8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers*
– I take this opportunity to thank honorable members for the resolution of condolence which they sent to me in connexion with the sad bereavement which roy daughter and I have recently sustained, and the Prime Minister (‘Mr. Hughes), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), and the Leader of the Country party (Mr. Mowilliams), who moved and supported it, for their very kind and sympathetic references to the late Lady Johnson. My thanks are also due to Mr. Deputy Speaker for his feeling references. I wish also to thank the members of ‘the various staffs of the House for their messages of sympathy, and honorable mem- ben individually for the letters they have sent to me in connexion with the sad event. <
I am pleased to see the Leader of the Opposition present, and to know that he has recovered from his recent indisposition.
Motion (by. Sir Joseph Cook), by leave, proposed -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to make provision for the Acceptance of a Mandate for the government of certain Territories and Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and to make immediate provision for the civil government of the said Territories and Islands, and for other purposes.
– I move -
That after the word “government” second occurring the words “ in accordance with the principles of the White Australia policy “ be inserted.
– rOn a point of order. will this debate preclude the asking of questions without notice?
– As honorable members who were not here on Friday last may not know what took place then, I shall give reasons for moving the amendment. As I .pointed out on Friday, unless the motion be amended there will be great -danger that coloured alien labour may be introduced under articles of indenture into the territories over which it is intended that Australia shall have a mandate, and it is necessary for us to take steps as early as possible to prevent the misapplication of the money that must be expended on their government. The Japanese have already shown a desire to enter into the islands of the Pacific, and are now present in New Caledonia in fairly large numbers. A good many coloured aliens are entering New Zealand; but I am confident that the people of Australia do not want to have the charge levelled at them that they were a party to the expenditure of money in the interest of any capitalistic force that may intend to set up a system of slavery by importing indentured coloured labour. Not only shall we have to expend money on the government of these territories, but in the years to come we may have to spend blood in their defence. Unless this Parliament resolves that the government of the territory shall be administered in accordance with the White Australia policy, Hindoos,Malays, and natives of the Pacific Islands other than the territories to which the mandate applies may be introduced. It is for us to say now how those territories are to be administered. If we do that, and should trouble arise in the future, it will be known how we stood, and whether we upheld our principles in the interest of those whose welfare is handed over to the safekeeping of this community. It is distinctly laid down in the Peace Treaty that these mandates are given over territories whose peoples have not arrived at a very advanced stage of civilization. This mandate is given to us, not to exploit the people of the territories to which it relates, nor to allow capitalists to bleed them, but so that their affairs may be administered in the best interests of civilization and humanity. The Labour party considers it to be its duty to see that effect is given to the mandate in accordance with the Peace Treaty, and that there shall be no exploiting of the people of the territories in the interest of capitalists, no matter where they may come from. I am confident that, no matter what the future may have in store for Australia and for the whole world, the wisdom of what I am proposing will be manifest in the future, and will be recognised by the people of Australia, who will be asked to expend money on the administration of these territories. Let the charge never be made against the Australian people that they were parties to the enslavement of the peoples of the Pacific Islands.
.- I second the amendment. Upon such an important measure as this we ought to have some explanation from the Minister. “We are asked to agree to the introduction of a Bill of the details of which we know nothing. We are asked to vote in the dark upon a matter that will probably have a far-reaching effect upon the future of the islands, and Australia’s relations with other Powers. The Treasurer should be prepared to give honorable members some information now, so that when the second reading is reached we may be possessed of the facts and figures, and thus discuss the question in a proper and intelligent way. I have no desire to delay the business of the Chamber; but I say to the Minister that it is due to himself, to the members of the House, and to the people of Australia, that some detailed information as to the purpose of this measure should be given now.
– I beg of honorable members to allow this Bill to see daylight. In reply to the remarks made by the mover of the amendment, I say that it is for the purpose of carrying out the very objects he has enunciated that the Bill is being; introduced. How can we guarantee the White Australia policy in the islands unless we accept the mandate, the terms and principles of which are fixed by the Peace Treaty?How can we do anything to safeguard the islands unless the civil machinery of government is set up there ?
– Then there should be no objection to the amendment.
– There is nothing in the motion which will shut out the amendment at the proper time, which will be when the second reading is reached, and the principles of the Bill are open to discussion.
– Will the right honorable gentleman explain how that amendment can be moved on the motion for the second reading ?
– Anything which is relevant to the objectives of the Bill may be dealt with at the second-reading stage. Moreover, the amendment can be dealt with when the Bill is in Committee. Will the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) be satisfied with my assurance that if the Standing Orders prevent the raising of the proposition which is contained in the amendment, an opportunity will be found for the matter to be discussed ? I therefore suggest to the honorable member that he allow the Bill to pass now. See the Bill, and if in its provisions honorable members see any danger to the White Australia policy, there will be ample opportunity for them to raise the question at subsequent stages of the measure.
.- It is unfortunate that the Minister did not take on Friday the course he has adopted this afternoon, because the matter would have been adjusted then and there. The right honorable gentleman must be aware that at this stage of the measure it is competent for any honorable member, indeed, it is the duty of any honorable member, who wishes to safeguard his rights in the subsequent stages, to see that the order of leave is wide enough to admit of the amendments which he may wish to have inserted in the Bill.
– Does the honorable member say that the order of leave is not wideenough to cover an amendment of the kind suggested ?
Mr.RYAN. -Without the assurance which the Minister has given, the motion which he has moved is not wide enough, but the assurance which he has given I accept. When I took exception on Friday to the motion being put through without a word of explanation from the Minister, it would have been quitepossible for the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) or the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) to give the explanation which has been given this afternoon in a few words. My objection on Friday was not captious or obstructive in any way. I have been accustomed to the parliamentary practice that at this stage of a measure questions are asked and information given, and, if necessary, amendments are moved. I have no doubt that in the past records of this Parliament it will be found that a similar procedure has been followed. A Minister moves for leave from the House to bring in a Bill, and it is right for any honorable member to discuss the motion, and to ask for information in regard to it, without an attempt being made to browbeat him, and prevent him from speaking. I regret that the course adopted this afternoon was not taken on Friday ; but, in view of what the Treasurer has stated, that amendments of the nature suggested may be movedin Committee, I can see no objection to the proposal made by the honorable member for Gwydir, and I therefore, for that additional reason, support it.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted - put. The House divided.
Majority . . 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
– I have received a letter from the Australian Glass Manufacturing Company, carrying on business in my electorate, in which they complain that they have only two days’ supply of coal in hand for the purpose of carrying on their work. It is the general opinion that if the Government would prevent the export of coal there would be ample supplies available for local requirements.
– Order !
– I think the public ought to be informed, through the press, that such is not the position. However, I would like to know from the Treasurer whether there is any chance of getting ships this week to remove from Newcastle the coal at grass there, in order that it may be brought to Victoria to give the manufacturers here an opportunity of carrying on their work, and prevent people from being thrown out of work? I would like to explain the position of the firm to which I have referred.
– Order !
– I merely wished to explain that if their works are compelled to close it will take fully a month to get them going again. .
– I understand that a motion is to be submitted directly covering the very question which the honorable member has raised.
– A paragraph appeared in a newspaper last week to the effect that the Commonwealth had acquired a sports ground in London in connexion with Australia House. I understand that the Government have intimated that no such land has been purchased for this purpose; but I would like to know whether the High Commissioner has secured land, by lease or otherwise, for the purpose of providing recreation for those employed in Australia House?
– I have seen what the honorable member has seen in the papers,’ but beyond that I know nothing about the matter. However, I do not think there is anything in this statement.
– Will the Government make inquiries into the matter?
– Will the Minister for
Trade and Customs lay on the tablethe report of the Commonwealth Boardof Trade on the Australian margarine i ndus try?
– If there is. such a report, I have no objection to laying it on the table.
– Has the attention of the Government been directed to a paragraph in this morning’s Argus stating that, in connexion with the proposed Federal Constitution Convention, it is intended to have 40 per cent. of the members elected, and 60 per cent. nominees ?
– So far as I am aware, there is no foundation for the statement.
– Is the Minister for
Trade and Customs aware that some shopkeepers can get sugar for their customers while others cannot? The general opinion is that the Government own and control the sugar in Australia, and I would like to know whether the Minister will see that all shopkeepers have the same opportunity of securing supplies, seeing that those who can obtain sugar for their customers have an advantage over others who cannot get supplies of the commodity.
– If the honorable member will give notice of his question, I shall obtain for him a reply showing exactly what has been done.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether there is any truth in the report that the proceedings taken in Brisbane against his Department have been abandoned ? If the report is correct, will the honorable gentleman make a statement to the House in regard to foreign exchanges and the collection of Customs duties?
– I have not heard of the withdrawal of the case. To the best of my belief it is still going on,
– Can the Treasurer tell the House the exact date on which he will deliver his Budget statement?
– I cannot at this stage, but it will be submitted at the earliest possible moment.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister give the House definite particulars regarding the proposed parliamentary visit to Rabaul, and to the several islands in respect of which a mandate has been issued to the Commonwealth? Is it intended that Parliament shall adjourn, seeing that so many members will be absent, and unable therefore to record their votes?
– I am sorry that I cannot give the honorable member definite particulars as to the tour. I believe that it is to be undertaken, but there is some little uncertainty at the present moment as to the particulars relating to it. I can say, however, that there will be no adjournment of the House in connexion with the tour.
Coal Shortage in South Australia.
– I have received from the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House, to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The serious shortage of coal supplies in the State of South Australia.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
.- I have taken this action in order to impress upon the House the gravity of the situation that confronts South Australia at the present time in respect of her supplies of coal. The shortage of coal is so serious that the industries of the State may be suddenly brought to a standstill. Representatives of South Australia, no matter on what side of the House they may sit, are, I arn sure, fully seized with the importance of this question. The Premier of South Australia (Mr. Barwell) has again and again emphasized the point that definite action will have to be taken to facilitate shipments of coal to that State if its industries are not to be held up at an early date. The actual shortage in the supply of coal delivered at Port Adelaide for the fourteen weeks ending 31st July last amounted to 73,000 tons. That “was the shortage in respect of arrivals at one port alone, and Commander Bracegirdle, Chairman of the State Coal Board, states that if supplies do not come to hand in larger quantities it will be impossible to avert an industrial crisis. South Australia in. this regard does not stand in an isolated position. Victoria, as pointed out by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) last week is also suffering from an acute shortage; but the position in South Australia is even more serious, and it is with the object of impressing this fact upon the responsible authorities, and securing sufficient supplies to keep the wheels of industry going that I have taken this action.
Quite a number of excuses are forthcoming, and it might be well this afternoon to analyze some of them. “We aretold in the first place that the shortageis due to decreased production. Then, again, it is said to be the result of increased exportations. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has suggested that the shortage is due to abnormal circumstances that have prevailed in this country during recent years, and among these he includes the influenza epidemic and industrial unrest. Others again claim that the shortage is due to lack of shipping facilities; while, lastly, we have the statement made by a prominent coal merchant in Victoria that it is the result of Government control and interference with the distribution of supplies. Let us deal, first of all, with the allegation as to decreased production. This will naturally impress some people as the reason for the shortage at the present time, and, as a consequence, this responsibility will be focussed by public opinion on those directly employed in the coal industry. But, according to Mr. J. M. Baddeley, the president of the Coal and Shale Employees Federation -
Notwithstanding that the Commonwealth Government had about 800,000 tons of coal at grass at Newcastle, he had known ships to be kept there a fortnight, and it was nothing i or thom to be held up for a week.
– If the remainder of his statement is as correct as the first part, he is a “ long way out “.
– I shall submit statements made by others’ in evidence given before the Sea Carriage Committee which confirms the statement that large quantities of coal are at present lying at grass.
– That evidence does not confirm Mr. Baddeley, at any rate.
-Mr. Baddeley goes on to say -
The Shipping Board at Newcastle was regulating shipping, including colliers; but the workers, who had practical experience, were not represented on it. As far as the miners were concerned, the output of coal for the past few months had exceeded the record for any corresponding period for as long as he could remember. The coal going overseas was responsible for the shortage. The Federal Government should provide more ships for the conveyance of coal from Newcastle to Victoria and other States. In addition to the large stocks the Federal Government had on hand, the Government of New South Wales, as well as a number of collieries, had large quantities. Some of the coal, in fact, had been there since 1916.
Even if the statement as to decreased production is correct, hut which I do not admit, we are told there is still at grass a large amount of coal, and we should have an explanation why the States today are practically starving for this commodity. Before the Sea Carriage Committee, evidence was given by Mr. Alexander Robert Douglas, colliery manager, who stated that there is sufficient coal at Newcastle to relieve the Inter-State shortage if extra shipping is provided, and he admitted that there has been a great increase in the export of coal. Another gentleman, Mr. M. C. McDonald, of the Northern Colliery Association, gave evidence, in which he said -
For five years there had been a surplus of coal and a shortage of tonnage to carry it, but during the past few months the position had been reversed. Some of the northern collieries had had to charter ships to convey coal to their customers. Ships were now waiting at Newcastle to load to both foreign and InterState ports.
I ask honorable members to contrast these two statements by Mr. Douglas and Mr. McDonald. If there is this coal at Newcastle, why are ships waiting, and why are South Australia and the other States not receiving supplies? Mr. McDonald went on to speak about a shortage of 54,000 tons in Inter-State exports, and 129,000 tons in foreign exports, and to say there had been a decrease in production of over 300,000 tons in 1919 as compared with 1918; but, at the same time, we have the statement about the surplus lying at grass, and an assurance by Mr. Baddeley that it is correct. Later on, Mr. McDonald stated that it is not a shortage of shipping that is causing the shortage of coal in the Inter-State trade. As to exportation, I find . the following statement given in evidence before the Sea Carriage Committee -
The extent to which oversea exports are expanding at the expense of Australian needs is indicated by the fact that of the total quantity despatched from Newcastle during July of this year of 434,959 tons, the amount allocated to Australian and New Zealand requirements was 266,877 tons. For the first week of August the total output was 01,989 tons, and of that amount only 51,160 tons has been allocated for the Commonwealth and New Zealand.
Australia does not stand alone, for other countries have felt the effects of a coal shortage. In America, for instance, it was found necessary in June of this year to put a temporary embargo on the export of coal as a national necessity; yet an American boat is in Australia seeking coal for Honolulu in order to fulfil orders on behalf of America. In other words, America is not prepared to allow the export of American coal to Honolulu in order to meet her contracts, but this American vessel is under orders to proceed to Newcastle to take coal to Honolulu on behalf of America. If America is not prepared to supply her own orders, I do not see that we in Australia are under any obligation to assist her in the matter, and thus place our own people at a disadvantage. The American authorities do not hesitate to conserve the interests of the American people, and keep the wheels of their industries turning, and we ought to be alive to the position, and see that we make ample provision for the requirements of this country. South Australia is in this unfortunate position, that it has no coal-fields at present known or explored apart from isolated deposits of brown coal, and is dependent chiefly on the Newcastle mines for its supplies of coal. There appears a circumstance which requires explanation in the evidence given before the Select Committee which is inquiring into matters affecting sea carriage, because one colliery manager has stated that there are ample supplies of coal, and another that ships are waiting in Newcastle to be loaded.
– The two statements do not conflict.
– They merely require an explanation.
-I should like the Minister to give us an explanation of them.
I am presenting the matter as fairly as I can, and with no desire to make any one a scapegoat. My wish is to relieve the situation, for the sake of our industries, and to keep our people in employment. To enjoy the prosperity that should he ours, we should so manage affairs that a shortage of raw materials and of fuel cannot occur; and by well-ordered and regulated systems we should provide that all that is needed is obtainable. South Australia, being in an isolated position
– It is not more isolated than Victoria.
– It is further distant from the coal-fields.
– Nevertheless, it did better than Victoria last month.
– I understand that Victoria has local supplies with which to supplement the coal imported from New South’ Wales. It has been said that the Government control has, to some extent, hampered distribution. That is the statement of a Victorian coal merchant.
– He knows nothing about it.
– I do not subscribe to his views, but I give his opinion for the information of honorable members. He says -
If the Government control of the coal supply were abolished, and the owners and importers were given a free hand in fixing the price of fuel according to the supply and demand throughout Australia, the acute shortage of coal which is now being keenly felt in Victoria and other States depending on supplies from Newcastle would be eliminated within a few weeks.
– Are you in favour of that?
– No ; I am merely showing that the excuses given for the present shortage of coal are unsatisfactory. The Government should help us out of this difficulty. If it has coal at grass at Newcastle, we should be told of it. If shipping is waiting for cargoes of coal, I want to know why this reserve coal is not used, seeing that coal is essential to keep our industries going, and to employ our people, and there is now so great a shortage of it, especially in the State of South Australia.
– The members of the Select Committee which is investigating the subject of sea-carriage, have for a long time been aware of the facts mentioned by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin).
– Why have you kept them to yourselves?
– Our latest investigation was conducted in Sydney, and it is not more than an hour and a-half since we returned from that city. The Committee got to work directly it was appointed, and within a fortnight persuaded the Government to transfer eleven of its oversea vessels to the InterState trade, with the result that the congestion which then existed in respect of general cargo was quickly ended, and relief was given in respect of coal supplies. Those eleven vessels are still being employed in the Inter-State trade, carrying general cargo and coal, but, unfortunately, the coal situation . is still very serious. Last week the Committee went to Sydney to investigate the matter, and, in view of the conflicting statements which have been published, I propose to put the real position before the House. I wish, first, to correct the impression that was created here last week by interjection, and is getting abroad throughout the country, and exciting unrest and dissatisfaction: that the coal-owners get more money for the coal that they sell for export than for that which they sell for use in Australia. The Committee were informed by representatives of the colliery proprietors that they receive exactly the same price for exported coal as for coal used locally.
– But we should have preference.
– The export trade increased the price of coal.
– I shall deal with both matters. The coal-owners do not get a penny more for coal sent abroad than they get for coal used in Australia.
– What about the agents who buy from them?
– They cannot be responsible for what is done with the coal by those who purchase it from them. I am speaking in this matter not only as a member of the Sea Carriage Committee, but also as a representative of a State whose interests are in jeopardy because of the shortage of coal and its narrow coal reserves. Coalmining is a big national industry in New South Wales.
– It should be nationalized.
– That would make no difference in the present circumstances. This industry must be protected as far as possible. Years ago, Newcastle lost a large part of her export trade because of industrial troubles, and she now has an opportunity of regaining it.
– Her export trade was lost, not by industrial troubles, but by the restriction of shipping during the war.
– I am speaking of a period long anterior to the war. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), who represents part of the Newcastle coal district, will not contradict what I have said. We ought not to interfere with the export trade in coal if we can avoid doing so, and it is possible that the Inter-State demands may be met and the export trade allowed to continue.
– We ought not to feed the export trade . at the expense of our own industries.
– I do not suggest that that should be done. But the export trade should not be interfered with in the least unless under very serious circumstances.
– What about the coal that is at grass?
– I shall come to that. Last month’s output of the coal mines was equal to the pre-war standard; and in order to facilitate the supplying of the Inter-State market, it is now being arranged that the whole of the Maitland coal shall be devoted to the Australian trade, the Newcastle coal being left available for export. When all that isdone, the next step will be to find more shipping. I understand that the Select Committee on Sea Carriage is likely to recommend to the Government that more ships should be taken from the over-sea fleet for such time as may be necessary to overtake the shortage of coal for Inter-State purposes.
– Is full advantage being taken of the present freightage?
– Yes. The honorable member spoke of ships having been held up and delayed at Newcastle. That occurred on only two occasions, because the foreign ships which bad come for coal were occupying the berths. What I believe the Select Committee will recommend is that, when the berths are fully occupied, the Government should agree to the reserves of coal being drawn upon, so that, if there is not ample space for all the shipping at the port, vessels may load from the dumps for the InterState trade. The Government know best whether they can allow the dumps to be touched; but I urge upon them that, in the interests of Australian industries and public utilities, they should allow as much coal as is necessary for the InterState requirements to be drawn from the reserves.
– The reserves are a very good insurance.
– I know theyare, but they can be replaced. The Inter-State demand for coal is likely to continue for some time,because there are no reserves in South Australia or Victoria. The supplies of public utilities are reduced to a minimum, and some of them have not more than enough coal for one week. The present demand may continue for . some weeks, and it is necessary that more shipping shall be provided. Whilst we do not wish to injure the coal export trade of New South Wales, we insist that it shall be subsidiary to Australian industries. I believe, however, that both Inter-State and overseas requirements can be met if the Government will adopt the suggestion I have made.
– Having listened to the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), one would think that South Australia was the only State suffering from a shortage of coal. As a matter of fact, South Australia is getting a greater proportion of its normal requirements than is Victoria.
– That is so.
– Victoria has had two ship loads this week, and South Australia has had 6,000 tons.
– Victoria received S5,000 tons last month, and South Australia 60,000 tons.
– In proportion, Victoria should have reserved 160,000 tons.
– But Victoria has its own brown coal.
– The honorable member knows that every business makes provision for a supply of coal from somewhere. If its supply is ordered from Newcastle, and it does not come to hand, that business must go short; other coal will not suit. I have received to-day a letter from the Australian Glass Manufacturing Company stating that it has only two days’ supply of coal. Is there any firm in a more acute position? If the fires go out, a month will be required to bring the whole establishment in.to full operation again. The public do not understand the .situation; the press will not explain it to them, and Parliament evidently is unable to do so. We are assured that the output of coal from Newcastle and Maitland is greater than ever it was before.
– That is not so. Last month, the output just equalled the pre-war output.
– I am assured that July was a record month, and we know that there is more coal at gras3 than ever before. If there is a shortage in coal, what objection can there be to releasing some of the stocks lying at grass? Is it the intention of the Government to hold those reserves as an insurance against strikes? What will be the usa of doing that when shortage of coal in other portions of Australia will mean the closing down of many establishments? A strike could not have any worse effect. There is a belief in the community that the shortage of coal for Australian requirements is due to the large export trade. If that is not the case, and the real cause is the shortage of shipping, the Government should make that clear to the people. Until the position is explained to the public the impression that they are being made to suffer for the sake of the export trade will continue. Unless something is done to alleviate the present position, thousands of men will be thrown out of employment, and industrial conditions will become acute. What can we do ? In the absence of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) I refrain from saying something I might otherwise say in regard to the shipping. But I think it is quite possible that the Government might show a little more discretion in getting more shipping for Inter-State purposes. If, when they have obtained the extra shipping, they cannot get the coal from the mine, the Government will be free of blame. It will then be clear that the shortage is due to the fact that we are exporting coal which ought to be made available for local industries. There is a feeling abroad that foreign ships are taking away coal that ought to be diverted to the Inter-State trade. I know” that the ships which are taking the coal abroad do not belong to Australia, and that it would be an act of piracy to endeavour to compel them to carry for the local trade. Still, the matter should be explained, because the public are anxious to know why action is not being taken.
– Why should we give foreign ships coal to take to Honolulu ?
– If our own ships have been refused coal whilst supplies have been made available for foreign ships to carry overseas we have a right to growl.
– Hear, hear - if ! But if we have not ships to lift the coal for Inter-State purposes, and a foreign ship comes in for supplies, why should we refuse the foreign order ?
– While the foreign ship” are occupying the berths Inter-State colliers are prevented from loading.
-The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) admitted that that has occurred twice.
– For how long ?
– I do not know, but such a thing ought not to be allowed to occur again. Will the Treasurer tell the House definitely that there is plenty of coal and berthage, but that the shortage of Inter-State supplies is due to the lack of ships to carry the coal ? If that is the position we ought to try to get more ships, but until the position is made plain to the public one cannot wonder at “receiving letters, such as have reached me, urging that the export trade should be’ discontinued until local requirements are met. Whilst the local trade may have had to suffer in the past for the sake of the export trade, I do not think the Government would be so foolish as to allow that to take place to-day ; they would not show much acumen if they did. However, the fact confronts us that a shortage of coal exists, and it is lamentable to think that works employing 600 or 700 hands may have to close down, and remain out of operation for a month. So far as Victoria is concerned, particularly in my own constituency, the shortage of coal is such that thousands of men will be out of work unless arrangements are made by the Government to supply coal in greater quantities.
– It is rather a peculiar circumstance that immediately following the best monthly output we have had for some years the shortage of coal should suddenly become accentuated in the House. One would have thought that after such a month as July people would be glad to say, “ Well done ! We are grateful for the improvement already effected in the output; go ahead and do better.” But, strange to say, after the best monthly output for years, the position appears to be more acute than ever before. In regard to South Australia, that State does not appear to be in very great difficulties. Out of 200,000 tons made available for the Inter-State trade last month, South Australia has received 60,000 tons. Of course, on the principle that the more one gets the harder one growls, South Australian members are entitled to move the adjournment of the House on the coal question, but that really is not the State which should insist on dragging the coal question before the House, at any rate, at present, in view of the fact that it of all States fared best last month. The ‘distribution of coal in July was - Victoria, 85,000 tons; South Australia, 60,000 tons; Western Australia, 14,000 tons; Queensland, 10,000 tons; and Tasmania, 9,000 tons; total, 200,000 tons.
– South Australia only received 60 per cent, of its normal requirements.
– I am under the impression that 60,000 tons is as much as South Australia can use in any one month. The trouble is that when stocks are reduced to a minimum it is very difficult to distribute evenly all through the industrial life of the country the little coal that is available. Some industries do not get the quantity required to keep them going, whilst other industries may be getting as ‘ much as they require; but, because there is not enough for all, trouble arises. The difficulty can only be overcome by building up stocks of coal. Every industry must have certain reserves so that when these temporary dislocations occur they can tide themselves over until the processes of distribution are again equalized. The problem is to get a greater quantity of coal circulated throughout Australia, and in this connexion I may mention that last month’s distribution was one of the best we have had. In July, 1913, the quantity circulated was 254,000 tons; in July,- 1914, it was 200,000 tons; and last month it was also 200,000 tons, as much as was distributed in July, 1914. Therefore, the position is rapidly becoming better, and will still improve, I believe, if we can prevent these dislocations of the industry which take place from time to time in consequence of one thing and another. However, all this trouble dates back to the influenza outbreak, which laid up shipping for three months, and to the two shipping strikes, which occupied three months each, and prevented accumulations of coal being made. As a matter of fact we shall never get ahead in our requirements until we have a little peace in the land, and every effort is directed towards improving the position as it arises from day to day.
The Government propose to appoint a Coal Administrator in the Newcastle district. He will probably be located in Sydney, but he will have full control of the transportations of coal from the pit’s mouth, and will issue permits for berthing at the wharfs. In this way we hope to be able to turn into the Inter.State channels nearly all the coal which is won in the Maitland district, leaving some of the other kinds of coal to be used for the foreign trade. All of the States have a distinct preference for Maitland coal.
– So has the export trade.
– But if we are obliged to make a choice it is only fair that we should keep the best for ourselves.
– And lose the export trade?
– I do not think that will happen. Some of the other coal we produce is as good as any overseas coal. In fact, as any of our coal is of better quality than the best in Japan and elsewhere, our overseas customers cannot complain if we are still able to supply them with a fuel which is equal to their best. There is no reason why we should divert that trade which, in some cases, our own States really do not want, to the detriment of the export trade; but we believe that by the arrangement we are making we shall be able to limit the export trade to dimensions that will permit of the building up of InterState stocks. Now that we have got down to bedrock we hope that, while not destroying our export trade, we may at the same time build up our stocks of coal here. That is the fundamental trouble, but it comes back to the general question of the lack of shipping, and the lack of production. In the Newcastle district last year the production was 350,000 tons less than it was in the year before.
– Another trouble is the fact of the European market opening. ‘
– The European market is opening, and in healthy conditions our coal trade ought to be able to supply the foreign markets in abundance, as well as our own.
– Will you give us the boats? That is the whole difficulty.
– I am told that the shipping position is easing a little, and I believe that if we can only continue for a month or two as we are now doing the trouble will rapidly cure itself. It is bound to break out sporadically, because the systematization of the trade is not as perfect as it ought to be; but the Government believe that the new Administrator will be able to obviate vessels hanging about and not being able to coal. Soon there ought to be enough coal for local requirements, and even some to spare. I agree that if we are obliged to dig into the stocks at grass for the purpose of keeping our industries going and our ships filled we ought to do it; but I do not know that we should do away with that storage altogether.
– We could easily replace what we take away from the stacks.
– That could be done. However, I can assure honorable members that the position will ease very rapidly. We have been living from hand to mouth until we could get more shipping and greater production, and if the miners and owners will only act sensibly at the conference now proceeding, and agree to pull together to overcome the present difficulties, we ought very soon to be over them.
.- Every one deplores the shortage of coal supplies in Victoria and other States, but as the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has pointed out, there has been an improvement in the output from Newcastle. I believe that owing to the rush of foreign shipping to Newcastle to meet the coal starvation all over the world to-day, one or two of our steamers have returned from that port with empty holds; but that is not the normal position.
– Even in pre-war times it was quite common for vessels to remain at Newcastle for two or three weeks to load coal.
– Yes, and that is not exceptional in any port of the world when a rush occurs. In normal conditions the mines and the loading facilities at Newcastle ought to be able to cope with the increased demand for coal in Australia, and keep up with the foreign trade as it existed before the war. The Commonwealth Government have 750,000 tons of coal in heaps at Newcastle.
– The Commonwealth Government have not 500,000 tons of coal there.
- Mr. Fox has stated that there are 750,000 tons of coal stacked at Newcastle, but some of it may belong to the State Governments. However, it is all in heaps, and men are being paid to look after it and prevent it from catching fire.
– Not more than a third of it belongs to the Commonwealth Government.
– Coal so stacked must deteriorate. ‘ The Government ought to borrow loading appliances which the New South Wales Railway Commissioners have available, and load the 100,000 tons of coal which are stacked on the dyke at Newcastle into vessels. In this way they could supply the immediate requirements of the other States, and prevent any ships leaving the port empty. The Treasurer must realize how useless it is to keep these stocks which the Government have purchased as a deterrent against future industrial trouble. They would, have no more chance’ of getting men to work them if trouble did occur than they would of getting them to go into the mines. I know that two handlings would be required for the coal which is stacked on the Sulphide Corporation’s property and elsewhere, in order to pick it up and transfer it to the ships’ sides in waggons, but the coal stacked on the dyke could be loaded direct into vessels by means of grabs almost as rapidly as it could be discharged out of waggons into a ship’s hold. If boats are blocked from getting to the cranes at Newcastle they could easily br filled, from these dumps. Therefore, it is useless to cry out about a shortage of coal in the southern States when these huge stacks of coal are lying untouched at Newcastle. The situation could be relieved in the way I have indicated.
– What about increasing the production, which was 350,000 tons less last year than in the year before ? Would not’ that be a better way of meeting the difficulty ?
– The shortage of production has not been the fault of the miners, but has ‘been, due to other troubles. The output of the mines to-day on any one day is greater, than it has ever been at any previous time in the history of Australian coal mining. It has not been the fault of the men that we have not reached the limit attained in pre-war days. Many of the mines were idle during the war, and they are only now being put into commission. These were the mines which undertook the export trade. A few shiploads of Newcastle coal may have gone in a new direction, but the bulk of our exports have been designed to regain the markets that we held before the war. As to the statement that coal has been exported to Honolulu, or to some of the western ports of America, I would remind the House that Newcastle has always held that trade. Should it not be allowed to regain it? During the war, because of the loss of this export trade, some of our mines did not work at all, while, .for the same reason, others were closed down for months. Surely those who suffered in this way during the war should be allowed an opportunity to regain the old trade. It is a curious fact that, while the Australian market seems to call for one class of coal, the whole of our foreign trade demands the Newcastle Borehole steam coal. That is a heavier coal, and will stand the fiercest draught better than any other, whilst it is also said to have more by-products. The one course which the Government should take is to lift the coal now on the dyke. If they did that, and at the same time secured increased shipping facilities, the position would be relieved, pending the re-establishment of the coal mining industry on its pre-war footing.
.Unless the Government have some inside information which honorable members do not possess, it seems to me that it would, be wise for them to adopt the advice that has been given by representatives of coal mining districts in this House, and to dispose of the surplus coal now lying at grass. Some of that coal has been lying there for quite a long period. It is a well-known fact that coal begins to deteriorate in some cases as soon as ‘it reaches the surface, while even the very best of it deteriorates within six months, and, in bad weather, very shortly after it is brought to the surface. If the Government could see their way to dispose of the coal now lying at grass, and to replace it to the extent dictated by considerations of safety, they would be well advised.
I rose, however, more particularly to deal with the suggestion made by the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) that the export trade should he deprived of the best coal, and given only that which is generally considered to be of second rate quality. The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) has rightly said that our export trade is dependent upon our being able to supply a coal of rare quality. It is because we are able to cater for that demand, and to supply the best quality of steam coal that we are able to maintain our export trade; and so to keep our mines busy. The coal trade could be largely extended if there were a little more security attaching to it, and we must undoubtedly continue to export our best. The Acting Prime Minister has said that our inferior coal is very much better than most of the coal produced in the East. No. doubt that is so. But what of the price?
– The coal of which I speak is not inferior; it is different, that is all.
– The right honorable gentleman must know that our western coal is not as good as the northern coal. No coal shipped from any other part of Australia is equal for shipping requirements to that which comes from Newcastle.
– The honorable member for Newcastle has just pointed out that the Borehole coal is better than Maitland coal for shipping purposes.
– Yes, and Maitland coal is considered by experts to be best suited to the dye industries. It is claimed that it contains more of the best qualities of material necessary for dyes than does any other coal. Our coal trade has been growing for years, and would have expanded far more than it has done, but for the insecurity attaching to it. I have had something to do with various phases of the coal trade, and know that there is a magnificent prospect for both the mine-owners and the miners if the business is but placed on a proper footing. Not only can the output of the mines now working be increased, but there are scores of places where seams can be opened up which will bring abundant wealth to Australia, and provide employment for a. great body of men who should be satisfied workers, since the trade can carry the highest possible ‘ form of wage and still make good progress. Despite this fact, we have the Government suggesting a course that would be absolutely dangerous to the whole trade. I hope that before they appoint a Coal Administrator and give him .power to control the coal export trade - before they make any move to restrict the export of our best qualities of coal, and so limit employment over the large fields in New South Wales where thousands of men, women and children are dependent upon this trade - they will give the matter the fullest possible consideration. The honorable member for Hunter (Mt. Charlton) and the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins), who particularly represent the coal-mining districts of New South Wales, know the business from’ beginning to end. Knowing them as I do I am convinced that their sole’ desire is to advise the Government to do that which will prove best for the coal trade as a whole. They recognise, as I do, that if the mine-owners and the miners are set against each other, trouble is sure to arise. They desire that the Government shall not restrict the export of coal merely to secure a slight and momentary advantage. To restrict our coal exports would be very much like cutting down a tree to secure its fruit. The manufacturers of Victoria, according to to-day’s newspapers, are calling out, “Let us have all the coal. Retrict the export of coal until our wants are satisfied, so that we can go on exporting that which we produce.-“ What would be their attitude if those engaged in the coal-mining industry were to say to them, “The export of your goods must be restricted until we are satisfied, and can obtain all that we want?” These manufacturers are selfish, and so utterly blind to the interests cf Australia as a whole as to ask the Government to restrict the export of coal in order that they may be able to carry on and export their own produce. It is pure selfishness. They ask for downright discrimination between two sections of the community. I hope that this motion will lead the Government to view this question from quite a new angle, and to realize that the voice of the manufacturers in Melbourne is not the voice of Australia.
– It is quite obvious that the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) is not impressed with the gravity of tie situation that confronts the industrial forces of this country. Our manufacturers have met and have stated definitely that unless they are supplied with coal it will be quite impossible for them to continue their industries. As the result of the shutting down of these industries, thousands of employees will be thrown out of work, and they and their families will be left to starve. Can such a state of affairs be viewed with equanimity, knowing as we do that enormous quantities of our coal are being exported to meet the coal shortage abroad, and really to enable foreign manufacturers to continue their operations? In other words, our own manufacturers are to be permitted to starve - their industries are to close down - in order that Australia may supply coal to manufacturers abroad, and so en* able foreigners to continue their work. My honorable friend (Mr. Fleming) must know that the case cited this afternoon by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) is but typical of many. The honorable member for
Melbourne Ports said that unless the glass bottle industry, inwhich hundreds of men are employed, was able to obtain a supply of coal within the next two days it would have to. shut down, and that if the furnaces were allowed to go out a further delay of a month would be involved in re-starting the industry; meantime the men engaged in it would remain out of work. Is that a state of affairs that we could look upon with equanimity?
-Why not induce the Government to lift the coal on the dyke ?
– Undoubtedly. It is a matter of increasing and regulating the output and utilizing, according to business methods, the coal available. I do not know whether the Government are fully seized with the gravity of the situation. The Victorian Railways Department announces that unless it can obtain further reserves of coal the railways must close down. Our various gas companies are also complaining of the rapidly decreasing reserves. Is it to be seriously contended that these public utilities shall be permitted to close down, with disastrous results to the general public, merely in order that the requirements of the foreigner may receive consideration? Is the Australian workman to be starved to enable the foreign workman to live? If there is any question as to whether Australian or foreign requirement’s are to be supplied, then undoubtedly the preference must be given to Australia.
The evidence which has been given in regard to the coal shortage is most embarrassing. The conflict of testimony is surprising. One class of witness complains that there is a shortage of shipping, while another asserts that there is ample shipping available. Oneclass of witness declares that there has been a greater, and another that there hasbeen a. lower, output of coal than before the war. The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) now tells us that Victoria received 85,000 tons of coal for the month of July - a greater tonnage than we secured in previous months. He therefore contends that the situation is easy, and that Victoria has no right to complain.
– I did not say that it had’ no right to complain.
– Does my right honorable friend realize that owing to the shortage during previous months we had been brought to a state of desperation, and that the supply of85,000 tons during July, which was by no means equal to our requirements, has permitted our industries only to carry on, so to speak, from hand to mouth? The position is the same in South Australia, “Western Australia, and Tasmania. Yet the honorable member for Robertson complains that we, who see these disasters imminent, are taking steps to protect the industries of Australia before the foreigner is supplied.
– At whose expense?
– I hope not at the expense of the miners or the mineowners. There are ample supplies, I believe, available for both the local and export trade; and this is a matter for the most rigid regulation and urgent attention. I am glad to hear that a Comptroller is to be appointed ; and he must be definitely and firmly instructed that Australian requirements cannot be neglected. We are told that there is no available berthage for Inter-State shipping, because foreign shipping occupies the room ; but I submit that in this regard also Australia is entitled to preference. I would not suggest for a moment that we should ruthlessly interfere with the export trade.
– But Australia first!
– Undoubtedly, Australia first. I do not desire, nor is there any necessity for, injustice to be dome to the mining industry or the owners ; the interests of the employer and employed can be completely respected; but the position is so grave, with our industries and public utilities threatened, that we cannot regard it with equanimity. The immediate attention of the Government is called for to avert threatened disaster.
– The Treasurer seems to question whether there is such a shortage of coal in South Australia as has been stated.
– Indeed, I do not; I say that South Australia is now being treated better than any other State.
– The honorable gentleman also questioned whether South Australia can use 60,000 tons a month; but I inform the honorable gentleman that so serious is the position regarded by the Premier of that State that he approached Mr. John Gunn, the Leader of the Opposition, and asked him to use any weight he might have in order to improve it. When we find the Premier doing this we may be assured that the position is serious, for otherwise the tendency in politics is not for one side to approach the other.. That action of the Premier is one reason why this question has been raised here this afternoon. If South Australia received 60,000 tons last month, and is in such needy circumstances now, it. is only a proof that i-he had not previously received what was her due. At the present time there is a big market for Australian, coal opening in Europe, and our fear is that this may increase the shortage amongst ourselves. In the Industrial Australian and Mining Standard I read -
A report from our London office states: “ The decision of the British Government to limit the export of coal to 1,750,000 tons per month has led to a surprising development in the European trade. As a result of the quests for supplies, it has actually been found possible for Australia to undercut Great Britain in the European market.”
There is evidently a big opening for Australian coal in Europe, and an equally big temptation offered to the colliery owners of Australia. From what I know of the colliery owners, and commercial men generally, they will not consider the interests of their fellow-countrymen and their own States, but first will consider their own pockets; and we are perfectly justified in making the request we do this afternoon. Even if it is correct that about 10,000 tons are to be landed in South Australia in a. few days, it is information that we are glad to receive; but there are possibilities and probabilities of further trouble ahead unless the Government are prepared to step in and see that not only South Australia - for I am not speaking in a parochial spirit, of which we have far too much here - but Australia as a whole receives what coal we require. The Prime ^Minister (Mr. Hughes) the other day said in a letter to the Premier of South Australia, that it would “ be a pity to interfere with the overseas trade in the circumstances.” Granted; but it would be a greater pity to interfere with the efforts to build up industries in the Commonwealth. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), when speaking on the Tariff some time ago, told us that there was capita] waiting to come to Australia for investment, and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) quite lately made a similar statement, while other speakers opposite have expressed the opinion that industrial unrest in Australia discourages the investment of capital. But if the impression gets abroad that the manufacturers of Australia are in danger of being deprived of necessary coal, that also will have a deterrent effect upon the investment of capital; and great as may be the advantages of being able to send the raw coal from Australia, greater advantages will result from the establishment of industries here, and the export of the finished manufactures.
The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) expressed the hope that if there are stocks of coal here the Government will use them. I understand that there is fully 100,000 tons of coal at Newcastle, which could be used very quickly; but there is also 600,000 tons at grass at different places.
– But not belonging to us. I have the figures here if the honorable member would like to hear them.
– I also have figures. This afternoon I heard a Minister, whose name I shall not mention, interject that it is an “insurance” to keep the coal where it is ; and the Prime Minister, a fortnight or three weeks ago, said, in regard to the same coal, that it was necessary to keep it in case of strikes and so forth. It seems to me that the coal is being, kept to be used as a lever to force the hands of the coal-miners of Australia. If that be so, and the coal is being kept at the expense of the manufacturers and the workers of this country, I regard it as a very unwise step. The Government are asking tho people of Australia to “ produce, produce, produce,” but I do not see how the people can respond if coal is not made available. It sometimes seems to me that there must be a fair number of Free Traders in the present Government. If coal is to be permitted to go to alien peonies, while our own manufacturers are in dread of a famine, I can conceive none but believers in Free’ Trade who would advocate or support such a procedure.
Debate interrupted under standing order 119.
– I should like, by leave of the House, to make public some information which has just reached me. I have ascertained that this week 16,500 tons of coal are to be discharged at Adelaide from the steamersChronos, Barwon, Nardco, andCorio; that there are three vessels due to load coal at Newcastle next week, which will take 15,000 tons, and that two others are to load there on the following week, which will take 8,000 tons. I have also ascertained that the statements which have been made here regarding our coal reserves in the Newcastle District are incorrect, and that the total amount of coal which the Commonwealth has there at the present moment is about 250,000 tons.
asked the. Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice-
– These questions should have been addressed to the Minister for Repatriation. I have been furnished with the following answers: -
Supplies to Schools
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether, with a view to popularizing the Australian flag, the Government will supply one to every school within the Commonwealth where the school committee or schoolmaster will undertake the care and recognition of the flag?
– It is thought this is rather a matter for the consideration of the Governments of the various States.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
In view of the motion moved by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay), and unanimously approved of by honorable members of the House of Representatives on the 22nd April last, that the fairest method of calculation for purposes of the Federal income tax as applied to primary producers would be upon a basis of five years’ operations, will the. Treasurer state what steps have been taken to carry out the wish of the House?
– As I intimated during the debate on the motion referred to, the question of the taxation of primary producers is to be specially referred to the Royal Commission on Taxation which will shortly be appointed. In the meantime, relief will be given in cases of hardship, under section 64b of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1915-1918.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the urgent necessity for direct telephonic communication between Brisbane and Sydney, the Postmaster-General can give any indication as to when such communication will be established?
– I am unable to say when the trunk-line communication will be established between Sydney and Brisbane. The matter has, however, been under consideration for some time, and definite action will be taken as soon as circumstances permit.
– On the 30th July the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the following question : -
In view of the fact that the managing director of Robert Harper and Company, in giving evidence before the Fair Profits Commission, as reported in yesterday’s papers, states that it takes 120 bushels of oats to produce a ton of oatmeal, and as this varies from other sworn evidence given before the same Commission, will the Minister kindly inform the House - (a) the average weight of oats to produce a ton of oatmeal to make a short ton of 2,000 lbs. weight; (b) the amount of oats to produce a long ton of 2,240 lbs.; (c) what is a fair price for gristing a short ton of oatmeal; (d) what is a fair price for gristing a long ton of oatmeal.
I am now in a position to furnish the following information: -
– On 12th August, the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Story) asked the Minister for Works and Railways whether he would furnish the House with a return showing the costs up to date of the various surveys undertaken by the Department of Works and Railways to determine the best route for the North-South railway from Pine Creek to the South Australian border, including those, if any, now in progress. I am now able to furnish the following particulars: -
The section from Pine Creek to Katherine River has been built, and from Katherine River to Mataranka has been inspected and recommendedy the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works.
The whole of this distance (214 miles) is common to any route which may ‘be decided on.
Inspections of the country have also been made -
Australian Defence Policy
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether, with a view to Australia having a more immediate and adequate voice in the direction of the Imperial Defence policy, the Government is prepared to advocate the following plan:-
United Kingdom together with a representative from each of the selfgoverning Dominions?
-I shall be glad if the honorable member will postpone his question until the defence policy of the Commonwealth is definitely formulated, when a comprehensive statement covering Commonwealth defence in its relation to Imperial policy will be made.
Motion (by Sir Joseph. Cook) agreed to-
That leave of absence for three months be given to the honorable member for Nepean (Mr. Bowden) on the ground of ill-health.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Defence Act - ‘Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 135.
Papua - Ordinance of 1920, No. 3 - Aliens.
War Service Homes Act - Land acquired under at -
Wahgunyah, Victoria (2).
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Honorable members will find that this measure is one for discussion in Committee rather than at the present stage. The Bill proposes a series of amendments in the conciliation and arbitration law, which the operation of that law has shown to be needed, and of which I shall make a short general explanation.
Section 4 of the principal Act contains a lengthy definition of the term “ industrial matters,” but this definition has been held not to cover disputes arising between unions as to the demarcation of the functions of their members, and it is proposed therefore to insert in the definition the words “ and any matter as to the demarcation of functions of any employees or classes of employees.” The disputes which these words will cover have arisen chiefly in the dockyards. The definition of “ lockout,” which now - includes the closing of a place or part of a place of employment, or the total or partial suspension of work by an employer, with a view to compel his employees, or to aid another employer in compelling his employees to accept any term or condition of employment - is to be widened by the insertion of the words - and the total or partial refusal of employers, acting in combination, to give work, if the refusal is unreasonable.
Similarly, the definition of “ strike,” which - includes the total or partial cessation of work by employees, acting in combination, as a means of enforcing compliance with demands made by them or other employees on employers - is widened by the addition of the words - and the total or partial refusal of employees, acting in combination, to accept work, if the refusal is unreasonable.
– That is the compulsory work clause; that is Lenin and Trotsky !
– No; what is proposed is a fair and reasonable extension of the definition of a strike. It is proposed to insert in the principal Act a section, 6a, which will impose a penalty upon any person or organization bound by an award of the Court or entitled to the benefit of such an award, who does anything in the nature of a lockout or strike, or continues a lockout or strike. Section 6 makes provision for penalties, but no proceeding can be taken under it unless leave is first obtained from the President.
Section 9 is to be amended in order to protect employees from improper dismissal. At present an employer may not dismiss an employee because the employee -
InTasmania, a company was charged on information with having dismissed an employee by reason of the circumstance that he was a member of an organization, and the magistrate dismissed the information, declaring that, by the Act, the onus was cast on the defendant of proving that he was not actuated by the reason alleged, and that the director of the defendant company had sworn that he dismissed the employee because the latter was dissatisfied, and there was no reason to doubt that testimony. On appeal - the case is set out under the heading of Pearce v. Peacock, in 23,Commonwealth Law Reports, 199 - three out of five Judges held that the finding of the magistrate should be construed as a finding that the defendant was not actuated by the reason alleged in the charge within section 9 of sub-section 4 of the Act, and that there was no ground for disturbing that finding. It is considered, therefore, that the section should be amended for the protection of employees by the addition of the words - or (d) being a member of an organization which is seeking better industrial conditions, is dissatisfied with his conditions.
– Divine discontent must not be penalized.
– Provided, of course, that it is the discontent of a member of an organization that is seeking to better its industrial conditions.
Honorable members are aware that the business of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, is congested. There are now pending in the Arbitration Court thirtythree Public Service cases, of which three are part heard, and eighteen other cases, of which two are part heard, or fifty-one cases altogether, and, in. addition, four applications for compulsory conferences are awaiting consideration. By an amendment of the law made in 1918 power was given to appoint a Deputy President, and that appointment was made; but we now seek the power to appoint as many Deputy Presidents as may be necessary to deal with the work of the Court. In addition, the pressure of business in . the Court will be relieved by the provisions of another Bill, to which I can refer now only incidentally, which provides for the appointment of an Arbitrator to deal entirely with Public Service cases, leaving the President and his deputies to attend to the ordinary business of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.
Section 16a allows the President to summon any person to attend at a conference for preventing or settling an industrial dispute, but that conference must be presided over by him, and it is now proposed to add words to the section which will enable the conference to be presided over by any such person as the President may direct, and which will allow the summons to be either in writing signed by the President or by telegram sent by him.
– “Will the President have power to appoint a State Judge?
– If the President is of opinion that it is ‘desirable to hold a compulsory conference in.Western Australia, he may directthat a conferencebe held in Perth before a. Judge, or some other person chosen by him. That amendment will be of considerable advantage. At present, there is much trouble in the calling of a compulsory conference, owing to the fact that a summons has to be issued and delivered’. The amendment now proposed will give the President power to summon a compulsory conference, by either formal summons or telegram. Honorable members are aware that the advantage of many conferences results from the fact of their being held speedily.
– This amendment does not give power to the President’s deputy to summon persons to attend the conference.
– It is not as if these were formal trials at which evidence was submitted. The conference is only a meeting of representative parties, and I do not think it will bo necessary to give the deputy power to summon.
Section 19 of the Act specifies the classes of cases over which the Court has cognisance. Amongst them are -
President has held a conference under section 10a of this Act, and as to which no agreement has been reached, and which the President has thereupon referred to the Court.
That provision is restrictive, and an amendment in clause 7 proposes to give the President jurisdiction, not only in cases in which a conference has been held, but also as to those disputes as to which a conference has been summoned.
– Once the President has summoned the conference, no one can challenge his jurisdiction.
– Once he has summoned :i conference in connexion with an industrial dispute, he will have jurisdiction in respect of that dispute.
Section 2’1aa deals with applications which are made to the High Court for declaration that a dispute exists, and provides that application may be made to the High Court to declare that a dispute extending beyond the limits of any one State exists, and that the decision of the Justices on the question shall be final and conclusive. In the case of the Federated Engine-drivers and Firemen’s Association of Australia vermis Colonial Sugar Refining Company, it was held by Justices Isaacs, Gavan Duffy, and Rich “ that sub-section 4 of section 21aa only applies to a decision of a Justice sitting in chambers.” Wc are, by an amendment in clause S, extending sub-section 4 so that if the application happens to be made to a Justice in Court, his decision shall be equally conclusive and binding.
– Cannot the Arbitration Court be given the same power as is given to the High Court?
– It has been held that the Arbitration Court is not a Court exercising judicial power.
Section 24 provides that where there is a dispute before the Court, and the parties have come to an agreement to which the Judge has certified, the agreement shall be filed in the office of the Registrar - and unless otherwise ordered, and subject as may be. directed by the Court, shall, as. between the parties to the agreement, have the same effect as, and be deemed to be, an award.
It is proposed to add at the end of that paragraph the words, “for all purposes, including the purposes of section 38,” the intention being to make it clear that the Court has power over an agreement to the same extent as over an award, so that it may deal with applications for variation or with any technical amendment that may be considered necessary during the currency of an agreement.
Clause 10 contains a rather .important amendment to section 28, which provides that-
The award shall be framed in such manner (is to best express the decision of the Court and to avoid unnecessary technicality, and shall, subject to any variation ordered by the Court, continue in force for a period, to be specified in the award, not exceeding five years from the date of the award.
After the expiration of the period so specified, the award shall, unless the Court otherwise orders, continue in force until a new award has been made.
That section recently came under review by the High Court in two cases, but, unfortunately, the full text of the decision in one case is not available. In the case of the Federated Gas Employees Industrial Union and the Metropolitan Gas Company Limited and others, as reported in Commonwealth Law Reports, volume 27, page 72, it was -
Held, by Barton, Isaacs, Gavan Duffy, and Rich, JJ. (Higgins and Powers, JJ., dissenting), that where the. Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration has, by an award made pursuant to section 24 (2) of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1004-1918, determined an industrial dispute, and has thereby specified a period during which the award is to continue in force, that Court has, within that period, no jurisdiction with regard to a new dispute as to a subjectmatter dealt with by that award, although the parties to the new dispute included many who were not parties to the original dispute, and although the genuineness or reality of the new claim was not contested in view of the alleged increase in the cost of living.
– That shows the conservative mind of some of the Judges.
– That is hardly a fair statement. The duty of the Judges is to interpret the laws made by Parliament. This decision was not an attempt by the Judges to frame a law, but was an interpretation of the Act passed by this Parliament, and it is open to Parliament to amend or vary its legislation as it thinks fit. In the course of his judgment, Mr. Justice Powers said -
The action taken in the matter referred to may not have been authorized by the Act; but. if this Court holds that no new dispute about the minimum wage beyond the claim made when the plaint was filed can be dealt with by the Arbitration Court during the term of an award, the Arbitration Court, until Parliament sees lit to amend the Act, can only fiddle while Rome is burning,” and employees can only resort to strikes to enforce claims employers will not grant. Employees will not in these days try to live on less than what the Arbitration Court has fixed as a living wage. Such a result ought, I hold, to be avoided, unless the Court feels bound to adopt, as the only possible, reasonable construction of section 68, the construction contended for by the respondents.
And Mr. Justice Isaacs said-
Without venturing to intrude into a domain not belonging to us, we are impelled to observe that the preservation of the present general plan of section 28 is not inconsistent with a supplemental provision for emergencies that could not reasonably be contemplated, namely, a provision to the effect that, even during the specified period, the arbitration tribunal may, in the event of abnormal circumstances arising which disturb the fundamental justice of the award, have power to adjust conditions.
The object of this legislation is to secure industrial peace and certainty of conditions for employers and employees, and also some definiteness in the settlement of disputes in the interests of the public. In its wisdom Parliament thought fit to enable the Court to specify the period during which an award should continue to have force, the reasons being that employers were entitled to know, with a reasonable amount of certainty, the duration of an award, that employees were entitled to have some security that the minimum wage applied to them would continue for a certain period, and that the public ought to be in a position to realize that a dispute once settled would be ended for a definite period.
– Is there power to make a variation retrospective?
– Some of the Justices considered that there should be some power to amend an award during the time for which an award stands, and the Government, realizing that there ought to be some elasticity in this regard, have proposed the following amendment: -
Provided that notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, if the Court is satisfied hat abnormal circumstances have arisen which affect the fundamental justice of any terms of an award the Court may, in the same or another proceeding, sot aside or vary any terms so affected.
That amendment will bring the provision into line with the suggestion of Mr. Justice Isaacs.
– There is no power to make an award retrospective.
– No. Seeing that it is proposed to remove the congestion of business and -give the Court power to vary an award, the same reason does not exist for making awards retrospective as may formerly have existed when cases were held up for a long period.
It is proposed to amend paragraph b of section 29 of the Act, which specifies the persons upon whom an award of the Court is binding, by inserting the words “or notified” after “summoned,” thus making the paragraph more extensive in its operation.
– Will that have the effect of making an award a common rule?
– No. The award will only be binding on parties who have been summoned or notified to appear.
In the operation of the Act, section 37, dealing with power to issue orders to take evidence, has been found a little too rigid’. The President of the Court may issue an order to any person to take evidence on behalf of the Court in relation to any industrial dispute, but it has been suggested that the Judge ought to be empowered to confine the order to take evidence as to such- issues and subject to such limitations as he may direct; that is to say, to enable evidence to be taken, not only in regard to the whole issue, but also in regard to part. Provision is made in clause 12 to carry out this suggestion. The last clause amends section 39, which deals with the powers which the Court may exercise on its own motion or on the application of parties. The section provides -
The Court may exercise any of its powers on its own motion or on the application’ of any party to the industrial dispute, or of any organization or person bound by the award of the Court, but no order or award shall be varied and no submission shall be re-opened-
It is proposed to alter “ submission “ to “ question,” which is considered a more appropriate word to use - except on the application of an organization or ii person affected or aggrieved by the order or award.
In the administration of the Act it has been found that the public should also have a right to intervene. Therefore, it is proposed to give power to have awards varied or questions re-opened on the application of the Attorney-General. He is responsible to Parliament for the administration of the Act, and if he thinks it right and proper in the interests of securing industrial peace, which it is his duty to maintain, to make an application for the variation of an award, this amendment will give* him. the power to submit an application to the Court with that end in view.
On a further examination of the Act it has been found that several other minor amendments are necessary. These have been circulated among honorable members, and I shall move to insert them when the Bill is in Committee. I ask honorable members to agree to the second reading at as early a stage as possible, because, as they can readily see, this is a measure which can be more easily dealt with in Committee.
– Has the President of the Arbitration Court been asked to make suggestions ?
– The great majority of the amendments I am now proposing are made on suggestions of the President of the Arbitration Court.
– Is it proposed, to amend the Act t0 enable representatives of employers and employees to sit on the Bench with the President of the Court?
– Will the Government be prepared to accept an amendment to bring about that result ?
– That is a matter which can. be dealt with at a later stage.
Debate (om motion by Mr. CHARLTON adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. GROOM)proposed -
That the resumption of the debate be made an Order of the Day for to-morrow.
Mr. RYAN (West Sydney) [5.45’. - I did not quite grasp, from the answer given by the Minister, that the President of the Arbitration Court had been asked to make suggestions or whether he has merely made suggestions from time to time.
– The question before the Chair is the fixing of the date for the resumption of the debate.
– That is the question to which I am speaking. If the Minister cannot supply the information I want before the day mentioned in the motion, I may wish to have the debate resumed at a later sitting.
– The suggestions made were forwarded by the President of the Arbitration Court to the Department of the Attorney-General, and many of them have been embodied in the Bill.
– Has the President been asked to make further suggestions ?
– He has made suggestions, and they have been considered, but I am not aware that he has been asked within the last few weeks to make any further suggestions.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
I wish to explain very briefly the circumstances which have led up to what is known as the Butter Agreement. The policy of the Government is to ‘get rid of all extraneous forms of control of various products and resume normal conditions, but we find ourselves unable to do so in regard to butter for reasons which I hope to make quite clear. On the 9th January, the Government despatched to the British Government the following cablegram : -
My Government would greatly appreciate information as to whether His Majesty’s Government propose ‘to continue butter control for any period after expiration of existing contract with Australia. If decided continue butter control, would you kindly give some indication as to probable time such control would continue.
We sent a reminder at a later date, and on 29th January received the following reply: -
With reference to your telegram, 9th January, regret impossible to say at present whether His Majesty’s Government will wish continue contract purchase Australian butter or cheese after expiration of present contracts at end of August next. Food Controller, however, inquires what prices producers would be prepared accept for next season’s exportable surpluses in the event of His Majesty’s Government deciding continue control these commodities beyond that date. Please telegraph reply with least possible delay.
The Government replied on 4th February, pointing out that it would take some time to fully consult the producers and asking the Imperial Government to let us have a reply as soon as possible as. to whether they were in a position to tell us the form, the Pool would take, or whether they proposed to continue the Pool. In the meantime steps were taken to call together the dairy producers from all parts of the Commonwealth. A very representative gathering, which was elected by the proprietary as well as the co-operative section of the industry, finally met in Melbourne. I do not know whether the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Robert Cook) remembers that conference, but I think I may safely say that there must have been present from all parts of Australia some seventy or eighty gentlemen. Before the conference met, we despatched the following cablegram to the British Government: -
Referring my telegrams 7th January, 4th and 12th February, re butter, a conference has been called for 9th March. Delegates attending from all parts Australia. Would be glad advice relative question” further control of butter by British Government, the nature of such control, and its probable duration; also whether, in event of producers decidingto sell, British Government prepared to enter into negotiations. A reply before9th March would be greatly appreciated.
A cablegram was received about that date from the British Government, in which it was said -
Not possible at present . to reply, definitely regarding further contract, as question continuation of control here not yet definitely settled.
Honorable members will see that we endeavoured to obtain from the British Government this information. It was recognised at this end that, if the British Government decided to continue the control, and to still remain the sole importers of foreign butters, it would be necessary for us in some way or other to enter into negotiations with them for the sale of our surplus.
The conference was held. I was in the chair, and made it perfectly plain to the representatives of the producers - both proprietary and co-operative - present that the decision arrived at, whatever it was, must be their decision. I pointed out that it was not a question of the Government deciding to. sell this produce. I put them in possession of all the information that I have given the House to-day. I read the cablegrams, and told them I could not say at that moment what the British Government intended to do, but that the Government would endeavour loyally to carry out their decision, whatever it might be. I said at this conference -
I am here to tell you, as the representative of the Government, that the decision which is to be made to-day is to be your decision. … I want to make it quite clear that it is you, gentlemen, who have got to come to a decision, and, whatever may be my own personal view on this matter, whatever may be the views of the Government on the matter, we will loyally carry out the decision that you come to.
– That is to say, the butter producers were to fix the price of butter, and the Government would carry out their determination?
– The conference had nothing to do with the fixing of prices. The question before it was whether or not the sale of our surplus should be made to Great Britain.
– That surplus would be determined after local requirements had been satisfied.
– It was simply a question of meeting the local requirements and exporting the surplus. I wish to make it quite clear that we left it entirely in the hands of the conference to say whether they would sell to the British Government or not. I said -
Now, as to the terms of the contract, that is a matter which entirely rests with yourselves.
We did not lay down any conditions. We said that it rested with the conference to do that. I went on to say -
You have got to remember that, if Great Britain continues the control, she may also continue the control of refrigerated tonnage.
I need not quote further from my ‘ remarks on that occasion. I desire to give the House the terms of the resolutions which were passed at the Conference - resolutions arrived at by men dealing with their own produce. The resolutions were -
That this conference of representatives of the dairying industry of the Commonwealth favours a return to pre-war conditions of marketing butter and cheese when the present contract with the Imperial Government terminates in August next, and that therebefreedom from price fixation and all other Government restrictions. 2. (a) That this Inter-State conference be urged to request the Minister to inform the Imperial Government that the producers desire a free market.
Honorable members will note that they asked in the first place that the Government press for a free market, and that, secondly, they resolved that in the event of Great Britain refusing a free market the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool Committee be empowered to negotiate and sell.
Then followed some other resolutions which have no direct bearing upon this matter. It was decided further -
That is to say, the Commonwealth Dairy
Produce Pool Committee - be re-appointed for a further term of twelve months.
These are the resolutions which this representative body passed. Subsequent to the meeting of the Conference the following cablegram, dated 23rd March. 1920, was sent by us to the Secretary of State for the Colonies -
Adverting to my telegrams, 5th March, and previous dates, representative Inter-State conference of dairymen has considered question of sale to the British Government of surplus butter find cheese for further period of twelve months, and desires me to urge their wish for a free market. If, however, His Majesty’s Government decides necessary to continue control dairy products, will be much obliged for earliest possible information as to nature of control proposed to bc exercised, and particularly if it would involve purchase by British Government of foreign butter as heretofore. In that event producers willing to negotiate.
We received ito reply to that telegram, and as time was going -on the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool Committee, acting on the instructions which it had received from the Conference, decided to appoint two delegates to proceed to London for the purpose of interviewing the British Government. These delegates were to press first of all for a free market, and, if they could not obtain a free market, to enter into negotiations for the sale of the surplus butter and cheese of the Commonwealth.
– Did not the Government ask for a reply to that cablegram? It is rather extraordinary that a further reminder was not sent.
– I do not see a copy of any such reply among my notes. I asked to be supplied with copies of all cablegrams, and I cannot for the moment remember whether a reply was or was not received. The important fact is that these delegates went to London. Whilst they were on the water the British Government announced that they had decided to decontrol cheese and to still continue the control of butter.
– Did they .give the date on which the decontrol of cheese would come into operation?
– I can obtain that information for the honorable member. As a matter of fact, cheese is not controlled in Britain to-day, but butter continues to be controlled there. As the season was drawing to a close, and as these negotiations generally take some time, it was considered, advisable, whilst we were awaiting a reply, that two delegates should go to London, and they were accordingly despatched on their mission. Mr. Hugh Sinclair, who represented Moreton in this House for many years, was on’e of those appointed by the Dairy Produce Pool Committee, , and Mr. Osborne, of the Western District Cooperative Association, was the other. We gave them letters in which we informed the British Government that ‘they had been empowered by this representative Conference of dairymen to enter into negotiations with- the Home Government for the sale of their produce, and we also told them that, as far as practicable, in the event of a contract being entered into, the Australian Government would support their action.
– Then they are really delegates from the Government.
– I have been endeavouring to make it quite clear that they are not Government delegates in the ordinary acceptation of the term. They were authorized by the producers to negotiate on their behalf.
– And their expenses are being paid by the producers.
– But the Government gave them credentials.
– We gave them the ordinary credentials which, in the circumstances, they were entitled to receive. I have here copies of all the cables which passed between the representatives -in England and the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool Committee on whose behalf they were acting. The Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool Committee was acting on behalf of the producers. I shall not read the whole of these messages since they are lengthy, but shall make a few extracts from them. The following message was received from the delegates -
Accompanied by High Commissioner, interterviewed Minister. Bequest for free market refused.
That is to say, they backed up the request we originally made to the Imperial Government on their behalf for a free market, and the Imperial Government refused it. The cable concluded -
Government having decided retain control till 31st March.
That is the 31st March, 1921, and that answers the question put to me a little while ago by the honorable member for Hume (Mr.” Parker Moloney). On the 23rd June, 1920, this cable was received - .
After lengthy negotiations with Controller and Committee we obtained definite offer 240s. f.o.b. Delivered cool stores Australia until end March ninety grade one shilling point .up and down other details not arranged same conditions as before.
That is to say, the price of 90 points butter was to be 240s., with ls. up or down, as the case might be, as the butter graded under or over the 90 points, on the same conditions as to payments as in the previous contract, with 3s. additional for unsalted. The Dairy Produce Pool Committee replied as follows: -
Accept 240s. basis 90 points f.o.b. Delivery Australian stores end of March prefer ls. 6d. on every 2s. per lb. up or down. Assume 3s. unsalted, and same conditions as before Committee leave details your hands confirm.
The “delegates replied as follows : -
Butter contract arranged £12 f.o.b. Australia cool stores until end March contract conditions same as before except storage average six weeks reserve our right to ship not exceeding 50 tons per month to South. Africa.
That, I think, pretty well covers all that I need say as to the negotiations which took place. It will be noted that the British Government refused to decontrol butter. The London market is far and away the most important market for our surplus dairy products. In view of the fact that the British Government was still controlling refrigerated tonnage, it would have been a fatal mistake on our part not to have entered into some definite contract. I know, as a matter of fact, that Britain has bought in the bulk - in very much the same way, though not necessarily dealing in a direct manner with the producers - very large quantities, and I believe the price we are receiving on this occasion is on full parity with any other butter she is buying.
– That has not been the case in the past, has it?
– That has not been the case in the past.
– Is Britain paying us the same as for New Zealand butter?
– The negotiations with New Zealand are not complete; but I think they will be very shortly. I understand that the basis with New Zealand is 2s. premium over the Australian price - 242s. instead of 240s. per cwt. The information which I have received, through the courtesy of the Dairy Produce Pool Committee, from the delegates in England, goes to. show that the difference between the price in England’ and the Australian price is nearly 9d. per lb., which represents the cost of storage, shipping, and distribution, as between Australia and the consumer in England.
– Do you say that the British people pay 9d. per lb. more than is paid here for butter for local consumption?
– If the butter is at 24.0s., which represents the wholesale price, and is, I think, about 2s. ltd. per lb., the English price is in- the vicinity of 3s.; that is the price of butter to the consumer in London to-day.
– That is the fixed price?
– That is the fixed price.
– Did you notice in the press the other day that England was purchasing butter at 420s. per cwt.?
– I do not think that is so. I can show the honorable member , a good deal of correspondence of one sort and another, which, I feel sure, does not bear out that statement. Such may have appeared in the press; but I am confident, from the information I have from various sources, that this sale to the British Government is as close a parity as it is possible to get. The British authorities who dealt with the delegates considered them a “pretty hard nut to crack,” and those authorities are not sure they will be able to dispose of the butter at the price they are paying for it.
– Have you any indication that the price of 240s. will be increased?
– I have no indication of that kind; all the information I have is that we have got the biggest price it is possible to get in the circumstances - the biggest price we could expect.
– What is the ‘ average wholesale price in the United States of America ?
– I cannot say.From all the information I have, I believe that this sale is one really advantageous to the dairymen. What I wish to make quite clear, and to assure honorable members of, is that, in introducing this Bill, which is simply to support the contract and enable it to be carried out, the Government are endeavouring to give effect to the wishes of the dairymen so far as it is possible to do so. The Government have no particular desire in one direction or the other, but from my fairly intimate association with this industry over a long time, I believe, as I say, that the British market is far and away the most important one to Australia, and we cannot afford to play with it.
– Did Britain not get the first lot of butter at about 175s. ?
– Britain got that butter cheaper than it ought to have got it; at the same time, we were then in the position that, unless we sold to England, we had not the ghost of a chance of shipping our surplus at all.
– And Great Britain took advantage of that fact!
– I would not say that for a moment. At that particular period in our history, with the shipping in the position it was, unless we sold to Britain and got the priority of shipment she gave us, we had no earthly hope of getting rid of our surplus stock.
– And Britain took advantage of the fact!
– I do not think the honorable member is justified in saying that.
– Who made that sale at 175 s.?
– It was effected by the Government, after consultation with the producers, and as a result of resolutions passed by them.
– Can the Minister give the House any idea whether the British Government have taken control of Danish butter?
– The British Government are the sole importers of Danish butter into England; and the last purchase, c.i.f., was, I think I am right in saying, made at 249s.
– What need would there be for this Bill if it were not for the fact that a higher price could be got elsewhere ?
– I do not think that is so.
– Does it not look like it?
– It looks as if we were going to be “ squeezed “ again.
– I do not think the honorable member is quite right in saying that. We have to finance this thing.
– The Government?
– Not the Government; but, somehow or other, the financing of the contract has to be arranged. There must be a buyer and a seller ; somebody must receive the moneys and disburse them; there must be a channel through which the British Government can pay for the butter. It is to overcome these legal difficulties, and to put things thoroughly in order, that we are bringing in the Dairy Produce Pool Committee, and clothing it with power to carry out the contract. That is all that is being done.
– The Bill says to the producer, “ You shall not export your butter to any one else.”
– Once having entered into a contract, we must fulfil it, and the only way we can fulfil it is by somehow getting control of the produce which has been sold, and which forms the subject of the contract itself.
– The Government have not entered into the contract?
– No, we have not.
– That is the whole point.
– What the Government have done is to sanction this agreement which has been entered into, and now we ask the House to sanction it also.
– Have the British Government any power to compel us to deliver the surplus butter to them, seeing they have decided they are going to control butter until March next year?
– The position, I take it, is, roughly, this: Supposing no contract was entered into.
– Whatwould happen?
– The position would be that various people in Australia would send their butter to Great Britain, and the British Government would commandeer it at the border, atwhatever the price happened to be at the time.
– Then there is no use for the Bill.
– There are two difficulties associated with that.
– Is this Bill to stop the producers sending the butter somewhere else, where they could get a better price?
– I do not say that at all.
– It looks to me like it.
– That is exactly the position.
– All this Bill does, so far as I understand it, is to enable the contract which has been entered into on behalf of the producers, and by the producers themselves through their representatives, to be given effect to - it does that, and no more. In this connexion I should like to Bead a telegram received from the Secretary ofState for the Colonies, on the 1st July, 1920-
Food Controller confirms contract signed by Osborne and Sinclair on behalf Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool and requests Commonwealth Government take necessary steps to insure fulfilment contract.
That is all that the Bill does.
– What quantity of butter will there be for local consumption, and what quantity will be exported ?
– To answer the question, I should have to know how much rain is to fall, and how well the grass will grow. The object of the Bill is to clothe the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool Committee, in accordance with a resolution passed by the Committee, with full power to see that every factory puts on to the market the quota of butter necessary to maintain the local supplies, and I believe that that will meet the situation. For all practical purposes, the industry will be conducted under normal conditions, except that, instead of the surplus butter being exported through various merchants, there will be a bulk sale of it.
– Who compose the Committee?
– The Committee has been in existence for three years, and operates under an Act of Parliament. I could not from memory tell the honorable member the names of those who compose it. They are mostly men elected by the various interests in the dairying industry, with three Government nominees. The deputy chairman is Mr. Hugh Sinclair, formerly the member for Moreton, and the Commonwealth Dairy Expert, Mr. O’Callaghan, is a member. The Minister for Trade and Customs is ex officio chairman, and I have had the honour to occupy that position from, I think, the beginning.
– Are there any. middlemen on the Committee?
– There are three or four middlemen, in the ordinary acceptation of the term.
– There are representatives of co-operative societies - Messrs. Wilson and Osborne.
– There are also representatives of the proprietary factories and of the co-operative factories. Every State is represented - New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland by five representatives each, and South Australia and Tasmania by one each.
– Did the Minister say that the two gentlemen who proceeded to London, finding that they could not get a free market there,- entered into a contract on behalf of the producers of Australia ?
– Yes ; and that contract has been signed and sealed.
Sitting suspended from 6.26 to 8 p.m.
.- The Bill before us is very small, but it is very important, and one that concerns not only the butter producers in the Commonwealth, but Australia as a whole. The measure provides for an agreement between the British Government and the Australian Butter Pool, and under its provisions, no butter will be exported after the agreement comes into operation without the approval of the Butter Pool. Every one admits that our surplus products should be disposed of in the most favorable markets, in order that our producers may obtain the best prices, and incidentally assist the Commonwealth. It is well known that we produce a considerable surplus of butter. I have before me a statement made in the Victorian Journal of Agriculture by Mr. R Crowe in regard to this matter, in which he says that during the past season seven-eighths of our production was consumed locally: and, therefore, the quantity available for export, and coming under Commonwealth control, represents only one-eighth of the production. Knibbs’ figures in regard to production show that, in the period from 1909 to 1913, ‘ the butter produced in Australia represented 945,014,305 lbs., valued at £47,742,910. The quantity consumed in Australia during that period was 557,408,071 lbs., valued at £28,160,720, leaving a surplus for the five years of 387,606,234 lbs. If we take the figures for the years 1914-15 to 1918-19 - a further period of four years - it will be found that the quantity of butter produced in Australia was 896,413,192 libs., valued at £58,733,739. Of that quantity we consumed in Australia 643,015,392 lbs., valued at £42,130,904, leaving 253,397,700 lbs. as a surplus. It will be seen from these figures that we produce a large surplus, and that it is necessary that provision should be made to market it under the most favorable circumstances. The question then arises as to whether the arrangement embodied in the Bill will do what it is intended; I am very doubtful. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) stated that a conference of butter producers was held recently, at which the question of the fixation of prices was discussed, and at which the representatives were of the opinion that the butter producers should have the freest possible market in disposing of the surplus quantity. That was practically agreed to, and delegates were sent to Great Britain to enter into an arrangement with the British Government. We are now being asked to sanction an agreement providing for the sale of butter at- 240s. per cwt. f.o.b., which works out at approximately 2s. 1.6d. per lb. During recent years I have a vivid recollection of different Boards fixing the prices of certain commodities produced in this country. In connexion with wool, a committee was appointed to deal with that product, and we have ascertained recently that some have made a tremendous profit as a result of the price at which the wool was sold when that profit should have gone to the Australian producer.
– Exactly the same thing occurred in regard to a previous sale of butter.
– Yes; and in connexion with wheat we find the same thing prevailing. Boards have fixed the price of wheat, and after it has been exported it has been sold at practically double the price at which it was sold by the producer, thus enabling others to reap the benefit from fixed prices. In view of these instances, which have occurred quite recently, it seems strange at this juncture, when there is a scarcity of commodities in other parts of the world, that we should be asked to sanction an agreement which may be the means of depriving the producer of that profit to which he is justly entitled. The future price of butter will depend largely upon the conditions abroad. In Europe today the situation is bad enough; and in view of what is transpiring, always allowing for the intervention of bad seasons, it is more than likely that butter will be at a very high price for a considerable time to come. If we enter into the agreement contained in the Bill, and fix a price of 2s.1d. per lb., it is quite probable that within a very short time the retail price of butter will be in the vicinity of 3s. or 3s. 6d. per lb.
– It is the producers who have made this sale to the British Government.
– Yes, and I am at a loss to understand why.
– Does the honorable member suggest they do not know their own business?
– I am not saying that, tut merely expressing an opinion. In view of what has happened here, there is a good deal to be said in support nf my contention. We have made mistakes, and it is possible that we are du the verge of committing another. At the conference of butter producers, to which I have referred, the representatives asked to have the fullest freedom in regard to marketing. What will be the position if butter is fixed- at 2s. Id. per lb., and there is a better market in, say, South Africa?
– I omitted to say that, under the terms of the contract, the producers will have the opportunity of meeting the normal trade of the Commonwealth, and in other centres, including 500 tons, I believe, for South Africa.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs now says that he omitted to place certain facts before the House, and that certain, latitude is to be allowed. If the producers are to have freedom, they should not be tied at ail, and should be allowed to take the fullest advantage of any market abroad. It may be said that the price arranged is a good price, because it is practically the same as they would be receiving in Australia. To-day the producer is obtaining 2s. per lb., or perhaps a little less, and the price embodied in the agreement is slightly higher. But we know that in the event of a drought intervening, and during the winter months, the supply would be reduced, with the result that prices would rise. Before we export any surplus, we should make sure that our own. people obtain the commodity at a reasonable price–
– What of coal ?
– That is exactly what we are doing to-day, as our coal is being sold at such a reasonable price that we can send it to the Baltic and elsewhere at a cheaper price than British coal can be supplied.
– Does the honorable member advocate an embargo?
– I have never said one word about an embargo on Hie export of butter. In connexion -with all our products, we should allow the people of the Commonwealth to obtain them at a fair and reasonable price; but by that I do not suggest that we should rob the producer; he should receive a fair price for the work he performs.
– ls not the world’s parity a fair price?
– We do not know what the world’s parity may be next . week. We may enter into an agreement to sell butter at 2s. Id. per lb., but in a month’s time it may be worth 2s. 6d.
– The experts take all such possibilities into consideration.
– I am quite aware of that. In connexion with our wheat and wool, the experts thought that the price decided upon was a reasonable one; but we ascertained later that it was about one-half of the proper price, and that others derived the benefit.
– But we are now getting back to normal conditions.
– Then, if such is the case, why do not we give the producer freedom to market? Why is there any necessity for passing legislation of this character ?
– The producers, through their representatives, have asked for it.
– I am merely expressing my opinion, and I represent as many dairy farmers as any honorable member in this House. I have to answer to them.
– The British Government does not give a free market.
– Exactly. I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs whether there was anything to permit the British Government to interfere in regard to sales, and he replied in the negative-
– I did not think I had said that.
– I asked if there was any power in existence which compelled us to sell the butter to the British Government-
– No-; I said the British Government could commandeer the butter at a fixed price.
– I do not think the British Government would commandeer any commodity without giving a price equivalent to that which could be obtained elsewhere. Therefore, it is- all the more necessary that this should be an open question.
– They are the sole importers of butter to England to-day.
– I admit that; but that fact does not give them power to compel us to sell butter to them.
– Where could we sell it?
– Wherever we can. If the markets in Great Britain were to advance 6d. per lb. within the next two or three months, and we had freedom to sell at London parity, our producers would get 3d. or 4d. per lb. more. We cannot tell what may happen.
– Our market is limited. The people who would buy and pay high prices have neither cash nor credit.
– That is my argument. We should broaden this transaction, and have the utmost freedom in the sale of our produce. We are no longer at war; we want to get back to normal conditions. The producers at their conference said that they wanted a free market; now we are legislating to compel them to sell at a fixed price, whereas within the next two or three months butter may be worth 3s. per lb., and somebody other than the producer will be getting the increase. There is not much prospect of butter being cheaper in Europe than it is to-day; the tendency is rather for the price to increase. Therefore, I do not see why we should be legislating to restrict the market for the butter producers. They ought to have the widest possible field, and get the best price offering.
– Does not this Bill merely indorse the agreement made by the representatives of the producers?
– I have admitted that the representatives of the producers have agreed to this arrangement, and that the Government are introducing this Bill merely to give effect to it; but I do not think it is in the best interests of the producers, and if the price of. butter abroad does rise, and middlemen are making a profit at the expense of our producers, I desire to be able to turn up my speech in Hansard, and show to my constituents that I made my protest against this arrangement.
– Suppose the price of butter falls.
– We must take the risk, but the tendency is for the price to increase. European countries are not recovering from the war as rapidly as Australia is doing; their conditions are still very much disturbed. In view of what has happened in connexion with the sale of our primary products during the last two or three years, the producer would be better off if he were not hampered by legislation of this kind.
– Who will handle the butter if the Pool does not?
– I do not argue that the Pool should not handle it; but the Pool should have access to the open market, so that it can sell the commodity for whatever price is offering.
– The controllers of the Pool asked for this Bill.
– I have admitted that; but it does not follow that I must agree with the proposal. Is it not possible for the representatives of the producers to make a mistake?
– Surely the honorable member will not set up his opinion against, the combined opinions of the representatives of the producers?
– In view of what has happened during the last two or three years, I think it would be better for the producers to have the free market for which they asked at the conference.
– Butter was controlled by the Government then; now it is controlled by the producers’ own organization.
– Do not forget that the same Pool is still in existence.
– What would be the position if this Bill were not agreed to?
– The producers would have an open market, and. could dispose of their produce in any part of the world.
– And what would happen to the sales made to the Imperial Government?
– If such sales have been made the producers are in honour bound to complete them, even without legislation of this kind.
– Where will the butter be obtained if the agreement is not ratified ?
– There will be the surplus over and above local consumption, and only that surplus should be exported.
– But how will the Pool get possession of the surplus?
– The producers will send their commodity through the ordinary channels until it reaches the Pool. There need be no trouble on that score.
– The trouble will be that there will be no legal body to deal with the butter unless we give the Pool some power and control.
– We can always find a purchaser for an article that is in demand. Without this agreement we should have an open market, and the utmost freedom to dispose of our product wherever it was required. The mere fact that the representatives of the producers have entered into an agreement is not in itself a reason why we should accept this legislation. If they have a mind to carry out the agreement and dispose of the butter at the price agreed upon that is their affair, and if later it is found that they could have obtained a better price for their commodity they will have to answer to the producer. ‘
Whilst 1 favour the export of our surplus butter, we ought to be able to supply our own people at a reasonable price.
– What does the honorable member call a reasonable price?
– I am not in a position to answer offhand, except to say that we should give the producer an adequate return for the labour employed in producing the butter, and something extra to put by for a rainy day.
– Would the honorable member be surprised to learn that, during the last three months, it has cost 4s. per lb. and upwards’ to produce butter in the dairying districts of Victoria?
– I do not dispute that, because I know the conditions that have obtained during the past few months, but we must take the seasons by and large right through the year. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) will admit that, about a month hence, we shall be producing much more butter. As a rule the price of butter does fall lower about this time of year than it is to-day, but I do not think it will ever fall to the pre-war price, because the cost of everything has risen, and the dairy farmer is entitled to ah advance just as much as is anybody else.
– How shall we get a reasonable price, if the world’s parity should be lower than the honorable member has estimated ?
– We shall have to do the best we can with the exportable surplus. The law of supply and demand operates with butter as with anything else, but the Australian people should be able to get their butter at a price fair to both the producer and consumer.
– It would be most difficult to fix a fair price. How would the honorable member arrive at it?
– I admit the difficulty, but the price will be arrived at by the supply available and the demand for it. Nobody can expect the price of butter to fall to the pre-war level, in view of the fact that there has been an advance in the price of everything else. The price must be sufficient to put the producer in the same position as he occupied prior to the war.
– Would the honorable member regulate the fair price by Act of Parliament ?
– I do not think that that would be possible. The price is largely determined by the seasons. Reverting to the exportable surplus, I hope that the Government will see that an artificial scarcity in the local market is not created for the purpose of keeping up the price. We know that in the past large quantities of beef, mutton, butter, and other commodities were kept in cold storage until the prices rose very high. There is no justification for storing the butter for export and compelling the local consumers to pay high prices. Provision ought to be made for the requirements of Australia to be met before any large quantity of butter is placed in the cold stores. This measure leaves the control with the Pool and the Minister. I am of opinion that the Butter Pool, and every other Pool, should include a representative of the public. Somebody ought to be appointed to the position to watch the interests of the general public, and see that everything is done fairly and above board. I believe the producers desire everything to be done fairly and squarely ; and I understand that their representatives in this House advocate that.
– Does not the honorable member think that the producers are as honest as are the workers ?
– Three-fourths of my constituents are farmers, and I have always admitted that they are a fine body of men. I have not a word to say against them; I am merely contending that the interests of the public ought to be con- served in connexion with all these bodies for the control of commodities. It would be an advantage to the producer if the middleman could be eliminated altogether. The producers would not suffer through the appointment of somebody to represent the general public on the Pool; that representative would merely see that things were done fairly.
– Does not the honorable member think that the Minister is capable of representing the public and seeing that a fair deal is given all round ?
– Ministers generally have more work in attending to their Departments than they can properly perform; they have not the time to attend to all the ramifications of these Pools. The Committee of a Pool will decide certain things, and make a recommendation to the Minister. The Minister will look at the recommendation and sign it. He cannot be in close touch with everything that happens in connexion with these various bodies; he must accept the word of the controlling Committee. What I desire is a man sitting on. the Committee as the representative of the public interest to see that even-handed justice is given all round.
– Are the public represented on the Wages Boards?
– Although there is no representative of the public on a Wages Board, the Chairman is supposed to hold the scales truly and fairly, and on the evidenoe adduced decide what is best in the public interest. The Pools are on quite a different footing. I have no objection to a Pool looking after the interests of the producer, but I do object to an agreement being made by Act of Parliament which will probably rob the dairyman in the near future of some profit to which he will be entitled, and which will go into the pockets of some intermediaries.
– The inference to be drawn from the honorable member’s statement is that he knows better what is suitable for the primary producers than they themselves know.
– I do not infer anything of the kind. Honorable members are at liberty to form opinions of their own on these matters, but I regard it as my duty to place my personal views on this question on record. In doing so I wish to assist those whom the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) represents here. I am as much in sympathy with dairymen as is any other member of this Chamber. I do not approve of the agreement, because I think it would have been better if our butter producers had been left an open market. We cannot estimate the millions of money lost to the producers of this country during the war by the fixation of the prices of commodities, which we know have at times brought double the prices that were fixed.
– Those prices were not fixed in this manner.-
– They were fixed through Boards appointed by the Government.
– They were fixed by the Government, and the producers concerned had no say in the matter.
– The honorable member will agree with me that the reason why the butter producers have entered into this contract is because they think that a good price is being obtained , and one that will compare more than favorably with the prices obtained in the past. I say that throughout Europe prices will probably never come down to what they were before the war.
– Do not say that.
– I say unhesitatingly that since the war the workers have learned their strength in every country. In proof of that, we are in a better position in Australia to compete in many industries with people abroad than we were at any time before the war. The increase in wages in other countries must have its influence on the prices of commodities in those countries.
– Prices generally are not likely ‘to come down.
– In the building of ships we are able in Australia to-day to compete with any other country in the world. Before the war we could not think of doing so.- The difference between wages paid abroad and wages paid in Australia before the war was so great that inmany industries it was impossible for us to compete without the assistance of a high Tariff. I believe that at the present moment the Australian producers of butter would be in a better position than they will be under the agreement if they had a free market for all the butter they can export from this country.
– What should they do with the butter which they sell in Australia ?
– I speak of the butter which they can export after supplying local requirements.
– What about the price of butter supplied for local requirements ?
– I have made (my position on that point perfectly clear. I believe that our people should be able to secure commodities that are produced in Australia at a reasonable price.
– And the honorable member would fix the price?
– I would fix it at a price which would give a reasonable return to the producer. I have always recognised the producers as representing the backbone of the country. I know the disabilities under which they labour, and I desire that they should ‘ be given an adequate return for all that they produce. . I feel that this legislation is quite unnecessary, and that it would be far better in the interests of the butter producers if they were left free to secure the full value of their product wherever it is sold outside of Australia.
.- It seems to me that this Bill has become absolutely necessary, because of the sale that has been effected of one of our primary products. It is necessary to give the agreement which has been entered into legislative authority, so that it may be properly carried out, and our butter producers may obtain the price of 240s. per cwt., secured by Messrs Sinclair and Osborne, who I am sure made the best contract that it was possible to make at the time the agreement was entered into.
– What is the agreement?
– It is an agreement by which we are to receive 240s: per cwt. for our butter.
– More than that.
– More, if the butter is of a higher quality than the average, and less if it is a lower quality. This contract . was entered into to extend from 1st August to 31st March, and, as I understand the matter, the Bill will be operative only during that period.
– That is so.
– I look upon the Bill as a measure to enable the butter producers to carry out the contract that was entered into. It is quite . possible that a better price than 240s. per cwt. will be received for butter.
– Is that why this Bill is necessary ?
– There might be something in that. I am inclined to think that a higher price than 240s. will be offered for our butter, and I have sufficient faith in the Imperial Government to believe that if it is offered we shall get that higher price. As a matter of fact, negotiations are in progress at the present time to secure a higher price. Whilst the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) was speaking, I interjected to remind him that butter was bringing as high a price as 420s. at Home. I noticed in the press the other day a quotationof 420s. per cwt. for, I think, Irish butter.
– Is this agreement notin writing? Can we not peruse it and see what it contains?
– I cannot tell the honorable member.I speak of what I have seen in the press.
– Has the honorable member seen the agreement?
– No; I have not.
– Then the honorable member does not know any more about it than we do.
– I know that the price is to be 240s. per cwt. I think that the Minister read sufficient of the agreement to let us know what the position of our dairymen will be. He also said that the price for New Zealand butter has not yet been fixed. I think that he made a mistake there, because we were led to believe that New Zealand butter would be placed’ on the London market through cooperative companies in the Old Country.
– I was speaking, only yesterday in my office, to three men, one of whom is closely associated with the Government Department which deals with the matter, and they told me that the contract was not completed and that the New Zealand Government was negotiating with the Imperial Government on the same basis as our contract with a premium of 2s.
– I have no doubt that if the New Zealand producers get a premium of 2s. on our price, the Australian producers will be given the same advantage.
– It has always been the practice, though I do not know why, to give New Zealand a slight premium over Australia, because in pre-war days, New Zealand butter always secured a small premium over Australian butter.
– I was very agreeably surprised to find the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) taking such a keen interest in the primary producer, and to find that he was being followed by many other honorable members on the opposite side. When I entered this House eighteen months ago, I was surprised to find how little interest honorable members opposite took in the primary producer. Since the establishment of the Country party, it seems to me that honorable members on both sides are anxious to consider the interests of the primary producer, and I hope that he is coming into his own, as a result of the in- fluence of the little party that is now established on the cross benches.
The dairying industry is one which deserves very great consideration. It is worth something like £19,000,000 per year, and I regret to say that it is absolutely going backwards notwithstanding the fact that prices are going up. To-day in Australia we have 200,000 dairy cows less than we had in 1913, and that, notwithstanding the fact that ‘the numbers of other cattle have increased. This shows that the dairyman is going out of business, and it will be an unfortunate thing for this country if he does. Let me inform honorable members of what has happened as the result of the last sale of butter effected, not by the representatives of the dairymen, but by the Government.
– By the Prime Minister.
– The honorable member suggests that the sale was effected by the Prime Minister. That sale was effected at 175s. per cwt. at a time when the British Government were paying 300s. per cwt. for butter. We sold our second-grade butter, not fit for consumption in Australia, to the East at 205s. per cwt.
– I do not think it is fair to say that that butter was unfit for consumption.
– I will say that it was not good enough for Australians, and that will qualify my statement sufficiently. The price at which the sale was effected was 175s. per cwt., and we got 243s. per, cwt. from South Africa. That is the treatment the dairymen received in connexion with the last sale of Australian butter.
– At that time 175s. per cwt. was regarded in Queensland as a good price, considering the difficulties of shipping.
– That may be so; but we shipped to Africa for 243s. per cwt., and to the East for 205s. per cwt.
– I know that the Queensland producers were satisfied that it was a good price.
– Our producers have themselves effected the last sale, and they had sufficient common sense to make a contract covering a short period. It terminates on 31st March next, and is for only one season’s butter. Dairymen are out to get the advantage of the open market at the earliest possible moment. If I thought that the open market was available to them now I would not be supporting this contract. When I find that the Imperial Government arc controlling the butter trade in the Old Country I know that all that we can possibly do is to effect a sale to them upon the best conditions possible.
– Is this a Bill to support the contract?
– It is intended to make the contract effective, so that it can be carried out.
– Has any one seen the contract?
– The contract is merely that the butter is to be sold for 240s. per cwt.
– By whom is it to be marketed in London, and under what conditions?
– Dalgety and Company will make a nice thing out of it.
– Dalgety and Company are not in this contract. The butter was sold by Messrs. Sinclair and Osborne as representing the producers who met in conference in Melbourne. If we fixed the price of butter at as low a price as that fixed by the Imperial Government when the previous sale was effected, the result would be that the condensed-milk factories in Australia would be able to pay a higher price for milk than the butter factories could pay. In my own district one milkcondensing factory belonging to the Nestles Company are paying a higher price for milk than the butter companies can pay.
– They are making a profit on the sugar.
– Yes. The position is that the butter factories will be wiped out of existence if that kind of thing continues, and if the butter factories go, honorable members have to recognise what will go with them. If whole milk is sold, and no skim milk is kept, there will bo no calves reared in the districts in which this takes place. My own electorate is probably one of the best butter districts in Australia.
– In Victoria.
– It is a fact that it is one of the best dairying districts, not only in Victoria, but in Australia. If a low price is paid for butter, men engaged in dairying will be induced to sell their milk to the milk-condensing factories, and there will be no young stock reared in this country. That will be a calamity to the cattle-rearing industry in Australia.
– Men cannot go on selling milk if they do not rear calves.
– I have indicated what is happening to-day in the dairying industry. If the price of butter goes up, it will be better for the dairying industry, and generally for those engaged in rearing cattle. Warrnambool some time ago was one of the best pig markets in Victoria; but to-day, since Nestles have become established there, it has become a district in which the milk produced is used in the whole state for the production of condensed milk, and there are practically no pigs sent now to the Warrnambool market. Colac is the centre of a butterproducing district. There is no condensed milk manufactured there, and they have in consequence a very large pig market - about 600 pigs per week. We shall have no young stock and no bacon if low prices are obtained for butter, and milk is sent in the whole state to the condensed-milk factories. I support the Bill because I feel that it is necessary to enable us to carry out the contract we have entered into. It was a good contract, entered into by men of ability anxious to conserve the best interests of the producers of Australia.
– I can show the honorable member the contract.
– It would be well for the Minister to acquaint the House with the particulars of the contract, because very often the lack of information retards the passage of legislation. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) and quite a number of others have asked whether a contract has been effected between the representatives of the dairymen of Australia and the British Government; and when this Parliament is called upon to indorse such a contract by the passage of legislation it ought to have the fullest possible light on the subject. I agree with the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) that many dairymen are dissatisfied. I shall quote from the London letter of the Pastoral Review, which cannot by any stretch of imagination be termed a Labour paper, some remarks by Sir Thomas Mackenzie, the High Commissioner for New Zealand, whom any one who has studied his movements on the other side of the world will recognise as a valiant fighter for the interests of the Dominion he represents. It is an indictment against the British Government in relation to its handling of the commodity with which we are dealing to-night, and reads as follows: -
Sir Thomas Mackenzie, High Commissioner for New Zealand, speaking last month on the subject of Government purchase of overseas butter, made a strong indictment of the Government’s Empire policy, and his utterance has attracted widespread attention. He said that with regard to butter, New Zealanders were threatened with expulsion from this market unless they accepted the price the Government chose to give them. Surely a young country like New Zealand, which had been loyal throughout the war, should be put on an equal footing, at any rate, with Ireland. The Irish people could . sell their butter at 5s. per lb., and the highest price offered to New Zealand was1s. 7½d. He ventured to think that with the assistance of the Colonial Office no such injustice would be done to us as a refusal of the free market in Great Britain.
Apparently the British Government are prepared to allow producers within their own boundaries the privilege of selling butter at 5s. per lb. There is some doubt about the price New Zealand is likely to receive for her butter.
– New Zealand has not yet sold her butter.
– It is a questionable point; but here is a paragraph in the London letter of the Pastoral Renew which throws a little light on the subject : -
I understand that the Ministry of Food have decided to offer for New Zealand butter prices similar to those now being paid for the Danish article, and negotiations are at present proceeding with the shippers representatives here.
– One price is c.i.f. and the other is f.o.b.
– If the Minister is referring to Danish butter, he knows very well that thec.i.f. costof shipping butter from Denmark to Great Britain is a mere bagatelle.
– The price would come out at practically the same as is to be paid for Australian butter.
– I do not think so. The great Danish co-operative companies fix their own price for butter sold in Great Britain; ‘and, as the expenseof consigning the commodity from the one country to the other is, as I say, a mere bagatelle, making all allowance for c.i.f. costs, I think I am safe in saying that New Zealand will receive 247s. per cwt. for her butter as against 240s. per cwt. which is to be paid for Australian butter.
– Does the honorable member wish to make Australian dairymen dissatisfied with the sale made by themselves ?
– Has the honorable member, who is a shareholder, and very likely a director, of a co-operative company, ever attended a meeting of a cooperative dairy company which has been absolutely unanimous in regard to a step taken by its directors?
– I have attended such a meeting.
– Then the meeting must have been held in the offseason. We rarely find producers satisfied with action taken on their behalf. Were the farmers satisfied with the manner in which their wheat was handled during the war?
When the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) was speaking, the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) interjected that it was costing some dairy farmers practically 4s. per lb. to produce butter which was sold, at about 2s. 2d. per lb. wholesale. Of course, it is quite apparent to all that it costs thedairy farmer more to produce 1 lb. of butter during the winter than it does during the spring; when there is a plentiful supply of fodder and the cows have a good flow of milk’, but all the year round, taking one season with another, the cost of producing 1 lb. of butter does not amount to 4s.
The Labour party would give to all producers a fair and reasonable return for the labour they are called upon to perform.. We believe in giving a fair deal all round, not only to the men in the unions, but also to the producers.
– Would the honorable member give the producer the world’s parity ?
– If I had asked the honorable member to accept the world’s parity a few years ago he would have looked at me in amazement. In past years the dairymen of Australia have received more for their butter sold in Australia than they secured in London.
– That is not so.
– Year in and year out, a few years ago, the average price paid for butter on the London market was below the price paid by Australian consumers. I can produce official figures to bear out what I am saying. I would go further than some honorable members of the Country party are prepared to go. I would advocate that when there is a big supply of wheat all the world over, the wheat producer here should be entitled to a fair and reasonable return for the produce he has to sell in Australia.
– The honorable member means nothing by that.
– I do mean what I say. If I ask for a fair day’s pay for the man in the shop, I am also prepared to ask for fair conditions for the proprietary farmer and . the men working on farms. It is the policy of the Labour party to deal fairly and squarely with men who are subjected to undue competition in the markets of the world, but at the same time I demand for Australian workmen the conditions I am prepared to accord to the Australian producers.
– Under the last contract we received 177s. per cwt. for butter for local consumption, while we were getting
– The honorable member is picking out the war period. Would any reasonable-minded mantake the five war years, as representing normal conditions, on which to fix his business arrangements for the next ten years? We can produce butter as good as that produced in any other part of the world. Our average quality may not be quite as good as that of New Zealand, but for our best butter we should not be content to accept less by 7s. per cwt. than New Zealand secures. The High Commissioner for New Zealand, Sir Thomas Mackenzie, has put up such a good fight for New Zealand producers that if they do not obtain the Danish price for their butter they will at least get very close to it. Are the producers of Australia content to accept, in respect of their surplus butter, 7s. per cwt. less than is obtained by New Zealand? I am putting forward figures to which no exception can be taken. I do not hesitate to say that the Danes will receive about 247s. per cwt. net for their butter. It is stated that New Zealand producers are likely to get something like the same price. If that be so, the Australian butter producers, notwithstanding that some of their own representatives have arranged this contract, will receive under it 7s. per cwt. less than their brothers in New Zealand. I say to every producer, “ Get the best price you can for your products in every other part of the world, and we will deal reasonably with you in your own country.”
– I am pleased that honorable members of the Labour party are taking a keen interest in these proceedings. I would point out to them that this Bill is not designed to ratify any agreement made in regard to the sale of our surplus butter; it is merely to give assistance in the carrying out of an agreement -made with the British Government by representatives of the dairymen of’ the Commonwealth. It is abundantly clear to me that the two gentlemen who entered into the contract went to London with full authority to act for the dairymen of the Commonwealth, and the contract entered into by them, is, I think, giving general satisfaction.
– ‘Who elected those delegates?
– They were elected after consultation with the various cooperative butter companies throughout the States.
– “Were there no produce agents represented on the committee which elected them?
– I do not think so. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has found fault with the nature of this contract, and has urged that there should have been an open market. I invite honorable members to consider for a moment what would have happened if there had been an open market. Quite a number of speculators would have bought up our butter, exported it to various parts of the world, and so have obtained the profits which, under this agreement, will go to the dairymen themselves. The contract has been well advised, and the Government, in bringing forward this small measure to assist in giving effect to it, are certainly doing a great deal to insure that the whole of the butter purchased by Great Britain shall be delivered.
No one can say that, having regard to the conditions under which our dairymen work, the price of butter is too high. We have periodic droughts throughout the States. In Queensland, for instance, every third year is a dry one. I well remember the last drought, when the farmers had to spend the little they had in purchasing fodder to keep their cattle alive. We have been told time after time, of the long hours worked by dairymen - we have been told that they and their families are practically the slaves of the industry - and the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) was not far wide of the mark when he said that if the dairymen were to receive fair payment for the hours -worked by them, then 4s. per lb. would not be too much to pay for butter. It is the one industry in Australia in which fair working conditions are not insisted upon. It is unreasonable to expect dairymen to work long hours, and to contend with droughts and the various pests which affect their herds, without receiving anything like a fair return for the work they do. I do not anticipate that this measure will occupy the attention of the House for any time. It is to my mind very important that it should be passed without delay in order that effect may be given to the agreement that has been made with the British Government by the representatives of the industry.
– Why not come up to the collar; and admit that this is really a Bill to prohibit the export of butter?
– It is a Bill to assist the carrying out of the contract entered into by the representatives of the dairying industry and nothing further.
– I have every confidence in the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), who is in charge of this Bill, so far as his treatment of the dairymen of Australia is concerned. He has had personal experience in the dairying industry, and 1 have carefully watched his career during the last few years. I have been on many conferences with him, and he has always endeavoured, in. my opinion, to give a square deal, not only to the dairymen, but to the community as a whole. That, I believe, is his desire in this instance.
The remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) can not be taken very seriously, since he fold us that he was really making a little electioneering address, and that he wanted a few “pulls “ of his speech to circulate amongst the dairymen. I would advise him to keep the report of his speech out of the hands of the coal miners. It cannot be denied that dairying is hard work, involving long hours, and that in the past but little pay has attached to it. There is plenty of overtime worked in the industry, but there is no pay for that overtime. I am pleased that a contract has been made for the sale of our surplus butter at a price which I consider to be only reasonable. We have recently settled quite a number of our returned soldiers on small holdings, and their principal output for some considerable’ time will be dairy produce. They are paying up to £25 per head for their dairy cows, and, having regard to their interest charges and other costs, their efforts will be attended with absolute failure if they do not receive something like a reasonable price for their dairy produce. As to the cost of production, if the dairymen and their wives and children employed in the industry received Wages Board rates of pay I believe that, as the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has said, it would be impossible to sell butter at less than 4s. per lb. We feel that the dairymen have slaved long enough to provide cheap butter and other produce for the masses. The producers have at last been aroused. They have awakened to the fact that all other industries have organized, and they give them credit for their organization. But while others have been uniting to secure better results for their labour, the pro ducers have been supporting first one side and then the other - they have been driven from pillar . to post - and it was due in the end to compulsion, rather than choice, that they organized. The unfortunate farmer will now be able to obtain reasonable treatment. - He asks for nothing more. The price to be paid for our surplus butter under the contract is considered to be very high by some people, who fear that they will have to pay a corresponding price for butter for local consumption. Mv contention is that the dairying community is entitled to the world’s parity for its produce. We do not ask for any favour; we ask only for that which is absolutely fair. Those engaged in manufacturing and other industries feel that they are perfectly justified in selling their labour to the highest bidder. If trade unionists could do better in some other country they would not hesitate to leave Australia. Why, then, should there be any objection to dairymen obtaining the world’s parity for their produce?
Earlier in the day the House engaged in a debate on the coal shortage, and it was urged that an embargo should be placed on the export of coal. If that suggestion be adopted we shall next have a move to place an embargo on the export of wool, wheat, and butter. It has been said that there is full and plenty for all who will work and produce, and those who think that prices are too high should be reminded that the country is wide, and that there is plenty of room for them to apply their energies to production, and thus to bring down prices. When the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) was Minister for Trade and Customs he placed an embargo on the export of butter, and in that way did more harm to the dairying industry than any good he is ever likely to do. The only result of his action was that many of the dairy farmers, losing faith in the industry, gave it up, and the price of butter increased. The “more the producer is penalized in that way the more the community will have to pay.
This contract .is fairly open. Under it we shall have the right to send 50 tons of butter per week to South Africa. That is a reasonable allowance. .The delegates who were selected by the dairymen themselves to proceed to England, pleaded for an open market and the abolition of price-fixing; but we could not get the open market, because the
Imperial Government have control of the shipping, and could take the butter at their own price. I venture to predict, however, that the Imperial Government have given our delegates the price they would previously have taken, and probably a little more, and that within the next few weeks we may even get an increased price. Primary producers generally do not require any “spoon-feeding,” but they do ask for the world’s parity and an open market. As to the butter previously sold at 175s. the producers did not definitely fix that figure; they asked something slightly over, but the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) sold it at that price to the Imperial Government. That contract was certainly considerably under the world’s parity, but the Imperial Government was good enough to give us half the profits on the butter exported, amounting to something like £600,000. In regard to the present contract the -dairymen held a Conference composed of representatives from all parts of Australia, and representing both proprietary and cooperative industries. From every place where dairying was carried on, and there was any organization, a representative was asked to attend; -find, representing the industry to the extent we do, and having had the privilege and honour of appointing our own delegates to send Home, we feel that the bargain made is one that all interested should be satisfied with. This Bill is simply to give statutory power to the Butter Pool to deliver the goods, and I trust it will receive the support of the House, and be disposed of within a very short time.
.– We have the interesting spectacle this evening of our honorable friends in the Government corner, who claim to represent country interests, joining with other honorable members opposite, who represent, amongst other interests, those of the middlemen, in support of a measure, > which I may say at the outset, is not properly described in the title. It is described as the “ Butter Agreement Act of 1920,” a euphemistic name, but really it is a measure to empower the Minister for Trade and Customs to prohibit the export of butter except under certain conditions. The Bill is to confer on that Minister a power he does not already possess under the Customs Act, and is a special measure, the effect of which can not be to increase the price received by the producers for their product from August until March next. In fact, it will be generally admitted that the only purpose that the measure can have is to reduce the price - to keep the price as low as it is fixed in this alleged agreement. I make no apology for addressing the House in the interests of the primary producers, because the platform of the Labour party is framed in the interests of the primary producers and of the consumers of Australia. As I have pointed out before here, the Labour party is the only party that can point to ite platform and its programme as standing for the interests of the toilers, whether on the land or in the secondary industries. Every opportunity should be taken on the floor of the House to point out that fact, and to draw attention to those combinations between the middlemen and the alleged producers’ representatives, of whom we complain. On this side of the House we have honorable members representing primary producing constituencies, and sent here by primary producers. Amongst these are the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Lavelle), the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine), and others. These honorable members, would not be here unless they had been sent by the votes of the primary producers of the country; and they have the advantage that they can command the support of the representatives of such constituencies as Melbourne Ports, Port Adelaide, and West Sydney, with the waterside workers there and all around the coast, who are pledged and bound by the same platform and programme. This party can rely on the support of the miners of Kalgoorlie, Broken Hill, and Charters Towers, and the shearers and shed hands of the Darling and other places; and we can call this army in to the support of the primary producers.
– A good electioneering speech!
– I am not making an electioneerting speech, but a statement of fact to this House.
– Do you not generally talk facts when you are electioneering?
– That is more than honorable members opposite do when electioneering. This measure refers to an agreement which has been entered into for the sale to the Imperial Government of the exportable surplus of butter produced in Australia on and after the 1st July, 1920, and on and before the 31st March, 1921, “hereinafter referred to as the agreement.” We find, however, that the only reference to an agreement is in the title of the Bill, the rest of the measure dealing with the power to prohibit export. First of all, I emphasize the point that this Bill is not to ratify any agreement, and does not purport to ratify any agreement; indeed, we do not know what the agreement is.
– We ought to know.
– I have told honorable members the whole of the terms of the agreement.
– In a somewhat fragmentary way. Some light, however, has been shed on the subject by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), who was able to mention 240s. as the price, though he said negotiations are now on foot to have it increased. Other honorable members, as well as myself, have had experience of “agreements” made in regard to the sale of wheat and wool, but no Minister can now tell us what the agreement was in regard to wool. The Government sent their most competent man to the other side of the world to unravel what the terms of the supposed agreement were, and he became so disgusted while there that he resigned his commission.
– Does the honorable member desire me to read the whole verbiage of the agreement?
– I desire to have the agreement laid on the table of the House, so that we may know exactly what it is.
– I promise to have it laid on the table.
– It is very important that that should be done, so that we and the primary producers may know what it is.
– There is nothing more in the agreement than what I have stated.
– First of all, I say that this is not a Bill to ratify an agreement, and that we do not know what the agreement is that the Bill is intended to support. I deny that the agreement, whatever it is, was made by the producers of Australia. By what authority does the Minister say that the agreement was made by the producers? If the agreement was made by those whoown the butter in Australia, there is no need for any Bill, because they are bound to deliver under the contracts. The Minister admitted, by interjection, that there are four recognised middlemen on the committee. Did I understand the Minister aright ?
– I think there are four.
– It is a combination of middlemen’s representatives, and primary producers.
– And that is not a natural alliance. We all know that on the other side of the world the middlemen will have the predominating influence, and they are helping to make the agreement.
– The butter is to be sold through the ordinary channels.
– That is so- through the middlemen’s representatives on the other side of the world. Is that not so?
– No ; the honorable member is entirely wrong.
– I deny that this agreement, whatever it is, was made by the primary producers themselves or their representatives. I am quite sure there are amongst them men who would not concur in it if they had all the information before them they should have. What will be the effect of the agreement? What is it intended to do? Where is the necessity for it? Who suggested such a Bill? Who insisted on such a Bill? Can the Minister give us any information on those points?
– I gave a great deal of information on them when I introduced the Bill.
– Will the Minister say who suggested such a measure?
– The British Government asked us to support the contract by legislation.
– Did they ask that this should be the legislation? Because the only effect of the Bill will be to compel the primary producers of Australia to send their exportable surplus through a particular channel - through the middlemen - which it has always gone through, at a certain fixed price.
– The honorable member is entirely wrong. The middlemen as such-
– I do not say “ as such.” I say, as combined together.
– Nor as combined together.
– They have the most influence, and control the situation.
– No, they do not.
– The Bill proposes to give the Minister power to prohibit the export of butter, except by the Dairy Produce Pool Committee, or with its consent; and the Governor-General in Council is to have power to prescribe how that committee shall be constituted.- Why is it not provided that the primary producers shall elect the committee, and shall say what its constitution shall be?
– - Had the honorable member followed me, he would know that the conference that authorized this sale authorized the appointment of the existing Dairy Produce Pool Committee to carry it out, ana recommended that the life of the committee should be ex-, tended to enable it to do so.
– The Minister says’ that there are four representatives of ‘the middlemen on the committee.
– And there are thirteen proclaimed representatives of the producers.
– The Bill says that the Governor-General in Council shall have power to make regulations not inconsistent with the Act for carrying out or giving effect to it, and, in particular, for prescribing the constitution of the committee, and the method of election or appointment and the tenure of its members. Why should that be provided if the thing is already done?
– It is not done, and cannot be done until the Bill has been passed.
– The only effect of the Bill will be to compel the primary producers of this country, willy nilly, to send their butter through a certain channel at a certain price, .namely, 2s. 1.6d. per lb. free on board.
– Which they have agreed to do.
– Then there is no need for the Bill. If they have agreed to do it, they are legally bound to carry out the agreement. It is because they have not agreed to it that the Bill is needed to drive them into doing it.
– Do you suggest that a few * scabs “ outside the dairy organization will not put their butter in?
– I am not suggesting that.
– The honorable member is arguing for the non-unionists now.
– It is not the British Government that does the profiteering. This butter will be sent to England for the price I have mentioned, plus so much for transport, insurance, exchange, and other charges. I do not know what those charges will come to.
– I have mentioned that the total cost of transporting the butter to England works out at 9d. per lb. to the consumer.
– But the consumer in England will not be able to buy the butter at 2s. 1.6d. plus 9d. per lb.
– Each party handling the butter in England will get his percentage, in precisely the same way as in Australia, and the grocers there will be allowed a profit of, I think, 3½d. per lb., the consumer paying a fixed price.
– Australian butter is sold in England at the price ruling there for butter, which may be 5s., 6s., or 7s. per lb.
– They will get this butter at a fixed price.
– The price for Australian butter is fixed in accordance with the price obtained for Danish’, Irish, and other butter.
– The., consumer pays more for Irish butter.
– The butter that goes from Australia is sold on the English market for the prices ruling in Great Britain.
– I wish that it did.
– I found that meat was sent from Australia at 4d. per lb. f.o.b., with so much added to cover the costs of transport, and was sold in England at the price ruling for Argentine and other meat. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Penton) referred to the complaint of Sir Thomas Mackenzie, who was continually complaining of the position of colonial producers, at whose expense profiteers on the other side of the world were making huge profits. These profiteers are often the persons who have exported produce from Australia. They have branches in London, and send produce from here to England at a fixed price, plus the cost of transport. This produce is released to them on the other side of the world at this price, and they then put it on the market, and sell it at the ruling rate there.
– That cannot be done under this agreement.
– What is there to prevent it?
– If the honorable member understood how the arrangement worked, he would not ask the question.
– It is because I understand how it works that I draw attention to these things. What need is there for the measure? What would happen to the detriment of primary producers of this country if it were not passed?
– To begin with, in all probability they would have to wait four months for their money.
– There was bound to be some excuse offered. I oppose the measure because it is intended to compel the producers of Australia to send their butter through a particular channel, at a certain price, whether they like it or not. In my opinion, they should be at liberty to export their butter as they like, and to what destination they please.
.- I am not troubled with the difficulties concerning this Bill which seem to beset the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan). The Bill appears to me a simple one, intended to give effect to an agreement which has been made on behalf of the dairymen of Australia. I understand that the great majority of these are satisfied with this agreement, and have sought the assistance of the Government to give effect to it. The step which is being taken is a commendable one. Those who are a party to the agreement may need advances against their butter. They may want money.
– They will.
– Of course, they will, and when this Bill has been passed the Government will be in a position to make advances to the primary producers, to be repaid out of the amount received for the butter. That will be in keeping with the policy with which the Government went to the country, a proper policy to adopt in regard to the primary producers.
– In what part of the Bill is it provided that the Government shall pay money to the primary producers ?
– The Bill is to assist the carrying out of an agreement already come to with the British Government. Regulations may be made not inconsistent with its provisions, and under the power to make such regulations the Government can provide for making advances. That they intend to do so is to be divined from the remarks . made by the Minister (Mr. Greene) in reply to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan). If the Bill is not passed, the dairymen of Australia will not be in the position which they should be in ; but if it is passed the Government will be able to come to the assistance of those who need it, and so do necessary and good work. As to what is a reasonable price to charge for butter to consumers in Australia when butter is being exported largely, and there cannot be a great deal for local consumption, let me say that, in my opinion, the consumer should pay the parity of the world’s price for butter. Why should the primary producer always be called on to make a sacrifice ? He pays the full price, for the implements he uses, the clothing he wears, the necessaries he consumes, and gets no concessions from any one. He should be the last to be called upon to make a sacrifice, seeing that his industry is the most important in the community. It has been admitted by honorable members opposite that a reasonable price should be paid, and, under the circumstances, I have indicated it should be the world’s parity. The measure does not touch the agreement.
– Why talk of the agreement?
– Because the Bill will enable the agreement to be more effectively carried out.
– How do we know that there is an agreement?
– Because the Bill clearly states that an agreement has been
Entered into for the sale to the Imperial Government of the exportable surplus of butter produced in Australia on and after 1st August, 1920.
– If an agreement has been (entered into, there is no need for an Act of Parliament to give effect to it.
– I am not prepared So admit that there is any absolute necessity for it, because the agreement will, of course, still stand; but the measure is accessary to enable the agreement to be more efficiently and effectively carried out in the interests of the primary producers. I cannot say whether the agreement is a fair one or not, and at present that is not my concern, but an agreement has been made by the representatives of the dairying interests of Australia, and She opinion has been expressed that most of the dairy farmers are satisfied with its provisions.
– Did the honorable member advocate the prohibition of the export of butter at Beaconsfield ?
– I do not remem- ber having done so.
– The honorable member said that he would not favour the removal of embargoes on exports.
-I do not remember the incident to which the honorable member is referring, but in a general sense I am opposed to embargoes, because I be- lieve in free markets.
– The honorable member made such a statement at Beaconsfield, because I have a newspaper cutting of his speech.
Mr.ATKINSON.- IfI made such a statement it is not altogether inconsistent with my present attitude, because in this instance the primary producers are satisfied, and they are the ones who are principally concerned. I support the Bill.
– The statement that has just been’ made by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) is of an extraordinary character, because he has admitted that he does not know if the agreement is a fair one or not.
– I did not say that. Those who have entered into the agreement evidently consider it a fair one.
– My Shearing is very good, and the honorable member said that he could not say if the agreement was a fair one, and that he was. not concerned with it. He is evidently in favour of passing the Bill, because he is a good party man, and is going to stand behind the Government, right or wrong.
– I did not say that.
– But it is a logical deduction from what the honorable member did say. He does not know what the agreement contains, and I am sure other honorable members do not. As it is very desirable that we should have an opportunity of perusing the document before passing the Bill, I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) if he is prepared to grant an adjournment at this juncture?
– I cannot agree to such a course, as the dairymen need their money, and it is necessary to pass the Bill.
– One is greatly handicapped in attempting to discuss a measure of this nature in the absence of the agreement mentioned in the Bill.
– I have already given the terms of the agreement.
– One cannot carry all the terms and conditions in one’s mind, and, as the Minister for Trade and Customs has promised to table the document, I am sorry he will not agree to an adjournment. It has been stated that the agreement’ was entered into by the dairy farmers, but I absolutely challenge that statement, because I do not think its provisions were sanctioned by those who are actually engaged in the dairying industry in the Commonwealth. I agree with the remarks made by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Robert Cook), and the honorable member for Lilley ‘ (Mr. Mackay) that the dairy farmers in Australia experience more hardships than, perhaps, any other section of the community.
– And no one is more poorly paid.
– Exactly ; because those engaged in dairying work seven days a week. If there are any workers who deserve the sympathy of the Legislature, they are those engaged in dairy farming.
– Sympathy is of little use.
– Perhaps not; but the honorable member is supporting an agreement which is limiting the price that the primary producer is to receive to 240s. per cwt. f.o.b. until March next year, irrespective of the world’s parity.
– It is an absolute certainty that the price in the agreement will be under the world’s parity.
– I agree with the statement of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Chapman).
– But the producer is anxious to allow the consumers to obtain butter at a fair price.
– Honorable members have spoken as if the producers are satisfied with the agreement, but I am not sure of that. This agreement has been entered into amongst others by four middlemen.
– Who were the middlemen ?
– I have the names of some of them, and during the short time at my disposal I have ascertained that they include Mr. P. J. Holdensen and Mr. J. W. Sandford. Is any honorable member prepared to say that Mr. Holdensen is engaged in the work of dairying, or that Mr. J. W. Sandford, who is a big merchant in Adelaide, is similarly employed ?
– Does Mr. Sandford own factories?
– The honorable member cannot get away from the fact that he is a middleman.
– They are factory owners.
- Mr. Sandford is one of the biggest dairy produce merchants in Adelaide, and it cannot be said that the interests of Mr. Holdensen and Mr. Sandford are in common with those 1 of the men who milk coWs for seven days a week. I have heard it stated by the representatives of the Country party in this , Chamber that they were here to fight the middlem in, and the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) had a good deal to say concerning the middlemen during the election campaign. Notwithstanding the position that the members of the’ Country party were supposed to adopt, they are now assisting the Government in giving effect to an agreement in the interests of four middlemen. I am inclined to think that there is a good deal in the cartoon published isa the last issue of the Sydney Bulletin,, and I am now beginning to realize how appropriate it is. The cartoon to which I refer depicts the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughe?) leading a little lamb which represents the Country party. E cannot get the cartoon into Hansard, bats I shall quote the verse accompanying it which is as follows : - “Billy” had a little lamb, Its fleece was white as snow;
Whichever way that “ Billy “ went The lamb was sure to go.
– Order! The matter which the honorable member is now discussing has nothing ‘whatever to do with the Bill-
– The members of the Country party, who should be working in the interests of the producers, are now allowing themselves to be led by the Government, which brings in an agreement supposed to be in the interests of the primary producers. And yet those who drew up the agreement include four middlemen whom the honorable members in the corner are sup>posed to have been 6ent here to fight. The Labour party is opposed to the middleman as the enemy of the primary producer, and if there were nothing else in the agreement to which I objected, the fact that the Committee which drew it up included four of the natural enemies of the producer would be sufficent te turn me against it. Ever since I came into the House I have objected to the manner in which the producers were cheated in connexion w th the sales off wool and wheat. The wool sale was really not a written contract, but was an arrangement agreed to over the cables, and by means of it the wool-growers suffered! an irreparable lo3S. There is no representative of the farming community who will approve of the manner in which the wool contract was made and carried out The same objection is to be found to the sale of wheat. Right throughout the war period there was blundering unprecedented in the history of this country, an«S as the result the primary producers suffered more than any other section of the community. Now, when the war is over. we are asked ‘to sanction a similar transaction. Again the producers will be the victims of a bad deal, and the trouble is that those who claim to speak for the primary producers are “ in the swim.”
– They are doing their own business this time.
– 1 do not admit that the bulk of the men engaged in the dairying industry had anything to do with the making of this agreement. Certain representatives of co-operative societies and middlemen drew up the agreement, but it cannot be said that any vote of those engaged in the dairying industry was taken to indicate their approval of the scheme, We might almost say that the agreement was made behind the backs of the producers.
– Will the honorable member say that there is a shrewder man in the dairying industry than Mr. Osborne, who was a member of the Committee ?
– I do know that the dairymen were represented on the Committee only to a small extent; but there were other men on it who cannot be said to be representatives of the people who earn their living as dairy farmers. Although the nutter will be sold in Great Britain under this agreement, it will pass through the ordinary channels, and will be handled by the merchants of Tooley -street.
– The ordinary channels of distribution have been used in connexion with all the Pools.
– Exactly. And the butter which will be sold to Great Britain at 240s. per cwt., plus charges,, may be sold in Germany, or some other country at double that figure. That will mean a loss to the primary producer. The same thing happened in connexion with the sales of wheat and wool. When the Australian farmer was receiving 3s. 9d. to 4s. 2d. per bushel the Canadian and Argentine farmers were receiving 9s. to 13s. per bushel, and whilst the Australian wool -grower was receiving 15½d. per lb. for his wool, the growers in other countries were receiving as much as 5s. per lb. more. We are told that the Australian wool producer should be satisfied, because he is to receive 50 per cent, of any profit made on re-sales at prices over and above the fixed rate. There is no small wool-grower in Australia who is not in direct disagreement with that contract. The primary producers have a right to expect that, the war being over, we shall return to normal conditions. They were the greatest sufferers during the war period, but we are asked to perpetuate their hardships.
– What hardships?
– Getting a bigger price for their butter than they received before.
– There are many honorable members on the Government side who will agree with me that this agreement may prove a very great hardship to the dairy farmers: The price is being fixed until March of next year, and no one can deny that it is possible, and, indeed, highly probable, that the fixed price will be much below the world’s parity before the agreement terminates.
– Does not the honorable member think that the people representing the primary producers know their own business as well as he does? That is the whole point of the Bill. ,
– It is not the point of the Bill. I am not satisfied that the majority of the men engaged in the dairying industry know very much about the agreement which the Minister will not let us see.
– The honorable member knows that behind all this talk is the desire to stop export in order to keep down the local price.
– The Treasurer cannot put into my mouth any words he chooses. I received the votes of a large number of primary producers, and I shall do my best to see that they, get the best treatment possible. I am not tied, like members of the so-called Country party, to the actions of the Government. When the Government do something which I think inimical to the interests of the primary producers, I hold myself free to criticise their actions. I ask leave to continue my remarks at the next sitting.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Groom) read a first time.
House adjourned at 10.13. p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 August 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19200818_reps_8_92/>.