8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. FOWLER took the oath, and subscribed the roll as member for the electoral division of Perth.
– In October last the Prime Minister promised that a Royal Commission would be appointed to investigate the base metal industry, and particularly the merits of thecase of the producers. I wish to know if anything has been done towards appointing the Commission, and, if not, what is proposed to be done?
– The question seems to me to fall within the category of those which could be placed on the noticepaper, and I shall be glad ifthe honorable member will give me notice of it.
asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are asfollow : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
With a view to the greater encouragement of rifle shooting, will the Department endea- vour to provide better and more efficient facilities to rifle clubs in country districts?
– In view of the necessity for economy and for the Department to keep expenditure within the amount provided on the Estimates, it is regretted that no facilities other than those already granted can be approved this financial year.
Refund of Soldiers’ Train Fare
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
The returned soldiers’ badge is issued to members of the Sea Transport Service and Australian Army Medical Corps Staffs of hospital ships on discharge, provided they proceeded outside the last Australian port of call during the period of the war and their services were satisfactory. Members of these staffs are also eligible for the following medals and ribands: -
1914-15 Star. Staffs of hospital ships who made voyages to and from a theatre of war during 1914 and 1915. Members of the Sea Transport Service who landed in a theatre of war on or before the 31st December, 1915, in charge of a draft.
British War Medal.
It is laid down in the conditions for the grant of the Victory Medal that the following are entitled to this award, provided they actually served on the establishment of a unit in a theatre of war and within certain defined periods: -
Officers, warrant officers, noncommissioned officers, and men of the British, Dominion, Colonial, and Indian Forces; members of women formations who have been enrolled under a direct contract of service for service with His Majesty’s Imperial Forces; civil medical practitioners, nursing sisters, nurses, and others em- - ployed with military hospitals.
Members of the Sea Transport Service are also eligible for the medal, provided they were in charge of a draft and landed in one of the defined theatres of war
Visits to Melbourne - Travelling Allowances and Expenses
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: - 1 and 2. Dr. Gilruth visited Melbourne at the following times: - 1st visit. - From about 24th March to about 21st April, 1013; about twenty-eight days. 2nd visit. - From 19th February to 25th April, 1914; about sixty-five days. 3rd visit. - From 6th January to 29th March, 1915; about eighty-two days. 4th visit. - From about 22nd September, 1916, to about 16th July, 1917; about 297 days. 5th visit. - From 9th September to 29th September, 1918; about twenty days. Dr. Gilruth finally left the Northern Territory on 20th February, 1919, and arrived in Melbourne on 5th March. He remained in Melbourne, on duty, till 31st May.
asked the Prime. Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1, 2, and 3. Steps are now being taken to appoint a tribunal to inquire into the conditions of the Sydney waterside workers with a view to effecting a settlement of matters in dispute on similar lines to those adopted in the case of the Melbourne wharf workers, including provision for - (a) preference for original loyalists; (b) preference for returned soldiers; (c) equality of opportunity for employment for all others. It is proposed that the tribunal shall consist of one representative of the ship-owners, one representative of the Waterside Workers’ Federation, and an independent chairman, to be selected by the parties by mutual agreement, or, in the event of dis agreement, to be nominated by the Commonwealth Government.
Interest and Storage: Agreements of Sale: Re-sales and Disbursements: Colonial Combing,Spinning, and Weaving Company.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What is now the cost per day of these two items?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will the Prime Minister also inform the House -
– The agreement for the sale is contained in cable messages passing between the two Governments. I will have a statement prepared setting out the agreement arrived at originally and subsequent variations, together with the other information asked for by the honorable member, and I will lay the document upon the table of the House.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will the Minister inform the House of the date when the War Precautions Act ceases to operate?
– I have already intimated, in reply to a question asked in the House by the honorable member for Capricornia on Friday last, that the War Precautions Act will cease to have force and effect at the expiration of three months after the issue by the GovernorGeneral of the Proclamation specified in section 2 of the War Precautions Act 1914-1918 declaring that the war with Germany and Austria-Hungary has ceased.
Cost of Living and Basic Wage : Second Period of Furlough
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Expenses of Private Companies
asked the Prime
Minister, upon notice -
– The shipping companies’ expenses have been borne by themselves, the Controller of Shipping recognising only such liability as he incurred under tie regulations relating to the requisitioning of Inter-State ships and the charter partyunder which such ships are running. So far no hire has been paid to the owners of requisitioned vessels, but the expenses of watching and safeguarding cargo will have to be paid by the Inter-State Central Committee out of revenue derived from fares and freights.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government will introduce a Bill compelling every political organization to publish a balance-sheet showing receipts and expenditure?
– I shall bring the matter before Cabinet for consideration.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he give instructions for the preparation of a memorandum by the Crown Solicitor showing in parallel columns the respective proposed alterations to the Constitution in the years 1913, 1915, and 1919, and the clauses of the Constitution that would be affected by the proposed alterations if carried, showing in black type in what respect the proposed alterations of 1919 differed from those of previous years?
– A statement will be prepared showing in as convenient a form as possible the several proposed alterations.
Continuance of the Scheme.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the shipping difficulties, and the fact of a guaranteed advance of 5s. per bushel by the Commonwealth Government with respect to the 1920-21 harvest, is it the intention of the Government to continue the wheat pooling scheme under existing arrangements for another wheat season?
– The matter is now receiving the consideration of Cabinet.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Demobilization: Passages for Unmarried Mothers
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In connexion with the demobilization of the Australian Imperial Force, is it the intention of the Government to assist the unmarried mothers who are now in Great Britain to come to Australia, and of whose children it is alleged the fathers are members of the Australian Imperial Force?
– Facilities are already provided for women in the position indicated by the honorable member to travel to Australia upon the application of any unmarried member of the Australian. Imperial Force who requests a passage with a view to marriage.
Native-born and Naturalized.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 to 5.. The information will require some time to prepare. It will be supplied as soon as available.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) (by leave) proposed -
That leave of absence for two weeks be given to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) on the ground of ill-health.
– Would the Prime Minister add the name of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), on the same ground ?
Question amended accordingly, and resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented: -
Arbitration (Public Service Act) -
Awards and Orders made by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and other documents, in the following cases : -
Australian Commonwealth Post and Telegraph Officers Association - Dated 20th February, 1920.
Commonwealth Engine-drivers and Firemen’s Association of Australia -Dated 30th January, 1920.
Line Inspectors Association, Commonwealth of Australia- Dated 30th January, 1920.
War Service Homes Act- Land acquired under, at-
Cootamundra, New South Wales.
Goulburn, New South Wales (2).
Mayfield, New South Wales.
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales (2).
Censure Amendment - Government Shipbuilding Contracts - Saleof Motors to Thompson and Company - Defence Administration: Report of Royal Commission - Government Expenditure - Dr. Gilruth - Bureau of Science and Industry: Board of Management - Profiteering - Federal and State Taxation Returns - Postal and Telephone Facilities in Country Districts - Wheat Scrip - State and Federal Electoral Rolls - Commonwealth Police Force - Lithgow Small Arms Factory - Tasmanian Trade and Tourist Traffic - Government Shipping Control - Primary Industries - Tasmania and the Federation - War Precautions Act : Prosecutions - Restrictions upon German Settlers - Basic Wage Commission - Increased Cost of Living : Queensland - Prices and Wages - Minister for Defence: Repatriation : Motor Car - Sugar Prices - Marine Engineers’ Strike and War Precautions Act - Old-age and Invalid Pensions: The Blind:Government Commissions and Committees - Wheat and Wool Sales - Corn sacks.
Debate resumed from 27th February (vide page 73), on motion by Mr. Watt -
That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee to consider the Supply to be granted to His Majesty.
.- Since the adjournment on Friday I have had the opportunity of inspecting in the Adelaide Advertiser and the Adelaide Register reports of what is supposed to have taken place here on Friday, when the House was good enough to give me leave to continue my remarks to-day. Speaking of myself the Register says -
He considered that before it began to consider the propriety of the war gratuity, the House should have some explanation of what he considered reckless and extravagant expenditure.
The Advertiser uses these words -
He considered that before they began to consider the propriety of a war gratuity in a Committee of Supply, they should have some explanation of what he regarded as reckless and extravagant expenditure.
I refer to these reports in order to correct a wrong impression that has been allowed to be conveyed ‘to these papers, because every honorable member knows that, in the course of my remarks on Friday, I made no reference whatever to the question of the war gratuity. I did not suggest that there should be any postponement of the time when a measure should be passed in order to authorize the payment of that gratuity. In fact, it did not enter into consideration at all, and if the Government had thought fit to call Parliament together earlier the necessary Bill for the authorization of the payment of the war gratuity could have been passed long ago. So far as I am concerned, I shall give Ministers every assistance to have the passage of the measure facilitated.
To-day I do not propose to deal with many matters that could very properly be discussed before agreeing to the Government’s proposal to go into a Committee of Supply. One might go back over quite a long list of incidents that have marked the career of the Ministry, incidents which the public, I am sure, are very anxious to have explained. One might go back to the Ready incident, and to the occasion on which Mr. Jensen, the ex-member for Bass, was gazetted out of the Ministry, or to other matters of a similar kind; but in the course of my remarks I do nob propose to deal with such things. The electors have not, so far as I can see at present, seen fit to give us the opportunity of turning out the present Government and cleaning out what I regard as a kind of Augean stable in connexion with many matters affecting the administration during the past three years - indeed, during the- whole of the Ministry’s term of office; but, no doubt, on some future occasion we may have an opportunity of discovering something in the pigeon-holes, or, at all events, of giving some one else the chance of making the necessary investigation. For the present I am mainly concerned with matters that appear to me to be of extreme urgency as affecting, not only the present, but also the immediate future. No one can suggest that the situation is not a difficult one. I do not suggest that the task before the Government is easy. There is a great burden of debt, largely increased, as I pointed out on many occasions, owing to the failure of the Government to have a proper regard for the interests of Australia during the course of the war. I believe that our debt is anything between £100,000,000 and £200,000,000 over and above what it would have been if the Government had had a proper regard for those interests. I form that opinion by a comparison on a population basis of the expenditure incurred by Australia with ‘ that incurred by Canada. However, there are some’ matters of immediate concern with regard to the expenditure- of the Government, and also with regard to the profiteering which has been allowed to become rampant in the community, and I propose to occupy a few minutes this afternoon in dealing with them. It is entirely in the hands of honorable members to compel the Government to adopt a policy suited to the requirements of Australia, and to enable it to meet its great obligations. We have the power to do so. The question is whether we are going to exercise it or not. So far, I have not had the opportunity of seeing exactly where honorable members stand with regard to such a policy, but I realize that if the Government will not conform to what a majority of honorable members in this House consider to be in the interests of the country it is the plain duty of that majority to turn them out of office.
When I was speaking on Friday last I made some reference to extracts from the Melbourne morning dailies relating to certain contracts for shipbuilding. Since then I have had the opportunity of perusing the report of the Auditor-General with regard to these particular matters. I find on page 252 of his report a reference to an agreement made with the Patterson McDonald Shipbuilding Company, Seattle, on the 22nd June, 1917, for the construction of ten first-class wooden cargo-carrying steamers for 5,300,000 dollars. The Auditor-General writes that - extra payments had been made to the extent of 500,000 dollars in connexion with these steamers. From a file of papers placed at my disposal by the Prime Minister’s office, it appears that the original contract was amended, on the 18th December, 1918, to provide for the payment .to the shipbuilding company of 8,200,000 dollars, subject to a deduction of 200,000 dollars reserved to cover displaced machinery, as it was intended to provide five of the tcn steamers with Diesel engines instead of steam engines.
I call special attention to the next sentence^ -
From the papers, it appeared that there had been considerable misunderstanding on the part of the contractors with respect to some of the terms of the contract, and the Commonwealth Commissioner, acting under the authority of the Commonwealth Government, made considerable concessions.
I should like to know from the Prime Minister and Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) what led to “ considerable misUnderstanding on the part of the contractors.” Here we had a big contract made by. the Government for the construction of a number of steamers, involving the expenditure of a large sum of money - a contract which should have contained very definite and specific provisions, such as would not lead to any misunderstanding. And yet we find the Auditor-General pointing out in his report that there was “ considerable misunderstanding on the part of the contractors with respect to some of the terms of the contract, and that the Commonwealth Commissioner, acting under the authority of the Commonwealth Government, made considerable concessions.” I object to the Government making indefinite contracts that are open to misunderstanding. It is not businesslike, to say the least of it, and it should not have been necessary to make concessions with regard to these contracts. The result of this particular contract was a loss of £326,000 to the Commonwealth Government on the sale of eight steamers.-
There is also, on page 260 of the AuditorGeneral’s report, a reference to the cancellation of certain shipbuilding contracts. It is pointed out that the cancellation of a contract made with the Wal lace Power Boat Company Limited, of Sydney, shows a loss to the Commonwealth of £51,839 2s. 7d.; that the cancellation of a contract made with Hughes, Martin, and Washington Limited, of New South Wales, shows a. loss of £72,500, less the progress payments that had already been made; and that the cancellation of a contract with Kidman and Mayoh, of New South Wales, shows a very large loss. These are only illustrations-
– Would the honorable member have recommended the continuation of the building of those wooden ships ?
– Before answering that question I should need to be informed of all the circumstances. Had I been the responsible- Minister I probably would not have made the original contract-
– I do not know the name of the honorable member who has just interjected, but he seems to be taking up the cudgels on behalf of the Government. I suppose he is one of those ‘ 1 as good as Labour men “ who have handed themselves over, body and soul, to be the instrumentalities of the profiteers.
Not to be drawn away by the interjector, let me say that these are only illustrations of a general looseness of expenditure on the part of the Administration.
– The position is worse than that.
– I have no doubt that it is much worse. I am merely referring to these as instances indicating a general looseness.
– The cost of extras in respect of the American ships exceeded the contract price.
– I would not doubt that. One finds this .report of the AuditorGeneral teeming with evidence of the unbusiness-like management of Government Departments. I have a couple of illustrations that will interest the Prime Minister. At page 280 there is a reference to a sale of certain motors to Thompson and Company, of Castlemaine. The motors, apparently, were sold to that firm at cost price, and re-sold by them at a profit of something like £1,500. The AuditorGeneral writes -
The following is an extract from the report of the Audit-Inspector of the 17th December, 1918, dealing with the accounts of the company’s stocks, as at the 30th June, 1918: - “ Included in the sales for the period is a sum of £2,170 13s. 4d., Thompson and Co., Castlemaine, for motors supplied. Some correspondence was seen in this matter, but no written authority was viewed for the sales. Papers are said to be at the Attorney-General’s Department. It is stated that the Prime Minister, Mr. W. Hughes, authorized the sale of the motors to Thompson and Company at cost price, on representation being made that they were to be used for the purpose of commencing the manufacture of motors. The munitions people say that a verbal agreement was made that the motors were not to be sold. The cost price was very much below catalogue prices, and from what can now be ascertained, catalogue prices of the motors soon became below the market price. It is further stated that the firm of Thompson and Co. were unsuccessful in manufacturing motors at payable prices, and obtained permission to sell at prices fixed by the Munitions Department, a stipulation to that permission being that the difference between the purchase and selling price is to he held pending a decision as to the ownership of same. The matter is in course at present, and a decision will be watched for. The profit involved is about £1,500.”
– A profit of £1,500 on £2,170.
– Yes. That is the statement of the Audit Inspector. The Auditor-General goes on to say-
Repeated application has been made to the Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Arsenal for further information on this matter, but the replies indicate that the papers are at the Attorney-General’s Department.
The latest report shows that this question is still unsettled, and also that the “motors were re-sold in some cases at big advances on the purchase prices.” This matter has been brought under the special notice of the Treasurer.
Before we go into Committee of Supply we shall, perhaps, hear something from the Treasurer (Mr Watt) as to what he has done in regard to this matter. All I can gather from the report is that it is alleged that the arrangement was made verbally, yet we are told that there are papers in the Attorney-General’s Department. These papers are not forthcoming, and the Auditor-General specially called the attention of the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) to the matter in order that he may investigate it. There may be some explanation, but one would have thought that if there be a satisfactory one, it would have been given before now.
Another illustration of the Government’s wasteful extravagance is given on page 301, paragraph 121, of the AuditorGeneral’s report - 121. Excessive cost of steel purchasedby Small Arms Factory. - In March, 1918, an Audit Inspector reported that on 17th December, 1915, Messrs.B.K. Morton & Co., Sydney, offered a quantity of high-speed steel, “ Maximum “ brand, to the Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, at 4s. 6d. per lb. The Factory accepted this offer on 22nd December, 1915, and placed orders for the steel with this firm. B. K. Morton and Co. purchased the steel from the Poldi Steel Company for £1,907 2s. 9d., sold it to the Small Arms Factory for £3,384 9s., and thus made a profit of £1,477 6s. 3d. on the transactions; and in the file it is stated the only expense incurred by B.K. Morton and Co. was for cartage.
The report goes on to show that the steel was to be of what is described as the “ Maximum “ brand, but the steel that was delivered, or some of it, was not of that quality, with the result that Morton and Company had to make a refund. The. Auditor-General winds up with this comment -
The Factory should have purchased from the Poldi Steel Company direct, and thus avoided the exorbitant charge made by B. K. Morton and Company.
If time permitted, I could give illustration after illustration of the reckless expenditure of the Government, and that is a mild term, because some of these transactions are open to a more sinister suggestion. I particularly refer to what is said in the report, page 257, in reference to secret service expenditure, but I feel it quite unnecessary for me to go further. I have said enough to show that the charges I make against the Government are well founded - unbusinesslike methods, injudicious expenditure, and wasteful extravagance. But, perhaps, the greatest indictment that can be laid against the Government is found in the report of the Economies Commission, which was appointed by the Government. There was also, I might say, a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the administration of the Army and Navy, and a general perusal of the reports of these Commissions shows that there are very grave defects in the policy pursued by the Government. So far as I can observe, no steps: are being taken by the Government to remedy those defects. We all believed that when the war was over., the expenditure in the Defence Department, at least, would be reduced to something like pre-war proportions, if not something lower. Instead, however, the expenditure has been increased by some millions of money, and this is what I refer to as injudicious expenditure. It is not so much the amount represented by the total expenditure of the Government to which I take an exception, as to the fact that the expenditure is misdirected. The money that is so spent) in this wasteful way could have been directed into other channels which would help to meet and solve some of the great problems in front of us. We find on page 6 of the Economies Commission Report, the following: -
An investigation of the Defence Department’s expenditure six months after the signing of the armistice, shows, however, that there is little evidence of those considerable reductions within Australia which it is reasonable to expect should now be taking place, especially in activities which do not appear to be further required for war purposes. The reasons for this absence of reduction in expenditure within Australia are to be found in the fact that the governing factors are beyond the control of the Business Board. Evidence is not lacking that there is a desire in some quarters to maintain the military spirit, and permanently saddle the country with an expenditure for Defence which would be exceedingly onerous.
That is a sentence well worthy of being conned over by honorable members, because it brings home to us the fact that it is our duty to see that the policy is not persisted in. If the Government do persist in such a policy, it becomes our duty to put another Government there who will adopt one which conforms to the requirements of Australia. The Royal Commission had the opportunity to find out the facts, because they came into contact with things as they were, and they found what I have just read. The report goes on to say : -
We think that one of the most important benefits anticipated from the war was that, as far as possible, an end would be put to the burden involved in pre-war times in military preparation. But it is quite certain that if the policy in regard to Defence is ‘not reviewed at the earliest possible moment, the annual expenditure of the Defence Department after the war will be some two to three million pounds greater than it was in 1913-14, in addition to a large increase in capital expenditure.
I am sorry to trouble honorable members with these extracts, but the report is of great importance, seeing that it comes from a Royal Commission appointed by the Government itself. It is not only what I say, but what is said by a Commission whose duty it was to in vestigate and report. The report continues -
These activities are set out. In paragraph 19 they say -
The money so saved would afford immediate relief in meeting those obligations which have been forced upon the community through the war, whilst still leaving the position of defence in an infinitely stronger position than would have been the case had the war not forced the country into this position.
Without expressing any definite opinion as to the permanent policy in regard to defence, we suggest that one of the most important necessities in protecting this country from aggression is increased population, and whether Australia’s power of defence would not be better strengthened in spending more of the money available for defence in increasing population, and less on military training is a question worthy of serious consideration. Increased population, whilst increasing the nation’s defensive power, would incidentally lessen the burden of present and future taxation.
The comments of the Royal Commission in regard to the Navy Department are in a similar strain. They point out -
This Commission as yet has been unable to inspect more than a small part of the Department’s activities, but evidence supplied by highly placed and reliable officers is of a most disquieting nature, indicating that in many branches no attempt is made to check unnecessary expenditure and extravagance.
I could not use stronger words than those which have emanated from an independent Royal Commission, appointed by the Government themselves. In fact, the Commissioners quote one of the officers of the Department -
There is no administrative control, and as a consequence no one considers the question of cost.
This officer also states that the condition of affairs at Garden Island in Sydney called for close and immediate investigation.
– That investigation has been required for a long time.
– Very likely. Here is piled up evidence regarding the wasteful expenditure that has taken place under the administration of thepresent Government. Yet we have no indication that the Government are taking any steps whatever to remedy the condition of affairs that has been disclosed. I am desirous of getting from the Prime Minister, or somebody else, some pronouncement that the Government really do intend to initiate a more judicious method of expending public money. The case against the Ministry is overwhelming, and I am affording them now an opportunity of supplying the House with evidence that they honestly intend to curtail the extravagant expenditure that has been taking place. The extravagance disclosed by the reports of the Royal Commissions and the Auditor-General indicates loose and unbusiness-like methods which call for attention.
One other matter with which I wish to especially deal is profiteering. There is no doubt that for the last few years profiteering has been allowed to go on absolutely unchecked by the present Government.
– Or any Government.
– The Federal Government is the only Government which has the effective power to deal with it.
– The State Government has power.
– The Commonwealth power is the only one that can effectively deal with profiteering. The States possess some power, but I propose to point out wherein the Commonwealth Government has power under the present Constitution to handle the subject.
– So have the State Governments.
– The State Governments have not complete power; they have no control over imports and exports. I propose to show that there is ample power under the present Constitution to deal with profiteering, and it is quite useless for the Prime Minister and his colleagues, or anybody else, to endeavour to convince a majority of the people to the contrary, so long as they are properly advised. Under section 1 of the Constitution certain powers are conferred upon the Commonwealth -
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth, with respect to -
Trade and commerce with other countries and among the States:
taxation; but so as not to discriminate between States or parts of States :
Postal, telegraphic, telephonic and other like services:
Census and statistics.
Under that section the Commonwealth could have had prepared a complete return of the profits being made by different individuals and corporations in the community. This Parliament also has power of taxation under which we could deal with those profits: we could so tax the persons making the profits that it would no longer pay them to make them. When we found excessive profits being made, we could tax away not only the profits, but something further as well. Of course, if there are people who wish to avoid doing their duty to the people, they can find plenty of excuses for their inaction. The power exists in the Constitution to deal with profiteering, but until there is in power a Government who are determined to tackle the question, it will be left untouched. We had ample evidence of the swingeing profits made out of the workers by the Shipping Combine and other corporations, while men who say they are “ as good as Labour men “ have allowed them to do it. Here is a list showing the reserves and undistributed profits, exclusive of the distributed profits, of several big trading concerns at two different dates -
For the four years ended 30th June, 1919, the Adelaide Steam-ship Company added £503,000 to reserves, in addition to a net profit of £343,991; Huddart, Parker and Company Limited added £455,870 to reserves, in addition to a net profit of £353,334; the Melbourne Steam-ship Company added’ £122,363 to reserves, ki addition to a net profit of £144,062. The Vacuum Oil Company made in two years a profit of £981,000 on a capital of £1,500,000. These are examples of the profiteering that is being allowed to go on. There has been no talk of applying the War Precautions Act to the operations of the companies I have mentioned. They have been allowed to raise their rates and fares as they liked, and the public have been bound to pay what has been demanded of them, or forgo the service. The War Precautions Act does not apply to the operations of these companies.
– Yes, it does. They are not allowed under the Act to raise their rates and fares.
– If the Act applies to these companies, and the incidents I have mentioned show the way in which it is being applied to them, we have conclusive proof that the Government has allowed the companies concerned to make the profits that I have mentioned. I thought that the answer of the Prime Minister would be that the Government had not the power to prevent profiteering, but I gather from the interjection that they have been applying the War Precautions Act, and that what has happened has been the result of applying it with a favorable leaning towards the big shipping companies and other combines. Not only has profiteering been allowed in the case of companies such as those that I have mentioned, but it has been allowed to the real detriment of the primary producers of Australia. I should like to know all about the transactions of the Government in regard to the sale of our butter; all about their transactions in regard to the sale of our wheat; and all about the sale of our wool. From reading press reports published during the electoral campaign, I learned that a very prominent member of the Country party - the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) - speaking at Camperdown - the report is from the Age of the 20th November last - said -
Butter was sold for export at 175s. per cwt., while second-grade butter was shipped to the
East at 205s. The fixed wholesale price in London was 252s. per cwt., and, as 13s. covered all the expenses, the equivalent on the London price was 230s., a difference of £64 per ton against the dairyman.
– What about the honorable member’s statement that the profiteers were in the Nationalist party, and were finding the funds of that party ?
– No doubt other members of this House beside those sitting on the Opposition benches have very clear views regarding the attitude of the Government towards profiteering. There are on the cross benches on the Ministerial side of the chamber honorable members who know as well as we do that the Government are in power because of the assistance they received from the profiteers; and the question that the country wants to have decided, and the question that we should decide, is this: Are we going to allow the Government to carry on administration, and to propose legislation in the interests of the profiteers ? Of course, the members of the Country party must be the judges of what they snail do, but I have no doubt that if they see the position, as we see it, they will bring about an alteration of the present state of affairs. The contract regarding the wool clip seems to be very vague. I should like to see the document itself; or the cablegrams, if the agreement was made by cable.
– Sir John Higgins has said that there was no contract.
– I should like to know the negotiations which led’ up to an agreement which gives half the excess profit to the British Government. Why does not that profit go to the Australian producer, or why is it not used to relieve him of taxation, the wool being an Australian product? I desire some explanation of these things. I wish to know why the Government allowed trafficking in wheat scrip. Many of the small farmers were seriously hampered because the Commonwealth Bank did not go to their assistance, and left them at the mercy of speculators, so that they were bound to sell their scrip at prices which did not give them a fair return for their labour and expenditure. I desire information on all these matters, and I want, too, a guarantee that there will be an alteration of the policy of the Government with regard to them. That, I suppose, is all that we can hope to get at the moment. Later, we shall be able to see whether evidence is forthcoming that the guarantee is being fulfilled. I have no doubt that Ministers are prepared to give a guarantee, because I know the Prime Minister of old, and that he would promise anything. When the conscription proposals were before the country, he asserted that he would not continue in office if they were turned down, and yet he did. When the last referendum proposals were before the people, he said that if the Government proposals were not carried, some one else would have to be obtained to lead the Government; yet he is still at the head of affairs. No doubt, he is capable of giving a guarantee regarding the Government’s policy in the future, but what is needed is evidence that effect will be given to any such guarantee.. If we take the experience of the past, we know that guarantees have been given by the Government without any serious intention of giving effect to them, and merely to enable Ministers to hold on to office. It is a remarkable thing, in view of the circumstances confronting the people of Australia at the last election, that the present Ministers still occupy the Treasury bench. Yet the reason is not far to seek. It is that the big capitalistic and profiteering interests were prepared to spend tens, and hundreds, of thousands of pounds upon a campaign of misrepresentation, to enable Ministers to remain where they are. Some prominent members of the country party were very outspoken in regard to this matter during the election campaign. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), speaking at Tatura - I quote the Age report of the 14th November - said -
Mr. Hughes and his party were being assisted in the election by profiteers, and they were not likely to fight them.
I agree with that. Then the honorable member for Corangamite, speaking at Camperdown - doubtless with ample evidence of the truth of his statement, as otherwise he would not have made it - said -
The National Federation was an organization of vested city interests, drawing a colossal fighting fund from the manufacturers and Flinders-lane.
He went on to say that - that was the party which said it was going to shoot the profiteer. Those profiteers could be shot with a short-range gun from an up stairs room in Parliament House; but they were not likely to shoot the goose that laid such golden eggs.
That statement commends itself to me. The reports of the Melbourne daily press of the evidence that is being taken by the Royal Commission now investigating the subject of the basic wage show that the people referred to by the honorable member are actually passing on their income taxation to the consumers. No Government which allows that to be done has any right to remain in office for more than forty-eight hours.
– Why give them fortyeight hours?
– I would give them time to look through their pigeon holes. The war has cost Australia much blood and treasure, and has put a great burden of debt upon the whole community. The National Government have the power of taxation. They can say by whom, and in what amounts, taxation shall be paid. They have complete defence powers included in which is the power to say who shall pay for defence. Are Ministers going to allow this passing on of taxation to continue? They have allowed it to go on for some years, so that wealthy corporations, instead of being worse off as a result of the war, have passed on their taxation to the consumers, and are better off. These companies publicly admit the facts. Surely every one ought to be a little bit worse off because of the war; but these big companies are better off. Persons whose salaries are fixed are not able to pass on their taxation, nor is the wage-earner able to do so. But the Government have allowed a system whereby the consumer is charged high prices which throw on him the whole cost of the war. If we realize our duty, we shall compel the Government to prevent that from continuing.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The indictment of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) was deserving of a reply from a Minister.
– There is no reply.
– I think there is no possible reply to the statements of the Auditor-General, putting aside what has been said by a prominent member of the Opposition. Those of us who were in the last Parliament know something of the shipping contracts that have been alluded to. The Prime Minister, travelling to Europe by way of the United States, apparently discovered at Seattle a Yankee firm which was prepared to build wooden ships for the Commonwealth, and - I believe without consultation with the Cabinet- entered into a contract with that firm. I have no wish. t to say anything disrespectful of those whom we term our cousins, but I believe that the Yankees are sufficiently shrewd to make as many dollars as they can out of a deal. They could see in the so-called shrewd Prime Minister of the Commonwealth one who would be a willing tool, and would not hesitate to enter into a contract to enable them to make very many dollars in a very little while. One pleasant feature of this shipping business is that Australia narrowly escaped incurring a considerable expenditure, through the agency of the Prime Minister, in respect of the purchase of a fleet of concrete vessels. This transaction would have been typical of Mr. Hughes. He was out to . impress the world, and would embrace any new idea which might be set ‘before him at that juncture.
Honorable members in the corner opposite are, no doubt, deeply concerned in this matter. Then there are the wheat, wool, and butter, and other Pools besides. When the whole story of these Pools shall have been told the primary producers, who are lamenting even now. will be still more deeply sorrowful. Regarding the Wheat Pool, we have heard of certain discoveries as the outcome of investigations in New South Wales; the loss of millions of bushels of wheat has been reported. I do not wish to refer to a matter which is, in a sense, under legal investigation at this moment; but the remarkable disclosures in regard to transactions in New South Wales indicate what would assuredly come to light if similar investigations were undertaken in Victoria. The farmers of this State would then learn that they, too, had lost millions of bushels of wheat. Without doubt millions of bushels have gone somewhere. We have heard something recently of the Black Hand, and of various ‘other nefarious kinds of hands”. Some hand has been operating -in this State, behind Ministerial ,and official authority, and that hand has delved deeply into the pockets of the people and robbed them, probably, of many thousands of pounds.
There will presently be a further opportunity for honorable members to enter upon a full-dress debate, when I hope that the sins of the Government will be exposed to the public, and that that exposure will have such an effect on the minds both of the people and of certain honorable members who have been sent here pledged to support the Government, that there will be no hesitation in voting out of office the present occupants of the Treasury bench. The outcome would be one of the best possible things that could happen to this country, for there would follow a better, cleaner form of government than Australia has known during the past four or five years.
– I desire to inform the House that it is my intention to move, in Committee -
That the proposed sum be reduced by ‘ the amount of £2,803,500.
– May I ask, on a point of order, whether it will be competent for the honorable member to move in the way he has indicated, seeing that the motion before the House is that we go into Committee for the purpose of granting Supply? On a previous occasion it was ruled, when it was desired to move an amendment which was contrary to the terms of a motion similar to this, that such action would be out of order. I merely desire to safeguard the position of the honorable member for Franklin.
– The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) is quite in order, for the reason that the motion before the Chair is simply “ That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee to consider the Supply to be granted to His Majesty.”
– Upon many matters affecting the Government the country urgently desires to know the intentions of the Prime Minister. What do the Government propose to do with respect to the present different Federal and State income and land taxation forms ? The present system of overlapping State and Federal control is not only rotten, but is cruel in the extreme. There are seven Departments of income taxation - six State and one Federal; and there is practically the same multiplicity of Land Tax Departments. For years Federal and State members of Parliament have sought to put an end to this extraordinary state of affairs. In certain of the big business firms operating in Queensland special staffs are required to do nothing else but attend to land and income tax forms, State and Federal.
– The present Treasurer (Mr. Watt) has stated that there would be a saving of £3,000,000 per annum if there were but one system of taxation.
– Surely, then, there is sufficient justification for the Government to take action. Here we have a new Government, just returned to power by the people, and we learn from them of the certain annual saving of £3,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money. The Government are aware of the position, but they are making no effort, and have promised none, to bring about reform. We know that the present methods are’ rotten.
– You have never heard me use that word ; it is vulgar.
– It is a good Australian word, and the Treasurer knows exactly what it means. What effort is ‘he making to persuade the Government to bring about a system of uniformity? In the past, State and Federal taxation officials have put their heads together . to consider the matter ; but they have expressed the view that reform could not be brought about.
– Nobody will give way.
– Then, why do not the Government compel a giving way 1 If the sum of £3,000,000 annually could be saved, the reform is one upon which the Government should enter without an instant’s hesitation. Almost every taxpayer is yearly confronted with a multiplicity of obligations in respect to land and income taxation schedules. Last year I myself was fined in respect to the Queensland land tax. It appears that I had returned a form in which I had answered a list of queries, and had been under the impression that I had sent in my schedule. I was fined - and rightly so, I suppose - although quite innocent in the matter. As for the experiences of land-holders, I speak feelingly: One has quite enough to do in looking after his actual business responsibilities without being harassed with numerous and different taxation forms. The Government, however, are proceeding along the same old lines, although they very well know there is urgent need for action. This is no party matter. I dare say that the individuals who would be chiefly benefited are my political opponents. Nevertheless, I have no hesitation in pressing for fair play and a big saving. This is a form of economy which would affect nobody seriously, and would put nobody out of work.
– How does the honorable member arrive at a saving of £3,000,000 per annum ?
– Those are the Treasurer’s own figures, I understand.
– The Government can save the producers millions of pounds.
– And it is our duty to endeavour to force the Govern* ment to do- so The Treasurer, himself acknowledges that this economy should be brought about.
– And we are going to give him the opportunity to do so.
– Does not the honorable member think that the Government have had sufficient opportunities in the past? If they still refuse to move, another course of action must be taken; another Government must be put into office.
There is one other subject in which State and Commonwealth services are involved, and in regard to which the people should be given relief. Either the Commonwealth Savings Bank or the State Savings Banks should be closed. The Government should bring in legislation in order to authorize the continued existence of only one Government Savings Bank, and not two. In my own State there are in numerous centres two offices and two staffs. In many instances ‘ where the Commonwealth banking business is done apart from the Postal Department, offices have to be rented. That means a large outlay of public money. Something speedy and effective is required to put an end to this anomaly. These are hardy annuals. They come up every year, but no notice is taken of .them by any Government, Labour or National. The time has come when honorable members sitting on both sides of the House should practise the economy they claim should be effected, or otherwise, at the first opportunity the people have, they will find themselves in the position of Mr. Paddy Glynn the other day, when he had to tell the Royal
Commission on the Northern Territory he had lost his seat.
The Electoral Department is another branch of the Service in which economy could be effected. It is most peculiar that, with the exception of Tasmania, nothing has been done in the direction of co-ordinating the State and Federal rolls. If the State of Tasmania can make use of the Federal rolls, why cannot the other States be compelled to do the same ? lt would mean a great saving. There would be no need for the duplication of staffs.
– And it would lead to having a better roll.
– Yes. Furthermore, there would be less trouble to the electors. A voter would be assured that he was on the roll. At present, many an elector, although knowing well that a policeman or some other person has put him on a roll, finds that he is not on the roll when he goes to vote. And when the claim card is asked for, it is ascertained that he has not claimed to be enrolled on the Federal roll, but has been placed on a State roll. Sometimes it is the other way about, the name being on the Federal roll and not on the State roll. All this trouble and inconvenience is brought about by having two rolls. The establishment of a common roll would do the people a service, and bring about the saving of thousands of pounds of expenditure per annum. Honorable members should deal with any Government which comes into office as an economy Government, as this Government has done, if it does nothing in the direction of bringing about this economy.
Another saving could be effected by doing away with the Commonwealth Police Force. Why do we need such a Force? Honorable members on both sides of the House should insist on doing away with this unnecessary expenditure. Each State maintains an efficient police force. I have seen the lonely trooper guarding the property of the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), 800 miles from a railway terminus in Western Queensland. If the State police are good enough to guard life and property out there, surely to goodness they are good enough to guard it in the various capitals of Australia.” In any case, if honorable members think we ought to ha%’e a Commonwealth Police
Force, let the members of this Force wear uniform, so that we can see how many they are. Every time we have an effective criticism on this body of men we find out that, notwithstanding the fact that Ministers try to dodge the issue and cover up this expenditure in the Defence Estimates, the Commonwealth Police Force has been growing ever since 1916, when that great event took place at Warwick, and when, out of a rotten egg, the Commonwealth taxpayers were involved in an expenditure of £6,000 for the establishment, of this Force. Do honorable members propose to allow this expenditure to increase by leaps and bounds?
– How can we force the State of Queensland, or any other State, to adopt our Commonwealth Electoral Roll? The States will not do it.
– There are ways and means of doing things. The honorable member puts me in mind of a man who saw a rabbit in his paddock which he wanted to kill, and, although it was the easiest thing in the world for him to kill it at the moment, preferred to wait until his son went home for a gun. That is what the honorable member wishes to do with the Queensland Government.
– No, I would wipe it out altogether; in fact, I would wipe out all the State Governments.
– Many honorable members would like to wipe out the Queensland Government. It is a most peculiar fact that since the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) has embraced that great policy of Nationalism and Liberalism, which he always denounced both by book and voice, he has become a renegade to all those, principles which are being carried out in Queensland, and’ to-day is one of the bitterest political opponents of Labour that we have in the whole of Australia.
– That statement is entirely untrue.
– The honorable member may say that, but, like a lot of others, he never misses an opportunity of vilifying the ladder by which he climbed. I say, quite candidly, that had it not been for the Labour party I would not have had any hope in life of being a member of the first National Parliament, and I would not be worth my salt if, after being put into that position by . that party, I deserted it in the hours of trouble and trial through which it is now passing. There is nothing of the renegade about me. As the bridge is built, so I am going to travel over it.
Another matter which I wish to deal with on this occasion concerns the Post and Telegraph Department. I may have to say some hard things about Mr. Webster, the ex-Postmaster-General, but I can say this of him : that he thought he was on the right track, and applied to himself the same “ dope “ that he applied to others. He did not favour his own constituency more than that of any other honorable member.
– Then I do not wonder that he was defeated.
– That is an aspect with which I am just about to deal. Mr. Webster was obsessed with one idea in life, and that was to make the Post Office a paying concern, and he endeavoured to do so by taking away mail services from the pioneers of Australia - the men who have made life worth living in the different capitals, men who had taken their courage in both hands and gone out into the unknown making homes for themselves at the first waterholes they encountered. If there is one body of men more than another to which I would be induced to take off my hat it is those pioneers in the bush of Australia. Mr. Webster represented a bush constituency, one of the finest in the Commonwealth, the Gwydir district, on the border of New South Wales and Queensland, and there were mail services in his electorate, as in many another constituency, that had been running ever since the days of Cobb and Company, and the foundation of the Postal Department, yet because they did not pay he said, “ I am prepared to give you so much, and if there is any deficiency you will have to make it up.” There are four or five districts in my electorate, one in particular, which had a mail twelve times a year.
– To which service is the honorable member referring particularly?
– I am referring particularly to the Moorarabie to Boulia service.
– The same remarks apply to places in the Gulf country.
– The least thing the Government can do is to give these men, women, and children outside the bounds of civilization a service once a month, but because the services did not pay Mr. Webster cut them off. The people of Boulia have not had a mail since November last. It is a burning shame ! How would the people in the metropolitan centres fare if all the back country was cut off from them ? They would have to do the squatting business on the flats of Botany Bay. If we continue this policy instead of helping people to settle on the land we are helping the land to settle them.
Again, in connexion with the telephone service, there are many men out in the western district of Queensland who have put up hundreds of miles of telephone at their own expense.
– Hear, hear!
– Yes, the honorable member for Grampians is now erecting a line nearly 200 miles long to come into a place called Eromanga, and we want the Government to take the line from the terminus at Quilpie, 80 miles away, so that the pastoral stations can have an exchange there. But can we hope for it? We have offered to bring in the poles and put them up if the Department would only find the material; but will they assist us? Not a bit. There are no laws or regulations which will allow them to do these things.
– On the contrary, they tax us.
– There is no need for the honorable member to tell me that. There is a little service which runs out from Charleville to Calabar, where the State Government have bought a pastoral station. The distance is 70 or 80 miles, and the Department were paying £100 for running the mail service once a week between the two places, but when tenders were called in October last the lowest offer was £150, which the Departmentwould not accept. They wanted the people living on the route to put up the difference between the new tender and the old tender. I told the people not to do so, and they adopted my advice ; meanwhile, I “ buzznacked “ around and found another man who was prepared to continue the service at the rate of £130 per annum until some better arrangement could be made. When I reached Brisbane, I spoke very plainly to the authorities, and in the end they agreed to a payment of £130 per annum on the understanding that the people liv- ing on the route should find the other £20. And these people are compelled to make that payment of £20 a year, notwithstanding that the drought has not broken in the Charleville district, and that they are put to great cost and subjected to much difficulty in keeping their stock alive.
– The same policy exists throughout Australia.
– Will the honorable member help us to get rid of it?
– I will.
– I am glad of that assurance. Ever since I entered this Parliament, nineteen year’s ago, I have been trying to get a fair deal for the man out back, and I shall continue to do so as long as I remain a member of this House. The men out back receive no sympathy at the hands of Government officials. They are treated to a lot of platitudes, but nothing is ever done for them. I would compel these officials to live for six months on out-back stations, and so give them a dose of their own physic. It would be interesting to see whether, on their return to city life, they would continue to treat the men out back as they had been doing for years. Instances of the kind to which I have referred might readily be multiplied. They occur, not in one particular district or State, but throughout Australia. It is time that something was done to lessen the difficulties which the men, women, and children in the remote parts of Australia have to encounter. I feel confident that the Government are going to do something in the direction I have suggested, and believe that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise),as the representative of a country constituency, will take the matter in hand.
I do not want something for nothing. The people whom I represent, knowing the position of the finances of Australia, do not ask the Government to spoon-feed them. They are quite willing to pay for their various services; but it is a bit hot to ask a few men to construct at their own expense a telephone line extending over several hundreds of miles and then to charge them for the use of it. Some friends of mine asked the Postal Department for permission to erect a telephone line, but could obtain no satisfaction. When they appealed to me for advice, I said, “ Shove up the line. Take no notice of the Government or any one else. When the line is constructed, the authorities will not make you pull it down. They may write a number of letters to you, but when you receive them put them in the fire, and that will be the end of . the matter.’’ That advice has been followed in more than one instance. The manager of a station owned by the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) was much concerned as to what he should do in regard to the construction of a certain telephone line. I advised him to put it upregardless of the consequences, and when he told me that he feared that the authorities might “get to him “ afterwards, I replied, “ Put up the line, and leave it to Jowett, who is in Melbourne, to settle with the officials.” The telephone line is up, and in use today. No one has been sent to gaol in connexion with its erection, and the line itself is returning a good rate of interest. There is not one trunk line in Queensland that is not paying handsomely. I have that information from the officials in Brisbane, and I appeal to the Government to give the men, women, and children out back at least some of the advantages of civilization that we in the populous centres enjoy. If the Government do that, they will not only bring joy to the hearts of these people, but add materially to the revenue of the Commonwealth.
.- I desire to indorse practically everything that has been said by title honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page).
– Including his statements as to the conduct of one of your own station managers ?
- His conduct is most exemplary. I have no desire to go over the whole ground covered by the honorable member for Maranoa, but I wish as strongly as possible to emphasize the enormous disadvantages and burdens associated with the present dual system of Commonwealth and State income and land taxation. I should not have risen at this stage but that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) stated that the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) had said that the cost of collecting the double land and income taxation of the Commonwealth and the States amounted to something like £3,000,000 per annum. I understand that the Treasurer does not admit the correctness of that statement.
– Many people have to pay more for the preparation of their re- “ turns than they are actually called upon to pay by way of taxation.
– I was about to mention that point. I have made some investigations, and, after comparing notes with gentlemen who are in a position to know what is the cost of preparing the dual land and income tax returns, I can say without fear of contradiction that it can be estimated at not less than £1,000,000 per annum. That is the cost to the taxpayers of collecting the information, and preparing the most voluminous and, in many cases, useless returns required of them.
– Then there is the cost of the additional staffs.
– That is’ another pointMr. Watt. - The saving must be divided under two headings - the saving to the revenue and the saving to the individual taxpayers.” There must not be any confusion.
– My desire is that there shall be no confusion. My point is that quite apart from the cost to the Commonwealth and the States of collecting the land and income taxes, the preparation of the excessively voluminous and, in many respects, unnecessary returns which taxpayers are called upon to furnish, can be estimated at not less than £1,000,000 per annum extra cost to the taxpayers. Not one penny of that amount lost to the taxpayer reaches the Commonwealth or State Treasuries. It is time that this question of the double assessment and collection of taxes was fairly and squarely met.
Since I have taken an interest in this question, there has been at least one Conference of Taxation Commissioners convened’ to deal with this subject. But if this, or any other problem, is to be solved, it must be approached in a spirit of consideration for the varying views of those concerned, and eventually by resort to some form of just and reasonable com-, promise. At the Conference to which I have referred, full consideration for the views of the States did not appear to have been shown by the Commonwealth. The views of the State Income Tax Commissioners appeared to have been overridden, and naturally the Conference had no result.
– I do not think that is fair to the Commonwealth Commissioner of Taxation.
– I do not wish to say anything against him. We do not know what instructions he was.given.
– Does the honorable member think that the representatives of the six States at that Conference could agree upon a uniform schedule in respect of the taxation of the States?
– They have not yet been able to do so.
– That is so.
– There may be something in that point ; but at the Conference in question I do not think the State representatives had much chance of arriving at a decision, since it appeared that the Commonwealth was not prepared to give way On any essential point. I urge that another Conference should be convened, and that consideration should be shown for the many conflicting views involved. In some respects the State systems of assessment are much fairer than those adopted by the Commonwealth. If that can be demonstrated, the Commonwealth should be prepared to give way in such! matters.
Since we are dealing with a question of finance, I wish most strongly to impress upon the Government the absolutenecessity of introducing, first of all, in the interests of the primary producers, upon whose prosperity the whole community depends, and, secondly, in the interests of every manufacturer and business man in Australia, the system of assessing income tax on the basis of a five years’ average. This is not the time to go into the matter in detail, but when the opportunity offers, I hope to place before the House facts and figures showing that a farmer, grazier, or any one else connected with primary production may sometimes have no- income or a small income for two or three years, and that if, say, in the fourth or fifth year he has a good season, and, consequently a good income which helps to counteract his losses, he is subjected to a penal rate of tax. That is grossly unfair to the primary producers. I do not think they will ever get justice in this regard until the Commonwealth and the State Governments adopt the system of average taxation collection on the basis of a five years’ period. I do not wish to detain the House, but I thought it well to avail myself of this opportunity to draw the attention of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) to these two points of very great importance, not only to our primary producers, but to every citizen.
– I desire to take this opportunity to refer to the administration of the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow by the Defence Department. I had intended to move the adjournment of the House on the matter, but I find that I can deal with it on the question before the House. During the last week something like 200 men have been dismissed from the Factory. I wish it to be thoroughly understood that I have no desire to see the services of these men retained if their work is of . no value; if these men cannot justify their existence, I have no desire to advocate their claims. It has been shown to the Defence Depart ment, however, that there is a means by which the whole of these men can be successfully employed in the manufacture, not only of rifles, but of various other articles, which I shall presently enumerate.
Some little time ago notice was posted up at the Factory that 180 men were to be dismissed. Directly those notices were shown, I got into communication with the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), and accompanied a deputation to him from Lithgow in regard to the position. The deputation was met by the Minister for Defence and the then Assistant Minister (Mr. Wise). During the interview the Minister for Defence stated that the whole trouble was caused through scarcity of money, and said that the Government were not in the position to finance the Factory to the extent it had done during the war period. The deputation pointed out to the honorable gentleman that instructions had been issued that returned soldiers were to have preference, and reminded him of a promise he made a considerable time ago at Lithgow that in the event of the employees remaining loyal to the Factory and to the Department they would be given exactly the same preference of employment as would returned soldiers. The Minister for Defence had agreed to this, and made himself quite clear on the point, as he also made himself clear to the depu tation. According to a report of the deputation -
Senator Pearce then went on to say that he would interview the military authorities as to the maximum number of rifles they would require for the present financial year, and when he had obtained this figure, he would see whether it would absorb the entire output of the Factory, and when he had ascertained this he would then endeavour to try and secure money for the probable extra orders. In the meantime, he asked Mr. Leighton to send instructions to the manager of the Small Arms Factory to cancel the notices of leaving that had been issued the day before, and no more dismissals were to take place until the manager received special instructions. Senator Pearce said he expected to put the matter before the Cabinet next week, and expected to have a decision by the following Thursday as to whether it would be possible to give the Factory a further grant of money to enable them to carry on with their then present staff. He also asked the deputation to assure the employees that he was doing everything possible to keep them employed, as he was in full sympathy with their claims.
In addition to the dismissal of these men, I understand that further retrenchment is to take place, affecting an additional 200 or 300, over a period of possibly four months. Despite the ‘fact that the Minister for Defence gave an assurance that married men who remained loyal would be retained, they have been dismissed, and the proof of it is in this information supplied to me -
The last batch of employees who were put off numbered 182, of which there were 98 married men and 84 single, including youths. A great number of these married men have as many as five, six, and seven children, and those who are unable to obtain employment in Lithgow will have to leave Lithgow and look for work elsewhere. The next batch that has to go off will be about 85 per cent, married men, and will still continue until the full required number that the Department intends to dismiss is reached.
I understand that that is the official estimate of the percentage of married men. The most pitiable phase is that some considerable time ago, when there was much congestion of population owing to the housing difficulty, a fair proportion of the employees were induced to purchase blocks of land, and some of them commenced building homes for themselves. They were notified, however, that retrenchment would take place, and now a great number who commenced building, and in some cases have spent from £200 to £300, find themselves so placed that they will have to leave Lithgow. These men are in a hopeless position, for they have spent all their money, and find it practically impossible to leave the place.
We have to consider that Lithgow has been placed in a more unfortunate position than many, other country towns, inasmuch as it suffered very seriously from the influenza epidemic, and the men feel keenly the responsibility that has been placed on them by the Department. As I said before, if it were a question of manufacturing rifles for the purpose of keeping these men in employment, I would not advocate such a course; but the deputation placed a proposal before the Minister to the effect that they should be permitted to manufacture telephones and the whole of the appliances necessary for telephones, typewriters, sewing machines, crank cases, and various parts for motors and cycles, the whole of the tools necessary in the Public Works Department, and scores of other commodities. The Minister for Defence, however, having had some experience of a similar proposition, did not feel inclined to entertain it. We cannot, however, get away from the fact that tire whole of the steel, and iron, and other material necessary are at hand, and the Factory certainly ought to be able to manufacture such articles just as cheaply as they can be turned out in other portions of the world, and at a smaller cost than that at which’ they can be imported.
All I ask at present is that the Minister for Defence will stay his hand for the time being, for if he will give those men an opportunity to consider their position everything will be all right. If the men are permitted to commence the manufacture of the commodities I have mentioned, I venture to say there will be no necessity for further retrenchment, as the Factory will be utilized to the fullest possible extent. Lithgow presents better opportunities for their manufacture than do most industrial towns in Australia. The Factory is equipped with perfect machinery, well adapted for turning out other things than rifles. .
The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) stated that it was a question of money and economy] but, if that be so, why did the Minister not commence operations with the Arsenal staff? If the money is not there to pay wages, the staff of the Arsenal would suffer in proportion ; but that is not the cas’e. Earlier in the afternoon, during this debate, the Auditor-General’s report was referred to, and’ I noticed one portion of it which affects the Small Arms Factory greatly. I shall read the extract so that members may be able to decide for themselves whether economy was studied or not. The report says -
Excessive cost of steel purchased by Small Arms Factory. - In March, 1918, an Audit Inspector reported that on 17th December, 1915, Messrs. B. K. Morton and Company, Sydney, offered a quantity of high-speed steel, “ Maximum “ brand, to the Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, at 4s. 6d. per lb. The Factory accepted this offer on 22nd December, 1915, and placed orders for the steel with this firm. B. K. Morton and Company purchased the steel from the Poldi Steel Company for £1,907 2s. 9d., sold it to the Small Arms Factory for £3,384 9s., and thus made a profit of £1,477 6s. 3d. on the transaction; and in the file it is stated the only expense incurred by B. K. Morton and Company was for cartage.
In fulfilment of the orders, large quantities of steel of the brands 000X and OOOX Extra were supplied by the firm, and paid for by the Factory at the price agreed upon for “Maximum steel.” The Audit Inspector, in April, 191S, found a large quantity of the steel in stock with the bars clearly stamped with the brands, “Maximum,”’ 000X Extra, 00OX. It was stated the substitution of the lower grades of steel 000X Extra and 00OX, was not noticed at the Factory, and the steel was brought to account in the stock records as “ Maximum “ steel. The Treasury was advised of the matter in May, 1918, and on 9”th January, 1919, B. K. Morton and Company refunded an amount of £324 5s., being a rebate of 9d. per lb. on 7,456 lbs. of 000X Extra steel, and of ls. per lb. on 893 lbs. of 000X steel. The Factory should have purchased from the Poldi Steel Company direct,. and thus avoided the exorbitant charge made by B. K. Morton and Company. The following are extracts from the Defence file in regard to the matter : - “ The firm disclaim any wrongdoing in connexion with the matter, but are agreeable to make the refund as abovementioned.” “ The whole transaction is one which justifies the doubt which has been expressed as to whether everything has been open and above board.” “ There is no evidence to show that any undue influence or bribery has played any part in connexion with the transaction.”
From that extract it would appear that a quantity of steel was purchased by the Small Anns Factory at an exorbitant price. Hoskins and Company have an establishment within a mile of the Small Arms Factory which is capable of manufacturing the best steel that the world produces, and the factory could have been supplied at much lower rates than were paid to B. K. Morton and Company. In regard to those contracts, the Defence Department did not carry out its declared policy of economy.
The statement has been frequently made in the House that the cost of producing rifles at Lithgow was exorbitant. I remind the House that the proposed retrenchment at the factory will increase, rather than decrease, the cost of production. “When 475 men were employed at the factory, the cost of production was £15 per rifle; when 775 men were employed, the cost decreased to £10.
– As against £4 in America.
– This House was told when the factory was established that the rifles would cost £4 each.
– Are the rifles produced in America of the same standard as those produced at Lithgow?
– For the sake of the Americans, I hope they are not.
– The statement has frequently been made by honorable members that rifles manufactured at Lithgow were never used in the firing line. They were so used, and they have stood a test as great as has been imposed on any rifle. When 1,075 men were employed at the factory, the cost of production was £8 per rifle. The figures I have quoted show that the greater the number of men employed, the lower has been the cost of production. What is to become of the machinery at Lithgow when the employees are dismissed, as the Department proposes? And what will become of the promise made by the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) that no married man who remained loyal to the factory would be dismissed, and that preference, of employment would be given to returned soldiers ? These questions are deserving of some reply. I have always been under the impression that a promise given by a responsible Minister could be relied upon in its entirety, and it was in that belief that the men at Lithgow remained so patiently loyal to the industry. For the last two years the threat of dismissal has been dangling over their heads, with the result that they could not wholly concentrate their minds on their work. From day to day rumours of retrenchment were current, and under such circumstances it was impossible to expect the same return from their labour as might have been given if they had assurance of permanent employment. I remind the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Eyrie) that there is no employment in the vicinity of Lithgow, and very little anywhere else, and,- although these men are ready to utilize their energies in other directions, and to the advantage of the Government, that opportunity is not afforded them. They asked the Minister for Defence to supply them with a list of the articles imported by his Department. I do not know whether the Minister has supplied that information, but I believe that, if he does, quotations will be submitted by the employees of the Small Arms Factory that will give him an agreeable surprise. I ask the Assistant Minister to give the House an assurance that no men will be dismissed, and that the promise made by the Minister (Senator Pearce) will be carried out, so that the employees may be able to continue at work while the Government are making arrangements for the manufacture at Lithgow of other goods. Any action of that kind will be very much appreciated by the employees. I had intended to introduce to the Minister a deputation on the subject, but I thought that by placing the matter before the Assistant Minister in the House I might get an assurance that the positions of the employees would be secured, for the time being, at all events.
.- This is an opportune time for reminding the House that Tasmania’s only connexion with the mainland is by water. During the last twelve months there has been a great deal of trouble through maritime strikes, which, in conjunction with the influenza restrictions, have placed Tasmania in a most disadvantageous position. That State has lost thousands and thousands of pounds through the interference with the tourist traffic and the inability to ship her produce to the mainland. In those parts of Tasmania in which potatoes are grown extensively there was a fair crop this season, and the prices offering on the mainland have been high. The people of Sydney were longing for potatoes, and the growers, of Tasmania were anxious to supply them at the remunerative prices that were offering ; but, unfortunately, no proper means of transport has been available. Consequently, hundreds of tons of - potatoes on the North coast that might have been dug a few weeks ago are rotting in the ground, a prey to the eel-worm and other parasites. The Federal Government should regard it as their duty to insure that regular communication is maintained between Tasmania and the mainland. On the mainland the States are in regular contact with each other by means of the railways; the mails are despatched each day, and the passenger traffic is maintained. The Government seem to accept the obligation of continuing that intercourse, and I maintain that they have a similar obligation to insure that Tasmania and Northern Queensland, which rely upon water transport, are kept in regular communication with the other portions of the Federation. The people generally in Tasmania feel that they are being neglected. Having had a long experience in this Parliament, I know that honorable members do not wilfully and knowingly neglect Tasmania, but I find it very hard to make them understand the peculiar position of that State. The fact that it is separated from the mainland by water creates special problems a-nd conditions which do not apply to other States. I am sorry that the members of the Federal Parliament do not visit Tasmania more often; if they did so, both their health and their intellect would benefit. In fact, it would pay the island State to invite members of the Federal Legislature to go across in batches and learn first-hand the resources and disabilities of the State. At present I find it difficult to make honorable members grasp Tasmania’s exceptional position, and in order to get a fair deal for that State one has not only to speak in the House, but to “ buttonhole “ honorable members in the lobbies and elsewhere.
There are in Tasmania people who speak of seceding from the Federation. I can conceive of conditions arising that will compel Tasmania to ask to be allowed to leave the Federation. Being a very small State it may not be able to keep pace with the richer States of the Commonwealth, and it cannot continue asking this Parliament from year to year for financial assistance. Circumstances may arise owing to which both the State and the Commonwealth might be glad to arrange a separation.
– The honorable member knows that Tasmania could not live outside of the Federation.
– I do not say whether or not it could, but if a referendum on the question were taken in Tasmania I should be willing to “ lay the odds “ on a vote for secession.
– Then let us have a referendum.
– It is all very well for a few Botany Bay and Woolloomooloo farmers to talk; they do not understand how much the people in the cities are .dependent on those living in the remoter portions of the Commonwealth; no one expects them to understand. I am not urging that Tasmania should leave the Federation, but I can conceive of a time coming when, owing to the increasing burden of taxation and the tremendous problems to be tackled by the Commonwealth - great projects which will benefit the mainland without being of any advantage to “Tasmania, although Tasmania will have to share the cost of them - it may be to the advantage of that State to sever the partnership with the mainland States ; and at the present time at public meetings many persons are urging that she should do so. I mention this to show the state of feeling in Tasmania, and to emphasize the need for more interest on the part of the Government in the maintenance of communication between Tasmania and the mainland. During the recent engineers’ strike I suggested to the Prime Minister that he should consent to the chartering: of Commonwealth vessels by the Tasmanian Government, the engineers being paid by the ‘ charterers what they asked for, but the right honorable gentleman took up the position that if he did that he would be surrendering everything to the strikers. He may have been rightin that view, though I do not think that he was. Tasmania would have been employing the men on the boats that she chartered, and the Prime Minister would still have had enough to keep him busy in his dispute with the strikers. However, nothing came of the proposal. On every occasion when there has been a shipping strike, Tasmania has suffered more severely than any other State, and I say. therefore, that the Government should come to an understanding with the men during periods of peace. They should’ talk to the men when all are in a calm mood. Then, if the men would not listen to reason, and still sought to cut their pound of flesh from the body of the community, the Government could let thecountry know the whole of the facts, and the public would be behind the Government. When a strike occurs, it is always the public who suffer, although they are nob directly a party to the dispute. There should be no secrecy in these matters; the public should know exactly the position. The man in tile street, when a certain rate of wages is asked or offered, is a pretty good judge of a fair thing. In my opinion, the Government should, as soon as possible, relinquish their control of the shipping. I supported them in the commandeering of shipping on the last occasion when that was done, because I believed that there was no other step to take, and that if shipping were nob commandeered we should find ourselves without any vessels on the coast, because it would pay shipmasters to send their vessels to other places where they could earn higher freights. Under those circumstances, I agreed to the commandeering of vessels for a period of twelve months.
– Was that done in Caucus?
– No; it was done here. But my opinion now is that the Government could relinquish their control of shipping, and still prevent vessels from being taken away from our coasts. If the shipping companies would not guarantee not to send away their vessels the Customs authorities could be instructed’ not to grant clearances which would permit vessels to go to other parts of the world to be sold, or to engage in trade to the detriment of the Australian producer. The sooner the Government relinquishes its control of shipping the better it will be for every one. The Government has been ill-advised in controlling vessels under 1,000 tons which were not within the area of the recent strike. A vessel called the Timor w was chartered by a firm to carry Tasmanian produce, but’ some one - probably a discontented person who was aggrieved because he could not get space on her for his goods - complained to the Comptroller, and the Comptroller took possession of the vessel. Immediately he did so, the engineers left it, and the steamer has been tied up in Sydney Harbor almost from that day to this. Had the Comptroller not interfered she would have done something to relieve the congestion of produce in Tasmania. Those who live in Tasmania know what have been the difficulties of crossing the Straits during the strike, and how hard it has been to get produce away from Tasmania. We say that special cases need special treatment. I urge the
Government to consider the question of control.
– Would the engineers have remained on the Timaru had the Commonwealth not stepped in?
– Yes. There are in Tasmania great quantities of produce for which there is a good market in New South Wales, and a 4,000 or 5,000 ton vessel such as the “ Austral “ boats bought in London by the Prime Minister might occasionally be put into the Inter- State trade. Of course, if these vessels are better employed in transporting produce overseas,- I have not much of a case, but the suggestion ought . to be considered. We should be told why some of these vessels are not being used for the InterState trade. They could be berthed comfortably in ports like Devonport and Burnie, and would be loaded as quickly there as in any port in Australia. We have sent vessels out of Devonport after a stay of a few hours which it has taken two or three days to load in other ports, when there was no more cargo to send away.
I hope that the Government will do something to remedy the complaint voiced by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. James Page), who spoke of the need for better telegraphic and telephonic communication in the country. I myself have urged that special consideration should be shown to those in the country. Every district suffers, and cases of hardship like those mentioned by the honorable member are frequent. During the last Parliament a large deputation waited on the Treasurer and the PostmasterGeneral of the day, and suggested that returned soldiers might profitably be employed in erecting lines. I understand that the Repatriation Department would not fall in with that suggestion. Lines, however, should be erected, and I hope that if the Government can get material at a reasonable price, they will see that the work is gone on with. I indorse all that was said on the subject by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. James Page), and I hope that a sound and settled policy will be formulated. The new Postmaster-General represents a country district, and knows the needs of those who dwell in the country. I am satisfied that his sympathies are with us, and I hope that he may have the force to compel the
Government to take the right and proper action in this matter.
.- I should like to give the House the impressions of a new member, though I do not intend to talk at length, because one feels that much speaking doth confuse great issues, and that in Parliament it takes a very long time to do a very little. I am a member of a party that believes in sound government, though I do not say that members of other parties do not also do so. The rural community of Australia does not like party government, and showed that by abstaining for nearly nineteen years from seeking separate representation in this Parliament. They expected others to give the country sound government, and have now been forced by circumstances to create a political party to voice their views and needs. With a national debt of nearly £700,000,000, the whole of our time can .well be spent in getting to the root of matters. We advocate economy without the impairment of efficiency; we agree with the Prime Minister that the only way in which we can meet our national obligations is by doing more work, and by producing more. According to Mr. Knibbs, the people in the country, who number less than half the community, produce three-quarters of its wealth. Their representatives have, therefore, a right to be heard regarding the national expenditure. The members of the Country party do not claim to be the only members representing the producers. In the past, members representing rural areas have promised to support measures for the encouragement of primary production, and to make country pursuits attractive. They meant well when they made those promises ; but they were attached to some party or other which had its centre in the congested portions of Australia. They were caught in the whirlpool of that power which was associated with Capital and Labour. They were overawed and overpowered. Shackled by partyism they dare not vote against the Government and put them out. Ofttimes they were given a little sop to allow the producer to go on with his business; but the very fact that centralization continues to thrive, notwithstanding that every party in this House proclaims the principle of decentralization, shows that nothing tan gible has been done. Evidently those who have proclaimed decentralization have merely preached, and not practised. It appears, then, that in respect to that which the Prime Minister regards as most important, namely, the stimulation of production, something has been left wanting. This little party in the corner feels that, concerning those matters to which the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. James Page) has alluded, little time or attention need be spent in putting things right.” For every party agrees that those savings which can be effected should be speedily brought about. I refer to such matters as the duplication of offices between State and Federal Governments. Why should people of the same race and country, speaking the same language, be called upon to render distinct and separate forms of taxation returns? Have we not sufficient intelligence to ask the taxpayer to make out only one form for each phase of taxation, so that his taxes shall be assessed, and the amount involved rendered by him without vexation? Of course, it will be said that the one Government has not been able to agree that the other shall have control. But that is a very small thing. Surely, where the people of this country are so closely concerned, and when we are so “ hard up against it “ financially, we should give swift consideration to these straightforward methods of effecting economy. Some primary producers would almost rather go to gaol for a month than make out their taxation returns; whereupon they proceed to an accountant or an actuary to have their returns drawn up for them. This individual does a little profiteering upon the producer, so that the latter often pays more to have his liability ascertained than is involved in the actual amount of taxation required of him. Governments of the past do not seem to have taken into consideration the tremendous expenditure which falls upon the shoulders of the primary producer. When we are called upon to contribute money for the maintenance of the country, the operation should be made as simple as possible. The transference of our taxation quota should be as direct and effective as can be possibly devised, and the channel, of transference should be made as economical as possible. Has that channel been as economically de- signed and maintained as it might have been? Cannot some Commissioner, under either Federal or State control, be appointed and empowered to collect taxes on behalf of both authorities?
The same line of criticism may be applied to the Electoral Departments. Instead of keeping two staffs for the. compilation and maintenance of the rolls, could not one staff easily and effectively do the necessary work for both Federal and State authorities? And the same applies to the statisticians of the States and Commonwealth. I am perfectly satisfied to take such statistics as I require from Mr. Knibbs and his staff. To build up separate departments for State and Commonwealth statistical purposes strikes one as altogether unnecessary.
On one other matter I also thoroughly agree with the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. James Page). Much sympathy has been extended to the poor “ cookie,’’ the pioneer on the land.
– I think that the honorable member for Maranoa would make a very good Country party man.
– He would make an ideal member of this little corner party. He pictured the privations and disabilities of the people outback, and who, nevertheless, are called upon to provide guarantees before certain public services are rendered them. Yet we were appealed to by the head of this Government, before he went to England, to produce more. Mr. Hughes has returned, and again he has said that the only way out from under our tremendous burden is to produce still more. Can further production be expected of people when they are actually called upon to furnish guarantees for the rendering of services which are given freely to the inhabitants of the centres of population? How can one compare the national services of those who are favoured by three -and four and five postal deliveries daily with those of the men and women of the “ outback,” who are fairly beneath the burden with which the Commonwealth is weighted today, and who are asked to be content with a postal delivery once a week or fortnight? There must be more generous consideration if we are to encourage rural industry - if we are to make rural production more attractive. That great Imperial agriculturist, Sir Rider Haggard, was asked to give the Commonwealth a message, and he said that the chief aim of the Governments of all highly civilized countries should be to keep population on the land, to encourage those modest rural homes in which men and women grow up in health and prosperity and become endowed with those sober and enduring qualities which have made the greatness of our nation and maintain it to-day. Honorable members of this House have evidently scrapped Sir Eider Haggard’s message. In Victoria alone, it appears that the population of the whole State has increased, during the nineteen years of Federation, by 196,000 persons; the increase of population in Melbourne for the same period has been 200,000 odd ! That indicates a distinct and alarming decrease in rural production. Does it suggest that the lesson of Sir Rider Haggard has been really learned? I intend, at a later stage, to deal more fully with the population statistics1 of the Commonwealth, and to stress the general decrease of the rural population, concurrently with the marked1 increase of the urban population. It isa matter which must be regarded seriously by the Government. No wonder that the sons of our rural settlers are nolonger finding country occupations attractive! They no longer care to undertake the tilling of the soil - which they have been asked to carry on as their duty. And there is no lack of patriotism inferred thereby. The fact is that decentralization is being merely preached, and neither practised nor assisted. In the season 1914-15 the wheat-growers of Australia planted 12,000,000 acres. Last year they planted only about 8,000,000 acres- -an astonishing decrease in a brief period. Can such facts afford encouragement to the Government, faced as they are by an enormous national burden of debt?
In asking for the practice of economy, I am conscious of the tremendous load with which we are now weighted. I am cognisant of the huge amount of money represented in the individual share of the national debt. It is a greater sum than was borne by the United Kingdom prior to the war. In the case of the British people, however, there were 45,000,000 of them, the wealthiest in the world, and having the finest financiers on earth amongst their citizens. Here, we are some 5,000,000 of struggling pioneers in a new land, and in no sense a rich people. Does not the magnitude of our responsibility appeal to every one of us ? I do not wish to be regarded as endeavouring to lecture this House, but I contend that with such an enormous responsibility upon our shoulders we have little time for consideration of matters of small consequence. Our national burden can only be lifted by the methods indicated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) ; but such statements as he has made have been frequently heard. Every one will acclaim his belief nowadays in the policy suggested by Mr. Hughes. I hope that the Federal Government and Parliament will devise some means by which production shall be effectively stimulated. After all, we have the finest country on earth, notwithstanding that we have the greatest debt in proportion to population. We have the greatest opportunity to lift that debt, but it must be under sound government, for without sound government we have the best possible chance of going on the rocks. We, here, are natives of Australia. - most of us. We all love Australia, and we all feel that if Australia is to reap the benefits gained for us by Australia’s unequalled fighting sons, we must play our part. We must promote effective means of stimulating production, and create other avenues of wealth production, so that the Commonwealth shall be as great as its sons have made it in other fields and as it truly deserves to be in every way. The Country party is in no sense opposed to natural secondary industries, but does «ot believe in the spoon-feeding of unnatural secondary industries, or in placing the cart before the horse by the development of secondary industries to the retarding of primary industries. -Primary production must be encouraged ; and, if it is encouraged, nothing in the world could hinder the secondary industries from making progress at a reasonable speed, and with much less spoonfeeding than they have hitherto received in- Australia. The Bradford woollen manufacturer pays for his raw material 125 per cent, more than the Australian manufacturer pays, and the latter has the advantage of a high Protective Tariff and 13,000 miles of water carriage; and one would think that, with all thew advantages, the Australian manufacturer would be able to give us an infinitely cheaper article, but such is not the case.
As common humanity, we all ought to pull together to bear the burdens that have been imposed upon us by the war. There is profiteering among the party represented opposite as well as among those who sit on this side of the House. The man who sells his labour at a high price is just as great an exponent of profiteering and is equally against a reasonable method of conducting business as is the man who sells a coat at an unreasonable price, and, I suppose, the same charge may be levelled against me; because it may be claimed that a man who receives too much for his wheat is also a sinner in this regard.
– It is generally the middleman who gets the greatest cut out of the producer.
– It is our desire to get the product of our labours into the hands of the consumers at the least possible cost.
We trust that the Government will extend the fullest sympathy to the producers. The promises made prior to the election were highly satisfactory. We desire to have the middleman, the unnecessary man, cut out, and a system of co-operation inaugurated by which we may emancipate ourselves, and make our avocation more attractive. It would be a distinct advantage to the whole community. Abundant production means cheaper living. Down at bedrock to-day the cry is the costliness of living, but the appeals we hear for higher wages, higher Tariffs, and higher railway freights will only accentuate the difficulty. Of course there is a system practised by all, except the poor unfortunate people we represent, that of “passing it on,” but every increase of wages means a general decrease in the purchasing power of the pound note. What we ought to do is to bring about an increase in actual wealth in order to give security to the paper money we have issued.
– And I suppose we ought to ask the wage-earner to work harder.
– The wage-earner should work honestly for his eight hours. I think this is a particularly . bad time for honorable members of the Opposition to seek to reduce the hours of labour when, we have such tremendous burdens to bear, I sympathize with any honest purpose, but at a time like this a demand for a ve- auction in the hours of labour, with a corresponding increase in the cost of living, is incontrovertibly out of place. If we are to avoid . serious conflict, we should seek to understand each other better. Eather than incite class conflict we should encourage our people to do the right thing in every way to save this Australia we love. I said a moment ago that other parties would pass on the price of commodities to an unlimited extent, but that is not to with the producer; particularly is it impossible in regard to that which he produces for export. The rural producers have said “ Amen “ to the claim of other sections of the community for the maintenance of a white Australia, but the policy has ‘brought to them an obligation that has not yet been removed from them by subsequent legislation. The fact is that the white Australia policy and the maintenance of it protects every other person in the community but the primary producers. “Walls of tariff have been built by the joint effort of labour and capital, and as a result the man who makes harvesters or ploughs seems to get on very well indeed. He can bring up his price to the waterline of the protective duty, and makes a’ nice little thing out of it. Then, the labouring men approach him through the Arbitration Court and say, “ Out party voted for that Tariff; we think that we should have some of the advantages.” The manufacturer says, “ Certainly you ought to,” and, therefore, through the Arbitration Court, the request is granted. The net result is that the “cockie” pays them both, but has no means of passing it on. The Country party appeals to the reasonableness of honorable members generally. We contend that if the protection of secondary industries is to be continued to the detriment of the more important primary industries, those who hold the belief that the secondary industries are the more important should play their part by supporting those industries by establishing a bonus system to which all the taxpayers of Australia should contribute equally, and arranging that the burden shall not be wholly placed on the shoulders of the primary producers. If the burden were levelled over the whole community in this way, and if the people centralized in factories bore their equal share, there would be some reason in the demand for support for the secondary industries ; but although I am told that it is a national obligation to produce wheat, and more wheat, £40 is taken from me when I take delivery of my harvester at the ship’s side, which means that I am prevented from putting another 40 acres of wheat under cultivation, and producing wealth to the amount of about £120. For what? To give Protection to secondary’ industries in the centralized portions of the Commonwealth, and for the sake of giving employment to the very people who will vote against the interests of the primary industries.
I feel that T might easily become a nuisance to honorable members by speaking at too great a length at the present moment, but, as a new member, I content myself with what I have said, except to say that I do hope that the Government, now that the war is over, and when we should get down to solid business, will give us an opportunity of dealing with the Estimates at an early date. I feel quite satisfied that Ministers will be only too willing to return to parliamentary government by the representatives of the people, and give reasonable and proper opportunity for the consideration of the annual Estimates of Expenditure. That this is necessary is shown very clearly by the first draft of the report of the Economies Commission, which reveals an astounding state of affairs, for which I do not think we should unduly lash any Government, because I dare say it has been contributed to partly by all past Governments. However, it reveals certain flagrant neglect, unbusiness-like methods, and a waste of public money, and if, when the attention of the House has been drawn to this matter, the Government will not take action to save the taxpayers’ money where it may be saved without destroying efficiency, then, of course, further action will be necessary.
– I am somewhat concerned at the threat of one of the representatives from the “ Fly Speck.”
– I made no threat.
– The honorable member told us that he would help to get Tasmania to sever itself from the Commonwealth.
– I said nothing of the sort.
– I apologize if the honorable member did not say that, but he did’ say that there was a possibility of a vote being taken in Tasmania upon the question of severing from the Commonwealth. It is a pity the people of Tasmania did not talk of doing so before they got £900,000 from the Commonwealth. It is very evident that Tasmania has had advantages that none of the other States, except Victoria, has had. Victoria and Tasmania have been ruled for the most part by the Conservative section of the community.
– I hope the honorable member does not describe me as a Conservative.
– I do not know what other designation I could apply to the honorable member. When Tasmania entered the Federal Union she was paying lower wages than prevailed in any other part of Australia, but despite her cheap labour she was- less solvent than any other State. We could have no stronger evidence that cheap labour does not mean a prosperous community. Should Tasmania ever forsake the Federation it will not be long before she will return to it as a suburb of Melbourne.
The Government are asking for Supply and it is said that the grant of Supply is being held up. If Supply is not granted within the next fortnight Ministerialists will no doubt declare that the Opposition have prevented the old-age pensioners from receiving their pensions and have delayed the payment of Public Service salaries. The- Government have been asked to supply certain information, and they are justified in choosing their own time to meet that request. The Country party, when they endeavour to show the Government what they ought to do, meet with a rebuff, because the dignity of the Government must be preserved. It is evident that the Ministry wish to obtain Supply before the House is afforded an opportunity to consider any of the important ‘ matters awaiting its attention. - I know nothing about what took place on Saturday, but I am satisfied that the Government do not approve of it, and that they wish this matter to be debated in Committee instead of in the House. I maintain that it is in the House itself that we can have the fullest discussion, and experience shows that an Opposition is better able to obtain information from the Government in the House than in Committee. The request made by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan)’ could well have been met by the Government without, any loss of dignity, but it has been received by Ministers in solemn silence. The Government, I recognise, control the House, and are justified in taking such, a stand; but I am satisfied that the case made out by the honorable member for West Sydney has a good foundation. Although the Government may charge the Opposition with delaying the payment of old-age pensions and the salaries of the Public Service, we will avail ourselves of all the forms of the House to secure the fullest discussion of the present situation. When the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), on behalf of an Opposition in this House, demanded of the Government of the day certain information he was met with the threat with which we have been greeted; but it has been used too often to have any effect upon us. The Government could have brought us together a fortnight earlier than they did, had they wished to secure Supply within a certain date. I know, of course, that they have many duties, and that the situation confronting them is beset with difficulties. A man who did not recognise that would be an ass, because, as has been said again and again, the most able statesmanship will be necessary to deal with the financial situation during the next few years. I do not believe in the way in which the word “ statesmanship “ is applied in the present day, since it does not mean statesmanship in the interests of the people. In all communities, we seem to have, in some way, separated the people from the State. The man who, either by war or financial strategy, can make his country famous is called a statesman, but, in my opinion, the true statesman is he who has regard for the position of the people of the State rather than a desire to add to the renown of the State itself.
The Country party must be aware of the unsatisfactory position of workers in our cities. They will tell us, however, that the responsibility lies at the doors of the workers; that they have been resorting to strikes; that some of them do not wish to work more than five days a week, and that many of them are demanding a working day of six. hours. The honorable member for Swan (Mr.
Prowse), who, I am satisfied, will be able to hold his own in this House, evidently believes that increased production would be beneficial to the country. He, like the Prime Minister and many of our great commercial magnates, says, “ Produce, produce! We must produce more.” But increased production is useless to the worker who labours to secure it. It is not long since we had in Australia millions of bushels of wheat and enormous supplies of meat, but these were of no use to the general body of the people. The honorable member for Swan laments the fact that the area under wheat in Australia has been reduced from 12,000,000 to 8,000,000 acres. The reduction, however, will have no effect upon the working section of the community.
– It will.
– It ought to have.
– And it will later on.
– Increased productivity ought to be beneficial to the people, but the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), who is a student of economics, knows that the increased productivity of a country is not necessarily better for the workers. What is the use of all this production of ours if the people cannot share in it? Again I shall be told that it is their own fault that they cannot get it. I represent a constituency where men are frequently on strike, and the primary producers of Australia are useless without the men and women who live in my constituency and others like them.
– We could say the same of the workers.
– Quite so. We hear a great deal of the primary producers, but they cannot live, a people unto themselves, any more than can any other section of the community. Let our railways, our shipping, or any other great public service be disrupted and the primary producers suffer.
– They cannot live by bread alone.
– Exactly. The point I wish to make is that those who live in the congested areas of Melbourne and other great cities have as much right to be considered as have any other section of the people.
– And we want them to take a little share in the responsibilities of the country.
– Their share of responsibility must be in proportion to the profits they obtain. We often hear a man say, “Iama farmer,” or “ I own a factory, but I cannot carry on by working eight hours a day. I have to work as many hours as possible.” Such men forget that they are working to benefit themselves, while the working man who is asking for an eight-hours day is working only for his “ boss.”
– The farmers cannot work by the clock.
– I know that the farmers have to work very hard. There are some real representatives of the farmers in this House–
– A dozen.
– I should say that there are not more than a half-dozen who have worked on a farm. I am just as well fitted to represent a farming community as is any member of the Country party, although I do not think I have ever cultivated even a geranium.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
– I have heard the question debated many times, but I should like to say a few words regarding the curtailment of the liberties of the people. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and myself, before hewas the Leader of the present party, discussed on several occasions the use of the powers under the War Precautions Act; and I well remember how he took great pains to assure me - when we sat together on the same side of the House - that the War Precautions Act was to be used only for the defence of our country in times of stress, and so forth. He also gave other promises, and one was that the Act was to be used intelligently, but I do not think that it ever has been so used. Is the House aware that the Government are still gaoling people, particularly women, for flying the red flag ?
I wish to deal with this question tonight, because I may not have another opportunity, and I desire to know whether those behind the Government really understand the position. Under the War Precautions Act the Government can do much. A member of Parliament, when outside the House, may be taken by the shoulder and put behind stone walls, and the Government have the power to defer his trial as long as they please, or, if it suits them, to bring him up for trial at two hours’ notice, allowing him practically no time to prepare his defence. All this is with a view to gaoling people for political purposes, or to satisfy petty personal spleen. I ask any honorable member opposite if he believes that this Act was intended to be used to gaol women who, in their political fervour, wave the red flag on the Yarra bank? The war is over, and the peace with Germany signed, and yet to-day in Australia we have people gaoled for flying the red flag. All this calls to mind that we are talking about the punishment of the criminal Huns who resorted to all sorts of fiendish methods during the war; but we have had to concede a good deal, and the Germans axe demanding the right themselves to try the criminals. While we talk of punishing the German war criminals, the war criminals of Australia are still in power. No one can say that the taking of a woman from her home and putting her in gaol is justified under certain circumstances. What harm can she do by waving a red flag in this community? We are told now that the Act will continue in force until Peace has been signed with Austria ; and Lord knows when that will be. I often told the House that I never desired to fly the red flag until the present Government told me I would not be allowed to do so. It is the same spirit which makes other people want to fly the red flag; and the Government for political purposes, and some individuals to satisfy their personal spleen, are still gaoling people for doing so. I do not wish to say anything nasty about flags, because some people are particularly fond of them.
– Good flags.
– You get behind the Union Jack !
– That is a brave thing to say.
– It is quite as “brave” as gaoling women, and you and those with whom you sit are to blame for that. However, that has nothing to do with the question we are discussing. I have talked the matter over on many occasions with the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), and the only time I ever suspected him was when I found him running down the street and waving a Union Jack to show his loyalty.
– I am sorry to hear you say that.
– I have as much right as the honorable member to fly the flag for political purposes.
– Do not say that.
– Does the honorable member deny that the Union Jack is flaunted everywhere for political purposes ?
– It is not done by me, anyhow.
– The crowd the honorable member is with have as much reverence for the Union Jack as they have for my boots when they fly it for political purposes. In Victoria there are people who demand that the Irish shall carry the Union Jack in front of the St. Patrick’s Day procession, and who say that it is appropriate to fly it on all occasions. If there is a hospital celebration, the Union Jack must be flown. If there is a demonstration against high prices, the Union Jack must be flown, although the high prices are due to those who are so keen on the flag. It is just as appropriate to fly the red flag for political purposes. I remember hearing a yarn, the whole of which I cannot very well tell now, about a picture of George Washington, which was held to be appropriate on all occasions, just as the Union Jack is regarded by some in Australia.
The Prime Minister, of course, will take no notice of what I say; but I ask honorable members opposite whether they think they are gaining anything - whether they think they are adding to their own strength, and to the glory of the Empire, and at the same time weakening the other side when they stop people, by means of the War Precautions Act, from flying flags in a time of peace? There never was any justification for the use of the Act, and there is absolutely none now; but honorable members opposite are quite smug and satisfied, because they have all the liberty they desire. They can fly any flag they like, without being gaoled, but I cannot, and I claim as much liberty in this country as any man. I was born here, and yet others, who came from other countries, and run the Government, take away from Australians the right to fly any political flag they choose.
– I am sure you do not want to fly the red flag.
– I want to fly any flag, especially when an attempt is made to stop me. This year there were two women put into gaol because they would fly the red flag. Do honorable members think that gaoling women for flying the red flag is going to do any good ? If they do not think so, I ask them to help us to prod the Government^ and especially the Prime Minister, and induce them to withdraw tha prosecutions. We talk about liberty whilst we out-hun the Hun. We talk of trying Germans for war crimes, whilst, under the War Precautions Act, we have interned men in Australia merely because they were of foreign birth and our Courts have fabricated evidence against them. Men have been persecuted here because they were of foreign birth. I have nothing but contempt and horror for the Germans who perpetrated war crimes. I believe some of the statements on the subject have been exaggerated, but I think the perpetrators of those crimes should be punished. When we talk of punishing other people for war crimes we should be prepared to punish those who committed crimes here during the war. The Prime Minister should be punished.
I can refer honorable members to a case that occurred here some time ago. The victim is a Pole by birth, who has been in Australia for 36 years and who was naturalized 24 or 25 years ago. Some peculiar circumstances are connected with his life. He was robbed on one occasion, and he caught the thieves himself. They were tried and were set free under a bond to be of good behaviour for twelve months and on condition that they paid back £10 of the money they had stolen. The State Government of Victoria took the £.1.0 from the thieves, but have refused to pay it to the man who was robbed. His shop was broken into, and he thought he had a right to protect himself. One day a. man leaving his shop left a revolver after him, and the thieves who robbed him discovered that he had the revolver and gave information to the police. The police found the revolver at his place, and tried him for having it in his possession, and he was fined £20. At the trial a letter which he had written to a nephew, a Pole fighting in Germany, was read and translated in the following way: -
I arn pleased you are helping to give the red trousers a thorough beating, and I hope you are convinced that you are knocking the lice out of the lion’s skin. This will be a warning to both of them to leave us Germans alone for all time.
This man denied that the reference to beating the lice out of the lion’s skin was ever in his letter. He tried, through his legal representatives, to obtain the letter from the Defence Department without success. I also tried to get the letter, but the Department would not produce it because they knew that a lie had been told, and that the reference to the lice in the lion’s skin does not appear in the letter. The Government interned that man and detained him for three and a half years, during which his business and personal property were left unprotected because of a lying translation of the letter referred to. Could they do worse in Germany? We cannot get the Defence Department to go into the matter at all. The Victorian Government will not hand this man’s money over to ‘him. They say that if has gone into the Consolidated Revenue and they cannot get it out. His property was stolen while he was in the internment camp, to which he was committed because of a lie. Surely honorable members will admit that this man should be given a copy of his letter to prove that there is nothing in it about lice in the lion’s skin. The man would have been a fool to have written anything of the kind. The letter he received from his nephew was censored, and he knew that his letter to his nephew would be censored. ‘
We talk about liberty, but I tell honorable members of this House that we are building up a condition of affairs in Australia which will be the cause of more trouble than some of them anticipate. No self-respecting people would ever tolerate a Government that would permit such things to occur as I have referred to. We read with horror of the massacre of Armenians by the Turks and of the treatment by Germans during the war of people who came under their control. In our midst we have thousands of cases of the kind I have mentioned. A man is brought, up under the War Precautions Act and is not allowed to know his accuser or what he is accused of. Personal spite or the political game may result in his incarceration, and he is given no opportunity to meet the charges made against him. If that kind of thing is to continue, the troubles that will arise in Australia will be such as to overwhelm even the present Government, with all their might, and in spite of all the talk of what they intend to do when trouble does arise. They have a majority to-day, and have a right to be where they are, because the people put them there. They talked of liberty during the election campaign. They talked of beating the profiteer, and of what they were going to do for the people of Australia. One thing that they ought to do is to remove the blot upon the name of Australia which has been caused as the result of the gaoling of innocent men. Every honorable member on the ether side is equally blamable for what has been done if he will not help to secure redress for those who have been unjustly treated. I will be told that it is dramatic to make a statement of the sort, and that no purpose is to be gained by it if I say that, should this kind of thing continue, a condition of affairs will be built up here which will overwhelm the party opposite. They laugh when we say so ; but we have evidence from other parts of the world of what can take place under certain circumstances. Honorable members may, if they please, laugh at the power of the workers in the cities. Some fair trouble had to be confronted in Great Britain, they are getting a bit of it now in France, and if we can believe half we hear, the condition of affairs is even worse in Japan. No member of this House will contend that the Australian is not as brave as the Frenchman or the Japanese, or that he will not be found equally determined to seek redress when he is wronged. If the War Precautions Act is kept in operation to be used as the Prime Minister used it in the late strike of the engineers, we ought to be told that that is the intention of the Government. Why does not the Prime Minister tell us that he is keeping the Act’ in operation for the purpose of using it against the industrialists of Australia when they try to improve their position? We have been assured that the Anglo-Saxon will not resort to the methods adopted by people of other nationalities, but that remains to be seen. We are supposed to be living here under much better conditions than are people elsewhere, but if this kind of thing is to continue, I say that, despite the War Precautions Act, the continuance of which only serves to accentuate the disturbed condition of affairs and to stir up the people, we shall within the next few months have a few more strikes.
– Give us a rest. We in Tasmania have been shut off for nine months out of the twelve.
– They are a good old Conservative crowd over there, and deserve all they get. I have heard that the Tasmanians have brought forth a scheme to enable them in future to avoid the disadvantages from which they have suffered as the result of industrial unrest.
– They have suffered a lot.
– I admit it. I learn that the Conservatives of Tasmania have conceived a means by which to avoid that suffering in the future. I am told that they are going to buy ships of their own and to man them with scab labour.
– The people in Tasmania have a right to live.
– They have only the same right as have other people. Have the persons who were gaoled under the War Precautions Act no right to live and to enjoy their liberty ? A lot of good it will do the people of Tasmania if they man their own ships, when the railwaymen, wharf labourers, and carters will not handle produce sent to or from Tasmania.We shall find a way of beating any effort of that kind.
– Every steamer manned in Tasmania ran throughout the recent strike.
– We could have declared every steamer black had we desired to do so. We could have painted those people as black as a coal heap. Honorable members claim the right to live, but they will not concede the same right to others. When they use their powers under the War Precautions Act to gaol labour men and women, not one of them is fit to live if they have considered the question at all. It is the duty of the Government to prove themselves British. The war is over; fighting ceased sixteen or seventeen months ago. There is no longer need for the War Precautions Act, but the silly restriction of disallowing persons to leave Australia without a passport is still in operation. The Government who persist in keeping the War Precautions Act in existence and prosecuting persons under the powers which it confers, and the people who support them in such a policy, deserve nothing but contempt from liberty-loving people.
– I desire to bring before the House a small matter which concerns not only my own electorate, in which it is a burning question, but also the electorates of Darling Downs, Lilley, Wide Bay, and, no doubt, some of the constituencies represented by honorable members on the Opposition side. I refer to the disfranchisement of, and other restrictions placed upon, a great many of those who are known as German settlers, but who, after all, are fellow Australians. Those restrictions are at the present time a serious grievance and a handicap to the people in whose behalf I speak. I have no intention of reviving the old controversy as to whether those restrictions should ever have been imposed at all. Although I was at the war when the restrictions were introduced, I quite realize that the Government were carrying, while the war lasted, the greatest burden ever placed upon the shoulders of any Government in Australia. But, thank God, the war is over ; we have achieved a victorious peace, and, I think, it is fair to ask the Government - and in this appeal I hope other honorable members who are interested will join - that those restrictions should now be’ withdrawn. I hold no brief for disloyalty. A man who would do a disloyal act, who could be a traitor in either deed or thought to his fellow countrymen when they are at war with another great power, deserves no sympathy, but merits the severest penalty that could be inflicted upon him. But honorable members will agree that many of the German settlers were placed in a cruel and most unhappy position. They were induced by the Government to come to Australia; they were welcomed as settlers, and a great portion of the coastal area in my own State and in other portions in Australia owes its present prosperiity to the efforts of those people. A motion for the granting of Supply seems to me a particularly opportune moment for bringing forward this question, because the persons on whom these restrictions are imposed invariably say to me, “ We are not considered worthy to have a vote, but we are not exempted from any taxation.” That is the way in which the Government policy appeals to them, and I have no hesitation, on this motion for the granting of Supply, in asking the Government to> reconsider the whole question and repeal the restrictions as quickly as possible. I cannot imagine any bigger proof of the loyalty of the people whose cause I am pleading than the fact that I, a returned soldier, owe my seat in this House largely to the support they gave me at the polling booth.
.- I moveThat after the word “ That “ the following words be inserted: - “the Government be censured for (a) their failure to deal with profiteering: (6) their injudicious expenditure; (c)_. their control of shipping, and of wheat, wool, metals, and other products.”
I make no apology for moving this amendment. I believe the Government are deserving of censure, particularly in regard to the matters specified, but also in regard to many others. I know that some honorable members on the Government side say that there is no profiteering in Australia. Some people are never tired of assuring us that there is no profiteering in the community. If they cannot feel the results .of this evil in their own homes, they must be very fortunate individuals indeed. We have only to read the newspapers to learn the enormous profits which are being made by many sections of the community. Yet the Government have so far failed to lift even a finger to deal with this question. When returning thanks to my constituents for having again elected me to this House, I said that I regarded the return to power of the Nationalist Government as a great victory for the profiteer. In this connexion what did the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), who attended practically every Caucus meeting of the National party during the last session of this Parliament, say? He- had no doubt, about the organization of the profiteers, and he had no doubt as to’ where the fund’s of the National party camefrom. From the Age newspaper of 20th November last, I extract the following in regard to his candidature: -
The National Federation was referred to by the candidate ns an “ organization of vested city interests drawing a colossal fighting fund from the manufacturers and Flinders-lane, and,, perhaps, from other sources such a6 was indi- cated in Sydney the other day when a racing club tendered £2,000 or £1,000 for party funds.” The National Federation employed a secretary at £1,250 a year and organizers at £500 a year.
– The honorable member tested this question in all the constituencies and lost upon it.
– I did not test it in all the constituencies, but I did in many of them, because I know that the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) spoke upon something of which he had knowledge.He said -
It claimed that the National Government had reduced the cost of bread to 6½d. In England bread was1s.
– That is a quotation of your own.
-No. This is the honorable member’s speech as reported in the Age newspaper. I shall be pleased to let him see the report -
Not a word was said about cheap clothing, or the thousands of articles sold by the people it stood for. That was the party which said it was going to “ shoot the profiteer.” These profiteers couldbe shot with a short-range gun from an upstairs room in Parliament House looking east, but that they were not likely to shoot the goose that laid such golden eggs.
The profiteers had a magnificent victory at the recent election, and prices have been going on ever since. Scarcely an article in common use can be specified which has not risen in price.
– Why do not the States stop that?
– The honorable member will have an opportunity to show where the States have failed in their duty.I am now dealing with the articles which are consumed and worn in every household. A suit of clothes which the average working man could purchase for £3 10s. or £4 4s. four years ago cannot be bought to-day for less than £8 8s. or £10 10s. In the Melbourne Argus of 9th February last I find the following -
The report of the Committee appointed under the Profiteering Act to inquire into wool-spinners’ profits has been issued by the Board of Trade. It shows that enormous profits have been made by spinners. In the highest instances, the excess percentage over the profits officially allowed works out at 3,900 per cent., and in no case is the excess of profit over that allowed by the War Office schedule of fair prices less than 250 per cent. The Committee says that at least half of the forty types of yarn investigated showed a profit of not less than 25d. a pound. The excess percentage accruing to the spinners on some grades of yarn ranged from 2,500 per cent, down to 833 per cent. The spinners objected to the figures on which these calculations were based on the ground that they were misleading, and supplied their own figures, which showed profits ranging from 2,400 to 250 per cent.
That cable was printed under the following headlines: - “Enormous profits made by spinners” “ Thousands per cent.”
Talk about taking a chance in Tattersall’s sweep. It is nothing like this.
– What are the powers of the Commonwealth Government over those people ?
– I intend to deal with the matter of how the Commonwealth Government have failed to suppress the profiteer in Australia. An extract from the Melbourne Herald reads -
Thousands perCent. Alleged. (Published in The Times.)
Extraordinary disclosures regarding profits on wool startled a meeting of the Central Profiteering Committee. Mr. Mackinder, a Yorkshire warehouseman, reporting on the results of the official subcommittee’s investigation as to the costs of six standard counts of yarn, said that the profits now made ranged from 400 per cent, to 3,000 per cent, beyond the War Office’s former allowance. The spinners’ own figures were quoted in every instance. The Government itself was still making colossal profits.
The spinners themselves admit that they are making 2,400 per cent, upon these yarns. Honorable members who have any knowledge of the trade know that there are a number of articles that we are bound to import, because we do not make any cotton piece-goods in Australia. But in some cases the prices of these goods have advanced from 2¾d. per yard to more than 2s. per yard. Why? Because a Combine has got hold of the mills in Lancashire, and its agents are offering the shareholders in the mills five or six times the cost of their shares. A mill which was built within half-a-mile of where I worked on the borders of Cheshire, and which was equipped for £80,000 before the war, was purchased by the Combine last year for £500,000. Let any honorable member who is interested in this matter go down to Flinders-lane and make inquiries of the people who are using these goods. He will find that cotton material which cost 4¾d. per yard before the war is to-day being sold at more than 4s. per yard.
– If we save ourselves from the evils which afflict us in Australia we shall do well. No doubt the honorable member is anxious to protect the profiteers who supported him in the recent election. These people who are building up enormous fortunes at the cost of the health of the workers-
– They joined with the honorable member’s friends in killing the referendum,
– That will probably be the excuse which will be urged. But a Government which has power to issue the proclamation which was recently issued in respect of the marine engineers employed on our own coast has power to deal with the profiteer. At the recent elections 90 per cent, of those engineers did not support the party with which I am associated . These men could be brought to heel with a proclamation under the War Precautions Act, but the profiteer is to escape scot-free. The other day in England the firm of J. and P. Coats declared that its immense profits had been made, not in Great Britain, but abroad. Australia, where women are now forced to pay 8d., 10d., and as much as ls. a reel for cotton thread that used to cost 2d. or 2-^d. a reel before the war, has contributed its share.
– How can we deal with the firm of J. and P. Coats?
– If it charged £1 a reel for its thread, ought we to remain supine ? The Government should see that our people are not robbed, either by a combination of importers or by a local combination. We ought not to sit idle when these things are taking place. It was stated this afternoon that an enormous amount is now being paid for harvesters. So far as I know, there is nothing to prevent any one from manufacturing harvesters in this country, and if the manufacturers have come together to put up rices, they are only doing what others ave done, and nothing is said by honorable members opposite against such action. But let the workers endeavour to raise their wages, and improve their industrial conditions, and there is immediately an outcry from honorable members opposite, and those whom they represent. The working man is denounced if he tries to better himself. Knibbs proves beyond doubt that the cost of living has increased at a greater rate than the wages in any trade or calling in Australia. Some of the coalowners have increased their profits by over 100 per cent., but I do not know of any calling in which wages have been increased by 100 per cent. We learned by cable towards the end of last year that the firm of J. and P. Coats had made a profit of £3,899,000- that is. practically, £4,000,000 - an increase of ‘50 25er cent, over its profit for the pre-war year 1913-14, which was £2,600,000. There are only two ways in which a manufacturing firm can make big profits - by taking them out of its work people, or by raising prices to the consumers of the article which it manufactures. I know enough of the cotton weavers and spinners of Lancashire to be certain that they will not allow undue profits to be made out of them. We have been told by a member of the Country party that the Government has no right to touch the Tariff, and to start new industries in our midst; that we must leave ourselves at the mercy of the manufacturing sharks on the other side of the world. Many of these manufacturers would sweat the last drop of blood out of their ‘employees. I know that less than twenty years ago children under thirteen years of age were at work in Lancashire, going to the mills at 6 o’clock in the morning, and working every morning for one week while attending school in the afternoons, and in the next week attending school in the morning and working in the afternoon. No honorable member on this side” wants cheapness at the expense of the individual.
– Nor do we.
– Nor does any member of the Country party.
– I do not want cheapness at the expense of any man on the land.
– We .are glad to hear that.
– I have said it before. I said it in the last Parliament. We do not want cheapness at the expense of those engaged in the production of an article, but we do not want a comparatively few persons to make enormous profits at the expense of the many. It was said that in New South Wales the coal miners were receiving enormous wages, and living on the fat of the land, while the poor coal owners practically got nothing. But the report of the Coal Commission appointed by the
Holman Government shows that in the coal industry a profit of over 150 per cent, per annum has been made. Let me read a newspaper comment on the report of the Commission -
Let it be said, in passing, that the report proves right up to the hilt everything that has been penned in these columns from time to time regarding profiteering in the coal industry. Listen to this, during the war no less than twenty-eight coal companies in New South Wales showed profits of over 10 per cent, on the capital employed in production, seventeen made over 20 per cent., and nine each over 30 per cent. Three of them made profit’s of over 60 per cent., while one colliery was allowed to make a profit, in 1018, of no less than 1544 per cent.
Will the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Lamond) say that these coal owners ought not to be dealt with?
– I am waiting to hear the honorable member speak about the Geelong Woollen Mills.
– I have referred to them before, and shall do so again to-night. I was not afraid to criticise the operations of the firm of Poy and Gibson, notwithstanding that its place of business is inmy electorate. Mr. Gibson died worth £1,800,000 without leaving a penny to charity, although he had made his money out of the poorest in the community. When the honorable member has been longer in the House, he will know that I have not been - afraid to blame the tanners in my electorate for the enormous profits which they have made out of leather, nor to deal with other factory employers there. I am ready to treat those in my electorate in the same way as I treat persons outside it. Honorable members who sat -here with me know that I am not going to shield any of these profiteers, no matter where they come from. These manufacturers take very good care as a rule not to live in the industrial centres where they have their factories. I am personally as friendly with many of them as I am with many members on the other side. I oppose them politically and industrially on a great number of matters; but the fact that they happen to live where they do is no reason why they should be shielded by me.
– Do not you think you. should give the same credit to members on this side of the House as you are giving to yourself?
– The honorable member wants me to write him a- testimonial as to -his character. I might have been able to write it a few years ago, before be slipped, but I have no intention of saying where he is to-day. He knows far better than I do the company he is in. As the old copy-book maxim said, “ Judge a man by the company he keeps.” Honorable members on the other side are backed by the Employers Federation throughout Australia. That is an organization which a few years ago sent a man through this country preaching that marriage was a luxury for the worker. After that tour that man was still employed by them. No one can- say that the Employers Federation support us. They are very glad to put in money against us, and some of their representatives will appear in electorates like mine claiming to be “ as-good’-as-Labour “ men. They are only counterfeit, and the people in- Yarra and other electorates turn them down for what they are. To continue the report regarding the colliery owners, in the northern district in 1914 the capital employed in .production, taking a typical mine, was £7,427. In 1918 it was £5,400. In the meantime they had evidently returned some of their capital to their shareholders. The tonnage has gone down from 30,904 to 23,000, but the profits have gone up from 12 per cent, to 61 per cent. The Government have an opportunity of dealing with them, but are sitting idly by. Commissioner Campbell makes the following remarks about the ,poor people who buy the coal: -
A noteworthy fact in connexion with these prices is that, when an increase of colliery price occurs, the prices in the successive stages of distribution to the point at which the coal roaches the consumer extend far beyond the measure of the initial increase. Indeed, when the retail stage for domestic consumption is reached, it will be seen that when, in 1917, the colliery price was increased by 3s. per ton, the immediate increase to the retail buyer was 4s. per ton per ton, lots, and 5s. per ton per cwt. lots, while in the majority of cases the increases ran from 7s. to 10s. per ton on ton and half -ton lots, and up to los. for cwt. lots.
The policy evidently is to take it out of the poorest people who cannot afford to buy more than 1 cwt. While the war was on, I gave an account of the Wallaroo and Moonta Copper Mining Company, in the district of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster). In the three years, 1915, 1916, and 1917, the company made, adding the money that had gone to reserves, a profit of 186 per cent.
– That is a company which gives its employees a percentage increase according to the rise in copper. It is the best company in that respect in Australia.
– And it will take a lot bigger percentage itself. I am not finding fault with the company for the way it treats its employees. I have always said that I would never defend a close organization, consisting of 100 per cent, of both employers and employees, if they combined together to put up the price of an article to the public. All I said was that the Wallaroo and Moonta Company made the profits I mentioned’, as I proved in the House.
– And for years they never made a penny profit.
– They remind me of the man who was selling everything cheaper than cost. He was asked how he could do it, and he said he made a bit of profit on the paper and the string. It is strange that so few of these people apply for old-age pensions. It is only in the poorer districts that the people are forced to do so.
– Did you say that these people combined to put up the price of copper?
– I did not say so, because I know that the price of copper is regulated by the price in the world’s market, and not by* any particular mine.
Honorable members are anxious to know what the Government can do to deal with these enormous profits, and what can be done with the people who are abroad. The following is a case that occurred in Sydney while the election was on; -
In the Central Summons Court to-day, Mr. Thomas Alfred Field was proceeded against by the Federal Income Tax Department on a charge that he had understated his income in a return submitted for the twelve months ending 30th June, 1917. Mr. Lambert, K.C., who appeared for the Federal authorities, alleged that Field had returned his income as £45,000- for the year, but in a later return had admitted that he should have shown £63,000. Investigation, however, showed that his income for that year was really £71,000.
That is only a matter of £1,400 per week, which is the decent minimum wage that Mr. Field was making, and the Government do not lift a little finger .to stop him from making those enormous profits. The Income Tax Department certainly tackled him for making a wrong return, but the Government take no action so far as profiteering is concerned. We all know what happened when the Government decided to deal with the price of meat. A deputation was arranged for in Melbourne, and these. “ poor “ people chartered seven special trains. It is only the really ‘poor people who can. get a special train. They were allowed to have their deputation in the Queen’s Hall, and I am informed by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) that, when my name was mentioned they did me the honour to hoot it. That is one of the finest testimonials I have ever received of fair treatment to the public. Those hoots came from the people who hung up the consumers’ meat, and deliberately had stock trains and auction sales cancelled, so that no meat would be delivered to the Melbourne market. This Mr. T. A. Field was one of these people. He would not be a supporter of ours.
– He put a few motor cars in against me in my electorate.
– If our opponents would do that in all our electorates, it would help us to get our voters to the polls, because the supporters of the National party cannot bargain for votes in return for free motor rides. As a matter of fact, I would like to know how some honorable members opposite fill in their election returns. Some of them, no doubt, have scores and hundreds of motor cars running for them - cars provided by those Nationalists, those poor employers, those men whom the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) describes as the “geese that lay the golden eggs.” Does the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) expect to get a satisfactory answer to his question which appeared upon to-day’s notice-paper?
– Of course not.
– Your Australian “Workers Union spent a lot more money on the elections than the Nationalists.
– I would like to believe it.
– You know it.
– I do not. There are honorable members on the other side who were once members of my party. I challenge any of them to confirm what the honorable member for .”Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) has just stated. I challenge those “has beens.” I will leave it to them rather than listen to the “ never wasers “ who have had no experience of the Labour party. Can those “ has beens “ prove what the honorable member asserts? The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) has stated that a certain gentleman whom he named put money into our campaign fund. I have had the honour to hold official positions connected with the Labour party, besides those which I have filled as a politician. I have been president of the Trades Hall Council and other political organizations, and treasurer as well. Our difficulty has always been to get any money at all; and the money that we have collected lias consisted of the shillings of the poor, and not of the thousands of pounds which honorable members opposite get from other people - according to the honorable member for Corangamite.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) has referred to the audacity of certain people in flying the red flag in this community, for which daring offence they have been gaoled. I will dip into a voluminous report presented to this House, which recorded the punishment of certain people who were guilty of over-charging the public for certain necessary commodities. Messrs. Burns, Philp and Co., wholesale traders - I presume - in butter, were fined 10s. for charging the people too much. I wonder if that firm asked for time to pay. A “ red-flagger “ named James was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. Half a year in gaol for james, 10s. fine for Burns, Philp and Co. ! I do not know that these people who flaunt the red flag would vote for me any more readily than for an honorable member opposite; but I object to the unfair treatment being meted out in what is alleged to be a fair community.
– Where is James now?
– In the Upper House, in Queensland.
– I think the honorable member is mistaken; he is confusing him with a different man altogether. The Fresh Food and Ice Company, a New South Wales concern, was “ had up “ for charging too much for butter. The indictment was withdrawn upon the payment into Court of 21s. and of 13s. out-of-pocket expenses. The report from which E am quoting does not indicate precisely who paid the 21s. or who the 13s. It proceeds to refer to a man named Bowden, who was fined 10s. in connexion with over-charging for bread; and there were other men, named Williamson and Thomas, who also were fined 10s. each in relation to the sale of bread. People who demand too much for such necessary commodities as bread and butter are punished to the tune of 10s. each. Contrast that with the punishment of the red flag people. I am not great on flagflapping myself; but a man named Carroll, who is now an esteemed member of the Queensland Upper House, was fined £25. Mr. Richard Long was given the option of paying £25 or going to gaol in this city for six months. Those who robbed the people by charging too much for bread and butter which was being purchased by the wives of our soldiers who were away fighting for us all, were fined every bit of 10s. Take the case of’ certain people to whom I have already referred, who said, in effect, “ We will stop the public from getting any meat at all.” They were not even fined 10s.
– Do you know that Richard Long voted for the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) because he wanted to “bring about direct action quickly?
– T. can quite appreciate that. Simon Legree, who treated the American slaves so cruelly, did more to bring about their emancipation than the man who treated them better than all others. I can quite understand Mr. Long, of red-flag fame, preferring to vote for Mr. Maxwell, as a horrible example of Conservatism, rather than oast his vote for a Labour man.
The Government requested the InterState Commission to inquire how much the increased cost of living had been brought about by Trusts, Combines, and the like. For particulars of the inquiry I refer honorable members to the report dealing with bread. Why did not the Government take action upon the report of the Inter-State Commission? They professed to do so. They were furnished with a report, also, in respect of meat but before that document saw the light of day in tha House, it was referred back to the Commissioners. Legal proceedings arose in Sydney, and as formidable a Bar was present in Court to represent the owners and producers and the meat companies of New South Wales as has everappeared in any case in Australia. Practically every King’s Counsel in the State was engaged. Those parties made sure, at any rate, that -their side would be. heard. No one appeared for the consumers. Even after that the Commission brought in a report concerning what should be done with regard to meat, but the Government did not act upon it ; they had ample power to do so, too. Then, recently, a report was presented upon the matter of house rentals. Honorable members must know that rents have been increasing practically everywhere. I have in mind certain habitations in my own electorate, which, by the way, has received a little publicity in the matter of housing accommodation during th«: past few months. There is a thoroughfare in my district known as Tennysonstreet. That is the name given to it by the municipal council, in honour of the celebrated poet. But it is known to- the people who reside in the neighbourhood another name - “ Pickle Alley.” There is a width of 10 feet from the extreme edge of the front verandahs of the houses in “ Pickle Alley “ across to the wall of the pickle factory opposite. The children of- Tennyson-street have no other place but that alley in which to play. From the extreme edge of the back verandahs to the rear of the properties there is a depth of only 45 feet. The six houses have a total frontage of 115 feet, and honorable members can imagine the congestion that exists when they realize that they occupy a space not much larger than this chamber. Rents are increasing in Richmond as well as . everywhere else, and, although the Go vernment have had the opportunity of dealing with this question, they have failed to do so. The honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Lamond) said a little while ago that I was dealing with overseas questions, and he wished me to refer to instances in Australia. I have referred to the coal produced in the honorable member’s electorate, and now call his attention to the rents cases.
In the report of the Inter-State Commission, reference is made to the tweed manufacturers, and the fact that they had made enormous profits - up to 40 per cent, in one year. Notwithstanding this, no action has been taken. The Inter-State Commission reported that this occurred at a time when the output was sold to the Government for Defence purposes. I have said before that the best way to stop profiteering is to fix a maximum profit - let the Government fix a maximum income for the manufacturer, and commandeer all above the maximum so fixed.
– Does the honorable member mean a maximum profit or a maximum percentage of the profits on the capital invested ?
– A maximum profit should be fixed by the Government;. It may be fixed at 5, 10, 15, or 20 per cent., but whatever the amount is, anything exceeding it should be handed to the Government. I have quoted Knibbs to show that, since the war commenced, the manufacturers have trebled their profits, and although the workers in Australia produced £50,000,000 more of manufactured articles than they did in 1914, the wages paid were actually less. I gave the figures at a dinner given by the Chamber of Manufacturers, to which I was invited, and, in consequence of the remarks I made on that occasion, I was not at all popular.
At present, we have a Basic Wage Commission, which has been sitting for four months, or, at least, it is over four months since I introduced a deputation to the Prime Minister pointing out the desirability of fixing a basic wage.
– I do not think it has been sitting four months.
– Yes; the Commission commenced taking evidence before Christmas. If the Commission has to go all over Australia to obtain information as to the conditions prevailing throughout the Commonwealth, by the time their labours are completed, it will be necessary to commence again. If it takes the Commission three or four months to complete its inquiries in Melbourne, a similar period in Sydney, and six weeks in Adelaide, Brisbane, and Perth, honorable members can easily realize that its recommendations will be of little value at the end of that period. It would also be necessary for the Commission to visit Tasmania, because, if due attention is not given to that State, the threat of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) that the people of that State will take a referendum on the question of withdrawing from the Federation may materialize. I hope the Prime Minister’s statement at Bendigo early in November will prove correct.
– We then hoped that the referenda would be carried.
– The honorable member for Illawarra (Mr Lamond) seems somewhat perturbed concerning the referenda, and I repeat what I said on the floor of the House on a previous occasion that had the Government been sincere in their endeavour to deal with this matter, we would have supported them. Honorable members know my attitude on this question. If the Basic Wage Commission takes as long in other States as it is taking here, its recommendations will be of little value.
– Why should it take so long? The men represented by the honorable member are taking up all the time, and the other side has not had an opportunity of putting its case.
– Judging by the time taken by the employers in submittingtheir claims to the Arbitration Courts and Wages Boards, the period they are likely to occupy will be very lengthy. The workers have to prove their case, and time is required to do that.
– If they wish to get something out of it why do they not make haste?
– One lady writing to the press said that the costume of a growing girl should last her three years. My daughter has grown 7 inches in three years, and I would like to know what she would look like in a dress 7 inches too short. I made that statement at a public meeting, and one lady was very annoyed.
Perhaps she would suggest placing a weight on the head of children to prevent them growing, and thus enable them to wear their clothes for a period of years.
A good deal was said during the recent election campaign concerning the alleged increase in the cost of living in Queensland under the Premiership of my friend, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan). I have before me Knibbs’ figures to September, 1919, which are contained in the Bulletin distributed two or three months ago. In connexion with the Brisbane figures, he said that in the third quarter of 1914, when war broke out, it would take £1 Os. Id. to purchase what the sovereign would purchase previously, but that at the end of 1915 it would take 25s. Id. to do so. It must be borne in mind that the Labour Government did not assume office in Queensland until the middle of 1915, and so it cannot be blamed for what happened during the Denham regime. It will be admitted that it takes any Government a few months to get to work. At the end of 1915 the equivalent to the purchasing power of the sovereign was 25s. Id., but at the end of 1916 it had decreased to 22s. lOd. That is the only State in the Commonwealth where there was an appreciable drop in the purchasing power of the sovereign.
– An appreciable rise you mean.
– It dropped from 2os. Id. at the end of 1915 to 22s. lOd. at the end of 1916. At the end of 1916, or early in 1917, the Federal Government took over the whole work of price-fixing, and the State Governments were told to “keep off the grass.” If any increaseoccurred in Queensland the fault is not with the Labour Government, but with the National Government of Australia. One of the conditions of the coalition between the Liberals and the National Labour party was that price-fixing should be abolished, and in February, 1917, the Price Fixing Commissioners in each State received notice to wind up their offices. That occurred before the Ready incident, but when Senator Keating and Senator Bakhap refused to vote for a continuation of the life of the then Parliament that order was withdrawn, and Federal price-fixing, although it has been abolished in the case of most commodities, still remains operative. During the period of Federal price-fixing the equivalent to the purchasing power of the sovereign in Queensland has advanced from 22s. lOd. to 28s. 6d. in the third quarter of last year. It is not only a question of the purchasing power of the sovereign.
The question of whether the people have the money with which to effect purchases has also to be taken into account - that is to say, we ought to see what wages have been earned in the corresponding periods. In the quarter ended the 31st December, 1915, when the Denham Government was in charge in Queensland, the average wage for a full week’s work was 54s. 4d., but in the quarter ended the 31st March, 1919, it had increased to 70s. per week, or an increase of 15s. 8d. No other State can show a similar increase. Those honorable members who claimed on the platform that the cost of living had increased in Queensland might at least have the honesty to say that the increase has only come about since the Federal Government took complete control over price-fixing. The State Government had no control over it whatever.
The following report appeared in this morning’s Argus: -
The deputation representing the Queensland sugar-growers hopes to interview the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) again this week, and again press the case for an increase in the price of raw sugar from £21 to £30 6s. Sd. per ton. The deputation will be armed with the facts asked for by Mr. Hughes at the last interview, and also, if possible, with guarantees about the stability of industrial conditions in the industry.
Perhaps we may know more about it next week than we know to-day.
No action taken by the Government lias been more provocative of industrial unrest than the regulation issued recently under the War Precautions Act and directed against the marine engineers. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) knows perhaps better than any other honorable member does that, taking them generally, trade unionists were not with the marine engineers in the recent strike. His “recent use of the War Precautions Act has now had the effect of throwing the whole of the industrialists on to the side of the marine engineers. They realize that what “can be done against the marine engineers to-day can be done against them to-morrow. Before the Prime Minister went to the Old Country in 1918 he submitted a Ministerial statement to this
House on the 10th April of 1918, and one paragraph reads as follows : -
To establish and maintain better interests between capital and labour it is’ proposed that , the Attorney-General shall also be Minister for Labour, and an Advisory Council, representing employers and employees, will be appointed to keep touch between the Department and the industrial interests affected.
Why did not the Government go on with that proposal ? Nothing has been done in the matter. This paragraph is (preceded by another which is very enlightening in regard to the attitude of the Government towards the industrialists. It is as follows : -
The economic and industrial problems which face the Commonwealth during and after the war have been tlie subject of careful consideration, and the Government has formulated a comprehensive scheme of organization which it has submitted for discussion and criticism to the Chambers of Commerce and Manufacturers.
The workers are kept out by this Government, and honorable members opposite denounce them because they dare to go on strike for better conditions. The seamen and firemen who went on strike last year were promised better conditions. I was a passenger by one of the Inter-State steamers about three months ago. A man asked .me to inspect the seamen’s quarters on that vessel. I told him that, as I had been horn alongside the sea, and as my people had been connected with the sea all their lives, I knew what seamen’s quarters were on such vessels; but as he persisted in asking me to inspect the quarters on that steamer, I went down to see what they were like. I obtained a foot-rule, and measured the space between one fireman’s bunk and another. From the pillow on one man’s bunk to the bottom of the next one above was a space of 9 inches, and even assuming that the head of the man- in the bunk below might sink 3 inches into his pillow, there was not a margin of more than 4 inches between him and the bunk above. There was a returned soldier among the firemen, and as he was a fairly well-built fellow he could not turn over in his bunk. If he wanted to do so, he first had to get out on to the floor. I challenge any honorable member to go on board that steamer, the name of which I shall be pleased to give, and controvert what I have said. After a fireman has spent four hours in the stokehole he usually secures a bucket of hot water from the galley so that he may -wash off the grime and’ coal dust that covers him, hut no accommo- dation is provided for him on this vessel. He must take his bucket of water into a certain spot, which I may call a lavatory, although it really is not one, and wash himself there. Such conditions are absolutely scandalous, and I am not surprised at the industrial unrest that prevails amongst some of the sections of the community. Indeed, I am surprised that there is not more of it. Yet honorable members smile smugly and laugh at these conditions. The Prime Minister knows that when he and I were piloting the Navigation Bill through the House we had determined upon a certain course of action so far as the life-saving provisions were concerned had there been any objection on the part of the other side. The housing conditions o» some of these ships are not a credit to the companies that own the vessels, nor to any Government that’ allows them to continue.
Although the Government have suspended the operation of the Navigation. Act. I urge them to seriously consider the position. In some parts of Australia there are ports concerning which some exemption might be made, and I think there is provision in one of the earlier sections of the Navigation Act for this to be done. For instance, some ports on the north-west coast of “Western Australia are not usually visited by Australian vessels, and so if a boat coming down from Singapore calls there, it might reasonably expect some exemption from the provisions of the Navigation Act. I am not in favour of cutting off any port in Australia from communication with the rest of the Commonwealth, but I say that better accommodation and better conditions must be insured to the men engaged in our coastal service. “What I have said is absolutely true. I could make stronger statements if I wished, but I have no desire to do so. The conditions are not better than I have described. In some respects they are much worse, so if the Government are anxious to insure industrial peace they should take action.
– Would you not exempt the north-west ports of Western Australia? If not, how would you put shipping in place of the vessels that call there now?
– I have already said that in regard to ports not visited by Aus tralian vessels, there might be some exemption.
While debating the general question this afternoon, some statements were made by certain honorable members with reference to uniform taxation schedules, and when the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. James Page) was speaking, I interjected that the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) had declared that if a uniform schedule were adopted, there would be a Saving of £3,000,000 in the preparation of returns. The Minister has informed me I was not correct; so evidently I misunderstood him, but I do know that some people pay more for the preparation of their returns than they pay in taxation.
– Thousands of them.
– A most peculiar position has arisen in this State. I understand that Mr. Eastwood, the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation for Victoria, has retired from the Service, and intends to set up in business as a taxation expert. I do not know what his salary in the Service was, but I presume he received about £600 a year; and it is well known that smart young men frequently leave the Department to take up employment with big firms, their business being to prepare income tax returns. Any honorable member who knows anything about taxation will realize that it pays big concerns to employ experts for this particular work, and I believe it would pay some firms to employ Customs experts to pass goods through the Customs. Some honorable members have declared that the Public Service should be cut down. I would like to know what services they would hand over to private enterprise. Would it be the Customs Department? Or the Taxation Department? I invite honorable members to state just what branch of the Public Service could be dispensed with. I believe in judicious expenditure.
– That is a very wide term.
– I know it is; and in reply to the honorable member, I ask why were the censors of the Defence Department kept in employment for nearly twelve months after the war was over? Twelve months ago, I asked the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Wise), who was then Assistant Minister for Defence, how many of the Censor’s staff had been dismissed, and was informed, “Not one.” They were employed for months after that. Why have all these highly paid officials in the Defence Department been kept on, while men of the lower ranks have been ‘ ‘ shot ‘ ‘ out ?
– Do not forget the employees of the Small Arms Factory.
– I shall not, though I thought the honorable member had dealt fully with that matter. If employees of the Small Arms Factory are dismissed, will the Government dismiss some of the heads as well? There have been dismissals in the lower ranks, but, in the vernacular of the soldiers, there has not been so much cutting among the “brass hats.” One newspaper in this city has been pegging away of late in a demand for economy. I have never said one word against judicious expenditure. I believe, for instance, that expenditure on lighthouses, although it is extra outlay, is money well spent. I believe also that the expenditure in the erection of the serum laboratory at Royal Park, and the appointment of Dr. Penfold to control that institution, is wise. Whether the serum produced at the laboratory during the influenza epidemic was effective or not, I have no doubt that people thought it was, and I am sure that the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) will agree with me when I say that once people believe a certain treatment is effective, it will, in all probability, do a lot of good.
I think that the expenditure incurred in sending the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), with his wife and family, to London, was unwise and’ unnecessary, for in my opinion, Sir John Monash could do, was doing, and probably carried out the work of repatriating our soldiers, notwithstanding Senator Pearce’s presence in London. I want honorable members to understand that I am speaking against the Minister only in a political sense. I think that the expense of bringing the Daimler limousine from England for his use in Australia was unwise. It would have been far better if the car had been sold overseas.
The Age states that in 1917-18 the Commonwealth receipts were £36,000,000, and in 1918-19 £43,000;000, while the expenditure in 1917-18 was £121,000,000, and in 1918-19 £111,000,000. If honorable members turn to the Estimates they will find that practically nothing has been saved, and that the war expenditure this year i3 set down at £79,000,000 or £1,500,000 per week up till the 30 th June. We are told, of course, that this is judicious expenditure. I believe a great deal of the money could be saved. I take no exception to expenditure on pensions for the widows and children of those who lost their lives in the war. We have a right to see that they are fairly treated. The same may be said of repatriation expenditure, but, in my opinion, there should be a considerable reduction in the vote for Headquarters.
What is the position in regard to our pensioners? When a Bill to amend the Old-age Pensions Act was before Parliament last year, several honorable members opposite, including one who is now a member of the Ministry, joined forces with the Opposition in an effort to induce the Government to insert a clause providing that old-age pensioners, whose pensions under the Bill were increased to 15s. per week, should be allowed in addition to earn up to 15s. per week. We were, however, unsuccessful. Old-age pensioners to-day are. in an infinitely worse position than they were in 1909, when the pension was first instituted and fixed at 10s. per week. The decreased purchasing power of the sovereign means that with 15s. per week to-day a pensioner is not as well off as he was in 1909, when he was allowed to supplement his pension of 10s. weekly by earnings to the extent of 10s. per week. Now that the pension has been increased to 15s. per week, pensioners should be allowed to earn, if they can, an equal amount.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Fawkner, who interjects, has in his constituency the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. I and others have tried before to improve the position of the blind in. the matter of pensions, and I urge the Government now to do something for them. Why should we deprive them of a pension because of anything that they may earn ? If a blind man begs in the streets he is not allowed to enter the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, or to earn anything there by making brushes, bags, or mats.
– The position is the same in regard to the Sydney Institute for the Blind.
– No doubt. A blind man, finding himself unable to maintain his wife and family on the 25s. per week that he was earning at the Victorian Institute, begged in the streets one Friday night, and when news of this reached the authorities he was turned out of the Institute. The result is that he has now to beg for help every day in the week. The blind are not a numerous section of the community. Some years ago there were about 4,000 in Australia, and I think the Government ought seriously to conside’r their position and treat them fairly. Then, again, old-age pensioners should be allowed to earn up to 15s. per week. It has been said by some honorable members opposite that the granting of a pension saps the manhood of the community, and surely they will be prepared to agree to my proposal that those who are able to earn a few shillings should be permitted to do so.
Honorable members opposite have asked me to supply particulars of injudicious expenditure on the part of the Government. The honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) received to-day an answer to a question put by him which shows that there has been injudicious expenditure in connexion with Dr. Gilruth, who, until recently, was Administrator of the Northern Territory.
– The larger part of that expenditure was provided for by the Government to which the honorable member belonged.
– I was not in office when Dr. Gilruth, in one year, was allowed to remain in Melbourne for 207 days.
– How long is it since Dr. Gilruth was appointed Administrator?
– He was appointed some years ago by a Government of which the present Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and I were members. We used to work together in those clays; that was before the right honorable gentleman had fallen from grace. I recognise that it is quite possible for any man to make a mistake. We can all be wise after the event, and I certainly thought that in selecting Dr. Gilruth for the position of Administrator the Government of the day had made a wise choice.
– I did not.
– The honorable member is the personification of wisdom.
– I knew a good deal about Dr. Gilruth.
– Perhaps so. Dr. Gilruth’s six months’ furlough in England did not take place whilst I was a member of the Government, and the allowance of £2 2s. per day made to him while on sick-leave furlough also represents injudicious expenditure. Then, again, I regard as injudicious the expenditure that has taken place in connexion with the Bureau of Science and Industry, which is in existence ‘to-day, notwithstanding that the Parliament has not voted any money for it in respect of the current financial year. I do not know what duties are being discharged by the Board of Trade, but I should like to know what it is doing, so as to be able to determine whether the expenditure upon it is wise or otherwise.
– The members of that Board receive no payment.
– Then they are not doing very much.
– They give their time and their services free of charge, and the honorable member’s remark is unworthy of him.
– I want to know what the members of the Board of Trade are doing. I believe them to be good men, and have never said a word against them. I have certainly spoken against the Committee of Commerce and Industry, of which the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) was a member. I took exception to it last year, because not one representative of Labour was appointed to it. The Government apparently had said that no supporter of Labour politics should -be appointed to the Board.
– Dr. Gellatly, who was appointed Director of the Institute, had been a Labour man all his life - for a much longer period than half the crowd over on your side.
– I have made no reference to the late Dr. Gellatly, whom I saw- for the first time when the Institute of Science and Industry Bill was before this House; I was speaking of the Committee of Commerce and Industry. I object to the wasteful expenditure that is taking place in connexion with the journal published by the Bureau of Science and Industry. It is issued monthly, and every copy of it, according to an answer to a question in this House six months ago, costs ls. Sid. Having regard to the steady rise in the cost of paper, that publication, no doubt, costs even more to-day. Such expenditure is undoubtedly in- judicious.
I do not intend to deal with the shipbuilding contracts. The contract entered into with the Patterson McDonald Shipbuilding Company, of Seattle, for the construction of certain cargo-carrying ships, at a cost of 5,000,000 dollars, was subsequently increased to 8,000,000 dollars. They should not have received for the cancellation of the contract £365,000, according to the report of the Auditor-General. I know that sometimes it is better to “ cut your losses”; but, in my opinion, the building of those ships was a mistake from start to finish. They were not built with seasoned timber, and it cost more to repair some of them than it did to construct them ; in short, as the Auditor-General shows, it was a bungle and a blunder from beginning to end.
There are other subjects with which, no doubt, other honorable members will deal, such as the sale of wool and the handing over to the British Government of half the profits from the sale of wheat; and if ever there were transactions into which there should be not only a State, but a Commonwealth, inquiry, they are these. I have never been greatly in favour of Commissions of inquiry, and I do not know that I ever voted for the appointment of one; but, certainly, there are some matters into which inquiry should” be made. The wheat sale is one of them, the purchase of the Shaw Wireless Installation is another, and the mysterious resignation of ex-Senator Beady is a third. These are some of the matters which must be cleared up for the sake of the good name of Australia.
– In seconding the amendment, the only difficulty that presents itself, if we are going to deal with the misdeeds of the Government, is to know where to begin. This Government, probably, holds the record, so far as the Commonwealth is con- cerned, in having appointed more Commissions than any other to inquire into its own misdeeds. This reminds ons irresistibly of a man who takes out a prohibition order against himself, promising not to get intoxicated again : the only difference is that such a man generally refrains, at all events, sometimes, from getting drunk. The Government, notwithstanding that, time after time, they appointed Commissions, have consistently ignored the recommendations of those Commissions - have continued ‘ ‘ on the drunk,” financially speaking.
Probably it was a result of a finding of the Economies Commission that induced the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), during the recent election campaign, to say in the course of his policy speech at Bendigo
Economy in expenditure is as essential as increased production. The Government intend to introduce into the Departments of the Commonwealth a Board of Management recently recommended by the Economies Commission. This, we believe, will promote economy and efficiency and a higher level of administration.
The Prime Minister on the hustings pledged himself to appoint this Board of Management as recommended; but there is not one word in the Governor-General’s Speech referring to such an appointment; indeed, the Governor-General’s Speech absolutely ignores the subject. Honorable members in the Government corner, the so-called “ Country party “–
– Why “so-called”?
– Because the party christened itself with this fascinating name. The members of that party during the election campaign were very emphatic in regard to the extravagant and reckless expenditure of the Government, and this motion gives them an opportunity, not only in- regard to this, but other misdeeds of the Government in connexion with the wheat and wool transactions, of supporting their criticism and policy. I said to the electors that I believed - and I still believe - that the members of the so-called ‘ ‘ Country party “ are a mere wing of the Nationalist party, and this amendment enables them to prove whether my statement is correct or not.
The “ injudicious “ or reckless expenditure, as mentioned broadly in the amendment, stands as an indictment against the Government. For the six months ending 31st December, 1919, there was an increase in the expenditure of £3,676,000, and a deficit on the transactions for the six months of £345,372. In the last six months they have gone to the bad by over £360,000, and to that extent they have been living beyond their income. There is not a private business in the country the managers of which would think of carrying on in the same way.
I have just said that the promise made by the Prime Minister in regard to the appointment of a Board of Management for the public Departments has been absolutely ignored, and I suppose it is going to meet the fate of all the other promises of the Prime Minister. He promised to “ shoot the profiteers,” and said that if the referendum proposals were not carried he would not continue to lead the Government; yet he continues to lead. I do not propose to dwell on these matters, because I know something of the Prime Minister, and do not expect him to live up to these promises any more than he has lived up to any he has ever made.
When the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), the late Premier of Queensland, was speaking to-day with regard to profiteering, the statement was made in this House, which was often uttered during the recent election campaign, that he should not speak about profiteering or the high cost of living, because in the State of Queensland the cost of living was higher than in any other State in the Commonwealth. That might have been all right as electioneering tactics.
– Nothing of the sort. What was said was that the honorable member had equal powers to stop profiteering.
– It was also said that the cost of living was higher in Queensland that in any other State of the Commonwealth. In the literature circulated by the party opposite during the election campaign that statement was repeated from day to day.
– And it was a gross misrepresentation.
– The election campaign is over now, and no honorable member opposite will in this House dare to say that the statement to which I have referred was correct, or that he thinks it was. A reference has been made to the matter already by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), but I have here a concrete and definite statement which appeared in the daily newspapers of 27th November last, just a few weeks before the election. I presume that honorable members opposite had this in their possession, or knew of it, while still repeating the misstatement to which I have ref erred. The newspaper statement is plainly that according to the latest compilation of finance statistics, Mr. Knibbs, the Commonwealth Statistician, shows what it now costs in the various States to purchase what the sovereign purchased before the war. And it shows very clearly that the purchasing power of the sovereign was greater in Brisbane than in any of the other capital cities of the Commonwealth. That is not my statement, or a statement loosely made by the members of the party on this side, but by the Commonwealth Statistician. Having been made by him, it should have been accepted by those who continued to repeat the misstatement that the cost of living was higher in Queensland than in any of the other States of the Commonwealth .
I leave this matter of profiteering, because if one is to touch it at all there is so much to be said about it that one does not know where to begin and where to end. I have only to add that I do not know for the life of me how many of the families in this country are living to-day. It is a puzzle to me to understand how the heads of households in this country, with wages of £4 or £3 a week, or less, are able to bring up families of four, five, or six children upon a wage which, in view of the intense cost of living in Australia to-day, can only be regarded as a miserable pittance.
– They are not living; they are only existing.
– It can scarcely be said that they are living. I do not know what better example could be given of what is taking place to-day in this country than the simple example I used at the last election, and which I have confirmed since. I understand that the Victorian Railways Commissioners supply blue twill suits to railway employees. They get the material direct from the mills, and hand it over to bailors in- Melbourne, who have contracts for the supply of the suits. “The material does not pass through Flinders-lane, but goes direct from the mill to the tailors, with the result that these blue twill suits are being turned out to-day in this direct way for something like £4 per suit. If any man in this country wishes to purchase a similar suit made of the same material, it will cost him £10 10s. or £11 lis. The difference in these prices represents the toll which has to be paid to-day to those who belong to the class that toils not, neither does it spin, but lives on the toil and industry of others. The lower cost of these suits to the Victorian railway employees is accounted for by the fact that the material does not go through the hands of middlemen before it passes to the railway servants. I do not wish to enlarge upon that, but I regard it as one of the simplest examples that can be given to show to what extent the people of this country are being fleeced by those who stand in between the producers and the consumers in Australia.
I listened with considerable interest this afternoon to the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) when he was speaking about the influx of the people from the country to the cities of Australia. We are all aware of that. In Victoria, practically half the population of the State reside in the city of Melbourne. In New South Wales, practically half the population reside in the city of Sydney. Every one knows that the reason is that men are discouraged from remaining on the lands of the country, and others are discouraged from going out of the cities to take up the work of primary production. I assume that the honorable member for Swan is as well aware as I, or any other member of the Blouse, of the causes of the condition of affairs of which he complains. During the last four years there has been a greater influx of people from the country into the cities than at any time hitherto within my recollection. The Government who have occupied the Treasury bench during the past four years are more responsible for that state of affairs than anything else I know of.
From figures that -I have, I find that during the past three years the area under wheat in Australia has declined by something like 4,750,000 acres. I believe that the real reason for that has been the dissatisfaction - that has existed among the wheat-growers of the country in regard to the manner in which wheat has been sold, and the incomplete and. bad arrangements that have been made by the Government.
– And the drought.
– And the drought, of course, to a certain extent.
– To a large extent.
– It has only been during the past two years that the drought has had any really great effect in reducing the area under cultivation for wheat. There are a number of people, and perhaps some honorable members also, who do not seem to realize that we have a drought in Australia today. I have only to say that I believe that the drought which now exists is one of the worst this country has ever experienced, but it only intensifies the dissatisfaction created by the incomplete and injudicious arrangements for the marketing of our primary produce overseas. Knowing the hardships suffered by the primary producers, I feel so strongly on the subject that, had not this motion of censure ‘been moved, I should have moved the adjournment of the House in order to draw attention to this matter, and with a view to having some inquiry instituted into the oversea marketing of our primary products. Everybody who takes an interest in this matter knows that the wheatgrowers of Australia have not received half the price paid to the farmers of Canada and Argentine. The glib excuse offered bv the Prime Minister and his supporters is that the difference in prices is accounted for by the difference in the freight charge on wheat from Australia, and that sent from North and South America. I will not accept that statement, and I shall not rest until I have found out what han been the real cause of the disparity in prices. One could not have a more emphatic answer to that statement than th« statement of the Prime Minister in my electorate, during the recent campaign, that the freights from Australia were the same as those from the Argentine. As far back as March, 1917, he stated that the freights from Australia were about the same as those arranged from Argentine to Europe on behalf of the farmers. If the freights from both countries are practically the same, how is it that the farmers of the Argentine received twice the price paid to the farmers of Australia for their wheat. Whatever the real cause was, it was not the difference in freight. The facts in regard to the disparity in prices are so well known that there is no necessity for me to elaborate the argument, but I desire some other information in regard to the oversea sales of wheat. ‘ The farmers and the growers have not received’ their final payments in connexion with the Wheat Pool of 1915-16. In the course of his policy speech at Bendigo, the Prime Minister said that the farmerswould be guaranteed at least 5s. per bushel for their 1920-21. crop. A farmer in the audience said, “We are not so much concerned about what we are to get for future crops as we are about the date when we are to be paid for the 1916-17 crop.” We read in the press that the Prime Minister had travelled so far that day that he was too tired to answer the question. The farmers have not received their final payments in connexion with any of the Pools ; they have received only a fraction of what is due to them, and when we ask for an explanation we can get no information from the Government. Representing a constituency which, comprises one of the most important wheat-growing areas in the Commonwealth, I have come to this House to endeavour to ascertain every scrap of information that is available in regard to this matter. We have an absolute right to know what arrangement has been responsible for this method of financing the wheat sales. A lot of light was thrown on the subject by a statement made by the Prime Minister in my electorate to the effect that the Government wished to raise £14,000,000 from the Imperial Government to meet some war obligations, and they had obtained accommodation by using the credit against the Australian wheat in the hands of the Imperial Government. That means that the Government mortgaged the wheat of this country to the extent of £14,000,000 in order to raise that amount. That may be one explanation of the fact that for a number of years the f armers had’, not been able to get all that is due to them from the various Wheat Pools.
– What year was that ?
– So far as my memory serves, the year was 1917. Whilst I was not opposed to that money being raised in order to meet any part of our war obligations, I am opposed to throwing the whole burden upon any one section of the community - a section that has been particularly badly treated during the last four years. I am quite willing that the money required should be raised, but the burden should be spread over the whole community, and not be placed merely upon the shoulders of the primary producers. We have a right to know to what extent that sort of financing has been taking place, because I believe it. largely explains why the wheatgrowers have not been able to receive their complete dues from Pools which are three, four, and five years old.
– The total value of the wheat raised in that year did not amount to anything like the sum that has been mentioned.
– The debt was, possibly, incurred in 1917, but the security upon which the money was raised was not only the wheat of that year, but all the wheat then in the hands of the Imperial Government and that which was coining forward.
During the recent election campaign I stated’ that if the primary producers had received all that was due to them on account of sales of wheat and wool, the amount would have paid more than hal Australia’s war debt. I believe that statement was an underestimate. I stated, also, that the losses sustained by the producers in connexion with the Wool” Pool amounted to £150,000,000. That, too, I believe, was an underestimate. A short’ time ago we read in the ,press that the profits made by the Imperial Government on the sales of wool amounted to £85 per bale. The difference between the appraised price of ls. 3id. per lb. to be paid to the Australian wool-growers and the price obtained by the British Government upon their re-sales overseas .has amounted, in some cases, to £80 per bale. During one season the profits of the Imperial Government from this source aggregated £60,000,000. That is altogether apart from the other profits made by British manufacturing firms to which reference was made by the Leader of the Opposition. I presume that the members of the so-called Country party will desire to know all about the contract under which the Imperial Government claim one-half of the profits that are made on the re-sales of Australian wool. I have heard no explanation of the reason why this contract was entered into. Indeed, within the past few weeks I read a statement by Sir John Higgins, the chairman of the Central Wool Committee, in which he affirms that no contract was ever entered into. He declares that certain cable messages passed between the Imperial and the Australian Governments, but that these messages were never ratified. I wish to know the extent to which this so-called contract is binding upon the Commonwealth. According to Sir John Higgins, it is not binding at all. I am particularly interested in the matter, on account of the small wool-growers whom I represent. I do not hesitate to say that there are a number of wool-growers in the drought-stricken areas of Australia today who are suffering hardships the like of which they have never previously experienced. Honorable members know that they have a right to be dissatisfied with the unfair treatment which has been meted out to them. If this contract is not of a binding character, I shall not rest until it has been rescinded. Other contracts have been entered into and cancelled on the ground that they were entered into injudiciously. If ever a contract was entered into injudiciously it is this particular contract.
– That shows how much the honorable member knows about it.
– The woolgrowers of Australia were well satisfied with the arrangement when it was made.
– I know that when the Prime Minister returned from overseas he publicly stated that if he had known as much when the contract was made as he did then, he would never have agreed to it.
– Who knows most about the matter now?
– I know that the arrangement was a very acceptable one to the wool-growers of Australia. They thought at the time that they were very lucky to get the price which was offered.
– I suppose I represent quite as many woolgrowers as does the honorable member, and I can tell him that there is much discontent amongst them because of this contract.
– Because they are not getting enough profiteering profits.
– The honorable member for Illawarra is always talking about profiteering and the referendum, but I doubt if he knows much about the subject of which I am speaking. I desire to know who is responsible for this wool contract. I am aware that the Prime Minister attempted to throw a good deal of the blame for it upon the shoulders of the Treasurer (Mr. Watt), though he afterwards withdrew a good deal of what he had said. If the contract is not a binding one, in view of the disastrous drought under which our producers are suffering - the worst drought within my recollection that has ever afflicted them - we ought, not only to see that they receive half the profits upon the re-sale of their wool, but the whole of them.
– That statement does not agree with the remarks made upon the same subject by the Leader of the Opposition.
– I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition will assent to every word I have said upon this matter. It seems impossible to get any information from the Central Wool Committee–
– They adopt the policy of keeping everything dark.
– Nevertheless facts are beginning to leak out. I was pleased to see certain questions upon our notice-paper to-day concerning the composition of the Wool Committee overseas. I know that for every 100,000 bales of wool sold at auction in London, some 30,000 bales are issued to a certain firm in Bradford at1s. per lb. less than similar wool realizes at London auction sales. This throws some light upon the way the wool-growers of this country have been fleeced. I repeat that wool is being sold to British manufacturers at1s. per lb. less than it is selling for in the London market. I suppose that most honorable members have read the damaging statement made some time ago by Sir Arthur Goldfinch, the Director of Wool Supplies, when addressing a meeting of the Wool Council in London. Every word of that statement shows that a systematic attempt has been made to force down prices, and the more prices are lowered the worse it is for those in Australia, who are waiting to share half the profits in the re-sale of the wool. We know that our clips have not been disposed of to the best advantage. This is one of the things said by Sir Arthur Goldfinch -
His Department was striving to increase the quantity offered at the auctions, and thereby, probably within two or three months, reduce the values by 10 to 20 per cent.
I could not ask for more complete proof that there has been a systematic forcing down of prices in connexion with Australian wool sold overseas. Is it any wonder, then, that members wish to find out in what manner the sales in Great Britain have been conducted ? In my opinion, a bad bargain was made by the Government. I do not think that any one outside the Ministry knows the clr- cumstances under which it was agreed to give the Imperial Government one-half of the profits which might be made by the re-sale of our wool. I do not know who instigated that arrangement, and if a binding contract has not been entered into, I am ready to make one to put an end to it. If we remove the present Ministry, who are largely responsible for what has been done, we shall have an opportunity of probing these matters to the bottom. Members of the so-called Country party committed themselves in their busting speeches to an attempt to find out about these things, and the amendment provides them with an opportunity to do so, and to prove whether they are, or are not, merely a wing of the Nationalist party. If I were to speak about all the misdeeds of. this Government, and to show how these have reacted on the primary producers of the country, there would be no end tq my speech. What greater charge could be brought against a Ministry than that to which they laid themselves open during the last Parliament by re-selling at the end of the harvest some 40,000 bales of cornsacks, which they had purchased in India, ostensibly for the benefit of the primary producers? They promised to sell these cornsacks to the primary producers at 9s. 6d. per dozen, but, instead of doing so, they sold them to private speculators.
– The sacks were offered to the co-operative companies.
– I know that that statement has been made.
– The farmers might have bought them just as well as any one else.
– They had to - have the cash.
– The Government was not expected to give away the sacks.
– They could have been sold on bills.
– They were sold to the middlemen.
– Yes. The statements made by honorable members on the hustings will not do here. I know it has been said that the primary producers had an opportunity to purchase these bags through their cooperative agencies; but when these agencies said that they could get accommodation from the banks, they were told that they must do so within three days. The Government were assured, on behalf of the primary producers, that the money required to pay for these sacks would be forthcoming, but only three days were allowed by the Government for the finding of the necessary accommodation, and therefore the farmers were prevented from getting the sacks. The Government turned to their real friends, to those to whom they looked for support, and from whom, no doubt, they got it at the elections; those who contributed largely to their election expenses. The cornsacks were handed over to the middlemen at the cost price of 9s. 6d. a dozen, and, subsequently, farmers in my electorate had to pay 16s. 6d. a dozen for them, the sum of £300,000 odd thus being pocketed by men who live by farming the farmers, and prosper by the toil and industry of those on the land.
At the present time this country is suffering from one of the worst droughts that it has ever experienced, a drought that is probably unprecedented. Many nien who have lived on the land for years are being forced off it, and it would be a godsend to them if the contract handing over half the profits on the sales of wool to the Imperial Government could be altered. I believe that, if proper representations were made to the Imperial Government, and stress laid on the fact that these people are to-day suffering hardships which are unprecedented in this country, the Imperial Government would do the fair thing. As far as I know, the contract is not a written one, and even the cable messages have not been ratified. I will make one in this House to find out who were responsible for it, and,’ if possible, to have it cancelled. That matter, and .the arrangements in regard to the sales of wheat overseas, are enough in themselves to condemn this Government for the bad deals they have made on behalf of the primary producers. So far as I am concerned, I want nothing more to commend the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. The cotton-growers of Egypt received every penny for the sales of their cotton overseas in Great Britain. They were not asked to give up half of the profits to the Imperial Government, nor’ did that Government ask it in the case of the primary producers of India. “Why is it that Australia, the one country in which the primary producers aTe suffering to an unprecedented degree, has been picked out, and the producers asked to hand over half of the profits on the overseas sales of their products? I protest against it on behalf of the people who are to some extent responsible for sending me here. I will go to any length to help any party in this House to make the Government give the necessary information to the House and the country. Failing that, I will assist any other party to remove the Government from office, so that we may be able to probe these matters right to the bottom.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Hughes) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.29 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 March 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19200303_reps_8_91/>.