7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the Chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Acting Minister for the Navy able to advise the Housewhen Admiral Viscount Jellicoe’s report is likely to be received by the Government.
– I expect to receive it early next week. When I last saw his Lordship in Sydney, just before he set out on his island tour, he intimated to me that his report would be in the hands of the Government before he left for New Zealand. I learn from this morning’s newspapers that it has been finalized, and in all probability weshall receive it early next week.
Prime Minister’s Legislative Proposals
– I assume that the Acting Prime Minister is in close touch with the legislative proposals of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and I wish to ask him whether he is aware of the legislation’ which his leader intends to introduce to fight profiteering? Why should the Government wait for the Prime Minister’s return before introducing such legislation.
– I assume that my honorable friend founds his question upon a cablegram which appeared in last night’s Herald and this morning’s newspapers.
– And other sources of inspiration.
– If the honorable member has other sources of inspiration or information this is quite his maiden exhibition in that respect. Why does he become so excited when ho reads in the press that the Prime Minister is going to fightBolshevism and profiteering?
– I was never so calm in my life.
– Then the honorable member is apprehensive?
– Only curious.
– Why has not the Government already ‘ taken action to deal with profiteering?
– That has already been explained. It is because of the constitutional limitations under which the Parliament labours.
– Why do you not go for an alteration?
– I might -as well ask the honorable member why he does not assist us to fight the Bolshevists.
– He is writing poems every day.
– Order! On several occasions I have had te call attention to the irregular practice that is developing of carrying on something in the nature of a debate upon questions put to Ministers. If this practice is continued I shall have to intervene, and confine the asking of questions without notice to matters of urgent public importance.
– I have been hopeful, sir, that you would take such action. It would certainly relieve Ministers, for nothing is more embarrassing to a Minister than to be interrupted when framing replies to questions dealing with important constitutional and public problems.
Appointment of Fourth Class Clerks
– Is the Acting Prime Minister yet able to place 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?
– In accordance with my promise, I again communicated yesterday with the Prime Minister’s Department and the Public Service Commissioner’s Office, but there is some doubt as to the particular appointments referred to.
– I supplied the information yesterday to the -honorable gentleman’s secretary.
– I have not spoken to him this morning in regard to this matter, but I shall endeavour to answer the honorable member’s inquiry before theHouse rises to-day.
Parliamentary Adjournment - Peace Treaty
– With the object of eliciting information, and affording the Acting Prime Minister an opportunity to explode his humour, I ‘desire to ask the honorable gentleman to intimate the date on which it is proposed to adjourn Parliament, and the extent of the adjournment, so that honorable members may make arrangements to address their constituents on the boiling subjects at the present time engaging public attention?
– What . are the boiling subjects to which the honorable member refers? When the probable date of the Prime Minister’s -arrival in Australia becomes clearer, the Government will’ an- nounce, as early as possible, for the information of (honorable members, what arrangements, if any, itproposes to make for the adjournment of Parliament, and for the introduction of the Peace Treaty discussion.
Seamen’s Wages - Price of Wool, Meat, and Bread
-Can the Acting Prime Minister inform the House of the extent to which the wages of seamen have been increased since the outbreak of the war?
– I am unable to say from memory the extent ofthe increases made in the wages of the seamen of Australia under the various awards since the outbreak of war; but, speaking from memory, since 1911, when the Court first undertook to analyse their claims, the increase in round figures amounts to between 75 and 78 per cent. in actual wages. That increase, it must not be forgotten, extends over aperiod prior to the outbreak of the war.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister institute acomparison between the increase in the wages of seamen since 1911 and the increase in. the price of wool during the same period?
– I think that could be done; but these are not related questions.
– The increase in the price of wool is 50 per cent.
– It is 300 per cent.
– If the honorable member has this information accurately stowed away in the cells of hisbrain, he might as well supply it at once to the House. I do not think the increase in the price of wool has been as great ashe contends. He may rest assured, however, that any information possessed by the Government in regardto such matters will be freely made available to the House. All that I will ask is that the subjects covered by a question shall be dulyrelated.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister present to the House a return showing the increased cost of wool, meat, and bread to the people since the inception of the war?
– In view of the fact that these matters have been discussed so often since we met last June, I do not think thehonorable member’s question is urgent. If he will place upon the noticepaper a question setting out the information desired by him, I will ascertain whether it can be obtained.
Cost of Construction
– Will the Acting Minister for the Navy state whether, as suggested in the press a few days ago, there is any great difficulty in the way of Viscount Jellicoe securing information as to the cost of constructing Commonwealth ships in Australia?
– I have already intimated throughthe press that I do not think that Viscount J ellicoe was correctly reported in regard to the statement that he could not obtain the cost of constructing ships at Walsh Island. I do not know that his Lordship’s Admiralty functions have anything to do with merchant ships.
Mr.Fenton. - Or with the cost of constructing merchant ships here?
– Or with the cost of their construction. It ought to be well known to honorable members that the cost per ton of constructing vessels at Walsh Island is based on the cost of construction at Williamstown. Even if Mr. Ball had been askedby ViscountJ ellicoe to supply him with information as to the cost, he might very correctly have replied that at the present moment he could not say what itwas. Now that the first ship has been completed, we hope within a few days to be able to state exactly how much per ton it has cost. Six ships are being constructed at Walsh Island and six of a similar type are being built at Williamstown, and I take it that the cost at Walsh Island will be the average cost of shipbuilding at Williamstown.
– Some time ago various representative bodies of Tasmania urged the Postmaster-General to permit the use of lettergrams in that State, in view of its particularly isolated position as the result of the seamen’s strike. The honorable gentleman replied that he could not differentiate between the States. Does he base his refusal on the ground that he has no constitutional power to grant the request? If not, does he not consider that the special circumstances of Tasmania at the present time call for special consideration?
– I have already stated that I am advised that the Constitution does not permit me to differentiate in the treatment of the various States.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that there is a big demand in Europe for horse flesh, and that 1,700 Australian horses were recently sold at £17 per head to French butchers? If so, will he remove the embargo on the export of horse flesh from Australia ?
– ‘My attention has been called to the facts stated by the honorable member, but it is not considered that it would be in the public interest to authorize the export of horse flesh. “
– The attention of the Acting Prime Minister has, doubtless, been directed to the fact that certain Australians are engaged in Northern Russia in connexion with the military operations which ave being carried on there. Raving regard to the fact that these soldiers were not recruited, and are not controlled, by the Australian Government, will the honorable gentleman take the steps necessary to see that the good name of the Australian soldier, and of Australia itself, is not tarnished by association with what so many good Australians conceive to be an iniquitous invasion upon the Russian proletariat ?
– I do npt know whether it is a fact that Australian soldiers are taking part in the occupation of Russia, nor do ‘ I know the circumstances under which any Australian soldiers who may be in Russia were enlisted. When the war was over, and demobilization was in sight, the Government made it perfectly plain that it was the desire of the people of Australia that the whole of the Australian troops should be returned as early as possible, and should not be used anywhere except on those Fronts where they had been employed prior to the Armistice. However, I will make the necessary inquiries, and inform the honorable member at a later stage.
– Some time ago the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) said that it was the intention of the Government to convene an industrial conference. In view of the increasing industrial unrest in Australia, can the Acting Prime Minister say now when that conference will be called, and what its special function will be?
– I have had no opportunity of conferring with the Minister for Works and Railways with regard to the statement which was made on the matter during my absence from the House, but the intention of the Government has been expressed in the proper quarters for some months past, and that is not to have an industrial conference, which it has occurred to me would not be likely to lead to final results, but to have a representative Royal Commission to inquire into the basic industrial problems agitating the minds of thinkers all over Australia. The desire of the Government has been to so arrange the “personnel of that Commission that it will be equally representative, in the fullest sense of the word, of all the interests affected, and educative upon the question. The drawback has ih AP.11 - and that is why it has not been consummated by now - that I have not been able to get a number of the leading industrial unionists of Australia to look at the problem as I want them to look at it, for the purpose of setting the Commission at work. But
I am still hopeful that an early attempt will be made to tackle the bedrock problems of industrial legislation that have hitherto been overlooked.
– .Will the Government give instructions to the proposed Commission to investigate on the lines of the Whitley Commission in Great Britain?
– It would not be right at this stage to outline the scope of the proposed Commission ; indeed, I could not do it from memory; but when the terms of the Commission are granted by the GovernorGeneral the honorable member will see that they cover quite as wide an area as was covered by the Whitley Commission.
Overtime and Travelling Expenses
– Is the Minister for Works and Railways in a position this morning to furnish the information I asked for last night in regard to overtime and travelling expenses of temporary employees in the Public Service?
– No overtime is paid to any clerical or professional officers whilst travelling, except to permanent professional officers, under the professional officers’ award. Travelling expenses are paid to either permanent or temporary officers. Temporary professional officers are not under any award, and the award in regard to temporary clerical officers does not make any provision for travelling.
– Reference has been made in the House, and in the country, to the fact that the Butter Pool control has been so arranged as to create a shortage of butter with a view to enhancing the price of commodities. Can the Minister for Trade and Customs assure the House that at all times a sufficient supply has been kept in sight for the requirements of the Australian trade?
– I have heard it asserted that the Dairy Produce Pool Committee had so controlled matters as to permit too much butter to be ex- ported. The facts are entirely the other way. As the records of the Pool will show, they started storing in December last owing to the seasonal outlook at the time, because they anticipated that there would be a very acute winter shortage, and they kept steadily storing butter until quite late in the autumn, when it became apparent that supplies were ample. As a matter of fact, they will have at least 60,000 cases in excess of winter requirements in the Winter Pool, which, in due course, will be passed over to the Imperial Pool. This is sufficient to show that they have, made not only full provision, but more than full provision, for the Australian trade.
– In view of tha statement of the Minister that there is a surplus in the Butter Pool-
– It has often been pointed out that it is not in order to ask questions arising out of a reply given by a Minister to a question.
– I shall put it in a different way. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs consider the question of reducing the price of butter to the consumers of Australia?
– If we use the butter that has been stored, we shall have to pay not only the price at which it went into the Pool, but also storage charges. The result of putting that butter on the Australian market would be that it would cost the Australian public more than they are paying to-day.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister observed that the British. Parliament’s expression of thanks to certain distinguished Generals and Admirals has been accompanied by very substantial grants of money, in certain cases amounting to £100,000 ? As these amounts appear to be somewhat disproportionate to the awards of the ordinary rank and file of the Army, has the honorable gentleman in contemplation anything of the kind in respect to. the services rendered by Australians in the war, and does he consider that these large grants of money make the world safe for Democracy?
– One may always rest assured that, when the honorable member rises, there is a joke lurking somewhere behind the serious exterior of his question. I have observed from the cables that the British Parliament has been asked to vote substantial sums of money for distinguished military and naval officers.
– They are mostly Scotchmen.
– If that be the honorable member’s grievance, I do not know why he did not make it plain when he was asking the question. It is the invariable custom of Great Britain, after an extensive campaign, to reward its leading officers on land and sea by tokens of the King’s pleasure, and by substantial grants of public money, to enable them to support with ability the new rank to which they are called. The Commonwealth Government has not considered the question from an Australian point of view. Speaking personally, I do not think that anything of the kind is called for.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister endeavour to ascertain as closely as possible the amount of wheat actually on hand, so that something like a correct value of scrip may be arrived at?
– Senator Russell, who is Chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, has already promised that at as early a date as possible the information asked for would be obtained.
– In view of the almost ‘Universal custom in Australia among the legal fraternity to render tha moratorium null ‘and void by inserting a clause in all mortgages, will the Acting Prime Minister bring under the notice of Cabinet the seriousness of allowing any section of the community to seek to defeat an Act of Parliament?
– Some time ago it was reported to me that this was being done, and I submitted the matter for the consideration of the Crown Law officers. I am not aware of the report submitted by the Department, but I shall make inquiries.
– Seeing that Parliament is about to enact new moratorium conditions in the shape of a Bill, will the Acting Attorney-General issue a simple statement to the public pointing out to those who have mortgages on their property, the benefits to be conferred by the measure? There is a good deal of misapprehension in the minds of the public which could be allayed by the issue of such a statement.
– The regulations of necessity are very long, very technical, and very complicated, but I am willing to have a short summary prepared as to the persons protected by the legislation, and their rights. under it. If honorable members care they can supply the summary to any individuals who may com.municate with them on the subject.
– In view of the early ratification of Peace, can the PostmasterGeneral say when we may expect a discontinuance of the war postage tax, and whether negotiations are proceeding between the Postal Department and the Treasury with that end in view?
– That is a matter which is dealt with by the Treasurer. If the honorable member will give notice of his question, the Treasurer will furnish an answer
– Can the Minister for Home and Territories give us any definite information as to whether the Government propose to introduce a Bill providing for proportional representation or preferential voting in connexion with Senate elections ?
– A Bill will be introduced, and its contents will be seen as soon as it is laid on the table.
– In view of the ruinous price of wheat bags, and the danger of drought conditions prevailing, bringing about a scarcity of fodder reserves throughout Australia, will the Government consider a proposition to pay a substantial bonus to all farmers cutting and thrashing their forthcoming wheat crops, and, in this way, properly conserving the byproducts?
– The Government are well aware of the solicitude which the honorable member shows for the producing interests, a solicitude which Ministers cordially share with him. But notwithstanding that encomium I am not prepared to assent to the honorable member’s proposition.
– A little time ago I asked the Postmaster-General a question as to the number of subscribers to the Central Telephone Exchange at the end of 1913, compared with the number at the end of 1919.
– Isthe honorable member referring to the Central Exchange in Sydney?
– No; the Central Exchange in the Federal Capital - Melbourne. The Minister told me in reply that to answer my question would be misleading. I wish to ask him whether so simple and direct a question - the number of subscribers at the end of 1913, and the number at the present tune - may not be answered in a way which is not misleading ?
– As honorable members will realize, the questions of the honorable member for Batman must be interpreted, not as they appear on the notice-paper, but by what one can read into them, or by what is behind them. I have already replied to the honorable member’s question. My reply was based upon the factors involved in it. I was asked to give some information which, for the purpose for which he sought it, would be misleading, not only to the honorable member, but also to those for whom he sought it. I decline to give misleading information.
– In view of the drought in the northern and western parts of New South Wales, and having regard to the very high price of produce,has the PostmasterGeneral yet considered what allowance he will make to country mail contractors?
– I refer the honorable member to a reply I gave yesterday to a question upon notice.
– Some telephone subscribers who have regularly paid telephone rents for yearshave been unable, on account of the influenza epidemic, to attendto business matters, and have not renewed their subscription on the due date. Is it the usual practice of the Telephone Branch to cut off such subscribers without notice, and to then insist upon a payment of 5s. before the service is reconnected ?
– That is the rule which has been foundnecessary in order to safeguard the revenue of the Department.
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Defence if Ministers ever make inquiries into the treatment of soldiers on transports, or do they wait until there is a mutiny on board before they investigate the treatment of the men by the officers?
– I know that repeatedly questions are asked of returned soldiers as to whether there was any dissatisfaction on the transports by which they returned to Australia.
– When will the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation be able to make a statement to the House regarding the number of warservice homes alreadyerected, and the steps that are being taken to secure cheap material for those buildings?
– I shall again bring that question under the notice of the Minister for Repatriation, who, I understand, has been endeavouring for some time past to get the information which the honorable member requires. I shall advise the honorable member later if the information is available.
Prices of Hides, Leather, and Footwear.
– I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) that he intends to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The serious situation which has arisen in connexion with increases in the prices of hides, leather, and footwear.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
.- I make no apology for moving the adjournment of the House to discuss this matter. If every honorablemember is not seized of the importance of this subject to-day, I guarantee that before six months has elapsed every one of them will realize the great increase that has taken place in the price of footwear.
– We realize that now.
-I assure the House that the price to-day is nothing to what it will be six months hence. I make that statement on the evidence of the best experts in the Australian leather tirade. On page 7 of its report on boots and shoes, issued this year, the Inter-State Commission published a table showing the prices realized at auction for standard brands of New South Wales butchers’ hides. They rose from 7¾ d. to8¼d. in July, 1914, to from1s. to1s.1¼d. in February, 1917. The prices fixed by the Government were 10¾d. and11d., but the order fixing prices was repealed on 14th May of this year. The following table shows the rates realized at auction in Melbourne before and after the withdrawal of fixed prices : -
Therehas been an increase of nearly 100 per cent. in the price of stout hides since May of this year. The fixed price for good hides was10¾d.
– I draw attention to the state of the House.[Quorum formed.]
-Broadly stated, the position is that the prices of all hides have increased by 100 per cent. since the price fixing order was repealed on the 14th May, and they are still rising.
– What is the highest price ?
– Twenty-two pence, but the Argus commercial column to-day states that, although there was a greater quantity of hides offering, prices were from¼d. to½d. higher than those offering last week. In May, 1916, the average export price was 23s. per hide, which weighs from about 50 lbs. to 60 lbs. The average weight of a hide is about 55 lbs. That would mean, that the price in May, 1916, was about 7¾d. per lb. for extra heavy hides. The prices fixed by the Government were, approximately, 50 per cent. higher than that, but to-day even they have increased by 100 per cent. No farmer in the community is reaping the advantage of these high prices. The gain is going to the large meat works, and the persons who were holding back hides, and would not sell them to tanners.
– It is only fair to say that there was a prohibition against export, and that has created an excessive world demand.
– There was a partial prohibition ; hides could be exported after the requirements of local tanners had been. met. That partial prohibition was operating before the price-fixing order was repealed.
– That is not quite correct.
– At one time there was a total prohibition of the export of hides, and later a Committee, comprising Messrs. Anderson, Campbell, and Donovan was appointed to see that the hides proposed to be exported . were not of the types required by local tanners. Even then the tannershad to pay 50 per cent. above the rates prevailing in May, 1916.
– And the tanners could not get enough hides to meet their requirements.
-That is what they stated. The war has proved that Australian leather is as good as that produced in any other part of the world. Returned soldiers say that their bootwear and saddlery were equal to the leather equipment of any of the troops with whom they had been associated.
– That must , be so, because the Imperial Government gave an order for Australian leather.
– With every rise in the price of hides, there is a corresponding rise in the price of the manufactured article. The Inter-State Conlmission, at page 8 of their report, state that the fixed price for box hide was1s. 3¼d. per square foot, an increase of 53 per cent. over the price ruling in July, 1914. I guarantee that no man can buy box hide to-day at less than 2s. 9d. No manufacturer to-day knows where he stands. Hides are increasing in price; the tanner does not know what he will have to pay next week for the hides, or whether he will get sufficient for Australian requirements, and he does not know how much he will have to pass on. Every boot manufacturer will tell the same tale. This condition of things reflects not only on the operatives, but will reflect in the near future on the people who have to purchase boots and shoes.
– Boots are up easily over 100 per cent. retail.
– Whatever they are to-day, I guarantee they will be higher in six months’ time. I am setting forth these facts in order to induce the Government to do something. It is all very well for them to say they have repealed the regulation dealing with hides. They dealt with other articles in the Commercial Activities Bill.
– Does the honorable member suggest that we can deal with hides and leather in exactly the same way as we dealt with other articles under that Bill?
– I cannot see that the finished article of the sugar farmer in Queensland is different from the hide which another farmer in Queensland has to sell.
– There is exactly the same difference between the power to deal with sugar and the power to deal with hides as there is between sugar and hides.
– If it means that the Commonwealth has absolutely no power to deal with this matter, and that we must hand it over to six Parliaments, with six different sets of conditions, the sooner we obtain an amendment of the Constitution the better. This is a question that can be dealt with only from an Australian point of view. The hides are produced in practically every State, and largely in Queensland. Tanning operations are carried on in practically every State, and largely in New South Wales and Victoria. Boot manufacturing is carried on in every State, and again largely in the two most populous States. We should not be afraid to deal with the problem ourselves. It has been dealt with effectively in England by means of the standardization of boots and shoes and’ the limitation of profits. The Inter-State Commission, at page 30 of its report, states : -
Before the war England was one of the largest producers of boots in the world, a fact which gives a special significance to the acquiescence and co-operation of her manufacturers and distributors in the innovations recently introduced by the Government in order to cheapen the prices of footwear. The particulars of the British system are as follows -
Standard boots for men, women, and children were designed, some thirty-eight usual types being determined, which are enumerated together with their prices in Appendix E to this report. The official regulations prescribed after a conference between the manufacturers and the Department are quoted in the Shoe and Leather Record of 28th September, 1917. The full text of the article is printed in Appendix F. The principal regulations are as follow : -
The Department shall issue leather to the manufacturer at fixed prices.
The manufacturer shall sell boots at a fixed price, showing 5 per cent. profit to the manufacturer.
The manufacturer’s name shall be stamped on the inside of the shoe where it can be plainly seen.
The Government brand and selling price(i.e., retail) shall be plainly stamped on the sole.
Retailers shall sell at a fixed price for cash at the price marked on the sole.
– What is the Queens land Government doing with the hides it produces on its own stations?
– The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) does not desire me to getin the Inter-State Commission’s report on the question of the standardization of products and the limitation of profits. I have no intention of taking any notice of his interjections.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the Inter-State Commission recommends the English legislation to the Commonwealth Parliament as something that we should adopt ?
– The Minister tells me that this Parliament has no power to deal with the question. The Inter-State Commission is pointing out what has been done in other countries. My point is that, unless the Commonwealth Government take steps to deal with the matter, there will be a day of reckoning for them. If they can do it with one commodity, I fail to see why they cannot do it with others. It is quite possible that the certificate given by certain legal gentleman with the Commercial Activities Bill is not worth anything. They do not say in their certificate that the Act will stand the test of an action brought in the High Court, and it is quite possible that it will be upset.
– It is quite clear that the increase in the price of boots is abnormal.
– Yes, and it cannot be said that it is due to an increase in wages. The boot operatives’ wages have not been increased since July, 1918. I guarantee that the average wages cost for the manufacture of the boots that honorable members are wearing has not been more than 4s. 6d.
– Tell us about-
– The honorable member is very anxious to prevent me from showing that the boot operatives’ wages have not increased. They have not increased in the tanning trade either for over four months. Knibbs’ manufacturing statistics show that the wages cost in tanning is 11 or 12 per cent. I have not looked up the figures recently, so that what I have quoted may be slightly in error, but I undertake to say that 15 per cent. would more than pay the whole of the wages cost in the tanning trade. I have made inquiries on this subject from the general secretaries of the organizations all over Australia. They are the men who conducted the cases before the Arbitration Court, and they know the facts. Honorable members may, therefore, rest assured that there has been no increase in the wages in the boot trade for over twelve months, and no increase in the wages in the tanning trade since April of this year, when a rise of 3s. per week was granted. The minimum wage in the tanning industry for the lowest grade worker is 10s. 6d. per day. The pay for the highest grade, which only a few get, is £3 18s. per week, or 13s. per day. There has, therefore, been practically no increase in wages to account for the big increase in the cost of boots.
– We had better give them a little Free Trade when the Tariff comes on; it will do them good.
– I am not going to do that. I was pleased to read that a firm in New South Wales had obtained a contract to supply 200,000. pairs of boots to Great Britain. While I was at the Customs Department, which must be about three years ago, a firm in my electorate, where I believe half the boots used in Australia are manufactured, was negotiating with the Russian Government to supply it with large quantities.
– The honorable member agrees that we should be able to export boots.
– I understand that at the present time we can manufacture boots as cheaply in Australia as they are doing in any other part of the world, and I have no objection to the export of any line, so long as the people of Australia have the right to buy the articles at the price at which they are exported. Every boot repairer can tell honorable members that the price of sole leather has gone up 100 per cent. The boots we used to get soled and heeled, prior to the war for 3s. 6d. a pair, to-day cost 6s. 6d. per pair practically all over Australia.
– What is the Queensland Government doing with the hides on its own cattle stations ?
– The honorable member can ask that question when he makes his own speech. I am concerned, not about one State, but about all Australia.
– That State produces most of the leather.
– I ask the honorable member for Wannon not to interject so frequently. The honorable member who is speaking has several times complained of his interjections.
– Not only has sole leather increased in price, but upper leather has gone up also. While sole leather is sold by the pound, upper leather is sold by the square foot. In conversation with me the other evening, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) said he believed that glace kid had gone up 300 per cent., or 400 per cent., or more.
– The raw material for that has to be imported.
– Yes; Australia does not produce enough goats to keep the tanneries going in that material. The InterState Commission, at page 24 of its report, shows that, in 1914, the price of good medium glacé kid was1s. per square foot. In 1918 it was 2s. 7d. To-day it is probably 4s. 4d. The increase up to 1918 was 158 per cent., and the increase to date is probably 350 per cent. Patent calf, in 1914, was1s. 8¾d. These are imported articles, and the import prices have gone up more than the prices of local products.
– The relative rise in all leathers not produced in this country is much higher.
– I admit that, Patent calf, which was1s. 8¾d. in 1914, was 3s. 3d. in 1918 - an increase of 88 per cent. I heard the other day that a firm on cabling to America received a quotation at 4s. 6d. per square foot. They replied within a few hours placing an order at 4s. 6d., and received word back as follows : - “ Your offer is too late ; the price is now 5s. 6d.” I believe that to-day it is 6s.From a letter in the Age, on the 6th inst., from Jackson and Company, Melbourne, I find that bag-hide was 1s.1d. a square foot, and1s. 8d. in July, 1919 ; that in the same period pig belting rose from1s. l½d. to1s. 9d., and grey suede from1s. 4d. to 2s. 3d. Suede leather is made here, but the tanner has to pay more for his raw material and other requisites. The great difficulty, however, is that those concerned do not know where they are going to be landed. Yesterday I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs a question on the subject, and the answer he gave was that the Collector of Customs in each State has been instructed that permits for the exportation of both hides and leather may be issued, provided the leather inspector recommends exportation, and the Collector be satisfied by statutory declaration in each instance that such hides and leather as it is desired to export have been offered at current market rates to and declined by local manufacturers who use the class of leather or hides concerned. Prices are enormous all over the world.
Although some honorable members might say that sugar has no relation to the subject now under discussion, I may point out that had the embargo not been placed on the exportation of sugar in September, 1914, it would have meant the exportation of 20,000 tons, with the result that prices could have been raised indefinitely in Australia. We know that, owing to the war, the flocks and herds of other countries have been greatly depleted; but the increase in prices is, in my opinion, out of all proportion. If a few of the big cattle men in America, or any other country, where millions of cattle are slaughtered, get control of the hides they can practically fix the price; there is nothing to stop them, except our people going without boots. That remedy, of course, is impossible, even for children, in the colder parts of ‘Australia, and, with 12 degrees of frost, such as we experienced last week, it is a remedy we should not like to see applied in a civilized community like this. The Government ought to take the whole matter into serious consideration.
– What steps do you think the Government ought to take?
– I suggest that there ought to be a complete Pool to deal with hides, leather, and boots, for one cannot be dealt with without the other. If we protect the tanner, we must also protect the boot manufacturer, and those who purchase the boots from the retailer. This is an Australian question, which no authority but. the Australian Parliament can deal with.
We are told that Australia at the present time is being flooded with buyers from other parts of the world, and as one who had something to do with the embargo on the exportation of skins and hides, I ask honorable members to look up the statistics of the years just before the war, when they will find that hides and leather from Australia were going to Continental countries. It is quite possible that boots worn by our enemies were made from Australian hides, and that was my fear at the time the embargo was imposed. The result of the embargo was that the tanning trade in Australia received a great impetus, and I believe that Australian leather made a great name for itself. If our tanners can obtain the raw material, they ought to be able to turn out leather equal to that produced in any part of the world.
– Australian tanners can do that, but they do not always try.
– I admit that the tendency sometimes is to take the hides out of the pits before they are properly tanned in order to get it quickiy on the market.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I call attention to tie state of the House. I must have the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) present. [Quorum formed.]
– This is a most complex question, and it is only by inquiry that the problem to be solved can be realized. Owing to the kindness of mein in the business, who are only too glad to afford information, I have recently been able to pay considerable attention to the subject of leather production, right from the bullock’s back to the tannery, and into the boot manufactory. No doubt there is a great shortage of hides in Australia, and tanners are unable to procure sufficient for their requirements, owing, I am informed, to the operations of American dealers. It has been explained to me that while in other countries tanners are able to “ load “ leather with glucose and other materials, that is not permitted in Australia; and, consequently, it pays foreign buyers to get hides here and .treat them abroad. It will be seen how easy it would be for .an American company to operate in Australia, and almost compel tanners to pay any price the Americans chose to place on the hides.
The question requires the most earnest consideration, and if the Government are not careful one section of the industry will be most harshly dealt with. It is absolutely necessary to encourage primary production as far as possible, in order to realize that wealth so essential to our paying our way. There is such a shortage of labour in the tanning trade that many tanners are willingly paying over the award rates, and are welcoming the services of returned soldiers. At one factory I recently visited I had pointed out to me a number of returned men who were being trained, so as to eventually become experts in a particular branch of the trade: and I hope that other employers will follow this excellent example.
I should like to see a better understanding between all those who are concerned in the various branches of the leather trade. I read an article the other day which was very severe on the manufacturer of leather, pointing out that that product is altogether too expensive, and implying that the tanners are responsible. That, however, is not the case. At one tanneryI visited I was told of hides purchased in Queensland which had arrived in Melbourne quite unclassified, and quite useless for the purposes of this manufacturer, owing to the enormous brands on them; indeed, it is almost impossible to see any portion of a hide without a brand. In my opinion, Australia must be losing considerably every year owing to this unsystematic system of branding.
– It is better to brand than lose the cattle altogether.
– I am always met with that argument; but, in my innocence, I wonder whether a bullock dies if it is not branded.
– No; but you lose the bullock, and somebody else gets it.
– The hide does not go out of existence.
– The bullock does!
– It is merely a change of ownership, that is all. A legislator in theWestern Australian Parliament, who has given considerable attention to this serious question in a practical way, assured me, in the course of conversation, that the loss owing to unsystematic branding must be about £1,000,000 annually.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) spoke of the treatment of glacé kid, patent leather, and other leathersof the higher class, but he will bear me out that there is considerable risk in the preparation of these leathers. The preparation of patent leather, for instance, is really a science.
– It is very difficult.
– An excellent patent leather is being produced in Australia, but the trouble is the great price of the ingredients used. For instance, there must be the best linseed oil, which has to be treated at a temperature which causes considerable risk of fire in a factory. The profits of the tanner are not as large as many honorable members imagine.
– They are doing very well.
– The honorable member knows more about the raising of cattle than the tanning of leather, and I assure him that the tanners are not making such huge profits as some appear to believe. The tanning industry should be encouraged. It takes a long time to build up, and now that it is established in Australia the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), must be careful not to do anything that might be disastrous to it. Theboot manufacturers and the tanners must be prepared to give and take. Boot manufacturers should assist the Australian tanning industry by using only Australian leather. Our leather is quite as good as that made in America, and an important point is thatwe do not produce here the boot composition which is prepared in the United States of America, and in which there is practically no leather.
I do not think we need be much concerned about the export of leather to the United States of America. I was recently informed by a large firm who had exported leather to America, that the agents and brokers’ fees, as well as other costs involved, in placing Australian, leather on the American market, were so heavy that they were not likely to continue the trade. I would urge the Minister to make it possible for local tanners to obtain the hides they require at a price that will allow the growers a fair and reasonable profit. If that were done, it would go a long way to solve this problem. The situation at present isnot likely to last. It can be only temporary, since its continuance would be disastrous to those who are supposed to be cornering hides. If the price of boots continues to increase, there will bean upheaval, and the people will insist upon something being done to bring them down to a reasonable level. There isproduced in Australia a class of fancy boots which is retailed at about £3 5s. per pair, and there is such a demand for them, even, at that price, that, it is said, the factorywhich has specialized in their production can scarcely cope with it. A witness, who appeared recently before the Inter-State Commission, said that the people, and particularly the women folk, were prepared to pay these high prices, and that being so, he asked, why should they not be charged?
Mr.Watkins. - In other words, “ Why not rob the people?”
– Quite so. That statement, I think, was made in the course of evidence given before the InterState Commission in Sydney. Prices are soaring because it is found that the people are willing, apparently, to pay whatever is demanded of them.
In giving to this question the consideration that I know he will devote to it, the Minister should be careful not to interfere unduly with the tanning industry. We want to develop our industries as much as possible. In every calling, whether it be that of the manufacturer of leather, boots, or any other commodity, I would pay the very highest wages in return for the best work. When I was working at the bench, it was always my belief that I should do the best possible work, so that I could conscientiously ask for the very best wages. That is the position, to-day in the United States of America. Industrially Australia to-day is somewhat where the United States of America was, some twelve years ago, when the Industrial Workers of the World got to work, taught men to go slow, and almost brought about industrial chaos. Who was responsible for the change? Men like Samuel Gompers and those employed in the Ford Motor Factory and the Cash Register Works were, among the first to take action. They said to the Industrial Workers of the World, “ This sort of thing must stop. If the system which you have introduced is allowed to go on the United States of America will not be able to compete with other parts of the world, and therefore out you must go.” It was not the bosses, but the leaders of industry and the industrialists themselves who put these men out. They said to them, “You are no good to the bosses, to the workers, or to the United States of America, and the sooner you get out, the better for our country.”
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) is to be commended for his action in bringing before the House this most important question, which, having regard to the fact that the price of boot leather is steadily soaring, demands the most careful consideration. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) has made what I should describe as an apologetic speech. He has endeavoured to show that these high prices are due to the scarcity of labour, and the difficulty of securing certain tanning requisites. Does it not appear strange that now that we have more labour available than we have had for four or five years, scarcity of labour should be urged as a reason for the increase in prices ? When our men were at the war there might have been a scarcity, but now that we have an abundance of labour, and men looking for employment all over the country, it cannot be said that a shortage of labour is responsible for the steady increase in the price of boots. That argument goes by the board. The honorable member’s argument in regard to the increases in wages may be dismissed in the same way.
Mr.Tudor. - Hear, hear ! There has been no increase of wages in the bootmaking trade for twelve months.
– Yet prices are going up all the time. Are we to admit that as a Parliament we are impotent - that we cannot protect the people from the profiteering that is taking place, especially in relation to commodities over which we have complete control? Whatever may be said as to our power to fix prices, it cannot be denied that this Parliament controls the export of hides. Some time ago the Government actually fixed the price of hides. As soon as the embargo was removed prices jumped up. How is it that before the embargo was lifted the tanners were able to pay the prices fixed and to observe the wages awards made by the Court, and yet sell at rates far below those now current. It is impossible to justify the position taken up by tha honorable member. If the Government have power to continue, as they have done, the operation of the price-fixing regulations relating to certain commodities, there is no reason why they should not continue the application of the system to leather.
The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), in answer to a question yesterday, stated that before a person was permitted to export hides he had to make a declaration that they had been offered to local buyers at current rates. That requirement is of no value. Who makes the current rates? They are fixed by those who are speculating in hides. If a dozen of us, with a capital of, say, £1,000,000, went into the local market to-morrow and proceeded to speculate in hides, we should very quickly fix the current rate. Knowing that we could obtain on the other side of the world a very much higher mice than was ruling here, we would be prepared to pay more for them here, and to a certain extent, to “ rig “ the Australian market.
– Does the honorable member suggest that those who purchase hides for export would “ rig “ the market here against themselves?
– The price of hides on the other side of the world is abnormal. It is two or three times higher than it is here, so that speculators with cabled information from time to time as to the prices ruling abroad can safely come in and buy up to a certain price.
– But surely they would keep the prices here as low as possible in order to make larger profits abroad.
– I contend that the requirement that a declaration shall be made that hides proposed to be exported were offered to local buyers at current rates is of no value. The current rate is a fictitious one, created by the exploiters themselves, who in turn require additional prices from those who buy from them. The wearers of boots are not protected by any such requirement, while the market price abroad for hides is higher than it is here. There is no scarcity of hides in Australia. We are killing- as much meat as before the war; yet the price of hides continues to rise. It seems to me that this is another sop for the pastoralists, who are enjoying the benefit of every action taken by the Government in regard to the handling of meat, wool, and other primary products. The pastoralists are getting almost as much for their hides as they secured a few years ago for their bullocks.
– In many cases the only return they secure is in respect of the hides, because, owing to the drought, their cattle are dying.
– I have every sympathy fcr those carrying on operations in the drought-stricken area, but the honorable member will not say that the drought has been general. Speaking broadly, Australia has had, during the war period, the best seasons experienced for years, and in this way has been materially assisted in the prosecution of the war. According to a return I have before me, the cost of hides in 1914-16 worked out at about £1 7s. 9d. each, but in 1917-18 it was about £2 8s. 9d. each, so that there was a rise of £1 ls. per hide. Since then the price has considerably increased. Probably as much as £3 per hide is being paid to-day - almost as much as the pastoralists were getting for the beasts a little while ago.
We talk about profiteering and about people becoming immensely wealthy, yet we permit this sort of thing with our eyes open. The Minister may ask what he can do to prevent it, but, in view of the high cost of living, I would take every possible precaution to safeguard the public. The price of commodities of which we have a surplus in Australia ought not to be regulated by what is happening on the other side of the world, where, owing to the ravages of war, they are not able to produce sufficient for their own requirements. Otherwise our people would starve; they would not be able to pay the prices. Ministers talk about discontent, but they are bringing it about by their own inaction. They ought to see that no hides are exported until there is some guarantee that the people of Australia will be able to buy hides at the price which prevailed prior to the war. I would make “no bones” about it. Pastoralists could run their industry successfully and make a profit at the prices prevailing before the war, and there is no justification for such an increase that the sale of hides alone produces almost sufficient to pay the current expenses of a station, while at the same time the pastoralists are getting more for every pound of beef that is grown. Surely they can afford to let the people of Australia have the hides at the price prevailing before the war. The Minister has power to deal with this matter. He is given no authority under the Constitution to regulate the price of hides,, but he has the power to prohibit their exportation. That is a matter which lies entirely in the hands of the Commonwealth. It is hoodwinking the people to say that the Commonwealth Government cannot control the price of hides. They can do it, if they make use of the provisions of the Customs Act. If they decline to do it, it is useless for this Parliament to ask the people to amend the Constitution so as to give further powers to the Commonwealth, seeing that we do not make use of those we already possess. If the exportation of hides is prohibited, the Australian tanners will get their raw material at a ‘ cheaper price. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has pointed out, provision must also be made to prevent the tanners imposing exorbitant rates. But the position today is that people outside controlling certain commodities practically laugh at Parliament. They do anything they like. They have no consideration for the general public, so long as they get their pound of flesh. And we permit this sort of thing to continue year afteryear without making any attempt to cope with it.
I am one of those who agree that it is necessary for the Constitution to be amended so that we may regulate many things, but we can do much to cause the fixation of prices by prohibiting exportation. It cannot be argued that the pastoralists will not kill their beasts if the exportation of hides is prohibited. It will not pay them to keep their stock on their holdings beyond a certain time.
The beasts must be killed. Therefore, if we prevent the exportation of hides until they can be purchased in Australia at a reasonable price, it will not affect the price of meat. The matter is easily regulated. A little backbone on the part of Ministers is required. Instead of the Government pandering to the wealthy, it is time they pandered a little to the poorer section of the community, or had some regard to their interests. We have too much pandering to certain people, with the result that they are gathering in immense wealth at the expense of the balance of the community. We have the power to deal with this matter. Let us rise to the occasion, and assert that these things shall continue no longer. We are told that shortly the price of boots will increase (by another 50 per cent. I ‘have seen letters forwarded by manufacturers to different people, in which the only reason advanced for the increase in the price of boots is the big increase iia the price of hides. No complaint is made as to the cost of labour, or as to any difficulty having arisen in connexion with the tanning process.
– I take no exception to the action the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) in drawing attention to the condition of affairs in connexion with hides and leather and the attendant industries. It is a matter which deserves the serious consideration of both sides of the House, and cannot be lightly dismissed. At the same time, I . feel that, ‘before making statements in <the House as to the Minister’s power, and as to what can be done, and what cannot be done, and what ought to he done, honorable members should try to arrive at a definite knowledge of the circumstances, and read the Statutes for which they have been responsible.
– What about sugar and wool ?
– The power to deal with sugar, butter, and wool arose from the fact that the Government, under the Defence power, made certain definite contracts which were continuing contracts.
– But the Government have the power to prevent the exportation of hides.
– I will come to that question directly. I am talking for the moment about controlling hides, leather, and boots, exactly as we are controlling commodities dealt with in the Commercial Activities Bill, our control over which arises from the fact that under the Defence power the Government entered into certain contracts which continued f,or a period extending beyond the waT. The lawyers hold that inasmuch ‘as they were entered into during the war by virtue of the ‘fact that we were at war, we still have power to do all things necessary to continue aird fulfil them after the termination of the war. There is a great deal of difference between entering into contracts of that nature, and *he control operated i)n regard to leather and hides during the war.
– The Government had a boot contract during the waT.
– Not of the character that would enable us to go outside the actual manufacturer with whom we were dealing, and whom we could call upon to fulfil his contracts. It would have been different if we had entered into a contract during the “war to sell the whole of our surplus leather, hides, and boots to Great Britain. Then we would have had exactly the same power in regard to those commodities that we have had in regard to wool and butter. As we did not do it, and because we did not do it, we have not the same power in regard to these commodities as we have in regard to wool and butter. The question is asked : Why do we not prohibit the export of hides?
– ‘Hear, hear!
– Again, our statutory powers are limited. During the war, Parliament inserted a provision in the Customs Act which gives the Minister for Trade and Customs the power, during a war, and while a war is actually in operation, to prohibit export of any kind.
– The House can give the Minister the power to do that now.
– But the House has not done so.
– Why have you not asked for it?
– Honorable members are asking the Government to do a certain thing to-day with the law as it stands.
– The section of the Customs Act prohibiting export in certain cases was enacted before the war.
– Yes; it prohibits export which is “ harmful to the Commonwealth.”
– That was done years before the war.
– That is so; but the question immediately arises as to the legal interpretation of what is “harmful to the Commonwealth.” From one point of view, it is perfectly easy to argue that an increase in the prices of leather and boots is harmful to the Commonwealth. On .the other hand, it is just as easy to argue that it is of immense benefit to the Commonwealth to bring additional money into the country. The financier would argue, with perfect truth, that if we could export nearly all our hides to America at the biggest possible price it would be of immense benefit to Australia.
– And let the Australian children run around barefooted.
– I think that that is a wrong thing, but I am not referring to that aspect of the question at the present moment. I am endeavouring to show that the mere fact that during the war we found it necessary to alter the law, makes it evident that the limited power of prohibition that was previously contained in the Act was not considered ample; and now that the waT is over, it is just as easy to claim that it was not .sufficient.’ It can be argued from one point of view that if we are able to export vast quantities of material to-day at high prices, the higher the better from that particular standpoint, it may be of immense benefit to this country.
One statement by the Leader of the Opposition rather surprised me, because it ° was a complete contradiction of what he had said before. He said, “I have no objection to export so long as the
Australian consumer is supplied at the export price.”
– I did not say that. I have always contended that people have no right to export such quantities as to create an artificial shortage in Australia in order to raise the price to the local consumer.
– That is a different matter. What the honorable member said was that he had no objection to the Australian price rising to the export parity. I have no doubt that under normal conditions he would hold that view, and the only question we have to consider is whether, under the abnormal conditions which exist throughout the world to-day, we shouldadopt measures which would result in the deliberate depression of prices in this country. We have to consider the wisdom or otherwise of taking that step. It is perfectly clear from what the honorable member said, when I asked him to make a suggestion, that he realizes the fundamental difficulties in the way of dealing with this question except in a very complete fashion.
– The honorable member sees that the mere prohibition of the export of hides, which was urged by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), would simply have the result of putting money into the pockets of some other party instead of into the pockets of the producer. If the Government control the export and the prices of hides and leather, and not the export and the prices of boots, the money, instead of going into the pockets of the producers and tanners, will reach the pockets of the boot manufacturers. The honorable member for Hunter has not done himself the credit of considering whither his proposal to simply prohibit the export of hides would lead him.
– I stated clearly that the Government would require to take measures to protect the consumers against the tanners also.
– The honorable member talked about an embargo on the export of hides,but I heard him say very little about leather.
The question has been raised as to whether there has been to date an undue export of hides. So far from that being the case since the removal of tile embargo on the 14th May of this year, the number of hides exported has been nothing like as great as the number exported in the years before the war.
– What number of hides has been exported during the last three months?
– During the last three months we exported only 33,128 hides. The number of hides exported during the whole of 1913 was 1,067,025. Honorable members may see from those figures that the export during the last three months has not been proportionately as large as it was in 1913.
– The killing season for bullocks is past. It is during that season that the big export takes place.
– I should like to have considerably more time to deal with this question, because there is much more I could say upon it ; but I remindhonorable members that when the Government, realizing that an abnormal condition of affairs would obtain after the war, and believing that we should have still in our hands considerable additional powers, proposed to continue the War Precautions Act, honorable members on both sides of the House - on one side as much as on the other - deliberately forced us to surrender the power that otherwise we should have had. It was the desire of the Government to retain power under the War Precautions Act - the only legal power , we could have -to deal with these questions, but honorable members on both sides deliberately refused to give us that power.
– The speech of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) has somewhat surprised honorable members. In defending the actions of himself and the Government he has endeavoured to prove that the Government are absolutely impotent to deal with the high prices of leather and footwear. All honorable members will agree that, no matter who is to blame, whether he be the seller of hides, the tanner or the boot manufacturer, there is no necessity for the prices of boots to be as high as they are to-day. All the arguments by honorable members that neither the producer, the tanner, nor the manufacturer is to blame are beside the question. Here is a notice that was issued to boot retailers on 15th May-
Owing to the Federal Government having removed the restrictions on the prices of hides and leathers, tanners have notified us of a large increase in the prices of upper and sole leathers. We intend giving our clients the benefit of our stock through the rising prices to-day, but will only accept orders subject to the prices ruling on the date of despatch.
The effect of that policy has been that the price of footwear - not ladies’ fashionable shoes, for which women are prepared to pay any price, but ordinary footwear - has been increased to the extent of 5s. by the time it leaves the retailer’s shop. If the Minister thinks that that state of affairs is justified in a country like Australia, and that only the financiers are to be considered by this Parliament, I tell him that something must be done to prevent the soaring of prices even after the war, or the people will demand the reason from their representatives. During the war prices in. this country were not inflated, perhaps, to the same extent as in countries nearer the war zone. We did not expect that they would be; but certain increases did take place, and the public were very tolerant while the war continued. But we found that, whilst our young men were abroad fighting for the Empire, their parents were being robbed by certain traders. These matters must he dealt with by Parliament. Nothing so much demands inquiry as to the guilty party as does the abnormal price of footwear to-day, unless it be the prices of certain dress materials. We hear of grumbling and discontent in the community, and of people asking for increased wages in this and that trade. But let any honorable member ask himself, having regard to his own experience, how it is possible for a man earning even £5 a week to feed, clothe, and shoe a family of five. What is the reason for the extremism in this country to-day? The man of moderate ideas has found that, even with steady work, he cannot pay his way. He knows that he is being robbed, and he is angry, and the Government will find , out. Naturally, as his difficulties increase, he becomes reckless and extreme in his politics.
Mr.Fenton. - As the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has said, “profiteering breeds Bolshevism.”
– The Minister for Trade and Customs told us that we are powerless to interfere with trade and commerce. On the other hand, we have read the Prime Minister’s statement that he will fight the profiteers to the bitter end. How will he fight them ? Probably in the same way as the Minister has fought them this morning - by excusing the people who are operating in connexion with leather and hides. Throughout Australia there are agents engaged in’ buying up hides. All hides must be offered to local buyers at current rates before they are exported; but that condition is very easily met, because we know how prices are fixed. Those agents are buying, not only for America, but also for our former enemies. Even if the Minister has no power under the War Precautions Act to deal with this matter, nothing can prevent this Parliament from putting export duties on hides and other commodities until the local market is supplied. I hope the Minister will take the view that the prices of boots today are too high, having regard to the fact that we are exporting hides. Children are not only hungry, but in many parts they are bootless too. That is a serious state of affairs in the colder climates of Australia. If the Government will not take some steps to regulate this matter, they cannot expect to bring about industrial peace and contentment.
Debate interrupted under standing order 119.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
asked the Acting Minister for theNavy, upon notice -
Whether he will supply a return showing the salaries paid to the following positions in the
Australian Navy in the years 1913 and 1919 respectively: - Paymasters, Chief Writer, Writer, Captain, First Lieutenant, Second Lieutenant?
Use of “ Gypsboard
asked the Acting Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
Whether he will explain why a foreign-made article, viz., “ Gypsboard “ monolithic plaster sheets, were selected by his Department for the various interiors and partitions in the new drawing offices at Cockatoo Island Dockyard when there are on the market Australian-made goods, such as three-ply, which have proved their suitability for such purposes?
– The article referred to is of Australian manufacture, being made in Sydney.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he take into consideration the advisability of restoring the old-age pension to persons who were receiving the same and were not naturalized when war was declared?
– It is not intended at present to do so.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
If a number of citizens of Melbourne are willing to subscribe an amount that will give the returned soldiers a fighting show to make good at the Anzac hand-weaving, such citizens to be content with a low rate of interest to be paid only during the time the industry shows a profit, will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, promise that a sufficient supply of good yarn will be forthcoming from the Government mills?
– The honorable memberwill realize that it is not possible for his proposal to be considered in its present indefinite form. If he will place full particulars regarding the same before me I can assure him that it will receive early and full consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The settlement of returned soldiers on the land is carried on by the several States under an agreement with the Commonwealth, which has undertaken to advance to the States the funds necessary to make lands available, and for the construction of public works, such as railways, &c., for their successful occupation. The information requested by the honorable member is, therefore, obtainable only by reference to each State Government, and action in this regard is now being taken.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Whether, in the institution of new postal services in sparsely settled or “ out back “ districts, special conditions in addition to the present allowance of 50 per cent. for mail services and 60 per cent. telephone services will be applied to soldier settlements to insure that in no instance shall these pioneers in primary industry who have served at the Front be denied reasonable postal and telephone service?
– Each such case will be dealt with according to its special circumstances, keeping in mind the policy of the Government to give returned soldiers the most favorable consideration possible.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The matters referred to by the honorable member do not directly come within the province of the Department of Home and Territories, and are primarily of State concern and power. I shall, however, inquire into the matter, and give the honorable member any information acquired.
Numbers in England.
– On the 6th August the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) asked the following question : -
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 had 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 am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
An official statement was issued to the press on 4th instant by the Acting Minister for Defence, indicating that the approximate number of troops left in the United Kingdom, Egypt, and Mesopotamia on 2nd August was 30,000.
On that date 34,484 Australian Imperial Force troops were on the sea en route for Australia.
The following paper was presented: -
South America. - Correspondence respecting the British mission to, 1918. (Paper presented to the British Parliament.)
Mr. GREENE (Richmond - Minister
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This is a measure which can be dealt with better in Committee. It has been found in the administration of the Customs Act that certain amendments are necessary to bring the various sections into conformity with the spirit and intention of the Act, and also with the established practice of the Department. The Bill is principally one of machinery, designed to remove certain difficulties in the working of the Act, and to make it plainer to those dealing with the importation and entry of goods through the Customs. Its purpose, also, is to prevent the loss of revenue through fraud. Certain provisions are designed to accomplish that purpose by closing up some of the opportunities which now exist for fraud. Nearly all of its provisions have been drafted for us by the Crown Solicitor’s Department to get over difficulties which they have discovered in administering the affairs of the Department as they have come through the Crown Solicitor’s office. We are introducing no actually new principles. All we are attempting to do is to close up some of the avenues for fraud, and to make plainer to the commercial community what their duties are under the Customs Act.
Mr.Fenton. - Has any commercial immorality been discovered ?
– Unfortunately, there are dishonest individuals in every community, and I suppose Australia is no exception to the rule. Where it is possible to make money some people are not as careful of their actions as they are in other regards.
– While most people would not rob each other, they think it is a great thing to rob the Government.
– Some people probably regard it as a virtue to do so.
Clause 2, defining the powers and functions of the principal officer of Customs in the Northern Territory, has been found necessary owing to the distance of the Territory from the office under which it is controlled. We propose to give to the principal officer of Customs there the same powers, in regard to any matters which we specify, as a Collector of Customs would have. We do not propose to give him all the powers possessed by Collectors of Customs in the larger States. The matters with regard to which we desire to give him the powers of a Collector will be notified from time to time in the Government Gazette.
Clause 3 repeals section 64 of the principal Act, and substitutes for it another section which- is designed to throw upon the owner of a vessel coming into port the same duties and obligations as are now thrown upon the master. This ds really a matter of convenience. It is often- very difficult for the master of a ship, after it arrives in port, to attend and render to the Customs Department all the particulars required under the Act.
– Does the alteration carry you any further? Often the owners are companies. Do you allow the companies’ agents to act?
– Under section 4 of the principal Act the definition of “owner” includes “agent.” Consequently, by throwing the obligation on the owner we can call upon the -agent or the master, as the case may be, to render the particulars that we require. It frequently happens that the master of a ship is exceedingly busy after it comes into port, and experiences considerable difficulty in complying with the provisions of section 64. of the Act as it now stands.
Clause 4 brings the Act into line with the Excise Act fiat we passed last session. Instead of laying down in the Act the licence fees required for bonded warehouses, and fees for lockers’ attendance, this clause will permit us to fix them by proclamation from time to time, and alter them from time to time if it is advisable to do so. Sometimes, to meet the convenience of the commercial community, and permit of lockers’ attendance and so on, it is desirable to be able to collect other fees. This alteration will meet that ease. The present procedure under section 80 of the principal Act, which this clause amends, gives rise to considerable trouble at times, owing to the dates of payment of licence fees being specifically mentioned. If, through an oversight, the fees are not paid on the actual due date we have to cancel the licence and securities, and issue fresh ones. I feel confident that this alteration will be appreciated by the commercial community.
Clause 6 is intended to bring the principal Act into line with the established and accepted practice by allowing the departmental registers of goods warehoused to be amended. Section S3 of the principal Act, which deals with this matter, lays down the basis on which duty shall be collected on goods warehoused. It has been found in practice that mistakes are made in the entries. These may be genuine errors, and the practice of the Department when a mistake is discovered is to alter the register and then collect the duty on the right amount. It is questionable whether we have the legal power to do this.
– Or. if a firm overpays, you refund the difference.
– That has been known to happen; but it is questionable whether the Minister has really the legal authority to do so.
– How long have you been doing it?
– Probably, for eighteen years.
– It must be quite a. long time. It is proposed now that, when a mistake is discovered, the Collector shall have power to put it right, and collect the duty on the right amount, whether there has been an under or over payment.
– I draw attention to the state of the House. I desire the presence of the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) to hear this speech. [Quorum formed.]
– Clause 7, again, does no more than bring the Act into line with the present practice of the Department. It gives power to take charge of goods not dealt with in accordance with the warehousing entry. That is to say, if goods are entered to go into bond, and they are not put in bond, and the Collector has reason to believe that by the entry not being complied with, the revenue may be defrauded, he will have the power to do as we do to-day - though it is questionable whether we have legal authority - take the goods and put them in bond either in a private warehouse or the King’s warehouse, and then hold a lien on the goods until the warehousing charges are paid.
Clause 8 has -been found necessary as a result of our experience during the war. At the outbreak of the war there was no power to compel a full description of the arms, ammunition, and so forth being exported from the country, and this clause ds simply to give power to the Minister to insist on a description.
Clause 9, like clause 3, makes the owner, as well as the master, responsible for rendering to the Customs the particulars required before clearance is given. The clause goes in one regard, perhaps, a little further than clause 3, and this is necessary because, while a master or owner of a vessel may have complied with all the provisions of the Act, he may not have complied with the proper conditions of other authorities. For instance, an owner or master may not have complied with the conditions and requirements of the Harbor Trust or the provisions of the Navigation Act, and this clause will enable us, notwithstanding the fact that the conditions of the Customs Act have been complied with, to still refuse clearance, and not be liable to any action for refusing. Sub-clause 2 of the clause is as follows : - “ If. within a period of twenty-four hours after the provisions of sub-section (1) of this section have been complied with, the master has not received from the Collector an Outward Manifest and Certificate of Clearance, he may, at any time within fourteen days after the expiration of that period, apply to the Minister for a Certificate of Clearance, and the decision of the Minister upon the application shall be final and conclusive.”
Sub-clause 3 simply states that no action shall lie against the Government for such refusal of clearance.
Clause 10 validates the practice of the Department in charging duty on goods imported for trading purposes in connexion with Commonwealth hotels in the Northern Territory, and on goods intended for consumption in Australian waters on trading vessels owned or managed by the Commonwealth. It is considered that these hotels are purely a business concern, and should conform to the requirements of the Customs Act and
Tariff as if they were privately owned. The principle is also applied to the Commonwealth fleet of steamers which are used for trading purposes in competition with other vessels in Australian waters. It is’ considered inequitable to grant exemptions in the case of the Commonwealth vessels from the ordinary duties which are charged to the rest of the community.
Clause 11, together with clauses 12 and 13, is, perhaps, the most important in the Bill. It lays down, in we hope clear and unmistakable terms, the present practice of the Department in regard to what i3 known as “home-consumption value.” Tt gives the basis of value for duty purposes in a way that is expected to clear up a good deal of the difficulty the Department has experienced in the administration of the Act.
– Will it enable the Department to collect increased revenue?
– It will not enable us to collect any more revenue than at present.
– You are legalizing the practice.
– I would not say that. I think the provisions of the existing Act are just as effective for the purposes of revenue as these clauses will be; but there has been a good deal of friction from time to time with the commercial community as to the interpretation of the Act. Recently we had a case, which was carried to the High Court, and which, while it did not touch all the principles in regard to homeconsumption value, did touch the main one. The High Court decided in favour of the Department and in favour of the practice which has been adopted by it for a number of years.
– I was wondering whether a message from the GovernorGeneral was not necessary, seeing that this really means increased taxation.
– It is not taxation in that sense; it lays down the basis on which our duties should be collected. It is very necessary in the administration of the Department that we should state in very clear and definite terms what :s the basis of value. It is well known that some countries, at all events, export. their goods, if it suits them, at “ dumping “ rates, and in this way are able, to a large extent, to break down the effectiveness of a protective or revenue Tariff, as the case may be. . What we have always done, and what, I believe, the original Act entitles us to do, is to insist that the value for duty purposes shall be the fair market value of the goods in the land from which they came at the time of shipment.
– Thatis to say, for a similar quantity of goods ?
– Yes. There is only one alteration made to which, possibly, some honorable member may take exception. Sub-clause 2 of clause 11 reads - “ ‘ Fair market value ‘ in this section means thesum of the following -
The alteration to which I refer will be foundin the words, “ but not being in any case less than the actual money price shown in the genuine invoice.” The reason for the alteration is that we have experienced great difficulty with some countries in ascertaining what the homeconsumption value of goods is. There are some countries manufacturing and exporting goods which those countries do not themselves use, so that there is no home-consumption value. For instance, Japan, China, and, to some extent, India, manufacture and export goods which are not consumed in those countries, and there is nothing by which the value can be checked. Consequently, we are asking the House to agree that while we lay down what shall be the value for duty purposes, that value in no case shall be less than the genuine invoice value.
– Suppose Japan invoices goods at a very low value compared with the value of similar goods in other countries ?
– We cannot in a Customs Bill arrange the rates of duty; all we can do is to lay down the basis of value on which the duty shall be charged.
– Is that the value on a white population basis?
Mr.GREENE.- If the honorable member reads what I have just quoted from the clause he will see what is meant. That provision is introduced because we may not be able to secure any basis of comparison between the genuine invoice value and the price at which a purchaser for cash could obtain these goods for home consumption in the country of manufacture.
– Where that basis was not available, how would the value be fixed?
– That is what I have been endeavouring to explain. If, in the country from which the goods are exported, there is no basis of comparison between the genuine invoice value and the price at which those goods could be purchased by some one desiring to use them in that country, then, we say that the genuine invoice value at least should be taken. We do not say that something may not be added to the invoice value. If we had reason to believe that the value stated in an invoice was lower than the actual price paid by the importer, an adjustment would be made; something might be added to the invoice, and the duty collected on the increased amount. We provide here that, in any case, the fair market value shall not be less than the sum stated in the genuine invoice.
– This relates to a means by which goods are smuggled in from some countries at very low rates.
– I have beenen deavouring to show that clauses 11, 12, and 13 are devised to prevent that sort of thing. They are intended to insure the payment of duty upon the fair market value of the goods. Clause 11 will be a protection against understatements of domestic values where the goods are not sold for use or consumption in the countries of export. It is also intended as protection against underpayment of duties in the case of goods bought in large quantities, or under specially advantageous terms, by export commission houses, and giving their Australian customers the benefit of such terms, which would not represent the basis upon which the Australian customers, if buying their individual quantities for use or consumption in the country of export, could purchase similar goods. It will, we hope, largely avoid the very extensive inquiries that we have to keep going in many countries at the present time to ascertain what are the true domestic values of goods. We believe that it will help the Department of Trade and Customs very materially in obtaining from the importers the true market value of their goods upon which duty should be paid.
– Has the Minister, amongst his papers, a sample schedule or “ prescribed form “ ?
– I have not.
– We might be able to assist the honorable gentleman in setting out the detailed particulars to be supplied.
– The power for which the clauses now being dealt with by the Minister provide seems to be substantially the power now exercised under the principal Act, except that it is stated in clearer terms.
– Exactly. This Bill will do no more than put in clear and, we hone, unmistakable language what’ is the actual practice of the Department in regard to these matters at the present moment.
– Will the Minister insist upon information as to the cost of manufacture in the country of origin ?
– That would not help us in determining the value for duty. The Bill merely lays down the means of determining the value for duty. The provision’s of clauses 11, 12, and 13 are designed to reduce, as far as possible, the number of investigations in the country of export, to prevent the consequent delay in the adjustment of any duty that might have been short-paid, and to show in clear, unmistakable language what the practice of the Department at the present time is. These clauses should overcome a lot of difficulty on the part of both importers and the Department in arriving at the value on which duty is payable. While limiting the number of claims against importers for short payment’ of duty, it will also prevent a large loss of revenue and assist in the protection of Australian industries.
Clause 14 merely repeals the provision in section 169 of the principal Act as to the continuance of inter-State duties by the State of Western Australia.
Clauses 15 and 16 amend sections 187 and 189 of the principal Act by including a boat rowed with oars within the definition of a “vessel.”
– Although such boats have not hitherto come within that definition, they have always been searched.
– Quite so, but we are now setting out in this Bill the practice of the Department, and so making quite sure that we have power to search boats as well as other vessels.
– Once any material is landed from a boat, . the Department has the power to deal with it.
– But that is not the point.
– That is not the point. Officers of the Department might have very good reason to believe that certain goods were on a rowing boat, and when that boat was brought alongside the wharf they could seize the men and the goods. But there have been cases, I understand, where men engaged in endeavouring to smuggle in goods on a rowing boat have learned that a Customs officer awaited their arrival and have simply pulled out into the harbour and have dropped overboard the opium or other goods that they were attempting to smuggle in. If the officers on a Customs launch are given this power to search a suspected boat, the probability is that there will be less smuggling than now goes on. We are making sure that in future we shall have the power to search boats as well as other vessels.
Clauses 17, 18 and 19 are essential requirements for the protection of the Department against fraud, and ar« the direct outcome of a .case in which a writ was issued against a Collector of Customs for trespass, because of action taken as now provided by thos< clauses. These provisions will operate te prevent importers refusing delivery o: documents, and will allow persons sus pected as the result of information given on oath to a Collector, of having documents concealed on their person, to be searched in order to obtain proof of intent to defraud the revenue. Needless to say, no one has anything to fear from these provisions except the man who wants to defraud the revenue. A Collector of Customs will not be able to act under these clauses unless he has information on oath leading him to suspect that some one is endeavouring to defraud the revenue. In such circumstances, we propose to give him powers which, although fairly drastic, are necessary, we believe, to prevent fraud. Under the existing law, if a Collector, having reason to suspect that a man is defrauding the revenue, calls on him and asks for the production of documents, the person suspected may decline to hand them over until he has consulted his solicitor. When the Collector, or his officer, calls again, he is allowed to search the place, because the desired documents have been disposed of in the meantime. Under this Bill, however, when a warrant has bean issued as the result of sworn information coming into the possession of a Collector of Customs, the premises of the man suspected may be immediately searched.
– Does the honorable gentleman say that the Department has not that power at the present time? The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), I am sure, will recall many cases where such searches have been made.
– Many, and one case involving £4,000.
– Undoubtedly such a power has been exercised ; but, as I have already said, a Collector of Customs was sued for trespass and I think we lost the case. We are consequently asking that the practice of the Department in this regard - a practice with which my honorable friend is quite conversant- shall be set out in the law itself.
– On one occasion when I was in office we made a simultaneous raid on three different places, and one house rang up another only to find that our officers were already there.
– I am sure my honorable friend will not objectto our embodying in the Bill itself the practice of the Department.
Clause 20 of the Bill has been drafted by the Crown Law authorities to meet a difficulty which has arisen owing to a judgment of the High Court. In that case a limited liability company was charged with intent to defraud the revenue, but the Court held that, under section 241 of the present Act, the defendant company could not be convicted of an attempt to defraud. It is very undesirable that this position should continue, and clause 20 has been drafted accordingly to remedy the defect. In order to prevent the risk of similar decisions being given by other Courts, it is made retrospective.
– How far does it go back?
– Right back to 1901.
– It may not be necessary to make the Bill retrospective to that extent, but at the same time there are other Statutes which will probably limit its operation.
– Not where fraud is involved.
– The honorable member will know better than I do, but it is certainly an anomaly that, at the present time, while a person who is importing can be found guilty of fraud, a company doing exactly the same thing cannot. It is certainly desirable that a company should be liable exactly in the same way as an individual.
– But that is not the point. The point is that it is proposed to go back for twenty years.
– If it be possible to take action against a person in the past, I do not see why there should be any objection to making a company liable to the same extent.
– It means that if. it is discovered to-day that fraud was committed years ago the person committing the fraud can be prosecuted now.
– It is not a question of the civil remedy. It is a question of making a man liable now for a crime for which he has not been liable up to the present moment.
– I cannot see that there is any material objection to putting a company which is guilty of fraud in exactly the same position as an individual who has been guilty of fraud, and to that extent we are perfectly safe in making this Bill retrospective in its character.
Clause 21 provides one of W most important amendments. In a Customs case the High Court ruled, on appeal from a decision of the magistrate, that, in any case in which section 255 was used, reliance must be placed entirely on the averment, consequently precluding the calling of evidence on matters in regard to which proof was possible. It also pointed out other defects in- the section, and the amendment seeks to remedy these. I do not profess to know as much about this matter as a lawyer would, but as I understand the position, it is this: The Customs Department is called upon to make an averment of fact in certain cases. Apparently the High Court has ruled that the Department must rely upon that averment for the proof of a case, and is not permitted to call evidence in support of it. The provision in the Bill has been drafted by the Crown Law authorities to get over the difficulty, and enable the Department to call evidence in support of ah averment.
Clause 22 amends section 270 of the principal Act. It has been found most necessary in order to overcome difficulties experienced in regard to goods subject to the control of the Customs while in the possession of carrying companies. This has been recommended and drafted by the Crown Law officers.
Clause 23 repeals section 271 of the principal Act, which is not now necessary owing to being covered by regulation. The remaining clauses are more or less purely machinery, and it is not necessary for me to refer to them particularly. I have endeavoured in this short explanation of the various parts of the Bill to make the object of the measure clear to honorable members. All we are seeking to do is to close up gaps as far as we possibly can in the principal Act, and bring the actual administration measure of the Department into line with the general practice of the Department.
– I understood from the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) that it was desired to get this Bill out of the way to-day. He said that it was only a little measure, but after hearing the explanation of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), I find that there are one or two clauses which are really vital to the whole Customs system of Australia. The clause dealing with the fair market value of goods is really the backbone of the collection of duties. The honorable members for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) and EdenMonaro (Mr. Chapman) have had sufficient experience in the Customs Department to know that it is the one thing upon which most of the criticism from outside persons has been based.
– How does the Department get at the value of goods now ?
– By the method outlined in the clause.
– The clause puts into plain English what has been the practice of the Department.
– Is it not a fact that if more duty can be obtained by accepting the local value than by accepting the foreign value, the practice of the Department is to take the higher, whatever it is ?
– The value of an article is always accepted as the invoice value at the time of shipment. That is to say, the fair market value of the goods at the time of shipment is arrived at by adding all the f.o.b. charges, not including insurance, freight, and exchange. -The Minister explains that clauses 11, 12, and 13 will obviate a great deal of investigation which is now carried out in countries of export. The Customs Department was being systematically robbed by persons who were importing goods. I was in Court when the notorious motor car case was being tried, and after the defendant had pleaded guilty to every other charge, the prosecuting barrister said, “ Now we come to case X.” He explained that, in this case, there were three invoices - the one produced for Customs purposes, the genuine invoice, and the one produced to sell the goods. I understand the values varied in each case. In one case the value was £600, in the second case it was £800, and in the third case it was £1,000. The article in question being a motor car, the whole of it was not dutiable. The importer loaded the value of the chassis, which was not dutiable, and unloaded the value of the tyres and body, which were dutiable. The total value of the car was not disturbed, but the value of the dutiable portion of it was fixed at a low figure corresponding with the increased value put upon the portion which was not dutiable. Anything that the Department does to give the honest dealer a fair chance-
– The other fellow ought to be gaoled.
– I will support the honorable member every time he moves in that direction. When I was Minister, I sent one man to gaol.
– -Is it not the practice of the Department to make ‘ investigations abroad?
– Yes; men were sent abroad to make investigations into home value of goods exported to Australia.
– We have four men abroad to-day engaged in that task. One is resident in America, and the others are in Great Britain.
– Men ought to lae sent to the East.
– The importations from the East have increased considerably in recent years, but, in the past, the need for the strictest investigation was in European countries, in the United States of America, and in Canada. Fullest investigations were made in those countries., and if this provision in the Bill will avoid portion of the expenditure incurred in making those investigations, so much the better. I believe that the system will need to be continued.
– It will to some extent.
– It will need to be continued for the purpose of verifying the invoice price of goods imported to Australia. The Minister (Mr. Greene) has pointed out that, in some countries, the article which was exported to Australia is not used for home consumption, so that there is no home-consumption value.
– That is true even in regard to Great Britain.
– I understand that some countries which manufacture harvesters, and export them to Australia, do not use them locally, but employ reapers and binders. In such a case, there can be no home-consumption value.
– There are many things made in Birmingham which are not sold anywhere in England.
– Yes, I understand that relics and curios of different countries are made in Birmingham. Another system very familiar to the officers of the
Department is the house-to-house transaction. A firm making goods for Australia, which has also a house in Australia, instead of putting its profit on tho value of the goods before exporting them, added it after the goods had been landed in Australia. But, to use an Americanism, the Department “ is wise “ to that procedure.
Section 154, dealing with fair market value, is apparently being rephrased in the Bill. There have been a great many law cases regarding the determination of the fair market value of imported goods, and recently Mathew Goode and Company, of Adelaide, objected, as a matter of principle, to the departmental decision upon that question. The amount of duty involved was small, but no doubt the decision of the Court meant hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Department. I know that when in connexion with the .1907-8 Tariff a question was raised regarding the payment of duty on packages or containers, a tremendous amount of revenue in the aggregate was involved. In the Adelaide case, the High Court ruled in favour of the Department upon the question of fair market value, but apparently this Bill is designed to give specific legal effect to the practice that has been in’ operation, and to give protection to the Department in other respects. That is perfectly right.
Clause 19 confers power on the Department to enter houses and premises, and to seize documents. The Department has been doing that all along. Of course, no person likes to fight the Government, who are sure to win in the end, because they have the power of the whole people behind them. Raids and searches have taken place in every city in Australia, and would take place even, without the power which clause 19 will confer. If this provision is necessary to further safeguard the Department, I shall support it. I remember that on one occasion, while I was Minister for Trade and Customs, acting on certain information that reached the Department, we raided three different places simultaneously. At one of those places the manager said to the officers, “ Excuse me a moment “ ; and he left the room. When he returned, he said, “I telephoned ‘So-and-so, and found that your officers were there, too.” Probably the three firms were concerned in collusion in connexion with the swindle that was being perpetrated. The Department should- have, if it has not, power to raid and search. It also should have power to search boats, as well as ships.
If this Bill is merely giving effect to an existing practice, it is a step in the right direction. We should not, however, make clause 20 retrospective to 1901. I do not stand up as the advocate of any firm that has committed fraud; but we might proceed to-day against a corporate party for an offence in 1901 or 1902, and the whole of the persons who then constituted that body might have disappeared.
Clause 21 . provides that the averment of the prosecutor or plaintiff shall be prima facie evidence of the matter or matters averred. And it may be difficult for a firm, after a lapse of eighteen or nineteen years since the commission of the alleged offence, to bring any rebutting evidence. Of course, I agree with the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) that we should follow a wrong-doer until he is brought to book, no matter how great a time has elapsed since the offence; but I do not think there will be very many cases under this clause.
– Does not the honorable member think he is fighting a shadow?
– No. There have been several amendments of the Customs Act since 1901, and I think it would be better to make the clause retrospective to a more recent date. If it is held that we can make this measure retrospective to 1901, it may be held that we can do the same with every other Act, and that might inflict hardship upon innocent persons, who might not have - the opportunity after such a lapse of time to produce evidence in answer to the charge made against them. To the Bill as a whole I have no objection.
.’ - The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) is to be congratulated upon having introduced this Bill. A care ful examination of the Act will show that, although the Bill may propose a technical alteration, no substantial change in the existing law is being attempted. What the Minister is very properly trying to do is to give merchants and the public generally full and complete knowledge, by a perspicuous statement, of what the law and the practice of the Department are. I do not think any clause of the Bill confers powers which have not been substantially exercised by every Minister for Trade and Customs. If any Minister is convinced that a fraud on the Department is being attempted, he is justified, in the discharge of his duty, in resorting to despotic powers, even though he be technically exceeding his statutory authority, in order that justice may be done to the community.
In proposing to repeal the section dealing with fair market value, and to substitute a more elaborate provision, the Minister is doing justice to the Department and the public. The question of fair market value is of the very essence of Customs law. No question is more consistently before officers, and they have the greatest responsibility to exercise in connexion with it. The difficulties associated with the discharge of their duty are very great. Of course, there is not the same trouble in getting the fair market value from some of the chief ports of export as there is in respect of others,, because a number of merchants are exporting from those ports, and the fair market value may be established by a study of the various invoices and catalogues. By this process, and a consistent effort to collate all available information, the Department has a remarkably good idea of what the real market value of such imports is. But the dislocation caused by the war has gravely accentuated the difficulties, because some of the most important troubles which have arisen, involving serious hardship, have been in respect of contracts over a term of years entered into by Australian merchants importing goods from America, the United Kingdom, or elsewhere. They contracted to buy at particular prices. Subsequent to the outbreak of war the goods increased in value by 10, 20, 50, or even 500 per cent. Controversy then followed as to whether the value for the purpose of duty was that which obtained at the time when the contract was made, or that ruling at the time of export. The Department, endeavouring in a general way to do what it thought just, resorted to what was, on the face of it, a very arbitrary method : it loaded invoices by 10 per cent, and upwards. The arbitrary power of the Department to load invoices in this way was challenged in the Law Courts, and although the Supreme Court of South Australia held that such a power did not reside with the Minister, the High Court, on appeal, held that the wording of the Act was so wide as to permit of even the action complained of. That decision shows that the law embodied in the Bill already exists ; but, in justice to merchants and the public, it is being made perspicuous and elaborate, so that he who runs may read.
There is another provision upon which I must not say too much, namely, that the mere averment of the Department must be accepted as prima facie evidence of the facts. I remember proposing a similar provision in the Anti-Trust Bill, which I introduced about 1907, and, as a result, I was favoured with a rich vocabulary of abuse for doing so. However, after a hard fight in another place, I managed to secure its insertion. This proposal may appear harsh to honorable members; but, whilst it may be a little more stringent than the similar provisions in former Customs Acts and in many of the Customs Acts throughout the world, it is essential for the protection of the revenue that that power should be given to the Department. We must rely upon the Department to act fairly and justly to the honest trader. In order to protect the revenue, it is essential that the technical power must reside in the Department. The Minister will not be justified in an unreasonable exercise of that power ; but the whole object of the Customs Department, I hope, is to support and encourage the honest trader, and, at the same time, to penalize in the severest form the dishonest trader, who is defrauding not only the revenue, but also his competitors in trade. Having regard to past history, I am not disposed to complain of the rigid provision which is re-enacted by this Bill, in order to overcome a defect in the Act revealed by a recent law case. I have not the whole of the facts of that case in my mind, but it did tie the Department down to its averment, and certainly prevented any rebuttal of evidence which was inconsistent with the terms of that averment.
In clause 20, dealing with the prosecution of companies, the Bill goes, I think, a little too far. We all agree that it is desirable that a company should be liable to the Same amount of penalties and punishment as an individual. The clause is framed in a very comprehensive way, providing that -
A body corporate shall be deemed to be guilty of an intent to defraud the revenue if a servant or agent of the body corporate,
That is very wide - acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of the body corporate, commits or attempts to commit an offence against this Act for the benefit of the body corporate with an intent to defraud the revenue.
We can agree to the principle of that provision, which is essential, although many hardships may occur. No matter how innocent a company or its management may be, a dishonest servant can get it into a great deal of trouble by the exercise of fraud on his part, although it must be shown that the fraud was committed for the benefit of the company. That is a matter which would have to he considered in individual cases. The unfairness of the clause lies in subclause 2, which provides -
This section shall be deemed to have commenced on the day upon which the Customs Act 1901 was proclaimed to commence.
That is retrospective legislation, to which I object on principle. We have protested in this House against it before. There may be some force in the suggestion that fraud committed by a company within recent years should render it liable to punishment, and I am prepared to concede a good deal in that direction, but to attempt to make this Bill operate over eighteen or nineteen years which have already passed is manifestly ‘unfair. The company may have been absolutely innocent, and the man who was guilty of the misconduct may be dead or not available. It is therefore not within the power of the company to obtain any explanation, and it may not be able to secure necessary rebutting evidence by way of defence. It would be extraordinary if evidence of the kind was available after a lapse of eighteen years.
– Would not exactly the same argument apply to persons?
– Not to the same extent, and it would be unfair to persons, too.
– As the Act stands at present it applies to persons. Is the Department likely to treat a company any worse than a person?
– This is an attempt to alter the law and make it operate retrospectively as from the year 1901.
– It was considered originally that the company was liable.
– As a matter of fact, it is not, according to the law. This is consequently an attempt to make companies liable for a crime for which hitherto they were not liable. It is not a matter of a civilremedy. The civil remedy would be available where fraud was demonstrated. The clause is very technical, and the wrong committed may have been technical also. The company may be innocent, and the wrong may have been committed by its servant Innumerable events and altered conditions take place over a period of eighteen years; for instance, the personnel of the management, and even of the shareholders’ list, may have completely changed. I think, therefore, that it is unjust to attempt to make a company guilty of a crime by a retrospective section such as this is. There might, perhaps, be justification for making it retrospective for three, four, or five years at the very most. I would suggest three myself, because that would not do the grave amount of injustice that the present clause would, and all the probabilities are that the evidence for the defence would be immediately available within a more limited period. I therefore urge the Minister to reduce the period to three years, or, at the very most, to five. Eighteen years is unreasonable and unfair.
– Supposing there was no limitation provision at all ? They would not be saved except under the statute of limitations.
– But this is fraud, and the statute of limitations would not apply in cases of fraud.
– It applies to certain criminal cases.
– Provision is frequently made in Acts which deal with offences such as fraud, limiting the prosecution to a period.
– If a man is prosecuted for a crime after twenty years when they find him out, why should we limit it to eighteen years in this case?
– The point is that companies are not liable at the present day.
– If a company were discovered to have been guilty of defrauding the Customs by a continuous process for fifteen or twenty years, would you not go back for that period?
– If it was a continuous process of fraud, a prosecution for the latest offence would be sufficient for all practical purposes. The length of the period over which this clause is made retrospective is unfair and unreasonable, and puts it outside the power of a company to secure the proper evidence for the purposes of defence. It is not a question of civil remedy. The civil remedy should obtain, and I believe it would obtain, but the clause makes a company guilty of a crime which was not a crime in 1901, and is not a crime at the present day. With that exception the Bill is reasonable and fair, and I commend the Minister for its introduction.
.- The presence of our learned friend the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Bruce Smith) inspires me to say a few words regarding one of the principles in this measure which have been overlooked by the Minister (Mr. Greene). The honorable member for Parkes is a Free Trader, and there are other Free Traders in the House. What I am about to say will no doubt find no favour with them. The Bill offers us an opportunity of doing some great work for Australia by laying down certain principles which, if acted upon, will help to do away with social unrest in several parts of the world. I refer to the clause providing for prescribed forms, which shall be filled in by the people who import or export goods. I have in mind particularly the question of preferential trade. No doubt the Minister will in due time come down with a Customs Tariff Act providing for preferential duties, and no doubt the honorable member for Parkes) finding that Free Trade is an exploded superstition in the minds of the majority pf the people of Australia, will abandon his Free Trade advocacy, and declare himself a thorough believer in preferential Tariffs. Why? Preferential trade offers a haven of refuge for the Free Trader. When the idea was first advocated in this House, the late Sir George Reid, Sir Joseph Cook, and other Free Traders confessed their belief in it.
– I was born a Free Trader.
– No doubt the honorable member still believes in Free Trade, and will die a Free Trader, and in the odour of sanctity. I suggest that the Minister should introduce into the Bill a prescribed form on which may be stated the rate of wages being paid in connexion with the goods which certain people will want to introduce into this country under a preferential Tariff. If we are going to give preferential trade to anybody, even to the United Kingdom, there ought to be provision made that, where preferential duties obtain, an exporter or importer, in order to get the benefit of them, must certify that the goods are made by labour paid at trade-union rates of wages for a trade-union number of hours. We have no right to give preference to people who have not the milk of human kindness in their breasts, and who have no consideration for their employees. I am glad to see that the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Bruce Smith) is now present, because I wish to remind him of his words the other day, when he said honorable members were mistaken in thinking he knew anything about the Shipping Combine, because he had no interest in shipping, excepting so far as the dividends which he draws are concerned. Honorable members should show a broad and tolerant religious spirit.
– I do not see that- this has to do with the Customs Bill.
– I am sorry, sir. If allowed time, I might be able to connect my remarks. Thorold Rogers, the economist
– We know who he is.
– Does the honorable member know that Thorold Rogers says that the workers of the world have gained more by trade unionism than by any other institution? No one to-day would deny the benefits and justice of trade unionism, which ought to be recognised in the certificates at the Customs Department. I should like the Minister, in the interval between now and when he introduces the Tariff Bill, to consider these few observations.
– I think that any procedure relating to the admission of goods under a preferential Tariff would more properly come under a machinery Bill than under a Tariff Bill.
– I believe the honorable member is quite right. The Bill will not pass this afternoon, and I hope the Minister for Trade and Customs will prepare a. form of certificate such as I have suggested. I am not prepared to vote for’ preference to men who decline to recognise trade unionism, or who take no more interest in their employees than the honorable member for Parkes takes in shipping, but have regard only to the dividends which they produce. Every patriot, alleged and bond fide, can substantiate what I have said in regard to trade unionism. However strong a man may be in his belief that the British Empire has nothing to learn from any other Empire, he will admit that the sweater in the United Kingdom should not be able to introduce his goods here under a preferential Tariff with the same facility as may an upright, honest, fair-minded employer, whose interest goes beyond his dividends. I shall venture to test the feeling of the House when the Bill is in Committee; and I presume we may hope to get the support of all National Labour mem- bers like the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith), the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald), our old friend, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford), and even the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). I cannot, on the present occasion, point out the effect of such a policy on other nations, and the good that might ensue if we insisted on certificates of the kind. What objection could there be, for example, to giving preferential treatment to an exporter on the other side of the world, say in the United States of America, if he could prove that he paid a higher rate of wages, and worked his employees a fewer number of hours than any other?
Debate (on motion by Dr. Maloney) adjourned.
Sale of Copper Output - Appointment of Fourth Class Clerks: Taxation Department - Army Pay Clerks and War Badges - Seamen’s Strike - Food on Transports: “Port Lyttleton “ - Entertainments Tax Prosecution - Inferior Boots - Defence Force: Permanent. Instructional Staff - Deportations - Public Service: Preference to Returned Soldiers.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I desire to deal very briefly with two matters I promised to inquire into during the course of the week. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked me a question regarding the answer to a request by certain mining companies for permission to dispose of their output of copper without reference to the Copper Producers Association. I have since conferred with the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), who has had the matter under his control for the last few weeks, and am now able to inform the honorable member for Darling that a conference was held on the 14th to 16th July, at which representatives of the Commonwealth and the State Governments were present, and at which the whole copper situation was discussed. As a result of the conference, an agreement was drawn up and posted to the Premiers of the various States. Replies from all the States have not yet been received, so I am unable at present to make an announcement; but as soon as the matter is finalized, a statement on the subject will be made in the House.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) on two occasions during the week inquired as to the proposed appointment of ten fourth class clerks in the Taxation Office. I have looked into the matter, which, from a rapid perusal of the file, I find is somewhat complicated and technical. The papers consist mainly of letters between the Public Service Inspector and the Public Service Commissioner, and it has already been ruled by past Governments that these are privileged documents, and should not be made available. Moreover, certain appeals are now being heard against the promotion of some of the officers concerned; and as, in a Public Service sense, the matter is sub judice, I do not think it wise to lay the papers on the Library Table as suggested.
.- Since I first asked a question about these clerks, I have learned a little more about the matter. I understand that it was proposed to appoint ten fourth class clerks to the Taxation Department, and the desire of those concerned was to have the file made available for the purposes of an inquiry which is proceeding. I further understand that some, if not the whole, of these men were recommended by the Public Service Inspector, but were turned down by the Government, who, in effect, refused to accept efficiency as the ground for appointment. The case was taken to the High Court, which held that efficiency should be the ruling factor, and that there was the right of appeal. I do not know any of these men, and I am not discussing the merits of their case; but I am told that the Inspector holds that the most efficient men should be selected. If there is anything that the Public Service Act stands for, it is the recognition of efficiency, to the exclusion of favoritism; but if the Government can ignore the recommendations of the Inspector, based as they are on efficiency, the whole basis of the Act is broken down. I know that Senator Millen said, in an- other place, that these were State papers, and could not be made available; and this I regret very much. I am informed that both the Public Service Inspector and the Public Service Commissioner are at variance with the decision of the Government in the matter; and certainly the course adopted by the Government is not one likely to prove of benefit to the Public Service as a whole.
– On Friday last, in answer to the honorable member for New England (Lt.Colonel Abbott), I stated that the matter of giving badges to Army pay clerks who left Australia after the Armistice, was being further considered. I have since been officially informed that returned soldiers’ badges would not be issued to personnel of the Australian Imperial Force who embarked after the date of the armistice.
– I gather from this afternoon’s Melbourne Herald that the Government have refused the request of the executive of the Seamen’s Union. In common with many other honorable members I have not interfered in this matter, because I think it best that the head of the Government and the Seamen’s Union should deal with it. But seeing that everybody desires a settlement of the existing dispute, I am of opinion that the Government might have conceded that request. Of course, they may have their reasons for declining to do so, but, nevertheless, I am sorry that some arrangement has not been arrived at.
I wish now to say a few words regarding the food supplied to our returned soldiers on the voyage from the other side of the world. It seems to me that there has to be a mutiny on a vessel before any exposure can be made of what takes place there. Quite recently we witnessed the sorry spectacle of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) being gaoled for having done his duty. He was gaoled innocently. I followed his case pretty closely, and I have not the slightest doubt that he was gaoled because he exhibited a little human feeling. Now, the troopship Port Lyttleton arrived here on Tuesday and is still in port. Seven of the men who returned by her have assured me that the stew supplied to the soldiers on board, especially after leaving South Africa, was quite inedible. Now, any man can make a stew which is palatable. Yet these young men positively affirm that the stew supplied the troops on that vessel was so bad that it could not be eaten. They also allege that their raisin pudding was to all intents and purposes, bullets. As they could not reach their Officer Commanding, they placed some very hard puddings outside his cabin door and he ordered them to be thrown overboard.
– Who is the Officer Commanding ?
– I think that his name is Weld. The boys have assured me that had it not been for the bread and jam which was served to them they could not have subsisted. I desire to know whether the Government will agree to two returned soldiers on the other side of the Chamber, and two from this side, being appointed a Committee to confer with the troops who returned by the vessel in question, in order that they may learn the facts as to how they were treated on the way out. The men admit that the food could have been worse. But they say that in France with their own regimental cooks they obtained much better fare. The captain of the Port Lyttleton endeared himself to the men, who made him a presentation before their departure from the vessel, but the Officer Commanding did not see that the troops were properly fed on the voyage out here. I would like to know whether the Government can see their way to agree to my suggestion.
– Before the illness of the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) I intimated that I would bring before the House some facts in connexion with the collection of the entertainments tax in New South Wales. It appears that on the 22nd March an entertainment was given in my district to aid in the purchase of instruments for the Bulli and Woonona town band. A miner was the secretary of the movement - a man who has given a good deal of his time to charitable entertainments. On the afternoon that this entertainment was to take place he was very busy, and accordingly asked a young man to go to the postoffice and procure the amusements’ tax tickets. This young man was delayed by a game of football, and as a result, when he arrived at the post-office he found that it was closed. The Committee then had either to postpone the entertainment at an hour’s notice or to proceed, and afterwards settle matters with the Department. They naturally decided to proceed, and the entertainment was duly held. The following day an inspector from the Taxation Department interviewed the secretary of the movement, and on the 24th March the full amount of the tax, together with a complete explanation of all the circumstances was forwarded to the Department. Notwithstanding this fact, proceedings were instituted against the secretary, and upon the summons being received a gentleman, who had interested himself in the matter, wrote to the solicitor who had been engaged by the other side, intimating that the secretary would plead guilty, that the circumstances had already been explained to the Department, and asking that no witnesses be called, and that as light a penalty as possible be inflicted. Notwithstanding this, the Department sent its inspector down to the Court, claimed his expenses for appearing there, and also professional costs in the case. These claims were so outrageous that the magistrate, who heard the case, commented upon theexcessive costs, and intimated that if any application for a remission of them were made to the Department he would support it. This is not merely a case affecting a miner at Bulli. We intrust the officers of the Taxation Department with the exercise of the most autocratic powers, and we are told that they administer their Department in the spirit in which Parliament intended it to be administered - in other words, that they exercise sweet reasonableness on all occasions. But I can point to another case in the Department, showing that this is not so, and that taxpayers are proceeded against for the most trivial offences. Regard is not always paid to the fact that a great number of taxpayers are ordinary working men who think that a difficulty can be adjusted if right be on their side, merely by interviewing the head of the Department. With reference to the case of the
Bulli band, I wrote to the Deputy Commissioner in New South Wales and received a letter to the effect that he had no jurisdiction to reduce the penalty imposed by the Court. He does not indicate that any one in the Department has power to remit the fine, or to meet the case in any way. If that power does not rest with some official inthe Department, it should do so. It is not right that any one officer in a Department shouldbe able, in the circumstances I have outlined, to inflict upon an ordinary working man a penalty that may represent two or three weeks of his labour and that there should be no redress. I hope that it willbe found that some one has power to interfere with this autocratic administration of the Department, and that a more reasonable attitude will be adopted towards people who have no desire to infringe the law, but seekrather to benefit their fellows by their association with patriotic or charitable enterprises.
.- I desire to bring under the notice of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) the following letter from two returned soldiers : -
Dear Sir. - Please excuse the liberty I am taking in addressing you,but, knowing you so long, and that you are always ready to expose a wrong action, I am sending you one of apair of boots which my mate bought Friday, the 1st August, and only had them on his feet on Saturday, 2nd August. There is no occasion for me to say anything about them; you can judge them yourself. The name stamped on the sole was “Ajax,” and the price paid for them was £1 2s. 6d. in Bunyip. We are two returned soldiers trying to make an honest living, but how can you expect us to be honest to our fellow-beings if such examples as this are allowed to beplayed upon us. Once again I crave your indulgence for addressing you.
Yours most respectfully,
I produce theboot, and honorable members will see for themselves the state it is in. It is of the type sold before the war at 10s. 6d. per pair. It is supposed to be a watertight hoot, tongue-fastened in the ordinary way. I have submitted it to an expert, who tells me that the leather is of the most inferior quality. Surely it is time to take action against the exploiters and others who are battening upon, not only the general public, but our returned soldiers.
– I would urge upon the Acting Prime Minister that some inquiry should be instituted without delay into the complaints made by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews). My knowledge of the conditions obtaining on the other side of the world convinces me that there should not be any difficulty in obtaining good food on a transport. AH the transports before leaving the Old Country are specially examined, not only by responsible officers of the Defence Department, but by an honorable member of this House (Mr. Heitmann). Before a transport leaves port, the accommodation, set apart for the men, ‘the general living conditions, the cooking facilities on board, and the food supply are specially investigated. It is because of this knowledge that I urge the ‘Government to have a special investigation made of the complaints regarding the conditions prevailing on the Port Lyttleton. We cannot allow our soldiers, whether their period of war service has been long or short, to come back here with complaints regarding the food supply on board transports. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports stated that when the complaint was voiced the men could not meet the Officer Commanding the troops on board. That, to me, is absolutely unthinkable.
– I have known the same sort of thing to happen here in Melbourne. I have known officers to be unable to reach the Commandant.
– The honorable member will admit that the circumstances are not the same. When men are on board ship for six or seven, weeks, the opportunities for approaching the Officer Commanding Troops are innumerable. These men should have pressed their case more strongly than -they did. I am not advocating insurrection-
– That is my point. The men have to mutiny to have their complaint attended to.
– No; there is a ready means by which these grievances can be redressed. I am entirely with the honorable member in asking for an investigation, which .would ‘be iia the interests of j not only the men themselves, but the ship and officers in charge.
– Is any one interested in the supply of had food ? Is it a contract matter?
– I think it was; but I understand that most of the ships now carrying troops are not coming out as transports in the ordinary sense. The various Governments, and particularly the Commonwealth Government, are paying a per capita rate for the transport of the men’.
– The hoys have no feeling against the skipper of the ship, because they have made (hint a presentation.
– Exactly. I want the matter to be cleared up, because it is manifestly wrong that such a condition of affairs should be permitted on any ship. I could have understood such trouble occurring immediately after the signing of the Armistice, because at that time the food position in the Old Country was’ entirely different from what it must nave (been when these men left about June .last. Plenty of time had elapsed after the signing of the Armistice to allow food conditions to improve.
– They have not improved to any extent in the matter of prices.
– I am speaking more particularly of the quantity and quality of the food. There is no question that supplies from Canada and the United ‘States of America reached the Old Country within a few months of the signing of ‘the Armistice. I urge the Acting Prime Minister to agree to the request made hy the honorable member for Melbourne Ports; and I believe that, as suggested by ‘him, there should be a special, rather than an ordinary, departmental inquiry.
– -I desire to bring under the notice of the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) the position in regard to the appointment of permanent instructional officers to the Citizen Defence Forces. Some twelve or eighteen months after the outbreak of the war I made representations in this House to the effect that a number of men who were anxious to enlist could not do so because they were below the standard height of 5 ft. 5 in. The result was that the standard was reduced to 5 ft. 3 in,, and hundreds of men able . to conform to the reduced standard enlisted, and went to the Front. Many of them had served as sergeant-majors before the war, and some of them were told, by means of circular, that if they .applied .to go to the Front their action would be regarded as a breach of discipline, because their services were required in Australia to train members of the Australian Imperial Force. Some of these men have returned only to find that, because they do not come up to the old standard of 5 ft. 5 in., and have a chest measurement of less than 37 inches, they are debarred from appointment to the permanent Instructional Staff, notwithstanding that they have qualified by examination and otherwise for such appointments. These men ought not to be debarred from entering the Permanent Forces.
.- Will the Acting Prime Minister be good enough to have the report of the Committee which dealt with the Government’s attitude towards internees and persons proposed to be deported from Australia printed? After the Minister (Mr. Groom) spoke the other day, I made application for the reports, which he said had been printed; but I find that they are out of print. The one was dated 1914 and the other 1917.
– In conversation with the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom), I find that the report referred to by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) has not yet been laid on the table. Next week I shall take the opportunity of ascertaining the reasons for the delay, and inform the honorable member accordingly.
In regard to the Port Lyttleton case, I have heard nothing about it, except what I have heard to-day. The Government have been extremely gratified during recent months at the success attending the arrangements for food supplies and other matters in connexion with troopships bringing returning soldiers to Australia, and we are sorry indeed to hear of any recrudescence of the earlier troubles.- I shall take the opportunity of conferring with the Acting Minister for Defence (Senator Russell), to see what, inquiry is advisable in the matter. The Government are anxious that the .-men should understand that every care will be exercised at this end or at the London end; and, if success in that direction is not achieved, we want to know the reason for it.
– That makes the Port Lyttleton case all the more incomprehensible.
– I know the work done by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Heitmann) at the London end. In fact, he has taken the extra precaution, quite unmilitary, of picking out halfadozen men in every boat, after his inspection, and asking them to report, either in person or by letter, to the head of the Government in Australia all about the trip, the food, the accommodation, the treatment by officers, the arrangements for exercise, and so forth. I have received a great number of letters from the men whom he picked - reliable types of “ diggers,” sometimes privates, sometimes non-commissioned officers, but never commissioned .officers - all expressing, I think without exception, gratification at the success attending the work.
– I would like to hear the report of the men on the Port Lyttleton.
– I do not know whether any reports have been received in connexion with that vessel; but, in the interests of the system, as well as in the interests of the men, I shall go into the matter, and ascertain from the Acting Minister for Defence what action he proposes to take.
I was struck by the remarks of the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr.
Hector Lamond) about the Bulli case, in connexion with the entertainments tax. It does not matter how fine the man at the head is, difficulties are bound to arise over a tax of this kind. I realize that it is a very unpopular tax, and that, even if it be administered with remarkable and unusual discretion, it will cause irritation amongst great numbers of people who are not professional entertainment promoters. I should expect the officers in charge, and mainly responsible, to exercise a little discretion in launching prosecutions, especially immediately after a blunder has been made and a full explanation and voluntary payment of the full tax has been forwarded. I shall ask the Taxation Commissioner to furnish me with a report on this case.
– What about the Public Service case, to which I drew attention?
– What about the 5-ft. 3-in. men?
– I was struck by the eloquent case put up by my 6-f t. friend from Maribyrnong; and I shall ask theAssistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) to note his remarks.
I forget quite what representations were made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) ; but Parliament has made the Public Service Commissioner an independent officer. No Minister of the Crown is permitted to tell him what he shall or shall not do.
– The complaint is that the Government have distinctly turned down his recommendations, and told him that he must not consider efficiency, but must appoint certain men.
– My perusal of the file, which is complicated and technical, was hurried ; but I wish to correct the honorable member’s statement. The Commissioner has his own views, and I have not endeavoured to influence him on any matter except in regard to the prosecution of a policy which the Government have laid down, and which is provided byStatute, namely, preference to returned soldiers. In this case there is an instance of the kind. I ask honorable members not to give credence to any unsupported testi mony as to the attitude of the Government or the Public Service Commissioner.
– There is a good deal of quiet opposition in every Department to the policy of preference to returned soldiers.
– The honorable member will credit me when I say that I know there is passive resistance in certain quarters to the effective carrying out of the policy to which both sides of the House, without respect to party, are happily pledged - that of giving preference to returned soldiers; but, quite apart from giving effect to that policy, there are difficulties in applying it in some cases. There is one case which I have promised to look into, at the request of several honorable members, that of the postal electricians, where complicated promises have been made to the men. I was speaking about it to the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) to-day. It is difficult to apply the policy of preference to returned soldiers in the spirit without hurting some men whom it is hard to have to hurt. The House voluntarily and repeatedly affirmed that preference of a certain kind shall be given, and the Government are endeavouring to observe that policy in the spirit in which it was laid down.
– Has the Minister anything to say about the seamen? Has he seen the Herald?
– I have not. I do not often read the Herald. On Friday night the honorable member will go to the Flinders-street station, and as he proceeds through the gates, there will be a boy, who will say to him, “Herald or Truth?”
– And you buy Truth?
– Notwithstanding all the delightful effects of the consumption of truth, I sometimes prefer the Herald. However, I have not seen it to-day. I do not know what it contains, and what has transpired this afternoon in the matter of the seamen’s strike, which is being attended to by my friend, Senator Millen.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 August 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1919/19190808_reps_7_89/>.