7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– In view of the high cost of living, will the PostmasterGeneral take into consideration the advisableness of increasing the allowances made to persons in charge of semi-official post-offices?
– Having regard to the increase made not long ago, and involving a considerable addition to the expenditure of the Department, I do not anticipate taking immediate action, but since the honorable member has brought forward the matter I shall review it in the light of increases that have been made generally in connexion with official offices.
Deserters from the Australian Imperial Force.
– Will the Minister in charge of the House state whether the Peace amnesty in respect of persons convicted of military offences will be so extended as to include unapprehended deserters from the Australian Imperial Force?
– A pardon is generally exercised only in respect of those who have been tried and convicted. The persons referred to by the honorable member have not even been -arrested, and certainly have not been before any tribunal, so that it would hardly be possible to do what’ he suggests.
Relief of Distress at Port Adelaide and Hindmarsh: Distribution of Relief in State Capitals.
– Axe the Government prepared to make a money grant to relieve the distress among women and children in Port Adelaide and Hindmarsh which has been brought about by the recent disastrous strike?
– I shall have inquiries made at once in regard to the matter.
– Has the Minister in charge of the House any statement to make as to the allocationof the money which is being distributed to relieve the distress in the State capitals at the present time? I raised this question on the motion for the adjournment of the House last Friday.
– I have not yet received the information, butshall try to obtain it during the day for the honorable member.
– Have the Government yet received the full text of the Peace Treaty, and will the Minister in charge of the House state when Parliament is likely to have the full text presented to it?
-I am not yet in possession of the full text, but think we shall have it before very long. I assure the House that the full terras will be communicated to honorable members at the earliest possible stage.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral endeavour to adopt a more generous attitude towards rural districts by not further curtailingthe telephone hours in small centres of population?
– The telephone hours will eitherhave to be curtailed in proportion to the business offering in these centres, or some of the services will haveto be abolished.
Mr.CHARLTON.- I desire to ask the
Minister representing the Prime Minister whether his attention has been directed to a statement which appeared in the Argus yesterday, to the effect that thirty firms manufacturing lines handled by grocers havedecided to adopt the methods used by the Proprietary Articles Trade Association by fixing the minimum retail price for every article supplied by them. The grocers’ support, it is stated, is assured, and if a retailer sells below the price fixed, supplies willbecut off. Will the Government take action to prevent such a combination; and if they have not the power, will they makerepresentations tothe State Government in that direction?
– The Commonwealth power in this matter is defined by the Australian Industries Preservation Act, under which persons affected have power to make complaint of any offence coming within thescope of the Federal law. I have no particulars of the case referred to by the honorable member, but shall referthe paragraph to the Department of Trade and Customs, which administers this branchof the law.
– I have been endeavouring to cope with this problem for some time. Particulars are stillcoming in as to mail contractors alleged to have been affectedby the drought conditions ; but until I am able to secure a list of the total number of persons so affected, I cannot submit a complete proposal for the decision of the Cabinet. As soon asI have the full list, I shall do so.
Mr.GREGORY.- On behalf of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie(Mr. Heitmann), I desire to bringbeforethe Minister in charge of the House, in the absence of the Minister forTrade and Customs, the following telegram from the secretary of a conference of local bodies held at Kalgoorlie : -
Sugar supplies very short. Will you kindly urge proper authorities insure better supply this State than usually obtains? Has been precarious for months.
Will the Government make an effort to insure an adequate supply of sugar for these districts?
– If the honorable member gives me the telegram, I will immediately refer it to the Department of Trade and Customs.
The following papers were presented : -
Wool - Report relating tothe Activities of the Central Wool Committee for the Wool Season1918-19, together with various documents in connexion therewith.
Ordered that the report be printed.
Department of Repatriation -
Agreement made between the War Service Homes Commissioner and the Commonwealth Bank for financing the Commonwealth War Service Homes Scheme.
Ordered to be printed.
League of Nations - Draft Agreement for - Presented to the Plenary Inter-Allied Conference of 14th February, 1919. (Paper presented to the British Parliament.)
Customs Act -
Proclamation prohibiting the Exportation of Preventives of Conception &c, (dated 16th July, 1919).
Proclamation (dated 16th July, 1919) revoking Proclamation (dated 4th September, 1918) prohibiting the Exportation (except under certain conditions) of Broom Millet.
Public Service Act -
Appointmentof W. J. Penfold, Department of Trade and Customs.
Promotion of H. A. Peterson, Prime Minister’s Department.
– In common with other honorable members, I have received from the Postmaster-General a request that I should peruse, in the public interest, a report which he has issued. Portion of my electorate hasbeen complaining bitterly of lackof postal facilities. I ask the Postmaster-General whether consideration will be given to my constituency if I comply with his request to read that report?
– When the honorable member has read that report, he will understand why his constituency has so few causes of complaint. I have not received from the honorable member within the last two years any complaints regarding postal grievances in his electorate.
-By way of personal explanation, I desire to testify to the veracity of the Postmaster-General. It is quite true that I have never complained to him. My complaints have been made to a more amiable gentleman, in the person of the Deputy Postmaster-General.
– In view of the fact that the terms of peace have been ratified by the British and German Parliaments, and in order to anticipate any difficulties that may arise as to the legality and constitutionality of the Moratorium Bill, will the Acting Attorney-General consider the advisability of approaching the State Governments for their approval of the measure?
– The State Governments havenot been approached in regard to the matter, but I intend to ask the House to treat the measure as urgent, and assist the Government in passing it this week, so that it maybe disposed of by the Senate next week.
– A regulation of the Postal Department provides that when the revenue of an allowance post-office exceeds a certain amount, the district shall be entitled to have an official office. Has the Postmaster-General recently issued instructions that the revenue shall be maintained at the specified amount for at least a year before the district shall be entitled to an official postoffice?
-No such instruction has been given.
– Will the Acting
Leader of the House kindly obtain from Italy the latest information regarding the State monopoly of life insurance in that country ?
– I shall inquire whether it is possible to obtain the information for the honorable member.
– Does the fact that invitations in connexion with the laying of the foundation-stone of the first war service home were issued by the Commonwealth Bank indicate that the work of constructing such homes throughout Australia has been handed over to that institution?
– I shall lay on the table to-day a copy of the agreement made between the Commonwealth Bank and the Government for the financing and supervising of the construction of homes for soldiers.
– The whole work of construction ?
– No. If the honorable member will give notice of a question, I shall be able to give him to-morrow full particulars as to how far the Commonwealth Bank will operate in this scheme.
– An advertisement published in the daily press of 26th July called for applications for appointment to the Instructional Staff of the Permanent Defence Forces, and included a condition that applicants should be 5 feet 7 inches in height, and measure at least 35 inches round the chest. In view of the fact that a large number of men who measured only 5 feet 3 inches in height went to the Front, will the Minister representing the Minister for Defence see that alterations are made in that advertisement so that some of the returned soldiers who hold temporary positions on the Instructional Staff may have opportunity of appointment to a permanent position ?
– I will bring the matter under the notice of the Acting Minister for Defence.
– Is the Acting Leader of the House in a position to make any statement regarding the prospects of a settlement of the seamen’s strike and the manning of the ships ?
– We are awaiting the results of meetings of the seamen to be held in each of the States, and until that information comes to hand I shall not be in a position to . make any announcement.
– In view of the persistent and pointed statements in the press, ‘is the Minister in charge of the House yet in a position to say whether or not it is correct that General Birdwood has been invited to visit Australia? If so, what is the purpose of the visit, and will the expense be a war charge ?
– Such an invitation has been extended to General Birdwood by the Commonwealth Government. The object of it is to enable the people of Australia to honour him for the work he has done for the Empire. I feel sure that Australia will gladly pay the cost of any hospitality that may be entailed.
– Has the Acting Leader of the House inquired regarding the cablegrams for which I asked on Friday, in relation to the Government purchase of ships? Is he prepared to lay the papers on the table?
– I have looked into the cablegrams, and I should like to confer with the honorable member in order to ascertain exactly what messages he desires to have placed on the table.
– Will the Acting
Minister for the Navy inform the House as to when details of. the proposed war gratuity to be paid to members of the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Naval Reserve are likely to be available?
– The payment of the gratuity was approved by Parliament some time ago. The arrangements were expedited, and I understand that the money is now being paid.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. In the course of the debate on Friday last on the Commercial Activities Bill, I was surrounded by an atmosphere of antagonism because I did not rise and answer questions by members of the Opposition as to whether the appointment of Mr. Allard as auditor in connexion with the Wool Pool had been made by theCentral Wool Committee or by Sir John Higgins personally. I did not make a reply to honorable members for the reason, however inadequate it may appear to many honorable members, that I was not in possession of the facts. May I state now what I would have said on Friday had I possessed the information?
– I am afraid the honorable member does not rightly apprehend what constitutes a personal explanation. He is now seeking to revive a debate and open newmatter on a subject which has been already before the House. He is not entitled to do that under cover of a personal explanation.
– I ask leave to makea statement.
– Personal statements should be confined to matters as to which an honorable member has been misrepresented or misunderstood.
– I desire through you, Mr. Speaker, to address a question to the only member of the Central Wool Committee in the House (Mr. Jowett), and to ask him who did appoint Mr. Allard as auditor?
– Questions are not permitted under our Standing Orders to be addressed to members other than Ministers, unless they relate to Bills, motions, or other business on the notice-paper of which such members have charge.
– Is it a fact that the Acting Leader of the House has informed the press that we are about to resume trade with Germany under licence, and that it is his intention to make a statement in the House regarding the matter ?
– I have not seen, nor have I authorized any announcement in the press stating my intention to make any such statement on behalf of the Government.
– I wish to ask a question of the Acting Leader of the House, in the absence of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene). I have received letters from a firm in Rockhampton, stating that, although they imported certain goods on 5th March 1918, on which they paid duty, and which they had sold in accordance with the cost to them, they received a claim on the 10th July of this year, fifteen months afterwards, for further duty on those particular goods. I would like to know what is the practice of the Customs Department in regard to this matter?
– If the honorable member will supply me with the papers, so that the specific case may be identified, inquiries will be made into it.
– It is notified in the press that there are between 300 and 400 Tasmanians practically stranded in Melbourne owing to the fact that they are not able to get shipping to their own State. Is it possible for the Commonwealth Government to give any of these people, if required by them, financial aid? If not, will the Acting Leader of the House communicate with the Premier of Tasmania with a view to giving assistance to these people, possibly through the Tasmanian Tourist Bureau?
– I will see if anything can be done in the matter.
– On the 17th inst. the honorable member for Cowper (Mr. John Thomson) asked the following questons: -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information. -
– In view of the fact thatthe greater number of base metal mines in Australiahave beenclosed down owing to the heavy costs of handling, freights, and realization charges, will the Government sanction the export of ores subject to their being sent to approved countries?
– If the honorablemember will supply me with particulars, I will have the matter looked into at once.
Retention of Rank
-Is it a fact that men who were formerly members of the Permanent Forces, and enlisted and fought during a considerable period of the war, have had to surrender the commissions they earned in the Australian Imperial Force, while men who did not volunteer, but received commissions at home during the period ofthe war, are allowed to retain them, and; thus have a distinct advantage over the fighting men?
– I will make inquiries into the matter.
– Is the Minister forHome and Territories aware of an alteration that has been made in the form of electoral claim cards, which now call upon applicants for enrolment to give the date, year, and place of birth ? Is he also aware that quite a number ofpeople who were born in England, Ireland, or Scotland, cannot state exactly the date of birth ; that their cards are being returned to them to be filled in accurately under penalty of disfranchisement?’
– I am aware of the alteration that has been made in the form of the card, but I have had no report from the Electoral Department that there has been any faulty administration However, I shall look into the matter.
Mothers of ex-Nuptial Sons.
– Will the Assistant
Minister for Defence defer thepayment of the military estate of the deceased soldier, Private H, Seamons, until the mother has had an opportunity ofseeing him? I have spoken to the Minister concerning this case, which is a very complicated one. It is that of an ex-nuptial son.
– When the honorable member spoke to me about this case a few minutes ago, I directed inquiries to be made at the Defence Department as to its present position. I shall let the honorable member know the result of the inquiries.
– In the case of the unfortunate mother who was compelled to borrow £50 in order to refund some money which had been received by her on account of her ex-nuptial son from the Defence Department, I should like to know whether that money is to be returned to the woman, or if she, with her son now dead, is to be treated in the future as in the past?
– From what I have seen in the newspapers, I understand that the Department is inquiring into this matter. I have not been able to trace the case in the Department, because I have neither names, numbers, nor other particulars.
– Has the Minister made arrangements to treat mothers of ex-nuptial soldiers as they ought to be treated ? The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) promised me that arrangements . would be made to treat such mothers in a fair way, as ordinary mothers are treated ?
– That question was answered about a fortnight ago in the House by the statement that an amend- ment of the Act would be necessary, bub that in the meantime mothers of exnuptial soldiers would be treated by the Repatriation Department in the way suggested.
Position of Returned SOLDIERS
– Will favorable consideration he given to the returned soldiers who, prior to enlistment, were casually employed in the Public Service, and who on their return have been reinstated to their former positions, so that they may be entitled’ to accumulated leave ?
– I understand that something has been done in the matter of leave. If the honorable member will give notice of his question I shall have inquiries made.
– In view of the great necessity there is for permanent land settlement throughout Australia, will the Government afford an opportunity for debating the motions on this all-im portant subject that have been on the business-paper for a considerable length of time?
– I appreciate the importance of the subject, but I am afraid that there are other motions for which a similar claim might be made, and it is difficult at this stage to give a definite promise of preference.
– I desire to base a question, without notice, on a report that soldiers, on returning from active service, find that their names have been struck off the electoral rolls by reason of their having been out of the country for more than six months. Will the Minister for Home “and Territories have inquiries made into that report, and see that soldiers who are absent on active service are not disfranchised 1
– The question does not apply to soldiers as a class, because those at the Front could have voted even if they were not on the rolls. There may have been some cases of mistakes, and 1 shall make inquiries.
Appeals to the MINISTER
– A man employed at the Liverpool Concentration Camp as a guard was suddenly “fired,” on grounds’ which were subsequently the subject of conflict. The man claimed that he only did what was regularly done, whereas the officer who “ fired “ him said he was doing something entirely different, and ignored his claim. The man then, on several occasions, appealed, first to the Commandant, and subsequently to the Minister, for a district court martial to Consider his dismissal. Is the Assistant Minister for Defence aware that when a man appeals, for a district court martial to the Minister, over the heads of those who have refused it, the Minister does not see the appeal, but it. is dealt with by the officers, and a reply letter is sent as though the Minister had considered it?
– I ‘am not aware of the fact, but I shall make inquiries, and let the honorable member know.
Mb. DETHRIDGE’S REPORT
– Is the statement in the newspapers correct that the report of Mr. Dethridge in regard to the waterside workers has (been considered by the Government, and its publication postponed in order to obtain further information ?
– I think that Senator Millen did make an announcement to that effect. The position is that the report has been considered, but that certain other inquiries, which are deemed necessary, are now being made.’
– After that, I suppose, we shall get the report?
– At a later stage the report will be made public.
– Has any report been received by the Government from the expert sent to Tasmania to inquire into the Blythe River iron deposits, and, if not, has the Government any information as to when a report is likely to come to hand 1
– I understand that a report is to be presented, but the Government is not in a position to make an announcement in regard to the matter.
– Last Friday I asked the Postmaster-General a question regarding the commission paid on the sale of postage stamps, and he promised to give me an answer. Has the honorable gentleman any information to give the House 1
– The answer is, No. I gave the matter full consideration before issuing the instructions, and I do not anticipate that any inconvenience to the public will result.
– Has the Government received the report of the Economy Board, and, if not, will the Acting Leader of the House ask the Board to inquire into the proposal to have an election for the House of Representatives this year, and a separate election for the Senate next year?
– The honorable member again puts a question of which, so far as he is concerned, the second part is the more important. It did not’ matter to him whether he hitched ‘ it on to- the Economy Board, or any other Board. What he really wanted to know was whether there would be a separate election for the House of Representatives. He can rest assured that the confidence of the House and the people in this Government is so strong that it will face the elections at the proper constitutional time.
-(Hon. W. Elliot Johnson). - I . have received from the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The entering into contracts for the purchase of ships in England by the Government without parliamentary authority.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places.
.- Mr. Speaker-
– Is that all the support you have been able to raise?
– I am quite satisfied with the number of my supporters so long ae I have an. opportunity to express my opinions. When I have finished what I have to say, I may have more - or I may have less. However, that will not prevent me from saying what I intend to say. The only doubt in my mind at present is whether this is the best method to test a question of this kind, because of the limitation which it puts on the time available to honorable members to address themselves to the subject. I have chosen this way because the matter is of so much importance that it should be ventilated at the earliest possible moment, and I would have taken this action on Friday had not the Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Groom) said to me that I had not given him very much notice. His statement appealed to me as fair, and consequently I postponed the matter until to-day. On account of . the limitation of time, I do not propose to deal’ with the financial success or failure of such a purchase, or with the ability of the Government to run the concern and compete with private enterprise, or with the wisdom or folly of the deal. I intend, with on© exception, to confine myself to the constitutional aspect of the question. The exception is the statement made by the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton), when announcing the purchase of these ships to the House. In explaining tie failure of the wooden ships built in America, he made a very curious statement. He said that the Government of the United States had taken over control of the yards, and were unable to control the building of the ships. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) interjected, “ Have we not a representative there? What is he doing?” and the reply was, “ I do not know what he is doing. He has been there for some time, and yet ships of which he was in charge have been delivered months ago.” I ask honorable members to reflect upon that answer. Does it indicate the capacity of the Australian Government to do any better than the Government of the United States in ship construction?
– Of this particular Government.
– Of any Government at all. I enter my emphatic protest against the action of the Government or of its two or three representatives abroad, in entering into contracts for public expenditure without first obtaining parliamentary authority. Whether I stand alone in that protest, or whether I find support for it, it is a principle which has always operated in British Parliaments, and it is very unsafe to depart from that principle. This is the second occasion on which it has been done. On the last occasion, it was nearly two years, if my memory serves me rightly, before the Government appealed to the House to justify the expenditure of £2,080,000 incurred for the purchase of fifteen ships. The purchase of those ships whilst the country was at war may have had some justification, and the House took that view; but the view that it took at that time appears to be operating upon it to-day in times of peace It seems to me that the fault lies with the House in being unable to distinguish between its duty in times of war and its duty in times of peace. When’ the expenditure on those fifteen vessels was ratified by Parliament, there were very few members in the chamber. It was either at the end of a session, or when the Budget was being discussed, and very little interest was being taken in the proceedings’. On an occasion of that kind, when the money had been spent and the damage done, Parliament was unlikely to make any fuss about -it. Honorable members can easily conceive of a condition of affairs, if Parliament is going to allow this kind of thing to go on, when a Government in possession of the Treasury bench may enter into contracts for the expenditure of millions-
– These are millions.
– Of many more millions, then, without consulting Parliament, relying on the precedents created by this Government to get parliamentary support later on, when the money has all been spent.
The concluding of private contracts by public men on behalf of the public constitutes a very serious danger to the community. I do not care who the public men are, or what they are, or to what party they belong; to conclude private contracts on behalf of the public is fraught with grave and serious danger to this country. There is a rule of conduct laid down for the guidance of Ministers in the purchase of goods. Tenders should always be called, and Ministers themselves generally follow that policy. What would a Minister say to a public servant who dared to buy goods without calling tenders or getting competitive prices ?
– They have done it repeatedly in the Navy Department.
– The honorable member was Minister there. What did he say to them?
– I reprimanded them for it.
– If the honorable member did so, it indicates that, in his opinion, the principle I am enunciating is sound, and that no public servant is entitled to purchase goods for the public without first calling for tenders and securing free and open competition. If that rule is good for the public servant, it is good also for the Minister. The Minister, after all, is only a glorified public servant, and while he is a servant of the public he should follow that good old practice. May I quote a saying with which honorable members are all familiar : -
How oft the sight of means to do ill-deeds
Makes ill-deeds done!
Go down Collins-street, or any other street in Melbourne, and talk to any of the men you meet about this purchase. They will all say, “ Somebody must be making a good thing out of this.” That is common talk. As a representative of the public, I say that it should not be possible to make these statements against members of Parliament, who are the custodians of the public weal. It should be impossible for the man in the street to charge members with having done anything that is not open and above-board.
– They do not charge them, as a rule. They say these things when a public man is not there.
– In this case, they have been said to my face on more than one occasion, and I dare say they have been, said to the honorable member.
– I had it once said to my face about a public man, and I asked immediately for a charge or a withdrawal, and there was an immediate withdrawal.
– Perhaps so. When you face a man and ask him to prove his statement, no man can prove a thing that is vague and indefinite, and he would naturally withdraw at once. But the very fact that that man harbors the idea that public men, purporting to act for the Commonwealth, are entering into private contracts out of which some commission may be paid to some one is damaging to the public life of Australia. Whether the suspicion be with or without foundation, that must be the result. I say quite freely and frankly that I do not believe that any public man in connexion with this deal has received the slightest consideration.
– I do not know about that.
-I do not believe that any public man has gained any advantage out of it; but the unfortunate position is that I have no more authority for denying such a suggestion than has the man for making it. On the other hand, where tenders are publicly invited, we are placed in a position of absolute independence. In those circumstances, when such a suggestion is made one can say at once, “ Public tenders were invited, andthe lowest tender was accepted.”
Early in March last I heard direct from England that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) had given authority for the keels of five ships to be laid down in a Sunderland yard. It seemed to me at the time to be such an outrage that I went direct to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) and conveyed to him my information. I had been told on a previous occasion, when speaking in this House against certain action taken by the Government, that, as a Ministerial supporter, I should have gone direct to the responsible Minister and have told him what my grievance was. On this occasion, I followed that policy. I told the Acting Prime Minister of the information I had received, and when he asked my authority for it I supplied it to him. The honorable gentleman said, “ I know absolutely nothing about the matter. I do not believe the statement is true, and I will send a cablegram to the Prime Minister in regard to it.” On the same day he despatched a cablegram to the Prime Minister. I do not know that the Minister in charge of the House (Mr. Groom) will permit me to read it, but, quoting from memory, the message was to this effect -
Rumoured here that you have given authority to lay down the keels offive ships.
A reply, sent on the day that the message was received, was as follows: -
Absolutely untrue that the Government have contracted to lay down any ships.
– That is quite correct.
– Is my statement as to the contents of the cablegram sent to the Prime Minister correct?
Mr.Groom. - Yes, and theanswer you have quoted is also correct.
-On what day in March did the honorable member call on the Acting Prime Minister?
– On 10th March. When I was shown the cablegram from the
Prime Minister, I said to the Acting Prime Minister, “ This is hardly a reply to your cable message. I did not say that the Government had contracted tolay down the keels of any ships. “What I said was that a contract had been entered into by the Prime Minister. His reply is merely that the Government have not entered into such a contract. When you told me that you knew nothing at all about any such contract, I believed you, and this reply indicates to me that the Government have not entered intosuch a contract.” A fornight or three weeks, later, Mr. Larkin, the manager of the Commonwealth Line of Steam-ships, when speaking, to some merchants in London, said-, “The Commonwealth Government are not going out of the shipping business-; they are going to continue in it.” Whether- it would be wiser or not for the Government to continue’ in tlie business’ is a question which I shall not discuss.
– It is quite beside the point.
– Exactly. The point we have to consider is whether Mr. Larkin, as a- servant of the Commonwealth, made that statement on his own responsibility. If he din’ not, then on whose authority did’ he make it?’ If he had no authority for it, was. it not an extraordinary statement to come from a public servant? Was it not extraordinary that a public servant should announce a matter of Government policy?. Surely such a statement should have come from the Leader of. the Government.
In the course of a subsequent interview with the Acting, Prime Minister - afterthe reply from, the- Prime Minister had-, come: to- ha-nd - fi reminded-, him that, before we adjourned-, last December,. I had promised! the- Government to support their proposal for compulsory war loans, because- it was- necessary to obtain the money in order that the Commonwealth might pay its war debts. I reminded him tha* I had’ said: then tha-t I would take whatever responsibility attached to. my position in voting for compulsory war 1’oaiJ.sj but I indicated at the- time that, if the Government were going to- squander millions on shipbuilding, I would’ have to- withdraw my promise of support. In this case, two-fifths of the capital to be raised by the new loan which Parliament is to be asked to authorize is to be devoted to a shipbuilding scheme, which-, in my judgment, may not prove to be what those responsible for it think it will be.
– The money could not be spent in a better way.
– A success was made of the first Government venture in purchasing, fifteen vessels, but that was at a time when we were short of tonnage. We were then in the middle of the war, and it wasabsolutely necessary that we should; secure all the tonnage available. But were the vessels so purchased used to carry our produce to- London? As a matter of fact many of them were en- g.aged in foreign trading to make a profit. The producers of Australia did not receive the benefit of that deal, but because,, of the success- which attended it, we arenow to enter into, this further scheme. The whole action of the Government reminds.’ me of the position of a, man who indulges in punting- at Flemington. He backs several winners-, makes a lot of morney,, and finally “plunges” on the last race; but the horse on which he places all his money breaks its neck, and the man has to walk home “stony.”
– The Commonwealth will never “ go broke.’’ It could raise many millions for the war, and it is not likely to “go broke-.”
– Such a com.tingem.cy is possible, and this would not be the first country to “go broke.”
I accept without reservation the Prime Minister’s denial that on the date when he replied to tlie Acting Prime Minister’s message, the Government had, not contracted to- lay down these ships; but will the Minister in charge of the House inform me when, the contracts with Vickers and- Beardmore were entered into.
-. - At a much later date.
– I should like to know now while I am speaking on- what datethose contracts were entered- into.
– Order! The Minister- cannot under the- rules of debate- interrupt the- honorable member’s speech to interpose with a speech, of his- own.
– The question is important. I am under the impression that these contracts were entered into when this House was actually sitting. If that impression is correct, then . honorable members have been absolutely flouted by the Government.
– The Minister should give us the dates.
– I intend to do so.
– The only reason that the Government could have had for not consulting Parliament with regard to the building of these ships is that they feared Parliament would not sanction the project.
– I think that the Parliament would have sanctioned it.
– It might have done. I shall not argue that point. My view is that the Government failed to consult Parliament because they feared that the necessary authority would not be forthcoming. The Government practically said to themselves, “ We will take the risk just as we did before.”
– Is this not a possible explanation: that if they had given any publicity to their proposal the Shipping Ring would have got busy with the shipbuilding companies and stopped the carrying out of the order for the building of vessels for the Commonwealth?
– I do not think so. There are too many ship-building yards to permit such a thing to be done.
– The Shipping Ring is f airly strong.
– I grant that. If the Government had obtained the consent of the Parliament for this project, thev could have gone into these negotiations happy in ‘ the knowledge that they had full authority for their action. Many schemes are entered upon after parliamentary sanction has been obtained, and public tenders are invited. Parliamentary authority should have been obtained in this case. That is the way in which the Government should have proceeded to obtain these vessels.
If this action be approved without demur the Government may say at some later date, “ There was no fuss over the last ship-purchase scheme which we entered upon without parliamentary consent; let us buy a fleet of twenty mail steamers at a cost of, say, £1,000,000 each.” In such circumstances, there would be absolutely nothing to prevent them from taking that stand, believing that honorable members in their docility would agree with anything they did.
– Does the honorable member think that the Government should own any steam-ships?
– I do not think that the Commonwealth Government can, in normal tim.e3, run a fleet of steam-ships in competition with private enterprise. In this case we have been treated as if we were mere cyphers. .Perhaps we are. I should like to know why those members of the Parliament who are not in the Ministry receive an allowance of £600 a year. The country is paying 111 members of Parliament £600 a year to do absolutely nothing, because those sitting on the Treasury bench are under the impression that they can carry on the affairs of the Commonwealth without our assistance, and, ae a matter of fact, they do so.
– And Ministerial supporters let them do so.
– I have tried on two or three occasions to put a stop to such action, bub the honorable- member’s support has not been forthcoming. The habit of power of any kind breeds intolerance of equality. In the case of Ministers, that habit has grown under the War Precautions Act, which was enacted for the safety of the realm. War seems to have dulled the edge of our sense of responsibility. There was on the part of honorable members a fear that, while the war was in existence, anything which we might do contrary to the exact wishes of the Government might jeopardize the successful prosecution of the war, and consequently we did nothing then, and have done nothing since. The power to protest against unconstitutional action seems to have departed from us. Coeval with that departure has grown up in the Government a spirit of intolerance. They are intolerant of either criticism or objection to their conduct. I think the Government regard Parliament as a kind of excrescence - as an irritating and unnecessary incubus upon their administrative actions. They- think theycan get along very well without us, and do not see why we should be consulted or considered in any way. The only purpose for’ which we have been paid since the War Precautions Act has been in existence has been to talk.
– And vote money.
– Quite so. It seems to me that Parliament has been tied up to the talking stake. According to an old French proverb, “ the goat browses where it is tethered.”
– Why decry Parliament?
– Because the fault rests with the Parliament for allowing the Government to do this thing.
– The Parliament has not allowed the Government to do anything of the kind.
– If this Parliament were meeting under normal peace conditions, instead of being a Parliament elected during the war, and if it understood its responsibilities, the Government would be removed from office for an action of this kind ; but Parliament seems to be infected with sleeping sickness. All the old vigour, vim and snap have departed from our political life.
– The honorable member is all right.
– When I listen to the honrable member, I think the death rattle is in this Parliament’s throat. Such is the condition into which Parliament has degenerated that the people might well say with Milton, “ I will fetch him hence and solemnly attend with silent obsequy and funeral train.”
– I ask the House to take a brief retrospective glance at the position of the world inregard to shipping. Honorable members know well the war necessities which compelled the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to purchase the Austral line of ships, a course which subsequent events more than amply justified. They know, also, the trouble that arose as the war progressed, owing to the sinking of ships by enemy action, and the intensification of the shipping shortage all over the world. The position became such that we in Australia had to seriously consider how we could help the primary producers to export their products, and help ourselves by importing those things which were necessary. About the 12th July, 1917, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House, pointing out the necessity for Australia to take some action to promote local shipbuilding in order to meet the necessities of our situation. In addition to encouraging local building, steps were taken to have vessels constructed for us in the United States of America. Boats of any kind were being bought at the highest possible rates, irrespective of speed and tonnage; and acting wisely, I believe, the Government made certain contracts for the building of wooden ships in the United States of America. Now that the war is over, those vessels are not suitable for normal requirements; but had we possessed them during the war, they would have rendered invaluable service to Australia. Parliament approved of the action of the Government in starting shipbuilding in Australia. That was an entirely new enterprise, and to an island continent like Australia, which is dependent for its national . prosperity on the export of primary products, an essential industry. Shipbuilding yardswere started at Willi amstown; the Government of New South Wales were encouraged to undertake shipbuilding at Walsh Island; and the Commonwealth also utilized the plant at Cockatoo Island. Six vessels were put in hand, each of 5,500 tons. Three of these have been launched; they are a credit to Australia, and give promise of the establishment of a permanent shipbuilding industry in the Commonwealth. Contracts for fourteen other vessels were placed, some with private firms throughout the Commonwealth. Later, the Government decided to acquire larger vessels, and orders were placed in Australia for four ships of 12,800 tons each. That shipbuilding programme will occupy two and a-half years; but we realized that even that would not give us all the boats which we ought to have. It was necessary, therefore, to supplement that scheme by obtaining ships in the Old Country if we could. Honorable members are aware (that since .the restoration of peace there lias .arisen a tremendous demand aM over the world for shipping. High prices are offered for ships of every .kind. All the yards in Great Britain are working at their fullest capacity, and endeavours are being made to start new ship.building enterprises. Were to in Australia, to remain idle, and do nothing for our new nation that had in reality just come into international being as the result of the great war? The Government felt that they were under an obligation to do something to meet our necessities. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) stated that he had a conversation with the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), who had given him certain assurances. what the Acting Prime Minister told the honorable member was true in letter and in spirit. Neither the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) nor anybody acting in his behalf, nor the Government in Australia, had entered into any contract for the purchase of ships at that date; but some time later the Government did- try to get possession of certain boats of a large type.
– On what date J
– About April of this year; but owing to the large demand for shipping, and the delay that took place in accepting the opportunity that was presented,, those vessels were lost to us. Towards the end of June, or the beginning of July, we were afforded an opportunity of ‘obtaining other ships from Vickers and Company, and, subsequently, two- more from Beardmore Such is the exceptional demand for shipping in the Old World that it is impossible to get from .any British firms quotations for shipbuilding. ‘Calling for tenders would have been absolutely hopeless. The only thing we could do was to look about, and take advantage of any reasonable and just opportunity which presented itself. The honorable member for Henty says that we ought to have brought the matter before the House, and obtained parliamentary sanction before taking action. Responsibility -for the course pursued by the ^Government rests, not with the Prime Minister, or with both ,of the Ministers abroad, bub with the whole Cabinet, .and we gladly -take it upon .ourselves.
– Cabinet musttake the responsibility.
– My point is that thispurchase was carried out with the knowledge and approval of -Cabinet.
– The contract with. Vickers -was signed on ;or about the 4th July of this year.
– The House was sitting atthe .time.
– That is so. On 17th July authority was given for the purchaseof other boats from Beardmore.
– When did Ministers in Australia associate themselves with thispurchase ?
– We have been associated with it all through the transaction. Cables passed between Cabinet and thePrime Minister. Ministers in Australia were ‘conversant with the facts, and accept full responsibility for the action that wastaken.
– The Government gave thePrime -Minister a. blank cheque.
– We did not. The honorable member has already heard momake a statement to the contrary. Cabinet knew what it was* doing, and took action with a full sense of responsibility. The Government could not submit the proposals to tlie House and awaitparliamentary sanction. We had either to act promptly or lose the opportunity altogether.
– Would it not have been possible to get options over these shipspending the obtaining .of parliamentary authority ?
– It would have been utterly hopeless .to have attempted to dothat.
Mr. -Kelly. - :Was any attempt madeto do it?
– On a previous occasion an offer of ships was before .the Government^ there was .a Slight delay .in considering it, and owing to the great .demand for ships .the opportunity was lost.
I remind honorable members of the responsibility placed upon the Government<of .securing .proper .and sufficient .tonnage for .the .export :of .our primary products, and I particularly call their attention to the operations of the “ Conference Shipping Lines.” The activities of the Conference are of very great importance to Australia, and neither the Government nor Parliament can overlook that fact. Combinations in shipping are not of recent growth. Even before the war they were becoming an Empire problem of very serious import. During the war tonnage was greatly reduced, and on the declaration of peace the Shipping Conference developed and consolidated to a remarkable extent. The Conference lines comprise the following: -
The majority of those companies have one or more lines trading to Australia.
– And the Australian agent of the Conference is the man whom the Government appointed to deal with shipping, Sir Owen Cox.
– I do not know whether or not that is correct; but I am dealing with the problem which Australia has to face. Since that list of Conference lines was prepared a Japanese line and the Eastern and’ Australian Company have been added. Let the House consider what that shipping monopoly means to the producers and the exporters of primary produce.
– Did the Government hope, with their five ships, to beat that combination ?
– Not with only the five ships. We are hoping that the competition of them, and the ships we are building locally, will have a considerable effect upon shipping freights. Nobody knows better than does the honorable member how the Conference operates in influencing trade into its own channels. These lines work on a deferred rebate system, under which shippers are compelled to sign a declaration at the end of given periods to the effect that they have not shipped any cargo by vessels outside those controlled by the Conference. I shall mention to the House an illustration of how even Governments may be compelled by the Conference to toe the mark. The Government of Victoria booked a certain amount of space on the Commonwealth ship Bulla, but owing to the fact that they were notified that they might lose a considerable sum of money in deferred rebates, they withdrew the shipment from the Commonwealth line. That is an illustration of the operations of this Combine. I have shown the circumstances which faced the Government. Shipping was short all over the world. What vessels were available for Australia were under the control of a Combine. Shipbuilding firms in the United Kingdom were building vessels as fast as they could. We could not successfully call for tenders. It was impossible to get quotations without considerable delay. It was our obligation to do our best to enable our exporters and primary producers to get their produce to market on fair terms, and when the opportunity came there was only one step possible for Ministers. We were in communication with the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and acting completely in unison with him; and in the fulfilment of the trust imposed on us, we felt it our duty to approve these contracts, and be prepared to accept the responsibility.
– Why did not the Government acquaint Parliament immediately action was taken?
– The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) informed honorable members that the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) would make a statement at an early date, and last week that Minister informed the House that these obligations had been entered into. It was only a few days ago that the House practically adopted the policy put forward in the Ministerial statement, which contained the following : -
During the past year the shipbuilding pol icy of the Commonwealth has been energetically pursued. Two steel vessels have been launched in Australia, ten more are under construction, and contracts have been entered into for another ten. The contracts for wooden ships in Australia have, for the most part, been cancelled. It is the intention of the Government, when opportunity offers, to dispose of similar ships built on the Pacific coast of America. The policy of the Government is to continue the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and to build larger and faster vessels for our oversea trade, so that the producers of our exportable primary products shall be assured satisfactory shipping facilities at reasonable rates. Negotiations in this direction are at present in progress.
The information members wanted was embodied in that paragraph. The Government have merely given effect to a policy which has been adopted not only by the House, but by Australia.
.- The Minister (Mr. Groom) has not answered the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd). That honorable member did not attack the wisdom or otherwise of the Commonwealth owning a line of steamers. He said that the only question under discussion was whether the Government have the right to enter into contracts on behalf of the people of Australia without submitting them to Parliament. That question the Government have failed to answer.
– I answered it fully.
– When Ministers are before the people at the next election, if they donot answer more fully other questions that will be put to them they will have absolutely nothing to submit to the people.
– No option could be obtained.
– That is absurd. Such conditions may have applied during the war, but they do not obtain to-day. Parliament was sitting when these contracts with Vickers and Beardmore were completed. There is a difference between the purchase of the fourteen or fifteen ships when we were at war, and the contract just entered into.
– The honorable member did not give the House any information in regard to thoseships.
-Full information was given.
– It was not.
– It is useless for the honorable member to contradict me in a parrot-like fashion. The information was given to the House. I am heartily in accord with what the Minister has said in regard to fighting the Combine, but I agree with the honorable member for Henty that whenan announcement of policy has to be made it should come from a Minister, and not from a public servant. In March last we were told by Mr. Larkin, a very estimable man, and a very good servant of the Commonwealth, that the Government did not propose to withdraw their ships - with which I am in accord - and were going to fight the Ring - if they were able to do it. However, that was a statement which should have been made by a Minister. Would the Minister for the Navy permit Mr. Macandie to put him aside and set out the policy of the Naval Department? Or would the Treasurer allow Mr. Collins to. setout the policy of the Department of the Treasury? The Prime Minister , (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) were in England at the time Mr. Larkin made his statement. Why did they not make it?
– As a matter of fact, long before the statement was made by Mr. Larkin, I informed the House that we intended to continue in the shipping business.
– The Commonwealth Steam-ship line is not yet legally constituted.
– The money has been voted by Parliament in the Estimates, and no exception has been taken to the Commonwealth being committed to a policy of shipbuilding in Australia.
– Hear, hear!
– That matter was before Parliament; but the vessels to which the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) takes exception are the three to be built by Vickers and the two to be built by Beardmore’s. I understand that they are vessels of from 12,000 tons to 20,000 tons burden. On Thursday last the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) gave us details in regard toall the other vessels, but not one detail in regard to these five.. If Parliament allows Ministers to enter into contracts for five ships, costing about £2,000,000, without a knowledge of the details of the vessels, the purchase of the Shaw Wireless Works will be only a circumstance compared with what this transaction may turn out to be. I disagree with the honorable member for Henty on the question of the advisability of the Commonwealth owning a line of steamers, and as to fighting the Combine of ship-owners, but I am in accord with him when he says that public tenders should be called now for the building of these vessels.
– If we wait until we get the result of those tenders, it will be a very long time before we establish a Commonwealth line of steamers.
– I know nearly as much about shipbuilding as the honorable member does.
– The honorable member’s statement shows exactly how much he does know.
– I know that the position to-day is different from what it was during the war. The honorable member for Henty is right in saying that many honorable members who were returned at the last election are blind-folded supporters of the Government, and that they are prepared to condone any offence Ministers may commit.
– We are a bit freer now than we were under the honorable member’s Government.
– The honorable member has never voted against the Government on any matter - not even on an amendment to a Bill. When the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Poynton), as a private member, brought forward an amendment on a War Loan Bill to repeal the exemption of the holders of war loan bonds from payment of income tax, he was supported from this side of the House, but we were told that it was an absurd proposal. Yet, within six months, when the Government brought down that very amendment as a Ministerial proposal, honorable members who previously opposed it were found voting for it. No Government has had more subservient followers than are to be found sitting behind Ministers to-day.
The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald) said that right should be done on every occasion. Right should be done in this case. Tenders should be called for these vessels. Unless that is done, and unless the fullest daylight is let in, we shall be opening the door to fraud and corruption. The honorable member for Henty says that it is even now said in Collins-street and other places-
– It is being said all over the city of Melbourne.
– I do not know where it is said; but this Parliament should keep itself clear. It is the duty of every honorable member to see that in connexion with every contract on behalf of the Government we keep clear of any suggestion or implication of fraud or corruption. Every one here will admit that if business of this kind were transacted in Australia through a private firm, tenders would be called and the price stated.
– So it ought to be.
– And it ought to be the case in all contracts oversea.
– The conditions are different, and the honorable member ought to have sense enough to know it!
– I do not think that the honorable member is an authority on sense.
– Heaven help me if I have not more than the honorable member.
– The honorable member ought to have a lot of sense, because I have never known him use any inside the House or outside. Parliament was sitting when these contracts were entered into, but we did not know anything of them until questions were asked by various members. This business has been going on f ot over three months ; and unless we decide that’ tenders must be called in the case of any. large expenditure of money, we shall be giving . up our rights as a Parliament.
I regret exceedingly that the time allotted for the discussion of a motion ‘of this kind is not sufficient to enable us to do justice to the question. It might have been better if the honorable member for Henty had taken another course, though I do not suggest that he should move a no-confidence motion.
– Look at the trouble I got into the last time I did a thing like that!
– So long as the honorable member is doing what he believes to be right, he should not worry about the trouble.
– Are you not glad the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) is not here?
– I am not; if the honorable member thinks I am afraid of the Prime Minister he is “barking up the wrong tree,” for I have always had the courage of my opinions as against those of that gentleman. The honorable member for Henty is on the right track in calling attention to this gross abuse of power on the part of Ministers in entering into contracts without giving Parliament an opportunity to discuss them.
.- The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) is to be commended for having introduced this subject, but I do not go so far as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) in the conclusion he draws from the position. The duty of the Government, apart altogether from constituting and creating policy, is to interpret the policy of the Parliament to which it is responsible. It is undoubted to me, and it is quite clear, I think, tb honorable members on both sides, that this* House is in favour of a continuation of the Government sea -freight scheme. That seems to me a perfectly fair statement of the position. It might, therefore, be held to be the duty of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) when in England to give effect to that view with the best means at his disposal. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has said, not only that the Prime Minister should have called for tenders, but that he should call for tenders now. It is all very well to hold that narrow view, and I am not going so far as to say that that could not have been done, but the Leader of the Opposition, from his long administrative experience, must know that the cost of preparing tenders in a matter of this kind is very considerable. The whole question of whether or not tenders could have been called depends on whether the persons asked to tender had or had not enough work to keep them busy. I do not know that any person here is in a position to say whether the yards in England are overworked or not.
– They are overstocked with orders.
– If they are overstocked with orders it would have been a piece of idle nonsense to ask them to put in tenders. There is another phase of this question which is worth consideration. The Leader of the Government (Mr. Groom) in replying to the mover of the motion, very carefully stressed the enormous size and importance of the great combination of shipping companies to which the Commonwealth Government’s project was, in some minor degree, perhaps, a threat. It is quite patent to everybody that these shipping companies do regard the Commonwealth Government’s action as a threat, and they would use any means at their disposal to prevent that threat ever consummating; that is clear to everybody in this country. I say, without hesitation, that the shipping constructors in England are not likely to pay much attention to a new business ordering 90,000 tons of shipping if by so doing they would offend the great combination that aims, not at 90,000 tons, but at the rehabilitation of the world’s shipping, and with millions of tons of orders always in their yards. If that combination had gone to Vickers, or any other big company, and said that, if the company built those ships for .the Commonwealth, it would not get any orders from the combination, what would be the position of the company? It certainly would not have taken any order” from the Commonwealth of Australia.
There are many sides to every question, but I am giving what, to my mind, is a very fair statement of the position. I undoubtedly think that the right of this Parliament to be the custodian of the public purse has been, whether justified by circumstances or not, disregarded; and I look on the matter as a very serious one. But I do not think that this House can decide whether or not the circumstances under which the trusteeship of the House has been flouted justify this flouting until those people who have made the bargain for us have returned to answer for their stewardship.
I am glad the honorable member for Henty took the earliest opportunity to move the adjournment of the House; but we would be going too far if, having made a protest against this inroad on our authority, we now came to an ex parte conclusion on, perhaps, the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), whose business it is to be a provoker of the’ public peace in this place. We would be going too far, I say, if we were to go beyond this protest, and demand anything definite or conclusive in the absence of the people who have been acting on our behalf.
I suggest, ‘ however, that the Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Groom) might be able very easily to satisfy the Chamber as to the accuracy of one statement he made, which was certainly a considerable surprise to me. When I first saw the statement in the newspapers that these ships were to be bought, I saw one of the Ministers in regard to it. As the conversation was not one I had announced I was going to make public, I do not intend to repeat what the Minister said to me. What I said to him was, “ The chances are that all Australia will want to enter on the shipping business as a means of finding out, if for no other reason, whether our products are being charged fair freights; but there is a constitutional and an unconstitutional way of doing things, and Parliament should be first asked before large sums of money are expended.” The Minister agreed with me, and, beyond that, I shall not disclose what he said; but I came to the conclusion that he did not know then what had been done. I was under that impression until the Acting Leader of the Government (Mr. Groom) made his statement to-day that not only the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), but Ministers here had been hand in glove in the particular business. There is one way to clear the matter up, and that is by the Acting Leader of the Government lay ing on the table of the House, at the earliest moment, all the messages that have passed between the Government and the delegation abroad respecting this deal. If that be done, I shall be amply and utterly satisfied, and the House should be satisfied and content to wait patiently until, in a few weeks, the Prime Minister returns to give his personal account of his stewardship.
.- I quite approve ©f the action of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) in bringing up this subject on a motion for the adjournment of the House, for, had he not done so, it would have devolved on some other honorable member to take the step. The merits of the proposal to acquire shipping .for Australia need not be debated now, for the question before us is simply the constitutional question of the right of the Prime Minister, or any other Minister, to incur expenditure without the sanction of Parliament. The only parallel case of which I know was the purchase of the Suez .Canal shares by Lord Beaconsfield; and it will be remembered that, although the possession of these shares was considered of vital importance to the nation, the British Parliament condemned that statesman for purchasing them without its sanction. It appears as though, not only the Commonwealth Parliament, but the State Parliaments in Australia, are forgetting their responsibilities to the people; and, under the circumstances, it is no wonder that the community generally do not pay proper respect to parliamentary institutions. In all the Constitutions granted to Australia there is preserved the right, of Parliament to sanction expenditure; indeed, in the early days, the Legislative Councils, or Upper Chambers, were not given any voice in the expenditure of public money. However, at present, Parliament has to sit idly by while Ministers of the Crown enter into contracts of this kind without consulting’ the Parliament to which they are responsible, although it is quite evident that, some weeks ago, the Government could have given us information in regard to what was being done in England. Personally, I cannot understand why the Government should show such secrecy regarding their actsof ad ministration. No previous Commonwealth Government have ever so withheld information from Parliament, and I am afraid that the day is not far distant when we shall regret the fact. The liberties of the people depend on the constitutional control by Parliament. So long as I am a member of the House I shall oppose the relegation of any of the authority of Parliament to any individual Minister or member.
– I do not remember your voice being raised in protest when the Prime Minister bought ships without the authority of Parliament.
– An interjection of that kind will not assist the Acting Minister for the Navy to save his face at the next election. He knows that before the Prime Minister took action members generally were aware of what was to be done. The country was at war when those ships were bought. The position is vastly different now. The Government are starting to build a fleet with the war virtually at an end. There is no analogy between the two cases, and the Acting Minister for the Navy is simply making himself ridiculous in the eyes of the intelligent electors of Australia. I rose to assert my Opposition to the unconstitutional manner in which the public funds are being spent. Until the members of the House awake to a sense of their responsibilities in regard to the finances, I am afraid , the people outside will have a very poor opinion of them. It is not Parliament as an institution, but the creatures who occupy seats in Parliament, that are being condemned by the people outside. The institution of Parliament still stands high in the estimation of the people. It is those in power, and those who are the principal moving spirits behind the men in power, with whose conduct of affairs the people of Australia are not satisfied. I hope what has taken place will be the means of waking some honorable members up to a sense of their responsibility towards the expenditure of this country. One of our chief complaints as an Opposition has been the method of expenditure on the part of the Government. Their actions inregard to certain Bills before the
Housewill condemnthem in the eyes of all those gentlemen who run our financial institutions, and have a knowledge of financial matters. In a case of this kind, the crime is equally great whether the amount spent is £1,000 or £10,000,000. Parliamentary control has been so loose, and members have been so indifferent to what has been going on, letting everything slide, that the Government have got into the habit of spending money in this way. They began with hundreds and’ thousands; then they got into hundreds of thousands in regard to some of their activities, and now they are spending millions. There is no knowing where it. isgoing to end. The representatives of the people in Parliament have no right to neglect the duty of watching the expenditure of public money. This money has to be raised, if not from taxation, then by means of loans, and already the charge on the people by way of interest on loans is a very serious item.
– That is in the sweet byandby.
– My voice will always be raised in Parliament to prevent the unborn generations from being punished for the sins of this Parliament. That will never be done without the protest of their humble representative from East Sydney. I do not suppose that if I talked for an hour on this question the deeds of the Prime Minister would be altered. The ships would still go on being built,but that does not alter the fact that the Government have gone about the business in an utterly unconstitutional way. The people must know which of the representatives whom they have returned to Parliament to watch the expenditure of public money have disregarded their duties. The present system is most loose and unbusinesslike, particularly in view of the fact that, when the country made the mistake of returning the present Government to power in the generalelections of 1917, we were told that there was a lot of business men amongst the successful party. God save Australia from business men like them, if this is their style of conducting affairs. It can be said to the credit of the Opposition that, during their tenure of office, which was pretty lively, and very profitable to the people of Australia, they were not guilty of any unconstitutional action. They paid regard to the financial aspect of every proposal they brought forward, and no expenditure was incurred except through the usual course of procedure - by message from the Crown, and the obtaining of leave for the introduction of a Bill to authorize the spending of the money. That is the only constitutional way.We who are not members of the Government should jealously guard the rights of the people in that respect. How are fraud and deception to be prevented if the House has no check on the expenditure by the Government? How are we to prevent scandal and other things detrimental to the progress of the country unless we act as watch-dogs over theconduct of the financesby the Government? The only way to keep the Government hon est is to apply the physic of the Opposition. It is our duty, whenever they stray from the path which they ought to tread, to point out to them that they are trespassing on dangerous ground. Even if we get no kudos for it, it is our duty to keep the Government straight. I hope such actions as those which have lately been revealed on the part of the Government will rouse all themembers of the House to a sense of their responsibiliy, and make them jealously guard the expenditure of public money. That is the only safe way to have sound and honest administration.
The time having arrived for the interruption of the debate under standing order 119 -
– May I suggest to the Acting Leader of the House that this very important debate should be extended for another hour?
– We still have the Commercial Activities Bill to pass.
– We had that Bill to pass on a previous occasion, when the time was extended to permit of the discussion of a less important matter.
– It will mean taking an hour off the time for the discussion of the Bill I mentioned.
– Does the honorable member consent to an extension for one hour ?
– Very well, I consent.
– Then I move, by leave -
That the debate be continued for one hour.
– I object.
– Is the motion seconded?
– I second it.
– I object tothe. extension for one hour, not because I do not want to hear the views of honorablemembers on this important question,but because I think the question of such vital importance to the country, and to the honour of the House, that we should take considerably longer to debate it. The mover of the motion tried to curtail his speech until he spoiled it, and every other honorable member has done the same. If there is to be an extension of time, it should be until the subject is exhausted. If the Government are not prepared to agree to that, an extension for an hour should not be granted.
– An hour is better than nothing.
– Let the debate continue until the suspension of the sitting for dinner. I move as an amendment -
That the words “ and a half “ be added.
Question - That the words proposed to be added be so added (Mr. McDonald’s amendment) - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
Question - That the debate be continued for one hour (Sir Robert Best’s motion) - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 38
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
– Mr. Speaker–
– I rise to a point of order. I submit, sir, that the honorable member has already addressed himself to this question.
– The honorable member’s point of order cannot be sustained. The honorable member for Kooyong merely moved an extension of time.
– I regret that the House has so limited a time in which to deal with this gravely important subject.
– Everything will be all right after the honorable member has spoken. The fact that others will not have an opportunity to speak is of no concern to him.
– That allegation can hardly be made against me, since I moved for an extension of time.
– Wave a flag or two.
– Order! The honorable member for Kooyong had no sooner risen to speak than he was interrupted.
– The point is that he has “ gagged “ every one else.
– Order !
– I exceedingly regret that there should be any misunderstanding about this matter.
– There is no misunderstanding; you have “gagged” every one.
– I have already called the House to order, and that point cannot be further discussed.
– It is all very well for the honorable member to speak–
– The honorable member for Melbourne Ports will have to leave the chamber unless he is prepared to obey the direction of the Chair.
– I very much regret that the time for the discussion of this gravely important matter is so limited. The Minister in charge of the House (Mr. Groom) made a most excellent speech, containing matter which might justify the House in sanctioning a project such as that undertaken by the Government. But he did not attempt to meet the gravamen of the issue raised by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd).
It is not the merits of the shipping purchase we are concerned about just now, but the irregular and improper way in which it was carried out. The honorable member challenged the constitutionality of the Government’s action, and it is to that aspect of the question that the Minister should have addressed himself. The Minister made out what would have been a strong case if he had been asking the House to sanction the completion of a tentative contract. But the only reference he made to such a contract was when he said that there was no time to consult Parliament regarding the opportunity that was offered to the Government to obtain ships, and that they had to say “yea” or “nay” at once. That hardly puts the matter in a fair light. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) being in England, and realizing that there was but one constitutional means of carrying out this transaction, could, with the consent of the other party, have done what is usual in such circumstances. He could have secured a seven days’ option over the ships, or, to put it in another way, he could have done what is very usual, viz., have entered into a contract subject to the confirmation of Parliament, within a limited number of days and in the meantime obtained the consent of Parliament. If the Prime Minister had endeavoured to secure such an option, or had entered into the contract in that form, there is not the slightest doubt that the consent of Parliament would have been obtained with the utmost expedition. Such a course would not have been unusual or unreasonable. He could have told the shipbuilders of the obstacles that confronted him. ‘He could have pointed out that he had no personal right to enter into a contract, and if there was a willingness to supply the Commonwealth with ships, he could have obtained an option for a brief period. There is nothing of which this House should be more jealous than the control of expenditure. The Constitution very clearly provides that no money may be paid out of the public revenue except with. ‘ the direct sanction of Parliament, and no constitutional principle is better established than that even Parliament, much less the Government, is not justified in incurring heavy expenditure unless ways and means have been provided by Parliament for the payment of the money which has to be subsequently appropriated. That is a fundamental principle of parliamentary government. Therefore, I render my protest against the unconstitutional manner in which this transaction has been completed. Parliament has been flouted, and the offence is made more heinous by the fact that the House was sitting when the offer was before the Government, and could have been consulted with the utmost expedition. The Government made a grave mistake.
The Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Groom) made some excellent points concerning the tyranny which is being exercised by the Shipping Conference, and, so far as that menace is concerned, he could have relied upon the sympathy of the House for any effort in which the Government engaged to fight the Shipping Rings and Combines. The House would never have hesitated for one moment to render every help in that connexion. Under all the circumstances, the Government must realize’ that they have not acted fairly to their supporters, or to the House, in the course they have pursued. The House has committed itself to theencouragement of the shipbuilding industry during war, but I am not sure that Parliament has deliberately pledged itself to the national ownership and operating of trading ships. In the war emergency, and under the provisions of the War Precautions Act, great power was given to the Executive to do those things which were regarded as essential to the winning of the war, and Parliament looked with the utmost generosity on all actions of the Government to that end; in fact, the House practically abandoned many of its constitutional rights in order to secure expedition, and to enable the Executive to act as the emergency arose. That step was taken by Parliament with deliberation as a war necessity. But the war practically ended on the 11th November, 1918, and a policy that was justified during the period of war is not justified in time of peace. Yet eight months after the war had practically terminated, the Government, in an unconstitutional manner, entered into a big shipbuilding contract, and did not pay
Parliament the constitutional compliment of consultation in any way. It is true that the freights war is still in progress, but freights have been falling for a considerable time past.
– Every troopship that comes to Australia arrives in ballast.
– That is so. Freights have been falling rapidly.
– The companies are still charging1d. for the carriage of our wool.
– That may be, but the honorable member must recollect that so far as the ships which are the subject of this contract are concerned, the wheat exporter will not get relief for two and a half years.
– The best policy is to show the Shipping Combines at once that we are out to fight them.
– I am not debating the expediency or advisability of the Government purchasing these ships. I am merely taking exception to the unconstitutional methods to which they have resorted. It behoves Parliament to record its protest against an unconstitutional action of this kind. It is of no use to retort that we looked leniently and generously upon similar actions during the time of war. That is beside the question. I am emphasizing the constitutionalobligation that rests upon the Government in time of peace. Personally, I am anxious to give the Government the most generous support, and it is with reluctance that I condemn them for what I regard as a flagrantly unconstitutional act. They have not demonstrated to the House that the emergency was of such a character that they had no other alternative but to commit themselves to the purchase of the ships without consulting Parliament.
– There was no urgency; we shall not get the ships for more than two years.
– If this was such an emergent question , and secrecy was of the utmost moment, Parliament might at least have been consulted in secret, although I do not advocate secret meetings of Parliament. I do not for one moment believe thatthe transaction was of such urgencyas to preclude its being carried out in a constitutional manner. The Government havemade a great mistake, and it is with regret that I have to record my strong protest against actions of this kind.
.- I am grateful to the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) for having brought this matter before the House. I quite agree with him that the people outside ask, “ Why do members of Parliament get such a good minimum wage as nearly £12 per week, and do nothing for it? Why is Parliament not sitting?” The answer was that if Parliament were in session it might do something that would prevent the winning of the war. But that reply was made ridiculous by the fact that the British Parliament sat week after week and month after month. If it was dangerous for this Parliament to be in session 12,000 miles from the theatre of war, how much more dangerous was it for a Parliament to be in session in the centre of the British Empire, and close to the war zone. Why should not honorable members have power to demand that a Ministry should call Parliament together? The people who created Parliament laugh at what is being done.
In this House, and on the public platform, I have tried in vain to ascertain what commission was paid on the first purchase by the Commonwealth of the Austral line of ships. Is there any man in the shipping trade who, if asked whether any commission was paid, will answer “No”? If he does not care to make a straight-out affirmative reply, he will give a wink so palpable as to be seen from the opposite side of the street.
– The Auditor-General admits that £20,000 was paid in commission .
– Yet two years elapsed after the doing of that illegal act before an Indemnity Bill was submitted to this Parliament. Will any commonsense man connected with the shipping trade say that no commission was paid? I believe the commission was paid; that is why I say that bribery and corruption are more rife to-day thantheyhave been at any time during the last twenty-five years.
– The honorable member never challenged the Prime Minister’s action until he quarrelled with him.
– That is absolutely inaccurate. I challenged it as soon as the opportunity occurred. I have always “been in favour of the community owning its ships. I cannot see why, after State-owned railways have conveyed his produce from point to point, the farmer should then be at the mercy of any Combine, and there is no worse Combine on the face of the earth than the ‘Shipping Ring. It is recorded by Lord Tollemache that the great Gladstone, when asked if -he (believed that the shipping companies would convey the enemy to England in time of war, replied, “ I believe that the shipping companies, for the sake of filthy lucre, would carry enemies to the portals of Heaven, if that were possible.” Is it not a fact that sailormen never sit down to table to have their meals from London to Australia? Board of Trade regulations ! Fiddlesticks ! I accuse the Orient Steam Navigation Company, whose right to break these regulations I fought for twenty years. On a girder in the forecastle one can see embedded in the steel the words, “ Accommodation for thirty-two seamen,” on one side, and on the other side, “ Accommodation for thirty-two seamen.” Yet this company tried to crowd one hundred seamen into that space. The men objected and threatened to strike, but yet it was able to crowd eighty men into the space.
– There is nothing of that kind in. the- ships, about ‘ which the honorable member, is talking.
– General Lasseter accompanied- me on board the’ Osterley, and he will bear evidence’ that not one of those eighty men had. a meal sitting’ down on, the way to Australia. I ascertained the rates charged for bringing’ passengers to Australia. ‘For a first-saloon passage the charge was up to £160 ; for- a secondclass, passage the -charge was up to £130’; for the steerage the charge ranged from £47i to, £84: That was why the company sought to crowd1 the crew. There was not a porthole in the forecastle which could be opened, because they were on the level with the waterline.
I believe’ there was bribery and corruption in the’ first purchase of vessels. Certainly the1 Commonwealth has made money out of the ships; but the producers of Australia were led to believe that, they were purchased to take meat,, wool, and’ wheat away from, the Commonwealth. Where did the vessels trade? Anywhere where the demand was made from England for their services. Not one word of mine would be raised in criticism if it had been done to carry on the war, but as the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) has rightly said, the ships were sent to. different parts of the world to- pick up produce when they could have picked up all they could carry in Australian ports.
– That was only oh their return trips to Australia. We could not bring ships out in ballast.
– Some of the vessels, but not the whole of them, might have been employed in taking Australian produce away, and they were hot employed all the time in doing that work. The Minister will, have “ no more tenders for vessels.” Men employed in the Navy Department made purchases on behalf of the Government, but got the prices to the Government, increased. Let the Minister go into the records of Mr. Coen, the contractor engaged in fitting up transports, ‘ whom the then Minister for the Navy (Mr. Jensen) - more honour to him - would not treat with, but, instead; employed t]ie, men through, their unions, with. the result that the work: was ‘ carried out cheaper ‘ than . it had’ been> done previously. When. Mr.. Coen wanted his money, although the Attorney-General’s Department suggested paying him, and the cry from the- Admiral right down in the Navy Department was, “‘Pay him,” the’ same Minister said that if the contractor wanted payment to the full amount of his claim he must sue for it. Mr. Coen did not- dare to go into Court, and accepted- £17,000; much less than the full amount claimed; I know of two young officers who were acquainted with the infamies and robberies that were being perpetrated; but the Department would do nothing: Certainly a few matters were* amended, and’ one gentleman was sent away to bring rain down from the clouds. God only knows how much money he is getting for what he is trying to do ! The people have to pay. I refer to Mr. Balsillie. His record in the Department was not a good one, and it was not fair if he bad uncontrolled power to purchase without calling for tenders.
The claim is made that the shipbuilding firms are too busy. I have taken from the London Directory a list of seventy-five shipbuilding firms. There is only one way in which we can control Parliament, and that is by giving the creators of Parliament, the people, an opportunity of seeing whether we are doing our duty or not. “We are not doing our duty or earning our pay if we allow any Government to go into recess for six months. Had Parliament been sitting we would not have experienced the profiteering which has been so rampant and rife in our midst. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) fixed prices, but ‘fixed them higher than the ruling prices in the shops at the time. It is very easy to insure the farmer 4s. per bushel for his wheat, pay the miller a fair price for gristing it, and compel him to sell flour to any one who asks for it, and gaol him if he refuses, or dares to sell above the price fixed by the Government.
– The honorable member’s remarks are quite outside the motion.
– I .would like tenders called in order to put down profiteering. Tenders were not called for the meat contracts for the Navy Department, and it took twenty-three questions in the House to elicit the truth as to who sent diseased meat to a transport. Even then a lie was told.
– To whom is the honorable member referring ?
– I am not referring to the honorable member. When I have a row with him he will know it. An untruth was uttered when, in reply to a question put by me, it was said that Mr. Angliss got his meat from the municipality. If tenders had been called, every tenderer would know that the meat sent out by the municipality of Melbourne is examined microscopically, and in every other way, and that the livers supplied to our seamen by Mr. Angliss would never go out from municipal abattoirs asfit for human consumption.
There are no greater profiteers than the shipbuilding firms. Having lived in Belfast, I know that the firm of Harland and Woolf, than whom there is no finer shipbuilding firm in the world, do not accept contract’s, but simply charge the cost of material and labour, adding 10 per cent, for supervision.
– I do not think that that is their percentage charge at the present time.
– I understand that the charge during the war was 12£ per cent.
– In all pre-war times their charge was 10 per cent., and they would not turn out anything but a well-constructed vessel.
– I have been credibly informed that the Government entered into the contracts for building wooden vessels against the advice of their experts. At any rate, £1,000,000 has been lost in that transaction. Who pays it? Not honorable members. Who spends it? A few Ministers. Possibly the Government have delegated one Minister to do more than Ministers as a body would indorse if they had the power of refusal. I conclude my remarks by saying that there is no honorable member opposite who would dare to go on a political platform and say, “ We will do away with tendering. We will do as we like, and spend the people’s money as we like.”
.- If the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) believes that robbery and corruption are so rampant, he ought to spend the Test of his life in doing all he possibly can to oppose the nationalization of industry, because nothing tends to building up bribery and corruption among public men more than does the carrying out of such a policy.
– There is a considerable difference of opinion as to that.
– I would condemn the Government who, at a time of crisis and during a war, would not accept re- sponsibility, but now that the war is over there is no reason why we should not revert to constitutional methods.
– Does not the honorable member think that we shall feel the effects of the war for some years ahead in regard to shipping?
– If the necessity foi providing ships was apparent during the war, surely it is just as apparent now.
– Had the Acting Minister ‘ (Mr. Poynton) been in charge of the Navy Department from the commencement of the war, we might have had something done in regard to shipbuilding. Until he took charge of the matter, the Government did absolutely nothing in this respect. I commend him for the enterprise and energy he has displayed. There was wretched delay in regard to the building of ships. The wrong principle was adopted at the outset. When the first combination of parties took place, I suggested to the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) that he should immediately offer a bonus for the building of ships in Australia, and do all he possibly could to establish the industry here. Something might have been done had my suggestion been acted upon, but the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for the Navy dillydallied and dilly-dallied to bring about an arrangement with the artisans generally. The result was that until the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Poynton) took charge there was absolutely nothing done in the matter of shipbuilding in Australia. The war is over, and there can be no justification for departing from ordinary constitutional procedure. We are sent here to support the Government or to oppose it, and to watch over the growing public expenditure. The taxation of the country is becoming enormous, in view of the huge demands on the Government ; and surely Parliament ought not to be flouted. Are we to have £10,000,000 spent without Parliament being asked “Yea or Nay”? No justification has been shown by Ministers for the action of the Prime Minister ; and the Government should be given distinctly to under stand that all proposed . expenditure of the kind must be brought before us for approval. It has been suggested by one honorable member that the money could not have been better spent, but I say undoubtedly it could. However, I do not intend to discuss whether we should or should not have nationalization of shipping; and on a future occasion we shall be able to form a better opinion as to the wisdom of the recent purchase._
– The question of nationalization is <a legitimate one for discussion.
– Quite so. The Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) tells us that shipping is required to freight our produce to the Old Country; but was that the desire of the Government during the war? Did the Government utilize the Commonwealth ships to bring goods here in order that prices might be kept down, or solely for the carrying of our products to the markets of the world ? As a matter of fact, the Commonwealth shipping was used for only one purpose, namely, to earn .the very highest possible freights. The Inter-State vessels were commandeered under an agreement, with the terms of which I am not familiar; but I understand that the owners received so much interest on the capital. The Commonwealth ships were allowed to do profiteering work, and were thus enabled to show a magnificent balancesheet. I remember perusing the papers in regard to the chartering of three or four Commonwealth vessels to bring rice from Calcutta to Australia, and the charter for each was £600 a day, with. £300 for demurrage.
– It was cheap.
– It might be; but it’ enabled the Commonwealth shipping; to show a first-class balance-sheet. I am quite satisfied that in connexion with the Inter-State boats there were no such rates.
– Because the Government were controlling the rates.
– If the honorable member thinks that the Government were justified in charging £600 a day for the purpose of bringing rice to Australia, I do not fancy his constituents will agree with his view.
– If the charge had only been £100, the rice would have been the same price.
– That sort of argument appears to me so stupid as not to warrant any answer. Does the honorable member believe that if the charge had been £5,000 a day, the price of rice would have remained the same? On such a huge business as the nationalization of shipping, the House ought certainly to be consulted; any expenditure of, say, over £10,000 or £15,000 should have the approval of Parliament.
– I raise no objection to the Government entering into contracts for the purchase of vessels, but before any expenditure is made it should be indorsed by Parliament. I have no knowledge of the circumstances which led up to this deal, and I shall defer any criticism until I have. It is, however, imperatively necessary that we shouldhave a Commonwealth fleet controlled wholly by the Government, particularly in view of the profiteering we have experienced during the war with privately-owned vessels.
– They were controlled by the Government.
– They were supposed to be.
– They were commandeered.
– We quite understand that; but look at the huge profits that were made prior to the commandeering. From a report of the Food Committee in Great Britain, we learn that before freights were regulated from South Wales to Rouen, the rate was 41s., and after regulation 24s. 6d ; from the United Kingdom to Italy before freights were regulated the rate was 105s., and, after, 62s. 6d. Prior to the war, the freights were about 7s. 6d. per ton. From Australia to the Old Country, prior to the war, goods were carried for 47s. 6d. per ton; but after the war started the rate rose to 105s. and 200s.
– Our boats charged the same.
– Our boats were charging £6 5s. a ton when other boats were charging 200s. In one case, the value; of the cargoof maize was £18,826 3s. 3d., and, the freight £50,443 5s. 9d.exactly 260 per . cent, higher than the value of the cargo.
– And the boats commandeered; by the Government did exactly the same in regard to fruit.
– That is not so.
– If that was done, it was absolutely wrong. The Australian boats were run remarkably cheaply, considering that wages and conditions were much better than in the case of the British boats. But for the Commonwealth boats, the freight here would have been, not £6 5s., but 200s. I am sorry that time does not permit me to give some instances of profiteering with neutral ships. I understand that the Leyland line in 1915 made £500,000 profit, while in 1916it made £1,876,000. When the British Government took control, the company still made huge profits, and the Government was a consenting party to the profiteering, inasmuch as the company increased the value of the vessels owing to the shortage of tonnage. A vessel valued at £20,000 or £25,000 was re-valued at £100,000, with depreciation, insurance, and interest in proportion.
Debate interrupted under standing order 119.
Service and Remuneration
asked the ActingAttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Acting Min ister for the Navy, upon notice - .
– The answers are as follow : -
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence,upon notice -
Whetherthe Government will arrange for relatives of deceased soldiers to be paid war service gratuities on a similar basis to the leave gratuity granted to soldiers fortunate enough to return home?
– The Cabinet has approved of the payment of war service gratuitiesto the actual dependants of deceased soldiers on the samescale as that approved for discharged soldiers. The term “ actual dependants “ includes persons who stood to the deceased soldier in the relationship of parent, wife, or child.
asked the Leader of the House, upon notice -
Will he promise to give facilities for the early discussion of a motion moved from the Ministerial side of the House to the effect that no further purchase of ships for the Commonwealth should be completed without the approval of Parliament?
– The opportunity has already been granted.
Mr.FENTON asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether any proposition has been placed before the State Government by the Federal Government for the purchase of the wire-netting manufacturing machinery owned by the State Government. If not, will the Commonwealth Government either purchase the machinery referred to or establish works for the manufacture of wire netting and other farm requisites and machinery?
– About twelve months ago theCommonwealth Government asked whether the VictorianState Government was in a position to resume the manufacture of wire netting at Pentridge, or whether it was agreeable to selling the plant to the CommonwealthGovernment for use elsewhere. The State Government replied that it did not desire to dispose of the plant, and it has been ascertained that the manufacture of wire netting at Pentridge was resumed about two months ago. With a view to an increase in the output of wire netting, the Commonwealth Government has already made inquiries from different sourcesas to the cost of the necessary machinery and the output.
asked the Acting Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
In view of the serious hardship and expense incurred by Western Australian importers in having their merchandise over-carried to Eastern ports of the Commonwealth, will the Minister give instructions that, in future, shipments must be delivered at the ports for which they are intended?
– Cargo for Western Australia on incoming vessels is now being landed promptly from such steamers provided it is stowed for direct discharge, and no quarantine restrictions or labour troubles prevent such discharge.
askedthe Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
In connexion with the book entitled Science and Industry issued by the Institute of Science and Industry, will he say -
the number of copies of the July edition (No. 3) and two previous numbers that have been printed;
) the cost of each book, i.e., paper, printing, postage, &c;
how many copies of each number have been issued gratis;
how many copies of each number have been sold, and the total amount received for each number?
– The answers are as follow : -
Cash receipts (sales and subscriptions, but not including advertising revenue) - July, £16 10s. (incomplete) ; June, £46 9s.; May, £12 17s.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions are -
– On 24th July the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Leckie) asked the following question: -
Will the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation lay on the Library table the papers in connexion with the negotiations with the State Savings Banks, and the arrangement finally made with the Commonwealth Bank for financing the Commonwealth war service homes scheme?
I now lay the paper on the table of the House.
Ordered to be printed.
– (By leave) I desire to make a statement regarding the new loan for the purposes of the war.
– On the 17th July, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) asked the following questions: -
I am now able to furnish the- honorable member with the following information : -
– On 11th July, the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Consi- dine) asked the following questions: -
I promised inquiry, and am now able to furnish thehonorable member with the following information: -
Commonwealth Bank Charges
– On the 25th July, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) asked the following question: -
Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the House as to what the work of the supervision of the Commonwealth Bank consists of for which the Butter Pool of 1917-18 was charged the sum of £12,765 3s.11d.?
The Minister stated that the information was being obtained. I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following : -
The Commonwealth Bank -
makes payments for butter coming into Pool;
holds documents and is responsible for them;
releases documents in exchange for others ;
gives personal attention at cold stores;
keeps accounts of transactions; and
makes adjustments of account with
Board of Trade.
– On the 25th July, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked me the following questions : -
The Acting PublicService Commissioner has now furnished the following replies: -
– On the 17th July, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the following question : -
In view of the Legislature of the State of Connecticut having ordered the word “ convict” to be stricken from the official records, and the word “inmate” to be applied to a prisoner, and, seeing that a large number of scientific men who have studied criminology hold the opinion that environment and illequipped minds are the main causes of crime, will the Acting Prime Minister request the Cabinet to follow the example of Connecticut in all Federal legislation?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that the AttorneyGeneral’s Department advises that it is unaware of any provision in Federal legislation in which prisoners are referred to as “ convicts.”
– On the 11th July, the honorable memberfor Corio (Mr: Lister) asked the following questions: -
The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) promised inquiry. I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following information: -
Statement showing the number and names of owners of wool-scouring plants, prewar and at present, respectively - (a) in Melbourne; and (b) in Geelong: -
At present -
Yarra Falls Spinning Co.
At present - 1.F. H. & F. Ambler.
Note. - Only firms who are scouring for the
Central Wool Committee appear in. this return.
4, 5, and 6. The Central Wool Committee points out that, until 24th April, 1919, scourers were not restricted in their hours of work, but that from that date all scourers were allocated only sufficient wool to keep them at work for forty -eight hours per week.
– On 23rd July, the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) asked me whether, in view of the recent large sales of wheat, the Government would advance to the farmers at least the amount which has been guaranteed them. I am now in a position to supply the following answer: -
The harvests in respect of which guarantees were given were those of 1917-18 and 1918-19. The amount guaranteed for the former, viz., 4s. f.o.b., has practically been paid. The amount guaranteed for the 1918-19 wheat was paid on delivery.
Any recommendations which the Australian Wheat Board may make for further advances will have full consideration.
On 25th July, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) asked me -
Will the Acting Leader of the House request the Central Wheat Board to make an early announcement as to the final prices that wheat in the various Pools is expected to realize, so that growers who are holders of scrip may not place such scrip on the open market, and for want of knowledge on the subject sell it at reduced prices?
I am now able to furnish the following reply : -
A full statement as to the operations of the various Pools will be made as soon as certain necessary returns have been furnished by the State offices. The States have been pressed to expedite the furnishing of these returns.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Groom) read a first time.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 25th July, vide page 11022) :
In the House:
Declaration of Urgency.
– I declare the Commercial Activities Bill to be an urgent Bill, and move -
That the Bill be considered an urgent Bill.
– Mr. Speaker–
– Order! The motion is not open to debate-
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Limitation of Debate.
– I move -
That the time allotted for the further consideration of the Bill in Committee, other than the schedules, preamble, and title be until 10 o’clock this evening; that the time allotted for the consideration of the schedules/ preamble, and title be until 8.30 p.m. to-morrow; that the time allotted for the consideration of the remaining stages of the Bill be until 10.30 p.m. to-morrow.
– Give your reasons.
– The reason for this motion is that the Bill, which has already been well discussed, is urgent. The debate has extended over several days, and as the passing of the Bill is a matter of urgency, it is desired to transmit it to the Senate as quickly as possible.
– I am not in favour of a proposal to prevent honorable members expressing their opinions in regard to this or any other measure. When ‘ the standing order under which the motion has been submitted was before the House, it was stated by many honorable members that it would do away with all-night sittings. As a matter of fact, however, on the first occasion of its application - in connexion with the Electoral Bill - we had an all-night sitting.
– And about twentyone divisions were taken during the night.
– The Bill to which I refer was brought forward during the honorable member’s absence in England, and was designed to assist the Government in connexion with the by-election for Corangamite. By the application of the guillotine, a number of amendments of which notice had been given could not be discussed. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) had given notice of several, but they were all guillotined. I especially object to the proposed limitation of the debate on the schedule to this Bill. We are to deal with the Bill other than the schedule and preamble by 10 o’clock to-night, and we are to dispose of the schedule by to-morrow at 8.30 p.m. I would remind honorable members that to-morrow will be grievance day, and that, under the formal Supply motion, we shall have the first opportunity that we have enjoyed since June last year to ventilate grievances. When that motion was submitted last month, as soon as one honorable member had spoken to. it the Government secured the adjounment of the debate, and so stopped all discussion. It will be possible for -them to adopt the same course to-morrow, and so to prevent many honorable members who could not discuss the ship-building proposals to-day from availing themselves of the opportunity to do so. I protest against this method of doing business.
– Does the motion mean that the consideration of this Bill will take precedence of the formal Supply motion to-morrow?
– It means that the amendment to the schedule of which I. have given notice will not be reached.
– As the honorable member’s proposed amendment relates to the last clause of the schedule, it will be numbered among the slaughtered innocents. I, too, have given notice of some amendments to the schedule, in connexion with which we ‘ shall have an opportunity of discussing for the first time certain regulations made under the War Precautions Act. One of my amendments relates to the representation on the Central Dairy Produce’ Committee. Every member of the Committee is either a producer or an agent; the consumers have no voice in its management. Under this motion, however,’ those who desire to discuss the question of the representation of the consumers on that Committee will be blocked. I do not know whether it is competent for me to move an amendment to this motion.
– It is.
– Then, in order to test the feeling of the House, I move -
That the words “ ten o’clock this evening “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ four o’clock on Friday afternoon.”
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7. £5 p.m.
– The amendment has been submitted as a protest against the action oftheGovernment in limiting debate on an important measure. Certainly a fair amount of time has been spent on this Bill already; but it is one of far-reaching importance, affecting not only the primary industries, but also the consumers. Of course, the Government have a majority, and we know exactly how honorable members will range themselves in a division. That being the case, I do not propose to labour the question, but, in company with other members of the Opposition, I enter my protest against the hurrying of important measures through the House without allowing time for due consideration.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the motion - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 15
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee (Consideration resumed) :
Clause 6 (Continuance of War Precautions (Wool) Regulations and War Precautions (Sheepskins) Regulations).
.- I move as an amendment -
That the following sub-clause be added to the clause: - “ (4) The Government of the Commonwealth shall pay to the employees of the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company Limited, and Whiddon Brothers Limited, 20 per cent, of the net earnings received from the said companies under agreements between the Government and the companies, the said 20 per cent, to be distributed amongst the employees in such sums and in such manner as a committee often persons appointed by the employees may decide.”
The wool tops industry is carried on in my electorate, and I am very pleased that this amendment was first suggested by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), who has taken a deep interest in this enterprise. As a result of a contract made between the Commonwealth and the manufacturers, the Government expect to get £280,000 as a share of their profits from the. manufacture of wool tops during the war period. Now, on account of litigation between theCommonwealth and the manufacturers in regard to the profits, the industry is suspended, and the employees are idle. The amendment merely asks that the Government shall pay some portion of their profits to the persons engaged in the industry. During the war the British Government gave a bonus to munition workers, and many private companies adopted the same policy. The employees in the wool top industry have worked loyally to complete the contracts made by the Government and the companies, and but for their co-operation the Government would not now be entitled to profits amounting to £280,000.
– How many employees are engaged in the industry?
– About SOO or 900, many of whom are young women not earning very high wages. The workers in the industry as a whole are not highly paid. Why should the Government reap the results of their labour without giving them compensation for the unemployment caused by a pending law-suit between the Commonwealth and the companies?
– The proposed bonus will amount to about £62 per head.
– That is not very much. I ask the Government not to regard the amendment as a party move. The Committee should .agree to the amendment, which will assure to the employees a share of the profits they have created.
– I cannot accept the amendment.
– “Can the Minister suggest any other -means of giving effect to the proposal ?
– I cannot. We are not attempting in this Bill to control or interfere in any way with the internal arrangements made by the Wool Committee, or with any contract made for the benefit of the Government. We are merely seeking to authorize the continuation of certain activities, in order that obligations may be honoured and the activities may be properly wound up. A law-suit is pending between the Commonwealth and the wool-tops manufacturing companies in regard to the profits resulting from the agreement between the parties, and while it is sub judice we cannot discuss it. But the’ mover of the amendment is assuming that the Government will receive certain profits, and he suggests that in this Bill we should do a most extraordinary thing, That is that we should now attempt to give a bonus for the purpose of increasing the wages of men employed in a certain industry,, because these men are out of employment. Every one sympathizes with men who are out of employment, but it is the wrong way to remedy that misfortune by inserting a clause in a Bill to pay to the men employed by a private firm a bonus in the shape of a percentage out of the profits derived by the Commonwealth from that firm. It is true that the Commonwealth is to share some of the profits made by. this firm, but is it to be laid down as a general principle that when, a certain industry is dislocated by whatever cause the Commonwealth is to be obliged to appropriate out- of the Consolidated Revenue a bonus to various, people employed in it?
An importing industry’s existence may depend upon the Tariff. Should it become dislocated by reason of an alteration of the Tariff, would the Commonwealth be expected to pay out of the revenue derived from Customs duties a bonus to the employees in the industry who might be thrown out of work ? That would be an utterly wrong principle .to introduce into out legislation.
– It is done by private employers.
– Yes, and it is a proper principle for private individuals to adopt, but the honorable member is asking the Committee to adopt a new principle, not that- the employer should pay a bonus tohis employees, but that the Commonwealth Government should pay out of the Consolidated Revenue - the profits derived go into Consolidated Revenue, and would need to be appropriated - a bonus to the employees of a private firm. The proper position is for the employer to pay the rate of wages prevailing in the industry as fixed by law.
– Are there not special circumstances in’ this case, seeing that these men have been thrown out of work in am industry in which the Commonwealth Government are partners?
– The fact that thesemen :are out of work does :not throw on the ‘Commonwealth Government the obligation ito pay them a bonus. It is not from lack of sympathy for the men who are out of work that I oppose the amendment. The laudable object which the honorable member seeks to achieve cannot be attained in the way he suggests. The ‘ firm to which he has referred has ceased operations because there is a dispute with the Commonwealth Government, but other firms are carrying on. The honorable member’s proposal is quite alien to the general purport of the Bill, and, if carried to a logical conclusion would mean that where the Commonwealth received profits from an undertaking not carried on by it, it would be under an obligation to pay a bonus to the workmen employed in it. The proper principle is that these men should be paid a decent living wage according to the laws of Australia.
– I regret that the Minister (Mr. Groom) takes up a hostile attitude to the amendment. If Ministers have any sympathy for the employees in the fellmongering industry they ought to show it in a practical way. It is . true that the proposal of the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) is an almost unheardof one, but it is quite in keeping with the spirit of the times. The trouble with the world is that people who are obliged to work for wages are ‘not receiving a fair share of the product of their labour. Those who take an interest in social problems are endeavouring to discover a method by which we may do away with social unrest and put an end to strikes. In this case the Government are to receive out of the profits of certain companies 50 per cent, for the first year, and 66§ per cent, for subsequent years, during which the war-time profits tax is in operation. The people who have been working in connexion with the agreement, the fellmongers, wool-scourers, and men and women who have been making wool tops, have been paid a very poor rate of wages, and have had to submit to the loss of wages when out of employment. If any one should get something as a result of the Government’s licence-fee - as it is called - or share in the profits made, these employees who have to do tha especially disagree able work of fellmongering are entitled to a war bonus. I have seen a certain branch of fellmongering described by a chairman of an industrial Court as work that no human being should be called upon to do. It is most filthy work. The employees of Messrs. Whiddon Brothers Limited and the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company Limited are mostly fellmongers and woolscourers. Why should the Government indulge in profiteering? It was a purely profiteering scheme, by which these companies were to get 6s. per lb. for their wool tops during the war as against 2s. 6d. per lb. which they were getting prior to the war.
– The honorable member, « when he was Treasurer, did the same in regard to sugar.
– The Government of the day hoped to make a profit of about £500,000 out of the sugar industry, but the honorable member will agree with me when I say that the workers in the sugar industry have far better conditions than those under which the fellmongers work. I heard an honorable member on the Ministerial side the other night say, “ The Leader of the Opposition points his finger at me as if I were responsible for the doings of the shipping -companies. I assure honorable members that the only interest I have in these companies is in respect to the dividends I draw.” Mr. Justice Higgins pointed out the other day that many shareholders in companies take no interest in the operations of the companies except in regard to the dividends earned by them. They simply ask the companies to pay their dividends into their banking accounts, and do not think of how those dividends are produced.
– That remark doe3 not apply to every one.
– I am inclined to think that it applies to some wool tops companies, who are extremely careless as to the welfare of their employees; and if it suits them to close down their works for two or three months they do so, although it means putting their employees out of work.
The agreement makes no mention of any licence-fee. It provides that the Go- ‘vernment shall take 50 per cent, of the profits, which shall be “ placed at the disposal of, the Government.” There is no reason why Parliament should not order that a proportion of the profits to be placed at the disposal of the Government shall be distributed by a Committee elected by the employees. It is understood that the Commonwealth Government is to receive £300,000 or thereabouts as a result of the partnership with Messrs. Whiddon Brothers Limited and the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company Limited. What objection can there be to paying 20 per cent, of that amount as a war bonus to the employees engaged in the industry? The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) can correct me if I am wrong in saying that many of these employees have not earned on an average £1 per week all the year round.
– Hear, hear!
– Yet the Government of a rich and wealthy Commonwealth is to take about £300,000 under its agreement with the companies, and declines to pay a war bonus to the unfortunate employees of the companies from whom it will derive this money.
The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) made mention of sugar. When pressure was brought to bear on the Government by rural representatives in this House, Ministers freely surrendered the £500,000 which was to have been made out of the sugar industry, and handed it back to the sugarcane-growers. I believe that they have also handed back a considerable portion of the profits made out of the Wheat Pool. The Government did not hand back to the rabbit-trappers the profits made out of rabbit skins. The rabbit trappers are not influential enough to bring pressure to bear on the Government. They happen to be mostly members of the Australian Workers Union, whose opinions have no weight with the Minister. As honorable members opposite understand the Industrial Workers of the World, or Bolshevism, it is a policy of killing off the rich and tak ing their property. I do not say that is Bolshevism, but it is the impression of honorable members opposite; and if we are to stop direct action and revolution, the Government, every member of Parliament and every employer will have to take a greater interest in the welfare of people who have to work for wages, and who do not know for a month ahead where their living is coming from. Although profit-sharing may not be a solution of our industrial difficulties, there will, no doubt, be a good deal of it on the part of many employers who desire to improve industrial conditions and remove the hate that is growing up between employer and employee. The Government should set an example.
– The Government treats its own employees well.
– That is not the point.
– It is the example.
– As a rule, I believe the Government tries to treat its employees in the Civil Service well, and those employees have better opportunities of bringing their case before the Government than have employees in the fellmongering institutions. If the Government are prepared to hand back to the sugar farmers £500,000, surely they ought to be prepared to hand back a portion of the profits which they hope to make out of the agreement with these two companies.
– What do you say the profits are?
– Up to. the last accounting period, prior to the trouble, the estimated profits, according to the Government, in the case of one company, were £2S0,000, which, I believe, is the sum mentioned in the writ issued by the Government.
– Would it not be well to postpone the consideration of this matter until we find we are actually going to get this money?
– The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) does not mention any total, but proposes that 20 per cent, of whatever is received shall be paid to the employees. There is a proposal that if the money is voted by the Government as a war bonus, the employees shall appoint a committee to decide how it is to be distributed. T imagine such a committee would take into consideration the skill of the various employees, the time they had been engaged, and the disagreeable nature of the work, and see that the money went in due proportions to the people who were entitled to receive a share. An effort has been made to meet the growing desire on the part of employees to have some voice in the management of the industries in which they are engaged ; and surely no exception can be taken to that. I have heard that an endeavour has been made by a mining company to induce its employees to take an interest in the company’s welfare by setting apart a portion of the shares under a trust, with the view of handing whatever- dividends they may earn over to a committee elected by the employees to decide to what purpose the money shall be applied - whether it shall all, or only a portion of it, be divided amongst the employees, the other portion being devoted to any particular service the employees may consider necessary. These shares are never sold, but remain in the hands of the trust, and the dividends are to be operated in the interests of the employees.
I am inclined to think that, in our efforts to bring about a better state of society, we shall have many of those experiments tried by companies and other employers, and there is no reason why the Government should not agree to such a policy. The view of the Leader of the Government (Mr. Groom) -that this proposition is most extraordinary, is really no reason for objecting to it, for there must be a commencement made. The honorable gentleman must’ know from his reading of history that there was a. time in Russia, not so long prior to the revolution, when a squire could say to a young woman in his employ that she must marry a particular man whom he employed on another estate, possibly many miles away, and the woman had no voice in the matter. Many extraordinary practices- might be cited as in vogue years ago. Our evolution is slow, and experiments have to- be
Mr. Biggs. , : I ! i , .’ tried, and, if of no value, abandoned; but it would be an easy matter for the Government, instead of taking the whole £300,000, to hand a portion of it to the employees. I believe the Government are even prepared to give a war bonus to the seamen on strike, who, in my opinion, are entitled to it. If that is so, employees iu various other industries, including fellmongers, wool scourers, and wool-top makers are equally entitled to consideration. Most of the employees in the industry are young women engaged at a small wage, and only intermittently. They are likely to be, and are, thrown out of work for weeks and months at a time ; and it would be a magnanimous act of grace on the part of the Government to allow a portion of the profits to be distributed as I have suggested.
.- I trust that the Minister (Mr. Groom) will give further consideration to the amendment. I do not agree with the honorable gentleman in the view that, if the proposal be carried,, then every one who makes a claim against the Customs Department, on account, of the- heavy duties, will be entitled to a rebate. The positions are quite different, and, in the first place1, for all practical purposes, the Government is the employer. The Government act in cooperation with this wool-scouring company through the Wool Board in the disposal of the wool tops. It is well known that, during the war, wool brought good prices, with the result that large profits were made ; and it is to the credit of the employees that,, though they were receiving low wages, they remained loyal to the Government and to the country. As a matter of fact, I believe- they received less wages than the general run of employees, and yet they continued their work of producing wool tops, which promises to return the Government a very large sum of money. In ‘ consequence of a dispute between the company and the Government, the company was compelled to cease making wool tops, thus throwing all these people out of employment; and the position is one that demands- attention from the Government and Parliament. Surely we- will’ not say that these people, who work for a pittance, in the face of the increased cost of living, shall he called on to suffer. We are told that they have not had much work for the last six ‘months, and, if that is so, I am surprised that the Government have not before now come to their rescue, for they certainly had a legitimate claim. If the Government are controlling the industry, and making provision for the export and sale of the wool, with a view of getting 50 per cent, of the profits, we have some responsibility for seeing that those who do the work shall at least get reasonable compensation. If they are all thrown out of employment, and can nolonger provide for their families or themselves, it is only fair that, in their hour of need, we should come to their assistance. If the Government cannot see their way to accept this particular amendment, the Minister in charge might make a statement to the effect that, in view of the services of these people to the country, they should have some share of the profits made. , However, we do not hear one word to that effect, but are told that if this concession is granted, rebates will have to be given in connexion with every business. The tendency now is to try to create a better feeling between employer and .employee, and I repeat that, for all practical purposes, the Government, in this case, is one of the employers. The Government are prepared to pocket all they can, and to fee eminent lawyers to fight their case in Court, but they are not prepared to give one penny to those who have created so much wealth. The employees have not had fair treatment. As the result of the disagreement between the Government and the companies, these people have been thrown out of employment. The Government might very well say to them, “ You shall not suffer because of the disagreement. You have rendered good service, and we shall see that you get something in return for the labour you have performed.” If the Government adopted that attitude they would set a worthy example to employers generally. I .have often heard honorable members opposite advocate the adoption of a system under which employees would participate in .the profits of their employers. Why not adopt that system in this case? The
Government- will reap big profits, and: they should set the .employers outside a good ‘example. I hope they will reconsider the whole matter. They should at least be .prepared to grant a lump sum for the relief of the distress existing among these people. In consequence of the high cost of living and the reduction of employment during the war, there are people in distress in all parts of the Commonwealth. During the war period quite a number were not fully employed. Those who were engaged in the production of wool tops were in receipt of a low wage, but they worked faithfully, and should be rewarded. If they had declined, to work without an increase of wages, some people would have found fault with them, but because thev were loyal $ and gave of the best that was in them, with the result that out. of their industry the Government have reaped large profits, they are not to be recognised in any -way. Surely that is unfair. If the Government proposed to divide £10;000 or £20,000 amongst these employees, I ‘am sure they would have the people of Australia behind them. Do the people desire that the Government should reap this enormous profit, and. at the -same time, practically :sweat those who produced it ?
– Twenty per cent, in this case would mean £56,000. .
– If the Government are not prepared to accept this amendment, . which, according to the honorable member, would involve a payment of £56,000, let them publicly express their willingness to distribute £20,000 amongst these employees as an act of grace. Ministers, however, declare that the amendment should be rejected, and, at the same time, are not ready to make any provision for the employees in the wool-tops industry.
– The honorable member does not seriously argue that because those .people are .now out of employment they are entitled to a share of .the profits made in -the industry ?
– I urged that the Government should make a grant of £20,000 to them .as an- act of grace. I believe that .the honorable member who moved the amendment (Mr. Riley.) would withdraw it if we received an undertaking ‘ that such a grant would be made. Our only desire is to see that justice is done. Our object is not to plunder the Treasury, but to induce the Government to recognise the good work done by the employees’ engaged in the wool-top industry - during the war. Fifty per cent, of the profits derived from the sale of all surplus wool by the British Government, after satisfying the requirements of the Army and Navy, are to be distributed amongst the pastoralists.
– But the pastoralists will not ?et anything like 50 per cent, of the profits derived from the sale of that surplus wool.
– Yes, 50 per cent, is to be received by the Commonwealth Government.
– Yes, and the money is to be distributed amongst the pastoralists who produced the wool. That being so, surely we should make a grant of £20,000 or £30,000 to these people to help them in their hour of need. After the lawsuit has been determined, work will probably be found for them, but in the meantime a grant such as I have suggested would be of great assistance to them. Unless the Government are prepared to publicly -announce their willingness to make such a grant, the Committee should carry this amendment. I do not say that these employees have a legal claim, but they certainly have a moral claim, on the Government. Thev have produced this wealth for the community, and just as a return is to be made to the pastoralists in respect of the profits made by the British and Imperial Governments on the sale of surplus wools, so these people should receive a grant out of the profits secured by the Government on the manufacture of wool tops.
– I should not have addressed myself to the amendment but for the belief that it is likely to occupy the whole of the time set apart for the discussion of this part of the Bill.
– The honorable member cannot discuss his own proposed amendment at this stage.
– I think the honorable member will find that I shall get in all that I want to say on the subject. I credit the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) with sincerity and good faith in his desire that 20 per cent, of the profits arising from the contract made between the Government and the two wool-combing companies in question should be allotted to the employees, who, undoubtedly, had a share in the production of that wealth. If those profits rightly belonged to the Government, there might be some good ground for_ such a claim in view of all that we hear as to the desirableness of cooperative forms of industry. I wish, however, to place before the Committee an entirely different view as to the ownership of profits. The Central Wool Committee has undertaken a great trust on behalf of the wool-growers of Australia. It operates as a Government instrumentality, inasmuch as it was constituted at the wish of the Government, and by the desire of the growers. In relation to ,the contracts which have been cited by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), the position of the Central Wool Committee is that of a trustee of the raw material - the wool - which belongs to the growers, and not to the Commonwealth. No acquisition Bill has been passed transferring from the growers to the Government the interest in that wool. The Government had authority to make certain bargains in respect of it, but in connexion with all other contracts, and particularly in the case of the contract made with the Imperial Government for the sale of our wool, the Ministry have recognised the rights of the growers. As a result of the bargain that they made, that all wool over and above that required by the Imperial authorities for Army, Navy, and nursing purposes should be sold in the ordinary way, and that the profits so derived should be shared by the two Governments, 50 per cent, of the profits derived from the sale of those surplus wools will fall back to the Pool and will be distributed amongst the growers. I cannot see how the Government can claim that they have any interest as a Government in wool, sheepskins, or anything else falling under the control of the Wool Committee. On two or three occasions they have meddled with matters that did not primarily belong to them. In the case of rabbit skins, for instance, the rabbit trappers were deprived of their honest share in the proceeds of their own toil. I did not stand for that, and never will. I also contend that the growers of the wool are entitled to whatever profits may accrue to the Government as the result of the contract made with the Colonial Com.bing, Spinning, and Weaving Company, and Whiddon Brothers Limited. The wool manufactured into wool tops under that agreement was never the property of the Commonwealth. In respect of it, the Government and the Wool Committee have undertaken a trust just as the Wheat Pool have done in regard to wheat. It might as well be said that the Government having power to make a contract with a miller for the sale of a certain variety or quality of wheat in the Pool, that the profits so secured shall fall into the hands of the Commonwealth, and should be distributed here and there.
We see in this case a very natural consequence of what, in my opinion, is State bargaining. The employers .have made’ huge profits, and the employees naturally say, “ We worked to bring about those profits, and we claim a share of them.” If those profits were the moneys of the Government, and had been secured by the efforts alone of the Government and the employees in the industry, those employed would have a legitimate claim to participate in them. My point, however, is that the wool so created was the property of the growers. The Central Wool Committee had a trust to sell it to the very best advantage. The wool-growers do not object to the scheme under which Australian manufacturers can obtain their raw material in the shape of wool at a special rate. After appraisement has taken place, these manufacturers can obtain any clip they please at the first appraised price. They do not have to pay on the same basis that those on the other side have to pay for the wool. To that extent the wool-growers have never raised any objection; but I certainly do object to two phases of this contract in relation to the manufacture of .wool tops. I object, first of all, to the wool-growers being deprived of the profits from the wool forming part of the basis of the contract with the two companies concerned. Any profit arising out of that contract, and secured by the Government, is the property of the growers; the agreed upon profits must pass back to the Wool Pool, and thence to the owners of the wool.
I also think that there is a very questionable matter of policy involved in this contract. A principle of law is vitiated. The Government have entered into a contract with a firm to produce wool tops.
– I rise to a point of order. The “honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) is discussing the amendment which he has placed on the notice-paper, and not the amendment which is now before the Chair. The amendment proposed by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) is that 20 per cent, of allprofits received by the Government shall be distributed amongst the employees. If the amendment of the honorable member for Wannon is carried, no profits will be received bv the Government, and there will be nothing to distribute amongst the employees. I submit that the honorable member ought to confine himself to the amendment moved by the honorable member for South Sydney.
– To some extent the amendment before the Chair and that standing on the notice-paper in the name of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) are inter-related. The amendment before the Chair proposes the distribution of certain profits amongst the employees in the wool top manufacturing industry. The honorable member for Wannon was certainly discussing his own amendment, which provides for a return to the growers of the profits of manufacture. The two matters are distinct, and 1 ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the amendment moved by the honorable member for South Sydney.
-.- -I was only concerning myself with the disposition of the moneys arising from the contract. That, I think, is the essence of the amendment before the Chair.
– How does the honorable member argue that the growers, who get a profit out of the producing industry, have a right, also, to enter the manufacturing industry and take the profits arising from it?
– The honorable member ought to rope in the hosiery factories and tweed mills, also.
– Here is a property of the grower that has been sold to the top manufacturer on special conditions. The latter has no right to part with the property in that commodity unless it be for export to the final user of it. The profits do certainly not belong to the Government. It was questionable policy for the Government to make a contract, one of the objects of which was to circumvent an Act of Parliament, namely, that if the wool top manufacturing companies would share their profits with the Government, they would get immunity from the war-time profits tax. No bargain made by the Executive should hold any person immune from a tax which Parliament might impose upon all persons in the community. I desire to impress upon the Government that the wool belonged to the growers, and that any share of profits derived from the manufacturing process belong to the growers, and not to the Government.
.- I hope that the amendment willbe carried. The people engaged in the wool tops industry have, at least, given an added value to the wool which they have handled. The honorable, member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) urged that any profits made in manufacture should be handed back to the original producer. He might as well say that any profits made in the clothing or hosiery factories must be paid back to the growers, who to-day are receiving a price three times as great as that paid for wool in 1910, which was a normal prewar year.From that year onward, the price of wool was gradually increasing.
– It has risen only 55 per cent, since the war.
– Prices were rising before the war. It is well known that wool was being insured against war risks from 1910 onwards.
– Very few persons insured against war risks before the war ; I never did.
– The amendment seeks to do what Government supporters profess to be in favour of. We have heard a suggestion that in order to cope with the industrial unrest, the enormous profits made by manufacturers should be shared with the employees. I read in the press that the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) had stated thathis firm had inaugurated a policy of profitsharing. I think the Government have made a greater profit out of the wool tops contract than the £286,000 which is the subject of a lawsuit at the present time. I believe they have already collected their share of the profits made by Whiddon Brothers and. some fromF. W. Hughes Limited. The honorable member for Wannon desires that the whole of the profits be handed over to people who have done nothing at all to give an added value to the wool. The persons engaged in the wool -top industry have created the added value. If the wool had been sent overseas, the growers would not have been able to claim a penny of it; but because it was partly manufactured locally we hear a request that the whole ofthe profits shallbe handed back to the primary producer. I hope the honorable member for Wannon will move his own amendment later, because it will afford me an opportunity to urge that the profits made out of rabbit skins shall be repaid to the trappers. The amendment now before theChair affords honorable members an unequalled opportunity of showing their belief in profit-sharing. Honorable members may argue that the employees in the wool-top manufacturing industry are paid Wages Board rates, and have no claimto anything further; but owing to the lawsuit between the Government and the manufacturers, those employees have been out of work for a long time. As theGovernment have handed back to the Wheat Pool the whole of the profits made from cornsacks, they will be doing only the right thing if they hand back to the employees engaged in thewool-top industry 20 per cent, of the Commonwealth’s share of the profits from that industry.
– Many members on the Government side are entirely in sympathy with the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) and the honorablemember for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), Throughout the world, efforts are being made to solve the problem, of undue profits, aud to insure that the employees obtain for their labour a fair and just reward. I believe in the profit-sharing system, which I am convinced will be one of the means of allaying industrial unrest. Looking, however, at the . objects of the Bill, and having regard to the fact that the money in dispute has been already paid into the Commonwealth revenue, I think that this is not the occasion to deal with such, a proposal as is contained in the amendment.
– The old excuse - the time is not ripe.
– What we have to consider is whether by this means we can. achieve what is desired. At first sight, I was inclined to agree with the amendment. On any broad issue of profitsharing, I shall go as far as the Leader of the Opposition or any other member desires to go. In regard to the contention of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that after thegrower has parted with his wool to any manufacturer, he has no right to claim any profit that results from manufacture. If that principle were allowed to creep in, imagine the chaos that would result through the original producer endeavouring to secure some of the subsequent profit. The farmer sells his wheat to the miller, and the latter makes a certain profit on his flour. Is it proposed to compulsorily distribute portion of that profit among the employees in the flourmilling industry and another portion to the wheat-growers? However, I wish to make myself clear as to the matter of profit-sharing. In view of the fact that we hav.e to get through the Bill in a limited time, I shall not imitate the honorable member for Capricornia, who gave his ideas in regard to profit-sharing. I confine myself to stating that it is a subject to which I have given a good deal: of. thought, but I do not think that the principle can be- conveniently introducedin a Bill designed with the special purpose of this Bill. However, oppor tunity should be given to honorable members to discuss the matter of profitsharing, and the suggestion put forward by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) could very well receive the consideration of the Government, so that they may show their bona fides in regard to the settlement of a very big principle.
– The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell) is in favour of the principle of the amendment, but I suppose party government ‘is against his giving effect to that which, on any other occasion, he would indorse. I am surprised at the reply given by the Minister (Mr. Groom), that the adoption of the amendment would mean the granting of a principle which could not be regarded as compatible with good government. The workers in this industry are, to all intents and purposes, employees of the Commonwealth Government. It must be admitted that they have contributed to the making of the profit which the Government will share. Consequently, they are also entitled to a share of that profit. Twenty per cent of the £2S0,000 which the Government expect to receive from the wool tops contracts would amount to £60,000. If the amount were £50 or £100 I suppose many honorable members would have no hesitation in accepting the principle that the workers engaged in producing the profit should share in it, but the sum of £60,000 would appear to. them to be too much to distribute among a limited number of workers. I would point out, however, that these employees have been out of work for a considerable time. The Commonwealth and State Governments have paid large sums of money out of the Consolidated Revenue to relieve distress among the unemployed. In my opinion, money derived by way of taxation should be devoted to administration only, and the relief of distress among unemployed should be provided for out of the accumulated profits of industry. . An employer who has made £400,000 excess profit over a given period should be charged with the responsibility of maintaining his employees if certain circumstances should arise demanding the cessation of his operations. The- responsibility should not fall on the whole community. The claim is set up that the adoption of this amendment would create a precedent. Revolutions which are now, in progress in various parts of the world have come about through the acquisitiveness of employers in trying to make huge profits and drag their employees down to the very lowest depths of degradation. On the other hand, in Australia, since the signing of Peace, many big firms, who made excessive profits during the war, but were afraid to give increased wages to their employees because by doing so they would establish a precedent or create trouble among employees in other establishments, looked upon the declaration of Peace as an opportunity for giving to their employees bonuses and other considerations which they would not dream of giving at other times. The Commonwealth Bank, which’ made large profits during the war, has given its employees a bonus. The British-Australian Tobacco Trust gives exceptional conditions to its employees. A man who has served two years in the factory is granted a certain number of shares; he is given other conditions that do not obtain in the ordinary sphere of life. For the payment of 2s. 6d. for every £100 advanced he can get a house.
– Do the profiteers do all these things?
– Yes ; they realize they must do something of the kind to stave off the industrial revolution which is menacing them if they do not do so. The only objection I have to the BritishAustralian Tobacco Trust is that, notwithstanding these concessions, to their employees, they are still piling up huge profits. Many firms in Sydney have given Peace bonuses to their employees. The British Government, realizing the industrial unrest confronting them, have put forward a proposal to give die employees control of industries. They con-, templated taking over certain shipbuilding yards in the north.
– The unions refused the offer.
– The Government suggested it, but I understand that the unions refused to take this concession; and I know their reasons, just as I suppose the honorable member does, because he was connected with the industrial movement prior to coming to this Parliament, and must appreciate why the time is not opportune for the workers to take control. As I have often said, we might as well put the engines of the Mauretania. into a North Shore ferry boat - the hull is not there to hold the machinery. So it is with the workers, until such time as we are educated to take control. As a collectivist, I believe in the Government controlling industries and selecting the executive; but the workers are entitled to the full product of their labour, and in this the Government should give a lead to private companies and employers. For instance, the Government might say, “ Under the circumstances, we cannot give you 20 per cent, of this huge accumulation, but we can say that out of all profits in the future the workers shall have that percentage.”
– They might say that if Mr. F. W. Hughes shared his profits with the employees the Government would do the same with their 50 per cent, share.
– Of course, the argument of the honorable member earlier in the evening may appear all right, but from an economic point of view it is absolutely valueless, because the farmer or producer, when he has sold his wool, has completed his part of the bargain, and has no further interest in it. It might as well be contended that the man who sells the grass-seeds to grow the herbage for the sheep should be entitled to a share of the surplus profits from the wool. During the process of manufacture the profits belong to the individual engaged in the manufacture.
– Where does the Government come in? ,
– The Government stands in the position of supervisor or employer; and all the revenue the Government derives should be from the ordinary channels of taxation. The Minister should give the amendment favorable consideration, for there is nothing in it to which objection can be taken. As I have pointed out, every big employer in
Australia who has made profits during the war has given his employees bonuses, or some other consideration in return for services rendered.
– In Australia - every one?
– Practically every one. Messrs. Parmer, David Jones and Company, and other retailers and wholesalers in New South Wales, along, I believe, with most of the manufacturers, have done this; even the shipping fraternity have given their staffs bonuses at the end of the year.
– It is conscience money!
– They have made such huge profits that they do not know how to -get rid of them, and sooner than pay in taxation they give bonuses to their employees. In the case of the wharf labourers the employers, of course, could not give anything to trade unionists, but in New South Wales the so-called loyalists have been provided with clubs, billiard-rooms, and other advantages to make life cheerful for them. There is a pool among the ship-owners, and if an arbitration award would be £4 per week, if paid, they pay the men £3 12s. 6d., and the difference goes to provide the comforts I have mentioned. I do not say that that is a good precedent to follow, but I do not see why the Government, with this huge sum of money, should not do something. No one will deny that the workers have contributed to the earning of this money; and, as already pointed out, they have not averaged £1 per week during the last twelve months owing to the trouble between the Government and the company. At least a portion of this money should be given to them, and then a clause should be inserted in any future contracts that on all profits they, shall .receive 20 per cent.
– I submit, as a point of order, that the amendment does not come within the scope, of the Bill. We were told by the Minister (Mr. Groom), in introducing the Bill, that it was based on our defence powers - that there is no power to create, but only to continue and complete existing contracts. That has been laid down by the Minister very definitely, and, if it be so, this Committee is not com- petent to introduce any new principle regulating the operation of this industry or these pools. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that it is competent for the Committee to ‘direct the appropriation of these moneys in a certain way, we are told by the Government that the moneys are public revenues.
– Not so.
– It is distinctly so. These moneys are paid into the Consolidated Revenue, and if an appropriation of money is meant, that can only be made on a preceding message from the Governor-General. Otherwise this direction is a mere blank, inoperative even if it were competent for the Committee to make the direction. There would have to be introduced another Bill to appropriate this revenue for the purpose indicated in the amendment. I maintain that the amendment is out of order.
– I feel, Mr. Atkinson, that you are very likely to rule against the point of order raised, so I shall not take up a great deal of time. If, however, you have any doubt about the matter, I point out that this industry is one of the commercial activities carried on by the Commonwealth in time of war. The profits which are under discussion are not revenue yet, and, according to the’ agreement, the Government may not make them revenue, because it states that 50 per cent, of the profits shall be held at the disposal of ,the Government. The Government could, if they chose, give the money away in charity, or distribute it in the way that has been proposed.
– I do not feel disposed to sustain, this point of order. Tacitly, at least, the Chairman has allowed the amendment to stand, and only occupying the chair temporarily, I do not care to alter that decision. Personally, however, I do not think the point of order is sound.
.- The discussion is a very valuable one, in that it enables members of the Opposition to express their faith in profit sharing and some form of co-operation as a cure for the industrial unrest in Australia; and the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) is to-be congratulated on having initiated this debate. This is not the time to discuss generally the principles of co-operation, in which I am a firm believer, because I think they will prove the solution of many of our industrial troubles. I know that exception is taken to the argument of the honorable member for “Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) for the reason that the article when it reaches the works of Mr. E. “W. Hughes has passed beyond the con-‘ trol of the grower. It has been sold to the wool-scouring firm, so that the grower has no further interest in it. It is suggested as a precedent that, because it is sold to the manufacturer to be worked into cloth, the grower should get the benefit of the profits on the cloth. But the two things are quite distinct; the wool tops are wholly exported from Australia, and the Government receive onehalf of the profits on the surplus wool sold by the Imperial Government. Just in the same way as wheat is sold to the local manufacturer generally at a lower price than could be got abroad, because it is to our own people and for local consumption, so we have allowed wool to be sold to the local manufacturer. As the whole of the wool tops are exported, then, consistently, half of the profits should come back to the grower.
As a believer in co-operation and profitsharing I see something in the argument that the employee’s should participate in the profits to the extent of the. added value, they have given to the wool. As I understand it, wool-top making is a glorified system of wool-scouring.
– I am given to understand that wool-top making is the first stage of the manufacture of wool, and, therefore, some added value has been given by the employees. It will not be disputed, that wool when it is sent abroad is in a partly manufactured condition) and brings a higher price than if it were sent away in the grease. If the Committee is sincere, it will decide that the employees in this industry are entitled to a percentage of the added value given to the wool by the process of partial manufacture. We should carry the amendment of which notice has beengiven by the honorable member for Wan- . non (Mr. Rodgers), providing that onehalf of the profits derived by the Government shall be handed back to the growers, and decide also that a fair proportion of it shall go, in the form of a bonus, to the employees. The employees might not be entitled to more than 10 per cent, of the whole; but, to’ show my sincerity, I am quite prepared to avail- myself of this opportunity to introduce the system of profit sharing, lit would mean profit sharing on only a small scale in this case, but it would do justice to the growers and also to the employees, who have given to the wool an added value in the - process of manufacture.
.- -Like the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Wallace), I am not satisfied with the reply made by the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) to our proposal. If the honorable gentleman has any doubts on the subject, why should he not call a meeting of the Board of legal men who have certified as to the power of the Parliament to pass the Bill as introduced?’ The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has asserted that the Bill will be declared invalid.
– No. He is inclined to believe that its validity will be upheld.
– In expressing his opinion with regard to it, ,he certainly -used the word “fraud,” a.nd suggested that the Advisory Board had given its decision as to tlie competency of the Parliament to pass this Bill just as many other decisions had been given in regard to the power of the Government to enter upon certain commercial activities. The amendment is just and equitable. I should like to have seen it so extended as to provide that the whole of the profits accruing to the Government out of the contract made with the Colonial Weav-ing, Combing, and Spinning Company should go to the employees in the industry. 11’he pastoralists to-day are making* a very good thing out of their wool. Before the war the flat rate for wool in
Australia was 9d. per lb. To-day it is 15d. per lb., and, in addition, the growers receive 50 per cent, of any profits made in the open markets of the world.
– Before the war we got 10d. per lb. for our wool. The actual rise is 55 per cent.
– So that, as a result of the war, the wool-growers of Australia secured a great increase in their returns, while the employees in the fellmongering industry obtained no increase in wages, and are not to participate in these profits.
– If the profits accruing to the Government fell back to the Wool Pool for distribution amongst the growers, I do not think the growers would object to a bonus being paid to the employees in the wool top industry.
– I take the view that the wool used in the manufacture of wool tops passed out of the control of the Wool Pool, and became the property of those engaged in the secondary industry.
– That is not admitted.
– I know that it is not. As the honorable member forCapricornia (Mr. Higgs) has said, the fellmongering trade is one of the most disagreeable that any man could follow. As the result of the efforts of those engaged in it, the Commonwealth has reaped a profit of £282,000. It has made this profit out of the fellmongering and wooltop industries.
– No; out of the woolgrowers.
– The greater part of the wool used in the manufacture of wool tops is taken from skins.
– Only a very small portion of the profit of £282,000 represents the value added to the wool by either the fellmongering or wool-top industry.
– I am not in a position to contest that point ; but my contention is that when the Wool Board sold this’ wool, it passed out of its hands for all time. Notwithstanding that the pastoral- ists are getting a flat rate of 15½d. per lb. for the wool, against10d. per lb. received before the war, they are anxious to secure these profits made by the Commonwealth. We were told at the outset of the war that wealth must make sacrifices. The Wool Committee was created to pool the wool, and get the best price for it.
– The growers have only obtained the market price.
– And that, during the war, was 15½d. per lb. in Australia, and 50 per cent, of any profit made in the open markets of the world. The woolgrowers did not get anything like such a return in any four years before the war. Instead of making any sacrifices, they have made enormous, if not fabulous, profits.
– Not at all.
– According to a report of the Inter-State Commission, the woolgrowers of Australia received £2,250,000 more for their wool in 1915 than they did in 1913, notwithstanding that there was a reduction of 5,000,000 lbs. in the 1916 clip. What sacrifice, then, have the growers made in the cause of the Empire?
– The whole of the people of Australia have shared in that profit.
– That point is arguable.
– My statement is correct.
– The honorable member will admit that the wealth of the wealthy is reflected in the bank balances of the community as a whole. The deposits in the banks of issue in Australia in 1918 showed an increase of £94,664,673 as compared with the figures for 1913. There we have the aggregate wealth of those who, instead of making great sacrifices for the Empire during the war period, reaped enormously increased profits. I have quoted these figures from statistics supplied by Mr. Knibbs.
– They show the increased prosperity of the people of Australia as a whole.
– The Wool Pool has no claim on this profit of £282,000. This is a war measure designed to prevent our primary producers from suffering. It is not my desire that they should suffer; butI claim that the workers, by their efforts, enabled the Commonwealth to reap this profit of £282,000. and that they are entitled to participate in it.
Surely the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) will give them some little credit, i The men and women in the wool-tops industry during the war yielded to’ the appeal made to them to disregard union rates of pay and conditions of labour. and to keep the wheels of industry going for the sake of the Empire.
– They did very well.
– They produced this enormous profit for the Commonwealth, and yet the industry is one of the worst paid in New South Wales. Owing to a disagreement between the Government and one of the wool-top companies, the workers in tha industry are out of employment, and have been for some time. We now say that the profit derived by the Government should be distributed amongst them; but the wool-growers, who have done so well, would deny them even this little consideration. We have a fair claim, and it is one to which the Government must give heed. The sale of corn-, sacks was controlled in the interests of the farmers, and was there any suggestion that the profit of £100,000 should be returned to the bagmakers in Calcutta? No; it has been given to the farmer without a word ‘of objection from any one. That was quite right. But when a profit of £250,000 was made out of rabbit skins, it was not returned to the trappers. Do not honorable members see the class distinction in those two instances? The amendment before the Chair is a plea for the worker, who has given of his best to the industry, and if honorable members cannot regard this claim other than with a distorted vision, they need not wonder if we have Bolshevism in the country. The farmers have not done so badly during the war. Never in their history bave they had such a good, steady price as they obtained during the war period, and the Wheat Pool has protected them from the cormorants who would have preyed upon them.j. The proposal that the profits earned by the Government on the wooltops contract should be. distributed amongst the employees is equitable.
– The profit on cornsacks was largely due to the fact that the farmers were overcharged for their bags.
– Is the honorable member aware that the workers in the fellmongering industry are poorly fed and clothed owing to the fact that they have been robbed by the profiteers ? If the farmers have been overcharged, they are the victims of their own class and kind - the men whom they have returned to Parliament. In the South Australian Parliament, and in this Parliament also, to some extent, the farming interests are represented by those persons who “farm” them either legally or commercially. If the Minister (Mr. Groom) wishes to do a fair thing he will accept the amendment, or approve of the spirit of it, and indicate to the Committee in what way he will be prepared to hand back to the workers in the wooltops industry the whole of the profits in the same way as the profits on cornsacks were handed back to the farmers.
– If the amendment were a genuine proposal to divide amongst the employees some of the profits made in the wool-top manufacturing industry, the issue would be simple. A very good case could be made out for sustenance to be paid to those employees so long as the Government insist upon the industry being closed down, thus depriving them of–’ employment.
– Charity again.
– It is not charity. If the Government believe that the closing down of these works is essential for the carrying out of the agreement with the companies, they ought to. provide for the men whom they have turned out of employment; and if a proposal to that effect were made it would have a reasonable prospect of success. Listening to the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) one becomes a little confused regarding the issue before the Committee. The analogies he drew contradicted one another, and there wa6 a failure on his part to understand what the so-called profits of the Government in this scheme were. If . the’ formula adopted by the Central Committee is accurate,- not a half.penny of the money received by the Government belongs to the workers. The endeavour of the Central Wool Committee has been to deprive Mr. E. W. Hughes of the advantage he enjoys by being able to buy wool at the Australian price and sell the manufactured article in. a foreign market at the world’s price. There is some ground for the contention of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) that this money belongs to the producer of the wool. I’ would have been better pleased if the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), when Treasurer, had reached out . for the whole of the difference between the pre-war price of wool and the price secured by the industry during the war. If that had been done, our financial burdens might have been considerably eased without the pastoral industry being placed in a worse position than it was in when the war started. I am not able to vote for the amendment, but I will strongly support any proposal that the Government should in some way remedy the injustice done to the workers, who have been improperly and unnecessarily deprived of their means of livelihood.
– From both sides of the Committee a request has been made that consideration should be given to the employees in the wool-tops industry, and if the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) cannot accept the amendment, it is competent for him to promise, on behalf of. the Government, that the employees will participate in any profits that are . paid into the Commonwealth coffers. It is quite true that many large employers, pricked perhaps by conscience, have been almost forced to pay out to their employees some of the large profits made in war time. In New Zealand, every Budget introduced since the war commenced has provided for an amount of nearly half-a-million pounds to be distributed amongst State employees for services rendered during war-time. As the Government are participants in the profits made in the wool-tops industry, they are of necessity partners in the industry, and it is their duty to share some of those profits with their employees. 1 cannot agree with the contention that portion of the profits should go back to the wool-grower. He is now receiving a splendid price for his wool, and I have not heard one pastoralist in this or any other State express dissatisfaction with the price received for either greasy or scoured wool. It must be remembered that over and above the splendid flat rate paid for greasy wool, much of the scoured wool has been sold to local manuf acturers at prices up to 42d. per lb. Other wool is sold at prices ranging from 70d. to 10Od. per lb. on the other side of the world, and 50 per cent, of all profits made by the Imperial Government on the re-sale of wool is returned to the Australian growers. Why should they now seek to grab some of the money that ought more properly to be paid to those engaged in the fellmongering industry! If the amendment is not appropriate to the Bill, the. sense of the Committee is favorable to the payment of a bonus, or some other monetary recognition to the employees in the wool-tops industry.
.- I admit -that the wool-grower has no further claim upon wool sold to local manufacturers, but this distinct contract was entered into with a condition that the Central Wool Committee, as trustee for the growers, retained the right to from 50 to 664 per cent, of all profits made on the sale of 1 wool tops abroad. If the wool had not been supplied to local manufacturers, it would have been shipped abroad, and the grower would then have received without question 50 per cent, of the profits on re-sale. I do not contend that the grower has the right to follow his raw material into the secondary industry, and ask for the profits made from manufacture. This is a contract in which the Central Wool Committee specifically retains half the profits under a special contract.
– Order! The time allowed for the debate on the clauses of the Bill has expired.
Question - That the proposed new sub-clause be added to the clause (Mr. Riley’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . .’ 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
Amen dm ent negatived.
Question - That clause 6 and the remaining clauses of the Billbe agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
This afternoon, the Housedecided the business for to-morrow, that is, the Commercial Activities Bill, which is on the notice-paper for Government business. After that is dealt with, progress will be made with the Moratorium Bill, an important measure, which must be passed by Friday.
– That is right! “ Gag” it through also.
– The Government do not “gag.” They work to a reasonable time-table. After the Moratorium Bill is disposed of, the Institute of Science and Industries Bill will be taken.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.14 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 July 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1919/19190730_reps_7_88/>.