8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr.Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
The following papers were pre sented : -
River Murray Waters Act - River Murray Commission - Report for year 1919-20.
Ordered, to be . printed.
Defence Act - Regulations Amended- Statutory Rules 1920, Nos. 159, 160, 175.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired under, at -
Midland Junction, Western Australia - For Defence purposes.
Thursday Island, Queensland - For Quarantine purposes.
War Service Homes Act - Land acquired under, at Weston, New South Wales.
– I ask the Prime Minister what action the Government intend to take. to compensate ex-Gunner Yates for the undeserved slur cast on his character and military record by the misleading answer given in this House by the Acting Minister for Defence, and to reimburse him any expenses that he may have been put to in connexion with the recent inquiry?
– If the honorable member will allow the question to stand over, I shall give him a reply to it as soon as I have had an opportunity of discussing the matter with the Assistant Minister for Defence, who gave the answer, and the Minister for Defence .
Motion (by Mr. McWilliams) agreed to-
That the time for bringing up the Report of the Select Committee on Sea Carriage be extended to the 30th October.
– Some time ago I asked a question regarding (the export of stud sheep, and was told that the Cabinet was considering the matter. Has the Prime Ministerany information to give to the House on the subject?
– The deliberations of the Cabinet on this question were somewhat abruptly broken in upon by the public recognition of the claims of one of the members of the’ Government. I need not further refer to this point than to say that I would not have it thought that the deliberations of the Government thus broken off have been permanently suspended. I hope shortly to be able to answer the question.
Mothers bornin Palestine.
asked the Treasurer, - upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s, questions are as follow: -
We cannot afford to spend any more money.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Section 38 of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1911 reads - “ Subject to the rules of the Bank, the -Bank may allow interest on any sum to the . credit of a depositor, not being less than £1, at such rate as the Governor from time to time declares.” It will be seen, therefore, that in this matter the Governor of the Bank is the sole authority.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions ‘are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he will inform the House what amount of the Government’s guarantee of 5s. per bushel will be paid as a first advance to the Australian wheat-growers for this season’s wheat?
– I am not in a position at present to add to the statement I have already made in regard to this matter.
Mir. GABB asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether the Colonial Sugar Company have informed the South Australian Fruitgrowers’ Co-operative Society that it will be unable to let it have sugar for its now fruitpreserving factory at Nuriootpa?
If so, will the Minister explain how it is that this fruit-growers’ society in South Australia has been refused sugar when the jam manufacturers of Tasmania and Victoria are able to obtain sufficient, not only for home consumption, but to make and export jam to South Australia and overseas?
– The information is being obtained.
Bill presented by Mr. Greene, and read a first time.
In Committee of Supply:
Consideration resumed from 13 th
October (vide page 5596), on motion by Sir Joseph Cook -
That the first item in the Estimates, under Division I. - The Parliament - namely - The President, £1,100 be agreed to.
Uponwhich Mr. McWilliams had moved -
That- the item be reduced by £1.
.- I concluded my remarks last evening by a reference to the statement in the Budget that the Postmaster-General’s Department, after an additional sum of £711,500 has been provided for telephones and other facilities of communication in the country districts, will show a surplus of £1,240,000. In my opinion, it is the accepted policy of this House that that Department shall be regarded as a public utility, and not as a profitmaking machine; and, therefore, I should like to know why the Treasurer has taken credit for this profit? The increasing of means of communication in country districts has been so strongly advocated by members that the amount set down for additional works of this kind must be approved; and, in my opinion, the expenditure of the money is wise economy. But I cannot approve of making revenue ‘by means of the Post Office.
The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) seems to see no way out of our financial difficulties except the discovery of splendid oil supplies within Australia.
– I did not say that.
– I shall be interested to know exactly what the honorable member did say, if he denies that in his concluding remarks he made a statement to that effect.
– I said that some such discovery might, perhaps, lighten the burden suddenly and unexpectedly, otherwise we should have to rely upon our production for help.
– The honorable member will find it difficult to convince the Committee that he did not give doleful expression to what might happen if something of the kind did not occur. All that I can see in the Budget now before us is an artificial attempt to carry us over the present time. I can see in it nothing of the kind suggested by the Prime Minister (Mr. ^Hughes) during the last general election, when he told the people that since Australia was a producing country we could hope to shift our burden of debt only by the stimulation of production. The old methods adopted by the most antiquated Governments are followed in this national balance-sheet. We find the Government resorting to the levying of heavy duties on the goods that are consumed by the people, as well as to additional taxation, without any discrimination as to the form or incidence of that taxation, so that it falls most inequitably upon the shoulders of some, while it lightens the burdens of others. There is no high road to prosperity except that, of production in Australia. There is no artificial means of arriving at prosperity by the juggling of funds or taxation. This is essentially a producing country. Our public debt to-day, ewing largely to the war and also to extravagant administration in the past, is a very heavy one to be borne by our small population. I do not wish, however, to sound a pessimistic note. I have as much faith in the potentialities of Australia as has any citizen of the Commonwealth. I believe that it is possible for us to get rid of this burden cf debt if we get to work properly, but I do not see in this Budget any attempt on the part of the Government to properly set about the task.
We find combines in all directions.. We have a. combine of labour to- defend its interests - to sell its commodity at the highest price that it is possible to extract from the community and to give as little as possible of its commodity. We find the merchants - the suppliers of the people - also in combination, with the object of extracting as much as they can from those who must pay them for their wares. We find these two combines working hand and glove to impose upon themselves a heavy burden of Customs duties, which essentially bring up the cost of living, although, for some reason, they do not appear to recognise that fact. I do not think the Government will attempt for one moment to contend that the increased duties for which the Tariff schedule recently submitted to the House provides are necessary for protective purposes. They are really proposed as a short cut to additional revenues for an impecunious Government, utterly regardless of whether such duties will help or hinder- the Commonwealth. It is to me singular that men who complain of the high cost of living will back up these high duties. We find the two combines to which I have referred, desiring to obtain foodstuffs from the primary producers of Australia for less than it is possible to obtain those supplies in any other part of the world. They are combining against ‘the producers, and by means of heavy levies they place upon their shoulders burdens which make it hard for them to compete with other countries. It is urged in this House that our primary ‘ products, in respect of which there is no Protection whatever, shall be given to the members of these two Combines, because of the force of their power, and the number of .their votes, for less than’ they can be obtained elsewhere. That is the demand made in respect of sugar, jam, butter, bread, and meat. All these things we in Australia are asked to supply to these two great Combines for less than they can be obtained in any other country. We primary producers have not asked for a Protective Tariff for our industries. We ask the Government to call tenders for the food supplies of the people; and’ we know that if they do we shall be the successful tenderers every time.
Australia being essentially a primaryproducing country, it should be the first duty of this or any other Government so to exert themselves as to stimulate our natural resources in order that we may cover our national debt. But what do we find? What, for instance, is the position in regard to taxation? Every one knows that the revenue of the primary producer, . whether he be a producer of butter, sugar, fruit, or wheat, -is spasmodic. This year he may make a loss; next year lie may make a couple of hundred pounds, and so on. Assume that such a man, in this spasmodic fashion, receives £10,000 in five years, and compare his position with that of a member of the medical profession, or a Judge, or other salaried man, who can regulate his income at £2,000 a year, and thus has an income of £10,000 in respect of the same five-year period. We have these two citizens of the same country, speaking the same language, receiving £10,000 in five years. The man receiving his sure £2,000 per annum, and £.10, 000. in five years, pays to the Taxation Department £710. The producer who, in the same period, receives the same total income, but in spasmodic sums from year to year, according to varying natural conditions between drought and opulence, pays £1,500 odd to the Taxation Department. The individual with a certain revenue, who knows what he is going to get and can arrange his expenditure accordingly and invest his margin after paying for the upkeep of his household, is charged, under our taxation system, £710; whereas the other, earning an equal income during the same period, must pay more than double. That is not British justice, nor is it calculated to stimulate the business of the producer in Australia. And, although a Commission has now been appointed, I am afraid it is a. case of the geese being put to watch the oats. An independent tribunal, with an instruction to put this inequity right, should be appointed by the Government, and this unfair exaction from the producing community should not continue for one hour longer.
It may be asked, in what way can the Government reduce expenditure? It is a sad state of affairs if the Government cannot find some means for reducing expenditure below’ their latest estimates. When the Commonwealth Legislature was inaugurated the estimated expenditure was not beyond £750,000. Of course, Commonwealth Departmentshave increased; hut to-day there is involved a fabulous sum amounting to more than £8,000,000 per annum. The Commonwealth and States are closely allied. There are more than a quarter of a million public servants in Australia to-day, with a salaries bill amounting to £35,000,000 per annum. I was not opposed to an arrangement being made in connexion with the Public Service Bill, to place some capable person, or persons, in positions of authority, who would have a free hand to see that our huge Departments - which are rapidly growing and becoming ever more and more a burden upon the people - should be administered in a business-like manner. I do not care how much the Government may propose to spend upon the right man, or men, because such expenditure will amount to true economy. If honorable members examine the report of the Economies Commission they will discover the best possible evidence that such an ap pointment is necessary; and, no matter how quickly the appointment is made, it will be in no sense too soon.
– The leaderof your party has declared that he is going to cut down all the increases of the higher paid officials.
– I will if I can.
– There seems tobe a feeling - and it is not a new one - that the Public Service may reasonably soon be classed as another combine. There is a feeling that the Public Service must not be touched.- There appears to be diffidence in dealing with it as a business concern. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce), in- that notable address of his last night, made reference to the only really successful loan recently raised by an Australian State. He referred to that of Victoria, and he attributed the success to the good governance of this State. I look back some twentyfive years for the cause underlying the success of this latest Victorian loan, when a man was in charge of the Victorian Treasury . who was really strong, and who was indifferent to people’s opinions. He set out with a pruning hook; he saw the condition of Victoria, following upon the land boom, and Sir George Turner - for it was he who was in occupancy of the Treasury - inaugurated a policy by which Victoria has ever since benefited. Victoria was then in a parlous condition. That man saw exactly what was required to be done, and he did it. There were many howls raised, but many of those people who then howled have lived to bless the late Sir George Turner. Such another man, with a similar view-point, is looked for today. We have fought a great fight. Our fighting men have done Australia tremendous credit. We have beaten the enemy; but the conflict has created another enemy within our gates-. I refer to the enemy of debt - our national obligation - and it behoves every citizen to face that obligation in the same spirit of unity as our fighting men faced their foes.
– May I interpolate that another reason for the good government of this State is that it is the smallest, and its requirements the most easily gripped. It is the most easily governed of all the States.
– Nevertheless, the late Sir George Turner found its Public Service a nettle, which had to be firmly grasped. I am not against efficiency in thePublic Service. I am not averse from the proper payment of those who render value for their services in any business or Department. But the Public Service should be strictly examined by a capable man, or men, who should be equipped with requisite power of action..
In the press of their overshadowingly important legislative business the Government have shut out a little measure which I had proposed in order to involve a saving of £50,000 per annum. The action of members of this Legislature in awarding to themselves, at this time, additions to their salaries involving £50,000 a year has, to a considerable extent, robbed this Legislature of its prestige. We were obliged, as managers of the Commonwealth, to exhort the people to the strictest economy; but, as we preached we should have practised. However, I hope I shall have another and more suitable opportunity to express my opinions upon this subject. I have already drawn attention to the iniquitous taxation which has to be borne by those who obtain a living from the soil. I have received from the Hon. John Scaddan, Minister for Mines in Western Australia, a letter, in which he says : -
I would draw attention to the unfair incidence of taxation in connexion with the mining industry here.
That is another industry we should encourage. With a proper policy we might discover some of those oil deposits to which the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) referred last night, or another Eldorado like the Golden Mile -
As you are aware,, under the Federal law, in the event of a prospector making a discovery worth, perhaps, £1,000 or so,he is taxed on the full value for that particular year. It may be that he has battled along for a number of years, barely making a living, and, in some cases, subsisting only on the backing he obtains from his supporters. In this State we think it would be better if the tax were imposed spread over a number of preceding years, i.e., if a prospector earned at the rate of £50 to £80 per annum for five years, and in his sixth year made a discovery on which he realized the sum of £1,000, five years with all deductions and exemptions should be taken from the total amount of £1,000, and tax paid only upon the balance. The same thing also applies to the sale of leases.
In a thousand ways primary production, which is the most important activity of the Commonwealth, is almost entirely disregarded. I have received from the fruit-growing community in Western Australia a communication which shows how the fruit-growers have been grossly fleeced owing to the difficulty and costliness of getting their products to market. After all we have done for the Mother Country, the Imperial Government has placed a restriction on the sale of Australian fruit in England. There was a period during which American fruit was allowed to enter England free of any restriction, but now a restriction has been placed on both American and Australian fruits. We were informed by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) yesterday that the Imperial Controller of Foods . intends to reimpose the restriction on the 15th November with a slightly higher fixed price. During last year our fruit was sold in England under these restrictions, but the buyers transferred it from the cases in which it was landed into paper or cane baskets, and sold it for almost any price they chose to ask. In that way they were exploiting the Australian fruit-grower.
– The fruit ring made over 50 per cent, profit by that one transaction.
– I have a letter from one of the co-operative fruit societies in Western Australia setting forth the tremendous costswhich the grower has to meet before his product leaves Australian shores, making it almost impossible for him to continue production. The following is a list of the charges incurred : -
These figures are on a truck-rate basis; smaller consignments would cost at least 4d. per case extra for railage.
The balance left to the grower on rails on the foregoing basis is about 6s. 2d. per case.
Add to this the cost of cartage from the orchard, 3d. per case (which would be quite a fair average) ; 4d. per case for picking and carting to the orchardists’ packing shed; reduce the net return to 5s. 7d. per case. In addition to this, of course, there is the spraying, cultivating, pruning, upkeep of the orchard, &c, interest on capital invested, which, obviously reduces the net profit considerably.
Australia is a country of primary production. According to Mr. Knibbs’ statistics for 191S, Australia has derived its wealth, from the following sources: - Agriculture, £58,000,000 ; pastoral, £98,297,000; dairy, poultry, and beefarming, £33,738,000; forestry and fisheries, £7,137,000 ; mining, £26,156, 000 ; and manufactures, with all the centralized efforts, assisted by Tariffs and ideal working conditions, £75,261,000. The total wealth derived from primary production was £223,408,000, as against the total of £75,261,000 from secondary industries. When it is obvious from those figures that practically the whole of our wealth is won from primary production, would we not make much more profit by applying a little more energy to the increase of that production - a policy with which I have heard the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) express sympathy - than by seeking to establish hot-house industries in the cities? We have raised th- Tariff wall so high that the combine of labour wishes to work shorter hours, and to enjoy the products of the primary producers labour at cheaper prices than are paid anywhere else in the world, whilst the machines used in such production are dearer than anywhere else. A policy of that kind does not stimulate primary production. Neither price-fixing, embargoes, regulations, nor other artificial expedients will overcome the problem that is here presented. The great necessity is increased production, which connotes honest labour on the part of those- who work with us. With’ increased production we may anticipate a lower cost of living and a reduced burden of public debt. There is absolutely no other way by which those two desirable ends may be attained. By merely imposing additional taxes to meet debts that are falling due we are creating an artificial solvency, and are, indeed, adopting theMicawberlike attitude of paying our: debts with a promissory note, and then saying, “ Thank God, that is settled.”
The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) was quite right when he referred to the increasing obligation of our recurring debt. At the opening of this Parliament, this recurring debt was something like £21,000,000 a year, and today it is over £25,000,000. This debt will rapidly increase, because the renewal of every loan will involve a greater burden of interest. We, therefore, are faced with an annual recurring debt, which before this year expires will represent over £30,000,000. That obligation is not to be met by any artificial shuffling of the cards, but by actual production.
There is another item1 - although I see it is provided from loan - of £3,000,000 towards Commonwealth ship construction. I am not one who would readily cast aside the project of ship construction in Australia. It was an excellent idea during the war, and I think it has been evidenced to most Australians that ship construction, after some blunders, can be carried on effectually in this country. How successful in the future we may be in the matter of competition with other countries is doubtful. I would, therefore, urge the Government to go extremely “ slow “ - to make haste slowly iv. the matter of Commonwealth ship construction. I would not advocate abandoning the project entirely, but would rather keep our shipbuilding paraphernalia in progress, so that we may remain in touch with shipbuilding. I desire, however, to strike a note of warning in my humble way against any excessive attempt to compete in shipbuilding with’ other parts of the world. Mr. Knibbs tells us that there is more tonnage afloat to-day than there was before the war. In other directions, honorable members know that when a commodity, such as potatoes, is cheap, and no profit is being made, nobody enters the business. The result is that the following year potatoes are £25 or £30 a ton, and this tempts numbers of people to undertake their production, only to find, in the next year, that the price has dropped to unprofitable dimensions. To-day, everybody has a -mania for shipbuilding; and in some ports, where ships were never built before, a great number of steamers have been turned out. The United States of America got the craze, and the Old Country accelerated construction, with the result, as I said before, that there is more tonnage afloat to-day than before the war. With the extra freightage that is involved as an aftermath of the war, we shall inevitably find at no distant date a great slump in shipping; and, therefore, while it is advisable to keep in touch with shipbuilding, any attempt at construction at a great rate would be unwise and unsafe, and likely to result in loss. I feel that the item to which I refer might quite easily be written down by £1,000,000.
– But these are commitments; they are a liability that has. been incurred.
. - The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) has been giving us his ideas on matters of very great importance, in regard to which it is well we should all speak freely. Even those who are intrusted by this House with the government of the country must necessarily derive great benefit from the advice and criticism of their fellowmembers. The honorable member has spoken of the position in which the country finds itself to-day, and, although he said he imposed an embargo against sounding a pessimistic note, I am bound to say, after listening most carefully to him, that his speech has most profoundly depressed me. The honorable gentleman peers into the future with gloomy eye: he foretells catastrophies, falls in prices of primary products. He instanced potatoes as an example. In his opinion the potato market would go down like a plumb-bob. When he knows that I, myself, have started as a potato-grower, he will realize the effect of his gloomy prophesies. However, putting subsidiary matters on one side, the honorable member’s remarks - I regret that I had not the advantage of hearing other honorable members - were, by-and-large, directed to two mattersone, the necessity for economy, and the other for the production of more wealth. I have never in my life met a man, either in this Parliament or outside, who was not heart and soul in favour of both those propositions. I have, of course, met people who, while enthusiastically in favour of economy, declined to apply it to themselves; in fact, I have never met anybody who did willingly so apply it. I have met peoplein favour of producing more wealth whose contributions towards the sum of the nation’s riches might be expressed by a cypher. However, viewed in the abstract, the honorable member’s propositions commend themselves to us all. We are all in favour of economy. Of course, we, no more than any one else, begin with economy at home, and of this the honorable member has reminded us. He will permit me, I hope, to remind him of the fundamental difference between doctrine and conduct. It is very easy to be a Christian if one’s claim to be such depends on words; it is not quite so easy when one’s claim is to be based on conduct. The honorable member told us many things, but he did not tell us how we can substantially economize or how we could actually produce more wealth. He had something to say about a probable collapse of the potato market, about a restriction imposed by the British Government on the price of Australian fruit, and about taxation; but surely he will not seriously affirm that if the difficulties he mentioned were adjusted - and those within the power of this Parliament to adjust are being adjusted - the work of those who seek economy would be completed, or that production would be sufficiently increased. My right honorable colleague has already expressed his approval of assessing taxation on a quinquennial basis.
SirJosephCook. - We are going to do it.
– When a deputation waited on me I said,without committing my colleague, with whom I had not then had an opportunity of discussing the matter, that personally I was in favour of it. The honorable gentleman emphasized the fact that the greatest part of our wealth comes from the pastoral, agricultural, and mining industries. Some persons are inclined to overlook the fact that, in the main, Australia depends for its prosperity on the sale of its primary productions; but I have never failed to emphasize this point, as the honorable gentleman himself admitted. But this is a wonderful country, and we are a many-sided people. The honorable gentleman spoke rather contemptuously of the £75,000,000 which was the value of the production of the manufacturing industries of this country in 1918. No doubt this was only a third of the value of the primary products, which were worth £220,000,000, yet, nevertheless, it was of considerable importance, and when the figures for this year are available, ‘the honorable member will find that the manufactures of this country are progressing by leaps and bounds. And thi3 increase in production is due to the policy of the Government through the Tariff and other inducements to manufactures.
It is easy for him to tell us to economize, and to say that what the country wants is more production ; but I ask him, and others who thus criticise the Government, to tell us just how we are to produce more, to let us have some better way than the Government is pursuing of increasing production, and to tell us just whore we are to economize - the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) put that question very pertinently last night, but it has elicited no reply. Let me remind the honorable member for Swan of what the Government has done to increase the production of wealth in this country. During the war, as he knows, we found a market for the produce of the country, and provided freight for carrying it to that market, so far as freight was obtainable. During the war, when no man knew whether wheat would be saleable or not, we gave a guarantee to the grower of 4s. a bushel. Since the war we have offered a guarantee of 5s. per bushel at railway sidings for wheat. He will hardly say that that offer has not borne good fruit. He spoke in rather a melancholy fashion, when dealing with the potato market, of the vagaries of the world’s parity, and of the local parity, so that he must know that it is one thing to grow an article and another thing to be certain of marketing it profitably. But .every man who sows wheat in this country knows that, at the worst, he will get for it 5s. per bushel, which is much more than he could get for it before the war. Then the Commonwealth has, at the invitation of the four wheat-growing States, joined a Pool for the purpose of securing the world’s parity for our wheat. Those are two notable and ‘tangible efforts that we have made to increase production.
– There has been a reduction of 4,000,000 acres in the area under cultivation.
– I do not think that the honorable mein,ber will seriously contend that the offering of a guarantee of 5s. per bushel for the production of wheat reduced the area under -cultivation. At the present time the Government is endeavouring to find freight for our wheat, and to market it, and I think that the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) will say that in doing that we tire doing something to help the- man on the land. During the war, and. since, we have done what was possible to find markets for tha primary products of Australia. As tothe secondary industries of the country, which the honorable member seemed to treat rather contemptuously, the Government was returned on a definite policy for their encouragement, and to that policy we have given effect. We said that we would encourage manufactures by imposing a protective Tariff. No doubt, it is impossible to frame a Tariff which will .meet with everyone’s approval, but I venture to say that, considering the needs of the community by and large, the Tariff that has been introduced will be a substantial and permanent means of increasing our productivity. We have also taken steps to assist the production of wealth by providing means for insuring the maintenance of industrial peace. The honorable gentleman seemed to leave out of his consideration that factor in production. Without labour nothing could be produced ; unless we have industrial peace it is idle to talk about producing more wealth. The Government during this session has passed measures providing ample facilities for the settlement of industrial disputes. And, as a consequence, a very serious industrial struggle has been avoided. Thus, by giving a guarantee to the farmers, by becoming a member of the pool for the marketing of the wheat, by imposing, a Tariff for the encouragement of manufactures, and by providing means for the settlement of industrial disputes, we have done what we could to encourage production.
– How does a Tariff help the primary producer?
– A Tariff may do a great deal for the primary producer. Yesterday a gentleman informed me that he had twenty-six tons of lemons, which he could not sell, because of the competition of imported lemons. He wanted protection against the imported article. Human nature, when probed, seems to be always the same at the bottom. Every man who has anything to sell wants the best price for it. If he is selling his labour, he joins a union; if he is a farmer, he wants the world’s parity, and is not satisfied until he gets it; if he is a manufacturer, he asks for a Tariff, and makes our lives miserable until we give him one. The Government is carrying out its pledges, and is endeavouring to develop the great resources of the country. We are speeding up the Murray River water conservation work, and this afternoon my colleague (Mr. Groom) laid on the table reports on the subject. We are endeavouring to secure the unification of railway gauges. I was sorry to read in the press that one honorable member has taken exception to our proposals for the unification of the railway gauges of Australia. I should think that no one thing could do more to help primary and secondary production, and to develop the resources of the country, than the unification of the railway gauges. No one tiling has been such a hindrance to the free flow of commerce, and - apart from the direct effect of droughts - has cost the country more in losses of stock, than the present system of diverse gauges. The Government is com- mitted to the unification of the railway gauges, and will endeavour, with the co-operation of the States, to remove the hindrance to free traffic which, under present conditions, exists. I could amplify what the Government has done, and is doing, in encouraging pro- duction; but time will not permit. I come now to the question of economy, to which the honorable member referred. He is in favour of economy, but he ventured to grapple with the subject only in relation to the Public Service of Australia. He says that the Public Service is growing. Is that remarkable? He says that it was not so big nineteen years ago. Of course it was not. Is the fact of its growth per se a fact to be deplored? In the case of a private firm, it is considered to be rather an evidence of progress that it employs twenty or thirty times as many people as it did twenty years before. I agree with every honorable member that we should have value for our money, but I do not for one moment think that we get good value for our money unless we give value for services rendered.
– I agree with that.
– The honorablemembra perhaps does not realize that every member of the Public Service is as much a citizen as he is, and has just as many rights as he has. The purchasing power of the sovereign having been reduced to something like 12s. 6d., the public servant, corralled as he is between the four corners of the Act, does not receive the consideration to which he is entitled. While I am one of those who will always support the honorable member in demanding from every servant of the Commonwealth a fair day’s work-
– That is all I ask.
– I know; but the honorable member made very light of giving our public servants a fair return for their labour. The public servant has no more right to be singled out in this way than has any one else in the community. He has as many rights as any one else, and I have always endeavoured to preserve them to him.
The only contribution that the honorable member made to the debate on the question of economy was the suggestion, which he did not amplify, that we should “ take it out “ of the Public Service. He eulogized the late Sir George Turner, a gentleman who was very wellknown in this House, and was admired and respected by all of us. This Government, however, is not in favour of any more BlackWednesdays. It does not crave for that kind of distinction. We seek the support of the people of this country on quite different grounds.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse), I repeat, speaks of economy. He says that the Budget is not satisfactory, and his Leader (Mr. Mcwilliams) has moved that the first item be reduced by £1, as a direction to the Government to reduce its proposed expenditure by £1,000,000. I did not have an opportunity of hearing the Leader of the Country pary, but, so faT as I ‘know, the honorable member did not indicate the direction in which we should cut down.
– He spoke of two items - Defence and high salaries.
– The salaries of members ?
– I am sure he has too much sense to suggest anything of the kind. I am not going to say that every item in the Budget must necessarily bc approved by a majority of this Chamber, but I do say that it is not business-like or proper to give a general direction to a Government to reduce its Estimates by £3,000,000. What items are we to cut down? He does not tell us. If we make reductions, these would again have to run the gauntlet of criticism. One man wants one item cut down, and another quite a different one. If an amendment had been moved to cut down the Defence estimates by £1,000,000, we could have discussed it on its merits and have shown to the Committee, I think, the danger of such a proposal. If, in spite of that, the Committee decided to take the responsibility of exposing this country to grave risk, the Government would consider whether in all the circumstances it should agree to it; but one thing is certain : the Government cannot take a direction at large. Honorable members, I am sure, will agree that what I suggest is the proper course. If honorable members wish, when we proceed to discuss the items in detail, to move a reduction, we shall be prepared to consider every proposal on its merits. While. I do not say that the Government may not consider some items of such vital importance as to protest most strongly against their reduction, still, speaking of the items generally, we are prepared to be guided by the expressed opinion of .the Committee. I repeat, however, that we can-‘ not accept a direction at large.
It would have been well if those honorable members who have urged economy had analyzed the Budget and had said where we should cut down. This Budget provides for practically the same expenditure as was agreed to last year; but of the proposed expenditure, the amount provided for out of loan is £20,000,000 less than last year. Surely that is some evidence of a desire to economize ou the part of the Government. The extent to which we depend upon war loan money has been reduced, although our ‘ obligations to the soldiers remain. An expenditure of £7,000,000 on account of our soldiers ‘ has been lifted from loan account, and provided for out of revenue. In addition to this, roughly speaking, we provide for further taxation amounting to only £2,000,000. With the surpluses of increased revenue, and £2,000,000 additional taxation, we are meeting out of revenue about £16,000,000 more of expenditure than we did last year.. Surely it can hardly . be said that this is not some evidence of wise and prudent economy. Honorable members, perhaps, do not appreciate the fact that out of a total proposed expenditure of £98,000,000, a sum of £62,241,000 is in respect of soldiers alone. In addition, there is £7,000,000 for Defence. It is true that some honorable members have said that that is too much. I hope the day will never come when they will say that it was too little. We can discuss the amount, however, on its merits when we come to the Defence estimates. These two expenditures of £62,241,000 for soldiers alone, and £7,000,000 for Defence, account in round figures for £70,000,000 out of the total proposed expenditure of £98,000,000. Then we have £5,250,000 for old-age pensions. That amount cannot be touched. There is also a sum of £6,775.000 in ‘respect of the per capita payments to the States. We offered to touch that item at the Premiers’ Conference last year, but all the Premiers objected. If any honor.able member seriously suggests that we should touch it, this is the place, and now is the time, for them to speak. The Government will listen to what they have to say. If they are not prepared to do so, then they must face the fact that for all practical purposes £82,000,000 out of the total expenditure of £98,000,000 cannot be touched.
Then it is said that high salaries should be cut down. I ‘presume that the honorable member for Swan referred to the salaries of the higher paid officers, and not to the allowance paid to members.
– I would include our own parliamentary allowance.
– I am sure that those who favour a reduction in the parliamentary allowance will never get a quorum in this House. Let us deal with this objection tpi. the increase in the salaries of some of the higher paid officials. Curiously enough, this House asked the Government to appoint a Commission, and, in consequence, the Economies Commission was appointed. That Commission is the child of the loins of this House. It went about its work, and made certain recommendations. One of those recommendations was that these salaries should be increased. The Government accordingly increased them. Honorable members of the Country party now tell us that we ought not to have done so. When I was speaking on the question of salaries in this House a few days ago, I said, taking the head of my Department - Sir Robert Garran - as a case in point, that he was paid a shamefully inadequate salary, and he is now to be paid £2,000 a year. Does any honorable member say that he is too highly paid ? The honorable member for Swan may -have an idea of his “own value, but I speak of what I know. Sir Robert Garran would have been appointed to a position in the Judiciary but for the fact that he is too valuable a man for us to lose. We cannot spare him. We pay such a man only £2,000 a year. Is there in this city any lawyer who is his equal, who would work for the salary for which Sir Robert Garran gives such loyal, honest, and capable service?
Take the salaries of the heads of the various Departments. If we want competence in the Public Service, we must pay heads of Departments and the staffs generally reasonable salaries. The honorable member for Swan, in referring to the Public Service, paid that he wanted efficiency. It is a curious reflection upon the point of view of the critics of the Government that no sooner do we adopt the recommendations of the Commission which the Parliament itself insisted, 11 DOT than our critics fasten upon them. They condemn alike the criticised and the critic. We bring m a measure to place the Public Service under a Business Board. How does it fare? Not very well. What is it that honorable members of the Country party want? Do they desire business efficiency in the Public Service. Do they believe in a Business Board? The Government brought down a Bill providing for such a Board because the Commission recommended it, and because the House apparently wanted it. I am not particularly enamoured of the proposal, and I hope that no honorable member will spare his vote with the idea of sparing my feelings in the matter.
If honorable members throw out the proposal the responsibility is theirs - not ours. One thing I want to make clear is that, while we arc perfectly willing to discuss with the Committee every item, of the Budget, we cannot accep’t a direction at large such as is covered by the amendment.
– By way of personal explanation, I wish to point out that I did not say that I desired to make the proposed saving out of the salaries of public servants. I did say - and Ilansard will show it - that I desired efficiency in the Public Service, and that efficiency should he determined by a competent person, or persons, who should be appointed, no matter what amount of salary might be involved thereby. ,
The figures contained in the Budget, when compared with those having to’ do with a pre-war Budget, are somewhat staggering. Australia has scarcely increased her population in the years between, but now our people have to meet tremendous outgoings, and the situation is such that one faces Australia’s great financial problems with diffidence. It 13 very difficult to meet, the Treasurer’s challenge to place one’s finger upon a specific item in regard to which -considerable retrenchments can be effected. After all, it is for the Treasurer himself to show that he has done his best to cut down expenditure, and that he cannot reduce further. In contemplating our enormous expenditure, amounting to £68,000,000, it must not be forgotten, of course, that about £1S,000,000 of this is to be paid out of revenue which, previously, was met from loan money. That indicates a step in the right direction; but the Treasurer should show that, in regard to many items detailed in the Budget, he had found it impossible to do better by way of reduction. The Treasurer, as a matter of fact, has not proposed or revealed any definite line of policy for the reduction of expenditure. To-day we have abounding revenues and bountiful harvests, but we are not only spending all that we expect to receive this year, but are setting out to raise additional revenue by taxation, and to spend even the accumulated surplus of £5,000,000. We cannot go on like that year after year. We cannot expect our harvests to be always abundant and our revenues always to be abounding. I doubt, personally, whether the anticipated revenue for the current financial year will be raised. I am doubtful, for example, whether our Customs and Excise duties will be the means of realizing £26,000,000. I hope, of course, that they will bc; but if his estimates of receipts are not realized it is to be presumed that the Treasurer will not spend as much morney as is now proposed. That is how some of our surpluses have been obtained. The Treasurer finds that he has not the time, within the scope of one financial year, to spend all he has proposed to lay out. The very fact that we are enjoying exceedingly good times renders our position the more acute. I speak of good times in the sense that we are getting such high values for our primary produce. While fortune favours, we should do our best to employ our abundant revenues in the best possible directions. There is no reason why we should spend the whole of our income, seeing that next year we may be by no means so prosperous. Although our figures in respect of primary produce are so high, the Treasurer has demonstrated that he is fully aware that the actual volume of production has not expanded. Our greater returns are due to higher prices, and not to enhanced production. That fact applies not only to primary produce, but to manufactures as well. Although the value of our manufactures is much greater than some years ago, the total number of factories has by no means proportionately increased. During the financial year 1913-14 exports were valued at ,£78,571,000, and in 1919-20 at £14S,564,000. Our- imports in 1913-14 were valued at £79,749,000, and in 1919- 20 at £97,456,000.. There was an increase of 22 per cent, as regards imports, and of no less than S9 per cent, in respect of our exports. The output from our factories in 1913-14 was valued at £166,000,000, and in 191S-19 at £226,000,000. At the same time, however, the number of our factories had only very slightly increased.
The Government have done something in the direction of economy. For example,- the Government have transferred items, involving an expenditure of between £16,000,000 and £18,000,000, for payment out of revenue. Those items had previously been ‘ paid from loan money. That is a step in the right direction. There should have been more of that kind of thing during the war. We all see that now. There was one honorable member, however, who saw it while the war was being waged. I have often heard the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) speak in those terms in this chamber; but his warnings were not heeded, and to-day we are suffering accordingly. I trust that, year by year, until our dead-weight debts shall have been got rid of, we shall be able to increase our contributions from revenue to the sinking fund. The Treasurer has already practically demonstrated his belief in that policy.
Some days ago the Treasurer mentioned that he had cancelled something like £3,500,000 worth of notes. It is very important that, at the earliest possible moment, our note issue should be reduced to proper dimensions. In his Budget speech the Treasurer referred to the time when the note issue would be handed over to the ‘Commonwealth Bank for control and management. He said -
It is expected that, in the hands of the Board,, the amount of the note issue will automatically contract and expand according to business requirements.
It is to the credit of the Government that there has been already a large cancellation of our notes.
Not only do we require to practise economy, but, at the same- time, to display a certain amount of enterprise. While we must save all we can, and cut our expenditure down to bedrock, our debts are such that we can only remain solvent by encouraging increased production. We must find some means of helping the people to increase the total, and the value, of their productions. The Government have done a . little in that direction. A Bill has been passed in the terms of which help is tobe given to Western Australian farmers in the matter of erecting silos for their wheat. I do not say that the Government were not a. little more generous than they need have been. I am not satisfied that the deal was strictly business-like from the point of view of the Commonwealth. The Government did not guard the interests of the Commonwealth as closely as they might have done in regard to the security tor the money advanced. The Western Australian Government should have taken the place of the farmers’ organization in the negotiations with the Commonwealth, so that a more tangible security might have been offered. Nevertheless, I supported the scheme, be- cause I was returned to Parliament on a pledge to help the primary producer in every reasonable way. If the harvests of Western Australia are as good as we hope they will be, we shall have no trouble in getting our money back, and Western Australia will derive a distinct advantage from the arrangement. That is one thing the Government have done. But they will have to go further in helping primary industries. I have previously mentioned in the House the need for encouraging the production of fuel oil for the Navy. To-day the Government, are paying for oil two or three times as much as they were paying a few years ago; I do not suppose you can buy oil to-day at less than £14 per ton.
– I have just signed a contract for 4,000 tons at £7 10s. per ton.
– I am glad to hear that. But if the Government had made a contract with the Tasmanian Shale and Oil Company they would have been able to get oil supplies from a local industry at £4 10s. per ton.
– It was not the fault of the Commonwealth that the contract was not made. The State Government turned it down.
– The State Parliament turned down the agreement, but the Federal Government got outof it as soon as possible, and would not renew.
– The Government refused to erect oil tanks at Devonport before the oil was produced.
– The Commonwealth entered into a contract with the Tasmanian Government for the supply of 8,000 tons of oil per annum at a certain price. The Legislative Council rejected the arrangement, and the contract lapsed. The company then approached the Commonwealth for a renewal of the contract. I believe that one of the terms for which the company asked was that the Commonwealth should build oil tanks at Devonport. But the company was pre.pared tomake a reasonable arrangement, and I do not know that that condition would have been insisted . upon. The Navy Department has bungled this matter, as it bungled a’ great many others. It has wasted more money in proportion to its expenditure than has any other Federal Department. That could easily be proved by detailed references; but I do not intend to continue that subject to-day, because the Treasurer cannot be held responsible for all expenditure. It is of the utmost importance to the people that our expenditure of £68,000,000 from revenue should be handled in the wisest possible way. If at times unwise expenditure, is incurred, the Treasurer is not always to be blamed. He cannot watch over every detail of administration’. If anybody cares to analyze the total expenditure of £98,000,000 from loan and revenue, it will be found that a great deal of it is unavoidable, and represents statutory commitments.
– I call attention to the state of the Committee. [Quorum formed.]
– The necessity for primary production is so urgent that I hope the Government will do their utmost to assist oil production and the development of other forms of latent wealth. I ask the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) to keep in mind the Tasmanian shale proposition, and endeavour to come to a reasonable ‘arrangement with the company, so that a local industry may be encouraged, and the Navy may be assured of local supplies of fuel. We must continue to draw the great bulk of our wealth from primary, production. Our manufactures are increasing by leaps and bounds, and I hope they will continue to do so, because, by creating a big home market for the rural producer, they will stimulate the primary industries. There is no reason why we should not also increase our exports of primary products, and I am satisfied that, if a policy of encouraging production is adopted, Australia, with sane financing, will soon turn the corner and regain the road to general prosperity. In 1918 the primary production of Australia was valued at £223,408,000, and manufactures at £75,261,000, representing a total production of £298,669,000. If the Government will stimulate primary production we shall have a big increase in our population by immigration. We want, from overseas, a large number of people of the right type - those who wish to better themselves, and are not afraid to face the hardships of the back country - and, if we get them, wealth will increase at an enormous . rate. ‘ The history oE the United States of America shows that, whilst population has grown steadily during the last two centuries, wealth has increased even more rapidly.
– So has the pauper population.
– I am speaking of the total wealth of the country. If the Commonwealth owes £360,000,000 that must be admitted to represent a heavy burden upon 5,000,000 people. But if in a few years, by sane government and enterprise, we unearth some of the latent resources which are as yet untouched, and which may represent thousands of millions of pounds - and that is quite possible if Australia is the country we believe it to be - the balance-sheet will present a much more satisfactory appearance.
– There are too many “ ifs “ in your policy.
– When an individual dies, his estate is wound up, but a country never dies; it grows richer as it grows older, and is able to set greater assets against its liabilities. This country has greater possibilities than any other in the world. In comparison with Australia, what chances of recuperation have the older countries of Europe, depleted of population, with devastated industries, and staggering under a tremendous load of debt? What are their undeveloped resources compared with those of a country like Australia, which has barely been scratched on the surface? I would despair of our 5,000,000 people being able to carry our tremendous load of debt if it were not for the latent resources of the country. Even our established industries of mining, pastoralism, and agriculture are capable of tremendous expansion, but we cannot expect 5,000,000 of people to do all that is possible to be done. We must have a big inflow of immigrants to help us. I arn glad that the Government intend to embark upon an immigration scheme. All I hope is that, the scheme will prove a good one. We have not yet heard the details, hut I am satisfied .that the Government will do their best in this direction; and if the Commonwealth and the States will “ pull together the future of Australia will be assured.
– The honorable member will recall that. a member of this House once said that the best immigrant we can have is the child born in Australia.
– Even so, that is no argument against accelerating the increase of our population by immigration, and, at the same time, I hope that the Australian child will come along faster than before.
Looking at the figures in the Budget, it is very hard to say where we can save any great amount. Although the items are large, they are chiefly legacies of the war. On war expenditure alone we are spending from loan £20,000,000 less this year than last. With the exception of what is to be spent on Nauru Island, and in meeting some outstanding accounts in connexion with the Expeditionary Forces, the money ie being devoted to more or le6S reproductive works. It is also in our favour that, although we are spending huge sums due to the war - I mean on soldiers’ homes, and in lending money to the States for repatriation purposes - it is not direct war expenditure, as during hostilities. We are to get some return for expenditure of the kind, and even if some of the soldier settlers do nol prove successful on the land, as I am sorry to think some of them may not do. the money will still not be all thrown away, for, while we may lose something here and there, the land will remain.
As I said at the beginning, the Govern ment cannot expect the present abounding revenues to continue year in and year out. and, therefore, wo must at the same time not go on spending all our revenue and all our surpluses. Though the sum we receive for our products is large, that is not due to increased production, but to better prices. One fact to which the Budget speech does refer is that our tonnage now is less than it was in pre-war days; and it is fairly claimed, I think, by the Treasurer that tonnage is a good measure of the volume of our overseas trade. In 1914 our inward overseas tonnage was 5,272,000 tons, and today, when we are receiving more, perhaps, than we were some little time back, it is only 3,696,000 tons. All this points to the fact that we have to be extremely careful to make the most of the money that comes to our hands.
There are one or two other matters on which, I think, the Budget speech might have touched. It is admitted that a good deal of the expenditure is unavoidable, seeing that it is due to statutory enactments of .this Parliament.; but even this expenditure might be dealt with in an improved way. Although, under an improved method, the recipients of invalid and old-age pensions, the maternity allowance, and so forth, should not in any way suffer, the burden of the community might be lightened. I do not know why the Budget speech does not inform us as to what it is proposed to do in this connexion. No one more than myself would like to see invalid and old-age pensions increased to £1 per week. I know numbers of deserving persons who ought to be receiving pensions of that amount, in view of the services they rendered to the country during their working years.
– What good is £1 a week now ?
– It is surely better than 15s. per week.
– But you are estimating the services of these people at £1 per week.
– I would pay them more than £1 per week if the country could afford it; but we have come pretty well up to our limit, and a new plan is necessary. We have to find some better means of financing .these pensions and allowances, not only for the benefit of the community, which has to find the morey, but more particularly for the benefit of those who have to receive it. We must stabilize our old-age pensions” scheme by means of some insurance system. I do not know whether insurance for unemployment, sickness, old age, maternity and so forth should be embodied in one comprehensive Act, but something should certainly be done to obtain contributions from people during their working years. There must be some system of the kind, sooner or later, if we are to continue old-age pensions; and I only hope the result will be increased stability, and larger payments. The contributions to the funds for such a purpose ought to be made easy, and, if a person could not pay, exemption might De granted so that the pension would be enjoyed in any case. Of course, people who could work, but would not, and, therefore, did not contribute, ought not to be paid any pension; there is no- kindness in wasting public money in such a way. I know people drawing pensions at the present time who have done nothing for this country; they may have had somebody to depend on, and have had the luck to keep out of gaol, and to-day they are -really better off than before, because they have all their former advantages with the pension in addition. Other people, . whose services to the country have been great, are deprived of pensions on technicalities.
– Even in the case of those undesirables to whom you refer, they have contributed .very heavily through the Customs.
– To whom is the honorable member referring ?
– “ Boozers.”
– I am not talking, about “ boozers.” Some of those who are drawing pensions have let others do the contributing through the Customs - they have never contributed anything except for their own pleasure.
I think there ought to have been .some proposal in the Budget to reduce the printing bill of the country. A year or two’ ago the Public Accounts Committee, of which I was a member, presented a report on this subject, and if the Government refer to that report they will. I chink, find means suggested to curtail expenditure. It appears to me that there is a lot of unnecessary printing.
– Can we curtail the printing bill without curtailing members’ speeches ?
– Personally, I think we can. If it were absolutely necessary in the interests of / economy, we might abolish Hansard, or, perhaps, limit members’ speeches to fifteen minutes.
– I would agree to the abolition of Hansard if we could also abolish the past.
– The proposed expenditure on the Federal Capital might well have been left out of this year’s Budget. It represents, to my mind, a mere frittering away of money. The compact with Now South Wales will have to be kept, but the means now proposed will bring us no nearer to the realization of the Federal city.
– How about the twentyeight different Commonwealth offices in Melbourne, for which the Government pay high rents, and which members find it very difficult to locate?
– I know there are many buildings rented by the Commonwealth in Melbourne, and this also is a matter which the Public Accounts Committee inquired into and reported on some time ago. That report showed that there are at present Commonwealth buildings which could be so altered as to accommodate the Public Service, and that the alterations would not cost more, in a capital sense, than the interest we are now paying.
– The report showed that it would not cost so much.
– I think that the report showed that the rents todaywould pay interest and sinking fund on those buildings, ‘so that, in a certain time, the Commonwealth could house the Public Service practically rent free.
Another item which might well have been omitted from the Budget is the expenditure on the High Commissioner in America. There are altogether too many Commissioners and others going backwards and forwards. We have a High Commissioner at Home, but we are continually sending some one oversea to do work that he ought to do.
– We send about one to every ten sent by Canada.
– That argument “ cuts no ice “ with me; it is a question of what suits Australia.
– I. merely suggest that they would not send them if it did not pay to send them.
– A great deal depends on the man sent. America has not been foolish enough to put her faith entirely in politicians. She has sent abroad the best men she could get to represent the country - men like Russell Lowell, who adorned the positions that they filled. We should appoint as High Commissioner the best man obtainable. He may or may not be a member of this House, but wherever he may be, he should be got.
– I hope that whoever may be sent will be more than an ornament, to the office.
– I hope so, too, because if we are not going to get more for our expenditure on the up-keep of tho office than we have been getting of late, I shall move, or support, a motion for its abolition.
I have nothing to say of the personnel of the Inter-State Commission. It is not their fault that the country has got so little return from their’ services. We could have appointed, haphazard, from this House a set of men who would have given the same value. Had the Commission possessed the powers which it was the intention of the framers of the Constitution to give it, it might have done more. Whether it would’ be wise to give it greater powers, I am not concerned to say at this moment; but for all the good that it is as constituted, it might well bc wiped out, and the £6,000 or £7,000 a year which it costs saved.
When the Northern Territory Agreement was before Parliament, I prophesied - as will be seen by any one who takes the trouble to refer to the Hansard record of my speeches - that for many years the Northern Territory would be a burden on the rest of Australia; but I did not think that things would be as bad as they have turned out. At the time, I urged modifications of the agreement, but the agreement was put through Parliament without being modified in any way,and exactly as it was presented to Mr. Deakin, the then Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, by Mr. Price, who at. the time was Premier of South Australia. The agreement was not fair to the rest of Australia, and one or two modifications could have been made in it which would not have injured South Australia, but would have benefited Australia as n. whole. The Government has ‘attempted to do many things in the Northern Territory, but everything that has been attempted there has proved a failure. The right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) said, just before the last election, that, on the advice of the Economies Commission, expenditure in the Territory would cease, except so far as it was necessary to conserve works that had been begun; that no new expenditure would be undertaken until the Government had determined on a definite scheme for the development of the Territory. I do not know what the Government intends, hut, in my opinion, the Northern Territory will develop as other parts of Australia have developed. It will be settled first by the big selectors, who will be gradually supplanted by smaller men. Mining fields will be discovered, and towns will grow up. A country cannot be developed by rule of thumb.
– Do you not think that the Northern Territory agreement, like the Tasmanian agreement, should be honoured?
– It hasbeen honoured. Would South Australia take the Territory back?
– Yes; when the Commonwealth has carried out its bargain.
– Of course, it would take the Territory back after the Commonwealth had paid all the debts incurred in regard to it, constructed railways, and spent money generally on its development; but, as I said when the agreement was being considered, and as events have proved, the bargain was not fair to the Commonwealth. At the time I admitted that South Australia could not continue to maintain the Territory at its own expense for the benefit of Australia as a whole, but I would have modified the agreement between, the Commonwealth and that State. It cannot be said that the agreement has not been honoured. No time was fixed for the building of a railway from Oodnadatta, and I am sure that, if the Government were in a position to say that the finances of this country would permit of the construction of the line now, no member would oppose it, because, even though it might not be thought a good business transaction, we should be, glad to have the agreement in respect of it carried out.
I wish to know what the Government intends to do regarding the maternity allowance, which, at present, is a waste of money. The women of this country do not benefit from this expenditure as they should do; a better system would giveus a good return in the shape of healthy children. We should do well to copy the example of New Zealand, and institute a nursing system which would decrease infant mortality to a surprising extent, and would give us value for our expenditure. The object of this expenditure should be to provide every mother and child with the best attention and most skilful treatment obtainable at the time of crisis, not toprovide £5 for every woman who gives birth to an infant. At the present time, very many mothers who do not need, the allowance, and should never have been given the opportunity to get it, draw it.
– Apparently, the honorable member would make the allowance a charitable dole.
– No; but I do not believe in throwing money away. I would not confine the expenditure on necessitous cases to £5, but would give all the attention needed, whatever that might cost. If we followed New Zealand’s example we should save a considerable amount, and get ten times as much for our expenditure.
– Ninety-eight and a half per cent, of the. women who have babies draw the allowance.
– They have earned it.
– I do not think that the women of Australia would feel flattered to be told that.
The Government promised to appoint a Commission to inquire into the system of taxation, and that promise should have been carried into effect, because it was made in the policy speech at Bendigo, when we were told that the appointment would be made at an early date. Therefore, the Commission should before now have been appointed, and its report should be before us. The Budget should have been prepared after consideration of the Commission’s report, and we should be in a position to deal with it in the’ light of that report.
I hope that the people of Australia will pull together and help their Governments -Commonwealth and State - to put the finances of the country in a satisfactory position.
– What isyour opinion about a tax on bachelors?
– I have before today supported a tax on bachelors.
What the country needs, as the Prime Minister has said, is that the people should put all their energies into pulling Australia through the trying period which has followed the war, much as when the war was in progress our soldiers threw themselves into the work of saving the country. If that be done, and the Government are truly economical on the one hand, and properly enterprising on the other, taking some business risks here and there where big primary resources can be tapped, we shall come through successfully. We may even find’ the big oil supplies of which the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) spoke last night. In any case, our mineral, pastoral, agricultural, and other resources are illimitable, and with determination and a modicum of luck the people should be able to pull the country out of its troubles within a few years. Then, instead of our balance-sheet showing a tremendous debit, as it does to-day, we should have thousands of millions of assets to our credit, and Australia would not take long to recover from the heavy burden imposed upon her by the war. We have illimitable resources, including the shale oil deposits, to which I have already directed the attention of the Minister for the Navy, waiting to be, developed, and all that we need is sane government.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the present Government is not sane? ,
– I suggest that what we need is sane government and” safe finance. These, coupled with the determination of every individual in the community to do his best to pull the country through its financial troubles, would soon -put us on the high road to prosperity.
.- I agree with a good deal that has fallen from the lips of the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, but I also disagree with much that he has said. The Leader of the
Country party (Mr. McWilliams) has moved that the first item of the Estimates, which relates to the salary of the President of the Senate, be reduced by £.1, as a direction to the Government to reduce the Estimates by £1,000,000. If that saving could be effected in respect of the naval and military expenditure alone, I should be glad. I have, with regret, to bring before the Committee the treatment of certain soldiers now undergoing punishment for military offences. Among the brave fellows who fought for us overseas was a man named Lloyd, who was one of the first to enlist in his district. He committed what, in military circles, is regarded . as a terrible crime, and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment which, in my opinion, was altogether too severe. He is a dead shot, and, had he desired to kill an officer who had made his life aperfect hell, he could have done so. He merely tried to frighten him, however, and for thai offence was sentenced to a term of imprisonment which was subsequently reduced, on review, ‘by an officer here. Now’ that the war is over, I think that all such sentences should be reviewed by the civil power. That would be in accordance with a promise made to me by Mr. Fisher, when Prime Minister, that the civil law would, always dominate the military law, so far as all our troops were concerned. That promise, however, has been broken. There are at present in Pentridge certain military prisoners, including the man Lloyd, who are starving themselves, and, if my information be correct, the medical officer in charge is now cutting off their supply of water. I sincerely hope that it is not true that this action has been taken, since, if these men are deprived of water, and continue to abstain from taking food, they must die within ten ‘days. In an article on fasting in the’ Encyclopaedia Britannica, it is stated that -
When entirely deprived of nutriment, the human body is ordinarily capable of supporting life under ordinary circumstances, for little more than a week. In the spring of 1869 this was tried, on the person of a “fasting girl” in South Wales. The parents made a show of their child, decking her out like a bride on a bed, and asserting that she had eaten no food for two years. Some reckless enthusiasts for truth sot four trustworthy hospital nurses to watch her. The Celtic obstinacy of the parents was roused, and, in defence of their imposture, they allowed death to take place in eight days. Their trial and conviction for manslaughter may be found in the daily periodicals of the dato; but, strange to say, the experimental physiologists and nurses escaped scot free. . . . Various people have tried, generally for exhibition purposes, how long they could fast from food with the aid merely of water or some medicinal preparation; but these exhibitions cannot be held to have proved anything of importance.. A man named Jacques in this way fasted at Edinburgh for thirty days in 1888, and- in London for fortytwo days in 1R!)0. and for fifty days in 1891; mid an Italian named Succi fasted for forty days in 1890.
– Is there any case on record of a sane man having died as the result of a hunger strike?
– I know of no such case. The life of a man who abstains from taking food can be greatly prolonged by his resting in bed, and taking a full supply of water. I cannot say whether the doctor attending these men is a military officer, but I should be loath to think that a military doctor would be so cruel in his treatment of a fellow soldier as to deprive him of water. I am told that this has been done, but I am awaiting proof of the statement. If this action has’ been taken, I shall want to know who ordered it. If the doctor did not receive any direction on the subject, he had no right to give such an order. I shall fellow up my protest with an attempt to secure further evidence on the subject, and if my information proves lo be correct, I think the House will join with me in urging that, where a military prisoner determines to deprive himself of nutriment, no official, medical or otherwise, is justified in cutting off his supply of water.
I have endeavoured on more than one occasion to obtain information as to the wages and salaries of officers of this Parliament. That endeavour, however, has been thwarted by a gentleman whom I at one time looked up to, and whom I revered as one who loved his fellow-man, and was prepared to uphold the rights of the workers. I allude to the President of the Senate. I dislike giving utterance to my thoughts on this subject, but I certainly cannot understand the attitude taken up by the President. What right has he to deny to any member of this Parliament information as to the salaries and wages paid to officers in this building.
– It is not in order to discuss the President of the Senate.
– Then I shall deal with the matter in another way. On a previous occasion, while you, sir, were acting as Deputy Speaker of the House, I made a- request to be supplied with this information, and that request was supported by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who was most sympathetic. As Deputy Speaker, you were informed that the information was at my disposal. Portion of the required information was supplied to me, but it related only to officers of this House.
– That is as far as this House can go.
– I understand that that is the position under the Public Service Act. If so, the Act should be amended. I do not think any honorable member desires that an officer of this Parliament, who is a married man, shall receive only £2 14s. a week. A married man who was employed in this building at such a salary was told by a senior official that if he did not return to duty at once, he would lose his position. He was away on sick leave, but, in view of this direction, he returned to duty before he should have done, caught a chill, and died. He left a widow and children, whose blessings are not likely to follow the officer who brought him back to work before he was fit to resume. We are expected to pay reasonable wages, and I should like to know in what industry outside a married man is receiving only £2 14s. a week. I have not a word of reproach to utter in respect of Mr. Speaker. He is a gentleman in every sense of the word, and prior to the election of the present President, no such difficulty as this arose. Two men with gentlemanly instincts can carry out even faulty regulations to the benefit of those who have to obey them ; but when a man adopts the role of dictator, so far as the supplying to this House of information on these matters is concerned, it is time for us to amend the Public Service Act, and to show him that neither he nor the Governor-General - who, by the way, would not stoop to do what the President is doing - shall have such a power.
The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) and I must cross swords in regard to the maternity allowance, to which he would attach, the stigma of poverty, and possibly of charity. When I was in charge of the Maternity, department in St. Mary’s Hospital, , London, I had under iny jurisdiction, as obstetrical officer, every maternity case which came into that institution or required assistance therefrom. I remember being called out one night to deliver a child- a babe which the Christ, 2,000 years ago, would have taken in his arms and blessed. It was a sad case - of such a character, indeed, that , I had to send for the Medical Superintendent. Together, with our sleeves rolled back, we fought for those lives. The life-blood of the mother was flowing away, and we could only hope to save her by the unremitting application of physical pressure. . We relieved each other every five minutes, and directly we stepped back from the bed we had to sweep from our arms and bodies the loathsome, filthy bugs which were crawling all over the room and its occupants. If that mother could have be6n given material assistance, would she not have spurned such surroundings in which to bring her child into the world?
– I said nothing to suggest that, in circumstances such as those, help should not be given.
– I am not crossing swords with the honorable member’ in respect of this specific matter; but I ask him, in view of our world-wide knowledge of the deadly effects of . germ carriers today, what chance had that babe of reaching . maturity, born as it was into a world of poverty and squalor? So far as Australia is concerned, the very fact that almost the whole of our people have accepted the maternity bonus removes the stigma of charity. It was announced by the Treasurer not long ago that 981/2 per cent, of the mothers of Australia had claimed the bonus. No one, then, can say that it is a charity.
– The fact of its almost universal acceptance does not rid the maternity bonus of that aspect.
– It is no charity when the women of this nation, almost as a whole, claim it as their right. However, I am not severely angry with the honorable member, because I realize that, as a crusty qld bachelor, he does not know much about the subject, after all. But if he has ever patted the head of a dog, or stroked the arching neck of a fine horse, and found pleasure therein, I assure him that he would find a far greater thrill in gazing upon the budding intelligence to be perceived in the eyes of an infant. I hope that the maternity allowance will not be decreased, and that it will never even be attacked.
With respect to the old-age pension, it is absurd that one man should be able to own a house valued at £500, and that, so long as he lived in it and made it his home and did not earn more than 10s. a week, he could claim the full amount of pension; while another, who had money in the bank equivalent to the value of that house, should be prevented from participating in our pensions scheme. As a matter of fact, a house affords a far greater opportunity for securing an increase in value than does £500 when it has been put into a war loan.
– The difference between the two cases is, that from one investment a man derives income, while from the other he does not.
– Cannot a man earn 10s. a week by way of rent from his house ?
-If he did he would be debited with its value. He can only participate in. the pensions scheme so long as he lives in his own house, and earns nothing from it.
– But he is allowed to earn up to 10s. He may live in a house of his own that is worth £1,000.
– Perhaps so; but he must not derive income from it.
– Would the honorable member prefer to have £500 worth of war bonds or a house worth £1,000? I think he will ask for time to consider that proposition. The whole position is wrong. One individual should not be penalized while the other remains free from all penalties. I hope to see the age limit in connexion with pensions reduced some day, and there should be a further reform in that the States should be required to contribute more than they do. There is still another anomaly. I refer to the weekly amount of 2s. as pocket money for inmates of charitable institutions. The cost of tobacco has risen so high that this luxury must be almost out of reach of poor old pensioners in public institutions. Even members of Parliament, despite their recent increase of salaries, must find it hard to keep themselves in “ smokes.” We should endeavour to make matters as easy as possible for our unfortunate old folk, who, after all, were born in God’s glorious likeness.
The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) referred to the national insurance, and upon that subject we are in agreement. At one timeGermany led the world with respect to national insurance; but when the British scheme was evolved it stood head and shoulders above the German system. I trust that when Australia shall have inaugurated national insurance our scheme will tower above the British system as the latter does above the German. To the Australian plan of national insurance both employer and employee should contribute. In Germany, and in Denmark, and Great Britain, that principle holds good. But, when we shall have established our system, we should make the unearned increment from all the lands of Australia furnish the contribution of the whole community. In that way our national insurance would become the greatest ever known . In a recent year it was estimated that the value of Australia amounted to £1,200,000,000. A year later - and this was a war year - that colossal valuation had’ risen to £1,645,000,000 - an enormous increase. I do not say that the whole of that sum represents the unearned increment of the land, but a very large proportion of it does. The unearned increment during the next ten years, if it were applied to Australia’s Army, Navy, and pensions expenditures, would totally relieve the Commonwealth Government in respect of those heads.
I desire to quote now from Alfred Russel Wallace, . the peer of every writer on land nationalization. In his ninetieth odd year Wallace, in his efforts bo find the cure for poverty, wrote and published a book entitled Social Environment and Moral Progress. He, like myself, could not believe in a Creator if he thought that poverty could not be eliminated. Surely, with our high intelligence, we can attain to the standard of the ant and the bee. No ant or bee suffers from want or privation; and surely we human beings, with God-endowed intelligence, should be able to make laws and so organize our communities that starvation, poverty, and misery would beno more. Dealing with the “ Root-cause and the Remedy,” Wallace establishes four points, as follow : -
Also, it may be defined as social injustice, inasmuch as the few in each generation are allowed to inherit the stored-up wealth of all preceding generations, while the many inherit nothing. The remedy is to adopt the principle of equality of opportunity for all, or of universal inheritance by the State in trust for the whole community.
– Unless we get better results.
– I understand the position. I had the honour of going about London with the late Sir George Reid, when he was High Commissioner, to inspect the different sites on which Australia House might have been built. One site faces Trafalgar-square; but, in the words of one of the visiting Australian parliamentarians, “it was all face, and no stomach.” We have now in Australia House a very fine edifice, which has been beautified by an Australian sculptor, Mr. Bertram Mackennal, plaqueby whom adorn the front of this building. Australia House cost us close on £1,000,000; and what have we to show for the money ? I lived in London as a student for five years, and I never heard of anything worth while that an Agent-General did. Ihave spoken to theatrical stars, to artists, liter atteurs, and others who have visited Australia, and I have never heard one say that the High Commissioner or the Agents-General do any good. We know that the AgentsGeneral, and I suppose also the High Commissioner, have certain social uses.
When some wealthy Australian shakes the dust of Australia from his feet, and decides to spend the remainder of his days in England, he desires to be introduced to Royalty, and seeks the aid of an Agent-General or the High Commissioner. London Puch once . described how, when certain noveaux riches carnie to London, members of the aristocracy who had fallen “on bad times were feed to teach the ladies how to do an elegant backkick in order to clear their feet of the long Court trains. A lady trying to retreat twenty steps backwards in order not to turn her back on Royalty is one of the most amusing sights that a commonsense nian can watch.. We know that at the Delhi Durbar one of the Indian Princes was accused of having turned his back on the present King and Queen. If he had been guilty of that insult he should have been punished ; but I saw a cinematographic representation of the ceremony, and in the circumstances I would not blame anybody for turning his back on Royalty. About ten steps from the dais on which the Royal party stood, there was a flight of steps, and I saw several of the Princes who were presented make false steps and nearly fall. Are we to continue the High Commissionership for the benefit of rich Australians desiring to be presented at Court ? In these criticisms there is nothing personal. I love and revere Mr. Fisher, and when his term ends, if the .office must be continued, I know no one in this House who could fill the position better than could the present Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), a-nd if later he is appointed there will be no criticism of the appointment from’ me. I urge the Government to sell Australia House. The expenditure of £1,000,000 on the construction of that edifice during war time was an infamy. Let us send a Minister to London, with a good living allowance, to be increased by commission on his sales of Australian produce. If
Ihe does not make a sufficiently high commission, send another man to take his place. The .six Agents- General should be abolished. We have also six State Governors, whose salaries and expenses have to be paid by ‘the Australian people, although they have no say in the appointments. Are there no Australians good enough for these positions? I would have no objection to Mr. Speaker, or the President of the Senate, assenting to Bills; although I favour the abolition of the Senate. Ever since I entered public life, thirty years ago, I have been opposed to second Chambers. We could also dispense with the six State Chief Justices. One Chief Justice for the whole Commonwealth would be sufficient. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) also suggested the curtailment or abolition of Hansard.
– That was only a side issue.
– If honorable members had had the same experiences as I have had they would realize the value of an official record of their speeches in Parliament. I should be -prepared to vote for the abolition of the present Hansard, provided we substituted a daily Hansard that the man in the street might buy for Id. By that system we might’ make £90,000 a year from advertisements. Failing that, I am content with the present Hansard, and shall vote against any proposal to abolish it.
– Did anybody suggest that?
– I believe the honorable member for Wilmot suggested it.
– The only Hansard which, the Tasmanian Parliament has is a compilation of cuttings from the newspapers.
– Lord preserve us from that!
– In connexion with the Commonwealth Bank, we have a dictator, and nobody can say a word to him. If he chooses to employ his nearest relatives and put money in their way, no one can say him nay. To-day, when the price of money is so high - thrifty France having to pay 8 per cent. - this dictator will not allow the people of Australia more than 3£ per cent, for their deposits. The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) told me, in answer to a question, that he has no control over the Governor of ‘the Commonwealth Bank. I once told that gentleman to his face, in the presence of the former Treasurer, what I thought of him, and I did not mince my words. I doubt whether, if £1,000,000 were removed from the Bank, anybody would have power to institute an inquiry into the matter. To’ his honour, the late Lord Forrest always said that it was dangerous to allow any man to have uncontrolled power, and he had in mind the limitation of the power of the Governor of the Bank by appointing others to act with him. It is certainly time that some such step was taken. By advertisement, the State Savings Bank of Victoria offers interest at 4 per cent, on sums up to £500. In addition, anydepositor may deposit from £10 to £1,000 in deposit stock, which also will bear interest at 4 per cent., and may be withdrawn in amounts of £10 at ten days’ notice and £100 at three months’ notice. The Commonwealth Bank, however, will only pay 31/2 per cent, to the Australian people, who are supposed to own the institution.
– Who gave the Governor of the Bank such wide powers?
– A silly fool of a Parliament, of which I was a. member. I accuse the Governor of the Bank or somebody else of acting in violation of a section inserted in the Commonwealth Bank Act by the Senate and indorsed by this Chamber.
– What was that?
– If a wife has her money in the State Savings Bank and her husband should steal, her pass-book, and, by forging her name, withdraw money from her account, she has no recourse at law against thebank.
– Are not the Savings Banks protected by a special Act?
– It is so provided in the Victorian State Savings Bank Act. Knowing of one or two instances of the kind. I sought to eliminate a similar provision from the Commonwealth Savings Bank Bill.
– You did not come to me as Treasurer about that matter.
– It was long before the honorable member was Treasurer, but this is the first time I have publicly referred to the matter. I am speaking from memory, but I think I shall be verified by Hansard when I say that a special clause was inserted in the Senate, and subsequently indorsed by this Chamber; but to-day the Commonwealth Savings Bank adapts the same plan as that of the State Savings Bank.
– Who is responsible for that?
– I do mot know whether or not it is the same person who is responsible for giving to one firm of architects all the work in connexion with the War Service Homes. We must not forget the noble action of the architects of Australia in connexion with the war. The members of no other profession, trade, or calling offered their lives, so freely. There is not an architect’s office in Melbourne from which men did not go to the Front. Every man in the office of the president of the Architects’ Association volunteered, and even the lady typiste went to the Front as nurse.
– The medical men did very well, too !
– Nothing in comparison. After the war was over, and the architects who had volunteered returned, they were given a banquet,’ and for each host there were four guests, showing that four had gone to the Front for every one who remained behind. That, I think, is unequalled throughout Australia, though I cannot speak for the other States so well as I can for Victoria. But were these architects given any preference by the Commonwealth Bank ? Not a bit. One man only - a relation of a dear, dear friend of the head of the bank - had the whole business in his hands. As an old banker, I say that that is an infamy.
– Has he got the business still ?
– The honorable member may be able to obtain from the Treasurer what I have been unable to obtain, namely, information as to how much money is likely to be passed to Mr. Kirkpatrick, the architect, who did not go to the Front, and to his son, who, though of military age, I have been informed, did not even offer. I say nothing against the abilities of those men; but they have their equals in Australia. This work ought to have been thrown open to competition amongst all the architects of Australia. There is to be erected another Commonwealth Bank in Collinsstreet, and I will make a wager, for the benefit of any hospital, that the architectural work will go to the same. gang.
The ACTING CHAIRMAN (Hon. F. W. Bamford).- Order!
– If ever there was a suspicious case of nepotism in public life this is one, and yet we cannot get an answer to a question about the management of the Commonwealth, Bank. Are honorable members content with such a state of affairs? I am not blaming the Government, for it is the fault of Parliament; we should not have allowed any man to have such a controlling power. My speech has been a series of complaints.
– You have been very severe to-day.
– That is because I feel severely, and I only regret that, not knowing I was to speak to-day, I have not my full notes on this case with me.
To recapitulate, my great desire is that in connexion with the maternity allowance, there should be no stigma - of charity, and I urge that lack of funds is no argument against an increase of the old-age pension. If the war had lasted only six months longer,’ more money would have teen raised and wasted in destruction than would pay the increased pension for ten years to come.
I protest against the establishment of any military dictatorship in this country. Defence and offence are now carried on in th’e air and under the sea. The idea of a super-Dreadnought at the present moment is as absurd as the idea of men in armour. The greatest Dreadnought that England had during the war never dared to do what the smallest sloop did in the time of Napoleon. Then, no sloop which carried the flag would refuse to sail any sea, and, if compelled, fight a bigger force. The British, armoured Fleet had to hide; not one dare go out because of the deadly torpedo and submarine. No Dreadnoughts would dare to attack Australia if we were defended with- a fleet of aeroplanes and fleet of submarines; no branches of the Defence Forces during the war suffered so much, or showed such a heavy death roll : and in their case I support the same wage, same uniform,and the same food for both men and officers. And why not, when all equally risk their lives? Let the officers qualify by examination, and then be chosen by the men, who possibly have to die under them. What are we going to do with the Australia? Would it not be better to break her up and make use of the valuable metal and furnishings? Are the higher paid men to be kept employed on the smaller ships? We ought to be able to meet the position. If we eliminate super-Dreadnoughts and concentrate on aircraft and submarines, the defence expenditure will be reduced, but we must raise the average wages. Are the Government .going to cut down the expenditure on the Army and the Navy? I would go so far as to support a reduction by £1,000,000, as indicated by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams), whose amendment, if it be pressed to a division, I shall support.
– A short time ago the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), when answering his critics, invited them, and members of the House, not to talk in generalities, but to name the items wherein they consider economy can be effected. I propose, as nearly as I can, to confine myself to the items in which I think the Committee might fairly make reductions. I do not presume to criticise the practices of the House, and have been told by other honorable members, as well as the honorable member for Franklin, that it is usual, when a party or member wishes to criticise the Budget, or any item of expenditure, to move to reduce it as he has done; but that does not appear to me to be a practical way of doing things.
– A nominal reduction is often moved, but the motion is never pressed to a division unless it is intended to censure t’-° Government.
– have seen the honorable member foi Parramatta (Sir Joseph Cook) move, ti]. and again, to reduce an item in the Estimates by £1.
– I do not know whether the intention of the honorable member for Franklin is to censure the Government, or whether his amendment means what it says, and he wishes to reduce the salary of the President by £1. I cannot think that he desires his amendment to be taken as a motion of censure, because of the difficulty in which the Corner party would be placed were the present Government to be defeated, and that party forced to support a Labour Government. The differences between the Country party and the Nationalist party are very few. Members of both parties represent practically the same interests, and the policy of the Country party is similar to, if not the same as, that of the Nationalist party. It cannot, be conceived, then, that the Country party would support Labour Ministers, whose policy would be contrary to theirs. In my opinion, the proper way of trying to bring about a reduction of expenditure is to move to reduce any item that ought to be reduced. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) did not name the particular items in which he thinks economy could be effected, though he briefly referred to the Defence and Northern Territory expenditures as capable of reduction. I do not suppose that he agrees with certain ideas about Defence that have come from the other side of the Chamber or thinks other than that the country, should have an adequate defence policy.
– Everybody thinks that.
– If the honorable member for Franklin wishes to influence Government supporters in favour of his amendment, he should mention some of the items which he thinks could be reduced. It would be an extraordinary thing if the proprietor of a business, or the owner of a farm, on looking at the proposed expenditure for the year, said to his manager, “ You, must cut . this down by so much,” leaving it to the manager to effect the reduction as he thought best. In my opinion, the business method would be to go through the items, and pick out those in which a. saving could be effected. The business man would say, “ There are too many office boys employed,” or “ too much is being paid for such and such a service.” It has been said that business methods should be applied to the administration of public affairs, and in this case the business method would be to name the items which might be reduced. If that were done, voting on the proposals would be independent of party,, and the Estimates of Expenditure would be shaped in accordance with the views of honorable members. .
– The honorable member for Franklin suggests the appointment of a new manager.
– That is not what he says. He merely moves the reduction of a particular salary by £1.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the Treasurer, who, like others, has declared his belief in reasonable economy in the expenditure of public money. But members of Parliament do not want economy, because each one of them has some pet scheme or undertaking in his electorate, on which he wishes the Government to expend money, and almost every day an honorable member is going to one of the Ministers to ask him to do such andsuch a thing inhis district. Every honorable member wishes for more public money to be spent in his electorate, although he may preach economy in general terms. Therefore, I have a good deal of sympathy with the Treasurer in his efforts to effect economy in the public expenditure. I commend him for proposing to provide for our military liabilities by taxation rather than by borrowing, and when it is realized that about £63,000,000 of the £90,000,000 odd it is proposed to 6pend this year is to meet war obligations, the expenditure proposed will not look- as serious as some of the press critics of the Treasurer would have it appear.
Coming to the items which, in my opinion might.be reduced,I mention first the proposal for expenditure on’ the Northern Territory. The honorable member for Franklin spoke incidentally of this expenditure when moving his amendment.
– I. gave all the figures and facts connected with the subject.
– Other membershave criticised that expenditure, and I agree with what has been said. I share the view of ‘ the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) that the Northern Territory will, develop much as the States have developed, and that the expenditure of £100,000 a year on officials to do we know not what will not assist that development. The money- could be much better spent on a railway line to open up the Territory, and make it accessible to settlers from other parts of Australia and from abroad. If the Territory is to be developed, the development will be due to the enterprise of private persons who will take up its land, and use it, or search for its minerals. These must have reasonable encouragement, and be assured that if they succeed in developing this vast empty area, they will reap the results of their enterprise and toil. Persons with capital should be especially encouraged. If this is not done, the Northern Territory will, I- am afraid, be a burden on the Commonwealth for all time. Vestey’s, a huge meat packing concern, which was established at Darwin, has now practically closed its works for want of encouragement, although its operations were very beneficial to the Territory. In my opinion, it would be better for 100 individuals each to make a fortune of £100,000 out of the Territory than for the Commonwealth to continue to spend £100,000 a year on it, and leave it undeveloped. 1 wish to know the policy of the Government regarding the Northern Territory.
– We are open to consider one from the honorable member.
– I shall be happy to give what assistance I can ; but there are men in the northern parts of Australia, and in the Territory itself, who could give better advice on the subject than I can give. The. Government has not had the advice of those who know the Territory, but it is to them that Ministers should go for assistance. It is idle to appoint a university professor as Administrator of the Northern Territory and to expect him to be a success. What we want is a practical man for the job, otherwise only failure can result. It appears to me that to have in the Northern Territory 339 officials for a population of less than 3,000 - the figure given by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) was 1,883 adults - is absolutely absurd. I have not heard all the speeches that have been delivered on the Budget, but if no other honorable member proposes to move a reduction of the proposed vote in respect of the Northern Territory, I shall do so at the proper time.
– It requires a lot of money merely to take care of the Northern Territory.
– Does not the Treasurer think that a lot of public money is wasted there?
– No; our property there would deteriorate if we did not expend this money.
– I did not know that we had any property there.
I come now to the proposed vote of £53,974 in respect of the High Commissioner’s Office. I am satisfied that the Treasurer will not be able to offer any reasonable excuse ‘ when the Committee condemns that expenditure. I do* not suppose that there is one honorable member who will benefit by it, and I am convinced that the Committee will not insist on the vote being retained as proposed. If when we come to consider the Estimates in detail a motion to reduce that vote is moved, I am sure it will be carried. I shall certainly act in that direction. The High Commissioner’s Office at the present time is neither more nor less than a monument of inefficiency. It is not difficult for the Government to obtain evidence’ in support of- that statement. Many residents of Melbourne and other State capitals who have visited London during the last two or three years have told me that, quite apart from political considerations, their one great disappointment on visiting England was in regard to the way in which business is conducted in the High Commissioner’s Office. I am on sound ground in urging that the proposed vote be reduced. It is absolutely absurd that we should spend £53,974 a year on an office which gives us practically no return. We have in Australia House a magnificent building. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) last night said he considered it should be an excellent advertisement for Australia. . But it is certainly no advertisement for the Commonwealth to build such a house to accommodate picture companies, or to compete with dancing halls by holding entertainments designed to entertain the officials and their friends. That is what is going on continually in Australia House. At a time like the present, surely we are not going to expend money to accommodate such enterprises. The officials at Australia House are at liberty to visit any music halls they think fit; but we do not want Australia House to enter into competition with dancing halls, picture shows, and such-like places of entertainment in “ London.
– If it is done for the benefit of the officials, no. But please remember that even in normal times there are always 3,000 Australians in London.
– That is no reason why we should allow Australia House to be converted into a picture gallery or a dancing hall. There are any number of such places of entertainment in London.
– I entirely agree with the honorable member; but there is, at all events, a function for Australia House to perform.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said iia this House some weeks ago that, as the result of the resignation of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) from the Ministry while he was in London, Australia was left absolutely without representation at a most important Conference which was then about to be held. Before it was possible for the Prime Minister to make such a statement, the present High Commissioner should have ‘been on his way to Australia. If, notwithstanding the fact that we are spending £53,000 a year on the High Commissioner’s Office, the Leader of the Government felt compelled to say that owing to the exTreasurer’s resignation, Australia was left without representation at the Conference in question, and without any one to conduct various important negotiations, it cannot be denied that Australia House is, as I have said, merely a monument of in- efficiency. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen), who is now on his way to Europe, is, we are told, to go into the question of the re-organization of the High Commissioner’s Office. He is not proceeding to Europe specially for that purpose, but has another most important mission to carry out. I am of the opinion that neither Senator. E. D. Millen nor any other Minister should have to be sent from Australia to reorganize the office. It needs to be reorganized. If that were not so, the Government would not have announced that that was part of the business to be carried out by Senator Millen; but the High Commissioner himself should be the man to undertake the work. “When his SUe- cessor is appointed, fi. young man of vigour should be .selected- a .man who will look upon the office as sufficiently important to demand of its occupant that he shall maintain the high prestige of Australia in the Old Country. If the High Commissioner’s Office is to be reorganized and put in a state of efficiency, the work should be done by the High Commissioner himself. If he cannot do it, he is not fitted for his office.
I have in my notes a reference to the Federal Capital expenditure, but that has already been dealt with rather fully, and I do not propose to make more than a passing reference to it. When we have a large expenditure proposed in respect of the building of the Federal Capital at the present time, I fail to understand how the Treasurer can substantiate the claim so often made by him that there is no possibility of cutting down these Estimates.
There are some items in the Estimates relating to the Prime Minister’s Department that call for attention. The ex- penditure of that Department has -already been criticised pretty freely by some of those who have preceded me. I would, however, direct attention to such items as those relating to Royal Commissions. I have always held the opinion that far too many Commissions are appointed to inquire into Commonwealth matters, and it is certainly startling to see in these Estimates an item of £10,000 to provide for the Royal Commission in regard to the adjustment of the basic wage. I agree with the remark made by an honorable member, who, when dealing with another question, said that there are in this Parliament men who have a wider knowledge, and are far more competent to deal with such questions as are usually brought before Commissions of inquiry, than are those to whom the work is’ allotted. The Minister in charge of .each Department should be responsible for its efficient administration; and it is a waste of money to expend thousands of pounds a year on Royal Commissions, and upon inquiry after inquiry into the administration of different Departments.. Here, then, is another item in respect of which economies could be effected. At this stage, I am making merely a hasty, review of the items, recognising that we shall be able to deal with them more fully when we proceed to consider in detail the Estimates of each Department. My only desire is to point out now to the Treasurer that there are items which some of us think might well be reduced, and that lt will bc necessary for us to move accordingly. I agree with the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) that there is a great waste of money in connexion with our printing bill. I wish to emphasize my protest ‘against the waste of paper and printing that goes on in all the Departments into which I have had an insight. In respect of this Parliament, I know of no item, in connexion with which there is greater waste than that relating to paper and printing. There is no reason why we should not cut. down the expenditure on such items. It may be said that they are relatively trifling, but they show us that Ministers and heads of Departments have not a proper regard for economy, otherwise they would look into the little things, and cut down expenditure wherever possible. When that is not clone, they cannot claim to believe in absolute economy in public expenditure.
The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams), when moving his amendment yesterday, said that he had never known any good to result from the criticism of items when dealing with the general Estimates. He went on to say that honorable members generally did not consider it right or proper that they should deal with item after item, and say that this salary or that salary should be cut down. It may be very convenient to move an amendment such as that which is now before us, to obtain the decision of the Committee upon it, and then to go away for two or three weeks, leaving a very thin Committee to deal with the items in detail; but I am prepared to stay here to discuss the Estimates item by item. It is our duty to do so. We should cut down expenditure wherever possible, and I do not think it is infra dig. for honorable members to move for the reduction of even small proposed votes. A Minister, or a head of a. Department, who considered, for example, that the matter of printing and the awful waste of paper - such as honorable members see about this chamber and its precincts - was beneath attention, could not be said to possess the real spirit of economy in administration. Honorable members are deluged with printed matter of one kind and another, very little of which they peruse, and it must represent an enormous waste.
– The notes of the honorable member’s speech are jotted on the very best of the House’s writingpaper. I invite him to look at this common scribbling pad which I’ keep before me for my use.
– I have wasted no paper. The whole of my notes are jotted down on a minimum- space. Poor soldiers, like myself, at the Front quickly learned that paper was not allowed to go to waste; neither were jam tins and the like. They were all collected, and sent somewhere or other, for further use. Now that we are back home in Australia, and soldier members see the waste of printed matter which goes on around us, we are not impressed with any demonstration of economic administration in the Public Service. I merely mention these minor facts to show that the spirit of economy is not to be noted in this Parliament.
I have made it clear that I am not in . agreement with the method proposed by the honorable member for Franklin for bringing about economy. He has his own ideas of putting right that which is wrong; but if any honorable member should care, when the opportunity arrives, to move to cut down an unnecessarily extravagant item of expenditure, I shall assist him to the utmost of my ability. It may then be for the Government to consider whether our action should be regarded as a vote of want of confidence; but I shall not be deterred by that consideration if I am of opinion that that is the only practical way to economize. Of course, I do not presume to dictate to older members of this Chamber concerning the correct method to, adopt; but I emphasize that, in my view,’ the proposed amendment amounts to nothing. If it is carried, we are to understand that a new Government must be found. That is an awful alternative, which requires most careful consideration. We know that we shall not achieve economy by putting the Government, out and promoting to the Treasury benches a Government selected from honorable members opposite. It would be of no use to attempt to apply a remedy which, in fact, could only intensify the trouble. Reductions of various items may be made, I think, without ill-effect, and, certainly, without bringing about the downfall of the Government. Therefore, if no other honorable member feels disposed to do so, I shall be prepared to move for certain reductions in respect of specific items when the Estimates are being dealt with line bv line. I am sure that ‘the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) does not wish to put the Government out of office, and to set up anotherfrom among honorable members opposite.
– It all depends upon how the honorable member votes.
– If the amendment were carried it would not have the effect of reducing public expenditure. Indeed, the outcome would be quite the reverse. I prefer, therefore, to take no such risk, and shall not support the amendment. I am hopeful that, as item by item of Estimates is considered, the Treasurer may be persuaded to reduce expenditure here and there to fair and reasonable limits.
.- Being one of those who believe that Federal expenditure has increased, and is increasing, beyond all reasonable bounds, I congratulate the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) upon having moved his amendment. The two days that have been spent in discussing the amendment havebeen probably the two best-spent days during the three years I have had the honour to be a member of this Parliament.
– The honorable member must have had an unfruitful time.
– I will not admit such a reproach from even so great an authority as the honorable member. I welcome the entry into, this Chamber of the recently-appointed Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers), and I take this opportunity of congratulating him upon his well-deserved promotion, and the Ministry upon the great accession to their strength which they enjoy through the entry of the honorable member for Wannon into the Cabinet. It is only right that every honorable member should address himself, as far as possible, to the most practical means of -either reducing the excessive expenditure, or, at all events, placing some check upon its continual increase. I have sought advice from the highest authorities as to the best method which members of the Committee could adopt to impose some check upon the ever-increasing expenditure, and every constitutional . authority is agreed that the only effective means is the carrying of a motion to reduce the Estimates. I have not been able to discover any better way, nor has any one during the debate indicated how our object could be better attained.
– Is the honorable member in favour of reducing the expenditure on defence, for that is what the amendment means?
– Say yes; you are quite safe.
– I prefer to study wisdom and the interests of the people, rather than any own safety, in a matter of this kind. Upon the subject of defence expenditure, I have an open mind. I am prepared to hear all the arguments that may be advanced for and against the Government’s defence proposals, and, after giving them due consideration, act as I may consider right.
– Should not the honorable member hear the arguments before he attempts to reduce the Estimates?
– That may be quite true, but the Committee should create the right atmosphere, and settle general principles, before approaching the question in detail.
– From what item does the honorable member propose to take the £1,000,000?
– There are many items which go tomake up the vast sum which the Government are proposing, to spend, and I do not intend, at this stage at all events, to bind myself to the reduction of any one item.
– We must begin . by setting an. example ourselves, must we not?
– Exactly. During this debate I have listened with the utmost appreciation to the example set me by the Treasurer, and I hope to follow it as far as I am able to do.
– Would the honorable member distribute the reduction over the whole of the Departments?
– I am not dealing with any individual Department, but with the general question as to whether the enormous sum of money which the Government propose to spend during the financial year should, or should not, be approved to the last penny. I have yet to learn that a better method of reducing expenditure and preventing further increases can be adopted than, the moving of such an amendment as is now before the Committee.
– Anybody who understands parliamentary practice knows that it is the only way to do it.
– Nothing of the kind.
– When two great authorities, probably the two greatest in Australia, differ, who am I that I should attempt to decide?
– The honorable member should back his own leader.
– He requires no backing from me. He is well able to take care of himself, and the course he has followed on this occasion is, undoubtedly, justified by the results so far.
– I do not mind him taking care of himself, but he wants to take care of all of us.
-There are many people, of whom I am one, who are only too willing to be well taken care ‘of whenever the opportunity arises.
– Is it a fact that the Country party-
– I can only return to the honorable member the very civil and courteous answer I received from the Prime Minister on one occasionthat “ the intentions of the Government will be disclosed in due course.” So, too, the views of the Country party will be disclosed in due course.
– Does the Country party intend to turn the Government out of office?
– Can such a question be reasonably asked in a House which has shown in every action and every word such appreciation of the valuable services rendered by the Government to the people of Australia? I repeat that the action taken by the Leader of the Country party has been amply justified by the results so far. First of all, hehas focussed the attention of honorable members upon the absolute necessity for giving a close and critical examination of every item in the Estimates.
– I invite that; the more of it we get the better.
– The Treasurer has freely and openly invited criticism, and he appreciates what we are doing in this matter. I hope that’ he will be as grateful, to me for taking part in this discussion, in response to his kindly invitation, as I have always been to him when I have had the honour of listening to his remarks.
– He does not care how much you criticise, so long as you vote right.
– The Prime Minister’ (Mr. Hughes), whilst he deprecated the terms of theamendment, declared that the Government welcomed a discussion of the financial position, and would be prepared to allow on every item in the Estimates a free and full discussion. In addition, I understood that, when any item is under consideration, and an amendment- is moved from any part of the House for a reduction, the Go vernment will not treat such a proposal as involving the existence of the Government; in other words, that honorable members will not be threatened, when they propose a reduction, that its adoption means turning out the Government. That is what I understood by the words uttered by the Prime Minister to-day.
– But he said that this was not one of those amendments; hemade that unmistakable.
– That is true, but, at all events, the Prime Minister conceded what I have indicated. From my brief study of parliamentary history, the present occasion may be regarded as a landmark in this House. The Prime Minister has definitely declared that when we come to the discussion of the various items, any proposal for a reduction, even if carried, will not be taken as vital to the existence of the Government.
– At that rate, you could destroy all administration.
– As the honorable member says, it would be possible to destroy all administration, but he knows very well there is no desire on the part of my friend who moved the amendment, or on the part of those who are supporting it, to destroy any administration. We have no desire for any change of Government.
– Honorable members opposite are going to vote with you. Have they no desire to displace the Government ?
– Honorable members opposite are quite able to speak for themselves, and would not thank me for attempting to speak for them.
– Does the honorable member not realize that the Prime Minister says one thing and means another ?
– I do not reply to such interjections; and I feel quite sure that thehonorable member will regret his uncalled for remark. The Country party have, I think, given ample evidence that they have no desire whatever to turn out the Government. Our only desire is to assist them in all the good work they are doing - to criticise them whenever occasion requires, and. if necessary, endeavour to prevent them from doing anything that might prove injudicious or injurious to the people of Australia.
– Whom do you mean by “we”?
– I think that in this matter I can speak for members of the Country party.
– Then I regret to say that your Leader has not shown any disposition of the kind. I am sorry to have, to say that.
– I am sorry to hear the interjection, which, I have no doubt, my Leader will be able to answer. I repeat that so far as I know, the members of the Country party have no desire to turn out the Government, but are determined to enforce economy so far as lies in their power.
– Do you mean to tell me that “the gun is not loaded”?
Several honorable members interjecting .
– I must appeal to honorable members to cease these interjections. It is impossible for the honorable member to. proceed, or for me or the Hansard reporter to hear what is going on.
– I thank you, Mr. Chanter, for your intervention. My difficulty is to hear- what honorable members opposite say when twenty of them interject at once. We have no desire to embarrass the Government in any way, but we claim the right to discuss all public questions quite untrammelled by party ties of any description. We also claim the right, if we consider the Government are in the wrong, to vote against them, in exactly the same way as we vote for them, as we frequently do, when we consider them to be in the right.
– The late Charles Cameron Kingston used to say that the only time we should vote for the Government was when they were in trouble.
– I have no doubt that that was the view of the late Mr. Kingston when he was in office ; but in all probability he held quite a different view when in Opposition.
Now I come to the general question of whether there should be a reduction in the expenditure. It seems to me that in the amendment there is a fairly wide margin. As I understand, the Government are requested to reduce the Estimates by £1, with . a view to reducing them by a sum considerably larger.
– . By how much ?
– The amount of £1,000,000 has been, mentioned.
– Is that whatyou stand for?
– The amendment, so far as I can see, is meant only as an indication that, in the opinion of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams), the House desires a substantia] reduction in the expenditure. We have learned from the Treasurer, and we quite understand, that he has done his utmost to reduce expenditure to the lowest possible limit consistent with efficiency.
– I certainly have done my economizing; I cut many millions off the Estimates before bringing them. here.
– I have heard the Treasurer say so, and I can assure him that I and the other members of the Corner party thoroughly appreciate what he has done. It seems to be the case, wherever there is popular government, that the heads of Departments each year submit Estimates showing enormous items of expenditure ; and it is the duty of the Treasurer, and the other members of the Cabinet, to reduce these Estimates as much as possible with due regard to efficiency. All we of the Corner party propose to do is to assist the Treasurer in that work. It is impossible to believe that the Treasurer, in cutting down the proposed expenditure by £15,000,000 or £16,000,000, has reached the exact sum, within £1, which represents the point where the utmost limits of economy and of efficiency meet. A former Treasurer of this country - a most distinguished friend of ours, who, I regret to say, is no longer with us - when somebody protested against excessive expenditure, asked. “ Well, after all, what is £1,000,000 to Australia?” That phrase, “What is £1,000,000?” has been very frequently quoted, and just as frequently used against the interests of the taxpayers and people of this country. I think it likely that, in the past, expenditure has been embarked upon because certain people in highly responsible positions have thought very little of the expenditure of £1,000,000 or more. The time has arrived, however,when the question,”What is £1,000,000?” may be put the other way. If the Treasurer was able, in the exercise of his wisdom and judgment, to correct and prune the Estimates of the various Departments to the extent I have mentioned, it is not unreasonable to suppose that, in the light of still further knowledge, and in the continued exercise of ‘his wisdom, he may be able to prune and reduce them by a further £1,000,000. I do not propose to tie myself down to that sum.
– The amendment would have been proposed just the same, if the Estimates had been £1,000,000 less than they are.
– That is a statement which the honorable member may think ho is in a position to prove.
– So would I, and so would anybody.
– I do not think that the statement can be proved. In any case, the Treasurer ought to be increasingly grateful, as the debate goes on, to those who have raised the question, and who are pressing for a still further reduction. We are told that, unless we specify certain items for reduction, we are beating the air - that all is in vain I do not propose to particularize various items at this stage, but I remind honorable members of a series of questions which was put to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith), on Tuesday last, by the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) with regard to the Flinders Naval Base. I must confess that, when. I read the replies given by the Minister, they came to me as a great shock, just as I believe they must have come as a shock to the people of Australia. The honorable member for Dampier, on that occasion, inquired as to the expenditure at Flinders. Honorable members will recall various occasions on which that expenditure has been discussed. I well remember the last occasion, when we were told that certain expenditure was necessary to complete various buildings and other works that had already been commenced. Now we understand - and this is the first time honorable members and the people of Australia have been given the faintest inkling of such a state of affairs - that £640,000 has been spent there, and, further, that the place is quite unsuitable for submarines and destroyers, owing to the insufficient and varying depths. I understand that Westernport was recommended years ago by Admiral Henderson; and now we are told that, for all practical purposes, almost the whole of this £640,000 has been wasted.
– I do not. believe that Admiral Henderson ever meant the base to come inside that creek at all.
– I do not believe that he did.
– The work was started without any plans being prepared, just before an election.
– I know that the honorable member for Dampier has given a great deal of attention to this matter, ‘ and now we find his statement confirmed by the Treasurer; and also, I believe, by the ‘ honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster). So, apparently, an expenditure of £640,000 has been incurred without proper consideration, and without the preparation of proper and sufficient plans, a startling fact to discover at the beginning of this historical debate.
– The place is to be used as a training school.
– By using it for a purpose for which it was not originally intended, it may happen that what has cost £640,000 may be claimed to be worth, perhaps, £46,000.
– This Government is not responsible.
– I do not bring charges against this or any other Government, or against any member; I deal with principles and facts, and am criticising now slip-shod methods of administration. At the rate at which we now borrow money, the expenditure to which I am referring means an annual cost of about £40,000. I draw attention to it to show the need for the most rigid and impartial examination of proposed works before the spending of money upon them.
An endeavourhas been made in this Parliament to restore one of the principles of parliamentary responsibility by the delivery of the Budget within the first half of the financial year, though already onefourth of the money which it is proposed to appropriate has been spent. If the amendment of the honorable member for Franklin had not been moved, and the Budget had been allowed to pass without criticism, we should have lost our chance of effectively checking expenditure; but we have now the Prime Minister’s promise that we may fully criticise items of expend iture, and even reduce them, without the threat of the resignation of the Government.
– It all depends upon the nature of the proposed reduction. If a vote destroyed the policy of the Government, Ministers must resign. For example, could the Government allow the honorable member’s own leader to give effect to his ideas regarding Defence? Not for a moment !
– I do not think that even the honorable member would tolerate that.
– On Defence and other big questions of public policy each hae his own views, but I do not think it likely that a majority would support a policy which would risk the safety of Australia. During the debate, and at other times, both here and elsewhere, the view has been expressed that, provided that the Estimates of Revenue about equal the Estimates of Expenditure, the position of the public finances is satisfactory.
– What political economist says that?
– I do not think that any political economist has said it; but many persons who can hardly be classed as political economists air their opinions about public finance.
– I have heard the view expressed ; but it is not necessarily correct.
– In my opinion, it is totally incorrect, because it does not take , into consideration the oppressiveness of undue taxation. Of late many complaints have been voiced about the high cost of living, and I think that sufficient attention has not been given to the extent to which the cost of living is due to heavy taxation. Many taxes are in their nature easily passed on to the consumer, and the process has been facilitated of recent years by the combination of large concerns for’ the fixing of prices. Obviously, the importer of dutiable goods passes on the duty to the consumers of them.
– In my opinion, . that is so.
– He passes on the duty, plus interest, on the money which he has had to pay out in the first instance.
– Yes; and he charges also a profit on the increased capital that he has been forced to put into his business. I say nothing on the merits or demerits of import duties; but I draw attention to the fact that they are paid ultimately by the consumers, and are largely responsible for the high cost of living. Then, again, the Pair Profits Commission, presided over by MajorGeneral Sir James McCay, which has recently been sitting in Melbourne, has ascertained from traders and manufacturers who have given evidence before it, that, in quite a number of businesses, not only are Customs duties and many other items of expenditure charged to the consumers, but that the income tax paid on a firm’s profits is often passed on as well. It is difficult to discover a form of taxation which cannot thus be passed on, and made to increase the burden of the masses. The business of the Treasurer is to obtain revenue which will balance his expenditure; but every Government should, as far as possible, keep down expenditure in order to lessen taxation.’ It might be asked: Supposing it to be possible to decrease ‘the expenditure of the present financial year by £1,000,000, what would be gained. by doing so? Let me show how, by such a saving, a diminution of taxation could be made which is in the highest interests of the people, because it would relieve those who have heavy responsibilities in bringing up large families. When I entered Parliament two years ago, the then member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) moved an amendment on an Income Tax Bill to increase the allowance in respect of each child from £26 - the present amount - to £50. About this time last year’ I moved a similar amendment. In both cases’ the. amendment was negatived on the ground, that the Treasurer could not afford the loss of revenue which its adoption would involve. When in due. course I have an opportunity to submit a similar amendment I have no doubt that I shall be met with a similar reply. When the honorable member for Kennedy asks me what would be done with the money saved, I give him this illustration. I would save enough out of this year’s expenditure to enable such a remission of taxation to be made, and so give relief to one of the most deserving classes in the community - those who honestly endeavour to bring up large families as good citizens. .
– The Entertainments Tax Bill provided for a remission of taxation equal to the amount of revenue that would be involved in doing what the honorable member suggests.
– There is a great deal of truth in what the honorable member says, . and, perhaps, at this very moment some of our wise and exalted friends in another place are dealing with that question.
In the course of public discussions on this matter we hear many arguments in favour of placing still heavier taxes on the community. A point that I wish to emphasize is that, having regard to the heavy burdens which -the people of Australia already have to bear, no matter what tax we impose, we cannot escape doing, by reason of that taxation, a great injury to the community. It may be said that there are circumstances in which heavy expenditures and heavy taxation are necessary, but the injury done to the community by heavy taxation, no matter what may be its nature, is so great that we should zealously scrutinize every item on the Estimates with a view of eliminating all unnecessary expenditure.
– Supposing that the gross expenditure for which the Estimates provide had been £1,000,000 less than it is, would the honorable member still have moved to reduce it by £1,000,000?
– I, personally, would not have done so. But there is no evidence that the Estimates could not be further reduced. The Treasurer has already told us that he reduced the original Estimates by some £15,000,000 or £16,000,000. I ask him to go through them again and to try to discover where a further reduction of £1,000,000 may be made.
– The honorable member wants to finish me off.
-No, I wish to place a halo round my right honorable friend’s head. If he could reduce by a very substantial amount the expenditure for which the Estimates provide he would become
Still, more popular - if that were possible -than he is to-day.
The question may be asked - it generally is on such an occasion as this - “ What practical means are there by which a Committee that unanimously desires to reduce expenditure and to secure the most economic administration may achieve its object?” I am reminded of an incident in the history of Egypt, when the British Government took over its administration-
– It was not when “ Joseph went down into Egypt?”
– No, it was a few centuries later. I am gladto be reminded of a Joseph who was almost as illustrious a statesman as is his namesake who is in charge of the Commonwealth Treasury to-day. When the British Government took over the administration of Egypt in January, 1884,they appointed Sir Evelyn Baring, who subsequently became Lord Cromer, to take up the task of organization. I read the other clay, in an article in the Spectator, the statement that -
When Lord Cromer took over the government of . Egypt,the Statewas on the very verge of bankruptcy.
I do not wish it to be inferred that, because of my reading of this quotation, I am making any reflections on Australia. I do not think any one would accuse me of . doing so, but sometimes people are hasty, if not reckless, in the aspersions which they cast on honorable members. The article continues: -
Lord Cromer saved itby rationing the Departments. ‘ Each Department had so much money given to it, and no more. They had to make the best use they could of it.
I am not recommending that this rather rough-and-ready method of reducing public expenditure should be adopted in the Commonwealth. I cite it merely as a means that was adopted at that period, with very good effect, by Lord Cromer in Egypt. Some years afterwards, the writer of the article congratulated Lord Cromer on what he described as the miracle of being able to obtain both efficiency and economy. Lord Cromer replied in words of wisdom which should be attentively studied by every member of Parliament -
There is no miracle. The administration here is efficient because of, not in spite of, our economy. Out of the energy and atten- tiveness generated in cutting down the expenditure, has sprung the efficiency which you note.
These words ought ever to be with’ us when we are considering any question of public expenditure.. I do not stand as an advocate merely of economy. I ask not so much for economy as for efficiency. Efficiency is not to be obtained by extravagance. I speak as one who has been for the last forty years in contact with men in various business enterprises. I have been in contact with various administrations, and I have invariably found that extravagant people are the most inefficient. The only efficient people are those -who are not extravagant.
– In what does the honorable member say the Government are lacking - efficiency or economy, or both?
– The. Government, being mortal, lacks many of the attributes of perfection. I should -not like to say that of the Opposition, or of my honorable friend. I should like to remind the Treasurer of a resolution, recently carried by the Association of the British Chambers of Commerce, the wording of which has a most extraordinary application to the . situation of Australia at the present moment. The British Chambers of Commerce, representing 124 chambers in England, recently passed the following resolution: -
This Association respectfully recommends the House of Commons -
To urge the Government to revise its policy, and to reduce the Estimates and the amount proposed for the reduction of the national debt.
The proposal that the Government should revise their policy and reduce their Estimates is a suggestion of the utmost possible value in its application to the position in Australia. I have already devoted attention to the astounding disclosure made in this House on Tuesday last regarding the money which has been wasted on the Flinders Naval Base. I do not blame any Minister, past or present. The state of affairs is such as can be expressly attributed, however, to our laxity in allowing expenditure to be incurred without the knowledge and consent of Parliament. The resolution of the British Chambers of Commerce continues -
We gather that departmental officials in the Commonwealth have presented Estimates involving the expenditure of -a really colossal sum. We learn that the Treasurer has valiantly and, to some extent successfully, countered their requests and arguments. Our desire is to aid him in resisting all attempts to increase the national expenditure. What is requisite is some specific means of restricting the opportunities of departmental officials to initiate, or influence, or control policy. The Chambers of Commerce of Great Britain add : -
This Association, this organized representative of British commerce and industry, out of which taxes are produced, placing the safety and good of the State before everything, is compelled, by the existing circumstances, to publish to Parliament, and to the country, its carefully considered and deliberate opinions as above, and in such a manner as to admit ofno misunderstanding of their meaning.
– The Chambers of . Commerce in Great Britain have just had £300,000,000 of extra taxation put upon them. Naturally, they are squealing.
– I thank the Treasurer for his reminder, but I would remind him, in return, that the circumstances of the people of Britain are entirely different from ours, and that no fair comparison can be made. We are frequently taunted with the statement that in Great Britain,, and in Canada also, the burden of taxation is much heavier than in Australia.
– More than double.
– It may be as the Treasurer says, but all such comparisons seem to me to be hardly to the point. Australia, in raising and equipping and sending abroad its quota of fighting men, spent huge sums in England, and France, and other parts.
– The honorable member should not forget that the Imperial Government spent some money in Australia.
– I do not forget that, but I deprecate comparisons such as these for the reason -that conditions in England during the war were totally different from those in Australia.
– Surely we have been better off than were the manufacturing industries of England during the war.
– I repeat that comparisons such as are constantly being made in the direction I have indicated are hardly to the point.
– The honorable member introduced them himself by quoting the resolution of the British Chambers of Commerce, in regard to which I mentioned, as a reason therefor, extra taxation amounting to £300,000,000.
– The burden of taxation in Australia is quite heavy enough, and comparisons should not be lightly made between our people and those of other parts of the world.
– I merely desire to remind the honorable member that this year the fresh taxation in England is 100 times greater than ours.
– I repeat that the position in Great Britain is totally different from that in Australia, and that it is sufficient for us to consider our own. circumstances.
– Did the honorable member say that the purchase of our wool by the Imperial Government was a fair deal?
– I made no such reference. At the proper time I shall be quite ready to discuss that matter. I commend the resolution of the British Chambers of Commerce to the most careful consideration of the Government, and I emphasize that its terms are quite as applicable to us as to- the Imperial Parliament.
– Yet the honorable member says conditions in Che two countries are different.
– I commend the resolution to honorable members.
– The honorable member should not do that, for, as he says, such comparisons cannot fairly be made. The conditions, he says, in the two countries are quite different !
– Taxation, when it goes beyond a reasonable limit, is oppressive. Excessive taxation is just as injurious to the people of Australia as to those of any other part of the world.
.- The gentle, genial, learned, cultured, opulent, and honorable gentleman who has just resumed his seat, who has thrown bouquets of approbation at all sections and parties in this House, has spoken for about an hour and a half; and he has been so clear and definite in his statements, so accurate in his facts, that even the Deity Himself could not understand where the honorable member finished. Now, who is his leader? Which is his party ? What is his policy ? How will he vote? God knows! He referred to a variety of subjects, including that of the condition of Egypt - not, of course, that by making such reference he meant anything at all. He merely mentioned it in passing, as a contribution to the welfare of his country, intending that it should have no application to the subject that is before us. In like manner, he referred to a number of other subjects. Apparently, there is a place called Westernport, in which we did certain things upon the recommendation of a British Admiral.
– No; that was not the site he selected.
– Very well; he did not ‘ select it. No true Australian will ever have an opinion of his own, so a British Admiral was brought out to select a site.He indicated, I understand, a place called Westernport, and said that somewhere within the area of that port there was sufficient water for a submarine base. Apparently, after spending £640,000, the Government have said, “Ah, well, he did not recommend that particular spot.” And because he did not mention that particular creek, that is sufficient excuse for him, although the entire expenditure is valueless. He at least indicated the port where the base should be established, and somewhere in its vicinity £640,000 has been sunk. But, as the late Lord Forrest said, “ What is a million?” We must have economy, but neither the Government nor anybody else is responsible for that mistake. Who can be responsible when we import a British General or Admiral to assist us? What need is there to have a judgment of our own when we have paid an imported expert for his opinion, and act blindly upon it, only to find afterwards that he knows no more about it than we ourselves do? If he is not responsible, who is? If anybody in Australia is responsible, what do the -Government intend to do about it? Nothing. The honorable member for Grampians concluded his speech, not by giving us something original, some product of his intellectual capacity, or his vast’ business experience, or his ability to amass much wealth which he never distributes - at any rate; to us - but with something somebody else said in England. Of course, the fact that it was said in England is sufficient. Then he said that the circumstances in England are different, and because the circumstances are different, the remedy in Australia must be the same.
In his illustration of Egypt, he said that the Egyptians were poor fellows, and the country was in a bad condition, and Lord Cromer simply said. “ There is so much money for you in your Department, and you shall get no more.” Did the honorable member mean anything? No; he was simply filling in time. He did not mean that the Treasurer should lay down that principle. He merely mentioned it in passing. Such were the honorable member’s contributions to the welfare of his country. The Budget debate was proceeding most harmoniously until yesterday. The Estimates had been introduced by the Government, who, apparently, had done the best they could in the circumstances. We are told that behind the Government is a band - of rapacious officials who demanded £10,000,000 of expenditure more than, has been provided for in the Estimates. The Treasurer, being anxious to guard the money of the public, reduced the Estimates by £10,000,000. What wouldhave happened if the Government had adopted the Estimates submitted by the officials ? Would honorable members opposite still have pressed to reduce them by 6d. or 1s.? The Treasurer having reduced the Estimates by £10,000,000, honorable members in the corner ask that they be reduced by another£1,000,000. Our little babbling brook of discussion was flowing on, and would have meandered gently to its end,, and everything would have been serene, had not the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) thrown into the brook a squib which he asks us to believe is a live bomb. Unfortunately, he has behind him a party united only in its uncertainty. Some of its members follow him; some do not. Those who follow him to-morrow may not follow him on the next day. He is like a genera] leadingan army, and never knowing when his soldiers will shoot him in the back.
– It is not long ago that the honorable member was shooting at his own leader.
– I have always done that.
– Then we are in the best of company.
– No ; I always shot in accordance with conviction and definite principles which, everybody understood. There are certain principles of the, movement with which I am connected, andI shoot at my leader if, in my opinion, he is not living up to them.
– But the honorable member never voted against him.
– I voted against my party so much that I was told to get out of it. I never had any hesitation about recording my vote. However, I do not wish my frailties to be discussed at this juncture. I desire to take the . opportunity of pointing out the frailties of the honorable members in the corner. The honorable member for Franklin initiated this discussion ; but for it many of us could have gone to our homes to-night, whereas we must now remain to vote on nothing. No harm isbeing done by the’ amendment, but some of us muststay here to prove that we are in the House sometimes. The honorable member gave us a clear declaration that his party, neither collectively nor individually, has any anxiety at any time to displace the Government. I do not blame him; I am in sympathy with him, and I hope he will keep to his resolution. I will not say what my own feelings are in the matter. I merely accept the honorable member’s candid admission that the members of the Country party have not the slightest intention of doing anything serious. The mover of the amendment commenced by drawing attention to the general condition of society, the enormous expenditure, and the necessity for economy. Where ? Read his speeches* or listen to them ; seek for some definite proposal ; endeavour to ascertain in what direction the honorable member desires the Government to economize - he does not know. About the only definite proposal that the honorable member for Franklin made was in regard to the Northern Territory, and I shall come to that in due course. He firstly drew our attention to the enormous indebtedness of Australia -to the fact that £160,000,000 of State debts, and a similar sum of Federal debts, will fall due within the next five years - a tremendous burden ! What does the honorable member propose to do? What are the present Government, or any other Government that may be in power, to do in this matter? Nothing. There is a total of £320,000,000 worth of debts falling due in the next five years. In addition there is an amount of £50,000,000 owing to the British Government on account of moneys expended upon the maintenance of Australian soldiers, making a grand total of £370,000,000 of indebtedness to be shortly redeemed. It is absolutely improper, the honorable member says, that Australia should be .owing £50,000,000 to the British Government. That is all right;’ what does the honorable member’ propose to do? Are we to tax the people more in order to pay the debt? Will he answer “Yes’” or “No”? He dare not say anything. There is also another £200,000,000 to be raised within the next five years, making a total of £570,000,000, which must oe met by any Government in -occupation of the Treasury bench. How? Do honorable members propose to cut out any part of it? No; they merely mention it in passing, meaning nothing in particular. There is a further sum of £50,000,000 of expenditure in connexion with repatriation. Is it proposed to cut that down ? Not at all. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) referred to taxation ir. Great Britain. There is nothing we can think or do, either walking or sleeping, in connexion with the government of this country, unless we first know what has been done in Great Britain. So, because the Imperial Government appointed a Committee to investigate taxation we also must have a Royal Commission on taxation, and it will come to the same useless conclusions. The Committee in England called as a witness Mr. Blackett, the British Controller of Finance, and the chairman said to him, “ Do you regard the# indebtedness of Great Britain as vital to the situation, or do you believe that the businesses and industries of the- country can be so conducted that they can carry the load?” And the British Controller of Finance replied, “ I do regard the problem as vital, and I do not believe that the businesses and industries of Great Britain can continue to carry the load.” Bv a member of the Committee he was asked what he thought could be done, and he replied, “I do not know what can be done; the only thing I can suggest is a tax upon wealth, which in itself is dangerous.” As a matter of fact, the problems -that afflict the Government of Great Britain afflict also the Government of the Commonwealth. Both Governments are incapable of making any recommendation to solve the problem, and any Government which is incapable of coping with that question copes with nothing and does nothing. A tax upon wealth, whether suggested by one party or another, or increased taxation of incomes, is no remedy. If we put a tax upon wealth, and that wealth, represents the industries of the country, the organizations of ‘employers can combine to fix prices and pass the tax on to the masses of the people; thus the tax merely increases the burdens upon- the general public, and does not solve the problem. If we increase the taxation on incomes from the pastoral, agricultural, and other primary industries, which cannot pass on the tax, the burden then becomes so heavy that the industries cannot carry on in competition with the rest of the. world, and they pass out of existence. Thus we create more of the economic disasters that we seek to prevent. The Government know not what to do. When a tax’ is either passed on to the consuming public or cripples industries, it does not solve the problems which confront the Government. The honorable member slid over that probblem; he made no attempt to deal with it; he ignored it; like the honorable member for Grampians he merely mentioned it in passing. He spoke of a debt of nearly £400,000,000 which the country has to meet within a few years, and then he spoke of saving 6d. here, or cheeseparing there, or scraping a few shillings off the salary of an officer in this or that Department. But God help anybody who wishes to carve anything off our own salaries! Then he turned to repatriation - another £50,000,0001 What does he propose to do in regard to that? Nothing. Then why mention it? He turned to the Oodnadatta railway with its annual loss of £500,000. Does he propose to do anything ? Does he blame the Government because they are making that loss ? Not at all. He passed that over, and turned bo Defence. Does he, or does he not, propose a reduction of the Defence Estimates ? I do not know. Some say that he does, and some say that he does not, and I leave him to answer. The Prime Minister understood the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) to say that he did mean a reduction in the Defence Estimates.
– That is so.
– Did he mean that? Ask the honorable member. I ask him whether he meant that? He is silent
He did nob mean that. He does not mean anything.
– I am not going to reply in a “ circus “ like this. When the time comes you will see what I shall do.
– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) asked the honorable member whether he proposed cutting down the Defence Estimates, and he said that he did not.
– The honorable member asked-. “ Do you propose to take £1,000,000 off the Defence Estimates?” and I replied “ No.”
– All right then- it was not £1,000,000 - in any case, a million here or there is not worth arguing about. The honorable member for Franklin is not sure whether be means a” reduction in the Defence Estimates or not.
– Yes; he is sure.
– Well, then, he is sure. The other day the honorable member had a clear and definite opportunity to vote on a proposal to do so. There was only one risk about that; he was scared when I proposed to move an amendment in that direction; he was in fear that I might be “sent for”; and rather than that, he was prepared to sacrifice £10,000,000 or any other amount. Now he proposes, apparently, to save something in connexion with salaries. Why, if we took the whole body of the big officials, numerous as they are, and reduced their salaries to a vanishing point, we could not save more than £1,000,000.; indeed, I very much doubt whether we could get anywhere near £1,000,000.
– We could not get many thousands.
– I ask the members of the Country party for some clear and definite proposal, and they have not one to make. Their only definite idea has reference to the Northern Territory. In that Territory there is wasteful expenditure they say ; and what does the honorable member for Franklin propose ? He proposes a superintendent for the niggers, a doctor to supply salts for them, and a magistrate to castigate them. The appointment of those three men is the limit of their proposals in regard to Northern Territoryadministration.
Whether we like it or not. this country, as one of the newspapers said this morning, is drifting inevitably to the precipice. We are confronted with a load of debt, and the problem is the more serious from the fact that our indebtedness is mounting up year by year. There is the awful burden of the annual . interest, and with the redemption of each loan that burden will be increased. Even if we could save ‘ £1,000,000 this year by scraping in this particular Department or another, the result would be seized by the bondholders, whether at home or abroad - those bondholders who at every redemption will ask 6 per cent, and 7 per cent., whereas previously they’ were satisfied with 31/2 per cent, and 4 per cent. That is our problem, to which capitalism cannot furnish an answer.
– Will you give us your remedy?
– I have not the slightest objection; but my remedy would be so rapid, so drastic, that the hour is not yet. I do not wish to be like Andrew Fisher, who threatened toparalyze the land proprietors, yet never touched them. Let the honorable member wait until the time is ripe, and when he gets my remedy he will wonder what has struck him. It is of no use my propounding my remedy now. I have one duty to my country and my conscience, and that is, before I criticise this Government, to ask myself what I would do if I, myself, were in control of the Administration. I have answered that question to my own satisfaction, though I . am. sure the reply would not be to the satisfaction of the bulk of the men with . whom I am associated ; nor do I believe the public sentiment of thecountry would, at this particular moment, tolerate my remedy. But the hard pressure of economic facts will, eventually, compel the people to face the position and accept solutions which today they ridicule.
– I think your remedy is being tested in some countries to-day.
– No, it is not. I hold my own. views, but I know the state of the public mind and the attitude of the press. I do not take up an attitude of criticism towards the Government, because I know the class they represent, and what are the principles and policies of, that class, and I also know that the majority of the people are behind them. It is impossible for this Government to do anything but what they are doing. I do not blame them, because it is absolutely impossible for them to carry on the Government at any cheaper rate than they are doing. All they could possibly do in face of their annual expenditure of nearly £100,000,000 would be to knock off a few thousands here and there, but that is like scraping the rind off a piece of cheese; it does nothing so far as the great problem itself is concerned.
I had no wish to speak to-night, but I” asked myself whether the honorable member for Franklin and his followers meant business. Perhaps, I said to myself they see things in a different light from myself. They may not be looking at the problem from the extreme point of view I do, and, as reasonable and rational men, they may think that they have a better remedy. We have heard one remedy proposed by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse). That member clearly and definitely proposes to take £1,000,000 off the expenditure on shipping. That, I take it, refers to the £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 the Government are spending on the development of a mercantile fleet. But if there ever was in the proposals of this Government an expenditure that is of value to Australia and its primary producers, it is this. Whatever errors or waste there may have been in connexion with the building of the wooden ships, that seemed inevitable at the particular time and under the particular circumstances. Even since the war we have been confronted with the fact that Australian ships, under the influence of the great British capitalists, linked up with their friends iii this country, have been gradually withdrawn from our coast until we are now about 60,000 tons short. So great has been the resultant inconvenience that there is an outcry for the withdrawal of the Commonwealth-owned ships from overseas traffic to make up the shortage here. Those oversea vessels were specially constructed for deep-water traffic, and, therefore, are the most useful for the transport of the commodities of our primary producers, and for the breaking down of the Shipping Ring. Apart from the boycott by the Inchcape crowd, the Peninsular and Oriental Company, and the Orient Company, linked up with Burns, Philp and Company, who are now the owners of the Australian United Steam -Navigation fleet on this coast, and, with the Union Company, this gang of British capitalists, who not only control the traffic of the world, but have monopoly privileges on our coast, are pushing the Australian Government into the position of being compelled . to withdraw their ships from overseas traffic in order to meet a shortage which the Combine itself has created. And at this hour, when it is most imperative that the full energies of the Government should be , devoted to supplying shipping for both overseas and coastal traffic, a man, who professes to represent pota-toes and the primary producers, proposes to save this country by a policy which simply throws Australia more and more into the hands of the Combine. That is the remedy of the honorable member forSwan (Mr. Prowse), and it is the only; practical proposal that he and his colleagues have put before us.
The other night, when we were discussing Defence Estimates, I determined to find where the economists were. I came to the House to propose a reduction of millions in the Defence votes, not because I do not wish to see my country defended in her hour of necessity, but because, like the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) who regards the financial problem as vital, I think it is useless to have men enrolled for defence if we have not economic resources to maintain them in the field. It seems to me waste of money to merely put arms into the hands of men, until we have reconstructed our financial and economic conditions, and have a material buttress for them. I moved an amendment, but the Country party would not support me in the reduction of a single penny. Now they come along with this amendment, hut, of course, they do not mean anything, and that is the most despicable and contemptible thing of all. ‘ I did not mean to be offensive - that was a slip. They are like the gallant general who leads forth his army, and before the attack makes sure that he will be defeated. So much is that the case that one member of the party frankly admits that he does ‘ not wish to remove the Government.
– Do not be deluded, my ‘ friend !
– Does the honorable member not agree with the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) ? Another squabble in the camp - in this great united party!’ They cannot support a proposition made by me. What does it matter, after all, what particular brand is put on me - what label I carry? Personally, I would not put any brand on my thoughts, but leave them to speak for themselves. But the Country party is not satisfied with the Government, and. the Government are not sure of them. The Government do not know at what moment that party may stab them in -the back. There may come an unexpected moment when, the Country party will march- forward united; ‘and in that moment the doom of the Government may be sealed. The existence of the Government is precarious, because it can rely neither upon the support nor upon the hostility of the Country party. But the’ members of that party, rather than seize the reins of office with the help of the Labour party, prefer to allow the Administration, which they are always trying to ambush, to retain its position. They denounce it On, the public platform, but, though marching -to- the attack with foaming mouths and shaking fists, they retire to the rear in the moment of victory. Under these circumstances, I am kept here to-night to express a: few homely thoughts. A party with great aims like these, that, keeps close together like a hive full of bees ! If you ask me how- 1 stand towards the amendment, I reply that at the present moment I am linked up with a very dear friend of the Prime Minister, who, I understand, is even how -manufacturing bouquets and garlands: of .approbation for him.. That, perhaps, obliges me- not to vote, we being what is technically known as paired. -But, in any ease, rather than precipitate a crisis, with unknown results to myself, I would support this Government and not risk handing over the country to a body of nien of opinions so indefinite as those of the Corner party. With men who have .opinions you can do something, but what sort of policy could that party formulate? The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) said,. “ I am a man of open mind,” and no one who listened to him to-night could doubt the statement. He said, “I will give ear to the arguments for, and I will hear the arguments against, and ‘bring both to the bar of judgment,” -but God knows what the decision would be. I am not compelled, on this occasion, to sacrifice my country in my own interests. There is no need for me to vote for the Government and to save it from a party whose views are so indefinite that no one knows whether they face north, south, east, or west. Being paired I could, if the position of the Government were ‘precarious, walk out of the chamber and not vote ; but, as a matter of fact, the Government is quite safe, so that I can .vote against it with the sure and certain knowledge that it will not be defeated. The members of the Corner -party are in the same position. It is grand to be able to stand on the public platform and say, “ We opposed the Government tooth and nail.” There are no more glorious champions of human rights and human liberties than those who struggle, knowing that their efforts will not prejudice their personal convenience. How many members are there’ in the Corner party? I know not. Perhaps their Leader may be able to tell us. He may be able to say how many there are to-day as against yesterday, and what they will number to-morrow when, after the division, they will again be a grand united party, .banded for the defence of the primary interests against a vile and extravagant Government. But on the eve of a. division they must always make sure that a sufficient number of their members is absent to prevent the Government from being overthrown. I once more congratulate the members df the party on the magnificent effort which they have made. Their struggle for the country’s good is worthy of them. It hasprovided an inspiring and uplifting spectacle, and what the honorable member for Grampians has described as a very intellectual discussion. The honorable member for Franklin spoke of what willhappen when the prices of wool, wheat, and metals fall. What will happen when . the Customs revenue also begins to fall? In the trade and finance column of to-day’s - Age it is stated that the banks are raising-, the rates for money overseas pretty stiffly. In many cases they appear to ‘be: refusing overseas credit altogether, but in any case their rates are almost prohibitive. The article to which I direct . attention says that these banking corporations are taking this action because they are short of money overseas - dons the
Prime Minister believe that? - and find it difficult to meet their obligations there. The article goes on to say that the object of the banking corporations is to restrict importation, which will have the same effect as a prohibitive Tariff. They have taken on themselves to proceed with a policy which may be detrimental to the Customs revenue of the country, and when it takes effect, although our expenditure will remain the same, our revenue will be greatly diminished. I. do not say that it is disadvantageous to restrict imports if thereby internal industries are built up, because it is well for a country to have a variety of industries to provide for the. varied abilities of its inhabitants, and to build up a population for its defence. ‘The banks registered in Australia, together with the three English banks which do business in this country, had at the end of June £450,000,000 of assets, of which £270,000,000 were then in Australia, and £180,000,000 overseas. As the imports of July and August did not total more than £22,000,000, their oversea money could not have been reduced below the amount of £150,000,000, and therefore they must still have £100,000,000 overseas more than they had at . the outbreak of the war. Yet, for some purpose which they know best, but not for the benefit of the country, they propose to increase their oversea holdings. The enormous power of the banking corporations and the Shipping Ring provides problems for us to deal with. But I have . said all I need say on the subject to-night, and now I am willing that the Committee shall proceed to the division, andGod save the Government!
– I was not able to satisfy myself as to the motive of the amendment, and having heard the speech delivered by the honorable member for Bourke. I find that he has made the question still more difficult of solution. I am sorry that the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) is not present, and in his absence I address a few words to the members of the Corner party generally, some of whom may share with him responsibility for’ the amendment, which, it is evident, either means mischief or is evidence of a great deal . of simplicity on the part of those who sup port it, perhaps both. Although the demand for economy has come from the Corner party, I would remind its members that long before they were elected there was in this House for years a strong combination, which quite as persistently demanded economyin public expenditure. I believe that recently considerable economies have been effected, and we were hopeful of further increasing the application of economical principles to the public expenditure. But the amendment makes an effective attempt to economize practically impossible. Since the commencement of the session the cry for economyhas been on the lips of the honorable members sitting not only in the Ministerial Corner but in other parts of the House. There has been an insistent demand that the Government should give us an early opportunity to discuss the Budget and deal with the Estimates. For the first time for many years this Government yielded to that request, with, the result that we have theopportunity to deal with the Budget and the Estimates at a much earlier period than we have had for many years. And how is that opportunity appreciated by the Leader of the Country party (Mr. McWilliams) ? At the very outset, he makes it impossible for us to be with him, because by his proposal to reduce the item by £1, with the accompanying condition that it shall be a direction to the Government to reduce the Estimates by £1,000,000, he immediately throws out to the Ministry a challenge that must be accepted. Honorable members sitting on this side, and particularly those who represent the producing districts of Australia, had reason to expect that there would be sympathetic co-operation on the part of honorable members of the Country party on not only this, but many other similar questions affecting, not merely the general interests, but particularly the producing interests of Australia. Yet we have a hostile amendment submitted immediately the opportunity offers for us to get into close quarters with the Government proposals, and to examine the Estimates thoroughly, so that we may know something about important items of public expenditure of the details of which we have a right to be informed. By such cooperation we should very soon have obtained the information. This, then, is the way in which we are met by the Country party!1 This is how the country’s interests are being served J1
What was the nature of the speech made by the Leader of the Country party in submitting his amendment? It was a matter of broad generalities dealing, amongst other things, with the enormous liabilities resting on the Government during the next five years in connexion with the renewal of loans falling due. It was really a repetition of the information contained in Mr. Knibbs’ Handbook. There was no attempt to get at any particular item in the Estimates which could be materially reduced. It was a broad, general statement of the intention of the Country party to propose a reduction of the first item in the Estimates by £1 as an indication or direction to the Government to reduce their expenditure by £1,000,000. I would call special attention to the criticism of the Budget last night by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce). It was illuminating, practical, educational - one of the finest criticisms of a Budget statement that I have heard in this House during the last twelve years. I regret that there were but relatively few honorable members present to hear it. I would advise all honorable members to read the Hansard report of that magnificent contribution to the debate. I wish the people throughout Australia would carefully read that report. It would repay them, and give them a mighty different impression from that which they gather to-day through the medium of the press in regard to the financial situation.
No one has been a more persistent advocate of economy in public expenditure than I have been for the twelve years that I have sat in this House, and to-day I am just as desirous as ever of effecting economy in every possible direction. But if the Leader of the Country party will but read the speech delivered by the honorable member for Flinders last night, he will find that what he proposes is absolutely impossible. He could not have looked at the Estimates. A mere cursory survey of them would convince any one that it is utterly impossible to reduce them by £1,000,000. We have the figures - particularly as related by the honorable member for Flinders-showing that of £82,000,000 of public moneys proposed to be expended thi3 year, £62,241,931 consists of war expenditure. Deducting the war expenditure, we have remaining £36,622,000, or, to institute a comparison between the expenditure of the pre-war year 1913-14 and that of the current financial year, as the honorable member for Flinders did, we have an increase this year of something like £S,000,000. How is that increase of £8,000,000 made up? An examination of the Budget will show that nearly £7,000,000 out of that total, of £S,000,000 is accounted for by commitments over which the Government has. no control. These are statutory commitments impossible of revision by this House, and there are other incidentals of a similar character. No honorable member would dream of economizing in respect of any of those, items. They have ; to be paid. They are absolute commitments. Of what does the balance con,sist? Provision is made for increased expenditure in the Postmaster-General’s- . Department. There was a clamour for an increase on the part of every section of the House. The Government has yielded to that clamour to the extent of. providing for an additional expenditure . amounting to £1,250,000. Is any on©, going to propose a reduction of that expenditure? Honorable members on all sides of the House clamoured for it, and congratulated the Treasurer (‘Sir Joseph Cook) and the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) when it was promised, in order to make up the leeway that would have been met before, but for the stringency of the finances consequent on the war. That 13 the position.
There are some Departments concerning the expenditure of which I, and, I think, honorable members generally, desire information. Take, for instance, the Prime Minister’s Department - and this brings me to the reason which causes me to deeply regret the action taken by the Leader of the Country party. I am anxious to get into close quarters with the Government in regard to the expenditure in the Departments to which I shall refer. The Prime Minister’s Department shows a considerable increase. There must be some reason for it, and I want to know what it is. The Department of Home and Territories also shows an increase, and it is my intention to obtain some information concerning the proposed expenditure there. I have already referred approvingly to the increased outlay in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, because there can be no objection to an expenditure which carries comfort and relief to those who have blazed the trail outback. I also desire some information on the increase in the Attorney-General’s and Taxation Departments. The additional outlay in the latter is probably accounted for by the fact that its activities have been extended and the staff increased. Nothwithstanding what has been said by the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton), I believe that the Northern Territory under existing conditions is overmanned. If it is not, the Minister should tell us what duties the public officials are performing, because, apart from the work associated with the pastoral and mineral industry, operations are at a standstill. Australia House, which has been referred to in this Chamber on frequent occasions during the last .few months, is also mentioned in the Estimates. Practically every visitor who has returned from Great Britain has a sad story to tell of the conditions prevailing in the Commonwealth’s head-quarters in London, and the Government should give some details of the proposed expenditure.
I also desire to refer to the Department controlling shipping. I was particularly interested in that portion of the speech of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) in reference to shipping, and its bearing on the interests of primary producers in Australia. We are face to face with the actions of a Shipping Combine, which owns a very large proportion of oversea shipping, and which, by its strength, influences the price of every pound of wool, ‘every bushel of wheat, every pound of butter or other produce we export. If it were not for that, I would be a very severe critic of the Government shipping policy. I have not been a warm supporter of this particular governmental activity, but my mouth has been closed because conditions have been such that opposition was not justified. I am anxious, however, to ascertain if we are doing right in pursuing a policy of shipbuilding in Australia. I have been informed that so marvellous have been the activities in the shipbuilding yards in the Old World that at the present time there is a tonnage approaching 8,000,000 available above the pre-war standard, and that construction is still being continued. In these circumstances, we have to consider whether we are justified in extending our shipbuilding operations in Australia beyond the keels already laid down, and whether it would not be cheaper to stay our hands and risk a fall in the market. Our present Inter-State fleet is altogether inadequate, “ because Australian shipowners have adopted the shrewd policy of not restoring their fleets to their prewar strength until they learn whether ships cannot be purchased at a cheaper rate than that at which they can be built.
It has been said by the Leader of the Country party that the plan that has been adopted is the only effective way of making an impression upon the Government, and that statement has been repeated by other honorable members. In my opinion, it is the least effective way. To begin with, it is asking this House to perform an impossibility. It would be infinitely better if we were to pass the first item, and then, when we are dealing with particular items, to demand the fullest information from Ministers. During the twelve years I have been a member of this Parliament, we seldom have been able to perform effective work, because the Estimates have always been brought down so late. On one or two occasions they were not introduced until the following year, when every penny had been spent. When they have been presented reasonably early, we have either spent all the available time in aimlessly debating the first item, or devoted days and hours to trivial ‘ votes, allowing items involving an expenditure of millions to afterwards go through without any consideration at all. In regard to many Departments there is nc hope of cutting down the Estimates. There is no possibility of that, for example, with respect to the Defence Department. The honorable member for Franklin, when moving his amendment, indicated that most of the money upon which he aimed at economizing could come from the Navy. I would remind him that the press, in criticising public expenditure, has almost unanimously started out by giving the Government credit for exercising a fair degree of economy with respect to Defence. Generally, the press has approved the Defence Estimates, both naval and military.
The method employed in the South Australian Legislature, in the consideration of Estimates, is far preferable to that usually followed in the National Legislature. Year after year, in dealing with the Estimates in the StateHouse, the procedure was to go through all the Departments seriatim, and the responsible Minister would be called upon, whenever required, to explain every pound set down. If there was any item concerning which the Minister was not in a position to furnish an explanation, the Committee would insist upon an adjournment until the particulars could be provided. That indicates the only effective way of dealing with Estimates, and the plan should be adopted here.
I believe that enormous results have followed the investigations of the . Economies Commission, but we cannot be everlastingly appointing Commissions. We appreciate the work of that body. Taking a line from what it has accomplished, we should make a stand each year upon the Estimates, and let Ministers know that no items can pass until honorable members have been informed of all particulars required. The very existence of . the Economies Commission has made the Departments generally morecareful’; it has made Ministers more careful -also. Let us get right away from party feelings and dissensions upon -the matter of national finance. It is criminal that there should be any such feelings engendered upon , the subject at any time, but particularly now, when, unless we are exceedingly provident, there is . bound tobe a break down.
– Is the Treasurer prepared to adjourn at this stage?
– We have had two days of this preliminary discussion, and the subject ought now to have been pretty well threshed out. I am anxious to get on with the Estimates at some time or other. If we adjourn now, shall we get this discussion over to-morrow, or will it be carried on into next week ? We cannot afford that. There are many important subjects to be taken in hand between now and Christmas, so that we are pressed for time. I am willing to make any reasonable arrangement, but must have some definite understanding concerning when the vote upon the amendment is to be taken. If the Government can be assured that a vote will be taken to-morrow, I shall not object to an adjournment at this stage.
– There is no very great difference between the present amendment and that which was moved by an honorable member on this side a few weeks ago. I refer to the amendment for the reduction of a particular item in the Defence Estimates by £1,000,000. If my memory serves me aright, every honorable member of the Corner party, with one exception, voted against that amendment.
– I think the honorable member’s memory is at fault.
– It may be. At all events, the great bulk of honorable, members in the corner voted against the amendment, yet they would have the- country believe that there is sincerity behind their present move to reduce an item of the Estimates by £1. I do not believe there is any sincerity at the back of their proposal.
– Yet the honorable member intends to vote for it.
– We are sincere, if the Corner party is not.
– The honorable member is going to vote for something which he is denouncing for its insincerity.
– A similar amendment was moved from this side not long ago, but the Corner party would not then support us, because evidently they thought that the Government were in some danger, but now they ask the country to believe that they propose to do something.
– It was an amendment on a totally ‘ different matter.
-The Corner party has been rightly charged withhaving failed to point to one item they are prepared to cut down.
– Not one item, but we are prepared to cut down half-a-dozen.
– No. Not one honorable member in the corner has intimated a single item his party are prepared to cut down.
– The honorable member has evidently not listened to the debate.
– At any rate, that charge was made against the Corner party by the Government. On the otherhand, there. was no misunderstanding aboutour amendment. We pointed to the expenditure on defence, and said that, although we were told that the last war was “ a war to end war,” an expenditure of over £9,000,000 - the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) calculated it at £10,000,000, and said that before he bad finished his task he would probably find another £1,000,000 in the Estimates - was foreshadowed an Defence, Naval and Military. I shall continue my remarks to-morrow.
– I am prepared to report progress on the distinct understanding that the vote will be taken at 2.30 p.m. to-morrow.
– - By leave, I move- -
That the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, so far as the members of the House of Representatives are concerned, have leave to sit during the sittings of the House.
I understand that the Committee wish to proceed to Brisbane in pursuance of their task of investigating the purchase of timber areas and saw-mills- by the War Service Homes Commissioner, -and this motion is necessary in order that they may take evidence in Brisbane at a time when the Housemay be sitting.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
House adjourned at 10.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 October 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19201014_reps_8_94/>.