8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– The statement has been made by Major K. J. Saunders, representing the Egyptian Government, that he has signed a contract with the Australian Wheat Board for the purchase of substantial quantities of wheat and flour. Can thePrime Minister inform the House of the nature of the contract, the prices given, and the quantities purchased?
– The Boardconsiders it inadvisable to make any disclosure at this juncture.
asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Assent to the following Bills re ported : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Bill.
Westralian Farmers Agreement Bill.
Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Bill.
Census and Statistics Bill.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Customs Act - Proclamation (dated 15th September, 1920) revoking Proclamation (dated 10th January, 1918) prohibiting the Importation and Exportation (except under certain conditions) of Copra.
Excise Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 167.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired under, at Tharwa, Federal Territory - For Federal Capital purposes.
Northern Territory -Publie Service Ordinance 1913 - (Regulations.
Public Service Act - Appointment of W. Campbell, Home and Territories Department.
Debate resumed from 8th October (vide page 5479), on motion by Mr. Groom -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Tudor had moved -
That all the words after the word “that” be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words: - “ in consequence of the exploitation of the people of Australia by profiteering and of the urgent necessity of dealing therewith, the Bill be now Withdrawn for the purpose of introducing at the earliest possible moment more comprehensive measures which will confer all necessary jurisdiction and powers of investigation on the High Court of Australia and other existing Courts for the enforcement thereof, and which for the purposes of exercising the powers contained in the Constitution will provide inter alia for -
requiring statistics of the cost of production of all goods manufactured in Australia and of the landed cost of all goods imported into Australia;
requiring statistics of the profits accruing to trading corporations or derived from Inter-State shipping, and of the rate of profit on the capital actually employed therein respectively;
penalties of fine and imprisonment for refusal to furnish such statistics, or for wilfully making false returns;
all purposes incidental to the above;
the extension of the Moratorium for the protection of primary producers and others requiring same.”
.- The Minister in his second-reading speech referred to the measure as one of urgency, but I direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that it has been on our businesspaper since April last, and therefore the conduct of the Government in postponing its consideration is hardly consistent with the remarks of the Minister who is in charge of it. From the first, the Opposition has regarded the measure as of great importance. We hope to amend it so that it may prove of benefit to those who are now suffering from the high cost of living, and particularly to those whose low wages make the position most difficult for them. The consideration of the measure provides an opportune occasion for determining what power should be vested in our Judiciary to enable it to conserve the interests of the people and to protect them from the assaults that the great commercial exploiters are now making upon them. Statistics which have been compiled are ample evidence of a rise in prices for which there is not the semblance of justification, although the attempt hasbeen made to deceive the public in regard to unjust charges by excuses in which the issue is clouded with financial and commercial technical reasoning. There are two questions of paramount importance which it is incumbent on this Legislature to solve: We must ask ourselves whether the rights of the people are being maintained, and their interests conserved. We have just reason to doubt, whether parliamentary effort has been properly directed to the faithful service of the people’s welfare. We have also to ask whether, by vesting more authority in the Commonwealth Judiciary, we can provide more complete protection for the people. There is a feeling in the minds of honorable members that the provisions of the Constitution limit the power of the
Federal Legislature to deal effectively with prices, and it would perhaps be well to make a test case which would enable u3 to ascertain what the limitations of our power are. I do not know that there is any man who could say with certainty just what power the Commonwealth possesses for protecting the people against commercial exploiters. The amendments in the Judiciary Act now proposed by the Government may have a certain degree of importance, but I do not deem them to be of a far-reaching character. I hope that, as the result of the amendment proposed by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) we shall have presented to us at the earliest possible moment a measure clothing our Judiciary with far wider powers than they at present possess, to investigate questions of the utmost importance in regard to the cost of production and trade profits. The people are looking to us for such legislation. There are in the community those who say that competition should be allowed to take its full course and to run its own way without let or hindrance. In almost every phase of life, we have a standardization of effort, and certain definite lines arelaid down with the object of securing the highest degree of industrial efficiency. In our workshops, the principle of standardization of machinery and appliances for production is being generally adopted. In this way, increased and cheaper production is being secured. The people, however, have not reaped any direct advantage in the shape of cheaper foodstuffs, clothing, or housing accommodation. If standardization is a good thing in workshop practice then there can be no justification for the failure of the Government to bring prices under the same system. Just as wages are ruled by standards, so there should be fixed prices for certain articles and commodities. In this way, the people might be able to reap some advantage from the greater efficiency resulting from the introduction of uptodate machinery and appliances in our various industries. It has been asserted that we have little or no power to take action with that object in view. I believe that if a test case were brought before the High Court it would be found that section 51 of the Constitution gives us all the power that we require in that direction. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has said that it is impossible to. secure from business enterprises the. information which the honorable member for West Sydney proposes to obtain by means of his amendment. In support of that contention, he has referred to the decision of the Privy Council in the case of. the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited v. The Attorney-General of the Commonwealth. The decision given in. that case, however, was not that the Commonwealth Parliament lacked the power to obtain the information which was sought of the company, but that, owing to anomalies in the Royal Commissions Act, the company was able to evade giving the evidence demanded of it. Lord Haldane, in giving the judgment of the Court, very clearly intimated that the Government failed in its claim, not because of want of constitutional power,, but owing to bungling in the drafting of the Royal Commissions. Act. Had that Act been differently drawn, it would have been possible to compel the company to give all the information required concerning its trade profits and working operations.
It is possible for the Government, at one stroke, to make it unprofitable to be a profiteer, and no Administration that is not prepared to protect the people from the unjust impositions of the profiteers will justify itself in the eyes of the electors. Absolutely extortionate prices have been ruling in respect of various commodities. Even the prices of Australian products and articles of Australian manufacture are being raised with little or no justification. By way of illustration, I would point out that certain twill manufactured in New South Wales and sold by the manufacturer to the wholesale houses at8s. 6d. per yard, was retailed to the people at 25s. 6d. per yard. When the manager of the clothing department of J. and B. Sniders and Company, of Flinders-lane, was some time ago called before the Fair Prices Commission to account for an increase in the price of goods handled by them, he was asked by the Chairman of the Commission whether there was any hope that for the rest of this year there would be any reduction in the prices for tweeds and serges. Mr. Daniel Solomons, the manager referred to, answered by saying that he did not think that there was the slightest hope, and’ that in fact prices might go still higher: The Chairman then asked him whether his department was making a bigger gross profit now than it was making six years ago, and Mr. Solomons, had to admit that it was. When asked how he accounted for that Mr. Solomons gave about the only answer that could be given tosuch a question by manyprofiteers. He said -
It is the ethics ofbusiness.. It is like the old song, “ Everbody’s doing it.”
As a Legislature claiming to be concerned about the welfare of the people we should not allow such a condition of affairs to continue to exist without doing all in our power to compel such people to deal justly with the community, and be content with reasonable profits.
I find that the Housewives Association of Victoria is endeavouring to deal with the high cost of living, and apparently the only way in which they can successfully deal with the matter is to agree amongst themselves to do without goods which otherwise they would desire to have They are to-day practically issuing an order prohibiting the purchase by their members of goods for which exorbitant pricesare charged.
– They are wiser than some of the politicians:
– They are certainly moving a little faster than are some of those who claim to be serving the best interests of the people.. I give every credit to this association that is doing its part in directing attention to the fact that the different Legislatures have so far failed to protect the people from those who have grossly abused the opportunityto levy exorbitant charges upon them.
I admit that profiteering is world wide, and is not confined to the Commonwealth, or any particular State. Still, I fail to see why the people of this country should be subjected to exorbitant charges especially for goods that are manufactured in Australia for much less than the prices charged for them. I have been prepared to afford protection to local industries, in order to assist in making this country self-contained, but I am not prepared to support industries carried on by persons who take an unfair Advantage of the people by charging extortionate prices for goods manufactured here.
– Weshall have to nationalize those industries.
– I agree with the honorable member that the best way to deal effectively with the high cost of living is for the people themselves to control the industries engaged in the production of the goods they require. We know that State enterprises are subjected toa great deal of hostilecriticism, but inQueens- land the prices ruling forgoods which the State has entered into competition with private persons to supply to the community are lower than where private enterprise has the field to itself. That fact justifies the claim of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) that not until we secure the nationalization of these industries will the people be in a position to obtain the goods they require at reasonable prices.
This has already been proved in the timber trade. There may be some aspects of the recent purchase by the Commonwealth of saw-mills and timber areas in Queensland that should be the subject of inquiry; but as soon as the timber Combines in this country became acquainted with the fact that the Commonwealth Government had entered into competition with them to secure the timber necessary for War Service Homes, the manager for one of the leading timber merchants in Adelaide said that he did notthink that the investment made by the Government was a judicious one, because we were just on the eve of a fall in prices of timber, and the Commonwealth Government would consequently sustain a loss on the transaction. It was not until the Government, by nationalizing, to some extent,the saw-milling industry, entered into competition with them, that we were able to secure from those engaged in the timber tradethe assurance that a fall of prices in the industry is likely to occur. Ithink a similar result would follow the competition of the Government in other industries; and until the State assumes direct control of them, the community generallywill not foe afforded the measure of protection to which they are entitled.
Wecould relieve the existing situation considerably byadopting the remedy suggested by the honorable member for West Sydney(Mr. Ryan), namely, by requiring statistics of the cost of production of all goods manufactured in Australia and of the landed cost of all goods imported into Australia, statistics of the profits accruing to trading corporations, or derived from Inter-State shipping, and of the rate ofprofit on the capital actually employed thereinrespectively; with penalties of fine and imprisonment for refusal to furnish such statistics,or for wilfully making false returns. The present form of trading governing the affairs of the commercialworld to-day is doing much to undermine the confidence of the people in constitutional media of government. The contempt into which political action is falling is due to the contrast between political forms of (Democracy andthe economic reality of oligarchy. We find that the class of profiteers and commercial plunderers is a standing menace to the supremacy of constitutional authority, because it is fast driving people who have hitherto held moderate views, and have been content with political action, into a feeling of disgust with those means of endeavouring to improve their condition, and is makingthem heed the advice of those who say that they can have their conditionsof life improved by a complete overthrow of the present social system, and thevestingof authority in the people themselves. I am one of those who have stood always by constitutional action. I have always believed in the adoption of political media for securing reform; but I must confess that there is great justification for the advice tendered by those who say that little or . no assistance has been given by our legislators to the people to enable them to contend successfully withthe high cost of living as it existsto-day. According to a summarywhich has been prepared, theaveragenumber representing the cost of living in ‘the years 1912, 1913,and 19 14 was 85, whereas in 1919 ithad risen to 205.6. It cannot becontendedthat the increase in wages has been anything likeequivalenttothat increase in the costof living. The difficulties confronting theworking community of Australia are becoming harder each day, anda great number despair ofever being able to catch up the arrears into which they have fallen during recent years; suffering is universal because of exorbitant charges: anxiety is becoming intensified, and privation is rampant. Since these are the facts, we should be prepared at least to make the ‘necessary inquiries to ascertain the reason for the present state of affairs. We should endeavour to investigate the ramifications of profiteering, and the Government should be ready to prove the sincerity of the desire which they profess to relieve the people of the hardships of life. If they really want to free the people of the tremendous burden represented by the present high cost of living, they mustdo something of a ‘practical character, such as the honorable member for West Sydney suggests. I urge them not to regard the amendment from a partisan standpoint, but to recognise in it a sincere desire on the part of the Opposition to assist them to find a means whereby there can be brought to justice those persons who dealt so unfairly with the people during the whole course of the war, and who even now, in times of peace, are aggravating the offence. There cannot be any reasonable excuse for the Government refusing the opportunity now afforded to them to do something practical to deal with a question which so agitates the public mind. It is an unfortunate, and even an outrageous, feature of our system of government, that we should have to admit that this Legislature, which is supposed to be clothed with full power to govern the destinies of Australia, and to conserve the best interests of its people, is unable to control those agencies which to-day are doing so much to bring down the standard of living to such a dull, sordid level as is now being created. I hope that, as the result of the remarks of honorable members on this side, the Government will do their part to put into effect -the suggestions of the honorable member for West Sydney. I trust that they will withdraw the Bill temporarily, with the object of bringing in at the earliest possible moment a more comprehensive measure to deal with matters which are of such grave importance to the whole community. Surely the fact that we have power over imports and exports suggests that we can do something to help the people to secure the necessaries of life at a lower margin than is possible to-day, especially in the case of goods which are manufactured in our own country. Unfortunately, there are a number of Australian manufacturers dealing unfairly with the people by availing themselves of the protection of the Tariff, and, at the same time, charging prices almost equivalent to those demanded for imported articles . of a similar character. In view of comparisons which can be submitted between the cost of manufacturing different goods in this country and the cost of similar imported articles, it is the duty of the Government to see that’ local manufacturers, who are given the benefit of Tariff protection, extend to the people that share of the benefit which they have every right to expect and demand.
– There is a fair margin between the price of an imported article and a similar local article of good quality.
– -I quoted the case of twill manufactured in New South Wales at 8s. 6d. per yard, and retailed to the general public at 25s. 6d.
– Yes. The wholesaler comes in there, and reaps animmense benefit.
– Another reason for this anomaly is the attitude of the manufacturers, many of whom deal only with the wholesale firms. They will not supply direct to the retailers. This system of imposing double profits on the consuming public is grossly unfair, and whilst I have a seat’ in this House I shall do all I possibly can to speed up the machinery for affording relief, especially as we understand the Government are clothed with sufficient power to do all these things if only they hadthe courage and strength to face the position. I may be permitted to refer to a case that, perhaps, is sub judice, in connexion with which it is stated, on behalf of the wholesalers, that a profit of 22½ per cent. is not sufficient to cover overhead charges. In my opinion, that profit gives a very wide margin. It is far above what I am prepared to allow to any trading firm. We should do all we can to bring prices down to the very lowest point. I hope, therefore, that the Government will do their part by endeavouring to clothe the Judiciary with sufficient power to deal effectively with those profiteers who have made such inroads upon the welfare of the people of this country.
.- It should be unnecessary for honorable members on this side to urge upon the Government the necessity of incorporating in this Bill the principles laid down in the amendment submitted by the honorable member for West Sydney (‘Mr. Ryan). (During the last election campaign, when candidates of both parties were seeking the suffrages of the people, profiteering, which is dealt with in this amendment, was a burning question, and candidates representing the Government side of the House claimed to be just as anxious as were their opponents to deal with the evil. Well, they are now behind the Government; but,’ up to the present, nothing has been done to ease the burdens which the profiteers have been placing upon the community for a number of years. We were even told, on one occasion, that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) intended to shoot the profiteers. Surely, then, some effort should be made to redeem these promises made to the electors, and which they accepted in good faith by returning the Government to power. Subsequently, when a no-confidence motion was being debated, we were told by Ministerial supporters that, as the Government proposals were turned down at the referendum, they had no power to deal with profiteering. The honorable member for West Sydney, however, challenged the suggestion, and, in support of his views, he has taken this, the first, opportunity afforded him, of embodying them in the amendment he has moved to the Bill now under consideration. Even if the Government had not power to deal with profiteering, one would have thought that, immediately they were placed upon the right track, immediately it was shown that it was possible to do something, their first act would have been to pass a measure to put down the evil. But, as a matter of fact, this Bill, in which it is possible to do something, has been for some time consistently at the bottom of the business-paper. We have spent a great deal of time during the last few months in consideration of measures intended to deal with industrial troubles; but, so long as profiteering continues unchecked, all the time occupied by this Parliament on those measures to which I have referred, will have been wasted, because this industrial unrest has its root-cause in the economic condition of the workers, who find themselves menaced by the profiteering practices of the commercial and moneyed classes of this country. One would have thought that common sense would dictate to the Government the necessity for prompt action, because, while Wages Board and Arbitration Court awards may have the effect of increasing wages, we ‘ are moving in a vicious circle, because after every award employers put up prices to a higher level, so that, instead of being worse off, they are really better off. The wages awarded by the Arbitration Courts or Wages Boards are always the maximum rates paid, and although they are the highest’ rates to which the worker is entitled, there is no restriction on the manufacturer as to the price he shall charge for the commodity he produces. It -is useless speaking of industrial peace, and of wasting our t]ime in this Parliament endeavouring to improve the position by other means, because the worker cannot expect any improvement until profiteering, which is keeping so many on the bread line, is checked. It is not a question of wages, because, comparatively speaking, the rates paid are sufficiently high to enable the workers to live in reasonable comfort; but the difficulty arises from the 1 prices at which the necessaries of life are sold. It is merely a question of reducing the cost of living by compelling manufacturers and others to dispose of their products at a price more in conformity with the cost of production. That can only be done by giving the Court ‘the powers set out in the amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan).1 The question of profiteering was a burning one at the recent election, and it is one that has been agitating the minds of thoughtful men the world over. It is a problem that must be solved, and we are telling the people that this Parliament has no power to deal with it. There is nothing more calculated to bring the Government into ridicule, or to stimulate direct action, than to tell the people that we have no power to deal with profiteering, and it will be difficult for those who still have faith in constitutional government to stem the tide of growing indignation and disgust towards parliamentary government. In New South Wales a Necessary Commodities Commission, presided over by Mr. Justice Rolin, has just published its report, from which it would appear that there was no evidence to prove that excessive profits had been made in the clothing trade.. I believe it was stated by the learned Judge that there was a profit of only 5 per cent, on the turnover; but it is useless to endeavour to gull the people in such a way when they know that clothing is being sold at ridiculously high prices. It is useless for a Commission to report that excessive prices are not being charged when working men realize every time they receive their pay that its value has been reduced owing to the increased cost of commodities. The agitation and discontent at present existing is likely to end in revolution unless this National Government tackles the problem seriously, and exercises every means at their disposal to check profiteering. It is hardly necessary for me to go into details in regard to prices, and the profits that are being made, when children in Melbourne and other cities are going bootless because of the prices that are charged. Ask the children in every city and town in Australia who have to go to bed, if not hungry, at least with their appetites not satisfied, if there is any profiteering. Ask the housewife, who experiences considerable difficulty in making ends meet, if there is any profiteering. The amendment provides that statistics of the cost of production of all goods manufactured in Australia, and of the landed cost of all goods imported into Australia shall be obtained. Had such a provision been incorporated in our Judiciary Act, these “ get-rich-quickly “ gentlemen would not have been able to charge excessively high prices, even before the war. Some time ago I was asked if I was prepared to handle felt hats, which could be landed in Wellington, New South Wales, at 14s. 3d. each. The commercial representative of the manufacturers strongly recommended the line; but I was informed that I could not obtain a single hat until I was prepared to enter into an agreement not to sell them at less. than 25s. each. That wa3 in pre-war days. The same class of hat is now being sold in Melbourne and Sydney at 45s. or 50s. each, although they can be landed in Australia at approximately 30s. to 35s. each.
– The same can be said of all imported hats.
– Yes . . In pre-war days the Borsalino hat, which in Italy cost about 5s. 6d. or 6s., was sold in Melbourne at 12s. 6d., but they cannot now be purchased under 25s. or 30s.
– That is profiteering in another country.
– No; I am speaking of the prices here. Quite apart from the price of imported articles, we have only to refer to the cost of boots. The price of hides, plus the cost of tanning, is the basic cost. The prices of boots are chiefly determined by the prices of leather. But have the prices of boot3 declined in sympathy with the reduction in the prices of leather? Only to a very small extent. Boots which up till three years ago could be purchased for 12s. 6d. per pair are to-day being sOld at 25s. and 27s. 6d. per pair.’ I do not desire to go into details regarding the increased prices of many commodities. The little children are familiar with them. But there is one matter which was touched upon by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) to which this Parliament might very well devote its attention. It should spare no effort to deal effectively with the Combines and Rings which exist in the commercial world to-day, and which constitute one of the means by which profiteering is successfully carried on. In particular we should give earnest attention to the honorable understanding amongst our manufacturers that they will unload their goods only to warehousemen and soft-goods middlemen: If the consumer could purchase lines of clothing,, hats, and boots direct from the manufacturer, the prices of these goods would be reduced ‘by 25 per cent, or 30 per cent.
– By more than that in some cases.
– Very likely they would be reduced by much more than that. If we can bring the .consumer into direct touch with the manufacturer, we shall certainly eliminate the profits of the middlemen, and we shall do something to restore healthy competition. Whatever may be said by the opponents’ of this amendment, it certainly contains provisions which would make for the effective control of profiteering. This Government, which was going to shoot the profiteer at sight, will fail in their duty to the people of this country and in their pledges to the nation if they do not take drastic action in the direction -which has been outlined by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan). The more convinced our people become of the failure of parliamentary government, the more will they be impelled to resort to direct action, so that a revolution cannot be far off.
Mr. MATHEWS (Melbourne Ports) [4.4J. - A proposed amendment of the Judiciary Act is tantamount to a proposed amendment of the Constitution, because the powers which have been vested in the Justices of the High Court practically make them the moulders of our Constitution. When the Federation was inaugurated the statement was freely made that under our Constitution the Commonwealth possessed certain powers. But. we had not proceeded far when we discovered that those powers were really determined ‘by the provisions of the Judiciary Act, which conferred upon the Justices of the High Court the power to make our Constitution just what they thought it ought to be. When that Tribunal was first established it consisted of only three Justices, but this number was soon increased to five, and, ultimately, to seven. As the years passed we were disappointed to find that these Justices gave decisions regarding the powers of the Commonwealth which did not agree with what we conceived to be the intentions of the framers of our Constitution. As the Justices of the High Court make our Constitution, honorable members- ought certainly to exhibit some interest in the Bill to amend the Judiciary Act which is now under consideration. I certainly intend to express my opinion .upon it, even though I may be regarded as an egotistical ignoramus for my temerity. Though a layman may not be able to give a very precise definition of what this measure really means, I doubt whether the lawyers in this Chamber can do very much better. The measure which we are now considering might just as well provide that if three Justices of the High Court, give a unanimous decision upon any matter affecting the interpretation of our Constitution, their judgment should become the law of the land. In 1912 section 23 of the Judiciary Act was altered to provide that -
A full Court consisting of less than all the Justices shall not give a decision on a question affecting the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth unless a majority of all the Justices concur in that decision.
The Government have evidently discovered that even that provision will, noi meet the exigencies of the position, because it is idle to provide for a majority decision when only four Justices may be available. I take it, therefore, that Ministers are now desirous of altering the measure, with a view to providing that the concurrence of three Justices upon any such matter shall be sufficient. The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) is quite satisfied that the measure provides for all that is necessary. But during the past thirteen or fourteen years all the lawyers in this Chamber have been similarly satisfied. Why should we not allow the Judiciary Act to remain upon our statute-book unaltered until the Constitution can be amended in such a way as to clearly set out what are the powers of the Commonwealth? What can the measure which is now before us actually accomplish? It may make it easier to get a decision from the High Court upon constitutional matters. The Minister (Mr. Groom) will agree with me that if three Judges among seven give a decision which is accepted as law, that decision can at any time thereafter be upset by the remaining four sitting together in Full Court. As a Comm.On layman, I know that I should speak upon these matters with bated breath; but, judged from the view-point of the man in the street, it would seem that three cannot possibly form a majority among seven. The (more I endeavour to study the matter, the more it appears to be a case of confusion worse confounded. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) has set up a contention as to the correctness or otherwise of which I cannotventure an opinion, but I feel free to say that his argument is, at any rate, as feasible as anything else within the scope of the Judiciary Act. Moreover, his suggestion, if it were adopted, would be much more useful to the people than most of the other provisions contained therein. The men who are robbing the people today have a comparatively free hand because the public do not know exactly how and in respect of which specific items they are being robbed. If I were to buy a hat branded “ Galatea “ - I do not know that there is a hat so branded - and if I were to be charged 25s. for it when T knew from a Gazette intimation that such hats had been sold to the retail merchant for 120s. a dozen, I would perceive that the shopkeeper waa trying to make a profit of 150 per cent, out of me. The fact of the price having been publicly gazetted would make the most daring profiteer hesitate. The trouble is, however, that the retailer might get out of his difficulty by erasing the original brand, and selling the hat under another name - not gazetted, of course - still at 150 per cent, profit.
– The honorable member was in better form when dealing -with the constitutional, aspect. I suggest that he revert to that.
– I am talking about something of which I have knowledge at the moment. I feel certain that if we were to legislate to compel the gazettal of prices there would be considerably more reluctance on the part of the trading community to profiteer. I must repeat, however, that there would still be opportunities to evade publicity in the matter of prices by changing the branded names of clothing and the like. If a retailer were to buy from a wholesale house a shirt branded ‘’ Prince of Wales,” at the rate of 72s. a dozen, and if he were to try to sell me that same shirt for 15s., I would know, upon reference to the Gazette, that he was proposing to make 150 per cent, profit. Such knowledge would put an end to profiteering - so long, I repeat, as the retailer did not evade the publicity of his deal by changing the name of the commodity which he was selling. But I do not wish to insinuate that the retailer is the only profiteer; he also has his troubles. I see no reason why we should not take these proposed powers to end profiteering. I do not say, of course, that legislation along the lines indicated in the amendment would immediately succeed, for it would be experimental, and might not be perfected straightway. I remember when it was decided to insure correct weight in respect of the sale of a 2-lb. loaf of bread. Many bakers were fined for selling under weight. However, a brainy man conceived the idea of selling his bread under a fancy name. He called it a French loaf, or something of the kind, and he was then not compelled to guarantee it to be a 2-lb. loaf.
The opinion is gaining strength in Australia, as well as in the Old Country, that it would be well to fix the prices of standard articles of clothing, furniture, and other things. That would be very well if everybody were to agree to wear standardized clothing. However, there are too many people who would not be seen in a standardized suit or pair of shoes, and these proud folk would still be prey ‘for the profiteers. There are plenty of women who will pay as much as £3 10s. for a pair of boots worth really about 25s. Standardized clothing would not appeal to them. However, from empty pride, some may prefer to be robbed, but for those who are .civilized, and who are only desirous of wearing clothing for comfort, standardized articles could be supplied. Various Governments in Australia have attempted since 1914 to fix prices, and found it most difficult to do so. It is a difficult task, I admit, but to make such an admission is merely to play into the hands of the direct actionists. They say that it is ‘impossible to legislate against profiteering, and that relief can be obtained only by direct action. Therefore those who are opposed to direct action must use every means possible to enable Parliament to give effect to the wishes of the people. I have given instances of the way in which the suggestion of the honorable member for West Sydney may be evaded ; still, by the exercise of common sense, I think it would allow those who are determined not to be robbed an opportunity of preventing to some extent the depredations of profiteers. I know that the Government are not prepared to accept the excellent suggestion of the honorable member for West Sydney, whom the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in the early part of the session proclaimed to be not a constitutional lawyer - of course, he was quite mistaken, because by the cases he has taken to their utmost limit in, the Courts, and won, the honorable member has proved that he is a constitutional lawyer. They will not accept any suggestion, except, perhaps, one on a matter of small importance, from any honorable member of the Opposition. The day is far .off when the House will accept from any honorable member a suggestion which is good. We are still obliged to adhere to party government; otherwise we would have strong press rule, which would be even worse. However, although they are not prepared to take the big departure now suggested, I hope the Government will take some of the points from the honorable member’s suggestion, even if they dish it up in some other form, so that they may give the people some opportunity of preventing profiteering. If the Government would accept the suggestion put forward, evasion by traders would not be as easy as it is to-day. In the street, one may see a pair of boots advertised at 35s., and in another window a pair marked at 45s. may be of exactly the same make. Of course, a man’s pride may lead him to purchase the higher priced article - nothing on earth Would save a man from wasting his money in that way - but there is a great section of the community who do not desire to be robbed, and having a limited amount of cash, and great responsibilities in their homes, cannot afford to waste money for the sake of empty pride. However desirous we may be of placing on the statute-book legislation for the benefit, of the. people, it will not be beneficial to them if they themselves will not assist in giving effect to it. But the suggestion of the honorable member for West Sydney would at least afford assistance in beating the profiteers. We hear a great deal of talk about the universal desire to bring down the high cost of commodities, but to me the possibility of bringing it down seems very remote. My trouble is to prevent prices from rising further, and I believe that if the Commonwealth and State Parliaments were really in earnest, they could prevent the inflation of prices above their present level. Of course, the real value of an article is based upon the amount of profit earned by those who sell it, and if, by any set of circumstances, the vendors are able to force the public to buy at higher prices, naturally they earn greater profits. The great fear of vested interests to-day is that a crash may follow any drop in prices. When we see cablegrams in the press announcing a drop in prices in other countries, we also see the fear expressed by those who deal in the particular commodities affected and in allied lines that there may be a general crash all round. I believe that if ever we have a repetition of the crisis through which the State of Victoria passed in the nineties, there will be an enormous drop in prices. It was the working section of the community which suffered most during that crisis. I am willing to risk the charge being levelled against me that I am endeavouring to bolster up profiteering when I declare that I do not wish the people I represent to experience again all the horrors of that period. If it had .not been for the dis- covery of gold in Western Australia, the people of Victoria would have starved, notwithstanding the fact that, at the time the State was enjoying bountiful, harvests. The boom which preceded the period of depression had deflated prices considerably, and people were making large fortunes out of them, until the howl for economy arose, and the Paterson Government came into power, and by applying that economy caused a heavy “frost,” which was accompanied by a tremendous drop in prices. I have no desire to see that time arrive again.- But I claim that legislation of the character suggested to-day, if the Government and the people were all desirous of helping, would prevent any further inflation of prices until we could re-arrange economical conditions in the body politic. Of course, if the Government does not desire to do this, to advocate iti is merely to talk to the wind. But on three occasions already I have told the people of this State, and I shall continue to do so on every opportunity I get during the present electoral campaign, that the high trend of prices can be stopped if the Federal and State Governments desire to stop it. The State Parliament undoubtedly possesses sovereign powers, though the exercise of those powers may raise this difficulty, that the lessening of the price of a commodity in Victoria may mean that it will be sent to some other State for sale. I understand that we produce only half the hides that are used in the manufacture of leather in this State, and it has been said that were the price of leather reduced, hides would no longer be sent here from other States. Therefore, the State powers have their limitations. Surely, however, the people have now arrived at the knowledge that the only Parliament that could deal effectively with profiteering is the Commonwealth Parliament. It is said that we have not now the necessary power, though a recent decision of the High Court considerably modified the view previously expressed as to our position. The proposed Convention for the alteration of the Constitution may take years to do anything, and if in the interim we can prevent the rise of prices, we should try to do so. The amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney provides an opportunity. Every member must admit that were effect given to it, traders could not continue to rob the people with their present impunity.. As for the alteration of the law proposed by the Government, in my opinion it will mean that on high constitutional questions a threepower vote may govern a seven-power organization. Of course, one of the four Judges not sitting on the case might agree with the three who dealt with it; but, on the other hand, four of the seven Judges might hold an opinion contrary to the decision of the three who determined the matter. Under a proposal like this we get no stability, and, although the Minister may twit me with not being a lawyer, I say that laymen can foresee the effect of laws just as well as lawyers can, and 1 have followed the decisions of the Court on the constitutional powers of this Parliament with fear and trembling. We thought at first that the thirty-nine articles of the Constitution gave us the powers which they were intended to give ; out the High Court said that that was not so, and we have been floundering ever since. The honorable member for West Sydney, however, has conceived a method whereby we may frighten the profiteers from charging high prices, and I think that the Government should adopt it.
.- A conference of women that recently (met in Melbourne determined that they would discontinue the wearing of gloves until the prices of these articles became more reasonable. A mere man, perhaps, has no right to enter upon what may be regarded as the preserves of the women - folk, but I have often said in my own family circle that the wearing of gloves does not enhance a woman’s appearance, and that they are not necessary except in biting cold weather. For a woman to wear gloves on a swelteringly hot day is to make herself uncomfortable. The women know how difficult it is nowadays to get much for £1, and I believe, with them, that the public would do much to bring down prices if it resolved to abstain from the purchase of many articles for which it is now charged an exorbitant rate. But in striving to reduce expenditure a family might deprive itself of commodities absolutely necessary for the sustenance of its members, and no Parliament could stand idly by and allow such sacrifices. It may be said, “ The people have the remedy for the present state of affairs in their own hands; let them take it “ ; but a Parliament that had the power to reduce high prices, and did not do so, would be unworthy. The ‘Hungarian Parliament has passed laws imposing . penalties for profiteering, and has enacted, among other things, that, a person found guilty of charging excessive rates for goods shall be taken into a public square, there to receive so many strokes of the cane.
– I would rather go elsewhere for my examples.
– The honorable member is getting a long way from the measure before the House.
– The amendment is all-embracing, and it is the real essence of the Bill.
– No. It provides for the withdrawal of the Bill.
– How would it be if we had a law like that of Hungary, so that a member of a big Flinders-lane firm found guilty of charging too highly for goods might be ordered a public flagellation in one of our parks? It is said that the result of this kind of legislation elsewhere has been the reduction of the cost of living.
– Why, then, not provide in the amendment for such a penalty?
– If there are in the community any persons who should be publicly flagellated, it is those who are extorting too much money from the poor. I know of no greater crime. Ministers sitting here in comfort and ease care not how the public may suffer. They know, that they have a majority which will outvote the amendment. They are content to stand by and allow the public to be fleeced, as they did during the war period, doing nothing to relieve the distresses of the people, notwithstanding that many of those who are suffering most are the families of men who sacrificed their lives in the defence of the businesses of the profiteers. These words of protest against the profiteers are resolving themselves into mere platitudes because of their oft-repeated utterance, but they are none the less true. Mr. Knibbs, in his June Bulletin, gives figures showing that between 1914 and 1920 - a period of the greatest storm and stress the world has ever known - the greatest professional robbery has taken place, yet the majority in this Parliament are not lifting a little finger to relieve the people.
– When the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) comes back something will be lifted.
– I am afraid he will not afford the people any relief.
– He may shift the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes).
– I cannot say that “ W. Watt” is any more an antiprofiteer than is “ W. Hughes.” The only way in which the people can obtain relief -is by practically changing the face of this Parliament. That can be secured only by an appeal to the people. Unfortunately, when the > people are appealed to, they sometimes allow trumpery, flimsy, extraneous questions to influence them in the exercise of the franchise. I do not hesitate to say that those who allow themselves to be so influenced, and return to Parliament men of the class supporting the present Government, deserve all they get. The Inter-State Commission, in various reports presented to the Government during the last three years, have suggested methods by which the people might be relieved. The Government, however, stand idly bv. They allow the people to suffer, and the profiteer to carry on at his own sweet will. If Flinders-lane merchants, or others who are charging excessive prices, knew that they were likely to be publicly caned for doing so, we should soon have drastic reductions. Woollen goods, which, notwithstanding the high price of wool, are being sold by the local .woollen mills at from 10s. to 12s. per yard, are Being sold by the wholesale houses at 22s., 28s., and 35s. per yard. A Government that will allow that sort of thing to continue is not fit to remain on the Treasury bench, and the majority which supports such a Government is unworthy to sit in Parliament. The figures I have just given as to the price of woollens are not my own, but have been presented in evidence before a Committee of ‘Investigation.
The Government object to this amendment, but they do not say that, while they consider this is not the time and the place to introduce such an amendment, they are prepared, as soon as possible, to introduce a Bill which will enable us to put down profiteering. When we make a suggestion to them they say “ You know full well that it is useless for us to attempt anything of the kind.” The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) goes further and says, “ Did we not submit a proposal to the people nine months ago that this Parliament should be given increased power to legislate to stop the depredations of the profiteers, and did not the people turn down our proposals? “ It is true that those proposals were rejected, but we have recent evidence that the Parliament has even now the power to put down profiteering. If the Government would bring down a measure dealing with profiteering in an earnest and effective way, I am satisfied that the High Court would determine that it was constitutional. It has always been argued, particularly by the State righter, that it would be almost immoral for this Parliament to legislate in any way likely to affect a State instrumentality, but, in a recent decision of the High Court, three of the five Justices who constituted the Bench decided that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration had power to deal with State railway disputes. A Court that would give such a decision would deter-, mine, I believe, that we had constitutional power to legislate against profiteering. Our Constitution has not yet been given a fair show by the High Court. I do not wish to speak disrespectfully of those learned Justices who have passed away, but every decision given by the Court in the past has been in the direction of limiting more and more our constitutional powers. Sir William Irvine, when representing Flinders in this House, once likened the position of the Australian people under the Commonwealth Constitution to that of a man who was wearing a coat many sizes too- small for him, which was bursting at every seam. The late Mr. Alfred Deakin more than once declared that the late Chief Justice Marshall was the real maker of the Constitution of the United States of America. Readers of the constitutional history of the United
States of America know that Chief Justice Marshall strained, almost to the breaking point, the Constitution of that great country. He knew that, unless he did so, the American people would be hobbled and handcuffed. The result of his masterly judgments is that the people of the United States of America are satisfied with their Federal Constitution.
– The honorable member should get it into his head that the trouble in regard to dealing with the profiteer is not a question of power. The State Parliaments have complete power to deal with profiteering.
Mr.FENTON. - But consider the personnel of the State Parliaments.
– There is John Storey, Premier of New SouthWales, and Mr. Theodore, Premier of Queensland.
– But what sort of a
Legislative Council has Mr. Storey to deal with? With the exception of Queensland, no ‘State has real legislative power to deal with the profiteer.. Every measure passed by the Lower House has to run the gauntlet of the Legislative Council; and the members of those Councils are hand-in-glove with the profiteers in the community. Are they going to pass legislation which will condemn themselves and their brothers? Not at all. I believe that this Parliament has power to deal with profiteering, and I should like the Government to bring a test case before the very intelligent High Court that we have to-day. It is not only greater in numbers than in years gone by, but, with all due respect to those who have passed away, it is greater in brain power and legal knowledge. If our constitutional powers were put to the test, I am sure we should have from the Court a series of decisions interpreting the Acts of this Parliament in a way that would enable us to deal effectively with the profiteers.
In the Bulletin of Australian Statistics, No. 80, compiled by Mr. Knibbs, there will be found, on page 73, a table dealing with the purchasing power of money, showing the amounts necessary, on the average, in each year from 1901 to the second quarter of 1920, to purchase in each capital town what would have cost on the average, £1 in 1911, in the Australian capitals regarded as a whole.
– To purchase what?
– The figures relate to the purchase of groceries and food, house rents, and also ‘‘generally.”
– The trouble is that Mr. Knibbs does not deal with the cost of things generally. His figures relate to only a few commodities.
– The pity is that we have not the figures showing the way in which the prices of all commodities have increased.
– He shows that in respect of the total cost of living, the increase is considerably less than 50 per cent.
– He does not. Our complaint is that Mr. Knibbs’ returns do not include the cost of all household items; if they did, it would be found that the increase in the cost of living is far heavier than is indicated. In this return it is shown that in Sydney in 1914 it cost 24s.1d. to purchase goods which in 1911 could be purchased for £1, and that in the second quarter of 1920 the cost had gone up to 36s. 5d.
– A 50 per cent. increase.
– In some cases the increase is greater. In Melbourne goods which in 1911cost £1, cost 22s.1d. in 1914, and 35s. 2d. in 1920. In Brisbane in 1920 the cost had gone up to 33s.; in Adelaide the cost had risen from 22s. 10d. in 1914, to 35s. Id. in 1920; in Perth, from 22s.10d. in 1914, to 33s. 1d. in 1920; and in Hobart, from 21s. 10d. in 1914, to 35s. Sd. in 1920. The weighted average for the Commonwealth was 22s.10d. in 1914, and 35s. 4d. in 1920. In respect of certain goods there was an increase in some of the States of 101.7 per cent.
– In respect of some things.
– In respect of a good many things which are required in the homes of the poor. I give now the figures supplied by Mr. Knibbs to show the difference between the purchasing power of the sovereign in 1911 and at the present time as applied to the cost of groceries and food. He shows that in Sydney what could be purchased for £1 in 1911 cost 23s:1d. in 1914 and to-day costs 42s. That is nearly double, and is certainly more than a rise of 50 per cent.
– That was due to the war.
– I do not care to characterize the statement too harshly, but we have been frequently informed, that living is cheaper in Australia than in any other part of the world. Honorable members who remind us of this appear to forget that practically during the whole of the time we have occupied this country it has been a land flowing with milk and honey.
– The honorable member ought not to quote the figures to which he is referring, because they apply to the period of the late Labour regime.
– The statement that living is cheaper in Australia than in other parts of the world is only so much clap-trap. There is an abundance of foodstuffs produced in Australia, and yet the figures I have quoted show that in the capital of the State from which the Treasurer comes groceries and foodstuffs which in 1914 cost 23s.1d. have gone up in price to 42s.
– The honorable member is referring to the period of the Labour Government.
– No; a Nationalist Government has been in power for four years, and they have done nothing.
– During the greater part of the war period a Nationalist Government of the worst character has been in existence. Mr. Knibbs’ figures are supplied for the other capitals, as well as for Sydney. For Melbourne the figures are, respectively, 21s.10d. in 1914, and 40s. 6d. in the second quarter of this year. For Brisbane the figures are 21s. 7d. and 41s. 4d. For Adelaide 21s. 4d. and 42s. 9d. For Perth 26s. and 40s. 5d. For Hobart 24s. 3d. and 41s.10d. The total weighted average, taking the whole of the States, is represented by the figures £1 for 1911, 22s. l1d. for 1914, and 41s. 7d. at the present time.
In spite of these figures, the Treasurer says that Australia is a fine place to live in, and that people can live more cheaply here than in any other part of the world. Although some of the States have suffered severely from drought, there has been an abundant food supply produced in Australia, and we never knew what it was to be short of anything in this country during war time. That cannot be said of other countries in the world. The Treasurer stated in his Budget-speech that Australia paid more per head of population in the way of war expenditure than did most of the other parts of the British Empire, and that, in view of the number of soldiers we had at the Front, we suffered more seriously in casualties than did other portions of the Empire. He now says that we can live more cheaply here than people can live in other parts of the world. Every one admits that ; but in a land of plenty we should be able to live much more cheaply than do people in other parts of the world. Surely it is no excuse for the inaction of the Government and their failure to come to the relief of the people who are suffering from high prices in Australia to say that we live here more cheaply than people do in other parts of the world. I suppose that according to population Australia is the greatest wool-producing country in the world, and also the greatest foodproducing country.
– The price of foodstuffs is nearly double in America to what it is in Australia. Mr. FENTON.- That may be so, but that fact is no justification for the prices charged for some articles in Australia.
– I admit that.
– If we were more selfcontained than we are, living would be cheaper here than it is. One of the difficulties which confront us is that money is pouring into the Treasury through the Customs. No doubt the Treasurer is pleased that it should be so, but, in my view, we should receive very little revenue from that source.
– I am afraid that it will not keep up.
– I hope for the good of Australia that it will not. It may be nice for the Treasurer to handle the revenue derived from the Customs, but, all the time its volume is a testimony against Australia.
– Of course, what I am doing is throwing it away as I get it.
– I do not say that.
– The newspapers say so.
– The right honorable gentleman has been long enough in political life to know how he should regard press criticism of that kind. Surely he does not smart very much under it. “ I’ should have imagined that he would have regarded such criticism with wonderful equanimity. I am surprised to find that he does not do so. .
– There is one thing about it that I object to, and that is that it tends to destroy the credit of the country. That is a bad thing for the country.
– I am prepared to go so far as to say that I think there should be power to stop the press from saying that we are “on the road to ruin.” I think that is a most unpatriotic thing to say, even if it were true.
– It will be true if the Government stop where they are long enough.
– I am not supporting the Government. I have been denounc- . ing them for sitting calmly by and permitting the people to be fleeced every day by the profiteer. The time has more than arrived when some of the profiteers should be put to the test. Some attempt is being made to do this in ‘Queensland, where . the profiteers are being brought before the Courts of the country, and, in my opinion, the Commonwealth Government should be prepared to take a similar stand for the protection of the people generally. If the electors continue to return a majority of honorable members prepared to support a Government that will do nothing to protect them, then they will deserve what they get. Unfortunately, there are many thousands of people who would like to insure the return of a Government that would be prepared to give them some relief, but in the meantime they ‘have to suffer with the guilty.
– I can tell the honorable memberwhat the electors say. They say that from 1910 to 1917. all these things were heaped on their shoulders, and they can expect no relief from changing the present Government.
– That is a nice little speech for the honorable gentleman to make sitting down.
– I want to help the honorable member.
– The right honorable gentleman is not helping me, and he does not speak in accordance with the facts. There was a Labour Government in power in the Commonwealth only from 1910 to 1913, and, during those years, there was done for Australia and Australians something which the people should never forget, and. which stood them in good stead during the awful times through which we have passed. The Treasurer may rail at what Labour Governments have done, but the people know that if it was not for what was done by the Labour Government between 1910 and 1913, they would have been in a very sorry case during the war period.
The figures which I have quoted from Knibbs should be sufficient to spur the Government into action.
– The honorable member has held the fort well until the arrival of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan).
Mr.FENTON. - The right honorable gentleman is imputing- motives, and he knows that it is distinctly disorderly to do so. I have been giving expression to views which I think require reiteration ; but it appears to me that it has been like pouring water on a duck’s back, because the Ministry are impervious to reason. They will listen to no humanitarian calls upon their better natures. These clarion calls have beenoing forth from the poor in this community for many a day. They have been seekin relief, and finding none. They have been asking in vain for some redress of their grievances. They have asked for bread, and the Ministry gives them a stone.
– That is a good peroration. The honorable imember might close with that.
– It is not right for the Treasurer to punctuate my speech, as he has been doing, with his interjections. I speak in all seriousness to the right honorable gentleman because, in common with the Prime Minister and many of his supporters, he has been through trying times himself ; but the battle of life was never more strenuous in Australia than it is to-day.
– No such thing. Tommy-rot !
– I say, let us have some relief. The people are being attacked tooth and claw by the profiteer, and I say that it is time we did something to draw his teeth and’ cut his claws, and pre. vent him from continuing to put teeth and claws into the vitals of the community waxing fat on the necessities of the people of Australia.
– I was interested in the introduction of this Bill because of an amendment which I foreshadowed, and because, also, of the amendment of which notice was given by the honorable member for West S ydney (Mr. Ryan). Unfortunately, after the Bill was introduced, it was immediately placed low down on the businesspaper, and this has had the effect of making it more difficult to give the relief which I sought to secure by the amendment I proposed for the extension of the moratorium for the protection of people who to-day are carrying heavy mortgages. There are certain parts of the Commonwealth where the primary producers particularly have suffered from a severe drought. There was a drought for two years in the State of New South Wales, and the primary producers were looking forward to relief in the direction suggested by my amendment. The action of the Government in plaeing this measure so low down on the business-paper at a time when relief was anxiously looked for by the primary producers has made it much more difficult to give them relief by the extension of the moratorium than it would have been if the Government had proceeded with the consideration of the Bill. When I foreshadowed my amendment the Treasurer said that if I would withdraw it he would urge ‘upon the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) the necessity for bringing this matter before the Premiere Conference, which at the time was sitting in Melbourne. The Prime Minister gave an assurance to the House that if my amendment were withdrawn he would bring the matter before the Premiers’ Conference, and get the Pre- ‘ miers of the different States to take it up. However, the Conference took place, and I understand that the Prime Minister never mentioned the matter there. Consequently, not only he, but the Treasurer, to a certain extent, did not carry out the definite promise that they made to the House.
– I think it was mentioned,but I would not be sure.
– The States told them to mind’ their own business.
– So far as my memory serves, the Prime Ministermade no representations to the Premiers on the subject, nor is there anything in the report of the Conference to suggest that he did. I have only to repeat now what I said then : That the Government had an opportunity of doing something; to give relief to those people in the country who are suffering, particularly in New South Wales, from the effects of a. two years’ drought, and are carrying heavy mortgages. The Government missed the opportunity that was afforded them then. They did not even go to the extent of bringing the matter before the Premiers’ Conference, and urging the Premiers to do something. Evidently the Premiers did not think they werecalledl upon to take action, because they realized that the Federal Government had the necessary power. It was the proper and peculiar function of the Federal Government to act. They had previously arranged for the extension of the moratorium under the War Precautions Act,, which is, unfortunately, still in existence. The Government have done by means of it many things that are undesirable, hut this is one of the good things that could’ be done under it. They could have given relief to a great number of deserving people, hut neglected the opportunity, yet if an election were to take place tomorrow, the Treasurer and those associated with him would point to the many beneficial things they had done in the interests of the man on the land. This is one instance in which the Government have absolutely failed to do their proper duty to people, who are suffering to-day as the result of the inactivity of the Government in that regard. I intend to press the amendment, because I am satisfied that the Government have the requisite power I have been told that it is now too late, to do anything.I do not know what the Treasurer’s view is, but it is “ up to “ the Attorney-General to make some Statement to the House to show the exact position at the present time. I shall see that, even at this belated stage, something is done in the direction of giving relief if the numbers are with me. If it is a fact that nothing can now be done, the fault lies at the door of the Government for having shelved the Bill for so long. They first introduced it, and then placed it so low on the notice-paper that it has taken months to reach it. Then on Friday last they tried to force it through, but I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr . Tudor) prevented them from doing so.
– And the Minister himself said it was a matter of great urgency!
– It was a matter of great urgency when introduced some months ago, but when the honorable member for West Sydney gave notice of his amendment, the Bill was placed low down on the business-paper. After shelving it for months, the Government thought they saw an opportunity of rushing it through last Friday, ‘and gave as their excuse that it was again a matter of great urgency. However, we expect that sort of conduct from them.
– Some day you will say that this Government has done one good action, and then you will die.
– In that case, I shall never die. I should deserve to die if I said such a thing, because it would be untrue. I venture to predict that the Government will die first, which will be a very good thing.
– Wait till Mr. Watt comes hack?
– I believe the ex-Treasurer will say many worse things against the Government than I have said, and then the sudden death for which the Treasurer is not looking may come sooner than he expects
I am pleased that the opportunity is now given to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) to speak to his amendment. I hope something will he done to redness the grievances under which the people are suffering to-day through the prevalence of profiteering. The Treasurer endeavoured to throw cold water on the very telling facts brought forward by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), who showed that in Queensland, according to the latest figures published, the cost of living is less than in any other State of the Commonwealth.
– I never heard the honorable member say that.
Mr.PARKER MOLONEY. - He quoted the figures for the respective capitals of the States to show that the cost of living was less in Queensland than in any other State. That is a fact, because the figures are published by the Federal Statistician, and I am sure that even the Treasurer will accept them. It will, of course, he said that the Government have no power to deal with the profiteer. That has often been said before ; but here is an opportunity to confer ample power, by means of a Judiciary Bill, upon the High Court andthe other Courts of the Commonwealth and the States, to call upon manufacturers to furnish a statement of the manufactured cost of articles.. Those can then be traced right along the road from the producer to the consumer, and an estimate formed of what should be a fair profit upon any particular commodity.
– They ought to be satisfied with the High Court as an investigating tribunal.
– Yes. We have an opportunity, by means of this Bill, to confer that power on the High Court. No doubt the people who are suffering as the result of the profiteering that is going on will watch proceedings with intense interest, in order to see whether the Government take advantage of the chance offered to them to bring about an improvement of the conditions under which they have been compelled to live for the last four or five years.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong spoke of woollen goods; Two months ago I visited the woollen mills in the electorate of the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister). They are doing splendid work. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) has previously attempted to throw cold water on any statement of this character) but I now say, deliberately, that the sub-manager of this particular mill assured me that material that was turned out by them - this was two or three months ago- at 12s. per yard went into Flinders-lane, and by the time it got through Flinderslane its price was 30s. per yard. Senator J. F. Guthrie said the some thing in another place.
– What mill was that?
-The statement was not made to me in confidence. If it had been, I would not have repeated it here. This was at the woollen mills in Geelong. Although no restriction was put upon me as to repeating the statement, I have gone as far as I intend to go, but if the honorable member wants to know who my informant was I am prepared to tell him.
– It is a statement that has frequently been made, and never refuted.
– Has it been proved !
– I take it that the fact that it has never been refuted is a proof that it is true. The only person I ‘have heard attempt to refute it in this Chamber is the honorable member for Flinders.
– And he ought to know something ahoutit.
– He ought to know.
– Those woollen mills manufactured cloth for returned soldiers for 7b. 6d. per yard.
– That is so. I have made a plain statement of fact, on the testimony of a man in whose word I place implicit confidence. I do not see that he would have any object in telling it to me if it were not true.
– Seeing that you have the information, of what use will the statistics be that the amendment asks for ?
– They will be required because the Prime Minister and others will say that the Government have no power to deal with the profiteer. Government supporters will also say that the statement made to me at Geelong is not true, although I have given the testimony of the man who is controlling the mill. The honorable member for Flinders, as we all know, is interested in a business in Flinders-lane; but, while due weight must be given to his word, I would not take it, or the word of any one else, in preference to the word of those directly concerned in the turning out of the material in the mills.
– Did the Geelong man say that the wholesale houses in Flinderslane got30s. per yard for the material?
– That is, when it had passed through their hands.
The difference between 12s. and 30s. represented the profit the Flinders-lane houses were making. That is the profit that the middleman was making, because I take it that the middleman is represented by those in Flinders-lane. That is to say, by the time the tailor gets this material from the Flinders-lane, people the cost has increased to 30s, per yard.
– We know that to be a fact.
– Then this is about the first time I have heard it admitted by any member opposite, although Senator Guthrie recently gave similar information to the Senate.
– If it is a fact, we ou-ht to follow it up with some definite action; but I do not believe it is a fact.
– I am glad to hear the honorable member fox Wakefield say that if it is a fact this matter ought to be followed up.
– But this amendment will not help matters in the least.
– I think it will provide a means of dealing with the trouble.
– It is the easiest thing in the world for the State Governments to deal with this matter.
– But it is also within the power of this Government to take the necessary action.
– But can you suggest something practical ? If so, we will help you.
-The amendment is comprehensive enough, as the honorable member will realize if he will read it.
– It is comprehensive enough, at all events.
– The trouble is, it is too comprehensive for honorable members opposite, who do not want to do anything in this matter. Its purpose is to require the production of statistics of the cost of production and the cost of manufacture in Australia, and the landed cost of all Imported goods. That, at all events, is one thing that may be done by the Government under this amendment. It was said a little while ago by those who are opposed to the adoption of a proper Tariff that, asa result of increased Protection, the cost of living would go up.
– Naturally it will.
– I do not agree with the honorable member at all. But this statement has been made on many occasions and it was repeated when, referring to the Tariff, I . was quoting from an article written in the Age newspaper to show that the Government have the necessary authority to do certain things. I presume that the article in the Age was written on the authority of some legal adviser as to the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth Government.
– Order! This amendment is rather wide, but it does not permit of a dissertation upon the Tariff.
– I was merely pointing out, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Government have power to deal with profiteering, and was referring incidentally to an article in the Age newspaper, which stated that the Commonwealth may, under its powers with regard to statistics, so estimate the manufacturing costs as to ascertain what is a fair margin of profit over and above the cost of production. Now the Commonwealth Government can do that Nobody in this House, not a member of the legal profession, would care to pit “his opinion against that contained in the article referred to, for we may presume that it was written on legal advice. What is the use, therefore, of contending that the Government have not the power?
– But, after you get these statistics, what do you. propose to do?
– I suggest . that the Government may exercise theirpower in a manner which, surely, would suggest itself to the honorable member.
– Under the Industrial Peace Bill the Government have authority to make a complete investigation into the price of coal.
– Yes, as the honorable member for Maribyrnong has pointed out. by way of interjection, it is claimed that the Government, under that. Bill, will be able to follow all the operations’ in the production of coal, from the time it is taken from the bowels of the earth until it is placed in the hands of the consumer, and decide what is a fair price. If, then, we have power to do this in relation to coal, why should we not exercise it in regard to a suit of clothes ?
– But tell us what you think should be done.
– The Government may take the very same steps as they propose to take concerning the price of coal. We have the War Precautions Act in existence still. Can the honorable membershow that the Government could not deal with profiteering under that Act? But apart from that power altogether, the Government have absolute control over taxation in every shape and form, . and, per medium of our taxation laws, they could reach all of these people who are profiteering. I did not require to be told by the submanager of the Geelong mills that there is profiteering in woollen goods. This fact is as plain as a pike-staff to every one in the community. Everybody knows that, during the war period, the added cost to the local manufacture of the wool required for a suit length did not amount to more than 6s.. because all wool was made available to them at an appraised price of 15½d. per lb.
– Less than that.
– As the. honorable member for Echuca points out, it was less than that to local manufacturers.
– But the wool in its usable state costs more than that.
– The increased cost did not amount to more than 5s. on a suit of clothes above the pre-war prices.
– I think the honorable member is correct.
– Of course I am, and’ yet a suit of clothes which in pre-war days would have cost £4 4s. costs £10 10s.or £12 12s. to-day.
– It costs £4 4s. now to get a suit made, apart from the price of the material.
– The principal increase is not in the making costs.
– Does the honorable member say that labour charges have not in- creased?’
– Of course wages have gone up. We all know that.
– But not to the ex- . tent of the increased price.
– To some extent, at all events..
– The huge dividends declared by these firms who are standing between the producer and the consumer show that profiteering is being indulged in, with the result that we have to pay enormously enhanced prices for clothing - as much as £14 14s. and £15 15s. for a suit which in pre-war days could have been obtained for £4 4s. or £5 5s. As an illustration of the way in which these people are preying upon the simplicity of the consumers, I may remind honorable members that on the day that the Victorian Fair Profits Commission, which is supposed to be making a serious investigation into this question of costs of production, but which is practically useless to all intents and purposes, granted an application for permission to increase the price of bacon to ls. lid. per lb., the Victorian Government gazetted the acceptance of a tender for the supply of bacon to the railway refreshmentrooms at ls. 5d. per lb.
– That means that the workers are being robbed to the extent of 6d. per lb.
– It means that the increase granted by the Fair Profits Commission, compared with the’ accepted tender price for the railway refreshmentrooms represents a tax of 6d. per lb. upon the general public. It is an unwarranted increase in the price of an important commodity. I do not wish to delay the House longer,, as I am anxious that a vote shall be taken on this question. Members opposite have shown by interjection that they agree that profiteering is going on ; and, while they agree with us to that extent, it is not their desire to do anything to prevent it. Here is an opportunity for members to show their sincerity, and to get right down to bedrock. I claim that the Government have the power to move in this matter, because they could not do what has been suggested in regard to profiteering under the Tariff, or in regard to coal under the Industrial Peace Act, if they have not the power. The recent decision of the High Court has completely changed the opinions that were previously held, and has absolutely shattered our old-time convictions as to what power Parliament possesses. We have practically complete authority in a direction in which we pre viously thought our hands were tied. I do not think it can be said by members opposite that we have not very extensive authority to deal with the great evil of profiteering, and this is our opportunity to show how sincere we really are. This is our chance to get down to bedrock and to do our work as a Parliament in stamping out the profiteer who is inflicting such hardships upon the people of the Commonwealth. >
.- This Bill first came before the House in April last, and shortly after it was introduced the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. ‘Groom) moved a motion which had the effect of altering its position on the notice-paper. I opposed that motion, and gave my reasons for doing so. I said at the time that it was imperative that something should be done by Parliament to deal with profiteering; but the Government had their way, and the Bill was placed well down on the notice-paper. I immediately gave notice of an amendment to be moved on the motion for the second reading, the object of which was to have a comprehensive measure introduced conferring the powers upon the High Court of Australia to make the necessary investigations into the profits that were being made by local manufacturers and importers. As soon as that notice was given the measure was dropped to the bottom of the notice-paper, and remained there for some months - until last Fridaywhen the Government suddenly discovered that the measure was an urgent one. I am glad to learn that, in my absence, assisting in the Queensland elections, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) moved the amendment of which I had given notice, with ‘ the result that we are able to discuss it this afternoon. I do not know what reasons the Minister in charge of the Bill gave for treating the measure as an urgent one at this juncture. ‘He certainly indicated, by the fact that it was placed lower on the noticepaper, that it was not urgent some time ago. What is there in the Bill as it was introduced by the Government? What does it propose to do? As I understand it, it proposes to alter the position of the High Court as regards the number of Judges who must concur in a decision upon constitutional questions. An amendment is to be made in the Act of 1912 which made it necessary for a majority of the whole Bench to concur in any decision declaring an Act of this Parliament invalid. In 1912, in supporting the measure which made it necessary to have an absolute majority of the full Bench, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said -
A law ought to be declared unconstitutional only when it is obviously so. This can be clearly indicated only when a majority of the Justices of the High Court are of the opinion that it is unconstitutional. Then nothing further can be said. But the people and Parliament have a right to complain when their deliberate enactments are set on one side, although a majority of the Justices of the High Court is not of the opinion that they are unconstitutional.
That is taken from Hansard, volume 69, page 7097, and gives the reasons of the Prime Minister for inserting the provision which the Government now propose to repeal. They now make it possible for a minority of Justices of the High Court of Australia to declare an Act of this Parliament unconstitutional. I ask the Minister if that is not the proposal of the Government?
Mr.RYAN. - The effect is that a minority of the Justices of the High Court of Australia will be able to de clare an Act of this Parliament invalid, although a majority may think - if they have the opportunity to confer - that the Act is quite valid. I have quoted the Prime Minister’s reasons for amending the Act in 1912, and I know of no reasons being advanced for repealing that provision. Were any representations made by the Justices of the High Court? If so, what were they? When were they made, and is that the purpose of this amendment? The amendment made in 1915 was one which would operate during the war period, and now it is proposed that that shall continue indefinitely. What urgency is there in a measure of this sort? There is very great urgency, indeed, in having a measure that will enable a proper investigation to be made into the question of profiteering. Every one, even the Ministers on the Treasury bench, admits that profiteering is going on. They also admit that they are not doing anything, and say that they have not the power. The Government bring into this Chamber measures to deal with industrial unrest, including an Industrial Peace Bill, and an amendment of the Arbitration Act. They elaborately set about appointing bodies to investigate the causes of industrial unrest, although they know perfectly well that the most prolific cause is the profiteering that is allowed to exist in the community. What is the use of appointing Committees to investigate this matter, and to go into the causes, when we wilfully blind ourselves to the fact that profiteering is the main cause of industrial unrest? We are refusing to confer upon a tribunal such as the High Court of Australia, or the Supreme Court for the different States, the power to investigate the matters to which I have referred. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is not intended to wreck this Bill, although it would not matter if it were wrecked, because there is hardly anything in it. Our abject is to get a more comprehensive measure immediately introduced.
– Then you do intend to wreck the Bill?
– It is all very well for the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) to “mouth” about wrecking the Bill.
– It is the honorable member who is doing the “ mouthing,” and not me.
– What we desire to do’ is to confer upon the High Court the power to investigate the profits made by local manufacturers and importers. No one denies that that power exists, and it is the duty of this Parliament to exercise its authority. No one knows better than the Government that they have the power, but they refuse to exercise it. Now they will have an opportunity. We are taking the only opportunity that is afforded us of making a move in this direction. The Government are in charge of the business of the House, and can bring forward whatever they like; and it is not often that we have the opportunity of amending their proposals. Here is a chance of doing it. Section 51 of the Constitution specifically gives the Government the power, amongst other things, to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth in reference to certain matters, amongst which is census and statistics. It is in that connexion that we desire to confer this jurisdiction upon the High Court of Australia and the Supreme Courts of the different States. We propose to rest this proposal upon all the powers contained in the Constitution. Here I may say that other measures that the Government have introduced during this session have been based upon very narrow grounds when they could have been set upon broad foundations so that successful attacks might be made upon their constitutionality later on. What can be said against a proposal of this character?’ Can the Minister say that profiteering is not going on? Can he say it would not be desirable to have an investigation made? Can he say that if investigations were made, we would not be able to use that information with satisfactory results? If the purchaser of an article were able to see by the marking on it what it cost to produce, and the profits being made by the vendor, it would go a long way in the direction of making vendors accept a smaller profit. It is possible for us to exercise the power in the matter of taxation, as we have ample and plenary power in that direction. We could double the imposts on those who are making excessively high profits, and we could make profiteering unprofitable. There seems to be two things which this Government stand for, profiteering and “patrioteering.” The greatest profiteer is the greatest “ patrioteer,” and if this power is given to the High” Court, we will find that some of the greatest “ patrioteers “ are those who are making profits upon excessive profits either out of their locally manufactured goods, or out of goods which are imported. It is with a view to exposing this evil, and of laying the foundation for effective action, that the amendment has been submitted.
– What does the honorable member propose that the High Court shall do?
– That is stated in the amendment.
– What is it?
– Read the amendment.
– I have read it.
– Cannot the honorable member understand plain English?
– Not that sort of English. Put the amendment in plain language.
– It is in plain language already. I propose to confer upon the High Court of Australia, and other Courts, power to investigate the profits which are being made by local manufacturers, and also by importers.
– To appoint a Committee of investigation ?
– No. I propose to confer jurisdiction upon the High Court to investigate these matters, and to punish those who refuse to make statistical _ returns. It is all very well for the honorable member to endeavour to crossexamine me, but why does he not stand up in his place and justify his action in supporting the Government who are allowing profiteering to go on in our midst? Nobody knows better than he does that the Government possess power to deal with this evil.
– I have been waiting to hear one single reason why the amendment should be adopted, but I have not yet heard it.
– I will not be drawn away from the subject by the honorable member. He is one of those honorable members who very often votes to suit his constituents. Occasionally he votes upon this side of the Chamber to suit his constituents, but whenever the Government are in danger he is to be found upon the opposite side. He knows perfectly well that profiteering is rampant in our midst, but he is still prepared to allow it to proceed unchecked. It is just as well that we should speak plainly upon this matter.
– The honorable member for Fawkner defends the profiteers in our Courts for their dirty money.
– The honorable member should stand up and place upon record in Hansard the reasons why he is opposed to the amendment. I hope that the proposal will be carried. We shall then have an opportunity of seeing precisely where honorable members stand upon an important matter of this kind. I do not believe that the amendment will be carried, but, at all events, it will have the effect of exposing the position which is occupied by honorable members in regard to this question. It may even result in inducing their constituents to bring such pressure to bear upon Ministers as will cause the latter to alter the policy which they have hitherto adopted.
.- It is interesting to hear the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) suggest that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) is doing things because of his constituents. Of course the honorable member who has submitted, this amendment did not move it for any such reason. He is actuated by a high.souled desire to prevent profiteering. Yet, when there was an opportunity of conferring upon this Parliament by constitutional means the power to deal with the evil of which he complains, he asked the people to turn the proposal down and to leave Parliament impotent in the matter. He is now endeavouring to cover up his tracks. Upon previous occasions the honorable member has raised party cries for political purposes. Only a few years ago he declaimed against the Trusts whic.li he stated were all over this country, doing all sorts of injury to everybody. That cry served for one election. The following election we found that it was the fearful beef barons who were the cause of all our troubles. Now they seem to have disappeared, and there is another hideous monster in their place who is throttling everybody - I refer to the profiteer. It is significant that the profiteering to which the honorable member refers is almost invariably associated by him with the food that we eat - with our primary products. That is the profiteering which he is so eager to attack. He has affirmed that it is our duty to show reasons why his amendment should not be carried. If he adopted that attitude in a Court the Judge would promptly say to him, “ You are putting forward an affirmative proposition, and it is your duty to establish it.” The honorable member says that he is not out to wreck the Bill; but that statement sounds strangely in the light of his amendment, which proposes the omission of all the words after “ that,” with a view to inserting other words in lieu thereof. The purpose of the amendment is obviously to block the measure. He desires the Bill to be absolutely withdrawn, and the Government to introduce a measure to confer jurisdiction upon the
High Court to investigate certain matters and, inter alia, to provide for the furnishing of statistics. Practically he wishes to convert the High Court of Australia into a sub-Department of the Department of Statistics. That is the effect of his amendment. He desires to make a judicial body, which has been endowed with the highest functions under our Constitution, nothing but a sub-Department under Mr. Knibbs. His amendment purports to deal with profiteering. But he knows that under the Constitution this Parliament cannot effectively deal with that question, that the powers over trade and commerce are exceedingly .limited, and that this Parliament can in reality deal only with Inter-State and external commerce. He knows, also, from the inquiries on the subject of profiteering which are proceeding in Australia to-day that, if profiteering is to be dealt with effectively, we must get right down to the individual transactions within the States, because, after all, this is essentially an Intra-State problem. If we look at the methods by which it is being attacked in every country in the world it will become apparent that it is individual transactions which must be investigated in the end. Let honorable members study the Profiteering Act in Queensland. Let them look at the proposals for dealing with this evil which are at present before the New South Wales Parliament. Take the inquiries which are being conducted in Victoria to-day, and it will be seen that, in order to deal effectively with profiteering individual cases have to be reached. Federal legislation cannot affect that matter, it being generally one of Intra-State trade. The honorable member’s proposal is merely a bluff. It seeks to empower the High Court Justices to do something which can be done just as effectively by somebody else, it aims at bringing about a perversion of the functions of the Justices of the High Court. Of course there is Federal power to deal with statistics, and we were effectively exercising that power long before the honorable member came here. When the Australian Industries Preservation Bill was under consideration in this Chamber, there were placed in the hands of the Controller of Customs special powers of questioning. The High Court sustained the Act, and long ago affirmed that this Parliament possessed the power to enact it. The case in which the Colonial Sugar Refilling Ccmpany was involved also proved that this Parliament possessed the power to legislate with respect to certain inquiries. But what has that to do with the solution of the great profiteering problem? The adoption of the amendment would not help us one icta in that connexion. It is nothing less than a futile proposal, and it could not lead to the effective control of profiteering. It is nothing but a political placard by which the honorable member desires to block a useful measure with the object of preventing serviceable . legislation-.
Mr.. RILEY (South Sydney) The great defect in the speech which has just been delivered by the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) is that he has not attempted to combat the statement’ that profiteering is rampant in our midst. If he will recall the manifesto issued by the Prime Minister at the last election, he will remember that the right honorable gentleman was going to shoot the profiteer. Did not the Government know the powers which they possessed at that time? They allowed these statements to go from one end of the country to the other with a view to gulling the
Electors. To-day, however, the lame excuse is put forward by the Minister that this Parliament possesses no power to deal with profiteering.
– But at the last election we asked for effective powers in that connexion.
– When the Prime Min ister arrived at Fremantle,. there was no talk of taking a referendum upon the matter, and yet he affirmed that he would shoot the profiteer at sight.
– He said nothing of the kind.
– Of course he did.
– Of course, he did not.
– In his Bendigo speech he stated that ho intended to deal with the profiteer.
– He did not say that he was going; to shoot him. Mr. RILEY. - He did not say that he would take, a revolver, and shoothim, but he did say that ho would deal with him. Look at the facts as they exist today: One has merely to. walk down Bourke-street. Melbourne, or the streets of Sydney, to see the vulgar rich in their gorgeous attire and magnificent motor care. These are the people who preach the doctrine of contentment to the workers. Yet they are making huge fortunes out of the high prices which are being charged to the consumers. This sort of thing is happening, not merely in Australia, but in every other country. If the Government are sincere in their professed dssire to deal with the profiteer, they can achieve their object. But it is idle to tell the working man, who has to keep a wife and family upon £3 or £4 a week, that there is no profiteering. When’ such a statement is made, the worker naturally feels a contempt for the Government. The power of Parliament is on the wane because people can get no relief from it. What is the use of returning a party to Parliament if it can do nothing to protect the interests of the working classes? . While many people can scarcely earn a living, other folks’ banking accounts have increased tremendously, and they are rolling about in their motor cars. The Government have the power to end this unequal state of affairs. What have they to fear? The whole House would beunanimous in agisting them to put an end to profiteering. From one end of the country to the other the season, is good, and feed is plentiful.; yet - for this time of the year - we are paying an almost record price for butter.
– There is a record shortage of dairy cows.
– There is always something wrong. Wo are about to reap a. record harvest; yet we are faced with the prospect of paying a record price for bread. I do not. want to see this country fall into the hands of Bolsheviks, but conditions are such for the mass of the people that many are thinking of extreme measures. Why should we he asked to pay a record price for bread in face of a record harvest? How can the two considerations be reconciled ? 1 do not wish the farmers any harm. Our party wants to see the farmer get a fair thing; but there is significant specula- tion going on all the time in thestaples of life, and the people are the sufferers. The farmer has every right to get a good- overseas price for his commodity, but, while Australia is reaping an abundant harvest, the Australian people should not be asked to pay a record price for bread.
– Does the honorable member argue that weshould have cheap labour here as well as cheap bread?
– I do not believe in cheap labour, or in a farmer getting less than a fair thing for his produce. But the farmer is not doing so badly, and. his prospects were never brighter. As the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) remarked, the farmer used to go to church in a tip-dray ; now - when he goes - he travels in his motor. And good luck to him !I wish him nothing but good.
– The honorable member should not forget that, while the farmer has been progressing from tip-dray to motor car, we have advanced, in the value we have set on our services, from £400 to £1,000 per annum.
– Yes, and now we are being worked extraordinary and unhealthy hours; it is a killing process, . and is already affecting a large number of honorable (members.
What measure of reform is there in this Bill ? Who is to benefit by its provisions? There is no call for legislation of this character. The people desire legislation for the protection and development of the country; but this Parliament is not legislating in that way. The Government were going to shoot the profiteer. They have not introduced one measure aimed in that direction. If the Government had tried to cope with profiteering, and had failed, I could have forgiven them; but they have made no attempt, although prices have gone up and up.
– It is said “outside “ that “ Every time you people attempt to deal with profiteering matters become worse.”
– Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. But why should not the Government make a strong effort to deal with the projected further rise in the price of bread, when Australia is about to reap a record harvest?
– Why does the honorable member single out bread?
– Because it is the great staple of life. The people must have bread.
– Why should the growers of wheat alone be sacrificed?
– I do not say that they should be. I ascertained, from a reply to a question which I recently asked in this House, that the cost of producing a yard of cloth at the Geelong Mills varied from 7s. 6d. to 9s. 6d. If I desired to buy that cloth retail, however, I would have to pay between 20s. and 30s. for it. Profiteering is being practised in almost every line. Here, in this country where we grow the best of wool, and where our manufacturers have the choice of the best wool grown, the people are subject to the attacks of clothing profiteers.
– Is toot this entirely a State matter?
– It is the duty of the Commonwealth Parliament to endeavour to protect the people of the . Commonwealth, and we have the power to do so. Unfortunately, we have not the Government to take advantage of that power. What became of the proposition of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), who desired to amend the Customs Bill some time ago so that upon all goods offered for sale there should be displayed the invoice price for Customs pur- poses, side by side with the price for the article itself? Had the Government accepted that amendment, profiteering would have been exposed. The Government knew that, and they dropped the Bill. That is the record of the Government who were out to kill the profiteer. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) knows that there is power in the Customs Act to require an importer to reveal to the public the invoice price for his goods.
– If that amendment had been accepted the measure would have been absolutely useless, because we could . never have enforced its terms. We had not the power.
– The Government have the power.
– We could never have enforced such an enactment.
– I thought the Government had full Customs power.
– It would not have been a matter of Customs power.
– The fact is. that the Government have shown no sincerity in proposing to deal with profiteering. ‘ Nothing has been done.
– We are asking you to help us do something.
– Not in this Bill. What, can the. measure under discussion do for the people by way of protecting them against the profiteer? It can do nothing to reduce the cost of living. I shall vote for the amendment in the hope that if it is accepted something practical may follow.
Sitting suspended from 6.25 to 8 p.m.
Question -That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
.- The Minister is asking for an amendment of the Act to enable three Justices of the High Court to give a decision on constitutional questions. While I am prepared to accept an amendment in that direction, I think that when it comes to a matter affecting the rights of the six sovereign States, which comprise theFederation, we should adhere to the existing provision of the Act, which’ requires unanimity on the part of four Justices. I would like the. Minister to promise to amend the Bill so that in regard to constitutional matters affecting the rights of the States the decision of the High Court must be given by at least four Justices in agreement. Otherwise, I shall be compelled to oppose the second reading.
;- I do not desire to make any further reply upon the Bill generally, but I would point out to the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) that he is asking the Government to eliminate the very essence of the Bill. The necessity for this measure arises, not from any political circumstances, but because of the position in which the Judiciary has found itself in carrying on its work. Let me trace the history of this matter. In 1902 the High Court consisted of a Chief Justice andtwo justices. These three carried on the work until 1906, and decisions were left practically to the majority of the Court for the time being. In 1906 it became advisable to strengthen the High Court Judiciary,’ and the number of Justices was in creased by two. Then, again, the majority prevailed. By 1912 the work of the High Court bad grown very much, and its difficulties had been so considerably increased by arbitral work that it became necessary to again strengthen the Bench by the appointment of two additional Justices. However, at that stage it was thought advisable to make some alteration as regards majority decisions on questions affecting the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth, which obviously include questions affecting the Commonwealth and the States, as to whether the Commonwealth Parliament has power to legislate upon certain matters, as to whether there is conflict between Commonwealth and State legislation, or as to whether a State has exercised certain powers in conflict with those of the Commonwealth. Parliament accordingly passed a law providing that in a full Court consisting of less than all the Justices no. decision should be given on matters affecting the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth unless a majority of all the Judges concurred in it In other words, although there mightbe six or seven Justices sitting in the Full Court, at least four Justices had to be ii agreement.
-Why was that alteration, made?
– Previously decisions had been given by a simple majority when the strength of the Bench was smaller.; but, having increased the number up to- seven, it was thought advisable to provide that four Judges must be in agreement in giving any decision affecting the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth. It must not be forgotten that Justices get leave of absence from time to time, but there is no power to appoint a Deputy Justice of the High Court. If it is wished to add to the Bench while any Justice is absent, a Justice of the Court must be appointed: At present, Mr. Justice Powers is away on leave of absence, but even before he went away the Court found itself hampered in carrying on- its work because of the provision- of the Act requiring decisions on such constitutional matters to be- given by four Justices.
– Particularly when two Justices are- constantly engaged, in the Arbitration Court.
– Yes. The difficulty arose at the beginning of this year in connexion with a judgment given quite recently as to- the extent to which the Commonwealth could by its legislation interfere with State instrumentalities. Three Justices were of one opinion, and three were of &’ different opinion,, and: ultimately’ Mr. Justice’ Starke had to give up his work in Melbourne to go to Sydney to take part in. the case; In* addition to their Pull Court work, matters arising under the original jurisdiction of the High Court have to be dealt with, and the Justices are also exercising powers for the Commonwealth under the Lands Acquisition Act. There has already been one very important case in connexion, with the eastwest railway, which necessitated a Justice being away from- Victoria for a considerable time. Then there is the work cast on the Justices under the arbitration laws. Consequently it has been found very difficult to get the necessary . quorum for a sitting of- the Full. Court. Furthermore, the Justices must have leave of absence occasionally. Mr. Justice Powers,, who- is returning shortly, thoroughly deserved his leave, being, almost, broken, in health by ‘the continuous strain of attention to arbitration duties-; but Mr. Justice Isaacs, who has not had a holiday since his appointment in 1906,. is now going on leave, so that there will still be only six Justices in active emi ployment. It is not desirable to appoint an additional Justice, and, therefore, the obtaining of the quorum, required under existing law, to constitute a Court for the decision of constitutional questions has become a practical difficulty, and it has been suggested that the Act might be amended by allowing such questions to be decided by a judgment concurred in, by three Justices. It does not necessarily follow that every constitutional question will be decided by three Justices only. It is certain that on any big issue arising, involving a reconsideration of the fundamental provisions of the Constitution or a revision of very important judgments, the Ohief Justice would convene as large a Court . as he could1 get. It sometimes happens, however, that cases, which involve the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth are not of such great importance. In the proposed amendment it is sought to enable the Court to carry on its functions expe7 ditiously. Obviously, it would not do to give to one party alone any special rights in this matter. It will be found that the’ concurrence of three- Justices is a sufficient guarantee for- a proper interpretation of the Constitution.. If a case on appeal from, a State Supreme Court, or from a decision of a. Justice- of the High Court;, is being heard1 by six Justices, and the Court is equally divided, the rule is that the decision appealed from is confirmed ; but in every other case, the opinion of the- Chief Justice, or, in his absence, that of the senior Justice present, prevails, because finality- must be attained. For many years constitutional questions were decided according to the judgment of two Justices, who gave very important and fundamental decisions.
– Some persons say that in those days one Justice made all. the decisions.
– Many of those who said-, that were actuated by unkindly feelings. It will he a- good thing for Australia if she never has Judges whose standard is- lower, than that of the first three Justices- of the High Court of tie Commonwealth. Australia was very, fortunate: in. them. They were men. off the highest integrity, greatest ability, profound learning, and strictest impartiality, who, when feeling was pretty warm, kept the balance even and dealt fairly between contendingparties. They have left a magnificent tradition, which I hope will long influence the Judiciaries of Australia.’
– Under the Bill, if there are three Justices adjudicating on a constitutional question, they must be unanimous.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Section 23 of the principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (1) thereof the words “ unless a majority of all the Justices concur in the decision,” and inserting in their stead the words “ unless at least three Justices concur in the decision “.
Section proposed to he amended - 23 ( 1 ) A Full Court consisting -of less than all the Justices shall not give a decision on a question affecting the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth, unless a majority of all the Justices concur in the decision. . .
– With all deference to the Minister (Mr. Groom), I hold that his explanation amounted to an argument in favour of increasing the number of Justices of the High Court. So far as I can gather, the only reason for the proposed change is that the present Justices are overworked. It must be remembered that there is absolutely no appeal from the decision of the Court in constitutional cases, although from time to time issues vitally affecting a State may arise through a conflict between Commonwealth and State authorities. I can conceive of no more serious questions coming before the Court than those affecting the respective rights of the Commonwealth and a State. In other countries where there has been a surrender by States to a Federal Government, difficulties have arisen, and Ave know that a difference between a large and powerful State and the Commonwealth might become very serious. It was not enough for the Minister to say that in a very important case more than three Justices would sit. To legislate on the word of the
Minister in charge of a Bill is always a most dangerous procedure. It is not the speech of the Minister, but the wording of the Act, that declares what is the law. In matters affecting the sovereign rights of the States, we should require a better reason than the convenience of the Justices of the High Court for an alteration of the existing law regarding the adjudication of constitutional cases; and unless a better reason is given, the Committee should hesitate about agreeing to the proposal of the Government.
.- The remarks of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) should be replied to by the Minister (Mr. Groom). At the present time, four Justices of the High Court must concur before a law can be declared unconstitutional, and the Minister has given no reason why this arrangement should be departed from. It may be that some representation on the subject has been made by the High Court. If so, the Committee should be favoured with it. I quoted, earlier in the day, the reasons given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) for requiring a majority of the whole of the Justices of the Court before a law could be declared invalid. He paid -
The law ought to be declared unconstitutional only when it is obviously so. This can be clearly indicated only when a majority of Justices of the High Court is of the opinion that it is unconstitutional. Then nothing further can be said. But the people and Parliament have a right to complain if their deliberate enactments are set on one side, although a majority of the Justices of the High Court is not of the opinion that it is unconstitutional.
Those reasons hold as strongly to-day as when they were uttered, unless in the practical working of the Act something has occurred which makes it inconvenient to proceed under it. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to explain to us what has happened to make the arguments that I have just read inapplicable.
– I think the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) should be here to tell us the reason for this change of front on his part.
– He is allowing his colleagues to make the retreat from the position which he took up in 1912.
– I have already explained to the Committee the reason why it is necessary to make this amendment of the principal Act. I have pointed out that the reason why it was enacted in 1912 that no decision on questions affecting the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth should be given by the Full Court unless at least four Justices were in agreement, was that the number of Justices of the High Court had been increased from five to seven, and that it appeared at the time desirable to insist upon this requirement. I have also informed the Committee that, up to that time, many decisions on constitutional questions had been given by a majority of two out of three Justices, and in other cases by a majority of three out of five.
– Did the Opposition at that time concur in the measure requiring a majority of four out of seven?
– Yes; but they never attempted to make party politics out of a matter affecting the welfare of the country. This Bill originates from the difficulty which the Judiciary has in providing for a Court with the majority required.
– That is really no argument for the proposed change.
– Quite so; I am merely explaining the origin of the Bill. All that we are now proposing is that, on constitutional questions, it shall be’ sufficient if at least three Justices concur in the decision. That is a safe proposition for the Committee to accept. It does not follow that the Full Court will always be constituted of three, or even five. Justices. As many Justices as are available are always summoned. The Attorney-General has no right to interfere with the administration of justice except to assist the Judiciary to carry out its duties by providing the necessary conveniences. He has no power to determine what the constitution of the Court shall be. That is a matter for the Justices themselves to decide in accordance with the regular practice of the Judiciary.
– Has the Court made representations as to this matter ?
– I have already explained that this proposal arises from difficulties in which the Court has been placed, and to which the attention of the Government has been drawn. There is great pressure of business awaiting the attention of the Court, and this measure is therefore one of urgency. The Justices of the High Court are very busy, and it is to expedite their work that this action is being taken. The Committee has simply to decide whether a decision concurred in by three Justices shallbe accepted in matters involving the interpretation of the Constitution.
– There might be three on each side.
– In that case the decision would rest with that section which included the Chief Justice.
– Why should not Parliament decide all constitutional questions?
– Parliament is very wise, but in all humility I suggest that the Justices of the High Court are better fitted to deal with them. In many instances, it may not be found necessary to constitute a large Court, but in all serious cases fundamentally affecting the rights of the States or the Commonwealth the House may rest assured that the full Bench will be convened.
.- I would not for the world embarrass the Minister (Mr. Groom), especially when the circumstances ipso facto are somewhat inconvenient for him. When speaking to the motion for the second reading of the Bill, in a spirit of generosity to the honorable gentleman, I ventured to point out that apparently the Government were now amending the constitution of the High Court - the highest tribunal in the land, exercising immensely serious functions - merely to fit in with the convenience of certain Justices on leave. That, I suggest, is a very light and airy way of treating this tribunal. I have some recollection that when, in 1912, a Labour Government introduced a measure increasing the number of Justices of the High Court it did not receive very much support or assistance from the present Ministerial party who were then in Opposition. We now find the Minister for Works and Railways, who was then one of the leaders of the Opposition, bringing in a Bill to restore the status quo, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who was the controlling or dominant mind in effecting the change in 1912, is not here to say a word either in excuse or justification for the change of front. It may be that three Justices are sufficient to decide any question, but it is idle to spin from one point of this argument to the other just as one is found for the time being to be untenable. It is idle to tell us that this alteration is being made merely because the Bench has been reduced in numbers by the fact that certain members of it are away, and then, when it is pointed out that that is an almost flippant reason for effecting such a change, to inform us that in any case the number provided for under this clause is sufficient, although the Prime Minister himself was most emphatic in declaring that it was not. That is an inconsistency which the Government might well clear up. They might well have given the reasons from the present Government’s stand-point as distinguished from the stand-point of the Opposition in 1912, for this retrogressive move on their part.
.- My view on this question differs from thatofmany honorable members. When Federation was brought about it was decided, with the idea of pleasing as many of the people as possible, that the Australian Constitution should largely follow the lines of that of the United States of America. It was thought that in the early years of Federation many disputes would be likely to arise between the Commonwealth and the States, but the object and aims of the Commonwealth are now so well understood that the determination of constitutional questions might very well be referred to a tribunal higher than the High Court- and that is the Parliament itself. This Parliament should be able to settle all such questions. The High Court Justices, after all, in interpreting our laws, always endeavour to find out what was the intention of the Parliament, or else they look up ancient musty volumes recording decisions given before many of us were born. The conditions obtaining when those decisions were given were vastly different from those which now prevail. Some of these decisions were given when the great masses of the people were uneducated. To-day, in most parts of the world, we have an educated Democracy, and they do not wish to be governed by decisions of the musty past. They look upon the
Parliament as being likely tobest understand their wants. If the Parliament does not know what the people want I am sure the High Court does not. A Judge is often governed in his decisions by his environment. As a rule, a Judge does not keep pace with the times. I agree with all that has been said by the Minister (Mr. Groom) in regard to the first three occupants of the High Court Bench. I had the pleasure of their personal acquaintance, and thus. had an opportunity of learning of their ideals. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) - the east and the west are united in this matter - has pointed out that quite recently the High Court has reversed a long-standing decision on a very important constitutional question. I believe that the Judges of the future are not likely always to agree with decisions given by Judges of to-day. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) is not here to explain this departure from the attitude taken up by him in 1912. After all, what is a legal opinion? If you go into a Court you will find that the gentleman employed on behalf of the defendant is merely engaged in telling the gentleman employed on behalf of the plaintiff that he is not stating the truth, and his legal opponent replies in the same way. That is the essence of the legal trade, for it is only a trade, as I am” sure the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) will agree. ‘ I think the time has arrived when all constitutional questions should be settled by Parliament, the members of which understand them quite as well as do the Judges of the High Court.
– 1 must test the opinion of the Committee on this proposal. I therefore move -
That the word “three,” line 5,be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ four.”
.- I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment. Fancy both Houses of this Parliament passing a Bill in the interests of the country, and three Justices of the High Court having the power to say that Parliament has done wrong, and has no authority to pass such a measure.
– Should we be any better off if four Judges had that power?
– I think that in such a case a unanimous decision of the High Court should be required. Why should we allow Justices of the High Court, who are only public servants, to say that Parliament has done wrong, and that an Act passed by Parliament is null and void ?
– The Privy Council settles matters for the Empire with a decision of three Judges.
– I am not an Empire worshipper, as the right honorable gentleman is. I Believe that we can do things “off our own bat,” without looking to the Empire. We are elected to represent the people of Australia, and to make laws for the Commonwealth to the best of our ability. When a law which has been passed by this Parliament is tested in the High Court its validity is decided by men who have not been elected by the people, but have been appointed by a Minister because they happen to be friends of the Government, or may stand at the head of the Bar. Political parties may have appealed to the country in connexion with the passing of a certain law. Its enactment may have received the indorsement of the people, and yet its validity is, under this Bill, to be left to the decision of three Justices of the High Court. We should be more jealous of our rights in this Parliament. I believe that there is safety in numbers, and I, therefore, support ‘the amendment in preference to the clause as it stands. TheGovernment might just as well propose that these matters should be decided by one Judge of the High Court. The principle of the measure is wrong, and as I believe that at least a unanimous decision of the High Court should be required to decide the invalidity of any Act passed by this Parliament, I shall vote for the amendment.
– By submitting this amendment, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams)practically asks the Committee to negative the clause, because if we adopt the amendment the law will remain as it stands.
– Not necessarily.
– That will be the practical effect of carrying the amendment. The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) has already explained that the Bill is intended to deal with a real and practical difficulty. Honorable members are aware of the multifarious duties at present assigned to the Justices of the High Court. With the arbitral and other work assigned to them, there is frequently a serious congestion of business in the High Court, and the Bill proposes a means to overcome some of the difficulty. In view of the high legal standing of the members of the High Court Bench, if three of the Justices out of six - because there are at present only six in the Commonwealth - are agreed, we can rest assured that we shall have the best interpretation of the law, particularly when it is remembered that in the most complicated questions which had to be dealt with in connexion with the early years of Federation, a decision by two Justices was held to be sufficient and inspired much confidence and satisfaction.
– They were men of very high standard.
– I admit that, and I am proud to say that we still have men of very high standing on the High Court Bench. Some honorable members are very much concerned about the decision of constitutional questions involving rights between the Commonwealth and the States; and I point out, for their consolation, that Part XII. of the Judiciary Act of 1910 is not affected by this Bill. That particular part of the Act was enacted for the specific purpose of dealing with constitutional questions. It is permissible under it to make a reference to the High Court, and for the Court then to decide whether an Act of this Parliament, or a section of it, is valid or not.
– That is permissive ; not compulsory.
– When the Court has constitutional questions referred to it, it has the power to deal with such questions, but for that purpose it is necessary that there shall be a full Bench. In case the whole seven Judges happen to be in Australia at the time, each of them must attend. If one happens to be absent, then the other six must attend, and a majority of the Bench, in every probability, would decide the question referred to the Court. In a case of the kind, it is incumbent upon the Court to notify the Attorneys-General of all the States. Each has then the right to be heard in connexion with the constitutional question involved. I ask honorable members to especially bear that in mind. Further, if there be any association or institution whose interests are involved, 4111 d the Court comes to the conclusion that it should be heard, it has the right to notify that institution or association. There was a degree of uncertainty by reason of the conflict of jurisdiction of the Commonwealth and the States, and considerable expense was incurred by private litigants in going to the High Court to decide these important questions. The idea of Parliament in making this provision was that these questions should be decided at the expense of the Commonwealth itself, and then, when a determination was given- upon any question, private litigants could proceed in the High Court on the basis of such determination. The idea of Parliament was that important constitutional, questions of ‘the character to which I have referred might be inexpensively determined, and there might be some certainty as to the true interpretation of Acts of this Parliament, having regard to the extraordinary complications involved by reason of the conflicting jurisdiction of the Commonwealth and of sovereign States. I point out that under Part XII., to Which I have referred, there would be a Full Bench, and a decision upon such questions would not be a decision of three only of the Justices of the High Court, but of a majority of the Full Bench, so that if all seven were in Australia, four would have to be agreed as to the determination of the Court; and if one were absent, the decision of four would still be probable; but if the .Bench were equally divided, the Chief Justice would be the deciding factor.
– Not under this amendment.
– This amending Bil does not affect those questions at all.
– What does it affect?
– It does not affect constitutional questions referred to the Court in the circumstances I have mentioned. In such cases a majority decision is essential in order to make valid the determination of the Court.
– Does the honorable member suggest that if this amending Bill is carried, it will still be necessary in some cases to have four Justices of the High Court concurring in. the determination of the Court as to the validity or otherwise of any law? .
– What I say is that, where constitutional questions are referred to the Court, if there are seven members of the Court here, a determination of four will be necessary, or if there are only six members here, a determination by four will still be probable, unless the Bench were equally divided, notwithstanding the passing of this Bill.
– Where does the honorable member get that?
– It is a fact.
– I should like to hear the honorable member on the subject.
– If the honorable gentleman will refer to the Judiciary Act of 1910, he will find it provides that-
Whenever the Governor-General refers to the High Court for hearing and determination any question of law as to the validity of any Act or enactment of the Parliament, the High Court shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter. i’he mutter shall be heard and determined by a Full Court consisting of all the Justices:
Provided that if any of the Justices are absent from the Commonwealth or incapacitated by illness, the matter may be heard and determined by all the other Justices.
Then it is provided that the AttorneyGeneral of each State is to be notified .as to the hearing of the matter, and he is entitled to appear, and be represented at the hearing. There is also pov)er to direct that persons interested may be notified if the Court thinks proper to do so. If the Court is of opinion that the interests of an institution or association are involved, it may say that it desires to hear what is to be said on behalf of that institution or association.
– Has there ever been any proceeding under that?
– I do not recall whether there has been or not, but I am pointing out what Parliament provided. I was a member of this Parliament at the time the Judiciary Bill of 1910 was passed, and I know what we had in view. Litigants might be put to vast expense and ultimately discover that some Act, or part of an Act, was ultra vires. Parliament therefore decided to adopt an inexpensive process, at the cost of the Commonwealth itself, of ascertaining the true interpretation of the law, where it was contemplated that the interests of the States might be involved. It is compulsory that the States shall be notified, that the Attorneys-General of the several States shall have the right to appear, and that a majority of the Full Bench, if present in Australia, shall determine the true interpretation. Those provisions referring to constitutional questions are not affected by this amending Bill.
-What sections are they ?
– Sections 88 to 94. The fears of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) and the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) regarding the rights and interests of the States are not Well grounded, because those rights and interests are, to some extent, protected by the terms of the Judiciary Act itself. In the vast majority of matters which come before the High Court, the practical difficulties which have been experienced under the present law, and which have involved serious congestion and delay, will be overcome by the Bill, which I commend to the Committee.
.- The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) has put before the Committee a provision of the Judiciary Act that has never yet been put into operation. The point he has brought forward in no way touches cases affecting the rights of this Parliament on the one hand and of the States on the other. An important decision has recently been given by the High Court, that State instrumentalities come under the operation of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. That is a case which materially affects the legislation of this Parliament and the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. Any similar case materially affecting the powers of the Commonwealth or of the States, and the interpretations of the Constitution, ought to be decided by all the Judges available. I quite agree that in ordinary cases coming before the High Court the Bill meets the situation, but where a case affects the right of this Parliament or of the State Parliaments to enact legislation, we are in duty bound by the compact entered into when the Constitution was framed and accepted by the people, to see that no decision is given except by the majority of the Judges who are available.
– The honorable member speaks of “ the majority of the J udges who are available.” Six Judges might mean three on one side and three on the other.
– I quite realize that fact, and in such an event the opinion of the side on which the Chief Justice gave his opinion would prevail; but still we should have six men deciding a big constitutional question affecting every man, woman, and child in the Commonwealth. It is not an ordinary case between litigants, but a matter affecting the ambit of our Constitution. If the Minister (Mr. Groom) can satisfy me that the Bill will affect only . ordinary cases, leaving the position so far as concerns constitutional matters between the States and the Commonwealth as it now is, I shall vote for it. I am not prepared to vote for a Bill that will put into the hands of three men the power to decide in favour either of the Commonwealth or the States on matters affecting the vital relationship of the Commonwealth and the States under the Constitution.
.- I do not wish to urge any increase in the number of Justices, because we know the necessity for economy all round. I can see no necessity for increasing their numbers, but the question of the constitutional rights either of the Commonwealth Parliament or of the State Parliaments is of vast importance, and cannot be dealt with lightly. I should be quite prepared to accept the amendment of the Act as advocated by the Minister (Mr. Groom) if we could add words to provide that, where a majority did not agree, an appeal either by the Commonwealth or the States should lie to the Privy Council. I understand that the Full Court can now allow an appeal to the Privy Council on constitutional matters.
– We have no power to alter the Constitution, which provides that constitutional matters shall be determined by our own Judiciary unless that Judiciary thinks fit to allow an appeal to the Privv Council.
– It is doubtful if what I was suggesting could be done.
– It is a sound principle that our own affairs should be decided by our own Courts.
– It struck me that by altering the Judiciary Act in this way we were practically giving one man the right to determine a big constitutional question which might have very farreaching effects.
– We have done it with great safety in the past.
– The honorable member spent a good deal of time in quoting the Judiciary Act as to the powers of the Governor-General to refer questions of interpretation to the High Court, but so far not a single question has ever been submitted in that way. I do not like giving to one man the power to decide big constitutional matters. If the Minister assures me that it is not possible to provide for an appeal to the Privy Council Where four Judges do not agree, I feel disposed to vote against the clause.
– The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), if I understood him rightly, told the Committee that a constitutional matter vitally affecting the States would, irrespective of this Bill, require no fewer than six J udges to decide.
– It has to be referred to the full Bench. Every Judge in Australia has to be present.
– If not more than two Judges were absent, the position of the States would be no worse than it is to-dav. If six Judges sat, the majority would be four. I am very reluctant to reduce under any conceivable conditions the present powers of the States, and if those powers are not safeguarded I cannot vote for the clause.
– I refer the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) and the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams), who suggested that if the Judges were equally divided on a constitutional question, Parliament should, by Act, direct that an appeal should be allowed to the Privy Council, to section 74 of the Constitution, which provides -
No appeal shall he permitted to the Queen in Council from a decision of the High Court upon any question, howsoever arising, as to the limits inter.se of the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth and those of any State or States, or as to the limits inter se of the constitutional powers of any two or more States, unless the High Court shall certify that the question is one which ought to be determined by Her Majesty in Council.
The High Court may so certify if satisfied that for any special reason the certificate should be granted, and thereupon an appeal shall lie to Her Majesty in Council on the question without further leave.
There is, therefore, a constitutional prohibition against this Parliament doing anything of the sort. It is fundamental that no appeal shall be allowed except on the conditions laid down in the Constitution. ‘ We, therefore, come back to the question, “ Ought matters, of this sort to be decided by three Judges ?”. Some honorable anembers seem to think that would be a serious danger to the States, but if it is a danger to the States it is equally a danger to the Commonwealth. It has been argued that it is a question of one man’s opinion against another. Ultimately, of course, that is the case. The Judges have to construe a document. They apply certain rules of interpretation to ascertain what the Constitution means. It is left to their trained judicial minds to decide. If a Judge is away, and there are three Judges on one side and three on the other, then under this clause the judgment that will prevail will be that of the side on which the Chief Justice is. For many years there were only three Judges interpreting they Constitution, but there was no anxiety on the part of the States, and no danger to their rights. In fact, there was no trouble of any kind. Later, there were five Judges, when the decision might be given by three Judges as against two, but nobody raised the question of the danger of three Judges interpreting the Constitution. Then two more Judges were added to the High Court. On one occasion the Judges were equally divided. Honorable members will remember that a Royal Commission was issued, and the Commission called upon the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to answer certain questions,. but the company objected, and questioned the validity of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 and 1912. In that case the Judges issued a certificate allowing an appeal to the Privy Council, which held that the Act was, in certain respects, ultra vires. I do not know whether members were satisfied with the judgment of the Privy Council, but I would prefer to intrust the interpretation of the Australian Constitution to the Australian Judiciary. In view of the length of time that this practice has been operative, I think honorable members are perfectly justified in accepting the clause.
Question - That the clause he agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
Section one of the Judiciary Act 1015 is amended by omitting sub-section (4) thereof.
– I am opposed to this clause, which seeks to omit from the Judiciary Act of 1915 subsection 4, which is to this effect -
This Act shall remain in operation during the present war, and for six months thereafter, and no longer.
I am opposed to extending some of the powers given to the Government in the Judiciary Act of 1915. When that Act passed, Parliament thought it sufficient that the power should exist during the war, and for six months afterwards. Now, what are those powers? Among them is power given to the AttorneyGeneral of the Commonwealth in the following terms : -
I object to the Attorney-General being given the drastic power of presenting an indictment against any citizen in the High Court of Australia without going through the formality of having witmesses examined in the ordinary way.
– It is time that was stopped.
– It is. But now we are asked to extend that power for all time, although when Parliament passed the Act in 1915 it indicated that the power should rest in the hands of the Attorney-General only during the war and for six months afterwards. The Government now say that this limitation should be withdrawn, and, consequently, that power continue to rest in the Attorney-General. I am in favour of ending that at once. If there is to be any trial for an indictable offence in the High Court of Australia, . it should take place after an examination of witnesses and committal for trial in the ordinary way.
.- The object of the clause is to continue the provision made in the Judiciary Act of 1915 in relation to the original jurisdiction of the High Court. When that Act was originally introduced it had no limitation of time whatsoever. This limitation was put in at the suggestion of the Opposition of the day. The power which it is sought to continue is contained in sections 2 and 3 of the Judiciary Act 1915. The Constitution vests in the High Court original jurisdiction in regard to matters -
Arising under any Treaty;
In addition to those powers so conferred upon the High Court, section 76 of the Constitution provides that the Parliament may make laws conferring original jurisdiction on a High Court in any matter -
In 1914 the law was altered to give the Court jurisdiction - in addition to matters arising out of the Constitution, or involving its interpretation - in ques-, tions relating to Admiralty or maritime jurisdiction. Another additional power was given in the Act of 1915, in relation to trials for indictable offences against the laws of the Commonwealth. It was felt that the High Court, which is a specially constituted body for exercising the judicial powers of the Commonwealth, should have jurisdiction in trials of indictable offences against the laws of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) objects to the High Court having the power in relation to indictable offences against the laws of the Commonwealth.
– I do not object to that.
– It has been sparingly used for the reason that the exercise of criminal jurisdiction is a matter for the State Courts. Such Courts sit in many parts of the Commonwealth, and cases ought, as a rule, tobe tried where the offences are committed. For that reason jurisdiction is given to the State ‘ Criminal Courts all over Australia. That is the usual practice, but at the saime time, in two or three important instances, it was considered advisable to invoke the aid of the High Court. There was a case in Sydney in connexion, I believe, with contracts for supplies to the Defence Department. There was also another important case in connexion with trading with the enemy.
– Were persons not committed for trial?
– I am not sure whether they were or not, but that does not matter. Every State Attorney-General has the power to present ex officio information, and should not the Commonwealth be placed in a similar position?
– It is very seldom, if ever, exercised.
– Exactly; but it is a power the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth ought to have.
– I do not think so.
– If the honorable member was over here, he would say we ought to have it.
– And if the Minister was on the Opposition benches, he would object.
– No; when we were over there, we did not object.
– It was passed as war legislation only.
– It was not introduced as war legislation ; but . that is what this House made it. We have to consider whether this reserve power should remain, and I strongly urge that it should. What is the position in the other States in connexion with this power to which objection is taken? In South Australia, the power is conferred by the Criminal Law Consolidation Act, section 334 ; in Western Australia by the Criminal Code, and in Queensland by the Criminal Code. The honorable member for West Sydney says that a State Attorney-General should not possess that power, and if such is the case, why did he not repeal it in Queensland when he was AttorneyGeneral? It is possible, of course, that his attention had not been directed to it. It is a power which the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth should have.
– I do not think so.
– In Tasmania, power is given under the criminal law, and in Victoria under the Crimes Act, section 390. Power is given under the State laws, and this reserve power to file indictments should be given to the Attorney-General of the day. I may remind the honorable member that the State AttorneysGeneral exercise functions for us, and, on the whole, our relations have been most harmonious and satisfactory ; but it is not advisable that, in all cases, the Commonwealth should have to depend upon a State Attorney-General for the enforcement of its laws.
– I did not suggest that it was.
– I did not suggest it, but the honorable member did. I do not think such a position is a desirable one in which to place the Commonwealth, as there always ought to be reserve power vested in the Commonwealth to exercise these functions in cases of national emergency, and if is only for this reason that the provision is embodied in the Bill.
– National emergencies!
– I do not mean war emergencies only, as there are others in the administration of justice where the Government of the day, through its AttorneyGeneral, should be armed with the necessary powers to enforce law and order in the community. That is all I am asking for. It is only a question of conferring on the Executive the authority to enforce and administer laws of the Commonwealth; and under the circumstances, I cannotsee my way clear to accept any amendment.
.- I listened to the statement of the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom), but, unfortunately, he has not touched upon the point with which I dealt. I did not object to the AttorneyGeneral having the power to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth through the High Court. What I did object to was giving the Attorney-General the right to file an indictment in the High Court of Australia without a preliminary inquiry and a committal for trial before evidence was called.
– The States have that power.
– I do not say that they should have it. It is very desirable, in such cases, that there should be a preliminary inquiry, and witnesses called, as in an ordinary committal for trial. I cannot conceive of a situation arising where it is necessary for the Attorney-General to file ex-officio information.
– If a Justice discharged a case it would not go. on.
– I am not in favour of a man being placed in a dock without having any idea of who is to give evidence. He would not know if those who had given evidence were liars or not, and he would not have any opportunity of testing evidence. If there is a preliminary inquiry, and witnesses are sworn, he is able to prepare hie defence.
– The honorable member wants to make more work for the lawyers.
– That may be the way the question presents itself to the Treasurer but I have a vivid recollection of the way in which the Commonwealth Government once enforced what they called justice, and I am not prepared for one moment to continue the power that is given here to the Attorney-General to present ex-officio information in the High Court without first having a preliminary inquiry and giving the defendant an opportunity to prepare his case. It is a most unfair proposition, and I do not care whether every State AttorneyGeneral has the power or not, as there should be a preliminary inquiry, and every person charged should have an opportunity of testing the evidence tendered against him. There is no doubt that a State Attorney-General has the power.
– I do not think it ever arises in the States except in cases where there has been a preliminary inquiry.
– I do not think it does.
– I think it has.
– I do not know of any instances. As Attorney-General in Queensland I never dreamed of exercising the powers I possessed in that direction, and it is a power that I did not want, and one that I would like to be removed. I know it is a power that the present Prime Minister, as AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Hughes), threatened to exercise and hold in terrorem over individuals.
– I think the honorable member is wrong.
– I am not.
– For indictable offences.
– Yes, and I was one that he threatened to deal with. His statement to the Court was that he had no evidence to tender, but the AttorneyGeneral would file an cx-officio information in the High Court of Australia. He was not game enough to do it. A man might bo placed upon trial for an indictable offence, and would not have the opportunity of testing the evidence.
.- The Queensland Criminal Code, which is representative of the State law, was drafted by one of our greatest jurists, the late Mr. Justice Griffith. Section 561 reads -
A Crown Law Officer may present an indictment in any Court of criminal jurisdiction againstany person for an indictable offence, whether the licensed person has been committed for trial or not. An officer appointed by the Governor in Council to present indictments in any Court of criminal jurisdiction may present an indictment in that Court against any person for an indictable offence within the jurisdiction of the Court, whether the accused person has been committed for trial or not.
That is the position. Cases may have arisen where there has been a preliminary inquiry, and where the magistrate, through a lack of appreciation of the position, may have refused to commit for trial. “Under those circumstances, there should be a means whereby the case may be brought before the highest authorities.
– When a preliminary inquiry has been held.
– I admit that. The
Attorney-General is in a position to do that, and the reserve power that, is vested in every Executive is very rarely used It is only right that it should not be used except on the strongest grounds, and in the interests of the public.
– But you do away with the preliminary inquiry, altogether,.
– You are not giving a man a rigrht to a preliminary, inquiry.
– He has not, in all cases, that right under the State law. A section of the 1915 Act reads -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this Part, or any provision of any -State law, the Attorney -General of the Commonwealth may file an indictment for any indictable offence against the laws of the Commonwealth in the High Court or the Supreme Court of a State, without examination or commitment for trial.
– That is not in the State law.
– Yes, whether committed for trial or not.
– You say without examination of witnesses.
– That power exists in some States. This is a reserve power which the Commonwealth AttorneyGeneral ought to possess, and I do not intend to argue the matter any further.
– If my memory serves me accurately, this provision was inserted in the principal Act because honorable members deemed that it conferred a proper power in time of war, though it was not a power which should be continued after the war had ceased.
– The House never said anything of the kind.
– Then, why was the provision placed in the Act?
– Because the power was asked for as a war power, and because I thought that such powers should be reviewed at the end of the war.
– What is the use of the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) attempting to mislead honorable members ? When the principal Act was before us this limiting power did not exist.
– It was introduced as a general provision. The then Leader of the Opposition suggested that it would be wise to review our war powers at the end of the war, and to retain only such of them as had proved to be advantageous.
– This House limited the power of which I speak to the war period. It was upon the. (motion of the then Leader of the Opposition (Sir- Joseph Cook) that its operation was restricted! to six months after- the war, at the end of which period it was to be reviewed.
– The earlierwe abolish all our war measures,and return to our normal! legislative powers-, the better it will be for all concerned.
– Thank God, the honorable member is not in a majority !
– Does the honorable member for Wakefield suggest that our war legislation should be continued?
– Some of it should be continued for all time.
– This is one of the legislative provisions which should not.
– It is one which should be continued.
– That is where we agree to differ.
– What about the moratorium, which the honorable member desired to see extended ?
– When this pack of dingoes has ceased its cry I shall have a chance to continue my remarks. The Bill proposes to give power to the AttorneyGeneral to hale men before the High Court without giving them a chance of first knowing what they have to answer there. That does not accord with the principles of British justice.
– A similar provision obtains in every State.
– It does not. The provision which has been quoted from a Queensland Act means that where a man has been brought before a Court, and the Bench has refused to commit him, the Government are not deprived of their right to proceed further against him. What, then, becomes of all the nonsense that is being talked here?
– The honorable member is a good judge of nonsense.
– I appeal to the honorable member ‘for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) to say whether my statement is not accurate.
– This coalition between the honorable member for Franklin and the honorable member for West Sydney is most touching.
– It was only at the last sitting of the. House that we had a most affectionate alliance between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Leader of the Opposition(Mr. Tudor) in regard to the rights of the Senate. However, thatis by the way. This Bill provides that theCrownmay make a charge against a man without any preliminaryinquiry whatever. The power which is sought to be given under this measure, and which may have been a necessary power during the war period, is far more wide-reaching than that which obtains in any State Act. The earlier our war measures are repealed, the better it will be for all concerned.
.- It is very clear that in the hands of any AttorneyGeneral, and notably in those of the present Attorney-General, this proposed amendment may well become a very dangerous instrument of injustice. It is quite true that there has always resided in the Attorneys-General of the various States, and especially in the AttorneyGeneral of Victoria, the power to file a presentment against a person who has been discharged upon a preliminary inquiry, either before magistrates or justices, or a Court of Petty Sessions. The reason is a very obvious and a very proper one. It may well be that an inferior Court may, for one of a host of reasons, have failed in its duty in regard to the committal of an accused person upon, perhaps, a very grave charge. In such circumstances, it is a useful safeguard that the Government should be able to act through its Attorney-General, and to place such a person upon his trial. But such a person has already come before some tribunal, and at least a prima facie case has been disclosed against him, and witnesses have been subjected to cross-examination. In the amendment which is now before us, it is proposed that the Commonwealth AttorneyGeneral may immediately, and without notice, file a presentment and bring a defendant for trial before the High Court for any offence which is covered by the Statute. What does that mean? It means that all the elaborate machinery of the High Court may be put into operation in respect of a charge which never should have been laid at all, and which, upon a preliminary investigation, might have fizzled out altogether. No injustice can. be doneby withholding this arbitrary power from the Attorney-General. There are ample means by which the Government, either by warrant or summons - one of the methods so frequently used bythe Attorney-General and his officers during the tragic war period - may bring any accused person before an inferior tribunal for examination. In the absence of the power which it is proposed to confer, there is no danger of any such person escaping the consequences of his actions. The law may still be set in motion, and if an inferior tribunal fails to commit him for trial, there will still be power to file a presentment, notwithstanding that tho charge against him may have been dismissed in the first instance. What more is demanded except it be a special power on the part of the Attorney-General to strike hi? blow suddenly and quickly, and to get the accused person convicted before he realizes the nature of the charge that is preferred against him ? I do not know why the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) feels so strongly upon this matter.
– I do.
– I did not know that his experience of litigation was so ripe that he had any particular case in his mind. If he has, I invite him to mention it, and to show how anything less than full justice can be done in the absence of this amendment. During the whole history of responsible government in the various States, there has not been a single instance in which the latent power to file a presentment, which is presumed to exist in the Attorney-General, has. when the occasion demanded it, been exercised without some kind of preliminary examination. . Seeing that this power was one which was, with apologies, taken in time of war for war purposes, subject to review at the end of the war, I venture to ask what is now the object in not reviewing so much as renewing this special war-time power? Has any need for it arisen ? Can the Minister (Mr. Groom), or any of his colleagues or supporters, suggest a case which might arise in regard to which full justice might not be given under the law as it now stands? ,
– Are we taking any powers which any of the States now possess ?
– The Government propose to take a power which is really additional to the powers already possessed by the States - obviously for use -in *i way foreign to State practice.
– Are we taking any greater powers than the States have now ?
– Yes; because the difference between the Commonwealth
Government and the States is that the States have their machinery already, and their regular course of procedure is through their inferior tribunals-
– As ours will continue to be.
– They continue to operate from the inferior tribunal to the Supreme Court, if necessary, and from there - it may be - to the High Court. And that is the proper order of procedure, instead of attempting to take a short cut as is here proposed, namely, to the High Court.
– That is not the intention.
– The question of intention does not enter except in so far as we are entitled to ask what is to be gained by this proposed amendment that cannot be gained under the law as ic stands. On the other hand, I have shown that injustice may be done under it. I invite the Minister to show in what way injustice may be done by the law being left as it is.- If he can show me any injustice which is being done to the public, or to any person in particular, I. shall be satisfied to accept the amendment. But, as I have shown him that great injustice will be done by accepting the amendment, and that none will be done- by pursuing the contrary course, I hold that it is fair for him not to press the proposal.
– I refer the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) to section 4 of the Tasmanian criminal law.
– What is the date of that Statute? …
– The measure was enacted in August, 1855.
Honorable Members. - Oh!
– Honorable members are presumably finding’ fault with a Statute of 1855 when, for weeks past, they have been prating about Habeas Corpus and Magna Charta. I am about to quote the law as it exists in Tasmania to-day, and that is the essential consideration. In section 4 the words are employed, “ Such person shall, without further inquiry or examination,” be committed for trial. The circumstances’ have to do with a person being arrested and ‘brought before- a magistrate without examination or trial. Section 334 of the South Australian Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1876 states -
Any person may be put upon his trial at any criminal session of the Supreme Court for any crime or offence whatsoever, upon an information presented to the said Court in the name and by the authority of Her Majesty’s Attorney-General of the province aforesaid, and every provision of the common law ami of Acts of Parliament for the time being in force within the said province relating to indietments and to the manner and form of pleading thereto and to the trial thereon, and generally to all matters subsequent to the rinding of the indictment, shall apply to any information to be so presented as aforesaid.
– There is nothing in that.
– It conveys an absolute and direct . power. In the Victorian Crimes Act 1890, section 388 refers to powers with regard to presentments; and section 390 states -
Nothing heroin contained shall in any manner alter or affect the power which Her Majesty’s Attorney-General possesses at common law to file by virtue of his office an information in the Supreme Court.
The authorities are complete. I move -
That the following words be added: - “ and that Act shall continue in force as if that sub-section had not been enacted.”
.- What is the reason for the amendment?
– It is a drafting amendment, intended to make clear the intention of the continuance of the Act of 1915.
– That makes my objection to it the stronger. Apparently, the’ Government think it necessary to emphasize that this power continues. I do not want references to Acts passed in 1855, or in 1890, or in any previous year. This Parliament should be competent to face for itself the question which arises in this clause. Are we going to stand still or to advance ?
– Or to retrogress? For that is the honorable member’s idea.
– The Minister is retrogressing, judging by the clauses to which he desires us to agree. He has mentioned several early Acts, among them those of Tasmania and South Australia, which set forth a common law, power such as the Attorney-General, possesses by virtue of his office-.. But I do not think that in these days the public will stand for placing it within the power of any individual, whether he be the AttorneyGeneral or not, to put a man upon his trial without giving him some opportunity for preparing his defence. If this power is granted, persons can be deprived of the right to be in a position to properly prepare a defence. I am not willing that that right shall be taken away. This is the National Parliament. We should lead the way rather than he referred to enactments such as that passed in Tasmania, for example, in 1855. I wonder what sort of a Parliament existed in those days. It was certainly not a very progressive hody. Numbers of the sections which the Minister has quoted were passed with the concurrence of Legislative Councils, which are quite out of date, and not in accord with the political views held to-day.
I think the existing law with regard to trials might be amended. There should be a sweeping amendment effected by this Parliament to provide that cases of defamation should be heard before common juries, and not before special panels selected by the friends of honorable members opposite. We want to take away the advantages enjoyed by the capitalistic forces of the past, and to broaden and democratize our Courts. With that object in view, I oppose the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Question - That the clause, as amended, be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . …. 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) agreed to-
That the following new clause be added: - “ (4) After section 33 of the principal Act the following section is inserted: - 33a. The High Court may, by order, direct that an award in an arbitration in respect of any matter over which the High Court has original jurisdiction, or in respect of which original jurisdiction may be conferred upon the High Court, shall be a rule of the High Court.”
– I move -
That the following new clause be added: - “ (5) Section65 of the principal Act is amended -
In South Australia there is no power, under the State law, to amend slight defects in substance or form in summonses heard before inferior Courts; and, as section 68 vests all jurisdiction in criminal matters in State Courts, we desire to have this amendment made in order to bring the inferior Courts of South Australia into line with those of other States.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) has given notice of his intention to move a new clause. In his absence, I desire to move it.
– (Hon. J. M.Chanter) - I have looked at the proposed new clause, and find that it has no ‘ relevance to the Bill.
– Then the honorable member would not have been allowed to move it if he had been here?
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Standing Orders suspended, and report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
– I move-
That this Bill be now road a second time.
This measure is consequential upon the amendment of the judiciary Act which we have just passed. The High Court ‘ Procedure Act of 1915 provided for the trial of indictable offences, but its operation was limited, and it is now proposed to continue the Act in force as if that limitation had not been enacted.
– Is this an amendment of the general Procedure Act of the High Court?
– The Act of 1915 amended the general Procedure Act by providing for the trial of indictable offences and the application of the State laws. It is now proposed to make that Act permanent. At the same time it is provided that the precepts for the jury shall be issued by the principal registrar or a district registrar of the High Court, and it is also proposed that every judgment debt shall carry interest.
.- I hope that the measure will not be rushed through at this late hour,because honorable members should have an opportunity of considering what other amendments of the principal Act may be necessary .
– The Bill has been circulated for some time, but notice has not been given of any amendments.
– I will soon give notice of amendments.
– I speak of amendments which may reasonably be expected to assist honorable members.
– My amendments may be reasonably expected to improve the principal Act. That Act provides that the jury laws of the States shall apply to the trial in the High Court of indictable offences, and also of civil cases, and I think it is time that we determined the qualification of jurors. The laws of the States are antiquated, but it is difficult to amend them, because the approval of conservative Chambers has to be obtained for any alteration.
– If I get the second reading I shall not go further to-night.
– I do not wish to delay the second reading of the measure, but I ask the Government to seriously consider other amendments of the principal Act. There should be a uniform method for the selection of juries for the trial of cases in the High Court. At the present time, when a trial occurs in Melbourne, the jury is selected from a special jury, with a property qualification of a very high value; but in Sydney the procedure is different, and in Brisbane it is different again. There should be uniformity, and the choice of jurors should he widened as much as possible and democratized. It is from the electoral rolls that we should choose our juries, and not in accordance with the old Tory Acts of the States. I shall move in that direction in Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Statement by Mr. Watt.
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) proposed -
That this House do now adjourn.
. -What is to be the business to-morrow 1
– The Budget.
– I understand that we are to have to-morrow a statement by the ex-Treasurer (Mr. Watt), and a contest between the two “ Bills “-“ Bill “ Watt versus “ Bill “ Hughes - for which there will be a crowded House. One could sell the seats over and over again. I do not act as advance agent for the “ scrap,” but I should like to know when it will take place,so that I may be here.
Question resolved in the affirmative
House adjourned at 10.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 October 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19201012_reps_8_94/>.