8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Building Operations in South Australia.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation whether it is correct, as stated by the South Australian Minister for Repatriation, that the responsibility for the difference of opinion between the Governments of South Australia and’ the Commonwealth in regard to the building of War Service Homes inthat State rests entirely with the Federal Government, and that the statement by Senator E. D. Millen, that on the occasion of the recent Conference, the South Australian Minister said that he was going to discuss the matter with Cabinet for the purpose of arranging to carry on the work, was contrary to fact?
– The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) was proposing to proceed in the ordinary way with the building of War Service Homes in South Australia, as in the other States, through the Commonwealth Bank, but representations were made to him by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell) and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster)–
– Be sure to omit the names of honorable members of the Opposition, who had also something to say on the subject.
– Then I shall say that the Minister considered the representations made to him by various honorable’ members, who pointed out that the South Australian Government had been doing effective work under its local housing scheme. As the result of these representations, he practically withdrew the operations of the ‘Commonwealth Bank in that State, so far as the building of War Service Homes was concerned, and permitted the State Government to continue its own housing scheme on behalf of the -Commonwealth. At the recent Conference, however, it was suggested by the South Australian Minister for Repatriation that the time had arrived when a new financial basis should be arranged as between the respective Governments. In consequence of what 1 might describe as t^ie indefinite understanding existing between the two Ministers, the Commonwealth Minister for Repatriation was awaiting concrete proposals from the South Australian Minister. These have not yet come to hand, and in the interval the South Australian Minister has announced that he does not propose to proceed further with the building of soldiers’ homes. Tho entire responsibility, therefore, now rests with the Commonwealth Minister for Repatriation. This he, and the Government as a whole, accepts. We shall proceed at once to - build soldiers’ homos in South Australia on the basis adopted in all the other States.
Offer prom New South Wales Government.
– Has the Minister in charge of shipbuilding yet made any arrangement with the New South Wales
Government with a view to contracts being given them for the construction of vessels at “Walsh Island?
– No definite arrangement has yet been made. Originally the New South Wales Government made an offer to build what arc known as our 12,800-ton ships at something like £34 per ton. I accepted that offer, and subsequently notified the House of that decision. The New South Wales Government, however, failed to sign the necessary papers and specifications. At a considerably later date, they submitted a fresh offer to- build these vessels at a cost of £51 2s. 6d. per ton. At that time we were negotiating with the different trade organizations carrying on operations in connexion with shipbuilding, and it was _ decided by the Commonwealth Government that nothing further should be done until an agreement had been arrived at with those organizations as to the new terms stipulated by us in regard to continuity of work, piece-work, and dilution. Until that agreement has been arrived at, the negotiations with the New South Wales Government will remain in abeyance. I have made it very clear, however, to the representatives of New South Wales that before I shall be prepared to accept an offer from the State Government to build these vessels for us at anything like the price quoted by them, the whole matter must be submitted to the House for approval.
-Having in view the urgent seeds of the wheat-growers of the Commonwealth, and the necessity to at once make provision for the harvesting of their drops, I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether, in order to relieve the present situation, the Government are in a position to make a statement as to the payment of the guarantee of5s. per bushel ?
– 1 would refer my honorable friend to a rather lengthy statement on the subject which I made in the House on Thursday last. ‘Since then the position has not changed. I hope to be able, quite shortly, to make a statement of the nature to which the honorable member has referred.
I explained on Thursday last that, to a very large extent, the amount that would be paid depended upon the financial position in which the Commonwealth found itself, and that that in turn dopended upon forward sales, one of which we hoped would shortly be made. That one of itself was of such importance, I said, that it would materially affect the situation. I hope to be able, quite shortly, to make a statement which will fix the date and the amount of the payment to be made. I shall fix the minimum amount, and the question as to how much more shall be paid will depend entirely upon what progress we make with the forward sales, and also upon what arrangements of a financial character wo can make to enable us to do what the farmers desire. The honorable member may assure his constituents, and the farmers of New South Wales generally, who have suffered very much through the drought, that we appreciate to the fullest their circumstances, and are not less anxious than they are that everything it is in our power to do should be done to help them.
– Is it a fact that the
Government are seriously setting about the matter of reducing the note issue? If so, can the Treasurer give the House any idea of the approximate rate of ‘.reduction?
– The honorable member gives me a very large order in his question. However, I would like to say that, so far, I have been able to cancel £3,500,000 worth of notes within the last five or six weeks. To what extent we are able to continue that’ cancellation, of course, will depend on the extent to which the money of the Commonwealth is available for the purpose.
– Have you redeemed those notes with gold 1
– No. The other day I purchased £1,500,000 worth of these notes with accumulated funds from.’ the Australian Notes Fund, which, after all, is the sensible way of proceeding about this business. It is all very well for people with nothing to do but to propound theories to make this or that proposal, but I am surrounded with practical difficulties, through which I am endeavouring to thread my way as best I can. While other people talk I am trying to do things. I am afraid the people of Australia, and particularly the workers, to whom the cost of living is a prime consideration, have some notion in their heads, due to the incessant dinning that has taken place, that a reduction in the cost of living will immediately follow the cancellation of our currency. Nothing can be further from the fact in my judgment, and it is mischievous propaganda to lead the people of this country to imagine so. In this regard prices are governed, not by the currency, but by the conditions prevailing throughout the world. It is the world-wide inflation that sensibly affects prices, not only here, but all over the world.
– The deflation of currency would help a little.
– It would, but only so far as it sensibly modifies the general inflation of the world. It is, I repeat, a world problem. If the theories which have been advanced were all true, one would imagine’ that having deflated our note issue by 10 per cent, since the Armistice there would be a corresponding reduction in prices, but the contrary is the case.
– If you had not done it prices might have been 10 per cent, higher.
– No, that is not so .
– Interjections are not permissible when a Minister is answering a question.
– If the honorable member wants proof he had better look to America, which furnishes a problem, for the deflationists, because as gold has poured into that country so prices have gone up and not down. .
– Of course that always will be the case.
– I remind the House that this is not a debate, but an answer to a question.
– I am merely suggesting that this is not a local, but a world, problem, and I think Australia is standing up to her side of it in a way that leaves no room for cavilling. At any rate, I am doing my best in very difficult circumstances.
– I take this opportunity of reminding the House that questions without notice should be asked only on matters of an urgent nature, and that questions which may not be classed as urgent must not be asked without notice, but should be placed on the business-paper, particularly when they involve long and complicated answers. I remind honorable members also that interject’ons must not be made while questions are being answered; such a practice, if permitted, must inevitably involve the House in an irregular debate.
– Has a Board been appointed to ascertain what should be the future selling price of coal at Newcastle? If so, can the Prime Minister say who have been appointed to that Board ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is “ no.” Seeing that I am not permitted to explain the position, I confine myself to that reply.
– Is it the intention of the Defence Department to enter into arrangements with the Postal Department for the conveyance of mails instead of allowing this work to be undertaken by commercial aviation firms ?
– It is the intention of the Air Council to experiment as to the feasibility or otherwise of letting contracts for the conveyance of mails by air. We think it advisable to test the matter by the Air Service on a given route before . allowing civil aviation firms to embark on schemes for carrying mails.
– With reference to the report in the press of the finding of the Committee appointed to inquire into the war service of Gunner Yates, I would like to know if the Assistant Minister for Defence has received the Committee’s finding, and whether he proposes to deal with the man who “sold him a pup?”
– I am now awaiting an opportunity to lay the papers on the table.
Purchaseof Sawmills in Victoria - Building Operations in South Australia.
– In this morning’s newspapers, Colonel Walker, the War Service Homes Commissioner, has made reference to the purchase of certain sawmills in Beech Forest. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation tell us the names of the persons from whom the mills have been purchased, when the purchases were made, and the prices paid ?
– Of course, the honorable member cannot expect an answer to a question dealing with such an extensive contract without giving notice of it.
– As the South Australian State Bank, which has a complete organization for undertaking the construction of soldiers’ homes, has offered to carry -out this work for the Commonwealth in South Australia at a cost of½per cent., will the Minister for Repatriation consult the State Government with a view to rendering it unnecessary for the Commonwealth to incur the expense of creating a staff of Commonwealth officials in that State to carry out the same class of work ?
– I read to the House a few days ago a full statement by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) dealing with the relationship of South Australia to this matter, and that statement I have amplified twice since. I- have reported the fact that the South Australian Government have announced that they have withdrawn from the building of homes, but, if representations are immediately forthcoming, they will be considered.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Trade and Customs a question based on the following newspaper report of remarks by the manager of the Fruit-growers’ Co-operative Jam Factory, South Australia: -
The manager mentioned that there were certain firms in Victoria and Tasmania who had had Avar contracts and who were still receiving their war rations of sugar. This meant they were getting more sugar than they needed for home requirements, with the result that to-day they were exporting jams. He was not complaining about the exporta tion of jams that was necessary, but he did object to such a state of affairs, seeing that his factory could not obtain sufficient sugar to meet the demands of the home trade, and had been warned that if they used any sugar for export jams its supplies of the commodity would be stopped.
Are the facts as stated in that paragraph; and, if so, do the Government propose to do anything to meet the situation?
– So far as I know the position is not as stated in the newspaper extract read by the honorable member. Our object is, as far as possible, to meet the requirements of the various traders who deal in sugar, and give to each his fair quota. As I have explained to the House over and over again, owing to industrial troubles that have cropped up, and the difficulty that has been experienced in refining sugar, we are not in a position to give to everybody the full amount required.
Mr.hughes.-Why not eat brown sugar?
– As the Prime Minister suggests, the home consumer can, to a very large extent, replace refined sugar with brown sugar; but I understand that the factories to which allusion is made cannot use brown sugar, and must have the refined article.
– Is it not correct that some factories are getting more than their share of refined sugar?
– So far as one can say, the position is as I have stated.
– Has the Minister in control of aviation any further report to make in regard to the missing aviators ?
– Unfortunately, there is very little to report in connexion with the missing airmen, Captain Stutt and his mechanic; but Colonel Williams, the Administrator of the Air Service, informed me this morning that he has not given up hope. There are some islands not yet searched, but they are now being covered. Colonel Williams and myself are working together in close touch with the Navy Department. H.M.S. Platypus is out, and Major Anderson, on a second machine, equipped with wireless, is keeping in touch with’ her. All arrangements are made for a thoroughly systematic search, including the coast of Tasmania, by means of a motor boat. Everything possible is being done, and there are hopes that the missing men may be located. It is possible they have had to descend in forest country on the coast of Tasmania away from any means of communication.
– Had they any food with them?
– I understand that Captain Stutt had very little food, if any, and was not prepared for any long stay away from means of communication. I regret that I have no more information to give.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation say whether the Government have purchased any saw-mills in Victoria?
– Yes, the Government have purchased mills in Victoria; and the honorable member will be supplied with full details if he will kindly give notice of the question.
– It will be remembered that Parliament decided that returned soldiers might start co-operative enterprises, the Government giving assistance at the rate of £1 for £1 contributed by the men, and undertaking to accept either cash or gratuity bonds in payment. Can the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation say how soldiers who desire to undertake these cooperative enterprises may obtain this assistance from the Government?
– In May last, when the question of repatriation was being revised, the Government set aside a sum of £500,000 for approved co-operative businesses. It was decided that the Government might assist approved enterprises to the extent of £150 for each soldier, and accept war bonds as contributions by the men. All proposals for such enterprises must be submitted in the ordinary way, with a full outline of the business to be undertaken, and each enterprise is sub ject to the approval of the Commissioner and the Minister. All proposals of the kind, if submitted, will be fully investigated.
– Early in this session, the House affirmed that it was time the Commonwealth took over the inspection of produce passing from State to State. I should like to know from the Prime Minister whether he has taken any steps in connexion with the matter. Have the Government, for instance, got into communication with the State Governments ?
– I regret to say, as I said on Thursday or Friday last, that we have not taken any steps in the matter. I am sorry that I have not been able to attend to it, but there are other things that I have done in the meantime that are deserving of notice. ‘
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The Ordinance does not prescribe the purpose for which the sago may be used, but I have now suggested that the Papuan Legislative Council should amend the Ordinance by inserting conditions that the sago palms are not to be used for any other purpose than the manufacture of sago.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– This matter is now’ receiving the attention of the Government. ‘
– (By leave). - I lay upon the table the report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the military service of Mr. G. E. Yates, formerly a member of this House. Honorable members are aware of the circumstances leading up tothe appointment of the Committee. On the 14th April I furnished answers to six questions relating to Mr. Yates, asked by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin). Those questions and answers will be found on page 1117 of Hansard. I quote question No. 6, and the answer thereto -
Answer. - Yes, as far as the Battery was concerned, but it cannot be ascertained whether Gunner Yates ‘formed one of a gun-crew in the engagements at Villers-Bretonneux, Morlancourt, or the taking of Hamel. Before commencing the big offensive, on 8th August, 1918, the 13th Field Artillery Brigade formed a dump of surplus stores and baggage at BlangyTronville, near Amiens, and it is understood Gunner Yates was one of a small guard which remained there until 25th October, 1918, or later, and, therefore, did not participate in the big offensive.
The Committee have reported as follows in regard to that question and answer: -
The statement made in the reply given in the House of Representatives to the sixth question, asked by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, as to the services of Mr. G. E. Yates in the A.I.F,, was misleading1, or incorrect, inasmuch as Mr. G. E. Yates did participate in the offensive which commenced on the 8th day of August, 1918, and in the engagements at VillersBretonneux on 15th June, 1918; Morlancourt on 29th July, 1918; and Hamel on the 4th July, 1918.
The Committee also reported that the statement of Mr. Yates, as to his services with the Australian Imperial Force, . as set out in his letters to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), and read in the House of Representatives on the 22nd April, 1920, are correct.
I wish to express profound regret that answers given by me in this House should have been responsible for ‘ putting Mr. Yates under a cloud, and casting aspersions upon his service as a soldier. Whilst not wishing to qualify that expression of regret in any way, I shall explain to the House how I came to give the incorrect answers. When the questions were put before my Department they were referred as a matter of course to the Officer Commanding Base Records, Major Lean, who supplied the following information : -
As to whether he formed part of a gun’s crew can only be definitely stated by his Commanding Officer; perhaps Lieutenant-Colonel H. O. Caddy, C.M.G., D.S.O., who commanded his Brigade, can supply some information on this subject. Nothing is shown on his records as to “recruiting leave.”
Brigadier General Foote thereupon communicated with Colonel Caddy at “ Trevarno,” Avoca-avenue, St. Kilda, as follows : -
The following is one of a series of questions by Mr. Makin, M.P., to be answered in Parliament by the Minister for Defence on Wednesday next, the 14th instant, in regard to Mr. G. E. Yates, late M.P. for Adelaide, and exgunner, 13th F.A. Brigade, A.I.F. : -
Is it a fact that the 50th Battery was engaged in the raid on Villers-Bretonneax on 15th June, 1918, Morlancourt, 29th July, 1918, the taking of Hamel, 4th July, 1918, and the big offensive of 9th August, 1918, during which time Gunner Yates formed one of a gun crew?
I shall be glad if you could furnish me with any information on the subject. The favour of a reply by return of post is requested.
This is the reply sent by Colonel Caddy to Brigadier-General Foote on the 11th April : -
Re your inquiry of the 10th instant, No.- 38614, Gunner Yates was taken on the strength of the 13th Brigade, A.F.A., A.I.F., and posted to the 50th Battery on 23rd May, 1918, and was evacuated sick on 15th October, 1918.
That Battery fired portion of the barrage which was required in support of a raid near Villers-Bretonneux on the 15th June, 1918. and was in action near Fouilly at the time. Similarly the battery participated in a minor operation near Morlancourt on the 29th July, 1918, and also in the Hamel operation of 4th July, 1918. I cannot say whether Gunner Yates formed part of one of the 50th Battery gun detachments or not. I have no records showing that. Possibly his B.C. may remember.
Before commencing the big offensive beginning on the 8th August^ 1918, the brigade formed ‘a dump of surplus stores and baggage at BlangyTronville, near Amiens, and Gunner Yates formed one of a guard of one N.C.O. and three men (I am not quite sure of the figures), which remained there until the 25th October or later, so that Gunner Yates certainly did not participate in the big offensive commencing on 8th August, 1918.
If you desire to obtain further information, I could communicate with Major Retchford, his B.CI, and the R.M.O., who, I think, could give me further information, but one is in Sydney and the other at Albury.
I draw the attention of honorable members to the words “ further information.” Had Colonel Caddy said that he could not quite remember the details, that he was not quite sure of the facts he was stating, but that Major Retchford could supply the information, we certainly would have inquired of Major Retchford, but Colonel Caddy merely referred to further information; he expressed no doubt as to the statement he was making, -and we did not think it necessary to get further information. ‘ I may inform honorable members that Colonel Caddy is not one of those who are designated by honorable members and many others as “brass hats.” He is a civilian officer, who was highly thought of by his men, and very popular with them. I do not believe that he would intentionally say anything which he believed would place any of his men under a cloud.
– But he did it.
– I know he did. I intend to place the whole of the evidence on the table, so that honorable members may look into the details for themselves. While not wishing to qualify my expression of regret at having done an. injustice to a returned soldier, I contend that my executive officers in the Department were not to blame. They did all they could to obtain the information, and were justified in giving me the replies in the terms in which I received them for presentation to this House. They were justified, I say, in view of the fact that they had obtained the information from the man’s commanding officer. I repeat that Colonel Caddy is a civilian officer. I will give consideration regarding what steps can be taken in the direction of bringing him to book. We shall want an explanation concerning why he gave information of which he was not sure. Honorable members will see from a perusal of the evidence that he furnished the particulars from memory. He expresses his regret, and says that he had not his records at hand, and that he gave the information from his recollection. The whole file is before me, and also a report of the evidence taken by the Commission. I lay the papers on the table.
– This case arose originally when the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was’ moving the second reading of the first of the two War Gratuity Bills. He stated, first, that we had not a single returned soldier on this side of the House; and he added that he had been nearer to the Front than two of those returned soldiers who had been on this side. I interjected, and was promptly called to order by yourself, sir; but I was able to get in one name, at any rate. Mr. Yates -learned of the incident, and considered it a reflection upon himself* personally, taking the view that he was one of those to whom the Prime Minister had alluded.
– There have been a good many of those reflections going about this House.
– Yes, and some of them deserved. It is quite possible, seeing that Colonel Caddy said he knew Gunner Yates was stationed at the dump, that he himself was there also. I say it is quite possible. But he wanted to damn a man’s military reputation. There are plenty of officers who reply to questions put to them officially in the way in which they think their “ heads “ want to have^ those questions answered.
– Colonel Caddy is not a departmental officer at all, and never was.
– Gunner Yates is a. lucky man to be able to wring this from the Department.
– Order! Will the honorable member please resume his seat. I draw the attention of honorable members to the irregular manner in which the busi- ness of the House is likely to be conducted through a practice which is growing up of statements and counter statements being made involving controversial matters. Leave was granted for the Minister (Sir Granville Ryrie) to make a statement, and the Minister’s remarks contained matter which seemed to the Leader of the Opposition to demand a reply. A request was then made that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) be similarly given leave to make a statement, and leave was granted. The nature of the statement was such as to cause further interjections, and thus initiate an irregular debate. I ask honorable members to permit the statement to be concluded without further interjections.
– Subsequent to the furnishing of the answers by the Minister, Gunner Yates was made acquainted with the particulars, through the medium of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin). The former member for Adelaide wrote to me, as Lender of the party in this House, and asked me to make a statement before the party and to take steps to secure a full inquiry. I made that statement before the party, and in this Chamber also. The Minister replied that if my remarks were true, and that if he found that one of his officials had “ sold him a pup,” he would be dealt with.
Honorable members interjecting ,
– Order ! Will honorable members please cease from’ interjecting.
– Yates was persecuted for two years.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) not to interject again.
– Every man is entitled to fair treatment - I care not who he may be.
– Hear, hear!
– Yates’ military reputation was at stake. It -was said, in effect, that, at the time when he was wearing the King’s uniform and was posing as having been engaged in active fighting, he was really miles behind the lines minding a dump.
– And, even if he had boon, he would have been doing as he was told. It was just as much his duty as actual fighting. Somebody would have to guard the dumps.
– Of course; but, as a matter of fact, Yates was up in the firingline with his battery. Instead of Colonel Caddy telling the Department the facts, however, he trusted to his memory to lead the Minister- astray.
– They gave him sixty days, innocently, too.
– Order ! The honorable member is again interjecting.
– Yes, they gave him sixty days, but we are not dealing with that now. Of course, Yates got those sixty days when he was innocent. And I believe he could have got out of that term of detention if he had cared to ask to be let off; but he did not. I ask the Minister (Sir Granville Ryrie) to move, “ That the papers be printed.” Many papers have been printed, at the desire of Ministers, which are of considerably less importance than these- If the Minister were to submit that motion, as I hold he should do, honorable members who wished to say something upon the matter would have a fair and open opportunity. I congratulate Mr. Yates upon the outcome of the inquiry, but it does not reflect credit on the man who gave the information contained in the answers supplied to the Minister.’ Seeing that he had trusted to his memory, Colonel Caddy should have let the Minister know, instead of trying to damn a man’s military and political reputation. Will the Minister move, “ That the papers be printed “ 1
– Mr. Speaker-
– Order ! The Minister cannot, at the present time, do as has been suggested.
– Then we will adjourn the House on the question.
– (to the Clerk).- Call on the Orders of the Day.
– On a point of order, T desire to know if you, sir, ruled that the Minister could not move “ That the papers be printed.”’
– The Minister could not do so in the course of a second speech at this stage. I pointed out that the Minister had obtained leave to make a statement, and that he then announced that he would lay the papers on the table. The Minister did not move that they be printed, nor was leave asked or given to move a motion. And be cannot now move in that direction, seeing that another honorable member has meanwhile asked for and secured leave to make a statement, and that the business of the day has been called on.
– This is burking discussion.
– Order! The Minister cannot, at this stage, move in the direction indicated.
– Well, he can do so; and every one knows it.
The following papers were presented : -
Civil re-establishment of the A.I.F.- A summary of the work of the Department of Repatriation from April, 1918, to the end of June, 1920, with some account of the activities which’ preceded the Department’s formation.
Ordered to be printed.
War Service Homes Act - Land acquired under, at -
Islington, New South Wales.
Mosman, New South Wales.
Orange, New South Wales.
Weston, New South Wales.
Ex-Gunner Yates - Report of the Commit tee appointed1 to inquire into the services of ex-Gunner Yates in the Australian Imperial Force, together with minutes, of evidence.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 21st September, vide page 4806) :
Clause 5 -
After section 17 of the principal Act the following section is inserted: - “ 17a. ( 1 ) The Commissioner may erect, complete, or enlarge, for eligible persons, dwelling-houses 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.”
Upon which Mr. Charlton had moved -
That after the word “ them,” line 5, the following words be inserted:- “ and for that pur pose may acquire or establish, with the consent of Parliament, brickworks, saw-mills, and cement works.”
.- This amendment, providing as it does that the Commissioner shall have power subject to the approval of Parliament, to acquire or establish brickworks, saw-mills, and cement works is a very important one. In connexion with the construction of War Service Homes an exceedingly large sum will be expended. We have been told that up to the present something like 4,000 homes have been completed, and that 27,000 applications for the construction of these homes are under consideration. The Committee must not lose sight of the fact that the whole of the money so expended will have to be repaid by the returned soldiers for whom the homes are erected. It is, therefore, most essential that we should keep down the cost to the lowest possible extent. Every one realizes what it means to a working man to be called upon to pay 20s. or 25s. per week over an extended period. The greater the cost of these homes the more the men will have to pay “by way of monthly instalments. It should be our endeavour so’ to keep down the cost that the men will have a reasonable chance to fulfil their contracts. I am afraid that many of them will” be unable to do> so. As time goes on, they will probably be burdened with families in many cases, and. the maintenance of these, together with the regular payment of instalments in respect of’ their homes, will put a very heavy strain upon their financial resources. It is thus quite possible that many of these homes will fall back into the hands of the Department. Although something like 4,000 homes have been erected, we are now asked to agree that the maximum amount that.- may be advanced shall be increased from £700 to £800. The Minister has told us that this increase is necessary, not because it is proposed to build larger homes, but owing to the greatly increased cost of labour and material. The cost of material, more particularly, has. enormously increased. The Minister (Mr. Poynton), when moving the second reading of the Bill, told us that during the last twelve months the prices of building material had increased to the extent of 25 per cent., and that owing to the competition between the Department and private contractors prices’ were likely to go much higher. There is a great scarcity of building material, and it is essential thatwe should devise some means of keeping down costs to a minimum. That is necessary in the interests of the men themselves. Obviously, we cannot hope to secure any reduction in cost if we allow the present competition between the Department and outside contractors to continue. We have been told that the Commissioner has purchased saw-mills, not only in Queensland, but in Victoria. My amendment would enable the Commissioner, subject to the approval of Parliament, to extend his operations in that directon. It is unlikely that any attempt would be made to purchase saw-mills, brickworks, or cement works unless the Government could show Parliament that the deal contemplated was a good one.
I have not a word to say. against the recent purchase of saw-mills and timber areas in Queensland. I know nothing about them. It may be that the Department has made an excellent bargain, but it is absolutely necessary that further purchases should be made. It is hardly likely that the Department will be able to supply timber from Queensland for the building of homes in New South Wales, Victoria, and some of the other States at rates that will result in any material reduction in the cost of these homes. It will be necessary, in the interest of economy to establish Government mills in suitable areas in each State. In that way we ought to be able to reduce our costs. In to-day’s newspapers it is reported that, as a result of the purchase of saw-mills in Victoria, the Commissioner claims to have made a saving of 50 per cent, in the cost of timber for War Service Homes in this State. If that can be done in Victoria, it should be possible also in other States. There are splendid hardwood forests along the north coast of New South Wales, where saw-mills could be established at comparatively small cost.
– But is not tha’t timber a long way fromport?
– No. It may be of interest to the honorable member to learn that every day in the week vessels are carrying timber along the north coast to Sydney and other places. The timber can be brought down either by rail or water carriage. Excellent facilities exist.
A railway runs within easy distance of the coast-line, and there are navigable rivers running into these hardwood forests. Sir Allen Taylor has mills on the north coast and vessels regularly engaged in carrying timber from them to the port of Sydney. If the Government acquired or established mills there it would’ be possible to obtain at reduced cost the timber necessary for building War Service Homes in New South Wales. Similar arrangements could be made in Victoria and the other States, with the result that we might be able once more to build these homes for £700, instead of £800 as now proposed. Having regard to the number of homes to be erected, it should be good business for the Department to go into the whole question with a view to reducing costs. Unless that action is taken we shall probably be asked twelve months hence to agree to the minimum being raised from £800 to £900. The repayment of such a sum by monthly instalments is more than the average young fellow can undertake.
– It is a. twenty-five years’ job.
– In the case of men with families it is *an even longer job.
– Does not the honorable member know that New South Wales timber merchants are erecting mills in Queensland, in order to obtain cheaper timber for sale in New South Wales?
– I do not, but I do know that there are ample supplies of hardwood along the north coast of New South Wales.
– Then, why dp not the Sydney timber merchants avail themselves of them?
– I have already pointed out that they are doing so.
– There is a monopoly.
– That is so. The Minister for Repatriations (Senator Millen) and his representative in this House (Mr. Rodgers) have stated that, owing to the keen demand for timber and the competition between the Department and outside contractors for supplies, prices are soaring higher and higher week after week. In the interests of our returned men, we should not allow that state of affairs to continue. Our boys did their best for their country, and should receive the utmost consideration. Should we allow the present see-saw game of competition to continue between the Department and private contractors? I do not know what objection the Minister can have to my amendment, in view of the fact that the Department, without consulting Parliament, has already struck out in the direction for which it provides.
– The Commissioner has power now to acquire mills. The honorable member’s amendment would limit his operations, since it requires that the consent of Parliament shall first be obtained.
– My desire is that the Committee shall give an instruction to the Commissioner that such works shall be established or acquired, but that the Parliament itself must be consulted before any agreement with that object in view is completed.
– But the amendment will put further obstacles in the way of the Commissioner.
– I think not. Would the honorable member accept the amendment, subject to the deletion of the words “ with the consent of Parliament “ ?
– But the Minister already has this power.
– The Minister for Repatriation is doubtful on that . point. He has stated that his interpretation of the Act is that he has the power, but he is not going to say that that is the correct interpretation. Assuming, however, that he has the power, was it not argued in this House last week that the Parliament never intended that the Minister or the Commissioner should expend more than’ £5,000 on any enterprise without obtaining its consent? I think it would be better for the Minister himself if the amendment in the form submitted by me were agreed to.
– Having established the point that it is a good thing in the interests of economy for the Commissioner to acquire or set up saw-mills and other works, would the honorable- member suggest that, if the Minister heard of an opportunity to acquire a saw-mill on excellent terms, he should take no action until Parliament had been consulted?
– That is a very pertinent interjection. Whilst there might be some objection, on the score of delay, to my proposal that Parliament should first be consulted, I think that, in the interests of the country and the Government itself, it would be well to observe the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act, and to refer to the Public Works Committee all departmental undertakings involving an expenditure exceeding £20,000.
– The soldiers would be dead while waiting for the decisions of that Committee.
– They would not be dead. Why, the Act has been in force for a couple of years, and we have not yet built more than 2,000 soldiers’ houses.
– Would it not be possible to obtain options ?
– It could be done in any business-like way. I am not cavilling at the adoption of any method so long as honorable members assert the principle I am advocating. The price of bricks is increasing year after year. An honorable member informs me that contractors in New South Wales are now paying £4 per 1,000 for them delivered on the job, as against 30s. per 1,000, which was the price prior to the war.
– We cannot make bricks cheaper than the New South Wales State Brick-works can turn them out.
– I do not say that we can, but I believe that by the establishment of brick-works in suitable centres, particularly in the big metropolitan areas, we may be able to obtain them very much cheaper than we buy them today. There are acres of good brickmaking land available in the Newcastle district, where a large number of soldiers’ homes is being erected, and I would take it upon myself to see that it could be acquired at a reasonable price. The clay is very suitable for brick-making. It has been tested more than once. A brickworks which would not cost more than £20,000 or £30,000 would probably supply all the demands for the erection of houses in its vicinity. Should the demand increase, it would be quite an easy matter to increase the output of the kilns. But the great advantage is that if we can, by the establishment of brick-works, cheapen the price of bricks, it will not only decrease the present cost of building homes, but also possibly prevent a future rise in the cost of building them. As honorable members know very well, it is almost impossible to purchase cement. Works everywhere have been hung up for the last couple of years because of the impossibility of securing supplies of this material. For over twelve months the streets of Newcastle have been torn up for the purpose of laying the rails for the hew electric tram system, but this work cannot be completed because of the impossibility of securing supplies of cement. It has been found necessary to suspend all operations until a sufficient number of barrels accumulate, and then the men are put on to work, but very speedily they are obliged to cease operations until fresh supplies can be accumulated. The same remarks apply to buildings all over Australia. Sufficient supplies of cement cannot be obtained to guarantee continuous or expeditious work. I have with me the minutes of th? findings of the Public Works Committee in regard to the establishment of cement works for Federal Capital and other Commonwealth purposes. The conclusion arrived at by the Committee was as follows : -
The Committee learned that about two-thirds of the cement used in Australia is at present imported, and in view of the enormous demand anticipated in Europe after the war, is of opinion that it is improbable that the establishment of private cement factories in Australia would cheapen the price to the Commonwealth until the total Australian production was sufficient to fully supply Australian needs. It is considered, therefore, that from the point of view of economy, as well as convenience, it is a sound proposition for the Commonwealth to proceed with the establishment of cement works to supply its needs for Federal Capital and other Commonwealth purposes.
Mr. Finlayson moved
That the Committee approves of the establishment of a factory at Fairymeadow for the manufacture of cement for Commonwealth purposes -
The Committee divided on the matter. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) was the only member who voted against the motion, which was- supported by Senator Keating, Senator Story, now the honorable member for Boothby, the1 honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), the then honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson), the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), the then honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson), and the honorable gentleman who is now Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith). That was four years ago. There is now a greater scarcity of cement than ever.
– The Repatriation Department and Murray River Waters Commission are largely responsible for it.
– The work undertaken by the Murray River Waters Scheme will continue for a long time, and the demand for cement will naturally be increased to that extent ; but that furnishes all the more reason for the establishment of new cement works. We all know that buildings are held up because the contractors cannot get supplies of cement.
– Land .has already been acquired at Fairy Meadow, where there is all the material for making cement.
– Then there is no justification for our refusing to set about manufacturing our own requirements for the purpose of expediting the work of building soldiers’ homes, to say nothing of reducing the price of the article to the community generally. We . cannot proceed with this huge scheme of building homes, which will run into an expenditure of millions of pounds, while prices are continually soaring through the scarcity of material, and because of our competition with outsiders, and consequent inability to secure what little material is available. I understand there are over 20,000 applications for the building of War Service Homes, and in all probability three-fourths of these applications will be granted. It means a very big business to be undertaken within the next few years, for which we ought to make every preparation. Scarcity creates increased prices, and if we do not increase the supply of materials we shall find that in twelve months’ time the prices we are called upon to pay will be very much higher than they are at present. Already they are 25 per cent, higher than they were this time twelve months ago, and possibly they will be another 25 per cent, higher in twelve months’ time. These rises in costs have a serious effect upon the soldiers themselves, because later on it may be found necessary to still further increase the advance from £800 to £900. This is a possibility we ought to try to avoid. It should be our endeavour to get the homes built at the lowest possible cost, always keeping in view the fact that this money must eventually be repaid to the Commonwealth. A man may struggle on for twenty-five years only to find in the end that he is not able to maintain his payments. His wife and his children may have to deprive themselves of many comforts in order to put by money to meet the regular instalments due on the purchase of the home, but in spite of all this, thev may not be able to redeem their promise to repay the money advanced by the Commonwealth Government, owing to the fact that the cost of material has been so high at the time of the building of the house that its price nas been increased by £100 or £200. Of course, the question arises as to what must be done to meet such cases, but that is a matter for the future. All we should have in view now is the possibility of preventing men from being placed in such a position by endeavouring to keep down the cost of buildings. We are acquiring sawmills in Victoria and Queensland, and I hold that we should also acquire brickworks and cement works, and extensively supply our own material for the purpose of building, homes for our soldiers as cheaply as possible, so that in the future their occupants may not be hampered, as they may be, owing to the increasingly high cost of building material.
– I join with the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) in his desire to cheapen the cost of building soldiers’ homes, but the cost, as the Minister has already pointed out, is largely due to the great increase in the price of material, which again is largely due to an inadequate output. The present supply of material is not sufficient to meet the demand for building purposes. Particularly is this the case in respect to timber. In every capital city the yards of timber merchants are bare. Merchants cannot get their orders executed. Nearly every timber yard in South Australia has had orders placed in Queensland eighteen months ago, which have not been executed, and no one knows when they will be. I was in Sydney a little while ago, and made inquiries there. In spite of the fact that there are extensive areas; of timber in New South Wales, much of it suitable for building purposes, the timber merchants of Sydney are in very much the earn© position as those in Adelaide. While this scarcity continues, prices are bound to be high.
– The scarcity is due, to a large extent, to the fact that we are building a large number of War Service Homes, but if we supply our own material the public will be able also to get supplies.
– The trouble is due to the inadequacy of supplies to meet an abnormal demand, but this abnormal demand is likely to continue for a very long time to come. The same remarks apply to bricks and cement. The increased demand is not only created by the building of War Service Homes. The works undertaken by the Murray Water Commission are assuming considerable proportions. Honorable members have no idea of the magnitude of the cement orders placed by that Commission. There are other large water conservation works demanding cement.
– Silos also require cement.
– Yes, silos will also make a very material difference in the demand. The question is how to reduce the cost of the material required for building soldiers’ homes, and it can only be done by increasing the output. Does the honorable member for Hunter mean that his proposal to create State enterprises will overcome the difficulty ?
– It must help.
– It needs careful inquiry before it is undertaken. I am opposed to the extension of State enterprises, but, if they are necessary for the purpose of bringing an undue monopoly to its bearings, I will support them. That has been my policy for many years past. As to the price of bricks, it has been pointed out that there are numbers of important brickworks lying idle today. The Government should know the reason for this, and if the same remarks apply to other materials required for this enterprise, the Government should know whether a monopoly is injuriously affecting the public interest, and, if necessary, take action to check it. In my opinion, - there is no necessity for the amendment, because the Government have the power irrespective of it. _ I offer no apology for once more referring to the question of the construction of these homes by the South Australian Government, because it involves their cost and the amounts to be repaid by the men. The reason why South Australian representatives brought up the matter some months ago was that we saw in the Government Gazette an advertisement calling for applications to fill positions in certain offices, involving an outlay of some £7,000 or £8,000 per year. This meant the creation of a competing Department by the Commonwealth to work side by side with the South Australian State Department that has been, for seven or eight years past, engaged in building civilian homes, and is thoroughly organized for such work. We South Australian representatives made vigorous and repeated protests.
– And made, many misstatements, too 1
Mr.RICHARD FOSTER. - We did not make one; I can prove up to the hilt every statement we made, and more.
– You made misstatements as to the prices for which these houses were being built by the State.
– We did not; we got quotations from the State Bank of South Australia, and I challenge the honorable member to deny the facts. If he goes to the State Bank he can be shown the figures, and he can compare that cost with that of the buildings constructed by the Commonwealth Repatriation Department. He will see that the State work compares more than favorably in regard to the extent of the land, the spaciousness of the buildings, and in other respects. I may further point out that neither the Minister for Repatriation nor any officer of the Department has challenged those figures, and I cannot see what more information than they have can be possessed by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. The creation of this new Department is characteristic evidence of the grasping efforts of some public official to magnify his office; and it is this that is responsible for the interference with the construction of these buildings by the State Government of South Australia. The competition sent up the cost of construction so much that the State Government have retired altogether from the business.
– It is only fair that the honorable member should acknowledge that on his representations, and» the representations of other South Australian members, the Commonwealth. Government deliberately withdrew, and . placed this work temporarily in the” hands of the South Australian Government.
– South Australian representatives here moved the adjournment of the House on the question, being determined to keep the matter before the Government and honorable members. It is true that the Minister for Repatriation did hold his hand for a time, but the State Minister in charge of repatriation in South Australia could get no satisfaction, although he came over to Melbourne to two conferences on the matter. As I say, the business was hung up, and prices got so high that the State Government withdrew from the field.
– The Minister for Repatriation says that he is expecting a financial proposal from the State Minister for Repatriation, and no proposal has arrived.
– The proposal of the South Australian Government was that the Repatriation Department should find the money for the erection of the homes, and that the State Bank should continue to do the work of building, charging only½ per cent.
– No such proposal has come over.
– I made it myself long ago to the Minister for Repatriation. Suppose these new and unnecessary offices are created, what will it mean to South Australia? The State Bank there will go back to the work of building civilian homes; but there will still be two competing bodies engaged in large building enterprises.
– Where are . they going to get the money ?
– I ask the Treasurer what does it matter who- uses the money, if it is Government money?
– My word, it does matter !
– Is it not better, from the Treasurer’s point of view, that his Government should be free from competition in the matter of prices ? Is it not more economical to avoid creating further offices and officials?
– Competition cheapens, does it not?
– If the Government’s idea, of economy is to approve the creation of Departments in this way, they will have a lot of trouble between now and the end of the session on the question of public expenditure; and it is about time they had some trouble. If the Treasurer knew the feeling in South Australia on this question, he would take a different view. The South Australian Government have no desire to set aside the work of building civilian homes, but they feel that the interests of the returned soldiers should first be considered. I ask honorable members to look into the matter carefully, for, if they do, they can arrive at only one conclusion.
– While crediting the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) with an earnest desire to help in solving the great difficulties that confront the Commissioner in the acquisition of material for the erection of War Service homes, I regret to say that the Government are unable to accept his amendment. ‘ First, the scope of the amendment covers only one type or class of beneficiary under the Act. There is some difficulty, or some room for misunderstanding, under the Act as at present drawn. In the Act, the power of the Commissioner to build on individual applications was not clearly defined, and this clause is designed to put the matter beyond doubt. The clause provides that the Commissioner may erect, complete, or enlarge, for eligible persons, dwelling-houses “ on land owned by them,” or may enter into contracts for the erection, completion, or enlargement of dwelling-houses on such land. It will be seen, as I have said, that the clause is limited to that type of applicant who himself owns the land on which he desires the house to be erected, either through the Commissioner’s staff or under a contract, let by the applicant and approved by the Commissioner. The clause does not cover the whole range of construction under the main Act; and the amendment of the honorable member for Hunter, if it has any effect, will be rather to limit the power under that Act. Personally, I read the proposal of the honorable member as vesting in the Commissioner power to take all the necessary steps for the acquisition of land and material, and probably to go the length of himself establishing the necessary means of obtaining them, under the direction of the Minister; but clearly, if the amendment is carried, it will not achieve what the honorable member no doubt has in his mind, namely, to give the Commissioner the power to provide the whole of the material. There seems to be a great deal of confused thought with regard to what this House has already done in respect to the housing scheme, and honorable members appear to be very much divided in mind as to what are the powers of the Commissioner, with the approval of the Minister. I take it that this House charged the War Service Homes Commissioner with the great undertaking of building homes, and of acquiring, subject to the- approval of the Minister, the necessary material; and the first occasion on which the work of the Commissioner is called to account is when he enters into a contract for the purchase of mills and timber areas. As to the question of the wisdom or otherwise of entering into this contract without the approval or ratification of Parliament, I leave that aside for the moment; but I do not think any honorable member will contend that the Commissioner, with the approval of the Minister, has not that power already.
– He cannot go beyond £5,000.
– Not at all. We deliberately decided to remove what might be called the” commercial side of this great undertaking from parliamentary influence and control, and place it under a Commissioner. If the Commissioner is expected to bring every one of his operations to this House for ratification, how can we have continuity of work, when the House is not in session? I do not plead, of course, for the expenditure of huge sums without reference to Parliament, if Parliament is available; but the Commissioner is given no power to engage in a contract, particularly by the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Hunter, for the purchase of land or material without the consent of the Minister. Honorable members will not contend that the consent of the Minister means the consent of the House; and in matters of great magnitude it becomes a question of policy or discretion with the
Minister and Government of the day to consult Parliament. That is the position clearly established by the Act. The wisdom or otherwise of that policy is another question. Certainly Parliament decided to create a business Commission. The Government appointed a Commissioner with certain powers, and authorized him to engage business men and experts to advise him in regard to all the ramifications of house-building. He has acquired by contract, and otherwise, the necessary material to build all the houses that have been erected to date, and no question was raised by this House until the timber purchases were made. I regret that, from time to time, loose statements, which reflect very gravely upon the Commissioner, and also the Minister, have been made. I am certain that anybody who knows the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) well will agree that there is no more painstaking Minister, and none who does more to apply business methods to the management of his Department. The honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister) has asked certain questions in regard to the case of Mr. J. T. Caldwell, and he suggested that if certain information which had reached him was correct, a very serious state of affairs existed, which warranted the appointment of a Royal Commission. Apparently the honorable member desired an inquiry into statements made by Mr. Caldwell to him. To use the words of the Minister for Repatriation, Mr. Caldwell desired to sell to the Commissioner a “ gold brick.” He offered to sell to the Commissioner the lease of certain lands in the islands under the control of the Pacific Islands Commissioner. The War Service Homes Commissioner received him in good faith, and listened to his representations, but on inquiry of the Commissioner of the Pacific Islands, he found that, Mr. Caldwell held no lease or concession of any kind that he could sell to anybody. Another statement has been made in regard to the purchase by the War Service Homes Commissioner of timber mills m the Beech Forest. According to the critics, those mills are on their last legs. In answer to a question by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), I promised to supply complete details of the purchase. The facts are that the Commissioner has purchased from Mr. G. W. Knott, of Melbourne, for £48,570, five saw-mills - three in the Beech Forest, one at Cheviot, and one at Broadford - together with 694 acres of freehold land and cutting rights over an area of not less than l’,000 acres, to each mill. The effect of the purchase is to assure to the Commissioner a supply of 30,000,000 super, feet of hardwood (scantlings, &c), 3,000,000 palings, and 6,000,000 lineal feet of dressed weatherboards at prices varying from 15s. 9d. to 33s. per 100 feet super, as against the present market rates of from 25s. Sd. to 54s. He is thus assured for the next three years of the material that is necessary for the cheaper building of homes for soldiers. A further condition of the contract is that, at the end of three years, the contractor who is to operate the mills will take them over at the purchase price. Personally, I do not object to any criticism so long as the Department is afforded a reasonable opportunity to meet it. But I ask honorable members to endeavour to assist the Commissioner and the Government in their efforts to get materials with which to build home3 at a reasonable price. There are three methods by whic the material can be obtained. First of all, there is general competition in the open market, but large orders such as the Commissioner will necessarily have to place must mean, in the present limited market, soaring prices. The second alternative is that the Commissioner may, with the approval of the Minister, enter into arrangements similar to . that made with Mr. Knott, and by a subsidiary contract, which will not be operated by the officials of the Department, assure to himself supplies of timber at reasonable rates. Foi the conduct of timber mills it is necessary to have skilled and experienced men. The third method is that suggested by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), namely, that the Government should enter into’ State undertakings. The Government cannot see their way to embark upon a wide range of undertakings for the supply of building materials unless as a last resource. The Government and the Commissioner have not at their command that experience and skill which established works have, and for that reason they would be greatly handicapped in entering upon State-managed undertakings. Whilst I credit the honorable member for Hunter with a genuine desire to help the Commissioner to acquire material at reasonable rates, the Government are unable to accept the amendment for the reasons I have already given.
.- The latter part of. the Minister’s statement in regard to the agreement made by the Commissioner for the supply of timber in Victoria indicates that the soldiers will get cheaper homes. The principle he has outlined is a, good one, and it should be extended to the supply of bricks, cement, and other materials. The Minister referred to competition in the open market, but there is no competition in regard to bricks. AH the brick -making firms are joined together in a Combine, and the Government cannot get a fair deal from them. It is, therefore, the duty of the Government to establish brickworks. That could be done at a small cost. Some honorable member has said that notwithstanding State enterprise in brick manufacture in New South Wales the price of bricks there is not cheaper than in other States. That is true to a certain extent. About £140,000 has been expended by the Government on the establishment of State brick works. The biggest consumers of bricks in New South Wales are the Railway Commissioners, and as a result of the State brickworks tendering at lower prices than those quoted by the Combine, the Railway Commissioners have saved £177,000 since the brickworks were established. Last year the brickworks showed a profit of £37,000.
– The State brickworks sell at 38s. 6d. per 1,000; the private firms sell at 50s.
– The price of the State bricks is always below the price quoted bv the Combine, and it is the intention of the State Government, as soon as the capital cost of the plant has been wiped out, to reduce the price very considerably.
– The State Government is a continuing entity, but the War Service Homes Commission has only three years of life.
– That is so, but the Commonwealth as an entity is permanent, and always growing. It is always requiring bricks for public works, and, furthermore, if the principle of State enterprise is good in connexion with providing homes for soldiers it is good also in regard to the provision of homes for private citizens.
– But it is not the duty of the War Service Homes Commissioner to build houses for private citizens.
– That may be. So long as the Commonwealth endures, it will require supplies of cement. In connexion with nearly every big public work cement is used. We are told that the establishment of cement works in Tasmania will help to relieve the market. No doubt it will. But even if half a dozen new cement works were started the whole output would be required. The big works that are being carried out in connexion with the Murray River scheme will absorb all the cement that can be obtained. Great quantities of cement will be required also in connexion with the building of the Federal Capital at Canberra. I do not say that the Government have not power to do what the amendment suggests, but the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) merely desires to fortify the Government by getting the Committee to assert the principle of State enterprise. The Committee of Public Works submitted to Parliament a report on the cost of establishing and equipping up-to-date cement works at Fairy Meadow, on the southern line, close to Canberra, and handy to the Murray River. A good piece of land for the purpose has been acquired, and if the Government would establish these works they would be entering upon a very profitable speculation. They would reduce the cost of building the soldiers’ homes, whilst- also providing cheaper cement for other Government undertakings. I concur in the action of the Government in acquiring timber1 areas and saw-mills, and if the transaction is proved to be fair and square I shall support -it. Unless they adopt a policy of that kind the Government will be in the hands of the rings and trusts.It is their duty to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the interests of the soldiers. In regard to timber they have adopted the right policy, and I hope they will extend it to bricks and cement.
.- The amendment will not make any substantial alteration to the powers conferred by the existing Act, and, therefore, is not necessary.
– Does the honorable member believe in the principle underlying it?
– I do not, and that is another reason why I cannot support it. If the Commissioner were to ‘submit to the House any good proposition for ac- quiring or establishing timber mills, cement works or brickworks, the House would judge the scheme on its merits, and. probably agree to it. That would be a far saner procedure than to give the Minister and the Commissioner power to go about in a general and haphazard way. setting up these works in all the States. If cement is to be made by the Commonwealth, it would be better to produce it at the spot where the best facilities are afforded, and thence, to distribute it throughout the Commonwealth, rather than that numbers of works should be established all over the States. If the Government embark upon this class of enterprise, there will be a riot of Government established industries, and works of one character and another will be growing up all over the land. The guiding principle in regard to all this legislation is how best to benefit the returned soldier. We should consider nothing else but how to provide soldiersr with the cheapest and meet suitable homes.
– My amendment cannot have the effect of delaying the building of homes, and can only make them cheaper.
– That is not so. The amendment will not take the whole scheme any further than the law can carry it to-day. The honorable member does not say, in his amendment, that the Commissioner shall acquire, but that he “ may “ acquire;, and the Commissioner has that power to-day. In fact, the Commissioner has acquired, to a very considerable extent, and I am not at all satisfied that he has dona the right thing with respect to the Queensland “ deal.” I want to hear a lot more about it before I can say that I am convinced that the proposition is sound.
– Does not the amendment provide a safeguard? The Minister and the Commissioner are doing these things now, but the amendment would compel them first to secure the consent of Parliament.
– Even if the Minister and Commissioner were bound to first bring any project before Parliament, what would be the actual and practical use of so doing, seeing that we have already passed a law which gives the Commissioner power to acquire properties to an almost unlimited extent? My objection to the Queensland timber “ deal “ is that the Government did not first come to Parliament and make the matter known here.
– They made a really good “deal,” anyhow.
– I hope so; and I hope that, if they should go in similarly for brick- works and cement propositions, the enterprises will prove equally as successful as the honorable member believes the present one to be. I trust, however, that Parliament will first be consulted. I do not agree with what the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has just said concerning the approval of the Minister. I think he is quite wrong in his argument. It was not intended, when the Act was passed, that the Minister and the War Service Homes Commissioner should be able to put their heads together and, without consulting Parliament, run the country into a purchase involving £500,000. Are honorable members to stand by, without being informed or consulted, and then to be required automatically to signify their approval, long after a “ deal “ has been completed and when there is no course open but to pay ? If we do not wish to remain in such an absurd position, we should amend the Act. The Government have done wrong in not coming before the House for approval. I regard the Minister as being a trustee. He should not require to be dragged to the floor of this House to give an account of his stewardship; he should be ready with his accounts, to make them public. The first honorable members heard of the Queensland “ deal “ was when they read’ the information published in the Age. Why should not honorable members be informed before the newspapers publish the information broadcast? Honorable members are supnosed to be responsible for their votes. How can they be expected to accept responsibility in such circumstances? Had the particulars been made known to honorable members and the country from the floor of this Chamber there never would have been that vote taken recently which nearly had the effect of bringing about the demise of the Government. Had the outcome of the vote been unfavorable, nobody would have been to blame but the Government themselves. It would have been their sole responsibility if they had been compelled to go out of office. If I were to signify my approval of the amendment I would be acquiescing in the proposition that the Government should enter upon these various enterprises. My viewis, however, that the Government should keep out of such things. We’ have enough Government-run businesses at present, very few of which are a success. It is all very well for the Government to come in at a time when the country is monopolyridden, or when abnormal circumstances have arisen, under which certain people are securing undue advantages to tie detriment of the community. I will never take exception to the Government legitimately endeavouring to protect the community, but I oppose the principle underlying the amendment.
– The honorable member has just said that the Government already have the power to undertake these schemes; but he says, also, that he is totally against the principle. When I suggest that it be set forth in black and white, that the Government shall first come to Parliament for the indorsement of any proposition, the honorable member turns me down.
– -If the amendment were phrased that the Minister and Commissioner “ shall “ come to Parliament, all would be well.
– But if the amendment is agreed to it will carry the suggestion that the Government should go in for these propositions.
– Just so, and I do not approve of that principle.
– The honorable member says that the Government can do so under the Act as it stands.
– My point, is that if we were to agree to the amendment it would be tantamount to an indorsement of . the principle, which, however, I do not wish to indorse.
I would like the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) to inform honorable members if he is aware of there being any chance of the South Australian Government again proceeding with the building of War Service Homes in that State. Will they do the work ?
– Yes ; I believe . they will.
– Then the sooner the Commonwealth authorities get out and let them do so the better for the returned soldiers in South Australia. If the State Bank authorities in South Aus tralia were satisfactorily doing the work of home-building it will be far better for the Commonwealth Department to refrain from meddling.
I am glad that the Government are handing over to the Joint Parliamentary . Accounts Committee the business of inquiring into the Queensland deals. That body is quite capable of thoroughly sifting the whole matter.
– But let it be done in the open ; let the public have access to the inquiry.
– I understand that such is the procedure to-day. I do not care, personally, however, whether the inquiry is open to the public or not. I have sufficient confidence in the Accounts Committee, to know that they will perform their task completely and satisfactorily.
– Nobody wants to do the War Service ‘ Homes Commissioner an injury.
– I certainly hope not. I hope and expect that the Commissioner will be given every opportunity to lay the whole of the facts before the Committee, and to justify himself; to show, in fact, that he has done the right thing.
– To what Commissioner does the honorable member refer?
– To the War Service . Homes Commissioner, Colonel Walker.
– I suggest that the honorable member had better watch the Courts in a day or two.
– I can only say that, if Colonel Walker goes before the Accounts Committee, he will be subjected to close but fair examination, and that the report of the Committee can berelied on to give the whole of the facts.
I desire to say just a word concerning the principle of “ securing the approval “ of the Minister. If that phrase is to be construed as the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has just indicated, the Commissioner will be able to enter into arrangements, with the approval of the Minister, which may plunge this country into considerable expenditure, and as an outcome of which there will be no course for honorable members to adopt hut to indicate their indorsement.
– Order! I ask the honorable member to make only passing reference to that matter. The Committee has already decided upon the principle.
– I mention it only because of what the Minister said, and for the reason that I do not think he” placed a correct interpretation upon the point.
– Does the honorable member consider that every proposition involving more than £5,000 must be brought before Parliament, and that the Minister has no discretion under the principal Act?
– Order! I must ask the Minister also to obey the Standing Orders.
– I am sorry that, owing to the restrictive nature of the Standing Orders, I am prohibited from answering that question.
– That is a “ cute “ evasion.
– The honorable member can say, “Yes,” or “No.”’
– My own opinion is that the Commissioner and the Minister must certainly be clothed with wide powers, but I hold that, as a principle, they should secure the approval of Parliament before decisively closing upon a proposition.
– And delay the building of the houses.
– Not necessarily. If the Parliament refused to ratify an agreement that had been made by the Commissioner for the purchase of any large works, would there not be considerable delay ? Surely the honorable member does not think that this Parliament is prepared to agree to any expenditure that may be undertaken by the Minister or the War Service Homes ‘ Commissioner. Tn many cases the Commissioner could obtain an option over a property that he desired to acquire, and give Parliament an opportunity to consider his proposal.
– The honorable member has made more than a passing reference to that matter. I would remind him that clause 3, relating to the question which he is now discussing, has already been agreed to.
– Neither the Minister nor the Commissioner should enter upon enterprises involving a large expenditure without consulting Parliament. I have heard to-day, for the first time, that further saw-mills have been acquired in Victoria. The wholesale acquisition of mills and other works will lead to disaster. Where the Government make one good bargain they are likely to have ten bad ones on their hands. That sort of thing would not benefit our returned soldiers, and, in dealing with this question, my .sole desire is to consider their best interests. I do not desire the Government to enter upon “wild cat” schemes. I know too well the history of Government-conducted industries in Australia. Very few of them have been a success. Doubtless, the Commissioner could acquire certain properties- with a fair prospect of success, and, in such circumstances, the Parliament would readily approve of action being taken by him. Since he already has that power, I see no necessity for this amendment, and must, therefore, vote against it.
.- By agreeing to this amendment we shall give to the Commissioner a clear indication that the Parliament desires that he shall acquire large business enterprises. At the present time the Minister and the Commissioner have power to purchase mills and works of various kinds. Our complaint concerning the recent purchase of saw-mills and timber areas in Queensland was that the Government should have entered upon such an enterprise, involving, as it does, an expenditure of £500,000, without consulting Parliament. We were quite justified in protesting against that action, and I hope that we shall never be slow to protest against the Government of the day usurping the powers of this Parliament.
– Would not my amendment prevent that being done?
– I recognise the point that the honorable member seeks to make, but I would point out that when the Government purchase a big business enterprise without consulting Parliament they take away from us the control that we should exercise over the public funds. I do not say that the Commissioner has made a bad deal in regard to the Queensland purchase. I know nothing of the properties acquired, and I hope that the investigation in regard to them will show that the purchase was absolutely justifiable. I appreciate the difficulties with which, the Minister and the Commissioner have had to contend, and I regret that we cannot insert in this Bill a clause making it a criminal offence for any persons to combine in restraint of trade in respect of goods or material required for War Service Homes. Unfortunately, I do not think we have the power to legislate with respect to trade and commerce within a State; the power still remains with the State Parliaments. Many timber merchants are, in my opinion, combining to raise prices, and I do not think we shall be able to take effective action to bring down prices until we have power to pass legislation making it a criminal offence for any association to fix the prices of goods required by the Government.
– But the honorable member cannot suggest anything better than the Minister has done in purchasing the sawmills and timber areas in Queensland.
– So far as that transaction is concerned, my only protest is against the action of the Department in entering into it without first consulting Parliament. My suggestion that the Public Accounts Committee should be asked to inquire into the matter has been accepted by the Government, but we should be wanting in our duty if we did not protest against such an expenditure without the authority of this House.
In connexion with this amendment, by the passing of which we would express our approval of the Government entering into big business undertakings, I think it is worth while considering for a moment what has been achieved by various Government enterprises. I invite honorable members to point to any case in which they have proved a success. Let us consider for a moment the position at the Cockatoo Island dockyard. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, presented to this House a report dealing with the operations of the dockyard, and he will remember that part of it in which it is pointed out that while a barge built at Cockatoo Island cost £12,800, an exactly similar barge built by Messrs.
Robinson Bros., of Melbourne, cost only £5,000. In the same report it was pointed out that, owing to the delay in constructing the cruiser Brisbane at Cockatoo Island, three years of its effective life had been lost. It was pointed out further, that while the Melbourne and the Sydney had cost £400,000 each, the cost of the Brisbane was £760,000, and that tens of thousands . of pounds worth of goods could not be allocated to any particular work.
– As a matter of fact, it was a badly managed “ show.”
– All these facts were dealt with in the report presented to the House by the honorable member.
– Locomotives are constructed in the Victorian Railway workshops at Newport, at from £1,000 to £2,000 below the cost at which they can be obtained from any private firm in Australia.
– I do not think that is so.
– It is.
– And when we have in control of such enterprise a Minister who is seeking political patronage, and wants to find jobs for his friends, the public have to pay. I would also remind the Committee of the working of the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow. Honorable members will recollect the fight I have put up from time to time, with the object of ascertaining the cost of rifles produced in that factory. I offered, on one occasion, to make a wager that they were costing over £11 each. The Committee that reported to Parliament in favour of the establishment of that Factory said that rifles could be manufactured under Australian conditions at a cost of £3 9s.1d. each. We have in the Lithgow Factory what, prior to the war, was one of the best plants in the world. During the war period costs, as we know, have gone up considerably, but the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) last week admitted that rifles produced by the Small Arms Factory were now costing £13 each.’
– He also said that rifles could not be purchased for less elsewhere.
– What is the use of talking nonsense? The Defence Department, during the war period, would not give us any information as to the cost of production. It was said that it would be unwise to let foreign Powers know the number of rifles we were making and the cost of their manufacture. In Belgium and France girls are employed to operate the machines in the Small Arms Factories, while boys and girls are so employed in British factories; but at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory only engineers are employed, and there is one mas to each machine. Is it any wonder that the cost of production is so high?
I should like to know what was the cost of making bricks at Canberra. The brickworks there were established by the Government at a cost of something like £75,000, and the cost of the bricks produced was- enormous.
– The New South Wales State brickworks expect to pay out of profits in another year the whole of the capital cost of £140,000.
– Quite so. In Western Australia bricks are being sold at 48s. per thousand as against £3 per thousand in Victoria. The price here, I presume, is controlled1 by a Combine. I would do everything possible to prevent this restraint of trade. Only a little while ago evidence was given before the Fair Prices Commission in Victoria that up to £5 per thousand was being charged for bricks. I would make it very uncomfortable for those who, at a time like this, take advantage of the needs of “the community.
The War Service Homes Commissioner may find it absolutely necessary to erectbrickworks. He has power to do so under the principal Act. If prices continue to rise, and it is found impossible to obtain bricks at a reasonable price, he may deem it essential to establish brickworks. There is nothing to stop him from doing so, and in such circumstances the House, I am sure, would commend him for taking such action. Parliament, however, should be consulted in respect of any large expenditure contemplated by the Department. We have given the Minister and the Commissioner enormous powers under the principal Act. In carrying out “the War Service Homes . scheme they will probably spend something like £30,000,000.
– And the rest.
– I think that something like 27,000 applications for war service homes still remain to be dealt with. Neither in the principal Act nor in this Bill is there a provision that the
Minister or the Commissioner shall furnish an annual report to Parliament.. The Commissioner need not send in any report with regard to the progress of his operations.
– If we can get a sufficient majority we will pass the honorable member’s proposed amendment.
– I have already agreed to accept it in substance.
– The omission of such a provision is a reflection on the draftsman of the Bill. Measures of this kind are usually framed on existing legislation, and I copied most of- my proposed amendment from a provision in the Railways Act of 1917. However, the Minister already has the power to do what the honorable member for Hunter desires to give the Comimissioner power to do, and if it were found that Combines were being formed, rendering it very costly to obtain material for building soldiers’ homes, I am sure he would set about the establishment of the necessary works. We are all of the opinion that the best should be done to provide soldiers with homes at the cheapest possible price. There is not an honorable member here who would work in the interest of any person anxious to increase the cost of these buildings. But are we to make it part of the policy of the War Service Homes Commissioner to establish undertakings of the kind suggested in the amendment ?
– Would not the wording of the amendment somewhat restrict his operations in this direction?
– The Government are pretty well alive to the fact that if action similar to that taken in the recent purchase of saw-mills in Queensland were taken in the future, honorable members who were found supporting them on the last occasion would then be found opposing them. Honorable members’ realize their responsibilities, and want some control over the public purse; they could not exonerate any Government which repeated what they had condemned them for doing in the past. One strong argument against the adoption of the amendment is the fact that it would assuredly lead to the establishment of a number of Departments, increasing the public expenditure.. As the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard. Foster) has already pointed out, the establishment of a War Service Homes Branch. in South Australia, where the State Bank has already been carrying out the work of building soldiers’ homes successfully, must increase the cost of building these houses at a time when we ought to be doing all we can to keep it down ; and here again, if we set up additional Departments with expensive staffs, for the purpose of running Commonwealth ‘Brick Works, and Commonwealth Cement Works, and so forth, it must increase the cost of building homes for the soldiers, the very thing which we should set our minds on avoiding.
– The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) and the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson), who preceded him, have uttered some mutually destructive arguments. At one time they both appeared to be strong supporters of the amendment put forward by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), but to every one’s surprise they concluded by announcing their opposition to it. The honorable member for Darmpier’s contention, which he has always insisted on, that the right of Parliament ho control these big financial undertakings should not be’ abrogated, is amply safeguarded in the amendment.
– But the amendment is a clear suggestion that the Commissioner should undertake these things.
– He will only undertake them if he finds that it is to the benefit of the soldiers to do so. Apart altogether from any party feeling on the question of establishing State enterprises ad libitum, I should imagine that the very insertion in an Act of Parliament of words providing that the Commissioner may, with the consent of Parliament, acquire or establish brickworks, sawmills, and cement works would have a deterrent effect on the actions of Combines. The honorable member for Dampier has always been very careful to trot out what he deems to have been the failures of State enterprises; but if we were to go through the whole gamut of private and Government enterprises, I dare say we should find a greater number of failures among the former.
– But the taxpayer is not called upon to bear the losses sustained by private enterprises.
– I do not always look for profits from Government enterprises. [ regard them’ as a form of insurance against the encroachment of those who would levy heavy toll upon the Government.
– The State sawmills in Queensland are charging exactly the same prices as the Combine.
– That is quite likely, but let me read an extract which has already been quoted in this House, dealing with the operations of the State brick- works in New South Wales. It is taken from the report of the InterState Commission,and reads as follows: -
The manager of the State Brickworks gave evidence, and produced the Auditor-General’s reports on the workings of this enterprise. The works sell common bricks at 38s. fid. per 1,000, as against the Combine price of 50s. per 1,000. The works price in 1914 was 35s. The maximum output in any one yearhas been 38,000,000, the output in 1917 (‘a strike vear) was 28,000,000; the estimated output for” 1918 was 42,000,000. The present capacitv for output is 44,000,000, but there is room “to double the works.
A total sum of £87,00!) has been advanced by the Government, of which £20,000 has been repaid out of profits. Operations began in 1911, and the financial results, according to the Auditor-General’s report, 1918, have boon remarkable. He states - “Accumulated profits at 30th June, J HIS, were £23,(>22 Ss. 9d., or 2G.94 per cent.: reserve for renewals, £27,4S9 1,5s. 6d., or 31.30 per cent., amounting in all to £51,112 4s. 3d., or 58.30 per cent., of the capital employed.”
As pointed out by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) these works anticipate paying off this year the balance of the capital cost. Consequently they will be able to sell their output cheaper. At any rate, they must be a good proposition for the State Government when we find that they can save another State undertaking, to wit, the Railways, as much as £170.000. State enterprises are not all a series of mistakes and blunders. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. ‘ Gregory) has pointed out that we are being squeezed to-day by timber, brick, and cement Combines. How are we to escape from their grip ? The Honorary Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has told us that owing to the purchase of saw-mills at Beech Forest, the War Service Homes Commissioner will effect a saving of at least 10s. per 100 feet on hardwood.
– I did not use that figure. I quoted the figures under our definite contract, and also the ruling rates.
– The Minister quoted a rate of 25s., as against 15s.
– I quoted figures varying from 15s. 9d. to 33s., as against 25s. 8d. to 54s., the ruling market rates. Those are the prices for timber delivered in Melbourne or at any metropolitan station.
– The Minister’s figures practically bear out what I have said. I had distinctly in mind that whereas the . ordinary current price of certain classes of timber is 25s. per 100 feet, the same class of timber is to be supplied by these mills at Beech Forest at 15s., thus effecting a saving of 10s. on the ruling market prices of to-day.
– Assuming that the price now ruling continues.
– It is quite likely, as the honorable member suggests, that the purchase of these mills by the Commonwealth may result in bringing down the price of timber in the open market, and that affords another splendid argument for inserting the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hunter. In any case, as I have already pointed out, the mere insertion of the amendment would have a deterrent effect on the operations of Combines. /
– The Minister can already do all these things without the consent of Parliament.
– But the amendment would be a double-barrelled safeguard. No work could be established without the authority of Parliament, and the provision appearing in the Act would have a deterrent effect on Combines. I know that some honorable members regard a lot of the expenditure at the Flinders Naval Base as’ extravagant, and there certainly has been laxity and inefficiency of control, resulting in the wasting of thousands of pounds, but there are other officers who, in the administration of affairs, have been wise,- One officer stationed at Flinders, requiring a large quantity of hardwood, approached a small saw-mill -owner in the neighbourhood and asked him to quote for the whole of the output of his mill, which about met the Department’s requirements. As a result, he was able to effect a considerable saving.
– If an officer approaches any mill-owner and offers to take the whole of his output, he can make a very good business “ deal “ with him.
– That may be so in the case of free owners of mills, but most are in combinations, and, while not saying so in so many words, they hint that they cannot possibly reduce the selling price.
– They will not “ scab on their mates.”
– To put it plainly, that is so.
– Is that not combination in restraint of trade?
– Thehonorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) said that he considered such action to be in restraint of trade, but was afraid we had not the power to prevent it. I think, however, that it is worth while inserting a provision of the kind in some Bill, instead of relying on indefinite terms of the Constitution. If we did so, my opinion is that the legislation would be upheld by the High Court.
I was a member of a Committee which inquired into the question of the establishment of cement works at Fairy Meadow, some 25 miles from the Federal Capital site. The evidence that we took, not only from Government officials, but from private cement manufacturers and others, was fairly conclusive that if the Government were to embark on the venture they could save at least £10,000 a year. I am surprised that the Government have not taken steps to establish cement works at that place.
– It would require about £250,000 to start them.
– Not quite so much. For a considerable number of years Danish manufacturers had a monopoly of cement production, but the British manufacturers have now come into the field, and are doing as well, if not better, than their Continental competitors. The land at Fairy Meadow has been purchased by the Commonwealth from the New South Wales Government, and it seems peculiarly adapted for this industry. On one side of a beautiful stream of water is a great hill of limestone formation, and on the other side a hill of shale. Thus we have the two main elements of cement, with water power to drive the machinery. We know that large operations have commenced at Maria Island, and that Australian manufacturers are trying to catch up with the demand. Much work is ahead, including the construction of silos, irrigation works - including the Murray River works - pipe building, and ordinary building operations, and throughout Australia there is a greater demand for cement than ever. This is particularly noticeable in the case of reinforced cement work, and the pipes that are being turned out here, from 3-inch to 8-feet diameter, by the Hume Brothers company, are known all over the world. I think I am at liberty to say that Hume Brothers have sold their South African rights for £50,000, and that the New South Wales rights have been bought by the State Government. Under all the circumstances, we would be wise to adopt the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Hunter. To my mind, the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) and the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) tell more strongly in favour of the amendment than against it. I suppose that before we are finished with the work of repatriation we shall have to erect, roughly, 100,000 homes, which, at only £700 each, represents an expenditure of £70,000,000. Under the circumstances, we should, in every way possible, protect the returned soldier, who, after all, has to find the money. We should brush aside some of our preconceived notions regarding State enterprises, and adopt the course that will, inthe end, prove the cheapest for the men who have done their duty by this country.
.- Unfortunately, I was unable to be present when the Minister made a statement in reference to a question I had asked earlier in the day. I wish to see the best done for our returned soldiers in the way of providing for them the cheapest houses the Government can build. I think, however, that the returned soldiers are not going to get the cheapest houses by the means adopted now, namely, the purchase of saw-mills and timber areas. I do not know whether honorable members are aware that the . Government, some time back, purchased five timber mills in Victoria at a cost of something like £40,000. I am afraid that the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has been wrongly informed when he attempts to justify that purchase by stating that timber is now sold at from 25s. to 54s. per 100 feet super.
– The current price is 25s.8d. to 54s., according to the character of the timber, delivered in the metropolitan markets.
– Timber is being delivered from the mills in Melbourne at 18s. per 100 feet super. - ordinary building timbers, building sizes, 3x2 and 3 x1½, under 16 feet lengths, of which the soldier homes are built. The statement now made by the Minister, that the price ranges up to 54s., is altogether “ out of it.”
– What is the retail price ?
– It is 26s. per 100 feet super., and that is not by the truck-load, or in large quantities, but by the single stick if the purchaser pleases. If the Government had gone to any of the millers in the areas they have purchased, they could have got the timber at as low a price as it is costing them to-day. I was not here when the Minister made his statement, but I understood him. to say that the cost is 15s. 9d. per 100 feet super. The’ Victorian saw-mills cost, I believe, £40,000.
– The total purchase money was £48,570.
– Although most of the mills purchased are in my own electorate, I am not sufficiently familiar with the fact3 to justify me in criticising the transaction. I may do so later, however, for I have hoard a good deal about the matter. The Commonwealth Government could have taken up areas owned by the State Government, and put in their own mills, thus avoiding the purchase of the good-will of businesses carried out on lands already to a certain extent cut out. Some of the millers in my electorate have concluded that it is much more profitable to let their mills to parties of eight to fifteen men, and <pay those men for the whole of the output; undor all the circumstances, I think the Government have made a mistake, and would have done as well, or better, by going into new country. I hope that these purchases will prove all right, but I am a little doubtful. It is time enough, when all other resources have been exhausted, to enter into State enterprises of this kind.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton). Industries such as that of cement and iron manufacture in existence to-day cannot supply present demands, and the Government ought to make sure of a proper supply of material in order to avoid failure in the building of these War Service Homes. There are, I believe, about 70,000 applications for homes already in, and we may look for 100,000 before the work is completed. This means the consumption of a vast amount of raw material which the Government ought to be able to provide for themselves. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) is against the Government taking the control of any industry because, he says, such attempts in the past have not proved successful. I remind the honorable member, however, that he was against the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank, which certainly has not proved a failure. Then, again, the Small Arms Factory is a paying proposition.
– Yes, the Small Arms Factory is a paying proposition for the purpose for which it was originally, intended. The agricultural implement works established by the State Labour Government in Western Australia were also a success.
– They were not. The Government were glad to get rid of them.
– They were a success, and produced implements at prices 30 per cent, below those quoted by private manufacturers. The implement works are still in operation, and nobody raises any objection to them. Therefore, they must be on a fairly satisfactory footing. The Commonwealth Clothing and Saddlery Factories have also proved profitable enterprises. If Government control is a success in connexion with the enterprises I have mentioned it is fair to assume that it would be equally successful in connexion with brick, cement, and iron works. Under existing conditions soldiers are not getting their homes built as cheaply as they could do if better arrangements were made for obtaining the necessary material. To-day, cement and lime are fully 30s. per ton dearer than they should be, whilst roofing iron is £40 per ton dearer than the price at which it could be profitably manufactured in Australia. Corrugated galvanized iron is quoted at about £70 per ton, whereas statistics prove that it could be manufactured in Australia at £35 per ton. That price would give a reasonable return on capital. There is no reason why the Government should not establish these enterprises. There are comparatively few cement works in Australia, and they cannot supply the demand. Large quantities of cement are being consumed by Government Departments, and private buyers cannot get supplies. The main objection to the amendment raised by honorable members opposite is that Government control will not be successful. The old tale that Government enterprise is a failure will no longer serve, because every industry which the Government have established and managed has been a success. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) said that the Lithgow Small Arms Factory was not a success.
– The Minister for Defence stated a few days ago that thecost of producing a rifle at Lithgow is £13. “
– I do not dispute that, but the conditions under which the employees work to-day are vastly different from what they were when the factory was first established. At any rate, rifle.* are manufactured as cheaply in the Government factory at Lithgow as they could be produced elsewhere in Australia. If the Lithgow article is not cheaper tha’.i. the article produced by private enterprise it should be, because the Department refuses to pay its employees the same rate of pay as private employers pay for a similar class of work. There is plenty of scope for the Government to establish industries in almost every portion of the Commonwealth. In my own electorate there is room for new cement, lime, and iron works. In each of those industries nature would be practically a shareholder, for the whole of the material is ready to hand. For cement works there is abundance of limestone and shale, and coal is obtainable close by. The only material that would have to be obtained from outside the State .is gypsum. New South Wales presents better opportunities for the establishment of these industries than does any other State.
– What roti
– Are not the Portland Cement Works the most successful of the kind in the Commonwealth? Will the honorable member deny that there nature is a shareholder, contributing tens of millions of tons of limestone and shale on the spot, and convenient supplies of coal. At scores of other places in that State there is room for the establishment of similar enterprise. The Hoskins works at Lithgow have unlimited supplies of ironstone and coal. There is an opportunity for the Government to .establish works which would produce iron at prices cheaper than those ruling to-day, and instead of the profits going into ‘ the pockets of private enterprise, they would go into the coffers of the Treasury, whilst the community would get a cheaper article. If the Government seriously desire to erect homes for soldiers at a reasonable cost they must see that - the necessary material is obtained as cheaply as possible, and not continue paying private individuals whatever prices they choose to ask. Cement is quoted at about £5, 2s. 6d. per ton, although anybody who knows anything about its manufacture will admit that it could be produced at a much lower price. Lime is from £3 to £3 15s. per ton; about five years ago it was selling at 27s. to 30s. per ton. These facts are worthy of consideration.
A number of returned soldiers have applied, through local repatriation bodies, for assistance in the purchase of homes. They were given to understand by the Comptroller of Repatriation that they could purchase houses already built, but they have never been able to get the money from the Department. Numbers of applicants have waited month after month to get a final answer from the Department, and they are still without satisfaction. I should like the Minister to see that a more expeditious method is adopted.
.- I ha.c not heard any strong argument against the amendment. It merely provides that Parliament shall decide in regard to any large purchase which the Government mav contemplate. The clause, if amended as proposed by the honorable member for Hunter, will provide that the Commissioner may erect, complete, or enlarge, for eligible persons, dwelling houses on land owned by them, and, for that purpose, may acquire or establish, with the consent of Parliament, brickworks, saw-mills, and cement works.
– We have that power already.
– If the power already exists, why is there so much objection to stating it in the Bill? Acts of Parliament should be made clear enough for anybody to understand, and so explicit that there can be no evasion of the intention of the Legislature. I am not of opinion that the acquisition, by the Commissioner, of saw mills and timber areas will lead to any reduction in the price “of timber. The Government action in this regard is equivalent to removing an experienced farmer from the land and putting an inexperienced soldier in hie place, with the idea that, by so doing, the more rapid development of agriculture will be encouraged. I indorse the argument that the Government would have been better advised had they established mills in virgin forests, and thus supplemented the supplies at present available to the public; If the Government are going to acquire more of these mills, such acquisition must, of necessity, reduce the output to the general public. I fail to see the wisdom of purchasing mills which, in many cases, have been working for years. Any one with experience of saw-milling must know that, when a mill is established at a suitable forest site, the longer the mill remains in operation the more denuded does the neighbourhood become of suitable and accessible timber. Some thirty years ago I was employed by a saw-miller in Queensland.
– The honorable member must have been using a tomahawk at that time. ‘
– No; we were felling giants of the forest, 8 feet in diameter. We were sent out into the bush to cut down certain timbers, which, however, remained for several years as they had crashed, and, apparently, were only an eyesore to the proprietor. The manager of the mill had instructed us to leave them as they lay, because he could not see his way clear to get the timber to the mill, and sell it at a profit. Eventually these fallen trees were milled ; and I may say here that the proprietor later became insolvent. The manager, who had been strongly averse from touching the timber at all, took the trouble to prepare detailed statements of the whole of the items of expense; and he afterwards made the matter public, since it had aroused considerable interest. I remember that the timber cost the owner more than 25s. per 100 feet to cut, and that he secured only 10s. 6d. per 100 feet for the hardwood in the rough. It was no wonder that he went insolvent. My point is that some of the mills which the Government have purchased have been working for a considerable time, and that it will cost more in future - and more and more as the years go by- to get the timber to those mills, and market it. The Government would have been more wisely advised if, instead of purchasing these going concerns, they had been persuaded to embark on the establishment of a mill of their own in a timber area hitherto untouched.
Reference has been made to cement. In the direction of the Government producing their own supplies, there are great possibilities. The Department should be able to erect, in the more congested areas, numbers of suitable homes for soldiers at a much cheaper rate than by building wooden homes; and there would be an additional advantage in that the upkeep of concrete houses would amount to considerably less. Some time ago, I was in conversation with a gentleman who told me that the Victorian Government had spent something like £10,000 upon the importation of cement from overseas for certain works in connexion with a freezing establishment somewhere in the neighbourhood, I understand, of Murtoa. I was authoritatively informed also that, right on the spot itself, there are millions of tons of the necessary ingredients for the manufacture of cement. That item of £10,000 would have provided capital for a splendid investment by the State erecting cement works. Instead of sending that money out of Australia for the purchase of a commodity, which came to hand only in very limited quantises, and was quickly used up, a permanent source of supply could have been established, and the effect might have been to materially cheapen the cost of soldiers’ homes in the more congested areas.
The Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has made reference to a matter which I raised in this House, by way of a question, on Friday last. The outcome of my question is that there will be an inquiry into certain charges which have been made; but I wish to emphasize the fact that I have not made those charges. Their terms are to be found embodied in correspondence which has passed between the individual named therein and the War Service Homes Department. The Minister referred to the gentleman as being desirous of selling to the Commissioner something which he had not for sale. I call the attention of honorable members to the following letter dated 8th March, from Mr. J. T. Caldwell to the Commissioner for War Service Homes : -
Following the interview accorded Mr. H. C. Sleigh and myself to-day, respecting the difference between us regarding the title to the islands of Vanikoro and Tevai, I have since received the Resident Commissioner’s letter (copy of . which is enclosed), and trust it will cause you to agree with the contention that my application should be respected, and not interfered with by your Commission.
I am writing you in detail regarding my negotiations’ with Mr. Combes, in Sydney, as representing you, and the subsequent proceedings in this city.
I will now read a copy of a letter written from the office of the Resident Commissioner, British Solomon Islands, to Mr. Caldwell: -
Tulagi, 28th November, 1919.
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your report on Vanikoro dated 25th November, which I have read with great interest.
I observe that you apply for plantation, as well as for timber rights, over the whole of the islands of Vanikoro and Tevai, and, if possible, for exclusive fishing and trading licences.
I am forwarding your report and application to His Excellency the High Commissioner, with a strong recommendation that an occupation licence be granted you; but I must inform you that, as the law stands at present, any vessel in respect of which a ship’s licence has been taken out, is entitled to trade or fish within Protectorate waters without restriction as to area.
I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant, (Sgd.) Charles Workman,
The Hotel, Tulagi.
This man, Caldwell, journeyed to the islands about the middle of last year, in search of timber - having been financed, I understand, by the Lahey Brothers, of Brisbane, or, at any rate, by some of the members of that firm. After considerable travel, he furnished a report to the Resident Commissioner of the islands. To that report the Commissioner alludes in his letter, and the same report was furnished to Caldwell’s principals in Brisbane.
– But has the man any interests there himself, upon which he is prepared to negotiate?
– He was given a distinct promise that his application would receive strong recommendation.
– And what does he want for that?
– It can be proved, by reference to the correspondence, which I do not propose to read in extenso-
– He has no rights over those islands.
– I do not say that he has rights; but his charge against the Government is that, while he was negotiating with the War Service Homes Department, the Government went behind his back and blocked the granting to him of an option, such as had been strongly recommended by the Resident Commissioner in the Solomons.
– The honorable member means that when these parties found that they had no lease they started making inquiries for themselves.
– It is stated in the correspondence that Caldwell, having returned, met a representative of the Department in Sydney, namely, Mr. Combes, who told him that he was about to set out for Papua to seek timber for the purposes of the Department. In the course of further conversation, Mr. Combes asked this gentleman - having heard that he had recently inspected the timber in the Solomons - if he was prepared to enter into negotiations with the Commissioner for the sale of the timber. A tentative agreement was drawn up, or arranged, whereby the sum of 2s. per 100 super, feet should be paid to him by way of royalty.
– For something which he did not possess.
– I cannot explain the position fully at this stage. In a letter to the Commissioner dated 7th March last, Mr. Caldwell states that he met Mr. Combes in Mr. H. C. Sleigh’s offices, Sydney, in December, 1919, and he goes on to say that -
I explained my relations with Messrs. Lahey and Sons of the Brisbane Timbers Limited, and promsed to submit a proposition to them in Brisbane on my visit in January. Mr. Combes, however, pressed mc to place the matter before them at once, and I finally sent a wire asking one of my friends to come down and see him. I got no reply to my wire till the 29th. when five came to hand, all sent between the 17th and the 24th, but held up by incompetent officials. They gave me authority to enter into negotiations with Mr. Combes, but neither were able to meet us in Sydney, so Mr. Combes left for Melbourne on the 31st, and I arranged for him to meet Mr. Sleigh at his office on January 5th. Mr. Sleigh then became my agent in the matter, and on 6th January I proceeded to Brisbane to see my partners. . . . Ultimately, after receiving several telegrams from Mr. Sleigh, it was arranged that I should see you personally, and on Saturday, the 24th January, presented myself at 3’our office with Mr. H. C. Sleigh, where a tentative arrangement was made for disposing of the timber on Vanikoro and Tevai Islands, on royalty to your Commission.
On the 27th you, Mr. Combes, Mr. Bradshaw, and another whom I do not know, called at Mr. Sleigh’s office to inspect the samples of timber I had brought from the islands, and on the following day you asked Mr. Sleigh to ascertain what I would take for my rights, and the sum of £50,000, which was half that would be payable under the royalty scheme, was named.
That was the sum named by the representative of the Commission.
– The man was on a good wicket.
– I do not hold a brief for him. I am. simply making quotations from the correspondence, in which he endeavours to prove that he has not been fairly treated by the War Service Homes Commissioner. Various statements, which I think strengthen his case, are made in the correspondence. I need not mention them here, but, having read the correspondence, I feel satisfied that if the statements contained in it are correct, this man has just ground for complaint. I am not here to say that, his statements are true or untrue, but he certainly makes very serious charges, gravely reflecting upon officials in the War Service Homes Department, and for the sake of their honour and integrity the fullest inquiry should be made. The correspondence shows that in the course of interviews be- tween Mr. Caldwell and the Commissioner, and also between Mr. Caldwell and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) some strong expressions were used. Reference is made in such words as “ liars ‘ ‘and “ swindlers.” The whole of the correspondence will be tabled. I desire now to quote from a letter sent by Mr. Caldwell to the War Service Homes Commissioner on 4th August last -
I have to acknowledge yours of 29th July, which is not a reply to mine of 24th June, wherein 1 stated a case and asked for an explanation. Whether my correspondence is couched in “ reasonable language” or not is a matter of opinion. The reason for it’ is not a usual one, and in view of the allegation of serious wrong-doing on the part of the War Service Homes officials, and the refusal to even acknowledge correspondence addressed on a public_ matter, is an occasion which warrants severe criticism.
– What is the definite charge made against any official of the Department?
– Caldwell states that on his return from the islands he had an interview with Colonel Walker, who entered into a tentative agreement with him on the understanding that matters could be finalized later on. Caldwell had spoken of Lahey’s mills and timber areas in Queensland, and -Colonel Walker suggested that he should go to Queensland, and enter into negotiations, with a view to the purchase of considerable quantities of timber for the War Service Homes Commissioner. These were the first - negotiations that took place on behalf of the Commonwealth Government. Caldwell’s charge is that, while he was on his way to Brisbane, with the full approval and consent of, and practically under instructions from, the- War Service Homes Commissioner, the Commissioner, behind his back, entered into negotiations with Lahey Bros., by means of telegraphic communications, for the purchase of 5,000,000 superficial feet of pine per annum for a period of five years.
– Does he complain of the Lahey proposition or the island proposition ?
– His complaint is that he was undermined in regard to the island proposition, and undermined also by the War Service Homes Commissioner while he was doing work on his behalf and at his request.
– Does the honorable member think that the Commissioner would be worthy of his position if he had accepted the mert; statements of this man, and had not communicated with the Administrator of the islands?
– I can only say that, according to the correspondence placed at my disposal, the Government have gone behind this man’s back in regard to the island scheme. He submitted a proposition to them in regard to timber on the islands, and, finding that he had not a lease, but only the promise of a lease of timber areas there, they in some way induced the . Resident Commissioner or the Governor of the Protectorate to refuse to grant him a lease.
– Order! I am loth to intervene. I permitted the Minister (Mr. Rodgers), quite irregularly, to deal with the question of the timber purchases, although it was not at all relevant to the clause or the amendment before the Chair. In fairness to the honorable member I, therefore, permitted him to make a lengthy reply to the Minister’s statement. I must now ask hi in to confine himself to the question immediately before the Chair since the clause on which the matter of the timber purchases could have been raised has already been agreed to.
– If that is your ruling, sir, I shall have to submit to it. It is somewhat strange that while honorable members have been allowed to refer to the cost of rifle production and practically everything else under the sun, I am not permitted to deal with the question of the purchase of timber for soldiers’ homes.
– The honorable member had his opportunity to refer to that matter at length when clause 3 was under consideration. He will have another opportunity to deal with it on the motion for the third reading of the Bill.
– I submit to your ruling with the very best grace, and conclude with the hope that the proposed inquiry will be of a most thorough character. I trust that the whole of the facts will be elicited from both sides in order that justice may be done to those who apparently are at present under a. cloud. As to the amendment, I certainly feel disposed to give it my support.
– The necessity for such an amendment as that .proposed by me has been clearly shown during the course of the debate. Practically every honorable member is in agreement with the principle for which it provides. One or two honorable members have intimated their intention of voting against it; but an analysis of their speeches shows that they are in duty bound to support it. The Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has declared that the Department has already sufficient power under the principal Act to expend whatever it pleases on the purchase of timber mills, or anything else, necessary in connexion with the construction of War Service Homes. His only objection to the amendment seemed to be that it requires that Parliament shall be consulted before the Commissioner acquires or establishes any of these enterprises. So or.any honorable members had said that the Parliament should be consulted in respect of all projects involving a large expenditure that I did not anticipate any opposition to my amendment. During the war period h, system grew up under which Ministers and others were permitted to undertake huge expenditures without consulting the Parliament. We have become familiar with the practice, and it seems now to be taken for granted that it should continue. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) and the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), who adopted practically the same line of argument, concluded by stating that they would oppose the amendment. The honorable member for Wilmot said that under the principal Act the Minister had power to acquire any business enterprise necessary to the building of War Service Homes, and that, therefore, this amendment was unnecessary. A moment later he declared that if the Government continued to expend huge sums of money without first consulting Parliament, they need not look to him for any further support. He said he would have to consider whether he would be justified in supporting a Government that would continue that practice. Notwithstanding this declaration, he objects to an amendment which expressly provides that the consent of Parliament shall be obtained to any proposal by the Department for the purchase of a business enterprise.
– If the honorable member merely desires to provide that the consent of Parliament shall be ob- tained, why does he not say so, and omit the other part of his amendment?
– I believe in the principle for which it provides. Those who favour the principle, and yet oppose this amendment, are taking up a very strange position. The honorable member for Dampier urged that to carry the amendment would be to give a direction to the Commissioner that he should purchase or set up big industrial enterprises. He admits that the principal Act gives the Commissioner power to incur large expenditures in such a direction, and that being so. he ought not to take exception to the amendment. It provides for the very principle for which he has declared.
– The constitutional method is for Ministers to apply to Parliament for approval to incur large expenditures. That being so, why insert such a provision in the Bill ?
– It has been contended throughout the afternoon that the Minister has power to acquire certain propositions, but that they ought first to be referred to Parliament. If that is so, how is it a constitutional power ? To my mind, the necessity to refer such matters to Parliament ought to be placed in the Bill, so that there can be no escape from it. However, very soon we shall have a division on my amendment, and then we shall have the spectacle of , honorable members, who have pointed out how absolutely necessary it is that no large sum of money should be spent without the consent of Parliament, voting against an amendment which places on the Minister the obligation to seek the consent of Parliament before undertaking any big business transaction, and doing so on the flimsy pretext that they do not think such a provision ought to be included in the Bill.
– Will the honorable member be prepared to alter his amendment to provide that the Commissioner shall not acquire any of these works without first submitting the proposal to Parliament? If he does so, I shall support him.
– No; I want the Minister to be in a position to acquire, certain works if he thinks it good business to do so in the interests of reducing the cost of soldiers’ homes. I have been through the mill, and, because I know how difficult it was for me to make repayments of money I had borrowed in connexion with my home, I can speak feelingly about the position of soldiers.
– Does the honorable member think that a soldier would be safer in the hands of Parliament than if the matter were left in the hands of a Minister1?
– I am endeavouring to place the matter under the control of Parliament, but the honorable member is evidently opposed to that principle.
– Not if the word “ shall “ is used.
– That would prevent the Minister from doing anything in this direction except under exceptional circumstances. I would give him the option of carrying on these enterprises. I take no exception to what the Minister has done recently in the purchase of saw-mills, but I hold that no money should be expended for the purpose of acquiring undertakings, although they may be found necessary to reduce the cost of building material, unless the consent of Parliament has first been obtained. If this provision is made in the Bill, there can be no ground for complaint against any transaction. It surprises me that some honorable members are opposing my amendment. Only the other day they were condemning the Minister for having purchased mills in “Queensland at a cost of £500,000, without the consent of Parliament, but now that they have the opportunity of compelling him. to first submit to Parliament any proposition he wants to acquire, they wriggle and advance all sorts of excuses for not supporting it. If they have any desire to be consistent they have the opportunity of displaying their consistency by supporting my proposal. There is such a scarcity of material, and there are so many competitors in the field for the quantity available; that higher prices must prevail, and, in twelve months’ time, I believe the Minister will be compelled to come down to this House and ask permission to make a further advance to soldiers for the purchase of homes.
– Will the honorable member’s amendment add to or take away from the power which the Commissioner already possesses ?
– No, except that the Commissioner would be obliged to come to Parliament for approval of any undertaking.
– No deal could be completed without the consent of Parliament.
– That would be the case. There are always people who are only too anxious to cast doubt upon any transaction. My amendment would relieve the Minister of any responsibility in that regard. If he recommends a certain proposition to the Parliament, pointing out that a saving would bo effected by it, and if Parliament consents to it, he clears himself of all future responsibility in connexion with it. I think the amendment is a reasonable one.
.- Listening to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) one would think that his amendment was designed to safeguard the rights of Parliament as against individual Ministerial action, and protect the soldier against the Commissioner ; and if that were the effect of the amendment I would most gladly support it, because it is time Parliament had more control over expenditure, and it would be better for the individual soldier to always have such matters referred to this House, but the amendment does neither of these things. It merely gives a direction, to the Commissioner to acquire these different undertakings.
– Does the honorable member contend that each individual soldier’s case should be submitted to this. House?
– I do not mean that. If a better means could be devised by which a soldier could reach this House instead of through the Minister, and the honorable member for Hunter implied, that that was what his amendment sought to achieve, I would support it, but I find that under the amendment the soldier would get no nearer to this House, and that the power of Parliament would not in any way be decreased. The Minister would still remain the sole arbiter.
– Would not the Minister or the Department be the best judges as to whether a proposition should be acquired ?
– I think that Parliament would be the best judges in such a case. On innumerable occasions it has been pointed out that this House has lost its ‘control of the purse to Ministers, :and the honorable member, by his speech, would lead one to suppose that the purpose of his ‘amendment was” to restore that control to Parliament, whereas, as a matter of fact, it merely gives a direction to the Commissioner to extend the Government’s business activities.
– Subject to parliamentary approval.
– That is so, but I am opposed ito the idea of the Government entering on any more of these activities. We ‘have already too many of them.
– The building of soldiers’ homes is a ‘Government activity.
– Certainly; but I think that work .should be done through individual channels. ‘The extension of Government activities, in the way suggested by the honorable member for Hunter, will not ‘benefit the soldiers. On the contrary it will do them great injury. I, therefore, oppose it.
.- Very often I find myself in agreement with the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), but, in regard to .this amendment, I .find myself in total disagreement with him. As the honorable member has claimed that all honorable members on -this side of the House .ought to support his amendment, I think it necessary to say a word or two in regard to my attitude towards it. I believe in the Minister and the Commissioner having .the powers they have at present under the Act. I believe in the Commissioner having the power to expend money up to the sum mentioned, £5,000. I also believe that he should not have the power to expend ov-er that amount without the approval of the Minister. But, having intrusted the Minister and those associated with him with the expenditure of an .immense sum of money, I .am perfectly content to leave it to them ito spend it, subject always to their responsibility to Parliament. If a Minister, pursuant to the powers given him under the Act, spends money unwisely, he can be brought to book on the floor of the House. We can challenge every transaction in which he engages, and if he does something that is .clearly unbusiness-like, he can be brought to book, and the Government that indorses his action can be thrown out of office. Under the Act, .the Minister and the Commissioner already have power to acquire all the classes of enterprise which the .honorable member for Hunter thinks it may be .necessary for them to undertake in the interests of the economical building of soldiers’ homes. As a matter of fact, the amendment would really restrict, and restrict unnecessarily, their power in this respect. I would leave the whole .of the responsibility as to the way in which the money is to be expended .on the .shoulders of the Minister.
– Parliament taas ‘to .accept the responsibility, .because it has to pass the expenditure.
– That may be so, but we have given the Minister power to spend an immense amount of money, and if in the interests of the economical building of homes -he sees an opportunity of making a good “ deal,” perhaps of securing a saw-mill at a reasonable price, which may involve an expenditure of more than £5,000’ or even £20,000, he can grasp it; but the amendment would compel him to come down to the House and a’llow Parliament to discuss the advisability or otherwise of carrying out the ‘”’ deal.’”
– The Minister could get an .option.
– I do not think he . could. As ‘business men know, matters of this kind very often require careful and) delicate handling. The Minister may send an -agent to approach the vendor of a saw-mill.
– He may see the op- portunity of so doing at a time when Parliament is not sitting.
– Yes, and it may be lost if he does not seize upon it at once. However, suppose the Minister gets an .option on the purchase of a saw-, mill. Just imagine this business proposition being introduced to the House. There would be .all sorts .of wrangling. My experience in the House is that it is exceedingly difficult to have any question discussed on its merits. Nearly every discussion in this House in which I have taken part has been vitiated by party considerations and prejudices. If we had a business proposition placed before us for our approval, the chances are that these considerations, would operate.;
What, then, would be the position? Probably honorable members’ of the Opposition, because they saw an’ opportunity of stealing a march upon or1 scoring against the- Government, would, be found voting, against it, while ‘honorable- members on this side; who, on principle, are’ opposed to the- Government entering into business propositions of the kind, would, associate themselves with the Opposition. By this means the Government might be defeated on a good sound business transaction.
– You bet! We will put them out at the first, opportunity.
– That interjection exactly gives- point to my contention. The effect of the amendment would ‘be- to unnecessarily restrict the power of the Minister. I, for one, am perfectly content to leave the powers of Minister and Commissioner as they are at present, holding the Minister responsible for any abuse of it.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Mr. Charlton’s amendment) - put- The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 6:28 to 8 p.m.
Clause 6 (Sale of dwelling-houses).
.- I hope the- Minister will take some action to have the purchase of houses expedited. Sometimes, after an application is approved1, a long, time elapses before the Department completes the bargain. I have in mind the case of a soldier who applied to the Department for assistance to purchase a home ‘from a private person. His application was approved, and the owner thought it fair to allow the. soldier to take possession of the home. I think the soldier- has been in occupation of the house for at least six months, and the purchase is not yet completed’.. In the meantime the seller has been receiving no rent, and he is without the purchase money. He has been placed in a difficult position. I am of opinion that when, the ‘Departmen’t has approved of an- application, not more than a few weeks should elapse before the transaction, is. completed.
Clause agreed to.
Clause. 7 agreed to.
Clause- 8 (Advances- to acquire landy &c).
– I notice that the Department is acquiring land which is not. in very healthy localities.. I spoke- on this matter during the second-reading debate.. On (Saturday, as: I was proceeding: to my honae,. I pointed out to’ Do?:. Nash, M.L.A., the’ area at Adamstown,. near Newcastle; which has’, been acquired by the- Government for the erection of soldiers’ homes-. He said tome, “ I am- surprised. I have knownthis locality since- boyhood. It has- always been a swamp, and subject to fogs. Tnere is plenty of elevated Government land available near by, and I cannot understand why the Department do not acquire it.”
– Is that land owned by the State of New South Wales?
Mr.CHARLTON.- Yes; some of “it has been already sold, and the balance is available for purchase. I refer to the Newcastle Commonage Reserve. I believe it is available at a reasonable price, for the reason that it was undermined years ago, and was subsequently levelled by the late E. W. O’Sullivan. Thebest portion of it could be selected for soldiers’ homes,- instead of erecting them on the flat. There is also land belonging to the Waratah Coal Company. 1 believe that the area which is acquired was dearer than either of these properties 1 have mentioned. If we are to provide homes for soldiers, we should do the thing properly, and not buy land simply because it is offered to the Department, and regardless of the fact that it is in an unheathy situation. I was informed a Tew days ago that, after recent heavy rains, the area which has been purchased was partly under water. At present there is no adequate provision for the drainage of . the area. Even if it were drained it would still be subject to fog, and in winter it is one of the coldest spots in the Newcastle district.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 (Advance for purposes of home only to persons not already an owner).
.- The desire of Parliament is that those soldiers who are without homes should have an opportunity of getting them. Does the clause mean that if a soldier already has a home he is not entitled to get another under the terms of the War Service Homes Act?
– In some cases nurses have combined together and pooled their housing provisions, in order to establish a hospital. The clause provides that nurses who have thus benefited collectively shall not also be entitled individually to a home.
– Is there any provision to ‘protect nurses who get married from losing their homes ?
– If a nurse and a soldier, both of whom are entitled to housing provision, marry, they will not each be entitled to a home. The Act already provides that the owner shall reside in bis home. In the case of a marriage such as I have indicated, one of the parties will forfeit ‘his or her rights.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 10 -
After section 28 of the principal Act the following section is inserted: - “ 28a. ( 1 ) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the total cost to the Commissioner of any dwelling-house erected by him, or the amount of any advance made in pursuance of this Act, may, if, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the circumstances of any case justify the excess, exceed Seven hundred pounds,, hut shall not exceed Eight hundred pounds.
The provisions of this section shall extend to dwelling-houses which are, at the commencement of this section, in course of erection and -
which are erected by the Commis sioner; or
in respect of which an advance has been made by the Commissioner.”
.- During the second-reading debate I drew attention to instances of the estimated cost of a home having been exceeded owing to circumstances over which neither the Commissioner nor the applicant had any control, and the . Commissioner thereupon insisting that the applicant, before occupying the home, should pay in cash the excess cost. I now urge upon the Assistant Minister the desirability of reviewing the reply that he gave to me on Thursday last. This matter has received mature consideration by the executive of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, who, after hearing particulars of cases submitted by individuals in various States, carried a resolution which has ‘been forwarded to the Government. I will illustrate my point with a supposititious case: The Department agrees to build a home for an applicant under the existing Act at an estimated cost of £690. Owing to circumstances which arise during the course of construction, and for which neither the applicant nor the Commissioner is responsible, the cost is increased to- £720. The increase may be due to the higher price of materials and labour; but the original estimate forms the basis of the contract between the Department and the soldier. The Department then requires the soldier to pay in cash the additional £30 before he is allowed to occupy the building. I ask the Assistant Minister to adopt, by administrative act, the principle that operates in Western Australia under the Workers Homes Act, whereby, if the estimated cost of the building is exceeded, the excess is added to the worker’s obligation for the time being, and he is allowed a period of months, and in some cases years, in which to pay off such excess. He is not required to pay the amount in cash before he can enter- his -home. Many returned soldiers are not in a position, after paying their deposit to the Department and buying furniture, to find even an extra £20 in cash, and the result is that sometimes a soldier is prevented from entering a home which the Department has erected for him. He has to approach a money-lender or a friend in order to borrow the amount of cash required before he can take possession of his own house. I should like the Minister to agree to the practice in operation in Western Australia. I have received the following reply to a telegram which I sent to West-‘ ern Australia, asking for information on this point: -
No section under Workers’ Homes Act providing excess expenditure, but all cases where excess occurs have, by Cabinet approval, been treated similar category maximum amount fixed by Act. Repayment provided same basis as prescribed in Act limiting capital cost.
I also suggest that the cover for all homes to be erected under the Act should be sufficient, and let me disabuse honorable members’ minds on another point. If an applicant for a home asks for extras while the house is in course of erection, or for any alteration in the plan resulting in increased expenditure, he should pay the difference in cash. I am arguing for those cases, and there are many, in which an applicant for a home is not in any way responsible for the added expenditure, and finds that he has to put up a certain amount in cash before he can get into his home. Probably cases similar to these have given colour to statements that we hear outside that the War Service Homes Department are ; really charging a deposit on their homes, whereas we know that they do not. How ever, in this way a deposit is virtually being secured from certain applicants, and I hope the Minister will give some definite undertaking that, in the administration of the Act, cases similar to that which I have mentioned, will Be met by allowing the increased cost to be spread over a number of months rather than by demanding hard cash from the applicant.
– I hope . that anything I may have said on a previous occasion will not be construed as meaning that the Ministry are unsympathetic towards the view-point put by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell). As a matter of fact, the recognition by the Commissioner of the very circumstance to which the honorable member has referred led to this increased amount of £100 being provided for in the Bill and so far as houses that have been erected, or are in course of erection are concerned, this increased amount disposes of all cases up to the present. With regard to the future, it . would, indeed, at this stage be very imprudent for any Minister to say that although we are increasing the amount to be made available by £100, we shall, if necessary, further increase it to provide for certain cases. I am sorry I cannot give that assurance.
– Even when the increased cost is through no fault of the applicant ?
– I am not going to anticipate that the additional £100 is going to be spent in every case. It may happen that later materials will be available at a cheaper rate, and, consequently, an applicant would benefit by obtaining a better class of house for the increased amount. But if circumstances should tend the other way, and materials begin to rise, the Government might then give consideration to the point raised by the honorable member. In view of the fact that by this increase we have met ah cases up to the present, I ask the honorable gentleman not to press for an amendment to the clause.
.- The clause definitely limits the amount to be made available to £800, so it would ‘be impossible for the Commissioner to go beyond that amount. I am anxious that those houses which are being purchased through or erected by other bodies than the War Service Homes Department, should) come -under- the provisions of this measure.. I understand that in South Australia up- to the present, the work has. been done by the. State Bank, and that similar- work, is- being done elsewhere by the Commonwealth- Bank. Are they -working independently, and are they allowed to go to> any amount;, provided that the security is good enough?
– If they are building for the War Service Homes Commissioner they are governed entirely by the terms of- the Act.
– I believe that, if the work. is. being done purely as a banking transaction1, they can-, go to any amount they like if they think the security, is good enough.
– So may the general public.
– Is it better to do this- work through, the Bank? That is the question-.
– I think we should have a new clause, embodying the principle explained by the honorable* member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell):. It seems to mo grossly unfair to the soldier that if, the Commissioner undertakes, to- build a house, within- the- amount, provided- by Parliament,, but is unable to carry out his- part of the contract, the soldier should lose. an-, opportunity to enter into possession. It appears to be so- unfair that the proposal for a new clause to cover, the position, should meet with the support of the majority of honorable members.
– But would you limit the . amount ?
– If the Commissioner is going- to make mistakes involving; an- additional expenditure of £100 on a £700 estimate, then the sooner- we get a new Commissioner the better-.
– Is it suggested that that has happened ?
– No, but the point has” been raised by the honorable member for Dampier. This is the position that may arise in a great many cases’: A. soldier may spend all his available cash- in the purchase of land, and then ask the Commissioner to erect as house* on it. The Commissioner, may consent, to do> so within the- limits fixed by- thev Act, and. then, through a mistake on his part,, may demand of the’ soldier another £20, £30, £40, or £50.
– And. just at a time when the soldier would not have the money.
-Yes,, and no means of raising it, because the security would be in the hands of the Department.
– And the soldier would then be shut out from the very house which he contracted to buy.
– Yes, and through default on the part of the Commissioner, he would be denied the particular benefit which Parliament had provided for him.
– Does not the honorable member see ‘ that this extra amount of £100 is- going to cover- the- additional expenditure ?
– But I am referring to the point: raised by the honorable member for Fremantle’, and I must say that I am entirely disappointed with the provisions of clause 10. We had been led to believe that the Ministry recognised that, the amount provided’ in the Act for the erection of soldiers’ homes was inadequate, and decided to increase it by £100. Instead, of. doing that, however, this- Bill, merely applies- the- additional amount to a few cases in which* a soldier may have a special claim for consideration. I suppose, if he had a large family,, or had some special need, for a large house;, he- would: secure, the benefit of this measure in that way. But that is not what we are asking for. We are asking for- some recognition, of. the fact that it is now costing the Commissioner more to build houses- than was, anticipated when. Parliament passed) the Bill fixing the limit of advance at £700. This B.ill contains’ no remedy for that.
– Then put a new clause in.
– I anticipated that in this amending Bill we . should not hawe all this verbiage as to the Commissioner being satisfied!,, and so on, but’ a clause striking, out the* amount of £7.00 in. the original Act. and substituting an amount of £800-. That is what the soldiers thought: would- be done-. I suppose- my experience- is the same as that of other honorable’ members. We all know of cases in which soldiers’ dependants have been waiting for the passage of this Bill in the belief that, by reason of its more liberal provisions, they would be able to get . a house to suit their requirements. Instead of that, we now find that they will have to go to the Commissioner with some special claim, and advance some reasons why they should get a little more than the amount fixed in the original Act. That is not my view of the necessities of the case at all, and I should like to move an amendment which would give to every applicant for a house the right, on account of the extra cost of building, to obtain an advance up to £800 instead of £’700. “We are unable now to provide the kind of house we had in mind when we fixedthe amount at . £700, and it is clearly our duty to raise the sum ‘to such a figure as will enable the Commissioner ‘to provide for the soldier >the house we had in view when the original Bill was passed.
Mr.Rodgers. - Suppose that material was reduced in value, would not the honorable member give the Commissioner discretion as to the standard of house?
– The less the Commissioner has to do with deciding these individual cases, the better for himself, and for the returned soldier. If we are to set up a court of inquiry concerning the claims of various men to varying amounts, the Commissioner will have to increase his staff to deal with those applications.
– The honorable member forgets that the policy now is to govern by Commission.
– I am not in favour of government by Commissions. I like to have a Minister whom one can approach, and with whom one can reason, rather than be compelled to communicate with a Commission from which adequate replies cannot be extracted. The attitude of the Government is not that there shall be an increase of £100 on amounts available for soldiers’ homes, but that, in special cases, to be decided by the Commissioner, the Government may, of its grace, give an extra sum up to that total.
– The Government are trying in two ways to cope with the difficulty which the honorable member sees: First, by an increase of the amount by £100, and, secondly, by making special arrangements -to secure material : at . a cheaper rate than is ruling to-day.
– That may or may not be so. I would have liked to hear the Minister argue the point, as he used to do, from the angle of a private member. I do not favour the provision as to the Commissioner having to be satisfied about special cases. I have not yet had time to consider an amendment; . but I would like, at a later stage, to move for the deletion of all the restrictions mentioned in the proposed new section, and to make it read that the amount of £700, as set forth in the original Act, shall be increased to £800.
– Will the honorable member . consider the effect which that might have upon contracts let to private individuals for the building of homes?
– I suggest that the honorable member simply leave out the conditions mentioned in the proposed new section.
– My object is to give authority to the Commissioner to advance up to £800 in exactly the same manner as the principal Act provides for his advancingup to £700.
– The other day4here was brought under my notice the case of a young man who had applied to purchase a place onthe Brown’s River-road, just outside of Hobart. His application was refused on what appeared to be an extraordinary decision, namely, that the property was out* side the city boundary. If ‘there is one thing we want to encourage returned soldiers to do, it is to keep outside city boundaries. I will lay the letter before the Minister to-morrow, and I am sure he will give it his attention ; but it is remarkable that a man, desiring to purchase a property against which there is no other objection, should be prevented from so doing on the ground that it. is outside a city area. I feel sure that such a decision does not represent the policy of the Department ; and, that if it does, it is not representative of the policy of Parlia- . -ment.
– There is no territorial limit in the Act.
– I am glad . of that interpretation by the Minister. I know that that was the interpretation of the House, but I know full well, also, that this sterling *young man’s application was refused.
There has been much dissatisfaction concerning the preparation of soldiers’ homes in Hobart. In that city, there has been stationed an officer connected with the Repatriation Department who has had under him, I understand, a very competent staff. These officials would prepare plans, which had to be submitted for approval, however, to the Commonwealth Bank. But the Commonwealth Bank also had a staff of draughtsmen, with the result that plans would sometimes be chopped a’botit, and there would be differences of opinion and disputes between the two staffs. If that arrangement has not been altered, I hope it will be at once. Let either one or the other body run the whole concern; but I hope -the Minister will put an end to the conflict between the two staffs.
– Construction work, in future, will be under the Commissioner, and will not be touched by the Bank, except in cases where the Bank is finishing up work already in hand-
– I understand, then, that the sole function of the Bank will be that of financing.
– Except in cases of the Bank completing work already under- taken
– I. am glad to hear that, because serious delays have occurred, which have been fruitful of disappointment.
Another case which has come under my notice has to do with a returned soldier who happened to be a carpenter, and a decidedly smart young builder. He prepared plans of a home which ha was desirous of erecting for himself, and which he could have constructed for less than ihe amount indicated by the Department in respect of its plans. The returned man’s plans were a decided improvement on the standardized sets, but, because his vas not a standard plan, he was not given permission to build the house for himself, liven although he was prepared to carry on under the supervision of theCommis- sioner’s staff. He became so disgusted i.hat eventually he borrowed money from friends and put up a house for himself. Incidents such as these reveal pinpricks . and the placing of unwarranted disabilities in the way of furnishing returned soldiers with homes. Where a returned man happens to be a builder or carpenter, surely it is better to let him do the work rather than that others should be put on to the job while he continues to draw his sustenance allowance. What is the use of that to him while he stands idly by, perhaps, watching the work of men who are not as competent as himself? The hard-and-fast standardization of plans may have its advantages, but in individual cases, such as I have mentioned, the Commissioner should be free to exercise his discretion.
– He may do so now.
– Then I hope the Commissioner will receive a quiet hint from the Minister that, in such circumstances, the returned man shall be allowed some little say in the matter of building his own home, for which, after all, he must pay, and in which he will live.
.- The case for returned men has been quite properly put by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell). It is possible that a man may, in all honesty, exceed the estimate by a small amount, and may find it impossible to furnish the difference in cash. There is no reason why the Department should not extend the payments over a longer period in order to cover the extra amount involved. Or, better still, the Department might arrange for increased payment of interest over the period now provided for to permit the extra money to be included in the general account. The statement of the Minister in Connexion with the increase of the advance does not quite meet every case. Honorable members regarded the increase from £700 to £800, not in the light of its being conceded to exceptional cases, but of its being generally applied by way of meeting the added cost of building to-day. It takes at least £800 now to build as good a home as could have been reared for £700 when the principal measure was before Parliament. Returned men believe that the proposed increase of advance was intended to provide the same degree of comfort in the building of homes to-day as could have been secured when the ori- final amount of £700 was decided upon, I t is now desired, also, that in cases where the total of £800 may, by any mischance, have been exceeded by some small amount, the excess should be added to capital cost and provision made for payment of interest on the whole until the debt is cleared off. I would suggest to the Minister the wisdom of deleting the words - if, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the circumstances of any case justify the excess, so that the proposed new section would read -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the total cost to the Commissioner of any dwelling-house erected by him, or the amount of any advance made, in pursuance of this Act, may exceed Seven hundred pounds, but shall not exceed Eight hundred pounds.
That would meet the increased cost of building. It would enable returned soldiers to secure the same degree of comfort in their homes as was originally intended for them when the amount of advance was £700.
– I wish to bring a case before the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) and, if possible, to obtain an assurance from him that the returned soldier who is concerned in it will not be penalized. In August last this soldier submitted to the War Service Homes Department a property which he desired to purchase, and which was valued at £700. He paid the Department a guinea to obtain a valuation of it. After he had sent in” his application he received a reply stating thathis offer had been accepted conditionally upon the payment by him of £35, as the property had been valued at only £665. He was told that, if he . paid the Department £35, the balance of £665 would be advanced to him. Upon the strength of that communication be at once concluded the purchase of the property, and handed over the £35 to’ the vendor. Subsequently he received from a new Deputy Commissioner in Queensland aletter stating that his application had been turned down, and that the advance could not be made upon the ground that he was not in a position to undertake the purchase. This man in a letter to me points out that he is in permanent employment, and is in receipt of a wage of £4 per week. I brought the matter before the War Service Homes Commissioner and asked him to wire the authorities in Queensland in regard to it, because the soldier in question has only till the 1st of next month to finalize his purchase, and, in default, he will be obliged to forfeit his £35. He further assures me that there are two persons who are willing to give £700 for the property.’ There must be something radically wrong in the Department when one Deputy Commissioner affirms in writing that the application of this man has been granted, whilst another says that it has been refused; even after the arrangement for the purchase of the property had been concluded.
– Had not the first Deputy Commissioner authority to act?
– Most certainly. I ask that this returned soldier shall be recouped any loss which he may sustain in connexion with this transaction. To me it seems an exceedingly hard case.
.- I fail to see how the additional cost referred to in this clause is incurred. I presume that, if a soldier has a home built for him under the War Service Homes Act, a contract is made with thebuilder, and if the cost of the house exceeds £700 the onus of completing it is upon the contractor.
– I do not think that the honorable member would get many ‘builders to sign that sort of contract.
– In the case of every one of the soldiers’ homes which, have been built by the State Bank in South Australia, if the contractor could not complete his contract at the stipulated price, the responsibility was his.
– There is no doubt that the Department is making the soldier responsible for the increased cost.
– If the Commonwealth builds homes for our soldiers, surely it does not undertake to build them without first fixing a price for their erection. In that case the War Service Homes Commissioner becomes a contractor. Let us assume that the departmental estimate for one of these homes is £720. The soldier for whom the home is being erected knows the cost of it, and, if the departmental estimate- be exceeded, it is manifestly unfair to ask. him toi pay the increased cost. If. the: Government aite.- going to. build these homes- for our soldiers they must occupy a precisely similar position to that, -which is occupied by the. outside contractor.
Mr.Fleming. - Suppose that the “War Service- Homes Commissioner erects one of these soldier’s homes for less than its estimated cost ?
– Then the Department is entitled to the advantage. But it., has no right to pass on to the soldier something that would not be passed on to him if a contract existed between anordinaiy contractor and himself. The entire responsibility rests upon the Department. If a soldier’s home exceeds the departmental estimate, who should pay the increased cost but the Department itself ?
– That means the country.
– Exactly. The Act is- verv explicit upon the matter. It shows that a contra-ct is made with the- individual soldier. Where, therefore, is there: any warrant for the Department making the soldier pay any increased expenditure that may be incurred ? If the- Department sustains a loss the country must bear it, and not the individual’ soldier.. I ask the Assistant Minister whether this “matter is mot worth ‘looking into very closely indeed? If the Department is. making a loss upon many of these homes either there must be something wrong with its own estimates or abnormal . conditions must be operating. But certainly the soldier ought not to be penalized upon that account.
– The War Service Homes Commissioner, occupies a different position from that which is occupied by an- ordinary builder- in that lie seeks to make no profit out of Ms- operations. He endeavours, upon- expert advice, to estimate as. accurately as possible the cost of these1 homes- and, of course, there are certain- standards within the Department itself.. But only to-day statements have beeni made- from- every quarter of this Chamber showing- how the- cost of building; materials^ has increased.. If ‘we once allow the maximum advance allowed by the Act to be exceeded wie shall find- ourselves in a difficulty.
– But if the. Department takes up the position of an ordinary- contractor it should assume an ordinary contractor’s responsibilities.
– The ordinary contractor charges for. “ extras.”
– If the Treasurer, will take the trouble to go through the whole of the contracts let by the State Bank in South. Australia, he will find that in no case has a soldier been . charged- for his home more than the amount for which the bank undertook to erect it.
– - Has the South Australian State Bank built many houses upon the -day labour system ?
– That may be the explanation.
– It may be. But when the Government enter upon commercial enterprises is it not proper that they should carry out their contracts?
– The Government are not doing that. They are not making any profit out of the erection of soldiers’ homes.
– The Department is seeking to make a profit out of the soldierThis Parliament has instructed the War Service Homes Commissioner to build soldiers’ homes at . a maximum cost of £700 each. The Department is going beyond the expressed intention of this Parliament when it asks a soldier to pay £750’ for a home which should have cost, only £700.
– Which would have costthat amount had it been erected under contract.
– Contractors have not been able to> build these homes cheaper- than has the War Service Homes. Commissioner. I do not hold1 any brief for the latter, but I have seen work which he- has undertaken at Bell, and I say that the homes erected by him are infinitely superior to those which have been erected by contractors.
– T quite, agree with the honorable m-em-tber. But. if we> are going to make a loss upon twenty or thirty of these- homes is it right that our soldiers should bear it ?
– The Department- should stand int the: same position as does the contractor.
– The majority of soldiers’ homes are erected for* their estimated1 cost.. Some of them are built for less- than that estimate-.
– And in the case of a building erected for less than the contract price, the soldier gets the benefit.
– Yes. Is it right that he should be called upon to pay for any loss incurred in the carrying out of a contract, either as . the result « of inefficiency or anything else? If so, we ought to . say to the soldier, ‘ ‘ Your home will cost £800, plus anything extra which cannot be foreseen.”
– We say to the soldier, “ We will build you a home at cost price, and upon the prices of material to-day, we estimate that its cost will be £700.” But increases take place in the cost of materials, and the soldier gets his home at cost price.
– Is the soldier comipelled to take the home?
-But when he agrees to take it, he knows that he has to accept a house which will cost, say, £750. He knows what he will have to pay each week in order to liquidate his liability.. After his home has been built, is it fair to say to him, “ We told you that we would buildyou a home for £750., but we find that it has cost £800.”
– The soldier does not object to paying the £50 additional, but he does object to putting up that amount in cash at the time the home is completed.
– Are we honestly setting out to build homes for our returnedsoldiers for a certain price, and telling them that if the estimate is exceeded they need not take them ?
– How many cases of the kind are there?
– If there are only a few cases, is that not another reason why the Department, and not the men, should bear the additional responsibility ?
– No; I think it should be a matter of give and take.
– If the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) accepted a tender for the building of a house for £900, and the contractor, on completing the work, demanded £950, I venture to say that the right honorable gentleman would argue the point with him.
– I should, but if I had the cash I would not grumble about paying the . extra £50, provided the contractor could convince me that I was receiving value for my ‘money.
Mr.BLUNDELL. - But he would not convince the aright honorable member.
There is no attempt to convince the . returned soldier upon whom a demand as made for an amount in excess of the estimated cost. ‘The Department says to him, “ Here is your house. If you do not pay this ‘additional amount in cash you cannot have it.” I favour the daylabour system, but if in the building of war service homes by day labour the Department is going to continue to exceed the estimated cost, it would be better to put the responsibility upon a contractor, and not to ask returned soldiers to accept the statement of the Department that it will build a home for them for £700 when it is going to charge them £.730 for it,
– The scheme of the principal Act, as I understand it, is that the Department will take the responsibility of building a house for a returned soldier at actual cost price. The soldier is to be free from the payment of architect’s fees, and is not to be liable for the payment of a builder’s percentage on the cost of the material. The agent for the building of the house is provided by the Government, and the sole charge against the soldier is the actual cost of labour and material. The Act provides that a sum not exceeding £700 shall be spent in the erection of a war service home. The Commissioner accordingly enters into an arrangement with a returned soldier to erect a house for him aft actual cost price. That cost may be a little more or a little less than £700. The soldier has the benefit of an expert estimate as to what the cost will be, but, having regard to the way in which prices of material fluctuate, it is quite impossible at the present . time to pre-pare an estimate with absolute accuracy. In these circumstances the Government, desiring to be perfectly fair to our returned soldiers, say, “ You will not be charged any moire than the actual cost plrice.” That being the scheme of the Act, I would urge honorable members not to add to it. It would be manifestly unjust to bind the Commissioner to the estimate given. It would be unjust, also, to the returned soldiers. If any such condition were imposed, the Commissioner would take care to over-estimate, rather than under-estimate, the cost, and the returned soldier would be committed to that excess estimate.
– ‘The Commissioner would allow himself plenty of margin.
– Undoubtedly. It would, therefore, be unfair to ask a returned soldier to enter into such a contract. The whole conception of the Act is in the interests of the soldiers alone. The Government are perfectly fair in the matter. A great many homes have been built, and well built, to the satisfaction of all concerned, on the basis of a cost of £700. Some of my honorable friends seem to have the idea that this standard price of £700 is to be increased to £S00. That, however, would be unfair to those for whom homes have already been built, since the basis of the principal Act was the erection of homes at a standard cost of £700. The Government «say that in some cases the cost is a little more, and in the circumstances they very properly propose in this Bill to provide for a margin of £100 to cover all contingencies. It is not contemplated, however, that the standard is to be altered, and that an £800 house is to be substituted for a £700 one. If that were done, these homes would probably cost nearer £900 than £800. The present trouble would thus be repeated, since every estimate would be based on the standard of an £800 house.
I therefore submit that, in the light of their experience, the Government are taking up a very fair attitude. They want to continue to build the £700 standard type of house. The cases that have been mentioned by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell) and the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) are amply provided for in the proposal now before the Committee. To alter the principle of the Act in the way suggested by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell) would be a serious mistake, and would not be in the interests of the returned soldiers themselves. By our action in increasing the maximum advance from £700 to £800, the Department will be given a margin of £100 to meet contingencies, and in that way will be able to do justice to all concerned.
– I am pleased to observe the enthusiasm with which this question is being discussed. Judging by the speeches that have been delivered from both sides of the Committee, our returned men are going to have a fair deal. While I regret the system under which these War
Service Homes are being built, I must compliment our returned men on the fact that they are to have a fair chance to obtain houses for themselves. Where the estimate of £700 is exceeded, however, I think it is unfair to require the man for whom the home is built to pay the excess in cash. That, I am sure, is not the desire of the Committee. The repayment of the additional cost should be spread over a period of years.
– The men do not object to paying the additional amount. What they object to is the rule of the Department, under which the amount by which the estimate has been exceeded must be paid in cash.
– Quite so. Many men will face a liability of £100 where the payment is spread over a period of years, whereas they would not think of incurring such a liability if it had to be satisfied forthwith.
Unfortunately, there is too much red tape associated with all our Departments. In the United States of America a field marshal receives the same pension as a private. Here, as in the old country, the lower the rank of a pensioner the less he receives. I hope that the Government will go a little further than they have done in connexion with this scheme, and will establish a Commonwealth Insurance Department, or else make use of the State Insurance Departments of Queensland and Victoria. Unfortunately, the insurance companies, with the great power of their money, have not given the Victorian State Insurance Department a fair chance; but, as the result of its creation, premiums have been very considerably reduced. The United States of America insured every soldier, without medical examination, who had been accepted for service. Under their system a soldier could insure his life up to £2,000 for a premium of £15. Such a policy would have cost an Australian soldier £150 per annum. I want the Government to establish a system of Commonwealth insurance, and to insure every one of . these War Service Homes against fire. In that way, those of our returned men, for whom homes were built, would be saved a vast amount of money. The Victorian State Government used to collect from the State railway employees the premiums due by them to insurance companies. In that way the companies, over a period of years, received by way of premiums £250,000, and paid out only £37,000. The Repatriation Department will have to collect the instalments payable from time to time in respect of the purchase money for these homes, and could at the same time collect the fire insurance premiums, so that the cost of the insurance scheme would be reduced to a minimum. It would thus be possible to insure at ‘rates far below those charged by the insurance companies. I invite honorable members to read the splendid speech delivered by my honorable friend (Mr. Tudor), as reported in Hansard, page 4687. It is a compendium of information on this very question of insurance.
The honorable member showed . the following startling facts: - In Brisbane, where “the premium on a wooden building was formerly £5 2s.1d., the rate fell to £3 8s. when the Government insurance scheme was initiated. The premium on a brick building fell from £3 15s. to £2 10s. At Toowoomba the premium on a wooden building- fell from £3 12s. to £2 8s., and a brick building from 5s. to 4s. At Warwick the premium on a wooden building fell from £1 2s. 3d. to 14s.10d. ; and in the Darling Downs district the premium on a wooden building fell from £4 7s. to £2 12s. 2d. For the first time in the history of insurance, the State Insurance Department in “Victoria has actually returned the whole of the premiums paid by insurers for whom the necessity to insure has not arisen; that is to say, a refund has been made to persons who did not employ the number of workers covered by the premiums paid. Although my voice might be like that of the solitary pelican crying in the wilderness, I could offer a suggestion as to how these soldiers’ houses could be built at an infinitely less cost, and by which they would ultimately become a most excellent rent-producing asset for the Commonwealth that would continue for ever and ever. I hope honorable members will forgive me for my reiteration of this argument, but after thirty-one years’ close study of the question, I am certain that it is the only way in which the country can clear itself of the avalanche of debt that is, unfortunately, lying on it to-day. I would like to see the Government issue War Service Homes currency notes as the buildings progress, all rents payable for the soldier occupiers, which would be much less than the payments provided for in this Act, being earmarked and paid into a fund, and on a certain day in each year, when that fund has risen to a specified amount, so many of these currency notes being burnt.
– The honorable member is not in order in dealing with that question on this clause.
– My purpose is to show the Government how they can save the extra £100 in the building of these homes. Perhaps another opportunity will be afforded me of doing so. Under no circumstances should our soldiers be sacrificed. Of the available manhood of Australia, 70 per cent, offered their services in the war; 43 per cent, were accepted, and 33½ per cent, left our shores; but we have not yet touched one penny of the last shilling. We are informed by the Commonwealth Statistician that the wealth of Australia prior to the war was £1,200,000,000, and that, during the war, it increased by £400,000,000, sufficient in itself to pay the whole of our war debt, and affording a great reserve upon which the Government can draw when the time comes to do so. I object tosaddling the interest upon our war debt upon our children’s shoulders. The Treasurer once said that he could readily see how Canberra could be built at no ultimate cost to the country. Surely he can see that the same can be done with regard to these soldiers’ homes. The Commissioner, with or without control, and if he is the right man in the right place, will no doubt see that these soldiers’ homes will not be a loss to the community, but ultimately an asset.
– This is one of those cases in which the trouble is not all on one side. I heard for the first time tonight with, I confess, some surprise that the Commissioner was compelling soldiers to pay in cash the difference between the actual cost of a house and “the amount contracted for, and that seems to me to be a hardship, seeing that the soldier may not have the cash to put down at the time. If he is a married man, in all probability he will not have it, and if he is about to get married, he will want a little ready money with which to furnish his home. But when I inquire into this matter from the officer of the Department in attendance here I find that it is not all on one side, and when I ask, ‘ ‘ Why does not the Commissioner cover himself in his .estimate, and, if he has an £800 house to build, allow sufficient margin to provide for the .incidents that occur *u the building trade, such .as increases in the cost of material “-
– - Even then he could not be certain, because the .cost of building material may increase in a very short time.
– He could not be certain, but every contractor takes care to have a margin ‘.to meet such contingencies. I am met with the reply that the soldier will not permit of any margin being allowed by the Commissioner. The soldier says, “ I am entitled to an advance of £700, .and I want every penny of it spent on my house.” That is one of. the causes of the trouble. So that it is not all on on© side. The soldier, rightly, is just .as rigid as he finds the Commissioner. I venture to say that the honorable jmember who has told us what can be done in South Australia would not care to undertake regular contracting under a system which compelled him to build right to the penny of his contract price on every occasion. There is hardly a house built on which extras have not to be provided for, and which are mutually arranged and paid for. But it appears that none of the ordinary methods attached to private building can be allowed for in the building of these War Service Homes. The soldier asks for his £700 advance to the penny, and the Commissioner says that he will do his best to put up a house to the penny.
– The soldier doas that because the Commissioner cannot build a suitable house for him at under £700.
– Yes, because the Act allows him to go to that extent.
– I shall present a different view on that point.
– The hqnorable member may do so, but if the advance is made £800 the soldier will still want every penny of it spent on his house. I do not blame him, but, on the other hand, he should not turn round and blame the .Commissioner if, through circumstances over which he has no control, prices mount a little higher, and he is compelled to say, “ This is what the house honestly cost; there is value in it, and there is not a penny profit in any shape or form.” It is fair that if it costs a little more the extra should be paid for by the soldier; but I agree that th* demand for a cash payment on the spot is a hardship. ‘
– With the new margin to be allowed, why not tack it on to the principal?
– Will the Treasurer guarantee that a regulation will be brought in by the Department ?
– There must be a limit somewhere, and the same trouble will occur with regard to the higiier amount.
– But if the Treasurar will agree to cover the matter by regulation ‘or administration it is all that honorable members require.
– If honorable members will permit the matter to .go the Minister and I will undertake to have the matter rectified, so that soldiers will not be called upon to pay spot cash for these extras.
– If a man has a-n allowance of £700 and the house cost.* £750, will the margin now provided in the Bill cover the extra cost) ,
– The margin in the Bill will cover it. I think I can promise that these cash payments will not be enforced. We may have to add it to the total amount in the usual way, but I believe we can arrange it by administration without altering the Act. In these circumstances, I appeal to the Committee to make progress with the Bill.
Mr. HECTOR LAMOND (Illawarra) [9.301.- I move-
That the words “ if, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the circumstances of any case justify the excess,” lines 7-9, be left out.
– That is the suggestion I have already made., and the Treasurer has agreed to it.
– I think the honorable member misunderstood the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), who, I take it, agreed to meet the case put by the honorable member for Premantle (Mr. Burchell), that if the Commissioner’s estimate of £700 wa9 exceeded .the excess might be made part of the debt payable by instalments instead of cash. I would be delighted to hear that the Treasurer has. agreed to my proposal, which is that_ the- amount of £700 available under the old Act be increased to £800 m all cases. ‘ That has nothing to do with the question which the honorable member for Fremantle introduced, and which was not really relevant to the clause. I do not say that an actual promise lias, been made, but there is a widespread . impression amongst the soldiers, whidh has not been discouraged by the Minister, that a Bill would be introduced whicE would make’ available £100 more in each case for the purpose of building soldiers’ homes. The Treasurer says the soldier insists on getting a £700 house. Let me direct his attention to what has happened in- my own electorate. Tbe honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell) spoke of what is done in South Australia.. It may be that for £700’ a very fine house can be erected in South Australia, Western Australia, or Queensland, but so difficult is it to erect Houses near the metropolitan area of Sydney for £700 that the Commissioner lias been up against the municipal bylaws, which fix a minimum of air space for houses erected even in industrial centres. What is happening in the centres where house building, is expensive is that we are providing homes,, tbe rooms of which are smaller than the average in the localities in which they are built. In order to squeeze the estimate within the £700, we are building homes that the soldiers are very reluctant to buy. There hag been a demand that a greater sum should be made available- in order that homes more in accordance with modern ideas of decent bousing accommodation should be provided. I’ have had scores of letters asking when the £800 will be available, and the impression exists throughout New South Wales that the Minister has promised’ that a BilT wilT be introduced to raise the- amount from £700- to. £800. I am sure that if the statement made by the Minister a few moments ago, that the proposal’ in the Bill is only- intended to meet the case put by the honorable member for Fremantle^ represents what the Bill really means-, it is not what the soldier expects and- not- what he is entitled to, in view of the increased1 cost of building- soldiers’ homes. The honorable member- for Kooyong. (Sir Robert Best) said that we built a house for £700 three years ago amd thafr we ought to- go on) building houses for £700’ all. the way through1, even though, the- cost of building them may have doubled or trebled-. That argument is too absurd- to be presented to the Committee. What- we are trying to do for the soldier is not to build a house for a certain sum, but to give him a. home embodying a. certain degree of comfort ‘and usefulness for his use and occupation. If it is found that the house which cost £700 three years ago to-day costs £800-,. our duty is to see that the soldier gets the right kind of house, and not that the design is cut down by £100 because material has gone up £100. I move the amendment to ascertain whether the Committee are going to. adhere to the £700 maximum of the Act, with the suggestion- that the Treasurer has accepted, or whether they intend to keep faith with the soldier and give him as good a house as could be built for £700 when the Act was passed,, but which in my judgment, will now easily cost £800. I wish to omit the words which impose on the Commissioner the- necessity of seeing that special circumstances, justify his action, in order that the Committee- may direct the Minister that the £800 maximum) shall be substituted for the £700 one.
.. - I would press’ the honorable member’ for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) not to persevere with his amendment. Parliament previously deliberately determined, when conditions were more normal, that standard houses of £700 each should be provided for the soldiers.
– It is the soldiers? money.. You are not ‘providing it..
– I said “provided for the- soldiers.”’ In the meantime, abnormal conditions press- on us, and we find that to-day it is not possible to- give for £700’ a standard* house of as goodi a value as- when we started. The Commissioner, having’ calculated the increased, cost of to-day, has asked the- Government to. place at his disposal another £100 per house.,, as a margin- to cover it.
– That is. not whatt you. said a few minfutes’. ago-.
– Let me point out to the honorable member that this Bill will govern the whole of the war service homes operations for years to come. Conditions may alter in the other direction; but we shall have established an £800 standard practically for all time, if his amendment is carried. -I will give the ‘honorable member this undertaking, on the strength of which I ask him not to persevere with his amendment, that, while these abnormal conditions prevail, we will not regard the application of any soldier under these conditions as being a special case requiring special investigation.
– The difficulty is that you are not the person who will interpret the Act. I have been caught in that way in the matter of tubercular soldiers. The Minister told me that soandso would be done; but the Commissioner said it was not the law, and he would not do it-
– The Commissioner comes to his Minister and says, “I am unable to-day to build a house on the standard we approved of for £700, and I ask you to extend my limit by £100.” If the honorable member succeeds in carrying his amendment, even then the matter will rest practically at the discretion of the Commissioner. The inclusion of the words which the honorable member wishes -to omit is intended to indicate that abnormal conditions, requiring special provision, exist. I ask the honorable member to accept my assurance that, while abnormal conditions prevail, the Commissioner asks for this provision to : meet them. ‘ Surely if the Minister, in association with his Commissioner, gives : an assurance that in considering what are special circumstances, he will be guided not by the circumstances of individual cases, but by the abnormal conditions that prevail, the honorable member will accept it?
– The Act says that the -Commissioner must consider the circumstances of individual cases. Every case has to be inquired into, and special circumstances shown.
– It does not mean exactly “ inquired into.” The Commissioner may say, “ The conditions to-day are abnormal, and we shall so administer the Act as to give the right to an’£800 standard while those abnormal conditions prevail.” The honorable member for
Robertson (Mr. Fleming) first raised this question, and I endeavoured to tell the Committee that the Commissioner is himself specially striving to meet these abnormal conditions by obtaining an increased advance of £100, which covers all houses in course of construction. We have, therefore, only to deal with the future. The Commissioner has alsostriven to meet the abnormal conditions by acquiring material at specially favor- able rates. I dealt this afternoon with one of his undertakings, involving the purchase of Victorian timber, by which he estimates to save £150,000 on that one transaction.
.- Personally, I think the soldier has been very well treated. We buy bricks, timber, iron, glass, and paint in large quantities, and the soldier gets the advantage of all this wholesale buying; yet, because in some cases he is called on to pay £10 or £20 more than £700 for his home, all this storm is raised in Parliament.
– It seems to me that the Commissioner can protect himself in any of these cases, and the danger is that he will do it at the expense of the soldier.
– Friends in the building trade tell me that it is impossible to tender and come out correctly on account of prices going up and down. An increase of 10s. per door took place in New South Wales only about a fortnight ago. How can any man tender to build cottages unless he knows how the market will go ?
– An award may also be given increasing the cost of labour.-
– That is so, and we cannot pin the Commissioner down to the exact £700. No man in the building trade can be expected even to tender for the work. He would rather do it on commission. Some builders have gone bankrupt because they could not complete their buildings. They cannot rely on bricks remaining at a certain price for a month. Every month those who control these materials meet and put up the price of bricks or timber. If the amendment of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) had been accepted, and the Department could have controlled its own staff, it would have known exactly what everything was going to cost. If they had a guarantee that bricks or timber would not rise for six months, builders could tender correctly; but they cannot do so now. Of course, there is no guarantee that wages in the brick trade will not rise for six months. It is, therefore, absurd to ask the Commissioner to confine himself to alimitof £700. The soldier who gets a home for £720 or £730 is on a very good wicket. A good many are selling their houses at a profit of over £100, and people are glad to get them. I hope the Commissioner will have the power to keep on without increasing the amount.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 11 to 14 agreed to.
– I move -
That the following new clause he added: - “15. Section 39 of the principal Act is amended by adding at the end of sub-section (2) thereof the following proviso: - Provided that the Treasurer may at any time direct that the whole or part of any moneys which by paragraph (c) of this sub-section are directed to be credited to that Trust Account shall be paid to the Treasurer for credit to the Loans Sinking Fund, and any moneys so paid to the Treasurer shall- be credited to that fund.”
The effect of the new clause is that all repayments of instalments under the Bill will automatically come under the con-‘ trol of the Treasurer. The clause explains itself, and it is unnecessary to further take up the time of the Committee.
– I should lite to explain why I have asked the Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Rodgers) to insert this clause. At present there is rather a loose control in connexion with the . repayments of these -moneys, and the clause is intended to bring them to account in the Treasury. There can be no adequate control over this finance unless every penny does come into the Treasury and is accounted for there. I am not saying that the money should not be used over again in the Trust Fund, ‘but that at least should he left to the discretion of the Treasurer, who has to provide the funds. This is a proper precaution which gives the Treasurer a better grip of finance in connexion with the War Service Homes proposals.
– I am not even yet quite clear as to the intention of this clause. It is proposed that this money shall go into the general revenue of the Commonwealth ?
– The Treasurer seems to anticipate circumstances in which this money may not be used in the construction of war homes. I wish to know whether it is intended to use the money for purposes other Khan for the extinction of the debt, or to build up other homes.
– If the money is not used to build up other war homes it will be applied in liquidation of the debt. That is what I wish power to do if necessary.
– It is not to he treated for other purposes, as the Post “Office revenue is?
– I wish ‘the repayments to go towards the cancellation of the debt incurred in building the homes, and it is a sound principle of finance to give the Treasurer the needed control.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
.- I move that the following new clause be added : - “16. - (1.) The Commissioner shall as soon as possible after the close of the financial year submit to the Minister an annual report, showing, for each State, the number of applications received and dealt with, homes erected and average costs, a resume of operations, and a balance-sheet showing cash and stocks on hand, and an account of moneys received and expended during that year. Also a balancesheet showing trading operations in connexion with timber mills, giving superficial feet of pine and hardwood cut, cost of same delivered on rails, such costs to include interest, depreciation and overhead charges, prices of same charged to soldiers’ homes, and a profit and loss account of each timber mill. “ (S.) The annual report shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament within_ fourteen days after its receipt by the Minister if the Parliament is then sitting, or if the Parliament is not then sitting, within fourteen days after the next meeting of Parliament.”
Probably it is an error in drafting that no -provision has been made for an annual report by the Commissioner to Parliament, but it is an error that ought to be rectified at once.. No doubt the Commissioner’ would, in any case have1 sent in a report through his Minister,, but I poGOvid’e in; this- clause that the report shall he presented as: soon as possible after the close of the financial year. “When we were discussing- repatriation the question of the Comanissioner or the Gov-ermanent entering: trading operations of this kind arose, and boih those opposed toi such under takings^, and those in favour of them, agreed that the more light there is thrown on their operation, the better for ali concerned. If it can be proved that the Commissioner can carry out works of this kind with success the fact will support the advocacy of those who favour the principle, whereas if he is not successful, then no doubt demands will be made- for better management or administration. There is a similar provision in the Commonwealth Railway Act, section 41, in the following terms: -
The Commissioner shall as soon- as possible* after the close, of each financial year submit to the Minister an annual’ report and balancesheet showing stocks on hand, depreciation of property, proceedings, and an account of all moneys received and expended during that year.
Sub-clause 2 of the clause is precisely similar to- sub-section 2- of the section.
– If the honorable member’s proposed’ new clause were to stop at the word1 “ year “’ it would cover all the ground.
– We stall never get all’ the particulars unless we specifically ask for them. If honorable members d’o not approve of the clause,, it can. only be because they do. not wish t&e information to be made- available to houorabie members..
– Remember we shall get some of our supplies from our own niillsj and others from the general trading community, and the honorable member’s proposal would disclose our cost price when those with whom we are dealing.- disclose nothing to us!.
– Then all the stronger the’ argument,, particularly in the case of those who- believe in these trading operations ; they will be able to point out how the Commissioner is J.ble to obtain supplies at. less- cost. I see no reason why honorable members should object, to the proposed, clause. We. are spending harf-a-million of money on the purchase of timber mills- and areaSj and we know that each year a certain amount of timber will be cut, and we should know, year by year, how we stand financially in this regard’.
– There is no objection to giving- general results. The only point is that under the honorable member’s proposal we shall “ put. all our card’s on the table “ before our trading competitors, so to speak.
– As to that, we saw in this morning’s newspapers a statement from the Commissioner showing- at what price he is able to supply timber.
– But the honorable member proposes to disclose the quantities on hand, and all that sort of thing.
– And if a shortage is shown the Combine will “ whip “’ up prices.
– In connexion with all these Government trading concerns there ought to be an annualbalance-sheet as- in the case of an ordinary trading: corporation’. If they are a failure^ the sooner we know the fact the better.
.- Members ought to be informed what every trading Department of the Government is doing. This Department would be the purchaser of all kind’s of materials, and as the tendency of the age is. to concentrate businesses into the hands of a few, we may expect to see the cement industry controlled by four or five companies before long. It is well known that when the- war broke out there were certain commodities in this country consigned from enemy countries: and owned by enemy subjects. Amongst those commodities was a quantity of cement, and people here who required cement, made up their mind’s that at the sale of it they would bid- under the market price. Had it not been, that the Government itself required cement for certain works, and boughit. it at a fair valuation, these people would have go* it at a cheap rate. No Department should1 be placed at a disability as compared with private firms. I. wish, thisi clause to embrace all Governmenifc industrial activities, such as the brickworks, which I hope- to- see started for- the supply of millions of bricks for the war service homes;-, and to that end it would he far better, as the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has suggested, to strike out all the words after the word “ year.”- I believe that the honorable member is ‘Opposed to the action of the people who have inflated prices to the disadvantage of the returned soldiers. I should be prepared to support the proposed new clause if the honorable member did not ask for information upon so many minute details.
– I support the new clause as proposed. We have complained, ever and over again, that reports presented concerning the operation of some State enterprises have not supplied the information which we think we are ‘entitled to receive. As for information with respect to stocks in hand, I point out to honorable members that we provide for exactly the same information under our Commonwealth Railways Act. Under that measure the Railways Commissioner is required, as soon as possible after the. close of each financial year, to submit to the Minister an annual report and balance-sheet showing stocks in hand.
– The Railways Department does not compete with outside firms.
– The Railways Department has to buy supplies of rolling stock, rails, and so on, and yet, under the Railways Act, the Commissioner is compelled to publish to the world the stocks he has on hand. I have always thought that there is a great deal ofcamouflage about the operation of these State enterprises. We do not really know what is being done, and we ought to know all that is being done.
– There is only one railway, and there are hundreds of sawmills.
– The Railway Commissioner’s only competitors are the Commissioners of the State railways.
– Not for stocks. My point is that the Railways Commissioner is obliged to publish to the world his . stocks on hand of trucks, rails, and railway supplies generally.
– He has . to pub lish the total values.
– Those totals will show exactly what stocks he has on hand.
Once more I have to complain about the way in -which Bills are presented to this House. It is not at all creditable to the Attorney-General’s Department that a measure should be presented to the House in 6uch a way -that it is left to a private member to discover that there is no provision in it for the publication of an annual report of the operations of such a Department as the War Service Homes Department. That is due to the slovenly way in -which practically all Bills are presented to this House. I hope that the new clause will be -carried. If there is one thing upon which there is an honest difference . of opinion in this House it is the utility, or otherwise, of these State enterprises. There are honorable members who honestly believe that the State should embark . on these enterprises, and there are others who just as honestly believe that experience up to the present has shown that State- enterprises are not successful in some directions. There are State saw-mills in Western Australia and in Queensland, and their operation has been such that the AuditorsGeneral in those States have had to complain pretty severely that details and working accounts of those enterprises have not been presented to Parliament. We want to avoid that kind of thing. I personally very much desire to know whether State enterprises upon which we embark are successful or not. As the Bill was introduced it was unnecessary for the War Service Homes Commissioner to present any report at all concerning the work of his Department. I think that the thanks of the Committee are due to the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) for submitting this clause. In my view, there is nothing in the fear expressed that, if the particulars for which the honorable member asks are given, we shall show our hand to private competitors in similar lines of business. Is it intended that the sawmills controlled by this Department . shall be run as ordinary trading concern’s, or are their operations to be confined to cutting timber for houses for returned soldiers 1 If we were about to enter into open competition with private saw-mills, there might be something in the objections which have been urged against the clause. But the whole of the statements made in connexion with the purchase jf saw-milling plant by this Department have been to the effect that there has been a Combine which raised the price of timber unduly, and the Government have, in consequence, been forced to purchase certain saw-mills to cut timber for their own purposes. If that is really the reason why saw-mills have been purchased, I cannot see the slightest objection to the publication of the fullest details of their operation. It would be very much better for this House, the Minister for Repatriation, and the War Service Homes Commissioner that the whole of the details should be presented in a report to Parliamentin the same way as private trading concerns, whatever they may do publicly, present a report covering such details to their shareholders.
– We do not give such information concerning the operations of the Commonwealth Woollen and Clothing Factories.
– Or concerning the railways, either.
– I hope that, before long, Parliament will insist upon being supplied with more information in connexion with some of the enterprises which have been referred to than we have been given up to the present time.
– I am positive that if it were not for the Commonwealth Clothing Factory, the uniforms of our soldiers would have cost nearly double what they have cost.
– Then where is the objection to giving us detailed information of the operations of the Factory?
– The House is entitled to reasonable information, but it seems to me that the honorable member for Dampier asks for too much detailed information.
– I ask the Treasurer what is the objection to giving these details? The objection raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) that we might, in this way, inform private saw-mill proprietors of the stocks we have in hand does not appeal to me. I wish to know what will be the result of this enterprise. I have seen the results of ‘similar State enterprises in Queensland and Western Australia, and they have not been satisfactory. I think it will be found that in both States the prices at which the State saw-mills were cutting timber for the Commonwealth were quite as high as those charged by any privatelyowned saw-mills.-
– The operation of State insurance in Queensland has had the effect of reducing ordinary premiums by one-half.
– I am dealing with saw-mills, and I have seen the operations of some of the State saw-mills. The system in operation in them would not be tolerated for twenty-four hours in. any decently conducted private enterprise. As a matter of fact, no private enterprise could conduct its operations in any such way. This House has a right to insist upon the fullest information on all these matters, and I therefore hope that the clause will be passed as it stands.
– The honorable member who has submitted this clause has often complained of the lack of information supplied concerning the working of Government Departments, but in this new clause it appears to me that he goes to the other extreme. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) was not quite ingenuous in dealing with this matter. He led us to believe that he is only asking in this clause for what is already provided for under the Commonwealth Railways Act.
– So far as stocks are concerned.
– The two things are as different as possible. Might I ask the honorable member whether he would be satisfied if that was provided for under the Railways Act?
– No; they are two entirely different propositions.
– There is no reason why the same business methods should not be applied to both. All these details will be very difficult and costly to get.
– They will be worth while.
– They may or may not. Every definition is a limitation, and when honorable members tie themselves up to prescribed details, they thereby exclude all others, which, may include some which they desire to know. This is what the Commonwealth Railways Act provides -
The Commissioner shall, as soon as possible after the close of each financial year, submit to the Minister an annual report and balancesheet, showing stocks on hand, depreciation of property, proceedings, and an account of all moneys received and expended during that year.
That covers all that is necessary.
– What is the objection to giving the other details?
– The amendment asks for the same information ‘ two or three times over. It says -
The Commissioner shall, as soon as possible after the close of the financial year, submit to the Minister an annual report showing for each State the number of applications received and dealt with, homes erected, and average costs, a rcsum.6 of operations-
If that resume of operations will notcover the whole field, I do not know what will. That, surely, will include War Service Homes, timber mills, and every other branch. The amendment also asks for - a balance-sheet showing cash and stocks on hand, and an account of all moneys received and expended during that year.
It goes on to ask for what I take to be a third balance-sheet showing trading operations in connexion with timber mills. The Repatriation Act includes this section -
The Commission shall furnish to the Minister annually, for presentation to the Parliament, a report of the administration and operation of this Act.
That covers everything. I suggest that the honorable member -for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) should be content to terminate the first paragraph of the amendment at the words “ showing trading operations in connexion with timber mills.”
– I have been advised that the Government twelve months ago paid £85,400 for five mills in Victoria. If that sort of thing is to go on-
– Every Government spends money in that way.
– Well, we shall try to stop you.
– Stop us by all means. If the honorable member goes on as he proposes, he will stop the operations of the Departments entirely.
– Why keep these transactions secret? No member of the House knew of the purchase in Victoria.
– I fancy honorable members did know of it.
– No. We have had a complete revelation this week. We ought to have known about this before.
– I think that honorable members should know. I may inform the Committee that I have never given the Commissioner a shilling for anything the application for which has not had the Minister’s imprimatur upon it.
– It is the secrecy of the whole business of which we complain.
– I think honorable members are stressing this matter unduly. There are many operations in connexion with every Government Department that go on in this way, but because one transaction has been dragged into the daylight, and looks large - and I think it is a pity that Parliament was not consulted in regard to it, if that could have been done - do not imagine that every- other little transaction should be dragged before the -House. If all transactions were referred to the House, honorable members could do nothing with them. Hundreds of thousands of these operations are carried on by the Government during the year, and no matter what the House may do, it can never control the details of these departmental transactions.. That must .be recognised by every honorable member who has had administrative experience. May I recall honorable members to a middle, moderate, and sweetly reasonable course? I dislike extremism on either side; and I desire to bring the extremist chairman of the Public Works Committee (Mr. Gregory) back to a sane, moderate course.
– Does not the Treasurer think that when the House was discussing the Queensland deal some information should have been given ‘by the Government in regard to the purchases in Victoria?
– I assure the honorable member that we are restraining the Commissioner in every reasonable way. I quite agree that the utmost publicity should be given to all the operations of this Department; but there is no need for the House to require a statement of every detailed transaction that the Department does from year’s end to year’s end. Honorable members should be reasonable. There is no trouble in the Repatriation Department or the -Commonwealth Railways branch. The ‘Commissioner of Railways makes an annual report, setting forth all the operations, of the Department, and that is laid upon the table. The amendment asks that the Minister and the Commissioner shall give this detail and that detail, and dot this “ i “ and cross this “t.” That is going to extremes. I move -
That all the words after “mills,” in . paragraph (1), be left out.
The amendment will still provide for two balance-sheets, and that should be enough for anybody. The balance-sheets will include a resume of the operations for the year, and will . show all the trading operations in connexion with the timber mills. Surely honorable members do not want more than that.
– The Treasurer is not proposing to exclude paragraph 2?
– No; that can remain.
-i cannot accept theTreasurer’s proposal.; but the Committee must decide upon it.
– The honorable member is very stubborn when he makes up his mind.
– The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) might very well accept the suggestion made by the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), because in its present form the clause will limit the nature of the report to a great extent. A legal axiom, as applied to. the Constitution, states that the more you define the more you limit. That is a truism that we all ought to accept. If honorable members will turn to the Budget papers they will see there a fairly detailed balance-sheet in connexion with the Commonwealth Shipping line, giving gross expenditure on the fleet, office, and general expenditure in London and Australia, interest on capital to date, amount written off for depreciation, and so on. The Minister has promised a balancesheet of that description in relation to the operations of the saw-mills.
– We also get a balancesheet in connexion with . the Woollen Mills and other factories.
– Yes. We have special parliamentary papers dealing with the Commonwealth Woollen Mills, Cordite Factory, Clothing Factory, and other Government activities. All these returns are certified to by the AuditorGeneral, and a similar return in connexion with War ‘Service Homes activities ought to be sufficient. I support in principle the contention oif the honorable member for Dampier, and think that honorable -members ought to ‘be thankful to him for having brought this matter forward, because it was a serious lapse on the part of the framers of the measure in connexion with a big Department like the War Service Homes, for by the time we have finished building soldiers’ homes the expenditure might be in the region of £60,000,000. This money will eventually be repaid, but, nevertheless, Parliament must not lose its grip on big financial operations of this kind.
– The soldiers will not bear any loss on the operations of these mills, though.
– I do not say they will if there should be a loss on these minor operations in the big scheme; but, for the most part, the soldiers will have to find the cash eventually.
– I advise the honorable member for Dampier . (Mr.Gregory) to accept the reasonable proposal made by the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook). The balance-sheet will then include a profit and loss account of each timber mill. There is some ground for the contention of the Minister that any returns giving the superficial feet of timber cut would involve a very great deal of detailed work and expense; but the honorable member may at any time call for a special report in respect of these matters if necessary.
– But the Treasurer seeks to eliminate that portion of the clause requiring the presentation of a profit and loss account.
– And I want to insist particularly on a profit and loss account being furnished to Parliament for all these separate ventures. I feel strongly on this matter.
– As the hour is late,, and the question raised by the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) is of very great importance, I think every honorable member who wishes to discuss it should have the fullest opportunity. The suggestion made by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr.. Richard Foster) for the presentation of a profit and loss account is a very valuable one, and if the Treasurer would acquiesce perhaps’ it would meet the situation.
– I will agree to the inclusion of a profit and loss account being furnished in respect of each timber mill, and will, therefore, amend my amendment ‘by retaining- the words ‘’ and a profit and’ loss account of each timber mill.”
Amendment amended accordingly.
.- On the understanding that the Treasurer will accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), 1 take no objection to the clause being amended in the direction indicated. My reason for desiring the detailed information was that when the Commissioner purchased, these mills in Queensland he made certain definite statements about the profits that were going to accrue from the transaction. I want to be able to follow up this matter next year and the year after to see whether hisstatements were justified or not, and in order that honorable members themselves may be able to arrive at a definite conclusion. We can, if necessary,, obtain other detailed figures later by asking for returns in regard thereto.
Amendment,, as amended, agreed to.
Proposed new clause, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed’ to.
Bill reported’ with amendments.
Standing Orders suspended; report adopted.
Bill read a . third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment..
House adjourned at 10.30.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 September 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19200929_reps_8_93/>.