8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m. and read prayers.
– Is the Postmaster-General aware that the Deputy Postmaster-General for New South’ Wales has intimated that it is his intention to close some of the post-offices in country centres ‘in that State because those now in charge of them decline to continue the work at the low salaries offered 1 Does the honorable gentleman approve of this action?
– I am not aware of what is being done in this matter, but I shall make inquiries.
– Since the House adjourned, events of great importance have occurred in New South Wales. A change of Ministry has brought a Labour Government into power, and the Lord Mayor of Sydney having died, a Labour Lord Mayor has been appointed to succeed him. Will the Prime Minister cause telegrams to be sent to their Gracious Majesties the King and Queen, informing them that their son will, nevertheless, be quite safe in New South Wales ?
Question not answered.
Upon an honorable member ashing a series of questions without notice -
– A question or ques tions of considerable length should be placed on the notice-paper, unless of very special urgency. It is at all times for Ministers to say whether they will or will not reply to any question, but a question asked without notice on the ground of urgency should not be so long that it cannot be conveniently followed by the Minister to whom it is addressed.
– -Has the Minister representing the Prime Minister seen the report published in the Sydney Sun, of the 12th April, and cabled from London, stating that distress exists amongst members of the Australian Forces there? It states that these men are on the verge of starvation, their position being desperate. Will the Government have the matter investigated, to ascertain whether there is any truth in the report; and if there is truth in it, will they take immediate steps to relieve the condition of these soldiers ?
– I saw the statement in the Sun, and hope that it may notbe correct ; but the honorable member may rest assured that inquiries are already being made on the subject.
– Will the Minister representing the Prime Minister take into consideration the offer made last year by Messrs. Timms and Kidman, to build the north-south railway, either on a tender basis or with land grants?
– Proposals for the expenditure of Tolling millions bear a peculiar aspect just now. I am afraid that we have not enough money to build the north-south railway; butI shall look into the matter and see what can. be done.
– Is there any truth in the rumour that is now going round Melbourne that the Prime Minister intends to retire in favour of Councillor Curnow, Mayor of Bendigo?
– There is also the rumour, that the honorable member is to act asa substitute for the living skeleton now on exhibition in Port Melbourne.
Transport of Fodder
– On what date did the Commonwealth control of Inter-State shipping completely cease? Will the Prime Minister make use of one or two of the Commonwealth cargo boats to relieve the congestion on the various wharfs, and in particular to transport, fodder to the eastern States?
– I think that our control of Inter-state shipping ceased last Monday. The Government will be glad to do all that is possible to relieve congestion ; but we possess only a limited number of ships, and the demand for their services for coastal work is very great. When, a fortnight ago, the honorable member asked a question on the subject,. I promised that I would consult with the Controller of Shipping, and I had an interview with him on the following day, when he promised to do what he could; but the means at his disposal being limited, it is only with considerable difficulty that he can provide tonnage. However, I shall go into the matter with him again.
– Has any action been taken, or is any contemplated, for the reduction of the note issue, seeing that we have in circulation £20,000,000 to £25,000,000 in notes more than are required? Do the Government propose to take any steps immediately towards reducing that volume, and by deflating the currency, bring down the cost of living?
SirJOSEPH COOK. - In the first place, there are not fifty odd millions of notes in circulation.
– I did not say so.I said, that there was £20,000,000 more ins notes than necessary.
– There is less than about £20,000,000 in actual circulation. The remainder of the notes issued are contained in the banks.
– They have been issued from the Treasury.
– Quite so.I hope to be able to tell honorable members just what is proposed to be done inthis respect. “ I shall ‘be giving notice to-day of my intention to deal with the matter of the note issue and its control, and I will make available all the information, in my possession.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 45.
Income Tax - Royal Commission (Imperial) - Seventh instalment of the Minutes of Evidence, with appendices. (Paper presented to the British Parliament.)
Public Service Act - Promotions of - W. E. Dunk, Prime Minister’s Department.
War Precautions Act - Regulations amended -Statutory Rules 1020, Nos. 2, 52.
War Service Homes Act - Land acquired under, at -
Waratah, New South Wales.
Increased Charge upon Stocks.
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he has taken, action to effectively prevent wholesale and retail firms charging the increased duty on stocks held previous to the introduction of the Tariff now before the House of Representatives?
– With the limited constitutional powers possessed by the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth law authorities advise that no effective action can be taken. The matter, however, is being further considered.
Active Service Record
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 -
If, in view of Messrs. Whitelock and Carter, of Bendigo, being willing to employ at least five returned soldiers and find looms without any expense to the Government, the Minister for Defence will instruct the Manager of the Commonwealth Woollen Mill that, when yarn is being spun forthe use of Anzac tweed weaving in Melbourne, an extra half-hour be given to such spinning, so that a branch of the industry may be started in Bendigo for the benefit of returned soldiers?
– The question of what arrangements it may be possible to make at the Government Woollen Mill with a view to increasing the output of yarn for hand-loom weaving is under further consideration, and the result will be announced at an early date.
Commissioner Blackets Findings
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
With further reference to questions asked by the honorable member for Cook onthe 15th October, 101Q, page 13351 of Hansard, and comments thereon at page 13379 -
Who were the accountants ov other persons (presumably not departmental officers) who reported on Mr. Commissioner Blacket’s findings?
Wore these investigations conducted publicly or privately?
What was the cost of these reports on Mr. Commissioner Blacket’s findings?
– 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: -
Miners’ Homestead Leases
Mr- CORSER asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice - ;
Soldier Settlement Act on. the security of the Queensland perpetual lease selections?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he will state - 1
How. many cotton hose manufacturers there are in the Commonwealth ?
What is the value, or estimated value, of cotton hose that can be produced during the next two years?
– The information desired is being obtained.
Imports and Exports
– On 26th March the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) asked the Minister for Trade and Customs the following questions, upon notice -
I replied that the information was being obtained. I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
In addition to the sugar which has been imported since the 30th June last, a large quantity of imported sugar was carried over from the previous financial year.
On 17th March the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) asked the following questions : -
He was informed that I had been unable to obtain any information in regard to the shipment referred to, but that further inquiries were being made. I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information: -
It has been ascertained that no application for permission to export a shipment of sugar has been made to my Department, and in any case approval would not be given at the present time, unless it were a shipment of sugar imported by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company from its plantations in Fiji for the purpose of refining and re-shipment in connexion with the company’s Pacific Island trade.
Mr. POYNTON (Grey- Minister for
Home and Territories). [3.18].- I move -
That this Bill he now read a second time.
At this second-reading stage of the Bill, I wish to place upon record, in as concise and accurate a manner as possible, the efforts which have been made by the Commonwealth in connexion with repatriation, and, in order to do that, it will be necessary for me to go back to the early history of this great subject, so that I may indicate the developments which have taken place. With respect to this problem, unlike many others, there was no beaten track; there was not even a blazed trail along which we might advance. Every move that had to be made was, so to speak, a move in the dark. We had to feel our way, and do the best we could under the circumstances. I suppose that, in regard to every other piece of legislation introducing reforms, there can be found in some part of the world an example, a copy, upon which to base our efforts. It would be rare, indeed, if we were unable to secure a lead from some source or other. Respecting repatriation, however, we could not look to any other legislative act upon which ‘to base our own Statute. Hence we had to grope along doing the best we could. It is almost impossible to realize accurately the advantages gained by Commonwealth control as compared with the voluntary effort exercised in the earlier stages of the repatriation effort unless one traces the full history of the movement. At any rate, the subject is big enough, and the record is such as to warrant my placing before honorable members in a concise and accurate form the whole history of the repatriation movement. Therefore I ask the forbearance of honorable members if I am compelled to adhere somewhat closely to my notes.
In tracing the evolution of the Department of Repatriation, and particularly in order that the problems which the Department has faced and successfully grappled with may be fully appreciated, it is desirable that I should revert to 1915, when the first Federal Parliamentary War Committee and the State War Councils were brought into existence. At that time there were many voluntary efforts promoted for the benefit of soldiers over which the Commonwealth Government had no control, and while they were doing good work, the aid afforded by these private funds was of a temporary or ameliorative character only, and even at that early date it was felt that there was need for some financial assistance towards the permanent re-establishment of our men. Accordingly, at the beginning of 1916 the Federal Parliamentary War Committee propounded the idea of a Repatriation Fund, from which advances might be made to returned soldiers or their dependants for the purchase of stock, seed, or plant, or by way of general assistance as distinct from ameliorative aid. In other words, it was to be a fund which would serve the purposes of general civilian re-establishment. This idea, having been indorsed by a conference of Federal and State Ministers held in Melbourne in February, 1916, was embodied in the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Fund Act, which vested the administrative control in a body representative of all .parties in the Federal Parliament and outside interests, the Prime Minister of the day being chairman.
On the 18th April a special appeal for funds was issued by the Federal and State Governments, and to enable the fund to become immediately operative, the Commonwealth Parliament voted a contribution of £250,000 to supplement some large private donations then promised. It was at that stage that the Hon. J. C. Watson, the honorary organizer for the Parliamentary War Committee, attended’ a meeting of the Provisional Board of Repatriation Trustees on the 5th May, and explained the position of the movement at that date. The Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Fund Act was assented to on the 31st May, 1916, and the Board of Trustees, as at first constituted, included the following - The Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, Arthur S. Baillieu, Esq., the “Hon. Sir J. Langdon Bonython, the Right Hon. Sir John Forrest, John J. Garvan, Esq., E. Grayndler, Esq., Samuel Hordern, Esq., Hon. J. M. Hunter, of Queensland, Hon. Sir William Irvine, Senator Long, Senator Millen, Denison Miller, Esq., Hon. J. Page, Hon. A. Poynton, and O. Morrice Williams, Esq. A sub-committee, consisting of Senator Pearce, who was Acting Prime Minister, and Messrs. Baillieu, Denison Miller, Page, and O. Morrice Williams, was appointed to consider matters of organization.. A further subcommittee, consisting of Senator Millen and Messrs. Grayndler., Hordern, and Denison Miller, was appointed to suggest regulations. For the transaction of the busi- ness of the Trust, the Board at a later date appointed an executive of five, consisting of the chairman, the Prime Minister, Mr. O. Morrice Williams, who was elected deputy chairman, Sir Langdon Bonython, and Messrs. Baillieu and Grayndler. The great bulk of the task of repatriation at that time rested on the shoulders of these five gentlemen, and great credit is due to them for the effective and special work they accomplished. Mr. D. J. Gilbert was appointed Secretary to the Board.
The Act provided that the disbursement of moneys and the allocation of property should be effected through the State War Councils. Honorable members who were in Parliament at that time are thoroughly conversant with what these War Councils were doing. As a member of one, I know that they did a considerable amount of useful work, but experience demonstrated that substantial equality of treatment irrespective of States could only be secured by Commonwealth control.
– There were so many activities carried on in the States which were outside the jurisdiction of the trustees that although the administration was designed to secure equality of treatment so far as the Repatriation Fund was concerned, their efforts at best but touched the fringe of things. The necessity for Commonwealth control arose out of these circumstances, and the Prime Minister, as chairman of the Repatriation Trustees, requested the Executive Council of the Repatriation Trustees to submit recommendations for giving effect to the desires of the Government. These recommendations were submitted, and became the subject-matter of a conference of Federal and State Ministers, which met in Melbourne in January, 1917, and agreed upon the broad lines of repatriation generally..
In 1917 the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act came into existence, giving the Commonwealth control of the repatriation effort in Australia. The Act itself embodied no scheme, but provided the machinery for carrying any scheme into effect. It was, in short, but a skeleton - a framework upon which those who had to take control of the work were to build.
In moving the second reading of the first Repatriation Bill in the Senate, the Minister (Senator Millen) defined “repatriation “ as -
An organized effort on the part of the community to look after those who have suffered either from wounds or illness as a result of the war, and who stand in need of such care and attention. … a sympathetic effort to reinstate in civil life all those who are capable of such reinstatement. Repatriation is not, or ought not to be, a mere moneyscattering proposition. Money will be required, and much of it; but that money will be spent only as a means to the end we have in view. If any other principle is observed it will not only not help the soldier, but tend to defeat the very object we have in mind. Although underlying any scheme of repatriation is primarily a sense of responsibility to all soldiers, it is as well to recognise also that there is an economic problem. If 250,000 men remain unnecessarily idle for one week only, there is a loss represented by their wageearning capacity of anything between £000,000 and £700,000. It is as well to remember, in view of the heavy financial responsibility which will be involved in consequence of this measure, that when we help our soldiers we shall, to a large extent, be helping ourselves, and by so doing fit this country the better to carry that great burden of debt which will undoubtedly fall upon it as a legacy from the war.
On 31st December, 1917, the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Fund was in credit to the extent of £398,464 ls. 2d. This amount was received from the following sources : -
Against this amount, gifts, expenses, &c, to the value of £75,383 ls. 9d. were written off on 31st December, 1917, leaving assets to the value of £323,0S0 19s. 5d. Disbursements were made by the State War Councils to the extent of £235,248 10s. 4d.
The Repatriation Department was officially inaugurated on the 8th April, 1918, but actually the officers of the new Department had their hands upon the levers from the end of 1917. When the Act came into force the Minister (Senator Millen) had as his advisers. a Commission of seven members comprised as follows, the Minister himself being chairman : - Deputy chairman, Mr. Robt Gibson;
Members: John Sanderson, Esq., Sir Langdon Bonython, Lieut. -Col. R. Haylock Owen, Private Harry Moorehead, and E. Grayndler, Esq. Colonel Owen; who left for. England early in 1919, has been represented on the Commission by Lieutenant-Colonel Semmens.
It is in the light of the figures which I have quoted and the facts which I have related concerning the original Repatriation Commission that one gathers the fairest and best impression of the work which the present Department of Repatriation, under Senator Millen, has accomplished. Some idea of the distance travelled by the Department may be gathered from the fact that on the 31st December, 1917, the total number of men discharged from the Australian Imperial Force was 40,384. To-day the total number of men discharged is 248,549.
When the Department of Repatriation assumed the responsibility for national obligations to the men who had enlisted at the call of their country, the cry was still going forward for men to step into the breach. At that time, the probable duration of the war was a problem beyond the solution1 of even the most expert naval or military minds. Hostilities, as the events subsequently proved, had yet another year to run, and some of the darkest days of the whole great cataclysm were still before us. It was impossible, therefore, to estimate, at that juncture, the dimensions of the repatriation problem. It is interesting, now, to know that the total enlistments in the Australian Imperial Force reached 416,809, and of that number 327,239 embarked for service abroad. Of the total embarkations, 59,130 were killed in action or died on service as the result of wounds or sickness, and, in addition, 5,438 applied for and received their discharges abroad. There were thus 262,671 men on the Army strength, on account of whom the Department of Repatriation accepted definite responsibilities. Of this number, no fewer than 260,903 have returned to the Commonwealth. There remained still overseas or on the water at the middle of February only 1,768 men.
Various estimates were made as to the time which the work of demobilization would involve. In the earlier stages of the war, it was believed that it would take some eighteen months, but as the shipping difficulty intensified the original estimate was extended to two years, and ultimately to three years. The position to-day is, however, that of the 260,000 soldiers on the Army strength, 248,549 have been actually discharged, leaving on the Defence roll 12,354. If we add to this number the 1,768 men still to arrive back in the Commonwealth, we have a total of 14,122. soldiers of the original Army still on the Army strengthThus, of the 416,809 men who enlisted for service abroad, there is now only b-. per cent, on the military pay-roll.
These men upon discharge are no longer the responsibility of the Defence Department, but they immediately become the responsibility of the Department of Repatriation. Of the 248,549 men discharged from the Australian Imperial Force, 173,957 have had recourse to the Department of Repatriation for assistance under one or other of the branches of the Department. These men are entitled to submit more than one application for the varying forms of benefits granted by the Department, and the actual number of applications submitted to the Department by these 173,957 applicants is 406,692. These do not take into account applications for houses or land areas. Of the total applications received, 153,993 were for employment, 37,451 for vocational training, and 215,248 for general assistance.
Of the 153,993 men who applied, through the Department, for employment, 138,964 were found work. The number of men left on our books at the end of February, the date of the last return, was 15,229, representing 6.8 per cent, of the men discharged. The problem of the re-establishment of the returned men of the Australian Imperial Force in the civil life of the community was infinitely more acute in 1918, and the early months of 1919, than at any other period in the history of the Department. This will be readily understood when it is borne in mind that throughout that period the tens of thousands of men who were being returned to the Commonwealth were returned because of definite, and in many cases, grievous physical disablement. In addition to having to face an industrial community abnormal by reason of the war, the “problem consisted of adapting men, physically broken or otherwise impaired in health, to industrial conditions. In the later months of repatriation, that is towards the end of 1919 and in 1920, these difficulties have not been in evidence. The men coming forward in the later period are, for the greater part, men who served throughout the war and have returned in the pink of condition.
I have referred to the fact that all estimates concerning the period of demobilization were upset by the splendid achievement of our demobilization officers, under the direction of General Monash and Senator Pearce. The effect upon the employment section of the Department of Repatriation may be conjectured when it is pointed out that during one period of six months no fewer than 120,000 men were returned to the Commonwealth. That is to say, the men came back to Australia at the rate of 20,000 per month. This rapid demobilization would have been serious enough had industrial conditions in Australia been normal; but, as a matter of fact, and as honorable members well know, repatriation and the reestablishment of these men in the industrial life of the community had to be carried forward at a time of industrial upheaval, and through a period of epidemic disturbance of the civil and industrial life. The effect of these disturbing elements was immediately reflected in the employment returns of the Department. For example, in 1918, notwithstanding the fact that the Department was dealing with physically handicapped men, the unemployed on the books of the Department represented from 2.8 to 4.2 of the total discharged.
Early in 1919 the influenza epidemic compelled many employers to close their establishments or limit their operations. The Department received returned soldiers who had recently been placed in employment and who were thrown out of work through the epidemic, back on its sustenance books, and the percentage of unemployed to discharged immediately rose to 6.5. When the influenza epidemic passed the unemployment figures began to recede, but the seamen’s strike, following untimely upon the epidemic, threw 30,000 men into idleness in Melbourne alone, and under the influence of that industrial disturbance the unemployment figures of the Department rose to 7.5 per cent. When that strike terminated the figures fell again to 5.1 per cent., when the recent engineers’ strike raised them again to 6.8 per cent.
There has been a lot of criticism of the amount of sustenance paid, but any fairminded critic is bound to concede that the employment operations of the Department of Repatriation have marked a very fine achievement and are most gratifying. Irresponsible statements have been made in regard to the payment of sustenance by the Department. Huge disbursements under this heading have been hinted at; the Department has been charged -with encouraging indolence and demoralizing sub-normal men. The facts are that the average amount paid by way of sustenance per man through the Department of Repatriation Employment Section has been £8 5s., and that the average period for which men have been drawing sustenance has been three weeks. There .is nothing demoralizing in sustaining a man for three weeks while employment is being secured for him, and I do not think honorable members will say that £8’ 5s. is an excessive amount per man for the country to pay these men who offered their all for their country. I have stated that 15,000 odd men remain on our employment books. The Department is at present placing men in employment at the average rate of 5,000 per month. Given normal industrial conditions, and especially if our hopes are realized and a period of new industrial activity should be experienced throughout the Commonwealth, very little time should elapse before the repatriation problem, so far as employment is concerned, is worked out.
Probably no phase of the work of the Repatriation Department has been so widely discussed or is better known than that of the vocational training section, and, here, may I say that as far back as at the beginning of 1918, those American officials who were charged with the repatriation of the troops of the United States, put themselves in touch with the Australian Department of Repatriation, and, on their own testimony, the repatriation scheme of the United States has been to a great extent modelled upon the Australian scheme. Again, the Government of the Dominion of New Zealand not only cabled to the Department of Repatriation for a complete outline of its scheme, particularly in relation to vocational- training, but subsequently sent a military officer to Melbourne, who spent three weeks in the Department, with the result that his report, based upon the Commonwealth scheme, with one or two minor alterations, was adopted by the New Zealand Government. The Government of South Africa also commissioned a military officer to’ make exhaustive inquiries into the Australian scheme, the vocational training phases being the subject of specially close inquiry. Quite recently I noticed that General Birdwood, in a speech delivered at Camperdown, said - “ I have been through the several States and I have come to the conclusion that there is no other country that is doing so much for the soldier as Australia.”
It will be within the recollection of all honorable members that originally the vocational training plan of the Commonwealth provided for the re-adaptation to industrial life of those members of the Australian Imperial Force who, by reason of wounds or sickness contracted on active service, were unable to revert to their pre-war occupation. Honorable members will be pleased to know that some of these men who were apparently hopelessly disabled are to-day 100 per cent, efficient and holding their own in the industrial life of the Commonwealth.
-. - Many young soldiers have unsuccessfully tried to get vocational training.
– That is quite true. It was anticipated that there would be a vast army of industrial sub-efficient men left to this country as a legacy of the war, but so successful has been the work of readaptation, and so self-reliant are the sons of this Commonwealth of ours, that the number of men who probably will fail to attain full efficiency is comparatively negligible. During the last year it became apparent to the Minister for Repatriation and the Government that that considerable section of the A.I.F. who enlisted under the age of twenty years, many of them, indeed, at the age of eighteen years, and who, therefore, to a considerable extent, had not acquired any definite trade, or set themselves to any definite industrial purpose in life, was entitled to consideration under the vocational training scheme of the Department. It wa3 recognised, and the country has unanimously indorsed the scheme, that it was infinitely preferable that these lads who went away and returned unskilled in any trade should be converted into skilled operatives, and thus become a national asset to this country.
The decision of the Government to extend vocational training facilities to this section of the Australian Imperial Force involved an additional cost of over £1,000,000. The estimated cost of the original scheme was £1,813,365.
– It is well worth it.
– I believe it is. Up to the present 4,079 men have completed their courses of training through the Department classes, while there is a total of 15,405 men undergoing training either in the classes or as industrial trainees who have advanced beyond the training classes, and have passed into factories as partially trained men, their earning capacity being subsidized by the Department to bring their total weekly income up to the standard rate of wage in their trade or calling. In addition, there are 4,623 men attending night classes under the provision of the Department whereby any man who is employed throughout the day may improve his efficiency by attendance at night technical training classes. Not only are 4,623 of these men attending night classes at present, but approximately 1,000 have completed their night course of study.
The total numbers given represent 20,989 men who have received or are receiving the benefits of our vocational training system, and the success of this section of the work of the Department has exceeded the best anticipations of the authorities. The Minister in charge of this Department has expressed ‘the hope that members of this House will avail themselves of an invitation, which he has cordially extended to them, to visit the Department’s large training school at “Wirth’s Park, where over 500 vocational trainees are passing through various courses of training. This visit would convince members of the soundness and efficacy of the vocational training scheme.
It will interest honorable members to learn that upwards of 1,000 returned men have been assisted by the Department in University and professional courses, and the success of the returned men passing through our Universities has been most marked. At the annual examinations held at the end of last year, the returned soldier students in the various Universities of the Commonwealth secured a higher percentage of passes and honours than the normal students, and this, too, in spite of the fact that in a number of cases they resumed work at the University when the academic year was three months advanced. Three Rhodes Scholarships were awarded to returned men for last year, and as an instance of the high attainment of the returned soldier student in our halls of learning, I might cite the record of the Adelaide University, where 76 per cent, of the returned soldier students entered secured passes, many with honours. “Word has just been received that the soldier passes at the Western Australian University were 84.8 per cent.
With regard to the general assistance section of the Department, honorable members, of course, understand that “ general assistance “ may cover applications for 101 different benefits. In a word, “general assistance” covers every kind of benefit extended by the Repatriation Department, apart from employment or vocational training - furniture, transportation, tools of trade, living allowances to widows and children, assistance for .establishment in business, plant, funeral expenses, stock, almost an infinity of assistance. I have already stated that 215,24S applications were received under this heading.
There is another important branch of our Department’s work which is being commended far and wide on account of its broad, generous conception. I refer to the after-war medical treatment extended to returned soldiers, sailors, and nurses, for disabilities which are due to, or which have been aggravated by, war service. Under this scheme, all those eligible for after-war medical treatment may be attended by departmental medical officers in the metropolitan area, or by local medical officers appointed in country districts. Upwards of 500 of these local medical officers have been appointed, and in addition to personal attendance for surgical or medical needs, by an arrangement with the Pharmaceutical Society, prescriptions signed by one of the Department’s medical officers may be attended to by the nearest pharmacy by the returned soldier affected, or in the event of his inability to attend in person, by his friend or relative. The chemist will dispense that prescription free of all charge to the tenderer, and will furnish such lotions or dressings as the case may require. Those moTe grievously injured by the war - the totally and permanently incapacitated - are being cared for in hostels which have been set up by the Department in each of the State capitals, and special provision is also being made for curative treatment and care of tuberculars, nerve cases, war alcoholics, and indeed every physically impaired type which the war has produced.
This brings me to the land settlement phase of the question. Honorable members will probably remember that a conference between State and Commonwealth representatives was held, and it was represented by the State authorities that, as they had the land and all the necessary machinery for administration, this part of our effort should be left to them, the Commonwealth providing the necessary money. I must say that the States made out a strong case ; for, otherwise, it would have been necessary for the Commonwealth to establish a Lands Department in each of the States. In order to prevent duplication, it was decided that the Lands Departments of the States should undertake the work.
– That is the cause of most of the trouble.
– I was just about to observe that during my election campaign the complaintsI heard, in traversing the State of South Australia, in connexion with repatriation, in so far as concerned the activities over which the Commonwealth have control, were very few indeed, although certainly there were some deserving of more attention than they received. The greatest complaint was in connexion with land settlement. I may say that I am not satisfied, and I am sure the Minister is not satisfied, with the speed that is being made.
– Lack of speed !
– Lack of speed.
– I do not think that applies to the State of Victoria.
– I shall show the actual work that has been done. I may say that the Minister for Repatriation is arranging for a conference at an early date with the State authorities, with a view, if possible, to more satisfactory progress.
The following statement sets out the position in regard to the settlement of returned soldiers under the agreement arrived at between the Commonwealth Government and the various State Governments, Queensland excepted. The latest returns show the number of men actually settled by the respective State Lands Departments: -
I notice that Tasmania, in face of difficulties, has, comparatively, done remarkably well. I desired to have a complete return in this connexion, and have been for some days trying to get the necessary information. Some of the figures reached me only this morning, but up to the time I left for the House I had not obtained any return from Queensland.
– There is a feeling against the freehold system there.
– All I can say is that on the 18th October last, the number of soldiers settled on the land in Queensland was about 1,300.
The provision of war service homes is one of the newest of the activities of the Repatriation Department, and has been subjected to considerable criticism. But when I show what has been done, I think it will be admitted that there was no ground for that criticism. According to last Monday’s Melbourne Herald, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), after he, with a number of other members, had been taken over a good many of the houses that have been built for the returned men, said -
I think the returned men who are lucky enough to obtain possession of such cheap, substantially built, convenient homes are to be congratulated. We visited Canterbury, Bell, Surrey Hills, and Coburg, and in each of the places the houses we saw surprised us with their excellence. All the members of our party spoke in the same enthusiastic strain.
– That report embodies my own views, though it is incorrect in saying that we visited Surrey Hills.
– The Executive of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, togetherwith a number of pressmen, also looked over many of these buildings, and ascertained what is being done by the Department, and Captain Dyett, the president of the Federal
Executive of the League, afterwards expressed himself as being entirely satisfied with the sound and satisfactory work that the Commission was carrying out. It is just twelve months since the building of war service homes was commenced, and in that period there has been a great deal of industrial trouble. Members have been supplied with information showing the type of - house that is being erected, and giving figures regarding the time lost in consequence of industrial troubles. Up to the present 269 houses have been completed, and the purchasers are in possession. In addition, 3,180 homes are now in course of erection, contracts have been let for the construction of 681 additional homes, and land has been purchased upon which 7,243 soldiers’ dwellings will be erected. Tenders have also been called for the erection of 3,703 soldiers’ homes. In addition, there have been) purchased at the urgent request of returned men 3,778 homes already completed, while 1,314 mortgages have been lifted on behalf of returned men, involving approximately £615,334. The total approvals to date involve £4,816,169. It will be gratifying to members to know that out of a total of £17,519 lis. 9d. of repayments due to the War Service Homes Commission, only £305 17s., or 1.7 per cent., is in arrears.
– Do those figures include the houses built through the instrumentality of the Commonwealth Bank ?
– I take it that they include everything that has been done. The houses which the honorable member viewed the other day were built by the War Service Homes Commission.
– The Commonwealth advances money to the States for the building of country homes for soldiers and for other purposes. Is there any arrangement between the War Service Homes Department and the State authorities, for the standardization of these homes, and’ the supervision of their construction? The houses that are built for the accommodation of the man on the land are jerry built compared with those constructed by the War Service Homes Department, and vastly inferior to them.
– The Commonwealth advances money to the States for the building of homes, the buying of stock, the acquirement of land, and so on, but the carrying out of the work is a State matter .
– I would suggest an early conference, to bring about the construction of a better class of house for the man on the land.
– It would be exceedingly’ difficult for the War Service Homes Department to supervise the construction of houses all over the States. Those that axe being constructed in the big centres of population are in large blocks, and close together.
– I take it that what the honorable member for Wannon suggests is the adoption of a standard type of house for country homes.
– The men in the country have very little to grumble at compared with the men in the cities. They can get £2,000 or £3,000 advanced to them for the carrying on of their farms, but it is difficult for a man in the city to get an advance of £20. Mr. Tudor. - Might I mention to the Minister, while he is still on the subject of war service homes, that most of us who made the inspection to which he has referred, are of opinion that 9 feet is too low for the clearance of the ceiling.
– With the provision of more money it may be possible to increase the height of -the rooms.
My narrative would not be complete if I did not make some reference to the official journal of the Department which is known as Repatriation. This publication has been of immense value in spreading information to returned soldiers in the outback districts. The journal has just completed the first year of its issue, and during that period over 250,000 copies have been distributed in various parts of the Commonwealth, and also in the United Kingdom, America, Canada, Italy, and other countries. I am very pleased to be able to inform honorable members that, after debiting all expenses, the journal is now paying its way. This is a high tribute to the magnificent work of Mr. E. G. Hicks, Publicity Officer and Editor in the Repatriation Department, and to those associated with him in its production.
The Bill is one for discussion in Committee rather than at the second-reading stage, and I shall not occupy much time in dealing with its provisions now, because there will be opportunity in Com- mittee to explain every detail about which information may be required.
The measure contains three important amend: tents of our existing legislation, the first of which provides for the amalgamation of the Pensions and Repatriation Departments. This was agreed upon a considerable time ago, and some may wonder why it was not carried into effect earlier, but there were important reasons which prevented it, among them the fact that the Repatriation Department has been performing a task for which there has been no precedent anywhere in the world, and practically the whole of its staff was without departmental experience. Ninety-nine per cent, of its officers are returned soldiers, who, for the most part, had no departmental training.
– That may be an advantage.
– In speaking of the difficulties of the Department, I made no reference to this phase of the work, and I am disposed even now to mention this matter, not so much as constituting a difficulty in connexion with the Department’s operations, which fact, however, cannot be gainsaid, but as adding lustre to its achievement. Honorable members will readily acclaim “the industry, zeal and devotion to duty of a staff which, in spite of lack of training and in so short a period, has encompassed such a very fine record of work as I have been able to make public to-day.
At the present time the annual charge on the Commonwealth revenue for soldiers’ pensions alone is £6,118,751, and it is expected by the Repatriation Department that the increases made by Schedule I. of the Bill will add another £1,388,000 per -annum, though the Treasury estimate is £1,500,000 per annum. Accepting the lower figures, our annual pensions bill for soldiers alone will be in future something like £7,500,000, because there are still men whose cases have not been dealt with.
The second amendment provides for increases of pensions. In the schedules provision is made for totally incapacitated and blind soldiers. Broadly, the general pension rate for a totally incapacitated soldier has been set down at 42s. ; for a totally incapacitated man, with a wife, 60s. ; and, with a wife and three children, 82s. 6d. A special pension rate applicable only to blinded and totally and permanently incapacitated soldiers has been set down on the basis of 80s. if the man is without a dependant, 98s. in the case of a man having a wife, and 120s. 6d. in the circumstance of a man having a wife and three children. The third and chief amendment is the alteration which has been made in substituting a paid’ Commission and paid Board’s for the honorary Commission and honorary Boards. There are to be three Commissioners, whose term of office will be five years. One of these must be a member of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League. The State Boards will each consist of three members, one of whom also must be a representative of the Returned Soldiers Association. The period! of office of the members of the State Boards is to be two years, and they may be paid fees according to the nature of the work performed. The Commissioners, however, will receive salaries.
– What different relationship will the proposed Commission bear to the Minister as compared with the present body?
– The present Commission is not administrative; it is really a legislative body. It determines the benefits to be allotted, and deliberates upon appeals from applicants who may be dissatisfied with decisions of State Boards. The new Commission, in addition to carrying on these functions, will be an administrative authority, and up to the sum of £5,000 it will have control in the matter of expenditure. For an outlay above the sum of £5,000 the approval of the Minister must first be secured.
– What will be the nature of an expenditure up to £5,000? Surely it would not be applicable to individual cases ?
– There would be no individual cases involving as much as £5,000. ‘
– I point out, as an example, that we are now considering a proposition for the purchase of a property in this State which will involve considerably more than £5.000. In such a circumstance the Commission would not be free to act independently, but it could sanction an expenditure of less than £5,000.
– Will the Minister have power of veto?
– Concerning an expenditure of less than £5,000?
– No; the’ Commission will have authority up to that amount, but beyond £5,000 the approval of the Minister must be secured. Naturally, the Government must retain control over large expenditure.
– Will the Commission have the power of determining policy, or will that be a matter for the Government ?
– The Commission will have the determination of policy.
– But I understand that the Minister for Repatriation stated in his speech that such would not be the case. >
– Will the matter of policy be for the Minister or for the Commission ?
– The power and authority of the proposed Commission will, differ materially from that of the present Commission. At present the Commission can only forward recommendations for approval or otherwise by the Minister. But the new Commission will have very much greater scope.
– It will still be subject, of course, to the control of the Minister.
– That is so. I have been associated with the Repatriation De- partment since the early days of the Parliamentary War Committee, in 1915. I have been concerned with the War Councils, and for twelve months I have been connected with the Department as Assistant Minister. It would be poor taste on my part at this juncture, in view of my experience, especially during the year in which I served as Assistant Minister, if I were to miss this opportunity to place on record my appreciation of the wonderful work of the honorary Commissioners. They have carried on without fee or reward; they have worked early and late, active business men though they are. They - must have made great sacrifices ; and the least that I can say is that their services have not only been keenly appreciated, but have reflected very great credit upon them. I only hope that the new Commission will be in a position to render as good and great service to Australia. The task of repatriation, as I have already stressed, has been exceedingly difficult, in view of the fact, particularly, that there was nothing to guide us.
– Practically the same encomiums might be passed in respect of the State Boards and Local Committees.
– That is perfectly true; and in regard to the State War Councils also. I have been associated with the War Council in South Australia, as well as with the Federal body, and I am personally aware of the nature and extent of their service!1. In .addition, there has been the splendid work of the SOO Committees scattered all over Australia. Their patriotic activities have been carried on in very many cases without public knowledge, seeing that they have been outside the purview of the press. In the great majority of instances they have worked with enthusiasm and remarkable unanimity. Their services in behalf of Australia cannot be too highly praised.
– Had the Government given them more power, it would have solved the problem of repatriation much sooner.
– It was because we were working so much in the dark, and in view of the fact that we had to deal with bodies over whom we had no official control, that the Government hesitated to concede too much freedom of action. Taken broadly, however, they have done remarkably well, and it is quite possible that had they been given greater scope the Committees would have done even better.
– Hear, hear; their enthusiasm was sapped through lack of power.
– Up to date there has been spent upon repatriation a total sum of £10,120,408. That includes amounts advanced for land settlement purposes and for forestry work, and £500,000 advanced as a special employment fund to local governing bodies during the acute industrial period of 1919. It is, in my view, highly creditable that in the disbursement of more than £10,000,000, the administrative expenses of the Department have been only £378,257.
– Can the Minister furnish any figures showing the percentage of beneficiaries under the Act to date, excluding the matters of sustenance and war service homes?
– I will furnish that information, if possible, during the Committee stage, and I will endeavour to make clear various other matters which I have not had time or opportunity to touch upon to-day.
– How long does the Government expect the activities of the Repatriation Department to continue, irrespective of the matter of war service homes? Are we not near the end of repatriation?
– I have already indicated that; but we have still 15,000 men to repatriate in respect of employment, and we are doing so at the rate of 5,000 a month.
– Some men are still waiting for vocational training.
– We have a large number of training activities going to-day, and we have laid our plans to provide for over 20,000 trainees in one way and another.
– I know men who are very anxious to get into employment, but are afraid that if they accept work outside of the Department they will forfeit their right to receive vocational training.
– The benefits of the war service homes legislation have now been extended to munition workers, and to war workers generally, covering all soldiers. A further proposition has now been considered to apply the benefits of repatriation to men who were in camp, but had not left Australia when the armistice was declared. In certain other directions, also, existing legislation is to be extended. .So far as the war service homes legislation is concerned, it is quite apparent that its activities must be carried on over a number of years to come. Apart from the efforts to re-establish men in homes under the War Service Homes Act, this piece of legislation should prove of incalculable benefit in the direction of overcoming the housing difficulty in Australia generally.
I believe honorable members will appreciate the facts which I have been able to submit to them, and will be ready to award due measure of praise to the Department, which, labouring through great difficulty and under exceptional responsibility, has carried on, to this stage, with undoubted credit. The new Bill has been drafted in the light of much valuable experience, because it embodies conceptions of greater equity and clearer working and economy in the conduct of affairs of our important after-war Departments. I confidently recommend the consideration of the measure to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Tudor) adjourned.
In Committee of Supply: Debate resumed from 19th March (vide page 639), on motion by Mr. Hughes -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division I. - The Parliament - namely, “The President, £1,100,” be agreed to.
.- This is the second occasion since the Budget speech was delivered some time last year on which we have had an opportunity of discussing the Estimates. I realize that nearly five-sixths of the expenditure covered by the Estimates has already been incurred, but there are one or two matters to which I wish to refer now that the opportunity is afforded me of doing so.
I do not think that we have as much industrial unrest in Australia as there is in other countries, but it is well known that we have it here. Various organizations are endeavouring to shorten hours of labour, and in some cases to abolish Saturday work. In one of this morning’s Melbourne newspapers I read a criticism of the workmen for attempting to curtail their hours of labour at a time when houses are so much needed, but in another’ column of the same newspaper we find thatthe employers propose to overcome their difficulty with the workers by locking them out. Instead, therefore, of having less houses erected there may possibly be none built. The building trades unions in Victoria have not worked more than 44 hours per week for the last eight or ten -years. In New South Wales the building trades unions have worked the full forty-eight hours per week. They are now fighting for a forty-four hours week, while the Victorian unions have decided to work for forty hours per week. The New South Wales unions are lagging behind the Victorian unions in this respect, but we are told that the employers propose to punish the em- ployees by locking them out. We are also informed by the press that Cabinet has been considering the question of amending the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and intends to call together a conference with a view to receiving an expression of opinion from organizations of employers and employees for the purpose of endeavouring to promote a better state of feeling. I quite agree that this should be done, but during the absence of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in Great Britain we had an important decision from the High Court on the Waterside Workers case. I am quoting from Hansard of 2nd October, 1918, page 6547. The’ first question which the Full Bench of the High Court was asked to answer was -
Is the constitution of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration beyond the powersof the Parliament of the Commonwealth, and in. particular as to (a) the arbitral provision, (b) the enforcing provisions ?
To that question the answer was -
That is to say, while the Court had the power to make an award it had no power to enforce one. The second question submitted to the High Court was -
Is the award invalid by reason of the appointment ofthe President for seven years only
To that question the answer was “No.”
The third question was -
Is the award enforceable by the said Court?
To that also the answer was “ No.” Apparently the Court can sit and hear evidence, and. make an award, but has no power to enforce if. The then Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Griffith, said that the Arbitration Court - was invested with ample and complete jurisdiction to declare and enforce the mutual obligations of the parties. The exercise of the power to impose penalties was admittedly an exercise of the judicial power. If the Court had not the power to impose penalties, then that power would be non-existent elsewhere.
ThePrime Minister knows as well as any one in the House that some organizationshave been endeavouring for years to get their cases heard by the Arbitration Court, and have not succeeded; furthermore, some of them have adopted other means than the ordinary process to get their cases heard. This is not the only way in which the unions feel that they are handicapped. The Court has recently decided that once an organization has submitted a plaint, and an award has been given, it is impossible for it to be varied during the currency of the award. Yet we know that many plaints have been more than two years before the Court. The Prime Minister can see the hardship of the matter - first of all the difficulty of getting to the Court, and then the fact that, owing to the Arbitration Court being hamstrung by the decision of the High Court, the workers cannot obtain justice. In these circumstances there is less likelihood of the. industrial organizations seeking the services of the Arbitration Court for the settlement of their grievances.
When the building trades unions in Victoria decided two or three months ago that they would not work more than forty, hours in the week, or on Saturdays, the State Government immediately wiped out, the decisions of the Wages Boards. But the unions” did not care. Some unions do not worry about Arbitration Court awards or Wages Boards decisions. They are powerful enough without them. In fact’, I understand that some of them rather welcomed the decision of the Victorian State Government.
I have been prompted to make these observations because of the notification ofthe intention of the Government to bring about an amendment of the Arbitration Act. When the decision in the Waterside Workers’ case was raised in the House, during the absence of the Prime Minister in Great Britain, the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) said that the matter would be remitted to the Acting Attorney-General, who would, no doubt, report to Cabinet as to the necessity for an alteration of the Arbitration Act. If that is all that is necessary, it should be done. The Justices of the High Court are unanimously of opinion that Parliament can make the necessary amendment to enable organizations to havean award varied duringits currency, and, in my opinion, we ought to take steps to do so. Thus we can remove at least two causes which are operating in the direction of creating industrial unrest.
The Commonwealth Government have practically released control of all shipping, and, as nearly every person anticipated, there has been an immediate increase in freights and fares.
– Yes, of about 20 per cent.
– It is about 20 per cent. I quote the following from the Age of yesterday’s date -
With the arrival yesterday of the steamers Oonah and Wainui from Tasmania, the Mel.bourneTasmanian mail service maintained by Huddart Parker Ltd. and Union Steam-ship Company became free, after a period of two years, from Government control, the vessels, in addition to the Loongana and Rotomahan having completed their last “ requisition voyages.”
The seamen’s dispute occurred from about May until October of last year, and in the latter month the Government agreed to an increase in fares and freights in order to meet the extra cost imposed by the granting df increased wages and improved conditions to the seamen. This increase amounted to about ls. 6d. per ton, but now the shipping companies have put on a further increase of 4s. per ton. I quote the following table of increases from the Age -
The Age does not state what the freight on general cargo to Launceston has hitherto been, but if the Comptroller of Shipping found that in respect of freights from Melbourne to Sydney a rise of 1s 6d. per -ton was sufficient in-October last, there cannot be any possible justification for these increases. Australia is largely dependent upon its shipping services for the transport of goods from State to State, and these increases, therefore, mean that every industry in the Commonwealth will -be penalized by the shipping companies. The following statement, also published’ in yesterday’s issue of the Age, shows the increases that have been made in Inter-State shipping fares: -
Melbourne to Sydney. - Old rate, 1st, £2 17s. 6d.; Government October increase, £3 3s.; new rate, £3 15s. Second: Old rate, £1 15s.; Government October increase, £1 18s. 6d.; new rate, £2 6s.
Melbourne to Adelaide. - Old rate, £2 17s. 6d. and £1 15s.; Government October increase, £3 3s. and £1 18s. Gd.; new rate, £3 15s. and £2 6s.
Melbourne to Fremantle. - Old rate, £9 and £6 15s.; Government October increase, £9 18s. and £7 10s. ; new rate, £11 15s. and £9.
Sydney to Adelaide. - Old rate, £4 14s. Cd. and £3 3s.; Government October increase, £5 5s. and £3 10s.; new rate, £0 3s. and £4 4s.
Sydney to Fremantle. - Old rate, £11 and £7 15s.; Government October increase, £12 and £S> 10s.; new rate, £14 10s. and £10.
The Bulletin, in its issue of the 1st instantless than a fortnight ago - dealt with the position of one of these shipping companies, that of Huddart Parker Limited, from the time when, as the prospectus put it, “ the company had reached dimensions too large for it to be continued as a proprietary company.” In the following table is set out the actual increase in the company’s returns : -
– The honorable member is an apologist for practically every company. According to some honorable members opposite,, a company, can do no wrong; it may increase its freights and. fares at will, and no one dare utter a. word in opposition-
– Why not put the position correctly by showing what increase of capital has taken, place?
– The honorable member will have an opportunity to deal with that phase of the question. Messrs. Huddart Parker Limited may be like some other companies registered in Australia which have increased their capital by . watering their stock.
– The honorable member is indulging throughout in mere insinuations.
– Is it mere insinuation to state that Huddart Parker Limited has made these enormous’ profits? I am giving absolute facts. Notwithstanding that this company has been making enormous profits during the war, it now proposes to increase its freights and fares by 20 per cent. The honorable member would have us remain here like dumb dogs. He does not think we should offer a word of protest against the daylight robbery of the people by means of these increases. The honorable member may please himself, but I, for one, shall not remain quiet.
– The honorable member ought to be just.
– I am.
– Is the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) a shareholder in Huddart Parker Limited?
– The honorable member, like every one else, has a right to hold shares in any company he pleases, but I object to the representatives of the people remaining quiet when increases of this kind are made by shipping companies which were already securing large profits.
– A point that should not be forgotten is that Huddart Parker Limited has fewer ships than it had in 1914.
– That is so. The Bulletin commented on these figures in the following terms : -
A profit sufficient to give the ordinaries almost 52 per cent. after settling with the preferences looks a bit over the odds, particularly at a time when a stiff increase in fares is contemplated.
At the time of the publication of this statement the increase in shipping freights had not been announced -
But Huddart Parkers did not make it all from trading. The directors give the net earnings for the year as £100,717; but that was after strengthening the insurance fund by £67,9,54. In addition, from the sale of the s.s. Excelsior, Hebburn, and Meeinderry, they realised £120,716 over book values, and that amount was transferred direct to reserves. But even £289,387 may not represent the full net surplus resulting from the year’s operations. Besides the general and insurance reserves there is another for “ contingencies, taxation, depreciation of property, and shares in other companies, repairs and maintenance, boilers, and renewals, superannuation fund, &c.” And this reserve has been built up rapidly during recent years -
In view of these figures, there can be no justification for the increases in fares and freights. I do not single out this company for criticism. I do not think it has been more successful than any of the other Inter-State shipping companies. The Union Steam-ship Company, the Australian Steam-ships Limited, the Australian United Steam Navigation, and the Adelaide Steam-ship Company, I. believe, have all been doing exceedingly well during the last five years at the expense of the people. Tasmania is entirely dependent upon the shipping companies for the transfer of its produce, as well as for the carriage of passengers between it and the mainland and all the other States are also largely dependent upon the same service for freights. Yet these companies, although they have been doing so well, now propose a further increase of 20 per cent, in fares and freights. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) has on the business-paper a notice of motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into certain matters relating to the Inter-State shipping service, and, in view of the fact that the companies, according to their own balancesheets, have enormously increased their profits of recent years, it is our duty, as the people’s guardians, to see that they do not take advantage of the public as they propose to do as soon as the Government releases control over their vessels. When the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) stated some time ago that it would be necessary for the Government to retain control over shipping for some time, I replied that the Opposition had no objection to that course. I stated, I think while the unfortunate seamen’s strike was in progress, that the dispute would have been terminated had the control been released. The Controller of Shipping, according to his own statement in granting increases in fares and freights last October, made full allowance for increased wages and improved conditions, but the increase allowed by him was less than half that now proposed by the companies. We ought to protest against this sort of thing. My electorate is a manufacturing, not a maritime, community, but, like all others, it will be seriously affected by these increases. The consumers of Australia will be hit very hard, and 1 avail myself of this, the first, opportunity to enter a vigorous protest against the additional burdens which the shipping companies are placing upon the backs of the people.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has very properly availed himself of the opportunity afforded honorable members in discussing the Budget to ventilate matters of public importance. I shall follow his example, and, as briefly as possible, cover some of the ground which- he has travelled and also deal with one or two other “matters upon which he was unfortunately unable to touch. First, let me say a few words on the great question of industrial unrest, which affects almost every phase of human activity, and has a profound influence on the lives of men in their civic as well as their domestic and private capacities. For a solution of this great question all the world is groping, as best it may, in the hope that by some happy chance, or by ordered design, a solution will be found. We ought at least to look at this question from a non-party standpoint. Of course, I realize how very much every man’s outlook on this industrial question is coloured and prejudiced by his environment. It is like the shield in the old story, white on one side and black on the other, which spurred the opposing knights on to deadly combat. One party sees in the other the whole cause of everything that is evil, and the explanation of everything that is wrong. Both parties say, unfortunately, that no good thing can come out of Nazareth. But there is, I am glad to say, an increasing number of men who are anxious to discover some modus vivendi - some means by which the world can conduct its complex industrial affairs in a better way. The industrial question, looked at from one point of view, is the result of the eternal conflict between the classes ; looked at in another, and I believe the right way, it is the inevitable consequence of modern civilization and modern methods, of production and distribution. I do not propose to attempt to dive very deeply into the matter to-day; but I say, deliberately, that this House must do all things within its power to solve this problem, of which industrial unrest is one of the most prominent and unfortunate symptoms. I pass by the general question - not that I have even covered it in general outline, but because time will not permit me to deal with it further, and because I have no .remedy at hand - and come to the phases of the matter upon which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) touched. Every man who has been in this House for any length of time, and has taken any interest in industrial matters, knows that this most active Parliament has been for many years a laboratory of industrial legislation. I remember sitting in the seat now occupied by the Leader of the Opposition, and listening to the late Alfred Deakin introducing the first Conciliation and Arbitration Bill in a most glowing and glorious speech, and I felt then, as I feel now, that along that track mankind ought to strive, pt any rate, to walk, abandoning the crude and barbaric methods of industrial warfare. Put though years have passed, the legislation then introduced, which we fondly hoped was perfectly suited to several of our industrial . needs, has proved, no matter what Government has been in office and administering the law, to be the most inefficient and hopelessly futile effort to solve the industrial problem that ever came out of the laboratory of any legislative workshop. Even the master chemist himself has from time to time indulged in gloomy jeremiads, and has been torn with the pangs of despair. He has said that the Arbitration Act is a Serbonian bog, and many other things even less complimentary. We who are not tied to that judicial correctness of language which prevents His . Honour from saying what he really does think about the matter, could use words much stronger, and much more to the point. I have been in that Court as a representative of unions, and I indorse what the Leader of the Opposition has said. It “is a Court the approach to which is marked by barbed-wire entanglements, and at the very threshold of the portals there is an almost bottomless pit. Of those who by happy, or unhappy, chance find their way inside, many wander aimlessly about, and, buffeted and torn by the technicalities and vagaries of the law, come out, almost without knowing it, and say, “ Where are we ? And what have we!” It is frequently necessary, as it was found necessary for the unions under my leadership, to strike in order to reach a Court which was created for tha purpose of preventing industrial strife. I remember, in connexion with the “Waterside Workers’ case, that, having exhausted all peaceful methods, and despite the fact that we were persons notorious throughout the country for our exemplary patience, being denied admittance and turned empty away, our needs being almost desperate, and all other means of obtaining audience having failed, we were, perforce, compelled to strike. We struck, and, lo and behold ! the law-abiding unions, which had been waiting patiently like the foolish virgins, were pushed aside, and we entered the Court straightway, and were at once fed, and came out almost full to repletion. One might say very much more to the same effect. The jurisdiction of the Court has been riddled again and again by High Court Judges. The remedy for this is radical in its nature. I have stood on both sides of the House urging the country and Parliament to ‘give us power to deal with industrial matters, and I say .now, deliberately, that no tinkering with this problem will do. However, we have to face the situation as it exists. The people rejected the referenda proposals placed before them by the Government, thanks to a good deal of assistance which they received in this matter from some of the leaders of the .blind on the Opposition side-
– And from every newspaper supporting the Government and from every National candidate in . Victoria.
– I was about to say that several honorable members on this side also helped to lead the people astray. I say to both parties, that upon their shoulders rests a very grave responsibility. We are now in a position in which we are asked to do justice, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and we cannot do either. The store-houses are closed, and the keys are not in our hands.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has alluded to two decisions of the High Court - (1) that the Arbitration Court cannot vary any award during its currency, and (2) that the Court has not power to enforce, its decisions. As to the first point, I have no doubt, speaking offhand, that we can cure the trouble by legislation in this House ; as to the second, again speaking off-hand, I do not think we can. But whatever can be done by legislation in this Parliament will be done at the earliest possible moment. For the rest we must seek, either by an arrangement with the States or by some other means, to acquire that power without which legislation in the direction suggested by the Leader of the Opposition will be useless. The honorable gentleman referred to the intention of the Government to convene a conference of employers and employees. The Government believe that the remedy for thi3 disease of industrial unrest, if we choose to call it so, lies in the hands of the parties themselves, and that without a good understanding between the parties no legislation or any other remedy enforced from outside will serve. We hope that, .as a result of this conference, which must be representative in the best sense of the term, the parties will formulate some scheme. It may be that it will take the form that was suggested by me when I was associated with honorable members opposite, of a Grand Council of Labour, on which employers and employees would be fully represented, and which should be charged with the preservation of industrial peace. It may be that it will take some other shape. But we all devoutly hope that by some means or other a better understanding between employer and employee will be arrived at. One thing is certain - unless and until the employers of this country realize to the full that the employee is a full partner in the business of production, we shall not reach any satisfactory solution.
The Leader of the Opposition has alluded to the fact that the unions have to wait a year or two years before they can have their plaints heard in the Court, and that when they reach the Court its jurisdiction is so limited that the remedy it can apply is inadequate as well as belated. The Government believe in the settlement of disputes by methods sanctioned by law. We are opposed to direct action, and upon every man who is against direct action rests a responsibility to see that the means of a peaceful settlement of all industrial disputes are at hand, and that they are speedy, direct, and efficient. It is no use wailing against direct action when the way is blocked for ‘peaceful settlement.
I now desire to make very brief reference to shipping fares and freights. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) alluded to the’ notification.’. by the coastal companies of’ an increase in freights and fares, and expressed the opinion that there is no justification, for such an increase; or, perhaps, for any. I may remind’ the honorable gentleman that for some years the Government exercised a control, which, .to all intents and purposes, amounted to ownership of the coastal boats. I also remind him of the fact that for many years - during the whole period of the war, or, at any rate, while- we had control - the fares and freights on- the- Australian coast were very much the lowest in the world. If we compare the freights and fares, say, on the English coast, the American coast, or. on any coast in the world, with the freights and fares on the Australian coast during the war, we are astounded at the extent to which, despite the tremendous increase in overseas freights, the coastal freights were kept down to within reasonable distance of the pre-war standard. . Oversea shipping rates increased almost out of sight. A gentleman to whom- I: was speaking this morning, who has just returned from Japan, told me that the Nippon Yusen Kaisha Shipping Company was charging. £50 a ton from Tokio to Marseilles. Every honorable member knows, because the figures have been quoted in this House, that freights from here to Christiana quite’ recently were- £12 15s., and to England £12, £14, and £15 a ton; that is to say, freight in many cases increased during the war as much as 1,000 per cent, over pre-war figures-. If we turn from these ‘ to the coastal rates, we see a very different picture. Since 1914, the increase has- been 10 per cent., in 1918,- and 20 per cent, in 1920. During control by the Government, freights and fares were increased by only 10 per cent. The honorable gentleman said that the Controller put on this increase in order to meet the increased cost in the -wages of the seamen and the improvements called for. And he went on to say that as by this increase of 10 per cent. the whole of the increased cost of running the: vessels had- been, provided for; there was’ no justification for the recent increase of 20 per cent, made by the companies. I should be the- last to criticise Government control, but I wish, to show the picture in proper perspective. It is true that the Government increased the freight by only 10 per cent, but it is also true that it lost £300,000! It amounted to this - we were charging the people, who shipped their goods, and who travelled by these boats, only 10 per cent., or 2s. in the £1, more than in 1914, and asking the general taxpayer to make up the difference. That is not business; it is a mere camouflage of the actual facts. It is exactly the same as if. we were to sell sugar at 3d., which cost 6d., and to make up the shortage of 3d. by taxation of the whole of the community. It may be said that the charter rate we paid to the shipping companies was excessive. But that was not so, for it was the lowest in the world. The Government paid- 12s. 6d. a ton, and when we endeavoured to get oversea tonnage to come on this coast at 12s. 6d., in order to supplement the coastal tonnage, we did not get one ship to offer.
– Was that 12s. 6d. per day, or what?
– Per month. The point is, that outside Australia^ the charter rate was 32s. 6d., or more than double. We were1 paying the lowest charter rate in the world’ - not more than 40 per cent, of the world rate. Every vessel on the- coast, but for the control, would have been’ taken elsewhere, and would have earned five times as much. I am not one to countenance shipping companies, who make .£200,000 or £300,000 profit, but I say that where companies made profits ; it was very frequently owing to- their getting permission to take one or. two of their ships off the coast; and the Government would have lost still more heavily if we had not taken one or two of our ships and given them deep-sea runs. One deep-sea run made up tho loss on nine or ten vessels running on the coast.
It is clear then from these facts that the 10 per cent, increase made by the Controller was not sufficient to enable the coastal vessels to pay their way, and that a further increase is justified. The question remains: Are the rates now fixed justified? I believe they are. I wish to say to the people of this country that- when these vessels were released the other day two conditions were laid down - first, that none should be taken off the coast without permission, and, second, that no increase of fares and freights should be made without their being first submitted to the Controller, and the Controller satisfying himself that the proposed increase was justified by the actual increase of working expenses.
– Were the recent increases submitted and agreed to?
– Certainly. I gave strict instructions to the Controller that no increase was to be permitted unless and until he had satisfied himself that every penny was justified by the actual increase of expenditure. Let me point out, first, the outstanding fact that we have lost £300,000, and, second, that we were able to manage the ships to much’ better advantage than they could have been managed by six or seven companies. We had all the advantage of private control, because while the companies were really managing their vessels, yet we were able to work them as if they had all belonged to <a single company. Every vessel was worked to its full capacity, there was no overlapping, no company seeking to . get advantage over another; yet in spite of all this and of our having commandeered the vessels at the lowest charter in the world, we lost £300,000.
The explanation of all this is very simple. The increase in wages since the war has been from 50 to 60 per cent., coal has’ gone up 40 per cent., stores over 100 per cent., in some cases 400 per cent., while the cost of repairs has increased 70 per cent. We cannot expect fares and freights to remain constant when wages rise 50 or 60 per cent, and other costs even more. I ask honorable members to remember that only a little while ago we had the engineer’s strike, as the aftermath of the seamen’s strike, and the settlement on which the engineers returned to work applied to the masters and officers. To-day seamen, masters, officers, and engineers are receiving much higher salaries than previously; and yet they are not receiving higher salaries than men on British boats which sail out of Liverpool or Southampton. I do not know that they are receiving much higher rates than are paid on vessels which sail out of some of the European ports. The facts are these: wages and cost of production and of enterprise have increased the world over; and it is of no use attempting to measure things with the old yard stick; we must get another. It is no good pointing to what things were before the war. On the one hand the men say that they cannot live on £8 a month, nor can they; and on their increased wages being granted the costs of running the steamers rise. We cannot ‘ get more out of *a pint pot than it will hold, and companies cannot run their vessels at a loss. I am not going to say for a moment that all the profits of shipping companies are justified. Honorable members cannot expect me personally to make inquiries into the affairs of every shipping company, and satisfy myself. But I have every confidence in Admiral Clarkson, and to him has been intrusted this very important work. He, with his experience of the past four years, is surely one on whom we may rely.
Extension of time granted.
– Honorable members and the public may rest assured that no increase in fares and freights will be permitted except as provided, namely, that the Controller has satisfied himself, not from the mere ipse dixit of a company, but after inspection of books and documents, that the proposed increase is justified.
I now desire to say a word on quite a different matter. The Commonwealth is some twenty year 3 old. When it w.as instituted, the Constitution provided that Ministers were to be paid a certain salary, and the Public Service was established on a certain basis as a result of legislation in this Parliament. Every honorable member realizes that in the twenty years the Commonwealth has made giant strides. Every honorable member who has held office in the Commonwealth knows that the work which Commonwealth Ministers have to do now is incomparably greater than that which they were called upon to do twenty years ago. I take my own offices of Prime Minister and Attorney-General to illustrate what I desire to say. I look back over the sixteen years that have elapsed since the accession of the first
Labour Government in 1904. I compare the work which Ministers had to do then with the work they are called upon to do now. I look back to the work which had to be done - and no light work it was - in 1908-9, when the first Fisher Government was in power, and to the eventful years of 1910-13, when the second Fisher Government was in office. The work during those years was very heavy indeed. In 1913, during the absence of my friend Mr. Fisher in England, I for a time occupied in effect the same position as I do now. But I say deliberately that during the war the work done by myself and by my colleagues and our officers, as compared not merely with the work of 1901, but with that of 1908-9 and 1910-13, was as four or five are to one. Honorable members have only to consider the activities thrust upon the Government during the war - the control of wheat, metals, shipping, and a hundred and one other matters; the avalanche of work that poured in from every quarter, the increase of responsibilities, and the consequent growth of the staff, and they will agree that the work which Ministers are called upon to do is incomparably greater than the work which Ministers were called upon todo twenty years ago; and yet Ministers’ salaries remain the same.
This is a matter which concerns this Parliament. Though I speak as a Minister, I speak on this matter primarily as a member of Parliament when I say that every member should be jealous of the honour and dignity of the Commonwealth. A salary considered sufficient in 1901 to remunerate the duties that then devolved on Ministers, when the purchasing power of the sovereign was 20s., is obviously now, when the work of Ministers has increased many times over, and its purchasing power is not more than 10s., quite inadequate. The work has increased four or five times, while the purchasing power of the sovereign has decreased 50 per cent., yet those who are called upon to do the work of Ministers are expected to perform that work to-day upon a salary which would have been very inadequate in 1900.
I wish now to bring under the notice of the Committee the question of Ministers’ travelling expenses. I put my own case, as typical of my colleagues. As many honorable members know, travelling expenses have been paid under different Go vernments since the establishment of the Commonwealth. At present they are not paid. Although I have been a member of Governments under whose regime travelling expenses have been paid, I never had a penny in my life ; but I want to say that it is not fair to Ministers that the existing state of affairs should continue.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– Let me give the Committee my own experience. I hope honor- . able members will forgive me, but I do not in this matter speak from my own point of view alone. When I came back from England, I travelled from Fremantle right round to Brisbane. That journey could not be said, in the ordinary sense of the term, to be a Ministerial itinerary. It was made to give an account of the stewardship of a representative of the Commonwealth at the great Peace Conference. In Sydney alone my expenses came to £40. In Brisbane they came to nearly as much, and in other places en route they were considerable. I never received one penny of those expenses, but paid all out of my own pocket. I am sure that honorable members do not expect that, and will agree that it is not proper. If a Judge travels he gets a travelling allowance, and if a member of a parliamentary Committee travels, he also gets a travelling allowance. I want the Committee to express an opinion on this matter. The ‘(Government have decided that it is only fair and proper that travelling allowances should be made at the rate of £2 2s. a day for the Prime Minister and 25s. per day for other Ministers.
– Speaking from memory, I think that under the Fisher Government, of which you and I were members, the allowance was £2 2s. for the Prime Minister and 30s. for other Ministers.
– I think that possibly the proposal that allowances for other Ministers should be fixed at 25s. per day was suggested by the fact thatmembers of parliamentary Committees get a travelling allowance of 25s. per day. If honorable members care to express another opinion, I have no objection. If people want work done, they must expect to pay for it. The dignity of the Commonwealth should be jealously guarded by this Parliament. The salaries paid to Commonwealth Ministers as compared with the. salaries paid in other countries are most inadequate. In South Africa, for example, the Prime Minister receives a. salary of ,£3,500 a year, and is provided with six official residences which are kept up for him. In New Zealand, an official residence is also provided for the Prime Minister, and the salary he receives is higher than that which I receive here. The same thing, of course, applies to the salaries of other Ministers.
I leave the case of Ministers, and come now to the position of the permanent heads, of Commonwealth Departments.. Again I say that the salaries paid to the permanent heads of the great Departments of the Commonwealth .are nothing short of .a . scandal. I take the case of the .Solicitor -^General, Sir Robert Garran. I have had a long experience of his work. I have now been connected with the Attorney-General’s Department for seven or eight years, and without wishing to reflect upon any one else, I say that Sir Robert Garran is a public servant whom the Commonwealth is very fortunate to have at its disposal. He attended, with my right honorable friend, Sir Joseph Cook, and myself, the Peace Conference in Paris, and Cabinet meetings in England; and I say that, comparing him with public servants in England, he comes out very well. He is so valuable to the Commonwealth that I have never been able to recommend him to a high position outside, as I certainly should have done if I could have got along without him. Yet we pay this gentleman a salary of £1,000 a year! During the war he received a special allowance of £200. Honorable members on both sides know Sir Robert Garran, and I say that he is easily the best draftsman I have met. In the drafting of the Peace Treaty, the best draftsman in England was assisted by my friend, Sir Robert Garran ; and I say that if I had to choose - and I have had some experience - I would choose Sir Robert. He is paid a salary of £1,000 a year and £200 special allowance. In all the circumstances, such a paltry salary is a reflection on the Commonwealth. If he left the Government service to-morrow, and started in practice on his own, he could make more than that in three months. I have, myself, made more money in six weeks by the practice of my profession than I can earn in my position as Prime Minister in as many months.
I turn from Sir Robert Garran to the secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. Shepherd. He is in charge of a great Department, whose activities stretch. out in many directions. He gets £750 a year, with a special, allowance of £100. I. say that that is. a grossly inadequate salary. I say nothing against ;any of my colleagues, but every one knows that the permanent head of the Treasury is a veritable Rock of Ages .to the Treasurer. This responsible officer, by whose advice the finances of this Commonwealth are largely guided, gets £1,000 a year, and a special allowance of £200. The Secretary to the Defence Department gets a salary of £900 a year and an allowance of £200 ; the Secretary to the Postmaster-General a salary of £1,000 a year and an allowance of £150; the Secretary to the Home and Territories Department a salary of £900 and no allowance, and the Secretary to the “Works and Railways Department a salary of £900 and no allowance. All these salaries are quite inadequate, and, indeed, in some instances paltry.
I wish honorable members to consider these matters. It is not in any sense a party matter, and I ask them to say whether they consider they are acting fairly by the permanent heads of the Public Service, whether they think the salaries paid to them are commensurate with the duties they have to perform, and compare favorably or at all with the salaries paid outside the Public Service.
– How about the attendant in this place who is paid only £2 15s. per week? Has the right honorable gentleman no time for him?
– I could go on talking for a month of Sundays upon the inadequacy of salaries paid ‘to Commonwealth officers, but I am now dealing with one particular matter. We are going to take over the control of another Empire in effect in the great islands that are given to us under the Mandate. We require men of first class capacity, and in order to secure them we must pay them first class salaries. If the salaries we offer are inadequate, good men worth having, unless they are animated, as are those to whom I have been alluding, by a desire to help the Commonwealth, will not offer us their services.
I ask honorable members to consider the whole circumstances of the amount of Ministerial remuneration. That I leave to them. I shall take an expression of the opinion of the Committee on the subject of travelling allowances, and as honorable members approve or disapprove I shall act upon the opinion they express. With regard to the salaries of permanent heads of Departments, since that lies within the ambit of Cabinet authority, I shall listen to what honorable members have to say in regard to that matter also.
.- There are a couple of matters to which I wish to refer during the short time at my disposal. With regard to the announcement that has just been made by the Prime Minister with reference to salaries, I have to say that some six weeks or two months ago I had occasion to speak of the salaries which were paid to attendants in and about the precincts of both Chambers of this Parliament. I then stated that the wages paid these men were down as low as £2 14s. per week. After two protests from myself and other honorable members, the Speaker promised that he would take early steps to see that better treatment was given to the attendants of this House.
– The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Joseph Cook) also promised to do something.
– It may be that he is going into the matter. We all are desirous of knowing what is to be done, and it is to be hoped that there will be an early declaration that the attendants here are to be paid at least the living wage, that is, £3 17s. 6d. per week.
I desire now to deal with the telephonic services of New South Wales. In that State, both in the cities and in the country, there is in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, a policy of economy gone mad, which is certainly not to the advantage of business, nor of the community generally. The Department has approved of a- telephone connexion between Dubbo and Merrygoen, but, in 1917, when I made representations regarding the line, I was told that the financial stringency of the time made it impossible to construct it, though . the line was needed. That was the first ex- cuse. A railway between the two places
I have mentioned connects the western and north-western railway systems of the State. It is not a local line, but serves very large and important areas. It is used largely to convey starving stock between the North- Western District and the Liverpool Plains and ‘ New England country, and a great deal of fodder is also carried over it, together with other freights. I was told by the exPostmasterGeneral who left the Department for the Department’s good - that if I would make application in May, 1918, the question would be reconsidered. I did so, and was then told that, owing to the scarcity of material, the line could not be constructed. I may term that answer excuse No. 2. In 1919, I made representations again. Altogether, probably no fewer than 100 letters, petitions, and other communications have been sent to the Department respecting this matter. But in December last, I was told that the line would not pay. That was excuse No. 3. I protested against the unsatisfactory nature of the replies which I had received from the Department, and complained of evasive answers to questions that I had submitted, but I was told by Mr. Webster that, owing to financial stringency, money was not available, that material could not be purchased, and that, in any case, the line would not pay, though previously, as T have said, the erection of the line was approved. I urge on the Government’ the immediate erection of this line. In droughts such as that from which the country has suffered during the past three unfortunate years, starving stock is sent in great numbers from Bourke, Brewarrina, Cobar, and other places’ throughout the western pastoral areas to the Liverpool Plains and North-west New England, and fodder is drawn ‘ in return from the wheat belt through which the railway passes. There is a telegraph line from Dubbo to Merrygoen, and stock agents and stock-owners can use the telegraph f or arranging agistment and the supply of fodder; but the telegraph alone is not sufficient in time of drought, . and until tele- phonic communication has been given between the places I have mentioned, the’ railway line which connects them cannot i be properly used. There are many . other telephone lines- the erection- of which has been refused because of. this mad economy that was instituted by Mr. Webster, and will, I hope, be discontinued by his successor (Mr. Wise). The present PostmasterGeneral has outlined a scheme of reform, but since then two applications for telephone lines have been turned down. Lines are needed to connect Gulargambone with Warrumbungle, Mendooran with Gilgandra, . Coonamble with Quambone, and Carinda with Quambone. All these connexions would be of great value, but because of the shortsightedness of the Department in not providing itself with necessary material, and, in a measure, I suppose, because of some fault of the Treasurer, they cannot be carried out. If the New South Wale3 telephone system is to be made even as efficient as it was six or seven years ago, many men and much money must be made available for increasing telephonic facilities in the State. In Sydney, as well as in the large towns and the smaller exchanges, a system of sweating was instituted by Mr. Webster. An attendant was dismissed here, a switchboard was done away with there.
– Is this quite generous to a fallen foe?
– I am not considering Mr. Webster as a fallen political opponent, but as the man who brought the telephonic, telegraphic, and mail services of New South Wales into chaos. His administration has brought about an acute state of disorganization there. He instigated a system of sweating such as should not be tolerated in Australia.
– Perhaps the Government is responsible.
– But Mr. Webster was first of all responsible. The sweating of which I complain is by no means confined to New South Wales ; it obtains throughout Australia. Although the business of the Postmaster-General’s Department increased by something like 46 per cent, between 1911 and 1918, the staff during that period was reduced’ by over 6,000 persons. That is nothing to boast about in view of the chaotic condition of .the services to-day. I am- an unfortunate user of one of the automatic exchanges in Sydney, and have been for from twenty minutes to half-an-hour at a time endeavouring to get that futility called an automatic telephone to make a connexion.
– An American told me the other day that our telephone system wa«? far ahead of his.
– Then God help America ! During the past two weeks I have manipulated my telephone apparatus no fewer than 230 times, and except on, I think, fifteen occasions, have failed to obtain a connexion. If one wishes to acquire a jagged’ temper and a copious vocabulary of strong language, he has only to subscribe to an automatic telephone exchange in New South Wales. The only part of the apparatus that seems to work is the meter, and it registers constantly. I am informed by a person in the Department that every now and again the meter jumps, and registers as many as two, and even half-a-dozen, calls at a time.
– Does it ever jump backwards ?
– Never. I have been told, too, by an officer of the Department that my 200 odd fruitless attempts to obtain connexion have been registered against me. If so, and I am called upon to pay for the service that I did not get, I shall put the Department to the trouble of taking the measures necessary to compel me to pay, and shall then call expert evidence which will prove to Australia, if not to the PostmasterGeneral, that the automatic system, if any good at all, is not understood by the Department.
– If the automatic system is worse than the ordinary system it is a “ corker.”
– The ordinary system is a Sunday school picnic compared with the automatic. When “ City North “ is connected with the automatic system, there will be a great demand for girl telephonists and boy messengers; the girls to stay at the automatic telephones all day, endeavouring to get them to work, and vainly endeavouring to obtain a connexion, while the messengers deliver the messages that should go over the line. The campaign of economy which has reduced the staff of the Department by approximately 6,000 during a time when the work has increased by 46 per cent, has brought about a system of sweating. I may instance the North Sydney Exchange, where before the war a staff of forty-six dealt with 1,916 subscribers, and which at present is controlled by a staff of twenty-eight, although there are 2,380 subscribers. The staff has been reduced by nearly 50 per cent., whilst the increase of subscribers has been approximately 40 per cent.
– And there has been no alteration in the system?
– No. The conditions at the North Sydney Exchange are similar to those of many other exchanges throughout New South Wales. The number of subscribers has increased rapidly, and the Department seems quite oblivious of the additional strain placed upon the women operators. The speeding-up system which has been introduced is not conduciveto satisfactory service, and is certainly not in the interests of the health of the women employed. Recently two American telephonists who came to Sydney were employed in the Sydney Exchange, and, notwithstanding that they came from the country where speedingup is so much in evidence, they left the work, as they could not stand the strain. The switchboards, which are black, with small holes and white figures, are illuminated with small lamps, and if an operator takes her eyes away from her board she is reported. A monitor supervises the work of every nine or ten operators, and if they do not answer promptly and civilly, or say anything contrary to the thousands of rules and regulations governing the system, they are reported. The monitors are also under the observation of an officer who supervises the work of both monitors and operators. The women work three and a half hours at a time, and are supposed to answer 180 calls per hour. Very rarely do they answer less than 200 per hour, while some answer up to 300 per hour. In consequence of the conditions under which they are compelled to carry out their work their nerves become shattered, and many of them become physical wrecks.
– Are not some of them marrying ?
– According to reliable medical authorities, any woman who remains in the Sydney Telephone Exchange for more than five years is not fit to become a mother of children.
– During the last two years a considerable number has married, and at times there have been as many as fourteen marriages per month.
– It is only natural that they should desire to marry, but if they should do so without having a complete change after leaving their work it is, according to medical opinion, undesirable.
– Would not the children of such marriages also be affected?
– Certainly, as the mothers’ nerves have been shattered owing to the conditions under which they worked. In addition to the supervision I have mentioned, there is a room from which observation officers are connected with the switchboard, so that they ascertain whether the operators are doing their work efficiently. Any complaints made by the “listeners” are recorded. There is also a chief observation officer, who supervises the observers, the monitors, and the operators. Owing to the scarcity of material, due largely to the shortsightedness of the postal officials, the position in New South Wales is very acute.
– Does the PostmasterGeneral care what happens in Sydney?
– I am not making any charge against the present PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise), but I trust that he will endeavour to alleviate the distressing circumstances which now exist at the Sydney Exchange. I hope the Postmaster-General will visit Sydney very shortly, so that he may see for himself what is actually occurring, instead of depending upon the reports of his officers. A full inquiry should be made into the working of the automatic system, as such an investigation would disclose either the futility of the system or would prove that it is not understood. I have proved that a subscriber can “ pull “ until he is black in the face without receiving any response. When I have complained to the mechanic I have been informed that my instrument is not at fault. I complained to the Deputy PostmasterGeneral the other day, and I fully expect to receive a reply to the effect that my telephone is in working order; but it is useless for an officer to give such areply when the instrument will not work. I trust the Postmaster-General will find an early opportunity of carefully considering the complaints that have been made regarding the Sydney Telephone Exchange.
– I have listened with interest to the complaints made by the last speaker concerning the inefficiency of the telephone service in New South Wales. I shall confine my remarks to what is being done by the Department under the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise), and shall not refer to the administration of Mr. Webster.
– Tell us what you did when you were Postmaster-General.
– The Minister cannot side-track me in that way. When I was Minister I was not compelled to listen to a chorus of complaints. I visited the various States in order to investigate what appeared to be important grievances, and did not concentrate my efforts on one particular spot in the Commonwealth. The Minister has not yet visited the various State capitals. It is easy for the Minister to smile and jeer in an impudent manner, but he will find that he cannot defy honorable members. Here is a letter, dated the 12th April, which I have received from the Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, regarding the office at Bibbenluke -
The allowance-postmaster at Bibbenluke (Mr. L. L. Thomas) having submitted his resignation unless paid at the rate of £156 per annum, it has been approved to pay him accordingly as a temporary measure for a period of one month as from to-day. As the allowance previously paid to the postmaster, viz., at the rate of £100 per annum, is not justified on the business transacted during the last financial year, subject to the review at the end of the current financial year (June, 1920), payment in excess of £100 per annum cannot be made after the expiration ofone month. Unless, therefore, a residence is available in which the office can be conducted, or the name of some suitable eligible person who is willing to conduct the office under the stipulated conditions and at the rate of payment prescribed by scale (£100 per annum) is submitted, the Bibbenluke office will be closed on the 10th May next. I shall be glad if you will kindly advise the residents accordingly.
Bibbenluke is an important little town in a district where at present 400 to 500 men are engaged on railway work, and the Deputy Postmaster-General has said that if an office cannot be provided under the stipulated conditions the post-office must be closed. That is the PostmasterGeneral’s idea of doing business.
– What was the honorable member’s idea of doing the same business?
– I advise the Minister not to trouble about what I ‘ did. I suffered in health for what I did. Consequently I am in the cold shades today, and I warn the Minister that that is where he also will be pretty soon if he does not lend an ear to and propose a remedy for shameful things such as this.
– I shall be quite satisfied if I survive as long a term as PostmasterGeneral as did the honorable member.
– What the Minister should aim at achieving is as good a record as mine. Here is a small country town. The allowance postmaster has to expend portion of his pay in finding an office for himself, and he is compelled to give the whole of his time to his postal duties. This man at Bibbenluke said, “ I can earn more than £100 rabbiting here, or working on the roads. I want £156 for this post-office work, and I am going to get it, otherwise I shall’chuck’ the job.” But the chief official, under the responsible control of the Postmaster-General, replied, in effect, “If you do not like to work for £100 a year you can go.” The Postal Department is quite prepared to close down the post-office in this important little town. The Postmaster-General, in effect, has said to me, . “ Unless you find a suitable office and a suitable person to conduct the postal work at £100 per annum, I will shut up the post-office at Bibbenluke.” All I can say is that I would not be true to my electors if I continued to support a Government which would either tolerate or accept responsibility for such a position; and I warn the PostmasterGeneral that my mission here, unless he alters his style of procedure, is to do all in my power to bring about his retirement in favour of another individual.
– Who will not do any better.
– At any rate, he would try to do so. The facts which I have just brought forward uncover a disgrace. I cannot understand the Postmaster-General, even by inference, indorsing it, or treating it, apparently, as a joke; neither can I accept. his suggestion that nothing better could be done by some one else. The PostmasterGeneral is responsible for this threat to close up the allowance post-office at Bibbenluke. It is of no use for him to climb the tower of the Melbourne General Post Office and imagine he can see the whole world spread out. There are other places beside Melbourne. I blame the Postmaster-General for inferentially indorsing this kind of thing. I am quite certain that the sagacious former Postmaster- General who now administers the Navy Department (Sir Joseph Cook) would not indorse such, a procedure. The least he would do would be to promise to take the matter into consideration. However, I do not propose to hold up Sir Joseph Cook as an example to . the present PostmasterGeneral, for the present Minister for the Navy is himself responsible for much of the trouble in the postal service. Today, of course, he would condemn acts such as I am now exposing, and he would tactfully promise to give favorable consideration to an alternative proposition. It is to this “ new chum “ in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department that I now address myself, and I sincerely trust he will alter his ways. This disgraceful case is, ‘ unfortunately, typical of the manner in which the Department is being conducted. I would suggest that the Minister institute an exchange of senior officers beween the various State head-quarters of the Postal Department. For example, let him send Mr. Bright and, say, twenty of his leading officials over to Sydney, and let him despatch Mr. Young and an equal number of Sydney officials to the Melbourne head-quarters; and let him make similar changes in regard to the other capital cities. In that manner, we would probably ascertain the causes of the trouble and muddle in the Department. Business people say to-day that the postal and telephonic services are pretty well demoralized, or, at least, in a very bad condition. In the postal service, unhappily, the worst kind of sweating exists. It seems that the Deparment, in certain instances, will not pay even the half of a living wage. For the reason that I have nothing but the kindest feelings for the Postmaster-General, I urgently suggest that he mend his ways, and take a. look around Australia. He must go to Sydney and Brisbane, and Adelaide, and the other chief cities. It is idle for him to imagine he can administer his huge Department from Melbourne; and it is idle for a former Postmaster-.General, sitting at the Ministerial table - I refer to the Minister for the Navy - to think that Government supporters will remain here like dumb sheep and fail to exercise their individual rights by way of protest. It is of no use to put the blame upon the departmental officials and telephone girls, who have a thankless and trying position. The heads of Departments are responsible, but the Minister is responsible for the heads. I invite him and them to do something. The commercial world is upset, and finds it more and more difficult to carry on. Is the Postmaster-General aware that quite a number of the small mail contractors in country districts are carrying on upon starvation rates, and that they are compelled to purchase their necessary fodder supplies at drought prices, which renders it impossible’ for them to continue at a profit, or even get a living? The late Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster) gave these contractors some little degree of relief, but they still receive starvation rates for the carriage of mails, ‘and they still ask the Government to consider that they are paying drought prices for horse feed. Cannot the Postmaster-General exercise common sense, and endeavour to bring about satisfactory results ? It is very easy for honorable members to sit in this chamber and attend to their business by telegraph and telephone and mail service. But what about the people in the backblocks,’ to whom the post or the telegraph or the telephone is the one source of connexion with civilization? I ask the Minister not to smile, nor to treat this matter lightly. Why should he laugh? It is no trifling subject. If he could hear the language which is used over the telephone he might be more impressed. I pity the unfortunate telephone girls if they have to listen to any of it. The language employed by disgusted subscribers reminds me of a story which the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) has related. He tells of a soldier who made use of some very wicked words;, whereupon his General Officer Commanding (General Ryrie) remonstrated, asonly a Monaro man can do. Accordingto the Assistant Minister for Defence-, the culprit afterwards summed up the reprimand by saying, “Blimey, I think it was a dead heat between us.’’ Knowing the Assistant Minister as I do, I feel bound to say that as the General in question happens to have been Sir Granville Ryrie, I would have been inclined to have a ticket on the General. However, I feel pretty sure that the language used by these military parties was nothing to that which is provoked among the commercial .community by the state of the postal and telephonic services; and I can quite appreciate and forgive the employment of such expressions. I do not blame the telephone girls for the trouble and muddle. Theirs is not the fault. The postal and telephonic services were never so bad as they are now, and in saying that I infer, of course, that the new Postmaster-General is not wholly responsible. He will be responsible, however, if he does not endeavour to make some change. At Randwick, where I reside, I am inclined to believe that we have the worst exchange in the country. It is certainly the worst I have used.
– I will back the automatic system against you.
– I wish to God I had the automatic service. It would be, at any rate, a change, and could not be worse. I appeal to the PostmasterGeneral not to defend cases such as I have just brought to light, and not to threaten me that these country postoffices will be closed if I cannot find suitable offices and satisfactory successors to men who scorn to carry on any longer at £100 per annum. Why should he threaten to deprive the whole of the people of a busy little country town merely because one of his employees refuses any longer to be sweated ? The Postmaster-General will perhaps realize, when he has travelled outside Melbourne, that the Postal Department is a great factor in the lives of the people. While Ministers may laugh and treat the matter as a joke to-day, I warn them that election time is never so very far off, and that at the next elections they may have some very hard questions to answer. I again urge the PostmasterGeneral to come over to Sydney. We will welcome him there. We are inclined to like him. Melbourne is not the only pebble on the beach. A Minister has no right to stick here and imagine he knows the whole of Australia. I will not put up with letters like this, and I do not believe that country members, or indeed’ any honorable member, in this House will tolerate such things. The Department is in a state of awful muddle. If the Postmaster-General wants more money, he will, if he is worth his salt as an administrator, demand it of the Treasury, and the Treasury, if it knows its business, will give him more money. If the Government cannot find money to carry on the postal service, then what is money intended for? «Mr. Riley. - The Treasurer is as much to blame as the Postmaster-General for the muddle to-day.
– I warn the Minister that if he closes the postoffice at Bibbenluke, I will close something here. That is “ fair dinkum “ notice, because, after all, it is idle to suggest that a man can carry on at £100 a year, providing premises, and put in his full time earning it.
– After a threat like that, Bibbenluke should’ consider its difficulties settled
– Everybody else in this House has about half-a-dozen matters of the same kind to complain about.
– Then it will be shameful if they do not protest, and the Minister should be booted out of office if he tries to close a country postoffice for the mere reason that he cannot get another man to carry on at a sweated rate. I hope he was joking when he said there are dozens of such cases as that of Bibbenluke. If honorable members have dozens of like complaints, they should be censured if they fail to raise considerable trouble in the effort to bring about a better state of affairs. They should not lose any opportunity, either by forcing divisions or by other means, to bring home to the Government an appreciation of the seriousness of the position in the Postmaster-General’s Department.
Sitting suspended from 6.29 to 8 p.m.
.- No Department touches the social well-being of the community more nearly than does the Postal Department. Every ramification of our civilization is the subject of communications by medium of telephones and telegrams, and in the case of the medical profession and the fire brigade calls must be made hurriedly, and at- bended to promptly, or they are not effective. There is very little doubt that the Government have not given this portion of the service the consideration which its importance demands. From its very inception, under both State and Federal control, the practice of the Government seems to have been to select the weakest man in the Ministerial team to occupy the position of Postmaster-General. Unfortunately, many of the Ministers who have controlled the Post and Telegraph Department have had very little experience outside of some commercial pursuit or other. They have had no mechanical training, and do not understand the ramifications and necessities of the Department. They have, therefore, not taken in it that lively interest which would be taken by a Ministerial head who was more qualified to appreciate its importance. I have no desire to reflect on the late PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Webster), but there is little doubt that he was very vain, and that his vanity was of such a character that it often left him without any discretion whatever. He had but one idea in his control of the Department, and that was to make it pay. The records of the British Postal Department show that for many years it was run at a great loss. It is only of late years that it has shown a credit balance of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 on its undertakings, but there is no analogy between it and the Post and Telegraph Department of the Commonwealth. Australia is a new country, and its telegraphic and telephonic communications extend over vast distances, thus causing greater expenditure to earn revenue than is the case in an older and more closely settled country like Great Britain. I am firmly of the opinion that the policy of the late PostmasterGeneral was an error, and did great injustice to the people of the Commonwealth. On looking through his annual report, it seems to me’ that he was absolutely infatuated with the idea of making his Department pay, because every branch was made by him to show a profit, although the means by which he secured that profit would not meet with the approbation of the people of Australia. In some cases he starved the Department so far as labour was concerned, and’ in others, instead of using the profit that was accruing to purchase materials required by the Department to give the people better service, he took great pleasure in saving it, so that he could stand up in this House and congratulate himself on “making the Department pay.” Nobody else was pleased with the result. I am sure that no other member of the Government was pleased, and that no other member of the House was satisfied, to see the Department starved. Some people seem to have the idea that the Department exists simply for them to cast slurs at, and make aspersions on, which are utterly at variance with the truth. As part of my responsibilities as a representative of the people in this Chamber, it has been to me both a duty and’ a pleasure to go through the various post-offices in and around Sydney, and more particularly the General Post Office, of which I saw the first stone laid in 1875. The chambers of commerce of Australia recently held their annual Inter-State conference in Sydney. Some of the delegates admitted that the Post and Telegraph Department could be run in such a manner as to meet the approbation of the commercial people, whose interests they are so keen in looking after. Other gentlemen seem to make it an annual practice to go to that conference and condemn every officer in the Department, from top to bottom. The Deputy PostmasterGeneral in New South Wales and the Deputy Postmaster-General of Victoria are as honorable and energetic public servants as can be found in any part of the world. They are quite the equal of any officer in any of the State services, and to abuse them is not the way to solve the question. To show that the Postal Department can be run satisfactorily, I quote the following report of remarks by Mr. A. Betts, of the Goulburn Chamber of Commerce, who has attended a great many of the annual chamber of commerce conferences -
The conference carried a resolution by Mr. A. M. Betts (Goulburn chamber) approving of every effort to reduce expenditure in any branches of the Public Service, but regretting that, in the postal and telegraphic services, efforts to attain that object had resulted in serious inconvenience; and urging that steps be taken to restore the service in all its branches to the state of efficiency that existed before the war.
That was in 1913. Honorable members have often heard me remark that the only national Parliament and Government that was any good to Australia was the one that existed from 1910 to 1913, and that opinion is emphatically indorsed by Mr. Betts’s remarks, because it is evident that the service given in 1913 by the Department was efficient. Mr. Paxton, another gentleman who attended the conference, has for a number of years taken a delight in vilifying the officers of the Department, but that is no way to get over the difficulties, and certainly is not the proper way to treat those public servants who are anxious to serve the Department and the country and to build up a telegraphic and telephonic service that will meet with the approbation of the people. There is one thing which I should like to point out to my friends the farmers. There are members sitting on this side of the Chamber who- are real, farmers, while on the other side we have wealthy squatters who run the farmers, and others, with offices and brass plates in town, who set themselves up as farmers’ representatives. I draw the attention of those gentlemen, and of the real farmers on this side, to the fact that many of the complaints which the farmers make about the telegraphic service are due to the fact that when the telegrams reach the city there is no one available to deliver them. I am assured that for the last fortnight in Sydney telegrams have been’ lying in the General Post Office in basketsful and the officers of the Department have had nobody to send out with them. They have asked for extra labour, and it has not been furnished. They cannot get boys to do the work; but even if the Government had to get returned soldiers and employ them as telegraph messengers that would be better than leaving important messages undelivered. In the city of Sydney and suburbs to-day there are 2,500 unsatisfied applications for telephones, some dating back six or seven months. In some cases the telephone wires are only 15 feet or 16 feet distant from the place where the telephone has to be put, and yet nothing is done. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) referred to the telephone girls. I have taken it upon myself to interview these girls, and I assure the Committee that many of them are absolutely run down in health. They are not mentally in a condition to serve the public properly. It appears that when the war broke out the late PostmasterGeneral asked the employees of the Department to assist him in overcoming the difficulty caused by the shortage of hands through the number of employees who went away on active service. The girls responded to that appeal in a very noble manner. The regulation says that they’ are to attend to 180 calls per hour, but I am assured that last week, while so many people were enjoying themselves in the beautiful city of Sydney, girls attended to as many as 360 calls in the hour. I saw last week one girl who withstood that strain for two hours, and my opinion is that she ought to be given a long rest to recover. No one in the community wants the employees of the Department to be subjected to slavery of that . kind. I have some knowledge of electrical instruments, and I am convinced that the trouble arises through our not having anybody who takes a real interest in the work of the Department. All the material necessary to carry on the operations of a telephone exchange can be produced in Australia. If there are in-‘ sufficient switchboards, it is useless to employ 100 girls in an exchange. Not more than one girl can work at one switchboard at a time. Switchboards can be made in Australia, yet no attempt is made to do so. The trouble is that the Post and Telegraph Department submitted an application to the Treasurer for £600,000 to be spent in providing the material necessary to carry on the telephone service, and after waiting for three or four months received an intimation that the sum of £300,000 had been paid to the credit of the Postmaster-General. But the demands of the office speedily absorbed by commitments £250,000, leaving him hardly anything to carry on with. It is quite useless for the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) to go to Sydney, and walk through the Department there with the officials, and say that they are very nice fellows. Let me take him through the central telephone exchange, and I will show him how the work of each girl at a switchboard has been considerably increased. This difficulty could be easily overcome. We have sufficient Queensland maple, a very good wood for the purpose; porous cells and telephone instruments and glass jars could easily be manufactured here. We have zinc in abundance. If the Government were prepared to take action the necessary brass work could be turned out at the Randwick wireless works, or by private firms in Sydney. The whole thing could be undertaken as the people of Australia want it to be carried out, but it is useless for the Department to attempt anything without the assistance of the Treasurer, and he will not supply the necessary funds.’ We ought not to blackguard the officers of the Department. Blame should be placed on the right shoulders, on the shoulders of those occupying the Ministerial bench. It is time we had men in office who are more than chair warmers. I have not seen a live Minister since this Parliament commenced. If the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) leaves the chamber, there is no one here to answer questions. No effort is made to refute the charges that are repeatedly made against the Government. It was different in 1910 and 1913. In those years, the people were able to get something, as the business men of Sydney admit.
We have had an Economies Commission reporting -on the Post and Telegraph Department. Nobody knows how it was appointed, and the various heads of the Department have not seen the Commissioners. The only recommendation! we have received from them applies to people in country districts who have, unfortunately, suffered from the drought, and, having nothing to do but meditate upon their miseries, have curtailed their correspondence from,’ say, fifty to sixty letters a week to half that number. These bold Commissioners have said, “ We shall add to your miseries. Instead, of having a mail twice a week, we consider that once a week is good enough to allow you to correspond with your friends, and detail to them all your miseries.” It is a scandal the people of Australia will not put up with. If people in country districts are not prepared to pay an extra Is., or whatever the charge may be for the delivery of a telegram, the messages received by the Department for delivery to them are thrown into a big basket in the nearest’ post-office, the Department accepting no further responsibility for them, praying to God that somebody may come along and deliver them. These are facts I am giving. I do not ask any one else about them. I know them for myself. I know a switchboard from a wheelbarrow. I could make a telephone communication box if necessary, but there seems to be an inherited ‘ idea in the Department that Australia can produce nothing for herself. That is the curse from which we are suffering. No one in responsibility will rise to sufficient heights to say, “ If these instruments cannot be got from abroad, we shall make them ourselves.” Bad as the telephone system is at present, it will be worse. I was speaking to an officer the other day, and he mentioned patent rights. I said “ Patent rights be damned. If the people of Australia want things, and patent rights prevent them, the Government are justified in making use of them in the interests of the people.” Something must be done to make the telephone service what it was, even in 1913, when a Labour Government ruled this country, and so much was done for the benefit of the people. I am not a phenomenon. I am simply an individual with a lot of common sense, and a long experience of mechanical appliances. I have always been of a studious nature. If I saw anything that I did not understand, I would go to the man who did understand, and get a grasp of it. My memory has always been good. I could do to-day what I did when, as a boy, I assisted my father to fix up the first electric appliances in St. James-square. I could make the appliances of which the Department is short to-day. All these things can be made in Australia.
A Sydney firm in February of 1918 wrote to the Telephone Department asking to be connected with the automatic telephone system. The Department - replied that, as the automatic system would extend from Bang-street north, and would soon be put in operation, it would be advisable for the firm to fit up their establishment with the automatic system, and pay a cheque of, approximately, £460 10s. as a first instalment. It intimated also, that they would very likely be required to pay a second cheque of £266 ls. 5d. more, because the actual cost could not be estimated. In accordance with that notification, the firm spent its money in fitting up its establishment in readiness for the automatic system, fully expecting to be connected at a later date with the automatic exchange when it began to operate; but ultimately they were informed they could not be connected “with that exchange, because its range would not come within some distance of their premises. The firm had been prepared for two years, only to be met with this rebuff. That is not the way in which the Government should carry on a Department. Let it be borne in mind that the annual number of calls the firm has in the year is 70,000, of which number of calls the switchboard in the central office would have been relieved by connecting this establishment with the automatic exchange: and the greatest trouble in a telephone exchange is at the switchboard. The central telephone exchange would also be relieved of the necessity of attending to all the calls of the firm’s customers.
Extension of time granted, on motion of Mr. Austin Chapman.
– My sympathies are entirely with rural residents. I have been in portions of Australia where settlers are separated from each other by distances of from 10 to 20 miles. It is not right that their isolation should be continued. I do hope that something will be done to remove the bitter feeling which has been engendered amongst country residents consequent upon the maladministration of the Post and Telegraph Department. The blame for the starvation of that Department rests primarily on the Treasurer, whose duty it was to provide the money that was necessary for its maintenance in a high state of efficiency. We could find money for a pension to the late Chief Justice of the High Court, why can we not find it for urgently-needed extensions of telephonic and telegraphic services in country districts?
I had intended to say something about the annual report of the PostmasterGeneral, but I shall refrain from doing so on the present occasion beyond affirming that ‘that document ought to be summarily burnt. Quite recently members of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce had something to say in regard to our postal administration. One gentleman said that the service provided in 1913 was a good one. Mr. J. M. Paxton, who is a general growler, stated that the condition of affairs in Sydney at the present time was worse than that which existed in any country district or in any other State of the Commonwealth. Yet the general consensus of opinion is that under proper administration the Department, whilst providing liberal facilities for country residents, can still be made a remunerative one. Under existing conditions it often happens that a man who despatches a wire to a person in another State advising him of his intended departure for that State arrives at his destination prior to the delivery of his message. This happened in my own case quite recently. I hope that the Postmaster-General will initiate reforms of the character I have indicated, and thus prove himself to be an active Minister, and not merely a chairwarmer.
.- So far as these Estimates are concerned they really represent so much spilled milk. Supply was voted from time to time during the last Parliament, and nearly all the money has been spent, so that there is not much practical good to be derived from closing the door after the steed has gone. The present occasion, however, affords us an opportunity to ventilate some real grievances, and to express the hope that the Estimates for the next financial year will be submitted for our consideration at a very much earlier stage than have these Estimates.
During this debate reference has been made to many works, works upon which money could be profitably expended. I allude to undertakings of a reproductive character, which would assist in the development of the Commonwealth. The absence of shipping facilities has already been touched upon. The outlying portions of Australia have been seriously handicapped by reason of the absence of these facilities. Tasmania and Queensland are complaining bitterly in this connexion, and Western Australia occupies a still more grievous position. Upon the Fremantle wharf to-day there are more than 5,000 tons of chaff which the eastern States require. But there are no ships by which it can be brought here, and yet nobody seems to exhibit anxiety on that account. It is true that we have a Commonwealth fleet of vessels trading on the high seas. Notwithstanding the money they are earning in that trade, I do not know whether it is a wise policy to utilize them in the way they are being utilized, especially in view of the fact that at present we are quite unable to get the hard-won produce of our people to market. The position is exceedingly disheartening. In Western Australia there are thousands and thousands of cases of fruit which cannot be shipped for the same reason. These things may appear to be of secondary importance to some honorable members, but I do hope that all political parties in this House will unite in an endeavour to co-ordinate and advance the best interests of Australia as *a whole.
I recognise that a degree of parochialism is being exhibited by certain newspapers in the different capitals which try to belittle States like “Western Australia. I am sure that honorable members, no matter on what side of the House they sit, will be proud to learn that Western Australia this year has played her part by producing more wheat than has any other State of the Commonwealth. It is by these individual State efforts that we make the Commonwealth strong, and I am sorry to read the narrow parochial sentiments at times expressed by some of the leading journals of Australia.
Reference has been made to the higher freights and fares that are to apply to our coastal steamers now that they have passed from the control of the Government. I was rather pleased to hear the remarks made on this subject by the Leader of tho Opposition (Mr. Tudor), and the reply by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). We had definite evidence that increased rates were now applying, and also tho reason for them. It seems to me that whilst the public are paying these increased charges, the higher cost of living and increased wages have to some extent necessitated them. I dare say that method will go on until wo learn something of that beautiful spirit of cohesion and understanding as between parties to which the Prime Minister referred. I am quite satisfied that honorable members of the extreme Opposition will realize, as I do, that by departing from the honoured principle of eight hours’ labour a day, and adopting a forty-four hours, or worse still, a forty hours week, the workers of Australia are making a great mistake. This is not the time to bring such a policy into effect, and when people do so they cannot complain of the higher cost of freights or anything else. It is well that we should clearly understand each other. If ever there was a time in the history of Australia when we should all pull together - when we should all work eight hours a day, and work as well as we can during that time - it is now, when Australia has upon her a great burden of debt. It is utter hypocrisy to speak of the high cost of living and at the same time to waste - for it is a wastage - four hours per week. A reduction of four hours per week in the working hours of Australia, calculated at ls. 3d. per hour, means a loss of over £16,000,000 per annum. That is the value thus thrown to the winds-.
– But employment cannot now be found for all who are here.
– And by such a policy employment will be found for still less, since under it Australia cannot compete with other parts of the word.
– The conditions of our citizens should be the first consideration.
– Honorable members, no matter on which side of the House they sit, will best consider the interests of the citizens by advocating honest toil.
Much has been said during this debate on the question of postal facilities. I have been bending my energies since I entered this House to the securing of increased postal facilities, but so far nothing whatever has been done by the Department for the rural population of the State of which I am a representative. I have received to-day from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department two communications similar to those which have been referred to by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman). I do not know to what extent they concern me. It is evidently intended that I shall shortly be Postmaster-General. I have received letters from the Department concerning matters on which I have not communicated with it. I presume these letters are sent as matters of courtesy. In the first of them, the Deputy Postmaster-General of Western Australia writes -
Sir, - I beg to inform you .that Mrs. C. Connelly, the mail receiver at No Man’s Lake, has tendered her resignation, and ceased duty as from the 26th March last. Endeavours nave been made to obtain a suitable person to take over the office, but without success, and in the circumstances it has been found necessary to close the office until such time as a successor may be found.
In accordance with the usual procedure in such cases, I shall be glad if you will kindly inform those interested in the matter, in order that a suitable person may be nominated to carry out the duties under the prescribed conditions, as otherwise it will not be possible to continue the present facilities.
Is it my duty to inform the people of Western Australia of any delinquency or otherwise on the part of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department? The persons interested in this particular case are doubtless already aware of the facts, if the post-office has been of any use to them. I have another letter of a similar nature, but will not weary the Committee by reading it.
– These letters are sent to honorable members as a matter of courtesy.
– I have admitted that; but it does not meet the case. It is absolutely necessary that the people of the outback country should enjoy reasonable postal facilities if they are to remain there. There are too few people in the backblocks to-day, and it is the bounden duty of the Department to exercise itself to the fullest extent in the giving of proper facilities. I have had communication after communication from the Deputy Postmaster-General of Western Australia, as well as from the PostmasterGeneral, and in every one of them it is said that since the Commonwealth is not at the high-water mark of finance, the guarantee system must apply. If we do not in some way or other encourage settlement in the rural parts of Australia, how can we expect people to remain there? How can we expect the great stream of Population to the centralized parts of the Commonwealth to be discontinued? When the Government state that they are going to offer greater facilities to residents of country districts and at the same time turn down practically every application, they do not seem to me to show much evidence of sincerity. I hope that the new regulations will enable the Minister to give some facilities to those who so sadly need them. If a postmistress retired from the management of an office in one of our chief centres, what policy would the Department pursue? The position could be easily filled, and I do not think the Department would wait for nominations from those willing to supply the need. Here there are four or five deliveries per day, as against one per week or one every fortnight in some country districts. People cannot be expected to live in these remote parts unless they have greater facilities than are afforded them to-day. The Department shows a profit of over £500,000 on what should be only a service to the community.
– How many of these offices are being closed in the electorate of Gippsland?
– A great many; the same rule applies all over Australia.
– I had intended to. say, when dealing with the question of shipping freights, that the East- West railway, built at such tremendous and extravagant cost, could be better utilized than at- present. Nowadays one has to apply for a seat in the Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie express about three weeks in advance. Obviously, if additional rolling stock were supplied the line would go nearer meeting the expenses incurred in connexion with it. Such a policy would also bring about a little healthy competition with the shipping companies trading on the coast, and would have a salutary effect in the matter of fares. I hope that some consideration will be given to the running of a better service on the transcontinental line than exists to-day.
It may be the intention of the Committee now to consider in detail the Estimates before us. In my view, it would be useless to do so, since they relate to a financial year which has almost expired. If the Government has an. eye definitely fixed upon the work of the Economies Commission - if it is taking the fullest advantage of the knowledge and information which that Commission is supplying - I think that the best , service that this House could render would be to carefully consider the Estimates for the next financial year when they are brought down. I hope they will be introduced early in the financial year, and that we shall deal with them in the light of the report of the Economies Commission.
There are many other matters of greater importance in the circumstances which we are notified have to be considered. A reasonable recess will, I hope, be allowed on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales to Australia. If we are to consider the Tariff - and I understand that it is estimated to occupy our attention for about nine months - the sooner we enter upon the work the better, because there are items in the schedule which, in many respects, are more likely to retard than to make for, the progress of Australia.
– I was very sorry to hear the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) interject while the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) was speaking that in his own. electorate the reduction of postal facilities was being continued. I was under the impression that the policy of the Government to-day was to restore some of the facilities taken away during the last twoor three years, and that the system of cutting off supplies throughout the country districts had come to an end. .
– I made that interjection in answer to a statement made by the honorable member for Swan that offices had been closed where no one could be obtained to carry them on.
– That qualification gives me a little relief. The Postal Service is the greatest sweating institution that we have in. Australia today. There is hardly an official, not on the Civil Service list, in country districts who is paid a decent wage for the work he does for the Department.
– Ten shillings per week in some cases.
– I do not know what the position is in the case mentioned by the honorable member, but in most instances people are asked to give a good deal of their time to the service of the Department in return for very little money. There are not many people anxious to take up that sort of work at the price offered by the Department.
We constantly hear of the increased cost of living, and it certainly is a living fact that has to be met. It is not to be got over, however, by denouncing the profiteers, as if nothing more remained to be done. The problem before us is not nearly so easy of solution. Throughout the world, as the result of the great war, the position of the working classes, who have been manufacturing for the Australian market, has been improved. They are better paid to-day than they were before the war. No one wants them to go back to the sweating conditions of prewar times, and even if any one did, they would not. Social unrest is not confined to any one country. It is world-wide. It represents the demand of the workers, who have been underpaid and sweated in the past, for a fairer deal in the days be fore them. We cannot look for any considerable decrease in the price of many commodities that come to Australia from other lands, because to-day the wages paid in Australia, which used to be higher than in other parts of the world, are in some cases lower than those paid for similar work in other countries. We have to look at a new industrial world, in which the cost of production is higher than it was before the war, and in which it will continue to be higher.’ Despite these facts, we hear honorable members of the Corner party - I do not know if the honorable member for Swan is one of them - talking about the enormous economies that ought to be effected in the expenditure of the Commonwealth. The Estimates are now before them, and it is the duty of these honorable members to point to the items of expenditure which they think should be curtailed. They are quite prepared to reduce expenditure in other electorates, but when it is a matter of increased postal or shipping facilities for Western Australia, or extending a railway service across the continent, hundreds of thousand’s of pounds are needed. What applies to Western Australia applies to the whole Commonwealth. If we require that the Post Office shall be made thoroughly efficient, we must realize that the expenditure to which we have been accustomed is quite inadequate.
In Melbourne we are in the unfortunate position of being sojourners in other people’s houses, and are under the influence of the Victorian press - the most narrow-minded, short-sighted, niggardly, and un-Australian press in Australia ; a press that thinks it is doing a service to the Commonwealth by devoting its space to the preaching of miserable economies in the little things, while neglecting entirely the need for the development of the greater things to which this Parliament ought to be directing its attention. I have not had an opportunity of seeing how much money is going to be spent upon the Federal Capital, but I hope that a determined effort will be made to get away from the conditions that surround us here, into a Federal atmosphere in which members will develop an Australian outlook, and come to understand that in their legislative capacity they are not residents of one State only, but are citizens of Australia. We have inherited the narrow financial outlook of the first Treasurer. That has been continued all along the line, as though the cutting off of something essential to the progress of the country was effecting true economy. Any one who peers into the future must come to the conclusion that the withholding of money at this particular time will do an injury to the Commonwealth. This country is crying out for development on every hand, but the suggestion that this development is to be achieved by the workers submitting to terms and conditions of employment not acceptable to them should receive no indorsement in this House.
– Long hours, for instance?
-The gentlemen who hold those views will have to abandon them, for the workers will not accept them. We have to realize that Australia is one of the most advanced nations in the world to-day, and that the people here are living under better conditions than are enjoyed in any other country. At the same time we must bear in mind that modern industrial conditions are such that no man would care to be obliged to follow some occupations for even forty hours a week. If those who condemn men because they desire shorter hours had themselves to work even the forty-hour week in such occupations, they would quickly change their view-point. Imagine the case of a boy I have in mind in Goulburn, apprenticed to the business of fixing heels to shoes. His services were obtained as an apprentice at a cheaper rate, and his particular job was just to feed into a machine pieces of leather, or paper, or whatever the material was that went into a boot heel. The machine fixed the heel to the shoe. Put a man on to that job for forty-eight hours, and see whether he would not change his opinion as to whether the hours were too long or not. I do not think that the gentlemen who turn their attention to this” phase of industrialism are doing their best to understand’ the industrial conditions of the people.
What Australia wants is more production, and in order to achieve this end it is necessary that those who control our industries should introduce more scientific management. One can see signs of waste on every hand, and if we are to advance with the rest of the world, and hold our own, we must do so at a much accelerated pace, which is possible only by the introduction of more scientific control of our various industries. We should regard the development of this country as an investment. Money spent by the Commonwealth Government say, in railway construction to Western Australia, or in increased shipping facilities, or in extending our postal service’s to the more remote country districts, is really foundational work upon which the development of this country must rest. In this way only can we expect to substantially increase our population. I do not give my adhesion to any policy of false economy, which, in effect, means the withholding of money essential to the development and progress of the Commonwealth .
To-day the. Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) mentioned the position of the men who are doing our most important departmental work. Take the case of the Under Treasurer, a gentleman upon whose shoulders rests the entire financial burden of the Commonwealth. Every institution of this country would be affected by any mistake made by him due, it may be, to lack of ability, inexperience, or faulty advice, which might cost the Government hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds. He is called upon at times to discuss most important financial matters with the representatives of great financial institutions, and at such gatherings he meets men like the manager of the Bank of New South Wales, who draws a salary of £5,000 a year; and the managers of other financial institutions, none of whom is paid less than three times as much as he gets from the Commonwealth. Yet he has to arbitrate between them, and hold the scales evenly between all parties. The marvel is that the Government are able to command the services of such able men as are to be found in the Commonwealth Public Service in view of the fact that the man who “ runs “ a particular brand of chewing gum gets about five times as much salary as our Under Treasurer. We cannot expect men to continue for ever rendering faithful service from purely patriotic motives. I am entirely in sympathy with the suggestion of .the Prime Minister that salaries should be improved, but it is the duty of the Government to submit some concrete proposal. The opportunity has been theirs for years, but so far nothing has been done. I believe in paying mem adequately for the work they do, “because the future of the Commonwealth depends entirely upon the efficient administration of our great public Departments. The Prime Minister rightly said that the burden of government is immensely greater than it was at the inauguration of the Commonwealth. We ought to realize this, and see that at the right hand of every Minister there are men competent in every respect to advise Ministers upon the various details of administration.
I hope we shall soon have some enlightened policy with regard to the Postal Department, particularly. We want, I think, at least another’ £1,000,000 or £1,500,000 to be made available for expenditure in order to render it thoroughly efficient. Every year that this niggardly policy of denial is pursued means an accumulation of the difficulties that will confront the man who eventually must attempt to place the Department on a satisfactory footing.
– Why is not the money made available out of the surplus?
– The responsibility for that rests upon this Parliament. I do not believe in the policy of expecting the Postal Department to show a surplus. That is one of the things which we cannot defend. The payment into the general revenue of a surplus earned by the Postal Department is entirely repugnant to my idea of the Public Service, and I do not think it should be continued. We cannot expect the postal services in remote country districts to be revenue producing. If we do, then we should be prepared for heavier charges upon some of our metropolitan services.
With regard to the telephone service, I believe that very many of the big commercial concerns do not give it a fair chance, and one of the worst offenders in this respect is our own Cockatoo Island Dockyard. Any honorable member who has had occasion to ring up the dock must consider himself fortunate if he secures connexion in anything like a reasonable time. Apparently, the telephone at that great institution is in charge of a boy. Any one who has had experience of business management mUst realize that the telephone service is one of the most important departments, and therefore it should be in charge of . competent attendants, who should always be on duty. Another great offender in New South Wales is the Railway Department. On occasions, it has taken me half-an-hour to raise the railway exchange in Sydney, owing entirely to the fact that it is not efficiently controlled. Business firms who have placed girls trained in the telephone department in charge of their telephonic services find that most causes of complaint have disappeared. No one can expect a regular and continuous service to be maintained without a competent staff adequately paid for the work. With regard to materials, I sympathize with the PostmasterGeneral, but like the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West), I doubt if a determined effort has been made to get materials in Australia, and I trust that the new Postmaster-General will continue his investigations in regard to this matter.
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) referred to the question of travelling expenses for Ministers, and asked honorable members to express their opinions thereon. The statement of the right honorable gentleman indicates that the spirit of industrial unrest has extended even to Ministers of the Crown. I intend to have the courage of my opinions by stating outright that I am opposed to Ministers taking upon themselves the right to draw travelling allowances varying from £2 per day for the Prime Minister to £1 10s. for other Ministers. I can conceive of only two grounds upon which such a claim can be made, firstly, that Ministers are underpaid, and therefore it is absolutely necessary to increase their remuneration ; and, secondly, that if we do not agree to pay them the increase it will be impossible to place in their position anybody as capable. Nobody will argue that a Minister who is receiving between £4 and £5 per day is in such necessitous circumstances that he must have a travelling allowance of from £1 10s. to £2 per day.
– If he travels on public business, should he not have his out-of-pocket expenses recouped?
– Every man who accepts a Ministerial position does so with a full knowledge of the obligations of his office.
– That argument might be applied to every man who asked for an increase in salary.
– The difference is that, whereas Ministers seem to intend to take this extra allowance, other employees have to ask for it from somebody else. There are men employed in this House who are receiving no more per week than Ministers are receiving per day. Some are receiving not more than £3 per week, and before the wrongs of the lower-paid servants of’ Parliament are righted Ministers of the Crown have the brazen effrontery to request an increase in their emoluments. Knowing the conditions of employment of some of the servants of Parliament, and of postmen and other public officers, I am disgusted by the claim- that. Ministers are making.
– Those other officers knew what the job was when they accepted it.
– Yes, but if they think that they are entitled to an increase in pay, and dare to put their hands into the public coffers, they will be charged with robbery. But because Ministers are on a higher level of public employment they are to be permitted to do this act. I am disgusted that the Prime Minister should make this plea on behalf of Ministers when he knows the conditions of the so-called lower’ strata of the Public Service. No doubt those Ministers who were recently in Europe on public business drew travelling expenses for the whole of the time, including the period for which they were guests of the British Government. It is useless for us to pretend to the public that we who are members of this Parliament are underpaid. The salary is not the only return which Ministers and members receive for their services; there is the social prestige which attaches to big public positions. It is unnecessary to pay this increase -to Ministers, because if they will not do the work for the present rate of pay, others equally as good will be found. The payment is not justified by the pecuniary circumstances of Ministers. Further, the proposal is unjust at this time, when so many members of the Public Service, are underpaid. The claims made by members on this side on behalf of the lower paid members of the Public Service have been greeted almost with smiles of derision by honorable members opposite. Yet the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) mentioned- tonight the underpayment of a postal official, and the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector- Lamond) said that the majority of civil servants in the lower strata were not receiving a decent wage.
– That is not what I said.
– That, in effect, is what the honorable member said. My third objection to the proposal made by the Prime Minister is that it is unwise. Whydo we enter Parliament? Is it for what we can get out of the position? Are we here merely for the sake of the £600 per annum? 1 hope that is not true of any of us. Whilst the salary of £600 is very accentable to me, I entered this House with other motives. Surely some room is1 to be allowed for the play of patriotism, even on the part of Ministers of the Crown. The late Honorable Tom Price, of South Australia, said to a Methodist minister on one occasion, “I consider that, as a member of the Cabinet, I have as much a call from the Almighty for public service as you have in your ministry.” Is there to be no scope for true patriotism j even by Ministers ‘ who have said so much about patriotism, and have won their return, to the Treasury bench1 by almost prostituting that word ? I am’ sure that some of the Ministers are patriotic enough to do their public duties, even at some sacrifice of monetary advantage. We should’, have regard to the position we occupy as trustees for the community; on the hustings we promised to do our best for the welfare of the constituency, the State, and the Commonwealth. Another reason why I consider the proposed payments unwise is that it offers encouragement to direct action. If Ministers, because they think they are entitled to some extra remuneration, ‘take the amount from the Treasury, in what respect are they different from the marine engineers, except that the latter caused a good deal of inconvenience to the general public? In each case, it is a resort to direct action.
– Does the honorable member say that direct’ action is unwise ?
– I am not prepared to answer, at this stage, whether or not direct action in the industrial sphere is unwise; but the honorable member, by his support of the Government in this matter, indicates his belief that direct action is wise. The Government are merely saying to the direct-actionists, “ We are applying direct action in our own case; if you do the same, we cannot blame you. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” This proposal is another manifestation of the spirit of grab-all. It is evident in many forms, from profiteering to the excessive demands made on the public Treasury, referred to by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse). That spirit, wherever it is found, is an unhealthy sign. It is the duty of the Ministry, instead of seeking to grab moire for themselves whenever the opportunity offers, to set to the community an example of self-sacrifice. Their proposal is a discouragement of political action. I am a firm believer in political action, and I should be sorry to see in Australia a resort to any other method. I am jealous of the prestige of our political institutions, but I am afraid that if this example; of “ grab “ is set by the Ministry, it will extend further, and. by undermining the faith of the general public in this portion of the political machine, will do a great deal of harm. Another objection that I have is to the way in - which the proposal has been introduced, coupled, as it is, with a request for increases of salary to heads ‘of public Departments. I may be ungenerous in thinking that this is a matter of “ one for you and one for us “ ; but I have an idea that the proposal for an increase in Ministers’ travelling allowances is linked up with an underlying understanding for an increase to private members afterwards.
– I hope it is so.
– I hope it is not so; but I notice that, with the exception of the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond), every honorable member has been silent in this regard; this seems significant. If there is any covert understanding that, . first, Ministers shall get increased travelling allowances, and then private members shall have increased salaries, it is unworthy of this Parliament; and I have not shut my eyes and ears in the last few weeks.
I cannot sit down without referring to the Postal Department; and I must say that in the district I represent, settlers in many parts are placed at a great disadvantage in regard to the guarantees and so forth required from them in the case of telephone extensions. I hope that settlers in the rural districts will be met in a more generous spirit in this regard.
– I understand that one reason the Estimates have been introduced now is that they are long overdue, aud ought to have been passed by a Parliament that has expired. That, of course, was impossible, and we have had no opportunity to consider ‘them. In another two and a half months all the money which we are now asked to vote will, T presume, have been spent; but, all the same, I did anticipate that the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) would give us something in the nature of a preliminary financial statement, showing exactly how we stand. Ministers and their supporters may excuse the absence of such a statement on the ground that the Treasurer (Mr. Watt), prior to his departure for the other side of the world, did make one; but I think there is need for another at the present time.
I agree with all the remarks that have been made about the postal administration, and I am particularly in favour of the idea expressed by the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond). In my opinion, and I believe it is the opinion of a majority of honorable members, if we are to make Australia more prosperous and a better revenue-producing .proposition, we must increase the expenditure necessary to provide extended postal facilities. I have long held the idea, that so long as the Postal Department and the Railway Departments of the States perform the function of developing the country, we need not care whether they are carried on at a loss or not, because, later, revenue is bound to’ flow in. As the honorable member for Illawarra says, the longer we postpone this development the longer we put off the day when Australia will be a self-contained country. Some twelve years ago, a naturalized Danish farmer of Gippsland, who was travelling in America, told me in a letter that he .had been very pleased to note that in quite a number of fanning communities the farmers were nearly all connected by telephone. Twelve years have elapsed, and although we profess to be a progressive people, we are no further forward, or very little further, than we were then in this regard. I am a city member, who, however, views the Commonwealth as a whole; and I realize that, if the cities are to be prosperous, they must be backed up by a numerous and sturdy yeomanry; this we cannot have unless the country is given, at any rate, some of the facilities enjoyed by the city people. I am sure I speak, not only for myself, but for other city members when I say that we are prepared to do everything in our power to assist country residents to obtain telephonic and other conveniences of the kind.
The Committee does not seem to be in the humour for discussion. I was hopeful that honorable members, especially those of the Corner or Country party, would avail themselves of this opportunity to launch forth proposals showing exactly where they stand in regard to the financial situation of to-day; but beyond the few general observations of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) they, apparently, prefer to remain silent. Personally, I had intended to discuss the sugar question, because I am not prepared to accept the Prime Minister’s statement as the last word on the matter. The Inter-State Commission, which was appointed by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and his supporters, devoted considerable time to a thorough investigation all over Australia into the sugar industry, up to its refining stage, so far as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company would allow the latter. The Commissioners - Mr. Piddington, Mr. Lockyer, and Mr. Mills - are well known as having rendered admirable service, two of them in the Public Service, and the third as a gentleman of legal learning and considerable experience, economic and otherwise. They were purposely constituted a Royal Commission by the Government in order to inquire into every aspect of the question; but we find that the Prime Minister, with a snap of the finger, dismisses their conclusions. In effect, the right honorable gentleman tells us that he has met various representatives of the industry, and has come to a certain arrangement with them, and that this is better than the conclusions of all the Commissions in the world.
– Circumstances altered in regard to the price of sugar from overseas.
– The Commissioners were appointed in 1919, and, after months of inquiry, a report, dated 17th March of this year, was presented, containing their mature judgment. So far as the price of sugar is concerned, we find a paragraph in their report to the effect that, after taking all the facts into consideration, so far as they had been able to investigate them, they thought it wise to grant an increase in the price of raw sugar from £21 to £22.
– It cannot be bought.
– The honorable member is specially “touchy” on the sugar question. If he has a satisfactory reply to give me, I hope he will rise in the Committee and give it.
– I hope he will not !
– In that interjection we have an expression of opinion from the Ministerial bench - the Government desire as little discussion as possible on the question. If the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) is able to show that what I have said is incorrect, I shall be prepared to admit my error. I only wish, however, that his sympathies would extend from cane sugar to beet sugar. It seems to me strange, as I say, that the Prime Minister should be prepared, with a wave of the hand, to sweep away the conclusions of a Royal Commission appointed by himself; and, under the circumstances, I should like to deal with what may be termed the last phase of the sugar industry, namely, the refining process. The Royal Commission, in their report, complain that when they desired to find out what were the profits of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and what were the various incomes paid in connexion with the company’s operations, the manager of the company declined to give the information. The Commission were thus forced, by the refusal to disclose certain matters, to abandon the idea of presenting any conclusion or recommendation regarding them. They complain that they were obliged to arrive at some conclusion in connexion with the refining of sugar, and that valuable evidence on the subject which they sought was not forthcoming.
– What evidence was not forthcoming?
– If the honorable member presses the question, I must quote the portion of the report to which I refer. He will find that in two or three places in their report the members of the Commission -complain that they were unable to obtain the information they desired from the Colonial Sugar Kenning Company.
– Was it not information as to how they could manufacture raw sugar at a price which would enable them to give more for the cane than other factories gave?
– I will read for the honorable member what the Commissioners say -
With regard to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, that investigation should include, an examination of the actual capital used in the company’s business in Australia, more particularly in view of the evidence given by the general manager on 15th December, 1919, which suggests that a very large writing up of assets occurred in connexion with the nominal separation of the Australian business from the business in New Zealand and Fiji. Such an examination being within the terms of reference, and being essential in order that the Government may bc placed in a position to ascertain what is a fair amount to allow for refining and for managing services, including profit, would have been made by the Commission, but the company’s refusal to supply information has so far prevented the Commission from dealing with the matter.
In at least two other paragraphs of their report they complain that they were not able to obtain information they desired, and which, in the opinion of the chairman of the Commission, who is a legal gentleman, was covered by the commission issued to them. He says that there was included in it power to examine witnesses from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in order to elicit information which was asked for but was not forthcoming. The sugar question cannot possibly remain in the very unsatisfactory position in which it is to-day. If we are to depend upon the production of sugar from sugar cane, we must expect years of shortage, such as we have experienced in the past. In only two years in ten have we produced enough sugar in Australia to supply the local demand.
– Because there has not been sufficient encouragement given to the industry.
– I am in favour of giving every encouragement to the sugar industry, as well as to every other Australian industry.
– So long as the honorable member has not got to pay for it.
– No ; I say that every section of the community should be treated, fairly. The cane-grower, the mill-owner, and the sugar refiner are as much entitled to fair consideration as are the persons concerned in any other industry. I feel that I would not be consistent in asking for a fair wage for the ordinary artisan if I were not prepared to concede the same fair treatment to -all persons engaged in any industry. It is, however, a wellknown fact that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company represents one of the biggest monopolies in Australia, and one of the best financial propositions in the Commonwealth. We know that, in years past, and during the war, this company made handsome profits.
– I should think it is one of the best managed companies in the world.
– I do not doubt for a moment that it is managed exceedingly well in the interests of its shareholders, but whether that is in the best interests of the people of Australia or not is another matter. I direct attention to the fact that the Commissioners submit proposals which have something permanent about them, whilst there is nothing permanent in the arrangement made by the Prime Minister. They recommend a Board of Control for the sugar industry. I am not going to say whether I agree with that or not ; but their main purpose in the recommendations they make is to secure that the sugar industry of Australia shall be placed on such a footing that all engaged in it may, as well as the consumer, be put into a better position than they are in to-day. I know that the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) says that the canegrowers are not getting a fair price for their cane. The mill-owner says that he is not getting sufficient for crushing the cane. I do not know that there is any complaint from the refiners. I believe they have done remarkably well. They come next to the consumer in connexion with the industry, and it appears to me that they are the people who have done best out of it. In my opinion, there should be some combination of those interested in the three phases of the industry - the growing of the cane, the milling of it, and the refining of the sugar. If the industry were conducted as, for instance, the butter industry is conducted, those concerned in it would be interested in every phase of it, from the planting of the cane to the refining of the sugar, and if the conduct of one operation did not pay too well, it would be possible for them to make up the loss by the more successful conduct of another phase of the industry. While we have three different people dipping, so to speak, into the sugar industry treasury, we shall always have difficulties in connexion with it. I say that the time has arrived for a direct nationalization of the industry or for its conduct on the co-operative principle, from the growing of the cane to the refining of the sugar, so that in that way the producer may be brought nearer to the consumer.
– Was not a Royal Commission appointed some time ago by a Labour Government for the purpose of considering that matter, and what was their report ?
– I am not talking about the Royal Commission that was appointed seven or eight years ago, but of the Commission that made the latest investigation in connexion with the industry, and was not able to deal as it desired with the refining section, because the gentlemen who could have given certain information to the Commissioners refused to give it.
The great evil in our community today is that there are too many people between the producer and the consumer. The members of the Country party have made that their cry, and they are right in doing so. When it was suggested that the butter industry could be conducted on the co-operative principle, people said that the man on the farm who milked the cows and took his cans of cream to the factory would not be capable of managing the business. But the farmers had money, and were able to pay experts to carry on the business, just as experts are employed to manage such businesses as those of Dalgety and Co. and the New Zealand Loan and Mortgage Co. The butter producers did that, and what they could do might just as easily be done in connexion with the sugar industry.
– The honorable member is wrong there.
– I am not wrong. I remind the honorable member that the customers of the sugar industry are the people of Australia, whilst in normal seasons half our production of butter has to be taken overseas to find customers. It was said that when the farmers representative went to Tooley-street he would :be turned upside down, but that was not found to be the case.
– The butter producers compete with white labour in other countries, but the Australasian producers of sugar do not compete with white labour.
– Australia does not now produce enough sugar to supply its own wants, and I shall not rest satisfied until she does. If financial aid be needed by the sugar-producing industry, Parliament should grant it. . Other industries, especially manufacturing industries, have been assisted with duties or bounties, and, if necessary, the sugarproducing industry should be similarly helped. When the sugar industry, like the butter industry, is controlled by the producers themselves, conditions will be better. So far as practicable, we should insure a sufficient supply of sugar either from cane or from beet, or from both, to meet Australia’s requirements. The production of sugar should be purely an Australian industry. We should produce all the sugar we need. If we do that, there will be no outside competition to fear. Victoria has experimented with tho production of beet sugar, and the Commonwealth Government should give as much encouragement to the production of sugar from beet as to its production from cane, if the people of Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales are willing to devote their energies to the growing of beet. I am glad that the Government of this State is making a move for the assistance of the beet-growers, and I- hope that the Commonwealth Government will, if approached, lend them its assistance, too. It surprises me that Government supporters should be satisfied with the statement of the Prime Minister regarding the arrangement that has been made, and should altogether ignore the recommendations of the Inter-State Commissioners, who investigated the conditions under which sugar is produced in this country. If we continue persistently to disregard the reports of the Inter-State Commissioners, we shall be paying them high salaries for nothing: They have investigated and reported upon the cost of clothing and many other commodities, but nothing has been done to give effect to their recommendations, and I dare say they are beginning to feel that their office is a sinecure. I do not claim to be a sugar expert, and I do not know much about the world’s sugar production, but a real expert has declared that in the near future the production of sugar. will be as great as, if not greater, than it was just before the war. I ask, therefore, whether the agreement for three years regarding the price of sugar which has just been entered into is capable of being varied or altered should the value of sugar outside Australia drop within the next six or nine months.
– . On whose opinion do you. base - the statement that there will shortly be a great increase- in the production of sugar?.
– That- was the- opinion of’ Mr. Horne, a world’s expert. The statement waa contributed to one of the leading producing journals, and quoted by the Inter-State Commission. He mentioned that the war prevented the growing of beet in many European countries^ Germany, for instance. In 1912-13 Germany produced 8,500,000 tons of sugar.
– Does the expert you quote say how long it will be before Germany will be able to supply herself with sugar ?
– He predicts that within the near future there will be a very considerable production of beet sugar, and that the world’s sugar supplies will be as large as even,- if they do not exceed, the pre-war supplies; There has been a shortage of 4,500,000 tons of beet sugar per annum during the war; So far as Germany is concerned, we know, of course, that the war has reduced the male population of that country, but _ a considerable proportion of the labour in its rural districts is done by women. Germany, if not this year, certainly next year, will be back to her normal’ production.
– Denmark’s production of beet sugar is increasing by leaps and bounds.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
’. - The last two speakers have objected to the rise in the price of sugar. I shall not refer to that matter now, but may do so later. My object in rising is to say a few words about arbitration and direct action. Some pf the new mem’bers may not be aware that I have on previous occasions informed this Chamber that I am a direct actionist. I belong to a party that believes in political action. For the past eighteen or nineteen years I have suppressed my own personal opinions and advocated arbitration, but I consider that a strong potion of direct action is very serviceable now and again, and has been proved so by the workers. You cannot have both arbitration and direct action, but under the present arbitration law you must expect more direct action than arbitration. The unions of Australia have expended very large sums of money first in organizing in each State, and, then, in bringing about a Federal organization. . For some time it was difficult to get State unions to federate, because many of them held that they could get better conditions from the State Arbitration Courts and Wages Boards than would be obtainable from the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. It was less expensive, it was not so much trouble, and that is one reason why our Arbitration Court has not been improved to any considerable extent since its inception. There will always, be trouble and direct action while conditions remain as at present. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) admitted to-day, as I have heard him before, that the Arbitration and Conciliation Act must be amended before we can hope to be successful. May I give one case that will prove conclusively to any individual who considers the matter at all, ho.v unfair and foolish the present Act is. Before a union can approach the Court is has to prove that a dispute exists. It is no use going to the Court and saying there is a dispute, because considerable argument will naturally ensue as to whether a dispute does exist. Instances could be cited where cases have been rejected because it could not be proved to the satisfaction of the Court that a dispute existed between employers and employees. Before an industrial union can approach the Court the men, in some instances, have to strike to prove that a dispute exists. The men would then be ordered back to work, and the door would have to be opened to them before the Court could consider the question of arbitration. The Act is so foolish that I am surprised it has been left in its present form for so long. There is not a member on the other side of the chamber - and there are some very Conservative individuals there - who would say that the Court should not be easily approached so that disputes could be promptly settled without the introduction of unnecessary legal technicalities. It is difficult sometimes to prove the existence of a dispute,” and it is difficult to get the men back to work after they have struck, even if they have been promised to be heard before the Court.
In many instances men have suffered so much that they are not keen on approaching the Court, as they feel that, while they are out, they are likely to achieve their ends by direct action, and thus they keep from work. The result has been, as the Prime Minister stated to-day, that they have had to take extraordinary action, and give preference to others to approach the Court in the usual legal way. No one can contend for a moment that that is beneficial or conducive to the industrial peace that all seem to desire. There is also another obstacle that has to be overcome. When employees appear before the Arbitration Court they have to prove that they are engaged in an industry. We had a sorry spectacle, when an organization came before the Court, of the lawyers on both sides and the Judge devoting a good deal, of time in an endeavour to prove that the men were not engaged in an industry, and had no right to approach the Court. I shall not ask for an expression of opinion from lawyers on this matter, as it is one of those debatable points they delight in discussing, but I would like to ask any other honorable member of this House whether .it was not intended that the Arbitration Court could be approached by all people, whether they worked with hand or brain. If any section of the community organized to obtain benefits, surely the Court could regard that section as an industry. The municipal employees, for instance, had as much right to consideration as had men who were employed at other work. No one can say that they are not deserving of the same consideration as those employed at any other manual work, and yet we had the peculiar position of municipal employees having to prove to the Court that they were engaged in an industry. They had to leave the Court and amend their rules, so that they could approach it at a later date. The biggest blot of all is that the Court has no power to make a common rule, which means that when an organization, after having proved that there is a dispute iri a particular trade, having established the fact that those appearing before the Court are engaged in an industry and waited twelve months or two years to get into the Court, they have to fight every individual employer in Australia. I have been informed that our Constitution does not give sufficient power to Parliament to create a Court to make a common rule applicable to any particular industry. I doubt that. When such technicalities arise the members of the rank and file become restless. The officials of the union are charged with not being ‘sufficiently active, their sincerity is doubted, and the men begin to speak of acting without the sanction of the union. The Arbitration and Conciliation Act was intended to prevent in’dustrial unrest, and the question of a common rule is one that has been responsible for more direct action and more universal unrest than any decision of the Court. It is quite possible that when the Court is approached a small employer may be missed. He may not have any one employed in his workshop, or he may take care not to employ men who are members of the union. In such cases it is impossible to cite that employer before the Court. Such technicalities are always availed of, and thus the desire of those who framed our arbitration laws is defeated. Whilst there may not be much in the question so far as it affects a small employer who cannot be cited before the Court, we have to remember that there is nothing to prevent a large employer, who has been cited, and who has to pay the wages laid down by the Court, from going out of business and taking over, with the same capital, the industry of the man who could not be cited. That has actually been done, and the practice is likely to extend. There is no power to stop it, and it would involve a new appeal to the Court to get a backslider placed in the same position as other employers. I am not blaming this Government .particularly for the condition of the Arbitration Court. The Prime Minister reminded honorable members to-day of his long experience in the office of Attorney-General. He spoke also of his considerable experience as an official of one of the largest unions, and he solemnly related the fact of that union having availed itself of direct action more frequently and effectively than any other. The Prime Minister has admitted the defects of our present arbitration legislation. Surely, then, the Government will take steps to amend the Act. The trouble to-day is that there is too much preliminary formality. The waste of time merely aggravates both sides. There Ls long delay and a piling up of cases, and the outcome is, more and more -often to-day, resort to direct action. I do not know whether the Government intend to proceed with the amendment of the Arbitration Act, but if they do not there will be no coping with the very evidently growing desire on the part of all classes to adopt direct action rather than enter -the maze of arbitration. I desire to stress another annoying circumstance. It was recently reported that the Court doubted whether it had the power to make an award retrospective. I recall the ease of the Federation of “Wharf Workers when they were before the Court. As an organization, they secured a decision on which they were prepared to work. By some means the award, in its -relation to the wharf labourers, was made retrospective, and the men concerned were able to draw back pay; but the section working on deep-sea ships was excluded from the retrospective award. The men appealed unsuccessfully for the back pay due to them, and after prolonged but unsuccessful efforts they resorted ‘ to direct action. At this stage the Prime Minis-: ter intervened, and made promises and gave guarantees. Still the men were dissatisfied. After further negotiation, however, the men returned to work and ceased from their methods of direct action. The point is, that direct action benefited them. Can we wonder that the worker to-day adopts direct action rather than avail himself of the distant benefits of the Arbitration Court; and if the difficulties surrounding an appeal to arbitration are not smoothed away in the near future there will undoubtedly be more direct action ? As a matter of fact, we have less industrial trouble in Australia nowadays than in any other country in the world. There has been no experience here to compare with the coal-miners’ strike in Great Britain. There has been nothing here which could be termed a shadow of -the’ strike of British railway men, who were supposed to have been defeated, but who, nevertheless, secured considerable concessions. To an extent, at any rate, direct action in the case of the latter proved effective. If the three great Labour organizations of Great Britain were to decide jointly upon direct action, the British people would find themselves in a very peculiar position. In the United States of America direct action is threatened by at least four sections of the working community to-day’. Throughout Europe the industrial position is similarly tense. We hear of the low rates of pay earned by the Japanese worker. By direct action, however, he has improved his lot very considerably, and to-day there is more industrial trouble than ever in Japan. The method by which Australia had hoped to overcome industrial unrest has proved ineffective. With the evidence of the success of direct action steadily mounting, here as well as in other parts of the world, we are simply inviting the Australian worker to resort to direct action if we fail to improve our arbitration legislation.
– Your friend Trotsky is going in for direct action now by the conscription of labour in Russia.
– If a people own a country they should be made to work for it. The people of this country do not own the land. Conscription is very democratic when it is applied to a people who own the land they live in. That is why I believe in and have advocated conscription of wealth I say, “ Conscript those who have the wealth,those who own the country, and not the people who produce the wealth.” When the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) refers to the conscription of labour in Russia, he brings to my mind the fact that in an up-to-date civilization, where the people own the country in which they live, they must be compelled to work for it. I do not know where the politician will come in in such circumstances. Certainly, I should expect to be compelled to do considerably less work than my friend the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), taking, as a basis for comparison, our respective bank accounts.
– The fact that the Russian Government have decided that all men shall work proves that chickens are coming home to roost.
– Not at all. That is always understood by a Democracy, because the Socialist believes that a man should have what he produces, and not what somebody else produces. Socialism says, “ Every man according to his deeds.” The difference between the civilization of Russia and the civilization of Victoria is that in Russia if a man does not work he has no vote, while in Victoria, if he works, he has no vote for the Upper House. They are civilized in Russia, whereas we are barbarians. I have read of the horrors of the French Revolution, and could not understand why many of them wore perpetrated, but they were not a patch on the horrors which preceded the revolution and brought it about. It is the same in the case of Russia. Ninety per cent, of the people of Russia had no say in the government of the past. I saw a picture in our library of the horrors of Bolshevism, showing rich people compelled to lie upon the ovens in a mansion to obtain warmth. The man who produced that picture was an ass. Eighty per cent, of the people of Russia, for generations past, have slept on ovens during the cold portions of the year. That was their only way to keep warm. Now, because the wealthy classes are getting. a bit of their own medicine, they do not like it. I simply warn members opposite that the success of direct action in other countries will bring it about here.
– Would you explain the bonus system in Russia under Trotsky?
– I have always objected to bonuses and profit-sharing as simply perpetuating the present system, but the bonus paid in Russia is different, because it comes from the product of the people as a whole. The bonus paid here is paid by the man who produces to him who produces nothing. In an up-to-date civilization, if one man felt that he wanted more comforts, he would say, “ I am going to work four hours a day instead of two,” and no Democracy would stop him. I tell Ministers and honorable members opposite that if they wish to prevent the workers of Australia adopting direct action more in the future than they have in the past, they must seriously consider the alteration of the Arbitration Act, so as to make it easy to get into the Court, and cheap to obtain a decision. If the Government fail to do this, they will bring about what they do not like, although it may be more effective.
House adjourned at 10.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 April 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19200414_reps_8_91/>.