8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– There are some 35,000 tons of fodder at Adelaide which has been bought and paid for, but the purchasers cannot get it transported to New South Wales, where dairy stock is . starving for want of it. Will the Government endeavour to procure the necessary freight? I understand that Messrs. J. and A. Brown, of Newcastle, will provide the necessary ships if their vessels are not diverted to Queensland.
– As the honorable member is aware, our control of Inter-State shipping has ceased.
– It is in process of ceasing; and, except in the most technical sense, has ceased. However, I shall look into the matter; and if it is possible to give help in the direction suggested, I shall be glad to do so.
-I wish to make a per sonal explanation regarding a statement . published in this morning’s Age concerning an amendment that I moved yesterday, when the Senate’s message about the RepatriationBill was under consideration. The Age states -
A suggestion by Mr. Considine that this move was instigated by the Government was resented by Mr. Higgs as being particularly offensive, and in accordance with parliamentary practice, Mr. Considine was required to withdraw the remark. Subsequently, however, several members pointedly commented on the fact that the proposal submitted by Mr. Higgs was similar in every respect to that outlined by the Minister for Repatriation when the Bill was before the Senate.
Attention is also drawn to the fact that when the division was taken I was absent. I assure honorable members that I did not hear Senator Milieu’s speech, and had not read it until this morning. I find that he said -
If some of the gentlemen who have been so ardent in their desire to have industries started by the returned soldiers showed their faith in the proposition by agreeing to subsidize the proposals, or to advance £1 for every £1 advanced by the country for this purpose, I should have greater faith in the value of the proposals they make.
I was not aware until this morningthat Senator Millen had expressed those views. The way in which I came to move my amendment was this: The Government Whip (Mr. Burchell) asked me how I proposed to vote in regard to the Senate’s amendments, and I told him that I had already said in the House that the clause inserted at the instance of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) contained the germ of a great idea, which I did not feel disposed to reject altogether; and I suggested an amendment of it, asking him if he would see the Minister about it. I did not see the Minister at all in connexion with my amendment.
– What harm would it have done if the honorable member had seen him?
– I am objecting to an attempt to put me in a false position. The Government Whip returned, and said that the Minister had no objection to what I proposed, but would I see the parliamentary draftsman. I handed to him the words that I wished to insert in the clause, and they were embodied in an amendment exactly asI had written them,the parliamentary draftsman adding some words which the Minister thought should be added to provide for the making of regulations. It is true that I was absent when the division took place, but that was because I was ata meeting called by Professor Leeper for the formation of an association for the study of modern languages, and I had a pair from the Labour Whip (Mr. James Page), who kindly said that if he could get no one else he would pair with me himself. That is the whole story.
– I wish to know whether, if the Government cannot get a complete account prepared in connexion with the A and B Wheat Pools, they will at least distribute among the producers any money that may be in hand belonging to them?
-I am sorry that both the Ministers who have to do with this matter are at present hors de combat, but I shall have their attention directed to the honorable member’s question.
Articles or Association.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy whether, before we are called upon to deal with the agreement between the Government and the AngloPersian Oil Company, the company’s Articles of Association can be tabled.
– And its share list.
– I do not see how the Articles of Association can be laid on the table before the agreement has been ratified. So far as I know, all available details are contained in the agreement.
– The agreement does not even guarantee that the company will do the work.
– It is hardly usual to subscribe a capital of £500,000 and do nothing with it.
– The Articles of Association for which I ask are those of the Anglo-Persian Company.
– The parent company? I will see if they can be obtained. The Government desires that honorable members shall know everything, from A to Z, about the agreement.
Control: Note Issue
– Is it the intention of the Government to make any alteration in the control of the Bank by the appointment of a Board, and is it proposed that the note issue shall be under the control of the Bank?
– The whole matter is under consideration, and I hope to be able to make an announcement to the House regarding it shortly.
– At what date . will there be brought before this House particulars of arrangements either involving a continuance of the payment of moneys as now allotted to the States, or providing for a variation thereof ? I understand that the present agreement expires during this or next year.
– I presume that such an arrangement will come before this House for settlement when a tentative settlement has been arrived at between the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States. I know, of course, that we can ride roughshod over the States, if Ave will; but there is no reason at all why we should do so. The matter at issue is a partnership concern between Commonwealth and States, and relates to a vital part of the financing of the two parties. Therefore, it is obvious, and would be only courteous, that we should consult the States before’ arriving at any decision. The whole question of financial relations, among other matters, is bound to arise at the forthcoming Premiers’ Conference.
– When will the Naval Depot, at present situated at Williamstown be transferred to Flinders Naval Base?
– We hope, within the course of a very few months. It is proposed to make a beginning with the removal a little later in the present year, and matters are being hurried on with that object in view. The feeling is, “ the sooner, the better.”
– In view of the high cost of living, and the everincreasing prices of food and clothing, will the Government consider a suggestion to standardize dress throughout the Commonwealth ?
– One requires to know something about the standard before essaying to answer such a question. I shall be glad to discuss the matter of standards first with the honorable member, and, after having arrived at a decision thereon, I should be able to answer his question in this House.
Arbitration Court Congestion.
– I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The present congestion in the Arbitration Court, and matters appertaining thereto.”
Five honorable members having, risen in their places,
.- Shortly after my election to this Chamber in 1917 a quarrel occurred between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and Mr. Justice Higgins, of the Arbitration Court. At the same time - or almost coincident therewith - a campaign was launched throughout Australia, and hundreds of resolutions were sent from different organizations, such as the Employers Federations, the Pastoral Union, and branches of the Farmers and Settlers’ Association, asking that the Arbitration Act be amended and requesting particularly that Mr. Justice Higgins be removed from the Arbitration Court. That was a wellplanned campaign to rid the Arbitration Court of Mr. Justice Higgins, but because of the protests of honorable members on this side of the House of Representatives the campaign broke down; it was a failure. It is deplorable that, owing to a personal quarrel between the parties mentioned things should happen to-day which certainly do not tend towards harmony and stable industrial conditions. The congestion in the Court is such as to arouse grave uneasiness concerning industrial peace in the future. Most honorable members have received a list from the Australian Journalists’ Association, which contains the names of forty-two unions that have been waiting for varying periods, up to fifteen months, in order to go before the Arbitration Court.
– Why cannot they get there?
– Because the Prime Minister does not wantthem to get there; because the intention, probably, of the High Court itself and, at any rate, of this Government, or of its Leader, is to kill the Arbitration Court by permitting it to break down of its own weight. What are the Government doing? What does the High Court suggest to enable these cases to be dealt with? Nothing! Mr. Justice Powers who, until recently, was taking some of the cases, has been given six months’ leave of absence. Early this month, when hearing the plaint of the Australian Society of Engineers, Mr. Justice Higgins said, “I have got to do all the work now; there is not even one deputy, and I havehad no intimation that the Court will have any relief at present. That means delay of public business.” The Australian Workers Union, since January last, has had a case pending in connexion with station bands throughout Australia. It would require only one day, and probably less than a full day, to deal with the issue, yet it may be months before the Australian Workers Union can get before the Court. The Federated Shipwrights, Ship Constructors, &c, Union filed their case on the 2nd December, 1918,but it has not yet been dealt with. The dispute has been referred into Court, and the parties are now trying to secure an agreement. The Australian Timber Workers Union filed their plaint on the 3rd February last year. The matter was dealt with, I believe, only the day before yesterday, and has not yet been finalized. The Australian Tramway Employees Association filed their plaint on the 8th May, 1919. Their case has been partly settled by agreement, but not as an outcome of anything done in or by the Court. I have not the time to deal in detail with all the cases which have been listed; but, on the face of the facts, it does not redound to the credit either of the Government or of the High Court that such a congestion of public affairs should be permitted. Honorable members should compare the situation in the Arbitration Court with the facts surrounding a recent hearing in the High Court in Sydney. Having been given less than twenty-four hours’ notice, the High Court sat and decided an important point which had been raised by a company running the totalisator in New South Wales. Such an organization could get before the highest Court in the land in about ten minutes, but a body of workers such as the Australian Workers Union, numbering 102,000 men, has to wait for many months before it can plead before the judiciary. That in itself shows something of the sham which isbeing perpetrated in connexion with arbitration matters in Australia. So far as I can learn, Chief Justice Knox does not think that any of the High Court Justices should preside over the Arbitration Court. At any rate, notwithstanding the fact of Mr. Justice Higgins in the Court vainly attempting to stem the tide of the cases which are coming in, although the High Court has the power to appoint deputies, it will not grant him any assistance. Apparently with the consent of the Government, the High Court is dominant in such matters. Hence the chaos we have in the industrial world of Australia. The campaign to which I was justreferring as having commenced in 1917, because of a quarrel between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the President of the Arbitration Court, has recently flared up again. We are aware that in 1917 and 1918 an attempt was made to repeal the Act and thereby get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins, or to break down the whole machinery.
– Who made the attempt ?
– The Prime Minister, by his constant attacks on Mr. Justice Higgins and the employers’organizations which I have mentioned, which sent in resolutions in an attempt to break down the Court. However, the primary desire was to have Mr. Justice Higgins removed from the Arbitration Court bench. The attempt which was made in 1917 and 1918 is now being tried again with the intention of removing the Pre- sident of the Court. In this Chamber the Prime Minister recently attempted to criticise the actions of Mr. Justice Higgins, but was prevented by Mr. Speaker from doing so. However, he immediately took advantage of the columns of the press to bitterly attack the President of the Court. He has also convened a Conference which will, apparently, comprise a majority of delegates antagonistic to the Arbitration Court. I might mention that, although the Australian Workers Union has a membership of 102,000, it will have only one delegate at the Conference, whereas any small union represented on the Trades and Labour Councils of the different States will be represented at the Conference. The Australian Society of Engineers will be represented by one delegate. I can quite foresee that if the Conference will allow itself to be used merely as a tool to get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins, that step will be taken. When the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) asked the Prime Minister yesterday what he proposed to do to relieve the congestion in the Arbitration Court, the Prime Minister replied in pessimistic tones that all was lost; although the Act had been amended so many times it had failed, and nothing could be done; but while the Prime Minister stands here telling us this tale most dismally, he leaves Mr. Justice Higgins down inthe Court to grapple, as far as his powers will allow him, with the forty-two cases that await him. The right honorable gentleman should have told the House what his intentions are - whether it is his desire to give the President of the Court the necessary relief, or whether his object is to let the whole thing break down under its own weight. The opinion of those who are clamouring round the doors of the Court is that the desire is to get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins, to whose efforts we owe a great deal of the industrial peace we have had in Australia for a considerable number of years past. Apparently he is the only Justice of the High Court who knows something of the working classes and of the conditions under which they live. But it is certain that he does not satisfy the Prime Minister, and, therefore, he must go. It is to be hoped that no scheme to get rid of him succeeds. It will not, if the Aus tralian Workers Union have any say in the matter.
– I rise to a point of order. I call attention to the fact that the honorable member for Darling has been indulging in a diatribe against the Prime Minister, declaring that he desires to remove Mr. Justice Higgins from the Bench. The other day the Prime Minister was called sharply to order when he was supposed to be replying to some observations made by that Justice. I suggest that the honorable member is entirely out of order in so frequently bringing in the name of Mr. Justice Higgins.
– There is a specific motion before the Chair to deal with the congestion in the Arbitration Court presided overby the Justice to whom reference has been made. In regard to the incident to which the Minister for the Navy has just referred, it will be remembered that there was a reflection on the Justice which I thought was not in accordance with the practice of Parliament, and was therefore not in order. With regard to the criticism of the honorable member for Darling on the Prime Minister, the honorable member has been expressing his views upon certain actions of the Prime Minister in relation to the Arbitration Court and matters associated therewith, and has therefore been keeping within the terms of the motion his argument being that the present position is due to an alleged feud between the Prime Minister and the Judge. So long as he does not make personal reflections or impute improper motives the honorable member is within his rights of criticism. The statements of the honorable member relate to matters of fact, as to the correctness or otherwise of which I have no knowledge or concern. The honorable member will not be in order in imputing unworthy motives, but otherwise he is entitled to criticise the actions of the Prime Minister in relation to the Arbitration Court. The Prime Minister or any one else on his behalf will have the opportunity which the Justice does not have of replying to any statement which is made on the floor of the House.
– The statement to which I took exception was two or three times repeated - namely, that it was quite obvious the Prime Minister wished to get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins.
– That may be the opinion of the honorable member for Darling, but it does not necessarily impute an unworthy motive. The desire for the removal of a judge or other per son from office, even if it actually did exist in the mind of the Prime Minister, would not necessarily imply an unworthy motive. I am _ not in a position to say whether it does so exist or not without knowing what may be behind the statement. Such a ‘‘desire might arise from the highest possible motive. However, without knowing what is in the honorable member’s mind, it is impossible for me to express an opinion on the point. The honorable member’s statement does not appear to be out of order.
– The campaign so admirably carried out by the different employers’ organizations throughout Australia, and the contributions from time to time by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), have resulted up to date in failure to at least so alter the Court as to get rid of the President, Mr. Justice Higgins. I can clearly forecast the suggestions that will be put forward at the Industrial Conference shortly to be convened. It will, no doubt, be suggested, and possibly by some of the delegates themselves, that the slate should ‘be wiped clean - that we should repeal the Act and start afresh. The moment that the Act is repealed Mr. Justice Higgins will disappear from the Conciliation and Arbitration Court of the Commonwealth. He will remain on the High Court Bench, but will be lost to the industrial community of Australia. His disappearance from the Conciliation and Arbitration Court will be a loss, not only to the industrial community, but to Australia as a whole. I make that statement in the light of my experience of the learned Judge in that Court, and because of the work which he has done. It is the work he has done there that has probably resulted in the campaign to get rid of ‘him. This campaign in the past has failed. It is to be hoped it will fail <n the future.
When the campaign to get rid of the President of the Court, and to smash, so to speak, the whole of our arbitration laws had failed, we had another attempt by at least one organization to induce the Parliament to carry an amendment of the arbitration law designed to bring about certain results. I propose now to quote a letter dealing with some of the rules of the Australian Workers Union, together with counsel’s opinion, which, curiously enough, was given by the present Chief Justice. The following letter was addressed by Mr. J. W. Allen, secretary of the Pastoralists Union - which is now the Graziers’ Association - to “ The Hon. L. E. Groom, M.H.B., Attorney-General, Commonwealth of Australia “ : - 17th April, 1919.
In December last, the writer, by direction of the executive, laid before you in Melbourne particulars of a proposal for amendment of the Commonwealth Arbitration Act to enable graziers to make binding shearing engagements prior to the arrival of the men on the stations. The necessity for the amendment of the Act is brought about by the action of the Australian Workers Union in adopting a rule imposing a penalty of £2 upon each member who enters into a signed agreement prior to roll-call. It has already been pointed out that it has been customary in the industry for very many years to sign agreements some considerable time before commencement of work, as it is only by such means that binding contracts can be made, and the employer on the one hand be enabled to definitely arrange his shearing operations, and the employee on the other hand to be definitely assured of engagement prior to travelling long distances for the purpose of securing employment. As an award of the Commonwealth Court is in operation providing more favorable terms for employees than have previously prevailed, it is inequitable that the union and employees should, by the use of the rule in question, be placed in the position of being able, while taking full advantage of the award, by force of the employer’s necessity, to also demand additional concessions on arrival at the station. The rule can only exist for this purpose, and has already had the effect in this State of enabling members to demand in some cases increased rates of payment, in others adult wages for boys; and in other cases various concessions. The fact that general trouble has not yet arisen is no argument for the maintenance of such an unjust rule, which is disadvantageous alike to employer and employee, and which is also diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Arbitration Act. All means other than an alteration of the Act have been exhausted endeavouring to secure the withdrawal of this rule. A conference with the Australian Workers Union has proved unavailing, the Arbitration Court has held that the rule is not at present contrary to law, and although many employees have ignored the rule they have been penalized by the union and pre- vented from entering into signed agreements prior to roll-call.
In December last, when I placed the position before you and before many members of Parliament, each member agreed that the union should be prevented from maintaining the objectionable rule in question. You, however, stated that your Government could not so late in the session introduce a debatable clause in the amending Act, and in addition raised doubt as to whether the proposal could constitutionally be enacted. The question was submitted to eminent counsel, and the attached opinion by Mr. Adrian Knox, K.C. (copy of which has been previously sent you), indicates that there are apparently constitutional difficulties in the way of adopting this Association’s proposal.
In view of the above, I have, by direction of my executive, again to , ask that the proposal should be incorporated as an amendment of the Commonwealth Arbitration Act at the earliest possible date, in order to avoid industrial difficulty in the pastoral industry.
The suggested amendment is as follows: - “ The rules of an organization registered under this Act and the officials of such an organization shall not during the currency of an award in the industry concerned prevent or impede any members of such organization from entering into written agreements in accordance with such award at any time prior to the commencement of service.”
The opinion referred to is as follows: -
OPINION OF MR. ADRIAN KNOX, K.C, RE SUGGESTED AMENDMENT OF COMMONWEALTH ARBITRATION ACT - 23rd DECEMBER, 1918.
In my opinion, it is within the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament under the Constitution to prescribe the conditions under which associations or bodies of persons may become and remain organizations for the purposes indicated in that Act are themselves within the powers of the Parliament. On this ground I am of opinion that section 55 (2) of the Act prescribing the conditions to be complied with by associations applying for registration as organizations is within the powers of the Parliament, and it appears to me that the High Court so decided in the Jumbunna case -6 C.S.R. at pp. 340 and 347 perC.J. and Barton, J. If this be so, I see no reason why Parliament should not have power to prescribe that no organization shall be registered or continue to be registered, the rules of which contain any provision hindering its members from entering into agreements in accordance with the terms of an existing award. Moreover, it seems to me to be involved in the decision above referred to, even if not expressly decided in that case, that section 9 of the Act is within the powers of the Parliament. If this be so, I can see no substantial reason why it should not be equally within the power of Parliament to prescribe that no member of an organization should be subjected to any penalty of any kind by reason of his having entered into an agreement with an employer before commencing work provided such agree ment conformed to the terms of any existing award.
I think that Parliament might also prescribe that the rules of the organization should contain provision forbidding any official of the organization from hindering or preventing a member from entering into any agreement in conformity with any existing award. 2 and 3. The proposed amendment could not be effectively introduced by statutory rule, because as the Act stands at present the power to prescribe conditions by rules only extends to associations applying to be registered as organizations - section 55 (2).
– I know that it is. After all, it is only part of the campaign which has been in progress during the last three years primarily to clog the arbitration machinery and get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins from the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. I ask the Government to state their intentions with regard to that Court. Do they intend to allow it to break down; or is it their intention to appoint deputies to help Mr. Justice Higgins, who has forty-two cases to deal with at the present time? The position is that either the deputies must be appointed or the Court will be allowed to go. In the latter event, and if the Conference carries out the plan of campaign, it will come to Parliament with a recommendation to repeal the whole Act, with the object of getting rid of Mr. Justice Higgins.
– It is to be regretted that a question relating to the administration of justice should be introduced in an atmosphere of party politics. Last night this matter was mentioned in a quiet and proper manner by the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond), who asked what was being done in connexion with the congestion of business in the Arbitration Court. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), however, has seen fit to impute to the Prime Minister and the Government, and to outside organizations, motives which, I am pleased to say, exist only in the fertile imagination of the honorable member.
– We shall see later on.
– His suggestion that the Prime Minister has been engaged ever since 1917 in a campaignto get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins is absolutely without anyfoundation in fact. For a good deal of the time since 1917 the Prime Minister was overseas, and the honorable member and his colleagues were protesting to Parliament about the impropriety of the head of the Government being out of Australia, instead of being present in the House to attend to matters of local concern. The Prime Minister and the Government have taken no such action as the honorable member has alleged. On the contrary, our action–
– Our action all through has been to maintain the position of the Arbitration Court in the community. The suggestion in regard to the High Court blocking the business of the Arbitration Court is just as unfounded. The High Court has from time to time assisted in the administration of the law, and any difficulties that have arisen did not originate at that source.
– Practically every Judge of the High Court has asked for an amendment of section 28.
– And Governments have introduced from time to time many amendments of the Act. After all, Parliament has its rights and duties; and must take its responsibilities in connexion with the making and administration of laws. Our attention was drawn to the fact that the sections relating to the appointment of a Deputy President were not satisfactory, and in 1918 we induced the House to pass an amending Bill which enabled the appointment of the deputy to be made by the GovernorGeneral in Council instead of by. the President. That amendment was brought forward with the approval of the Court itself. Immediately that Bill became law, Mr. Justice Powers was appointed to assist in the administration of the Act, and he and Mr. Justice Higgins have been consistently carrying on the arbitration work. Admittedly during that period the cases have greatly increased, with the resultant congestion of business to which the honorable member for Darling referred. But I remind the House that the congestion has beento some extent due to the law, which enabled the public servants to have their disputes heardby this tribunal. Out of forty-two cases listed for hearing by the Arbitration Court, sixteen are connected with the
Public Service. Some of them, it is true, are not likely to occupy much time. The main cases have been heard, and the others are mostly applications for variations of awards and other minor matters. Therefore, the existing congestion may not continue for long. The two Judges have undoubtedly applied all possible time and energy to this work. In the case of Mr. Justice Powers, it has involved, to my personal knowledge, an immense strain upon him, particularly in connexion with the foundational cases relating to the Public Service, which threw upon him the responsibility of studying thoroughly the whole ramifications of the service. This arbitration work involves a very close attention to detail, in order to get an exact definement of the positions and duties of each of the various officers and their relations to each other. As a result of the strain of that work, the Justice has asked for leave of absence, to which he is justly entitled. He has been kept continuously employed, even during the vacation, I believe. For the time being, Mr. Justice Powers is on leave, and we are faced with the necessity for appointing another deputy.
– One will not be sufficient.
– The Act gives us power to appoint one only. The SolicitorGeneral has been in touch with the Arbitration Court, and is in communication with the Chief Justice at the present time, and I hope to be able very shortly to make an announcement of the appointment ofa deputy. Honorable members will see that this matter has received the close attention of the Government.
– The Government are allowing the Court to fall to pieces.
– That is a most unjust remark. This is a questionof giving economic justice to the community, and it ought to be placed above party politics. We are taking immediate steps to lessen the congestion of business. The SolicitorGeneral has been in consultation with the Judges, but there has been some difficulty in connexion with the administration of the work of the High Court. There are only seven Judges, and one is going on leave. There must be four Judges at least to give judgment upon constitutional issues. On two occasions acase had to be adjourned because the
Court did not consist of the statutory number of Judges required for the decision,. Mr. Justice Starke had to go to Sydney to sit in the High Court in order to constitute a tribunal which could give a decision upon the case. Four Judges at least are required to constitute the High Court when dealing with constitutional issues. Two others are required for the arbitration work. Then there is the Court of original jurisdiction in which a Judge has to sit to hear causes and applications. Honorable members will see that the High Court has had difficulty in arranging its work in order to carry out the duties imposed upon it by Parliament. We are taking every step possible to fill the existing vacancy, and to secure the discharge of the duties of the Court. I do not wish to make any further reference to what was said by the honorable member for Darling beyond assuring the House that his statements regarding the attitude of the Government are entirely without foundation. Mr. Justice Higginshas worked long and laboriously; he has earned the thanks of this country for the work he has performed, and nobody wishes to cast any aspersions upon him.
– Hear, hear ! Notwithstanding the questions asked in this House with a view to getting rid of him.
– He has to administer an Act in regard to which there is, of necessity, much diversity of opinion, and in connexion with’ which a great deal of controversy must arise. But in regard to that administration we have abstained from anything in the way of interference, and allowed justice to take its course unimpaired.
– Why do you not tell us what the Government intend to do to end the industrial unrest?
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) clearly said yesterday–
– Tell us now.
– I can only repeat what the Prime Minister said, namely, that he is calling a conference of those most interested, in order that the position may be completely considered.
– He promised that two years ago.
– The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) may ask his question at a later stage. In the meantime, it is not desirable to make any minor amendments in the law, pending the consideration of the position in relation to arbitration.
– In my opinion, the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) has left the matter in a most unsatisfactory position.
– The Minister has , really confirmed the statements I made as to Government inactivity.
– The Minister is asked a plain, straightforward question, and a statement of fact has been made here. It is admitted that there is great congestion in the Arbitration Court, showing the necessity for more Judges, and the Minister is asked what the Government intend to do. The Minister, however, leaves the matter to the Prime Minister, and we are not informed what the Prime Minister himself intends to do: I am not in accord with some of the statements made by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), but he made out a case. He told us that there are forty-two listed cases awaiting settlement. One of the Judges is going on what is, no doubt, a well-earned holiday, but the Minister is asked why the Government do not appoint another Judge in his place. What will be the effect of this policy of consideration as outlined by the Minister? More postponements.
– One person from Western Australia, interested in a case to come before the Court, has been hanging about Melbourne for two months.
– There are people from all over Australia waiting in Melbourne for cases to come on. I am getting a little sick of these promises of conferences and so forth. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) says that there is very dangerous congestion in the Court; and this congestion can only lead to strikes and other forms of direct action. If there are forty-two cases listed, we may take it that there are forty or fifty other cases which have not been brought to Court simply because of the waiting there must be for their decision. The people interested in disputes will consider that it is useless to take their cases to Court with any hope of prompt settlement, and will resort to strikes. The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) has made a clever little speech defending Judge Higgins, who, however, is, I dare say, very well able to defend himself. A “ Judge, no matter what his decision may be, and especially in arbitration cases, is bound to offend somebody or other. I do not agree with the statement made by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), that the Prime Minister has been striving to get rid of Justice Higgins.
– It is absurd.
– It _ is. With the power possessed by the Prime Minister, he could, if he so desired, get rid of a Judge, or anybody else, and to that end could make matters much more uncomfortable for any such official than he has for Justice Higgins. I commend the Prime Minister for going to the proper arena in which to defend himself and the Government. It is the Prime Minister’s duty, if he thinks a Judge is “ off the track,” to. criticise that Judge. After all, the Prime Minister is the man to whom we look to safeguard our rights and interests, especially when, a person in high position, like that of a Judge, is concerned.
The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) has failed miserably in answering the statements made here this afternoon. Why should there not be another Judge appointed? I dare say there is a number of men able and willing to take the position; indeed, I think I could nominate one or two members of this House who would probably do as much good for the country on the Bench as they do here. Without attempting to be a carping critic, I must express my regret at the failure of the Minister to answer direct statements made. It is tiresome to be continually hearing that the Government will consider this or that question, and call this or that conference. If the Judges are overworked, or cannot make a quorum, it is our duty to appoint more Judges. Is it not important that these great industrial organizations, who feel that they are being badly used, should be given an opportunity to have their cases settled? Industrial arbitration has been much vaunted in the past; indeed, we’ heard it was to be the remedy for all industrial evils. Now, however, somebody or something seems to be standing in the way. The appointment of more Judges cannot be objected to on the score of expense, for it is more economical to appoint Judges than to keep large numbers of people in a state of uncertainty and unrest for weeks and months. The Minister has given us a diplomatic little speech which really means nothing. God knows what we should do if the Prime Minister were very ill, as the Government do not seem to be able to get on without him! I urge the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) to say that the present state of things will be remedied at once, and thus avoid long discussions and much uncertainty. Personally, I do not think a conference is needed, but rather some action on the part of the Government.
.- Honorable members, I am sure, recognise that the question ‘before us is one of paramount importance. We should be failing in our obligations and duties and responsibilities to “the community if we did not raise our voice against the undue congestion that prevails in the Arbitration Court. Industrial unrest and the high cost of living are so affecting our economic and social life that it should be our first consideration, having been intrusted with the welfare of the people, to do what we can to improve matters. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) is to be congratulated on having brought before the House this afternoon the congested state of the Arbitration Court. At the present time the industrial community has no inducement to approach the Court for the regulation of the conditions of employment, because the delays and the expense involved are too great. In this matter the Government is exhibiting its characteristic procrastination, so that the evil is intensifying, and it is difficult to imagine what the end will be. I am a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, which has been seeking for a lon? time to gain admission to the Arbitration Court, and in Western Australia the members of the society have become so impatient of the difficult economic circumstances ‘in which they are placed that they have resorted to direct action. Bv striking they got their pay increased by 2s. per ,day, and it has been increased by 3s. 5d. per day since the evidence for the Arbitration Court waa prepared. The delays are so great that before a case is heard the conditions prevailing in the industry concerned have entirely changed, and immediately an award has been obtained it is necessary to commence to apply for another to meet the actual circumstances of the time. A case brought by the Australian Workers “Union against the pastoralists of the Commonwealth - an application to revise an award - has been before the Court since last January, and the union officials have had to remain in Melbourne day after day awaiting the convenience of the Court. The case if called on could, perhaps, be disposed of in two or three hours.
– The present state of affairs is becoming tragic for seme persons.
– Yes; and it is incumbent on us to relieve the congestion of work in- the Court. The journalists of Australia are a body pf men who try on all occasions to do the right thing by the community, and are law-abiding citizens in the best sense, but their conditions are becoming such that honorable members may find one morning that the reporting of their valuable utterances has ceased because of the dissatisfaction prevailing amon? the journalists. The Australian Journalists Association wishes to have an existing award varied, but their case is twenty-sixth on the list, and unless additional Judges are appointed it will probably not be reached for eighteen months. Yesterday, Mr. Justice Higgins complained that he was not receiving the assistance that he had a right to expect. The Government should recognise the seriousness of the matter and facilitate’ the hearing of cases, so that it may not be necessary for those engaged in industries to have recourse to direct action, despairing of any hearing in the Arbitration Court. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) cash grave suspicion on- the bona fides of the Government in this matter, for which there seems to me justification in the utterances of leading men in the commercial world. We hear expressed at conferences .of the Chambers of Commerce a decided antagonism to compulsory arbitration. Mr. Braddon, for instance, has insisted that the present system of compulsory arbitration is one which should not receive further support. A statement like that, coming from one prominent in the commercial world, compels the question. “ Is not the continued inaction of the Government due to their desire to give effect to the wishes of those represented in the Chambers of Commerce and of the employers generally?” The following is a list of forty-two cases which on the 23rd April last were waiting to be heard in the Arbitration Court:-
With such a pressure of, business as is there detailed there is no excuse for delaying the appointment of additional Judges. As many Judges as are needed to cleaT the list quickly should be appointed, so that industrial peace may be assured for the future, and justice may be done to those engaged in industries by giving them wages and conditions, in keeping with the present standards of living. What we need is a sympathetic and practical effort by the Government to remove the difficulties and troubles from which the industrial world is now suffering, and it is the duty of the Federal Parliament to insist that this effort shall be made.
.- Campaigns have been carried on in the press for a considerable time with respect to the great industrial subject, of arbitration. ‘ The matter has also been introduced in this House frequently. Among the occasions which I have in mind are those- on which the subject was raised by the questions by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell) and by the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond). And now the House has witnessed the belated effort of the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley). All these parties have, more or less convincingly, put forward proposals for the improvement of the arbitration system. It is a subject in respect to which there has been ample time for our consideration and digestion. It is one which goes, perhaps, more deeply than anything else to the foundation of civil life. Australia has frequently proclaimed her discovery of a nostrum for all industrial troubles. She has claimed to have discovered the final remedy for all disputes in connexion with industry. Yet, what are the facts? It is refreshing to listen to the effort of the honorable member for Darling, which, I hope, may be taken as an indication of the renewal, or revival, of confidence among the workers in the principle of arbitration. We cannot forget that this country was held up, only a little while ago, by direct action. When the seamen’s strike was being carried on, we saw its leaders, Walsh and Le Cornu, take command of affairs ; yet not one honorable member on the opposite side of the House was game to stand up and declare for arbitration.
– That is not true; stick to the truth.
– There was not one honorable member on that side who arose.
– Yes, there was.
– Not a man arose to champion arbitration. If it be the intention of the Government now to bring about a bona fide confidence with respect to the subject, I trust that the representatives of the Labour party in this Chamber will regard themselves as sponsors in advance for the outside delegates to the Conference, and will publicly utter their confidence in conciliation and arbitration.
– Would the honorable member ask us to bind the delegates hand and foot?
– No; but honorable members opposite might indicate that they really believe in arbitration.
– I have said so a thousand times.
– I am aware that that is the case with respect to the hon orable member; but what of his colleagues ? Why did not the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) and those sitting beside him publicly state their confidence in arbitration at that dark period when direct action was holding up the country ? Why did they not then give a lead to their people? When Walsh and Le Cornu were defying laws, and trying to ruin Australia, the Leader of the Opposition was silent; and the honorable member for Darling was silent. But when the latter honorable member now sees an. opportunity to embarrass the Prime Minister in regard to what I personally believe to be an unseemly dispute with the President of the Arbitration Court, . the opportunity is swiftly taken to make capital of the situation in this Chamber. It is time we definitely declared for or against arbitration. The Court has been degraded, and to-day it is either a question of placing arbitration on a sound foundation or of abrogating the principle. I am not inclined to the proposition of having one Judge as the supreme arbiter in all industry, even though he should be supported by one or two, or more, deputies. I would prefer to see a tribunal which commanded the confidence of the whole country. Let there be a Court presided over by a Judge, but associated with a council consisting of employees’ representatives, who understand the conditions of work in industry, and delegates of employers. A Judge may have the master mind for the examination of conditions appertaining to an industry, but he can have no first-hand knowledge orexperience. The idea of one man - even though assisted by deputies - wielding supreme authority is a false view of arbitration and conciliation. There is very little complaint heard to-day respecting the activities of Wages Boards. Surely this Parliament can devise a better, speedier, and more intelligent system than that which now rules in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. If arbitration is to be judged by the disagreements aroused thereby, and by the attacks launched against it, it must be written down as practically a failure. The Court has not had that support from the people which it should have been given. The principle of arbitration has not had a fair chance. It was launched as the supreme creation for the control of Federal industrial disputes; but the unhappy fact is that it has also fostered and helped to create trouble. What is required is that a tribunal shall be created which will command the confidence of both sides to every dispute, or that a return shall be made to the State system of handling industrial troubles, or that employers and employees shall be authorized to get together in their own councils and arrange their own affairs. I have no ill-will against the President of the Arbitration Court. Mr. Justice Higgins has worked tremendously hard to cope with the great task in his hands. I cannot conceive that a Deputy Judge, less informed than the President himself, would be better able to discharge his duties. Lastly, I repeat that to make one Judge the sole master of industrial affairs throughout the Commonwealth is not only wrong, but impracticable.
.- I well remember the occasion of the first Arbitration Bill passing through this House. The measure was responsible for the displacement of two Governments, namely, the Deakin and the Watson Administrations. I am not more anxious to displace the Government of to-day than I am to see some means of giving the Arbitration Court a better standing in the community. There are three conditions which make for industrial unrest at present. First, there is the limitation of the Constitution in dealing with industrial matters. For example, every man connected with the building trade in Victoria may be “out,” but the Commonwealth authority is helpless; every man in New South Wales may be “ out,” and still the Commonwealth Court cannot touch the subject. The second condition is the tremendous congestion of cases pending before the Arbitration Court. The third condition has to do with the matter of the variation of awards before the expiry of existing awards. It has been held that it is within the competency of this Parliament to amend section 28 of the Act, in order to give parties appealing to the Court an opportunity to vary their plaints. The position has been summed up in a communication which I have before me as follows: -
The High Court, in the ease of the Federated Gas Employees Association versus the Metropolitan Gas Company and others, held that where an award is in existence for a term of years a new dispute cannot arise on the some subject-matters as the old award covers until after the expiry of the old award. The judgment above referred to did not refer to ordinary variations of awards, as applications can always be made to the Court to vary an award, provided the variation asked for does not go above the rate demanded in the original claim.
Many of these cases have not been before the Court for a number of years, and, meanwhile, conditions have so altered that what may have been a living wage, say, three years ago, is not so to-day. An application is made to vary the award, but the Court says, in effect: “ It cannot be done, because we did not know five years ago that the increase in the cost of living would be so great.” As I have already indicated, this disability can be overcome by an amendment of the Arbitration Act; every Judge of the High Court, I believe, has expressed the opinion that this Parliament can take such legislative action. On the 14th April, when speaking in this chamber, I dealt with the question of industrial unrest, and with the views of the Judges of the High Court, particularly in reference to the amendment of section 28. The High Court has even been asked by certain employers whether this Parliament had any power to create an Arbitration Court at all. The employers fought that point, and it involved the Journalists Association, which, I understand, is partly instrumental for the whole subject being at present before the House. The proprietors of the Daily News, in Perth, were anxious to penalize the journalists. I believe another case is to be heard tomorrow respecting this same question, in which the same parties are involved. The Arbitration Court has no power to enforce its awards according to the judgment of the High Court. We are promised today that a conference shall be called in which delegates of employers and employees are to consider this lastmentioned point. I propose to read a paragraph from the Ministerial statement of the Government, as published in Hansard of the 10th April, 1918-
Labour. - To establish and maintain better interests between capital and labour, it is proposed that the Attorney-General shall also be Minister for Labour, and an Advisory Council, representing employers and employees, will be appointed to keep touch be- tween the Department and the industrial interests affected.
What have the Government done to give effect to that promise? They propose now to call a conference. On 10th April of this year, the Argus published an illuminating report of remarks by Mr. Justice Powers. Among them are the following : -
There are three complaints, at least, against the Court for which the Court is not responsible. The first is that the Judges appointed to do the work cannot keep pace with the many claims brought before them, and serious delays are sometimes caused in settling industrial disputes. Parliament can, if it thinks lit, rectify that. The second is that the Court cannot, ‘because of section 28 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, settle industrial disputes arising during the term of an award, however serious the dispute may be, or however much the cost of living has increased since the award was made. Parliament can, if it thinks fit, rectify that also. The third is that proceedings in the Court are expensive. The unions can rectify that by avoiding the expense of plaints, as is frequently done, limiting their claims to what they really intend to insist upon (if section 28 is amended), and by not calling witnesses to prove what the employers admit.
On the following Tuesday Senator Fairbairn, the president of the Employers Federation of Australia, wrote to the Argus as follows : -
Mr. Justice Powers’ statement “in reply to criticisms “ is most interesting and instructive. He suggests three ways in which the Arbitration Court could be improved, as follows: -
Creator expedition in dealing with cases brought before the Court.
That power be given to the Court to deal with an industrial dispute arising during the currency of an award.
The reduction of the expense of the Court proceedings.
Mr. Justice Powers suggests remedies to No. 3, but feels, I suppose, that it is outside his province as a Judge to indicate legislative alterations. I therefore make the following suggestions, which I think have the support of all employers, and I hope most of the employees: -
Greater expedition in dealing with cases could be obtained (a) by appointing at least three Judges; (6) by giving the Court .the power to delegate to a Board appointed by it the authority to decide a dispute when requested to do so by one of the parties to the dispute; (c) by a clear definition of what are Federal and what are State disputes. Much of the Court’s time at present is taken up in deciding whether the dispute is Federal or State, and no sooner is a case settled in the Federal Court than it is brought before the State Court, or vice versa, and the state of unrest so hurtful to industry is prolonged.
The chief cause of industrial disputes at present is the ever-changing cost of living, and power should be granted to the Court to make awards contingent upon the rise or fall of the cost of living.
The Prime Minister has promised early amendments of the Arbitration Court Act, and it must be apparent to all that they are urgently required. Mr. Hughes has had for some time before him the carefully considered views of the employers on what changes are required, and he has also consulted the employees on this matter. Before the Government brings forward its amendments I think it might help matters if he would call a conference of representatives of employers and employees to see if harmony cannot be achieved, as there aru many other amendments besides those dealt with by Mr. Justice Powers that would benefit the Act. - Yours, Ac,
On the next day the following paragraph appeared in the Argus : -
Consideration was given by the Federal Cabinet yesterday to arbitration matters. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said that the Cabinet had discussed the position that arose through the Deputy President of the Arbitration Court (Mr. Justice Powers) going on leave. It was also hoped to introduce at an early date legislation to amend the Arbitration Act.
When the proposal by’ the president of the Employers Federation (Senator Fairbairn) for a round-table conference on industrial matters was mentioned, Mr. Hughes said: - “Two years ago we proposed to bring in a measure for a Grand Council of Labour, on which both sides would be represented. That idea we hope to embody in our coming legislation. But such a proposal will be useless without the hearty co-operation of both sides. Wo propose to call a conference. We will not put a cutanddried proposition in regard to the constitution of a Council of Labour, or to industrial legislation before them, but will seek to have a free discussion of matters and find out the ideas of both sides. Then we will try to formulate proposals to secure industrial peace and harmony.”
It is rather peculiar that the Government were only spurred into action after Senator Fairbairn made his statement. There are many other matters I could deal with. Employers take direct action. All the newspapers in Victoria and other States have recently increased their prices by 50 per cent.
– The prices of advertisements have also been increased, and they please themselves what advertisements they accept. If a Labour organization sends in an advertisement during the political campaign they refuse to take it until the election is over. At least, that was the policy of one newspaper in Melbourne, and the other paper intimated that they would only accept Labour advertisements if they were allowed to write them themselves. That is the way in which these newspapers take direct action. One cannot get an advertisement in the Age or Argus at the rate of sixteen words for1s. The price of these small advertisements has been increased several times.
– I am afraid that the honorable member is not now speaking within the terms of the motion.
– I am pointing out the direct action that is being taken by these people who yell if any trade union dares to do the same. There are some honorable members in this House who do not care much for the Arbitration Act, and would willingly vote to repeal it, butI can tell them that it does not take very much persuasion to induce many of the organizations to takedirect action. The trouble is rather the other way. I have always stood up as an advocate of arbitration, and shall continue to do so, but I realize that to-day many of the organizations are in favour of direct action, because they cannot get to the Arbitration Court, while, as they point out, the employers can take direct action, and charge what they like for the goods they supply or for the advertising space they have available, and if they have men working for them for a number of years they can throw them out on the industrial scrapheap as was recently done in Melbourne. The employers do this, yet some honorable members will denounce the workers for taking the same course of action. The organization to which I had the honour to belong, before the Arbitration Act prevented me from continuing a member of it, will not be very slow in taking direct action if they find that they will be obliged to wait for years to get to the Arbitration Court. They will probably endeavour to have a conference with the employers. Three weeks ago I told the Prime Minister across the table that it was the organization which defied the Arbitration Court that got its claims heard first. The Prime Minister admits that the union of which he was an official for many years took direct action when it found that it could not get its case to the Court in the ordinary way. In the list of forty-two cases awaiting a hearing by the Court there are nine unions involved who could, by suspending their work, absolutely upset the wheels of industry in Australia.
– Perhaps they would upset themselves at the same time.
– Of course. I realize that the workers also suffer. It is all very well to be comfortably situated as some honorable members are, so that it is a matter of no consequence if a strike lasts a week, a month, or a year.
– Unions are a portion of society.
– Yes, and that is why I am always advocating that they shall go to the Arbitration Court for the settlement of disputes, but it is hypocrisy on the part of some honorable members to pretend to urge the unions to go to the Arbitration Court when there is no means by which they can get their cases heard. I would not act the part of a hypocrite before a trade union and say Go to the Arbitration Court,” well knowing that it would have to wait years to have its case heard.
.- I hope that out of this discussion something definite will come from the Government. Every honorable member must feel that the reply of the Minister was very unsatisfactory. In this casewe want some direct action. The Minister said practically that the Prime Minister’s proposal for a conference with the trade unions is the accepted method of the Government for dealing with this matter, but we do not know when that conference is to be held. It may not take place until the end of the year. It certainly will not finish its work until the end of the year. There are seventy-two men coming to Melbourne to discuss this question, and we can well imagine that it will be Christmas before there are any recommendations put forward for the considerationof the Government. In the meantime, the congestion of the Court will be increased. If we expect the unions to accept the constitutional method and not strike, and at the same time keep them waiting for two years to have their cases heard, it is no wonder the adherents of direct action are increasing. We in this
Parliament are responsible to a very large degree for the increase in the number of those adherents. I am a trade unionist, and I recently attended a large meeting of a union, at which I put forward the case for arbitration, but those w.ho followed me pointed out the delays’ that would follow the adoption of that course, and the impossibility of getting a decision, and I must admit their remarks made a strong impression on the meeting. If there is another meeting of the union, I am afraid it will lead to the withdrawal of their case and the calling of a strike. It is no use saying that we will wait until this proposed conference is held. Surely we can appoint a Deputy President of the Arbitration Court, or, if necessary, three or four deputies, in order to clean the whole slate, and allow those men who are in favour of constitutional methods of settling disputes to realize that the Government will help them. Tn 1918 this Parliament recognised the necessity for the appointment of Deputy Presidents of the Arbitration Court, and passed a Bill which gave the GovernmEnt special power to appoint them; therefore, there is no excuse for not appointing them now.
– We did appoint one deputy, and we intend appointing another.
– But are we to wait until the conference is held ?
– I hope to be in a position to make an announcement in a few days’ time.
– I hope that it will be clone. I shall be no party, no matter on which side of the House I sit, to allowing this state of affairs to continue, to the detriment of the interests of the country. We are all desirous of building up our industries to meet the situation in which we find ourselves to-day. We are endeavouring to open up new industries and avenues of employment and production, yet in our Industrial Court we have a breeding-ground for discontent among our employees. The Ministry should realize that the position is serious. There is now a strike in progress in South Australia, very largely brought into existence owing to the congestion, in the Arbitration Court. There were men in the union who were prepared to follow the constitutional method, but their case has been, hanging on for years and years, at a cost of thousands of pounds to the organization, and they are no nearer a decision now than when they started. The consequence is that the extreme section has secured control, and the union is out on strike. I refer to the Builders Labourers Union. There is a growing feeling, and a justifiable one, that the constitutional method of settling industrial disputes is valueless. The organization that obeys the laws- of the country sees others who go out on strike having their cases heard, while its case is put off for perhaps twelve months. It is offering a premium to trouble and strikes. We ought not to delay action until a conference takes place. Within the next week or two we ought to be able to appoint Deputy Presidents of the Arbitration Court, and thus make the men in the unions feel that the Court will fulfil its function. I do not mind the Government saying that they will not meet some of the_ objections put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), which I need not repeat. Possibly it might be wise to wait till the Act is amended, so that it may be then amended as far as possible to meet the situation. But that does not alter the fact that deputies can be appointed forthwith. I am not in favour of repealing the Arbitration Act. I am in favour of arbitration, and I shall always vote in favour of it, but I shall always .do my best to make it effective and useful.
– It would be better if the legal men were knocked out of the Court.
– The honorable member has really j>ut his finger on one of the spots that lead more to delay and expense in the Arbitration Court than anything else. If I had my way, I would make the Act so simple that the ordinary laymen on both fides would be the only persons allowed to go into the Court. We do not want any legal technicalities in the settlement of these disputes. If we have the workers on the one side, and the employers on the other, they ought to be able to put their claims forward in a common-sense way without . being blocked by legal technicalities. I am prepared to wait for that as long as I can have to-day from the Government some assurance that this situation will- be met by the appointment of another Justice. I regret that reflections should have been cast upon thePrime Minister and Mr. Justice Higgins..
It matters not to me whether there is or is not any personal difference between Mr. Justice Higgins and the Prime Minister or any one else. What I am interested in is the ending of this trouble. I desire to see the matter satisfactorily settled.
I propose to refer to a ease similar to that already mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), since it involves a point that cannot be too often emphasized. A society, many of the members of which are known to me, drew up a claim for submission to the Court, and the plaint was lodged nearly fifteen months ago. The claim was based largely on the conditions then existing. I appeal to honorable members on both sides to say whether, if they had put in a claim based very largely upon the cost of living fifteen months ago, they would not feel that they had to-day a right to revise it, inviewofthedelaythathadtakenplace. That, to my mind, is only common sense and justice. This society, however, cannot revise its claim. It must proceed with it, just as it was lodged fifteen months ago, or else go out on strike, with the knowledge that if the men do go out on strike they will probably get what they want. There are quite a number of such cases. I hope that the Government, without waiting for the conference, will make a definite statement which will satisfy the unions that the Parliament realizes its duty to them, and that the Government are going to appoint the additional Justices’ necessary to enable the arrears of work in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court to be overtaken.
.- I do not think any excuse is needed for the action taken by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) in moving the adjournment of the House to discuss this question. If there is one matter of transcending importance to the people of Australia it is that of industrial reform. I have risen with three objects in view. In the first place I wish to object to the congestion of business that is permitted in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. Secondly, I desire to object to Governmental interference with the Court and the Justices; and thirdly, I wish to emphasize my objection to an Act remaining on the statute-book which is so grossly immoral as to enforce obligations upon one section of the community and not upon another.
– Is it in order to describe an Act passed by this Parliament as “ immoral “ ?
– Legislation passed by this House must not be reflected upon by honorable members. I ask the honorable member to withdraw his remark.
– I withdraw it. I had no desire to reflect in any way upon the members of this Parliament. My only object was to emphasize my protest in regard to the delay in dealing with cases brought before the Court. Undoubtedly this delay is urged by many as a reason for direct action, and must tend to destroy the influence of the Court. It is the duty of the Government to immediately make such additions to the Bench as will obviate such delays in the future. In connexion with the wharf labourers’ dispute which came before the Court last year, representatives from Western Australia had to attend in Melbourne to give evidence, and they told me that their expenses alone amounted to over £20,000. When these grave expenses are incurred, not only by one side,but by both parties to an application to the Court, the public have to pay, and they must conduce greatly to the increased cost of living.
I wish also to protest against political interference with the work of the Court. This has occurred, not once or twice, but on many occasions. If we are to have a Conciliation and Arbitration Court, then every industrial dispute should be submitted to it, and there should be no political interference. ‘ In my opening remarks I spoke of the Act as enforcing obligations on one section and not upon another. In this connexion, I would refer to a strike which took place some time ago on the transcontinental railway, and in connexion with which we had a most disgraceful exhibition. A large number of passengers, some of them invalids, and others coming over here for the first time for a holiday, were taken out into the wilderness, and there the train was brought to a standstill with the result that the passengers had to return to their original starting points. I have read the papers relating to that dispute, and I find that the organization of workers concerned, many months before, had entered into an agreement with the Minister for Works and Railways that, subject to certain conditions, they would not strike, but would in every case go before the Court. They were prepared to enter into a bond to carry out that agreement, but were not asked to do so. Within twelve months of their case being submitted to the Court, these men went out on strike. An Act that permits that sort of thing should not be allowed to remain on the statute-book. We cannot continue an Act of Parliament which enables people to go to the Court anr allows them, when they cannot obtain all that they want, to go out on strike. The sooner we have from the Government an indication that legislation is to be submitted providing for either the amendment or the repeal of the Act the better. I would urge the repeal of the Act as it stands to-day, because it is unjust. Other means might be provided, but we should not in any circumstances have in operation an Act which enables the Court to make awards unless those awards are to be binding upon all parties.
– For all time?
– No ; I would not take away entirely from the workers the right to strike.
– But if they want a variation of an award they cannot have their claim heard.
– That should be provided for. After all, it is only one of the little pin-pricks associated with the working of the Act. Ever since the passing of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act we have had industrial turmoil. The Scottish Commissioners who visited Australia a few years ago said that in no other country had they found existing between employers and employees such animosity as prevailed in Australia. This feeling. I am convinced, is due wholly and solely to the working of the Act.
– It is because of the independent spirit of Australians.
– Not at all. Some people have independence who are not worthy of it. No sooner had the Conciliation and Arbitration Act come into operation than it tended to create this spirit of animosity.
I am a firm believer in the Wages Board system. No one man, no matter what his qualifications, can efficiently determine what should be the conditions ope rating in all industries. It is preposterous to ask any .one man to attempt to do so. The Wages Board system is preferable. Reference has been made to the Adelaide builders’ dispute, and it has been compared with a strike which it was said would probably take place in Brisbane. A strike in Perth would be of no concern to the people in Brisbane. The conditions prevailing in the two cities might be altogether dissimilar. My desire is that in each State industrial affairs should be controlled under the Wages Board system, with the right of appeal to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration .Court upon matters of law. I am convinced that while we have the present Act in force, with the incessant desire of Labour organizations generally to come within the jurisdiction of the Court, and with the difficulties of bringing witnesses to Melbourne from the different States, we are bound to have delays and congestion of business, no matter how many Justices may be appointed. I hope that as speedily as possible the Government will announce the action they intend to take with reference to industrial reform. There is nothing more urgent or important to Australia. Undoubtedly the congestion of business in the Court is lending to direct action. We are having in this country undue industrial trouble. It is, of course, all very well to be wise after the event. If, in the early stages of the war, when we began to realize the gradual but ever Increasing cost of living, w;e had created a Board in connexion with the Statistician’s Department, with power to grant increased wages corresponding with the increase in the cost of living, we should have avoided a lot of trouble. Something may yet be done in that direction ; but, in any event, the Government should bring before Parliament at the first opportunity a Bill providing for an amendment of the Act and designed to mitigate, if not entirely to prevent, the industrial turmoil from which we are suffering to-day.
Mr. PARKER MOLONEY (Hume) T4.27]. - The time allowed under the Standing Orders for the consideration of this motion has almost expired, but I am anxious to refer to one or two points that ‘ are of importance. . I cannot help feeling, and I am sure the feeling will be shared by honorable members generally, that as long as the Government shut their eyes to the congestion of business in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, they must stand responsible for all the industrial unrest now existing. While this congestion of business goes on, and people are allowed to increase the cost of living, they must be condemned as primarily responsible for the trouble that has taken place. We have an excellent illustration of the position in connexion with what is taking place on the River Murray conservation works at the present time. The men on this side of the river are on strike because they are asked to work for 3s. or 4s. a day below the rate paid to those on. the New South Wales side. The latter are working under an award, but the men on this side have no Court to which they can appeal and have their case promptly determined. Although this is a work of a national character, the men engaged upon it on one side of the river are dependent upon an award of a State Arbitration. Court, while those on the other side have no such award to protect them. For that reason a great national work is being held up.
Debate interrupted under standing order119.
Long Service Leave
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Under the Defence Act, how much leave is a public servant entitled to who has served for forty-three years, namely, twenty-three years in the State service, and twenty years in the Federal service.
– He is eligible for six months’ furlough on full pay. I may add the public servants employed under the Defence Act receive the same leave privileges as are granted to public servants under the control of the Public Service Commissioner.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Audit Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 57.
Public Service Act - Appointment ofJI Connor, Department of Trade and Customs. - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1920, Nos. 64, 65.
– (By leave) - I desire to announce to the House that in connexion with the inquiry that is to be held into the war service of Gunner Yates, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has nominated as the representative of honorable members opposite the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), and I have nominated from this side the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best). Those two honorable members will conjointly agree upon a military officer to act as chairman.
– I move -
That in the opinion of this House it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work: - Provision of Automatic Telephone Exchange, Sydney.
This is only a formal motion. On 22nd August, 1915, this work, with several others, was referred to the Public Works Committee. The Committee approved of the work subject to certain means of ingress and egress being provided. Its report was laid upon the table, and ordered to be printed on the 5 th November, 1915, but through some oversight the formal motion, which I now ask the House to pass, was never made. The work was. proceeded with, the buildings were erected, and a large number of telephones were installed. We propose to continue the work, and install a further large number of lines at a cost largely in excess of £25,000, but still within the estimated cost of the complete work as set out in the report of the Committee. On looking into the files recently we found that this formal motion had been overlooked, and as the additional work that is now proposed was included in the original report of the Committee, I ask the House to rectify the omission by formally agreeing to the motion. I have explained the matter to the former chairman (Mr. Riley) and other members of the Public Works Committee, and to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor).
– If my memory serves me correctly, the
Works Committee was very dissatisfied with the means of ingress and egress to the proposed building.
– We made a recommendation upon that subject.
– I understand the recommendation was not carried out.
– I understand it was, but cannot say definitely.
– The Committee recommended that an additional property should be purchased, which would give additional frontage and egress to Castlereaghstreet. The proposal, as it was originally submitted to the Committee, was for the erection of a building which would have been nothing more nor less than a death-trap to those working in it. I think the House should know definitely whether proper means of escape has been provided in accordance with the Committee’s recommendation. The exchange was to be built at the back of a number of buildings, and egress was by only one little right-of-way, not much more than the width of one vehicle.
– I understand that was rectified before the building was proceeded with.
–I should like the Minister to give the House definite information upon that question.
.- The House ought to have an absolute assurance from the Minister that the recommendation of the Public Works Committee in connexion with this building was carried out. Paragraphs 15 and 16 of the Committee’s report state -
The Committee investigated the site which has been acquired and found that it is an area about 50 feet by 120 feet, completely surrounded by buildings varying from two stories to six stories in height. The only approach to the area is by means of a right-of-way 10 feet wide and 150 feet long leading from Castlereagh-street, andthis right-of-way is built over for about half its length.
The Committee was very unfavorably impressed with the site from the point of view of fire risk, bearing in mind that there will be a staff of about 164 in occupation of the building during the daytime and about three at night. Evidence on the subject was obtained from the Chief Officer, New South Wales Fire Brigades, who supported the Committee’s view that in the event of an outbreak offire there would be great difficulty in the way of employees effecting an escape from the buildings through the right-of-way, which is the only outlet. At the same time the approach of fire-fighting appliances through the same right-of-way wouldbe extremely difficult.
I have commented, on more than one occasion, on the policy of proceeding with work before the report of the Public Works Committee has been considered and indorsed by Parliament. Certainly, since the present Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) has been in office, that has been done. In the case of this work, particularly, the concurrence of Parliament should have been obtained before the building was commenced.
– There is no doubt about that.
– Especially as the Committee was extremely anxious that better means of ingress and egress should be provided before the work was started. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that it has been the practice, particularly of the last Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster) to carry out, piece-meal, important works involving an aggregate expenditure of more than £25,000 without reference to the Public Works Committee or Parliament, except by means of the annual Estimates.
– What is the use of referring works to the Committee if they are carried out without regard to the Committee’s report?
– The fault did not lie with the Committee. I think the Postmaster-General would be well advised in agreeing, as a condition of the passing of this motion, that effect should be given to the recommendation of the Public Works Committee.
.- As the then chairman of the Public Works Committee in 1915, I moved for the printing of the report on this work, and it was the duty of the Government to see that the recommendation of the Committee was carried out. I understand that some improvement of the conditions to which we took exception has been made. The Postal Department has been negotiating for the right to tunnel under Vickery’s Chambers in order to get an exit into Pitt-street.
– What will be the length of the tunnel?
– About 100 feet, I think ; and then the employees would have to go up through an iron grating after negotiating the dark passage. That was done by the last Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster), with a view to defeating the recommendation of the Public Works Committee. The members of the Committee were unanimous in condemning the site of this exchange. It was bought by Mr. Agar Wynne when PostmasterGeneral, and the Committee was merely asked to report on the proposed building. We recommended that the site might be improved by purchasing the building which stands between thepresent site and Castlereagh-street, and which could be used to accommodate the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Office, thus saving a large amount in rent annually. I am afraid nothing can be done at this stage, unless the Postmaster-General is agreeable to consider the recommendation made by the Committee to acquire that building.
– I will certainly inquire into that.
.- If, as stated by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), there is difficulty in providing proper means of ingress and egress to this building, the matter ought to be looked into, for these are all important in case of fire. I understand that this new building is in the middle of a block of other buildings, and certainly some means of escape should be provided for the employees.
– This is a death-trap.
– We know that the best “ fireproof “ buildings in the world have been destroyed by fire.
– The danger is from ‘ the surrounding buildings.
– That is so ; and I hope that the Postmaster-General will see that the employees are given a fair chance. If necessary, there should be a new building, although I know that the prices for land are at the present time very high. The Commonwealth, for their extended activities, might use some of their own buildings for housing the officers who look after pensions, war pensions, and also, perhaps, for the Repatriation Commission.
– I am not satisfied in regard to this building, which has been described by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), an exmember of the Public Works Committee, as a “ death-trap.” We are told by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise) that this is a formal matter, and he expects honorable members to accept his statement on the ground that he has conferred with an exChairman of. the Public Works. Committee. The building is to house over 100 employees, and we certainly require further information. We ought to know which officer is responsible for placing the building in this position. The safety of the employees should be our first consideration, but it is now stated that in case of panic there would be a terrible state of affairs; and we might ask what is ‘the good of the Public Works Committee if this sort of thing is allowed to go on. If there is not some improvement, we shall have to appoint a Select Committee to visit the building and see whether there is any justification for the alarming statements that have been made. We know that the present Postmaster-General is not responsible, but we ought certainly to know who is the responsible officer. I am quite certain that no private individual or company would tolerate such service.
– We ought to know which Minister is responsible.
– Yes, that ought to be ascertained. Of course, this House is not a tribunal to judge as to buildings of the kind, but the Public Works Committee has done its duty by calling attention to the matter, and some one in the Department ought to be given “ the boot “ if he is found to be responsible for this “ death-trap.” This is a very busy block of buildings, and a tunnel under Vickery’s buildings would scarcely be practicable, in view of the fact that land there is worth something like £1,000 a foot, and such a work would entail the risk of claims for damages. That some money has already been expended on the work does not justify us in agreeing to its continuation, if, as stated, the result will be a “ death-trap.”
.- In order to allay the anxiety of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman), I beg to inform him that additional means of ingress and egress were provided. The Public Works Committee, of which I happened to be a member at that time, suggested that the Department should purchase some old buildings facing Castlereagh-street, in order to supply ample means of ingress and egress; and that purchase would, in the opinion of the Committee, have been a good investment for the Commonwealth. The then Postmaster-General decided against that idea, but he provided special means of egress and ingress, in the form of a tunnelled passage from the back of the site into Pitt-street. Previously the only means were afforded by a rightofway from Castlereagh-street. The tunnel ought to be amply satisfactory, because it was designed and made under the supervision of Mr. Griffin, the architect of the Federal Capital. At any rate, it is quite sufficient to protect the lives of our employees.
– Have you seen it?
– Yes, and I am perfectly satisfied that it is quite sufficient. I should have very much preferred the Department to have adopted the recommendation of the Public Works Committee in. reference to the purchase of the Castlereaghstreet frontage. I merely rose to allay any uneasiness which honorable members may have.
– You have not done so; we are told that this is a “ death-trap.”
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), when he made that remark, was not aware that this additional means of escape had been provided.
– I knew a tunnel had been made; but we do not desire our employees to scuttle like rabbits out of a burrow.
– The Chairman of the Public Works Committee at that time (Mr. Riley) has already assured the House that means of ingress and egress have been provided, and, in my opinion, the tunnel will be a perfect safeguard.
– Do you say that Mr. Griffin is responsible for this building ?
– Mr. Griffin was the architect employed to provide this means of escape into Pitt-street; and I think honorable members need be under no apprehension in regard to these.
.- On more than one occasion I have brought this matter under the notice of honorable members, and have done my best to prevent the work in this building from going on. The. delay in introducing the work to the House has been with the object of defeating the desires of myself and other honorable members who know something of the circumstances. The building in question is in the centre of the block formed by Castlereagh-street, Pitt-street, Hunter-street, and Moorestreet. On the Castlereagh-street side there is a building with thirteen floors; ou the Pitt-street side the building backs into Vickery’s property, which is four stories high; and on the right-of-way, which is spoken of, there are buildings occupied by Penfold, printer. I cannot conceive how it was managed to put a building up there; the work must have been carried on very quietly, and, of course, secure from observation, because from outside the block it cannot be seen. In Castlereagh-street, the lane is about 10 feet wide, but it is built over, and the opening is only about the same in height. Those who talk about a tunnel into Pittstreet can know nothing of works of the kind. In the first place, the telephone wires are an interference, and, further, owing to the rise of the tidal waters, the land cannot be properly drained to permit of a tunnel. It is damnable nonsense to talk about making a tunnel there.
– I must ask the honorable member to withdraw that expression.
– The word “damnable” is not a wrong one to use, but if it is deemed offensive 1 shall withdraw it.-
– The honorable member is not in order in using such a word, and I ask him to withdraw it,
– I thought I had withdrawn, but, in any case, I do so now. Another instance of blundering is found in connexion with the purchase of a site for a post-office in Oxford-street, Sydney.
– Does the honorable member say that a tunnel has not been made?
– I understand it has.
– Yet the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) tells us that he knows all about the matter.
– There has not been a tunnel bored, but an opening has been made through Penfold’s property into a narrow lane, 9 or 10 feet wide, off Pittstreet. On previous occasions I have spoken strongly, and, as I thought, convincingly enough, in regard to this work, and I was promised that nothing would be done, but that another site would be purchased. I do not think that the term “ death-trap “ could be applied more justly to any other building in the world. When I drew attention to the matter on a previous occasion, Mr. Agar Wynne, who was then Postmaster-General, visited the site, accompanied, I think, by Mr. Oxenham; but he merely went past it in a motor car. He then went on to the Oxford-street site, three sides of which were in lanes, with a frontage to the main street of only 18 feet. The lanes were only 15 feet wide, and the opposite properties were occupied by a butcher - the offal from whose establishment was carried past the post-office door - a restaurant keeper, and a fishmonger; and the smell of the latter establishment did not invite a second sniff. Fortunately, T was able to stop that work in Oxford -street, the ex-Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster) quite agreeing with my views when he visited it. I came to the conclusion that the same common sense that was then displayed would be shown in connexion with the site we are now discussing; but, as events have turned out, either the Public Works Committee or those who have the duty of purchasing sites, should be removed and others put in their places. This block of buildings contains, perhaps, the most inflammable stores that could be found anywhere in Australia.
– What is the member for the district doing? Is not this site in your own constituency?
– I am only human, and I did all I could. No doubt this work has been carried out with some sort of secrecy. Nobody can say that I have not some knowledge of the subject, or that I do not know what a building ought to be. No Government building should be so placed as to give daylight only from the roof, and to present difficulties in proper sanitation. If I had my way I would, set fire to this building, and make them build another elsewhere. The place has been built on a site which, was used for a garage, a one-story building, which could be lighted from the top, and I fail to see how a two-storied building there can be lighted without a considerable loss of floor space. . Then, too, as one who holds by examination the certificates and licences of the Water and Sewerage Board, the Technical College, and the City Council of Sydney, I would point out that no private person is permitted to put a convenience in a building except on an outer wall, and certain ventilating requirements must be complied with. The Government, of course, can disregard such regulations, but they ought not to be disregarded. In my opinion, it iB disgraceful that this building has been erected notwithstanding the objections that were ‘urged against its erection by the citizens of Sydney.
– The debate has been interesting as showing the value of the Public Works Committee. Apparently, when the Committee makes a recommendation which suits the Minister, its report is used as a. backing for his proposal; but when the Committee’s recommendation does not suit the Minister, he ignores it and’ proceeds with the work.
– A Minister ought not to do so.
– The Commonwealth pays the upkeep of the Committee, and provides, also, salaries for the Auditor-General and his staff of officers to see that public expenditure ia in accordance with the law. I should like to know how money was obtained for this particular work without the authority of Parliament.
– Probably it was put on the Works Estimates, which often go through as a matter of urgency soon after the delivery of the Budget.
– Surely it is the duty of some one in the AuditorGeneral’s Department to see that money is not expended without, proper authority.
– That is found out only after the expenditure has been made.
– The value of the Auditor-General’s Department is very much lessened if it cannot discover irregularities within less than two years. ‘
– Let the dead past bury its dead, and let us resolve to do better in the future.
– The only chance of getting things done better in the future is to be obtained by dragging up the dead past and commenting on it. A Government should set an example to the general , public in the matter of the construction of buildings and the treatment of employees. In Melbourne, however, the Department of the PostmasterGeneral is responsible for the continued use of an ugly iron shed which was erected for work that is now being done elsewhere.
– The building in question was transferred to the Commonwealth by the State of Victoria.
– My point is that the excuse for the erection of that building was that it would be a temporary structure, yet the Commonwealth Government has kept it in use for nearly twenty years. What we need is a few citizens like the late Sir Henniker Heaton, who would pull down erections that were an affront to the public or interfered with their rights. That would make our cities more pleasant to live in. I have long held the opinion that it would be economical for the Government to resume blocks, or even larger areas, in the big cities as sites for public offices. Had the block on which the General Post Office, Sydney, stands been resumed when the Commonwealth took charge of postal administration an immense saving could have been made by the concentration of public offices there.
– One can always be wise after the event.
– We are never after the event; we are just as far in front of the position of twenty-five or fifty years hence as were those of a generation ago in front of the present position. It is true now as it was then that Commonwealth activities will extend, and central sites for public offices will be needed in the capitals. A far-seeing Ministry would secure such sites.
– What is needed also is a far-seeing Parliament and public.
– It is the duty of Ministers to lead and educate public opinion, not to pretend that the public refuses to do things about which it has never been consulted.
Coming to this building for the housing of the automatic telephone exchange, which is to be opened next month in Sydney
– It is already finished.
– For that reason, it is rather late to talk of what ought to have been done; but it should be possible to prevent the housing of public servants under improper conditions. Last year we had a debate about the unhealthy conditions under which the printing of notes was conducted in Melbourne, and the House was sympathetic with the Government in regard to an improvement. Yet there has now been erected in Sydney by the Government a building winch possesses all the defects of that which was then condemned. I am sorry that this building has been erected. The recommendation of the Works Committee was one which would have been adopted by any business man. The buildings in front of the site should have been resumed, to give access to the street, and any property that was not required could have been put on the market again.
– But in Sydney private houses are being rented everywhere for the accommodation of Commonwealth officials.
– Yes. The Government is in this happy position - that in all the big cities they need offices for the work of a number of Departments, and therefore could economically concentrate their public offices on spacious central sites. This and previous Governments are without excuse for their failure to make proper provision for public buildings. They have rented premises at the expense of economy and efficiency, and, as in Melbourne, have allowed buildings which are an eyesore to remain long after the requirement for which they were erected has ceased. The Minister for Home and Territories informs me that £168,000 would be needed to replace the building in Elizabeth-street, Melbourne, which I have referred to as an eyesore. Had the first Commonwealth Government spent that sum on a suitable building, an immense saving would have been effected.
– It would have been a thousand times better to increase the accommodation of the post-office by building on the Elizabeth- street site than to erect another structure at the top of Bourke-street.
– I believe that Mr. Webster was opposed to the removal of the General Post-office to the top of Bourke-street. I hope that some Government will take into consideration the future needs of the Departments in regard to public offices in our big cities, and will secure central sites for the erection of the necessary accommodation, so that edifices may be constructed which will give greater convenience and permit of more economical management and more efficiency in working.
.- The proposal of the Department to erect an automatic telephone exchange on the site that has been referee! to was, as I have already stated, referred to the Public Works Committee, and that Committee recommended the erection of the building, provided that ample means of ingress and egress between it and an adjoining thoroughfare were given. I have been assured by an architect of the Works Department that that condition has been complied with. The main part of the work has now been completed, that is, the exchange has been erected, and a large number of telephone lines has been installed there. But it is necessary to install still more, and the work is very urgent. Money has been made available for it this year which the Treasurer could not make available to Mr. Webster last year. A search was made to see whether the necessary authority had been obtained for what it was proposed to do, and it was discovered that, although the building had been erected, and a number of telephone lines installed in it, a formal resolution of the House declaring that it was expedient to carry out the work had not been obtained.
– That was not the only case,
– That is so. Two other exchanges were built and completed without the formal indorsement by Parliament of the Committee’s recommendation. But the mistake having been discovered in this case, it was thought right to come to Parliament to rectify matters.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) .
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) agreed to-
That it ia expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum for Invalid and Old-age Pensions.
Standing Orders suspended, and resolution adopted.
That Sir Joseph Cook and Mr. Wise do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– I move-
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The object of this Bill is to provide moneys for the purpose of paying invalid and old-age pensions. The moneys appropriated will be paid into a trust account. This is a. statutory requirement, but it means that payment of these pensions is not dependent on the passage of the annual Estimates. The Trust Fund is handy for other reasons. The Constitution requires that all surplus revenue at the end of the financial year must be paid to the States, but so that we may keep any outstanding balances within our own compass and for our own use, we always take care to appropriate them into this very convenient Trust Fund. I am asking now for the appropriation of £10,000,000 to cover the payment of invalid and old-age pensions for another two years. The total amount appropriated for invalid and old-age pensions since we began to pay them in 1909 is £31,250,000. The last appropriation, amounting to £10,000,000, was made in 1917, and is now exhausted ; at any rate, it will not last until the end of this financial year, and, therefore, it is urgent that we should have this fresh appropriation. Perhaps I may give honorable members a few figures to show the generous provision made by this Parliament from time to time for the invalid and oldage pensioners of Australia. They indicate an increasingly generous attitude on the part of Parliament towards these pensioners. In 1917, we had 120.000 pensioners, to whom we paid £3,518,000. In 1918 we had 125,000 pensioners, to whom we paid £3,753,000. In 1919 we had 127,000 pensioners, to whom we paid £3,S80,000. ‘ This year there are 135,426 pensioners, to whom £4,569,000 has been paid, and to whom for the full year, it is estimated, £5,134,000 will be paid. The increase is due to the extra 2s. 6d. per week which was granted to the pensioners some time ago. A small weekly incre- ment means a tremendous sum in the total for the Commonwealth to pay. No one begrudges this increase, which has been brought about by the increased cost of living. It was right that we should try in some small way to help the old people to meet the conditions of life that are afflicting other” persons in the community who are much better off. The conditions under which the pensions are paid are now very much more liberal than they were. We allow the pensioner a maximum pension of £39 a year, but when the income from other sources exceeds £26 a year, a deduction is made from the pension, so that any person in receipt of a pension shall not have a total income of more than £65 per annum. Formerly the limit was fixed at £58 10s. I wish the country could afford to be more generous, but honorable members will see that the rates of the pension are making very heavy demands upon the Treasury, and in the next Bill which I shall bring forward I shall indicate what demands are being made upon it by other pensions. In fact, our pension list is peaking sharply upwards, and I hope that at the present moment no honorable member will raise debate as to the adequacy or inadequacy of the pension rates. I am merely asking the House to give us a further appropriation of money so that we may be able to continue paying the pensions as heretofore.
.- I would nOt oppose a Bill which provides the Treasurer with a sack into which he can place surplus revenue at the end of each financial year. At the end of 1910 we agreed to pay the States 25s. per head of the population, but, as the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) explained this afternoon in reply to a question, that arrangement will come up for reconsideration at a forthcoming Premiers’ Conference. Some honorable members may not know that after we have made the per- capita payment of 25s. per head we are not finished with the States unless we provide this Trust Fund. I understand that it is estimated the Customs revenue for this year will be £21,000,000, over £4 per head of the population.
– Yes, at the expense of retarding production.
– I am never anxious to see the Customs Department collect huge sums of money. Under an effective protective Tariff we ought not to be collecting huge sums, of money through the Customs Department. However, I am not prepared to argue the question with the honorable member now. My point is that unless we provide this Trust Fund the balance of the Customs revenue above 25s. per head must go to the States.
The Acting Treasurer has expressed the hope that in dealing with this Bill honorable members will not raise the question of pension rates. I have no desire to do so now. I shall do so at’ the proper time, when an Invalid and Oldage Pensions Bill is before the House. However, there is one phase of the matter that I hope will be given consideration by the Government. While the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) announces that we allow invalid and old-age pensioners to-day a total income of £65 per annum, inclusive of the pension, the fact remains, as I have pointed out again and again in this House, that no increase has been made in the amount which a pensioner may earn without having any deduction made from his pension. The original Act passed in 1908 allowed a pensioner to earn 10s. a week in addition to his pension. We are well aware that since then the purchasing power of the sovereign has so diminished that, to-day, £1 will only buy what could be purchased at that time for 12s. 6d. Because . of the increase in the cost of living, we have on two different occasions increased the pension - first to 12s. 6d. per week, and then to 15s. per week; but we still limit the earnings of pensioners to 10s. per week. I have always said that with every increase of the pension a proportionate increase should be made in the amount which a pensioner may earn.
Then, again, there is the position of inmates of our institutions for the blind. Those who are in such institutions are not permitted to earn more than 10s. per Week. If they do their pension is reduced. A few days ago I saw in the streets of Melbourne a blind man displaying a .placard stating that he had been compelled to leave the Blind Asylum. As I said in this House last year, if a man begs on the- street he is not allowed to remain in the Institute for the Blind. The honorable member for
Fremantle (Mr. Burchell) then brought forward the question of the treatment of blind pensioners.
– I urged that inmates of institutes for the blind should be allowed to earn an amount equal to their pensions.
– We do not say that the blind shall not marry, and I hope we never will, but we do say to a blind man, “ If you earn more than 10s. per week, a corresponding reduction of your pension will be made.” In other words, we allow a blind pensioner an income of not more than 25s. per week, inclusive of his pension, for the maintenance of his wife, his family, and himself. The man to whom I referred a few moments ago, finding that this was not enough for him, begged for alms at Footscray on a Friday night, and the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, on learning of this, turned him out, saying, “ You cannot remain here if you go out begging.” He is now compelled to beg every day in the week. That is a reflection on this Parliament. No one begrudges our increased pensions bill. Many old-age pensioners, who have borne the heat and burden of the day, and have been among our best pioneers, are compelled to take the old-age pension because they have not been so unscrupulous as many who have not had to apply for it. We are doing right in providing for them, but we should certainly allow them to earn as much as they receive by way of pension.
– If the honorable member’s suggestion were adopted, all permanently crippled persons, as well as tubercular cases and others, would come under the Act, and the increased payment by way of pensions would run into thousands of pounds.
– I am aware of the departmental view. There are not very many blind people in the Commonwealth. I hope the Government will, if necessary, authorize a census to ascertain the number of blind and permanently incapable people in “Australia. We have a responsibility to these people which we cannot ignore. We do not say in so many words that the permanently incapable shall be allowed to starve; but it would almost be less cruel to put them up against a wall and shoot them than to allow them to Starve by degrees. We say that our state of civilization today is such that no man who is blind or permanently incapable shall be compelled to beg.
– Oan what the honorable member suggests be carried out by regulation ?
– No; an amendment of the Act is necessary. The pension of 10s. per week was increased in September, 1916, to 12s. 6d. per week, because the purchasing power of the sovereign was decreasing. It was increased again last year for the same reason.
– There should be another increase.
– I am just as strongly in favour of an increase as is the honorable member; but the point I wish to make is that while the invalid and oldage pensions have been increased from 10s. to 15s. per week, the .amount which a. pensioner may earn without any deduction from his pension still remains as it waa in 1908, at 10s. per week.
– A man who is doing the same work that he was then doing now earns more, and because of his additional earnings he is penalized.
– Yes. I have known old-age pensioners to earn a little now and again as watchmen, stablemen, or in connexion with the fellmongery trade. The Department wisely recognises that whilst a pensioner might earn a few shillings in one week, he might go for several weeks without earning anything; but we ought not to say to these men, “ Directly you try to help yourselves the Government will reduce your pension.” On the contrary, we should help those who try to help themselves. The treatment of our blind is a public scandal, and I hope before long the Act will bs amended in the direction I have indicated. This Bill is necessary, and I offer no opposition to it.
Mr. WEST (East Sydney) “5.39].I indorse all that has been said by my Leader (Mr. Tudor) in regard to the treatment of the blind. We have in Sydnev an institute for the blind which is just as well managed as is any other institution of the kind, but an inmate who earns 16s. per week is not permitted to receive a pension of more than 4s. per week. I am assured by the management that some of the new corners are not able to earn even 16s. per week, but under an award of the Arbitration Court they cannot be paid less. The Government would be wise in determining that all blind persons, irrespective of their earnings, shall receive a pension of 10s. per week. The day will come, I believe, when every man and woman on reaching the age of sixty-five years and sixty years respectively will automatically become entitled to a pension. If that were the law, the administrative expenses of the Department would be enormously reduced. The Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act requires also to be amended in other directions.
I have received from the Department to-day a letter relating to the case of & British-bom subject who is about eighty years of age, and has resided in Australia for something like sixty year3. Some years ago he purchased an annuity, and not only is the amount of that annuity deducted from his pension, but - and this is what he complains of - the Department capitalizes the annuity, and makes a deduction in respect of its capital value. He has no redress. The only course open to him is to- draw in one year the value of the annuity and spend it. He would then become entitled to the full pension of 15s. per week. The Department advises me that there is no redress; it is simply carrying out the Crown Law officers’ interpretation of the Act. Such a system does not encourage thrift. The Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), as well as officers of the Department, and every one who hears the details of this case, admits that an injustice is being done, yet no relief can be secured. In another case a man named Baker, who is eighty-one years of age, but was not naturalized until after the war, has had his old-age pension stopped, and but for charity would have to go hungry. He has been in Australia forty-six years. A State Government paid his passage out, and gave him 40 acres of land. He has been a good citizen, and but for sickness would still do able to earn his own living. He has lost his pension, and although the departmental officers tell me that they are very sorry, and that the case is a very hard one, they say that they cannot pay him the pension. Other- cases of a similar character might be cited. When I returned to Sydney at the weekend, a similar case was brought under my notice - that of a man who had been fishing in Sydney Harbor for the last forty years. He has reared a family of seven or eight children, but recently the Department made inquiry as to the place of his birth, and the man replied that he believed that he had been bom in Russia, but that he came to Australia at such an early age that he does not know exactly where he was born. That man is deprived of his pension. The other man, who bought the annuity, loses £G a year for no other reason than that in his younger days he had the foresight to take certain steps ‘that have provided him with an annuity of £30. I hope that the Government will introduce an amendment of the Act in order to remedy this injustice.
– That is a Treasury matter, and the honorable member may have an opportunity of rectifying it himself.
– I should waste no time. The House would soon be given the opportunity of dealing with the matter, and it would have to do so promptly ; I should not stand any nonsense. These cases are pitiable. The man to whom I referred is an educated man; he is able to write a good letter, and he is also very persistent. Every week he calls to see me, and he is determined to fight for what he considers are his rights.
The Fisher Government introduced a wise amendment of the Act to provide that a man who owned a cottage and lived in it should not be penalized by losing any portion of his pension for that reason.. That was an improvement on . the original provision made by honorable members opposite, who were not very much in favour of the Old-age Pensions Act. Of course, the pensions are paid from the surplus revenue paid into a special Trust Fund. But for that Trust Fund the surplus would be demanded by the States. The late Lord Forrest desired to make these payments of surplus revenue to the States in perpetuity, but the party on this side of the House insisted upon a ten-year period, which will expire, I think, about the end of this year. That is another instance of the ability of the Labour party to control the finances of Australia.
– It is easy for the honorable - member to talk, but we shall see what he will do when he takes charge of the Treasury.
– I invite the honorable member to give me a chance, and he will be pleased with my actions. These anomalies in the Old-age Pensions Act are unnecessary, and create a lot of dissension. I am not the only honorable member to whom these cases are brought, although I get a good many of them in New South Wales, because there I am looked upon as a champion of the cause of humanity. Honorable members may think that I make a nuisance of myself by constantly mentioning these case9, duc that will not prevent me from continuing to urge Parliament to right undoubted wrongs.
-521. - I should like to interest the Acting Treasurer in a section of aged people who are harshly treated under the present provisions of the Act. Persons who enter benevolent institutions as oldage pensioners are allowed 2s. per week for pocket money. If they enter the institution before they apply for the pension, this allowance is not made ‘to them, and the only way in which they can get it is by leaving the institution, figh’t-ing starvation during the time occupied by the Department in considering their application, and then, when the pension is granted, returning to the institution. I am quite sure that the administration does not desire to subject these people to this suffering without reason; but I have been unable to discover any justification for the present regulation. If there is a way in which the aged in the institutions can get the benefit of this small allowance without leaving the institution in order to make their applications, provision ought to be made for them.
– I appeal for the ‘sympathy of the Acting Treasurer for a section of the community who are suffering a great hardship. I refer to the sons and daughters of foreign immigrants who came to this country, in some cases, sixty years ago as infants. Their fathers and mothers became naturalized, but no steps were taken to secure naturalization of the children. Now, having reached the sere and yellow leaf, and having fallen upon evil days, especially as during the war it was impossible - because of their names - for many of them to get work, they find that they are ineligible for a pension.
– Why did they not become naturalized ? They could not have taken much interest in the country.
– They thought they were naturalized’, and only recently discovered that they were not. A case in point is that of a German from SchlesweigHolstein, who has been mayor of his town and alderman, off and on, for twenty years, and who has taken a very active part in civic life. He is sixty-seven years of age; his grandchildren were fighting for the Allies, and some upon whom he was dependent were killed. Notwithstanding that everybody in his locality gives him a good character, he is not eligible for an old-age pension. These people are a not very numerous class, and they ought to receive special consideration. Their cases are very deserving, and I think the Government could overcome the difficulty by a simple proclamation.
.- The employees in the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Office have been working at high pressure during the last few years on account of the extra work put upon them in connexion with war pensions and other military work. Now that the bulk of this work has been done, and the balance is to be transferred to the Repatriation Department, I hope that the Acting Treasurer will recompense these officers for their extra work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– Is it the pleasure of the Committee that the Bill be taken as a whole ?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– In reference to the amount of £10,000,000 mentioned in the Bill, it is no doubt necessary for the Treasurer to put his hands on a certain sum of money in order that it may be beyond the reach of the State Treasurers at the end of the financial year, but I hope that we shall have no repetition of the action of a previous Treasurer in taking £3,000,000 from the Trust Fund in order to make his annual balance-sheet appear a little better.
– When was that done?
– A few years ago. When Parliament has granted a certain sum of money to be paid into a Trust Fund, it seems peculiar that the Treasurer should be able to draw upon that fund in order to present a more favorable balance-sheet. It will be remembered that the Finance Committee reported upon the investment of large Government balances held at current account in the banks. The Commonwealth Bank has made considerable sums of money because the Treasurer of the day has not seen fit to arrange for the investment of these balances, so that the Treasury might get the benefit of any interest they earned.
– It is only a matter of bookkeeping.
– At any rate, this bookkeeping has resulted in the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank adding considerably to the profits of the Bank.
– Where do those profits go?
– The honorable member may think that this Parliament has the handling of money earned by the Commonwealth Bank, but that is not so.
– I would sooner that the Commonwealth Bank earned the money than that the private banks should do so.
– So would I. It was pointed out by the Public Accounts Committee that in New South Wales, and, I believe, in other States, the Treasurer, when he has large sums of money, places them with the banks, and arrangements are made whereby he participates in the interest earned. I hope that our Treasurer will see that money which is not to be used immediately is made to earn interest for the Treasury, and not only for the bank, for the whole of the people benefit by the interest thus obtained. In war time loans for £20,000,000 or £30,000,000 were floated, and large sums of money came into the possession of the Treasurer. In the past it has been the practice to deposit these sums of money at current account, mostly with the Commonwealth Bank, and the Governor of the Bank very naturally did not allow it to lie idle.
– What does it matter, so long as the Bank is using the money profitably?
– But the money does not come intothe same till, and it is far better for it to go to the Treasury than into the coffers of the Bank, which, I am glad to say, is earning enough without it being necessary for it to earn more out of Treasury money. I believe that the Department has, to a great extent, been acting on the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee, and that the interest earned does not now go exclusively to the Bank.
Clauses agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to grant and apply out of the Con solidated Revenue Fund a sum for war pensions.
Standing Orders suspended, and resolution adopted.
That Sir Joseph Cook and Mr. Laird Smith do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir Joseph Cook, and read a first time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This is an exactly similar Bill to that with which we have just dealt, though it deals with a new kind of pension. I should like to inform honorable members precisely what our obligations are in respect to war pensions.
– Are they more than they were?
– A great deal more. They are peaking up sharply, and the expenditure this year will mean a very considerable sum indeed.
– Why propose to pay these pensions out of Trust Funds, whereas previously they were paid out of revenue ?
– For these, amongst other reasons : When the last Budget was introduced it was expected that the year would require, roughly, £5,500,000; to be precise, we have on the Estimates a sum of £5,450,000. It is now seen that we shall require for the whole year no less than £6,230,000, an excess of £780,000 over the estimate in the Budget. Whether we have reached the peak, I do not pretend to know.
– The men are nearly all back now.
– I am inclined to think that we may have reached the apex by this time, and that the pensions may begin to moderate a little from now on. If, more money has to be found, of course it must be found. There is a sacred obligation resting on the Commonwealth to find pensions within such adequacy as the House has already provided for the men who did the fighting for us at the Front. To provide the additional money required this year we shall have to draw - as, indeed, we are drawing at this moment - from the Treasurer’s Advance, and it is to recoup the Treasurer’s Advance that I ask for this appropriation urgently.
– The pensions cannot be paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance–
– There is no other way. The pensions mustbe paid, and. if not by other means, out of the Treasurer’s Advance.
– When is the Government going to float the next general loan?
– We shall need one very soon now. In the meantime, we are awaiting the report of the Treasurer (Mr. Watt), who has gone to London to see how the monetary world is there.
– Does that mean that we shall need a loan very soon in Australia?
– That depends on the report from the Treasurer in London. If we cannot get the money in London, we shall have to get it here. Money has to be found, and very generously found, next year, but I am hoping that the Treasurer will make such arrangement’s in Britain as will ease things down at this end. Still, that is problematical. May I suggest that this discussion is just a little irrelevant?
– You may not be in Australia then.
– I am not going away.
– Is not the date of the banquet fixed ?
– My honorable friends are kind, but, really, they seem to know more about me in this respect than I do myself. Now, may I proceed with the explanation of this little Bill? I have already pointed out that we urgently require this money to recoup the Treasurer’s Advance. We have no money to take us through the year with these pensions; indeed, we have not enough to pay next month’s accounts. We must have a further appropriation or draw extensively on the Treasurer’s Advance account, which is a very undesirable thing to do. I ask for this appropriation as a statutory requirement for payment to the Trust Account, as in the case of old-age and invalid pensions, and I hope the House will agree.
May I, as in the case of the Bill relating to old-age and invalid pensions, supply a little information as to the number and extent of the war pensions ? Here, again, I go back to 1917, when there were in force 45,191 pensions, with an annual liability of £1,725,022, while the average pension was £1 9s. 4d. per fortnight. May I explain here that when I speak of the number of pensions in force, I include women and children - all pensioners are included in the total.
– Yes. In 1918 the number of pensions in force was 110,174, with a liability of £3,848,884 ; in 1919, the pensions in force had increased to 181,529, and the liability to £5,508,568. The estimate for this year is 228,000 pensions in force, with a liability of £6,260,000. As I say, I am not aware whether we have reached the top of this continuous column, but let us hope so. I should say that these 228,000 pensions represent about 86,000 soldiers actually in receipt of pensions at this moment. The total amount expended on war pensions from the beginning until 30th June this year is about £15,100,000. Pensions - oldage and invalid and war - represent a very considerable total indeed, amounting, roughly, to about £12,000,000 per annum, or about £2 l0s. per head of the population of Australia. This is a great liability, which calls on us to be careful how, in the immediate future, we spend money on things that are not essential. I am bound to say that the outlook is for increased expenditure in many directions; and Ihope that honorable members will keep in mind the obligations already on our shoulders in respect of pensions and interest on our war debts - will keep in mind our constantly towering obligations - when they make this and that proposal for increases on the itemised matters presented to the House. If we take the Estimates and our financial proposals in detail, we can very easily justify increments; and what we have to do is to have regard to the totality of our obligations, which I may tell the House are very considerable at the present moment. I hope honorable members will accept this little Bill, so that we may pay moneys into this Trust Fund for war pensions, just as we have done in the case of the old-age and invalid pensions.
.- As the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has said, the Bill provides for the creation of a Trust Fund, out of which war pensions may be paid similar to the Trust Fund which was established for the administration of the invalid and old-age pensions legislation. The Trust Fund for invalid and old-age pensions has been in existence for a number of years. It was created originally to prevent the surplus revenue of the Commonwealth over and above the statutory per-capita payment to the States going into the State Treasuries. I understand that the sum of £10,000,000 is fixed, so that it will not be necessary to approach Parliament every year for a vote for war pensions. It also obviates the necessity of putting an item for war pensions in the Supply Bills. Some years ago an occasion arose when, late in June, it was discovered that unless Parliament immediately passed a Bill authorizing a certain appropriation, the State Treasurers would receive a large sum which they did not expect to get, and which the Commonwealth did not wish to give them.
– I hope that the Commonwealth will not seek to reduce the per-capita payment to the States.
– That is another matter; butI would remark incidentally that to-day the demands on the Commonwealth Government are much greater than they were when the per-capita payment was fixed at 25s. I do not see that there is the same need for a Surplus Revenue Trust Fund in the case of war pensions that there was in the case of the other pensions. The money is to be paid out of revenue.
– There is this need for a Trust Fund - that you cannot estimate accurately in preparing a Budget what the requirements of the year will be.
– But it will be possible to make more accurate estimates after next year.
– There will always be disturbing factors. The expenditure may decrease.
– And it may increase. When a soldier who is a pensioner marries, he adds his wife to the pension list. I believe that about 87 per cent, of those who went away were single men.
– But as children grow up, the pension expenditure will decrease.
– Other children will be born who will take the places of those who have got beyond the pension age.
– On the other hand, a certain number of pensioners will recover their health and strength.
– The pension payments will decrease by the death of the soldiers to whom they have been awarded, and by the children of pensioners reaching the age of sixteen years, and, as the Minister says, some of the pensioners - I hope a great many of them - will get better. I hope this, not for the sake of the saving in pension expenditure, but for the sake of the men themselves, and their families. On the other hand, as children are born to pensioners, the pension expenditure will increase. I think however, that our pension scheme is on a better footing than that of the UnitedStates of America, where, forty years after the Civil War there, the pensioners outnumbered those who had actually fought. I am glad it will not be necessary to provide in Supply Pills for soldiers’ pensions, because no Government should be able to say to an Opposition, “ Unless you pass this Bill, our war pensioners will not get their money.”
There is another matter to whichI wish to draw attention. The following paragraph appeared in the Melbourne Herald on the 8th of last month -
Only mental and tubercular cases are, in future, to be dealt with at No. 16 Australian General Hospital, Macleod. Otherwise the hospital is to be closed. The acute mental cases will be transferred eventually to the State asylums for the insane.
I would like to see the word “ hospitals “ used instead of “ asylums.” I object to the use of the word “ asylums “ in regard to the sheltering of soldiers or any others.
The Base Hospital, St. Kilda-road, is being used for out-patients exclusively, and inpatients are received at the Caulfield Military Hospital.
A scheme is on foot which will provide for the closing of all military hospitals in a few months. It is proposed that the Repatriation Department shall accept the responsibility of caring for the patients after they have been discharged from the Australian Imperial Force. Should this proposal be adopted by the Cabinet, the patients, as civilians, will enter ordinary public hospitals, their maintenance to be a charge upon tho Repatriation Department. The distribution of the patients among public hospitals would result in a considerable saving, and men could be attended to in their own districts, and, therefore, be in close touch with relatives.
I take no exception to the arrangements there referred to, but I do object to what I understand is being done at the Austin Hospital, where, I am informed, forty civilian patients have been turned out of the Kronheimer wing and fifty-six returned soldiers put in their place. On this subject the following letter has been sent to me: -
In reference to a scheme being on foot to close military hospitals in a few months, and a proposal to absorb the patients in the ordinary way as civilians in public hospitals, such patients to be a charge on’ the Repatriation Department, and such scheme to depend on adoption by the Federal Government, I beg to inform you, and incidentally the public, and also the Federal Government, that the scheme referred to has taken very definite shape, and lias been on foot for the last four months. At the Austin Hospital on the day ( Sth April ) the paragraph appeared in the Herald announcing the proposal, the whole of a large ward containing forty beds in the Kronheimer wing for consumptives in this hospital was handed over by the Committee to the Repatriation .Department, we presume at so much per head.
It must be very distressing to soldiers, even though their cases may be incurable, to be sent to a place like the Austin Hospital. Furthermore, a wrong is done to the civilian tubercular sufferers in the State when they are prevented from going to the Austin Hospital because the accommodation there has been taken for soldier patients. Some honorable members know how difficult it is to get patients into that hospital. I have known persons to wait for months, and even years, to get in. The action to which I refer will increase the difficulty of getting a bed in the hospital.
– They have had to shift for themselves.
– Does the honorable member say that the Department compelled’ civilian patients to leave the Austin Hospital ?
– No; neither the Defence Department nor the Repatriation Department.
– I ‘ believe that in most cases a man who feels that his plight is hopeless wishes to return home.
– Soldiers who have become tubercular by reason of war service, either abroad or in Australia, should receive the best possible treatment.
– Why not take the matter out of the hands of the Defence Department, and give it to the Repatriation Department?
– I would not object to that. But consumptive civilian patients should not be turned out of a public hospital to make room for soldier patients.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– The letter dealing with the removal of patients from the Austin Home for Incurables continues -
Patients already occupying such ward wore transferred to other wards of the hospital, some to a ward admittedly insanitary for consumptives. While recognising the soldier’s claim to every consideration, I would ask if this is fair to the general public, some of whom have been a long time ininates of the Kronheimer wing? Also, it appears that applications for beds here from the public hare been held up for some time, and some patients received here as incurable have been discharged to take their chance. It will be seen that forty beds have been withdrawn from tho use of the general public, some of which are vacant at present.
I can understand half-a-dozen patients in a country district being treated in a local hospital, but” I cannot understand why in the metropolis there is any occasion for the Defence Department or the Repatriation Department to scatter patients over the various city institutions. T wish to draw particular attention to the case of one man who has been sent out of the Austin Home for Incurables. It is not simply a case of transferring from one part of an institution to another. On the 29th March last this man’s father received thefollowing letter : -
I am directed to inform you that as your son Charliehas improved in health, and is, consequently, no longer in need of our care and treatment, it will be necessary that you remove him from this hospital by not later than Wednesday next, the 31st inst
Asking your immediate attention -
He was given two days in which to remove his son. The latter was then sent to the Sanatorium Branch and’ Tuberculosis Bureau, 440 Lonsdale-street, and the following letter was forwarded by that institute to the medical superintendent, Melbourne Public Hospital:
The bearer, Bertie Knight, of 20 Dorcasstreet, South Melbourne, having applied for admission to a sanatorium, is, in accordance with arrangements made with the Committee, referred to you for clinical examination, and report on the prescribed form.
According to the clinical examination, this young man was suffering from “ cough with profuse expectoration, night sweats, and emaciation for five years.” In giving the history of the illness it says -
Now very wasted. Signs in both lungs.
The chart on the clinical report bears the words “dullness, amphoric rales, &c, and cavity “ on the right lung, and “ scattered rales “ on the left lung. It is signed by Dr. Stewart.
– Was he a returned soldier?
– No; but he was turned out of the Austin Hospital to make room for a returned soldier, and I believe that what applies in Victoria also applies in New South Wales, because Mr. Kelly, formerly honorable member for Wentworth, pointed out in the House that tubercular cases were being sent from the Randwick Hospital to some other establishment. We ought to give our soldiers the best possible treatment, and if we cannot give it to them in our own hospitals we ought not to send them to institutions where it is necessary to turn out other patients in order to find room for them. . I know that the Committee of the Austin Hospital for Incurables do not take in a patient unless the case is absolutely incurable. Furthermore, it is bad for our soldiers to be placed’ in an institution where there are such distressing circumstances. It would be better for the Defence Department or the Repatriation Department to establish their own homes for tubercular cases, or at least they should send them to institutions where there is room for them. They ought not to be sent into a home where other patients are obliged to vacate their bed’s in order to provide room for them. In any case, I would not approve of sending them to the Austin Home for Incurables if it could be avoided. I hope that every effort will be made to fight this dread disease with which some of our returned men are infected. We have a better chance of doing so in thiscountry, where we lead the open-air life more than people in other countries do. I trust that the Minister will take notice of this case. I have availed myself of this opportunity to ventilate a matter that requires to be looked into. Even hospital committees sometimes make mistakes, and it is necessary that this matter should be investigated, in order that justice may be done, not only to the soldiers, but to the general public.
.- I am very glad that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has brought this matter under the notice of the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), and I hope the right honorable gentleman will have regard to his statements. I know intimately the gentlemen who have the management of the Austin Hospital. They are among our most worthy citizens, and devote themselves with the utmost enthusiasm to the somewhat painful duties that have to be discharged in connexion with the institution. The hospital necessarily commands the sympathy of all, by reason of the diseases that are treated in it. It is difficult to believe, as one might infer from what has been said, that a suggestion has been made by the Repatriation Department that inmates of the hospital should be turned out to make room for returned soldiers. According to the Leader of the Opposition however, some forty patents have received notice to leave the hospital. The fact that they were there is sufficient to show that they were fit inmates of such an institution, and it could not have been thought for one moment that the diseases from which they were suffering would be so readily cured as to permit of their being sent away in such numbers. I should like however, to hear what the managing committee of the hospital have to say. They certainly would not be capable of consciously doing wrong, and if .they have undertaken to find room for returned soldiers suffering from various diseases, there must have been some reason for their action. I would urge that our clear duty is to make the most ample provision in some of our military hospitals for the effective treatment of returned soldiers suffering from tuberculosis. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that admission to the Austin Hospital would in itself have a most depressing influence on a patient. These soldiers, who have come back suffering from tuberculosis, or who have since developed the disease, require the most careful treatment under the most exhilarating conditions. Our returned men themselves would be the last to desire that poor unfortunates suffering as they do should be ejected from the Austin Hospital to make room for them. But since it has been’ stated that men have had to be turned out of that hospital to make room for returned soldiers, it is our clear duty to see that ample provision is made in our own military hospitals so that such a dire calamity may be avoided. I again say that, from my knowledge of the managers of the hospital, I am sure they would not consciously do .wrong. The matter must be capable of some explanation; but if the facts are as have been stated, the remedy is obvious.
As regards the Bill itself, no one can take exception to it. It has for its object the creation of a Trust Fund, and in passing it we shall simply follow a precedent which the House has adopted on other occasions. It is unnecessary to emphasize the original objective of the formation of these Trust Funds.
– I have stated it.
– I did not know that the honorable member had done so, a.nd I do not want, to emphasize it.
– We have a right to our own money over and above the per capita payment of 25s. to the States.
– We have, and it is certainly proper that this money should be applied to one of the splendid philanthropic works undertaken by the Commonwealth Government. It is a national work, and we rejoice that we are able to give some substantial relief and comfort to these men. I am sure we shall all readily acknowledge that the creation of this Trust Fund is thoroughly justifiable, and since the Bill will facili tate the administration of the fund we can cordially approve of it.
I emphasize once more the point that I am desirous, with the Leader of the Opposition, that there shall be an inquiry into the facts he has brought before the House, and I am sure the Minister will see that no injustice is done to the unfortunates who are suffering by reason of what has taken place.
.- I thank my Leader (Mr. Tudor) for having brought before the House the proposal in regard to the Austin Hospital for Incurables, and I desire also . to express my appreciation of what has just been said by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best). I am confident that an error has been committed, either by the Defence Department or one of its branches. If there is one institution over the entrance to which Dante’s line, “ AH hope abandon ye who enter here,” may be fitly written, it is the Austin Hospital for Incurables. No one enters that hospital who is not absolutely incurable. It would be most unwise to send our soldiers to an institution which they know is set apart for patients for whose recovery there is no hope. I cannot understand the Defence Department taking the action that has been described by the Leader of the Opposition, and I am sure the Government will not indorse it.
I do not wish to delay the passing of this Bill, but I wish to make a” suggestion in regard to the treatment of returned soldiers suffering from various diseases. I dare say that the development of tuberculosis has followed in most cases_ the “ gassing “ of these men. The lungs being once injured are not able to resist a combined attack of the germs. The case to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred is a clear one. . Dr. Stewart was asked by the Health Department to examine a patient, and his report shows that that patient should, not mix with the general public, since he would possibly spread disease. I have been in the Austin Hospital, and have seen a dying man kissed by his wife and children’ through a plate of glass, because of the fear of infection. A dear friend of mine faded away in that hospital happy to be there, because he felt that if he were at home he would possibly carry contagion to his wife and children. My knowledge of the hospital extends over a score of years, and I know that a much larger proportion of the inmates are satisfied to be there than was the rule some years ago. In former years, if a patient knew that he was dying, he wanted to return to his home, but Si& people have now been taught to realize that by remaining in the hospital they are reducing the risk of the spread of the disease to their friends, If necessary, we ought to build a new hospital in a healthy district for the treatment of returned soldiers suffering from tuberculosis. It should be our duty to provide them with all the amusements we can.
– And locate them in country districts.
– Yes. The whole of the beautifr.il Riviera, of the Mediterranean is impregnated with tubercular germs, because proper precautions were not taken at the proper time. All of that lovely sweep of the Mediterranean is a hot-bed of tubercular germs, and instead e.f being a desirable health resort; those going there have to protect themselves against the ravages of that terrible disease. These unfortunate men have only a short time to live, and surely to God we should give them everything in our power. Every honorable member of this Chamber must know that if the spirit of a patient is depressed he is robbed of his fighting qualities, and we do not desire to do that to the men who have done their duty. It is the responsibility of the Government to see that they are properly cared for, and surely every member of this Chamber will support the Government in such a way that those unfortunate individuals will be able to end their days as happily and as comfortably as possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) proposed -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to amend the Sugar Purchase Act 1015-1917.
.- The Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook): has courteously supplied me with an advance copy of the Bill, the provisions- of which I am not allowed to discuss at thisjuncture. I understand, however, that! the original measure provided for aifc overdraft of £500,000 to meet the position* which arose in consequence of the shortage of the sugar crop in Queensland, and! the necessity of purchasing supplies overseas, and that the proposal is to increasethe amount to £1,000,000. I was glad toreceive answers to questions I submitted! to the Minister for Trade and Custom. (Mr. Greene) - who I regret is absent ort account of ill-health - to the effect that 70,100 tons of sugar, purchased in Java and Fiji, was landed in Australia at ai cost of less than 3d. per lb. There could! not have been a loss on account of thos* purchases.
– Where was that for?’
– I have not the answersto my questions before me, as I did not anticipate the introduction of this measure at this juncture, but the information! is already in Hansard. From the answers given by the Minister for Trade and? Customs, honorable members will see that 60,000 tons was purchased at £21 per ton, and that the freight on two consignmentswas, in one case, 34s. per ton, and in the other slightly less, whilst the differencein exchange was 12s. 6d. per cent, and! 15s. per cent, respectively. The freight, insurance, and exchange on the whole consignment worked out at less than £3 per ton, and all the costs incurred did nob amount to more than 3d. per lb. landed! in Australia.
– How long is it since the sugar was purchased?
– Between the end of July of last year and the 29th February of this year.
– The end of February last year.
– No; between the beginning of July and the 29th of February of this year. I do not intend to debate the general question at this stagey but if there is to be an additional overdraft, I suppose we shall) have -to honour it. I believe the Minister has stated that this amount will be sufficient to see ns through, but in my opinion less money should have been required. By the time the Bill comes on for discussion I will have had an opportunity of looking up my questions, and the answers of the Minister for Trade and Customs, and will then be able to verify the figures 1 have already given.
Question resolved in . the affirmative.
Standing orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Sir Joseph Cook and Mr. Laird . Smith do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir Joseph Cook and read a first time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time’.
I hope that the House will not raise upon this Bill the general question of sugar production, and particularly of sugar prices. I respectfully suggest that such a discussion would be out of place on a Bill of this kind. This measure has to do with only one phase of the sugar question, namely, the purchase of, and payment for, sugar imported from abroad. The retail price of sugar is another question to be discussed on some other occasion if honorable members feel so disposed. All we have to deal with to-night is the question of making the overdraft sufficient to enable us to pay for the sugar which unfortunately we are obliged to import. I hope that the time will soon come when there will be no need to import sugar. With all our tropical country so full of latent possibilities of production, the time ought to come soon when we shall be able to at least feed ourselves in respect of sugar. I hope that the agreement made recently will stimulate sugar production, and so enable us to obviate the necessity for making these importations from time to time in order to eke out the local production. The principal Act provides that sugar, when purchased from abroad, shall be paid for by the Commonwealth Bank, which in turn is guaranteed by the Treasurer. But the limit of the overdraft for that purpose has been statutorily fixed at £500,000. I think it is a healthy rule that there should be a limitation placed upon these overdrafts, because that is one way in which the House may control the financing of these undertakings. But this year we find that, owing to the tremendous increase in the price of sugar, and the larger quantity we are obliged to import, the £500,000 will not nearly cover the overdraft that is required to pay for it. Owing to the world’s price of sugar having reached an abnormally high level - we were required to pay, I think, £90 per ton for some of the sugar we bought - our importations are estimated to leave us with a shortage of £718,000. There is also the serious question of reconditioning the sugar that was spoilt by the cyclone, which worked such tremendous devastation in North Queensland in 1918. That sugar is now being cleared up, and it is expected that the reconditioning of it will involve a further amount of £220,000, so that we havean estimated deficit on the sugar business for the year of no less a sum than £938,000.
– Not very much when you say it quickly.
– The whole position is very unfortunate.
– Next year we shall be on velvet if we are paying 31/2d. for sugar and selling it at 6d. per lb.
– We hope that the price fixed for sugar will, leave us with a small margin with which to liquidate this deficit. I take it that those who use sugar should pay the full cost of it.
– The Government did not think that before when they were supplying the jam manufacturers at a low price and losing money on the deal.
– I have already suggested that that question does not arise on this Bill. The amount of money I am now asking theHouse to grant me leave to use for this purpose will all be repaid out of the money that is paid for the sugar when it is sold. I ask the House to agree to the Bill, which proposes to amend the original Act by increasing the statutory overdraft from £500,000 to £1,000,000. I regret the necessity for having to ask the House to do this.
– That will be the statutory limit?
– Yes. I hope we shall not require to use all ofit,but the amount we shall require will be near enough to the limit to warrant me in ask-‘ ing the House to grant me this extra £500,000.
– The Government are adopting the proper course in introducing this Bill. It is better and safer finance to bring in Bills so that we may deal properly with these amounts, and the House may know exactly where we stand, rather than to pay for them out of petty cash in the form of disbursements from the Treasurer’s advance. I do not wish to raise the question of sugar prices now; indeed, it is useless to do so. “We have made an agreement, and so far as I can see, with the world’s market so heavily against us, we are getting our sugar at a much cheaper price than obtains in any other part of the world. With that knowledge in front of us we have to make the best of a bad bargain. For it is a bad bargain, inasmuch as the time is rotten ripe for taking steps to insure that Australia shall produce at least enough sugar for its own people. I have said to some sugar-growing friends of mine that if the Commonwealth is prepared to give them what is equivalent to a 50 per cent, protective duty in normal times we have a right to expect that they, on their part, shall see that Australia obtains sufficient sugar to supply local requirements. I know that the circumstances are unfortunate. Just when the world’s market was so terribly against us, the northern parts of Queensland were visited by one of those cyclonic disasters which it is impossible to foresee. I want the Government now to give the House a distinct pledge that there is no hindrance in the way - the new agreement having been made - of the extension of cultivation and the development of the sugar industry. I have tried to get all the information I could on this subject; and I am convinced, from what I have gleaned firsthand, that it was nothing less than calamitousto this country, and to the sugar industry, that there was inserted in the old agreement the clause which prevented any extension of the area under cane while ‘the agreement was in operation. The proper course has been taken in the introduction of this Bill.
We have made the agreement, and, as some of us foresaw, more money has now to be voted to get us out of the trouble that we are in. We have to pass this money, because the new agreement has been made, and undoubtedly the proper course is to do it by a Bill rather than by drawing on the Treasurer’s Advance. I want the House to receive an assurance that the Government, on their part, are doing everything they possibly can to see that the sugar industry is encouraged, and to tell the growers of sugar plainly that we expect them to see us through the trouble, so far as they can.
– They will do that; they are on a good wicket.
– I hope they are. I hope that every primary industry in Australia will be on a good wicket, and get fair and reasonable prices. My complaint has always been that it is not the sugar-grower that has taken advantage of the conditions, but I do not wish to go into that matter now. I should like an assurance from the Government that the clause in the previous agreement is absolutely void.
– It is void. It has terminated.
– I want that assurance from the Government, and the further assurance that they will get immediately into touch with those who are representative of that great industry and see if some steps cannot be taken to prevent Australia being at the mercy of the sugar market, as it is to-day.. As far as I can see, no great desire has been shown to extend the operations of the industry. My information is that very little planting has been done in the way of increasing the area. For the twenty years of Federation, we have only once had anything like a material carry-over, and for eighteen years out of the twenty we have had to import to make up the deficiency. We have, therefore, every right to expect that for the future Australia will be supplied from its own plantations with at least enough sugar for its own requirements. I urge the Minister who is now in charge of the business (Sir Joseph Cook) to see that steps are immediately taken to place the industry in such a position that we shall secure in Australia, from our ownplantations enough sugar to carry us through the difficulty.
– The Victorian Government are carrying beet from any part of
Victoria to Maffra at 2s. 6d. a ton, and paying the difference.
– Whatever steps of that kind are taken, the fact remains that, so far as my reading goes, it is impossible for any one to forecast the condition of the sugar market this time next year, or this time two years hence. We all believe that there will be a considerable reduction in the price, but it is impossible to say whether it will come down to anything like normal. I therefore urge the Government, in conclusion, to go into the matter immediately, and see tha* steps are taken to enable Australia to obtain from its own plantations sufficient sugar to meet local requirements.
.- I am not surprised at the Government wanting power to borrow’ another £500,000 to make up the shortage, because, while they were losing £20,000 a day on the purchase of sugar, and supplying sugar at the then standard price, 40 per cent, of it was going to the jam factories. Had the Government done their duty in conserving the funds of the Commonwealth, they would have stopped supplying sugar to the- jam manufacturers at those rates, seeing that the manufacturers sent their products abroad at high prices, and obtained a rebate as well.
– Would the honorable member let all the fruit go bad ?
– It would have been better to pay the fruit-growers compensation than to pay the extra cost for sugar. It was not very nice for the people of this eountry to see the Commonwealth losing £20,000 a day to keep sugar down to a normal price while, at the same time, wealthy manufacturers were getting 40 per cent, of it to use in the making of jams and preserved fruits to send abroad, and not bringing down their local prices. That was a very nice arrangement, but the public had to pay for it, and, consequently, the Government have to borrow another half million pounds to make up the deficiency. The Leader of the Country party (Mr. Mcwilliams) has nothing to say about that. He comes from a State which has obtained nearly all the benefit. Jones and Company, a large firm of millionaire jam manufacturers, are. located in Tasmania, and they have been making huge profits out of the arrangement. As I am reminded, the principal of that firm is the chief sup porter of the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith).
– Be fair. For a considerable time we were paying 30s. a ton more for sugar in Tasmania.
– The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) sits down with the pious hope that we shall be able to produce enough sugar in this country to supply our own requirements. Of course we shall. The honorable member represents the Country party, and I am pleased to know that there are a few members of that party here. I would like them to study the return per acre from various crops, as given by Knibbs. From an acre of maize, the return is a little over £5. Taking maize, potatoes, hay, &c, it is found that the total production of those commodities throughout the whole Commonwealth averages a little over £5 or £6 per acre, and the work is hard. But what does the bonus that we are giving for the production of sugar mean ? The growers can get 2 tons of sugar off an acre, because 20 tons of cane will produce 2 tons of sugar. We are giving them about £30 a ton for sugar, which means that they are receiving a return of about £60 an acre off the land under cane. Are any other farmers in Australia obtaining such results ?
– The production of cane costs more.
– It costs more to work an acre of potatoes than it does to work an acre of cane. Potatoes have to be planted, dug, and handled, with one crop, whereas there are three crops from one setting of cane, and the second and third are better than the first. Sugar canegrowing is the more profitable form of production.
– We will all give up our farms and grow cane!
– It would be found profitable to do so. While we have been making up all the loss, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which some of my friends opposite so strenuously support, has made a profit of over £1,000,000 in the last three years ; and those profits are increased under the agreement.
– That company cannot make anything like the profits that are made on wool-tops.
– That is no argument. If the sugar profits were made out of foreign growers it would be a different matter, but they are made out of the people of this country, whom we are here to represent and protect, and to whom, unless we do represent and protect them, we are not doing our duty.
All this is only a portion of what might be said about sugar production. I can see that the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) is ready to jump up and say a few words for the Colonial Sugar Kenning Company; but I represent the consumer, the poor- people who have to pay double the price they paid before the last election. The price was kept down to 3d. per lb. before the elections, notwithstanding the fact that there was a loss of £20,000 a day. That loss, however, was kept secret, and we saw how, after the elections, up went the price of sugar to over 6d.
The Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) tells us that this is only a “ little “ Bill, which he hopes honorable members will not discuss ; but he cannot expect the House to accept the position quietly. If everybody got as good a return as is obtained from sugar we should all be wealthy in a few years, but we are paying too much for sugar at the present time, and too much is done for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
.- I rise only to put honorable members right in regard to some misstatements that have been made, though, I believe, not wilfully, and to let the people who read Hansard know that there is something to be said on the other side. In the first place, I understand that this money is provided to pay for sugar that it is absolutely necessary to import in order to keep up the supply. This extra £500,000 is required because, the great droughts there have been in Queensland for two years past have, kept back the crops, the .harvesting of which should have commenced at the end of this month or the beginning of next, but will be now delayed probably till August; to fill up the gap, sugar must be imported from somewhere. This position was not anticipated by the Government, who, at this late hour, have to buy sugar from overseas.
I should like to correct the statement which fell from the honorable member for Franklin “(Mr. Mcwilliams), a state ment which I am sure he would not have made unless he had been misinformed. He said that the difficulties we have laboured under in Queensland in the sugar industry are on account of some action by the Government in stopping the production of cane and the construction of sugar machinery there. I can assure honorable members that there is nothing in that statement.
– Why put it in the agreement?
– I will tell you. After the notorious Dickson award a large number of farmers decided that it would not pay them to cut their cane under that award, and they did not cut it until the next season,- when alterations had’ been made in the award. There were, therefore, two crops, or a large area, meaning at least 50 per cent, more cane cut that year than there would have been but for the stoppage in the year before. .This brought about a surplus, and the Government thought that this surplus would continue. I explained the reason for the surplus, and pointed out that we would very likely have a deficit in the following year, as, indeed, there was. Then there came a drought, and also cyclones, which, destroyed a tremendous amount of cane. The result is that, instead of the anticipated surplus this year, we have a big deficit, which has to be made up from overseas. Sugar cannot be imported now at less than £100 per ton, which means ls. per lb. instead of 6d. now charged retail in Australia.
It is not a fact that the Queensland grower makes more profit than the grower of any other produce. It is clearly shown in the report of the recent Royal Commission that 80 per cent, of the price of raw sugar is represented by wages. Another misleading statement is that the £1,000,000 of profit made by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is obtained from the people of Australia. As a matter of fact, the profit is made in Fiji, where black labour is employed; it is not made out of the people of Australia, inasmuch as the Government have controlled the price paid to the company for refining and distributing.
Further, I wish to let the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) know that no growers ceased producing cane, or ceased erecting machinery, because of the clause he spoke of. That clause had been in existence only about two months when I brought the absurdity of it to the notice of the House, and asked the Government to withdraw it. The answer was at once given by the Government that if there was a request made for permission to construct mills consent would not be withheld.
– That was last September?
– It was directly after the agreement came into force. The Government informed me that permission would be given, and not one single factory was prevented from increasing its plant or establishing new plant, because there was none so foolish as to do so when the industry was in such straits. What is required is a better .return to the sugargrower in Queensland; if he gets that, it will encourage’ production, and we shall not have to import from overseas, as there are ample sugar lands in Queensland, to supply more than the requirements of the Commonwealth. I may say that the present price will encourage the growers, and I have written to the different cane-producing districts urging the people there to plant as much as possible, so that we may not be placed in the same position as we have been this and last year. I believe they will do this, but they would do it very much more readily if the agreement were to extend for a longer term. Under existing conditions the agreement will benefit those who plant this year only for two years, because they will not get the new price for the cane they plant this year until the following year. Honorable members should encourage the sugar industry of Australia more than they have done in the past, because if we produced sufficient sugar to meet our own requirements we should not be obliged to send money to other countries in which sugar is produced with black labour only. It would be wise for honorable members to show more sympathy with the production of sugar in Australia, whether it be cane sugar or . beet sugar. If beet sugar can be profitably grown in Australia - which I doubt, for cane sugar would be better under uniform treatment - by all means let it be grown. I hope that the misstatements which have been complained of will not continue to be made, because they get abroad, and induce the consumers of sugar to think that the Government are not taking the necessary steps to safeguard their interests.
– I am somewhat disappointed that the Government should consider it .necessary to ask for this extra £500,000. If what the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) says is correct, the harvest will be put off until September, instead of starting in July.
– It will be September before it will start, when it should have started at the end cf May.
– That is a reason for what is proposed to be done, which 1” had not heard before. I am disappointed to find such a proposition put before the House, because I expected to hear from the Government that there would be a reduction in the price of sugar on the ground that it was not found necessary to import so much as was anticipated at the time the agreement was first introduced.
– I should like to impress upon honorable members that the price of sugar does not come into the matter at all. It is a question whether we can secure a sufficient overdraft to purchase the sugar which we must import.
– I am aware that the price of sugar is regulated by the combination of the price at which we can obtain sugar of local production and the price we have to pay for sugar imported from abroad. During nearly the last twelve months, when there was a so-called shortage of sugar, we have had a pretty reliable assurance that efforts were made by manufacturers and housekeepers to hoard sugar, and there must have been, in addition to the quantity accounted for by the Government, some 30.000 tons of sugar hoarded up in Australia. I have been informed by retail grocers that they are not now selling nearly so much sugar as they were selling a little time ago at the lower rate.
– The price has been doubled, and naturally the quantity used will be considerably less.
– I say that the reason for the fact that not so much sugar is now being purchased is that those who hoarded sugar obtained at the cheap rate, are using it now instead of purchasing sugar at the increased price of 6d. per lb. 1 should say that that being so, it is necessary to import less sugar from abroad now than the Government anticipated. My contention may be wrong.
– The honorable member may be right. As a matter of fact, the importations have been reduced, but not to any appreciable extent. In any case, if this money is not needed we shall not spend it.
– Is the Minister in a position to say whether there is less demand for sugar to-day than there was when it was cheaper?
– I have no information on that point.
– I am assured that that is a fact, and, knowing that the high cost is governed by the amount of sugar we import, we have a right to expect that sugar will be cheaper if it is found that it is not necessary to import as much as was anticipated.
– The honorable member must not overlook the increase in the price of imported sugar.
– We could get imported sugar for £81 per ton, and I should like to know whether the Government made any purchases at that price.
– Yes, but the price of outside sugar has been going up all the time. It is not so much the quantity to be imported as the high price to be paid for it that makes this proposal necessary.
– We were told some time ago that imported sugar cost £81 per ton with other charges, and I should like to know whether at that time the Government purchased enough to carry us over the interval until sufficient Australiangrown sugar can be obtained?
– I expect that the Government bought as much as they could at that price;
– If they did not do so, it was bad business. I know that we aregetting sugar at a lower price in Australia than people elsewhere have to pay for it. I saw recently that in the United States of America people were paying 1s. 41/2d. per lb. ; but when . we are paying 6d. per lb. for sugar it is very little comfort to us to learn that in the United States of America people have to pay 1s. 41/2d. per lb. when we ought to be getting ‘the sugar we require for 5d. per lb.
– We should be getting sugar for 5d. per lb. if we were able to grow all that we require in Queensland.
– The honorable member should know that with sugar at £30 6s. 8d. per ton we ought to be getting it at 41/2d. per lb.
– So we would but for the fact that the high cost of imported sugar brings the price up to 6d. per lb.
– I was hoping that the Government would not require to import as much sugar as they anticipated it would be necessary to import when the agreement was made.
– I do not see that it makes the slightest difference whether we import more or less, because the proposal is only that the Government should have the power to use this money, and if it is not wanted it will not be expended.
– I quite understand that, but I did not expect to hear that there was any necessity to provide more money for the purchase of sugar. Prior to the rise in the price to 6d. per lb., not only manufacturers, but householders throughout Australia, hoarded sugar, and perhaps we could’ not blame them for doing so. I was at an hotel for dinner on Saturday week, and was served with light-brown sugar. I got a hint that the proprietor had enough in stock to last him for another four months. He must have hoarded sugar about - six months ahead, and no doubt every one who could do so tried to do the same thing. That must mean a considerably’ decreased demand for sugar this year, and I was hoping, therefore that there would consequently be a decreased importation. I admit that the Government is justified in making preparations for purchasing, and I am sorry that it was not prepared to purchase when sugar was cheaper. If it had taken these steps last year-
– The demand for sugar from the jam factories is far in excess of what it was in the past, and more than was anticipated. This is due to the tremendous sale of jam overseas.
– Yet the small fruitgrowers say that the raising of the price of sugar to 6d. per lb. will ruin them.
– I do not say that, although I represent small fruit- growers. Sugar is much dearer in other countries.
– The rise in the price of jam during - the past few days is out of proportion to the increase in the price of sugar. If the Government is of the opinion that another £500,000 maybe wanted for the purchase of sugar, it must mean that the retail price of sugar will eventually go much beyond 6d. Under these circumstances, the Government has shown bad management in its control of the sugar supplies of Australia.
.- In my opinion, the present sugar shortage may be to Australia a blessing in disguise, by forcing our population to take up beet-growing. In Victoria and in South Australia there are thousands of acres suitable for the growing of sugarbeet. When during a visit to Europe I saw sugar-beet factories every few miles, I thought what a pity it was that Australia had to depend in part upon other countries for its sugar supplies. Sugarbeet could be planted in the southern parts of Australia in September and October, and without irrigation would be ready in March for the extraction of the sugar. If some of our returned men would plant sugar beet on the land that they are getting from the States, they would possess a very valuable crop next March.
– Any number of them saw sugar-beet growing in Flanders.
– In the Mr Gambier district we planted sugar-beet over a wide area.
–Anything will grow there.
– That is so. All we need is a population that will do the necessary work. We tried every part of the district with sugar-beet, and had the crop properly tested. In some of the drainage, areas in the south-east, sugar of the finest quality and of the highest percentage of purity was obtained, and if the Government would promise to provide a mill, it would be an easy matter to get 2,000 acres of beet planted at once. The whole of the district could be used foT beet-growing. On the Koorine Estate, fifteen acres were put under sugar beet five or six years ago, and the crop gave the best results when tested at Maffra. Thousands of persons could find employment in southern Australia in growing sugar-beet. They would get yields of from eight to ten tons to the. acre, and would receive 30s. per ton for the crop. Should too much top be formed,, sheep put in to the number of four to the acre would keep down the surplus growth. Sugar-beet provides more food for man and for beast than any other plant that is known to us. Why Australia has not grown it extensively I do not know.
– It has always been a puzzle to me, too.
– If the Government will assist the returned soldiers to take up beet-growing, they will do well for the men and for the country. Maffra, where ‘beet-growing has hitherto been tried, is not to be compared with the Mount Gambier district. I hope that the Government will consider the advisability of encouraging an industry whose establishment would be of lasting benefit to Australia. Beet-growing is nice, clean work, does not require the employment of black labour, and with proper encouragement we could, within twelve months or two years, be independent of cane sugar. Australia’s sugar requirements should be met by the beet-growers of Victoria and South Australia. I understand it takes two years to get the full results from a cane crop, but in six months full results can be obtained from a beet crop.
– I was pleased to hear the enlightening and enlivening remarks of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston). They make me the more surprised at the reply of the Prime Minister to a question the other day, to the effect that the Government considered the protection now afforded to the sugar industry sufficient for the encouragement of beet-growing. The honorable member for Barker has shown that what prevents many persons from going in for beet culture is the lack of mills. The only sugar beet factory in Australia is that in Maffra, which is situated in a fertile district, but not the best beet district for sugar beet, even in Victoria. In our Western District we have thousands of acres where the growing of sugar beet could be combined with dairying, to the great advantage of both industries. It should be the supreme de- sire of this Parliament to make Australia self-supplied with sugar, either cane sugar or beet sugar. We do not desire to be again in the position in which we are to-day, when, if we were producing all the sugar we need, our people could buy it retail at 4$d. per lb. The Acting Treasurer expressed surprise that Australia has not done more for the. cultivation of beet.
– There is a protective duty of £10 per ton on imported sugar.
– Hitherto we have been hearing only about cane sugar, but in future we shall hear more about beet sugar.
– Beet will not be grown when cane sugar is obtainable at £12 per ton. More money is to be made out of milk.
– Until recently, the world’s supply of sugar was obtained largely from beet. What is the British Government doing to-day? It is giving more encouragement ito the grower of beet than Australia has given to him. A company has been formed in England with the capital of £1,000,000, of which the British Government have taken 250,000 shares, and are guaranteeing 6 per cent, interest on another £250,000, while the remaining 500,000 shares are to be offered to the public, and I believe they will be readily taken up. This is the right kind of Socialism. It is likely that, in a few months’ time, a very large area of Great Britain’s limited territory will be devoted to the cultivation of sugar beet in order to make the Mother Country to some extent self-contained in this respect. If the British Government deem it expedient to adopt this course, the Federal Government should likewise’ render every possible assistance to any scheme that will increase the supply of sugar in Australia. We are beyond the experimental stage. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) and I have had quite a number of conversations on this subject, and our ideas coincide. He represents a country that is ideally situated. has an abundant rainfall, and a very fertile soil admirably suited for sugar beet. Until comparatively recently the growth of sugar beet has been followed only in the Maffra district of Gippsland, but the Victorian Government are now encouraging its cultivation in other parts of the State, and are prepared to carry the beet from Port Fairy and Warrnambool, 160 miles to Melbourne, and another 120 miles to Maffra, for 2s. per ton. Both localities have demonstrated that they can beat the Maffra district in regard to the yield per acre and the purity of the sugar content. Experiments conducted in different plots in the Port Fairy district have given the following returns of topped beet per acre : - 20 tora,- 18 tons, 19 tons, and 11 tons. The figures for Warrnambool are - 17 tons, 24 tons, 23 tons, .18 tons, and 13 tons. The percentage of sugar content per acre is, as I have said, higher than in the Maffra , district, the figures being: - Port Fairy - 3.60 tons, 3731 tons, 3.27 tons, 1.89 tons; Warrnambool - 3.23 tons, 4.89 tons, 4.23 tons, 3.42 tons, 2.60 tons. These figures are the result of an analysis by experts at the Maffra factory, and they prove conclusively that sugar beet may be grown profitably in other parts of Victoria as well as at Maffra. A few years ago the highest yield in the world was about 5 tons of sugar beet per acre, but by selection of seed the return in Victoria has been increased to 25 tons per acre. I believe all honorable members are anxious that we should never again.be dependent on outside sources for our supply, and, as the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) said the other’ day, we should not be afraid, of a little carry-over from one season to another. Our object should be to insure a sufficient supply to meet all contingencies.
– - If the present dry weather continues much longer, we will stand a chance of having to pay fancy prices for our wheat.
– Yes, and I am in favour of the erection of huge silos, so that we may guarantee ‘the Commonwealth against any possible shortage of foodstuffs duc to droughts. I notice in to-day’s Age that the Federal Government intend to purchase the production at the Maffra sugar-beet factory, and I understand that satisfactory arrangements can be made by the producers through the State Government with regard to this transaction. I believe the House would promptly agree to a proposal for the erection of two more large sugarbeet factories in suitable localities, in order to encourage the extension of this- industry, and thus guarantee Australia against a future shortage.
– Why do you not get the State Governments to assist the movement ?
Mr.FENTON . - Because the Federal Government have taken over the control of the sugar position, and I remind the honorable member that he did not disapprove of assistance being rendered by the Federal Government to Queensland canesugar growers, who, by the intervention of the Commonwealth authorities, have now been placed upon a satisfactory footing ; he should not, therefore, now object to similar assistance to sugar-beet growers. I have joined with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston), and I ask the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) to assist in arranging for a deputation to ask the Prime Minister to stand by the sugar-beet industry of the Commonwealth. It should be our object to guarantee people against a shortage, because, as all members know, Queensland is subject to cyclones, which in a few hours may very seriously affect the production.
– Cyclones only occur in one area of Queensland.
– The production of cane sugar is subject to other disabilities also, and we should do what we can to safeguard the people of the Commonwealth by encouraging the growth of sugar beet. I hope, therefore, that there will be a very large deputation of legislators ready to wait upon the Prime Minister, with a view to placing the sugar industry of Australia on a more stable footing. In doing so, we should be following the steps of the British Government, who are contributing £250,000 out of £1,000,000 towards the cultivation of sugar beet, . and guaranteeing 6 per cent, interest on another £250,000, while I feel sure the public of Great Britain will take up the other £500,000. As the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) has pointed out, a novice can indulgein beet cultivation with a little superintendence. It is a clean and healthy industry, and the return ought to richly endow those who pursue it. In the circumstances, why should we neglect it any longer? No doubt, there are many people among us to-day who are going short of sugar. Some householders may have been able to secure enough at the old price to keep them for many months without having to pay the increased price; but I am sure that with the excessive price of other commodities, many families have had to reduce their consumption of sugar. Parliament should do everything possible to facilitate the production of sugar, either from cane or from beet. If I were certain that the sugar-growers of New South Wales could guarantee a sufficient supply for local requirements every year, I would wish them “ good luck “ and be prepared to take pot-luck with our beet cultivation in Victoria ; but knowing that for the last two seasons they have not been able to meet local requirements, I urge that too much cannot be done to encourage the cultivation of beet, if only as an insurance against the present position of affairs.
The Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has not indicated whether portion of the money for which he is asking is to be devoted to the purchase of the 1,200 tons of sugar which is to be produced in the Victorian Government’s beet sugar factory at Maffra this year; but if the State Government are to be called upon to accept the price of £30 6s. 8d. which the Commonwealth Government would pay if they commandeered the sugar, instead of the £40 per ton which the factory could charge in other circumstances, there would be a loss on the State Govenment’s operations. I do not know whether arrangements have advanced sufficiently to indicate that this beet sugar is to be taken over.
– I should say that if there is sugar to be purchased in Australia, we will purchase it.
– According to this morning’s Age, the Commonwealth Government have already approached the State Government with a view to purchasing this year’s beet crop at £30 6s. 8d. per ton; but I understand that the expenditure by the Statein the production of this 1,200 tons will be far in excess of £30 6s. 8d. per ton.
– The honorable member regards beet sugar as being of the same value as cane sugar. Beet sugar is only 88 per cent, net titre, as against 95 or 96 per cent, net titre for cane sugar.
– Sugar beet has been so increased in value by special breeding that its position to-day is very different from what it was five years ago.
– Sugar made from beetis very different in quality from that which is made from cane. Let the honorable member ask the jam-maker’s opinion.
– In the February issue of the Journal of Agriculture of Victoria there is an article written by the manager of the Maffra Beet Sugar Factory, pointing out that to-day sugar produced from sugar beet stands practically in the same position as that produced from sugar, cane. However, half the world is using sugar that comes from the sugar beet, and jams made in other countries from beet sugar compare very favorably with those made with cane sugar. I was pleased to hear the Acting ‘Treasurer interject, . when the honorable member for Barker was speaking, that it was surprising Australia was not doing more in the direction of cultivating beet sugar. I take it that the Government are favorable to encouragement being given to the growth of beet, so that supplies of sugar may be provided for local consumption. As for the agreement itself, some say that we are doing well by making it; but the fact remains that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are doing very well when they can pay a dividend of 14s., no matter whether it be derived from Australiangrown sugar or Fiji-grown sugar. I hope the day will come when, right from the grower to the refinery, the production of sugar will be undertaken by the one set of people. In that way, we can look for cheaper sugar. .
.- This Bill is simply an extension of an overdraft. Under the agreement, there is power to have an overdraft of £500,000 at the Commonwealth Bank. The Bill asks for permission to increase that overdraft to £1,000,000, and there can be no objection to -it, because the money will be handed back in the end. No doubt, we must encourage the production of beet sugar. Owing to the increase of £2 per ton given to’ the sugar-cane growers, the price of Queensland sugar-cane land has risen from £10 per acre and £17 per acre to £37 per acre and £40 per acre. In these circumstances, how can we expect cheap sugar from Queensland?
– There are thousands of acres of uncleared land on which sugarcane can be grown.
– If we encourage the beet sugar industry it will vastly assist the jam manufacturing industry and those industries allied with it in various shapes and forms. The only practical way in which to make the sovereign worth 20s. again is to induce greater export of manufactures. It should be our policy to encourage the production of sugar to the greatest extent possible. Great Britain depended on ‘German beet sugar, with the result that to-day she is suffering from a sugar famine. If Australia had only had men of foresight at the head of affairs the present situation would have been anticipated. I have said time after time in this House that preparation for peace was possibly even more important than preparation for war. I hope honorable members will study the needs of the country more carefully than hitherto; otherwise I do not see how Australia can hope to return to the favorable position in which Labour left the national finances when it had to give way in 1913 to another Administration. I do not wish to cause any one uneasiness concerning the future,but sensible men should see the need for beginning at once to put our house in order. Queensland has received very fair treatment at the hands of the Federal Government, and it behoves the people of that State now to see thatthey give the citizens of Australia a fair deal by doing their best to bring down the price of sugar.
.- When speaking upon this matter at an earlier stage I had not certain figures before me which I have since obtained from the Customs Department. I understand that the people of Australia use about 280,000 tons of sugar per annum, and that production this year amounts to186,000 tons, so that we shall be required to import, roughly, about 100,000 tons.
– More than that, because we are three months late.
– We consider that we shall be lucky if we have to import not more than 130,000 tons.
– I trust that the Government will not be compelled to bring as much as that into Australia. Ever since this Parliament has interested itself in the sugar question, Queensland representatives have had something to complain about. I recall that the first member for Oxley (Mr. Edwards) complained in this House that the
Commonwealth Parliament had ruined the Queensland industry by certain action which had been taken in compelling the industry to be carried on by white labour. When the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) became Minister for Trade and Customs, he was called upon to fix a standard rate of wage in, the industry in connexion with the bounty. A wage which I thought extraordinarily low was fixed, namely, 41/2d. per hour with keep. A huge deputation representative of Queensland interests informed the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Chapman) that the industry could not pay if it were compelled to give that wage. In 1911, when I visited Queensland in connexion with the strike, the matter was brought under my notice, and I was shown that men received only about11/2d. for two and a half hours’ work. I fixed the rate at1s., and was promptly told that I had ruined the industry. Nevertheless, the industry has succeeded. Recently I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs how many tons of sugar we imported from the end of June last year to date, and I was informed that to the end of February the quantity amounted to 70,100 tons. I desired to know how much had come from Java and how much from Fiji, and the information which I received was that 60,000 tons had been imported from Java at a cost of £22 per ton, f.o.b. ; 6,000 additional tons from Java at £23 per ton ; and 4,100 tons from Fiji at £25 10s. per ton f.o.b. I inquired in regard to freight, and was informed that it was at the rate of 35s. per ton from Java, and 27s. 6d. from Fiji. Insurance upon the 66,000 tons of Java sugar varied from 9s. 9d. to 10s.11d. per cent.; say, from 2s. to 2s. 4d. per ton extra under that head. The insurance upon the Fiji shipment was at the rate of 8s. per cent. The exchange in connexion with the Java purchases was 15s. per cent, and 17s. 6d. per cent., and from Fiji nil. The highest price of the 66,000 tons imported from Java was £23 17s. 6d. per ton landed in Australia, including insurance and exchange, but not refining charges; but, as honorable members know, a great quantity ofthis was sold without being refined. The cost of the consignment from Fiji was £26 19 s. 6d. per ton, and I was quite correct in stating earlier this evening that the sugar purchased overseas was landed in Australia at less than 3d. per lb. Notwithstanding this, a large quantity of brown sugar was sold to Australian consumers at the . price of white sugar, namely, 31/2d. per lb.
– At that time we were paying only £21 per ton.
– I believe we were, but the price under the new agreement is £30 6s. 8d., and I have taken strong objection to that agreement, because we are allowing the growers and millers an increase of only1d. per1b., and consumers had to pay an extra 21/2d. per lb. As we received 70,000 tons, at the prices given, in addition to the Queensland crop of 186,000 tons, there was no justification for the increase; but I know this measure will have to pass. Although it is not my intention to discuss the sugar question generally at this juncture, I know that the increased price isvery detrimentally affecting jam . manufacturers as well as ordinary consumers. We have noticed recently in the press that in consequence of the increased price of sugar for manufacturing purposes the retail price of a tin of jam containing 11/2 lbs. net is now 1s.10d. per tin. I know the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith), who represents’ the constituency in which the extensive works of Henry Jones and Company are situated, will admit that the jam manufacturer is in a very serious position. The factory of Jones and Company and the institution known as “ Tattersall’s “ are, I suppose, the most important concerns in that important district. I hope we shall have an opportunity of going fully into the sugar question when discussing the Tariff or some other measure, without any limitations being imposed, upon us.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment.
Message received from the Senate intimating that it did not further insist on its disagreement with amendment in clause 10, but -disagreed wi’th the alternative amendment inserting new clause 47a, and desired the further consideration of the House of Representatives in regard to the alternative amendment disagreed with.
Consideration of message made an Order of the Day for next day of sitting.
Motion (by Sis Joseph Cook) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– T desire to bring under the notice of the Government a question relating to sugar supplies. I understood that, under the agreement recently adopted, a trader who wished to purchase a ton or more of sugar from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company was entitled to do so. I have ascertained, however, that there are traders in different parts of the country who have approached the Colonial Sugar Refining Company for supplies of sugar, and, although the company has not actually refused their request, it has not given them any indication as to when they can obtain supplies, but has informed them that they are to go on obtaining their requirements as formerly. I hope the Government, who have already stated that traders are allowed to purchase bulk supplies in this way, will see that these persons are fairly treated. It is an easy matter for purchasers in Melbourne to obtain sugar, because they can besiege Ministers and get something done. Rut country purchasers have to contend with many difficulties, including unsatisfactory transport, and are not .in such an advantageous position as city buyers. I trust the Government will consider this matter at the earliest possible moment, so that traders will know, with -some certainty, when their applications to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are likely to be favorably considered.
– I shall look into the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 9.50 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 May 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19200505_reps_8_91/>.