7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the -chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister -
– My answers to the. honorable member’s questions are- 1 and 2. Yes.
– Will the Minister for the Navy state whether there is any truth in a report published in yesterday’s issue of the Sydney Sun that a bluejacket on H.M.A.S. Torrent has been dealt with for presenting to the Prime Minister’ a list of the grievances of the Jack Tars? If so, will he take steps to allow these men to ventilate their grievances ?
– I know nothing of the particular case mentioned by the honorable member, but if he will give notice of his question I shall inquire into it. I should like to remind the honorable member that there is a proper way in which these grievances can be ventilated, and that is through the Department.
– The report of this particular case, if correct, is absolutely disgraceful.
– I know nothing of the report, but will inquire into it.
Munition Workers on “Bahia Castillo.”
– Is the Assistant Minister for Defence in a position to make a statement in regard to the recent trouble on the Bahia Castillo?
– The only statement I can make is the following brief one supplied to me by the Acting Minister for Defence (SenatorRussell) -
Fullest possible inquiries are being made, and all official reports state that the condition of the boat is generally good in character. Adequate provision is being made for the necessary comfort of the 600 men now at Fremantle. Full and complete measures will be instituted immediately to inquire into all the circumstances surrounding the incident.
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Navy a question in reference to the complaints about the bad food supplied to returned soldiers and munition workers on transports. It is reported that some 600 munition workers left a vessel at Fremantle, and I desire to know whether the Department will, from row on, punish those who are guilty of giving our returned men food which is not of the quality it should be?
– I can only say that any one who, either through gross negligence or of intent, supplies bad food on the transports ought to be punished as severely as possible.
– They have got off scot-free up to the present.
– I do not know about that; but I am looking into the Fremantle incident, and I hope it may bo possible to punish those found guilty of such things.
Objections to Anti-dumping Clauses.
– According to the press, certain commercial associations have taken exception to the anti-dumping clauses of the Customs Bill, and object generally to innovations of that character. I wish to ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the Government intend under such pressure to back down, or will they proceed with the Bill?
– The Government propose to proceed with the Bill.
– With a view to assisting in the settlement of returned soldiers on the land, the Commonwealth Government, I understand, have offered to supply State Governments with a sufficient sum to enable them to undertake the construction of railways necessary to open up land for soldier settlers. I believe the New South Wales Government have made application, for a grant, and I should be glad if the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation would inform the House what proposed lines have been submitted to him by that Government, and which of them is to be proceeded with at once.
– I shall endeavour to supply the honorable member with the information.
– Is it the practice of the Postmaster-General’s Department to look for any material profit from allowance post-offices in country districts?
– Will the Minister for Works and Railways state whether the report published in Monday’s issue of the Argus concerning his visit to Lithgow, and his eulogy of the output of the Small Arms Factory, is correct?
– I have not seen in the Argus other than a short paragraph referring to the matter. I quoted from a speech made by General Pau, giving his description of the Australian arms, and also from another authority, as a basis for certain statements made by me.
– (By leave) - Since my return to Australia a very large’ number of soldiers, and wives and mothers of soldiers, have written, and, in some cases, have called on me, in relation to increases which have been made in their rents since their return from the Front. I received this morning, from a soldier who has been four’ years at the Front, . a letter which is typical of the representations that have been made to me. This man, who was gassed and wounded while on active service, and is now suffering from bronchitis, states that his landlord has notified him that- he intends to raise his rent 2s. per week. About ten days ago the mother of a soldier also called on me, and complained that it was the intention of her landlord to raise her rent 4s.. per week. I am speaking now only of Melbourne cases, and I do not propose at this stage to give the names of the landlords or the persons complaining. I do not know what power the Commonwealth Parliament has in. this matter, but I desire to say that this Government will not, and the Parliament ought not, to permit this sort of thing. My soldier correspondent points out that his landlord is a rich man. An excolleague of mine used to describe himself as a “ poor landlord.” I do not know whether there are any poor landlords; but there can. be no excuse in this case, as the landlord is rich, and, in all probability, there is no excuse, save in very few instances. The practice, at all events, ought not to continue. I hope that landlords will accept this public intimation that in future the first step I shall take on receiving such a complaint will be to publish as widely as the press will give publicity to my utterances the names and the particulars in each case, so that these people may be pilloried by the public. The next thing I shall do -will be to exhaust every possibility of punishing those persons and preventing them from continuing their action.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) is at present serving a sentence in gaol, having been convicted of gross and disloyal language concerning the King? Will the Prime Minister tell us what the Government propose to do in the matter?
– I have not had an opportunity of perusing what the honorable member for Barrier said, nor of considering the matter. I shall do both at the earliest possible moment, and the Government will then declare what they propose to do.
Remarks by the Minister for the Navy.
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Navy what it was he said in hisrecent remarks in reference to subsidies for ships?
– I shall very willingly tell the honorable member. I said that I hoped some steps would be taken in this regard, for I thought action desirable in view of the establishment of a swift line of steamers between here and London. This, I said, I thought should, as far as possible, be an Empire matter, and that the subsidies should be paid for extra speed by all sections of the Dominions and the Empire affected, including Great Britain, South Africa, and ourselves. I said that the matter had already been mooted, and that I thought it desirable to shorten the distance, as far as possible, between here and London.
– Some little time ago the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation made a promise . to the effect that at the earliest possible moment a statement would be made in regard ‘ to the policy of the Department as to the housing system, more particularly as concerns soldiers who desire to erect their own homes. May we expect the statement shortly?
– I am not in a position to give such a statement to-day, but I hope to be able to do so to-morrow or the next day.
– Is the Acting Minister for Defence aware that some time ago a number of South Australian troops who had arrived by theAeneas were taken overland by train to Adelaide, and that, in the confusion consequent upon an accident to one of the coaches, thirty of those men lost their kits, comprising the whole of their belongings? These men have repeatedly made application to the. Defence Department at Adelaide, and in other directions, but are unable to obtain any satisfaction. One man’s. loss represented £20, and the men desire to know who is responsible, and where they can get redress. Does the Minister know anything of the matter?
– I have not heard anything of the matter, but I shall have inquiries made.
Service by Returned Soldiers - Annual Camps.
– Early in this Parliament the statement was made that returned soldiers were not to be asked to serve in the Citizen Forces. Has there been any change in that regard?
– There has not been any change.
On the 18th September, the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) asked the following questions: -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
Adjournment of Parliament
– Is it the intention of the Government to move the adjournment of the House over to-morrow, in order to allow honorable members to attend the Agricultural Show ?
– Later on I intend to submit a motion in regard to the matter, when honorable members will be able to discuss it.
Application for Damages
– I have information that the Military Police broke into a house, 219 Abercrombie-street, Sydney, and destroyed property to the value of £3 10s. Application has been made to the authorities for payment of this amount, but up to. the present nothing has been done. Will the Assistant Minister for Defence facilitate the payment of compensation ?
– If the honorable member will furnish me with particulars of the case, I shall have inquiries made.
– Is the Acting Treasurer in a position to say whether the Peace Loan that closed yesterday was fully subscribed or otherwise?
– I hope about 4 o’clock to be able to make, an announcement as to the actual amount received.
– I desire to know whether a complaint has been made to the Assistant Minister for Defence by representatives of the Royal Garrison Artillery at Queenscliff? By way of explanation, I may say that it is alleged that, as far back as 1917, single members of that regiment received a war bonus of1s. 6d. per day, and bombardiers and others a war bonus of 4s. 3d.; but the married gunner with wife and family received nothing - in fact, actually suffered a decrease, his total pay being now only 7s.10d. a day. Has that complaint reached the Minister? If it has not, will he make inquiries, and let me know the result?
– I have heard nothing about the matter, but will have inquiries made in the Department.
– May I again remind the House that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has intimated that it is not the intention of the members of the Government to answer questions without notice, unless .there is some reasonable ground of urgency for not placing them on the notice-paper? This is in accordance with proper parliamentary procedure. It is obvious that the majority of questions asked without notice should, if asked at all, be put on the notice-paper. I, therefore, request honorable members to be good enough to observe the rule, and to ask without notice only such questions as are in their nature of some urgency, or are of a character which justify notice being dispensed with. If a question is important it should be put on the noticepaper, and if not important it should not be asked.
– I mentioned last week that Australian nurses were being detained in India and Afghanistan. I have received a further letter, which fully corroborates what I then said. Can the Minister state if anything has been done to have the nurses repatriated?
– A cable has just been received from India stating that all nurses are leaving that country as soon as possible. It is expected that sixty-three will leave on 22nd October, and the balance on 2nd November, for Australia. Twenty nurses are proceeding to England for one month’s furlough before returning.
GENERAL Allenby’s Speeches!
– It has been stated in the press that General Allenby, in various public utterances, has omitted to make any reference to the important part played by the members of the Australian Imperial Force in Palestine,- and that this omission is resented by the men who fought in Palestine, and also by the. people of this country. Will the Prime Minister endeavour to obtain information from the British Government as to whether General Allenby has been correctly reported?
– I do not know what General Allenby said, but I will make inquiries from the British’ Government, and cause the records of the Defence Department to be searched, to ascertain if any reply has been given, and inform the House accordingly.
Questions Without Notice
– I wish to ask the Postmaster-General, without notice, if, in view of the difficulty of reading addresses on envelopes, he will permit the stamp to be placed at the end of the flap, so that the whole of the cancellation may be on the back of the envelope, and the postal officials may be able to read the address very much better ?
– Order! I am sorry to have, to intervene again, but I have only just asked honorable members to refrain from’ asking questions without notice, except those of a reasonably urgent character. It seems to me that the question just put might very well be placed on the noticepaper.
asked the Prune Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
What was the total amount paid to counsel in cases arising in New South Wales under the Entertainments Tax Act ‘ during the six months ended 30th June, 1919?
– Forty-seven pounds eight shillings.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
What was the amount paid for overtime in the Repatriation Department, Sydney, during the six months ended June, 1919 ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is - £1,142 13s. 5d. During the period covered the influenza epidemic was raging in Sydney, and as many as 40 per cent, of the staff of the Sydney branch were away at the one time. In consequence, overtime had to be resorted to, in order to keep pace with the work.
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice - 1.Whether, in certain radio-telegraph stations in Australia, or under Australian control, the Balsillie system originally installed has been” altered ?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are-
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Is it a fact .that, in some cases, returned men, on resuming their positions in the postoffice, in Sydney, find themselves placed under less favorable conditions than when they went away, and also find men who did not go to the war, and who were taken on as temporary hands after the war began, working under more favorable conditions than they, the returned men?
– I am waiting for more definite information.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
Whether the’ Government will advance money to returned soldiers under the War Service Homes Act to enable them to make their homes on land held under tenure peculiar to mining fields, viz., miners’ homestead and residence areas ?
– The War Service Homes Act permits advances to be made in respect of land held in fee-simple only.
Quality oe Yarn.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In regard to the proposal of the Government to enter upon a comprehensive system of economy throughout the Commonwealth Public Service, will he consider the feasibility of calling in the assistance of what are now known as business systematizers, who will go through the different branches of the Service in detail and discover where certain officers are not wanted, where others are overworked, where official work is overlapping, and where the methods in operation can be improved and economized; so that there may be independent professional justification for whatever economies are necessary and desirable?
– The Economy Commission is already engaged in a comprehensive review of the Commonwealth Service, with a view to ascertaining what economy can he effected in every direction.
Mr-. FINLAYSON asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What is the estimated cost of printing the return which has been prepared showing the prosecutions under the War Precautions Act?
– The estimated cost of printing 775 copies of the return in question is £70.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
– On the 12th September, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch) asked the following question: -
I desire to ask the Assistant Minister for Defence a question relating to Australian-born soldiers who enlisted in British regiments. These men were in Great Britain when the war broke out, and, being anxious to volunteer, were induced to join British regiments. They endeavoured afterwards, without success, to secure a transfer to Australian units, with the result that on their return to Australia they are treated as British reservists, and are not entitled to the privileges extended to members of the Australian Imperial Force in respect of Australian rates of pay and repatriation rights. Will the Department of Defence take action to remedy this state of affairs? 1 am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
This matter is at present receiving consideration, and a statement on the subject will he made as early as possible.
– On the 19th September the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) stated that during recent months some thousands of returned invalids have been compelled to go to their own homes instead of being accommodated at the Randwick Hospital, and asked that they be paid the 2s. 3d. per day which it would cost to feed them.
I am informed by the Director-General of Medical Services that it is not correct to state that thousands’ of invalids have been compelled to go to their own homes instead of being treated in hospital. The Principal Medical Officer in Sydney states distinctly that those who live at home do so solely because they prefer to take that course. Accommodation in the hospital is available for all men who are willing to become in-patients.
– On the 21st August the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) referred to the matter of the issue of the “ nearest female relative “ badge, and asked whether a sister whose four brothers had enlisted should not be entitled to receive the bars as well as the badge, the mother of the soldiers having died during their absence on military service ?
I have been supplied with the following official statement on the subject: -
The right to a badge is vested in the female relatives, and a soldier has no rights in regard to the allotment of the badge, except in cases in which the recognised “ nearest female relatives “ are deceased, when the soldier may nominate in writing the female blood relation to whom the badge should be allotted.
Bars were authorized solely to indicate that a mother had more than one son serving abroad. ‘ If issued to sisters (married or unmarried) they could not, of course, convey the same meaning, and the issue would necessitate an alteration in principle to the regulations. A wide distribution of bars would be entailed, thus detracting vastly from the value now attached to the bars . issued to mothers only. Such alteration is not considered advisable.
In the case under review the person (mother) entitled to receive a badge was stated to be living during the absence of the sons on active service, and her right to the badge and bars was established, and in accordance with the information given in the House on the 18th September (Hansard, page 12530), such badge and bars would in the ordinary course on the decease of the mother revert to her heir or legatee - not the heir or legatee of the soldier - in this instance probably the father or the married sister in question.
The sister in this case claimed a badge, but apparently in her own right, and not as the legatee of her mother. If the sister sent neither husband nor son to the war she is clearly not in her own right entitled to any bars, and in the event of a claim being made by the father as legatee of the deceased mother, the badge issued to the sister (with bars added) would legally revert to the father. If the sister is the heir or legatee she is entitled to receive both badge and bars.
If particulars of the soldiers in question are furnished, the matter will be fully investigated.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence Act-Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1919, Nos. 212, 213, 217, 219.
Papers presented to the British Parliament -
Peace Treaty -
Rhine Provinces - Declaration by the Governments of the United States of America, Great Britain, and France in regard to the occupation of.
Rhine Territories - Agreement between the United States of America, Belgium, the British Empire, and France, and Germany with regard to the Military occupation of. Signed at Versailles, 28th June, 1919.
Poland - Treaty of Peace between the United States of America, the British Empire, France, Italy, and Japan, and Poland. Signed at Versailles, 28th June, 1919.
– I move -
That the House, at its rising,adjourn until Friday next.
To-morrow is a public holiday in the State of Victoria. It is Agricultural Show day, and the practice has been for this Parliament not to sit on that day or not to meet until after dinner. If we meet after dinner, it involves bringing back not only the Hansard staff, but also the Printing Office staff. If we adjourn until Friday at the usual hour of meeting, it will give honorable members the opportunity of seeing a fine exhibition of our primary industries, and, at the same time, conserve the best interests of all.
.- I have no recollection of this House having ever adjourned on the occasion of Agricultural Show day in Victoria. The Prime Minister’s proposal is an innovation.
– It is time we began to do so.
– It is time we began to pass some of the legislation which is absolutely necessary in the interests of the people. We complain about profiteering and about an increase in house rents, yet a proposal is put forward to take a holiday. We are here for the purpose of doing business. Honorable members come here from all parts of Australia, not for the purpose of attending an agricul tural show, but for the purpose of attending to their parliamentary duties. We are not justified in taking a holiday when the country is crying out for something to be done to put the financial position in proper order. No one knows what the financial position of the Commonwealth is-, and there is talk about having an. election at an early date.
– Are we to have an election at an early date?
– I do not know, but whatever time is at our disposal before the next election, it ought to be taken up with close consideration of the very pressing questions affecting the public to-day. This afternoon the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) stated that he did not know whether the Commonwealth had power to deal with people who are increasing the rents of houses occupied by returned soldiers. I hold the opinion that, without going to the people for additional powers, the Government can deal effectually with profiteering, and that they are in exactly the same position as when the proclamation was issued in 1914 declaring that we were in a state of war. That proclamation has not been lifted, and will not be until we ratify the agreements for the settlement of the war. We have the power to control the position, but, for some reason or other, we fail to use it. To endeavour to hoodwink the people for electioneering purposes is useless. We should tell them that we still have the power that we possessed during the war. Why procrastinate? Why adjourn to-morrow in order to attend an agricultural show in Melbourne? The people of Australia have their eyes on us. They expect to see something done, but all they get is a steady increase in the cost of living. Last month the cost went up again.
– Whatever may be the temptation to engage in excursions into other spheres of debate, the only question before the House is whether the House should at its rising adjourn until Friday next. The honorable member can give reasons why the House should not adjourn until Friday, but, in doing so, he will not be in order in discussing the merits of any other question.
– I shall endeavour to give reasons why the House should not adjourn over to-morrow. The financial position of the country is such that it is time we had soma statement in regard to it.
– It will be worse unless more interest is shown in agriculture.
– Attending the Melbourne Show will not help in that direction. There are agricultural shows in every part of Australia. The honorable member might just as well suggest that when the Sydney Agricultural Show is held the House should adjourn to enable honorable members who come from New South Wales to attend it. Is everything to be centralized in Melbourne? It appears to me that we have been so long here that we have come to the conclusion that Melbourne is the permanent Capital of Australia. Another reason why we should not adjourn to-morrow is furnished by the question of the Federal Capital. It is a pressing matter requiring attention ‘ from the Government. However, _it would seem that all these urgent questions can be brushed aside for the purpose of enabling honorable members to attend an agricultural show.
– This House does not sit when the Sydney Agricultural Show is held.
– Since the honorable member for Grampians has joined the Farmers’ party he. is taking quite a different view of things.’
– The honorable member for Grampians has put up the umbrella in time.
– I gave him credit for noticing in which direction the wind is blowing, and I have no doubt that other honorable members will follow his lead before much time has elapsed. There are many reasons why the Parliament should not adjourn over to-morrow. The Prime Minister has been back in Australia two or three weeks and does not appear yet to have obtained a grasp of affairs. Probably he has not had time to do so, but that is no reason why this House should adjourn. There is all the greater reason why the House should settle down and see what is to be done. We read in the newspapers every day that so and so is likely to happen, but we know nothing definite. No honorable member on the Government side knows what is likely to happen in regard to the general election. Members of this House are kept in complete ignorance of the Government’s intention.
– We on this side know as much as honorable members opposite.
– That is nothing.
– We adjourned last year on Melbourne Cup day. Is not the Royal Agricultural Show as important as the Melbourne Cup?
– I am not concerned about the Melbourne Cup, but I do- object to the House adjourning on account of the Show. Those honorable members who wish to attend the Show to-morrow will be free to do so. But we are sent here to do the business of the country, and we ought to do it before an appeal is made to the people. We are not justified in frittering away the time of the House in this fashion. I should vote against the motion, because I consider that New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania will each be entitled to the same concession if this Parliament is to suspend its business because of the Victorian Royal Agricultural Show. In accordance with the Constitution this Parliament ought to be sitting in Canberra, but Melbourne is being made the Federal Capital. I trust the House will not agree to this motion or, at any rate, that we shall have a division so that the names of those who are opposed to the adjournment may be placed on record.
– I agree with much that has been said by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), but Parliament has established a precedent by regularly adjournir in order to allow honorable members to indulge their sporting proclivities on Melbourne Cup day.
– The House does not sit on the day on which the Melbourne Cup is held.
– The House at one time met on Tuesdays, and whenever during the ten years I have been in Parliament the House has been in session when the Melbourne Cup was held, it was adjourned for a half day in order that honorable members might attend the meeting. Of the two engagements I think that the Victorian Royal Agricultural Show offers more justification for a half-holiday than does the Melbourne Cup. Flemington race-course and the Agricultural Show’ Grounds are in theelectorate of Maribyrnong which I represent, and my constituents are anxious that I should attend the Show tomorrow. But if the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) intends- to precipitate an election in December he is losing valuable time by adjourning over to-morrow. 1 am prepared to make up for that by meeting on an extra day next week. I hope the motion will be carried, because I believe that a great education is in store for those honorable members who will, attend the Show to-morrow.
.- This is a time at which we should encourage primary production as much as possible, and we shall be more fitted to do that if honorable members, particularly city representatives, will attend the ‘Royal Agricultural Show at Flemington and see what the primary producers are doing. However, if honorable members desire to attend the Show they ought to be prepared to make some sacrifice, and I suggest, as a compromise, that the House should meet to-morrow at 7.30 p.m. and, if necessary, sit all night. I am prepared to do my bit in this House, but at the same -time I desire to give the Victorian Royal Agricultural Show ‘ all possible help.
.- I am astounded that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) should move a special adjournment on account of the Victorian Royal Agricultural Show.
– Tell us why you are giving up your scat to Ryan.
– All I have to say is that I am still a member of the House, and I hope to be here for a number of years. Australia, in common with the rest of the world, is faced with some of the most pressing problems that we have ever had to deal with, and Parliament should be sitting regularly and attempting to solve them. Yet the Prime Minister proposes, in a light and airy fashion, that because an agricultural show is being held in Melbourne this House should adjourn. Apparently all our pressing problems can be set on one side; the conditions of the people do not matter; it is of no concern to us that the returned soldiers and their dependants have innumerable grievances. The one body that can deal with them effectively is to be closed up for a day so that honorable members may attend an agricultural show. Such shows are held all over Australia, and the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott), will admit that the Sydney Royal Agricultural Show is one of the finest in Australia.
– It is the finest.
– If honorable members desire education in matters agricultural and pastoral, the Sydney Show is the one they should attend. This is the first occasion on which Parliament has been asked to adjourn on account of the Melbourne Show.
– This is the first occasion on which the Royal Agricultural Show day in Melbourne , has been made one of the Commonwealth holidays.
– It is significant that this adjournment should be proposed two or three days after the candidate of the Farmers’ party defeated the Nationalist candidate for Echuca. After that reverse of the Nationalist party’s nominee, honorable members suddenly find that the interests of the country require the attendance of the whole of the members of this Parliament at an agricultural show.
– A more significant fact is that the Labour party was not game to nominate a candidate for Echuca.
– The Farmers’ party deserve congratulation >on having been able to defeat the Nationalist candidate so easily. If the Government continue to “ come down “ as readily as they have done in this case, it will not be long before we shall have the farmers living in a veritable paradise.
– Why was not the Caucus party game to run a candidate for the Echuca constituency ?
– We are gamer than are the Ministerial party.
– Why interrupt? Let the time conserver go on.
– I am endeavouring to conserve the time of the Parliament by urging the rejection of this motion. If by speaking now for two or three minutes I can succeed in adding a full working day to the sittings of the House, I shall indeed have been conserving its working hours.
– Then we will meet on Tuesday next, and if .the honorable member says much more, we will meet on Monday.
– Very well. The Prime Minister cannot bluff me with threats of that kind. He has said again and again that Australia is to be saved by work alone, and I accept that advice.
– I think the honorable member was absent last week. Why?
– I was doing the Lord’s work. In all seriousness, I would urge that there are. pressing problems awaiting our attention. On the noticepaper at the present time we have the following list of business: - Nauru Island Agreement Bill, Customs Bill, Trade Marks Bill, Lighthouses Bill, Institute of Science and Industry Bill, Shipbuilding Bill. Supply, Ways and Means, War Loan Subscription Bill, Australian Soldiers Repatriation Appropriation Bill, and a Ministerial Statement. The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) has also given notice of his intention to move for leave to bring in a, Bill to amend certain regulations under the War Precautions Act, while the Minister in charge of Shipbuilding (Mr. Poynton) has given notice of his intention to move for leave to bring in a Bill to set up a Commonwealth Government Shipping Line. All these must be matters of importance, otherwise they would not have been put on the notice-paper. If they are to be put on the business paper, and then thrust aside at the will of the Government, it is time that we closed up Parliament once and for all. Instead of proposing to adjourn over to-morrow,’ the Parliament should deal with those pressing problems which the Prime Minister has so eloquently told the people are awaiting our solution.
.- I- have two reasons for supporting the Prime. Minister’s proposal, and since such a lapse of virtue entails a certain measure of responsibilityand risk to myself, I venture to state what those reasons are. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) told his hearers at the Agricultural Show dinner yesterday that he had not gone there prepared to “ teach his grandmother how tosuck eggs.” Since hie return to Australia the right honorable gentleman has been so very busy that he has not had time to look well after the affairs of the country. I am prepared to give him more time, and also some eggs if he wishes to hatch anything. I am referring, not to Warwick, but to legislative eggs. If the Prime Minister thinks that by adjourning over tomorrow, or until next week, this House will put him in a better position to proceed with business, I am prepared to assist him to that extent, so that he may bring in the legislation that he has promised so freely, but which he seems to be so tardy in producing.
– Let the officers of the House have a holiday.
– That is my second reason. As the Prime Minister suggests that some expense would be involved in bringing the officers here tomorrow night, I am prepared in the interests of economy to give them a holiday. The Government say they cannot afford to expend £70 on the printing of a . very valuable and important document which has been prepared showing the prosecutions that have taken place under the War Precautions Act. That appears to be a mostalarming expenditure, but whether or not it would be a beneficial expenditure depends entirely on the point of view. As the meeting of the House tomorrow night would probably cost £15 8s. 6d., or something like that, I can understand that in the interests of economy it would be advisable to adjourn until Friday. I think the Prime Minister’s proposal is an eminently proper one. I am certainly of opinion, as the result of previous visits to the Show, that it is an advantage for members to see what is there. The only regret I have is that honorable members do not have an opportunity to visit, the Brisbane Show, and thus to learn what Queensland, the best State of all, can produce.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 26
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I mover -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This is a . Bill to approve the’ agreement made1 between- the Government of the United Kingdom, the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Government of New Zealand’, the terms of which are set out in the schedule.
Before I proceed to deal with the agreement itself, some general observations are necessary in regard to Nauru, its pre-war position, the circumstances in which it was- taken over- from Germany, and the value and nature of its phosphatic deposits. Nauru, a a honorable members are, no doubt, aware-, is a very small island, about 5-,0(J0 acres in extent, situated a few miles to the south of the equator, and in about the same latitude as Ocean Island.Before the war this island was part of the German Empire, and on the outbreak of the war, or shortly afterwards - in’ fact, on the 19th August - the British authorities suggested to the Commonwealth Government that it should occupy Nauru, in common with all the rest of the islands of the Bismarck Archipelago. In November, the- intervening time having been spent in the occupation of New Guinea and the adjacent islands, Australian Forces from Rabaul took possession of Nauru, andi are there now, having remained in occupation ever since. So much for the sovereignty of the island.. It was German before the war,, it wasoccupied at the outbreak of the war, oralmost immediately after, by the Australian troops, and is garrisoned by them’ now.
Now, a word, as to the mandate-that is to say; the tenure under which the sovereignty of the. island is held at pre. sent. In considering the question of the mandates, the Allies and Associated Powers decided that all the islands in the Pacific south of the line, excepting Samoa and Nauru, should be vested in the Commonwealth of Australia. . Samoa went to New Zealand’, and the Council of Four decided that the mandate for Nauru was to be vested in the- British Empire as distinguished from, any particular part thereof. Nauru then became a domestic question to be settled by the various members of the Empire amongst themselves.
On behalf of the Commonwealth’, I pressed the claim of Australia to control Nauru under exactly the same terms’ and conditions as the other islands of the Archipelago. I shall not trouble honorable members with any further reference to the negotiations that ensued beyond saying that they were long, difficult, and finally settled by the agreement which honorable members, have now before them. The joint control, of this island was conferred upon Britain, Australia, and New Zealand by the British ‘ Delegation - that body, as I said* previously in. this House, which is usually called the Imperial Cabinet - a body made up of representatives of the various self-governing Dominions of the United Kingdom and of India. The mandate was vested by the Council of the Four in the British Empire. It was left to the various members of the Empire to decide who should administer, it- and work the phosphates. . ,
This brings me to the next point to which’ I wish to draw the attention of honorable members. Before the war the ownership of the island:, as distinguished from its sovereignty - that is to say, the ownership of the phosphates and the right to work them- had been acquired by a British company,, in which . there was at that time a very large German, holding. The German element has been of course, eliminated. “.I am not prepared, to say what is the nature of the title of this British, company to this island-. I am’ not prepared to admit that it has- any title. I am here to protect the interests of the Commonwealth,, but honorable members, if they look, at the agreement, will see in- what way the rights.’, if any, of this company, or any, company, to this island- are to be acquired. The purpose of the agreement, is to make the’ phosphates available at cost price to the three parties to the agreement - the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Dominion of New Zealand - on the basis of the agricultural requirements of .each. That is to be the basis cai which each one of these parties , is to participate in the phosphatic deposits of Nauru, subject to the terms of the agreement as set out in the schedule, which dennes clearly the proportions to which each one is actually entitled.
Phosphatic deposits are immensely valuable. I do not speak now of the phosphatic deposits on Nauru only, but of phosphatic ‘deposits generally. They are essential not’ merely to our agriculture, but to agriculture the world over. The world’s production of rock phosphate before the war was about 7,000,000 tons’ a year. Of that the United States produced about 3,000,000 tons, and Algeria and Tunis between them another 3,000,000 tons, the balance being made up from Ocean Island, Christmas Island - which is in the Straits Settlements - and Nauru. The pre-war production of Nauru was somewhere between 90,000 and 100,000 tons a year, and that of Ocean Island about 250,000 tons.
Before I deal with the extent to which phosphates are at present required for agricultural and pastoral purposes in Australia, I should like to say something as to .the estimated value of this island. As I have said, its actual output before the war was between 90,000 and 100,000 tons a year, while the f.o.b. price before the war was 30s., and, during the war, about £2. It is difficult to get a reliable estimate of the extent’ and value of the phosphates on the island, of Nauru, for the estimates given differ very widely. A conservative estimate puts it at S0,000,000 tons, another even as low as 42,000,000 tons. Beyond stating that it is a very valuable property, I shall not commit myself to any definite figure. To all intents and purposes, the whole island is made up of phosphatic rock, which some of those best able to judge consider to be worth hundreds of millions. In an article in the West Australian on the 23rd August of this year, Lieutenant Gordon Clifton states that the island is practically one mass of phosphates; that there are approximately 80,000,000 tons in view, and that scientists assert that there are between 430,000,000 and 450,000,000 tons of phosphates available. That writer also states that it is calculated that, given reasonable shipping facilities, the depositis -sufficient to supply present-day de’,mands- -that is ‘the whole world’s demands - for at least 100 years. That, of course, is a statement for which the writer must take full responsibility, but I give it for what it is worth. It is quite as valuable as the one I quoted previously, and the nian who wrote the article has, at least, had the advantage of seeing the place, and is, I believe,, an expert. Then, again, in giving evidence before the Inter-State Commission, Mr. King, of the Pacific Phosphate Company, speaking of the value as dis.tinguished ‘from the amount of phosphates, said -
From Nauru in 1914 there was exported between 90,000 and .100,000 tons of ‘phosphates. It was estimated that, of the- 5,600 acres which formed the total area of the island, 4,500 acres contained phosphate deposits to the extent of some 300,000,000 tons. The total value of the deposits on Nauru might be put down at £375,000,000.
I am unable to say how far such evidence may be regarded as conclusive, but merely give it for what it is worth. That the phosphatic deposits on Nauru are valuable is beyond all question, and it is also certain that our share under the agreement is ample for our requirements ‘for the next hundred years.
Without .phosphates Australia cannot progress. .We are a progressive nation, and year .by year require a greater supply of this necessity. Thi3 agreement, which vests in us, as one of the parties, 42 .per cent, of the total output of the island, gives us a most valuable asset, not one that endureth for- a day, but an asset that will last for a century or more. It will give the ‘agriculture of this country, at a reasonable .rate, the material which is its very life blood. We shall be able to sell phosphates to the farmer at cost price; that is- to say, the price at which the Commission is able to get the phosphatic rock into the ship, transport it to the port of discharge, and there turn the rock into the form in which it is immediately available for use by the farmer. The agreement, therefore, is of immense ‘importance to the agricultural, and even the pastoral, welfare of Australia, and will be some set-off against the huge expenditure which -we incurred during the war.
I call the attention of the House to ‘ some figures bearing on the terms of ‘the agreement, the application of which honorable members will readily see for themselves. It is estimated that the requirements of Australia in imported phosphates for the next few years will be 200,000 tons per annum. “We imported during the year 1914-15 173,000 tons, and during the year 1915-16 .190,000 tons of phosphates from Nauru and Ocean Island. No less than 88 per cent, of all our imports of phosphates of all kinds were rock phosphates from those two islands. The United Kingdom imported only 50,000 tons of rock phosphates from the Pacific Islands, although it imported 562,000 tons from all countries. Thus the United Kingdom imported less- than 10 per cent, of its requirements .in the form of rock phosphates from the Pacific. The prices given to me, which I give to the House for what they are worth, assuming’ that they are . 1914 prices, although they may he 1915 prices, are: Guano, £4 5s. per ton; superphosphates, £3 3s. per ton ; and rock phosphates, £2 7s. 8d. per ton. Of guano, we imported only 100 tons in 1914-15, and 90 tons in 1915-16, ‘but 13,000 tons in 1916-17, when ‘ we were unable to get superphosphates.
The artificial manures used in Australia, covering, not merely phosphates, but all varieties, amounted in 1915-16 to 381,000 tons, and in 1916-17 to 346,000 tons, so that 58 per cent, of all the artificial manures used in this country were rock phosphates. Honorable members will, therefore, see what a tremendous influence this agreement will have on the welfare and progress of the agriculture of the Commonwealth. “We shall have at once an assured supply at the cheapest possible rates that can be obtained in the world, because the article will be obtained at cost price. I direct attention, also, to the fact that we get, in addition to this, our share of any profits on the sale of all phosphates over and above what we consume in Australia. .
This very valuable property is to be acquired in the way set out in the schedule, at a fair valuation. Article 7 provides -
Any right, title, or interest which the Pacific Phosphate Company or any person may have in the said deposits, land, buildings, plant, and equipment (so - far as such right, title, and interest is not dealt with by the Treaty of Peace) shall be converted into a claim for compensation at a fair valuation.
That means that if any right, title, or interest is held by an enemy it ils covered by the Treaty of Peace, and . we need not concern ourselves with it. If it is held by a British company, or by some person other than an enemy, it is to be acquired at a fair valuation. The method agreed upon between Lord Milner, Mr. Massey, and myself was that Lord Milner should endeavour to make an agreement with the company ‘at what was considered by all of us to be a fair price, and that, failing an agreement, the matter should go to arbitration in the usual way. I do not intend to indicate to the House what we consider a fair price. If I gave too low a figure, I should mislead the House, and if I gave a figure higher than that which it is worth it would be used by the company in the proceedings before the arbitrator, or in their negotiations with the Secretary of State. I did, however, mention a figure, to the Secretary of State, beyond which we are not prepared to go without consultation. If the matter comes down to a direct affair, and is not referred, to arbitration, that figure, of course, will be presented to this Parliament, which can express its own opinion on it.
An important point not raised in this agreement, but nevertheless dealt with during the course of the negotiations between the Governments of Great Britain, New Zealand, and the Commonwealth of Australia, as represented by their respective delegates, is the acquisition of Ocean Island. Its acquisition is quite outside the agreement, but it is owned- by the same company. They say, “ You are going to acquire Nauru, and one of two things will happen. Either you will ruin our business, or we shall- compete with you in those markets where you must find openings for your excess products.” Probably. the consideration which moved them in the matter at all was the disastrous , effect that our competition would have upon them. It is evident that when a company which had a monopoly, as this company had, for all practical purposes in the Pacific, is faced with an agreement which takes that monopoly from them, and raises up not merely a powerful competitor, but a competitor which can defy them, the value of their shares is forced down on the market, and the value of their property seriously depreciated. So it is probable that we shall ask Par- liament to consider the taking over of Ocean Island also. That, however, will form the subject of another agreement. The taking over of Ocean Island would be of incalculable benefit to Australia, and I can think of no better business deal to which this country could commit itself. We shall go into that business, of course; with the United Kingdom and New Zealand, but with the United Kingdom, anyhow. If by any chance New Zealand should not ratify this agreement, Great Britain and Australia - assuming this Parliament will ratify it - will take the whole thing over. Therefore the position is one for this Parliament to determine for itself. I hope that I have made the position clear in regard to Ocean Island. Under this Bill we incur no liability in regard to it, . but it is very much to our interests to secure it, in order that we may be in a position to work both deposits or either to meet the requirements of the market. We shall be able to work the two of them more cheaply.
– Will you work them both under an agreement similar to this?
– Yes ; they would come ipso facto under the control of the three Commissioners referred to in this Bill.
The agreement itself requires very little explanation beyond the general one which I have already put before the House. The Administrator is to preserve law and- order. He is responsible for the government, of the country as prescribed by .the mandate; that is to say, there shall be no slavery, or forced labour, and no sale of alcohol to indigenes; the .island cannot be fortified, and. so on. In all respects otherwise he is vested with the powers of an ordinary Administrator or Governor in regard to the maintenance of law and order. His functions are quite- distinct from those of the Commissioners. Article 1 provides that he shall have power to make Ordinances for the peace, order, and good government of the island subject to the terms of the agreement, and particularly - but so as not to limit the generality of the foregoing provisions - to provide for the education of children on the island, to establish and maintain the necessary police force, and to establish and appoint Courts and magistrates with civil and criminal jurisdiction. The first Administrator is to be appointed for a term, of five years by the Australian Government. All the expenses of the administration, including the remuneration of the Administrator and of the Commissioners, so far as they are not met by other revenues, are to be defrayed out of the proceeds of the sales of the phosphates.
– Are not our soldiers in occupation of the island?
– We were asked by the British Government to protect the interests of the Pacific Phosphate Company, and we placed soldiers on the island to do so.
I come now to the business side of this agreement. There are to be three Commissioners - one to be appointed by the Government of the United Kingdom, one to be appointed by the Government of New Zealand, and the other to be appointed by the Commonwealth Government. Each Commissioner is to hold office during the pleasure of the Government appointing him and the three Governments, or, if they are unable to agree, the majority are to fix the remuneration of the Commissioners. The title to the phosphate deposits and to all land, buildings, plant, and - equipment on .the island used in connexion with the working of the deposits will be vested in the Commissioners.
This is a business proposal, and the working of these deposits must be carried out on business lines. Three Governments are concerned in the agreement, and obviously no political influence of any kind can be permitted. The Commissioners cannot be interfered with in the exercise of their functions. . A Government can remove its Commissioner and appoint another in his place, but no one Government can interfere with the Commissioners in carrying out their work, and the whole three Governments can only interfere by varying the agreement itself.
– That is provided for in Article 13 governing the Commissioners, but why does not that article also govern the Administrator ?
– The Administrator is in quite a different position. He is to be appointed by the three Governments. They take it in turn to make the appoinment.
He is limited by the terms of the agreement. He must not interfere with the -Commissioners in the working of the phosphate deposits. He cannot go outside the terms of the agreement nor of those of the mandate, but under the agreement there are certain duties imposed on him, such as the education of children and others I have already mentioned. Civil administration is one thing; the conduct of a business quite another. Governments have a right to control civil . administration, but this is a business proposition in which three Parliaments, possibly with conflicting interests, are concerned. Who would set his name to an agreement which could be rendered- absolutely worthless by the interference of a Parliament over which we had absolutely no control i Whatever we. may think of doing in this country, we cannot allow other people to interfere and say what we are or are hot to do.
Article 7 provides for the taking over of the interests of the Pacific Phosphate Company at a’ fair valuation, . and the amount of ‘the compensation decided upon is to be contributed by the Governments of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Dominion of New Zealand, in proportions to be mutually agreed upon, or, in the event of their failing to allot proportions, within three months of this agreement coming into force, then in the same proportion as the first allotment of phosphates under Article 14. That Article says that each of the three Governments shall be entitled to an allotment of the phosphates produced each year in the following proportions : -
United Kingdom - 42 per cent.
Australia - 42 per cent.
New Zealand - 16 per cent.
Those are the proportions in which we shall contribute towards the compensation to be paid to the Pacific Phosphate Company. We shall pay 42 per cent… the United Kingdom 42 per cent., and New Zealand 16 per cent. In turn, we are entitled to 42 per cent, of the output, the United Kingdom to 42 per cent, of the output, and New Zealand to 16 per cent, of the output.
Article 9 provides that the deposits shall be worked and sold under the direction, management, and control of the Commissioners, subject to the terms of the agreement, and .that it shall be the duty of the Commissioners to dispose of the phosphates according to the agricultural requirements of the United Kingdom; Australia, and New Zealand. This article is of fundamental importance. There ds no fixed proportion for the distribution of the phosphates; the agricultural requirements of the three countries are to be ascertained, and upon that basis each has a right, to a proportion of the phosphates on the Island of Nauru. I have already explained that 88 per cent, of Australia’s importations of phosphates came from the two Pacific islands, Ocean Island and Nauru Island. On the other hand, Britain took less than 10 per cent, of her total importations of phosphates from these two islands. Naturally, our geographical position, compared with hers, serves to prove that we shall be the greatest gainers under this agreement, because we are near at hand while she is far off. She can get her phosphates from Algiers, ‘Tunis, and America. If Britain takes her supplies from Nauru or Ocean Island she must pay freight on a water carriage of 13,000 or 14,000 miles. Australia, on ‘the other hand, is within 2,000 or 3,000 miles of the deposits. Article 10 provides -
The Commissioners shall not, except with the unanimous consent of the three Commissioners, sell or supply any phosphates to, or for shipment to, any country or place other than the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
The Commissioners, cannot, without general consent, sell to any country other than the three parties to. the agreement.
– Does not the use of the word “ agricultural “ in Article 9 limit the possible extension of the use of phosphates for other purposes?
– The word “ agricultural” would cover all requirements relating to the land, but not those relating to manufacture, and certainly would not cover treatment and export. Suppose that Great Britain took 100,000 tons of phosphates, manufactured it, and exported it, she would not in that case enjoy the benefits of Article 9. If Britain does not use her fair share of the output, Australia and New Zealand would be entitled to the quantity not required by Britain, in the proportions of 42 and 16 per cent. On the other hand, if Australia sells to the world that portion of Britain’s share, the three parties to the agreement - the
United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand - will be entitled to the profits arising from such sales in the proportions of 42, 42, and 16 per cent.
Article 11 provides -
Phosphates’ shall be supplied to the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand at the same f.o.b. price, to he fixed by the Commissioners on a basis which will cover . working expenses, cost of management, contribution to Administrative expenses, interest on capital, a sinking fund for the redemption of capital and for other purposes’ unanimously agreed on by the Commissioners and other charges.
Any phosphates not required by the three Governments may be sold by the Commissioners’ at the best price obtainable.
These charges must be unanimously agreed upon, but they . are such as are usually debited against any ordinary business. It is very important to note the last paragraph in that Article, in view of the evidence of Mr. King, that the value of the phosphates on Nauru Island alone is £375,000,000, and another statement, by Lieutenant Clifton, that the deposits are estimated at between 430,000,000 and 450,000,000 tons. It is only fair to say that, although the output of Nauru was only 100,000 tons per annum, it can be increased to 300,000 tons per annum without any trouble whatever. I ask honorable members to note that we not only get our own agricultural requirements but, if we like to develop the deposits, we can have an abundance to sell to the world at the world’s price, and we shall share in the profits resulting therefrom on the basis of 42 percent, each to the United Kingdom and Australia, and 16 per cent, toNew Zealand. Article 12 amplifies what I have already said. Article 13 states -
There shall be no- interference by any of the three Governments with the direction, management, or control of the business of working, shipping, or selling the phosphates, and each of the three Governments binds itself not to do or to permit any act or thing contrary to or inconsistent with the terms and purposes of this agreement.
I have already dealt with that condition ; but I again emphasize it, because in my opinion it is very necessary. It would be a monstrous thing if by some political action the Commissioners for New Zealand or the United Kingdom could interfere with our interests to our detriment. Political action, therefore, is eliminated entirely. We have control, over- our Com missioner; we can substitute another if we choose; but we cannot, and we have no right to, do anything more. The position is very much the same as it is in any ordinary company. Every shareholder has an interest, and every director is appointed to represent such interests. The shareholders may remove a director, but they cannot alter the memoranda of agree ment except as prescribed by law.
With Article 14 I need not deal further, except to point out that besides prescribing the proportions in which the phosphates are to be allotted, it provides that such supplies shall be for home consumption for agricultural purposes in the country of allotment, and not for export. That is. most favorable to Australia, because, perhaps, ten years hence we shall be using half as much again, and possibly twice as much phosphates as we use now. We are near to the source of supply, whilst Britain is afar off. She can get phosphates much closer at hand, and no matter what the f.o.b. price of the deposits at Nauru Island may be, it will probably always pay Britain better’ to get some, if not all, of her phosphates from America and Algiers. Another paragraph of Article 14 reads -
At the expiration of the period of five years from the coming into force of this agreement, and every five years thereafter, the basis of allotment shall be re-adjusted in accordance with the actual requirements of each country.
That again is favorable to us. Consider the circumstances of Britain contrasted with those of Australia. Britain is a country whose opportunities of agricultural development . are obviously limited. She may expand still further in that direction, but such . expansion must necessarily be small. Australia, on the other hand, has just begun to till the soil. People -who are living 100 years hence will look back upon, these days, and speak of what we are doing, as the Americans of to-day look back at the men who clustered about Washington, or lived prior to- his time. Because honorable members must remember that the strides made now not only in production generally, but particularly in primary production, are such that no man can set a limit to what this country will produce fifty years, or even twenty years, hence.
I call attention to the next paragraph -
If in any year any of the three Governments does not require any portion of its allotment, the other Governments shall be entitled, so far as their requirements for home consumption extend, to have that portion allotted among themselves in the proportions of the percentages to which they are entitled as above.
If Britain does not take all the phosphates to which she is entitled, Australia and New Zealand may claim the balance, which is to be divided in the proportion of 42 to 16. If we use that portion for agricultural requirements, we shall get it at the f .o.b. price. If, on the other hand, we sell it elsewhere, then, of course, as already stated, the three countries will share in whatever profit is made over and above the cost of production and marketing. The last paragraph of Article 14 reads -
Where any proportion of the allotment of one of the Governments is not taken up by that’ Government, that Government shall, when the phosphates are sold, be credited with the amount of the cost price as fixed by the Commissioners under the first paragraph of Article 11; but if such phosphates are sold to a purchaser other than one of the Governments any profit above the said cost price shall be carried to the surplus fund mentioned in Article 12
That is to say, we shall pay the f.o.b. price for it. . If, on the other hand, it is sold in open market, where it may fetch twice as much as the f.o.b. price, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand will share proportionately.
I do not think I need say any more in explanation of the Bill. The agreement is very clear, and speaks for itself. It is the result of long negotiations, and I commend it most heartily and unreservedly to the House. By virtue of this arrangement, Australia gets access to a commodity which is vital to her primary industries. It gives the Australian producer an opportunity by providing cheaper manures to compete on more equal terms with competitors in other parts of the world. It does something to remove that handicap which is imposed upon him by reason of his remoteness from the great centres of Europe where he finds his market. It provides him with a cheaper article, thereby making farming more profitable, and therefore more desirable, and so is a direct incentive to land settlement. The most effective ways of getting people to settle on the land is to make work on the land profitable. When you have done that you need not write prospectuses or stories about “ Back to the Land.” People will go always where they can get a good profit; that is human nature. This is a very material and obvious means by which the lot of the man on the land can be made more desirable, because more profitable. I wish . to emphasize again the fact that we are dealing with a matter of tremendous value, not only to the farmer, but also to the people of Australia. In all human probability, we shall take over the control of Ocean Island as well as Nauru Island, but even if we do not, we shall be dealing with an asset of immense value. The deposits on Nauru may not be worth £375,000,000, as was estimated by Mr. King, but they are obviously worth £80,000,000, £90,000,000, or £100,000,000. The island will produce more phosphates than Australia will require. . We can sell some of the surplus in the markets of the world, and so relieve the taxpayer of some, although not much, of the burden which otherwise would fall entirely on his shoulders. For all these reasons - because this agreement is good for the farmer, because on the basis of land settlement the welfare of Australia must rest; because our problem now is to get people from the great cities on to the land ; because at- this particular time, when our young men have returned from abroad with their minds unsettled,’ it is of the highest importance to get them to see in the land an avenue’ that opens wider and wider, and becomes more and more attractive, and is less limited than are avenues provided by the great cities; and because these phosphates are an asset of great value to the whole community, I hope that the agreement will be ratified without delay.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who is in the fortunate position of having discussed and assisted to draw up the agreement covered by this Bill, so that he is familiar with its terms, objects to the adjournment of the debate, and the Opposition, who saw it for the first - time on Friday last, are therefore placed at a serious disadvantage. If the action of the Government in this case is to be taken as a precedent, it means that w© shall b© called upon to proceed with the discussion of every measure as soon as the motion for its second reading has been moved. I call attention to this want of consideration for the Opposition, which places us in a very awkward position.
The Prime Minister might well have stated whether it is intended that these phosphates, on being brought to Australia, are to be converted into merchantable manures by private enterprise or by the Government.
– The conversion of the phosphatic rock into merchantable manures will go on as at present.
– I am asking for a statement from the Government.
– Surely that question is not dealt with under the agreement.
– Obviously, what we are to do with the phosphatic rock when we bring it here will have to be decided after Parliament has ratified the agreement.
– It seems, then, that we are to bring the phosphates to Australia and to sell them here to private firms at the f.o.b. price, Nauru or Ocean Island, plus freight and certain profits. We, apparently, are to hand them over to the Mount Lyell Company, the Wallaroo and Moonta Mines Company, or other companies engaged in the manufacture of fertilizers. If that be so, what guarantee have we that such firms will charge the farmers a fair ‘price for their manures? Once we hand over the raw material to private firms or companies they will be able to do what it is said they have done in the past. When I held office as Minister for Trade and Customs it was represented to me that Australian manufacturers of superphosphates were selling their manures in New Zealand at a price below that demanded by them in the Commonwealth. I was informed that they had agreed -to a certain fixed price for their manures in Australia, and were not competing with each other.
– I rise to order. I ask Mr. Deputy Speaker whether, in discussing this agreement made between three Governments, and in no wise affecting the domestic policy of any one of them, it is in order for an honorable member to canvass the domestic policy of any of the countries concerned ?
– So far as I have followed the honorable member, he has not de parted from the discussion of the agreement, and he is therefore not out of order.
– I do hot intend to continue at any length this line of argument, although the honorable member’s interposition might well lead me to elaborate the point.
– As sole suppliers of raw material, surely we are in a better position to dictate to the manufacturers what shall be the price of the manufactured article than we would be if we did not. control the raw material.
– It is quite possible for these manufacturers to import phosphates from other places.
– And compete with us.
– Quite so. The point that I wish to emphasize is that it is idle for the Prime Minister, immediately after the Echuca by-election, to paint for the benefit of the farmers a glowing picture of cheap manures as the result of this agreement when the Government are not actually providing for anything of the kind.
– But this is a big thing and a step in the right direction.
– Some time ago we provided for a bonus for the discovery of phosphatic deposits in Australia. That also was a step in the right direction, but unfortunately the bonus has .not yet been claimed. The Prime Minister says that, as a result of this agreement, the Government will be able to give the farmers cheap manures; but if the conversion of the phosphatic rock into manures is to remain in the hands of private companies there is no foundation for such a statement. It would seem that the Prime Minister’s promise in regard to this matter, like many others made in. the course of an election campaign, ‘is a promise made only to be broken.
I have been reading up this question, and I find that while the deposits on Ocean Island are probably the best in the’ world those found in Nauru compare very favorably with them. Under the Treaty of Peace the disposition of the Island of Nauru is determined, while under this agreement provision is made for the payment of compensation to the Pacific Phosphate Company which controlled the export of phosphatic rock from the island before the war. ‘ Before the war the whole of the island was nominally controlled by Germany, but the export of its phosphatic deposits was controlled by the Pacific Phosphate Company, which, I believe, also owns Ocean Island. While the agreement was under discussion in England it was stated in the press that that company intended to make an enormous claim for compensation. I should like to know what capital was invested by it in connexion with its operations there. Great care will certainly have to be exercised in the appointment of an arbitrator:
– What amount does the company ask by way of compensation?
– Some millions.
– The agreement provides that it shall only receive compensation on a fair valuation.
– I am aware of that.
Apart from the compensation to be paid the company, there are several other points which demand consideration. One of these relates to the treatment of the natives. . Under the terms of the mandate granted to us the natives are not to be supplied with alcohol or firearms, and fortifications on the island are prohibited. Missionaries are to be permitted to continue their work on the island, and, according to articles I have read, many missionary societies, are competing for the good-will of the natives. It has. been stated that in order to compel the natives or coolies to work for it, the Pacific Phosphate Company has been destroying the cocoanut trees, and in other ways making it impossible for the natives to exist unless they work for it. It is said that there has been in the past a system of forced native labour on both Ocean Island and Nauru. I hope that when the Administrator takes charge that system will not be tolerated, and that the natives will be allowed to secure a livelihood without being forced to work on- these deposits.
In the first article of the agreement it is provided that the administration of the islands shall be vested in an Administrator who shall be appointed for a term of five years by the Commonwealth, and that’ thereafter the Administrator shall be appointed in such manner as the three Governments decide. It is also provided in the agreement that the remuneration of the Commissioners shall be fixed by the
Governments, but we do not know who is to fix the remuneration of the Administrator.
– The three Governments concerned.
– That is not set out in the agreement. Under Article 10 phosphates are not to be sold to any country or place other than the United Kingdom, Australia, or New Zealand, except -with the unanimous consent of the three Commissioners. I am hopeful that we shall be able to utilize the whole of our proportion of 42 per cent. Last year we imported a little over 100,000 tons of phosphatic rock, and the whole of this was employed in the manufacture of manures to be used in Australia ; but portion of the manufactured manure was sold in New Zealand. I hope we shall have such domestic legislation as will prevent any company from selling abroad at a rate lower than that prevailing in Australia.
– We are taking a step in the right direction in that regard by getting control of the raw material.
– We shall have to control the manufactured article.
– But surely this is a fair start.
– I have no objection to the Commonwealth controlling the raw material. The manufacturers who are turning our raw materials into the finished article to-day are receiving less in proportion than the people who handle the finished articles.
– Then there is not much ground for the honorable member’s objection that if we did not control the manufacture of the manures made from these phosphates the farmer would be robbed. .
– He will be charged a higher rate than he ought to be charged by the manufacturer and his agents. These manufacturers sell only to certain people. If the honorable member knows the way the business is worked, he will realize the position. Only yesterday I heard it. said by some people who were chatting about the Echuca election that the farmers were now getting direct representation instead of representation through Melbourne men and agents. If the proposal before us will do away with some of the agents, it will so far be beneficial; and I. only hope the Government will go a step further than is proposed.
It must not be forgotten that phosphatic rock is practically of no use without the addition of sulphuric acid or some other treatment in order to convert it into a marketable article. Mr. Thomas J. McMahon, in an article in. World’s Work’, says -
There are hundreds of Japanese employed at Ocean Island, and hundreds of Chinese at Nauru, supplemented by hundreds of natives from the Gilbert andEllice Group, the Marshalls, and the Carolines, and small numbers of Ocean and Nauru islanders.
These phosphatic deposits are of greatimportance to our farmers, because in Australia their application has resulted . in an increased yield. The Germans, instead of utilizing these deposits, were, as stated in the article to which I have referred, “ walking on millions.” Their objective was a submarine base, and they had there one of the most powerful stations, if not the most powerful, in the world, from which, even after the war, they could speak to Berlin. This island has now been taken over by the various Governments, though not in accordance with this agreement, because the destiny of the island was fixed by the Treaty of Peace. The natives of this island, according to the article in World’s Work, sent a petition to King George after the occupation by the Australians, asking that under no circumstances should they be returned to the administration of Germany.
– Is there anything in the article as to the number of native inhabitants ?
– I think not, but the total number of inhabitants is about 2,000. Germany attached Nauru to the Marshall Islands, although Nauru wag 300 miles away and Ocean Island was the nearest. I believe that the headquarters of this British company were at one time in Sydney, and many Australians have gone to work for the company ; at any rate, I know some Australians who are working for the company in Ocean Island, though not on Nauru. Although both islands are under the same management, Nauru has been worked to a great extent , only since the Avar began, before which there was not much export of phosphates. The reason for this was that the island was in German occupation, and the company did not get to work; and, on the face of it, it would appear as if the company had anticipated making “ something good” out of the enterprise. That is why I expressed the hope that great care will be exercised ‘in the appointment of the arbitrator who has to decide what price shall be paid.
– There is no provision for arbitration under the agreement, but only for fair valuation.
– I certainly thought there was a provision for arbitration, and doubtless the three Governments will do something in that direction. I should . certainly object if any company was placed in a position to be able to bleed the three Governments in the matter of compensation. .
-The agreement provides only for “ fair” compensation.
– But “ fair” compensation depends on the point of view, and the Pacific Phosphate Company, which has the title to the machinery, land, and so forth, is the vendor. At the time the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was negotiating the agreement, a cable message appeared in the Herald objecting, in the interests of . Australia, to the price asked by the company. Although this island was held by the Germans, the British company practically controlled the whole, and the employees were Australians . and other Britishers. As in the case of Ocean Island, the company pretty well ruled the place ; but since the war the British Government have made both Ocean Island and Nauru a Crown Colony under a Governor or Administrator. Since the Avar, Japan has started to work other material from the Carolines,which is said to be of inferior grade; but before the war Japan took nearly as much phosphatic rock from Nauru as Ave did from Ocean Island. Since then, however, Japan has gone to the Carolines. British and German experts, we are told, say that there is not the unlimited quantity of phosphates at Nauru that some persons imagine. It has been estimated by these experts that the quantity is about 40,000,000 tons, and not 400,000,000 tons, as stated by others. It is quite possible, of course, that if the company was trying to attract more capital, the larger figure may have been mentioned in the prospectus.
Although there is to be a triple ownership of these islands, I presume that the agreement will provide for one. set of officials; that, although there is to be an Administrator and three Commissioners appointed by the Governments concerned, the Administrator will confine himself to civil matters, and the Commissioners to the business side. At any rate, I hope there will be only one set pf officials, and not three.
I should have preferred, before we were asked to vote on this agreement, to see the mandate about which we have heard so much. As matters stand, we are .asked to assent to this agreement before we have even seen the conditions. I hope that the rosy picture painted . by the Prime Minister will be realized, and that our farmers will be assured of an adequate supply of phosphates. It will then only remain to be seen that the persons who have the handling of the material do not charge more than a fair price.
– The farmers will see to that.
– Here we have the Leader, or the Deputy Leader, of the Country party speaking for his followers. It is quite possible that members of the party to which I have the honour to belong had a little influence on the Echuca election on Saturday; at any rate, judging by the advertisements I saw, there were nearly as many speakers for the Nationalist candidate as there were votes polled for that gentleman. However, I regret exceedingly that the Prime Minister has not afforded us an opportunity to see the mandate.
– He has not the mandate here.
– And, of course, we have not seen it.
– You may regard our system of administration already as an ideal to which the mandate approximates.
– Does the honorable gentleman mean that the administration of Nauru will he on ‘the same lines as the administration of «the Northern Territory?
– No; I was speaking of territories under our control, and the Northern Territory is not under our control in that sense, but is part of Australia.
– I regret exceedingly that the Minister has not shown us the mandate, and also that he declined to grant the ordinary courtesy of an adjournment of the debate on the motion for the second reading.
– The remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) are a matter of some surprise to me. One would have expected him to be among the first to give very cordial support to an agreement such as this, which practically gives us the control of the raw material of a most important industry.
– Not if the article issupplied at an excessive price.
– My honorable friend went on further to cast reflections upon the manufacturers of superphosphates throughout Australia. They were most unworthy reflections, because it is well known that no section of the community “played the game” during the war to a better or greater extent than they did. They did not in any way take advantage of war conditions, or seek to increase their profits; on the contrary, they satisfied themselves with a modest return on capital. I remember reading in the newspapers some time ago a statement by one. of our largest manufacturers, with property, plant, and machinery worth something like £250,000 for the manufacture of superphosphates, that during the progress of the war his return did not exceed more than 3 per cent. It is well known that very few, if any, manufacturers of superphosphates charged or received more than 5 per cent, during that period. They refused to put up their prices against the farmer. They were content with a smaller price, and are entitled rather to credit for having done so than to reflections such as have been made by my honorable friend, with, I am sure, a want of knowledge of the facts.
The island of Nauru, is so far as its ownership and control are concerned, is to be transferred from the German Empire to the British Empire. That is a matter concerning which we have to offer our distinguished delegates our heartiest congratulations. In this, as in other respects, they have, indeed, made a most excellent ‘bargain. By it they have given a certain amount of guarantee to the agricultural interests of Australia that they will not lack fer- tilizers in the future. That will be a useful factor in regard to agricultural development. But what gave me most gratification in the Prime Minister’s speech was the statement that this undertaking was to be conducted absolutely as a business proposition, without any political interference whatever.
The right honorable gentleman gave the specially valuable information “that negotiations are to take place for the acquisition of Ocean Island ‘also. If we were to be confined to the management of Nauru Island, we could not hope to produce rock phosphates there at anything like the price at which they can be turned out by the present private company, which has the great and allimportant advantage of working the two islands together, under one manager, one set of engineers, one supervision and organization, one supply ship for stores, and so on, and above all, the control of the same markets. .
– How far is Ocean Island from Nauru ? .
– One hundred and sixty miles; but it is practically regarded as next door. The weather is an all-important factor, because, when particular winds prevail, they are unable to work Nauru ; but the same winds are advantageous to the working of Ocean Island. The adverse wind of one island is the favoring wind of the other. That is a very important consideration, so far as shipping is concerned,, when questions of demurrage arise. Unless arrangements can be made for the working of the larger concern, we cannot hope to effect the same cheap production that would otherwise be the case.
The question arises of the price at which the phosphatic rock can be delivered. The Prime Minister (Mr Hughes) has assured us that it is to be sold to the Australian public or the Australian manufacturer at the cost price. That is very re-assuring; but what is that cost price to be? This is particularly important in view of the heavy expenses about to be added to the cost of . production ? Indeed, I fear that the farmer is going to be disadvantaged to a considerable extent, if it is only intended to work the one island, and if all the cost of administration, including the salaries of the Administrator and! his staff, and of the three Commissioners, is to be superadded to the present cost of production. If that is to be the case, and it is, as we see so provided in the agreement, then the farmer cannot possibly hope to get the product at any cheaper rate, or even as cheaply as’ he does now. I have had the advantage of a talk on this matter with a mau who is not interested in the island or the company at all, but who is interested in the cheap production of rock phosphates and their ultimate manufacture. He told me, and the Prime Minister has mentioned this to-night, that the sale price of the company to the manufacturer is 30s. per ton f.o.b., and that the cost of production, including ls. royalty, is 23s. . per ton, which leaves a profit to the company of 7s. per ton, out of which head office charges, directors’ fees, and dividends are paid.
– Are they still selling for 30s. per ton?
– I think they charged a little more during .the war. The company is British. I believe there was a small German interest, but during the war those shares were sold by the receiver, so that the Pacific Phosphate Company may now be regarded as absolutely British. The business was managed by this private concern on rigid business lines, and the profit, as I have indicated, was 7s. per ton. I believe the cost of the Administrator and the three Commissioners will absolutely absorb a substantial portion of that amount.
– Was it a profit of 7s. on 23s.?
-That is what I am informed. I do not think the cost of administration can be less than £10,000 a year.
– In addition to what it is costing now?
– Yes, I am speaking about the probable superadded cost.
– It will not be £10,000 more than it is costing now.
– I expect it will.
– There is an administration now.
– No. _ The administrative machinery is quite a new proposal and an additional expenditure.
– What tonnage was that profit made on?
– I am workingon a tonnage of 150,000 tons, which is roughly the maximum output of the island-.
– Ten thousand pounds a year would be only1s. 4d. per ton.
– Whatever it is, it will be added to the present price of production.
– Does the honorable member allow for the1s. per ton royalty paid by the company, which will not have to bepaid by the Government?
– That is included in the 23s., which is the present cost of production.
– And the Government would not necessarily have to make a profit.
– I am most hopeful that the estimates in this connexion will prove to be completely wrong, but I am disposed to think that, if the island is administered in the extravagant way suggested here, it will mean an increased cost of production, and that increased cost will possibly approach the’ profit which now goes to the company.
– Can you suggest a less “ extravagant way “ ?
– Yes. First of all, I do not think it is necessary to appoint an Administrator or Commissioners. A thoroughly experienced business agent or manager might be employed to carry on Nauru Island in the same rigid business way as it has been carried on in the past.
Mr.Fenton. - But the Administrator has to do with the civil side of affairs.
– I know he has. but I want to deal with the’ matter solely as a business proposition, and from that point of view the administrative provisions are not necessary.
– How would you carry out the obligation to the native population as implied in the mandate?
– As a matter of fact, it has been carried out very successfully in the past without very much trouble.
– From the company’s point of view, but not from the point of view of the natives.
– I admit that the question of labour is very important. The labour there is kanaka, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian. Hitherto recruiting has been undertaken by the company, and, I believe, has been carried on very fairly and successfully, but when these people begin to realize that they are working under the Australian Government, I am rather disposed to think that their ideas will materially change, and increased wage’s for the work will be demanded.
– Are you afraid that they will want a holiday on show day ?
– I fear that we shall not be able, from a business standpoint, to manage the island upon the same economic basis as has hitherto been the case, and I regard it as probable that by so much as our cost of production increases, the cost will be increased to the agriculturist.
– Has the honorable member gone into the question of interest on capital?
– I was just about to deal with that important factor.
The phosphates are to be supplied to the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand at the same f.o.b. price which is to be fixed by the Commissioners on. a basis which will cover working expenses, cost of management, a contribution to administrative expenses, and provision for interest oh capital and sinking fund for the redemption of capital.
– Will that interest be paid on £3,000,000 or on the real value, which is £600,000?
– I do not pretend toknow what compensation will be paid to the company. I understand that the company has a lease of Ocean Island and Nauru Island for 90 or 100 years, and the right to the phosphate deposits thereon during the terms of its lease, and that under Article 7 whatever Tight, title, or interest it has is to be converted into a claim for compensation at a fair valuation.
– Not at the company’s valuation ?
– No, at a fair valuation. The three Governments are in a dominant position, because they own the island. They say that they propose to recognise whatever right, title, or interest the company has in this particular property, because the interests are British, and, of course, if the compensation cannot be settled by mutual arrangement, the matter will have to be dealt with by the Court, but the three Governments are committed by the agreement to pay a fair valuation, whatever it is:
– In determining what a fair valuation is, would not a Court take into consideration the profits that were likely to accrue to the company for the whole of the period of its lease?
– Certainly. If the phosphate deposits on Nauru Island belong to the -company for a period pf 90 or 100 years, and the company be dispossessed of them, it is entitled to a fair valuation of the loss of profit it would thus suffer.
– .Surely the honorable member will admit that the company had nothing but a lease’ from .Germany, which ceased to bo of maturing value the moment the domain of this territory was taken from Germany.
– That would be the position but for the fact that, under Article 7, it is provided that any right, title, or interest which, the company or any person may have in .the -deposits, land, buildings, plant, and equipment on the island, shall be converted into a claim for compensation at a fair valuation, so far as such right, title, or interest is not dealt with by the Treaty of Peace.
– “Treaty of Peace.” That is the whole point.
– Does it mean that the British company will get all the German1 interests and profits accruing thereto?
– The British Empire practically takes the place of Germany, and I understood from the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) that it is intended to recognise the existing rights of this British company, and I am arguing on that basis. The ordinary state of affairs would be that the German interests in any territory taken from Germany by way of conquest would at once vanish; but. I understood the Prime Minister to say that, as this is a British company, which has a certain right, title, and interest in regard to these deposits, the three Governments concerned are prepared - and most properly so - to recognise these, whatever they may be.
– It may cost the people-, of Australia a great deal more to buy out. this British company than to allow it .to supply the phosphates. ,
– I am npt prepared to go so far as to. say that; but I am disposed to think that if Nauru Island and Ocean Island are worked together we ought to be able to operate them more effectively and very much more cheaply. Of course, the question of compensation is the disturbing factor, a.nd if it is a fact that full recognition is to be given to the British interests in this company, and if there is anything in the statements which have appeared in the cablegrams that its claim amounts to about £2 ,000, 000, and fair interest is to be allowed on that amount of capital, as well as sinking fund - say, 5 per cent, in one case and 2 per cent, in the other - it will mean adding about £150,000 per annum to the cost qf production’. ‘
– The fact that the com±pany is claiming only £2,000.000 on deposits worth over £300,000,000 proves conclusively that “the honorable member’s contention as to the absolute value of a ninety-nine years’ lease does not hold good. ‘ ‘
– The company’.s claim to compensation would be based upon the profit it is making, and not the capital cost of the material itself. Its production is about 150,000. tons per annum, and it is making a profit of about 7s. per ton. That has to be. estimated over a period of years, always having regard to any altered conditions that may arise. An estimate of £375,000,000 has been made, but I apprehend that to be the gross capital value for all time of the whole of. the deposit. None of us knows what the company’s .claim will be. I am merely dealing’ with what I saw in the newspapers, and the point I am making is that, superadded to present cost of production and cost of administration, to which I have already referred, there will be, for a period of about forty or fifty years, the cost of setting aside so much each year to provide interest on capital and sinking fund.
The Prime Minister has said that the output is capable of more or less definite extension, but on further investigation I think he will find that he is npt correct in that statement, because I am told that the output cannot fairly exceed more than about 150,000 tons per annum, when the island is worked on the most economic lines. There is a most up-to-date plant on Nauru Island, but the physical conditions as to means of loading and unloading, the weather and the moorings, are such that the output cannot exceed this quantity with corresponding advantages.
– . Under similar disadvantages, the company has an output of 240,000 per annum on Ocean Island.
– I have not sufficient knowledge of the relative difficulties of the two islands, but I know that the matter of mooring vessels is very important. The moorings cost about £3,000 or £4,000, and as they break away frequently, considerable expense is incurred in securing them.
If we are sufficiently fortunate to secure Ocean Island, the competition from that quarter will at once cease.
– Will that be a good thing for Australia?
-I think so, because the two islands can be worked infinitely more economically. But the competition will be great from other quarters. The French have great rock phosphate deposits on Makatea Island, and, what is more important, the Japanese have Angaur Island, which they are working as hard as they can, and where there are enormous deposits. In addition to the advantage of having their own labour, the Japanese are shipping the rock phosphate to Japan, where an unlimited supply of sulphuric acid is readily obtainable for the purpose of manufacturing superphosphates. In this regard Japan is undoubtedly the great competitor of the future. We may protect ourselves fiscally against Japan, but it is essential that the cost of production at Nauru should be reduced to a minimum if we are not to be overwhelmed by the competition from, other quarters. The Prime Minister has already mentioned that there are vast deposits in America and in the north of Africa.
While I rejoice in the transfer of this island to the British Empire, and approve of the step which has been taken, I am exceedingly anxious that the utmost care should be exercised, but I am more than doubtful as to the wisdom of creating the administrative machinery provided in the agreement. I do not oppose the agreement; on the contrary, I realize that we have been committed to it by our representatives, and, on the whole, I think the result will be satisfactory, but at the same time, unless, being a business proposition, it is managed on rigid business lines, I feel it will not achieve the glowing anticipations indicated by the Prime Minister in his speech to-day.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Poynton) adjourned.
– I desire to announce the present position of the Eighth War Loan, which is known to the public by the name of the Peace Loan. Full details have not yet been, received from all centres, but, so far as can be seen, the total subscriptions amount to £20,000,000. In some respects, this is a satisfactory result, and shows the fine public spirit which exists amongst the great majority of Australians. In considering the total, it has to . be remembered that Australia has previously subscribed about £200,000,000 to war loans, and that before the war the flotation by a State of £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 was considered a good achievement. Taking these things into account, it is . possible to heartily congratulate the many thousands who have done all that they could towards the success of the Loan.
I am advised that, undoubtedly, many persons withheld subscriptions, because they thought their money was not needed, and relied upon others. To give these persons an opportunity of doing what, no doubt, they will recognise as their duty, and give a final opportunity to others who, perhaps, would not subscribe under ordinary conditions, though able to do so, it has been decided to keep the Loan open for fourteen days, from the 23rd September. The Government ask that the Central and District Peace Loan Committees, the banks, and all other workers will continue their efforts during the extended period.
As I announced a few days ago through the press, the Government are hopeful that voluntary subscriptions will bring the whole amount of £25,000,000, but it would be wrong not to add that, should the Loan be not fully subscribed by the 7th October, the Government will ask the Parliament to impose, a measure of com- pulsion upon those who have not done their duty. The Bill now before the House may have to be amended somewhat, birt, generally speaking, it is to be expected that the Bill, as it stands, will be passed.
The Bill provides that every person may be required to subscribe to the Loan a sum which is equal to six . times the annual average of his Federal income tax paid during the last three years. Those whose taxable incomes are £250 or under are exempt, and compulsion will not apply in respect of income derived from personal exertion by returned soldiers. The first persons to be called upon for compulsory subscriptions will be those who have not subscribed to War or Peace Loans; but, should an insufficient sum be obtained from such persons, it will be necessary to call upon those who, while holding some bonds or stock, have not contributed in accordance with their means.
My advice is that every person should subscribe as much as he or she possibly can irrespective of present holdings. Any one called upon for a compulsory subscription may appeal, and the Appeal Board may grant relief, but where the Appeal Board compels a person to subscribe, he will be automatically fined, and the amount of the fine will be one-third of the compulsory subscription. The fine will not relieve the pei:son from the necessity to make the subscription. This automatic fine will operate if the person does not subscribe voluntarily before the date of the closing of - the Loan. The Bill applies to companies as well as to individuals.
The Government have entered into arrangements under which, on paying 10 per cent, towards a subscription, any person may obtain a loan from a bank of the remaining 90 per cent., and will have eighteen mouths in which to pay off the overdraft by instalments. Thus, persons without ready cash may subscribe.
– Will the Government give our Australian artists a chance in connexion with the loan posters ? The Government seem to go to Rome and elsewhere for designs.
– I certainly think that Australian artists should be given a chance, and I shall be surprised if that is not being done.
– What will become of the fines imposed on those who have neglected to subscribe? Will they be regarded as part of the loan ?
– No; failure to subscribe will be a penal offence, and the fines will be paid into consolidated revenue.
.- The speech delivered by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) interested me very much, but I think the honorable member overlooked this fact, that, whilst one may confidently anticipate in any Government enterprise - even if not hampered by partnership provisions of the nature of this agreement- a slight loss of efficiency, in this case, undoubtedly, the loss of efficiency ought to be far more than counter-balanced by the fact that we shall be producing for ourselves, and therefore will obtain supplies at cost price. We shall have not only that economy in the saving of the profits that would have gone to the company, but, in addition., we shall have a guarantee against being squeezed by the company in the future, and that is a consideration of immense importance to Australia.
I was astonished to read in the newspapers, in connexion with the Peace deliberations, that there was any dispute at all in regard to Australia’s right to this island, and I intend to state to the House my reason. I hope there will be an inquiry into the matter, because evidently somebody connected with the Commonwealth bungled in regard to this Possession, to the immense detriment of Australia. I lay no charge against the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) or the existing Government. When the right honorable gentleman went to England in connexion with the Peace Conference, he found that he had to meet things as they were. He put up a stubborn fight, and, in the circumstances, he brought us this agreement; but if the facts are known - and I hope they will be known and those responsible ibr the bungle will be singled out for blame. - this island should belong to Australia in toto. I was in Sydney just before the war broke out, and immediately afterwards. The Prime Minister of that day asked me to go- to Sydney so that the interests affected by the collapse of the ordinary commercial laws owing to the state of war, might approach me, and I might act as a channel of communication between them and the then AttorneyGeneral (Sir William Irvine). People of all kinds came to me, and amongst the first to interview me were two gentlemen who understood the islands well, and who explained to me the enormous prospective value of Nauru. . As a result, I immediately telephoned to Melbourne and asked that the Australian flag be hoisted at once on Nauru, because it was essential that we should make our claim early. The Government acted with promptitude, a ship was immediately despatched, and the Australian flag was hoisted at Nauru just as it was hoisted at Rabaul. The hoisting of our flag at Rabaul was the basis of the complete mandate given to us . over New Guinea. But, having taken possession of Nauru, apparently, in order to. avoid the cost of keeping a few men on guard on the. island - because it was not necessary to garrison against attack while the Empire controlled the ocean - somebody in Australia said to the British Government, “Will you stand the racket?” And for the sake of saving 8s. per day for a few men, Great Britain and New Zealand were admitted into a contract that should have . been purely Australian.
– All the islands which were originally ceded to us in the terms of the capitulation were to be expressly and specifically held at the disposal of the Peace Conference.
– They were to be held subject to the issue of the war. But when the “ barney “ began as to who should actually own the islands, the- broad generosity of the British people - and they have been very generous to the overseas Dominions - would not . allow that the Australians should make sacrifices and not receive some benefits from them. That would have been the case with Nauru had not somebody in Australia stepped in and said to Great Britain, “We have hoisted our flag, but you had better take over the islands.” It is amazing that such an act of official stupidity should have been perpetrated, and I ask the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook), he being the senior Minister present in the House, to institute a rigid inquiry in order to ascertain how Great Britain was brought into the guardianship of Nauru.
– And New Zealand.
– I do not know how New Zealand came into the matter, butit is clear that if you take a place and then hand it over to somebody else your rights have gone, and you can come in afterwards, only as a suppliant. And I suppose New Zealand, knowing that something was happening behind the doors in Downing-street, asked for . her share of the spoils. The whole trouble seems to -have occurred because Australia would not . stand the cost of keeping the flag hoisted.
– Is the honorable member quite sure of that statement?
– Something of the kind must have happened.
– It was not that.
– Then, why has Great Britain come into the matter at all ? We took the island just as we took New Guinea. There was no suggestion of a tripartite arrangement in regard to German . New Guinea. I hesitate to believe that. the British Government would have been so sensitive to the rights of a British company that they would so depart from the arrangement they made in regard to a non-paying German Possession, as to step in and dispossess us of another Possession of immense commercial value?
– Who said it was a trade war?
– All I know is that when the war broke out, I, as any other person would be who had anything to do, however remotely, with the government of the country, was determined to see how the interests of Australia could be best protected. By good luck, two men in Sydney told meof the value of this island; and through the promptitude of the Government the Australian flag was immediately hoisted there, just as it was hoisted in New Guinea, which, I am afraid, will be a load on Australia for many years to come.
– We backed up our claim to Rabaul by the occupation of it.
– We did back up our possession of Nauru by hoisting our flag, and stationing some men there ; but somebody seems to have asked the British Government to shoulder the expense of keeping the island.
– It waa the other way about.
– This is one of the greatest puzzles of the whole “ barney “ that occurred in England. I certainly understood that a section of Australian, troops was stationed at Nauru, and that an Australian was actually administering the island. Then, how did the British Government come into the matter? Did they pay the cost of the occupation?
– No; we have done so up to date.
– I understand that the company which controlled the deposits at Nauru cleverly offered to pay the cost of occupation; but the Commonwealth Government, much too wise to be caught with that kind df salt, refused, pointblank, to accept any payment from the company. Still, how do the British Government come into the matter ? I think the House is entitled to that information.
– The Pacific Phosphate Company worked the arrangement all right.
– I do not expect, the information to be given at once; but whilst I support the agreement that has been made, as being the best that could be done in view of the tangle in which the whole matter is involved, I do expect to hear from the Government why Australia is not the sole mandatory of- that island to-day. The phosphatic deposit there is an enormous asset, and the working of it could be simplified to a great extent if we had sole control of it, because any system of mixed responsibility in. respect of the island is bound to. be expensive, to a certain extent. Not only that, but I have a faint glimmer at the back of my mind, that if Australia were dealing with the company that controlled the deposit, we might deal, with them with ‘greater justice than they may receive through the tripartite arrangement. My view of this matter is different from that of the honorable member for Kooyong. If a man deliberately gives up his own sovereignty, and takes from a foreign Power anything in the way of a Government lease, I do not regard that man, for the purposes of that lease, as one of my co-nationalists. The value of that man’s lease, from my point of view, is determined by the power of the country that gave it .to him to guarantee him the value of the lease for the whole term of its currency.
This is a British company which had a German interest. The German-interest shares were sold out during the war, and I fancy that the value given for that German holding, unless the company was, so to speak, very long-headed and got in first, might be a fair indication of the real value of the whole company’s interest when the sum of it is added up lock, . stock,’ and barrel. Unfortunately, we have apparently, in some’ way, invited the Mother Country to share the island, of which we took possession in the first place, and we have to abide by tha result. The only course open to us is to ratify the agreement.
– We ought to know more about it.
– I am sometimes struck with a sense of the supreme importanceof this Parliament when I see Treaties of Peace coming before us for ratification, land realize that, if we do not accept those treaties, the whole world is going to be at war again ! But speaking with all the solemnity which should attach to such a statement, I feel that the Australian Commonwealth to-day stands among the nations of the earth much weaker than it was when the war started. This is one of the few countries that’ have not developed the whole of their manufacturing resources suitable to war service during the course of the war; and, since we must measure the power of a country in war by the extent of its manufacturing resources suitable to war service, so, in comparison with other nations, Australia is weaker than it was before the war.
– In regard to her manufactures ?
– In regard to her capacity to wage” war on her own account.
– Has the honorable member overlooked the equipment of our troops ?
– I do not overlook anything in that regard. When we look, even into .the question of the equipment of troops, we see that in respect of one of the vital supplies of the machine, that is to say. in regard to heavy artillery, Australia, after four and a half yeaTS of war, practically owns nothing.
I would point, in passing, to the fact that our great weakness among the nations of the earth entitles us to walk, I will not say with humility, in a mean and abject sense, but with the very greatest prudence in the future.For that reason., when other peoples come to us and say, ‘ ‘ Here are treaties which you must ratify,” or pay us the compliment of asking us to subscribe our signatures to a victory to which our troops have contributed to a far greater extent than their numbers would suggest, it is advisable for us to sign those treaties. Thank God, we are inaposition . to sign them. But, so far as the future is concerned, we should walk very warily; throwing out no challenge to this Power or that; not seeking to insult any great nation, which we may wish to have as an Ally in the future; nor inflaming any other Power in the north which may have differences with us in the future.
– In the north or anywhere else.
– Or anywhere else. It is up to this country to look to the future ; to walk warily, prudently, cautiously, if, let us say, tenaciously, towards its goal; to do it with a respect for the susceptibilities of all other peoples; to make all the friends we can in the world, and not to make more enemies.
In . conclusion, I desire to say that I am astounded that Australia is not the sole possessor of this island, in view of the facts I have given. I should like the Minister for the Navy to have, the whole matter looked into, and a full” explanation given to the House at an early date. Sitting suspended from 6.27 to 7.45 p.m.
– The Island of Nauru, as a valuable Possession, has for some time been under the notice, not only of the Australian people, but of the world; and if there is one product that this country is interested in it is superphosphates, which have rendered fertile what were at one time regarded as barren wastes. This has been the case not only in Victoria, but in South Australia and New South Wales; and though I am told that in Western Australia these phosphates are not so essential, I have my doubts as to that. When the Peace conditions were being’ laid down, and a fight for the spoils was going on, some of these spoils were to be found in Australasia, and I was surprised at the undignified attitude which the Australian representatives had to take in fighting the- New Zealand representatives for the possession, or partial possession, of this island. Be that as it may, I do not think that the outcome is obviously to the advantage of those in Australia who wish to use superphosphates. We were told that the late war was not one of conquest, or for commercial interests; but the dispute about this island proves, in itself, that commercial interests dominate everything. I suppose that we in Australia are justified in claiming our share of the good things of the world ; and the Government may, under the circumstances, readily excuse themselves for fighting for Nauru as an Australian Possession, even though it be held under what is known as a mandate.
It seems strange to me that an expensive establishment, estimated to cost about £10,000 per annum, is to be set up when, as has already been pointed out, an agent is all that is necessary. For the purposes of the civil government, there might be appointed what is called an administrator or a governor, as in the case of the Norfolk Island; beyond that, I do not see where any expense is necessary. In any case, it will only add to the cost of the phosphates when they arrive in. Australia or elsewhere. The only trouble the Commissioners will have, so far as I can see, is the allocation of the quantity of stone for each of the parties interested in Nauru; and surely that part of the business could be done beforehand.
– That is arranged for now.
– So I understand. We have been told that the output . of phosphates at Nauru is 150,000 tons a year; but, from information I gleaned seven or eight years ago; I think it ought to be somewhat larger. The three parts ofthe Empire interested in the island are surely not trying to get the best of each other; and all we require is an agent to see that each gets its proper share, and no more.
The Commissioners must be men of some business knowledge, and such men will’ require fair salaries, and an approximation to civilized conditions, to induce them to submit to a sort of imprisonment on this island. It is not like Papua or Norfolk Island, where there is something of interest -to be found, and no man will care to go to Nauru unless the inducement is good enough. We know that gentlemen who carry the title of Commissioner never do any work, which is invariably left to some one else; and each Commissioner will have a secretary, with the inevitable clerks and typists. This seems to me a farce.; but I suppose, if we accept the mandate, we must accept the conditions as laid down. The arrangement, however, does not, to me, display much common sense, but rather poverty of mind, on the part pf those who drew it up. It must be remembered that every additional expense means an addition to the cost of the phosphates to the farmer. I have a vivid recollection that not many years ago the price of Nauru Island was said to be about £600,000, but I have heard that the company ask about £3,200,000. Now, £3,000,000 at 5 per cent, represents £150,000, or an additional £1 per ton, to be added to the price of the phosphates. At one time, when the importers . tried to fight the local manufacturers, the price sank as low as £3 17s., or thereabouts, though at one stage it was somewhat higher. I am not a farmers’ representative, but I am interested, inasmuch as superphosphates are treated in the constituency which I represent; and the higher the cost of the superphosphates the less chance there is of fair wages and conditions in an occupation which I can almost say is not fit for white men. The sulphur-room is an abomination ; and altogether the industry is one that justifies good payment to. those employed. The farmer will naturally object to any increased charge; and the only way to lower the charge will be to decrease the wages of the men employed. Against such a policy as that, I should raise my voice very strenuously, and would expect support from both sides of the House in favour of proper living conditions.
– Upon what are you basing your figures?
– On cabled information received in Australia,- 1 believe, last February or March. When the island was valued at £600,000, German and British capitalists were mixed up in the ownership. The German interests have been wiped out; and I wish to know whe ther those who purchased the German shares will be given the advantage of their enhanced value since. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has admitted that in commercial circles the German has still plenty of friends in England; and it does not require a very astute business man to realize that high-class detectives would be necessary to ascertain whether Germans are not still interested in the island. Commercial interests held by Germans in British businesses were well covered up during the war; and there have been alarming statements to the effect that such interests are repaid by hundreds of millions of pounds in England now. If that be so, in the case of Nauru, the British Government. ought to see that the purchasers of the German shares do not reap the advantage of the enhanced value. We have made a great parade of what we did in getting rid of German interests iri the metal trade, but, personally, I do not see that we gain anything if we take interests from the German sharks and hand them to British sharks; indeed, the latter are the more difficult to deal with, for directly any steps are taken regarding them they “wave the flag.”
There are many islands, including both French and Japanese, which produce this stone; and the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) has pointed out how the Japanese, with their peculiar methods of labour, may be able to undersell in the markets of Australia. On the Island of Nauru all the labour is coloured with the exception of the supervisors. I understand that the original natives formed themselves into a sort of trade union in order to get better treatment. Thereupon the Hindoo was introduced; but, on a similar stand being taken by him, Chinese were brought in. It will be seen that, though there are not many on the island, the population is a curious mixture; and the pay and conditions are no better than those under the Japanese administration. . We must, therefore, look elsewhere for a reason for the higher price of the Nauru phosphates. Capitalism has no country and no accent - it speaks only one language, and that is the language of profit - and it. operates, as it were, in circles. If a man desires to float an Australian gold mine in England, he must deal with one circle which always undertakes ventures of the kind, and so ‘ with, metals and other investments. Wherever money came from for these phosphate islands it has been ‘ international. I believe it is still so to-day. I hope the Government will tell us straight out if it is impossible to alter the agreement. I suppose we have to accept or reject it. The mandate is as strong as the original mandate covering the islands, and if we reject it we shall get nothing out of it.
– There is nothing wrong with the principles or the particulars of the mandate.
– The big thing wrong is the question of the purchase’ price.
– It has to be at a fair valuation, with no regard to the market price of the shares.
– But will it be based on .a pre-war or after-war valuation ? Further, can the Minister tell us what really became of the German interests in the islands? Can he assure us that some British capitalists have not secured them, and endeavoured to extract from the United Kingdom, Australia, and. New Zealand the increased value given to those shares ?
– They cannot do iti because section 257 of the Treaty of Peace prevents it.
– Are any of the shares held by anybody besides the company ? Have the . British Government taken any of them over? Are the German interests being liquidated, or has the company taken the shares over?
– The Treaty of Peace provides that German property is to be handed over to the Allies under certain conditions.
– Would the German shares go over to the Governments, or to the shareholders of the company ?
– The honorable member will find it all set out in section 257 of the Treaty.
– I know the Prime Minister sufficiently to believe that that phase of the question must have appealed to him..
– Under the Treaty theproperty of. the German Government passes to the Allies without any payment.
The property, of private German persons passes at its value in accordance with, the terms of the Treaty.
– Will the original German shareholders get the enhanced value of these shares, or will the Government get it?
– I cannot tell the honorable member by interjection. He will get the information in the Treaty.
– I did. not understand that particular phase of the Treaty when I read it. Possibly the Government do not care to give the information at this stage. I hope they will take care that the British profiteer does not avail himself of his flag-waving propensities to take over the .profits which the Germans were getting, or will get. If the Government do not guard against that, they will not be doing their duty.
Although my .opposition may not amount to very much, I hope the representations of the supporters of the Government will have weight. They should insist on more information, than we have received on this point. We should take care that the .capitalistic section of the community does not profiteer in- this commodity as it has been doing in others,’ because the phosphate is essential to Australia. It will help us to produce wheat on land that would never produce it before. The higher its cost is made, the more trouble the farmer will be caused. The farmer has representatives here to look after his interests, and if those representatives do their duty, they will see that the farmer is not robbed in this direction. I am anxious also that the men who get the worst end of the stick at the works at Yarraville and Footscray should be given the best possible working conditions and wages to meet the present high cost .of living. I do not want to see those workers suffer on account of the extra profits received by the capitalists who took over the German interests; that is, if any capitalists have been allowed to do so. I do not see why they should get the extra profits while wagging the flag) al thou eh we know that flag wagging covers a multitude of sins. I look to the farmer to see that the cost of this commodity is not raised to him above what it was in pre-war times owing to an unduly high cost -of purchase of the company’s interests”, or inflated charges for management, and I’, for my part, will do my best to see that the workers receive a fair dea
. –As a working farmer myself, and one who has been using superphosphates for many years, this agreement appears to me one of the most practical things that has been done in the interests of the farmer, and must commend itself to any person who has the advancement of our country at heart. I am not going into the question of whether it was a good or bad thing to a’llow the United Kingdom to be the senior partner, and to let New Zealand have a “cut.” I believe, judging by information furnished from various sources, that an inexhaustible supply of an allnecessary commodity has been secured for the farmers by the agreement. In the best interests of the country it is well that the agreement should be ratified. I had the privilege this evening of reading a very fine article that appeared from the pen of A. W. D. Tocke, in the Melbourne Argus of 15th March. It contained a great deal of information about this island, and I commend’ it to the attention of every honorable member. It shows that the island is about five miles long by three miles wide, and that for the four years ended December, 1918, about 147,000 tons of phosphate had been removed. The author points out that there is seemingly an inexhaustible supply there, and that notwithstanding the difficulties regarding ports and anchorages, about 100,000 tons per annum could easily be removed under normal conditions. We are also told that the little village on the island is fitted up with electric light and up-to-date machinery. It is, therefore, not exactly as barbarous as some people would have us suppose. The point that interests me most as a producer is that we have evidently secured by the agreement an inexhaustible supply’ of an all-necessary commodity, and can treat it afterwards according to the will of the Federal Parliament. Any argument as to what may or may not be done afterwards is futile at this stage. We have secured the raw material, and it will be an indictment of our capacity if we do not use it and put it into the hands of the producers in the highest, best, and most concentrated form, and at the cheapest possible rates.
We have a very real grievance regarding the- superphosphate furnished to us through the ordinary channels of trade. I am not going to lay any charge of corruption or malpractice against the people engaged in that business; but it is clear to the ordinary practical man, and there is evidence to support it, that huge quantities of sand are used in the preparation of superphosphate for farm uSe. I quite understand that it is necessary to use some such material to enable the superphosphate to run property through the ordinary drills; but a much cheaper and better method might be devised. It should be possible to provide the superphosphate in a concentrated form, and let the farmer, by some expedient or invention, add sand in due proportion, so as to .save him the huge expense of paying £5 a ton, or more if he is hundreds of miles away from the nearest port, for large quantities of sea sand, as is very often the case.
I would point out, in answer to a statement made this evening, that there has been a serious advance in the price of superphosphates since the war began, and also a deterioration or reduction in strength. Any practical farmer will tell you that that is so. I admit that the rise has not been nearly so great as in other instances. I use, on the average, about £100 worth of superphosphate every year. Before the war I paid about £4 15s. a ton, not including freight. Since the war I have been paying £5 0s. 6d., with freight at about 7s. 6d. per ton. Every one is urging us to move forward and secure a higher standard of production, and since scientific production and distribution must be our goal if we are to succeed in the huge task which confronts us, the supply of high-class phosphates to the farmer will be a very great aid towards that achievement. The United States of America spend about £13,000,000 per year on agricultural education. As the result of the building up of systems of agriculture there, although the best judges say they are only on the fringe of possible developments, the annual net increase in the value of agricultural products for the ten years preceding the war was, on the authority of the Director of Agriculture of Victoria, £90,000,000 per annum. That opens up a wide vista of progress for Australia, to emulate. If we bend ourselves to the task we can undoubtedly do a great deal more than we are now attempting. It is idle for the man on the land or the man in the workshop to say, “ I must have an increase in the price of my commodity or my labour on account of the increased cost of living,” and to sit still until that higher price or value materializes. We must realize, as Australian producers, that for the greater part of our products, both agricultural and pastoral, we must seek foreign markets. We are greatly handicapped by the tremendous distances which we, as a competitor in the world’s markets, must span in the face of the great shortage of shipping brought about by the war. We must, therefore, bend ourselves to the task of making our lands infinitely more productive for a given amount of labour than we have succeeded in doing in the past. While it is our duty to fight for the best markets and the best conditions, the achievement of the greatest progress lies with ourselves in the shape of increased . efforts to secure scientific production.. We must make a man’s labour far more effective than it is to-day on a given area of soil.
I remember selecting, over thirty years ago, on what was then a fairly large run, where only about 20,000 ill-bred sheep were raised and fed. After twenty-six selectors had taken up holdings, aggregating more than half the run, and had spent a few years in improving them, the part still held by the station carried actually more sheep than it did before. They were of a better character, they were more productive; and, as a consequence, the net revenue derived from half the area of that station was infinitely greater than for the whole area under the old system of administration. I may add that the twentysix selections carried more sheep than the . station did, and their chief crop was wheat. With all the aids that science is for ever putting into our hands, and with the higher intelligence of our better-educated class of farmers, it is almost impossible to define for the future what is a sufficient area to enable a man to make a decent living. What is possible in a little instance of the kind I have described is taking place gradually throughout the country ; and apart from the question of land monopoly, the great lion in the path, I have no doubt that when the Australian people are given the opportunity of becoming their own employers on the soil, with the assistance of those aids which a parental Government can provide - superphosphates will play a very great part in such work - we shall easily solve the problem which seems so difficult now, that of maintaining a large population on the soil of the country and at the same time providing the operatives in the factories of the cities and towns with much cheaper food.
– Does not the honorable member consider that distribution plays a great part in the cost of foodstuffs?
– That is another aspect of the question. There is no honorable member more awake than I am to the robbery perpetrated under the name of distribution, a problem that will need to be attacked ; yet to me there seems to be too general an opinion that all that has to-be done to solve the problem is to devise some means of getting a grip on what is being produced. That is not so. We have to prevent the best brains in the community, backed up by a good deal of capital, from stepping into what may be called the intermediate occupations in the work of distribution and by speculative enterprise preying on the actual producer, as well as the consumer. It is hard to put one’s finger on the man engaged in such a line as the real profiteer; but while the inducement exists to the man with brains and intelligence not to engage in the actual work of producing new wealth, but to juggle with what is already produced under some system of speculative buying, we shall continue to have what, unfortunately, we already have in this splendid country of ours, people in cities and towns paying for their foodstuffs a greater price than they ought to be paying. In this House, it has been demonstrated to us that one of our best breeders of cattle in New South Wales put fiveyearold bullocks on the market as fat as they could be made, and within four days under the present wretched system of . distribution, the meat was being sold to the people off the butchers’ blocks at an increase of 300 per cent, upon the price obtained by the man who had produced it during five long years. Iam a producer, and am growing grain and meat for a living, and I realize that the producers are just as wide-awake as others; if they get an opportunity of making a bit by speculative buying and selling, they utilize it. Until a paternal Government recognises that the cobbler should stick to his last, and that the man on the land who is producing should get the biggest profit of all under any new system of distribution, that tendency will continue to exist -among many genuine producers.
We have the assurance of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in regard to this agreement, that every care is to be taken ; we have the actual wording of the agreement, and we have heard the criticism of men qualified to express an opinion upon it. I think the consensus of opinion will be that, in the circumstances, it is a fair and reasonable document. Unhappily we have not discovered on the mainland of Australia any great deposits of phosphates suitable for the farming industry. At Nauru Island we have that for which we have been looking for a long time, but I hope that when the work of supplying Australia with phosphates is thoroughly entered upon, the whole trade will be inquired into, and the whole industry overhauled. I hope that the questions I have touched on, if only for a moment, and they are practical questions affecting the well-being of the farmer as well as of the consumer, seeing that the proper handling of them would mean cheaper food, will be thoroughly gone into. If the institution of State works to deal with this product is necessary, we should have them. While at all times supporting governmental interference where it is essential, I remind the House that, finally, the highest expression of socialized effort by a Government can only mean that it may. do for individuals what the individuals cannot do for themselves. Combinations of capital and labour operating under company law are really applying the principles of Socialism, the only difference being that they operate these principles for the benefit of the private individual, whereas if the Government get equal service they must operate them for the general good, without paying regard to the matter of securing dividends. All the advantage should be with Government establishments. Unfortunately, in practice, it does not work out that way, because there seems to be a feeling among people that it is no crime to rob a Government. Services which are cheerfully rendered to a private employer whose keen eye is upon one are altogether set aside in the case ‘ of a Government. In fact, we are accused, perhaps with some justice, of being careless as custodians of the public purse, and of not regarding the public finances as we would regard our individual concerns. There is much truth in that indictment, but in a matter of this kind, involving a practical question, and one fraught with such important consequences to the development of the material progress of the farming community of Australia, the Government are to be commended upon the action they have taken. As a representative of farmers. I must say that whilst this agreement will be of inestimable advantage to producers, it must also be of benefit to the country, and I heartily indorse and support its ratification.
There is no need for one who does not claim to be capable of clearly analyzing the provisions of the agreement to attempt to enter upon such an analysis; nor is there need to go into the question of why the United Kingdom has been allowed a share of these deposits, although I think it is rather a good thing to have a partner of the strength, power, and prominence of the Old Country. I do think that all it was possible to do in the interests of Australia and Australia’s producers has been done in the direction of conserving our right to these deposits. I hope that the Government will show an equally practical mind when turning to other matters also of great interest to producers and consumers alike. In the meantime, this effort meets with my sincere, and cordial indorsement.
.- I do not think there is any difference of opinion amongst honorable members as to the wisdom of the Commonwealth Government, ‘ in conjunction with the other Governments concerned, getting control of Nauru Island. Every one admits that it is necessary for Australia to get au unlimited supply of superphosphates to fertilize our lands. As the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch) has just said, the cost to the consumer depends upon, the cost of production. Whatever the cost of fertilizers may be to the producer, so will the percentage pf cost be to those who purchase the product of his labour. But I -disagree with the honorable member when he says that he will make no attempt to analyze the agreement. I think -that we ought to be careful in analyzing every agreement or Bill which comes before us in order to ascertain if it bestows evenhanded justice upon the people we represent.. I have some doubt as to whether this agreement is the best that could have been drafted. We appoint an Administrator to look, after the affairs of the people who may be working on the island, and, no doubt he will be paid a very large salary; yet, in- addition, there are to be three Commissioners - one representative of each Government concerned - to superintend the breaking of the rock phosphates and sending it away as allocated under the agreement.
– A good mine manager could do that.
– Yes . The output is supposed to be 150,000 tons per annum. Some of the large coal mines in NewSouth Wales are producing 15,000 to 20,000 tons of coal per week, and one man can manage each of them. It is not a very difficult proposition to work these phosphate deposits, and it is a ridiculous proposition to appoint three highly-paid Commissioners to supervise the labour that will be engaged in the work. It is a ridiculous step on the part of representative men to agree to saddle the farmers of Australia with the additional cost of paying the salaries of these men. It . is supposed to be a business proposition. The farmers are to be charged the cost of producing, the manufactured article, and if any profit is to accrue it is to go to the different Governments; but any profits that can be made must come from the man on the land who purchases the fertilizers.
– The profits will come from sales.
– The sales will be made to the farmers of Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. No sales will take place to any other country unless the three Commissioners agree: I am pleased that the honorable member has interjected, because here is another objection to the appointment of Commissioners : If two Commissioners agree to sell 100,000 tons of rock phosphates to the United States of America the other Commissioner may say, “I do not agree to it. You cannot do it.”
– But the United States of America is itself producing 3,000,000 tons per annum.
– I mention the United States of America merely for . the purpose of comparison. We cannot sellto any other country, because one individual representing one of the parties to the agreement will not agree. Is not that sufficient to condemn the proposal to appoint three Commissioners? Have honorable members ever known divided control to succeed ? I have known of many propositions which were subject to divided control and all have failed miserably. We should have three Commissioners, probably drawing. £3,000 per annum each.
– The appointments may be honorary; we do not know.
– That is the whole trouble; we ought to know. What we do know is - and this ought to be a guide to the honorable member, who represents a farming constituency - that the agreement provides that each of the three partners should appoint a Commissioner, and those three Commissioners should have sole control of the deposits, and should be subject to no interference on the part of their Governments, Suppose that after we had appointed a Commissioner the Commonwealth Government- came to the conclusion that the working of the deposit was not satisfactory, under the agreement they will be powerless to interfere. We are supposed to protect the ‘farmers of this country so far as their interest in these phosphates is concerned. How are we to do it? Under this agreement neither the Government nor Parliament has any say in the matter at all. I have never before read such a document. It does not protect the producer, or even this country. Three Commissioners are to be appointed to look after an undertaking that any one man could attend to without the slightest difficulty. All that he would be required to do would be to attend to the allotment of the product in the proportions stipulated, and get sufficient men and up-to-date machinery to enable him to get’ the highest possible output. Yet we are asked to agree to the appointment of three men at high salaries to do the work of one man. The result can be only confusion and disagreement amongst the Commissioners: And what is the Administrator to do? He has simply to look after the civil side of the administration but he is to have no control over the Commissioners.
– He will have control over them
– He will have absolutely none. That is the worst feature of the arrangement.
– The Prime Minister said that the Administrator would have control.
– Only of the civil administration. He will have no say regarding the excavation or allotment of the phosphates. It is only because of the phosphates that we are anxious to have control of the island; without them the Possession would be of no advantage to us. This is just another proposition for loading up. administrative costs. “We are always complaining about the creation of big propositions carrying high salaries, yet every time we enter upon any undertaking we create unnecessary positions involving additional cost which must be paid: by the producers of the country. That will happen in this case; no one can argue otherwise.
– It is only the honorable member’s assumption that they, will be paid anything like the salaries he has mentioned.
– What does the honorable member think they will be paid ?
– According to their responsibilities and the work they are to perform.
– This is what is likely to happen: Each country will choose a man occupying a good position - a reliable man, who understands mining and rock excavation, and in whom the Government have complete confidence. Australia will send such a man to Nauru to look after our interests, and we shall pay him a big salary, because he will be practically exiled. No qualified mail would take the position unless he were paid a big salary. By loading the scheme in this way we shall increase the cost of the phosphates to the producer, who,’ in turn, must pass on the additional cost to the consumer.
I come now to the question of valuation. I am not at all satisfied with regard to what is proposed. Article 7 provides -
Any right, title, orinterest which the Pacific Phosphate Company or any person may have in the said deposits, land, buildings, plant, and equipment (so far as such right, title, and interest is not dealt with by the Treaty of Peace) shall be converted into a claim for compensation at a fair valuation.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) made much of that fair valuation, and added that, if an agreement could not be arrived at as to what was a fair valuation, the matter was to be referredto arbitration. All honorable members will say that that is a reasonable proposition.
– But a very expensive procedure.
– Yes. But the question is what will bea fair valuation.
– Remember the amount for which the company asked.
– Nauru was a German Possession. A British company took the risk of buying from the Germans a lease for 100 years. The Germans have lost the island; and I believe that, if the company are repaid the amount of capital they have expended on the island, that is all they have a right to expect. That will be doing justice to them. We have no right to give them anything further. A gentleman told me to-day that he had been informed by a German in Rabaul that the company paid £500,000 for the right to work the deposits for one hundred years. I have heard that the company are asking for a payment of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000.
– I think a cable message stated that the company were asking for £6,000,000.
– When, the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) was speaking, I interjected a question regarding the fair valuation, and his opinion, as a lawyer, coincided with mine as a layman. I recollect an occasion when, as a member of the New South Wales Parliament, I advocated that two private railways in that State should be taken over by the State Government. I made out the best case I could. The Minister for Railways of that day (Mr. Lee) said the proposition was a fair one. On making inquiries, he found that the Act governing one railway provided that the Government might take it over at its value, but the Act governing the other provided that it should be taken over at a fair valuation. The fair valuation had to be determined by arbitration, and the Minister found that the arbitrator had to take into consideration the future prospects of the line. If future prospects must be taken into consideration by any Court of Arbitration that is dealing with the rights of the Pacific Phosphate Company, what will be the result? For purposes of argument, I shall use the figures quoted by the honorable member for Kooyong, although I do not say they are correct. The honorable member said that the output of the company was 150,000 tons per annum, on which the company made a profit of 7s. per ton. That is equivalent to £52,500 per annum. The company had a right to work those deposits for 100 years, and their annual profit multiplied by 100 would give an aggregate profit of £5,250,000. In any arbitration proceedings the company will have a perfect right to make the most of their case, .and they will put forward those figures regarding past and prospective profits as evidence that ought to influence the Court. The Court must give a decision based not on sentiment, but on the facts, adduced. There is a danger in Article 7 that those deposits may be taken over at a very big price. If. we have to pay 5 per cent, on ‘ a purchase price of £5,250,000, there will be an interest charge of £262,500 per annum which the farmers of this country will have to pay. There can be no escape from that.
– If that had to be paid on an annual output of 150,000 tons, the price of the phosphates would be doubled.
– Not quite, because Australia will have to pay only 42 per cent., while Great Britain pays 42 per cent, and New Zealand 16 peI cent., but the interest charged will add considerably to the price of the phosphates.
-^Surely the honorable member does not think the company would be awarded £5,000,000.
– I do not say what the company will be awarded. The Arbitration Court may get from the signatories other evidence which will influence it in fixing the compensation at £2,000,000 or £3,000,000. But whatever amount is fixed will be a permanent charge upon the countries that are parties to the agreement.
– The amount cannot be as great as the honorable member has stated.
– Even if the amount of compensation is only half what I have mentioned, we shall have an interest bill annually of £131,000. I repeat that if we repay to the company the money they paid to Germany ‘and any capital expenditure incurred in the island, we shall be acting fairly towards them. All the time they have been working the deposits they have been making profits, and I cannot see any reason why we should take into consideration a claim for anything over and above their actual expenditure. It is all very well for honorable members to say this will happen and that will happen. I have heard predictions of that kind before, but when the practical test was applied we found that we had been trapped and the people had to pay. It is in order to avoid that possibility that I have made this comparison; not because I am opposed to the agreement. Our interest in Nauru will be a good asset to Australia. It will help us to cheapen production in Australia, but we ought to see that no injustice is done to the farmer or to the general public. I venture to assert that, under this agreement, it is quite possible that we may have to pay considerably more for our interest in the island than we ought reasonably to be called upon to give for it.
– The more one looks into the agreement set out in. the schedule to this Bill the more one feels the necessity for further information in regard to it. In the absence of the particulars with which, we ought to be supplied, we may commit this country to a very considerable expenditure. I quite agree with the argument advanced by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), that if the island and its phosphatic deposits are to be worked as a commercial and profitable enterprise, it is quite possible that we shall erect under this agreement a small public service in connexion with, the operation of the mandate. That at all costs should be avoided. Whilst we may be getting a very good asset, if we are to pay men high salaries to administer the island, we shall find in it but another addition to our many expensive- luxuries. We seem to be all too prone to take over unprofitable enterprises. Many such undertakings could be enumerated, and I fail to see why we should still further burden ourselves with an expenditure of the kind I have indicated. I also indorse the position taken up by the hon- orable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) when he inquires why Britain has any share in the administration of Nauru. It seems to me that the Pacific Phosphate Company has been at work, and that even while, the representatives of the great Powers were engaged in drawing up the terms of the Peace Treaty, and apportioning various parts of the earth, men possessing interests in this island have been, using their influence to secure that Britain shall have some voice in its management. It may be said that I have a sinister motive in making this suggestion; but it is an undoubted fact that speculators, company mongers, and others interested in big flotations have a better opportunity, putting it plainly, to “get at” the British Government than they have of getting at the Commonwealth Government. I quite agree withthe honorable member for Wentworth, who, I think, should, have carried his argument further than he did. He plainly hinted that, in his opinion, Britain’s participation in the island, and the benefits accruing- from it, needs to be further examined.
It is said by some that, under this agreement, we shall be taking over a very valuable asset. Superphosphates play a very important part, not only in the raising of crops, but in fertilizing grazing land. I fail to understand why the word “ agricultural “ is used in the agreement. Fertilizers are used in connexion with land employed for pastoral as well as agricultural purposes. I have here a quotation from the Industrial Australian and Mining Standard showing that many of - those who are raising cattle and sheep are using manures of various kinds to recuperate the soil, and to give to it greater fertility -
The great arid plains of tlie Edwards and Mumimbidgee rivers of New South Wales produce sheep that are most conspicuous for frame and constitution. Probably the best merino sheep in the world are grown there - certainly the sheep that return most money per head to their owners. And this largely because there is some wonderful virtue in the soil of these plains that is transmitted through the pasture and herbage into the animals that graze upon it.
The writer goes on to point out that there are some soils in Australia which possess considerable natural virtues, and impart those virtues through the pasture and herbage into the animals which graze upon them. There are other grazing lands which, by means of a top dressing of manures, are greatly recuperated to the benefit of the animals depastured on them. I am wondering whether the employment of the word “ agricultural “ in this agreement will debar the use of these phosphates in . the manufacture of manures to be devoted to grazing lands.
Like other honorable members, I have been reading of Nauru and other islands. T learn from an article in Life that Nauru does not consist only of rock. The writer states - i
Nauru is appropriately called “ Pleasant Island.” It has a circumference of 12 miles, with wide foreshores, and in the centre a bunch of low-set hills, in which phosphate of lime is found. A. fine road encircles the island, and running through it is a beautiful avenue of coconut palms. Shallow lagoons, on seashore and in the -heart of the hills, mirror the beauties of palm groves, native villages, and make the island a photographer’s paradise.
According to the writer of this article the estimated quantity of the phosphatic rock on the island is not 400,000,000 tons, as stated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), but only 40,000,000 tons. If the Prime Minister’s. information as to the tonnage of phosphatic rock is incorrect, it may be wrong in regard, to many other items which have been submitted by him to the House this afternoon. These facts all go to suggest that there should be a closer investigation of the whole subject.
– The Germans estimated the quantity at 300,000,000 tons.
– I do not know where the honorable member has obtained that information, but I have been quoting from an article published in Life, and evidently giving first-hand information. It is illustrated with plates showing the natives at work excavating the phosphatic rock, and carrying it in baskets to various places.
– Who is the author?
– Mr. Thomas J. McMahon. The honorable member is always delighted to hear something concerning the social environment of people of other countries, and he will perhaps be. interested in a further quotation from this article setting out that -
The King of Nauru, “ Oweida,” is a most charming and affable old gentleman, with the heartiest laugh imaginable. He is to be seen very often riding about on his bicycle, attended by his “Master of the Bike,” a sturdy young native, who looks after the Royal bicycle, sees that the tyres are in good order and the machine in repair. “ 0’aida “ is to the fore in all patriotic movements of the island, especially those in aid of the Bed Cross, and invariably has stuck out from the back of his bike a lon” pole with a small Red Cross Hag. At public functions His Majesty wears a tall hat, frock coat, coloured vest, nicely creased trousers, black patent-leather shoes with brown laces, a stiff collar, and smart- tie; a walking stick completes the turnout.
We are now looking at Nauru, not from the pleasant picture point of .view, but through legislative eyes, with the object of discovering in it some of those potentialities of which the Prime Minister spoke when introducing this Bill. We have to ask ourselves whether we are really getting such a wonderfully good going concern as we might at first imagine. I do not know whether a Court, in determining what compensation should be paid to the Pacific Phosphate Company, would take into account what the future is likely to develop in regard to the fertilization of soils. France, for instance, is not keenly interested to-day in -the addition of phosphatic elements to her soil. . Scientists and chemists there are fertilizing the soil by means of electricity. Marvellous crops of wheat, barley, asparagus, and other produce have been obtained (here as the result of the application of electricity. The day may come when the application of phosphatic manures to the soil may give place to a cheaper and more effective process. Prospectively, there may not be nearly sr> much attaching to our having a mandate over the Island of Nauru as the Prime Minister has suggested.
We must be careful not to make the island a place wherein luxurious billets may be found. If we do, then, unless we are going to make it absolutely impossible for the farmer to obtain cheap manure manufactured’ from this rock phosphate, we shall never be able to compete with other countries. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) said that, unless we erected a fairly high Tariff barrier, we should not be able to compete with Japan in the supply of superphosphate in Australia. I suppose that the honorable member for Calare (Mr.’ Pigott), with his Free Trade proclivities, would rejoice in Japan being able to undersell the Commonwealth Government in the supply of superphosphate.
– Is the honorable member aware that Japan, before the .war, was’ obtaining most of her supplies of phosphatic rock from Nauru?
– And is the honorable member aware that the Caroline Islands, over which Japan has a mandate, have a larger supply of phosphatic rock than has Nauru, and that it is perhaps of better quality?
– I am not.
– It is a well-known fact that the Ocean Island deposits are better ‘than thos9 of Nauru.
– Why did Japan, before the war, obtain her supplies from Nauru ?
– Probably because it suited her to . do so. Japan intends to develop the islands over which she .has obtained a mandate, and I believe it is correctly stated that the valuable deposits of .phosphates in the Caroline Islands and elsewhere will be developed by her by means of cheap labour. The product of that cheap labour will pour into this country, and local manufacturers will be crowded out. All these are matters which we shall have to consider. Superphosphates from cheap-labour countries should not have the same opportunity here as those manufactured under reasonable conditions of labour.
When the question of compensation is under consideration, will the arbitrators take these facts into consideration, and have regard also to the future? Unless they do, we shall burden the industry, and in all probability cripple its success. If it be true that the company has made an average profit of £52,000 per annum, and that it paid Germany £600,000 for the right to mine for phosphatic rock at Nauru, it ought to be satisfied with that amount of £600,000, without taking into account the prospects of a hundred years ahead. We must be careful we do not pay too much even for this valuable asset.
Another suggestion 1 would make is that the Government should take the control of this industry from beginning to end. The Government ought not to be satisfied to merely quarry ‘the rock and carry it on ship to the various ports of Australia; but they should undertake the work of turning the rock into the finished article to he sold to our farmers. -We shall never be able to pay our way by taxing and borrowing alone, and the Government, therefore, ought to take in hand good paying industries, such as the one we are discussing. We expect in three years to own a mercantile marine running into 100 vessels, to ‘be used for the purpose of carrying our produce to the other side of the world, arid if it is a good, policy to own. vessels in that way, we should use them to bring this raw material to Australia, in order that, the profits may not go to private persons, but into the public Treasury. If we are to have the “ new world “ of which we hear, the Government will have to take a more active interest- in the industries .of the country ; and, unless .they do so in the case of these phosphates, I cannot see how they can be turned into a paying proposition.
I hope that at the end cif five years, if not before,. Australia, as her share, will be getting, not 42 per cent., but 84 per cent, of the phosphates, leaving to New Zealand the 16 per cent., which is all that is required by the Dominion. The 5,000,000 people in Australia have incurred a debt which represents a burden that will not only bend, but crush, them unless our ordinary sources of revenue from taxation and borrowing are supplemented. An industry such as this, properly managed by the Government from start to finish, should be as profitable, or even more profitable than our mercantile marine.
Of course, the agreement has been made on behalf of Australia by the Prime Minister, and I suppose we cannot alter it now; but if there were an opportunity we should certainly see that the United Kingdom’s share was transferred to us. The Prime Minister has told us that the United Kingdom is not likely to require 42 per cent, of the phosphates, for the simple reason that she can obtain supplies from Algeria and America, and it seems unlikely that she will come 12,000 miles for raw material of the kind. I think that we, as a Parliament, might, by making proper representations, have the agreement varied in that way; at any rate, I see failure for the whole scheme -unless the Government intend, not only to mine, but to manufacture the phosphates. We ought to remember, too, that our supply of fertilizers does not come only from such deposits as these. I understand that the Mount Lyell Company manufacture certain by-products into fertilizers, and that there are supplies from other quarters. The chemist is now at work, and if ever he were needed he is needed on the farm and in connexion with our soils. One of the great failures on the part of the States is shown in the fact that there isnot a proper analysis of Australian soils, whereas we ought tq know exactly the kind of soil to be found in any part of Australia, and be able to add to its fertility by chemical processes, the application of electricity, and other methods. We ought to be most careful how we give our support to a Bill of this character ;: but I suppose we shall simply have to agree to it.
– If we pass the Bill, the responsibility will be on this Parliament.
– Quite so; but what possibility is there of amending the Bill, seeing that the agreement has been signed on behalf of the people of Australia? I do not wish to. speak in terms of condemnation of the Prime Minister; but I think a great -mistake was made by him in regard to Nauru. He ought to have insisted on a mandate being given to Australia and New Zealand only, with the .greater proportion of the power to Australia. As I have said, I should like to see the British interest removed altogether.
We ought to know as nearly as possible the tonnage of these deposits. Some figures have been given showing the quantity at 40,000 tons, but the Prime Minister spoke of 400,000,000 tons.
– The Prime Minister spoke of S0,000,00O tons.
– The . Prime Minister merely informed the House of varying estimates that .had. been made.
Mr. FENTON. What is the tonnage?
– The Prime Minister quoted estimates, including one of 300,000,000 tons.
– There is a great disparity in the estimates that have been presented to us.
– The Germans estimated the quantity to be 400,000,000 tons.
– But what official figures have we? The honorable member would have despised a German estimate not long ago.
– I am speaking of when the Germans had possession of the islands.
– The last estimate I heard was 60,000,000 tons.
– I think the House is entitled to further information on the point. “We ought to be careful that we do not “ buy a pig in a poke.”
– We are not buying the island at all.
– We are taking over liabilities along with the assets.
– I suggest to the honorable member that all these points have to be negotiated, and the time for that is not yet.
– You cannot get the exact figures.
– I am sure the honorable member would not buy a station on various estimates as to the quantity of sheep, ranging from 10,000 to 30,000”; and if he is so careful in his private business, why not be equally careful in dealing with the public expenditure? It has been said in this House before thatwe are altogether too loose in our dealings with the public finances,whereas we ought to be more careful in those than we are in our private affairs. A man who would in any shape or form cheat or defraud the Government in the matter of public -moneys is, in my opinion, a bigger thief than he who robs a single individual, because in the former case the whole of the public are injured.
– Is “ defraud “ not a strong term to use in reference to this agreement?
– It is time we had more information as to. these purchases by the Government, who are obtaining options over iron deposits, and so forth. We are asked to accept too much on trust, and there ought to be clear and distinct figures when we enter into agreements of the kind. The estimates given are various, and not so near the mark as they ought to be . when an intelligent Parliament is asked to indorse an agreement.
– It will be settled at the Nationalist party meeting to-morrow.
– The Bill will have been passed by that time, and we ought to have had a proper and authoritative estimate of the tonnage and value of the deposits.
– I am afraid that the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) is under a misapprehension, not only as to what the agreement means, but as to what the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said. The Prime Minister gave several estimates of authorities as to the quantity of the phosphates on Nauru, but he told honorable members that those estimateswere not his personal suggestions. Nothing could be fairer than that; but the honorable member for Maribyrnong has apparently been trying to prove what might have been done if a man like himself had been sent Home to make these arrangements. . The Prime Minister told us that there were long and difficult negotiations, but that he would not tire the House by going into details concerning them.
– Why should there have been difficult negotiations ?
– The Prime Minister did not care to even appear to speak in terms of adulation of himself, and he did not give the particulars of the negotiations; had he done so, I do not think that the honorable member for Maribyrnong would for one moment have suggested the possibility of thewhole of the island being given over to Australia. Had the honorable member known what the Prime Minister did in this matter, he could not have refrained from paying the right honorable gentleman a high meed of praise. I am not going to do so, because the Prime Minister has not invited anything of the kind.
– It appears that if he gets anything that is a little good, he is prepared to share it with other people.
– The honorable member argued that wewere giving too much for our share if the estimates of the quantity of phosphates on the islandwere correct, but this is not a purchase of the island according to an ascertained tonnage. It is a purchase at a fair valuation. If the quantity of phosphates ishigh, the price will be high; if it islow, the price will below. Article 7 of the agreement provides that the island shall be taken over “ at a fair valuation.” Several honorable members have thrown doubts on the possibility of getting a fair valuation determined. As a matter of fact, the sovereignty of the island now passes in trust to the three parts of the Empire concerned - to the United Kingdom and to Australia in respect of 42 per cent, each, and to New Zealand in respect of 16 per cent. They are the trustees for” the League of Nations, by whom the mandates are declared, and they take charge of it for the League; but the absolute, sovereignty has passed away from Germany^ and is vested, for purposes of application and administration, in the trustees, who are appointed in accordance with the mandate. Those trustees are the parties to the agreement. ‘ Australia is one of them to the extent I have mentioned. They have the sovereign power under the mandate to declare, as we can declare in this House, the proper method of ascertaining what is a fair price to be paid. They can declare that it shall be ascertained by valuation, or by any other means, if an arrangement is not come to. The honorable member may rest assured that the provisions of the agreement can be so carried out that the price paid by the nations concerned shall be absolutely fair. It will not be based on. any speculative ideas of what the island may be worth in twenty years to come.
– The company has a hundred years’ rights.
– That does not matter. It is the actual value at the present time, to be determined by the ordinary means adopted by Courts of justice. The honorable member may rest assured that that is the principle that will be applied. It has been done by us under the Lands Acquisition Act. We have the power, under the Constitution, to acquire property on just terms. What those terms are to be rests with the ‘Commonwealth Parliament, subject to the word “ just.”
– Then why not put in “ on just terms “ here?
-“ At a fair valuation “ has the same significance.
Some honorable members have complained that there should be only one Commissioner instead of three. There arc three parties interested in the agreement, in shares in the proportion of 42, 42, and 16, and each party must have a representative on the Commission. The question of whether one of the parties in a particular year consumes the whole of his share for agricultural purposes or not may have to be investigated. There is a good deal of business to be done. Sales have to be conducted, and the rate to be paid for treatment has to be determined by the Commissioners. Honorable members also talk about the possibility of the price going up because there is no direct provision in the agreement as to how the phosphates are” to be treated before the product is actually delivered to the farmers. That, again, is a matter for the Commissioners to determine. If they arrange with existing bodies here to treat the raw phosphatic rock, they can lay down the terms on which this will be done. They can protect the consumers by actually declaring the conditions upon which the purchases are to be made. I cannot see how any honorable member, notwithstanding all the general criticism that has been voiced, can suggest a single amendment that will improve the agreement.
– How could you amend it, if you wished?
– I cannot see what amendment is to take place. The general principles are there, the power is there, and the machinery necessary to protect the interests of the three parties is there.
– We are bound to trust to the honesty of our representative.
– Of course, we must do so ; and if our representative does not act honestly we can withdraw him.
I have been, asked for more information about the island. Sir William Macgregor, who ought to know something about this subject, contributed to The United Empire for March, 1918, a very interesting article upon ‘ ‘ The Pacific and its Political Settlement.” He says -
One of tlie most important of the German islands is Nauru, or Pleasant Island. It lies half-a-mile south of the equator, and has an area of 3 square miles, and 1,538 inhabitants. It rises only 20. feet above sealevel. It has no harbour, is surrounded by a reef, and its lagoon is dry at low water. It is composed of coral lime, and is reported by Dr. Paul Hambruch to contain some 83,600,000 cubic metres of from 83 per cent, to 00 per cent tricalcium phosphate. It has shipping means to load 100 tons an hour. Another island, Angaur, contains a considerable quantity of phosphates. It was taken possession of by the Japanese Forces soon after the outbreak of the war.
This is one of the best bargains the Commonwealth could possibly have made. These islands in the Pacific were handed over to the Allies, and it became a question of who was to get them. The Prime Minister stuck out most forcibly for our acquisition of Nauru. The estimates we have show that it is a wonderful island for phosphates as regards, not only quality, but quantity. I have seen the quality compared with that of some of our own phosphates, and it was held to be high. On the whole, this is an excellent agreement, obtained after long and difficult negotiations.
.- The honorable member for Hunter’ (Mr Charlton) maintained that as the return from Nauru Island was £52,000 per year, and the company had a 100 years’ right, the compensation to be paid would be £5,000,000. But the present value of £5,000,000, payable in 100 years, is only about £500,000. A bill of £100 payable in six months, discounted now, is worth only £97. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) twitted me on my Free Trade principles, and expressed the hope that a high import duty would be put on these phosphates, with the object of preventing Japan from sending phosphates here. Before the British took possession of the island, Japan obtained most of her phosphates there, so that if this proposal is carried out we will slam the door in the face of Japan, and there will be no occasion to put on a heavy Tariff to keep ‘her out. The honorable member quoted an estimate that there was only 40,000,000 tons of rock phosphate on the island. The Prime Minister gave an estimate of 80,000,000 tons, mentioning his authority, and stated that the German estimate was 450,000,000 tons. A great friend of mine, who visited the island two years ago. told me that he . estimated the quantity at 300,000,000 tons. He added that the phosphates were being taken by America and Japan from the island at the cost in royalty of 4s. per ton. Subsequently a ship’s captain engaged by the British Phosphate Company gave me practically the same information regarding Nauru and Ocean Island. During the last elections I said we were justified in sending our delegates to England to look after our interests so far as these islands were concerned. I said that Japan and America were getting phosphates from there at a royalty of a few shillings per ton, and that the product was sent back to Australia and our farmers had to pay £4 or £5 per ton for it, after it had been mixed with sand and other materials to reduce its strength. If our delegates did nothing else than give us control over these phosphates, they more than justified their visit to the Old Country. In years to come the island will be invaluable to us. It is distant 2,800 miles as the crow flies. There is no other deposit in the world so rich and at the same time so convenient to Australia. The official Customs statistics show that in 1917-18 New South Wales consumed 539,600 cwt. of phosphates from these islands, Victoria 1,727,000 cwt., South Australia 919,000 cwt., and Western Australia 457,000 cwt., making a total of 3.643,000 cwt., or 182,153 tons, valued at £433,940. I support the Bill, and am sure that Australia will benefit for years to come by the action of the Government in taking over the island of Nauru.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, reported from Committee without amendment, and passed through its remaining stages.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 29th August, vide page 12157) :
Clause 12 -
Section 155 of the principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stend : - “155. - (1) When entry is made of goods upon which duty is imposed according to value the owner shall deliver to the Collector with the entry -
the genuine invoice for the goods;
a declaration by the owner in the prescribed form verifying the particulars in the entry; and
a statement in the prescribed form showing, in the currency of the country of export, the fair market value of the goods as defined in subsection (2)’ of the last preceding section.
Upon which Mr. Charlton had moved by way of amendment -
That the following words be added to paragraph c: - “such value to be made public by the Comptroller-General.”
.- Is the Minister for Trade and Customs prepared to accept the amendment?
– I am surprised that the Minister cannot see his way clear to . accept the amendment, in view of the fact that it would give the people an opportunity of learning the value of imported goods. It is a fair amendment, simply providing that the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs shall make public the value of goods upon which duty is paid, and enabling the public to realize whether they are paying an excessive price or not. We are told that Parliament is going to do all it possibly can to adjust matters between the consumer and the producer, so that they will be on a satisfactory basis, yet here at the first opportunity the Minister, who is so anxious to protect the public against the profiteer, refuses to accept an amendment which would place the public in a position to learn the value of commodities entering Australia. We condemn- secret* treaties, which have led nations into all sorts of trouble, and we all join in demanding that international negotiations and agreements should, bear the light of day, yet people in this community are not to be permitted to know what an importer pays for the- goods he brings into Australia. So long as he satisfies the Comptroller of Customs that he has- paid duty on an article according to its value, we take care that no one else shall know anything about it; otherwise he would be deprived of- the opportunity of adding 100 per cent, to the price of the article when he sells ‘ it to the public. Where is the amendment unjust to the importer?
– If the amendment is- inserted it will place no information at the disposal of the public that will be worth having.
– But it would not interfere with the Bill ?
– I do not think it would have any effect at all.
– Then if it has no effect, why not accept it?
– Simply because it is not the custom to put into a Statute a useless thing.
– Customs have grown up in this world, especially in commercial circles, and they delude the people. We ought to break down these practices and introduce new customs which will let the daylight in. The amendment may have no effect in regard to the fixing of the prices the public will have to pay, but it would let the newspapers and the public know exactly the value of an imported article. The consumer would be able to say, “ Here is an article which is imported at the cost of £1, and yet we are obliged to pay £3 for it. Who gets the difference?” The amendment would have some effect on the profiteer. He would realize that for once in his life his actions were being exposed. He would have to show why he charged £3. for something he had obtained for £1. That at least would be doing something, and surely we in this Parliament are going to make an effort to control commodities in the interests of the people. Are we to give a free hand to those who have been proved to be robbing the people in regard to the commodities they are obliged to purchase? The amendment, if accepted, would be one of the greatest eye-openers the public could have. The retail prices of many commodities exceed the import prices by 100 and 150 per cent. That is where the profiteer comes in. Yet when we ask this Parliament to take the first step to do something in the direction of controlling commodities in the interests of the people, the- request is refused. Probably next week the Government will say that they want additional powers, and ;that they propose to ask for an amendment of the Constitution to deal with these matters, but here is a -case where they have the whole thing in their hands, and yet they do nothing. As a matter of fact, I contend that at the present time we can control all commodities, because we are still in a state of war. Here is a simple amendment which will not interfere with the Bill, and yet the Minister objects to it. Is there some objection which has not vet been fully explained or which might be acceptable? The people, if given the opportunity of expressing an opinion, would say at once that they should be put in the position of knowing the cost of goods entering Australia. They would ask why they should not be given the opportunity of knowing just where the profiteering takes place.
– Is the honorable member’s suggestion the simplest way of killing profiteering.
– It may not be the simplest way, but it is one way of doing so. It is better to make a start when we have the opportunity of doing something. We should watch every such opportunity. When I saw what was going on I determined that I would lose no chance of referring to it. There are thousands of people in Australia, who are not able to get the necessaries of life or clothe their families as they should be clad. It is well known that during the war importers bought so much suiting material from the Old Country at the fabulous prices obtaining there and paid duty on it, and then got three-fourths of their suiting material requirements . manufactured locally, and charged the people what was paid on the imported article. That is bare-faced robbery which we should prevent. We are not justified in permitting it to continue. What is the use of talking about taking these problems into consideration ? There is to be a party meeting to decide as to whether there should be an election, and as to whether there is to be an amendment of the Constitution, but Ministers cannot hoodwink the people all the time. They may hoodwink them some of the time, but there will come a day when the people will see through it all. I am surprised that the Minister should say so calmly that he cannot accept the amendment, and yet should give no solid reason for his refusal, except the statement that if it were included in the Bill it would have no effect. If this is the way in which the affairs of the country are to be administered I am sure it is time the people took charge and sent persons here to look after their interests. I hope that we shall have an election speedily. It is useless going upon the public platform and talking, as Ministers do, if no honest attempt is made to redress these things when the opportunity presents itself. It is time all this subterfuge was exposed. No attempt is being made to deal with these matters. It is simply a question of allowing the “fat man” to get as much as he possibly can.
– I must have a copy of the honorable member’s speech.
– I speak as I feel on this matter. I know what it is for people to be in need of something and not in a position to get it. I have been through the mill. I have had to toil for my livelihood, and I know what it must mean to support a family of five or six at the present cost of commodities.
– I have had to feed ten.
– It is usually the worker who has a family of ten to rear. We talk of the need for population, but here in Australia we are making it almost impossible for people to rear families. This is a question of paramount importance, yet we make no attempt to deal with it. I do not think the Government can justify their attitude in saying that the amendment would have no effect even if included in the Bill. If it can have no effect on the Bill, surely they can allow it to be included, so that the people may learn what the importer is paying on certain articles which come into Australia. It is the only method of letting a little daylight into these matters. It would have the tendency of curbing the extortionate profits. Unless we are prepared to do something of the kind it is time we went to the people. There is urgent work to be attended to before we do so. but if we are to allow the people to be robbed in the meantime we might just as well let the urgent work stand over and give them the opportunity of saying who are to represent them here, and of seeing that they get redress for the grievances under which they are now suffering. Bv agreeing to this amendment we shall show that this Parliament is endeavouring in a bond fide way to let the public know what is paid for certain imported articles. Why should we shield the importers by keeping secret the prices they have paid? Everybody can know the business of the masses of the people, but apparently a small privileged section who are making fortunes in the country must be protected in every possible way. I hope the Minister will reconsider his decision, and I shall be surprised if honorable members on the Ministerial side vote against the amendment. If they do they must take the consequences, but the amendment is fair and reasonable and ought to receive the support of members on both sides of the Committee. The time has arrived when all possible information should be disclosed, so that we may be better able to deal . with the people who are taking advantage of the community by profiteering.
.- Apart from an interjection that the amendment would have no effect and that he would not accept it, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) has not . spoken upon this question. In the past there has been too much secrecy about the transactions of the importer and the manufacturer. We know what the farmer gets for his wheat, meat, and butter, but nobody is permitted to know theprices at which the importer buys or the manufacturer produces. Whenever any inquiry is held whether by a Prices Board ox a Tariff Commission or an Inter-State Commission, these transactions must be hidden behind a veil of secrecy. When I was Minister for Trade and Customs I desired to ascertain whether the raw material certain manufacturers were using was of Australian origin and what proportion the wages paid bore to the price at which the goods were sold to the warehouses or retailers. I was immediately told that I was asking for the information for party purposes. I replied that I would keep the information secret. The honorable member for .Melbourne (Dr.’ Maloney) recently asked for information from the Taxation Department in order to be able to tell the (public how certain persons in the country are piling up big fortunes. Sir Alexander Peacock, when Treasurer for Victoria, in order to show the enormous increases in the incomes of many people, quoted before the State Parliament 245 persons and firms, which he indicated only by figures. Those statistics showed that the incomes of some persons had increased by as much as 1,100 per cent, in two- years.
– Was that during the war ?
– How much did they pay in war-time profits tax?
– I do not know. But when we asked the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) for similar information he refused it, because he said that we must not ‘allow those facts to be known. The worker who asks for an increase in his wages is denounced. Travelling in a train last week I listened to a commercial traveller and an auctioneer denouncing the coal miners in New Zealand, who were reported in the press to be earning £2 per day. I said to them, “ How much would you take per day to work in a mine?” They said they would not do that work at any price. But they denounced other men for asking for what they considered a fair remuneration. We know what the seamen were earning before the recent strike, but when we ask that the Comptroller of Customs should make known certain information regarding the prices of imports, the application is refused in the interests of commerce.
– I am very much surprised that an ex-Minister for Trade and Customs should support this amendment.
– 1 would honor whatever obligation of secrecy is imposed, by the Act, but I favour letting a little daylight in oh these transactions so that the public may know what enormous profits are made by some people in the community. We were told in the House a few weeks ago that galvanized iron was sold over and over again between the time it left the original shipper abroad and the time it was landed in Australia. There were half-a-dozen different commissions and profits to be paid before the article could be sold to the public. We might provide for a limitation of profit, but that would be futile unless we prohibited excessive re-selling. The people do not know how much they have to pay for excessive handling and distribution, apart from the profit made by the manufacturer and importer. If we can let in a little daylight on the matter, so much the better. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) said that men with large families found it difficult to make ends meet at the present prices of commodities. . Mr. Justice Powers stated in the Arbitration Court yesterday that he was unable, under the Arbitration Act, to order that a man should be paid a living wage, because the Act provides for a living wage for a man with a family of three, whilst the witness who was before the Court had a family of five. Fancy a family of five being considered large in a country like Australia!
– I call it a very small family.
– And three is an. exceptionally small one. We could help the people by letting them know how much it cost the importer . to land goods in Australia. Long after the war was in progress, German goods were being sold in Australia at increased prices, and the public were told that the increase was due to the war. The truth is that the seller had increased the price on account of the necessities of the people. I re* member that when .the late Sir William Lyne was piloting the Commerce Bill through this House in 190S, we endeavoured to insert an amendment that the country of origin should be stamped upon an imported article in letters of the same size as any other inscription appearing upon it. There was immediately a howl and outcry from the commercial community. Tie words “ Made in Germany” were printed in microscopic letters.
– This amendment proposes to let all other competitors in business know what a man’s invoice prices are.
– Does not the right honorable gentleman think that they already know ?
– I am sure they do not.
– There are certain standard lines, and those in the trade know practically what every importer is paying to within a few pence or a few shillings.
– Which might make all the difference between success and failure in a man’s business.
– I am not one-eyed in regard to this matter. I desire that the prices of the manufacturer shall be disclosed in the same way as those of the importer. In Great Britain, certain articles of manufacture have been standardized, and boots are stamped with the price at which they were produced in the factory, so that the purchaser may know what profit has been added by the retailer. That is information which the people ought to have.
– Does the honorable member suggest that that would be possible under the amendment that has been. proposed ?
– The amendment would be a step in the right direction, and I congratulate the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) upon having moved it. Once we have taken that step, others will follow.
-This amendment will be of no use without many other steps.
– Of course; but does the honorable member say that, because we cannot take all the steps at once) we should . not take any ? It is possible that we shall read an announcement within the next forty-eight hours that the Ministerial party have decided that this Parliament shall go to the country and seek increased powers under the Constitution. This amendment will let the electors know which party in this House is prepared to let daylight in on commercial transactions, so that the people may know the landed cost of imported articles. The people ought to have known the price at which galvanized, iron was sold to the original shipper, and how it was sold and re-sold half-a-dozen times en voyage, each time at an increased price.
– The publication of these invoices would necessarily indicate where the goods had been obtained.
– If I were to discover in ordinary business where I could purchase an article a farthing cheaper than my competitors, would it be fair to debar me from reaping that advantage?
– The amendment would not have that effect.
– It would.. .
-It does not provide that the whole of the facts appearing in an. invoice shall be disclosed. It provides for the disclosure of the value alone.
– Does not the honorable member think that all the facts on the invoice ought to be disclosed?
– The question of value is the most important consideration. If an importer were obtaining woollens from Bradford, cotton goods from Lancashire, curtains from Nottinghamshire, or hosiery from Leicester, he’ would not be required, under this amendment, to disclose the name of the persons from whom he was purchasing. It simply requires that the fair marketvalue, on which duty is paid, shall be made public.
– In what way does the honorable member suggest that it should be made public?
– It could be published in the Commonwealth Gazette, and if the newspapers considered that it was of public importance, they would republish the information. If the figures showed that cotton socks were landed here at 6d. per pair, and were being retailed at, say,1s. 3d. per pair, the public would know at once that a profit of at least 150 per centwas being made by some one. I recognise that, in many cases, prices have increased . because of the rise in the “price of the raw materials; but the public of Australia would be more satisfied if they knew that the importers and warehousemen were actually paying increased prices for the goods imported by them. There is a strong belief on the part of the people to-day that at least more than one-half of the prices they are paying are being mopped up by middlemen.
– I know where the system for which this amendment provides is being carried out not officially, but certainly very effectively. For instance, every one knows to-day what was the wholesale price of fruit yesterday; but, so far as I know, that information does not help the people to get cheaper fruit.
– Every one knows what the farmer is getting for his wheat, his meat, and his butter, and what wages most workmen are receiving. But in respect of a great number of locally produced articles the people believe that there are too many middlemen between the actual producer and the consumer, and too many middlemen between the importer and the consumer of imported articles. They believe that prices are materially increased because of excessive handling. I hope that this amendment will be carried, since I believe it would help to eliminate a number of agents and brokers who, in the case of locally manufactured goods, come between the producer and the consumer, and between the importer and the consumer of goods from abroad.
..- I also desire to support the amendment, believing that, if carried, it would tend to allay the feeling of distrust prevalent throughout Australia to-day. The industrial unrest and the disloyalty, and distrust of the Parliaments by the people are due, to a very great extent, to the excessive cost of living. There is a strong conviction on the part of many people that the excessive cost of many articles is due, not to the high cost of production, or ordinary systems of handling, but to excessive trading amongst middlemen. If the Government is sincere in its declaration that it wishes to do away with profiteering, if it is honest in its declared intention to see that the people get a fair deal at the hands of these middlemen, it should accept this amendment. The amendment aims directly at making public what is the fair market value of goods when purchased by the original importer. I cannot see that it is likely to do any injury to business men. That is a point, however, that seems to cause much concern to the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook). He fears that it may bring disaster to business men, and pos sibly he includes the profiteer among them. I am a great deal more concerned about the possibility of disaster to this country because of the growing unrest directly due to the high cost of living.
– The honorable member has as much sympathy with the profiteer, and as much to do with him, as I have.
– I am relying on the evident quibbling and the protestations made by the Minister a few minutes ago, ‘ when trying to show that the amendment should be defeated.
– If an article passed through the hands of ten different persons, and each made a profit of 5 per cent., that would mean a total of 50 per cent.
– Would the honorable gentleman justify the passing of any article through ten different pairs of hands?
– You cannot stop it.
– It can be stopped.
– Of course, these expert business men can stop anything!
– This is a direct admission on the part of the Government that they cannot control profiteering. As a matter of fact, excessive handling and profiteering can be stopped.
– Who is the illusive profiteer whom every one is chasing?
– The profiteer is nothing like so illusive as the Bolshevik, of whom the honorable member and his party talk. It has been pointed out in this House again and again that undue trafficking can be stopped. The Government have adopted a socialistic system of running steamers, and that policy might well be extended. If the Government find that the middlemen associated with any particular industry will not treat the public fairly, it is open to them to deal with the product of that industry just as they have done with our shipping. Is it impossible for the Commonwealth Government to become direct importers just as they have become shipowners?
Even if the effect of this amendment would be to do some injury to a business man here and there, I think that the safety of the Government of the Commonwealth is of more importance than is the safety of one or two individuals. In allaying the suspicion in the public mind that undue trafficking is taking place, I feel that we should be doing a most important work. We should be rendering a service, not only to the people, but to constitutional government. I feel very strongly that this amendment, if carried, would do much to help the people to find out whether or not they are being robbed by profiteers. If, as a result of its operation, the people ascertained thu there was no profiteering going on, it would enable them to come more closely together, and to realize that the burden they were called upon to bear was a just one. If, on the other hand, it went to show that profiteering was going on, the people would know what to do, and would force the Parliament to take action to protect them.
Mr. CORSER (Wide Bay) [10.101.- I fail to recognise that the carrying of this amendment would be of any advantage to the people. If honorable members opposite were familiar with the whole of the circumstances associated with the importation of goods, they would recognise at once that the first cost described on an invoice represents but one portion of the total. There have to be added to it freight, insurance, exchange, shipping charges, agencies, stamps, interest, Customs duty, and cartage. That being so, the publishing of the initial cost of imported goods, as shown on the invoice, would not convey any accurate information to the people. A point which honorable members opposite have, perhaps, overlooked is that the price of goods is largely regulated by the quantity purchased. In connexion with the sale of wool, sugar, or any other commodity, the rebate allowed is in proportion to the quantity purchased.
– That should not be the case in regard to sugar.
– Jam and confectionery manufacturers receive a large rebate on sugar, because they are large dealers, and export a large quantity of their products.
There are other considerations which should also be taken into account. Many people, for instance, are both exporters and importers. An exporter who has on the other side of the world money available to pay for goods that he is importing, is in a distinctly better position than a man who has not the money there, -and who has, therefore, to pay interest upon it from the day that the shipping documents are handed over to the bankers. I feel that this amendment would be of no value to the public. It would not enable them to arrive at the actual cost of any goods, but, on the other hand, would be calculated to give rise to serious misunderstandings. In many cases, it would lead the people to suspect profiteering where it did not actually exist. I mention these facts for the information of those honorable members of the Opposition who have not been in business. I urge them to consider, these points, and not to attempt in this way to deceive the public. I have no dealings with soft goods; but I would point out that under the system proposed by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), a large importer of soft goods might be charged with profiteering when there was absolutely- no justification for such a charge. There ought not to be any desire to misrepresent the actual position.
.- This debate is likely to enlighten the general community, which at the present time has not that respect for the Parliament that it ought to have. The .reason is that the Government make no attempt to alter the present undesirable state of affairs. Precedent has laid it down that some particular line of action must ‘be taken, and they are so overweighted by precedents that they remain idle while the public suffer. Not many years ago we had a Commission inquiring into the cost of patent medicines, and it revealed facts of which the public had previously not the slightest idea. The people were then paying 5s. and 6s. for, amongst other things, boxes of pills, the chief component part of which was goat’s manure. Honorable members may smile, but I nin. relating an actual fact. The honorable member who last addressed the House described himself as a business man ; and I may say that I at one time did business on behalf of an association of the committee of which I was chairman. For some goods that we required such an enormous price was asked that I advised my committee to allow me to indent them direct from the producer abroad, and the adoption of my advice resulted in a saving to us of 44 per cent.
During the last twelve months the InterState Commission has been making inquiries; and if honorable members on the Government side have taken no notice of the finding of the Commission, I can assure them they have been taken to heart by members on this side. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) admits the enormous difference in the price of articles when first invoiced and when they reach the consumer, but. he tells us that the amendment before us would prove of no use. Under the present circumstances, there is no possibility of knowing the original cost of an article. Goods from other, parts of the world are shipped to Australia, and in the last two or three years we have had instances of their changing hands three or four times while in transit, each change meaning increased profits and commissions with, of course, a huge increase in price to the consumers. The men who do this sort of business have only a very bare kind of office, but they can afford to go to races and live in very comfortable houses. If the Government are in earnest about their desire to stop profiteering they now have an opportunity to do something; but if we may judge from their conduct in the past they will every time support vested interests. Any attempt we on this side make in the direction . I suggest is rejected by the Government and their supporters, on the ground that, if adopted, it would interfere with . somebody. Personally,I am an out-and-out Protectionist, and, in my opinion, duties to be effective should be prohibitive. Our present fiscal arrangements are like a domestic colander - full of holes, so far as the protection of our industries is concerned; and that is not a desirable state of things in a country which seeks to be self-contained. When an opportunity like this presents itself we ought to show that we are genuinein our condemnation of the unnecessarily high cost of living, for which there must be some limit, just as there is to borrowing money. And in this latter regard the present Government have enjoyed much greater opportunities than any previous Government; they have been in office during a period of inflation, and have lived on loans in a fool’s paradise. At a meeting of my electors at Paddington, Sydney, it was gravely proposed that all profiteers should be executed as worse offenders than burglars. At the present time there are men obtaining . profits beyond all reason, while other citizens cannot get sufficient to fill their stomachs. This is a dangerous state of affairs, for we all know that the French Revolution and other upheavals were due to want of food; and we may face a similar crisis unless somethingis done. However, we are not going to meet to-morrow, because, I suppose, the Government have decided to hold a party meeting. We had a recess of five months, and yet here we are asked to take another holiday instead of doing the country’s business. I cannot understand how the members of the Government and their supporters can so far forget their duties as representatives of the people; indeed, I regard them as traitors to their country in the same way as I regard men who run away from the battlefield. I ask leave to continue my speech on a future occasion.
Court Martial on H.M.A.S. “Australia”: Remission of Sentences - Sale of Wool Clip - Japan and Pacific Islands - Country Mail and Telephone Services - Duty on Cotton Costume - Labour Conditions: West Sydney - Customs Department : Case of Alexander Henry - Japan: Statements by Mr. Catts - Repatriation and Land Settlement.
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I desire to know from the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) whether any steps have been taken to release the men who were sentenced to terms of imprisonment by the court martial on the Australia?
.- 1 am anxious to draw attention to statements made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in regard to the sale of wool. In a report headed “ Mr. Hughes and the Farmers “ in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, of the 17th instant, the Prime Minister is reported to have addressed the farmers and settlers’ delegates as follows: -
I was . able, before I left England, to sell 1,500,000 tons of wheat at 5s.6d. per bushel.
A Voice. - Too low.
– I could have sold more’ wheat.
A Voice. - I should think you could at that price.
– I could have sold more wheat at a better price if it had not been for the fact that our wool had been sold while I was on the water going to England. . . . I said to the people in England, “ You cannot pick and choose among the goods in our shop window, taking the wool and leaving meat and wheat. If you take the one, you must buy the’ others, too.” But that wool - the last lot was sold behind my back. I would not have agreed to that sale. If it had not been sold, we should have been in a very much better position at this moment.
Almost exactly the same words were used by the Sydney Morning Herald in its report of the same date. Yesterday, the Prime Minister, addressing the farmers and settlers at the luncheon at the Royal Agricultural Show in Victoria, said, as reported in the Argus of this morning, 24th September -
Some remarks I made in Sydney have been construed as a reflection on the Central Wool Committee. Nothing was further from my thought than to reflect on the Committee in relation to the last sale to Great Britain. . . For the sale of that wool I was responsible. What I desired to make clear was, had I known when the wool was sold -as much as I ‘know now, we should not have : sold the wool for the definite period of the war.
I am sorry the Prime Minister is not here, because I would like to impress him with the necessity of being a little more accurate in his statements to the public. The other day he said that he told honorable members on this side all about the arrangement made with Japan in connexion with the Pacific Islands, and, further, that I was present at the Cabinet meeting, and all the members on this side were present at the Caucus. When we denied his statements, the Prime Minister said, “ I did not say that ; what I said was this,” and then, in almost the same words, repeated the offence. When the people of the Commonwealth- become more accustomed to the Prime Minister, they will pay very little attention to his public utterances.
.- A little while ago, the adjournment of the House was moved with a view to ventilate the grievances of country members regarding country, . mail and telephone services. There is no desire on -the part of honorable members to move the adjournment again, but I wish to impress upon the Government the necessity for some reform in this matter, more particularly as it is being recognised more day by day how important it is that we should try to induce people to settle on the soil. The conditions of the mail and telephone services in the back country now are extremely harsh - harsher than they have ever been under the States or the Commonwealth. If there is to be retrenchment, and there is ample room for it in the public services, it should not be wholly and solely at the expense of the people who are pioneering the country. I hope the Government will take this -matter into consideration, because it is most serious. Moreover, wedo not desire, if it can be avoided, to again move the adjournmemt of this House to ventilate our grievances. If there is one section &£ the commnznity who should receive consideration, it is those who are going out and developing the very best parts of Australia.
– I wish to bring -under the notice -of the Minister for Trade and Customs -‘(Mr. Greene) am instance of profiteering . by his Department. The following letter was sent out by one of his officers’: -
In reply to your letter having reference to the duty charged on a parcel, I desire to inform you that the amount was correctly . arrived at, as . shown hereunder, in accordance with the rates prescribed by the existing Tariff:-
I should like the Minister to take this matter into consideration and try to have it rectified. A duty of 5s. 6d. on an article valued at 3s. 6d. appears to be a gross over-charge, and it should only be necessary to mention the matter to the Minister for him to take steps to see that such a thing does not occur in the future.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was through my electorate on Saturday week, and promised the electors there that he would endeavour to Tectify the existing conditions by restoring them to their normal employment. Some of my constituents have been to see me since, and have asked me to shake up the Prime Minister about his promise. The sooner he restores those conditions the better for all concerned. I shall be glad to hare my remarks- brought under the right honorable gentleman’s notice, so that he may give effect to his promise as goon as possible.
– A few weeks ago I called the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) to the case of Alexander Henry, sub-collector of Customs, Adelaide, and the extraordinary position he was placed in some years ago by the Department. If there is any justice at all in the Department, that gentleman should get the benefit of it. The matter has been outstanding for nome years, and there ds no justification for the Commonwealth Government escaping from its clear obligations. Now that we have no Wednesdays available for the purpose of discussing private, members’ business, it is only right that on grievance day Ministers should have the courtesy to be here to listen to what honorable members have to say about particular cases. I hope the Minister will give me a reply as to his intentions in this matter.
– I am glad the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald) is present. On the 18th September the honorable member said in the House, regarding myself -
He was a member of the War Council and circulated private and confidential memoranda affecting Japan* Who desired such information from, him, and what, right had he to give.it?
Then the honorable member proceeded to. pass criticism on me upon that basis. At no time in my life has any memorandum, from the Government come into my hands, confidential or otherwise, dealing with Japan, so that it has been impossible for me to circulate any such thing. There is absolutely no. foundation whatever for the honorable member’s statement. In any statements I ‘have made regarding Japan, either in this House or outside it, I have not made use of any confidential information given, to me anywhere. If any honorable member, from the Prime Minister (Mr.
Hughes) down, has any complaint to make in that respect, and will tell me the item on which the complaint is based, I will produce the authority from outside sources upon which I have founded any statements that I have made.
– You sent a private and confidential communication to several , members on that question.
– That was my own memorandum. It was not prepared by the Government, but was prepared by myself.
– What right had you to do it as a member of the War Council 1
– I did not do it as a member of the War Council.
– You were in the War Council at. the time.
– All I did was to show the members of the Government why I refused to have anything further to_ do with the recruiting campaign, and that, I submit, I was entitled to do. A confidential memorandum from me to the members of the Government is a totally different thing from what the honorable member suggested - that I had made public a confidential document belonging to the Government. There is no foundation whatsoever for the honorable member’s, statement, and if he wishes to do me justice he should do the honorable thing by publicly withdrawing the state-‘ ment that he has put upon public record.
.- I direct the attention of the Minister (Mr. Poynton) representing the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) to the fact, that to-morrow, at the Athenaeum, the State Minister who has charge of land settlement is meeting the representatives of all the local Committees who. deal with the land settlement question. A similar meeting was arranged last year between the Minister for Repatriation - and his Committees, but it lapsed on account of the influenza scare, just as it appeared that it was going to be useful and fruitful. Although this notice is very short, I hope the Assistant Minister will be able to bring under the notice of the Minister this opportunity of doing something’ really practical in the shape of getting into close touch with the local Committees, from whom so much is expected, and who have been throughout prepared to render the fullest possible assistance. If the Minister can at least get a responsible officer from his Department to be present at the meeting, so that the attitude of the local Committees may be learned, and closer co-operation brought about between the State and Federal Ministers regarding the question of Repatriation, a great deal of good will be done. This is a grand opportunity, and there is still sufficient public spirit left in the local Committees to render very valuable aid as regards both land settlement and the general question of Repatriation.
– I have looked into the case of Mr. Alexander Henry, mentioned by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald). The whole case was referred to the Public Service Commissioner., who has reported that he does not think Mr. Henry has any reasonable ground for complaint. Recently, when he was removed from Broken Hill to Adelaide, he was given, as a special act of grace on the part of the Department, double the removing allowance to which he was entitled by the Public Service regulations, in view of the special circumstances of his case. I think, so. far as I am able to judge from the records in the Department, that Mr. Henry has been treated with justice, and in some cases with special consideration.
I can only tell the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Wallace) that the amount of duty which he complained about on the article he mentioned is due to the fixed rates of duty, which I have no power to alter.
– I will bring the remarks of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) under the notice of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) early to-morrow morning. I doubt if the Minister can attend the meeting, but it may be possible, as the honorable member suggests, to have a responsible officer of the Department present, so that he may get in touch with the requests and suggestions of the representatives of the local Committees.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.42 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 September 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1919/19190924_reps_7_89/>.