7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m. and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Minister in charge of the House whether he has any further statement to make in reference to the present unfortu- nate industrial position.
– Since the House last met the Government has had the present industrial trouble under its constant attention, and has taken action for the maintenance of the law; but in view of the information at present in our possession, and in the interests of an early resumption of industry, I would ask honorable members not to press for any further statement to-day. The Government desires at the present juncture, in view of certain definite developments now taking place, to leave a way open for a peaceable solution of the disastrous strike.
The following papers were presented : -
Postmaster-General’s Department - Eighth Annual Report, 1917-1918.
Ordered to be printed.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Orders of Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and other documents, in connexion with plaints submitted by the -
Australian Letter Carriers’ Association?Dated lath June, 1919.
Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association - Dated 25th June, 1919.
General Division Officers Union of the Trade and Customs DepartmentDated 6th June, 1919.
Audit Act - Transfers of Amounts approved by the Governor-General in Council - Finan- cial year 1918-19- Dated 18th July,1919 (two).
Defence Act - Regulations Amended_ Statutory Rules 1919, Nos. 155 to 158, 168.
Excise Act - Regulations Amended- Statutory Rules 1919, No. 186.
Northern Territory - Ordinance of 1919- No. 9. - Justices’ Appeals.
Northern . Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory Crown Lands Act 1890 (South Australia) - Plan of Reserve for Water . Conservation and Police purposes at Anthony’s Lagoon, Northern Territory (Reserve being unsuitable, not used).
Public Service Act -
Promotion of G. Sinden, PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1919, No. 164.
War Precautions Act - Regulations Amended -Statutory Rules 19.19, Nos. 166, 167, 176.
-Will the Acting Leader of the Government state whether the report of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into certain matters relating to the Waterside Workers dispute in Victoria is yet available to honorable members? Nearly three weeks have elapsed since the report was presented to the Governor-General.
– The report is not yet available.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs lay upon the table of the House the papers in connexion with the recent sale of surplus cornsacks?
– I shall lay the papers on the Library table for the information of honorable members.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation make a statement to the House during the present week as to what is being done under the War Service (Homes) Act with regard to those soldiers who have applied for assistance to purchase houses in respect of which they have already signed contracts of sale?
– I shall be giving some information on the subject in answer to a question upon notice this afternoon, and I hope to be able to make amuch fuller statement in the course of a week.
– Will the Minister in charge of the House state whether there is any truth in the report appearing in the press that Senator Pearce stated recently, in England, that the Government had decided to invite General Birdwood to visit Australia ? If the statement is correct, what is the purpose of the visit, and will the outlay in connexion with it be considered a war expenditure?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member refers, but; I do not think any man would receive a more cordial welcome to Australia than would General Birdwood.
– In view of the intention of the Government, as announced in the press to-day, to float a loan of £25,000,000 for war purposes, I desire to ask the Minister in charge of the House whether he can give us an assurance that the Government is not going to speculate in the purchase of ships abroad without first consulting Parliament.
– In view of the promised statement on the subject I would ask the honorable member to postpone his question.
– I desire to ask the Minister in charge of the House a question in regard to the treatment of a returned soldier. By way of explanation, I may be permitted to state that the soldier in question received a pension for two years, but throughout his life will have to wear an iron frame for his leg. When his pension was stopped he endeavoured to work, but broke down. He is the father of six children, one of whom died last week. He has just received the following notice from an agent: -
Dear Sir, - As you have made no effort to vacate the premises now in your occupation, or reduce arrears of rent owing, we are handing warrant of ejectment to the police for execution. To obviate the unpleasant proceeding of having your furniture put into the street, we would suggest you get some friends to take charge of same at the very earliest.
I desire to ask the Minister whether something cannot be done under the War Precautions Act or the Moratorium regulations to prevent returned soldiers so situated being ejected by landlords?
– If the honorable member will give me the letter he has quoted I shall make inquiries into the matter.
– In connexion with the proposal to place memorial stones on the graves of soldiers abroad, I desire to ask the Minister for Works and Railways whether the Government have considered the advisableness of using Australian granite or trachyte for that purpose?
– The proposal has not come before my Department, but I will have inquiries made to ascertain at what stage it stands. Naturally, if it can be done, we shall certainly utilize Australian stone.
– Will the Ministerin charge of the House state what is the present position with regard to the copper industry ?
– I replied to a question on this subject last week, when I stated that I had presided at a conference which had been held with the State Ministers of Mines. The whole question was discussed for two or three days, but until an opportunity has been given Ministers to confer with their respective Governments, it is not possible to make a statement with regard to it.
– Will the Assistant Minister for Defence state whether the Government are prepared to remove the present restriction against returned soldiers wearing the colours of the Allied and British war medals? Further, has the honorable gentleman seen a statement, published recently in the press, that the Imperial Government are issuing a special silver medal to all war workers? If the statement is correct, will that medal be issued in Australia, and, if so, under what conditions?
– The honorable member was good enough to intimate to me that he intended to ask this question, and I have been furnished with the following reply : -
As soon as information is received from the War Office that the British Government have determined the question of medals and ribands to be worn, permission to wear the ribands will be given to soldiers. The information which has already appeared in the press cannot be accepted as authentic. When the matter is decided, the Department will be notified by cable, and instructions will immediately be issued authorizing the wearing of the riband or ribands which may be approved, and issues will be made as soon as they are available.
– I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether, in view of the total disappearance of 6,000,000 bushels of wheat in New South Wales, the Government will immediately appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the whole of the transactions of the Wheat Boards of the different States ?
– Speaking from memory, I believe that the Acting Prime Minister has already replied to the honorable member’s question, pointing out that, so far as the Wheat Pools in the States are concerned, their management is a matter for the State Governments, whose responsibility it is. In the circumstances, it would not be fitting for the Commonwealth Government to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into their activities.
– I ask the Minister in charge of the House whether he has noticed in the cables that in France the profiteers have been obliged to reduce their prices on many commodities by 25 per cent., and in Italy profiteers have been obliged to reduce prices by 50 per cent. Will the Minister say when the people of the Commonwealth may expect similar action to be taken here?
– The question is somewhat complicated for an off-hand answer, but the honorable member must know that in Italy and in France the Governments have complete control of all the agencies of trade and commerce. The Government of the Commonwealth, under our Constitution, do not possess that complete control.
– When are the Government going to take action; that is what I want to know ?
– I am sure that the honorable member is well aware that it is impossible for us to take action in many directions owing to the form of our Constitution.
– Except under the Commercial Activities Bill.
– No, not even under that Bill. I am afraid if I dealt with that further I should be anticipating the discussion of a measure on the businesspaper. The question of dealing with profiteering within the extent of our powers is the subject of inquiry by the Government.
– Is the Minister aware that profiteering has arrived at such a stage in the Commonwealth to-day that, not only have people a difficulty in living, but it is a dangerous business to die, as undertakers in the capital cities are charging working people, and poor folk generally, as much as £25 for the plainest of plain coffins ? That is the worst kind of profiteering.
– I am not aware of the circumstance which the honorable member has brought under the notice of the House.
Retirement of Chief Justice
– I ask the Acting AttorneyGeneral whether it is true that the Chief Justice of the High Court is about to retire, and whether the Government have under consideration the appointment of his successor ? Do the Government propose to select as Chief Justice of the High Court some person outside the Court, or will they give due consideration to the claims of Justices at present on the High Court Bench for appointment to that position ?
– I hope to be able to make an announcement, possibly later in the day, on the subject-matter of the honorable member’s question.
– I ask the Minister in charge of the House whether it is a fact that the Government have prohibited the sale of arms and ammunition within the metropolis, and, if so, the reason for their action ?
– I have not heard of the matter. If the honorable member will put his question on the notice-paper I shall have a reply for him to-morrow.
Medical Attendance for Returned Soldiers
-It is now the practice that in all cases of illness of returnedmen, whether asthe result of war injuries or illness, the Commonwealth defrays the whole of the expense of restoring them to health, whether in Commonwealth hospitals or after their discharge elsewhere upon any recurrence of their illness. I ask the Assistant Minister for Defence whether the Government will make this practice retrospective so that it may apply to many returned soldiers who, before the present arrangement was made, spent every shilling they had, even of deferred pay, in trying to get hack to health, and to whom the Government declined to make a refund of expenses so incurred on the ground that the payment of such expense bythe Commonwealth was not authorized at that stage.
– I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Department.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs if he can inform the House as to when the Government intend to carry into effect the award made by Mr. Justice Powers increasing the wages of meat inspectors for the Commonwealth?
– I should like the honorable member to give notice of his ques- tion for to-morrow, but I may 6ay that my impression is that the award of the Arbitration Court has already been given the consideration which it deserves, and the men referred to are getting the extra wages proposed by the award.
Advances to Farmers
– In view of the recent large sales of wheat, will the Government advance to the farmers at least the -amount which has been guaranteed them?
– I am not in a position to give the honorable member an immediate reply, but I shall inquire into the matter, and let him know how it stands.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether it is true that the Government intend to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the whole of the facts in connexion with the manufacture of sheep dip in Australia, and its importation from abroad ?
– No. The matter has not had consideration.
– In regard to the money that is being allotted for “the relief of distress in, the various capitals and other places, is the Assistant Minister for Defence aware that only £250 has been spent on the relief of distress at Newcastle and Maitland, whereas thousands of pounds have been spent in other places? Will the Minister see that a fairer division of the amount set apart for this purpose is made in the future?
– I shall have the matter looked into.
– Has the Leader of the House any official information as to when the declaration of peace will be made ? As the liberty of quite a number of Australian people is dependent upon it, will he communicate with the authorities to have the declaration expedited as much as possible?
– The matter depends, to a great extent, on the Imperial authorities. We are keeping in touch with them so as to ascertain, as early as possible, the date fixed for the issue of the necessary proclamation.
Mothers of ex-Nuptial Sons.
– I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer if the Government are in a position to make a definite statement to the effect that the mothers of soldiers killed in the war who were born ex-nuptial will be placed in exactly the same position as regards pensions as are the mothers of soldiers born in wedlock who were killed in the war ?
– In the unavoidable absence of .the Treasurer I ask the honorable member to put his question on the notice-paper for to-morrow, when an answer will be supplied.
– I wish to ask the Assistant Minister for Defence a question, without notice, with reference to a case mentioned in the Herald of last evening. It is stated that a mother of an exnuptial. son was fined £54 for drawing a pension illegally, though her son was killed at the Front. I call attention to the matter as one who has appeared on recruiting platforms,’ with others, and made promises as to what would be done for the parents of our soldiers. I ask the Minister whether he has noticed the statement made in connexion with this case, that the mother of an ex-nuptial son had to borrow money from her master to pay the £54 she was called upon to refund ? If this is the fault of any official of the Department, will the Minister see that he is punished for the cruelty he inflicted ?
– I have not heard of the ease referred to, but I shall make inquiries.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs been drawn to a paragraph in the Argus of to-day about an attempt made in South Australia to export some “ faked “ butter? According to the newspaper, the Customs held up this butter; and I should like to know whether the Minister can inform the House what action his Department intends to take in regard to the firm concerned?
– I have not seen the paragraph referred to,but some little time ago similar circumstances were brought under my notice, and it is no doubt to these the honorablemember refers. In that case the State Government have taken action for breach of the State law, and proceedings are pending by the Commonwealth in respect of the same firm.
– Has the Acting Attorney-General noticed in this morning’s newspapers the reported action of the Tasmanian Government regarding Government insurance legislation; and can the honorable gentleman tell us when we may expect similar action on the part of the Commonwealth Government?
– I have not seen the paragraph referred to, and I am not in a position at present to make any definite announcement in regard to Commonwealth insurance legislation.
– In view of the fact that it has taken the postal authorities twelve months to deliver a letter addressed to me - a letter which, though properly addressed, was received by the Parliamentary Library through the Dead Letter Office - and in view of a probable change in my address very shortly, I should like to know from the PostmasterGeneral whether he will see that my correspondence is properly delivered in the future?
– I do not happen to be the postman concerned; hut I shall endeavour to see that the honorable member’s letters are properly delivered in the future.
– Applications from mail contractors for a forage allowance, in view of the prevailing drought conditions, have been forwarded by me and other honorable members of the House to the Postmaster-General; and I should like to know whether that honorable gentleman will expedite the consideration of these applications, so that the contractors concerned may know exactly where they stand? It is six months since I sent in applications to the Department.
– I have yet to reply to a question which, I think, the honorable member asked me last week.
– That was in reference to mounted mailmen, not mail contractors.
– Mail contractors were involved in that question, and I shall reply to the honorable memberat the earliest opportunity.
– I desire to ask the Acting Attorney-General whether, in view of the declaration of Peace, the Cabinet will consider the freeing of all political prisoners, including Messrs. Long, Seminoff, and Freeman ? Further, if the Cabinet do not agree to that suggestion, will the Australian-born political prisoners be liberated ?
– The men to whom the honorable member refers are not considered to be in any sense political prisoners. As regards Mr. Long, there has already been a reduction in his case on account of the Peace, and further representations on his behalf are being considered. As to Freeman, he is not regarded as a political prisoner at all. I ask the honorable member to give notice of the second part of his question.
Bunkering of Warships
– Is the Acting Min ister for the Navy aware that, while there are over 30,000 people out of work in Melbourne owing to the scarcity of coal, 500 tons are being placed on men-of-war to-day in order to send those vessels to Sydney? Why not allow the vessels to remain in Melbourne, and use the coal for industrial purposes?
– I am not aware of what has been done, but I shall make inquiries, and inform the honorable member later on.
– Is it correct that a quantity of honey, which was the subject of a case before the Courts, and, by the decision, was forfeited to the Crown, has been handed back to the firm who endeavoured to illegally export it?
– There was a case of the kind some time ago, and, no doubt, it is to that the honorable member refers. The guilty parties were fined, and the penalty carried with it the forfeiture of the goods, subject, of course, to Ministerial approval. I went into the case very thoroughly, and found that, after complying with the conditions imposed by the Customs, the gentleman who endeavoured to export the honey illegally had been mulcted in a sum of about £2,000.
– If he had got his honey away he would have made about £10,000.
– I am speaking of what the case cost him. Under those conditions, it was considered that what he had suffered was a sufficient penalty, and the forfeiture of the honey was not insisted on.
– Has the attention of the Postmaster-General been directed to the case of a very mild-mannered man named Linden, who, I am informed on good authority, was yesterday endeavouring to get home to his wife and family from the centre of a very turbulent scene in one of the streets of Melbourne, when, without cause, he was arrested, brought before a zealous justice of the peace, and fined £6 for resisting the police and using obscene language? Has this case come under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral departmentally, and, if so, or when it does, will he see that there is full inquiry before this man is subjected to departmental punishment in addition to a punishment which, I suggest, has already been wrongfully inflicted on him?
– I did read in the press this morning a statement similar to that mentioned by the honorable member, and I assure him that,while I am in charge of the Department, any officer against whom a charge may be levelled will receive justice.
Mr.FINLAYSON. - In view of the statement made in the House last week that returned soldiers would be allowed to retain their overcoats, and in view of the fact that a. soldier who applied to Victoria Barracks, in Brisbane, as per letter in the Daily Standard of 16th July, was informed that the issue of greatcoats was not applicable to demobilized soldiers, will the Assistant Minister for Defence issue such instructions as will leave no further doubt that the issue does extend to demobilized soldiers?
– I shall see that that is done.
-Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the House of the reason for the recent rise in the price of butter in New South Wales, at a period when the producers in all the States are equally deservingof an advance owing to the result of drought conditions ?
– The reason why the price was advanced in New South
Wales was that it was necessary to take a certain quantity of butter out of the winter pool, whereas in other States there is a surplus of production over requirements.
Settlement of Returned Soldiers
– Will the Minister for Home and Territories inform the House of what progress has been made towards the fulfilment of his promise to settle some returned soldiers in the Federal Territory?
– I think the latest step takenin that direction was the visit of the secretary of the Repatriation Department to the Federal Territory, in company with Mr. Goodwin. I have had an oral conference with one of those officers, but I have not yet received their final report.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation read the statement made by Sergeant McKenzie at the conference of returned soldiers in Adelaide, that there are8,000 soldiers in the Commonwealth out of employment? Will the Minister make inquiries regarding the correctness of that statement, and inform the House of what stops are being taken to absorb those and other men who are unemployed?
– I have read the statementreferred to. A little time ago a statement was published that the number of returned soldiers who had applied for work, and had not yet been placed in employment, numbered 7,000; but they represented a very small percentage of the total number of soldiers who had been repatriated. Everything possible is being done to place those men in suitable employment.
– Does that mean the displacing of other good men, in order to find employment for the soldiers?
– The avoidance of that course makes the work of finding employment more difficult.
– I ask the Minister in charge of the House whether any action has been taken to relieve the distress of the wife of a sailorwho had been employed in mine sweeping in the North Sea, and whose case I referred to on Thursday last?
– The letter which the honorable member gave to me was passed on to the Assistant Minister for Defence, who next morning communicated with the honorable member, with a view to getting the address of the lady. I understand that, in the meantime, further inquiries are being made by the Department.
– The honorable member for Franklin has notified me of his intention to move the adjournment of the House, in order to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The present position of the producing, industrial, and commercial interests and of the social life of Australia and Tasmania caused by. the existing strike of the Seamen’s Union.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– I make no apology for asking the House to consider the serious position which has been caused by the existing strike. I hold that it is the duty of this House to deal with these problems, and, no matter what happens outside, or what action maybe takenby others, thisParliament can only hold itself and the Ministry responsible for the good government of the country. Whilst the executive of the Seamen’s Union are primarily responsible for the position to-day; for the state of affairs that has existed during the last eight weeks, for the conduct of affairs during the last eight weeks honorable members, and especially those sitting behind Ministers, must take the full responsibility. The majority here must either condone the administration of the Government during the present crisis, or take the responsibility of discussing it, and even condemning it. The only way in which a matter of this kind can be determined is by permitting free and open discussion in the House. The people of Australia will condone any honest effort which is made, even mistakes in policy, errors of judgment, or blunders in administration, but it will neither forgive nor forget inaction, or callousness, or a surrender of the rights of this House and the Democracy of Australia to any party outside, to any class, creed, or faction, Capitalist or Labour union. But for the last eight weeks the National Government and the National Parliament of Australia have not been governing the trade and commerce of this continent. On the contrary, the Seamen’s Union have succeeded in doing what the German submarines failed to do. They have practically driven the coastal shipping of Australia off the seas.
– And the ship-owners are going bankrupt.
– The honorable member need not worry about the shipowners. They are being paid all right. The Seamen’s Union’s executive have deliberately challenged the rights of the people. They said that they would control the trade and commerce of Australia, and, so far, they have succeeded in doing so. The camouflage and pious aspirations uttered by the present Leader of the House (Mr. Groom) carry us nowhere unless it be to just where we have stood for the past eight weeks. Meanwhile, because .of this strike, tens of thousands of people in Australia are out of employment, and many are short of the bare necessities of life. While there are millions of tons of coal in New South Wales, factories are closed all over Australia owing to a lack of fuel, and thousands of the poorer people are shivering in their homes during this winter because they have not the fuel with which to warm them. Sugar, of which there should be a splendid supply in Australia, is being rationed out in the greater portion of the continent, and factories, whose main requirement it is, are closed, throwing thousands and thousands of persons out of employment. Large quantities of fruit are rotting in Tasmanian orchards, while the people of New South Wales and Queensland are short of fruits which grow in a temperate climate. Thousands of feet of timber are lying on the Tasmanian wharfs, while saw-mills there are closed down, and men are thrown out of employment. What a satire it is on our system of government that all these things should occur, de spite the fact that every man and every woman in this community is entitled ‘to exercise the franchise !
– How capable are our captains of industry !
– If by “captains of industry “ the honorable member means “ rulers of industry,” I can . tell him that they are associated with him today. It was the duty of the Government to man the ships in order to prevent this paralysis of the trade and commerce of Australia. Similar strikes have occurred before. In 1916 the then Minister for the Navy (Mr. Jensen), a Minister in a Labour Government, slopped an exactly similar strike in two hours. When the seamen and firemen were called off a transport by the executive of their union, the Minister gave them two hours to find a crew, and when they refused to do so, he manned the .vessel with naval reservists. His prompt action prevented a strike; but if he had done as has been done in the present crisis, the situation would probably have been just what faces us to-day. On the 14th June last the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) was offered from Tasmania a full crew if he would let the people of that State have a steamer. That telegram was repeated a week later. They were both urgent messages, but no reply has been . received to the representations made in them.
– Who is to blame for . that, the Government or Admiral Clarkson ?
– I sent a telegram to the Acting Prime Minister, but, receiving no reply, I repeated my wire a week later, saying, “On the 14th I wired you as .follows . . . Please reply for meeting to-night.” On the following day I received a wire to this effect -
Kumala loading 50,000 cases at Hobart.
I knew all about this -
Coolcha, with a carrying capacity of 2,750 tons dead weight, we hope will lift fruit in three weeks.
That is all the answer I have received up to date. On the occasion of the last strike we sent a crew from Tasmania to Sydney, manned the Yarra, and brought her down to Hobart. We offered to do the same again. The offer has been made repeatedly. Since I left Tasmania the Government have been assured that if they would let the people of Tasmania have a steamer a crew would be found for it.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the Government do not wish to end the strike?
-Of course, the Government must answer for themselves, but this is the extraordinary feature: There are certain boats in Australia which have not been commandeered by the Government. The greater portion of those steamers are running to-day.
– What freights and fares are they charging compared with what the Government were charging?
-That has nothing to do with finding a crew. There is untold misery, ruin, and wretchedness all over Australia to-day. In my own State thousands of people are being ruined, and if it were not for the moratorium they would be on the roadside. The whole of their crop has been absolutely wasted. You can store wheat, wool, and minerals. You cannot store fruit, except in cool chambers, and every cool store is taxed to its utmost capacity. Tens of thousands of cases of fruit have rotted, and are rotting to-day. Are those men responsible for the strike? The curse of strikes is that they hit the innocent more than they hit the guilty. We have here two contending partiesthe Government on the one side, and the strikers on the other.
– Not the ship-owners?
– They are only using the Government as a stalking horse.
– I cannot help that. The whole of the boats have been commandeered by the Government, and the Government is, I understand, paying for them. The ship-owners to-day have hot a single voice in what they pay their men, or in the freights, conditions, or running charges of those boats. Therefore, whatever the conditions are, the struggle to-day is between the Government of the Commonwealth and the strikers. The Government, so far as I can see, is sitting down to see who can take the most punishment - the strikers on the one side, or the public on the other.
– What do you say the remedy is ?
– I would have strong men to run the Government; I would re-construct the Shipping Board; I would have the boats manned immediately, and. would at once improve the fo’castleconditions of the men.
– Wipe out the fo’castle.
– I have seen fo’castles, and so has the honorable member, and I say the fo’castles in many of these boats are nothing better than floating slums. The shipping conditions ought to have been improvedyears ago, and ought to be improved to-day, but that is noexcuse for the strike. It is no excuse for this House being paralyzed. It is no excuse for the Ministry allowing a body of irreconcilables to snatch from their weak hands the government of this country. I repeat that, so far as the mercantile marine of Australia is concerned to-day, the Government is helpless, and this House is powerless - unless it acts.
– Wait till “ William “ comes back. He will straighten them up.
– Does my honorable friend suggest that we should allow this condition of things to go on for an indefinite period until some one arrives to furnish a remedy ? We cannot shake off our responsibility in that way. The responsibility rests on the Government and on the House. Every member of the House must take his full and complete share of it. We are the trustees of the people. We are sent here by the greatest Democracy that the world has ever seen so far as liberality of franchise is concerned. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page) asked, quite correctly, the other evening, “ What do you wanta revolution for in Australia when every man and woman has an open door to the ballot-box? “ When we enter Parliament we are the trustees of the rights and privileges of those who sent us here. It is our bounden duty to see that the rights and privileges of the people of Australia are not surrendered to any gang of irreconcilables who are not prepared to accept the verdict of their own Court.
I was on the Yarra Bank on Sunday. I think it is often a good thing for a public man to hear both sides of a question; but what struck me most there was a very eloquent attack on Mr. Justice Higgins. One speaker asked, “ What chance have the seamen got from a fifty quid a week Judge? “ I could not help thinking of what a great cynic once said - “Hosanna yesterday; crucify him today “ - the palm leaf and the roses yesterday, the cross to-day. Mr. Justice Higgins was at one time the idol of men of whom the speaker I heard on Sunday was the representative. So long as the verdict , of the Court went in their favour all was perfectly right. On Sunday, from practically every stand we went to, we heard the Arbitration Court condemned. It was said that the Court was “ done,’’ and that no unionist should go to it. I believe the Arbitration Court has done more for the workers of Australia than has ever been done by all the other united actions on the part of the people of Australia put together.
– It is too slow, and too costly.
– I am not going to say it is not slow or not costly, but any unprejudiced man, who compares the present position of the workers of Australia with what it was when we passed the Arbitration Act, must admit that the ArbitrationCourt has done an enormous service to the workers. I agree with those who favour the abolition of the Arbitration Court if its verdict is not to be accepted when it goes against those who appeal to it.That is not arbitration. If arbitration is to be maintained - and the Court is on its trial now - there must be a distinct understanding that when people go to the Court to have their claims arbitrated upon, they will loyally and honestly accept the verdict, whether it is for or against them, and whether it is partial or complete.
– What power has the Arbitration Court to make the mineowners of Broken Hill, or any other employers, keep their businesses running if they do not want to ?
– One of the greatest injuries ever done to the commercial life and industrialism of Australia was when His Honour Judge Higgins made the most unfortunate remark thai: there was nothing to compel men to accept the verdict of the Court, or to make them go to work.
– That is only a truism. Everybody knew it, or ought to have known it.
– If the Arbitral tion Court’s awards are only to be binding on one party-
– The workers.
– It does notmatter which party, then the Court has failed, and we shall have to find some other means in substitution.
Far too much time has been wasted by the Government and by the House in dealing with this strike. The time has come when steps must be taken to set the wheels of industry again in motion. If the Government is not prepared to take the necessary action, then the members of this Parliament, and especially those on this side of the House, must take the responsibility of their inaction, or of what they do. But one thing I can tell the Government and the House - that the people of Australia are sick and tired of the vacillation in this matter.
– What would you do now if you had the chance?
– I would put a few strong men in the Government. I would immediately reconstruct the Shipping Board, since, as long as it consists solely of managers of shipping companies, it will never command the respect of the seamen or public of Australia. I would improve the men’s accommodation on ship board, and proceed at once to man the ships. The workers who are out of employment, the business men who are being ruined, and the producers who, in some of the States, are especially suffering, will no longer tolerate the indifference and callousness that have been shown during the last few weeks.
– I was very glad to hear the statement, brief though it was, made bythe Acting Leader of the House (Mr.
Groom), to the effect thatthe Government are hopeful that a satisfactory solution of the seamen’s strike is near at hand. I intervene in this debate only because of the outlook in the State of which I am a representative, and with the conditions of which I am most familiar. I fear that the almost entire silence of the Government and the National Parliament from the beginning of the dispute may be misconstrued by the people. Having regard to the occurrences of the last few days, it is only right that the people should hear in no uncertain way how the National Parliament regard the situation.
The present strike is serious and farreaching in its disastrous effects on every phase of commercial and industrial life, and embraces every home in the land within the sweep of its destruction and misery. It is absolutely and wickedly on justifiable while an open Arbitration Court is available to consider and adjust any tangible grievance. That Court was practically created at the instance of a Labour Government. It has done much for the seamen of Australia to date, and is prepared to-day to hear their further grievances. The principle of arbitration is part of the declared policy of Labour, and appears at this very moment on its platform.
I consider, with the Minister, that there is hope even at this, the eleventh hour, be- cause I believe that the great body of Labour in Australia will vigorously denounce the few wild irresponsibles who have led the seamen into this awful impasse. It is inconceivable that the Government should submit to this flagrant rebellious defiance of constitutional authority, which is paraded with impunity under the very shadow’ of the National Parliament. It is not a strike in the ordinary way. It is striking at the very vitals of our national existence, at the very heart of this Democracy, which the French delegation said, on returning to Paris, was the finest expression of true Democracy to be found in any part of the world. This strike is anything but demo- cratic. It aims at the destruction of the very temple that Labour, after thirty years of struggling, has set up, and I do not believe that Labour as a whole approves the way in which the seamen are being led.
– Fancy their being judged by the honorable member!
– I ask the honorable member’s close attention to this matter, because it is most serious, and all Australia is looking on.
This is an ill-conceived first instalment of direct action, and is not a strike in the ordinary sense of the term. It is a specimen of that Bolshevism which has devastated Russia, and has left a slimy, damnable trail of despotism far worse than the most brutal despotism Czardom ever knew. Will not the Government give the people of Australia a chance to throttle this hideous monster at its birth? I want to know if government is supreme today? That is a pertinent question to ask. I want to know if the dignity and power of the law are not equal to the suppression of this concealed disloyalty in our midst? The great body of Labour has no time for this business. The people of Australia are watching the men on the Labour side who have any expression to offer in favour of the way in which everything in Australia is being held up to-day by a few rebels. It is a revolution, and nothing short of a revolution, that is taking place.
It is gratifying to find to-day that there are a few conspicuous prominent leaders of Labour who are prepared, in connexion with this trouble, to call things by their right names. I desire particularly to refer to the fine courageous statement by the President of the Trades and Labour Council in South Australia - a statement that, on the face of it, is marked with honesty of purpose - and to express my admiration of the courage that enables him at this time of turmoil to seek to lead the masses in the right direction. It is to be deplored that there are not more leaders of Labour in Australia like Mr. Birrell, who has the courage to say what he knows is right, and to seek by every means in his power to stem the tide of this rebellious leadership that would lead the community to destruction. It is a pity there are not more Labour leaders following in the wake of Mr. Birrell, and I certainly regret that we have not had in this House a statement by the Leader of the great Australian Labour party (Mr. Tudor). We ought to be told how he views an action that is responsible for bringing wretchedness and misery to thousands of homes in every part of this continent.
We have, day by day, hundreds of trams in the streets of Adelaide remaining idle from 9.30 a.m. until 4 p.m. The position of those who reside in the metropolis, however, is not as bad as that of others. In the metropolitan area, our people can get from their business places, to their homes by some means or other. But what is to be said of the position of the wayback people in South Australia, Tasmania, and Queensland? What is to be said of these people, whose provisions have to be carried by rail, at enormous freightage, because there is no means of obtaining sea-borne goods. We are threatened with the possibility, in a very short time, of even the present available transport being cut off altogether - and all this at the instigation of a few Yarra-bank rebels.
I feel satisfied to-day that good will come out of this evil; that Labour in Australia will be purged of these rebels, these disloyalists, these men for whom Australia ought not to have a place. I appreciate the difficulties that confront the Government. Their position is not an enviable one; but, in my opinion, they have delayed too long. The responsibility rests with them; but I believe that, at this very moment, there is hope of saner counsels prevailing. If they do prevail, every one in this community will thank God for the possibility of industrial peace. If they do not - if the seamen will not man the ships - then the Government must man them, to take coal and provisions to every State in the Commonwealth. I believe that the heart of the people is sound. There has been a lot of talk about rebellious soldiers. I believe that every honest “digger” who has made good is sound, and that, just as he made his name and the name of Australia famous by his loyalty and devotion on the battle-field, so he will be equally conspicuous in uphold-;: ing the laws and institutions of Australia,, where the freedom, of the people is equal; to, if not better than, that enjoyed in anyother part of the world.
I am not here to make inflammatory statements as to how the work should be ‘ done; but the people must be fed, and if the Government will do the right thing, then from every part of Australia there will be forthcoming men to uphold the right and to deliver us from the damnable disloyalists that are growing all too numerous in this country.
.- . No one who had not the advantage of, seeing the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) while he was speaking could- possibly be sufficiently impressed by his pumped-up indignation. I think it is a. pity that a> debate of this character should be confined to honorable members on one side of the House, even though there should be such an evident desire on the part of a number of counter-revolutionaries, like the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly), to have a word to say in it.
I sympathize with a good deal that has been said by the honorable member who moved the motion. I concur heartily, with him in the statement that the affectation of strength on the part of this apparently impotent Government does not* serve to convince people outside that they are really doing the best that could be done in the interests of this country in. the very trying time through which we: are now passing.
I do not feel disposed to pay very much attention to all that is said in the press or elsewhere about the attitude of the Labour party towards this industrial struggle, but, as one who has taken a good deal of interest in the policy of arbitration and its administration in this country, I think it right that I should, in a debate of this character, make my , position quite clear, lest it be suggested that I have any ulterior reason for remaining silent. I am tickled a good deal by the attitude of honorable members on the other side in their new-born zeal for the policy of arbitration. I have a lively recollection of the fact that from that side of the House has. come most, if not’ all,- of the criticism of arbitration as :itr. is carried on in this country. I am not forgetful of the fact that a movement was made from that side of the House to remove the present honoured President of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and that petitions from “right-thinking persons” outside were directed to them, pointing out that thi6 policy of arbitration .was crippling the industries of the country.
With the principle of arbitration I am in’ complete concurrence. I recognise that arbitration has done a great deal of good for the workers of this country, as well sis, possibly, directly or indirectly, for the employers of the country also.
– More especially when the union had a punch behind it.
– This policy of arbitration has imposed upon the employer the obligation that if he is desirous of entering upon a .particular kind of indus- try or undertaking, and of employing men to do a certain class of work, he is, under the law, compelled to comply with certain conditions and pay a certain wage to the men carrying on such operations for him. It imposes upon employees the obligation that if they desire to engage in a certain class of work they cannot look to the law for any support or assistance beyond, the conditions and wages ‘which have been prescribed by the Arbitration Court as, in all the circumstances, adequate. In this way the Arbitration Court has done much to regulate industry, and has., I think, done much to settle industrial dis:putes, real and technical.
But one thing that arbitration has net done is to compel any employer - as the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) has suggested in an interjection - fc<: carry on any class of work or to employ any man. It has not imposed any restriction upon his perfect liberty in that regard And the Arbitration Court, conversely, does not impose upon any individual in this community, professing to enjoy British liberty, the obligation to go to-, work for any employer at any time. Therefore, when’ the honorable member for- Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) speaks of (the ‘ injury which Mr. Justice Higgins has ‘done’ by. the declaration of nothing more than a’ truism, which he made in the Court recently, it appears to me that he is misconceiving the fundamental principle of arbitration.
I have only a limited time at my disposal, and I wish to come to the real issue with which we are faced in connexion with this most regrettable industrial trouble. Its effects have not been exaggerated. The suffering has been rather understated than overstated. It is far too great’ and intense to be treated lightly by any member of this House. The position as I understand it is that the Government claim to be the controllers of the shipping. They claim that they are the employers of the men who may man the ships. Yet they sit to-day inactive in the face of the fact that in this, the greatest of all industries, they are not able to obtain men to carry on this work for the country.
– They have not tried to do so.
– Whether they have tried or not, the fact remains that they have not done so, and the work is not going on. The Government seek to evade their responsbilities. It is for them, as the employers of labour to be used on the ships, to say whether the claims of the men are or are not fair and reasonable. It is for the Government, responsible to this House, and this House, responsible to the country, to have information in their possession as to what the claims of the seamen are, and what the conditions are which prevent the wheels of industry going round, and which cause all the suffering that is being inflicted on this country.
– The honorable member forgets that the Government send all their servants to the Arbitration Court.
– The Government cannot compel any man to go to the Arbitration Court. Let them put the notion of arbitration out of their heads. Let them not be taking refuge behind the Arbitration Court any -longer. The seamen will not go to the Arbitration Court, and they cannot be compelled to go to it. There is no law to -compel them to go to the Court. Very well, what next? That- is the question for us to consider. The next thing is to find out why the Government cannot get the men to man the ships. The reason is that the seamen say, “ This is the lowest wage for which we will work. These alone are the conditions, the bedrock, conditions, upon which we will work for you.” Very well, it is for the Government to see if they can offer conditions’ to men in this country such as will induce them to work for them. Do they contend that the seamen have such a prejudice against them that they will not work for a fair thing, or under fair conditions? No ; the truth is that the Government keep on referring to the matter of arbitration instead of getting at the crux of the question, and that is the conditions of labour and the wages which they are prepared to offer for the work.
They have prosecuted a man because they say he broke the law, have fined him £300 or £400, and have given him three months’ gaol. That ought to satisfy them so far as that matter is concerned. If the Government cannot get men to work for them, if they offer terms so unattractive that not a single seaman will go down to the ships to work, let them have the courage of their opinions. Let them take their courage in both hands, as suggested by honorable members opposite, and bring men down to the waterside, and let them go into the forecastle, and attend to the donkey engines and work the ships, instead of the members of the Seamen’s Union. Possibly, when some of those men had been at work for twenty minutes, they would have -a better appreciation of the situation of the seamen of the country, and they might, indeed, come out as propagandists on behalf of the union, and the cause for which it stands. If that were net so, let them man the ships and take them away, and then, possibly, some members of the Seamen’s Union would qualify for some of the easier jobs which the men who replaced them were carrying on outside.
– The Government ought ,to get a good crew from honorable members opposite.
– The honorable member would be in the lee scuppers all the time
– You ought to be damned well ashamed of yourself !
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) to resume ‘his seat. I remind honorable members that in speaking’ to this debate their time is limited. . It is necessary, therefore, that interjections shall be as few as possible. Interjections such as that which I have just heard are entirely out of order, and I hope they will not be repeated.
– Well’, if the honorable member for Henty chooses to’ interject:
– Order ! . I have scarcely resumed my seat when there is another interjection. I ask. honorable members to observe the Standing Orders, or else to leave the chamber.
– Let the Government call for volunteers to man the’ ships. Such a course as that would at least command respect for consistency. Let them see how many, and what class of men, they can find to run the ship3.
Before I close I want to make this practical suggestion. In view of their responsibility, the .Government should report to this House, after obtaining the necessary information, what they think of the claims of the seamen. Let us hear no more about the seamen going into a Court into which they will not go. Let the Government appoint a committee of honorable members from both sides of the House, or from one side if they choose, and furnish this House with a report as to whether or not the claims of the seamen are fair and reasonable, ‘ and as to whether the conditions for which they ask are reasonable. This is a responsibility which the Government has not dared to take up to the present, but this House should have first-hand information, as the body which must attend to this matter in the last resort.
[4.281. - It is not ‘my intention to take up the time of the House at any length on the motion. . I made an appeal to honorable’ members at an earlier stage of the debate, and asked them not to press for a further statement of the position at the present time, in view of the fact that developments were likely to take place which might lead to a peaceful solution of the question. I still ask honorable members to bear that in mind in connexion with the discussion.
– Can the Minister give us any idea of what the developments are?
– I am not in a position to say more at this stage. Might I be allowed to say that the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) spoke very warmly, as if he were the compendium of all that is wise, for the settlement of the strike. The honorable member’s speech is a very good illustration of much of the criticism to which the Government have been subjected. The honorable member took up the whole of his allotted time; hut I do not think that the strike is going to be altered one hair’s breadth by any suggestion he was pleased to make. Not one single suggestion of a practical character did he make to assist in the solution of the difficulty. He had much to say in his personal criticism of the Government; but his own opinion of the Government is a matter for himself,and he can answer for it to his constituents. We, as a Government, have had to face one of the most difficult problems in connexion with industrial matters that any Government have had to face.
– You faced it backwards.
– The honorable member is judging other people by his own actions and conduct. The question before us is a complex one, which has been constantly under the consideration of the Government; and the House will he satisfied, at a later stage, of the wisdom and justice of every step we have taken. I do not desire at this present time to repeat the whole history of the strike, step by step, and the efforts made by the Government to settle it. Honorable members who have studied the various stages of the trouble must know that the. Government have endeavoured in every way possible, consistentlywith their posi tion and their duty, to have the matter peacefully . settled.We all know and realize the sufferings of innocent people, with whom we have naturally every sympathy; but the Government are not responsible for that suffering. We have tried to find a peaceful solution, or, at any rate, to prevent a spread of the suffering; and, under the circumstances, and in view of what is happening, I ask honorable members not to press the matter now, but to allow the debate to lapse.
.- The seamen are asking for fair living conditions, and no honorable member opposite, or no Argus reporter or proprietor, would say anything to the contrary. When the Seamen’s Union in England, under Havelock Wilson, refused to allow vessels to carry men, some of whom were ex-Ministers, who had obtained passports from the British Government, every honorable member opposite, and every newspaper that backs them, said that the seamen were right, although those seamen took the law into their own hands; but when the seamen here do the same thing, they are denounced. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) ought to remember that in his own State, at a responsible conference last week, a resolution was adopted in favour of wiping out the Arbitration Act. Now, however, we find honorable members opposite, and the honorable member himself, squealing for arbitration. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) asked where the present opposition to arbitration was coming from.
– From your side now.
– Make no mistake. The opponents of arbitration, and of factories legislation generally, are not on this side, but on the Government side. The Prime Minister (Mr.Hughes), in his pamphlet on the occasion of the referendum, said that the Common wealth industrial powers were restricted; and just recently the High Court of Australia, in opposition to the arbitration Judges, held that no claim for improved conditions or increased wages canbe considered during the existence of an award. Thus, if an award be fixed for three years, no claims of the kind can be considered during that period. It is asked why the workers are dissatisfied. For three or four weeks the Government have been in possession of the report of Mr. Dethridge, who was appointed a Royal Commissionto inquire into the condition of employment on the waterside front, and Honorable members have not seen it. It maybe said that the delay of the report does not much matter, seeing that the shipping is all hung up for the present; but whether the report contains anything good or anything bad, we ought to know what it does contain. If the Government have made up their minds in regard to the waterside workers, they, at any rate, could throw the report of the Royal Commission on the table, and state that they have no intention to act upon it.
– Stress the fact that the seamen cannot get increased wages from the Court.
– That is quite incorrect as regards this case, which can go before the Court.
– I understand the Minister to distinctly state that if the seamen go to the Arbitration Court the decision of the High Court will not apply to them, because they can get their increased wages by way of bonus.
– That is no good.
– If we are to strain the law-
– It is not straining the law.
– Then it means that if the seamen may go to the Court, and get their increased wages by way of bonus, any other body of workmen may do the same. It would be far better to say that we, as a Parliament, realize that the Arbitration Court is hampered, for we know that the employers fight every decision on technicalities, and honorable members opposite have asked that the Arbitration Court Judge be shifted from his position because he deals with the cases fairly. Further, it has been suggested that we revert from arbitration to Wages Boards, on the ground that the members of the Wages Boards may be “ sacked;” whereas the arbitration Judge cannot. I can assure honorable members opposite that that sort of talk is not going to settle this or any other dispute.
Honorable members have to realize what has occurred in this city during the past forty-eight or seventy-two hours - since last Saturday or Sunday. We have seen, not amongst trade unionists as trade unionists, but the community, an excited frame of mind, because people are not satisfied with the conditions of to-day.
– And this feeling is fanned by revolutionaries!
– Are the returned soldiers revolutionaries? Havelock Wil- son and the members of the British Seamen’s Union were, in the opinion of the honorable member, all right when they refused to carry Mr. Arthur Henderson and others who had been granted passports; the men in England were all right when they took the law into their own hands, but not so the Australian seamen.
– The circumstances were different.
– We are not asking, and I have never heard one person say that the seamen are asking, for more than is fair and reasonable. It must be remembered, however, that it is only since the trouble began that honorablemembers opposite, and many persons outside, have admitted that the demands of the seamen are fair and reasonable.
– We have always admitted it.
– But nothing has been done.
– You were in office yourself a good while.
– And when in office I had the honour of passing the best Navigation Act in existence to-day.
– But it was hung up.
– I have previously explained that it was hung up at the request of the British Government. In any case, I have been out of office for three years. I have not blamed the Government for not proclaiming the Act until the war was finished; and during the whole time I have been out of office I have not asked one question as to why it was not proclaimed.
– You used to ask me every day !’
– Not since the war started.
– That is so.
– Now, however, the position is altered, and there is reason why the Act should be proclaimed, “and a Director of Navigation appointed. It was, I think, on a Supply Bill that, following the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird ‘Smith), I expressed the opinion that it was time action was taken in that direction.
The honorable member ‘ for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) said that little boats, which were independent of Government control, were running to-day. Of course they are, and possibly on these boats the wages and conditions demanded by the Seamen’s Union are observed. But what freights and fares are they charging? I was at an interview with the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), along with Admiral Clarkson, Mr. Walsh, and Mr. O’Neill; and Admiral Clarkson then stated that the improved conditions and increased wages could not be given without increasing freights and fares. Honorable members opposite,” some of whom are fairly conversant with shipping matters, will admit that if the steamers were handed back to the owners to-morrow the latter would be prepared to grant the seamen’s terms. But, of course, fares’ and freights would go up ; for every £1 given in increased wages, the owners would take from the public £4 or £5. That is the experience right through.
– If that were true we would have the employers agitating for increased
Wages all the time.
– I have never known the employers do that, but I have heard of employers saying that they did not intend to fight against the demands because they would merely pass the expense on. That was the objection of Admiral Clarkson to granting the demands of the men - that he could not pay the increased wages unless freights and fares were increased.
Some newspapers denounce the workers at every season of the year; indeed, they say that the workers have practically no right to live. If’ one mentions the names of some newspapers in Melbourne one needs an antiseptic mouthwash to clean his mouth out after mentioning their names. There is the Argus; which denounces the workers all the time. What did that newspaper do when the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) spoke at a meeting soon after the trouble started ? It picked out such names as Brennan, Walsh, Reilly, and others. Such names may be all right for men who write for the Argus, but they are all wrong if they support the workers. If the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) had Veen at thatmeeting his name would probably have been picked out, though he is no more responsible for his name than I am for mine. The newspaper I refer to, which is supposed to lead public opinion, has- not said one word about the living conditions, of the employees; there representatives have never bothered to go into the fo’castle and see how sailors live. It publishes the menus of the men, showing that they get roast pork and tea; but let honorable members taste some of the provisions, and see the black pan that is carried for’ard ! The seamen are asking for fair living conditions, and it is up to every member to see that these living conditions are granted.
.- The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) made one point very clear in his utterance to the House, and that was that the Government required some strong men. By -the action the honorable member took I think he felt he might make a number of short-sighted individuals in the country believe that he is a strong enough man to replace some gentlemen in the Government. Having listened very carefully and attentively to the honorable member, I am very happy to think that his sins are not added to the sins of Ministers in* this or any other connexion. I ask honorable members, especially on this side- ^ where I do not think any effort will be made to fan the bitter feeling that exists outside - whether, in their calm judgment, they do not realize that the difficulties in front of the Government are much greater than when the war was on. We are now faced with a period of reconstruction under the greatest difficulties of finance and interest, when any person who desires that law and order, shall be upheld must behave with patience, prudence, and loyalty. I ask honorable members whether they observe any of those qualities in the address of the honorable member for Franklin ? Some of his statements are on all-fours, and in true keeping, with the speeches made from time to time by Mr. Walsh, as if the two men had one object in view. We know they have not, for whilst the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) may wish to displace one Minister, Walsh wishes to uproot all authority, law, and order - constitutional or otherwise.
– Why waste time with Walsh ? Let us get on with, the debate.
-I am dealing with him because he is so infinitely more, important than the honorable member. There is behind this dispute something more than a grievance about conditions - which I am quite ready to believe are bad - there is something more than a question of the application of the Navigation Act, which has been promised, or fair consideration by a tribunal presided over by a gentleman so highly eulogized as Mr. Justice Higgins has been by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor). Whether the ostensible cause be wages or conditions, I think honorable members realize that the underlying motive for the strike is something deeper and more sinister. In the absence of ‘a defence by the’ Government - and I say without hesitation that one of the best features about the Government’s attitude in this business is that they are prepared to take all the blame if by so doing they can overcome the difficulty-
– Get themselves out of a hole.
– Has the honorable member no greater generosity in his composition than that? Does he not realize that the Government are trying to set in motion the wheels of industry in this country ? .
– I do not believe ft.
– There -are many things which the honorable member does not believe.
I say nothing against the members of the Seamen’s Union; but, assuming that there are behind the management of the union qualities that are not shared, perhaps, by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) - courage and determination to carry through their revolutionary project at all risks - I ask myself how better we can help these men to sub- ‘ vert all authority than by decrying, first the Court, then the Government, and afterwards this Parliament? Those are the means and methods of revolution all the world over. It is our duty to stand behind the constitutional authority which this House has established, and to treat with patience, prudence, and loyalty the Government who are responsible to us. Let us assume that the honorable member for Franklin had been in charge of the Government, and at the mo-‘ ment that the trouble occurred, he with that great strength which he would have us believe he possesses, had stepped into the limelight, and said, “We shall- man these ships” - I think he said he would alter, them before he manned them - but if he had manned them at once for the benefit of the apple growers of Tasmania, is it not a manifest fact that immediately after he took that course, Mr. Willis, who was recently expelled from the Labour movement in New South Wales, because he was too violent a revolutionist, would have been asking and cajoling his own union of coal miners to throw down their tools in sympathy with the oppressed seamen, and Australia from one end to the other would have been threatened with starvation for want of coal? The Government were not guilty of that folly, and what has happened as a result of their refusal to act so foolishly? After many appeals and supplications to be locked up, Walsh has been locked up ; but only after he has succeeded in completely exposing his hand and damaging himself in the eyes of every sane unionist in Australia ; after he “has been free to tell the people that he has received offers of financial support from Germany and Austria, and that he is not concerned so much in the merits of the present dispute as he is with the ambition to wipe out all constitutional authority ; after he has threatened the law -abiding citizens that this city will be thrown into darkness ; and after he, perhaps, had succeeded in dressing a few revolutionaries up in soldiers clothes and inducing them to throw bottles and bricks from a safe place behind the crowd. Was not the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) interested to-day in the case of a postal employee, who, though not a soldier, was caught in one of these riots in full uniform ? Are not the Government worthy of some confidence and respect when,- after a period of great patience and tact, the people who control this revolutionary movement stand exposed from end to end of Australia for the men they are, thus making it possible for the wheels of industry to be set in motion again by law-abiding citizens ?
.- I am not here to defend Mr. Walsh, because I differ altogether from his methods, but I tell the House that Mr. Walsh, with all his faults, is not a “ super.” I can sympathize with what has been said about the conditions in the forecastle, and I compliment the Government if, through their efforts, men will soon cease to sleep in the forecastle. I understand they are to have proper accommodation in the ships that are to be built, and I ask the Government why they are not manly enough to say that every sailorman shall have the right to sit at table when taking his food. Do Ministers know that there are sailors who do not have one sit-down meal on the voyage from London to Australia and Australia, back to London 1 No honorable member on either side of the House will support such conditions. Let the Ministry say that every man who goes to sea shall h».ve the right to sit at table for his meals. I travelled across from Fremantle . in that up-to-date ship the Osterley, and, as I always do, I inspected the forecastle. Never have I met a man whom I persuaded to go into the forecastle who has not declared that it is an infamy that human beings should have to live there. If the Ministry know of these conditions, why do they not make a regulation that every mail boat shall provide the seamen with a decent place in which to have their meals
– The Act passed “by this Parliament provides for that.
– What the deuce is the good of an Act if it is not in operation ? Will any honorable member deny that the Plimsoll mark, which was the sailers’ salvation, is disappearing from our ships ? There was a time when shipowners said, “ The best, market for us is the bottom of the sea.” They cared not how many men went to a watery grave. By bringing about the adoption of a load line, Samuel Plimsoll saved the lives of thousands of mell, but to-day that Plimsoll mark is disappearing or being ignored. What are we to do when shipowners will break the sacred regulations of the Board of Trade ? I suppose that some official from Australia House inspected .the Osterley before it departed from England. No doubt everything about the vessel looked nice and fine. But I know that the company tried to crowd a hundred seamen, into a space which would hold only sixty-four. General Lassetter, of Sydney, who accompanied me into the forecastle, will verify my statement. We saw stamped in a steel girder in large letters, “ Accommodation for 32 seamen.” On the other side of the forecastle the same words were printed, but they were all lies. Forty seamen were crowded into each place. Even after the Osterley had been examined by . a representative of Australia House, the company tried to crowd a hundred seamen into the accommodation provided for sixty-four. I was informed that a single first saloon passage on that boat cost £140; second saloon, £120; and steerage, from £47 to £90. Yet there was not accommodation for any of the eighty seamen to sit down at one meal on the voyage to and from Australia. That 6tate of things .is an infamy. The Government should declare at once that no ship will be given a clearance unless decent accommodation for sleeping and meals is provided for the seamen
The time having arrived for the interruption of the debate, under standing order 119,
Motion (by Mr. Groom:) agreed to -
That the debate be continued until 6 p.m.
– I do not wish to attack1 either the Government or the Seamen’s Union. From my point of view, the present trouble ha6 been very clearly stated by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). The points of view of the honorable member and myself do not often coincide, but I agree with him that we cannot compel the seamen to go to the Arbitration Court if they do not wish to do so, any more than we can compel an employer, against his wish, to carry on his business. The shipowners are not a party to this dispute, no matter what is said to the contrary by honorable members opposite. The whole of the fleet on the Australian coast is under the control of the Government, and is managed by the Shipping Comptroller. The Government pay the shipowners for the time charter of their vessels, therefore they have become a party to the dispute. As I was saying, there is no power to compel the seamen to go to the Arbitration Court; but as the Government are a party to the dispute, just as the ship-owners would have been if they had been controlling their vessels, the responsibility rests upon them to man the ships. I have lived in a forecastle for years, and I know the uncomfortable conditions under which seamen work. I realize that a vast improvement should be made in those conditions ; but I know that, since the Navigation Act was passed, a considerable improvement has been made in the accommodation for the crews on all vessels recently built on the Australian coast. The seamen know as well as any one else how impossible it is to improve the accommodation on some of the vessels built years ago, and they are quite prepared to work on with the knowledge that the forecastle will be habitable on all vessels built in the future. To-day there are quite a number of vessels running on our coast which have had improvements effected as a result of an agreement arrived at by a conference to which the seamen were a party, and the ship-owners have agreed to build all future vessels in accordance with those conditions; but what is to happen to the vessels now run ning on the coast which cannot bealtered, if the demand of the Seamen’s Union, as represented by their spokesman to-day,- is conceded - that the whole of the conditions provided on modern ships must be given on all the vessels employed in our coastal trade? They must either be scrapped or sold abroad; and then the position of the community at large would be worse than ever. I admit, with the Government, that the question is very delicate, ticklish, and complicated; but, as they, a party to the dispute, have offered to their employees, the seamen, through their Comptroller of Shipping (Admiral Clarkson), an arrangement by which they are prepared, to accept the decision of the Arbitration Court, whatever it may be, and as the seamen have refused the invitation to go to the Court which was established for the settlement of disputes, I consider it is their duty to man the ships. Ministers know the consequences entailed on suffering humanity in Melbourne. It is not the rich nor the well-to-do who are suffering. I guarantee that every honorable member has fuel in his home, and can have his meals cooked and his rooms warmed. “We are not the sufferers. It is those who are out of work, those who were forced out of work by the lack of coal, who are the sufferers.
– That is the wickedness of it all.
– Exactly. There are very many innocent people suffering through this strike. The Government are a party to the dispute; they are not an independent body sitting apart and watching the ship-owners and seamen fight. They have taken the place of the ship-owners, and I find fault with them for allowing the community to suffer by not taking steps to man their ships. That the great bulk of the seamen in Australia cannot approve of the course of conduct advocated by the man who has just gone into gaol is proved by the public action of South Australian representatives of the seamen, and, knowing the necessity there is to get coal into Melbourne, it is the bounden duty of the Government to ask for volunteers and man the ships, rather than see so many people brought to the verge of starvation. I am satisfied they could equip one ship after, the other without the slightest difficulty. A state of affairs in which people in this city have to go. cap in hand to the Coal Board to get sufficient fuel to warm. their houses when their families are suffering from influenza should not be permitted by any Government. I accept the assurance of the Minister (Mr. Groom) that he has certain information that the matter may be settled, but he must remember the impatience of the community. The unseemly riots in our streets are all the result of, and have originated from, the strike.
– There are more seamen out in Sydney than there are in Melbourne.
– That may be the case. Lots of people may throw mud at each other if they choose to do so, but it is not the working men who are causing these riots - they are at work; it is not the soldiers as a body, although some of them have been blamed for it.
– If the honorable member had been at the meeting of soldiers this morning he would have realized it.
– The council of the Returned Soldiers League says that 95 per cent, of the members of the league are behind .the Government in the maintenance of law and order.
– It is always the 5 per cent, that leads to trouble.
– The men who are creating the turmoil in the streets aTe the’ hooligans and hoodlums of the city, the men who never work - go down Bourkestreet 365 days out of the year, and thousands of them can be seen - the 5 per cent, of soldiers who are intermixed with them, also the men who wear soldiers’ uniform but were not at the war, and the criminal section of the community. These are the men who are creating the disturbances, and the men who are blaming the police! I have a good deal of sympathy for the police. They are doing the work of the community, and they ought to be- made to feel that they have behind them the solid support of all the best interests in the country as represented in the Government. They ought to be made to feel that the
Government are defending them, and are not allowing statements as to what constables have said - obvious lies on the face of them - to weigh with them in the consideration, of the question of how best to handle this trouble. Whatever is in the mind of the Government; and whatever information they have concerning this dispute, I feel that if it does not come to a head within a very few days Ministers must take some action to prevent the people of this community from being held up by any body of men who may seek to defy the law in any manner they choose.
.- The honorable member for Henty (Mr:’ Boyd) has introduced into this debate the question of the disturbances which have recently taken place in the city, and has inferred that they have arisen out of the strike. His statement is not in accordance with the facts, because, outside Mr. Walsh, the general secretary of the Seamen’s Union, to my knowledge not .one man connected with the strike has been prosecuted for any offence since the commencement of the dispute.
– I did not say that the strikers had caused the disturbances.
– The honorable member said that the disturbances in Melbourne had arisen out of the strike.
– That is true, but that is quite a different matter.
– If they have arisen out of the strike, and have not been caused by the strikers, I fail to see the connexion of the honorable member’s argument.
– Make no mistake, some of the strikers were in the disturbances.
– The strikers have had nothing to. do with the disturbances. The honorable member .made reference to men having been prosecuted for having been found in uniform, and said that they had not been to the war; but if the honorable member had read the newspapers he would have seen that the men who were charged with being illegally in uniform’ had permission to wear uniform on Peace Saturday, and were unaware that they were not allowed to wear it on Peace Sunday. Honorable members opposite have now made it’ a crime, by their regulations, to wear the King’s uniform. They say that a man who has come back from the war, and happens to wear the King’s uniform on the wrong day, must be prosecuted and fined.
– That will not wash. A number of them have notbeen at the war.
– If the honorable member will read last night’s Herald, he will see that the two men who were arrested had permission from the military authorities to wear the uniform on the Saturday, and were prosecuted for wearing it illegally on the day after. The honorable member, who talks about masquerading in uniform, should acquaint himself with the facts. Let him produce one case of a man who has proved to be a masquerader in these disturbances. He talks about the duty of the Government in connexion with the seamen’s strike. If the community has no sense of feeling for the grievances under which the seamen are suffering, and refuses to remedy the conditions of these seamen, who, in the words of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams), are living in floating slums, it must accept the responsibility for perpetuating them. It is useless to talk about the seamen holding the community by the throat. If the people are prepared to allow these conditions to continue, and are not prepared to force the Government to give the seamen decent living accommodation, they must submit to the consequences of their own inaction.
– Why do not the men go to the Arbitration Court?
– Because they do not wish to do so. The Seamen’s Union have exercised their right, as free men in this community, to say that they will please themselves as to whether they shall ask an Arbitration Court to determine the conditions under which they live and work.
– Yes; but they have no right to block other men from working.
– The honorable member himself has just said that the seamen have as much right to refuse to work as the employer of labour has to shut down his plant and refuse to operate it if an award of the Court does not suit him. To-day the managers of the mines at Broken Hill have officially informed the unions that if the Arbitration Court grants the claims of the men they will not work the mines. Vials of wrath and denunciation are poured forth upon the unions if they refuse to work under an award of the Arbitration Court when they consider that they do not get justice; yet the Broken Hill mines will not work under the award of any Court if it does not suit them.
– But the men have no monopoly over the work. If others are prepared to work, let them be employed.
– The honorable member can do what he likes. The seamen have done what they like. They say they will not work the ships under these conditions.
– Then let others do it.
– If the honorable member can get “ scabs “ let him get them.
– They will be as good men as the others.
– I can quite understand, keeping Jumbunna in mind, why the honorable member believes they would be.
– And some a good deal better
– That is only the honorable member’s opinion. An employer’s recommendation of a “ scab “ is of no value to my mind.
– I am not an employer, and I say that some of the men on the boats now running are as good as any men you could get, at whatever you like to put them to.
– I thought the honorable member’s complaint was that they could not get men. At any rate, I do not believe there are men in Australia low enough to “ scab “ on the seamen. Not one honorable member opposite dares to say that the seamen are not asking for decent conditions. Not a single word has been said againsttheir claims. All that has been said has been about the method they have adopted to get their claims settled. Honorable members opposite say, “ Go to the Arbitration Court,” but not a word is heard from them about the justice or equity of the claims of the seamen. The men are told, “ Unless you go about it in the way we tell you, you can go to - Tasmania, or somewhere else.’’
– Why did you sign the Labour platform in favour of arbitration ? Why do you not get out . of the party ?
– Because I am not like the honorable member. The honorable member knows full well why I signed the Labour party’s platform. Make no mistake about it, I am in accord with the Labour party’s views now. The Labour party does not stand for strike breaking. It does not stand for forcing men back or for manning the ships with “ scabs.” We have heard a great deal about an ex-Labour man, and the strong stand he took on a certain occasion. All I can say is that that strong stand has not been characteristic of the same gentleman in more recent events with which he has been connected.
– He was in a Labour Government then, too, and the Labour Government stood behind him.
– Possibly; but most of. the members of that Labour Government are on the opposite side of the House now, where the strong stand is noticeably absent.
– Your present Leader was one of them.
– That may be. Certain honorable members opposite are only sorry because the Labour movement has left them. The. Labour movement to-day is seeing more clearly, and sees less reason why it should arbitrate upon the wealth that it produces. The working classes of Australia have reached the stage that they are no longer going to allow the other side to treat them like machines, to put them in the witness-box, and estimate how much coal and oil they will consume, to average up how much it will take to keep a family in good working order, just as in the case of a draught horse. When the employers have estimated how much oats and chaff will keep a working horse going, they say, “ We will have that horse,” and they allow for him accordingly. They want to treat the working men and women of this community in the same way, but the workers are determined not to be treated as machines of toil any longer.
– What are you doing to the women and kiddies now?
– I am doing- nothing. While I am able to use my tongue on behalf of the class I claim to represent, I am going to stand to my class, irrespective of the consequences. The honorable member stands for his class, to whose, interest it is to keep the Arbitration Court in existence, to fool the workers, to insult their womenfolk by asking them the most intimate details with regard to their clothing, before he will give them a decent living wage. At the same time, honorable members opposite tumble over themselves to rush a Bill through the House to give a pension of £35 a week to the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, who, along with other Judges, is always preaching thrift to the working-class community.
– Are you opposed to the Arbitration Court?
– I do not believe in arbitration personally, and never have done so.
– You just signed the platform to get in?
– Like the honorable member. With a lot more working men and women in Australia, I believe that there is nothing to arbitrate about. I hold that the workers, who produce the wealth of the country, should own it ; and I am not going to use the position which the workers of this country have given me to dragoon them into going to a Court in which they do not believe, and allowing a Judge who has no knowledge of the subject to determine the conditions under which men shall work. If this community want the transport industry to be run, they must give the men who operate that industry decent conditions. If they do not, they have only themselves to thank. It is their own fault if they are content to allow the country to be run by a party who, despite their crocodile tears of sympathy with the populace outside, care nothing for the sufferings of the people, so long as the dividends are paid by the companies which are behind the Government. To talk about the shipping companies not being interested is’ so much camouflage. The shipping companies are simply using the Government to break the strike, and break down the industrial organizations. Honorable members opposite ask why the Government do not do this or that. The Government themselves know full well why they do not do it. The Government are not moving in this matter because they hope, in the interests of the sections whom they represent, to smash industrial organization in Australia. Then some of them get up and prate as if they were suffering from a nightmare about revolution being behind all this business.
– So it is; and you well know it.
– The honorable member who prates so loudly about arbitration was a few years ago waving the flag and shouting, “ Ulster will fight ; and Ulster will be right ! “ No arbitration for Ulster then ! The honorable member now talks about arbitration. When the war was on, he cried, “ No peace by negotiation ; peace with victory ! “ Well, the seamen have nailed their colours to the mast, and their cry is, “No peace by negotiation ; peace with victory ! “
– I am in sympathy with the attitude of the Government on this important and delicate question. It is quite easy for some of us who have not the immediate responsibility to advocate strong and horoic measures; but the Government realize that the extension of the strike would be an unspeakable crime, and every effort must be made to avoid such a contingency. The position was such that if they had. acted with precipitation, and without a full knowledge of the conditions as they now exist, that extension would have been inevitable. I am prepared to think that the Government had better information on this subject than any honorable member in the House, and that, having regard to that information, they are acting in the best interests of the country in the circumstances. I realize that there must be a limit to their forebearance, and that the time is approaching when that limit will be reached. But when they give the House the assurance that they have reason to think, on account of certain conferences sitting here, and certain other information which comes to their knowledge, that there is a “possibility of a peaceful settlement, they are entitled to every consideration in their present attitude.
– The same thing was said a fortnight ago.
– It is easy for any of us to ask, “ Why not man the ships ?” I am prepared to think that if volunteers were called for that purpose it could readily be achieved. But other and more serious questions are involved. It must bo obvious to every thoughtful member that counter-moves could be readily resorted to, which would overwhelm any action which the Government took for good in that direction. I should be sorry for us to attempt to discuss the merits of the strike here. The Government have invited the seamen T,o resort to a tribunal which, in the whole of its history, has shown the utmost sympathy with the workers. That tribunal was constituted at the instance of both sides of the House. Arbitration was secured by the co-operation of Liberal and Labour.
– Mr. Deakin was the first to take action.
- Mr. Deakin introduced the Bill, but the most strenuous representations in favour of arbitration . came from the other side of the House, and both sides united to pass it. It is part and parcel of the platform of my honorable friends opposite - and there are present in their ranks men of sane, moderate ideas, who would gladly see the strikers resort to arbitration for the purpose of settling this dispute. We should not discuss here the merits themselves. We are not competent to do so. We are not the tribunal constituted for that purpose. In the interests of reconciliation between employer and employee, and the settlement of economic differences arising from time to time between capital and labour, the wisdom of .this House found enactment in the statute law providing for the constitution of arbitration tribunals throughout the length and breadth of- Australia. Those tribunals have resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds being awarded to the workers, to which, no doubt, they were entitled, in improved conditions, and in the shortening of hours for all those who resorted to them. Now all that the Government ask, and rightly ask, is that the law shall be upheld. The law provides for the settlement of disputes in this way, as in the case of civil disputes between citizen and citizen. The law asks these men to go to the tribunal to which they have hitherto resorted, and which has been a source, generally speaking, of very substantial advantage to the workers. It is only a fair and reasonable request, which the Government have a right to . insist 6u,, without attempting to deal themselves with the merits of the dispute.
I do not desire to express my own views on various features of the present strike. I shall content myself with saying, incidentally, that what is taking place now is an instance of certain desperadoes who are using the strikers as a blind and subterfuge for ulterior purposes. Those desperadoes and degenerates have engineered the strike by, unfortunnately, misleading the seamen, who are naturally honest and fair-minded, but are being deluded at this juncture. A junta of reckless individuals is holding up the community, defying law, order, and good government, and is using the strike for revolutionary purposes.
– Now the cat is out of the bag!
– That is the ultimate design in view. But whom are they punishing? They are penalizing the unfortunate women and. children. The sound common sense of the worker will prevail, however. The worker has demanded arbitration in the past, and, speaking generally, is prepared to stand by arbitration to-day. I admit that there may be room for complaint, and that there are defects in our arbitration law; but the Arbitration Court is the’ constituted tribunal for the remedying of those complaints. Moreover, where the experience of that Court has shown . that room for improvement has become apparent, this sympathetic House is prepared to insist upon such improvement as will make arbitration more effective and more’ perfect. Labour and Liberal, Oppositionists and Ministerialists should join at this crucial period in the maintenance of law and order, and should endeavour to induce the men on strike to’ resort to the tribunal which has dealt with them fairly in the past. If we realized our responsibilities, and bent our energies in those directions, much might be achieved. I feel confident that honorable .members opposite could speak with influence and force, and could induce the men who are being deluded to-day to realize how grossly and unfairly they are being misled.
– The game is up !
– Your little game ought to be .up soon. I do not want to speak in a heated manner, but the crisis is so serious that responsibility is thrown on this House to endeavour to bring about a settlement. I hope nothing will be said to further embarrass the Government. If every effort fails’, then I am bound to say that if volunteers are called for throughout Australia to man the ships, and otherwise come to the rescue in this crisis, so as to relieve the women and children from starvation, and prevent the wheels of industry from being stopped, and to put an end to this rebellion against law and order, then the people will not hesitate to respond.’ But let us use every effort in the meantime. I feel assured that, with the knowledge that the Government possesses to-day, we would be justified in accepting its advice to hold off for a while. I know that the Government will realize its responsibilities, and will stand strongly and firmly to their determination to do justice to the community.
.- The honorable member who has. just spoken says he is now prepared to make the approaches to the Arbitration Court much easier. It is surprising that he and other honorable members opposite did not take more notice when the President of theArbitration Court said, in so many words, that the approaches to that Court were surrounded by a “ serbonian bog of technicalities.” Very little has been done, either by this or the previous Government, to try to reduce those difficulties whereby the workers, unless they spend enormous sums of money, are hindered in seeking justice through the Arbitration Court. It is rather astonishing that it should be only now, when we find ourselves in the midst of industrial turmoil, that the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) and others who have spoken from that side of the House should stand up - perhaps with their tongues in their cheeks - and say that it is time we made the approaches to the Arbitration Court easier. If those difficulties were removed - and it should be one of the first duties incumbent upon this Parliament - then the working men and women of the community would certainly take more advantage of arbitration than they do to-day. But it is those very expensive difficulties which drain the coffers of our unions and permit legal gentlemen and others to take up undue time before the Arbitration Court. Even when an award has been given, what has been the frequent action of the employers ? They have appealed to the High Court, and argument over technical points has been dragged out for weeks and months. Such experiences have proved to the workers that arbitration does not confer nearly all the blessings once pictured for it by Mr. Deakin.
Lt. -Colonel Abbott. - Then you think that arbitration has broken down ?
– To that extent it has, and the honorable member will agree that it has.
Lt. -Colonel Abbott. - I will not!
– I feel sure that I will not be committing any breach of faith when I tell honorable members of one way in which peace can be brought about without all the terrible expense of arbitration proceedings. On one occasion Mr. Glynn (the honorable member for Angas), and a friend of mine, the secretary of the Engine-drivers and Firemen’s Union, quickly settled wages and conditions by arriving at agreements in one of the. rooms of this House. The honorable member for Angas represented a large number of mining companies in Broken Hill and elsewhere, and, in conjunction with the representative of the union concerned, they drew up agreements which were afterwards ratified bythe President of the Arbitration Court, with practically no expenditure at all on the part of the union. That is a reasonable procedure.
– The seamen could do that to-day if they liked.
– No ! The cry has been raised by the Government, “ Go to the Arbitration Court.” Is it not rather a reflection on the inactivity of the Government and the complacency and apathy of its supporters that there should be to-day a Labour conference sitting in Melbourne which has just adjourned to meet Senator Millen, representing the Acting Prime Minister ? I believe that at this very moment the parties indicated are engaged in a round-table conference to attempt to settle difficulties which have existed for weeks past.
– It is quite open for a conference to be held and for an agreement to be arrived at, if the men would go back to work meanwhile.
– I do not know about any conditions at all; but the Government are recognising at this late hour that a round-table conference is likely to be more productive of good than any effort to force the men into the Arbitration Court.
– That is absolutely incorrect.
– That is a rash statement on the part of the Minister. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) has assumed a reasonable attitude to-day. He points out that there is a set of men on both sides which is determined in regard to one particular matter. The Government are responsible. They have control of the shipping.
– Responsible for this strike?
– They are responsible for the present position, because they have admitted that they are wrong, seeing that they could have met the men in conference long before to-day. Why is
Senator Millen meeting those men today in a round-table conference?
– Did not the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) meet them long ago ?
– With certain conditions ; and I am bound to say that if the same conditions are set up again to-day, the trouble will continue. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) made it very clear that the present conditions under which seamen are compelled to work are a disgrace to civilization and to our common Christianity.
– That is apart altogether from the question.
– It is not. The Arbitration Court cannot settle thekernel difficulties in this dispute.
– That is not correct either.
– The Court cannot alter certain conditions as to which the men are making requests to-day. The Court has said, in effect, that it has no power to deal with those aspects.
– Then you believe in direct action?
– The men havebeen forced into their present position, in order to try and solve their difficulties. The Government could have met them, and could have said, “ The ground of your request is reasonable. We are prepared to admit at once that conditions to-day are such that forecastles are unfit for men to sleep and eat in, and that other requests whichyou have made in regard to insurance and the like are reasonable, and may be considered altogether irrespective of the Arbitration Court.” If the Government had taken up that attitude, it would have been supported by honorable members opposite - giving the seamen what they want.
– Those conditions have been in existence for a considerable time. Why did not the men go to the Court months ago, so, as to get them settled ?
– There is a limit to endurance. Honorable members inthis chamber would not work half-an-hour under the same conditions as the seamen must put up with. Why should we have the right, then, to ask our fellow-men to work in environments which we would not work in ?
– What about the women and kiddies? Why do you not use your influence ?
– What does he care about them?
– My own wife and family have suffered considerably more in the matter of union trouble and boycott than most men who are in this House to-day.
– I certainly doubt that.
– I can prove it in regard to myself.
– Do you indorse the attitude that Walsh has taken up ?
– I am not in Court, and am not going to answer questions. The honorable member may ask me whether I am prepared to accept responsibility for the attitude of honorable members opposite. I do not hesitate to accept responsibility for all that I say and do. I am prepared to face the consequences, and every other honorable member must do the same for himself.
– You do not want the “ red-r aggers,” but you will take their votes.
– The honorable member thinks to make his seat a little more secure by interjecting in that way. An easy approach to the Arbitration Court is absolutely essential, and until it is. provided, arbitration in its present form will not be acceptable to the workers. Drastic action is necessary sometimes in order that the real grievances of the worker may be made public. We ought to know what the Government are prepared to do if the suggested conference takes place. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) says that if volunteers are called for our ships will be speedily manned. Idisagree with him, and do not think that many people would care to travel to Western Australia, or even to Tasmania, on vessel manned by such scratch crews as might be forthcoming. Why not be honest and fair ?
– Why not?
– Those who laugh, perhaps, know little of honesty and fairness. Such attributes are not catalogued among their virtues. Every one admits that the seamen have been working under undesirable conditions.
– That isso.
– Honorable members opposite admit that the men have a grievance, but they object to the steps they have taken to secure redress. Do honorable members themselves always take the right way to secure their own ends ? They may sympathize with a man’s objective, and yet disapprove of the means taken by him to secure it, and since the supporters of the Government admit that the seamen are not getting a fair deal they should be prepared to take such action as will secure it to them. The seamen are doing some of the best work of the community.
– The Navigation Act makes provision for bettering the conditions of the men.
– And, although nine months have elapsed since the Armistice, that Act has not yet been proclaimed.
– The accommodation for seamen for which that Act provides is the best in the world.
– I believe it is. The British Board of Trade, however, for a time, held up the Act, even before the outbreak of war. At the time of its passing, English opinion in some cases was that itwas a hundred years ahead of its time. Since then we have had the Titanic disaster, and we have passed through a great war, with the result that the Australian Navigation Act, which was thought to he a hundred years before its time, is now to be the text of navigation legislation in all other countries.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Knowing that several honorable members still wish to speak to this question, and that the time set apart for its discussion has almost expired, I shall occupy the attention of the House for only a few minutes. It is amusing to listen to the objections which have been raised by the
Labour party to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, the Navigation Act, and other measures. Quite a number of those who have been raising such objections and indulging in special pleading for the seamen have probably never been on board a ship, and some of them, at all events, took care not to travel by sea while the war was in progress.
I am pleased that this motion has been submitted, since it affords us an opportunity to discuss a question that should have been dealt with in this House at least a month ago. There has been too much procrastination, and the Government should know, without further delay, whether or not the Parliament will stand behind them if they enforce the law and protect our industries. No matter what one section of the community may think, there can be no question as to whether law and order should prevail. In connexion with the seamen’s strike it cannot be said that any question of Capital grinding Labour is involved. It cannot be urged that a number of shipping companies have combined to ride rough-shod over their employees, since the whole of our shipping is absolutely controlled by the Government. In these circumstances, I think it is time that the Government showed their hand, since we are all alive to the misery and suffering that the strike has brought upon the community. Both the Federal and State Parliaments have passed arbitration laws, and the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court is open to the seamen. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), who spoke of the Navigation Act as a magnificent measure, is amongst those who, from time to time, have lauded the principle of arbitration, and have pointed to its advantages. Surely it is his duty, and that of every member of the Labour party, to appeal to the seamen to abide by the laws of the country. Their appeal would havefar more weight with the men than any entreaty by us would be likely to have. They should urge the men to go to the Court, and should also point out in what direction the Conciliation and Arbitration Act needs to be amended.
– It would take too long.
– I do not believe in the present Arbitration Court, but I support the principle o’f arbitration, and believe it would be an easy matter so to amend the Act as to do away with the delays of the Court and the huge expenditure involved in bringing a claim before it. This, however, is not the time to discuss that question. The sole consideration for us to-day is whether or not law and order are to prevail. Are we. to ‘allow the present misery to continue? Are women and children to be allowed to starve? Are the producers to be ruined? Are our soldiers, after the sacrifices they have made, to return home only to find that aU progress is retarded and unemployment staring them in the face?
– They find, on returning home, that their fathers and mothers have been robbed while they have been away.
– The seamen’s dispute has nothing to do with the question of whether the fathers and mothers of our soldiers have been . robbed. What we want to know is whether these men are going to resume work, and, in the event of their refusal, whether the Government are going to do everything possible to see that the laws of the country are observed ? Unlike ‘ the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), I am not one of those who would wait to see what others might do. If the policy of force is wanted in this country, then the sooner that is known the” better. If honorable members opposite desire force rather than law and order to prevail, ‘let them openly say so. If they make any such announcement, I am quite satisfied as to what the answer of the people will be. I ask the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) whether he agrees with the sort of domination now sought to be exercised?
– I was satisfied that law and order should prevail when British seamen refused to take Mr. Henderson to a certain European port.
– The honorable member’s influence, I am sure, will be quietly exerted towards the settlement of this- dispute in the Arbitration Court ; but
I should like him to stand up courageously, and. to tell the seamen in the most outspoken way where their duty lies. It is his duty, and that of the Parliament as a whole, to tell the seamen that they should go to the Arbitration Court, or to some other tribunal designed to conserve law and order, and not to support them in the action they are how taking. _
I hope we shall have no further procrastination. The people in the far-back districts of Western Australia; whom I am representing, are practically starving because of the refusal of the seamen to man our ships. Producers in the back parts of Australia are suffering severely, and many will probably be ruined, because of the strike. No person in the community is gaining by the action taken by the seamen. The workers themselves are the greatest losers, and I appeal to all sections of this House to do everything possible to induce the seamen to conform to the law. We should urge them to go to the Arbitration Court, and, at the same time, impress upon the Government the necessity of at once introducing amendments designed to get rid of many of the difficulties at present associated with our arbitration law.
– It is amusing to hear honorable members opposite applauding those Labour leaders who have expressed opinions in agreement with their own in regard to the seamen’s strike. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr! Foster), for instance, was particularly enthusiastic in his approval of a statement made . by Mr. Birrell, president of the Adelaide Trades and Labour Council; but for years he has fought that man with all the venom and bitterness that could be put into a political fight.
– That is absolutely incorrect.
– If the situation were not so serious, one would be inclined to laugh at the attitude of honorable members opposite. We realize that if Mr. Walsh and others were Out of the way, Mr. Birrell would be one of the most militant of Labour men, and would be opposed by the National party, as he has been opposed, by them in the past. Many who are in sympathy with the seamen believe that they could adjust their grievances in the Arbitration Court. As a matter of fact, it is impossible for them to do so. The Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) knows that they could not settle the present trouble in that Court.
– I know that they could.
– The honorable gentleman knows that the award made in 1917 is to continue for three years;so that they could not get the increase of wages sought by them.
– A way has been suggested.
– The honorable member refers to the suggestion that a bonus should be paid ?
– The seamen disapprove of that suggestion. It is admitted, even by the Acting Leader of the Government, that the seamen could not obtain through the Arbitration Court at the present time the increase of wages desired by them. All that the Court can offer them is a patchwork relief in the shape of a bonus. The workers know what the bonus system means, and will have none of it. Last year the lower-paid officers of this House were granted a bonus, and since then we have been trying to have the amount of that bonus added to their regular wages, but have not been successful. What the workers want is not a bonus, but adequate payment for the work performed by them. The workers have gone to the Arbitration Court so often that they are just as familiar with its machinery as are the other side, and they know that they cannot secure in this case a redress of their grievances.
Debate interrupted under standing order 119.
Experiments - Accounts of Operations at Randwick Works.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers are - 1 and 2. There is no objection, provided that the person, firm, or company applying for an experimental wireless telegraphy licence proposes to carry out systematic investigation of radio phenomena, and furnishes satisfactory evidence of good faith. Licences cannot be granted on other grounds. 3 and 4. Most of the amateur experimental wireless telegraphy sets handed to the care of the Postmaster-General’s Department at the outbreak of the war were released from custody some time ago, upon owners making application to the Deputy Postmaster-General in each State. Any sets not handed over may bo obtained by owners on application.
asked the Acting Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers are-
Number of Eligibles who did not Offer to Enlist - Permanent Postmen and Mail Branch Assistants - Transfers of Postmen and Assistants.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Whether he will supply the following information in his annual report for the year 1918-19:-
Willhe instruct that in all cases where suitable returned soldiers are available, they musthave preference of employment oversingle eligibleswho did not enlist?
Mr.WEBSTER.-The answers to the questions are -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The compilation of these details would involve considerable overtime and research in the Public Service Commissioner’s Office, and I am informed no staff is available for the purpose. If the information is required in connexion with Arbitration Courtproceedings, it can be supplied onlyon an order of the Court.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The compilation of these details would involve considerable overtime and research in the Public Service Commissioner’s Office, and I am informed nostaff is available for the pur pose. If the information is required in connexion with Arbitration Courtproceedings, it canbe supplied only on an order of the Court.
Conditions of Government Contracts
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Preference to Unionists
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The Acting Commonwealth Public Service Commissioner has furnished the following information : -
Circular to Wives of Enemy Aliens
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Commencement of Operations - Appointment of Mr. J. C. Morrell
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice - 1.Whether final arrangements have been made for the building of war service homes under the soldiers’ housing scheme?
– The answers supplied are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers supplied are -
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Has the Government ceased to carry out the compulsory sectionsof the Defence Act as affecting the Citizen Forces, and is this action the result of a resolution carried at a recent meeting of the Inter-State Labour Conference?
Importation of Coal
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– It is not considered advisable at the present juncture to deal with this phase of the strike situation, but a full statement of the Government’s policywill shortly be made.
asked the Acting Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers are-
Use of Word “ Ex-Nuptial
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the word “ex-nuptial “ has been used in lieu of “ illegitimate “ in all Federal laws and Departments, as promised by Mr. Fisher when Prime Minister, will the Acting Prime Minister request the Defence Department to cease breaking the rule, and use the word “ ex-nuptial “ when necessary in alludingto any child of a soldier or of a soldier’s dependants?
– The Defence Department is now issuing instructions for the use of theword “ ex-nuptial “ instead of the word “ illegitimate,” when alluding to any child of a soldier or of a soldier’s dependants.
– On the 11th July last the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked the following questions; -
I promised inquiry, and I am now able to furnish the honorable,member with the following information: -
– On Friday last the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) made the following statement in the House : -
The hospital ship Karoola moored at Woolloomooloo wharf at 9.30 a.m. on Saturday, 28th Juno. On board were 23 cot cases - some very bad indeed. Breakfast was served in the stream at 7.30 a.m. Shortly after the vessel was moored, eight or ten invalids were taken on deck, most of the invalids dressed in pyjamas only; yet the weather was cold, a sharp wind blowing. Shortly after 11 a.m., cot cases were removed to the wharf, where they lay in the cold without sufficient covering. The Karoola then pulled out to the stream. Through an insufficiency of motor ambulances, it was 3 p.m. before the last of the invalids arrived at Randwick Hospital. The invalids had no food or refreshments of any kind from 7.30. a.m. until 3 p.m., while the exposure to cold through want of sufficient clothing resulted in some of the invalids contractingsevere colds. Notwithstanding this, we read in the evening newspapers that the Governor-General met the hospital ship, addressed words of welcome to the returned men, that a plentiful supply of cars were in waiting, and that everything went without a hitch.
I promised that the matter would be immediately investigated by the Acting Minister for Defence (Senator Russell), and am now supplied with the following report, which has been submitted by the Military Commandant at Sydney: -
There were 5 cot cases for 1st Military District (Queensland), and 25 for 2nd Military District (New South Wales). All the patients were in bed in hospital on the arrival of the ship at the wharf at about 9.30 a.m. Five patients for 1st Military District, and 20 for 2nd Military District were evacuated as fast as they were handed over from ship, and the lust of these left the wharf at 10.30 a.m. All available ambulances were present. Five 2nd Military District patients remained on board in ship’s hospital waiting the return of the ambulances till 11.30, when they were removed to the wharf by order of the ship’s captain, as the ship was leaving. These men were placed in the sun, and were well covered up with blankets. A screen was erected to protect them from wind. The ambulances arrived at 12 noon. These five men were on the wharf for halfanhour only.
– On the 17th July, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr.
Maloney) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
I promised inquiry,and I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following information-: - 1, 2, and 3. This is a matter for State control. The attention of the Statu has been drawn to the Inter-State Commission’s report, and it has been suggested that they take any necessary action?
Use of for Export of Australian Ma nufa ctures .
– On the 17th July, the honorable member for South Sydney ( Mr. Riley) asked the following question, upon notice : -
In view of the overseas shipping companies being instructed to take only raw materials from Australia, such as wheat, wool, sheepskins, tallow, &c., will the Government place steamers of the Commonwealth line on the berth to take leather, basils, pickled pelts, and other Australian manufactures to London market?
Inquiry was promised, and I now desire to inform the honorable member that the question of dealing with non-priority cargo will be given consideration. The conditions appertaining in Great Britain do not yet appear to warrant a departure from the routine which has been carried out during the war of carrying to Great Britain those commodities which the British Government indicate are of urgent necessity for their needs.
– On the 11th July, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) asked the following questions : -
I promised that the information would be furnished as soonas possible. I now desire to lay on the table of the House the following statement, giving the information desired by the honorable member : -
Debate resumed from 17th July(vide page 10870), on motion by Mr. Groom-
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- The Bill now under consideration is one which, a layman like myself naturally approaches with considerable hesitation. When we had listened to the speech of the honorable and learned gentleman who introduced the Bill, and he had indicated to us the hesitation of the. Government in regard to its constitutionality, and given us some indication also of the pains he had been at to secure the wealthof legal opinion he felt to be necessary under thecircumstances, a layman like myself might very well walk somewhat circumspectly in discussing such a measure. Nevertheless, I have considered the Bill carefully, and, while I am in favour of the general principles, I have to complain that it does not go far enough. It is admittedly an extraordinary measure, a result of conditions created by the war; in fact, it is a heritage of ameasure introducedentirely on account of the war, and is, therefore, justified in that connexion. I supported the War Precautions Act, and the only fault I ‘have, to find with its administration by the Government is that it did not go far enough in some respects - the same objection I. have to the present measure. The Bill is quite satisfactory so far as it goes, but- 1 contend that the circumstances and conditions in Australia to-day emphatically demand that, if ‘constitutional, it should be expanded still further. “ Only to-day we had a most empliatic illustration of the necessity for further Government supervision and control in the matter of prices. The statement of Mr. Knibbs, published this morning, proves that, instead of prices falling since the end of the war, there has been a decided upward tendency, which I make bold to say is, in the great majority of cases, without any justification whatever. It is nothing more than barefaced exploitation of the community; and I urge on the Government that there is no duty more imperative on them at the present time than, to give careful consideration to the profiteering which is going oh, and to meet it in the most drastic way possible. -It is suggested that this matter of controlling prices, and the prevention of the exploitation of the public, is one which ought to be left to the States. I held a view somewhat of that nature for a considerable time, but again I find myself forced by circumstances to alter it.’
– Another convert !
– I hope I shall always be progressive enough to see the direction in which my duty lies, and I hope that the House as a whole will also indicate that it is possessed of that highly necessary characteristic of all Legislatures. In my own State ‘of Western Australia we a-re, undoubtedly, suffering from the imposition of very heavy prices. Unfortunately, State action in Western Australia would not be effective in controlling prices, because, in a great majority of ‘cases, prices are determined before the goods reach the State, and the Government of the State would be forced into the position of altogether refusing those goods admission, or of endeavouring ibo bring prices down at a cost to the importers which would be quite unfair. It appears, therefore, th’at in regard to commodities which pass from one. -State to another, nothing short of Commonwealth action will be effective-; and I shall do all in my power, so long as the present profiteering continues - tend it is not likely -to be abandoned until very drastic action is taken - to encourage the Government to take whatever steps may be necessary to deal with the position.
The constitutional aspect of the question is one which I confess is somewhat difficult for a layman to deal with. It is suggested - indeed, we are assured by the Government that in regard to price fixing we can go no further than the Bill indicates, but that, because we have been handling these matters in the form of contract, it is permissible to still further -legislate in the desired direction. I confess, as a layman, that I am quite unable to see why the contractual element gives the Government the power ; and I should be glad to have some indication from legal gentlemen iri the Chamber of where the justification arises. It appears to me that if the Government have the power to control the specific commodities mentioned in the Bill, whether under contract or not, they also have the power to deal with goods of a similar character.
– That seems common sense, anyhow !
– It is a layman’s opinion, which may go for what it is worth ; but I have looked up Quick and Garran, and, again- speaking as a layman, I say that their interpretation of the well-known section 51 of the Constitution, dealing with Trade and Commerce, justifies me in my contention. In Quick and Garran it is pointed out -
Trade means the act or business of exchanging commodities’ by -barter, or ‘by buying or selling for money; commerce: traffic; barter. It comprehends every species of exchange or dealing, either in the produce of land, in manufacture, in bills, or in money, but it is chiefly used ,to denote the barter or purchase and sale of goods, wares, and merchandise, either b’y wholesale or retail. Commerce means the exchange or buying and selling of commodities; especially the exchange’ of merchandise on a large scale between different places or communities ; extended -trade or traffic. l’f that opinion be correct - and we are bound to regard the authority with respect - then I think we can proceed with perfect safety to expand the Bill in the directio n I am indicating.
Curiously enough, I have before me a recordof the fact that some years ago in. this Parliament the control of prices was not regarded as unconstitutional.In 1906 this House was invited to deal with an Australian. Industries Preservation Bill, for the repression ofdestructive monopolies. When that Bill was before us I submitted certain sub-clauses, to insure that the consumer got a fair deal in respect of the goods to be protected. The principal amendment was as follows : -
If the unfairness in the competition is indicated in respect of prices, the Comptroller- General shall specify what, in his opinion, are fair selling prices for the goods sought to be protected under this Act, or which may be imported, subject to any specified conditions or restrictions under thisAct.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
– This Bill of 1906 was not proceededwith, and whatever may have been the reasons in the minds of Ministers for putting the measure aside, there certainly was no suggestion that we were unableto fix prices because of limitation of pur powers by the Constitution.
– I think the late Mr. G. B. Edwards supported the honorable member’s proposal, and submitted a similar amendment.
– Yes. In view of those and other reasons, which. I need not specify, I have cometo the conclusion that we have the constitutional power to deal with prices under this or any other Bill; at any rate, until the High Court has ruled that we have no such power it is the duty of the Government todeal with the prices problem, because there is no doubt that nothing short of very drastic legislation will meet all the circumstances of the case.
– We tested our powers in connexion with taxation.
– They have been tested in other ways, but still I think we can fairly claim that under section 51, with an ordinary common-sense interpretation of “ trade and commerce,” we have some such power as I am contending for.
– That will all depend upon the question of commerce within the States.
– Common sense interpretation is against all legal precedent.
– I regard the law as being, to a large extent, a crystallization of common sense, and, although it has its inconsistencies, I think we are all proud to be living under the laws brought into existence by thisParliament. I suggest that the proposed extension now before us, in the direction I am indicating, will add considerably in the well-being of the people, and enhance the credit of this Parliament amongst the people, if we can only carry our intention into effect. The Inter-State Commission has left no doubt of the existence of profiteering in the community at the present time. It has issued a series of exceedingly comprehensive and valuable reports, which amply justify the creation of that body, and which it is the duty of this Parliament to follow up with the necessary legislation.
– That is an Inter-State, not an Intra-State, Commission.
– The honorable member is seeking to make a distinction which I cannot admit at the present time. If there is Inter-State trade in the commodities reported on by the Commission we have the power under the Constitution to deal with them. I shall be very glad to hear some of the legal members of the House enlarge upon that point.
Is is our duty to at least test whether or not we have power under the present Constitution to deal with prices. We can no longer afford to sit with hands folded and refer matters of price fixing and the checking of profiteering to the various States. This is work which can be more effectively carried out by the Commonwealth ; indeed, only by the Commonwealth can it be carried out in a way that will be satisfactory to the whole of the people. Of course, the difficulty has been to arrive at some method by which profiteering can be checked. The Government have adopted certain methods upon which even the most sanguine upholders of Government policy- cannot congratulate themselves. In respect of a few articles, there has been restriction of a kind that has benefited the community, but the method by which the benefit has been achieved has been both clumsy and expensive, and has not come as near to the necessities of the case as the people had a right to expect.
It is necessary to trace the profiteering evils to their source, and I am bound to say that there is very little, if any, evidence to connect the primary producers with profiteering. On the contrary, they have suffered to a certain extentfrom the evil, and if we can protect both them and the consumers from the abuses that are being perpetrated, we need not hesitate as to the course we ought to adopt. If the producers and the consumers are suffering, it ought to be easy to discover who are the offenders. I think they will be found generally amongst that large class of middlemen who stand between the producers and the consumers, and who too frequently levy toll of both. There is no question that they have been actively at work during the course of the war, as the reports of the Inter-State Commissionhave shown, and there is equally little doubt as to their still more objectionableactivities now that the war is over. From another standpoint, also, it is to he regretted that profiteering should have taken place. We have had in Australia, during the war years, magnificent opportunities for developing trade in certain directions. But the manufacturers do not appear to have been content with a fair profit. They have taken full advantage of the war situation, and the result will not tend to commend to the people goods of Australian manufacture in a way that would undoubtedly have been the case if only the manufacturers had been satisfied with reasonable profits. There is no question as to the ability of Australian woollen manufactures to hold their own, in respect of quality, with any importations. During the last few years great advances have been made in the quality of various classes of locally-made goods. In tweeds for men’s clothing, I have seen Australian productions almost equal in quality to the very best that can be produced in Great Britain.
– As a matter of fact, the Australian article is equal to the imported. The Australian manufacturer is unable to introduce inferior material.
– Some very inferior material has been introduced into Australian tweeds. I have seen some cloths through which one could poke his finger.
– That must have been on account of inferior weaving.
– If the manufacturer uses wool of the proper quality, there is no trouble whatever in the weaving. Whereas a suit made from these tweeds cost about 75s. or 80s. before the war, a similar suit costs more than double that price to-day. There is no justification whatever for that increase. The price of wool has risen to a certain extent, but not sufficient to justify such a jump in the price of cloth. As a simple proof of that, I have only to mention that a woollen singlet of Australian manufacture costs to-day 15s., as compared with 7s. 6d. before the war. I purchased such an article a little time ago, and when I commented on the increase in price I was told that the price of wool had nearly doubled. That was a veryplausible reply to any one who would not take the troubleto investigate the circumstances. As a matter of fact, the woollen manufacturer does not pay double the price he paid before the war.
– The increase has been 55 per cent.
– But even assuming that the price had doubled, there is less than1lb. of wool in a singlet, so that there can be only an increase of 2s.or 3s. in that regard; instead of a jump from 7s. 6d. to 15s. Who is getting the benefit of such advances ? I feel sure that, in the majority of oases, the profiteers are not the retailers; they are the bigger men in the trade.
– They all do their share.
– There may be a certain increase in the profits of the retailers also ; but the trouble is that they have to buy from the middleman, and often are required to buy under conditions which compel them to ask a certain retail price, whether or not they desire to do so:
In regard: to these particular- classes, of goods, there is undoubtedly a very powerful combination of some kind, which, it is thé duty of this Parliament- to. check.
Is there anything to justify the tremendous increase in the price of boots and shoes? The cost of the raw material, hides and leather, may have increased to some extent; but the rise in the prices of boots and shoes is out of all proportion. Another matter in connexion with these articles, to which strong exception ought to ‘be taken, is that, although the prices have gone up so much, the quality has gone down, in some cases, beyond all tolerance. A little while ago I ‘was speaking to a medical friend of mine on that point. He agreed’ with, me that large quantities of foot-gear, especially boots, and. shoes for children, soaked up water like sponges, and made it almost impossible for any one abroad, in wet weather, for an hour or two to remain dry-footed; and. he expressed the opinion that, a great amount of the sickness and a good -many of the deaths, in Australia during the winter were due to nothing more nor less than the defective foot-gear that many of our people, especially the .poorer section, were compelled, to -wear. ! When I was in Western Australia, recently, a boot manufacturer told- me that one of his greatest troubles, was to procure decent leather to put into his shoes. He said that it was not the fault of the hides, but that it was the fault of the process of tanning, and. that the barium, a very objectionable chemical,, which was introduced into the leather for the purpose of weighting it, had a very injurious effect.
Any married, person with a family knows perfectly well that the cost of living in regard to nearly all articles of food has risen at least 50 per. cent. This remark applies to many articles undoubtedly of Australian production, which ought not to show any increase. Not . long ago the honorable member- for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) indicated that during the war the price of olive oil, a leading production of a neighbouring State, and an absolute necessary in the cage of many weak children, rose, to nearly three or four times its original value: Why should- not- the Governmenthave interfered’ to. prevent that exploitation, for which, there was no justificationwhatever? There are many articles- of the same character- subject to the same influences, yet nothing has been done tostop it.
The grazier is getting a f airly good price for his raw material ; but I am sure meat could be retailed at a much lower figure, and still give him the same return. When the working man’s wife bas. to pay 6d. for a mutton, shank, in order to make some broth for a sick child, there is something wrong that needs righting. I’ could give a formidable list of articles of daily consumption in the home, the cost of “which lias gone up beyond all reason. This is causing much anxiety and hardship in many homes in Australia. I do not know whether it would be constitutionally permissible for the Common wealth to fix- the price of fish, but nothing indicates more thoroughly the stupidity of parliamentary- action than what I have learned’ in regard to .the control - the fish industry, so far as the “ State- of Victoria* isconcerned. Recen.tly. an old gentleman, told’ me- that when, he ar.riv.ed’ in. Victoria about- fifty years; ago there- was- an: inquiry in progress into the price of fish. Since then, at short intervals, there- have been other inquiries: upon- the same subject) - .one- has just been- concluded - and. certain recommendations have- been made about the fish, monopoly and the price of’ fish, but the controllers of the. trade*, a handful- of aliens, simply go- on absolutely heedless of all these inquiries, which have apparently but one result, and that is ‘ nothing.
There is a good deal of social unrest in the community, and- much of it is undoubtedly due to the profiteering that is going on, and to the fact that in many cases breadwinners cannot earn enough- “to keep their families in comfort. Nothing breeds revolution more than does discontent with social conditions. It is a very significant commentary on the work of- this and other parliaments that, after all we have done during these years, the- working man is probably worse off to-day than he has ever been in the history of Australia.
While privation is stalking through the working-class districts, it is also to be found in that portion of thecommunity usually called the middle class. I believe that there are many middle-class homes to-day where the struggle for existence is quite as severe as it is in the homes of the working men, and I remind Ministers that the middle class, which is suffering on account of this profiteering, perhaps relatively more than any other portion of thecommunity, is the great power that has always stood behind Liberal Governments. In the past it has consistently voted Liberal, but if it gets no relief from a Liberal or a National Government, it will look for it in other directions. If Ministers are wise in their day and generation they will see that these middle-class homes which are being exploited, are protected in a very thorough fashion against the hardship which has broken into them during the last few years. I know men in fairly good positions, as far as appearances go, living in fairly good homes, who are struggling desperately and unsuccessfully to make ends meet. Their wives shed tears of bitterness over their inability to make the sums of money that come into the house go as far as they want, and their children in many cases are compelled to do withoutnecessaries of life and go short of. the clothing they need. These people are not going to stand by and support Governments that are indifferent to this kind of thing, and if no change is made before the next election, many of them, for the first time in their history, will be found voting for those who are most likely to afford them relief.
At the outset of my remarks I said that the Government had not been very successful in regard to their control of prices. When this control was being initiated, I suggested to a Minister a method by which I thought better results would be achieved, but no notice was taken of my suggestion. I submit now that there is a very simple and effective way of dealing with this difficulty. It cannot be met by waiting until the evil is done and then setting clumsy machinery in motion in order to discoverwhat is a fair and reasonable price for an article. Any one who is acquainted with ordinary business methods can easily see a means by which a check of an effective kind can be established at the very outset of the evil. There are recognised profits in all trades and in all branches of trades. There is a recognised profit on the manufacture of goods, on the middleman’s handling of those goods, and in the retailing of them. I do not need to specify it, it is well enough known. Let us say that 25 per cent. is ah all-round profit on softgoods for the retailer. All that it is necessary for the Government to do in order to regulate prices is to enact that only the ordinary recognised trade profits and no others shall be legal during a certain period. Attempts might be made by bogus transaction to transfer goods from one to another as nominal sales, but common sense and experience of trade should be able to detect whether sales were genuine or not. ,
Mr.Greene. - Many commodities were regulated on those lines.
– That may have been the intention, but the effect was not very obvious. At any rate, if the Government had established a general principle of that kind at the outset there would have been very little to complain of in regard to profiteering at the present time. The system I am suggesting would inflict no hardship upon anybody. It would give the importer, if he were importing, his ordinary profit. It would give the manufacturer, if the goods were manufactured, the profit he was entitled to it would be the same with the wholesale house, and the same with the retailers, but it would undoubtedly protect, the consumer from the plundering to which he is being subjected at the present time. I quite admit that a Bill, ofthat kind would require somewhat drastic penalties. It would require, also, that power should be given to the Inter-State Commission to deal with these matters. I believe the Commission is competent to do it. and would carry out the work very well. If the Commission found that an undue profit was being exacted in re- gard to any article, it would be its duty to report the case to the Attorney-General, and it would be compulsory on the AttorneyGeneral to prosecute. The penalty would have to be sufficient to prevent the average person . from taking the risk of profiteering. There would be a fine, I presume, but, in addition, the person or persons found guilty should be sent to gaol. A fine of any kind would hardly meet .the circumstances of some cases that we know have arisen, and are likely to arise. A fine could bo profitably paid, and the profiteering go on; but if we recognise that the persons who are indulging in profiteering are neither more nor less than waging war on the community, and becoming wealthy at the expense of those who are suffering, we are justified in dealing with all such offences by means of imprisonment. If the Government cannot expand this measure in the way I have indicated, I want them to assure the House before the second reading is passed that they will take the matter up in some other measure, and in some other way. Otherwise, I feel inclined to test the whole question by moving an amendment which would commit the Government to consequential amendments, bringing about what I desire to enact. I trust, however, that before the second reading goes through the ‘ Government will indicate their’ intention to deal with the growing evil of profiteering ; because it is growing and must be checked, and checked drastically.
– The New South Wales Government have just issued a proclamation fixing all the prices in New South Wales.
– I know some of the State Governments are making efforts to deal with this question, but only the Commonwealth Government can do it effectively, because in the case of a good many of the commodities, the profiteering price is imposed before they go into the State of consumption. Western Australia, for instance, imports a considerable number of commodities.
– But if the States have the authority to do it we cannot have it too.
– Yes; in regard to many matters we have powers co-ordinate with those of the States.
– Not in a case of this kind.
– We do not know that we have not. I want to see the matter tested, and it will have to be tested. Western Australia imports large numbers of commodities from the other States, . and if the Western Australian authorities attempt to impose reasonable prices on those articles they will cause great hardship to innocent traders, or prevent the goods from coming in altogether.
– Let us first decide which authority has the power.
– That is what. I want the Government to do, and the Government can best do it by introducing a measure which will test the question. By that means they will also give the country a guarantee that they are in earnest, and are prepared to do their best. This is not a matter which can be put aside by this Parliament. It must be tackled in some way, and tackled effectively, because the position is becoming so grave and serious throughout Australia that consequences of a kind that we may not be dreaming of will ensue if some definite action is not taken.
– Especially in a land of full and plenty.
– There is not such plenty in many homes at the present time.
– But the raw material is here.
– To a certain extent that is perfectly correct; but if the price goes up to a prohibitive rate it does not matter how much there is of an. article. I know for a fact that many articles of which the price is being steadily forced up abound in our warehouses to-day. There, are warehouses stocked from cellar to roof-tree with quantities, of goods of which the prices are being steadily raised on the pretext of scarcity.
– Where are they?
– Not so very far from here in some instances. These matters demand the attention of this Legislature, so that relief .may be afforded at the very earliest possible opportunity.
– It is very refreshing to hear honorable members on the other side advocating the prevention of profiteering, and refreshing, also, to hear their remarks cheered by the other occupants of the Ministerial benches, with the exception of a few. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), for instance, agrees that profiteering should he stopped, but wants to leave thematter in the hands of the States.
– I say the States are exercising the power, and we cannot both do it. .
– If the supporters of the Government are in earnest, I point out to them that the only way to prevent profiteering is for the Commonwealth Parliament to acquire further legislative powers to deal with the whole question. There is talk of testing our powers by some measure like the one now before us. To do so would be a sheer waste of time.
– It would be a legal farce, simply to deceive the community.
– I am glad of that admission from the Minister.
– We must decide who is the responsible authority.
– The powers of this Parliament in regard to fixing prices were first tested in what was known as the stripper-harvester case. The Government, on the advice of the highest legal authorities, brought in a Bill to fix the price at which this highly-protected commodity could be sold, and to fix also the wages of the men engaged in the industry. The Government were assured that they had the power to do so. I was young and innocent at the time, and believed what I was told by the legal luminaries who then abounded in this Chamber. Even those who were against the Bill agreed that it was constitutional, and the effect was that of a thunderbolt when the McKay harvester crowd took the Commonwealth Government into Court, and beat them by proving that we had not the power under our Constitution to fix prices.
– That is why the States are operating it.
-Since then the High Court have decided that during war time we have power to fix certain prices. As a layman, I say that if the first decision was correct,the second decision was bad law. Able lawyers in Australia argued that we bad not the power even in war time. I believe that if we could not do it in time of peace we could not do it in time of war. However, the decision was accepted, and now there is a Bill before us which the Acting AttorneyGeneral, with the advice of high legal dignitaries, assures us is constitutional. As a layman, I am going to have the infernal damned cheek to say that the Bill will be found to be unconstitutional if it is fought!
-Order! I ask the honorable membernot to use expressions of that character.
– I apologize. Laymen are not supposed to have any opinions on these matters, but laymen learn by experience a great deal more than legal gentlemen do. Even if he has had experience, a legal man will not admit it, because he believes that he will get clients who will go to law on his advice afterwards, and that he will be able to make money out of them. My opinion is that this Parliament has not these powers. The Attorney-General says we have them so far as this Bill is concerned. I submit, as a layman, that if we can fix prices for dairy produce, wool, sugar, flax, and wheat, we can fix prices also for boots and woollen goods. It does not require any sage from the brick-court temple to assure the general public that that is common sense. It is bad law to say that we can do the one thing and not the other. Those on the Government side say that profiteering is a horror. They admit that it is one of the principal causes - and I say it is the sole cause - of the troubles that we are facing, not only in Australia, but all over the world to-day.
– How do you propose to cure it?
– I shall tell the hon orable member. No one has suggested that a Bill should be brought in to make it legal at the next elections -to ask the people to grant Parliament the necessary powers.
– We have asked twice.
– Yes; and now there seems to he some degree of unanimity on the ‘part of honorable members opposite. If .the remarks of honorable members constitute a true reflex of the opinions of the people whom they represent, there must be something very near to unanimity on the ‘part of the general public in regard to suppressing profiteering; but if the Government and their supporters mean nothing at all, then no such Bill will be brought in. Possibly the Government intend to do something of the kind; but if that is so, is there any reason why they should not tell us? If the Government will not bring in such a measure, then they and their supporters are utterly insincere when they prate about their desire to prevent profiteering.-
Having had your permission to. address this House, Mr. Speaker, may I ask the permission of the Argus to address myself to some questions which have already been dealt with? The Argus protests against honorable members in this Chamber stressing those questions, and - -show: ing bow it hurts the Argus for us to do so - it abuses us when we do stress them. Nevertheless, I propose to .do so again. If the producer is to be considered in the fixing of prices, the consumer should certainly have a voice.
– Hear, hear !
– Of course; but if the Government continues to appoint individuals to the various Committees inthe same way as has been the practice, then the. consumer will not be either con- ‘ sidered or represented at all. The basic idea in fixing prices is that the primary producer shall get a fair return for his product. He has as much right to get full value for his product as has the labourer to receive full value for his hire. There seems to be a misunderstanding with respect to our producers. I do not call an individual who makes profits out of wool a primary producer. [ call him a “vampirate.” He is of die type that sucks the blood of the people. Hut if we” consent to -place that class of individual in the list of primary producers, even the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) will admit that the man who has to purchase wool has as much right to be given representation as the man who produced it. If that is not the case, then, the Wool Pool, .so far as the people are concerned, is useless. It is only right that both producer and consumer should be represented in the Pool. I know that it goes hard for the “ boss “ to say that the man who works for him, and the customer -who purchases from- him, shall have a right to any voice in the running of his business. Yet both worker and consumer can rightly maintain that they have as much interest in. the production of a commodity as has the producer himself. It is unarguable that the consumer should be represented on the Committees. I would like to see an amendment moved, when this measure is in Committee, with the idea of giving direct representation to the consumer. If such a question came to a division, we would discover the real friends of the consumer in this House. Why are the representatives of the primary producer complacently agreeable to the fixation of prices for the commodities mentioned in the Bill? ‘We have not heard a word of objection from country representatives. Why has there been no voice raised by those who are here m behalf -of. the producer? It is because the producer -has done so well under the fixation of prices during the war that he desires to continue the system. And if that is a correct statement of the situation - as I believe it to be - then all the howling against the fixation of prices has been a farce. Why are the representatives of the producer complacently permitting the system to be extended ? There is only one reason.
– They know that’ the Government entered into certain contracts’, and do not want to treat them as a scrap of paper.
– A bad excuse is. better than none; and, at any rate, that is the first I have heard offered.
– I can give you. a mighty good one, then.
-Honorable members make pretence about how they represent the primary producer, but they sneer at honorable members on this side, and, at the same time, utter no word against fixation of prices under this measure. It is not fair to the primary producer to fix the price ofhis product unless we fix the price of those commodities which he must use in the creation of that product.
– You want to fix the seasons also when it comes down to that.
– I recognise that neither the honorable member nor I can do that. But if the representatives of the primary producer have been really and genuinely in earnest in their protests against fixation - and they have howled it from the roof-tops in the past - how unfair istheir present attitude ! It is not fair to fix the price of butter if we do not, at the same time, fix the price of the separator which must be used in the production of butter. Yet there is. not one word heard about fixing the prices of commodities necessary for primary production. The reason, of course, is that producers have done so well under the system of fixation, so far as it has gone, that they are willing to see it perpetuated. And all the talk of their representatives in this chamber in howling down fixation has been so much “flapdoodle.” The fixation of prices during the war proved a farce. Ask the Minister concerned how it has worked out; and, if he tells the whole truth, he will say that it was a very good thing for those who produced the commodities concerned. Prices were fixed so high that the people happily affected thereby are now naturally keen to continue. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) has just stated that the reason for perpetuating the system is that certain contracts have been made which must be honoured.
– That is the only reason why I shall support this measure, anyhow.
– Are the commodities specifically mentioned the only ones which should be dealt with by the Government ?
Mr.Fowler. - Do the contracts make the action of the Government legal?
– Of course not ; but I desire to get away from that point now. I am inquisitive. I want to know the position of honorable members opposite who are always gibing at honorable members on this side. Where are they upon this principle ? The prices of certain commodities have been fixed, and honorable members behind the Government are obviously taking the circumstance very comfortably. It can only be for the reason that the people whom they represent are doing well, and desire to continue to do so. That being so, let honorable members wipe aside all the sham; and let the Government say straight out that they are satisfied to keep the system going because the people behind them are making good profits. Unless the Government bring in legislation necessary to effectivelydeal with profiteering, they cannot be said to be sincere; and, indeed, they are only fooling the people.
– Have not the State Governments the power ?
– Is not the honorablememberaware that the several States are so interdependent that it is really impossibleto talk of individual Stateaction. Queensland, for instance, could not exist if it were isolated from the rest of Australia. The people of that State have recognised that fact. Although not represented at the first Federal Convention. Queensland entered the union because it recognised that it would’ be detrimental to its own interest to remain outside. I am sure the honorable member would not say that Queensland could progress if a wall cut it off from the rest of the Commonwealth.
– No one has suggested that.
– Quite so. No State can afford to stand alone. The war has proved that no country can really be selfcontained. Great European countries which were thought to be capable of supplying all their own needs during the war proved incapable of feeding themselves.
– It would be all very well, I suppose, for Queensland to fix the price of sugar !
– We are providing for that under this Bill.
– The Federal Government bought the Queensland sugar crop for two years, and fixed their own price.
– That is so. It is idle to say that the task of dealing with profiteering should be left to the States. The Commonwealth has power to prohibit the importation of any commodity detrimental to the health or morals of the people, but should such a commodity be made, say, in Victoria, this Parliament has no power to prevent it going into New South Wales. It is impossible for any State Parliament to deal effectively with profiteering and the high cost of living. This Parliament represents flesh and blood, whereas in every State the power of veto is in the hands of the Upper House, which is either representative of broad acres alone or is merely a nominee chamber. Those who compare the capacity of this Parliament to legislate for the whole of the people with that of any State Parliament, know that they are trying to put the position unfairly.
We have heard a good deal of Bolshevism; and, having regard to the Commonwealth franchise, the man who talks of Bolshevism talks rot. But when a man says that a bit of Bolshevism is necessary to extend the power of this Parliament, he is not far wrong. In every State a bit of Bolshevism is necessary to tear down the rotten Upper House system. We talk of the men who wentaway to “ fight for their bleeding country,” and yet we know that not one out of every ten of our returned soldiers is entitled to vote for the Victorian Legislative Council.
– In South Australia every returned soldier has a vote for the Upper House.
– The Labour party in the Victorian Parliament tried to secure adult suffrage in respect of the Upper. House, but the Conservatives turned down the proposal.
– Give us some more of your views on Bolshevism.
– The Victorian Upper House could do with a couple of Lenins and Trotskys to get rid of it. I would not care how they got rid of it - whether by bombs or anything else - but it seems to me that the members of the
Legislative Council are so well entrenched that it is impossible to get them out.
– Order! I see nothing in the Bill covering the matter now being discussedby the honorable member.
– With great respect to you, sir, I would point out that this Bill involves a consideration of the powers of this Parliament and the Parliaments of the States. I am endeavouring to show that the constitution of the State Parliaments is such that we cannot hope for any action on their part to reduce the high cost of living. In to-day’s newspapers we read that, according to figures compiled (by the Commonwealth Statistician, the cost of living has gone up in every State, with the exception of Queensland.
– Put the fact squarely.
Mr.MATHEWS.- I am quoting the latest figures.
– Those figures relate to the increase in prices only during one month.
– They show that during the month of May the cost of living went up in every State, with the exception of Queensland. That was the position eight months after the armistice, whenwe expected that the cost of commodities would immediately be reduced. On every hand men were advised when the armistice was signed not to lay in big stocks, since there was sure to he an immediate drop in prices. I have come to the conclusion that those who gave that advice either wanted to purchase large stocks for themselves, or had already done so, and that they have taken care not to allow prices to come down.
The whole situation to-day is governed by the high cost of living. Is it any wonder that we have turmoil and strife in Australia? The Ministerial party and their press supporters profess to be horrified at thefailure of the seamen to resort to constitutional methods to redress their grievances. They complain bitterly that the men have taken direct action. Do they notknow that in practically every country the same course is being pursued, and that this is only because of the increased cost of living, which has become unbearable? The trouble to-day is that prices are so high that theworking classes cannot hope to exist on the wages they are receiving. How does a working man support himself, his wife, and a family of four on a wage of £3 per week? Thousands are contriving to do so on an even lower wage.
– Many returned soldiers are living on less than that.
– Any number of them are living on 52s. a week.
– An incapacitated soldier and his wife receive 45s. per week.
– Quite so. Honorable members opposite and the Conservative press which supports them, are aware of this fact, but they will not place the real position fairly and squarely before the public. But for the high cost of living, I do not think the seamen’s strike would have occurred. The great majority of the men found that they could not support their wives and families on the wages they were receiving, and they were forced to take action. With my knowledge of the position ofthose who return me to thisHouse, I am not surprised that there is trouble. As far back as November last I prophesied in this House that trouble would occur if action were not taken to reduce the cost of living. Honorable members then laughed at me, and nothing , was done. Is it not possible that the trouble in Melbourne during the last few days may spread? Do honorable members think there is no likelihood of its recurrence.? Do they not realize that if the dissatisfaction in regard to the high cost of living becomes deeper seated, it will be, not a few hundreds, ‘but tens of thousands, who will rise in indignation. The Government may say, “We have the loyalist soldiers behind us, and will bring out machine gun’s and shoot down the people if they rise.” Do they want an opportunity to shoot down the people who rise to maintain their rights ? I am sure they do not.
– What particular rights ?
– The right to live. Having regard to the higher cost of commodities, the masses ofthepeople find it practically impossible to exist on the wages they receive. Even a man in receipt of a salary of £500 a year complains that its purchasing power, as compared with what it was five years ago, has been reduced by one-half. The price of everything has gone up, and the people will no longer tolerate the situation. Government supporters say that the seamen are foolish to go out on strike, that by doing so they only accentuate the distress, and that they should avail themselves of the Arbitration Court. But the men were forced by dire necessity to take action. I could take honorable members to street after street in my electorate, where the position of residents would be bad enough even if they were in regular work; but when a man is in work for a week, and out of work for a month, while the rent and the butcher’s and baker’s bills are running on all the time, is it any wonder that trouble occurs? Is it any wonder that men revolt, and avail themselves of methods which they think superior to those of the Arbitration Court, with its delays and its costs?
The position in Australia to-day is very like that obtaining in Britain. Can any one read in to-day’s press of the situation in Great Britain without realizing that it is most serious ? We all recognise its seriousness, and, I am sure, deeply regret it. We know that if it continues it must mean”good-bye “ to the great power whichBritain is supposed to wield.
– “ Supposed “ ? Does she not wield it?
– Damn you! Do you want me to say something that will cause the police to get on my tracks, and try to gaol me under the War Precautions Act? Everywhere we get a sneering question like that, the object of which is to make one say something which may lead to his being brought up under the War. Precautions Act.
– The honorable member should address the Chair. If he did so there would be less of these personalities.
– A number of people who call themselves loyalist’s look for an opportunity to press a man into giving a reply which may lead to his being placed in durance vile. The honorable member for. Indi (Mr. Leckie) should be more manly than to do that kind of thing. It has been tried upon me too. often. Men are asked what they think about the red flag, or about the Union Jack, and are drawn into an argument which has nothing whatever to do with the matter with, which they are dealing.
– Order ! The honorable member is not obliged to take notice of interjections, especially if they are irrelevant.
– The question is: Are the Government and their supporters sincere in the endeavour to put’ down profiteering?
– They appear to be very sincere now..
-I ask honorable members to- ceasemaking interjections.
– Honorable, members on the other side may go. on laughing^ The high cost of. living does not,, perhaps, greatly affect them, at the present time any more than it does myself.”
-I ask the honorable member. to speak, to. the second reading of the Bill.
– I thought that I was doing so-.
– The honorable member appears- to be carrying on aconversation with, honorable members on the other side on a subject that is foreign to the Bill.
– I am endeavouring to deal with the Bill, and doing, it very well if I am to judge by the interjections of honorable members opposite. We have been having trouble lately because of the high cost of living, but the same thing, is taking place all over the world. The object of this Bill is to fix the prices of a few commodities in which I admit the wage-earning section of the community is interested. But if it is a good thing in the interests of the community that the prices of thesecommodities should be fixed, it is equally a good thing for the community that the prices of all commodities should! be fixed in the same way, and the Governmentshould endeavour to secure for this Parliament the powers necessary for that purpose. The need for the fixation of prices is greater now than it used to be in days gone by. At one time there were only a few profiteers. For instance, the squatter was a profiteer. He always has been, and always will be. The great manufacturers and large importers were profiteers. The success of their profiteering was so apparent that to-day every one is trying to emulate them, and we are confronted’ with quite an inordinate amount of profiteering. People who never handle, and only give advice concerning commodities expect now to be permitted to profiteer.
The Government control sugar in this country. I have a letter here from the Federation of Retail Grocers Associations of Australia. I shall not read the whole of it, but I make this quotation from, it -
Oh the 5th June; Senator . Russell, speaking on behalf of. the. Government in the Senate; said - “ We admit that retailers of butter and sugar’ are not . getting sufficient, but’ both these articles- are now under consideration by the PricesCommissioner and the Minister in charge of the Department, and I hope that the grievance will be remedied’ immediately. Neither of these lines has yet been placed! on a payable basis, and, as they constitute- about one-third of the average grocers’ business, theeffect on the trade has been serious.”
The grocers want to be able to sell these commodities at higher prices. They say that the men who produce butter and sugar have the prices of those commodities fixed at a rate which pays them to produce them. In that the grocers are quite correct, because the producers of those commodities desire that the Government should continue to fix the prices. It is clear that the producer of sugar and the producer of butter are satisfied, because not one of their representatives has raised a voice in this House against the fixing of their prices. The grocer says that if we fix the price of sugar and of butter at a certain rate which is a payable rate for the producers of those commodities, we should fix their retail prices at a. rate which will make it payable for grocers to retail them.
– The little grocer makes a great deal less money, than does the honorable member.
– I am advocating the cause of the poor little grocer, and the honorable member is attacking him/ I do not know what the fact that I get more than does the little grocer has to do with the matter. I do not get more than I am worth, but the honorable member does.
– .The grocer gets a lot less, and does three times more work than does the honorable member.
– /The grocer has put his case before members of this Parliament, and I candidly say that I think he is justified when he contends that the Government should allow him a fair profit upon the commodities he sells when they permit the producers of those commodities to make a fair profit. The trouble is that the retail grocer has no representative in this House. His vote is not so strong as that of the primary producers, or there would be some one taking his part in this chamber.
There are men in Melbourne who are making a large amount of profit by selling sugar as mere intermediaries between the refining establishment and the retail grocer.
– I am certain that the honorable member cannot prove that. P challenge him to do so. ‘
– I think that the honorable member is mistaken. Two and a half per cent, is as much as they make.
– They do nothing for the 2& per cent. Their work is represented merely by a book entry. A grocer goes to a wholesale warehouse in Melbourne, and orders a ton of sugar. The wholesale grocer never handles the sugar, which is taken direct from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s stores to the retail grocer’s shop. . There is a book entry made in the wholesale grocer’s books, and for that he gets 2 per cent.
– That is not always the ease.
– That is the way in which the greater portion of the sugar is dealt with. We have a firm in Melbourne called Moran and Cato, which has an ad vantage over other grocers.’ The’ honorable member for- Maranoa (Mr. Page) knows a. man who gets 2-J per cent, on all the’ sugar that goes into Rockhampton. Moran. and Cato get sugar direct from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, ‘and thus save the 2i per cent, which other retail grocers have to pay. The Retail Grocers Association is’ composed of a number of grocers who have banded themselves together to buy wholesale lines, so that they may be in a position to retail commodities to their customers as cheaply as do others who are given greater advantages in dealing in those commodities. Why were not these men permitted to purchase sugar at the same price .as that at which Moran and Cato could purchase it, and so save 2 per cent. ?
– Co-operative companies can do .that.
– They may be able to do it now, but they could not do it a few months ago. At last it has been agreed that this co-operative company may go to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and obtain their sugar direct, and so save the 2 per cent. If a cooperative company may do so, then every little grocer in Australia should have the same right, and should not be required to . pay 2 per cent, commission to a middleman.
– Quite so. Who prevents it?
– The Government prevent it, since they have the control of sugar.
– Surely not. What does the Minister say to this?
– He may pass it on to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, who are bad enough for anything. I say that, throughout our trading concerns, there are secret commissions and rebates operating against the small trader. Why should not a draper, who wishes to purchase a dozen hats, be able to go to the manufacturer of hats and purchase them 1 Why should not a tailor be able to go to the manufacturer .of woollens and buy what he requires ? They are not allowed to do it. That is where the profiteering comes in. The middleman and intermediary establishes an office, without expense, with only a brass plate, a typewriter, and a messenger boy, and he makes money out of the passing of commodities from the manufacturer to the retailer.
– The honorable member is mistaken. Many of them carry very big stocks.
– The honorable member must know that some of these people never handle the goods that they pass on from the manufacturer to the retailer.
– The honorable . member is absolutely wrong.
– I know that what I am saying is true in respect of sugar, and of woollens, and of boots. The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) the other day showed me a bundle of tweeds manufactured in Sydney. They were very good material. They were labelled with the prices which the manufacturer gets from the wholesale houses, and these ranged from 9s. 6d. to 12s. 6d. per yard. The material which was priced at 12s. 6d. per yard could not be purchased in any warehouse at under £1 per yard. A profit of 7s. 6d. on .12s. 6d. is altogether too much; but that cannot be prevented. The retailer cannot go to the manufacturer to buy. because if the manufacturer sells to him the wholesale houses beat the manufacturer. The man who had the tweeds I refer to admitted that the prices ‘charged by the manufacturer were 40 per cent, in’ advance of the pre-war prices. But when they get into the warehouses, it is not a question of 40 per cent., but of from 150 per cent, to 250 per cent, in advance of pre-war prices. One can go into some of ‘ the leading tailors’ shops to-day and be’ shown material that is priced at from £2 2s. 6d. to £2 5s. per yard. In the pre-war period, that material would be sold at about 17s. per yard. Between the local manufacturer and the warehouses, which deal in both imported and locallyimported stuff, the people are robbed. Why do not the Government try to settle some of those questions? If it ls legal to follow wool and arrange for its pooling, and to fix its ‘ price, why not do the same with the products of wool ? I would just as soon be robbed V-y the poor squatter as by the poor warehouseman, or the poor landlord; indeed, I would rather the producer, as against the middleman, get the extra profits ; and in this view I ought to have the support of the producers’ representatives.
– You know my views on that question.
– I do. The Government, although they know .that this is .the only Parliament that can deal with thematter effectively, have done nothing. It is a farce for the Government and their supporters to tell us they desire to settle the question unless they give some proof of their earnestness. There is, indeed, only one way in which the Government can achieve the desired end, and that is to acquire the necessary powers, instead of placing before us a Bill which we know is not constitutional, and will not stand the test of the High Court. « However, we know that the producers of dairy produce, wool, sugar, flax, and wheat have done so’ well under the fixation of prices that they do not care how long it lasts; and so the Government go on, and the people are robbed without hope of redress.
Mr. RICHARD FOSTER (Wakefield) [9.181. - I should not have interposed in the debate but for some statements made here that are absolutely, though, no doubt, unintentionally, inaccurate. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler), I am sure unwittingly, quoted figures which are not accurate;, and .to one who, like myself, has had considerable experience in business, and is conversant with prices, it is distressing that such statements as to profiteering, or the exacting of undue profits, should go out to inflame the public mind. If honorable members desire to convey a true impression to the people as to the cost of living, it would* be advisable for them, in the absence of individual knowledge of trading and current prices, to pin their faith to Mr. Knibbs, for there is nothing more reliable than the statements issued from mouth to month by that gentleman. So far as the essential necessaries pf life are concerned, the increase in the cost of living in Australia, according; to Mr. Knibbs, is not much more than half what lias been attributed to- profiteers by honorable members. Reference was made bv one honorable member ‘ to sugar and items in the produce trade, but except in the case of men who have an enormous turnover, there is no profiteering, and no big profits made in any part of Australia; indeed, the profits that the average man in this particular trade makes in a year do not equal the parliamentary salary of honorable members.
As to profiteering generally, I say, as I have said before, thatI haveno sympathy with it, and I am no apologist for the profiteer. We must look at this question fairly, and if honorable members say there are profiteers, let them be named - do not let us continue to have all these innuendoes. My only desire is to have honest statements put before the country without camouflage or misrepresentation for political purposes. In any case, profiteers, during the last year or two, have been paying 50 per cent., and 75 per cent., of their profits into the Treasury.
– But they have taken the money from the public.
– Of course they have if they have made the profits; but let us know where this profiteering is.
– There is a nest of profiteers in Flinders-lane.
– The honorable member can tell us a good many things, but-
– Do you not know it ?
– I ought to know something about the business. I am no apologist for Flinders-lane.
– You are a pretty good barracker for Flinders lane !
– No, but I believe in being honest whichever side I am on ; and I am going to lay a charge against the Government soon in regard to this very question, and I hope what I say will be taken to heart. In the first place, let us pin down that one wild statement about warehouses being packed from floor to ceiling. Where are those warehouses ?
– In Sydney.
– If so, Sydney is the only place where they are. As a matter of fact, such warehouses are not in Sydney. If honorable members talk about profiteering being the cause of the high cost of living, I point out again that in regard to the essential necessaries there is no profiteering. That being so, any profiteering must be in connexion with clothing.
– What about leather in South Australia ? What about Mr: Reid’s evidence as to leather being held up?
– If leather was held up when the honorable member consulted Mr. Reid, it is not held up to-day, because America and other countries, too,have come into Australia and are collaring every side of leather they can lay their hands on.
– I did not consultMr. Reid; he gave that evidence before the Inter-State Commission.
– If leather is being held up, how long has it been held up? While the honorable member was at the war it was held up, not by the tanners, but on their account; and was on the wharfs of Australia for many months, or a year or two, together. All the capital involved was lying idle, because it was not possible to ship the leather to the Old Country. In the matter of clothing there has, no doubt, been profiteering, and the profiteers have very properly been made to pay 50 per cent. and 75 per cent. into the Treasury. But to say there are warehouses filled from floor to ceiling is absolutely untrue, as every man familiar with trade knows. On the contrary, there are orders that have been placed in the Old Country for twelve months for clothing and softgoods of various kinds that are not yet executed.
– The honorable member for Flinders (Captain Bruce) told us that he had £750,000 of stock when the armistice was signed.
– That is not an enormous amount at all.
– Of course it is, for one firm.
– Look at the extent of the business of Messrs. Paterson, Laing, and Bruce, not only in Melbourne, but in Sydney. Such a stock is not one-half of what the firm would have in normal times. The orders J speak of are not executed in the Old Country, because they cannot be executed ; but I have not time to elaborate these points. I should like, however, to emphasize the fact that things are dear, and the cost of living is increased because of shrinking production.
– And increase of currency.
– That has something to do with it; but we are not producing per man what we used to produce.
– The “go slow ‘ ‘ policy.
– The “ go slow” policy is worming itself into every industry in the country.
– Where is your proof of that?
– The honorable member does not know the alphabet of what is going on, though he has only to look at the blue books in this very Parliament.
– Look at the green book’s of Mr. Knibbs and you will see from his statistics that what you say is absolutely incorrect.
– Regarding what?
– Factory output, wages paid, and so forth.
– The honorable member does not know how to discriminate between the different conclusions of Mr. Knibbs. It is no use honorable member’s opposite grinning ; they do not understand business. However, it is not only a matter of “go slow,” but also a matter of wages, which in some of the factories are so generous to-day that the operatives cannot be induced to work six days a week, because they can earn sufficient in a lesser time.
– I do not think journeymen tailors ever work six days per week.
– I am dealing with factories generally, and I challenge honorable members opposite to dispute what I am saying.
– The honorable member is quite wrong.
– If the honorable member is in Adelaide next week, I shall take him to a factory where my statements can be proved absolutely.
– Will the honorable member quote Knibbs’ figures if I hand them to him?
– I am not talking about Knibbs’ figures, butabout the factory employees. I know Knibbs, and esteem him highly, and I understand his figures ; the honorable member does not. We have listened to many wild, irresponsible, and inaccurate statements in this House about trading, under the one heading of “ profiteering,” which seems to be like the blessed word Mesopotamia. Profiteering is stressed for the specific purpose of creating a certain feeling throughout the country. These misleading and inaccurate statements ought not to be allowed by the Government to go before the people except accompanied by a refutation from the Minister, so that both might be published simultaneously in the same newspapers. If that policy were adopted by the Government, such statements would be discontinued, because there would be no. profit in them. I ask Ministers to take this suggestion into serious consideration.
I desire to get from the Acting AttorneyGeneral a legal opinion upon a point in respect of which I am in doubt. If we have power to transferto an Act of Parliament certain authority that was conferred by the War Precautions Act for a period, have wepower to exercise that authority permanently?
– I shall answer that question when I am replying.
– Another point which I desireelucidated is this: Are we to understand that this Parliament has power to continue by this Bill an authority that has been already originated under another Act, yet has not power to create that authority? If the legal opinion is that this Parliament is limited to the power to continue an authority already created under another Act, I can understand the contention that Parliament has no power to deal with price fixing permanently. But if the authority created by the War Precautions Act can be continued indefinitely-
– Our only power to deal with these things arises from the plenary powers of defence contained in the Constitution.
– Then. I give up the problem.
.- In- the midst of these legal” subtleties and verbal straw splitting, it is hard for- an ordinarylayman to understand what is taking place, but it seems certain that- if this Parliament has not the power to do that for which the Government are contending, the good name of Australia will’ be in jeopardy. We have made certain bargains which must be honoured. However much I doubt that Parliament has the power which the Government say it has, I trust for the honour of Australia and this Parliament that their contention, is correct. The Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) in his explanation of the Bill, did not seem to be very emphatic. He stated that the war. would, end when ratifications were exchanged.. Ratifications, between whom ? Germany has ratified, the Peace agreement-;’ Great Britain has yet to do that, but the King and’ his Cabinet may do that without consulting Parliament.. There is another doubtful point: Have the. ratifications, to be exchanged between all the t nations, that were at war., or is it sufficient for our purpose that they be exchanged between Great Britain and Germany?. Or, as we were also, at war. with Austria, Bulgaria,, and Turkey, must, we wait until-pea.ee negotiations aTe completed and ratified with those countries? Lf it- simply means- that we have only to wait until the state of war between Great Britain and Germany ceases, the Government have cut things very fine, for as soon .as Great Britain has ratified the Peace with Germany that will be the end of the war so far as Australia is concerned. In those circumstances, it seems, to me it is absolutely necessary to -get this Bill through immediately if the Commonwealth he constitutionally entitled to exercise the power vhich it seeks to confer.
There has been a good deal of talk during the course of this debate about profiteering. The other day I was very much struck by a speech delivered .by the honorable member- for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), who quoted. statistics to show that, with ‘a. smaller -number of sheep, the woolgrowers had earned more money for the wool grown on the sheep-. The honorable; member may be correct, but, at the same time, there may have been no profits on the sale of that wool> for during the drought of 1914 many pastoralists lost three-quarters of their sheep, and others lost the whole of their flocks. I think it will be granted that in the year following the loss of three-quarters of his breeding owes it would cost a pastoralist four times what it would cost in an ordinary year to produce the number of. lambs he would breed; from the balance of the ewes. His station expenses would be just the same as in the- normal, years. His interest on the capital involved would go on just the same.
– The pastoralists did not lose a quarter of their sheep. It was a drop from ll-,000,000 to 10,000,000 sheep.
– Some of the pastoralists lost three-quarters of their sheep, and the cost of growing, their wool anti. breed- ing their lambs in. the year following was manifestly a great deaf.higher than it wasbefore the. drought,, so that, instead; of profiteering in regard to wool, they actually lost income, and in- manycases capital also. The men who. try to create the impression that profiteering occurs, among primary-producers are those who i represent large city constituencies;, who, from the very nature of their- life and training,, have no knowledge of the details of the- great primary producing interests. Before they make such statements as those made by the honorable member for Adelaide, it would be well for them to seek a little information from those who know something about the primary- producers and the risks they take, and the methods they employ, in producing wool and other commodities.
– I did nothing but quote the figures given by the Inter-State Commission.
– But the unfortunate thing. is that the honorable member interpreted them in the wrong way.
– There are more sheep in Victoria at the present time than there have ever been ; yet meat is dearer.
– I hope that the honorable member is not like the honorable member for Melbourne Porta (Mr. Mathews), who, a few minutes ago, after declaiming against profiteering,urged the Government to increase the price of sugar and butter on behalf of the small grocers. Since this Parliament has metthere has been a good deal of facing both ways.
A schedule to this Bill provides that the retail price of sugar shall not be more than 3½d. per lb. That is price fixing pure and simple, and honorable members opposite, seeing that schedule, may be forgiven for saying that if the Government have the power to fix the retail price of sugar, surely they have the power to fix the price of other commodities. It seems to me that even if the legal opinion the Minister has received is in favour of the Commonwealth having the powers set forth in this Bill, the particular power sought in this respect is open to very grave doubt. The position in regard to sugar is likely to be very serious. At the beginning of the war raw sugar was sold at £14 per ton, but since the last agreement was entered into the growers have been getting £21 per ton for raw sugar. That is an advance of 50 per cent., and I think that the people of Australia have considerable reason for doubting that the cost of producing sugar has increased by as much as £7 per ton. The consumption of this commodity being about 285,000 tons per annum, the consumers are called upon to pay nearly £2,000,000 by way of a bonus to the growers in Queensland and New South Wales. But those growers are not the only people concerned in the sugar industry, and it is just as well for Ministers to look further abroad. Of course, it is very easy out of public funds to increase the price to be paid to any particular section of producers, but it is very hard to see the actual results achieved. So far, the actual result of the fixation of the price of sugar at a very high figure has not been as adverse as it might have been because of the heavy cost of freights and the shortage of shipping during the war, but if it is proposed to continue the present highprice of sugar during the years to come, when commerce becomes normal again and freights are lower, the result will be disastrous to the fruitgrowers and the jam-making industry in the southern States. Of late years the fruit-growing industry has assumed large proportions in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia, and great strides have been made by jam-makers and the preserved fruit industry.
– They are more highly protected than is the sugar industry.
– Returned soldiers are being encouraged to settle on irrigated land along the River Murray, and they are producing peaches, apricots, and other soft fruits for preserving. If the manufacturers are not to get sugar at a reasonable price compared with that which prevails in the outside world, then those industries that are growing up in Australia, and some of which the war has enabled to establish themselves, will be endangered. I shall not offer any objections to the Bill as it stands, although I have grave doubts whether the part dealing with sugar is legal. I hope the Government have the power they say they have, but we must be thankful that it is not this House, but an outside body, which has the duty of deciding the point. I trust thatthe Government have the power, because it will be disastrous to Australia if they find, after all, that they do not possess it. In the meantime, until the term of this Bill runs out, I urge the Government to consider seriously the position of the sugar industry, coupled with the position of the jam and fruit-preserving industry. This great industry, which is growing up in the southern States is, after all, a white man’s industry, and I hope it will not be obliterated for the sake of bolstering up, by artificial prices, the sugar-growers of the northern States. .
.- It appears to me that those concerned in the particular commodities enumerated in the Bill are simply looking after their own interests. It is the War-time Profits Bill over again, so far as I am concerned. If the powers which the Government claim under this Bill depend upon the War Precautions Act, or upon the existence of a state of war, it appears to me that they must cease once peace is declared. When the Acting Attorney-General was introducing the Bill I asked him whether the Government possessed the power,prior to the passing of the War Precautions Act, to deal with the matters contained in this Bill. The honorable gentleman evaded that point. He said that the Government had certain advice that they were within their powers in passing this measure. The fact remains that if the Federal Parliament did not possess the power to deal with these matters prior to the passing of the War Precautions Act, they will not possess those powers when the War Precautions Act ceases to operate. The case of the tanners tends to support that view. The Defence Department wanted them to supply their leather at a price fixed under the War Precautions Act. The tanners did not supply the boot manufacturers with leather at that price, but the Government did not prosecute them, although they threatened them with the penalties of the Act. I am given to understand that the tanners told the Government that they were quite willing to test that Act. If the Government had not the power to enforce the Act on the tanners, there does not seem to be much chance of their having the power to deal with the matters enumerated in this Bill. To me the whole business seems to be much on a par with the way the ship-owners are looking after their own interests at the present time. Apparently the wool and other industries mentioned in the measure are looking after their own interests, and the Bill does not matter one iota to the general public, and particularly to the working-class community. As the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Leckie) said, it is merely a wrangle between the socalled primary producers and the manufacturing industries, and the only question which the workers of the community are interested in is which of the two is the profiteer. I am of opinion that both are, and the honorable gentlemen who represent the profiteering interests affected by the Bill are simply looking after the profiteers. So far as the general body of the public is concerned, it does not matter one iota whether the Bill is passed or lost.
Mr. CORSER (Wide Bay) [9.561.- It is necessary to answer a few statements that have been made to-night. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Leckie) spoke of the sugar industry and the effect of the protection of that industry upon the dried fruit and jam industries. Perhaps the honorable member is not aware that the people of Australia are getting sugar grown in Queensland far cheaper than they could import it. Sugar could not be imported now under about £51 per ton.
– How long has that been so?
– Never mind how long it has been so. It is so now, and the honorable member was dealing with the present. It comes with a very bad grace from members who represent the fruit districts to criticise adversely the protective duty upon sugar when their industries enjoy far greater protection. In the past my firm has imported dried fruits from Spain and Greece. These were landed in Australia at 2d. per lb. The duty upon those fruits is now 3d. per lb., or very nearly 110 per cent. Allthat you could make out of the protection on sugar is about 28 per cent. The rise in the price of sugar was found absolutely essential on account of the higher cost of living and the higher wages that had to be paid by the producers. In view of the great losses that those engaged in the sugar industry have sustained through cyclones, drought, and frosts, there are very few industries in Australia that are giving less profit to-day than the sugar industry is. It is as well also to point out that the jam industry is protected to an enormous extent. These manufacturers have a protective duty of 2d. per lb., which is higher than the protection upon sugar. Those who. represent the jam and fruit industries of the various States must have a very bad case to use arguments which can be so easily refuted. As a matter of fact, to-day they are enjoying privileges which we in Queensland do not enjoy. Every man who has the interests of the Commonwealth at heart should take care to see that we occupy effectively the north-eastern seaboard of Queensland. We can only do so by tropical and semitropical cultivation. If we do not do this, we may possibly have in this country the Indians, who, of course, belong to the Empire, and perhaps some of our Allies who live not very far from us. I question very much whether those people who now make such a fuss about the protection of the sugar industry, more particularly the growers of fruits and manufacturers of jams and preserves, would find that state tff things to their advantage. It would be wise for them to leave well alone.
So fair as this Bill is concerned, the Government have had ample power up ‘to the present time to acquire the sugar they have acquired, and also other goods, under the War Precautions Act. They simply seek, under this Bill, to extend that power until the existing contracts run out. That seems to he a fair thing, and good business as well, and I do not see why objection should be raised to the Government carrying out their contracts with the Queensland Government in respect to sugar, or with any authority in regard to any .of the other commodities.
– One or two points have been raised during the course of the debate which call for reply. I de- sire to devote some attention, .to the legal aspect of the measure. The question has been raised, “ Why is it that, if the Government can exercise the powers of price- fixing in connexion with the products mentioned, they cannot take up a general measure of price fixing ? “ The power wh’ich the Government exercised under the War Precautions Act ‘was a ‘defence power. Certain regulations under the Act were challenged in connexion with price fixing; and, in their judgments, the majority of the Justices of the High Court pointed out how very wide and extensive was the power of the Commonwealth during the period of war. 1 Its defence power was really the power of self-preservation of the nation. The Chief Justice remarked, in the course of his judgment in ‘this case (Farey v. Burvett, 21 C.L.R. 433, at” page 441)-
I agree generally with Mr. Mann’s argument that the power to legislate with respect to defence .extends to any law which may tend to the conservation or development of the resources .of the Commonwealth -so far as they can he directed to success in war, or may tend to distress the enemy or diminish his resources, -as. for instance, ‘by tlie prohibition of trading with .him or with persons associated with him. But this definition is .not exhaustive. The control of finance or trade may be the most potent weapon df all. One test, however, must always be applied, namely : Can the measure in question conduce to tlie efficiency of the forces of the Empire, or is the connexion pf cause -and effect between the measure and the desired efficiency so remote that the one cannot reasonably bc regarded as affecting the other ?
Referring to the fact that in a Federation such as exists in. Australia there are two distinct powers in existence, namely, the Federal power and the State power, and that there are questions constantly arising as to which power particular legislation falls ‘under, the Chief Justice Continued -
It is -true that up to the present time no case has decided that in answering that inquiry regard may be had to extrinsic temporary circumstances of which the Court takes judicial notice. But,, in my judgment, the principle’ is the same in all cases. The inquiry in every case is whether the Act impeached is or may be substantially an exercise of a power conferred on the Parliament. In making the inquiry the Court cannot- shut its eyes to the fact that what could not rationally be regarded as a measure of defence in -time of peace may be obviously a measure of defence in time ot war.
He stated at .a later stage -
A law passed by the Commonwealth Parliament in time of profound peace prohibiting the accumulating of foodstuffs, could not be regarded as substantially an exercise of. the defence power. In time of war the same act might well be made a capital offence.
Then Mr. Justice Barton, referring to the utilization .of our resources for Empire purposes, and on behalf of the Allies, said, at page 448 -
To aid in .supplying the food-needs of any part of the Empire outside Australia or of Australia herself, may greatly assist that Empire’s defence, especially, but not only, when “that supply may bc used lor the feeding of armies of which ‘at this moment Australia forms an active part. To .employ that resource may be one of the many methods of contributing to success.
Still further, referring to the fixing of the price of bread, His Honour said -
If the object of this ‘Order and tlie Regulation on .which -it depends, and, indeed, of the portion of section 4 in dispute, is of either of two kinds, namely, the augmentation of the ‘food supplies at tlie -disposal of the Mother Country, or of any of our Allies, or, on the other hand, tlie augmentation of the food supplies at the disposal of ‘our Government and people’s ; either - object is; in my- opinion, a legitimate means of defence in time of war; and whether these means, or either of them, be necessary must be a question for our Parliament, or the authority validly delegated by it for the purpose, to determine.
Mr. Justice Isaacs pointed out how wide is this power, and he stated, at page 455-
As I read the Constitution, the Commonwealth, when charged with the duty of defending Commonwealth and States, is armed as a self-governing portion of the British Dominion with a legislative power to do in relation to national defence all that Parliament, as the legislative organ of the nation, may deem advisable to enact, in relation to the defence of Australia as a component part of the Empire, a power which is commensurate with the peril it is designed to encounter, or as that peril may appear to the Parliament itself; and, if need be, it is a power to command, control, organize, and regulate, for thepurpose of guarding against that peril, the whole resources of the continent, living and inert, and the activities of every inhabitant of the territory.
I have called attention to those remarks of the High Court Justices to emphasize how wide is this power of defence in time of war. During the war the Commonwealth Government exercised its powersto organize the resources of the country for the purposes of the Empire.We took control over wheat, wool, butter, and flax; and also, for our own local purposes; we took control over sugar. In ordinary circumstancesthat is, in normal times - the Commonwealth has no power to enter into the domain of State legislation and enact general price-fixing measures, or to invade any of the reserved powers of the States; but during time of war those reserved powers must yield to national emergency, where necessary, for defence purposes. The view is upheld by the High Court that during a period of war these powers can be invaded. To effectively exercise this wide power of control over our resources it must be done for certain definite terms. In dealing with wool, it was necessary to make contracts extending over long periods ; and the same applies to dairy and other products. I ask honorable members to look upon the exercise of these powers in this light, namely, that during the period of the war the Commonwealth had legal power to organize the resources concerned and enter into contracts which might extend beyond the actual period of hostilities.
– You could abolish the States in that way. You took the powers during the war.
– We could not do so, nor did the opinion of counsel bear out that we could do so. As regards the competence of Parliamentto enact the Bill now before the House, I have given the opinion of the whole of the counsel who furnished advice on the matter. Those legal gentlemen spent much time in arriving at the conclusions indicated. I presided over the meetings held in Melbourne, and journeyed to Sydney on several occasions to preside over deliberations there. The opinions were most carefully arrived at, and they are confined to the actual activities included in the Bill. The circumstances and conditions which we placed before those gentlemen are set out in the preamble of this measure. Take the matter of butter, for insta nce. There is a distinct contract made bytheCommonwealth which extends over a period beyond the actual term of the war. In order to effectively organize the resources of the Commonwealth, and to make the butter industry useful for Imperial purposes, complete controlhad to be exercised for the period concerned, and it had to be organized in, order to secure the effective carrying out of the contract, while at the same time conserving the interests of the people of Australia. A ButterCommittee had to be appointed and given definite powers. We had to take power for the acquisition of the butter, and to fix the price of it, to enable these conditions to be properly adjusted in the interests of, not only the Commonwealth, but the Empire as a whole. The certificates given by counsel weregiven after the facts and circumstanceshad been placed before them. It is essential to the carrying out of the arrangements so made that these powers should be continued up to the date ofthe termination of the contract.
Mr.Finlayson. - Then all that was necessary was a Bill to validate the contract.
– It was necessary, not only to validate the contract, but to give effect to it, and a certain executive agency was brought into being for that purpose. Power to acquire the butter and to fix the price of it was essential to the effective carrying out of the contract.
All this was an exercise of the Defence power. Again, when we came to carry out our sugar scheme, several different powers had to be exercised. Not only had we to make a contract with the Queensland Government, but, in order to secure an adequate supply of sugar for the people, we had to make contracts some time ahead. The honorable member will recognise the reasonableness of that position.
– There is no question as to that.
– That was one of the foundation principles. In order to carry out the scheme which the Government had organized in regard to sugar, we had, first of all, to secure supplies for the people of Australia. That involved the making of a contract with the Queensland Government for the acquisition of the raw sugar, and so to secure a continuance of the growing of sugar cane. The local production being insufficient to meet our own requirements, we had then by importations to secure the sugar necessary to make good the shortage. We had also to make contracts with the refinery companies to secure the refining of the sugar; to arrange for its distribution amongst the people, and to fix the price so that excessive charges should not be made. The price fixing for which this Bill provides is merely that which was necessary to meet the conditions existing during the war, and which still continues, and it is an exercise of the power necessary to complete the scheme which was initiated and carried on by the Government during the period of the war.
– Have the Government consulted the Colonial Sugar Refining Company about the matter?
– I am dealing with the constitutional position, and with that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has nothing to do. This is a scheme which the Government are carrying out in the interests of, not only Australia, but the Empire, and at the honorable member’s own request I am dealing with certain points raised by him. I could, if desired, tell the House of the other agencies covered by this Bill, and show why it is absolutely essential in each case that such legislation should be passed. These commercial activities will probably be in operation art the termination of the war. They arose out of our war obligations from which we are not released by the mere ending of the war. We are exercising the Defence power, and included in or incidental to that is the power to carry out and complete those contracts that were entered into during the war period. It may be said that the powers which we seek in this Bill are practically being exercised only to enable us to wind up all these commercial activities. The legal opinion given as to the competency of the Parliament to pass such a measure is no justification for the assertion of honorable members opposite that, since we have power to pass legislation to wind up these activities now that the war is over, we have power to invade the legislative domain of the States, and to take upon ourselves for all time the authority to fix prices generally. We have no constitutional authority to do anything of the kind. The legal opinions as to the competence of the Parliament to pass this legislation werebased upon facts in a general way placed before counsel, which I have already submitted to the House.
I hope honorable members will recognise that, however desirable it maybe that the Commonwealth should have widerpowers, the position is that which I have stated. As Acting AttorneyGeneral, I have to advise the House as to whether it is competentfor the Parliament topass this Bill, and I have no hesitation in saying that there is no justification for suggesting that because, during the war, we exercised the power of price fixing, we are entitled to arrogate to ourselves unlimited authority to fix prices generally for all time, and so, in effect, to vary the Constitution. I hope I have made myself clear.
– The honorable gentleman’s statement is perfectly clear ; but his views will be in opposition to the proposals to do away with profiteering which will be madeby the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) when he returns.
– Not at all. The Prime Minister will put before the House in his own way whatever maybe his views with regard to profiteering. I am dealing only with our existing constitutional powers. It is hardly necessary to remind the House that we are working under a Federal Constitution, under which the CommonwealthParliament has power to deal with trade and commerce between the States, and with other countries, while to the State Parliaments is reserved fullpower to deal with trade and commerce within their respective State boundaries. I have no hesitation in expressing my own personal view that wider powers will have to be given to the Federal Parliament.
– The sooner the better.
– A man naturally likes to have immediate effect given to his own opinions. I repeat that wider powers must inevitably be given to this Parliament ; but that is no reason why we should provide in this Bill for legislative power which the Constitution itself gives no authority to bestow. There are other aspects of the measure with which I can deal when we go into Committee, and I sincerely hope that the motion for the second reading will be unanimously agreed to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
. -i move -
That it be an instruction to the Committee that the Committee have the power to provide for the making of arrangements for dealing with meat, hides, and other commodities during the period coveredby the Bill.
I shall not speak at any great length. I think that the majority of honorable members are agreed that the Commonwealth Government should have power to deal with such commodities as meat and hides. The Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) has admitted that the Commonwealth Parliament should have wider powers, and I fail to understand why a Government which professes to be anxious to deal with profiteering, and to put a stop to the practice of charging extortionate prices, should object to such an extension of power as that covered by my motion. It has been said by honorable members who follow the Government that the pastoralists, sheep farmers, and graziers generally have been accused of profiteering. I do not know of any honorable member on this side who has accused the pastoralists of profiteering. It is not the producer on the land who does the profiteering. The cattle grower in Queensland, I suppose, does not get more than 5d. or 6d. per lb. at most for his stock; but what are the prices which have to be paid by consumers in Queensland, where cattle are grown in such large numbers ? The retail price of sirloin in private shops in Queensland is 10d. per lb.
– If the stock owner is getting 6d. per lb., the retail price of sirloin must be more than that.
– That may beso; the stock owner may be getting only 3d., or something like that. The price of sirloin in the State shops is 6½d. per lb. I mention this to show what the Commonwealth Government might do for the people of Australia if they would take over the cattle industry and deal with it as they are now dealing with wool.
– That is chilled meat as against fresh meat.
– What are the Queensland Government giving for the meat which they are selling for 6½d. per lb. ?
– I think they are getting it for 3d.
– Does that include the stock from their own station properties ?
– The honorable member should bear in mind that the stock owners are perfectly willing to supply the Queensland Government with meat at that price.
– For Imperial purposes.
– And for consumption in the State also. The stock owners are perfectly willing to sell to the Government at that price.
– So long as it is understood that they get 4d. for meat supplied for Imperial purposes.
– Honorable members will see from that that the producer in Queensland is satisfied to obtain 4d. for his stock. That would enable the Government to sell meat retail to the general public in Australia at a very much lower price than they are now obliged to pay. The price of beefsteak in private shops in Queensland is 13d. per lb., and in the State shops 7½d. per lb. The price of chops is11d. per lb. in private shops, and 7d. per lb. in the State shops.
– The State Government get that meat for from 3d. to 3½d. per lb.
– If honorable members opposite are desirous of carrying out the promise of the Prime Minister to deal with the profiteers they will vote for my motion instructing the Committee on the Bill to extend the powers of the Government and enablethem to include in this measure meat, hides, and other commodities, which we shall be mosthappy to mention whenwe get into Committee.
Mr. SPEAKER. (Hon. W. Elliot
Johnson).- I have lookedverycarefully into this proposed instruction, and I have no option but to rule it out of order. The instruction contains a proposal which is outside the order of leave and outside the declared purposeand scope of the Bill as read the second time. Our standing order 249 provides that-
No instruction can be given to a Committee to do that whichi t is already empowered to do, or to deal with a question beyond thescope of a Bill asread the second time.
The proposed instruction must therefore be ruled out of order, because it goes outside the order ofleave, and proposes to deal with questions beyond the scopeof the Bill as readthe second time.
I take this opportunity, because the question is one which may come up from time to time, to state for the informa- tion of honorable members, what is the procedure in reference to instructions, and to what extent instructions can be. moved after the second reading of a Bill. I take the following quotation from May: -
As the subject-matter of a Bill, as disclosed by the contents thereof when read a second time, has, since 1854,formed theorder of refer ence which governs the proceedings of the Committee thereon it follows that the objects sought by an instruction should be pertinent to the terms of that order, and that the amendments, which an instruction proposes to sanction, must be such as would further the general purpose and the intention of the House in the appointment of the Committee. The object of an instruction is, therefore, to endow a Committee with power whereby the Committee can perfect and complete the legislation defined by the contents of the Bill, or extend the provisions of a Bill to cognate objects; and an attempt to engraft novel principles into a Bill which would be irrelevant, foreign, or contradictory to the decision of the House taken on the introduction and second reading of the Bill, is not within the due province of an instruction. Accordingly, an instruction can be moved that authorizes the introduction of amendments into a Bill which extend its provisions to objects not. contained therein, ifthose objects are relevant to the subject-matter thereof; or which would augment the legislative machinery whereby the
Bill is to bo put into force, as shown by the examples contained in the Appendix, Class 1; whilst, on the other hand, no instruction is permissible which is irrelevant, foreign, or contradictory to the contents of the Bill, orthat seeks the subversion thereof, by substituting another scheme for the mode of operation therein prescribed (see Appendix, Class 3).
I point out that it is permissible to amend a Bill in Committee), even thoughthe amendment may go beyond the scope of the titleof the Bill. But in that case the title has to be altered,andthe Bill has to be specially reported to the House. It is still, however, necessary thatthe amendments shall be relevant to the subjectmatter of the Bill itself.
-I donot rise to challenge your ruling,sir,but onlyto say that it is somewhat disconcerting tofindthat in a Bill dealing with wool we cannot also deal with mutton.
Bill committed pro formâ.
– I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
The intentionofthe Government is to proceed with the Commercial Activities Bill in Committee to-morrow.
– I am sorry to delay the House at this late hour, but in reply to a question put to-day tothe Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, 1 was informed that it was the intention of the Government to make a statement to theHouse during this week with regard to advances under the War Service Homes Act. I wish to complain of the lack of administrative ability in those controlling the operations of the Act. It is a good many months now since the principal officer was appointed, and I do not consider that what has happened since indicates that the Government have secured the services of a very competent organizer for the principal executive position under the Act. The other day I had occasion to make an inquiry as to when a soldier who had made an application under theAct might expect that his applicationwould be dealt with. I rang up the office of the Deputy Housing Commissioner in Sydney at 10 o’clock in the morning, but he was not there. I asked for the next officer in charge, and the gentleman who came was unable to tell me where the Deputy Commissioner was, whether he intended to attend the function arranged by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank that day, or when he would be at the office. That is an example of the business methods adopted, and there has been the same experience from the beginning: The gentleman who was discharged a little while ago was no better. Apparently the second attempt tosecure amanfor New South Wales hasbeen no more successful than the first. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) put into the hands of every man returning to Australia a statement that the Government would help to finance him in the purchase of a home, andonthat assurance I am given to understand that in New South Wales alone 10,000 applications have been lodged, a considerable number by soldiers who have entered into arrangements to purchase houses already erected. I inquired from the Deputy as to What order was to be observed in dealing with the application’s, and I wastold that those of widows would befirst considered, then,I think,those of incapaci tated soldiers, and, thirdly, those of married men. It would appear from this that the soldier who served from the landing to the armistice, and was in the front lines all the time,has no better claim on the justice of the Government thanthe man who took no greater risk than that of being submarined on his way to a comfortable post in London.
– Do you not think the widows ought to have the first preference ?
– I do.
– Invalids ought to have a better chance than fit men ?
– I think that, too; but, at the same time, married men who have done their bit from beginning to end ought to have more consideration than men who went out only last year; and a married man who has been in the trenches for any period ought to have preference over a man who has done nothing more than sit comfortably in an office in London.
– If the authorities got to work, do you not think they could get all the applications fixed up quick and lively?
– If there are twenty applications and only ten can be attended to, the application of those who have borne the brunt of the trenches ought to be considered beforeany others. Preference should be given in all cases to applications of soldierswho, on thepromise of the Minister, have been induced to sign agreements to purchase existing houses. In my own smallcircle of acquaintances I know three or four cases of married soldiers,young men who married just before they went away, who have entered into such agreements, and paid deposits, which, of course, are forfeitable, but for the sweet reasonableness of the vendors. It is no wonder that there is dissatisfaction, because some of these men will have to go to private money lenders or the savings bank, where sometimesthey do not get too generous treatment.
-Is not the trouble theover-centralization ?
– I do not like to judge a man unfairly, butI should beashamedto be the head ofthat office. and to have taken up four or five months with so little result in actual work. It seems to me quite three months since I wrote to the gentleman in command. He had announced in the press” that application- forms would be available on a certain Wednesday, and I wrote . to Melbourne for twenty. But I received a most curt reply to the effect that no forms would be available for New South Wales until an officer had been appointed to that State, that the appointment had not yet been considered, and that, when it was, application would have to be made in Sydney. I was astonished about a month afterwards to find that those who had called on the officer appointed could get forms, but that there were none generally available for soldiers; and that finished the gentleman, in my estimation, as an organizer. A man with any capacity would know that the first thing was to have such a supply of forms that every .man could start off a fair mark, and that the friends of members of Repatriation Committees or of officers should not have any advantage over other soldiers. As it happens, it is the men in the easy jobs who get the first tip as to what is going on, while the man who has done his bit in the trenches is usually the last to hear.
– Is this since Colonel Walker was appointed ?
– It was Colonel Walker who made the announcement as to the forms. I believe some applications were- in before that gentleman was appointed, and those ‘cute ones who sent them in are likely to get- preference. The Minister should endeavour to make an arrangement by which immediate attention can be given to the claims of those men who require assistance to purchase homes already existing. While the gentleman at the Central Office was telephoning me, or within an hour afterwards, the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, speaking on behalf of the Government, was announcing that preference was to be given to men who desired to build houses over those who were taking over homes already built. If that is the policy of the Government, it is not only bad business, but brutally unjust to the soldiers who have been induced to sign agreements for the purchase of houses. Most of these men desire to marry, and have a right to assistance to purchase their homes, and it is not for those in authority to seek to carry out their own- little fads. Their duty is to. help the- soldier to do what he himself wishes to do. The men ought to be helped as quickly as possible to marry and settle down, and provide the population we so much need. Major Evans talked about beautiful “ dream cities.” That is all right for the future* but what is wanted first is to assist those who are prepared to buy houses already built. A very small staff could handle the applications.
– Help cannot be engaged without the approval of the Central Office, not even that of a typist. At any rate, that is so in my State.
– I understood that the Commissioner in New South Wales had practically a free hand. I wrote on behalf of one or two returned nien who wanted positions in the office, and was told that those positions would be advertised in due course, though, as a matter of fact, there are- some men in the office now in positions which were not advertised. I do not think, therefore, that the centralization excuse is available for the man in charge in New South Wales. What I desire is ‘a scheme for the prompt examination and classification of applications, and for this work I am sure sufficient volunteers could be got within a week.
– Replying to the complaint of the honorable member regarding applications for assistance to purchase houses already built, I assure him that a large number of such houses have been inspected by the Department and their purchase approved.
– In New South Wales?
– I am speaking of Victoria.
– Victoria has always a preference over any other State.
– There may ‘ have been some negligence in New South Wales, but it is not so easy to do a thing as to stand up in the House and say that it can be done. We have found, in respect to a large number of houses upon which the deposit had been paid, that the agreed-upon purchase price was much in excess of the true value, and in some cases the Department has been obliged to refuse to advance the money required.
– Why? The soldier is spending his own money.
– The Act prescribes the maximum amount that can be spent on any one house. If a man buys a house at a price £150 or £200 above the maximum, the Department cannot advance the money.
– But the soldier may add to thedepartmental advance any money of his own.
– Of course he can, and in many cases that has been done; but the trouble occurs in cases in which the applicant has no money of his own to supplement the departmental advance.
– Then the announcement by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank was unauthorized?
– I cannot understand that announcement, because only at the latter end of last week I saw a list of houses, the purchase of which had been approved, and another list of building sites, purchased by applicants; they were supplying their own specifications, and we were calling for tenders for the buildings. It is only within the last two weeks that arrangements for financing the whole scheme have been finalized. There have been a number of deputations with a view to insuring asupply of building materials at such prices as would enable us to build cheap houses. In New South Wales, the private brick-making companies are asking 51s. 6d. per 1,000 for bricks, whereas the State Brickworks are supplying them at 40s. per 1,000. The same sort ofthing is happening in connexion with timber and other materials. We hope to enter into some arrangement for the purchase of material on such terms as will insure that the soldier’s house is constructed at a reasonable price. We are trying to make the same arrangement in Victoria, because, owing to the operations of the Timber Combine, it is almost impossible to erect a house within the financial limits prescribed by the Act.
– Start a saw-mill with the soldiers.
– That cannot be done at once. In answer to a question asked to-day by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson), I stated that I hoped to be able at an early date to make a full statement of what had been done in regard to the war-service homes scheme. I assure the House that the Minister is doing his best to hurry the scheme along.
– What about Colonel Walker? Do you approve of his centralization policy?
– He is the Commissioner appointed under the Act, which does not provide for a Commissioner in each State.
– There is a Deputy Commissioner in each State; but Colonel Walker will not allow his deputies to appoint even a typist without getting approval from Melbourne.
– I did not know that the centralization policy was carried to that extreme. But we have had evidence recently that we must be careful regarding the powers we give to the Deputy Commissioners. One Deputy sought to enter into an arrangement for the purchase of land for £25,000, which, when valued, was found to be worth less than £8,000. No Deputy has power to purchase land at a price in excess of £1,000. But I cannot conceive it possible that a Deputy Commissioner who has power to purchase landto the value of £1,000 has not authority to appoint a typist in his office. However, if the honorable member for Illawarra will send me a copy of his remarks this evening, I shall place them before the Minister for Repatriation, and furnish the honorable member with a full reply to the allegations he has made.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 July 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1919/19190723_reps_7_88/>.