8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker(Hon. J. M. Chanter) took the chair at 8 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr.RY AN. - Iunderstand from representatives of unemployed returned soldiers who interviewed me this afternoon that yesterday a deputation of returned men waited upon the Acting Prime Minister to seek employment, and that the right honorable gentleman promised that hewould consult with his colleague, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Mil- len) to see whether anything could be done to assist them. Has the right honorable gentleman done that, and, if so, with what result?
– I have consulted with the Minister for Repatriation, No definite decision has yet been arrived at, though . I hope that there may be a decision during the afternoon.
Mr.GREGORY-Will the right honorable gentleman cause an official investigation to be made- I say official so that there may not be delay- ineach of the capitalci ties of Australia as to the amount and nature of unemployment among returned, soldiers?
– Of all unemployment.
-Ileave it to the honorable member toaskhisown ques- tions. I suggest thatthe result of this investigation shouldimmediately bereported to Parliament, andthe report laid bef ore the Senate, should thisHouse not be sitting when it is readysothat itmay be made public atonce,and anynecessary action taken.
– Inthemeantime, the men must starve!
– There seems no objection to doing what the honorable member suggests, and I shall see whether it can be done. Allegations about the men starving trip off some tongues very easily.
– It is a fact that men are starving; and not only returned soldiers.
-The honorable member is thinking of the miners at Broken Hill and Mount Lyell.
– I am sure that observations like those of the honorable member for Darling will not improve matters.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister yet decided whether one or more extra tribunals shall be appointed for the settlement of the coal disputes which are occurring in various districts? The appointment of local Boards was provided for by an Act which the Government introduced, and, evidently, something of the nature.I suggest needs to be done to keep the peace.
-I shall be glad to make inquiries into the matter, though, apparently, the more the means provided for the settlement of these disputes the greater the number of disputes. Disputes seem to multiply in proportion as facilities are offered for their adjustment.
– Then why have any Boards at all? .
– That is a matter we might consider.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether duty has been collected on imported bananas during the past six weeks. If none has been collected, I ask how it happens that the fruit vendors in Bourke-street are today offering bananas marked as ‘ ‘ choice Fiji “ at eighteen for ls.
– ‘The last date on which duty was collected on imported bananas was the 27th May. The only reason that I can suggest for the marking up of bananas as “ choice Fiji “ is that Australian aire still sold .as Fiji bananas, as they have been for a long time past.
– As the reports of the proceedings of the Imperial Conference which reach, us are not very complete, can the Acting Prime Minister inform the House of the stage which has been reached in the negotiation of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, and can he give us information as to the stage which the business of the Conference in general has reached? /
– If I had information regarding the progress of the negotiations about the Anglo-Japanese Treaty, I should consider it very unwise to make it public at this juncture. There can be no statement about that matter, I take it, until the whole thing “has been completed, and we know exactly what the elements of the situation are.
– Is it going to be completed ?
– I can only express my individual hope that it mav be.
– Last year a deputation ‘from the Country party waited on the Treasurer, asking that the income tax forms might be simplified. Since then the State and Commonwealth Income Tax Offices in Western Australia have been amalgamated, and I have here a copy of tile new income tax form. Honorable members will see that taxpayers are required by it to answer a large number of questions extending over several pages, and thev are liable to a fine of £100 if they make any mistake in doing so. I ask the Treasurer if he will ascertain from the Income Tax Department whether it would not be possible to save much printing and paper by shortening .the forms, and making them easier for those who have to fill them in ?
– The sheets which the honorable gentleman has handed to me constitute a formidable document. I understand,, however, that something- is being done to simplify the income tax returns. I believe that it is intended to provide a special form for taxpayers who draw only salary or wages.
-; How. big will it be?’
– It will be comparatively small. The only way in which, there can be any radical reform is by amending the Act, which .is the source of many complications. I hope ‘that we may soon attempt that, (hough it will be a difficult piece of business. I am afraid that even when we have done our best to simplify the schedules, we shall find that, owing to the variety of interests and conditions inseparable from a big continent like this, they will not be as simple as we should like. The nearer we can attain to simplicity and uniformity the better ; but I doubt whether we shall be -able to secure uniformity until the public opinion of the country takes the matter in hand and insists upon it. The Federal Governanent is quite unable to do it at the moment.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether he observed that, in the course of the debates on the Tariff, honorable members of the Country party made the statement that unless Australia was wired across with cheap wire, wild dogs would overrun New South Wales? That statement has now reached Great Britain, and is discrediting Australia. I wish to know whether the right honorable gentleman will take action against ‘ those who have been responsible for injuring the good repute of the Commonwealth in this connexion ?
– Did not the statement come from the honorable member’s side?
– No, it came from the Country party’s corner. It has now got to London, and we may be unable to float a new loan there.
– The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) waa one who made the statement.
Question not answered.
Proposal by President Harding.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether he has any official information regarding the reported action of the President of the United States of America in summoning a Conference at Washington in connexion with the limitation of armaments, and his further suggestion that the Powers interested in farEastern problems might discuss them at that Conference?
– No. I have no information whatever on that subject.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether the Government have finalized their consideration of the removal of certain restrictions imposed during the war period upon claims for the Old-age and Invalid Pensions and Maternity Allowance according to a question asked by a member of the Labour Opposition last week?
– Yes. I announced to the House that those restrictions had been modified very considerably. I shall lay on the table the latest decision on the matter. The honorable member may take it from me that the requirements to which he refers with respect to pre-war naturalization, and that sort- of thing, have been abrogated.
Resumption of Work on H.M.A.S. “Adelaide.”
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister a question with respect to information I have, to the effect that the resumption of work on the Adelaide at Cockatoo Island is being delayed through the fact that there is some difficulty with regard to the removal from her present moorings of the Braeside, one of the wooden ships moored at Cockatoo Island. Will the right honorable gentleman say whether this is a fact? Will he say what the difficulty is, and whether it cannot be removed ?
– It is a fact, and steps have been taken to remove the obstacle at the earliest possible moment. Urgent representations have already been made to the representatives of Kidman and Mayoh for the removal of the Braeside. That vessel is at present moored alongside the Adelaide, and is in the way. If those responsible for her do not move her, some other means will have to be adopted to shift her out of the way.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister inform the House when the Federal Government are likely to come to a conclusion as to the desirability of renewing trade relations with Germany?
– I have several times given an answer to that question. The matter is receiving consideration in London. I hope that we shall soon have definite news on the question.
– Tie British Government have been trading with Germany for some time now.
– I am aware of that. They do many things that we do not do.
– Who is considering the matter in London?
– The Prime Minister. Who else would be considering it in London?
– The Government of this country should be in Melbourne, and not in London.
– The Government of this country is .in Melbourne.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister inform the House what junta it was that caused the disruption amongst the ladies of the Women’s National League, and what is likely to be the effect of it? ‘
Question not answered.
– (By leave.)I present reports from the Royal Commission on the Cockatoo Island Dockyard. There is one report signed by all the members of the Commission with the exception of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams). There is an addendum or separate report signed by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr.Ryan) and the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony). I understand that there is a third report to come from the honorable member for Franklin. I am informed that it has been presented, hut it has not yet reached me. When it does, I shall be glad to present it to the House. I move -
That thepapers be printed.
.- On the motion for the printing of these papers, I should like to ask for some information from the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook). An interim report was made some time ago, I think very early in June. It was a unanimous report, signed by all the members of the Royal Commission, and was presented with the object of having work immediately resumed at Cockatoo Island. Apparently, nothing was done in connexion with that matter until, I think, Monday last, when some little work was recommenced at the island:
– Some work was commenced there last week.
– There may have been some little work taken up. My point is that the purpose of the interim report was to have work resumed at Cockatoo Island Dockyard at the earliest possible moment. That purpose was stated in the report. I should like some statement from the Government as to when operations will be in full awing again, and whether those operations will involve the re-employment of all the men who were so summarily dismissed from the works at Cockatoo Island. This is a matter of very grave importance to the men who were employed there. Whilst I do not wish at this stage to initiate a debate on the whole question, because I have no doubt an opportunity will be given to debate the subject later on, and of dealing with the subject-matter of the various reports from the Royal Commission, I think it is due to us, and certainly due to the employees who were dismissed, that we should have a statement at the earliest moment as to what are the intentions of the Government with regard to the reemployment of the whole of the men who were dismissed.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister endeavour to have the reports printed and circulated amongst honorable members at as early a date as possible?
.- That is what I wish to do. Whatever delay has occurred in the resumption of operations at the Dock has not been due to anything the Government have done. It has arisen, in the very nature of things from the transfer of control from the Navy Board to the new Shipbuilding Board; and, as the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) will recollect, that was a definite recommendation by himself, amongst others, in the interim report. The recommendation was that the work to be resumed in connexion with the new programme should be carried out by the Shipbuilding Board under the terms of its appointment. I understand that the new Board has taken over the Dockyard, and that has involved a valuation of plant and a consideration of the relationship of that plant to the one at Garden Island and naval requirements. Several ticklish questions have had to be considered, and they, no doubt, are causing the delay. I have been urging the Board to recommence operations ever since the interim report came to hand. As to whether all those men who were unfortunately discharged will resume work, I cannot say. There is work to be done, and there is a Board to do it, and that is all that I can say. The sooner they get to work the better I shall be pleased.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Report of the Royal Commission upon the pillaging of cargoes on wharfs presented by Sir Joseph Cook, and ordered to be printed.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the. honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
These amounts are small comparatively owing to the fact that calculation of leasehold interests is made on owners’ valuations. The departmental valuations are to be applied.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the Minister, under section 57 of the Post and Telegraph Act, controls the transmission of all correspondence addressed to Tattersall’s or Tattersall’s agents, will he inform the House whether or not he declines to have delivered to Tattersall’s or Tattersall’s agents postal matter being either letters or parcels, no matter from whom such correspondence may be received, accepted or posted, or from whence it may come?
– The following is the wording of the notice issued under section 57 of the Post and Telegraph Act in connexion with Tattersall’s sweeps: -
In pursuance of the powers conferred upon me by the Post and Telegraph Act . 1901, I hereby order and direct that on and after the 31st day of March, 1902,any postal article received at a post-office addressed to “Tattersall’s,” c/o George Adams, Hobart, Tasmania, by his own or a fictitious or assumed name, or to any agent or representative of his, shall not be registered or transmitted or delivered to such person. (Sgd.) James G. Drake,
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice-
Whether he will furnish a statement showing
The number of returned soldiers settled on the land in each State to 30th June last?
The average cost of settlement per individual soldier in each State?
The number of ex-soldiers remaining in each State to be settled in accordance with the arrangements made between the Federal and State Governments?
– The Department is not inpossession of fullup-to-date information on the subject; but telegrams have already been despatched to the States requesting that the required particulars be furnished as early as possible.
Excesses by Coloured Troops.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
-These charges have been indignantlydenied by responsible French officials.
– On Friday last the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) asked a question with reference to a High Court verdict regarding a case brought before the Court by a South Australian Commonwealth official. This matter is already before the Commonwealth law officers, who are considering carefully the whole question.
The following paper was presented:-
Debate resumed from 6th J uly (vide page 9726), on motion by Mr. Greene -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- At the outset of my remarks I congratulate the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) upon the wonderfulzeal and ability with which he has applied himself to the great constructive work of Tariff building during the last sixmonths. Now that theTariff has been sent to another place honorable members may cast aside for a moment their fiscal differences andcongratulate the Minister generously, and give open acknowledgment of their views as to the remarkable research work which the Minister exhibited at every stage in the Committee of Ways and Means, the monumental character of the work be undertook, the temperateway in which his arguments were advanced to the Committee;, and the patience and tact which, throughout the long drawn out proceedings, he exhibited to members generally. I have been connected with this Parliament for only six or seven years,but I doubt whether there has ever been acase where greater assiduity and devotion to duty have been exhibited by a Minister in the whole course of our union. I note with sympathy and concern the fact that these sustained labours have made serious inroads upon his health and vigour, and I think I express the sentiments of honorable members generally when I voice the hope that he will shortly be restored to his usual health and powers.
Two difficulties confront a Legislature such as this in endeavouring to determine the basis and details of its Tariff enactments. The first difficulty is the obtaining of accurate, reliable, and unbiased information as to the conditions, prospects, and requirements of particular industries. We have two sources of supply. The first is thatof the Minister backed by his Department; the second is that of the interests affected. Both these sources are in ordinary circumstances liable to suffer from prejudice, and to be consequently unreliable. The Minister would be more than human if he did not use his departmental data to support his recommendations in the Tariff, and . every Minister must be expected, however broad or wide his experience, to exhibit unconscious bias in favour of his own proposals. The rival recommendations ofthe importers and the manufacturers respectively are heavily laden with self-interest, and honorable members have felt, atcritical times duringthe discussionwhich has now closed, the difficulty of depending altogether upon the ex parte views conveyed tothem about the conditions of certain industries.
– Some of them varied considerably.
– They did, according to the points of view. The creation of a permanent Board to conductresearch work, and to suggestthe rectification of anomalies or the alteration of principles where circumstances have changed is, I think, a, recognition of the weakness of the position, and, with certain -reservations to which I shall have occasion to refer, I welcome the attempt the Minister is making to remedy existing defects. The second difficulty is the lackof elasticity in a Tariff when it is. completed. Industry, as we know, is evolutionary. Its circumstances change, and the Tariff, as we have hitherto known it, is not sufficiently mobile to meet the changes as they occur. Duties that may be appropriate according to our conception of circumstances to-day may be obviously wrong in twelve months’ time. That is so in ordinary circumstances, but it is doubly so at this time, when the conditions of industry are transitory and abnormal, and when we must expect swift changes, arising partly out of local developments and partly out of world conditions, as they occur. I am glad the Minister, in recognition of the defects and difficulties which he has confronted, has had the constructive courage to submit this Bill for the consideration of the House. He very wisely said that he did not expect this Board, efficient and all as he hopes it to be, to produce an industrial millennium, to cure all the evils, or to allay all the arguments and disputes that undoubtedly must exist, after this Tariff has gone through, between the manufacturing and importing interests.
– It would be a remarkable tribunal that could cure all the evils arising out of a Tariff.
– The Minister is wise enough, as I am sure the honorable member is also, not to ask us to hope too much from this offspring which he is launching upon an unsympathetic and merciless world. He has been very plain about it; but if the powers given to this body are properly drawn, and if the personnel of the Board itself proves to be satisfactory, I think it may, in the present kaleidoscopic condition of affairs, contribute a very useful service to the mercantile community, to Parliament, and to the Government.
Now, as to the proposed functions. I think, as elaborated in the Bill and explained by the Minister, they are wisely drawn, and cover a very desirable and necessary scope. Properly used, they may be fruitful of much good, and, so far as I am able to judge, of no harm. All this is in unqualified Approval of the measure. I have mentioned certain reservations which are in. my mind, and I propose now to deal briefly with them. There are at least three features of the Bill which I think, on reflection, would suggest themselves as worthy of amendment. The first is the clause, or rather the clauses - because several of them are related - which deal with the Minister’s powers. The vital clause is number 15, under which the power is technically given to the Minister to “ take action,” to use the words of the clause, upon the recommendation of the Board. The Minister, when his attention was drawn to that phase while he was submitting the Bill for its second reading, announced that it was not the intention of the Government, in bringing the Bill before Parliament, to give the Minister legislative authority or to impose on the Executive any df the powers of Parliament.
– I said that our intention was to leave the Minister’s power exactly as it is now.
– I understood so. I am only a layman, and although laymen, after some experience of Parliament, either as Ministers or members, do acquire a certain proficiency in interpreting Acts of Parliament, that proficiency is not accepted unanimously by the lawyers in the Chamber or in the community, and I therefore do not propose to dogmatize on that point, but my impression is that, if the Bill finishes as it now stands, a Minister reaching after power may discharge legislative authority, either of a negative or a positive kind, which I think this House would decline to give.
– Do you mean that he might be able to raise or lower the Tariff duties ?
– I do not mean that so much, but I have selected from clause 14, which is the power and function clause of the Bill, certain things which he may be able to do, notwithstanding the Minister’s statement of intention. My honorable friend in charge of the Bill will, of course, exonerate me from suggesting any sort of impropriety in his mind, or that any attempt would be made by him, after his assurance to the House, to exercise powers which might be technically conferred upon him. The powers which I think might be exercised by the Minister without impropriety, as clause 15 now stands, are, for example, those contained in clause 14, sub-clause 1, paragraph d. This provides that “The Minister shall refer to the Board for inquiry and report the following matters : - The necessity for new, increased, or reduced duties, and “ - then these words, to which I draw attention - “the deferment of existing or proposed deferred duties.” If the Board, under this compulsory form of reference, which is obligatory on the Minister, had the question referred to it, generally or specifically, as to whether certain existing duties should become deferred ones, or certain deferred duties should be still further postponed, and submitted, after inquiry, a recommendation in that direction, the Minister, under clause 15, could give effect to it. That is my. suggestion.
– - That is true, in so far as the deferred duties in the Tariff are concerned, because the Customs Tariff Bill itself confers that power.
– If the Customs Tariff Bill, when it becomes an Act, does specifically confer that power, then the Minister, has for the exercise of this power other statutory authority than this Bill would confer, but the Customs Tariff Bill does not confer the power to postpone the operation of existing duties, so far as I know.
– Of course, it is not suggested here that that should be done.
– No, but it could be done.
– I do not think this Bill ought to depend for its effect on any other Bill.
– The Minister (Mr. Greene) has pointed out that in the Customs Tariff Bill the power to further postpone deferred duties is already conferred on the Minister, and I do not propose, therefore, to reflect on it. Tbis Bill does not affect or override that Bill. It dovetails into the enactment already sanctioned by this House, but that is not so serious a phase of the matter as the other. If we said that a particular duty should operate on and after the 1st January, 1922, and the Minister thought, after fuller knowledge and a wider survey of the developments in the industry, that that duty should be postponed for another six or twelve months, I would not hesitate to give the Minister that power, if he asked for it. But I would hesitate to give power to postpone existing duties.
– Oh, yes!
– Disregarding that point for a moment as one that does not matter so much, and one already covered by other forms of enactment, I suggest to the Minister the necessity for altering clause 15, either to make the legal meaning clear, or to remove a doubt, ‘to use his own phrase when introducing the Bill, so that that kind of function cannot be discharged by the Minister without consulting with Parliament.
– You suggest tbat no more powers should be conferred on the Minister by the Bill than he already has?
– Precisely, or which Parliament will authoritatively, in deliberatelyworded sections, give him.
Mr.- Greene. - We do not desire any more.
– Of course, it has often been complained, and I think with con siderable reason, during the war and before the war, in a large number of Legislatures functioning as ours does, that the tendency of Executives is to gradually encroach on the powers of the Legislatures. That seems’ to be the inherent desire and inevitable effect of strong Executives, and I believe that Parliament will always be wise in correcting it, and in saying that no legislative power, excepting what is imperatively necessary to meet an important contingency or emergency, shall be conferred on the Executive without special “consultation with Parliament. That is the general attitude I assume in criticising these phases of the Bill.
– That leads to another conclusion - that this Board can do only such things as the Minister now can himself do without the Board.
– Well, that may be so. The difficulty which I have alluded to in a few passing sentences is simply that Parliament cannot be asked every year to review the whole Tariff, and Parliament, recognising the inelasticity of a Tariff when made, and the necessity for periodic review, is seeking to invent a machine that will keep constant purview of the movements of industries, and where circumstances change, suggest particular changes which’can be legislated for swiftly without inviting the revision of a whole Tariff, and rectify anomalies which, I have no doubt whatever, will be found to exist even in the present Tariff. Already honorable members are being told, to cite one case, that the relationship between the duty on leather, which is the finished product of the tanner, and the duty on boots, which are the finished product of tbe bootmaker, has been wrongly established. Although I happen to have been acquainted with this industry, and to have served considerable time in it in my earlier days, I frankly admit that I am unable to reconcile the statements made to me. I have not been able to pay sufficient attention to the subject to enable me to say whether the bootmakers have had a bad deal and the tanners an over-generous one. or whether things are all right: but I would readily consent to such a Board as is now proposed, if properly functioned and staffed, reporting to Parliament the exact effects in this particular case, eliminating the element of self-interest, and contributing helpfully to the information and education of honorable members.
– Provided Parliament finally decides.
– Provided Parliament finally decides. As to the form of the decisions, I shall speak in a moment. I wish to deal with another power under clause 14, which, I think, the Minister could operate in accordance with the powers conferred by clause 15. That power conferred by clause 14 is in paragraph g -
Any proposal for the application of the British preferential Tariff or the intermediate Tariff to any part of the British Dominions or any foreign country–
Here are the words on which I dwell- together with any requests receivedfrom Australian producers or exporters in relation to the export of their goods to any such part or country.
I cannot conceive for a minute that the Minister, even with the assurance he voluntarily gave us, would attempt to legislate individually with regard to the British preferential Tariff in an improper way, or to use the conditions of the intermediate Tariff without consulting Parliament. But I, wish to know exactly what is meant and what powers are contained, or possible of discharge, under the determining words of the clause. I do not think the Minister should have power to deal with requests received from exporters or producers which might vitally affect the principles of a Tariff or the relationship between classes of duties without conferring with Parliament.
– What we had in mind were requests from producers in relation to reciprocal Tariff arrangements - that, and nothing more.
– If that is what it means, and the Minister is clearly of the opinion that neither he, nor any successor of his, would be justified in operating a reciprocal Tariff, except under conditions of Statute, I am quite satisfied.
– The Tariff Bill lays it down that, although this is done by proclamation, a proclamation can operate only after receiving the assent of both Houses of Parliament.
– That is quite satisfactory; and. if the conclusion of paragraph g. of clause 14 is held by the Minister and the House to cover only matters going before Parliament - that is, reciprocal Tariffs - the Statute already covers it.
I am now brought, more by the Minister’s interjection than anything else, to the other question of how far a Minister will consult Parliament, and what his methods should be, after the creation of such an investigating body as this, in the consideration of its recommendations. I donot know what the Minister proposes, for he did not make the point clear in introducing the Bill. The decision might be in a positive form, such as the Minister referred to in regards to reciprocal Tariffs, or in a negative form. In certain matters, I think, the form should be positive. More important changes that might be recommended by the Board, and approved by a Government - changes that strike at vital relationships in the Tariff or condition big interests - should, I think, be placed in the positive legislative form; that is to say, Parliament should be asked by resolution, in a definite and specific way, to affirm them.
– In the ordinary way.
– Yes; but there may be some minor matters, provided for in clause 14, which Parliament would be quite content to leave to the Executive, as in the case of regulations of certain kinds; that is, to have regulations laid on the table for thirty days before receiving the force of law. I think the Minister would be well advised to confer with his legal colleagues, and put a clause or clauses in the Bill conditioning clause 15, and showing how many of these powers will be operated positively, and how many might be dealt with by regulation.
– The regulations will have to be very specific.
– I assume that Parliament has that matter in its own hands. For example, if a minor matter in clause 14 were put in negative form, and the Minister laid his regulations before Parliament within the prescribed time, Parliament would be able to move if they were not satisfactory. In minor matters, Parliament would be inclined to trust the Executive ; but, as to basic matters of principle, I think that, as the head of the Government (Sir Joseph Cook) has signified, we should have a positive form of enactment.
– May I suggest a concrete case? Suppose exporters in Fiji complained that, owing to the prohibition of bananas, their trade was injured, and they went before the Board, what would be the final steps to be taken to have a question like that reopened?
– I know what, in my mind, the final step should be. We have had a most illuminating debate in this House on bananas, led by the honorable member for . . Lilley (Mr. Mackay), backed by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), in one of his most interesting, eloquent, and ferocious speeches. I venture to mink that no Minister in’ his senses would dare to confront two such heroic representatives of the northern State without first having consulted Parliament upon the matter.
– Under the Bill one could not do anything else.
– Under the ‘ Bill one cpuld. That is the point.
– It is a matter of opinion.
– Technically the Minister could do something else. However, the honorable gentleman has stated that he has no intention of doing anything in that direction, and I suggest, therefore, that Parliament should register the intention of the Government in the indelible Statute law of the country. I shall now leave the question of legislative authority, because it appears that the Government and myself are in perfect agreement as to what is desirable in this connexion, so that it is merely a matter of phrasing ‘ in Committee the changes which we deem it necessary to make in the measure.
I come now to the constitution of the Board. I believe that the Minister has acted wisely in recommending that the chairman of this body shall be an administrative officer of the Customs Department. I think that the country is very fortunate in having at least one officer - and I think more than one - who is well fitted to discharge this important and onerous task. I shall not . embarrass the Minister by mentioning names, but I do not think that he will experience very much trouble in selecting for the post an officer who will command the confidence of this Parliament, and when itB members know him, the confidence of the mercantile community as well. The other observations which I propose to make upon the question of salaries may, perhaps, influence the Minister to alter the figure which he has put against this officer’s’ work. I am, however, most concerned with the position of the other two. members of the Board. After having given the matter what thought I have been able, since the measure was brought before the House, I do not think that the Minister is going the right way to secure the proper sort of colleagues for .the chairman of the proposed Board. I do not think that the honorable gentleman will get the best men upon this Board for fees of £5 5s. per day. Although I believe in the proposal, I am not prepared to vote for a scheme which will provide part-time men for the discharge of this important work, at least during the first three or five years. I do not. know whether you, sir, have acquainted yourself during recent years with the salaries which are being paid to good men by big mercantile houses in all parts of Australia, as well as in other communities. We cannot get the best men for £1,000 or £1,500 a year. During my association with the present Government we invited applications for an office, the filling of which involved the possession of commercial qualifications and organizing power, and with a salary of £1,500 a year offered, we were six months endeavouring to get somebody whom we regarded as qualified to fill the position. I would far sooner see the Minister confer upon the Governor-General in Council power to pay any fees which are necessary to secure the best brains for this work. I believe that a review of the industrial and manufacturing circumstances and possibilities to-day is so important that it would be profitable for the Minister to pay £2,000, £3,000, and even up to £5,000 a year each for the services of two good men. I would more confidently hand these large powers of research and recommendation to a body composed of such men than I would to the body which the Minister proposes to create.
– You could not get the right men for the sake of the fees.
– For what else will you get them? We need to eliminate selfinterest from this body. When a man is called to such an important advisory service, we require to be certain that he will give the Crown the benefit of his best advice.
– Otherwise, we shall not get the best. men.
– Our only hope is that we shall be able to offer such a reward that competent men with experience and with futures will be justified in withdrawing from their present associations to serve the Crown in this capacity.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the chairman of the Board should still be retained upon the £1,400 a year mark?
– I suggested a few moments ago that the remarks which I was about to make in reference to the chairman’s two colleagues might justify the Minister in reconsidering the pay of the chairman himself. If an administrative officer from the’ Customs Department be appointed chairman, he will still be identified with that Department, and his rights will be preserved under this Bill. Even after the Tariff Board has lived and died he will retain his association with the Public Service of this country. But the position is altogether different when we call a man from outside to serve the Commonwealth in a special capacity for three or five years. The very best men should be obtainable for these positions; they should be free even from the suggestion of prejudice, of preconceived ideas, and of self-interest. Parliament, then, would be justified in giving to the Board the largest powers that the Minister desires to confer upon it.
The Only other question upon which I desire to speak relates to the penalties which are sought to be imposed by the Bill. These penalties start at clause 22. There it is proposed that a fine of £500 shall be inflicted upon any person who lias been served with a summons to attend the Board and who fails, without reasonable excuse, to do so, or to produce documents, books, or writings which are in his custody. Clause 23 makes a fine of £500 imposable upon a man who refuses to be sworn or to give evidence. Under clause 24, the number of days upon which he continues to thus infringe the Act are held to constitute separate offences.
– After a conviction.
– Yes. Consequently, if a man did one thing which the Court held to be wilful and to fall within these particular clauses, he could be fined £500, and, if he remained recalcitrant for ten days, he could be fined a further sum of £5,000. Clause 32 sets out that any person who inflicts injury upon a witness shall be guilty of an indictable offence, and shall be liable to a penalty of £500 or imprisonment for one year. Clause 33 provides that any employer who dismisses an employee for anything which he has said before the Tariff Board shall be liable to a fine of £500 or imprisonment for a year. Some of these penalties seem to be too Draconian in character; and without pausing to argue them at length, I suggest to the Minister that our experience in various parts of Australia is that the more severe the penalties which are inflicted the more difficult does it become to secure convictions. Thus, there is a very real danger that in our endeavour to impose heavy punishments we may overreach ourselves, and thus permit of the escape of guilty men. The Minister would be well advised to reconsider the penalty which should be imposed for a first offence as against the penalties which may be inflicted for recurring offences, and also the advisableness of encouraging Courts of summary jurisdiction to extend, not sympathetic, but fair consideration to the accused, and to the circumstances under which the offence is supposed to have been committed.
– There is another side to that matter.
– There is, and I shall probably speak of that in a minute or two.
– These are maximum penalties.
– That is so, but if a man were arrainged for an indictable offence, the jury having regard to the fact that if they brought in a verdict of guilty, he might be fined £500, might be tempted to return a verdict of not guilty. This is a reasoning which all juries might be persuaded to adopt, as no doubt the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ryan), who has so frequently appeared with signal success before juries of his fellow countrymen, will admit.
– As counsel or litigant ?
– In both capacities- receiving, in the one case, substantial fees, and in the other, the sympathy of his admirers. I do not desire to detain the House further. After careful consideration, I am uninfluenced by the fact that this proposal means the creation of another Board, and I shall, on some future occasion, if the opportunity presents itself, deal with the question of generally conferring upon Boards power, a course which all Governments are more or less prone to adopt. In this case I think that this Board, if properly composed, will pay for itself many hundred times over and materially benefit the community as a whole. Notwithstanding that the present is a time for the closest scrutiny of every item of expenditure, particularly at this period of the year when new Estimates and new Budgets are either in contemplation or in course, of preparation, I still would be prepared to justify on any platform in the country the creation of such a Board as the Minister designs to set tip, and feel sure that the community, when it sees it properly staffed and working, will believe that the investment is a good one.
– I welcome this Bill which has for its object the creation of a Tariff Board. As Minister for Customs myself some years ago, and as the outcome of a great many years’ experience in State and Federal politics, I came to the conclusion that it was essential, in connexion with the administration of the Customs Department, that a Tariff Board should be appointed. I submitted my own proposals in regard to this matter in, I think, 1910, but a prescient people did not see the wisdom of continuing the then Government in power, and as a consequence of their action, I had no opportunity of consummating my ideas. I do not hesitate to say that if I thought that by the appointment of this Board the Government intended to- create another Department or sub-Department, with all its trappings and incidental expenditure, I would oppose the Bill, because I do not think a Board of that nature is required. My own ideas were ti) at it should be a Board of experts associated with the Customs Department. I admit that the constitution of such a Board requires the most careful consideration, and I agree with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) that, while the Minister will have no difficulty in selecting a most suitable man for the position of chairman, there will be difficulty in regard to the other two positions. The ideal position, I think, would be to secure men who had retired from the Customs Department, men whose mentality was as pronounced as hitherto, and who in the course of their service had been obliged to give the closest attention to the operation of the Tariff and the needs of local industries.
– Why not select men already in the service?
– I think the suggestion I have made would be better. The operation of a Tariff is such that it requires special and expert experience. Men who had given close attention to it would be able to advise the Minister by way of report, and in this way make it possible for the Tariff, in its operation, to fit the conditions of the day, because a Tariff, to be effective, must be adaptable to the varying conditions of industry. Nothing can be more undesirable than the present system, which calls for frequent and wholesale revision of our Tariff’.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.’]
– On a Board such as that proposed, it is of the utmost importance that we should have the services . of men with extensive and expert experience. But in securing the right men there is great difficulty - and honorable members will sympathize with the Minister for Trade and Customs Mr. Greene) in this regard - because capable and independent men are essential if the work of the Board is to be effective. We -cannot appoint commercial men engaged in business because of the influence they would be able to exert, and the inside knowledge which they would be able to use to advantage. We have, therefore, to eliminate those actively engaged in business, and will have to consider the qualifications of those who have either retired from business or from the service of the Customs Department. If we could secure the service of men with a thorough business knowledge, closely identified with our industries and the trade and commerce of the Commonwealth, they would be of great value. I admit that if we eliminate those who are at present engaged in business, and select men of outstanding capacity for these positions, we cannot be too particular as to the fees to be paid. 1
– Does not the honorable member advocate economy?
– This would be the truest form of economy, and would secure the greatest return for the money expended. I would, therefore, be quite content to see, perhaps, two officers of outstanding experience and ability selected from the Customs Department. Assuming that two such men could be secured, I believe it would be possible to obtain at least one man of wide experience who has completely severed his connexion with any commercial undertaking.
– Or even from within the Service.
– Yes; that is a matter to which the Minister will have to devote very close attention. The Board must be immediately connected with the Department, so that it will be able to utilize the services of the whole of the officers of the Department. The Board’s special duty should be to give the closest and most direct attention to the operation of the Tariff.
– Is there not already a Tariff branch in the Customs Department?
– There is not a separate branch, but there are certain expert officers in the Department to whom the Minister looks for assistance. There are vary capable officers at present- giving very close attention to the Tariff, and if we also have the advantage of a Board whose special duty it will be to carry out the expert functions embodied in the Tariff, incalculable good can be achieved. Item. 174 reads: “Machines, machine, tools and appliances, as prescribed by departmental by-laws.”
– I call attention to the state of the Committee. [Quorum formed.]
– One of the functions of tbe Board will be to exer.case the discretionary powers hitherto exercised by the Minister-. I again direct honorable members’ attention to item 174, which I have just quoted, and also * to item 404, which reads: “Materials and minor articles, as prescribed by departmental by-laws, for use in the manufacture of goods within the Commonwealth.” For some years past it has been the expanding practice, where possible, to assist industries by giving them the benefit- of patented machinery, which could not be manufactured in Australia, by -allowing machines to come in free of duty. In this connexion there is room, no doubt, for a degree cif - corruption on the part of a Minister whose integrity was not free from suspicion; but I am proud to know that we have, never had any experience of the kind in Australia. There is, however, the opportunity, consciously or unconsciously, for the door to be thrown open to wrong-doing.
– Does the honorable member favour the appointment of a Board on those grounds ?
– No; but it would be infinitely better for the discretionary powers, at present held by fhe Minister, to be placed in the hands of a Board. The practice of the Department in the past has been to secure a certificate from the various firms manufacturing goods or articles of a similar character to say that they cannot be manufactured in Australia. That is, of course, a safeguard’; but, at the same time, it would be much more satisfactory to know that such cases were fully investigated by a Board.
– Many of the machines can be manufactured in Australia; but it is- a question of price.
– Many machines cannot be commercially made in Australia, and the guarantee must be on that basis. The only other aspect of the matter to which I need refer is that raised by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt). Under clause 14 the Minister is empowered to refer to the Board, for inquiry and report, the classification of goods, the interpretation of the Tariff, valuation, and assessment for duty, and a number of matters requiring the exercise of discretion which he has hitherto exercised himself. The two matters specially emphasized by the honorable member” for Balaclava -were, first of all, paragraph d, dealing with the necessity for- new, increased, or decreased duties, and the deferment of existing or proposed deferred duties. As has already been explained, the legislative power necessary in connexion with, deferred duties is embodied in another Act. of Parliament, and so no difficulty will arise in connexion with that matter. a3 regard the imposition of new, increased, or reduced duties, the only power which the Board wUl have in the matter will be to report, for the information of the Minister, whether, in it’s opinion, these are necessary,; and then, under clause 15, the Minister, if he thinks fife,, may take action.
– I call attention to the state of the House, [Quorum formed.]’ .
– It is very disconcerting to .have to make a speech in sections. The only aictjon which the Minister can take for tie purpose of imposing new duties, increasing or reducing duties, is to introduce a measure for the purpose, which must be passed by Parliament in the ordinary way in order to bring about any alteration of the existing law in this regard. As, however, the. honorable member for Balaclava has raised, the point, and laymen, apparently, have interpreted clause 15 in the same way, it might be desirable in Committee to. accept such an amendment of the clause as may be necessary to remove any doubt on the subject.
– We might insert, after the words, “ take action “ the words, “ as provided by law.”
– As some doubt has been raised as to the intention of the Minister under this clause, there will be no harm in making his intention more clear.
– I shall be quite willing to do that.
– I hope that the Minister will be impressed with the necessity of confining the Tariff Board to the Trade and Customs Department, so that it may operate as a part of the Department and may be in a position to utilize the services of the vast staff of officers associated with it. Such a Board should be capable of splendid work, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will be sufficiently fortunate to secure the right class of men to constitute it.
.- During the debates on the Tariff I referred, time after time, to the necessity for absolutely correct and.. up-to-date in-; formation regarding our industries. Thia was admitted time and again by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) and by other honorable members. In introducing this Bill the Minister pointed, out how necessary it is that wc. should have a Board of this kind to report on the spot for the information of’ Parliament when dealing with these important matters. I ask honorable members whether they do not consider it somewhat of an anomaly that after we have imposed the most drastic taxation, through the Customs, which must, considerably increase the cost of living and make it extremely difficult to develop our great undeveloped areas of country, the Minister should now come forward’ with a proposal for the appointment of a Board to collect the information which this House should have had at its disposal before it dealt with the matters which have occupied its attention during the last three months? Had the Minister established this Board at the time the Tariff was presented, it would have had twelve months within which to collect information in regard to the incidence of the proposed duties.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– I was pointing out how much more valuable it would have been if the Board had been established twelve months ago, so that the information which it might have collected would have been available to honorable members when discussing the Tariff.
– Did we not have reports from the Inter-State Commission?
– We had reports which the Minister said were valueless because of the number of years that had elapsed since they were presented.
– Did the honorable member agree with the Minister on that point ?
– Tbey gave information which honorable members who wanted increased duties took very good care not to quote.
– They recommended a higher duty on pianos than that which I proposed.
– Probably with a view to tax luxuries. However, throughout the debates on the Tariff, I do not remember a-single instance in which evidence was brought forward to sbow that industries for the protection of which increased duties were asked were languishing or unable to continue on the duties previously existing. We found, however, that information that would have been of value to honorable members was ‘ suppressed.
– By whom ?
– By the Minister for Trade and Customs. I like to fight my battles to a finish. I feel that very unfair and unjust burdens have been placed upon those whom I represent.
– The honorable member should give particulars in support of the serious charge- he has made.
– I remember that when we were dealing with the duties on agricultural implements-
– “And on wire-netting and wild dogs.
– I leave the wild dogs entirely to the honorable membei for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews). I asked a number of questions in connexion with agricultural machinery, and at last some papers were laid on the table of the Library. The Minister for Trade and Customs was able to’ provide a great deal of information in regard to the cost of’ machinery in New Zealand and Argentina, though none wa3 available from the United States of America and Canada. Surely in the interests of fair play that information should have been supplied to honorable members. The Minister instructed that cables should be sent to the United States of America and to Canada to discover the cost of reapers and binders in those countries - not the wholesale price, but the price at which the machines are supplied to the farmer in each of those countries.
– Where the replies suited him he quoted them, and where they did not suit him he did not refer to them.
– It can be shown clearly that the information I gave honorable members was substantially correct, and this was supported by the replies the Minister received from America. In Canada, farmers were paying £60 for a machine which in. Australia, under a duty of 10 per cent., was costing from £98 to £102. I also gave statistics which showed that the rates of wages in Canada are considerably higher than those prevailing in Australia.
– I could have used that information to prove my case to the hilt, but I did not think it worth while.
– In the departmental papers, the information is marked, “ Seen by the Minister.”
– The honorable member is now discussing the Tariff.
– Had I been asked for this information, and declined to give it, the case would be different.
– I asked question after question about it. When it was made known that these machines cost about £60 in Canada, the Department made it appear that the purchasers were paying about £68 12s. for them by adding to the price paid by the farmer the difference in the exchange between Canada and Australia, though, of course, they were in no way affected by the rates of exchange between Canada and Australia, but paid in their own currency as our people pay in the currency of this country for what they purchase here.
– That was done by the Department to ascertain the sterling equivalent in Australia, and was necessary for the sake of comparison.
– It was not- neces-‘ sary. Adverse rates of exchange affect a person here who purchases from Canada, but the buyer in Canada is not affected by them.
– Until a few months ago no machine of the type to which the honorable member is referring was made in Australia, so the better comparison would have been between the New Zealand and Australian prices.
– I hope that clause 15 of the Bill will be drastically amended. Even the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) seems to recognise the need for that. I wish, if a Board is to be appointed, to have a Board that will supply information to Parliament. I have always recognised the advisability of building up secondary industries in this country.
– The honorable member has a strange way of doing it.
– The honorable member would put an embargo on importation, because he thinks that our population can make everything that it requires. My view is that we cannot do that; and, furthermore, that competition brings out the best energies of a people, and that, if you destroy it entirely, you weaken a nation. But competition should be fair. Therefore, I would “always vote for moderate duties until the industry has been established. Every member of the Country party is ready to give fair and reasonable protection to local industries; but we do not wish to grease the fatted sow, or to build up monopolies and combines, and to make millionaires.
– Except abroad.
– The honorable member’s one object ii to keep up the cost of living, in order to keep up wages. I, on the contrary,, would reduce the cost of living, so that we might get back as speedily as possible to normal conditions. I desire a Tariff Board which will have something of the freedom and powers of the Inter-State Commission.
– Did not the honorable member oppose the ;Government’s proposal about the Inter-State Commission ?
– There is no need for an Inter-State Commission at the present time; but I say that the Tariff Board should have freedom similar to that of the Inter-State Commission.. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) asked for a departmental Board; but this should not be a departmental Board.
– I wish for a Board of experts.
– Yes; but whether we get our experts outside or inside the Department we should as speedily as possible make them independent of Minis^terial control.
– What salaries would you pay them? >
– They would need to be well paid. I do not think that we could pay the members of the Board much less than £1,500 a year each. I am not desirous of creating new Departments, and think that there may be many Departments of which we might get rid; but this Board, if created, should have iv^de powers, and its members should be well paid. The
Board should be able to inquire, not only whether combinations in restraint of trade existed, but also whether undue profits were being made. I would go further than the Minister proposes to go, because I would establish a Board which would be useful, not to a Minister or a Government, but to Parliament. A future Government might consist of Free Traders, or, on the other hand, the Ministers composing it might think that this country should be wholly and absolutely self-contained, although that is preposterous. Where there is mass production, such as occurs in certain industries in the United States of America, Great Britain, Germany, or other countries, we should take advantage of it. There are factories abroad whose operations are on such a scale that the requirements of Australia could not keep them going for one week in the year. Such factories produce very much more cheaply than any Australian factory could produce,, and Australia benefits by using their productions. In the bootmaking industry there may be many small requisites which can be cheaply produced abroad in that way and used with advantage by our manufacturers. Their use may enable us to build up a large export trade in boots, and this will give a better market for our hides, and provide much business for tanneries and kindred industries. To say that Australia can be altogether selfcontained is absurd. If we imported nothing, we should find it difficult to get vessels to come here to take away our products at anything like reasonable freights.
– How absurd it would be if every country in the world determined to be self-contained, and said, “ We will sell to other countries but will buy nothing from them ‘.’ !
– Any one who suggested that would be a fit subject for a. lunatic asylum !
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) seems to hold those views, and the Minister’s Tariff must prevent increased trade. My wish is that the Tariff Board shall be independent of the Minister; that he shall be able to refer matters to it, but that it shall report to Parliament through the Executive Council. The Minister (Mr. Greene) has suggested that it may be desirable to keep back the report of the Board, lest Tariff alterations be anticipated by importers to the prejudice of the revenue; but as the Board’s reports would go first to the Minister, or, better still, to the Executive Council, any action necessary to preserve the revenue could be taken before they were presented to Parliament.
– Not always. I could give abundant reasons why what the honorable member suggests should not be done.
– I do not think it right that a Board created by Parliament should not send its reports to Parliament.
– No; through the Executive Council.
– Is not that proposed?
– No. Under the Bill the Minister, for what may appear to him good and sufficient reasons, may hold back any report. As to the constitution of the proposed Board, it seemed to me when I first thought of the matter that there might be appointed to it a representative of the Chamber of Manufactures, a representative of the primary producers, and a representative of the consumers; but then it occurred to me that it might be said that the representative of the primary producers was a political representative, and on that ground the Labour party, might ask for representation, although the members of the Labour party are a section of the consumers. Finally, I concluded that what is needed- is an absolutely non-political Board ; one whose members would not be connected with any political organization. We should have a Board of which the Government could say to Parliament, “We believe these gentlemen are capable of collecting the most complete and unbiased information it is possible to obtain, and to advise the Government accordingly.” The Minister (Mr. Greene) argued that the presence of a departmental head on the Board would enable many matterstto be dealt with more conveniently and would facilitate the administration of the Tariff. A Board such as I suggest could obtain the fullest information, and it should get every assistance from the Customs Department. If, for instance, a complaint were made of anomalies in the Tariff the Board would ask the Department to send some official to explain the probable effect of any alterations that might be suggested. In this and other ways the fullest assistance of the Department could be rendered to the Board, and the necessity for having a departmental officer on .that body would be obviated. The Board should be answerable to Parliament, and should not belong, body and soul, to the Minister.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– I suggest the creation of a neutral Board that should report direct to the Governor-General in Council.
– Does the honorable member suggest that in regard to all minor details - for instance, the value for duty of a specific article - the Board should report to the Governor-General in Council?
– Not necessarily in regard to the matters referred to in paragraphs a, b, and c of clause 14, namely, the classification of goods, the determination of the value of goods for duty, and any dispute arising out of the interpretation of the Tariff. But the Board should certainly report direct to the GovernorGeneral in Council in regard to the succeeding paragraphs of clause 14 relating to new duties, the granting of bounties, the effect of bounties, the application of the preferential and intermediate Tariffs, and complaints in regard to abuses of the protection afforded by the Tariff.
– Suppose an industry has. not been established by the date on which a deferred duty should operate, and the Board proposes that the duty should be further deferred, should that recommendation go to the GovernorGeneral in Council?
– Should it not? Suppose that some person undertakes the manufacture of tin plates, and the Minister promises a deferred duty upon that commodity ? Upon inquiry into the development of the industry, the Board might recommend that the duty should be further deferred, because the manufacturer was not in a position to supply Australian requirements. If the Board recommended that the duty should be deferred for a couple of years, and that were made known, the importers would know how they stood, and would indent for Australian requirements during the intervening period. If the report were sent to the Minister, the Minister might delay taking action until the very last moment, and importers would be chary of ordering goods from abroad.
– Does not the honorable member think that the House would know of those circumstances?
– The House must know.
– We should have a Board capable of dealing with these matters. In regard to the granting of bounties for the encouragement of an industry, clause 14 must be read in conjunction with clause 15, which empowers the Minister to take action in respect of any matter upon receipt of a report from the Board.
– We do not intend that clause to mean what the honorable member suggests that it means, and we are prepared to amend it to make that fact perfectly clear.
– Whilst Parliament may be content to give away most of its powers, I doubt if it will go as far as that clause proposes.
– The Crown Law Officers assure me that the clause cannot be interpreted in that way, but if there is the slightest doubt as to the interpretation, we shall make the meaning clear.
– The granting of bonuses is a matter that should be decided entirely by Parliament.
– It must come before Parliament.
– And so should every proposal for the application of the British preferential Tariff or the intermediate Tariff.
– That, too, must come before Parliament.
– If this Bill passes the second reading, important amendments must be made to clause 14. Paragraph (h) of that clause empowers the Minister to refer to the Board for inquiry and report - any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded him by the Tariff, and in particular in regard to his -
I desire to give special protection to the consumer.
– Does not that paragraph protect the consumer?
– No; it should be made to read to this effect - any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded him by the Tariff or that the consumer is being charged unfair prices for protected commodities.
– That is implied.
– It is not .
– Does the honorable member wish to go back to the old price-fixing system?
– No. I am quite satisfied that every effort at price-fixing has done a thousand times more harm than good.
– Because the system lacked sympathy by the Government administering it.
– Not so; if the honorable member will read the history of price-fixing in the Roman Empire, Germany, and elsewhere, he will find that it has invariably ended in chaos and disaster to the producer and to the country. I desire that this Board shall report to Parliament in regard to the profits of trade made by manufacturers, and in Committee I shall move to add a further sub-clause to provide accordingly. If that is agreed to, the House will have an opportunity of knowing something about the enormous profits made in highly-protected industries.
– Is not that covered by the provision relating to the charging of unnecessarily high prices? If a manufacturer is charging unnecessarily high prices, it may be assumed that he is making unreasonably high profits; if he is making unreasonably high profits, it may be assumed that he is charging unreasonably high prices.
– There is more than that to be considered. For instance, if shoeing nails can be manufactured abroad at 30s. per cwt., and are costing in Australia 50s. per cwt., and the Board, upon inquiry, decides that the methods adopted by the local manufacturers are obsolete, should it not report that unnecessarily high prices are being charged to the community ?
– It was proved during the war that the woollen manufacturers did not make unnecessarily high profits; but tbe public bad to pay unnecessarily high prices.
– There is not only the constitutional difficulty, but the honorable member is proposing the creation of a price-fixing tribunal.
– That is not my intention. Suppose that the balance-sheet of tbe Broken Hill Proprietary Company showed a profit next year pf, say, £2,000,000, instead of £600,000 last year,, would not that fact suggest to the Board that unnecessarily high prices were being charged, and that lower duties should be imposed? Or is it intended that, irrespective of the enormous profits made by manufacturers, the consumers shall be made to pay double and treble the price at which goods can be purchased in other countries, and so enable millionaires to become multi-millionaires ?
– What is the use of compelling the manufacturer to sell to the warehouse at a fair price if there is no provision for compelling Flinders-lane to sell to the public at a fair price ?
– How oan we overcome the constitutional obstacle?
– I believe, and I am sure the Minister believes, that there are combinations and honorable understandings in trade. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company and the Steel and Hardware Association fix the price at which the public shall be supplied. It is said that_ some manufacturers refuse to supply retailers unless they will sell to the public at not less than a certain price. The Board could inquire into such restrictions. For the ‘sake of argument; let us suppose that the Denton Hat Mills refuses to supply hats to any purchaser but the warehouses in the Lane, as a result of which the cost to the public is exceptionally high in comparison with the cost of manufacture. In such circumstances could we not say to that firm, or to any other firm acting likewise, that, unless they supplied their goods direct to the retailers, and abandoned any arrangements or understandings in restraint of trade, an Excise duty on their product would be imposed?
– You would be attempting to use our powers, not for Excise, but for the purpose of regulating Intra-State trade. Of course, we have the power to reduce duties.
– Hear, hear! There is no question that we have that power.
– I see the difficultythat we might hit the manufacturer who was loyally trying to build up his industry, while endeavouring to strike at a person who had been acting in restraint of trade. That is why I thought, if it could be managed, that we ought to be able to say to that man, “ If you are going to act in restraint of trade in the disposal of the articles you produce, we will charge you an Excise duty on them. We have given you a big protection to enable you to manufacture your goods in this country, but you are not treating the people of this country fairly.” It might be a straining of the Act; but it ought to be possible to bring in something of that sort. The Board should also have power, which. the Minister has not provided for in this Bill, to inquire into bounties or subsidies paid by foreign countries to encourage shipping, export trade, or .unfair competition. That would make it much more comprehensive than the Minister has done.
– We have that power in the Bill dealing with dumping.
– It ought to be in this Bill, because this is the Board that ought to report.
– So far as the operation of the Bill dealing with dumping is concerned, as it is drawn, it can be operated only after report by this Board.
– I wanted it made clear.
– I have no objection to adding that, if it is not siifficiently covered now.
– It is a question of covering subsidies granted in foreign countries to- build up industries, subsidies in regard to shipping, or what may be reasonably termed unfair competition. We should also add, “ any other question that may be referred to the Board by Parliament.” Parliament should have the power to refer matters to the Board by resolution.
– Would not Parliament have that power in any circumstances ? It could refer anything to the Board by resolution.
– If you introduce too many definitions, you limit the measure.
– I do not think so. I have the Minister’s assurance that he is prepared to amend clause 15, so as to make it clear that the powers under clause 14 are not given to him, so far as they relate to many of the items-
– The honorable member has my assurance that this Bill leaves the Ministerial power exactly where it stands now.
– Yes. To make the Bill satisfactory to myself, I would like to see it amended to insure that the Board which is to be created will be absolutely of a neutral nature. The Minister 13 creating a Board to be subject to himself. E want a Board created which will not be subject to the Minister. My idea would bc to have a more important Board, with greater powers, from which Parliament would be more likely to get full and complete reports on the operation of the Tariff than it is likely to obtain from a Board appointed as this one will be. I hope that, when the Minister is framing the functions of the Board, he will seriously consider the desirability of making it a body more in the nature of the Inter-State Commission, independent of the Minister, and responsible only to the Executive of the country.
.- I have listened .with a good deal of interest to the speeches delivered on the motion for the second reading of this Bill. Some of them, including that of the Minister (Mr. Greene), have been very lucid, but I must confess that I am much disappointed with the Bill itself. I am disappointed that the Government has not brought forward a more effective measure - that is, more effective to protect the interests iof those engaged in the manufacturing industries of Australia, and also of the consuming public.
– Hear, hear ! That is the weak point of the whole Bill.
– At a very early stage of the Tariff I had an opportunity of addressing the Committee, and during the course of my remarks pointed out that, while I was a strong Protectionist, and while I believed that any one in Australia who was not a Protectionist had failed to learn the lessons of the war-
– There are a lot of them here.
– I dare say there are a good many. At the same time, I ‘expressed the view that, while we were imposing a protective Tariff which would enable us to build this up into a great self-contained country, Parliament should provide some means whereby the workers engaged in particular industries would receive adequate remuneration for their labour on the one hand, and on the other hand the purchasers of manufactured articles, or the consumers, would receive them at reasonable prioes. The reasonable prices that I referred to were the cost of manufacture under the conditions thait I hajve just mentioned, plus a reasonable amount for profit. If I recollect aright, the Minister interjected to me on that occasion that a measure or measures would be introduced which would have the effect that I desired. I take it that this is one of the measures to which he referred. So far as I can see, this is the only measure that the Government are proposing to introduce, but in my opinion it will not have the effect that I advocated. I do not think that it will have the effect that is desired by a majority of honorable, members of this House, because it does not provide any effective machinery for securing proper conditions to the workers engaged in particular manufacturing industries, nor does it protect the purchaser or consumer. In short, this Bill does not profess to confer any further powers on the Minister than he already possesses. That is so, is it not?
– Except that it gives him the machinery to do what otherwise he has not the machinery to do.
– It enables him to utilize the services of a Board, the appointment of “which the Bill will authorize, to make certain investigations.
– And it gives the Minister full power to ignore that report and impose whatever Tariff he likes.
– It may be that the. Minister would ignore that report, but the Bill only gives him power to make, through a Board, inquiries which he already has the power to make. In other words, there will be no further power in the hands of the Minister to see that proper conditions are given to employees in the different manufacturing industries, or that the consumer gets the manufactured article at a reasonable price. He will have absolutely not one scintilla more power in either of those directions than he has to-day. That is the principal thing. I object to, and it is the duty of this House, a duty which we owe to the people who sent us here, to urge upon the Government the necessity of bringing down something that willhave some real effect in the directions I have indicated. This Bill does not purport to have any such effect. It is mere make-believe. What is the use of the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) talking about the inquiries that the Board may carry out, orthe further powers of inquiry that he will give them, if no further power is given to the Minister, or there is no further enactment by Parliament itself, which will make in those two directions ? It may he said that there is some constitutional difficulty in bringing about what I choose to call “New Protection” for short. It conveys an idea to many of the public- perhaps not strictly accurate - but we will call it “ New Protection.” There is nothing in this Bill, then, that makes in the direction of New Protection. The Minister said to me, when I was speaking on the Tariff, that I knew there was a constitutional difficulty in his way in including provisions such as I desired in the Tariff Bill itself. I recognise that difficulty. That difficulty is contained in section 55 of the Constitution, which provides that -
Laws imposing taxation, except laws imposing duties of Customs or of Excise, shall deal with one subject of taxation only; but laws imposing duties of Customs shall deal with duties of Customs only, and laws imposing duties of Excise shall deal with duties of Excise only.
I understand that, for that reason, the provisions to which I have referred could not be contained in the Tariff Bill itself, but the measure which is now brought forward does not contain any provisions of that nature. Then, do the Government, or does the Minister, propose to bring forward any measure that will have the effects to which I have referred?
– Does the honorable member suggest that there are no constitutional difficulties in the way of doing those things?
– I do. I suggest that there are no constitutional difficulties. There is a decision of the High Court of Australia, in what is known as the Harvester Case, where a majority of the Court held that duties of Excise could not be imposed if there was some indirect purpose, such as that of securing proper conditions in the industry; but I think any one who has followed the trend of recent decisions of the High Court of Australia will come to the conclusion that, if that matter were again submitted to them, probably they would give a decision in a directly opposite direction, and Would hold that the object or purpose for which the provision was made could not be taken into consideration in interpreting the plain words of the Statute.
– The honorable member is a good tipster.
– The honorable member for Grampians quite realizes that many of the earlier decisions of the High Court of Australia in the direction of curtailing the legislative powers of the Commonwealth, or interpreting the Constitution in a narrow way with regard to the legislative powers of the Commonwealth, have been upset.
– Many of them?
– Have they not?
– Will the honorable member indicate what rule of interpretation the High Court has laid down which leads him to that belief as regards the taxing powers of the Constitution?
– The honorable member for Darling Downs does not expect me to enter into a. legal argument here upon the matter. I will put it this way, that the rules of interpretation that have recently been followed by a majority of the High Court of Australia lead me to believe that their decision in respect of such a measure as that I have mentioned would be different from the existing decision on the matter.
– Was there not something in the Harvester Case where Parliament sought to do by an Act what it could not do?
– The decision of the majority of the Court in that case was that the Commonwealth Parliament could not, by means of a measure imposing a duty of Excise, really have the purpose of controlling the conditions under which an industry was carried on.
– That Parliament was unable to do indirectly what it could not do directly.
– The Minister may put it that way, but two very learned Judges of the High Court - Mr. Justice Isaacs and Mr. Justice Higgins - dissented from that decision. That is a fact worthy of note.
– And now the whole Court has come round to their way of thinking.
– As the honorable member observes, the Court has now come round to their way of thinking. Our friends opposite are very delicate about doing anything in the interests of the great body of the people, professing to be afraid of a decision by the High Court. Why are honorable members opposite not prepared to test matters - to have a measure introduced on the same or similar lines to that which was held invalid by the Court on that occasion? I do not know whether or not the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) supports me in what I am saying, or whether he would be prepared to use his influence, which is no doubt great, to have some proposals made with the object of protecting the purchasers of manufactured articles, and also protecting the employees in a particular industry. If this Parliament seriously intendsto do anything in these directions, this Bill does not represent the right way. The Government have introduced this measure, which, if it is intended to have such effects, is, to my mind, only a make-believe. The Minister has not said that that is the intention ; but if he has not already made up his mind to introduce such a measure, I hope either that this Parliament, as constituted, will force the Government to act on those lines, of that, when the people get the opportunity, they will elect a Parliament determined to so act.
– Do you think this Bill will achieve the object sought?
– I answer that question by asking another: What is the object sought ? The Bill certainly will not have the effect of carrying out the objects I am seeking, nor the purpose thehonorable member has in view, namely, to protect the purchasers or consumers of the manufactured article, and also protect the employees engaged in an industry.
– It is a pity the honorable member did not make sure of that beforehe allied himself with the Government to force the Tariff through in the way he did.
– The honorable member may come to what conclusion he chooses, but I have not “ allied “ myself with anybody to force the Tariff through. I have done only what I consider to be in the interests of the community in general. I do not disregard what I consider to be the interests of the public generally, because I happen sometimes to vote with honorable members opposite; I am not narrow-minded, but take a broad view of affairs. These comments are made on what I consider to be the delinquency of the Government, and it is a great delinquency which we desire to drive home. We desire not only honorable members, but the people in the country, to understand what that delinquency is ; we wish it understood by the primary producers, who are complaining about the prices of their Australian-produced agricultural machinery, and who, I do not hesitate to say, in many cases are justified. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) may talk about “alliance” if he likes to do so; but it is our duty, whether by “alliance” or otherwise, to see that the primary producers are protected - that is, that they do not pay for their agricultural machinery prices which are over and above what are fair, and also that proper conditions are secured for employees, with a fair profit to the manufacturer. Does the honorable member suggest that agricultural machinery is now being sold under such conditions as I now indicate?
– Then, I do not know what the honorable member does suggest ; but whether there are complaints or not, it is our plain duty to exercise all the powers we have to remedy such wrongs, and not take too narrow a view of the Constitution. I stake my opinion that we have the power to do what I suggest.
– De I’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours del’audace!
– That is not a bad view to take sometimes, and the words contain advice we might follow - dare, dare, always dare, if you know you are in the right.
I have now only a few words to say with regard to what I conceive to be the purpose of the Bill. Up to the present I have been dealing with what I consider should have been the scope of the Bill, and what I was led to believe would be its scope.
– What does the honorable member suggest is meant by paragraph //. of clause 14 ?
– That paragraph merely purports ,to confer power on this Board to make certain investigations.
– What “about?
– With regard to certain matters. The Board may investigate any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded by the Tariff, particularly in regard to charging unnecessarily high prices for his goods, or that he is acting in restraint of trade to the detriment of the public. The Board may inquire into those matters.
– And then, what?
– The Board may then report to the Minister.
– And then?
– And then, what is the Minister going to do about it?
– The Bill rjrovides that, within seven days, he must acquaint Parliament with the result.
– And then what is going to happen ? I can see a long course of inquiry; but it all boils down to a report to this Parliament.
– Parliament is the only authority that can act.
– Did the honorable member expect anything else in the Bill?
– I must confess I did not, though I was promised something else. I conceive it to be my duty to urge that something effective should be done to protect the primary producers and the workers - something that they are not getting in this measure. Is this Board necessary, seeing that we are not giving any further powers to the Minister or to the’ Government ? We are not proposing to impose any duty of Excise to fall automatically on those who do not afford proper working conditions, or who do not supply the primary producer with his machinery at fair prices.
– Are you suggesting that the Bill be withdrawn?
– I should not be sorry if it were withdrawn. I certainly suggest that it be withdrawn with the object of re-drafting it and introducing a measure that will effectively provide for the protection of the primary producers and of the workers. I should be delighted if the Government would withdraw the Bill with that object. There is only one question that arises, in view of the narrow scope covered by the measure - is this Board necessary? The Bill does not give one ounce more of power to the Minister than he already has; in fact, it imposes a fetter on his existing powers. Under the powers at present at his command, he may refer any of the matters mentioned to an inquiry by his experts; he can, for instance, refer to those experts any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded him by the Tariff, parti-, cularly in regard to charging unnecessarily high prices for his goods.
– To whom can the Minister refer it ?
– To any expert the Minister, desires; he has absolute discretion to refer any such matters to experts.
– Supposing they refuse to give the information?
– Supposing who refuses?
– Supposing they do?
– The Minister cannot force them to supply information under any existing power.
– Is it not easy for the Minister to take that necessary power?
– That is what we are doing by this Bill.
– The Minister is not taking that power by the Bill.
– Yes, he is.
– The concluding clauses of the Bill deal with nothing else.
– While previous speakers were on their feet, I several times asked whether this Bill gives any more power to the Minister than he already has, and I was always told by the Minister that it does not.
– It does not in relation to the Tariff, but it does provide machinery to enable the Minister to make inquiries. :
– That is, it provides the Minister with this Board? ‘
– It provides the Minister with legal power to get the information he requires. .
– Has not the Minister, at present, power in his hands to get any information he desires?
– Is there not a Tariff section of the Department of Trade and Customs?
– There is no specific Tariff Branch.
– What is any Tariff Branch if it is not a body to make such investigations as these?
– There are officers whom wo intrust to make investigations, but they have not powers such as are given under the Bill.
– I go so far as . to say that I would have no objection to giving the Minister any powers of investigation he desires, working through his experts. But is this particular Board necessary?
– Were not the whole of ‘ the powers now sought by the Minister given him by means of the Inter-State Commission ?
– I understand so.
– And that Commission has been discarded.
-^Quite so; this is really a revival of the old Inter-State Commission.
– And all the powers of that Inter-State Commission could be exercised to-morrow under the Act?
– That is so.
– The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) not being present, I beg to call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– The onus rests upon the Government of showing that there is a necessity for the appointment of- the proposed Board. Seeing that it is not intended to confer any new powers upon- the Minister, clause 14 of the Bill really imposes a fetter upon the honorable gentleman, because it provides that he -shall refer certain matters to the Board foi- inquiry and report, and that he shall not :take any action in respect to any of them until he has received that report. Instead, therefore, of exercising” the powers which he already enjoys, the Minister is forbidden to exercise those powers until he has referred the matters in question to the Tariff Board.
– That merely imposes a check upon the arbitrary power of the Minister”.
– The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) .puts the matter in one way, but I prefer to . put it in another. I say that clause 14 fetters the Minister in regard to the manner in which- he may exercise his discretion.
– That is the same thing.
– No. I do not say that it is an arbitrary power. Any Minister will be guided by reasonable, and not by arbitrary, considerations.
– It is a fetter that an efficient Minister will welcome, I think.
– There” is another side to that. It is not merely a fetter upon the manner in which the Minister may exercise his discretion, but it is one which will make for delay. We do not know how long the Tariff Board will occupy in conducting their inquiries. They may occupy six months, or even twelve months, in ascertaining whether the prices charged for certain articles are unnecessarily high, or whether a combination exists in restraint of trade, and during the whole of that period the Minister will be prohibited under the provisions of this Bill from exercising his powers.
– He must have a report of the Board before he can act.
– But there is no provision in the measure requiring the Board to make a prompt report.
– To what clause is the honorable member referring?
– To clause 14 pf the Bill, which provides that the Minister shall refer certain matters to the Board for report, and that he shall do nothing until he has obtained that report.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the members of the Board “may be reluctant to -work themselves out of jobs?
– It is quite unnecessary for me to make any unworthy suggestions. But the effect of this clause is to fetter the Minister in the exercise of his discretion, and to prevent him from doing anything until the Board has submitted a report. In answer to the very logical speech of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), the Minister has given us an assurance that he has no objection so to amend clause 15 as to prevent more powers being conferred upon him than those which he already possesses. To my mind, he has failed to show that the proposed Board is necessary. Its creation will mean a very considerable additional expense to the taxpayer of this country. It will constitute a new subDepartment whether the Minister likes it or not. He knows perfectly well that when once we appoint any persons to such positions, even if they be given only an office-table and a chair at the start, it will not be long before they have a whole Department around them.
– A great deal depends upon the Minister.
– But that will be the tendency of the Board. It is the tendency of any persons who may be appointed to such positions, Soon, therefore, we shall have a very expensive piece of machinery in existence,which will really be a hindrance rather than an assistance to the Minister. Even upon the narrow ground which the Bill covers - and it covers very narrow ground compared with what itshould cover -the Minister has failed to satisfy me that the creation of the proposed Board is necessary. If it were necessary, he would scarcely have provided for the appointment of a chairman who is to receive only £1,400 per year, whilst the other two members of the Board are to be paid fees at the rate of £5 5s. per sitting.
– Or, alternatively, £5,000 a year each.
– It is true that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) suggested that the salaries of these two additional members should be raised to a much higher amount. But if the appointment of a Tariff Board is necessary, we shall certainly require to offer its members some more adequate remuneration than that which is proposed in the
– The honorable member would not care to work for it.
– I certainly should not work for it. The very fact that the Minister has introduced a measure containing such a provision as to remuneration is the strongest evidence that he does not think the proposed Board is necessary.
– We could hardly permit any member of the Board to be engaged in any other business in the city.
– I should think not.
– It would be dangerous to do so.
– I am giving a qualified support to the remarks of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) in regard to the remuneration of the members of the proposed Board. I am using his argument in two ways. The fact that the provision in the Bill in regard to the salaries to be paid is so inadequate is convincing evidence to me that the Minister does not regard the creation of the Board as essential. It is abody which is entirely unnecessary, but one which may be saddled with duties that he himself could perform.
– Either that or the Government has been reading the newspapers, which is unthinkable.
– That may possibly be an explanation of the matter.
– May not the salaries proposed in the Bill be regarded as evidence of a reasonable desire on the part of the Government to exercise economy?
– That sort of cheeseparing does not represent true economy. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) has been so successful in his business concerns that he knows it is the best economy to appoint competent men, and to pay them good salaries for their services. I am quite sure that he would not have an incompetent manager in charge of any of his stations in Queensland. So with the members of this Board. If the Board be necessary, we should appoint to it only the best men we can get, and we ought to pay them well for their services, so that there can be no suggestion that they may be influenced in an improper direction.
– Is it intended that the members of the Board shall have no other business?
– I am suggesting that, if such a Board be constituted, its members should have nothing else to do. We ought not to appoint to it members of the mercantile community, who will give only part of their time to the discharge of their duties. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) stated that it was necessary that its members should possess not merely the confidence of Parliament, but that of the mercantilecommunity. To my mind, he did not go far enough. It must also possess the confidence of the great body of the consuming public.
– That is why I shall vote for the Bill.
– I agree with the honorable member. But we have no guarantee that the appointments will be of such a character as will command the confidence of the great body of the consuming public. If the measure be approved by this House, I hope that some provision will be inserted in it which will insure the granting upon the Board of proper representation of the consuming public. I am disappointed that the Government have not fulfilled their promise to introduce some measure which would protect, not merely the workers in our industries, but also the consuming public. Instead, they have introduced a Bill which is a paltry measure, and one which is intended to sanction the establishment of a Tariff Board, the existence of which they have not shown to be necessary.
– I am one of those who believe that the creation of a Tariff Board, or of some machinery analogous to it, is essential to make the working of our Tariff perfect. I claim the support of those honorable members who argue that the effect of protective duties is to increase the prices of commodities in this attempt to prevent such a result being realized. But before discussing any other phase of the question, I desire to say a few words in regard to the payment of the members of the proposed Board as outlined in this Bill. The Minister has not made any adequate provision in that direction. But, had he done so, the dingoes outside who howl for economy - although they do not believe in real economy - would have censuredhim for his action.
Personally, I would rather see three Public Service officials appointed to the proposed Board. The payment of £1,400 per year to the chairman is not more than he ought to receive, and a remuneration of £5 5s. per sitting to the other two members of the Board suggests that persons outside the Service are to be selected for these positions. Should such a course be followed, and should men with outside interests be appointed to the Board, we are going to embark upon an extremely dangerous course. A fee of £5 5s. per sitting to each of these men may, perhaps, mean a total of £700 per year, which it would be simply madness to offer them. Consequently I would prefer the Board to be composed entirely of Public Service officials. !
– Will not the Board go on for ever?
– No. That is why I desire Public Service officials to be appointed, so that they may perform their Tariff duties and then get back to their ordinary work. It would be positively foolish to appoint to such a body any socalled business man unless he possessed political experience. No business man - unless his experience has been tempered by life in the political arena - would ever be of any use to the general body of the community in a position of that sort. The Board should comprise broad-minded men, of wide political and commercial experience, and free from mercantile influence. I have been in this House for fourteen or fifteen years, and have seen many new members, successful in their own businesses, becoming broader in their views as the result of close association with the political life of this country. Therefore, I think it is essential that in the selection of men to fill these positions on the Board, particular regard should be paid to their political as well as their business experience. The duties of the Board are set out in clause 14. They will be specially charged, among other things, with the taking of evidence concerning the effect of duties on raw materials, which may be the finished product, or partly finished product, of some other form of manufacture.No Tariff can be truly scientific in its application unless care be taken to consider this aspect of Customs duties in relation to local manufactures.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– In the consideration of the Tariff schedule, we have been frequently met with the objection that duties proposed to be levied upon certain commodities will, in effect, hinder the development of the manufacturing industries in this country.For this reason we should get the fullest information obtainable, by means of this Board, so that we may know exactly where we are. An inquiry may be exhaustive without being protracted. It should be possible for the Board to complete its investigations within a reasonable time and place before the Minister complete information as. to the effect of certain duties. The Board will be also required to inquire into and report upon any complaints that may be made that manufacturers are taking undue advantage of the Tariff by charging unnecessarily high prices for their products or are acting in restraint of trade. During the Tariff debate many such charges were levelled against our manufacturers, and so it will be necessary for the Board, in the course of its investigations, to trace certain goods to their place of origin in order to ascertain the true position as to the effect of the duty. There is nothing new In this proposal. I have no doubt that information of this nature is already in the archives of the Department. I suppose the Department receives particulars, almost daily, as to the prices of certain commodities in the country of origin. This information is really necessary before we can determine if local manufacturers, whose raw materials may comprise the partly finished product of another formofmanufacture, are taking advantage of the Tariff to reap undue profits. Manufacturers, in order to justify themselves, may be called upon to give their costs of production, interest on capital, amount set aside for the depreciation of plant, and so on. I took the closest interest in the Tariff debate, because I saw in it the opportunity I have been seeking for years to protect the consuming public against unnecessarily high prices. It is my desire to have a scientific form of Protection so that all sections of the community may enjoy itsbenefits, and in order that Australia may be a self-contained nation.
On the questionof penalties, I note that any witness who knowingly gives false evidence in an inquiry by the Tariff Board may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment; forfive years. In my opinion, boiling oil would not, be too great a punishment for a man who endeavoured to frustrate the efforts of this Parliament to give Australia a truly scientific form of Protection. I am prepared to give our manufacturers higher duties, provided they sell their commodities at a fair price to the general public. Already we have on our statute-book a law to prevent action in restraint of trade, but it has not been operative. While the manufacturers themselves may not be guilty of this offence, I am satisfied that the charge may,be laid against the distributing agents. For instance, if a. manufacturer undertook to sell his product direct to the consuming public, somebody else, whose business it is to act as an intermediary, would at once step in and decline to handle the manufacturer’s product. This would be in restraint of trade, because the agent would, in effect, be dictating to the manufacturer the price at which the commodity should be sold. I could enumerate many other methods that have been adopted in restraint of trade.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– The appointment of a Tariff Board is necessary to enable the duties to be imposed on raw material, the retail price of the commodities, and action in restraint of trade to be fully considered; and, if immediate investigation is undertaken, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) will then be able to determine whether amending legislation is necessary. The Bill is not all I desire, but I trust that it will be administered in such a way that many of the difficulties and disadvantages which are now confronting producers and consumers will be dispensedwith.
.- My comments on this Bill, which I intend to support, shall be brief. This is, I believe, the first time a measure has been introducedwhich adequately protects witnesses who may be called to give evidence. The penalties to be imposed seem somewhat high, but I am sorry that both fines and imprisonment have not been provided for,, as is the case in. the French code of laws, which is superior to our own. It is our custom to impose a fine or imprisonment; but under . the French system a wealthy merchant may be fined £500 and may also. have to serve-two or/three years’ . imprisonment. A man who was once a member of tbe Senate was charged with forging twenty-eight documents in connexion with imported goods, and, although he swore falsely in the witnessbox, he escaped without even a fine being imposed. The Judge, in commenting on the evidence of this man, who was in business in Flinders-lane, said “ He was an irascible old gentleman who did not know what he was saying in the witnessbox.” When the- Bill is in Committee I may move to amend some of its provisions, so that a fine and imprisonment may be imposed. A liberal translation of a punitive provision of Napoleonic laws read in this way : - “ If any man or body of men come together for the undue raising of prices of goods, the penalty shall be 20,000 francs and six months’ imprisonment; but, if the prices relate to foodstuffs, such as wheat and flour, the punishment shall be 40,000 francs and twelve months’ imprisonment.” I welcome the introduction of this measure in the hope that it will adequately protect the manufacturer,, the worker, and the consumer; and, if it does not do that, it can only be regarded as a fallacy and a fraud. I trust the proposed Tariff Board will be able to assist the Minister, so that he can readily amend the Tariff whenever necessary ; and, if that is possible, we shall then be in a similar position to Japan and the United States of America, where they have Boards with powers possibly greater than those of the body which it is now intended to create here.
– I have listened very attentively to the speeches delivered on the second reading of this Bill, and I have refreshed my memory by carefully reading the able speech of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), who lucidly explained its main principles when introducing the measure, but, so far, I have utterly failed to see any justification for its introduction. The Industries Preservation Bill, which was subsequently introduced, provided that certain work had. to be done by a Tariff Board, - and -to that extent some such body may be necessary. . . But it seems- that that ‘ difficulty icould easily be- -overcome - if “ the -House decides to reject this measure-“’ - by including a clause in the IndustriesPreservation Bill- to provide for some authority to make recommendationsto the Minister. I cannot understand why thework of the proposed Board could not be undertaken byt the- Inter-State Commission.
– This will be an infinitely less expensive body.
– That depends entirely upon the remuneration paid to the” mem-, bers of the Board, and the expenditure it incurs. According to the present proposals of the Minister it will probably not be. such a costly body as the Inter-State Commission. After carefully considering the question, and perusing the provisions of the Bill, I believe that the work the proposed -Board is to undertake could be done. as well, if not better, by the officers of the Customs Department.
– They have too much to do at present.
– I am not in a position to say whether that is so or not, but if there are members of the Public Service who have too much work thrust upon them, a re-arrangement of the duties of the officers of the Department or a reorganization of the staff would meet the position, and thus avoid the necessity of creating an outside Board. A Board consisting of a Customs officer and two outside business men would not be as? efficient as one comprised of expert Customs officers. As a result of the inquiries! honorable members have made in connexion with the Tariff, Ave have found that on the staff of Customs officers presided* over by Major Oakley - who is a In’ghlycapable public servant - there arc meu< who are eminently suitable for this in.vportant work. Such a body would prove more efficient than one consisting of a Customs officer and two business men.
– It would have its weak points.
– Every Board has its defects. Honorable members who had experience of the Boards which flourished during the war “and since, know the defects and difficulties which existed. If it be considered necessary that more ample information should be obtained, should it not have been made available to honorable members before the introduction of the Tariff schedule which we have just disposed of? There was the machinery for obtaining it in tlie Inter-State Commission. Why’ has the Commission not been reappointed ? Is it on the ground of economy ? I doubt it. I followed very closely the investigations of the Inter-State Commission into the operation of duties, and my opinion is that the reason for the outcry against that body was, not that it was inefficient, but that it was too efficient; that it brought top many facts to light, and probed too deeply into business affairsThe same thing can be- said of the Victorian Necessary Commodities Commission, which was presided over by MajorGeneral McCay, at one time a member of this House. It, too, made public, day by day, facts of the utmost value to any one desiring to frame a Tariff, which would meet fairly the economical and industrial conditions of the time. ‘ It was that that made the Commission unpopular, as it made the Inter-State Commission unpopular, and honorable members who be lieve that the Tariff Board - unless it be less efficient that those other bodies proved themselves - will be popular are, I think, hugging a delusion. According -as its investigations are efficiently conducted, and of value to the community at large, will be its unpopularity. Because, in making such investigations, the Board must reveal Facts which it will be inconvenient to vested interests to have revealed.
There may be some who think that, if the Board consists of only one officer of the Customs Department and two outside persons, that will remove a mountain of objections. On what is that conclusion based? ‘
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed-]
Sitting suspended from 6.28 to 8 p.m.
– I noticed, during this debate, an entire absence of any reference to the Board of Trade, which I believe is still in existence and is composed of business men of great ability.
– I calf attention to the state of the House.
– Oii a point of order, I direct your attention, sir, to standing order 276, which deals with the question of tedious repetition, and I ask your ruling whether the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) is in order in tediously repeating his calls for a^ quorum?
– The standing order to which the honorable member directs my attention refers to tedious repetitions in the course of a speech and not to calls for a .quorum. As, however, my attention has been called to this matter, I ask honorable members whether, in their own interests, they do not consider that it would be wiser to refrain -from calling attention to the state of the House so frequently? I find, on reference, not only to our own Standing Orders, but also to the practice of the House of Commons, that when, in the opinion, of Mr. Speaker, his attention has been recently called to the state of the House and he has counted the House, he refuses, until after & certain time has- elapsed, to again satisfy himself that there is a quorum present. In view of this practice, I ask that attention shall not be called to the state of the House too frequently.
– On a point of order, I remind you, sir, that I called your attention to the state of the House and the bells were not rung. * Quorum formed.] ‘*
– We shall have to stop this somehow or other.
– I was reminding honorable members of the existence of the Board of Trade, consisting of business men- of great ability. From time to time the Trade aud Customs Department has availed itself of the advice and business knowledge of the members of the Board of Trade. It would, I think, be of considerable interest to honorable members if the Minister (Mr. Greene) would say whether, in his opinion, the Board of Trade has outlived its usefulness, and what will be done with it if this Bill is carried .
– It is proposed to add two new members to the Board of Trade; one from Sydney and another from Melbourne.
– What I should like to know is what will be the function of the Board of Trade if this Bill is passed. Under clause 14, paragraph h, it is provided that the Minister shall refer to this new Tariff Board for inquiry and report - any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded him by the Tariff, and in particular in regard to his -
It is further provided that the Minister shall not take any action in respect of any of the matters set out in the various paragraphs of clause 14 until he has received the report of the Board. It seems to me that in thus specifically referring to the charging by manufacturers of unnecessarily high prices for their goods, the Bill, by implication, excludes from consideration the practice of other people charging unnecessarily high prices for those goods. I support the suggestion made by the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) that the words “ that the consumer is being charged unnecessarily high prices ; or “ should be inserted at the end of sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph h, which I have quoted. That seems to me to be the most important thing to guard against. I do not believe that our manufacturers charge unnecessarily high prices for their goods, but I am, at the same time, profoundly convinced that in many cases the consumers have to pay excessive prices for those goods. In this Bill I see no provision made to prevent consumers of goods being charged extortionate prices by persons other than the manufacturers of the goods. Some reference was made during the debate to excessive prices charged by the Denton Hat Mills for their hats. Whenever such a charge is made I take the earliest opportunity to rebut it, unless it is substantiated by facts and evidence. Since the Denton Hat Mills have been specially referred to, I take the opportunity to say that I am wearing to-day a hat made by the Denton Hat Mills which I bought twelve months ago. That honorable members may know that extortionate prices are not charged by the Denton Hat Mills, I may tell them that I bought this hat in a Collins-street shop for one guinea, and that friends of mine have been asked to pay a good deal more for hats that were not so -good. I venture to say that, during the war, the Denton Hat Mills and our woollen mills sold their products more cheaply than did the manufacturers of similar goods in any other country in the world. ‘In the circumstances, I do not believe in singling out the manufacturer under paragraph h of clause 14, whilst leaving out all reference to overcharging by intermediaries.
– The manufacturers are the only people to whom we give protection under the Tariff.
– I am not so sure of that; but, even if that were so, I do not consider it a sufficient reason for singling out the manufacturer in this connexion when we know that the public may be paying much higher prices for goods than those which axe charged by the manufacturers of them.
I followed the speech of the Minister for Trade and Customs when he was moving the second reading of the Bill, but I have been unable to understand what is meant by clause 15. It provides that -
Upon receipt of a report from the Board, in pursuance of the last preceding section, the Minister may, if he thinks fit, take action in respect of any of the matters dealt with by the Board in its report.
Does this mean that the Minister, if this Bill becomes law, will be vested with some powers which he does not at present possess of either administration or legislation ?
– The Minister has said that he will make the meaning of the clause clear and will indicate what power is intended to be given to the Minister.
– I am glad to hear that. I do not believe that, under this Bill, any new powers should be given to the Minister or his Department. I object to this measure on the ground that it proposes the setting up of an extra Board outside the Department, in spite of the fact that almost every such Board created since the beginning of the war has been superseded. Also that, speaking generally, the reports of those Boards, which have been carried on at colossal expense to the community, have been consistently disregarded by the authorities. In theory, I admit that the establishment of an extra Board outside the Department may appear to be in the highest degree desirable, and I supported such Boards at the beginning of the war, because it seemed to me that they would be very useful. In view of their cost, and the fact that their recommendations have been disregarded by Governments and Parliaments in Australia, I object to the establishment of a new Board of the kind, especially at this time, when I suppose every one believes in the necessity for economy in the various Government Departments, though there is some reluctance to put the belief into practice.
.- In some respects this measure falls short of my expectations. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) will, perhaps remember the painful reiteration in which I indulged when trying to allay the fears of theFree Traders in the corner and some honorable membersbehind the Ministry by informing them that the Minister had promised that, should any of those to whom we were granting a measure of protection be found exploiting the public, they would, under the terms of a Bill to be introduced later, be brought to book, and the consumer would be protected against their ravages. Because of that promise by the Minister I voted for some of the high duties with double assurance. I belong to a party on whose platform are inscribed the words “ effective protection.” By the adoption of that plank we were able to reconcile two conflicting elements in our party in the early days of Federation. A number of the then members of the party, including the present Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), and the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton), were confirmed Free Traders, and the scheme adopted by the party as a means of bringing the two conflicting elements together, and providing a salve for the conscience of the Free Traders, was the inclusion in the platform of what we then called “ New Protection,” and now call “ Effective Protection,” which means protection for the manufacturer at the port, the worker in the shop, and the consumer in the home. I do not think that protective duties imposed under those conditions would meet with any objection from even Free Traders.
– Not if those conditions could be carried out, but apparently it has not been possible to protect the consumer.
– Thatwas so under the old order of things; but a new order has been established, and I believe we are on the eve of a new era of grace. I do not presume to express a legal opinion on this matter, but as a layman I say we tread on absolutely firm ground in laying down those three principles in connexion with our Tariff enactments.
– Question !
– There we have a layman questioning another layman’s opinion upon a legal question.We must carefully analyze this measure, and the one tofollow it, because they are supplementary to, and the natural corollary of, the Tariff Bill. If, while striving to insure that in thiscountry the manufacturer can live in decency, comfort, and honesty, and the worker can earn a fair living for his wife and family, we leave theconsumer absolutely unprotected, we shall be failing in an important part of our duty.
– Our complaint is that the consumer is not protected by this Bill.
– I believe the honorable member is quite right. I have heard the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), the honorable member for Grampians (Mr.. Jowett), andothers, speaking from both the lay and the legal points of view, express a doubt about the power of this measure to protect the consumer. I share that doubt. Clause 14, sub-clause 2, paragraph b, refers to the “ fiscal and industrial effect of the Customs laws “ as one of the matters which the Minister may refer to the Board for inquiry and report, but that is the only reference I can find to the industrial aspect of the Tariff, and it is so indefinite that I cannot regard it as sufficient guarantee that the workers in protected industries will receive a fair deal at the hands of the employers. Without passing any undue strictures on the work recently done in this House, I feel bound to say that we have turned out, not the most complete and effective protective schedule, but a piebald affair which, especially towards the latter end, is more black than white. Yetthe House has conferred acertain amount of protection upon one section of the community. Are we to leave without protection the workers and the consumers, who together constitute the whole population, with the exception of the few manufacturers? I say nothing against the genius, powers of organization, and quality of work displayed by the manufacturers, but if the Tariff was passed only for the protection of that small section, andthe great bulk of the population are left uncared for, we have been legislating for only a very small minority.
– What does the honorablemember suggest should be put into the Bill?
– I opened my remarks by saying that I had relied upon the promise given by the Minister that the two big sections of. the community - the workers and the consumers - would receive a fair measure of protection in the Bill which he had forecast.
– They will get some protection from this Bill.
– How much?
– More than they ever had before.
– They had nothing before; it will not be difficult to improve upon that condition. It will be remembered that when this Parliament enacted a form of Excise duty to compel the manufacturer of agricultural implements to pay a fair rate’ of wages to the employees, that provision was successfully challenged in the Law Courts.
– Under this Bill, Parliament will have a chance of saying something if the charges are unfair in future.
– Has Parliament the power to do anything?
– I suppose the Board will recommend what should be done.
– One honorable member in the Corner has said that Parliament has power to do certain things, and from another honorable member opposite comes a question as to whether Parliament has that power.
– Because of that uncertainty, I would have liked this matter settled before we passed the Tariff.
– I, too, would have liked to have had the matter settled.From all sides of the House we have heard the opinion expressed that this measure should have preceded the Tariff, and then we would have been framing the schedule with a more certain knowledge of what wo were doing, and it would not have been necessary for me to reiterate the statement that if the Minister’s promise was to be relied upon in regardto supplementary legislation, honorable members need not be afraid to impose high duties. I regard this Bill as an absolutely inadequate fulfilment of that promise, The Minister (Mr. Greene) claims to have power to do certain things under the Bill. Evidently he is not afraid of the constitutional limitations. He is prepared to take one step, and if that is constitutional, it must be equally constitutional totake half-a-dozen or move steps. Having started on this path, I desire to follow it further, so that’ we may effectively protect the whole community. In so far as this Bill fails to do that it is deficient, anddisappoints the hopes that I had based upon the Minister’s promise.
– I said very distinctly, what we proposed to do, and the remedy we would apply.
– The Minister could not do that by way of interjection; but he confidently repelled attacks on the schedule by saying that the legislation to be subsequently introduced would protect the consumer.
– And I stated exactly how I would do it.
– This Bill does not come up to my expectations, and I am very dissatisfied.
– Move for the repeal of the whole Tariff.
– We cannot do that; but I believe that another place will send back some items for further consideration, as a result of which I hope we shall remove from the schedule some of its black spots. We have been told that “may” in an Act of Parliament means “shall” or “must” Clause 14, sub-clause 2, provides that the Minister “may” refer to the Board for inquiry and report the general effect of the working of the Customs and Excise Tariffs, in relation to the primary and secondary industries, the fiscal and industrial effects of the Customs laws, the incidence between the rates of duty onraw materials and on finished or partly finished products, and any other matter in any way affecting the encouragement of primary or secondary industries in relation to the Tariff. I hope that in this instance “may” does mean “must”; but it seems to me that the Minister is to be allowed to use his own discretion as to whether or not these matters shall be inquired into and reported upon. He has told us that he is doubtful whether there is power under the Constitution to follow up and punish the real offender. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) referred to a hat-making firm which will sell only to the wholesalers affixed prices, and the wholesalers in turn sell to the retailers upon conditions (that they sell to the public according to the schedule of prices supplied to them. I understood the Minister to be asked by interjection if he would have power under .this Bill to follow up those who really did exploit the public. The manufacturer may dispose of his goods at a fair and reasonable price to the wholesaler. The wholesaler’s and retailer’s profits have to be added before the article reaches the hands of the consumer. The wholesaler may charge an excessive price to the retailer, and, in turn, the retailer may charge an excessive price to the consumer. Yet I understand that it is only the manufacturer who can be confronted with the clauses of this Bill, and made to pay the penalty if he is proved to have done anything wrong. As a matter of fact, when the manufacturer has sold his goods- to the wholesaler, his responsibility for them ceases. How is the Minister going to deal with the wholesaler in Flinderslane?
– He knows he cannot.
– Is a Bill fair that proposes to deal only with one man, who may be the most inoffensive and innocent, and who has not in any way fleeced the public? Has the Minister- power under this Bill to deal only with the man who does no wrong, and must he allow to go scot-free the other two sets of men who may do a great wrong to the consumers ?
– Is that not always the way?
– I admit that very often the innocent suffer and the guilty escape.
– Does not the honorable member know that the merchants of - Flinders-lane are having a bad time now, and are likely to for some little time?
– Because they have over-imported ?
– That is so.
– As a Protectionist I should say that the honorable member smiles at that. Even if they were having a bad time, most honorable members would say that they could afford it, even if it lasted for a long period. They have had many years in- which they ha^e drawn in great revenues, and have no doubt laid up large reserves for a rainy day. If the position is as I -.say, does it not show the futility of the whole of this Bill? If the -Minister’s interjection meant anything, it meant-“ the guilty can go free, but the innocent I may pounce upon now and again.”
– I arn sure the Minister would, never pounce on any one who was innocent.
– All I can say is* that the unfortunate consumer is likely to go on paying for a long time. If this Parliament is to live up to its national ideal it. must look after the welfare of the great bulk of the people. We have heard, both inside and outside this Chamber, the cry that the National Parliament should not legislate merely for a section. When you can reduce that section to a small compass, and say that this Legislature is simply preserving the skins or hides of a certain number of people in the community, and allowing the rest to look after themselves, then it is not performing the functions which it .ought to perform. I believe that under our Constitution we can introduce into this measure such provisions as will protect, not only the manufacturer at the ports, but the worker at the factory and the consumer who purchases the goods.
– Give us a sample of such provisions.
– The honorable member cannot expect me on my feet to enunciate a programme or frame clauses which will exactly meet the case as- I understand it. It should be sufficient for the honorable member to know that we have certain powers in the Constitution
– We have no power to do what the honorable member is talking about.
– - The honorable member is not the High Court. I believe that for the protection of the -general publio this Government and Parliament should take some risks.
– We have done that before and fallen in.’
– How long ago?
– Over the Harvester business.
– That was nearly fifteen years ago.
– The Constitution has not been altered in that respect.
– But only recently the High Court has given one of the most important and revolutionary decisions’ ever recorded in this country.
– - It did not touch thepoint the honorable member is talking about.”
– It touched an even more important point. It dealt with State instrumentalities, a question over which the lawyers have argued for quite a number of years. It was claimed that State instrumentalities were immune from the industrial legislation of this Parliament, and that, therefore, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court had no right to fix the wages and conditions of those employed by a State. The High Court, as recently formed, including Chief Justice Knox, Mr. Justice Starke, and another new Judge, in conjunction with - Mr. Justice Isaacs and ‘ Mr. Justice Higgins, decided by a majority of, I think, six out cf seven, that; State instrumentalities and their operations, and the wages -and conditions of their employees, could be reviewed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. That decision came as a great surprise and pleasure to me. It is of no use for honorable members to hark back. We must be guided by the latest decision.
– That would be all right if that decision had anything to do witho the case to which the honorable member has. been referring.
– It has a good deal to do with it. The High Court has laid down a basis, from which, I believe, it intends to operate in the future. I cannot see how, in any decision they will be called upon to give, they can reasonably and fairly depart from it. That being the case, I believe we have,(jinder our present Constitution, the power to deal with the wages of employees in factories in protected industries and with “those manufacturers or others who exploit the public of this country. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) admits that we apparently have today more constitutional powers than, we thought we had in 1906, because he is going to. give his assent to this Bill. That is one ster>; but it is not enough. Careful members may say, “One. step enough for me,” but I say that I cannot deal fairly and squarely with the people of this great Commonwealth unless I am prepared to deal with the whole of them. I could not abuse my pledge to the people so much as to do nothing to protect the great body of them, while being prepared to grant the biggest measure of protection to a favoured few. On that score this measure” does not “ fill the bill “ for me.
– What did you expect that this Bill would do when you were voting for high duties?
– I said to some of my fellow members on this side of the House that, if I understood the Minister’s promise aright, it practically meant the New Protection. This Bill does not give us the New Protection in the sense that I have indicated. The Minister (Mr. Greene) has been absolutely silent as to protecting the worker in the work-shop.
– Indirectly, this Bill goes a good way towards it.
– In other words, the honorable member is complaining that he has been taken down in- connexion with the Tariff.
– I do not want to use harsh words. The Tariff schedule, as a protective measure, does not satisfy me, but this Bill as a protective measure does not satisfy me by any means. If I am dissatisfied with the Tariff schedule as it has gone through, I am more than dissatisfied with this Bill, which was supposed to be complementary to it. I do not know whether the Minister has any advice as to how far he can go, but I once had the temerity, being anxious as to what we might be able to do in connexion with the iron industry, to ask one of the legal gentlemen of the Commonwealth whether, under our present Constitution, it was competent for the Commonwealth Government to compulsorily acquire land on which there were rich iron ore deposits, erect steel works, operate the deposits, and turn out materials which were required for Commonwealth use. He said, “ Iwill go so far as to say that that would be perfectly right under the Constitution, but the Government could not sell a ton of that iron in its manufactured or raw state to members of the community.” That was before the High Court gave its last decision.
– Do you think the decision you have been talking about would give the Commonwealth that power?
– Yes, I think we have ample power under the Constitution today. I believe that decision has given us almost unlimited powers.
– Have you read it?
– It was of such great importance that the daily press published columns, not only reporting the judgment, but commenting on it. Even in other parts of the world comments appeared on its revolutionary character. It was called revolutionary, because it upset all preconceived ideas as built upon former decisions of the High Court.
– And it quite upset the intentions of the men who framed the Constitution.
– It may sound very well for the honorable member to put forward a plea of that sort, but I invite his attention to the action of Judge Marshall, when he was called upon to interpret the United States Constitution. The late Mr. Alfred Deakin told us on one occasion in most emphatic tones, and he was supported by Sir William Irvine, the then member for Flinders, and now Chief Justice of Victoria, that Judge Marshall, instead of simply observing the letter of the Constitution, stretched it almost to breaking point, realizing in his wisdom, as Sir William Irvine said, that the coat which had been made for the boy was much too small for the man. This was a. wise and broad interpretation; and it is what is needed in Australia. While paying all honour to the late Chief Justice of Australia (Sir Samuel Griffith), the late Mr. Justice Barton, and the late Mr. Justice O’Connor, I believe that the interpretation they placed on our Constitution was unduly narrow.
– In my opinion they followed Judge Marshall pretty closely !
– Not at all; instead of following Judge Marshall, and making the Constitution fit for the Australian people, they narrowed it in a way never contemplated by its framers. Now, however; our High Court is so constituted as to lead us to believe that we may do all those things which we were told we could not do according to the old decision. A new road has been given for us to travel on; and there are no bounds to what we may do, especially for the protection of the people. The honorable member for West Sydney(Mr.Ryan), both before he entered this Houseand immediately after he took his seat, said that he could draft legislation under the Constitution which would enable us to deal with theses who were exploiting the people and causing the high cost of living, and that if we passed special Acts with that object, and they were violated, there would be power to bring offenders before the Commonwealth Courts, who would uphold the Government.
– The honorable member never said that.
– Prior to the decision by the High Court, the honorable member for West Sydney expressed the opinion that if we passed such special legislation we had the power to impose it on the people.
– But you say that the High Court would allow that legislation.
– The honorable member for West Sydney said that the legislation would be constitutional; and what more could he say ?
– The honorable member for West Sydney is present, and, perhaps, will tell us what he did say.
– The honorable member for West Sydney believes that under our present Constitution we can deal, in this connexion, with the manufacturer, the men in the shops, and the consumer.
– I have no doubt of it?
– Then, why this Bill ?
– Our powers must be specifically enacted. Before the decision of last year one case was ruled out by the Court because the offence had not been specified in legislation, the inference being that if it had been so specified the proceedingswere likely to have been successful. Although I supported high duties in favour of the primary producers, I do not say for a moment that the manufacturers of agricultural implements have always dealt fairly with their customers.
– Then, why did you support the high duties?
-I relied on this class of legislation to protect the consumers, and now I find that it will not do so.
– What can be done?
– I believe that if we brought some of those manufacturers to book to-day in regard to their employees, or the disposalof their goods, our action, under properly worded legislation, would be upheld by the Court; indeed, I do not think the cases would be fought by the offenders. I move-
That all the words after the word “now” be left out, with aview to insert in lieu thereof the words, “ withdrawn for the purpose of immediately recasting and re-introducing, so as to provide for - (a) adequate guarantees for the primary producers and consumers generally that they can obtain locally-manufactured articles or goods at reasonable prices; (b) the securing of proper wages and conditions for those employed in protected industries.”
By the insertion of these words Parliament will do its duty to the whole of the taxpayers. If the Bill is passed inits present form, it will fail to carry out what I regard as one of our chief functions, namely, the protection against exploitation of those who have not the power to protect themselves.I claim for the amendment the support of every honorable member, including the Minister.
– I have much pleasure in seconding the amendment. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) has given considerable study to the subject, and has shown the House a way out of the difficulty in which a number of people have found themselves in regard to the Tariff. When I spoke on the general question, I took care to show exactly where I stand as a member of the party to which I belong, and the honorable member for Maribyrnong has also informed the House that we on this side support theprinciple of what we call the Now Protection. That simply means the protection of, not only manufacturers, but also primary producers and consumers - an all-round form of Protection.
– We all stand for that principle if it can be carried out.
– The honorable member has now an excellent opportunity to show that he really stands for the principle by voting for this amendment.
– Perhaps you will show me how it canbe carried out?
-I give the honorable member credit for honesty in his interjection ; and a great number of other honorable membershave declared that this New Protection is the kind of protection they desire. There is now an excellent opportunity for all those honorable memberswho have shown such a consensus ofopinion thatthey really believe in all-round protection. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) has, by interjection, expressed the opinion that we have no power under the Constitution to attain the end that he and all of us desire.If the honorable member really is of that belief, I cannot see how he can vote for the second reading of this Bill. If we have not the constitutional power to do what we desire, it does not seem to me that any power will be given to Parliament to carry out the recommendations of the proposed Board, if the Board makes any. When speaking on the general question, I also said - and i think i expressed the opinion of the majority of honorable members - that in advocating this all-round protection we did not imply that, if we could not get it, we would prefer to leave things as they were - we said we would prefer the old system of Protection. There does not seem much point in the attempt of honorable members inthe Corner to “ score off “ the honorable member for Maribyrnong on the ground that in advocating this form of Protection he is condemning the Tariff which has just been passed. In regard to the Tariff, we have to choose between allowing things to remain in the hands of oversea Combines under Free Trade or the “ old “ Protection. I say candidly that the Bill is a disappointment.
– Life is a disappointment!
– The honorable member for Grampians (Mr.
Jowett) made a speech which I am sure commended itselfto the whole House, but he quietly sat down without making a suggestion of any kind.
– I said that probably I would vote against the second reading.
– Every part of the honorable member’s speech was a plea for this amendment, or something in the nature of it. What he complained of was-and I agreed with him - that the Bill makes no provision for that protection which the consumers have a right to expect.
– That is so.
– And I think it is the opinion of the House. That being so, I do not see how the honorable member, in view of his speech, can vote against the amendment.
– That is another matter; I might easily vote against the amendment.
– Then the honorable member will be voting in a way opposite to that in which he spoke. The honorable member for Maribyrnong, by his amendment, seeks to give protection to the primary producers and consumers generally. Duties have been increased upon agricultural implements, but, quite apart from the New Protection, I do not agree with those who urge that the price of those implements have thereby been increased more than they would have been under Free Trade conditions. I hold that if we wiped out the duties entirely we should still increase the prices of agricultural implements to our primary producers by leaving them at the mercy of the overseas Combine. I stand for protecting our primary producers, not merely against the overseas Combine, but also against any Combine that we may have in our own midst. Of course, if we must have a Combine which will take advantage of the Tariff, I prefer that it should be a local Combine. But I desire some guarantee that our people will not be exploited by any such organization. No such guarantee is forthcoming under this Bill. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) has pointed out that our people must be effectively protected, and to effectively protect them, theymust be safeguarded against anything of the character I have indicated.
– There is no evidence that our manufacturers have charged excessive prices, although the consumers have unquestionably paid excessive prices.
– Then the honorable member for Grampians will get all that he desires under the amendment of the honorable member for Maribyrnong. One can almost imagine that the author of that amendment had heard the speech of the honorable member before drafting it. I hope that the amendment will have the support of the honorable member for Grampians.
– It may, but it may not.
– If I am asking too much, when I ask that the honorable member shall vote as he speaks, the position will be one for him to explain. The only argument which can be advanced against the amendment is that we have no power to give effect to it. But recently quite a lot of things have been done which go to show that we possess the power to do things which at one time it was thought we had not the power to do. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) will remember that for many years it was thought that we had not the power under our Conciliation and Arbitration Act to deal with the railway servants of a State. Presumably, he knows that that decision has been upset? The honorable member asked for one example of this kind, and I have given it.
– I asked the honorable member to point to a provision in the Bill which will enable him to achieve his object.
– The honorable member knows that we possess the power of taxation. In construing our Constitution, the rules which are applicable are those which were applied by the Privy Council in the cases of Webb v. Outtrim and The Attorney-General of Australia v. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company. The principles of construction laid down by the Privy Council in those cases have been followed recently by the High Court in the case of The Amalgamated Society of Engineers v. The Adelaide Steam-ship Company, in which the reasoning underlying the decision given in the Harvester case was upset. It will be remembered- that in the Harvester case it was laid down as a principle that the Court was bound to follow the wording of the Constitution itself. But in the case of The Amalgamated Society of Engineers v. The Adelaide Steam-ship Company, it was laid down that the Court has to interpret the law according to the letter of the Constitution.
– Then the decision in the Harvester case has been upset?
– The reasoning in that case has been entirely upset.
– But the reasoning is not the decision.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– The honorable member for Wilmot will recollect that the decision in the Harvester Case was dissented from at the time by Mr. Justice Higgins and Mr. Justice Isaacs, two of the most brilliant constitutional authorities we have in this country. The honorable member also knows that the view which they then expressed has been upheld in the latest decisions of the High Court. That fact shows that the old order of things has quite changed. When, therefore, the honorable member affirms that we have no power to do these things, he is” basing his remarks upon what occurred many years ago. As a layman, of course, I recognise my limitations in discussing these legal matters. But the recent decisions of which I have spoken confirm me in the impression that we have full power to do everything that is necessary in the direction suggested by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Penton). Consequently I cannot understand why his amendment should not be carried. If the proposed Tariff Board be merely intended to provide fat billets for certain gentlemen, I shall not be a party to the passage of the Bill unless the members of the Board are empowered to extend an effective measure of protection to the whole community.
– The Board are going to do something all right, because the Minister is bound to refer certain matters to them.
– I hope that the. honorable member will show us exactly what can be done under the Bill, and that he will explain precisely how it is going to extend an effective measure of protection to the consumers of. this country. Of course, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) may accept the amendment which has been submitted. When, speaking upon the Bill he seemed quite sincere in his statement that something should be done in the direction which has been outlined.
– He was most emphatic at various stages.
– To me the Bill is a disappointment. The only argument which has been advanced against the Tariff by some few honorable) members is that it will have the effect of increasing the prices of commodities, and particularly that it will increase the cost of agricultural implements to our primary producers. The whole of their speeches were devoted to a reiteration of that statement. Having such a bad case, I suppose they imagined that by frequent repetition of the statement, they would make their case a good one.
The honorable member’ for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) spoke with many voices on the Tariff and voted and failed to vote in regard to many items. I now want to show him and other honorable members who endeavoured to prove that incresaed duties would have the effect of raising the cost of agricultural machinery to the primary producers, that if they are really sincere and want to do something to obviate such an unfortunate result, they now have a splendid opportunity. They have said on many occasions that the Tariff went through because the Labour party supported the Government, whereas they know that if the Labour party had its way the present Government would not be in office at all. They now have a way out. I am not making any charge in anticipation against the Country party, but I shall look, with a great deal of interest, to the manner in which they vote upon this amendment. If they are really sincere about protecting the primary producers, and in their desire to provide effective protection all round, they can show their sincerity by voting for. the amendment. I hope that, when the division bells ring, members of the Corner party, as well as’ several honorable members on the Ministerial’ side representing country constitueucies, will support the amendment. We will then see who is keeping the Government in power.
– When I attenrpted to speak earlier in the debate I began by saying that I intended to support the Bill, but that my support was not so whole-hearted , as I would like it to be, because the Bill does not accomplish all that I desire it should. But I accept it as an instalment. I am not looking for the impossible. There are some matters that I would like to see within the compass of the Bill, but which, I know, cannot be placed there because of constitutional objection’s, in spite of what honorable members opposite have said about the powers of the Arbitration Court. During the last election we were told by members of the Government that we were to have a Protective Tariff, framed on scientificlines. The Minister (Mr. Greene) has given us a Tariff that may be regarded as a God-sen d by those who believe in high Protection, and he must give me credit for having stretched my conscience very considerably to come somewhere within measurable distance of his desires. I support the Bill because it provides for the appointment of a Tariff Board to assist the Minister in his administration. If we are to have a Tariff as promised by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) at Bendigo, worked on scientific lines, wo must have a Board composed of the best experts obtainable to assist the Minister. I am perfectly satisfied to have as chairman of the Board an officer of the Customs Department, but I would certainly protest against a Board constituted entirely of officersof the Department, or, for that matter, of officers of the Public Service.
Mr.RICHARDFOSTER.- Because I want the public to have complete confidence in the Board and the administration of the Tariff; and because I believe that a Board, constituted wisely, will be one means of obtaining a truly scientific Tariff. I indorse much that has been said as to what took place during the discussion on the Tariff. There was no secret lobbying, so far as I could see. When former Tariffs were under discussion, the basement of Parliament House was like half-a-dozen warehouses, filled with exhibits, and lobbying was then practised on an extensive scale. On this occasion the lobbying was quite open, and the Queen’s Hall,I should judge, was one of the most popular places in Melbourne, for the time being, with the result that honorable members got a good deal of interested data furnished by both sides, and they were deluged with unscientific and more or less unreliable information. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) furnished us with one illustration. At the end of the Tariff debate he asked for a duty of6d. per lb. on dried fruits. That was not scientific. I want daylight to be let into the operations of the Tariff by experts, so that the consumers may know what is the real position, for there is a limit beyond which it is not possible to go in Tariff matters and at the same time encourage local production of commodities. I agree with much that has been said as to the constitution of the Tariff Board I believe in the principle. I am not influenced one iota by what the newspapers, have said as to the so-called hypocrisy of members of Parliament professing to be anxious to bring about economy. This land of criticism is not in keeping with ordinary business principles. Here is a Tariff that has returned to the Treasurer £32,000,000 per annum. Can it be said that it would not pay to employ the very best experts possible in order to insure efficient administration of this machinery? Would not any big business concern in any part of the world adopt some method of investigation to advise its responsible directors as to the best policy to pursue, just as is proposed by the appointment of this Tariff Board to assist the Minister ? The people outside want to know something about the operation of this Tariff. Some honorable members have “suggested that the Inter-State Commission would have ‘ filled the bill . ‘ ‘ That may be true, but the Inter-State Commission is not now in existence, and I prefer a Tariff Board as is proposed, to the Inter-State Commission as it was constituted. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the Inter-State Commission had to be set aside because they were put of date. I do not complain about that, because conditions changed so rapidly. The Inter-State Commission occupied, I think, many months in their investigations.
– About eighteen months.
Mr.RICHARDFOSTER - They were occupied for over a year, I believe. Were not the investigations by that Commission fair and unbiased ? I am anxious that the inquiries by the proposed Board shall also be unbiased. I believe the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) honestly expressed his opinion, but it is amazing that he and thehonorable member for Hume should be so troubled concerning the interests of the nien in the factories, because if there is any one who is “ bossing the show “ tO;day it is not those who own . the factories, but the employees. If the nien in the factories are not controlling industry it is those who, by misleadT ing them, are continually Creating unrest throughout the country. The appointment of an independent Board of experts to follow out the cost of production of the items on which high duties have been imposed is necessary. The honorable member for Hume desires to protect the farmer; but I do not know bow he is going to do it under the amendment. Honorable members can talk all the nonsense they like concerning the possibilities in’ a country such as Australia, with a population of only 5,000,000 ; but those who say that a high Tariff is good for the farmer are exaggerating the position. A high Tariff in a country fully developed, and with an enormous population, might be of advantage; but in the Commonwealth, the fringe of which we have not’ yet developed, it is ridiculous. In the Commonwealth 53 per cent, or 54 per cent, of the population reside within the city boundaries, and high protective duties which are justifiable in other countries are absolutely unwarranted in Australia. We can protect certain rural industries, such as dairying and fruit growing, but the great staple products - wheat and wool - can have no protection. If the Board carries out the functions proposed, the real facts will be submitted to Parliament periodically, and the primary producers will know where .the money goes. The great body of consumers, who ought to have some assistance and consideration, will also be able to learn whether the prices they are being charged are just or otherwise. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) suggested that the three members should be selected from the Customs Department, but that is undesirable, because they are interested parties, and would view the matter from one side only.
– They are not interested in any business whatever.
– The honorable member had better tell the Grampians farmers that they are disinterested.
– The Customs officers-r h ave been largely responsible for suggesting many of the high duties which we haye imposed, and it “is necessary to have a ‘ Board on which outside interests are represented. ;
– I would? be satisfied if the Chairman of the Board were a Customs officer; and in opposing the inclusion of other Customs .officers I do5 not wish to reflect on their integrity or ability in the slightest degree. The Taxation Department is conducted’ by a Commissioner, who sends his men out prospecting every day in the year to see where they can raise a little more revenue, and a Customs officer would view investigations merely from the departmental stand-point. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) realizes that- a reclassification of the Tariff is desirable,- because at presented any anomalies exisfcFor instance, a carving knife, fork, and steel included in the same case for presentation purposes are classified under - three different sections in the Tariff. In discussing this phase of the question with three interested parties, two out of the three said that they did not favour an alteration, because at present there were men who understood the system, and if a change were made it would mean that much of their education would have to be gone over again. In discussing tbe appointment of the proposed Board with business men, I was informed that the opinion prevailed that the Government intended creating another’ Department; but when I had the opportunity of explaining the position, they were convinced that the Government were making a move in the right direction. Those who operate on the raw products of the country should be able to compete with the whole world under a moderate Tariff; but. in some instances we have imposed duties of 45 per cent, and 50 per cent.
– It is not enough in some cases.
– It is more than enough. If the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Francis) does not consider the duties adequate, he should support the honorable member for Hume, who is prepared to tax products up to their full value. The proposed Board will have power to investigate the transactions of manufacturers, who are protected to the extent I have mentioned, to see whether we are building up a community of millionaires as they did and are still doing in the United States of. America. If the Board is satisfied that the assistance is being abused, that rich men are being made richer, and the public is being crushed, it may recommend that the duties be reduced or abolished. On the other hand, if struggling industries are not sufficiently protected, it will have power to recommend the imposition of additional duties. The Board cannot reduce, increase, or abolish duties, but can make recommendations, and the decision of Parliament will be final. I ask honorable members if it is not better to have investigations made by highly-trained men?
– In the Department?
– No. It is desirable to have scientific information submitted to this House, and if that is done we are likely to create the confidence that is necessary to maintain and extend our industries.
– What objection has the honorable member to the amendment?
– I have just told the House, but I will put it in another way, though the honorable member will still not appreciate it. In my view, the intention of many in supporting the Tariff which we have just passed was as much to feed the Arbitration Courts as to promote the industries of the country. But we are approaching a time of reconstruction, and shall be fortu- nate indeed if we can pass through it within a couple of years, and this country will be tested to the utmost of its resources. Do honorable members think that the workers in our industries have -not had ample consideration? But there are men who everlastingly cause industrial unrest and promote strikes, and these men are coming to the end of their tether. I wish to prevent the unnecessary increasing of the cost of production. The time must come when people will realize that economic laws are unchangeable, and that arbitration awards must be governed by them. The financial outlook would not be so grave if all men would do their best and work for the country as our soldiers fought for it.
– At 6s. a day?
– The workers of this country receive good wages. It is those who mislead them that are doing them injury. The country cannot pull through if men work five days a week instead of six, and if every increase of wages is to be followed by a decrease in output. I want a Tariff Board, because I hope that the reports of the independent men who will comprise it will show the country the direction in which it is moving; and I shall be satisfied with the verdict of the people on the facts when they know the whole truth.
.- It would be a great pity to destroy the Bill at this stage, though I gather from the speeches made in this debate that its proposals do not satisfy members generally. In Committee, however, an opportunity will be afforded for the moving of amendments, and the measure can thus be made what members generally desire it to be. I would have liked the Minister (Mr. Greene) to propose a Board to be constituted entirely of officers of his Department, because ‘those officers have a thorough grip of the Customs laws and of the workings of the Tariff. We were ably assisted by them during the recent discussion of the Tariff schedule. The original proposals of the Government show that the Customs officials advising the Minister are not men who would build a wall round Australia to keep out imports. It was difficult for those with high protective leanings to secure for the manufacturers of the country the protection which they thought to be necessary, and it certainly could not be said that the Customs officials showed themselves to be more than moderate Protectionists. At the same time, it cannot be thought that if three of them were appointed to a Tariff Board they would attempt to use the Tariff for revenue purposes alone and to put aside the interests of the manufacturers. If, however, the Minister will not consent to the proposed Tariff Board being composed entirely of Customs officials, it will be difficult to appoint to that Board outsiders who will act in such a way as to give a high degree of satisfaction.
– Does the honorable member suggest that no one but a Customs official would be competent to act on the Board?
– No; but it. would be much better to compose the Board of officials of the Department of Trade and Customs. However, I shall riot detain the House longer now, because the Minister wishes to adjourn the debate, and I have some other amendments to move in Committee. It would be a pity to destroy the Bill at this stage.
– How would the amendment destroy it?
– The carrying of the amendment would mean the introduction of an entirely new Bill.
– The amendment means what it says.
– I am aware of that, but I say that honorable members should be in a position to submit any amendments they think necessary when the Bill gets into Committee.
– That statement arises from the honorable member’s parliamentary inexperience. It is not possible to introduce any amendments beyond the order of leave.
– Possibly I am wrong on that point, but I am personally prepared to let the Bill go as it stands in the hope that the Minister for Trade and Customs will see that no power is withdrawn from Parliament under this Bill, and that duties imposed by Parliament will not be altered or interfered with in any way without its consent. I hope that when we get into Committee such amendments will be made in the Bill as will make it an effective mea- sure to accomplish the desire for which the Tariff was introduced and passed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Makin) adjourned.
– I move. -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The enactment of this measure becomes advisable by reason of circumstances which I shall briefly relate. Under section 7 of the War Service Homes Act it is provided that a person who is an uncertificated bankrupt or insolvent shall be incapable of being appointed Commissioner for War Service Homes. The
Commissioner referred to in this validating Bill is Lieut. -Colonel Walker. At the time of his appointment he was an. uncertificated insolvent. That fact was not known to the Government at the time. Immediately it became known steps were taken by the Government to declare the original appointment null and void. Action was taken at the same time to appoint an Acting Commissioner of War Service Homes in the person of Colonel James Michael Semmens, pending the valid appointment of a War Service Homes Commissioner under the Act. The question arises as to the necessity of also validating the acts as such of the Acting War Service Homes Commissioner. The view is held that if the W ar Service Homes Commissioner was not validly appointed, not being the Commissioner, there could not be an Acting Commissioner appointed when the appointment of the Commissioner was declared null and void. The Government deem it advisable by this short measure to validate first of all the acts of Lieut.Colonel Walker under his original appointment, and also the acts of the Acting Commissioner, purporting to be the acts of the Acting Commissioner.
– Where did the Government get the power to appoint an Acting Commissioner?
– Unquestionably there is power in the principal Act, in varying circumstances, for the appointment of an Acting War Service Homes Commissioner. I ask the House to be good enough to pass this short measure without very much debate. I am aware that there may be a temptation under cover of this measure to discuss the activities of the War Service Homes Commission generally. I hope that that course will not be adopted, because I promise to give honorable members a full and free opportunity to discuss the past and future policy and activities of the War Service Homes Commission in connexion with a motion for the printing of a statement which it is my intention shortly to make in this House.
– That statement will not be made during the consideration of the Supply Bill?
– No. The Supply Bill will afford a further free and full opportunity to discuss generally the work of the War Service Homes Commission.
In order that there may be a concentrated ‘debate on the activities of “the “War Service Homes Commission, an opportunity will be afforded for the. purpose in connexion with the statement to which I have referred. v-
– Do I understand the honorable .gentleman to say that immediately the Government found that Lieut-Colonel Walker was an uncertificated insolvent they suspended him?
– I give the honorable member my personal assurance that immediately the first intimation of the fact that Lieut.-Colonel James Walker was an uncertificated insolvent was made to me Icaused inquiries to be made through our Law authorities, and when those inquiries confirmed the information- that had reached nic, with the concurrence of my colleagues I took the necessary steps which I. considered obligatory to terminate his commission.,
– The fact was known to the honorable member’s colleagues privately.
– I have the distinct authority of my colleague the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) to say that he was personally unaware that Lieut.-Colonel Walker was an uncertificated insolvent at the time of ‘his appointment.
– Lieut.-Colonel Walker says differently.
– The Minister for Repatriation has most definitely denied that statement in another - place. What is more, he took steps to confront Lieut.Colonel Walker with that statement in my presence. The Minister denied it, and Lieut.-Colonel Walker accepted the Minister’s denial of the statement that he was nwaro of the’ fact that he was an uncertificated insolvent at the time of hi3 appointment. That is definite and positive.
– Is it the intention of the Government to deny to an uncertificated insolvent the right to earn bread and butter?
– I hope honorable members will not import politics into the consideration of this Bill. Even if it were the intention of the Government to re-appoint Lieut.-Colonel Walker, it would still be necssary to take the steps I am taking to-night to validate the acts performed . by him while occupying the positipn of Commissioner, and also the acts performed since by the Acting Commissioner.
– This will not bring about Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s reappointment.
– The reinstatement of Lieut.-Colonel Walker does not enter into this question. This is a machinery measure, which the legal members of the Opposition .will know is necessary to validate acts performed, and obligations entered into by the late Commissioner.
– Are we to. get any opportunity of “ discussing the- retirement of Lieut.-Colonel Walker for what appears to many to be a purely technical reason?
– I have already said that a full opportunity will be afforded the House of discussing that matter in con- . nexion with the statement I shall make in regard to the operations of the WarService Homes during the period of Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s Commissionership and since. That opportunity will be afforded before the House adjourns next week. When the Bill reaches the Committee stage, I shall move for the addition of a new clause dealing with the rights of the Acting Commissioner, who, for the time being, is also a Commissioner of the Repatriation Department.
.- I understand that the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has some special reason for desiring that this Bill be passed through all stages quickly, but he has not indicated what that reason is.
– The honorable gentle-, nian, with his wide legal and political experience, will understand the reason for righting as quickly as possible a position which is not regarded as legally satisfactory.
– If that is the only reason, it does not seem to me to be a very sound one for having the discussion of the matter upon a statement to be made later rather than on’ this Bill.
– Except that the statement will in all probability cover a wider ground; at any rate, it should.
– Perhaps it will; but this measure affords a favorable opportunity for discussing the administration under the late Commissioner, and also under the present Acting Commissioner, the acts of both of whom this measure is to validate.
– There is no doubt an opportunity for those who look for it.
– The door is wide open, and the grounds for discussing such matters must be patent to everybody.
– There will be a very good opportunityon the Supply Bill.
– Yes; but the reason of urgency which the Minister put forward in respect of this measure applies also to the criticism of the War Service Homes administration, because Ido not think there is any part of the administration of the Commonwealth Government at the present moment which is more open to universal adverse criticism. But I. do not wish to stand in the Minister’s way if he has substantial reasons for wishing to get this Bill passed to-night.
– I assure the honorable member that there is a real and substantial reason for getting the Bill passed at once.
– Is there any more reason for getting it passed to-night than tomorrow night?
– There is a pressing reason.
– If the Minister gives me his assurance that there is some reason which he cannot state-
– I did not say that.
– Or a reason that the Minister does not consider it desirable to state-
– I again assure the honorable member that there is a very pressing legal obligation to get this measure passed to-night, if possible.
– I have to accept the Minister’s assurance; but I feel sorely tempted to open up a discussion on the whole administration of the War Service Homes Department, because there is universal dissatisfaction with it, founded on grounds which commend themselves to the vast majority of the people. We are constantly reading in the press of scandalous things which take place under this administration. I read this morning of a purchase of land in Tasmania at quite a small price by private holders, and its subsequent purchase by the War Service
Homes Department at a valuation five or six times as great.
– I cannot understand such a thing happening there.
– If such things happen in such a model State as Tasmania, what must be happening elsewhere?
– I ask the honorable member to defer his consideration of these matters, on the promise that he will be given a fair and adequate opportunity of discussing them before the House adjourns for a few weeks.
– I yield to the Minister’s request, although I am tempted to take another course. Will the honorable gentleman tell us whether this technical reason, that Lieut. -Colonel Walker is an uncertificated insolvent, is the only reason for dispensing with his services?
– In my judgment, it was a compelling reason for taking that action.
– Perhaps a very welcome compelling reason ?
– It is a mistake to start a discussion of this sort unless we can debate the matter fully.
– I am asking a most pertinent question. I had some remarks to make that, would have occupied me for an hour and a-half, but out of consideration for honorable members I am trying to boil them down. I ask the Minister, when replying either on the second reading or in Committee, or on the third reading, to tell the House whether the insolvency of Lieut. -Colonel Walker was the only reason which impelled the Government to be dissatisfied with his services.
.- It is not my intention to offer any opposition to the passage of this measure. I can quite understand that the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) would desire before Parliament adjourns to have a validating measure put through, and, in the circumstances, I do not propose at this stage to offer any objection. But, with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ryan), I can assure the Minister that had it not been for the fact that we are to have special opportunities of dealing with the whole question of the repatriation of our soldiers, I would in no circumstances permit this Bill to go through without the very fullest debate on the subject of repatriation generally.
– And the honorable member -would go so far as to say that there would be no truce with regard to that part of the administration T
– The Minister said something just now about a defunct administration, but I want, him to understand that I do not know anything about a defunct administration, because I hold the Government absolutely and wholly responsible for all these matters, as they, and they alone, made the appointments, and they must, of course, accept the responsibility for anything that occurs in connexion with the administration.
– And you must accept it, too, because you have kept them there.
– I know.
– The Government does not seek to avoid any responsibility, but it points out that the administration has been in the hands of a Commission.
– I understand that the Minister proposes to make a statement, and that we shall have an opportunity of discussing it. The Treasurer will also be asking for Supply, so that the House will have an ample opportunity of debating the whole matter fully at a more opportune stage. I would very much like, before we have any discussion in connexion with repatriation,- to have before us the full report of the Public Accounts Committee, so that if mistakes have occurred we may be able thoroughly to understand what they are. A paragraph appeared in the Age this morning concerning land purchases. The Minister should try to find out, as early, as possible, what truth- there is in those statements in. regard to purchases of land that have increased so wonderfully during the past few months. If they are correct, some drastic action ought to be taken in regard to those responsible for such purchases. As I recognise that the Minister should get a validating Bill of this sort through before we adjourn, I am prepared to allow it to pass all its stages without comment. “
.- I quite appreciate the force of the contention that the second reading of this Bill may not be a fitting opportunity for a general discussion on the question of War Service Homes; but, on the face of it, it affords a very suitable opportunity for the discussion of the standing and position of Lieut.-Colonel Walker as former Commissioner for War Service Homes. I have not the pleasure of even a casual acquaintance with the late Commissioner, and do not profess to be well informed on the matter, but I have had the advantage of having a statement of the case, from the point of view of the late Commissioner, placed in my hands, and -I say that that statement is of a kind, in my view, to merit a very serious answer from the responsible Minister. I gather from the terms of this Bill that the late Commissioner was suspended or relieved of his office in March of the present year, after operating for a considerable time, as one may put it, ultra vires, as an uncertificated insolvent. Now, after the expiration of a still further number of months, the Minister arrives in. hot haste to inform us that it is of the very highest importance that a Bill validating . everything the late Commissioner did while he was still purporting fco act as Commissioner should be passed without delay. Why this urgency?
– It is also vitally important that the acts of the gentleman purporting to be the Acting Commissioner, who is still in that position, should be validated.
– I quite see the relevancy of that contention. The Ministry first appoint somebody to act as Commissioner, whom they now discover to have been ineligible for that purpose after he had been working for two years, and af tei* he has been relieved of his office for four or five months they count it a matter of great haste that the person who is acting as Commissioner should have his position recognised and validated by this House, since he>could not correctly be an Acting Commissioner if there was no one properly constituted as Commissioner. I take this opportunity of saying that it is due, not only to Lieut.-Colonel Walker, but to the country, to know whether justice has been done to him. If he has been relieved of his .duties for what I have already described as the severely technical reason that he was an uncertificated insolvent, and if he was made an uncertificated insolvent while he was still on active service, the first thing we ought to do, before we proceed to validate what he has done, is to validate his re-appointment as Commissioner for
War Service Homes. We should npt dispossess a man of his office and discredit him in the eyes of the world by reason of an absurd technicality, which could ‘have been very easily got over by a short legal enactment. If, on the other hand, there are genuine and more deep-seated rea- . sons why Lieut.-Colonel Walker should be deprived of his office, then, in like manner, the country should be informed how it comes about that the Ministry, in making the choice of a man to fill one of the most responsible and’ important offices in the Commonwealth, came to appoint a person whose qualifications cannot now be disclosed to the general public. I do not propose to pass judgment on the wisdom or unwisdom of discontinuing Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s appointment. I lave not the facts before me, but I do know that Lieut.-Colonel Walker has made out a primd facie case which ought to be publicly answered. The introduction of a Bill of this kind, which is designed to deal with his administration, and with the regular appointment of his successor, would have presented a very suitable opportunity for telliDg us something about the real facts of Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s appointment, and of the discontinuance of his office. .
Like other honorable members, I do not know Lieut.-Colonel Walker, and I am not competent to judge of his value or worth as a Commissioner, though I do know some of -his acts with which I do not agree. Lieut.-Colonel Walker, however, has taken trouble to compile a statement of his case. Before dealing with that I may mention that Lieut.-Colonel Walker makes certain allegations here which, apparently, can be borne out by correspondence as truthful. I do not know what is behind the mind of the Government in this particular matter. Knowing nothing about that, one would naturally come to the conclusion that Lieut.-Colonel Walker did not have the capacity, for the job, and that some excuse or reason was sought to discharge him, and that by discharging him under a pretence or excuse the Government protected itself. That is what appears to me, and what, apparently, appears to quite a number of others. I think that, in justice to the House, the Government should make a frank statement; at least ‘the members of the House are entitled to a truthful statement in regard to the whole position. I do. not think it is fair to the House for the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) to mislead honorable members, » as, apparently, he has done by his statement to-night. I am taking Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s statement as against that of the Minister.
– In what has the House been misled ?
– The Assistant . Minister made a statement to the effect that immediately on its coming to his, or the Government’s, knowledge that Lieut.Colonel Walker was an uncertificated bankrupt, steps were taken to cancel his appointment.
– Not at all.
– Apparently, there is correspondence on record to prove direct to the contrary. Will the Assistant Minister endeavour to obtain a wire, which should be on the files, to Mr. Cupples, manager ‘of ‘ the London Bank, Brisbane?
– I shall be pleased to get that wire, and make it available to the House.
– And will the Assistant Minister also obtain a, wire sent by Mr. Cupples to the Comptroller of Repatriation ?
– I thought that was the wire to which the honorable member referred.
– There are two wires, one of inquiry to the manager of the bank, and the other his reply. I shall not read the whole of Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s prepared statement, but it is due to the House that honorable members should know at least what Lieut.Colonel Walker puts on record. I do not know whether the statement is correct or not; I know nothing about the case except what is here set down.
– I shall accompany that with a statement by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) also.
– It appears that in 1910 Lieut.-Colonel Walker was connected with some mining company, and in that year a guarantee was given to the Bank of Australasia. . A synopsis of the statement sets out that in 1914, on the 5th August^ Lieut.-Colonel ‘Walker was appointed for duty with Military Forces for active service.
– Leave this to a later stage;
– It will be no use asking for information at a later stage, when the Bill is, apparently, going to be passed.
– I mean until we hear the statement to which the Assistant Minister has referred.
– The synopsis goes on to say that on 13 th May, 1915, there was the first action by the bank on the guarantee; on 16th May of the same year, Lieut.-Colonel “Walker left Australia on active service; in October, 1915, Lieut.-Colonel Walker was made bankrupt; on 8th January, 1919, he wasdemobilized; on 25th February, 1919, a telegram was sent by the Comptroller of Repatriation to Mr. Cupples, asking for Lieut-Colonel Walker’s credentials; on the 26th February, 1919, there wasa telegram and letter from Mr. Cupples containing information as to bankruptcy; and on the same day, apparently, that that information was received from Mr. Cupples Senator E. D. Millen approved of Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s appointment: on 6th March, 1919, Lieut.-Colonel Walker was appointed Commissioner by the Governor-General; and on 14th July, 1919, the bankruptcy was annulled. Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s prepared statement contains the following: -
In March, 1919, the position of War Service Homes Commissioner was created, and Lieut.-Colonel Walker, an applicant for the position, was appointed. On the 25th February, 1919, the Comptroller of Repatriation sent a wire to Mr. Cupples, the manager, London Bank, Brisbane, as follows: - “ Lieut.-Colonel James Walker under consideration for Housing Commissionership under Soldiers’ Homes Act. Senator Millen will be glad to be favoured with your confidential opinion as to his character and capacity. Unless you see objections, will be glad to have collect wire.” To that, Mr. Cupples replied: - “Your telegram yesterday. Party is brave and energetic. Had long experience building contracts, North Queensland. Ability lies in that direction, and good with men rather than as an administrator. During absence Front was made insolvent under old mining guarantee. Judge expressed sympathy with absentee, whereupon Bank of Australasia discontinued pressure. Consider fill outside position admirably.”
– Has Lieut.-Colonel Walker himself furnished the honorable member with that statement?
– Yes ; all members of the Parliament have received this statement. What I have0 quoted is a direct and distinct negative to what the Min ister has told us to-night. Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s statement goes on -
This wire Mr. Cupples confirmed by letter dated 26th February; 1919. On the same day, Lieut.-Colonel Walker interviewed the Minister, Senator. Millen, who produced a wire from Mr. Cupples, and Lieut.-Colonel Walker explained to Senator Millen the factsconcerning his bankruptcy. At the close of this interview, Senator Millen informed Lieut.-Colonel Walker that he would be appointed, and confirmed his statement by a. letter to Lieut.-Colonel Walker written the same day. Lieut.-Colonel Walker was appointed to the position of Commissioner on the 6th March, 1919, and remained in that position, administering that Department until 11th March, 1921. The appointment was made by the. Governor-General, and it is clear that at the time of such appointment the Minister who was responsible to the Governor-General was aware that Lieut.-Colonel Walker was an uncertificated bankrupt.
The statement then goes on to set out the letter from the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) to Lieut.-Colonel Walker, stating the appointment was null and void. Frankly, I do not know Lieut.-Colonel Walker. I know nothing of his case except what has been put upon record here. But, in order to clearup a doubt which exists in my mind, and in the minds of other honorable members, will the Minister be good enough to secure a copy of the wire which was sent by the Comptroller of Repatriation to Mr. Cupples, manager of the London Bank, Brisbane, also a copy of the wire from Mr. Cupples on the 26th February, 1919, and a copy of the letter forwarded by him to the Comptroller of Repatriation upon the same date? If the honorable gentleman will do that, I shall be very pleased. Now that the Minister has made certain allegations which make it appear that Lieut.-Colonel Walker has contradicted himself, I think that the latter should make a frank statement to the members of this House, either by means of a letter or through the newspapers, in order that we may know exactly where we stand. If necessary, it is up to him to sign a statutory declaration backing up his circular to honorable members, or else to withdraw the whole thing. In the meantime, I would urge the Minister to obtain a copy of the communications to which I have referred.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Validation of certain acts).
– I trust that the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) will not take the Bill out of Committee until the documents to which reference has been made have been laid upon the table of the House. From the information which is in my possession, I am driven to the conclusion that Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s bankruptcy was known to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) before an appointment was made to the position of the War Service Homes Commissioner. Probably the matter has since escaped Senator. Millen’s memory. As the Assistant Minister has promised to lay the whole of the information before honorable members, I ask him not to proceed further with the Bill this evening. What position shall we occupy if that information be riot of a satisfactory character? .
– This is merely a validating measure.
– This is the proper time to clear up the matter. If the information which is before me be correct, a terrible injustice has been done to a man who went to the Front and did his bit there.
– This Bill has nothing whatever to do with the merits of Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s case.
– I merely desire to have the matter cleared up. If Lieut.Colonel Walker’s statement be correct, a very grave injustice has been done to him, and there is only one place in which that injustice can be remedied. This is the final Court of appeal.
– Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s final appeal has passed.
– Parliament is the one body which can put this matter right. I deny the statement of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise) that Lieut.Colonel Walker’s opportunity for a final appeal has passed. There is no Statute of Limitations in regard to action by this House. As one who has read the evidence in this case, I am of opinion that a frightful mistake has been made. Even the men who declared Lieut. -Colonel Walker bankrupt affirmed that he had committed no offence. We are not asking too much, therefore, whenwe ask that he shall be given a chance to make good his claim.
– Does the honorable member contend that Lieut.-Colonel Walker was otherwise competent for the position?
– I am not in a position to judge. If he were an incompetent, let him be dealt with as an incompetent. I feel strongly upon this matter.
– So strongly that when the honorable member had a chance to keep Lieut.-Colonel Walker in his position he did not do it.
– What chance did I have ?.
– This is a tribunal where it is never too late to mend.
– I regret that the honorable member for Franklin was not present when I introduced the Bill, because he would then have known that it deals only with a legal matter which is quite distinct from the facts of Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s case. I purposely refrained from discussing them.
– I know that. I am aware that if the Bill be passed it will have no effect whatever upon the gentleman in question. But this is the one opportunity which we shall have of righting any wrong which may have been done to him. All I ask is that the whole of the information atthe disposal of the Minister shall be submitted to Parliament before the Bill is put through its final stages.
.- In the exceptional circumstances of the case, the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) is justified in asking the Committee to pass the various clauses of the measure and the House to dispose of the Bill this evening. I join with the honorable gentleman in expressing the belief that had the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) heard his explanation in introducing the measure he would not have resisted the proposal of the Government. The Minister’s statement was to the effect that this was a purely technical matter, that it was urgent, and that there were legal grounds for the urgency. It was an assurance which the honorable and learned Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ryan) and the learned member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) accepted; both desiring further opportunity for the proper consideration of the late Commissioner’s case. The Minister said there were two other opportunities, the one general and the other special, when honorable members would have ample occasion and freedom to consider the Commissioner’s case and the whole of the War Service Homes administration. This Committee can safely accept the Minister’s assurance that the Bill does not vindicate the Government, or commit any member on either side of the House to a judgment of Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s merits or demerits, or of the prudence or fairness of the Government in treating him as they have done. I speak with some memory as a former member of the Cabinet, concerning Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s appointment, but I am as ignorant as any other honorable member as to his present position, but we may rely upon the Minister giving us ample opportunity for debating the whole of the War Service Homes proposals. I urge him to say further that, in addition to his statement, which should be ample and cover all the War Service problems, any papers which the House should desire shall be laid on the table.
– I do not think this matter ought to be mixed up with a general debate on the War Service Homes administration.
– I am not sure they can be separated. I have my own impressions as to the circumstances of the dismissal of Lieut-Colonel Walker. I am trying to read through the newspaper criticism or gossip on this subject. If the Minister will promise that this week, or next week, in addition to a full statement, there will be ample opportunity to debate this matter on motion, and that any papers which the House may require to enable it to judge the truth of the statement circulated about Senator E. D. Millen’s knowledge as to this problem long ago, will be made available, this matter will no doubt be cleared up here, as it was in the Senate, by a statement from the Minister himself.
– By a positive denial.
– Yes ; and in addition to the question of fairness to a returned officer enjoying the confidence of the Government for a period, and who was prima facie qualified for his appointment, there is the larger and much more urgent question of fairness to all the men who are expecting benefits under the original Act. That,. I take it, is the reason why the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ryan) suggests that criticism should be invited by the Minister, because the country urgently demands it.
– I did not say a word against the Minister.
– But the suggestion was made that the House was being misled.
– I said so.
– Listening to the Minister’s statement to-night, I think he was perfectly clear in his assurance that there will be every opportunity for any discussion that the House may think necessary.
– I made the statement that I thought the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) was misleading the House, and I adhere to it. The Minister gave as his reasons for wishing to rush the Bill through Committee that there were certain legal technicalities attached to it. The question of the late Commissioner’s bankruptcy came into the argument, and he said he knew nothing about it, although he has held his position for two years. I am not saying anything against the Minister himself, but he declared that the Government knew nothing about this matter, although on Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s own statement Senator Millen knew.
– That has been denied.
– It has not been denied publicly, at all events.
– It has, as the honorable member for Balaclava has pointed out.
– I think the Minister emphatically denied it in the Senate.
Mr.NICHOLLS. - If the Minister can show honorable members that there has been a denial, I am quite prepared to apologize.
._ I would not have risen again to delay the passage of the Bill except to give a further assurance, following upon the remarks made by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), and in order to clear up one or two points. There will be ample opportunity for Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s friends in this House to state his case as fully as they desire..
– I have never seen him.
– The Government have no desire to be unfair to any returned soldier, and I would be very loath indeed to be unfair, especially in the case of a man who held a distinguished position such as Lieut.-Colonel Walker occupied. I want to make it quite clear that when it came to my knowledge that Lieut.-Colonel Walker was an uncertificated insolvent, I got in. touch with the Crown Law authorities, who, in turn, got into direct communication with our Crown Law authorities in Queensland, in order to obtain confirmation of the statement, and when this was obtained I immediately communicated with the Leader of the Government and my colleagues. I also communicated with Lieut.-Colonel Walker. I called him to the Common - wealth Public Offices and put to him the position as disclosed by the investigations. He admitted the statement as to his insolvency, but said that information on the files would show that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) was aware of the fact at the time of his appointment. Before declaring null and void the appointment of Lieut.-Colonel Walker, I saw the telegram from the Comptroller, and also the reply of Mr. Cupples, and, instead of terminating his appointment, I gave Lieut.-Colonel Walker leave of absence, with the undertaking that no action would be taken to remove him from his position until he saw the Minister for Repatriation on his return.Immediately the Minister for Repatriation returned, Lieut.-Colonel Walker was afforded an opportunity of interviewing him, which he did, and later he saw the Minister in my presence, when he accepted Senator Millen’s definite assurance that he was not aware of his insolvency at the time of his appointment. That is on record, together with the telegrams; and that information will be laid before the House, when honorable members will have a full opportunity of debating the whole question. I did not feel in a position to recommend the re-appointment of Lieut.-Colonel
Walker; but there will be a full opportunity, as I have said, to discuss the matter. As far as I was personally concerned, I would have preferred Lieut.Colonel Walker to be immune from public criticism; but if Lieut.-Colonel Walker and his friends in this House desire that the whole question of his administration - which is to-day the subject of investigation by twobodies - shall be fully inquired into, I shall be prepared to deal with it. To clear up the question of the denial of the Minister for Repatriation, I desire to quote thefollowing statements made in another place. On the 30th June last, Senator Gardiner said -
If the information at my disposal is correct, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen), when appointing Lieut.-Colonel Walker to the office of War Service Homes Commissioner, was aware of all the circumstances surrounding his insolvency.
SenatorE. D. Millen. - I want to give that an absolute and flat denial.
The Minister for Repatriation later said -
Even if Lieut.-Colonel Walker had been restored to his office, as has been suggested, this Bill would have still been necessary, and it is necessary to validate the acts of the Acting Commissioner. I, therefore, presume that the Senate agrees to the passage of the Bill. I desire to repeat what I have said already by interjection, that I give an absolute, flat denial to the reiterated statement’ that at the time of his appointment I had a knowledge of Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s bankruptcy.
– Therefore, the Minister could not have been shown the telegram from the Comptroller.
– I leave the matter at that stage, and ask honorable members to pass the Bill through all its stages. I am prepared to give a further assurance, if it is necessary, that every opportunity will be given to discuss the matter, and in the meantime, I may say that, in my judgment, Lieut.-Colonel Walker should not adopt the role of an injured innocent.
– The position has not been met by the statement made by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), or by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers), who said that Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s services had been dispensed with for reasons other than those given.
– I have not saidso. I stated that there were reasons why he should not be re-appointed.
– The Minister has said that, although his services were “dispensed with because he was an undischarged bankrupt, there were other reasons why he would not re-appoint him. If that is so, he is doing Lieut.-Colonel Walker a great injustice.
Mr.Watt. - I do not know what” the Minister knows. I was merely reading between the lines and drawing my own conclusions. I may have been unf air, but that is my opinion.
– I think the honorable member was unfair. I have never seen this officer, but I take the stand that his services were dispensed with because it was discovered after he had been a considerable time in a responsible position that he was an uncertificated bankrupt. According to the evidence I have read, that information was at the disposal of the Minister at the time of his appointment.
– That has been denied.
– I know that.
– The Comptroller and the Government knew.
– The Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) has said that he did not know, but definite evidence has been given to the effect that a telegram reached the Department conveying the information. I desire to say distinctly that if this officer had proved incompetent, or if there were any serious charges such as those suggested, and which are now being inquired into - this is not the only officer whose actionsare being inquired into - it is not fair that any advantage should be taken, on a technical matter such as bankruptcy. There was nothing detrimental to the honesty or ‘character of the officer, and there is not a man who will not agree with the manager of the bank, who said that it was an unfortunate occurrence for which the officer in question was not morally responsible, although he was legally so.
– There is a definite legal prohibition under the Act:
– If the officer has proved incompetent he should be dealt with on that ground alone.
– The honorable member’s . point is that he should never have been appointed if the Government were aware of his bankruptcy.
– That is admitted.
– I am raising that point. As a matter of fact, the officer was appointed after definite statement’s had been made and information sent to the office. I do not say that the Minister saw it, because this was only one of a number of matters that had to pass through the hands of an. exceedingly busy Minister.
– The honorable member cannot have it both ways. The Government either knew of it or did not know of it.
– The information came to the Department, and if the Minister did not know of it, surely it was not the fault of the officer in question.
– The honorable member’s statement is not correct. The officer in question did not take any steps to inform the Minister, and it was a departmental inquiry that led to the disclosure. At no stage did the late officer take any steps to inform the Minister.
– A searching departmental inquiry was held into this officer’s fitness, for the position before he was appointed, and if he was an undischarged bankrupt the Government should have discovered that important fact. But this officer distinctly states that the information was available, and was for- warded: If that is so, it was not his fault.
– It was his fault.
– Unquestionably, the matter is in a very unsatisfactory position at the present moment. If the Minister gives, us the assurance that the House will have a full opportunity of dealing with it later, that is all very well ; but I do not wish it dealt with in a general discussion of the War Service Homes administration. There are even more’ important matters to be discussed then. However, I do not wish to prevent the passing of this Bill. If the telegram was sent, it must be on the files of the Department, or, if not, there are other means of obtaining a copy of it.
.- There is one statement, made by the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) which I do not propose to allow to pass unchallenged, the statement, that “ the friends of Lieut.- Colonel Walker in this House “ will have the opportunity to do certain things later. The Minister is absolutely wrong in suggesting that those who have spoken from the Opposition side of the chamber have addressed themselves to the. question as the friends of Lieut.-Colonel Walker, and he would do well to dissociate himself from that suggestion. I have already said that I have never met Lieut.-Colonel Walker, and that he is not an acquaintance, much less a friend, of mine. I address myself to this matter entirely as to a public question of interest and importance.
– I had not the honorable member in mind, and, so far as he is concerned, withdraw what I said.
– I accept the withdrawal. It is a question with us whether full justice has been done to Lieut.Colonel Walker as a person appointed to a very important office, and whether the public interests have been properly served.
– Surely those questions are not raised now. The Bill must be passed in any case.
– I am aware of that ; the matter was mentioned by the Minister. There is this further aspect of the case. The Minister, by the introduction of the Bill, proposes to fortify the position of the Government in regard to the things done by Lieut.-Colonel Walker while purporting to act as War Service Homes Commissioner. The Government are curing their own position, but they are taking all sorts of care not to give Lieut.Colonel Walker the coincident opportunity to cure his, or even to state his case. Suppose the Souse were to say, “ We shall not allow the Government to validate its position until it permits Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s position to be discussed “ ? The two matters should gohand in hand. As we have been asked to put the whitewash brush over what the Government have done, we should be given an opportunity to consider whether Lieut. - Colonel Walker should be reinstated. I express no opinion on that point: but there should have gone together a frank statement of the circumstances of Lieut.Colonel Walker’s appointment and the termination of it and the proposal to validate what he did, the two things being inter-related. It is now, and not during a general and very wide discussion of the War Service Homes administration, that we should consider the special case of Lieut.-Colonel Walker, which, by the terms of the Bill, we are really invited to consider. In my view, Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s successor is, possibly, as able a man as was ever appointed to an administrative position in this State.
.- The interjection of the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) makes the position worse than it was. I resent the sneering manner in which he spoke of the “ friends of Lieut.-. Colonel Walker in this chamber.”
– I certainly did not. mean to speak sneeringly. Perhaps I used the wrong word.
– I, at all events, resent the implication conveyed. I have never spoken to Lieut.-Colonel Walker, and would not know him were he in the gallery. I only had his written statement, and it was on that that I spoke to-night. The position is a remarkable one. Steps were taken to advertise extensively the position that was vacant. Many applications were received, the office being one of the most important that could be filled by any Government, because the War Service Homes Commissioner was to handle millions of pounds, and to deal with huge contracts. He was to have one of the biggest jobs in Australia. The Comptroller of Repatriation received the applications, and took steps to have inquiries made about the applicants. He should have known what the Government proposed to do, and should have informed himself of any bar to an applicant’s appointment. Bankruptcy is a disqualification that attached to this appointment, not only under the terms of the War Service Homes Act, but, generally, as it attaches to all appointments to the Public Service. Yet we are told that the Comptroller of Repatriation did not bring under the notice of the Minister the fact that there was this disqualification. I do not knew whether he has been made a scapegoat.
– Who is the Comptroller of Repatriation ?
– I do not know. It is extraordinary that one of the most important positions in the Public Service of Australia should have been filled by a man who, obviously, was disqualified for appointment to it.
– Was not that typical of the general bungling of the Government?
– That brings us a step further. I am not prepared to allow the Bill to gothrough unless we have the papers before us, and I therefore suggest that the Assistant Minister would do well to report progress.
– Honorable members have been told that they will have the papers before them, and will be given an opportunity to discuss them.
– There is this fresh aspect of the matter to be considered, that a gentleman holding a high position in the administration of this country, namely, the Comptroller of Repatriation, is found, according to the statements made here to-night, to be unfitted to be even an office-boy in the service of the Commonwealth.
– He is not now in the Service.
– I do not even know who he is, but we have had the statement made that he placed the Commonwealth in a position in which it might have been mulct in heavy damages. The Bill will not go through now with my consent unless the Assistant Minister is prepared to give the Committee more information.
– I undertake to do this: Instead of embodying the references to Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s administration in the general statement concerning the activities of the War Service Homes Commission, I will make it the subject of a separate statement upon which there may be a separate debate.
– We shall have a long session unless the Assistant Minister is careful about the promises he makes.
– This is a most important matter. The Bill deals with Lieut-Colonel Walker’s acts and any misdemeanours of his should be discussed while the Bill is under consideration. It is not necessary that it should go through on the night of the 12th July. It might be passed on the night of the 13th.
– There is a legal reason why I want the Bill to go through tonight, if possible.
– To pass the Bill will not interfere with the opportunity to debate the matter the honorable member wishes to discuss.
– I am afraid that it will. I have no doubt that the Assistant Minister is quite honest in his intention, but things are being hurried, and we have been told by some gentlemen that this House is going to finish its work this week.
– There are two words to describe that hope, and they are “ no hope.”
– There are some optimists in this country, and the Assistant Minister, apparently, is one of them.
– The acting head of the Government is an old parliamentary hand, and he indulges no hopes of that kind.
– I am satisfied that, if the right honorable gentleman could do so, he would finish the session out of hand. I protest against this Bill going through until we have all the information we require. The discussion should be adjourned, and the Assistant Minister might bring down the necessary papers to-morrow.
.- The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) has made a very specific, and I think a very reasonable, request. I would urge on the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) the advisability of acceding to it. The honorable member has asked to see these papers, and I feel that I am bound to stand by so reasonable a request. .
– I gave the honorable member a definite promise that he will have an opportunity of seeing the papers. They will be circulated for the benefit of honorable members generally as soon as an opportunity is afforded to discuss the statement I propose to make on the activities of the War Service Homes Commission.
– If the papers show that the Government are all wrong, and that Lieut.-Colonel Walker is so far right that he should be taken back into the Service, this Bill would still have to go through.
– Not necessarily. It might be that some of the transactions intended to be validated by this Bill will be amongst those for which Lieut.-Colonel Walker was responsible, which will be called into question. The Assistant Minister has said that he is not in a position to recommend Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s reappointment. I do not know just what may be behind that statement.
– I understoodthat the Deputy Leader of the Opposition assented to the Minister’s proposal.
– Only up to a certain point. Now I hear from the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) for the first time, that a certain telegram was on the file which should have been put before the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) when the appointment of aWar Service Homes Commissioner was originally made. I have accepted the assurance of the Assistant Minister that no member of the Government knew anything about the insolvency until just about the time when it was decided that Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s appointment was null and void.
Mr.Rodgers. - The information as to his insolvency did not come tome from the Department, but from an outside source.
– But the Comptroller of Repatriation apparently knew that Lieut.Colonel Walker was an uncertificated insolvent.
– Apparently, he did.
– And he did not tell the. honorable gentleman.
– The Comptroller disappeared when the War Service Homes Commissioner was appointed.
– Not physically?
– No, he ceased to be an officer of the Department. The office of Comptroller was abolished, the office of War Service Homes Commissioner Was created, and the service of Mr. Gilbert, the late Comptroller, was terminated.
– I have no doubt that the honorable member for Darling will be satisfied, provided that a definite assurance is given that there will be a separate discussion of the matter, and also that the papers will be produced.
– I have given that promise.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 verbally amended and agreed to.
.- I move-
That the following new clause be inserted: - “ 4. Notwithstanding anything contained in the War Service Homes Act 1918-1920 or in the Australian Soldiers ‘ Repatriation Act 1920,
James Michael Semmens shall not, by reason only of his employment as Acting War Service Homes Commissioner, be deemed to have vacated his office as a member of the Repatriation Commission, and shall not, by reason only of his employment as a member of the Repatriation Commission, be deemed to have vacated his office as Acting War Service Homes Commissioner.”
The reason why this clause is necessary is because section 17 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act contains a prohibition against a Commissioner in the following terms: -
The Commissioner or Acting Commissioner shall be deemed to have vacated his office if he engages during the term of his office in any paid employment outside the duties of his office.
Colonel Semmens was an officer immediately available to the Government, with experience and knowledge that enabled him to straightway discharge the office of Acting War Service Homes Commissioner with complete satisfaction. That would be a serious thing if by so acting he should have disqualified himself for the office of Commissioner under the Repatriation Act. There is a similar prohibition in the War Service Homes Act, section 12 of which provides -
The Commissioner or the Acting Commissioner (if any) shall be deemed to have vacated his office if -
he engages, during his term of office, in any employment outside the duties of his office. …
It isclear that we might inadvertently disqualify a valued and distinguished public servant because of his having come to the aid of the Government on the retirement of Lieut.-Colonel Walker. The Government are under an obligation to Colonel Semmens for havingso acted, and I wish to dissociate him from much of the public criticism that falls on his shoulders by reason of his being a locum . tenens in the office of Commissioner. . He has indeed rendereddistinguished service to the country.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Standing Orders suspended, and report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
House adjourned at 11.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 July 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1921/19210712_reps_8_96/>.