8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– In the absence of the Prime Minister, I desire to put before the Treasurer an offer made by the Vaucluse Trust to place at the disposal of the Commonwealth the historic and valuable building known as VauoluseHouse, at Watson’s Bay, Sydney, for the purposes of a permanent war museum. It is a magnificent offer. Money could not buy the house; and I ask the Treasurer whether due consideration will be given to the matter?
– I agree with my honorable friend that the offer is a very fine one. If the building be at all suitable for the purpose I think we shall be very grateful for it.
– Will the Minister for the Navy state when it is anticipated that Flinders Naval Base will have its fall complement of men, and what class of training will be undergone there?
– I cannot give the honorable member offhand the information he desires. The men will be moved to the base with the greatest possible expedition. The first unit has already been despatched, and others will shortly follow.
– Will the Government lay on the table of the House the report submitted at the recent Premiers’ Conference in regard to the unification of railway gauges?
– I see no reason why, at the earliest possible moment, the whole report of the proceedings of the Conference should not be presented to the House. I shall inquire what is doing in the matter.
Exemption from Income Tax.
– Will the Treasurer give consideration to the request of the New South Wales Cricket Association that it should be placed on the Federal income tax exemption list? The fund3 of the association are not distributed amongst the members. The whole of the takings are used in the renewing and preparation of the cricket ground, on which a sum of £5,000 has recently been expended. Will the right honorable gentleman favorably consider the request?
– May I say that, on general principles, any man who desires in this way to get money out of the Treasury is mine enemy. Speaking seriously, I am afraid I cannot give the honorable member a definite reply to his question ; but I can say that the matter will be considered.
– Considerable anxiety prevails in regard to sugar supplies. Can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the House what arrangements are being made with regard to future supplies. Is any attempt being made, as in days gone by, to lay in reserves ?
– We are buying sugar, whenever the opportunity offers, to make good the deficiency between Australia’s requirements and the Australian crop, and our purchases will provide for the necessary carry over of about 15,000 tons.
– Is that in addition to what is necessary to make good the actual shortage?
– Our object is always to have in hand sufficient to carry us over until the new crop comes in.
– On what day does the Treasurer propose to deliver his Budget statement?
– On Thursday next.
– Will the Treasurer state what effect the Royal Commission on Taxation will have so far as proposals may be made in his Budget for relieving of taxation the wealthy section of the community ?
– I will consider that matter.
– Last night we had a very interesting statement from the Prime Minister in regard to the Defence policy of the Government. I desire to ask the Treasurer whether the Government will seriously consider the advisableness of providing for a larger expenditure than is proposed to assist commercial aviation, even if a corresponding reduction has to be made in the contemplated expenditure on Defence aviation.
– I think my honorable friend will find, in the sequel, that the sum of £100,000 to be placed on the Estimates is as much as can be spent during the financial year. The intention of the Government is to develop civil aviation to the fullest possible extent, and if it is found that more money can be spent during the year, I think I can promise that it will be available. May I suggest, however, that before anything else can be dene, a great deal of survey work must be carried out. That preliminary work will involve a great deal of time, and we shall not be expending very much on actual aviation until the latter half of the financial year. I am quite sure that when the end of the year arrives, we shall not have spent the whole of the amount which is to be set apart for this purpose. I shall be glad if we have been able to do so, because I think the matter is very urgent, and the Government so regard it. It was only because the Government felt that no larger sum could be spent within the financial year that the amount to be provided was. fixed at £100,000.
– Having regard to the fact that the Commonwealth was interested in the recent competitive aerial flight from England to Australia, I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether the Government have satisfied themselves as to the circumstances of the death of the late Captain Howell; and, if so, whether they will be good enough to furnish the House with information, by way of a short report, as to the conclusion at which they have arrived with respect to the cause and circumstances of his death.
– I understand that we have no information other than that in the possession of the Defence Department, but I shall make inquiries on the subject. T have been noting carefully, and with great interest, the doubts cast by the parents of Captain Howell upon the reports as to his death. I think that I have also had a personal letter from the widow of Captain Howell, who came out here. I shall telegraph to the authorities’ at Home, asking them to supply us with whatever information they have, and will make available to the House the reply that I receive.
– In view of a promise made recently by the Prime Minister that legislation would be introduced without delay to remedy the present basis upon which Customs duties are levied, I desire to ask the right honorable gentleman when that legislation is likely to be introduced?
– That is a difficult question to answer. I am very sorry that, in making up the list of measures that I thought “stood between us and the temporary end of our sittings, I omitted that Bill. It has, however, to be included in the list. If we are ever to reach a temporary end, we shall have to proceed with business a little more speedily. The best answer I can give the honorable member is that the Bill will be introduced as soon as possible. Getting behind that rather ambiguous observation, I think that one may say that, unless there is a general desire on the part of honorable members to get through the business within a reasonable time, we cannot justify our existence as a Parliament. If, instead of being what I am, I were an ordinary citizen outside Parliament, I should say so, and pretty flatly, too. Talk about the fable of the hare and the tortoise ! Why,
Parliament is at best progressing sideways, and I think it is about time it took a move forward. I suppose that in a few minutes we shall have a motion for the adjournment of the House. That will occupy the best part of the forenoon. Later, no doubt, we shall have some other proposal to delay the business. Thus we do our “work,” and it cannot be said we do it very well.
– The Prime Minister stated last night that aviation schools and stations will be established. Will he make such provision at Canberra, so that honorable members may return to the various capital cities by aeroplane at the week-end ?
– I shall do so. I shall provide single-seated machines, in which honorable members may come and go. In the interests of morality, I do not think I should go further than that.
– Will the Minister for Home and Territories lay upon the table of the Library the reports upon afforestation at Canberra, made by certain experts; also the correspondence in regard to the application of the Department of Repatriation for the employment of returned soldiers in forestry work there, and any other papers throwing light upon the refusal of the Department to permit returned soldiers to be so employed ?
– I shall be pleased to do so. In regard to the latter part of the question, I have no knowledge that the Department has refused permission, as the honorable member suggests.
– Can the Prime Minister inform the House when the civil administration will be. instituted in former German New Guinea?
– We propose to proceed with the New Guinea Bill next week, and as soon as it becomes law an Administrator will be appointed, and civil administration will commence. I hope that it will start within a month from now.
The following papers were presented : -
Papers presented to the British Parliament -
Peace Treaty -
Italian Reparation Payments - Declaration modifying the Agreement of 10th September, 1919, between the Allied and Associated Powers with regard to. Signed in Paris, 8th December, 1919.
Serb-Croat-Slovene State - Declaration of Accession by, to the Treaty of Peace with Austria, the Treaty between the Principal Allied and Associated Powers and the SerbCroatSlovene State, and the Agreements with regard to the Italian Reparation Payments and the contributions to the cost of liberation of the Territories of the former AustroHungarian Empire. Signed in Paris, 5th December, 1919.
Purchase of Saw-mills and Timber Areas in Queensland.
– I have received from the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The purchase of certain saw-mills, plant, and lands in Queensland, at a cost to the Commonwealth of about £500,000, without the approval of this House.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
. -Despite the little pleasantry by the Prime Minister in regard to wasting the time of the House with a motion for adjournment, I make no apology for calling attention to what I consider a matter of very grave importance indeed. When announcing the policy of the Country party, on the 10th March last, I said -
And, above all, there must be a return to parliamentary control of the public purse. The war, thank God, is over, and the earlier this Parliament returns to the traditions of responsible government, the better it will be for the country and the easier for the Ministry. All expenditure of any magnitude should be authorised by this House, and reasonable opportunity should be afforded for its proper consideration. Parliament must immediately resume absolute control of the public purse.
Parliament has the right to protest against matters of such vital importance as this purchase of certain saw-mills in Queensland being notified in the public press before being made known to it while it is in session. Apart from that, a very grave principle is involved. Although Parliament is in session, it finds itself committed to an expenditure of about £500,000 without having had any opportunity of expressing an opinion on the matter. I do not propose at this stage to enter into the merits or demerits of the purchase; but, if this Commonwealth is to embark on a policy of State Socialism, it should be done directly and openly, with the consent of Parliament. We should not have what the Acting Leader of the House (Sir Joseph Cook), when sitting in Opposition, described as “ this pernicious system of sneaking State Socialism into Australia without the knowledge and consent of Parliament.”
– The House happens to have authorized this particular kind of State Socialism.
– I say deliberately that the House did not authorize this kind of expenditure.
– Oh, yes.
– In moving the second reading of the War Service Homes Bill, the present Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) said -
Very wide discretionary powers are given to the Commissioner, but there is a limitation that land or land and buildings exceeding £5,000 in value shall be acquired only with the approval of the Minister.
And section 16 of the Act concludes with these words -
Before exercising any power under this section which involves the expenditure of more than £5,000, the Commissioner shall submit his proposal for the approval of the Minister.
The Prime Minister has adopted the fair and straightforward attitude of justifying the purchase. He announced that the Government had purchased these properties after the matter had been referred to Cabinet. But it is idle to say that power to make these purchases was given to the Commissioner; it was deliberately refused; and, in moving the second reading of the War Service Homes Bill, the
Minister in charge deliberately stressed the limitation that was imposed. An amending Bill, which has been carried through another place, adds that same limitation to section 14, which deals with the delegation of powers by the Commissioner, because there might be some doubt as to whether the restriction applies to delegated powers. The Commissioner did not delegate his power in regard to this particular purchase; he dealt with it himself.
– In that same amending Bill I intend to submit other proposals, which will establish further Treasury control.
Mr.McWILLIAMS.- According to the best advices I have been able to get, the Government have full and complete control over all expenditure of amounts in excess of £5,000. It is a well-known legal axiom that no one can delegate powers greater than those he possesses. If the Commissioner has no power to expend more than £5,000 without the approval of the Minister, most assuredly he cannot delegate such power.
– No one will dispute that contention, but has the Commissioner the power ?
– Unquestionably, he has not the power. The Minister who introduced the Bill distinctly said so; and section 16 of the Act is definite upon that point.
– Never mind what the Minister said ; read what the Act provides.
– Sub-section 5 of section 16 provided that, before exercising any power under that section which involves the expenditure of more than £5,000, the Commissioner shall submit his proposal for the approval of the Minister.
– What power does that section confer?
– The question of delegation does not arise in this matter at all.
– It does to this extent - that the Senate has already passed a Bill to include a new section, which will remove any doubt which may exist as to whether the Commissioner is able to delegate power in respect of expenditure in excess of £5,000.
– The honorable member is entitled to say that it is against the spirit of the section.
– And I am entitled also to say that this project was referred to Cabinet before the actual purchases were made. I can show that the matter of the purchase of saw-mills has been under the consideration of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) for twelve months. I have had some correspondence sent me to-day dealing with the purchase of another timber mill. I propose to read a letter from Mr. F. E. Dixon, as follows : -
Adverting to my interview with your Mr. Morell of a few days ago on behalf of the Rubicon Lumber and Tramway Co. Ppty. Ltd., as arranged, I have now to ask that, in the event ofyour Department deciding to purchase any saw-mill plant, I shall be glad to be given the opportunity of placing this company’s proposition before you with a view to the purchase of same by your Department.
– Was that written to the Minister ?
– It is addressed to the Commissioner, and is dated18th August, 1920; but it follows up a correspondence which began nearly twelve months ago.
– Where is the mill situated?
– In Victoria. In another letter, dated 20th August, 1920, and addressed to the Minister for Repatriation, Mr. Dixon writes: -
When this proposal was first being considered about twelve months ago, I saw the Acting Minister (Mr. Poynton) at the time, who was favorably impressed with the proposition I placed before him, and who told me to bring the matter under the notice of Colonel Walker. I was not able to see the Colonel, but saw Mr. Morell, who told me that his Department had been offered several mills, but it was very unlikely that they would purchase any, so to save his time and mine, it was agreed between us that should they decide to. purchase, I would be given the opportunity of placing my proposition before the Commission.
– What bearing has that on the Act, anyhow?
– I want to show conclusively that the suggestion which has now been made by the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), that the Queensland purchases were carried out by the Commissioner without the knowledge of the Government
– No; I have never said so.
– The Minister certainly never made such a suggestion.
– Then if the project has been sanctioned by the responsible Minister, we can take out all the provisions of the Act, and come back to the solid proposition that the Minister and the War Service Homes Commissioner agreed to this purchase, involving half a million sterling, without the knowledge or approval of Parliament.
– Now you are coming to the point.
– I think it is a very serious matter that a man, after having placed a plant under offer to the Department, and having been told that, before any purchase was made, his offer would be considered, should learn - without any further official intimation or, indeed, without knowledge from any source - that the whole propositionhas been completed.
– The honorable member’s complaint is that there has not been a full and free selection, and that certain parties, who sought to place properties under offer, have been excluded?
– I am endeavouring to put the whole case fully before the House. I think I have established that Cabinet has considered and has had the project in hand for a considerable time.
– Hear, hear!
– And, therefore, that the Government take full and complete responsibility for the deal.
– We have got to do so, anyhow.
– If a proposal of a similar character had been launched when honorable members who are now in Opposition, were in power ; if they had bought £500,000 worth of saw-mills with the intention of running them as a State Socialistic concern, honorable members now behind the Government would have risen in wrath and protested. We have had two or three of these State deals without the consent of Parliament. One of them - I am bound to say - has turned out an exceedingly good proposition. I refer to the purchase of the Strath line of steamers by the Prime Minister (Mr.
Hughes), when he was in London. Undoubtedly, that venture has proved a really good commercial undertaking. But there have been some other State ventures inaugurated under similar circumstances - that is, by the Cabinet solely, and without the approval of Parliament - which certainlyhave not been successful. For instance, there was the purchase of the Shaw wireless plant. That was made a Cabinet matter, and was undertaken without the sanction of Parliament. Then there was another project which, although it did not prove so disastrous politically, has been very much more serious from the financial aspect. I refer to contracts entered into for the building of certain wooden ships-.
– But the honorable member is not suggesting that the test of this kind of thing turns upon the question of success or failure?
– I am not. I am purposely avoiding such a line of argument, although a great deal could be said in regard to that phase; and I might add that certain information has come to hand, by the use of which I could throw an interesting light upon certain specific Commonwealth business ventures. However, when I perused the statement of the Minister for Repatriation, which was read to the House by the Prime Minister, it recalled to my mind boyhood days in the Huon country. I remember that a man came into the timber country to make certain very large purchases of timber supplies. He did splendid business. He bought tens of thousands of palings, and hundreds of thousands of shingles “ in the round “ ; and he paid a deposit. He did not discover what was meant by the phrase “ in the round “ until he went out into the bush to look for his timber. Then he learned that “ in the round “ meant growing trees. Some of the figures proffered by the Prime Minister reminded me very much of ‘that deal.
– As a matter of fact, the honorable member’s interpretation of the phrase is not technically correct. “ In the round “ means when the timber is cut.
– I am not prepared to accept that; and, in any case, the timber was sold as I have described the deal.
If the Queensland project has been put through with the idea that there will be an increase in output from the mills, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the Government will soon find out their mistake. The Lahey Brothers are amongst the hardest-headed business men in Queensland. Do the Government mean to suggest that, as an outcome of those men selling their plant to the Federal authorities, the output of the mills will be increased ? No one will say that men who know the game from A to Z cannot get a greater production than an inexperienced Government.Ihave lived in timber country for the best years of my life. I have never known one big company to make money out of sawmilling in Tasmania.
– I have; and small ones too.
– I repeat that I have never known one big company which has made money out of saw-milling in that State. Of course, the saw-mills during the past two years or so have beenon a far better basis owing to the fact that there have been no importations of American timber, as a result of which prices in Australia have risen by more than 200 per cent.
– That is the profiteering which we want to put a stop to.
– So far as that is concerned, the Prime Minister remarked, in effect, that the State mills are profiteering also - if there is any profiteering at all - because, he said, one cannot buy timber more cheaply from the State mills than from private mills. As for the wooden ships venture, that contract was entered into without the approval of Parliament and it has cost us more than £500 000. Then there is also the wooden shipbuilding venture in which the firm of Kidman and Mayoh were concerned.
– What has that to do with this business ?
– It is an undertaking which was entered into in just the same circumstances; that is to say, without the knowledge or consent of Parliament. And the honorable member has to accept his individual responsibility for the deal, as a supporter of the Government, along with his fellow members behind the Treasury benches.
– The answer to this illustration is that every other country in the world has made similar losses. Some have lost ten times as much money, during the war, upon this same kind of thing.
– If any country in the world has made a worse deal than Australia over its wooden ship contracts
– Well, other countries have done so, and have done far worse.
– I intend, despite opposition, to make use of the figures representing the loss in connexion with the Kidman and Mayoh contract, in regard to which class of deal the Treasurer, and the Prime Minister, say that other countries have done much worse. The Government entered into a contract with that firm for the construction of six ships. The building of four was cancelled, at a cost of £52,000. The other two ships were built, and were sold privately.
– Order! Will the honorable member say how he proposes to connect this matter with the motion?
– The honorable member should not forget that the Americans made a loss at the rate of £13 per ton on their wooden vessels, as against our loss, which works out at £5 a ton.
– I want the House to decide whether the functions of Parliament are to be vested in the Executive, or to remain with Parliament itself. I want honorable members to say, now, whether they are prepared to allow any Minister, or any official under that Minister, to commit Parliament and the country to any enterprise he may select, and to any extent he may choose; and then, for honorable members to be told that it is useless to say anything, seeing that the deal is closed, and is a good bargain. After all of which, when the proposition proves to be a rotten bargain - as some of these ventures have been - there is no course open to honorable members but to stand aside and watch the country pay and look pleasant. I want the House to express an opinion now. We cannot stop this latest deal. It has been completed, no matter what the ultimate cost is likely to be. If the Government were to be compelled to retire to-morrow, it would be for those who succeeded it to carry out the terms of the contract. In all British communities, the principle of inheriting public responsibilities by one Government from its predecessor is unquestionably accepted.
– I hope the Corner party will observe that rule in connexion with Canberra !
– I am afraid there is a tendency to “ side track “ this important issue. I wish the House would decide now whether Ministers are to be allowed to enter into contracts extending over half-a-million in money on projects which this House has not sanctioned, of which it knows nothing, and in regard to which it has, without protest, surrendered its entire power to the Executive. As for myself and the party which I have the honour to lead, we intend, as far as we can, to restore to Parliament its proper functions - its proper power over the purse. This enormous growth of the Executive power has grown up in other countries as well as in this. If we refer to Mr. Sidney Low, or other recent writers, on British politics, we find them making exactly the same complaint - that the individual member, whether in Opposition or behind the Government, has surrendered, and is surrendering daily, the control of Parliament over the public purse. I know we shall not be able to bring this question to an issue now, but I intend to take the first opportunity that offers to have a direct expression of the opinion of the House-
– The honorable member has an easy way of bringing the matter to an issue.
– If the question is not brought to a vote to-day it will not be my fault, for I shall do nothing to stop it. On the contrary, I shall take the first opportunity to have a deliberate resolution of this House that no Minister, or no Cabinet, shall make this Parliament or this country responsible for over a certain amount, and it will be a small amount.
– What amount? Let us know the amount.
– I shall announce the amount when I am dealing with the matter, but I can assure the Prime Minister that it will be very much less than that they have incurred in the sawmilling Socialistic enterprise.
– That is the honorable member’s trouble?
– No, that is not my trouble; but I would limit the Government to an amount less than one-tenth of what they have spent on that enterprise - considerably under one-tenth. The Government are not limited at all now, in the matter of expenditure.
– They are limited under the Public Works Act.
– What effect did that Act have on the purchase of these sawmilling properties ? Was that purchase referred to the Public Works Committee, or to the Public Accounts Committee; or, indeed, to anybody except the Commissioner, who sent in a report, which the Government chose to call for? I am not speaking of the merits of that deal, but entering my emphatic protest-
– Do you suggest that we should limit the amount in that transaction?
– We cannot do that, for the transaction is completed.
– Then the honorable member’s remedy, if the Government do anything wrong, is to censure the Government.
– The honorable member for Franklin talks of Socialistic enterprise. Is he, or is he not, in favour of the Government building homes for the soldiers ?
-I believethe Government would have carried out that work much more satisfactorily under contract. We have heard of some of the arrangements made in connexion with the erection of these homes, and I have no doubt that more will be heard of the matter in the near future. If the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) fancies that the provision of these homes will prove a great advertisement of the wisdom of the Government in entering into Socialistic enterprises of the kind, he is on an exceedingly “bad wicket,” as the near future will prove. I venture to say that a great deal more will be heard about the commissions, rebates, and other circumstances that will not prove quite savoury.
I shall not detain the House longer. My object in rising is to show the Government and the country that there are some members, at least, in the House who will take every opportunity to enter an emphatic protest, to the fullest extent they can go, against the Government exercising autocratic Executive powers to the absolute deprecation of the rights and privileges of this House in the control of the public purse. If we go to a division on this motion, I say very candidly I shall vote for the adjournment of the House, whatever the consequences may be.
– I am very sorry that the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) has moved the adjournment of the House this morning, because there are matters of great importance and urgency awaiting decision. The honorable member, under cover of his motion, has delivered a lecture about what the House ought to do, and, in particular, what the Government ought to do. The honorable member has been a member of this House for many years, and his attitude towards various transactions has been coloured by what may be termed his political prospects from time to time. We are not, therefore, to take his observations this morning too seriously. What, in effect, the honorable member says is that nothing will ever be well with this country until he is at the head of the Government. Singularly enough, we have a gentleman who was returned to this House by virtue of his rather vehement and hysterical denunciations of the sin of gentlemen on the other side - members of the official Labour party - declaring that the only hope for this country is a sort of collaboration . between himself and an honorable member whom Dr. Mannix says is the “ greatest Sinn Feiner of them all.”
– Answer the honorable member for Franklin.
– The honorable member is “ in the bag.”
– But not in your “ bag.”
– The honorable member for Franklin, in speaking of the functions of the Government, says he is much concerned about the country. We know he is not concerned about the country at all. He rises from time to time with a view of creating the impression that he is the fountain of wisdom and knowledge. On the sugar question, he says that years ago he foresaw everything that has taken place, and that the Government foolishly rejected his advice, which would have saved the situation. His advice was to buy sugar ahead; but how were we to do that? After consulting Parliament? No; he said it was to be done without consulting Parliament. Now he stands up in his place, and becomes most eloquent about the right of Parliament to control the public purse, and speaks of the soldier, and the difficulties of housing him. The other day he desired a moratorium in order to prevent soldiers being ejected from their homes. But when it is proposed to erect houses for the soldiers, the honorable member says that we are doing it in the wrong way - that we are flouting the fundamental principle of responsible government. I say these things in order to show that the honorable member’s real motive is not disclosed by his observations, and that his criticisms of the actions of the Government must be taken for what they are worth.
Let us look at the saw-milling transaction on its merits - which the honorable member failed to do for a moment. It is, perhaps, the greatest tribute to the wisdom of the deal that the honorable gentleman was unable to say that, taken on its merits, it was a bad one.
– You will have that presently !
– If the honorable member only realizes, as he will in the course of years, how little he counts in the scheme of things, he will not make interjections of that kind. There was a time when I was nearly as foolish as the honorable member.
– And when it pays me as well to turn my coat-
Several honorable members interjecting,
– Honorable members have only fifteen minutes in which to speak to the motion, and, therefore, I ask them to refrain as much as possible from interjecting, particularly loud and continuous interjections.
– Putting all those matters aside, let us come down to the gravamen of the honorable member’s charge. He says that a basic principle has been set aside; that is to say, the basic principle of the power of Parliament over the public purse. I am amongst the first to recognise that the principle upon which responsible government rests is that the responsibility shall lie where the power is, and that the power and the responsibility shall go hand in hand. The honorable members says that, clearly, the functions of Parliament include power over the purse. I admit that; but the functions of Parliament also include the power of legislation, and, under the power of legislation, Parliament may delegate any or all of its powers to a Commissioner, or to Commissioners, to a Minister, or to anybody it thinks fit. In doing that, Parliament does not derogate from that authority with which it is vested. The honorable member may not be aware of the fact that, by section 5 of theWar Service HomesAct 1918, Parliament deliberately delegated its authority to the Commissioner. That section is -
The Commissioner shall be a body corporate by the name of the War Service Homes Commissioner, and shall have perpetual succession and a common seal, and be capable of suing and being sued, and shall, subject to this Act, have power to acquire, purchase, sell, lease and hold lands, tenements, hereditaments, goods, chattels, and any other property for the purposes of this Act.
It is clear, then, that power is deliberately given to the Commissioner for a specific purpose. What is that purpose? Everybody knows that Parliament cannot of itself do this business. Every day Parliament declares its incapacity for dealing with matters of business, and delegates them to specific bodies and persons. The repatriation and rehabilitation of our soldiers is one of the first duties of the Commonwealth, and is, perhaps, the primary obligation resting on the shoulders of its citizens, but it is not merely a question of at some time housing them; we must house them quickly and effectively. If it is said that the Commissioner is corrupt or incompetent, then Parliament has its remedy. He must be removed from his office. But it is not said that he is either incompetent or corrupt. I want honorable members to look at the Act in the light in which the Government interpreted it. We came to the conclusion that the Commissioner had this power. We may have made a mistake; but ifwe have done so it is a mistake the Crown Law authorities have also made.
– It is a great straining of the Act.
– Far be it for me, a lawyer, to set my opinion against that of a layman in the interpretation of the law. At any rate, that is the conclusion to which we came - we may have been wrong - but whether we have been right or wrong in the matter of the expenditure of large sums of money. I admit freely that any doubt ought to be resolved in favour of the opinion expressed in the House this morning, namely, that the decision should lie with Parliament. However, the Government’s action in the matter was quite bonâ fide; the Commissioner carried out the deal and entered into this contract. True, the actual contract has not yet been signed, but I should think it is certainly one upon which the other parties to it could sue for any breach. However, as it is not yet signed, Parliament has a remedy, subject, of course, to any consequences that might follow upon whatever action it may choose to employ. It is impossible for all the multifarious duties resting upon the shoulders of a Government to be carried out without the aid of experts, who, for all practical purposes, are business advisers. Every day when sugar is offering on the market, we are obliged to make purchases which, in the aggregate, cover a far greater amount than is covered by the transaction under review this morning, in order to guard the Commonwealth against a shortage. Is it contended that the Government ought to come down to this House every time and ask, “ May we buy this cargo of sugar?” It would be impossible to do so. However, that does not mean that that course could not have been pursued in this transaction.
SirRobert Best. - Hear, hear! That is the point.
-I want to put the matter quite fairly. We must differentiate between classes of transactions, and on a fair interpretation of the Act it may be said that the Commissioner had the power to make this particular contract. At any rate, the Government construed the Act in that way. We may have made a mistake. If so, we must avoid making mistakes of that kind in the future.
– The right honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– ‘Can I have one minute longer?
Honorable Members. - No!
– The right honorable gentleman has been “ putting in too much dirt” to get an extension of time.
– He has spent most of his time in irrelevancies.
– My right honorable friend, the Prime Minister, is certainly at all times very entertaining and interesting, but during the greater portion of his speech he did not deal with what was relevant to the matter raised ‘by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. 2£c Williams), or the principle involved in the transaction which the honorable member has brought under the notice of the House. I wish to associate myself with those who protest against the completion of a transaction of this character without consulting the House and securing its confirmation. The Prime Minister seeks to show by the Act itself that the Commissoner had the right to make this contract, and, technically, this seems to bc the case; but the spirit of the Act is demonstrated by a study of section 16, which stipulates that the approval of the Minister must be obtained for any land transaction involving the expenditure of over £5,000. That means that some control must be exercised over the Commissioner. Certainly it was never contemplated that a vast deal, involving the country in an expenditure of £500,000, could be carried out without the consent of Parliament first being obtained. It was not so inserted in the Act, as Parliament relied on the unwritten law and practice for its protection. I regret that the Prime Minister has seen fit to introduce the question of honorable members being in favour of, or against, the erection of War Service Homes, which has jio connexion whateverwith the principle the House has been invited to discuss. We passed the War Service Homes measure unanimously, and we are all anxious that the work of building soldiers’ homes should proceed with the utmost expedition. But if the Government thought it was desirable that this transaction should be entered upon for the purpose of building these homes speedily, the Prime Minister could readily - as he himself admits - have come to Parliament and first sought its approval and confirmation on the merits of the deal. He admits the principle for which I am contending, which 1 hope honorable members generally will scrupulously and assiduously conserve and jealously guard, namely, the power and control of this branch of the Legislature at least over the public purse. It is true that during the war this fundamental principle had to be brushed aside, and government for the time being became government by the Executive, and not by Parliament - there was much to be said in favour of that method of administration; indeed, it was necessary, because of thu emergencies that arose from the dislocated conditions brought about by the war - but for the ‘ past eighteen months, since the war ceased, we have been struggling to secure a return to parliamentary government. My right honorable friend has been so accustomed to act on his own responsibility, and has become so imbued with the idea of undertaking transactions such as this in a light and airy way that he has failed in his duty to consult Parliament on this matter.
– I had nothing to do with it. My only responsibility lies in the fact that a Minister authorized the deal.
– I dispute the principle that the Commissioner, although he may have had a technical right to do so, had a substantial right to deal with this matter. Everybody realizes the basic principle to which the Prime Minister has referred, namely, Che control of the public purse.
– I do not admit that, under the interpretation of the Act, the Commissioner and the Minister had not ample power to deal with this matter.Parliament has given them that power.
-I admit that, technically, the Commissioner had the power to carry out such a transaction; but, as he consulted the Minister, and sought his approval, and he in turn no doubt obtained the consent of Cabinet, I contend that Cabinet ought to have consulted Parliament in regard to this purchase. The right honorable gentleman has very properly discriminated between various transactions, and, of course, the duties of government must be carried on; but he has given away the whole case by saying that, in regard to this contract, Parliament might have been consulted. This deal is one which severs itself from the ordinary class of transaction, such as the purchase of sugar. It is an individual transaction, involving a vast expenditure, undertaken when Parliament is sitting, and upon which it ought to have been consulted. The Prime Minister says that he is satisfied as to the merits of the deal. If they are such ashe claims, and he had brought those merits before Parliament, it would probably have immediately confirmed the purchase. But I have protested on more than one occasion against transactions such as this being undertaken without consulting Parliament. I protested against the shipping purchase, and I now protest against this purchase, which, as I have said, has been carried out without consulting Parliament even at a time when it was sitting. I urge the right honorable gentleman to observe more closely the traditions and practice of parliamentary government. : The suggestion has been put forward that the process of consulting us in regard to a deal of this kind would be too cumbrous, but I do not concede that point. It would have been quite competent for the Commissioner to get an option of purchase for a short period, or to have entered into a contract subject to the confirmation of Parliament. It frequently happens that a contract is entered into by an agent subject to confirmation by the principal within a fixed period.
– But suppose five or six other people are in the field to make the same purchase?
-I am not prepared to admit that this transaction was one of those which several persons were running after and anxious to secure. The precedent created by the Government is one that they may hereafter have reason to seriously regret. It is quite possible that if we had in power a reckless, unscrupulous Minister, who did not realize his duty-
– We would not put such a man in power.
– But we have to consider such a contingency as a reckless, imprudent, and even unscrupulous Minister being in power. Is such a Minister to be at liberty to commit the country to an expenditure of . £500,000 or £1,000.000, or any other sum, without consulting Parliament? And, possibly, it might be in regard to a transaction wanting in merits and bona fides.
– What is the constitutional aspect of this matter?
– Parliament has the right to repudiate the contract, but that would be a very serious step to take. In regard to some transactions Parliament has endeavoured to surround itself with safeguards. I would draw attention in this connexion to the Public Works Committee Act. In that Act we have laid down the prin ciple that any proposed work involving an expenditure of upwards of £20,000 shall be investigated by the Public Works Committee, which shall take evidence and furnish a report to the Parliament, so that we may come to a decision on the facts as to whether the works should be proceeded with.
– Does not the honorable member see the distinction between a departmental work of that kind and the matter now under discussion?
-I certainly do. I am merely speaking of the principle involved. The principle laid down in that Act indicates, I venture to say, the desire of Parliament to exercise control over all undertakings involving a considerable expenditure.
– Will the honorable member reply to the question put by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) as to the constitutional power of the Government to carry on a business of this kind?
-I do not think the Government immediately contemplate entering into a trade or industry, except in so far as it may be incidental to the carrying out of the War Service Homes scheme. We clearly have the constitutional power to build War Service Homes, and there is power also for Parliament to enter into a contract of this kind in order to facilitate the construction of these homes. I rose, however, to enter my strong protest against the action of the Government in entering upon an enterprise of this magnitude without first consulting Parliament. In view of the feeling that was expressed ‘by the House some time ago, I think that the Government have not acted fairly to the
Parliament in entering- into this transaction without first consulting; it.
– I propose to deal briefly with the constitutional aspect of this matter. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), who has just resumed his seat, correctly states the principles of responsible government when he says that Parliament intends that, in regard to all these important transactions, it should have the final voice and the final responsibility. He refers to the safeguards with which Parliament has surrounded itself by means of the Public Works Committee, which it has authorized to inquire into works involving an expenditure of over £25,000. All that he says as to that is true. I merely suggest that the Public Works Committee Act does not apply to this particular transaction.
– I said so.
– The Public Works Committee Act relates to expenditures which are initiated by a Minister.
– I merely referred to the principle laid down in the Act.
– And I am pointing out that that principle was never intended to apply to a transaction of this kind. We passed a special Act relating to War Service Homes. Why was it thought necessary to pass that special Act, creating the Commissioner, and clothing him with full authority, if we already had the necessary safeguards and machinery ? We deliberately took the Commissioner of War Service Homes out of the category to which those safeguards apply. The Parliament, in effect, said to him, under the Act, “ Get along with this work of yours.”
– In moving the second reading of that Bill the Minister in charge of it said that the Commissioner would not have power to spend more than £5,000 without Ministerial authority.
– May I suggest what is the best way of testing that point? The Commissioner is building house? all over Australia. This House has told him to do so. It has given him millions of money with which to build them, and has said to him. “Build them at the rate of 7.000 or 8,000 houses a year if you can.” How could he build houses on that scale if he could not expend more than £5,000 on material at any one time?
– This transaction relates, not to the buying of material, but to the making of material.
– The honorable member will recognise that it is quite impossible that the Public Works Committee Act could be intended to apply to transactions of this magnitude and on this scale. The point I am stressing is that the usual safeguards relating to ordinary Government contracts do not apply to a particular and unique case of this kind. If they did it would not have been necessary to pass the War Service Homes Act for this special purpose.
– We had no idea of anything of this sort being attempted when the Bill was before us.
– The power of the Commissioner is clearly beyond question. The question of whether it was wise to enter into a transaction like this before submitting it to the House is a matter which must be determined by the circumstances of the case. Here are the circumstances as set out in a report made by the Commissioner, to the Minister, on 6th May last -
It has been very evident for some time past that it is impossible to secure supplies of timber at anything like reasonable rates for the erection of War Service Homes. This is largely owing to the operations of timber combines who control prices, and who meet monthly, and each meeting for the past six months has produced a further rise in the price of timber. The Government Departments in Queensland and Western Australia have not been any more reasonable than the merchants.
Owing to the enormous quantities of timber required (80,000,000 super, feet per annum), and to insure continuity of operations at reasonable cost all over Australia, and especially in New South Wales and Victoria, the only policy left to the War Service Homes Commission was to acquire saw-mills and forest areas to meet its own demands, thus insuring supplies at reasonable cost, and allowing thereby the general public to have their original sources of supply for public requirements uninterfered with.
The scheme for timber supplies has been developed as the result of very careful and exhaustively conducted investigations in all States with timber merchants, timber merchants’ associations, and State Government Departments, over a period of several months coupled with a careful investigation of the position in America and the Old World.
Unless the requirements of the Commission are protected at this stage in regard to timber, I gravely doubt the success of the War Service Homes Commission.
I suggest, therefore, that this matter has been initiated, not by a Government official who is always open to the criticism of the public, and with all the safeguards that surround him. It has been initiated by a specially qualified man brought in from outside who knows his job from A to Z. He was appointed to this position, and clothed with special authority to do this work, which is of a unique character.
– Does the honorable member say that the Commissioner knows all about timber from A to Z?
– I should imagine he does.
– Is it only imagination after all?
– May be it is. But does the honorable member think that the Commissioner relies solely upon his own judgment in all these matters? Nothing of the kind. He relies on experts as well. All that I have said is that the Commissioner knows his business. He has a knowledge of timber and bricks, and other material. As to the financial and business side of this undertaking, the best authorities obtainable by the Government were appointed to inquire into this side of the matter, and they reported absolutely in its favour.
The point that I wish to emphasize is that the War Service Homes scheme has been taken out of the category of ordinary Government contracts - and taken out deliberately by this Parliament. The distinction between such an undertaking and other projects is illustrated by the business paper for to-day. Honorable members will see on the business paper a Bill relating to an arrangement that has been made with a body of men in Western Australia, to erect silos in that State. That matter is brought to the’ House for its consideration. The point is thus emphasized that the building of War Service Homes has been taken out of the ordinary category of works initiated by the Minister.
– Who finds the money, that is the point?
– The public, of course, but the real point is as to who initiates the spending of the money. In this case, it is not the Minister, but the Commissioner. The House has said to him, “ You must take the initiative. Your service shall not be conducted as an ordinary department. We create you a body corporate and we instruct you to initiate all these things. You must buy the land and material, but as to land purchases, we subject you to the stipulation that you must not buy more than £5,000 worth in one lot without Ministerial authority.”
– If the right honorable gentleman had made these statements on the motion for the second reading of the War Service Homes Bill, it would not have been passed.
– Perhaps not. I suggest again, however, that when Parliament instructs a man to build these homes as rapidly as possible - to build them at the rate of 8,000 per annum, if he can do so- it is useless to say that he shall buy only £5,000 worth of material in any one lot.
– We do not say that.
– That is the point involved.
– It is not, because the Minister has power to give him permission to buy more.
– And the Minister has given him permission. That appears to be the trouble in this case.
– Will the right honorable gentleman tell the House why he gave the Commissioner permission to enter into such a large contract?
– My impression is that the Minister gave him this permission because he believed it to be the intention of Parliament that the matter should be so dealt with. If a mistake has been made, it has been a perfectly innocent one. I beg honorable members to believe that no more painstaking, careful and scrupulous Minister than Senator Millen ever held office.
– I quite agree with the honorable member in regard to that point.
– Were there any business reasons why this deal should be made secretly ?
– I suppose the honorable member refers to the fact that the matter was not submitted to Parliament. The Commissioner was constantly stressing the point that he could not proceed with his work and that was how the schemeoriginated. The Commissioner told the Government that he could not build houses, and he could not carry on the job unless hewas given permission to buy m ills which would supply his timber requirements.
– He said that the people were combining together and charging him excessive prices.
– That means the same thing. He told us that unless he could rely upon his own resources he could not carry through the work for whichhe was appointed.
– Will the Treasurer inform the House what experts verified the Commissioner’s report as to the advisability of this purchase?
– I know that Mr. Barton was one of them.
– He dealt with the financial aspect, but other experts were consulted.
– Yes. I ask the House to believe that if there has been any technical breach of a sound and healthy constitutional practice with which I am in hearty accord, it has arisen from the fact that the Minister for Repatriation believed that this House intended that the Commissioner should have power to proceed in this way. Only in that belief was the transaction undertaken.
.- I very much regret that the papers relating to this matter have not been laid upon the table. I am not blaming the Minister, because he has assured me that some of the papers are in Sydney, and that he has made every effort to get them here in time. But it is a matter for regret that we are not able to consult the files so that we might be able to discuss in more detail the merits of the purchase. I hope that never again shall we have an exhibition such as the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) save us to-day. If there is a repetition of that sort of conduct, I will do my best to remove him from office as speedily as possible. He will have to behave himself in this chamber. We have had too much of that sort of thing from him. He must not proceed further in creating grave sectarian differences in the House, and insinuating charges of disloyalty against those who dare do anything in opposition to him. While the war was on it was essential that the Government should take grave responsibilities on many occasions without consulting Parliament. They did many things that were right; on the other hand, they made many mistakes, as they were bound to do. We are prepared to forgive the errors that were committed under the abnormal circumstances existing during the war time but now that the war is over the members of the Country party are pledged to do their utmost to restore constitutional methods and parliamentary control of the purse. We made that promise to our constituents, and are determined to enforce it, no matter what the cost. Probably the Government were technically within their rights in’ authorizing this purchase, notwithstanding that the Act states specifically that not more than £5,000 can be expended by the Commissioner without the consent of the Minister. The Minister has given his permission in connexion with this transaction, so that, technically, the Act has been observed, but the purpose for which it was passed was to enable the Commisioner to build homes, not to enter into a trading concern. Undoubtedly there has been a grave straining of the meaning of the Act. It is true that a lawyer might say that technically the Government had the power to do this thing, but it was never intended by Parliament for a single moment that the Commissioner should commit the country to a purchase involving a very large sum of money and a new policy involving vast commercial and trading concerns. Let us assume that the Commissioner and the Minister had justification for the transaction. The Commissioner has to build an enormous number of homes for soldiers, and he has experienced a difficulty in getting material for that purpose. He desires to build them at a reasonable price. Every honorable member has a similar desire, for we do not want the buildings to cost £200 or £300 more than they should. The Commissioner says that the businesspeople who control timber supplies have increased their prices so much that he cannot pay them and erect the houses at a reasonable cost. He has, therefore, bought a number of old saw-mills. By so doing, he has not given the community one extra foot of timber.
– He is supplying the timber at a much cheaper rate.
– It must be remembered that these mills are old. I make no charges, hut it is only fair to assume that if a mill has been working for ten or fifteen years a big proportion of the surrounding timber has been cut out. The price of Queensland pine has been jumping up by leaps and bounds, and, owing to the scarcity of freights, very little pine has been received from the Ba’ltic and America in recent years. The Commissioner estimates that he has acquired 97,000.000 feet of Queensland pine in the round, from which he hopes to get 65,000,000 superficial feet of timber, which he values at £1,811,875. He hopes to have that timber cut and available in Sydney at a cost of £1,2S3,750, showing an effective saving to the soldiers of £528,125. That was one of the chief reasons which he adduced in support of the transaction, and which induced the Minister to approve of it. But when he presented to the Government the report which induced them to authorize the purchase, he did not tell them that he had entered into a contract with a big saw-milling company in Queensland for a three years’ supply of timber at the rate of 6,000,000 feet superficial per annum, at 32s. per 100 feet superficial - say, 35s. in Brisbane.
– ‘That fact was known all over Australia.
– Yet, in order to show this alleged saving of £528,000, he valued the timber he had acquired at 56s. per 100 feet superficial.
– I know the details of that transaction, and there is a complete answer to the honorable member’s point. That particular contract was entered into by the company for the supply of a stated quantity of timber out of stocks, which they had acquired when they purchased royalties at 5s. per 100 feet. Royalties at that price ‘cannot be obtained to-day, nor could timber be purchased at 3os. per 100 feet superficial.
– Surely the increase in the royalties does not account for the difference between 35s. and 56s.
– The royalties have risen to 15s. The Commissioner could not make another contract of that kind today.
– That contract was made within the last few months; further, royalties have not increased more than 7s. 6d. per 100 feet super. The Commissioner estimates to cut 12,000,000 superficial feet per annum; that will allow him five and a half years’ cutting. Does any honorable member believe that within the next two or three years, when shipping increases, and the importation of Baltic timber is resumed, Queensland pine will have anything like the value which the Commissi oner has placed upon it? I mention these facts merely as one indication that even the wisdom of the purchase is open to question.
– What does the honorable member propose to do to build homes for soldiers?
– Possibly this purchase was a good one, but my point is that the Government should not have entered into a contract of this sort, when Parliament was in session, without getting the approval of Parliament. I think the honorable member will agree with that contention. Furthermore, I object to the Commonwealth entering into competition with private enterprise. Make no mistake, there is a commercial section who are thieving and robbing the com.munity for all they are worth, and it is time that the States and the Commonwealth combined to enact a law that would prevent restraint of trade, and make it a criminal offence for business men to organize in order to force up prices day after day and month after month. We require not Commissions to fix prices, but legislation which will deal effectively with combinations in restraint of trade.
– We will help the honorable member to do that any day.
– Unfortunately, this Parliament has not much power to deal with trading in a State. In this matter, we should endeavour to induce the States tq join with us, because I am satisfied that any persons who, particularly at a time like the present, will combine to force up prices, are guilty of a criminal action.
– Would the honorable member make that law apply all round?
– Most decidedly.
– The honorable member referred to the saw-mills as a trading concern. They are merely to supply the Government’s own requirements.
– I understand that; but we must realize that other Government factories are trading. The Commonwealth Clothing Factory is tendering in the open market in competition with tailors in Melbourne.
– The worst of it is that we get up to the neck in it, ana cannot get out of it.
– And now the Minister seeks to approve of a further instalment; of a vicious policy. The right honorable gentleman knows that the Government have strained the meaning of the War Service Homes Act. It was never intended to give permission to the Minister or the Commissioner to spend large sums of money upon trading concerns of this description. If the case had been fairly placed before Parliament, and this House had been informed of the difficulties which the Commissioner had experienced, and assured that the investigations had disclosed that the proposed deal was a satisfactory one for the Commonwealth, it would have received the sympathetic consideration of every honorable member in the interests of the returned soldiers.
.- Extraordinary statements have been made during this debate by honorable members of the Corner party, and the last speaker, dealing with traders generally, referred to thieves and robbers who should be criminally prosecuted.
– I spoke of those who combine in restraint of trade.
– There are precious few traders in the community who are outside that category. They are practically all in Rings and Combines. However, in view of the extraordinary interest taken in this debate, I think that the Government should agree to suspend standing order 119, so that a longer time may be available to discuss this matter. A number of other honorable members are desirous of speaking, and a vote could be taken before the House adjourns this afternoon. I ask the Government whether they will agree to an extension of time.
– I will endeavour to give the honorable member an answer in a few minutes.
– I trust the Government will agree upon an extension, for the position is really very serious. Honorable members - either by their speeches or by interjection -have indicated as much. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), for example, who is a most docile supporter of the Government, agrees that there should be full discussion, and desires to take part in the debate.
– I suppose this matter can be tested this afternoon - that if an extension is granted the motion will come to a test?
– Yes.I should certainly say so.
– Very well! On that understanding we will go on.
-It is all-important. I do not know whether I have the right to move, now that I have already risen to speak to the motion, for an extension of the period of debate. I take it that a member of the Government, will move in that direction, however. Then there should be a definite understanding that a vote will be taken before the adjournment.
– You are going to insist on a vote?
– I certainly think there should be a vote.
– After the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) we ought to have a vote. I am willing that a vote shall be taken.
– Then, with the consent of the Government, I will move for an extension of time.
– The honorable member must move to suspend the standing order.
– The matter is allimportant, as every honorable member perceives. I believe that the Government should own and control these projects. Other honorable members believe that there should be free competition, despite the fact that a leading member opposite, namely, the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), has stated, not that nearly the whole of these enterprises are in Rings and Combines - although I say so-
– But the two State Government enterprises, namely, those of Western Australia and Queensland, have fixed their prices on exactly the same charges as those of the Combine itself.
– The facts are just as the honorable member says. It is quite possible that the persons controlling these enterprises for the Government may be out of sympathy with State enterprises. But the fact remains that, where genuine State concerns are running in undoubted competition with private companies, they go ahead. Take, for example, the institution of a State Insurance Department in Queensland by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), when he was Premier of that State. That Insurance Department has done great practical good in reducing the cost of insurance. I support the principle generally, and I hope the Government will furnish an opportunity for the taking of a vote. Last night the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton) pointed out, when moving the second reading of the War Service Homes Bill, that that Department has been able to build more cheaply than people outside, for the simple reason that it has taken advantage of the market. Honorable members who arc attached to the Public Works Committee can testify to the costs which private individuals have to meet. Enormous prices have been charged for building materials.
Since the Government have promised to agree to an extension of time to enable a vote to be taken before the adjournment this afternoon, I think honorable members will be satisfied with that understanding.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) put -
That an extension of time be granted until 3.45 p.m., when a vote shall be taken.
The House divided.
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
Debate interrupted under standing order 119.
– I rise upon a matter of privilege. I desire to draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the action and statements of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) during the division. After the bells had been set ringing, the right honorable gentleman crossed the chamber, and came to me and said, “ Look here, Charlton, if you vote against theGovernment I will withdraw the Industrial Peace Bill.” I have never known of such an incidentduring my association with this Legislature, nor have I seen elsewhere or heard of such an exhibition as that of the Prime Minister just now. I am not responsible for the introduction of the Industrial Peace Bill. That is a matter for which the Government stand responsible. Honorable members know that I did all I could to improve the measure in order to prevent an industrial crisis; and I now say to the Prime Minister, “ Withdraw the Bill if you like, and you can have the industrial crisis tomorrow, and take the fullresponsibility for it.”
– I desire to make a personal explanation. Before the luncheon adjournment I understand that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), by way , of privilege, made some remarks in reference to an observation made by me to him prior to the conclusion of the division then being taken. I desire, first of all, to tender to that honorable member, and to the House, an apology for making that observation. I had no right to make it. I think I ought, in justice to myself, to explain why I did make it - not by way of justification for making it, butin explanation. The honorable member for Hunter, on Thursday, I think, speaking on behalf of the organization with which he is so closely associated, told me that it was vital that the Industrial Peace Bill should be passed into law at the earliest possible moment. He gave me very good reasons why that should be done. I explained to him the position of public business, and said that I would do everything in my power to pass the Bill into law this week. That being the case, and. as I had listed the Senate’s amendments in the Industrial Peace Bill for to-day, I naturally felt considerably annoyed at the honorable member voting for a motion which would have the effect of preventing my doing what he had asked me to do. I feel called upon to make this explanation, which as the honorable member understands quite well, is in accordance with: the facts, in justice to myself; but, as I have said, this does not in any way lessen, nor is it to be taken as extenuating, what I did. That, I admit quite frankly, was most improper; and I ask the honorable member to accept my apology.
– I only desire to say that I accept the Prime Minister’s apology.
In Committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) :
Verbal amendments in clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 11 -
The powers and functions of a District Council shall include the following: -
Senate’s Amendment. - Leave out “ employer or recognised organization of employees”; insert “or associations”.
– I move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
This is a consequential amendment made by the Senate as the result of an amendment introduced by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton). A number of amendments had to be made inserting the word “ associations,” and in one clause this word was not inserted.
.- There is a slight difference made in this clause as compared with what it was when it left this House, even allowing that if is an alteration to bring the clause into conformity with previous clauses. It will be noticed that it is proposed to leave out ‘ ‘ employer or recognised association of employees,” and to insert “ or associations “ after “ persons.” There was a debate in Committee here on that very point. “We endeavoured to insert an amendment to provide that associations that had access to the Tribunal should be associations recognised bythe Trades Hall Council. That amendment was defeated, and it was afterwards decided to insert “ recognised organizations.” I do not quite know what the effect will be of striking out the word “recognised.” It might permit the admission of organizations that are not recognised as trade unions.
– This clause has only to do with District Councils.
– So long as it is clear that it is only a verbal amendment, I am satisfied.
– So far as I know, it is only a verbal amendment.
– I only desire to have the matter made quite clear. Personally, I think the Prime Minister is correct. In the immediately preceding paragraph of the clause there are the words “ or by any employers or employees or association of employers or recognised organization of employees.” There, it will be observed, the word “ recognised” is retained.
– If the honorable member looks at paragraph c of clause 7, which deals with the powers of the Commonwealth Council, he will see that amongst those powers is that “ to confer with any persons or associations as to any matter affecting the prevention or settlement of industrial disputes.” The amendment we are considering is to bring clause 11 into harmony with clause 7.
Motion agreed to.
Verbal amendments in clauses 15, 17, and18 agreed to.
Senate’s Amendment. - After sub-clause ( 1 ) insert the following now sub-clause: - “(1a) Of the members other than the chairman, one-half shall be representative of employers, and one-half shall be representative of recognised organizations of employees.”
– I move-
That the amendment be agreed to.
At the request of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), the number of members to constitute a Local Board was fixed, but no provision was made to say how many should be representative of employers and how many representative of employees. This amendment is to remedy that defect.
Motion agreed to.
Verbal amendment in clause 23 agreed to.
New clause 28a -
Senate’s Amendment. - After clause 28, insert the following new clause: - “ 28a. During the currency of any award or order made by a Special Tribunal or a Local Board under this Act, the Court shall not have jurisdiction to make any award or order inconsistent with any such award or order.”
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That the amendment be agreed to.
.- I imagine that this amendment provides that an award made by a Special Tribunal cannot be altered by the Arbitration Court; in other words, that the findings of these Tribunals cannot be interfered with by any other Court.
– We cannot interfere with the awards of the Arbitration Court except in certain circumstances, and the Arbitration Court cannot interfere with the awards of these Tribunals; otherwise there would be no finality.
Motion agreed to.
Resolutions reported; report adopted.
Debate resumed from 3rd September (vide page 4208), on motion by Mr. Poynton -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- The Minister introduced this Bill on Friday last in a very brief speech, pointing out that it merely contains one or two verbal amendments, which are designed to bind certain persons, such as boardinghousekeepers, to secrecy ; but I wish to take this opportunity of asking whether, in connexion with the forthcoming census, it would not be possible to take another wealth census similar to that which was taken five years ago, during the Avar. I have had a consultation with the Statistician on the subject, and I shall be very pleased to fall in with what he suggests. Statistics have no value unless they can be compared with figures relating to some time in the past. We may know that the population of Australia is about 5,000,000, but the knowledge is of little use to us unless, by comparison with other figures, we can ascertain what the increase has been over a given period.
– Does the honorable member really believe that a wealth census will be of any value?
– I do. When the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the then Treasurer (Mr. Watt) whether he would make available the increase in the incomes of certain persons, indicating them by numbers instead of by names, the Treasurer replied, as Sir Alexander Peacock had previously done in the Victorian Parliament, that information which contained income tax returns was confidential, and could not be disclosed. I am now taking this opportunity of endeavouring to secure that information through a wealth census. Figures gleaned by Mr. Knibbs from the last wealth census, if I remember rightly, showed that about seven-eighths of the female workers in the community were not earning muchmore than £1 per week. Ex-Senator Grant at that time was largely interested in obtaining returns as to the unimproved value of estates in Australia. There has been an enormous increase in land values, and also in the value of herds. The values are far in excess of those which the Income Tax Department allows.
The Department allows the graziers, for the purpose of their income tax returns, to estimate the value of their sheep at 10s. per head, No one sells a sheep for that price to-day.
– But that is over a series of years.
– The honorable member will be able to put his own views as to that mattter. Before interviewing Mr. Knibbs, I thought it would be possible to distribute simultaneously with the ordinary schedule to householders, a wealth census card, and that we would be able to ascertain in that way, not only the wageearning capacity of the community, but also what is an average family. The latter point was raised by a deputation which waited quite recently on the Minister, and urged that, in taking the census, information under this heading should be obtained, since there is a keen controversy as to whether an average family consists of more or less than three individuals. Mr. Knibbs has informed me by letter, however, that it would be difficult to obtain information in this way as to the wageearning capacity of each household, since people would not be disposed to make known their financial position to the collectors of cards. The only way in which to obtain a reliable wealth census is by means of letter returns directed to the Department. As I understand that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) wishes to introduce another measure, I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I move -
That this Billbe now read a second time.
This is a Bill to ratify an agreement made between the Commonwealth and Mr. Basil Murray, managing director of the Westralian Farmers Ltd. It is proper to state, at the outset, that the farmers of Western Australia have made great strides in the direction of co-operation, and have set an example which I hope will be followed by farmers in every State. Their organization is conducted on business lines, and comprises a very large proportion of the farmers of the State. The possibilities of the development of
Western Australia are almost illimitable. Amongst other things, it is a great wheatproducing State. Its potentialities in that direction are almost infinite. The farmers of Western Australia recognise that if they are to hold their own in the normal years that are to come, they must be prepared to land their wheat in the markets of the world at reasonable rates. To that end, they realize that all unnecessary expense must be eliminated. They are men of progressive ideas, and they recognise that the present practice of bagging wheat is uneconomic. The present high price of jute imposes a very serious handicap on the producer. Various suggestions have been made to the Commonwealth that it should make arrangements with the jute merchants for the purchase of jute, and distribute it amongst the farmers. I should like to point out, however, that whatever the Commonwealth might do, it could have no possible control of the world’s price of jute. The added cost of the production of wheat, as a result of bagging, must be very considerable, and in the future will, I think, be still more considerable. One of the phenomena of which I spoke last evening as being the aftermath of the war, is that the workers in Eastern countries are demanding higher wages. That, together with the depreciation of money, means that jute goods will continue to be high in price. The Western Australian farmers, therefore, have decided to adopt bulk handling. That involves the erection of silos for storage and terminal elevators for loading wheat into vessels. Incidentally, it also involves structural alterations in wheat-carrying vessels.
Recognising all these things, the farmers of Western Australia decided to form a company for this particular purpose, and their representative approached the Commonwealth Government and asked for its co-operation. The Commonwealth Government was returned upon a policy of assisting by every possible means co-operative effort amongst the farmers. It, therefore, welcomed this proposal of the Western Australian farmers, and looked upon it from its inception with friendly eye. Negotiations were carried on for some considerable time between myself and Mr. Basil Murray, to whom I wish to pay my tribute of recognition as an up to date business man who has the interests of the farmers at heart. The result of these negotiations, which were somewhat protracted, has been embodied at last in an agreement. The points outstanding between the parties have been adjusted and are set out in the agreement which I have signed subject to ratification by this Parliament.
I shall briefly recapitulate the main heads of that agreement, which is set out in a schedule to the Bill, so that honorable members may concentrate their attention upon them. The agreement with the Westralian Farmers Limited is to lend £550,000 for the purpose of erecting silos and elevators for the bulk handling of grain. The estimated cost of the scheme is £800,000, of which £250 000 is to be provided by the farmers, and £550,000 is to be loaned by the Commonwealth. The period of the loan is twenty years. The interest on the loan is 6 per cent., or such higher rate, if any, as the Commonwealth may pay on the loan from which the advance or any instalment thereof is made. That is to say, whatever we pay they pay. The object of the company is, as I have said, to erect and operate silos and terminal elevators for the handling of grain in bulk in Western Australia. The company is not to traffic in grain, but to act only as operators of silos and elevators. The shareholders of the company are the farmers who own the grain, but the company does not traffic in grain ; it merely handles it and operates the silos and elevators. It is provided in the agreement that the company - shall receive and deal with grain from nonshareholders of the company upon the same terms and conditions as it receives and deals with grain from shareholders.
Therefore, this company is not a close corporation designed to erect silos and elevators mainly for the benefit of its own shareholders. It offers the same privileges to every farmer. The engineers employed by the company to design and supervise the erection of silos and elevators are to be approved by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is advancing £550 000 of its own money, and it is of importance therefore, that the design shall be satisfactory, since these silos and elevators will be the security for our money.
I wish to direct the attention of the House to the fact that the company, as an earnest of its bona fides, is to spend £100 000 of its own money before it receives any from us. I commend that to co-operative effort throughout the Commonwealth, and, in passing I desire to say, once and for all, that what we are prepared to do for Western Australia we are prepared to do for every State on these terms. There is here an earnest of the bona fides of these farmers that should appeal to every man. They are prepared to back the venture with their own money. It would he a bright day for this Commonwealth if, in every State, the producers, not merely of wheat, but of other products that lend themselves to co-operative effort, would take similar action. The ‘Commonwealth is prepared to encourage the producer, who in turn must show that he not merely desires to lean against the Commonwealth, but is prepared to stand on his own feet, and stake his own money. The security to be held by the Commonwealth is an important consideration, because we are the guardians of the people’s money. The company is to deliver to the Commonwealth first mortgages and other securities over its assets, real and personal, including uncalled capital. To briefly recapitulate the advantages that will accrue from the scheme: There will be the saving of expenditure of many thousands of pounds per annum on the purchase of cornsacks, upon which approximately £200,000 is yearly spent in Western Australia alone. Those figures will carry conviction to every fanner throughout Australia.
– That amount is based on the present high value of jute goods.
– I have already said that there is little prospect of the jute market falling, owing, firstly, to the appreciation of money, and, secondly, to the fact that labour in Eastern countries is demanding higher wages, which will mean increasedcostof production. I do not know that we need regard the latter fact as an unmixed calamity; it has its good and its bad sides. The second advantage willbe the prevention of deterioration and loss of grain, such as are caused by mice, weevils, &c. That is important, because through those factors the Wheat Pool lost very many hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of grain. The third advantage will be the saving of unnecessary handling, and consequent waste. There willbe facilities for prompt handling,both at the railway siding and at the ship’s side. The grain will be handled in a fraction of the time now occupied. Under the bulk-handling scheme, Australia will be in a better position to compete in the world’s markets than under the old system of bagging. The construction of grain silos and elevators in New South Wales was carried out entirely at the Government’s expense, the money being advanced to the State Government by the Commonwealth Treasury. In Western Australia the farmers are contributing £250,000, approximately one-third of the cost of the scheme. The silos and elevators in that State are to be controlled and worked by private enterprise, and not by the Government. I commend the Bill to the House, and hope there will be little delay in its adoption. My only regret is that I am not in a position to bring before the House a similar agreement for each State. I hope that the farmers of Australia will realize the tremendous advantages that are conferred by bulk handling, and recognise that the arguments used against the system are mostly adduced by interested persons, who handle jute goods, or in some other way have an axe to grind. Bulk handling has come to stay; already the Commonwealth has invested millions of pounds in it. I hope that before long I shall have the privilege of introducing other measures of this character.
Mr.Fenton. - What will be the value of the security to be held by the Commonwealth?
– The whole of the money is to be spent in the erection of silos and elevators, over which theCommonwealth Government will have a first mortgage. Before we spend one penny, the farmers must spend £100,000. Thereafter the expenditurewill be in the same proportion as the contributions to the total cost of the scheme ; that is to say, of all expenditure after the first £100,000 the farmers will provide one-third and the Commonwealth two-thirds. We shall be lending on a 66 per cent. margin, which, I think, in an ordinary transaction, any hanker would regard as a sound business proposition. At any rate, the security is quite good enough for the Commonwealth and I recommend the scheme to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Tudor) adjourned.
House adjourned at 3.6 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 September 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19200910_reps_8_93/>.