8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 12 o’clock noon, and read prayers.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue and moneys be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act relating to the payment of the war gratuity.
-No. The motion is merely one for the appropriation of a specific sum.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable the remaining stages to be passed without delay.
.- As the Prime Minister knows, I and the members on this side are willing that he shall introduce the War Gratuity Bill to-day, and make his second-reading speech upon it, so that we may have an opportunity to study its provisions, but I object to the moving so early in the session of a motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders. Were the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) in opposition, he would object still more strongly. We remember what his attitude was in the first Parliament. In that Parliament such a motion as this was not moved until the last month ofthe session. It is an unheardof practice to move it on practically the first day of the session.
– We have been here a month now. Do you not think it is times that we did something ?
– If the Prime Minister takes the stand that the Government, haying a majority, will stifle discussion, and force everything through, as it has done in the past, well and good ; hut I object to this interference with the rights of members. I have no desire to hold up business. Had I wished to do that, the Prime Minister would not have got the Sugar Agreement last night. It was brought on after 11 o’clock.
– The honorable member did not dare to vote against it.
– I did not vote against it, and we on this side have no wish to hold up business, but we have rights which ought not to be curtailed, and therefore I shall vote against this motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders.
– I would remind honorable members generally that we possess certain privileges.
– They axe very few, but while the Speaker is in the chair we have privileges, and I appeal to members opposite not to whittle them away, particularly so early in the session.
– The suspension of the Standing Orders that has been moved applies only to the War Gratuity Bill.
– That does not matter. If we cannot find the time to discuss a Bill providing for an expenditure of about £30,000,000 surely we are not deserving of occupying seats in the House? There is no necessity to rush the Bill.
– But how can the Prime Minister make his second-reading speech to-day if this motion is not agreed to?
– Quite easily, by obtaining the leave of the House to do so.
– When the message came down the Minister foi th« Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) said that the Government merely wanted to get the second reading moved, and that the debate would then be adjourned.
– That is what we intend to do.
– Then there is nothing much to cavil at.
– Except that we commit ourselves to the suspension of the Standing Orders in dealing with the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended. Resolution adopted.
That Mr. Hughes and Sir Joseph Cook doprepare and bring in a Bill to carry out theforegoing resolution.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
In order that honorable members may understand the scheme of this Bill relating to the payment of a war gratuity to thesoldiers and sailors of Australia whofought in the great war and the policy of the Government respecting the soldier,, it is perhaps as well that I should set out very shortly the circumstances that led up to the adoption by the Government of this proposal. On my return to Australia the Returned Soldiers and Sailors’: Imperial League and the soldiers generally brought under my attention a number of grievances, and suggested certainreforms. As I have always found it better to deal with organized rather than disorganized bodies, I met the executive of the league and discussed at length the question raised. We dealt with the problems of repatriation, including vocational training and the general rehabilitation of the soldier in civilian life. Eventually, in September, of last year, the question of a gratuity . was mooted. About that time it was reported that Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and South Africa had made, or were making, arrangements to pay a gratuity. Speaking generally, no part of the Empire, in fact, no part of the world, has treated its soldiers better than has the Commonwealth. It is admitted on all sides that the Australian soldiers were the best clad, the best fed, the best paid of all the Allied Armies, and that out hospital and medical arrangements lost nothing by comparison with those of other countries. And if other countries were paying a gratuity, it appeared clear to the Government that Australia must also do so. But our financial circumstances being already straitened, when the question of a gratuity was mentioned, I pointed out that, although’ I was very desirous of meeting the wishes of the soldiers, if we were to give a gratuity on the lines indicated, and which would not be less generous than the gratuity given by New Zealand, the financial position of the Commonwealth would be untenable. The matter then stood over for a little while until I was able to obtain from Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa some figures, setting out the particular of their schemes. Subsequently these were discussed with the representatives of the league, and it was generally admitted by them that, in the circumstances in which Australia found itself, it would be impossible to pay a cash gratuity. I am very glad to be able to testify that these men, who were the representatives of the greater portion of the returned men who had done so much for Australia and for liberty, were most anxious not to embarrass the country for which they had fought. They were unanimously of the opinion that the financial position of the Commonwealth was such that it could not pay a cash gratuity. This is an eloquent tribute to the common sense and patriotism of our glorious soldiers, showing clearly that their patriotism was not an ephemeral thing, expending itself on the field of battle, but an enduring passion which manifested itself no less in the ordinary duties of citizenship in times of peace than on the field of battle in time of war.
The position being accepted that the Commonwealth could not pay a cash gratuity, the Government proceeded to consider what was possible in the circumstances in which Australia found itself. I need not remind honorable members what that position is. It is one to give us considerable concern, although it is no cause for alarm. We all have, I hope, unbounded confidence in the future of our country. The consequences of war and the grievous burdens war has imposed upon us cannot min it if we are true to ourselves : if Australia fails to hold its own it can only be through apathy and lack of courage and common sense on the part of its citizens. The real danger to Australia is not so much from the enemy without the gates, nor, indeed,, from the enemy within, so far as danger can come from any section of the community, but from the failure of the whole body politic to meet the situation with courage and wisdom. If Australia fails to assert herself, and reap the full fruits of victory, it will be the fault of all her citizens.
After mature consideration, a scheme was put before the soldiers’ executive, approved by them and subsequently made public by me, in the following terms, as published, in the Brisbane Courier of 4th November last: -
Payment to be at the Hat rate of ls. 6d. a day from the date of embarkation to the official signing of Peace at Versailles, on 21st June, 1919. Payment at this rate to all members of fighting forces, naval and military, of the Australian Imperial Force (and to Imperial Reservists ) , or the dependants of deceased soldiers and sailors who left Australia, doctors and nurses included. Payment at the rate of ls. a day from the date of enlistment to discharge for all members of the Australian Imperial Force who did not leave Australia; payment to be in the form of non-negotiable bonds bearing interest at per cent. Bonds to be received as cash equivalent for all purposes under the Repatriation Department, including land settlement, war service homes, businesses, purchases of furniture, tas. Bonds to be cashed by the Treasury in cases of hardship, of special urgency, on the marriage of a soldier, or on the re-marriage of a soldier’s widow. Bonds not covered under the above heads to be redeemed as follows: - The Treasury to take up at least £500,000 per annum in Hay, 1921, the whole of Austrralia’s share of indemnity payable by Germany to the Allies, which may be estimated at anything between ,£7,000,000 and £15,000,000, to be ear-marked for the redemption of gratuity bonds. If the indemnity actually received on or before May, 1921, does not reach £10,000,000, the Government to make good the deficiency up to £10,000,000. The Government is to redeem the balance of the outstanding bonds after May, .1921, in not more than three equal annual instalments. The Government undertakes that if, after May, 1921, the financial and general outlook in the local or foreign market warrants raising the outstanding balance, or any part thereof, by loan, it will do so.
That was the statement made on 3rd November last, and the Returned Sailors and- Soldiers’ League, after discussion, supported and accepted the proposal. As the result of subsequent discussions the matter was advanced a further, stage, particulars of which were published in the press. I quote from the Sydney Daily Telegraph of 22nd November: -
The Prime Minister announced last night that arrangements have been completed with the banks to find the sum of £6,000,000 for the payment of the war gratuity in cash to the following classes: -
1 ) Soldiers’ widows.
Widowed mothers of unmarried deceased soldiers. (3) Other mothers of deceased soldiers who were dependent upon deceased soldiers.
Totally incapacitated and blind soldiers.
Soldiers who have married since discharge, or are about to marry.
Necessitous cases not included in the foregoing.
Later still, arrangements were made with a large number of employers throughout Australia to cash the bonds of their employees. As the result of further negotiations, the Commonwealth and the States of New South “Wales, Queensland, and Victoria agreed to cash the bonds of their employees. That was, in broad outline, the scheme approved by the soldiers’ executive, announced by me before the elections, and later submitted to the electors as the settled policy of the Government. We pledged ourselves that the War Gratuity Bill should be the first measure to be introduced this session. The Bill I submit to the House embodies the scheme approved by the soldiers and the electors. The Bill itself and its introduction as the first measure submitted to Parliament this session fulfils the promise made by the Government to the soldiers and to the electors generally.
I propose now to say a word or two by way of general explanation of the measure. First, it is incomparably the most liberal gratuity scheme adopted by any part of the Empire, and it is also the most democratic scheme. It makes no distinction of rank, but treats all alike, as is, I think, proper in. a democratic country like Australia, with its democratic army. Much of the success of the Australian army lay in the fact that its organization was essentially democratic. Every man did literally carry in his knapsack a. marshal’s baton. The overwhelming majority of the battalion officers of the A.I.F. were men who had risen from the ranks. The schemein this Bill rests upon this basis, and the scheme is not only democratic but equitable and liberal. We propose to pay the gratuity at the same rate to all men from the date of embarkation to the 28th June, 1919, the date of the signature of the Peace Treaty at Versailles. In New Zealand the soldiers are paid from the date of embarkation to the date of death, or. discharge, or disembarkation, whichever came first. I feel assured that honorable members will admit that ours is much the fairer and better scheme. Let me give some illustrations to show how our scheme will apply in comparison with others. Take the case of a man enlisted in August, 1914, and hit at the Gallipoli landing, or within three months of the landing, and returned to Australia unfit for further service. Under the New Zealand scheme he would be paid to the date of his discharge. Under ourscheme he will be paid to the 28th June, 1919. And very properly so, because, after all, what more could a man do than he did. He placed himself in the very forefront of the ranks of death; stricken and severely wounded he returnedto Australia. He had done all that was possible for man to do. Inreturn he is entitled to all that his country can do for him. Another man, more fortunate,continued at the Front till the end without being killed or disabled. He, too, deserves all that we can give him, but his sacrifice was no greater than that of the man struck down on the first day. The dependants of the man who was killed at the landing will be paid to the 28th June. The soldier had made the supreme sacrifice, and his dependants are entitled to as much consideration as is the man who fought until the date of the Armistice. As I have said, the rate of gratuity under this Bill is 1s. 6d. a day from date of embarkation to 28th June, 1919, and1s. a day for those enlisted before the11th November, 1918, from the day they reported for duty in camp to their discharge, or for a period of six months, whichever is the shorter period. Thenext of kin of a soldier who left Australia in November, 1914, and was killed in April, 1915, at the landing, would receive - in Britain £5, in Canada about £22, in New Zealand £11 5s.0d., and in Australia £120. A man who left these shores’ in November, 1914, was wounded at Gallipoli, returned to Australia, and was discharged in November, 1916, would receive - in Britain £11, in Canada five months’ pay, equal to about £40, inNew Zealand approximately £50, and in Australia £120. The rate of payment in Canada is six months’ pay and allowances foi- three years’ service, five months’ pay for two years’ service, four months’ pay for one year’s service, and three months’ pay for any service less than one year. In New Zealand the rate is ls. 6d. per day for service abroad only. For home service Canada allows three months’ pay for three years’ service, two months’ pay for two years’ service, and one month’s pay for one year’s service or less. In New Zealand there is no gratuity for home service. In Canada the gratuity is paid in monthly instalment; in New Zealand it is paid principally through the banks. Under the Bill, as 1 have “ said, it will be paid in non-negotiable bonds bearing interest at per cent, per annum, the bonds being immediately negotiable in certain cases, to which I have already referred. The Australian gratuity covers a greater period, and is on a fairer basis than is that of any other Dominion. A comparison might be made between it and the British gratuity, which make3 a distinction between the different ranks, paying the officers, of course, a higher rate than the privates.
I turn, now to some other phases of this matter before dealing with the machinery of the measure itself. My honorable friend opposite has indicated that he proposes to ask the House to agree to the payment of a cash gratuity. It is only fair that I should anticipate his proposal, and I think I can best do so by recalling to honorable members the circumstances relating to the origin of the gratuity policy of the Government and the attitude of the Opposition towards it during the recent elections. It is necessary first to remind the House that the Leader of the Opposition had not said one word about the payment of a gratuity until the Government had decided to adopt such a policy. Then my friends of the Opposition said this was an attempt to bribe the soldier. Next, finding that this charge fell rather flat, they retired upon their reserves - which- are of a character very well suited to their purpose - and they presented a proposal which certainly left nothing to be desired, although a great deal to be realized. They proposed that soldiers .should be given a gratuity in cash. It was, so they said, to be a very much ‘better scheme than that proposed by us. It was not to be on a higher rate.
That is to say, they did not propose to increase the ls. 6d. a day proposed by the Government, but they would pay cash on the nail ! The Government’s proposal, they said, was proposed only for the purpose of catching votes; so different, so very different from theirs. My scheme, they held, was never intended to be brought forward in this House to receive the imprimatur of the Legislature! Theirs, of course, was to be of quite a different order. Every soldier “was to receive - in golden sovereigns, I suppose - an amount which was hinted at rather than set out in plain words ; and everybody would be well satisfied.
Senator McDougall, who realized, I am afraid, as the election campaign proceeded, that circumstances conspired more and more against him, found himself, on or about the 3rd or 4th December, in such a desperate ease that he delivered himself to the following effect: He said that “if Mr. Hughes was returned to power the soldiers would never receive a gratuity,- but that if Labour were elected the gratuity would be paid before Christmas.” In view of this statement, I confidently expect that there will not now be one moment’s delay, or the slightest attempt at delay, ou the part of honorable members opposite, seeing that if they had been returned to govern, Parliament would have been abruptly called together - no doubt, before the holidays, and even before the writs had been returned - in order that the gratuity in cash should be at once paid. Discussion in this chamber would have been stifled, and a Bill covering the disbursement of £30,000,000 - indeed a very great deal more - would have been rushed through, and the soldiers would have .got their money before Christmas; This was the golden vision conjured up by the imagination of the honorable members opposite. Senator McDougall proceeds to say, “ The Labour party would ask the ‘ Mining King ‘.” - Does any honorable gentleman present answer to that title? Oh, no; I see that the honorable senator alludes to Mr. John Brown. Well, I think that is a fair thing. I think he ought to be asked to come forward with the money ! However, I will pass on and continue to quote Senator McDougall. He went on- to say that the Labour party would ask the “ Mining King,” and Sir Samuel Hordern, and the wealthy shipping companies and hanks to give them the money. “ Ask, and ye shall receive “ ! “ If they refused,” concluded the honorable senator, in menacing tones, “ they would take it from them.” It is a very heartrending circumstance to recall that after this pathetic attempt to do the right thing by the soldier - not forgetting the “ Mining King “ - the soldiers and electors of New South Wales generally rejected both Senator McDougall and his scheme.
I pass now from the honorable senator to make further reference to Official Labour’s intention. Here is an extract from a publication entitled TheHobart World. The article in question is headed, “Gratuities in Cash,” “Peep at Labour’s Platform,” “ Some of the Good Things Enunciated.” The idea evidently was that the soldier entranced by the glorious prospects which our friends opposite conjured up before his eyes would murmur, “ For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us Truly Thankful’’! and straightway vote for the party that promised so much. That doubtless was the idea. Unfortunately things did not happen precisely in that way. This is what TheHobart World says - “ A communication forwarded to theReturned Soldiers and Sailors’ Imperial League by Mr. Carey, secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labour party, states that Labour’s policy for soldiers, sailors, the nurses, and war workers includes the following: -
The gratuity to returned soldiers and widows to be paid in cash.
Housing to be free for life of totally disabled soldiers, widows, dependents, and children of deceased soldiers.
The registration and fulfilment of all inducements and promises to soldiers, either prior or subsequent to enlistment, including the making up of the difference between military and civil pay, the payment of insurance premiums, insurances against death, the keeping open of employment where such promises were made, and any other promise to soldiers to obtain- enlistments.
The establishment in civil life of all returned soldiers where financial assistance is essential to provide the amount necessary to enable the family to be supported without payment of interest or the repayment of capital.
Permission has also been asked of the League to allow representatives of the Labour party to address members on the above programme. No reply has yet been received.”
No reply has yet been received!
I say that that is a tribute to the Returned Soldiers’ League’s common sense. They simply ignored this dazzling, but unsubstantial vision, and went calmly on their way supporting the Government proposal. I may now safely leave this matter. Every honorable member recalls the general elections and the circumstances which surrounded them. Every effort was made to stampede the soldiers, to get them to forget that they had been fighting for their country, that they had saved it, and that it was their business to cherish that which they had fought and bled for, and saved. But all these efforts failed. The overwhelming bulk of the soldiers of Australia voted for the party which I have the honour to lead, and it is very sad to think that the honorable gentlemen opposite have not one returned soldier in their ranks.
– Our returned soldiers were beaten by some of the men on your side who did not go to the war.
– I do not know about soldiers who did not go to the war. There were in the last Parliament a couple of gentlemen who sat behind the honorable gentleman who wore the uniform of soldiers; but, though I am not a soldier, I say deliberately I was a good deal nearer the Front, very many times, than ever they were.
– That is not true about Mr. Corboy.
Several honorable members interjecting,
– If honorable members will not obey the call of the Chair, I shall name the next honorable member who offends. The honorable member for Maribyrnong must not persist in interrupting as he is doing while I am calling the House to order. He is insulting, also.
– That is right; putme out ! And on a measure like the Gratuity Bill!
– I name the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) for interrupting and defying’ the Chair, and I call on the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to take the necessary action.
– You have started your dirty work ; keep it up ! You think you are on the hustings again !
– The honorable member was up rather late last night.
– I was up early trying to do my duty to the country, and you would not allow me to do so.
– The honorable member, like myself, is suffering from the consequences of a misspent life.
– That surely is not true about the honorable member for Maribyrnong !
– I speak now as the honorable member’s medical adviser, and suggest- that if he had had more sleep he would not have said what he has said. I hope the honorable’ member will not persist in his attitude. If anything I had said caused the honorable member to say what he did, I withdraw it, and I hope the honorable member will follow my example. He cannot defy the Chair, and there is really no reason for his present action.
– Go on with the Bill!’
– I ask the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) to withdraw.
– Withdraw what?
– The honorable member, in the first place, disregarded the authority of the Chair, and in the second place he insulted the Chair by calling out that the Speaker was biased.
– You ask too much!’
– It is the duty of the House to protect the Chair from insults, and’ if the honorable member will not withdraw I must insist on the Standing Orders being carried out. It is impossible for me to continue to preside over the deliberations of the House unless “honorable members uphold me as Speaker in the discharge of my often difficult duties. If the Chair is not upheld it will be impossible to preserve order, and only chaos can result. I ask the honorable member to observe the Standing Orders.
– All right, I withdraw.
– A man can scarcely Ve said to be a man of war whose services, during the war, consisted chiefly in passing from one arm of the Forces to another. I think that can be said -of one honorable member then on the opposite side of the House, who, I think, had. experience of every arm of the Service. As to the other member, I’ should not like to say much about him. The less honorable members opposite say on this subject the better, because the fact remains that the soldiers of Australia, and the .people of Australia, thought so little of that party that not one man who wears the returned soldier’s badge has been returned as a member of the Labour party. But there was one man, Mr. Wallace, the exmember for -West Sydney, who, by enlisting, showed his willingness to go to the war. He was, however, replaced by a man who had not been at the war, so that even that half-hatched chicken was strangled in its birth. I remind honorable members of these rather unpleasant things because we ought not to forget that honorable members opposite declared that the pledges given by this Government would never be kept. I invite the people of the country to note that those pledges are being kept, not only in the letter but in the spirit - that this Bill is the literal fulfilment of everything I promised. I invite honorable members opposite to note that it was upon the scheme now set out in this Bill that the Nationalist party was elected by a great majority of the people. This is the first measure introduced to give effect to the policy of the Government, and the House is invited to pass it as rapidly as its importance warrants. The people deliberately rejected the party which stood for a cash gratuity. The soldiers rejected that party, because they, or the great majority of them, knew that the country could not pay a cash gratuity without gravely imperilling its financial and industrial position.
Sitting suspended from 12.58 p.m. to 2.15 p.m.
– Having set out the circumstances under which the policy of the measure was conceived, formulated, and finally adopted by the Government, and made clear its basic principles, I shall now explain its provisions as fully as is possible at this stage. First as to those entitled to the gratuity: they may be divided roughly into two classes - (a) those entitled to payment at -the rate of ls. 6d. per diem; and (6) those entitled to payment at the rate of ls. per diem. Broadly speaking, all members of our Naval and Military Forces, including doctors and nurses, who left Australia before the 11th November, 191S, are to receive a gratuity at the rate of ls. 6d. per diem, which will be paid to members of the Military Forces for the period between the date of their embarkation and the 28th June, 1919; and to members of the Naval Forces for the period between the day of their leaving port in Australia to the 28th June, 1919. All persons who enlisted before the 11th November, 1918, are entitled to a gratuity at the rate of ls. per diem from the day on which they were called up to go into camp to the day of their discharge, or for a period of six months, whichever may be the shorter.
Clause 2 defines membership of the Australian Naval and Imperial Forces, Imperial reservists, and the dependants of these. . Clause 3 divides those to whom’ the gratuity is payable into the two classes to which I have re erred. Imperial reservists, who left Australia are placed on exactly the same footing as members of the Austraiian Naval and Military Forces. In subclause 2, of clause 5, it is enacted that deductions may be made in certain cases from the period for. which a gratuity is payable. Broadly, a member of the Naval and Imperial Forces is entitled to payment of the gratuity for every day for which he was entitled to draw the full pay of his rank. Those whoso pay was forfeited for any offence for any period or periods, not exceeding twenty-eight days on any one occasion, are, notwithstanding such forfeiture, en- titled to the gratuity without any deduction; that is, men who were punished for minor offences by the forfeiture of pay for periods not exceeding twenty-eight days will not, therefore, suffer any deduction of their gratuity; but, under subclause 3 and subsequent sub-clauses, it is enacted that persons whose pay was forfeited for periods exceeding twenty-eight days shall be paid the gratuity only for the period for which their pay was not so forfeited. Notwithstanding this provision, the “prescribed authority” - to which I shall refer later - may, in such cases, award payment of the gratuity for the full period, in recognition of me- toriousservice. As to men who died on service, the gratuity will be paid to their dependants for the whole period of their service, from the date of embarkation tothe 28th June, 1919, without regard to any of the disqualifications which apply to those who have survived. From the gratuity paid to Imperial reservists will be deducted the amount of gratuity paid by the British authorities, so that they shall not receive a greater payment than is made to members of the Australian Imperial Force.
Clause 6 sets out the conditions which prohibit the payment of the gratuity to certain persons, including those who have been absent without leave, and have not, prior to the commencement of the Act, surrendered’ or been apprehended; those who are proved to the satisfaction of the prescribed authority to have suffered from wounds intentionally self-inflicted; those who are serving, or have served, a sentence of penal servitude, imprisonment, or detention, at the expiration, of which, they have been, or are to be, discharged from the Forces with ignominy, or for misconduct, and those who, by reason of a sentence of penal servitude, imprisonment, or detention, imposed while on the voyage or in a training camp or depot, were unable to join their units in thefield. Several other classes of persons, who are excluded from the benefits of this measure are described in other subparagraphs of the clause.1 These conditionshave been agreed to by the Returned Soldiers and Sailors’ Imperial League, but, notwithstanding anything in theclause, the prescribed authority can, if it; thinks the case warrants it, award the gratuity for the whole period or any part thereof. Under these circumstances honorable members will admit that thesoldier is ‘treated fairly. The proviso at the end of clause 6 is most importantIt reads as follows : -
Provided that where the prescribed authority is satisfied that a person absent without leave, who has not, prior to the commencement of this Act, surrendered or been apprehended, has neglected or failed to provide adequately for his dependants, payment may be made tosome or all of those dependants of such sum (not exceeding in amount the sum- which might but for this section have been paid to, or in respect of the service of, that person) as the prescribed authority thinks fit.
This is a very wise and humane provision. The sins of the soldier are not to fall upon his unfortunate dependants. And, as I’ have already said, notwithstanding anything in the clause, the prescribed authority may, if it thinks fit, award to the soldier himself the whole or such part of the gratuity as it deems, in all the circumstances of the case, he deserves.
Clause8 deals with a most important matter, to which the widest publicity must be given. The war gratuity is not a right, but is deemed to be a free gift by the Government “ in recognition of honorable services during the war,” and “ may in any case be withheld or deferred or subjected to terms and conditions as the prescribed authority, having regard to the interests or deserts of the claimant, thinks just and proper.” Where the prescribed authority is satisfied that any person who is eligible for the payment of the war gratuity has neglected or failed to provide adequately for his dependants, it may direct that payment of the whole or part of the gratuity be made to or for the benefit of some or all of those dependants. I think that honorable members will say this is a very just, and, in some cases, will prove a very necessary provision. It must be made perfectly clear that it is not open to the soldier to leave to the Commonwealth the care of his dependants while he squanders or misuses the gratuity. The soldier owes a duty to his dependants just as the country owes a duty to him, and we propose to safeguard the interests of dependants just as we propose to safeguard the soldier.
Clause 9 contains a provision relating to the gratuity of a deceased soldier, whether he has died before or after the passing of the Act, and stipulates that it shall not form part of the estate of the deceased, and shall not be claimable by the executor or administrator of the estate, but may be paid to such one or more of the following persons, and in such proportions as the regulations prescribe, or the prescribed authority approves, namely -
Anyperson who -
is beneficially entitled under the will of the deceased to any part of his estate; or
This provision applies if a soldier dies in debt or intestate. In the first case his estate cannot be seized by the creditors to the extent of leaving the widow and dependants unprovided for. In the second case it is divided as prescribed in the clause. There is a proviso that, in special cases, the prescribed authority may approve of payment to persons other than those mentioned in the sub-clause to which I have just drawn attention. Clause 11 authorizes the issue of Treasury bills and empowers the Treasurer to borrow such moneys as are necessary for carrying out or giving effect to the Act. Under clause 12 the Consolidated Revenue Fund is to the necessary extent appropriated for the purposes of the Act. I come now to the medium in which the gratuity is to be paid. As I have said, the gratuity is to be paid in non-negotiable bonds redeemable within not more than three years of issue, except in special cases. The cases in which the Treasury will itself cash the bonds were decided upon after consultation with the executive of the league, and are set out in clause 13. I have already stated what these are, but in order to make the matter perfectly clear, I will read the provision in the Bill dealing with them again. It is provided in clause 13 that payment shall be made in cash if desired by the persons entitled to the gratuity in the case of -
In addition to these cases in which the bonds will be cashed by the Treasury, the Repatriation Department will, as provided in clause 14, accept Treasury bonds at their face value, plus interest accrued to date, in repayment of any moneys due by the person to whom they were issued for all purposes of repatriation, and the War Service Homes Act. As I stated many times during the elections, and prior thereto, soldiers can use these bonds for all repatriation purposes - the purchase of land, furniture, houses, and so forth. All the other arrangements that have been made with banks, private employers, the States, and the Commonwealth, to cash the bonds of their employees are outside this measure. The Commonwealth, however, holds itself responsible, and guarantees that the bonds will be cashed as stated.
Under clause 15 it is provided that the gratuity bonds are not alienable or negotiable. They cannot pass from hand to hand “ whether by way or in consequence of sale, assignment, charge, execution, insolvency, or otherwise howsoever.” It is very necessary that I should explain and emphasize what this clause means, since its effects are very far-reaching. It has come to my knowledge, and I suppose to the knowledge of many other honorable members, that some unscrupulous persons in this community are advancing money to soldiers at exorbitant rates of interest on the security of their bonds. Many of these young men, who are unversed in the ways of the world,are permitting themselves to be exploited by harpies and Shylocks. I wish to say to every soldier in Australia, as well as to those who have lent money to soldiers, something which I hope they will take to heart. I want to 3ay to the soldier that any arrangement he has made with any person is null and void. I advise him to keep his bonds, and to take no notice whatever of any arrangement he has made. The men who loaned them money were warned before that the bonds were not negotiable. I venture to say that not in any one case out of a hundred is the amount, lent comparable to the face value of the bond.
– In some cases the amount lent has not been equal to 50 per cent. of the face value of the bond.
– No doubt. So much for my advice to the soldiers. As to the people who have loaned money to them in this way, some have acted in perfectly good faith. I would be the last to say that every man who has advanced money to a soldier has done so with the intention of defrauding or seeking to take advantage of him. Some of them have advanced the full face value of the bonds. Such cases, however, are few and far between. I say to the persons who are seeking to take advantage of our soldiers and to all who may be inclined to follow a like course, that the powers of the Commonwealth, whatever they may be - and in this case the powers of the Parliament are plenary - will be exhausted in order to protect the soldier and to punish them. Every means at our disposal will be used to prevent men from preying upon the soldiers and exploiting them.
I hope that warning will be taken to heart. I am told that hotelkeepers, money-lenders, and others have been making, and are preparing to a still greater extent to make, money out of the soldier. This country is not in a position to waste £28,000,000 for the benefit of Shylocks and men of that kind in the community.
– Could a power of attorney given by a soldier to a publican be interfered with in any shape or f orm ?
– A power of attorney in such case would not be worth the paper it was written on. It would be illegal, and I am not sure that both parties to such a transaction could not be prosecuted. Honorable members may depend upon it that it will not be my fault if the soldier is exploited. The blame will rest entirely with himself. If he likes to seek the protection of this Government, he will get it. Every lawyer knows that a contract can only be made between equals. Some of these soldiers are mere boys, inexperienced in the ways of the world. “We are their guardians. “We are also the guardians of the taxpayers’ money, and we do not propose to allow the taxpayers’ money to line the pockets of harpies and sharpers. Those are very hard words, but I could use harder if I chose. Clause 17 provides that any person who obtains a war gratuity by false pretences, or by making a false statement, shall be guilty of an offence, and liable to a penalty of £100, or imprisonment for one year. Clause 18 empowers the GovernorGeneral to make regulations not inconsistent with the Act, to give effect to its intentions.
I want now to say a word or two in reference to the “prescribed authority.” Most honorable members who have had experience of “ prescribed authorities,” and who probably regard the majority of them, as I do, as bowelless, unsympathetic bureaucrats, who have regard to the letter rather than the spirit of the law, will, perhaps, look askance at the “ prescribed authority “ referred to in the Bill. They need have no fear. This authority was agreed upon between myself, acting for the Commonwealth Government, and the executive of the Soldiers’ League. A’ representative of the Returned Soldiers’ League will have a seat upon it. The other two members will be men who are in sympathy with the spirit as well as the letter of the Bill.
– “Will those other two men be appointed by the Government?
– All three are to be appointed by the Government.
– Will they be members of Parliament, or outsiders?
– I do not know exactly what the honorable member means by outsiders. We are, I hope, not exactly in the same position as the remnants of a Scottish conventicle who were reduced to two, one having grave doubts about the orthodoxy of the other. I certainly would not say that there is so much excellence in this House that it utterly exhausts the possibilities of the whole community. We shall look about with an unbiased eye to get two good men, and I have no doubt we shall find them. I think the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), who was a colleague of mine for many years, at least knows this of me, that I cannot be accused of thinking too highly of officials. Whilst it has been my pleasant experience to meet many exceptions to the rule, still no one can say that officials are likely to dictate the course or policy T shall pursue. The Government will choose the men who, in its opinion, are likely to meet the wishes of this House and the soldiers - men who are in sympathy with them and who can be intrusted with this most onerous and invidious task. > The Bill embodies in the letter and in the. spirit those pledges made to the electors, and upon which the majority of members of this Parliament were elected. It gives effect to the pledges we made in the way we made them. Incidentally, the introduction of this measure at this time puts to confusion the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page), who last night, in this House, offered to bet large sums of money - in fact, anything, which, I suppose, means nothing - that the Go vernment had not the Gratuity Bill ready. It puts to confusion also, although that will not abash them, those gentlemen who said that the Government’s pledges in regard to the gratuity were worthless, and that we did not intend to proceed with the measure. We have introduced this measure as promised, and the blame for not having it introduced sooner does not rest upon our shoulders. We invite honorable members to press on with the measure, for the soldiers are very anxious to receive this gratuity. Whatever else honorable members may doubt, they need not doubt that, and if the debates are unduly prolonged we may yet live to see a scene not dissimilar from the coup d’etat of the first Napoleon, when a file of grenadiers marched into the legislative chamber and preserved order in a fashion which at any rate had the effect of expediting business. We, I think, are all desirous of doing justice to these men and showing in some substantial way that we honour them. We are dealing with great sums of money, but we have to remember that the people were thoroughly informed of what this gratuity would cost, and they had before them two proposals; one, the scheme which I have had the honour to outline to-day, and another which, at the best, would have cost a good deal more. This House may therefore be said to represent public opinion, which is strongly in favour of paying a war gratuity on the lines laid down in this Bill. It is impossible to entertain any proposal to increase the rate or the amount of the gratuity. The proposal has not been hurriedly put forward, but is the result of mature consideration and very long and detailed deliberation. The men themselves are heartily in favour of it, and the Soldiers’ League, on the 7th November last, officially issued a public statement under the name of Captain Dyett. its president, approving of this scheme, approving of the payment by bonds, and declining to entertain the question of a cash gratuity. This gratuity will tax the resources of the Commonwealth to the uttermost; and, in saying that, I am thinking, not only of a commitments for this purpose, but for others also which will have to be made in accordance with the policy of the Government. We cannot indulge in any wild-cat schemes. We have to consider our financial circumstances. The measure is, as I have said, the most generous in the world. The interests of the soldiers and the community are alike protected. Cash is to be paid in all circumstances where it is actually needed, and interest at the rate of 51/4 per cent. is to be paid uponbonds where cash is not required. The gratuity is to be free of income tax. The bonds are to be negotiable in all cases of emergency, and redeemable in all circumstances of necessity. The scheme has been approved by the soldiers’ executive, by the banks, the business community, and by the electors in a clear and unmistakable majority. I am sure that this measure will meet with the approval of the majority in this House, and I invite honorable members to direct themselves to close consideration of its details. We are anxious to do justice by our men, and I shall listen with interest to any suggestions which may be made; but, again, I emphasize the fact that the scale of payments, the period over which they are to be made, and the manner of payment - namely, in bonds - are matters which cannot, from their very nature and owing to our financial circumstances, be varied.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Tudor) adjourned.
The following Sessional Orders were agreed to (on motion by Mr. Hughes) : -
That on Wednesday and Friday in each week, unless otherwise ordered, Government business shall take precedence of all other business; and that on each Thursday until half-past 6 o’clock, unless otherwise ordered, general business shall take precedence of Government business.
That on Thursday in each week, unless otherwise ordered, general business shall be called on in the following order, viz.: -
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Chairman of Committees, Mr. Atkinson. Mr. Charlton, Mr. Fowler, and Mr. Tudor be members of the Standing Orders Committee; three to form a quorum.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That Mr. Speaker, Mr. Anstey, Mr. Fleming,. Mr. Fowler, Mr. Higgs, Mr. Lamond, Mr. Mackay, Mr. Maxwell, and Mr. McDonald be members of the Library Committee; three to form a quorum.
.- I think the personnel of the proposed Committee requires some amendment. I do not suggest this in a spirit hostile to the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), but I point out that when I agreed to the personnel of the Library Committee honorable members on this side were nearly proportionately representative in their numbers. If the Committee now proposed is appointed, the Opposition will not be proportionately represented. The representation of this. House will be largely in the hands of honorable members on the other side.
– It is only the Library Committee.
– That does not affect the point. I am going to “ stick up “ for members upon my side of the House, since I have the right to do so.
– Will the honorable member add another name? I understand that there will be no difficulty in so enlarging the Committee.
– I shall do so at a later stage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That Mr. Speaker, Mr. R. W. Foster, Mr. Gregory, Mr. Livingston, Mr. Mathews, Mr. James Page, Mr. Rodgers, arid Mr. Watkins. be members’ of the House Committee; three to form a quorum.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That Mr. Bamford, Mr. Bowden, Mr. Corser. Mr. Fenton, Mr. McWilliams, Mr. Riley, and Mr. West be members of the Printing Committee; three to form a quorum, with power to confer with a similar Committee of the Senate.
The following paper was presented: -
Audit Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 8.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to-
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to provide for an indemnity in relation to acts committed during the war and for other purposes.
Bill presented (by Mr. Greene, for Mr. Hughes) and read a first time.
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) agreed to-
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for : an Act to amend the Audit Act 1901-1917.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Grebne) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Customs Act 1901-1916.
In Committee of Supply (for Budget 1919-20, see 8th October, 1919, volume XC, page 13060) :
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division I. - (The Parliament - namely, “ The President, £1,100,” be agreed to.
– I am sorry to re- introduce the question, at this stage, but I should like to say a few words on the question of the sugar supply. Some business people are supplied with a fair amount of sugar while others get half their ordinary quantity; but there are others who can obtain none at all. The people I have in my mind are large manufacturers, and naturally are political opponents of mine, whom I have been fighting all my life; but I think it only right that they should be secured fair treatment. There is one firm which manufactures coffee essence and other grocers’ commodities, and which, up to eight months ago, dealt with an agent who secured his supplies directly from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. During the trouble seven or eight months ago, however, this firm was put in direct touch with the company, from which it obtained the necessary supplies; but at the present time they are informed that none can. be forwarded. The consequence is that tomorrow their factory must be closed, and their employees thrown out of employment.
– Will the honorable member give me the name of the firm and full particulars?
– Theirs is not an exceptional case.
– That I admit; but we might as well have the case ventilated. This firm has orders ahead, some from New Zealand, and it will be necessary to telegraph informing their customers that the orders cannot be completed. While there may be a shortage of sugar, I think this firm ought to be supplied if other firms are being supplied.
– There should not be a suspicion that everybody desires sugar for hoarding purposes.
– We know that every member of the community desires to make money, and, if that be possible owing to a rise in the price of sugar, they will do so. That is true of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, wholesalers,’ retailers, and householders alike.
– The Colonial Sugar Refining Company cannot hoard; they do not own any sugar.
– But the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has the distribution of the sugar, and my point is that some manufacturers ought not to be supplied while others are refused. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) has said that the case I cite is not an isolated one, and that is true. Only just now a gentleman from Wangaratta called me from the chamber, in the absence of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), and informed me that a cheque for sugar had been returned as supplies were short and none could be forwarded. That gentleman assured me that there is not 20 lbs. of sugar in Wangaratta. My idea was that the rise in price would not take place until the new crop came in, or arrangements had been made for the purchase of sugar ; and I should like to know from the Prime Minister when we may expect it.
– I shall try to answer the honorable member when he sits down.
– If the rise is going to take place immediately, I can understand supplies of sugar being kept back, but if supplies are kept back from some, they ought to be kept back from all.
– Had the man to whom you refer received his usual supplies for the month?
– He had not; he only expected half, but could not get any. I shall supply the names and particulars to the Prime Minister, because I think something should be done.
– Although I should prefer to deal with this matter after having had an opportunity to detach my thoughts a little more from other matters, still I appreciate the position, and I shall endeavour, as far as possible, to deal with it. I entirely agree with the honorable member that all men must be treated alike. If, for the purpose of safeguarding the interests of the Commonwealth, and in order to prevent people scrambling for sugar against a rise, it is necessary to cut off supplies for a day or two days, or whatever the term may be, all must receive the same treatment. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) has promised to give me the name and particulars regarding the firm to which he has alluded, and I give him the assurance that I will see that the firm is treated in the same way as are other firms. If the firm has not received equal treatment, whatever they have suffered will be made up to them. For the information of the Committee, and, through them, of the public generally, let me touch briefly on some points of the sugar question. Honorable members understand well that a consequence, not of the agreement that was ratified last night, but of the high price of sugar outside Australia, is that the price of sugar inside Australia must increase. I ask the. press to approach this great subject in something better than a petty parochial spirit, and to cease from belabouring a Government and a Parliament that are endeavouring to do their best in a matter that is beset with difficulties, and, if it must indulge in criticism, to let that criticism be constructive. To say that a consequence of what the House agreed to last night is an immediate increase in the price of ‘sugar in Australia is to grossly misrepresent the facts. Had not the House sanctioned the sugar agreement, the price of sugar would have increased immediately and to a much greater extent than it will now. increase. What the House did last night was to agree to the purchase of from 150,000 to 180,000 tons of sugar at £30 6s. 8d. a ton. Had we not done that, we should have had to purchase sugar at the world’s price, which, at the very best, is something like £60 a ton.
– That is for forward delivery.
– Yes. What the House did last night was to safeguard the interests of the consumer, and to prevent him from paying from Id. to 3d. per lb. more for sugar than he now will have to pay. But one of the consequences of the increase in the price of sugar, and the disturbed state of the sugar market, is that manufacturers and consumers of sugar have rushed to get as much sugar as they could at the lower rate. That is only human nature. And in many cases the community will be at a disadvantage unless the Government take certain action, and has the support of the manufacturers. By way of illustration, I might remind honorable members that last night the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) mentioned the well-known fact that in a 2-lb. tin of jam there is as much sugar as fruit. Consequently, when the price of sugar is increased the value of jam is increased, at any rate, in the estimation of the seller, and this remark applies also to confectionery, condensed milk, and, in a lesser degree, to sweet biscuits. But the Government will, so far as lies in its power, prevent the public from being exploited by manufacturers who have used sugar costing only £27 7s. 6d. a ton selling their commodities at prices which wo>uld cover the use of sugar at a much higher rate. This is a difficult matter to deal with, because while one manufacturer may have a stock of 1,000 gross tins of some commodity, another may have a stock of only 100 dozen. And without the co-operation of the manufacturers and the merchants we cannot hope to succeed entirely. We intend to insist, however, that the price of commodities of which sugar forms a large part shall not be increased so long as the sugar used in their manufacture has been purchased at the old price. I -do not think that any honorable merchant or manufacturer can take exception to that. E am able to say that some of the biggest jam manufacturers in the country are prepared to loyally co-operate with the Government in this matter, and I appeal to manufacturers generally to do so, at the same time inviting the public to look after their own interests by insisting on getting jam and other commodities made largely of sugar at the prices which were being charged yesterday, until sufficient time has elapsed to make it reasonably probable that the sugar contained in them has been purchased at the higher price. Unfortunately, there are in the community men who are, to speak politely, only reasonably honest. Amongst them are those who have been hoarding sugar and have not hesitated to make deliberately false returns to our officials. Naturally, this falsifying of returns has not been detected in every case, but the Customs Department has ascertained that some men have been guilty of the mean and contemptible act of robbing the Commonwealth and seeking to exploit their fellow citizens. The investigations of the Department are still continuing, but I think it well that the public should be taken into our confidence, and told exactly what the present position of affairs is. A very large firm of jam-makers in South Melbourne is among those who fall into the category of persons who aTe only reasonably honest. A search made at this company’s premises revealed a stack of about three hundred 140-lb. bags of sugar concealed behind a stack of empty cases. The manager of the factory was examined before the Chief Prices Commissioner, who came to the conclusion that this sugar was deliberately concealed. The company’s return to the census disclosed’ 15 tons of sugar in stock on 31st January. The quantity on the premises at the time of the search on the 8 th MaTch was 32 tons. The concealed sugar had every appearance of having been stored for months, and the factory manager would not deny that it had been there for some considerable time.
A search on premises at Brunswick revealed 1,470 lbs. of white sugar and 27 sacks, each about 170 lbs. of brown sugar in a storeroom in the back of the shop, and 2,940 lbs. of white sugar in an upstairs room of the house adjoining the shop. On visiting the premises first, the officer was informed there was no white sugar in the place. No census return had been supplied.
I pass from Victoria, because no State has a monopoly of such men. There is a large firm of manufacturing confectioners in Sydney, who manufacture a certain kind of confectionery which honorable members who know me well know I was in the habit of patronizing for some years. On visiting this factory, the officer was shown a stack of about 28 tons of sugar, and was informed that there was no more sugar on the premises, but on the second story of the building about 700 or 800 bags of sugar, approximately 45 to 50 tons, were discovered behind a large quantity of cases. The sugar was completely hidden, and it was only after several tiers of cases were removed that the discovery was made. In this case the secretary of the company directed his employee not to answer questions put to him by the officer of the Department.
On a search of another man’s premises in Sydney, after being interrogated, he admitted having a stock of 96 bags, each 70 lbs., concealed in a room of a house about two miles distant from his place of business, in addition to 110 bags, each 70 lbs., and two bags, each 140 lbs., stored at the back of the shop. His census return showed that he had not more than 252 lbs. of white sugar and 70 lbs. of brown sugar.
These investigations are still proceeding. ‘Unfortunately there are limits to the powers of the Commonwealth in regard to profiteering in the ordinary sense of the word, but there is no doubt whatever as to our powers in regard to this matter. I do not set up as a purist, nor am I a rigid moralist, but I say that the action of these persons is mean and contemptible, and that whatever powers the Commonwealth possesses to punish them will be exhausted in order to do so. Furthermore, if we have to bring down legislation reaching back to the offences I shall not hesitate to come to the House and ask for it. Their action is one of the most contemptible things I have ever heard of.
– Does it not show faulty distribution?
– Not at all. There are honorable men and dishonorable men. There are men who are endeavouring to deal fairly, some of them big and some of them small; there is no monopoly of honesty. On the other hand, there are bad men. Being rich or being poor makes no difference. There are rotters in the world, and there are decent men. I may add that there are no cases amongst the wholesale houses. These cases have occurred among people who hold the sugar for retail or manufacture, and I shall not hesitate, if necessary, to give the names of these firms in order that they may be punished by the law and at the same time earn the contempt of their fellow-citizens. If it were a great private monopoly carrying out this scheme of sugar distribution there might be in the tortuous meandering of their minds some excuse for their actions, but in this case the offenders are trying to take down their fellow-citizens, who are engaged in a great co-operative scheme for the benefit of the community generally. They are trying to take the consumer down to the extent of 3d. or 4d. per lb. for sugar in the near future, and I can hardly find words to express my opinion of them. I began well and moderately by saying that they are “reasonably honest.” I will finish, in the same way. * The Government will pursue the policy indicated, and I feel quite sure that we shall have the support of every honorable member in doing so.
– I can assure the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) that he will find every honorable member ready to deal harshly with those persons who have refused to furnish the returns required by the Customs Department. I have seen a paragraph stating that the Minister for Trade and Customs intended to follow up certain persons who had not furnished those returns. I hope that they will be dealt with.
– We are following them up, but there are difficulties, as the honorable’ member will reasonably understand.
– I know that there are difficulties, but I would rather trust the Customs Department to trace out wrongdoers than any other Department, because they have had considerable experience in this direction. The Prime Minister has shown us that on some of the premises raided there was as much as 70 tons of sugar stored, yet honest traders were prevented from obtaining more than a bag at a time. When the Prime Minister made his statement on the sugar question on Wednesday, he said there was an abundance of sugar, but I can assure him that there are some people who could not get supplies. During the election campaign grocers came to see me, and pointed out that it was absolutely impossible for them to obtain sugar. I arranged a deputation of them to Colonel Oldershaw, and put the position before him. What I said the other night was absolutely correct. When the housewife went to purchase 12 lbs. of sugar, her ordinary weekly order, she was cut down to 8 lbs., 6 lbs., or even 2 lbs., in some cases. She would be given 1 lb. of brown sugar and 1 lb. of white.
– There was a time when that was absolutely unavoidable
– I realize that transport difficulties occurred during the seamen’s strike and that of the marine engineers. The Prime Minister did not tell us of any cases of hoarding up of sugar by merchants in South Australia.
– There is nothing of that kind in South Australia.
– Some of the biggest Customs frauds have occurred in the socalled religious city of Adelaide.
– We are not taking any chances, even in South Australia.
– The Government should not take any risks in that or any other State. Some manufacturers of jam and confectionery use an enormous quantity of sugar every day, but I believe in compulsory honesty, and we should see that no hoarding up of supplies is taking place. In fairness to those who have been honest and straightforward, the Government should punish those who have refused to furnish returns.
– And also those who have furnished false returns.
– Undoubtedly. I would deal with them just as 1 would with those who have not sent in any return.
– In the one case a man might have failed to send in a return because he did not know that he had- to ; while in the other, a man might have known of this requirement and have furnished a false return.
– I think most people have seen in the press the Minister’s notification that returns must be furnished. I read the other day that the Minister had said that every person who holds more than 100 lbs. of jam must furnish a return. Would that apply to a housewife who had made 100 lbs. of jam?
– If there was any truth in the statements so freely made as to the impossibility of getting sugar for jam making, I do not think there would be many such cases.
– My own wife has in good seasons made more than 100 lbs. of jam.
– My fruit went rotten because we could get no sugar.
– Very little sugar has been obtainable by housewives. I hope the Minister will follow up this question of the hoarding of sugar. In justice to those who have made fair returns, the Department should see that every one does so.,
– I have, by way of interjection, complained of the faulty distribution of sugar. When standing on a country railway station, I have seen four or five bags of sugar addressed to a private individual, while a storekeeper within a stone’s throw of that station could not obtain an ounce. That suggests that influence can be brought to bear in some quarters - I am not referring specially to governmental quarters - to obtain supplies. A branch manager of a firm of grocers, which has six or eight different shops in the metropolis of Melbourne, told me to-day that Le was quite out of sugar, and that the other branches were in much the same position. Country storekeepers are hard hit under a system adopted by a big firm of grocers in Melbourne that advertises that a bag of white sugar will be included in a £5 order for groceries. An order is sent by a resident of a country district, and the sugar duly arrives, although the local storekeeper is unable to obtain a bag for distribution among his own customers. I should like the Minister so to arrange the method of distribution that practically all business people, as well as private householders, will have a fair deal.
– I desire to refer briefly to the question of the distribution of sugar, since there seems to be a general idea that the Government have made themselves responsible for that work. We have never done so.
– Does the Minister say that the Government have no control?
– We have never controlled the distribution of sugar, except that we have said to the Colonial SugarRefining Company whenever it .becamenecessary to do so, “ You must limit the delivery of sugar to all firms to the quantity they received last year.” When, white sugar was very scarce, we also said to the company, “You must deliver white sugar in certain directions, and make up the balance with brown sugar.” That course was adopted to save the fruit crop in many districts, and notwithstanding the criticism levelled at my ownhead, and at the Government generally, I think it was right.
– In South Australia the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has rigidly carried out that instruction.
– I believe that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has adhered to both the spirit and the letter of our instructions.
– And a great deal of fruit has consequently been saved.
– But for out action I am convinced that many a fruit-grower would have lost his crop. We have had to take the odium attaching to the instruction, but believe that we did the right thing.
At the present moment in Victoria, there is an acute shortage. During the engineers’ strike, it was impossible for a certain period to bring down our sugar from Queensland in accordance with the arrangements we had made in advance. We have to make arrangements in advance for shifting the sugar from the various refineries, and so distributing . it as to meet the demands in all the States. As we have a. fairly good ‘idea what the demand will be, we know pretty well where to make our deliveries from time to time. The seamen’s strike, however, upset those arrangements. A ship that was chartered to bring some foreign sugar to Melbourne did not arrive within the time anticipated, and, in consequence, there is, at present, as I have said, an acute shortage in this State. We are endeavouring to overcome it, and I believe we shall do so next week, and we shall then be able to resume deliveries of sugar in
Victoria to the full extent of the deliveries during last year.
– Is there to be any alteration in price between now and the 30th June?
– The trouble is that many people believe that there is to be an immediate increase.
– I am sorry that -I cannot to-day indicate to the House exactly when the rise will take place. That will depend on circumstances over which I have no control.
– Will there be an increase before we meet next Wednesday?
– I do not think so.
– The reason I ask the question is that the Prime Minister made a statement during the election campaign that no alteration in the price would be made during the current year.
Mr.- GREENE.- I have not read any declaration by the Prime Minister to that effect, but I did see a declaration made by him towards, the end of the campaign that there would be no alteration in the price of sugar within three months of that date, the 8th December. Of course, more than three months have elapsed since he made that statement, and the rise may occur at any time - I cannot say exactly when. When we lay down a general rule that in no circumstances is the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to increase deliveries of sugar over the amount of last year’s deliveries, exceptions must, of course, be made. For instance, if a man started business during the current year, and had received some supplies, it would be a cruel thing to declare that his supplies must be cut off. There are other cases in which, in order to save large quantities of fruit in the orchards, we have allowed sufficient sugar to be delivered. All these special circumstances must be dealt - with on their merits, but, generally speaking, the rule that people should receive sugar to the extent of last year’s deliveries, and no more, has been absolutely adhered to. The one other class of exceptions are the customers of the Millaquin refinery, which has customers in Queensland and elsewhere. Owing to the failure of the sugar crop in and around Bundaberg the Millaquin company was able to refine only about 5,000 tons, as against 25,000 last year. We endeavoured to make up the company’s deficiency, and would have kept the refinery going had not the strike intervened. But owing to the strike the supplies were cut off, and they could not meet the orders of .their customers. A good deal of friction arose on that account. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, of course, had no record of the supplies given to the Millaquin company’s customers in the preceding year, and, although we endeavoured to meet the requirements of those customers as far as possible, we had to make sure that applicants were not falsely representing themselves to be customers of the Millaquin, company in order to get a double supply. I wish to make it perfectly clear to the Committee that the Government have never undertaken the distribution of sugar or interfered with the normal channels of distribution. We have allowed those to continue as they were before the Government took control of the sugar supplies. That is to say, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, on the order of a merchant or retailer, distributes direct from the refinery, and the Government has never accepted any direct responsibility in that regard.
.- I regret that I was not in the Chamber when the Prime Minister spoke on the question of the hoarding of sugar. It does seem surprising that, when investigation showed that certain persons were hoarding sugar in anticipation of an increase in price, no punishments were inflicted. Housewives throughout Australia have been anxious to make jam in order to counteract, at any rate to some little extent, the increased cost of living, but they experienced great difficulty in obtaining sugar. It is idle for Ministers to say that -there was no shortage. There was a shortage, so far as the public were concerned, and it was the duty of the Minister, or those responsible for the distribution, to discover the reason, and if persons were found to be hoarding they should have been punished. It may not have been possible for the Minister for Trade and Customs to take direct action against them, but he had control of the distribution, and had I been in his place I would have placed those who were hoarding on a black-list and made them suffer severely.
– In every case where we have discovered hoarding instructions were issued that deliveries of sugar to such firms or individuals should absolutely cease. Every such case will be treated in exactly the same way.
– I am glad to have that assurance. Any man who would take advantage of the opportunity given him by the Government to obtain supplies, and then hoard those supplies in order to make an undue profit from the people, particularly at a time like the present, should be punished. I welcome the Minister’s statement that he intends to take such action. I ask that progress be reported.
Motion (by Mr. Greene) proposed - That the House do now adjourn. Mr. CONSIDINE (Broken Hill) [3.55]. - SinceI have attended as a representative in this Chamber, I have been the victim, at one time or another, of the actions of persons outside of Parliament in either interfering with my correspondence or fraudulently using my name in connexion with the despatch of telegrams. Cannot the Postmaster-General and his Department devise some method of protecting members of Parliament in this respect? I think that when telegrams are presented at a post-office, and purport to have been written by legislators, the members concerned should be identified by the postal officials calling upon them to show their official passes. I have received a message from Broken Hill, intimating that some individual has forged my name to a telegram sent from the Haymarket post-office, in Sydney. The contents of this “ wire “ are calculated to have an effect upon the State elections in New South Wales to-morrow. I have been in Melbourne for a fortnight or so, and could not, therefore, have handed in a telegram at the Haymarket in Sydney. Steps should be taken to protect members of Parliament from the frequent recurrence of such incidents as this. I trust that the press will give prominence to my statement that I absolutely repudiate having sent the telegram in question, and I hope the PostmasterGeneral will take a very serious view of the imposition.
– It is; and I trust that the offender, if he can be traced, will receive exemplary punishment.
Question resolved in the affirmative. ..
House adjourned at 3.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 March 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19200319_reps_8_91/>.