7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Tudor), by leave, agreed to -
That leave of absence for. two months be granted to the honorable member for Cook (Mr. J. H. Catts).
Motion, (by Mr. Watt), A>y leave, agreed to -
That the right honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Hughes), the right honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Joseph Cook), and the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) be granted leave of absence for one month.
– In addressing a question to the Acting Prime Minister, I desire to express my pleasure at his return to the House, and venture the hope that he is fully restored to health. Is the honorable gentleman aware that there was a shortage of income tax return forms in many post-offices during the latter .part of July? Is he also aware that in consequence of the influenza epidemic some people were unable to furnish returns within the period fixed ? In view of these facts, will he take into consideration the advisableness of extending for one month the time within which returns may be made without incurring any penalty?
– In reply to the honorable member–
Honorable Members- Hear, Hear !
– We are glad to see you back.
– It seems to me, sir, that this demonstration is unparliamentary, but I am much obliged to honorable members, and I thank my honorable friend (Mr. Charlton) for his sympathetic remarks. I did not know of the circumstances to which he has referred, but shall make immediate inquiries, to see that no injustice is done because of any shortage of income tax forms towards the end of last month, and that taxpayers who were subject to the epidemic, and, consequently, unable to furnish the returns within the period fixed, shall not be fined because of that fact.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister seen statements in the press wherein it has been suggested that the Government should at once consider the advisableness of manning the vessels at present without crews, and is he in a position to make a definite announcement as to what are really the intentions of the Government ?
– Unfortunately, I have not been in the House for the last three weeks or more-, but I am familiar with what my honorable collegue (Senator Millen) has done in regard to the shipping trouble, and may say, without any hesitation, that, notwithstanding the criti.cism of certain spot-light critics in the press and elsewhere, I thoroughly approve of everything that has been done by him. At an earlier stage of the dispute I suggested to honorable members that it was inadvisable to spring upon Ministers questions without notice upon matters of such importance, and I repeat that suggestion to-day. Honorable members on both sides must be prepared to trust the Government. I have good reason for saying that I do not intend to make a statement on the subject to-day, nor does the Minister in charge of another place propose to do so.
– In view of the great inconvenience occasioned the public by the present tram hours insisted on by the Government, will the Acting Prime Minister have inquiries made as to the advisableness of altering the hours by stopping the running of trams between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.? I understand that the engine fires could be banked just as well during those hours as at night.
– This is a somewhat technical question for a layman like myself to answer, but I will refer the proposal to the Coal Board for consideration.
Statement by Viscount Jellicoe.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister seen the report of a statement by Viscount’ Jellicoe that it was im. possible for him to ascertain the cost of a particular steam-ship built by the Commonwealth? As bearing on that point, may I also ask whether the honorable gentleman is yet able to fulfil his promise of a year ago to obtain a balance-sheet, prepared, riot by the departmental accountants, but by professional actuaries, in regard to the “Commonwealth shipping asset, and showing the profit and loss account of ships owned by the Commonwealth?
-I saw the statement attributed to Viscount Jellicoe in the Mel.bourne pr,ess, but have, learned enough of condensed reports to know that one- must, npt always depend entirely upon them.
– It was a very good1, peg on which to hang the further question.
– The honorable memberdoes not generally seek pegs ; his ingenuity produces them.
Mr-. Higgs. - And he is not always- here to- drive them in.
– But some honorable members do more by remaining here for one day than others do by attending thesittings of the House for a year. I shall have an opportunity next week to consult with Viscount Jellicoe on the question raised, and* will then know exactly what His Lordship meant. I may say now, however, that the Commonwealth is not. asintimately concerned with the matter as the public might be led to believe by the statements in the press. We have a contractual arrangement with the Government of New South Wales. As to the second part of the honorable member’s question, the balance-sheets are ready, and will be presented with the Budget.
Appointment or Fourth Class Clerks
– Will the Acting Prime Minister ascertain whether it is possible to lay on the table of the Library the Public Service Commissioner’s file relating to the recent appointment of ten fourth class, clerks to the Taxation Department?
– I shall ascertain whether the Department has any objection to the file being laid on the Library table.
– As the influenza scourge seems likely to last for some time, will the Minister for Trade and Customs take immediate steps to proclaim, a quarantine station in the north of Tasmania?
– I shall be glad to Lave inquiries made.
Mi. MATHEWS - As honorable members are receiving communications from, representative bodies in- their electorates, in- regard to profiteering, and since we have evidence furnished by cablegrams, that in all countries Government action isbeing’ taken to deal with the subject, will, the Acting- Prime Minister state- whether the Government propose- to introduce- a-. Bil’l’ providing for a referendum of the people- bo -secure further legislative powersfor the- Commonwealth Parliament;, sothat we may deal- with profiteering in Aus? tralia ?’
– In. the Ministerial statement presented at the opening sitting. o£ the House this year, it was plainly shown that, in the view of the Government, theCommonwealth Parliament has not sufficient power to deal effectively with the problem. Since we have not been able bo give further consideration to the subject,. I am not in. a position to say at thisstage what -amendments- of the Constitution, if any, will be recommended to. the people by this Government.
– In view of the generally recognised fact that Australia, like every other part of the world, by reason of war conditions, is living above its- means and that its- present standards are dangerous, I desire to ask the Acting Prime Minister whether.,, prior to taking legislative action, the Government is prepared to create an Economic Council, composed of the most able economists- in Australia, whose duty it would be to determine how far the present conditions- are due entirely to the war, where, apparently, legitimate trade ends and .profiteeringstarts, and generally to make inquiries in regard to all standards in this country,, so that the people may be clearly informed of the actual position, and- a. stop put to random talk?
– Does not the honorable member consider it advisable to put: so important a question on the notice-paper? The particular phase of the. matter- to which he has referredhas not been submitted for the consideration of the Government, but I promise that itwill be considered if it is submittedindueform.
Numbers in England.
– In view of the conflicting statements appearing in the press about the number of members of the Australian Imperial Force who have left or who are leaving the Old Country, one paragraph stating that the last man has left, and another that there are 26,000 men still to come, will the Assistant Minister for. Defence make a definite statement informing the House of the true position of affairs?
– I shall endeavour to get. the latest figures available on the subject, and make them known.
– Is the Assistant Minister for Defence aware that some of the Australians who were abroad at the beginning of the war, and who rushed to England to enlist, are now returning, and are not being given the same privileges as if they had enlisted here? One told me that he could not get even a pass to take him from the port where he landed to his home.
Mr.WISE.- I shall make inquiries. Does the honorable member refer to those who enlisted in the BritishForces, and were not members of the Australian Imperial Force?
Mr.MACKAY. - Some time ago I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the Commonwealth Bank was charging¼ per cent., for the supervision of the operations of the Butter Pool, and was informed that the matter was under consideration.Has the Department come to any decision on the matter? Seeing that the charge for supervision greatly exceeds that for ad ministration, is there a possibility of any reduction being made ?.
– The matter is at presentthe subject of negotiations between the Government and theCommon wealth Bank. I hope to be able to afford the House information on the matterlater on.
– Is the report by Mr. McLachlam, ex-Public Service Commissioner, on thePublic Service yet available for honorable members?
– I informed the honorable member previously that a subcommittee of the Cabinet had been called upon to deal with the report. So far as I am aware, after an absence of three weeks, Cabinet has not yet receivedthe report of the sub-committee.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs give the House any further information regarding the selection of a site for a new quarantine station for New South Wales ? Have the merits of Port Stephens and Broken Bay been looked into?
– Investigations . are still going on. I hope to have, before very long, the report of the officers who are investigating the suitability of Port Stephens as a site.
– Can the Acting Prime
Minister give the House any information regarding the report in the press of the 2nd instant about a. strike at Australia House owing to the withdrawal of a war bonus ?
– I am afraid I cannot, because this is the first intimation I have had of the occurrence; but strikes are very fashionable at present, and I do not discredit the statement.
– As there are between 4,000 and 5,000 returned men drawing sustenance from the Repatriation Department and rendering no service at the present time, will the Postmaster-General try to arrange for a few selected gangs from among them to build country telephone lines ?
– “When we have work to do, returned men get preference.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister make a statement regarding the application made by certain mining companies for permission to dispose of their output of copper without reference to the Copper Producers Association?
– I am afraid I am a little out of touch with the copper situation. A Copper Conference was held while I was away, and I know of the arrangements in connexion with that, but I know nothing beyond. I shall look into the matter and give the honorable member an answer later in the week.
– Is there any truth in the statement that has appeared in the press during the last few days, that the’ Defence Department intends to award medals similar to, if not exactly’ the same as, those given to men who risked their lives at the Front, to other men who have never been to the war at all, and have merely done clerical work for the Government ?
– I pointed out on Friday that such was not the intention, and that the war medals would show the men’s service at the Front.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Home and Territories, in view of the statement that, in the allocation of war trophies, consideration would be had to the State from which, the companies who had captured them had been recruited, and in view of the fact that the greatest war trophy that has been made available, namely, the 15-in. gun, was captured by a Queensland company, why it is suggested that it be placed in the gardens in Sydney!
– Why not send it to Canberra ?
– I regard the placing of the gun in Sydney as distinctly unfair to the Queensland soldiers.
– I think I told the press, on the morning when ‘the cable announcement was made, that the statement about placing the gun in Sydney was a mistake. Where the guns are landed they are kept temporarily, the permanent allocation depending on other considerations. This is’ really an Australian trophy, not pertain- ing to any particular State.
– Anywhere but Sydney!
Cancellation op Trains.
– Owing to the shortage of coal, in consequence of the seamen’s strike, train services have been cancelled throughout Victoria. There is a postal departmental regulation that, in the case of trains being cancelled, mails also may be cancelled. In order to prevent certain towns, some of them of over 1,000 inhabitants, being deprived of a daily mail, will the Postmaster-General gi-ve instructions that during the short time the trains will be cancelled this regulation is not to be interpreted too strictly, but that if there is involved only a few shillings a week, the daily mails must be continued?
– The suggestion submitted by the honorable member, if applied to the States generally, would mean, not a few shillings, but a few thousand pounds a week. When the railway authorities are unable to run trains they do not deliver the goods, and no complaint is made, their attitude being taken for granted. On the other hand, the postal authorities, who have no other means of conveying mails, are expected by honorable members to act in a manner that would be detrimental to the good government of the Department.
– Will the Assistant Minister for Defence consider the advisability of presenting a badge to women who went to the Front, and who were in the war zone, as something to indicate that, like the men, they have risked their lives?
– I shall submit the suggestion to the Acting Minister for Defence.
Investigation bt Commission.
– Statements are being made publicly to the effect that the Commission which was appointed to hear the appeals of German internees against deportation, hear only the cases of . those who are possessed of means. This is to make the Commission a farce, and I ask the Acting Prime Minister to make inquiries.
– I am not aware that such a statement has been made, and I do not believe that, if made, it is true. The Commission, is doing very unpleasant but necessary work with its usual ability. The members of the Commission are well known to honorable members; and I do not for one moment credit the statement made regarding them. However, I shall see what justification there is for such a statement, and see that every one concerned has an opportunity to put his case.
Removal from ‘ Williamstown.
– Can the Acting Minister for the Navy inform the House at what date it is intended to remove the Naval Depot from Williamstown to Flinders Naval Base?
– Of course, I could give the usual parliamentary answer that the depot will be removed as soon as arrangements can be made. The honorable member knows what work has yet to be done at Flinders Base, and until it is completed, and provision ma le for the accommodation of the men from Williamstown, the depot cannot be removed. It is impossible for me to say at what date the removal will take place.’
Government Purchase and Sale of Cornsacks.
– I have received from the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The purchase and sale of cornsacks by the Government.”
Five honorable ‘ members having risen in their places,
.- Last year, owing to the circumstances created by the war, the Government decided to purchase a supply of cornsacks for the wheat-growers. About 140,000 bales of sacks were purchased by the Government, who sold the sacks at fixed prices to the distributers ordinarily engaged in the trade, and also fixed the rates at which they could be retailed to the users. After last year’s requirements had been met, the Government were left with a surplus of over 31,000 bales, which they decided should be sold. On 24th February they circularized those who had distributed the cornsacks for the previous season, offering at 9s. 8d. per dozen 13,000 bales of the total surplus of 31,000 bales, and asking that offers for quantities be returned to the Department by the 3rd March. The terms were- cash within three days of allotment, payable at the Commonwealth Bank. The circular stated that the commitments of the Government, which would be about 20,000 bales, would be similarly offered at a later date. On 27th February the Cooperative Company of Western Australia made the following definite offer to the Government: -
These sacks were undoubtedly purchased ‘by your Government in the interests of the wheatgrowers, and not in the interests of the jute merchants, and, therefore, the interests of the growers must be protected when considering the best method of disposing of the quantity now under review.
Should jute merchants purchase, and the market for sacks appreciate, following the custom of previous years, the prices of these sacks, which would be the property of the merchants, would be increased accordingly, and the wheat-growers receive no benefit from this balance of the Government’s purchase.
The financial .position of the co-operative organizations does not permit them to purchase as suggested by the Prices Commissioner, as they would need .to tie up much more of their capital than would be expedient to them.
Bearing the foregoing du mind, and knowing the desire of your Government to protect the wheat-growers, we respectfully suggest that the co-operative organizations .handling jute in the various States be asked to sell the sacks to the farmers at a price to cover the present cost -to the Government, .plus interest, storage charges, and reasonable commission, payment to be made to the ‘Government,. say, after harvest, such payment to be guaranteed ‘by the co-operative organizations consenting to handle on these terms.
Then on the 3rd March, the Victorian Producers Co-operative Company, representing from 50 per cent, to 60 per cent, of the wheat-growers in this State, submitted this proposal to the Prices Commissioner -
We are prepared to sell the sacks to the farmers at a .price to cover the present cost to the Government, plus interest, storage charges, and reasonable commission, payment to be made to the Government, say, after harvest, such payment to be guaranteed by us.
In the matter of storage, we may be prepared to find storage accommodation, our object being to keep the cost ito the grower down to the lowest possible figure.
We are agreeable to start our organizing arrangements at once in the matter of their disposal.
To finance these sacks on the terms suggested by you would tie Up capital for so long that A would not he expedient at the present time.
Several times after the date for the closing of .tenders for the first instalment of 13,000 bales, representatives of .the Victorian Producers Co-operative Company waited on the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), and the Prices Commissioner, and offered - if the Government were not prepared to allow the co-operative company to sell the sacks on commission - to purchase the sacks outright if given terms until the next hardest. ‘Tie offer was fortified by- a guarantee from the .London Bank .to the amount of £200,000, thus securing the Government against any possibility of loss.
– “When did they make that offer?
– Towards the 30th April.
– The offer was not limited to .13,000 bales ; it covered all* the sacks in the possession of the Govern ment.
– It was not limited to 13,000 bales. The company were prepared to purchase more if necessary. I have had an opportunity of looking through the official, file, and I find that the Minister informed the representatives of the Victorian Producers Co-operative Company, on or about the 30th April, that the bulk of the sacks, with the exception of the small number which had been already sold, were still in the hands of the Government. The company made no further move in the matter until about the 7th May, when they heard rumours that the greater proportion of the sacks had been sold.” They thereupon sent this further communication to the Minister -
Furthering the interview our Mr. Brittingham had with you on the 1st inst., when you promised, upon the return of the Chief Prices Commissioner, who is away for a few days, to look into the matter of the co-operative handling of cornsacks, we would again take the opportunity of bringing the matter under your notice. “We would like to say it has been reported in the city that sales have <been recently made at prices varying from those which were offered to members of the trade in Victoria and other States, as .per letter of the 24th February last issued by the Chief Prices Commissioner.
Representing, as we do, 11,000 farmer shareholders in this State, we feel that we are voicing the opinion of the farmers generally when we state that they are strongly of the opinion that the Government, having carried out what they had agreed to in the matter of purchase of cornsacks, should arrange to distribute the balance of the purchase direct to the farmers through the co-operative companies by appointing them as selling agents on a commission - the co-operative companies to guarantee payment for the sacks after the harvest.
We trust, therefore, that, upon the return of ~Mr. “Whitton, you will grant us an interview, and again go into the matter.
On the following day, the 7th May, the Victorian Producers Co-operative Company were informed, on inquiry, that practically the whole of the sacks, not only the 13,00.0 bales first offered, but the balance of about 20,000 which it was clearly stated would ‘be offered again, had been sold. That is to say, the whole of the sacks, with the exception of 1,300 purchased by the Victorian Producers Co-operative Company, had been disposed of… The- company relied, on the fact that the balance of the sacks over and above, the 13,000 bales, first offered was to.be re- offered to the trade’, but that was not done. The sacks were sold even while negotiations were pending, between the company and the. Prices Commissioner. Naturally believing that some finality would be reached in- these negotiations, and that the promise made in the first circular- that offers foi? the purchase of the balance of the sacks- would be invited would be- kept, the company had made no effort to buy any of the balance of the sacks.
– At the time you say they were- relying on fresh- offers- being invited you admit they were negotiating for the purchase of the whole lot.
– I hope that the Minister does not propose to rely on action taken by any other company or body to excuse his own particular administration. Any offer which was made by the Victorian Producers Co-operative Company, or by other firms, has nothing to do with the question.
– I think it has everything to do with it, from that point of view.
– The Minister, having informed the manager, of the Victorian Producers Co-operative. Company that, he could not accept the offer made, it was his duty to carry out the promise he gave in the first circular, namely, that the balance of the bales- about 20,000- should be offered to the public some time after the 3rd March.
It was just about the 7th May that the farmers ascertained there might be a- fair season. Rain had commenced to’ fall in different parts of Australia. At the same time, trouble in India gave indications that bags would be difficult to get; in fact, there- was a- general belief in the market that the price of bags woul’d harden. I wish to know how it is that the second instalment of bags,’ which was to h-a-ve been offered’ to> the public, came into the possession- of. dealers who seemed to .be- in the know between the 1st May and the 7th May. One firm alone, which seems to have “’ got in ‘ ‘ and. purchased 1.1,000 bales, will make anything from £60,000 to £70,000 on its deal. The cash price of the sacks was- 9s. -5d., increasing to 9s. 10d.., per dozen, according to, delivery u.p. till October.;, whereas bags cannot, be purchased in Calcutta- at the present time at less, than 14s. to 15s.. per bale. Thus,- through, the- unfortunate administration, of the Department in connexion with these sacks, this firm will probably make £60,000 or £70,000 out of the deal.
– That depends upon whether it has held- the sacks, all the time.
– The probability is that, it has held the sacks, because purchases by farmers have been very small’. In disposing of these sacks in the manner indicated, the Government have allowed private purchasers to step in and secure sacks at a price at least 4s. per dozen less than the present market price, representing a loss, to the- wheat-growers of from £140,000 to £160,000. The satisfactory method of dealing with these bags last year has been completely neutralized by the increased profit which these- private- firms will secure at the expense of the farmers. Faith was broken with- intending purchasers in failing to- offer the balance of nearly 20,000 bales, as the- Minister promised.! to do in the circular of the 241ft February. Only a few bags had been sold on the date -of the expiry of the first offer, so that practically lie whole of .the sacks should’ have been re-offered to the public. The fact that the Victorian Producers Co-operative Company had their offer covered by a bank guarantee was such as to have secured for them- greater- consideration as distributors of these sacks.-
Here- is another phase of the question which I cannot understand. The Government not only sold these sacks to a few individuals without giving the trade as a whole and the -farmers’ companies the promised opportunities- to purchase, but they sold practically the1 whole of trie sacks- without making any attempt to use the’ powers they possessed to protect the farmers,, as was done in the- previous year toy fixing the maximum amount of profit the purchasers could charge on resale. 0 the sacks. I think that the Minister should explain to the House why the second parcel of sacks was not offered as promised in his circular, why he refused to entertain the reasonable proposals of the co-operative companies to handle the sacks under bank guarantee, why the sacks were allowed to be sold at the last moment, when new negotiations were impending, and ~why he assured the Victorian Producers Co-operative Company in April that the bags were still unsold, when a few days afterwards it was discovered the whole lot had been sold. It would appear that the sales between 1st and 8th May were made without the Minister knowing of them, and that a portion of them took place during the absence of the Prices Commissioner.
– Who made the sales?
– They were made by the Department.
– They must have been made with the approval of the Minister.
– It does not appear, that they were. In the face of these acts of administration, I think the Minister should make a frank statement of what the Government intend to do. The great loss to the farmers incurred through the sale of the surplus sacks only emphasizes the seriousness of their outlook generally in the incoming season, when they are .faced with the prospect of paying 14s. or 15s. a dozen or more for sacks. I hope that the Government will lose no time in making an adequate announcement as to its intention, and as to what action is being taken to provide some quid pro quo for the loss the farmers, have incurred through this unfortunate piece of administration. I trust that a full inquiry, will be made into the sales of the surplus sacks. It has been said in public that the 31,000 bales sold represent one-fifth of the normal requirements of Australia, but I consider that the proportion is about one-third, because 31,000 bales equal about 8,000,000 bags, and 8,000,000 bags represent 24,000,000 bushels, which is about one-third of the normal wheat production of Australia. I have a list of some of the sales made in connexion with this piece of maladministration, but it is not necessary to quote it. I think I have said sufficient upon the subject. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a satisfactory reply. I’ trust that he will be able to explain the sale of surplus sacks from last season, and the steps which will be taken to protect the intests of the wheat-growers next year, and further that a close’ inquiry will be instituted into the sale of these surplus sacks, especially the sales effected between the 1st May and 8th May last.
– I have been considerably interested for quite a long time in the jute question, and have addressed to the’ Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) a number of questions in regard to it, but have not obtained much information. Immediately after last season’s harvest I asked theMinister whether the Government would take the necessary steps to secure all the jute goods required by the producers of Australia. In reply, the honorable gentleman said that the Government did npt intend to proceed further with its scheme for handling jute, but that the trade would be allowed to revert to the firms ordinarily dealing, with it. In view of the full and complete evidence of the benefits which the producers of Australia derived last year from the Government scheme, I fail to understand why it should have been decided not to continue it. On last year’s operations a profit of something like £117,000 was made by the Government. A certain proportion of that amount has been returned to the farmers by way of rebates, but quite a number of users of jute goods have not obtained that concession. It cannot be denied that the scheme was ‘exceedingly advantageous to the producers, yet the Minister has decided to allow the trade to fall back into the hands of the thieves and robbers who previously handled this commodity.
– That is a very strong statement.
– When I describe these people as thieves and robbers, I do not wish to suggest that their operations are not quite within the law; but we know that many things are done which, although, quite legal, are entirely immoral. They are like some of the actions of the Government which the honorable member supports. One of the immoral acts committed by these people, with the cognisance of Government supporters, was the huge swindle in connexion with secondhand sacks.
– I rise to order. The honorable member has just stated that a huge swindle with reference to sacks waa perpetrated with the full cognisance of honorable members on this side of the House. I direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to that slander, and ask for its Withdrawal.
– I did not hear the remark made by the honorable member, but such a statement is entirely unparliamentary, and must be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) was present in this .House when I made a statement to the effect that after the price of new sacks had been fixed by the Government, secondhand sacks were “ cornered.” At that time, second-hand sacks were being cornered by Dalgety and Company, Lindley Walker, and the rest of the big dealers in jute goods in Australia, and it was not until they had been cornered that the Government elected to fix the price of them. Second-hand sacks which were purchased throughout the country for 4s. and 5s. per dozen were retailed at 8s.9s., 10s., Ils., and, in some cases, at 12s. per dozen. The fact that their price had been fixed was immaterial. If the farmers wanted these sacks they had to pay for them. That was a swindle perpetrated upon the producers. Quite a lot of wheat was put into second-hand sacks.
– Were second-hand bags used in New South Wales ?
– Did not the State Government prohibit their use?
– They did for a time, but pressure was brought to bear on the Wheat Board, and - the use of secondhand sacks was eventually permitted. “ Mr. Pigott. - I endeavoured to obtain permission for their use, but time after time that permission was refused.
– Permission was ultimately given for their use, and farmers paid as much as 12s. per dozen, for them after they had been cornered.
– Were they used for wheat or oats 1
– I repeat that wheat was placed in second-hand sacks.
– I think the honorable member’s information is fairly wide of the mark.
– When were these secondhand sacks used?
– I am speaking of two years ago.
– No second-hand sacks have been used for wheat in Victoria during the last two years.
– Because they were not used in Victoria, ‘ is the honorable member entitled to deny my statement that they were so used in New South Wales? I saw them used in that State.
The whole history of the handling of jute goods during the last three years does not redound to the credit of the Government. While the farmers benefited by the fixing of the price of new sacks, the fixing of the price of second-hand sacks was of no advantage to them. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that the farmers to-day are receiving a fair deal - at the hands of the Government. Now that the trade has been allowed to fall back into the old trade channels, the producers are absolutely at the mercy of commercial brigands, who in respect of this particular line alone have made a profit of something like £100,000.. Sacks which traders purchased from the Government at something like 9s. 6d. per dozen are being held to-day, and will probably be sold for 17s. per dozen before the season is over. If the farmers want sacks they will have to pay something like that price for them. No matter what camouflage may be resorted to, the fact cannot be obscured that, owing to the negligence of the Minister for Trade and Customs, or the Ministry as a whole, private . traders have’ been allowed to make huge profits out of sacks sold to them by the Government. It may be said that the farmers were afforded an opportunity to buy these sacks when the Government first offered them for sale. As a matter of fact, very few farmers or farmers’ organizations at the time had the facilities or the money to purchase them. The Government, in the first place, should have made these sacks available for purchase solely by organizations of farmers . .Failing that, if they were determined to allow the business to fall back; into the hands of firms dealing in jute goods, th, ev should have fixed the maximum price at which the sacks could be sold. They should also have compelled the private traders to disgorge. Something like 137,000 bales of sacks were disposed of by the Government in the way I have stated., but these will not be ‘anything like sufficient to meet the requirement® of the coming season. There is nothing to prevent .traders from holding back these ‘sacks for a rise. They may demand ’20s. per dozen for them, and, apparently, the Government ‘are not prepared to take any steps to compel them to be satisfied with only a fair profit. The trade is to flow back into its ol’d channels, and the farmers -are to be at the mercy of people who are not satisfied with fair return for their money.
The treatment which the House has received at the hands of the Minister so far as this transaction is concerned has not been ‘entirely satisfactory. Honorable members1 some time ago ‘ asked for particulars relating to the prices and conditions under which the Government disposed of these -sacks, but the Minister - for what reason I am unable ‘to say - refused to furnish the information. As. a representative of the people, Why should he have refused ‘to «disclose the details of a “transaction ‘relating to the business of a large ‘section of -the community ? The Minister, in -effect, told ‘honorable members, when lie - was interrogated on this subject, that -they must mind their own business, and he refused absolutely to give any information on the subject. Only recently have we been able to ascertain the particulars. The papers relating bo the transaction were laid on the table of the House ‘during my temporary absence, and I ‘have not yet had time to peruse them ; but I ‘have ‘no doubt ‘they will’ .furnish interesting reading. A farmers”’ conference, recently ‘held in this State, passed a resolution that the Federal Government be urged ‘to again take up the handling of sacks. On the 2nd .ult. the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) put a question to the Minister with reference to the Jute Ring> and the reply he received was that, so far as his officials could ascertain, no Jute Ring existed in Australia. There is, however, a -Ring of fairly considerable magnitude now in operation and holding sacks for .a rise in the market.
– I said where the Ring was.
– The Minister said there was no Ring in operation in Australia.
– Will the honorable member do. me the justice of completing my answer to the question ?
– The honorable gentleman replied .that there was no Ring in Australia, and that, so far as his officials could ascertain, there was no foundation whatever for the rumour.
M-r. GREENE - Was that my answer?
– That was the effect of it.
– I shall read it from Hansard.
– I am relying on a rough note that I made of the honorable gentleman’s answer. If I have misconstrued it, I -am very sorry. I have only to say that the Minister refused early this year to ‘do anything with .regard to sacks, although asked by myself to take action. .Now .that it is .too late, he proposes to do sou
– I should have liked time ito turn up the answer given by me, to which the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) has just referred. If some one will turn it up for me, the House will be able to judge how much of the information the honor.able member has given can be relied upon. I asked ‘.the honorable member .twice to give the answer as I gave it, but -he has not done so. What I said then was -that -the -Ring -we had -to fear, so far as jute <was -concerned, was not a -Ring in Australia at .all, .but a Ring in India.
– You said there was no Ring in Australia.
– I said there was a Ring in connexion, with the jute trade, but that it was in India, and that the agents who handled jute goods here are practically .in the hands of that Ring. I do not wish to spend very much time in giving a reply to the matter raised by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson),, because I do not think “it is necessary.
– That is a very strong attitude Cor the Minister to take up.
– What I mean is that the answer- is very simple, and entirely justifies the attitude the Government “have taken up all through the piece.
The Government last year entered into -a contract with the Indian Government for the supply of bags. We bought all the “bags that we required. We were able to do this because there was at that time a -Jute Controller in India, who Had full control of the sullies of jute, and we were able to treat with the Indian Government as . one whole. But we had very considerable difficulty, in getting the Indian Government to sell the baes to us. They, first of all, .turned down altogether the offer that we made to them, and refused to sell us any bag3. We learnt that the reason that the Jute Controller in India refused to sell us the bags was that the jute merchants, who were associated with “the jute control in India, were afraid that if the Government bought the bags their agents here would, .either directly or indirectly, be deprived of the oppor- trinity of handling them, and that, as .a consequence, they would lose their business connexions. They refused, therefore, to permit us to have any bags at all. We then, sent a further cable to the Indian Government, and in it pledged ourselves, if they would sell us the bags, as we were in great difficulties here in the matter, to distribute them through the ordinary trade channels. We gave that definite undertaking, in the most explicit way, to. the Indian Government, and I venture to say that had we not given that pledge at the time we should not have got the bags. Once a Government have given a pledge of that character they must honour it.
It is perfectly true that we offered a small quantity of bags to the trade in the first instance. It is true, also, that the trade knew that this was only a portion of the actual surplus that we held. But though we offered those bags in February, we had hardly sold a bale by the end of April. It was a. common thing to see in the press at that time statements, some of which were made, I think, by the very .gentlemen who have probably supplied my honorable friend with a lot of his information-
– My information was obtained, as the Minister well knows, from the papers, which I have perused.
– Still, some things were mentioned by the honorable member that could not have been obtained from the papers.
– ‘That is so; I got them from other sources.
– The statements I refer to were to the effect that the Government were going to make a considerable loss on the bags which they still held. There was in the trade at the time a general belief, shared by the co-operative companies as well as others, that, although the market had by that time slumped considerably, it was going to slump a good deal more.
– They were prepared to buy, all the same.
– Yes, but ,on a commission! basis.
– No, covered by a bank guarantee.
– The bank guarantee’ matter did not arise until right at the end of April.
– That is correct.
– The point I want to make is that, in regard to matters of this sort, the Government is not in the same position as a private trader. If “A” comes into the office of a private trader, the trader can offer him certain terms. If “ B “ comes in an hour later, he cam. offer “ B “ different terms. If the Government offers things of this sort to anybody, it must make the terms the same all round. I told the representatives of the co-operative people who caine to see me that whatever terms I gave them must be the terms to the trade. I told them that not once, but over and over again. ‘ I told them that they must all come in on exactly the same basis, and have exactly the same chance to deal with the goods. I said, “ I cannot give you any other terms than those which are offered to everybody else.” It is well known that the bags were under offer for part of February, the whole of March, and the whole of April, and hardly a bale was bought.
– Those were the earlier consignments.
– Yes ; some 13,000 bales.
– That is quite true; but the trade knew, and everybody knew, that we held considerably more bales, and that they were all for sale. The proof that everybody knew it is supplied by the fact that the co-operative companies came along and offered to purchase the whole of the bags. They knew that all the bags were under offer.
– Was that the Farmers Cooperative Company? .
– It was one of the farmers’ co-operative companies. It is no use quibbling, therefore, over the question of whether 13,000 bales or the whole lot were for sale. The trade knew that we held the whole of the . bags, and that we were sellers of them, and the particular companies on whose behalf the ‘ honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) has spoken were in treaty for the lot of them. The only reason they did not buy was that they did not want to find the money. Of course, if they had known that the bags were going up in price, as they know it now, there is no doubt that they would have found the money somehow, and bought them. But these co-operative companies are not the only persons who are “ whipping the cat” to-day because they did not buy those bags. There are scores of big users of bags in Australia to-day who are wishing to goodness that they had bought them when the Government was doing its utmost to sell to them. We went to infinite trouble in our efforts to sell them.
– Why did you not offer the second instalment, according to the promise in your circular?
– What was the good of sending out an additional circular saying that we had another 25,000 bales’ to sell, when we had not sold a bale ? Our trouble was that we could not sell them. We were begging people to take them from us, and no one would take them. The Victorian Producers Co-operative Company finally came to me and offered: me a bank guarantee. I told them that I was entirely in sympathy with the co-operative companies, and that if I could help them I would.. “But,” I said, “Whatever terms I give you must be the terms to the trade. Theterms must be the same for everybody, and if we cannot sell these bags in any other way, I will see, when the Prices Commissioner comes back to Melbourne, whether it is not possible to talk the matter over with him and settle general terms, not merely for you, but for everybody, which will suit you better than the present termsdo.” Before the Prices Commissioner came back to Melbourne, some peoplesuddenly got an inkling of what was goingto happen, and rushed in and bought thebags. They were there for sale, and wecould not refuse to sell them.
– While the cooperativecompanies were waiting for the return of the Prices Commissioner, those smart fellows stepped in.
– The only trouble wasthat the people in charge of the cooperative companies were not quite as smart asthe others. If they had had any idea at that time of the way the market was going to move, they, too, could have rushed’ in and bought the whole lot pf the bags, because they were all there for sale.
A question has been raised as to thepowers of the Government, and why wedid not exercise them this year in exactly the same way as we did last year.
– If a co-operative companyhad bought all the bags, it would have given its own members the benefit of its foresight, and, I take it, charged the rest of the producers in> Australia a higherprice.
– I do not know whether that would have been so or not. The reason the Government decided to go out of the business was that, in the first place, we had nobody to deal with except the jute merchants. Knowing the difficulties of the jute market, which is an exceedingly tricky and difficult market for any amateur to deal with, the Government decided that it would be very much better, in the circumstances, not to go on with the business of buying and importing cornsacks. The probabilities are that if the Government had not taken that stand we should be in greater difficulties than we are in to-day.
– “Will the Minister deal with the question of price fixation?
– I have been asked why we did not fix the price for the bags we sold. The answer is very simple. If we had fixed the price of the bags we sold to the trade, the trade would probably have said, “ The price is going to be fixed all round,” and would not have operated. We had either to go out of the business altogether, or stay in it altogether - we could not be half in and half out. Suppose we had decided to fix the price of the bags, and that, notwithstanding the fixing of the price, the trade had operated in the usual way. And suppose the market had gone up, as it has now, how were We to follow the bags into all the retail shops of Australia, and distinguish between them ?
– If the Government had fixed the price, bags could only have been sold at that price.
– But we could not fix the price of all the bags in Australia with a rising market in India; if that had been done, we should have got no bags at all. Tf we had said to the trade, “ The price of these bags is fixed, but the price of any others may be adjusted according to the market,” we should have had a lively bit of administrative trouble in following them up.
– The Government could have fixed the profits - never mind about the price.
– But the power of the Government, to fix prices is passing away; and if we had sold bags to the people at a fixed price, those people could have stored them until our power had come to an end.
– The Minister said a short time ago that he was conferring with the States with reference to the supply of jute this’ year. What does that mean?
– I do not think it is necessary for me to cover any more of the. ground.
– Will you answer my question? What do you mean by your statement about conferring with the States ?
– Exactly what I said.
– Does the Minister refuse to answer -my question ?
– I have answered in the most definite way of which I am capable.
– What is the ‘Government’s responsibility? Is it going to cooperate with the States in getting sacks?
– The honorable member had better give notice of that question.
– The Minister is not at all courteous !
– The honorable member must not be so persistent with his interjections.
– I desire information, which the Minister refuses.
-The honorable member has spoken, and has no right to interject.
– I have shown why the Government declined to . go on with the purchase of bags for this year, and that there was good and sufficient reason for not treating with one company as against the trade. I have shown that there is nothing whatever in the suggestion that the trade believed there was only a certain number of bags under offer, because it was known that the whole were under offer.
– The Minister means that the jute merchants in India would have “ hit “ him, no matter what he did?
– I think they would; I cannot control the jute merchants of India. .
– Thev- raise the flag as British merdh.an.tsj and rob. the- farmer every week.
– It is-, impossible for me to* follow all these interjections, andi B db not intend) to toy, I’ think I have, dearly- shown that the Government could, have taken no other course than’ the one. it. did. Itf. some people- got. in. early and bought bags; and- other people’ were- linkable to purchase, that was a matter: entirely for; the private judgment of those concerned..
– Has i the trade in- every State bought, or only the trade in- one State ?
– Bags, have’ been bought throughout Australia.
– In February it was shown that in the case of: Western Australia there were 1,505 bales for sale-. and those concerned were advised by the Government that that was the- final lot.
– As a matter of fact, Western i Australia . is the only State that has had- the whole of its requirements met in the matter of bags, and the intimation to that effect is most, definite, and encouraging. To-day the position depends entirely om whether, we get rains within the next fortnight orr three weeks..
– -If, we do not, the profits, that the Minister talks about will vanish. ‘
– If’ we do mot get rain, we shall have more bags in’ Australia than, we’ require, and those who have bought at a high, price will, lose a. lot of’ money. If, on the other hand, we- get good rains; the possibilities” are that, a few- more bags will have to be bought. Nobody knows at the present time what the results will be of the purchase of bags from the Government; those concernedmay make money or- may lose money.
.- I. do not* know whether- the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson),- is satisfied with the reply of the Minister (Mr. Greene), but, personally, I do nott regard it as, very - convincing * One outstanding fact is that- the Government had. on hand tens, of- thousands of. balesof cornsacks, but somehow or other ‘ these cornsacks, seemed to- burn-‘ their hands, , and. the Government desired’ to get rid of them as quickly as i possible. .It is evident that, some smartmen came along, and; indulging in a bit* of gambling-, , bought, up> the sacks held by the Government; and if we have- anything: like a decent harvest’, half onnfarmers will. be. left, lamenting; in regard’ to the supply- of-‘ cornsacks. It ia-apparent ta any. honorable’ member,,, and ought tobe more apparent to a- Minister-,, that immediately after the awful war- tradeoperations must be in an abnormal state,, and remain so for a- long time to- come;, and’ it should be the policy ‘ of this or anyother Government” to Sold’ tight, to anything they may possess that is of’ benefit* to the country.
– What about galvanized? iron- that Has fallen in price to : about £J40’ a ton ? ‘
– That is just ab’outtwice what it. ought- to be.
-i- But the price Was fixed a-fc- £.60 or £.70 a ton.
– Yes,. in- war time, and there is a firm in Melbourne; which made £100,000 in less than two years out of that one item alone.
– They might lose that next year.
– That firm is able- to stand’ a loss, considering, what they havema’d’e out’ of ‘ the’ people. Galvanized’ iron is an unfortunate commodity to, mention in’ this House in. association with those who have speculated with it to the detriment of- the -community.
The- Government’ Have’ been exceptionally shortsighted ‘ in not ‘holding, on’ tothe1 cornsacks; for.- th’ey” would- Have been able- to sell’ them. The honorable” member for Wimmera has pointed’ out’ th’at’those who are vitally interested are dissatisfied’ with’ the ordinary tradingchannels, as we know them. . In”Western Australia and other’ States;, the producers have formed coopera’tive companies with a desire,” -as far- as possible, to dispose of their’’ own produce, and to purchase in’ combination all the necessary, implements;, and so forth, for ‘ farming operations: These- are’ desirable organizations; becausethey’ are,fo.rmed :tb- benefit’ those -who are’ engaged in primary production1? Trie” Government-, . with a large supply of sacks on hand, failed to:taker’ any notice? of the abnormal - conditions* which- must* continue for-‘ quite * long time’, to- come,- and set about selling the sacks as- soon as they could”. The Minister for. Trade and Customs) éMr. Greene.) has. disclosed that the farmers’ representatives were- im negotiation, with him £or the purchase, if not of the whole stock-,, at any rate, part 08 ‘ it’,, when smart speculators from Melbourne,, or some other, city,, stepped in, and’ took all’.
I hope that the Minister will be able to disabuse my mind of an impression he1 created by one statement lie made: In reply’ te the honorable member- for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson), who had spoken combinations. in Australia for’ the” purpose” <s£ keeping up the price of jute goods, he1 said’ thats he,, at amy rate, was thoroughly aware of the* fact that there was- a Combine’ amongst, the jute- manufacturers in> India.
– I do not think there is any doubt a/bout that.
– Then the Minister went on to say thai;, unless he’ had decided’ to obtain the’ sacks through the ordinary trade channels, there would ]lave been no possibility of- receiving the assent of the Indian’ Government to the export of the goods. This points to the fact that the’ Indian Government is in collusion’ with speculators and Combines in India’ for tire- purpose: of “ getting at “ the fanners in’ this and other countries.
– Nothing that I said can bear’ that construction!.
– The Minister does” not complain’ until I draw my deduction from his statement. He- admitted that there was a Combine in India, and’ that we could not get the goods without a promise that they would be obtained through the ordinary trade” channels’.
– Not “get” them. What I said was, unless they were distributed through the ordinary trade’ channels.
– Why should the Indian Government take any cognisance of the distribution of the goods ? The Minister first said that there iff a Combine: in India, and thien that the Governments would) not allow the- jute to leave India unless it* v/aa distributed through the ordinary trade channels..
– -D .said- that the Indian) Government declined to sell bags- without an undertaking, that, they would; be dis.tributed through, the. ordinary, trade chan.nels.
– Then the Indian- Government must be in- collusion with thosewho> are keeping. up the- prices- of jute goods. ,
– It- was> not a- question ©fi” keeping them ug., but of. getting themdown..
– And. the Government did not- get”, them down. The British Government: made’ handsome arrangements ilk this connexion) in- India, which saved themselves- and the British, people? not only, hundreds of thousands, but, I believe,, millions of pounds. They created’ an organization where the jute goods areproduced, and it would’ have been worth while the Commonwealth sending am agent there, or making arrangements through the British agent.
– The honorable member was then sitting behind the Government on this side of the House. Why did henot urge then- that that step should be taken ?.
– I do not. make anycomplaint about the present “Government particularly, but I say that it was late in the day when that step was taken.. It was- known, that the British Government Bad made, gilt-edged arrangements,, and it. is strange that- the- Commonwealth Government were not able to. operate through the agencies which the Imperial Government had created. If that had* been done we should have been getting our cornsacks at much more reasonable rates than we are required to pay to-d’ay.
’.- We have heard a statement by. the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson)1 on behalf of the co-operative societies, and we have heard the reply of the Minds- tier for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene). All- 1, can say is- that I regret exceedingly that the bags did mot find their way intothe possession 0:f the- users at an- earlier stage. I was’ one of those’’ honorable members’ who asked, the Government torelinquish trading con-Germs- as< scon.’, as possible. Therefore^, I cannot now blame the Government for getting out of trading in respect of one particular commodity.
– The honorable member for “Wimmera adopted the same attitude.
– I did not.
– I have not a word to say against the action of the Government in disposing of their surplus cornsacks; but the manner of the disposal is another matter. I regret that -an arrangement was not made between the Commonwealth Government and the State Governments, which control the Wheat Pool, by which the State Governments might have acquired these sacks for the producers of wheat. That would have been a legitimate and constitutional method of safeguarding the interests of the Pools. The Government “of each of the wheat-producing. States .are charged with the management of the wheat produced in their State, and- they have an associate interest in securing for the producers the containers for the commodity they control. By reason of th’at interest, the States would have been more justified than would the Commonwealth in extending Government control to cornsacks. In regard to the statements made by the honorable member for Wimmera and the Minister, the kernel of the ques- ‘ tion seems to me to be whether the cooperative concerns were given a right to negotiate the purchase of the sacks within a certain period. If they were granted that right, and sales were effected before the period expired, an injustice was done. I do not say that the statement of the honorable member for Wimmera is correct, or that the Minister’s statement is inaccurate; but the point of the controversy is whether the co-operative concerns were justified in believing that they had from the Minister an assurance that a certain time would be allowed them in which to negotiate a purchase.
– They never received from me an offer of that sort. There was nothing in the way of a business understanding. All I told them was that when the Commissioner returned, if the bags remained unsold, I would see if it were possible to arrange terms which would be more acceptable to them.
– And when the Commissioner returned the sacks were sold.
– Yes ; but it was open to the co-operative concerns, or any one ‘else, to buy in the meanwhile.
– If the Minister had made a definite offer to the cooperative concerns, and the -bags were sold before that offer had expired, the Minister broke faith with them.
– I admit that, frankly.
– I accept the Minister’s statement that no definite offer of the’ kind was made.
I turn now to the requirements for the coming harvest. Having regard to the condition of the growing crops and the climatic peculiarities of this season, no nian would ‘be prepared to make a big gamble in cornsacks, nor would he ask any’ Government to do so. Trading is not the legitimate province of a Government, and certainly’ it is not within the province of a Government to gamble in the middle of a season, when prospects are uncertain. But I ask the Minister to confer with the managers of ea,ch of the State. Wheat Pools as to whether, for the coming harvest, the conditions relating to the use of bags cannot be liberalized. If cornsacks continue to mount in price as they have been doing lately, they will shortly be quoted at fi per dozen. Should heavy rains fall all over Australia, and be followed by a good spring, the next harvest will undoubtedly be a big one. I ask the Minister to confer with the State Ministers of Agriculture in regard to allowing the use for the time being of any reasonably sound bag.
The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) made certain random (Statements regarding the use of secondhand cornsacks, without referring to any Pool in particular. But, when questioned, he said that his reference was to one particular season. In the No. 1 Pool, all bags in good condition were received. In that season, 1915-16,. Australia raised its record harvest, which has not been equalled in subsequent seasons. Therefore, new sacks and second-hand sacks were used, a dockage charge being made against the latter. In the No. 2 Pool, new sacks, were used, but “ brush “ sugar bags were utilized for wheat in some of the States. The conditions in regard to sacks are not uniform throughout the States, because Ministers of Agriculture have seen fit to make variations. In No. 3 and No. 4 Pools, only new cornsacks were used. There is a possibility of the wheat-growers experiencing a difficulty in getting, for the coming harvest, any sort of sacks, and I ask the Minister, acting in conjunction with the Ministers of Agriculture, to arrange for a liberalization of the terms under which cornsacks will be. made . available. If the Minister will make an early statement that all sound sacks that can reasonably contain wheat will be used, his action will have a steadying effect upon the market.
– Regardless of the weight of the sack?
– The 3-bushel. sack is of standard weight. Every thrifty wheat-farmer uses second-hand sacks for his own seed wheat. It is still possible for the Minister, by the means I have suggested, to give some relief to the farmers in a difficult season. If the coming harvest is good, the .producer will be in trouble, and the best counsel of the Federal and State authorities will be required to help him to get the necessary containers for his product.
– I congratulate the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) on having brought this matter before the House, because his action will at least make the Government realize their responsibility to insure a supply of sacks for the coming harvest. Some definite pronouncement as to the intentions of the Government should be made at once by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene). The trade and the co-operative companies believe that the Government intend to buy cornsacks, and in consequence they are refraining from operating on the market. If the Government have any such intention, they should act at once.
The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), speaking in regard to second-hand cornsacks, twitted honorable members on this side with hot having taken sufficient interest in the farmers. I have repeatedly urged the Government to allow farmers to use second-hand bags, and in reply to a question asked by me on the 25th January, 1918, the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said -
The Wheat Pool, however, determined that wheat should not be received in second-hand sacks,, which would go into the Pool. The Board has no objection to millers receiving new wheat in second-hand sacks, as this would not in any way endanger the stacks of the Pool.
If the Government would adopt that policy, no harm could possibly result from allowing second-hand bags to be sent to the millers. Such bags are subsequently utilized for potatoes, pollard, and other products. Therefore there is no reason why they should not be used for milling wheat. One of the first measures passed through Parliament by the National Government was the Wheat Storage Act. Parliament voted considerably more than £1,000,000 to finance the States in erecting wheat silos throughout the Commonwealth. The State Government of New South Wales has made fairly rapid progress with this work, but in other States practically nothing has been done.
– I am afraid the honorable member is opening up a new matter.
– My remarks are definitely related to the subject-matter of the motion. The farmers are in a desperate position in regard to supplies of cornsacks, and I ask the Government to provide relief by speeding up the construction of the silos.
– Are not the State Governments constructing the silos?
– Yes, but the Commonwealth is finding the money.
– Do you think we shall have a repetition of the “ Port Pirie grab,” and fail to get our money back?
– No ; provision is made for the automatic return to the Commonwealth Treasury of all money advanced for this scheme. I notice that, in some of the wheat-growing centres of New South Wales, the silos are already completed, but in other districts they are not even commenced.. I ask the Minister to endeavour to induce the Governments of Victoria., South Australia, and Western Australia to speed up the construction of silos, and -so relieve the difficulties which the farmers will have to face owing to the scarcity of sacks.
Mr. .LYNCH (Werriwa) (4.50].- As the representative of a large wheatgrowing -district, and as a wheat-grower myself, I feel that if one thing more than another ‘has ‘been ‘brought out into bold relief by the discussion of this very .important subject, it is the fact that our Constitution is imperfect, or that Ministers ‘have been careless. But notwithstanding the limitation on the power of the Government to afford protection to the producers, I would like to see them strain whatever power they do possess. I have no sympathy with honorable members who complain of inaction on the part of “the Government in connexion with this matter, and yet will solidly oppose any proposal to extend the constitutional powers of -the Commonwealth Parliament, though such extension would enable our Ministers to protect the producers against the monstrous robberies ito which it;hey have .been subjected in the past, and .which will otherwise be perpetrated in -the future. The honor able member for Wannon (Mr. (Rodgers’) has pointed >out that -the chief projection the farmers will :have against being robbed in the future will be the fact that they -will have nothing to Tie robbed of .on -account of .the severity of the present season. However, I think the farmers will .pull through this year, but if they have anything like a normal crop they will be called upon to pay from 15s. to 20s. per dozen for bags. Something might be done to relieve -the situation by permitting the use of second-hand bags; but even if silos are ready the majority of the farmers will still be compelled to buy the usual quota of bags, unless they are situated very close ‘to railway stations. The -growers may project themselves by cutting -their crops and stacking, with a view to -thrashing at a later ,date in the -hope that the Ring of robbers, finding that !the anticipated -quantity of bags will -not be purchased, may release them at a slightly “lower price. If that anticipation is not realized a safeguard will be provided .against drought conditions, because a .lot of valuable fodder will be stacked instead of going to waste.
I have always held the belief that the people’s Government should have the constitutional power to control a matter of this kind, and that it should always be willing to do so. Honorable members on the Ministerial side of the House seem to be anxious to get rid of Government responsibility, in commercial activities. They .are opposed to interference with the ordinary channels of trade. “However, one lesson the war has taught us is that however conservative Governments may be in practice or tradition, they have recently -been compelled ;to interfere in a very radical way with the ordinary channels of .business, ear : see nations perish in the struggle .from which we are just emerging. Our task is ,to preserve our industries, particularly the wheatgrowing industry, and we should do all we possibly can, even hampered by an imperfect Constitution, to, protect the farmers by close association with the State Governments, and by making financial advances to them. The lesson that the loss on the sale of the’ residue sacks teaches us is that a more perfect Constitution should be sought which would enable the Government <to protect not only wheat producers but other producers from similar ‘robberies. Even if the surplus sacks had been sold to .co-operative bodies the chances are that .the .poorest and most struggling classes of (producers would, have derived very little benefit, because usually the man who is a member of a co-operative association employs share farmers. “It would be hard -to expect him to give >his share-farmers the benefit .of his purchases at the lower price. The small man has mostly to buy at the average market conditions, »and .in the -near .’future ‘those are likely to >be ‘Very discouraging to wheatgrowers.
It ‘is idle to -condemn ““Ministers, especially -.When the .condemnation comes from >honora”ble members .Who would oppose the use -of Government ‘powers >to interfere -.with any form of trade. ‘ W ought to learn the lesson that the exercise df Government powers is essential for the progress and .development of the farming industry, and that if we are to have that progress we hope for, and which alone will enable us ‘ to meet our obligations, the people must be asked to clothe the Commonwealth Government with those powers. “In the meantime, I hope that Ministers will .co-operate with the State Governments to .remedy., and .as far as possible remove, the wrong that has been done “to wheat-growers.
.- E-very time .1 .hear mention made .of farmers any heart almost bleeds., it .is known -to most men :iu cities, particularly commercial men, that the trade in bags is a monopoly, and that the only ;people who can cope with this monopoly are the Government, “lt is necessary *for the ‘Government and their advisers to ta’ke some steps to :provide for -the forthcoming harvest, that is to say, .some steps .other than the preparation, of silos, ‘for it is only by .having consideration for primary production that we .can tackle :the important economic and financial questions of the day. Several years ago I -pointed out how necessary it was to be prepared for Peace. For one thing the Government should have taken effective means to protect primary production .in order to bring about a reduction in the price of one of the necessaries of life. However, nothing was done in the matter, and now the farmers are at the mercy of those gentlemen in Calcutta who fix the price of bags for the whole world.
Debate interrupted under standing order ‘119.
Purchase of Disinfector
asked the Acting Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– Tenders were called for a disinfector, and are under consideration. The Works and Railways Department has designed and installed a number .of Austr,allam-made disinfectors and, where -possible, favours ‘the use of same. .The honorable -member may rely upon ‘the Australian manufactured machines receiving the fullest consideration.
asked -the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice - “Whether the Defence ‘Department has yet arrived -at a decision in reference to the issue of an emblem to honorary war .workers, .such as ‘town and shire ‘clerks, who have .rendered valuable .service: as voluntary recruiting officers throughout the war?
– The answer to the , hon.orable member’s question is as follows: -
It is realized that a large number of persons throughout the Commonwealth have been most zealous nd “indefatigable in ‘their efforts to .assist voluntary recruiting during the war. The ‘Government is -very ‘grateful for the work which has “‘been done in Wis direction, ‘and, consequently, the question off the possibility *df recognising it .in some way -has been very earnestly considered.
After weighing all the .circumstances, it is felt that the difficulties of insuring that -such an emblem should reach all who deserve it, are insurmountable, and it has been decided, with regret, to abandon the proposal.
” POST AND TELEGRAPH DEPARTMENT.
Central Telephone Exchange - Pay of Employees Serving with Australian -Imperial Force - Employment of Returned Soldiers as Telephone Mechanics - Islington Post-office.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– To answer the questions as put by-the honorable member would, I fear, be misleading, because the equipment and conditions at the Central Telephone Exchange were so different in 1913 from what they are to-day that no ‘ reasonable comparison oan be made. Moreover, the load of a telephonist is not gauged by the number of subscribers served, but by the number of calls attended to, and, further, a comparison to be of value should be made under normal, and not epidemic conditions.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
On the 31st ultimo, the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) asked me, as Postmaster-General, the following question : -
I gave an interim answer, but am now able to furnish the following reply: -
The case referred to was dealt with, under powers delegated to him, by the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, Adelaide, who reports as follows : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Regulation 28 makes it an offence to publish certain matter of the nature therein specified. It is not considered advisable under the present conditions to repeal that regulation, but steps are being taken to repeal 28a, relating to the submission to the Censor of certain matter before publication.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Commissioner supplies the following information: -
asked trie Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether he will lay on the table of the House, or make available to members, the report on influenza, shortage of rations, clothing, and medicines handed to Mr. Justice Harvey (Official Visitor, German Concentration Camp, Holdsworthy) on 18th July, 1919, by a committee of the Holdsworthy Camp?
– No such report has yet been received from the Official Visitor.
-(for Mr. Fleming) asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Does the purchase of an expensive site in Collins-street mean the transference of the head office of the Commonwealth Bank from Sydney to Melbourne?
Transport of Coal from New South Wales.
asked the Leader of the House, upon notice -
With reference to the suggestion made to him to communicate with the State Govern ments with a view to coal from New South Wales being forwarded to the Tocumwal railway station for transference into Victoria, will he inform the House what is being done -in this matter; and, if coal is being so forwarded, what is the quantity sent daily, and whether that amount cannot be largely increased?
– The Government of Victoria has been communicated with on the matter, and I now furnish a copy of the reply which has been received from the State Premier regarding the matter. It is as follows: -
Melbourne, 2nd August, 1919. ‘
Dear Sir, .
Adverting to your letter of the 25th ultimo, suggesting that coal should be secured from New South Wales via Tocumwal, as well as vid Wodonga, I desire to inform you that the Victorian Railways Commissioners have already given consideration to this matter.
The Commissioners now report that the facilities available at Wodonga permit of the transfer of 2,000 tons of coal per day from New South Wales to Victorian trucks; but at Tocumwal the existing accommodation is so limited that it would not be practicable to deal with more than from 250 to 300 tons per day at that station. They have, however, been in daily communication by telegraph with the Railways Commissioners of New South Wales for some days past in an endeavour to -have from 250 to 300 tons railed vid Tocumwal.
Advice has’ been received from New South Wales that arrangements are being made to consign coal through Tocumwal, which will mean that it will now be practicable to handle so much more coal in the aggregate.
Yours faithfully, (Sgd.) H. S. W. Lawson,
The Honorable the Acting Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, Melbourne.
– On the 23rd ultimo, the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) asked a question of the Assistant Minister for Defence regarding medical attendance for returned soldiers. The Assistant Minister promised to bring the matter under the notice of the Repatriation Department as the Department concerned, and I (have now been furnished with the following information : -
The’ Repatriation Department recognises as its- responsibility disabilities due to or aggravated by war service only, and treatment has always been available, either under the Defence or Repatriation Department, since the declaration, of hostilities.
All hospitals have been available to discharged soldiers suffering from war disabilities, and there was not, at any time, need for expenditure on’ the men-‘s part.
In certain approved oases, refunds have been made in respect to treatment of urgent cases.
There must be adequate control and supervision of expenses incurred in connexion with medical treatment.
The Department cannot acknowledge private contracts with outside practitioners for obvious reasons.
Local medical officers have been attached to all. country Local Committees, and treatment is available- in all parts of the Commonwealth.
Contracts have been entered into with practically every country hospital throughout Australia.
The Department provides through- any pharmacist drugs and dressings where prescribed for war. disabilities.
Discharged, soldiers, on. application to the Repatriation Department for treatment for war disabilities, are referred to military hospitals where continuity of treatment is essential.
The Department cannot accept responsibility for disabilities not due to war service.
– On the 23rd ultimo, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) asked the following question : -
In view of the statement made in. the House last week that returned soldiers would be allowed to retain their overcoats, and in view of the fact that a soldier who applied to Victoria Barracks, in Brisbane, as per letter in the Daily Standard of 16th July, was informed that the issue of greatcoats was not applicable to demobilized soldiers, will the Assistant Minister for Defence issue such instructions as will leave no further doubt that the issue does extend to demobilized soldiers?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information s -
Definite instructions have recently been issued by Head-Quarters that all soldiers returned from service abroad for demobilization are to be permitted to retain their greatcoats,, and those returned soldiers previously demobilized, who handed in their coats, are to receive a re-issue.
On the 31st ultimo, the honorablemember for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) asked the following question: -
Is the Assistant Minister for Defence awarethat since the statement made by him in the House to the- effect that overcoats which returned soldiers had: been obliged to- hand in to the Department- would be restored to them-, many applications for their, return have been, made to the Department in- Sydney, but that the soldiers have been: informed by the military authorities there that they have receivedno’ instructions on the subject from HeadQuarters ?
I am now able to furnish the honorablemember with the following information : -
In replying to a question by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Chapman) ont 11th July that greatcoats would be re-issued toreturned soldiers in cases in which coats had been withdrawn on discharge, I stated that “ action in this direction will be taken as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made ti> deal with applications.”
Previous to the above date, viz., on 9th July, all District Commandants were informed” by telegram that returned troops were to beallowed to retain their greatcoats, and on 16th July full instructions were communicated to District Commandants regarding the reissueof greatcoats to those discharged returned soldiers from whom same had been withdrawn.
The statements attributed to the Sydney military authorities were apparently made prior to receipt of the. memorandum dated 16th July from Head-Quarters.
– On the 30th ultimo, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) asked whether I would have inquiries made into a report that soldiers on returning from active service found, that their names had been struck off the electoral rolls by reason of their having been out of the country for more than sis months, and asked me to make inquiries and to see that soldiers absent on active service were not disfranchised. I said that I thought there was some misapprehension’, and have now to state that-
The names of soldiers who enlisted for active service abroad have since the commencement of the war been obtained from the Defence Department and furnished to the electoral officers throughout the Commonwealth. The divisional returning officers have been instructed to identify the names on the rolls to the fullest practicable extent, and to preserve existing enrolments. On his return to Australia each soldier, whether enrolled or not, is communicated with and advised of the action to “be taken in order to secure enrolment, if not already enrolled, ‘ or if enrolled, the adjustment of his enrolment in the event of his changing his place of living.
– On the 30th ultimo, the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) asked if I was aware that an alteration had been made in the form, of electoral claim cards, which, he stated, now called upon .applicants for enrolment to give the date, year, and place of birth. In many cases, the honorable member said, this information could not be given. I promised to inquire into the matter, and I now furnish him with the following reply: -
Where an electoral claim is not in order by reason of a formal defect the Electoral Registrar is required, by his instructions, to communicate with the claimant, advise him of the error or omission, and secure the necessary correction. This course is followed where a claimant omits to furnish the information referred to by the honorable member. It is unusual for a claimant to be unable to state the exact date of his birth, although he may have been bom abroad. The form of claim requires him to declare that the whole of the statements made therein, including date of birth, are true to the best of his knowledge and belief.
The f ollowing papers were presented : -
Women in Industry - Report of the (Imperial) War Cabinet Committee. (Paper presented to the British Parliament.)
Public. Service Act - Promotion of P. E. Butler, Department of the Treasury.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 1st August, vide page 11212) :
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 -
During the continuance of the War Precautions (Moratorium) Regulations, the GovernorGeneral may make Regulations. . . . . Provided that nothing in this subsection shall authorize the making of a regulation extending . . . the time for repayment
. for more than twelve months after the prescribed date.
– I move -
That the words “ for more than twelve months after the prescribed date,” lines 7-8, be left out.
This is merely a drafting amendment to prevent misunderstanding. .
– Will this amendment give the Government power to alter the schedule 1
– No. The Bill limits the operation of the Act until the prescribed date, 30th June, 1920; but power is given to the Court, in cases of hardship, to extend the time of ‘ repayment for not more than twelve months after the prescribed date. Under sub-clause 3, power is given to make regulations during the currency of the Act, but it is thought that the words now proposed to be omitted might be construed as giving the Executive further power than is intended.
– In cases of hardship application may be made to the Court for an extension of the time of payment of moneys due under a mortgage?
– Yes. If, for instance, in the case of a mortgage falling due in September next, the mortgagor applied to the Court one month before that date for an extension, the Court might, if it were a case of hardship, extend the date of payment for twelve months.
– Could such an order be made by a Police Court?
– That matter is dealt with in a subsequent part of the Bill, :and I shall refer to it later on. According to the amount involved, application may be made either to the High Court, or the
Supreme, County, or District Court of a State, or local Court.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 5 to 7 agreed to.
First schedule -
The War Precautions (Moratorium) Regulations.
– I should like to review the suggestionI made during the second-reading debate, that, as a compromise, the first prescribed month for repayment in connexion with the mortgages dealt with in the first schedule should be extended from August, 1919, to February, 1920. I understood the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) to say, on the motion for the second reading of the Bill, that it would not be advisable to extend to any considerable extent the prescribed dates, inasmuch as such extensions might prove to be unconstitutional. We find, however, that provision is made in this schedule for individual cases of hardship to be brought before a Court of justice, and for the Court, in certain circumstances, to extend the dates of repayment. If such an action on the part of a Court would be constitutional, why should it not be constitutional for this Parliament to extend for six months the first date of repayment prescribed in the schedule? If there are no constitutional barriers in the way, such an extension would give the people concerned six months’ breathing time in which to make arrangements for meeting their obligations. Although there has been some notice of the intention of the Government to introduce this Bill, it is now before us in the very month fixed for the repayment of moneys secured bymorgage which, but for the regulations made under the Act, would have been payable on 1st January, 1915. I do not think the position in regard to these mortgages is as serious as some honorable members would have us believe. Mr. Laughton, the Victorian Government Statistician, has supplied me with a return of mortgages, liens, and releases for the State of Victoria covering a period of twelve years, which shows that the circumstances of the war have not interfered to the extent anticipated with the taking out of new mortgages and the dischargeof old ones.
– Have all those to be registered ?
– They are not all registered, but most are. I take the number and the amounts represented for
Victoria as roughly one-third of the total for Australia. The figures are as follow : -
– Apparently, we owe a lot more every year.
– The total sum of the mortgages taken out does appear to be constantly increasing, due to the increasing value of our security and enterprises.
– Are you trying to show that there is no necessity for this Bill?
– No; but I do not want to create a scare in this Parliament by saying that it will mean national bankruptcy if the Government do not grant a long extension of the terms of the Bill. While I have stated the position of Victoria, I think it is not quite the same as in many of the other States.
– The New South Wales Year-book shows very much the same results.
– New South Wales suffered a severe drought last year, and the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) and the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) inform us that, in the last month or two, there has been a severe snowing under of certainparts , of Tasmania, which has seriously affected the position of agriculturists and graziers in that State.
– Have you any idea of the total value of the mortgages on the real estate of Victoria?
– The average of the figures I have quoted will give the honorable member a very good idea. The value of new mortgages taken out per year during the last five years averages £8,427,000. Multiplying that by five gives something over £40,000,000, and multiplying again by three gives about £130,000,000 for the whole of Australia other than bank advances and some additional sources. The calculation of the Treasury officials, as quoted by the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), that something like £100,000,000 worth of mortgages would be covered during the period of the war even if not affected by the Bill, is therefore fairly accurate. Probably the amount directly affected by the moratorium will not be more than a portion of that.
– By express agreement in the mortgage deeds since 1916, theoperations of the regulation have been excluded.
– That is so with regard, not only to mortgages, but contracts of sale. From 1907 till 1913 the average value of mortgages taken out was £10,446,253, and the average value of those released was £7,481,198. During the period from 1.913 to 1918 inclusive, the average value taken out was £8,427,120, and the average value released was just under £7,000,000.
– All1- those figures do not’ prove much, unless- you have the whole of the facts relating to financial transactions generally.
-I have, given the figures for twelve years, and,, after all, these; things generally adjust themselves fairly well under the law- of- averages if you take a sufficiently lengthy period. I do- not say that it is absolutely accurate, but we must” get some- kind of basis to.. estimate how far the cutting off of the moratorium protection would’ cause financial disaster, and how many people are involved. I take the view that, if any substantial number of’ people are in- ‘volved seeing that the Bill” extends the protection in regard to a large, number, of mortgages only to this month, we should’, extend the period somewhat further. If the. Acting Attorney-General believes that it is constitutionally possible, we should extend it for six months, that is, until February of next year, when most of the crops will have been got in, and people will have had breathing time to make the necessary financial arrangements. I am trying to show that, in spite of the fact that we have raised £300,000,000 in Australia for war purposes, in spite of the tremendous expenditure on the war, and the enormous additional taxation the people have paid, the war has had a surprisingly small effect on the financial equilibrium of the nation, so far as it is shown by the number of mortgages taken out and released.
– Has the honorable member any idea of the number of unregistered mortgages?
– That information cannot be obtained, but the number can be only a email percentage. An unregistered mortgage is generally held by somebody who has the utmost faith iri his client.
– A lot of the bank mortgages are not registered. . o
– That is the case with most overdrafts, but they can hardly be regarded as mortgages. Sometimes bank overdrafts are registered as mortgages. and sometimes as liens. Building societies and savings banks grant very long dated mortgages, and as they amount to about £220,000,000, they make a big gap in the calculations of. the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams):.. Very, few: of them: would be affected by this Bill. I give notice that, if the amendment of the honorable member for Franklin to extend the time for repayment of certain , mortgages to August, 1920, is not agreed to, I shall move to make the date February, 1920. I presume that, if this is carried*, theactive service man’ will still have the. advantage of six months; and, in my opinion,, it is a very fair compromise.
.- I see that special, or stipendiary, magistrates are provided for the hearing of cases. Does that mean that the Government are -going to appoint special, or stipendiary, magistrates ?
– In New South Wales and’ Queensland, there is the District Court; while in Victoria there is the County Court. The corresponding Court in South Australia and, I think, Western Australia, is called a Local Court, which is presided over by a stipendiary magistrate. That regulation is- governed by the- words- “ local Court “.
– It is to be hoped that, the people concerned are not going to be put to much expense.
– The Local Courts are notexpansive.
.- The question under discussion is moreimportant than, I think, the- Government seem to realize. If we allow mortgages tobe called up suddenly during August, weshall place in jeopardy a large number of small producers, who are the very people* requiring protection, for they will not beable to raise the means to meet mortgages when forced on to the money market. The slower and easier theprocess whereby we pass from one set of conditions- to another, the better it is in business of this sort. Many mortgagesare in existence which were entered into before 1915 : and I do not see why, instead of August, 1919, we should not fix the 30th June, 1920, for repayment. Man3’ people who have entered intoagreements for the sale of properties, and are anxious to get their money, will be inconvenienced if the-
Batter date- is adhered to, arndt others have practically all their savings invested in this; way,,, and wilt be rather awkwardly situated for- a time; whereas, if they could! get their money now, they could use ifr to much better advantage than on the present security. These,, however., ama very few in number compared with those whom it would: seriously disadvantage ; and, -on the whole, 1 think the extension of time I suggest would be the better- plan. I see no objection to. the suggestion except,, it- may be,, some regulation feting: payment; in. August 1’9.19, for mortgages! entered into, before 1915-. If., however, these is no bar to. the amendment I. indicate; I think it would be wise to adopt it. If in any particular State further protection is needed, the State Parliaments will then, be in. position, to come to the rescue- if necessary. The time is coming when, this- Parliament will: haste -no con.stitutional power in this, connexion; and if. we allow mortgages- to be called in wholesale this month, the State Parliaments will not be able to .act, and the individuals concerned, will not be able to get arty help from the- Courts. I do not see. how. the* Court procedure can be further simplified ; and there is no doubt that some persons will be inconvenienced, and put to comparatively heavy expenditure,. People cannot appeal to the Courts for nothing, even in the simplest, way. The inconvenience that may be caused to mortgagees and vendors is nothing, compared to the. great advantages- conferred on the bulk, of the community.
Mi?. WEST (Bast Sydney) [5.43].- There1 seems to be- am idea in this- and other Parliaments that only honorable members who are of the legal’ profession can properly discuss and determine legislation of the- sort before- us! The- result of- this has- been, in some cases, that only legal minds can understand the completed Bills, and. there are cases- on which they will disagree) much” to the- profit of the professional-; but the time- has come now when clauses ought to be> made- perfectly clear, not only to honorable members, but to,the community generally. According to this schedule, all cases- involving over £2,000’ willi have- to- be taken- to the High. Court or the Supreme Court; and this: will inevitably prove very expensive! Highs Courts- and-. Supreme Courts sit only for limited, times in the various States, a-nd persons- with cases might find themselves compelled to wait twelve months, for a hearing.. There are- large numbers of farmers with, mortgages for o.v.ex. £2,00.0; and I think the tribunal ought to he limited, to a District or. Local Court,, with a stipendiary magistrate. I see no. provision to. permit of keeping good the notice of” one month,, if a hearing is not held at the termination of that time ; and another point is- that there is no appeal from the decision of any Court. Further, it is provided in regulation Sb that the jurisdiction may be exercised ‘ either in Court or in Chambers,, though that is not aSupreme Court as we laymen understand’ it. AMI these regulations ought to Be drawn up so as to be readily understood’. I do not see that the suggestion made by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) would be productive of the benefit he anticipates; for, in my opinion, there will be less opportunity to renew, mortgages twelve months hence than there is; to-day. If a security is good a-nd sound, there will be no trouble about getting a renewal. ‘ After all, we are only dealing with mortgages prior to 1916, because in all mortgages drawn up since then, care is taken to provide for foreclosing. . If any lawyer who has drawn up a mortgage since 1916’ has not. inserted that safeguard, he has . not. looked after- the interests of his clients: Most of- these mortgages are in country districts ; and we should afford’ the parties an opportunity to apply to the nearest Court,, and not’ compel them to incur the expense of approaching- the Supreme Court, or the- High Court, in one of the capital cities. We should make the procedure: so simple that even the- mortgagor coula approach the- Court for a continual tion- of the mortgage-. If a man had- a mortgage of £2,000, it would pay him- to allow it. to; mature, and’, pay an ex-tra- 2 percent, for ai renewal: rather than, incurthe expense, of approaching the SupremeCourt for an extension of, the mortgage for. twelve, months. “Mr-: ARCHIBALD (Hindmarsh) [5.53]. - I. urge:- the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr: Groom) to consider- a. postponement of the date on which mortgages will become due. “While the Government are placing before the country a new War Loan, which -is more or less a forced loan, inasmuch as the Government have power to compel persons to lend, is it fair to compel borrowers to redeem their mortgages? Money is dear to-day, and the mortgagee has plenty of temptation to foreclose and invest his money more profitably in other directions. If that policy is facilitated, it will not operate favorably to the War Loan. The Government have committed an error of judgment in withdrawing the- protection of the moratorium when at the same time they are floating what is practically a forced loan. Although the war is over, we are experiencing, and will continue for a considerable time to experience, its effects as severely as we have at any time, during the last four years.
– I ask honorable members not to press any amendment which will disturb the scheme contained in the schedule. The Armistice was concluded in November last, and it then became apparent to anybody who had the benefit of the moratorium that the time was approaching for the mortgages to be redeemed. Every, moratorium is intended to be of only a temporary character, because it is a very arbitrary interference on the part of the State with the contracts and rights of individuals; but this moratorium was introduced in the public interest, and is capable of full justification. Last year, when the- Government asked the House for an extension of the War Precautions Act, at was indicated that the moratorium was coming to an end. The Government later considered the matter, and decided that the calling up of all mortgages on the one date would lead to confusion. Therefore, a sliding scale was designed and embodied in a regulation which now forms part of the schedule. That regulation is the law under the War Precautions Act to-day; but inasmuch as it might operate beyond the duration of the War Precautions Act, it became necessary to submit it to Parliament in the form in which it appears in this Bill. The mortgages affected by the suggested amendment of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) are those which if not extended would have fallen due before the 1st January, 1915, and which, according to the schedule, will be continued until August of this year. That means that the mortgagors have been protected during the last four and a-half years, and have had ample time to look after- their interests and redeem their position. Surely honorable members will admit that in such cases the moratorium was a very arbitrary interference with the rights of the mortgagee, who has been kept out of his money during all that period.
– But he draws interest.
– Interest is not his only concern. All mortgagees are not wealthy institutions. Some of them are private persons who hold trust moneys for beneficiaries under wills’; and others are men in country towns who have a little money to lend. Of course, the principal mortgagees are banks, financial institutions, and trustee and insurance companies. So long as financial institutions feel that the security is good, they do not call in the mortgages. It does not follow that they will call in all mortgages as they become due under this Bill, but they may grant different terms for a renewal. And is it unfair that they should expect the market rate of interest when for four and a-half years they have not been able to touch their money, but have been, compelled to leave it at the convenience of the mortgagor. The Government is anxious to do justice between both parties. Instead of calling up all mortgages simultaneously, provision is made for an extension of the* moratorium, and they fall due according to the schedule between August, 1919, and June, 1920. Surely that is fair. Honorable members make a plea for the men who are hard up and need assistance. No matter on what date it is proposed to lift the moratorium, similar conditions of hardship will exist; and if the mortgages which become due during this month were extended until 1920, honorable members could still bring forward the same plea for consideration.
– Does the Minister consider that the financial conditions are normal to-day?
– Australia will gradually get into normal conditions, and it is our duty to assist in restoring them.
– A little more gradually.
– These regulations have been carefully thought out from both points of view.
– During the war, we have had the most profitable period this country has ever known.
– The prosperity has varied with different people; some persons have prospered, and others have suffered. According to Knibbs, the total production in Australia in 1916 was about £270,000,000; but we must not overlook the fact that wealth has its obligations, responsibilities, and burdens. If in future we do not produce more than we are doing to-day, our burdens will press very heavily on us.
– Production will be stopped by this Bill.
– No. ‘ Our desire is to get the country back to normal conditions. Let us resume normal trade and normal finance and the country will settle down to its proper condition. Then prosperity will come.
– But do it gradually.
– We are doing it gradually. We make provision for the cases of hardship to which honorable members have referred. Application can be made to secure an extension. The machinery .is of a simple character. It is the same as is applied under regulation 4 to the calling up of the mortgage. Applications are made, not in the ordinary way by issuing a writ, entering defence, and so forth, but by applying to a Judge in Chambers, or on motion. When the amount involved is £2,000, the application is made. to a Local Court, County Court, or a District Court. I ask honorable members to consider both sides of the question, and stand by the Bill as introduced.
– I have heard nothing to make me alter my view in the announcement I made that I intended to move an amendment in Committee. -I move - :
That the figures “ 1919 “ in the first line of the sliding scale in regulation 13 be left out with a view to insert in lieu- thereof the figures “1920.”
The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. -Archibald) was right in saying that we are not in a normal condition to-day. Not only have we passed through the greatest war in the world’s history; we have had imposed on us the greatest financial strain. Look at the enormous sum of money which the people in Great Britain have provided for the purpose of winning the war, and one would scarcely have been credited if he had .predicted that the people of Australia would be able to put up the cash that has been subscribed for our war loans. A considerable percentage of the money advanced on mortgage in Australia is . English capital. English capitalists had their agents all over Australia, because the rate of interest here was at least 1-J per cent, higher than it was in Great Britain. That state of affairs has now altered. Money is as dear in England to-day as it is here.
– How much English money is invested in Australia?
– It is impossible to arrive at the amount; but no one knows better than the honorable member that there are agents in all the States who have been loaning English money. A considerable portion of that money will be called up for investment in England. We must not lose sight of the fact that the funds available in savings banks, building societies, and other institutions have been depleted to some extent by money having gone into war loans. If it had not been for these war loans, that capital would have been available for investment in mortgages. We have heard a great deal about the consideration that the money lender has shown to the borrower. I have received a letter from a Melbourne solicitor. I do not know him, but it is one of a number of letters which have come to mie since the debate took place in this chamber last week. This is a portion of his .letter -
In August, 1915, a young -nian desirous of enlisting renewed his existing mortgage for :four years falling, due on 1st August, 1919. He went to the war. He was demobilized in -June, 1919. He has paid up his interest punctually. He has now been called upon summarily to pay the principal. ‘ The mortgagee says, “ I want -my money; I can do better with it.”
The money lender comes down and puts the pistol at the head of a man who has been away fighting for him. Of course, he cannot do it legally, because the soldier is protected for an’other six months. Rut if we pass this Bill, the - pistol will be put -at the heads of thousands of men who are living in their homes to-day all over Australia. The mortgagee will *ay, “ ‘I want my .money.; I can do better -with it.” Of course, he can do better with it. But when people ‘talk of the enormous : obligations conferred on the borrower by the money lender, do not let the other position be ‘lost sight of. If a man took advantage of the moratorium, his interest immediately advanced from 4 per cent, or 4£ per cent, to 6 per cent. During the whole of the period of the moratorium the lender has been receiving the benefit of ‘that increased rate.
The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) has put my case in a nutshell. Granted there may be individual cases of hardship among .men who have been sitting down drawing interest, what, are those cases compared with the cases in which the pistol may be put at the heads of men in the city or in the country, .and the demand made, “ I want my money; I can do better with it”? The figures given by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) are worth nothing i’f they do not .go further, .and (give the .amount .of existing mortgages on the real estate of Victoria.
– Multiply by five. .That will .give £50,000,000 .for Victoria.
– That .is a rough-and-ready guess, but my ‘figures are a great deal more. .According to Mr. Knibbs, the real estate of Australia is worth £1,100^00,000. As a large .portion .of the properties df Queensland and
New South Wales are .leasehold lands, whereas practically the whole of the estates of Victoria are freehold, the percentage of freehold in Victoria is considerably larger than the percentage in New South Wales, and. is’ relatively very much higher than the percentage in Queensland or Western Australia. I think that we can fairly set down the value of the real estate in Victoria at about £368,000,000, or a third of the total value of. the real estate of Australia. The honorable member for Wimmera says that the amount on mortgage in Victoria is about £50,000,000 ; but one glance will show that it must be considerably higher. I do not go back on the figures I. gave the other day. The more I think of them and go into them, the .more convinced .1 am that there are encumbrances “in one shape or another on . 50 .per cent, .df .the real estate of Australia.
– Ridiculous ! 3£r. MCWILLIAMS. - I think I am fairly right. With overdrafts, ;loans .unregistered loans, registered mortgages, and other forms of indebtedness, my estimate of 50 per cent, is much closer than the figures .of the honorable member for Wimmera, namely, £50sOO.Q,00.0 worth on mortgage out of a .real estate worth £368,000,000.
M.t. ;Sampson. - The honorable member has no data to go on. I have the .figures of the Government Statistician.
– I do not accept the honorable member’s figures; but, for the sake of argument, let us say that there is £50,000,000 on mortgage on the real estate of Victoria. Well, a considerable proportion of that amount will come under this Moratorium ‘Bill.
– A comparatively small proportion of it will.
– If, as -the ‘honorable member for Wimmera says, £50,000,000 represents the amount of mortgages on the real -estate of Victoria, the .mortgages which .are .not under .the moratorium -are not very small in .number.
– The “honorable member for “Wimmera .showed that there .were £17,000,000 worth in Victoria salons which would probably represent the amount not affected by the moratorium. In 1917 and 1918 I think they amounted to £11,200,000.
Hr.. Sampson. - The annual releases in Victoria amount to about £7,000,000.
– According to the honorable member’s figures, the new mortgages have been from 25 per cent, tq 33 per cent, in excess of releases. I hope that an effort will be made to secure from the several registrars details as to the total amount represented by registered mortgages in Australia. Such information would be of great value to the House when we are dealing with land taxation. I am not asking that the slightest injustice shall be done to the money lenders. I am willing that they should go on collecting their interest at the rate of 6 per cent. ; but having regard to the abnormal condition of the money market, I urge that the protection enjoyed by mortgagors during the last. four years shall be extended for a further period of twelve months, so that they may have time to’ make the necessary financial arrangements. Unless that is done, We shall have the money-lender presenting a financial pistol at -the head of a man who has been struggling for the last four years, and saying to him, “ You must pay up, or go out of possession.” I hope that the Government will accept my amendment. On the heels of every great war, financial trouble has occurred, and in some countries the results have been disastrous.
– As one who has regularly to probe the money market, I deliberately say that the market to-day is very favorable to the flotation of loans.
– Prom information that I have received from men whom the honorable member will accept as authorities’ upon the subject, I do not think it is possible at the present time to borrow much money at 6 per cent.
– Give me a gilt-edged proposition, and I will secure the money at 6 per cent.
– Very little money can be borrowed at 6 per cent., and certainly no money is available below that rate of interest. I have had a very considerable experience of the primary industries, and I know of no branch of farming which could be profitably carried on with money borrowed at a rate of interest exceeding 6 per cent. Some money lenders, however, are now asking 8 per cent, interest, which, with compound interest, means doubling the money lent in ten years. With such an abnormal interest rate, no primary industry here could carry on in the face of competition - abroad. Six per cent. is quite enough for any man to get for his money. Under the moratorium, 6 per cent, is being paid in respect of all loans exceeding £2,000, and the money-lender might reasonably be asked to rest satisfied with that rate of interest for another twelve months rather than that the people should be faced with financial chaos by having placed at their heads the financial pistol, “Pay up, of get out.” The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) has said that the primary producers during the war period have enjoyed, seasons of unparalleled prosperity. That statement is not. correct. In some parts of Australia the men on the land are having a bad time.
– That is so.
– The honorable member knows of the ravages of the drought in some parts of New South Wales, where, according to figures supplied by him, one-half of tie stockowners have lost 50 per cent, of their sheep. In Tasmania, the fruit-growers have been wholly unable to market their produce, and serious results would follow if these men were asked in the midst of their troubles at the present time to pay up the whole of their liabilities under mortgages or to give up their holdings.
– Surely the honorable member does not think that the great financial institutions would adopt that attitude towards those who have borrowed from them.
– My own impression is that- if the financial institutions could obtain 7 per cent, for their money, the bulk of the mortgages at 6 per cent, would be promptly called up.
– Borrowers could obtain renewals at higher rates.
– The honorable member, quite unintentionally, no doubt, has indicated the danger spot. I hope that the Committee will not consent to the industrial life of Australia being thrown into the melting pot.
– This suggests Bolshevism.
– There is no Bolshevism associated with a proposal to allow mortgagees to continue to get 6 per cent. for their money. When a man talks of 8 per cent. he is getting fairly close to usury. The man who is prepared to take advantage of the misfortunes of another arising from the war is not deserving of much sympathy. I have given this matter very careful consideration, aud am convinced that if the enormous financial dam, which, by means of the moratorium we have been very properly building up since 1916, be destroyed, a flood of financial disaster will follow. I am pleading for thousands of men in the State of which I am a representative, who have been brought almost face to face with financial ruin as the result of the war, and I earnestly urge the Government to accept my amendment.
– Then I shall refrain for the present from stating the question.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to7.45p.m.
.- The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) was about to ask the Minister whether the Bill limited the rate of interest.
– Paragraph 7 of regulation 4 of the first schedule makes provision regarding interest rates as follows : -
In any case where after the due date for repayment of the principal sum or any part thereof, the principal sum or part remains unpaid, the time for repayment of the principal
Bum or part shall, unless and until an application for leave is dealt with by the Court under this regulation, be by force of these Regulations extended upon the terms that interest shall continue to be payable at the close of the same intervals of time as are provided by the mortgage with respect to the interest thereby secured, or, if no provision is so made, then quarterly, and . at the following rate : -
.- I hope the Acting Attorney-General will see his way clear to grant some concession regarding the dates on which mortgages will be repayable.
– An extension for twelve months is impossible.
– I would not ask for that, but the suggestion of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) for an extension of six months ought to meet the case. That will make the prescribed month February, 1920. It is idle for us to consider the question of the amount involved. It is impossible to find it out; but the public generally have been anticipating something in the nature of this measure. A great number of people have not made their arrangements for the continuation of their mortgages. The Minister promised a Bill to carry on the moratorium for a certain period; but the schedule as it now stands will give no consideration in the case of any mortgage entered into prior to the beginning of the war. Regulation 14 of the first schedule allows the Court to make an order upon the application of the mortgagor ‘ ‘ made not less than one month before the prescribed date for repayment.” That would not apply in this case, because the month of August will soon be gone.
– These regulations have been in operation for some time, and the people have had their right.
– But the schedule has not been in operation.
– That has been the law all along. We are only putting the existing law into a Bill. The regulations were published all over Australia at the time, and special attention was drawn in the press to these provisions, and to the hardship clauses
– The fact remains that it is very little known to the public, and some consideration should be given them. Only a few days ago, the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Poynton) told us what the Government proposed to do in connexion with the next loan. It must be remembered, in considering financial matters, that an enormous sum of money, which ordinarily would be used for the building up of industries, has been received by the Government in war loans. The new loan for £25,000,000 is to be floated next month; and the responsible Minister went so far as to say that, if necessary, contributions would be made compulsory. If the Minister feels that money is so tight as all that, he must realize that it will be tight also for all those who desire to renew mortgages. The Ministry should not give the large financial agents the power to raise interest to an abnormal height. There is a consensus of opinion on this side in favour of extending the period for repayment. It is all very well for people living in Melbourne and Sydney to talk about the large quantity of money that is floating about, and the prosperity of the country, and to express their belief that the Bill will not cause any undue financial distress; but the greater proportion of the money spent in Australia in connexion with, the war has been spent in those two cities,’ and has naturally created a prosperity that does not exist in other parts of Australia, particularly the back country. The Minister would not say he would extend mortgages to June, 1920, unless he felt quite satisfied that he had the constitutional power to do so.
– We are satisfied of that.
– There can be no trouble, therefore, from the constitutional stand-point. Several country storekeepers have told me that the stoppage of the moratorium would not affect them greatly, but if they were called on suddenly to meet their obligations they would have to foreclose on others who were not in so good a financial position as themselves. If all mortgages entered into prior to the war have to be repaid next month, it will create a big demand for money at the one time, whereas if the date of repayment was extended by from four to six months, mortgagors would have a longer period to obtain the money they require. They would not all rush into the market at the same time. I am afraid that if the Bill is passed as it stands, a large number of business people who have been financing smaller people will, when compelled to find the money to complete their own financial arrangements, in many instances have to withdraw the help they have been giving to others.
– Many small people who were financing others have suffered very badly through the moratorium, especially in country towns.
– The distress in ‘ those instances is not likely to be anything like so great as the distress that would be caused by passing this schedule in its present form. The danger I have spoken of has been stressed to me during the past fortnight by a number of country people. The suggestion of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) ought to meet the case. It cannot cause any great distress to lenders, while it will give all who are in any way involved a few months’ time to get their affairs in order.
.- No one can be more sensible of the danger of creating a scare when dealing with money matters than I am, but I draw the attention of the Government to the fact that the present rate of interest is very high. It was justified previously by those concerned by the fact that we were at war. The war as now over, and we are told that we are about to construct, as it were, a new world. I know nothing that would give the community so much assistance as a low rate pf interest for money. To show the indifference displayed in the commercial world to the needs of the community in this regard, let me, point out that the Commonwealth Savings Bank gives only 3 per cent, interest on deposits, while those who conduct the State Savings Banks, influenced in some cases by a desire to keep up their own dignity, and in others to keep up the extensive institutions that they run, give 3j£ per cent., so as to keep the money away from the Commonwealth Bank. If the Commonwealth Bank can get money at 3 per cent., the State Banks ought to do the same. By that means they would be enabled to lend it again at a reasonable rate to industrious people to carry on their businesses. The Australian Mutual Provident Society, a very finely-governed institution, is now charging 6 per cent, on its mortgages. I cannot see why they should not continue their old rate of 5 per cent. In their annual report the directors point out that they are getting 6 per cent., and that the policy-holders will receive increased bonuses. In this institution there are policies held for large sums. That increase means much to their benefit. If they get increased bonuses it will be at the expense of those who borrow money from the society, mostly on freehold property*, small cottages, and other rent-producing assets. The result is to add to the amount of rent charged to people, many of whom are policyholders in the society. The society is already giving a fine return to its policyholders, and there is no justification for claiming a higher rate of interest. We ought to aim at making Australia as nearly self-contained as possible, and we must remember that manufacturing industries require borrowed money at as low a rate as possible. The German people did all they could for their manufacturing interests. They got a low rate of interest by the credit of their banks. If a manufacturer there was unable to dispose of his product within six or seven months, he experienced no difficulty in obtaining an advance from a financial institution at a low rate of interest to tide him over until such period as he realized upon it. I think that the Government are making a mistake in allowing too high a rate of interest upon our war loans. We must make a move in the direction of bringing down the interest rate.
– The interest upon the forthcoming loan will be equal to 5£ per cent.
– Exactly. I suppose that that rate is ‘being offered as an inducement to people to invest their money in it on. account of the large amount which has to be raised. This is a very big question, and one with which we must deal in such a way as to avoid frightening the public. Then, again, no other country in the world would tolerate the existence of State and Commonwealth Savings Banks side by side.
– Other banks are amalgamating.
– That is so. If our State and Commonwealth Savings Banks were amalgamated, we should save many thousands of pounds annually, and every pound thus saved could be applied to the reduction of our burden of interest. 1 feel that I can accomplish nothing on the present occasion, because the moratorium regulations are already in existence. But in my judgment a Tate of 6 per cent, upon mortgages is altogether too high. After all, the Savings Banks are merely the repositories of the people’s money. The Commercial Bank in Sydney, with a capital of only £2,000,000, has a turnover of £55,000,000 annually. Since the outbreak of war the amount to the credit of its current account and reserves in the various banks of Australia has increased to £95,000,000. Before we can achieve the grand idea, of making Australia self-contained, we mud secure money for the establishment of those industries which will provide employment for our people. At the present time, Australia is being called upon to pay annually in interest £13,000,000, or £14,000,000, out of her revenue of £39,000,000. This interest is ominous in view of our present expenditure. Surely that is an extremely serious position. I do not know whether the High Court will uphold the validity of this Bill .should its constitutionality be contested. But in the United States of America, the Judges in cases of this kind have adopted a very liberal view of the intentions of the Federal Constitution. I trust that the Government will tackle this financial problem fearlessly. Every country in the world whicli has made marked progress has been characterized by two things - cheap land and cheap money. Parliament should set an example to the community in this connexion. Our financial institutions take very good care that the securities upon which they make advances are absolutely sound. I look forward to the day when the Commonwealth Bank will conduct the whole of the loan business, not merely of the Commonwealth, but also of the States. The banking business cf the various States and public utilities throughout Australia should be performed by the ‘ Commonwealth Bank - that was the intention of the people. If that objective were attained, we should establish a certain amount of credit which could be utilized to erect soldiers’ homes free of interest. It only requires a few honorable members to seriously devote themselves to this task, and I am sure, that they would effectually solve the problem. Above all, I do hope that the day has passed when the States will be allowed to float loans upon the London market without first ascer- taining that sufficient funds cannot be raised within the Commonwealth. There is nothing highly inflammable about my proposal; indeed, instead of being likely to burn down, it will build up Australia, representing, as it does, a constructive, and not a destructive, policy. This House has been lax for the last two or three years in looking after the people’s interests, for we should have been preparing ourselves to meet the inevitable consequences of the war, and propounding schemes to remove the prevailing discontent with our social and industrial conditions. The people look to this Parliament to’ solve these problems, and it is to be hoped that we will realize our position. I have no desire to be an alarmist,’ or to convey the idea that in my own estimation I am the “ only pebble on the beach “ in these matters. I am satisfied that others share my anxiety for the future, and are willing to help our industries, both primary and secondary. Some honorable members do not take that interest they should in money matters, but are quite willing to leave everything to the Government. I am of a different disposition, and never satisfied until I see something being done. Can anybody contradict what I have said, or deny that I have put forward’ a practicable and reasonable scheme? Of course, in the absence of will on the part of honorable members to help me, I am helpless, and my “ pearls of wisdom “ which appear in Mansard will be ineffective. That, however, will not stop me from pursuing the right track, and I believe that what I suggest would solve many of the problems in the near future. It is our duty, I say, as a Parliament, to remove the prevailing discontent.
– And remove the Federal Capital !
– If we had a Government in power that was in earnest, the Federal Capital could be so financed as to make the revenue from it cover interest and redemption. We all know the instance of Guernsey and Jersey, where markets and town halls were built on credit, and the bonds burnt every twelve months as they were redeemed. If the Commonwealth Bank can successfully finance the soldiers’ homes in New South Wales at its present rate of interest, 5 per cent., why cannot the same plan be adopted in other directions? This Bill does not appear to me to be likely to do much good ;’ indeed, the ‘’ only valuable thing about it is that it has afforded me an opportunity to give honorable members some lessons or lectures in finance, and to endeavour to arouse them to a sense of their duties and responsibilities as representatives of the people.
– I can understand the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) submitting his amendment in the interests of his constituents, because I dare say that 90 per cent, of them are primary producers, and many will suffer if they are called upon to meet their liabilities at the present time. One phase of the question has not yet been touched upon. This is a most inopportune time for making pecuniary demands on those who are in the unfortunate position of having their lands mortgaged. All the capital that can now be found is necessary for the farms and orchards, and if any sudden demand is made, producers will be prevented from carrying on their apple pruning, for instance, and effecting other improvements which are essential to production. Land will not be utilized as it should be, and, therefore, will not be productive of the wealth required to tide us over out troubles in the near future. I appeal to the Minister (Mr. Groom) to give most earnest consideration to the amendments suggested this afternoon. I must say, however, that I see danger in the long term proposed by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams), which would, next August, take us into another year at a time when capital is urgently necessary. Hence I suggest a compromise, and I think we should not do wrong in adopting the excellent suggestion of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson), who so ably and eloquently represents a farming constituency. Of course, we do not know what the Minister may do; he may drop the Bill; and then what would be our position? There is always that danger, besides the constitutional difficulty so ably dealt with by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best). The suggestion of the honorable member for o Wimmera for an extension of about six months would give ample notice. I desire to be fair, and I was much impressed by what the Minister said when he pointed out that notice had practically been given from the signing of the armistice. With another six months we ought to be satisfied.
– We cannot ignore the Constitution.
– Quite so; but we cannot go faT wrong in accepting the compromise suggested. We are always anxious and pleased to hear the honorable member, who, with his brilliant intellect, places a case so clearly before us.
– I have given further consideration to the suggestions made this afternoon. It is correct, as was stated by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), that the longer the period of the moratorium is extended the nearer is the approach to the period at which, it might be contended that this legislation is not a valid exercise of the defence powers.
If the suggestion made by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) were adopted, the period of protection would be very considerably extended. I have drafted an amendment which, I hope, will be acceptable as a careful attempt to keep within our constitutional powers, and at the same time do what is reasonable and just. It has been suggested that we should, if possible, extend the moratorium to protect farmers up to the period of the next harvest. That will mean an extension of six months, as against twelve months asked for by the honorable member for Franklin. The amendment which I have drafted will provide that mortgages which would have fallen due before the 1st January, 1915, will be extended till 20th February; mortgages due between 1st January and 31st December, 1915, will be due in March, 1920; mortgages due between 1st January and 31st December, 1916, will be due in April, 1920; mortgages due between 1st January and 31st December, 1917, will be due in May, 1920 ; mortgages due between 1st January, and 31st December, 1918, will be due in June, 1920; and mortgages due between 1st January, 1919, and the proclamation of the termination of the war will fall due in July, 1920. The prescribed date will be 31st July, 1920, instead of 30th June, so that we shall extend the period one month longer as regards later mortgages, and protect the earlier mortgages until February, 1920, or until after the harvest season.
– Do you mean the end of February?
– No. If a mortgage would have fallen due on, say, the 10th February, 1915, it will now be due on 10th March, 1920. There must be some specific date. I think this amendment will reasonably meet the views of honorable members as expressed this afternoon, I ask the honorable member for Franklin to withdraw his amendment in order to allow me to move the one I have indicated.
– I am prepared to withdraw my amendment in order to allow the Minister to submit the new table, but I must test the feeling of the Committee as to my amendment.
– The honorable member can move hie amendment on the new table, and in that way raise the issue.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I move -
That the table included in paragraph 13 be left out, and the following inserted in lieu thereof: -
.- I am glad the Minister has seen fit to grant at least half of what the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) has asked for, but an extension for the full twelve months would be much better. We must not forget that within the next two or three months another loan of £25,000,000 will be asked of the people of Australia, and this Bill, I fear, will affect that proposition. I would like to see some provision made that not more than a certain percentage, say, 10 per cent., of the capital advanced, could be demanded, and that upon payment of that percentage the mortgagor could secure an extension for, say, three months. In my opinion, we are approaching a crisis. Hyndman, in Commercial Crises of the Nineteenth Century, declares that there is generally a boom, followed by a financial crisis,- every ten or thirteen years. The signs of a boom ate - increases in rents, property values, and prices of commodi ties. We have all the signs of a boom* at present, and, in my opinion, the Government, in this Bill, though not designedly, are about to precipitate a crisis which will interfere very materially with the success of the Peace Loan. What will happen in February next if £50,000,000 or £100,000,000, lent on mortgage is suddenly called up? What will be the position of those who, although’ they owe money on mortgage, desire to help their country by subscribing to this loan? Interest rates are advancing. One day this week as much as 7 per cent, was demanded on splendid security, with a provision that the whole of the loan money was to be spent in the erection of buildings, and every progress payment had to be authorized by the architect. The present conditions carry me back to the days of the boom period, which was so disastrous to a great number of people, though many who could not then meet their obligations have since risen to high rank and position in this city. I want, if possible, to avoid a repetition of that experience. What happened in England’ when the Banking Act had to be suspended over the Baring crisis? Baring Brothers were the only company that could compete with the great Rothschild combination, and Englishmen naturally felt proud of that great house, which had just floated Guinness’ brewery, and had beaten the Rothschild combination in financing the Manchester - Ship Canal. Everything then seemed to be all plain sailing when trouble occurred. Hyndman states -
The bank rate of discount was rapidly advancing.
We know that is occurring in Australia today. The great joint stock banks were calling in their loans. The banks here are doing this at the present moment. By the Associated Banks orders have been sent out that the account of any one with a small overdraft must be in credit, one week out of the month. That means calling in the overdraft, and the banks are probably justified in doing this, because, remembering the crash of the land boom, they are seeking to prevent a recurrence of it -
Gold was flowing. out from the Bank of England -
Gold has been flowing out of our bank, but luckily it is flowing into the Treasury - which itself was reported to hold £4,000,000 of Barings’ acceptances; and a fourth suspension of the Bank Act of 1844 was regarded as inevitable if matters were allowed to take their ordinary course.
Then it was that the Bank of England was assisted by the Bank of France and the Bank of Germany to the extent of over £3,000,000-
A guarantee fund was formed, in which the Bank of England took the lead, and every bank or firm of any note in the city joined, to insure the meeting of the acceptance of Baring Brothers and Co. to the extent of £21,000,000; gold to the amount of £3,000,000 was borrowed by the Bank of England, through the Rothschilds, from the Bank of France, and more was obtained from Russia; the Barings’ ordinary business “-as turned into a limited company, and ser. ral other important firms went into a sort of limited liquidation. It was all thought to be a great stroke of genius at the time, and Mr. Lidderdale practically received the thanks of the Government, and was presented with the freedom of the city of London.
We have had a boom during the war years. According to the Bulletin weekly issues, there is not a financial institution in Australia but has shown increased assets and dividends, and has been able to make so much profit by a system of hiding, or smothering up, its dividends by increasing its capital that it has really shown, on paper, a formidable advance in financial success. Never was there any equal to it in the land boom period. If dividends had been paid upon the original capital, they would have gone up to 60, or even 100 per cent. We ought to pass ai law that no dividends shall exceed 10 per cent., and that all profits, after allowing for a dividend of 10 per cent., shall be handed to the nation to meet the war debt. I made the same suggestion in the State House in the month following the land boom. It was received with jeers and sneers, but every man ‘who jeered and sneered then, even Mr. Godfrey Downes Carter, told me afterwards that he wished the suggestion had been taken up. It was that no pub- lie company should pay a dividend of more than 10 per cent., and that all profits, after providing for that amount, should be equally divided between the
State and the company’s- reserve funds. One of the greatest financial experts who visited Australia when the banks were paying 10 per cent, dividends, said that a crash was sure to come. The book from which I am . quoting, Commercial Crises of the Nineteenth Century, by H. M. Hyndman, shows that, on the average, there is always a boom every thirteen years. I conclude my quotations from this book with the following : -
That the whole crisis will be a permanent record of the imbecility of English investors there can already be no doubt whatever. For those who held Argentine bonds, to which they had subscribed on the faith of representations made by first-rate financial houses that had secured enormous profits out of the issues, actually allowed the representatives of these very houses to form a financial caucus, specially constituted to sacrifice the public interests of investors to their own private necessities; granting the Argentine Government an unaskedfor delay in paying interest for three whole years, on condition that they, the magnates of the money market, should be relieved from their obligations in connexion with the rotten scheme for the water supply of the city df Buenos Ayres. Not a single bondholder or shareholder was represented on this great committee, of which Lord Rothschild was the chairman, and the whole affair was arranged to the ruin of the investors, so as to suit the pockets of those who sat with him round the table.
That is just the history of to-day; It is what I want to avoid now while we may. We are like Moses standing on the Mount of Pisgah looking towards the promised land that he was not destined to enter. The promised land lies ahead. The place of bondage lies behind. Which way are we to take ? We are given some power of choice.
I thank the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. . Mcwilliams) for suggesting that at least another year’s grace be given, because before that period of twelve months expires, this Parliament will meet its creators, who will, for one day in three years, have the power of moulding it as they desire. Possibly during that twelve months much may occur. For instance, the new loan may not prove a success. If that should be the case, and pressure is brought to bear by means of compulsion, capital will be still further crippled, and the banks will, have less money to lend out to enterprises, whether they be farming, squatting’, or manufacturing. ‘ The Government have gone half the way. I ask them to go the whole distance; at any .rate to see that the £100,000,000 on mortgage is not called up till after the next election. Well do I remember, with unfortunate memories, the crash of the land boom. I have mentioned the fact that 200 of my schoolmates in North and West Melbourne lost their homes when institution after institution crashed. And they were not called upon to pay up their mortgages as this Bill proposes to do. They were merely asked to pay in monthly instalments, but they could not do it, because trouble commences once the financial credit of the community is shaken. This Bill will tend to shake the. financial credit of this community. Did not Sir John Grice, the managing director of the National Bank, warn us, not for the purpose of giving a Labour member like myself a peg to hang an argument on, but for the welfare of this community at large, as to the dangerous method in which our war loans were being floated, by freeing the holders of bonds from taxation? Did he not show, in plain words, that the man of wealth who could put his money into those loans would be securing a return equal to 7 per cent, or per cent. , whereas the majority of the people, who could only lend small sums of money, would be receiving not more than 4 per cent., because they did not come under the heavier grades of income taxation, which the wealthier investor would escape? If the Government want the new loan to succeed, I impress upon them the advisability of extending the period of the moratorium for at least twelve months. That would give stability to credit, which is the soul of true government. Supposing a man who is starting a big private venture is anxious to get a large number of debentures taken up. If, at the same time, he could take the ready money from those who had been protected so far, and compel them to use all their money and energies in endeavouring to meet their mortgages, would he not be a very foolish man to attempt to float his venture in such circumstances ? Yet ‘here the Government are endeavouring to do it. They are endeavouring to float a loan at the very time that they call upon people to meet their mortgages.
The word “moratorium” has been a curse with me; but I am pleased that the Government have seen their way to go as far as they have gone, because, for the first time, a limitation’ has been placed upon the amount of interest, that can be claimed. A loan in which I shared became due to the State Savings Bank about eighteen months ago. The gentleman .who was my partner said, “ Let us plead the moratorium”; but I said, “I do not think that would be quite fair. Let us go and see the manager of the bank.” We did so. The manager of the bank said, “ We think that we ought to receive 6 per cent.” He gave the reason. I said, “ That is just: I will agree to pay 6 per cent.” My colleague agreed also. Others who pleaded the moratorium have been able to hold on to the present moment at the lower rate of interest; but when their turn comes to renew, the banks will not treat them in the same way as they will treat those who saw the fairness of the offer they made. I understand that, in the case of amounts under £2,000, the interest is limited not to extend beyond 6 per cent.
– The rate is to be that which is provided in the mortgage, or 6 per cent., whichever is less.
– In the case of the amount being oyer £2,000, the rate is to be that which is provided in the mortgage, or 6 per cent., whichever is greater. I do not 3ee why there need be two bites at a cherry. The Committee is generous enough, I think, to make 6 per cent, the limit right throughout. I thank the Government for having made this definite limitation of interest. I only wish that the people outside should have it sunk into their minds that no interest can be charged beyond a certain amount.
As the Minister (Mr. Groom) has justly said, it is provided that when a mortgage becomes due any one can appeal to the Court and get justice; but it is not many of us who like the name of a Court. I had an experience in the High Court for two or three afternoons, at the cost of £300.
– The honorable member was lucky. It should have been £200 an afternoon.
– Unfortunately, when we run up against these horse-hair divinities called Judges, we realize that they would rather give decisions on petty technical points than weigh the moral claims of true justice.
We have had, we are having, and will continue for a little time longer to experience, a boom. As a hollow always follows a wave, so there will come a crisis, unless by the passing of wise laws this Parliament prevents it. There is no reason why we should not continue on a full tide of success. Not by any special vote of Parliament, but by their loyal acquiescence . in- the requests of this Government and Parliament, the Australian public has been pouring out its money in hundreds of millions to assist in carrying on a justifiable war. * For the welfare of our country, to keep men and women employed, and so to save misery, we should be prepared, if necessary, to pour out further tens of millions upon works and industries that shall supply all our needs. A Government which, by its actions, brought about a crash to-day, would be regarded with that same loathing and contempt as was heaped upon a certain past Government of this State, which was held responsible for the great crash following upon the last notorious boom - a Government which included in its personnel individuals who for many a day thereafter strutted about beneath their titles. As to that, I desire to read an appropriate extract from the Herald this evening -
When seconding the motion for the AddressinReply in the Legislative Council yesterday, Mr. Randolph Bedford supported the proposed abolition of the State Governorship.-
The Governor, ho said, was the link between this and the Old Country. The fewer links, in his opinion, the better. The good Australian was an anti-Imperialist. The Imperialist policy spelt Free Trade.
Mr. Bedford remarked on “ cheap and nasty titles.” “ Imported titles,”- he said, “ came down to their proper position when a haggis comedian was made a knight.”
I will say this for Harry Lauder, that I honour him more than I do some of the creatures who are possessed of titles in this land to-day. He collected something like £300,000 or £400,000 for the boys at the Front, and for their women and children. That is an act which has never been equalled or approached by any of the strutting title-holders in Australia in these days.
I cannot see the wisdom of authorizing mortgages to be called up on the one hand, while, at the same time, the Government is asking for a further loan of £25,000,000. Prior to our experience of the terrible war from which we have just emerged, the very idea of borrowing £25,000,000 in Australia would have been scorned. We would have heard the remark, “Oh, no; you will have to go to London to borrow that.” Poor old John Bull has been bled nearly white; but still certain of the Australian States are cadging from him to-day, knowing full well that he has to carry a far heavier burden than ever before, and than ever he should have been asked to shoulder. For the sake of the success of the projected loan of £25,000,000, Implead with the Government to further consider whether it will be justified in authorizing the calling up of mortgages after the manner now proposed.
– I trust that the Government will accede to the plea for a greater measure of mercy to people in trouble with their mortgage prospects to-day. Those of us who know the condition of the country at present can realize what this Act will precipitate. We know the present seasonal conditions; we are fully aware that money is very dear, and that renewals of mortgages will be both costly and difficult. It should not be forgotten that many small men subscribed to the war loans by embarrassing their finances for the time being. Yet, while they are still so embarrassed, the Government propose to borrow £25,000,000, and threaten that, unless the amount is forthcoming, compulsion will be introduced. I shall be sorry to witness the operation of compulsion, but if it is brought about it should be exercised upon those who possess plenty of money, and who can be proved to have refrained from subscribing to past loans.
We should not overlook conditions existing to-day as compared with those when the war commenced. The cost of living has soared tremendously. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) has stated a very reasonable caseIt is easy for one to speak sympathetically of those parties who loaned money at low rates of interest, and who are in trouble while waiting to get their money back, but what we need in Australia is stability of credit. The outlook is not very bright; there has been something of a boom during the war, and there is the reverse of boom times ahead. -It should be the duty of the Government, therefore, to do all in their power to avoid those evil days. The Government seem to be strangely obstinate in regard to the matter at present under discussion. The people are alarmed at their proposals. I shall quote a telegram which I received from a well-known business man in Sydney -
Moratorium Bill, unless this provides for extension present regulations until 30th June next, will cause financial chaos. Mortgagees already giving notice requiring payments, and refusing renewals. Extension vital importance, otherwise mean ruin to large number of small land-holders, especially in view prevailing seasonal conditions and inability obtain fresh advances, against which war loan also operating. Kindly endeavour obtain necessary amendment.
That man handles the financial affairs of a large number of primary producers. He is an agent, and it would be to his interest for his clients to be borrowing money and renewing mortgages. But he realizes that the primary producer will be hit heavily under this measure. It is easy to speak of renewals of loans, and of securing fresh ones; but that sort of thing means at the very least legal expense and mental anxiety. Let us not forget the dubious seasonal conditions. True, we have had good rains to-day throughout most of the States, but the outlook generally is anything but bright. Unless the probabilities change considerably our coming harvest will not be a good one, and the moratorium proposals of the Government will cause dire distress. I intend to vote for the longest extension of the regulations which can be secured. No doubt some little inconvenience and, perhaps, wrong will be inflicted upon certain parties who have loaned moneys ; but I prefer to see those disabilities fall upon the shoulders of the lenders of money rather than upon those people who have been forced to borrow. I appeal to .the Government to accept the amendment of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams). I hope they have not forgotten the state of affairs in Tasmania. I hope they will not overlook the position of primary producers in my own constituency, who cannot get their goods to market owing to the strike situation. This is a time when generous consideration should be extended to the people. Let it not be-forgotten that many of those who will be the most heavily pressed under this measure have suffered an inestimable loss entailed by the sacrifice of their sons at the war. They are entitled to the best that we can give them. I have listened in vain for any explanation as to what harm would be done by granting the extension for which the amendment provides. Two sections of the community are affected by the Bill, and it is the duty of the Government to give consideration to those who cannot help themselves. Many of the men on the land who are affected by the moratorium regulations have subscribed to our war loans, and their sons have shed their blood in the cause of their country. Surely the Government should be prepared to agree to this amendment, and so to help these men who are confronted with bad times. The amendment will have my vote.
.- The very moving appeal made by the honorable member ,for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) and those who, like him, are barracking eloquently for their friends in country districts, does noi fall entirely on deaf ears. I am quite prepared to agree to an extension on the lines proposed in the amendment. In speaking to the motion for the second reading of the Bill, I said that there were two sides to the question, which were worth considering. I also said that I did not believe that the disasters predicted by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) would follow necessarily upon the curtailing of the moratorium; and I do not believe that the rich advantages which he hopes to derive from the extension are really to be won. I rise, however, for the purpose of reminding these honorable members -that the protecting, fortress which they hope to build for their friends by the extension of the moratorium will have very unstable foundations. That was rendered sufficiently clear by the .few words uttered by the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr.. Groom), when he obligingly agreed to a compromise extension for six months. He now says enough to give away the case for the constitutionality of the Bill. Concurring with the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), he says, “We had better not attempt to extend the operations of the moratorium for twelve months, because the longer the extension, the greater the danger of the Bill failing on constitutional grounds.” That is sufficient to satisfy me of the truth of what I have been alleging all along, namely, that this creation by the Government will be found to be suffering from pernicious anaemia from the time that it leaves its legislative cradle until it ends its inglorious career in the High Court. The position is that it weakens from day to day. In somewhat ungracious terms I said a little while ago that this Bill and another on similar lines were in the nature of a fraud upon the country, and, although that language was unparliamentary, the passing of this measure and its fellow must inevitably be misleading to the public, who rely upon them. We do not know when this moratorium legislation may be challenged, but, apparently, if it is challenged the day after its passing, it is likely to have a better chance of surviving than it will have if it is challenged a week, a month, or a year later. Every day it becomes less able to sustain an attack in the Courts of the country. I warn honorable members opposite, who hope to secure the interests of their friends by the extension of the moratorium, that the object they have in view is very likely to be defeated.
– Would the making of this amendment alter the position in regard to the constitutionality of the Bill?
– No, not in principle, but the Acting AttorneyGeneral says that we had better not extend its operation for twelve months, because it would be more likely to fail if attacked nine mon.ths or twelve months hence than if it were attacked six months hence. That statement shows that the Government, from the very beginning, have had no real confidence in the constitutional stability of this Bill.
– The longer we extend its operation-
– The weaker it becomes. From day to day it grows poorer and poorer, until eventually its mortal remains are laid aside in the mausoleum of the High Court.
– Is that good law?
– No ; when dealing with another Bill I said it was bad law; but it is the law of this country as 1 aiddown by the High Court in the case which I quoted at length on a former occasion. I can put my honorable friend (Mr. Mcwilliams) quite at ease by saying, “ Have your extension, and I wish you luck;” but I can promise him no security in the extension for which he asks. Upon the general principle of standing by those who are likely to be oppressed by having their money suddenly called in following upon the war, I am prepared, however, to support the amendment.
.- I join with those who have pleaded with the Minister in charge of the Bill to extend the moratorium as far as possible. I recognise that the Government, to a certain extent, are up against the Constitution; but I would remind them that, under the Commercial Activities Bill some of the Pools formed by virtue of the powers conferred by the War Precautions Act were extended until .September, 1920. The moratorium was also declared under the War Precautions Act, and the longest extension proposed in respect of it is until June, 1920.
– That is a poor argument ; there is- no analogy between the two.
– The extensions in each case relate to powers exercised under the War Precautions Act, and if an extension is right in the one case it ought to be right in the other. The Government, in any event, in taking the bold step embodied in the amendment, would be buttressed by the powers of the States. If the Bill were declared by the High Court to be unconstitutional, the States could, come forward and rescue the unfortunate individuals affected by the moratorium regulation.
– Does the honorable member think that the State Governments would do so?
– They certainly would if sufficient cause” were shown. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (“Mr. Austin Chapman), who has supported the amendment, represents a big dairying district on the- South Coast, while I represent a division in the far west of New South Wales which is at present suffering from an unparalleled drought. In some of the districts that I represent the drought has been continuous since February, 1918. In many districts where the average annual rainfall is 20 inches, there has been a rainfall of only 12 inches during the last eighteen or nineteen months. Farmers there have lost up to 50 per cent, of their stock, and have spent large sums in the purchase of fodder to keep their stock alive. Their overdrafts, in many cases, have, consequently, been piling up very rapidly. According to statistics published recently in one of the Sydney journals, overdrafts granted by the various banking institutions during the last twelve months have’ increased to the extent of £14,000,000, whereas deposits have increased to the extent of only £7,000,000. The banks, consequently, lent £7,000,000 more than they ‘ received during the period in question. In addition to this, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Commonwealth is floating a loan of £25,000,000, and that interest has to be met on our previous loans, as well as in respect of the accumulation of
State loans. The farmers in my electorate, as well as in the electorates of Darling, Robertson, and Gwydir, are in the grip of the drought, and are at their wits’ ends in trying to finance themselves. If they are suddenly to be called upon to pay off their overdrafts and mortgages we shall have serious financial trouble. The Government ought certainly .to do what they can to assist these people by granting the extension sought by the amendment.
– I have never met a Minister who can make a gift with such cheerfulness as the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom). Even when he proceeds to hand out a legislative bomb, he does it with such an air of giving away something that one is almost prepared to accept it without question. I would point out to the honorable gentleman that the amendment which he suggests would make the Bill a very dangerous one. Under the original schedule the people of Australia are called upon, within twelve months, to find a sum of money estimated by the Minister at £100,000,000.
– No; I said that in 1916, when the moratorium regulation was introduced, the amount outstanding was £100,000,000, and that a great portion of that .amount might be affected.
– At all events, a substantial sum, running into millions, is involved. Instead of the people having twelve months in. which to find that money, they would be called upon, if the schedule were amended as proposed .by the Acting Attorney-General, to gather it within six months. .
– He has extended the Bill.
– No. The first payment becomes due in February, 1920, and the last in July, 1920; that is, instead of the money having to be found in twelve months, it must be found in six months. It is hard for the primary produce*, particularly, to be shackled in this way.
– Millions of pounds have been paid off.
– And millions still have to be paid oS.
– The Minister has said, this tender plant will not live a year.
– I said nothing of the sort.
– No one can guarantee that at will live at all. An extension for six months all round does not make it any more valid. If the Government are going to do anything at all, why not do it generously ? I appeal to the Minister to stick to the schedule as he presented it to this House, because it is a better proposal than the amendment. The introduction of his amendment is the most dangerous thing he could have done. When he considers that all this money has to be found in six months,- he will see the danger, and realize that he is hanging on to the money-lender. I ask the Minister to be generous iu this matter, and to extend its provisions for at least another six months, and- thus “give those who are concerned twelve months in which to find the money. If the Minister is not inclined to do that, it would- be better to stick to the original Bill.
.- I spoke somewhat fully on this Bill during the second-reading stage on Friday afternoon last immediately prior to leaving for the country. Whilst I was away I had an oportunity of discussing the matter fully with land-owners, agents, and country solicitors, all of whom were considerably concerned with its provisions. When speaking on the second reading, I impressed upon the House as strongly as I could the danger of allowing these enormous sums to fall due as they will if the Bill, as originally framed, is adhered to. I wish to make one more appeal to the Government, perhaps the last, to adopt the suggestion of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams), and extend every line in’ the schedule for twelve months. On Friday last, I referred to some farmer constituents who> had money falling due, and who asked me to assist them in every possible way to get loans renewed, or have the matter arranged. I explained that I saw the trustees, who informed me that they were quite helpless in the matter. The members who oppose an extension do not seem to realize at a’l that there are a large number - I am not reflecting in any way upon the financial institutions or banks - of trustees of estates who are not allowed to extend the mortgages to any greater extent than the law compels them to do. Notwithstanding the legal talent we have in this House, and the extraordinary legal dicta that have been laid down at various times, the opinions of the legal members of this Chamber have frequently been contradicted when cases have reached a Court of law. There are a very large number of loans now overdue, which have been protected only by the moratorium regulations, and which’ will get no further protection except under this Bill. There are’ a large number of borrowers who cannot make satisfactory arrangements, and the result will be that if the moratorium is not extended more generously-a large number of mortgagors will be dispossessed. When I visited the country last week, I was to’ld of a man who came in to sell half of his estate, and the agent advised him not to do so. He told the agent that his mortgage was due, and that, as soon as the moratorium expired, he thought he would have to sell half his land to meet his obligations. That is the actual position of many landholders at the present time. I wish to refer to the particular case which I mentioned on Friday, as I have recently received a letter regarding it. I asked the trustee of the mortgagee to renew the loan, and the reply was that he was unable to do so, because one of the beneficiaries demanded payment.
– That may happen twelve months hence.
– Yes, with this difference, that the mortgagor would be better able to pay off some portion of it, and thus reduce the capital amount. The following is the letter I have received -
I have received your letter, also loan application form-
I had recommended them to work on the Credit Foncier system of Victoria. The letter continues -
I had already get those papers, and found that I could not finance the matter without disposing of my stock.
These farmers have a few horses, sheep, and dairy cows, and cannot finance their operations without disposing of their stock. The letter goes on -
Then my source of income would be gone; hence my visit to you. I am confident of succeeding, and I also think that anything you can reasonably do for me you will. I do not wantanyone to give me anything, other than time.
These people are merely asking for time. There are two classes of people in Australia at present in a perilous position, and they are the wheat growers and fruit farmers. We have heard a great deal of the extraordinary prosperity of the man on the land during the war, but certainly the fruit farmer has not prospered. Many of these men are in a serious position to-day, and I doubt whether they wall be able to make their repayments of borrowed money in so short a time as is provided for by the Bill.
I have a word to say in reply to what was said by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) on Friday afternoon. He told us that people who had had their loans extended under the moratorium had had plenty of time to look around. I take the case of a soldier.
– I told the honorable member that I was not referring to soldiers.
– I am referring to soldiers. The honorable member said that people whose mortgages fell due prior to the 1st January, 1915, had had plenty of time to look around. I take the case of a soldier who, early in 1915, bought a property for £6,000. He paid one-fourth cash, and the balance of £4,500 was to be paid in three yearly instalments. After making the purchase he went to the war, and returned to Australia only a fortnight ago. What time has that man had to look around? There are many in the same position who have had no time to look around. It is to give these men reasonable time to make necessary arrangements for repayment that I urge a further extension.
– Those cases are specially provided for.
– Soldiers are given six months more than civilians who did not go to the war.
– They are given more than that.
– No, they are given just six months more than is given to civilians.
– The soldier referred to by the honorable member paid one instalment. The due date of the first of the remaining instalments is postponed for six months after the war, and’ the due date of each of the other instalments is correspondingly postponed for six months.
– The man to whom I refer paid a deposit of £1,500, and whilst under existing conditions if he were a civilian his last payment would fall due in1920 , as he is a soldier it will fall due in 1921. I say that in the circumstances thatis not asufficient concession. I have . no desire to press the Minister unduly, but I ask him, even at this late hour, to concede what the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) has asked, and add twelve months to every one of the lines in the schedule.
.- I shall not delay the Committee inspeaking on this Bill. I wish only to intimate that my vote will be given for an extension of the time for repayment of loans. From what has been said by honorable members who know something of the money sharks, this is a Bill to protect the victims of the Shylocks, and I am prepared to extend for as long as I can the time within which the victim shall not be called upon to pay his pound of flesh. Honorable members may put any legal construction they please upon the provisions of a measure such as this, but all will probably be wrong until the last arbitrator is called upon to give his opinion, and he is bound to be right, because he is the last person to whom the matter is referred.
– And by the time a man has paid for four appeals, the lawyers will have got the lot.
– No, the victim will still have his mortgage. I am reminded of the farmer who, when a blizzard blew all he had off his land, said, “ Thank God, the mortgage is left.” There must be an enormous amount of money in Australia when people are still able to lead money in spite of the huge sacrifices they are said to have made to carry on the war. We appear to have more money than we ever had before. Where did it all come from ? Who are the men who created it? We are playing up to the financial brigands of the community. The worker is not a victim of the financial brigand because he has never sufficient security to enable him to apply for a loan. We are dealing in this Bill with a fight between the men who have security to offer and the men who have money to lend.
– The money lender is not a brigand when you go to him to ask him for a loan. He is only a brigand when you are asked to pay what you have borrowed.
– The honorable member makes a distinction as to when, the money lender is a brigand, but, personally, I think that he is always a brigand. As soon as this House and the country are willing to nationalize finance, so that when a man requires assistance to develop the country he can go to his own, people, and get a fair deal from them, I shall be ready to support that reform. A beginning was made with the nationalization of finance in South Australia when the State Bank was established. Every one will tell you that it has been a huge success. Though it has not done all that was anticipated, it has stabilized interest.. It has prevented the money lenders from digging their talons too deeply into the producers, because the latter have the State Bank to1 go ‘to, and its operations have levelled the rate of interest on borrowed money. It appears to me that this is a Bill intended to protect those who are in the hands of the money lenders from being too harshly dealt with after the strenuous times we have passed through. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) referred to the extension of the functions of the Commonwealth Bank. We should be doing something practical in the way of assisting the primary producers, and the people generally, if, in dealing with Bills of this kind, we took that Bank into’ consideration, and made provision that it should come to the assistance of those having loans falling due. That would be one way of beginning the nationalization of finance. We cannot, hope to finance the industries of the country if those in charge of them are carrying on with overdrafts, and are for ever at the mercy of money lenders. Those who live upon interest without any effort of their own are merely battening upon the industry of those who utilize their money, and that, in the last analysis, is immoral and wrong. However, that is the system under which we live, and I suppose we shall continue to live under it until the’ people are prepared for the nationalization of finance. I hope that the Committee will give those who are suffering under existing conditions the relief that is asked for in connexion with this measure. When we come to discuss the finances of the Commonwealth I trust that honorable members will consider what our financial obligations are. We have borrowed £300,000,000 or thereabouts. When the first £20,000,000 loan was floated by Mr. Fisher it was to be sold in lots of £5,000,000, and the argument was that to adopt any other course would create financial disturbance which would disrupt industry. Since then we have borrowed four and five times as much, and are going to borrow again from the same source. One of ‘ these days the people will demand from us a knowledge of why and how they have been tricked. According to the press, in all other countries, especially in England, the people are beginning to take things into their own hands, simply because they have not been led in the right direction, and have not been fairly dealt with in regard to .profiteering and exploitation during the war. This is a matter of -protecting needy people, who are in danger of having the financial talons stuck deeper into them; and, if an amendment were -moved to extend the period for ten. years, I would vote for it.
.- I rise to reiterate the plea I made to the Minister on the second reading to accept the principle of the amendment. It is gratifying to find that members on both sides have revised their opinions regarding the importance of the objections we raised to the Bill at the second-reading stage. Greater consideration has evidently made them realize the danger that threatens. Under no set of circumstances can we consider the conditions that are about to develop as normal. The difficulty of raising money is most pronounced everywhere. The New South Wales Government are paying oi per cent, interest in England, whilst paying only 5 per cent, in their own State. The danger_we pointed out on the second reading is very real - I refer to the inducements and incentives- that exist under present conditions to men who can realize on their mortgages to do so, and invest in those war loans which are not subject to income tax. None of us want to hurry into debt, although it is said that “to be in debt is a certain sign of respectability, because it shows that the party once had credit. We are all keenly alive to the danger that threatens. Whilst I am willing to admit the truth of the case put forward by the other side, still, acting on the broad principle of the greater good to the greater number, looking at it from the stand-point of security, and the fact that we have to raise huge sums to settle war claims and pay for repatriation, any disabilities caused through the prolongation of a law such as this would be outweighed by the advantages gained through avoiding great financial disturbances. I am pleased that the view that seemed to be held by only a few of us on Friday has now a large number of adherents in the Committee. I, therefore, appeal to the Minister to do the graceful thing, and take the one step further by conceding another six months. As a layman, I prefer not to discuss the constitutional question. It makes one giddy to listen to the trained legal intellects debating the constitutional points involved. Certainly, twelve months will give people a longer time to appeal to the higher Courts against the measure; but, if the Minister will go the whole hog, the amount of benefit will be far greater than any injury that will be caused. ‘
.- It is very easy to be generous with the goods of other people. A mortgage is only a private contract registered by the State. All mortgages entered into prior to the proclamation of the regulations were made with the full knowledge of the law and the state of the industry in which each man was engaged. No one will say that during the war period many industries in this country have languished. On the whole, it has not been a period in which either the primary or secondary industries have
Deen depressed. It is the bounden duty of every member to look at both sides of the case in considering a measure of this kind. We should endeavour to classify fairly the loan moneys of Australia. In the main, the largest amount will be found to be lent by the large financial institutions, .such as the insurance companies and-the big trustee companies. And banking institutions have lent to a smaller extent, because they have to keep their capital more available and some in a liquid state, therefore, as a rule, they do not enter into mortgages at fixed rates for fixed periods. We come then to .a fairly substantial proportion of loans made in small amounts by individuals who depend for their livelihood on the income from them. I ask the Committee to take the condition of those people into consideration. The issue has been fully and fairly .debated in a non-partisan spirit, and many of ‘the speakers have been very informative; but it must not be forgotten that the whole question of public credit is involved. The financial resources and abilities of Australia have been greatly strained, and we, perhaps, have contributed to the increased cost of living by the continual habit of extending the internal credit- of Australia and facilitating the desire of everybody to purchase whatever he wants. By our huge loan schemes, the expansion of the note issue, and many other ‘ means, we in this House have contributed in a large degree to the present inflated and abnormal condition of affairs. The law of absorption operates whether we notice it or not, and is reflected nowhere better than in the financial world. Where there is money, it will be absorbed. The prices of land, stock, or wages rise, and largely follow the availability of .money. Before I entered politics I had a good deal to do with the obtaining of loans, ‘.particularly for the primary producers. Many members who have spoken in favour of the amendment have done so in the earnest desire to secure an advantage for the producers; but my deliberate opinion is that the present is probably a far more favorable period to obtain loans in this country than twelve months hence will be. I was engaged before I entered this House in probing the money market, particularly the financial houses of this city, such as the trustee companies, insurance companies, and solicitors’ offices, to secure money wherever we could get it. I was a keen buyer of money at the time, and we went to work in the keenest possible way to secure it at the lowest rates of interest. I have no hesitation in saying that today is a very favorable time for the flotation of loans. Notwithstanding the generosity of the Government in extending the period of the moratorium for” a further six months, in response to the suggestion of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson), who deserves the fullest possible credit for recognising that such an extension would bring in the proceeds of another wool clip, as well as of another harvest, I recommend any man who has a loan falling due not to take advantage of the Minister’s amendment, but to get in quickly and rearrange his mortgage. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Leckie), with the best possible desire, pointed out that the effect of the amendment would be to confine within a period of six months the maturing of all loans, thereby placing an undue tax on the money market. I agree that there is no compulsion about the matter. Every man will have the full period” within which to act, just as he had before; but I would point out that most of the mortgages which have been arranged since the moratorium regulations became operative, are quite outside the scope of this Bill, and of those regulations. That has been the result of a deliberate act on the part of the borrowers and lenders.
– The same remark applies to contracts for the sale of land.
– Exactly. I am as solicitous for the welfare of the producers as is any honorable member present; but
I feel that it is our. bounden duty to ask ourselves whether we are meting out evenhanded justice to all parties under these contracts. Are we fairly considering those who- are dependent for their livelihood upon the incomes which they derive from mortgages?
– They get their interest.
– I know that; but, as producers, we have always claimed the right to sell our goods on the open markets of the world, and they have the right to sell their money in the same way. Need I remind the Committee that many honorable members in this chamber have repeatedly asked for the abolition of all our War Precautions Regulations, including the moratorium? I hold that everybody has had fair notice of the intention of the Legislature in regard to mortgages. The money market to-day is more favorable than it may be twelve months hence, because in that period we shall have raised another, loan for £25,000,000. I say that every person who has an outstanding mortgage, about which there is doubt and uncertainty, should at once set to work with a view to rearranging it. According to the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), every person or institution which lends money in this country must be classed as a vampire or financial brigand. Personally, that is not my experience. In all our large financial institutions, a most dependable policy has been laid down. Those institutions care for their clients who borrow money from them . Unless their clients prosper, the institutions themselves cannot prosper. During the war period, the banks in Australia have not “ raised their rate of interest. They have made no attempt to profiteer. We ought, therefore, to be -fair to those whose business it is to lay down a policy with regard to the running of huge financial institutions. Concerning the price of money, we have had very little to complain of during the war period. Now that we have reached the post-war period, the Government are grading the transition from war to peace ; and in meeting the very reasonable request of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. ‘Sampson), they have” gone as far as we have a right to expect them to go.
Amendment (by Mr. McWilliams) proposed -
That the word “ February “ be omitted from the proposed amendment with a view to the insertion of the word “ August “ in lieu thereof.
.- There is just one matter to which I particularly desire to refer, namely, the provision in regard to active . service men. In two separate measures, that provision is of a most generous character indeed. Every soldier who has a mortgage upon his land of notmore than £2,500 may bring that land under the operation of the Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Act, and thereby obtain an advance, if necessary, up to 90 per cent. of the value of the land, repayable over a period of thirty years. That is the provision which obtains in regard to rural areas. A similar provision is operative in regard to metropolitan and township lands in any part of the Commonwealth under the War Service Homes Act.
Question - That the word “ February “ stand part of the proposed amendment - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment of the amendment negatived.
Amendment (by Mr. Mcwilliams) proposed -
That the word “ February “ be omitted from the proposed amendment, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “May”.
– I cannot accept the. amendment. The Committee has decided that the month shall be February.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments (by Mr. Groom) agreed to-
That the words “ thirty-first day of August, 1919,” regulation 13, sub-regulation 3, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ twenty -ninth day of February, 1920 “ ;
That the words “ thirty- first day of August, 1919,” regulation 13, sub-regulation 4, be left out, with a view to insert, in lieu thereof the words “ twenty-ninth day of February, 1920 “.
First schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I wish to draw the attention of the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) to the proposal to give to the Defence pay clerks, who left for Europe in January this year, after the Armistice had been signed,thesame badge for service overseas as is given to the men who fought at the Front. If this proposal be carried out, the badge will prove of no value at all to those who left Australia and fought. If the Government desire to depreciate the value of the badge our fighting men are wearing to-day, then let itbegiven to all the cold-footers who stopped in Australia. ‘
– The badge will become like the German iron cross.
– Exactly the same. “When the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Bruce Smith) asked a question to-day on this subject the Minister evaded answering it very well indeed. He said that no men except those who had been on service oversea^ would get .a medal. But the honorable member for Parkes did not say anything about medals.
– That is the only thing he spoke about. _Mr.. PAGE. - He spoke about badges.
– No, he did not.
– I spoke first of medals, and then I said I meant badges.
– I know what the honorable member for Parkes meant, and I know that the feeling of every member of this House is against giving to those who went to Europe last January as pay clerks, the same badges as are given to men who went away and fought for Australia. If the pay clerks are to get these badges, why should they not be given to the whole lot of us ? Why not give one to the honorable member for Nepean (Mr. Orchard), who has done valuable service as Minister? And why should not the badges be given, also, to men who have gone round the country asking, others to enlist and fight, but who did not go themselves? I say, advisedly, that if the Government want to depreciate the value of that little brass, badge, let them give it to every man who went away. It is scandalous that it should be given to men who did not sacrifice anything in furthering the interests of their country during the war.
– And who took no risks either.
– Some of them took less risks than I did. I have just as much right to wear the badge as many of them. I honour the men who are at present wearing that badge, because I know they have done something for me and mine. I know what bald-faced medals mean. When I was soldiering, military men would not wear medals without the bar, because no value’ was attached to them ; they’ meant that the wearer had not seen active service. I have no objection to the Government giving men a medal for a specific purpose; but they should wear a badge distinctive from that given to those who have fought and bled for this country.
, - It is not the first time that the honorable member for Maranoa . (Mr. Page) has thought fit to make false accusations against honorable members on this side of the House. He has just accused me of evading a question put to me by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Brace Smith), and I again point out that the honorable member for Parkes did not ask me anything about badges. He inquired about war medals, and I explained to him shortly what the position was. I may add, in connexion with this matter, that it is almost useless for a Minister to answer questions in this House, because at times long answers are given in reply to certain questions, and then next day some other honorable member gets up and repeats practically the same questions. The replies’ appear in Hansard. As late as last Friday, in reply to the honorable member for New England (Lt.-Colonel Abbott), who, I remind the House, is not one of those who stayed- at home, but who went and fought oversea himself, I gave a reply in regard to this matter, which is recorded in Hansard.
– The Hansard report of last Friday’s proceedings is not available yet.
– But if honorable members were in the House, doing their duty, they would hear the answers to these questions.
– I am in the House more often than you are.
– The honorable member may have been in the House longer, but he is not here oftener. I can only say that if he will read the report of Hansard of last Friday he will obtain the information asked for.
– Did I understand the Minister in charge of the House to say that he would bring forward tomorrow evening the proposal to refer to the Public Works Committee the erection of a Note and Stamp Printing Offices?
– No. I said the first business would be the Moratorium Bill.
– I asked the Minister, because plans of the building which I have seen show only one section of it.
– I am afraid I cannot discuss that question to-night.
– If .the Minister will not be in order in discussing the matter, I will be in order in asking a simple question, and if I do not get an answer I shall move the adjournment of the House to-morrow. The plans which I have seen show only one section of the proposed building, and if they are correct they convey a false impression to honorable members. We are being humbugged, and we should know who is responsible. If the plans I have seen are correct, the building will cost three or four times the amount stated by the Government. .
I also feel strongly on this question of the badges, and I know that their value will be greatly depreciated if they are given to men who have not earned them. I ana sure the Assistant Minister (Mr. Wise) is not responsible, but who is we are entitled to know. Those who have done service in the war should get some distinguishing badge. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Bruce Smith) referred to the nurses. I know of one nurse .who after rendering great service for yeaTS in charge of a hospital in Australia, went to England, and was on duty in a hospital which was the scene of great carnage, forty mcn being killed during an air Taid. She is now back in Australia, and has not received a badge, although she has done as much as many of our warriors. I ask the Minister, therefore, to see that the nurses get proper recognition in the matter of war badges, especially when they have been in the fighting zone. I hope that the Minister will see that this matter is put right. There’ is dissatisfaction in regard to the issue of these badges which ought to be nipped in the bud.
– I have had a look through the plans of the proposed alterations to the Turn Verein, in Victoria-parade, and I think the cost will be something approaching £46,000. I suggest that architects should be invited to submit plans, and that the winner of the prize for the best design should have control ‘ of the building, wherever it is.
– I did not realize that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr,. Austin Chapman) was discussing a matter which is the subject of a motion on the business-paper. I should have called him to order for anticipating business on the notice-paper; and obviously I cannot permit the honorable member to continue discussing the same matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.38 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 August 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1919/19190806_reps_7_89/>.