7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. LYNCH presented a petition from the women of Bowral praying for the removal of the New South Wales quarantine station from North Head, Sydney.
Petition received and read.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister state whether there is any truth in the rumour that the Government has under consideration the advisableness of removing the quarantine station from North Head to Bowral?
– I desire to ask the
Acting Prime Minister a question relating to the premature announcement of the signing of peace. May I state by way of explanation that in the Argus of Wednesday last there appeared large black headings as follows: - “Peace Signed”; “Germany Accepts Terms”; “ Official Announcement.” Then followed the statement that the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) had released a message received by him from the Royal Australian Radio Station, Perth, stating that-
The following message has been intercepted from the Mauritius Royal Naval Radio Station: - “To allstations; peace signed.”
This news being sent by the Naval Radio officer at Mauritius is official, and immediately upon its receipt in Melbourne. Radio Commander F. G. Cresswell despatched a copy to His Excellency the Governor-General and to the Acting Prime Minister. A few minutes after 10 o’clock Mr. Watt released the news for publication,
The honorable gentleman considered the announcement to be so authentic that he issued to the people a message of deep thankfulness. I desire to ask him’ if he does not think that he should protect the public’ from misleading messages of the kind, and whether he will take some steps to ascertain who was responsible for the sending of the message 1
– I have already taken those steps. I have called on the Navy Department to inquire as to the circumstances in which the Radio Station at Perth received the message, and a report from the officer in charge who was responsible for sending the message from the Royal Australian Naval Radio Station, Perth, to Melbourne reached me yesterday. I shall be glad to lay it on the’ table.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs seen the somewhat sensational statement in the press this morning to the effect that German employees in variousparts of America are engaged in poisoning canned foods subseauently sent to the British Dominions? In view of the possibility of such an occurrence, I desire to ask him whether he will cause stringent tests to be made of all such articles, so that the public mind may be set at rest.
– Yes; exhaustive inquiries will be made.
– In regard to the important matter mentioned by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler), I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether he will take into consideration the advisableness of appointing’ Government tasters ?
– The Opposition will also be represented.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs take action to appoint a scientific committee to watch over all imported foods entering Australia, and will he also cable to America to ascertain if there is any. truth in the report referred to?
– As I have already stated, exhaustive inquiries will be made, and the Government will then be able to determine what action should be taken.
– If it is found that there is any truth in the report as to. the poisoning of foodstuffs intended for consumption in the British Dominions, will the Minister for Trade and Customs invite the Cabinet to consider the advisableness of abolishing the importation of all foods into Australia?
– If it be found, upon investigation, that there is reasonable ground for believing that there is any truth in the statement, steps will be taken immediately to prohibit the importation of such goods from the country in which the adulteration has taken place until such time as we are in a position to have the whole matter dealt with.
– As the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) will be returning from Sydney in a day or two, will the Acting Prime Minister take steps at once to confer with him with a view to securing either a reduction of the sentence passed on the brave men dealt with by the Naval Court Martial on the Australia, or their release)
– It is unfortunate that the honorable member did not hear the answer I gave yesterday to an exactly similar question. I announced the law on the subject.
– What law ?
– If the honorable member had heard my answer to the question he would have been better informed. 1 announced what was the law on the question, and said further that when the Acting Minister for the Navy, returned from Sydney I would confer with him about the. whole matter.
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) yesterday asked me to inquire as to the preparation of a list of officers of the House who were on duty at the re-‘ cepton given by the Government to Admiral Viscount Jellicoe, in this building. He complained that the list was incomplete, with the result that many officers who were on duty did not receive extra payment. I promised to consult the responsible officers of the House and’ to advise him as soon as possible of the result. I have now to state that I have made inquiries and learned that no list had at that time been prepared by any officer of the House in relation to the function, but that one has since been supplied from which, so far as this portion of the building is concerned, there is no omission of any person who rendered service on that occasion. .
– Then all the men will be paid ?
– Yes; all other than staff officers of the House will be paid.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Victorian State Insurance Commissioner has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Acting Prime
Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government will supply a detailed statement covering the present position of the several Wheat Pools, showing -
The amount of money involved in the sales of wheat to the British Government, and the value of the wheat now delivered in respect to same, together with the amount of money advanced by them over and above the value of wheat delivered to date?
What advances, if any, made by the Federal Government to meet progress payments to farmers in respect to each pool, have still to be recouped to them by sales?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Instructions have already been issued to the State Wheat Offices by the Australian Wheat Board to furnish particulars of quantities and proceeds of sales to 30th Juno next, in accordance with the principles recently laid down for defining the participation of each Pool in such sales. A statement will be prepared on the receipt of information as to local sales which is recorded by the State Wheat Offices and not by the Australian Wheat Board.
In regard to the particular items (a) and (b), the information is as follows: -
The value of wheat delivered. in respect of same is £24,657,000.
The amount advanced over and above value of wheat delivered to date is £5,676,000.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
With reference to the case of Paul Freeman, will the Acting Prime Minister make a statement as to the offence which Freeman is alleged to be guilty of, the names of the persons wholaid the accusation, if any, the names of the persons who tried him, if he had any trial, and if Freeman has not had an opportunity of proving his innocence, will the Minister say why he is now in gaol ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
Paul Freeman registered himself as an American alien. The information available to the Defence Department showed that Freeman had been fined for a breach of the War Precautions (Aliens Registration) Regulations, in that he had failed to report within seven days after acquiring a new place of abode; that Freeman was an advocate of Industrial Workers of the World doctrines, and had made a statement to the effect that any one going to the war was lower than a dog. Responsible testimony discloses the fact that Freeman refused to naturalize in Australia, and that, although he asserted that he was an American, evidence pointed to the fact that he was a German. For these and’ other proper reasons, his deportation was ordered. It is not the practice to disclose the sources through which information is obtained by the Department. Freeman is now in detention pending the result of inquiries from the authorities of the United States of America as to the reasons for refusing him permission to land in that country.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Central Wool Committee has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government will appoint a Royal Commission to inquire -
As to the number of women alleged to be secluded in convents within the Commonwealth ?
As to the increase in the number of such women in each year from 1900 to 1919, together with the number of institutions in which they are placed ?
Whether all such women voluntarily become inmates of such institutions?
Whether any of them desire to leave or are detained against their wishes?
Whether such women, or any of them, are employed for the benefit of such institutions?
As to what rates of remuneration (if any) are paid for their services and how the rate of pay compares with that of others engaged in performing similar services outside such institutions, and subject to labour conditions?
As to what extent the conditions of life of such women, the services they perform, and their state of celibacy affect the public policy of the Commonwealth ?
Whether any agents of a foreign power have legal authority under the Constitution to detain against their will any citizens of the Commonwealth?
Generally as to the conditions of convent life which existed in Italy prior to the suppression of convents by the Government of that kingdom?
– No. As all charitable and educational establishments are within the orbit of State constitutional power, the appointment of such a Commission by the Governor-General would not be appropriate. I may add that, in my judgment, the practice adopted by some honorable members of using questions on the notice-paper of Parliament as a hoarding on which to advertise their own political views should be discontinued.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether it is the intention of the Government to honour the agreement with South Australia for the completion of the North-South Overland Railway, and to introduce a Bill for its commencement this session?
– The agreement in respect of the railway will be carried out when the financial and other conditions permit. The questions of cost and possible routes to connect the railway in South Australia with the Darwin-Katherine line have been referred for report to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. The Government of the State of South Australia will be apprised of the position before any decision is come to.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Prime Minister’s Department. - Audit Office, Royal Exchange Buildings (part only), King William-street. Rental, £156 per annum.
Prime Minister’s and other Departments. - Brookman’s Buildings (10 rooms on 4th floor). Rental, £500 per annum, plus £50 for rates.
Treasury Department. - Land and Income Tax Branch; Hindmarsh Buildings (part only). Rental, £1,048 per annum. Old-age, Invalid, and War Pensions, St. Luke’s Hall. Rental, £17 per annum.
Home and Territories Department. - Electoral Branch, Selborne Chambers. Rental, £200 per annum. Electoral Branch (storage),’ Commonwealth Bank. Rental, £52 per annum. Meteorological Branch, West Terrace. Rental, £50 per annum.
Repatriation Department. - Currie Chambers. £260 per annum.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
East Adelaide Branch
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and replies will be furnished as early as possible.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he will state for public information what steps have been takenby the Government to obtain supplies of potash from overseas for the use of the fruit-growers of Australia, and whether there is a possibility of supplying the requirements of the producers in the immediate future at a reasonable price?
– The information desired will be obtained and supplied.
Alleged Payment to Mr. Griffin
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether there is any truth in the statement that a subsidy of £8,000, or of any amount, is being paid by the Commonwealth Government for mail service or trade purposes to any steamship company trading between Australia and Fiji carrying bananas grown by black labour, and thus monopolizing the market against the fruit grown in Australia?
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he will inform the House -
The average cost per ton during the war of Australian wheat landed in Great Britain?
Whether any sales were made conditionally upon Australia sharing in any ultimate profits made by the British Government?
How the difference is made up between the Australian f.o.b. price and the English price of Australian wheat?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 26th June, vide page 10194)
.- I move -
That Item No. 1, Division 3, Department of the Treasury, “ Salaries, £3,550,” be reduced by £1.
I do this as a protest against the refusal of the Government to increase the amount given to old-age and invalid pensioners. On 4th December last year, Senator Gardiner asked -
In view of the increased cost of living during the last few years, will the Government consider the question of increasing the old-age pensions by 2s.6d. per week?
Senator Millen, on, behalf of the Government, replied -
In view of the state of the finances, an increase in the rate of old-age pensions at the present time is not considered justifiable.
Yet, on 16th December, the Ministry introduced a Bill to give Chief Justice Griffith a pension of £5 per day. They were unable to afford any increase to the poor old people, but a pension was granted willingly for the Chief Justice. I have nothing against the individual in that case, but I have against the principle. In 1910, the old-age pension was agreed to by this Parliament at a maximum rate of 10s. per week, and I believe that at least 95 per cent, of the pensioners are obtaining the maximum amount. Somewhere, between June and September, 1915, it was decided by the Government - when, I think, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) was Treasurer - to increase the maximum to 12s. 6d. per week. What 12s. 6d. would buy in 1915 15s. will not buy to-day. Old-age and invalid pensioners have to purchase the necessaries of life in such small quantities that the increased cost of living falls more heavily upon them than it does upon others. I hope the Ministry will announce that, owing to the increased cost of living, they are prepared to grant that increase to these people. We have a very big item for war pensions.
– You will not have any war pensions in twelve months from the way they are working them off.
– I hope the honorable member is wrong. It is not possible for a worker receiving the average wage of £3 a week to make any provision against old age. In, the majority of trades and callings, directly they stop their pay stops. At a deputation I introduced to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) recently, there were present twenty or thirty secretaries of large organizations, and in 95 per cent, of the trades represented, directly the factory or workshop stops no man is paid a penny. Those of us who come closely in contact with old-age pensioners know the struggle that many of them have made to avoid taking the money. Many of them think they are doing something which they ought not to do in taking it, and will make arrangements to draw the pension in another district than the one in which they live. They feel that, in accepting the pension, they are doing something which demeans them. I say it is theirs as a right, and we should ‘see to it that they obtain an increase, so that they will be put in the same position as in 1910, because 15s. to-day will not buy what 10s. would buy in that year. I am anxious to see the Supply Bill through by 3.30 this afternoon, in accordance with my promise, but I urge the
Government, to let the old-age and invalid pensioners, who have a severe struggle today, learn that at last they are going to receive fair consideration. If the Government can give one man a pension of £5 a day, they ought to be able to grant to these pensioners an increase of about 4d. per day.
– I deprecate the method of argument adopted by the Leader of the Opposition. This question stands by itself, as all main questions can, without the constant endeavour to fix artificial relationships between them and other questions which have been decided by this Parliament. It . was not the decision merely of the Government to make provision for the first occupant of the Chief Justiceship of Australia; it was the decision of this Parliament. It is the practice of Parliament, and is provided by the Standing Orders, that an honorable member must not reflect on the decision of Parliament. I propose, therefore, to look at this matter by itself, apart altogether from the vote given by Parliament to Sir Samuel Griffith.
– He never ought to have got it.
– This House and another place passed the Bill, and it is now the law. The honorable member has moved his amendment as a protest against the refusal of the Government to increase the allowance to invalid and old-age pensioners and let us discuss that question by itself. I have sent for the figures to measure up the statement of the Leader of the Opposition as to the relative value of money in 1910 and 1919, but I think that the honorable member will find that the 50 per cent, rise in the pension from 10s. to 15s. - would more than cover what the Statist declares has been the rise since 1910.
– Mr. Knibbs in his figures does not take into consideration the cost of clothing, which is the biggest item today.
– All speculative calculations by a statist must be bounded by a certain amount of theory, and although Mr. Knibbs’ figures may not include the whole orbit of payments or disbursements by consumers, he bas done’ a very wise thing in endeavouring to give us, for the first time in Australia, some guidance on matters of this kind. Otherwise we would be in completely chaotic night and be unable to argue about increases or decreases. Apart altogether from the question as to how much is covered by the increase to 12s. 6d. and as to how much the cost of living has increased since that increase was given, I am not qualified to judge offhand, not having had notice of this amendment, but I challenge the procedure adopted by the Leader of the Opposition and say that the granting of temporary Supply is not a proper time for deciding questions of this importance. The honorable member for Capricornia, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Higgs), when bringing forward, proposals for temporary Supply, did what I have done on every occasion. Very properly he gave the Committee a certificate that there was nothing new in the Supply Bill and that it .contained no increases not authorized by Parliament. I gave the same certificate when I brought forward this Bill, and unless the Committee of Supply can accept the word of the Treasurer in that regard it would be impossible to get temporary Supply. It is absolutely essential that the Committee of Supply should have such a certificate backed by the Treasurer when granting temporary Supply.
The proper time for considering a matter of this kind is on the Budget debate. Honorable members who have had the responsibility of office know how impossible it is to say before the year closes what the financial proposals of the Government will be for the coming year. With the complete concurrence of my party colleagues I informed honorable members, in a statement I made at the beginning of this session, that the Budget would . be brought down at the ea”rliest possible moment in August next, and that in the first week of July a full statement of the expenditure of the closing year under the different heads would be furnished. Until the year closes and we are able to get some forecast as to what the revenue, direct or indirect, will be and as to the necessity for fresh taxation, it is. impossible for Ministers to bring down increases in this or any other matter. It is suggested that I should give an indication to the Committee as to whether the Government are favourable to an increase. I am not permitted to do so. Honorable members in office know the duress that stands over a Treasurer more than over any other Minister, because, when the Treasurer gives a certificate for his Government that certain moneys will be provided he bas to find them. I am sure that the honorable member for Capricornia, who has submitted Bills of this kind before, must rebel against the procedure adopted by the Leader of the Opposition. He may say that my observations refer to high politics. Perhaps they do, but that is quite proper. On the other hand, the honorable member who has submitted the amendment is indulging in what I may term, without -offence, low politics. It is a little endeavour on his part to embarrass members of the Government and their supporters by causing them to vote at an improper time on an issue without an analysis of its merits. But the Democracy of this country, old or young, are. educated enough to know how empty are political moves of this kind. They have seen them so often. The procedure adopted seems to ‘be utterly fallacious, if not hypocritical. At the proper time the Government propose to deal with this matter. That proper time will be when the Budget is brought down, and Parliament then can say that there must be a decision on the question. The present is not the proper time for coming tt» a decision on it, and, therefore, I ask my friends on this side of the chamber, irrespective of what their views may be on the merits of the question, to vote against the amendment.
.-! am sure the Committee appreciate the position of the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) in dealing with temporary .Supply, but there are thousands of old people in Australia who are anxiously looking forward to a declaration from the Government as to the granting of increases in the pension rates. Be- cause of the large increase in the cost of living they are unable to make ends meet, and many of them are obliged to seek assistance elsewhere, and I see no reason, despite what the Treasurer has said, why the Committee should not indicate to the Government, for their guidance, that we are of opinion that the time has arrived when an increase should be made in the invalid and old-age pension rates. As a matter of fact, there ought to be an expression of opinion on this most important question, so that the Government may be in a position to include it in their programme in the near future. I have promised many aged people that I would do my best to get them an increase, to which I realize they are entitled. This is the only opportunity honorable members have of expressing their views oh the matter.
Mr.Watt. - The only opportunity?
– I admit that there will be another opportunity in August, but it is a matter of urgency - one that will not permit of delay. We have been in recess for six months, and these old people have been waiting all that time for some indication as to whether they can expect to get some increase. The financial position of the Commonwealth is not so much in question. The nation has assumed the responsibility of looking after the aged and infirm, and whatever the cost of doing so may be, we ought tobe able to make a declaration as to whether we are going to take their circumstances into consideration, in view of the increased cost of living, which we are doing nothing to prevent. Since the relaxation of the price-fixing regulations further increases have come about which, these aged people cannot meet. Mr. Knibbs deals with the cost of groceries, meat,bread, and that class of thing, but deals very little with the cost of clothing, which has gone up, not only 50 per cent., but even 100 per cent. A tweed suit, which cost £4 5s. or £5 5s. before the war cannot be bought now for less than £10 10s. The poor people are not in a position to meet the increased cost of living, and have to deny themselves many necessaries. Consequently, they urge us to do something. I am surprised that the Government did not take the matter into consideration during the recess, and that the Treasurer has not yet given us an indication of what he intends to do. Surely he cannot contend that the financial exigencies of the Commonwealth will prevent him from doing something for these aged people ? The wealthy will have to bear more taxation. Taxes are heavy to-day, but they will have to be considerably heavier if we are to meet the legitimate claims made on this Parliament.
I hope that something will be done in regard to old-age pensions. But what I desire to bring before; the Committee is the administration of the Income Tax Department. When the Income Tax Bill was before us, I pointed out that, by tightening up the penalty clauses in regard to the furnishing of returns, we placed a number of poor people in a very difficult position. I was assured by the Minister in charge of the House, who consulted the head of the Department behind the Speaker’s chair, that my fears were not well founded; that caution would be exercised before prosecution. I do not know whether my electorate has been singled out because of my raising my voice here, but I know that there we find Mr. Slattery and a staff, with an office, constantly prosecuting, as they have been doing for a considerable period, people who have not furnished returns. I have no desire to shield any man who wilfully refuses to pay his income tax, because the law must be obeyed. This law, however, is a new one, and very many working people did not understand that they had to furnish returns. Under the State Income Tax Act they had an exemption of £250, and very many of them, for instance those who worked on contract, did not know whether they had earned £156. I pointed out that when returns were sent in by the employers they would be carefully checked, and defaulters thus discovered, and what I foreshadowed has happened. The Income Tax Office have taken action against persons who never intended to avoid payment.
– Do you mean without any intimation to them beforehand?
– I shall come to that point presently. My remarks apply not only to miners, but to small struggling farmers. A school teacher wrote to me the other day saying that all the small farmers in his district were objecting to the action of the Department in prosecuting them when they did not know they were liable. I can assure the Committee that this is a very serious matter in my district. Almost every week a batch of twenty or thirty offenders, and sometimes more, are fined from £2 to £3 and costs, and sometimes even larger amounts, for this offence. If offenders are really guilty of trying to defraud the Department, the penalty is much heavier, and of that I do not complain; but the fine is never less than £2 and costs, and those concerned have to lose a day’s work, although I am assured that when communicated with they immediately send in returns. I am informed that the practice of the Department, if a return is not sent in, is to notify the person ; but even when that person sends it in, he is prosecuted. However, if a person finds out for himself that he has not sent in a return, and sends in one with a plea of ignorance of his liability, there is no prosecution. The Government should really take into consideration the administration of the Act. As I have said, it is a new law, and we are bringing within its meshes people who are earning small incomes. In addition to the income tax, such people have to pay a penalty interest, and that is very hard in these times. I was promised that no prosecution would take place without notification.
– ‘That was not quite the promise. The honorable member’s objection was to the employer sending in returns for his employees. The undertaking I gave was that where the information came from the employer on the wages sheet, the employee should be notified before prosecution by the Department to the effect that he ought to send in a return. It was in regard to that class of man that the promise was made.
– Then I shall leave the farmers out of consideration, and point out that the miners have brought this question before their delegates’ Board. I wrote to the Hepburn Lodge asking for specific cases, but up to now I have not had a reply. I see from a report of their meeting, however, that my letter was dealt with, and three men declared that when they were notified they sent in returns, in proof of which they said that they had their assessments in their hands before the prosecution.
– You may accept my assurance that if evidence can be got of the promise having been broken, I will take steps in the matter.
– I am thankful for that assurance, but the administration has caused much irritation. I cannot see why my electorate should be singled out by the establishment of an income tax office there for the purpose of these prosecutions.
– There are prosecutions everywhere.
– Is there a staff established in the honorable member’s district?
– I do not know that there is.
– That is my point.
– As a matter of fact, the Commissioner has no politics in these matters; he acts on his own account according to the law.
-The honorable member’s district must be full of delinquents!
– Not wilful delinquents; they did not know they had to send in returns, but did so immediately they were told.
– It must be the same ignorance which accounts for the honorable member’s return.
– I venture to say that if the honorable member met my constituents he would recognise in them a very intelligent body of people.
– Not where taxation is concerned.
– The Acting Prime Minister knows my people.
– I think the honorable member’s own behaviour in this House proves that he has a very intelligent elec-
– We would naturally expect, in connexion with a Depart- merit of the kind, that careful checking would show exactly who had not sent in returns. I have a letter here on the subject, but, as I have no permission, I shall not mentionthe name of the writer. It is sent by a gentleman who paid his tax each year, sending the money by registered letter and obtaining a receipt. In that letter it is stated -
The enclosed is a form of notice received by me, and issued almost indiscriminately through this district at the present time by the Taxation Office at Maitland.
The object of the Department is to catch the person, and rightly so, who has not sent in returns, and thereby evaded payment of the tax. But for persons to be receiving such a notice who have furnished their returns and paid their tax, and in some cases forwarded same with the greatest, precaution by registered post, as is the case to my knowledge here, is nothing short of downright insult.
The officer at Maitland surely knows who does not furnish returns, and it appears to me that it would require no great effort to evolve some better mode of conducting Commonwealth business.
I simply send the circular on with these comments for your information. .
Here is the circular: - 1! have to request that you will be so good as to inform me if, and to what office’, you have furnished Federal income tax returns in respect of your income for the periods - 1st July, 1914, to 30th June, 1915; 1st July, 1915, to 30th June, 1916; lst July, 1910, to 30th June, 1917; 1st July, 1917, to 30th June, 1918.
If such returns have not already been lodged by you, it is requested that you will furnish them within seven days of this date, and inform me of the reason why they were not forwarded by the due dates.
The necessary forms are enclosed for your use.
These circulars ought not to be sent to people who have paid, and there must be a screw loose somewhere. Expense of this character ought not to be incurred unless there is absolute necessity.
– A person who has paid should take no notice of such a circular.
– I venture to say that if the honorable member had paid his tax and received such a notice he would feel irritated.
– I got notice of a fine after I had paid my tax.
– In a wellconducted Department these things do not happen. There is the staff of clerks to go through the lists, and they ought to know who have paid.
– There is nothing to grumble at in that; but what about the prosecution of men who have furnished returns? The honorable member said there were certain people who had regularly furnished returns and who had been fined.
– I said . that that was what was stated at the meeting of miners, but the newspaper report is my only authority. However, I am taking steps, and will probably be able to furnish a number of specific cases within a fortnight.
There is another matter to which I desire to direct the Treasurer’s attention. I have received a letter from a Maitland accountant in reference to an aged unmarried man, who would be entitled to the old-age pension, but is of an independent character, and endeavours toearn a crust with a couple of horses and a cart. He did not consider he had a taxable income, and therefore did not send in a return. The accountant certifies that this man paid 8s. per month, or £4 16s. a year, for shoeing his horses ; £1 a week, or £52 a year, for forage; £7 10s. for repairs to his cart; £5 5s. for a new axle; and £4 10s. for harness. This shows a total expenditure of £74 in the year necessary to the earning of the income. The income derived is £99 15s. for profit on coal, which he obtains from the mines; £11 7s. 6d. for cartage of coal; and £20 for killing prickly pear - he evidently having been employed by some farmer. This makes a total income of £131 12s. 6d. ; and if we deduct the expenses of £74, we have a net income of £57. This man, however, was compelled to pay £4 in two years as income tax, and fined 10 per cent.
– He ought to have his money returned.
– I am informed that the money cannot be refunded.
– The Court evidently heard the figures, and gave its decision.
– This case was not before, the Court, but before the Commissioner. I brought the matter under the notice of the Commissioner in Melbourne, who forwarded my representations to Sydney, and pointed out to me that it was impossible to make any alteration, as these deductions were not allowed.
– That is a mistake, not in the administration, but in the law.
– And I mention it in order that an early opportunity may be taken to amend the law. There is nobody to blame but ourselves here; we allow measures to go through in this defective state, and men are compelled to comply with them. I find no fault with the Commissioner, but merely desire that, some amendment of the law shall be made.
– Under the law, working expenses may be deducted.
– I am informed that, under the law, there is no provision for the deduction of such expenses. I feel sure that the Treasurer, as the head of the Department, will have some inquiry made. When I wrote recently on the matter, the honorable gentleman asked me to supply specific cases; and, although I have not any at present, I shall obtain some and submit them.
.- It is, of course, impossible for the Government to indicate on a Supply Bill its complete financial policy, or to enter into those details which are proper when the Budget is before us. I am, therefore, quite in agreement with the position taken up by the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) in this regard. The honorable gentleman, however, created an impression in making his reply which I trust he did not intend. There is no doubt that the financial position of .the Government is a somewhat serious one; indeed, the position of the country in regard to our national finances is of very grave moment to all of us. Notwithstanding that, I trust that the attitude of the Government towards this question of increasing the pensions of the aged and infirm is one of entire sympathy, and that when the Budget comes before the Treasurer for consideration in detail, he will see the necessity and advisability of making some addition to the present small allowance. It is beyond question that there is a considerable rise in the cost of living all round; and- the wife of the Treasurer would, I am sure, agree with my wife that it represents at least 50 per cent. If that be so, then the position of these people who are drawing pensions should command our fullest sympathy. I do not like the impression conveyed by the Treasurer that the matter of increasing those pensions will be determined entirely by the general financial position of the Commonwealth. There are many ways in which economy could be achieved. I am sure that if the numerous leakages from the Treasury chest, now going on, were stopped, an addition could be made to our old-age pensions without any sacrifice on the part of the country as a whole. I trust, therefore, that when this question comes up at the proper time for consideration, the Treasurer will give earnest and sympathetic regard to the demand that is being made on behalf of our aged and infirm, people for some improvement in their present hard conditions.
.- In regard to the question raised by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Chariton), I understand that the officer who has been appointed to deal with taxation matters in his electorate is to cover the whole mining field. I visited only recently one of these mining centres, and had placed in my hand seven or eight different sets of papers that had been distributed amongst the men, requiring them to appear in Court to answer a complaint that they had failed to send in income tax returns for 1915-16. These men had receipts showing that they had paid the amount of taxation due by them in respect of that period, and had filled in the necessary return when called upon to do so. I at once got into communication with the Deputy Commissioner for Taxation as well as with the officer mentioned by the honorable member for Hunter, but was informed that the summonses could not be withdrawn. I was told that the proceedings must go on, so that these men had either to be represented in Court by counsel or to appear in person to show why they had not filled in a return for the year 1915-16. Doubtless the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) is aware that these miners are virtually contractors, since they are on piece-work. Very few of them bother to keep a record of their earnings in respect of any one year. This is particularly so in regard to the men working on the narrow seams. Their wages have not been large, and many of them, from my own personal knowledge, were reasonably entitled to believe that in respect of 1915-16 they had not earned £156. I have had handed to me a return showing that in the case of one of these men he was entitled to PaY 3s. .in respect of income tax. This is an indication that the men were not far out when they estimated that their actual earnings did not bring them within the scope of the Act.
Miners on piece-work have to incur certain expenses which might well be allowed as deductions from their earnings. They have, for instance, to pay for their own explosives, lighting, and tools. They have also to pay for repairs to their tools, and in many cases they have to travel by tram from their homes to the mines in which they are employed. Very few, if any, of these items are allowed as deductions. In that respect the position of the miner on piece-work is very different from that of the ordinary business man. As soon as their attention was drawn to the amendment of the law reducing the exemption from income tax, these men filled in the necessary return, and it seems to me to be rather late in the day now to be issuing summonses against them, and fining them £2 and £3 each, for failing to send in a return in respect of the year 1915-16.
The secretary of one of the local unions was anxious to see that all his men furnished their returns in proper order. He interviewed me on the subject, and in order that he might do this I saw the Deputy Commissioner for Taxation, who agreed that the men should be allowed one month’s extension of time. I assisted some of the men to fill in their returns, but when they went to pay their tax each and every one of them was fined by the Department for being late in furnishing his return, notwithstanding that they had complied with the law within the extension of time allowed.
– That means bad recording if they furnished them within the extended period.
– That is so. It seems to me that the men who readily furnished returns, when their attention was called to the amendment of the law, have been unduly punished, whereas others, who have totally ignored the law, have been allowed to go scot-free. This matter should be put right at the earliest possible moment. It is unfair. In one case within my own knowledge - and there are many others of. the kind - the father of a large family who bad lost a boy at the war, neglected, in his hour of trouble, to send in a return, and was proceeded against. Surely some . consideration should be given to a man in such circumstances. I hope the Treasurer will see that those who are quite willing to pay what is due from them shall not be haled before the Police Courts. In some of these oases men who had never appeared before a Court were prosecuted. The whole thing was disgraceful. I do not stand for any man who tries to evade the responsibilities which the law imposes upon him, but I do urge that fair treatment should be meted out to these miners. The Treasurer should instruct his officers not to look more closely into the affairs of the3e people, whose income just reaches the border-line of taxation, than they look into the business transaction of others who are robbing the whole community by the undue inflation of prices.
I have only to say, in conclusion, that, having regard to the increase in the cost of living, it is time that the Government took action to increase the invalid and old-age pensions.
.- We must all sympathize with the increased effort on the part of old-age pensioners to make both ends meet during the period of the war. Although the increase in the cost of living in Australia has probably been very much less than in any of the belligerent countries, there has, nevertheless, ‘been a substantial addition; but I agree with the position taken up by the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) that the question of increasing the invalid and old-age pensions oan be considered only when the general question of the finances of the Commonwealth is under review in connexion with the Budget. I am confident that the Treasurer will then give the fullest attention to the claims of pensioners, and will also carefully scrutinize every branch of the national expenditure. We should, at the same time, consider whether the whole system of maternity allowances, old-age pensions, and bonuses generally should not give place, as far as possible, to an entirely new scheme. I hope that it will be possible for the Government to reconsider, as a previous Administration did, the question of the extent to which the existing system might be placed upon a contributory basis. Such an alteration, of course, could not be completed for many years; but since we are face to face with enormously heavy outgoings, it seems to me that the state of the finances of the country are such as to call for the utmost economy. Instead of appeals to the Government to spend money in a hundred-and-one different directions, the people should be invited to consider how far the success of this great nation is going to be assured by the development of individual self-reliance.
– The farmer does not do that.
– The farmers are developing amongst themselves a system of commercial co-operation under which, in a collective sense, they can recognise their interdependence one upon the other, as well as the development and practice of a spirit of individual self-reliance. Unless we develop this spirit of self-reliance we can never hope to be a great nation. The.old-age pension scheme is on the statute-book, and will remain there until it can be replaced by a system which I consider can be made infinitely superior and wider reaching. 1 refer to the Lloyd George system of contributory insurance, which would provide a much more comprehensive scheme of assistance to many classes of the community than our present systems. It embraces old-age pensions, sickness, unemployment, and maternity, and under it the State contributes a certain proportion, the employers a certain proportion, and employees their proportion. The Lloyd George scheme includes persons receiving £160 per annum or under. The time has arrived, faced as we are with the serious financial problems of the future, with twenty-one and a half millions of new taxation imposed becauseof the war, with increasing war pensionswhich must be provided from revenue, and with the heavier taxation about to be introduced to provide for repatriation, for this Parliament to take into serious consideration the whole question of the expenditure of this country and the taxation of its people. We must devote our attention to some system that will develop a spirit of self-reliance in the community while enabling the Government at the same time to do its duty. An undertaking of that sort canbe stated to the House only in connexion with the Budget, and I hope, therefore, that in considering his complete financial proposals the Treasurer will see his way to bring down some comprehensive scheme such as I have mentioned, enabling thewageearner to contribute during his lifetime an amount probably less than onethird of the whole fund, to insure him the receipt of better pensions in his old age than are at present possible, and to provide in the meantime against unemployment and sickness and for maternity allowances. It is the duty of this Parliament to lead the way in legislation. It has certain obligations to the people, especially to the infirm, the unemployed, and the sick. The problem has never been tackled either by Federal or State Parliaments in the way it should have been tackled. The State Parliaments are doing a great deal in connexion with the health: of the community, but not nearly as much as their wide legislative functions would allow them to do. This Parliament, with its extensive powers of taxation, and its duty to the old people of the community, clearly defined in the Constitution, has also failed to do what it could do if it grasped the position in a comprehensive and statesmanlike way. We have a great opportunity in this House of setting an example to the community by bringing in legislation to give the people the chance to provide in times of prosperity and health, with the combined contributions of the State and the employer, against misfortunes such as broken health and unemployment, and for their old age. I hope it will be possible for the Treasurer, in considering the question of the increase- of old-age pensions and the continuance of the maternity allowance, to do the same as Mr. Lloyd George has done in Great Britain, which has proved so far a very great success.
– You are talking against time.
– I can quite understand that such a big question is too much for the intelligence of the interjector. I hope this debate on old-age pensions will have the effect of causing the Treasurer to take into consideration a scheme of the kind I have indicated, which alone, in my opinion, will meet the situation in a way that will reflect credit upon this Parliament and gave satisfaction to the people of the Commonwealth.
– I quite indorse the opinion expressed by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) on the Lloyd George contributory scheme, but the honorable member does not quite understand the difficulties of the position in which the old-age pensioners now find themselves. If the honorable member will come to my office next Monday, and see these old people as I see them week by week, and month by month, he will realize that their stomachs will not wait. They cannot help getting hungry, and, therefore, it is the duty of any man who understands this matter to take every opportunity to plead their case before Parliament, no matter whether it suits the forms of Parliament
Or not. If the honorable member would like to go where these old people are being paid, I should be only too pleased to take him across to the orderly room, where he will see any number up to 1,000. Perhaps that experience would modify his views as to the necessity of carrying on Parliament according to strict rule, and then he would not be so ready to criticise any one on this side who feels deeply od the subject.
– There is a proper time for these things.
– There is no proper time for these poor devils to get hungry, but there is a proper time for men like the honorable member and myself, whose bellies are always filled. I could quite understand the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) saying that this was not the most appropriate time to raise this question, if Parliament was meeting in the ordinary way,, and we were not loafing for six or seven months out of the twelve, or if we wereback in the years prior to the war ; but thehonorable gentleman knows as well as I do that all forms of parliamentary procedure are changing. Some of the old members of the British House of Commons, prior to the war, would be thrown into a fit if they saw what was going . on at the present moment. Thrones have toppled, and are toppling, and even the remnants of the monarchies are not too sure of their seats. To be an aristocrat in some countries means to run the risk of making acquaintance with a lamp-post. We are fortunate to be so far from the scene of trouble. Whatever the Treasurer says about the amendment being out of accord with parliamentary procedure, I thank my Leader (Mr. Tudor) for bringing up the question. Perhaps I am thu only member of this House who has addressed huge meetings on this very subject. The people say to me, “ Why don’t you call Parliament together? Why don’t you jump in at the very first moment ? “ At these meetings names are applied to a man whom I reverenced before he accepted a pension that the people of this country have to pay, but that they had no voice in fixing, which, if repeated here, would be not only unparliamentary but would shock even the hardened ears of politicians.
I have here samples which show a difference of 700 per cent, between prices. This dainty pair of women’s boots, made by Keith, a well-known American firm, was sold in Melbourne for £4 10s. This other pair by the same maker was sold in Melbourne for 10s. lid. Personally, as a Protectionist, I would prevent a single boot coming into the country. Let people who do not think that the boots made here are good enough for them, go to the other countries they love so much. The difference in price between those two pairs is 700 per cent. If there is no profiteering going on, God may know it, but I don’t. I have here also two pai.r? of men’s gloves, one sold for 2s. 6d. and the other for 6s. 6d., or a difference of 180 per cent. Most honorable members, I think, would choose the cheaper pair. I cannot say where they were made, but there does not appear to be much difference in the quality, and no one can say that the difference in the price is accounted for by the increased cost of labour. I have addressed more meetings on the old-age pensions question than, I believe, any other member of the House, and every meeting that I have spoken at has indorsed my belief that it is the wish of the citizens of Australia to give the pension as a right, both to the aged and invalids who are unable to earn a living. The stigma and infamy of charity, however, has been branded on it to such an extent that I advise every one who reaches the age of sixty-five to apply for the pension as a principle. If he does not need the money he can pass it on to some one who does need it.
– The Lloyd George scheme would get over all that.
– I indorse what the honorable member said on that subject, but while that is coming we must do something. I have here a letter written by myself to the ‘Treasurer, which I have , put before no less than five meetings. While it may cause honorable members to smile, there is in it a little lesson that I want to impress on them. I do not want the old-age pension, but I demand it as a right, so that I can pass it on if I do not need it. No one can suggest that a wealthy man would benefit by drawing the pension, because he pays a thousand times as much in taxation. This is my application for my old-age pension : -
The Hon. W. A. Watt,
Treasurer and Acting Prime Minister,
Dear Mr. Watt,
As I have reached 65 years, I now formally apply for an old-age pension, for the following reasons: -
For example, last year I paid some £10 Federal Income tax, this year I will pay some £30.
In conclusion, may I request earnestly that you will amend the Old-age Pensions Act on the lines indicated above?
I accuse no one opposite of not having full sympathy for these old-age pensioners, but no honorable member is entitled to criticise the Leader of the Opposition because he availed himself of the first opportunity of bringing forward the claims of these people. Just as the stone thrown into a pond causes ripples on its surface which go right away to the edge of the pool, and just as the tidal wave which passes Port Phillip Heads will reach British waters something under fortyeight hours afterwards, so have the reverberations of that volcanic horror we call the War, and the struggles of Central Europe, changed all forms of human life throughout the world. Therefore, I am ready at any moment, backed up by many meetings which have supported my efforts, to do my best to remedy what I deem a disgrace, not upon the Ministry - except to this extent, that they did not call Parliament together - but upon Parliament itself, in that we ask human beings to try to live on 12s. 6d. per week. When I was young, I lived in London on 10s. per week, but then the purchasing power of money was certainly much greater than it is in Australia to-day. Even with that, it was a very hard experience, through which I would not ask any one else to go.
The average man in this community should be able to get a suit of clothes, ail wool, for £2. All-wool double-width cloth made by the Commonwealth Woollen Cloth Factory has been supplied at 4s. 6d. per yard to the various contractors who have been asked to make suits for’ returned soldiers.
– They will not wear them.
– The honorable member cannot deny my statement that the cloth is supplied at 4s. 6d. There is no sweating in the manufacture of the material and in supplying it at that figure. The contract price for making up that cloth into suits is £1 8s. 4d., for which the contractor provides a coat, vest, and pants. For the difference between £18s. 4d. and £1 10s., the Government supply a hat or cap made of the same material. I am assured that a small profit is obtained.
– My information is that the work is done at a loss.
– If the honorable gentleman had accompanied the party I was with, he would have learned the reverse. My point is that if these contractors can make a suit of clothes out of this material for £1 10s., the warehouses could be supplied with the cloth at 4s. 6d. per yard, plus 10 per cent.; the tailors at the same price, plus 15 per cent. ; and ordinary people at the same price, plus 20 per cent. This would be sufficient profit to the Government. The returned soldiers in Great Britain are treated far better than are the unfortunate men weaving cloth in Australia. I have with me a sample of “ Blighty “ tweed, made; in Aberdeen by returned soldiers; and I am wearing a suit of clothes made from material weaved by returned soldiers in Melbourne. I have worn this suit continuously, and, although thelining was of the very best material, it is quite worn out, while the cloth itself is not worn out. It cost me 15s. per yard, double width, and was sold to any member at that price until the Repatriation Department stepped in. In England and Scotland, returned soldiers earn from £4 10s. to £5 10s. in making this “ Blighty “ tweed, which can be landed in Australia at 10s.11d. per yard, plus freightage and other charges. . It is only three-quarter width, and sells here at a little under 18s. per yard, whereas the cloth manufactured here, which is double width, could be sold at 10s. per yard and still enable the weavers to earn as good wages as are earned by men in Aberdeen. However, they are not. allowed to do so. It would cost £25 to install a machine to make one singly, but twenty could be made for £18 each. I am informed by an exceedingly clever man in the Working Men’s College that in a week a man can learn to throw a shuttle. The returned soldier who weaved the cloth of which my suit is made knew nothing about the business three months previously. Thousands of men could be employed in hand weaving, but, owing to the lack of interest on the part of the Repatriation Department, only four or five men are working at the industry in Melbourne to-day. My tailor has offered to . buy £2,000 worth of this hand-woven tweed, even if it is sold to him at a profit of 331/3 per cent. This material is produced for 7s. 6d. per yard, and it can be sold to the community at 10s. per yard, thus securing a profit of 331/3 per cent, to the returned soldiers who are making it and at the same time helping to build up a huge industry. Messrs. Buckley and Nunn are reported to have offered to take the whole of the output of the hand-weaving establishment for five years at 15s. per yard. That would be a profit of 100 per cent. I suggest a profit of 331/3 per cent. Let the rolls be sold to the warehousemen at . 10s. . per yard and the tailors at 10s. 6d. a yard. The material could be made up in lengths of eight yards for women and seven yards for men, and the public could be given the opportunity of helping returned, soldiers by buying their output. That is all I am pleading for- I have no personal feeling against the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen), although I could wish that his education had been such as to make him a Protectionist instead of a Free Trader. I have no quarrel with him on that score provided he is a conscientious Free Trader who believes in having everything brought into the country. The citizens of Great Britain can buy the material made by returned soldiers; why cannot the citizens of Australia be given the same opportunity ?
– I would rather have the material made in Aberdeen than the material of which the honorable member’s suit is made.
– The honorable member does not know what he is talking about. I would willingly wager him a sovereign as to the quality of the cloth made here.
– I am willing to wager a sovereign as to the quality of the wool in the different cloths.
– The cloth made here is much cheaper and is the better article.
– It may be cheaper, but it is not the better article.
– I can bring one of the biggest buyers here and he will tell the honorable member that he does not know what he is talking about. This material is just like the Harris Island tweeds made on the old spinning wheels, with the exception that it has not the smell of the reek of peat which distinguishes those tweeds. What I am stating now pertains to suits supplied to soldiers on their return, and, if I understand the interjection of the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming’), he does not consider them worth the money.
– Very few soldiers will wear them.
– The following figures will show the prices if my suggestion be carried out. At 4s. 6d., plus 10 per cent., the cost would be 4s. 11 2-5d. per yard; plus 15 per cent. 5s. 3 l-10d.; and plus 20 per cent. 5s. 4 4-5d. I desire our soldiers to earn quite as much as is earned by their Scottish confreres, namely, £4 10s. to £5 10s. per week, providing they are paid for the cloth as it leaves the loom. It should not be shrunk, as was done by one red-tape officer, to save the difference between the cloth as shrunk and as it leaves the loom. The usual method is to pay for the yard as it leaves the loom, and not as it leaves the shrinking place. Messrs. Foy and Gibson, to their honour, are preparing this at 4-½d. per yard, and I take this opportunity of thanking that very wealthy company for its great help, without which it would not have been pos sible to struggle against the indifference of the Repatriation Department. Councillor Reading, of Fitzroy, and Mr. Rankin; another well-known man in Fitzroy, have offered to take £100 worth and £50 worth respectively of this cloth; and at a price that would give a profit of 100 per cent. Where the reason for the stoppage of this industry is I cannot, for the life of me, see; and I ask the Government to take care that the men get a square deal. I accuse the Commonwealth Woollen Factory of sending out yarn unfit to make up into cloth, and a man at the Factory had the pluck to resist doing it. I know what became of that yarn, and the Department must know, and it was not an honorable way of getting rid of it. If these men are to have a chance to live, the yarn must be of the very best class. If this business is properly managed, I will guarantee to pay a month’s salary to any hospital any honorable member will name if, within twelve months, there are not 1,000 men employed at good wages, with the result that the public will be able to obtain splendid suits at £5 5s. for the best quality, and £2 to £2 5s. for the inferior class.
– The Treasurer (Mr. Watt) appears to be particularly perturbed because the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has adopted this special method of bringing up the question of old-age pensions. . The honorable gentleman seems to overlook the salient fact that this is not by any means the first time the Opposition have attempted to raise the question. Parliament has just had a six-months’ recess, during which, we hoped the Government would have given some sympathetic consideration to the claims of those people. However, the fact was revealed this morning that the Treasurer is not in a position either to say that the matter is being considered or that it will be considered. It is quite useless for him to lecture the Opposition as to how, when, and where we shall bring forward these matters; we must be allowed the right to choose our own ground. This is the first opportunity, and, I venture to suggest, quite a suitable opportunity, for us to again urge on the Government the claims of the old-age pensioners. The pension started at 10s., and it took much persistent advocacy before the then Treasurer (Lord Forrest) agreed to increase it . to 12s. 6d. Since then we have not failed to continue to press for a further increase. It is futile to quote the scarcity of money as a reason for delaying the matter. It is no good to say to the old-age pensioners that, owing to our enormous debts, and the terrific taxation, the Government are unable to increase the allowance. -Not only is there the case to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, namely, that of the pension to the retiring Chief Justice, but there is evidence of this Government being able to find money for other purposes and for other people. Just lately there appeared in ‘the Commonwealth Gazette a statement that approval had been given for the. payment of an allowance at the rate of £200 per annum to Mr. T. Trumble, Secretary of the Defence Department, to take effect from the 1st July, 1918. The newspaper paragraph from which I get this information also said -
A war allowance at the rate of £200 per annum as from the 1st July, 1918, has been granted to Mr. J. R. Collins, Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury. Approval lias also been given to the payment of war allowances as from 1st July, 1918, at the rates per annum mentioned, to the following members of the Postmaster-General’s Department : - Secretary. £150; Deputy Postmaster-General in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, £100; Deputy PostmasterGeneral in Adelaide, Perth, and Hobart, £75. An allowance of £100 has been granted ‘to Mr. R. M. Oakley, of the Trade and Customs Department, for services rendered as Acting ComptrollerGeneral of Customs from 29th October, 1917, to 28th April, 1918.
I am not complaining of the payment of these allowances; I am not making any suggestion that these officers do not deserve them; nor am I suggesting that they are unreasonable or unnecessary; but I do say- that if the Government can find money to make allowances to the Chief Justice and highly-paid officers of the Departments, they can find money for a little addition to the old-age pension. We on this side are not alone in receiving appeals from old-age pensioners for some consideration, and I shall read what one old man, whose case is typical, has written in a letter to me: -
Prices have gone up, and are going up something awful, and the pensioners who have no . outside help and nothing but the pension will soon die of starvation. Personally, it costs me Ils. per fortnight for my lodging, which includes dinner on Sunday and a cup of tea with small slice of bread and butter in the morning. Sunday dinner is the only meal which I get at all. For the rest, 4 lbs. of broken biscuit, 14 lbs. of cheese, and a 1-lb. packet of dried sultanas, and (id. worth of chocolate in sticks is what has to see me through the week besides. It costs me ls. Od. a week for my bad leg for ointment and lint. I am also paying OfF ‘my debt for some clothes, which will be done in about four or five months, if I do not fail myself before then.
In face of facts like these we desire the Treasurer to consider the matter, and all he has to tell us is that we should not introduce the subject to-day, but wait for some other time.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
.- I deeply regret the attitude taken up by the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) in regard to the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor). This is the first opportunity we have had to record our votes in regard to the desirableness of increasing the old-age pensions, and we cannot be blamed if we avail ourselves of it. The amendment will at least show our supporters that we believe that an increase should be made. I thought that the Treasurer would be prepared to gay that if the item were passed without a division he would promise, when bringing down the Budget, to make provision for an increase. Had that promise been made I do not think there would have been any desire to press this amendment to a division.. Whenever one meets an old-age pensioner, one hears of the disability under which he labours because of the high cost of living. Surely the Government can do something for these people. I tell those who speak to me on the subject that the whole Parliament is likely to approve of an increase, and I believe there is no division of opinion on the subject. These old people are not to blame for the increased cost of living. They are utterly helpless. They cannot work so as to supplement the allowance, and every penny they spend is taxed. In Sydney even the very coal they use has been increased in price to 2s. per cwt. How can they live on 12s. 6d. a week? It will afford them no satisfaction to learn that nothing can be done before the Budget statement is submitted. They ‘are .pinching themselves in the effort to eke out an existence, and the trouble is that the Budget may not be discussed until the end of the year.
This is not a party question. When the last increase was made there was no division of opinion as to its advisableness. I am confident that the Committee as a whole is sympathetic, and the Government should at least be prepared to indicate that they will provide for an increase, not at the end of the session, but at the earliest possible moment. If our old-age pensioners were able to appeal to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court they would certainly obtain it. The pivot on which every case for an increase of wages has turned in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court has been the increase in the cost of living, and in every instance the application has been successful. Our’ experience teaches us that this request is reasonable, and it should be granted by the Government. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) had much to say about Mr. Lloyd George’s scheme of national insurance. No doubt that is an excellent system, but it will not. meet the present situation here. The Government can find money for other purposes. As the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) has pointed o.ut, the salaries of certain officers of the Public Service have been raised, yet we cannot secure an increase in the old-age pensions.
– There would be any amount of money for the old-age pensioners if the honorable member’s party would tackle the Public Service.
– One thing at a time. Our old-age pensioners need immediate assistance, and the Government might very well introduce a Bill next week providing for an increased allowance. Unless we make a vigorous protest, however, nothing will be done. I shall vote for the amendment, not as a motion of censure on the Government, but to focus public attention on their failure to announce in their financial statement that they intend to increase the old-age pensions.
– The financial statement has not yet been submitted.
– Of what use is it to tell people who are practically starving that all they have to do is to “ pull in their belts,” as the Budget will be submitted by-and-by, and they will then obtain an increase. Honorable members generally should support this amendment so as to indicate to the Government that in their opinion the old-age pensions should be immediately increased.
.- The influenza epidemic, as honorable members are aware, has been very severe in .Sydney for some time, and in carrying out their ordinary duties certain employees of the Commonwealth have been unduly exposed to the risk of infection. Transports and vessels of the Australian Navy entering theport of Sydney with cases of influenza on hoard have had to be overhauled by Government employees on Cockatoo Island and Garden Island, and after being on board of them for only a couple of days some of these men havefallen victims to the plague and have died. The Encounter, after visiting Rabaul and other island ports, returned to Sydney with a number of cases on board. After sixty of her men, who were suffering from influenza, had been taken off, she was brought alongside Garden Island, and within a few hours employees of the various establishments on the island were called upon to board her in order to carry out various works. Several of thesemen, including a carpenter, lost their lives. Postal officials are also running serious risks. Mail ships entering the port of Sydney with cases of influenza on board are at once sent into quarantine, but postal officials have to board them to obtain prompt delivery of the mails. Some of the mailmen who, had to do this work have died from influenza, and theirfamilies have also been infected. Thecarpenter left a family of six children,. the eldest being twelve years of age and the youngest an infant in arms; while another man who, after working on one of the vessels of the Navy for a day or two, took ill and died, left a family of four. I naturally thought that in both cases assistance would be given by the responsible Department. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Webster) is prepared to go as far as the departmental regulations will allow, and is endeavouring to arrange that six months’ pay should be given to the widow of one of these mailmen. The Navy Department, however, is not prepared to do anything of the kind. In the reply that I received to my request for assistance for the family of one of these men the Department virtually acknowledged its responsibility for his death, and went so far as to state that “ This case is one in which relief should be given by some local charitable society, or perhaps from a fund controlled by the State Government.” The Department, while in this way practically acknowledging its liability, is attempting to throw its responsibility upon the State. My contention is that every Commonwealth Department should shoulder its own responsibilities. There have been a number of deaths amongst employees at both Cockatoo Island and Garden Island, and their relatives are certainly entitled to some consideration. This Parliament agreed to a .grant to the widow of the late MajorGeneral Bridges, and has provided also’ for a pension foi; the Chief Justice. I wish to show no disrespect to the Chief Justice - if he can secure a pension, by all means let him have it - but when I take the public platform to deal with, the shortcomings of the Government I shall have to point out that, while a pension could, be provided for Kim, the Government are not prepared to grant a few hundred pounds for the assistance of relatives of public servants who have died as the result of a disease contracted while discharging their ordinary duties. I believe I am voicing the opinion of the great mass of the people when I say that some help .should be forthcoming for the mother of six young children, whose husband, while in the employ of the Government, contracted a disease which brought about his death. All my men are insured under the State Insurance Act, and I think that the conditions of workmen’s insurance would cover cases of this kind. I do- not think my appeal to the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) should be turned down. The Government must share the responsibility for what is taking place, and no Commonwealth official should be allowed to reply to a claim such as that made on behalf of this woman and her six children, with advice to apply to a State charity. Any man with a family must go where his employment is. If he refused to carry out the will of his official head, he would be accused of being a Bolshevik, or a grasshopper, or labelled with some other opprobrious term.
If I called a public meeting in Sydney, and went on the platform, the Government would find out the real state of public feeling on the question of old-age pensions. I understand fully the position that the Treasurer is in. He has the responsibility of finding the money; but I am confident that the people outside would indorse any action I took to force him to make a little better provision for the necessities of old-age and invalid pensioners. It cannot be denied that persons in high places get phenomenal pensions. When the Chief Justice took the position, he knew, as the other Judges knew, that no pensions were to be provided. The Federal Parliament discussed the matter of pensions before any appointments were made, and laid down the principle that persons in the Commonwealth Public Service should receive salaries which would allow them to make provision for their old age, and that no pensions should be paid. Some of us believed that the Federal salaries should be fixed at a higher rate than the State salaries for similar work, so that Federal public servants could make provision for their declining years. That is a principle of which I approve. I feel that I have not trespassed unduly on the attention of the Committee, because it is no trespass when one has a good case, as I have. I do not know who wrote the letter concerning the woman and her children to whom I have referred, but it was probably one of the officers in the Department, who thought he was expressing the spirit of the Government in office, and of the party supporting them. If we, on this side, were m power, no officer in any Commonwealth Department would send a letter like that. If he did, and I were the Minister in charge of the Department, I would ask him to look for a position outside, and go to the State charity that he recommended, to see if he would get better treatment there. Very few members present have the knowledge I have regarding the first steps taken in Australia to introduce a system of oldage pensions. Thirty-six or thirty-seven years ago, in the Labour Council of New South Wales, I moved that the Government should give a pension to all old persons. I was laughed at. Even my confreres in the council laughed at the idea, and wanted to know where the money was to come from. I pointed out that even £5,000,000 disbursed from the State Treasury for the use of old persons in need would soon come back into the coffers of the State, and, in the meantime, give a certain amount of employment, particularly in primary production. However, the press of that time took the opposite view, and I was not successful. Honorable members opposite will have to go to the country shortly. How are they going to justify their position when the electors remind then that during the war the Government were able to raise a loan of £80,000,000 in Australia, and yet cannot find £500,000 to increase the old-age and invalid pensions? What will they say if they are reminded that they can always find money to provide big pensions and increased “ screws “ for officers in the Public Service? I believe in all public officers being properly paid; but how am I to justify that, in view of the refusal of the Government to find money for the most necessitous class of the community, who bore the brunt of the battle in the pioneering days, and the fruits of whose efforts we are reaping to-day? I felt aggrieved this morning to hear one honorable member opposite talking about thrift. No working man to-day, even if he is earning £3 10s. a week, can put anything aside for his old age. One of my daughters told me that the cheapest boots she could get for a child of sixteen months old cost her 7s. 9d., and for a pair for herself she had to ,pay 35s. In the face of figures like that, how can people with small wages save money, and what right have honorable members opposite to lecture .us on- thrift? The
Treasurer also lectured us for raising this question at the wrong time.
The present is the right time. Parliament has been closed for six or seven months, and honorable members have had no opportunity to ventilate their grievances. It is time there was a better feeling on both sides of the House in the matter of making a concerted effort to deal with the social and post-war problems which we have so sadly neglected.
– What is the matter with the feeling on both sides of the House? Is it not very genial?
– There should be a unanimous feeling on both sides that the conditions as they exist to-day are not compatible with Australian ideas. I warn honorable members opposite that unless they pay heed to what I have been telling them, they will have very little chance of getting back here at the next election.
.- After the eloquent appeal of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) there can bo no doubt as to how honora,be members opposite will vote on the amendment. We know full well that the recipients of the old-age pension feel the extra cost of living more than any other section of the community. But it does not stop at them. It extends tothose who to-day are in revolt against it. They feel it very keenly. The recipients of the old-age pension are mostly the indigent parents of the workers of to-day, and if the cost of living is too high to enable them to live within the amount they receive from the Commonwealth, the balance has to come out of the pockets of the members of the families with whom they are domiciled. The cost of living is a matter that should be debated at great length. There is not an item in the statistical records of which advantage has not been taken of the warsituation in order to enhance the wealth of those who were so loud in proclaiming during the war that the sacrifice should be equal. I indorse every remark made by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), “who replied to the claim of the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) that the Supply Bill simply contained amounts required for commitments, and could not be altered. An old adage says that -while the grass is growing the steed is starving. Every opportunity should be taken of pointing out that the people are feeling the pinch very keenly, and if the old-age pensions cannot be raised by holding up Supply, at least some little recompense can be given to the aged people by assuring them that honorable members opposite are willing to support the efforts of this side of the Chamber, and force the Government to find the necessary funds somewhere when the Budget is brought down. Old-age pensioners feel they are very unjustly treated when on every occasion a pension is asked for the Chief Justice or some one else who - is high-placed it is granted, whereas when an increase to their pensions is asked for they are told that they ought to have put something aside for their old age. If that remark applies to them, how much more should it apply to Sir Samuel Griffith? Could he not have put something a-side for his old age out of his £3,500 per annum? The conditions under which stonecutters and miners work are such that dust settles on a man’s chest, and his period of usefulness is mostly cut short; bakers who happen to get flour on their lungs have their working lives cut short by phthisis; yet these men during their brief term of toil are asked to live lives of frugality and set aside something for their old age. How much more should a Chief Justice receiving such a princely salary.be able to set aside something for his old age? Yet if a pension is asked for the next Justice who retires, this House will pass the Bill as readily as it did on the last occasion. I was absent in France at that time.
An outstanding feature of the states^manship of to-day is the sharp distinction which is drawn between .the classes. Prior to my departure for France I remember the lengthy debates on the war-time profits tax. An honorable member now in Opposition, but then a member of the Government, made it known that he was willing to take 100 per cent, of war-time profits, and this should have been done; but, while nearly two months were occupied in debating that proposal, which resulted in 25 per cent, being taken, it only took six hours to impose a minimum tax of £1 on every unmarried person. At a later stage I intend to bring forward some, authentic information in regard to this bachelor tax. Recently, a young girl in Adelaide, who was in receipt of about £35 per year, was notified by the Taxation Department that she was to be penalized for- not submitting a return under the bachelor tax. The Department took into account the keep the girl had in addition to the £35- per year. She appealed to a State Labour legislator, who accompanied her to the Taxation Department, and was able to get them to forgo the penalty for not submitting a return, but she was compelled to pay the £1 tax. If she remains a spinster for the rest of her life., and has to do day work to keep herself, how will she be able to put aside enough to keep her in her old age? Few honorable members have been in factories to see what work the employees are called on to do for the pittances they receive, or know how the workers’ families are reared ; yet these workers are told to put money aside for a rainy day while they are earning these pittances. The workers are advised in Adelaide to put their money in the Bank of Thrift. Good heavens; there is not enough money left at the end of the week to get one’s hair cut unless some necessity has been gone without. Ministerialists will not be doing their duty to the country unless they show that they are in accord with the request made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor). Shortly after my return from France, the old-age pensioners got to- me .very quickly. I received a letter from seven of -them representing numbers of others who had held a meeting. These men have no families to keep them. They can only turn to strangers if the allowance made to them is not sufficient for their needs. The letter they wrote is very illiterate, showing the class of person who is affected. They are not of the ninety-nine safe in the fold. They asked me to listen to their appeal, and endeavour, if possible, to get some amelioration of their conditions, because if the old-age pension is not sufficient to provide for their needs, they have no other course but to go into some institution where their liberty is taken away from them. It is not every man’s opportunity to go through life and have a competency on which to live when he can no longer earn money.
I have received a letter from a constituent of mine who was leaded at Broken Hill, and, judging from appearances, is in the last stages of miner’s phthisis. He is in receipt of an invalid pension of 12s. 6d. per week. He had two sons; one of them has “gone west,” that is to say, he has been killed in the great war. The other is about to return from overseas. His wife would, have been entitled to the full pound per week as a pension for the loss of her son, but the father has had the pension reduced to 15s. per week. Thus, he draws an oldage pension of 12e. 6d., and a war pension of 15s., making £1 7s. 6d. in all. I went to his house. He had a stretcher, and something that served as a washstand in his bedroom; there was nothing in the two other rooms. The kitchen contained a broken-down table, and a box used as a seat. He had applied to a soldiers’ fund for the purpose of getting the money necessary to buy a bedstead and bedding, and fit up a room for the son who is returning from overseas, but he had not been successful in his application ; hence his request to myself. I wrote to the head of the fund, and I believe that if he applies again, he will get some assistance. One son he has lost, and the other will return to find the father in a state of abject poverty, necessitating his having to go to some charitable patriotic fund in order to make at least a decent home for the son to come into. This is an illustration of the conditions under which some of our people live. As long as we keep them to the starvation poverty line,- which we are now doing, we are not acting justly to the community, and are not worthy of the positions we hold. I hope the vote on the amendment will indicate the desire of all honorable members to do a fair thing by the indigent section of the community.
.- If society does not look after its component parts, more especially those who have toiled to build up the wealth of this country, and make it what it is today ; and if, at the close of their existence, people are to be turned adrift on a miserable pittance, those persons owe no duty to society. Notwithstanding the argument, which, I understand, to have been put forward by the Treasurer (Mr. Watt), that this amendment, whether negatived or affirmed, will not affect the amount of the pension, the fact remains that the Government have not ‘come forward with any proposal to ameliorate the conditions of this particular class.
– Cannot we wait until the Budget is before us?
– We may wait until the funerals of those people who die from want of nutrition.
– Do you expect the question of pensions to be dealt with on a motion of this kind at the end of the year ?
– We expect it tb be dealt with at the end of a six months’ recess, so that justice may be done to a class which comprises a considerable portion of the population. In Europe and elsewhere the whole social system is rocking, and the people are rising in revolution, giving some indication of what we may expect in this country before long if the Government do not look after the interests of the people. The working men and women of the world, here and elsewhere, are getting tired of the present patchwork .system, and are tired of carrying’ the load. After all, who produces the money for these old age pensions ? It is not the gentlemen opposite, or the interests they represent, that bear the load, but the working men and women who produce the wealth, and who, at the close of their lives, are denied a decent livelihood. Honorable members opposite, who will vote against this- amendment, do not find the money for the support of these old people, who, like worn-out machinery, are thrown on the industrial scrap heap. We are told that after a long recess this amendment will not achieve anything, even if it be carried.
– What did your party do when in power?
– I am not concerned with what my party did, or did not do, and even if they failed to do everything that I am advocating at the present time, it would not exonerate the Government and their supporters. Such an argument as that conveyed in the interjection may appeal to the honorable member, but it does not appeal to me, or to the working men and women of this country. If one party is as bad as the other, it will only drive those men and women to get rid of both in order to obtain what they desire.
– “ Direct action “ !
– It may be that they will take some sort of direct action, such as the party opposite took when it was a matter of giving a pension to the Chief Justice of Australia, a gentleman who, with a salary of £3,500 a year, advises thrift for the working classes. After Sir Samuel Griffith has occupied his position, for about twentyfive years, honorable members opposite tell us that we must look after the poor old gentleman and see that his declining days are gilded with £35 a week” to enable him to struggle on, while the men and women who produce the wealth of the country are left to eke out an existence on 12s. 6d. a week. Honorable members opposite may explain, if they can. why there is this difference between the treatment of the Chief Justice and that of our old men and women- why they have done nothing to ameliorate the conditions of our aged poor?
– What are the Government asked to do by this amendment?
– Honorable members opposite are asked to express their disapproval of the present Administration in not doing anything - not even giving a promise.
– On a Supply Bill?
– It has been done before on a Supply Bill.
– It is immaterial to me. as I said before, what the party on this side may. have done or not done previously to my coming to this House; the fact remains that the working men and women require something to be done, and if the Government do not do it. the people themselves will before long. We all know that the cost of living has, gone up, and yet what is the administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act? If an endeavour is made to supplement the pension in any way, the miserable amount now allowed is cut down by 6d. or1s. 6d., and thrift is preached to people who can hardly get an existence. We can manage to keep going, but if we walk down the street we will see some old lady shivering in. the cold and endeavouring to get a living by selling matches and boot laces. Such a spectacle is nor creditable to us, but, of course, the old woman is not our mother, or our sister. or any member of our family. But while there is one woman in such a position. and anybody is forced to eke out an existence in the cold and slush, while we are living in comparative comfort, there isa possibility of the same fate befall ing someone belonging to us. Such a spectacle as I have indicated is an indictment, against the system, and I am indicting it as one of the working class. I do not care which party is responsible; my indictment is not against any particular individual or party. I say that society, as constituted to-day. is rotten from the working-class point of view, and it has got to be changed, or the working men and women of this country will change it for us.
Question - That the item be reduced by £1 (Mr. Tudor’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I should like to know whether the moratorium is still in existence in regard to the homes of soldiers’ dependants?
– We still have the right to protect these people?
– A Bill is on the noticepaper to continue the Statute.
.- I move -
That Division 4, “ Department of Defence, Military, £222,374,” he reduced by £1.
In view of the late hour, I shall make my remarks as brief as possible. I submit the amendment as a protest against the Prussian methods of the Government, as shown in the Defence Department. We were under the impression that our soldiers went away to fight Prussianism.
– Do you know what Prussianism means ?
– You have not seen anything of it.
– No; but I have, read that when a civilian refused to salute a Prussian officer he had a sword put through him.
– That is only a slight part of it.
– Is the honorable member prepared to defend methods which have been introduced into this country by military men who evidently have been copying Prussian tactics ? I do not know whether the action of the Military authorities has been prompted by men in the Government who hope to raise the pro-German cry against the Labour party, or those of us who are objecting to this procedure. They want to call us pro- Germans.
– They have.
– The honorable member knows in his heart that nothing of the sort suggested has prompted the action.
– Although the honorable gentleman might not do anything of the kind, there are associated with his Government men who would do, and who have done it. They have certainly called us pro-Germans.
– I was referring to the suggestion that the action had been prompted by the Government with the object of fastening that stigma upon the Official Labour party.
– We shall see what will be the result of our taking up these cases, We are about to take up the cause of the Australian-born children whose fathers are Germans, There are in this country about 40,000 Germans who have not been interned. Thousands of them came to Australia to escape the very Prussianism that our boys went away to fight. Thousands’ of them are in Queensland. Many of them were invited to go to Queensland in the days when it was difficult to obtain land there. As the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) knows, many of them had to go into the hills and other almost inaccessible places to take up land. They proved to be good citizens. They married Australian girls, and of such unions children have been born.
– Many of those Germans have the best land in Queensland.
– And many of them in the olden days had to take up some of the worst land. I have been supplied with a copy of a circular letter, which reads as follows : -
Commonwealth Military Forces. (First Military District Head-quarters)
Brisbane, 27th May, 1919.
Memo. to Mrs. - , Boonah, Queensland.
It is possible that your husband will be deported. If so, you and your children will hate to accompany him, except under the following conditions: -
For Captain Intelligence Section, General Staff.
Does the Government approve of this?
– Were these circulars sent out indiscriminately, or only to certain individuals?
– Only to certain individuals.
– This was forwarded to me as a copy of a circular sent to one individual residing at Boonah, Queensland. We wish to know whether the Government have decided upon this course of action. We hope to know whether the supporters of the Government approve of the principle laid down in the circular that native-born Australian children are to be called upon to choose between being deported, or being separated from their parents.
– Is it a printed circular ?
– My copy is in manuscript, but it is immaterial whether the original circular is printed or typewritten. Evidently the Acting Prime Minister knows something about it, since he hassaid that the circular is issued only to certain persons.
– This is the first I have heard of the circular; but the Government policy in relation to Germans in Australia has been laid down, and will be explained to Parliament at the right time.
– It is monstrous that Australian children should have to choose between being sent out of this country or remaining here unprovided for. Has the Government any funds to provide for those children who choose ‘to remain ? The country should be informed of what the Government are doing. But for the accident that a copy of this circular reached me, the fact of its issue might not have come before the public. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) may have seen some dreadful things in France - I understand that acts amounting to crucifixion were committed on the battlefields - but is it to be said that, because of what occurred over there, we should adopt Prussian methods in this country ?
.- The circular that has just been read by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) is of such a character that it should bring from the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) an immediate and definite reply. The honorable gentleman has told the Committee that the policy of the Government in regard to German residents in Australia has been laid down, and will be put before the House at the proper time. As one. who has not spoken during the present sitting, I rise to say that the matter opened, up by this circular should be viewed quite apart from any economic or political question that, has been mentioned in the course of this or any other debate in the Parliament. There have been two historic cases in which national outrages of the kind indicated have been perpetrated, and which have lived dishonoured in history. One was the great American case, which Longfellow immortalized in his poem, “ Evangeline,” and the other is the Prussian case of more recent date. If this circular is to be interpreted as its wording would seem to justify, then some points which rather excuse the Prussian cannot be urged in extenuation of this case. If this circular means what it says - that military officers may enter the homes of people resident in this country - living under the delusion that they are enjoying the protection of the British flag - and there demand the body of the father of the house, the alternative being that the Australian-born children must go with him out of this country, then the Prussian has the advantage over us.
I do not accept everything that I have heard about the Germans; but accepting as true the statement that they deported women and children from France to work in Germany under conditionsthat have been described to us, I say that this circular, on the face of it, and. without explanation or reply, coming at the end of the war, strikes me as constituting a greater outrage. The circular is signed by a military officer. It is official. It comes from the Defence Department. It tells the Australian mother to whom it is addressed that her husband may possibly be deported. , It does not say why, because the military officer does not know. It does not say whether the husband will actually be deported, because the military officer dare not say that, and does not know whether this Government will have the courage to back him up. But it holds the threat over the mother as a cloud of terror for weeks and months, and it holds this shadow of disgrace over the people of Australia for weeks and months pending a declaration of the policy of the Government.
Most honorable members know that I am not. a militarist, and do not favour resort to arms as long as that can be avoided. I am one of those who foresaw that, ultimately, this war would end in an upheaval - a great people’s revolution - against the spirit of militarism. But while I do not believe, except in the very last resort, in. recourse to arms, I, nevertheless, declare that if this policy of the Government is put into effect, if an officer from the Defence Department is to go into an Australian home and take away the father of the house, separating him from his children because of the blood he has inherited, yea, even because of his sympathy with the people from whom he sprang, then that father, if he is worthy of the name of man at all, ought to be prepared to stand at his own door-step and shoot the despoiler like a dog.
– I shall not indulge in any reply to the heroics of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), for the simple reason that yesterday an arrangement was made between the Government and the Opposition that this Bill would be disposed of by 3.30 p.m. to-day.
– What do I care about your arrangements in a matter of this kind?
– I am informing the Committee of the arrangement that was made. There is a perfectly sound answer to the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs). The Government for many months - and I make this brief statement for the information of the Committee - have been studying the question of the Germans in Australia. We appointed, first of all, a committee, consisting of the departmental heads who knew most of the circumstances relating to. the Germans, and presided over by a member of the Senate, to consider all the British recommendations in relation to Germans in Britain, with the object of ascertaining how far the policy of Britain was suitable of application to the policy of Australia. The Government was thus assisted in its deliberations by references to recommendations relating to enemy property and persons of enemy birth. We have arrived at certain decisions regarding them, but these will not be hastily operated. The report of that committee and the decisions of the Government upon it will be laid before Parliament. If honorable members desire to discuss them, either in general or in detail, opportunity will be afforded them to do so. That is all I can say at present.
.- I fully expected theActing Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to say whether the issue of the circular referred to was a military act or an act authorized by the Government. Surely we have a right to know whether the Ministry take the responsibility for it, or whether it has been done by some military official on his own responsibility. Whatever arrangement has been made be- tween the parties to close this debate at 3.30 must not be allowed to prevent us from getting information on a question of this sort. I have no sympathy with the atrocities committed by the Germans, but I quite agree with the views expressed by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs). We were told that we set out in this war to kill the military spirit; but when I see a military official daring to put his signature to a circular of that character, I fear that we are creating here something more dangerous than what we have killed in other countries. To me the idea of separating Australian-born children from their mothers and fathers is most repugnant. Dp the line there are any number of boys who have fought most gallantly for us in this war, but whose fathers were Germans, although their mothers were Australians. You could find them in every battalion-, and lads never gave better service than those lads did. The longer this war has gone on the stronger has grown the military spirit in this country. The military officials’ here will not trouble to ask the authority of Ministers, or any one else. Give them an inch and they will take a mile. They will invade homes here without question if they get the opportunity. 1 shall not be silent when the military or the Government issue instructions of that character, nor can I believe that honorable members opposite will be silent.
– Nobody knows what the record of the man was.
– Whatever his record, I cannot forget that the mother is an Australian, and that the children were born in Australia. I also remember that part of the policy of the supporters of this Government was a wholesale scheme of immigration. They were everlastingly crying to people to come here from Germany. Mr. Hagelthorn, at one time Minister for Lands in Victoria, said only a few years ago that we should flood Australia with Germans. Those are the people who invited the Germans to come here.
– Those men are not going to be deported.
– You are doing worse than that. You are going to deport the little children, or separate them from their parents. I do not stand up here for any of the things done by. the Germans during the war; but I am not going to sanction this country becoming as bad as Germany. When we give people the protection of the British flag, it should mean something, but nothing worse than the policy set out in this circular could be done under the German flag. We should be unworthy of our position as representatives if we did not insist on a proper settlement, before this session is much older, of the question of deportation generally, the question of imprisonment without trial, and the case of the boys in prison on the other side of the world. We ought to make this chamber ring with our opposition to the things that have been done. The Acting Prime Minister has given this afternoon a flippant answer to a most serious question. Surely we are not going to be treated like children. The other side may ‘have the majority now; but a general election is looming near, and I guarantee that the love of freedom that animated and inspired our boys to go abroad still exists. They are still prepared, to see that .the freedom which they fought for is extended to the people living in this country - not freedom to abuse our hospitality, but freedom to live in accordance with the promises made to them when they came here. We must see that Australian-born children are not separated from their parents, and thrown on a cruel world to starve, hated because of the blood that is running through them, but which they cannot help. In our hearts, we do not blame a German here for being sympathetic towards his country. If I had been in Germany, I would have been sympathetic with Great Britain in the struggle, and it is natural that men should sympathize with their fatherland or motherland. Perhaps, in an unguarded moment, Germans here gave expression to their sympathy; and now we are cruel enough to visit our revenge upon the Australian mother and her little children. I sincerely hope that we shall have from the Acting Prime Minister a definite declaration that that circular is not only repudiated, but withdrawn, and that we shall insist on children not being separated from their parents.
– I have no desire to break the arrangement regarding the passage of the Bill, but I also feel that important matters have been very flippantly pushed aside. I am disappointed that the Government have not announced a definite intention to review the sentences and refund the fines imposed on Australian soldiers abroad. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) a few minutes ago asked, by interjection, if we knew what Prussianism . was. I saw a little of it, and one incident in particular stuck in my mind. A man crimed for a very trivial offence was awaiting punishment. He was ill. We had to make a long march from one part of the line to another. He paraded ill before the doctor. The colonel of the battalion, who was not a doctor, said that the man was malingering. They got a rope and tied him with it behind a limber. ‘ They told him to march, and he could not march ; and they dragged him for miles behind that horse limber, along cobblestone roads. He ‘ was cut ami bleeding and half dead. The colonel and the adjutant rode back to him and asked, “Will you march now?” He said, “I cannot march, I am too ill.” They said, “ We will break your spirit; we will make you.” They took him up and lashed him breast high with the rope up against the back of the cart, and dragged him along in that manner. That is Prussianism for you, and it happened in an Australian battalion. It was my own battalion, and my own colonel and adjutant were the guilty officers. What greater Prussianism could there be than that? At the end of the journey, that man was thrown into gaol for a trivial offence.
– No wonder some of the officers were shot!
– It is no wonder. There were many instances of men being sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, or fined large sums of money, for offences that a civil magistrate, would have dismissed with a caution or a fine of 2s. 6d. Every one who has been in the Army is aware of these cases, and knows them to be true. We should have had an announcement that the Government intend to appoint a Royal Commission, or some other body, to review the whole of the sentences and fines of any magnitude, imposed on Australian soldiers, and to see that the sentences now being served are reviewed, and refunds made in cases where men have been so heavily fined as to suffer financial embarrassment.
– Would the evidence be available?
– Yes. The colonel who was responsible for the case of Prussianism I mentioned returned to civil life in Western Australia. Another of our officers, who was a man, drove him out of the State, because that guilty officer knew that his life would be taken if he did not get away; but he is still in Australia, and still available for punishment for that horrible crime.
The question of deportations has been raised. I know a German who has been in Australia for thirty-six years and naturalized for thirty. When the war broke out, he had been so long away from his ‘native country that he could not speak German, although he could still read and write it. He was a widower, with a daughter of twenty-one, Australian born, of an Australian mother That man is being deported very shortly, and his daughter cannot get a permit to accompany him, so that there is to be an enforced separation between those two, who have no others in the world. Right here in Australia, we have Prussianism to deal with, and that Prussianism is being played with by the Defence Department of Australia.
Question - That the item be reduced by £1 (Mr. Higgs’ amendment) - put. The Committee divide’d.
Ayes . . . . . . 17
Noes . . . . . . 27
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- It was my desire to speak on military matters, and on the question of internees, but, having regard to the assurance of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) that opportunity would be given to discuss these subjects early in the session, and in order to honour the promise given by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) that the Bill would go from here to the Senate this afternoon, I did not take the opportunity of speaking before the division was taken. I make these remarks now in order to explain my silence.
Schedule agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
– (By leave) - It is a frequent practice to make arrangements between the Leader of the Opposition and the Government for thedisposal of a Bill. In this case, the arrangement was to deliver the goods to the Senate at 3.30 o’clock, and I quite appreciate the fact that the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues in authority in the party, did their very best to carry out their part of the contract. I have no complaint to make about the excessive time occupied, and the difficulties it created with regard to getting the measure to the Senate.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Air Ministry - Synopsis of British Air Effort during the war. (Paper presented to British Parliament.)
Public Service Act - Appointment of P. W. Mitchell, Department of Trade and Customs.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
On Wednesday, the first three motions on the business-paper will be advanced to such a stage as will enable Ministers to introduce and explain three measures, and permit of the House debating them at the following sitting. The next business will be the discussion of the Ministerial statement.
. -I regret to have to inform the Acting Prime Minister’ and the House that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster) declines to come into the chamber to hear my remarks on a matter of urgent importance. A messenger of the House went to him, and asked him to come into the chamber, but he says that he is too busy. No Minister ought to be so conceited or swelled up by his own importance as to decline to come into the chamber.
– He may have a special reason.
– He says that he is too busy, but I say that his place is in the chamber. Since he declines to come in, I ask the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to be good enough to take action. He takes the view, I believe, that the government of the country remains in Australia, although the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) is abroad, and I ask him to intervene and prevent a grave injustice in the Central Post Office, where certain temporary telegraph operators have been told that they must cease work on Monday next, although there is plenty of work for them to do. Through his mistaken views on economy, exemplified by the instructions be gave to the departmental officers to save pieces of string, and write on the backs of used envelopes, the Postmaster-General is now apparently going in for boy labour, although in olden times, when he was a Labour member, he used to deprecate, and endeavour to prevent that sort of thing. I understand that boys have been taken on in the office, and that many officers have been discharged, although some of them are married men, whose sons have gone to the Front. In some cases the sons have been killed. I am sure that ‘the great majority of the soldiers who went to the Front would not be in favour of the discharge of the fathers of men who enlisted and went abroad, in order even to find places for returned soldiers. I am quite satisfied that if the matter were put to the Returned Soldiers Association, they would agree to allow the fathers of sons who went to the Front to remain in their employment. I hope that the Acting Prime Minister will intervene in this matter, and prevent any injustice being done.
– I hope that no action will be taken in the matter until replies are given to the letters which have been sent to the Acting Prime Minister dealing with it. Men are affected who have given valuable service to the Postal Department for nearly five years, and who qualified by passing examinations long before the war broke out. Altogether 700 went up for examniation, both junior and senior. Usually the list of successful candidates is marked with double the number required, but only thirty-nine received a, sufficient number of marks to render them eligible for permanent appointment, and ten out of twenty were permanently appointed. Subsequently Mr. Fisher brought in his minute stating that there were to be no further permanent appointments during the war, so that the men who went up for examination, and afterwards enlisted, would not be at any disadvantage on their return in the matter of promotion. The men affected are those who have carried on the work of the Department for the four years of the war, and saved thousands of pounds more than could the Minister, who will not come in here to listen to complaints. No Minister is above Parliament, and honorable members are entitled to criticise a Minister’s Department in his presence. In thi6 respect, we owe a duty to the people. I may say that, so far as I know, not one who passed the examination is an elector of mine, and I am merely fighting for a principle, and for men who have done good work for the country. They volunteered for enlistment, but were turned, down, and they are now told they must leave the Department. Though the Acting Prime Minister and myself may disagree on things political, I know that I can trust him to have a full inquiry, and to deal fairly with these men.
– The other day a statement was made about returned soldiers being required to train in the Military Forces. There must have been some mistake, because no returned soldiers are so required to train.
. - I desire to briefly refer to the case of Paul Freeman. I have received a telegram from Mr. Brookfield, member of the Legislative Assembly, New South Wales, informing me that at a mass meeting held in Martin-place, Sydney, on Wednesday night last, the Government was urged to immediately release Freeman on bail, and, further, that substantial bail by prominent citizens is available. I do not wish to go into the details of this case. Honorable members, and the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) especially, know that public feeling has arisen in connexion with the deportation or various deportations of this man, and that a great number of people believe a grave injustice has been done him. I should have liked to deal with the whole question of deportations, but, owing to domestic trouble, I was not able to be here yesterday, and the arrangement entered into precluded my discussing the matter under the Defence -items in the Supply Bill. Will the Acting Prime Minister accede to the request made by the mass meeting of citizens in Sydney, comprising, as that meeting did, 15,000 people? We ask the Government to take steps to give public trial, not only to Freeman, but to all others similarly situated. The Freeman incident is a spec- tacular one, which has drawn attention more forcibly to the whole question of deportation from Australia than, perhaps, any other case could. But although Freeman has been treated so vilely, he has been particularly fortunate in having public opinion roused on his behalf; other poor devils have been deported without any trouble at all. I am well aware that the Acting Prime Minister’s reply to the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) yesterday is merely a reiteration of the statement of the Acting Minister for Defence (Senator Russell) in reply to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), myself, and others who waited on him as a deputation. We are told that evidence is available that Freeman is German. Well, I worked with Freeman in Broken Hill for years, and, so far as I am any judge, if he is anything he is American, for he speaks with a pronounced American accent. What his origin is I do not know, but I do know that he went to Queensland, and there is grave suspicion that certain mining magnates are interested, or were interested, in getting rid of him. He discovered a good copper “ show,” and was engaged on it when, after the Armistice, he was shanghaied out of the country. There has been no public inquiry, he has not been placed on trial, and has had no opportunity to cross-examine those who put the law in motion, or to otherwise defend himself. Will the Acting Prime Minister state definitely whether Freeman will be given a trial and allowed out on substantial bail, if necessary, pending investigation of the reason for his deportation ?
. -I rise to support what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), relating to postal electricians. I should not have spoken but for the fact that the question has been raised this afternoon.
Mr.Higgs. - I have been again informed that temporary telegraph operators are instructed to cease work on Monday.
– That may be so. I only know it is a matter for the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), and it is only fair to say that he was good enough to see me a few days ago, and place at my disposal all the information he has relating to it. In reply, I have prepared a memorandum for his consideration. I hope that the claims of these men will not in any way be prejudiced by the fact that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Webster) has not thought fit to hear a statement of the case this afternoon.’ This matter was, in the first place, dealt with by Mr. Fisher, as Prime Minister, in 1915, when he gave what I conceive to be a most definite assurance in regard to these men. On the present occasion I will content myself with sincerely hoping that the Acting Prime Minister, regarding this as a matter concerning his own Department, and regarding the pledges given by his predecessors, will faithfully peruse the evidence, and that, before he comes to a decision adverse to the men, he will hear a number of members who are anxious to put the case further to him, if necessary, as a deputation. I believe that the honorable gentleman proposes to give his personal attention and consideration to the weighing of the evidence, and I am satisfied that, if he does so, these men will be reinstated, for some of them have already been removed.
– I should like the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) and the Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster) to ascertain whether it is true that orders have been given, outside Australia for the manufacture of common battery boards, which were previously supplied within this country. If work is to be sent outside, it stands to reason that there will be need for fewer employees in the Department.
If honorable members look at Hansard of 1st September, 1915, they will see that Mr. Fisher, the then Prime Minister and Treasurer, in dealing with the amending Public Service Bill, made two solemn promises to the postal electricians - that none would be discharged, and that their case would be dealt with nine months after the conclusion of the war. Speaking legally, the war is not yet ended, and, therefore, under that promise, instead of their services being dispensed with, these men ought to be still employed.
– The case to which the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) referred is, I think, different from that in the minds of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). I know nothing of telegraph operators being discharged, and I will see that the matter is referred to the Postmaster-General for consideration. I regret to hear that the honorable member for Capricornia thinks that the Postmaster-General would not come into the House simply because this matter was to be mentioned.
– No ; but I say it is a gross discourtesy which no Minister has ever before committed.
– I can only say that the Postmaster-General, at my request, has occupied a seat at this table when I could not be present during the. discussion of Supply, although he much desired to be busy in his Department. The honorable gentleman has done service, penance almost; and I do not think there has been any discourtesy on his part. The brevity of the Postmaster-General’s remarks may sometimes upset the composure of honorable gentlemen opposite, but I am sure that if we look him up and down we can discern no discourtesy written on the lineaments of his noble features or his marble brow. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) wrote about the case of the postal electricians, and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan)’ has dealt with that case, because, I understand, several of those concerned are in. his constituency.
– Do not say that it is because of. that I have spoken.
– If that is thought to be a suggestion of an improper motive, I beg to decline the theory, because I think every member is entitled to speak for his constituents; indeed, that is primarily why he is here. At first, this appeared to me to be a departmental matter for the Postmaster-General. The issue was first raised by the honorable member for Batman, and it has involved the history of a number of promises from Prime Ministers, which do seem to pledge the faith of former Administrations.
With the object of ascertaining what the facts were, I asked the Prime Minister’s Department to put them in precis form, and when this was received I handed it to the honorable member for Batman. Since then I have had no opportunity of conferring with the Postmaster-General in order to ascertain his views, or even time to consider the two or three complications in the matter. All I can say is that I propose to do this at the first opportunity, and see where I think the duty of the Government lies. I am sure that the Postmaster-General does not desire to do. an injustice to any member of his staff, but he has a public obligation, as we all have, to run his Department as it should be. I know that he has been confronted with redundant officers in certain branches, and he would not be doing his duty if he kept them on the salary payroll while doing nothing.
– That is not the position in this case.
– I am not saying that it is, but I say that the Postmaster-General has been confronted by unpleasant tasks in two or three cases, and has had to do unpleasant things. Honorable members may rely that the matter will be investigated as soon as opportunity arises, and when a conference has taken place the decision of the Government will be made known-.
As to the case of Paul Freeman, the honorable member for the Barrier has no right to expect me to get up without notice and extemporaneously deal with it, and I do not propose to do so.
– I specifically referred to the question of bail.
– The honorable member regards this as an important case, chieflybecause it has been the subject of agitation in Sydney. I am not at all impressed by the agitation in Sydney.
– It will have to be made stronger.
– That would not impress us either. The merits of the case are what concerns the Government, and I do not propose off-hand to pronounce on an issue such as has been raised.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.14 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 June 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1919/19190627_reps_7_88/>.