7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
Debate resumed from . 2nd July (vide page 10398), on motion by Mr. Watt -
That the paper be printed.
Upon which Mr. Higgs had moved’, by way of amendment-
That all the words after “That” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words - “ the Government does not possess the confidence of this House.”
Mr. CHARLTON (Hunter) [2.32 j. - The Government, in the statement which they have presented to the Parliament and the country, have made ample provision for work to engage the attention of honorable members during this session, and to give effect to all their proposals, we should have to remain here considerably after the date on which this Parliament will expire by effluxion of time. Doubtless, however, many of the measures set out in the Ministerial statement have been put there, as usual, chiefly for political window-dressing purposes, and. wilh due regard to the fact that, at the very latest, an appeal must be made to Hie electors within the next nine or ten months. Much of the legislation foreshadowed in the statement may be necessary, but I venture to assert that public attention to-day is focussed not on proposed’ amendments of laws already in existence,: nor upon the introduction of new ‘Bills, but- wholly on the question of the high coat of living. The question is one- that intimately- affects the people of Australia to-day. We have been in recess for six months. The armistice waa signed eight months ago, but the people find that instead of a reduction in the cost of living having taken place since then, there has been going on all the time a gradual but steady increase.
During the war the people put up as well as they could with increased prices, realizing that, in time of war, there were many inconveniences to which they must inevitably be expected to submit. While they were unable, in very many cases, to meet the requirements of their households, in consequence of the inflated prices of the necessaries of life, yet. they were prepared, because of their loyalty, to. submit without protest to the additional prices they were called upon to pay, Th=y naturally thought that, with the signing of the armistice, there would be some improvement in the conditions of living; but to-day they are greviously disappointed.
– Yes : we were even to’d tV-at the cessation of hostilities would usher in a new world; but the actual position is that the conditions of life are gradually becoming worse. The great majority of the people want to know the reason for this. They desire to know whether .there is to be - no safeguard against profiteering. They wish - to know what we as legislators - what the Government - are doing since this deplorable state of affairs is permitted to’ continue.
The inflation of prices has been allowed to go on from the very outset of the war. The Commonwealth Price Fixing Board such as it is, has proved of no avail. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming),’ speaking last night, said that that Board had interfered considerably with business operations. He appeared to be anxious that price-fixing should be immediately abolished in order that greater scope might be given to those who have been making additional incomes during the war. He desires that the pastoralists shall have the utmost freedom to obtain as much as they can for their wool. He desires that the wheat farmers shall be free to get aa much as they can for their wheat, and that the pastoralists who provide the meat of this country - the price of which is about three times more than it was before the war - shall also have a better opportunity to secure as- much as they can for their stock. The position we have reached is that, although we are living in a land of plenty, and are able to produce considerably more than is required for our own consumers, the local prices of. everything that we produce have to be fixed on a parity with prices obtaining elsewhere. They have to be on a parity with those ruling in countries which cannot produce sufficient for their own requirements, countries where, in consequence of the ravages of the war, prices have increased to a phenomenal extent. Here, in a deliberative assembly, we are invited to permit the prices of all that is produced in a land flowing with milk and honey to remain on a parity with those obtaining elsewhere. If that is the way in which we are to conduct the affairs of the Commonwealth, then, in the name of all that is good, let us see that the purchasing power of the masses is made equal to the increase in the cost of living. Let us see that the great masses of the people secure the equi- valent of the increase in the cost of necessary commodities. If that were the position taken up, it would not be so bad, although it might be harmful to people in other parts of the world.
We know that since the outbreak of war the cost of living has increased materially. In my own State it has increased to the extent of something like 51 per cent., whereas the increase in wages amounts to only 26 per cent. Thus the purchasing power of the workers has been reduced by 25 per cent. While that is so, while their purchasing power has thus been whittled away, they are called upon to pay prices fixed on the basis of what our produce will realize elsewhere. Under any form of good government such a thing would not be permitted.
I believe that at the commencement of the war every one should have been called upon to make some sacrifice. It should not have been left to the men who went to the Front to safeguard our liberties to bear the whole burden. We who remained were not justified in profiteering or permitting profiteering to be carried on. This Parliament was not justified in permitting increases to be made in the cost of necessary commodities to the dependants of our soldiers. We are now told, however, that the high cost of living must be allowed to continue. I have looked in vain for one proposal in the Ministerial statement to meet this very urgent matter. There is not one reference to it. Everything in this connexion is to continue as it is to-day. The Government fully realize that high prices are prevailing and yet during the four years in which, under the War Precautions Act, they had the fullest power to deal with any matter concerning the welfare of Australia, they took no action. They now declare that peace is with us, and that there is no longer any need for the War Precautions Act, or for any attempt to regulate the prices of commodities to the people, and they are going to leave the matter in the hands of the States. One State may take action in a certain direction, another State follow a different course, while some may take no action at all; and thus the people may get no redress.
– The people themselves refused this Parliament the power to deal with these questions.
– It is perfectly true the people did so at one time, but it cannot be denied that from the commencement of the war the Commonwealth Parliament and Government have had full power.
– When the Labour party was on this side, and the honorable member was supporting the Government, what did that Government do more than the present Government have done to deal with this question?
– During the short time the Labour party was in power before the disruption, we provided for the necessary machinery, but we were not there long enough to put it into operation.
– The Labour party was on this side for two years and a half.
– Nothing of the kind. The honorable member is aware that as time went on, increase after increase took place; and I should like to know what his Department has done in the way of regulating prices. I recommend honorable members to read the Groceries Report by a Commission altogether independent of this House. That report states that price-fixing in this connexion has been of no avail. Without consulting the report, I would like to refer to the ‘ operations of the Vacuum Oil Com nui v. Kerosene, which is absolutely essential in country districts for public and private lighting and other purposes, has trebled in price during the war, and the price of benzine has also increased. The Commission reported that this particular pompuny, which regulates the distribution of oil, applied to the State Commodities Board on three different occasions for permission to increase the price, and on each occasion the request was granted. Subsequently the control of this commodity was taken over by the Commonwealth : and what did we do? We Granted the request’ of the company to still further increase the price. On one occasion their request was refused, but four months Liter it was granted. Had an investigation been held into the position of this company it would have been disclosed that each year, while receiving permission to increase the price two, and three times, over normal, the profits increased enormously. The company urged that, on account of the freights and so forth, the increase was justifiable, although their profits showed considerable augmentation.
– The company made £1,000,000 in profit in three years.
– In one year the profits were 60 per cent., and, speaking from memory, I think that was 1917. Then, thinking that this looked huge, the company by some means increased their capital from £800,000 to £1,600,000. I do not know in what way the increase of capital was effected, but, even with the capital doubled, the profit was 30 per cent.
– How could the company double its capital when 75 per cent. of excess profits had to be paid under the War-time Profits Act?
– That is a conundrum I cannot answer. This company is registered in Victoria, where there is not the same publicity in regard to such matters as in New South Wales; but it is known that all the shares are held abroad except one-eighth, which are held in Victoria for the purposes of registration. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) speaks about the War-time Profits Act, the inference being that the Commonwealth gets a good deal of the company’s profits. The honorable member knows, however, that the War-time Profits Act is about to disappear.
– Not for another two years’.
– The Act is about to disappear, and although we are supposed to receive certain excess profits from these Combines, I do not think we have received them up to the present. The position is that these high prices have been established, and there is no machinery to reduce them ; and these Combines, which have been making huge profits, will continue to do so without returning any part of them to the Public Treasury. We are simply handing the matter over to the States to do the best they can; the Commonwealth is done with it. That is the muddle in which we now find ourselves in regard to the cost of living, which is a burning, paramount question to the public. We here, as a Parliament, are making no endeavour to meet the position, but are simply getting rid of our responsibility. Instead ofthe representatives of the people governing this country, we find all great trading and business concerns which supply the people’s commodities forming themselves into combinations, when they are able to fix prices as they please. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) said yesterday that the manufacturers had increased prices more than had other people, and held that that was due to the “ go-slow “ policy of the workers. It ought to be remembered that the InterState Commission, in its report, states that there are combinations in every State without exception, of persons engaged in wholesale trade. These persons decide who shall join the combinations, and, according to the report, they are so powerful that the manufacturers are practically in their hands. The report further states that these middlemen make more profits than do the manufacturers of the goods; and if the manufacturer wishes to deal direct with a retail storekeeper, pressure is brought to bear upon him, and he is told that if he deals with people outside the particular combination, the necessary action will be taken to prevent him.
– That has been practised for years.
– I know that, and we ought to take advantage of the power we have to prevent it.
– Will you help us to abolish it?
– The trouble is that I will not have the opportunity.
– Yes you will.
– There is no one who is a stauncher advocate of the highest possible price in regard to wool than the honorable member.
– I have never asked more than a fair price, and never by means of any combination.
– What the honorable member considers a fair price may be considered unfair by others.
– We never had a combination.
– The ‘soldiers who went to the war and took “all the risks fighting for our liberties, and the widows and children of those noble men who fell on the field of battle, are now called upon, out of a meagre pittance, to pay the increased cost of living. I venture to say that we, as a Parliament, have been recreant to our duty. We had the power to deal with the matter, but took no action in that regard. Like a voice crying in the wilderness I advocated that during the war we should depart from the custom of other countries, and that the State should take over every man’s income and make every one bear an equal share of the sacrifice the community was called upon to make. This would have prevented profiteering and any great increase in the cost of living. People could have obtained their requirements at reasonable prices and thus been in a better position to pay the taxation required for the purpose of carrying on the war. But, instead, we permitted combinations to come into existence and regulate prices. We permitted them to say to the manufacturer, “ You will have to do so and so “ and to refuse goods to the retailer except through their hands. There is no need to.mention names. They are all in the report of the Inter-State Commission upon Groceries, in which document honorable members can see them for themselves. I have no -.desire to quote from the report. I do not care about quoting from reports in making speeches. To-day we are releasing our authority to fix prices, sheltering ourselves behind the excuse that the Constitution does not give us the power to do so in time of peace, and that when we asked the people to give it to us they did not do so. But when we did have the power we did not attempt to make use of it. On the other hand, what have the Government done?
– More than the honorable member’s Government did.
– They have appointed Boards - the honorable member is on one of them - on which none but interested parties were represented/ The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) has furnished us with a document setting out the records of the various Boards ap pointed. Is there any person on those Boards looking after the interests of the consumer? My friend, the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), who is a big pastoralist, is a member of the Central Wool Committee. So is the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Falkiner). The chairman of the Committee and others connected with it are all interested in wool.
– Is it a crime to be a big pastoralist ?.
– I am not saying that it is, but before the war wool averaged about 8id. per lb., whereas to-day the average price is- ls. 3 1/2d. or more per lb. The honorable member will not contradict me when I say that the wool growers are endeavouring to get all they possibly can on a parity with the London market.
– The honorable member is selecting a very bad subject. The price of wool is fixed for home consumption.
– I have not selected a .bad subject. If an increased value is given to wool because of the war condition?, it should go into the colters of the Commonwealth for the purpose of enabling us to defray the cost of the war instead of the man who raises the sheep getting the whole of it. On the other Boards there is a similar state of affairs. No one represents the interests of the consumers on these Boards, but there is ample representation of those directly concerned in the articles controlled. The result is that prices have been fixed according to what has been paid by the nations at war who could not produce.
– That is not true.
– In every case the price fixed has been more than was paid in Australia previously. Can the honorable member assert that here, where we could supply all these things in abundance, we were justified in increasing prices twofold during the war? Does not the increase in the price of wool reflect itself in the present cost of clothing ?
– The wool-grower cannot be blamed for that.
– Wool is required for the purpose of manufacturing clothing, and if a big price is fixed for wool the people must necessarily pay more for their clothing. And what has happened in regard to wool has happened in regard to other articles.
Last night the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) said that less wheat was being grown to-day because of the lower prices the farmers were likely to obtain. The inference to.be drawn from his remark is that wheat-growers ought to have more latitude to enable them to get better prices. As a matter of fact the farmers have never had- better prices for their wheat than they have ob- .tained during the last few years.
– That is quite correct.
– The honorable member, who is a wheat-grower, supports my statement.
– Yes; and some of the honorable member’s friends are promising the farmers a better price if the Government are turned out.
– Although the farmers have been getting the best price they have had for years past, the honorable member for Robertson wants that price increased. My view is that there is a less area under crop, not because the farmer is not getting a fair price for his wheat, but because of his uncertainty as to the future. In face of the fact that we have almost two seasons’ wheat on hand at present, how can he feel justified in sowing more ? He does not know at what moment the Wheat Pool may disappear, or when the wheat harvested next season may be got rid of - whether the wheat on hand has first to be removed. Furthermore, good harvests in other parts of the world may result in his having no market for his wheat. In these circumstances he is not prepared to accept the risk, and is utilizing his land for other crops until such time as it may be profitable to stow wheat again. If I were a farmer that is the way in which I would view the position.
– In that case the honorable member would have £20,000,000 worth of plant lying idle and the sons of farmers unemployed.
– That mav be true, but it would only be one of the many other troubles which have arisen out of the war conditions. I merely point out that the reason given by the honorable member for Robertson that the farmer is not getting a fair deal is not correct, and that it is the uncertainty as to the future of wheat which has caused a decrease in the area under cultivation.
In these ‘modern days we have made provision whereby we can store our surplus products in a way which is not very beneficial to the- people. There was a time when we used to say that if we could possibly preserve what we had over the necessary market requirements, the people would get the benefit, but we find, now that we have our cool storage places, and can put in an abundance of everything, that the people are very often short of things which are kept in cold storage, and kept there, too, for the purpose of exporting them at high prices.
– And used, also, for the purpose of keeping up prices here.
– Exactly. Will any one contend that that is good government? Is it in the interests of the people? Is it what the people expect? We talk about extremists in the community, but I venture to say we are doing more to make men and women extreme by our action or inaction in regard to the cost of living than was done by anything ever attempted in this country before thewar. Everywhere one goes, not only the poorer people, but the middle class people, who used to be in fairly good circumstances, complain about the cost of living, and want to know what Parliament is going to do for them. What is the use of saying to them, that we are going to pass this, that, or the other Bill, when these do not affect the main issue so. far as they are concerned? They expect us, as their representatives, to deal with the question of their living, but when they ask us for bread we throw them a stone.
Even if the Government hand over the War Precautions powers to the States in times of peace, this Parliament still has power to deal with the question of the export of hides. The Government recently decided to remove the restrictions on the export of hides and leather. Immediately that was done, the people in the business here notified the wholesale men that they would have to considerably increase the price of boots.
– They made that the ex- cuse
– They always make it the excuse, and we ought not to permit it.
– I can tell the honorable member that the restrictions on the export of hides and leather are the same to-day as they have been all through.
– The fixed price has been wiped out, that is the only difference.
– And they can charge what they like. That is really my argument.
– That is not what the honorable member said.
– At any rate, the position now is that they have a perfect right to fix any price they like. On 2nd May, 1919, the following prices obtained: - Stouts, 13£d. per lb.; good, 10 3/4d. per lb.; lights, 10id. per lb.; kips, 1Nd. per lb. ; and calf, best salted, ls. lid. per lb. The price-fixing order was repealed on the 14th May, 1919, that is, in the same month, and on the 16th of that month the prices were: - -Stouts, 16d. to 18d. per lb. ; good, 143d. to 15$d. per lb. ; medium, 14d. to 15jd. per lb.; lights, 13jd. to 14d. per lb.; and kips, 12jd. to 14d. per lb. On 23rd May, 1919, only eight days later, prices were as follows: - Stouts, lSd. to 20jd- per lb.; good, 16d. to 17d. ; medium, 14d to 15d. ; lights, 133d. to 14£d.; kips, 13£d. to 15d. Thus, there were two advances in about a week. This meant that poor people, who were already paying exorbitant prices for boots, had to nay big increases, and we who control this matter permit these things to happen.
– There was an increase of 5s. per pair in your own district.
– Yes, and how many little ones are going barefooted today, not because their parents wish it, but because, after denying themselves for three or four years waiting for the war to end, they still find themselves unable to purchase necessaries for their families? Boots must be done without in many cases, and little children, in this cold weather, have to go to school barefooted. The average export price in May, 1916, was 23s. per hide, which, assuming that & hide weighs 50 lbs., works out at about 6d. per lb. If honorable members compare that price with the figures I have quoted they will see the great increase that has taken place. Here are some of the letters sent by firms dealing in these goods. On 15th May, 1919, at the time the rise took place, the following circular was sent out by McMurtrie and Co. Ltd. :-
Owing to the Federal Government having removed the restrictions on prices of hides and leathers, tanners have notified us large increases in prices of all upper and sole leathers.
We intend giving our clients the benefit of all the stock made from- recent prices of leathers, but will only accept orders subject to prices ruling on the date of despatch.
That notice was sent to everybody in the trade, to prove that it was not the firm’s fault that they were compelled to increase prices, but that they would give their customers the benefit of what they had in stock. Another letter from a wholesale firm notifies an increase in the wholesale price of “ gents’ mineral harvester csks. from lis. 6d. to 13s. lOd. On top of that the merchant has to add his profit, and in some cases there are two profits, as he has to distribute again to the retailer. The same letter shows that the wholesale price of bluchers is now 14s. 3d. We used to get them for 6s. 6d. The workers, especially those who follow mining, must have them, and honorable members can guess that by the time the workers receive them they are not less than £1 per pair. How are the workers to manage with that sort of thing going on?
– The man who made the 6s. 6d. bluchers used to get 35s. per week.
– What does he get now?
– Do not think this increase goes in wages, because 5s. will make the best boot ever made.
– The Commissioners point out very clearly in their report that the increase in wages does not account for the higher prices. They show the large increased profits over and above the labour cost of many of these goods, so that it is useless for the honorable member to trot out the “ gag “ about increased wages. They are increased infinitesimally in comparison with the increase in prices. The workers would be prepared to accept a substantial reduction in wages if their earning power was sufficient to buy them all the necessaries of life, to keep their wives and families in decent comfort, and provide a little for a rainy day. Increased wages follow the increased prices all the time. It is not the increase in wages that raises the prices. It is because prices are raised by those who have control of commodities that appeals are made to the Arbitration Court and other authorities, and in that way the workers get an increase, but what they get does not correspond to the increased cost of living.
– Then you are quite agreed that merely to increase wages does not solve the problem?
– It does not. Here is another letter among many that have appeared recently, to show the feeling in the country: -
Sir, - I feel it incumbent on me, after receiving the following letter, to add my quota to a subject that should receive the widest prominence. The letter is from a firm that has always supplied me with the materials of my trade: - “Dear Sir, - Although sole leather has risen 21/2d. per lb., wo lot the sides sent yesterday go at old price. In future, the same leather will be 2s. 3d. per lb. Wo regret this, but the matter is quite beyond our control, as every available piece of sole leather is being shipped to England.” When people feel inclined to complain of soaring prices of boot repairing, let them remember that they are caused through the unchecked export of our raw materials. As with leather, so with meat, wheat, and other commodities. We have to be contented for food with superannuated working bullocks, and milk cows, while England gets our prime cattle. When will we have a Government that will stop the indiscriminate export of necessaries of life, until the wants of the population have been satisfied? Surely the people of the producing country should have first call on the best of its products. What Queensland has done could be done by the Federal Government if it knew its duty. - I am, &c,
There have been many letters published in the press from time to time in regard to this matter, and there is no doubt that the people are looking to this Parliament to take some action with a view to preventing further profiteering.
– Then the Minister for Trade and Customs will have an opportunity to make a speech, and to put the matter right.
– What I mean is that it is not due to export at all.
Mr.mahony. - Then to what is it due?
– It is due to increased prices.
– Who is responsible for the increased prices?
– That is a subject with which I shall deal later on.
– If we did not export our surplus products, would there not be an abundance of them on the market here, and would not the prices for them be less? Where now is the unrestricted competition about which my honorable friends opposite used to talk so loudly ? Instead we have in existence today all sorts of Combines, which decide what the prices of our various commodities shall be. It is left to them to ex-‘ tract from the people of this country all that they desire in order that they may accumulate more wealth. Look at our banking returns. How many persons are there in Australia who are wealthier today than they ever were before, and wealthier than they ever dreamed of becoming ? Instead of losing money during the war they have been increasing their bank balances year after year, until today they have fabulous sums to their credit. Yet these self-same individuals loudly prate about their patriotism. It would be far better for them to set a good example by allowing the people to purchase the necessaries of life as cheaply as possible. I recognise that the electors axe anxious for an early appeal to them in order that they may begiven an opportunity to determine exactly how far we have safeguarded their interests. I believe that when the testing time comes, we shall find that our returned soldiers will emphatically resent the increased prices which have been placed upon all necessary commodities.
We talked about financing the war when our men went overseas. But now that the war is over, and we are called upon to re-adjust matters, we find that the additional taxation which will have to be imposed will, to a very large extent, fall upon the poorer classes of the community. And who are included in those poorer classes. Why, the very men who have been fighting for our liberties at the Front. These are the men who will be asked to pay. When they enlisted for service abroad, we told them that they were jolly good fellows, who were about to engage in a noble task. They have now returned home, only to find that for years to come they will be required to pay interest upon the money which we borrowed for the purpose of paying them their wages. Is that a fair position in which to place them ? Yet it is undeniable that, in the future, they will have to pay more for their living than ey would have had if there had been no war. What is there in the Ministerial programme which is calculated to afford the people any relief from the oppressive charges to which they are now subjected? Nothing whatever. I believe thataction should be taken to prevent profiteering going any further. Surely the Government could have taken steps to dispense with the middleman, and in that way have cut down the prices of commodities. Fancy the middleman, merely because he is able to control certain commodities, deriving a greater profit from them than the manufacturers themselves. That is a position which ought not tobe tolerated for a single moment. The profits of the middleman are, of course, passed on, in the form of charges, to the consumer. All this is the result of our laxity in regard to the question of price fixing. I regret that it is so, and I recognise that I shall have to accept my share of responsibility in. this connexion when I face my constituents. Had action been taken in the direction I have suggested during the early stages of the war, we should not have found ourselves in the position that we occupy today.
I come now to another question - that of deportation. At the outset I wish to make my position perfectly clear. Personally, I have no time for the man or woman who did anything to assist our enemies during the war. If guilt in this connexion can be established against any individual, no matter what may be his nationality, that individual should be deported. I make that statement without any hesitation. During the recess, which has just closed, the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) and myself were invited to receive a deputation from the Returned Soldiers Association in regard to this matter. Unfortunately, at the time appointed to receive the deputation, the honorable member for Newcastle was ill in the hospital. Consequently, its members laid their case before me. They affirmed that every person who had been interned during ‘the wax should be deported. In reply, I told them that while my sympathies were with our returned soldiers in many matters, I did not believe that any man or woman should be deported from this country until after he or she had been given a fair trial. We find now, though it was previously unknown to many of us, that a large number of internees have been deported. The public knew nothing about this. We do not know whether they ought to have been deported or not. Some of them may have been good citizens of Australia. Many people were interned who were undoubtedly good citizens of Australia. Honorable members may ask, if so, why were they interned? There were some poor people who during the war were unable to get employment, and asked that they should be interned for their protection. They were unable to obtain employment because, in many cases, the workers of Australia refused to work alongside men of enemy nationality. Such men had nothing to do but ask to be interned. They had to live somehow.
-Does the honorable member say that the Government are deporting those men?
– I do not know, but it is quite possible that they are. If we had a public inquiry in these cases we should know
– I can assure the honorable member that the men to whom he refers are not being deported.
– If they are, a grave injustice is done to them. I know many residents of Australia of enemy nation al.ty. They have lived here for years, some of them have married Australian women, and have reared families. Some of them have been interned because they could not obtain employment. I say that it would be wrong for any Government to deport such people. The fact that there is no public inquiry in these cases leaves a doubt in the public mind as to what is going on. How many people in thi6 country knew that hundreds of persons were being deported ? I am a member of this House, having, perhaps, special means of securing information, but I was not aware of it. I had no idea that men were being deported in the way they have been.- I was under the impression that some tribunal would be established, that a mau would be put on his trial, a charge made against him, and an opportunity given linn to defend himself. If he were guilty the tribunal could deal with him. It is only because of a recent happening that we have been made aware of what has been going on. I say that this is stirring the people from one end of New South Wales to the other. Even persons opposed to Labour in politics have been surprised to learn that a man could be put on board a ship, carried .to America, brought back to Australia again, taken aga n to America, and again returned to Australia. We never should have known what was done with this man if he had not commenced a hunger strike. That is what brought the matter before the public. Why did not the Government place this man on his trial, and give him an opportunity to defend himself? I say that any man who would make the statement that the men who went to the war were lower than ddgs should not be allowed to remain very long in this country. But I do not hesitate to say that such a man should be put on his trial. We should know whether the evidence brought against him was correct. We should know whether he actually did say such a thing. Huw many times have assertions been made which, when probed, have been found to be without foundation ? How many men are charged in our criminal and police Courts on what appears to be sound evidence, but which, when it comes to be sifted in Court, is shown to be a fabrication, and there being no justification for the charge against him, the man put on his trial is honorably acquitted ? Why not give this man, and other nien similarly placed, the same chance? Why have not the Government done in this matter what is recognised throughout British history as the proper thing to do, and that is when an individual is charged ‘ with any offence to give him the right of” trial? If a man is proved upon trial to have done anything against the best interests of the country, we can punish him. That course, however, has not been followed in connexion with men who have been deported. Should not the Government, in the case of Freeman, have endeavoured before deporting him, to find out whether he was an American citizen or not? Their action goes to 6how that the whole business has been undertaken hurriedly and without consideration. The Government took it for granted that this man was an American citizen, and that they would be able to land him in America, and so get rid of him. When he reached America it was found that he was not an American citizen, and the authorities there refused to allow* him to land. Are we justified in putting a man on a vessel, and compelling the owners to carry him backwards and forwards until such time as we are able to decide his nationality?
– And at a big expense to the country.
– Exactly. Should the Government not first of all ascertain the nationality of a man; and if, after he has been given a trial, they then decide to deport him to his own country, well and good ? There is not one journal in Australia that made any reference to this matter of deportation, until the case of Paul Freeman was made prominent by the action of the man himself. I protest against the Government putting a man on a vessel for deportation behind the backs of the public, and without giving him a trial. I contend that no Govern- ment is justified in deporting any citizen of Australia without giving him a public trial. If it is found, upon his trial, that a man has done anything against the interests of the country, he can be punished accordingly. I hope that the Government will take some action in regard to this matter. I received a letter only this afternoon from the Acting Prime Minister, in which he states that so far as Paul Freeman is concerned, no further action will be taken to deport him until it is ascertained whether or not he is an American citizen. After the man has been twice sent to America and returned, the Government propose to ascertain whether he is an American citizen or not. That is ridiculous on the face of it, and surely one would naturally expect that before they sent a man to America the Government would know whether he was an American citizen or not. ‘
I now come to the question of soldiers’ homes. This is a very important matter. I was under the impression last year, when the War Service Homes Bill was under consideration in this House, that everything would be done to expedite the operation of the measure. The Bill was passed in December, and yet nothing was done in regard to appointments under it until four months later. To-day we find the officer in charge in New South Wales telling us that nothing at all has teen done by the Department in that State. He says that he has been appointed, but that he has to make representations to Melbourne. Everything is centralized in Melbourne, which would appear to be considered as the whole Commonwealth to-day. The officer in Sydney has to make representations to Melbourne, and the Chief Commissioner here objects to his doing this or that. He says, “ I have no valuer, no inspector; 1 am- powerless. I have 2,000 or 3,000 applications for homes, and I cannot deal with them.” I have sent in some applications, and people have asked me if possible to secure an advance for them quickly. Some are paying rent, and desire to establish homes for themselves. They have to leave the houses for which they are now paying rent, and they are anxious for an advance to establish a home for themselves. I have tr,ea to expedite their business, but the Deputy
Commissioner in Sydney states the position when he says that no work at all is being done there under the War Service Homes Bill. The Government should have done something to bring the Act into operation more quickly, so as to give relief to returned soldiers. I venture to say that, in regard to the matter of soldiers’ homes, we are again going to ask the returned soldier to pay a lot more for his home than he ought to pay for it. We ‘are going to advance him money on which he will have to pay not more than 5 per cent, interest, but, in addition, he must pay rate- and insurance, and, according to the period within which he arranges to make the home his own, he must pay off each year a certain amount of the capital expended upon it. It has to be remembered that since the war commenced the price of building materials has increased substantially, but it is proposed that we shall value the soldiers’ homes on the basis of existing valuations, which are considerably higher than they were before the war. The prices of iron, tiles, and bricks have all been greatly increased. The Commission went fully into the matter, and made a recommendation with which I heartily agreed. The report states -
With regard to the amount of financial assistance necessary, the Commission is of opinion that, for the twelve months next ensuing, the suggested allowance should he at the rate of 15 per cent, on constructional cost. It also considers that the rate for subsequent periods might be left to determination from time to time.
On the basis of a 15- per cent, allowance by the Government on construction cost, the comparison may be shown: - Actual cost for land and building, £600, for a period of 37 years ; for land valued at £100, 2s. 3d.; house, balance of total cost, less 15 per cent., As. Del.; total interest and instalment, 12s.; rates, insurance, and repairs, 2i per cent, on total cost, 5s. 9d.; total weekly purchase payments, 17s. Od.
That is what a soldier would have to pay. It is pointed out that some allowance should be made for the fact that when the men went away the price of a building was such-and-such a figure. It is further stressed that in the near future building costs may be considerably reduced If money is advanced to returned soldiers upon the basis of prices ruling to-day,, then in the event of a reduction in two or three years - possibly amounting to 15 per cent. - the unfortunate soldier must continue to pay for thirty-seven years, or until he has wiped out his loan, that additional percentage. I strongly agree with .the recommendation that the Government should make a reduction of 15 per cent. If that is not done, it will be found in a few years that a house which costs a soldier £600 today can then be built for £500 or for £450, whereupon the soldier tenant will be taxed for a long period upon the inflated values, with which he had nothing to do, which were brought about during his absence, and which we who remained behind should have prevented.
Dealing with bricks, the Commissioners point out that there is a vast difference between the prices from the State Brickworks in New South Wales and the prices quoted by the Combine in. that State.
– Of course ! The country is full of Combines. The whole place is a nest of them.
– You ought to be a good judge of that!
– I have fought them all my life.
– The report states -
The brickmakers of Sydney (except the State Brickworks) are associated in a “ holding company,” the Metropolitan Brick Company, by an agreement of a stringent charac ter The whole of the output is virtually pooled by a system of agreed proportions of the total being manufactured by each brickmaster. Any excess or deficiency is adjusted from time to time in the distribution of the proceeds of all sales. A committee named in the agreement fixes prices and governs the Combine. No- minutes are kept of meetings - an unprecedented feature, which the president explained by saying’ that the whole thing works so harmoniously that no record of any kind is necessary.
There is a Combine to fix the price of bricks. It is not necessary for them even to keep a minute book. Does it not suggest some other reason than that advanced regarding why no minute book is kept? Is it not because of the fear of an investigation? It would be better, of course, for these people to arrive at an honorable understanding than that they should set down in black and white just what they are doing. The report com ments - “ The president said that no member has ever broken the rules.” That is an interesting statement ! I will quote further -
The price of common bricks rose from 45s. per 1,000 in 1014 to 50s. in February, 1917, at which figure it remained stationary up to the time when evidence was given, though the president of the association, popularly known as the Brick Combine, forecasted a further rise at the beginning of this year (1919). This rise has since been announced in the press, and amounts to 2s. Gd. per 1,000. The number of bricks ordinarily used in a brick cottage of four rooms and kitchen. &c, is said to be about 35,000, and therefore the added burden on this account since 1914 would bo £13 2s. Od.
The report sets forth, further, that there are Combines in connexion with timber, For everything necessary to the construction of a house, Combines exist to-day. There is a Combine in the manufacture of roofing tiles. The State Brickworks in Sydney are selling their output at a much lower price than the Combine,. and are making nevertheless a splendid profit. The manager provided in his evidence some highly interesting details. The report sets out -
The manager of the State Brickworks gave evidence and produced the Auditor-General’s reports on the workings of this enterprise. The Works sell common bricks at 38s. 6d. per 1,000, as against the Combine price of ‘ 50s: per 1,000. The Works price in 1914 was 35s. The maximum output in any one year has been 38,000,000. The output in 1917 (a strike year) was 28,000,000. The estimated output for 1918 was 42,000,000. The present capacity for output is 44,000,000, but there is room to double the Works.
A total sum of £ 87,669 has been advanced by the Government, of which £20.000 has been repaid out of profits. Operations began in 1911, and the financial results, according to the Auditor-General’s report, 1918, have been remarkable. He states - “ Accumulated profits at 30th June, 1918, were £23,622 8s. 9d., or 20.94 percent.; reserve for renewals, £27,489 15s: 6d or 31.30 per cent., amounting in all to £51,112 4s. 3d., or 58.30 per cent, of the capital employed. In addition to the declared profits, direct savings to the extent of £68,470 18?. 2d., on account of Government services, must be taken into consideration. These savings were effected by buying from the undertaking at prices below those quoted by outside manufacturers, and not only Government services, but also the general public, participated in these reduced prices, though, necessarily, such estimates are not included. It will thus be seen that the profits were £23,622 8s. 9d., plus the savings of f 68,470 18s. 2d., or, in all, £92,093 6s. lid., a sum in excess of the capital employed, viz., £87,069, by which amount the State has benefited.”
Those works can now show a return in excess of the capital employed, and can sell at a sum considerably lower than the Combine. The housing problem is vital to our returned men, and to the widows and families of the fallen. It is our solemn duty to make adequate provision for them. Should we therefore charge them a rate of interest based upon inflated values, just because profiteering has been rampant while they were gallantly ‘fighting for us? Why should they be asked to pay at a rate in1 excess of what would have ruled had there been no war?
The honorable member for Robertson. (Mr. Fleming) repeated last night a statement made to him by a member of the Australian Workers Union at the Front, in which the latter said he was done with Labour because Labour had failed to send reinforcements during the war. Australia made a magnificent effort. In comparison with Belgium, Canada, and the United States of America, Australia suffered far more in casualties. We had more men in the firing line than Canada. We had five divisions in France, and a division of 10,000 in Egypt, so that, practically, we had six divisions, while Canada had only four in the firing line, although Canada has a population of 8,000,000 and Australia’s is only 5,000,000. In consequence of our war activities we have a war debt of £285,000,000. We also paid the British Government for the maintenance of our troops; Canada did not. In view of this great effort made by Australia there can be no justification for statements of the kind I have mentioned, simply because we differed on the question of conscription. In the light of all that has happened, I am pleased to think that I was against conscription, and, as far as the boys at the Front were concerned, their vote shows that they were divided on the issue. The vote was almost even, and if we bear in mind that the great majority of the officers, the nurses, and the doctors, as well as others engaged in fairly good positions, were in favour of conscription, it is quite reasonable to believe that a majority of the men voted against it. I was speaking the other day to a minister who acted as chaplain at the Front, and he informed me that at the last elections the question which our soldiers were called upon to decide was whether they were in favour of the Nationalists or the Labour party. Unfortunately, they did not know which side represented Labour and which side the Nationalists. One gentleman, when moving a vote of thanks to me for attending a meeting and explaining matters in connexion with the soldiers, said he was among those who assisted in the taking of the ballot in France, and when one soldier came forward he was asked whether he intended to vote for Labour or the Nationalists. His reply was, “ I do not know, but if you can tell me where Mat Charlton is I want to vote for him.” The men did. not know the names of the candidates.
– But that soldier knew a good man when he saw one.
– He did not see me. My name was not on the paper, and he wanted to know where I was. The names of the candidates should have been printed on the ballot-papers. If that had . been done it is quite probable that many of the boys would have voted differently.
The honorable member for Robertson also stated that the soldiers were satisfied with the’ treatment they were receiving. All I can say about that matter is that I must be a most unfortunate member, because for the past three years I have been receiving letters from soldiers day after day complaining of -the treatment meted out to them. I am not going to say that all of the complaints were justified, but I do say that in many cases they were, and I ‘know that grievances were rectified when they were brought before the responsible officials. My point is that the soldiers should not have been obliged to consult anybody; they were entitled to absolutely fair treatment. Within the past fortnight a gentleman and his wife called at my place. The former said he had only just returned from the Front, and wanted to see if I could do anything for him. I asked him his trouble, and he informed me that he had returned three weeks ago, had been discharged, and was receiving no pension. “ I endeavoured to do some work in my garden,” he added, “ but mv nose started to bleed; I am now unable to work.” His wife then interjected, “ Yes, and we have five little ones to support. It appears to me that you can get my husband and others to dp the dirty work, but afterwards you forget all about us.” Unfortunately, that feeling is abroad in many minds. Why should it be ? I asked the man if he had been examined by the doctor before being discharged, and he said, “Yes. The doctor simply looked at me and said, ‘ You are all right; discharged.’ There was no examination. I proceeded home, received my military pay, and was expected to get to work. I wish to God I could work. Nothing would please me better than to be able to go back to my work.”
– Do you know if he made an application to the Pensions Branch ?
– He did not. But this kind of treatment should be avoided. I do not say that it is the fault of the Minister ; the blame rests upon those in control of the Department.
– Instructions have been issued that before any man is discharged he must be handed papers telling him in certain circumstances to apply to the Pensions Branch.
– I agree with the Minister that such instructions have been issued, and I believe they were acted upon for seme considerable time, but the officials are not doing it now in every case, “because this man told me that no papers were given to him. The doctor simply looked at him and said, “ You are all right,” and the man was thereupon discharged.
– Probably he was discharged Class A, and I think men in that class do not receive papers.
– No man should be discharged Class A if he is physically unfit to work. Is it not our duty to maintain the wives and families of these men ? Is it not, also, our duty to maintain the men themselves until such time as they are able to work ? If they are not able to work for all time, we should see that our duty towards them is not discharged in any niggardly manner. What I am complaining about is that there are many such cases. I have never referred to them during the war; but I feel I must cite a case occasionally in order to direct the attention of the Minister to the dissatisfaction that exists, and in order that the necessary action may be taken to provide against the repetition of departmental neglect. We are told that the pensions will now total £5,000,000 a year, and will probably reach £6,000,000. I do not care if eventually the amount is £10,000,000, though I would be sorry to think that so many of our men were disabled in consequence of the war. Whatever the cost may be, the people of Australia must be prepared to foot the bill. This is our responsibility. The matter should receive the serious attention of the Government. These are questions which people expect to have answered; and I say now to the Government, at this eleventh hour, and before this Parliament expires, that, instead of bothering about a lot of questions on the businesspaper, many of which are of comparatively minor importance, they should endeavour, as far as possible, to devise some means whereby profiteering shall be stopped, and the interests of the men who “fought for us safeguarded. If that is done, the Government will be rendering good service. If it is not done, we can expect trouble. It is no use mincing matters. Surely we realize that there is just cause for all the rumbling that is taking place from day to day. Surely we can see there is great dissatisfaction because so many of our people are unable to get the necessaries of life, and are obliged to witness the sufferings of their little ones, halffed and half-clothed, while other people are able to make huge sums of money? What can we expect in these circumstances but dissatisfaction, which must breed extremists, who will encourage the people to find other means than constitutional action for the redress of their’ grievances? What is the use of telling the people that, with adult suffrage, the proper thing to do is to elect their representatives to Parliament to remedy their wrongs, when, as a matter of fact, they see that Parliament, from year to year, is doing nothing in this direction; when they see those in more favorable circumstances increasing their dividends and adding to their bank balances, while the poor are getting poorer and ever poorer? Let us rise to the occasion ; let us act like men ; let us take hold of this problem, and deal with it in a thorough manner, and see if we cannot do justice by the great mass of the people of this country.
Mr. RICHARD FOSTER (Wakefield) [3.501. - I shall not occupy much time with any references I may have to make to the so-called no-confidence side of this debate, the only relieving feature of which is that it is running side by side with the discussion of the Ministerial statement. The Government have no reason to complain of the dramatic attack that has bean made upon them. The Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Higgs), in submitting his no-confidence motion, was tame, respectful, and absolutely harmless. He appeared to be indulging merely in a little cleaning up, and to be tickling the Government with a political feather duster. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), who has just resumed his seat, spoke as’ he always does, earnestly and, generally speaking, fairly. I followed him with considerable interest, particularly when he was dealing with the high cost of living - a question that has to be faced not only here, but in every part of the world and in most countries is being faced to-day. This no-confidence debate is not going to effect any important alteration in the cost of living. It would be infinitely better for this Parliament to get straight to work on solid questions, rather than to bo occupying its time in debating an attack on the Government which every one in the House and outside of it knows will be utterly futile.
My honorable friend (Mr. Charlton), in connexion with the charges of neglect that he made against the Parliament, and particularly against the present Government, was appropriately reminded that the Administration which he supported was in power for a very considerable time after the outbreak of war, and did practically nothing to relieve the situation. During part of that time the Acting Leader of the Opposition, who submitted this motion of want of confidence in a very courteous kindly way, was actually Treasurer of the Commonwealth. While in the Treasury he certainly improved wonderfully. The experience that he gained of the inside working of the governmental machine led to his revising a lot of his ideas. He obtained a solid conception of things as they are and as they ought to be, with the result that there was a departure on his part from some of the views that he was previously in the habit of expressing. As Treasurer, however, he made no attempt to reduce the cost of living.
– For one thing, we kept down the price of sugar while we were in office.
– I think there was some co-operation in that regard. The ex-Treasurer (the late Lord Forrest) and others had a little to do with the sugar business, which, taking it all round, must be regarded as fairly satisfactory. Since they have been in office, the present Government have done work which has resulted in the betterment of the position in Australia to the extent, possibly, of some millions of pounds.
Speaking broadly, I believe that every supporter of the Government is as sincere and as earnest in his desire as is any honorable member of the Opposition by proper means so to regulate the cost of living that the poorer sections of the community may have a better and a brighter time. I do not approve, however, of many of the efforts that have been put forth with this object in view. In many directions, instead of reducing the cost of articles of consumption, they have increased them. They have had a worrying, unjustifiable, and harassing effect, particularly on the smaller traders of the community. Although made doubtless with the best of intentions, the badly conducted operations that have been launched have often increased, rather than reduced, prices. It is unquestionable that these efforts have chased a great many poor struggling traders in every State into financial ruin.
– The big men, not the Government, have done that.
– Not at all. These struggling traders attach a good deal of condemnation to men such as my estimable friend (Mr. Fenton), who would not hurt any one if he could help it, but whose actions, with those of his party generally, have resulted in destroying, instead of building up and benefiting those for whom they profess to be working. _ If, instead of wasting time on useless discussions, we settled down at once to solid business, we should probably be able, during the present session, to tackle, this big and important question pf the cost of living as it ought to be tackled. The honorable member for Hunter said that profiteering and Combines should be dealt with in a proper fashion.
– To reduce the cost of living we should produce more food.
– That is one important phase of this question, but I am endeavouring to deal with it as it presents itself to us to-day. The point raised by the honorable ‘member has not been mentioned by the Opposition, but if we could get to work and produce more food the position would, undoubtedly, be improved. I should have liked to hear my honorable friend (Mr. Charlton) mention the present wicked, unjustifiable, rebellious strike against society in Australia to-day, which is going to accentuate our troubles with regard to the cost of living. Australia is looking on, and I am quite willing to await its decision with regard to the existing strike and its effects on the general community.
Dealing with the question of Combines and profiteering, I have thought for some time that since we have in existence an Inter-State Commission, with scarcely no essential duty coming under that designation, it would be wise if, in reconstructing it, the Government were to convert it into a Board of Trade. It consists of competent men, and the cost of living, the effect of Combines, and other associated questions could be dealt with by it. .
– We already have a Board of Trade.
– Quite so; but I think the Commonwealth Board of Trade should consist of men such as those now constituting the Inter-State Commission, and should not be a mere appendage to many other things. The Inter-State Commission could take under its control many matters that are now dealt with by the newly-created Board of Trade. My desire is that questions affecting trade and the cost of living generally should be dealt with by men of the highest capacity and experience, and wholly’ independent of political control. It is not my desire that the Commission should be created a Board of Trade to harass the little traders. That should form no part of its functions. Instead of -having a harassing, oppressive, tiddly-winking attention to details in all directions, I should like to see the Inter-State Commission given the general control of all trade. With such a jurisdiction over trade by highly qualified men it would be possible very readily to nip out all the ills, and competition in the ordinary sense would rectify and adjust all trading operations in detail. Unfortunately, we have only been tinkering with this business. In some instances, it seems to me, we have been, employing men merely for the sake of finding them billets. We have been employing men devoid of training in general trade principles and wholly unfitted for this class of work, with the result that their inexperience has led to oppression, involving in some cases the absolute ruination of struggling traders who were making, not excessive profits, but only a bare living.
I wish to refresh the memories of the Opposition with regard to what has taken place in Connexion with the profiteering of which we hear so much. Some Combines are ridiculously misrepresented, but it cannot be gainsaid that Combines are growing seriously in Australia, and are exercising oppressive power ‘ over what ought to be freedom of trade. This, again, should be dealt with by men of experience and high character working, not in haphazard fashion, but upon definite principles. The honorable member for Hunter made a very unhappy reference in this direction when he talked about the operation of the Wool and the Wheat Pools, and dealt with profiteering carried on in a good many businesses connected with the war. There has undoubtedly been a good deal of suck profiteering, but the present Government has been on the. track of the profiteers. Unfortunately, they did not get on to it soon enough. When the Acting Leader of the Opposition held office as Treasurer he might fairly have set to work in that direction. He failed to do so, but the present Government, on coming into office, took up the matter, with the result that during the financial year just closed much of the profits of the gigantic profiteers have gone into the Treasury, to the extent of 15s. in the £1. I think that the honorable member might have been generous enough to make that admission. However, there is a more interesting phase to’ which I desire to refer, namely, the immense war expenditure in Australia, particularly in the two. biggest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, and the profits made in connexion with war ?ervices by the mills and factories of this country. Let me recommend honorable members on both sides to study the investigations of the Inter-State Commission, which have been extensively undertaken, partly as a matter of inquiry into the cost of living, and partly, and, perhaps, more extensively, with a view to ascertaining what really is operating so far as manufacturers are concerned, in view of the approaching Tariff revision. If honorable members have regard to the work of the Inter-State Commission in all the States of the Commonwealth, and the ransacking of various trade operations, they do not discover the frightful profiteering we hear about in this House from time to time, and particularly on the public platform, where it is used, possibly, more for political purposes than with the idea of relieving the people who are struggling under high prices.
I desire to specially refer to the investigation by the Inter-State Commission as to mills and factories, that have been turning out enormous quantities of clothing and other necessaries for the Defence Department during the prosecution of the war. What does that investigation show ? It simply shows that during the war enormous profits have been made.
– Hear, hear!
– I am glad that the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) gives me his indorsement, because I wish to tell him that his pet enterprise created a flat rate.
– That is absolutely incorrect.
– It is absolutely correct. Does the honorable member know to what I am referring ?
– You are referring to the manufacture of woollen goods for the Army and Navy.
– I am; and who set the price?
– The Defence Department.
– And for the Defence Department’s Commonwealthcreated factories-
– The association of woollen manufacturers set the price.
– I know the woollen manufacturers, and do a good deal of business with them.
– That is why you speak for them.
– I do know that at times, right’ through the season, I could not get supplies from them because they were practically commandeered for Defence purposes. They were undertaking work, not for which they had tendered, but for which there was a flat rate, and which they .were not requested, but commandeered to do. It will be seen, therefore, that these enormous profits were earned on a flat rate created by the Defence Department to harmonize with the necessities of the Commonwealth-created factories.
– Administered by the Nationalist Government.
– Administered by the Nationalist and Labour Governments - by two or three Governments. Does the honorable member think that the public are such blind-eyed idiots as not to know what is going on?
– Why not change the administration ?
– There’ is much administration for which the other side is responsible, and which ought to be changed ; but great assets thathave cost hundreds of thousands of pounds cannot be set aside with a wave of the hand. I desire the people of Australia to know that this flat rate has been created by institutions that were inaugurated by the Commonwealth Parliament and Government.
– Some manufacturers have turned their capital over two and three times in the year.
– Andthe fact remains that they possibly earned the capita] cost of their institutions in about three years. That is really good business for the owners, but I remember that the Government this year, at all events, are collecting 15s. in the £1 out of the profits, except from Commonwealth factories. I simply mention this to show the people of the country that in the face of all the humbug about profiteering by the ordinary trading community, we have one of the most flagrant examples in Government Departments which fixed the flat rate. Why all this humbug and hypocrisy about outside traders? If this flat rate is not set aside in normal times, the poor, unfortunate taxpayer will kick up a row, and it is about time he did. Let our Woollen and Harness Factories, and our public works, all face the testof open competition, for that is the way to reduce exorbitant profits.
Reference has been made to what are described as the iniquities of the Wheat Pool. It is said that because we had an abundance of wheat, we ought to have given the people in this country a cheaper loaf. To begin with the people of this country, during the last five years, have been getting the cheapest loaf in the world by a long way. If the price of wheat for home consumption had been reduced another shilling per bushel, the difference in the cost of living during those five years would have been infinitesimal; and we have no right to say that one section of the primary producers is to be called upon to find a cheap loaf for the people of Australia. That section of the community has hardly any protection, although those comprising it have to go right out into the wilds and subdue the forests, and be responsible for the creation of the greater part of the wealth of the country. Is there any reason, sense, or justice in asking those people to provide a cheap loaf? The principle was recognised somewhat when wheat for home consumption was fixed at, 4s. 9d. per bushel, though recently, since the value has gone up considerably, it has been raised to 5s. But if we desire to interfere with the course of trade, and give people a cheap loaf, why not do as the Imperial Government did, when, through the food controllers, they set aside £50,000,000 to give the people of the United Kingdom a cheap loaf.
Mr.Fenton. - And the same was done in the case of sugar.
– That is so. I do not think that honorable members opposite, and amongst them the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), who is one of the fairest and best, would go into an agricultural community and tell the wheat-growers that they can afford, through the Pool, to give the consumers of this country a cheaper loaf.
The honorable member to whom I have just referred also said that the creation of the Wool Pool was on wrong lines, and that it was iniquitous - or words to that effect - that all the men responsible for its management were interested in the business. As a matter of fact, that was one of the happiest things that was ever done; we obtained the services, not only of men interested in the business, but men of the highest experience and qualifications in that business, and we thereby reached a point of efficiency that was simply magnificent. This Pool was a great enterprise, affecting the biggest interest in primary production in Australia, and the services of these expert men, particularly during the most strenuous part of the war, when, financially speaking, our resources were approaching breaking point, resulted in untold millions coming into Australia. Thus the financial situation was saved in one of our darkest moments.
– Not untold millions!
– Of course, I am speaking relatively.
– There was £50,000,000 in one deal.
– While one side says that the Pool got too much, there are others who say that it did not get enough. It is quite true that in Americaand in other parts of the world, subsequent to the signing of the armistice, the price of wool soared up to previously unknown limits.
– What about it?
– It was infinitely ‘better, for the wool-growers of Australia to have a reliable flat rate of ls. 3Jd. per lb. than to rely on the chance that when the price did soar up they would have a look in. The price of ls. 3 1/2d. was arranged on the advice of the most expert men we have in the community.
– The price is ls. 3£d. plus 50 per cent, of any profit made by Great Britain.
– It only shows how wisely these . experts have managed things. It was a good deal to make with the Imperial Government that, no matter how prices soared, the wool-growers of Australia would receive 50 per cent, of the profits on whatever re-sales were effected. This wise step was taken because we had good men advising the Government, and because we did not choose to send a watch to a blacksmith’s to be repaired.
The Australian farmer, like the woolgrower, although the disposal of his product has been so well managed, and although he has been saved from what would have been black ruin if the Pool and the connexion with the Imperial authorities had not existed, is getting less for his produce than the farmers of any other country have received.
– How much would he have got if it had not been for the Pool 1
– He would have got nothing. He would ‘have been in the Insolvency Court; in fact, we would not have had enough money to keep the Insolvency Court open to deal with him. Let us face the matter squarely, for many misrepresentations have been made for political ends, and should be nailed down every time they are made. It is the Government’s business to nail them down. There is a good reason why the Australian farmer got less during the war than the farmers in other parts of the - world. He could not have been paid more than he received. Over and over again quotations as to the value of wheat on the other side of the world have been mentioned. It has been pointed out in the House that the Imperial Government have paid the .Argentine Republic, Canada, and the United States of America often nearly double what the Australian farmer has received ; but they could not help paying these prices. They had already bought our wheat here, but submarines were operating everywhere, and every available ton of shipping that could be commandeered was taken over - not to operate out here, but to operate closer to Great Britain. They were all wanted there. The Imperial authorities had to pay mighty big prices for the wheat they obtained in the Argentine, Canada, and the United States ; but if the prices had been double they would have been obliged to pay them, because the wheat available in those countries could be got at, whereas our wheat could not be got at so easily. But Great Britain bought our- wheat - millions of tons of it- and all this time has been paying interest on the amount of money spent in the purchase. It is said that if the operations of the Australian Wheat. Pool had been on business lines the Australian farmers would have had a share of the big prices obtaining elsewhere. It was impossible. During the last two or three years I have had more work in correcting these falsehoods in South Aus=tralia than I would- care to have in the future. It is said that our people have not been generously treated by the Federal Government. As a wheat-grower, I consider that the treatment the producer has received in regard to the price of his wheat has been all that it possibly could have been .in the circumstances. The Imperial Government bought 3,000,000 tons of our wheat, and not only paid interest on the amount of the purchase money, but also incurred a. very large expenditure in preserving the wheat. Costly, but highly successful, mechanical appliances have been installed for treating it, and the results are simply wonderful. A much better sample is secured which is capable of standing a much longer life.
– That has to be proved.
– Possibly the honorable member knows more than I do about the matter, but men who are out here representing the Imperial Government ought to know all about it, seeing that they have been connected with the business all their lives, as their people have been before them. It is in their blood. These are the men I look to for efficiency. I am satisfied that when the last 600,000 bags of the 3,000,000 tons purchase reaches England, it will have cost- the Imperial authorities nearly £2,000,000 in interest, in charges for preserving the wheat, and in the cost of re-treatment.
– The drop in freights means a net profit of £4,500,000 to the Imperial authorities.
– If the honorable member knew what the freights were he would be staggered.
– If he knows what the freights are he is the only honorable member who does.
– From information I received the other day I find that instead of freights dropping they keep flying up. The managers of the Wheat Pool have arranged for the shipping of Australian wheat at freights greatly below the ordinary parity. I would like our farmers to know this.
– Hear, hear! Freights from Australia were 110s. per ton when they were 150s. per ton for the Argentine.
– It is said that New Zealand is offering her producers a guarantee of 6s. per bushel, which is considerably more than we are offering our farmers, and that the United States Government are offering 9s. 2d. per bushel, but these things need to be put in their proper relation. It was a staggering revelation to me to realize that the New Zealand Government were offering a guarantee of6s. per bushel, but when I looked into the position I understood what it meant. It was not an offer to the producers to induce them to grow wheat for the purpose of export; the Government had to give every inducement to the producers of New Zealand to grow enough wheat to feed the people of the Dominion. In fact, New Zealand has had to come to Australia for wheat. It is not a wheat exporting country. The price of 9s. 2d. came about in the United States of America because President Wilson thought that the war was going to last a considerable time, and he made an - appeal to the farmers of America, as a patriotic duty, to grow more wheat, and he guaranteed them 9s. 2d. per bushel for the two seasons following America’s entry into the war. The people of the United States of America, of all people in the world, can accommodate themselves to changed conditions. When wheat is soaring up in price they have the ploughs out immediately. When - the price of wheat is down to bedrock, a big proportion of the farmers get out of the business. When they realized that they would be given a big bonus for their wheat they got to work, and there was never such a record of wheat production as there was in the United States of America in the first season. That record might be exceeded this year, when the price of 9s. 2d. will still hold good. But it has to be paid by the people of the United States of America. Financial authorities say that it will cost the United States Treasury millions of pounds sterling.
– While the United States is satisfying its farmers, our people are endeavouring to cut down the farmers here.
– The Treasury of the United States has to make up those millions. We could not do so here. It would have been very nice if our wheat farmers could have got double the price they received for their wheat, but when they are properly informed as to the true position I find they are mighty grateful. The Central Wheat Pool has been conducted very efficiently, and it ought to have been, because here again we have had experts, men of lifelong experience, and the best available at that. One mistake was made at the inception, and rectified later. There ought to have been from the inception in each wheat-growing State in Australia a farmer on the Pool.
– That would have made a lot of difference.
– It would have made this difference, that while the farmer on the Pool would, not have known much about these movements of vast magnitude, he would have been there to see what was going on, to hear what the other man had to say, and to act as the medium of information in each State to the farming community. That has been rectified at last. When the latest addition to thepersonnel of the Wheat Pool- was brought about by popular election in each State of a farmer representing the wheat-growing interests, they had an interesting meeting in Melbourne. If Mr. Clement Giles, of South Australia, is to be regarded as a correct authority, everything was disclosed to them, they had a thorough investigation, and he assured the farmers that the Australian Wheat Pool was doing everything humanly possible in the way of watching the interests of the farmers. Let it be always remembered, however, that the Australian Wheat Pool has nothing to do with the care of the wheat; that is a State affair.
On Tuesday, at Ballarat, at the annual conference arranged by the Council of Agriculture, a unanimous and enthusiastic vote of commendation was. passed for the Wool Pool, which had been of inestimable benefit to the wool-growers of Australia from the smallest to the largest. On the following day - yesterday - they passed a similar resolution regarding the Wheat Pool, and expressed a determination that under certain conditions the Wheat Pool should become a permanent institution, on lines somewhat similar to those now followed.
– Considerably different.
– Somewhat similar in this respect - that it was to be kept permanently . away from the old trade channels. I put it that way because the conditions were more suggested, than determined. I have been watching this subject with great interest for a considerable time. If it is to be on lines at all similar to those suggested by a man who used to be in Western Australia, I say God help the farming community!” I have an open mind in this matter. I do not believe all the tomfoolery talked about the old traders - about “ honorable understandings “ and “ robbing the farmer,” and all that kind of thing - because it was not true. It was not so in South Australia. The origin of those statements in’ South Australia was a little select committee of political men. The statements were made for political pur-: poses. They put their own mysterious construction on the operations of the wheat trade through the old channels. They alarmed the farming community. There . was more politics in it than truth by a mighty long way. There is always a lot of amateurs ready to tell the farmers how they ought to operate, and it was so in that case. The farmers were beguiled for a time, and then they despised the men who tried to mislead them.
– Will the honorable member explain the difference between politics and truth?
– I should not like to tell the honorable member just now, because I am inclined to beamiable, and do not want to open any sores.
– What does the honorable member mean by saying that the farmers passed a resolution at the Ballarat Conference yesterday in favour of getting away permanently from the old channels for disposing of their wheat?
– To get away from the old firms. That was the effect of it.
– Then they must have been dissatisfied?
– They did not say they were dissatisfied with the old channels, but they said they were abundantly satisfied with the present channels.
Mr.Tudor. - They ‘are more satisfied with the newpeople than they were with the old.
– A lot of people are. That is a failing of human nature. I like to stick to the old ones, when the old ones are right. Let me give one illustration of a rich wheat merchant. I refer to the late Mr. J ohn Darling, of South Australia, who died leaving nearly £1,750,000. That is a nice lot of money to make ; but remember that he was one man in a million, and remember, again, that, so far as concerned the contribution of the wheat business to his wealth, there never was a big sum amassed from a smaller margin of profit. It was the mail’s enormous turnover. He used to have a good year sometimes when he sold his wheat practically for the price he paid the farmer for it. He used to make enormous sums in the aggregate out of his charters. He had a chartering system andmachinery in London that was nearly as perfect as the German secret service. There was no bottom on the seas of which he did not know the whereabouts. It was the genius of theman, and his big turnover, and the way he used to ship his own wheat, and wheat that other people would collect-
– ‘Did he not make something out of the Broken Hill mines?
– A good deal ; but he made a lot out of wheat, out of the smallest margin of profit from which any man ever ‘amassed a fortune. While he was perfectly acquainted with the chartering . side of his trade, he was equally keen and competent on the grain side.
– I wish we had a few moremen like him.
– We owe a good deal to him for keeping the price pretty high, instead of allowing us in South Australia to be robbed.
We have in South Australia the truly co-operative principle. There is a Farmers Union of morethan thirty . years standing. It entered- the wheat trade, and works now in concert with John Darling and Company, and ‘all the other big wheat buyers, pretty ‘well from A to Z. There cannot be such awful robbery of the farmers ‘by those firms in our . State, if the farmers’ own institution, which has been going ahead recently by leaps and bounds, is prepared to work with them. A.n enormous proportion of the farmers of South Australia are members of the union, and if ‘their own institution is robbing them, they must be a mighty lot of fools to keep it going, and to double and treble its membership.
In the absence of any well-conceived scheme, I believe in going back to the old channels, because the conditions will be totally different when we have to deal with a, competing world, and the wheat business is about the most risky of any so far as price is concerned. There is the least stability about it. We have to face the world’s markets, with one time a glut and another time a scarcity. Very often in a country like Australia, particularly in those portions affected by drought, it seems to happen most uncannily that there is a very high market for wheat when we have had a seed time, but not a harvest. We have all these things to face, and men who have had the longest experience in the wheat trade must admit that it is absolutely indispensable that wheat should be handled by men with the highest expert knowledge. This is the trade of all trades in which we ought to get men to operate who have not only spent a lifetime in it, but have been bred for generations in it, and know it a good deal better than they know their Bible.
I wish to refer to the new Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) on this very question of the disposal of our produce. I saw in the press a fortnight or three weeks ago that he had had a conference of butter-makers in Melbourne. I am not sure if it was an Inter-State conference or a Victorian conference.
– It was an Inter-State conference.
– It was a most interesting gathering, particularly so far as concerned the Minister’s statement, and his suggestions for the future conduct of the industry. We cannot do better in connexion with our primary production than to encourage the development of a spirit of co-operation in every direction. The Minister, in a very interesting fashion, suggested the extension of the Australian butter industry on cooperative lines, and carried the co-operative principle to a complete issue right from the dairy here to the consumer on the other side of the world. I have not known any suggestion so interesting as that made by the Minister; and the beauty of it is tba.t, while the connexion of the Government did not involve any interference with the conduct of the business in its practical- details, they were to extend the splendid principle of co-operation as practised in the dairying States to the extent of creating one distinct Australian brand, a standard, which would be a guarantee of character to the consumers of the Old World. Further, they were to extend the principle of co-operation from the shipping here to the receiving in the Old World, and the retailing to the consumer, so that there should be no mistake as to Australia’s article, which has developed into something equal to the very best, equal even to that Danish product which has been leading the world. In fact our butter is often sold as Danish, and we do not get the benefit of the transaction. According to the experience gained by the Minister for Trade and Customs during the war, this bit of co-operation will cover everything in the industry right up to the final .act of putting the product in the hands of the consumers, and will represent a very considerable saving to them. If my impressions are correct, and if the scheme crystallizes into a co-operative effort as complete as I have indicated, it will constitute the greatest advance in the way of co-operation and production of which I have any knowledge. If it should prove a success, and those interested in the wheat trade can suggest a scheme equally good, I will support it with all my heart.
– The wheat people are asking for exactly the same thing.
– Who is making the demand - the Council of Agriculture?
– The Farmers Unions.
– I presume that the honorable member is referring to Victoria. Certainly the Farmers Unions in South Australia have not taken the matter up. I believe in co-operation in many things, and I believe in it right to the point of the daily service to the consumer.
– That would wipe out some of the oldest firms engaged in every primary industry in Australia. There would not be any harm in that, but that is what the proposal would mean.
– I would now like to deal with the question of economy. I have stressed the need for the exercise of economy all through the war and before the outbreak of the war. We require economy in administration, economy in the matter of efficiency, and economy in the elimination of waste. W’e need to realize our situation financially in relation to the taxpayers of this country. We have pretty well cleaned up the resources of Australia for loan purposes, and we have done it so thoroughly that any further withdrawals of capital from developmental activities would, in my opinion, bo a very unwise policy to adopt. Of course, it is all right when the money is here, and the day will assuredly come - as has been demonstrated during the war - when Australia will be able to push her own barrow, or, in other words, to raise .all the loan moneys she may require. But that time is not yet. Just now, with all the financial strain upon her, and with the certainty that further enormous demands will be made for the purposes of repatriation and for the strengthening of new industries which have been created during the war, we need all the money that we have, because practically every penny of it represents working capital.
Just here I desire, as a public duty, to express my opinion of the work which has been done in England by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), because there have been so many attempts made to detract from the services which he has rendered. I believe that when we come to hear from him first hand all the results of his work there, Australia will be delighted. But no unbiassed man, even in the light of what he has read in the public prints, will deny that the Prime Minister possesses a unique personality for that particular work, and’ that he thoroughly held his own in the company of the very biggest statesmen of the day. I trust that he will come home with something in his pocket in the way of a promise by the Imperial Government of considerable loan assistance, and also of help in regard to the disposal of our existing stocks of wheat. . Apart from the purchase of 3,000,000 tons by. the
Imperial authorities, we still have in Australia unsold 2,000,000 tons, with a liability upon it, chiefly to the banks, of about £18,500,000. In view of our contribution to the war, it is only fair to expect that the Old Country will give to Australia favorable consideration in the matter of relieving her of the enormous stocks of wheat which have necessarily accumulated owing to the shortage of shipping. I hope that the Mother Country will see her way clear to grant that consideration to us in preference to going for her supplies to the Argentine, America, and even to Canada.
-There is £6,000,000 worth of Britain’s own wheat here now.
– There is 600,000 tons. It would be a great relief to the people of this country if the Old Country purchased more of our wheat.
The war is over, and, thank God, it has been brought to a successful conclusion. But if the united energies of our people were required to prosecute it to a triumphant issue, they are even more needed now to enable us to face the gigantic task which lies ahead of us. We ought to look after the interests of our splendid boys. Repatriation will involve the expenditure of enormous sums of money. If our repatriation scheme is not the best which has been promulgated in any part of the world, it is pretty nearly so. Certainly it is the most generous that has been devised, and it has the added virtue of being the first that was conceived. There ought to be the utmost sympathy extended by honorable members to the Minister controlling this Department. Senator Millen is faced with a task that bristles with difficulties at every turn, and he has no precedents to guide him. He has his heart in the job, and he is doing enough work for any two men, if not more. Consequently, he ought to command the sympathy of honorable members upon both, sides of the House, and this great question ought not to be degraded into a political question. I know that there has arisen a shameless and corrupt practice of trading upon returned soldiers for personal gain, and that is a damnable thing . There is no decent man who would not hold in contempt anybody who endeavours to trade upon our returned soldiers. Yet this trading is being done chiefly by men who would have left our boys to perish unaided on the battle-fields of Europe. For God’s sake, do not let us dishonour these- noble men who have been the saviours of this country. Does anybody think that the people of. the community do not recognise what is being done, and do not hold the guilty individuals in the contempt they deserve ? For God’s sake, let us put this sort of thing aside. There is nothing too good for our returned soldiers.
– What about starting to do it ?
– I have never ceased doing it, and the honorable member will never find me degrading myself by trying to score politically off these men, to whom the country owes more than it does to the best of us.
– What a hypocrite the honorable member is.
– I must ask the honorable member to withdraw that expression.
– I withdraw.
– I regard the honorable member’s interjection with the contempt that it merits. I hope that the Minister will have associated with him in the administration of his Depart: ment men of earnest sympathy with the soldiers, and with the work which they are called upon to perform. If he has not, he ought to clear out those who lack those qualities. Above everything, let us, as members of Parliament, do all that we are called upon to do individually, not as party men, but as Australians wholove the men who went to fight for us. I know that very often mistakes are innocently made by officers of the Department - mistakes which create infinite trouble for the Minister and the repatriation . scheme. In such a work, therefore, we ought to be ready to help. him. One development has taken place recently with which I am delighted. I refer to the fact that the Minister has extended the powers of the local committees in every part of the Commonwealth. There is nobody in the country who is not prepared to help the honorable gentleman in any way that it is possible to do so. In every country district we have men of excellent judgment and wide experience, who are particularly qualified to assist him in the matter of land settlement.
– They ought to be given more power.
– I think so, too. But in a work of such magnitude, and involving such enormous expenditure, the Minister requires to be exceedingly careful. I have sufficient confidence in him to believe that when he gets a valuable opinion he will be guided by it. Not only has he made the scheme very much more perfect by his recent action, but he has certainly made his own position much easier. He has removed from himself a load of responsibility that he ought never to have carried. I know of the cases of two men who were looking for farms. In one instance the valuator valued a property upon which a returned soldier was placed at £1,600. It was bought at that figure, when local opinion emphatically declared that it was not worth £1,000. On the other hand, a farm was valued by the official valuer at £7 5s. per acre, whilst a farm twice the size in the same neighbourhood was sold a few days before at £15 per acre. If the Local Committees were, in the first instance, asked to submit valuations, and those were checked by the official valuer, some effective work would be done.
I wish now to say a word or two about the Northern Territory. That unfortunate place is as unfortunate to-day as it ever was. It was always a difficult problem, but it is ten times worse now. It was always a problem to find out the right thing to do in dealing with it, but we have been doing the wrong thing from the start nearly up till to-day, and now the problem is to undo what we have been doing.
– South Australia gave us that problem.
– We hear many cheap gibes at the expense of South Australia. A statement was made only the other day that South Australia is ruined, but no statement ever made was further from the truth. There are Scotch people in South Australia, and although she ‘held the Northern Territory for many years, it never cost her a penny piece, because the expenditure was kept as a separate account from the beginning to the end. South Australia held the Northern Territory as a trustee for Australia to keep Australia white. There were some South Australians who were Scotch enough to wish to sell the Northern Territory. South Australia could have sold it, and for a mighty big price, but it was not sold, or Australia would not be white to-day. If I had control of the Northern Territory I would shut it up for six months until the wild extremists and anarchists, who want to run the country there, came down south’ for a change.-
– God forbid !
– Here they would represent a mere handful, but while they remain in the Northern Territory God help the man who tries to run that country.
– The honorable member should ask Vestey Brothers about that.
– Vestey Brothers would not object. They would not leave, the Territory. It would pay them handsomely, having killed the cattle ready for killing, to shut up their establishment for six months and go on growing cattle. It would be the cheapest, quickest, and most effective way of hand-‘ ling the Territory. After the six months had expired we could get to work there on sound lines. It may be said for South Australia that she did not spend much in the Northern Territory, but the Commonwealth Government have been spending and wasting money there. They are continuing the wasteful expenditure of money, and there is no efficiency and no discipline, and nothing but confusion and chaos in the Northern Territory.
– Yet the honorable member voted for a motion of confidence in the Government
– I do not mind telling my honorable friend that I was not here when the vote was taken. Though I might vote for a motion of censure upon the Government. I might say something in their praise before I passed any condemnation on them at all.
– Let the honorable member give us his suggestion for the management .of the Northern Territory.
– My suggestion is that there are two lines on which it may be developed. One, and the principal line, is pastoral development, and the other is mineral development. I believe that the Territory can be developed in no other way. We have been fooling about in the Territory talking about agriculture there, but the men who were responsible for that were stark mad. A man might pay 10s. per bushel for wheat here and transport it to the Northern Territory, and it would then be cheaper than if it were produced there. It is nonsense to talk of even tropical agriculture there with the cost of labour in the Northern Territory. To begin with, climatically it is not a country for agriculture.
– It takes more to get produce out of the Territory, when it is grown there, than it is worth.
– That is so. It is impossible to successfully carry on even pastoral development in the Territory without an outlet for the stock produced there.
– What about the railway ?
– It is indispensable to the pastoral, and particularly to the mineral, development of the Northern Territory. If the money that has been wickedly wasted in a senseless a.nd disgraceful way in the Northern Territory had been conserved for the construction of the railway something might have been done.
– Does the honorable member suggest curtailment of expenditure there with a view to building the railway with what might 1m saved ?
– I suggest the elimination of wasteful expenditure all the time. Fifteen shillings out of every pound spent in the Northern Territory so far might just as well have been thrown into the sea. We are keeping an army of men in the Territory sufficient to administer the affairs of a population fifty times as great as that of the Northern Territory.
– Would the railway help to prevent that waste.
– The railway would enable the squatter to develop the Territory, and we might put an end to the present spoon-feeding of people there by the Government. Give people land in the Northern Territory on a reasonable tenure, and a railway to enable them to get their stock to market, and the Territory can be developed on pas- .toral lines. Honorable members will remember the great howl that was raised at the last Federal elections about a few Maltese who came to Australia. If there were ten times the number of those people in the Territory we might begin to talk of agriculture there. In Queensland many of them were- employed on the railways, and they saved practically all the money they earned to enable them to get a start on the land. To-day they are good settlers in that State, and occupation by people of that type is the only possible chance of agriculture developing in the Northern Territory.
– The honorable member suggests the introduction of Maltese.
– Most decidedly I do. I -have the courage to say so. A number of people may hold the same belief, but they have not the courage to admit it.
– It is all right, if we know what the honorable member would do.
– My honorable friend might have known that long ago. 1 lost my seat, fifteen years ago in South Australia, because I told the people the truth about the Northern Territory. Every word I then- said has come true today, plus the enormous wilful and wicked waste that has been going on during the nine years in which the Commonwealth Government have controlled the Territory. While urging the elimination of wasteful expenditure, I have not pressed the fulfilment of the agreement with South Australia for the construction of the North-South railway.
– What about the construction of the Federal Capital?
– I would refer the Federal Capital question to my friend the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), who believes in making two blades of grass grow where only one grew before. The building of the Federal Capital is about the most unprofitable business in which we could now be engaged. Its construction can wait, and that is my reply to the honorable member’s question.
I want to refer to the construction of the North-South railway. .1 shall not say at this juncture that it should be undertaken immediately, but I do emphasize the fact that the agreement made between the Federal Government and the Government of South Australia for the construction of that line must stand.
– We should have some assurance on the subject.
– We have the assurance of the law.
– Is not the honorable member aware that our own Minister for Home Affairs suggested taking the railway into Queensland?
– The honorable gentleman could not have been correctly reported. I was a member of the South Australian Government almost up to the time at which the agreement to which I refer was made. I know that the South Australian Government will not budge on that agreement, and, if they did, I know that the people of South. Australia will not do so. The Federal Government are now fooling about with surveys in different directions. The information they may obtain from their investigations could all be supplied to them from data which has been in the possession of the Survey Office in Adelaide, in some oases, for the last thirty years. All the suggestions that are now being put forward by the Federal authorities were dealt with by the South Australian Government twenty or thirty years ago. In the nain© of common sense, why does not the Federal Minister for Works and Railways consult the South Australian Government on the subject? ‘ Even assuming a possible outcome of the investigations, I can assure honorable members that the people of South Australia are determined that the NorthSouth line, at all events up to the Macdonnell Ranges, shall be constructed in accordance with the agreement.
– These are but words. ‘ How is the honorable member going to force the Federal Government to do what he says must be done? ,
– I will allow the honorable member to do the forcing, and to do it at once.
– We have not the numbers, but honorable members on the other side have.
– The honorable member only talks about it ; he will not act.
– I am talking about it, and let me say again that I am not going to press even this question before more urgent financial decisions.
– Then why waste time talking about it?
– It is time that a pronouncement was made upon the question, and I make it now.
– The honorable member is aware that the people of South Australia are getting annoyed, over the matter.
– I know that there is likely to be trouble about it.
There is one question in particular to which I wish ‘to allude, and that is the question of finance, and especially that phase of it which was developed by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) at the last Premiers’ Conference in Melbourne, and which has been referred to in other places since the holding of that Conference. I refer to the, alteration of the per capita grant on the one hand, and to the practical commandeering of the State Savings Banks on the other. Both those propositions will have my uncompromising opposition. One cannot read anything more interesting than the remarks of Mr. Watt as Treasurer of Victoria and the statements of Mr. Watt as Treasurer of the Commonwealth. With regard to the per capita grant reduction, the Commonwealth Treasurer pleads heavy financial problems and obligations. The honorable gentleman says those problems are Federal, and not State, and, therefore, that the State should surrender portion of the per capita grant. He must remember, however, that while the problems may be Federal, it is the State taxpayers who have to meet them, while carrying, at the same time, various Stateimposed burdens. It is highly interesting to read the debates of the Federal Convention, and to study the views of bigger men than we have among us to-day. One becomes strongly impressed that every phase and possibility was threshed out. The States were not- only richly provided for temporarily with regard to their proportion of Customs revenue, but they had - as they expected to have - an assurance of practically every other source of revenue. I remember when the income tax question was discussed in the Convention. That was regarded as a form of taxation which should become available to the Federal Treasurer only in time of great emergency, such as during the war which has now been concluded. Except in such urgent circumstances, the field was to remain clear for State interests. To-day, however, we see the whole area of taxation practically appropriated by the Federal authority. The States have been left as bare as they possibly could be. Mr. Riley. - Perhaps Unification will cure that.
– Or, to use a phrase of the Federal Treasurer, “strangulation, leading to Unification.” I am against both, and for good reasons. The great developmental problems of production still rest with the States, and are not .a Federal concern. In the past ten years those questions have enormously increased in# importance, ‘and yet we are only upon the fringe of development. If the States are robbed, we cannot hope to have a strong and healthy Commonwealth. The latter must depend, for its life-blood upon the vigorous health and prosperity of the six States. If we keep them strong, with necessary resources, that will prove the best way in which to foster and promote the strength of the Commonwealth. But let the Commonwealth stop grasping, and robbing the States.
– Order ! The honorable gentlemen has reached his time limit.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. No doubt unintentionally, I have been misrepresented in the columns of the Melbourne Argus this morning. In reporting yesterday’s debate, that newspaper published the following : -
A Ministerialist. - The pastoralists would never do it. (Renewed cheers.)
– A mutual admiration society. ‘
I did not make that interjection. I would never think of referring to the Pastoralists’ Union in such a manner. The interjection, I understand, was made by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony), and referred to the Ministerial party.
– That is right. I am not afraid.
– In commenting upon the Ministerial statement, I wish to refer first to the fact that the price-fixing regulations have been relaxed. The Minister concerned, when approached by the press, stated that he bad reduced the price-fixing restrictions, and that the people should be satisfied that the Government had done their utmost to keep the prices of foodstuffs within bounds; and, that had they been living in Great Britain, France, or other countries, they would have had to pay much higher for their commodities. With regard to a country like Great Britain, where the whole machinery of production was engaged in the output of war material, and where all the foodstuffs had to be imported from countries overseas, including North and South America and Australia, it must be obvious to any thinking person that the cost of commodities landed in. Great Britain would be inevitably higher than the price of those same commodities in the land of their production. Yet the Government appear to have taken, as a basis for their actions here the prices ruling on the other side of the world. Why should we have to pay 2s. 6d. per lb. for butter when there were no overhead charges, such as freight and the like, to be added to the cost, as in Great Britain? It is beyond my comprehension.
– In the first place, we are not paying 2s. 6d. per lb. in Australia; and, secondly, the price is very much more in England.
– It is 2s. per lb. here, and that is an outrageous price. Mention has been made of the high prices ruling for wool in the Old Country, and that those prices have had no influence on the price of the material in Australia. The honorable member for Grampians uttered these remarks.
– I said nothing like that - nothing approaching such a statement.
– The fact remains that the manufacturer in Australia must pay the same price for wool here as the Imperial Government have paid. He cannot secure it for ohe penny less. I have been told by small manufacturers that it would pay them to send representatives to the London market to buy their wool requirements there and ship the purchases back to Australia.
– You have been grossly misinformed.
– The statement is not correct in any shape or form. They get all the wool at the appraised price.
– The Minister knows that’ the woollen manufacturers cannot get all the wool they want, or all the leather they need; nor can they get as much as they require of any of the raw commodities produced here.
– They get the first call on the whole of the wool.
– Owing to the operations of the Government, in the establishment of some thirty-eight Boards, which control the whole of the primary industries of the country and the secondary industries as well, organizations have been established for the sale of Australian products on the other side of the world. In that manner the Combines have cornered all the raw products of the country - not only the products of to-day, but those to be produced during the next two or three years. All these Boards are under the control of the Prime Minister. But one individual cannot supervise the operations of all the Boards. Of course, the latter are doing the best they can in the interests - so they tell us - of the community. Actually, their activities are in the interests of themselves and of those with whom they are associated. An honorable member has remarked that it is very good business that high prices should obtain for the products of this country. It is so; but that is no reason why the people should have to- pay inflated prices simply because still better prices can be obtained for Australian products at the other side of the world.
– Would you reverse the process, and say that when the price out side is not a payable one the Australian public should pay a higher price?
– The Minister is -considerably interested in butter, because he is one of the principal farmers on the northern rivers, and has a big interest in seeing that organization is developed in order to secure a fair price, and to make certain that the commodity which he is producing has a ready sale. The same facts’ apply to the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) regarding , the product in which he is chiefly interested. I remember when butter was 90s., 95s., and 105s. per cwt. in the Old Country.
– I can remember when it was less than that.
– The figures which I have mentioned represented less than ls. per lb. Yet we could not buy butter in Australia for ls. per lb. The reason advanced was that the farmer should be protected, that if .he sold all his butter, say, at 8d. or 7d. per lb.., which would be the most he could obtain if the whole of the butter remained in Australia, he would not be able to exist; therefore, the community in general would have to contribute to insuring him a living. The people were persuaded that by giving the farmer ls. per lb. for his butter - and that is not a high price - and by allowing him to export the surplus and sell it for what it would bring - no matter whether it was 3d., 6d., or 9d. per lb. - that would be a good thing for the farmer. But now, when butter is bringing 4s. or 5s. on the other side of the world, is it not fair that the community should receive some of the benefit arising out of the circumstance?
– The price of butter in Australia has never been in excess of the export parity during the export season.
– Will the Minister deny that butter was selling on the other side for 9d. and lOd. while we were paying ls. in Australia?
– Yes; I know that statement is not correct.
– The Minister would deny anything.
– The honorable member can go back twenty-five years and he will find that it was never a fact.
– Twenty-five years ago the farmers in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, who are now exploiting the people in the matter of butter prices, were very glad to take whatever Foley Brothers, or some other commission agents, were prepared to give them for their butter, down to as low as 4d. and 5d. per lb; but to-day, unfortunately, many people in Australia cannot get butter, and have to eat margarine. This, too, in a country which produces more butter per capita than’ any other place in the world. I do not blame the farmers. If they can find a Govern:ment pliable enough <bo allow them to do these things, good luck to them. But it is up to those who are administering the distributive supplies of this country to see that this condition of affairs does not continue. The same may be said of our meat supply. No doubt many honorable members remember when Australian mutton was selling in London at l£d. and 2d. per lb., while the price in Australia was 3d. and 4d. per lb. I am not quite sure of the position at the present time. I believe meat now brings big prices in the Old Country, but I do know that we are sending it under export contracts to Great Britain at 4d. per lb. If that price pays the producer the Australian consumer should be able to get it at the same price; .but he has to pay 9d., 10d., or ls., or any other price that the retailer likes to charge. This position is absolutely incompatible with good government.
The honorable member for Wakefield (Mir. Foster) said the Defence Department had set the pace in the manufacture of clothing. The administration of the Clothing Factory has been in the hands of the National Government for over two years, and therefore the Government must be solely responsible for any change in prices. Not long ago several honorable members made a tour of inspection of the Factory, and ascertained that it was possible to manufacture overcoats for the soldiers at 27s. 6d., suits for 30s., and splendid flannels for 8s. 6d. I venture to say that if any person entered any private retail establishment to purchase a flannel of similar quality to that manufactured in the Commonwealth Factory, he would be charged from 17s. 6d. to 18s. If the Commonwealth Factory has set the pace, and is able to manufacture at the prices quoted, we can easily understand how private firms, operating on somewhat similar material and charging enormously enhanced prices, have been able to make such huge profits. Most of these increases have occurred since the advent of the National party. Two and a half years ago living in this country was fully 60 per cent, less than at present. One might quote almost any article in every day use in support of this contention. I mention clothing as one example. In 1917 I paid my tailor £5 10s. for a suit of clothes which I regarded as of exceptional quality. Yesterday I went to the same tailor for another suit of the same material, and he told me he could not make it under £12 10s., as the cost of material had risen from 12s. 6d. per yard to 52s. 6d. per yard.
– And yet the Australian wool-grower gets exactly the same price as before.
– Then who is getting the profit?
– That is the point.
– In two and a half years the cost of material has increased by approximately 400 per cent. Something should be done to control prices. The Minister for Trade and Customs apparently is satisfied that prices here must bear some relation to prices in the Old Country. But I maintain that is not the correct method. We appointed Commissions to inquire into the cost of production of various articles, and surely on the information so obtained we ought to be able to fix upon a price that will be satisfactory to the producer, the manufacturer, and the consumer. If the Government were determined to do anything in this direction, they could do it.
I should like now to refer to another matter mentioned by the honorable member for Wakefield. Speaking of repatriation matters, he said that the Australian Labour party were trading on returned soldiers. We may be. Possibly we are ventilating returned soldiers’ grievances, but when we do that I fail to see in what respect we are trading upon returned soldiers.- If honorable members opposite do not want us to trade, as they term it, on the returned soldiers, they should see that the administration of that Depart- ment leaves no room for complaint. Every honorable member receives scores of complaints from returned soldiers. It is quite true that after due inquiry some are not valid, but in the majority of cases they are. It is lamentable to read in the columns of the daily press from day to day longlists of advertisements asking for employment for returned soldiers. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) informs me that the other day he noticed in the Age newspaper between 130 and 140 advertisements from returned soldiers seeking employment as labourers. There is any amount ofwork in Australia.
The honorable’ member for Wakefield says that what we want is increased production. Well, the best way to increase production is to put on more labour , and, as far as the returned soldiers are concerned, I think it would be quite an easy matter to place them. No doubt money will be required to develop this country; but what is wrong with a proposal to start building a railway to the Northern Territory, a work which would absorb the surplus labour in all the capital cities of the Commonwealth? I do not see why we should economize. If we can raise loans of £50,000,000 for the prosecution of a war, and if in four years we can spend over £200,000,000 in- what I regard as sheer economic waste, I do not see why we should not spend another £200,000,000 in the development of the country, “thereby enabling us to provide the interest on our war expenditure. If any business man finds himself in difficulties he does not, as a rule, sit down, and do nothing, but borrows money from his friends in order to embark in another business venture, in. which he expects to recover his losses. The Government of a country should be conducted on the same lines. If necessary, we should spend £100,000,000 on developmental work, such as irrigation of suitable areas, railway lines to open up country and speed up production, so that we may pay off our huge war indebtedness. This would be much better than giving sustenance to returned soldiers and trying to displace men already in employment by introducing . returned soldiers to their jobs. This is about all the Government are doing to-day. If it is possible to push a returned soldier into some one else’s place, they do if. But that is not the way to increase production. On the contrary, it is the way to create a great deal of discontent, which must lead to trouble in the future.
I notice that . reference is made in the Ministerial statement to the industrial unrest that exists at the present time, and that something must be done to combat it. I heard the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) remark last night that the seamen had held up the Commonwealth for about six weeks now, and that the country was practically in their hands. I am. not quite sure that the seamen are controlling this country, but I do know that they have grievances which should be adjusted, and I know also that it is within the power of the Government to adjust them.
– The Arbitration Court is available for them, and you say you believe in it.
– It is not a question of arbitration at all. It is a question of securing certain improvements . in conditions, which, I understand, no Judge in Australia can legally order, as well as fixing responsibility with regard to compensation. It has been said that the seamen . have repudiated the principle of arbitration. I deny that, and say that if there has been any repudiation of that principle, the blame must rest upon the Government and their supporters. When Iwas elected to this Parliament, in June, 1917, all. the leading papers in Australia were publishing articles dealing with the growing industrial discontent and the unpatriotic attitude, as they termed it, of trade unionism, and it was said that it would be all the better for everybody concerned when the tug-of-war came. At about that time, the Australian Workers Union got an award in respect of the pastoral industry, and I remember how all those who were interested in that industry on the employing side denounced the Judge. . It was even rumoured that action was to be taken to secure his removal from the Bench.
– lA question bearing on that aspect of the matter was asked in the House.
– It was freely rumoured, at all events, that it was the intention of the Government to remove His Honour.
– Because he gave an award that did not suit you.
– One swallow does not make a summer.
– Perhaps not, but that was not the only one. Quite recently, the fruit-growers in New South Wales have protested that if His Honour gives the Australian Workers Union the conditions they are asking for, they might as well go out of the business, and. they are organizing the whole of the country for the purpose of repudiating the award if it should be given. Then, again, we have all received circulars from the fruit-growers of Tasmania demanding the abolition of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. That has been the attitude of the employers right through the piece. Yet they now urge that the seamen should go to the Arbitration Court to obtain the conditions for which they ask. I am not going to say whether or not that advice should be followed. Supporters of the Government declare that the seamen, in failing to avail themselves of the Court, are flouting the law. I would draw their attention, however, to what happened some twelve months ago, when the Inter-State Commission inquired into the price of meat, and brought up recommendations upon which the Government said they would take, action to fix prices. That announcement was no sooner made than a deputation of butchers, stock and station agents, and pastoralists from all over Australia assailed Parliament House. The Sydney to Melbourne express ran in four divisions to accommodate these men, who desired to interview the Leader of the Government. Bourke-street, so to speak, was full of pastoralists, stock and station agents, butchers, and others, who practically took ‘possession of Parliament House, and demanded that the Government should appoint another Commission to inquire into the subject. The responsible
Minister promptly said, “Very well; we will have another inquiry.” A second inquiry duly took place, and when it was found that no other conclusion could be arrived at than that the original recommendation should be adhered to, it was decided that the price of meat should be fixed. I do not know what followed in this State, but ‘ the graziers and farmers of Muswellbrook, New South Wales, passed a resolution that if the Government persisted in fixing prices as proposed they would put no more money into the war loans.
– The pastoralists went on strike, and would not send any cattle down to the saleyards.
– That is so. The Sydney Morning Herald of 22nd July last contained the following statement bearing ou that point: -
Fixed prices for meat come into force on 29th July. Waggons for carrying stock to the Homebush sales are ordered in advance. The following figures may be significant as indicating the feeling of those, who send stock to market: - For 25th July, Thursday next, 309 sheep .and 130 cattle waggons have been ordered. For 20th July, the day -when fixed prices become operative, 69 sheep and 30 cattle waggons have been ordered; and for the following Thursday, 19 sheep waggons and 8 cattle waggons.
For a fortnight, then, Ave were to have 88 waggons of sheep sent to the Homebush Saleyards, as compared with over 300 waggons sent down in the previous fortnightly period. The graziers and farmers defied the Federal Government, and went on strike, but nothing was said of their action. I did not hear that any of them were prosecuted, or that any of their stations were taken from them. The Government practically said to these men, “ If you will not obey the law, you can do as you please.” And they have been doing as they please ever since. Now, however, that the seamen are not prepared to avail themselves of the existing artibration tribunal, the Government say to them, “ Go to the Arbitration Court, or we will starve you and the community generally.” In justice to the people, the Government should make a move in the direction of securing for the seamen some of the concessions for which they are asking. After all, they are asking only for what every average worker on shore has to-day. No Court could deal with their demands for compensation to their next of kin in the event of their succumbing to influenza contracted while in the discharge of their duties. The Government, however, could determine the matter by bringing the Navigation Act into operation by proclamation, and amending that section of the Act which covers such questions.
The seamen’s strike has not been sprung upon the people. It has been threatening ever since the last award made by the Court in December last.. The men were dissatisfied with that award, and. told the officials of their union that unless something better were obtained trouble would occur. The officials endeavoured to have the matter rectified. In February last there was a strike in Sydney, as the result of which fifteen or . sixteen vessels were tied up. We endeavoured to obtain men to man the ships, and I said to some of the boys, “ You are asking for a big thing, and you cannot expect to get it in five minutes. Will you be content if I obtain for you an undertaking that what is known as the insurance clause will be inserted in your articles?” They agreed to my proposal, and after the deputation which had waited upon me on the subject retired, I communicated by telephone with, the Comptroller of Shipping, Admiral Clarkson, asking if he would be prepared to insert in ships’ articles a provision that, in the event of any seaman contracting pneumonic influenza in the course of his employment, he should receive wages either until his recovery or his return to his home port, and that in the event of his death, compensation to the extent of £500 should be granted to his next of kin. That was not an unreasonable request, but the Comptroller of Shipping turned it down. I advised the men of his decision. They were dissatisfied with it, and determined to fight this battle to a finish.
Who will say that the request was unreasonable? Most of our shore workers are protected to some extent against injury sustained in the course of their employment. Certain provisions of the Workmen’s Compensation Act cover the case of men who contract pneumonia and other complaints while employed in freezing works and other factories of the kind. The seamen are asking that the same principle shall be extended to them. The people generally do not know that if a seaman who had shipped from Melbourne were taken ill on reaching New South Wales he would be put ashore and sent to a hospital ; that as soon as he was put ashore his wages would cease, and that when he came out of hospital he would have to find his way back to Melbourne as best he could. The position is the same in regard to a seaman who ships here for a voyage to the other side of the world. If. he took ill he would receive his wages as long as he remained on ship-board, but as soon as he was put ashore, because of his illness, his wages would cease. No wages would be forthcoming until he rejoined his ship.
– Did not Admiral Clarkson .agree that the seamen should be paid wages in such circumstances?
– No. He distinctly told me, in February last, that he would not agree to the insertion of a clause in ships’ articles providing for compensation.
– But since then he has made further concessions.
– So far as I am aware he has not. Does the honorable gentleman think that a compensation clause, covering illness that may occur to a man while on board ship, should be inserted in ships’ articles?
– That is a* point that the Court will decide.
– The Court cannot decide it. The honorable gentleman knows very well that the owners of seven different vessels agreed to insert this clause in their articles, and to allow the seamen an additional 35s. per month. These vessels were not under the direction of the Comptroller of Shipping, since they were running to Fiji and New Zealand. One of them, however - the Riverina - was taken off the New Zealand run and placed in the Sydney-Hobart trade. As soon as she went on the Tasmanian run her men were deprived of the additional 35s. per month and the compensation clause. This shows that it is the Government who have refused all along to grant these concessions.
– It is a political fight.
– It undoubtedly was a political fight. The ship-owners were quite prepared to make these concessions’. The Inter-State Central Shipping Board consists of Admiral Sir William Clarkson, Comptroller of Shipping; David Hunter, Deputy Comptroller of Coastal Shipping, C. H. Hughes, Union Steam-ship Company; C. M. Newman, Howard Smith Company Limited; E. Northcote, Adelaide Steam-ship Company; D. York Syme, junr., Melbourne Steam-ship Company, and J. Turnbull, Australian United Steam Navigation Company. I should be inclined to say that there was a conspiracy between the Government and the gentlemen concerned but for the fact that six members of the Shipping Board are representatives of companies that were paying the increased wages and granting the desired conditions. That being so, the only influence operating against the granting of the increase sought must be that of the Government. It is to be presumed that the Shipping Board carries on its deliberations just- as other boards do, and that the decision of the majority is carried into effect. Thus, if six or seven members of a board of nine are willing to concede certain conditions, it appears to me that Admiral Clarkson must have been prevented by the Government from granting them.
Admiral .Clarkson asserts in his statement that seamen run no more risk of contracting pneumonic influenza than does the average individual who works on shore. That is an absurd statement. He might as well say that medical men or nurses attending influenza patients run no more risk of contracting the disease than does the average man ashore. Seamen are confined to a small space on shipboard, and if a case of influenza occurs, it is likely to spread like wildfire.
– If the disease broke out on a troopship, the whole of the men practically would be affected.
– That is so. “If a professional man, in the discharge of his duty, has to leave his head-quarters in Tasmania, which is a clean State, to come to Victoria, which is infected, would he not expect to receive some compensation for the risk he ran? That is all that the seamen are seeking. It is repugnant to the British ‘ sense of fair play that a sailor, who leaves hia wife and children here, and ships for an American port, should have his wages stopped immediately he takes ill and is put ashore. The Government should not hesitate to say that the conditions for which the men ask shall obtain, not only during an epidemic, but in normal times.
– As a matter of fact, we did increase the rates in the case of those who shipped from a clean port to an infected port, so faT as overseas shipping was concerned.
– The honorable gentleman amuses me’. The Government wished to lay. down certain conditions. Their attitude in this regard is “very much, like that which they took up when the seamen asked for a bonus where they served on vessels operating in the war zone. After negotiating with the Government for about eighteen months, we secured their approval to the payment of a bonus to the crews of vessels operating in certain latitudes. A man, however, had to be an accountant in order to determine in these circumstances when the bonus commenced to apply and when it ceased. The Government took fifteen months to make up their minds to grant us this bonus, and it was no sooner approved than the Armistice was declared, with the result that it was not paid for even a month. The Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) now says that the authorities agreed to the payment of increased wages to seamen shipping for a voyage from a clean to an infected port. We do not ask this concession on account of the influenza. If a seaman contracts illness through no fault of his own, he is entitled to wages until he is returned to his own port and cured, and in the event of his death, £500 is not too much to pay to his next-of-kin. The Navigation Act should be proclaimed, and the necessary amendments made to meet the position that has arisen. In this Act, Australia has slavishly followed the old British legislation, under which a man’s wages cease when he becomes ill and is put ashore, or when his ship is wrecked.
– The Navigation Act was passed by a Labour Government.
– If a Labour Government slavishly followed the British Government, it is up to the present Government to find a remedy.
– The Act has been passed six years, and is not yet in force.
– That is so. I admit that it was passedby a Labour Government, and in the three years during which it received the approval of Parliament, the Labour Government put more effective legislation - on the statutebook than had any previous five Liberal Governments. The Labour Government passed not only the Defence Act, but the Commonwealth Bank Act, and dozens of other Acts of benefit to the community. In a comprehensive piece of legislation like this it is certain some things must be overlooked, but we may assume that if it were in operation, and a Labour Government were now in power, there would be no hesitation in amending it, and proclaiming it in order to meet present difficulties. The Navigation Bill came before the Federal Parliament in 1905, and the Labour Government did not come into power until 1910; and it was. between 1910 and 1913 that the measure was passed. If the Labour Government had not come into power the Act would never have been passed at all.
– Why is it that your Government did not proclaim the Act?
– I am informed that the Act was not proclaimed, at the request of the Imperial Government, on the ground that British shipping would be required to carry foodstuffs on the other side of the world, and-
– Did that not apply to the succeeding Governments?
– Yes; but owing to the fact that British vessels would be engaged in . carrying foodstuffs elsewhere, the British Government thought it might be necessary to induce vessels of neutral countries to carry on the Australian trade here, and it wasfeared that relations with neutral countries might be strained if their vessels were compelled to pay Australian wages. It was on this ground that the Imperial Government requested that the operation of the Act should be postponed. However, the war is now over, and the Act ought to be proclaimed. What would be the use of the seamen going to arbitration when it is known that the Judge of the Arbitration Court could not make it obligatory on the ship-owners to improve the existing accommodation on the vessels. Indeed, it is very doubtful whether the present Government have authority in some cases.
It isonly necessary to go on board some of the big passenger ships to see how abominable is the accommodation provided for the seamen. The sleeping accommodation is in some cases not fit for a dog. Imagine a man turning into a bunk 6 feet by 3 feet wide and 4 feet between bunks, which is, as some one has said, too big for a coffin and too small for a grave. In some vessels the bunks are ranged by the ship’s side in the extreme bow, where the space is most cramped, . with probably a table that is lifted out of the way when not in use, so as to leave room to move. These conditions obtain on boats like the Wyandra, and they ought to be altered. Of course, some of the boats have excellent accommodation for the seamen, and all should be on the same plane.
– Would the alteration not mean hanging up a lot of shipping which is now urgently required?
– The shipping has now been hung up for six weeks, during the seamen’s strike, and nothing has been done in the way of remodelling the accommodation.
Mr.Rodgers. - You would not let the labourers on the vessels, I suppose?
– Yes; labourers are on the vessels now. Members of another organization are painting and cleaning the passengers’ and officers’ quarters, and it is possible they may have given a coat of paint, or a- coat of tar, to the seamen’s quarters. In practically 90 per cent, of the smaller passenger boats on the coast of New South Wales the accommodation is inadequate for the number of men they carry; further, in some cases the forecastle is below the water line, with the closets and lavatory accommodation at the same level. These lavatories, and so forth, are ventilated from the deck, and if the wind is in a certain direction the air first gets into the lavatories, and the effluvium is carried into the forecastle. If a seaman protests against such conditions he gets the “ sack “ ; and this has been the state of affairs for many years.
For four years the seamen have not asked for any alteration in their agreement; and they are the only workers in that position. Our sailors are said to have done great work during the war in braving submarines and other perils; and all they ask now is for some compensation.
– What is wrong with arbitration ?
– The honorable member, as a legal man, knows that the Court has no power to enforce any alteration in the accommodation.
– To a very substantial extent it has.
– At any rate, it’ is pretty safe to assume that the honorable member would accept a brief from the ship-owners to fight the seamen on the question. All the seamen ask is good accommodation. They contend that the Navigation Act, as it applies to accommodation, should extend to all ships owned ot controlled by the Associated Steam-ship owners within six months after the agreement has been signed, and that would give the ship-owners sufficient time to make the necessary alterations. If such an agreement were made to-day or to-morrow, it would lie with the Federal Government to put the Navigation Act into operation. The Government have already promised to proclaim the Act, and why not do it right away, and thus remove one of the greatest difficulties in the way of a settlement? All that the seamen ask, in regard to compensation, is that -
The provisions of the Commonwealth Seamen’s Compensation Act shall apply to all vessels signing articles in Australia. An insurance guarantee of £500 to be paid to the next-of-kin of seamen dying whilst in tlie service of the employer. Wages to net-rue during sickness and until the seaman is returned to his home port, and is cured and fit to return to work. i j
The demands of the seamen can be made applicable to all ships only by providing for them in the Act itself. Should the Judge of the Arbitration Court make an award in the matter of compensation, it would prove null and void if the seaman received, his injury outside the 3-mile limit; whereas, if the Act were amended as I have suggested, it would apply wherever the ship might be. There are other anomalies that require removing. Almost every newspaper has expressed surprise at the demand for a six-hour day in port, urging that it would mean the overthrow of industry and create a precedent that would cause every other union in Australia to apply for similar terms. It must be remembered, however, that what is asked is only for. a six-hour day in port. A ship trading to New Zealand, and five or six days at sea, may arrive in port at 7 or 8 o’clock at night; and it is known that a majority of the married men do not live on the water front. Many married seamen have built homes, the mortgage on which they are paying off, and as these places are some distance from the water front, if the men cannot leave their vessels until 6 o’clock at night, they are not able to reach their homes until 8 or 9 o’clock. If they are obliged to be on board again at 7 o’clock in the morning, they must leave their homes the night before or rise at 4 o’clock in the morning. All they ask is that while in port their day’s work shall begin at 9 o’clock in the morning and terminate at’ 4 o’clock in the afternoon. At sea they are prepared to work eight hours a day, and if a ship is in distress, or if anything should happen to jeopardize the safety of passengers or cargo, they are prepared to work anynumber of hours, as they are required to do by our maritime legislation, in order to save life or property.
– Sailors cannot spend their leisure time as people on shore can do.
– That is so. They want to leave their vessels at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, so that .they may have a chance of going among the shops and mak- ing any necessary purchases. At present, seeing that the shops close at 6 o’clock, seamen are compelled to make their purchases from a lot of cheap-jacks in the immediate vicinity of the wharfs, who cater for sailors and charge prices that they should not charge. In this respect, sailors are at a great disadvantage comparedwith their follow workers on shore.
– That is all a matter for arbitration.
Mr.WALLACE. - But it is said to be an unreasonable request to ask that the working period while a vessel is in port should be six hours. What I wish particularly to bring under notice to-day are the questions of compensation and accommodation.’ I quite admit that the Arbitration Court has jurisdiction over such matters as Sunday work, holidays, night watchmen, hours of labour; and so on;but it has no jurisdiction over the principal items in dispute, the questions of accommodation and compensation. These are matters that this Parliament alone must take into consideration.
– Is not ‘compensation paid on all Inter-State boats?
– It is only paid to seamen when the accident occurs while the ship is trading between States and in territorial waters. If an accident occurs on one of Burns, Philp, and Company’s vessels, trading from Brisbane to Sydney, or from Brisbane to Cairns, a sailor can secure compensation, but after the vessel leaves Cairns on the way to the Islands, no compensation can be claimed under the law as it stands. Certainly we have been able to force the ship-owners to insert a clause in the articles that compensation shall be paid in such cases, but I do not know that it would hold water if the matter were tested in a Court of competent jurisdiction. However, as the shipowners are quite prepared to pay compensation in such cases, there is. no reason why it should not be made the law of the country so that a ‘recalcitrant owner may not be inclined to avoid his obligations in this respect. There is nothing to take umbrage at in this particular request.
The Government are wholly responsible for the present deadlock. If they had adopted a more conciliatory attitude at the outset the dispute would never have occurred. There has been correspondence between the Seamen’s Union and the different departments concerned, but the Comptroller of Shipping, Admiral Clarkson, has rejected all overtures, saying, “ We will not negotiate with you. You must go to the Arbitration Court We will have nothing to do with you.” The strike has come about, not because the responsible officers of the organization wanted one, but because the men, the component parts of the organization, were completely dissatisfied with the promises made, and were determined to adopt any method of obtaining their ends. They think that a strike is their best method.
– Is not that the trouble? It is not so much a question of the merits of the men’s claims as it is the method by which they seek to impose them.
– The interests which the honorable member for Wannon represents do not always stop at the legal method of obtaining a justifiable end. They have a more effective method than we have of gaining their end. They can cut off our food supply. . It is an easy matter for the coal owner to shut down his mine, and prevent us from getting coal, if we will not give him a fair price. It is an easy matter for the big. producers to cut off . supplies if we are not prepared to pay them fair prices.
– It is never done.
– It is always done. Let the honorable member try to obtain a couple of hundredweight of leather for the purpose of making boots. If the honorable member had been here earlier I would have related how cattle had been held up in order to prevent the people of Sydney from getting supplies. When the New South Wales Government proposed to take control of the supply . of butter, the South Coast farmers said that they would rather turn their cows out than supply butter. Direct action such asthat is carriedon by the other side more frequently than it is by us. The time has arrived for the Government to take action to prevent the exploitation of the people, and do all they can to remove the existing industrial discontent.
. - I should not have spoken in this debate but for some extraordinary misconceptions which seem to obsess several members of the Opposition. As regards that part of the speech of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Wallace), in which he defined the position of the seamen, I personally, and I am sure all honorable members on this side, sympathize with him fully in the views he has expressed. I feel much indebted to the honorable member for the explanation he has given, and the facts he has placed before the House. So far as I could gather from the speech, the principal complaints of the seamen are that they do not think the Arbitration Court has power to do what they believe ought to be done at present - that is a charge which the honorable member curiously enough brings against the present Government, although I fail to see how the Government can be held responsible forit in the remotest degree - and that most of the things which they desire to have done could be achieved if the Navigation Act were brought into force.
– That is so.
– I am glad I have comprehended the honorable member clearly. The best reply to those statements is that it is the intention of the Government to amend the Arbitration Act to make it more efficient, and also to make what, I understand, are vital amendments in the Navigation Act’, and then to proclaim it.
– The Navigation Act is very good as it is.
– When I say that the Navigation Act was introduced three times by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), it is surely unnecessary to add that it is probably the best Act ever passed by any Legislature. Seeing that the Arbitration Act is to be amended’ and strengthened as soon as possible, and that the Navigation Act requires some adjustments, and that the Government’ are going to attend to these matters, any charge against the Government in connexion with the present most unfortunate seamen’s strike absolutely falls to the ground. I have the fullest possible sympathy with all the aims and aspirations of those British seamen who manned our Inter-State boats and the British Fleet during the war. No man with a drop of British blood in his veins can ignore the enormous services rendered by the men of the British mercantile marine in saving the Empire, Australia, and the Allies from destruction. I cannot deal with, all the matters discussed by honorable members opposite during this debate. In their attempt to damage the Government, the Opposition have “ surveyed mankind from China to Peru”; they have compassed land and sea, and sought everywhere for a stick to beat the Government with.
– . 1 read that in the Graziers’ Gazette.
– Then it is the most profitable reading the honorable member has ever done in his life. I urge him not to be weary in well-doing, and to other honorable members on the other side, I say, “ Go thou and do likewise.”
I propose to confine my remarks largely to the creation and administration of the Wool Pool, and the operations of the Central Wool Committee, concerning ‘ which this Government has been attacked. Honorable members on the other side speak on this matter with two voices, each absolutely contradictory of the other.
– Only two?
– I have not been here throughout the debate, and it may be that they have spoken with half-a-dozen voices.
– We are free men, at liberty to speak as we think.
– And every time one honorable member speaks on that side he completely refutes and destroys what the others have said. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) yesterday attacked the Ministry most severely on the ground that they had not obtained a sufficiently high price for the Australian wool clip. This afternoon I listened with rapt attention to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Wallace), who most violently attacked the wool-growers of Australia, and, by implication, the Government, because they had received far too much for the Australian wool clip. Which, if either, is right? They cannot both be.
– The probability is that the first is right.
– The bond of affection between the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Sinclair) and his neighbour, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), is most touching. But, as a matter of fact, neither charge can be sustained. No one in this House deplores more than I do the high cost of living, nor -would do more to put an end to it if any practical way out could be shown; but I am here to refute the charge that the high cost of living in Australia is in any way. due to the high price obtained for Australian wool. I would remind honorable members of the circumstances which surrounded the acquirement of the Australian wool clip by the British Government.1 It has been said that the wool-growers, as the result of the war, got an enormous price - far higher than they were entitled to. Before the war began, Australian wool was realizing a very high price.
– What price?
– A very high price, indeed, in the early part of i914.
– Up to 18 1/2d.
– There -had been a gradual rise in the price of wool for several years. I am not giving averages, which seem to me to be often used to a great extent to destroy facts. I attended wool sales in Australia in the early part of 1914, and in London a little later, and I know the price of wool had been advancing, and was very high before the war broke out.
– Before the wool clip was sold the price had reached 33id. at Geelong.
– What took place owing to the outbreak of war is conveniently forgotten by all those who are so ready to attack the wool-growers, and to speak as if growing wool and meat was some crime against society.
– No one suggests that.
– I have been assailed in this House with absolute .ferocity, as if I were a criminal, because I grew wool and produced meat. I may be over sensitive, but that is the impression left on me. One of the first effects of the war was a heavy fall in the price of wool. For the first clip shorn after the outbreak of war the Australian wool-growers had to take a very low price indeed - much lower than they had been receiving before.
– Do you remember the price ?
– I do, because I had wool sold at that price. It is of no use to mention individual prices, because there are infinite gradations in wool.
– Did it show a profit at that price ?
– That is not the point. For instance, some greasy wool last week would be sold up to 30d. and 31d., while other greasy wool would be sold down to 4d. Wool varies, so that it is idle to quote amy particular price, unless the quality is mentioned. Next a sudden demand for wool set in. I have been in this industry for forty-five years, and all my life I have .seen constant fluctuations in the price of wool. Wool fell too low after the outbreak of war; then there was a reaction, and the price began to improve. To those gentlemen who say that we asked the British Government too much for our wool, to the disadvantage of that Government and of the consumers of woollen goods in Australia, I should like to point out that when we were asked to name a price at which we would sell the Australian clip to that Government, wool had, by the ordinary process of competition confined to British and Allied buyers, reached a very high price indeed. As a matter of fact, as the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) reminded me, the value of wool, created by the honest, fair, and open competition of buyers who wanted it, was greater, when the price to the British Government was fixed, than the price we fixed it at. A good deal is said about combinations and people who enter into combines and trusts. The wool-growers of Australia have never entered voluntarily into any combine with regard to the price of their wool. Practically all their wool was always sold by .public auction in open, markets to anybody who liked to come in and buy it, and always has been. At this particular juncture - November, 1916 - we were summoned by the Prime
Minister, and told by him that .the Imperial Government wished to obtain command et’ the whole of the wool grown in Australia and the rest of the Empire. The idea underlying this move was that the complete control of the clip would enable them to better serve the interests of the Empire and of the Allies. We were asked two questions - first, whether we were prepared to sell our wool to the Imperial Government; and, secondly, if we were so prepared, would we name a price which we considered fair and satisfactory. Notwithstanding that not one amongst us desired our wool to be sold in that fashion, we immediately intimated our willingness to allow the Imperial Government to buy the whole of the clip, and to do what they liked with it. We also endeavoured to arrive at a price which we considered would be fair and equitable in all the circumstances.- After a little consideration, a price was named, and everybody who knows anything about the matter will recognise that it was agreed upon in a fair, moderate, and honorable spirit, the whole question being viewed not merely from the stand-point of the Imperial Government and of the Allies, but ‘also from that of the woolgrowers and the consumers of wool in Australia. That price was accepted by the Imperial Government without any bargaining or haggling whatever. This is the nearest approach to what can scarcely be termed - even by the wildest stretch of imagination - a “combine “ into which the wool-growers of this country have ever entered. It was not our desire that the time-honoured system of disposing of our wool by public auction should be departed, from. That system was altered in deference to the wish expressed by theImperial authorities, and we fell in with their desires. It has been stated by the Opposition that in some way or other the high prices realized by Australian woolgrowers are responsible for the high cost of living in the Commonwealth. I utterly deny that. While on this point, I must make a brief reference to a letter read by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr.
Wallace) to the effect that a certain Australian manufacturer had experienced great difficulty in obtaining wool. So great, indeed, was his difficulty that he alleged that it would pay him . better to get somebody to buy the wool he required in London, land to send it back to Australia, than ,to purchase it here. I have no hesitation in saying that my honorable friend has been most grossly misinformed. I do not for a moment doubt his own bona fides. No member of this House would do so.. But the gentleman who supplied him with that information supplied him with something which is absolutely false. As the statement is such an astounding one, I will ask my honorable friend to furnish this House with the name of the author of the letter.
– If I did that he would never .get any more wool supplied to him.
– But his statement is the most preposterous and outrageous one that the human mind can conceive. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. .Riley) knows that. However, since this charge has been made, I may be permitted briefly to explain exactly the position which obtains to-day. Every bale of wool in Australia has to be examined by two sets of experts, one representing the seller, and the other the Commonwealth Government, which acts as the buyer. Every manufacturer in Australia, if he cares to take the trouble to ask for it, may be supplied with a list of every appraisement. He will be given either twenty-four or forty-eight hours’ notice, and he will then be at liberty to go to any wool-store in the Commonwealth and select, at the appraised prices, every lot of wool that he requires for manufacturing purposes. He thus has an. absolute preference.
– Notwithstanding that, the wool has been sold to the Imperial Government.
– Exactly. That was one of the conditions of the sale. I mention this matter to show how exceedingly careful the Central Wool Committee were to protect the interests of the Australian manufacturers and consumers of wool. Our own manufacturers have first preference in regard to every bale of wool grown in the Commonwealth
– At what price?
– At the price which the Imperial Government pays for it.
– We will give that statement a practical test. I will go down and buy some wool myself.
– .But the purchaser must be a manufacturer and not a speculator. From the very beginning we have never allowed any speculator to handle any wool whatever.
– I will send a manufacturer down there.
– Does the honorable member for Dalley mean to say that he did not know that previously?
– There is not one woollen manufacturer in Australia who does not know it, and the first manufacturer to whom the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) makes his request will laugh in his face. Not only has every Australian manufacturer the first right to select any bale of wool at the appraised price, but as a matter of fact he can purchase it at a little lower price than can the Imperial Government. So much for the extraordinary statements which have misled the honorable member for West Sydney. It has been urged that in some way or other the alleged high price being realized for Australian wool-
– And which has never varied from the commencement of the scheme till now.
– Exactly. The price, as my honorable friend reminds me, has never varied. But we are nevertheless told that it is responsible for the increased cost of clothing. I was very much interested when the honorable member for West Sydney related how, at a period subsequent to the acquisition of the’ Australian clip by the Imperial Government, and when our own manufacturers were in a position to buy wool in the way I have mentioned, he had purchased a suit of clothes for £5 5s.,’ and was subsequently asked £9 9s. for a similar suit.
– They asked me £9 9s., but I did not pay it.
– Then I would advise my honorable friend to purchase that suit at £9 9s. as soon as possible, because a great many of my own friends have had to pay much more than that. But my point is that at- the time the honorable member bought his suit for £5 5s. the Australian woollen manufacturers were paying exactly the same price for their wool as they are paying for it now. Consequently, if the price of woollen garments made from Australian cloth has advanced during the past three years, that advance is obviously not due in the remotest degree to the price paid for the wool.
– To what is it due?
– The honorable member is now raising a very big question.
– Is it not the duty of the Government to deal with it?
– Yes ; and I shall presently point out how, in my opinion, that duty may be discharged. But the honorable member for West Sydney has practically confirmed everything that I have said. I believe that he paid a visit to the Commonwealth Woollen Factory in Geelong on the same day as I visited it in company with other honorable members. There, cloth is manufactured out of good Australian wool, purchased in exactly the way I have described, namely, at a price slightly lower than that paid by the Imperial. Government. The wool is bought by the Commonwealth, and is manufactured in Geelong under probably the best industrial conditions from the stand-point of wages and hours of labour, obtaining in any part of the world. I was informed on very reliable authority that that cloth was despatched to the Commonwealth Clothing Factory, where it was manufactured into suits of clothes, which were given to civilian soldiers, with a cap thrown in, at a cost to the Commonwealth Government of 30s. That being the case, when my honorable friend has to pay £9 9s. for a suit of clothes, I ask him who gets it? Certainly not the wool-grower.
– The profiteer is getting it.
– I think the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page) will confirm my statement. All the charges, therefore, which have been hurled from the Opposition benches at my defenceless head, and at the heads of all the wool-growers of Australia, are absolutely baseless. The least my honorable friends opposite can do, seeing that they have been so scathing in their remarks, is to admit that the Australian woolgrower is not in any way responsible for the high cost of living.
– The honorable member has made out a case which goes to show that somebody is inflating values.
– I have held that view all my life.
– What is the honorable member’s party doing to deal with it?
– I shall come to that. There can be no doubt that the first great problem facing Australia to-day is the repatriation of our soldiers and the placing of every one of them in at least as good a position as he would have occupied if he had not gone to the war. ‘That is our first duty. I would not for a moment contend that honorable members opposite, any more than honorable members on this side, are lacking in a desire to see that duty successfully accomplished.
That being provided for, the next great problem confronting Australia, and, indeed, the whole world, to-day is the excessive ‘and ever-increasing cost of living. That problem has to be faced, and I am prepared to face it. The subject is not new to me. As regal,ds the increase in the cost of living which has taken place in the last ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years, there are some important facts which must be home in mind.
– Let the honorable member come down to the last four years.
Ma-. JOWETT.- I shall do so. My honorable friend will not find me failing in this matter. My convictions on the subject are as strong as those of the honorable member for We3t Sydney (Mr. Wallace).
– But the honorable member will not go as far in altering the existing conditions.
– I am prepared to go perhaps further than the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates). It has to be borne in mind that if any interference which we have made in the past, are making now, or shall make in the future, imposes in any degree whatever a disability upon those who have invested their capital, their brains, and their industry in any productive concern, the cost of that disability is passed on. That is an axiom. No one has ever yet been able to suggest a way in which to prevent it being passed on.
– To whom is it passed on?
– It is passed on always to the consumer. The cost of living has to be borne by the consumer, and I regret to say that the burden is heavier upon the other sex than upon ours. Among the consumers who have to bear the burden of the increased cost of living a very large number are farmers and the wives of farmers - primary producers. Whilst I say that the effects of any change that is made in the conditions under which any productive industry is carried on, if they are to the disadvantage of ‘ the manufacturer, are passed on to the consumer, I will say, further, that, in my opinion, an enormous percentage of the colossal increase in the cost of living - and it has not stopped increasing yet - is due to the existence of innumerable combines, trusts, and associations in this land and throughout the world. There is no possibility of consumers in Australia obtaining any such reduction in the cost of living as they are justly entitled to, until steps are taken to absolutely stamp out every one of the trusts, combines, and associations that now exist.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– I shall give the honorable member my suggestion if he will have “a moment’s patience. We have seen, a long list of associations, honorable understandings, and various arrangements made, with the object of avoiding competition.
– (Mr. King O’Malley used to call them “boodleiers.”
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Adelaide to cease his interjections. They are too continuous.
– .Competition is always regarded as an interference by the man .against whom it is brought into operation in business. I never met a business man who desired competition against him, which he generally describes as unfair, undercutting and underselling. In reality, the whole object of every one of the combines and trusts is to prevent competition, and thus to raise prices or prevent them from falling, and to prevent the consumers of Australia from getting a fair return for their money. There is no doubt whatever about that.
Honorable members opposite are under a false impression regarding myself, because I grow wool and produce meat in a fairly large way. It is my desire that every man, woman, and. child shall have as ample a supply as possible of warm clothing, and shall be as well fed as possible. I have devoted my life -until I was drawn into this political vortex - to endeavouring to grow in Australia as much wool and wheat as possible. Although I have been criticised very severely, not so much here as elsewhere, because I do these things on a large scale, I fail to see that it is any crime to increase Australia’s production of wool and of food.
I wish to say that throughout my business life 1 have been fighting these combines, trusts, and associations in every possible direction. But do they disappear because one or two individuals combat them ? Do they cease to enlarge their sphere of operations ? No. They are encompassing us round about. The consumers of Australia, and also the business people who are not in the combines, find it absolutely impossible to escape their exactions. What is the position? The Commonwealth Government and the members of the party on this side will do their best, if I understand them aright - and, if not, I shall no longer remain a member of this party - to bring in such measures as will stamp out these combines, trusts, arrangements, associations, and honorable understandings. But this cannot be done without an alteration of the Constitution. It is quite impossible without that. I shall be very much disappointed if before very long steps are not taken by. the Government and the party behind them, supported, I hope, by my honorable friends opposite, to bring about such an alteration of the Constitution as will, if taken proper advantage of, enable us to stamp out these combines, associations, and trusts.
– Let us go to the people straightway. Let us open the campaign, and have the amendment of the Constitution passed.
– I shall be only . too happy to take part in such a campaign. I wish to be perfectly candid with, my honorable friends opposite, and with honorable members on this side.
– No reservation.
– There is no reservation about me. I also wish to say that the stamping out of trusts, combines, and associations cannot be done by merely imposing fines, however large, upon those who contravene a ‘law against such combinations. The resources of these combines and trusts are so colossal that, no matter what fines may be imposed upon them, they will be paid, and the trusts will carry on in exactly the same way as before. To fine them is something like fining sly grog-sellers. We must make up our minds if we pass a law’ against these combinations that it shall be obeyed.
– I would suggest putting some of them in Darlihghurst.
– I was going to say that fines imposed upon members of combines and trusts must be followed up by the imprisonment of people who continue to carry them on in defiance of the law.
– The Government are appointing the agents of trusts to look after the Northern Territory.
– I am not discussing the Northern Territory, and do not intend to discuss it to-night. When all that I have suggested is done, and we have suppressed by fine, and by imprisonment if necessary, combines, trusts, and understandings, even then we shall not have achieved our object. We cannot hope to succeed in reducing the high cost of living unless the consumers of Australia, who in the main are comprised of the working classes, are prepared to enter on a large scale into co-operative concerns ‘ for the purpose of distributing all goods at a reasonable cost.
– We must grow the food before we can distribute it.
– There is no combine about that.
– There is no combine whatever so far as the production of the principal food products of Australia is concerned. Before leaving the subject, I wish to sound a note of. warning with regard to the suggestions that are made to artificially lower the price of food prior to its export. I stand for the utmost possible abundance of things good for the people of Australia, and things which are good to export to the rest of the world. We have, as a consequence of the war, undertaken enormous obligations. If we are to carry our enormous financial burden, we must aim at the utmost possible export of Australian products, primary and secondary, and at obtaining for them the highest possible price. Only in that way can we hope for future solvency and prosperity. I am, therefore, absolutely opposed to any restriction whatever being placed upon the price of any . of Australia’s exportable goods - the . produce of primary or secondary industries. That is not at all necessary.
To return to the question of cooperation, I say that much can be done by suppressing combines, associations, . and trusts; but that is only part of the . task before us. The rest of the task must be performed by the consumers of Australia themselves, co-operating toreduce the excessive cost of . distribution. I amnot saying one word to the detriment of retailers or wholesalers. I do not raise that question now. It is the excessive cost of distribution which I am complaining of.
– Does the honorable member believe in the O.B.U. - one big organization of workers, organized On industrial lines, and controlling all industry ?
– No, I do not.
– That would solve the problem.
– As I understand the O.B.U., it is an organization which desires to control industry by force, by brutality, and by bodily injury to those who will not fall in with the views of its members. I am sorry that the honorable member should have diverted me from the question with which I was dealing. If the consumers wish to be free from the evils of the high cost of living, they must make up their minds . to put some of their funds - and this applies particularly to some very numerous and very wealthy unions - into co-operative concerns, which will purchase and distribute goods to the people at something like a reasonable cost.
– But they have no savings.
– At all events, the expenditure by the whole of the people of Australia throughout the war has been on the most extravagant scale, probably, that the world has ever known.
– Are you speaking from experience?
– From myown personal experience and observation of all classes in the Commonwealth. I am glad of the opportunity that the speeches of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Wallace) gave me for stating the case for the primary producers of Australia, for our secondary industries, and also for the consumers of Australia.’
.- For his earnest remarks, honorable members are indebted to the honorable member for Grampians. He is a member of the Wool Board, which has controlled the distribution of wool during the war. Complaints have been made against the Board regarding the manner in which the price of wool has been manipulated whilethe war was in progress. The honorable member for Grampians has stated that he believes in controlling the price of wool; and he has referred to the woollen factory at Geelong. The honorable member described the good conditions prevailing there, and called attention to the fact that the Geelong mills have had to pay the same price for their wool as any other buyer. The honorable member’s conclusions are that a man ought to be able to get a suit made of Austraiian wool - the cloth produced by Australian labour - at a cost of 30s. As a member of the Wool Board, has he not the power to say to whom that Board will sell wool in this country ?
– Wool is sold to manufacturers, and that is all.
– Just so ! They are the producers of the cloth;and the honorable member, as a member of the Wool Board, should see to it that no exploiter secures the chance to get control of the wool unless he sells it at a fair price.
– We have no power to do that.
– The Board has all power in regard to the sale of wool. There is a flat rate of1s. 8d. per lb. The attitude of the honorable member for Grampians must be either true or false. Why did he not, as a member of the Wool Board, protect the people by saying to the manufacturers, “Unless you produce and sell your cloth at a fair and reasonable price - the price at which the Geelong mills are able to turn out their material - we will not sell you any wool “ ? Had he not the power ?
– The Board could have told the Government that it desired to prevent the. people from being exploited; whereupon, if the Government did not give it the necessary power, it would have become the honorable member’s duty to make known the situation on the floor of this House. For three years we have been in the hands of controllers and exploiters whom the honorable member for Grampians, as a member of the Wool Board, should have thwarted. Yet tonight we hear the honorable membervery earnestly denouncing exploiters ! I have read the report of the Inter-State Com- mission dealing with the subject of wool. The document indicates that clothing manufacturers imported certain quantities of cloth when it was at its very highest price. They then raised the price of locally-produced material to equal the highest import price. What are the Government doing in the matter? After all, they are only a committee elected by the people to manage the affairs of the country in the interests of the people. A Government which fails to protect the people’s interests are not worthy of support by the people’s representatives. Nevertheless, an honorable member opposite indorses every act of the Government, while at the same time denouncing exploitation with great earnestness and evident honesty of purpose. I ask the honorable member for Grampians to point to anything in the Ministerial statement which indicates that the Government propose to deal with the cost of living. The whole country is crying out for protection from the exploiters.
– Where have the Commonwealth Government power to deal with that matter?
– If the honorable member cannot see, I am only sorry that he is so dense.
I intend now to mention a few items specifically illustrating the increased cost of living. I propose to compare recent prices with those which ruled when the Labour party were in power.Had that party retained office throughout the war, exploiters would, have been afraid to raise their prices. The reason why they have not feared to do so is because they are fully aware that the Government in power, together with their supporters, are friends of the exploiters. In March, 1914, potatoes were sold at £5 15s. per ton, and in 1917 at £15 per ton. Potato growing was not affected by the war.
– It was affected by the drought, though.
– The old cry! Of course, there never was a drought before ! In 1914 potatoes were1s. 9d. to 2s. per quarter; in 1917 potatoes were 4s. 6d. to 5s. per 28 lbs. Was that due to the war, or to gambling in food supplies? It is scandalous that such a staple item of food should have soared from1s. 9d. to 5s. per quarter.
– What about Sussexstreet ?
– I shall refer to that locality directly.
– I had to pay 41/2d. a lb. for potatoes in Queensland last March, and there is a Labour Government in power in that State.
– The honorable member paid that price because the Federal Government have taken over the control of food supplies. In March, 1914, the retail price of butter was1s.11/2d. per lb.
-Which was not a fair price to the producer.
– In 1917 the price of butter was ls. lid. Why so? I do not say that the price in 1914 was or was not too low. But why such a rise? It was because of the change, of Government. It was because a Minister for Price Fixing was appointed, and for the reason that he represents a butter district. At the last by-election in this State, when the Nationalists were trying to beat the farmers’ candidate, the Minister in control of price fixing raised the price of butter 2d. per lb. That was an act of the Government - the direct act of Mr. Massy Greene. That one increase in price, computing it upon the whole consumption of butter, had the effect of. taking more than £1,000,000 out of the pockets of the consumers. And it was all done as a political trick to defeat the farmers’ candidate.
– Do you not say that it was the drought that was responsible? We were paying £15 a ton for lucerne tokeep the cattle alive.
– I propose later to deal with lucerne. I have recently seen a paragraph in the press stating that over £5,000,000 of butter were exported last year. And still that commodity is at a high price. Recently a steamer left Sydney having among her cargo 23,760 bales of wool and 26,110 boxes of butter. The fact that the people of Australia are paying an increased price for butter should be an accurate indication that we are short of that commodity; but do actual facts support that view t The cry of “drought” is an old gag. If there. had been drought, how could we have exported such huge quantities of butter? The reason is that a better price than that obtainable in- Australia can be secured by exporting the butter to a famine-stricken country. Even so, it was no justification for the people who live in the country where the butter is produced having tq pay double the price for their own produce. I do not object to our producers securing a fair price; but why should the consumers be put into the hands of exploiters ? The Government are now about to start a cooperative concern in order to give the dairy farmers a fair thing. Co-operation between whom ?
– Will it be like the Butter Control Committee, on which the consumer has not a solitary representative?
– Where does the consumer come in ? The Government should intervene on behalf of the people. That is their duty ; but there is no word about protection of the consumer in regard to this latest co-operative proposal. In 1914 the retail price of cheese was 8d. per lb., and in 1917 it was ls. 4£d. - an increase of over 100 per cent. Still, the Government are prepared to do everything possible in the interests of the consumers - with this important reservation, that they will go no further than talking it!
– You have had butter at 2d. a lb. cheaper than the price in London for the past two years.
– We cannot compare prices here with those ruling in a country besieged by enemy . submarines - a country practically under famine conditions.
– The price at Australian ports was 2d. less than London parity.
– That does not speak very well for a great butter-producing country like Australia if the price f.o.b. Australian ports is only 2d. less than in the Old Country, where the people are almost starving for butter. Here is another item : In March, 1914, honey was selling at 4 1/2d. per lb for 60-lb. tins, and in 1917 it was 10 1/2d. per lb., an increase of 125 per cent. Yet this Government has the effrontery to say that they have taken steps for the protection of the people.
– How does the honorable’ member determine what is a fair price ?
– I am only quoting figures and comparing the prices of different commodities now and when a Labour Government was ruling the destinies of this country.
– You are quoting pre-war prices against present day conditions.
– I am quoting prices at about the time war broke out. But surely the honorable member will not say that the war stopped the cows from giving milk, prevented farmers from making cheese, or the bees from producing honey ? I do not know whether the increase in the price of ‘eggs was due to the war or to “ direct action “ on the part of the hens, but in my State eggs to-day are about 3d. each. I do not blame the National Government for this, but I point out that we have large cold storage accommodation in Sydney, and I read a paragraph in the press recently to the effect that a certain gentleman had done really well out of cold-stored eggs. He bought them up when they were cheap, put them into cold storage, and made a profit of over £15,000 on his deal - his gamble with the foodstuffs of the people. The time has arrived for the Government to take over control of all cold storage in Australia, because it is being used for the purpose of storing food and manipulating the market against the consumer. These, people should not be allowed to corner foodstuffs and unload them in a time of scarcity at fabulous prices. Bacon is another item that has shown an increase in price. In 1914 the retail price was 9£d. per lb., and in 1917 it was ls. 6d. per lb., an increase of over 100 per cent. Was that due to the war ?
– Can you say what was the cost of producing the pig? Do you know that the farmers have to pay 10s. a bag for maize ?
– I do not know what was the cost. I am speaking only of facts as I find them, and pointing out how the people are being called upon to bear heavier burdens by the increased cost of living. The remedy will have to be found. If the Government want discontent in this country to increase - if they want the Bolshevik influence to become more pronounced - this is the very best kind of food they can give to dissatisfied people who are confronted with a most difficult problem.
– You want to arrange for rain to fall more regularly throughout Australia, and so steady prices.
– The rain has been falling of late years just the same as in former years. During the time the Labour party were in power the same kind of seasons were experienced.
– Do not forget that 1914 was a drought year.
– There have been severe droughts in New South Wales.
– I am glad the honorable member for Batman has reminded me that 1914 was a drought year. The figures I am quoting are all the more effective.
– There is never a drought in Sussex-street.
– Another item in which there has been an important increase is lard, which, in 1914, was selling at 7£d., and in 1917 at ls. ld. per lb., or an increase of 95 per cent. Lard is very largely used in nearly every household. I do not know what the honorable member for Wide Bay will put down the increase in lard to.
– The same thing - increased cost of production.
– Well, I will now quote chaff. In 1914 it was sold at £3 5s. per ton.
– At the beginning or the end of the year?
– I take it that the price refers to the beginning of the year, but I am not particular on that point. There is plenty of margin between the two sets of figures. In’ 1917 chaff realized £8 10s. per ton, an increase of 125 per cent, to the “ poor farmers,” who, according to honorable members opposite, are not able to make a living. I know that most -of the farmers I meet generally go about in their motor cars. They have done very well.
– If farming is such a successful occupation, why are you not engaged in it instead of in the city ? °
– It is quite likely that if I did engage in farming I would find it more profitable than my present occupation. “Again Sky High,” was the heading to a paragraph that appeared recently in a Sydney evening paper. “ Rice has jumped 18s. per cwt.” I am wondering if the Chinamen have gone on strike. The drought in Australia could not have been responsible for that increase, because our farmers do not grow rice.
– Increased freight was responsible, no doubt.
– -Of course, there must be some reason, and the honorable member supplies it. I hope the supporters of the Government will have something to say in reply to the statements I am making, and that they will be able to advance some reason for the upward tendency in the cost of living. It is my belief that unless an honest effort is made to check this movement in prices, ‘ the people, at the very first opportunity, will change the whole aspect of this House, and change the Government also. They will be justified in doing that.
No subject of greater importance than the cost of living could be debated in this House. It should be above all party considerations. The Government should do something in the interests of the people who are being exploited and robbed. We know what has happened with regard to clothing, boots, and many other articles of every-day use, but in spite of “the widespread unrest concerning the cost of living, the Government have not included one proposal in their programme to deal with this important matter. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) has told us that the wool-growers have done all they could in the interests of the Empire and this country. He may think so, but I happen to represent a district that is famed for its tannery, woolwashing, and, more recently, its wool top industries. When the change of Government took place, these businesses were nourishing. Every man in the Botany district was employed. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who is now in England, gave instructions that every industry was to be kept going at full speed, and that no obstacles should be placed in the way of employment. That was his order, and it was carried out for a time. But what has happened? In the Botany district to-day the wool top in: dustry stands idle, and 800 hands have been discharged, because the Wool Committee entered into a compact to secure for the Government 65 per cent, of the profits of the industry, and some dispute arose as to the division of the profits, with the result that a law case is pending, and all the employees of the industry have been- out of work almost since last Christmas. If the Government had a bold policy, if they wanted to see these industries carried on in a satisfactory manner, they should have brushed Mr. F. W. Hughes aside and put in ‘charge a manager to control the work, pending a decision with regard to the law case. Had that course been taken, the Government would have made hundreds of thousands of pounds, because wool tops are bringing a splendid price at the present time, and F. W. Hughes and Co. have enormous quantities of tops stored in Sydney. Other countries of the world, including Great Britain, are calling out for tops, but cannot get them, because these people are not allowed to export from Australia. The whole thing is in a state of muddle, and ^reflects no credit on either the Government or the Wool Committee.
It is interesting, also, to learn how the Wool Committee is controlling the sheepskin industry. When the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) was Minister for Trade and Customs’ at the outbreak of the war, I brought under his notice, by introducing a deputation, the fact that certain people were exporting large quantities of sheepskins dry to America, thus limiting employment in Australia. Mr. Tudor immediately took action to prevent further exports, with a result that the skins were’ treated within the Commonwealth. But what has happened since then? This Wool Committee, which, according to some honorable members, has been doing so much for the country, has sent out men to buy up » sheepskins dry for export, so that our men are again walking the streets in search of employment. There is a reason for exporting dry skins. It appears that if the local fellmonger takes the wool off the skin here, he gets only ls. 3£d. per lb. for the wool, but if he exports the skin dry to Great Britain, he gets the ruling price for the wool there, which is double the Australian price. There is thus an inducement to dry the skins and send them Home. In the interests of the Commonwealth, the Government ought not to allow such a system to continue, since it has led to hundreds of men in every ‘State being thrown out of employment. Will the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) who is a member of the Wool Board, say that the fellmongers of Australia are being fairly treated ?
– I do not think the honorable member has correctly stated the position.
– I have studied the question from every point of view, and, together with Senator Pratten, have put the ease before the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt). The employers themselves say that the man who can sell his dried skins on the other side is able to pay more for the raw skins than the local tanners, who consequently cannot compete with him. Their men are out of employment.
– And are likely to be, so far as this Government are concerned.
– The National Government are taking no interest in the matter. They are allowing a large industrial district in New South Wales to remain practically idle, and the State Government have had to offer charity to many of the. workers there in order to keep them alive. Notwithstanding the promise of the Prime Minister - that the Go vernment would offer every encouragement to local industries - the fellmongering industry is being absolutely destroyed, and not until’ the law. case’ to which I have referred has been settled will the wool-top industry be able to go ahead.
Can honorable members opposite point to one new industry that has been established as the result of assistance and encouragement offered by the Ministry? It is true that a stimulus has been given to shipbuilding, and I hope that the Government will do everything possible to encourage that industry, since it is of the utmost importance to an island people. But, apart from shipbuilding, what have the Government done in a big way to provide employment for our people? I had expected to find in the Ministerial statement a declaration that the Government were prepared to provide for a uniform railway gauge -throughout Australia. That is a national question. We have some 300,000 men returning from the Front, for all of whom employment must be found, and the Government should do something substantial for them.
The question of a uniform gauge for the Commonwealth was discussed in this House when the proposal to construct the East- West railway was under consideration. I find that New South Wales has 6,000 miles of 4-ft.81/2in. gauge lines; in Victoria, there are 5,160 miles of 5-ft. 3-in. gauge railways; in South Australia, 1,318 miles of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge lines; in Western Australia, 4,139 miles of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railways; and in Queensland, 6,073 miles of railways of the same gauge. The Commonwealth Government, in addition., own 1,843 miles of 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge lines. Those who travel from State to State, as members of this Parliament are compelled to do, are familiar with the disadvantages of break of gauge. Apart altogether from the discomfort to which the travelling public are thus subjected, it is of the utmost importance that we should have a uniform railway gauge if this country is to be defended with any degree of success. No State is prepared, however, to undertake the conversion of its lines without the assistance of the Commonwealth. The New South Wales Government, for instance, are not prepared to incur the cost of converting their 6,000 miles of railways to the Victorian or the Queensland gauge. The work of converting the various State railways to a uniform gauge is a national one, and the cost of it should be borne by the Commonwealth. It would provide much employment, and surely the Government should be prepared to come down with a scheme in that direction. It would certainly be a big national undertaking, but there is nothing in the Ministerial statement to suggest that the Government contemplate anything of the kind. Are the Government destitute of big ideas?
Unemployment is increasing in every State, whereaswhen the. Labour party were in power there were no unemployed. The workers were receiving good wages, and every one was prosperous.
– It will be said that while we were in office there was a good rain-, fall.
– No doubt the Ministerial party will try to account in that way for the prosperity which prevailed when we were in power. They have to admit that Australia was never in a better position. We had a vigorous works policy, whereas no such policy is propounded by the present Government. A
Public “Works Committee has been appointed to inquire into and report upon proposed public works, but it has very little to do. No country can progress inthe absence of a strong works policy calculated to develop its resources:
There are many other important subjects in respect to which we as a party would like the Government to legislate. Having regard to the distress prevailing in all the States, I think that the Government should, be prepared to hand over to the noble band of men and. women now rendering assistance to the poor who are stricken down with ‘ influenza all the surplus blankets and flannel in the possession of the military authorities. It would be far better to allow them to distribute these blankets amongst the sick poor of the different States than to sell them in large quantities by public auction, allowing a few men to make a fortune out of them.
– I understand that what the honorable member suggests has already been done.
– We’ have not heard of it.
– Yes, and the blankets are to be distributed.
– That will be a step in the right direction.
– They have been selling thousands of military blankets here during the present week.
– I certainly think the Government should consider the desirableness of distributing the surplus flannel and blankets now held by the Defence Department amongst the poor who have been stricken with sickness.
I come now to the question of the Federal Capital. It is all very well for representatives of Victoria, who are able to return to their own homes every evening, to try to prevent the building of the Federal Capital, but I would remind them that one of the conditions on which New South Wales entered the Union was that the Seat of Government should be established in that State. The compact then made has been complied with to a certain extent by the selection of the Federal Territory. We have in the Canberra district 900 square miles of some of the finest country in New South Wales - country possessing all the essentials to the building up of a large city.
– How much money has already been spent on the Federal Capital ?
– A considerable sum has been expended on the purchase of land, and that money must remain idle until the land is put to use. It was determined at the outset that no part of the Federal Territory should be sold by the Commonwealth, but that the leasehold system should apply to it. It was thought that when the Seat of Government was moved to the permanent capital a large population would follow and take up leaseholds, with the result of a growing rent roll that would, in a few years, mean a big revenue towards the expenses of government. Money has been spent at Canterra on, amongst other things, a dam across the Cotter River, two great reservoirs for an adequate water supply for the city, a power plant sufficient to light the whole place and supply power for all the factories that may be erected, and brickworks.
– Has the honorable member estimated the cost of moving the Parliament to the Federal Capital, and providing for the administrative staffs?
– That is a mere detail. I expected some Victorian members to ask questions of the kind, because, no doubt, they are very comfortable in Melbourne. It has been estimated, by a leading architect in Sydney, that a temporary House of Parliament can be built for £150,000. As one connected with the building trade I know what I am talking about, and I should say that a “chamber like this in which we are assembled could be provided for not more than £60,000.
– I called for tenders for some six-roomed cottages, and the price was about £2.000 each.
– I know that it takes a lot to please the Minister. If we are honest in this matter, and anxious to fulfil the compact made at the inception of Federation, it would be easy to find ways and means; but, of course, it is always open to honorable members to throw obstacles in the way. We pay about £250,000 each pay to civil servants and pensioners in Victoria, and that has a great influence in keeping people here. I do not object to people trying to do the best they can for themselves, but we have entered into a solemn contract, and I can assure honorable members there is very strong feeling on the subject in New South Wales. We in that State have waited now for nearly twenty years, and I think we have been very patient. New South Wales pays more money into the Treasury than any other State, and not one penny has been spent there from a Federal point of view, whereas the other States have got what they were promised. The Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway has been built, and the Northern Territory taken over with a big debt attached and attendant expense, while Tasmania has been assisted over her financial trouble arising out of the Tariff. I do not object to all this being done, because we promised to do it, but I do object to the suggestion that the compact entered into with New South Wales should not be fulfilled. Every year there is an agitation to put up more buildings for the Commonwealth in Melbourne ; and I ‘ think that the amount of money we pay in that city in rents would go far towards paying for the building of the Federal Capital. Under all the circumstances we are justified in censuring the Government for not carrying on a more vigorous administration.
The question of deportations has been raised and several’ cases cited, but the Government have not said a word as to what they propose to do. There is a strong agitation from one end of the country to the other against the undemocratic system of grabbing men, putting them into gaol without trial, or letting their friends know, and then deporting them overseas. I suppose I take some risk when I say that I do not think even German internees ought to be deported. Now that the war is over, why should. we deport men who would be wealth producers, simply because they happen to have been born in another country? I hope the Government will realize that the war has come to an end, and that there ought to be no more deportations of Germans, Austrians, or other enemy subjects. Such a policy might have been right enough when we were at war, but now that Peace has been signed, let us start de novo; and continue our old plan of attracting people to the country as the best means of bringing about peace and harmony.
As to the trouble on the Australia, I may say that I happen to know the father and mother of the two boys who, withothers, had some trouble at Fremantle. Senator Grant and myself wired to Garden Island to inquire the nature of . their offence, when they would be tried, and whether we could be allowed to interview them; but we received no reply from the Navy Department. The parents are very respectable people, who allowed their sons, when very young, to join the Navy; and now the boys have been brought back, stripped of the honours bestowed upon them by the King, and sentenced to two years and eighteen months respectively in our gaols. If the Government desire an Australian Navy, they will have to give Australians better treatment. Were I asked my opinion, I would not advise any friend, or any son of a friend of mine, to join the Australian Naval Forces, where he might lose his manhood and become a mere cog in the wheel . Until we get rid of all this red-tape, I hope men will not be so eager to join the Navy as in the past. If the Government desire to encourage enlistment, they ought bo take the earliest opportunity to show clemency towards the five men who received the brutal sentence of the courtmartial in Sydney.
The case of Paul Freeman has been, very well handled by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley),. the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), and others; and to restore peace; and harmony, and prevent the discontent that is undoubtedly growing up, there will have to be some change in the methods of the Government. I have- the pleasure of living in a very large industrial centre, and I can assure honorable members that, unless . the Government handle affairs very nicely, and with judgment, those who feel deeply in matters of the kind may . get beyond control. I do not desire to see anything like revolt in this country, but rather that we should get back to normal conditions; and the best means to that end is to deal leniently with such people as those to whom I am ref erring. Do not give them a “cry,” but tackle the question of the cost of living,, and enter upon a vigorous works policy, so as to restore concord and happiness to the country.
I hope that honorable members opposite will carefully consider their vote on the question before them, and not support a mere empty, sounding programme of words, without any real substance. For the reasons I have given I shall vote for the amendment.
.- I listened with great interest to the speech of the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), and, apart from what he said about the Federal Capital, I take great exception to most of his statements. The honorable member made a vigorous attack on the Government in connexion with the increased cost of living. He pointed out that at the beginning of 1914 all dairy products, such as cheese, butter, honey, eggs, ham, and bacon, were very cheap, and that in 1917 they had doubled in value. He claimed that that was owing to the fact that the Labour party was in power early in 1914. As a matter of fact, it was a Liberal Government that was in power early in 1914, and the Labour party cannot claim any credit for the cheapness of living at that time. No honorable member opposite has pointed out a remedy for the high cost of living of to-day. The Labour party was in power in 1915-1916, when the factors which have brought about the increase in the cost of living were in operation, but no special legislation was introduced to deal with them. The only power which this Government possesses over the price of commodities ‘is given by the War Precautions Act, and its operations could have been extended, but as soon as the armistice was signed the Opposition to a man clamoured for its repeal. To show how inconsistent they are, several of them are now claiming that the Act should be continued in force in order to deal with exploiters. The real reason why the price of commodities increased so much in1915-1916 was that in that period Australia had one of the biggest droughts on record. The honor able member for Maranoa (Mr. Page) will bear me out when I sav that the dairy herds of the coastal district of Queensland and New South Wales were practically wiped out by the drought, and if, as the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) says, the price of milk, butter, and cheese has gone up, it is owing to that cause. The drought was so severe that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), who was then Minister for Trade and Customs, repealed the fodder duties in order that the cab-drivers of the Yarra electorate might obtain cheap chaff from New Zealand.
– Is the honorable member in favour of deporting Australians?
– I am in favour of dealing with any criminals, spies, or enemies of my King and country. I am surprised that there are honorable members who always agitate and scream when law breakers are to be brought to justice, and seek to prevent them from getting their deserts.
– Who says they are law breakers? They have not been found guilty.
– Who has tried them?
– I ask honorable members not to persist in interjections.
– When the war was in progress, and the March of Freedom column was going through the Darling electorate, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) was conducting meetings protesting against the imprisoning of the Industrial Workers of the World, men who’ burned buildings in Sydney and attempted to destroy the whole of that city.
– How does the honorable member know that.
– I ask the honorable member for Darling not to interject.
– When Australia and the whole civilized world were threatened by the Hun, the honorable member was engaged in this work instead of getting behind the flag and behind those who were asking for reinforcements for our lads at’ the Front. If our friends opposite get on the Treasury bench, it will be good-bye to the liberties we prize so much, and which we have enjoyed so long. It is time that the eyes of the people were opened to this fact.
The honorable member for “West Sydney (Mt. “Wallace) said this afternoon that the graziers of Australia went on strike when the price of meat was fixed. He said that there was a big agitation in Melbourne, and he spoke of a big deputation to a Minister in the Queen’s Hall. He was right in saying that there was a deputation. I joined it. But the honorable member was wrong when he said that, as a result of that agitation, the Government had a fresh inquiry made. As a matter of fact, the second inquiry had already been held. The honorable member also gave us figures as to the truckings for Homebush and Flemington.
– They were extracted from the Sydney Morning Herald.
– I do not care what the Sydney Morning Herald says. Let the honorable member go to the meteorologist, and ask how many inches of rain fell about that time. It so happened that the breaking of the drought synchronized with the period to which he was referring. At least, the .drought did not completely break, but copious rains fell throughout New South Wales at that time. The honorable member knows what happens when a drought occurs. A grazier sends all his prime sheep and cattle to the market; in fact, he sends away all his forward stores in order to clear his paddocks ; but once the rain falls there are immediate withdrawals of stock from sale. That is exactly what happened on that occasion.
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) says that the Government have neither plan nor policy, and have done nothing for repatriation, but the Treasurer has pointed out that £21,370,050 has been provided for interest, .sinking fund on the war debt, for war .pensions, and for repatriation. It is said that comparisons are odious. If we compare the performances of the present Government with those’ of the Labour party, we find the comparison very odious indeed. The first War Pensions Bill was introduced by the honorable member for Capricornia, who has made this attack on the Treasurer (Mr. Watt). He was Treasurer of the Labour Government of the day. Hansard, page 8309, 22nd May, 1916, shows that that liberalminded Government thought 5s. a week a sufficient pension for the children of men who died for the Empire at the Front.
– The cost of living was 100 per cent, less then than it is now.
– That is not so. The Treasury was not depleted then. We had not raised war loans here, and there wa6 any amount of money in the country, yet the charity shown by that Government to the poor kiddies whose parents had died at the Front was 5s. per week.
– And you put a tax on their 3d. tickets for picture shows.
– There is a great difference between a child going to a picture show and a child pinched with poverty through losing his father at the war. On that occasion the Liberal Opposition, of which I was a member, protested against the Government proposal, and some of the better members of the Labour party joined in our protest. We moved that the amount be increased to 10s. per week. The present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) opposed us. There it is on record.
– And the present Prime Minister opposed you.
– He did nothing of the kind. His name does not appear. _
– I will bet that he did not vote against the Government of which he was a member.
– I shall be glad if some honorable member will look up the Hansard record for me. A division was taken, and the Government was defeated. They then brought down a proposal, which i6 the law to-day, that the first child should receive 10s., the second 7s. 6d., and every subsequent child 5s. per week. We have not to thank either the present Leader of the Labour party or the Deputy Leader for increasing the pension to those deserving children.
– Nor for Sir Samuel Griffith’s pension of £5 a day, for which you voted.
– I want no sidetracking. I am dealing, not with Sir Samuel Griffith, but with the Leader of the Opposition .
– Would you support a motion to increase the old-age pensions?
– He did not support it last week.
– There is a proper time and place to do that, which is not when the civil servants’ pay is under consideration.
Let us see what the honorable member who attacked this Government so violently on the Repatriation scheme yesterday did when he was Treasurer. The amount which the Labour Government thought fit and proper to vote’ for repatriation in the Estimates of 1916, as shown on page 8141 of Hansard, was the magnificent sum of £250,000, which, spread over 250,000 soldiers, meant an allowance of £1 each.
– Were 250,000 soldiers back in 1916 ?
– There were fully that number fighting at the Front, and we could assume that they would come back. A great many were already back at that time. On that occasion I .ridiculed the proposition, and said the day would come when we would have to spend £50,000,000 in this direction. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), referring to me, said that as a financier I would realize that my proposal meant about £2,500,000 per annum for interest., and asked by what form of taxation I proposed to raise that money. When I made the proposal, the honorable’ member nearly fainted to think that that colossal sum would have to be raised, yet the time has» come, as I predicted, when we have to spend that amount for this purpose. Only recently Senator Millen said that his great housing scheme for returned soldiers would, before it was completed, absorb fully £50.000,000. That would be in addition to all the money required to pay war pensions and other charges to meet the needs of the soldiers.
Honorable members have all received a little book from the Repatriation Depart ment. From it I take the following facts : -
Employment. - Out of 47,200 applications, 42,470 were placed in employment.
Total of purely unemployment cases at 31st May, 1919, 4,310, or 3.80 per cent, to total discharged.
Vocational Training. - Of 13,507 applications for vocational training, 7,513 courses were, approved.
At 31st May, 1919, 2,460 had completed courses of training, and 4,222 were pursuing their training courses.
Yet in the face of this we are told by the honorable member for Capricornia that the present Government have neither plan nor policy so far as repatriation is concerned.
A number of criticisms are hurled at the pastoralists by many members, who speak from the Opposition benches, ‘ and the Leader of the Opposition once referred to them as piratical profiteers. The pastoralists, taking them right through, are not making very big fortunes this year in many parts of Australia. Although the price of wool is fixed at 15£d., which is 60 per cent, more than the price before. the war, yet in the year 1912 the clip for Australia was 726,406,825 lbs., while the last available figures given by Knibbs show that for 1917 the clip amounted to only 547,702,295 lbs. This would leave a shortage of wool to be distributed amongst the pastoralists of Australia, equivalent to 33$ per cent. Now, the increase in the price of this commodity, on the oasis of the sales effected to the British Government as compared with the price obtained before the war, amounts to 60 per cent. But against that we have to allow for the enhanced price of all commodities used by the pastoralists, as the result of the inflation of our paper currency. They have been obliged to pay increased wages in addition,’ and consequently it is safe to affirm that practically everything which they use has gone up in price to the extent of at least 33£ per cent. Therefore, they are worse off than they were before.
– The honorable member ought to be writing prospectuses for mining companies. He is the greatest juggler with figures I have ever known. His figures are as astounding as are his deductions.
– Will the honorable member deny that the cost of commodities has increased by 33A per cent. ?
– No. I will go considerably farther than that.
– Then, may I not apply these figures to the pastoralists and the farmers 1 As the honorable member is well aware, much of his and my electorate for months past has been as bare of grass as is Collinsstreet, and many holdings have suffered from lack of water ever since February, 1918. I wish the Minister to give some sympathetic consideration to these drought-stricken districts in the western parts, of New South Wales. We do not approach him, cap in hand, but we do ask him to urge the Central “Wool Board to pay to these settlers the 10 per cent, which was deducted from the last wool clip and also from the three clips which have gone to England. If an announcement could be made as to the approximate amount that will be represented by our 50 per cent, share of any profit which may be derived in excess qf 15id. in accordance with the terms of our sale to the Imperial Government, the financiers of New South Wales and other parts of Australia would be willing to assist our pastoralists, and in that way the position would be materially relieved. Again, I think a more equitable method should be devised of taxing these pastoralists upon their pro- fits than that which is provided under our War-time Profits Tax Assessment Act. In that Act we followed the lines laid down in the British Act by taxing the average profits made over a period of three years.
– I think that the honorable member ought to have a quorum. [Quorum formed.”]
– If we wish to keep the leading industry of Australia alive, some consideration must be extended to the settlers in our remote rural areas. The biggest drought on record has struck most of the settlers in New South Wales within the past twelve months or so. I know of one station in the Tullamore district where the people have been obliged to have water brought by rail 80 miles to the nearest railway station, and then have it carted a further distance of some 20 miles, at an appalling cost. In order to keep their sheep alive they have had to mortgage all the property that they possess. Having done this, they are now called upon to pay, perhaps, £3,000 in taxation. The Government, I repeat, should extend to these men sympathetic consideration, otherwise they will be financially wiped out. I interviewed the Commissioner of Taxes in regard to this matter only a few days ago. He pointed out to me that the fault did not lie with him, and that our Land Tax Act, our Income Tax Act. and our War-time Pro-, fits Tax Assessment Act made some provision for granting relief in such cases. He stated that these men could apply for an extension of time within which to pay the sums demanded of them, and that he would then be in a position to investigate their claims. I ask the Treasurer to hint to his officers to give the case of these men sympathetic consideration. When men have gone out to the backblocks, and have done pioneering work, leaving the amenities of social life and the enjoyments available to the people of the big cities, and have faced ruin from droughts, something may well be done for their relief. I hope that the Government will take this view of the matter, and give these people the relief for which they are asking.
On the subject of the Wheat Pool, I think it is just as well that the people of Australia should be enabled to compare the position of the wheat farmer under the Labour Government and under the present National Government. I am not going to say that the present Government have done all that might have been done to assist the men on the land engaged in growing wheat. I say that much more could be done than has been done; but I wish to institute a comparison between the position of the wheat farmer under the Labour Government and under the present National- Government. The Labour party established the Wheat Pool in 1915. I think that it was established a little too early, as more wheat might have been sent away in the ordinary course in the earlier stages of the Avar. In 1915, however, the Wheat Pool was formed, and the fanners’ wheat taken into it. The point I wish to drive home is that the Labour party, when in power, took the farmer’s wheat, and, by way of a first instalment, gave him 2s. 6d. per bushel. The farmer had to wait for twelve or fifteen months before he got another, instalment. We aTe told by the Agricultural Department of New South Wales that it costs 4s. 2d. to produce a bushel of wheat in that State. So that, when the Labour Government gave the farmer 2s. 6d. per bushel, they called upon him to work at a loss of something like ls. Sd. per bushel. He had storekeepers and others to pay, and it is little wonder in the circumstances that a great many farmers went out of wheat growing. When the National Government came into power, one of the first things they did- was to increase the amount of the wheat farmers’ first instalment. I was very proud to learn, only a few months before the last harvest, that the National Government had determined to give these needy and deserving men a first instalment of 4s. 4d. per bushel.
– They are still going out of wheat-growing.
– I wish to point out to the honorable member that, so far as the interests of the farmer are concerned, the difference between the Labour Government and the National Government is the difference between 2s. 6d. and 4s. 4d. per bushel for wheat.
Mr.- Blakeley. - Can the honorable member explain, how it is that men are going out of wheat farming under the National Government?
– A great many axe going out because they do not get enough’ for their wheat; but what must have been their position when they received only 2s. 6d. per bushel under the Labour Government? That nearly killed them. They have been struggling for years, a,nd they are only now barely recovering. Another point to be remembered in this connexion is that, whilst one would think that the wheat farmer should be given some control of his own interests, under the Labour Government there was not a single farmer on either the State or Central Wheat Boards. There were some politicians, there were some school masters, and there was one bookmaker. I do not think that he had ever seen wheat growing in his life. ,
– Who was he?
– I shall not mention his name. We are discussing a vote of censure, and it is just as well that these matters should be cleared up. I am not in the habit of dragging such things into the daylight, but when Ave are attacked by the party opposite, it is only right that the country should know where we stand. I point out to’ the House and the country that under the Labour Government the wheat-growers had their business managed by people who knew nothing whatever about wheat. The wheat business Avas quite foreign to them. It would have been just as sensible to make a chimney sweeper Governor of the Commonwealth Bank as it Avas. to put some of the men selected by the Labour Government in control of the affairs of the wheatgrowers. When the National Government came into power, a representative of the farmers Avas appointed to the Central Wheat Board, as a result of a good deal of fighting on this side, but of none on the opposite side. Honorable mem» bers may search Hansard, and they will not find in it a single suggestion from the, party opposite that the wheat farmers should be represented on either the Central or State Wheat Boards.
– They did not know that . there had been a drought.
– That is so. The honorable member for South ‘Sydney says that we have had no drought. I am reminded by his statement that Mr. Fisher on one occasion spoke of the biggest drought we ever had as a “little drought.” Travelling through my electorate the other day, a man said to me, “ We are having another of Fisher’s little droughts ‘.” When the National Government, came into power, honorable members on this side, and particularly those in the cross-bench corner, who have the interests of the agriculturists at heart, fought strenuously and continuously until the Government gave way, and to our satisfaction and the greatsatisfaction of the farmers, the wheatgrowers are to-day fully represented on the Central and on the State Wheat Boards.
– Are they fully represented, in the opinion of the honorable member?
– If the Government would leave the matter in my hands, I think I could please the farmers better than they have been pleased by some of the appointments that have been made, but I am comparing their position now with their position under the Labour Government.
To my mind, one of the most regrettable things in connexion with Australian industries is that, as the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) knows, many of our farmers are going out of wheat-growing. .
Mi-. Blakeley. - They have gone out of wheat-growing under the National Government supported by the honorable member.
– They started to go out very much more quickly under the Labour Government, but they have very much less reason to go out of wheatgrowing under the present Administration. I point out that the area under wheat has been very considerably reduced. In 3915-16, the area under wheat was something like 12,4S4,512 -acres; and in 1917-18,- this area was reduced by something like 3,000,000 acres. That is an appalling fact. The one thing -we need in Australia is increased production. We have big liabilities to meet, and we have our soldiers to repatriate; and I say that the crux of the whole business in Australia is increased production, especially primary production. By the increase of primary production we may solve all the difficulties we have to face; we may reduce the cost of living, and by exporting our primary products bring wealth into the country, a’nd so be in a position to reduce our national debt.
I know that the Government are beset with great difficulties. I was talking to the secretary of the Central Wheat Board to-day, and asked him if it were possible for our farmers to get more for their wheat. I asked whether they might get something like the price ruling in Canada at the present time, which is 9s. 2d. per bushel? He pointed out that the great’ difficulties which the Government had to face were in connexion with freight. He said that it is known that the sum of £14 per ton has been refused for freight from Australia to Europe - which is equal to 7s. 6d. per bushel of wheat. He informed me that the Argentine, had fixed a. minimum price of 6s. 6d. per bushel for export. The fixed price was removed, and the market has since fallen to 5s. ll£d. The business done at the fixed price was small. Aus.tralian sales announced this year . have amounted to 152,000 tons, averaging 5s. lOd. per bushel f.o.b. Of this, 29,000 tons have been sold cif., averaging 6s. 7d. per bushel f.o.b.; and 123,000 tons f.o.b. have been sold, realizing 5s. 7#d. per bushel. That will give an idea of the almost complete absence of charterable tonnage. The rates of freight paid on the 29,000 tons have been, on Government steamers, S5s. to 105s. per ton. That accounts for the high price cif . sales. It is a remarkable fact that wheat which realized- 6s. 7d. per bushel was sent abroad in Commonwealth boats for which freights at S5s. and 105s. per ton were paid, whereas freights were refused by ships from foreign parts amounting to £14 per ton.
I desire the Government to consider the condition of the people who have settled in the country, and to give them every possible encouragement. If matters continue to drift as they are doing, the whole of the population of New South Wales will have centred in Sydney ere long, and the whole of the people of Victoria will be residing in Melbourne. I have prepared some illuminating figures in this regard. In 1909 the population of Sydney was 605,900; and the people in the country districts of New South Wales totalled 1,007,999. In 1918, Sydney’s population had increased to 792,700, while that of the remainder of New South Wales totalled 1,137,540. The increase for the past ten years in Sydney amounted to 186,800, and, in the country, to 129,541. In 3909 the population of Melbourne was 573,255, and of the rest of Victoria, 703,767. In 1918 the people residing in Melbourne numbered 723,500, and the country residents numbered 707,25S. That is to say, the population of the whole of the rest of Victoria is now about 16,000 less than the total in Melbourne. In 191S the population of metropolitan centres throughout the Commonwealth had increased by 450,630, whereas the country total had increased by only 245,888. We have only to proceed in similar fashion for another fifty years and the whole of the Australian people will be congregated in metropolitan centres. I presume that then, instead of eating wheat, we shall have become cannibals.
I am a firm believer in co-ordination with a view to the saving of money. At considerable trouble I have perused recent Estimates of the various States, and I have consulted also the Federal Estimates. In their Electoral Departments the States spent last year £S6,275; the Federal Department cost £53,700. A hint might well be taken from the action of Tasmania. When proportional representation was introduced in that little State the Federal boundaries and Federal rolls were adopted. There is but one electoral roll in Tasmania, and enrolment is compulsory. The one operation of placing an. elector’s name upon the roll suffices both for State and Federal purposes. The electoral system is carried on to-day in Tasmania at half the former expense, and thus the people are saved considerable taxation.
Mr. Knibbs, the Commonwealth Statistician, is’ doing very good work.
His Department is costing £15,013, and in all the States somewhat similar work is being done by State Statisticians at a cost of £32,117. If any honorable member has sufficient patience to read Knibbs’ Y ear-Book, and then compare it with the volume issued by the New South Wales Government, I venture to say he will find that fully 75 per cent, of the information is common to both. I believe a saving of at least £20,000 a year could be made by incorporating all the work in one volume under one statistician.
I might mention also the matter of immigration. We have an Immigration Bureau controlled by the Federal Government, and similar bodies under the control of the several States, all for the common purpose of encouraging people to come to Australia. To the Federal Government it matters not if an immigrant settles in New South Wales, Victoria, or any other of the other States ; he becomes a citizen . of the Commonwealth. Immigration should be controlled by one authority. At present this work is costing Australia £38,602.
There is also serious overlapping in the activities of the Agents-General and the High Commissioner. Last year the Agents-General of Australia cost the taxpayers of this country £40,307, and the expenditure on account of the High Commissioner was £48,841. The High Commissioner is housed in magnificent offices, and I feel quite’ certain that the whole of the work could be satisfactorily discharged by him with, perhaps, the help of a few extra clerks.
I am proud of the fact that there is no more loyal citizen than I claim to be. 1 pay the highest tribute to my King; but with all deference I think the time has come when the Governor-General should perform, all the duties which pertain to the high office of .the King’s representative, which is the link that binds us to the Empire. .The State Governors cost the States £42,485 a year, while the GovernorGeneral costs the Commonwealth £26,875.
I come now to Taxation Departments. I cannot see why one Department should not control the whole of our taxation machinery. I made a big fight over this question in Sydney with the Premier of
New South Wales (Mr. Holman), who said that it was impossible to have taxation matters under the control of a Federal Commissioner, because the State Governments ‘ tax incomes at their source, while the Commonwealth tax is on the distribution of profits. I feel satisfied that this matter is capable of satisfactory adjustment, and that Mr. Holman’s answer was no reply to the argument. The present system is an expensive luxury. I find the Taxation Departments of the various States cost £12S,705, and th’e Federal Taxation Department £273,067.
I know a man who has business interests in six different States, and has to make out separate returns for each State. Another gentleman, a former member of this House, told me that he had interests all over the Commonwealth, and was obliged to appoint an accountant, at a salary of £400 a year, to make up his returns, and to watch the amendments of the different Acts introduced by the several State Governments. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), has remarked that it costs some taxpayers more, in the employment of accountants, lawyers, and agents, to make up their returns than the amounts actually paid in taxation. The remedy is to have only one Department, and to have all taxation payable on one day. In this? way I feel quite satisfied that an important saving could be effected. This is a very serious matter. Right through my electorate I meet people who tell me they do not know how they are going to meet the heavy taxation that has been imposed upon them during this period of drought. The total amount paid for all these services by the States is £368,495, and by the Federal Government £417,496, or a total of £7S5,991. I estimate that, with amalgamation in the direction I have suggested, there would be a saving of at least £250,000 a year.
We also have the Commonwealth and State Savings Banks in competition. In the town in which I live there is a Commonwealth Savings Bank on one side of the street and a State institution on the other side.
– You believe, in competition,’ do you not?’
– If I were a tailor or a grocer, and- wanted to establish another branch of my business, I would not have it on the opposite side of the street. The same objection applies to this competition of savings banks, because they belong to the same set of people.
– Which bank would you close up?
– I do not care which. The deposits could be distributed equally. By closing one set of Savings Banks a very considerable saving could be made.
There is only one other matter to which I desire to refer. In the Woman’s Journal which I recently received, there appeared an extract from Liberty and Progress dealing with Federal and State taxation, and from it I make the following quotation, showing the number of employees in the service of the Commonwealth and the States, and the salaries paid : -
I venture to say that by a co-ordination of the work of the State and Federal Departments - by the several instrumentalities of government working in perfect harmony - we could save at least £10,000,000 of this expenditure. A strong, determined effort should be made by the State and Federal Parliaments to bring about this harmony, which is so much needed, and which would do much to relieve the people of the heavy burden of increased taxation to which they have to submit to-day.
– In perusing the Ministerial statement presented by the Acting Prime Minister. (Mr. Watt), and while listening to the various attempts made by honorable members opposite to bolster up their position
– How many of our party have spoken ?
– The honorable member, at all events, has not. I await with pleasure his explanation of the Government’s failure to bring down proposals to deal with the situation in Australia to-day. Those of the Ministerial party who have spoken have been eloquent in their attempts to point out what the Government have done for our soldiers. To my mind, however, those who promised the earth and all therein to our soldiers when they were going to the war are not showing now by their works that they intend to redeem their promises. They have not shown by their actions during the war, or by their dealings, either with the soldiers or with those dependent upon them at home, that they have any real care for the men whom they helped to send oversea to fight for what they said would make the world safe for Democracy.
It was said of the unionists who went on strike in the early ‘90’s that they were “lions led by asses.” It appears to me that our soldiers might be aptly described as lions misled by the financial foxes of this country. They have certainly been misled by the vultures who have battened on the necessities of their dependants, who in turn have been provided for only by the savings and sacrifices of the men to whom these promises were made. What has been done for these men 1 As a case in point, let me refer to the manufacture of tweeds. That was an industry, we were told, that would find employment for a number of returned soldiers. We were informed that cloth made here by returned soldiers was being purchased at 15s. per yard and retailed at something like 19s. per yard by firms who were prepared to receive unlimited orders for it; yet it has been considered unnecessary to continue that industry. Lately we have had in the Queen’s Hall an exhibition illustrating the various ways in which our soldiers might be suitably employed. But we find that those who made so many promises to members of the working class who went away to fight for Democracy and freedom, and for all the other things which they were told they would be fighting for, have so far forgotten their pledges that many returned soldiers to-day are engaged in breaking stones, in road making, and in other work of a similar kind. That is how the men are being rewarded.
– And 700 of them are stranded in Melbourne to-day because Mr. Walsh, general secretary of the Seamen’s Federation, pulled the crew out of the Wyandra, so that they could not reach their homes in Tasmania.
– What a confession of incompetence on the part of honorable members opposite! It is on a par with the statement made yesterday by the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) that during the last three weeks the Seamen’s Union had been ruling this country. That was a confession of either incompetence or cowardice on the part of the Government and their supporters. Either they are incompetent or too cowardly to deal with the situation.
– There is a good deal of truth in that.
– The honorable member may have his choice of these reasons. As a Government supporter he should be the last to declare that the seamen are keeping soldiers from their homes, since that is a confession of the Government’s impotence or lack of courage.
– But the seamen are holding up Tasmanian soldiers.
– I deny that; I say you are holding them up.
– Then the honorable member would say anything.
– That is mere assumption on the part of the honorable member. When the question of preferential voting was before the House last year he was loudest in his denunciation of the pre-selection ballot, and declared that such a system would be done away with under the amending Electoral Bill; yet he is now taking part in a conference which has determined to retain the preselection method.
– You are quite wrong.
– Does the honorable member say that the conference has not decided to maintain that method?
– It has not.
– -Very well, we shall leave that point till later. Only this evening a lady approached me in reference to her son, who had worked for nine years with one firm in town, has now returned from the Front, and is in receipt of a pension of 5s. a week. Twice during the past fortnight he has applied to that firm, which promised to keep his job open, but he is told that there is no job’ for him; although I thought that the Government and their supporters were keeping the employers up to the promises they had made in this respect. I have the name of the firm, and the name of the. soldier, if the Minister cares to make any inquiry into the matter. I make no bones about saying that the soldiers have been misled and deluded by those who misrepresented the facts, and to-day they are suffering the consequences. The men, as they are repatriated, are being disillusioned, and becoming the most dissatisfied section in the community. When they rejoin the ranks, of the civilian population they, find nothing but lack of employment and broken promises; “ and there will come’ a dark day of -reckoning when they quite wake up. I do hot make any’ distinction’ between a working man in uniform and a working man out of uniform. The only army I know is the army of industry, and the soldiers, as members of the working classes, have to be- looked after and found employment But the Government makes no real proposal . to deal with the position. There has been .all the war period in which to make preparation, and yet to-day soldiers and civilians alike arc looking for work throughout .the length and breadth of the country. In the Ministerial statement we -are told of the transport of troops, the. “ spade work “ in connexion with the housing scheme for returned soldiers, the influenza epidemic in the States, the consolidation of the Empire’s debts, and so on; ‘but, -although I have searched, I find absolutely no reference to the most vital problems from the everyday working man and woman’s point of view. ‘There is nothing to give a hint to the working people of the country as to how they are to make ends meet, or how their con- ditions are to be bettered. There is re,ference in the Ministerial statement, to the visit of Lord Jellicoe, the Royal Com-‘ mission on Commonwealth Expenditure, the “Wheat Pool, and the better organization of the dairy farmers, while there, is passing mention of the bottom falling- out of the metal market, and of the intention of the Government to make proposals to the ‘ Governments of the States “ which are calculated to relieve materially the stagnation arising out of the unfortunate stoppage of production.”- That’ may mean anything or nothing. We aTC told that the bottom has fallen out of the metal market, but no hint- is given as to the -policy of the Government regarding the metal mining industry in Australia. Then we. have- the paragraph -
Notwithstanding the elaborate legislation and machinery designed by the Commonwealth and the States to prevent or, settle industrial disputes, Australia is, ev.en at this critical time, faced by grave domestic troubles of this character.
Does anybody wonder at that? Does anybody imagine that Australia .can ;he immune from, .the .discontent, .and industrial unrest that is- world-wide at .the present time? Does anybody who considers how industry . and commerce, are naturally linked up throughout the world imagine that the Commonwealth can escape industrial disturbance or commercial dislocation?
– How can you expect to reduce .the cost of -living while those conditions prevail?
– I do not expect it.
– They are the prime cause of the, excessive cost of living.
– And honorable members opposite acknowledge their incompetence to deal with the matter. The industrial discontent is due to economic conditions that are part and parcel of the existing system of production. We cannot have people contented while the present exploitation of tho public is continued. Last night the honorable mem.ber -for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) denounced the price-fixing scheme, and contended it had materially affected the cost of living. Yet we find that his Leader said -
There is indubitable evidence that during the abnormal conditions created by the war the operation of the Price-fixing Department has saved the. consumer many millions sterling, and has prevented those tragic increases in the prices of goods which have been registered in every other country engaged in the great conflict.
Both statements cannot be true. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) spoke to-night of the great havoc played by trusts and combines. We know that they are operating in Australia, but there is no indication from the Government that they propose to deal with them. I ask leave to continue my remarks tomorrow.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
SUPPLY BILL (No. 1) 1919-20. Assent reported.
The following papers were presented : -
Customs Act - Regulations Amended - Statu tory Rules 1919, No. 151.
Defence Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1919, Nos.. 142, 143, 144.
House adjourned at 10.43 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 July 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1919/19190703_reps_7_88/>.