8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Several com plaints have been made to me by persons who are unable to obtain coal, and I have already brought before the House the difficulty of getting coal. From a man whom I know well I have received a communication, which, I will let the Minister see, saying that, although the Coal Board states that no coal is available for private houses, James Patterson and Company have delivered a lorry load to a certain gentleman, and a small load to another gentleman. Will the Minister inquire why some householders can get coal while others cannot?
– I shallbe very glad to make the inquiry asked for. We are still at a critical stage with regard to coal supplies, because, although there is no strike now, and the’ coal boats are running, the shortage has not yet been overtaken; and, therefore, control has tobe exercised and priority given to certain industries, until the stocks have been replenished. I do not know why one householder should be able to get coal while others cannot get it.
– I ask the Minister whether it is not a fact that nearly every house in Melbourne is, at the present time, without coal! As the winter season is approaching, when coal will be greatly needed, ‘cannot something be done to facilitate the supply of it for household purposes? Within a few weeks the position will be serious.
– The difficulty is one, not of distribution, but of obtaining supplies. It is all a question of shipping and supplies. If the coal were here, it could be distributed without trouble. Do my honorable friends suggest that we should give up the control of the coal trade, and allow it to flow in its normal channels? If that were desired, it would save the Department a great deal of trouble to comply with the desire.
– I think the Coal Board has done good work.
– I think so, too; that is generally recognised, although complaints are made by many whose industry cannot be. given priority. The only remedy for thepresent state of affairs is an increase in the production of coal.
– Is there any truth in the statement appearing in this morning’s Age that an elaborate secret service -organization is to be established permanently in Australia? If so, can the Prime Minister give the House any information about it?
– I refer the honorable memberto the secret service organization for an answer. I know nothing at all about the matter: The establishment of a secret service organization is news to me, as, no doubt, it was to the Age reporter until he evolved the idea.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the fact thatsection 51 of the Constitution provides that Parliament shall have power to make laws with respect to “ (i) Trade and commerce with other countries, and among the States,” will the Government introduce legislation to control profiteering which comes within the ambit of the Commonwealth powers ?
– For all practical purposes the Commonwealth has no power over profiteering of any kind. The limitation of the Commonwealth power to Inter-State and foreign trade makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to devise any effective scheme of legislation to deal with any part of the problem of profiteering. TheGovernment will endeavour to do anything thatcan be done in that direction.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
When is the tribunal to be appointed which was referred to by him in answer to a question addressed to him on the 3rd March ultimo, with reference to the conditions of workers on the Sydney water-front?
– The Ship-owners and the Waterside Workers Federation have now nominated’ representatives, who have been requested to conferin regard to the selection of a chairman. As soon as a chairman is appointed the inquiry will be commenced.
Meetings of Executive
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he will consider the question of makinga grant to Captain Matthews and Sergeant Kay on their landing in Australia on their flight from England, in recognition by the people of the Commonwealth of the indomitable pluck and perseverance of these aviators throughout the flight?
– In view of the fact that Sir Boss Smith won the prizeoffered by the Commonwealth, it is not proposed to make grants to the other competitors who may complete the flight
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– As I promised the honorable member yesterday, I am having inquiries made on the subject, and will reply to his questions as soon as those inquiries are complete.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice-
SirGRANVILLE RYRIE.- The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Whether instructions will be given for -
Publication in the daily press when English mails have left England, and when they are likely to reach Sydney, also the name of the ship and route by which they are consigned?
Mr.WISE. - I am having inquiries made into this matter, and will reply to the honorable member’s questions as early as possible.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as fol lows : -
The matter is one outside the control of the Commonwealth. As the referendum proposals were recently defeated, the Commonwealth has not the power to deal with profiteering.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
In reference to the application of the Cargellico Progress Association for the construction of a telephone line between Ungarie and Cargellico, will hestate upon whose official report the estimated deficiency of 70 per annum’ was based, and the grounds for arriving at such estimate ?
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as early as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether it is a fact that square penny and halfpenny nickel coins are to be struck; and, if so, will the Minister take into consideration the advisability of striking a coin for lid.?
– The question of the issue of nickel coins is under the consideration of the Government, but no design has yet been decided upon. The advisability of striking a lid. coin will be considered if experience shows that the issue of such a coin would be justified on the ground of public convenience.
Sale of Vessels
asked the Minister in Charge of Shipping, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Subsist to Prospectors
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government are prepared to make provision for a subsidy to prospectors for oil in Australia?
– The Commonwealth has already offered a bonus of £10,000 for the discovery of oil in Australia in payable quantities. The question of subsidies to prospect is rather a matter for the States than the Federal Government. The suggestion will be noted for consideration at the next conference with State Premiers.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and the result will be furnished in due course.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Accumulated Leave: Pay
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government intend conceding to Commonwealth employees the annual leave which was due, and accumulated during their absence abroad on active service?
– The Government do not propose to vary the decision of Cabinet, in 1916, not to grant accumulated leave to Commonwealth employees in respect of the period of their service in the Australian Imperial Force.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the. honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Debate resumed from 25th March (vide page 858)!, on motion by Mr. McWilliams) -
That a Select Committee, consisting of seven members of. this House, be appointed to inquire into and” report upon the conditions of the Australian Overseas and Inter-State sea carriage.
,- Since I last addressed the House oh this subject there has been a considerable alteration in the position, the Government having handed back’ the ships to the various companies, under certain conditions. So far as my judgment goes, these conditions seem to be very good, inasmuch as they continue control over freights and fares ; and this I regard as a move in the right direction. When this matter was before the House yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) informed the. House as to the profits made in 1914 by the various steam-shipcompanies, and also the profits, according to the balancesheets, right up to 1920. I then pointed out, by my interjection, that it would be only fair to also state the capital invested at the various dates, so that honorable members might judge whether the profits were fair or were exorbitant. The honorable gentleman should also have told us that some of the vessel’s on which the companies made these profits were out. of Australia, and, theref ore, beyond the influence of theShipping Board; and’, further, that some shipshad been sold by the owners, as far as my memory serves, at something like 100 per cent, more than their book values. Now, because Ihave, asked the honorable member if it would not have been fairer for him to have given, the House that information, he very ungenerously tries to make out that I have been interested in the steam-ship companies, or in some of them, at any rate. I emphatically assert that I have no interest in any shipping company. Of course, I desire at all times to see justice done, no matter whetherthe party or company concerned is a friend or an opponent. All 1 desire in the case of the shipping companies is justice, and I ask the Leader of the Opposition also to do justice, and not to mislead this House or the public. There has been an enormous amount of money made by some of the companies outside of Australia, and beyond the authority of the Shipping Controller. It all goes clearly to show that if we had not taken over control of shipping the industries of Australia would have been very seriously interfered with. As events have proved, we have been able to secure cheaper freight along the Australian coast than has ruled in any other part of the world. That is greatly to the credit of the shipping control. The Prime Minister, yesterday, gave valuable information to this House which should remove much of the misapprehension that may haw been created by the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition. I move -
That all the words after “ upon “ be left out, with a view to insert the following words in lieu thereof: -
The organization and control of InterState shipping.
Oversea shipping in relation to Australian products for oversea mar- kets and imports generally.
Methods’ to improve mail cargo and passenger service with oversea countries.”
My reason for proposing the deletion of tire words “ the conditions of the Australian overseas and Inter-State sea carriage”is that if the Committee were appointed to inquire upon that basis it could enter into such matters as wages and similar subjects, for dealing with which machinery is already provided. The three considerations suggested in my amendment would cover the whole range upon which the Committee need base its inquiries.
– I will accept the amendment.
.- I realize that this Committee-, if it is appointed, will be an important body. As a rule I have not favoured the creation of such investigating bodies by this Parliament, as I have held the view that it is the duty of Parliament itself to deal with matters of public importance rather than relegate them to the consideration of a small number of members. However, valuable work has been done in the past in matters such as that upon which the proposed Committee will inquire. I recall the formation of a Committee upon the motion of the then honorable member for Barrier, now Senator Thomas. This Committeewas formed to deal with the question of Australian shipping, and with the rebates which the companies paid to their customers in order to compel them to deal with those companies. It was ascertained, as the result of investigations) that it was impossible for any firm to secure back freight with the shipping companies if they had not given their forward business to the same ships.
– A case brought to light at Maryborough was the worst of the lot.
– I recall, that. There was certainly ample need for such an inquiry, and the Committee did good work. The proposed Committee also, I feel sure, will perform valuable service. Notwithstanding all that the Prime Minister said yesterday, and despite the statements of the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) to-day, the shipping companies of Australia have been on a very good wicket during recent years. The fact that other countries have suffered more than Australia is no reason why Australians should be made to suffer as much. I trust that honorable members who may be appointed upon the Committee will push forward their investigations and report to Parliament at the earliest opportunity, so that this House may deal with their recommendations. According to the statement made by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) today, word was sent out by the Controller of Shipping, inviting the companies to increase their freights and fares 20 per cent., in view of which enormous profits were made. It is all very well for the honorable member for Wide Bayto assert that I did not mention yesterday the amount of capital involved in the various shipping interests, and that I did not say whether the companies were making bigger profits now than formerly. The honorable member must be aware of the amount of watering of stock that has been going on.
– And of the fact that more capital has been put into the companies.
– There are companies in Australia which have been afraid to pay the enormous dividends that they could very well disburse. They have piled up reserves year after year, with the intention, when the opportunity arrives, and when the people are not watchful, and have become accustomed to the continual watering of stock, of declaring, dividend’s upon the increased capital. That sort of thing is being done with respect to nearly every company in Australia today.
– That is a very wild statement..
– I guarantee that twothirds of the companies in Australia have done it. I know of companies in Victoria that have done it.
– It may have happened in Victoria.
– The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, for which the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) is always apologizing, is the worst offender having watered its stock to the extent of £3,000,000, as proved by the Royal Commission on the Sugar Industry.
– I am never apologizing far the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. I merely wish to have the facts stated correctly. ,
– I am giving the facts. I am not an apologist for any company.. I mentioned Victoria. Of course, no such thing could happen in Queensland.
– It is not correct to say that it happens in any State to the extent of two-thirds of the companies operating.
– Manufacturing companies, shipping companies, and companies in other industries have put their profits into reserves, and then converted those reserves into stock. In a sub-leader, the Argus said it was a wise thing for companies to divide their reserves and put them into capital. I have said before that men who take you down on the racecourse with the three-card trick are more honest than those who advocate that method of watering capital. However, I trust that the proposed Select Committee will be appointed, and get to work immediately, so that it may bring in a report of advantage to the people of Australia.
– I intend to say a few words in support of the motion. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) that while it is not advisable, except in cases of extreme urgency, to refer questions to Select Committees, yet there are one or two phases of this subject upon which the interests of the people demand that Parliament should be fully informed. I do not intend to follow those who have spoken about the treatment of Australia by the Inter-State shipping operations. It is quite clear to nearly every’ one who has read what has taken place during the war, that the dividends earned by the Inter-State shipping companies have been secured largely by the very high prices paid by the Imperial Government for commandeered vessels.
– That is on the overseas trade.
– Certainly, and that is how the excessive dividends, if they are excessive, have been earned by these companies. During the war the Commonwealth Government has had absolute control. There has not been a penny increase in charges except with its concurrence. I am speaking with knowledge of the subject, because I have been in business ^contact with the Inter-State shipping companies for the last thirty or forty years. However, my concern is not so much with the past as with the future, and it is about the future that I desire the House and the people of the country to be fully informed. The position is that many of the Australian shipping companies have sold the pick of their fleets at very large prices, in some cases at double the cost of the vessels when new, and I think I am correct in saying that some of them have entered into new relationships during the last year or two.
– I think that nearly all of them have done so.
– A good many of them have done so, and we do not know what treatment Australia is to receive in the future. That is *the very information we ought to have. Some of the shipping companies have got rid of nearly half of their effective fleets.
– As long as they have got -rid of their old vessels and purchased new vessels it will be all the better for Australia.
– I merely mentioned the point in order to show that we do not know how we are to be treated in the immediate future. I was about to say that, in disposing of their vessels, some of the companies intended to restore the strength of their fleets and supply Australia with perfectly up-to-date vessels in place of many obsolete steamers they have got rid of, but they have not been able to secure the new vessels so far. One of the biggest companies thought that it would pay them better to wait until they could buy or build at a much cheaper rate. So far they have not been able to do so, and now that Government control of InterState shipping has been withdrawn and private enterprise is again in full operation, it is essential to know exactly what service is to be given to Australia. Particularly is it essential that we should know what service we are to get overseas. For these reasons I have very much pleasure in supporting the motion as amended.
– I see no objection whatever to the amendment as suggested by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). A great deal of good and useful work can be done by a Committee of this House, carefully selected, bending its energies and intelligence to the consideration of the future outlook of shipping in Australia. The Government heartily welcome such an inquiry. All sorts of statements have been made from time to time, and it is just as well that the facts of the situation should be known. But above all, I remind honorable members that it is useless to trouble very much about what happened during the days of war, when the trade and commerce and industry of the whole of the nations of the world were completely dislocated. Our present duty is to see that we are facing the future with fair prospects of success. Australia is a marine country entirely dependent for its life blood upon its shipping, and it is a matter of the most urgent moment that we should know exactly what the future may be, and just how Australia is shaping to meet the newer and, we hope, better outlook.
– What are the Government doing in regard to shipbuilding in Australia ?
– The matter of shipbuilding has nothing to do with the question under consideration; but, incidentally, I may say that I believe that the results so far are entirely satisfactory, indicating that our workmen are the equal of any workers in the world - of course, making allowance for the differences in tradition and training. Some countries have been building vessels for ages, and there is a sort of traditional skill among their workers which is almost hereditary with them. We, on the other hand, are a young country, but, of course, we belong to the same race, and our workmen have inherited the same skill. What our enterprise in shipbuilding has shown is that in the process of transplantation from older to newer countries we are losing nothing of the skill and cunning of the old days, but are actually adding to and crowning that which has been the distinguishing feature of the British Empire in the past. All this is infinitely satisfactory, and if we can address ourselves in the same spirit to the future I believe there is in every way a good outlook for Australia.
Coming to the question of ship construction, I believe that nearly all, if not all, of the vessels built by the Commonwealth Government have cost well under £30 per ton. When the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and I passed through the United States just before the war closed, I saw a steel standard ship of 8,800 tons which had just been launched at a cost of £38 per ton to the Government of the United States of America.
– Some vessels which were built before the war were sold up to £60 per ton during the war period
– That is so, but I am speaking now of the price which the Government of the United States of America had to pay for the construction of ships that were being turned out en masse all over the States. Being standardized, they were of cheap construction, yet were costing £38 per ton. The comparison shows that our cost of construction is coming out exceedingly well - a fact upon which we may all congratulate ourselves. I hope the shipping industry in Australia will prosper, as it must, if, remote as we are from other countries, we are to hold our own.
The proposed Select Committee is, however, quite another matter. It will have to do with the organization and control of shipping from a business stand-point as well as from the point of view of construction. An inquiry of this kind, conducted with a view to ascertaining the facts, and finding out what it is best to do to meet the future, must be attended with good results. The Government welcome the proposed inquiry, and accordingly accept the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
– May I complete this matter by moving, with the concurrence of the House -
That the following members form the Select Committee:– Mr. Atkinson, Mr. Burchell, Mr. Corser, Mr. Foster, Mr. Mathews, Mr. McWilliams, and Mr. Watkins.
– The Labour party is to have only two representatives out of seven members of the Committee. That is not a fair proportion.
– What is?
– We should have three representatives on the Committee.
– The Select Committee will consist of seven members drawn from three different parties. I think the apportionment is fair, and follows the usual practice.
– While I should like very much to be a member of the Committee, I think that the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) has taken a good deal of interest in the questions to be dealt with by it, and I therefore ask that his name be substituted for my own in the motion.
– There is no objection to that.
Question (by leave) amended accordingly, and resolved in the affirmative.
– It is usual in connexion with the appointment of a Select Committee to stipulate what number of members shall constitute a quorum. I accordingly move -
That three members of the Committee be a quorum.
– Make it four.
.- I think we should go further in this motion and give the Committee power to send for persons and papers.
– That will be covered in the instructionsto the Committee.
– Select Committees appointed by this Parliament have failed before to-day, notwithstanding that we have endeavoured to clothe them with full power. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company defied the Sugar Commission, although we passed an Act of Parliament empowering the Commission to compel representatives of the company to attend before it and give evidence. If this Committee is to do any good it will certainly come into conflict with vested interests, and we should therefore take care to give it power to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents and papers.
– I was about to refer to the same matter. I accepted the amendment to the original motion, believing that it would permit of the full inquiry that we desire. The ‘personnel of the Committee is such that every one will get a fair deal from it ; but unless it is empowered by the House to compel the attendance of persons and the production of papers giving information that it may justly need in order that the desired reforms may be secured, it will be unsuccessful.
– There will be no trouble in that regard.
– Does the right honorable gentleman say that that power will be given to the Committee?
– I am satisfied with that assurance.
.- I do not doubt the word of the Minister for the Navy, but I think that we ought to include in this motion words providing that the Commitee shall have power to call for persons and papers. That course is always adopted.
– Order! Honorable members are discussing a matter that is really not before the Chair. The motion is that three members of the Committee shall form a quorum, and after it has been disposed of it will be permissible to submit a further motion dealing with the powers of the Select Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) agreed to -
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records, and have leave to adjourn from place to place, and report on this day three months.
.- I move -
That, in the opinion of this House, the Government should forthwith give effect to the motion passed by this House in a previous Parliament, that the Commonwealth should take over the inspection and effective control of produce passing from State to State.
I first brought this matter forward in 1910. In subsequent years, I moved similar motions, and finally the House agreed to the proposal. At that time, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) was Minister for Trade and Customs; and, in reply to a question by me, he said that the Government would not take any steps to give effect to the resolution of the House until after the termination of the war. During the war, Western Australia was imposing very heavy inspection fees on produce imported from other States, and those fees were having the. same effect as a duty additional to the £1 per ton provided for in the Tariff. The producers in other parts of the Commonwealth felt that this charge was unfair; and., after some remonstrance by the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Groom), Western Australia reduced the inspection fees on potatoes from about 15s. to 2s. 6d. per ton. The object of this motion is to provide that when one ‘State sends to another produce that is fit to go intoconsumption, it shall be inspected by Federal officers instead of State officers, and that when the produce has been passed, the Commonwealth shall have sufficient power to insure that it reaches the market to which it is consigned. At various times crop diseases have made their appearance in different States, and the products which have been sent from the affected State to another have been condemned under the powers conferred byState laws for the prevention of such diseases. Such action has given rise to a good deal of unfederal feeling, trade has become unsettled, and neither the merchant nor the grower knew exactly where he was. At times the consigning State has felt that its products had been condemned unfairly, not for the purpose of keeping disease out of the receiving State, but rather in order that local growers should retain full possession of the local market. Of course, any State that- uses its police powers for that purpose infringes section 92 of the Constitution, which provides that Inter-State trade shall be free and untrammelled. Legal action could be taken against such a State, but we learned when the exhonorable member for Angas (Mr. Glynn) was Attorney-General that it was not for the Commonwealth to take action, but for the aggrieved consignor or the Government of his State. Legal proceedings of this character would occupy considerable time, and in the next season the disease would be absent, and no trouble would be experienced with the purchasing States. The result was that any legal proceedings which were threatened fell into abeyance. On previous occasions, Federal Ministers have objected that it is practically impossible to exercise these inspection powers under the Constitution. I do not agree with that contention ; I believe that Ministers , are anticipating obstacles that do not exist. At any rate, this ‘Parliament, on a previous occasion, agreed to a similar motion, and I earnestly ask the Government to seriously investigate the matter. Only a small change in governmental machinery would be necessary, but the consequences would be very -beneficial ; it would tend to produce a better feeling between the producers in the various States, and would eliminate the distrust and bitterness which arise when one State condemns the produce of another. Things which have happened have tended to makethe producers suspicious. On one occasion potatoes sent from Victoria to Queensland were condemned on arrival. They were returned to Victoria, ‘and the local inspector again examined them, and found them to be sound and healthy. On another occasion potatoes consigned- from Devonport were rejected at Sydney. They were sent back to Devonport, rebagged, and again consigned, and were accepted as excellent potatoes. This occurrence led the Tasmanian growers to think that New South Wales was using its police powers Unfairly, not for the quite proper pur- pose of keeping out disease, but merely in order to shut another competitor out of the ‘Sydney market so that the New South Wales growers, who had experienced a good season, should have the market to themselves.’ I say that that is not justified. Federal inspectors, however, will constitute an impartial tribunal, and it could not be said of them that they favoured any one State a3 against .another. Their appointment would create a better feeling than too frequently exists now.
– That is a slur on the State inspectors.
– I do not cast any slur on the State inspectors. I do not say that the charge that one State has been favoured against another has any justification ; but it has been felt at times that fair play is not being shown. The interests of New South Wales would be as safe in the hands of a ‘Federal as they are in the hands of a .State inspector. Under the .Constitution the States are allowed to charge fees for inspection, but under section 102 all charges over and above the cost of the work done become the property of the Commonwealth. Western Australia was charging a fee of los. per ton, but reduced the charge to 2s. 6d. per ton; and probably the Minister of the day, had he liked to do so, could have compelled the State authorities to give an account of the difference which had been charged in the past, and pay it into the Commonwealth Treasury. The existing friction should be removed. Only a slight change of machinery is needed to remove it. When Mr. Glynn was Attorney-General, he gave the opinion, in connexion with some matter affecting vines in South Australia, that certain amendments of the Quarantine Act would enable the Commonwealth to do what is desired. I do not know whether that is so, because, until the High Court has pronounced on it, no constitutional question can be considered as definitely determined. In the interests of all concerned in the sending of produce from State to State, the inspecting authorities should have a Federal status. Gradually the States are coming closer together on a number of matters, and difficulties are vanishing as they are discussed.
– “What, in short, is the object of the motion?
– To provide for the inspection of produce passing from State to State by .Federal instead of State officials, and thus remove the friction which now sometimes arises, and the accusations that States are using their power of inspection to keep out produce, for the protection of local growers.
– Why attack the States?
– I am not attacking the States or any one else. I am merely speaking of what has happened, and showing how trouble can be prevented in the future. The discussion of this matter in the House has already done good. The ‘honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Groom), when Minister for Trade and Customs, appealed to the Western Australian authorities, with the result that they reduced their inspection fees, as I have said, from 15s. to 2s. 6d. a ton. I urge upon the Government the holding of a conference or some other communication with the State authorities for a discussion of the matter. I am convinced that satisfaction will result from such action.
.- In my opinion, if the motion were carried, it would defeat its own object, because there would be again the cry that State rights were being interfered with. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) has, however, made a suggestion which, in my opinion, should meet the case. A Premiers’ .Conference is to be held shortly, and if the matter were brought before it some agreement might ‘ be arrived at concerning the inspection of produce passing from State to State. Undoubtedly co-ordination in this and other matters would benefit trade, and be of advantage to the community generally.
.- I think that the honorable member for Wilmot, when I was Minister for Trade and Customs, moved and carried a motion similar to that now under discussion. Undoubtedly, some of the States have used their powers of inspection to protect their local producers. In some cases, produce imported from other States has been absolutely ruined by the system of inspection adopted. I would not vote for an arrangement under which a Victorian official was empowered to say whether goods should be allowed to go to another State, because State officials might be tempted to relax an inspection which was not being made in the interests of their own State. Undeniably, every State has the right to do what it can to prevent the introduction of diseases and pests. Western Australia was, and I hope still is, free from codlin moth, being, I think, the only State that has not got that disease. In my opinion, the prevention of the spread of diseases can be best brought about by Federal inspection, though I do not share the hope that the State Premiers will agree to hand over to the Commonwealth any powers for the bettering of the position.
– The passing of the motion as it stands will cause friction with the States, and we do not want any more of that.
– We do not want friction with the States, but no State should be permitted to use its powers of inspection to shut out the produce of other States. When Minister for Trade and Customs, and speaking to a former motion of the “honorable member for Wilmot, I took the same attitude. Every State in Australia had Irish blight.
– Except Western Australia.
– Western Australia had it, too. Except for the codlin moth, that State has as many pests and diseases as any . other, and no State should’ use its powers of inspection to the detriment of other States., In my opinion, Commonwealth inspection, in some cases at least, would be better than State inspection, which has occasionally proved faulty; and I believe that this Parliament has already carried a resolution approving of Commonwealth inspection. We know that there were instances in which stores for hospital ships and transports were passed by State inspectors, and afterwards found to be diseased, and the circumstances made it impossible for the disease to have appeared after the State inspection. In those cases, the State inspection was faulty. With Commonwealth inspection, the interests of all the States would be safeguarded. We should do all that we can to prevent diseases from spreading from State to State, but without Commonwealth inspectors it is impossible to know exactly what is the position in any State. I hope that the motion will be passed.
.- The only fault I find with the motion is that it does not go far enough. In my opinion, there should be no restriction of trade between the States further than may be necessary to check the spread of diseases. I should like to see the words “ and live stock “ inserted after the word “ produce “ in the motion. In many instances, State authorities have acted in such a way as to greatly restrict trade in live stock, and in some cases have thus caused severe losses to the community. To my knowledge, the community, as a whole, has, on occasions, lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, and the cost of living throughout Australia has been proportionately increased owing to the jealousy between Queensland and New South Wales, and the same undoubtedly occurs in many instances in regard to produce.
I call the attention of the House to a very muchbetter way in which these matters are managed in the United States of America, from whose “book” we ought to take a “ leaf.” From an American official publication I take the following:
A Bureau of Markets has been established as a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture to deal with problems as associated with marketing of agricultural produce, and particularly with perishable produce. This Bureau has rendered service to the community, because it has been able to bring about a wiser distribution of agricultural produce, has reduced losses by wastage, and has, therefore, benefited both” producer and consumer. Moreover, through the agency of the Bureau the marketing of perishable produce has been converted from a hazardous into a steady business. The Bureau carries out three classes of activity -
Investigational work in marketing of produce ;
The supply of regular market reports on all types of produce;
Regulatory work in connexion with the enforcement of the Grain Standards Act.
The investigational work includes the marketing and distribution of farm products, food supply investigations, co-operation with the States in solving marketing problems. The investigations cover market conditions, demands for specific crops, sources of supply, methods of grading, standardization, packing, and shipping. . . . . .
This bureau exercises all activities in connexion with the bringing of produce from the market garden or the farm direct to the consumer.
In these days every one is suffering from the tremendous increase in the cost of living. This is owing chiefly, not to lack of produce, but, on the one hand, to an inflated currency - which we can deal with at another time - and, on the other hand, to lack of method in distribution. There are many places in Australia to-day where large quantities of valuable produce, more particularly vegetable produce, is rendered almost valueless owing to the lack of transport facilities. One of the greatest needs in Australia to-day is to hasten transit of produce from the farm to consumers. If this motion now brought forward by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) is carried, we shall do good in this direction, and it ought to have the support, not only of those interested in primary production, but of those from whom we hear so much in support of the consumers. In my opinion, the solution of practically all the problems in this community rests on the provision of proper facilities for the producers. With all our natural capacity for production, we have lagged behind almost every other people on the face of the earth in encouraging and aiding those whose work it is to feed and clothe the people. The removal of a difficulty such as that with which we are now dealing will help, at any rate, in bringing us nearer to a solution ; but it is only a slight step, and we shall never have any satisfaction until the House and the country realize more fully the truth of the old Roman saying that we may destroy our cities, and the country will rebuild them; but if we destroy our rural districts, grass will grow in the streets of the cities. I am glad to see that on private members’ day a motion is brought forward which shows that there is some active interest, even if it bein a minor way, in enabling the primary producer to get something like a. satisfactory market and a reasonable return for his labour.
– I support the motion, and do so principally for the reason that the States, if they felt so inclined, could, not only in this, but in many other matters, thwart legislation passed by this Parliament. If there was one thing that we thought was firmly embedded in our Constitution, it was Inter-State Free Trade; we felt that all barriers were wiped out, and ample provision made for the free passing from one State to another of produce and other goods which would have no injurious effect in the State to which they were sent, whether across the border by land or from port to port. Honorable members from Western Australia should be the first to support a motion of this kind, because we have an illustration of how, by means of a regulation, that State was able to practically say there should not be free trade in produce from Tasmania and Victoria.
– Queensland and New South Wales afford other examples, and the most glaring case was that afforded by the latter State in the matter of wheat.
– It was desired to force influenza on Western Australia.
– No State would ever think of inflicting that contagion on another State. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) that the Commonwealth, in every-day language, has no particular axe to grind, whereas a State public servant may be prejudiced in favour of his State and its produce, and inflict hardship on the producers of another State.
– A Federal public servant could just as easily be corrupted.
– I do not think so. A Commonwealth inspector may be transferred from State to State according to the requirements of the Service whereas State officers, as a rule, are kept in one spot. Without desiring to cast any reflections, I fear that there is a tendency on the part of State officials, if they find their Government has a leaning in a certaindirection, to give such decisions as will please the Government; indeed, this has occurred in the past. Could there be anything more glaring than a regulation imposing an inspection duty of 15s. a ton on potatoes on the Fremantle wharf, and thus thwarting what is one of the main principles for which we federated ? This applies not only to potatoes, but to many other classes of produce. Unfortunately, the High Court upheld the State Government to which I am now referring, and this shows a serious defect in the Constitution. We are not here simply as members for particular States. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) only yesterday appealed to honorable members to take a broad Australian view - to consider all these questions in a national spirit. If we are to do this, we must eliminate everything likely to create disintegration in the Commonwealth.
– Does the honorable member think that duplication of inspectors would facilitate transport?
– There is no necessity for duplication. I have listened to four addresses on this same subject by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson), and on each occasion he has made out an exceptionally strong case,
– That does not prove that there will not be duplication.
– There is no necessity for duplication if experts who know their business are appointed. My own hope is that not only in this, but in other matters, duplication will be eliminated, for this would result in considerable saving of money. If I thought that this motion meant duplication I should be averse to it, though even then we would only be doing a just thing in adopting it. I am not a States Righter in any shape or form.
– You are in favour of Unification ?
– I do not say that. As the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) said in his maiden speech-
– He is a great Conservative.
– I do not care what he is so long as he takes a broad Australian view. If I found that Western Australia was suffering an injustice, I should help Western Australian members to fight against it. I certainly am not in favour of diseased fruit or other produce being sent to a clean State.
– The matter could be better arranged by mutual arrangement amongst the States.
– Surely the State Governments are amenable to reason and open to accept a proposition by which the Commonwealth would relieve them of their present expenditure on inspection ?
– The Commonwealth inspectors would have to be paid.
– There is no need to pay two inspectors. Doubtless, the Minister for Trade and Customs would have to engage more inspectors than he has at the present time, but it is quite “on the cards” that the gentlemen now performing the duties for the States would be appointed. If these officials can be trusted as State officers, we ought to be able to trust them as Federal officers to give all concerned a fair deal.
.- I do not believe in Unification, but I do believe in Inter-State Free Trade, which, I fear, has very often been interfered with. I remember instances where the owners of stations in Queensland, who also had stations in New South Wales, were called upon to pay a considerable deposit to the present Queensland Government before they could send stock to their New South Wales stations, and the deposit became forfeited if the stock were not returned. As honorable, members will see, this was really an export duty. In another case, when the Queensland Government were importing flour from the Argentine, merchants were debarred from importing flour from New South Wales to sell against Queensland Government flour : this because the merchants were obtaining their flour at a cheaper rate than were the Government. Such interferences with Inter-State Free Trade should be stopped as far as possible. No one should be able to say that because New South Wales or Victoria .has sum- .cient produce of its own to sell, Tasmania should be debarred from sending produce to those States. That applies to Queensland and to every other State. It is our duty here to represent the whole of the Commonwealth, and not any single State. For that reason, I intend to support the motion.
.- Anything tending to simplify methods of distribution between State and State is, in my opinion, for the general good. It is calculated to keep down the cost of living generally, and of the commodity in “ question; particularly. In my view, the effect of the motion will be not only to reduce the cost of living, but to minimize the friction which so often arises between various States regarding the distribution of State commodities I do not see why the whole subject covered by the motion should not be dealt with by the Commonwealth,,. -authorities as effectively as by various State Departments to-day. I believe that inspection of produce would be more satisfactorily carried out under the Commonwealth regime following upon voluntary arrangements between Commonwealth and States, than if an effort were made to enforce Commonwealth control. If the matter of inspection were arbitrarily taken over by the Commonwealth, the States, backed by their police powers, would still be able to interfere and, to a very large extent, negative the work of the Commonwealth inspectors. Uniformity of regulations and standards would tend to facilitate distribution of produce, and thus considerably help the consumer. I do not suggest that any deliberate attempt is made to-day by one State to block the imports of another; but there are always people who will say that the regulations framed by different States are intended mainly to bolster the industries of the States concerned at’ the expense of those of the remaining States. If the control and- inspection of produce and commodities at the State borders were taken ‘over by the Federal authority, that charge, at any rate, could no longer exist. It is desirable not only that such imputations should be unuttered, but that a condition of affairs be brought about wherein no such imputations could conceivably be levelled; and because I believe that the best course would be to establish Federal control, I intend to support the motion.
– I have been considerably impressed with the arguments of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson), but I have been struck also by the absence of any proposed solution of the fundamental difficulty associated with this and all such matters, namely, the clashing of State and Federal authorities - the duplication between State and Federal control. No doubt, the arguments in favour of Federal inspection at the borders, in respect to produce and live stock passing between one State and another, are exceedingly strong. But unless we can secure some guarantee that upon the establishment of Federal inspection! the present State inspection will cease, the outcome of this motion will merely be to add to the welter of duplication. I would strenuously oppose any suggestion to create new Federal Departments and responsibilities unless, at the same time, there were guarantees that the corresponding State activities should cease.
– All that is intended by this motion is to bring about a change from State to Federal authority.
– If I can be assured that such will be the outcome, I shall warmly support the motion.
– There would probably be the same officers employed as to-day.
– My experience of duplication between State and Federal authorities does not impress me in that direction. Whenever the Federal authority has proposed the establishment of functions which hitherto have been car.ried on by a State Department, the State Government concerned has often strenuously opposed the proposal to abrogate its own functions.
– If the Federal functions were to be additional to the present State inspections, it would be of no use to proceed with my motion.
– We cannot interfere with the States. It is of no use to ask them to relinquish their activities.
– Of course not. It is not likely that the States will abandon their present powers and functions at the borders. The subject is one, indeed, which might well be remitted to the next Premiers’ Conference. There, the Commonswealth representatives might be able to learn whether the State Governments would be willing to relinquish their border inspection activities. Or the whole subject could be set aside for consideration by the forthcoming Constitution Con.vention. At this stage I intend to support the motion.
– So far as the Government is concerned, we have no objection to this motion. I strongly hold the view that Federal inspection at the State borders will be for the benefit of our primary producers and others, and that nothing but advantage could be derived from making the conditions all over Australia identical. There should be uniformity. I do not subscribe to the view that, if one or more of the States were to hold out and threaten to use their police powers in order to render nugatory the action of the Commonwealth, that action of itself should prevent the Commonwealth from doing the inspection work. In such circumstances, we should go, ahead and throw the responsibility definitely upon the interfering State. Already honorable members must be aware that the Commonwealth has taken over ‘the inspection of certain classes of products which pass between the States. Dairy produce, for example, is entirely under the control of the Commonwealth to-day, so far as Inter-State trade is concerned.
-But the work is. performed by State officers.
– Not now. The Commonwealth Government has appointed its own inspectors. The reason for that has been that we have found it impossible, working with a number of State officers, to secure uniform standards for export.
– -What has become of those State inspectors?
– Most of them are now in the Commonwealth employ.
– And that is what would happen as the outcome of my motion.
– There are quite a number of duties performed to-day under the Commerce Act by State officials. In cases where the amount of work to be done was not sufficient to warrant ‘the appointment of permanent men in the Commonwealth service, I have no doubt that we would employ State officers who are at present engaged. But I am not altogether satisfied with the employment of State officers for Federal duties. Our experience has not been entirely happy. Nevertheless, the expenditure upon the appointment of new Commonwealth officials would not be warranted if itwere found possible to carry on with the State officers already available.
The Government is listing for the consideration of the next Premiers’ Conference the matter of the standardization of quite’ a number of items, both manufactured and otherwise, in order to arrive, if possible, at common standards - thus rendering immense assistance to producers and manufacturers throughout Australia. I hope that the next Premiers’ Conference will arrive at a decision which will enable common standards to be set up, and if the States come into line it will immensely assist us in any work of inspection which may be requisite at the borders.
.- I often have a good laugh over the form of government existing throughout Australia. The present system of divided authority is about the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of. I am afraid that the motion, if it is carried, will not bring about better control of produce passing between one State and another and ‘overseas. We have only recently been informed through the press of a shipment of jam having been so packed in Australia that it arrived in an unsound condition, and “was unfit for consumption at its destination on the other side of the world. “We have that statement on the authority of ‘the firm of Jones and Company, Hobart. Our experience of State control does not lead us to repose any trust in it. It is the duty of the Commonwealth to protect the whole of Australia in regard “to the matter of exportations, especially at a period when rates of exchange are so high. If the people of Great Britain form the opinion that imports from Australia are not fit for human consumption, it is likely to interfere considerably with our trade, just when it should be our duty to export as much as possible and import as little as possible. Only in this way can we hope to overcome the difficulty of the increased rates of exchange.
No honorable member will oppose the proposal to have one inspection of produce and that a Federal matter. We are told that the questionwill be dealt with at a Premiers’ Conference, and in this connexion I am glad to say that Mr. Holman, the arch enemy of Federal progress, will not be in attendance at the next Conference.
The greatest problem throughout the world to-day is the matter of transportation and distribution, to which the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. -Fleming) has drawn attention. We can produce in Australia more than we require for our own consumption, and we could export larger quantities of produce if we had the means of transporting it to other markets. We have also to overcome the heavy cost of distribution. The producer has now to take his potatoes to a railway station or a wharf; from the railway or the steamer the potatoes are carted to an agent; the agent takes them to the market; from the market they pass to the shopkeeper, and from the shopkeeper to the consumer. The present costly system of distribution is one of the principal causes of the present high prices of commodities and produce. One solution of the high cost of living would be a scheme by which produce could pass more directly from the producer to the consumer. If a case of apples is taken into a market in Sydney it is bought by other persons than those of my own race, and conveyed to a shop in the city, for which the proprietor is obliged to pay a rental of £25 per week, in addition to having to incur the expense of providing light and assistance. How can people expect to get cheap fruit in such circumstances?
I am firmly of opinion that there should he one method of control of produce. We cannot depend on action at Premiers’ Conferences. State Ministers are too jealous of the little authority remaining to them to part with any of it. We shall always have considerable difficulty in overcoming their opposition to Federal control until we alter our Constitution. When I voted for Federation I did so believing that it was the only means by which steps could be taken to bring about a united Australian opinion, and that the intelligence of future Commonwealth Parliaments would be sufficient to grapple with all difficulties as they arose. The’ subject dealt with in the honorable member’s motion is one which was mentioned by various speakers at the Federal ‘Conventions, and I think that the Federal Government ought to have the courage to tell the State Premiers that they are only second-rate articles, and that the real first-class article is the Commonwealth Government. They ought to tell them that, apart altogether from economic reasons and the matter ofcost and so forth, this dual control of produce should cease. Unfortunately our Ministers have not sufficient courage to do this. I do not know what I would say if I were in England endeavouring to explain why Australia has fourteen Houses of Parliament and seven Governors. I am afraid we shall never be able to explain how it is that there are so many controlling forces in Australia, but I believe that if the Federal Government had the courage to take the action I suggest they would have the people of the Commonwealth behind them. If ever I have the opportunity of getting on the Governmentb ench the people will have in me the strongest advocate of a cessation of this dual control.
– Does the honorable member think that the States would agree to it?
– I would simply tell them that We proposed to assume this control. If I were a State Minister, of course I would do nothing to lose my job, but in this House we ought to rise above that sort of thing, . and our Ministers to-day could do it if they felt so disposed. The time must come sooner or later, when earnest consideration must be given to the question of the heavy cost of the transportation and distribution of produce. Here we can grow any mortal thing we require, and if our primary producers received some encouragement in the matter of the disposal of their produce they would grow it in greater abundance, not only for consumption in Australia, but also for export, and I think that the Federal Government should be the sole authority to satisfy the people into whose country any of our produce is passing as to its soundness. If we go to a division, I shall certainly vote for the motion. I hope the Government will rise to the occasion, and at the first opportunity tell the States that the time has come when a stop should be put to the. present foolish system. Many of the people are disgusted with the way in which the affairs of this Parliament are conducted. It is little wonder that some of our friends outside have no respect for parliamentary institutions, in view of. the want of courage shown by members of this Parliament in demanding the exercise of the powers conferred upon it by the people. No greater honour could be enjoyed than that of representing the people in the National Parliament. I am proud to be a member of this House, and I want every honorable member to arrive at a proper appreciation of the importance of the National Legislature. Those who read the speeches made by the leading members of the Federal Convention will realize what was the object of the founders of Federation, who were among the brainiest men in Australia. I hope the Government will show that they have a knowledge of the wants of the country by accepting this motion, and giving effect to it.
.- I support this motion, knowing as I do that when our soldiers were going to the Front to fight for Australian liberties they were supplied with vile bullocks’ livers, diseased with hydatids and fluke, which came from private abattoirs in this city. After putting something like twentyfive questions to Ministers, I learned’ that these abattoirs were owned by Mr. Angliss, a very wealthy man in our community; and when I was threatened with an action if - 1 dared to repeat outside what I said on the subject in this House, I made the statement from a public platform that if Mr. Angliss or his manager knew that the meat was diseased when it left the abattoirs, hanging at the first street lamp-post was too good for him. Subsequently, when I told Mr. Angliss what I had said, he agreed with me that hanging would be too good for a man who knowingly supplied such meat for human consumption. The fact that this meat was diseased was discovered bv a lucky accident. An officer of the Customs Department happened to be present on one occasion when it was being put on board ship, and promptly drew attention to it. I have; evidence from soldiers that on some occasions they saw bubbles on the liver while it was being cooked in the ship’s galley. Some of them buried the meat at sea with musical honours. Mr. Jensen, who was Minister for the Navy when the discovery was made, directed, to his lasting credit, that bullocks’ livers should not in future be placed on board ship for use as food. That diseased meat was sent out on several occasions, and one wonders what happens to the people of this huge city, who have no supervision of meat supplies by an officer of the Federal Government. 1 had practically to tear the information from the present Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook), disclosing the name of the man from whose abattoirs these diseased livers had been supplied. 1 am puzzled to know why there has not been a further inquiry as to the reasons leading to the making of the contract for the supply of liver. It was alleged that the diseased meat came from the Melbourne City Abattoirs. That was a base lie. The Chairman of the Abattoirs Committee of the Melbourne City Council denied it, and proved clearly that bullocks’ liver was never sent out of the City Abattoirs except as dogs’ meat.
While I was held up in Western Australia during the influenza epidemic, the Government of that State took action to prevent the introduction of the disease from the eastern States. That action met with my full approbation. I do not believe that sufficient precautions were taken to prevent the spread of the disease. As a matter of fact, the outbreak in New Zealand was due to a vessel on which several cases had occurred, and by which’ Sir Joseph Ward was a passenger from the Old Country, being allowed to go right up to the anchorage, instead of being placed in quarantine. Its passengers were permitted to go ashore without being examined. The responsibility for many of the deaths that took place in New Zealand as the result of the epidemic is to be laid at the door of those who permitted the vessel to go to the usual anchorage instead of being placed in quarantine. I congratulated the Government of Western Australia on the action they took.
– Might not the same thing occur under this proposed inspection system?
– No. The lesson taught the Commonwealth Government will not soon be forgotten. If I thought that the introduction of a serious disease into Victoria was to be prevented only by defying the Commonwealth law, I should certainly advise the State authorities to defy it.
– There is no need to break the law in order to prevent the entry of a disease into a State. The States already have power in that regard.
– I agree with the honorable member, who has consistently and persistently brought this motion before successive Parliaments, and I hope that it will be carried.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that as early as practicable a Constitutional Convention should” be summoned for the purpose of considering the need, substance, and form of any amendment of section 51 of the Constitution, and that such Convention shall -
Since the time at my disposal is very short, I shall not deal at length with this question. I remind honorable members of the following rather ambiguous paragraph in the Governor-General’s Speech at the opening of this Parliament : -
My advisers deeply regret the defeat of the referendum proposals recentlybefore the people. They intend to introduce legislation to authorize the summoning of a Convention, representing the people and the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and the States, for the revision of the National Constitution.
Honorable members will recognise that the paragraph is capable of several interpretations. One of these is that the Government might propose a nominee Convention. I am convinced that the people of Australia will not agree to anything of the kind. It is also capable of having placed upon it the construction that the Government do not propose to provide for the equal representation of all the States. I have at times wondered why a small State should have in Parliament the same Senate representation as
The Commonwealth ‘Constitution has now been in operation for twenty years, and in many, ways has proved an admirable instrument of government. I think we may safely say that it is the freest and best Constitution in the world. Time and experience, however, have naturally disclosed some weaknesses in it, and I think we should endeavour as early as possible to remove those weaknesses. That can best be done by a Convention elected by the people, which would” practically frame a new Constitution, and render excellent service in this regard,. I. am strongly opposed to nominee Chambers and Conventions, and I believe the people would demand a voice in the election of any. Convention designed to deal with the Constitution. A Convention chosen by the electors might not comprise all the best men for the work, but it would, certainly be the most satisfactory from the point of view of the people of Australia. I am anxious to hear what theGovernment mean by the statement contained in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech, and, therefore, I shall not occupy much time in debating the motion. All doubts could be and should be removed by a simple statement from the Government, failing which I hope that a division will be taken, upon the motion to-night. Before concluding,.I should like to refer to what the Senate has proved to be in contrast to what it was intended to be. When the Constitution was framed, no man thought that the Senate would become a party House, which it is to-day, unfortunately.,
– It will be a one-party House after June next.
– By the will of the. people it is. almost that now, The Constitution of the Senate will require great alteration in order to be satisfactory to the people. I think the Convention should also consider the drafting of a Constitution that will prevent a good deal of the present duplication of Commonwealth and State services, which is. gross extravagance. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has advocated the removal of such anomalies; are for or against it. I hope the Prime Minister will assure the House that the Government do not intend a nominee convention. But they have referred to the representation of State Parliaments, and I say that no nian will have a right to sit in the Convention unless he has been chosen by the people. Proportional representation has been suggested, and I believe that if that system were adopted it would produce a convention of business men. Those men of commerce who have said that they cannot afford to enter Parliament are beginning to feel that they cannot afford to stay out, because Parliament itself is developing into a huge business, the employees of which are very badly paid, Men holding responsible positions in connexion with .- Parliament are not being paid as much as are many men in tin-pot commercial concerns. This is my thirtieth year of parliamentary life. I have contested thirteen elections, and I fail to appreciate the statement by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) that there is a great deal of value to be placed upon the social prestige of a parliamentary position. I have never discovered’ any such advantage; in fact, I am very prone at times to keep my member’s pass from view. It is absurd to put members of Parliament on the footing df employees in occupations with no responsibility. After all, the people have a habit of accepting a man at his own price, and if he is satisfied to receive a small payment, the people will readily agree that that is #11 he is worth. The present salaries are not sufficient to enable men to live comfortably, and, certainly are not high enough to attract many good men into Parliament. I hope that the Convention will reopen the whole question, and that -the people will have an opportunity of deciding whether or not the Commonwealth is to be paramount, whether the Commonwealth Service is to be the blue riband of Australia, in which officers are properly remunerated, or whether we shall continue to pay two sets of officials out of the one pocket to do the same work. Taxation falls most heavily upon the primary producers. We members of Parliament are simply the channel through which taxation is paid. We toil not, neither do we spin.
– What about the working people ? ‘
– Are not they primary producers? It is not the men who mouth Labour and arrogate to themselves the sole patent rights to represent Labour who do most for the benefit of the working class. There are in this Parliament men who, although not classed “Labour” by honorable members opposite, have done more for labour in one year than the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) will do in a lifetime. However, I have no desire to cross swords with the honorable member or to prolong this debate. I hope that a satisfactory statement will be forthcoming from the Government, or, alternatively, that the motion will be carried.
– I formally second the motion.
– I take this opportunity of saying a few words upon a matter of very great importance. I shall be very brief, and shall not attempt to cover more than a fraction of the question. The necessity for an amendment of the Constitution has been recognised in a very general way “in this House for many years. There have been differences of opinion as to how far the amendment should go, but that some amendment is necessary has been generally accepted by members on both sides. I say nothing by way of regret, or even comment, on the rejection of the’ Referenda proposals by the people. My faith in the people is a hardy annual, and survives the blighting frosts of rejection; with the spring it shoots again, restoring my confidence that in the end they will follow the right road. For the fourth time, I think, they have rejected proposals for the amendment of the Constitution. But even if they had accepted them, still not all would have been done, or could have been done, that needs to be done. Naturally, twenty year3 have produced great changes, and although we postulate that those who drafted the Constitution were men of the finest water, that their intelligence was profound, and their knowledge extensive, yet no one could pry far enough into the future to be able to say what sort of instrument of government would actually meet the requirements of this young and’ everprogressing Commonwealth. They did well, they built wisely and on sure founda-tions. After all, the test of an institu-tion is its wearing quality, and the
Constitution exists, after twenty years, the most progressive in Australian history. The Constitution requires amendment. What amendment is required is a question that is easier asked than answered. Some will say that it requires amendment here, others that it requires amendment there. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) mentioned some glaring instances which find an echo in every man’s heart - anomalies such as dual taxation and the like. But no man is able to say that an amendment here and another amendment there will of themselves be sufficient. The fact is that the time has come when the Constitution must be remoulded by men who appreciate to the full the changes which twenty years have wrought, who see the defects of the present Constitution, and who realize, too, its many excellences, for it has many. And this can best be done by a Convention. In His Excellency’s Speech the Government set out their intention of introducing a measure for that purpose before the close of this session, and I take advantage of this opportunity to remind honorable member* that the Government intend to carry out that policy.
I shall not attempt now to say how far the Constitution needs amendment, though for many years I have advocated certain most important amendments. When I first introduced into this Chamber a measure for the submission of constitutional amendments to the people, I stated that the American Constitution, on which ours was based, was so rigid that it had not been amended in any important particular, except as the result of the bloodiest war that the world had ever known. That was, of course, before the recent great war. Since then things have changed, and even that most rigid of instruments of government has proved an ineffectual bar to progress. Had any man predicted a few years ago that prohibition would be carried in America, he would have been laughed to scorn, because to carry it involved the concurrence of two-thirds of the States. Prohibition, however, has now been carried there, and other amendments of radical importance have been made. Still, to our way of thinking, the American Constitution is not so well suited for the government of a free people as are the Con- stitutions of Great Britain, of Canada, South Africa, or of New Zealand. Had they the opportunity to express themselves on the subject, the people of this country would say that their will must be able to find expression without let or hindrance through their chosen representatives in the Federal Legislature. I agree with what has been said by my honorable friend. A house cannot contain seven masters; though, in saying that, I do not for a moment support Unification. Today, when asked what power the Commonwealth had to prevent profiteering, I said, that it had none, and it will be remembered that a Deakin Government sought to pass a Federal Companies Act, but found that this Parliament has not power to do so. Although nine-tenths of the commerce and enterprise of the world is. directed by companies, .this Parliament cannot pass a law regulating their actions, and, consequently, the greater part of the capital of the country, and of the power behind that capital, is beyond the scopeof our legislation.
Constitutional amendment is not a party matter. Every member of this Legislature should be jealous .of itshonour and dignity, and it is a. reflection upon the good sense of the people that legislation in regard to matters vital to their welfare should be beyond the power of this Parliament. Theamendment of our present Constitution is called for, and, in my opinion, a Convention is most likely to frame a new Constitution acceptable to the people. Unless, amendments acceptable to the people are. proposed, nothing can come of any attempt at amendment. The people have already on several occasions declined toindorse the proposed amendments. Therefore they must be asked to elect delegatesto a Convention, and subsequently mustbe invited to express their opinion uponthe work of the Convention. There is a. great difference of opinion as to how the Constitution should be amended. Some would go only so far, others much further,, and others, again, not so far; but all agreethat amendment is necessary. This being, SO, the Government will give the House an opportunity to discuss a proposal for the creation of a Convention to consider the amendment of the Constitution. There will be a fair and full opportunity provided for the free and frank expression of opinion on this subject. The Government has its own views, but it will not force them down the throats of honorable members. “We desire a Convention that will be satisfactory to the community, because the work of the Convention must be acceptable to the people. I hope that the measure to be introduced will be generally supported. The time given to the discussion now before us will not be wasted if a debate ensues which will let the Government know that the House is anxious to discuss these matters.
.- I do not know the meaning of ‘the ‘speech just delivered by the Prime Minister. All I gather from it is that at some future date he will bring down a Bill providing for the election of a Convention. Is it to be brought down this session?
– This may be a very long session. We have been told that although the Government has its own views, members will be able to mould the Bill as they desire. A majority can always do that. We are indebted to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro for the present opportunity to discuss this matter. In my opinion, Australia has outgrown its Constitution, though the amendments which were submitted by the Labour party in 1911 and 1913, when Mr. Hughes was a member of it, were not accepted. Now there are supporting the right honorable gentleman some who were in favour of those amendments and others who strongly opposed them. The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Joseph Cook) led the Opposition of the day out of the chamber on one -occasion by way of protest, but ‘ had to come back next day to continue the business of Parliament. The Constitution needs amending, however. Mr. Groom, when AttorneyGeneral in a Deakin. Government, supplied a memorandum at the request of South African authorities advising the people of South Africa not to adopt, in framing their Constitution, the principles upon which we have based ours.
– But they voted against the extreme proposal of the then Labour party.
– Because they were the proposals of the Labour party. The pre sent Chief Justice of Victoria, then Mr. Irvine, said once in this House that a proposed amendment of the Constitution was necessary, and that he would have voted for it were it not that the Labour party would have had the working of it. I hope that on this occasion we shall prove bigger-minded than he was. The Premier of Western Australia said only the other day in regard to the creation of a Convention to consider the amendment of the Constitution that the representation of the States would have >to be exactly on the same lines as it was in the original Convention. At the present time the Constitution cannot ‘be altered unless a majority of the electors in a majority of the States agree to the proposed alteration.
– You were never game to propose an alteration of that provision.
– Some of the members behind the honorable member would abolish the present Constitution and substitute Unification. The people, however, have agreed to Federation, and the Constitution can be amended only in the way I have stated. Speaking as a citizen, and not as a party man, I say that the sooner the Government bring forward their Bill for the creation of the proposed Convention the better. A Convention could not be elected in a short space of time. Candidates for election would have to travel throughout the land, and as probably members of this Parliament would secure election, it would create difficulties to have the Convention sitting concurrently with a session of this Parliament. I think all are agreed that something must be done for the amendment of the Constitution, and the sooner the matter is tackled the better, whether by this House, or by a Convention. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has served Australia well by bringing forward a motion which allows the matter to be discussed, and the opinions of honorable members to be obtained. Any amended Constitution must be submitted to the people for acceptance. Until they have ratified any alterations that may be proposed, the present Constitution will stand. Therefore the consideration of the whole matter is necessary and urgent work for us in the near future.
– I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Chapman) upon bringing forward this motion so early in the session. As I said on a previous occasion, I consider this the most important proposal that could come before Parliament at the present time. I was very disappointed, however, by the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), inasmuch as he indicated no actual time or date when the Bill to create the Convention was likely to come before the House. He said that for many years the necessity for some amendment of - the Constitution had been widely recognised here; but during the last six years, at any rate, outside, and even in the State Houses, the necessity for amendment has been strongly felt. The Constitution, as it stands, is admirable in many respects. It has faults, but they are the faults of that compromise which was inevitable twenty years ago, owing to the intense feeling of State jealousies, and the ambitions of State politicians of the time. Owing to the absence of Queensland from the final deliberations of the Federal Convention, there was inserted that section which provides for the absolute territorial integrity of the States, and this is responsible for the fact that at the present time small and gradual amendments do not “fill the bill,” and a sweeping change is inevitable. The reason is that one or two States preponderate so largely that alterations, repeatedly brought forward, are not possible. This proposal for a Convention is overdue; it should have been before, not this Parliament, but the Parliament which sat from 1917 to 1920. Although we were at war the business before Parliament was not of such importance as to preclude the discussion of an alteration of the Constitution, without which reconstruction after the war was absolutely impossible. During the war, England, which had to finance the whole of it - finance all the Allies, police the seas, provide 6,000,000 men, and magnify its fleets enormously - extended the electoral franchise, which embraced an additional 8,000,000 voters- probably the most sweeping change in the history of England. It seems to me that, considering the events of the first few months of the war, the Federal Parliament should have taken steps in the last Parliament to make preparations for the reconstruction which must follow the chaos the Germans have created in the world.
What happened when the war broke out? Within three months of the beginning of hostilities, Mr. Holman, the
Premier of New South Wales, commandeered all the wheat in that State, because there was a scarcity in other Australian States. Though Victorians, South Australians, and Queenslanders were fighting side by side with men of New South Wales on the other side of the world, the New South Wales Government decided to commandeer the wheat in this way. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) took the matter to the High Court, acting as a true Australian should, but was defeated, thus proving conclusively that the Constitution was absolutely unworkable under any strain. It would work creakily in peace time, but in war time it was absolutely unable to permit of any progress; and within a few months we had the incident referred to this afternoon by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). The whole of the discussion on the motion previously before the House should have taken place on the motion we are now considering; but all would have been unnecessary if we had had a Constitution under which the Government could act in the way a national Government should be able to act. Within six months of the beginning of the war we found Queensland placing an embargo on cattle that were sent from one State to the next, those sent to New South Wales having to pay a deposit of 10s. per head as a guarantee that they would be returned. Later on in the same year, a man who had cattle at Toowoomba and land at Tamworth, was unable to get lucerne over the border for his starving stock, because New South Wales asserted “ State rights.” Such cases surely sshowed the immediate necessity for some action; but nothing at all was done. I think that Parliament met for one month during one of the war years.
– The war years were practically a continuous session.
– I speak under correction. In any case, the urgent matter was reconstruction, and the provision of a basis on which the new world that our men fought and died for was to be built. But when it is proposed that industries shall be established, we find that this cannot be done, because the Constitution does not provide the powers. The Government are quite willing to establish industries, but the State Governments refuse to devolve power because it may benefit an adjoining State. These are matters which surely should have been considered. In England, Prance, Germany, the United States of America, and Canada during the war we found Ministries of reconstruction actively making ready for the beginning of the change; but now, practically eighteen months after the ending of the war, we have still to consider the question whether we are to have a Convention, and what_ its result is likely to be. There may very easily be a barren result if we do not have the election of the delegates in the proper way. Various amendments proposed in the Constitution have been defeated, but by very few votes in the aggregate. In some States there were overwhelming majorities against the amendments, and this warped the mind of Australia looking at the matter, because those majorities were thought to be more overwhelming than they were. But a revised Constitution coming from a Convention will have a much more favorable chance of being accepted.
In instituting the Convention, it will be necessary to have a campaign of five or six weeks in which the whole constitutional question can be debated on platform after platform throughout the country. If we have a Convention thoroughly representative of the various interests throughout the country, and the debates are fully reported - if points of difference and divergence of opinion are thoroughly discussed in the press - I venture to say that the public mind will be thoroughly educated, and will be able to give a proper decision as to the merits or demerits of the Constitution proposed. But it seems to me - and I insist on this’ point again - that there should be some provision for proper representation of the rural interests in the Convention. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr.
Austin Chapman , in his motion, provides for proportional representation.; and that is absolutely necessary in order to secure proper representation in the Convention. But it will be necessary, especially if the big party machines get to work, to go further iri order to secure proper representation. It is agreed on all sides that what we need in the Convention are not simply politicians - not simply men who have made a life study of politics. We also require big business men who have made big business a life study, and men who have made a life study of rural pursuits, who cannot afford, or may have no taste for, politics; but we shall not get these men unless we make it possible for them to be returned without the expenditure of too much time and money.
– Would you not leave it to the people to choose the representatives ?
– Yes, and to that end I repeat the suggestion I made before, that each State should be divided for electoral purposes into a certain number of electorates. If Queensland or New South Wales were chosen as one electorate to return ten representatives, it would require practically a fortune for an unknown man, however sound his ideas might be, to make himself known and place his views before the .people. But we have . an electoral basis of five constituencies in the two States with small populations - Tasmania and Western Australia - each returning five Federal members. Queensland returns ten members. Now it seems to me that if the division into five is made in each State, and proportional representation is adopted for the Convention - it will be, I take it, elective throughout, .and not nominee in any sense - we would then have returned from these smaller areas men who, although without political desires of any sort or taste for political life, may have very sound political opinions, and be willing to devote, perhaps, a year of their time to. the furtherance of the constitutional project. Unless this step is taken we shall not have the services of such men.
I should like to briefly outline the divisions that could be made in the bigger States. As regards Tasmania and Western Australia, they are already marked out by the Federal electorates. In
Queensland we have in the north Herbert and Kennedy making one electoral unit. The electors of these districts have declared time after time for selfgovernment, and both of them have definite community of interest. Then we come to Capricornia and Maranoa. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), who at one time represented Maranoa in the State Parliament, carried a motion in the Queensland Parliament in favour of the subdivision of Queensland into three States, and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) has carried a similar motion in the Federal Parliament, and I take it that these electorates are representative of very similar views. This would be a second electoral unit. Then, we have six other electorates in southern Queensland - two metropolitan and four farming - making three more electoral units. In New South Wales there are five electorates in the north. Darling, Gwydir, New England, Richmond, and Cowper, which have very definite identity of interests. I am satisfied that if they were grouped together there would be no difficulty in securing the election of proper representatives.
– What community of interest is there between Broken Hill and Richmond River?
– If the honorable member had lived in the northern districts, as I have, he would know that there is the very closest community of interest between the coast and the inland’ districts. Every man who can do so during drought sends his sheep and cattle to the coast, but does so only with great difficulty, on account of the scandalous lack of railway facilities. Any one acquainted with northern New South Wales must know how closely related is the north ‘ coast district commercially with the tableland behind, and with the great western plains at the back of it.
Returning to the unit grouping of the electorates according to community of interest, the divisions of Hunter, Newcastle, Robertson, Calare, and Macquarie would form one electoral group; while, in the south, Eden-Monaro, Hume, Riverina, Werriwa, and Illawarra would form another. Then there would be the twelve metropolitan and sub-metropolitan electorates, which would provide between them two units. Similar divisions, on almost identical lines, could be cast in respect of Victoria. For example, there is the community of interest which would draw together the electorates of Wimmera, Wannon, Echuca, Grampians, and Corangamite. It appears to me that unless grouping into units is carried out in this way there will not be adequate representation. At the first Federal Convention, when New South Wales sent ten delegates, Sir John See was placed twelfth on the list, largely because he was a country man.
– No, but because there were better men ahead of him.
– The fact remains that of the ten there were only two country representatives - namely, Sir William Lyne and Mr. Brunker. I will not say that the country representatives in the New South Wales Parliament were a poorer lot than the city men.
– Sir John See was a Protectionist. That is one reason why he was not chosen.,
– So am I for that matter, but this House should determine a basis for the personnel of the Convention. It should not be left to any State Legislature to decide how that State should be represented. I believe in the principle laid down by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. (Mr. Austin Chapman) - namely, that there should be in the Convention equal representation of every State, as the point whether the territorial integrity of the States shall be preserved must be discussed. It is only fair that each State, as an integral part of the Commonwealth, should secure full representation, and thus be in a position to propound its views in the fairest possible manner. We should adhere to the principle of equal State representation, and provide for the return of, say, ten members on behalf of each.
.- After twenty years’ experience of ‘the first Australian Constitution, I think that reasonable time has been afforded during which Australia should have discovered any defects therein. The knowledge secured by four campaigns for the proposed amendment of the Constitution should also have had a clarifying effect. I can support generally, though not in some particulars, the proposition of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. For the first time in the history of Federation this motion, if it were put into effect, would afford ‘the people an opportunity to amend or review the Constitution from a non-party aspect. The unfortunate feature of the proposals hitherto made for the amendment of the Constitution is that they have emanated from party rooms. Party fights have been fought, so that the national aspect has been lost sight of. One reason why I support the motion is that the Convention would bring about, I trust, a great fundamental change in the Constitution of the Commonwealth. I hold that the division of Australia into six huge unwieldy States is not only for electoral purposes, but, having regard also to the development of the continent, altogether out of date. We have to-day a few glorified ports, dotted around the coastline, and holding domination over the national, political, economic, and industrial well-being of the community. In the United States of America there are forty-eight States. This division of the country not only affords a far more complete community of interests than could otherwise be the case, but it brings about the fullest possible development of every industry and facility in the country. If I may be permitted to cite an individual point of view, I have been for the past twelve or fifteen years battling for greater recognition for the port of Portland. Yet I find myself to-day in the ridiculous position of having to come to the port of Port Phillip to try and get something for the port of Portland. Of course, nothing can be done. There is, from the seaboard upward to the Murray, above Portland, the greatest and best, perhaps, of Australia’s wheat areas, which would provide enormous tonnage for despatch from Portland. However, the railway lines have been constructed so that all roads lead to Rome ; and Rome, in this instance, is Port Phillip. sir Joseph Cook. - It would be almost a pity to spoil the sylvan beauty of that spot.
– That does not greatly alarm me ; but I would inform the Minister for the Navy that one of his colleagues, the present Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton) has committed the Commonwealth Government’ to a change of policy, so far as Portland is concerned. Mr. Poynton paid Portland a visit, along with a State Minister and the heads of various State Departments, some time ago, and he undertook to ship from that port. I hope the Minister for the Navy will not flippantly treat the situation in which he thus finds himself.
– I want the honorable member to understand that I have the greatest possible admiration for Portland.
– I do not want the Minister to have admiration for it merely as a beauty spot, in which he can spend a calm and undisturbed holiday. I want him to realize that Portland is a harbor in which he could safely manoeuvre “the whole of the British Fleet. It is a deepwater port, probably the finest in the Commonwealth.
– Say, “ equal to the finest in the Commonwealth,” and you will tread on nobody’s toes.
– I recognise that my statement is apt to stir up those honorable members who represent all the petty ports along the coastline of the Commonwealth. But, so far as the motion is concerned, I trust that the calling together of a convention will give Australia the opportunity to consider whether, geographically, the whole Continent ought not to be cut up into workable divisions. It is of no use on ani occasion such as this to devote time to a dissertation upon the tremendous advantages which would follow. I invite the attention of honorable members to the position of New Zealand to-day, with her five States. I am thoroughly in accord with the remarks of the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page).
.- Because of the wanton waste in the administration of this country generally, and in its various departments in particular, I have come to the conclusion that Unification is the only method by which Australia can be governed. There will be a good deal of argument concerning whether or not we should embrace Unification; but I suppose there is no honorable member present who would not be prepared to go one or two steps in that direction, first, by conceding greater powers to the Commonwealth in the matter of control of trade and commerce, and then in bringing about the abolition of duplicate Departments. The Prime Minister made a delightfully vague speech this afternoon - one which was just as vague and delightful as the. Governor-General’s Speech. Honorable members, of course, do not expect anything but delightfully vague generalities from the latter. However, I recall certain definite promises ‘made on behalf of the Government during the recent elections. The Prime Minister said there would be called together a Convention irrespective of whether the Constitution Referenda were carried or not. It was announced that if the people- voted “ Yes,” the Convention must meet by December of this year; but no date was fixed for the calling of the Convention if a “ No” vote were recorded. One pro. mise definitely made by the Prime Min.ister was that the delegates would beelected upon the adult franchise-. The silence of the Prime Minister upon thequestion generally, since the elections, is disquieting. He gave us nothing this afternoon in- the way of a definite pronouncement of policy.
– What about the honorable member’s party ? . The honorable member- is an advocate of! Unification, but his Leader is not, as- he has justtold us-.
– I believe that- the right honorable gentleman has misunderstood the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.. Tudor). I listened to his remarks very attentively, and I do not think he said what the right honorable gentleman, makes out he said. Apparently the Government are nob ready, with their policy with. regard to this question.. If they were, it would undoubtedly have been given consideration in. Cabinet, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) would know the. minda of Ministers upon the subject. Evidently he does not, . and so he will not give us the benefit of his personal views lest they may not fit in with those of the Cabinet. The matter- is urgent, because- within a couple of weeks we shall adjourn for a month, or two - months, and when we meet again, in July ot August the session may not extend beyond. September, or October. A.lso the business put forward, apart from this question, is such as will not permit of’ the whole of it being dealt with by the end of the year. If the Government are in earnest about this matter or about carrying out their campaign pledges, they should most certainly take immediate steps to declare their- policy upon it.
The honorable member who has submitted the motion proposes that the members of the Convention should be electedby proportional representation-. I was an ardent advocate of proportional representation - probably as ardent as the honorable member for Grampians, who has; written a very fine brochure on thesubject - but because of my experience of’ the hybrid and grotesque travesty which, was perpetrated by this Government in connexion with the last .Senate election, and the horrible example of how not to< elect a Parliament we have had in connexion with the recent New South WalesState elections, I found cause to alter my views upon the subject.. Most astounding results were achieved by the system: adopted in New South Wales. The basis, upon which all Electoral Acts should be founded is that they should allow the. elector a channel whereby he may expresshis thoughts or desires ; but in New South. Wales we find that not more than a little over 50 per cent, of the people availed themselves of the franchise at the recent election, as against 65 per cent., 70 per cent., and 72 per cent, polls at previouselections;, and in addressing meetings1 throughout the State I found that the new system was not understood, and that for that reason electors were reluctant to’ go to the polling booth to do. something’ which they did not feel sure they were doing rightly.
-. - Not all of the refraining from voting can be ascribed to the system, of voting.
– No. The fact that, the percentage of voters-, on previous occasions did not exceed. from 65 per’ cent, to 72 per cent, shows clearly that, no matter what system is adopted, it is impossible to get 100 per cent., or even- 9.0: per cent., of electors to record, their votes. Nevertheless, I maintain that great care should always be taken to give the utmost facility to the- electors to express their opinions,, and that anything which is likely to confuse the mind of a voter - is opposed to the best- interests of the country. A Parliament’ has recently, been COn:stituted in New South Wales by a” little over half the electors of the State, and proportional representation has not achieved that which it should have achieved. I sincerely trust that when the proposed Federal Convention is constituted it will not be chosen on anything approaching the Senate system as applied at the last Federal elections or the proportional system which created such amazing and wonderful results in New South Wales, and caused so much confusion in the minds of the electors.
– Apply the Tasmanian system.
– I am just as much opposed to the Tasmanian system as I am to the New South Wales system. The only difference between the two is in the matter of regulations. I venture to say that in New South Wales there will be 300 candidates for the ten seats allotted to the State in the proposed Convention. On the most conservative estimate there will be at least ten candidates for each seat, which would mean 100 candidates, but personally I think the number will be 300. How can we expect an elector to mark a ballot-paper with the names of 300 candidates on it? I do not propose to say anything further at this stage, except to urge upon the Government the absolute necessity for bringing forward some definite proposal. No one knows just what Ministers intend to do with regard to the Convention. They seem to have gone to sleep on the matter. This afternoon the Prime Minister was absolutely devoid of any concrete proposal or information of use to the House. The sooner the subject is dealt with so much the better it will be for Australia.
.- The House and the people of Australia must be indebted to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) for having brought this subject forward this afternoon, and having evoked such an interesting and valuable discussion. I wish to emphasize the great necessity for having the proposed Convention elected on the basis of proportional representation. I am convinced by the result of the referenda that have been held in the past history of the Commonwealth that unless the Convention be appointed in a manner which will give confidence to the people it is very unlikely that its recommendations, whatever they may be, will be supported by the people at a referendum. I do not know what is in the minds of the Government in re gard to the matter, but I am very glad the opportunity has been afforded to honorable members to express their views upon the subject. If the Government have the slightest- intention of creating a Convention for the purpose of recommending alterations to the Constitution by means of a nominee system, it will probably be a failure and barren of results. The great cause of the lack of confidence shown by the people of Australia in proposed alterations submitted to referenda in the past has been the fact that each proposal has emanated from a party House and as the result of the party system.
The calling together of a Convention to decide upon and recommend to the people of Australia alterations in the Constitution of the Commonwealth Parliament and the Constitutions of State Parliaments, will probably be an event of the utmost importance in the creation and amendment of the Constitutions of the countries ‘ of the world. It has not been possible to make any important alteration in our Constitution for the last twenty years, although every one must have admitted, at one time or another, that certain alterations are very badly needed. The fundamental requisite of the proposed Convention is that it shall command the absolute confidence of the people, and there is no means by which that confidence can be gained except by having the members of it elected directly by the people themselves. As certainly there can be no thought of having a nominee Convention, the question arises as to the best method of conducting an election of its members. Much has been said in favour of and against the system of proportional voting. I had very great pleasure in listening to the remarks of the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), who has indicated that, as the result of the recent elections in New South Wales, he is not now so much in favour of proportional representation as he was when he did me the honour of reading a little pamphlet which I wrote on the subject a few years ago; but I do not think he has taken into full consideration one exceedingly bad feature of the system adopted in New South Wales, which, by regulation, insisted that every elector at the polling booth should mark the order of his preference for every candidate whose name appeared on the ballot-paper.
– I voted for twenty people.
– Why did the right honorable gentleman do so ? Had he any desire to vote for twenty people?
– I did so merely because I could not vote for twenty-five people.
– If, after having voted for twenty people, the appetite of the right honorable gentleman was still unexhausted, we may regard him somewhat as a glutton in the direction of voting ; but even if he were anxious to vote for twenty-five candidates, I feel sure that the great bulk of the electors of New South Wales had no desire to indicate their order of preference for any of the candidates except those about whom they knew something. The New South Wales system, although perfect, perhaps, in other respects, was exceedingly defective, because in order to obtain the benefits of proportional representation it was considered necessary to compel an elector to vote for a greater number of candidates than he desired. The small percentage of voters who went to the poll at that election was probably due to the fact that many were appalled at the prospect of having to vote in their order of preference for no less than twenty candidates.
– I voted over here, and it took me quite a long time to fill in my paper.
– Because the right honorable member desired to indicate his order of preference for twenty or twenty-five candidates. The regulation requiring electors to vote for the full number of candidates in their order of preference was most absurd.. It is no part of the proportional representation system that an elector shall be compelled to vote for one candidate more than he desires.
– The honorable member voted against that principle in this chamber.
– I do not think so, and do not remember the circumstances. Any argument against proportional representation founded on the results of the recent election ‘in New South Wales must absolutely fall to the ground. If there were confusion in the voting it was caused by the absurd requirement that an elector should vote in the order of his preference for a larger number of candidates than he desired to do. The fact that only 50 per cent, of the voters went to the poll might have been due to fear of confusion on the part of many, or it may be that a large number of the elector’s were disgusted with both parties, or disapproved of all the candidates offering. Many reasons might be advanced for the failure of a larger number of electors to vote. I wish to emphasize the point that if the next Convention is to be a success, if its recommendations are to be such as will meet with the approval of the majority of the people, it is absolutely necessary that every member of it should be directly elected by the people.
– On the basis of one vote one value?
– No, I do not approve of the application of that principle in this instance. The suggestion is opposed’ to the Constitution of the Commonwealth. There should be an equal number of delegates from each State, and in each State the delegates should be elected by the method of Dro.portional representation, since it affords the only means by which we can have a Convention adequately representing tho matured opinions of the people, and secure recommendations that are likely to receive the well-considered support of the electors of Australia.
.- There can be no doubt that, as an honorable member of the Opposition interjected p. few moments ago, the principle of equal representation for the States is undemocratic; but, having regard to the Constitution of the Federation at the present time, we could not hope to secure a Convention that would be fruitful of good results if any other system were adopted. We must have regard to the practical rather than the theoretical. If we could have an ideal state of affairs, there is no doubt we would have a Convention elected on the basis of one vote one value; but when we remember that any proposed amendment of the Constitution must be accepted by a majority of the States - that we must carry four States out of six in order to secure a majority - it seems to me that our only hope of carrying ari amended Constitution, framed by a Convention such as is suggested, is to elect that Convention on the basis of equal representation of the States. That was the system adopted in connexion with the first Federal Convention.
– I think that, under the Constitution, we would have to elect the Convention upon that basis.
– No; the honorable member is overlooking the fact that the Convention would only make recommendations, and that those recommendations have to be adopted by the Parliament, and submitted to the people for ratification. Proposed amendments of the Constitution would have a much better chance of ratification if framed by a Convention equally representative of all the States. If the Convention were constituted on the basis of one vote one value, the smaller States would consider that they were being overcrowded by the larger States of New South Wales and Victoria. I have always thought that a wrong system was adopted in framing the original Constitution. It has to be recognised that it was a compromise Constitution. With the exception of that of Canada, it was the only Federal Constitution framed under peace conditions. There was no outside compelling force such as the force of war to bring it about. We deliberated framed our Constitution on the basis of that of the United States rather than that of Canada. Under the United States Constitution certain distinct matters of legislation were taken from the States and handed over to the Federal Government, whereas under the Canadian form certain definite powers of legislation were, speaking broadly, reserved to the Provinces, and all other powers of legislation were handed over to the Dominion Parliament. Thus the Dominion Parliament obtained much greater power than the Commonwealth Parliament has.
It was suggested in the Convention that the Canadian system should be adopted, but because of the Inter-State jealousies which existed at that time the proposal was rejected. A good deal of Australian national sentiment, however, has since been cultivated. Wc have almost another generation of voters, and few of those who were members of the first Federal Convention are still with us. In the twenty years or more that have elapsed since the first Convention there have been not only increases of population, but a very marked development of Australian sentiment, which should tend towards increased powers being granted to the .Commonwealth as against an increase in the powers of the States. Such sentiment has been materially strengthened and broadened by the recent war, when men from all the’ States went together into the field of battle, not as New South Welshmen, Victorians, or Queenslanders, but as one great united Australian army. I think we can trust the people of Australia to give to the Parliament of the Commonwealth more power than it has at the present time. How far the people are prepared to go we do not know, because the tragedy of the constitutional amendments ‘to which we have asked the people to agree at various times has been that they have been fought on party lines. How this is to be avoided I do not know. A Convention would, I hope, lift the question out of the arena of party politics and put it on a broad national platform, upon which a Constitution more in consonance with the present requirements of Australia could be framed.
We know, as I have said, that the present Constitution was to some extent a matter of compromise. There were three great questions in respect of which the Convention itself could not agree. I am referring now, not to the Braddon Blot - to the financial question which the Convention muddled and could never determine - but to the power to legislate with respect to trade and commerce, industrial disputes, and combines and monopolies. Throughout the proceedings, of the Convention certain parties were in direct antagonism on the question as to whether the Commonwealth or the States should have power to legislate in respect to these matters. Instead of determining either that the trade and commerce power should remain with the States or be handed over to the Commonwealth, the Convention arrived at the compromise that trade and commerce within eachState should be controlled by the States, and that Inter-State trade and commerce should be controlled by the Federal Parliament. That decision was arrived at with the full knowledge that these verypowers were the most fruitful sourceof litigation and friction between theStates and the Federal authorities that: had ever arisen in the United States..
Our Constitution does make an attempt to overcome the difficulty experienced in America in regard to the liquor traffic. An American .State, even though it had gone “dry,” could not prohibit the importation of alcohol if it was contained in sealed packets without being guilty of an interference with Inter-State trade and commerce. The framers of the Australian Constitution guarded against that difficulty by providing, in effect, that if prohibition was adopted by any State, it should be effective, notwithstanding that the Constitution insists upon freedom of Inter-State trade. In no other respects was any safeguard provided, and therefore we have experienced in Australia the difficulty that has troubled America from the birth of the Union. We had similar difficulties in regard to the powers of the Commonwealth in industrial matters and in relation to combines and monopolies. Reference has been made already to the fact that this Parliament cannot even pass a law to deal with companies. A different company law operates in each State. In Victoria it is a fair and modern Act, but New South Wales has the rottenest company law in Australia. In that respect the State is as much ‘behind the times as it was until recently in regard to the conveyancing laws. Yet if there is one thing in the wide world in regard to which there ought to be uniformity throughout the Commonwealth, it is the laws that govern companies.
– And marriage and divorce.
– The Commonwealth has power to make laws in regard to marriage and divorce, but it is afraid to tackle the subject. There are other minor defects in the Constitution, and the time has arrived when an attempt must be made to evolve a more satisfactory instrument of government. The will of the people ought to count, and it should not be defeated merely because this Parliament has not the constitutional power to enact laws in reference to certain matters. So far as New South Wales is concerned, we could not have struck a more disadvantageous time for the election of a Convention. The people are sick and tired of elections. There havebeen during the last few years the Federal elections, the referenda, the conscription campaigns, the triennial local government elections, and recently the election of the State Parliament, and if we desire to get the calm and Considered judgment of the people of New South Wales on this important matter, it would be unwise to submit the issue to them this year. If we do, there will be an even smaller vote than was recorded in connexion with the last State elections.
– It appears to me that this motion merely proposes to create > something that will mean further delay and expense to the Commonwealth. There is a snort and right way of obtaining direct from the people the powers that we require. Is not this ‘Parliament competent to place a certain proposition before the people without incurring the expense of a Convention? I maintain that it is, and if we. declare otherwise, we display our incompetence to carry out the work for Which we were elected. I believe it is the desire of members on both sides, and of the people, that this Parliament shall have untrammelled power. Section 51 of the Constitution contains the thirty-nine articles which limit the powers of the Parliament. All we need do is to ask the people if they are agreeable to striking out all the words in the section after “ The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth.” If that is! agreed ‘,to, the Commonwealth will have supreme legislative power, and it will then be able to carry out a devolution of powers to the States.
– Unification !
– No, because then would follow the bringing of the State laws into conformity with the desires of the people. If the people will not agree to the proposal I suggest, they will not agree to anything that emanates from the Convention. I am opposed to any such waste of time and money. If about sixty men with a debatable turn of mind are gathered together to consider so controversial a subject as the amendment of the Constitution, ‘they may take twelve or eighteen months to come to a decision, and all that time the people will be waiting for relief. I have suggested a constitutional short cut; this Parliament ought to be competent to submit the issue direct to the people.
.-I have no desire to talk out this motion, but the question is of such great importance that it should not be taken to a division after such a short discussion as we have had to-day. Every honorable member admits that the Constitution needs amendment. Some of the ablest men, on both sides of the House have asserted that the Commonwealth has certain powers under the Constitution; othershave declared with equal conviction that it does not possess those powers. I do not profess to be an authority on constitutional: law, but I think we ought to hesitate before we meddle with a Constitution of which we should be proud, and: which I regard, notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary, as the best in the world. During the election campaign I recommended to the people the referendum proposals, which would have given this Parliament additional powers, and, although the proposals were rejected, I was returnedto this House. All parties have admitted the need for the amendment of the Constitution, and all must agree that the proposed. Convention should be representative of all interests, and contain the best brains of Australia, so that the issue may be properly put to the people. It is not desirable that the Convention should be composed of only one class. It should, not consist mainly of lawyers, who, after all, are in a very small minority, in the community.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to8 p.m.
Debate resumed from l4th April (vide page 1129), on. motion by Mr. Poynton -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- It is to be regretted that this discussion must be resumed before members have the opportunity to peruse the report of the speech made by the Minister yesterday, because that speech contained a great deal of’ information which we did not already possess, and was not in the speech of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who introduced the Bill in the Senate. I was looking at the report of Senator Millen’s speech while Mr. Poynton was speaking yesterday to see whether the two Ministers covered the same ground, and I found that there was. additional matter in the- speech then being delivered. I know that in connexion with Bills the departmental officers are in the habit of providing practically, the same material for speeches in both Houses, and I congratulate the Minister upon having broken away from. the. practice of virtually repeating in one House what has already been said in the other.
I recognise that the Bill is one to be discussed chieflyin Committee, but it contains one or two principles upon which I wish to speak now. I do not know whether any other country is doing as much for the repatriation of its soldiers as we are doing; but, as the Minister said, we have set ourselves an entirely new task. Speaking on the subject on a previous occasion when we had a Repatriation Bill before us, I said that we were doing only bare justice to the men who went overseas to fight, and to the dependants of those who had fought. I do not know what is being done in the other States, but I have visited some of the vocational training branches at the Working Men’s College, and, with the honorable members for Wide Bay, Corio, Parkes, Fawkner, and others, I last Monday inspected houses now being erected at Canterbury, Bell; andCoburg by the War Service Homes Commission-. It seemed to me that the houses that were being put up at Bell and Coburg were much better built and cheaper than other houses in the vicinity that were being erected by private enterprise, and this notwithstanding the constant cry that a Government can do nothing, well. At Bell there was a block of fifty or sixty houses near the station, on the righthand side, and another block of ten or twelve- houses on the left-hand side. Between these blocks are two or three wooden houses which, apparently, are not as well finished, and are costing more than those which are being erected for the soldiers. In my opinion, the War Service Homes Commissioner is doing splendid work, and is getting good value for his expenditure. The Minister quoted last night the Herald’s report of an interview with me in which I said I thought I could speak for- the whole party in expressing agreeable surprise at the manner in which the work is being done.
– In South Australia there are 1,000 houses in hand.
– What has New South Wales, done-?
– That is for representatives of that State to say. I heard the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) ask the Commissioner -what is being done in his electorate. Perhaps Parkes, like Yarra, is so thickly populated that there are not likely to be any soldiers’ homes erected there. In my opinion, it is better to go a little distance out from town to get good land and better terms. At Carnegie, in the Henty electorate, T am told that a number of war service houses are being erected, and in the middle of them there is to be a little park, which will be a playground for the children. That is an excellent- arrangement. But, as I interjected yesterday, it is a mistake to have the ceilings only 9 feet high. I say that without possessing the practical knowledge of a builder, and without being an expert in architecture or ventilation. I believe, too, that experts have declared that with good ventilation 9-feet ceilings are sufficient - that it is better to have 9 feet with adequate ventilation than 12 feet with poor ventilation.
– There should not be poor ventilation in any dwelling.
– That is so. I hope,, however, that in future 10-foot ceilings will be adopted. Bricks and building material are now so costly that every few inches of height added to a building in- creases its cost appreciably, but still 9 feet seems to me to be too low a ceiling. Then, some of the rooms appeared to be small.
– Hear, hear!
– I know that when a . house is finished its rooms look larger than when they are in course of construction, but these houses seem on the small side. It would be a great pity to cramp the accommodation. Probably most of those who will live in the houses are recently married persons.
– The houses seemed to be planned for the modern family.
– Yes, and the modern family will not meet the needs of Australia or of any other country. It would be a great shame if allowance were not made for a fair expansion of the households. I have spoken before on the subject of the birth rate, and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) immortalized himself by putting into Hansard a little poem on the subject, which I shall not repeat, though I recommend honorable members -to read it. If only three rooms are provided in addition to the kitchenette and’ bathroom, the houses, before many years have gone by, may be too small for married folk. A very small house met my requirements when I waa first married, but the case is different now that I have grown-up children of both sexes. Probably it would pay a man better to get a larger house, and be longer in paying for it, than to be cramped in the future.
– Extensions are always possible.
– Apparently the houses do not allow for that. Those who have lived and worked in other countries as I have - and you must live in a country to know its conditions; it is not enough to merely glance at it from the window of a railway carriage - are aware that in Australia it is a much more common practice to add to houses than it is in England or in America.
– The Act limits us to an expenditure of £700 for land and building.
– The amount should be increased. I think that £680 was the amount first set down, and that since it has been increased to £700 it has been found possible to make the ceilings 10 feet ‘high. In view of the increase in the cost of labour and material since the Act was passed’, £680 is no longer sufficient. Within the last week contractors have told me that a house built now would cost from 30 per cent, to 40 per cent, more than one built two years ago, and, according to evidence given before the Basic Wage Commission in Sydney, the cost of building has gone up very much. I hope that the Commission will not be conservative in its ideas, but will learn by experience. I know that no man more than the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) deprecates race suicide, and I hope that the House will not provide merely for what the honorable member jocularly called “ the modern family.” Houses ought to be erected in which a returned soldier may bring up an ordinary family in decency and comfort. I congratulate the War Service Homes Commission on the work they have done, and I have spoken in no hostile spirit, but merely with a view to suggesting what, I think, are some improvements.
This Department, as has been said, has grown. It was started in 1915 with an original Committee, or Commission, made up of members from both sides of the House, including the Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Poynton), the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts), the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. James Page), and certain influential gentlemen from all over Australia. Since that time, it has been under a Controller, and now, by this Bill, it will be placed under a Commission. Already, the newspapers are forecasting the personnel and pay of this Commission, although these are not provided for in the Bill. Clause 9 provides that the member of the Commission shall receive such remuneration as the GovernorGeneral may determine; but we are told by the Age that it is “ fairly certain “ that Mr. D. J. Gilbert, the present Controller, will be Chairman, at £1,500 a year.
– I can assure the honorable member that nothing at all has been done in this regard.
– I do not know Mr. Gilbert beyond having met him in connexion with repatriation work; but I hope that a paragraph such as this will in no way prejudice any natural claims that gentleman may have for the position by reason of his experience in the work. The same paragraph goes on to say that Lieutenant-Colonel Semmens and Lieutenant-Colonel Wanliss will be the other members of the Commission, at a salary of £1,000 a year. There is provision made for the Returned Soldiers Imperial League to nominate three for the position, one of whom shall be selected by the Government. I know that Mr. Gilbert is not a returned soldier, but I believe that the other two gentlemen are, and, that being so, they are probably connected with the Association, and may be nominated. I mention this because paragraphs of this kind, as I say, are apt to prejudice the chances of the gentlemen named. Of course, if these gentlemen are selected, we shall have the newspaper declaring that it only confirms the accuracy of the information it gave on the 14th April.
The selection of the firm of architects in connexion with the war service homes has caused a little friction. I do not know the firm in question.
– It is the best firm in the Commonwealth.
– I object to any firm, however efficient, having a monopoly of this business, and with that sentiment I think the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) will agree.
When war service homes were first proposed, applicants were prevented from turning one of the apartments into a shop. Some of the men were gassed at the Front, and are doing work to-day in which they may break down, as, indeed, some of them have. Such men would like to start business in the way of shopkeeping ; and in one case a man, before he left for the Front, had bought a block just outside a prominent sea-side resort, where land is now being sold at £20 10s. a foot. When this man asked permission to erect a shop, he was refused; but I am glad to say that the regulations have been altered, and it is now possible for men to enter upon a business of the kind.
On the question of the insurance of the homes, I should like to read the following letter: -
John & Herwald G. Kirkpatrick,
Architects and Consulting Engineers,
Commonwealth Bank Buildings, Melbourne.
War Service Homes Department,
Old Exchange Buildings, Collins-street. 13th February, 1920.
Messrs. J. W. Jones and Sons,
Mentone-parade, Men tone.
Dear Sir, -
Be War Service Home for F. J. Cusick, at cr. Como-parade and Parker’s-road, Mentone.
In your contract for erecting war service homes it is set down in the specification that you are to insure the building as soon as the roof is on, or when any inflammable material is used in the construction therein, for twothirds of the amount of contract, and when effecting such insurance, it is to be done through the Atlas Assurance Company, of Collinsstreet, Melbourne. No other company will be permitted to handle this insurance, since it is our intention to safeguard all interests by centralizing this business.
Please arrange to get in touch with the Atlas Assurance Company, from whom you will receive all necessary data. - Yours faithfully,
John & Herwald G. Kirkpatrick.
Per Arthur R. James,
In this case the man was having his house built, not by the Commission, but by the Department through the Commonwealth Bank. This is the plan adopted for isolated houses, while group houses axe erected by the Commission’. Then the followingletterwas receivedby thecontr actors: -
Lancashire Insurance Company,
Melbourne, 10th March.
Messrs. J. W. Jones& Sons,
Dear Sirs, -
Re Insurance “War ServiceHomes.”
No doubt you have received a letter from Messrs. John and Herwald G. Kirkpatrick in reference to the above, pointing out that any insurance effected on behalf of the War Service Homes Department must be placed with the AtlasAssurance Company, of Collins street, Melbourne, and that no other company will be permitted to handle ‘the insurance.
For yourinformation, we might point out that we have been in touch with the War Service Homes Department in the matter, and we learn fromthem that the letter in question was written absolutely without their concurrence, and as a consequence agreed to our asking you to entirely ignore same.
Wehave all along felt sure that a fair share of this business would come to this company through the agency held by you, and in justice to yourself, and incidentally the -company, we have taken an early opportunity of apprising you of the above fact. - Yours truly,
– Is the Atlas an. Australian company ?
– I do not know. I am not advocating the claims of any insurance company, foreign or Australian, but objecting to the business being monopolized by one company. If it is ascertained that any of the insurance companies is doing this sort of thing the Department will be justified in boycotting it, or, at any rate, preventing it obtaining more than a fair share of the business.
– Has not the time arrived for the Commonwealth Government to do its own insurance?
– I think it has. For instance, I should say that the eight or a dozen houses that I saw at Kooyong, and also the houses at Coburg and Bell, would be a good risk for any insurance company; and if the Commonwealth would do its own insuring it would save the soldiers& considerable amount of money. I hope the Government will give serious consideration to this matter, seeing that we propose to erect thousands < of houses throughout the Commonwealth, and the wider’ the area the better guarantee is supposed to be given to an insurance company.
– This Bill does not deal with war service homes.
– I was tempted to deal with that matter,because the Minister (Mr. Poynton) yesterday referred to war service homes, which are part of our repatriation work. I regretted tohear in an interjection by thehonorable memberfor Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), that an undesirable type of house is being built on the land of some of our soldiers in the country.
– They rare jerry-built three-roomed places, in some cases.
– That is a pity. While it may be difficult for the Department to control these isolated buildings, Parliament should recognise its responsibility, and see that men who go into the country -are made at least as comfortable as those who remain in the town;and I say this as town representative. I understand that many of the men who are undergoing vocational training and applying for homes in the towns are men who were brought up in the country, and that, on the other hand men used to town life are going into the country.
– Some men have been working on the land for months and months and have not got a house yet.
– The honorable member has, no doubt, read of the inquiry held with respect to a sale of land to soldiers at Devon Meadows. It is apparent that the soldiers there have been “taken down.”
– That, of course, was a private sale, and had nothing to do with the Department.
– That is so; but some of these men require protection against themselves. When this Parliament finds money for the purchase of land, and a State authority is given power to make the purchase, the division of responsibility is likely to let the soldier down.
– The Department receives more censure in connexion - with its activities for the protection of the soldier when buying land or a house than in regard to any other feature.
– I can quite understand that. The Department may be censured by the men themselves; but when the men and the public realize that the Department is taking action for the men’s own protection, the public, at any rate, will not condemn it. There are numbers of men who have gone on the land without previous experience, and they have been defrauded, not only with respect to land purchased, but in securing cattle, stock, and machinery. The Government may rest assured that no honorable member will censure it if it can be shown that an effort is being made to protect returned soldiers against unscrupulous parties.
Good work has been done’ by the Repatriation Department, but, as in the case of every other organization, there is bound to be some dissatisfaction. Honorable members receive numerous complaints. Perhaps they get into closer touch with causes of discontent among the men than the Repatriation officials themselves. We receive complaints from men who have been in receipt of sustenance allowance. Returned- soldiers have come to me stating that they have found a few days’ work during a rush period, in the Railway Department. They have lost their sustenance allowance by accepting outside work, which, however, has been of a merely temporary character. The Minister for Repatriation laid it down some time ago that when a man had retained a position for six months, he was considered by the Department to have been effectively repatriated. But it should not be lost sight of that the matter of the length of a man’s engagement may depend entirely on the class of work he has undertaken. It may be by no means of a permanent character, or such as to equip him to secure similar work elsewhere. I know of men who, to-day, are waiting for vocational training. There are great difficulties in placing them all under training. It is hard to secure instructors, particularly for some of the smaller lines of industry.
– In furnishing men with vocational training, the Department is also limited by’ the numbers whom we may place in any industry by arrangement with the trade unions.
– I am aware of that; but I am referring to cases in which the agreement with the trade unions does not apply. I know of men who have been waiting for some time to enter into vocational training. I doubt if there is anything worse than that a young man, after his exciting experiences abroad, should receive a sustenance allowance while he is hanging idly about the streets. It would be infinitely better for the Department to notify the approximate date on which the waiting men would be called upon to take ,up vocational training, and to permit them meanwhile to accept any sort of work available, and, if necessary, to cut down the amount of sustenance allowance. It is pitiful to see promising young men, many of whom left for the war so early that they received no training for a career, now virtually idling their lives away. In the interests of Australia, as well as of the men themselves, we should put an end to that, if possible. More than one soldier has told .me he would gladly take up work outside only that he would be liable to lose his sustenance allowance, and have nothing after his temporary engagement had ended.
– There is, beside the difficulty of securing instructors, our inability, in some instances, to secure necessary machinery.
– I am aware of the difficulties facing the Department, and that the question of securing suitable instructors is among the most severe. Speaking generally, the trade unions have worked in harmony with the Department and, in many cases, have appointed their representatives to the committees before the employers have taken action.
– That is so, but there is the limitation of one in six with respect to placing trained men in various industries.
– And it is a very necessary limitation, too.
– Of course. It would, be a serious thing for the returned men if it were not so. I have visited the vocational training school allied with the boot trade. From that school a good number of men have been drafted into factories, and many to-day are earning the full rates paid to ordinary journeymen.
The Minister for Repatriation stated in another place that there were 1,768 soldiers still abroad. Unfortunately f we are experiencing the same difficulties as at the conclusion of the South African war. A number of our soldiers who went overseas, instead of accepting passage back to Australia, decided to remain, and they secured certain concessions from the Department. They are now anxious to get back home. I hope the Department will do its utmost to bring back every man to Australia who wishes to return. One other feature of the Bill is that which impliedly provides for the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League to furnish the names of not less than three persons, one of whom is to !be selected for appointment upon the Commission. There is also provision for the League to furnish a selection of delegates to sit upon, the State Boards. This provision should he widened so that the whole of the soldiers in any State, irrespective of whether they belong to the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League or to another organization of returned men, or to no organization at all,. should have an equal voice in the’ selection of returned soldier representatives. If there is a Wages Board to be appointed in Victoria the Minister concerned does not limit the selection of the employees’ representatives among the trade unionists of an industry. Every individual engaged in that industry, whether a unionist or not, is served with a ballot-paper. Similarly, provision should be made in the measure for every soldier to have a voice in the selection of his delegates.
It is provided in the Bill that “the Commission may exercise such powers and perform such duties as are conferred upon it by this Act.” I do not object to that phraseology, but I do object to what is inferred by the succeeding words, namely, “or are as prescribed.” A Government, by regulation, can actually reverse the spirit of an Act. Take the case of the New South Wales Electoral Act, which provided for proportional representation, but in connexion with which the regulations set out that the electors must number every name upon the ballot-paper. Under proportional representation a voter need not mark his preference for every candidate on the ballot-paper, but the New South Wales electoral regulations have defeated the Electoral Act by providing that each voter shall mark a preference for each candidate. The regulations provided under the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act may also defeat the intention of the Act, and, as honorable members know, the House has no opportunity of considering regulations. The Acts Interpretation Act provides that any regulation made under a Statute must be submitted to Parliament, but regulations come down to us by the dozen, and even if an honorable member gives notice of motion to disallow one or more, he has no opportunity of moving in that direction. Last session several honorable members gave notice of motion to disallow regulations, but had not even the opportunity which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr.,
Austin Chapman) was given this afternoon of having their motions submitted to and discussed by the House.
While it is provided in the Bill that the members of the Repatriation Commission shall receive such remuneration as the Governor-General decides, there is a further provision for a Repatriation Board in each State, and I presume that the Government intend to follow the same principle, and fix the remuneration to be paid to the members of the State Boards.
– That is not the intention. In some States, we shall get the class of men we require, and merely pay them for the time they spend in doing this work.
– I can quite easily see that in some of the smaller States there may not be sufficient work to employ men the whole of their time, but I do not think it is a sound principle to introduce. I shall have to look further into the matter, for I do not think the point was raised in another place.
It is provided in clause ll that “ before exercising any power under the Act involving the expenditure of more than £5,000, the Commission shall submit its proposal for, and obtain, the approval of the Minister.” Honorable members who have had experience in State Legislatures know that it is often the practice of Ministers, who are restricted by legislation, to the expenditure of a fixed amount, to expend right up to the margin they are allowed in one year, and then in the following year extend the work. This has been done in the Victorian Parliament. The Act which compels all railway works estimated to cost more than £20,000 to be referred to the Railways Standing Committee is thus evaded, and as I do not wish to see any such evasion in the administration of the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act, I would like some further information from the Minister on the point? I am rather inclined to think that the Commission should be limited in its power to spend up to £5,000 without obtaining the sanction of the Minister for Repatriation. I have always objected to Commissioners being superior to Parliament. If these Commissioners are allowed to 6pend up to £5,000 in one year, and up to £5,000 in another year, they will have practically unlimited power of expenditure,- and we may be giving away te them our authority over the public finances.
– Under section 11(1) certain powers of the Commissioners may be prescribed by regulations.
– But we may not see those regulations. That is the very provision to which I have just taken exception. I admit that everything cannot be set out in detail in an Act, but everything that it is possible to prescribe in an Act should be included in the Bill brought down for the consideration of honorable members.
– That is what we should have done in the first Repatriation Bill.
– Yet when we asked certain honorable members to try to do so, they failed. Every one admits that the Act has worked out satisfactorily.
Mr. TUDOR.But it is quite possible that it may have worked out more satisfactorily if another system had been adopted. We were given a skeleton, and were asked to leave to the Department the task of putting life into it.
– The Bill created considerable heartburnings.
– Yes, in the case of many people, and in most of the States, and now we are anxious to remedy some of the defects that have been discovered in the working of the measure. The first Bill was brought foward in the closing hours of the session, and I am glad that the Ministry have brought forward this Bill at such a time that we may have a fair opportunity of discussing and criticising the various principles embodied in it, and, if necessary, of altering them so as to render the measure more effective.
There are other clauses which can be better dealt with in Committee. The three gentlemen who will be permanently employed and the others to be appointed will be outside the Public Service Act. Somehonorable members may be of the opinion that if they were brought under the Public Service Act they would be just ordinary public servants, but I sometimes think that it is far better to have officers under the Public Service Act than to have them under a particular Minister with a practically free run of the Department they control.
– These men are not to be permanently appointed. Their term lasts not more than five years.
– But in such cases they are always re-appointed at the end of their term.
– What about the case of Sir George Reid as High Commissioner?
– The High Commissioner of Australia ought to be a man in touch with Australian feeling and sentiment. Officers who are sent to Great Britain from theCustoms Department do not remain abroad for more than eighteen months or two years at the outside. They come back in order to learn Australian conditions. I think that the gentleman who is High Commissioner should not occupy the position permanently but should always be a man who is absolutely in touch with Australian ideas which, as we know, often change. I think that Sir George Reid had his term of office extended for twelve months.
– Without pay. At least, did he not offer to act without pay?
– Although I was his political opponent all the time I have been in Parliament, I want to say, in justice to the memory of the late Sir George Reid, that he made the offer to serve without pay, but the Government of the day decided that, while he should continue to represent Australia in London, they ought to pay him for the excellent services he was rendering.
– The honorable member is getting away from the Bill.
– The new Commission is to supersede the six gentlemen who are now acting as Commissioners, and who have done excellent work.
– You propose to make it an all Victorian Commission.
– I was dealing with that subject when the honorable member was asleep. The honorable member’s geographical knowledge appears to be somewhat deficient, but I may inform him that Mr. Gilbert, whose name has been mentioned for the position of Commissioner, is a New South Wales man. I have yet to learn that if a man lives in Victoria for about twelve or eighteen months it constitutes him a Victorian.
The Bill also mentions pensions for the first time. I wonder whether it is the intention of the Government to hand over the administration of the war pensions to the Repatriation Department.
– That is the ease.
– If the Government intend to hand over to the Department of Repatriation the war pensions branch of the Department of the Treasury, I think the day will come when we shall be sorry for making such an alteration. The Department that has had to administer the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act is the proper one to deal with war pensions. Its staff is in touch with the work and should be best able to administer the war pensions system. It is provided in Clause 22 that - “Member of the Forces” means a person who during the present war was
I desire to know whether, under that provision, munition workers who were at least engaged in “military preparations,” will be brought within the scope of this measure ?
– This Bill will not make eligible for a, war pension any person who i3 not now eligible.
– Having introduced deputations to the Minister on the subject, I desired to ascertain whether it was intended to extend the war pensions system to munition workers.
– With regard to the Other point mentioned by the honorable member, I may say at once that it is the intention of the Government to hand over to the Repatriation Department the administration of war pensions. This is in accordance with a request that has been made, time after time, by the soldiers themselves.
– I am not sure that we shall be acting wisely in making such a transfer. Honorable members on both sides of the House have frequently complained of the duplication of Departments, and I fear that by setting up in the Repatriation Department a war pensions branch, we shall mot act in the interests of the soldiers themselves. I trust that in Committee we shall amend several clauses which certainly call for amendment, and that the measure, when it leaves this House, will give to the men who fought for us overseas the measure of repatriation which is so necessary at the present time.
.- This is the third occasion upon which this Par liament has attempted to mould into shape measures providing for the repatriation of our returned soldiers. I followed with interest the speech made by the Minister (Mr. Poynton) in moving the second reading of the Bill, in the course of which he gave us a short history of the initiation and early administration of repatriation in Australia. Some three or four years have elapsed since that system was inaugurated; and the initial difficulties which faced the Minister and his staff should not now be pleaded as an excuse for any shortcomings that may exist in connexion with it. I desire to admit in the freest and most generous terms, that in entering upon their work the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen), the Controller and his staff, had to “blaze the track.” They had nothing to guide them. The Minister had an untrained staff and had to develop a policy with which the soldiers themselves, who had been out of the country for several years, were not in touch. There were thus many difficulties and disadvantages to be overcome. But the business organization of a. Department charged as this is, with the expenditure of from £50,000,000 to £100,000,000, must be placed on no slipshod footing, but on a sound commercial basis.
At the outset the Government determined this movement should be upon a voluntary basis; that an appeal should be made to the people of Australia who had enjoyed four of the best years ever showered upon the country. to make some financial sacrifice to help our men who, during those years of plenty, were fighting our battles overseas, and that the money so raised should be supplemented by means of advances from the Treasury. On the return of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who was in England when the original scheme was launched, that policy was reversed. It was then decided that the entire responsibility for repatriation should be undertaken by the Commonwealth and that the public should be called upon to voluntarily supplement its efforts. I deeply regret that the voluntary movement was not given a fair trial. I recognise that it would not have been sufficient for all the purposes of repatriation, but it undoubtedly was not given a fair chance. The only appeal made to the people was by means of a statement issued under the hand of the
Minister and by the State Premiers. Had a spirited appeal been made in each State we should have had, in response, not the £30,000 raised by public subscription for this purpose, but at least £1,000,000. We have passed that stage, however. and have come, as I said in opening, to the third attempt to mould a scheme of repatriation. This Bill deserves, and should receive, at the hands Qf honorable members the most critical analyses of not only the machinery to be provided, but the methods of administration proposed, and the limitations which it will place upon the Repatriation Commission when appointed. I regret that the work of repatriation was not at the outset placed in the hands of a Commission. I also deplore the fact that this Parliament did not lay down to a greater extent the guiding lines which they desired the repatriation system to follow. We should not have left it either to the Minister ot the Commission to decide who should.be competent to receive assistance and who should not. As it is, that is still an open question. It is not determined by this Bill. All previous repatriation measures are repealed by the Bill, and when it comes into operation all regulations determining who shall be the beneficiaries under the scheme will also lapse in so far as this Act itself arid the regulations thereunder determine.
Clause 11, sub-clause 2, provides that -
Before exercising any power under this Act which involves- the expenditure of more than Five thousand pounds, the Commission shall submit its proposal for, and obtain, the approval of the Minister.
I should like the Minister to give us the official interpretation of that, provision. It seems to me that, notwithstanding the appointment of a Commission, the whole question of policy will still largely remain in the hands of the Minister. If, on the other hand, it refers simply to specific transactions-
– It does.
– It is doubtful. If the honorable member’s reading of the sub-clause is correct, then it provides for only an ordinary business precaution, to which no exception can be taken. If, on the other hand, it is designed to limit the authority of the Commission and to prevent it from dealing with a class of beneficiaries which it thinks should be brought within the scheme, but whose inclusion would involve an expenditure of more than £5,000, I think it is objectionable. I have always stoutly objected to the discrimination which the Act and the regulations permit. I desire to be as generous as possible in my recognition of what I believe to be the Minister’s admirable conception of repatriation generally. I recognise that the Minister, and the Government as a whole, desire to give those who fought for this country a fair chance; but I point out that under regulation 60 practically only three classes of cases are entitled to financial assistance. Under it tens of thousands of men have been dissappointed. I am not going to say that repatriation is a failure. To do so would be to disregard the good intentions of the Ministry and the hard work of the Minister for Repatriation. But omitting such items as grants of £10 for tools of trade, technical training, and so forth, under regulation 60 financial assistance to enable a start in business to be made again by those who- have been to the Front, and many of whom while away have ripened from boyhood into manhood, can not be given in many cases. It can only be given under three different headings. In the first case financial assistance may be given to a widow with children ; secondly, to a married man who is incapacitated and unable to follow his former occupation; and thirdly, to a man who, prior to his enlistment, owned a small business, which he gave up, and to which he desires to return. The maximum is £150, but in certain instances the Minister .may give assistance up to £250. Scores of genuine cases which Local Committees have investigated and submitted with recommendations to the Minister, are turned down, with the stereotyped reply, of which every honorable member knows, “Not eligible under section 60 of the regulations.” ‘ I hope that the Commission to be appointed will be trusted to review the whole question of repatriation generously. I hope there will be a great enlargement of the field of beneficiaries. After all, this assistance is not by way of gift; it is only by way of loan repayable with interest. I suggest once more to the Minister - and I earnestly stress this point on the Government - that we should widen the field of beneficiaries under this Bill, and take repayment from the men, if the Government desire it, in the shape of war gratuity bonds. In this way the Government, without incurring any huge expenditure, would satisfy hundreds of men. In the majority of cases the gratuity will be given in the shapeof bonds which will not be redeemed for four years. The soldier’s needs are immediate ; he cannot get anything for his bonds at once, and the Repatriation Act makes no provision for him. The Commission should consider the two Acts side by side, and widen the scope of assistance to include almost every man who satisfies them that he genuinely requires and deserves it.
– You would not limit the assistance to restoring men to their prewar occupations ?
– No. The war has changed the temperament and desires of many men, and they will require a change of vocation. The miner, for instance, may have lost his taste for underground work, and may desire to engage in some other occupation. I earnestly impress this view upon the Minister, and hope that the Commission will not be hamstrung by being unable to consider matters of policy of this description, but that such an interpretation will be placed upon clause 11 that the Commission will not be powerless to make further grants. If that is not done there can be no change from the policy of the past, and the Commission will be a body merely appointed to carry out the regulations as they are to-day.
– The grants will be governed by regulations. Section 7 provides for the general control of administration by the Commission subject to the Minister.
– We all recognise that when the Prime Minister returned to Australia he was inundated with requests from returned soldiers. He replied that he would break the bonds of red tape and see that their grievances were remedied. Here we have a genuine opportunity of making provision for practically every man. Range up against the wall fifteen soldiers, all of whom have been in the danger zone and have fought the same battle for the same cause. What is the use of having a regulation which provides that we may pick out three of those men as being eligible for assistance, but compels us to tell the other twelve that they are not eligible under section 60? The present discrimination is far too wide. The Minister may object that my proposal would involve an enormous amount of money. I repeat that this assistance is not a grant, but is. in the form of a loan, and the gratuity bonds provide a means of liquidation. We have already made provision that, in so far as there is eligibility for participation in the benefits of the Repatriation Act, war gratuity bonds may be taken in discharge of obligations under the Act.
– Only for certain purposes.
– Despite all the limitations in the present Act, more money was lost in connexion with advances for businesses than in any other way.
– In connexion with the private repatriation scheme in my own electorate, I have had 80 committees working in harmonious co-operation with the Department, and they have had a fairly wide experience of the Act and of its shortcomings. I place no blame upon the Controller and his staff; he is governed by an Act and regulations. The Minister says that more money has been lost in connexion with advances for businesses than in any other way, and I repeat again that the Department will be safeguarded in future by being able to take the gratuity bonds in liquidation of any liability. If necessary, the amount of the advance may be limited to the value of the bonds, and even with that limitation the Department will be able to render immediate and valuable assistance to soldiers who are in pressing circumstances. By reason of the repatriation scheme that I am conducting in my own electorate, I have almost daily opportunities of coming in contact with cases of disappointment and distress. I have committees of earnest and capable men, who have given their time, services, and money, voluntarily and generously, and one of the principal objections they have to the carrying on of this work is that they are able to help, under the Government scheme, so few of the soldiers; the majority are not eligible under section 60.
– There is nothing in this Bill to prevent an amendment to that section.
– No; but there is every reason why I should impress upon the House the necessity for such an amendment. I was hoping that the Commission would be endowed with sufficiently wide powers to beable to deal withall these cases. If that is not tobe done, I can see no justification for the creation of the Commission. The work of repatriation will be finished in a short time, and if the administration of the War ServiceHomes is not intrusted to the Commission, what work will there he for it to do? It will become merely a Commission to administer the War Pensions Act. I hope the Government will take advantage of the experience that has been gained up to date, and will give the Commission a genuine opportunity of justifying its creation. If itbe merely a Commission to administer regulations which in the past have failed to satisfy the soldiers, its creation will not be justified. Vocational and technical training will be finished in a couple of years, because the period of training usually is limited to six months, and unless national workshops are established - and that is not proposed at present - what will there be for the Commission to administer? I hope that the Commission will have power to review the whole of the work done up to date. Many millions of pounds are to be made available for repatriation work, and the best business ability and brains that the Commission can command should be brought to bear upon the work of restoring the soldiers to civil life.
In regard to vocational training, I know that in the establishment of training shops, the Department, starting from scratch, and without the equipment and plant possessed by private firms, is seriously handicapped. Nor ‘has the Department at its disposal a staff of skilled men, such as private firms have, to teach the young trainees; but vocational training will do more harm than good if it turns out merely half-matured fledglings, men who with only partial training, have to compete with the best artisans of the Commonwealth at the same rate of wages. They will be in a worse position than if they had had no training at all. Make the technical training efficient and complete. I believe that the training shops are doing good work, but only a certain number of men are able to gain admission ; others are knocking at the door and trying to get in. I was hopeful that in this phase ‘of repatriation work the Minister would have enlisted the co-operation of the people who carry on the big industries of this country. Take, for instance, the training of motor mechanics. The Government training shop has only a limited capacity. Young men enter the shop with an idea of getting a thorough grip of the whole motor trade, but they have, at the most, two models to work upon. Contrast these trainees with the young men who are trained in private motor works. The latter enter a great commercial enterprise. There they see many types and varieties of motor cars, and they get a thorough knowledge of repairs, renewals, accessories, and the assembling of parts. I was hopeful that arrangements would be made by the Department with these firms that a proportion of the returned soldiers should be taken into these establishments under a special arrangement, and given a complete course of training in motor mechanical work. Then when a buyer came along and wanted a chauffeur, one of these young fellows, now thoroughly qualified could be recommended. The young fellow, trained with the limited scope and capacity of the Government training school, and who has worked upon only one model or two, has not had sufficient mechanical work under his notice to prepare and equip him in the same way as the young fellow in the private workshops is trained. Therefore, he has not an equal chance of getting employment subsequently.
– The trainees go from the training school to private establish- , ments, and gain further knowledge.
– The Minister knows that under the industrial laws of this country the young man who enters a private workshop must receive the standard wage, but the trainee from the Government establishment has not reached such a state of efficiency as will make him acceptable to a private employer, who is obliged to pay the prescribed wage.
– The Department makes up the difference.
– For how long? If a young man started his technical and vocational training in a private workshop, he may get assistance from the Department for six months : but if he elects to get his training in the Government Training School, the Department will not continue helping him until he becomes a thoroughly efficient workman. There is a course of six months’ training at the sustenance rate of £2 2s. per week. He is then finished with; he is regarded as repatriated, and is wiped off the books of the Department. He cannot at that stage enter a private workshop, and require the Department to supplement the wage he is able to earn.
– I say he does. I mentioned yesterday that a large number oi’ men were doing that
– Does the Minister say that when a man has been written off the books of the Department as repatriated, he can go to another establishment for further training and continue to receive assistance from the Department?
– For how long?
– I hope that when replying the Minister will give us a definite and clear statement on this subject. I bring these matters forward with the desire that within the short space of time still at our disposal repatriation may be handled effectually. . Seeing that millions of pound’s of public money are being spent, it is our duty to make sure that efficient methods are being adopted. The soldier, after he has finished his training, must compete in the world with those who have been trained in the’ ordinary ways. It must not be forgotten that many trainees, by reason of war injuries and shocks to the nervous system, may require longer than the ordinary period of training to acquire efficiency, and they should be provided for in some way, either by being given a longer period of tuition in the workshops and schools, or by being employed in Commonwealth or State factories. Some men have, every week or two, to give up what they are doing because of recurring illness, and at the end of six months cannot have profited so much bv their training as men who are physically fit. There should be some classification, and special provision made for those who suffer from the drawbacks I refer to.
– I said last night that 15,405 men are undergoing training in the classes as industrial trainees, or have advanced beyond the training classes, and have passed into factories as partially trained men.
– On what terms are men passed into the factories as partially trained ?
– The difference between what they earn and their sustenance allowance is made up by the Department.
– For how long?
– Who can tell?
– There are Trade Committees who decide when men are efficient.
– 1 am aware of the provision for industrial councils, but what is the time that will be given to a young trainee to become an efficient journeyman? The vocational and technical training scheme is such a substantial part of the repatriation scheme that there should be some departmental decision cn this point.
– The earning capacity of the men is assessed by experts. It may vary from time to time.
– I have no desire to embarrass the Minister with: the questions that I am asking, my object being merely that the House and the country, which is finding the money that is being spent, may be certain that efficiency is guaranteed for all men undergoing vocational and technical training.
– .That is provided for. Expert committees determine whether men are efficient.
– Does the Minister think that these committees can make a rigid examination of every man ? They must rely chiefly on the workshop managers or foremen under which the trainees are working. What I wish to know is whether vocational and technical training will make the trainees as efficient as those trained outside, with whom the. soldiers will ultimately have to compete.
– Has the honorable member seen the work that is being done?
– I have.
– That is the answer to his question.
– Committees, consisting of employers and employees, look after the trainees when they go into private employment.
– What I wish to get from the Minister is the assurance that the training .provided will give the trainees a fighting chance when they come to compete with other men trained in. private workshops.
– There is no doubt of it.
– Men who have spoken to me on the question are not so convinced of this. The War Service Homes Department is, in my judgment, one of the most important and powerful wings of the repatriation scheme. The provision of homes for those who have fought for and saved this country is a cardinal principle of the scheme. I congratulate the Government on having; undertaken the work, and may be pardoned for saying that I was, I think, the first in the Commonwealth to advocate the provision of soldiers’ homes. If there has been delay in building houses, the soldiers have benefited by it to this extent, that they will get better and more up-to-date houses by reason of the preparations that have been made. Material and labour are more costly than they were, but the War Service Homes Department promises to create a great national asset by doing justice to the soldiers in providing them with homes, and by meeting one of the great needs of the country, additional housing. The young soldier who marries and goes into occupation of one of these houses will start on a very good mark compared with the outsider. The houses are being well and faithfully built, and the Government is to be congratulated in regard to them. It is known, of course, that gigantic building operations are in progress all over the world, and this Government will be faced with the problems that are being met with elsewhere arising out of the high cost of material and labour and the scarcity of supplies. Under all the circumstances, the Government has done well. The houses have been well planned, and it is an excellent thing to give returned men the opportunity to help in the building of them. I regret, however, that there has not been closer co-ordination - if I may use the Minister’s words - of the efforts of State and Commonwealth in regard to country homes.’ Under the War Service Homes Act £700 is the sum that may not be exceeded in providing a home for a returned man; but in the country districts of this State only £625 is allowed for a home, stock, implements, and all equipment that may be necessary to put an unimproved farm into order. That, of course, is in addition to the value of the land. In my. judgment the Commonwealth has a liability in respect of the expenditure of the money which is advanced to the States for the settlement of soldiers on the land, and there should be a coordinating officer to act between the Commonwealth and the States in connexion with all advances made for soldier settlement. I know that the War Service Homes Department could not supervise the erection of houses in country districts, but there should be a better understanding between the Commonwealth and State authorities as to the manner in which the money provided must be spent. There should be vastly more than £625 allowed to soldiers settling in the country. The city homes provided for soldiers are cosy and up-to-date, but there is an absence of proper provision and modern conveniences for the wives and children of the soldiers who battle for a living on the land of the country. But when the city home is compared with the rushed-together, flimsy building put up for the soldiers on country land, it is plain that we are not putting the two types of soldiers, with their wives and children, on anything like the same footing, as far as housing accommodation is concerned.
– But the man in the country, in addition to the sum you have named, gets land valued at £2,500.
– I am not comparing the values of the two propositions, but suggesting that better provision should be made for the home in the country.. A man who starts from scratch on part of a subdivided estate, with nothing there at all, is allowed £625 to buy stock and implements, and provide a home, and his conditions are very adverse compared with the conditions of the other soldier. ‘ I do not blame this Government, because this is a State activity, but I do suggest that the Minister for Repatriation have a further conference with the States with a view to increasing the advance of £625, so that there may be a greater margin in order to provide comfort in the homes. A man who goeson the land in the country in Victoria is granted land of the total value of £2,500 ; if he goes on what is called sheep country, the advance rises to £3,500, which, in my judgment, is a very fair and generous provision. But I advocate a more liberal allowance for the purchase of stock and implements, and the establishment of a home,because it is useless to provide a man. with £3,500 worth of land and not give him sufficient to work it properly.
I consider the terms of repayment under the housing scheme very generous, and the conditions reflect the greatest possible credit on the present administration. A long term is allowed, and the method of’ repayment amounts to no more than a reasonable rent. The cottages we saw to-day, compared with private property, possess an equity of £100 to £150, and this is a splendid investment, on the achievement of which, without causing a boom in land values, I congratulate the Government. The manner in which this phase of the work has been carried out I can refer to with great satisfaction.
– The soldiers on the land in New South Wales will never see success if they live sixty years.
– What about the original settlers of the country who started under conditions one-hundred fold worse than those of the man of to-day? Successful land settlement depends more on the grit and temperament of the man who “ takes it on “ than on the burdens and difficulties he has to face. No one can say to-day whether land is too high or too low in value, because new systems of cultivation, with methods of irrigation and so forth, so alter values that what seemed dear last year is a bargain to-day.
Another opportunity is now available to the Government to give the Commission a much freer hand than the Commissioners in the past have had. This, I take it will be an active working Commission, intrusted not merely with the administration of the regulations. If the latter should prove to be their only work, there will be very little satisfaction for the soldiers who have been long asking for their appointment. I trust that the Commission will be given an opportunity to review the whole subject of repatriation in the light of experience gained up to date. The staff is now trained and efficient, and if the repatriation scheme and the gratuity scheme are linked together, the gratuity being made the basis on which new grants can be made under the repatriation scheme, some of the disappointment and bitterness of the past may be followed by justice to the men who have done so much for us.
– I am pleased the Government have placed before us a somewhat comprehensive scheme of repatriation. There was need for a comprehensive scheme, but in the one presented there are many defects which will take some time to remove. For instance, the trouble and injustice under regulation 60 are not removed, and one wonders why such hard and fast lines have been drawn. Surely every man who went to fight took the same risk, and yet the Department sets out to differentiate. People ask why a man does not get an opportunity to set up in business in his own line, and we are told that he cannot do this because he was not in that line of business for himself before he went away. In my opinion, that condition is laid down in order to protect the business people of the community - to protect vested interests. I was talking to a member of a Local Committee the other day about a. sad case of man who had come back much impaired in health, and who, feeling that vocational training would not be of use to him, desired to go into a certain line of business. “Under this regulation, he was not allowed to do so, because he had not been in the business before he went to the Front ; and the Committeeman said that if all who desired to go into business were permitted to do so, there would be no business left for the ordinary business men. who had not gone to the Front. If that is the reason for the regulation, it is a selfish one, which ought to receive no support from the Government; and I must say that I have never been able to get any other explanation. However, the regulation is still there, and I do not know how we are to avoid its consequences.
As to vocational training, I was unable to accompany other honorable members to Wirth’s Circus, but have seen much of it, amongst other places, at the Working Men’s College, Melbourne. At that establishment, there are turned out fairly adept tradesmen, and we are told by the Minister that, after they have received certain instruction, they are to be handed over to private employers, who will train them until they become perfect. That is too much, however, to expect from private employers, who are in business to earn profits, and not as philanthropists. “We must not forget that a great proportion of the men are impaired in health, and that it will take some time to restore them to their normal condition. Then, there is, perhaps, 4 per cent, or 5 per cent, who seem to think they have done all they ought to do, and expect to be kept. I do not make that charge against the general body of soldiers, but we all know there is a small percentage who take that view, and they are not the sort of men that private employers will tolerate. Many of the soldier officials in the Department have not treated their fellow diggers and their dependants as they ought to be treated. However, the Government have an opportunity to deal with this phase of the question in a proper way, if they desire, but I am afraid, again, that they will ‘be prevented by consideration for vested interests. Three years ago, for instance, it was suggested in this House that the Government ought to consider the propriety of manufacturing complete motors in Australia; and it was a good suggestion, because the motor industry here has not yet been “ scratched.” We are still importing motors wholesale, and the trade is one which will not retrograde, but will extend largely. There are men here who could be taught to build complete motors at the expense of the Government, and the cost would not be more than that which has been incurred in other directions up to the present. We put men into vocational training, and they do not follow up that training because there are no places to exercise it; and if they do get into an establishment, and are discharged for any reason, they are “dropped.” The money spent on vocational training, and on affording sustenance of two guineas a week for, in some cases, eighteen months, should have been devoted to training the men in Government establishments; and a great opportunity, as I say, is presented in the motor trade. At the risk of being charged with harping on one string, I again suggest that the Government are afraid to take this step because it would infringe on the vested rights of those already in the industry. This affords no reason for inaction, in any case, because, apparently, private enterprise is not endeavouring to exploit this particular line. In 1908, when the
Tariff was before Parliament, the imposition of a duty on chassis and engines was suggested in order to encourage their manufacture in Australia, but both employers and employees were against the idea. Members of the Labour party were entreated not to place those articles on the duty list on the ground that it would be a long while before we could manufacture engines and chassis here, and that if we were to impose duties upon those parts we would lose the work of bodymaking. I will not believe that Australian skilled labour cannot manufacture motor engines. I will not believe that work of that nature is too intricate for Australians. It is not fair to ask private enterprise to lose money in establishing an industry of this nature, but here is an instance where the Government could have entered the field. If they were to speculate even as much as £1,000,000 the outlay would be well worth while. Let us look also at the wool . industry. We do not produce one-twelfth of the woollen’ materials required in Australia, outside of the manufacture of blankets. The Government might well have said, “ We will give men vocational training and take them right through the industry from start to finish. If we lose £3,000,000 in establishing an industry which will furnish Australia with a substantial portion, at any rate, of its woollen material requirements, the money will have been well spent.” The Government, however, prefer to go on sinking money in the payment of sustenance allowances, most of which money is lost. I am pleased that something practical is being undertaken at last, even though the motor industry and the manufacture of woollen materials have not been touched, Until we manufacture the greater portion of our home requirements we will never be able to purchase goods at reasonable prices. It may be objected that the Government have no constitutional right to enter upon the manufacture of commodities for general use, but I am certain that no High Court judge would dare to interpret the Constitution in such a manner as to prohibit the Government from providing vocational training for a large body of returned men in the establishment of the woollen manufacturing industry.
I do not want to set town against country or to seek to make political capital, but the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) has been complaining that only £650 has been allowed to a man who is establishing himself in the country, for the purchase of necessary stock, machinery, and a home. What about the thousands of men in the cities and towns who can get nothing like £650 to give them a start? Of course, I do not know how much stock a man could get out of the £650, but when to that loan is added the sum of £2,000 for the purchase of land the total constitutes a heavy encumbrance, and as much as any man can stand, especially when he is aware that he * has paid the very top price for the land he has chosen. The trouble in placing returned men on the land is that Australia does not gain more farmers thereby. For every new man established it is generally the case that some experienced and longestablished farmer retires. That is no good to Australia. ‘ The honorable member for Wannon says there has been no boom in connexion with the sale of country land. There have certainly been inflated values for some time. While men in the country have been receiving up to £2,650, there are many others, in the country and in the towns as well, who have secured nothing as yet. Some of the land secured by the Victorian Government under the compulsory purchase system would not carry a cow to fifty acres, yet returned men have been handicapped with blocks of that character. I do not know, therefore, that they are in any better case than others who, although they have had equal claims to assistance, have so far received nothing.
Activities in regard to war service homes have been so far fairly successful. The officials selected by the Government to conduct that branch are able and wellmeaning men. They have had to meet many obstacles and have had to fight Trusts as well. Just as certain individual returned men have had the good fortune to secure advantages while others equally entitled have received none, so have individual districts gained advantages while other equally worthy districts have had no help under the war service homes scheme. I point out the peculiar position in which returned soldiers in Port Melbourne find themselves. That district sent as many men to the war in proportion to population as any other part of Australia. Yet there has not been a home built in Port Melbourne under the war service homes scheme. The amount fixed for homes purchase was £700, and there have been arguments advanced for the extension of that sum. I can only say that if the amount of the loan is increased to £800 a soldier’s wages will have to be increased in order to bear the added burden. The amount of £700 is about as much as a returned man working in a factory in my district could shoulder. In Port Melbourne there is a large area of vacant land, stretching from the cricket ground to the Yarra; it is known as Fishermen’s Bend. For years the Victorian Government have been taking a nice sum of money, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds, by way of payment from sand carters. In connexion with the project to secure some of that land for the building of war service homes, however, the State Government has demanded £1,060 per acre. That price has made it impossible for a Port Melbourne soldier to secure a home under the Act, either for £700 or upon the basis of an increase to £850. Interested local bodies in Port Melbourne have been doing their utmost to secure the opening up of this area for war service homes, and in this connexion I might say that I have found myself in a peculiar position. The local branch of the Returned Soldiers Association are unfortunately a somewhat Conservative body, while the municipal council has a majority of Labour men. Both are desirous of doing their best for the returned soldiers at Port Melbourne, and they have naturally taken the War Service Homes Department to task. I have found myself in the extraordinary position of having to defend this Government, and stand up for the war service homes officials, because I know that the latter have done their best in the circumstances. We have suggested a reduction of frontage in connexion with the building of homes, from a minimum of 40 feet to 33 feet, but even that is not small enough to enable a returned man to secure land in the district. We recently approached the State Minister concerned, and asked the Hon. Donald Mackinnon if it was not possible for the Government to sell the land at £500 per acre for the purpose of erecting war service homes. So far, no reply has been received.
– Would not the proposed increase overcome the difficulty ?
– It might just about do so, but even so it would be necessary to reduce the minimum frontage space at present permitted. The men in Fort Melbourne must live close to the factories in which they work. They cannot go a long way away and get cheap land in some less settled neighbourhood’. I urge the Federal authorities to communicate with the Victorian Government to see if some arrangements cannot be made to secure areas for the construction of homes in my district. It is not asking too much for the State Government to sell the land’ at £500 per acre.
– Is it suitable for the building of homes?
– Most of it certainly is.
– Does not the Harbor Trust require the land for a new dock same fifty years hence?
– That may be so. About 150 acres could be obtained today at the lowest rate offering, namely, £900 per acre; but in respect to that portion certain filling would require to be carried out. I am tired of having to. defend the Federal Government and the War Service Homes Department, and it is hard for me to persuade the interested bodies in my electorate that the Federal authorities are not to blame. My charge is against the State Government for asking so much for their land. I hope that Senator Millen will approach the Hon. Donald Mackinnon, the Assistant State Minister, so that the returned soldiers of Fort Melbourne may have the opportunity of securing homes for themselves.
The insurance regulation is a disgrace to any civilized community. Why a monopoly is given to one company I do not understand. I realize that if an extreme risk is taken the company can dispose of it by re-insuring somewhere else, as is usually done, but those who take the initial risk make the most money. At any rate, I do not think one insurance company should be given the opportunity of doing all the work, and emphatically I say that in any ease, even if one is selected to do it, it should be an Australian company.
I have no word to say against the fitness of the firm of architects appointed by the Commonwealth Bank to supervise the construction of isolated homes, but in my opinion the percentage allowed is toohigh, seeing that so much work is standardized, and that the plans must be used over and over again. There ought to he some investigation into this matter. It is the soldier who is called upon to pay. Of course, I admit that one isolated house cannot be built as cheaply as one of a group of a dozen or fifty, and that a fair percentage must be allowed in a comprehensive system of building isolated houses.
– The Commonwealth Bank is building no more houses. The work has been taken from it.
– I did not know that such was the case, and I am pleased to hear it. I compliment the Minister and the officials in charge of war service homes for the good work they have done.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.
The following paper was presented: -
Papua Act - Infirm and Destitute Natives Account - Statement of the Transactions of the Trustees, 1918-19.
Sir JOSEPH Cook (ParramattaMinister for the Navy) [10.22].- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I will be glad if ‘honorable members will make an endeavour to pass the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Bill through the Committee stage to-morrow.
Mr.TUDOR(Yarra) [10.23].- I was surprised, as also was the Minister, when the second reading of the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Bill went through so easily, because I know that several honorable members had intended to speak. I presume that now they will take the opportunity of doing so in the Committee stage, but I can assure the Minister for the Navy that there will be no obstruction to the Bill, which we are all anxious to make as good a measure as possible for the benefit of the soldiers. Honorable members will avail themselves of the opportunity to give full consideration to the most important clauses in Committee, but I think the Minister can have that stage of the Bill completed tomorrow.
Question resolved in the affirmative. House adjourned at 10.25 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 April 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19200415_reps_8_91/>.