8th Parliament · 1st Session
Chanter) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Treasurer aware that the Income Tax Department has levied income tax on three military officers from the Netherlands, who came to Sydney in January last to purchase horses for remounts, and stayed in the State two and a half months? I understand that they were told that they could not leave Australia until they had paid a tax, or had given a guarantee for its payment, the total amount being under £6. Mr. George Kiss, an exporter of horses, who has been dealing with these officers for some years, says that the Netherlands Government strongly resents these pin pricks, and unless the grievance is remedied, a trade in horses which means the expenditure of thousands of pounds yearly will go from Australia to the Argentine.
– We must not lose a business like that for thesake of £6. I shall look into the matter, and I think that a way outcan be found.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation lay on the table the papers connected with the purchase of the Roe’s estate at Waratah and the King’s Road estate at Adamstown ?
– I shall be glad to do so.
-Asthe Minister for Home and Territories has just returned from the North, he should be able to tell me whether the correspondence, which has been going on for nearly two years, about the provision of a radio station on the Willis group of islands to send out cyclone warnings, is to bring any practical results. A sum was placed on the Estimates for the last financial year, andI ask if anything will be on the Estimates for this year for the erection of a radio station on those islands.
– I do not know what is being done, but when I was at Townsville, on my way north, an officer of the Postmaster-General’s Department was there to make an inspection. I do not know whether he has yet returned.
– What about Mr. Malone?
Mr.POYNTON.- I think that was hisname. He went outsome distance from Townsville with a party of Townsville people, and I presume the inspection has now been made. I shall ascertain whathas been done.
– Has the Government taken steps to re-distribute the electoral divisional If not, is it proposed to take earlyaction in this matter, and, if so, what is tobe done?
– I have already said thatwe are waiting for a certified report of the checked count. The moment it comes to hand weshall consider this matter.
-In the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation in a position to answer the questions that I asked on the 10th inst. regarding soldier settlement in the various States? If not, will he endeavour to reply to it before the House adjourns?
– I take it that the honorable member referstohis request for details about the cost of soldier settlement in each of the States. When his question was asked, instructions to supply the information were despatched to each of the States, and the replies have been received from all of the States but one. I hope to be able to give the honorable member to-morrow the information for which he asked, and if particulars concerning all the States are not. available, I shall make known to him those then in hand.
– In an otherwise comprehensive and correct report of my statement last night concerning the War Service Homes which appears in to-day’s Argus, there occurs this passage -
These applicants bad paid £58,384 in deposits, and, though the tribunal had found that the. Ministry was either not legallyor morally bound in these cases, it had accepted the recommendation of the tribunal, and relieved these payments from the forfeiture to which they wouldotherwise have been subject.
The reference is to a decision based on the recommendation ofthe Stinsontribunal, and the word “not” should have been omitted. I ask the proprietors of the journalto correct thereportin that particular. Obviously the Government would not accept responsibility for the payment of a sum of between . £600,000 and £700,000 if it were not legallyor morally bound to do so. The fading of the tribunal was that in Borne oases were was a legalresponsibility,and that in other cases, where there wasnot a definite legal responsibility, there was a very strong moral responsibility.
– I have received a telegram from my friendNelson, in the Northern Territory, saying that one of the hero men of Australia - Birtles - is sick and penniless, and down andout as the result of his recent accident. Can the Acting Prime Minister extend some kindness to him?
Mr.HectorLamond. - It would have been kinderof the honorable member to make this request privately.
– I am willing tohelp personally, and to put down as much as the honorable member will.
– Ishall look into thematter, and take care that Mr. Birtles is not left stranded.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister let the House know the conditions under which he proposes to float a loan for £11,000,000?
– I expected to be able to do that to-day. There are one or two little matters which have not yet been cleared up, but I hope to make the statement either later during this day or to-morrow morning.
– With respect to the resumption of work at Cockatoo Island, I desire to know from the Minister for theNavy (Mr. Laird Smith) why activities havenot been startedon the Mombah and the cruiser Adelaide.If the Minister cannot give the reason, because of the particulars being outside his sphere ofknowledge,or beyond his jurisdiction, can he say whether money has been madeavailable by theNavy Board for work to be resumed upon those two vessels ?
– I have the particulars.
– Then I direct my question to the Acting Prime Minister. I have reliable information, contained in a telegram sent me from Sydney, to the effect that the Acting Prime Minister’s answer to a question put by myselfon Tuesday last was misleading.
– I saw that in a press report.
MrRYAN . - I am informed that only 150 men have been started at Cockatoo Island, and that no work is being done on the Mombah or the Adelaide, or on the merchant ships. Is the Acting Prime Minister in a position to make a statement now?
– I am afraid that there is not much use in my making statements. They are promptly contradicted and denied. However, I shall make another one.
– That is right; go on making them. The people will believe you if you repeat them often enough.
– Now, that is insulting. I have before me Mr. Mahony’s statement, as reported in this morning’s press. The honorable member for Dalley is having quite a good time at Cockatoo. The newspaper account states -
Mr. W.G. Mahony, M.P., on Wednesday stated that he had telegraphed to Mr. Ryan, M.P., denying the statement attributed to Sir Joseph Cook that 750 men had started work at Cockatoo. He said not 200 men had started, and that no work was being gone on with on the Adelaide, the Mombah, or the merchant ships. He had asked Mr.Ryan not to let Sir Joseph Cook bluff the House. A number of painters and dockers had been engaged for a day or two during the week, and had been thrown idle again.It was these men Sir Joseph Cook was counting when he said 750 menhad been employed.
In the first place, I did not say that 750 men started work last week. I stated that 750 men were at work last week. The point is that there have never been less than400 or 500 men employed at the Dock all along. The honorable member for Dalley and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) say that there is nobody at workthere.
– I have never said that.
- Mr. Mahony has.
– Neither has the honorable member for Dalley said so. The Acting Prime Minister is under a misapprehension.
– Then the honorable member will admit that there have been 400 or 500 men at work all the time at Cockatoo.
– “E. and O.E.”!
– And” n.e.i.” The facts are these: Immediately after noticing the press telegram, which I have just read, I rang up Mr. Brown this morning. That official is at Cockatoo Island Dockyard at this moment. Here are the particulars with which he furnished me over the wire: On the19th July, 773 men were employed at Cockatoo Dock; on the 20th, 807 men were employed there, and on the 21st - that is, to-day - 820 men are employed at Cockatoo Island Dock. These numbers donot include salaried staff, such as clerks, &c. That is the definite statement of the Officer in Charge of the work. He has informed me that fifty additional men have been called for today. Some days ago a number of men were written to, but they have neither replied, nor started work. There are forty-three men on the Mombah to-day, and ninety on the Adelaide. It has been pointed out that there will never be the same number on those ships as previously, owing to the fact that the vessels are nearing completion. Further, the work which has to be done now is more of a special nature, and some difficulty is being experienced in obtaining men with the necessary qualifications. I refer to such work as, electrical installations of a delicate character. There are no vessels in the Dock at present. If a vessel is docked it will be possible to put a large number of men on. If the work is not there, however, the men cannot be puton. If honorable members intend to have these men employed they had better get somebody to put a ship into the Dock. I take it that honorable members do not expect the Government to put the men on if there is no work at the Dock for them. With regard to the merchant ships, difficulty has been experienced with the boiler makers, in connexion with an agreement concerning piece-work. I understand that there is to be a Conference this afternoon to deal with the matter. Until a piece-work agreement is arrived at, work will not be commenced. The total amount paid in wages last week was £3,225. This week it is anticipated that the sum will amount to £3,300. Those are the complete particulars, given me over the telephone this morning. The issue, therefore, is between the honorable member for Dalley and Mr. Brown. The honorable member may know better than the Dockyard official. I cannot say. But the facts are as I have just related them.
– Some weeks ago, I asked the Acting Prime Minister if tenders were to be called for a new mail service to the New Hebrides. Has anything been done in this matter? If tenders have not been invited, has the contract for the conveyance of mails been given to the firm which previously had the contract, but without the formality of tenders being called for?
– My impression is that what has been done has been to extend the contract for another twelve months. The’ Government cannot make long contracts in connexion with a matter which is only just at the inaugural stage of its development. Under the new order of things in the Mandated Territories, the Government may be compelled to re-arrange the whole of the services to the Islands, with a view to improving them. At the present, it is proposed to continue the present services - but, upon an improved basis - for another twelve months, and with an increased subsidy.
– The chiefcustomers in respect of the Island services are the Government themselves. They have their own vessels lying idle and, at the same time, are paying from £40,000 to £60,000 per annum to a private company for the conveyance of mails. Is that good business ?
– The Commonwealth vessels are not quite the class of ship for this particular work. However, I shall look into the whole matter. Meantime, the facts are as I have stated.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister state what, business the Government propose to ask the House to deal with before going into temporary recess to-morrow ? When the right honorable gentleman was speaking yesterday he read a cablegram from the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) asked by way of interjection whether the right honorable gentleman would place upon the table the cable sent from here to which the Prime Minister’s message was a reply. I now ask the ActingPrime Minister whether he will table the cablegram sent to the Prime Minister?
– I will not subscribe to the doctrine that I must place all our cables on the table.
Mr.Blakeley. - Is the honorable gentleman ashamed of this one?
– I am not; there is nothing in it to be ashamed of.
– That is no reason why it should not be produced.
– Here is another international diplomat! I said yesterday, in reply to the honorable member for Balaclava, that before consenting to table the cablegram sent to the Prime Minister I would look through it. I have not had time to look through any cables this morning, because I have been busily engaged otherwise. Before I can promise to lay any document on the table I must see what it contains. Honorable members may make up their minds that the affairs of the world cannot be conducted by tabling every cablegram that passes to and fro between Governments and Ministers.
In regard to the order of business, we shall proceed to-day, as arranged yesterday, with the Supply Bill till 5 o’clock. The Leaders of the parties have promised to give us Supply at that hour, and that will enable the Senate to deal with the Bill and return it to this House before we adjourn to-morrow. After the Supply Bill is disposed of, an opportunity will be given for the further consideration of War Service Homes matters. The Minister for Trade and Customs is anxious to get passed a Bill authorizing the continuance for twelve months longer of the bounty on the protection of shale oil.
– Why for twelve months only?
– We have some bounty money unallocated, but the period in which the allocation can be made has elapsed. We propose to continue the bounty for another twelve months so that we may apply the unexpended balance to the purpose for which the House voted it, and during that time we hope to review the whole situation with a view to sketching a further programme in regard to the very important question of developing oil resources in Australia. Then there will be some motions to refer proposed works to the Public Works Committee, and a little Bill which the Postmaster-General desires to get passed dealing with the payments to the State railways for mail services. I understand, also, that the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) desires to make a proposal to the House.
– That will be in October next.
– The Government do not propose to go on with the Industries Preservation Bill?
– We shall do as much as we can possibly do by to-morrow afternoon. I am afraid that the Industries Preservation Bill has had all the run that it can have until we have dealt with the other business I have indicated. In the meantime, I am sure the Minister for Trade and Customs will set to work upon that Bill, and he will have a little time to read the criticisms offered by honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) ; later on, we may be able to compose the differences of opinion that have been revealed.
Mr.Ryan. - We could give the honorable member for Dampier leave to make a personal explanation about his vote on my amendment yesterday relating to the Wheat Pool.
– I am quite sure that be could make a more intelligent explanation in regard to pooling than any statement I heard from the Opposition yesterday.
Mr.Ryan. - What about “the unthinking mob “ ?
– I suppose the honorable member who used that expression was judging the mob by its leader; we cannot prevent men making these de ductions. However, we had better try to finish up our business for the time being in a good temper and with good-will, and I hope that some time between now and to-morrow afternoon the honorable member for Dampier will be able to have his say on the pooling question.
– It will be after our trains leave if he does get an opportunity; he had his chance yesterday.
– I read in this morning’s newspaper that the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) stated that his reason for turning down the farmers of Australia by not supporting the amendment moved yesterday in regard to the Wheat Pool was that his party had promised immunity to the Government until the return of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). I ask the Acting Prime Minister-
– It is not in order to found any question upon a vote of the House.
– Well, I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether there is any compact between the Government and the Country party in regard to the business that should be placed before the House, and, if so, why was it made and when will it terminate?
– I shall answer that question promptly and candidly. So far as I know much the same kind of undertaking was given by the Country party to the Government as was given on behalf of the Opposition by its Leader (Mr. Tudor), but the difference is that, notwithstanding what the Leader of the Opposition said-
– We would “ boot “ you tomorrow.
– Quite so, despite what the Leader of the Opposition said.
– The Leader of this party made no compact with the Government, and the right honorable gentleman knows that.
– Honorable members opposite ask a question and then when I try to answer it they begin howling like dingoes. I ask them to kindly permit me to make a reply. I know that honorable members opposite do not like what I am saying. I repeat that much the same sort of assurances were given by both parties, but from one party three motions of censure haveemanated within a week.
– That is not true.
– The honorable members of the other party have seen for themselves that they ought not to be trailed in the politics of any other party. I am only recording my impression from what I observe in the House. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) may have another explanation, but I have given my answer to the question that was asked.
Several honorable members interjecting,
– I have on several occasions previously and again to-dayasked honorable members to refrain from interjecting when Ministers are replying to questions. A question was asked of the Acting Prime Minister, and directly he rose to reply halfadozen other questions were fired at him from different parts of the House. I shall protect Ministers and others as far as I possibly can against these interruptions. But if the interjections continue I shall ask Ministers to refuse to answer questions.
-I desire to make a personal explanation. In the first place, I wish to say that the question asked by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) entirely misrepresents the facts of the case. No such- report as he has suggested has ever, so far as I know, appeared in the newspapers. As to any arrangement between the Country party and the Government, I think the facts stand clearly out to every honorable member of this Chamber. I was not aware of the intention of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition(Mr. Ryan) to move an amendment; and immediately he sat down I made a statement, showing my attitude on the question. I stated distinctly that I looked on the amendment as one amounting to a motion of want of confidence, and that, under those circumstances it was no part of the policy of this party to give support to such an amendment - at the present time, anyhow.
– The Deputy Leader of the Oppositio is writing out another amendment now ! You had better hurry up before he gets it in!
– Is the Acting Prime Minister in order in interrupting the Acting Leader of the Country party ?
– The Minister is not in order.
– Then I apologize.
– Secondly, I made it quite clear that the Country party have no desire at the present time to put their trust, so far as country interests are concerned, in the hands of the party opposite.
– I also desire to make a personal explanation.. When the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) was speaking, he suggested, if I apprehended aright what he said, that some arrangement hadbeenmade by the Leader of the Labour party-
– I did not say “ arrangement.”
– But the right honorable gentleman suggested that the same thing had been done by the Leader of the Labour party as by the Leader of the Country party in respect of the absence of the Prime Minister, in Great Britain. I wish to say that there is no truth whatever in the suggestion that there has been any arrangement, any immunity given, or anything of the kind, on the part of the Leader of this party, or any member of the party, with regard to the absence of the Prime Minister.
– That is well known, too!
– I am sure the Acting Prime Minister knows the fact; and I am surprised he should suggest that any such thing has been done. On the, other hand, we know from an official statementpublicly made by the Acting Leader of the Country party-
– By the Leader of the party.
– It has been publicly stated that the Country party have made a. definite arrangement to give immunity to the Prime Minister during his absence.
– Subject to certain conditions.
Mr.RYAN. - I do not think that statement was made in this Chamber.
– Oh, yes - it was made only in this Chamber.
Mr.RYAN. - I wish to make it clear that there is no arrangementof the kind - nothing in the nature of a truce - so far as the Labour party is concerned, and of that fact we havegiven ample evidence during the last few months.
– Hear, hear !
Mr.RYAN. - On theother hand, it is well known that there is ; an arrangement for immunity, or a truce, between the Country party and the Government.
-Before the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) left for London, I drew his attention to a statement made by the Russian Trade Representative, to the effect that Russia was willing to take the whole of the output of Australian lead, zinc, and other metals, and to pay cash. In view of the Prime Minister’s reply on that occasion, I desire to ask the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) whether he has received any intimation since the Prime Minister arrived in London with regard to any transactions or negotiations connected with the sale of Australian metals.
-I have had no communication of anykind on the subject.
– I desire to know from the Minister for Home and Territories whether, while he was in Papua, any representations were made to him with regard to the introduction of alien labour into the Territory, and, further, whether representations were made to him in favour of the issue of regulations which would make more readily available to planters the native labour now there.
– It is true that a deputation requested that certain Asiatic labour should be brought in for expert purposes, but neither at that deputation nor any other was any proposal made for any regulations to assist in the provision of native labour. On the contrary, ninetenths of the men , I met in connexion with the plantation business were quite satisfied with the conditions. They can obtain quite the number of men they require,and on some of the biggest plantations those concerned have been able to do away with recruiting. Generally speaking, there is nocomplaint about the conditions of labour.
Mr.GREGORY. - When the House meets again, in September, does the Acting Prime Minister anticipate that the Government will be prepared with a complete and definite’ policy so far as New Guinea is concerned ? What I mean is, something in the nature of civil law with full knowledge on the part of all concerned as to what their rights are in land settlement, mining, prospecting, and so forth - in fact, a complete Ordinance as to the administrationof the mandated Territory.
– Yes. I am afraid I shall not have time to make a rough statement to-morrow, but by the time we meet again I can promise the honorable member quite definitely that we shall be in a position to set forth the policy of the Government in the mandated Territory.
– For some months, or some years, litigation has been proceeding between Mertons and the Prime Minister of Australia. A statement was made the other day showing that £2,000 has been set down to meet the expenses of the Commonwealth in conductingthis case. Can the Acting Prime Minister informthe House what stage the case stands at, and how much more money the Commonwealth will be mulct in before the litigation is settled ?
– I am sure I cannot tell the honorable member, but I hope there is no more money to be paid for anysuch purpose.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether he willsupply a return showing- 1.The number on the Instructional Staff at Jervis Bay Naval College ? 2.The number of students atthat institution ?
The total cost for the years 1918, 1919, and 1920 at Duntroon College and Jervis Bay Naval College, respectively?
– The answers to thehonorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the difficulties with which fruitgrowers expect to be confronted in regard to marketing the coming fruitcrop -
Has he made inquires as to whether private enterprise can finance the purchase and manufacture of next season’s canning crop?
If not, will he cause the necessary inquiries to be made, with a view to protecting the interests of the growers?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Appointment of Mr. Farquhar as Chairman.
asked the Minister in charge of Shipbuilding, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Apportionment of Indemnity
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he furnish a statement showing -
The total expenditure by the Dominion of Canada for war purposes during the late war?
The total expenditure by the Dominion of South Africa for war purposes during the late war?
The total expenditure by Australia for war purposes during the late war?
The amount of indemnity payable by the late enemy countries apportioned to - (a) Canada, (b) South Africa, and (c) Australia?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 and 2. I am not in possession of this information.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Will he give the House an indication as to the Government’s proposal in regard to the erecting oi a test house for explosives; or what it is intended to do respecting the control of the manufacture of explosives in respect of the national welfare of the Commonwealth?
– The* construction of a Research Laboratory for experimental work on explosives is being proceeded with, and completion is expected within twelve months. The provision of a Testing Station for -commercial coal mining explosives is being considered. The question of controlling the explosives manufacturing industries has not been considered by the Defence Department, but that Department is engaged in preparing plans with a view to developing the manufacture of high explosives required for military use. The control of the manufacture of commercial explosives, however, comes within the province of the Department of Trade and Customs.
Timber Areas: Purchase of “Tops.”
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– On the 15th July the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister) asked if it would not be possible to work a second shift at the Commonwealth Government Woollen Mills at North Geelong, in order to meet the orders of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia for civilian tweed. I stated then that it was considered doubtful whether the employment of a second shift was advisable or possible. I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : - ‘
The institution of a second shift at the Government Woollen Mills, North Geelong, is impracticable, for the reason that the looms are operated by female labour, which is not available for other than a day shift. The honorable member said, “ Last year some 40,000 yards of tweed were supplied from the mills,” and I wish to correct the erroneous impression which this statement is likely to make. Up to the 30th June, 1921, the mills supplied tweed to the Returned Soldiers League at the rate of 40,000 yards per month. As from the 1st July last, the quantity which the mill has undertaken to supply is 14i.000 yards per month. It is hoped that it will be found practicable to issue from 15,000 to 20,000 yards per month, but the Department accepts noobligation beyond 14,000 yards per month.
– On the 14th” inst., the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the following question : -
Will the Treasurer request the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to consider the paying of interest on small sums in the Savings Bank, say, up to £200, at the same rate (less * per cent, for expenses) as the Commonwealth pays to the foreign money-lender?
I communicated with the Governor of the Bank, who has now furnished the following reply: -
I would point out that moneys on deposit with the Savings Bank are withdrawable at call, and cannot, therefore, earn the same rate of interest as moneys which are placed in a definite loan for a fixed period. Furthermore, the Savings Bank depositors are quite satisfied with the rate of interest allowed, so long as they have the facility to withdraw the money on demand. This is evidenced by the continued increase in Savings Bank depositors’ balances at this Bank.
– On the 13th May last the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell) asked the following questions : -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following information, supplied by the South Australian Government: -
The following paper was presented : -
War Service Homes Act - Land acquired under, at East Maitland, New South Wales.
Prims Minister’s Absence: Government Immunity from Political Action - Commonwealth Line of Steamers : Tasmanian Agency - Navigation Act: Wireless Telegraphy - Imperial Conference : Cablegram from Prime Minister - Disarmament Conference - Postal and Telephone Services - Dismissal of Lift-Man - Naval and Military Colleges : Expenditure - Soldier Settlement in New South Wales - Telegraph Rates - Adding Machines in Post Offices - Duplication of Work in Government Departments.
InCommittee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 20th July, vide page 16367, on motion by Sir Joseph Cook) :
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.
– I do not intend to deal to-day with the administration of the War Service Homes Department. It would be ridiculous for the Committee to attempt on the eve of an adjournment of the House for someweeks to deal with what is, perhaps, the biggest question before the people of Australia at the present time. The statement made yesterday by the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) showed careful preparation, and it would be quite impossible at this stage to analyze the -figures submitted by him to the Committee. Speaking entirely for myself, I prefer to discuss the administration of the War Service Homes Department after the period of immunity from attack granted by the Country party to the Government has passed, so that we shall be free to deal with it on its merits.
– So far as the administration of the War Service Homes Department is concerned, I personally claim no immunity, and have not asked for it.
– That is so; but the honorable gentleman is aware that the Country party, rightly or wrongly, agreed to grant the Government immunity from attack for a certain period-. I intend to honour that agreement in letter and in spirit. In a political experience extending over nearly a quarter of a century, this is the first time that I have granted immunity to a Government, and it will be the last. It was the promise of immunity given by this party that tied our hands last night. I do not think any honorable member will accuse me of lack of fairness and candour, and I say, therefore, that the amendment amounted to the moving of a vote of want of confidence in the Government. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will himself admit that when a proviso is sought to be added to a Supply motion, against the will of the Government, it must be accepted as a challenge.
– If I admit so much, will the honorable member admit that the subject-matter of the amendment was sound ?
– I am content to place my position fairly before the House. If mistakes are made, we must stand by them, but, having consented to the Prime Minister going to England to represent Australia, it would be blackfellow’s politics to tomahawk him. I cannot be accused of undue sympathy with or liking for the right honorable gentleman, but, having agreed to the giving of this pledge, I am bound to keep it.
I wish to draw the attention of the Acting Prime Minister to a matter which has interested me for a considerable time - the scandal of permitting the firm of Henry Jones and Company to be the agents at Hobart of the Commonwealth - Line of Steamers. It is the policy of the Government to which effect has been’ given everywhere else that no agent for the Conference lines of steamers should be an agent for the Commonwealth Line. For years past the firm I have mentioned has practically monopolized the shipping space on the steamers carrying fruit from Tasmania to England, and recently the manager of a co-operative company that has been started complained that Sir Henry Jones, the largest shipper of fruit from Tasmania, was Chairman of the Overseas Shipping Committee, which regulated space during the war, and is also agent for the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. If one is not satisfied with the results of an interview with him as the Chairman of the Overseas Committee, he is referred to the agent for the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and meets the same man again. This has placed a terrible shackle on the co-operative company, which, notwithstanding, has succeeded so far. I recognise the assistance which the Treasurer has given to the enterprise. The monopolists had reduced the price of small fruit below what it cost for picking, when the co-operative company offered 3d. per lb., which was more than twice as much as had been previously offered, and saved the industry. Now, after five months, the cooperative company is in the proud position of being able to repay the Treasurer the assistance that he so generously advanced to it. I do not ask that’ the agency of the Commonwealth Lino of steamers be given to any ether individual, firm, or co-operative society; but I ask that it be placed in the hands of the Tasmanian Government, which has a line of steamers of its own. If this be done, all shippers- will be treated alike. This is a matter of great importance to men who have only their orchards to rely on for their living. The attempt to break down the monopoly which has existed is, I am glad to say, succeeding to some extent, and it is not too much to ask the Government to remove a serious obstacle to its further advance. We merely ask that ‘those who put their produce into this co-operative concern shall not have to go cap in hand to a rival exporter to obtain space for the fruit which they wish to ship to England. The Sea Carriage of Goods Committee inquired into this matter. It was composed of four Nationalists, two members of the Labour party, and myself, and, though it differed on many points, it unanimously recommended that the agency of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers in Hobart should be transferred to the Tasmanian Government.
– As all the Tasmanian representatives support the Government, they should be able to bring pressure to bear on it.
– i think that ali that is needed is just a plain, straightforward statement of the case. I ask the Acting Prime Minister to attend to this matter at once. The manager of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers gave the Committee to understand that he was strongly in favour of what I suggest being done, and he told me that it would be done before the fruit season commenced. That fruit season has now passed, and another is . about to commence. It is not right that the chief exporter of fruit from Tasmania should be able to say what space other exporters may use. Every grower, every dealer, and every exporter should start from scratch, and be treated alike in the matter of space. There is always a shortage of space, and last year we were not able to secure space for more than onethird of the fruit that we could have exported. This leads to all sorts of fraudulent arrangements. A man who wishes to export 1,000 cases will get the tIP that he will be allotted .only one-third of the space for which he asks, and that, therefore, he should apply for space for 3,000 cases. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) knows all about these matters, and I am sure that in private conversation with the Acting Prime Minister he will give him more information on the subject, if he needs it. I wish to have the matter dealt with before tha tei, - negotiations connected with, the new season’s operations commence. I was unwilling to move the adjournment of the House to have the subject discussed, and therefore I have taken this opportunity to deal with it. The present arrangement is a positive scandal, and the Government should appoint an independent agent. In “my view, the recommendation of the Committee that the agency be transferred to the Tasmanian Government should be given effect.
.- There are one or two matters to which I desire to draw attention. Under the Navigation Act, which is to come into operation on the 1st October, every vessel carrying twelve or more passengers must be equipped with wireless, a necessary provision. But recently the owner of a private yacht, who desired to travel round the coast, wished to install wireless, in order that he might keep in touch with the land, and he was told that, if he did, it would be necessary for him to carry a first class wireless operator. My view is that if any one desires to install wireless on , a vessel carrying less than twelve passengers, or on a private yacht, no obstacle should .be put in his way. I would like the Department concerned to consider this matter.
Recently the rates chargeable upon Inter-State telegrams were raised to a minimum of. ls. 4d. Confusion exists to-day in respect of the supply of change when payment is made for these messages.
Seeing that the public are charged ls. 4d. minimum for a telegram of sixteen words, care is taken in almost every instance to send the whole of the sixteen words, in order to get full value for the money spent. If the charge for Inter-State messages were made Id. per word, the minimum being ls., there would be considerable saving in staff, at any rate.
A senior officer in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has informed me that he could handle the central office traffic with half his present staff owing to the relief which would be afforded in giving change.
– That is an extraordinary statement!
– It is; but I believe that it could be borne out. I have personally observed the conditions in the Sydney office. I have seen a customer hand over a florin in payment for a ls. 4d. message. The attendant has had to draw from three different portions of the till in order to get change. With that kind of thing repeated all day long and every day a vast amount of time is wasted.
– When an addition of 3d. was made on State telegrams a similar amount was added to Inter-State messages. In another place, however, an honorable senator suggested that if the minimum were made, ls. 4d. the public mind would be relieved of confusion, since it would be perceived that the rate was equivalent to Id. per word. As the proposal involved an increase of revenue the Government did not oppose it, and it was agreed to.
– I believe that considerable savings could be effected if a minimum of ls. were adopted, the rate being Id. per word.
One successful innovation has been made in the Postmaster-General’s Department which I would like to see extended. I refer to the installation of adding machines in receiving offices. These machines have relieved counter attendants from the old procedure of tearing off stamps and placing them on telegrams. However, more machines of the kind should be installed. Every telegram is now put into a machine, and the cost of the message stamped upon it, and the number of words added. Then it is sent up to the operating room for despatch. In that branch, at the Sydney General Post Office, there are ten clerks employed to do nothing but check the adding of the words - a work which could be done by the installation of one machine. While expense and much labour have been curtailed in the receiving offices, there are still those ten clerks in the operating-room. Even if the machine cost £400 it would more than pay for itself within six months.
I desire to refer briefly to the duplication of work between the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and the Department of Works and Railways. In the former there are as good engineers as in any branch of the Commonwealth Public Service. I know one man who has served the Department as an engineer for thirty-eight years. When a new regulation was issued that all works, even of the most minor character, must be done by the Department of Works andRailways, the engineers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department were “ hung up.” They could not carry out their duties, because even such a triviality as repairs to a small machine had to be referred to the other Commonwealth Department. This reference would go back and forth from day to day, through devious departmental channels, until perhaps, at the end of two months, the job would be approved, whereas it could have been carried out for 10s. in one day. There is room to cut down expenditure in regard to repairs and maintenance of plant, and even in the matter of installation of new plant. Thousands of pounds could be saved in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department alone. I could give a hundred instances in the Sydney General Post Office showing how and where money could be saved by a system of business management, and by the appointment of a competent engineer to continually supervise matters.
– Why not submit those ideas to the Postmaster-General ?
– I have put the facts before predecessors of the present Minister until I have grown tired.
– I desire to say a few words arising from remarks of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams). this afternoon. The honorable member frankly admitted that, but for an arrangement which had been made by his party with the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), prior to the departure of the latter for London, he would have voted differently upon the amendment whichI moved yesterday. That amendment, it will be recalled, had for its object the granting of assistance by the Commonwealth Government in respect of the continuation of the Wheat Pool system, and it included the suggestion that the Government should enter into negotiations with the different States. It is a lamentable state of affairs that, because the Prime Minister happens to be away from Australia, the Government of which he is the head must be considered free to do exactly what they like without any fear of being turned out of office, or, indeed, of censure. I know of no similar circumstance in the history of Australia, or of any part of the Empire. It is, in my opinion, quite unconstitutional, and it is certainly contrary to the desires of the large majority of the people of Australia. A state of affairs whereby the Government may do as they like, or omit to do what they like, until the return of the Prime Minister, is one deserving of condemnation; and I trust that there will never be a repetition of it in this Parliament. Prior to the departure of the Prime Minister, a declaration was made in this chamber by the Leader of the Country party, the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), that he was not going to be bluffed. The honorable member took a stand which now turns out to have been make-believe. He was merely a lath painted to look like iron, The unpalatable truth is that the Prime Minister had a definite understanding with the Country party that that party would do nothing in the nature of censuring his Government, or anything, indeed, which could possibly lead to their removal from office during his absence. The Leader of the Country party would have the people of the Commonwealth believe that he was not going to be bluffed by the Prime Minister; that he was not going to make any arrangement; and that, in fact, there was no arrangement. But honorable members have now heard a definite statement by a member of the Country party - I refer to the honorable member for Franklin - that, on account of an arrangement which was made with the Prime Minister, he cast his vote last night in a direction different from that which, otherwise, it would have taken. There can be no doubt now that an arrangement was made whereby, during the absence of the Prime Minister, nothing waste be done to interfere with the Government. No matter how deeply the welfare of the people might be involved, the Gov vernment were to remain and retain office.
– The honorable member for Cowper and the honorable member for Franklin must both be right.
– It may be in accordance with the practice of the Country party that, when the Government find themselves in danger, some members in the Corner are to vote one way and the remainder in the opposite direction. Something of that nature would appear to have been decided upon in order to insure that the Government should be in no danger.
– All that is suggested, to my mind, is that the members of the Country party are not puppets, to be dragged about upon the honorable member’s string whenever he may desire to pull it.
– But that they are puppets who are to dance at the pulling of the strings by the Government. At all events, I do not want to drag any puppets about on my string. Honorable members have all been sent here to represent the people of their electorates, and they should be free to vote as they may see fit, and not be bound by some secret pledge to wait for a matter of six months, or perhaps longer, pending the return of the Prime Minister to his post in Australia.
I desire to draw public attention to the existing state of affairs, which becomes the more reprehensible when one examines the nature of the Imperial Conference and the means by which it was brought about. When honorable mem- bers discussed this matter originally, the undoubted impression in their minds was that the Imperial Government had, of their own volition, decided upon a Conference, and had cabled urging the attendance of Dominion representatives in London. That impression was permitted to remain until the Prime Minister was making his final remarks in reply to a certain amendment which I had moved. Then, on the eve of his departure, the House was informed that the Prime Minister of Australia was the individual who had asked for the Conference, that the British Government had not suggested it at all, but that the Commonwealth Prime Minister had cabled London in October last urging that a Conference should be called since he considered that such a gathering was very necessary.
– Does not the honorable member think the right honorable gentle- man should be given credit for his suggestion ?
– I give the Prime Minister credit for doing things according to his own sweet will when they suit his own sweet purposes. The right honorable gentleman said, in this chamber, that he had cabled thus -
In my opinion it is absolutely essential that the Dominion Prime Ministers should meet in London next year.
Later, the Prime Minister informed the House that he had cabled to Mr. Lloyd George -
I most earnestly recommend that you call a meeting of the Dominion Prime Ministers next year in London - say, about June. Delay for another year most dangerous.
By his own admission, then the Commonwealth Prime Minister was the instigator of the Imperial Conference. Honorable members now learn that he has used this gathering, which he himself instigated, in order to secure immunity for his Government while he was away. And honorable members in the Corner fell into his trap.
– That is very farfetched.
– It is a plain and undeniable fact.
– Does not the honorable member think that the business to be brought before the Conference justified the action of the Prime Minister in the fullest degree?
– The business which was to have been brought before the Conference has apparently been shelved, and the Conference is now doing nothing. Moreover, to make believe that something is being, and is to be, done, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth has suggested that the Pacific Conference should be held in London, although public opinion is emphatically against him in that regard. Without doubt, thePrime Minister asked that the Imperial Conference should be convened, and then he manipulated one of the parties in this Parliament in order to secure immunity for his Government during his absence. Possibly the right honorable gentleman may be able to manipulate the Country party again so as to achieve further immunity. This observation reminds me of a cablegram read by the Acting Prime Minister in this House yesterday from the Prime Minister in London. And, by the way, although the Acting Prime Minister delivered himself of that message, he has not deigned to inform honorable members whether it was in answer to a cablegram which he had sent to the Prime Minister.
– On the contrary, I have done so.
– Then the Acting Prime Minister has refrained from giving honorable members any inkling of its contents.
– I have not done so.
– Apparently, he does not intend to do so. I am informed - and my information comes from the London end - that the cable message of the Prime Minister was sent in response to a very urgent appeal of the Acting Prime Minister, to the effect that it was immediately essential, in order to allay public feeling in Australia, that the Prime Minister should send a statement of the nature which he did send, and that he should be careful not to mention that it was a reply to an urgent summons of the Acting Prime Minister in Melbourne.
– Does thehonorable member mind producing that cabled information of his from London ?
– I am prepared to lay it on the table simultaneously with the production of the cablegram sent by the Acting Prime Minister to the Prime Minister.
– The honorable member’s statement is an absolute fabrication.
– Produce the cable and let us see what it is. The communication from the Acting Prime Minister to London is suppressed, but Parliament has been given the carefully-prepared reply by the Prime Minister. The other, we are told, must be kept dark; but the people of Australia will be able to guess fairly well what is in it. The cablegram from the Prime Minister is entirely out of accord with the speech made by him in this House before he left for London. He said in his cablegram, in reply to the Acting Prime Minister’s secret despatch -
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 the ratification of Parliament.
Although we have not seen the Acting Prime Minister’s cablegram to the Prime Minister containing the suggestions made from this end, we have the Prime Minister’s speech in this House. He said in his cablegram that any scheme of naval or foreign policy, or any expenditure,will be subject to the ratification of this Parliament. This is what he said in Parliament about the continuance of the AngloJapanese Treaty -
Long before the Australian people could approveor disapprove, the Treaty will be renewed or else allowed to lapse. If our people do not approve, that will not alter matters by onethousandth part of an inch….. On my return from Britain if the Treaty, as drawn up and agreed to, is not satisfactory, this Parliament can say, “We willhave none of it”; and we can renounce it. But the practical consequences will remain, and Australia will have to face them.
That is an entirely different statement from that in the cablegram to the effect that anything he does at the Conference will be subject to ratification by this Parliament.
– That is as far as it may be applicable to Australia. That is the usual practice.
– That is not the usual practice. On the contrary, the Prime Minister of Canada has insisted at the Conference that a proviso should be inserted in the Treaty making it not binding upon Canada until the Dominion Parliament approved of it. No such suggestion has been made by the Prime Minister of Australia. He says that the Treaty will be ratified or allowed to lapse long before we can say aye or nay, and if we say nay, it will not alter matters onethousandth part of an inch. In another part of his cable, the Prime Minister says -
The official communique is the only information permitted except where Conference otherwise decides. Whenever it has so decidedI have made public the very fullest information.
So that we may take it that all the information we have received about hisdominating the Conference emanates entirely from himself. After all, I suppose that does not matter very much.
– Where did the honorable member learn logic?
– I think I learned it in at least as good a school as that in which the Acting Prime Minister learned his.
– I am glad I did not learn mine in the same school.
– We have from the Prime Minister an admission that he made public the fullest information. He did not tell us anything about the attitude of the Prime Ministers of Canada and South Africa, or give us any general information that would allow us to arrive at an exact conclusion as to what was taking place; but, after the debate in this House last week, the following résumé, which I am quite sure did not come from the Prime Minister, was published in the daily press of Australia on Monday last : -
Review of its Work.
The Australian Press Association is authoritatively assured that, when reviewing the Conference dispassionately in retrospect, one realizes that it undesignedly but inevitably fell into three divisions. They were never hostile, but were mutually helpful, even when apparently antagonistic.
The first division included the British Ministers, who adopted a receptive rather than a prescriptive attitude. They were anxious to learn the views of the Dominions rather than to impose their own. Nevertheless they were insistent on requiring the renewal of the Treaty, and persistent in representing their inability any longer to bear the whole burden of the defence of the Empire, in which all the Dominions must share in the future.
The second division was comprised of Mr. Meighen and General Smuts. The former differed from the British Ministers regarding both the Treaty and defence, but was predisposed to support the Treaty.
In the third division were Mr. Hughes and Mr. Massey. The former approved of the Treaty provided it was rendered inoffensive to the United States. Mr. Massey whole-heartedly supported the renewal.
Both Mr. Hughes and Mr. Massey regarded naval defence as a matter of life and death to Australia and New Zealand.
Mr. Meighen’s reasons for opposing a re newal of the Japanese Treaty were threefold. First, the conditions which necessitated the Treaty in 1911 did not now exist. Second, the renewal would be regarded with disfavour by the United States. Third, the formation of such alliances was antagonistic to the spirit of post-war times.
Failing to secure a denunciation, ‘Mr. Meighen would propose an insertion of the clause exempting Canada until the Dominion Parliament approved.
General Smuts concurred in the principles of
Mr. Meighen’s arguments, but if assured it was Imperially necessary he would support a renewal of the Treaty.
Mr. Meighen also opposed the Conference dealing with Naval Defence, and pointed out that the Canadian Government and Parliament refused to deal with Admiral Jellicoe’s report two sessions ago, because naval defence involved questions of foreign policy and constitutional control affecting Admiralty authority on the one hand and Dominion authority on the other.
He advocated that they should suspend ac tion until the Conference decided to precise mechanism, under which the Dominions could give effect to their views on foreign affairs.
General Smuts arrived at a similar conclusion by a different line of reasoning, and emphatically opposed any new defence commitments as a contravention of the spirit of the League of Nations.
A member of the Conference describedGeneral Smuts as even going further than Mr. Meighen in opposition to the defence commitments, and said he outHeroded Herod.
– The honorable member does not suggest that that communication is official?
– I suggest that it is an accurate summary of the attitude taken up by the respective groups. I know, from my own experience of the Prime Minister, and from having heard his views often expressed in this House, that the statement is accurate in regard to him, and. I have no reason to doubt - and I am sure no one else has - that it is accurate with respect to the views of Downing-street and the Prime Ministers of Canada and South Africa. It is quite clear to me that the Prime Ministers of Canada and South Africa were entirely in. favour of the Disarmament Conference that is proposed to be held in Washington; and, in regard to defence, General Smuts said that he was emphatically opposed to any new defence commitments, because they would be a contravention of the spirit of the League of Nations. His attitude is diametrically opposed to the attitude of the Prime Minister of Australia. Fortunately, the decision does not rest with the Prime Minister of Australia; but the only conclusion to which we can come after reading that summary is - and it is a corroboration of a view I have held for some time - that the Prime Minister and his Government are really echoes of Downing-street. They advocate whatever Downing-street wants.
– They showed that in regard to conscription.
– Exactly; and on reading that newspaper summary one finds the Prime Minister advocating just what the British Government want, quite irrespective of the requirements of Australia. He is continuing to carry out his policy of subordinating the interests of this country to those of the Imperial Government.
Mr.Bell. - In what way do they differ?
– Downing-street and the Australian Prime Minister do not differ. Downing-street wants a certain thing, and the Prime Minister of Australia advocates it. He suggested the Conference which, will bring about what Downingstreet wants, and he holds up the business of this country while he goes to England to carry out that policy.
– And is that necessarily subordinating the interests of Australia?
– I did not say “ necessarily.” There are many things in regard ‘ to which I entirely agree with the views of the British Government.
– I thought it was a crime to agree with any view of the British Government.
– Perhaps that is true in respect of the actions of some people associated with the honorable member, who did disagree with the views of the British Government. However, I am not to be drawn off my arguments; the matter is too important to the people of this country. The fact remains that our business is held up. We can do nothing in this House contrary to the wish of the Government, whether it be for or against the welfare of the people.
– The honorable member is doing his best all the time. Three censure motions in a fortnight!
– We have the admissions of some honorable members in the corner that they would have supported those motions but for the fact that they are bound by a truce. What does the welfare of the people of this country matter when the Prime Minister is away?
– If the honorable member was in the position of- the Prime Minister, and he was doing the work which the Prime. Minister is supposed to be doing, I hope we would give him the same fair deal as we are trying te give thePrime Minister.
– If I were in his position [ would not ask for any immunity for my Government. The business of this country should be done in this country; the Government of the Commonwealth should be in the Commonwealth, and there is no man so important that his duties cannot be distributed in some way so that he may be free to carry on overseas negotiations without hamstringing the business of this Parliament. It is very desirable that we should make it perfectly clear that this Parliament, at all events, is more in favour of disarmament than is the head of the Government. Ministers appear to think that it is entirely unnecessary to have the views of Australia on disarmament represented at Washington. Upon that question they seem to speak with their tongues in their cheeks. The Prime Minister said that the League of Nations is not a sufficientguarantee of the peace of the world, and that we must have expenditure on defence and still more expenditure on de? fence. This is what he said about dis: armament -
Long ago it was said by Marcus Aurelius, “ Wouldst thou confer upon any country the clouds of war, then induce its Government to disarm ?”
The Prime Minister quoted with approval those words. I hope we shall have an opportunity of impressing upon the Government that we desire the views of Australia- represented at any Conference dealing with the limitation of armaments or disarmament; we object to armaments; and our objective is the abolition of armaments and conscription in all countries simultaneously. This question seemed to me of such importance that I could not allow the opportunity to pass without making these observations.
– The Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Ryan) has made a number of statements of the most surprising character. His imagination has been in “ fine frenzy rolling.”
– Why does not the right honorable gentleman produce his cable to the Prime Minister ?
– Why does not the honorable member produce the one he received from London ?
– I will produce it simultaneously with the production of the other.
– My cable is a fact; it is in existence. I. doubt that ‘ the other exists anywhere. If it does exist, it has evidently been despatched by a man somewhere who is just as prudent in the use of truth as my honorable friend is. For the last halfhour the honorable member has clone nothing but try to bespatter the Prime Minister. What a type of mind the honorable member’s must be! The Prime Minister is representing the country - not a party, but the country - in the sphere of international diplomacy and inter: national relationship; and what a type of mind it must be that causes a man to spend his days and nights, his industry and intelligence, trying to bespatter and belittle him at the other end of the world ! What a type of mind that must be which wallows - perhaps I had better go no further.
– You yourself spent years in giving the Prime Minister hell!
– I did not spend years in giving the Prime Minister “hell,” or anything else, when he was at the other end of the world. I do not call this fair fighting, but mean, contemptible party politics.
– You are a good judge of what is mean and contemptible party politics.
– I call this not “playing the game.” The honorable member would rather be bespattering the Prime Minister to-day than be doing anything that would help his country.
– Why not produce your cable?
– Never mind about the cable. The honorable member says that the Prime Minister is doing nothing in London. How does he know that the Prime Minister is doing nothing? What proof has he of that statement?
– I will show you my cable if you will show me yours.
– I do not want to see the honorable member’s cable. I ask him across the table how he knows the Prime Minister is doing nothing.
– I did not say that the Prime Minister was doing nothing; I said that he was manipulating this House.
– You said that the Prime Minister was doing nothing at the Conference, and you said it two or three times. I venture to say that, over there, the Prime Minister does more for his country in an hour than the honorable member has done since the right honorable gentleman left Australia.
– That is your mere “sayso.”
– It is my “ sayso,” and I venture to say that it is the “say-so” of every intelligent member in the House.
– I wish the Prime Minister would do nothing over there.
– That is it; honorable members opposite wish the Prime Minister to do nothing. That is their only desire and object all the time; and they move adjournment after adjournment trying to cut the ground from under his feet at the other end of the world. I think it is a matter for congratulation that this Parliament is one that can rise above those mean, paltry, contemptible tactics. That is all I wish to say in regard to that matter.
In all his diatribe the honorable member’s one substantial charge is that the Prime Minister is working in harmony with Downing-street officials. What a crime, in an Empire like ours! What a crime to dare to agree with the Imperial authorities ! But that is the gravamen of the honorable member’s charge.
– I have at least woke you up.
– The charge is that the Prime Minister is in agreement with the Imperial Government; and the honorable member asks how he dare. Nothing could be more eloquent of the honorable member’s general attitude towards these great world questions than that one charge he brings against the Prime Minister - the charge that the right honorable gentleman dares to agree with the Imperial authorities.
– That is your twist of it!
– I think that the country will agree that that is what the Prime Minister went to London to do - wherever possible, consistently with the interests of Australia, to work side by side with the Imperial authorities, not seeking to create conflict between Australia and those authorities, but working with them in efficiency and unity for the good of Australia and the Empire as a whole.
– Here endeth the first lesson !
– Yes, “here endeth the first lesson,” and here endeth the first charge the honorable gentleman made in his diatribe of thirty minutes. I wish to emphasize the fact that the one complaint that the honorable member has against the Prime Minister is that he dares to agree with Downing-street. ThereI shall leave the matter.
.- There is an understanding that the debate on Supply shall close at 5 o’clock, and, therefore, honorable members must curtail their remarks. I shall not refer now to the War Service Homes administration, because I hope to have an opportunity to do that later in the evening. At present, I desire only -to call attention to the great necessity for postal and telephone facilities in the outlying portions of the Commonwealth. It will be remembered that last year the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) gave an assurance that, so far as post-offices were concerned, there would be no reduction of the Estimates. That assurance was appreciated and approved by honorable members on both sides of the House. I fully, realize the necessity for a close scrutiny of the Estimates of every Department, and the Treasurer has told us that it will be necessary to use the pruning knife. I hope, however, that the policy announced last year with regard to post-offices will be carried out, despite the fact that the pruning knife may be necessary in regard to public expenditure generally. The Post Office provides facilities that are absolutely necessary, especially in the outlying districts. I commend the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise) for his administration in the past; he has done work that has been commended by honorable members and the country generally, and there is very little to complain’ of. Now that we are assured that telephone material is coming to hand, we may look for some extension of lines. But the main point I wish to emphasize is that a onedayaweek mail is of very little use in the country districts far removed from towns and the more populous centres. The business done at the existing postoffices in these districts affords a very poor indication of the correspondence received and despatched. In districts which I know, where there is a one-day-a-week mail service, the people are compelled to use other means of transport for their letters, only a small percentage of which pass through the post-offices. I have pointed out to the people concerned, that if they supply their own facilities they will not get the improved facilities they deserve, but they find the one-day-a-week mail absolutely insufficient, and have to use traders’ carts and any other means available for transit. Help in this direction is given by the traders and business people from neighbouring towns; and my contention is that, if any place warrants the post-office, there should be. at least a tri-weekly mail. We may assume, I think, that with telephone material available many proposed lines that have been held up will now be constructed. Hi should be realized that when a telephone line is carried into an outlying district* it does not benefit only the people living in the immediate neighbourhood. There is no doubt that these pioneers in the back country are doing, perhaps, a greater service to the Commonwealth than any done by Tiny other section of the community, and they deserve every consideration that can be extended to them. But, as I say, it must not be concluded that they, and’ they only, benefit by. the telephone extension ; every business man in the neighbouring towns, every one, indeed, connected with the telephone, benefits equally.. We should remember that it is not only the individual but the general community that benefits by the granting of improved telephone and telegraph facilities. Again, with regard to telephone services in the. outlying districts, I would urge the necessity of extending the hours so that town, residents may be able to communicate’ by telephone with farming districts be- tween 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. I brought; this matter before the Postmaster-General some months ago, and the reply that he gave me was that the business transacted in the district offices to which I specifically referred would not warrant the suggested extension. I pointed out then, and I repeat the statement now, that between 6 and 8 o’clock every evening there would be more telephone business than at any other time of the day. Farmers and other people in country districts work long hours. Many of them are out in the fields during the day, but in the evening town residents would be sure of getting into communication with them. The extension of hours for which I ask would be a boon to country districts, and the additional business would be much greater than the Postal authorities anticipate.
– I am having that matter very fully inquired into all over Australia. My own experience impresses me with the force of the honorable member’s, contention.
– I am pleased with the honorable gentleman’s assurance. I desire now to draw his attention to what is being done in the small town of Somerset, on the north-west coast of Tasmania. It has been arranged, that the- postmistress^ there shall be on duty for exchange work between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but while private subscribers may thus get into telephone communication with other towns during those hours, the post-office is not open for the transaction of general business. The postmistress receives £6 per annum, or, approximately, Sid. per hour, for working these two additional hours per day. In all probability the business transacted would not warrant the Department paying what might” be considered an adequate payment for the work performed, but where officials are called upon to be in attendance during extra hours, they should receive a reasonable reward. If the post-office at Somerset were open for the transaction of general business during these hours, the additional revenue that would be forthcoming would enable the Department to pay this lady a considerable increase. I ask the Postmaster-General to consider the wisdom of allowing general’ postal and telegraphic business to be transacted during the extra hours in respect of which postal officials have to be in attendance for telephone purposes. I regret that I have to bring, forward at this stage what are relatively minor matters, but they are of considerable importance to the people of my constituency.
I also draw attention to the overloading of the main trunk telephone line between Burnie and Launceston. We have recently had the assurance that other main trunk telephone lines within the Commonwealth are to be duplicated. The necessary material is now at hand, and I would strongly urge the PostmasterGeneral to duplicate the line between Burnie and Launceston, since, under present conditions, people have to wait sometimes from three hours to six hours in order to make a call. I trust that the Treasurer will not feel called upon to curtail the estimates of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. To whatever extent he may find it necessary to use the pruning knife on the estimates of other Departments, I hope he will not cut down the vote for the Postal Department, since it provides one of the most important services of the Commonwealth. Improvements in means of communication and transit are of the utmost importance if we are to develop this Commonwealth and give those who live out-back the facilities to which they are entitled.
.- I draw the attention of the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) to the doings of an unmitigated scoundrel who is preying upon old-age pensioners. I refer to the notorious criminal Paddy Hill, who organized a conspiracy to which the Reverend J. B. Ronald fell a victim. The Reverend Mr. Ronald secured for this scoundrel a pension. In return, the nian organized a conspiracy y against him in the Harper case, and for engaging in that conspiracy or committing’ perjury, all the witnesses in the case with two exceptions had to “ serve time.” . Paddy Hill alao had to “ serve time.” I find that this unmitigated scoundrel is preying upon old-age pensioners, and, I hope that action will be taken to punish this man. An old lady while going to Mass at 6 o’clock one morning was stopped by Hill. She says that he was very courteous and was well-dressed - confidence men generally are. He told her in the course of conversation that he ‘ was in great difficulties, and that if he could only obtain a loan of £30 he would, be able to buy bags for his wheat in the Mallee. Later on he called upon this poor old soul, who had a few pounds in the bank which she had put by to meet her funeral expenses. He induced her to lend him £30, for which he gave her a promissory note, which was payable in April last. She still holds the note, but has been unable to obtain payment. She has called many times at Paddy Hill’s house, but has not been able to see him. . When she goes to his house she is always interviewed by a Cerberus at the door, a man named Ryan. She has also written to Hill’s son, but without success. This nian Paddy Hill is still drawing a pension, and if we cannot take it away from such a scoundrel it is time that we amended the Act so as to prevent such a parasite from receiving that help. He is a disgrace to the religion he professes. When I get the pro-, missory. note I shall hand it to the Treasurer, who, I hope, will get into touch with the Crown Law authorities, and see that this criminal is punished. I hear from the keeper of a fruit shop that many old-age pensioners complain that . this man is a parasite battening upon the old mid the helpless.
I am glad that the Deputy Speaker is present, because I desire now to refer to the case of a lift attendant named Denholm, who until recently was employed in this building. Denholm was a temporary employee here for ten years, but by some misapplication of justice his appointment was not made permanent. It is difficult to understand why he was not permanently appointed to the Service. We all found him active, earnest, intelligent, and polite. Some time ago, during the pneumonic influenza scare, he was ordered to be inoculated. He at first, under advice, refused, but Dr. Stephens, who examined him and for whom I have great respect, told him that he need not fear any ill result. He then submitted to inoculation. The serum had a bad effect upon him, however, and Dr. Stephens refrained from inoculating him. a second time. He has never properly recovered the use of the arm in which the serum was injected, with the result that since his unjust dismissal from the service of the Joint House Committee, he has not been able to obtain a position.
– We ought to stand by that lad, and put him in some other position if the authorities will not restore him to his old job.
– Yes. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley), in words worthy of Shakspeare, put his case in a nut-shell when he said, “ This young man has been unjustly dismissed, and justice shrieks to the skies.” Questions were addressed to the Deputy Speaker (Mr. Chanter) on the subject, and later on the honorable gentleman read a statment supplied to him by the President of the Senate (Senator Givens) setting out that Denholm’s services were terminated in accordance with the requirements of the Public Service Act, to which the attention of the head of the Joint House Committee had been called by the Auditor-General. Mr. Israel, the Auditor-General, in the course of sworn evidence given before the Select Committee of the Senate, has denied that statement. The honorable member for Kooyong, who, like the rest of us, has taken an interest in this case, sent . to Denholm a statement obtained, I think, by Mr. Deputy Speaker from Senator
Givens, to the effect that Mr. Israel hadrefused to sanction the payment df any’ further funds to that lad. The AuditorGeneral, on oath, says that he did not refuse to sanction these payments, and that there was no foundation for the statement.
– It is a scandal.
– This young man’s mother, for whom I have a great regard, has written to me about the case. Sena-, tor Givens said that she had written to . him in terms derogatory to her son, and it is about that that she writes to me, her letter being dated 11th July, 1921. -
Excuse the liberty I am taking in writingto you, but having read your speech in Han- . sard in reference to my son, I thought it my duty to write thanking you for the splendid stand you have taken in the matter. The injury to my son’s arm was no doubt the result of the inoculation. Before he was compelled to be inoculated his arm was quite all ‘ right.
That cannot be denied. A warning was given before the operation took place, and Dr. Stephens, for whom I have great respect, would not repeat the inoculation. Serum treatment is in its experimental stage at present, and medicine has been defined as the science of experiments punctuated by death-. That was said by one of the greatest professors who has occupied the chair in the University of Edinburgh. To continue -
As regards the letter that Senator. Givens said was received from me complaining about my_ son, I have never at any time in my life written a letter to Senator Givens or any one else at Parliament House complaining about my son. The statement is false, and in fairness to me should be withdrawn.
My son, who has been in the employ of the Federal Parliament for the best ten years of his life, is now being dismissed. He* has ‘ a maimed arm, the result of being inoculated. I would be very grateful to you if you would demand an inquiry, as Senator Givens tins made a false charge against me, and goodness ‘ knows what he has said about my son. Thanking you for past favours, and hoping ; an inquiry will be held.
In the. name of this unfortunate mother who loves her son, who has been vilely ac- ‘ cused,I ask honorable members for jus’tice. If. we cannot get justice done here, how in God’s name can the hundreds,-; and, perhaps, thousands, outside who are s crying for it hope to get it ?
.- What I shall say will be brief, because of ‘ an arrangement to close the debate, arid’1 I understand that the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) wishes to speak. Much has been said by honorable members, and by legions of cranks outside, of theneed for economy. Some persons affect to think that the country can be saved only by reducing the salaries of members of Parliament, and a fairly large number,including not a few Government supporters, say that its salvation lies in increasing the hours of work and reducing the wages of the people. There is, however, need for the close supervision of the public expenditure, and I have risen to draw attention to what I consider a scandalous waste of money. I recently asked for information about the Royal Naval College at Jervis Bay and the Military College at Duntroon, and the replies indicate an astounding and disgraceful state of affairs. I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence for a return of the Instructional Staff and others employed in and about Duntroon, and the number of students there, and I was informed that the Instructional Staff and others number 170 persons, and that the students number eighty-one. Much can be said for the training of young officers in this country, so that we may have skilled leaders in case of war ; but an establishment which requires a staff quite twice as numerous as the body of students is an absurdity.
– There are others beside the Instructional Staff.
– Yes; the cooks, servants, and so on, who are considered necessary in the estimation of the responsible officials and of the Ministers who supply the cash. The Government should put the pruning knife into this establishment fairly deeply. In 1918-19 the Duntroon Military College cost £52,902, in the next year £54,637, and in the next year £54,045, or over £161,000 in three years. For the Naval College at Jervis Bay, I do not know that I have received a complete return of the staff.
– My instruction was that the honorable member was to be given all the information that he asked for.
– Apparently, only the Instructional Staff is included in the reply to my question. I expect that the same style and the same huge staff is kept at Jervis Bay as I have found to exist at Duntroon. The cost of the establishment, indeed, seems to show that the staff at Jervis Bay may be greater than that at Duntroon. The Instructional Staff at the Naval College numbers thirty-three persons, and the students eighty-five, and the cost of educating these students was £69,518 in 1918-19, £71,850 in the following year, and £87,954 in the next year, so that these students cost about £1,000 a year each to educate, and the College during three years has cost nearly £250,000.
– Does the honorable member suggest the closing of it?
– No; but the Government should take cognisance of the facts to which I have drawn attention. I ask the Minister if he does not consider the cost of this establishment a scandal ?
– Do you suggest a reduction in salaries?
– No; but common sense should be applied to the administration of these colleges, and if it is not possible to educate our naval and military officers for less than it costs to maintain these institutions, Ministers should consider whether a scheme could not be devised for training the lads at other educational establishments. The Government will stand condemned if the present excessive expenditure continues. The training of fewer than 200 lads has cost nearly £400,000 during the past three years.
.-I shall not occupy more than a few minutes in replying to the speech of the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), because I do not wish to prevent the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), who is entitled to the call, from addressing the Committee.
The funds available for carrying on the Navy Department have been very limited. Consequently, ever since I have been given control of the Department, it has been my task to look around to see if I could not effect some savings. I made a personal survey and investigation of the whole of the affairs of my Department last year, in the course of which I visited the Naval College. I court the fullest inquiry now and at any time. I went to Jervis Bay prejudiced, to some degree, against the College, and having the feeling that a considerable saving might be made by closing it down. I desire to know now whether honorable members wish that to be brought about, because it is still my task to retrench, and to keep within the means which have been made available. I think economy of this nature would be an extreme measure. -At that institution I saw sufficient to lead me to regard it as one of the finest teaching establishments in the Commonwealth. Not only does its staff build up young men superbly equipped for service in the Navy, but so fitted that, generally, if they should see fit to retire, they could take their places as able and gifted citizens of the Commonwealth. I challenge the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) to say whether there is a teacher upon the instructional staff who receives a penny more than he should be getting. I would readily cut down salaries if it could be shown that there is too heavy an expenditure in that direction. I claim, however, that the Commonwealth is securing full value for the money spent. I invite honorable members to read the reports of the institution. They will be impressed with the fact that a splendid return is being afforded the country in the shape of young men equipped to hold their own with any naval graduates from any. part of the world. They can be favorably compared with the graduates of similar institutions both in Great Britain and the United States of America, where the training costs as much, if not more. In his scheme of economy, the honorable member for Darling would reduce the institution at Jervis Bay to something which would be of no earthly use. I could undertake to run it more cheaply, but not at the same time insuring that it would turn out graduates of the character of those hitherto trained there. I emphasize that there is no waste going on.
– I cannot accept the Minister’s assurance.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the staff should not be paid a basic wage, that they should not be treated as city workers expect to be treated ? His remarks in criticism of the Naval College are unjust, and by no means creditable to a New South Wales representative in this Parliament.
Mr. PARKER MOLONEY (Hume) [4.531. - I desire to refer to only one matter, but it is one of vital importance to very many people. My remarks shall be concentrated upon the crisis between the New South Wales Government and the
Commonwealth authorities owing to the failure of the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) to live up to his promise to pay New South Wales £3,500,000 for the purpose of soldier settlement. I have endeavoured to probe this quarrel between the Commonwealth and the Mother. State, and, to me, the whole business savours of confidence trickery.
– The honorable member wouldnaturally say that, since he has investigated only one side of the story.
– I repeat that I have gone into the whole business, and have carefully read the utterances both of the Federal and State Ministers. The facts are such that it is due to the Acting Prime Minister to furnish a full statement.
– You will not get it.
– If the Acting Prime Minister had a good case he would not hesitate to make it known.
– I have made the facts public quite a number of times.
– The Federal case must be a very bad one. The Acting Prime Minister has not replied to the New South Wales Treasurer (Mr. Lang), and the situation is serious for two sets of people, the one being those who have sold land to the New South Wales Government, and cannot get their money, and the other being those returned men who are waiting for land. The New South Wales Treasurer has made public his case through the medium of the Sydney press, and neither the Acting Prime Minister nor the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen), nor the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has furnished an answer. At the Premiers’ Conference in July last year, the Acting Prime Minister, when giving a résumé of the proceedings to the Melbourne press, announced the result of his negotiations with the New South Wales Treasurer in the following terms : -
We will give New South Walesthe full £3,500,000 which it says will be necessary for the purpose of settling the 8,405 soldiers.
– And how many soldiers has New South Wales settled ?
– The number does not affect my argument. The New South Wales Treasurer has given a complete answer. The Acting Prime Minister said further, when Mr. Storey, the
Premier of New South. Wales, had acknowledged the promised assistance -
We cannot let you down, because we have been privy to the arrangements, but they ought to be, and’ must be, tightened up a little in the future.
And, at the same time, the Acting Prime Minister condemned the late Nationalist Government of New South Wales for. their actions. That condemnation, however, does not concern ‘me at the moment:
– I condemned no one that I know of.
– The Acting. Prime Minister did ‘reflect upon the late Holman Government for not having carried out their part of the contract. On the 13th of this month a long statement was published in the Sydney Daily Telegraph from Mr. Lang, in which the State Treasurer said that the Commonwealth Treasurer and Assistant Minister for Repatriation had complained that the New South Wales authorities had not tendered certified accounts of the money spent. That is the crux of the whole trouble. The obligation of making payment is not denied by the Federal authorities. A solemn contract was entered into, but the only reason which has been given for nonpayment is that the State has not rendered certified accounts for the money said to be due. If those were the facts, the Commonwealth authorities would be standing on solid ground; but the New South Wales Treasurer gave the Sydney press specific sums, and mentioned the dates on which the accounts had been certified, and sent on to the Commonwealth. Mr. Lang said -
The list of certified accounts of expenditure forwarded by us to the Commonwealth Government, but for which we have not been recouped, is as follows : -
Then he gave full particulars of more than a dozen items, of which I shall quote only the first to indicate how complete was his case. It is this : “ £6,630 0s. 6d., forwarded to Commonwealth Government, 19th January, 1921.” Notwithstanding these specific details, the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers), in his last statement forwarded to the New. South Wales Treasurer, intimated that those accounts had not come to hand.
– As a matter of fact, New South Wales has an advance now of about £270,000, in respect of which the State Treasurer has not ye.t sent us a certified account.
– Am I to understand that the Federal Government have paid only £270,000, and that there still remains nearly £3,250,000 unpaid ?
– New South Wales had £4,250,000 last year.
– That was a different matter altogether.
– And New South Wales- will get all I can spare it this year.
– That may not amount to much. The Federal authorities should keep their word in respect of the £3,500,000. The Acting Prime Minister said that, when the State accounts were forwarded, New South Wales would be recouped. They have been forwarded, but the Acting Prime Minister has not kept his word.
– How could NewSouth Wales send in certified accounts in respect of the settlement of more than 8,000 men, when less than 6,000 have been settled so fart
– The’ Federal authorities should pay the accounts for the expenditure incurred.
– I know Mr. Lang better than the honorable member does.
– The Acting Prime Minister’s trouble with Mr. Lang is that he cannot answer his arguments. I can only say that if a transaction of this character were carried out in private life it would be stigmatized as a confidence trick. If the Acting Prime Minister is prepared to look upon a solemn contract as a scrap of paper, ha must not mind some candid criticism.
– Who is to have the last word upon this matter?
– The State’ Treasurer.
– No; the man who has the last word is the man who has the money.
– If the Acting Prime Minister had a good answer he would make it the last word. But, since he has not replied, I take it that the case of New South Wales cannot be answered. When the Acting Prime Minister has a good case he always makes the most of it.
– And, even when he has not, he does so.
– That is true, too; but when his case is very bad he says nothing, as in this matter. Here are the terms of the challenge thrown down by the New South Wales Treasurer, but which has not been accepted: -
The fact is that, instead of keeping the contract under which this State was to be recouped from time to time, the expenditure paid oat of the advances, the Commonwealth Government retained duly certified statements of account totalling £1,004,557 in part adjustment of the advances made. A detailed list giving the dates and amounts of these certified statements has already been published in the Daily Telegraph, and I challenge Mr. Rodgers to state whether or not it is a fact that tile Commonwealth ha3 received these statements. I emphatically state that the procedure adopted by the Commonwealth is not in accordance with the arrangements entered into. The action of the Commonwealth (30vernment in not recouping the £1,004,557, as per certified statement rendered to 30th June last, left me without a working advance to finance the expenditure, and necessitated the provision of £248,125 out of State funds, not covered by any Commonwealth advance.
The State Treasurer has challenged the Assistant Minister for Repatriation to disprove his statement.
– Does the State Treasurer want the money before or after he has expended it ?
– Mr. Lang has stated clearly that certified accounts have been submitted. The Assistant Minister for Repatriation says that when they are submitted they will be paid, but that they have not yet been submitted.
– If they are certified accounts, the money must have been spent.
– Yes ; the Commonwealth Government have broken their solemn compact, and it is due to the soldiers that a statement should be made by the Commonwealth Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) or by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation. In the meantime,’ it is the duty of this Committee to have the matter ventilated.
– The State Treasurer does not want a statement, but money.
– And what is the right honorable gentleman’s answer to his request?
– I shall give him all the money I can afford to give him.
– The Treasurer should give Mr. Lang all the money that is due to him. The Acting Prime- Minister admits the debt, but says he will pay, not what he promised, but what he can afford.
– The Acting Prime Minister said this afternoon that some conditions were attached to the promise.
– The State Treasurer said that the money was promised unconditionally. The Assistant Minister for Repatriation does not deny that the money should be paid, but says that the certified accounts have not been . submitted. I repeat that Mr. Lang says they have been submitted. It is clear that the Commonwealth Treasurer has a tighthold on the purse strings, and is not prepared to do his part of the agreement-
– Very tight! The State Governments received only about £15,250,000 for land settlement last year.
– That does not matter. A compact is a compact, the world over, and should not be treated as a “scrap of paper,” as the right honorable gentleman is doing.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended and resolution adopted.
Resolution of Ways and Means founded on resolution of Supply reported and adopted.
That Sir Joseph Cook and Mr. Laird Smith do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir Joseph Cook and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) proposed -
That the statement made yesterday by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) upon the subject of War Service Home3 be printed.
.- In speaking on this subject last night I exhausted my time before I was able to complete my remarks. I dealt with the building areas acquired by the Commission at King’s-road and Waratah, and I propose to-day to refer to what has been done by the Department at Cessnock. In that district a large number of houses have been built by the Commission, and a couple by the Commonwealth Bank, and they are very unsatisfactory. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) stated last night that if the applicants for homes at Cessnock were dissatisfied they would be permitted to apply for other homes, and their applications would be granted. That, on the face of it, appears a fair proposal, butI doubt whether it will be satisfactory, because if new homes are built for these people in some other part of the district, the Commission will have to dispose of the homes which have been already built, and it is possible that, because of their inferior character, purchasers will acquire them at less than the cost of construction. A better procedure would have been to adopt the recommendation by the Public Accounts Committee. We recommended that the soldiers should be given the privilege of requesting the Government to revalue their Cessnock properties. Some competent person or persons should be appointed to carry out the valuations, and if it was found that a house, because of inferior workmanship or the use of inferior material, was defective, then, whatever value was placed on the house by the officers the soldiers should pay, and nothing more. To me that appears a fair proposition, especially in view of the fact that most of the soldiers and their families have been for some considerable time occupying the homes. When a man and his family have moved into a house with their furniture and effects, and thereby incurred considerable expense, it does not seem to me quite just that, because of some defect, he should be told he may apply for another house and move into it. A removal of this kind means anything from £10 to £20 expenditure on labour, fitting cloth coverings, and so forth. In such cases, the householder should have the right to a re-valuation; and, if it be shown that the house which cost £700 is worth only £600, the householder should get it at the latter price, and the difference be borne by the Government. If the Government are responsible for defective work, I should saythey, and not the soldier, ought to bear any additional cost ; and I ask the Minister to look into the matter.
Mr.Fenton. - The soldier may not be altogether satisfied with the house.
– Then let him have the chance of going out, at no loss individually. I now wish to refer to the statement made by the Minister last night in regard to the future policy of the Department. We were informed that, in future, all work is to be carried out by contract. Of course, the Government are perfectly justified in carrying out their own policy, though, personally, I do not regard that policy as in the best interests of the soldiers who have to occupy these houses. It is claimed that houses built by means of day labour cost £97 more thando houses built under the contract system by the CommonwealthBank ; but I remind honorable members that many factors have to be taken into consideration in making comparisons of the kind. The statement made by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation will be sent broadcast throughout Australia, and it will be taken for granted that under clay labour we do not get the same amount of work done as under the contract system.I venture to say that if two or three competent men, who thoroughly understand the building business, were to investigate the matter, they would find that relatively there is not the difference in cost that was claimed last night.
When War Service Homes were contemplated, negotiations were entered into with Sir DenisonMiller, of the Commonwealth Bank, with a view to undertaking the work, but no finality was reached. Sir Denison Miller went on a visit to the Old Country, and the Savings Banks of the various States were consulted with a view to intrusting the business to them. When Sir Denison Miller returned, and became aware of this, he, as representing the Bank, undertook the work, and the Savings Banks authorities were, very properly, apprised accordingly. At that time, it must be remembered, building material was very much cheaper than it became twelve months later, and that is one of the factors to be taken into consideration in making any comparison between the cost under day labour and the cost under contract; indeed, as between 1918-19 and 1920-21, it would otherwise be impossible to arrive at anything like a fair idea of the position. We know that during the latter year contractors would not tender, because, as they pointed out, they were not sure of the market for even a fortnight or three weeks ahead. One contractor informed me that, under the circumstances, he found it better to remain idle than to tender, owing to the large and sudden increase in prices. These facts are not taken into consideration in the statement made by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation. But this is only on a par with every thing done by the Department in recent years.
– To what statement does the honorable member refer?
– The statement the honorable gentleman made as to the future policy of the Department.
– The theory which the honorable member enunciates is sound enough, but we must consider every phase of day labour and the effect of it. It is not only the actual work we have to consider, but the principle of day labour as applied to houses built under the provision of the Act which lays it down that the houses must be completed at a fixed price.
– There are many other factors to be taken into consideration, as I shall show. For instance, the Commissioner is working on a group system, and the Bank is building individual houses. A man may have an allotment of land, and apply for a house to be built on it; and I would not be surprised if, on inquiry, we did not find that, in estimating the cost of the house, the value of the land in such cases is not taken into consideration. Honorable members will see that this would make a vast difference in the comparison.
– I made a statement last night in regard to costs, inclusive and exclusive of land, for homes built both by the Bank and by the Commissioner.
– Yes ; but I am suggesting that in cases where a man already owns land, the cost of that land is not taken into computation, but only the cost of the building.
– I gave separately the cost, exclusive and inclusive of land.
– That may be; but let us suppose that there are 100 houses to be built by the Bank, and that amongst those 100 houses there are ten in regard to which it is not necessary to purchase land, then the total cost is divided by the number of houses, without taking into consideration the land already owned by the soldiers. In the case of the grouping system under the Commissioner, the same thing occurs ; and if the facts be sifted, a great deal will be found in my contention.
– I do not think so.
– I know that the Assistant Minister has to be guided in these matters by his officers.
– I am bound by the returns of the Department.
– In view of the dissatisfaction with the administration, I would not take for granted anything received from the officers, some of whom are not fit for the positions they occupy. Personally, I do not favour the grouping system, though, of course, there are other people who do; and it is a matter that will probably be dealt with in the general report of the Public Accounts Committee. If a large area of land has to be purchased and subdivided, the streets made, and drains formed to the satisfaction of the municipality or the shire, the cost is considerably increased; and it is quite a different proposition from buying isolated allotments.
– I agree with the honorable member, and say that it is almost impossible to give effect to the specific terms of the Act under the grouping system.
– And, as a result of that difficulty, the soldiers suffer in very many cases.
– On the average, the soldiers will not suffer, though individuals may.
– I do not mean that all the soldiers will suffer; but, under the group system, a man may get for £800 a house that is really worth £900, whilst some one else, in the same group, gets one for £700, making the average price £800.That is very unsatisfactory, and not fair to the soldiers.
– As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, the honorable member may have observed my views on that point.
– At the moment I do not know what the honorable member’s views are; but all these factors I have mentioned tend to make the comparison between day labour and contract work unsatisfactory. It is unfair that it shouldbe spreadbroadcast that the contract system has proved much cheaper than the day-labour system. Kirkpatrick has been “flying his kite” pretty high in New South Wales, with statements in every newspaper alleging the failure of day labour and claiming that he has built the houses under contract cheaper by £200 each.
– Sir Denison Miller told me the other day that he thought the average would come out at about £650 a house, plus land.
– That is another point. We are told by the Assistant Minister that the houses cost £686, and now we are informed that Sir Denison Miller says the cost will be £650per house, plus land, a difference of £36. It is impossible to buy a block of land in any of the suburbs of Sydney for £36, so that we have evidence in this later statement that the comparison is not correct.
– I should say that the average cost of these houses would be over £700; but for all that, good work has been done in the building of them. It is of no use underrating it.
– The Acting Prime Minister (Sir Joseph Cook) bears out my contention.
– But against this we have the clear returns of the Commonwealth Bank, as furnished to the Department, and given by me to the Committee last night. The honorable member cannot doubt them.
– There is conclusive evidence that the comparison is misleading, and I am satisfied to leave the matter there. Many of the houses built under the contract system by the Commonwealth Bank are among the most defective that we have seen. The Commonwealth Bank built the houses at Goulburn, New South Wales, which have been the subject of much public comment. Mr. Kirkpatrick was the supervising architect on behalf of the Commonwealth, and he employed as local architect the son of the contractor for the erection of these homes. Yet Mr. Kirkpatrick is running about Sydney talking about what he has accomplished under the contract system, and condemning the day-labour system.
– I should hardly think it correct that the son of the contractor for the building of the homes at Goulburn was employed as architect.
– Sworn evidence to that effect was given before the Public Accounts Committee.
– They also got control of the local brickworks.
– Yes, and used bricks some of which were like sand, and could be broken up in the hand. I doubt whether these facts would have come out but for the inquiry made by the Public Accounts Committee.
– They were found out before the Public Accounts Committee dealt with the matter.
– That is not so.
– Then, how is it that the Committee went to Goulburn?
– On account of the disclosures made in evidence given before the Committee at Sydney by the Deputy Commissioner of the War Service Homes Department. The Committee found that inferior material had been used in the construction of the homes at Goulburn, and although Mr. Kirkpatrick said that he would not give his final certificate until he was satisfied that everything was satisfactory, the fact remains that the buildings had practically been completed when the Committee inspected them. I did not go with the Committee to Goulburn, but members of it have told me that they found the buildings were almost complete, and that plaster was being used to cover up bad material. If the contract system is such an excellent one, how is it that bad material was used in that case?
– These things are common to any system of construction; but the outstanding fact is that out of over 16,000 homes that had been erected under this scheme, only about forty defective buildings were discovered.
– There were others which were not brought under the notice of the Committee.
– I dare say that there are quite a number that we have not seen. Although the Acting Prime Minister says that, in connexion with so . large a scheme we are bound to have some defective houses built, I maintain that a thorough* system of supervision would protect us from anything of the kind.
– No system of supervision will prevent roguery.
– Not where the son of a contractor is appointed as architect to see that he does good work. At Cessnock there are two War Service Homes in which inferior material has been used. On the occasion of our visit one could put one’s fingers into the cracks in the walls, and the so-called paint with which they had been painted could be rubbed off.
– Wore those houses built under contract?
– Yes. I mention these cases only to show what may happen if the Minister goes on with the contract in preference to the day-labour system. The Public Accounts Committee found that houses which had been built by day labour were far superior to those which had been constructed under the contract system. I went with the Committee to Newcastle, and it was impossible to find fault with any of the homes that had been built there by day labour.
– There is no incentive under the day-labour system to scamp work.
– That is so. The homes that we saw at Newcastle had been well and faithfully built, and in my estimation the cost was reasonable. The construction of these houses was supervised by capable men. At the head of a gang under the day-labour system there is a recognised builder, who acts as supervisor and sees to it that first-class material is used, and that good work is done. T should not have mentioned this matter had not the question of day labour .versus contract been raised by the statement of the Minister, that the Government intend, in future, to build all War Service Homes under the contract system. If that policy is to be pursued, it will be necessary for the Department to exercise the greatest care in the appointment of supervisors, otherwise much of the work will be scamped, and our returned men will suffer. If I were purchasing a house to-morrow, I would prefer one that had been built by day labour, even if I had to pay more for it, rather than one that had been built under contract. If i bought a house that had been built , by day labour, I would be sure of getting amore satisfactory home, and one which would not require almost immediately tobe repaired.
– Does the honorable member know that some of these homes have cost £400 more than the estimated price?
– Yes; and something will have to be done by the Government to relievo the men from these unnecessary additional costs. Under the grouping system, a soldier does not know what his home will cost.
– But under the contract system 1 think he does.
– Not where homes ure built in groups, of twenty or forty.
– Under the contract system I do not think the estimate would be exceeded in any case by, say, £200.
– I hope the honorable member is not suggesting that I do not object to soldiers having to pay sums considerably in excess of the estimated cost of their homes. I hold that many mistakes due to inefficient supervision have been. made.
– Under the day-labour system, a man cannot tell what his home will cost until it has been completed.
– Nor is it possible under the contract system to know what a house will cost. The soldier does not know what alterations and repairs will be necessary to a War Service Home that has been built for him under the contract system.
I understood the Minister to say that he had decided to discontinue the policy under which soldiers were permitted, to purchase houses already built. I do not know that it will be wise to discontinue that policy. The average man is a good judge of a house. A proper valuation can be obtained, and by purchasing a house already built a man might save £200 or £300.
– Yes; but by allowing the men to purchase houses already built you raise the price of houses generally.
– And’ lead to increased rentals.
– That might bo one of the results of the system, but I am speaking now purely from the point of view of the interests of the returned men.
– If the policy under which they were allowed to purchase homes already built had been followed generally, the price of houses would have been considerably raised.
– The practice was not general. In the interests of the soldiers themselves, they should be given the alternative of having a house built for them by the Commission or of purchasing one already built. A man might be able to obtain for £600 a house which, if built for him, would cost £800. The additional cost is a serious toll on his earnings.
– I know of houses in my electorate which returned men were prepared to purchase for £600 or £700, although they were not really worth £200.
– I believe that some people have been trying to exploit our returned men. If a man could purchase a house for £600, instead of having to pay £800 for a house built specially for him, it would lighten the burden of his repayments. Most of the returned men who are applying for homes are young men, who have married since their return from the war, and four or five years hence they may have two or three children to maintain. Some of them will find it difficult to keep up their instalments and at the same time rear a family in reasonable conditions of comfort. I speak from experience. In my younger days, as a working man, I set about getting a home for myself, and I well remember the difficulties with which the wife and I had to contend in meeting the payments for our house and at the same time keeping the home going. It should be our endeavour to keep down these costs. Where the estimates are exceeded the burden on our returned men is intensified; and if we are not careful many of them may not be able a few years hence, should we fall upon bad times, to meet their payments. In that event, we shall have to come to their rescue, or allow them to forfeit and lose their homes. I do not want to see those who fought for us brought to such a position. My desire is that everything shall be made as reasonable as possible for them; and that is why I am inclined to think that they should be allowed to purchase a house already built, where they can do so to advantage,
Then, again, I do not know whether the Minister is going to continue the policy of isolated building. My impression is that it is intended to build in groups under the contract system. The grouping system leads to injustice. If a returned man has a block of his own, or is offered an allotment by a friend, why should he not be allowed to build his home upon it? Why should he be compelled to buy a house built under the grouping system on a site which is, perhaps, some distance from tramway facilities?
– Why should they be compelled to build in the cities ?
– Exactly. In the Newcastle district land much better than that bought by the Commission was offered to it, and declined. That land could have been obtained more cheaply than some that was bought. It is situated in the middle of the district, and those living there could travel easily from it to places of business. Yet the Commission has gone further afield, and taken up large blocks for the building of grouped houses, quite beyond the living area. Much of this land will be useless as a site for soldiers’ homes, and 8 acres of one estate which was bought has had to be discarded as unsuitable because it cannot be built on. The Government have bought too much land. They are ahead of their requirements. If they spend only £4,000,000 a year on the erection of soldiers’ homes, they cannot for many years to come utilize, in New South Wales, at any rate, all the land that they now hold.
– The land that has been purchased in New South Wales has not been paid for.
– I doubt that much of the land purchased during the last twelve months has been paid for.
– The sum of £22,000 hasbeen owing to some widows for nearly two years past on account of land purchased from them, and they are being allowed only 4½ per cent. interest on the money.
– Soldiers have been allowed to purchase homes already built, and the vendors, in many cases, have given them possession, understanding that they would be paid immediately. But there are cases in which vendors have been waiting sixteen months for their money.
– No vendor whose title is good has been waiting for that length of time. The Government cannot pay money for real property for which a good title cannot be shown.
– In one case that I know of, the vendors are telling the widow ofa soldier who has recently been killed that, if she cannot make a settlement, they will not wait longer. I have had to write personally to them to urge them to give her more time. The excuse for the delay is that an A. A. Company’s title is not a good one. I do not know howit is that the lawyers in Sydney question that title.
– Please do not say “ the excuse”; it is the opinion of the Crown Law authorities by which we are guided.
– Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been advanced on the security of A. A. Company’s titles. Nearly all the business men in Newcastle are interested in land having that title. Years ago the A. A. Company was given a grant of 1,000,000 acres, and every solicitor in Newcastle accepts the title as good, so that there is no difficulty in raising money on a mortgage of land originally acquired from the company. Yet by the War Service Homes Commission, cases are hung upfor months, on the ground that that title is unsatisfactory. It may be that the legal men in Sydney could say something for the view that they take, and I believe that it is not uncommon for Sydney lawyers to question an A. A. Company’s title; but I do not know that transfers of this land have ever before been held up for as long as they are being held up by the War Service Homes Commission. Had as much care been given to seeing that properties were not encumbered, the Commission would be better off. The present position is very unsatisfactory to vendors, and I have heard many complaints from persons dealing in properties in the Newcastle district. Many of these persons have committed themselves to expenditure which, because the Government would not come to a settlement, they have had to bear personally. It is most unsatisfactory for agents and others to enter into an arrangement in good faith, and to find at the last moment, when everything seems to be on the point of completion, that the transaction would be heldup indefinitely. The Minister should look into these cases and get them settled. I think, too, that he should give further consideration to the question of grouping. If that system is to continue, the land that is taken to build on should be reasonably accessible. Returned men should not be placed in houses a mile or more from a tramway or other means of communication. That does not give partially incapacitated men a chance.
– The Commissioner has aimed at securing accessibility, but in the metropolitan areas it is difficult to get large parcels of land close in to the centre.
– I admit that ; yet, if proper inquiries were made by those responsible for the purchasing of lard, we should be better off. Had proper inquiries been made in all cases, the War Service Homes Commission would not have purchased some of the land which it now holds. What happens seems to be this: An officer goes to a land jobber in a town, and asks him if there is any land for sale in the district. He is told, “ Oh yes, I have such and such a piece of land which I will sell for so much.” That land is accepted, perhaps, without regard to the opinion of other persons who know something of values in the district, and subsequently it is found that a mistake has been made. Those responsible for recommending land for purchase, the officers on whom the Minister depends, should explore every avenue of information. They should obtain values from the books of the town and shire clerks, and ask the opinion of the public men in a district.
– I agree that in buying land for soldier settlement double precautions should be taken, because the Commission is limited in what it can spend on a home.
– If the Minister makes an inquiry, he will find that we have paid a great deal too much for some of the land.
– In odd cases.
– In many cases.
– On the average, it is so.
– It is not so on the average, and no member who has not seen the returns should make such a statement.
– I do not pose as one qualified to express an opinion on the value of land, but I have resided in the Newcastle district for forty-eight years, and know what has been paid for land there. Some of the land which the Commission has bought in that district has cost more than it should have coat.
– There is no doubt about that. The two purchases in regard to which you asked for the papers this afternoon are shocking examples, but the Minister cannot be held responsible for them. He took the ordinary precautions. Those who made the valuations and recommendations grossly erred, in my judgment.
– Are they still in the Department?
– What protection have we against this thing happening again in the future? I understand that a director-general is to be appointed under the new policy, and let us hope that he may be a thoroughly qualified man. But the Minister should take care that the country does not, in the future, find itself in the same predicament as it has been in in the past. No Minister can examine for himself all the land offered to the Commission in the various States.
– The Minister could get valuations free of cost in any district in Australia from councils and other local governing bodies.
– That is one thing that could be done; but care must always be taken to ascertain that the information supplied is not that of interested persons.
– The information that would be supplied on behalf of district councils would be less interested than that now obtained.
– At thepresent time, the evidence of a valuator as to the worth of a property depends largely upon the side for which his services are enlisted, and thusone set of valuers - auctioneers and land agents - will give one valuation, and another set, acting for the opposite party, will give another valuation, and sometimes there will be groat disparity between the two.
– All valuations are merely estimates.
– That is so; but a good guide is the statements of, sales recorded in the books of council and shire clerks, because nowadays whenever a sale of land is made, the local council or shire has to be informed of the price at which the land was sold. I hope that in future the Minister will compel officers sent to report on land to make inquiries in certain directions, to insure the fullest information being available. We have paid away a lot of money which’ should not have been spent, because of the muddled way in which our purchases of land have been conducted. The 108 acres in Piatt’s estate, in the Newcastle District, is over a mile from a tram, and a mile and a quarter from a railway station, and if houses are built on that land without the assurance that a tramway will be taken close to it, the expenditure will be wasted, because soldiers will find that they cannot afford to live there. The Commission might easily waste £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 by building on land too far from the centres to which those for whom the houses were intended would have to go in the course of their daily employment. The Minister must be careful to see that land that is offered’ is suitable as a site for homes.
– Quite recently, a property of some magnitude was submitted to the Commission, and its purchase was recommended by a Deputy Commissioner. But having reason to doubt the wisdom of the recommendation, I had another valuation made, and got the Commissioner himself to inspect the land, and we then had no hesitation in declining the offer, on the ground that theland was unsuitable, not only as regards price, but also in point of situation. The Department is not asleep in these matters.
– If the Minister will adopt that attitude in regard to future purchases all should be well.
– That officer, by the way, has since been dismissed - I do not mean because of that specific business.
– I desire to conclude with some references’ to the financial aspect of this matter. Last year the Commissioner asked for £.10,000,000 to carry out the programme which had been set him by the Government; but the sum was cut down, upon the Estimates, to £6,000,000.
– The requisition to the Treasury was for £7,000,000. That was what the Minister for Repatriation asked for; but the item was reduced to £6,000,000.
– And the Commissioner himself had asked for £10,000,000.
It is true that the amount of £7,000,000 was sought for by the Minister, but it was cut down to £6,000,000, with a promise that the amount would be added to by the money coming in from the soldiers by way of repayment. This was estimated at that time to be about £850,000. However, my point is that such money as was granted was spent by the Commissioner in five or six months in the endeavour to give effect to the speeding up of soldiers’ home construction. The money went in securing huge supplies of timber and in buying up land, and, of course, in actual construction of homes to cope with, as far as possible, the overwhelming volume of applications. How are we going to get along now with £4,000,000 for the current financial year to deal with activities over the whole of Australia ?
– It should not be forgotten that, of last year’s amount which was made available, approximately £3,000,000 was used in the purchase by the Commissioner of already erected homes, and another £295,000 or more was spentin the same direction by the Commonwealth Bank. That condition will not recur during this financial year.
– Then it is to be understood that the Department spent only about £3,500,000 last year in the actual construction of homes. Yet that sum was nothing like adequate to meet the circumstances. In view of that fact, is it wise to apportion only £4,000,000 this year? Would it not be better policy, in the interests of economy, to put in hand the whole of the building of soldiers’ homes as swiftly as possible? The same staff must be employed, whether £4,000,000 or £7,000,000 is spent in one year.
– I might inform the honorable member that I asked for more.
– I am sure the Minister would very sensibly do so. If I were in his place and perceived that there were thousands of applicants waiting for homes I would endeavour to secure one comprehensive sum for the building of all the houses required, and have them put in hand as quickly as possible in order to reduce the costs to the country, which must be mounting up withevery month in which War Service Homes activitiesare carried on.
– At first sight there might appear to be something in the honorable member’s argument; but labour costs would be multiplied, and the difficulties of getting material in order to complete the whole task would be almost insurmountable, so that the project would prove impracticable.
– I admit that there are those factors; but it cannot be denied that the greater the volume of business the less is the overhead cost.
– The outcome of the honorable member’s proposal would be a building boom based upon loan money, which would certainly not be justified.
– But a building boom for the construction of soldiers’ homes would be justifiable.
– I referred to the artificial position which would be created in the building trade generally by such a concentrated programme.
– The sooner all the homes required are built, the better for the soldiers and the better for the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth must bear all the overhead costs. If the project is extended over ten years, when it might have been wound up in five, the costs will have been about doubled.
– That is not so.
– It is so. There is this danger also, that, as a result of soldier applicants being made to wait so long for their homes, many may grow tired of waiting and repudiate their contracts when their homes are at last ready for them.
– That kind of thing is quite frequent to-day.
– And with good reason in many cases, no doubt, although I did not know that such were the facts. The trouble is one that is bound to be accentuated as the applicants are kept waiting longer andlonger.Expenditure upon War Service Homes is not to be regarded as a national liability. It does not involve an accretion of the national debt.
– If we built all the homes for all the waiting soldiers at once, many of them would soon be selling back their houses again to civilians.
– I fear that, with continued delay, that is frequently likely to happen.
Shortly after the last elections I undertook a close personal inspection of the soldier settlements in Adamstown. One of these communities was being established upon land on the King’s Road, in the Newcastle neighbourhood. There were more than twenty houses in course of construction, and I anticipated that many of these would have been completed within a month. However, only thirteen or fourteen of them are occupied to-day, in a total of more than forty; and it is about fourteen months since I made that investigation. If completed houses remain empty for so long the cost to the soldier is bound to be enhanced. Interest must be paid. And here crops up the comparison, again, between the contract and the day-labour system.
– There is no justification for the delay which has occurred in getting soldiers into those homes. If there were a proper contract, however, forfeiture conditions would apply, and such delays in completion would not occur.
– Unfortunately, where work has been carried out by contract many of the structures have not been completed to time. In justice to the builders I must say that the delay hae been due very often to the scarcity of material.
– But that is no excuse for a house continuing to remain empty long after it has been completed.
– Certainly not! Another set of circumstances must apply there. The future policy of the Government will be a matter of deep interest throughout Australia. If something effective is not done to prevent a recurrence of past mismanagement it will be better to give up the work at this moment and admit that the Government have made a dismal failure of the whole job. If we cannot give our returned men assistance in a more acceptable form than the Department has hitherto been able to provide it, the better course will be to permit home-seekers to make their own arrangements. I believe that if they were to negotiate with building societies and similar institutions they would frequently do much better for themselves. I trust that the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) will keep a very close guard over the building of homes for soldiers, and be ever watchful that applicants get a fair and reasonable deal and are not penalized by .departmental blunders. No soldier should be asked for one penny more than he has contracted to pay. The Commonwealth Government, being responsible for blunders, should be prepared to bear the burden.
.- I desire very briefly to supplement the remarks which I made upon the subject of War Service Homes last night; and, in doing so, I quote the following passages from the report in to-day’s Argus of the speech delivered by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers):-
Applications for the position of War Service Homes Commissioner were invited by the Ministry in January, 1919. Colonel Walker was selected for appointment, and was requested to see the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen).
He was already selected for appointment.
The interview being considered satisfactory, he was asked to submit references. He gave three, and one, Mr. H. Cupples, of the London Bank, Brisbane, replied in a confidential telegram to the Comptroller of Repatriation (Mr. D. J. Gilbert)- 1 ask honorable members to remember that. on 26th February, 1919, as follows : - “ Your telegram yesterday. Party is brave and energetic; had long experience building contractor, North Queensland. Ability lies in that direction. Good with men rather than as an administrator. During absence at front was made insolvent under old mining guarantee. Judge expressed sympathy with absentee, whereupon Bank of Australasia discontinued pressure. Consider he will fill outside position admirably.” “ This telegram,” Mr. Rodgers continued, “ the Minister did not see, nor was .he aware of its contents.”
Senator Millen did not leave for London until September last. What had become of that telegram in the meantime? Who was responsible for the matter being left in abeyance? Surely somebody saw the telegram. Did Mr. Gilbert put’ it in his pocket ?
– I do not suggest that he did. It would be only fair if the honorable member would read Senator Millen’s statement.
– No statement can excuse the overlooking of that telegram for such a long period.
– I do not desire to reflect in any way on Mr. Gilbert in connexion with this matter.
– In this evening’s Herald appeared this statement by Mr. Gilbert- “I am very loth to say anything at all about the matter,” said Mr. Gilbert, “ but as Senator Millen, Minister for Repatriation, has denied all knowledge of the existence of Mr. H. Cupple’s telegram from Brisbane regarding Colonel Walker, War Service Homes Commissioner, and as Mr.Rodgers, Assistant Minister for Repatriation, blissfully acquiesced while I was being attacked by rash and uninformed members in Parliament as the person responsible for any mistake that may have been made, I feel obliged to say a word or two.”
I did not say anything about Mr. Gilbert. “When Senator Millen said that he did not see the telegram in question, his memory must have been at fault. 1 sent out certain telegrams at his request, and when I received the replies I made them available to him, and that not once only.” “That is all I had to do with the matter. The Minister was attending to it himself.I did not deal with it m any ordinary departmental way at all.I may say further that, with the exception of work in connexion with the Bill which brought the Department into existence, I had nothing officially to do with War Service Homes in any shape or form.It was quite distinct from the Repatriation Department, and it was under a different administration. Its only connexion with the Repatriation Department was through the accidental circumstance that it had the same Minister dealing with it.”
In reply to a question as to whether he would care to say anything about the position that the War Service Homes Department had got into, Mr. Gilbert said he would not.
In that statement, Mr. Gilbert says that the Minister didsee the telegram.
– No, he did not.
– He said, “When Senator Millen said that he did not see the telegram in question his memory must have been at fault.” At any rate, somebody saw the telegram, and it was the duty of the Minister, or the then Acting Minister, to act upon it at once. As soon as that telegram was seen, Lieut-Colonel Walker’s application should have been turned down, or, if he had been appointed and subsequently, within a reasonable time, this telegram came under notice, the Government should have suspended him, passed a validating Bill, and reappointed him, because up to that time his administration was giving satisfaction.
Mr.Rodgers. - I did not see that telegram until the 12th March last, and Senator Millen did not see it until after his return to Australia, on the 17th March.
– Then we must not believe Mr. Gilbert. I do not suppose that any compensation will be offered to Lieut.-Colonel Walker. The only course open to him is to appeal to the Court, and that procedure would be costly to both parties. I do not know that he would be successful in the Court, but it appears as if he cannot be successful in Parliament, because the Government, apparently, are determined to reply on the technical ground that he was an uncertificated insolvent. That point should have been raised a long time previously, and Lieut.-Colonel Walker dealt with accordingly.
– I agree, if the telegram had been within the knowledge of the Minister or the Government, but it was not.
– There has been a serious lapse on the part of somebody if nobody knew about the telegram. There were two Ministers dealing with repatriation, and the Comptroller (Mr. Gilbert) and Senator Millen’s private secretary (Mr. Petersen), and, apparently, not one of the four saw that telegram. This incident must shake the faith of honorable members in regard to other matters that are brought before them. How do we know that there have not been other occasions when Ministers have not been informed of matters of which they should have had the fullest knowledge?
– The honorable member has administered a Department, and he knows that, after an appointment has been made, the file relating to it is not turned over from time to time. The matter is closed unless something special occurs.
– I make every alallowance for Ministers. They are accused of maladministration in regard to War Service Homes, but no Minister can personally see everything that is going on. He must trust his officers, and if they are unreliable or inefficient the fault is not his, although the blame may ultimately fall upon his shoulders.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– I must admit that I heard with a great deal of regret the statement of the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) last night; indeed, I do not remember in all my experience any speech by a Minister that has caused me so much uneasiness. At the outset, I desire to say that, in mating these remarks, I shall not avail myself of any information -that has come to me as a member of the Public Accounts Committee; my desire is to take a broad view of the question. I do not think that any member of the Government will deny that they have received the most liberal support from the Opposition for any proposals that have been made in the interests of the returned soldiers. 1 The Government, therefore, cannot put down their failure in the matter of the War Service Homes to any action of honorable members on this side. Never during my life-long experience of various Governments, both State and Federal, have I seen so much incompetence displayed as by the present Administration, in its efforts to carry out the wishes of Parliament The Government have been given the utmost freedom by this Parliament, perhaps too much freedom, i After all, it is the duty of the Government to carry out the wishes of Parliament, and to see that competent Ministers are selected to that end. I have on more than one occasion pointed out that a Coalition Government, like the present, cannot be expected to submit such concrete plans as are possible with a Government composed of members of a solid political party; and here, perhaps, may bo found the reason for the lack of ability shown in regard to the War Service Homes. There is no doubt that at all recent elections the party in power have done their utmost to induce the returned soldier and the people to believe that they are the friends of the soldiers, and to that end have made all sorts of conceivable promises. There is no excuse for the position in which the Government now find themselves. Ministers, like other members, represent constituencies, and they must have had brought before them the necessity of providing k homes for our soldiers who marry here, or may have brought wives from the other side of the world. When a man marries, his first duty is to “ find a cage for the canary “ - to make a home for his partner in life; and in this regard the returned soldiers have shown a fine spirit. It was well known, when the return of our soldiers became imminent, that there were not homes available for them. As a representative of the industrial workers, and as an old worker myself, I can enter into their feelings, and fully appreciate the position of a man and wife, with two or three children, trailing the streets and looking for a place in which they can live with a little comfort. The Labour party shows by its platform that one of its objects is to insure that the men and women of Australia shall be able to live as human beings should in a civilized community. That is not possible at the present time, and the Government are not taking the proper steps towards a remedy. As I said, I do not intend to use information that has been laid before me as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, but that Committee has presented four reports in each of which is sufficient material to justify any Parliament which is watching the interests of the people to remove a Government like the present from office, and install another capable of conducting the affairs of the country without the mismanagement of which we have been witnesses. Every newspaper should chronicle, and every comic paper should ridicule, the Government’s failure, and help to bring about a change; but as matters are to-day, the press sees only with “one eye,” and there is no channel, whether in the State or Federal arena, by which the public may be informed of the true state of affairs.
The Assistant Minister, last night, after he had told us how the Government had done all the things they ought not, and had left undone those things that ought to have been done, wound up by announcing that they had changed their policy in regard to War Service Homes. I take it that it is now the intention to remove officials who have been employed in the War Service Homes Department for the last five years, and to select others from amongst the particular friends of the Government to fill their places. It is evident that the Government are now beginning to- realize the “-misfits” they appointed in the first place, and are now going to change their methods.
– The Government do net staff the Department - that is done by the Commissioner.
– The Assistant Minister is a young man in politics, or he would know- that a Minister is responsible for the acts of his officers, and must suffer if they make mistakes. The idea of the Assistant Minister seems to be to appoint as chief of the Department some person connected with building and construction work in the States, with deputies similarly selected. The muddle is bad enough now, and if the Assistant Minister carries out what I take to be his intention, he will satisfy neither the soldiers nor the public. It is proposed by the Department to adopt the contract system in preference to day labour. I can only say that even if the Assistant Minister knows how to ‘make two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, he knows very little about the purchase of land and the building of homes; indeed, one of the troubles from the start has been that persons with little knowledge have had control of the business. I may point out to him the fact that an ordinary building contractor, if he be an honest man, will not have anything to do with the building of single cottages, for the reason that such contracts are not sufficiently remunerative. The labour and the material for such work is very, small, and so many different trades go to the construction of a cottage from start to finish that, as I say, the work is unremunerative. A contractor must have work elsewhere on which to employ his men, or cottages must be constructed in groups before he finds it worth while to tender. Even with -the best of supervision the Government will not be able to build separate cottages and meet all the requirements of the case according to the wishes of Parliament. Under the contract system the cost of supervision will be enormously increased. One man can supervise the construction of only a few buildings, and where homes are being erected all over the country, an army of supervisors will be necessary to insure that they are faithfully built. A contractor builds cottages, not from philanthropic motives, but to make money. Homes built under contract will not compare with those constructed by day labour.
– Ninety-nine and threequarter per cent, of the buildings in Aus- tralia have been built under contract.
– Ninety-nine per cent, of the members of this Parliament at one time were said to be brainy men, but it does not follow that 99 per cent, of the members to-day are men of brains. Reference has been made during the debate to the great cost of War Service Homes. Apart from the mistakes that have been made by the Department itself, the cost of construction has not been unduly high. It is mismanagement on the part of the Department that has led to the piling up of costs. We shall always be able to look with pride on the homes that have been built by day labour. They are faithfully constructed, and are fitted with conveniences such as the well-to-do at one time could alone afford. It should be our endeavour to provide the working classes generally with such cottages. A man who poses as a friend of the returned soldiers said the other day that he could build a fourroomed cottage for £400. What sort of a cottage would it be? He might build for such a price a cottage of rough sawn timber, and line the walls and ceiling with sugar-bags which, when papered, would look presentable, but would really be a breeding ground for vermin and disease. The War Service Homes built by day labour have been well constructed of sound material. The walls are plastered and floated with Keen’s cement, so that they present an absolutely smooth surface, and offer no harbor for vermin. These houses have also been painted with pure white lead and boiled oil instead of with a composition such as has been used for painting some of the contract-built houses. Our desire should be to supply our men with homes which are as comfortable as those which hitherto only the well-to-do have been able to obtain. We were told that we should emerge from the war a new world. Let us start out by giving our returned men and the workers generally well-constructed. sanitary homes. In building these War Service Homes the Government are studying the health of the people. It is said that the cost is too high, but it must not be forgotten that the repayments will extend over thirty years, and that, therefore, the homes should be so constructed that at the end of that period they will still be sound. If that is done, then should any of the men be unable to carry on their payments, the Government will have a substantial asset. If the Government decide that for the future all War Service
Homes shall be built under the contract system, the men will be discontented. We shall not get such satisfactory work as under the day-labour system. This Parliament promised that every soldier would be able to obtain a substantially built home on easy terms, and it is our duty to see that that promise is carried out. Some honorable members opposite are never tired of talking of the great resources of Australia, and of urging that we should encourage immigration. I read in the press the other day a statement by an ex-member that, when dining with the Governor-General, he expressed the hope that, before His Excellency’s term of office had expired we should have an influx of at least 10,000,000 immigrants. As a matter of fact, we have not increased our population by 1,000,000 in ten years. If honorable members opposite are sincerely anxious to encourage immigration they should advocate as a first step the provision of houses in which immigrants may live. As it is, there is an acute shortage, of housing accommodation in all our big cities, and the position in country districts is even worse. . An immigrant who gets work in the country has very often to live in a shed at the rear of a public-house, leaving his wife and family in a room in one of our cities. Is it any wonder that, in such circumstances, people prefer city to country life? If better housing accommodation were available in country districts more people would be encouraged to settle there. The shire councils should bestir themselves, since with an increased population they would be better able to carry out their responsibilities.
I can tell at a glance whether or not a house has been properly built. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee I visited Tasmania a few days ago, and saw in one district there five cottages, built by day labour, which for faithful construction are not to be surpassed. On the other hand, we got a shock when we looked at some of the War Service Homes that had been built under contract. I urge the Government to reconsider their decision to adopt the contract system. There certainly has been mismanagement on the part of the Department, but there is still hope of salvation if the remaining homes are built under day labour. These homes should be thoroughly well built, and free from any cause of complaint. The heavy cost of some of the houses that have been constructed has been due to bungling in administration. In the case of two cottages that I know of I should have been glad to put in the foundations for £30. The Department charged to one of these jobs eighty-six bags of cement, although only four had been used, and to another fifty-eight bags, and in it about the same quantity had been used. Honorable members can understand why, under a costing system like that soldiers have come to think that the houses are too expensive. It would, however, be possible to make out proper bills of quantities. The cubing system of costing is not applicable to cottage building, because the more you keep down height, the greater the cubical cost; but with proper bills of quantities, and proper charging, of labour costs, you can get at the actual expenditure on a building to within £5 or £6. Of course, estimates are often exceeded, because, when a man brings his wife to .see the partly-finished building, she wants a cupboard here, or a wardrobe there, or a larger sink in the kitchen; and the husband, being a good fellow, says, “ Darling, you shall have all these things,” and he asks for them to ba supplied. It is right that the men should have houses in which they and their wives can take a pride. The time has gone by when it- oan be considered good enough for any Australian to give him a cottage built of rough timber, lined with hessian, on which a cheap wall paper has been pasted. The better the dwelling that a man has, the more contented will he be, and the better citizen will he become. Had the Labour party been in power the conditions of the soldiers would have been improved, because we know their wants, arid we would have recognised the true Australian spirit. The citizens of a proud and dignified nation demand something more than rough constructions of weatherboards to dwell in. If the Department goes back to the contract system, it will find every “ Johnnycomelately,” every schemer, rushing to it to get a contract, which is what occurred when the Commission first started its work. Men having a few pounds in their pockets tried to become contractors, and many of them could not carry out their contracts. The ordinary builder will not undertake the erection of cottages, because it does not pay. .1 have urged the creation of a Department for the proper carrying out of these building operations, and .– employment of men who would do good work, so that satisfaction might reign in the community instead of discontent. No member is pleased with what the War Service Homes Commission has done. Week after week, and month after month, complaints come to us from soldiers. We hear, from men who have been eight and nine months trying to get a home. In a case that I know of, a man had to shift his wife and bairns from one house to another until he had been in four lodgings before the home which the Department had contracted to provide for him was ready. Every member gets these complaints, though, as I represent & city constituency, and am known from one end of Sydney to the other, I may get more than my share of them. We must improve matters. But the proposals of the Government, if adopted, will lead to further trouble and discontent. When the War Ser-vice Homes Act was passed Parliament hoped to provide habitations for its returned men, and it thought that if there should be an oversupply the surplus could be used by ordinary citizens. Now it is found that it may be ten years before the Department can satisfy the demand for soldiers’ homes. The Government has ignored the wishes of Parliament in this matter, and has displayed an incapacity such as has been shown by no other Administra- - tion, Federal or State. I am not saying this to catch’ votes, because I have no need to do that. My desire is to remove the present discontent, and to help the soldiers who desire to get homes of their own. I should be a traitor to my country if I did not give to the Government the benefit of my knowledge, and point out the errors into which Ministers have been led. The statement made by the Minister last night caused me considerable regret, because I felt that he is following the wrong path, and that his policy will make things worse than they are. Even if it were to add 5 per cent, to the cost of administration it would be better to adopt the day-labour system, because, under that system, our soldiers will get homes fit to live in, and the Government will have a real and proper asset for its expenditure. Such homes will be built as will make those who live in them happier and better citizens-.
.- I rise, not to condemn the administration of the War Service Homes Commission, but rather to praise what has been done by it, especially since our highly-esteemed friend, the member for Wannon, has been Assistant Minister for Repatriation. Last night, however, in a somewhat chastened spirit, he asked n6t for destructive, but for helpful criticism, and it is to make such helpful criticism that I now address myself to the House. For what the Department has done in the direction of building homes for soldiers generally I have nothing but praise to offer, that is as regards their activities in the principal metropolitan cities of Australia and their suburbs. So far as I am aware, however, very little has been done for soldiers desiring to have homes erected for them, or to be assisted in purchasing homes in country districts. I have been endeavouring to ascertain if there is a single War Service Home in the electorate of Grampians, but my investigations hither- to have been of a negative character. Perhaps other country electorates have been more signally favoured. In this mild criticism of policy I am not directing censure upon the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers). Indeed, since he has taken over control of the Department some inquiries, at any rate, have been made with respect to country homes for returned men ; and I have sufficient faith in the Minister to believe that, in course of time, some War Service Homes will be. erected outside of metropolitan areas and their suburbs. Meanwhile some of our returned heroes have undertaken to buy country properties, and. under the terms of the Act, they have sought financial assistance from the Federal Government.
– I am having a return prepared concerning the homes built in every electorate in the Commonwealth. The honorable member will be able to see how soldiers and their dependants in Grampians have fared, and he will be able to make comparisons. Incidentally, I might mention that the returned men in his electorate appear to be well satisfied with their lot. They have made remarkably few requests or complaints.
– I am sure that they are the ‘best- returned soldiers in Australia. I would be surprised, indeed, if there were many complaints from the Grampians. I do not propose to point any adverse criticism at the War Service Homes Branch, but I have been asked to bring one specific matter under the notice of the Minister. I refer to a returned soldier in the Woodend district, particulars of whose case were contained in a letter addressed to’ myself, and dated 8th February last, from the secretary of the local Repatriation Committee at Woodend. It is as follows: -
My Committee has asked me to refer to you the case of J. Mooney, who applied to the War Service Homes Commission in May, 1919, for a loan to pay for a house he has bought. He paid £200 for the house, which is worth about £350 to £400; and he asks for a loan of £100 to £100. I have written many letters re this case, but it still drags on.
The winter interposes with the expression of a trenchant opinion concerning the Department, and he concludes: -
Could you have something done to get the case finalized ? lt is a pity it should be necessary to bother you, but it seems the only way.
I did what I could, and the result, up to a certain stage, at any rate, was satisfactory; for on the 22nd February I was able to write to the secretary at Woodend as follows: -
I have pleasure in enclosing herewith a letter I have received from the Deputy Commissioner of the War Service Homes Department. J. am pleased to note that Mr. Mooney’s ease has been finalized, - and that he has been advised that approval has been given for an advance up to £105 for the purpose of discharging the mortgage on the property.
The people interested at Woodend were pleased that, in so brief a period as fourteen days, following upon a delay of about two yean?, the case was brought to finality. “Unhappily, however, I received another letter from the Woodend Repatriation Committee, dated 12th July, which read as follows: -
I am sending you with this letter the file of J. Mooney’s application for loan under War Service Homes Act, which you were good enough to look into for me in February. As a result of your action, Mooney’s case was finalized within five days; but, in spite of the finalization, Mr. Mooney has0 not yet received the money.
– Then, what is the meaning of finalization?
– That is just what i want to learn. The letter continues -
During the existence of the Committee we have had three applications under the War. Service Homes Act. One man, F. A. Giles, of Macedon-road, gave up a long timo ago, after waiting a year.
These returned men must live. They cannot be waiting for. an indefinite period for promised assistance which, in their view, will never materialize.
– The honorable member is approaching dangerously near to criticising the Department.
– I have not undertaken to refrain from doing so. My purpose is to be helpful, and not to indulge in destructive criticism. My correspondent continues -
This man is a sticker, and he deserves to succeed in his purpose. The letter concludes -
Personally, I think the officials must have instructions from the Government to fool the applicants till they give “up in despair. I now advise all applicants to have nothing to do with War Service Homes. Could you not take some action in the House to help the soldiers in, this matter?
I bring these cases to the generous and sympathetic consideration of the Minister. I trust that in future, while no less attention is paid to the construction of homes for returned men in tha chief centres of Australia, more attention will be devoted to building houses and providing loans for the purchase of homes in country districts.
.-‘ I was somewhat disappointed by the statement of the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) last night. When our men returned from the war they were promised that the Government would provide them with homes at the lowest possible cost, and at the most reasonable rates of interest. Inducements were offered in such attractive forms that there were very many applicants for War Service Homes. Great numbers of returned soldiers, however, are still waiting. I admit that the Department undertook a gigantic task in creating an organization for the construe-“ tion of these house3. But the task has. been in hand for nearly five years now, and the Minister admits at this stage that the Department has been a failure.
-I have admitted no such thing as a building failure.
– The fact that the Minister has said that the present organization is to be brought to a conclusion, and the work of building handed over to contractors is, in itself, absolute condemnation of the Department. The statement proves that the Department has been a failure.
– I admit no such thing. There was an emergency, and we met the emergency.
– I think the Department have done their best; the Minister certainly has.
– The honorable member may look at the matter from his point of view; I look at it from mine. The Commission has built a number of War Service Homes, and has now a revenue from them of over £800,000 in repayments and interest.
– That does not indicate a continuous revenue to that amount. Some of the moneys received were deposits.
– The Commission will have a continuous revenue, and in a year or two will be self-contained and able to build further homes without borrowing more money; the repayments and interest will finance future construction. I understood that the Department was to be run upon business lines, but, with the concurrence of the Minister, the Commissioner has incurred the expense of buying timber areas and mills in Queensland. When those commitments were entered into the Departmentmust have intended to continue building homes. Nearly £500,000 has been spent in purchasing timber areas and mills, and now, when the scheme is nearly completed, the Government have the hardihood to tell us that future construction is to be done by contract. What is to become of the timber areas and all the accumulated supplies?
– We propose, under the contract system, to utilize all the materials we have in hand and all running contracts. The materials will be supplied at schedule prices to the successful contractors.
– A contractor will not take dictation from any Department as to where and how he is to buy his supplies.
– He will get a contract only if he accepts our terms.
– Now we are getting deeper into the mire. If these conditions are imposed on the contractor he will increase his price. The Government say that day labour has not been a success, and that the contract system has been more satisfactory. That may or may not be a fact, but my own impression is that, with a competent staff of architects and clerks of works and Government purchases in large quantities of timber, cement, nails, and paint, and, if necessary, manufacturing their own bricks, the Department can build cheaper than can any contractor. Yet, after having involved the country in an expenditure of £500,000 on account of timber alone, and further immense sums for the purchase of land, and probably contracts for iron, paint, and nails, and after having got together a huge organization, the Government propose to abandon the whole system of Departmental construction. Do the Government intend to confine the soldiers to the areas that have been purchased, or are they to be allowed to buy areas for themselves ?
– I said that, whatever advantages we gained by entering into contracts for the purchase of materials, we lost on the operation of the day-labour system.
– If there has been a loss on day labour, it is due to the maladministration of the Department. I know of men who were sent on to jobs, and on arrival found no material there for them to work on.
– That is where the shoe pinches.
– Yes, and yet the Government blame the day-labour system for the excessive costs of construction.The War Service Homes Department is a disgrace to the Commonwealth, and the more we investigate it the more disgusted we become that it has been allowed to continue unchecked for so long. Does the Minister propose to abolish the Department? If all the construction is to be done by contract there will be no need for a Minister of Repatriation and staff to; organize- the construction of War Service Homes.
– Is it not necessary for & building society that does not carry out its own building operations to have a staff? But we propose to materially reduce the staffs and overhead charges.
– It is not necessary to have a Minister for Repatriation and a Departmental staff. If the Government wish to go the whole hog, and save money, the proper thing to do is to abolish the Department and arrange with the Commonwealth Bank or private banks to finance any soldier who desires to build a “homo. Apparently, the Ministry of Repatriation will be still in existence, and the Minister will certainly have a staff ; but the whole of the actual business will be done by private architects and contractors; all the Department will have to do will be to provide the money. That could be done by the banks, and so the need for a Department and officers would disappear.
– It would not concern me very much if we did get rid of the Department, and I said last night that we had fixed a period of two years within which we hoped to finish our work.
– I do not blame the Minister. The whole of this bungling has been the fault of the men who were notbig enough for their jobs. No Minister could supervise in every State what was taking place, but the condemnation of the day-labour system, because of the failure of the Department, is a slander upon the
Workmen engaged in the building trade. The Assistant Minister stated last night that Lieut. -Colonel Walker had given preference to returned soldiers. That is quite right so far as it goes. Then he said that the Commissioner had not received a fair deal because of the go-slow policy of the men in the building trade. That was a reflection upon the returned soldiers who -were working for the Department.
– I merely stated that Lieut. -Colonel Walker himself had said that.
– Exactly; he said he did not get a fair spin, because of the- policy of going slow on the job. That is a slander upon the returned soldiers to whom he gave preference. I resent that statement. i have been on many of these jobs, I have seen the men at work, and their labours were a credit to them. The War Service
Homes scheme was a fine idea if properly carried out, and I regret that because it has been a failure in ‘some respects, the Government are rushing to the opposite extreme. I prophesy that if they build as many homes under the contract system as they have built by day labour, they will have 50 per cent. more, complaints. Any man who accepts a contract tries to make as much money out of it as he can.
– I admit that the contract system requires tight inspection, carefully-drawn contracts, and close supervision on the job.
– If the contractors are to be watched at every turn, the cost of the buildings will be increased A contractor’s first object is to get the job done cheaply, and, if possible, evade some of the specifications, and scamp the work. The Government are doing a great injustice in blaming day labour for the failure of the War Service Homes policy. It must be remembered that the cost of living, and building materials, and wages have increased at least 30 per cent., but to-day the price of timber is falling, bricks are cheaper than they were, and the price of paints is decreasing. On the eve of this decline in material costs the Government are about to adopt the contract system, and next year we shall have a report that so many houses were built under that system so much cheaper than by day labour.
– There is evidence that the prices of materials are falling now.
– Yes, and perhaps wages, too, will fall in some trades. The contractors are being brought into the scheme when everything is tending in their favour and against the day-labour system.
– First-class Tasmanian weatherboard is being sold to-day at 20s. per 100 feet.
– Kauri is being imported wholesale, and the prices of timber generally are at least 30 per cent, less than they were. The price of Oregon has dropped nearly 50 per cent., and that is the best timber that can be put in a house for roofing. I very much regret that the War Service Homes Department has not been more successful.
In regard to the position of the exCommissioner (Lieut.-Colonel Walker)-, I doubt very much the statement made by Senator Millen, in another place, that he did not see the telegram in which that gentleman’s insolvency was mentioned. I can hardly credit that the Minister in charge of Repatriation, when appointing an officer to take charge of this enormous expenditure, which has amounted to about £14,000,000 to date, should have been so careless as not to look at a telegram that had a very important bearing upon the proposed appointment.
– It is very doubtful whether the telegram was on the file when the appointment was made.
- Mr. Gilbert, the former Comptroller of Repatriation, has stated in to-day’s Herald that the telegram was in the Department, and that Senator Millen saw it more than once. He is a man whom I have known for a number of years; he is straightforward and capable, and his word may be relied upon.
– The documents will speak more effectively than any statement.
– If the ex-Commissioner was not big enough for his job, the Government should have had the courage to say to him, “ You have had a fair chance and you have failed to come up to requirements; therefore, we must get rid of you.” It is only fair to Lieut.-Colonel Walker to say that he may have been handicapped when he first started operations by the fact that the Timber Combine and the Brick Combine tried to raise their prices against him. They thought that becausethe Commonwealth Government were embarking upon this big policy of house construction there would be a scarcity of building materials, and so they refused to come to the aid of the Commissioner and held back materials with the object of getting bigger prices. Inasmuch as Lieut.-Colonel Walker may have had to pay higher prices than were just, he is entitled to sympathy. I inspected a number of the War Service Homes cottages built in New South Wales under the group system. I saw some of the houses absolutely complete, but not occupied, although returned soldiers were anxious to take them. When I asked the reason, I was told that the Department was deferring occupancy until the whole group was complete. As soon as a cottage was finished, a soldier should have been nut into it.
– It is one of the drawbacks of the day-labour system that the cost of a house cannot be known until the group is completed.
– That is a drawback, irrespective of whether it is contract or day labour.
– It cannot affect the man’s going into a house when it is finished. If six houses out of eighteen are finished those six houses ought to be occupied, and thus reduce the cost of the others. To keep all the houses waiting until all are completed in order to strike an average is a course without justification.
– Matters could be adjusted afterwards.
– Precisely. Personally, I may say that the homes I have seen in New South Wales are of a” very good, high-class type, which I do not think the soldiers will regret purchasing. I am sorry the Government are abandoning the policy they have hitherto pursued. Sawmills have been purchased, and other arrangements made for the supply of cheap timber, and now it is proposed to hand the business over to the contractors. The Minister ought to have put his “ back up” and insist on a new staff, and then have held the Commissioner responsible for the completion of the cottages at a certain price. The Government could certainly buy much more cheaply than any contractor could; and I hope the Minister will yet see the advisability of giving day-labour another chance under new and better management.
– Does that include a new Government?
– A new Government will come in due course - we are waiting patiently. There are other honorable members who desire to speak, and there is other business to do, and Ishall, therefore, reserve my further remarks on this question until we have the Budget before us.
– I presume that the changes indicated by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) will be effected by means of legislation, and this will enable us to deal more effectively with some phases of them. It is not conceivable that the Government will tear up an Act of Parliament which was passed a brief time ago and substitute for the organization set up under that Act an entirely different one, without the authority which they can only secure by means of legislation repealing the old measure.
– The present Act provides for day-labour just as it does for building under the other system.
– Under the Act the Government are morally bound to appoint a Commissioner clothed with the powers the Act gives him to carry out the work. The substitution for that officer of a Minister, and without the authority of Parliament, would be a serious invasion of the rights of the House.
– I indicated the necessary legislative changes.
– I do not suppose that such a thing as I have suggested is contemplated. As to the past defects of administration, I think it is unnecessary to say anything; they are so obvious, and have been so repeatedly placed before Parliament and the country that any good purpose that would be served by a review has already been achieved. But we should be lacking in our duty if we permitted a new system to come into being without applying to it the results of our past experience. I wish, first of all, to challenge the attitude which has been taken up by successive administrators of War Service Homes, whether they be the Commonwealth Bank, the Commissioner, or the Minister with reference to the question of purchasing homes already in existence, and the closely allied question of allowing the soldier to build his own home’ as he himself wishes, and then having his mortgage taken over, as the Act contemplates. I believe the most satisfactory settlement is that of soldiers in homes of their own selection. The soldier does not desire to go into group settlements away from his own people and industrial centre; he wishes to be like other men, free to choose the home apparently best suited to his conditions and his social life. Parliament set out first with the idea of enabling soldiers to get homes; and the principle of the organization should be, not the ideas of some gentleman as to how garden cities should be created, or how people should be grouped in this or that way, but to allow the soldier to do what he himself wishes to do, and not something that somebody else thinks he ought to do. The initial blunder in the organization has been that too many people who have touched it have done so with the desire to graft on to it some fad of their own - have forgotten that the soldier has just the same rights and desires as any other member of the community. To-day- he is not a soldier, but a civilian who has earned the right to special consideration, which will take the best form if it enables him, in his own way, to select his home where he pleases. Much of the financial troubles which have worried the Treasurer considerably arise from the wide departure from that principle in the beginning. Had the money that has ‘ been devoted to those fanciful schemes of future homes been devoted to securing homes already in existence, or erected under the supervision of. the soldier, we should not now be confronted with the difficulties arising from shortage of funds. The timber scheme in Queensland was discussed by this House. I have no doubt that if the object is to look forward to a building scheme enduring for ten, fifteen or twenty years, that, probably, was a very wise investment, but, in my judgment, the money would have been much better applied to the purchase of houses already in existence, or to enabling the soldier to make his own contract according to his own plans. Thousands of men would then have been doing the same thing at one time, and this would not only have relieved the Department of the anxiety of supervision and so forth, but would have immensely aided in the speedy completion of the job.
– The Government still stand by the policy of homes as provided by section 20, with the exception that, as to already-built homes, the purchase is restricted considerably.
– Why should the Department say to the soldier that he should not purchase the house he is living in, but should take a Government house ? A case has come under my notice in which a soldier was threatened with penalties if he did not take a house that he did not like that had been erected by the Commission, although there was another house that he preferred.
– Personally, I have not been devoted to the principle of group building.
– No, but still the Department is doing what I have said, and, in the honorable gentleman’s remarks last night, I regretted to still find that antagonism to allowing the soldier to buy a house already in existence. There are many cases’ within my own knowledge where a soldier was living in a house before he went to the war, and, on his return, wished to remain in it. The owners were willing to sell, and, as occurred within my own circle of soldier friends, were prepared to concede conditions that they would not give to any outside purchaser. One of the first cases brought under my notice was that of a young friend who returned, and, after looking round, found a house to suit him. He was about to be married, and was glowing with satisfaction that he had got the kind of house which he desired, and which the proprietor was prepared to sell as a bargain. Four months later I met him in the depths of despair; the Department had turned clown his application after keeping him waiting for months, and within seven days of that occurring the property was purchased by one of the shrewdest friendly societies in Sydney for a member at a price .very much in excess of that offered to the soldier. Who can say that the interests of the soldier were conserved by the Department, which forced him to pay £100 more for a house the Department wished him to buy than he would have had to pay for a house that he himself desired? Then, again, there is the case of a soldier who buys a block of land, has his own plans prepared, arranges with a contractor on mortgage, and then applies to the Department. Such a man is mct with no encouragement. In one case the business with the Department commenced nearly two years ago, and it is only two months since the man got his mortgage transferred. The Department should have said to the soldiers, “Find the house you want and we will help, you; if you erect,- a house that you desire, we will finance you to the same extent, and take over the mortgage.” If that had been done, we should have had thousands of houses erected without any trouble about day labour oi contract, and erected under the best of superintendence, namely, that of the men who were going to live in them.
– Out of a total expenditure of £7,500,000 for homes last financial year, the conditions the honorable member suggests in regard to the soldiers’ own wishes were observed to the extent of £3,268,000 worth of homes.
– Then why was so much antagonism shown to the idea last night? I undertake to say that there have been no complaints from the soldiers thus- treated.
– We have had a very definite complaint and a very real experience. It was found we were hoisting the value of real estate and helping speculators to buy or erect homes, and get soldiers to hurry into them, rather than buy the more substantial buildings of the Department.
– If the Assistant Minister went around and saw the homes to which I refer, he would find that that is the attitude of interested persons in regard to the proposition. No doubt, a lot of jerry-builders set out to provide homes; but if we have a Department capable of supervising the erection of £6,000,000 worth of homes a year, we could surely have a small Department capable of seeing that homes purchased are of a proper kind before taking them over. My experience may be different from that of other honorable members. I have not met a single case in which the soldier has said that the home he himself has selected has proved jerry-built orunsuitable.
– I wish that was my experience.
– Well, it is mine. There are many homes erected - and it is no use blinking the fact - under the other system that have been too costly - homes into which material has been put that the civic authorities would not allow in the case of private homes. I say this because I think it ought to be said. I,; am. .not blind to the fact that the statement does’ not apply to the great majority of the homes which have been erected, and I do not seek to depreciate the splendid service that has been rendered to the soldiers by the Wax Service Homes Department. But we axe here to see that every penny spent is expended in the best interests of the soldier, and in accordance with his own wishes. I hope we have heard the last of what seems to have been a steady attempt to prevent a soldier from getting the house he wants, and to compel himto take a house that he does not want merely because it has been builtby the Commission.
– I can assure the honorable member that there is to be no more speculative building by the Commission. In future every house built by the Commission, whether built under contract or otherwise, will be in response to the application of an individual soldier.
– That will be very much better. I hope also that some check will be put upon the acquisition of large areas of land. I am satisfied that some large areas have been acquired, not because it was thought that they were wanted by soldiers, but because some one has had a good “ cut “ out of the money so expended. In that regard we have been altogether too free in allowingsubordinate officers to make large purchases without reference to the local Repatriation Committees or the Minister: These are faults that can be remedied.
I turn now, briefly, to another phase of this question, which to me is of very great importance. I read a few days ago a. statement made at the time the War Service Homes Bill was before the House that it. was anticipated that the average cost of settling a soldier on the land would be £1,500. I heard in the course “of the debate yesterday that the Treasurer regarded almost with equanimity the suggestion that it was going to cost us £3,000 for every soldier settled on the land.
– I think it is a scandal.
– The Treasurer would render a great service to the Commonwealth if he put his pruning knife as deeply into that side of the expenditure as he proposes to do in so far as the building of War Service Homes is concerned. The Commonwealth should not provide another penny for the settlement of soldiers on the land by the States unless it first knows that that settlement is being conducted in the interests of the soldiers themselves, and not in the interests of either the States or the land speculators. My view in regard to this matter is unchanged. When the original Bill was before us I urged that we should not allow one penny to be spent on soldier settlement by the States on behalf of the Commonwealth unless we had our own officers supervising that expenditure. I still hold that opinion.
– I sent out a circular as recently as February last to all the State Governments - I had to take this action for my own protection - telling them that they must not incur any more obligations of any kind with respect to soldier settlement without reference to the Commonwealth Treasury.
– That was necessary because the system is open to abuse. If a State desires to resume an estate of, say, 100,000 acres, it can resume it ostensibly for soldier settlement, and yet not put a soldier on it. In my State we have not that confidence in some of the officials connected with these resumptions that may be entertained by people who have had nothing to do with them.
– Victoria is a good State.
– The habit which Victorian representatives have of throwing bouquets atone another is not of much use to those in this Parliament who have practical work to do. The idea that the Commonwealth can provide anything in the region of £3,000 for every returned soldierwho wants to make a living on the land is absurd. It is most unfair that the money we are able to raise for repatriation services should be used in that way. The £3,000 expended in settling one man on the land would provide homes for four returned soldiers and their families. I hope, before we meet again, there will be a very careful examination of the result of the expenditure on soldier settlement, and that an attempt will be made to ascertain what the. settlement of each soldier has actually cost. I hope also that there will be an examination to determine whether the money we are spending on soldier settlement could not be better diverted, for a time at all events, to the establishment of soldiers in their own homes.
– In respect of future land settlement, our obligation is limited to £1,000 per soldier.
– Is the Minister able to say what is the obligation of the Commonwealth at this moment with regard to land already- resumed by the States?
– It amounts to considerably more than that.
– It must do.
– Up to date we have expended on soldier . settlement roughly £26,000,000, leaving about £22,000,000 yet to be found in respect of the approved programmes.
– Spread over how many years ? *
– That amount will cover the whole of the approved programmes as between the Commonwealth and the States.
– I am not familiar with the formula by which that has been arrived at, but surely it must have contemplated the spreading of the expenditure over a period of, say, three, five, or seven years.
– There were two conferences, at which the States were asked to forecast their programmes, and to tell us how much money they would want to give effect to them. The figures I have named will cover the whole of the programmes to which we are committed.
– Then I hope that a new conference will be called and that we shall tell the States that we are not going to carry the whole burden of land settlement in Australia upon the plea that we are settling soldiers on the land. In some of the States very little land settlement other than that for which we are paying is being carried out.
These are the prinicpal matters to which I desire to refer. I could cite a good many cases, but I do not think that the National Parliament should divert its attention from the big issues involved in this question. It is most important in the interests of the soldiers and the welfare of the country that War Service Homes should be provided for our men as quickly as possible. As I mentioned the other day, a returned soldier marries in the belief that he will be able almost at once to get a home for himself. He puts in an application for a War Service Home, but the months go by, and nothing is done for him. I know of soldiers who are living in two or three- roomed houses devoid of the ordinary conveniences of civilization, to which they took their newly-wedded wives in the belief that homes would be quickly available for them. They have had to keep them there for the last twelve months, and there is every prospect of their .remaining there for another year before the homes which they were promised two years ago will be provided for them. I hope that the energies of the Department will be turned into the channel of providing homes in preference .to big areas for SOl,dier settlement; that it will consider first of all the soldier’s requirements, and that if it cannot make available the necessary “ homes, it will allow men to purchase houses already built, or to erect homes for themselves.
.–’ This is one of the most important matters that the House has been called upon to consider. I am afraid we shall- have considerably more trouble in giving effect to the programme outlined by the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) last night than we have had in connexion with the programme that the Government have been endeavouring to carry out. Unless the War Service Homes Commissioner was sadly at fault in estimating his requirements, it will be found that the provision of- £4,000,000 for the services of the Department during the present financial year- is altogether insufficient.’ Crowds of soldiers? have long been clamouring for houses/ Instead of making an increased effort to satisfy the demand, the Government are cutting down the operations of the Department by providing for it in respect of the current financial year, only £4,000,000, although in the first six months of last year £6,000,000 was ex’pended by it. The Commissioner asked for £10,000,000 in respect of . the last financial year. The Treasurer cut ‘ down the amount to £6,000,000, with the result that the whole of it was spent during” the first half of the year. I take’ it that the Commissioner must have based his calculation upon some reliable data. Ho estimated that for the three years following the commencement of building opera- tions he would require ‘from £6,000,000. to £8,000,000 per annum. The competition for houses .is becoming keener than ever, yet the Government are adopting the short-sighted policy of reducing by one-half the amount hitherto available’ for the War Service Homes Department. Ordinary building material, such as timber and bricks, have been costly and difficult to secure, and attention might well have been directed to other suitable materials. We find men to-day building houses, not of weatherboard, bricks, or cement, but of fibro-cement or durabestos, which is made of Australian material, is fireproof, and makes a fine house.
– The Department refused to finance a soldier in my electorate because there were three sheets of that material in the house which he wished to purchase.
– That is absurd. A man who has been in the building trade for some years assures me that durabestos and fibro-cement are among the best of building materials. The Government seem to be panicky in regard to the building of soldiers’ homes, and are swinging away from the programme which they entered upon only a few months ago when they purchased large timber areas designed to serve a building campaign extending over at least three years-. As the honor- able member for West Sydney said, the Government spent nearly £500,000 on acquiring these rights, and it paid for them half in cash and half in bonds bearing 6 per cent. interest, which gives the vendors a. good return on a very safe investment. But after setting out to thus supply itself with material independently of the exploiting middleman, the Government has reversed its policy, and is going to get rid of half of these timber areas, selling them back, I suppose, to their former owners. I should like to know at what price. There has been a complete reversal of policy, and the building programme has been cut down by one-half. In the face of experience, the contract system is to be maintained to the exclusion of the day-labour system, from which the better results have been obtained. The preamble of the Minister’s speech last night was a condemnation of the mismanagement of the War Service Homes Commission.
– I do not think that.
– Taking the actual language used, and also reading between the lines, it must be regarded as a serious indictment of the Commission.
– The press has not put that interpretation on it.
– I have not read any press comment on the speech.
– The reports of the speech published in the newspapers do not emphasize the fact that I condemned the administration of the Commission.
– The Minister spoke for an hour and a half, or for an hour and a quarter, and he wishes us to accept the abbreviated newspaper reports of his speech in place of what we actually heard from his lips.
– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) said that my speech was a eulogy of the Commission.
– The Minister would move uneasily in his chair, and, perhaps, even rise to order, wereI to accuse him of having praised the administration of the Commission. I think that my interpretation of his speech will be indorsed by honorable members on both sides. Unfortunately, he has become panic-stricken. He has had the assistance of advisory Boards and Committees, and the result seems to have confused him and his colleagues, who are now rushing to extremes. The houses which on investigation have been condemned have been those constructed by contract. Had I, as one of the guardians of the public purse, to choose, in the interests of the soldiers, between the contract and the day-labour system, I would choose the latter, of course under proper supervision. The investigation that has been made by the Public Accounts Committee shows that system to be the better. The day-labour system was not given a chance by the Commission. No one would advocate its adoption except under proper supervision, but with such supervision, and the employment of the right men, it will give better results than the contract system. Suppose the Minister’s contention to be right, that the day-labour houses cost £90 more than the contract houses, is it not well to have two competitive systems in operation for the sake of the comparison which it affords ?
– There is something in that; but we can always employ day labour if we find the contract system unsatisfactory.
– But you are scattering the organization got together for the carrying out of the work with day labour.
– Yes. The Commission made an arrangement for obtaining supplies of timber, cement, and, I think, bricks and other materials, and, with a little better organization and supervision, it might have been expected to get good results. It was operating when the buying of building materials was a veritable gamble, and was driven to lengths to which it should not have had to go because private individuals dealt unfairly with it. Those who had been waving the flag and pumping out patriotic sentiment tried to extort the last penny from the Commission, charging it more than they were charging private individuals. The Commissioner complained to Senator E. D. Millen, who was a private-enterprise man from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. That Minister, speaking of houses erected by day labour at Bell, referred to the splendid work that had been put into them.
– Had the work turned out as was expected, he would have had justification for his statements, but, on completion, the buildings cost approximately £135 more than they should have cost.
– At any rate, according to the Minister’s own testimony, the day-labour system has not had a fair trial, as any jury or Court would say.
– I told the House last night that I should be pleased if my statement caused the matter to be threshed out here, so that wemight have a clear understanding of the views of honorable members on the subject.
– But the Minister told us that he had discarded the daylabour system in favour of the contract system.
– Because 1,400 houses built by day labour were in excessof the statutory cost, the total expenditure on them being £130,000.
– The Public Accounts Committee has taken a great deal of evidence about the administration of the Commission.
– It has helped the Department very much.
– I do not want it to be thought that I have come to an opinion in matters that have not been fully investigated by the Committee; but I wish to say that the evidence has convinced me that the day-labour system had nota chance, because of the method, or want of method, in the way in which material was sent to the sites on which buildings were to be erected.
– Why is Labour opposed to “ labour-only “ contracts, which would test the value of the day-labour system ?
– Because they are the application of piece-work.
– How is it that the Government does not apply the contract system to its architects, engineers, and public servants generally? The Public Service is run on the day-labour system; but, if it is fair to apply the contract system to the men who lay bricks, put down flooring, do plastering, and the like, it is fair to apply it to every one else. We should not say to the members of a particular class, “You are the only persons in the community who are not prepared to do the fair thing.”
– I do not say that.
– Then what influences caused Ministers to change their policy in this matter? The insurance scheme adopted by the War Service Homes Commission is a good one.
– I admitted that last night.
– Are you going to continue it?
– Without allowing private companies to come in?
– I am glad to hear that. The success of the scheme affords a splendid argument for the Commonwealth taking over the whole insurance business. By doing so it would make a lot of money.
– It is the Commonwealth’s own property that we are insuring. We cannot compel outside people to have their private properties insured through the Commonwealth; but, with respect to our own properties, the Government can take a risk.
– Of course; but if the Government were to announce to-morrow the opening of a fire, marine, and life insurance Department, considerable business would be secured, and very satisfactory profits would accrue from the first year’s undertakings.
– We would immediately have to set up as competitors, and would have to buy business. Under the War Service Homes scheme we get that insurance business automatically.
Mr.FENTON. - There is a lot of other business which the Government would get without risk if they were to enter the insurance, business. The Commonwealth Treasury is in urgent need of money today; and there is no reason, seeing that the Constitution does not prevent it, why an insurance Department should not be inaugurated. It would, injure nobody in particular, and would prove a great boon to the public.
I trust that the Government will not, for the future, place the whole business of building homes for soldiers into the hands of contractors.
– We will tighten up the contract system in regard to- time, material, and workmanship, keeping in mind the objective of turning . out soldiers’ homes of a first-class character.
Mr.FENTON. - The Minister may make the contracts as binding as he likes; and the specifications as clear as possible; but, unless a keen eye is kept upon the contractors themselves in the actual carrying out of the work, the soldiers will get no such homes as the Minister has just pictured.
– I am not keen on giving a contractor profits. The Department will supply a lot of the material, and it will be competent for workmen themselves, and for returned soldier builders, to secure contracts. I repeat that the Government will be in a- position to provide the bulk of the material.
Mr.FENTON. - That is a fair proposition.
– As the honorable member knows, we have huge quantities on hand. We can schedule them at costs which will permit soldier builders and small contractors to secure contracts without requiring to be backed by considerable capital.
– That sounds well; but I warn the Minister—if he needs to be warned - that the ordinary contractor is always on the lookout for as big a dividend as he can make. There is no need for the middleman in this great public project at all. I might mention that three of the members of the Public Accounts Committee came to certain conclusions, and set them forth in a dissent ing report. We did not believe, . either in respect of the softwoods proposition in Queensland or of the hardwoods purchases in Victoria, that private individuals should be allowed to step in. We suggested that the middleman should be cut out altogether. In order to conserve the interests of the Commonwealth, and to save returned soldiers’ money, we recommended that the Government should work those timber areas themselves, and cut out the middleman. There is a tendency, and it is a most immoral one, to regard the Government as fair game at all times. Because Government money is to be spent, there are people who are always keenly on the lookout for pickings. A man who would rob the Government of his country is a more despicable thief than a pickpocket. The one merely robs an individual, but the other, who puts his hand into the pockets of the State, robs everybody. An individual who would stoop so low as to filch from a returned soldier is the worst of all kinds of thieves. The day-labour system has not had a fair show. Under proper supervision it can be guaranteed to beat the contracting system every time,’ for the reason that it is not looking for profits. The Assistant Minister has stated that houses erected under the day-labour system cost, on an average, £97 each more than . those erected by contract. I do not think the Minister could have drawn a fair comparison. It is impossible to make a convincing comparison between the two systems unless the houses have been built in the same locality, upon an exactly similar type of land, with building costs identical, and employing the same material.
I wish to know whether the Savings Banks of the various States are now to be invited to come in? There was good reason for the Commonwealth Bank taking up thebuilding of soldiers’ homes. After the Government had decided to hand over the work to the ‘Savings Banks of the various States, and when the proposal was first made to the Commissioners of those institutions, the first thing they pointed out was that they would require to be paid certain fees. The reason why the Government broke off negotiations with the State Savings Bank Commissioners in Victoria and New South Wales was that the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank pointed out that his institution was operating throughout the Commonwealth, and was prepared to take on the work without requiring any fees to he paid. Sir Denison Miller said, “ All we propose to charge is such sums as maybe fairly andreasonablychargeable for our services.” The Government perceived that, by linking up withthe Commonwealth Bank and abandoning negotiations with the ‘State Savings Banks, they would be saving some thousands of pounds per annum in fees alone. Now that the Savings Bank Commissioners are to be invited to come in again, it may be presumed that these fees will have to be paid.
I am afraid that the Government are likely to be fleeced in future operations, as they have been in the past, by contractors. I say with regret and humiliation that there are contractors who have had the effrontery and the knavery to put bricks into soldiers’ homes which could bo crumbled with one’s hands, and who have used timber which has not been up to specification. . Such revelations are sufficient to turn one against the contract system for all time. I do not. say, of course, that every contractor has been dishonest ; but fraudulent practices were discovered in contract jobs which were never revealed in houses built under the daylabour system. Some contract-built houses, I am bound to say, have been faithfully reared ; one can express nothing but praise for the work put into them. But, with respect to the day-labour system, there is no inducement to cheat the Government or the soldier, while there is every inducement to put the best material and the finest workmanship into, the job. In certain contract-built houses the soldiers and their dependants have not been in residence for twelve months before the services of plasterers and carpenters have had to be requisitioned. Considering the money involved in the whole gigantic scheme, the men for whom the work is being done, and the financial state of the Commonwealth to-day, the very closest scrutiny of every penny of expenditure is demanded of the Government. I do not see how the Government and the returned soldier can get full value for their money under the contract system. I admit that the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has put up a good case from his own point of view; but if he intends to rely solely on contractors he will not achieve the best results for the men who fought for usand have returned.
.- If there is one public Department to which exception can be taken in respect of its administration it is the War Service Homes branch. Almost from its inauguration there have been evidences of great dissatisfaction because of its incompetence and administrative ineptitude. The experience in South Australia has been such as, I trust, will never be repeated. Early this year I paid special visitsto Melbourne in the effort to secure finality in respect of certain applications which had been in the hands of the Department for many months. Concerning one contract, well nigh two years had passed, and the matter had not even then reached the stage of signing the contract. The scathing indictment of the Government’s administration of this Department is amply justified and cannot be effectively answered. We have now the spectacle of the Government, who acknowledge their incompetence and admit that they have been on the wrong track, and a further policy is submitted no doubt with the idea of covering up some of their previous mistakes. But, in my opinion, this change will lead to even worse blundering than has happened in the past. These men of business acumen! These heaven-born administrators!
-Where are they?
– Not on the Treasury bench. And the affairs of this country will never be placed on a true business basis and the best interests of the people conserved until the party now in Opposition is intrusted with the responsibility of Government. I have risen mainly to protest against the existing condition of the saw-mills purchased by the Commonwealth Government in Queensland in September last. For the last four or five months these mills have been at a standstill, whilst all the neighbouring saw-mills have been working at their full capacity. I feel sure that had Mr. Lahey continued to be the owner of the saw-mills which the Government purchased from him, they would have been working continuously during the last nine or ten months, and there would have been no unemployment amongst the men engaged in the industry. The Government are indebted to that gentleman to an amount of £243,000 in respect of the areas and. mills purchased from him, and to Mr. Brett to a further amount of £220,000 for certain areas, and plant acquired from him. But for some unexplained reason these enterprises have been closed down for the last four or five months. Much credit is to be given to the Brisbane Daily Standard in drawing public attention to this scandalous state of things. Mr. Lahey was asked by a representative of the Brisbane Daily Standard whether, if those areas had been under his control, they would have been idle, and he replied, “Certainly not.” As the Government had to complete certain contracts when they took over the mills from Mr. Lahey, it is incumbent upon the Minister to explain why work at those mills has not been proceeding. It is quite evident that the interests of the Commonwealth have been subordinated to private business interests, and the statement made by the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) last night that the day-labour system of house construction is to give place to the contract system is evidence of the fact that business interests have made their representations, and their dictation is to be obeyed by the loyal servants who now represent them on the Treasury bench. The statement that the failure of the day-labour system is responsible for this complete change of policy is a mean and paltry excuse. It appears to be the policy of the Government to, at all times, disparage the working man, and throw upon his shoulders the responsibility for any blunders in public Departments. The working men will amply justify their part in this scheme, but it will be difficult for the Government to defend theirs. Their change of policy is evidence that the Government desire to conserve, not so much the interests of the soldiers and the people generally, but rather the interests of private enterprise. They have again shown their incompetence, and that they have not sufficient acumen to control the destinies of the Commonwealth - and promote the best interests of its citizens.
.- During the time I have been a member of this House no Government activity- has been more frequently debated than that of repatriation in all its phases, including War Service Homes, land settlement, and so forth. I have always held the opinion that the petty activities of party politics should find no place in a debate relating to the welfare of the returned soldiers, and I feel sure that that opinion would be indorsed unanimously by the House and the country. I awaited anxiously the statement made by the Assistant Minister (Mr, Rodgers) last night, and I now feel confident that better times are in store for soldiers requiring homes. The Minister stated quite clearly what the future programme of the Government will be. I remind the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), that in regard to repatriation there were no blazed trails and no precedents. That is a fact we should not overlook. Experiments had to be made, and mistakes were also made. There have been deplorable instances of bungling in carrying into effect the efforts of a grateful nation on behalf of its sons who served overseas and their dependants. As other honorable members desire to take part in the debate I will not detain the House, beyond indorsing the remarks of the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) in regard to land settlement. I wish to impress upon the Government that it is just as necessary that an investigation should be held into soldier settlements as it was that the work of the War Service Homes Commission should be inquired into. There is no doubt that whilst there have been successes in some soldier settlements, there have been also failures and a great deal of disappointment, and I trust that the Government will take the earliest opportunity of consulting With the various State Governments to see if anything can be done to improve the conditions of soldier settlers.
.- Whatever else we may do, we may very well congratulate the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) upon all that he has done for soldiers since the outbreak of war. There is not a hamlet in the whole of his district in which- he has not formed a committee and established a fund for the benefit of local soldiers on their return from the Front. I do not think that any country has ever done so much for its soldiers as has Australia. In regard to a large, undertaking like the War Service
Homes, if some mistake had not been made it would have been strange. A good many mistakes have been made, but it is better to make mistakes than not to try at all. I have yet to meet the man who makesno mistakes. I have a little fault to find with the Department in regard to the making of ‘valuations. Local Committees have been appointed in all towns, but their valuations have been absolutely ignored. I heard one honorable member say that it was difficult to trust them. But, if the Local Committees cannot be trusted, I do not know who can. There are District Committees throughout South Australia whose experience and knowledge are available to the Department, and I am sorry that their assistance is not availed of as it should be. I hope that in future the District Committees will be asked for their valuations of land. Fortunately, in my own district, the valuations of cottages have been ‘all right, and, in some cases, the committee have recommended the purchase of estates that were both good and cheap. People do not want to make money out of the soldiers. I would not like to see any man in my district try to make money out of any scheme for the assistance of the soldiers.
– There are plentyof parasites in the big cities.
– I do not know anything about them, but we should en- deavour to train the rising generation to leave the cities. Provide roads, telephonic communication, and other facilities, and the people will go into the country.
– Cut up the large estates in the Mount Gambier district.
– We have already cut up very many of the large estates in that district, and it is capable of absorbing many more settlers. There is plenty of land in the country districts of Australia, and it is idle to talk about half an acre of land being sufficient for the settlement of a soldier. Personally I would not have any house built on land of less than an acre or two acres in extent. Honorable members, insteadof squabbling and fighting for the Treasury benches, ought to be uniting their efforts in the great work we nave undertaken. We have a territory, possibly the finest within the Empire, unpeopled simply for the lack of a few hundred miles of railway. Turning to another phase of the question, I do not see why a soldier should not be able to buy his own house if he desires to, and I believe he could do so much more cheaply than by waiting until, perhaps, a larger house is built for him. I congratulate the Assistant Minister on the stand he has taken in regard to the contract system, because it is eminently desirable that the soldier should know exactly how much he has to pay. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), who is an honest and reliable man, has told us that in the case of houses built under the contract system he has known the bricks used to crumble in the hand, and that, of course, is extremely unfair to the soldier. I am certain that if such a thing occurred, the Assistant Minister did not know of it or he would have quickly put things right. The honorable gentleman is very much in earnest in his work, and is visiting all the States with a view to seeing that the fair thing is done. We are all extremely proud of our soldiers for paying up as they are doing for their homes; and my opinion is that, long before the time has expired, no money will be owing. In any case, if the soldiers do get backward in their payments, I hope they will not be harassed in any way, for they cannot run away with the land, and even if they do not pay for it, they will improve it and prove themselves valuable citizens. They ought to.be helped in every possible way. and so long as they continue to live on the land, they ought not to be interfered with.
– I wish to give my impression of the speech which the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) made last night, though it is hard to understand it from the. point of view of a. Ministerial statement. It was from beginning to end a condemnation of the work of the Minister associated with him.
– That is a most unfair and . unwarranted statement !
– If the honorable gentleman reads his own speech he will see that what I say is a fair interpretation of it.
– I have re-read my statement as a matter of obligation, and I take exception to that remark of the honorable member.
– The honorable gentleman said that the administration had been faulty and inexcusable; and whose administation is it but that of the Minister associated’ with him 1
– I think that is an unfair statement, and I ask the honorable member not to repeat it.
– The honorable gentleman may make his speech over again if he chooses;- 1 am now referring to what he said last night; and there is no doubt that his words were a> condemnation of the administration of this Department. I know of only two Ministers associated with the Department during the period over which his remarks had reference, and those are the Minister in another place and himself. That was the impression on my mind, and I regarded it as a kind of speech which can only be criticised as a candid statement of one who found the administration faulty, and ‘ ‘ stood up “ to the fact. But what I complain of is that the Assistant Minister tried to rid himself of responsibilities by throwing the blame for the bungling on a system which he described as the day-labour system. It is characteristic of some Governments, when they find themselves in a position of this kind, to blame their opponents; and we of the Labour party often find people attempting to throw responsibilities for their own wrong-doing on this side of the House. The Assistant Minister complained of the day-labour system, but I may tell him that his remarks were diametrically opposed to those made by the Minister, Senator E. D. Millen himself at the opening of the cottages in the Coburg district. I happen to have with me the copy of the Argus, in which there is a report of the remarks of Senator E. D. Millen, who contrasted the day-labour system with the contract system; and I wish to put those remarks on record as an answer to those made by .the Assistant Minister last night. According to the Argus -
Referring to the system’ of day labour as against contract labour, Senator Millen said that he had always been - against day labour, and when the Commonwealth scheme was launched the one idea was that the contract system should be adopted. The contractors, however; were not willing to tender within the price fixed by the Act, and the Commission undertook the work. The average cost of the cottages’ at Bell was £695 lis. 5d. each, including the land. Originally tenders were called for the erection of the homes, and the prices offered ranged from £720’ to £900, exclusive of the cost of the land. The actual cost of the. homes included land, fencing, reticulation, wiring, and the provision of all necessary accessories. The frontages were from 46 to 69 feet, with an average depth of 111 feet, and the soldiers who were fortunate enough to take possession . would pay a rent up to 18s. 6d. weekly, including Hates and insurance.
– Where are those houses situated 1
– That statement was made at the opening of the cottages at Bell, to which the honorable member for Grampians and other honorable members were invited. It is a - complete answer to the statement made by the Assistant Minister when he endeavoured to throw the responsibility for the shortcomings of his Department on to the day-labour system. The correct thing for the Assistant Minister to do would be to accept the responsibility for the bungling that has been going on. He could not say that a Labour Government was to blame, and so he sought to prove that the difficulty had arisen in consequence of effect being given to one of the planks of the platform of the Labour party. As a rule the Assistant Minister is very fair, but in his speech last night he blamed the system,, which was unjust. The Minister for Repatriation, in the speech which I quoted, proves conclusively that the statement made by the Assistant Minister last night was incorrect.
– The Minister for Repatriation used figures supplied to him. The weakening came in January, when the completed cost was £835.
– The figures I have quoted were for completed cottages,.’ including the land. It is only fair to compare completed cottages, including land. Those constructed under -the contract system did not include the land, and showed a margin of £200 in favour of the day-labour system.
.- It is very gratifying to have a statement from the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) concerning the administration of the Department. The statements I made, when. Parliament first assembled, have proved to be correct, as the costs have proved to be much higher than were anticipated. Since then the Government have increased the amount from £700 to £800, and even now it has been found very difficult to proceed as we desire. The conditions which have prevailed recently have hampered the Department to a great extent ; but notwithstanding the difficulties, I believe the Department could have rendered better service. As a result of the unusual circumstances, many honorable members have been placed in a difficult position in endeavouring to make a satisfactory explanation to their constituents. The Assistant Minister has said that it is now considered necessary to call in . the assistance of outsiders “in order to place the work of the Department on a sound basis. So far as my experience goes, I believe that the rank and file of the Department have rendered good service, all of them earnestly desiring to assist those with whom they fought on the other side of the world. There are houses in my district that have taken twelve months to construct, and if soldiers have to wait for an unreasonable time before their requests are complied with, dissatisfaction will continue. The introduction of the contract system may be a means of expediting the work, but I cannot understand why the Department decline to purchase’ unoccupied houses already constructed - that is, if they have been built bv reputable contractors. Financial institutions are prepared to operate on this basis, and the Department should institute a method of purchasing on a similar system, provided that the houses are valued by experts. I do not agree with the Assistant Minister when he says that houses can be built cheaper under the contract system, because dwellings built under the daylabour system, if properly supervised, ‘are better than those built by contract. As I understand the Government wish to bring forward new business, I shall not discuss the general administration of the Department further; but I trust the new programme will prove of benefit to the large number of men who are still waiting for homes.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Wise) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring ‘in a Bill for an Act to: amend the Post, and Telegraph Act J 1901-1916.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– (by leave). - I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This is a Bill to make two amendments in section 18 of the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-16. Section 17 of the principal Act provides that -
The principal railway official of every State, or the owner, controller or manager of any railway or tramway in any State, shall carry mails on any train run upon the railways or tramways’ under his control if required by the Postmaster-General so to do, and shall provide all usual facilities for the receipt, carriage and delivery of all mails that he is required to carry.
Section 18 provides that -
The Postmaster-General shall pay to the principal railway official of each State, or to the owner, controller or manager of any railway or tramway in any State, as the case may be, such annual sum for the receipt, carriage and delivery of mails and for all facilities provided in connexion therewith as may be agreed upon and in default of agreement as may be settled by arbitration …
Unfortunately, that provision does not lay down the basis upon which payment is to be made. Prior to Federation both Departments were controlled by the States, and it was merely a case of taking the money out .of one pocket and putting it into the other, and, therefore, the amount debited to the Post Office by the Railways for the carriage of mails was upon a purely arbitrary basis. No particular care was taken in determining the amount that should actually be so debited. With the inauguration of Federation it was agreed that the amount to he paid the State Railway Departments should be equal to the total amount that had been paid by the individual States. Between 1901 and 1907, the Railways pressed for increased payment for carriage of mails, but their requests were not based on any evidence of cost of service, and the Postal Department strongly resisted their demands. In 1907, however, as the result of a conference between the parties, it was agreed that the Post Office should make payment of a lump sum of £275,000 per annum for conveyance of mails by railway. The Railway authorities were empowered to devise a scale which would apportion this £275,000 between the States in about the proportion which each State had received of the original £234,000. The apportionment was on a line-mileage scale. In 1908, an agreement was entered into to cover a period of eight years, payment to be computed on the scale to which I have referred. That agreement terminated in 1916. A conference was then held between the Railway authorities and the Postmaster-General, with a view to the preparation of a fresh arrangement. Agreement was reached on practically all the points at issue except the rate of payment. The Railways insisted that in any negotiation the amount then paid should be taken as the minimum basis. The Postal Department, however, contended that the then existing rate was excessive. Failing agreement the matter was submitted to arbitration under section 18 of the Post and Telegraph Act, and it was mutually agreed that the InterState Commission should act as arbitrator. The Department contended before the Commission that payment for carriage of mails should be in relation to cost of service. The Commission, in a majority report, awarded that the annual sum to be paid by the Postmaster-General to the principal railway official in each State should be. 50 per cent, of the scheduled State railway rates for parcels, intra and Inter-State, in force on 1st January, 1917. In other words, it was decided that the highest rate for the carriage of goods by the Railway Departments should be adopted. The reason why 50 per cent, of the rates was fixed upon was that, in handling parcels, the railways were involved in services such as booking, &c, which did not apply to- mails. The award was made binding for only one year. The Chief Commissioner, in a minority report, disagreed with this finding, contending that the payment to the railways should represent the amount incurred in giving the service. He concluded his finding, as follows -
That it was contemplated by Parliament that the State railways should perform with the Federal Post Office the joint service of mail carriage on the basis of being recouped for expense.
In order to determine the amount of payment to be made to the Railway Departments in accordance with the award, the weights of mails consigned by rail were taken in March, 1918. On these weights, payment was computed at the rate of £184,296 per annum. The State Railways were paid at this rate from 1st January, 1917, to 31st .December, 1920, plus £7,500 per annum, for conveyance of second class overseas mail matter. In October, 1.920, the mails were again weighed. The weights taken, computed at half parcels rates operating on 1st January, 1917, would involve payment at the rate of £230,683 per annum, an increase of £46,387 per annum. The railways declined to accept payment as from 1st January, 1921, on the basis of the parcels rate3 operating on 1st January, 1917, demanding that it should be computed on the parcels rates operating on 1st January last. If payment were so made, on the weighings of October, 1920, an amount of £352,956 per annum would be involved. The Postal Department, therefore, would have to pay £168,660 ‘ per annum more than the amount determined under tha award - an increase of approximately 91 per cent. In addition to that, we would be at the entire mercy of the Railway Departments of the various States, since they could determine from time to time what increase in their railway charges should be made. It is not possible for a mutual agreement to be arrived at, and it is necessary, therefore, to go to arbitration again. In order that there may be laid down a basis upon which the arbitrators shall act, we propose to amend section 18 of the principal Act by omitting therefrom the words “ the receipt, carriage, and delivery of mails, and for all facilities provided in connexion therewith,” and inserting in their stead the words “ rendering any service required in pursuance of the last preceding section.” It is also proposed to insert after the word “ arbitration “ in section 18 the words ‘ ‘ on the basis of the actual expense estimated to have been incurred in rendering such service.” I hope the motion will be agreed to.
Mr.CHARLTON (Hunter) [10.59].- This is a very necessary measure. We have been paying large sums to the State Railway Departments for the carriage of our mail-matter, and this Bill merely proposes to amend the principal Act in order that a definite basis may be laid down for the guidance of the arbitrators. I know of no better way of settling a dispute between the States and the Commonwealth than by reference to arbitration, and, that being so, I shall not discuss the question further.
.- Although I am pleased to’ facilitate the passage of a Bill of this character, it seems rather strange that the PostmasterGeneral should be prepared to submit the question of what the Government should pay for the carriage of its mails to arbitration, but at the same time desire to lay down the conditions under which the arbitrators shall bring in their verdict.
– No; the basis.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) speaking the other night advocated the charging of a profit of 20 per cent. on importations; but are we to understand that the States are to he reimbursed only the actual expenditure that they incur in the carriage of mails, and are to be allowed no profit? That strikes me as unfair.
– They will get only such profit as will give a return for the services rendered.
– The Commonwealth had a good thing, but was not satisfied.
– The Commonwealth had its own arbitrators, hut insisted on haggling over this matter, until in the end it had to give way.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (by leave) read a third time.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
Referred to Committee of Supply forthwith.
In Committee (Consideration ofGovernorGeneral’s message) :
. -I move -
That it is expedient that the appropriation of revenue made by the Shale Oil Bounty Act 1917 be made available for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to amend the Shale Oil Bounty Act 1917.
The object of the Bill is to enable this bounty tobe paid for another twelve months. The sum of £270,000 was voted by Parliament for this bounty, and only £84,000 of it has been spent;but, as the Act will expire by effluxion of time before theHouse re-assembles after the proposed adjournment,it is necessary to get parliamentary sanction for the continuance of the bounty for another year, during which the whole matter canbereviewed. We propose nothing fresh, and merely ask leave to spend the money that has been voted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing orders suspended, and. resolution adopted.
That Mr. Greene and Mr.Groom do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Greene,and read a first time.
Business of the House -War Pension.
– I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
I should have liked to continue for another half-hour to-night to put through the Bill which has just been introduced.
– Why not go on with it?
– We object to going further to-night.
– There is nothingcontroversial in the Bill. Tomorrow, a series of public works proposals, which, if agreed to,will givea great deal of work, is to be considered, and we shall be jambed if we do notget rid of some of these formal matters tonight. Every one knows the Fridaymorning moodof the House, when members are generally a little strung up, and not too amiable. I hope that I shall not beblamed if somethings that honorable members wish cannot be done. My advice is not being taken, and I am powerless toenforce it. Therefore, I hope that members will take responsibility for what may happen. I shall do mybest,but I cannot guarantee that all our proposals will be put through.
Mr.CHARLTON (Hunter)[11.9].-I cannotguarantee anything fortomorrow; but. weonthis side will do what we can to facilitate business, because we all wish to get away.
I did not speakon Supply, because I did not wish to occupy time then;but I have a matter which should beventilated. It concerns areturnedsolidier named Bond, who has written to me fully about iriscase, and I have also received a Hotter aboutit from a Dr. Boss. Bond himself also wired to me last evening, asking me to mention the case in the House, as he despairs of getting justice otherwise. Bond was in receipt of a war pension, which was stopped. He says- 1 was stricken with the ailmentfor thefirst time in thetrenches, andprior to thatI had neverhad theslightestsymptomof the complaint.I was treated in hospital without a break lor ten months. Sot the Ailment. SurgeonGeneralRyan, one of our highest qualified medical officers, marked on my papers that the disability was attributable to war ser- - rice, and assessedthedisability at 100 per cent. for pension purposes. This 7 know, that had I ‘been examinedby civilian doctors, the pension would never’ have teen takes away. Only to-day I tad a consultation with Dr. Roseberg,of Stanly,a returnedsoldier. He said that it was a scandalous decision, andhe would have no hesitation in putting . it down to a war disability.
The Department said that this man had inherited the disability from theBoer war; but he positively declares that he was never, ator near the Boer war, and that the sickness first occurred’ . in the trenches in Trance. It is a mystery to me how the Department can say that the disability originated in South Africa; seeing that the man was first examined here for activeservice, and was passed,and was then sent toFrance, and wassubseqnently examined andclassed as a.100 percent.disability for pension purposes. “Tie writer continues -
As I told you before, no doctor examined roe prefer tothepension being tokenaway.
What I urgently desire to know is how andwhy the Department oan Btop these pensions without even having the person concerned medically examined.
– It cannot ho done, and is not done.
– This man says it was done. When his case was brought up he had to undergo an examination by a doctor, -or by two medical officers who were directly under the medical officer who had previously examined him - that is to say, after his pension had teen, out off.
SirGranvilleRyrie. - The only examination practicable is the examination -by a medical Beard.
– Those two medical officers could not be expected, of -course, to come to a decision in . opposition to that of their -chief. TMs matter has been before the Assistant Minister (Sir Granville Ryrie) before, and all I desire is teat it shall be given farther consideration.
SirGranvilleRyrie. - If -the honorable member wiH let me have the . letter, and any additional particulars he may possess, I shall go into the >oase.
Question resolved in the amrmatise. .
House adjourned «t 11-13 Ipja.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 July 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1921/19210721_reps_8_96/>.