8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Guarantee for 1920-21 Harvest:
– In the absence of the Prime Minister, can the Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers) give any information to the House as to the cash payment by the Commonwealth over and above that which has already been decided upon as a payment by the New South Wales Government in respect of wheat?
Me. RODGERS.- The Prime Minister has summoned a Conference of representatives of the wheat States of the Commonwealth, at which all matters affecting the coming harvest will be dealt with.. At. present the Commonwealth and the wheat: States are committed to a guarantee of 5s.. per bushel at the railway station. Having regard to the substantial nature of that guarantee, and to the. world’s market, I do not think it advisable for the Commonwealth to enter into any further commitments. australianflour
Complaints from South Africa.
– Does the Honorary Minister know anything of complaints by South African merchants and bakers regarding the quality of Australian B grade flour, and of the alleged unreliability of the certificates of the Commonwealth Wheat Board? Will the honorable gentleman make inquiries with a. view to the protection of Australia’s good name?
– Beyond comments in the newspapers with regard to secondgrade Australian flour, I know nothing of the matter. I have seen no representations from the South African Government. The world knows the value of Australian wheat, for special purposes, and no comment of the character referred toby the honorable member is likely to depreciate its good name. With regard tothe honorable member’s request, I shall be very pleased to make inquiries as. to any Australian flour on the. markets of the world not being up to standard, and to inform him of the result.
-In the absence of the Prime Minister,. I desire to ask the Treasurer whether the Cabinet has given, any further consideration to my suggestion that the sittings of the House should be suspended, if for only a short time, to enable honorable members to visit the Royal. AgriculturalSociety’s Show at Flemington ?
– On what day does the honorable member suggest that there should be a suspension of the sittings?
– My suggestion is that we should not meet as usual; on Thursday morning: That would give honorable members an. opportunity to visit the grounds.
– I may tell my honorable friend that I propose to move that the House at its rising adjournuntil 7.30 p.m. to-morrow.
Mr:Fenton. - That will do.
– This special adjournment is designed to enable honorable members to attend the garden parity to be held to-morrow, in. order that we. may take leave of His. Excellency the Governor-General and Lady Helen. Munro Ferguson. I also intend to move that in future, we shall meet on Thursdays at 2.30 p.m. instead of at 11 a.m.
– Commencing on Thursday next?
– Yes. If my motion be carried we, shall not sit on Thursday morning.
– (By leave.)- I move -
That, unless otherwise ordered, this House shall meet on each Thursday at 2.30 o’clock p.m.
We have not found the Thursday moaning sittings a success. I doubt very much, whether they lead to the despatch of business. They do lead to-
– Irritability and illtemper.
– The honorable member insists upon completing my speech.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook)(by leave) proposed and agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until 7.30 p.m. to-morrow.
– I ask the Treasurer, in the absence of the Prime Minister, whether the Government have yet received the Commonwealth Basic Wage Commission’s report; and, if not, whether he can state the probable date on which it will be received?
– I am not aware that any report of the kind has yet been received, and I warn my honorable friend as to making suggestions for increases in the cost of running the country.
Building Operations in South Australia.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation whether the Government have arrived at any decision in regard to carrying on the work of constructing War’ Service Homes in South Australia; and, if so, when the work will actually be started?
– In view of the fact that a conference has been held recently between the South Australian authorities, who have been building in the past, and the Department, I would ask the honorable member to give notice of his question, so that I may give him the exact details of ‘the agreement arrived at.
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
Of the £187,000 provided for naval bases, &c., shown on page 370 of the Estimates for 1920-21, how much is estimated to be spent on the Henderson Naval Base?
Grants - Osborne Rifle Range
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The allocation of this grant has not yet been made.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– No provision has been made on this year’s Estimates for this purpose.
Site for Refinery Works
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the fact that oil has already been recovered from the gas flow at Roma, Queensland, and that indications are such as to give great encouragement, will the Government take into consideration the advisability of erecting the refinery works under the Anglo-Persian Oil Agreement in Southern Queensland?
Sir JOSEPH COOK (for Mr. Hughes). - This is a matter for consideration by the directors of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, who will, of course, select the site which they and their expert advisers consider most suitable for the purpose. However, I shall bring the honorable member’s suggestion under the notice of the directors of the company.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Commissioner advises as follows: -
The Commonwealth Bank is not at present in a position to furnish particulars regarding its building activities in the metropolitan area as distinct from rural districts. The figures in regard to New South Wales are: -
Particulars regarding the Commission’s activities in the metropolitan area: -
Furnishingsfor Parliament House
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
In view of the decision of the Government regarding the early occupation of Canberra as the Seat of Government, will he enter into negotiations with the Victorian State Government for the purchase of the furniture and fittings now used by them in the temporary State Parliament House at the Exhibition Building, Melbourne?
– The matter will be given consideration.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence Act -Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 152.
War Service Homes Act - Land acquired under, at -
Hamilton, New South Wales (2).
Islington, NewSouth Wales.
Kogarah, New South Wales.
Parramatta, New South Wales.
Rockdale, New South Wales.
Sans Souci, New South Wales.
Weston, New South Wales.
Debate resumed from 17th September (vide page 4754), on motion by Mr. Poynton -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- I welcome this amendment of the War Service Homes Act, because it is intended to make useful legislation still more generous. Senator E. D. Millen may well be congratulated on the results of his administration of the Repatriation Department, and I feel that this branch of its operations is going to yield very excellent results indeed The War Service Homes Act is serving a double purpose. Whilst it makes provision for suitable homes for returned soldiers and soldiers’ dependants, it is also very materially assisting in solving the housing problem in many of the large centres of the Commonwealth.
I am very pleased that the Bill now before us proposes to increase the advance made available to returned soldiers for this purpose from £700 to £800 in all towns and cities. But I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister for Repatriation the circumstances of the soldier land settlers, for the all sufficient reason that men who settle on the lands in the various States are deserving of treatment at least as generous as that accorded to their comrades who settle in towns and cities. The point I wish to make is that soldier land settlers have to clear and plant their land to purchase implements, vehicles, and live stock, and provide a home for a less amount than is available to returned soldiers who settle in towns and cities. On the 25th August last I asked the following question: -
Whether it is proposed to increase the loan from the Commonwealth to the States for soldiers’ land settlements from £625 to £1,000?
If. so, as the amount of £625 is generally regarded as being insufficient, will the Minister endeavour to makea portion of the additional sum also available to the soldier settler?
The reply which I received to that question from Mr. Poynton, as representing the Minister for Repatriation, was as follows : -
The agreement provides that the Commonwealth shall advance to the States the sum of £625 per settler (on. the average) as working capital, and that a further sum equal to £375 per settler will be made available in connexion with soldier settlements for works, &c., approved by the Commonwealth. It is not proposed to further increase the loan of £625 per settler now made available, which amount was. increased from £500 early in1919.
I understand that this arrangement was decided uponat the Premiers’ Conference quite recently held in Melbourne. It is true that land in Queensland is much cheaper than in any of the other States of the Commonwealth, but it is equally true that the sum of £625 is insufficient to meet all requirements of the soldier settlers. I think that honorable members will agree with me that it is better that we should settle one man under conditions which will afford him a reasonable chance of success than that we should start two men, under conditions which will render their efforts liable to failure.
At Beerburrum in my electorate, theQueensland. Government have settled some 400 returned soldiers who are engaged in growing pineapples.It might appear at first glance that the terms off ered to these men are very reasonable. It is possible in this class of land settlement for a man toget along very well indeed on an area of from 20 to 40 acres.
I wish to inform honorable members as to the terms which the settlers at Beerburrum are asked to. fulfil with the object of showing that the War Service Homes Department must certainly come to their rescue if they are to make a success of their settlement. As I have said, the area givem to these men. is from 20 to 40 acres ; the tenure of the land is a perpetual lease, and the annual rent charged is1½ per cent. of the capital value of the land, which averages 20s. per acre. No rent or survey-fee is asked for during the first three years. The survey-fee then becomes payable, and the payment is spread over ten years. At the end of the first fifteen years the areas are re-assessed by the Land Court.
Queensland has immense areas of Crown lands; and. in the circumstances the Government can well afford to give soldier settlers even more liberal conditions than those I have mentioned. I know the land at Beerburrum,or which the returned soldiers are settled very well, and fox many years it. was open to any man who came along and cared to select it at 2s. 6d. per acre, payable over five years, at the end of which period the selector secured the freehold of his selection. I submit that in view of the very liberal terms at which this land was open to selection in previous years, the price which the soldier settlers are asked to pay for it is altogether too great. As the title which they are given is a perpetual lease, and there is provision for a. reassessment in fifteen years, this means that at the end of that period the man who has made most improvements on his farm will be called upon to pay a higher rental for the future than the man who has been more neglectful of his opportunities. I have discussed this matter on many occasions with the men, and cannot recall an instance in which one of them has preferred the perpetual lease system. They would rather pay more for their land and get the freehold at the end of a fixed period. It is certainly correct that a man can succeed very well at growing pineapples ona small area of 5: acres; but, in. order, to show that furtherassistance should be given to these men, through the Repatriation scheme or under the War Service Homes Act,. Mr. Alston, thesecretary of the
Beerburrum Fruit-growers Association, tas supplied me with, the following particulars : -
The foregoing are the actual figures of the principal items of my own account. There are, however, other things that settlers have to have that I brought with me, or have bought myself, and I give herewith, as near as possible, the present-day cost of establishing the settler with 5 acres of pines ; suckers now cost £4 per 1,000:-
When the suckers are planted at the proper time, the first crop on a pineapple plantation does not mature until about eighteen months later. Afterwards there are two crops annually, one in the summer and one in the winter. But it is from the housing point of view that I approach this question. Each house on these blocks is about 24 feet by 20 feet over all, and is built of hardwood, but, as the timber comes fresh from the mills, it shrinks rapidly. Each house contains four rooms, and there is no lining. Therefore, it will be readily seen, bow inexpensive these dwellings are. I hope to be able to induce the Commonwealth ‘Government to come to the rescue of these soldier settlers, who, if they are to be successful, must be comfortably settled on their holdings. I want the Minister to take these facts into consideration, so that the Commissioner may be induced to provide better homes for these men. It is quite evident from the figures I (have given that the advance of £625 is not sufficient to -cover the planting of the ground and the purchase of -the necessary implements, the cost of which exceeds the advance by £42.
– Advances under the War Service Homes Act for the building of bouses are quite distinct from any arrangement made between the Commonwealth and the States, under which advances are made for the building of homes on a broad acres proposition.
– I understand perfectly well that the £625 is advanced by the Commonwealth to -the States, and that thereafter the States are responsible for it; but I am ‘anxious to see an alteration brought about. We propose to allow an advance of £800 to be made to a returned .soldier living in a town or a city, to enable him to secure a home for himself, but, at the same time, we expect a man settled on the land, not only to acquire the ground and buy his implements and other articles, but also to erect a house - the value of a standard cottage being £250 - out of a total advance of £625. I hold that the returned soldier in a country district should be placed on the same footing as the man in a town. In Queensland, I regret to say, the State Government are not nearly as sympathetic to returned soldiers as are Governments in other States.
– According to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr, Ryan), the Queensland Government have done more than any other Government in the matter of settling returned soldiers on the land.
– I am aware that the Queensland Government bave repeatedly claimed that they have settled more men on the land than any other State Government have succeeded in doing; but in answer to a question put by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) the other day, the Minister told us that 5,470 men had been settled in Victoria, 4.2.10 in New South Wales, 2,819 in Western Australia, 1,867 in Queensland, 1,101 in South’ Australia, and 1,430 in Tasmania, making a total of 16,897.
Another class of returned soldier in Queensland is the one who cannot obtain assistance to purchase or improve freehold land, and as I know that the Honorary Minister (‘Mr. Rodgers) is in sympathty with the man who settles on what he has many times termed the “ broad acres,” I look to him to endeavour to find some solution of their difficulty. It is well known that the Queensland State Government are opposed to the freehold tenure system, and the present position is that unless a Queensland soldier is prepared to accept a perpetual lease, he is not entitled to any assistance, either from the Commonwealth or from the State. I think the Commonwealth Government ought to endeavour to get the State Government to make an exception in his case. In my electorate there are quite a number of returned men who hold freeholds - many of them have been given their land by their parents - and all they want now is some assistanceto enable them to improve them, and probably build homes on them. I would like the Minister to look into their case, and see whether some assistance could not be rendered to them under the provision of the War Service Homes Act.
– This matter has cropped up very often, and ought to be solved at once, but if Commonwealth money is used for effecting improvements on State leaseholds, the trouble is that if there is any surrender from failure to comply with the conditions attaching to the leasehold, those improvements revert to the State.
– The Honorary Minister is somewhat anticipating my remarks. For the moment I am referring to freehold land, and I say that in regard to such land the Commonwealth Government have no possible excuse for withholding assistance under the War Service Homes Act.
– I thought that the honorable member was referring to leaseholds.
– No. I am referring to the fact that the Queensland State Government refuse to give assistance to the owners of freehold land to effect improvements upon it, or purchase stock. The land to which the Honorary Minister was referring is held under mining tenure, as is the case with all the land built on in such large places as Gympie, Charters Towers, Mount Morgan, and Gladstone. Under the War Service Homes Act the returned soldier can get no assistance towards having a house built on land held under mining tenure. Banks and private individuals have no hesitation in accepting this title and lending money on it. I know the Commonwealth Government has no control over this matter, but I ask them to endeavour to induce the State Government, either by agreement or even by legislation, to extend such protection ibo mining tenure titles as will give the returned soldiers who hold them the benefits of the War Service Homes Act. They are of two kinds - the residence area title and the gold-fields homestead title. The first is, I admit, rather a trumpery sort of title, because it is held from year to year. The man pays 5s. a year to the Warden’s Office and gets his title in that way. The homestead title is much sounder. The holder pays 5s. a year, and in thirty years gets the title indorsed as having all rents paid up. I admit that the Government must have some protection in seeing that the conditions of the Act are observed, but I am sure that the difficulty can be easily got over by some arrangement with the State Government.
– It is a matter that the State Government can speedily fix up by passing a short Bill.
– Have the Co mmonwealth Government done anything to induce the State Government to do sot
– I can promise the honorable member that if on inquiry I find it is necessary, I will make representations to the State Government.
– I am glad to have that assurance from the Assistant Minister.
Another question which requires attention is the position of the munition workers who went away early in 1914. Quite a number of these men, to their credit left Australia quite early when the Empire called them, and have as good, if not a better, claim to assistance under this Act than the men who went away under agreement as late as 1916 and 1917. Those who went away in 1914 and remained till the conclusion of the war certainly made greater sacrifices than those who went just before the war ended. I am not prepared to say that the munition workers should be included at all. but if those who went under agreement with the Commonwealth are to be brought in, then those who went away much earlier should certainly be included also.
I quite approve of the Commissioner effecting his own insurance on the buildings that are being erected. He is in a very fortunate position, inasmuch as he needs no capital, and for that reason can compete on very favorable terms with private insurance companies. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) quoted the State Insurance Department of Queensland as an example to this Government. Strange as it may appear, I am with the honorable member there. The one State industrial Department of Queensland which has justified itself has been the Insurance Department. Bates were very high for many years in that State, and it wa9 time that the insurance people had a lesson. I appreciate the fact that the Commissioner is to be enabled to insure the houses on such very good terms. 1” shall not say much about the timber deal. I know the conditions of Queensland, and the great scarcity of timber that exists there. The price, of timber has been largely increased by the action of the State Government. When they went into power in 1915 the royalty on timber in that State was as low as ls. 6d. per 100 super, feet. It has been increased to 15s., so that to a large extent the present State Government are responsible for the price at which timber is sold in Queensland to-day. I hope this timber deal will turn out all that the Government desire, but before it was concluded, the Department might well have referred it either to the Public Works Committee or to the Public Accounts Committee. It would not have been an expensive inquiry, nor would much delay have taken pla’ce; and honorable members would have had all the information at their disposal, and would have been in a better position to judge whether the decision to make such a large purchase was justified or not. I hope the Mini,ter will look into the matters I have mentioned, and that a? a result an improvement in the working of the Act will take place, and that many of the men who are harshly kept out of ‘ its benefits will become entitled to them.
.- I have pleasure in supporting the Bill to the extent to which it goes in increasing the amount that may be advanced for returned soldiers’ homes. At the same time the Commissioner could have carried on even without the increase if he had used a little more common sense in the erection of houses. All through the United States and Europe the folding bed or press-bed system has been adopted. That is a device which can be folded up during the day and let down at night, so that the same room can be used for a sittingroom, or dining-room, or bedroom.
By adopting this system, at least one room in each house could be saved. I have seen the beds made in the factory, and have seen demonstrations of their usefulness in large buildings. If the Commissioner had decided to install them in the War Service Homes - I believe they cost about £25 - he could have saved at least £150 on each cottage, because a room cannot be built to-day under £150. The bed is a beautiful piece of furniture on the one side, and when required it can be revolved and let down for sleeping purposes. It is very comfortable and clean. It is being used in all the large up-to-date hotels throughout Europe, and is being installed in the big flats in Sydney. I wish the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) would take the opportunity to inspect the article, and insist on the Commission utilizing to the full every economic improvement possible in house building. Another advantage is that the bed is made in Australia. Newland Brothers have bought the patent ‘ rights from America, and employ Australian workmen. If the Minister would look into it, I am sure he would recognise the great advantage that the soldier would get from the adoption of the system. I trust he will not overlook it.
– I have carefully noted it, and called it “ the combination room.”
– That is a good description. I assure honorable members that the bed is a beautiful improvement in the home.
I shall say nothing about the way in which the timber areas and mills were recently purchased by the Government in Queensland, nor about the value of the mills, or the negotiations that were entered into to take them over. But I do say that it is in the interests of the soldiers and of the country that the Government should not be in the hands of any Timber Combine. I welcome the principle of the Government purchasing and controlling timber mills in order to secure their own supplies. I am familiar with some of the large timber firms in ‘New South Wales. Certain honorable members opposite have remarked that they have known many timber millers to become insolvent. I have had no such experience, but I know of a large number who have made fortunes out of the business. What has been the result of the Government becoming huge competitors for timber ? The price of material has steadily gone up and up until, to-day, it is nearly100 per cent. higher than it should be. We have been told that one of the reasons why timber costs so much is that there has been such a shortage of shipping. In New South Wales there is quite afleet of small vessels trading up and down the rivers, bringing supplies of hardwood to Sydney, and, notwithstanding the fact that there, has been no dislocation of this trade owing to any shortage of river shipping, the price of New South Wales hardwood has gone up step by step in general keeping with the cost of all timber supplies. The result is that our soldiers, to-day, have to pay 100 per cent. more for their timber than should be asked of them.
– Are there any State timber mills in New South Wales?
– Not that I am aware of, although there are State joinery works, and the like.
-There are State mills in Queensland and Western Australia, but they have nothad much effect in the matter of reduction of prices.
– That may be so. In New South Wales we have State brick works, but they have not done much towards keeping down the price of bricks. The. reason is that their management has been carried on in such a way as to merely keep the price a shilling or two below the Combine) prices.
– Their managers are torn between two desires - the one to make a profit, and the other to supply bricks at a fair price to the community.
– At any rate, they have made such profits as to have been able to pay off the cost of their machinery and their works, generally; and they do not sell their bricks much below the Combine price. The Brick Combines throughout the Commonwealth are deriving huge profits from the great demand for bricks; and if the Commonwealth Government, in view of their own house-building requirements, desired to put an end to the. profiteering activities of the Combines, they should investigate and go in for a new design of concrete building. The Government could put up concrete homes at an average of about 50 per cent. less cost than in the case of brick structures. Two labourers and a carpenter are sufficient to erect the whole of the walls of a cottage built of ashes and cement.
– That is not concrete.
– It makes a good stout home, and by the use of this method of construction, our returned men, and the public generally, could be provided with cheap homes.
– Then why do not the Government go in for the system extensively ?
– I do not know why the Commissioner has not launched out in other directions. The small number of homes so far erected is a matter of little credit to himself and the Government.
– The Department has. not shown much originality.
– None at all. It has been said by way of excuse that the Commissioner has been hampered by the activities of the Combines; but any man who had the influence and the money of the Government behind him should have got over these difficulties long ago, and should have built infinitely more homes in the same time. In New South Wales, returned men have been waiting for months, but they can get no satisfaction. Any ordinary business man, with the average amount of “ go “ in him, could have built thousands of homes by now, because the labour, is available.. However, I do not. want. to. criticise the Department, because the matter, after all, is a huge one, and there have been many obstacles to overcome. As for the activities of the new Board, which is now in control, I have nothing good to say. Originally, when one had business with the Pensions Department, there was no unnecessary delay, and. the business was performed with despatch. Now that the War Service Homes and pensions activities are linked up under the régime of the new Board, there is chaos. If a man preseats himself at the new premises in Sydney he will see from thirty to forty people waiting ahead of him to get information and attention.. There are no messengers available to take messages to the Board, and the arrangements, on the whole, are a disgrace to the Commonwealth. A member of this House stood for an hour and a half on Monday morning waiting his turn to secure attention. He went away and returned in the afternoon, and. again it was the same story. The result was that he was not able to leave Sydney last evening, in order tobe in his place here to-day, since hewas anxious that the pensions business which he hadin hand should be attended toas soon as possible. Chaos now reigns where formerly thee was business-like activity.
– That branch was running splendidly before.
– It was; and at about half the expense. With regard to the proposition that soldiers’ homes should be built of concrete, I would remind the Government that in the Home and Territories Department there is a report Slaving to do with the manufacture of cement. The Parliamentary Works Committee reported, some time ago, on cement manufacture at Fairy Meadows. The Government have the land at that spot, andthey have the best marble stonein the country with which to manufacturecement.TheGovernmentarethe biggest consumersof cement inAustralia; theycannot secure enough for the Murray River works salone. The time is ripe wben they should institute their own cement works. Theprice is still steadily rising, andthe Governmentare requiringmore and snore of the commodity. The amountof money involved in theestablishmentof worksat Fairy Meadowswould be relativelynothing, as comparedwith the saving. Thehonorablememberf or Dampier (Mr. Gregory) was a memberof theCommittee whichreportedupon ‘this project atFairyMeadows.
-But I did not approve of it.
-Thesite was in the wrong placefor thehonorable member to beexpectedto doso.
– Anyhow,the Government cannotsecure their requirements, andneithercan the generalpublic.
Mir. Richard Foster. - There is not a cask of cement procurablein Adelaidetoday.
– We aretoldthat Commonwealthships have beenjourneying outtoAustralia halfempty. Why do mot the Government import cement,so long as there is a shortage in Australia, thusassisting to secure their own require mentsandrelieve the generalmarket?
– We oughtto be mating our own cement..
– But, while we are not doing so, surely we might as well be utilizing our Commonwealth steamers for the importation of supplies.
With regard to our blinded and disabled soldiers, I hope the Government will be as generous as possible. The Federal Parliament, I know, will indorse any action which the Government may take to render lighter the burden of incapacitated men. We have not been as generous as we should have been. We should take stepsto treat them moregenerously, and then to make it an offence for maimed and blinded men to be standing at the street corners begging in association with bands. It is not good to see maimed men bopping about, shaking boxes for contributions from the public. It is a reflectionon the wholecommunity. We cannot blame the men,if they have not got enough to keep themselves; but the Government should see to it that there is no need for them to be begging. It is a reflection upon Parliament and the country thatwe are not providing sufficient money to save those men from begging in the streets. In regard to the recent purchase of saw-mills and timber land in Queensland, I stand for the principle ofthe Government supplying their own timber, and. keepingout of the hands ofthe Combine. If the Government do that, they will berendering aservice to the country.
.I add mycongratulations to the Government on the samendments tothe existing lawwhich this Billseeks to effect.The increase in theamount to be advanced from £700to £800 isa redemption of a promise made some time ago, and is,obviously, necessary on accountof the increasedcost of labour and material. Withregard to theextensionof benefits under the Act, Iam glad that thosemen whoentered camp but weredischarged before leaving Australia - mostly, I believe,men who were incamp whenthe Armistice was signed -are to be included. No doubt they broke up their bornes in order to enlist,andthey should be entitled to participate in the advantages which the War Service Homes Act offers. I welcome the inclusion, also, of the seamen and the wireless -personnel employed in the war zone, and I am glad that the wives of men mentally afflicted will be given the right to apply for homes. Honorable members on all sides of the House have urged that the benefits should be extended also to munition workers and war workers generally. Under the existing law, those munition and war workers who went abroad under arrangement with the Defence Department are included, but the Government are now urged to include those workers who went to Great Britain independently of the departmental scheme. This opens up a very big question. There are very many sad cases amongst the dependants of munition workers who returned to Australia suffering from some disability contracted on the other side of the world. They are not entitled to any benefits under the War Service Homes Act, or even under the Invalid Pensions Act, because the affliction was contracted outside Australia. I have no objection to the inclusion of all the munition and war workers provided that the Government can, with due regard to the financial obligations of the country, see their way to adopt that policy. However, the applications of those who were included under the original Act should receive priority, so that they may get their homes first. It is very difficult for a vocational trainee to secure a WaT Service Home. The_ regulations provide, rightly no doubt, .that a man must prove that his financial position is such as will enable him to meet his obligations in regard to a home. That bears very hardly upon a trainee who is a married man with a family. Many of these men, owing to some disability caused by the war, have been unable to return to their pre-war occupations, and are now being trained for a new position in civilian life. They must live somewhere, and I maintain that the rent they must now pay would, in most cases, exceed their weekly obligations under the War Service Homes Act. I trust that the Minister will look into this matter, and do something to assist the vocational trainees, particularly the married men. The Minister for
Repatriation (Senator Millen) stated in another place that of the total amount of £116,144 due by soldier occupants under this scheme, up to 30th June last, all but £2,447 has been repaid. This is a splendid record; the Australian soldier in ‘his efforts to re-establish himself in civilian life, and to meet his obligations, is working out a splendid sequel to the story of his achievements in France and the other theatres of war.
.- This is a measure which must be dealt with chiefly in Committee. There does not appear to be any very big principle involved, except in regard to the increase of the amount of advance from £700 to £800. The time has arrived when we must be very careful of what we do in this regard. I know that at the present juncture it is absolutely necessary to increase the amount, in order that the soldier may get what may be termed a respectable home. But, in the interests of the soldiers themselves, we should have been more guarded in the past than we have been. We have permitted costs in connexion with these homes to increase at the same fate as the prices of commodities generally, with the result that the soldier will find himself saddled with a heavy burden of debt. It must not be forgotten that the money which the Commonwealth advances for the purpose of establishing these homes must be repaid to the Treasury by the soldiers. Therefore, we ought to be careful to see that .the homes are built as cheaply as possible. At the initiation of this scheme, I urged that steps should be taken to provide Commonwealthcontrolled brickworks and sawmills in the ‘different States; and I agree with the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) that some arrangement ought to have been made for insuring supplies of cement at a reasonable price. Had that policy been adopted, probably the Government would not have been asking Parliament to-day ‘ to increase, by £100, the amount to be advanced to each’ applicant, and the soldier would have been able to get as good a home for less than £700. I know that recently steps have been taken by the Department to secure saw-mills and timber lands in Queensland. With the principle of that purchase I am in agreement. I know nothing of the merits of the trans- action itself, and, therefore, I will not commit myself to any criticism, beyond saying that the Government seem to have paid an enormous amount for the properties they have acquired.
– It is stated that Laheys property was offered to the Queensland Government four years ago at half the price paid by the Commonwealth Government.
– Have the late owners been cutting on the property in the meantime?
– They .have .been cutting at the rate of 8,000,000 feet per annum during the last four years; and of the 10,000 acres, there is only about 3,000 acres of timber left. .
– If that statement is correct, the Government seem to have paid an excessive amount for the property. At any rate, there is room for a searching inquiry into the transaction.
– On the figures that have been supplied to us, that statement is not correct.
– The mills are in five different places, and will require five different managers.
– The. Government have paid a large amount for the sawmills, and any doubt as to the transaction should be cleared up. I know that sawmills could have been acquired for less than the amount which the Commonwealth has paid in Queensland. In my own district there are mills which could have been purchased very much cheaper. The Government might also have obtained the requisite authority to cut supplies of timber in the State forest in the North Coast district. They would Cbus have obtained much cheaper supplies than they are getting at present. But these steps should have been taken at the inception of the War Service Homes scheme. We are in duty bound to protect the men who fought for the Empire overseas, and we are not protecting them, when w© allow prices for the supply of the requisite materials for these homes to continually increase, thereby compelling each soldier to pay more for his home. We have not adopted sufficient precautions to insure that he shall get his home as cheaply as possible. It is pleasing to learn that, so far, the Department has been able to erect homes by day labour for considerably less than they have been able to erect them by contract. From a statement made by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) I gather that more than £100 per cottage has been saved by the adoption of the day labour system, as compared with the contract system. That is a considerable sum to the soldier, and a saving which will justify the Government in erecting more of these homes by means of day labour.
I am somewhat disappointed to know that the best land upon which to erect these homes has not been selected. I am speaking more particularly of land in the Newcastle district. I have not one word to say against the homes themselves, but I submit that the land upon which they are being erected is very unsuitable for the purpose. In the Newcastle district a large number of homes are being built upon the flattest land to be found there.
– ls it well drained ?
– There is a drain which was put through it by the State Government some years ago for the purpose of carrying the water away from it. But it is a cold spot in the winter, and the fogs hang there throughout the greater portion of the day..
– Was any protest made against the purchase of the land at the time of its acquisition t
– Not so far as I am aware. I have been a resident of the Newcastle district for many years, and I claim to know the land well. I would not myself live in a house in that situation. Plenty of elevated and cheaper land could have been . obtained in that district - land which would have been much more suitable for the erection of soldiers’ homes. When we put these homes upon low-lying lands we are not doing the best that is possible for our returned men from a health stand-point. Within half a mile, or a mile, of this particular site suitable land at a cheaper cost could have been obtained. Upon the other side of the railway, a man recently purchased a large area, which he has subdivided and sold at a good profit. As there are quite a number of soldiers’ homes to be erected in this district, I hope that the
Minister will recommendto the Commissioner that in thefuture heshould purchaseonly such land as is well suited for thepurpose.
.- An examination of this Bill would lead one to believe, with the exception of a small amendment which is set out in proposed new section 14a, that the desire of theGovernment is to give the Commissioner even far greater powers than he already possesses. Why they wish to do so I do not know. When we hadto deal with the Minister for Repatriation we all knew him, but I cannot sayhow many honorable members know theCommissioner. Under theprincipal Act we have already vested in that officer the most extraordinary powers. If we mayjudge by the amendment which is forecast in proposednew section 14a, the Ministerevidently considers that any expenditurein excessof£5,000 should be approved by him. Yet itis intendedto give still further powers totheCommissioner. I have not had time to peruse the papers relating to the purchase of a saw-milling plant in Queensland, nordid I think it was my dutyto do so. Other honorable members possess amore intimate knowledge than myself both of Queensland and ofthat classofbusiness. But the answer which the Ministergave toquestions which wereput to him in thatconnexionappears to have beengiven with a view of biasing Parliamentin favourof the purchase.For instance, no provision whatever was made for charging interest upon thecapitalcost of that undertaking.Suchan omission was a highly improperone.Interest will have to be paid upontheexpenditure involved,andunderanycircumstances should bea regular chargeagainst the purchase. I wish now to puta proposition totheGovernment their acquiescence in which willobviate a good dealof trouble in the future. Will theyconsent to refer thispurchase to the Public AccountsCommittee for investigation ? Upon receipt of ‘the report of that body we could then determine whether any further steps were necessary. Whena purchase of this magnitude is made bythe WarService Homes Commissioner, even with the approvalof the Minister whilst Parliament issitting, and without the Parliament’s knowledge and concurrence, we arejustified in asking for a further inquiry into it, particularly after the statements which were made by the honorable member for Cowper(Dr. Earle Page), and in an interjection bythe Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor.) . The Committee of Public Accounts regularly deals withquestions of expenditure by Parliament, and I can see no reason why this particular purchase should not be referred to it. Of course, I quite recognise the difficulties which have confronted both the Commissioner and the Minister inconnexion with this War ServiceHomes scheme. A large number of buildings have to be erected, and certain business people have been putting their heads together for the purpose of raising theprices of the materialsrequired for those buildings, and generally acting in restraint of trade. Whilst the war was in progress, I know that there was one section of the community who were giving their all to this country,and another section - particularly those who waved flags the most - who were robbing the community totheir heart’scontend.
– The honorablemember can say that whilst he is sitting upon the other sideof theChamber,but hecould not say itifhe wereupon this side.
MrGREGORY. - The honorable member is talking nonsense.
– Weshould beaccusedof disloyalty if we said it.
– Surely thehonorable memberdoesnot thinkthathonorable members upon thissideof the Chamberare here inthe interestsof theemployers? The only difference between the honorable member and myself is that Iwantafair deal all found, whereashe desiresa fairdeal foronly one sectionof the community.
– Iwant afair dealall round.The workers have not received a fair dealyet.
Mr.GREGORY.- Then we must look toget it.
Mr.Tudor. - We shall keep on looking.
– There are people who have been robbing the community
Mr.Ryan. - The honorable member also added that theyare thepeople who waved flagsthemost.
– Nearly always. Theyindulged in a lot of lip loyalty. I recognise the difficulties which have confronted bath the Commissioner and the Minister in giving effect to our War Service Homes scheme. Prices have been rising, and it has been almost impossible to obtain the requisite supplies of material. But in the report which was submitted, to this Parliament no mention was made of the fact that the Commissioner had recently entered into a three years’ contract to purchase 6,000,000 feet of Queensland pine per annum at 32s. per 100 feet at the mill, representing 35s. at Brisbane. The Commissioner has estimated timber costs at 56s. Are we to assume that he is buying some timber at 35s. in Brisbane and estimating 56s. for the timber from his own mills?
– The honorable member knows, surely, that when differing rates apply it is the practice to average the cost,
– Yes; but what will happen in two or three years’ time when we are beginning to get supplies of red and white pine direct from the Baltic, and prices are coming down to nearer pre-war levels ?
– The difficulties of the present are sufficient without anticipating what may happen three years hence.
– But will the, Minister give us an assurance that this purchase will be referred to, the Public Accounts Committee?
– That seems a. reasonable request.
– Why not refer it to the Public Works Committee?
– As chairman of that Committee, I would hardly care to ask that. I should prefer an investigation to be made by the Public Accounts Committee, and if members of that body are satisfied that a good deal has been made, I am sure that the House will be satisfied also. This course ought to be taken.
When the Bill reaches Committee I intend to move in the direction of compelling the Commissioner: to furnish Parliament with a half-yearly return showing the results of the mill operations. I do not know whether the Minister is aware of’ the fact, or whether I am making a mistake, but from a casual perusal of the Act I believe the Commissioner is not required to provide returns at all.
– I think I was responsible for the insertion in the main Repatriation Ball of the provision requiring annual returns.
– But that provision does not appear in the Act. I was not present when it w.ent through, so I exonerate myself from any blame in connexion with the matter. I happened then to be in Western Australia. So far as I can see, with the exception of money borrowed from the Savings Bank, the Commissioner is not obliged to make returns at all, but he may make appointments or spend money how and when he likes. The Government, in effect, have given him power to spend £500,000 in the purchase of these trading concerns without being required to furnish annual returns to Parliament showing the results of their operations. This is not right. I know of no other Department in such a unique position, and I certainly will do what I can to amend the Billin the direction indicated.
There is another- feature of the measure to which I might direct attention. How many of us know anything about the Commissioner’s ability to determine eligibility under the Act. In the Act we had a fairly reasonable definition of an “ eligible person,” but this definition has been removed from the Bill, and we are told that “eligible person” means any person who is an Australian soldier, a munition worker, or war worker, and soon. That is to say, if the Commissioner is satisfied with regard to an application by any person claiming to be a war worker he may be allowed the privileges of this Bill. If we are going to allow the Commissioner to erect houses for every personin the community, why not say so? In the amending Bill of1918 there appears this definition - “ War worker “ means a person who, during the continuance of the war which commenced in the year One thousand nine hundred and fourteen, entered into an agreement with the Commonwealth to proceed: to Great Britain for the purpose of engaging in work as a labourer, fettler, or navvy, for the Imperial Government, or otherwise, and engaged in such work. . . .
There is something definite. I for one would be glad to enable any man who has made sacrifices for his country to get assistance to build his house, but in future the Commissioner himself will be empowered to define who is meant by a” war worker.” I could claim to be a war worker because of what I did during the war, and a lady working in connexion with the Red Cross at Government House might similarly be included under the provisions of this measure. I hope the Minister will explain the position when he is replying.
– I shall certainly answer your construction of the definition.
– Why has the definition been taken out of the amending Act and discretion placed absolutely in the hands of the Commissioner?
– Because those who went abroad comprised three classes, namely, members of the Australian Imperial Force, munition workers, and war workers.
– But the amending War Service Homes Act contains a complete definition, and now, under this Bill, it will be possible for men who made shells in Australia in the early days of the war, and who made absolutely no sacrifices, to claim its privileges.
– It would do no harm to allow them to get homes.
– But where shall we end?
– We do not want to end.
– They will all have to pay for all they get under this Bill.
– That is not the question at all. If we are to provide homes for everybody, why not indicate that this is a measure to provide homes, not for soldiers, but for the Australian people?
– I would have no objection to that.
– No doubt, but it is questionable whether we have money to do that. The Act is primarily intended to provide facilities for the erection of homes for Australian soldiers and for those who made sacrifices during the war, and I do not think the Commissioner should have power to be able to say that any person who did not go out of Australia and who made no sacrifices should enjoy the same privileges. If the Bill is passed in its present form, we shall be allowing the Commissioner to say who is a war or munition worker, and some who did not make any sacrifice whatever might benefit.
– Is there a new definition ?
– There seems to be, and extraordinary power is to be placed in the hands of the Commissioner. At the outbreak of war, there were many Australians in Canada and the United
States of America who rushed to Great Britain and joined up with the Imperial Forces. These men had to accept a lower rate of pay, and when they returned to Australia were not allowed to come under the provisions of the War Service Homes Act.
– They are allowed to participate.
– Every person who can come under the provisions of this Bill is specifically mentioned.
– The principal Act covers every person who served in the Naval or Military Forces of any part of the King’s Dominions.
– Does not the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) realize that that definition has been taken out?
– That is not so.
– The definition of “ war worker “ still stands.
– The memorandum appears to be clear enough, and the only words deleted are “ and was employed on active service outside Australia.”
– The definition of “ eligible person “ in the amending Act is a person whowas an Australian soldier, a munition worker, a war worker, a member of the Young Men’s Christian Association
– All those definitions will stand.
– It is not my intention to reply to the honorable member at this stage; but I ask him to accept my assurance that every person who can benefit is specifically mentioned. It does not rest with the Commissioner to say who is eligible and who is not. This is an attempt to consolidate the law; but it does not abrogate the provision in the principal Act.
– If I have made a mistake I am prepared to apologize; but it appears to me that the provision in the principal Act has been amended, and that the Commissioner now has full power to say who is an “eligible person.”
– The honorable member was making out a very good case when he was interrupted.
– If the basis of my contention is wrong, the sooner I get away from it the better, as I do not wish to misrepresent the case. It appears to me, however, that the definition has been so altered as to leave it entirely in the hands of the Commissioner to say who was and who was not a war worker. I am not at all clear on the point.
– I have already given the honorable member an assurance; but he declines to accept it, and is looking in other quarters for a verification.
– Perhaps it would be better for me to leave this aspect of the question for the present; but I shall make sure of the position when we reach the Committee stage.
There is another matter which I would like the Government to carefully consider. I am particularly anxious that maimed soldiers shall be given more generous treatment than they, claim to have been receiving. Under section 47 of the principal Act, the Commissioner may, if required to do so by any prescribed authority of the Department of Repatriation, provide a dwelling-house for the use of any totally and permanently incapacitated Australian soldier. If that is the law, I cannot understand ‘ why I should receive a letter from an organization asking for certain concessions. I have a communication which reads: -
We have in the New ‘South Wales association two members - Mr. L-
I shall not give the names - and Mr. T- , who have had each two legs and an arm amputated. These men should be given a home of their own. Mr. L- mother and wife told this association that at present L - and his wife have one room at his mother’s residence. To get about from room to room he rolls along the noor, as invalid chairs are too big to get through the doorways. This shows the necessity of building a house to suit such terrible cases. The house need not be big, but the doors could be made wider, and other little conveniences introduced to make their lot at any rate a little easier than it is now.
We should not be receiving letters of this description if the Minister or the Repatriation Department had endeavoured under section 47 of the principal Act to carry out the decision of Parliament. Under that section we gave the Department full power to build homes for these people, I merely quote this letter for what it is worth; but coming from such an organization I should think it would be correct. It would certainly appear from it either that the persons concerned did not apply to the proper quarter, or. that if they did, they failed to secure that sympathetic consideration which I am sure the Parliament would like to be given in all such cases.
– This matter was first raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) when the honorable member was probably temporarily absent from the chamber. I then made a promise as to which I shall make a full statement when replying to the debate.
– Will the honorable gentleman endeavour to incorporate in the Bill some of the desires of these people?
– I cannot anticipate my statement ; but I think that my honorable friend will be satisfied with it.
– I am not reflecting on the Minister in any shape or form. The Act gives the Commissioner very wide powers, and the Minister should see that his desires are actually embodied in this Bill. In connexion with the Income Tax Bill, the ex-Treasurer (Mr. Watt) made distinct and specific promises, which we were able to quote from Hansard; but they were not incorporated in the Bill, and the Commissioner, when his attention was drawn to them, naturally said , “ I can be guided only by the wording of the Act itself.” We might have the same experience in connexion with the handling of this scheme. Knowing the Minister as I do, and the work that he carried out in connexion with Repatriation, I am convinced of his earnestness in this matter. I would, therefore, impress upon him the desirableness of embodying in the Bill itself anything that he desires to do for those who have made sacrifices for their country. I ask him to endeavour to insert a clause providing that the Commissioner shall furnish an annual report to Parliament. Such a provision was omitted, unintentionally, no doubt, from the principal Act. We are justified in expecting to receive every year from the Commissioner a report setting out fully what he is doing.
– I thought it was part of the duty of the Commissioner to furnish an annual report.
– No doubt he will do so; but the furnishing of an annual report should be made compulsory. I am also going to move, in Committee, an amendment providing for the presentation of a half-yearly report to Parliament showing the operations of the timber mills which have been- acquired by the War Service Homes Commissioner.
– If the honorable member’s first suggestion be adopted, no doubt the Commissioner’s annual report will include a report regarding the timber mills.
– Not necessarily. What I _desire is a special report in regard to the mills and the timber areas acquired. We shall be dealing with a continually diminishing asset, and it is well that we should have presented every six months a report showing the superficial feet of pine, hardwood, and other timbers cut at each mill ; the cost of 6ame - including working costs, expenses of administration, interest, capital expenditure, and depreciation - and ‘the price at which the timber is made available for the erection of soldiers’ homes. We should have a proper profit and loss account. In regard to machinery, it would probably be necessary to allow 8 per cent, or 10 per cent, for depreciation. I do not suggest, however, what rate should be fixed. We may leave that to the Commissioner, and when his report is presented, it will be open to us to decide whether the rate allowed is too high or too low. The greater the publicity given to State trading concerns the better. If any of them are shown to be a failure, then those who believe in the principle will be all the more anxious to make them a success. Lack of control often breeds neglect. It is only by careful watching and supervision that we can make these concerns a success. If they can be made a success, as honorable members opposite believe, then all the better for the community. I feel, however, that it is impossible to get ordinary public officials to deal with these matters as they would do if they were their own property. Political interference is introduced, and in many cases destroys the efforts being made by the State. In the interests of, not only those who believe in State-owned enterprises, but of those who are opposed to the principle, we should have these returns submitted to the Parliament, so that we may determine whether or not the operations are successful.
.- I favour State undertakings, and am particularly anxious that they should not fail because of lack of sympathetic ad ministration. Pram what I can learn of the purchase of certain saw-mills and timber areas in Queensland by the War Service Homes Commissioner, it would appear, to say the least of it, that the venture will do no good to State undertakings throughout Australia. I desire to put before the House certain information which has been supplied to me. I have been told by one of those who held an option over Lahey’s properties in Queensland, that the property purchased from that firm by the Commissioner was offered four years ago to the Queensland Government for £150,000.
– Does the honorable member say that that offer covered the whole of the properties purchased by the Commissioner ?
– It covered the whole of the property purchased from Laheys Ltd. After a careful survey extending over something like three days, the persons holding the option decided not to .avail themselves of it. They took the view that nothing less than trained eagles or commercial, aeroplanes could get the” timber out of some parts of the country. Since then some timber has been cut out of the more accessible portions of the estate. The property offered to the Queensland Government four years ago for £150,000 has been sold to the Commonwealth Government for £245,000. Meantime, something like 8,000,000 feet of timber had been removed per year for four years from the more accessible portions of the area. I am informed that a total of 32,000,000 feet of timber has been taken out during the four years, whereas £95,000 has gone on to the purchase price. The appreciation of timber during that period would probably be equivalent to the value of the quantity that has been taken off the area, but 32,000,000 feet having been cut out, the property could not be worth more than £150,000 to-day.
– Does the honorable member know the person who made that estimate for the Queensland Government four years ago!
– I do not, but I know that the Queensland Government refused to buy the property for £150,000.
– Was it exactly the same proposition?
– So I am informed. I aim told that the gentleman who inspected these properties on behalf of the Commonwealth is only an accountant. If that is so, I cannot conceive that the Commissioner acted only on his recommendation. The Minister (Mr. Rodgers) may be able to tell us later on who inspected the properties acquired, and what were their qualifications. It is to be hoped that the inspection was made by somebody knowing more about timber than might reasonably be expected of an accountant.
– Would the honorable member object to state the source of his information ? I am very anxious to ascertain the source of a lot of information that has’ been given.
– I shall tell the honorable gentleman privately the name of my informant. The chief consideration is whether the information is correct - whether Lahey’s property was offered to the Queensland Government four years ago for £150,000, whether that offer was refused, and whether, since then, something like 32,000,000 feet of timber has been taken off it. If these are facts - and my informant is one of those who held the option and turned it down because of the difficulty of getting out the timber- the position is very serious.
I understand that the several areas purchased comprise five different blocks, separated in some cases by a distance of over 10Q miles. If that be so, each area will need a manager, and a general manager will be required to supervise the whole of the five areas. The question of management should have been taken into consideration when the properties were purchased by the War Service Homes Commissioner. There is just one other matter with which I intend to deal. Only yesterday in Sydney I was in conversation with a master builder, with whom I was discussing the War Service Homes. I have in the past referred to Mr. Kirkpatrick and the big “ rake off “ which his firm secured by drawing up plans and specifications, which they stereoed and turned out until further orders at a very fair profit. But notwithstanding the faults of the plans and specifications provided by Messrs. Kirkpatrick and Sons, under which! it was possible for a builder to do prac- tically anything he pleased in the way of using inferior material, I was assured by the builder to whom I spoke that the Commissioner’s plans and specifications are infinitely worse. He went so far as to say that the Commissioner’s plans and specifications which he had seen could be complied with for a two-roomed house or a ten-roomed house.
– They must be very elastic.
– Yes , most elastic. This builder informed me that in company with other builders he went over a group of buildings at Belmore, just outside Sydney. They had with them the plans and specifications of the buildings, and they found many departures from them, but one that wag outstanding. In one case the plans and specifications provided for a tiled verandah, and it was found that the material used was wood, and in so rough a condition that it did not .have a nosing on it. The fact that the homes can be passed with such a flagrant departure from the plans and specifications indicates a very serious lack of proper supervision.
At this particular group a lady was interviewed and was asked the cost of a home. The reason why the question was asked was because several sets of laundry tubs were seen to be broken, and the builders were anxious to .know who was going to stand the loss. They tried to elicit some information from the occupier of one of the homes, but when she was asked what was the cost of her home, she said that she did not know, and would not know until the group of buildings had been finished, and then the cost of the whole of the buildings would be averaged and she would be told what the cost of her home was. This lady was in actual occupation of a home and did not know what it was going to cost her.
This information was given me by a builder who has carried out contracts himself. I am told that many contractors are doing quite well, but tie average contractor is not prepared to do dishonest things, because ultimately there will be a reaction, and those who have put inferior material into buildings and have put up the cost of a building by breakages or bv substituting one material for another, will lose credit and be given a bad name. In the circumstances, the majority of contractors are’ not satisfied to work for this Department under existing conditions.
– Is not the War Service Homes Commissioner building most of the houses by day labour ?
– Not in the case of the particular group to which I have referred. The houses in the group to which I refer are being erected by builders. The matters upon which I have touched are of sufficient importance to warrant an investigation by the Government.
– Or an answering statement.
– I do not think that it is possible for the Honorary Minister to make a statement offhand with regard to the matters with which I have dealt. If the honorable gentleman can satisfactorily explain the refusal of the Queensland Government to pay £150,000 for a property which the War Service Homes Department has purchased for some £90,000 in excess of that amount, well and good, but personally I do not think that he can do so without an investigation into the matter. I doubt whether without an investigation he is in a position to satisfactorily explain the substitution of rough boards for tiles in the case of one of the buildings in the Belmore group, or the faulty plans and specifications supplied by the Department. I think that these are all matters which require investigation by the Government.
.- The observations which I have to make in connexion with this Bill will be very brief. It has struck me that in the absence of definite information on the subject most of the time taken up by previous speakers in discussing the question’ of the purchase of certain timber lands in Queensland has been wasted.
– The amount involved in the purchase must be added to the capital cost of the buildings.
– That is all right if the purchase- is a good one. Most honorable members appear to regard it as a doubtful purchase, but as a matta” of fact, no evidence on the matter which can be regarded as definite has been submitted by those who have addressed themselves to that question. Several statements have been made, but they have all been qualified by the words, “ If what I am told is true.” In view of the business which is before this Parliament, honorable members must realize that it is a waste of time to discuss questions about which they have no definite information. I say at once on this point as the Scripture says, “ If any one can give the show away, let him do it now or for ever hold his peace.” I can almost hear my honorable friend the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) saying, “ I can, but I won’t.” I am not going to say anything on a question about which I have no information, and until definite evidence can be submitted concerning the matter, it had better be left alone.
There are one or two phases of the subject under discussion to which I might briefly refer. One is with regard to a matter that has already been explained by the Assistant Minister for Defence. It has. reference to the position of those venturesome young men who enlisted, though under the prescribed age. The honorable gentleman told us that discrimination was necessary in order that those who had gone by way of some conspiracy should be separated from those who went into the actual firing line to do their duty. I hope that when that discrimination is made no one will be deprived of what he is justly entitled to. I know of one particular case of a friend of mine who had two sons who went to the war. One of them., unhappily, was killed, and the other received very high honours. He had a third son. who was only fifteen years of age, and was still at school. This lad disappeared from school,, and his father, knowing his desire, knew where to find him. Three or four days after his disappearance he went to the Liverpool Camp and there he discovered his lad of fifteen years of age drilling a squad of volunteers.
– What age were they?
– Some were about the age of the honorable member probably, and some were very awkward, but this lad had gone through training as a cadet. I hope that when the position of these young men is being considered discrimination will be properly exercised and no one will be deprived of what he is entitled to.
There is another section of returned men for whom our hearts bleed. I refer to the maimed. As the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) said, they are practically prisoners all their lives, because of their physical infirmities. The outlook for those who are disabled and unfitted to follow the ordinary avocations of men must also be a source of great mental affliction to them. We must treat such men in the most liberal way possible. lt would be appalling to think that those who have done such valuable .service for their country, and suffered physically and mentally by doing so, should be deprived of the comforts which a generous Government could give them. I am certain that honorable members, rather than see such men deprived of that to which they are reasonably entitled would forfeit a great deal personally. I believe they would be prepared, for the length of this Parliament at any rate, to forfeit their increased parliamentary allowance in order that it might be offered for the benefit of these men.
We must all congratulate the Government of this country, and particularly the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) on the magnificent work which has been done in repatriating and settling our returned soldiers. If we look back to a period eighteen months ago, the magnitude of the task then confronting us of repatriating some 260,000 soldiers was almost terrifying, but the work that has been done is herculean. The undertaking was one which neither the people nor the Government had ever previously been associated with, and it is perfectly marvellous that this stupendous work has been done in the way, and in the time, in which it has been performed. Mistakes were inseparable from the performance of such a task. It is of no use to say now what might have been done, but I believe that the country, the returned soldiers and the people, are to be congratulated upon what has been accomplished.
– I agree with the concluding remarks of the honorable member who has just resumed his seat. A very great deal has been done that deserves the highest praise, but that does not preclude reasonable and proper criticism of the work in hand. Honorable members know that I do not approach the discussion of this question in any spirit of carping criticism. I regret very much indeed that we have not the fullest information on the particular matter ‘ about which most of the discussion on this Bill has taken place. I understand that some papers which the Minister requires before he makes his reply have not yet come to hand. It would have been infinitely better had the Government held over the discussion on the second reading of this Bill until those papers had arrived, because honorable members on both sides want a full, and complete statement from the Minister, which we have not yet had. In the absence of such a statement, I for one will want the provision in this Bill relating to the almost unlimited authority of the Commissioner considerably tightened up. Indeed, even apart from a complete statement from the Minister, I should imagine honorable members generally would see the necessity for doing this. When the War Service Homes Bill was before the House on the last occasion I assented with a good deal of mental reservation to the granting of these enormous powers to the Commissioner; and. if my memory serves me right, I fancy that the Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers), the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), and others were with me, but in the meantime I am prepared - indeed, I am obliged to do so - to allow the matter to stand over until we get a full and complete statement in regard to the acquisition of the Queensland saw -mills and timber areas.
I want now to refer to the competition of the War Service Homes Commissioner with State activities in the matter of providing houses for returned soldiers. In some instances it is absolutely unjustifiable. When the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) waa visiting the various States feeling his way and arranging for this gigantic work, to which he has given such an enormous amount of energy and thought, as he has generally in regard to all repatriation matters, I advised him to look at the work which had been done for the past eight or nine years by the State Bank of South Australia on behalf of the State Government in the direction of providing homes for civilians - work which I have not seen equalled anywhere, and which compares more than favorably with what has been done by the War Service Homes Commissioner, more particularly in Victoria. The more I have looked into this question of the competition of Government activities since it was first raised in this House by South Australian members, the more I have become convinced that the State Bank of South Australia was providing homes at £100 per house less than the cost of similar homes built in any other State.
– Under the Workers’ Homes Act of Western Australia houses are provided at from £150 to £200 less than the cost of similar houses in Victoria,
– Where such excellent work was being done, why should the War Service Homes Commissioner be so anxious to come in with his Department and interfere with it ? A little while ago honorable members had the opportunity of seeing samples of the work done in South Australia, and many private contractors in Melbourne came into Queen’s Hall to examine the designs. Several of them said to me that they did not know how the houses could have been built for what they cost. Yet in spite of all this, and in spite of our protests against the War Service Homes Commissioner extending his operations to South Australia and competing against the excellent work that was being done by the State Bank under the authority of the State Government, which found the money, he is still determined to do so.
– When the honorable member claims that the State Government finds the money, I hope that he remembers that it was the Commonwealth Government which lent it to them.
– The honorable member is not quite correct, because the South Australian Government found the money, and was responsible for the building of these homes long before any Commonwealth Act was passed or even before the Department of Repatriation was established, and its terms in respect to interest and the period of repayment were even more liberal than those contained in the War Service Homes Act.
– Is the South Australian Government willing to continue this work withouthelp ?
– I shall come to that matter in a moment. When the Minister set out to defend the position taken up by the Commissioner - I had a strong feeling at the time that he was not expressing his own views, but those of the Commissioner - he retaliated that the South Australian Government were not providing homes for soldiers whose earnings amounted to more than £350 a year. TheSouth Australian Government immediately replied that they would also take in hand the matter of providing homes for soldiers whose salaries exceeded £350 a year if the Federal Government would find the money, and that they would carry out this additional work at the cost of only1¼ per cent., to cover supervision, plans, agreements, and everything.
-What! On a house costing £600 theState Bank’s charge would be only £9 for all that work?
– Yes. The State Bank had been doing this work for seven or eight years for civilians before they undertook to provide also homes for soldiers. It is not in the interests of the men that this competition should take place. When the WarService Homes Commissioner began to compete against the work of the State Government in the matter ofbuying and building homes in South Australia, the natural result was an immediate rise inprices to the tune of pretty nearly £100 a house. The cost of all materials rose at once. I hope honorable members will bear this fact in mind when we get into Committee, because we ought to be in a position to know whether this sort of competition has benefited either the returned soldier or the country.
– It has not. It is but another deplorable instance of the clashing of Commonwealth and State activities.
– It is a deplorable instance of overlapping, and it ought not to exist.Surely the War Service Homes Commissioner had work of sufficient magnitude in other parts of Australia to restrain him from entering into a competition in South Australia which has resulted in the State Government pulling out of the business of building soldiers’ homes?
– Does the honorable member advocate that theCommonwealth Government should pull out of the business ?
– I claim that the Commonwealth Government should never have gone into it in South Australia. The Commissioner could have devoted his energies to the State ofNew South Wales, leaving alone a Government which was doing better work than he could do. The action of the Minister for Repatriation - because, in the last analysis, he is responsible, through competition forcing up prices - has made theburden too big for the State Government to carry on, and so it has pulled out. It would have paid the War Service Homes Commissioner tohave allowed the State Government to continue its work, even if the Commonwealth had been obliged to find the money; which, even now, it must do for the building of houses for soldiers with an income of over £350 a year. At any rate, the result of the disastrous competition instituted by the War Service Homes Commissioner is that building materials are practically unobtainable in Adelaide today. Last week 1 went to every establishment in that city to try to buy cement, and could not secure a single cask. It is the same with all classes of building material. Thus the action of one Government in competing against another not only affects both Governments, but also has a very bad reflex influence on the erection of homes for civilians, which are so badly needed in this country. I hope that honorable members will look into this question in a rational way, and determine in no uncertain manner that the form of competition to which I have drawn attention is decidedly injurious to every one concerned.
.- I indorse the remarks made by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster). He has clearly shown the advantages which the South Australian Government possess in the matter of building houses, and I regret that the Commonwealth Government, when setting out on this class of undertaking, did not at once utilize existing State activities. Let me point out the instance of the houses built at Narrogin, in Western Australia, under the provisions of the Workers’ Homes Act in force in that State. If honorable- members saw the standardized plans issued in booklet form by the Western Australian Government, they would admit that the homes provided are very comfortable indeed.- At a minimum of cost and at a minimum of rental, workmen can get absolute ownership. Large blocks are allowed at Narrogin of which the rental is 10s. per six months. If a worker leaves his occupation there he is able ‘to sell to the man who takes his place on the railway, and the Government so arrange things that there is absolute equity in the transfer. I am sure,” from knowledge which I have gained from one who made a specialty of going round and seeing the buildings spoken of by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) , that those places in Adelaide are really equal to anything of the kind in any of the States, and good enough for any one to live in.
– Why should the Commonwealth interfere with that?
– The honorable member knows the trouble that occurred in this House about a certain architect who, I believe, is related to the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and who has all these dainty tit-bits put into his lap against the whole of the architects of Australia. Why should not the work of the Commonwealth Bank be open to competition by every architect in the Commonwealth? But no, forsooth, one is favoured who is a relative of the lately titled gentleman who rules the Commonwealth’ Bank, and who is the boss, of all around. Any architect will agree that, in building the soldiers’ homes, if diversity is wanted, only about fifty standardized plans would be sufficient for the whole of Australia, with variations for certain States. For instance, in the far north of Queensland, a house is needed that will give coolness and shade ; whereas, in what I have heard honorable members call the desperate climate of Melbourne, we want something that will assure more warmth than in the more genial climates. There are worse climates in the world than that of Melbourne, but I must admit that there are many far better in Australia.’
I welcome the determination of the Government to secure their own timber supplies. So long as they are not charged an unfair sum the transaction will be a lesson for future Governments to follow. I wish that the late Sir Thomas Bent were now Premier of Victoria, because then we should not be crying out for timber, bricks, and cement in this State. If the Commonwealth Government have not the power, it should seek power from the. House to seize any brickworks that are closed down by monopolies, because such works should not be allowed to remain in the hands of those who are essentially exploiters of the community. Sir Thomas Bent, as Premier .of Victoria, set brickworks going, and reduced the price of bricks ail round. He thus saved the State of Victoria many thousands of pounds. I mention this as an example for the Commonwealth Government to follow in regard to its building needs. I should like to see it take over also timber works and cement works. I had on my desk to-day a letter from one of the big merchants here, stating not only that he could not supply cement at the present moment, but that he did not know when he would be in a position to do so. That is a terrible state of affairs, with the population increasing, and a growing demand for homes, and the unfair raising of rents that is going on. As the honorable member forWakefield justly said, the first duty of the Government is to those who offered their lives at the Front; but their next duty is to the citizens of Australia, who require proper accommodation in which to live and bring up that best of all immigrants, the Australian baby.
I was very pleased to hear the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) ask the Prime Minister whether the Government would favorably consider the question of issuing Canberra bonds, similar to those issued by the Island of Guernsey, and thus afford the people of Australia an opportunity to invest their money in the building of necessary administrative and parliamentary offices at Canberra. The Prime Minister’s answer wasthat an opportunity for discussing these matters would be afforded in connexion with the Estimates. This Bill. I submit, affords an even more suitable opportunity for suggesting the adoption by the Commonwealth of what has proved to be one of the finest financial experiments the world has ever seen. A full description is given bv Mr. J. Theodore Harris, B.A., in his book, An Example of Communal Currency, published in 1911, a copy of which can be read in a couple of hours in the Parliamentary Library. In the early part of last century it was very difficult for municipal bodies to borrow money on the London market. The Napoleonic wars were then in progress, and advances were not as easily made in those days as they were just prior to the late horrible war. In the little island of Guernsey, which was never conquered by England, but which came to England by marriage - and some of the Guernsey islanders claim that it was they who invaded and conquered England with the Normans - there was a very narrow street, about 10 feet wide, which was lumbered up with stalls for the sale of meat, fish, and produce, to such an extent that sometimes as many as twenty carts would have to stop at one boundary of the town be fore another string of carts had passed through. The bailiff was a man of wonderful ability, named Daniel De Lisle Brock. He asked, “ Have you any bricklayers, stonemasons, or carpenters among you?” When the townspeople said “ Yes,” he replied,” Well, why don’t you build your market yourselves?” He put forward the great idea of issuing currency notes for that one purpose, and his suggestion bore fruit. Shortly put, these are the facts of that historical incident: In the early years of 1800, three men, Daniel De Lisle Brock, Nicholas Maingy, and Jean Lukis, carried into execution the idea formulated by Brock. Currency notes of the value of £1 were issued. It was agreed by a meeting of citizens to take them in payment, and the contractors and shopkeepers also agreed. The municipality had the land, the market was erected, and every stall was let. The narrow streets were cleared of all the old stallholders. Then on certain appointed days as many notes as had been received in payment of the rents of the market stalls were burnt, and, in addition, an amount of the market notes, equal to any sum of money that the municipality could contribute, was also burnt. Thus at the end of ten years the whole of the issue of notes was destroyed, and a rent- producing property was owned by the municipality for ever. A copy of the accounts, given at page 19 of Mr. Harris’ book, shows the following : -
Market accounts for 1826 -
Notes to bearer of£1 destroyed -22nd March, 1826, £400; 7th November, 1826, £420; 1st March, 1827, £122; total, £942.
Total of notes issued for the market, £11,296; total of notes destroyed for the market, £3,626; leaving in circulation, £7,670.
No wonder the inhabitants made a festive day on the occasion on which the currency notes were destroyed, because every note burnt brought the day nearer when the community would own for all time a property not only debt free but also rentproducing.
To give an example on a much larger scale, in the Victorian House of Assembly sitting in this very chamber, Mr. Higgins, now Mr. Justice Higgins, moved for the production of a return showing the debts of Victoria. The information disclosed that Victoria, had borrowed approximately £50,000,000, had paid altogether, in interest and capital for conversion at less interest, about £52,000,000, but still owed, after some fifty years, £50,000,000. If Victoria had issued currency notes backed by the security of the railways and rolling-stock and guaranteed by its own Government, and if on an appointed day each year thereafter an amount of the notes corresponding to the amount of interest paid had been burnt, the debt would have been wiped out, and Victoria would have built her railways and other revenue-producing works absolutely free of cost.
I am very glad of the success of the late loan, but it would have been as well for the Commonwealth Government, .in the name of Australia, to ask the wealth of Australia to advance free of interest the sum required to build these homes for the soldiers. This would have been justified in view of the fact that 70 per . cent, of the manhood of Australia offered their services at the Front. 43 per cent, were accented, and over 37 per cent, actually left the shores of Australia for the Front, and in view of the further fact that, whereas the wealth of Australia was estimated by Mr. Knibbs at the commencement of the war to be worth £1,200,000,000, strange to say, its value increased during the war by £400,000,000. If those who own Australia’s wealth had responded freely to such a request from the Government, it would have been a great and meritorious action on their part. There are wealthy men in Australia who, I believe, if appealed to in that direction would readily respond. The Government could then have followed the example of the Guernsey Island market note experiment, destroying the bonds as they were able to redeem them. The return from every house built for soldiers, from every farm on which soldiers were settled, and from all works undertaken to conserve the water which falls from the heavens, could Have been ear-marked for the purpose of redeeming the bonds, and the Governmentcould have charged the soldiers much less per annum for the War Service Homes than they are charging now. The amounts which the returned soldiers have to pay for their houses every year are very large. Certainly, in thirty years the homes will belong to them or their descendants, but if we had followed the Guernsey example they would have been cleared of debt at the end of, say, thirty-three or fifty years, and the whole transaction would not have cost the Government one penny piece.
There would be no interest to pay; but there is one thing definite about this system. The notes in connexion with each reproductive work - on which similar notes would be issued - must be earmarked to the special work for which they were issued; and, at certain dates, certain amounts should be destroyed ; otherwise, of course, great loss would occur.
With, respect to the future of Australia, the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and sailors, and, we hope, of many more sturdy representatives of our Allies, is a problem not only of continental interest, but one of Imperial significance. Mr. Deakin asked u6 to think continentally. Others have urged us to think imperially. We have to consider both continentally and imperially when called upon to settle 300,000 men on the land, and - connected with their various industries - carry out our promises. Consequently, I approach this question in its broadest aspect. The model in the Library shows the physical features of Australia and emphasizes the fact that two-thirds of the continent are waterless, from the- surface point of view. While we talk of land settlement it can only be accomplished in a comprehensive and effective manner after studying the physical aspect, the lack of surface water, and the necessity for conserving every drop that falls in the catchment areas, and of utilizing it for the purposes of settlement. The late Lord Forrest, by a statesmanlike act, guided by the genius of the hydraulic engineer, O’Connor, with splendid courage, pumped water to Kalgoorlie, reticulated many square miles of country, and made it possible for the Western Australian gold-fields centres to be permanently inhabited.
The same principles are applicable right through Australia. So far as land settlement is concerned, I believe the true policy to be found in the employment upon developmental work of returned soldiers, who wish to settle on the land. They should spend half their time on developmental work, and the other half on their farms or orchards. This seems to me to be a policy eminently befitting the requirements of brave men who dared anydanger on the battlefield and who. as pioneers, are built of the right material to reclaim vast areas in the interior, and to bring them within the zone of usefulness and productivity; in other words, to make Australia one of the granaries of the world. I cannot here do better than quote the following extract from Gilbreth’s Motion Study -
Professor N. S. Shaler astounded the world when he called attention to the tremendous waste caused by the rain washing the fertile soil of the ploughed ground to the brooks, to the rivers, and to the seas, there to be lost for ever. While the waste from the soil washing to the sea is a slow but sure national calamity, it is negligible compared with the loss each year due to wasteful motions made by the workers of our country. In fact, if the workers of this country were taught the possible economics of motion study, there would be a saving in labour beside which the cost of building and operating tremendous settling basins, and the transporting of this fertile soil back to the land from whence it came, would be insignificant. Besides, there would still be a surplus of labour more than large enough to develop every water power in the country, and build and maintain enough wind engines to supply the heat, light, andpower wants of mankind.
It has often been remarked how, when water has been added to an arid land, wonderful crops are the result. A great American scientist has found that the potash salts, which are generally washed away where rainfall is too heavy, are retained in arid land and collected from year to year; so that, when water is scientifically applied to such soil, the more marvellously fertile it becomes. In Egypt will be found vivid examples. As a traveller goes through that land he will note, on the one hand, the whole countryside in a state of abundant fertility - for there, the life-giving water has been supplied; while, on the other hand there is death - for there, the science of irrigation has not been applied.
I hope the Government will see to it, in all their dealings, that there shall be no further robberies of the people such as occurred in respect of the wheat operations, wherein millions of bushels disappeared. I commend the Government for their action in respect of the Queensland timber mills, and I trust that they will extend operations in the matter of securing necessary supplies of cement and bricks. God knows that I have had to hold up to scorn and loathing various of the regulations issued under the War Precaution’s Act. But why should not the Government now issue one more regulation, which would put an effective stop to profiteering in bricks and cement, and in respect of every line of material re quisite for the building of soldiers’ homes ? I recognise that, in view of the opinions held by many of their supporters outside this Parliament, the Government have taken a big and bold step in respect of the timber deals; but now they should go straight ahead and similarly secure all requisite supplies for the establishment of Australia’s soldier men in their own homes.
.One of the outstanding remarks which I noted during this afternoon’s debate had to do with the Government’s timber project in Queensland. I do not profess to know anything about timber, but one statement of the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) was so serious that it deserves closest consideration and investigation. I refer to the remarks of the honorable member in which he indicated that he had had a conversation with one of those who had held an option over a property which the Government have just obtained, and who had said, in effect, that the Government had paid £100,000 more for it than the figure at which these gentlemen had turned it down. Until I heard that statement, I had intended to say that I had, personally, the very greatest admiration for the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen), and for what he has done. I still hold that opinion of him. And I am sure, even now, that the Minister could not have been a party to the Queensland proposition until and unless he had made himself familiar with all there was to know. I certainly hope that, now that the project has gone so far, it will turn out successfully, and will expedite the building of homes for soldiers. There have not been many bouquets thrown at the Minister for Repatriation during this debate; but if one studies the facts and figures which have been made public regarding War Service Homes, one can only say that a most creditable position has been revealed. The statistics were summarized inthe course of the Budget speech, delivered last week. The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) stated that, to the 30th June last, the total expenditure in connexion with this phase of repatriation work amounted to £4,961,000. This represented administrative charges, £120,000 ; and expenditure upon loan funds, £4,841,000. That latter amount is recoverable from successful applicants for homes. This is the remarkable feature: -
The cost of administration from the 6th March, 191’9, was 2.4 per cent., and for the financial year 1910-20, 2.3 per cent.
That shows a wonderfully low cost of administration of activities involving gigantic amounts. Up to the 30th June, 1920, 24,992 applications had been received and 11,373 approved, representing an expenditure of £6,678,000. Senator Millen, in his very able speech in another place, pointed out that no other country in the world could show a better record ‘ in regard to the repatriation of soldiers than could Australia. I quite agree with him, but notwithstanding that excellence, honorable members receive a number of complaints. This afternoon I have been turning over in my own mind the sixty or seventy cases that have been put through my hands, and the complaints, boiled down, amount to irritation on account of the delay in respect of each man’s application. For this Senator Millen cannot be blamed. One digger had written six letters to the Department and had not received any acknowledgment. He had also visited the office of the War Service Homes Commission and had been practically kicked out. I sent his letter on to Senator Millen, and in three days I received a reply admitting that the digger had some ground for complaint and that the services of the officer concerned had been dispensed with. That proves that if the Department knows of any delay wilfully caused, the officer responsible will be punished. And rightly so, for every digger naturally thinks that his case is the most important. My experience has been that when complaints are brought under the notice of the Department, the soldier gets a fair deal. I should like the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) to inform me whether deposits are asked for in every case. The Bill says that the Commissioner may ask for a deposit, but I think the wish of the House, when the principal Act was under consideration, was that deposits should not be insisted upon. In several cases that have come under my notice during the last few days, deposits have been asked for.
– As a matter of general policy, the deposits are not required.
– I am glad to hear that, because the demand for a deposit causes a certain amount of irritation. Will the
Minister tell me also whether a valuation fee is collected in every case? I was informed yesterday that three different houses for which one soldier had applied had been rejected by the Department, but the valuation fee of £1 ls. was charged in respect of each. That is a charge that might very well be waived, because the Department can surely employ a number of valuators to do this work at small cost, and thus relieve the digger of an additional expense.
– No fee is charged for valuations bv departmental officers.
– My next complaint is important. A soldier attending a hospital as an out-patient is not discharged and i6 still wearing his uniform ; yet he cannot apply for a war service home until he is discharged. That seems a great hardship. I have in mind the instance of a returned soldier who is aD out-patient at Randwick Hospital, where he is being treated for gassing. He is living in a house which he is afraid he will lose, and has made application to the War Service Homes Department for assistance. He has been informed that his application cannot be dealt with -until he receives his discharge. I ask the Assistant Minister to look into that matter.
– There was a very clear understanding as to when the Defence Department’s obligation ceased and the Repatriation Department’s obligation commenced. It would be difficult to admit some cases and refuse others.
– I admit that, but these hospital cases are not numerous. I again ask for the sympathy of the House for the members of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade. I endeavoured, without success, to persuade Parliament to extend the war gratuity to those men. Now they are excluded from the War Service Homes Act. When the war broke out the members of the Brigade were liable under the Defence Act to be sent on foreign service ; indeed, a very large percentage of them asked to be sent abroad, but they were all retained for home service on the ground that they were indispensable. On a former occasion the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) informed me, by interjection, that any man who had been engaged in mine-sweeping or patrol work would receive the gratuity. Under this Bill it appears that members of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade, unless they were engaged on a ship of war, cannot acquire a war service home. I do nob know who will interpret the words “ ship of war.”. Generally, a ship of war is one that flies the white ensign, although it may not have a gun or even a revolver on board. I, personally, was scouting for submarines in the North Sea with a little vessel that was absolutely unarmed except for four revolvers and six rifles; and yet she was considered a ship of war. Fortunately for me the bluff came off. The members of the Naval Brigade in many * cases worked outside the three mile limit in patrolling and sweeping the approaches to Melbourne and Sydney Heads and on examination duties. Perhaps th’ey were not in as much danger as were men who went abroad, but mines were found in Australian waters, and the German raider Wolf was on the coast. They were in actual dancer, bub they did not get the war gratuity, and now they are not to be allowed to get a war service home; they get nothing. I do not think that is fair treatment, and I ask the Government to reconsider the matter.
– I have taken a very careful note of the honorable member’s remarks, but I think the members of the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery are in exactly the same position.
– they are; I admit that my request is widening the field of assistance, and in these days of financial stringency it is hard for the Government to acquiesce. But munition workers, war workers, and nurses, rightly so, are being included in the benefits of the War Service Homes Act. The only persons excluded are those men who did magnificent service with the Naval Brigade.
– Whilst they were not actually in the danger zone, yet if a raider had got through they would have been in very real danger.
– The raider Wolf was actually in Australian waters, and - laid the mines which these men subsequently swept up. I am delighted that the amount to be advanced is to be increased from £700 to £800. For some months I have pressed the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen), the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) to have the amount increased, and I have urged that expedition ‘was necessary, because many applications were being blocked through the lack of the extra £100. Houses are becoming increasingly scarce, and the additional £100 will be a godsend to many soldiers. I do not know to what extent the increase will be retrospective. The Bill refers to houses in course of erection. I do not know whether the increase will apply also to cases in which the “ digger “ has had to provide from his own pocket more money than he could afford in order to get a home.
– It will not apply to any transaction that appears in the books of the Department as having been completed.
– I again pay a warm tribute to the Department, and particularly to Senator Millen, for the enormous amount of work that has been achieved, and the excellent way in which it has been done. The activities of the Department have given great satisfaction to the majority of returned soldiers. The only complaints have been in regard to the delays in dealing with individual cases. I have pointed out to the men that it is impossible to handle thousands of cases as quickly as the men themselves may wish, but the Department attempts to give a fair deal in every instance. I know that the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) will give consideration to the cases of hospital out-patients, and the claims of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade. I assure him that the latter feel their position keenly; notwithstanding their magnificent work they receive no benefits whatever. One man pointed out to me in Melbourne recently that the old Protector went on what was practically a yachting cruise to Cocos Island to have a look at the Emden wreck, and because the members of the crew were on “ a ship of war ‘ ‘ they got the benefits under this Act, and under the War Gratuity Act. They were in no more danger when travelling to Cocos Island at that period than were the men who were working off Sydney and Port Phillip Heads. These little differentiations between branches of the service are causing intense dissatisfaction, and I am glad to have the Assistant Minister’s assurance that they will receive consideration.
.- I am sure that all honorable members realize the importance of the housing problem, which has been accentuated by the return of so many soldiers from overseas, and the prospect of many immigrants coming to Australia at an early date. Honorable members will give cordial support to any measure that will tend to relieve the present shortage of houses or liberalize the terms upon which financial assistance may be given to those who desire to establish homes for themselves. I am glad that the amount of the advance for a soldier’s home has been increased from £700 to £800. But I now desire to direct the attention of the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) toone or two matters which have been placed before me. The first is that several soldiers who desired to obtain homes for themselves - homes which were already erected and which had to be purchased from the existing owners - allege that they were compelled to put up a deposit of 10 per cent. of the total amount of the purchase money. Perhaps the Assistant Minister will be good enough to tell me by way of interjection whether that is so.
– Before giving a reply I would require to see the specific proposition.
– The case to which I refer is that of a soldier who selected a home near Sydney. Its purchase price was £700, and before he selected it he was given to understand that the full amount of the purchase money would be advanced to him by the Department. But when he came to complete the contract he was told by the departmental officials that he was required to lodge a deposit of £70.
– It is very difficult to deal with specific cases upon meagre details. If the applicant were prepared to bring his purchase under the War Service Homes scheme in every respect, the full amount would be paid by the Department. But if he desired to get conditions, which would enable him to become the owner of a house, and execute a mortgage over it, he would be required to lodge a deposit of 10 per cent.
– I am quite satisfied that the applicant of whom I am speaking would have been very glad to acquire a home under the conditions first mentioned by the Assistant Minister. It was very hard for him to be obliged to let the deal lapse. I made a telephone inquiry in regard to it from the departmental officers in Sydney, and I was assured by them that a deposit of 10 per cent. was necessary, because of the heavy drain upon the
Treasury consequent upon the large number of applications for these homes.
– That is certainly not the policy of the Government.
– I am very glad to hear it.
– If the honorable member will give me the details of the case I will inquire into it.
– As a matter of fact, I did communicate with the Department in regard to it, but, so far - I admit that I have not gone through the whole of my correspondence for to-day - I have received no reply indicating that a deposit of 10 per cent. was not required. I shall support the protest which has been made by some honorable members in regard to the policy of the Government in declining to make advances for War Service Homes to persons who enlisted when under age. I shall not delay the House by elaborating the reasons for my action, because these have been so well put by honorable members who have preceded me. I shall content myself with voicing my support of the arguments which they advanced–
– Many of which are not well founded.
– I do not say that. I would like to understand the meaning of the statement which has been made by the Assistant Minister. It has been asserted that soldiers who enlisted under age are to be denied the benefits of this measure. That is the charge. Is it true or not?
– The honorable member supports the charge; but the charge does not lie. There is nothing in the principal Act to prevent persons who enlisted when under age from obtaining the benefits of that measure.
– But the fact remains that, in the administration of the Act, those who enlisted under age are denied its advantages.
– Not all of them. Perhaps the honorable member did not hear my explanation of the matter the other afternoon.
– I did not.
– Every member of the Australian ImperialForce, subject to the tests prescribed by the Act, is eligible to participate in this housing scheme.
– Then is there nothing in the suggestion that certain soldiers have been refused the benefits conferred by the Act, on the ground that they were under age when they enlisted?
– There is nothing either in tbe suggestion or in the definite statements which have been made.
– I can assure the honorable gentleman that a soldier made that definite statement to me in Sydney.
– There was something in it, but there is not now.
– Then the evil did exist, but has been removed?
– I understand that that is the position.
– I am very glad of the honorable member’s interjection, because it has enabled me to understand the position much better than did that of the Minister.
– If the position is not as I have stated it, I ask the Assistant Minister to correct me.
– I also support the remarks of the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) in regard to the need for widening the clause which deals with the definition of “ eligibles.” He referred to the fact that representatives of the Young Men’s Christian Association are entitled to the benefits which will be conferred by this Bill. I entirely approve of their inclusion in it. I think that they rendered splendid service overseas. But when I was upon the other side of the water I also observed that splendid service was rendered by the Salvation Army and other similar bodies. I think that the same advantages should be extended to them as are being extended to the Young Men’s Christian Association.
– Let me answer the honorable member by saying that anybody whose services were accepted in the danger zone is eligible to participate in the advantages which will be conferred by this Bill, whether they be members of the Salvation Army or of the Young Men’s Christian Association.
– Then what is the purpose of narrowing the definition of “ eligible” ?
– I will explain that matter more fully at a later stage.
– It appears to me that the Government have singled out the Young Men’s Christian Association for. special treatment, and have excluded from the provisions of the Bill other bodies who certainly did excellent work.
– I can assure the honorable member very definitely that that is not the case.
– That is the way in which it appears to honorable members at the present time. If an amendment be necessary to widen the definition of “eligibles,” so as to make it include members of the Salvation Army and similar bodies, I shall have very much pleasure in supporting it.
A good deal has been said during this debate concerning the purchase by the Government of saw-mills and timber lands in Queensland. I agree with those honorable members who have contended that not only is it desirable that Parliament should approve of the policy of such a purchase, but that when such a large sum of money is involved, it should also approve of the actual transaction. It has been suggested that the Queensland Government embarked upon the business of saw-milling without having consulted Parliament. The Queensland Government, which was returned to power in 1915, did embark upon State enterprises, such as State cattle stations, State meat shops, State saw-mills, State coal mines, &c. But they embarked upon that policy after having been returned by the people of that State, and after that policy had been submitted to the electors. It was part of the programme of the Government of which I was the head - a programme which was outlined by me at Barcaldine in 1915. It was then specifically laid down that we stood for a policy of State enterprise, and we enumerated the character of the enterprises that we intended to undertake, if we were returned to power. Having thus received a mandate from the people, we gave effect to it, and when any purchase took place the amount of such purchase was put upon the Estimates and was voted by Parliament. In regard to the recent purchase by the Commonwealth Government of saw-mills and timber lands in Queensland, I entirely agree with the policywhich has been adopted. Thus far I am with the Government. At the same time I quite recognise the cogency of the arguments of those who contend that even that policy should be approved by Parliament or by the people. But, in this specific case, it appears that there are surrounding circumstances which make it desirable that the transaction should be further investigated. I make a definite charge against the Government. I charge them with having made this purchase for a large sum of money, approximating £500,000, without making the agreement in relation to it. subject to the approval of Parliament. The Minister will plead guilty to that charge, I presume. I contend that in a transaction of this kind, without having any mandate from the people of Australia, and without having a more thorough investigation into the matter, the Government may be very properly charged with a dereliction of duty. They made an agreement recently with regard to an advance to certain primary producers in Western Australia. But that agreement was made subject to the approval of Parliament, although no more money was involved in it than is involved in this transaction. Further, very serious allegations have been made by responsible members of this House, whose word we cannot doubt. They could make much more definite statements than they have made, but their own sense of scrupulousness has prevented them doing so.
– They have not done so because of their lack of knowledge.
– I am particularly referring to the statements of the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page).
– My remark applies to him also.
– I am expressing my own opinion of that honorable member. In view of the allegation which he made - an allegation conveying as much as it did -the matter is one which should be further investigated. The suggestion that this purchase should be referred to the Public Accounts Committee, or to a Special Committee, or to the Public Works Committee is a very reasonable one. If the deal is a good one, and one which is entirely above board, it will be able to withstand the fierce light which would then be thrown upon it.
– Does the honorable member scruple to make a charge ? If he knows of any particular reason why this transaction should be condemned, why does not he indict the Government specifically in respect of it?
– I am basing my opinion upon the statements which have been made in this Chamber and upon the papers which have been placed before us. I occupied the position of Premier of
Queensland for a period of four and a half years, during which, it has been suggested, this property was offered to the Government of that State. I do not remember whether that is a fact or not. But the information can easily be ascertained. I am approaching this matter without using any inside knowledge which was obtained by me whilst I was Premier of Queensland. I am basing my remarks upon the information which has been placed before honorable members and upon the speeches which have been delivered from both sides of the Chamber, and I say deliberately, on all the facts, that the Government would be well advised to agree to an investigation by some independent committee.
– Can the honorable gentleman say, of his own personal knowledge of the facts, that this is a bad bargain for the Commonwealth Government ?
– Not from my own personal knowledge. I am not making any such charge.
– Or from the point of view of a State enterprise?
– Before I pass any opinion upon the transaction as a deal, I would want to know exactly what timber lands were included, what mills, what kind of mills, and so on. I would require expert advice. I do not pretend to be an expert upon these matters, but I do claim that I have the average amount of intelligence, and can form an opinion of the transaction upon statements made in this House by one of its responsible members.
– If the statement made by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) be correct, would not a proposition like that, if submitted to the Queensland Government, have been brought under your personal notice?
– Not necessarily.
– But, surely, it would have been brought under your notice as Premier before being turned down ?
– It might or might not have been. It would depend upon whether the responsible Minister thought such a proposition worthy to be entertained, and consequently to be submitted to me as Premier. Very often proposals submitted to individual Ministers are so absurd that they have no hesitation in turning them down independently of other members of Cabinet. Of course, if a purchase had been made, the matter would probably have been one for Cabinet consideration. I have no doubt that many propositions, as in this case, made to Ministers, never reach the Prime Minister.
– But do you think that, as a matter of Ministerial practice, a transaction involving £150,000 for a State enterprise would be turned down without reference to the Leader of the Government?
– It would entirely depend upon the circumstances. The matter may have been before the Cabinet. I do not carry in my head details of the hundreds of transactions of the Government of Queensland, extending over a period of four and a half years. The mere fact that I am not, from my own personal knowledge, making any charge, is evidence that I have an open mind upon this matter. I should indeed be sorry, withoult sufficient evidence, to make any suggestion against the Government that would damage them, or be damaging to the vendors. But I do say that sufficient has been said in this House to justify a full inquiry into this transaction.We have been told that a certain letter is missing.
– And the honorable member has been told that it is not missing. I specifically deny the charge of the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) that any letter or document is missing from the departmental file.
– Well, I am sure the honorable member for Cowper would not make a statement like that without ample warrant. He is not that type of man. Unless he had some sound reason for believing that a certain letter was in existence and was not now on the file, he would not have made a statement.
– Probably, like many honorable members, the honorable member for Cowper has been misinformed by outsiders.
– All this goes to show the necessity for an investigation. The honorable member for Cowper also said that Mr. Brett was appointed to value Mr. Lahey’s property.
– On behalf of the Department Ideny absolutely that the purchase of Lahey’s property was made on Brett’s valuation.
– Buthe did value it.
– Subsequently reference may have been made to him. I will deal with that when I am speaking.
– What was Brett’s valuation, more or less? This is very important.
– You go ahead.
– If the Minister wants to start an argument while I am speaking, I am entitled to ask for information.
– We all want a lot of information, and are waiting for it.
– Quite so, and I am pointing out the reasonableness of a request to have this transaction referred to the Public Accounts Committee for investigation. If the business is entirely above-board, honorable members ought to be glad of an opportunity for an inquiry, to show that there is nothing inthe transaction that cannot be made public.
– But first we will hear what the Minister has to say.
– Can the honorable member for Fawkner advance any reason why the transaction should not be submitted to the Public Accounts Committee?
– At present I see no reason why it should be, and the honorable member has not shown why it should be.
– I am endeavouring to point out that, concerning this transaction, there are certain circumstances that justify the fullest investigation.
– Those circumstances have only been hinted at.
– No. A definite statement has been made by the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page). It does not appear that opportunity was given to other saw-millers in Queensland to make their business enterprises available for sale to the Government. I know of one saw-miller in the Maryborough district, represented by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), who, during my term as Premier of Queensland, was quite willing to sell his enterprise to the Queensland Government, and he may have been willing to sell to the Commonwealth Government.
– The Minister was informed by the best experts of the Queensland State Forestry Department that there were only two propositions in Queensland - Brett’s and Lahey’s - that could supply the Commissioner with the timber he wanted.
– All these statements, I repeat, are properly a matter for investigation by some independent committee.
– If honorable members had investigated the circumstances of the transaction they would not have made such rash statements.
– Then, by all means let us have an investigation. When a definite challenge was made against the Queensland Government - the honorable member will recollect the incident - with regard to the purchase of the Wando Vale Station, I immediately acceded to the request for a Royal Commission. An investigation was made, and, as a result, it was found there was no foundation for certain allegations that had been made.
– Could not that have been shown without the appointment of a Royal Commission?
– Yes. I could have stated the facts, but I wanted to show that we, as a Government, were prepared for an inquiry by a Royal Commission. The public have a right to expect that light shall be thrown upon some Government transactions, and, in this case, I hope the Government will accede to the request. If they do not, then it may become necessary for Parliament to consider taking action to deal effectively with all such matters. I will do all I can to assist any honorable member to have done what we think ought to be done.
– That is quite an unnecessary statement to make.
– Well, it may be just as well to remind the right honorable the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) that I am prepared to support anv move in the direction of making the will of Parliament supreme.
I am glad to know that the insurance business carried on by the Commissioner will be much more reasonable - I like the word “ reasonable “ rather than “ cheap” - for the owners of houses than private insurance. In this respect I wish to point out that the Queensland State insurance business - I refer to it because it was mentioned by the honorable member for Wide Bay - has been most satisfactory in every respect. Insurance and banking are essentially businesses that may be undertaken by theState.
– The Treasurer has promised to introduce a Commonwealth Insurance Bill this session.
– The honorable member will find that the Treasurer is not likely to introduce anything that will clash with the interests of his supporters outside. When we established an insurance scheme in connexion with workers’ compensation legislationin Queensland, we increased the advantages to injured workers by 75 per cent., without any addition to premiums, the weekly payments to injured workers being advanced from £1 to £2 per week, the amount payable at death from £400 to £600, and for total incapacity from £400 to £750, while the amount of compensation paid to those suffering from industrial diseases, such as miners’ phthisis, was fixed at £1 per week with medical comforts, and, at death, £400. We honoured these claims whether the premiums were paid or not, and on our. first year’s transactions, showed a profit of £52,000, or exactly £1,000 per week. Since then, the insurance business has been even more successful. The Queensland Government have been able to pay bonuses to their premium payers, and to relieve them of the payment of insurance for a certain period in connexion with domestic service. I give these facts to show how desirable it is that the Government should, as far as possible, extend State enterprise in the direction of insurance. I ani glad to hear the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) admit that the Queensland State insurance scheme has been so successful, and worthy of commendation, and I remind him and others that althoughthey now make this admission, no measure passed by the Queensland Government was received wiEh greater opposition from the big capitalistic interests and insurance companies than the Bill providing for State insurance in Queensland.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
.- I look upon this measure as one of the most important with which Parliament can deal. It has been introduced in an endeavour to relieve conditions which exist not only in the Commonwealth, but throughout the whole world. If there is one question of more importance than another to which a Parliament can devote its attention, it is that of providing homes for the people. Iam not one of those honorable members who are likely to find fault with the Government for launching out in a proposal of this character, as I believe it will be the means not only of alleviating discontent, but of making the conditions of the Australian people better than they are to-day. Prom time to time various schemes have been suggested by philanthropists and others for relieving this burning question, and attempts have been made to meet the situation by accommodating families in flats. A witness giv-ing evidence in New South Wales 6aid that flats were “the creation of the devil” because they were unsuitable for accommodating a man with a wife and family. I have heard honorable members on the other side almost lose their common sense, and go beyond the realm of reason, in advocating a policy of immigration; but whatever may be said in favour of such a policy, we have to remember that at the present time it is impossible to house the people we have here. It is, therefore, the duty of. the Government to utilize every means at their disposal for increasing the number of houses in the Commonwealth.
The present position has arisen largely in consequence of the enormous increases that have occurred in the price of land and building material. We know that many honorable members on the other side are not only landlords, but they also have large sums out on mortgage, and naturally feel that an increase in the number of houses will be the means of depreciating values. At present there is land within a few miles of Melbourne and Sydney that has never been occupied, and it is time it was compulsorily acquired, at, say, 10 per cent, above the price at which it is valued for taxation purposes. It is ridiculous for’ an allotment, say, 30 feet by 80 feet to be sold at JB 10 a foot, because when the land is built on it is practically impossible for the person building to ever become the owner of the property. Power is given in this Bill to enable an applicant to receive an advance of £800 instead of £700, as is provided in the original measure, and the proposal is one that should commend itself to honorable members.
Recently I had an opportunity of inspecting some of the buildings erected by the War Service Homes Commissioner, and I have no hesitation in saying that some of them should not be given a clean bill of health, as many of the cottages are not sufficiently high to enable them to be properly ventilated; but when it is remembered that every additional foot in height adds £40 or £45 to the cost, it is easy to see why the height is being restricted. The domestic portions of the dwellings are not sufficiently large to enable the work to be done in comfort, and a little additional expenditure would not only provide more conveniences and greater comfort, but would be the means of increasing the value of the property, and making it a much better asset. In many cases, the properties now held by returned soldiers will not be sufficiently large in four or five years’ time, when their families increase and the holders will be compelled to sell and purchase more commodious dwellings. In view of these circumstances it is very necessary that the asset should be a good one, and the Department should erect dwellings to meet the requirements of occupiers for some years to come. On the general question of social reform, reference is frequently made to prohibition, and I am prepared to assert that if certain people were to devote their energies to providing better accommodation for the people, they would be conferring a benefit on the present and future generation, and could afford to leave the drink question entirely alone. I know that whatever I have to say Will not influence the Government to any extent, but they should endeavour to see ‘ that every house constructed is not only a valuable asset to the purchaser, but that the payments are such that the expenses incurred will not be a tax on the community.
During the debate certain statements have been made that are calculated to create suspicion in the minds of honorable members ; but that is. generally the case when an attempt is made to deal with important questions in a businesslike way. Derogatory statements were made some time ago when a Commission was inquiring into certain land purchases, and during the life of Liberal Governments there has also been trouble in connexion with the wheat and coal contracts. I am not accusing the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) of any irregularities; but I think that those associated with him are responsible for some of ‘ the trouble. It is pleasing to those who are at present on this side of the House to realize that during the three years a Labour Government waa in office they carried out their work in a business-like manner, and left office with a clean sheet. I hope it will be shown that, so far as the purchase of saw-mills and timber areas in Queensland is concerned, nothing worse than a mistake has been made by the Ministry. They are led into mistakes by their friends. The Liberal party, when in office, work like Trojans for their friends. I do not know whether it is because of monetary assistance which they have received at their hands, or merely due to personal considerations, but they certainly do all they can for them. I do not wish to learn their secrets, but, having resided in Sydney for forty-seven years, I arn acquainted with most business people there, and, knowing how keen they are, I oan pretty well guess what has happened.
– Order! Will the honorable member connect his remarks with the question before the Chair.
– My observations have to do with the supply of timber for building War Service Homes.
I hope that the Government will not be parsimonious in dealing with applications for War Service Homes. I know of men who, on volunteering, were advised to present themselves at the Navy Office, since, as certificated engineers, they would be able to do more valuable service in the Navy than they could render in the Army. They adopted this suggestion, and served for two years on “ tramps” which were running a blockade. The ships were commandeered, and they were put on the ships’ articles, and ultimately received their discharge as marine engineers. They did not pass through the Navy Department, and that being so, they are told that they do not come within the provisions of the War Service Homes Act. There are some hundreds of such men.
– I think they are covered by this Bill.
– As a Ministerial supporter the honorable member may have opportunities that I do not secure. My friends are suffering, and I must bring their case before the House. Provision should be made for such cases. The Government cannot go wrong in providing homes for the masses of the people. If I were the Minister in charge of this Department I would resume land within a few miles of Melbourne and Sydney and proceed to erect houses on a very large scale. ‘Travelling between Melbourne and Sydney, I see, within 10 miles of each city, large areas of unoccupied land on which homes might well be erected. Owing to the lack of housing accommodation many people are practically stranded. Where two families are crowded into a four-roomed house it is impossible for children to be reared under reasonably healthy and moral conditions. If the Labour party came into power it would bring about a change of affairs in this regard, and push ahead with the building of homes in a way that would astound the people of Australia.
I desire to bring the Government to a sense of their responsibility in regard to the housing of the people. Many people offer as much as £10 for the key of a house to let. In the electorate of Parkes, quite recently, an agent stood on a box outside an empty house and invited bids for the key. The bids ran from £1 to £6, at which price the key was handed over to a man who, something like three weeks later, got notice to quit because the agent knew that he would be able again to sell the key for £6 or more. That sort of thing is occurring in all our big cities. The scope of this Bill should be so enlarged as to enable us to relieve the congestion, and so remove a serious cause of. discontent. Ministerial supporters, I am sure, sympathize with such a proposal, but will do nothing to carry it into effect. I defy them to show that I am not voicing a most serious abuse.
While I believe that there is room for more people in Australia, I think that the Government, before encouraging immigration, should make some attempt to properly house our present population. If the Bill were broadened on the lines I have suggested, it would meet some thousands of cases for which provision has not been made. It would include wireless operators, men who were on service on our own coast during the war, as well as officers and seamen of our mercantile marine. The latter class discharged duties quite as necessary as those carried out by the men who served our guns. They carried food supplies and munitions of war, and their claims for recognition under this Bill ought to be indorsed. The Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers) is new to his job, and has a chance to make himself a hero in his own country by materially broadening the scope of this measure. If I were in hi3 position I should insist upon the Cabinet adopting a wide housing scheme policy, failing which I would denounce my colleagues. The time has come when the men on the Government benches must assert themselves. I hope that this Bill will be so amended that it may be truly called a Housing Bill. I shall offer no opposition to it, but when we go into Committee I shall submit amendments designed to make it of some real use to the citizens of Australia.
.- Before the Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers) replies to the debate I desire to direct his attention to one or two matters of very great importance. In the first place, I call attention to the unsatisfactory situation in South Australia in regard to the building of “War Service Homes. Honorable members will recollect that some time ago I brought before the House the overlapping of State and Commonwealth functions in connexion with this work in South Australia. The Commonwealth to-day has practically ceased building operations there. It is not building any homes except those for which contracts have been entered into. The State authorities also decided recently not to carry on the functions for which the State Act provides, and they have ceased building. Owing to an unfortunate difference of opinion between the Commonwealth and State Governments, the building of soldiers’ homes in South Australia has practically ceased. It should be possible to overcome the difficulty in a way satisfactory to both the Commonwealth and the State instead of allowing our returned soldiers to suffer. Let me give a case in point. I recently brought under the notice of the Department the case of a returned man who some months ago made application to the Commonwealth War Service Homes Commissioner to erect a house for him. He arranged to get the land, and there was a mortgage on it in the name of the War Service Homes Department. The Department, however, will not build a house for him, nor can he obtain permission from it to have a house built for him on this land by some outside person. The Adelaide branch of the Department informed me that it was doing nothing in the matter. This man’s case is one of many, and while the Commonwealth and State Governments are quarrelling as to who shall carry on these functions, the unfortunate man cannot get a home for himself.
– Has he got the land?
– Yes ; and the War Service Homes Department has a mortgage over it. The Department refuses to lift the mortgage, andthis man is in the unhappy position that he can get nothing done by either the State or the Commonwealth Government.
This difficulty also affects the case of many blind soldiers who have been expecting that houses would be built for them. They find that there is nothing doing. The officials of the War Service Homes Department in South Australia say that they can do nothing for them until they get instructions from Melbourne to go ahead with the work. Such an unsatisfactory stateof affairs should be brought to atermination as quickly as possible. I ask the Minister to give his particular attention to this difficulty. If the State Government of South Australia are going out of this business, then the Commonwealth should take it up. Let me say that ifthe State Government go out of the business the returned soldier who is applying for a War Service Home to-day will be placed at a very great disadvantage, because the terms offered by the State Government have been far more liberal than those offered by the Commonwealth. Under the State Act a soldier is free of all rates and taxes for five years.
– Would he not have to pay municipal rates?
– He is called upon to pay neither municipal nor water rates. Men who came back early from the Front, and got in their applications before the unfortunate dispute between the Governments took place, had an advantage over men making their applications to-day, because they secured homes built by the State Government on the more liberal terms offered under the State Act.
There is another matter to which I should like to draw attention. A returned man taking one of the War Service Homes to-day is charged a minimum rental of about 17s. 6d. per week, in addition to which, of course, he has to pay rates and taxes. Under the State Department the returned soldier pays only 13s. 6d., and secures freedom from the payment of rates and taxes for five years. It is true that under the Commonwealth Act thesoldier can redeem his liability sooner than he can do so under the State Act I wish to impress upon the Minister the desirability of extending the time for payment under the Commonwealth Act,and permitting the returned soldier to secure a home on a smaller weekly payment. Honorable members must know that a married man with an average family must regard a weekly payment of 17s. 6d. as a considerable drag upon his income.
– That is a moderate rent in New South Wales.
– It is a moderate rent in comparison to the rents which have to be paid by men who have not the advantage of the terms offered to returned soldiers; but I suggest that the terms might be made still easier for the returned soldiers, by enabling them to pay. smaller weekly payments over an extended period. That would be a very great advantage to men having large families, and it would be greatly appreciated by them.
Honorable members have urged the Minister to extend the scope of the Act to include men who are to-day excluded from its operation. I wish to add one more to the list of persons to whom it is suggested that the Act shall apply. I make an appeal to the Minister for the inclusion amongst those eligible to benefits under the Act of men who, during the war, were taken into camp after, medical examination, gave their services, but were rejected at the final medical examination prior to embarkation. Every honorable member of the House probably knows of hundreds of men who were in this position, and failed to pass the final medical test before embarkation. A considerable percentage of such men lost their employment because at first they were accepted for service, and went into camp.
– Did not those men enlist?
– Yes, they enlisted.
– Then they are provided for by the new definition of “ Australian soldier “ in the Bill now before the House.
– They offeredtheir services, were accepted, and spent some time in camp; but were finally rejected on a medical examination.
– Under the definition of ‘ ‘ Australian soldier “ as proposed to be amended by this Bill, in paragrapha of clause 2 there will be included any member of the Naval or Military Forces of Australia “ enlisted or appointed for “ or employed on active service.
– I hope the honorable member is right; but I ask the Minister in charge of the Bill to make quite sure on the point. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) is a lawyer, and I am prepared to accept his interpretation of the effect of clause 2. It did not appear to me that provision was made by this Bill for the inclusion of the men to whom I have referred, and if they are included under it I must apologize to the House for having overlooked the matter.
I recognise that the Bill is one that can be best considered in Committee; but before resuming my seat I wish to impress again upon the Minister in charge of the measure the absolute necessity of putting an end to the chaotic state of affairs existing at present in South Australia. It is not fair to the returned soldiers that thev should be prevented from obtaining homes because of differences existing between the State and Commonwealth Governments.
.- This Bill may be regarded as a further instalment in discharge of the Nation’s obligations to its Fighting Forces. I personally appreciate the spirit in which honorable members have addressed themselves to the principles of the measure and to the general administration of the War Service Homes Department. Whatever shade of political thought we may adopt in normal times, we have all to recognise that this is a State obligation, and in so far as the Government are charged with the fulfilment of a definite, solemn, and binding obligation, we can all afford to put aside our predilections of peace-time politics in order to marshal the resources of the State in the discharge of its obligations. That is the spirit in which Australia faced her war obligations, and it must be the spirit in which she shall face the discharge of her obligations to her defenders. Whilst in tune of peace, in dealing with the relations of citizens to one another, one might hesitate to employ the resources of the State in the normal conduct of trade, commerce, and production, and the affairs of the people, where it is a question of the discharge of the obligations of the State to its soldiers I am prepared to use the resources of the State, if need be, to their limit.
Reference has been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) and by many honorable members who sit with him, to the advantages to be gained by State insurance as applied to a scheme of this kind. I admit those advantages, because the asset in connexion with which the State undertakes insurance is its own. It does not need to set aside capital that will not be earning anything. It does not need to employ a staff to get business, collect premiums, issue policies of insurance, and, generally, to engage in the competition associated with ordinary commercial insurance. In so far as it is a proposal for protecting the State’s own property, the principle of State insurancehas a great deal to commend it.
I take even a wider view of the necessities of the present situation. It is that view which is responsible for the Government embarking upon a venture which has been very much discussed during the debate on this Bill, namely, the purchase of timber areas and sawmills in Queensland. My feeling personally is that the State Governments, when they joined in consultation with the Commonwealth Government to consider the best means by which to discharge their obligations in the matter of land settlement and housing schemes for the benefit of returned soldiers, should have placed at the disposal of the Commonwealth their great reserves of timber supplies. It is, in my judgment, a rather lamentable condition of affairs when we find a State Government actually raising the royalties against returned soldiers until they reach a maximum of 25s. per 100 super. feet for soft woods. If that is the spirit in which they are to approach the settlement of a business of this description, I say that, in this respect, whatever may be necessary in order to insure that sound homes of good commercial value may be built for our returned soldiers, I am prepared, along with my colleagues inthe Ministry, to fully share all the responsibility of seeing that the whole material necessary for the erection of those homes shall be secured on a reasonable basis.
When the contract which has been referred to was entered into, what was the position? The Commonwealth, in its attempt to build homes for returned soldiers, was daily in competition with the general public for building material on a colossal scale. We were competing in a sensitive market and were raising prices against ourselves and against the general community, whilst we were lessening the supplies available. We had, under the original Act, limited the cost of a home to £700, but there was no limit to the rising values of the materials required. Whilst it is their prerogative to discuss and debate the bona fides of the Government in entering into a transaction of this description, it is at the same time the bounden duty of honorable members to face the question of repatriation in a reasonable spirit and with a proper ‘recognition of their obligation to the House, the country, and the returned soldier. Honorable members must face the facts as they existed at the time the deal was made. To me the position is quite different from an ordinary transaction which has been entered into without the cognisance of Parliament. We definitely decided in this House to undertake the building of homes for soldiers, passed the necessary measure, and appointed a Commissioner to administer it, so that there might be no political consideration either in the erection of houses or in the acquisition of material for the purpose. We charged the Commissioner with definite duties, and, beyond limiting his authority to expend money in certain directions to £5,000, told him to go ahead and build homes for the soldiers.
– What was the object of limiting his authority?
– His authority was limited in regard to the acquisition of land.
– But what was the real purpose of that limitation?
– Possibly so that every transaction should come under the cognisance of the Minister.
– Hear, hear !
– But that does not necessitate the Minister having to bring every proposition involving over £5,000 to the House for approval. At what point is Ministerial responsibility to begin or end? At £5,000, £10,000, £50,000, or £500,000 ?
– Or £5,000,000?
– I do not say that it might not have been more prudent when the House was sitting for the Minister to have come before it and asked for its approval of the proposition.
– You admit that the action of the Government was wrong ?
– One moment. I think I have been Fairly patient, and honorable members have had . their opportunity to speak. I ask men of sound commercial judgment what owner of a proposition would give an option which meant the disclosure of the whole of his business, and all the necessary details of it, to this House to be torn about in a wrangling debate of this description, and possibly have it turned down? I do not think that would be a business-like procedure.
– It is done every day. Contracts have been made subject to confirmation.
– Can the honorable member tell me one that has been treated in that way in this House?
– Yes; there was the recent agreement with the Western Australian Co-operative Company.
– The Western Australian Company came forward with a request for an advance for the building of silos - quite a different matter from a proposal to sell silos to the Government.
Leaving that question, I will deal now with the Queensland purchase in the light of the charges, if they may so be termed, made against the Government in this House. I defy any honorable member to say where a definite charge has been made, either that the price paid was excessive or that the timber is not accessible, or that the Government did not take reasonable measures to inform themselves with regard to the magnitude of the purchase or as to what they were getting, or that they did not adopt ordinary business methods and inquire into the venture. If any charge has been made against the Government it has come, at a very late hour in the debate, from the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), who says that, because a purchase of great magnitude has been entered into without the sanction of Parliament, it is a derelic tion of duty on the part of the Govern ment. The question of whether the Government have exceeded their duty in entering into this contract must be governed by the wording of the authority given in the principal Act. Honorable members may hold different opinions, but there is a distinction between this transaction and a contract, the authority to make which has never been given by Parliament. I might cite cases where Parliament has had no cognisance of contracts entered . into, and for which no authority has been given, but in this case there was a clear direction given by the House to the War Service Homes Commissioner, under which millions had already been expended in the purchase of material for the building of houses. I am somewhat at a disadvantage in dealing with this matter, as the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen), who has been personally administering the Department, has conducted these negotiations, but I am authorized by, him to give an emphatic denial to the statement that any part of the purchase of Lahey’s property was imade on the sole recommendation of Mr. Brett. As honorable members know, there were two propositions in Queensland - one owned by Mr. Lahey and one owned by Mr. Brett. The Lahey property comprised 10,000 acres of freehold land and two small areas occupied by the mill, office, and so forth. It was a going concern with its railway sidings, tramways, locomotives, rolling-stock, bullock teams, waggons, and so forth, and the Minister took the necessary steps to have it inquired into by appointing Mr. McDaniel, a keen business man and an expert attached to the Queensland Pine Company, to make a complete estimate of the timber upon the area, its accessibility, the output of the mills, and the rolling-stock and plant. The Department’s own officer, Mr. Bradshaw, afterwards proceeded to the property to overhaul Mr. McDaniel’s report, but in addition the Minister also thought it advisable to get what might be termed a check valuation, and therefore made a general reference of the proposition to Mr. Brett. Honorable members have suggested, of course, that Mr. Brett’s valuation, because he also had a proposition to sell, would be higher than that of Mr. McDaniel’s, but actually the reverse has proved to be the case, because Mr. McDaniel’s valuation is the higher. The Brett property comprised 10,057 acres of freehold, and the timber rights over another 7,380 acres, as well as three saw-milling plants. Again estimates were made of its timber bearing capabilities by Mr. A. G. S. Lawrence, a timber expert from the firm of Macintosh Brothers, and he was supported and assisted by Mr. Twine, the District Forestry Officer. Mr. Bradshaw also overhauled this proposition. In both cases the price paid was considerably less than the vendors’ offers. The Minister adopted the ordinary business methods. He looked around for the shrewdest and best business men he could find, and also specially sent up his own officer to check the reports and estimates of both valuers. The statement of the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) the other night, that Lahey’s proposition was bought on the valuation of Mr. Brett, while withholding the fact that the purchase was made on the valuation of Mr. McDaniel, is not the sort of » criticism one would expect from a gentleman who ought to be assisting the House to a thorough understanding of a situation. The honorable member also stated that a material document was missing. I deny it. There is no letter or document missing. The complete file of the negotiations for the purchase of those properties are on record and at the disposal of honorable members.
– Is there any foundation for the statement that there is a missing document?
– I know of none whatever, nor have I been able to detect anything that would give colour to or justification for such a statement. I invite honorable members to inspect the file which I shall place at their disposal.
– Are the valuations in excess of the price paid.
– Yes, substantially. Time alone can prove whether the price paid is the actual intrinsic value of what has been purchased.
This afternoon the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) made the astonishing statement that Mr. Lahey’s property had been submitted to the Queensland Government four years ago at a price of £150,000, and that all the available timber had been cut out of it at the rate of 8,000,000 super feet per annum, and that the balance would be of no use to the soldiers or the Government, or any one, as an aeroplane would be required to get at it. All I can say in reply to th<= honorable member’s statement is that the Repatriation Department have no knowledge of any such offer having been made to or rejected by the Queensland Government. When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ryan) was speaking, I put the question to him as to whether, when he was Premier of Queensland, he knew anything about a £150,000 proposition having been submitted to him, but he knew nothing of it.
– He said that the offer might have been made.
– If the honorable member had had a £150,000 proposition submitted to him it would not have gone so quickly from his mind, when, on a debate of this description, he had a chance of doing what he so often has desired to do, namely, to outflank the Ministry. Perhaps the best answer to the statement of the honorable member for Darling is that, whether the purchase be good or not, the mills are being run to-day temporarily by one of the best experts in Queensland, who guarantees to the War Service Homes Commissioner that out of this very “ inaccessible “ timber, the purchase of which is said to be such a bad deal for this country, he will supply hardwood at 32s. per 100 super, feet, whereas the present Brisbane price from the mills is 39s., and weatherboard at 30s. per 100 super, feet as against the market value of 42s.
– Is that an estimate or a guarantee?
– It is an actual guarantee. These are the prices agreed upon.
– By whom ?
– By Mr. Brett, who is running the mills to-day.
– But that is no guarantee.
– Surely Mr. Brett’s reputation in Queensland can be taken as being a little more than a mere byword ? At any rate, what he guarantees to. do counters the view that the honorable member for Darling has put forward* that these timbers are so far distant that they cannot be reached except by the use of aeroplanes, and although these figures may not be subject to a guarantee running over a number of years they afford some proof that this is not a wild cat proposition.
– The guarantee is no part of the contract.
– It is not, but the mills are being operated. I assure the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) that I am giving the facts, as I know them, to the House for what they are worth. The honorable member is putting his own construction on Mr. Brett’s undertaking.
– Mr. Brett has had a lifelong experience of timber.
– Of course, and he is a man of high standing in the timber world. It has been suggested here that, on the mere ipse dixit of a member or two, who have thrown some doubt or suspicion on this contract, but who can make no definite charge whatever in regard to it, the Government ought to hasten to appoint a Royal Commission or some similar body. I invite any honorable member who has first-hand knowledge, or who can get it, in connexion with this proposition, to bring it to the House or to me personally. I will undertake to give it the most searching investigation, and the House will be made aware of any facts that can be brought to light. The way is open for honorable members to take that course, but it must not be expected that on mere rambling and doubtful statements, making no definite charge, and in no respect showing that the Government is responsible for an error of judgment, we should hasten to appoint a Royal Commission, or submit this matter to some other body.
– Can the Minister tell the House the estimated value of that purchase as against the open market price?
– No, I have not taken it out in the aggregate on to-day’s market prices, but that is easily reckoned up from the ruling rates. I have available a schedule showing the whole of the rates ruling to-day for hardwood, iron, lime, cement, and all other materials necessary for the building of soldiers’ homes. While the contract insures the Government a supply for a number of years, and the Government anticipates being able to get out for the first eighteen months at the rate of about 12,000,000 super. feet of pine and 6,000,000 super. feet of hardwood, the output of the mills can afterwards be increased to 18,000,000 super. feet of pine.
In order that the House may be better able to appreciate the difficulties that confront the Government in carrying through the War Service Homes problem, I may state that up to the 6 th September there were 1,332 homes built, and 2,735 in course of construction; contracts were let for 261, and tenders were under consideration for 79, or a total of 4,407 proposals dealt with. The applications received up to the 31st July totalled 27,000. With 4,407 only dealt with up to date, there remains a gigantic problem still to be faced and dealt with so far as material is concerned. That is no light matter. If to-day we find the market so much against the soldier, while Parliament limits the Commission and the Minister to a definite expenditure for homes, how are the Government and the Minister reasonably to face the position if their hands are to be tied in every respect? I have been one who claimed very stoutly for this Parliament the control of the public purse.
Mr.Stewart. - You are not doing it now.
– But I have also to recognise that Parliament, including the honorable member, deliberately said, “Here is a grant of millions, appropriated in the Estimates and passed. Let the Commission go ahead and build homes ; we will not always be sitting, and there may be many months of the year in which you cannot refer to us directly.” Honorable members on both sides of the House know that soldiers’ claims and requests for the building of homes are pressing and incessant. I am not going to say that it is a wise policy to give to individual Ministers or to the Commission the right to spend ad libitum. If Parliamenthappened to be sitting, and the proposition faced me, I should be delighted to have Parliament’s opinion on it; but this is a matter in respect of which I askthe House to believe that the Minister acted in good faith, in the very best interests of the soldiers, after taking what I claim to be reasonable precautions to have the proposition overhauled before he finalized the deal.
– Is there any reason to believe that it is not a sound business proposition ?
– From the investigations 1 have made, Ihave no reason whatever to believe so. On the contrary, Parliament by this measure is enlarging the scope of the War Service Homes scheme, and bringing in many new beneficiaries. The problem of getting material, therefore, becomes more acute every day. Prices have gone up, and each of the State Governments controlling forest areas has raised the royalty. Their method, instead of directly raising it themselves, is to offer concessions for competition from time to time, and up goes the royalty. We find ourselves in daily competition for limited supplies. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) says that that state of things is not confined to timber alone, and I have some sympathy with that statement. The grave responsibility faces this House of deciding to what extent it will allow its obligations to the soldiers to be discharged in this highly competitive market, where partial supplies alone are available. I regret that it has not been my personal province to have a closer association with these negotiations, for I should then have been in a better position to inform honorable members of the true merits of the case. I hope they will remember that at about two minutes’ notice it fell to my lot to take charge of this measure. Withinthe time at my disposal I have endeavoured, for the benefit of honorable members, to get together such information as I thought necessary to enable them to form a sound judgment upon the proposition.
Mr.Laird Smith. -You might mention the provision thathas been made for a sinking fund.
-The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) indicated that in this proposition the Government had altogether overlooked the question of interest on the capital involved, although in the costing system of timber that was always taken into account. If any Government, or Government officials, were responsible for suchan oversight, their authority should be very quickly lessened, but I assure honorable members that full and complete provision is made for interest on the capital in the sinking fund itself.
– When you take the timber off the land itshrinks the value of the land.
– Provision has been made for that in the sinking fund. The whole matter has been carefully investigated actuarially.
Honorable members on this side have expressed objection to the transaction, because it means another State enterprise and a new Socialistic scheme. That is not so. This is a purchase made for the fulfilment of the obligations in connexion with War Service Homes. When these needs are met, the Government will have in its hands the residuum in the shape of the timber left on the areas, plant and rolling-stock, which will be liquidated in the ordinary way, and also the land, and the whole thing will be closed up. The proposition’ will, therefore, not form the subject of a new State enterprise. After all, there is not such a tremendous difference, as the Minister pointed out, between buying timber in the round, or in logs, or sawn, and buying standing timber and the tools with which to cut it down and saw it up, thus making sure that the price will not rise against the soldier and the Government from time to time. Honorable members on this side need have very little concern about the undertaking, viewed from the stand-point of State Socialism. As the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) says, there is not much need to fear it as a Socialistic enterprise.
– Have you had the quantities, as estimated by timber experts, checked by a public actuary ?
– Yes, the whole thing has been actuarially investigated. In addition to having experts estimating the quantities, we have had the Departmental officer up there checking their calculations and examining the whole proposition.
– Is there any warrant for the suggestion of the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), that the Department will not be able to keep up the output?
– I think not. It may be that as we bite into the forest we shall have to extend our tram-lines and other utilities to get at the timber which is not so readily accessible.
– Senator E. D. Millen told me that they did not reckon the land as an asset when purchasing, but looked on it as a reserve.
– I thought the whole proposition had been taken into account; but the Minister may consider the deal as so satisfactory from the point of view of the timber alone that he regards the land as a sort of bargain to the Commonwealth.
Honorable members have treated this measure very much as if it were in the Committee stage. Each of them has outlined what he considers the shortcomings of the existing Act, and has given detailed criticisms of the Bill, with suggestions for alterations or additions to it. I propose briefly to deal with the points raised in this way, in order to shorten the subsequent debate in Committee. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) was good enough to hand me specific proposals by the limbless and permanently incapacitated returned soldiers for inclusion in the measure. If I gather it” temper aright, the whole House seems to be in sympathy with the honorable member’s suggestion. I believe that, without any further alteration of the Act, machinery is available for giving effect to what I take to be the genera] wish of the House, because section 47 of the principal Act provides -
The Commissioner may, if requested so to do by any prescribed authority of the Department of .Repatriation, provide a dwelling-house for the use of any totally and permanently incapacitated Australian soldier.
Recently the provision made for that class of unfortunate sufferer from the war was reviewed, .and the allowance increased from about £2 to £4 per week, with 18s. 6d. for the wife, 10s. for the first child, 76. 6d. for the second, and 5s. for the third. The War Service Homes Commissioner is given very definite instructions in the Bill as to whom he can help, and how he can help them. He may have a somewhat wide individual discretion with regard to the purchase of material; but the beneficiaries under the Act are specifically enumerated,- and the amount of the benefits receivable by them is fixed. I propose, however, to suggest to the Minister and the Repatriation Commissioner that the cases under review may be dealt with by the Commissioner under section 47 of the Act. It may involve a reduction of the increased advance so as to put it on a sound business footing. This is the business branch of repatriation. The building of homes is insepar able from the maintenance of the national asset at an unvarying mark. It is competent for the Repatriation Commissioners to approach the Housing Commissioner, and to say, “ In lieu of the increased provision recently made for the totally incapacitated and the limbless, we desire that the present pension allowance be slightly reduced and that, to balance the reduction, you shall provide a permanent home for these men.” The test to which the Commissioner has to submit the ordinary applicant consists in that he must be satisfied that the latter has reasonable prospects of paying his instalments and wiping off his debt, and, up to the present, the experience of the Commissioner has been very satisfactory. At the earliest opportunity I shall consult the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) and the members of the Commission, with a view to making provision whereby a totally incapacitated man may secure a home if he is prepared to abate, to some slight degree, the sum of his pension.
With respect to the question of deposits being required, neither the Act nor this amending measure requires any applicant to make any deposit. Those who are eligible to make application comprise every member of the Australian Imperial Force, together with those persons additionally referred to in the Bill. So, in the case of youths who had enlisted for service abroad, and who had served in whatever capacity, they are, subject to the tests ordinarily imposed, eligible to benefit under the scheme. The tests consist of such questions as, “ Are you married?” “ Are you about to be married?” “Have you reasonable prospects of being able to carry through your obligation in respect of securing a home?” and “ Is your employment, or your position, or your temperament of such a character that one may reasonably expect you to stand up to your obligations?”
The matter of the eligibility of vocational trainees raises a business difficulty. A young man is turning his hand to a new trade or .calling. He is in the initial stages of his training; and, even though he may be making good headway, he may, within a month or two, have lost all inclination to continue. Off he goes, neither fully equipped to follow that avocation nor feeling inclined to do so. If he were to make application for a home at that stage, it could scarcely be said that he had reasonable prospects. However, as a trainee approaches the final stages of his course - and having, perhaps, the promise of securing a lucrative position - I think that the Commissioners might be induced to say that such a man is eligible to come within the scope of tho War Service Homes legislation.
– What about the case of a married trainee?
– One cannot very well take into account that condition, irrespective of the position as I have just stated it. The test concerning whether or not a trainee has prospects of carrying out his home-purchasing obligation is not necessarily influenced by the fact of his being married. If a trainee is not married, he is not eligible to come within the scope of this legislation unless, of course, he can comply with the tests I have just mentioned.
Some honorable members have raised the matter of building homes in country parts, and have critically compared the rate of progress with that in metropolitan areas. I certainly think there is room for speeding up so far as construction in the country is concerned ; I would like to see many more homes built in the country districts. It must not be forgotten, however, that there is a distinct advantage in building on large areas in cities, in the matter of the Commissioner being able to make comparatively large contracts for the supply of material at practically the one site, and with respect to concentration of labour. However, I shall do all I can to speed up country construction.
As for the matter of private purchase cf homes already erected, there is provision in the Act, and transactions in respect of such homes are subject to the same limit as ordinarily. If the Commissioner is not satisfied that an equivalent value for the amount of his advance is contained in the house he is quite free to refrain from making the full amount of advance; or again, if the value of the house is in excess of the limit of the advance, the applicant is free to personally provide the difference. Regarding the latter point, some honorable members appear to have become confused with the idea that this represents the payment of a deposit. Ordinarily, homes are built on the rent instalment purchase system. If, however, an applicant desires to pay down, say, a total of 10 per cent., the Government are prepared to advance the remaining 90 per cent., so allowing the applicant to become the registered proprietor of his home - the Department taking out a mortgage for the amount of the 90 per cent. advance. If, after an applicant has paid up 15 per cent. of the purchase money, by instalments, he desires to become the registered proprietor, the Department will agree to the conversion of the contract at that stage, and will accept the position of mortgagee. This class of transaction, again, may have given rise to the erroneous belief that a deposit is required.
I have been asked by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell) to state the position in the event of an applicant choosing a design for his house, and it being discovered that the structure will cost more than the estimated value. If the Department were to estimate that the house would cost not more than £800 - which sum was advanced - and it were found that, as a result of fluctuating prices, the home eventually cost £825, the applicant would be at an advantage compared with others; that is, unless he were brought down to within the £800 limit and required to find the difference himself.
– The experience in Western Australia, under the Workers’ Homes Board, is the opposite of the Minister’s argument. And after all, if he has the value in the house itself, what does it matter to the Commissioner ?
– The honorable member is confusing Western Australia’s State housing scheme with this measure, which provides a limit up to £800.
– With respect to the other scheme, there is- also a limit.
– In Western Australia there must have been some discretion allowed the responsible Minister.
– And there should be some discretion allowed the Commissioner here. Of course, if an applicant asked for certain extras he should pay for them; but if the estimate of the Department’s officers were at fault, and the eventual cost of the house were heavier than the estimate, the Department should be prepared to help the applicant, and not ask him to pay the difference.
– The honorable member is assuming that if there is any excess over the estimate the fault will be due to miscalculation on the part of officers of the Department. I cannot accept that view. However, I have carefully noted the objection; but, within the scope of this measure, I cannot offer any redress. It will be a matter for further consideration.
This Bill proposes to widen the scope of our War Service Homes legislation. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) raised the question of who should have preference. The policy of the Department is to give first preference to members of the Australian Imperial Force, or to widows of fallen soldiers. After that, there might be other persons eligible to benefit, for whom the Commissioner would be placed under no disadvantage if he were to agree to provide homes, while at the same time carrying out contracts elsewhere. But, subject to that consideration, the policy of preference is precisely as I have indicated.
The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) mentioned a matter of considerable interest to the general community, but which is not relevant to the question of who shall benefit under this measure. He referred to the ferocity of the rapacious landlord, and so forth. This Bill should go a long way towards relieving that condition of affairs by providing tens of thousands of homes for men who previously depended upon the landlords.
– Some of the landlords should be in gaol.
– Like the honorable member, I am a keen advocate of every man owning his own home, if possible. The home is the first institution in life. If we have plenty of homes we shall have plenty of Australian families: the excessive growth of flat life will not be for the benefit of our race. I assure honorable members that I shall do everything within my power to hasten the construction of homes. To those honorable members who have expressed a desire to widen the scope of the measure in order to include many other classes of persons who rendered great service in the war, I reply that we should first try to make greater headway with the provision of homes for the men of the fighting Forces. As I have already shown, 27,000 applications have been received, and many more may be expected. If honorable members insist upon the inclusion of new classes of beneficiaries they will only increase the difficulties of the Government and lessen the chance of members of the active fighting Forces getting their homes within a reasonable time.
– Why did the Government include the Young Men’s Christian Association and leave out the Salvation Army ?
– Every person who served in the war zone is eligible for the benefits under the War Service Homes Act. Members of the Salvation Army who were accepted for service as chaplains and members of the Young Men’s Christian Association accepted for service with the Australian Imperial Force, are alike eligible under the Act. The many honorable members who 6poke during this debate have stressed numerous phases of the housing problem. It is impossible for me to answer the remarks of every honorable member, and I invite those who have raised important questions to which I have not replied to address a direct interrogation to me on the subject.
The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) referred to the discrimination in the legal provisions for housing under the War Service Homes scheme,and the building of houses on broad acres under the land settlement scheme. The construction of houses on broadacres does not come within the purview of the scheme now before the House.The Department has no obligations in that respect; but the matter is none the less important, for while the House is asked to give authority for the construction of homes up to a maximum cost of £800 in the metropolitan area, this Parliament and the State Parliaments together have decided that a sum of £625 is sufficient for the building of a home on the land, and the acquiring of stock, implements, equipment, fodder, and all that is necessary for the settlement of a soldier upon the land. There is a wide discrimination, I admit, but the matter does not come within the province of the Housing Commissioner. It is a matter that particularly concerns the States, which control the land settlement policy; the Commonwealth hasmerely found the money to give effect to that policy.
The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay), and the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) referred to the position of leaseholders and holders of miners’ rights. At the present time those persons are not eligible, as a matter of administration, for an advance under the
War Service (Homes Act. The Government have determined that they will erect homes only on freehold land in respect of which there can be no doubt as to the validity of the title and the reversionary rights of the Commonwealth. Miners’ rights exist in only two States, Victoria and Queensland. The Commissioner has approached the Governments of both States, and an arrangement has been made with the Government of Victoria under which the Commonwealth may, without any objection being raised by the State authorities, compulsorily acquire any area covered by a miner’s right for the purpose of building a soldier’s home. The Queensland Government, however, has declined, even if compulsion be resorted to, to issue a freehold in respect of a miner’s right. I am sorry that this matter could not have been arranged in a friendly spirit between the Commonwealth and all the States, so that a short measure might be passed in each State Parliament to convert the tenure of these lands, in order ‘that the whole scheme of housing might be based on a uniform system of freehold. Many members claim that a perpetual lease and a miner’s right offer a fair security to the Commonwealth, but what we are aiming at is the complete ownership by the soldier of his own home. We desire that when the soldier has paid off his obligations to the Department we may be able to issue to him a- grant of the unencumbered freehold of his home, as his reward for the service he rendered. I shall endeavour to see if we cannot yet make this arrangement with the States by mutual consent.
In regard to housing operations in South Australia, the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) and the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell) have on many occasions called attention to the overlapping and duplication in that State. South Australia has a very commendable record, its housing scheme having been well conducted by the State Government on very favorable terms. The State system, however, was inaugurated at a time when the price of money was lower, and the demand for housing accommodation was less acute than it is to-day. ‘ During the most critical years of war there was almost a stoppage of building operations. With the return of the soldiers, the demand for houses increased, and under the conditions which exist to-day, it has not been possible for the ‘ Commonwealth to offer terms as advantageous to the soldiers as those which the South Australian Government offered. I would like to have seen an arrangement made under which the State Government, which had done so much and so well in regard to housing, could have been given control of the building of homes for the Commonwealth under conditions approved by this Parliament. Of course, we could not take the risk of handing over to the State complete charge of the scheme for building homes for soldiers. Such an arrangement has not been possible; the South Australian Government has pulled out of the work, and the obligations now rest wholly upon the Commonwealth.
– The State authorities set a standard which the Commonwealth will never reach.
– I have been endeavouring to commend the work done by the State Government, and I am now staging the position as it is to-day. Mr. Laffer, the Minister for Repatriation in South Australia, has made a statement in which he places upon the Commonwealth Repatriation Department the full responsibility of the present position of affairs. All I can do at this stage is to read to the House Senator E. D. Milieu’s answer. He said - “I arn very surprised,” said Senator Millen, “to see the statement of Mr. Laffer, in which he says that the action of the South Australian Government in deciding to discontinue its housing operations for soldiers is due to the Commonwealth extending to South Australia the operations of the War Service Homes Act. “ The facts are that upon the Housing Commissioner taking the initial steps to commence his operations in that State, it was represented to the Commonwealth Government that as South Australia was already dealing with soldier housing it was a duplication for the Commonwealth to undertake the same responsibility. “ Instructions were therefore given to cease operations under the War Service Homes Act in South Australia pending a promised communication from the Government of that. State. No communication was ever received, but ‘ at the recent Premiers’ Conference, as the result of a discussion with Mr. Laffer, that gentleman undertook, after conference with his colleagues, to submit a proposal under which tha work would be left entirely to the State. “No communication was received, however, until a reminder had been forwarded. After this Mr. Laffer wrote stating that his Government had decided to cease operations. “ It will thus be seen that, whilst the Commonwealth held its hand with a view to cooperation with the State Government, the latter has decided to withdraw, leaving the Commonwealth no alternative but to proceed with the work of war service homes building in that State.”
Many other questions of a detailed nature were raised during the debate, and if further information upon them is desired I shall endeavour to furnish it in Committee.
– Did the Minister during my absence deal specifically with the case of limbless and blind soldiers?
– Yes; and I repeat that I think we can give effect to the wish expressed by the honorable member under section 47, which provides that the Housing Commissioner may build homes for such persons at the Repatriation Commissioners’ request. It becomes now a question of policy for the Government, the Housing Commissioner, and the Repatriation Commissioners to agree that, in lieu of certain increased pension provision, homes may be provided.
– Order! The Honorary Minister’s time has expired.
.- I would like to know-
– Order ! The honorable member may not speak now. The Minister has already replied, and the debate upon the second reading of the Bill has closed.
– I moved the second reading of the Bill.
– But since that time I understand that the Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has taken charge of the measure completely.
– That is so now.
– In that case the Honorary Minister must be regarded as having replied, and the debate is therefore closed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Section 4 of the principal Act is amended -
by inserting in paragraph(b) of the definition of “ Australian soldier “ after the word “ Australia” (first occurring) the words “enlisted or appointed for or”;
by omitting from paragraph (b) of the definition of “ Australian soldier “ the words “and was employed on active service outside Australia “ ;
.- In the early stages of the war a great number of young fellows, many of them officers, were accustomed to parade the streets of Melbourne, and of our other capital cities, in uniform. There was no greater disgrace to Australia than the way these men used to swagger about our public thoroughfares. They enlisted for service abroad, but refused to leave our shores except as officers. It seems to me that, under the clause we are now considering, they will be entitled to the benefits which will be conferred by this measure. I do not object to persons who enlisted during the later stages of the war, but who did not go abroad owing to the termination of the struggle, receiving all the benefits which will accrue to them under the Bill.
– The honorable member must not forget that the Defence Department kept some officers here for the purpose of drilling the men who enlisted.
– There were not many cases of that sort. In a good many instances these men were kept here at their own instigation.
– Every member of the Australian Imperial Force, when he was sworn in and accepted for service, placed himself unreservedly in the hands of the authorities.
– I know of one case in which a man held such an important job here that he could not be spared for service abroad. Yet the Department closed down the work upon which he was engaged only a month afterwards. He did not go abroad, and I know that a good deal of influence was used to keep him in Australia. According to the figures given by the Honorary Minister to-night, 27,000 applications have already been received for War Service Homes. That means an expenditure of £21,000,000, and. consequently, it is fair to assume that the entire scheme will cost £25,000,000. We have also war gratuities to pay, and, therefore, we cannot afford to be too liberal in this matter.
– If we do what the honorable member wishes us to do we shall inflict grave hardship upon many persons.
– I would extend the provisions of this measure only to those men who actually left our shores.
– Then the honorable member would debar those who enlisted bond fide from participating in the benefits which will be conferred by this Bill.
– The honorable member must recognise the enormous drain which this Bill will make upon our resources.’ “We have enormous obligations to meet within the next two years, and we cannot afford to give so much away.
– These are all paying propositions.
– Honorable members should reflect very carefully before committing the Commonwealth to such a great expenditure. If at a later stage we can go in for a general housing scheme I shall be only too pleased, but certainly we cannot afford to do that now.
.- t hope that the Government will retain the clause in its present form. I cannot understand the contention of the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory). Even if we did what he has suggested, we should not affect 200 persons throughout Australia. If the definition of “ Australian soldier “ be altered, weshall injure a number of men who enlisted for service abroad, but who were retained here for special service. It was not their fault that they ‘did not leave Australia. The definition as it stands is a very fair one, which will overcome some of the difficulties from which our soldiers are suffering to-day.
– I should like the opinion of the Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers) upon the scope of paragraph a of this clause. I desire to know whether it will cover a certain class of men - I refer to those whose case was advocated this afternoon by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) - the staff and men of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade. I know certain members of that staff who were as keen as mustard in their war enthusiasm, and who volunteered for service abroad, but who were notified that they were required at home. Had these men been kept here simply for home service I should have nothing to say upon the matter. But certain of them were sent out upon special service. They were sent outside the territorial waters of Australia upon examination duty. I know one member of the staff, especially, who was thus engaged for several months. He was employed upon this examination work, for weeks he had not his clothes off night or day, he was scarcely ever dry, and he was certainly in the danger zone, because there was always a possibility of his encountering German warships or of striking a mine. I should’ like to know whether his case is covered by the definition of “ Australian soldier.” That definition sets out that “ Australian soldier “ means a person who, during the continuance of the war, was a member of the Naval Forces of Australia employed on active service outside Australia. My reading of that provision is that a member of the Naval Forces who was sent beyond our territorial waters into the danger zone was upon active service outside Australia.
– I understand that all members of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade, when called up at the outbreak of war, were regarded as being on active duty, whether they were on duty ashore of afloat.
– I regret to say that in the past the ruling of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) has been to the effect that members of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade are excluded from participating in the advantages conferred by the principal Act. Two classes in particular are not provided for at present, namely, the Royal Australian Naval Brigade and the Royal Garrison Artillery, but in respect of them I am making a recommendation, which I hope Will be accepted, as they were practically mobilized at the outbreak of war and stood at attention waiting for instructions. Had any German raider escaped from the patrol of the seas and attacked Australia, these were the men who would have been called upon to meet the enemy. I ask the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) not to pres3, at this stage, for the inclusion of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade. I hope to make an announcement on the subject before the Bill is finalized.
.- I move -
That paragraph (a) be left out.
My desire is to get a clear indication from the Committee upon the point I raised as to whether the advantages of the Act should be extended only to those who enlisted and were engaged on active service.
.- I hope theCommittee will not agree to the amendment. If this were a Gratuity Bill there would, no doubt, be much to recommend it, because it might then be argued that we were extending the liability of the Commonwealth. But with respect to this measure the Minister has assured us that only a very small percentage of the liability is outstanding at the present time.
– About £1,500.
– I understand that nearly £200,000 has been repaid by persons who have received advances, and that less than £2,000 is overdue.
– And for which security is held by the Commonwealth.
– That is so. The advance is not a gift. The Government are merely lending the money to eligible persons who rendered some service to the Commonwealth during the war. I am not in favour of limiting the advantages of the Act. My desire is to extend them if possible. I have in mind the case of a man who was living at Mildura, and who had served in the South African War. He enlisted, but was turned down. Then he went to Kerang, enlisted again, and was once more rejected. Next he went to Bendigo, had the same experience there, and finally, in Melbourne, was accepted for home service. This man enlisted seventeen times, and he was very anxious to get away. Another man, an officer of the Citizen Forces, enlisted at the outbreak of the war, but the authorities said that his services as an instructor for the men in camp and as a “ coach “ for officers were so valuable that he could not be spared for service overseas. He signed on in the Australian Imperial Force, and actually got on board a transport, but was withdrawn and kept in Australia. Senator E. D. Millen told me that he thought this man should have the advantages of the Act, because probably his services to the Commonwealth were as valuable as were the services of many men who went to the Front. I shall vote against the amendment.
.- During the second-reading debate the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), referring to the definition clause, mentioned that there did not appear to be provision for organizations similar to the Young Men’s Christian Association, which is specially included; and he instanced the case of the Salvation Army. The Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers), in reply, said the definition provided for the Salvation Army, but I see no reference to that organization, and I think that if the Young Men’s Christian Association is included, the Salvation Army, or any other religious or charitable association which rendered similar service, should also be proxided for.
– Otherwise an in vidious distinction will be made.
– Yes ; we shall have laid at our door the charge that, in this Bill, we provided only for a certain section, whilst others, who did equally good work, received no recognition. I ask the Minister, in view of his statements, to be good enough to inform the Committee in what way the Salvation Army, or any other religious bodies, are provided for.
– Every member of a denomination who served in the danger zone, or who was accepted for service, is included in the scope of the measure. “ Accepted for service “ is the governing term. In the case of the Salvation Army, all chaplains are eligible, as are all chaplains of other religious denominations; but members of the Young Men’s Christian Association, who were not chaplains but who were “ accepted for service “ within the danger zone are now put on the same footing as chaplains.
– What about members of the Young Men’s Christian Association who were not chaplains but performed similar work?
– They will not be included. I hope the honorable member will not press for the inclusion of others, such as Red Cross workers and Comforts Fund workers, while members of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade and members of the Royal Garrison Artillery are excluded.
– But will not this definition include the whole of the members of the Young Men’s Christian Association who were doing any work at all?
– I do not think this definition will apply to more than fifty persons. It is a special provision, inserted to put Young Men’s Christian Association officials on the same footing as those ‘chaplains I have enumerated, and who, having been “ accepted for service,” are included. I assure the honorable member that chaplains in the Salvation Army, “ accepted for service,” are included, and that the definition does not include every member of the Young Men’s Christian Association. ‘ It would not be feasible or wise for the Commonwealth to undertake so wide an obligation as to make housing provision for all those who rendered service behind the lines.
.-I understand it is now . the intention of the Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers) to make provision for the inclusion of members of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade and members of the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery, and if such is the case, I should like to know why others who are in the same category are to be excluded. If the members of the units mentioned are to come under the provisions of this Bill, why are not the members of the Royal Australian Engineers and the members of the Wireless Staff, who enlisted and who were liable to be sent abroad, to be overlooked? If we include some, we must include them all, and there does not appear to be any justification for separating them in this’ way. The engineers were in attendance throughout the day and night for the whole period of the war, and surely they are entitled to some consideration. I have recently been in consultation with the Repatriation Department, and have received a ruling to the effect that men who enlisted as doctors and dentists and who were engaged in home service work are not to receive any benefits at all.
– This is to cover men who enlisted.
– I had a distinct ruling from the Repatriation Department today.
– But this Bill is to cover men who actually enlisted.
– But I am referring to those who are included in the Repatriation Act, and am contending that, if we include the members of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade and Royal Australian Garrison Artillery, we should also include the members of other units. I understand that the measure applies only to those munition and- war workers who were employed in connexion With the Government scheme, but it must be remembered that the Government had supervision of the men only during the latter period. There were many war workers who went away at their own expense, and although they were working side by side with men who were under Govern-‘ ment supervision, they found on their return that they were not to participate in the benefits provided under such measures as this. I trust the Minister will carefully consider this matter, and see that if munition and war workers are to benefit, others in the same category are also included.
.- I am in accord with the views expressed by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), Although representatives of the Young Men’s Christian Association rendered satisfactory service, I know, from letters I received from the Front, that the representatives of the Salvation Army were more in touch with the soldiers, who seemed to appreciate the work of that organization more than they did that of the Young Men’s Christian Association. I cannot understand why representatives of the latter organization should be included when the representatives of the Salvation Army are not. This clause makes it clear that any member of the Young Men’s Christian Association accepted for service-
– That is the whole point, “ accepted for service.”
– Surely some members of the Salvation Army were in a similar position.
– The chaplains of the Salvation Army are eligible, but the great body of men behind them are not included. On the other hand, certain representatives of the Young Men’s Christian Association who were in the danger zone are specifically mentioned, but the members of the Young Men’s Christian Association behind them are not included. It is merely putting the officers of the Young Men’s Christian Association in the same position as chaplains of other denominations.
– Then this provision will not bring in the general body of the Young Men’s Christian Association workers.
– Certainly not.
.- I do not know why special mention should be made of Young Men’s Christian Association workers. If they were accepted for service they are entitled to all the benefits. If a man joined the Australian Imperial Force and went to Great Britain, France, or Gallipoli, he would be entitled to the benefits to be conferred by this Bill. I realize that the measure is not to apply to the general body of Salvation Army workers. I do not know of any one other than chaplains who went in a similar capacity to the representatives of- the Young Men’s Christian Association. Most of the representatives of the Young Men’s Christian Association supervised sports and entertainments on troopships, and took charge of football matches in England and in France and did very good work. There were no representatives of the Salvation Army who went abroad in a similar capacity, as they either enlisted in the Army as chaplains and were attached to infantry or artillery units. As regards the work performed by the two organizations in the base camps, that of the Salvation Army stands by itself. I have know instances where the representatives of the Young Men’s Christian Association did not do good work, but there are others where they performed very satisfactory service. It all depended on the official in charge. I trust the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) will not move an amendment on the lines he has indicated, because, if such an amendment were carried, it would not benefit one officer of the Salvation Army who we are not already providing for.
.- I am somewhat in sympathy with the views expressed by the honorable member for Bal larat (Mr. McGrath), because I do not know why there should be a distinction between the representatives of the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Salvation Army. I did not come in contact with many representatives of the Salvation Army, but that is not saying that they did not do excellent work. In Gallipoli and Palestine we had quite a number of Young Men’s Christian Association men, but they were all in charge of canteens or supervising sports, and were well behind the lines. It would be difficult for the Department to decide as to what work was done within the danger zone. I do not know that there are any records to show whether a Young Men’s Christian Association official remained all through in camp at, say, Monastir, or whether he went up to Jerusalem. No records would be kept of their movements.
– Some were accepted for service as members of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and others were riot.
– The applicant would have to satisfy us as to the character of his work.
– A Young Men’s Christian Association official might not have been within 500 or 600 miles of the danger zone. I am opposed to enlarging the scope of the Bill in order to bring these gentlemen under it at the present time.
– This definition is designed only to make clear what was a doubtful point. I hope the honorable member will accept my assurance that it is by no means certain that it involves any enlargement of the scope of the Act.
– My opinion is that subparagraph d of paragraph c will only create difficulties for the Department. I am satisfied in my own mind that it will not be possible to show what members of the Young Men’s Christian Association who left Australia for service abroad were within the danger zone. According to the Minister’s statement, any member of the Young Men’s Christian Association who was accepted for service will come within the scope of the Bill so long as he served outside Australia.
– The Department has gone into this matter. The sub-paragraph to which the honorable member refers will not bring in at the outside more than forty or fifty of these special officials who were accepted for service.
– Then why should not the remainder be brought within the Bill ?
– Because they were not accepted for service.
– I fail to see any distinction between those members of the Association who were accepted for service and other members who were not, but did exactly the same work. I am afraid that we can make no headway in this matter; but I firmly believe that it will not be possible to obtain any records to show the Department what members of the Association served within the war zone.
.- I am in favour of members of the Young Men’s Christian Association who were accepted for service being brought within the scope of this Bill. When another measure was under discussion I spoke of the desirableness of taking this action, and two returned soldier members of the Ministerial party asserted that the work done by the Young Men’s Christian Association with our oversea Forces was not to be compared with that done by the Salvation Army. . The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell), and the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) would not admit that the Young Men’s Christian Association officials had done anything that would compare with the work achieved by the Salvation Army.
– I think that the honorable member’s memory is at fault.
– Not at all. I have a very good recollection of the statement made by the honorable member.
– I believe that the Salvation Army did better work than the Young Men’s Christian Association.
– That is what the honorable member said on the occasion to which I refer. I then stated that in my opinion both the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Salvation Army had done magnificent work. We now find the Government differentiating between the two organizations. Members of the Young Men’s Christian Association are specifically brought within the scope of the Bill.
– We are told that the Salvation Army officers are alreadv provided for.
– Chaplain Colonel McKenzie is provided for.
– Because he is a chaplain. All chaplains come within the scope of the Bill.
– The Salvation_Army is a “denomination,” whereas the Young Men’s Christian Association is not.
– Is the honorable member sure of that? Everything will depend upon, the interpretation placed upon the words “ eligible persons “ and “ accepted for service … as a representative of that association.” If the Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers) will assure me that there is no differentiation to the disadvantage of the Salvation Army or other denominations or associations, I shall be satisfied.
– I assure the honorable member that the Salvation Army chaplains are not shut out.
.- I should like to have from the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) a statement as to whether it is the intention of the Government to bring war workers, including munition workers, within the scope of the Bill.
– In order to remove any doubt, and so as not to leave the question entirely to the discretion of the Commissioner, the Bill clearly sets out the definition of “ eligible person,” and munition workers are brought within the Bill. The definition of “ munition worker,” as accepted by the Department, is “ one who went abroad under arrangement with the Defence Department.” It does not include those who of their own volition went abroad as munition workers, or to do something else which might have been of great value to the Allied cause. The honorable member will recognise the difficulty of following up such cases, and ascertaining the nature of the work actually done. We have a direct record of the munition workers who went away under arrangement with the Defence Department. There is a connecting link between the Department here and the authorities at Home which enables us to ascertain the terms of their engagement. On the other hand, we have no record of those who, from patriotic motives, went away as war workers apart from any arrangement with the Department, and to include them would be to open the door altogether too wide.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
After section 14 of the principal Act the following section is inserted: - “ 14a. Before exercising any power under this Act in connexion with the acquisition of land or building material or with any contracts incidental thereto, the Commissioner shall, if the exercise of the power involves tbe expenditure of more than Five thousand pounds, submit his proposal for the approval of the Minister.”
.- This is the clause under which the Government recognise that the Commissioner should not have power to spend more than £5,000 without the approval of the Minister. A recent purchase of timber areas and saw-mills has been extensively discussed during the debate on this Bill, and 1 ask the Minister in charge of the measure whether the Government are prepared to instruct the Public Accounts Committee to inquire into and report to Parliament in connexion with that purchase. Every honorable member who realizes his responsibility must recognise that when the original Act was passed it was never intended for a single moment that a transaction of that magnitude should be entered into without consulting Parliament. It may be that it was within the legal definition of the powers given to the Minister for Repatriation and the Commissioner under the Act, but as Parliament was sitting the Government should have reported the transaction to it. Will the Government agree to refer the transaction to the Public Accounts Committee, and ask them to inquire into it and report?
.- The object of the amendment proposed by clause 3 is to bring the action of the Commissioner in respect to any purchase, whether of land or material, exceeding £5,000 within the purview of the Minister. Under the existing Act the approval of the Minister was required only when such an expenditure was involved in the purchase of land. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) asked me whether I am prepared torefer the recent purchase of timber and saw-mills in Queensland to the Public Accounts Committee. I am sorry to say that I cannot undertake to do that, but I remind the honorable member that assurances have been given, by both the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen), that any future transactions involving the expenditure’ of large sums of money will be brought before Parliament.
.- I understood the Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers) to say that he was not agreeable to the suggestion of the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) to have the Queensland transaction referred to the Public Accounts Committee. I think the honorable member’s request was a very proper one to make.
– We might just as reasonably ask for an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee into every purchase of timber.
– I am prepared to extend the suggestion to the purchase of all timber. The honorable member for Dampier is very modest when he asks that only this particular transaction shall be referred to the Committee. I hope that he will press his request by seeing that some suitable amendment is submitted which will enable that transaction to be reviewed.
– I cannot, by an amendment of this Bill, deal with a transaction which has already taken place.
– Why not?
– How could it be done ?
– The honorable member can do it very simply. If all that he requires is the drafting of an amendment for the purpose, I can suggest how it might be done. We might add to the clause the words -
And, moreover, any agreement which has already been made for the purpose of sawmilling and timber lands in Queensland involving an amount of about £500,000 shall be subject to tbe approval of Parliament.
That wouldcover what the honorable member desires.
– Where would it leave the unfortunate vendor who has given up possession ?
– That would be merely a matter for compensation. If the position is as Ministers have assured us, the inquiry suggested would prove that the transaction is entirely above board, and one which should have been entered into. The request of the honorable member for Dampier might he given effect to, if not by an amendment of this clause, by the insertion of a new clause. I hope that the honorable member will press his suggestion, as there is the germ of a sound idea in it. The particular transaction to which he has referred should be reviewed. I am interested in it to this extent: That I amvitally concerned in the success of State enterprises. I hope to see them successful, and for that reason I trust that no transaction entered into as a State enterprise will be undertaken under conditions, or a purchase made under terms, which might lead to that State enterprise being a failure.
– The honorable member hopes that the transaction which has been referred to will be a great success.
– I do, indeed. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) wilh I am sure, give me credit for being sufficiently patriotic not to hope that the country would lose by it. I hope that it will be successful, because I believe in the policy of State enterprise in such matters. The honorable member for Dampier knows that certain suggestions have been made with regard to the soundness of the Queensland transaction, apart from the policy involved.
– I do not want to prejudge it ; that is why I should like to have an inquiry.
– I have given notice of . an amendment to clause 5 which will cover the ground.
– I am glad to hear that, and therefore I will not press the matter further at this stage.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 -
After section 17 of the principal Act the followingsection is inserted: - “ 17a. (1) The Commissioner may erect, complete or enlarge, for eligible persons, dwelling- h ouses on land owned by them or may enter into contracts for the erection, completion or enlargement of dwelling-houses on such land.
Where the Commissioner erects, completes or enlarges or enters into a contract for the erection, completion or enlargement of, a dwelling-house in pursuance of this section, he may require the owner of the land to give such security as he thinks necessary for the repayment of the amount expended by him in the erection, completion or enlargement of the dwelling-house.”.
– I move -
That after the word “them,” line 5, the following words be inserted: - “and for that purpose may acquire or establish, with the con-
Bent of Parliament, brickworks, saw-mills, and cement works.”
It will save time if the Minister in charge of the Bill will say whether he is prepared to accept that amendment. If he is no.t prepared to accept it, considerable time may be taken up in discussing it.
– The honorable member’s amendment opens up the whole field of State enterprise. As I mentioned in some earlier remarks, that is a matter upon which honorable members hold very fixed views. My object in rising now is to remind the Committee that many new beneficiaries are awaiting the passage of this measure. Their applications are already in, some under the assumption that they were already included. I hope that honorable members opposite will be prepared to put the amendment now moved to a test as early as possible, so as not to delay the passage of the measure.
House adjourned at 10.40 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 September 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19200921_reps_8_93/>.