7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Minister for Home and Territories state whether it is intended to permit the State Governments to allocate war trophies? If it is, will he consider the advisableness of the Commonwealth Government supervising the distribution and providing that the trophies shall go to the districts from which the majority of the soldiers in the units which captured them enlisted?
– The Committee appointed to deal with the distribution of war trophies sat for several hours yesterday, and laid down the general principles upon which the distribution is to be made. The proposal is to have a Central War Museum, in which will be placed types of all the trophies captured. The remaining trophies will be distributed among the States, with due regard to the particular units by which the captures were made.
– Will the trophies be distributed by the State Governments?
– The State Governments will be communicated with on the subject.
– What have they to do with it? This is a Commonwealth affair.
– I expect within the next week to communicate with the State Governments upon the subject, and hope to secure their assistance in distributing throughlocally-formed Committees the trophies that ought rightly to go to each State.
– The State Governments have nothing to do with the matter.
– They cannot be ignored. We should secure their cooperation in the distribution.
– They will confine the trophies to the State capitals and ignore the country districts.
– In due course, the principles upon which the distribution is to be made will be published. Allocations will be made to the States on certain defined principles, and we shall ask their co-operation so as to make sure that towns and districts entitled to receive trophies will not be overlooked. The matter will not be left entirely in the hands of the States.
– Will the Minister for Home and Territories take steps to secure the representation of all the States on the Committee dealing with the allocation of wartrophies?
– The Committee was not formed upon the basis of the representation of all the States. Invitations were sent to gentlemen with special qualifications resident in other States to join the Committee, but they could not all do so, since it would be impossible for them to come over here on every occasion that the Committee meets. The members of the Committee do not come only from Victoria; but every State has not been asked to send a representative.
– In view of the many requests received by honorable members from various country towns anxious to secure war trophies, will the Minister for Home and Territories inform the House what method of allocation is to be adopted, and how we shall be able to acquire captured guns and other war trophies for the towns which sent the greatest number of troops to the Front?
– Some hundreds of requests for trophies have been received from towns in various parts of Australia. These havebeen recorded, and will be considered in making the apportionment. We shall ask each State Government to assist in making the allocations within their own boundaries. A general scheme is now being drawn up. As I have already stated, the Committee devoted three or four hours to the work yesterday, and will resume its sittings next Tuesday. I hope then to be in a position to tell the House exactly what the scheme is. The fact that the Commonwealth is primarily concerned in the matter will be borne in mind.
– Will the Minister for Home and Territories state whether the allocationof war trophies will be made on the basis of the number of soldiers who went from each electorate according to their voting strength as shown at the last general election?
– I cannot promise that. Our chief concern must be the good work done by the men. If certain guns were captured by units coming from a particular State that fact must be considered in making the allocation.
– With the object of insuring a just distribution of the war trophies over and above those required for the Central War Museum, will the Minister for Heme and Territories ask for the appointment of a Committee of this House to assist him, having regard to the fact that the Defence Department is the only authority in Australia that knows where the troops making these captures were raised, and that members of this House are thoroughly qualified to consider the question of the proper distribution of such trophies.
– I shall take the honorable member’s suggestion into consideration. I should be pleased to have the help of honorable members, but it may not be necessary to seek it. The matter at present is being dealt with by a Committee, among the members of which , are three Ministers of the Crown and General White. I hope also to have the assistance of Captain Bean as a member of that Committee. Other representatives may be appointed, but the expert knowledge required in making the distribution can readily be obtained from those who have been at the Front.
– Why not have one representative from each State on the Committee ?
-I do not think that is absolutely necessary, but I shall consider the suggestion.
– With reference to an apparently inspired statement published yesterday that the three principal positions in the post-war army of Australia were to be given to certain gentlemen, will the Assistant Minister for Defence give the House an assurance that the principal positions in our post-war army will be offered to the officers who have given the best service to Australia at the war, irrespective of whether or not they were previously members of the permanent staff?
– I do not think there need be any hesitation in giving that assurance.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral say when the telephone extensions and other works already approved by his Department, but now being held up for want of funds, are likely to be proceeded with?
– I have already stated that the necessary material is being procured as quickly as possible. When that material is available there will be no delay in proceeding with the works.
– In view of the importance of developing our rural districts, I should like to have from the Postmaster-General a statement as to the policy of his Department with regard to the extension of telephone and other facilities in such districts.
– The policy of the Postmaster-General depends upon the liberality of the Treasurer.
– Will the Minister in charge of the House bring under the notice of the Treasurer at the earliest opportunity the Postmaster-General’s reply to my request for the extension of telephone and other facilities in country districts ?
– I will. As a matter of fact, the Treasurer and the PostmasterGeneral are heartily co-operating to do everything possible in the interests of Australia as a whole.
– Will the Minister in charge of the. Government state whether Mr. M. Sheldon, of Dalton & Company, merchants, Sydney, has been appointed to succeed Mr. H. Y. Braddon, of Dalgety & Company, as the representative of Australia in America ? If such an appointment has been made, will the Government instruct that gentleman that Australia does not require any gimcrack notions from America, and that, after the next general election, there will be in office a Labour Government, whose policy will be to make Australia self-contained ?
– The honorable gentleman, in asking this question, purports to give information to the House. His statement as to the possible return of a Labour Government, however, is so unthinkable that I need not make any further reply to his inquiry.
– Is the Minister in charge of the House in a position to make a pronouncement as to the policy of, and the action to be taken by, the Government in regard to the seamen’s revolt against the authority of the Government and the laws of the country for the protection of industry and commerce, and the preservation of the lives of the people ?
– The honorable member desires to know what is the present position in regard to the dispute?
– No. I want to know the policy of the Government.
– The honorable member has already seen the announcement of policy made by us. Last evening communications were received indicating the attitude taken up by the seamen in the several States. These will receive the immediate attention of the Government, with a view to a reconsideration of the position.
– Will the Minister for
Home and Territories state what steps, if any, have been taken to secure building plans for the construction of a Parliament House at the Federal Capital ?
– Competitive designs were invited, but when the war broke out the competition was postponed. I hope that it will soon be re-opened. A general statement as to the policy of the Government in regard to the continuation of construction works at the Federal Capital will be made in due course.
– Will the Minister for Home and Territories state what progress has been made towards securing, in the interests of economy, uniform rolls of State and Federal electors.
– Not quite as much as one would wish; but I hope that some of the States will join in the principle of uniformity determined by the electoral measure which was passed by the Federal Parliament. All the States have been communicated with. I think the Victorian Government intend to introduce a Bill for the adoption of the principle.
– There has been such a principle operating in Tasmania for nearly ten years.
– Yes, and it is working splendidly. I have had a rough estimate made respecting economies which should be possible by bringing about uniformity, and it is considered that the saving would amount to about £45,000 a year, the greater part of which would be a saving to the States.
Canteen Funds: War Service Gratuity: Imprisonment in Long Bay Gaol : Preservation of Electoral Enrolments.
– Will the Assistant Minister for Defence have prepared a statement showing the manner and method of the distribution of the Canteen &c., Regimental Trust Funds of the Australian Imperial Force, and then make, to this House, an announcement covering its operations ?
asked the Acting Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether the Government intend to make a cash payment to members of the Australian Imperial Force as a war service gratuity on similar lines to the cash gratuities paid to Imperial and Canadian troops?
– The whole question is at present under consideration.
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Mr.FINLAYSON asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
I may say that we have no notice of any cases at all. Of course, there may be some of which we are not aware.
Costof Serge for Uniforms
asked the Acting Min ister for the Navy, upon notice -
Why are the Jack tars in the ships of the Australian Navy charged for serge, used to make their clothes, double the price which was charged for the same material prior to the return of such war ships from active service?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The issuing price of serge during 1914 was 4s.6d. per yard, during 1915, 5s. 8d. per yard, and at present is 7s. 5d. per yard
The serge supplied during 1914 was obtained from England, having been purchased under Admiralty contracts.
The serge issued at the present time is locally manufactured, being obtained from the Commonwealth Woollen Mills, and therefore the issuing price must be higher as the article has cost more.
asked the Assistant
Minister for Defence, upon notice -
If it is the intention of the Government to allow area and other officers engaged in military training during the war, and who volunteered for active service and were refused on the ground that their services could not be spared, to sit for examination for appointments for home service?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
At the commencement of the war certain area and other officers were debarred from proceeding on active service, but in 1917 and 1918 this embargo was lifted, and it was possible for any of the officers concerned, who were of military age and medically fit, to enlist and proceed on active service.
It wasnot possible to allow them to proceed abroad in 1917 and 1918 with the rank they held in Australia, and for that reason many did not go, though they offered to go with their existing rank.
It was possible for them to sink their rank and enlist, though this was not pressed by the Department.
It is not known what examination for appointments for home service is referred to, but in the case of area officers and appointments to the Instructional Staff, preference is given to returned officers and soldiers in accordance with the Government policy. If sufficient capable returned officers or soldiers do not offer for examination then the next to receive preference will be those who were debarred from proceeding abroad in the early part of the war.
Eligibility for appointment to commissioned rank in the Citizen Forces is governed by Section11a of the Defence Act.
asked the Leader of the House, uponnotice -
Is it a fact that the Australian press, particularly that of Melbourne, is belittling all representative bodies; if so, does the Minister not think that this course is making for the destruction of responsible government, and does he not think that the press might be warned of the result of its attitude, which, it is alleged, differs so remarkably from that now being maintained by the press in all other countries where responsible government is established?
– It is a matter of opinion. I share the views of the honorable member, but do not think any good would result from adopting the course he suggests.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether it is not possible to so control booking of passengers for transportation to Australia from Europe that citizens of the Commonwealth who, in many cases, are stranded in Europe through the collapse of shipping facilities, may be givenpreference in booking passages ?
– Passenger steamers proceeding from the United Kingdom to Australia are not under Commonwealth Government control.
Attitude of Timber and Brick Combines
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Commissioner supplies the following information : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The contracts include erection of silos at the following stations, and work is at various stages of progress at most of them: -
At the terminal elevator, Glebe Island, Sydney, where 143 silos are to be built, the work is well advanced. In a week’s time, the bin walls of forty-five of these silos will be completed to the full height of 108 feet.
In Victoria, plans and specifications are ready for inviting tenders for the construction of terminal elevators at Williamstown and Geelong.
In the other States, no progress has yet been made.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Mr. GROOM (for Mr. Greene).Figures relating to the recent export of leather are being obtained. The position is that no leather is permitted to be exported unless the Commonwealth leather expert certifies to the Collector of Customs in the State concerned that the leather which it is desired to export has been offered at current rates to, and declined by, local manufacturers who use the class of leather concerned.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
When I moved for leave to introduce this measure I gave a general outline of its purport and effect. Its object is to embody in the form of a law, and to give the force of law to, the existing regulations operating with respect to the general moratorium and the active service moratorium. There are extant two moratorium War Precautions regulations. One deals with the general subject of mortgagor and mortgagee, and is operated in order to postpone the calling in of general mortgages which come within the terms of the regulation. The other has given protection to members of the Australian Imperial Force and their dependants in connexion with mortgages. It has afforded protection in the matter of issue of distress warrants under bills of sale, as well as from the processes of the
Court in respect of execution; and, further, in regard to preventing increases of rentals. These regulations purport .to operate for a period which might extend beyond the operation of the War Precautions Act - as that Statute has been extended; .and, therefore, it is necessary to give parliamentary sanction to the extension of the two sets of regulations, in order to accord protection up to the dates specified. The Bill provides nothing more than a continuance of the existing regulations.
Dealing, first, with the general moratorium regulation, the intention to make such a regulation was announced in Parliament in September, 1916, by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who said it was intended to give protection by way of a moratorium. That principle was embodied in regulations framed in November of that year. When those regulations took effect, the mortgages to which the regulations applied could not be called in except by leave of the Court; and application had to be made to the. Court, whereupon it had power to decide whether or not the mortgagee possessed a reasonable claim to call the mortgage up. That measure was obviously in- tended to be of a temporary character, and it was framed in the public interest in order to prevent undue distress. Rates of interest were increasing. It was desired to prevent unreasonable charges of interest rates; and, when money was required for public borrowing purposes, it was necessary that there should not be a calling up of mortgages to the detriment of loans. When hostilities ceased, in November last, it became necessary, seeing that the war was practically over, and that the War Precautions Act was coming to a conclusion, to determine the date on which this moratorium should cease. The Government realized that if they permitted all mortgages to be called up on the one date it might cause considerable trouble and hardship, and, therefore, a regulation was issued on 4th June, 1919, providing a sliding scale; that is to say, the regulation extends the periods of the mortgages, and sets forth a definite date at which they may be called up. The schedule sets out in one column the period within which, apart from the regulations, the principal sum secured by a mortgage to which these regulations apply is due for repayment, and in another column the prescribed month for repayment. Those due before the 1st January, 1915, were given to August, 1919, or a corresponding date; that is to say. if a mortgage fell due on the 10th January, 1915, it was extended to 10th August, 1919.
– Have you any idea as to the amount that could be called up t
– I think that when the regulations were brought into operation it was estimated that nearly £100,000,000 was affected.
– Multiply that by five.-
– I cannot think that the honorable member is right. The Treasury officials, who have a fairly good idea of the position, went into the matter very carefully, and the estimate I have mentioned is theirs. The sliding scale set out in regulation 13 goes on to deal with mortgages due during subsequent periods. The last period covered is that between 1st July, 1919, and the date of the termination of the war, as declared by proclamation, both dates inclusive. Mortgages due between these dates are extended until the month of June, 1920. Honorable members will see that, according to Part II. of the Bill dealing with the general moratorium, the regulations are to continue in force until the “ prescribed date,” which is ascertained in the manner I have just mentioned. It was realized, however, that in the calling up of some of the mortgages there might be individual cases of hardship, and to meet these, regulation 14, as set forth in the schedule, .provides -
Notwithstanding anything contained in the last preceding regulation, the Court may, upon the application of the mortgagor, made not less than one month before the prescribed date for repayment, make an order on such terms and conditions (if any) as the Court thinks fit, extending the date for repayment for a period not more than twelve months after the prescribed date of repayment, and may fix the intervals of time and rate at which interest is payable during such extended period.
Lt. -Colonel Abbott. - Is that not providing a rather expensive procedure in the case of a man very much embarrassed, when probably the sum involved is comparatively small?
– The procedure provided is not expensive.
– Which Court is the tribunal?
– “ The Court” means the High Court, or the Supreme Court of the States, or, in the case of a mortgage in which the principal sum does not exceed£2,000, a County Court, or a District Court, or a local Court consisting of a special or stipendiary magistrate. Provision is made, as will be seen, for the extension of a mortgage to a date to be fixed by order of the Court.
– Is not the result that, if application be made before the30th June, 1919, a mortgage can be extended for a further twelve months?
– So long as the application is made not less than one month before the prescribed date for repayment, the Court has power to extend the time for repayment. In Committee I shall ask leave to make an amendment of a drafting character in the proviso to clause 4 paragraph 3 of the Bill, so as to remove any possible impression that we are seeking power to extend the period for a longer time than is the intention of the Bill.
– Does it not appear that from August, 1919, to June, 1920, all mortgages might be called up subject to the right of appeal? Might that not lead to financial embarrassment?
– Although the period may appear short, we have to remember the long period in which mortgages have been held up.
– I am speaking in view of war loans and the strenuous state of the money market.
– That is not the view of the Treasury officials.
– There is a general impression outside to that effect.
– It has to be remembered that notification was given last June.
– There are two sides to the question.
– There are, and we have tried to keep them in view in the fairest way. Since June last it has been known that mortgages might be called up, though it does not follow, of course, that they are all going to be terminated. We are now providing for individual cases in which hardship might arise.
Now I come to the War Precautions regulations as applied to the active service moratorium. These are dealt with in Part 3 of the Bill, and consist of the regulations set forth in the second schedule. The clauses in this part of the Bill seek to keep in existence the regulations so far as they relate to mortgages or agreements for the purchase of land. The active service moratorium regulations are to continue in force so long as there are any mortgages or agreements for the purchase of land to which the regulations apply. Regulation 3 in the second schedule sets out -
Subject to these regulations, the time for any payment of principal money secured by a mortgage (legal or equitable) of land, contracted by a member or the female dependant of a member before the date on which he became a member of the Forces, or before the 1st June, 1916,. whichever last happens, is hereby postponed, so that such payment shall fall due upon the expiration of six months after the cessation of the present state of war as declared by the Governor-General by proclamation, or upon the expiration of six months after the discharge of the member of the Forces, or his death before discharge, whichever last happens.
Honorable members will admit that that is just treatment.
– It only gives six months.
– But the mortgage has been held up during the whole period of service.
– It does not give a man an opportunity to repatriate himself and settle down.
– It gives him six months after the war has ceased.
– It is not enough.
– Under the general moratorium the period may be extended to June, 1920, or twelve months afterwards.
– Only in certain cases of hardship, where the mortgages fall due at certain dates.
– Supposing a man has purchased land on a contract as opposed to mortgage ?
– In such cases the period is extended under regulation 4, and regulation 7 also provides for payments by instalments.
– Has the Government made any inquiry as to how far the soldiers might be relieved by transferring their liabilities to the States under the Soldiers’ Settlement Acts?
– We can only deal with our own particular problem. Under the War Service Homes Act men can, in effect, have their mortgages transferred within the limits provided in the Act. Under the Bill before us, in regulations 12 to 18 inclusive of the second schedule, further protection is given. Regulation 12 reads -
No person shall, under a bill of sale, or writ of execution, or other process issued by a Court, or by way of distress, or under the provisions of a hire purchase agreement made prior to the 1st June, 1916, or’ to the enlistment of a member of the Forces, whichever last happens, seize or take possession of -
any chattels which are used by any female dependant of that member of the Forces to support or assist in supporting herself or any of the family of the member; or
any furniture or wearing apparel belonging to any such member or female dependant. . . .
Regulation 13 gives protection against the issue of writs and processes, and there is also provision to prevent the enforcement of unconscionable bargains. Regulation 17 enacts that there shall not, without leave of a Court of summary jurisdiction, be any increase in the rent of a dwelling tenanted by a soldier or his dependants. It is proposed that all these forms of protection shall continue until the members of the Australian Imperial Force are demobilized. Clause 5, subclause 2, provides -
Subject to the section, regulations 12 to 18 (inclusive) of the War Precautions (Active Service Moratorium) Regulations shall continue in force until all Expeditionary Forces serving outside of Australia at the commencement of this Act have been substantially demobilized, and shall, during such continuance, have the force of law.
The object of the Bill is to give the force of law to the existingregulations. In regard to the constitutional aspect, Sir Edward Mitchell, Mr. H. E. Starke, Professor Harrison Moore, Mr. Campbell, and I, as Acting Attorney-General, supplied a certificate that -
We have carefully considered this Bill and are of opinion that it is within the competence of this Parliament.
Mr. Adrian Knox, K.C., Professor Peden, and Mr. Hemsley, of Sydney, indorsed that certificate -
Subject to the proviso that the Bill becomes law before the termination of the war, so far. as part 2 is concerned.
Part 2 deals with general mortgages.
– What is meant by the termination of the war ?
– The exchange of ratifications, according to counsel’s own telegram previously cited. The Government hope that the Bill will be passed as quickly as possible, in order to make secure the protection which was given to our soldiers and their dependants during the war. The regulations embodied in the Bill are the result of suggestions and criticisms from time to time, and represent what is considered to be fair and just treatment at the time they were made.
– Will the Minister say how far the soldiers will be protected under the War Service Homes scheme ?
– The War Service Homes Act enables assistance to be granted by way of loan to a soldier to. acquire a home; it permits him to borrow money for a home to a prescribed limit, and under it a mortgage can, in effect, be transferred to the Commissioner if he is satisfied with the security. But that scheme is quite apartfrom the purpose of this Bill.
– What is being done in regard to contracts of sale which provide for purchase by instalments?
– Regulation 4 of the second schedule provides -
Subject to these Regulations, the time for any payment of purchase-money (whether the whole or an instalment thereof under an agreement for the purchase of land, entered into by a member or the female dependant of a member before the date on which he became a member of the Forces or before the first day of January, 1916, whichever last happens, which payment has fallen due since the first day of May, One thousand nine hundred and sixteen, or hereafter falls due, is hereby postponed so as to fall due upon the expirationof the period of six months next after the day on which it fell duo or would fall due. if these Regulations had not been made or upon the expiration nf six months after the cessation of the present state of war as declared by the Governor-General by proclamation, or upon the expiration of six months after the discharge of the member of the Forces, or his death before discharge, whichever last happens.
And in regulation 7, provision is made for the postponement of subsequent instalments.
– The purchase money will not fall due in a lump sum ?
– Not where the agreement is for payment by instalments. In that respect the active service moratorium is different from the general moratorium. The object” is to allow the soldiers six months in which to pick up the period which they have lost, and then to continue their instalments in regular sequence.
– Every instalment is postponed ?
– How long does that protection extend to returned soldiers?
– The first instalment may be postponed for -six months after the termination of the war, and every subsequent instalment is correspondingly postponed.
– Then the operation of this Bill may extend over ten years?
– If the. agreement enables it.
– I am glad we have the power to do that.
– If the original contract provided for instalments to be paid, say, over a period of five years, and the soldier had been on active service for two and a half years, the currency of the contract would be extended by his period of service and a further six months. This applies only to members of the Military Forces and their dependants. We are exercising legislative power in their (behalf under the Defence powers of the Constitution.
– If a soldier has been discharged, will he lose the protection of this Bill?
– As regards mortgages and agreements to purchase, he has extended protection. In recommending the motion to honorable members, I ask them to assist me in passing the Bill at the earliest possible moment.
.- I am concerned mainly about Part 2 of the Bill, dealing with the active service moratorium. Other honorable members may be more interested in the provisions relating to general mortgages, but I am concerned in the protection given to soldiers and their dependants. The Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) stated that soldiers were protected against the raising of rents and ejectment from rented premises. I hope that when we give that protection legislative form, it will be more effective than it was as a regulation under, the War Precautions Act. Whilst I contend that Parliament should have been consulted more than it was in regard to the WaT Precautions regulations, and whilst I spoke and voted against the extension of them, I have never said that all those regulations were bad. Some of them were good, and others could have been made better. But I do object to certain regulations, which are still in operation today, when there is no longer any necessity for them, and we have no intimation from the Government as to when those regulations will be withdrawn. I hope this Bill will give effective protection to soldiers and their dependants against the raising of rents and ejectment.
– How can we protect them if they will not appeal?
– They have appealed, and have not received the necessary protection.
– I shall >be glad if the honorable member will furnish me with specific cases. Every case which was brought under my notice was dealt with promptly.
– Several years have elapsed since I brought the first case under the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and weeks passed before I received any reply. I placed .the correspondence on record in Hansard two years ago. If a landlord raised the rent it was of little avail for the tenant to tell him that he was having the matter considered by the Attorney-General. I re- member one case which occurred in Carlton. I was attending a football match on the Saturday afternoon, and a communication was brought to me that the mother of a deceased soldier had been ordered to vacate the house she was renting by the following Monday morning. I got into touch with the AttorneyGeneral’s Department, and the officers considerately expedited the matter. In the meantime I advised the woman not to move from the house. Eventually the Defence Department dealt with the ease, and, although the rent was not raised, the woman was advised by the officials that she would avoid trouble if she shifted as soon as possible. That was the attitude of the Department in regard to many cases. . I am not sure how long this protection will extend in regard to soldiers;
– Until demobilization.
– Does that mean until the last soldier has been returned?
– No. It extends until the Australian Imperial Force has been substantially demobilized. Some soldiers might remain in England for two or three years.
– I am mainly concerned with the rents, because I believe that more of the soldiers and their dependants in my electorate rent their houses than own them. I hope they will take advantage df the War Service Homes scheme in order to acquire their own homes. If we may judge by the discussions which took -place at the conference in Adelaide, and at a meeting of the association in Melbourne, the returned soldiers are not enamoured of the scheme; but until they own. their own homes, I am anxious that they should be protected as long as pos- sible in regard to rent. We know from the evidence which was tendered before the Interestate Commission that rents are increasing, aa.d so is the cost of building. A table contained in the Inter-State Commission’s report shows that to-day building material alone costs more than labour and material together cost in 1914. I like the breezy optimism of Colonel Walker, the Housing Commissioner, who has stated that he is not afraid of the Brick Combine in Melbourne. He cannot have had much to do with it. I understand that he was an architect in Queensland.
– He has a practical knowledge of his work.
– But not in the big cities, where these Combines are operating. The Inter-State Commission’s report teems with evidence against them. If the Minister (Mr. Groom) says that this Parliament cannot control rents or provide against Combines who operate to increase rents, it is only another evidence of how necessary it is for us to secure from the people further powers which will enable us to deal with these matters. I hope that honorable members will not look at the Bill from a party stand-point. I hope that they will not take up the attitude which was assumed some years ago by the present Chief Justice of Victoria (Sir William Irvine) when he said that, although he believed this Parliament should have certain powers, he was afraid to give them, because the Labour party were in office. He forgot that it is the ‘ people who elect the Parliament. The people who elect this Parliament should be asked to’ give it the power which is absolutely necessary to enable it to control many things in which its hands are tied to-day.
The Bill is very much on the lines of the Commercial Activities Bill. There are a few clauses, followed by page after page of closely printed regulations, which form the m’ain part of the measure. My advice to honorable members is to study the regulations well and see how they operate, because the clauses are of little importance compared with them. I hope that the Bill will give a greater measure of relief to soldiers and their dependants, particularly in the matter of safeguarding their interests in regard to the payment of rent.
– This is the most important Bill the House will be called upon to consider during this session. I am afraid that the Acting Attorney-General (Mr; Groom),- in introducing it, was misled by his » officers, or misinterpreted their advice. It was manifestly absurd for him to say that there were only £100,000,000 worth of mortgages on the properties of Australia.
– What I said was that there was only that amount that could possibly be affected.
– The Minister’s explanation is still misleading, because the Bill will affect practically the whole of the mortgages of Australia. Accordingto regulation 13 of the first schedule of the Bill, all mortgages which were due to be repaid prior to, the 1st January, 1915, will fall due during the present month. I have been to several legal gentlemen in Tasmania and Victoria, and they tell me that at least 90 per cent. of the mortgages of Australia will come under this provision and fall due this month, because an enormous percentage of them have only three years’ currency. The private wealth of Australia is £1,760,000,000. Mr.Knibbs says that the estimated value of land and improvements works out at £1,106,000,000. The Acting Attorney-General, in introducing the Bill, said that only £100,000,000 worth of mortgages would be affected; in other words, that only 10 per cent of the mortgages on the properties of Australia would be affected. A child could tell him that such a statement was absurd.
– The information supplied to me, and which I read to the House, was as follows : -
A space of time was thus obtained for dealing with a very large sum, estimated at as much as £100,000,000, a large portion of which could have been almost immediately called up.
– That is manifestly ridiculous.
– That is a matter of opinion.
– This is a very important subject, and I have taken a great deal of trouble to work out my figures, because if we pass this measure there will be a financial avalanche over the property-owners of Australia, not only in the country districts, but also in the cities. May I say withall due humility that it was I who induced the then Treasurer (Mr. Higgs) to introduce the moratorium. I saw people walking about Tasmania and Victoria who could not bor row money at 6 per cent., and if the regulations framed at that time had not been in forceto-day, by this time half the people of Australia would have lost their homes. The position is worse now, because there has been an accumulation. From the very best authorities I could get I have learned that the mortgages on the capital value of Australia amount to 50 per cent. Practically half the value of the whole of the land of Australia is held on mortgage.
– That is a very moderate estimate.
– It is a low estimate, I think.
-What is the percentage of mortgages on properties owned by soldiers?
-Unfortunately, the percentage is so small that it is scarcely worth considering. If any honorable member will take under offer ten properties, each valued at £20,000, and seek to barrow £10,000 on each of them at 6 per cent. in the city of Melbourne, he will not be able to do so.
– He would be lucky if he could do so.
– Under the moratorium no one can charge a higher rate of interest than 6 per cent. , and that is quite enough to charge in times like this.
-But the man who lends the money does not think so.
– I am here to represent those who are obliged to borrow money. So strongly do I feel on this matter that I say there will be a financial avalanche in Australia if the Bill passes in its present form. The State Governments could legislate upon this question, but if we pass this measure they will not be in a position to pass Bills making better terms for theirown people than are included in the Commonwealth measure, because when Statelawsand Federal laws come into conflict the latter prevail.
– The States can legislate as they think fit. We donot propose to come into conflict with them.
– If we pass a Bill compelling people to pay up their mortgages this month, can the States pass laws extending the time?
– The Bill does not compel people to pay by a certain date. It simply provides that they cannot be compelled to pay before that date.
– If we pass the Bill, practically every mortgage falling -due on a particular date will be called up on that date.
– A great many will ‘ bo called up.
– There are men who are now being asked to pay 8 per cent, and if we pass this Bill they will be obliged to pay that rate. In some of the States the small land-owner, the man in whom I am interested, has had a very !)ad time during the last few years. In Tasmania people have mortgaged their little belongings in order to pay interest, because everything they had in the world was rotting in their orchards. ‘ If this Bill is passed, ‘they will be obliged to go out on the roads. God help the man who is in the hands of some of the financial institutions to-day ! I have had cases <br.ou.ght under my notice showing how reckless some money-lenders are in their greed, how careless they are of the ruin -they inflict so long as they can show good balance-sheets .
– That remark does hot apply to most of the institutions.
– I am speaking -of some of them. I am confident that df the Bill is passed an enormous percentage of the mortgages of Australia will’ be called up. If that happens, the money must ibo found, no matter what rate of interest is charged, or people must lose their homes. The advisers of the ‘Government have not shown them the enormous financial avalanche that we have been banking up for three or four years. The Government are now taking away the barrier, and the whole accumulation will come down like a flood. We shall have the (greatest financial disaster that Australia has ever seen if the Bill becomes ‘law in its present state.
– This applies mainly ibo mortgages which are already four or five years overdue.
– The ‘honorable member tas only to read the schedule to see. the class of mortgages affected
– The schedule shows that all mortgages prior to 1915 are to be called up this month (August).
– May be Galled up.
– If the ordinary money-lender can get 7 or 8 per cent., lie will not allow a mortgage to run on at 6 per cent.
– Is there not a provision that only 6 per cent, can be charged ?
– Yes; but we wipe that out. Let us give the people at least one year after the termination of the war. We are not out of war conditions yet. Mr. J. A. Morris, State AuditorGeneral, who has just come back from England,” states that money’ can be borrowed cheaper in Australia than in England to-day. We all know what that means. An enormous percentage of the mortgages in Australia are let out by big firms representing English capital. In all the capital cities that is the case. There are only three or four other sources: those are building societies, Savings Banks) insurance offices, and trustees’ accounts. Beyond them the chief source has been English capital. More than 6 per cent, can be got to-day for English capital. The Government of Victoria thought they made a good deal when they borrowed £3,000,000 at oi per cent. What is going to be the price of money here? I look upon this proposal with fear and trembling, -because we have been damming this business up during vh whole time of the war, and at least 90 per cent, of the mortgages of .Australia will fall due during this month.
– What do you mean by “ damming “ up ?
– Under - the moratorium we have prevented any one from calling in mortgages. We’ are no.w removing that restriction, and nearly all these mortgages will fall due this month. The figures supplied to the Acting AttorneyGeneral are absolutely misleading, although I do not say they are deliberately -so.
– I place reliance upon the Treasury officials. I know they are most careful and competent men.
– I am quoting Knibbs, who, on these matters, is the better authority.
– There is no conflict between them. Knibbs tells you what the capital wealth is. The Treasury officials will tell you of a certain amount that might have been called up on a certain date.
– The Minister’s information is that the amount called up will be about £100,000,000.
– This is what I said - a space of time was thus obtained for dealing with a very large sum, estimated at as much as £100,000,000, a large portion of which could have been almost immediately called up.
– That is grossly under-estimated. It only means a 10 per cent. mortgage on the capital value of Australia. Any fourth-form schoolboy can see the absurdity of that. Knibbs is the best authority that we can apply to’ on these matters.
– He has only given us the total wealth.
– He has given us far more. He shows the value of our real estate and the bulk of the mortgages thereon will fall due this month if this Bill is passed.
– What do you suggest ?
– That the term be extended until August, 1920.
– Then you are making a doubtful power even more doubtful.
– If we can extend it till 1919 we can extend it to 1920.
– There is a very considerable doubt on that point.
– I asked the Acting Attorney-General the day before yesterday, in case there was any doubt of the constitutionality of this Bill, whether he would agree to apply to the States for their consent, which he could obtain immediately. In that way any doubt of the constitutionality of the Bill would be removed. I do not think that I have devoted so much time and attention to anything since I have been in politics as I have given to this matter, because I know the condition of the borrower today. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) has told us that 50 per cent. of the graziers in the west of New South Wales havelost 50 per cent. of their stock. Ihave shown to honorable members letters which I have received showing the deadly fatality in the lake country in Tasmania. Owing to the absence of food the growers there were not able to bring their sheep down, and have been losing three-quarters, and some of them more, of their stock, which had been snowed up. It will be cruel to foreclose on our people under existing circumstances. I am told that they can appeal to the Court, but what chance has a small man in taking an equity case against one of the big financial institutions ? We know it is hopeless.
– Do you say it is hopeless to go to the Court in those circumstances ?
– Yes, considering the financial position of the small man. I say deliberately that it is better for him to sell out to the best advantage than put the little bit he has left into law to fight a big financial institution. I am absolutely certain that if we call up the whole of these mortgages this month there will be such a financial disaster in Australia that the Government will have to step in immediately.
– The land boom would bea fool to it.
– I think so. I am certain that the mortgages in Australia to-day will amount to £500,000,000.
– This practically does not apply to mortgages executed since a certain date in 1916.
– No one knows better than the honorable member that only a small percentage of mortgages have been entered into since 1915, because the greatbulk of the people whose mortgages were falling due took advantage of the moratorium.
– Does the honorable member propose to move to amend the Bill in the direction he indicates?
– Yes, I do. I intend to move in Committee that in the first line of the table in regulation 13 of the first schedule the date, 1919, be altered to 1920. That will give the borrower at least one year. The money lender will .suffer ‘ no injustice. He is getting his interest, and I believe that the interest he is getting now is quite sufficient.
– Take the case of a trust estate where the beneficiaries are waiting on distribution.
– That instance is like the case of the small widow who is always trotted out whenever the House is dealing with any matter of this kind. It is better for a few trustees, who are getting 5 and 6 per cent, for their money, to keep the capital invested, and better that a few people who can be counted on one’s fingers should be inconvenienced by postponing the distribution of estates for another twelve months, than that desolation and disaster should be brought on the people of this country who ‘have mortgages over their homes.
– Quite a number of small men sold their properties and cannot get the money for them. They are “up a tree.”
– Their number would not be great. If the honorable member likes to make provision for them in the Bill I will go with him all the way, but I urge the House as earnestly as I possibly can not to break this dam down suddenly, and send this financial avalanche all over Australia. If no one else will move, I give the Government notice that when the Bill gets into Committee I shall endeavour to have the time extended for twelve months. That will give the people a little longer to make their financial arrangements to get out of the way of the avalanche that is now threatening them.
– I am sure the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) will give full consideration to the weighty statements of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams). We are standing now in- a position where we can maintain the credit, and therefore the welfare, of Australia, or let it go right down to the abyss, deeper than the credit .of this State went during the land boom, of which the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) and myself had bitter experience. When the land boom broke there was more money in the banks, and a larger percentage of gold, than there is to-day in Australia. The boom prices were never really reached. Take the highest price that Melbourne saw for land - the site of the Equitable Building, at £2,000 per foot. That price will be exceeded in any city of the world of the same size as Melbourne,, because in Europe and America, in the big cities, land is sold by the square foot, and not by the foot frontage. In my own district . alone I had a list of over 200 families who had partially bought their homes and lost them. The honorable member for Kooyong knows how many reputed millionaires failed. Some of them paid only a small fraction of a penny in the £1, and some could not pay even that. I appeal to the Government to consider this matter. I am not. offering adverse criticism, because the question is outside party politics. We are trying to make Australia safe, and it is up to the Government, next to the awful necessity of fighting the late war, to keep the credit of the community high, so that the majority will not suffer. If the mortgages are called up an absolute crisis will be created. No man has put that more plainly than M. Hyndman, in his Commercial Crises of the Nineteenth Century. He shows that there is more or less of a boom every fifteen years. There is a boom at present in Australia; prices are advancing, not only for the necessaries of life, but for houses and land.
– I draw attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– The question is of almost equal importance to the winning of the war. Wars come and go, but the credit of a community must be maintained, or something worse than devastation follows. In a telegram from Hobart, published in the Age this morning, the following appeared : -
On Thursday Parliament adjourned till 23rd September. During the recess Ministers and the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition are to frame legislation to deal with the high cost of living. The Premier stated that he “ did not care a fig “ for precedents or party divisions when the life-blood of the people was at stake.
That is the most statesmanlike utterance I have heard since the war commenced. I draw the attention of the Acting AttorneyGeneral to it, because I think it shows a way in which he can improve this Bill. Never in the history of Australia has the life blood of the people been in greater danger thannow. The cancer of civilized life is the money-lender. The Age to-day records a case of unconscionable interest being charged. I was glad to hear the Minister say that there is. a regulation to prevent unconscionable interest, and if it applies to the general public, as well as soldiers, I shall welcome it all the more. If it does not, I shall have to tell the Minister that it is his duty to give the public the same protection, because it is the public that pay for the soldiers, and for everything connected with the government of the country. In the case recorded this morning the interest charged was 325 per cent., and Judge Moule compelled the money-lender to take 25 per cent.
– The fellow ought to get three years in gaol.
– I agree with the honorable member, although the lender in this case was a woman. It would be well if we could insist on every name connected with money-lending establishments being put on the door, and on all moneylenders being licensed.
– Have you not a law in Victoria restricting them to 10 per cent?
– I wish we had alaw to which both the honorable member and myself could agree. The calling up of all the mortgage money will mean the depreciation of property of every kind. After the land boom, four-roomed cottages, with baths and other conveniences, that used to bring16s. per week, were let for1s. per week. Some people were glad to let their houses to be taken care of. I have seen a brick house in one side street in North Melbourne, where one brick had been taken out. In a fortnight every brick had been removed, and the doors, windows, and even the roof had disappeared. I want the Government to insist now on a limitation of the interest on mortgages. If the Minister does not think 6 per cent. is high enough, will he limit the interest on advances to 1 per cent. over what the State Banks charge ? Thus, if the State Savings Banks are advancing at 6 per cent., let the limit be 7 per cent., so as to give those who are willing to fight for their homes a fighting chance. I give credit to the Government for having brought in this moratorium, because I am sure it was their full intention and desire to assist the community, and to keep up its credit. In Committee I shall most heartily support the amendment of which the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mc Williams) has given notice. I hope that the Government will recognise the necessity for refusing to allow a higher ratethan 7 per cent. to be charged for the renewal ofmortgages, under any circumstances whatever. Where mortgages cannot be paid in full, I am of opinion that if 10 per cent. of the principal be tendered by the mortgagor, the mortgagee should have the right to claim a reduction of his principal only to the extent of 10 per cent. each year. That would extend the period over which mortgages would operate, and the mortgagors would be only too glad to pay off their indebtedness wheneverthey could. Let me cite a case which came within my own personal knowledge. Some friends, whom I had known for many years, were in difficulties. Their mortgage was a small one; representing approximately £300. To obtain a renewal of their mortgage I suggested that they should agree to pay 6 per cent., which I deemed to be a reasonable rate of interest. The mortgagee was disposed to be a trifle harsh, but when I mentioned the moratorium, he quickly came to heel. Nevertheless that little home will most assuredly be lost if the mortgage has to be paid in full almost immediately.
– There are tens of thousands of cases of the same sort.
– If the landed property within Australia be valued at £1,680,000,000, I think that £100,000,000 is a very small sum to advance against such a security. We know, perfectly well that in America the gold reserve amounts to about 4 per cent. of the paper currency. But here in Australia, our note issue is backed by a gold reserve of 33 per cent. In other words, there are no notes in the world as safe as are our own Australian notes. I am exceedingly glad that to-day we have only one note issue throughout the Commonwealth.
I well recollect the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) affirming in this Chamber that a Moratorium Act would empower the Government of the day to do anything that they chose. Most honorable members doubted his statement at the time, and I confess that I was amongst the number: But to-day we cannot question its accuracy. Why, therefore, can we not make use of a Moratorium Act to exercise control over such articles as bread, meat, sugar, and clothing?
– We have no power to do so.
– If we pass a Moratorium Act we may do whatever we please. We possess the requisite power, and the exercise of that power would be approved by the people outside. Whilst I am a member of this Chamber, I do not wish any representative of a country constituency to misunderstand my position for one moment. I desire to see fair prices fixed for the products of the primary producer. I have inquired as to what would be a fair price to pay the farmer for his wheat. I am informed that at the nearest railway station 4s. per bushel would give him a good fighting chance. Let us fix it at 4s . 6d. per bushel. The thing can be easily established on a fair basis. Then let us go a little farther, and fix a price for gristing wheat at the mill. In the excellent book from which I quoted last evening, and a close study of which I would again recommend to every honorable member - I refer to Mr. R. L,. Wilkinson’s The Trust Movement in Australia - there is some very valuable information in regard to this matter. Under the heading of “ Profits in Milling,” he says -
Consideration of the relative prices of wheat and flour will give an indication of the result from the operations of pooling the output, through the operations of the association.
The selling price of wheat to-day, I understand, is about 5s. per bushel. Let us give the miller a fair price for gristing his wheat, with the right to keep the offal - that is to say, the pollard and the bran. What is a fair price for gristing at the mill ?
– About10d. per bushel, but the miller does not keep the pollard or the bran.
– Fifty bushels of wheat, or approximately 3,000 lbs., are required to produce 2,000 lbs. of flour. At10d. per bushel for gristing, this would represent, approximately, 42s. per ton. We might allow the miller that price. Then, under the War Precautions Act, he would be compelled to sell his flour at a fixed price. If he refused to supply, at that fixed price, any baker who tendered his money, he should be promptly imprisoned. Lest honorable members think that I am too severe in this matter, I propose to quote a very interesting statement contained in Mr. Wilkinson’s book in. regard to a Mr. Page, a baker at Elsternwick. It reads -
Mr. Page says that a strong ring or combine is responsible for the present high price of bread. The ruling price of bread in Elsternwick is 7d. the 4-lb. loaf. Mr. Page charges 6d., and states that an attempt is being made by the joint action of the Master Bakers’ and Millers’ Associations to coerce him into raising his rates into line with other bakers in the district. Mr. Page is not a member of the Master Bakers’ Association, and refused to adopt the increased price of bread that was declared in August last year. As soon as he had made it clear that he meant to stand by his own prices, he began to experience difficulty in obtaining flour from local millers. His orders were not point blank refused, but. on one excuse or another, they were turned aside. This “ boycott “ has now become so powerful that, according to Mr. Page, he cannot got flour from any Melbourne miller, whether for cashor otherwise. Unable to get hisflour in
Melbourne, Mr. Page next tried a large firm in Bendigo, but the “ boycott “ had evidently been widely extended, and lie was met with the same indefinite excuses. Mr. Page has, therefore, been forced to get his flour direct from the country. This, of course, entails a great deal of inconvenience. Despite all these disadvantages, Mr. Page continues to supply bread at the price already mentioned. Indeed, he states, if people would come to the shop for their bread and save him the cost of delivery, he could supply it at 5d., with a perfectly satisfactory profit.
Mr. Wilkinson continues ;
Officials of the Master Bakers’ Association deny that any arrangement exists which would cause the alleged boycott.
We know that Government Departments are supplied with bread, under contract, for 5 1/2 d. the 4-lb. loaf. Are honorable members aware that in some of the suburbs of Melbourne to-day people are being charged 9d. for the 4-lb. loaf?
– Yes, and in some circumstances the price is as ‘high as 10d., because 2?d. is sometimes charged for the 1-lb. loaf. There has been no increase in the wages of those engaged in the trade to justify such an increase in the price of bread.
In my opinion, ‘the most important means to maintain our credit is to limit the power of a mortgage. We exist upon credit. If a demand were made by some power that could control us for the payment of our debts in gold we should be unable to comply with it. I am grateful to the Age newspaper for the protest it has made against profiteering. The Government must shoulder the blame of permitting it to continue. Unfortunately we are not able to punish them for doing so. Ministers disappear into private life, whilst the effects of their evil deeds continue. I do not suggest, for a moment, that they have done evil deliberately, but they have permitted evil to be done by. a lack of thought or of wisdom.
I indorse what was said by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) about our soldiers. There is not one member of this House who will say that we should not do as much for the men who fought for us as the United States of” America are doing for the American soldiers. We are, however, not doing nearly as much for our men as America is doing for her soldiers. In this connexion it is my intention to put a question on the notice-paper asking whether, in view of the fact that the Government of the United States of America- have limited to 12s. 6d. the charge which any attorney or claim agent may make for the preparation and execution of the necessary papers for claims of dependants of soldiers, the Government will take steps to protect the dependants of our soldiers from the same class of agents and attorneys by limiting their charges to the same sum. I make this suggestion because I am aware that Paddy Hill, the man who organized witnesses for the late Mr. Robert Harper, has been getting soldiers’ dependants to sign papers in blank so that he may grab anything he can. The officers of the Department have prevented him from robbing the people he was professing to serve. They gave me great assistance when I got upon his trail. This man did not dare go into Court, as he knew that if he did so the Judge would put him in the witness-box, and he would have been given earlier the sentence of three years and eight months which he afterwards served. He has been trying to rob the wives and children of our soldiers, and he even induced a legal gentleman of high standing in Melbourne to act for him when, because he was known to the Department, it did not suit him to appear in a matter himself. We should limit the fee which may be charged by any person who takes up work of this kind on behalf of the dependants of soldiers as it has been limited in the United States of America.
In the matter of the insurance of the lives of our soldiers, we have not done what we might have done. The Government are not solely to blame for this, because, if Parliament had protested, they could have been compelled to do differently. A soldier or an officer might be insured’ in the . United States of America up to ?2,000 at a cost of 8 dollars, or 32s. per 1,000 dollars. In Australia a soldier could not have secured such an insurance at a cost of less than £300. In America the Government took up the matter of the insurance of soldiers, and if a soldier did not make an application for insurance within a certain number of weeks the Government insured him for 5,000 dollars. In the case of an American soldier dying at the Front, a fair amount of the £2,000 for which he is insured is given to his dependants, and, after a term of years, the rest is divided amongst them.
– It cost £10 here to insure for £100.
– And some companies have charged soldiers 10 per cent. in addition to the usual charge.
I welcome this Bill, and if it could be amended, as suggested by the honorable member forFranklin (Mr. McWilliams), I should welcome the clause. I should be still more pleased if the Government would introduce a Moratorium Bill affecting the food, shelter, and clothing of the people.
Sitting suspended from 12.58 to 2.15.
Mr.JOWETT (Grampians) [2.15].- I fully realize the seriousness of the present financial position and the urgent need for some fresh action with regard to the moratorium, but I appeal to the Government to make the terms of repayment more generous to the borrower, and I, therefore, feel that a few words in season at this stage might facilitate the passing of the Bill. I entirely dissociate myself from any remarks made, in this House or elsewhere, denouncing what are known as the big financial institutions and the banks in connexion with this matter. I have had a long and considerable experience of borrowing in this country, and I must say that, as far as the primary producers are concerned - and I am sorry my honorable friend the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page) is not here to confirm what Isay - the man who has had the confidence of the banks and the big financial institutions during the past twenty or thirty years has been in a very happy position. With hardly an exception, these institutions have treated their borrowers with generosity. I draw a very clear line of distinction between banks and. reputable financial institutions and that class of people better known to the world as money lenders.
– Some of them are very good.
– I think it would be very difficult, indeed, for any man to emerge from transactions with the type of advertising money lender, to which I refer, without being absolutely ruined. I indorse what has been said concerning the benefits of the moratorium during the past two or three years, but, following what the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) has said, I think it is very undesirable that the whole of the overdue mortgages which have been accumulating during the past few years should suddenly become liable to be called up. I know the Minister will say that the moratorium payments are to be extended for a considerable period, but I point out that, with the exception of repayments to be made by returned soldiers, who, I gather from the Minister’s explanation, will have six months’ further grace, every penny of money borrowed on mortgages, and which has been affected by the moratorium, will have to be paid eleven months from to-day.
-Do you think that term is long enough?
– I do not; and I am appealing to the Minister for a more generous attitude towards the borrowers. Although the Government are in the possession of the highest financial advice, and I do not wish to make the slightest reflection on theability, zeal, and fairness of the officers of the Treasury, who have, no doubt, given good advice in connexion with this matter, I feel that it would be wise to treat mortgagors with a little more consideration.
– Do you infer that the lender is going to be obdurate in this matter ?
– I think the great bulk of the lenders, meaning, of course, the banks, financial institutions, biginsurance companies, and large trustee companies, are controlled by fair-minded business men.
– Do you include private individuals ?
– I thought I did; but I point out that under the Bill these institutions and trustees will be practicallycompelled to call in loans on the date specified, and that this will inflict a very serioushardship upon large numbers of borrowers, particularly those who have borrowed upon the security of country lands.
– Why will they be compelled to call in the money ?
– I will give the honorable member an instance. As the representative of a constituency consisting mainly of primary producers, I have been appealed to for advice and assistance. Two exceedingly hard-working constituents of mine borrowed money from a private individual. He died, and the estate fell into the hands of trustees, who are calling upon the borrowers for repayment. I interviewed one of the trustees, and pointed out to him what an extreme hardship would be imposed upon these borrowers if they were compelled to pay as demanded. The trustee fully sympathized with the mortgagors, who are absolutely the best type of citizen this country could have; but he said, “ I must press for this money, because one of the beneficiaries insists upon getting it. I have no other course.”
– Does the honorable member know what is the position of that beneficiary? His position might be just as hard as that of the mortgagors.
– He lives in England, has never been in Australia, and he asks for the money.
Mr.Groom. - The Bill provides that such cases of hardship may be considered by the Court.
– That may be so, but there are very many other cases which, while they may not be quite so extreme, represent a distinct hardship upon the borrowers.
– The State, of course, can interfere in a matter of this kind only under very exceptional circumstances.
– But the State has interfered already by passing the Moratorium Act. That Act was not passed because it was war time, but because of the financial circumstances arising out of the war ; and although the war is over, the financial situation has not been relieved in any way. As a matter of fact, it is more dangerous now than it was when the Moratorium Act was passed.
– As many of the mortgagees have found.
– I will deal with their position also. It is. suggested that if the period of repayment be extended there will be just as many cases of hardship among mortgagees as amongst mortgagors who, on 30th June next year, according to this Bill, stand the risk of being dispossessed if they do not meet their obligations. But that is not so. As a rule, the most that a mortgagee can suffer through an extension of the term is a postponement of the repayment of his principal. He will still hold the security, and receive his interest as heretofore, so, for all practical purposes, he will not be placed in a seriously disadvantageous position.
– Perhaps he may want to get better interest on his money.
– I myself would not suggest that. I have found that most lenders are very fair indeed, though, no doubt, some of them want to get their money.
– The lender himself may be in a worse position than the borrower.
– In my experience I have not found that to be so.
– But there are such cases.
– In ninety-nine cases out of 100 the lender whose mortgage is extended cannot be in a worse position than the borrower who has difficulty in repaying. A man borrows in an easy money market for a period of three or five years, but when the time for repayment arrives finds that the financial position has totally changed, and that he would practically be ruined if he had immediately to find the money.
– What would have happened if no moratorium had been declared ?
– I could not conceive of such colossal and criminal folly; but even in that event I do not think the position would have been as bad as it will be if the moratorium suddenly ceases.
– -It is not to cease suddenly ; there is to be a sliding scale-
– But the last penny must be paid within the next eleven months.
– The honorable member must not forget that lenders have been out of their money for a considerable period.
– I realize that; but lenders in the vast majority of cases have not been seriously disadvantaged. On the other hand, if mortgagors are to be called upon suddenly, as they will be under this Bill, to repay the moneys borrowed, they will run the risk of being dispossessed. I appeal to the. Government ‘ to reconsider this question. The Acting Attorney-General said this was a generous Bill.
– I said it was- a just attempt to deal with the equities of both sides.
– I think it is a just attempt, but I appeal to the Minister to make the Bill still more equitable by ex? tending .the periods for payments so that the final payment will not have to be made until at least twelve months later than the date fixed in this Bill.
.- I do not claim to- be a financial authority, but my knowledge of the conditions obtaining, more particularly amongst producers on the land, leads me to believe that this measure is fraught with great possibilities of danger to industry. I recently met a land-owner who is reputed to be well off, and was asked by him what the Government intended to do for men in his position. He said, “ I have some thousands of. pounds falling due under -a mortgage on my property. I have been paying interest at the rate of 5 per cent., and admit that I have had a very fair time. I was anxious, however, to meet my obligations to my country by subscribing to the war loans, and I took advantage of the deferred payment system introduced by the Government. Unless men like myself are protected we shall be called upon presently to meet our obligations under our mortgages, and will have to dispose of our war bonds to do so, with the result that the financial skulkers will be able. to buy them up, and, indeed, will be ‘ anxious to do so., since* they are exempt from taxation. We shall be absolutely ruined.” There are thousands who are in the same position as this man, and some relief must be extended to them. I do not think any computation, based upon evidence furnished in normal times, as to the possible amount likely to be called -up under ‘mortgages affected by the moratorium, will be of much value. It is clear, however, that those who occupy a strong financial .position will be offered a very strong inducement to foreclose on mortgages, the income derived from which is subject, to State and Federal income tax, and to buy up war loan issues that are exempt from taxation.
– Why did not these people pay off their mortgages instead of investing in war loans ?
– They could not do so. Many men purchase a £20,000 or £30,000 .mixed. grazing and farming property on terms, putting down a deposit of only one-third of the purchase money. They have to pay for such properties upon their present productive values, based on the high- prices obtaining just now for wool and live stock, and the moment any reduction occurs in the value of the produce of such properties they will be sympathetically affected. These men could have paid off some- part of their mortgages, but they felt that there was cast upon them the highly patriotic duty of subscribing to’ our war loans, and, in order to do so, they raised further amounts on the security of their lands. The position is most difficult. Although I do not agree with the stupendous estimate furnished by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams), as to the amount affected by the moratorium, I think he has pointed to .one of the greatest dangers that ever threatened the security of the people. ‘ Much evidence can be furnished, no doubt, to show that if the moratorium remains in force too long quit© a number of people will suffer; but on the principle of the greatest good to the greatest number, and having regard to the financial stability of the Commonwealth, every effort -should be made to further extend the periods of repayment. “We should, .also, buttress the financial position of the country, either by measures capable of being passed under our constitutional limitations, or, failing that, by State legislation. It is easy to say that ib is more blessed to give than to receive, but, so far as I know, professional pugilists are the only men who live up. to that principle. We are all willing to give away the advantages that “the other fellow” possesses over us. I have been for many years a user of borrowed capital. I have paid off money borrowed only to incur fresh obligations, in order to increase production, and those who have mortgaged the production of their holdings in order to assist in meeting the country’s obligations by subscribing to the Commonwealth war loans should be safeguarded from imminent danger. The periods fixed by this Bill are not nearly sufficient. It is a question whether our powers admit of these extensions; but means must be found, either by State or Federal action, to bring about what is lacking in this Bill. And I hope that such action will be taken; because a graver matter was never before Parliament.
– There is not an honorable member of this Chamber who is not in full sympathy with cases of individual hardship likely to result from a mortgagee pouncing too suddenly upon his mortgagor. It was felt at the time when these regulations were introduced, namely, in September, 1916, that the condition of the money market, as the result of the war, was such that it was necessary to afford some protection to the mortgagors as against relentless mortgagees. When I say “ mortgagors “ I include all persons liable to pay under the various contracts referred to in the regulations. The regulations met with the full sympathy of all; but, if honorable mem- bers think that the whole of the hardships are on one side, they are making a grievous error. These regulations caused much hardship, so far as certain mortgagees and others were concerned, who had lent money and had based their own obligations on .the terms of the mortgages. The volume of the cases which will be affected has been grossly over-esti- mated by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) and others. Since September, 1916, mortgages and contracts which have been entered into, almost without exception, have provided for the exemption of the moratorium regulations.
– Is that right?
– Do you say that that is good ?
– I say that it is the law, and was done in terms of the regulations themselves. I am not referring to mortgages alone, but to all contracts of monetary obligation. Since the regulations themselves provided that as we were making our contracts, having regard to conditions as they existed, it followed that every time a contract was entered into, both parties, by mutual arrangement, had only to say that the moratorium regulations did not apply, and, accordingly, they did not apply.
– In most of these cases money could not have been raised had not the mortgagor entered into such an agreement.
– Of course, that is so. Honorable members hardly realize the volume of these transactions by way of mortgage and other contracts, in the meantime. It has been a period of prosperity. People have been able to meet their obligations, speaking broadly and generally, notwithstanding war conditions. If we realize that these regulations affect practically only those cases where the monetary obligation fell due prior to September, 1916, it will be appreciated that the total has been very largely reduced.
– And the regulations do not affect all those cases.
– That is so; it was only in certain circumstances that advantage could be taken of the regulations. While, of course, there is not an honorable member who is not anxious to prevent undue hardship being inflicted on a mortgagor, I repeat that in those cases to which the regulations are applicable the parties under obligation have had extended to them the benefit of a period already amounting to nearly three years. Since September, 1916, they have been free to look around and endeavour to meet their obligations during a time of prosperity in Australia.
– Soldiers have not had time to do that.
– I am not referring to soldiers.
– I am.
– The honorable member’s remarks were of a, rather heated and extravagant character, and, on reflection, he will find that he did not do himself justice.
Lt. -Colonel Abbott. - What about the drought areas in the country ?
– Of course, there has always been suffering due to droughts.
– Soldiers are protected both under the Housing scheme and under the Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Act.
– Undoubtedly. I am making reference only to the general moratorium regulations. The Government are asking us merely to do that which is fair and just all round. They can only exercise their powers in this direction, and can only introduce legislation having regard to the constitutional powers of the Federal Parliament. It is idle to suggest that this Bill, wherein the Government seek to do what is fair and reasonable, is free from doubt as to its validity. Anything .which has been deemed to justify the introduction of this Bill has been founded upon the circumstance of it being essentially reasonable and incidental to the conditions of war. If it is not immediately and directly incidental to the reasonable exercise of power by the Legislature, having regard to conditions of war, then it is unconstitutional.
– .What about the Commercial Activities Bill?
– Yes ; honorable members have not heard the last of that, I assure them - and with a degree of cheerfulness, too.
– Speaking professionally, of course?
– The honorable member might be described as an optimistic pessimist.
– While it is all very well to appeal to the Government, and to ask them why, they should not extend these regulations for twelve months or two years, do honorable members realize that the further they extend the regulations the more they jeopardize the constitutionality of the Bill ?
– I do not see that.
– I do not suppose that the honorable member does. A sliding scale has been adopted, and the High Court, whose- duty it is to decide - it having been constituted for the purpose - as to the constitutional validity or otherwise of a measure, must have regard to the reasonable exercise of power by the Legislature. We are doing something that, speaking generally, is abhorrent to English-speaking Parliaments and communities; we are interfering with private contracts and obligations, and the only justification for that lies in the abnormal conditions of the war. It is not within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Parliament to exercise ..these powers in times of peace.- The only pretence for. power and jurisdiction to introduce a measure of this kind depends solely, strange to say, on what is the meaning of “ defence.” I am referring to that particular paragraph relating to naval and military defence in section 51 of the Constitution, and the power there referred to depends upon the widest possible interpretation of the meaning of the word. Apart from our powers under “ defence,” and but for our ability to show that the measure is incidental to the defence of the Commonwealth of Australia, we have no jurisdiction whatever. Honorable members will see from what I say that we are not exercising a specific and direct power given to us by- the Constitution. We are simply exercising a general power under a wide and generous interpretation of the defence provision of the Constitution. These defence powers are plenary in character, and the Court has gone so far as to say that they can be widely interpreted, even to permitting, under the conditions of war, such a thing as price- fixing. As to price-fixing, for example, I do not think there is room for the slightest doubt that the Federal Government or
Parliament has- no power whatever to interfere cr provide for it apart from defence. It is the exercise of a power incidental to a time of war, and not to a time of peace, when it remains a matter solely within the powers of the States. I think I have made it quite clear that if this Bill is to have any validity at all we must he able to convince the Court that it is a reasonable exercise of legislation incidental to our powers of defence. If we, for instance, chose to extend these contracts for a period of five or six years or more, then the Court would have the right to say, and undoubtedly would say, that it was not a reasonable exercise of our powers, and that, therefore, the Bill was invalid.
– Does that argument not apply equally to other infringements of the civil rights of the people?
– The honorable member will realize that we are governed by a written Constitution, by the hard and fast lines pf which we are rigidly bound. The extraordinary power we have exercised for some time past, practically absorbing the rights of the States, which, are protected by the Constitution, could not have been exercised but ‘for the abnormal conditions of the war, and it is the extraordinary breadth of the interpretation given to the term “defence” in the Constitution Act that gives that power. Now the war is over, and we have arrived at a period when we are not supposed to exercise any powers of the kind. The Government claim that this legislation immediately rises out of the conditions of the war, and is incidental to it, and that we have jurisdiction which otherwise we would not.
– Would the Court not put a limitation on that view of yours?
– I am pointing out that the Court would distinctly put a limitation on our power to extend the moratorium. While appeals are made to the Government to do what is fair and just, I’ think that, in recommending this legislation, the’y have gone perilously near to- the limit of their- power and the power of Parliament. It’ is not a free exercise of power that we have’ in this connexion ; it is the exercise. ‘ of powers as we think they exist; and only by straining: the Constitution can we introduce a Bill, of the kind. When appeals are made by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr;
Mcwilliams) and the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) to make substantial extensions. of the moratorium,. I do not think those gentlemen are acting in the interest of those for whom they speak ; the more we advance in that direction the more we are calculated to make the Bill unreasonable, and, therefore, not within the jurisdiction of Parliament.
’.- The debate has been interesting, inasmuchas it has shown tip both sides of the question ; but if we are to have any considerable extension of the measure, it will havethe effect of compelling all those who ha . eexisting mortgages to continue them at fluxed rate of interest, probably much lower than the ruling rate, while .those who have lent money on mortgage since the beginning of the war will be allowed to charge what interest they like. Thisis to set up. a system of differentiation - to create a privileged class. If the Houseextends ‘the operation of the measure for a considerable time, we should use empowers to deal with the fixing of interest in all cases as a general principle.
The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) indicated to-day that on. the real estate or property of Australia there are mortgages to the extent of £500,000,000. That I think is anoverestimate; but there is one important phase the honorable member did not deal with, and that is the amount of moneylent through banks in the form of overdraft, and by insurance . companies and other financial institutions. I havetaken the trouble to get from Mr. Knibbs a statement which shows that in- advancesfrom banks in the form of overdraft, advances in connexion with life and fire insurance companies, building societies, and the various savings banks, there is an indebtedness, most of it long-dated, of something like £210,000,000’; and none of thisindebtedness would the moratorium touch. If it is not constitutional to extend these mortgages which would be blocked under the Bill, they might be extended so as to give a little breathing: time; but if the first payments be extended by twelve months, it would be necessary to extend the rest, terminating at the end of about ten years. This would cause great injustice to those who lent money before the war, and would leave those who had lent money during the war, andare lending it now, free to charge what interest they liked. The House should hesitate before setting up a privileged class in this way.
The Bill has been on the table of the House for some time, but we have not had an opportunity of dealing with it, and this is the first intimation to the people of Australia-
– It is the first real intimation to the people of how far the Bill will operate, and how far it will be necessary for them to settle their accounts. If possible I should like to see the Minister extend it until the next harvest, say, for six months, but only so far as he is constitutionally able, according to his legal advisers, to carry out the contracts which have been entered into.
– I listened with considerable interest to the exposition of the constitutional side of this question by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), and, although I thought he was out of harmony with the views I laboriously put before the Committee in connexion with the Commercial Activities Bill I find that I have the distinction of being quite in agreement with him as to the powers of this Parliament in regard to that measure and the one now before us. Our constitutional power to do this thing clearly rests upon the meaning of “ defence,’’ and inevitably depends upon the question whether, when this Bill is tested in the Courts, it can be proved that the necessities of defence justify an obvious departure from the literal meaning of the Constitution: Of course I have a very natural sympathy with the view put forward by some honorable members that extended protection should be given to those who have incurred financial obligations, have borne the hard times of the war, and on whom pressure may be suddenly brought tobear. But I should like honorable members to ap prehend fairly the true position of both parties to these contracts. It is not sufficiently recognised that the proposed extension can only apply to those who had incurred obligations as mortgagors prior to the introduction of the moratorium, and I am surprised to find that what is a commonplace with men engaged in business is very little understood by many honorable members, namely, that all mortgagees and all drawers of contracts of sale, with scarcely any exception, have been prudent enough to declare that contracts entered into since the moratorium shall be expressly excluded from its operations. It may be said that to that extent the moratorium has been futile, but I think that is not so, for the reason that the object of a moratorium was to protect persons who had entered into contracts in time of peace, and who could not reasonably have foreseen the disaster that might result from the abnormal conditions arising from the war. It was not designed to protect persons who, in time of war, with actual war conditions before their eyes, embraced certain obligations, as we all do in the course of every-day existence. I think that it would be well to remove another misconception that exists. It must not be supposed that every borrower of money, every mortgagor, is a financially embarrassed person. If you can point out to me abusiness man who is possessed of a large backing of real estate, and you assure me that he is carrying that estate unencumbered, my answer will be that he may be a business man, but he is avery poor financier. Every business man who has assets upon which he can raise money for the purpose of making money is keen enough to do so, and consequently it frequently happens that the mortgagor is much better off financially than the mortgagee’. It happens, too, that this moratorium applies not alone to straight-out mortgages, but also to contracts of sale, and to those persons who, having, it may be, only a small property, have contracted to sell it on terms. A matter which must have interested honorable members was made public when an application was made in the Court to obtain relief in regard to a contract which the Prime Minister (Mr.
Hughes) .had entered into in respect of his own property. In that case the vendor was embarrassed by the fact that he was restrained from getting his purchase money while the moratorium operated. 1 mention that as an illustration of the fact that very often the person who is selling: the house on terms is a poor man, or is in a small way of business, whereas the purchaser or mortgagor is a person of standing and substance. I ask the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) what .is to be specially gained bv the amendment which he has foreshadowed to extend the operation of the moratorium for a year? I am not pledging myself to oppose the amendment, because I do not think it will affect the public very much, one way or the other, but I ask him what gain he anticipates from the proposed extension? It is very likely, I am sorry to say, that at the expiration of another year the financial crisis through which this country has to pass will be nearer its zenith than it is to-day, and the burden on the people will be heavier, than it is now. One would suppose that the persons who are to be affected by the ending of the moratorium were being suddenly faced with a crisis which they had no reason to expect, but surely everybody who got the benefit of the moratorium in 1916 has had sufficient prudence to realize that he knew not the day or hour when he might be called upon to face the termination of the protection which the moratorium gave him. Therefore, one would suppose that, whatever else he might urge, he could not urge that he had been taken by surprise. I would be the last to impose any hardship on a person who as a borrower of money found himself in the clutches of an unscrupulous lender. Thus I am in thorough sympathy with legislation passed by the various States, and designed very much in conformity with the views of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), who has on more than one occasion mentioned the matter, to prevent the imposition of usurious rates’ of interest on persons whose necessities drive them to borrow, generally small sums of money, in most disadvantageous circumstances, and repay them under pressure with exorbitant interest. But in
Mr. Brennan. the consideration of this Bill we should not entirely lose sight of the claims particularly of those who are in a small way of business, and are dependent upon the repayment of money due to them - who very often are dependent upon the moderate interest that comes to them from small investments - while at the same time protecting the general public from anything in the nature of a sudden financial change. ‘ I cannot for a moment think that the disaster which the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) predicts can be brought about by the removal of the moratorium. I think the Bill applies only to those contracts entered into prior to the establishment of the moratorium.
– And not to all of them.
– Would they not represent a very large percentage of all existing mortgages?
– I should say they would represent a comparatively small percentage! I was about to reply to the interjection of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) that it does not apply to all those mortgages that were existing at the time the moratorium came into force, for the very simple reason that a large proportion of those mortgages have in the course of business been liquidated by borrowers, who were only too anxious in many cases to get rid of the obligations they were shouldering, and were paying them off by regular fixed instalments which they had no desire to evade . or cease to pay. ‘
– Others were specifically denied the benefit of the moratorium by the very regulations themselves.
– In my own experience, which is a fairly varied one amongst small borrowers and lenders of moderate means, I have found that the great” majority of borrowers are those who are buying small properties on extended terms, and under mortgages which enable them to pay off fixed amounts from quarter to quarter or year to year. That class of borrowers did not seek to take the benefit of a moratorium which postponed the day on which they had to. rid themselves of their obligations;’ but embraced the quarterly opportunity of reducing their liabilities and making their homes free. I am sure that a great many of their mortgages have been redeemed and have ceased to exist.
It is perfectly true that money is fetching a higher rate of interest to-day than it was at the beginning of the war, but it is equally true, also within my experience, that among some of the substantial institutions there is no great fever to call up well-settled investments which are producing regular interest, even though it be at a moderate rate.
– What is the prevailing rate of interest in Victoria today ?
– On good freehold security the prevailing rate of interest is 6 per cent. and 61/2 per cent. In some cases it is more. WhileI am generally in sympathy with the tone of the speech of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams), and would certainly be whole-heartedly in support of him if I believed that the consequences he predicts would come to pass, I think it is only fair that we should judiciously consider both sides of the question before recording a vote on this Bill.
. -It has been very interesting to listen to the views expressed by honor able members, and, after listening to speeches from honorable members on either side whose profession it is to regulate advances of money to clients, the House can fairly accept their views as a fair illustration of how the moratorium is working out in practice. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch) has drawn a picture of the awful chaos that would prevail if all the mortgages of the “ cockie “ fa rmers were called up. He reminds me of the typical farmer with a mortgage on his property who has just had an excellent crop. Having for the moment a lot of money, which he does not know what to do with, he does not dream of paying off his mortgage, but goes to his neighbour’s fence, looks over it, and has a chat with the owner. He says, “How much do you want for your land?” The other man says, “I am not much of a seller, but I will take £10 an acre.” The first man says, “I’ll give you £8 an acre.” The other man says, “All right,
I’ll take £8.” Thus, out of the profits derived from his good crop, the first farmer buys an extra block of land, and raises another mortgage on it. That is one of the reasons why population is leaving the country districts and flocking to the city. The “ cockie “ farmers are buying up their neighbour’s properties. It is this process which keeps the farmers always in debt. If ever people have had the opportunity of paying off existing mortgages, the farmers have had it during the last few years. Prices have been reasonably good, in many cases excellent crops have been obtained, and, as a class, the producers have been better off than they have ever been before.
I venture to say that a very large percentage of the mortgages existing before the moratorium came into force have been wiped out. The average mortgage runs for three years, and it will be three years next month since the moratorium regulations were gazetted. Many men who had mortgages at that time have been gradually paying them off. They have not taken advantage of the relief extended to them. On the other hand, there are many mortgages which will never be wiped out so long as men can borrow on their property and utilize the money borrowed to better advantage. Why have a special Act of Parliament to enable that class of man to make investments elsewhere, without meeting the obligation to repay the money borrowed? If I could turn over my stock at 10 per cent., I would be a fool if I did not raise money on any property I owned and invest id in my business; but surely, when the obligation to repay that money fell due, it would be incumbent upon me to curtail my business transactions and pay it back.
– It places the other man at a disadvantage if that is not done.
– Exactly. When the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) was speaking it came into my mind that lenders of money are a great deal worse off than many borrowers. It may seem strange, but it is an absolute fact. I know of beneficiaries under wills who have been living upon very small incomes from mortgages, and who, before the war, were justable to make ends meet. The interest rate on these mortgages has not been increased.
– Do they not do anything ?
– No, they do not; and I know of persons so situated who are unable to do anything. They are living on interest upon mortgages; and, that the honorable member may know their condition, I may tell him that they are not in receipt of an income sufficiently large to involve the payment of income tax. The increased cost of living has affected these people in the same way as the rest of the community. The return from their investments has not gone up, and they are in a worse position to-day than when the moratorium came into existence. As legal members of the House know, there are thousands of such people in Australia, and if they could get their money in and’ be in a position to lend it again at the present market rate of interest, it would compensate them in some way for the increased cost of living. At present they are absolutely being penalized. I agree with honorable members who have said that, as a rule, when a man borrows money he has a fair margin of security to offer, or no one will lend to him. I know that I can borrow more money now than when 1 had nothing. A man can always regulate his business in such a way as to enable him to meet obligations of this kind’ when they fall due. The number of cases in which, owing to distressful circumstances such as those pictured by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch), this cannot be done, do not represent one in one thousand of the persons who have Borrowed money upon mortgage.
– What about investors in the war loan?
– I interjected, when the honorable member was speaking, that a man who had a mortgage falling due, and took advantage of the moratorium, had no right to invest money in a war loan. He should have paid off his mortgage, and let the mortgagee invest in the war loan.
– The honorable member advocated that people should be compelled to invest in the war loans.
– It is somewhat amusing to hear the voice of the consistent members in this corner. If there were any honorable members in this House who made a fuss about extending the operation of the War Precautions regulations by the Commercial Activities Bill, they were the honorable members who sit in this corner. They wanted to terminate at once the operation of the War Precautions regulations and get back to normal: conditions.
– Even the strongest advocate of that always had a reservation.
– I had none. I desired to wipe the whole thing clean away. We were finished with the war, and I thought we should get rid of the War Precautions regulations and start afresh. It is not only to-day that I have expressed that desire. I said last year that I wanted that done. I believe that the Government have been very generous in the extensions they have given, and I trust they will not. be influenced by the appeals made to them to grant extensions beyond the period provided for in the Bill.
Mr.LECKIE (Indi) [3.24].- I was very much interested in listening to the description of a typical farmer given by the honorable member who has just sat down. He described the typical farmer as a man who is always buying his neighbour’s land. I should judge that the honorable member’s experience of the primary producer is confined to those who have sold their land at a big price, have settled down in Henty, and have given up primary production. In dealing with the Commercial Activities Bill, the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), backed up by eminent legal opinion, contended that certain activities could be extended because certain contracts had been entered into owing to war conditions. Those were for the most part contracts for a definite period . Under the moratorium we are dealing with implied contracts which for the most part have not been fixed. The implied contracts under the moratorium are to continue until the conditions arising out of the war have been dissipated. That seems clear to my mind. If this Bill, as introduced, is a valid Bill, it is equally valid for us to extend its operations for another twelve months, because the contracts affected were not entered into for twelve months or for any definite period.
– We should finish up the work begun in war time.
– Exactly. Certain conditions arose out of the war, and they are still operating. Until those conditions are dissipated this Bill should be extended to cover contracts affected by them. Some speakers have suggested that some lenders are worse off than borrowers. There may be a few instances of that kind, but I believe that 95 or 98 per cent, of those who borrow money are in a worse position than are those who lend it to them. We are reminded that at the present time money earns more interest than it did during war time. Why are those who have money now getting better interest than could be obtained before the war? It is because of the war. If it is illegal or immoral to make any money out of the war, what harm is done to the lenders of money if they are asked to wait for the repayment of their money for another year, and so permit their debtors to cope with the present conditions of distress?
I suggested in this House before that the best way out of the difficulty would be to wipe out altogether the period of the war, and make these mortgages payable four years later than their due dates. That has appeared to me the best and fairest way of overcoming the difficulty. I do not suppose that Ministers will be prepared to go as far as that, but there cam be no doubt that many cases of’ hardship will arise under this Bill, and I ask the Government to reconsider the position. If the Acting Attorney-General is going to strain a. point, as he is doing in respect of the validity of this measure, let him strain it in favour of those who are in a worse position than are the lenders of money. Some favoured members of the House, who have been very fortunate in their business careers, have given testimonials to banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions, but in my experience, and it’ is inthe experience of the great majority of the’ community, I have never known a bank to advance money if it did not see that it would get it back, or if the borrower did not offer very good security. In that case I affirm that the primary producer occupies a ‘worse position than does the business man in Melbourne. It very frequently happens that banks will make advances to successful business men, of whom they have had experience for years, without security, but the man on the land has always to put up security” before he can obtain assistance from any of these financial institutions. Representing as I do a country constituency, I am thoroughly assured that the great ma- ‘jortiy of our primary producers are not in the happy position described by thehonorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) - the position of being able- to buy their neighbour’s land, and to raise another mortgage upon it, and I therefore ask the Minister to be more sympathetic than he is apparently disposed tobe, by extending a little more consideration to mortgagors under this Bill.
– To me.it appears peculiar that the scope of this measure cannot be constitutionally extended. As a layman, however, I am obliged to accept the dictum of the legal members of this Chamber. But it seems to me that there is a feeling ‘ amongst them that the High Court, knowing the circumstances of the case, may not rule against the validity of the Bill should its constitutionality becalled into question, and also that the mortgagees interested under it are doing so well that they will not trouble to test its. legality. My experience has taught me that under the moratorium regulations one set of landlords has been placed at a distinct disadvantage as against another set. In this connexion I may mention the .case of a landlord who had soldiers’ dependants in two of his houses. In 1915 he got rid of both of his tenants by paying them £14 in all. To one he gave £8, and to the other £6) to quit his houses. He made up that amount by means of increased rents in twenty- two weeks. So that really the moratorium regulations proved a two-edged sword. What has been the position of soldiers’ dependants during the past two years?
If they desired to obtain a house, the moment a landlord learned that they were soldiers’ dependants he refused to let it to them. I have had dozens of persons come to my place with complaints of this character. Instead of the moratorium, regulations proving a benefit to the soldiers’ dependants, they placed them under a very great disability. Why should the cunning landlord escape this disability, whilst the landlord who wishes to do the fair thing is subjected to a disadvantage ?
– The decent landlords did not raise their rents during the war, whereas the indecent ones did,, and I am sorry to say that the latter constituted the majority.
– I quite agree with the honorable member. The indecent landlords extract as much rent from their tenants as they can. I can point to one case in which a landlord had two similar houses adjoining each other. Prom one, which was let to soldiers’ dependants, he derived a rental of lis. per week, whilst from the other, which was not let to soldiers’ dependants, he collected 18s. per week. Since the moratorium regulations have been in operation I have had occasion to visit dozens of agent3 in my electorate for the purpose of explaining to them the effect of those regulations. I quite recognise that this Bill will extend beyond the period of demobilization. That is to say, it will cover a period when operations connected with the war have entirely ceased. My complaint is that in the meantime certain landlords will, be able to impose their own sweet will upon the general body ‘ of the people, while other landlords who deal with soldiers’ dependants will be subjected to injustice. I stress this phase of the question, not in the interests of the landlords, but in the interests of the returned soldier’s and their dependants. I know of one man who went to the Front leaving behind him his father, his wife, and four children. His father was not living with him at the time of his departure, but some time afterwards the poor man suffered a. paralytic stroke, and the wife of the soldier took him into her home. As a result, the house proved to be insufficiently large to accommodate them all. They tried to get another dwelling, but everywhere met with a refusal. As soon as an agent to whom the woman applied for a house discovered that she was the wife of a soldier on active service, he would refuse to accept her as a tenant. Is it not possible to place all landlords in the same position under this Bill?
– It can apply only to soldiers’ dependants. It cannot apply generally.
– Then is there any possibility of compelling the cunning, landlord to accept soldiers’ dependants as tenants at the lower rentals which are paid by these people .so as to even things up a bit?
– Leave that matter to the Committee.
– I admit it is a peculiar question to put to the Minister, but I get particulars of many of my constituents’ troubles, and the facts which I have placed before the House have come under my notice. Under the Constitution, differentiation between States and States, or portions of States, or between individuals and other individuals, is supposed to be safeguarded against; but this Bill will really affect the position of some landlords and tenants, and the longer this position is tolerated the worse it will be for the soldier and his dependants, and the better for those landlords who do not care how. they treat their tenants.
Lt.-Colonel ABBOTT (New England) [3.43]. - It seems to me that the effect of this Bill will be very far-reaching. We have had the .view from the’ city stand-point put by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) and the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), and it is the duty of honorable members representing outback constituencies to inform the House of- the effect of this measure upon the primary producers, including, of course, those men who are battling against adverse conditions brought about by drought. My complaint is that the general terms in regard to the date of the falling in of the mortgages is far too short. It is provided that any mortgage which was effective on or before the 1st January, 1915, shall fall due in August, 1919, or, at the latest, in June, 1920, so that the whole of the mortgages in Australia may be called up by J une of next year.
– Unless some special arrangement can be made.
– The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) has pointed out that mortgages entered into during the last year or two have had placed in them, by express agreement, a clause providing that the mortgagor shall not take advantage of the moratorium regulations. This was practically forced upon borrowers in recent times; if they had not agreed to the condition, they could not have obtained the money. What is the financial position of Australia? Money that ordinarily would have been, lent for developmental purposes and the assistance of the primary producer has,- of late years, been invested in war loans, and during the next month or two another £25,000,000 will be asked for; so that the “pockets of the people will be depleted to this extent within the next few months. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that during the next twelve months 75 per cent, of the people who lent money on mortgages that are affected by this Bill ask for their cash. Where is it to come from? It is impossible to get blood out of a stone, and it is difficult to see what will happen to some mortgagors in June, 1920, when they lose the protection of this Bill. Where is the outback farmer, who, perhaps, has lost half his stock, and ‘ where is tlie outback trader, who, because of extended credit given to customers, may, perhaps, be in difficulties, going to find the money to lift present mortgages, even if they are prepared to pay 8 per cent, or 8£ per cent. ? Without being, as the Minister puts it, an optimistic pessimist, I fail to see how we are going to come to the rescue of those people, who will be tumbling over one another in thousands to get financial assistance. I admit that there is power for the Court to grant relief in cases of hardship; but if, say, “ Bill Brown “” is up against it on account of drought or other adverse conditions - and there will be 50,000 “ Bill Browns “ in the same position. - every man who is an honest trader, or honest struggling farmer, and requires relief. will be obliged to go into Court and disclose the whole of his financial affairs. In other words, these men will have to go into the witness box, so to speak, and tell the people of Australia, “ I am supposed to be in a pretty good financial position, but, as a matter of fact, I cannot pay 20s. in the £1 at present, so I must get twelve or eighteen months’ extension of time in regard to my obligations, or I shall be compelled to go through the Bankruptcy Court.” These men will practically have to placard to their friends and enemies throughout Australia the fact that they are up aga’inst it, and that the only escape financially is for them to get some relief by an extension of time, otherwise they will be “ down and- out.’’
– That would ruin a man’s credit all over Australia.
– It would ‘be worse than the publication of a bill of sale in the Trade Gazette. I have particularly in mind the position of the farmers who sent their sons to the war, and who, being deprived of their help,, had” to mortgage their property in order to carry on. These boys have come back to find that in their absence the country hasbeen visited by drought, and that, under this. Bill, their parents are told by the Government, “ You must pay off the amount of your mortgages by June, 1920; but if you choose to bring all your business affairs before the Court you may obtain some consideration.” That is not a fair position.’ Special provision is made an this Bill in regard to returned soldiers; but it seems to me that they are not to be allowed the extension of time provided for in the case of ordinary individuals. Within six months after their discharge,, or six months after the exchange of ratifications, they will have to meet their obligations under mortgages or contracts for the purchase of land entered into by them before they went to the Front. After four years of war, they return to find
Australia in a rather bad way financially, and the nimble shilling exceedingly elu sive; yet, six months after the declaration of Peace, they are to discharge these obligations. My reading of the Bill may be wrong, but it seems to me that returned soldiers are not given the right conferred upon ordinary individuals of going to the Court to secure redress in cases of hardship. If that point has been overlooked by the Government, we must see to it that returned soldiers are given the same consideration that is extended to ordinary civilians. I hope that the Government will not endeavour to impose on their supporters any hard-and-fast rule in regard to this measure. It is of such importance, and will be so far-reaching in its effect, that the spirit of compromise should prevail. The Government should be prepared to adopt a give-and-take policy. I recognise that we have to consider the interests of the lender as well as the borrower. Mortgagees might perhaps be able to obtain for their money 2 per cent. more than they are receiving under these prewar mortgages, and tothat extent they are making a sacrifice. As the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) . mentioned, some of these men now find themselves unable to live within their incomes. But, while we ought to consider their interests, it is our bounden duty, as members of the National Parliament, to see that, by passing such a measure as this, we do not impose hardships on the great majority of the people who will be affected by it. It will be found that this Bill is likely to impose less hardship upon the lenders than upon the borrowers, and that there arecertain parts of this Commonwealth where the sudden calling up of these moneys will result in untold misery to the people. We must take care not to embarrass the community as a whole, or to bring about financial chaos and should be prepared to allow such concessions as will enable every person who has entered into a monetary obligation, and who desires faithfully to discharge it, a reasonable time to do so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma.
Returned Soldiers Badges - “ Conducting “ Work - Australian Military Establishments in Britain - PriceFixing - Lettergrams - Seamen’s Strike - Repatriation Fund.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
Lt.-Colonel ABBOTT (New England) [3.57]. - I claim the indulgence of the House to draw the attention of the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) to a matter of the utmost importance to returned soldiers. Every member of the Australian Imperial Force on returning to Australia is entitled to a returned soldier’s badge, even if he left Australia only a day before the armistice was signed. Whether a man served in Mesopotamia, France, or Belgium, or was only on a transport, he is entitled to that badge. Medical officers who were employed on transports, and did not even hear a shot fired, have the same right. Army Medical Corps officers who have been through Fleurbaix, Passchendaele, and other fights, and have been under fire for months and years, are issued only the same badge as Army Medical Corps men who have not been off a transport. Young Men’s Christian Association workers, Red Cross, and War-chest officials, have been issued this same badge. Whether it is right or wrong that they should receive the badge is a point quite apart from my argument at present. I have it on good authority that certain members of the Australian Pay Corps who wentto England with Senator Pearce some months ago - that is to say, after the armistice had been signed - and who were not returned soldiers, have come back to Australia during the past few weeks; and they, too, have been issued the returned soldier’s brass badge. I shall quote from a letter signed by the secretary of the Sydney branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, as follows -
I am instructed by my State executive to bring under your notice that the A.I.F. brass badge is being issued to Senator Pearce’s Pay Corps, which left Australia with him after the signing of the armistice. Many of these men have returned, and have been issued with the brass badge after, having put in three weeks’ war service at Horseferry-road.
The distinguishing mark of a returned soldier is the badge he wears, and it is felt by this organization that to recognise as returned soldiers men who were indispensable during the war, but whoso services were required for three weeks’ employment at Horseferry-road, is a matter that should be discussed in the House.
If that is correct, I appeal to honorable members to support the returned soldiers, and to see that such a situation is done away with. If it comes down to a question of proportionate recognition of services rendered, I do not say that some of us may be as much entitled to wear the badge as many others who have been through the thick of the fray for four years and more; but I stoutly assert that any party who left Australia after the signing of the armistice has no right to wear the badge.
– I desire’ to call attention to the cost of Australia’s military establishments in Britain to-day. The war is over, and we are assured that the last of our fighting men are on the way home. There were many men who held down fine little jobs in England during the course of the war ; and, despite the earnest endeavours of Generals Monash and Griffiths, very little, if anything, has been done to weed out those establishments, or, indeed, to close them down at this stage. We have been more than once informed that the establishment at Horseferry-road was enormous, having regard to the amount of work done. There were hundreds of men well dug in, drawing captain’s and major’s pay, and, doing mighty little - certainly as little as possible - by way of earning their money. We are’ given to understand that there is still much clearing up to be done. Why cannot the greater part of that be finalized in Australia? I do not believe that any money spent in the Commonwealth is wasted ; but all these extravagant establishments in the Old Country which, during the war, had relatively little to do, must now have vastly less to occupy their attention, and should be wound up with despatch. All the men retained on such, jobs should be returned to Australia at ‘ the earliest possible moment. A soldier who returned home two and a half years ago told me that General Griffiths was doing hi6 utmost then to reduce the staff at Horseferryroad. However, the men in the London dug-outs would not relinquish their jobs without a fight. They got to work, and even when some of them were weeded out, the remainder got busy enough, apparently, to prove that a full staff was still required. General Griffiths was able to do very little along the lines of his proposed reform.
– He was a good man, but he had too many wasters around him.
– Exactly ! Let us think for a. moment of the enormous amount, of money involved in the upkeep of the pay office. I believe that astounding facts may yet be revealed in connexion with that establishment. At the present, however, we have, heard nothing of it being cleared up, and its staff sent home. I do not blame the men for digging themselves in; but the Government have no right to allow them to entrench themselves in England at the cost of the people here.
A little while ago I referred to what is known as the central registry at Horseferryroad. That establishment carries a large staff of civil and military persons. I would like to know the numbers employed there, and the cost of the establishment. The duties seem to have comprised merely the filing of letters and cablegrams; and the Horseferry-road telephone system, in which numbers of girls are employed,, is also attached thereto. General Griffiths could never break down that extravagant establishment. Cannot the Government supply . definite information regarding the clearing up of the various establishments remaining in England?
– Australia House could be thinned out a little, too.
– That is quite possible. The war is over, and our fighting men are home or homeward .bound. How long are these various costly establishments to be retained ? There must now be certain Departments’ at Horseferryroad which have been thrown into utter idleness. Why not bring the staffs back home quickly? It would even be better to pension them off here for a while than to pay them to do nothing in England, where good Australian money is being spent. I was talking recently with a man who returned three weeks ago. He had been in the Army Service Corps, and would like to get back to his job; but he explained that his boss had hold of a good thing, and was taking care of it.
– The Army Service Corps is hound to be the last in commission. It has to do the cleaning up.
– I quite understand that, but it is useless to keep an extensive establishment on the job of cleaning up when all the cleaning up has been done. Those men might as well be home to-day.
– It is very much to be regretted that .these general charges should be made without any facts to back them up. I cannot be expected, at a moment’s notice, to say what the position at Horseferry-road is. The latest information possessed by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) must be from letters or from returned soldiers who left England a considerable time ago. We are now told that all soldiers, except those in the administrative depots, will have left by to-morrow.
– There is nothing to administer now.
– I think the honorable member’s own common sense ought to teach him that there is much clearing-up work to do. I am personally interested in one man employed in. the demobilization office, and I’ know that both he and 1 are exceedingly anxious that he should return as soon as possible. It is safe to say that there is a great number of others in the same position, for these men have work here to which they are anxious to return. I have absolutely declined, in regard to a man I am interested in, to use the slightest influence to get him back. I will not even cable, although I could justify his return on the same grounds as those on which other students have been brought back. We shall not keep the heads of the administrative depots there when there is nothing for them to do. I must say that we are very much gratified at the rapidity with which the demobilization has taken place. Originally it was thought that the demobilization would continue for eight or twelve months; but, as I have said, all but those in the administrative depots will have left by to-morrow, and each depot will be closed as soon as its work is done. I am satisfied that all concerned are doing their utmost; at any rate, the Department in Melbourne will do what it can to expedite matters.
As to the remarks of the honorable member for New England (Lt.-Colonel Abbott), I may say there is a good deal of misapprehension with regard to the brass badge issued to returned soldiers. I am informed that the brass badge issued by the Department is merely an emblem to indicate that a soldier has proceeded abroad in the Australian Imperial Force. It is given to all ranks who actually left the last port of call in Australia, regardless of whether they actually got into a theatre of war. For instance, men returned from Colombo, Egypt, and England, owing to medical unfitness, receive this emblem in the same manner as those who have been fighting at Gallipoli, France, or Palestine. The war medals to be issued later will indicate the service the soldier concerned has done, and those who have been in battles prescribed will receive clasps on such medals. The Australian Imperial Force badge is merely a badge to wear in plain clothes to indicate that the wearer joined the Australian Imperial Force, and went abroad, and answers until such time as the war medals are issued. In years to come, a man who has served will be able to wear his medal or medals, and thereby indicate his service; and those who have not been in a theatre of war will be distinguished from those who have. As to those men who went to England as members of the Pay Corps, I am surprised at the attempts made to belittle them. Any one who has knowledge of the working of this branch of the Defence Department must realize that the sending of these specially trained men Home discloses the reason why the Department is now able to settle up with all the returned soldiers within a few days of their arrival; in fact, the pity is that such a corps was not sent Home two years ago at least. These men, under present instructions, will be entitled to wear the brass badge. I may say that many of them are returned soldiers; but consideration will be given to the question whether the clerks - as distinguished from returned soldiers or rejects - who left Australia after the armistice was signed, shall receive it. Many who came back as members of the Pay Corps are, as I say, returned soldiers; and I mention these facts in order that the wearing of the badge may not be misunderstood. In later years, the war medals to be issued will be the badges showing the service rendered at the Front.
.- I regret that the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) has already spoken, for that will prevent his replying to what I am about to say. The honorable gentleman’s remarks would lead one to think that amongst our men in England there were none able to do clerical work; but such an idea is absurd. From my knowledge of the Pay Office, it can best be described in the words of a brilliant New South Wales barrister as a department of “ muddledom,” as was proved by the fact that £60,000 was paid to a phantom regiment. In justice to the Assistant Minister, I must say that this did not occur while he was in charge of the Department.
There is one topic of conversation in every home in Australia, and that is the unjust prices, and the profiteering that is practised. What is requiredis a system of price-fixing that will do justice to the producer and to the consumer alike; and I suggest that the Inter-State Commission, or some other body, should make searching inquiry. Wheat and flour, for instance, furnish a good example; and I should like the Government to have the following inquiries made: -
How many lbs. of bread will such mixture produce -
What time does it take to bake -
What weight of dough is allowed for 2-lb. and 4-lb. loaves respectively -
– On some of the points on which information is sought we have no experts; but I shall refer the question to the Customs Department.
– That Department might be able to furnish the information, though I fancy the Inter-State Commission could clear up some of the points. I hope that, if necessary, the Government will introduce another Bill, so that in the event of a firm or Combine refusing to supply raw material, the offender shall be punished, not by fine, but by imprisonment. Other countries are looking into these matters, and it is time we woke up. It is time that something was done to protect those who are least able to defend themselves against the extortionate demands of the profiteers.
.- The people of Tasmania have been applying for some time to be allowed to use lettergrams as they are deprived of a regular mail service and telegrams are not a sufficiently elastic means of communication. Hitherto the answer of the PostmasterGeneral has been that the request cannot be acceded to because it would involve a breach of that uniformity which must be observed in the treatment of the States. I desire to know whether that is the private opinion of the PostmasterGeneral or whether he has had legal advice to that effect? The statement appears to me to be nothing but a quibble. I hope that some consideration will be shown to the people of Tasmania, who are shut off from communication with the mainland on account of the strike, influenza, and other causes. I doubt very much whether the extension of this requested concession to Tasmania would toe a breach of the uniformity which is referred to in the Constitution. If it would not be a breach of the Constitution, there is no reason why these people should not be given special assistance in a time of great distress and inconvenience.
– I do not think the PostmasterGeneral meant that the obstacle was a constitutional one.
– He said that he must treat every State alike.
– That is his sense of equity.
– But no other State is in the same position as Tasmania. If this concession would not be a breach of the Constitution, the answer of the PostmasterGeneral is a miserable subterfuge. The communication between Tasmania and the mainland is most irregular, and if no better excuse can be offered for the refusal of the right to use lettergrams, more will be heard of this matter in the near future.
.- Can the Acting Leader of the House give to honorable members the latest information in regard to the negotiations for the settlement of the seamen’s strike? It is rumoured to-day that a deadlock has been reached, and that the Government have refused to release Mr. Walsh from prison. The country are expecting from the Government a firm and definite announcement in regard to the strike, and I hope that the Acting Leader of the House will clearly define the position of himself and his colleagues.
.- I desire to refer to the repatriation fund that was instituted in the various States as a result of an official appeal in April, 1916.’ A total amount of £178,189 was collected, and vested in trustees for the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Fund 1916. Later, all such funds passed to the control of the Minister for Bepatriation. The control of that fund in Queensland was in the hands of the State War Council, the chairman of which has persistently refused to pav into the central fund the amount of £52,304 which has been collected in Queensland, because he main-‘ tains that the money should be available for distribution in the State in which it was contributed. On several occasions I- have brought this matter under the notice of the Repatriation Department, and have referred to it in the House. I can understand that the Minister is not in a position to distribute this money, but some steps should be taken to make the amounts available to the Local Committees throughout the State. The contributors would prefer that the money should be made available to the Local Committees rather than that it should be paid into the Commonwealth Treasury. lt is interesting to note how the amounts contributed in the different States compare on a population basis -
Having regard to the fact that the amounts collected in the different States are out of proportion to the population, and as repatriation is the responsibility of the whole of the Commonwealth, it is unfair to expect the few people in Queensland to contribute more than their proportionate share. The Minister realizes, I am sure, that many cases ,that come under the notice of the Local Committees are not covered by the repatriation scheme, and if the money were made available to the Local Committees it would be very much appreciated by those who are doing the work, and the soldiers who will benefit. I hope that Ministers in the chamber will refer this matter to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen), and bring it under the notice of Cabinet. The amount at present held in Queensland may be earning interest, but there is a dispute between the State War Council and the Commonwealth, and it would be a gracious act on the part of the Commonwealth Government to treat all the States on the same basis, and hand the money over to the Local Committees for the benefit of soldiers not covered by the present regulations.
.- The Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) stated that the medals which will be issued to the soldiers will show exactly the war service of the men who have been overseas, and that the men who served on the battlefield will .receive medals different from those issued to the men who have not been in the fighting area. There were in England a number of officers and non-commissioned officers who were engaged in what was known as conducting work, that is, taking troops from England to France, and right up to the firing line, and then returning for another .batch. That was one of the most dangerous employments in the war, but under the existing conditions these men will have no record that they have been on service in France. I was told by the Military authorities in England that conducting work does not count as service in France. I hope that the Assistant Minister for Defence will see that the men who were engaged in that hazardous employment receive the recognition which is their due.
.[4.301. - The Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) will take a note of the matter mentioned by the honorable member for. Robertson (Mr. Fleming). Close attention has been given to the subject to which the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. .Mackay) has made reference. It has already been under Senator Millens notice, but there are several aspects of the. question which present difficulties, particularly the desirability of distributing the funds among Local Committees. However, I shall call Senator Millen ‘s attention to it again. With regard to the rumour which the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) has heard, these are the facts: Since the rejection by the seamen of the agreement approved by’ the Inter-State Conference, the only definite proposal submitted by the Seamen’s Union was one for the immediate release of ‘ Mr. Walsh, which Senator Millen, acting for the Government, at once declined. That is the position to-day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.31 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 August 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1919/19190801_reps_7_88/>.