, in connexion with a political campaign, that every circular multiplied on a roneo machine, everything typed or copied by any mechanical means whatsoever, to be sent to the branch secretaries and to the agents conducting the campaign throughout the length and breadth of the country, must be submitted to the censors before being despatched. I told this gentleman on the spot that I should not do what was required of me, and that he might take any action that he pleased. Could
Mr. J. H. Catts any one have imagined that the tyranny of the Government would have gone to the length of seeking, by using the War Precautions Regulations, to get inside information respecting the conduct of a political campaign by an opponent?
Then we have the gagging of Parliament. The Government has taken to itself the power to at any time cut short the discussion of measures in Parliament. The new Electoral Act under which the next Parliament is to be constituted was carried by the operation- of the ” SaS>” and Parliament was not allowed to discuss the principles on which it was founded.
– The honorable member must not reflect on a vote of the House.
– The honorable member should have been here to stop it.
– I was doing very much better work in connexion with the Monaro by-election. I was exposing the actions of this Government, and I helped to-bring about a result such as has never before been obtained in the Monaro electorate, the majority obtained by Labour being bigger than ever before.
– I am afraid that this has nothing to do with the question before the Chair.
– Then I ask you to keep the disorderly member for Illawarra from interrupting. On top of the gagging of Parliament, we have had the action of the Government in manipulating the Hansard records. No longer can the records of Parliament be relied on as true and accurate reports of the proceedings of Parliament, because now, under the direction and dictation of the Government, they are subject to such manipulation as Ministers may choose.
Interference with members’ correspondence. When I left’ here three or four weeks ago, and went to Sydney, I found upon my table; in the Commonwealth Offices at Sydney, a large envelope, on which my name and -address were typed. ‘It was a plain envelope, and inside it was correspondence addressed to me. Every letter had been opened; they were evidently read, and each put back in its envelope, and then all the letters had been put inside the large covering envelope, and this had been sealed, and left for me. There was no stamp on it to show that the censor had been at work, and nothing to indicate who had tampered with my correspondence. Every effort made by me to find out what agency of this tyrannous Government was responsible for this dastardly business has failed. I went to the Superintendent of Mails abou’t the matter, and he told me that what inform’ation he might have he was prevented, under the War Precautions Act, from divulging. The Government want to extend this tyranny. It does not propose to exercise these powers merely to prevent military news of value from reaching the enemy; it is directing its efforts against its opponents, with a view to finding out what their case is, so that they may be forestalled and suppressed.
Then we have the political persecution of the opponents of the Government. In the recent election the Government, in order to harass its opponents, issued a regulation under which any man who made a false statement was to be dragged before the Courts. That regulation operated one-sidedly. An effort was made by the Leader of the Opposition to get an action for false statements instituted against the Melbourne Argus, but the sanction of the Attorney-General had to be obtained, and such sanction was refused. ; Consent was only given for the prosecution of Government opponents. In no case was it given for the prosecution of a friend to the Government.
– There was no reply to my letter.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the Argus is a friend of the Government?
– It has not been very friendly of late. _ Mr. J. H. CATTS.- The Argus criticises the Government now and again, but when a political war is declared, and the electors are about to go to the ballotbox, it always supports the Government, and is against Labour. f In New South Wales Mr. Percy Hunter, the paid secretary of the Nationalist Association, issued broadcast throughout New South Wales statements which were absolutely false. Action was taken by the Campaign Committee of Labour. The AttorneyGeneral was asked to consent to a prosecution. The matter has been followed up by Mr. Roberts, the solicitor for the Labour movement in New South Wales, but from then until now, although twelve months have elapsed, there has been a refusal to institute a prosecution. The regulation is merely an engine of- tyranny in the hands of Ministers. In my own case, a prosecution was instituted when I was 200 or 300 miles from Sydney. I was required to appear within twenty-four or forty-eight hours, and the magistrate was ordered not to grant an adjournment for more than twenty-four hours, which made it absolutely impossible for me to obtain witnesses.
– Who ordered the magistrate not to grant an adjournment?
– He was ordered, under the War Precautions Regulations, not to grant me an adjournment. The regulations provided that the magistrate was not to grant an adjournment of more than twenty-four hours. The Government sent that regulation to every magistrate.
– It was a regulation applying in every case, not in the case of the honorable member only.
– It applied in every case; but, as I have shown, prosecutions were initiated only against opponents of the Government. In no instance has a prosecution been instituted against a Government supporter. There has been a refusal to prosecute when the facts have been brought under the notice of the Government, and consent sought in order that a prosecution may .be undertaken.
We have the imprisonment of the political opponents of the Government. There are men to-day locked up in internment camps - Australian-born citizens - for whose detention no reason was given. The war has now ceased, and if all these men were set at liberty they could do no harm to the country. Yet the Government refuses to release thom, or to give reasons for having locked them up. The Government asks us to perpetuate these evils by continuing to allow it to continue to exercise unlimited power under the “War Precautions Act for from three to five years to come - that is, until the terms of peace are finally settled and ratified.
There are the regulations which have enabled Ministers to slander their political opponents, and have deprived the latter of redress” in the Courts of’ the country. When the brave Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) went on to the platforms of the country, and branded his former colleagues as pro-Germans, as in the pay of Germany, with the German mouth at their ear and the German hand in their palm, he passed a war precautions regulation preventing any man from instituting an action for slander because he had made these statements. The Government asks to be allowed to continue this licence. There can be no prosecution unless the Attorney-General consents, and who can imagine the Prime Minister consenting to the prosecution of himself, especially when be had refused to sanction the prosecution of his own political “pals.”
Although we have Electoral Acts, although we had Parliament sitting, we had under the War Precautions Regulations the manipulation of the ballot-box, the manipulation of the elections. Not only were things done which have cast a doubt upon the voting, but there have been attempts to do other things, which were exposed at the eleventh hour. The Prime Minister got two or three colleagues together, and sought to establish military interference at the polling booths. When several of his Ministers resigned, instructions were given to the censors that the public were not to be allowed to know anything about the matter. Senator Gardiner was temporarily in charge of the Defence Department, because of the absence of Senator Pearce in Western Australia, and
*r. *J. if. Catts. he threatened the censors that if they interfered with the publication of the information he would order the military tolock them up. Otherwise, the publicwould have known nothing of the attempt by the Prime Minister to corrupt the ballot-box. He sent out 5,000 urgent telegrams, the night before the poll, cancelling the regulation that had been issued, aud he lied to the people of the country by denying that any such regulation had been issued. This is the kind of thing that the Government asks us toperpetuate for from another three to five years, until the final treaty of peace and all its details, have been formally ratified. What have been the safeguards of the freedom, and purity of British parliamentary institutions other than a free press, a free platform, and freedom of Parliament? All these are abolished under the existing Act and regulations made under it; even the safeguards against corruption, as I have pointed out, are taken away.
It is said that the smell of Hun Limburger cheese is so aggressively rotten that it will carry 40 miles direct, and turn a corner, and travel another 20 miles,, and then knock down a Hereford bull. But the stench of it is as nothing when compared with that which will arise when the lid is lifted off the War Precautions Act suppressions.
The Government propose to continue the methods of secrecy and hush beside which the darkness of the Black Hole of Calcutta is but a circumstance.
No doubt an interval of three or more years is desired by the Government, during which period the Institute of Science and Industry may be invited to devise methods to concentrate and conserve this poison gas for use in future wars. If the poison gas that has been generated by their methods of hush, secrecy, and suppression under the War Precautions Act could have been made available against the Germans on the Western Front the war would have been brought to a close at least two years ago.
I cannot imagine a Parliament of selfrespecting representative men consenting to the total abolition of their own powers as representatives of the people such as is proposed by the continuance of the operation of the War Precautions Act.
I feel it my public duty to protest in the most emphatic and strongest possible way against the maintenance of the Act upon the statute-book for a moment longer. Labour could have no better weapon against the Government now, or at the next general election, than would be supplied us by the continuance of the War Precautions Act and the regulations made under it. I would ask for lib better political weapon against them. During the last two or three weeks I have addressed thirty meetings in a New South Wales farming constituency. At each of those meetings I devoted one half of my time to an explanation of what the New South Wales National Government was doing, and the remaining half to an explanation of the doings of the Commonwealth National Government. I told my audience of what was going on, and of some of the things of which they are not allowed to learn through the ordinary channels. At every one of these thirty well-attended meet’ings I asked any Liberal or National supporter present to put up his hand if he was proud of the administration of either the Federal or State National Government, but there was not a ‘microscope powerful enough to discover . one man throughout that electorate who would admit that he was proud of the administration of the National party in either State or Federal politics.
I would say to the Government, “ Go on as you are and it will suit us very well as a party.” But it is our public duty to point to the evils that are arising under the War Precautions Act and the regulations framed in connexion with it. We have to point to some of the evils which will probably be fully exposed when the War Precautions Regulations are lifted. When that comes about we shall have some disclosures. We cannot have this policy of suppression and the expenditure of a million of money per week in Australia in connexion with the war and at the same time expect to have angelic purity associated with it. If honorable members opposite are not prepared to say that the War Precautions Act shall be wiped out and an opportunity for better administration afforded, then an indignant and outraged public opinion will, at the first opportunity, sweep them into that outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
– I desire to register my protest against the continuance of the War Precautions Act. The people of Australia have lived for four years under regulations framed under that Act,- and it is up to the Government now to exercise their functions as a Government. During the last four years we have been governed by regulation. As the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) has said, during the war period it was no doubt essential that something’ in the nature of a War Precautions Act should be in operation to enable the Government of the day to cope with war emergencies, but I certainly think that those charged with the administration of the Act exceeded the intentions of those who voted for it. They availed themselves of it to frame regulations, which would not only assist us as a community in discharging our functions from a military point of view, but to enable the Government to interfere with the normal conditions of labour and industry. I decidedly object to the personnel, of the Boards which are controlling industries in this country, and to the methods adopted by them. While it is necessary in order to prevent profiteering and the exploitation of the people, that the Government should exercise some control over various industries, I do not think it was in the best interests of the people to concentrate this power in the hands of the biggest capitalists in the community, and to totally exclude the small man. That, however, is what has occurred in connexion with the appointment of these Boards. Many of those who,- before the war, were in a small way of business, have been driven out. The capital and industry of the country have been concentrated in the hands of big financial magnates and institutions such as Dalgety and Company, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and the Shipping Ring. The Board controlling shipping is composed of the largest shipowners in the Commonwealth, and small ship-owners have to “ kow tow “ to them to secure a crust by the running of their craft. These financial magnates, flapping flags and assuming an air of patriotism, have declared that their operations are in the interests of the people. The truth is that they have, used their power to fleece the industrial sections of the community. That is the position in regard to several of the Boards that have been created to control various activities. The Coal Board, for instance, was appointed to regulate the price and supply of coal; but it has also regulated the labour associated with the getting of coal. If the Government would take direct control of these industries I should not object, but I do object to the camouflage in which they have indulged. I do not believe in creating a Board consisting of the wealthiest coal mine-owners in the country, together with two or three Government nominees, who, receiving instructions from the owners, issue, under the War Precautions Act, regulations which bolster up the interests of these men to the detriment of those employed in the industry and the consuming public generally. And yet the Government tell the people that they are protecting their interests. As a matter of fact, they have not protected the interests of the people. During the last four years, under the camouflage of appointing so-called boards to control various industries, they have been a party to the fleecing of the people. An honorable member opposite smiles. I would remind him that the report of a Commission which inquired into the butter industry with which he is connected, shows that a good deal of fleecing has been indulged in by his constituents. The consumers in Australia during the last three or four years have been compelled to pay for butter more than they should have done.
– Has the honorable member read the report of the Inter-State Commission ?
– Reading between the lines of that report,- it will be seen that there was not a shortage of butter at the time that a shortage was alleged to exist. If the Government had not interfered in these industries - if the system of supply and demand had operated freely during the last three or four yeaTS - the big butter men would not have secured the prices they did.
– Would the honorable member like the doctrine of unrestricted supply and demand to apply to workmen ?
– Under the War Precautions Act a decision of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court was overridden by the Government. They declared that an award by Mr. Justice Higgins was ultra vires, and they framed a regulation under the Act which overrode the decision of the Court. A union to which I belong spent £6,000 in obtaining an award of the Court only to have it disregarded by the passing of a regulation under the War Precautions Act.
The Government now ask us to give them a continuance of these powers which should be given them only by the people. Now that the war is over to all intents and purposes, the War Precautions Act should not be continued. The Government, however, have become so accustomed to the exercise of despotic,- autocratic powers that they do not wish to be deprived of them. They feel like the Kaiser of Germany must have done.
– How does he feel now?
– Just as honorable members opposite will do a few months hence if they agree to the passing of this Bill. If it is passed, I am confident that within the next five or six months there will be such an outcry that the Government and their supporters will be forced to reconsider their decision. Honorable members opposite would be well advised in voting against this Bill. As to the press censorship, I have to-day received a letter stating that it has not been relaxed, in any degree. This letter refers to a case, not relating to the movements of our troops or troopships, or anything of the kind, but to a simple ode to Peace written by a woman for one of the Socialist organs. This ode has been censored.
– The censor is capable of censoring the Bible!
– Well, I know that the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) has in his pocket the ‘Sermon on the Mount, and he will tell the House that even that has been censored. The Attorney-General has told us that if the Government getthis extended power, it will be possible to enforce the operation of the regulations after peace is declared.
– That is so.
– Then I assume that the Government have power to pass an Act of Parliament giving them the powers that are already contained in the regulations?
– We have power by this Bill, under the Constitution, to extend the period for six months.
– Then where was the necessity a few years ago to take a referendum of the people on the question of increasing the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament?
– We are dealing with a state of transition from war to peace conditions, and the Commonwealth has power to legislate in the way we propose to do by this Bill.
– Do you say that the States will voluntarily surrender their powers to the Government?
– It is not a question of State powers, but a question of our own powers.
– I am in accord with the idea that the Governmentshould exercise full restriction in certain directions, and that it is quite necessary that some of the regulations should be kept in operation, not only to the termination of the war, but, as a matter of fact, for all time. If it should be the lot of members on this side to be in power at the end of two years, as I believe we will, I shall have very much pleasure in supporting some of these regulations when they are put into the shape of Acts of Parliament. I remember hearing the late Lord Forrest saying that the War Precautions Act was brought into existence to deal with “ the other fellow,” and that he was going to deal with that “other fellow” effectively while the Government had the power. I remarked at the time that this was a policy of spoils to the victors ; and I can only now say that if we on this side get a chance of dealing with the “other fellow,” we will deal with him just as effectively as we have been dealt with during the last three years.
– Is that a threat, or a promise?
– It is a promise. It appears very strange to me that, while the Government had all the power necessary to deal with any associations it pleased, they found it necessary to pass an Unlawful Associations Act. Evidently the Government recognised that the War Precautions Act would be absolutely invalid at the termination of the war, and, to make sure that the men whom they had imprisoned should be kept in prison, the special Act was passed.
It would be very easy for the Government to introduce a special Act, giving them the specific powers they wish to exercise after peace is declared; and that, I think, is the proper course to pursue. If there is not the necessary constitutional authority to enforce such an Act,let them do as a previous Government did - take a referendum of the people. On that occasion there were a dozen questions submitted asking for extended powers in regard to industrial matters, monopolies, price fixing, and in other directions; and I should be quite prepared to take the platform in support of the Government if they put their proposals in a similar form before the people. It is absolute despotism on the part of the Government to continue one moment longer than is necessary the War Precautions Regulations ; they have been most unfairly administered. All that is necessary is for the Executive of the Government - not the Government - to get together and issue what regulations they choose, which must be accepted with all the penalties. This is not government by the people, but government by ten or twelve members of the Executive; indeed, it is only necessary for three members of the Government to meet together and pass regulations, which are then binding on the whole Parliament and people. That state of affairs should not be permitted in Australia. We are here as representatives of the people, and if the Government desire these powers, they should appeal to the people to give them.
As a matter of fact, the people recognise the necessity for certain powers that have been acquired under the War Precautions Act; but it is absolute arrogance on the part of the Government to assume that the people wish them to retain all the powers they have exercised during the last four years. The majority of the regulations should be burnt, so that there may be a little more freedomin the community, and better relations between employer and employed. To-day the employer is using the Act and the regulations to camouflage his business. Whenever the employees go to him with a complaint, or endeavour to take him into Court for an infringement of an agreement or an award, he pulls out a few regulations, and tells them that if they desire any alteration they must go to the Government, who are running his business. If the employees go to the Government, they are referred to a Board, on which they find the business manager to whom they went in the first instance. They are simply chased from pillar to post; and, in order that we may know exactly where we are, it is time the Act and regulations were “ scrapped.”
So far as the shipping is concerned, there does not seem to be any definite control by either the Government or the Board. The unions that are working under the Board can get no redress from either the Board or the Government; and,personally, I should like to see the Board disbanded, and conditions put back to normal. In thepast, as a union, we have done very well with the employers, and we can do very well in the future if we are allowed to take our own course.
– There was double the amount of shipping then.
– We shall have double the amount again directly. If the Government desire to control the shipping, let them nationalize the shipping industry of Australia, when we shall know exactly who are our employers. On the Inter-StateShipping Board we find the representatives of all the principal companies, who regulate conditions to suit themselves.
– They have stated rates.
– Undoubtedly they have fixed rates; but the fact remains that the companies do not depend on freights in Australia, but on freights made overseas. About sixty odd ships have been commandeered, and have been running overseas during the past three years.
– [Chose ships are under British control.
– Only about halfadozen ships have been commandeered by the Imperial Government, the rest of them being run by the Australian Government. However that may be, we recognise that the necessity for the War Precautions Act no longer exists, and it is time we got back to responsible government, and away from government by a small autocracy.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. I was not in the chamber at the time, but I understood the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts) made a statement to the effect that since I have been administering the Price Fixing Department I have not authorized a single prosecution. I do not know where the honorable gentleman got his information, but I wish to give the statement the most complete and emphatic denial.
– How many have you instituted?
– I have not instituted any myself, but I have authorized a large number of prosecutions. I may further say that when I. went to the Price Fixing Department I found that quite a number of prosecutions had been recommended by an officer in NewSouth Wales for the most trifling breaches of the regulations. The amount in question was frequently1d., but more often½d. ; and I issued instructions that prosecutions were not to follow on such trifling breaches of the regulations until such time as printed price-lists were in the possession of every storekeeper.
– Will the Minister produce that instruction?
– There is in the Department a- minute written by me in those terms, and it can be produced here at any time. The honorable member also said, I believe, that I had authorized the withdrawal of a large number of prosecutions that had been recommended.
– I said that they were withdrawn by the Crown Prosecutor without any reason being given.
– No prosecution can be withdrawn without the sanction of the Minister. I authorized the withdrawal of some prosecutions, and I did so for excellent reasons. When one is administering a Department, he must use his judgment in these matters. I can give an instance of the withdrawal of a prosecution. A regulation was gazetted for fixing the price of some kind of infant’s food, the wholesale price being fixed at bo much per dozen tins, this being the contents of the package usually delivered by wholesalers. In the course of his business, one wholesaler was called upon to deliver quite a number of broken packages, and he adopted the usual trade practice of adding a small percentage per tin for the broken package. An officer in New South Wales strongly recommended a prosecution, and this had been taken in hand before I went to the Department; but when the facts came under my notice I took the view that the wholesaler had only followed the usual trade practice, and that the fault lay in the fact that our regulation did not prescribe that a broken packet should be charged for ‘at a slight increase per tin. The officer in New South Wales took the strongest objection to what I had done, but, nevertheless, the prosecution was withdrawn, and I immediately gave instructions that the regulation should provide for an increased charge per tin for the broken package.
– This question is by no means as simple as some honorable members seem to think it is. I have noticed that the speeches made on the Opposition side of the House have all turned upon some individual abuse in regard to one branch of the exercise of the powers given by the War Precautions’ Act, and that they have not dwelt in any way upon the broad principle which we are now called upon to decide. I am not opposed to the Bill, but I am opposed to the form in which it has been brought before the House. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Wallace) expressed an opinion which I thoroughly indorse, that, instead of bringing before the House a Bill containing one broad principle of renewal for a number of months, the Government should have specified the particular directions in which they desired to have the powers given by the War Precautions Act extended.. Looking at this question in a very broad way, we have to remember that u we pride ourselves on being a selfgoverning community. We have our Parliament elected upon a franchise which, I suppose, is the most liberal in the world, and, however unequal we may be to the expectation of outsiders in looking at our proceedings, we have the satisfaction of knowing that every detail affecting the liberties of our people- is fully, clearly, and freely, even if quarrelsomely, discussed in this Chamber. As a self-governing community, we found ourselves plunged into a war which sometimes necessitated very prompt and very drastic action regarding public affairs, and the party in power at the time - it must not be forgotten that it was the Labour party - followed the cue of the British Parliament, and introduced a War Precautions Bill.
– It was a pity’ that they did so.
– That is another question. I do not think that they could have avoided doing so. When the honorable member makes an observation, of that sort, I am disposed to think that he does not know much about the question. If Great Britain found that it was necessary to pass similar legislation, it was quite as necessary to introduce it here. I admit the necessity of the legislation. It would not have done to have left it to Parliament to discuss any measure - which might have taken weeks and months owing to obstruction - required for the purpose of carrying but certain things essential to our ‘ success in the war. But while it was necessary to pass this legislation, most thoughtful men regarded it as very dangerous to take away all the responsibility of Parliament and place it in the hands of an Executive who naturally would grow careless in the exercise of an arbitrary power. We know very well that in different countries of the world where oligarchies govern they grow careless, and get to think that the extraordinary power which they are able to exercise is an inherent power, and that they cannot make mistakes. The same infirmity attaches to a Government, Cabinet, or Ministry which has an arbitrary power placed long in its hands. I am not going to say that this Government or the Government which introduced the measure has exercised this power in a way that has done any great harm, but it is a power which we as a Parliament do not wish to see continued longer than is absolutely necessary. There is no doubt, if we could take a broad survey of the activities of the Government during the war, we should recognise that the powers given to the Government have helped very much in winning the war, and in making more effective our small contribution to the great struggle in Europe.
The war is now practically over, and we find that these powers will naturally extend up to a point at which we consider iti is terminated. I read of a number of people saying, “ Until peace is proclaimed.” I do not anticipate that there will be any proclamation of peace between ourselves and our enemies. Our enemies are defeated, and there is no doubt a time will come when we shall lay down the conditions upon which we shall agree to terminate our invasion of their country. The armistice, according to the Hague Convention, is only a temporary cessation of war pending the securing of its purpose. Our purpose is to defeat our enemies completely. We do nothing now beyond suspending hostilities until we have actually entered the enemy country and demonstrated to its people, not only that we are going to hold ourselves as a company may regard a receiver, but also that we are an Army in possession until we get a clear acknowledgment that they are willing to carry out the terms which we impose upon them as a condition of our final cessation of war with them. At all events, the time will come when it will be held by the Courts that the powers of the War Precautions Act have come to an end. The Government anticipate, and we all anticipate, that possibly before the House meets again after Christmas, we may find these powers have exhausted themselves, and the Government naturally come to us and say, “ These powers are so drastic, so far reaching, and so multifarious in their character and effect that we must ask you to give us authority to continue them for a certain time.” I agree with- the Government up to that point, but I differ from them in regard to the form in which the Bill has been brought before the House. The onus is upon Ministers to select for the approval of the House those forms of the war precautions powers which they think it absolutely necessary to continue, so that honorable members may be consulted in regard to those particular activities. Prom the Minister’s speech I gather that the principal powers may be comprehended under the following heads : -
Munition, shipping, wool, prices, commission, dairy produce, and moratorium.
– I did not intend that list to be exhaustive.
– No, but I understood these to be the principal heads. I have observed in several of the speeches that have been made that there has been a tendency, especially on the part of the honorable member for Cook (Mr. J. H. Catts), to deal, not with the broad question, but with microscopic aspects of one or more of the powers. The honorable member seemed to think that some abuses had been practised. His first attempt v?as with regard to the regulation of prices, but the Minister in charge of price fixing very soon satisfied the House that the honorable member had discovered a mare’s nest, or a number of them, and had been misinformed.
– The Minister dealt with one point only.
– Because the honorable member dealt with one only. That was not a fair method of treating this measure. It must be dealt with in a broad spirit. We cannot say, “Here is an abuse in a particular direction under one of these particular heads, and, therefore, you must not have a renewal of any of these powers.” That would be a schoolboy’s method of treating the question. If the honorable member for Cook would take up the line which I am suggesting, and which the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Wallace) took up, that we must perforce, as representatives of the people, consent to some extension of these powers, provided the Government show quite clearly that they are necessary, I would agree with him. Let me deal with these particular powers. The Minister in the course of his speech said that the gentlemen who have charge of munitions have pointed out that there are certain commodities connected with the activities under their charge which it is necessary to control, but I do not see any necessity at the present time for giving any further power to these gentlemen to control the particular commodities which go to the making of munitions. We have not succeeded in making munitions in this country, although we were invited by the British Government to do so.
– We are manufacturing cordite.
– If the. honorable member can bring that particular branch of the subject before the House and advance fairly good reasons why the powers given under the War Precautions Act should be continued in their application to the manufacture of cordite, I would be very glad to help the Government.
– We were ‘manufacturing cordite long before the war started.
– There is no doubt, as the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) has pointed out, that the Boards created by the Government during the war are very apt to imagine that they have been created for all time, so that they may exercise the powers reposed in them to an unlimited extent, and for an unlimited time, in controlling matters which hitherto were regulated by the law of supply and demand and the commercial activities of the country. It is quite possible that those gentlemen may have represented to the Minister that it is very necessary to regulate some particular commodities for that purpose, but the Minister will have, even under the procedure which I suggest that the Government should follow, the opportunity of bringing these facts before the House and allowing members to decide with him or against him in regard to that particular activity. The subject of shipping is one I do not profess to be able to deal with. I think I know as much about shipping as do most men in this House, but I have no more than enough knowledge to protect me from being “ dangerous “ by forming immature opinions. A large body of our shipping has been commandeered by the British Government, and is doing, and will continue to do, great work in connexion with our troops and their demobilization. It is quite possible that some of those ships may still require to be detained by the Government under “the war precautions power before all our troops are returned.
– Are those ships under the control of the Commonwealth?
– I do not know. On that subject I am just as ignorant as is the honorable member; but I think it is very probable that the Minister will be able to tell us that in regard to the vessels that have been commandeered for oversea traffic, it is necessary to continue these extreme powers. I am very doubtful,however, whether it is necessary, to continue them in regard to Inter-State vessels. It is for the Minister to ascertain that through the proper authority, and explain the situation to the House. This is a very good illustration of the danger of the wholesale continuation of the war precautions powers. It may be quite apparent, when we know the reasons, that whilst it is necessary to continue the powers in regard to oversea shipping, it is quite unnecessary to interfere with the operation of the ordinary law of supply and demand and commercial competition in the Inter-State trade.
– We must protect the outlying States.
– I do not intend to argue with the honorable member, because I do not think he knows any more than I do.
– I know the position of Queensland.
– The honorable member knows something, I am well aware, but very often he will bring himself under Pope’s definitions of a little knowledge, with the natural result. One needs to know a great deal about these matters before he can formulate a definite opinion.
– We in Queensland have bought our experience. ‘
– I have bought mine sometimes, but still I do not know. In fact, as I grow older I am inclined to think that I do not know much about anything, and that makes me hesitate to express my opinions about matters which are far-reaching. If we knew all the circumstances connected with the shipping question, we might come to the conclusion that it is highly unwise to longer interfere with the Inter-State traffic, that we ought to allow it to resume its normal movement, but that it m’ay be necessary to continue the extraordinary powers in regard to oversea shipping.
In regard ito wool, I think the Minister made it quite clear in his speech that the transactions that have been entered into by the Wool Committee extend so far beyond the date upon which the War Precautions Act will automatically cease tha’t it may be necessary to extend the Government’s powers in that respect. Price-fixing affords another excellent illustration of the difficulty and danger of a general extension of the war powers. There is no doubt that the Price Fixing Commission has created an immense amount of irritation in the community.’ It may have had at times the effect of preventing the regular profiteer, with whom I have no sympathy, making exorbitant and wicked profits. I know of instances in which colonially-made goods have been sold at prices three or four times the cost of production. The manufacturers have availed themselves of the high prices prevailing abroad, ‘ and have made enormous profits, which ought to be prevented while war conditions continue. We know that freights from a country like America, which were formerly 12s. per ton, have been in recent months £12 per ton, and that increase has so enormously added to the cost of heavy materials, like galvanized iron, that the prices have been almost prohibitive. But there are commodities in connexion with which there should be less extortion, and we might usefully discuss discrimination between those which it is desirable to keep our hands on, and those which we ought to put our hands off. I consider that the Government have framed their Bill in the wrong form. They ought to have asked the House, not for general powers, but for discriminating powers in regard to different matters. If they do that 1 shall be very glad to help in discussing the various items, and to give them the powers which they satisfy me and the House they ought to have. But I shall feel constrained to vote against the Bill in its present form.
.- Though I differ from the last speaker in regard to some matters of detail, I am in agreement with him on the general principles of his opposition to the Bill. The Act which gave such wide power to the Executive was passed while the country was in a state of war, and it was absolutely necessary to - do some things rapidly in the interests of the nation. It may not have been advisable to wait for Parliament to discuss certain measures, and thereby lose the opportunity of doing something which was essential for the welfare of the country. Many of the powers conferred by the War Precautions Act were distinctly outside the ambit of the Constitution!, and were justifiable only because the nation was in peril, and because the maintenance of the safety and the stability of the country must be the first consideration of the supreme Government. But the moment the danger to the nation is past those powers automatically cease, and there should be no need, and indeed there would be no right, to exercise them for one day after the safety of the country has been assured. I think this subject is interesting enough to require a quorum. [Quorum formed.] But certain powers which are necessary for the proper conduct of affairs may require to be continued, and so far back as the 12th June of this year I warned the Government that when the war ceased these extraordinary powers would automatically disappear, and I urged upon the Minister in charge of the House at the time the necessity for the Government immediately taking some steps to obtain an extension of our constitutional powers, so that Parliament might operate in a legal way those activities which are at present unconstitutional. No notice was taken of my suggestion, and now the Government are asking the House, not for power to deal with some specific subject, but for a blank cheque, and an authority which will enable three Ministers to exercise the functions which belong to Parliament itself. The request for such powers is outrageous, and Parliament ought to hesitate before granting them. Our system of government has been built up on the assumption that the people govern themselves by electing representatives to Parliament to decree the things that they desire. In no British country has any one man, or any two or three men, the right to shut the door of Parliament, and to do by regulation what Parliament itself would not do. Members on both sides should combine to restore responsible government to Australia. The danger that threatened no longer exists. This Parliament, elected by the people, should make the laws of the country; our laws should not be made by one or two Ministers. If the Government desires power to control the distribution of wool, or wheat, or metals, or anything else, let it bring down ‘ specific measures, and if its proposals can be justified, Parliament will grant the necessary powers. We should not, however, give to the Minister for Defence power to continue to do what he has been doing since the war began. Such powers should not be in the hands of any one individual. The Government should accept its responsibilities, and come to Parliament for the powers that it needs. Responsible government is menaced, and we should take care that the laws of the country are enacted by Parliament alone.
.- I confess that I was in more doubt concerning the wisdom of the vote that I gave for the War Precautions Act than I have been in concerning any other vote cast in this House. The bitterness that has been infused into the debate is to be regretted . It is due to the circumstances that brought about the disruption of the old Labour party shortly after the passing of the War Precautions Act. I clearly see the difficulties in which the Government is placed. The old props .by which business and commerce were supported have disappeared. They were anything but perfect, and often were rotten and corrupt. They have been supplanted by a system of Government control. We cannot now throw aside our responsibilities in connexion with this system without chaos supervening. The discussion has shown the division between the truly National Labour members and the Official Labourites, and between the National Labour members and the members of the old Liberal party with whom we are at present co-operating. Members opposite have had a great deal to say about the tyrannical application of the War Precautions Regulations. We are all largely in sympathy with what has been said on that head. We are also greatly in sympathy with the controlling of industry by the Government, and the co-operation of Commonwealth and State authorities to secure cheaper marketing. We are interested in maintaining and improving the soundness of the principles to which we have so long subscribed, just as we are anxious that human liberty should not be restricted. During the past four and a half years there have been many cases in which it has been unjustly restricted. I cannot’ let the occasion pass without referring to the source of the whole trouble, and showing that if true principles had been subscribed to in the beginning the bitterness which has been displayed would not have been engendered, and the subject under discussion would have been approached in a fairer and more judicial spirit. The old Labour party, with a few exceptions, supported the War Precautions Act, which a Labour Government introduced. We did this either because we felt that the necessities of the war required the passing of the Act, or because we thought that we would have the administration of it, and that it was to be the other fellow who would squirm But when a few irreconcilables outside Parliament, who for many years had been kept in subjection, collared the Labour machine, and gave orders to the representatives of the people, and declared that the Labour member was no longer responsible to his constituents, but was the servant of those controlling the Labour machine, had we stood together like men for the Labour platform and constitution, we would not have seen the confusion that has entered into politics in Australia, and we should not have heard the bitter recrimination in which the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts) has indulged to-night, maintaining that the War Precautions Regulations have been used as a weapon against the members of the Official Labour party. In defence of my leader, Mr. W. M. Hughes - and I speak as a man who had no sympathy with the principle of compulsory service for defence overseas, though in accord with compulsory service for defence within our own borders, because the men so subjected to military discipline would be able to control that discipline by their votes and the votes of their relatives - I say that never was a man more reviled for asking a party to stand by the principles which it had always advocated. It was the saddest experience of my life to see men whom I respected, although willing to protest against the outrage which was being done to the Labour party’s platform, acknowledge that they could not live in politics unless they submitted to the power that was dragging Labour principles into the dirt. I stand for the principles for which I have always stood. I believe that the Labour movement is a great humanitarian movement which cannot be stopped by a few extremists who try to take short cuts to liberty by trampling on every principle of individual freedom.
– That is rough on Palmer.
– There are men in this Parliament who are willing to make sectarian gutterswabs of themselves, and there are men who are willing to degrade their manhood for the sake of political advantages, taking their orders from irresponsible outsiders, and swallowing their principles, instead of. standing forth boldly as educators of the people, and showing how the . true doctrines of Democracy have been departed from in a manner which must mean the rise of Autocracy. If we trample on the principles of freedom, for which the Labour movement stood in the past, punishment will follow. If we prove unworthy of our inheritance of political freedom, autocracy will be the result. . What was on trial at the time of the Labour split was the principle of representative Government. No body of men has the right to control the actions of the representatives of the people.
– Cheer up.
– The honorable member knew well that a joint protest was being drawn up against the tyranny that threatened. Some of us subscribed to it, not only with our names, but also with our deeds, and by following our leader out of the party room, made clear our opposition to an attempt at coercion which was contrary to Labour principles, and without constitutional warrant. Because we are now in co-operation with those to whom for years we were opposed, we have not in the slightest degree sunk the principles in which we believe. We maintain that it is for the constituencies to deal with their representatives. The Labour split was the result of the most tyrannous action ever perpetrated in the political history of any country, and it has brought about great trouble. As for the War Precautions Regulations, we hold that every restriction on individual action and freedom should be swept away as soon as possible. But the bitterness engendered by the disruption of a great party was like that caused by the quarrelling of the members of a big family, and the drastic application of the War Precaution’s Regulations prevented certain developments that would have brought disgrace upon Australia. If we, a selfgoverning Dominion, possessing the freest Constitution and the fullest franchise on earth, had resorted to revolutionary or reactionary methods, we should have furnished the strongest argument for Kaiserdom that the world has known. We should have proved the unwisdom of trusting the people, and should have subscribed to a principle to which so many nations have subscribed to their utter discomfiture, namely, that the vast majority of the people are so ignorant and incompetent that government must be left to the intelligent few. However harsh the regulations made under the War Precautions Act may have been in their application, they did good service in certain cases, because it was known that there was a hand of steel behind them. It was known that there would be no wincing on the part of the Government in giving effect to them. In this way Australia has been piloted safely through the most crucial period in her history. She has come through that period with credit. As an Australian who loves his country, I say that Australia has done her duty during this perilous period, despite the tendency on the part of a great many individuals to spend their force in fighting and rending each other in the unhappy circumstances to which I have already referred. I trust, however, that the Government will recognise that while their difficulties are great, all sections of the community are claiming with justice that many, of these restrictions upon individuals shall be swept away, while others are anxious for a measure of Government control. Although some businesses have suffered by reason of governmental intervention, and can be carried on reasonably and honestly without this form of Government control, there are many business people who are anxious to get rid of it altogether, so that the helpless in the community may be further exploited. I hope that the greatest care will be exercised by the Government, so that we shall not have the experience of other countries that are now in a state of chaos and disruption. Those who foolishly think that now that the War is over, every restriction may be removed, must be reminded that the world has been shaken to its very foundation. Wars equally as bitter, but not as bloody, as that through which we have just passed will be waged from one end of the world to the other with regard to the old systems under which produc- tion and distribution were carried on, and upon which the relations between nations and Empires were based. There will be a tremendous upheaval, and it will require all the sagacity and statesmanship that every party can bring to bear to preserve the process of evolution by which better and truer methods with regard to not only individuals but nations and empires may be gained. Even the very principle of empire building is now at stake. Those who would rush us into extreme systems of communal Socialism need to be reminded that the peace with which we hope shortly to be blessed will be the greatest triumph for national individualism that the world has ever known. It will be a recognition of the right of small nations to exist, and of the right of a free people to determine their own future, and to give effect to it, according to whatever standard of honesty, and intelligence they can evolve. It is upon such a principle that peace will be based. Our hope of a League of Nations is also founded upon it. Those who challenge the right of the Government to gradually perfect a better system, and to carry on in this way until the world’s peace terms are proclaimed - -those who would rush us into wild extremes must be made to realize this fact..
We have great activities in full operation at the present moment. We have, for instance, the Wheat Pool. And as a working farmer, I say that we have to thank the Federal and State Governments for their co-operative action in respect of the Wheat Pool, as the result of which the Australian farmers have been saved during the last four and a half years from almost complete extinction. It is true that ill-informed people are constantly trying to poison the minds of the farmers of the community by pointing to what they describe as the terrible consequences of Government interference. But it is as clear as daylight, that no market would have been available for our wheat - no means of marketing or financing our wheat crops could have been evolved - if the credit of the country had not been pledged as it was by the Federal and State Governments. Although as a farmer I am well aware that grave mistakes have “been made in connexion with the administration of this scheme - although I know that wasteful systems have been developed - I recognise the absolute soundness of the basic principle of this system of control which has spelt such success for the fanner. However distasteful it may be to many honorable members, I hope that when we get rid of party differences we shall be able to evolve great co-operative systems as between the Commonwealth and State Governments by means of which our produce will be carried by Government-owned fleets of vessels to the various markets at the very lowest rate, and that every farmer, whether rich or poor, will secure exactly the same advance in respect of his produce until it has been finally sold. In that way the salvation of our farmers will be secured. It is absolutely impossible for farmers’ associations by cooperation or any other method to finance the needy farmers in their tens of thousands throughout Australia, and to remove them from that unfortunate position which made them the prey of the speculator in previous years. It is only by the strength and power of the Commonwealth and State Governments that that can be done.
In conclusion, I urge the Government to at least give us what the people outside are anxiously waiting for, and that is immediate relief from many of the regulations framed under the “War Precautions Act. I shall not discuss the question of whether they were necessary or not. The fact remains that at the present time they are utterly needless, and are as a galling girth round a free people who have shown that they can express in the highest degree the independence of a free people and at the same time perform the noblest duties of citizenship when their independence and freedom are at stake.
.- I desire only to say, Mr. Speaker, that I arranged with the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) that he should have the adjournment of the debate. If he does not desire to move it, some other honorable member will do so.
– By way of personal explanation, I may say, sir, that I decided subsequently that I would not speak at this stage.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Archibald) adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Groom) read a first time.
Relations Between Prime Minister and Minister for the Navy - Negotiations for Sale of Wheat - Conduct of Government Business - Price Fixing - Prosecution of Milk Companies.
Motion (by Mr. Watt) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I do not wish to detain’ the House at any great length; but I should like to draw the attention of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to the strained relations which appear to exist between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook). The Acting Prime Minister has said that I desire to “ sow dissension “ between himself and the Prime Minister; but I assure the House that I am acting in the interests of Australian producers when I draw attention to what undoubtedly are the strained relations between the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Navy. These gentlemen are supposed to be cooperating in the disposal of our products, and in the endeavour to get Australian shipping. The press has told us that the Minister for the Navy had not met the Prime Minister for a period of three months up to 1st September. The Acting Prime Minister promised that he would cable to the Old Country te ascertain, whether there was any truth in the allegations ; but, so far, he has not informed us whether he has received any reply, though he admits the country ought to know the facts.
I wish to draw attention to the speech: of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) on the wheat question. There is not, in any of the numerous cables which passed between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Acting Prime Minister a single reference to the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook).
– Why should there be?
– There should be if the Prime Minister was co-operating with the Minister forthe Navy.
– No, no!
– The Prime Minister, in every case, uses the pronoun “ I.”
– If these twain are one, what occasion to do otherwise?
– Does the honorable gentleman seriously put forward the view that the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Navy are on amicable terms in the Old Country, and have been so?
– I do.
– Is the honorable gentleman prepared to read us the cables, if any, he has received in reference to the matter ?
– I shall tell you what I arn prepared to do when you sit down.
– In yesterday’s paper, it was stated that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was consulting General Birdwood, and, I think, General Monash, about the demobilization of our soldiers; but there was no mention of the Minister for the Navy, who ought to have been present at interviews of that kind.
Although it may appear to honorable members opposite that we oh this side are desirous of availing ourselves of the strained relations between these two gentlemen, I submit that that is not our concern at all - our concern is for Australia.
– I do not know how it is, but nothing the honorable member has said has removed the original impression I expressed.
– Of course, that is quite in keeping with the honorable member’s tactics.
-Do not put it down to “tactics”; I am not putting it down to “ tactics “ in your case.
– The honorable gentleman, in my case, is putting it down to something much worse - to personal feeling; but I can assure him that it is not a personal matter. In my electorate, there is the Mount Morgan mine, which employs about 2,000 men, and a recent statement by the director of the company goes to show that there is a fear that the mine will have to be closed down unless something is done in regard to copper. Then, the speech of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) goes to show that, judging from the management of the wheat position, the Prime Minister is not fitted to carry out business dealings on behalf of the Commonwealth.
– I think that is a most objectionable statement. There is nothing in the cablegrams or comments I read to justify a suggestion of the kind.
– There is, and I draw your attention to the statement in the Prime Minister’s cable, when he said, “ I offered the wheat to the Royal Commission at 38s., and the offer was accepted.” To this the Acting Prime Minister telegraphed, “ I am astonished at the contents of your cablegram Q,” and to this the Prime Minister replied, “ I did not intend to say that the wheat was sold.”
– No; speaking from memory, and subject to correction-
– The honorable member is correcting me while he is not sure of his own ground.
– I have not Hansard by me, but I know substantially what he said.
– This conversation is not in order.
– I shall make my explanation afterwards.
– I speak from memory, but I say the Prime Minister’s cablegram was, “ I offered the wheat to the Royal Commission at 38s., and the offer was accepted.”
– I donot qualify that statement.
– Then the Acting Prime Minister replied that he was astonished at the contents of the Prime Minister’s cable.
– Then what next?
– I do not remember.
– But that is the part you were quoting.
– The Acting Prime Minister cabled that he was astonished at the contents of the Prime Minister’s cable.
– And then the Prime Minister explained.
– And then the Prime Minister explained, and said that, owing to mutilation, or from some other cause, his meaning was not quite clear.
– There is never an extensive cable which comes through in secret cipher, with which the honorable member is acquainted, without some mutilation, because of the pressure on the cable ; it is sometimes hard to read the messages accurately.
– That may be, but I draw attention to the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said in his second telegram, “ I did not intend to convey that the wheat was sold. The wheat is not sold, though the Royal Commission contends that it is.” My point is that the Prime Minister is so poor a businessman, and so little acquainted with business methods, that he offered the wheat at 38s. to the Royal Commission on certain conditions. I do not know their names, but I venture to say that the Commission is composed of business men, and they accepted the offer, and contend that thewheat is sold. After the Prime Minister had made the offer to the Royal Commission, and the offer was accepted, the Prime Minister commenced to haggle about the conditions.
– No, no !
– The cable shows that.
– Suppose all you say is true, what about it?
– I am showing that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) is no more to be intrusted with the business of Australia
– You said that a quarter of an hour ago !
– And you agreed to it!
– If you say a thing twenty times I may not agree with you.
– Then there was no occasion for the honorable member to ask, “ What about it?”
– I only wished to know what was your conclusion.
– That is my conclusion, and I am trying to prove it.
– Very well.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), after all this, proposed to add the new condition that, in case of an increase in price, they should share the profits. I suppose the Royal Commission found that the Prime Minister was not a business man, and they objected to his methods. Then the Prime Minister went, not to the Royal Commission, but to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
– He has been dealing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer all the time.
– According to the cables he discussed the matter with the Royal Commission.
– At one time, yes.
– But you said, “ all the time.”
– I say that he has been all the time dealing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
– When the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) was supposed to be co-operating with the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), the former should have been present at all these interviews. There is a dignity and. manner about the Minister for the Navy which the Prime Minister never possessed, and never can possess.
– You did not say that at one time.
– These attributes of the Minister for the Navy would have been an aid in the communications with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and also with the Royal Commission.
– When did you discover these great attributes ofthe Minister for the Navy? I have not heard you speak so of him before?
– I have not found it necessary to mention these attributes before.
– I shall cable the compliments to the Right Honorable Sir Joseph Cook.
– Honorable gentlemen opposite do not like their present position, and object to my criticism.
– We object to bear a man who has done more than any other for Australia, and for its wheat industry,so maligned.
– He sold the wheat at half the price, and wool at a shilling per lb. less than the price paid in America.
– South Africa did not sell her wheat, and was begging to come in on the same terms.
– The Minister for the Navy, had he been with the Prime Minister, would probably have been able to render to some extent innocuous those vulgar remarks and the vulgar action of the Prime Minister in outrageously contradicting point blank the Prime Minister of England, and in referring to the replies of the British Government as “ rigmarole,” otherwise “ balderdash.” The right honorable gentleman, by his distinguished presence and his eloquence, might have been able to secure for Australia a sale of wheat which the Prime Minister, after five long months, has been unable to accomplish.
Let me call honorable members’ attention to another fact disclosed by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) the other day. He cabled to the Prime Minister on the 25th June, and got no reply. After some days he cabled again; and if honorable members look at the dates of these communications ‘they will see that intervals from three days to thirty-one days elapsed before the Prime Minister sent replies. The Acting Prime Minister has endeavoured to excuse the Prime Minister by saying that those who know what cabling is, know that an answer cannot be got in less than four or five days.
– That was not an excuse, but an explanation.
– Cables come daily to this country, and the lines are cleared for Government messages.
– That is not correct.
– It is an extraordinary position if, as the honorable gentleman says, anybody can take precedence of the Government in time of war over the Eastern Extension or the Pacific Cable. The excuse will not explain the Prime Minister’s delay.
– What excuse?
– It will not explain the Prime Minister’s failing to reply to the urgent cables as to the wheat position.
– I sent a cable to the High Commissioner last week, and have received no reply yet.
– I believe that the Australian wheat sellers would prefer - and I know now the copper producers would - to transact this business through their own agents. It shows a lamentable failure, after five long months, for the Prime Minister to dally with the wheat question while he travels throughout the United Kingdom making speeches, and, as the newspapers tell us, receiving deputations on all kinds of subjects.
– Scandalizing the British Government.
– As my honorable friend says, “ scandalizing the British Government.”
– “ Your troubles “ for the British Government ! I am not referring to the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs).
– All this only shows that a mistake has been made in allowing the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to deal with the matter over so long a period. At the end of five months he sends a cable, saying that it is impossible to make a deal with the British Government ; and now Australia and its wheat producers are to be placed in a disadvantageous position. The honorable member knows so little about business matters that it is unsafe to leave him on the other side of the world.
.- I rise to impress on the Government the necessity for improving their method of dealing with Bills. Last night we had the Defence Bill brought forward, and I hardly know a word strong enough to describe their conduct in managing the business of the House. There is no unanimity behind Ministers. Today we had a War Precautions Bill for consideration, and members sitting behind the Government seemed to have no idea of what Ministers had brought forward. They condemned the measure wholesale. I want to ‘ give the Government a little advice. When these Bills are prepared, let them be laid before meetings of the party in caucus; so that their supporters may know what legislation is to be brought forward. The delays caused by the lack of knowledge of honorable members supporting the Government regarding the contents of “Bills are of serious importance to the people. There are honorable members on this side who are ready to assist in carrying on the business of the House; but when we see such an exhibition of incompetency on the part of Ministers, and such a disregard for the wishes of the country) we are justified in drawing attention to the wholesale delays which take place in the conduct of business. Honorable members opposite were sent here to bring forward certain measures, yet they do not agree among themselves when the Bills are brought down to the House. They are worse than a lot of school children. It is absolutely annoying to honorable members on this side to have to sit here and see this disagreement and misunderstanding among honorable members opposite. It would not matter much if the disagreement merely affected individuals. The trouble is that it affects the interests of the country. Honorable members do not seem to understand that the work of preparing for peace is just as great a responsibility as is the task of preparing for war.
– A new discovery!
– Yes, I have discovered it. If the Acting Prime Minister would only accept my advice and hand over his Treasurership to some other member of the Ministry who may be capable of filling the office, he could devote the whole of his time to the duties of Acting Prime Minister. There are many people who cannot obtain interviews with him, because it is impossible for him to spare the time to see them. I make no apology for delaying honorable members now. I hope that my few remarks will result in the Government bringing forward measures for which we are thirsting. We are anxious on this side that the business of the country should be proceeded with. If Ministers cannot carry on, let them say so, and we on this side will show them how to do it. In future I hope that Bills will be brought forward after the party has given consideration to them, so that we shall not have a renewal of the spectacle we have witnessed during the last couple of days. ‘We should set an example to the .State Parliaments in the matter of the conduct of business. Until such time as we have freedom of speech and a free press in this country I shall take every opportunity of pointing out the way in which the Government have mismanaged the affairs of the Commonwealth.
.- The Minister in Charge of Price Fixing (Mr. Greene) controverted some of my remarks this evening; but I notice that, as soon as the adjournment of the House was moved, he walked out of the chamber.
– Did the honorable member tell the Minister that he proposed to bring the matter forward on the adjournment ?
– I had no chance of doing so; but the Minister was sitting in the chamber. At “any rate, some of his colleagues may bring my remarks under his notice, and I may be able to obtain an answer. I would like to know from the Minister why prosecutions were undertaken against the big milk companies in Sydney and withdrawn.
– If you ask that question on notice it will be answered. There is the prescribed form for obtaining information from Ministers.
– It is too late to give notice of a question now. The Minister has spoken of numerous prosecutions having been undertaken since he has been in charge of price fixing. I would like to ask him how many prosecutions have been recommended from the State of N/ew South Wales since his occupancy of the office, and how many have been instituted, and in how many cases the advice of his responsible officers has been turned down ? I should also like to have produced the so-called minute in which the Minister states that prosecutions have not been permitted until a warning has been first issued.
– Matters that have arisen during the course of a debate preceding a motion for the adjournment of the House cannot be revived on that motion.
– Am I at liberty to deal with price fixing generally?
– Yes, so long as the honorable member does so without reference to, any speeches in debates that have already been adjourned.
– The honorable member made a mess of price fixing, and resigned.
– The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Sinclair), and other honorable members who were on the Price-fixing Board with myself, know perfectly well that our resignations took place because the Government issued regulations making it absolutely impossible for our work to be carried on. Instead of the Government having the courage and manliness to say that they wanted to be rid of responsible men, who insisted on work being done instead of being mere tools whose recommendations could be ignored, they issued regulations which made it impossible for our work to be carried on, and immediately all the members of the Price-fixing Board, which represented both sides of the House, resigned.
– Just exactly as would have to be done if price fixing were carried out by other individuals. It could only be carried on by regulation.
– We have done it since then.
– The cost of living has increased by leaps and bounds. The great companies dealing with the price of commodities to-day have made profits that were undreamt of in the greatest dreams of avarice before the war.
– When did you resign?
– It was in the third quarter of the year 1916. I forget the actual month.
– What has been the relative rise in cost since then ?
– I have not got the percentage increases on hand at this moment. There has been a rise in the cost of bread, which was totally unjustified. The Minister referred to a Jd. overcharge in some instances. He did not mention the commodity, but if it was bread that id- could easily run into millions of money to the people.
– Pollard is cheaper since you resigned.
– If so,, then on the formula in operation, the price of flour has increased in proportion. This means cheap rabbit poisoning material for the squatter, but dear bread for the people. In my time we did not have the wholesale violations of pricefixing regulations which we now see, and yet the Government absolutely refuse to initiate prosecutions. Price fixing so far as they are concerned is absolute make believe. There has been no serious attempt at price fixing or at policing and carrying out the law in that regard.
– Because of the price fixing adopted by different Governments, Australia has been the cheapest of any of the belligerent countries to live in.
– I do not agree with the Acting Prime Minister. The Government received a report from the Inter-State Commission in which they were advised to institute control of meat prices. The Acting Prime Minister said that he would not be bullied by the meat interests; he was going ahead with price fixing. What has become of it ? There has been no diminution of prices; in some of the suburbs of Sydney, particularly Newtown and Enm’ore, prices have actually increased since the Government issued their fixed rates. Will the Minister in charge of price fixing have prepared a table showing the number of cases in which prosecutions were recommended for violation of the price fixing regulations when he came into office, the names of the firms concerned, and the number of charges against them; also in how many cases recommendations have been submitted to him since he became Minister to initiate prosecutions, and the names of the firms against which proceedings were taken? The information
I have, which I think Ls quite reliable, is at variance with that given by the Minister.
– Surely the honorable member will take the Minister’s word ?
-CATTS.- There is a discrepancy somewhere, and I should like to have an opportunity of investigtaing the matter.
– In reference to the remarks made by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), I do not desire to bandy words with the honorable member, who is an experienced parliamentarian, or to endeavour to engender bad feeling between the Ministerial party and the Opposition, but I say again that I doubt his bona fides with respect to the alleged quarrel between the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Navy. I am in possession of enough information to say that the bulk, if not all, of the statements in the press are untrue, and I hope to be able to-morrow by means of a joint cablegram from those two gentlemen, which I shall read to the House if it arrives in time, to thoroughly confirm my statement. I say further that I am without doubt that the Prime Minister has with respect to wheat, wool, copper, and the other things, thirty or forty in number, which the Government have asked him to attend to in addition to his manifold other public duties, in the most assiduous way done all that mortal man could do under the extremely difficult conditions that obtain with all the watertight departments of the British Government to be visited, to uphold the interests of Australia. As to the Prime Minister’s ability, I think it is so much nonsense to say to this House that he is unable to deal with a matter like the wheat sale. All the transactions that have taken place, with the exception of the last wool sale, were engineered and guided by him. They involved most important and tangled questions of finance and negotiation, and I join with the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch) in saying that, whatever people may think in regard to the honorable gentleman’s politics or the cleavage that occurred in the Labour party during the war, this country must, when the record of Australia is read, give the greatest possible credit to Mr. Hughes, not alone for his efforts, but also for his magnificent results which have largely contributed to stabilize this country during the period of greatest crisis and tremor. It is of no use talking at this late hour for political purposes of either neglect or ineptitude, because I am sure that the right honorable gentleman has contributed all that is in him to settle these important questions.
– Until he made the £3,000,000 wheat deal the speculators would give very little for the wheat.
– The Pools were established largely through the instrumentality of the right honorable gentleman, and but for them wheat would have been at a serious discount, compared with pre-war prices, instead of being elevated to a parity with all the wheats of the world. As to his selling wheat and wool cheaper than they should have been sold, ask the men who produce those commodities.
– They are satisfied.
– The honorable member’s speech the other day on the wheat question was the most damning indictment of the Prime Minister that has been uttered.
– Let me take for what it is worth that statement, made more in sorrow than in anger, if one can trust the countenance of the honorable member. If, as the honorable gentleman seems to imagine, the Prime Minister had nothing to do but to sell the wheat, if there were only one man in London to whom he could take it, and if the cables were free of congestion, one could expect to receive an answer within forty-eight hours. But that is not the position. Various authorities have to deal with this question. There is the financial authority on the one hand, the shipping authority on the other hand, and the purchasing authority for the third part. This question is mixed up with all the other matters with which the right” honorable gentleman has been dealing. The gaps in the cables do not represent either neglect or forgetfulness; they represent the difficulties in the situation. One gap is explained by the fact that the Prime Minister of England was absent in the South of England for three weeks, and, therefore, it was not possible for Mr. Hughes to deal with the head of the Imperial Government in this matter. If time permitted, I could explain all the other gaps. I tellthe honorable member that shortness of memory and political malevolence are responsible for many of his thoughts on this question.
– There is no malevolence.
– No man in this House would believe that disclaimer unless the rules of debate required that he should. I ask the honorable member to drop this question. This House has many important duties to do, and we can be much better employed in doing them. We regret that we have not the brains of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West), but we must do our best with the talents with which the Almighty has endowed us.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 November 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19181127_reps_7_87/>.