8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Hon. J. M. Chanter) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Conference of Premiers
– Seeing thatwe are living in a vast and almost undeveloped continent, and that it is the reproach of our people, and particularly of our Parliament, that tens of thousands of our population are out of employment, will the Acting Prime Minister calla Conference of the Premiers, with a view to doing something, if possible, to alleviate distress, and to give employment by making use of the vast assets with which we are. doing nothing at present?
– I should like to consider this matter, and to be in a position to propose something of a concrete character, before calling the Premiers together.
– Let us do something in a big way, if we can. Reproductive works are waiting to be carried out.
– I should be very glad to do something if I could, but, as Treasurer, I have my difficulties, just as the Premiers have theirs. My purse, any more than theirs, is not unlimited. I can spend only what the credit of the country will permit me to spend, and they are in the same position. As soon as I have time to think over this matter seriously and calmly, I shall do so, and shall be glad to try to give help.
– When does the Acting Prime Minister propose to make a statement about the communication from the Prime Minister on the subject of the Washington Conference?
-(By leave.)There really is not very much that I can tell the honorable member which he has not already learned from the newspapers. The latest suggestion is for the holding, of two Conferences, one to consider Pacific problems generally, and more particularly the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty, and the other to consider the question of disarmament, which is of interest to the wholeworld. It is not settled where the Conferences shall be held. As honorable members know, the press of America strongly urges that both Conferences should meet at Washington. That, no doubt, will suit the convenience of persons living in or close to America, but it would not suit the convenience of many others.
– Especially, when our Prime Minister has been ordered to come home and take his gruel.
– I have not the slightest doubt that the Prime Minister, when hereturns, will be prepared to take any gruel that may be offered to him. We need not bother about that matter now. I cannot say what the opinion of the Canadians may be as to the place for holding the Conference, Canada being the immediate neighbour of the United States of America.; but it is our view, and, I should think, the view of Mr. Massey and of General Smuts, and also that of the British Government, that the Pacific Conference should be held in London, so that the Dominion Prime Ministers might attend it. The proposal to hold this Conference has developed from the consideration of the renewal of the Treaty between Great Britain and Japan, it being found that two other countries are vitally interested in it, and that before any satisfactory arrangement can be made, their representatives must be consulted. One of these countries is theUnited States of America, whose problems in some ways resemble ours, and the other is China. I am profoundly glad that China has been invited to send representatives to, the Conference. It would mean a great deal to the peace of the world if a working understanding could be arrived at between the Powers and China, and particularly between Japan and China. Therefore, it is obvious that China must be at the Conference table. If the Conference were held in London, our Prime Minister could attend it; and return home on the scheduled date.
– Has he, and have the representatives of the other oversea Dominions, been invited to the Conference by the President of the United States of America ?
– The Empire has been invited to send representatives, and I anticipate no difficulty in connexion with our representation at the Pacific Problems Conference. It is important that- representatives of the Dominions should be in London when the Conference is taking place, even if they have not a seat at the Conference table. Above all things, it is important that Australia’s representative should be there, because this country lias more to gain and more to lose by the decisions that, may be arrived at than any other on the face of the globe.
– For that reason the Conference should be held here. ,
– No doubt that would be a convenient arrangement.
– The suggestion is a reasonable one.
– Quite; but we may consider it later. I say advisedly that when the Pacific Conference takes place, our representative must be at it, no matter what may be the position of affairs here or elsewhere. It is vital and imperative that we should be represented at that Conference. Therefore, I hope - and in saying this I express my own opinion - that it may be found convenient to hold the Conference in London in order to meet the convenience of the Dominion Prime Ministers. For us the centre of all things, naval and economic in particular, is shifted to the Pacific, and, as somebody pointed out the other day, the Pacific is to us what the Mediterranean is to Europe. Therefore, it is doubly important that all these countries should be represented on the Pacific Conference when it takes place. “ How important it will be may be easily estimated when one remembers just what the Pacific means. There are 1,000,000,000 people whoso frontiers are, roughly, the Pacific Ocean. Our own Empire in the Pacific, China, Japan, and America, alone hold considerably over 1,000,000,000 of the population of the world. Another fact that needs stressing is, that of those 1,000,000^000 people one may expect to find that hot all are strongly in favour of a White Australia. Therefore, whatever happens, Australia must be at that Conference, and every effort will be made to have the Conference held in London, to suit the convenience of Dominion delegates.
As to the question of disarmament, the Conference in regard to it will be supremely important from a world point of view, but I submit that it will not be as important to us as will the other.
Opposition Members. - More so.
– -I am speaking of the practical side of the question and of the immediate problems to be solved. If either one of the Conferences is to be unattended by Australia’s delegate, I say at once that it should be the disarmament Conference, because Great Britain could, if necessary, quite well represent the whole of the Empire at a gathering of that kind. Let me not be misunderstood ; I say it is important that we should be represented at both Conferences, but it means everything to us that our delegate should attend the Pacific Conference. The Prime Minister’s present intention is to return to Australia on schedule time. He will bc here, I understand, in the first week of October, and these Conference* can quite well take place within the time already allotted in his programme. If it should happen that both of these Conferences take place in Washington, an entirely different situation will arise. But until it does arise, I think we need only proceed on the assumption that the Prime Minister will return as he promised the House he would. If the two Conferences converge in Washington, the whole matter will require to be seriously reconsidered. Therefore, this is not my last word orv that particular aspect of the question. T have told the House my impression, from? all I have been able to gather, of what is taking place overseas.
There is another matter in regard to. Which I crave the attention of the House.. It has to do with a debate that took place- in this Chamber a few days ago, and with a resolution that was carried by a. certainparty. I submit to honorable membersthe following cablegram that has reached me from the Prime Minister: -
Australia has been given all the informationwhich could be given at this juncture. It iswell to remind those who ask for informationrelating to foreign and Imperial policy that useful discussion upon relations with foreign countries, or upon matters of vital importanceto Empire - such as defence - would be impossible if conducted on lines suggested. The representatives of various parts of the Empire gathered round the Council -table are charged’ with the grave and responsible duties of conserving the interests and insuring the security of the Empire as a whole and of every one of the Nations that compose it. They cannot hope to succeed if premature disclosure is madeto the whole world, and disclosure to the Par- liaments must mean this - not only of the policy recommended by the Conference, after that has been agreed upon, but of the views of the various members and the arguments advanced for or against any suggested policy.
When the Conference has finished its labours, its recommendations - which are all subject to approval by the respective Governments and ratification by Parliament - will be made available to Parliament. But if the Conference is to give to the various Parliaments of Empire wise and prudent counsel, there must be complete frankness of speech at meetings of the Conference. All the facts must be made available and carefully considered.
It is inevitable that reference must be made to foreign countries. We live in a world of realities; we are the duly chosen counsellors of a very great Empire. Every member represents a great Dominion which has special interests to protect, a great heritage to develop, particular problems to solve. Every part of the Empire - except, perhaps, Britain herself - depends for its very existence as a free nation upon the power of a united Empire. It would be idle to deny that the Empire has its critics, and its very greatness is in itself sufficient explanation of this.
I need not point out that a great and rich continent like Australia, with only 5,500,000 of people, must walk warily and not shout its secrets from the housetops. Other nations do not. At this very moment Lloyd George and De Valera are discussing matter of great moment in secret, and Sir James Craig says that it is right that only the official communique should be published.
There is, too, another reason why we cannot and ought not to act as our critics desire. We are members of a Conference, and must be governed by the procedure which that body decides to adopt. It has been decided that information upon certain important matters shall come through one channel, viz., the Secretariat of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The official communique is the only information permitted, except where the Conference otherwise decides. Wherever it has so decided I have made public the very fullest information. Further, I have kept my colleagues supplied with the very fullest confidential reports. What the Conference has done, and is endeavouring to do - everything that has taken definite shape or is in a fair way of doing so - is in your hands.
I stated in most definite and unambiguous terms in Parliament that the Commonwealth would not be committed to any scheme of naval or foreign policy, or involved in any expenditure, by any act of mine, but that all (after explanation by me and full discussion by the Legislature) should be subject to ratification by Parliament. For my attitude in regard to the renewal of the Anglo- JapaneseTreaty and American connexion therewith, I refer to my speech dealing with these matters. I hold myself bound by the declarations contained therein.
I was sent here to represent Australia. My views were plainly stated. My instructions from the Legislature perfectly clear. I am trying to uphold the interests of Australia, and do my duty to her and the Empire.
– Was that cable sent in answer to another?
– Would the right honorable gentleman mind reading the other one?
– I would not mind reading the first cable; I shall have a look at it and see. So far as I know, there is nothing in it to preclude my reading it.
– What is the party resolution referred to?
– The resolution which the honorable gentleman’s party passed the other day.
– With regard to the publication of information?
– It is the resolution which your Leader (Dr. Earle Page) has been publishing ever since.
– We have never made any request for the publication of information; we are quite satisfied with what we get.
– But the honor able gentleman’s party thinks that the Prime Minister ought to come home as soon as possible. There are more important things than the Prime Minister’s coming home, and the greatest of them is representedby the issues involved in the Pacific Conference.
Payments for Land
– With reference to the question I asked yesterday on the matter of Soldier Settlement, I wish to know whether the Treasurer will invite Mr. Lang, the New South Wales Treasurer, to come and confer with him?
– I am not obliged to invite Mr. Lang to come to Melbourne; I do not think it is my duty to do so. If Mr. Lang wishes to see me I shall be very glad to meet him; but if Mr. Lang utters these constant diatribes in his own State, I do not think he ought to expect me to invite him over.
– In the meantime the soldiers are suffering.
– The soldiers are suffering through no fault of mine. If Mr. Lang wishes to confer with me, I shall be prepared to see him.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the cases of anthrax reported in the press, and reputed to be caused by Japanese shaving brushes, &c., will he communicate with Japan in order that justice may be done by that country, and greater safety provided for Australians?
– The Department has, during the past two years, been in communication withthe Government of Japan, through the Consul-General at Sydney, on the question of insuring effective disinfection of hair used in the manufacture of shaving brushes and other brushes imported into Australia. Representations having been made by the ConsulGeneral in June, 1920, that satisfactory arrangements had been made by the Japanese Government for complete disinfection of the hair used in the manufactureof brushes, and for furnishing official certificates of disinfection, the prohibition, which had been in force since February, 1920, was removed on 1st July, 1920. Owing to the result, however, of bacteriological examination of suspected brushes in December, 1920, and to certain unsatisfactory certificates, a proclamation was issued on 30th December, 1920, prohibiting the importation of shaving brushes from Japan. This prohibition is still in force.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence Act -Regulations AmendedStatutory Rules 1921, Nos. 124, 125.
New Guinea - Ordinance of 1921 - No. 7 - Navigation Act Suspension.
Financial Statement - Wheat Pool - Was Service Homes - Lt.colonel Walker - Telephone Charges - Re- duction of War Gratuity - Compulsory Training Camps : Compensation for Injuries - Mandated Territories : Ordinances.
Message recommending appropriation reported. Referred to Committee of Supply.
In Committee of Supply.
– The Government have decided to proceed with the Supply Bill, so as to enable them to give a little further consideration to the measure which met with, to say the least, considerable opposition in the Chamber yesterday.
– A mixed reception!
– Quite a mixed reception. The Minister in charge of that measure (Mr. Greene) has arrived in Melbourne only to-day, and it is desired toconsider what is best to be done in the circumstances. If the House has made up its mind that it does not desire a Dumping Bill-
– Why not put the matter to the test?
– The trouble is that we cannot get a test - although the Government are anxious for a test, it is impossible to get one.
– Why not?
– The honorable gentleman knows why not; it is because honorable members have laid themselves out to prevent a test being arrived at.
– Many elaborate promises were made by the Government.
– This is not a very genial preface to an application for two months’ Supply !
– I am merely stating facts when I say that this matter was debated all day yesterday, and that we dealt with only one short paragraph of the proposals. I take it that it is the desire of honorable members that we shall rise this week if we can finish our business. I hope that in the meantime we may not only deal with a Supply Bill, but finish the consideration of the other . measure to which I have just referred, with a view to a test such as has been suggested, at some time or other. If we are to rise this week this Supply Bill must go to another Chamber and be sept back here before Friday, and that is why I think it cannot be longer delayed. I am asking the House for two months’ Supply, which will take us to the end of September. I have already promised that the Budget will be delivered in the early part of that month, and this Bill will just about give us time for that to be done. In this Bill I am asking for nothing but. carry-on expenditure. . There is nothing in it that is of an unusual or” abnormal character. ‘ It is merely a carry-on proposal of the barest kind. Altogether the net amount of Supply asked for under this Bill in respect of ordinary services is £4,903,879, and that added to the amount granted under the previous Supply Bill for this year will enable payments to be made up to 30th September next. Omitting special items the total of the two Bills is £7,620,803. If we deduct from that total one or two special items that we are proposing to pay immediately, such, for instance, as interest and sinking fund payable ‘to the British Government, which amounts to £1,319,881; Treasurer’s advance £1,500,000, as in the case of last year, and arrears of oversea mails £200,000, we have a total of £4,600,922 for ordinary items. I” have already explained to the House the item of arrears of ‘oversea mails, and the reason it was included in the previous Supply was to avoid payment of interest at 6 per cent, upon it.
One fourth of the annual votes for 192(3-21 other than Votes for Treasurer’s advance, and interest due to British Government represent £6,018,139, and therefore the total Supply asked for in respect of the first three” months of the present financial year, for ordinary services, is £1,417,217 less than the proportion of the vote “for the corresponding three months of last year. I promised the House that I would avail myself of this opportunity to state what had happened during the last financial year with regard to our finances. As honorable members are aware we began the year with a surplus of £5,747,000, and the Budget estimate of the surplus at the close of the financial year 1920-21 was £240,000. I am now in a position to say, I think quite correctly, that the actual surplus will be £6,631,000, or £6,391,000 more, than we anticipated.
– How much of that amount represents unexpended votes on this and that item?
– A good deal. The -commencing surplus, it will be seen, was not only kept intact, but nearly £1,000,000 added to it. This result is attributable -to greater revenue than we anticipated at the beginning of the year, as- well as to large savings which have been ‘effected ‘by the’ Government in the course of the year. - As the honorable member for Melbourne Ports .(Mr. Mathews) says, we have not spent money on this, that, and the other thing. That is why we have the money in hand.
The revenue receipts were greater than the estimate by £2,161,000, the chief items of increase being - Customs and Excise £3,876,000 and income tax, I am glad to say, £751,000, while the Entertainments Tax gave us £300,000 more than we budgetted -for, thanks to the action of -the Senate which determined that we should not apply the process of cutting down the revenue from that particular tax. As honorable members are aware, we carried out our promises so far as we could in this House to remit a portion of that tax. The Senate decided, however, that that should not be done, and the result is that we have received £300,000 in excess of the amount that we estimated to collect from that source. The receipts under the heading of “ Miscellaneous “ were also £394,000 in excess of the estimate.
On the other side there were certain decreases, some of them being of a notable character. The revenue of the Postal Department, for instance, was £933,000 less than we estimated to receive. That -falling off’ is to be accounted for in several ways. We budget-ted on the basis of an increased ‘charge in respect -of postage and other things. That increase, however, ‘did .not take effect until about one-third of ‘the year had gone, and I have no doubt that it accounts for a good deal of ‘the decrease -as compared with the estimate. While the actual revenue was less than the estimate by £933,000, it should be clearly understood that the revenue actually received was in excess of that obtained during the previous year. The position simply is that we budgetted for more than we actually received. There was also a large decrease in respect of the war-time profits tax. We estimated that we would obtain from that source £4,000,000, but we actually got just over £2,000,000, so that there is outstanding on that account at the moment £1,916,000. On the whole, I think the revenue account may be considered to be good. In respect of some items we did not get what we expected, but we secured surpluses in other directions, with the result that the operations of the whole year show a surplus of £2,161,000 over the estimate of revenue receipts made at the beginning of it.
I come now to the expenditure out of revenue. The actual expenditure under this heading was less than the Budget estimate by £4,252,000, £713,000 being for ordinary-, services, and £3,539,000 on account of war services. This, I think, is satisfactory in view of the very- drastic cutting -down of the Estimates before presentation to Parliament, which every Treasurer has to do, and the fact that the Government had to meet basic wage and Court awards not in contemplation at the time of the Budget. During the year Court awards and, the basic wage combined laid upon us an additional obligation of £1,000,000 per annum. We did not meet the full force of that additional £1,000,000 last year, but we shall have to meet it in the accounts of the present financial year. . It has taken, I think, roughly £700,000 to meet claims in respect of the basic wage and Court awards during the last financial year.
The expenditure in’ respect of additions, new works, and buildings chargeable to revenue was less than the estimate by £970,000. The principal items in the savings on war services chargeable to revenue were as follow: - Australian Expeditionary Force, £1,447,000; repatriation of soldiers! - that is to say, ordinary repatriation, vocational training, and such like items - £1,135,000; and interest on loans, £668,000. The Budget estimate of the total expenditure in respect of payments out of revenue, war loans, and works loan accounts was £98,864,000, whereas the actual expendi- ture was £92,869,000, representing a saving, as compared with the estimate, of £5,995,000. In addition, £2,710,000 was paid in cash for war gratuities. Altogether, I think we may congratulate ourselves on a successful financial year.
Looking at the year ahead, I am not able to say much with accuracy. I am engaged in a delightful process known to all Treasurers, namely, that of grappling with a series of accounts -which, upon the moment of their being seen, are recognised to be staggering. The pruning process will have to be applied rigorously if we are to make our way successfully through the next year. Therefore, it is not possible for me to speak definitely at the present stage concerning next year’s figures. This much is certain, however : there will be a fall i» Customs revenue. There- is likely to be a fall also in receipts from income taxation, though to what extent I am unable, at the moment, to say. I do not believe that the decline is going to be as serious as many critics would have one believe. The basis of the present ‘year’s taxation is the income of last year; and when two or three things are considered, which represent largely the basis of income tax, honorable members will perceive that there is no need for as much pessimism as some people indulge in.
For instance, taking wool and wheat for the year just ended, those staples together have been equal to the wool and wheat of the year before. Wool is down, and wheat is up. During the previous year wool was up and wheat was down. Last year, moreover, all the dairymen of Australia had the year of their lives.
– Not all !
– The bulk of them. The butter and cheese of last year totalled nearly £12,000,000. These considerations must express themselves in the income tax of ‘the present year.
– Assessments upon wheat profits will be less on account of the profits being individually smaller.
– The fact remains that in this country there has never yet been a year when actual receipts were not substantially , more than estimates. The reason is that in a great territory, such as Australia, matters have a wonderful way of averaging themselves up. Drought or some other untoward circumstance may injure a State’s finances for the time being; may interfere profoundly with the financial position of one part of Australia. But such visitations do not often occur simultaneously over the whole of our great continent. If there is a bad year in one State, the chances arc that the seasons are good in another. There are some factors, of course, which are common to all parts - considerations, for example, of trade and commerce. But as for all those things which are the real and basic support of our financial system - I speak of our great primary industries - they have a way of averaging up in ‘this great country. This distinction must be kept in mind- in estimating the condition of Australia, or of any one of the States. Last year the facts were as I have stated ; and our wool, wheat, and dairy produce combined will show receipts well over the incomes received in the previous year.
– What about the metal industry ?
– I am afraid that the Australian metal industry is in a bad way; but, for that matter, so it has been at any time during the past twelve months and more. In speaking as I now do, I merely suggest that, while there is no ground for undue pessimism, there is reason for most careful financing. We shall have less revenue, I believe; and that is why I am profoundly thankful to have this nest-egg with which to commence the year.
One or two items may be mentioned which will shed light on the subject generally. The sum of £2,000,000 outstanding in connexion with the war-time profits tax will - most of it, I think - be available this year; it is a form of postponed taxation. And then there is a total of £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 by “ way of direct taxation of one kind and another outstanding at the end of “ the year. Notwithstanding that our Departments have done so well in gathering income tax, there was a larger amount of income tax outstanding at the end of the financial year than at its beginning; so that the net receipts from income tax will represent fairly the income of the year, or possibly just a little less. Therefore, anticipating a drop in revenue - though not to the serious extent which one is apt to imagine some times - I have only this to say, that if our expected income is not derived we shall have to cut our coat according to our cloth. We shall have to persevere with such economies as -will make it possible for us to get through the year reasonably.
There is, of course, certain bedrock expenditure which cannot be avoided except by repudiation. I take it that this House will not favour repudiating such obligations, for instance, as payment of interest and sinking fund, which 1 will probably be increased this year; or payment of invalid and old-age pensions; maternity allowances also. I desire to break in here, by the way, to mention that I had to pay £70,000 more for maternity allowances last year than I had budgetted for.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– Advance Australia ! The payment is made in respect of the best of all kinds of immigrant. There are still other statutory obligations to be met, as well as the irreducible expenditure of running Departments.
With respect to War Loan expenditure, I expect this year that the expenditure on Soldier Settlement and War Service Homes will be considerably below that of last year. Although efforts are being made to reduce the amount of Works loans, a considerable reduction cannot be looked for, since it will be necessary again to provide about £3,000,000 to complete- contracts for the construction of Commonwealth ships. The obligation is one with which we set out in considering our loan estimates for public works for the year. We have ordered the ships, and splendid vessels are being built for us.
– They should be, for the money!
– They should be, and I have no doubt that they will be, and that they will be of very great service to our primary producers. All will carry refrigerating plant and will be thoroughly up-to-date, as well as rather speedy. They are costly ships, I repeat, and will have to be paid for. There will be an item of £3,000,000, which will be set out in the Budget in connexion with public works for the new year. I cannot speak more definitely at present in regard to this year’s figures, as the Estimates are still far from complete.
– Haveyou not paid off a good deal of the shipping contracts ?
– We have paid off about one-half, and the remaining half will have to be met in the financial year which we have now entered.
– You are notbuilding to sell?
– I am not aware of any intention to sell these ships.
-There is a lot of talk about it.
– Yes. People have been saying that we have been running our ships at a loss during the year, but the fact is that there has been a substantial surplus over expenditure. Whatever view one may hold as to the advisableness of the Government building, owning, and running ships, the Commonwealth Line should not be decried while it is under our control. The latest figures I have of the operations of the Line during the last year show a substantial surplus.
– Is it a fact, as stated in this morning’s newspaper, that no balancesheet has been presented for two years ?
– The accounts are kept in London.
– Surely we can get balance-sheets.
– I am going to try. One of my difficulties at the present moment isthat an amount is being placed to depreciation which is almost double that placed to depreciation byordinary shipping companies. An enterprise that can afford to do that is doubly sound ; but a little internal arrangement will have to be made between Mr. Larkin and the Treasurer from time to time, because, incidentally, the revenue is being deprived. At any rate, the Line earned a very large profit last year, amounting to nearly £450,000, of which nearly £335,000 has gone to depreciation and other charges, which are in the nature of an insurance.
– A very wise policy.
– A good business provision.
– It is a business provision in favour of soundness, though it deprives me of some revenue.
At the beginning of the last financial year the gross public debt amounted to £381,415,000. During the year newdebt was created amounting to £38,472,000; but we also redeemed £18,292,000, making the actual increase of the debt £20,180,000, so that on the 30th June last the gross debt stood at £401,595,000. Rut the net, or dead-weight, public debt is much less than that. The sum of £70,000,000 must be deducted from the amountI have just given, because weare being paid interest, which we pass onto the creditor. The sum of £70,000,000 represents the indebtedness of the States to the Commonwealth forsoldier land settlement, War Service Homes, and advances for public works, &c., on every penny of which we receive interest. During the year £800,000 was received in respect of advances on War Service Homes. The soldiers are standing up to their obligations wonderfullywell.
-The repayments will continue to increase?
– I hope so. We have not yetbegun to get much back from our advances for soldier settlement, but that will come at the proper time.
– Are any conditions attached to the repayment of advances to the States for soldier land settlement ?
– The States have thirty or thirty-five years in which to repay those advances.
– Is the repayment made in equal instalments spread over the whole period ?
– Yes; but I do not think that it begins until after the lapse of three years. The war expenditure of the last twelve months is almost wholly recoverable in this way, and so, although the gross debt increased during 1920-21 by £20,180,000, the net dead weight debt, that is, the debt which does not earn interest, was decreased during the year by £9,320,000.
– I understand that some confusion has been caused by the publication of statistics which debit against both the States and the Commonwealth money advanced bythe Commonwealth to the States.
– Our advances to the States are included in the sum of £70,000,000 to which I have just referred.
– You spoke of having redeemed bonds. To what value have bonds been redeemed?
– We had a windfall during the year by the- transfer of the Notes Branch to the- Common- wealth Bank, which gave us- £7,780,524. That was the amount of profits which had- accumulated over a series of years, and I thought that the best thing to, do was to put. it out of - the way of temptation by applying it to the redemption of the public debt. In the statement of the- total debt the- sum of £223,814 was put down for Northern Territory loans, and as that amount was paid off out of the ordinary works loan fund which is included in the statement of the total debt, a reduction of like amount has to be made. There have also to be deducted the payments of accrued deferred pay to the Australian Imperial Force from War Loan Fund amounting to £245,280, and Treasury bills raised for war purposes in 1919-20; redeemed out of revenue 1920-21, £903,000; war gratuities paid out of War Loan Fund, £2,710,897; war-saving certificates redeemed out of Loans Sinking Fund and war loan securities re-purchase account, £3,482,046; and inscribed stock and bonds, war issues, surrendered in payment of estate duty, and redeemed out of Loans Sinking Fund, £946,310. These items, together with the reduction in the original estimate of the’ cost of the war gratuity- £2,000,000- total £18;291,871, by which the statement of the total debt must be reduced.
– When were the bonds due that you redeemed out of the profits of the Notes Branch?
-I do not remember.
– You are now going to float another loan, and you have put cash into the purchase of bonds falling due in the future ?
– The Act authorizes the Treasurer to do that.
– Yes. I am merely querying the wisdom of what was done.
– It is good business £o prop the market.
– In any case, I think that an accumulation of that kind should be put out of the way of curren account. I hope that honorable members will be satisfied, for the moment, with this brief, review of the operations of the year. The statement is necessarily incomplete, and amounts only to a suggestion of the obligations with which we are confronted this year, which will be very heavy. We shall have to meet them in accordance with our resources, and shall try, as far as possible, to pay our way as in the past.
– Have you any report from the Taxation Commission? I think you referred some time ago to an interim, re- 25ort.
-J have no report from the Commission, though I expect one in time for the Budget speech. The members of the Commission have not yet finished the taking of evidence, but have visited, I think, every State except South Australia. When the taking of evidence is concluded, we may expect at least an interim report very soon, and it will be of guidance to us in dealing with new Budget proposals. . I move -
That there be granted to His Majesty for or towards defraying the services of the year 1921-22 a sum not exceeding £4,903,879.
.- It is impossible to enter upon a thorough criticism of the statement just made by the Treasurer until’ we have had an opportunity of reading it, and that I trust the right honorable gentleman will facilitate; but there are one or two matters -with which I wish to deal now. The first, and perhaps the most important, to-day affects that large and important section of. the community, the wheatgrowers. The- Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has referred to the fact that our great primary industries seem to adjust themselves, and, as a general rule, average up so that the gross return from them is substantially the same in each year. But I gather from a close reading of the statements of the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), both in the public press and in Hansard in the form of replies to questions by honorable members, that the Government have made a very distinct change in their policy with regard to promoting the formation of and assisting in 1he financing of a Wheat Pool.
– -Iti what way?
– Perhaps I cannot do better than refer the Treasurer to an answer he gave in this House on the 22nd June -
– In view of the Acting Prime Minister’s statement in the press concerning the Wheat Pools, I should like to know if it is necessary that, before the Commonwealth Government become associated with the Pools, there should be complete unanimity amongst all the wheat-growing States, or whether a Pool may be. formed if the majority of the States are in agreement?
– The conditions laid down by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) for the future pooling of wheat are the same as those applying to the recent Pool, namely, that there shall be a ballot of the wheatgrowers and unanimous acquiescence on the part of the State Governments. The conditions, so far as I understand the position, have not been varied in any way. All I have done is to express the hope that the growers ofwheat will be able to look after themselves, and, if possible, relieve the Commonwealth Government, so far as they are concerned, from this never-ending trouble of being a party to the control of these various undertakings.
– The Wheat Pools have never cost the Commonwealth Government one cent.
– I cite that reply by the Acting Prime Minister in order to show the impatient attitude of the Government towards the primary producers, the large majority of whom are in favour of a continuation of the Wheat Pool. The right honorable gentleman referred to “ this never-ending trouble of being a party to the control of these various undertakings.”
– That is a good placard for Maranoa.
– The right honorable gentleman may try to pass off his responsibility in that way, but I do not think his remark will go down with a large majority of the primary producers.
– The Government’s responsibility in respect of this very matter was very clearly defined by the Prime Minister at the last election.
– It was; and the Prime Minister never said anything about “ this never-ending trouble of being a party to the control of these various undertakings.”
– He expressed it in more euphonious language, but made it very clear.
– “ This neverending trouble” will make an admirable head line to-morrow.
– I am endeavouring to get the Government to define their position upon thisvery important question, because I feel that if they continue the policy that is indicated in the reply of the Acting Prime Minister a great injustice will be done to the wheat-growers, who will be left at the mercy of speculators and middlemen.
– I am now placing before the House my view and that of the party with which I am associated. In our opinion, unless the Commonwealth Government render assistance and promote the formation of a Wheat Pool, the wheat-growers will suffer at the hands of speculators and middlemen. They always have done so in the past, and they have had experience during the last few years of the advantages which accrue to them through the formation of these Pools. To my mind, it is imperative that the representatives of the people in this Chambershould endeavour to have carried out a policy that will be for the benefit of the whole community, including the primary producers, and the only way in which that can be done is by bringing this matter forward as I am doing this afternoon.I move -
That the following words be added to the motion: - “ Provided that the Commonwealth Government shall take steps to insure the continuance of the Wheat Pool and immediately enter into negotiation with the respective State Governments, in order to give effect to this principle.”
I make that motion in strict conformity with the policy of the party with which I am associated. Our platform and programme have been shaped so as to embrace the interests of both those who work on the land and those who work in the secondary industries. The interests of these two classes of workers - for, after all, they are all workers - dovetail into one another.
– Their interests very often clash; one wants a dear loaf and the other a cheap loaf.
– The worker on the land and the industrial worker have a community of interest, and for that reason our programme provides for a policy that will enable the primary producer to market his products profitably, at the same time saving the consumer the undue profits that go to speculators and middlemen. There is no other party in this House which in its platform and programme has a policy which is so drafted as to comprise the interests of both these sections of the community.
– How does the honorable member reconcile the cheap loaf advocate with the dear loaf advocate?
– I do not know how the honorable member will reconcile before the country the policy for which he stands, hut a party that has no regard for those two interests can never aspire to govern a great country like Australia. Regard for those two interests is, I repeat, in strict conformity with the platform and programme of the Labour party, and in accordance with the speeches made by honorable members on this side during the last election campaign. As a result of that policy we have in this House quite a number of representatives of the primary producing constituencies, amongst them the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), and the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham). Therefore, in moving and supporting thisamendment we are only standing for the carrying out of the programme and policy which we placed before the country at the last election. This policy will protect the interests of the primary producer against exploitation; moreover, I am well satisfied that such a course is desired by the overwhelming majority of the wheat-growers.
– Is there a conflict at Maranoa at present between the Country party candidate and the Labour candidate?
– Do not endeavour to pass off an important subject in that light way. Why are the Government not nominating a candidate for Maranoa? It is because they are in secret league with honorable members in the Corner. There is an alliance between the so-called representatives of the primary producers and the representatives of the middlemen.
– I think that whatever else is happening is nothing to the honorable member’s present attempt at straddling.
– I am having regard to a much wider constituency than Maranoa - the constituency of Australia and its wheat-growers. There are comparatively few growers of wheat in the district of Maranoa. The Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) cannot escape from his responsibility by alleging that there is not unanimity amongst the State Governments in regard to the continuance of the Wheat Pool. The large majority of the wheat-growers require it, and, as a matter of sound national policy, the Government should see that they receive the assistance they require in order to have their products profitably marketed. Unless the Government do that they will be departing from the policy which was laid down by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) at Bendigo. In his policy speech, he said, amongst other things -
If the farmers so desire, the Government will discuss with their organizations the questions of guarantees and assistance beyond this year, for in wheat, and all forms of primary production, the Government’s policy is to stimulate and stabilize these essential industries.
The year referred to is 1920-1921. The amendment will give the Government an opportunity of doing something to carry out the policy to stimulate and stabilize the wheat-growing industry.
– That was not all the Prime Minister said on that question.
– No; and it is not the only pledge that he has broken. But that statement was very definite, and it sounded well when the right honorable gentleman was seeking votes. We are now giving the Government an opportunity to carry out their policy. Where do the middlemen stand in regard to the Pool? Is there one middleman in the country who desires a continuance of the Pool? Not one. They are all arrayed behind the Acting Prime Minister, and they would. all say “hear, hear,” to his statement that the Government desire to get rid of “ this never-ending trouble of being a party to the control of these various undertakings.” Honorable members will have an opportunity of saying whether they stand for what the middlemen want, or what will be for the benefit of, not only the primary producers, hut also the whole community. They can indicate their attitude by supporting the amendment I have moved. I submit the amendment at this stage because I think it deals with a matter of sufficient importance to justify a proviso to the passing of this motion for Supply at the present time. I think honorable members should insist, as it’ is within their power to insist,- upon what is now proposed, and, therefore, I give them the opportunity by moving the amendment.
.- We seem to be travelling very fast. I had hoped that the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) would submit his statement to-day, and then afford us an opportunity to see the press reports and give some consideration to the subjects dealt with. We should then have been in a position to. offer some criticism, and, perhaps, congratulate the right honorable gentleman on what he claims to have done for the country’s good. Personally, I should have preferred the Deputy Leader of the Opposition -(Mr. Ryan) to move the adjournment of the debate, “so as to enable us to proceed with other business, and subsequently finish the matter of Supply.
– Surely the honorable member can make up his mind at once?
– I have, and congratulate the honorable member on his new-found zeal on behalf of the farmer
– Is it bringing you “up to the collar” a bit?
– Not in the slightest.
– I suppose that is impossible.
– I can state my position in a very’ few words. Apart altogether from any requests that are being made, I regard the question before us as one- which affects, not only the Commonwealth, but the States, as sovereign States. When the Pool was formed, certain arrangements were made between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Ministers of Agriculture for the four wheat-producing States; and, as can be seen from the preamble of the Victorian Act, it was decided to form a Pool for the protection of the farmers during the war. “Surely, if we are to have a Pool, it must be one in regard to which the State Parliaments, as well as the Commonwealth Parliament, shall have some say?
– I have not suggested that they should not.
– The honorable member knows that the Premier of South Australia has clearly and distinctly stated that he will not be a party to a Pool for this year.
– Should he be permitted to “hold up” the whole of the wheatgrowers of Australia?
– Not at all; it is purely a matter for negotiation. We have had a Pool for many years. I do not say whether the Pool has or has not been a success, but we know that trade has been quite disorganized by the war, and we have been following a course over which the Governments, State and Commonwealth, have had . absolute control. I am giving my own opinion when I submit that it would be very dangerous to immediately cease that control unless we are quite satisfied that we have returned to normal .conditions. When a man is travelling along a road and suddenly finds himself on the edge of a precipice, he does not jump over, but endeavours to see if there is an easy road round; and I think it would.be wise to continue the Pool for this year, so as to give the States ample time -to put their houses in order. Then those who desire Pools may make arrangements accordingly.
– Perhaps the honorable member will admit that the pronouncements of the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) are in an exactly oppositedirection.
– I know .that the Government, or, at least, the Acting Prime Minister has been desirous for freedom of trade, though I am very doubtful about the methods they are adopting. I am speaking absolutely for myself, without any connexion with the Country party, in what I am now saying. Opinions differ in some of the States, and it is very difficult to judge what Pools it would be wise to adopt. Under the circumstances, I strongly urge the Acting Prime Minister to have a Conference with the various State Premiers with a view to the continuation of the Pool for this year, and to make, it clear that any action proposed is for this year, and this year only.
– You desire to do exactly what my amendment says.
– I do not know what the Acting Prime Minister thinks of that amendment.
– What do you think of it?
Mr.GREGORY.- I think it is very close to a motion of want of confidence.
– Even that I would not shirk, in the interests of the primary producers of this country.
– I have already discussed this matter at a Conference with the Acting Prime Minister, and I strongly urge that a step in that direction should be made with a view to uniformity for this year.
– Does the honorable member not think that that is a matter for the Premiers of the States?
– But the matter has been brought up here, and, in my opinion , the Acting Prime Minister would be quite justified in asking for a Conference.
– The Commonwealth Government should use its influence.
– That is what I suggest in my amendment.
– The Premier of Victoria has stated distinctly that he is quite satisfied with the assurance thathas been given from private buyers that they will be quite competent to finance the wheat crops in Australia; but in view of the enormous amount involved, and with a good harvest and reasonable prices in prospect,I do not see how it is possible to accept such an assurance. There must be great danger to be faced ; there is the possibility of a falling market, and buyers will naturally protect themselves by offering very low prices in the early stages of the year, at any rate. The position, so far as the wheat-grower is concerned, is critical, and, therefore, I think such a Conference as I suggest is highly desirable and necessary, with a. view to uniform legislation and administration for this year. Of course, if such a Conference fail to agree, I hone that the promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) will be carried into effect. There is a strong desire in many places for a Cooperative Pool; and the Prime Minister on one occasion - I have not the date - said : -
The Government will welcome any effort on the part of the farmers to organize on cooperative lines, and will be prepared to assist them to thefullest extent of its powers in placing theirproducts on the markets of the world without the intervention of the middleman, thus insuring to the producer the fullest possible return for his labours. We shall be prepared, if the organization of the fruitgrowers and wheat-farmers is sufficiently comprehensive to enable it to be done, to assist them through such duly elected representative bodies as may be appointed to place their products on the foreign markets in such a manner as appears to them most desirable, or make such arrangements as will enable the Government to conduct any negotiations abroad on their behalf for the sale of their products, if so requested. Provided the public interests are adequately protected, the Government will be prepared to render financial assistanceto such a co-operative organization as will enable producers to reap the fullest advantage from the world’s markets.
I should be glad to see in Australia a movement similar to that which has proved so wonderfully successful in Canada. There the farmers have cooperated, and have worked their scheme on much sounder financial lines than have been followed in many cases in Victoria. A large number of co-operative associations have been started in this State, and have done wonderful work for the producers, but those associations, although they received financial assistance from the Government, have failed to create any reserve fund to tide them over bad times. In my opinion, when any assistance of this kind is given, the Government concerned should stipulate that the whole of the profits shall not be returned to the members, but that a proper reserve shall be created.
– The Canadian scheme is not a Government scheme.
– Quite so; but the Victorian. Government has given assistance to fruit-growing, cool storage, and other co-operative associations, and in every instance that has come under my notice all the -profits have been returned to the members, with the result that there have been undueprofits in good years and no reserveto tide over bad years. A request has come from Western Australia for financial assistance in forming a voluntary co-operative Pool. The members of that association ask whether, if they form a Pool , the Federal Government will render that financial assistance which the Prime Minister so distinctly promised, not only in the speech I have read, but in several interviews and replies to deputations, and I trust the Government will honour that promise.
I should now like to- say a few words in reference to the remarks of the Treasurer this afternoon. Time after time balancesheets in regard to the position of the Commonwealth shipping venture have been demanded, and definite promises have been made by both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer . that full and authentic balance-sheets would be submitted to Parliament each year. I submit that we are in exactly the same position as that of the shareholders of a company; indeed, there ought to be a law providing that reports must be presented . to Parliament each year on every trading concern undertaken by the Government.
– I rise to a point of order. There is an amendment before the Chair, and I submit that until that amendment -is disposed of it is not competent for the honorable member to deal with other matters; he must confine his remarks exclusively to the amendment.
– Before you give your ruling, sir, may I say that my desire was to save time by dealing with both the motion and the amendment in the one speech ?
– While it would be well for honorable members to confine their remarks to the amendment, I would point out that under the Standing Orders they are entitled on a Supply motion to discuss any matter.
– We ought to pass a law making it compulsory that the Government shall place in the hands of honorable members, within three or four months after the close of the financial year, balance-sheets of all its trading enterprises. The Treasurer must admit that, again and again, we have been promised that such balance-sheets would be provided. During the last four years I have made insistent requests that balancesheets, relating not only to the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, but all Commonwealth trading concerns, should be presented as soon as possible after the closo of the financial year ; and I hope that the Treasurer will issue instructions that this shall be done. If a loss is shown on the operations of any of our trading enterprises, it is just as well that we should lose no time in dealing with it, and endeavouring to make the position better.
Mr.Fenton. - The Budget-papers presented to the House every year give details of all the Government trading concerns.
– They are merely statements. What I want is a balancesheet in every case.
It is impossible, at such short noticss, to deal generally with the interim financial’ statement made this afternoon by the Treasurer. When the right honorable gentleman stated that he was going to ask for further Supply, I did not intend to indulge in anything like a full criticism of our economic position. I hold, however, that it is impossible for the Treasurer to anticipate receiving during the present financial year anything like the Customs revenue obtained by him last year, when he collected something like £31,800,000, which was almost equal to £6 per head of the population. Such a revenue was abnormal, and although the Government have made preparations to obtain a greater revenue by increasing the Tariff, I am satisfied that our imports this year will be considerably reduced. The purchasing power of the people of Australia will not enable them to import goods to such an extent as to yield the revenue that we obtained from this source last year. There is going to be a very big reduction in Customs revenue. I do not want to be pessimistic, but I am afraid that bad times are ahead of us, and am convinced that drastic changes will have to be made in order that we may get back to the right track. Regarding the income-tax revenue, the Treasurer was hardly justified in his optimism. Even if we obtained in respect of wheat the same export values that we have obtained in respect of wool, it must not be forgotten that the revenue from our wool sales is divided among fewer people than is the revenue derived from our wheat. So far as wool is concerned, the individual profits are much larger. If we had, say, 10,000 wheatgrowers showing a profit of £1,000 each on their year’s operations, the assessment rate in respect of them would be much lower than in the case of a wool-grower who had made a profit of, say, £10,000 for the year.
– Stillj there are more wool-growers than wheat-growers.
– The Treasurer obtained very big income-tax returns from wool-growers because of the higher assessment rates in respect of their increased, individual earnings. I am sure that he will not get from the wheat-growers anything like the revenue by way of income tax that he would receive from the woolgrowers if they had a successful year.
– He will not receive very much this year by way of income tax from the wool-growers.
– He will get practically nothing from them. I would urge the Government to look very closely into their income tax methods. I am not satisfied with the revenue that has been obtained from the war-time profits tax. It is impossible, of course, to discuss that question fully without having examined the balance-sheets of many large corporations trading in Australia, but-
– The war-time profits tax has run out. The Act is no longer in operation.
– That is so; but I have been wondering whether any of the lar”ge corporations doing business here, either directly or through subsidiary organizations, have been allowed so to dispose of their profits as to evade payments of taxation.
– This is the first, time I have heard complaint” that our income tax gatherers are too lenient.
– I am not suggesting that they are. I know they have been anything but lenient in their treatment of men in the outback country. In many instances graziers who, up to the beginning of the war, showed no’ profit whatever, and thereafter could only show book profits in respect of their operations outback, were called upon in respect of those book profits to pay large sums by way of the war-time profits taxation, and had to borrow money to do so. On the other hand, having regard to the enormous profits made by the Sulphide Corporation and other big companies in this country, the smallness of the amount received from the war-time profits tax is astounding. I do not know why the Government have not shown” a keener desire to bring within the scope of the War-time Profits Tax Act many of the big organizations .either trading directly in Australia or carrying on operations by means of subsidiary companies. Many large companies .trading in Austra’ia are off-shoots of parent corporations whose head-quarters are in other countries. These subsidiary companies import or export enormous quantities of goods, amounting in value sometimes to millions of pounds per annum, and still they show no profits. Take, for instance? a company such as Nestle’ s, which is trading in Australia as a subsidiary concern, the head-quarters of the parent company being in the Old Country. It exports the greater portion of its output, and on those goods ought to realize a profit. Under the original Act the Taxation Commissioner was empowered to charge at least 5 per cent, on the output of such companies if he was not satisfied with their returns. That provision, unfortunately, was repealed, but the Commissioner is still vested with powers which should enable him to deal effectively with the large corporations I have in mind, and which I fear have too often escaped taxation, while the unfortunate man in the back country has had to borrow money to pay the taxes levied on him.
I understand that the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) proposes to make a statement in regard to the War Service Homes administration. Is that statement to be made on this Supply motion, or is it to be made separately ?
– On the Supply motion
– The Government undertook that it should ibc made separately, and I call on them to stand by that arrangement. Why should it be mixed up with a discussion on wheat and other things ?
– I said it would be made on Supply.
– The Acting Prime Minister gave his direct word that the discussion on the War Service Homes administration would be taken separately.
– Honorable members opposite can have anything they want ! It is only for them to give notice that they want to run the Government.
– I should prefer the statement to be made on Supply; but I do not want the Government to depart from any promise they may have made to the Opposition. I have no desire to discuss the question at the present time. I propose to wait until the Public Accounts Committee, which is taking evidence on the subject, has presented its report before I commit myself as to any action I may desire to take. I want to have the fullest information that the Public Accounts Committee can give the House on the question. I do not wish to reflect on the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) or on the administration generally; but if statements reported in the press to havebeen made before the Public Accounts Committee are correct, then no action which the Minister could take in regard to certain matters would be too strong, and this House, later, must be satisfied. If certain statements made in evidence before the Committee in Tasmania and New South Wales the other day are correct, then the Crown Law and Criminal Investigation Departments of those States should have been instructed at once to try to get evidence to bring to trial men who had been guilty of any conspiracy or fraud in connexion with the expenditure of Commonwealth moneys for repatriation purposes. No effort should be spared to bring to trial any person who has endeavoured to perpetrate a fraud, especially when we are taxing the people to an enormous extent in order that we may carryout our obligations to our returned men. Until we have the report of the Committee, it is not my intention to commit myself to any course of action with regard to the matter.
– I am sorry that the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) was not more emphatic in dealing with the amendment which has been moved by the Deputy Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Ryan), for the purpose of securing a continuance of the Wheat Pool, but if he votes in accordance with his statements I am hopeful that he will support it. It can be said, without fear of contradiction, that an overwhelming majority of the wheat-growers of Australia are in favour of the continuance of the pooling system. If the Government desire to do that which they think is in the best interests of the primary producers of the Commonwealth, they can have no hesitation in accepting this amendment, since the primary producers desire that the Wheat Pool system shall be continued. If evidence is wanted in substantiation of that statement we have it. The result of the plebiscite taken among the wheat-growers of Victoria showed that there were 13,142 who voted in favour of some form of the pooling system - 86 per cent. of the total of those who voted - as against 2,131, or less than 14 per cent., who voted in opposition to the pooling system.
– And in the face of a press campaign against the pooling principle.
– In the teeth of a campaign conducted by Melbourne newspapers from day to day with the greatest assiduity. I prophesy that when the plebiscite in New South Wales shall have been completed, an equally large majority - indeed, the overwhelming proportion of wheatgrowers in that State - will be found to hold views similar to those of the Victorian farmers. Seeing, therefore, that it is the almost unanimous desire ofwheat producers in the two great wheatgrowing States to have a continuation of the pooling system, it must be apparent to all honorable members that the amendmentunder discussion has been moved at an opportune time.
– Hear, hear! Most opportune for Maranoa.
– I do not see the connexion.
– There is just about the same connexion as in respect of the manifesto issued by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan).
– And a very good one if was. However, the Acting Prime Minister will not have the pleasure of going into the Maranoa district to mate a speech, since his party has no candidate.
– For the reason that they were afraid to put one up.
– True ; and the withdrawal of the Nationalist candidate in favour of the so-called Country party candidate is further proof that these two parties are one and the same. But I am not now dealing with the Maranoa by-election. My subject covers another very important matter of definite and urgent public importance - a matter which concerns not only the wheatgrowers, but the consuming masses of the people. I hold that the continuation of the pooling system will afford greater protection, not only to the growers but to the consumers, than if Australia should revert to what has been described as normal trading conditions. It is evident that there is an organized attempt in this country, on the part of speculators and middlemen, to kill the pooling system. If the system is destroyed, the same will happen in respect of -wheat as has been experienced in the marketing of other primary products. So long as the produce was in the hands of the producers themselves, prices were reasonable, but once the manipulators got hold of the goods, there were overwhelming increases.
– On the last occasion when the honorable member spoke upon the pooling system he complained of what the middlemen had been making.
– And I was quite consistent in so doing. While I may believe in a principle, I am entirely within my rights in condemning bad management. In the course of my speech, .made a fortnight ago, I asked that a Commission should be appointed to inquire into the management and control of the Wheat Pools. It was the matter. of bad management upon which I was concentrating, and I emphasized that I was not attacking the principle, seeing, in fact, that I believed in it. I am still of opinion that there has been gross mismanagement, for which the Federal Government has been largely responsible. I believe that a pooling system, properly controlled and conducted, should have the effect of eliminating middlemen;- but, since the Pools have been in the hands of Governments which depend upon middlemen for support, the pooling principle has been Spoiled by the unhindered operations of these gentry.
– What does the honorable member think of the pooling system as conducted by the New South Wales Government, in respect of which the middleman was cut out?
– It was the conduct of the Pool by the New South Wales Government which convinced me more than anything else that the system can be worked with great advantage to the growers. If the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) will read the last report of the Wheat Board in New South Wales, he will . learn what has been done under a Pool which has been so much better conducted than was the experience under previous Governments. Everybody interested knows that, when the present New South Wales Government took over the* control of .the Pool, the institution had suffered from several years of bad management. The outcome was a crop of difficulties almost unprecedented. But what did the New South Wales Government do? They undertook the whole of the handling at Darling Island; they did the whole of the stevedoring. They cut out the agents at the island. The agents had contracted to do all the handling at %A. per bushel. They eventually came down to i&. ; but the Wheat Board said that it would have none of them, and it undertook the work itself at the rate of one-fifth of Id. per bushel, as a result of which the handling of the wheat at Darling Island was so conducted as to save tha wheat-growers £125,000. Those facts indicate what can be done under a proper pooling system. When speaking the other day on my motion for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the mismanagement of the Wheat Pools, I showed that enormous commissions had been made which should never have been permitted under a proper system of control. The blame attaches to the Federal Government for their bad management.
Reference has been made by the honorable member for Dampier “(Mr. Gregory) to a system in existence in Canada and the United States of America. In these countries, there was a form of Wheat Pool, which was abolished last year. A change was made from the pooling system to the condition of open market.
– Which was a condition of chaos.
– It was. I shall quote opinions of highly qualified men. One of these was directly interested, not only as a grower, but as a member of a Board which was originally in control. He was president of one of the great growers’ organizations in Canada, and he said -
The refusal of the Government to continue the Wheat Board for another year left the farmers at the mercy of chaotic world conditions, and the losses sustained have been colossal, thanks to the utter disregard of the politicians at Ottawa.
Those colossal losses were sustained because of reversion to open market methods in Canada. I shall now quote an expression of opinion from a member of another Wheat Board, which had been in charge of the pooling arrangements in the United States of America. He said -
We have been led to believe that conditions were normal, and further control unnecessary. Capital in plenty was to bo available for all our needs. Buyers would be waiting to absorb all our grain as fast as we could market it. What was the result? Millions of dollars of losses. The buyers had us at their mercy, and operated, hand to mouth, from day to day. They told us plainly they could not risk buying on any other basis. For the first time in the history of the States the banks in the wheat areas suspended payment, as the crops could not be moved off. We arc not to be caught again, and are going back to the Fool under the United States Grain Growers Incorporated.
That was the outcome of experience, both in Canada and the United States of America, of reversion to the open market, to which many people in this country - principally speculators - desire to commit our wheat-growers once more. Action, if taken on proper lines, as it should be in this House, would be of great service to the bulk of the Australian producers, whoin overwhelming numbers have expressed themselves in favour of the continuation of the Pool. We will expect to have the cooperation of those who are sitting in the Corner - the Country party - in carrying this amendment. The Victorian Government has deliberately turned its back on the wheat-growers of the State, and I am convinced that powerful influences have been at work to cause it to take that attitude; but in the Assembly an endeavour is being made to compel it to stand up to its obligations, and the State Labour party is behind that action.
– In a fashion which will not appeal to the Victorian wheat-growers.
– Nothing would appeal to the honorable member that was likely to defeat the party with which he is associated. He cannot contradict my statement that the wheatgrowers have, by an overwhelming majority, expressed their desire for the continuation of the pooling system.
– You can make that statement, but you cannot prove it:
– It was proved by the vote taken in Victoria the other day, when 86 per cent. of the wheatgrowers voted for the continuation of the Pool, and only 14 per cent. against it. In substantiation of my statement that influence by middlemen and speculators has been brought to bear on the Victorian Government, just as it has on this Government, let me read the following speech by Mr. Clarke, the Victorian Minister for Works, who said that he spoke as a director of the National Bank and of Goldsbrough, Mort, and. Company, and who could not therefore have spoken as arepresentative of the wheat-growers. He said -
I do not understand why some of the farmers appear to have been persuaded that they will be better off under a Pool than with Australian and European firms buying.
He could not understand it, because of his connexion with a firm of agents which is associated with other agents who are watching for the pooling system to end, so that they may swoop down on the wheat-growers like so many vultures.
– The firm you have mentioned does not buy wheat.
– It is closely connected with others who do, and speaks from the middleman’s point of view. To continue my quotation, Mr. Clarke’s speech runs -
There is not the slightest doubt that the banks and the large wool andgrain companies will, as in the past, make liberal cash advances against wheat temporarily stored. And as every wheat-grower has had experience of the long delays and the small progress payments under the Pool System, I do not think that pooling has any attractions financially over open market arrangements. I think that many farmers who voted for a Pool never imagined that they would have to accept a Labour Ministry with it during this time of financial difficulty and with the Queensland example fresh in their minds.
He had to drag in party politics by misrepresenting Labour administration, which is the usual practice pursued by those who want to cloud the real issue. I hope that there will not be the same sidetracking attempted here. The proposal should be dealt with on its merits. Members of the Country party have spoken in favour of this amendment, and, if they vote with us as they have spoken, we can compel the Governmentto take action. If the members of that party vote against this amendment it will confirm the widespread feeling that they are, in reality, only a wing of the Nationalist party. The great bulk of the wheat-growers of Australia will judge members by the way they vote on the amendment. This is our opportunity to do our share towards saving from the market manipulators and the speculators that important section which is engaged in one of our chief primary industries.
.- I am sorry that the Acting Prime Minister has not made a statement about this matter. Electioneering promises were made by almost every member of the Ministry to the effect that if the wheatgrowers or other primary producers desired a Pool, the Government would do itsutmost, financiallyand otherwise, to bring about the necessary organization for the handling of their products.
– Who said that?
– The honorable member’s Leader for one, and other Ministers said it. Probably the honorable member said it himself, when speaking to the farmers of his constituency.
– I do not think so.
– I do not know what the honorable member said, but I am led to understand that he made it clear to the farmers in his electorate that he would support another Wheat Pool if they desired it.
– When I make a statement my electors accept it without doubt.
– The honorable member said that the Prime Minister did not make a promise to support the Pool.
– I say that he did not make the statement that you have attributed to him.
– This is the policy speech of the Leader of the Liberal party, as reported in the Age of 30th October, 1919 : -
The Government will, if so desired, give statutory authority to Boards composed of representatives chosen by the various primary industries, e.g., wool, wheat, meat, &c. - and will, where the organization substantially represents the industry, lend such financial aid as may be necessary.
– That is not what you said.
– I said that the Prime Minister has promised financial aid to the farmers if they desired it.
– You said that he would do his utmost to bring about the necessary organization.
– This is what he said -
The Government will, if desired, enter into negotiations with Britain and other countries for the sale of our staple products.It will protect the producer against unfair freights, and guard him against the manipulation of speculators in the local and overseas markets.
That is broad, wide, and big enough to cover everything. Not only has the Government which the honorable member supports pledged itself to create the machinery and promote the finance necessary to deal with wheat in Australia, but ithas promised to protect overseas the interests of our primary producers -
If the farmers so desire, the Government will discuss with their organizations the question of guarantees and assistance beyond 1920-21 ; for in wheat and all forms of primary production the Government’s policy is to stimulate and stabilize these essential industries.
– The statements the honorable member has read are in respect of a promise which has been fulfilled.
– Ministers made certain promises, and the influences which have been applied to theGovernment of Victoria are being applied to this Government. The same insidious pressure is being brought to bear on both to prevent government invasion of a domain which prior to the war belonged to private enterprise. There is an extensive organization whose ramifications extend throughout the civilized world, controlled by firms like Dalgety, Dreyfus, John Darling, and others operating in wheat. Huge sums of money have been made by these firms. Huge sums of money are at stake. Immense fortunes have been made out of the handling of wheat. John Darling died worth millions of pounds, which had been made by buying and selling the product of the farmers, and millions of pounds will continue to be made from the farmers if the pooling system is not continued. The farmers in Victoria have in unambiguous language told the Federal and State Governments that they desire a continuation of the Wheat Pool. The State Government have said in just as unambiguous language that they are not agreeable to the formation of a Pool, and, as a result, a political crisis has occurred. Either the Government will back down and give the farmers a Pool, or they will be put out of office. We hope that exactly the same thing will occur in the ,,_ 1 i .. . —- -……
Federal arena, and that if the Government are not prepared to support the continuance of a Pool honorable members will vote to remove them from office. In Victoria between 60 and 70 per cent, of the farmers have voted in favour of the pooling system. A plebiscite is now being taken of the wheat-growers in New South Wales, and I have not the slightest doubt that as big a percentage, or greater, will vote in favour of a Pool there. In Queensland, so far as one can learn, the farmers generally desire a Pool. In South Australia, notwithstanding the pressure that has been brought to bear, the pooling system, if submitted to a. vote, would bc indorsed by a substantial majority.
– The honorable member appears to know South Australia better than I do.
– The honorable member is not likely to do anything favorable to a policy in which he does not personally believe. He has always been opposed to the Pooh. He is against them because they interfere with private enterprise and the open competition that is so ardently desired by him and the Government. He favours open competition, which leaves the farmers at the mercy ni private enterprise in the handling of their products. Propaganda is now in progress which shows that large sums of money are being spent in the interests of the middlemen. Advertisements are being published in the newspapers, and agents are travelling the country endeavouring to get resolutions adverse to the Pool carried at meetings of farmers. This money is not being spent by the farmers.
– Where is that taking place?
– In New .South Wales; and it has .been taking place in Victoria. Agents have been travelling through these States endeavouring to influence the opinion. of farmers, and advertisements have been inserted in the press with the .same object.
– There is a “Farmers Committee” in Victoria which is composed of middlemen.
– It is called a Farmers’ Committee, but it represents Dalgety & Co., John Darling, Louis Dreyfus, and other poor struggling selectors whose farms are, presumably, in the distant Mallee. Any thinking member representing a country constituency, who doe3 not know of this campaign, cannot have been in his electorate during the last six months. I recently travelled through my electorate, arid I found traces of this propaganda everywhere; but, notwithstanding the money that is being spent by the wheat manipulators, the farmers have sufficient sense to know that the money which is being paid for the publicity campaign does not come from farmers, but from the manipulators. If it i3 possible for John Darling and Co., Dreyfus and Company, Dalgety and Company, and other middlemen to make huge sums of money by handling Australian wheat, it 13 just as competent for the farmers to keep that money in their own pockets by themselves handling their own product. They have done that in New South Wales with a minimum of loss. Up to May of this year they have handled something like £13,000i000 of wheat more economically aid efficiently than it was handled under the previous pooling system or by private enterprise. The Commonwealth Government have airopportunity of carrying out their pledges by introducing ‘a system of co-operation which will benefit the farmers, and establishing the pooling principle, not only for the present seas.cn r but also for future seasons, thus allowingthe producers to conduct their own busi-ness and preventing manipulators andspeculators handling their business for th em. The open market means that the speculators - Dreyfus and Company, Dalgety and Company, Darling and Company, and other* - will form a Pool of their own, and they will fix the price at which wheat shall be bought from the farmers. There will be no such thing as open competition. There was no competition when they were handling the wheat of the farmers previously, and there i& not likely to be any if they are given the opportunity again. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) and others who are opposed to the pooling system know perfectly well that nowadays big business firms do not compete with each other; they combine to fix the price at which the commodity they ar& handling shall be purchased., and if the pooling system is not continued that price will not be nearly as good asthat which was received from the Pools.
.- It is significant that the honorable member for West Sydney never loses an opportunity of precipitating what he fondly hopes may prove to be a crisis. It matters not to him whether the subject under discussion be wheat or finance.
– I haveno fear that there will be a crisis while there are such “jellywobblers “ in the Corner, because they will always vote with the Government if they think it necessary.
– If the honorable member really holds that view, I am surprised that he is so persistent and hopeful in his attempts to create a crisis.
– I hope to do some good for the wheat-growers.
– I shall show the Committee presently what good the honorable member is seeking.
– The question of the continuance of the Wheat Pool is of serious moment to the growers. I know of no subject that has occupied so much of the time of members of the farmers’ organizations, or created so much interest among producers, and I hope that the Acting Prime Minister will, on, behalf of the Government, make a statement before the vote is taken indicating exactly where the Government stand and what they intend to do.
– The amendment does not ask them to do too much.
– I offer no comment upon that observation. As to the merits of the Pool in comparison with those of the open market, in spite of all that is said about the benefits of competition and the millions of pounds that self-styled philanthropists, known otherwise as wheat shippers and wheat handlers and commercial speculators, are alleged to be bringing to the country, the cold fact remains that the Australian wheat harvest in the aggregate is worth a certain sum of money, and the intrusion of middlemen into the handling of the harvest, whilst it may decrease the amount received by the producer for his grain, will certainly not add1d. to the value of the crop. A Pool represents organization in the marketing of our product, and I have always been an advocate of organization among producers.
– Then the honorable member will support the amendment.
– To be quite frank with the honorable member, my attitude towards the amendment will depend entirely upon the statement to be made by the Acting Prime Minister. The State Governments are not unanimous in regard to the continuance of the Pool. But in the main the wheat-growers in every State are in favour of that system. I cannot speak definitely of South Australia, but I believe that a majority of the growers there are of the same opinion, and that what is taken to be opposition on their part is really the noise made by a small minority beating a big drum. The continuance of the Pool is vital to the growers and to the Commonwealth itself The Tariff recently passed by this House taxes every tool of trade that the wheatgrower uses, and even the materials with which he fights disease and pests, including bluestone, sheep dip, rabbit traps, wire netting, and fencing wire. Surely it is not the policy of the Government to tax the primary producers by means of the Tariff, and at the same time place them at the mercy of the middlemen in respect of everything they have to sell ! If that is the policy of the Government, I feel sure that the primary producers, who to-day misguidedly support Ministerial members, will radically change their political convictions. I ask the Acting Prime Minister to declare that even though the majority of the States do not declare definitely for a pooling system, the Commonwealth Government will give every assistance, financially and otherwise, to any individual State, or any number of States, that decide in favour of the continuance of the Pool. I hope that the Commonwealth Government will not wash their hands of this matter, and attempt to throw the onus entirely upon the State Governments. This is a matter whichconcerns the wheat-growers and primary producers generally. The price of primary products is on the down grade in every direc- tion, with, perhaps, the sole exception of wheat; and if the price of wheat drops in the same ratio as that of meat and wool, what is going to become of the finances of the country ?
– It will drop if there is no Pool.
– I do not think for a moment that there is any doubt about that. I firmly believe, and the great majority of wheat-growers believe, that the . end of the pooling system means chaos and a slump in wheat prices. For that and many other reasons the Commonwealth Government ought not to shirk its responsibility. The overwhelming number of wheat-growers desire a Pool, and it is time the Government showed their hand, and stated definitely and clearly where they stand in relation to the future of wheat pooling.
– I rise to respond to that invitation- to that challenge. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) knows where this Government stands in the matter, for he was with the deputation which elicited the statement from both the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who is in London, and afterwards from myself. The statement was that we would entertain the idea of a Pool on the same conditions as last year. Now the ground is changed, but not by the Government; we stand where we stood. It is the others who have changed. The railways and the land are possessed and controlled by the State Governments, and it is the immediate concern of those Governments to see to the welfare of the farmer; we can do nothing in the matter. Last year the State Governments purchased the wheat;we cannot do that, because we have not the constitutional power. The State Governments own the railways, and, therefore, determine the conditions of transport of all the wheat to the markets of Australia and of the world. We cannot touch the railways; we have nothing to do with them. The States to-day, if they were to exercise their powers, could practically paralyze any arrangement we made directly with the growers. That is the reason it is necessary, if the scheme is to be a success, that the State Governments should be in it, and that the whole resources of the States should be brought to bear.
– You mean that it should be an arrangement between the Federation and the. States?
– I mean it should be an arrangement similar to the last one; I cannot see how a Pool is to work successfully under any other circumstances. This Government is now doing its very utmost for people who have a habit of turning round when they have got what they desire, and “hitting” the Govern ment “ in -the eye” There is nofairness about such anattitude.
– Who does that?
– If there be any Government in Australia that has done its duty by the farmer it is the present” Government. I say, further, that if any Government has not kept its promise to the farmer it is the Government of New South Wales, with whom the honorable member (Mr. Ryan) is closely associated.
– Can you not also drag in Queensland ?
– Queensland is in precisely the same position.
– Surely the right honorable gentleman is not blaming me for the actions of the Government of New South Wales?
– This is a “ side step “ on the part of the honorable member, and if he can get simpletons enough in the House to help him to “ roll us over,” he is all right. My only object at the moment is to remind the House of what they may expect from the people whom the honorable member supports. I have before me one of the declarations made by my honorable friends opposite regarding Pools. I refer to the motion of censure submitted by the Leader of the party opposite (Mr. Tudor) on the ground that this Government had failed to make provision for the payment of 5s. per bushel cash at railway sidings for the season’s wheat.
– It brought the Government “up to the collar “ !
– May I suggest that the honorable member has much more influence with the New South Wales Government in these matters than I have.
– I can assure you that that is not so.
– The honorable member has more such influence than any member of the farmers’ party. May I suggest that he make inquiries in New South Wales as to why the Government of that State have not given the farmers 2s. 6d. a bushel, as promised? That promise is now six months overdue, though the Commonwealth Government have met their obligations, and, in addition, have paid1s. 3d. of the 2s. 6d. due by the New South Wales Government.
– Because the source from which the Federal Government got the money was not open to the New South Wales Government. The banks gave the money to the Commonwealth Government, but would not give it to the State Government.
– Then the honorable member admits that, under our present system, a Nationalist Government had better be in power when assistance for the farmer is needed ? The honorable member is telling the farmers of the Hume that if this Government is put out in favour of another, the latter will be able to give no assistance to the farmers.
– I hope we shall be independent of the private banks.
– I repeat that this Government have discharged every obligation we entered into. We have had statements made here as to what was promised at the last election, but I say that every promise then made has been carried out in a large and generous manner. Not only have we carried out our own obligations, but, as I say, we have met 50 per cent. of the obligations solemnly entered into by the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland. The Treasurer of Queensland went one better than New South Wales, and promised 3s.
– Did the Treasurer of Queensland not carry out that promise ?
– No, sir.
– Yes, he did.
– Not one penny was paid.
– Did the farmers not get 8s.?
– They have been paid 6s. 3d. up to date, but that has been paid by the Commonwealth Government.
– Is the balance not quite safe ?
– I hope so.
– Where did the Federal Government get the money from ? They grabbed the proceeds of the sales of wheat.
– The credit of the Government was good enough to get the money. We are told by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), on the other hand, that the credit of the Government of New South Wales was not good enough to get a “bean”; and, therefore, it follows that the farmer had better stick to the people with credit, than change over to others, who, according to what we are told, have no credit at all.
– This is a poor attempt to “ side-track “ the whole thing !
– The honorable member ought not to get angry. However, let me return to what I was saying about the motion of censure that was submitted in October last. This is a case of “ Codlin’s your friend, not Short “ ; and I have no doubt that what I am about to read will be very useful at Maranoa at the end of this month.
– Do not be concerned about Maranoa !
– I suggest that the honorable member when he sends the pamphlet containing his speech to Maranoa, should also send a few facts with it.
– Send your speech with it?
– And if the honorable member does not mind, I will go halves in the expense.
– Then you are against our candidate ?
SirJOSEPH COOK.- Against your candidate? I should think so!
– There you are - there is the coalition! Then, it is only sham fighting between Mr. Hunter and you in Maranoa ?
– We have all our preferences - we cannot help them. I wish the farmers of the country, to whom this appeal is being made perfervidly by the honorable member, amongst others, to know really what kind of Pool it is they are invited to enter. We were told in plain language that at a meeting of the Federal executiveof the Labour party in October last a series of resolutions had been carried, including-
That the price of wheat for local consumption be based upon the cost of production, the cost of production to be ascertained upon inquiry, which shall provide-
That means that every farmer must keep a set of books, and that those books are to be investigated by the Labour Government. Will the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) tell us how his cost of production is to be ascertained by an outsider?
– The average cost of production should be taken.
– That is not proposed in what Iam reading. How would the honorable member’s cost of production be revealed to the Labour executive unless the latter investigated his accounts?
– Will you read the part where it says that the farmer has to keep books?
– I will read something further, and it is to this ef£ect-
– I rise to a point of order. Is the Acting Prime Minister in order in quoting from Hansard of this session ?
– Wrong again! I am not quoting Hansard of this session, but from a debate on the 21st October, 1920.
– That was in this session.
– As a matter of fact, I am not quoting from Hansard at all, but from a statement issued by the federal executive of the Labour party.
– I rise to order. My point is that this statement from the executive of the Labour party is taken from a speech made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), as reported in Hansard.
– Then I shall dispense with it. The Federal executive of the Labour party carried this resolution -
That the price of wheat for local consumption be based upon the cost of production -the cost of production to be ascertained upon inquiry - which shall provide for trade union wages and conditions of all labour, including the labour of the farmer’s family- employed in producing the crop, plus a reasonable profit.
That is to say, according to the dictum laid down by honorable members of the Labour party, in the Pool that they are inviting the Country party to enter with them, they are going to include in the cost of production on the farm trade union wages for every man, his wife, and family, and everybody who does anything upon the farm.
– Whose wife?
– The wife of every one working on the farm. When this statement was read an interjection was made to the Leader of the Opposi- tion (Mr. Tudor), and he replied -
If an industry cannot pay fair wages and support proper conditions it should not exist.
That is to say, if growing wheat would not pay trade union wages to the farmer, his wife, and his family it should not exist.
– Wrong again. No such statement was made.
SirJOSEPH COOK.-“ No-such statement was made” says my honorable friend, although I am quoting a statement made by the Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Tudor) in this House. This, therefore, is the kind of Pool that the Labour party want. They want a Pool which makes wheat-growing impossible to begin with, and they want a Pool which, according to the statement of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) has no credit. If that is the kind of Pool the farmer is invited to enter I can only say that he had better beware. I should not take him to be such a simpleton. He had better think hard, particularly regarding the 6s. 3d. per bushel he has received, and where it has come from, and think hard also of the fulsome promises - not one of which has been fulfilled - made by honorable members opposite to the farmers, many of whom gave their votes to them on the occasion of the last -election. If there be in the electorate of Maranoa any farmers, they, too, had better think hard on this very subject before committing themselves to a party with no credit and no money, and who will, if returned to power, propose conditions which would make the farmers’ industry impossible.
– Will the right honorable gentleman please come to the amendment ?
– That is the very heart and purpose of the amendment. It provides for the addition of the following words : -
Provided that the Commonwealth Government shall take steps to insure the continuance of the Wheat Pool, and immediately enter into negotiation with the respective State Governments in order to give effect to this principle.
I would suggest a slight alteration of the amendment by the insertion of one word, so that it would read -
Provided that the “ present “ Commonwealth Government shall take steps to insure the continuance of the Wheat Pool, and immediately enter into negotiation with the respective State Governments in order to give effect to this principle.
Is that what theDeputy Leader of the Opposition suggests?
– I do not care what Government takes the action, as long as it is taken.
– The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) challenged me as to the attitude of the Government regarding this Pool.
– I asked the righthonorable gentleman to make a statement regarding it. If he chooses to describe my request as a challenge, well and good.
– It certainly was a challenge, delivered in that tone of voice which the honorable member often adopts when speaking of the Government. It suggests a “ bail up “ sort of attitude.
-We shall attempt to “bail up “ the right honorable member on this question.
– If the honorable member feels disposed to bail me up at any moment, he is welcome to do so. I am trying to do my job - to do my duty bythis country.
– The right honorable gentleman is trying to hold his job.
– I am trying to hold my job in order to prevent the honorable member from attempting to do the work attaching to it, and making a botch of it. I believe that if I were Leader of the Opposition I could do his job quite as well as he does. When I hear him going on as he sometimes does; it awakens in my heart echoes of the olden times, and I feel that I should like to show him how to do a little as Leader of the Opposition. I want only to say that I have just about as much as I can do at the moment, and a little more than any one man should be asked to do; but of that I do not complain.
Our attitude in regard to the Wheat Pool was made quite clear by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and also made clear by me to a deputation of wheat farmers which interviewed me in my room a little while ago. I told that deputation that we would prefer that the farmers should manage this business for themselves if they were able to do so ; and I say again that, although these Pools appear to the outsider to be very simple, they involve infinite labour and anxiety on the part of the Government that has to finance and look after them. They also involve the answering of tricky questions such as some honorable members of the Opposition put in this House every day. That is the trouble and labour to which I was referring in the remarks that have been quoted this afternoon. Any Government would avoid that kind of thing if it were able to do so.
– And the Government would slumber if it were allowed to doso.
– The honorable gentleman, I should say, is a much better slumberer than I am. At any rate, if one may judge from his appearance, he, unlike Cassius, “ sleeps o’ nights.”
– Because of my easy conscience.
– A conscience trained, I suppose, according to the honorable member’s own standards. But I had better get back to the question of the Wheat Pool. On the occasion of the deputation to which I have just referred, the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) handed me a list of the three questions on which it was proposed to take a referendum; and, having read the paper, I said, according to the official report, that I thought the questions focussed the issues pretty clearly. Continuing, I said -
I suggest to you very strongly the desirability of addressing yourselves to the question of financing yourselves. It is up to you to make an effort to do it, and come to the Government if you cannot. Aim, if possible,at doing it yourselves.
The report continues -
– Would you agree to anAct to make it compulsory?
– There is the question of the States to consider. Even if we had thepower, I question the advisability of taking arbitrary action in the teeth of the States. It would be very undesirable. You would get the State Governments up against you in this matter. I suggest you do nothing further than take your ballot and at the same time consider very seriously the question of financing your own Pool in your own way. If you cannot do it, then come back.
– In taking this ballot, a lotof propaganda work has to be carried out. It would help us if the Commonwealth Government will say that it can guarantee us on the Prime Minister’s conditions.
– The Prime Minister’s conditions hold. I have already made it quite clear that whoever is a moneylender willhave to exercise some control. The further you can keep the Government out, thebetter for the Pool, the public, and the Government. I would prefer to leave the matter of compulsion until later on. I do not want to give you any lever for getting unwilling people into the Pool. Get an expression of opinion from the growers and then come back.
Continuing, Sir Joseph Cook told, Mr. Stewart that it was the policy of the Government to assist co-operative enterprises, but he thought that at present it was up to them, and not to the Government, to address themselves to their own clientele, and establish some relations with the States.
– We propose to use the present machinery. If the growers’ Pool were established, we would take over the State Commissions and the staff of the Central Wheat Board, also the present agents.
– My attitude is- Go and look after your own business; if you cannot, come back and see us.
– We are satisfied with the replies you have given us, and we will now go straight to work. After the ballot has been taken, we will see you again.
That was my attitude then, and it is my attitude to-day. I have no more to say. I am . awaiting the results of the efforts which this deputation, representing all the States, undertook to put forth. I have not yet been apprised of the results of those efforts, but my statement holds good, that when I am apprised of them I will consider the matter further with the farmers whose wheat is in question.
– The words which have fallen from the lips of the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) mean nothing, and those who are to-day engaged in farming will find poor comfort in his very unsatisfactory statement as to the future marketing of their wheat and the attitude of the Government. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) pointed out what befell Canada with a so-called open market. It is an open market only so far as buyers are concerned, leaving the farmer at the mercy of speculating middlemen, who are prepared to pay only as much as they think fit and to buy only in quantities which will lead the farmer to believe that his commodity is unmarketable, and therefore worthless. - The Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) has evinced much, concern about the Maranoa by-election. I note, however, that his party is not sufficiently concerned to run a direct candidate. It should be quite sufficient for the electors of Maranoa to perceive the relationship between the Country party and the Government, when the latter refrains from nominating an avowed candidate. It is ‘obvious that if the farmers’ candidate is returned he will keep to the secret compact, namely, to support the Government, in return for the immunity granted in the present campaign.
Reverting to the wheat situation, I would remind the Acting Prime Minister that practically the whole of the wheatgrowing electorates of New South Wales are represented by honorable members on this side of the House. It is our duty to conserve the interests of New South Wales farmers as well as those of the other States. The whole trouble with respect to the departure from the pooling system may be said to have arisen because the Premier of South Australia did not wish to be bothered further with Wheat Pools, and the Government seized on this as an excuse for itself to also refuse to assist. However, I deny the right’ of the Premier of South Australia to injure the interests of growers iri the two great wheat-producing States, and to place the farmers of New South Wales and Victoria once more at the mercy of the middlemen. Has the Acting Prime Minister forgotten, that his leader, the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), pledged the Government in his Bendigo speech that, if it was represented that the great body of primary producers expressed themselves in favour of the pooling system, the whole of the resources of the Commonwealth would be placed at their disposal in continuing that system ? No mention was made of the desertion and betrayal of the great bulk of the farmers of Australia merely because the ‘Premier of South Australia might not want to continue Wheat Pools. lt should not be overlooked, while remembering that point, that the Premier of Victoria is in trouble to-day because he is out of step with Victorian farmers. There is considerable likelihood, indeed, of his being turned out of office because his Government holds aloof from the formation of a Wheat Pool in this State, despite the fact that the great majority of Victorian farmers have emphatically demonstrated their preference, for the pooling system. And I am equally sure that the great majority of South Australian farmers, if given an opportunity to express themselves by means of a vote, would also demonstrate their desire for the continuation of the pooling system. It is not right that the farmers of Victoria and New South Wales should be deserted by the Commonwealth Government simply because South Australia possesses for the time being a Tory Government which prefers to stand in with the middlemen. As for the remarks of the Acting .Prime Minister to the effect that the Labour Government in
New South Wales has not honoured its pledge, is it not a fact that the Commonwealth authorities themselves have had to defer certain pledged payments? What has been the experience with regard to their promises to cash certain war gratuity bonds? The New South Wales Labour Government gave a guarantee over and above the Federal guarantee for the purpose of stimulating production, and the effects of that guarantee have been reflected in the greatly increased number of wheat-growers in that State. Whereas under the late Nationalist Administration the number of growers in New South Wales fell from about 20,000 to 16,000, there was an increase last year to 22,000, due solely to the practical encouragement given the New South Wales Labour Ministry. Listening to the arguments of the Acting Prime Minister, one would imagine that the Commonwealth Government had found the whole of the money for- the pooling system hitherto out of its own financial resources. The fact is, however, that the Government used all the money which came in from actual wheat sales in order to make its payments. The Commonwealth Government had first call, and it utilized all the money in making payments out of the sales of wheat. At the same time, by its operations in the financial market, it created such stringency that it became impossible for New South Wales to make its payments within the period stipulated. I have toured many parts of New South Wales, and I have noted that the farmers, in every instance, when the. reasonable explanation of the State Minister for Agriculture has been offered, have shown themselves thoroughly satisfied. As for the situation in this State, the fact cannot be gainsaid that the Nationalist Premier of Victoria is out df step with Victorian wheat-growers.
– Indeed, he is distinctly in step with the middlemen.
– Of course!
– And it will not be denied that the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) is also in step with the middlemen.
– Hear, hear ! I am their bond slave.
– This is not a party,matter. It is too big for that. It will be a calamity if the producers are thrown upon the mercy of men who say to-day that they could finance the buying of all the wheat in Australia if only open market conditions were reverted to. If a State Government, with all its resources, cannot finance a Wheat Pool, no individual section of wheat buyers in any one State can hope to raise sufficient money to purchase the wheat produced in that State - that is unless they secure the produce at prices very much lower than the world’s value. Money cannot be obtained to-day from financial institutions to stock holdings, despite that it is an obviously suicidal policy to refuse assistance in that direction. Side by side with this unhappy fact there is the unsympathetic attitude of the Federal Government, which refuses to use the resources of the country to fulfil the pledge of the Prime Minister. Would the farmers of Australia have voted for the Government candidates if they had known that the Government would not keep faith with the promises given at Bendigo? I remind the Acting Prime Minister that the Commonwealth Government did not, in New South Wales, carry out its pledge to pay cash, lb paid only half in cash and half in paper, deferring payment in the same way that the State Labour Government has done. The State Government had to defer payments, but it has not the resources of the Commonwealth.
– It has not the resources, and it has not the credit of the Commonwealth. A Labour Ministry has not the credit of the Commonwealth !
– Is it not a ‘ fact that the right honorable gentleman was unable to raise a loan on the London market? This National Government, notwithstanding all its resources, . was refused money.
– I have got all the money I have? asked for on the London market.
– I remember the threats that were used by the right honorable gentleman to the financiers of Australia. He put a revolver to their beads, adopting a stand and deliver attitude which, had it -been adopted by a Labour Government, would .have been interpreted as a threat of confiscation. He said to them, “If you do not fork ‘out, I shall make you.” I speak of the State Governments generally when I say that, ‘ Labour or Nationalist, they have not the financial resources of the Commonwealth.
Western Australia has a deficit every year, and it will not be long before that State is in a very serious financial position. What we ask is that the resources of theCommonwealth shall be placed at the disposal of the wheat-growers of Australia, so that they may not be pillaged by speculating middlemen. Surely this is. a reasonable request to make to a Government whose Ministers have said that they will do every thing in their power to assist the primary producers. This is the time to act so that negotiations may be commenced for the continuation of the pooling system. In the past there have been complaints against the administration of Pools, though not against pooling asa principle; but in New South Wales this year, by appointing to the State Wheat Board representatives of the growers, the employees, and the Government, operations have been carried on without friction, andthere has been a large saving in handling and an increase of expedition in loading. On two vessels alone which were able to get away ahead of their time the State Wheat Board made over £2,000. With similar administration in the future, there must be an enormous saving in the handling of wheat on the pooling system.
– Are the central terminal silos in Sydney finished yet?
– No. The bulk of the wheat is handled at Darling Harbor. It is hoped that the silos may be in full working order next season, when there will be greater expedition in loading. We ask the right honorable gentleman to try to induce the Nationalist Government of South Australia and the Nationalist Government of Victoria, should it survive the present crisis, to support the pooling system. South Australia has only a small number of wheatgrowers, and should not be allowed to oppose the desires of the wheat-growers of Victoria and New South Wales.
– If Mr. Prendergast comes into power in Victoria you will have the three big States under the domination of yourexecutive. What more do you want?
– You have said that you will not assist until the States are unanimous in regard to pooling, so that, according to the Acting Prime Minister, while South Australia stands out there cannot be a Pool.
– The resources of the Commonwealth must be made available, and that can be done only with the consent of the Commonwealth Government.
– I think you are right as to two of the States.
– In my opinion, the Premier of South Australia is out of sympathy with the wheat-growers in his State in this matter. If a vote were taken of all the wheat-growers in Australia, the wheatgrowers of South- Australia would be in a hopeless minority, supposing they all voted against pooling, though, as a matter of fact, most of them are in favour of it. There is also a majority in favour of pooling in Victoria, and 95 per cent. of the growers of New South Wales favour it. Ido not know why State Premiers who are out of step with the farmers should be allowed to place them at the mercy of speculators.
– The Premier of South Australia has just swept the country.
– He did not announce his opinions about the Wheat Pool until the elections were over.
– Yes; he made a verybold statement on the subject.
– The continuation of the pooling system was not an issue of the election. There were issues drawn in which should not be introduced into politics. We ask the Acting Prime Minister to take a broad, national view of this matter. Although his electors are mostly public servants, and are not interested in primary production, we ask him to recognise that the wheat-growers of Australia strongly favour the continuation of the pooling system, on which he has been throwing cold water.
– You have not said a word about the price of wheat, or about the tradeunion conditions under which it is to be produced. Are you afraid of doing so ?
– The conditions under which wheat is grown have no bearing on the question : Shall there be a continuation of the pooling system? Is the Acting Prime Minister against the farmer and his family receiving a fair deal ?
– I am not. I am in favour ofhim getting the full produce of his labour.
– Then, on that matter we are in accord.
– No. You say that the farmer shall get only the cost of his production, plus a reasonable profit, which you would fix for him.
– And you say that the speculating middleman shall be allowed to bleed him.
– No. I am in favour of the farmer getting the world’s parity. Are you?
– The world’s parity is not enough sometimes.
– The term is a nebulous one, and means nothing.
– The giving of world parity would mean starvation to the farmer sometimes.
– That is my objection to it; and more often than not he would get less than the cost of production if he got the world’s parity for his wheat.
– In such a case, would you give him more?
– Yes. If it cost 6s. a bushel to produce wheat in Australia, the consumer here should pay the price of “ cost of production,” even if the world’s parity were less.
– That is to say, you would make the consumers in our cities pay 2s. a bushel more for the wheat they use than the farmers could get for it abroad. Good for you!
– The farmer should be paid a fair and reasonable price for his wheat, and should not be sweated to provide cheap goods for any one, any more than is any other section of the community. The more wheat we can export, after satisfying home requirements, the better. The growers have received more under the pooling system than under the open-market system; but the right honorable gentleman wishes to revert to the open-market system, because it enables his middlemen friends to make more money. He and his supporters are desirous of re-establishing the old system, so that their friends, the speculating middlemen, may reap a rich harvest at the expense of the wheat-grower, who must take what is offered to him. The pooling system makes the wheat-growers independent of the middlemen; and, therefore, I want the Government to assist in the formation of a Pool for the coming season.
– I have followed the debate with interest, and have been much impressed by one or two characteristic speeches. Much of the argument has reminded me of the invitation of the spider to the fly - “Will you walk into my parlour?” It is a remarkable coincidence that the amendment should have been moved while the question with which it deals is being debated in another place a few hundred yards away.
– With a little more anxiety there.
– Possibly. There seems to have been an attempt made here to “ sool.” them on. I repeat what I said a few weeks ago, that it. is not the function of this National Parliament to undertake this work for the farmers.
– The Commonwealth Government initiated the Pools.
– The honorable member is wrong. The Wheat Pool was initiated by the South Australian House of Assembly. From the constitutional point of view, it is not the function of the Commonwealth Parliament to undertake this responsibility of the individual States, because this Parliament has not, under the Constitution, complete power over trade and commerce, whereas the State Parliaments have. This Parliament properly stepped into thisbusiness inthe country’s interest at a time of national crisis, but we could only co-operate with the State Governments, and it was necessary for every State Parliament to pass an Act to enable the Commonwealth to do this work. That national crisis has passed. A goodmany of the trading powers that were exercised by this Parliament during the crisis were exercised under a war-time authority, and when most of the war-time powers ceased to exist, or were repealed, a sufficient power was left and incorporated in the general law for the cleaning up of these trading concerns. But that power could operate only in regard to transport and markets; the real business of the Wheat Pools is the concern, not of the National Parliament, but of the State Parliaments. We have heard a good deal about the attitude of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) as expressed in his policy speech at Bendigo and subsequently. All that the Prime Minister said at Bendigo was that, if the necessity continued, and the Premiers of the wheat-growing States requested him to carry on the Pool, he would not shirk his responsibilities.
– There are too many “ ifs “ in that statement.
– And there is too much of politics in the honorable member’s amendment; that is patent to everybody. It is not the duty of this Parliament to interfere with work that properly belongs to the State Parliaments.
– But this Parliament has been doing that all along.
– It should not do it any longer. The honorable member is urging that this Parliament should do a work that is unconstitutional and irregular. A good deal has been said about the farmers being overwhelminglyin favour of the continuance of the Pool.
– That is so.
-I am not sure that it is, but assuming, for the sake of argument, that a considerable proportion of them would like the Pool to be continued, at all events for another year, and some of them for an indefinite period, would they like such a Pool as is being suggested in a building a few hundred yards distant from this Parliament House ?
– Better that than none.
– I am assuming, for the sake of argument, that a big proportion of the farmers do desire a Pool established, but I say that they do not want a Pool in which the consumers would be associated with the wheatgrowers in the management.
– Yes; we are prepared for that.
– Who are “ we”? From my long experience I can only say that a farmer who desires a Pool of that kind ought to go to a doctor and get his head examined. Such a Pool is just what the farmer dreads, and will continue to dread. I know that there are a few farmers whose minds have been nourished with the milk of the Labour party, and who would accept such a Pool, but all others would fight shy of it.
The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) referred to my past attitude in regard to the Wheat Pool. My attitude has been very well known by the farmers in South Australia and a good many in other States. I believed in it because it was indispensable at the time. I was supporting the Central Wheat Board and its administration when a number of honorable members who are in this chamber to-day were attacking it every day in the week and every hour in the day, and were making representations that were as far from the truth as darkness is from light.
– To whom is the honorable member referring?
– I am referring to the number of men who have reversed their attitude, and who to-day declare that a Pool is all-important. I was a defender of the Pool then, as I am still, so far as administration by the Central Board was concerned. The managers of the other Pools can defend themselves ; I cannot, and I say that in respect of more States than one. I advise those whohave not had an opportunity of satisfying their minds from every point of view to wait until some of the Pools are cleaned up, and the last dividend is made known. Perhaps there will then be not so much feeling in favour of pooling.
– Has the honorable member any inside information ?
– None whatever, and if I had, I would not use it. Because I am a member of this House I have not, since the inception of the Pools, traded in wheat scrip, butI think I am as much interested in Wheat Pools as is any other honorable member in the House. The honorable member for Darling said that the wheat could be handled more efficiently by the farmers themselves than by the wheat merchants. That is news to me. I know that some of the costs incurred by one State Board in handling wheat for five years were exceedingly high, because the Australian Workers Union were controlling the business and holding up the ships. Nobody knows that better than the honorable member for Darling.
– The honorable member knows that that statement is wrong.
– I know that it is true, and so does the honorable member for Gwydir.
– The report of the Wheat Board in New South Wales declares that the Australian Workers Union kept its contract honorably and carried it out to the letter.
– Then I wonder what dishonorable conduct would be, because I consider that in South Australia, notwithstanding that the Australian Workers Union held up the business, the Pool was administered much cheaper than in New South Wales. The old wheat merchants have been referred to as “ vultures.” That sort of talk is popular with the “ unthinking mob.”
– Whom does the honorable member call the “ unthinking mob “ ?
– That is a reflection on the wheat-growers.
– Do not trouble about the wheat-growers. I know a little about them, and they can take care of themselves.
– To whom did the honorable member refer as the “ unthinking mob”?
– I shall not give the honorable member superfluous information. He knows to whom I refer. If he desires me to tell him something he does not know, I shall do so. We have been told that when wheat followed the old channels of trade the merchants fleeced the growers. Because John Darling died worth £1,750,000, he is said to have fleeced the wheat-growers. Although a lot of his wealth was won from wheat dealing, he made the biggest fortune ever made out of wheat on the smallest margin of profit at which wheat was ever handled. His success was due to his enormous turnover, and to the fact that he was always leading the market.
– He “squeezed’ a few of the settlers on the west coast.
– And he kept many men on the west coast. I know a good deal more about that part of South Australia than does the honorable member. The late Mr. Darling made most of his wealth out of charters. It was the efficiency that characterized the dealings of the big wheat-buying firms that enabled them to serve the farmers well without fleecing them. When the middlemen handled the farmers’ wheat, they employed one man, where, ever since, three have been employed.
– That is not the case in New South Wales.
– What is the use of the honorable member talking about New South Wales, as if honorable members did not know what took place there?
– Ask the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) as to Victoria. The statement is true neither of Victoria nor New South Wales.
– I say that if the wheat merchants received onehalf the losses through wasteful and inefficient management of the various Pools in the States, they would all be millionaires, and they would not ask for any more profit.
– You are wrong.
– I am not.
– You are making only a general statement; give us the facts, and tell us where they took place.
– I am giving you the facts - the facts of experience. If the honorable member does not know those facts, I do, and so do the farmers. The history of the scrip shows the facts.
– The honorable member is speaking of the management, but that does not affect the principle. Ask the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill).
-Does the honorable member for Echuca desire the Pool to be continued for two or three years, or in perpetuity, and be run by the farmers themselves?
– Then I do not. If there is any business inthe world that is difficult, intricate, and delicate to handle, it is the wheat business; and men who are not merely the experts of a lifetime, but who have had the blood of business in them, as inherited from generations past-
– And such men can be got.
– God help those who have to grow wheat, and then be at the mercy of those who do not know the business of marketing it !
– Does the honorable member say that the farmers are too incompetent to manage theirown business ?
– The marketing of wheat for the world is not the farmers’ business, but the business of experts.
-You are saying that marketing is the business of the middleman.
– No, of experts. Is not the honorable member himself a middleman, who takes as big a fee on his brief as he can get? In the interests of the farmers it is better that the handling of the wheat should he in the hands of experts who know the world’s markets. I have made my attitude on this question known in this House, throughoutSouth Australia, and in my own constituency, and my desire is to get back to the old trading channels as more profitable to the grower.
– The honorable member’s idea is obsolete.
– The honorablemember shows that he is not fit to manage the wheatbusiness. I wish to get back to the old channels; but I said I would not oppose the great body of the farmers, who should decide the matter for themselves.
– And so they have.
– The honorable member is wrong again. Three questions have been put to the farmers to vote on, and when they have signified their desire for a Pool they wish to know what kind of people are to have the management of it. If theVictorian farmers accept the present proposals, they are bigger stupids than I take them. for.
– That is a great reflection on the farmers.
– I will say that eight-tenths of them “know their way about” as well as any farmers in theworld, and I do not think they will go into a Pool that means the socializing of industry through and through; if they do take the fatal step, they are not the farmers I have been accustomed to all my life. It would appear, however, that those who call themselves the farmers’ representatives are going to lead the farmers into the spider’s web, which, so far as labour conditions go, means the beginning of the socializing of all industries.
– That is not what the honorable member said atWallaroo.
– But I will say the same at Wallaroo and other places. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ryan) is, personally and privately, a decentsort of man, but in submitting this amendment I do not think he is quite “ playing the game.”
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
.- It is with a great deal of pleasure that I rise to support the amendment which has been moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ryan). If I understand it aright, its object is to provide that the Government shall be granted supply only upon the condition that it makes a move to bring about a Wheat Pool for the present year. I support that proposition with pleasure, first of all because in doing so I am carrying out one of my preelection pledges. When on the hustings I made the pledge that I would do all I could to secure the continuance of the pooling system in regard to wheat. It is a pleasure, in the second place, to support the amendment, because I believe the continuance of the wheat-pooling system is in the interests of the farmers themselves. Having regard to the experience gained of the system, and the price paid for that experience, it would be a pity to discontinue it.No one will say that it has been throughout satisfactory in every respect, but most honorable members will admit that many of - shall I say - the abuses, have been removed, and that as the years have gone by those in charge of it have benefited by their experience, with the result that the last Pool has been the most successful of them all. It would be regrettable if, just as everything connected with the system seems to be working well, we were to throw it over in the interests of middlemen and those who speculate and deal in wheat.
Another reason why I think it would be a pity to discontinue the Wheat Pool is that I fear that in the not far distant future there will be a glut in wheat. Some may say that that is hardly likely, but I invite them to remember that during the last few years the price of wheat has been considerably above the average, and that in such circumstances there is always a tendency to increase the area put under cultivation. And so I fear the possibility of a glut in the not far distant future, and my experience teaches me that the worst time of all for any man or body of men to be thrown on the mercy of middlemen is during a period of glut. It is the time of harvest for the middleman, and I am sorry that there seems to -be a move which is receiving the support of not only this Government, but National ‘ Governments throughout the States, to throw the wheat producers of this continent upon the mercy of the middlemen. My fourth reason for supporting the amendment is that it seems to be the desire of the majority of the farmers of Australia that there should be a continuance of some form of pooling. The question has been settled in Victoria by the recent plebiscite, in which over 13,000, or more than 86 per cent, of those who recorded their votes, voted for the continuance of a pool. Honorable members of my party who represent New South Wales constituencies assure me that when the result of the plebiscite taken there is made known, it will be found that an overwhelming majority of the farmers of that State are also in favour of continuance!. During the debate this afternoon there seems to have been a difference of opinion as to what the farmers in South Australia desire. That diversity . of opinion reflects the position in the State itself. In moving among the farmers in my electorate I have found that they are fairly evenly divided cm this question. The small farmer - the man who is making a start. - in the majority .of instances favours a pooling system, while the farmer who is well established is inclined in many cases to favour a reversion to pre-war conditions. There is a reason for this. The small farmer feels that under the present pooling system all are placed on the one footing, whereas under the old system of marketing the small man is forced to realize. He is .compelled to sell early in the season, when *the market is low, .in order that he may meet his obligations, whereas the wellestablished farmer often has barns in which he can store his wheat, and can afford to wait until the middlemen, having obtained possession of the bulk of the season’s crop, start to raise prices and thus to make their big profits. The farmer who. is in sound financial circumstances can afford to wait, and so gain the advantage that many of the middlemen secure, but the small farmer who has had to realize early, in the season is -.penalized.
It has been inferred during the debate that the result of the recent South Austraiian State elections is an indication that the farmers of that State are against the continuance of the Wheat Pool. I deny that. ‘ I am not going to say, as some have said, that the Premier of South Australia (Mr. Barwell) did not mention that his Government, if returned to power, would discontinue the present pooling system. As a matter of fact he did. He made it quite clear that if his Government were returned to power it would discontinue the present pooling system.
– He did not say when.
– No ; but *it was practically taken for granted that he would discontinue it during the present season. Although the question of the continuance of the Wheat Pool was not one of the main issues of the election, it was mentioned from many platforms. I did over two months’ campaigning during the State elections, and I am convinced that one of the principal factors which contributed to the success of the Liberal party there was the cry that wages must come down. The Premier of South Australia made the statement, and the party to which I belong took it uo, and used it for its oWn ends. The cry that “ wages must come down “ became general; but instead of injuring the Liberal party, I believe it was one ‘of the causes of that party’s victory. There are in South Australia a large number of people who are looking for wages to fall. They have been doped by the newspapers into the belief that the high cost of living is largely the result of high, wages, and because of that belief, which has been so often dealt with that I need not discuss it to-night, they voted against the Labour party, which, stands for decent wages. Another contributing cause of the success of the Liberal party was that in this instance the Nationalists did not come before the people, as on the previous occasion, in one solid body. The Liberals of South Australia threw overboard those who had left the Labour party over the conscription issues, and had formed what was known as the Nationalist Labour party of South Australia; Those two parties had coalesced and worked together practically during the life of the last Parliament, but they did not face the electors on this occasion as one body. The result was that there were three parties in the field, and as the preferential voting system was not in operation each party was fighting the other. The Liberals consequently believed that they were going to be defeated in the metropolitan area, and in the country districts they put up a tremendous effort, the polling in some rural constituencies being over 80 per cent, of the electors. It was this fear of defeat in the metropolitan area, and the tremendous effort made by the country branches of the Liberal Union, that brought about the success of the Barwell Government. There was a third reason which I shall not mention tonight. There will be a proper time and place to deal with it.
– I call attention to the want of a quorum. Quorum formed.)
– An honorable member entering the chamber and hearing reasons advanced ^for the continuance of the Wheat Pool might ask why - if, as has been stated, there have been pre-election pledges by all parties, and if it is in the interests of the farmers to continue the Wheat Pool - the system should not remain in operation. The answer is, as the good old Book puts it, that no man can serve two masters. No political party can serve two masters.
– I think we ought to have a quorum to hear these arguments.
– Order! A quorum is present.
– Some members of this Legislature OAve their positions to the fact that they told the primary producers they were their friends, and that they intended to look after the interests of the man on the land. They said, “ Trust us.”
– I again call attention to the state of the Committee, [ Quorum formed.”]
– The position is this: when honorable members opposite feel that they can look after the interests of t he primary producers, without clashing with certain other dominating influences, they are prepared to do so-faithfully enough. But, when a situation arises in which the welfare of the primary producers directly clashes with the interests of the middlemen speculators, the outcome is similar to what is happening today. Those who provide strongest financial support to the National ‘ party naturally receive first consideration at the hands of that party. Without doubt, pressure is being brought to bear to-day by the speculating interests. There have been evidences of it in South Australia for some time; there are evidences of it now in Victorian politics; and there are evidences of it in this Parliament to-day.
– I think these sentiments ought to be heard by more honorable members than are present. I direct attention to the state of the Committee. [Quorum formed.]
– I think I heard the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) remark, by way of interjection, just how that he was understudying myself. I trust that, whatever may happen in certain directions, I shall never prove to have been an understudy of his. However, I am glad that he views with seriousness the fact that frequently there is not a quorum present in this Chamber.
– Order ! I have already called the honorable member for Angas to order.
– I i”ise to order.. I submit that the remarks of the honorable . member are not relevant to the issue before the Committee.
– Order !
– I can quite understand these interruptions, because, after all, one of the great differences between the party opposite and that which I represent– -
– Does the honorable member represent any party I
– If not, then I can at least understudy the honorable member in this respect, namely, that I can misrepresent one.
– I rise to order. I submit that the remark that I misrepresent a party is an unwarrantable reflection, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! I call upon the honorable member for Angas to proceed.
– I have been endeavourng to deal with the’’ matter of the impossibility of a political party serving two. masters. Honorable members opposite, when faced with the question of the future of the Wheat Pool system, and at the same time with -the interests of their middlemen “masters, find that they must dance to a tune which is called by the latter. I hope primary producers will take notice of that fact.
– Are not the Wheat Pools primarily a function of the States?
– These obvious efforts to side-track me show that my accusations are striking home. I repeat that when the interests of the primary producers and of the middlemen speculators clash, the Government - realizing that they have been backed financially and otherwise by the latter interests - naturally, and inevitably, stand up for those interests. The Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) has stated that.no honorable member on this side was prepared to stand up to the ideals of the Labour party when applied to wheat production. I am prepared to stand up to’ those ideals, and to ‘advocate them without hesitation in any company, trade unionist or otherwise. The Acting Prime Minister went on to say that the application of the Labour party’6 principles to wheatraising would mean that every farmer would have to keep a book of his own. He continued that it would be the Labour party which would decide what was a fair margin of profit. The Acting Prime Minister declared that the Labour party said, in effect, that if wheat-growing would not pay wages the industry should not continue to exist. With the adeptness of the right honorable gentleman for misrepresenting the case of his opponent - a cleverness gained by long years of parliamentary experience -
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order !
– If those words are not parliamentary I can only say that their like has been hurled at me more than once, without protest from the Chair. To say that the Labour party has laid down that, if wheat-growing cannot be made to pay wages it should not continue to be carried on, is a gross misrepresentation. We assert that, as in every other industry, the man engaged (herein should receive a fair return for his labour. I can imagine the. Acting Prime Minister framing an interjection, “ If you talk like that you”’ will come into conflict with the consumer.” I may do so, but I am prepared to say to any tradeunionist gathering, “ If you ask for a fair return for your labour, you cannot deny to those who work out in the fields a fair return for theirs.” It is the allembracing nature of labour’s interests which makes our party the truly national one. It is this consideration which most strikingly distinguishes the Labour party from the Corner party, with its narrow, sectional interests.
– There is not a quorum present.
– Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time allowance.
– Since no other honorable member has risen to speak I claim the right to continue and occupy the full time allotted to me. I emphasize that the fact that the Labour. party desires to safeguard the interests of as many people . as possible, engaged in as many activities as there are in Australia, provides that party with its best hall-mark, and makes me personally glad that I belong to it. The honorable member for Wakefield said that it was not the function of the National Parliament to interfere with the establishment of Wheat Pools, a rather belated statement, in view of what we have done in the past in regard to butter, wheat and wool. If I understand the function of this Parliament, it is to help the primary industries, on which our financial prosperity is based, whenever they seem to be in difficulties. The honorable member apparently considers the Wheat Pool system good and necessary in time of trouble, but discredits it when things are normal. Similarly, when the war was on, every one favoured the maintenance of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers; but now it begins to be whispered that the vessels should be sold. In Great Britain, when the war. broke out, the private banks, being fair-weather institutions, had to close their doors for three days, and banking had to get the support of the national credit. Now, the desire is to revert to the old system of private control. The big firms that deal in wheat, notwithstanding all their money, could not control the wheat business during the war1; it was necessary then to invoke the aid of this Government, and of the Government of Great Britain. But now that the danger is over, and things are normal, the speculators wish to control the business again. The whip is being cracked, and some one is to be - sacrificed. With the so-called
Nationalists, when the choice lies between the middleman and the primary producer, it is the latter who goes to the wall. Let the primary producers take heed of these facts, and learn that their salvation is to be won only by joining with the workers of the cities. It is only when those who are exploited in the field go hand and hand with those who are exploited in the factory, standing and voting together, that they will win through.
Question - That the words proposed to be added (Mr. Ryan’s amendment) be so added - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the negative.
.-I wish to draw the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to the fact that a number of telephone subscribers connected with the Adelaide exchange are charged exorbitant ground rents compared with those charged to other subscribers who are further from Adelaide Central, but are in centres possessing local exchanges which are connected with it. This is, of course, due to the present departmental policy of varying rates according to the radial location of the subscriber. There are in Hindmarsh 45 of these subscribers who pay a minimum rental of £5 per annum; 59 who pay £5 10s. ; 30 who pay £6; 23 who pay £6 10s. ; and 14 who pay £7 per annum. This is most inequitable. It will be necessary for the Government to give consideration to the question of installing a local telephone exchange for the west suburban districts, and I request the Minister to institute the necessary inquiries, and afford early consideration to such a. proposal. The present difficulty could to some extent be overcome, and a more equitable rental to many telephone subscribers be possible if the temporary exchange at Woodville were so located that the 2-mile radius from it would extend to within 2 miles of the Port Adelaide Exchange. That would bring within the 2-mile radius many of the subscribers who, today, are charged increased rental, because they are outside that radius, and thus greater justice would be done to many subscribers in Hindmarsh and the more distant section of the Woodville District, without prejudicing the position of those subscribers attached to the Woodville Exchange at present.
I desire to bring under the notice of the Committee two matters relating to the Department of Defence. The first is an improper deduction from the war gratuity of a man who served with credit in the recent war. On the transport by which he returned to Australia a dispute arose in regard to the soldiers being allowed ashore, and because of the action taken by this particular soldier his war gratuity was reduced by eighty-five days, although this occurrence was many months after the termination of the war. When he requested that the matter should be dealt with by the War Gratuity Board,the only satisfaction he received was a letter which quoted a section of the War Gratuity Act, without stating how it applied to the circumstances of his case. This circumstance has been the source of considerable dissatisfaction with many other cases. The various Boards dealing with the soldiers’ claims and appeals do not function as this Legislature intended. The Board seldom serves as an arbitrary medium between the Government and the soldier, but covers itself in its decisions by quotations from the Act. It would be interesting to secure a return giving the appeals made to these Boards and the decisions given apart from strict adherence to some section of the Act, which may or may not apply to the principle of the appeal. The soldier it would seem is at a distinct disadvantage without the assistance of a member. Honorable members will be able to judge the merits of the case from the following correspondence: - 31st May, 1921.
Rc War Gratuity.
I acknowledge receipt of your appeal against the deduction of forfeiture from your war gratuity. Your appeal, together with full particulars of your service, was referred to the War Gratuity Board, who ruled that the forfeitures are deductible in accordance with section 5-2 of the War Gratuity Act, which reads - “Payment of the war gratuity shall be made for each day of the qualifying period of service of the member upon or in respect of which the member earned and received from the Commonwealth the full pay of his rank.” (Sgd.) Thomas Boyle, Major,
District Finance Officer, 4th Military District,
Prospect. 3rd June, 1921.
The War Gratuity Board, per Thomas Boyle, Esq.,
District Finance Officer, 4th Military District,
Replying to your communication, 8098, it would appear as though my time has been wasted in completing the form that you were kind enough to bring under my notice.
In taking the course I did, I was impelled thereto by the impression that the spirit of the Act, vested in the Gratuity Board, would have operated, and my appeal, that the deductions were grossly unjust under the circumstances, have borne some weight, for the following reasons: -
I was further fortified in the impression I held when making my appeal by the following statement of the Prime Minister and Sir Joseph Cook, when the Gratuity Bill was given effect to in Parliament - Hansard, page 1055:-
– “ A person who has served a sentence is not disentitled to receive the gratuity unless he has been cashiered or dismissed from the Forces. … to have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment does not exclude a man from the benefits of the gratuity.” ‘
– “Further, it must be remembered) that the cases that have been alluded to can be brought before the ‘ prescribed authority,’ who we may be sure will deal as leniently with them as possible. Only those who are deserving of no consideration are deprived of the gratuity.”
Although nothing is stated, I must assume that the latter portion of Sir Joseph Cook’s remarks are made applicable in my case, and as I have been in the ranks I have long since recovered from the foolishness of thinking that any protest is worth while. I do not write this by way of further appeal to the Board, and would point out to them that it was quite superfluous to quote me a slab of the Act, for I well knew under which clause certain deductions could be made. . It was against this that I appealed. However, I quite realize now that my mistake was a misjudgment of its administration.
– What was his offence ?
– It is alleged that this soldier incited to mutiny; but rather was he responsible for appeasing the agitated state of mind of the soldiers aboard- this transport. The Defence authorities were absolutely responsible by the undue delay in disembarkation. The case to whichI am referring is that of Gunner G. E. Yates. Later, a further endeavour was made to discredit him. A Committee of this House adjudged him as successful in establishing his claim in having seen actual service in the engagements upon the Western Front, although previously art attempt was made by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government to place this soldier under a cloud and discredit his service abroad. I have reason to believe that there is displayed towards him, by the Department, more than an ordinary prejudice, strongly savouring of political bias. On the 13th June last Major Boyle wrote to this soldier -
You are informed that your war gratuity bond has been at the Adelaide Moneyorder Office since 16th February, and if not collected within fourteen days of the above date: will be recalled.
In an endeavour to close the soldier’s mouth, and compel him to accept an amount which he protested against as being insufficient, he was threatened that, unless he drew the bond within a certain time, he would be deprived of it. I ask the Committee to recognise, in this correspondence, evidence of a grave injustice having been perpetrated by the Department, and I hope that the case will be reconsidered, so that this man may receive the full amount of gratuity to which he is justly entitled.
In a recent compulsory training camp in South Australia a serious accident occurred. A horse attached to one of the vehicles belonging to the Department bolted, and one lad named Guerin lost his life. The authorities are at present considering the claims of this young man’s parents. Another cadet named Carlon was also thrown from the vehicle, and sustained concussion of the brain. His case is such as I desire to also direct the attention of the Assistant Minister. He has claimed compensation from the Department, which has paid him £9, that being, according to the officials, equivalent to the amount due to him on account of loss of time from his employment. No consideration has been given him on account of the serious after-effects of the accident, although, at the time of the accident, the lad was a servant of the Department. The sum of £9 is most inadequate compensation. I ask the Assistant Minister (Sir Granville Ryrie) to further investigate these two cases and endeavour to have a full measure of justice done to both men.
– I desire to have a clear understanding with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ryan) with regard to an undertaking which I gave him and the House on the 12th instant. We were then discussing the validation Bill consequent on the annulment of the appointment of Lieut. - Colonel Walker as War Service Homes Commissioner. I promised to make a general statement regarding the War Service Homes Department, and to afford an opportunity to honorable members to discuss the whole of the circumstances connected with Lieut. -Colonel Walker’s case. That promise was made conditionally on a speedy consideration of the Bill then under consideration. This Supply Bill seems to afford a reasonable op portunity for the discussion I promised to facilitate ; and I wish to know whether the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will be content to have the two matters referred to considered together.
– Yes; I think I shall be satisfied with that.
– I shall first make the promised statement in regard to the War Service Homes Department.
– Does the honorable gentleman intend to open the whole question of the War Service Homes administration ?
– I am now speaking on the Supply motion before the chair, and I have been told that the Deputy Leader of the. Opposition will be satisfied that my promise has been fulfilled if the two matters are taken together. I have had a memorandum prepared setting out the circumstances as follows: -
Applications for the position of War Service Homes Commissioner were invited by the Government in January, 1919. The following advertisement was inserted in the chief metropolitan newspapers throughout the Commonwealth: -
Applications are invited from gentlemen qualified for the position of Commissioner to administer the above Act. The appointment will be for a term of seven (7) years, but at the expiration of this time it may be renewed for a similar period.
Salary - £1,500 (Fifteen hundred pounds) per annum.
Copies of the Act may be seen at the office of the Deputy Comptroller, Department of Repatriation. Applications, which close on the 7th February next, should furnish details of qualifications and experience, and be addressed, in the first instance, to the Comptroller, Department of Repatriation, King-street, Melbourne.
Lieut.-Colonel James Walker was selected for appointment from amongst the applicants. He was then requested to see the Minister (Senator Millen), and, that interview being satisfactory, was asked to submit references. He gave three. They were communicated with in the following terms: - (Confidential - on envelope)
Lieut.-Colonel James Walker under consideration for Housing Commissionership under Soldiers’ Home 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 obliged to have collect wire.
Similar telegrams sent to -
Two replied most favorably, and the existence of their replies was known to the Minister. The third, Mr. H. Cupples, London Bank, Brisbane, replied by telegram, on the 30th February, as follows: - 26th February, 1919.
Your telegram yesterday party is brave and energetic had long experience building contractor north Queensland ability lies in that direction and good withmen rather than as an administrator during absence front was made insolvent under old mining guarantee Judge expressed sympathy with absentee whereupon Bank Australasia discontinued pressure consider fill outside position admirably.
– That I think, is so - on the same day.
– And that was kept by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) ?
– No. I cannot say that, but if the honorable gentleman will be content to wait until the whole memorandum has been read, he will be able to form his own opinion. The memorandum proceeds -
This telegram the Minister did not see, nor was he aware of its contents. On the same day, Lieut.-Colonel Walker was appointed Commissioner, and acted in that capacity until 12th March, 1921.
On 29th September, 1920, the Minister left for England to subsequently attend the Geneva Conference. The Honorary Minister, Mr. A. S. Rodgers, temporarily took charge of the Department.
On 9th March, the Acting Minister received confidential intimation that at the time of his appointment Lieut.-Colonel Walker was an uncertificated insolvent. As the War Service Homes Act contains a definite prohibition on this head - section 7. - “ A person who is an uncertificated bankrupt or insolvent shall be incapable of being appointed a Commissioner” - steps were forthwith taken to clear the matter up. Inquiries revealed that Lieut.Colonel Walker was adjudicated insolvent on the 30th September, 1915, under proceedings in Supreme Court, Queensland, and remained so until the annulment of insolvency on 19th July, 1919.
The Government resolved that prompt and decisive action in the circumstance were imperative. Lieut.-Colonel Walker was sent for, and admitted that the position was as mentioned above, but added that the circumstances of the insolvency were not discreditable to him, and were known at the time of the appointment by Senator Millen, and that there was a telegram on the file as to his insolvency. The file was procured and contained Mr. Cupples’ telegram above quoted.
As Senator Millen was within a few days of arriving in Australia, the Government decided to await his arrival before finally acting. Accordingly, Lieut.-Colonel Walker was granted seven days’ leave of absence, and Colonel J. M. Semmenswas appointed Acting Commissioner for that period.
On 17th March - after reaching Victoria - the Minister was informed of the circumstances and of Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s statement that he (the Minister) knew of such insolvency at the time of appointment. This the Minister positively denied. An interview, as arranged, took place the following day between the Minister and Lieut.-Colonel Walker, and subsequently the Acting Minister was present. The result of the interview is set out in the following statement by the Minister: -
On my return journey to. Melbourne I was met at Ballarat by Mr. Rodgers. That gentleman informed me of the position that had been created by the disclosure of the fact that Lieut.-Colonel Walker was insolvent at the time of his appointment. He further stated that Lieut.-Colonel Walker said that I was aware of the insolvency. Consequent upon this statement I sought an interview with Lieut.-Colonel Walker, which interview took place in the Minister’s room at the House of Representatives on Friday morning last at 10.30 a.m. I informed Lieut.-Colonel Walker of what Mr. Rodgers had told me, and asked Lieut.Colonel Walker if that correctly represented his statement to my colleagues. He replied definitely in the negative, and said that he could not possibly say what I knew, and what I did not know, but from the fact that the telegram relating to his insolvency was on the file he assumed that I knew when discussing the matter with my. colleagues.
After leaving Lieut.-Colonel Walker I went over to the Cabinet room to attend a Cabinet meeting timed for 11 o’clock. As the Cabinet had not formally assembled, I related to such of my colleagues as were present what had transpired between Lieut.-Colonel Walker and myself. Those of them who had met Lieut.-Colonel Walker at the time it was alleged that he made his original statement were so definite as to his clearly affirming my knowledge of his insolvency thatI thought it advisable to seek a further interview with Lieut.-Colonel Walker, and asked Mr. Rodgers to endeavour, by telephone, to secure Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s immediate attendance. On Lieut.-Colonel Walker attending in response to the invitation I left the Cabinet with Mr. Rodgers, and we interviewed Lieut.-Colonel Walker in the Prime Minister’s adjoining room. I pointed out to Lieut.-Colonel Walker the discrepancy in the statement which my colleagues informed me he had made and that which he had made to me earlier in the day. I asked him to state definitely whether he had affirmed that I wa3 personally aware of his insolvency when approving of hia appointment. He stated definitely that he did -not affirm that I was personally aware of the insolvency, but he had assumed that I knew of it from the fact that the telegram from Mr. Cupples was on the file. Be further spontaneously stated that he fully accepted my statement that 1 was not aware of the insolvency, or of the existence of the telegram referring thereto at the time the appointment was made. (Signed) E. D. M.
Paragraph No. 2 above is substantially correct.
The initials are those of Senator E. D. Millen and myself. That was what might be termed notes- of the interview made by Senator Millen.
– Was Senator Millen aware of the telegrams being sent out in the first instance?
– Yes. When Lieut.Colonel Walker was selected for the appointment, as stated, Senator Millen asked for three references, and directed the Comptroller to send out the telegrams.
– What was the purpose of making a note of the interview ?
– I did not make the note, and, therefore, I do not know the purpose of the Minister, who did. I assume, however, that a responsible Minister would, . as an act of ordinary prudence, make a note of an interview bearing so directly on a matter of conflict between a responsible officer and himself -
Although undoubtedly aware of the .prohibition contained in section 7 of the Act, at no time from the inception to the annulment of the appointment did Lieut.-Colonel Walker take amy steps to notify either the Minister, Acting Minister, or any member of the Government of his insolvency, and the Government became aware only under the circumstances above related.
After further consultation, the Government determined that it was imperative that the appointment should be declared null and void. Action accordingly was taken.
Prior to the discovery of the insolvency, the Minister had doubts as to the efficiency of the administration’, and had directed certain inquiries to be made by a specially appointed accountant, and, later, an Advisory Committee was appointed to investigate the affairs of the Department, but these inquiries had not proceeded sufficiently to call for action at the time of the removal of Lieut.-Colonel Walker from office. As these inquiries proceeded, however, and were supplemented by that undertaken at the request of the. Government by the Public Accounts Committee, it became apparent that Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s administration was extremely unsatisfactory.
The Government do not propose to reappoint Lieut.-Colonel Walker to the Commissionership. Apart from his action in applying for and holding a highly responsible public position for which he must have well known his legal disqualification, the Government do not now regard the re-appointment of Lieut.Colonel Walker desirable in the public interest.
– How did that telegram which Senator Millen never saw get on the file?
– The telegram from Mr. Cupples would get on the file as do other documents which reach a Department; the officer responsible for the files would put it there.
– Who was he?
– I do not know; but the telegram would naturally reach the hands of the Comptroller.
– Who was he?
- Mr. Gilbert.
– Where is he now ?
– I Understand he is in Melbourne.
– But nol in the Government service.
– He is not in the Government service. At this juncture, at any rate, I do not propose to supplement the statement I have prepared’ and submitted.
– How did you find out about Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s insolvency ?
– If” the honorable member will look at the memorandum, a copy of which I have handed him, he will see that I received confidential information.
-“ Confidential “ ? I did not see that.
– I may say that, prior to the receipt of the information I had already appointed a Tribunal to investigate certain affairs in connexion with the War Service Homes-, New South Wales Branch, which had been laid before me by a large deputation of Sydney when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was present.
I now propose, with the indulgence of the Committee, to make a statement covering some, at all events, of the more important phases of the operations of the War Service Homes Department to date, to review briefly those operations, and to outline to the Committee the proposals of the Government with regard to the future conduct of the Department. Honorable members will readily understand that it would be almost impossible to adequately sketch in detail in an address of this description the operations of a Department that already has expended nearly £14,000,000, more especially as those operations, in the very nature of things, are widespread, and cover a huge field. The law requires that as nearly as possible after the end of the financial year, a report, statement, and balance-sheet of the whole of the building operations and transactions of the Department shall be prepared and submitted to Parliament. That statement is in course of compilation, and will contain the detailed information that will enable honorable members to. more minutely investigate, check, and compare the transactions and operations of this Department with those of similar institutions throughout the Commonwealth. At this stage, therefore, I shall content myself by dealing with the larger phases of the Commission’s work.
In the first place, I would remind the Committee that the whole scheme of building homes for soldiers, and the dependants of soldiers, about which we have seen a good deal of criticism throughout Australia, was approved by Parliament. I may say in passing that I do not resent in the slightest helpful criticism, but am sorry that sometimes criticism that is not only not helpful but uninformed, is indulged in, and given undue prominence. As a matter of principle I never attempt to pursue or deal with that class of criticism; but helpful criticism, either within or outside this House, I am always pleased to have, and wherever possible am willing to profit by it. I would impress upon the Committee, as well as the soldiers for whom the undertaking was started, and the couutry generally, that the whole scheme of building War Service Homes, which is now being discussed throughoutthe Commonwealth, was practically in detail outlined to, and approved of, by this Parliament. A Bill embodying the scheme passed both Houses, and duly received the Royal assent. The Commission was constituted on 6th March, 1919; the appointment of the Commissioner was approved and gazetted on the same day, and the operations of the Department forthwith commenced. It will be easy for honorable members to recall that at its inception our soldiers were coming back in their tens of thousands, that there was an acute shortage of housing accommodation, and a limited supplyof materials. Building materials were not only hard to get, but very costly, and on many occasions were not of the quality that one would have liked to obtain for soldiers’ homes. The Commissioner altogether was faced with a very difficult situation in launching so huge an enterprise. As to that there can be no question. It is very difficult, however, to lift the public mind from the immediate surroundings of the day, and carry it back to a survey of the conditions which prevailed two years or more ago. There was a flood of applications by soldiers, and a wealth of good feeling, as well as a plenitude of funds at the start of this great enterprise; but it must be said, in justice to the Commissioner, that at that time he had no organization, and had to marshal his requirements and carry on with an untrained staff.
– Is the honorable gentleman speaking of Mr. Gilbert?
– No; Mr. Gilbert had nothing to do with the War Service Homes Department. I am referring to Lieut.-Colonel Walker, and every consideration must be given to the difficulties with which he was confronted at the outset. The Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) was impressed with the weight of the task that rested on his Commissioner, and accordingly made arrangements with the Commonwealth Bank that until the Commissioner got his organization ready, it should undertake to act as agent for the Commonwealth in carrying on the work of providing homes. Under section 20 of the Act the Commissioner had power to make an advance to a soldier to enable him -
The programme was made wide enough to enable homes to be provided under all those headings. It waa foreseen that, pending the getting together of a complete organization, a rapid building programme was not possible, and that, con- - sequently, a policy of purchasing houses already constructed would have to some extent to be pursued. The real policy which this Government set out to pursue, however, was to erect for the soldier a substantial, modern and reasonably economical house; but the Commissioner had, as I have said, to face abnormal conditions in the original part of his programme. In other words, he fell on hard times.
The operations to date of the War Service Homes Department cover the provision of 17,170 houses.
– Have those houses been completed ?
– Yes, practically the whole of them. There are some in the State of South Australia that are not yet completed, but in this list I have otherwise omitted houses in course of construction. The cost of providing these 17,170 houses has been: - Commission, £7,735,909; Commonwealth Bank, £4,587,590; or a total as between the Bank and the Commission of £12,323,499. To that amount must be added £700,607 expended - or contracted to be expended - by the State of South Australia in respect of 1,013 houses. That approximately represents the completed programme of the Commission to date.
– Does it include the purchase of houses that were already erected 1
– It includes the. provision of all houses under the headings I have just read.
– Does the honorable gentleman fay that the 17,170 houses cost £12,323.499?
– -Including the South Australian figures the 3tot.al expenditure amounts, roughly, to £13,000,000.
I do not propose to-night to £jo into details further than to show the. programme carried out by -the Commission and by the Commonwealth Bank. The Commission has completed the construction of 2,703 houses. It has in course-of construction 1,106 houses, while the number of applications approved for building tenders in respect of which have been approved in some cases, is 1,255. The houses purchased, but the transfers in respect of which, in some cases, have not yet been effected, is 5,007, aud the expenditure incurred under these three headings totals £3,062,074. Mortgages discharged total 619, representing an expenditure of £318,961. The Commission’s average cost of construction, without land, is £735, while the average cost of ‘ construction, including land, is £783. The Commonwealth Bank’s programme to date is as follows: - Houses completed, 1,779; houses in course of construction, 70; applications for which tenders are being called, 32, the expenditure under these three headings being £1,241,295; -houses purchased, but transfers of which in a few cases -are not yet effected, total 5,216; representing an expenditure of £2,856,666 ; mortgages discharged, 763, representing an expenditure of £352,8S3. The average cost of construction, with land, was £686 ; and the average cost of construction, without land, £637. [Extension of time granted.] I also desire to add details of the programme undertaken by the South Australian Government to date.
– The Commission’s charge per house, including land, is £783 ; the Bank’s charge, including land, is £686. How is the difference accountable?
– I propose to deal with that matter in detail; but I might remark, in passing, that the Bank was operating when the Commission was not doing so; and it may be said that the Commission had to face from the inception a set of costa.;which no builder, having any building ‘enterprise of magnitude in hand, has ever been called upon to face in this country.
– In making the estimates with respect to the Commission, has the Minister considered the amount of land which the Commission has purchased, but has not utilized?
– I am not taking into account any land purchased which has not yet been built upon. The Government of South Australia has either purchased or built, or has in the course of purchase, 1,0S3 houses at a total cost of £700,607 - an average, including land, of £646 18s. 3d. I again emphasize-that accurate statistical details will be furnished with the annual report, statements, and balance-sheet now in course of compilation. It is not possible, in circumstances such as the present, to expect honorable members to closely follow the whole procedure when three programmes are being dealt with, and where comparative figures of cost are involved. Nor is it possible to give the particulars in every detail. They will be so set out in the annual statement that they will be readily available for purposes of comparison, and I undertake that that report and balancesheet shall be presented to Parliament at the very earliest opportunity. Indeed, it is compulsory for the Government to provide such a statement.
The operations of the Commission have been carried out, in the main, under the day-labour system. Certain contracts in some of the States have been let; but I repeat that most of the work ha3 been done by day labour. This has involved a degree of supervision which has proved, in my judgment, to be too great a:i undertaking for any central Government. Operations are spread over all the States, and although the Commissioner secured an advantage at the time by way of the acquisition of material in large quantities, and at concession rates, that advantage was more than lost in labour difficulties and labour costs. I say this in no party spirit; but it is a fact that the building difficulties experienced during the period in which the Government has been constructing homes have been most unsatisfactory. In the early stages material was almost impossible to secure, and was very dear, while labour was scarce because of the war. Rates of pay were very high, and there was a great deal of industrial unrest, including strikes. The Commissioner complained that the go-slow policy was iu operation throughout his entire programme, and that, in addition, there were retrospective awards of Courts which fell back upon houses that had been practically completed.
It is well to remind honorable members that a limit of cost was placed upon soldiers’ homes. . In the original Act, passed in December, 1918, the limit was made £700. The Commissioner reported that, with the increasing cost of material and labour, and with the difficulties of building generally, the. sum was not sufficient. In October, 1920, the limit was increased to £800. ‘ I propose to deal at a later stage with the inadequacy even of that provision in the circumstances, as they developed. The Commissioner, being unable - as he reported to the Government - to secure an adequate and dependable supply of material, embarked on the purchase of timber areas. He bought in Victoria a proposition known” as Knott’s. This he re-sold to Driver at a price which will repay the purchase money .and insure a full supply of timber for the requirements of the Commission at a concession of 10 per cent, on ruling rates. The acquisition of large timber areas in Queensland was undertaken by the Commissioner for reasons similar to those which influenced his Victorian undertakings. That is to say, he was unable to secure sufficient supplies. The details of these transactions have been placed before Parliament and the country through the investigations of the Public Accounts Committee. That body reported that the purchases were, in the circumstances then existing, .justified. Such a report, from a body composed as is the Public Accounts Committee, was - so far as the departure by the Government from ordinary practice is concerned - in itself a justification.
– What is the reason for the closing down of those mills during the past four months?
– Iu a recent hurried trip to Queensland the honorable member apparently took a flying survey of the timber industry of that State; but I would remind him that his investigations could not have been complete. Those timber mills have been closed down for the ca.nr did reason that the Commission has on hand in Queensland more timber than it requires. It has a running contract for supplies, in addition. Its depots are full, and it would be little short of madness to go on cutting timber for which the Commission had no need. I point out that the same conditions apply to the milling industry in most of the States at present, as old and experienced millers have acknowledged.
– But the Commission is buying timber from other contractors, while its depots are full.
– We are all wise after the event. There was a running contract in Queensland previously made which provided for the supply of 6,000,000 feet of Queensland hoop pine per annum. That contract is being honoured on both sides. Do honorable members suggest that the Government should repudiate its obligation ?
– How long has the contract to run?
– It was for three years, and rather more than twelve months have elapsed.
– The undertaking suggests pretty bad management.
– The contract was entered upon prior to the purchase of the Queensland mills. It has been thoroughly investigated by the Public Accounts Committee, and has been described as a good contract, even in the light of conditions existing to-day.
– In taking over those timber areas did the Commission accept also the contracts which had been let to the former owners of the mills? I refer to contracts for kerosene cases and dried fruit cases.
– The honorable member has in mind particularly, I suggest, a contract with the firm of Nestles. That contract, so far as Mr. Lahey was in a position to pass it on, was so passed on ; but the Nestles Company appears to question its obligation to accept supplies from any other than the party with whom it had entered into a contract.
In connexion with the whole of the operations of the War Service Homes Department, both in the staffing of the Commission throughout the Commonwealth, and with respect to the Central Administration, the Government has adopted the principle of preference to returned soldiers. The few exceptions consist of specially trained officers, who were necessaryto stiffen up specific matters of administration. In every direction, the Government has endeavoured to observe the principle of preference, right down to actual working operations - that is to say, in the construction of homes. Both the Commissioner and his Deputies in all the States were empowered, and directed, indeed, to observe that principle. In respect of most of the exceptions, the officers concerned were already in the Commonwealth or State Public Service, and had been transferred on loan.
In the building of homes for soldiers the cardinal principle of the Act is that a soldier shall get his house, and the land attached, at actual cost price, plus nothing. Nothing is charged by way of profit, and money is advanced to the soldiers at 5 per cent., which is a lower rate of interest than can be obtained under other circumstances. Furthermore, the cost of administering the Department is borne by the general revenue instead of being charged to construction, while there is an internal departmental system of insurance which gives substantial benefits to the soldiers. The Government, however, is faced with this difficulty, that, because of the abnormal conditions, close on 1,400 of the houses that have been erected have cost more than the amount allowed by the Statute. The excess cost of these houses aggregates about £130,000. Ministers have given the most careful consideration to the terms of the Act, to the policy laid down by Parliament, and to promises made to the soldiers, and have determined that these promises shall be honoured.
– Does that mean that the Commonwealth will pay the difference ?
– In amplification of my statement, I say that each case will be dealt with on its merits. It is not possible to treat all these cases alike.
– Is not the soldier to be charged the extra cost?
– Ministers have given full consideration to this question, and have determined to observe the terms of the Act, having regard to the contracts entered into in each case.
– Have you arrived at the conclusion that the houses have cost more than they are worth, or that you are giving the soldier better value than the Act allows?
– A great deal of humbug has been talked about jerrybuilding in connexion with War Service Homes.
– What about those at Goulburn ?
– One would not condemn a bag of sound wheat because of a few tares in it, and, speaking by and large, the houses built under the War Service Homes Act are good market value. They are excellent modern homes, and could not have been constructed to such advantage for the soldiers under other than Government advances.
– What about the houses at Cessnock ?
Mr.RODGERS.- If there be any soldier in Goulburn who is not satisfied with his house at the price which it has cost him, the Government will relieve him of it, and give him another.
– You are up against serious trouble there.
– An officer of the Public Works Department was placed at the disposal of the Public Accounts Committee for the examination of the Goulburn houses, and, having perused his report, I feel that there has not been faithful workmanship there. I regret that a gentleman who has taken upon himself the general condemnation of the Commission’s operations is responsible, as Chief Architect forthese Goulburn buildings. Mr. Kirkpatrick, who criticised the Department when in Brisbane the other day, is responsible for the condition of the Goulburn houses, in so far as that they were constructed under his firm’s delegated direction.
– But everything that is necessary to be done to the houses at Goulburn is to be done at the contractor’s expense. Thework of making the buildings good is not to cost the Government or the soldier a penny.
– The gentleman to whom I have referred has gratuitously condemned the general work of the Commission.
– He has condemned day labour, although good work has been done by it.
Mr.RODGERS. - In my judgment, it is not in the interests of the soldiers who have to pay for the houses that these should be constructed by day labour, because of the difficulty of supervision over the wide field of operations. No one has as much interest in the proper construction of a house as the man who benefits by its quick and effective construction, or suffers by failure.
– All the slummed work has been done under the contract system.
– The houses that have been built by day labour are the best finished.
– We at the Central Office are not immediately concerned in the carrying out of building operations; it is the Deputies in the various States who are intrusted with the actual control of construction, and I called a conference of the Deputies to consider, amongst other things, this matter. It was their unanimous opinion that the day- labour system was not the most satisfactory for the building of soldiers’ homes, because of the difficulties of supervision. I do not condemn the day-labour system on the ground of the failure of all workmen to give a fair deal.
– Some of these Deputies seem to speak with two voices.
– The same opinion has been expressed by the Advisory and Consultative Committee appointed by the Government to investigate the work of the Department. It has worked strenuously night and day to solve the difficulties of the situation, and has given the Government valuable assistance. Under the Chairmanship of Major-General Sir James McCay, the Committee has rendered great service to the Commonwealth and to the soldier.
– Were the Goulburn houses built by day labour or under contract ?
– Under contract.
– So were the Cessnock houses, and those at Hunter’s Hill.
– I shall be pleased if my statement causes the matter to be threshed out here, so that we may have a clear understanding of the views of members on the subject. The late War Service Homes Commissioner said that the advantages which he had gained in the purchase of raw material were lost inthe labour costs of the construction. But in my judgment, notwithstanding the fact that in certain places costs are decreasing, the completed houses represent excellent market value for the expenditure. In several cases soldiers have endeavoured to sell their houses for substantial profits; but the Government does not encourage trafficking in War Service Homes, and when soldiers have been permitted to sell, it has been because they were leaving the country, and the sales have been for prices in excess of cost.
– How far do you carry out the policy of preference to returned soldiers ? Does it extend to the choice of contractors ?
– It cannot be applied to contractors. I have visited most of the States, and have inspected many of the War Service Homes, meeting the soldiers and their families, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, the soldiers have expressed complete satisfaction with their homes. They display remarkable pride of ownership, and are doing much to improve both their houses and their gardens. They recognize that they have obtained homes at a reasonable price which it would have been impossible for them to get under other circumstances. I invite the inspection of War Service Homes throughout the Commonwealth. Towards the end of this month soldier representatives are to attend a. Conference at Brisbane, and I have arranged for an inspection of the War Service Homes in Melbourne by those who pass through this State, and am. endeavouring to make arrangements for the inspection of other homes in Sydney and Brisbane, so that the men may be able to pass sentence as to the general workmanship of these edifices. In most cases the houses have been well maintained. There will always be found in an undertaking of this’ magnitude a proportion of failures which somehow seem to float to the top and get pride of place in public notice when condemnation is being heaped upon the Government. It is remarkable how a poor tenant, who will not look after life house and pay his rent, finds speedy access to somebody who will listen to his tale, and condemn the Government or the landlord. On the whole the soldiers have carried out their contracts fairly well. ‘ Last year, approximately £800,000 was received by the Commonwealth in repayments and interest. Statistical details of the amount unpaid will be provided in the statement to which I have referred. I regret to say that quite recently there has been a growing tendency, chiefly through unemployment, for repayments to fall into arrears. There is a wave of unemployment throughout the country that is deeply to be regretted. -and only a more confident spirit than is being shown todav will help to arrest it. There is in Australia abundance of capital for the maintenance of our industries, primary and secondary, and for the reasonable encouragement of enterprise, and it is not by a cramped policy, and decrying our conditions, that the unemployed trouble will be cured. We are face to face with all the evidences of another good year in respect of primary production, and a little more enterprise on the part of those who are controlling capital would be a wholesome influence in the interest of the soldier and everybody else.
– The honorable member’s extension of .time has expired. [Further extension of time granted.’]
– Another factor which the Minister has not mentioned is that many returned soldiers who had taken up homes have been deprived of their pensions, and, therefore, cannot pay their instalments.
– Tlie Act imposes upon the Commissioner the duty of carrying through this programme on a business basis’. He is not permitted to say, as a private owner would, that he will provide a house for this, that, or the other person, »who may or may not be able to carry to completion the conditions of purchase; the Commissioner is under an obligation to satisfy the Government and the country that every soldier who is deemed eligible for a home had at the time of issuing the certificate of eligibility a reasonable prospect of carrying through his contract, and making his repayments.. So huge an’ undertaking as the War Service Homes Commission, involving millions of pounds, cannot be run on the loose method of providing a house for everybody, irrespective of his circumstances in life. This is a matter that is determined not only by the Commissioner, but by his Deputies, and the latter have shown a very fair spirit. They have met all applications that were reasonable, and have built according to the programme and ,the funds available.
– In Victoria they have built only in the cities.
– I admit that there has been an excess of building within the metropolitan area, and at the last conference of Deputy Commissioners I gave a specific direction that henceforth closer attention must be paid to country construction.
– -They have not taken much notice of that instruction.
– After all, the governing factor in the carrying through of this programme is the direction from which the applicants come. I remind honorable members that whilst in my judgment the metropolitan area has had very liberal treatment to date in the building programme, thousands of houses have been built for soldiers, not under this Act alone, but out of funds provided by this: Parliament and the Government in connexion with land settlement. So that the Government cannot be said to have neglected the country, and to have considered only the metropolitan applicants. At the same time I candidly admit that I should have liked to see more construction in the country in the past, and I undertake to see that a larger proportion of the expenditure in future is devoted to country construction.
I now turn my attention to the immediate condition of affairs confronting the Government and the Commission. There has been, in my judgment, a vast overestimate by the ex-Commissioner of the building programme. He failed to make anything like a reasonable estimate of the number of houses that could be financed by the country, and in consequence entered into contracts for supplies very much in excess of the Commission’s immediate requirements. Last year, the estimates passed by this House included a sum of £6,000,000 for the provision of War Service Homes. That sum was supplemented by an advance from the Treasurer of close upon £1,500,000, so that the expenditure to the 30th June last will be found to have been in the region of £7,500,000. The Treasurer, in the exercise of a privilege conferred upon him by the Act, permitted, as part of the beforementioned provision, all repayments to be applied to further construction and, in addition, at the urgent request of myself, provided a further sum of money to enable the Department to go ahead with the building programme. This is a point I desire to particularly emphasize. Provision was made for only £150,000 to be spent during the last financial year on the purchase of already erected homes. The Commissioner, on the other hand, bad expended during the financial year, to the 31st May last, in the purchase of already erected houses, and the taking over of mortgages, &c., £2,972,721. That was an inexcusable miscalculation of the aims and objects of the Commission. The Commission was not constituted to be a buyer of real estate, but to (1) provide a sound and modern home for the soldier at a reasonable cost, and (2) to try to cope with Australia’s share of an acute world-wide shortage of houses.
– That is a bit of faddism put on it in the Department, and not in Parliament.
– The honorable member was amongst those who represented their views on this question to me in Sydney. And in view of the condition of affairs that had arisen there, I appointed a tribunal presided over by Mr. John Stinson. I take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the work of the tribunal and of this patriotic man who placed his services at our disposalwithout payment to unravel the difficult conditions which had arisen in connexion with the administration of the Sydney office. In consequence, 976 applications for the purchase of already-erected homes, the obligations in connexion with which could not be carried through by the soldiers, were considered by this Tribunal. Applicants had paid in the aggregate £58,384, in the form of deposits which were in danger of being forfeited, and which would consequently have been lost to the soldiers. But in view of the special representations made by honorable members this Tribunal was appointed to urgently investigate every case so it could be taken out of the ordinary operations of the Department, and given close attention in order to solve avery difficult problem. The Tribunal, under Mr. Sanson’s presidency, examined the whole of these cases, and reported, in the majority of them, that the Government was morally bound, and in some legally bound, to relieve from possible forfeiture the £58,384 deposited, and carry through the purchases. Whilst the late Commissioner had at his disposal only £6,000,000 authorized by Parliament for the year for the provision of homes and the purchase of land, material, and other requirements provided for under section 20 of the Act, he expended £2,972,000 on the purchase of already-erected houses, which meant that wecould not build homes if we continued as wewere going.
-The Minister is quite wrong.
– In the majority of cases.
– Not in the majority of cases in my electorate.
– The honorable member will have his opportunity of putting his case, and as this is a very involved matter, I trust he will allow me to proceed . .
– When will he have his opportunity?
– When I have concluded.
– But the Minister may speak for an hour and a half, and I will have to wait here all night.
– I shall curtail my remarks if the honorable member so desire?
– J do not wish that. But we should not rush this matter through.
– I am sorry to say x that, in ‘ the purchase of already-erected houses, a certain amount of what might be termed speculative building was encouraged. The Department was established with the intention of building new homes for soldiers, and the policy of wholesale purchasing of already-erected houses meant displacing one tenant to accommodate another. Evidence has been produced which proves that houses had been merely brushed up and painted, and dumped on to the Commissioner.
– Whose fault was that?
– The Commissions, chiefly. ^
– Were those cases investigated by the Public Accounts Committee? I have not heard of such charges being investigated or substantiated.
– The Government do not desire to seek shelter in this matter as much responsibility is theirs; but there was a demand, not only from returned soldiers,- but from. honorable members in this Chamber, that the work should be undertaken by a Commission. A Commission was appointed, and in it was vested the powers contained in section 5, which reads -
There shall be a Commissioner, who shall, subject to the directions of the Minister, be responsible for the execution of this Act.
The authority to purchase already-erected houses is embodied in sub-section 2 of section 5, which reads -
The Commissioner shall be a body corporate by the name of the War Service Homes Commissioner, and shall have perpetual succession and a common seal, and be capable of suing and being sued, and shall, subject to this Act, have, power to acquire, purchase, sell, lease, and hold lands, tenements, hereditaments, goods, chattels, and any other property for the purposes of this Act.
Therefore, of course, subject to the financial provisions, the late Commissioner had power to acquire already-erected houses; but he did not have authority to exceed his financial limit under the provision fixed by Parliament. It was not until a month or so after I had temporarily taken over the work of the Department that I found that money allotted for the construction of new homes and the purchase of material had. been used in the purchase of alreadyerected houses. I immediately gave instructions that no more already-erected houses were to be purchased, except in special circumstances, bcause the money then available was required to build new homes, which would be a better asset to the purchasers. Some of* the alreadyerected houses had been constructed for years.
– A man would be able to marry and rear his family before a house would be ready.-
– I do not think that is a fair statement. *
– I know of an instance in which a returned soldier ‘topplied for a house three months before he was married, and although he now has a child nine months old, he is still without a dwelling.
– I am prepared to admit that there are individual cases of hardship, many of which have been brought under my notice; but I have endeavoured, in th*e majority of cases, to render relief. Honorable members, of course, understand that the Commission can only proceed, according to the money available.
– And instead of purchasing homes that are already available, the Commission has been making contracts for the supply of goods for some years hence, and many of the ex-soldiers will have to wait that time before they are accommodated.
– I do not propose at this juncture to enter into all the details; but, in my judgment,- the late Commissioner expended money’ that should have been devoted to the building of new homes in the purchase of already-erected dwellings. The acquisition of timber areas and the entering into large contracts for supplies of material has resulted in me, together with my Committees, being snowed under with accumulating contracts, applications to build, and other commitments, although we have only a limited amount available for the purpose. In my opinion, there has been a gro3s overestimate by the ex-Commissioner, first of all, in the programme of providing homes.
– Is the Minister condemning the action of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen)]
– I am putting the case for the Government, whose actions have been criticised. I have not endeavoured to reply to the criticisms in the press; but I crave the indulgence of the Committee to put the case for the Government at this juncture. Huge contracts have been let for the purchase of materials, and we have either to carry them out, reconstruct, or dishonour them. The Government will not dishonour them, but will carry them out, and receive the supplies which can be used.We shall have to reconstruct some contracts where supplies have been obtained far in excess of the Commission’s requirements. We cannot sell the materials in the ordinary way; for the Government do not desire to become a retailer of materials for the construction of homes. We undertake the building of War Service Homes without any idea of outside work, and we do not wish, if we can avoid it, to set up selling agencies for surplus materials. This state of affairs has led the Government to announce a complete alteration of policy. We shall proceed no further ourselves as builders of homes. The Government have had an experience which has led us to believe that there is no further necessity for us to continue as master builders - to believe that there is sufficient private organization in the Commonwealth, plus the organizations of the States, to build all the homes required.
– Have you any idea how many homes have yet to be constructed ?
– I shall come to that matter.
– What is the policy of the Government in regard to homes already built?
– I cannot answer questions at this stage, and the honorable member must put it to me later. The Government, therefore, propose that the building of homes shall proceed, but that all in the future shall be built under contract, preferably after public tenders are called. Under the Act there is put on the Commissioner a definite limitation of expenditure upon each house, which he cannot exceed. In my judgment, building under the daylabour system has resulted in an excess cost in the case of approximately 1,400 houses, and at no stage of the work could the Deputy Commissioners and their stalls say what a house would cost until completed. We are under the obligation to deliver a completed house at a fixed limit, and under day labour we cannot say whether the work can be carried out within that limit. I am convinced that out of a total of 5,000 houses, the building of 1,400 has resulted in an expenditure in excess of the statutory provision ; chiefly through the day-labour system, and the Government have decided that they will know, before it lets a contract, the amount that will have to be paid for a completed house. That is the only way in which the soldier can know what his home will cost. We propose to acquire land, and sell blocks to soldiers at cost price, and then to let contracts for the building.
A suggestion was made that the States should undertake the building by means of the State organizations. The Government are alive to the position, and no longer desire to be a separate organization in competition with the States. In pursuance of that policy, I, in February last, concluded an arrangement with the South Australian Government under which they should undertake the provision of soldiers’ homes, the Commonwealth providing the money at 5 per cent., payable half-yearly, and yielding to us monthly re-payments, and the State Government taking over the whole business of collection, supervision, construction, and insurance. There is no doubt that the State Government will be just as solicitous as any other body would be, or even more so, for the welfare of the soldiers within its borders. That particular State has experienced organizations of the kind, which have been at work for years, whereas the Commonwealth Government is but one central body ; and in my judgment the Commonwealth organization, no matter how carefully and skilfully administered; is not that which should carry out the programme for the whole of Australia.
– The Government can carry out the building of homes just the same at anybody else can!
– Probably the honorable member is right - he must be right sometimes. As to present conditions in the War Service Homes administration, I admit frankly that there are some phases of it that one cannot altogether be proud of - some phases that call for criticism. We shall take all the criticism which is honestly due to us, but I do not wish the opinion to become broadcast that, because there have been some deficiencies at Cessnock or Goulburn, therefore no soldier has a decent home.
– Day labour is the only thing that has saved your Department - it has been the saving grace !
– The honorable member, as one of the Public Accounts Committee, has given a lot of attention to this question. I point out to him that on the opening day of the homes, the Minister was furnished by the Commissioner with figures which conveyed, not only to that gentleman but to the public, the soldiers, and the soldiers’ representatives, that the cost would range from £690 to £730 under the day-labour system. ‘ Both the Minister and the members of the public who accompanied him, recognised the fact that the houses that were, then opened were well built, and represented handsome properties; but when the soldiers who occupied them received the complete cost notices months afterwards they found that they had cost close on £835. Under the day-labour system, as I have said, we cannot know what the completed house is going- to cost ; and the system breaks down when there is a rigid limit fixed in the Act.
– If a soldier purchases a house for over £800, is he to have the extra money returned to him ?
– I do not propose to answer that question, because it is not put in such a form that I can reasonably do so. I have made my statement, to which I adhere, and I cannot go further. At this stage I wish to say that, in constructing these homes in excess of the fixed cost, no matter what the difficulties may have been, the Commissioner ran counter to the explicit terms of the Act. Honorable members know that the Act contains a definite prohibition against the erection of any house at a completed cost, including land, of more than £800. I am conscious of the difficulties, but I say, again, that it is faulty administration when a Commissioner, with the Act in front of him, continues to build houses at .a cost for which he has no legal warrant. It is the intention of the Government to carry on, and close up present commitments! - to complete the houses in course of construction - and when that is done, to revert to the definite contract system, under which we and the soldiers shall know exactly what each house ‘ is going to cost. We shall, where possible, make arrangements with State Governments which have building organizations, and arc in negotiation to that end. I have already concluded an arrangement with the South Australian Government, and negotiations are in progress with the Governments of Western Australia and Tasmania. In the meantime the principle of building by contract after public tender will be adopted. [Further extension of time granted.] I am sorry to have taken up so much time, but honorable members will recognise that there is a wealth of detail in this matter. The Government do not propose to appoint a War Service Homes Commissioner to carry out future policy. They consider that within two years operations to which they are committed will have ceased, and they can reasonably expect “to have entered into satisfactory arrangements for future building. They propose to appoint in the meantime a DirectorGeneral to complete the work in hand, and clean up present undertakings. There will be a clean cut line of policy adopted as from the first of this year, except as regards houses in course of construction. The Director-General will be intrusted with the work of cleaning up work in hand, reconstructing contracts, and carrying out such re-organization of the Department as is necessary. In this regard the advice of the Advisory Committee is being followed in the main. The Government consider that the Committee has a sound grasp of the internal conditions of the Department and the steps necessary to remedy existing defects.
– The DirectorGeneral will be in the place of the exCommissioner 1
– Yes. He will be. (Supported by Managers iu each State until the work is completed. It is hoped that a sum of £4,000,000 will be available for the present year.
– For the whole year?
– That will not be enough.
– I share the honorable member’s opinion. My own desire as that more money should be provided. I suppose that that would be the desire of any Minister charged with the carrying out of such a programme.
– The Department is already committed to nearly that amount.
– That is not so. The
Treasurer is, after all, the person who determines these matters, and he is of opinion that he cannot reasonably expect to raise a. loan in excess of £11,000,000 for soldier requirements during the present financial year. Subject to the approval of Parliament, and to the successful flotation of the loan, he proposes to set aside£4,000,000 of that amount to provide War Service Homes. I am hopeful that a further sum may be secured in the shape of repayments. In this connexion. I might be allowed to point out to present soldier occupants who have homes in good positions that the punctual performance by them of their obligations will enable their comrades who are not yet settled to secure homes more quickly.
With regard to the Queensland timber areas which have been referred to, the whole of the timber on them is nob likely to be required by the War Service Homes Department, and the Government will take the earliest and most favorable opportunity to carry out a satisfactory realization, if not of the whole, then of such of those timber areas as are not required for the purposes of the Department.
Some alterations of the Act will be necessary. I am personally not prepared bo recommend an increase of the present statutory limit. The Government desire by every means possible to reduce the completed cost of homes to the soldiers. They recognise that as there is a general downward tendency in all standards, unless there is some great counteracting influence, house values must also recede, and their aim and, object will be through private contractors or State organizations to provide a standard asset that can be maintained with fair safety by the soldier throughout a long period of years. This we hope to be able to do while charging the soldier cost price, as against the ordinary civilian, who has to pay for his building its cost, plus a profit probably upon both his land and his house.
The Government recognise the abnormal conditions of the past, and pro pose to give the most favorable consideration to the question of the re-adjustment of excess costs where they can be proved to have been incurred in excess of the contract arrangement, and where there has been a complete departure from the undertaking given to the soldier.
I do not think that I can reasonably ask the Committee to bear with me any longer. I have endeavoured to outline the operations of the past and proposals for the future in connexion with this rather troublesome Department.
– That is putting it very mildly.
– It has not been a bed of roses for some time past. I recognise the very valuable assistance given to me by the Public Accounts Committee, by the Advisory Board, by the Stinson Tribunal, and by many of the soldier organizations, who have taken a big broad view, and have held that their comrades have been getting sound substantial houses. One soldier architect put it in this way in his report: -
I am certain that soldier applicants are getting thoroughly good -homes.
– He was referring to homes constructed by day labour.
– In concluding his report, this gentleman says -
However, “ Honour where honour is due,” and, even if. their institution should never have been inaugurated, the present War Service Homes Department will give the Digger a fine home at a minimum cost.
I want to say, as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) has interjected, that the soldier architect from whose report I have quoted believes in the day-labour system. It is my judgment, broadly, that the soldier has been given, on the whole, a good substantial home, and when matters are finally adjusted I think it will be found that he has been given it at areasonable cost. If present difficulties with regard to unemployment are surmounted, I feel confident that the soldiers will make good in their homes, just as they made good on the fields of battle.
.- We have been looking forward for some weeks to an explanation by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers)
Si the administration of the War Service Homes Department, and a statement by him as to what is intended to be done in the near future. The honorable gentleman, however, has devoted the greater part of his speech to a resume of the operations undertaken under the Act, and has carefully refrained from condemning any one for the undoubted blunders that have been committed by the Department. It must be obvious to the Minister, as it is to every one else, that the administration of the War Service Homes Department has been very unsatisfactory. It is certainly a new undertaking, and probably one of the big mistakes made at its inception was that of appointing to responsible positions many men who had not the requisite qualifications. I am fully in accord with the policy of the Minister that returned soldiers should be employed wherever possible; but it is necessary to make sure that every man is competent to discharge the duties of the position to. which he is appointed. Unless that is done, public money must be wasted. That, I think, has been one of the chief defects of the administration. We have had not only in the Central Office, but in some of the State branches, men who were not qualified to do the work allotted them, with the result that there has been a complete muddle. The Minister, instead of boldly facing the position and telling the Committee what he himself has found in this Department - instead of taking the Committee into his confidence and making a straight-out statement of the defects in administration which he must have discovered - has carefully avoided doing anything of the kind. We all have an idea of the work that has been accomplished by the Department, but what we have to consider is whether or not it has been carried out in the best interests of our returned soldiers and the community as a whole. That is the question which confronts us, and the answer is that the work has not been carried out in the best interests of our returned men and the country. To put the position briefly, the whole organization of the Department has been a muddle.
The Minister has told us that £6,000,000 was allotted for the building of homes during the last financial year, but he neglected to explain why the whole of that amount was expended within the first few months of the financial year without the knowledge of some responsible authority. If a. sum of £6,000,000 is made available for expenditure by a Department during any one year, the usual procedure is to spend that money, at the rate of £500,000 a month; but it would appear that the War Service Homes Department expended this £6,000,000 at the rate of about £2,000,000 a month. The vouchers in respect of that expenditure had to pass through the hands of various officials, and had finally to be sent to the Treasury. Some one in authority, therefore, should have been able to point out- to the Minister the way in which the money was being expended. Some one should have been able to point out to him or the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) the exact position. Had that been done, the Minister could have applied the pruning knife, and have arranged for a more even distribution of the expenditure. .Instead ‘ of that, it would seem that this vast expenditure was left in the hands of certain individuals who were not capable of carrying out the duties intrusted to them. If they had been, the Minister would have known what was the exact position from month to month. The ordinary transactions of Government Departments are such that the Ministerial head of the Department is able from month to month to learn exactly what is taking place. Every officer who’ is intrusted with the expenditure of public money is required to supply the head of his Department with particulars, and the vouchers must be certified to before they are sent on to the Treasurer. When that procedure is followed it is impossible for any one in authority not to know what is going on. In addition to this sum of £6,000,000, the money that was received during the year by way of repayments in respect of advances for War Service Homes was also available for expenditure. My information is that theDepartment was promised not only £6,000,000 for providing War Service Homes, but also £800,000 received by way of repayments.
– That was not in my time, and I was not informed of it.
– That, at all ©vents, is said to be the position. The total of £6,800,000 was expended by October or November last, although it was intended to carry the Department over the whole financial year. The Commonwealth was committed as far back as October last to payments for the purchase of homes by returned soldiers, and many of the claims in respect of those commitments have not yet been met. The money intended for such purposes has been expended in other directions. Can that be said to be reasonable or economical administration ? Surely there is something more yet to be explained by the Minister. Why has he not taken the Committee into his confidence and explained everything regarding the expenditure of the £6,000,000 in the early part of the last financial year ? It is useless for him to say that the money made available to his Department was expended much sooner than was anticipated. That does not relieve the honorable gentleman of his responsibilities. Many people have sold houses to the Commonwealth Government for the use of returned soldiers, and although those houses have been occupied for months by returned men, the vendors in numerous cases have not yet received payment.
We are told that in respect of the current financial year a sum of £4,000,000 is to be placed on the Estimates of the Department, or £2,000,000 less than was expended within the. first six months of the last financial year. Thousands of soldiers are waiting - as the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) has said, in some cases they have been waiting for twelve months - for homes. With this reduced vote, how are their needs to be met within a reasonable time? How long will this £4,0001,000 last ? How many homes will the Department be able to build during the year?
– How does the honorable member suggest that more money can be obtained than is reasonably available by loan?
– I suggest that the operations of the War Service Homes Department are very much like those of a building society. It is a business proposition designed to provide returned soldiers with homes as soon as possible, and if the Department were properly administered it should be able to borrow more money for the purpose. Just as a building society lends out money for building purposes, so this Department may make advances to soldiers for the building of homes, and the whole of the money so advanced is repayable. It is repaid by instalments. A building society has money coming in regularly from its paying contributors, and ‘it lends that money out again.. If we are to have only this limited sum placed at the disposal of the Department for the building of homes, how long will it be before the last of the applicants will be able to get a home for himself ?
– The provision of £4,000,000 means the erection of. 5,000 houses this year.
– Yes. Of what value is such a policy ? It will not give satisfaction to the men. The £6,000,000 provided last year for the purpose was altogether inadequate, yet only two-thirds of that amount is to be available this year. If the Treasurer is going to float a loan for £15,000,000 for soldier purposes, why should not the amount be increased to £20,000,000, because, as I have shown, the money will merely be invested, and will show an immediate return. The sooner the Government get their organization to work to complete the scheme so much the better will it be for all concerned. It would be far better to keep the staff fully employed, and use up all the material as quickly as possible, so that the staff could be abolished altogether in the not-distant future. We do not want the scheme to be dragging on for years.
– The honorable gentleman must know that we are going to continue this work in subsequent years.
– My complaint is, that the Department is going so slowly about the business that dissatisfaction will be bred among the returned men who are desirous to get houses in every part of the Commonwealth.
– This is not an instalment job to be carried out over a period of years.
– Of course it is not.. It must be apparent to honorable members that there has been a complete change of front by the Government. Last year they declared they were going to build homes at such a rate that they required an immense quantity of timber, But now we are told that, after having purchased the Queensland timber areas; they are going to sell them again.
– That is not the statement I made. I said, “ such portion as would not be required for the Commissioner’s purposes.”
– What areas are the Government going to sell? What is the use of the Minister making a statement like that and qualifying it? The Government might sell three-fourths or nine-tenths of the areas. Surely, if they have a policy in connexion with this matter, the Minister ought to be able to tell honorable members how much is going to be sold. If the Government were justified in purchasing the property at all they cannot be justified in selling it now, in view of the fact that so’ many homes are to be built.
– Does not the honorable member recognise that the conditions now are totally different, as far as material is concerned, from the conditions existing when the areas were purchased?
– If a change in . conditions has been brought about by a fall in the price of material, then we must assume that the areas were bought by the Government when timber was at its highest price. Was this fact taken into consideration at the time? Can the Government say .they were justified, in buying the areas then?
– The honorable member said yes.
– And I say so now. I was not in Queensland at the time, andtook no part in framing the report to which the Minister refers. We were informed that by purchasing the areas referred to, soldiers’ homes could be built more cheaply. What justification, then, is there for selling some of the areas? Is it because the Commission is able now to get timber at a cheaper rate? We were told at the time of purchase that the timber merchants were not prepared to give a satisfactory supply to the War Service Homes Commissioner, and now, when the demand for. soldiers’ homes is very great, the Government are going to sell portion of the areas.
– When these timber areas were bought there was no Baltic pine or Califfornian red pine coming into the country.
– We bought those areas chiefly for the hardwood, and now we are going to dispose of them. This is a very unsatisfactory piece of business from my point of view.
I am very disappointed with th« future policy of the Government as outlined by the Minister. I know that my views will not meet with the approval of the majority of honorable members, but I say deliberately that of the houses I have inspected, those built by day labour stand out as infinitely superior to the houses built under contract; and if I were purchasing one to-morrow, I would be prepared to pay a good deal more for a dwelling built by day labour for a home. In regard to the cost, we have it in evidence from one of the Deputy Commissioners that when the Department invited tenders the prices were so high that they were obliged to build some of the houses by day labour, and saved about £200 on each building.
– If a soldier arranges to have a house built for £750 and it costs £850, who ought to pay the difference ?
– If it can be shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Department is responsible for the added cost, it should not be shouldered on to the soldier. I do not want to say anything about reports that are pending, but so far as the Newcastle district is concerned, I know that members of the Committee were agreeably surprised at the condition of the houses built by day labour on the Merewether Estate. The man who was in charge of the work, Mr. Vial, of Newcastle, rendered very good service to the Commonwealth Government. Although the report states that some of the War Service Homes are jerry-built, it is not suggested that all the houses are faulty in construction. As a matter of fact, hundreds are well and faithfully built. With respect to Roe’s estate, in the Newcastle district, I have known the locality for many years, and I was surprised to learn that the Commission had bought it. It is centrally situated in a suburb carrying a large population, but there has been good reason why that land has remained unbuilt upon during all the years of progress around it. Nobody would take it; but the Commission took it, and soldiers’ homes were constructed there. There has been a good deal of rain in the locality this winter. I have been told by a carrier that he was unable to get his van with a soldier’s effects within 200 yards ofthe home in which the furniture was to be put, and that on another occasion when he was delivering coal he became so badly bogged that extra horses had to be requisitioned to pull his vehicle out.
– That area was bought on the recommendation and valuation of an officer of the War Service Homes Branch, indorsed by a highly-placed officer of another Commonwealth Department. I refer to the Commonwealth Surveyor-General.
– This low-lying area was not drained. I doubt if it can be properly drained. The Commission was informed by the officer recommending its purchase that the land was well situated, healthy, and quite suitable for soldier settlement. The officer who recommended it was Mr. Earle.
– The only consolation is that his services have since been dispensed with.
– Why should not the officers concerned make their initial inquiries from people who know something first-hand about the locality? The very first person who should be approached is the clerk of the municipality or shire. His views and advice should be sought before anything is done. No one can know better than that official the real nature and quality of the land and neighbourhood. Had such procedure been adopted the Commission would never have bought Roe’s estate. The Waratah town clerk told the Public Accounts Committee that this was the worst land in the municipality, that it was entirely unsuitable for soldiers’ settlement, and that he was doubtful if it could be drained because it was so low-lying. The officers of the Department now say that it can be drained, and efforts are being made in the direction of filling in, to a depth of about 8 inches,with ashes. The effect, however, has been to dam the water against the walls of the houses. Yet returned men are asked to pay £700 or £800 for these homes. They are expected to take their wives there and rear families in such circumstances. It is all very well for the Minister to say that some of the officers responsible for recommendations of this kind have since been dismissed. There are others who still remain. Any official who approves of a pro position such as this is guilty of a great wrong to our soldiers and the country.
– Hear hear! And of having deliberately misled the Minister.
– Was there any protest from residents in the locality before the purchase was made?
– When the purchase became known it was too late to protest. It is quite possible that these homes will be thrown back upon the Government. I would blame no soldier for refusing to bring up his family in such unhealthy and altogether unsuitable surroundings. Those places will be left on the hands of the Government, and will have to be sold at a sacrifice. Money will be lost upon them. Who is to pay?
I desire to refer to another purchase, namely, that of land on the King’s-road. This also is low-lying, and is about the coldest spot in the district, but it is capable of being drained. More than forty houses have been built there, and: others are to follow. There is nothing wrong with the building of these homes; but the site is by no means a good one. The most important fact, however, is that the land was bought as an unencumbered estate, and that afterwards it was found that a coal-mining company held the right to extract mineral from underneath those houses.
– And are the officers who made this recommendation still in the Department ?
– There is one officer of whom I am aware who is in the service of the Commonwealth, but in another Department. He is a very high and responsible official. It was he who recommended both purchases. The ordinary practice was followed. The Minister did not authorize the purchase before he had obtained either two or three supporting valuations and recommendations in each instance.
– When the agreement had been practically entered into for the purchase of the land - just before finalization, in fact - the officer indicated found, according to the evidence which he gave to the Public Accounts Committee, that the land was not unencumbered. He said, in effect, “ Had I known that the land was encumbered I would not have made my recommendation. Immediately after I got to know the facts I asked the Deputy Commissioner in Sydney not to finalize the transaction; but, to my surprise, I found that the whole proposition had been completed.” I say that in justice to the officer concerned. The land belonged to the old Waratah Coal Mining Company, which sold the whole of its surface rights to Messrs. Lang, Wood, and Company, auctioneers and estate agents, of Newcastle, but reserved to the Caledonian Coal Mining Company the right to extract mineral from any part of the estate. In the area which the Government bought the coal was underlying. When it was found that a mistake had been made, advantage was taken of the Compulsory Acquisition of Land Act, and the purchase was completed. That coal cannot now be worked to the injury of the homes built upon the land ; but the Caledonian Company has lodged a claim for £10,000 royalty, and there is no doubt that the Government will have to pay something. Who will actually pay? Is the cost to be put on to this group of soldiers’ houses. The Minister has stated that, under the Act, every charge upon the land has to be paid by those who have acquired homes upon it. Consequently, if a royalty has to be paid to the coal-mining company in question, the soldiers will have to pay it. Is the Minister going to give us any satisfaction in regard to this matter?
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I would have preferred the statement by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) to have been made quite separately from a Supply Bill, as it appears a definite promise was made. I understand that the honorable gentleman presented to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to-night a copy of the statement which he made here. I claim that a similar privilege should have been accorded to the Acting Leader of the Country party, and I hope that, in future, when any important statement is to be made, a. copy of it will be supplied to” our party.
– I must apologize to the honorable member and his party for the omission. It was a complete oversight on my part, and I regret it exceedingly.
– I am sorry that the honorable gentleman’s statement was not made quite apart from a Supply Bill, so that the discussion upon it might have been adjourned. It is absolutely impossible for us to arrive at a just decision upon the work of the War Service Homes Department until we have in our possession the final report of the Public Accounts Committee in respect of their investigation of that matter. The Country party has no intention whatever of attempting to debate the work of that Department, because if we did so, without passing any resolution to the contrary, it would be assumed that we had approved not only the statement of the Assistant Minister, but also the work of the Department generally. Only when we get the final report of the Public Accounts Committee will it be possible for us to go fully into the question and decide what should be done to insure the best service being rendered to our returned soldiers.
– The difficulty is that the financial year has started, and that our new programme must be proceeded with.
– I quite recognise that. I merely desired to convey that we would have preferred the Assistant Minister’s statement to have been made apart from a Supply Bill, because, we do not wish to give a formal approval to it, and that would seem to follow naturally from the granting of Supply. I assume that the Assistant Minister intends to bring down a Bill for the amendment of the War Service Homes Act, and I would like to know when the measure will be submitted for our consideration.
– Such a Bill will be necessary, and will be submitted at the very earliest date after the adjournment upon Friday next.
– Then we shall be afforded an opportunity of dealing with the whole question exhaustively.
– We have had four progress reports from the .Public Accounts Committee.
– But I should like to see its final report. I have no intention of delaying the granting of Supply. I merely wish to emphasize the necessity which exists for economy in our public administration. I hope that the Government will not sanction the creation of any new Departments. I understand that itis their intention to make special arrangements for. the reporting of the proceedings of the Arbitration Court and other tribunals. If anything of the sort means increased expenditure, I hope that, until we are able to deal with the Estimates generally, no new appointments will be made which can be avoided.
– The new proposals in my Department will mean a reduction of expenditure
– I am aware of that. I am speaking of the Estimates generally. The most rigid economy should be observed until we are afforded an opportunity of examining the Estimates.
When submitting his Budget statement it will be the duty of the Treasurer to let us know what is the policy of the Government in regard to the Mandated Territories. At the present time some people may be able to obtain advantages which the general public cannot obtain. The sooner, therefore, that we have something settled in regard to these new Possessions, and Ordinances are prepared and approved by this Parliament, the better it will be for all concerned. When the Budget statement is delivered I hope that any Ordinances of that kind will be brought before this Chamber.
.- T feel it my duty to say a few words in reply to the statement made by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) in regard to Lieut.-Colonel Walker. The greater portion of the honorable gentleman’s, ‘Speech consisted of nothing but praise for what Lieut.Colonel Walker had done.
– I candidly expressed the difficulties which he met, but I did not eulogize him.
– The only reason assigned by the honorable gentleman for Lieut.-Colonel Walker’s dismissal from office was that, at the time of his appointment, he was an uncertificated insolvent. If the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) did not know that, he should have known it. I have a telegram here-
– Can the honorable member explain why the telegram from Mr. Cupples was never seen by the Minister ?
– How can I explain t The Minister has access to the files at all times, and he cannot explain.
– We should have some information in regard to the matter.
– No matter what the Minister may say about Lieut.-Colonel Walker, that gentleman under the War Service Homes Act -had power to do practically anything he pleased. Subsection 2 of section 5 of the Act says -
The Commissioner shall be a body corporate by the name of the War Service Homes Commissioner, and shall have perpetual succession and a common seal, and be capable of suing and being sued, and shall, subject to this Act, have power to acquire, purchase, sell, lease, and .hold lands, tenements, hereditaments, goods, chattels, and any other property for the purposes of this Act:
That provision gives’ the Commissioner absolute power to do anything whatever; and, when speaking on this matter before, I told the Minister and the Treasurer that it would .be necessary to pass a validating Act. They said that it would not be necessary, but it has been proved necessary.
– Sub-section 1 of section 5 governs sub-section 2.
– Sub-section X. says -
There shall be a Commissioner, who shall,. Subject to the .directions of the Minister, be responsible for the execution of this Act.
Then sub-section 2 gives the Commissioner the powers which I have readSection 7 says -
A person who is an uncertificated bankrupt or insolvent shall be incapable of being appointed Commissioner.
It was upon that provision that the Minister based his dismissal of Lieut.-Colonel. Walker. I join with the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) in saying that it was not fair to the Committee to make a statement such as the Minister has made to-night when we are dealing with Supply. The Minister should have made his statement on a motion for the printing of a paper, so that we could have an opportunity of reading the report of his speech and replying to his statements.
– I was completely in the hands of the Committee, and no objection was taken to the making of my statement.
– It was arranged between you ‘ and the Treasurer that thestatement should be made in Committee of Supply. I was in the chair at the time, and no one protested. It would have been more convenient, however, had the Minister followed the course that I suggest. I appealed to him, and to Senator E. D. Millen, to rehabilitate Lieut.-Colonel Walker in the eyes of the world by re-appointing him.
– How can the Minister rehabilitate a man who has sworn, as Lieut-Colonel Walker did? Remember what he said about McKenzie, a man whose boot laces he is not fit to tie.
– The honorable member is speaking about another matter, which I leave him to deal with. I do not know anything about McKenzie, but I know that Lieut.-Colonel Walker is as reputable a man as you will find in Australia.
– He is the honorable member’s personal friend, and therefore must be right.
– In speaking on this subject, I am not moved by feelings of personal friendship; I am dealing with the case on its merits, and I think I have the sympathy of the Committee. I appeal to the Minister to reinstate Lieut-Colonel Walker for twenty-four hours. That gentleman has given me his assurance that on being reinstated and rehabilitated in the eyes of the public he will tender his resignation, in writing, so that it may be accepted at once. Had the Minister dealt generously, fairly, and justly with him in the circumstances, he would not have dismissed him. He would have allowed him to get his certificate, his insolvency having been annulled, and would have reinstated him. I have seen documents showing the amount of money spent by Lieut.-Colonel Walker. *” I. have seen the price-lists of timber merchants, and I have seen the bills for the timber he purchased from them, and these show a saving of fully 50 per cent. In all the circumstances, remembering the difficulties of the position when he took office, he having to organize the Department and to get material and labour, he did very well indeed.
– I frankly admitted his difficulties.
– And, inferentially, you admitted that he overcame them.
– No; on the contrary, I pointed out that 1,400 of the houses that he had built cost more than the amount allowed by the Act.
– Now we have a definite statement. The Minister says that he did something contrary to the Act. This is the first time that that charge has been made.
– The Act forbids the building of any house by the Commissioner or his deputies at more than a certain cost. No man may disobey an Act of Parliament.
– The Minister says that Lieut.-Colonel Walker disregarded the provisions of the Act. That is a definite charge against him. Hitherto we have heard only of his insolvency. I could show the temptations to which he was submitted, and how he could have made money. But there is no charge against him, nor is he suspected of having defrauded the Commonwealth in any way, or of having taken a bribe, or of having done anything that could not bear inspection by the whole world. No charge of that sort is laid at his door. There are only the two things I have mentioned. The fresh admission made by the Minister to-night is made for the first time. I wanted to show that Lieut.-Colonel Walker had power, if he had chosen to do it, to feather his nest, so to speak, in a very liberal way indeed. He tells me that there is on the file a letter which he wrote to Senator Millen, iri which he stated that a leading Sydney architect, whose name is given in the letter, asked him for a contract for 10,000 houses, and said to Lieut.-Colonel Walker, “There will be £5 a house for you.” That was a bribe of £50,000 offered to him by this particular individual. Is that letter on the file <gr not?
– I have never seen it. This is the first I have heard of it.
– I said to him, “ Why did you not lay a trap for that man?”
– That man ought to be prosecuted at once.
– Is that Kirkpatrick?
– The difficulty is that it is one man’s word against another’s.
– I do not think that any man’s name shouldbe mentioned in connexion with such a thing unless there is some foundation for it:
– The name is in the letter, which Lieut.-Colonel Walker told me that he wrote to Senator Millen immediately the offer was made to him.
– I am informed by the chief administrative officer of the Department thatthere is no such letter on the files of the Department.
– Letters have a habit of disappearing. Some time ago Isent a wire to Lieut.-Colonel Walker, and this is the reply wire which I received from him -
Thanks your wire. Three Millen’sstaff willing prove on oath he- meaning Senator Millen - seen wire from Cupples before my appointment.
That was the wire fromCupples, in which he said to Senator Millen, in reply to Senator Millen’s request for a recommendation in regard to Lieut.-Colonel Walker, that Lieut.-Colonel Walker had been declared insolvent in 1915. I shallavail myself of the second-reading stage to deal with this matter further.
.- I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
We had contemplated going on to-night so as to he able to finish up our business this week; but I am happy to be ableto state that, by an arrangement which will obviate the necessity of punishing ourselves by an all-night sitting, it has been agreed by the leaders of the two parties that the Supply Bill shall be passed by 5 o’clock to-morrow, and that then we shall resume the debate on War Service Homes for the; remainder of the evening.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 July 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1921/19210720_reps_8_96/>.