8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I lay on the table the annual report of the River Murray Commission, and I move -
That the paper be printed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I ask the Minister for Works and Railways if the works on the River Murray are in full progress, and if there is any fear that their progress will be interfered with by the high state of the river.
– Perhaps I can best answer the honorable member if I shortly state what the position is. At the Hume Reservoir, which will contain about 1,000,000 acre-feet of water, work is proceeding well. On the New South Wales side there are now 300 men engaged. Good progress has been made, all the plant has been assembled, and the actual construction of the dam itself has been begun. As a result of these operations honorable members will find that quite a little township has sprung up on that side of the river. On the Victorian side there was a long delay owing to industrial troubles. I am glad to say that these have been overcome, and there are to-day on the Victorian side over 180 men engaged, and work is being proceeded with. It is estimated that from 480 to 500 men are at present engaged in the construction of works on the Upper Murray. Lower down the river at Torumbarry the Victorian Constructing authority is carrying out construction work on behalf of Victoria and New South Wales, and very considerable progress has been made with the lock at that place. Some industrial trouble arose, but that has recently been settled, and now work is proceeding satisfactorily. In South Australia I am glad to say that the Blanchtown Weir and Lock have been completed. It is the first work on the River Murray to be completed. For three years those engaged in construction were faced with considerable difficulty owing to the condition of the river. Three floods were at different times coming down the Darling threatening operations. It was a race between the engineers and the floods, and I am glad to be able to say that the engineers won. The work to which I have referred is now completed, the coffer dam is being removed, and the lock will he in operation in the near future. In South Australia also at No. 3 Lock work is proceeding, the plant and all the necesarry material is being assembled, and good progress is. being made. No. 9 Lock is the one which is to be used in connexion with the storage at Lake Victoria. The necessary material has been purchased, and advantage has now been taken of the opportunity to transport some of it for purposes of construction. Honorable members will realize that some of the material required for works on the River Murray has to be carried over hundreds of miles. Work is being resumed in connexion with the big works at the Lake Victoria storage, where provision is being made for thestorage of over 500,000 acre-feet of water for the irrigation settlement in South Australia. The works here are being carried out in part by the Government and partly by contract. The works undertaken by the State constructing authority have proceeded with little interruption, but the contractor had to cease: operations altogether for a considerable period because of industrial trouble. I am glad to say that these difficulties have now been overcome, and the work is generally being proceeded with. On. the whole of the works on the River Murray well over 1,000 men are at the present time engaged.
– Can the right honorable the Treasurer, give the House any idea when the interim report of the Taxation Commission will be available to honorable members ?
– I am expecting it every day, but I regret to say that I am quite unable to tell the honorable member definitely when I shall receive it.
Settlement ofex-Imperial Service Men - War Service Homesincountry Districts.
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Repatriation whether the Department has discontinued to lend moneys to the State Governments for the purpose of advances for the land settlement of ex-Imperial Service men. Possibly the Minister may be able to say whether any arrangement is contemplated with the British Government in connexion with this matter.
– Originally the Commonwealth made no discrimination in the matter of settlement of returned soldiers between members of the Australian Imperial Force and ex-Imperial soldiers who desired to settle in Australia. It was found later that the number of exImperial men who desired to settle was greatly on the increase, and in October last it was evident that if we continued to make advances for settlement as originally proposed, we should be unable to provide from repatriation funds sufficient money to cover advances required for the settlement of members of the Australian Imperial Force. The State Governments were then apprised that arrangements were in contemplation between the Imperial and Commonwealth Governments for a special provision under immigration regulations for the settlement of exImperial Service men. We now restrict advances from our fundto the settlement of members of the Australian Imperial Force.
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Repatriation if he can inform the House when it is likely that any homes will be built by the War Service Homes Commission for returned soldiers living in the country districts, or when arrangements will be made for their construction.
– In the building of War Service Homes no discrimination is made between country districts and metropolitan areas.
– None has so far been built in country districts.
Mr.Blakeley. - The Minister may think that his statement is correct, but it is contrary to the facts.
– The principle followed is to build in accordance with priority of application. So far as construction in country districts is concerned , a number of returned soldiers are being provided for under the land settlement provisions. Not many applications are coming forward from country towns.
– I have one in mind which was made eight months ago.
– I have specially looked into this matter, and have asked the Commissioner and Deputies to pay special attention to country construction. The reply I have received is that applications from country towns are not. nearly so numerous as from the metropolitan areas.
– Yesterday, in reply to a question which I asked on the subject of the Auditor-General’s report, the Treasurer gave an answer which was perhaps excusable when we remember how excited he was. I asked if he would give us information as to when the AuditorGeneral’s report would be received. He referred me to a report by the AuditorGeneral on the transactions of the Commonwealth Bank, which, pursuant to Statute, had just been laid on the table. WhatI desired to know was whether we would receive the. report of the AuditorGeneral on the finances of the Commonwealth in time to be of use in the consideration of the Budget.
-I apologize to the House for having unintentionally misled it yesterday. I discovered my mistake immediately after I had spoken. I was informed that the AuditorGeneral’s report had been laid on the table, but it struck me later that that was impossible unless I had tabled it myself, and I have no recollection of having done so. I apologize for my unintentional mistake. I hope to have the report tabled in time for consideration in connexion with the resumption of the debate on the Budget.
– Has the Treasurer yet made arrangements for the child endowment to be paid, in accordance with the promise previously made, to public servants who have foster children? If so, when may the first payment be expected?
– I understand that the endowment is being paid. If the honorable member will let me have particulars of cases in which it is not, I shall inquire into them.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that several of the State Parliaments have passed Bills to enable their members to contest seats for the Federal Parliament without first resigning their seats in the State Legislature. Cannot some provision be made to enable Federal members, who desire to stand for election toa State Parliament, to do so without resigning their seats in this Parliament?
– I have not heard of this development. Things have been happening since I have been away, which certainly need looking into. The plague has broken out, aud floods and other visitations of God have come upon the land, but this to which the honorable member refers is the last straw and certainly calls for investigation. I suppose that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Mr.WATKINS. - Having regard to the extra work performed by the census collectors, will the Minister for Home and Territories review the remuneration paid to them? I understand that general dissatisfaction exists amongst the collectors throughout the Commonwealth on account of the inadequacy of the payment they have received.
– There is no general complaint, although individual com plaints have been made, and in some cases the payment has been increased. The fact remains, however, that all these people contracted to do the work for a certain sum, and now they are asking for more payment. I am not prepared to give it.
– Does the Assistant Minister forRepatriation know that in respect of many homes purchased by the War Service Homes Commission over twelve months ago, the vendors have not yet received the purchase money, and that in some cases they are paying 8 per cent. on mortgages, whereas the Commission is only allowing them 3 per cent. pending settlement?
Mr.RODGERS. - I doubt very much if there are cases such as the honorable member has stated, unless there are faulty titles that cannot be accepted.
– The titles are all right.
Mr.RODGERS. - If the honorable member is referring to certain Sydney cases he will knowthat following representations which were made to me, and in order to avoid delay, I appointed a special tribunal, of which an experienced legal man was chairman, to settle all such cases immediately. Money was made available for the purpose.
– I am not alluding to those cases, but there are two others at Kurri Kurri and one at West Maitland. The purchases were approved over twelve months ago, but the vendors have not yet received the money.
Mr.RODGERS.- Will the honorable member supply me with the particulars?
– I have already done so.
Mr.RODGERS. - I cannot remember every individual case which is put before me, but if the honorable member will supply me with the names of the vendors I will let the House know the reasons for the delay that has occurred, and, if there be no good reason, somebody will have to answer for it.
Prime Minister been approached in regard to an extension of the operations of Bawra for another twelve months; if so, have the Government taken any steps?
– I have not been approached, but I have been notified by certain members of this House that they desire to approach me. I shall hear what they have to say, but long before any action is taken by the Government I shall take the House into my confidence and seek counsel from it in regard to this matter.
– Will the Treasurer consider the advisability of granting a temporary invalid pension to persons who are temporarily incapacitated until they are able to find employment?One person who has lost an eye, a hand, and a leg was told that he was not permanently incapacitated, and, consequently, was not entitled to a pension.
– If the honorable member will give me particulars of the case to which he refers, I shall look into it.
– I have given the right honorable gentleman particulars on three occasions.
– When will the Treasurer make a statement to the House regarding the recently-floated Diggers’ Loan of £10,000,000, giving particulars as to the amount contributed in each State, and the amount by which the loan has been over-subscribed?
– The loan was slightly over-subscribed. I shall be glad to furnish, next week, the details for which the honorable member has asked.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The matter is under consideration in connexion with the allocation of the funds granted for railway purposes.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether the Government intend to amend the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act during this session to provide for an increased earning allowance to pensioners?
– Consideration has been given to this subject ; but, in view of the cost involved, and the present financial condition of the Commonwealth, it is regretted that the matter of increasing the income limit must await a more favorable opportunity.
asked the Prime Min ister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister forWorks and Railways, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained as far as is possible.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– As I did not consider the reply furnished to me this morning satisfactory, I referred it back to the Department concerned. I hope to be in a position to give the honorable member a fuller answer next week.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– Yesterday, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) asked a question relative to the appointment of medical examiners of war pensioners. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) has furnished me with the following answer : -
No additional medical men have been appointed recently for the purpose of “ inspecting applicants who claim that they have had their war pensions reduced or cancelled recently.” Any pensioner who so desires has the right to lodge an appeal against his assessment, and all appeals are most carefully and exhaustively investigated. If then dissatisfied with the decision given, he can further appeal. . The medical examinations are made by the departmental medical officers, and the staffs of assistant departmental medical officers, and wherever the Commission considers the circumstances warrant it the case is referred to a specialist for advice.
The following papers were presented: -
Norfolk Island - Report for the year ended 30th June, 1921.
Papua - Oilfields in - Reports on operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company during March to July, 1921.
Ordered to be printed.
Status of Dominions - Empire’s Foreign Policy - Anglo- Japanese Treaty - The Pacific Problem - Disarmament Conference - Constitutional Conference
. -(By leave.) - On the 7th April, 1921, I made a statement to this House setting out the principal questions to be considered at the Conference, and giving reasons why Australia should be represented. Let me remind you of what I then said -
The Conference has been summoned to deal with questions of foreign policy, naval defence, and the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty. Certain other subsidiary matters are also set out on the agenda-paper. One relates to communications (including wireless) between various parts of the Empire; but I shall direct my remarks mainly to those matters which are of fundamental importance.
I emphasized the importance of foreign policy to Australia in general and the Anglo-Japanese Treaty in particular, the dependence of the Empire on sea power, and expressed my opinion that the Treaty ought to be renewed, and in such form, if that should prove By any means possible, as would be satisfactory to America. I concluded by saying -
If I am asked if the Commonwealth is to be committed to anything done at the Conference, I say, quite frankly, that this Parliament will have the amplest opportunity of expressing its opinion on any scheme of naval defence that is decided upon before the scheme is ratified.
As to the renewal of the Treaty with Japan, this is my attitude, and I submit it to the consideration of honorable members: I am in favour of renewing the Treaty in any form that is satisfactory to Britain, America, and ourselves. I am prepared to renew it in these circumstances. If it is suggested that the renewal should take the form which would involve the sacrifice of those principles which we ourselves regard as sacred, I am not prepared to accept it. In such circumstances, I shall bring back the Treaty to this Parliament. I think I have put the situation clearly; and since these matters have sometimes to be settled quickly, I want honorable members to say whether they will give me the authority I ask for.
With regard to the expenditure involved in any naval scheme, the House will not be committed to the extent of one penny. The scheme will be brought before Parliament, and honorable members will be able to discuss, and accept or reject it.
Honorable members, therefore, were fully aware of the main objects of my mission and of my attitude towards them. I undertook not to commit Australia to any expenditure unless approved by Parliament. The Parliament gave me the authority I asked for, and on the 28th April I left for London. I have been absent just five months, and now, at the earliest possible moment after my return, I propose to inform the Parliament and the country of what the Conference did.
I need hardly say . that the pledges given by me have been carried out, not only to the letter, but in the spirit. The Commonwealth is not committed to any expenditure. Everything done is subject to parliamentary approval, and Parliament will have the fullest opportunity of expressing its opinions.
Before plunging into the details of the subjects dealt with in London, a few prefatory words about the Conference itself seem called for.
The recent meeting of the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and the overseas Dominions differed in many respects from those which preceded it. Prior to the war, Imperial Conferences were ceremonious and social functions rather than serious attempts to co-ordinate the activities of a far-flung Empire. The experiences of war showed clearly that asthe safety of every part of the Empire depended upon united action, means for insuring to each member an effective share in guiding its course must be devised. Matters over which we had no control, in shaping which we had no voice, about which we were indeed quite ignorant, had led to a declaration of war by Great Britain in 1914. A bolt had fallen from the blue; Britain was at war; as part of the Empire we were involved. Britain had done much for us, under her sheltering wing we had rested for over a century in perfect peace and security. Our hour of great trial had come; we had to prove ourselves worthy of the traditions of our race and our liberties, or perish.-
The war has changed many ‘things. It has destroyed dynasties, uprooted ancient institutions, readjusted the boundaries of the nations, and created many difficult problems; but it has also given us a wider and more splendid concept of Empire. We have realized that the British Empire is a partnership of free nations, every one being free to act as it pleases, yet all united in council and in action. Our isolation did not insure our safety. Before the war we had stood aloof from world politics, yet the maelstrom of war engulfed us, and this young Democracy has proved itself worthy of its ‘ breeding and of its liberties. ‘The legions of Australia fought alongside those of Britain and the other Dominions. Our ships were on every sea; our armies in the forefront of the far-flung battle line in Europe and Apia. We had been a Dominion j; the war made us a nation within! the Commonwealth of Nations. The admission of the representatives of the Dominions into the Imperial War Cabinet marked the first great step in the new era. Then came the Peace Conference on which the Dominions were granted separate representation, and sat on a footing of equality with the great nations of the earth. But not only was our status as nations thus conceded, but by virtue of our membership of the British Empire we exercised an influence and wielded an authority far greater than that of the majority of the nations gathered round the Peace Table, for as members of the British Empire Delegation - the name by which the Imperial Cabinet was known during the Peace -Conference - we enjoyed privileges denied to all save the*reat Powers; we were consulted on the vital matters which came before the Council of the Four, and our voices and votes shaped the policy which the British representatives urged in that Council. We affixed our signatures to the Versailles Treaty.
The status granted in War has been confirmed in times of Peace. Mr. Lloyd George in his opening Speech t0 the Conference said : -
In recognition of their services and achievements in the war the British Dominions have now been accepted fully into the comity of the nations of the whole world. They aresignatories to the Treaty of Versailles and of all other Treaties of Peace; they are members of the Assembly of the League of Nations, and their representatives have already attended meetings of the League; in other words, they have achieved full national status,, and they now stand beside the United Kingdom as equal partners in the dignities and responsibilities of the British Commonwealth. If there are any means by which that status can be rendered even more clear to their own communities and to the world at large, we shall be glad to have them put forward at this Conference.
In these words, the Prime Minister of Britain, the President of the Conference, set out in clear unambiguous language the concept of a partnership of free nations, all equal in dignity and responsibility, to which the Conference subsequently formally and officially set its seal.
I ask this House and this country to note all that is involved in these words of the Prime Minister of Britain, accepted by his colleagues and indorsed by the Conference, I ask them to contrast this concept of a British Commonwealth comprised of free nations, each enjoying the status of nationhood, each claiming and being accorded an equal voice in shaping Empire policy, with that other concept, which, not many years ago, stood unchallenged - of Britain supreme in power and authority, deciding without question the destiny of all. In those days when one spoke of Empire the British communities oversea seemed only the appanages of Britain’s glory; Britain loomed so large as to dwarf all others. In the minds of men Britain was the Empire.
But the years have passed ; much water has run under the bridges, much blood has been shed; the Dominions have established their right to be treated as equals, and Britain, not waiting for formal demand, has been the first to acclaim and gladly welcome us as ‘her equal, and bid us sit with her at the Council table of Empire.
The Imperial Conference of 1921 was one in which all members met as equals to discuss not the prosecution of a war, on which common agreement was easily attainable, but the intricacies of foreign’ policy in many countries and the measures necessary for the safety and prosperity of the whole Empire.
For the first time, then, in the history of this great Empire the representatives of Great Britain and the Dominions met in time of Peace on terms of perfect equality to lay down the policy which was to guide the Empire. Foreign Affairs, once the special prerogative of Britain, became the concern of every member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
At the outset, in attempting to set before the House the work of the Conference in proper perspective, I find myself in difficulties owing to the vastness of the field covered by our discussion; and that, indeed, must be my apology for thus dealing with it in a prepared statement. I feel that unless my remarks are severely circumscribed, I shall never be able to set out in proper perspective, or, indeed, to cover in any fashion, the work of the Conference. The Conference took for its province Foreign and Imperial policy, that is to say, the affairs of the whole world; for the boundaries of the British Empire march with those of nearly every State in the world, and its shores are washed by the waters of every ocean. The policies of every country in every Continent are a matter of vital concern to this worldwide Empire of ours.
As the great canvas of Foreign Policy was slowly unrolled by the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues, and we saw the immensity of the stage on which it moves, we were able to appreciate to the full the greatness and majesty of the British Empire, and to realize still more vividly how great a privilege it is to be able to claim its citizenship.
It may be that there are still some people in Australia who regard Foreign Affairs as something outside the realm of practical politics, which do not concern us, or with which Britain acting alone can and ought to deal. This, I (believe, is not the view of this House, nor of the bulk of the people of Australia.
Australia, remote as she is from the western world, is a western nation; and, though the farthest outpost of the western world, is profoundly affected by all that the western nations think and do. The late war, unhappily, made it only too clear that our remoteness, our isolation, could not save us from the cataclysm that burst over Europe.
And the modern world grows each day smaller, and the nations of the earth more inter-dependent. We are no longer like dwellers in wide spaces, who go about their own affairs regardless of what other men may do, their own doings passing alike unnoticed ; we are like inhabitants of a crowded city, who, jostling each other at every turn, can do nothing without affecting, and, in turn, being affected by their neighbours. Not wars or the dangers of wars only concern us, but the varying social and economic conditions of every country of the world.
The corner stone of our national, social, and economic life, the White Australia Policy, and those pillars of our national temple - the standard of living, the wages paid for labour, markets for our produce - are, or may be, affected, not only by what other nations do, but by what they say and think.
Now, since it is obvious that no one can be a good citizen of Australia who does not recognise how intimately and vitally we are affected, and may be menaced by what other nations do, it is necessary that we should consider how Australia’s voice can best be heard, her influence felt, and her interests protected in the chancelleries of foreign nations. And there is obviously but one way by which this can be done effectively. The voice of Australia, with its 5,500,000 of people, would be lost across the waste of waters, its influence in the councils of the nations negligible, its strength but that of a stripling. But when the voice of Australia speaks as part of the British Empire, with its 500,000,000 of people, its mighty Navy, its flag on every sea, its strongholds on every continent, its power and its glory shining and splendid, acknowledged by all, then she speaks in trumpet tones that are heard and heeded throughout all the earth. With our hands on the lever of Empire, we move the world; but, casting this aside, we are shorn of our strength and count for little or nothing.
Australia is great. She has already done great things, in peace and in war. The splendid promise of her future beckons us on, but whether we shall achieve it or not depends upon ourselves, and, as I see it, upon our remaining a partner of this great Commonwealth of
Nations. Its unity is our strength. And this is true, not only of Australia, but of every other part of the Empire.
Let me quote the words of Mr. Lloyd George in his opening speech dealing with this very matter -
So undoubtedly it is a fact that the Empire spoke during the war as a whole with its united strength, with its concentrated . strength, with a united purpose. That is What has made history as it is going to be for centuries to come. Therefore, I think, we ought to start there, that the first thing we ought to seek is some means by which the Empire can speak with one voice.
Now I should like to take another phase. There is no part of the Empire that wouldbe as potent speaking separately as it is now when speaking as part of the British Empire. The United Kingdom is very powerful. But it goes without saying that its influence would not be as determining an influence as the one which it exercises when it has the whole Empire acting with it.
A clear understanding on Foreign Policy is absolutely essential to our safety and our welfare. We must know what is being done, and we must, as far as our geographical and other circumstances will permit, have a hand in shaping it.
Before leaving for the Conference I said in this House that Australia could not afford to go blindly along the road which leads to war ; that we were entitled to, and must have a voice in formulating the Foreign Policy of the Empire. I said -
We have at length become alive to the fact that, in the modern world, no nation can afford’ to be indifferent to what other nations do, and that war may come upon us from the most unexpected quarter, and upon . the most trivial pretext.
We cannot afford to ignore the Foreign Policy of other nations, nor of our own Empire.
Of my opening speech to the Conference, which was published, T shall quote two short extracts -
Now, Mr. Prime Minister, amongst the great problems that are to be considered, three stand out. You referred to all of them yesterday. They are - Foreign Policy in general, the Anglo-Japanese Treaty in particular, and Naval Defence. There are other problems, of course, which are intimately associated with these. If we are to give effect to the principle, which I take it has already been accepted, viz., the right of the Dominions to sit at the council table on a footing of equality, and to discuss with you and the other representatives the question of Foreign Policy of the Empire; these also must be, not only considered, but settled. I do not think I am misinterpreting the opinions of all my friends here when I say that this voice, this share, in the councils of the Empire, in 1 regard to Foreign Policy, must be a real one, must be of substance, and not merely a shadow.
The whole Empire is concerned in Foreign Policy, though this was for many years re*garded as the sole prerogative of Great Britain. Wars are hatched by foreign, policy. No one is able to say that any act affecting foreign nations will not in the fulness of time lead to war. No one is able to say that the most apparently trivial and innocent action will not involve us in international turmoil, and in the fulness of time bring us to the bloody plains of war. So, when we see on every side, the British line - or, if you like, the line of this Commonwealth of British nations being lengthened, and the line of defence necessarily thinned, the points of potential danger multiplied, we are naturally uneasy. We have seen that a cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand, can cover the whole heavens. And so, sir - I speak, not only for myself, of course - I am sure you will quite understand our desire to know the reasons for your policy in Mesopotamia, in Palestine, in Russia, in Egypt, in Greece and_ Turkey. If I have singled out these things, it is not because they cover the whole field of Foreign Policy, but because they are, perhaps, the most obvious.
The British Government agreed entirely with the views thus put forward. They recognised the right of Australia, and the other Dominions, to an equal voice in formulating the Policy on Foreign and Imperial Affairs, and, as I have said, gave the Conference a very full and clear account of British Foreign Policy all over the world.
The discussion on Foreign Policy covered many sittings. The British and Dominions Ministers all took part, and the procedure was that usual at Cabinet meetings. The Conference was unanimous as to the necessity for a complete understanding, and common action in Foreign Affairs. The delegates were supplied with all inward and outward Foreign Office telegrams during their stay in London; all important matters of foreign policy arising during the Conference were brought by the Foreign Secretary to the Conference, and dealt with in exactly the same way as Cabinets deal with matters brought before them.
This marks a great advance in Imperial relations, and is an auspicious augury for the future. The candour with which the Dominions were met established an atmosphere of complete confidence, which had its effect on. all the discussions which followed.
Time will not permit me to review even in the briefest way all the questions of foreign policy which were discussed, by the Conference. The field is too vast, and many of the problems too intricate and difficult for presentation in summarized form. Among the more important questions’ discussed, the following may be mentioned: - The position in Mesopotamia, Palestine, Anatolia, Russia, the Graeco-Turkish war, the policy of the Empire in the League of Nations. About two others - Silesia and Egypt - I will say a few words before I come to the AngloJapanese Treaty and matters relating thereto.
The situation in Upper Silesia threatened at one stage of our sittings to assume very alarming proportions. For a time it menaced the peace of Europe and the world. Honorable members are, no doubt, familiar with the main outlines of the situation. A plebiscite has been taken with the object of ascertaining the wishes of the ‘ inhabitants, who, as you doubtless know, are Poles and Germans. The Peac’e Conference found this question one of the most baffling with which it was called upon to deal. Evidence on both sides was abundant, and I am almost tempted to say, equally overwhelming and unreliable. The plebiscite was an attempt to find out whether the majority in certain districts were Poles or Germans - not merely in origin, but in sentiment - that is to say, whether they wished to be under German or Polish rule. As might have been expected, it left things very much as they were. In July last the trouble suddenly assumed an acute form. Apart from its intrinsic! importance, the submission of the Silesian problem, when it had assumed a most menacing aspect, by the British Government to the Imperial Conference, is most significant. The matter was dealt with by the Conference as one at once vital and most urgent, and a policy unanimously decided upon. There is no reason to doubt that the hands of the British Foreign Minister were strengthened very materially by his being able to speak on behalf of the Empire, and not merely for Britain alone. Honorable members are, of course, well aware that the threatened crisis was averted, and a modus operandi found.
I turn now to Egypt.
The discussion which centred in the question of British Policy in Egypt was one of vital’ importance to Australia, and so requires special’ mention. While the British Empire rests on sea power, and while Australia depends, as she does, for her very existence as a nation upon the British Navy, the affairs of Egyptwhich lie right across our line of communications, are very much the concern of Australia. Anything that menaces the Suez Canal and British prestige in Egypt - or in any of those territories which are, as it were, the hinterland of the Canal - affects the whole of the Empire vitally.
No useful purpose would be served by recounting the incidents which have led up to the present position of affairs in Egypt. It is only necessary to say that the views of Australia were quite clearly set out before the Conference, and that the policy subsequently agreed upon was unanimously approved.
I come now to the problems of the Pacific.
The main reason for summoning the Conference in June of this year was to consider the Anglo-Japanese Treaty and the Pacific problems with which it is inseparably connected.
Briefly, the position in regard to the Treaty was as follows : - In its original form the Treaty had been concluded by Lord Lansdowne in 1902. The present Treaty was signed by Sir Edward Grey in 1911. The 1911 Treaty contained a most important modification to which the attention of honorable members is invited. Article 4 of the 1911 Treaty reads -
Should either High Contracting Party conclude a Treaty of general arbitration with a third Power, it is agreed that nothing in this agreement shall entail upon such contracting party an obligation to go to war with the Power with whom such Treaty of Arbitration is in force.
At that time Lord Grey was endeavouring to negotiate a Treaty of Arbitration with America, but this was rejected by the United States Senate. In September, 1914, however, Lord Grey succeeded in concluding a Treaty entitled, “ With regard to the establishment of a Peace Commission,” under the terms of which all disputes between the contracting parties - Great Britain and the United States of America - were to be referred to a special Investigation Commission. Although not in terms an Arbitration Treaty, it is in effect equivalent thereto, and the then Government of Great Britain accordingly informed the Japanese Government that the “ Peace Commission “ was regarded by them as equivalent to an Arbitration Treaty, and that the conditions prescribed by Article 4 of the Treaty of 1911 (ap- plied. The Japanese Government accepted the interpretation without demur, and Article 4 has since been applied, thus precluding the possibility of the AngloJapanese Treaty leading to war between the United States of America and Great Britain.
It is well that the whole world should note this, for the facts flatly contradict the opinions held in America and elsewhere that the Anglo-Japanese Treaty might possibly involve a conflict between America and Britain.
The position on the day the discussion opened was that the Treaty was held to expire within two weeks, viz., the 13th July, 1921, but three months’ extension had been asked for by the British. Government in order to give the Conference an opportunity of considering the question of renewal. The belief that the Treaty expired on 13th. July arose from a joint notification made by Great Britain and Japan in June, 1920, to the League of Nations, intimating that as the AngloJapanese Treaty did not conform to the provisions of the Covenant, both parties desired that it should do so.
The text of the notification was as follows: -
The Governments of Great Britain and Japan have come to the conclusion that the AngloJapanese Agreement of 13th July/ 1911, now existing between the two countries, though in harmony with the spirit of the Covenant of the League of Nations, is not entirely consistent with the letter of the Covenant which both Governments earnestly desire to respect. They have the honour, therefore, to notify the League that, if this Agreement is to continue after July, 1921, it must be in a form which is not inconsistent with- that Covenant.
This notification was regarded by the British Law Officers as constituting a denunciation, of the Treaty as provided in clause 6, which stipulates that twelve months’ notice of denunciation, shall be given by either party before the Treaty can terminate. The question before the Conference when it turned to the discussion of the Treaty was whether it should be renewed in a form consistent with the Covenant of the League of Nations or be allowed to lapse. In the general discussion which followed, the matter was dealt with in its broader aspects and upon the assumption -
There were wide differences of opinion. I shall set out my own views by brief quotations from my speeches. Before doing so, however, let me recall to your minds what I said before I left Australia: -
What is the ideal at which we are to aim at this Conference and elsewhere, by every means at our disposal? It is, as I see it, a renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty in such form - modified if that should be deemed proper - as will be acceptable to Britain, to America, to Japan, . and to ourselves. While making every effort to retain the friendship of Japan, we cannot make an enemy of the United States of America. Nor can Britain do so……
If we .cannot secure a satisfactory Treaty, then it is obvious that any adequate scheme of naval defence will involve us in much greater expenditure, and at a time when our resources are strained to the uttermost…..
In the first speech, delivered by me before the Conference, copious extracts of which were published by authority of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, ‘ I amplified these views. I said -
I now leave foreign policy in general, and come to the Anglo-Japanese Treaty. Here we are dealing with a matter definite and urgent. It is not a thing to be settled in the future,, but now. The British Government have only postponed settlement in order that the matter might be dealt with round this table. It is an urgent matter. It must be settled without delay. The attitude of Australia towards it has been quite clearly stated. We have not a clean slate before us. If we had to consider for the first time whether we should have a Treaty with Japan, the position might be very different. We have not. For many years, a Treaty existed between Japan and Britain. Its terms have been modified, but, in substance, the existing Treaty has been in force for a long time. No doubt, it cannot be renewed in precisely its present form. It must conform to the requirements of the League of Nations. But the case for renewal is very strong, if not indeed, overwhelming. To Australia, as you will understand, this Treaty with Japan has special significance.
Speaking broadly, we are in favour of its renewal. But there are certain difficulties which must be faced. One of these arises out of the attitude of America towards this Treaty. I am sure I state the opinion of Australia when I say the people have a very warm corner in their hearts for America. They see in America to-day what they themselves hope to be in the future. We have a country very similar in extent and resources, and it may be laid down as a sine qua nan that any future Treaty with Japan, to be satisfactory to Australia, must specifically exclude the possibility of war with the United States of America. In any future Treaty, we must guard against even the suspicion of hostility or unfriendliness to the United States.
Some of my colleagues regarded America’s objections as so strong that they felt it their duty to oppose the renewal of the Treaty on any terms. With these views I did not agree. I said -
J am as warm a friend and as resolute a champion of the Union oi English-speaking people as any man. 1 yield to none in my desire to bring this about. But I do not mistake the voice of a noisy, anti-British faction in America for the sentiment of that great Republic; and I will not believe that we shall advance the cause of the peace of the world, and promote more friendly relations with the United States of America, by a weak vacillating policy which seeks always thi; approval of tins faction, before we dare pursue a policy founded upon justice, and compatible alike with the welfare of mankind and the greatness of this Empire. Wo have been summoned here to formulate a foreign policy which will protect the interests of every part of the British Empire. This we must endeavour to do. I am for the renewal of the Treaty, and I am against delay.
I am for an immediate declaration of our intention to renew upon terms that will at once be compatible with the League of Nations Covenant, which will give America ample opportunity to be officially consulted, and which will exclude specifically, and in set terms, the possibilities of our being ranged in hostile array against America by virtue of that Treaty. That is my position, and I venture to say that a further postponement will, and can, place us in no better position than we are to-day.
On the second day of the Conference I had thrown out two suggestions, one, to which I shall refer in detail later; urging Mr. Lloyd George to invite the great nations of the world, in particular America, Japan, and France, to a Conference to discuss disarmament, and the other, that America and Japan should be invited to a Conference in order to discuss the terms of a tripartite treaty to take 1 the place of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty, or, failing a tripartite treaty, to ascertain from America what form a Treaty between Japan and Britain should take to be acceptable to her.
Negotiations on these lines were undertaken at once, but it became obvious as these proceeded that the suggested Conference must consider not only the AngloJapanese Treaty, but many other Pacific questions, e.g., the “ Open Door “ in China and immigration, for these questions are naturally related, to the AngloJapanese Treaty, to naval rivalry in the
Pacific, and so to disarmament. As a fact, as the discussion proceeded, it ,was found impossible to treat one phase effectively without dealing with all, and so the debate covered the whole field of Pacific problems and of disarmament.
It is not to be assumed that the discussions on the Treaty went on in unbroken sequence. In the very nature of things, it was necessary for us to obtain the views of Japan and America, and this involved delay. “In the intervals the Conference discussed naval defence, the proposed Constitutional Conference, and various questions of foreign policy.
Before the negotiations with America and Japan, conducted ‘ through their respective Ambassadors, had resulted in any definite conclusion, President Harding’s invitation to a Disarmament Conference was received. The invitation was brought without delay to the Conference, and was at once unanimously accepted. Mr. Lloyd George made his public announcement in the Commons, and then returned to the Conference, in order that we mightconsider the new situation. Naturally, since the invitation to the nations to disarm went to the very roots of Foreign Policy, the proposed Washington Conference fundamentally changed the situation. But the invitation to the Washington Conference, though it affected procedure, was not itself a solution of the great problems confronting us. Indeed, the necessity for a settlement of the Pacific questions was not less, but, if possible, more imperative, and it appeared to us a condition precedent to disarmament that there must be a preliminary discussion and settlement of the Pacific problems. There did not seem anything incompatible with acceptance of the invitation to the Washington Conference and’ such a preliminary discussion. The Prime Minister, and the Conference generally, when drafting the reply which the Prime Minister made in the House of Commons, were indeed under the impression that President Harding contemplated two conferences. And we all certainly held very strongly that no satisfactory result could follow from a Disarmament Conference unless a modus vivendi on these problems had been previously arrived at. The Powers to be invited to this preliminary Conference were America, Japan, China, and the British Empire.
In the reply to the United States Government, accepting the invitation to the
Disarmament Conference, the Prime Minister set out this position very clearly. The points to be settled were -
In our view, these essential consultations between the four. Powers mentioned could not be arranged as part of the agenda of the Washington Conference. The special interests of Australia in all Pacific questions were pointed out, and in the opinion of the Conference it was essential that the Commonwealth should be directly represented. The practical difficul ties in the way were stated. While not unduly emphasizing the convenience of the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand, iv was pointed out to the American Government the presence of both would be very material in securing the full and cordial assent of the people of both Dominions to the decisions reached. More important still was the convenience of all the invited Powers. Any attempt to combine the special consultations of the four Powers with the main business of the Conference would be open to two fatal objections. In the first place, the representatives of the other Powers could hardly be expected to await their summons to Washington, or, alternatively, to linger in Washington outside the Conference until the four Powers had concluded their special discussions. To make any such proposal might jeopardize the very holding of the Conference:. In the second place, even if the other Powers were to accept such an arrangement, the Conference would inevitably be prolonged thereby to a period too long to admit of the presence of any European statesmen of the first rank. It was difficult for any leading Ministers in European. Governments to make even short absences from their work at that time, which was unusually complex and. arduous in the then critical state of European politics. None could attend to a Conference on the other side of the Atlantic so protracted as a combination of Pacific consultations and a Disarmament Conference would inevitably become. In the third place, attention was drawn to the effect of such procedure on public opinion in the countries most closely concerned. In some parts of the British Empire public feeling was very strongly excited upon the Pacific question, and would be further disquieted by the doubts and suspicions that were inevitably caused by postponements and delays. In the interests of a settlement, which depended very largely upon the atmosphere of public discussion in all the countries concerned, an early consideration of the Pacific problem was urgently desirable.
Those were the views of the Imperial Conference, and they were in substancepresented to the Government of the United States of America for its consideration.
Negotiations were protracted, and the situation changed almost from day to day. Before following it to its conclusion, it will be convenient to turn to another phase of this many-sided question.
When the Imperial Conference met, the Naval rivalry between Japan and the United States of America- was an outstanding and disturbing feature of the International situation which we had to take into account. The effect upon a world greatly disorganized and groaning under the crushing burden imposed by the great war was most lamentable. That mad and suicidal competition in arm foments, which mankind hoped would never be revived, seemed inevitable.
On 21st June, at the second meeting of the Conference, and in my opening speech, which was published practically in extenso, I made the important suggestion to which I have already referred. I urged the Conference to sst an example to the world by calling upon the nationsparticularly America and Japan. - to meet, and discuss the abolition of armaments. Addressing the Prime Minister of Great Britain, I said -
Speak, therefore, on behalf of this gathering of Prime Ministers. Let us give the world, weary of war, and staggering beneath its crushing burdens, a lead. Invite the United States of America, Japan, and France to meet us. We cannot hope that the world will boat its sword into a ploughshare, but, at any rate, it can stop building more ships. Let us stop this naval construction, and naval expenditure, other than that necessary for the ‘maintenance of existing units without prejudice to what may be agreed upon hereafter. If the world resolves to stop making any further preparations for war, everything is possible; until that step is taken we are only beating the air.
Such an invitation issued with such authority behind it, would, I think, find great support in America, and I hope in Japan too. . .
I do most strongly urge you to set an ex- ample, speaking as you will be able to do on behalf, not merely of England, but on behalf of all those free nations whose representatives are gathered here. Let us show the world that these young nations gathered around this table have resolved to make their entrance into world politics by setting an example which the world long wanted. I am not without hopes that such an invitation on your part, and such an example on ours, would be provocative of great good, and prove to be the turning point in the world’s history.
Three weeks later, President Harding issued his invitation to the Powers to a Conference on the limitation of armaments. The Imperial Conference welcomed this invitation with enthusiasm. And here I mention one fact which is most significant. Members of the Conference differed widely on many matters - on the Anglo- Japanese Treaty, the Constitution, naval defence - but upon disarmament and. the preservation of the world’s peace there was complete and striking unanimity.
I have said that I had suggested to Mr. Lloyd George that we should invite the great Powers to meet to consider disarmament, but it is doubtful whether any other Power than the United States of America could have issued such an invitation with any hope of success. With the exception of America, the nations of the world, through their sacrifices in the war, were staggering under a burden of debt, and an invitation from any one of them would probably have been interpreted by the others as being merely an indication of financial and national weakness.
I turn now to the consideration of the Pacific problems as they affect Australia. The destiny of Australia lies in the Pacific. Through ignorance of the facts, or that too close familiarity which breeds indifference, there is danger that the Pacific problems of Australia may not be understood or their vital importance appreciated. Let me, therefore, set out the position.
Before the war, the strategic centre of the world .was the North Sea. But the defeat of Germany, the re-grouping of the Central Powers, the collapse of Russia, and, of course, the opening of the Panama Canal, have entirely changed the position.
It is unnecessary for me to remind honorable members of our geographical circumstances. We are a Pacific power. As I have said, our destiny lies in the Pacific. And it is on this vast stage that the great world drama of the future is to be played. The Pacific Ocean is now what the North Sea once was - the world’s strategic centre.
For us the Pacific problem is for all practical purposes the problem of Japan. Here is a nation with nearly 70,000,000 of “people crowded together in narrow islands; its population is increasing rapidly, and is already pressing upon the margin of subsistence. She wants room for her increasing millions of population, and markets for her manufactured goods. And she wants both these very badly indeed. America and Australia say to her millions, “ Ye cannot enter in.” Japan is then faced with the great problem which has bred wars since time began. For when tribes and nations of the past outgrew the resources of their own territory they moved on and on, hacking their way to the fertile pastures of their neighbours. But where are the overflowing millions of Japan to find room ? Not in Australia ; not in America. Well, where then ?
This then is one problem. There remains the other. The 70,000,000 Japanese cannot possibly live except as a manufacturing nation. Their position is analogous to’ that of Great Britain. To a manufacturing nation, overseas- markets are essential to its very existence. Japan sees across a narrow strip of water 400.000,000 Chinese gradually awakening to an appreciation of Western methods; and she sees in China the natural market for her goods. She feels that her geographical circumstances give her a special right to the exploitation of the Chinese markets. But other countries want that market, too; and so comes the demand for the “ open door.” What is Japan to do?
Do not forget that unless she is content to ]ie stagnant in a backwater she must have room to expand. And yet see what stands in her way.
This is the problem of the Pacific - the modern riddle of the Sphinx, for which we must find an answer. Assuredly we shall not solve this problem by turning our backs upon it, by ignoring it. These things are real ; they are hot mere words ; not such stuff as dreams are’ made of. And they cannot be dissolved by words, nor even by Conferences, unless these recognise facts, and are prepared to consider Japan’s point of view as well as that of other nations. Talk about ‘disarmament is idle unless the causes of naval armaments are removed.
It was for these reasons that I so strongly advocated a preliminary Conference or meeting to discuss the Pacific question. Addressing the American Luncheon Club on the 21st July, I said -
The object of the Washington Conference is to get the great powers, and, in particular, the great naval powers of America, Japan, and Britain, to agree to some basis for the limitation of armaments.
The two naval powers that are. pushing on with great naval programmes are Japan and America.
As Britain must necessarily maintain her position as a naval power, she will be compelled to keep pace with them unless an agreement is arrived at.
One of the main reasons why America is increasing her Navy is the condition of affairs in the Pacific. Japan, of course, is a Pacific power.
If an agreement is not arrived at in the Washington Conference, Britain will be compelled to build more ships than those already existing, and provided for.
Therefore, unless, and until, the Pacific problem is settled, it is obvious that the prospect of the great naval powers coming to an agreement on a practicable scheme is remote.
Therefore, we must have the Pacific Conference first. And on this Australia and New Zealand should be represented.
These were the views that I ventured to submit , to the Conference and, through the American press, to the people of America. I regret very much indeed that the American Government could not see its way to accept the suggestion. I am satisfied that it would have proved most helpful. As I see it, the Disarmament Conference cannot have practical results unless and until a modus vivendi satisfactory to Japan, America, and the British Empire is arrived at.
The proposal to hold a Pacific Conference received the unanimous support of the Imperial Conference, and was considered a.t great length, the negotiations spreading oyer several weeks. As it was practically impossible for the Dominion Prime Ministers to attend at Washington in. November, it was at first suggested to the United States Government that the Pacific meeting should be held in London.
Subsequently, in order to remove any possible misconception’ in the minds of the American statesmen, and to meet what was thought to be the American view, the Conference volunteered to attend a meeting on the American continent, when a friendly interchange of views might facilitate the work of the main Conference which was to follow. The British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, together with the Dominion Prime Ministers, were prepared to attend such a meeting.
After negotiations had been in progress for some considerable time, it appeared that the American Government were not in favour of any preliminary meeting which might overshadow the Disarmament Conference, and that President Harding’s reference to a preliminary discussion on Pacific questions had been misunderstood.
The delegates to the Imperial Conference were greatly disappointed at the turn events had taken, for it was still felt that no Disarmament Conference could succeed until the Pacific problems were settled. As the American Government did not favour the idea, it was at once, but most regretfully, dropped.
It was felt by the Imperial Conference that the acceptance of the President’s invitation should be unequivocal, and that nothing should be done, directly or by suggestion, which might tend to injure in the slightest degree the prospects of success at Washington. At every stage the desire uppermost in the mind of every representative was to remove every possible obstacle from the path of the Washington Conference in order that it might be attended with complete success.
Although the Washington Conference has, as I have said, changed the situation, the Pacific problems and, of course, the question of the renewal of the Treaty, still remained. This had not been definitely settled, though a majority favoured a renewal. It was evident that the Treaty, according to the British law officers, expired on 13th July and’ that even if the three months extension were agreed to, a decision must be arrived, at before the Imperial Conference disbanded, and before the Washington Conference began.
The position was very difficult; we seemed threatened with an impasse. On the one hand it was essential that we should do nothing that would give umbrage to America, nor prejudice the discussion on disarmament in any way; and on the other hand it was imperative that some definite steps must be taken, otherwise the Treaty would expire before the Washington Conference began. It was at this stage that the matter was referred to the Lord Chancellor for an opinion, views having been expressed at the Conference that the presentation of the Note by Britain and Japan to the League of Nations was not an act of denunciation under article 6. If this interpretation wore correct the situation would, of course, be completely changed, and the urgency for deciding upon a policy in regard to the renewal no longer pressing.
I cannot do better than present the position as it then was, and as it developed when the Lord Chancellor’s decision was given as presented in the statement prepared for delivery in the House of Commons by Mr. Lloyd George: -
The broad lines of Imperial Policy in the Pacific and the far East were the very first subject to which we addressed ourselves at the meetings of the Imperial Cabinet, having a special regard to the Anglo-Japanese Treaty, the future of China, and the bearings of both of these questions on the relations of the British Empire with the United States. We were guided in our deliberations by three main considerations. In Japan we have an old and proved ally; the agreement of twenty years standing between us has been of very great benefit not only to ourselves and to her, but to the peace of the world. In China there is a very numerous people with great potentialities, who esteem our friendship highly, and whose interests we, on our side, desire to assist and advance. In the United States we see to-day, as we have always seen, the people closest to our own aims and ideals with whom it is for us not only a desire and interest, but a deep-rooted instinct, to consult and cooperate. Those were the main considerations in our meetings, and upon them we were unanimous. The object of our discussions was to find a method combining all these three factors in a policy which would remove the danger of heavy Naval expenditure in the Pacific with all the evils which such an expenditure entails and to insure the development of all legitimate national interests in’ the Far East.
We have in the first place to ascertain our exact position in regard to the Anglo-Japanese Agreement. There has been much doubt as to whether the notification to the League of Nations made in July last constituted a denunciation of the Agreement in the sense of clause 6. If it did it would have been necessary to decide upon some interim measure regarding the Agreement pending further discussions with the other Pacific Powers, and negotiations with this object in view were in point of fact already in progress. If, on the other hand, it did not, the agreement would remain in force until denounced cither by Japan or ourselves, and would actually not be determined until twelve months from the date when notice of denunciation was given. The Japanese Government took the view that no notice of denunciation had been given. This view was shared by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but as considerable doubt existed, we decided, after a preliminary discussion in the Imperial Cabinet, to refer the question to the Lord Chancellor, who considered it with the Law Officers of the Crown, and held that no notice of denunciation had yet been given.
It follows that the Anglo-Japanese Treaty remains in force unless it is denounced, and will lapse only at the expiration of twelve months from the time notice of denunciation is given. It is, however, the desire of both the British Empire and Japan that the Agreement should be brought into complete harmony with the Covenant of the League of Nations, and that wherever the Covenant and the Agreement are inconsistent, the terms of the Covenant shall prevail. Notice to this effect has now been given to the League.
This then is the position as it stands to-day. The Treaty is in force and will continue to operate until twelve months after the date on which either party gives notice of denunciation.
So much for the Treaty.
A word or two now to summarize the Pacific questions in relation to the Washington Conference.
As I see it, it is impossible todiscuss disarmament without raising the principal phases of the Pacific question, and as we are vitally interested in many of these, Australia will not be directly represented at a Conference at which, if Pacificproblems are to be seriously discussed, questions vital to its welfare will be raised and possibly decided.
It was a recognition of this fact, and of the settled determination of the Australian people to stand fast by their White Australia ideals-to preserve them if possible by peace - that impelled me to insist so strenuously on a preliminary Pacific Conference.
Australia has much at stake. Peace in the Pacific means more to her than to any other nation. Yet until the causes of war are removed, talk about peace cannot be more than beating the air.
Frankly, I see no hope for disarmament until the Pacific problems to which I have referred are settled, and this can only be done by a modus vivendi satisfactory to Japan, America, and Australasia.
I come now to the last phase of the Pacific question with which I intend to deal at length - naval defence.
When I left Australia, the two great Pacific Powers - America and Japan - had announced huge naval building programmes, and had not disguised the fact that they were building against each other. This, coupled with the announcement of the British Prime Minister that Great Britain could no longer afford alone to maintain a fleet necessary for the safety of the Empire, was calculated to fill every Australian with grave misgivings. A recital of our geographical circumstances is surely quite unnecessary. Australia’s safety depends on the British Navy, and not only on an undefeated Navy, but upon its capacity to strike at any threatened point.
Before leaving Australia I set out the position to honorable members as I saw it. I said -
We are confronted with a position grave in the extreme. What are we to do? What is our policy to be? We depend for our very existence on the maintenance of the control of the sea by Britain. Britain says she can no longer afford to maintain the Navy at its relative pre-war strength, and calls upon the Dominions to consider the question, and, presumably, to contribute their share. What are we going to do? The Conference has been called to consider the question. Upon its decision rests the safety, the very Existence, of the Commonwealth, and, indeed, of the Empire itself.
Whatever may be agreed u]pon at the Washington Conference, one thing is clear - that we must have such naval defence as is adequate for our safety. Naturally, the amount of force necessary to insure our safety in a world which has agreed to suspend naval construction, a world in which the three great Naval Powers have, for example, come to such an understanding as would have the force and effect of an alliance, would be much les$ than in a world which resounds with the clang of the hammer beating into shape bigger and still bigger navies. That applies, too, to the renewal or the non-renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty; but in any case we must have such naval defence as is necessary for our security. The war and the Panama Canal have shifted the world’s stage from the, Mediterranean and the Atlantic to the Pacific. The stage upon which the great world drama is to be played in the future is in the Pacific. The American Navy is now in those waters. Peace in the Pacific means peace for this Empire and for the world.
With an agreement between three great Naval Powers, or at worst between two - then the force necessary to defend this Empire by sea would be much less. But whatever’” it is we must have it.
A very dear and comprehensive statement of the Naval requirements of the Empire was laid before the Prime Minister by Lord Beatty, tho First Sea Lord. This was supplemented by statements on the military side from the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, and by Air Marshal Sir H. M. Trenchard, Chief of the Air Staff.
After a general discussion on Imperial defence, the strategical position was considered by the Prime Ministers and Lord Beatty.
The Conference having all the facts before it, and after most careful consideration of the whole field of foreign and Imperial politics, decided that the Empire must have a Navy at least equal to that of any other Power.
Before the discussion on Naval and Military Defence could be concluded; President Harding issued his invitation to the Disarmament Conference, and further consideration of Imperial Defence was postponed until after the Washington Conference had concluded its labours.
The following resolution was agreed to: -
That while recognising the necessity of cooperation among the various portions of the Empire to provide such naval defence as may prove to be essential for security, and while holding that equality with the naval strength of any of the powers is a minimum standard for that purpose, thiB Conference is of the opinion that’ the method and expense of such co-operation are matters for the final determination of the several Parliaments concerned, and that any recommendation, therefore, should be deferred until after the coming Conference on disarmament has concluded its labours.
On the question of air and military defence, steps necessary to insure co-opera- ‘ tion in the Military and Air Defence of the Empire were considered. Nothing done at the Conference involves the Commonwealth in any financial obligation.
I leave now questions of foreign policy, the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty, and the Washington Disarmament Conference, on one side, and come . to a matter of a very different kind, but of vital importance. I mean the Constitutional Conference contemplated when the recent Conference was summoned.
Honorable members will recall that at the Imperial War Conference, in 1917, at which Australia was not represented, a resolution was passed approving the summoning of a special Conference as soon as possible after the war to consider the constitutional relations between the component parts of the Empire. As I stated before T left Australia, it was not proposed at the recent Conference to do more than deal with the agenda for this proposed Constitutional Conference, which was to be held in 1922.
There was some danger, however, that the constitutional question once raised by discussion of the agenda, and on procedure, might extend over the whole field, and result in substantive changes in the Constitution. As is well known to honorable members, I have always opposed a Constitutional Conference, considering it both unnecessary and unwise; and I took the earliest opportunity of setting out . my views before the Conference. Suggestions made by some of the Dominion representatives at the Conference filled me with apprehension as to what might happen if a Constitutional Conference were held.
I, therefore, strongly opposed it.- I said no Conference was necessary; that to meddle with the Constitution was the surest way to dismember the Empire. As the matter is of very great importance, it is necessary that I should quote1 from my speech to the Conference : -
It has been suggested that a Constitutional Conference should be held next year. It may be that I am very dense, but I am totally at a loss to understand what it is that this Constitutional Conference proposes to do. Is it that the Dominions are seeking new powers, or is the Conference to draw up a declaration of rights, to set down in black and white the relations between Great Britain and the Dominions? What is’ the Conference to do? What is the reason for calling it together? I know, of course, the terms of the resolution of the 1917 Conference. But much water has run under the bridges since then. Surely this Con- ference is not intended to limit the rights we now have. Yet, what new right, what further extension of power, can it give us? What is there that we cannot do now? What limitation is now imposed upon the self-governing powers of the Dominions? What can they not do, even to encompass their own destruction by sundering the bonds that bind them to the Empire? What yet do they lack? Canada has asserted her rights to make Treaties. She has made Treaties. She is asserting her right to ap- * point an Ambassador at Washington. Are these the marks of Slave States or of quasi sovereignty?
In what essential thing does any one of the great self-governing Dominions differ from in- dependent nations? It is true that there is a sentiment, a figment, a few ancient forms; there is what Sir P. Pollock calls a figment of the right of the British Parliament to make laws affecting the Dominions. Supposing the British Parliament should make a law tomorrow which would take from me the very position in which I now stand, namely, a representative of a Parliament that exists and was brought into existence by a British Statute. Such legislation would apply to all of us. No one can deny the British Parliament has power to pass such a law; and if it did, as far as legal or constitutional status is concerned, we should have ceased to exist.’ But, as Sir F. Pollock says, this power of the British Parliament is a figment, a shadow. Britain still has the power to pass such laws, only upon the condition that she does not exercise it. In effect, then, the Dominions have all the rights of self-government enjoyed by independent nations. What more . do they desire ? What more can be given them? Either, then, this* Constitutional Conference must limit the rights of self-government, or weaken the bonds of Empire, or simply content itself with a declaration of rights that are ours already, and that none can question.
That being the position, what is the Constitutional Conference to do? The proposal is causing considerable anxiety, at any rate in Australia. So far from anticipating that it is going to give us greater powers, some fear that it will take away some of the powers we have, and my difficulty is, and has been, to try to allay those doubts, which are strongly held.
The difference between the status of the Dominions now and twenty-five years ago is very great. We were Colonics, we became Dominions. We have been accorded the status of nations. We have achieved this wonderful progress along certain lines - are we not satisfied with the progress made? Our progress in material greatness has kept pace with our constitutional development. Cannot those v ho desire this Constitutional Conference be satisfied?
Let us leave well alone. That is my advice. We have now on the agenda-paper matters which mark a new era in Empire government. We, the representatives of the Dominions, are met together to formulate a foreign policy for the Empire. What greater advance is conceivable? What remains to us? I know of no power that the Prime Minister of Britain has that* any of the Prime Ministers of the Dominions have not. Our presence here round this table, the agenda-paper before us, the basis of equality on which we meet, these things speak in trumpet tones that this Federation of free democratic nations which men call the British Empire is, as Mr. Lloyd George said yesterday, a living force.
Speaking later to a proposal to lay down certain principles by which the foreign policy of the Empire should be decided, I said -
I do hope we shaN not attempt to do anything that will fetter our rights to discuss these things on their merits, and that we shall not attempt to limit our freedom of action by reducing the Constitution to writing. Such a course can only have the effect of making the relations that exist between the different parts of the Empire impossible.
The moment you set down what Britain can do, and what the Dominions can do, it becomes at once apparent that if both insist upon exercising their powers to their uttermost limit, there is an end to the Empire.
It is only by wise restraint, by refraining from exercising our undoubted rights as selfgoverning communities, that an Empire such as ours, which rests on two conflicting principles - autonomy of the parts,’ and unity of the whole - can endure….. It is because we have been cast in the .same mould and bred in the same constitutional environment, that we have exercised our privileges with that restraint without which this Empire cannot continue to exist.
We had been asked to subscribe to a postulate which laid it down as a’ hardandfast rule that in deciding foreign policy “ in spheres in which any Dominion is peculiarly concerned, the view of that Dominion must be given a weight commensurate with the importance of the decision to that Dominion.” This meant that in determining foreign policy we were to be guided by this postulate, and not, as now, by the merits of the case and by consideration for the welfare of the Empire as a whole.
Speaking on this proposal, which I had opposed very strongly - not because I did not believe in its application as an argument, but only because I declined to be bound by it as an ironbound principle - I said-
The other day, we listened to an admirable statement of the case for the Indians in South Africa. I ask those who wish us to be guided by postulates, and by a writton Constitution, to answer this question, Is the voice of India in this ca$e to prevail; and if not, why not? If it is to prevail, what has General Smuts to say? Who is to decide between the representatives of South Africa and India? If any authority can decide, then it is this Council. But we cannot decide save by their consent. There is no written Constitution, no binding laws or code which limit their rights. The Empire is united only because every member of it is free to go its own way. But if we once lay down this or any principle in writing, it must prevail. But General Smuts, and Mr. Sastri, know perfectly well what this would mean. General Smuts knows that the authority of this Council, if it has any, oan now only be applied if the parties agree. But if we lay down principles, the position will be fundamentally different. What would he say if we attempted to coerce him? And how can each part have complete autonomy when s5me authority superior -to themselves can impose its will upon them?
I went on to ask if any amendment of our constitutional relations that could be affected by a Conference, could give us greater power than we now have?
I invite those of my colleagues who desire this Constitutional Conference to tell me what it is we cannot now do. I have said we cannot make treaties with foreign countries, so that if they want to make a Treaty with a foreign country - I am sure they do not, and am only taking that as an illustration - I say they can-‘ not do it as a nation within the Empire. That is the constitutional position; but, apart from that, where are the limitations upon our authority ? What is it we cannot do? When I am told that we need more power, and there is something the Dominions have not got, I want to know what there is of substance that we yet lack. I know of nothing, but if there is anything in which we fall short of greatness, let us see what it is, examine, and, if necessary, grant it. But we ought not to be asked to agree to a Constitutional Conference Unless it can be shown that it will give us some advantage we do not enjoy, some real thing which we do not possess, and which cannot be given here and now. I do not believe that there is any such thing.
I am against a Constitutional Conference; it is not only unnecessary, it is dangerous. I am very strongly opposed to any attempt to reduce the Constitution to writing; I am against any flamboyant declaration of rights. The chief glory of our Constitution is its elasticity; under it nothing is impossible; under it we have already received everything we need as a self-governing nation. What we have become, what we are, we owe to this Constitution - this most wonderful, flexible, and efficient instrument of free government that the world has ever known. It is as boundless as freedom itself; it has no limitations. And where there are no limits, disputes about the ambit of power cannot enter in.
I asked the Conference not to forget that the rock on which our house rests is unity; I said that we must at our peril reconcile automony of the parts with this unity of the whole; that both are essential - the one to our freedom, the other to our safety - that the Constitution, as we know it, evolved by our changing circumstances, reconciles these two inconsistent principles of unity and autonomy; and that it does this because there is nothing that limits the freedom of action of any of its parts, nothing is forbidden to us, we are all free to take our own road, and, knowing that we are free to separate, we deliberately choose to remain together, inspired by the traditions and genius of our race.
I will not dwell longer on this debate which spread itself over many days. It was undoubtedly one of the most important which has engaged the attention of this or any Conference. It only remains to add that the Conference unanimously decided that no Constitutional Conference was necessary or desirable, rejected every proposal to reduce the present constitutional practice to writing, and adopted the following resolution : -
The Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and the Dominions, having carefully considered the recommendation of the Imperial War Conference 1917, that a special Imperial Conference should be summoned as soon as possible after the war, to consider the constitutional relation of the component parts of the Empire, we have reached the following conclusions: -
Continuous consultation, to which the Prime Ministers attach no less importance than the Imperial War Conference of 1917, can only be secured by a substantial improvement in the communications between the component parts of the Empire.
Having regard to the constitutional development since 1917, no advantage is to be gained by holding a Constitutional Conference.
The Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and the Dominions, and the representatives of India, should aim at meeting annually, or at such longer intervals as may prove feasible.
The existing practice of direct communication between the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and the Dominions, as well as the right of the latter to nominate Cabinet Ministers to represent them in consultation with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, are maintained.
Although I have not been able to deal with many matters of great importance, which I must leave for another occasion - matters such as immigration, reparation, communication by wireless, by air, and by sea, Empire patents, naturalization, trade, and many other matters of. considerable importance - I have detained the House at greater length than I had anticipated. But I feel sure honorable members will not censure me, for it is proper that they should have a full and detailed account of the work of a Conference which has dealt with great affairs of vital interest to the Commonwealth, the Empire, and the whole world.
Members will recall that I left Australia on the 27th April. I have, therefore, been absent from Australia exactly five months, three of which have been spent in travelling. The record I have just given is but a part record of two months’ work.
The Conference met on 20th June, and concluded its sittings on 5th August. Urgent domestic business in Canada and South Africa demanded the early return of their respective delegates, and an intense concentration of work. As a result, more has been done, and in less space of time, than at any preceding Conference.
During the thirty-five sitting days (not including Saturdays or Sundays) no less than thirty-four plenary meetings of the Conference took place, besides eleven meetings confined entirely to Prime Ministers, and eight meetings of Committees at the Colonial Office - or a total of fiftythree important Conferences in thirty-five days.
In addition to these there were several Inter-Dominion Conferences, frequent Conferences with the Admiralty, Air Board, and War Office, and various functions occasioned by the presence of the Prime Ministers in London; besides, of course, the regular departmental work.
I think it only fair to myself to mention that in the case of Australia only was representation confined to one delegate. Canada had two Ministers, a High Commissioner and staff, and six experts and secretaries ; South Africa had three Ministers and six secretaries; India was represented by a Secretary of State and two Indian delegates with six secretaries. Not one of these countries was so vitally concerned in the deliberations of the Conference as Australia, to whom both naval and military defence and the AngloJapanese Treaty were matters literally of life and death. Yet I had to undertake this task alone, assisted only by two secretaries.
I have only to add that the Conference, marking, as it does, a new era in Empire Government, was most successful. We have not, it is true, completely solved that great problem insuring united action in foreign affairs, side by side with complete autonomy of the component parts, but we have gone far towards it. With improved and more effective communications, and with the lessening of distance by more rapid means of transit, we shall go still further, and the influence of the Dominions in shaping and directing Foreign and Imperial affairs will grow. Meantime it is good to know that a great change in Empire relationship has been initiated not only without any f riction, but, with the enthusiatic co-operation of the Mother Country and every one of the selfgoverning Dominions.
While this spirit endures, we can face the future with confidence. In the course of time the great bulk of the white population of the British Empire will be outside Britain. The centre of Empire may, indeed, come East; for who can set a limit to the growth of our own country?
In these circumstances - and with these great problems ahead of us - it is surely something to know that our Constitution, as it now exists, is sufficiently broad and elastic to accommodate itself to any and every change. By this Conference we have effected a great step forward in Imperial government. For we have demonstrated that the Empire can speak with one voice in peace as well as in war, and that the greatest experiment in free government in all human history has again proved by its wonderful adaptability that the principles upon which it rests are sound and fated to endure through the ages.
I move -
That the statement be printed.
I regret that I have had to occupyso much time in presenting my report, and that I have had to do so in the form of a prepared document. But it would have been hopeless for me to attempt to deal with the matter in any other way. I have still to deal with matters of very great importance, and I feel that I should lay them before the House prior to the inauguration of a discussion upon the report which I have just made. The procedure, however, is for honorable members to decide. I merely make what appears to be the proper and obvious course. I propose, on Tuesday next, to make an additional statement covering such subjects as reparation, immigration, wireless development - presenting, in this instance, a definite proposal - air communication, and certain other matters. I shall move, thereafter - on Tuesday - that a certain paper, or papers, be printed ; and upon this motion or motions all the matters covered in my statements can be discussed.
– I would prefer to debate the matters presented, and to be presented by the Prime Minister, after he has made his further statement next week. It would be wiser - I agree with the right honorable gentleman - to adopt that course of procedure; and I take it that no obstruction will be offered to such a course, or to the earliest possible discussion.
– Certainly not! The procedure will be in the hands of honorable members.
– Has it been decided that the House shall meet on Tuesday next?
– I shall make my additional statement on the next day of siting. The motion I have just moved will be placed on the business paper of the House for Tuesday, or such later day as the House may, before its rising, determine, when I shall deal with those other very important questions to which I have referred. Honorable members may please themselves whether they proceed with the discussion of what I have placed before them to-day, or postpone the debate - perhaps, for a day, at any rate - until after I have spoken on immigration, reparation, and the other subjects.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Charlton) adjourned .
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 29 th September, vide page 11625) :
Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) agreed to -
That the votes “The Department of Defence -Military,” “The Department of the Navy,” and “Departments of Navy and Defence - Air Services,” be postponed until after the consideration of the other votes for “ Additions, New Works, Buildings, &c.”
Proposed vote, £4,831.
.- There is much complaint from the crews of small coastal steamers because of the non-installation of wireless on the vessels.
Several ships not provided with wireless have gone to sea, and nothing further has been heard of them; and it should be the duty of the Customs Department to see that all vessels on our coast, great and small, are properly equipped in this respect. I should like to know from the Minister (Mr. Greene) what is exactly the position in regard to wireless installations on our coastal vessels. If some vessels are exempt I should like to know why. The lives of men on a small steamer are just as valuable as the lives of men on a large steamer, and every protection should be afforded. Further, I suggest that the departmental officials should have power to prevent ships putting out to sea when storms are raging on the coast. As it is, steamers and other vessels are allowed to sail loaded with cargo up to the limit - I am referring especially to deck cargo - and the result is that if they run into bad weather they are swamped.
– I have not the Navigation Act by me at the moment, but, speaking from memory, I think it is provided that vessels of a gross tonnage of 1,600 tons, which do not carry twelve passengers or over, are exempt from the necessity of installing wireless. In reply to the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), I may say that, so far, we have insisted on every vessel with which the Act empowers us to deal, being equipped.
– Both cargo and passenger ships?
– Yes. There is only one exception, in the case of a vessel of peculiar construction, designed for a particular trade. The question has arisen whether wireless can be installed in such a way as not to prejudice the stability of the vessel, which is the only one of the kind on the coast.
– If the vessel cannot stand wireless-
– I admit that it is a difficult question to solve. The owners have submitted that the balance in regard to the stability of the vessel is very small, owing to the peculiar construction.
– Is that not a very good reason why she should not go to sea at all?
– That may be, but I am having the question investigated as far as it is possible to do so, in order to ascertain whether the representations of the owners are true or not.
– Does she carry passengers ?
– No, she could not carry passengers; as I have said, she was built for a particular trade, and though she is over the actual gross registered tonnage laiddown in the Act, I am not sure that she can be equipped with wireless. In all other cases, however, we insist on the installation of wireless. I wish to say further that the decision of the High Court in regard to the Navigation Act has put outside the control of the Navigation Department all those vessels which trade Intra-State; that is the net effect of the judgment. Perhaps it is those Intra-State vessels that the honorable member for South Sydney has in his mind; and in regard to such vessels we have no power to insist on wireless.
– The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) suggested that the departmental officers should decide when the weather is safe for ships to put to sea; I assume the Minister is not accepting that suggestion?
.- The information given is satisfactory up to a certain point. I spoke of the overloading of ships with deck cargo. Has the Department no control in such cases under the Navigation Act, irrespectiveof the ports to which the vessels trade?
– The Department has control, of course, in regard to deck cargo so far as concerns shipping which trades oversea or Inter-State; we have no power over Intra-State vessels.
– No matter what cargo they carry?
– That is not conducive to the safety of ships at sea. Cannot some arrangement be made for the States to exercise some authority in this regard?
– That would necessitate, of course, each State Parliament passing an Act which would have the effect of giving to the Commonwealth Parliament the whole power to deal with navigation; otherwise it could not be done.
.- The Minister (Mr. Greene) would do well to take steps in the direction of getting the States to hand over control of these matters to the Commonwealth, or agree upon some uniform conditions to be observed. The public conscience has recently been very severely shocked at some awful disasters among the shipping trading on our coast, particularly the colliers running between Newcastle and Port Jackson.
– Every collier travelling Intra-State is required to have wireless.
– But there is also the matter of loading. Valuable lives have been lost, as has clearly been shown at a recent inquiry, through the way in which coal is dumped on board these vessels and not trimmed before they leave port. In fact, in many cases, it has been impossible to put on the hatches owing to the bad trimming. If a sea strikes a vessel so loaded, the cargo is liable to shift, and a following sea easily causes a disaster. If the States are not agreeable to hand over the absolute control of this matter to the Commonwealth, I hope that the Minister will get into touch with them, and see if they cannot agree to the observance of uniform conditions.
– When the Navigation Bill was under discussion in this House, a distinct assurance was given by the then AttorneyGeneral, now the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and by the then Minister for Trade and Customs, now the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), that the provisions of the measure would not apply to small boats engaged in Intra-State trade, but quite recently we have been faced with the extraordinary fact that a deliberate attempt has been made to bring boats of 5 or 10 tons trading up and down our rivers under the Act. No greater absurdity could ever have been perpetrated than to compel these men, who deserve every consideration from us, and who run their small crafts with, perhaps, the aid of a son or a dog, to devote their small earnings to meeting the expense of fighting a case before the High Court. I am thankful to say that the Court saw the absurdity of the position, and., of course, the whole attempt has had to be abandoned. To comply with the Navigation Act, it would be necessary for certain accommodation for crews to be provided on these small boats which carry no crews. I emphatically protest against this deliberate breach of faith, and against the granting of permission to an officer of a Department to put these men to the expense of fighting a High Court case to prevent their being brought under the provisions of an Act passed ten years previously, and under the distinct pledge given openly in this House that they would be exempted.
– The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) is very innocent in telling us about these poor men who ply boats up and down rivers with their sons or dogs as crews, although he knows quite well that the High Court case concerned boats which carry two or three men as a crew, and that the coast of Tasmania is as dangerous as is any other coast in the world.
– The boats I am talking about do not go out of the rivers.
– What governs the one class of boat should govern the other. To me, the lives of one or two men on a small boat are as important as are those of twenty men on a large boat.
However, the Minister (Mr. Greene) has opened up a most peculiar phase of seafaring life. I understand that there is a ship trading on our coast so close to the unsafe line that she would very likely be unseaworthy if wireless were put on her masts.
– The owners, in their objection to the installation of wireless on that vessel, stated as a reason that the stability of the boat was so delicate that to put wireless on might make her unsafe. We are having the matter investigated.
– Evidently a few albatrosses or Mother Carey’s chickens might have the same effect. If the Minister decides that it would render the vessel unsafe to install wireless on her, I hope he will also inform the people of Australia that the boat in questionis not safe for carrying passengers or crew. I am surprised that the owners should make such a remarkable admission. Will the Minister supply the Committee with the name of the vessel?
– I cannot, at the moment.
– I think we should have the name, because the position is remarkable. Are men going to sea in a vessel in which the margin of safety is so small that the installation of a wireless apparatus will affect her stability? Whether the vessel is or is not to have a wireless equipment, I would like the Minister to make inquiries as to her seaworthiness.
– I can assure the honorable member that that is being done.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £823,506.
.- I notice, in connexion with the estimates of the Postmaster-General’s Department for additions, new works, and buildings, that the expenditure this financial year will be considerably less than it was last year. Last year it was £940,917, and the estimated expenditure for this year is £823,506, a reduction of £117,411. I believe in economy being practised wherever possible; but I do not think this is an instance where expenditure should be curtailed, because that is being done principally at the expense of the country districts. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) knows very well that residents in the country have been placed at a great disadvantage, as numerous applications for telephonic connexion by country residents have been awaiting attention for a considerable time. Applicants have been informed that the Department has been unable to comply with the requests made because money was not available for the purpose. It was urged some time ago that the war was largely responsible for the delay, and consequently honorable members did not press the matter too strongly, because they realized that we were passing through a difficult period. That time has, however, passed, and we have now reached the stage when the Postmaster-General’s Department should be in a position to deal with the applications which have been standing in abeyance for so long. We still have to carry many of the responsibilities that were incurred during the war period ; but when we find that the amount allotted for telephonic connexions is to be reduced, it is time strong objections were raised. According to the figures before us, only £750,000 has been set aside for this purpose. The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), in his Budget speech, points out that the amount of £750,000 is to be provided out of loans for telegraphic and telephonic new works, and £750,000 out of revenue. I would like to know whether I am correct in deducing from that statement that £1,500,000 is to be available.
– The honorable member will see that £750,000 is mentioned on page 400.
– So there is no doubt in that respect ?
– Iwould like to know, further, whether it is the intention of the Department to expedite the granting of facilities to people in the more remote country districts. The Minister is aware that there are thousands of applicants throughout Australia - it applies to every State and to every electorate - who have been unable to be connected by telephone because the money or material was not available. During the war period, material could not be supplied in sufficient quantity, and of course the financial position did not warrant too heavy an expenditure in this direction. We are now in a different position, and if we can afford to increase our expenditure to almost £1,000,000 in other directions - particularly in connexion with Defence - surely it is unfair to cut down the expenditure of the Post and Telegraph Department, because that branch of the Service is of the greatest importance to the people of this country, and of greater value than expenditure on Def ence at the present juncture. The proposed military expenditure has been dealt with by other honorable members, and the votes in this connexion will, I understand, be debated later. It is very unfair to reduce the expenditure of such an important public Department, and at the same time considerably increase the expenditure for Defence purposes. We must not lose sight of the fact that the facilities enjoyed through the Post Office cost much more now than they did prior to the war, as we have 2d. instead of 1d. postage, and the telephonic and telegraphic rates have also been increased. For a time, we derived considerably more revenue from the Postal Department than was necessary to meet the expenditure.
– Over £400,000.
– Yes, and that was used for other purposes. When we begin to feel the pinch, this Department is not the first in which reductions should be made, particularly when the proposed expenditure is to be less than it was last year. Notwithstanding the fact that thousands of applications are awaiting attention, the Government intend curtailing expenditure in this important branch of the Service, which will naturally interfere considerably with those living in country districts. Frequent reference has been made to the necessity of encouraging immigration to the Commonwealth, and to the desirableness of settling a larger number of our own people on the land ; but if we do not provide the residents in rural districts with facilities for getting into touch with the main centres of population, we cannot expect land settlement to be successful. Many settlers are not within reasonable reach of railway communication, and some of them have not even a coach service. In these circumstances, we should be prepared to provide them with telephonic connexion, as such services are not only necessary to enable them to transact business expeditiously, but are imperative in the case of sickness, so that medical, attendance can be summoned in the shortest possible time. Under present conditions, some rural settlers cannot secure the services of a doctor under a day or two, but with proper telephonic communication the time would be reduced by one-half. This matter is of vital importance to those living in country districts, and whatever we may do in reducing expenditure in other directions, we ought to pay careful attention to the legitimate needs of the community. We should not commence reducing expenditure in a Department which has been niggardly dealt with for a number of years, and particularly one which has shown a surplus during the last five or six years. This year the revenue did not come up to expectations.
– Probably owing to increased charges.
– That may have something to do with it. Now that the war is over, and our fighting men have returned, the overseas mail matter has been enormously reduced, and, in consequence, the revenue must be less. Whatever the reasons may be, the fact remains that we are not justified in reducing the expenditure in the Post and Telegraph Depart ment before facilities have been provided for people in the country getting into close touch with the main centres of population. There is legitimate grounds for complaint as to the reduced expenditure. Had the vote been somewhere near the. amount on the Estimates for last year, there would not have been so much room for criticism, but even last year honorable members were complaining that it was insufficient.
– And yet the Government did not spend the whole of it by a long way.
– That has been the trouble. The vote last year was considered insufficient, though the whole of it was not expended.
– That was because it was not made available early enough.
– The Minister for Works and Railways suggests that this was due to delay in getting the vote through Parliament. Whose responsibility was that ? Clearly itmust rest upon the Government.
– Sometimes the House is responsible.
– In this case the Government were responsible, because it has been the custom of this and other Governments to leave the Estimates until almost the end of the financial year, and, of course, the House has then no opportunity of dealing with the situation. Honorable members usually find that a certain amount of money has been placed upon the Estimates, but that as the financial year is nearing its end it cannot all be expended. In such circumstances, what can we do? The Estimates should be brought before honorable members for consideration earlier in the year.
– It was not until the Country party came that they were brought in so early.
– Perhaps so, andI remind the Leader of the Country party that this particular matter vitally concerns the country, and members of his party should use their influence to see that justice is done to the people they represent. If the available amount is to be reduced who is to suffer? Is it the intention of the Government to still further cut down the already inadequate vote for the development of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services in country districts, or is some of it to be taken from the amount ordinarily required for the metropolitan centres ? It is well known to honorable members that, for some considerable time past, a very large amount of the money available for this Department has been expended in the cities of the Commonwealth.
– You are making a mistake.
– We always get that reply -from city representatives. I do not blame the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) for watching the interests- of his own constituency; but I am considering the interests of the whole of the people, and especially those living in country districts. Hitherto there has not been a fair proportion of the money available expended on country telephonic extensions, and I think the Minister should let us know how the vote is to be allocated this year. I am not prepared to go on passing Estimates in which one section of the people secures greater concessions in this respect than other sections. Any suggestion to expend the vote in city and country districts in proportion to population would be unfair to the country districts, because they are sparsely populated, and the construction of telephonic and telegraphic lines there is naturally more costly than in metropolitan areas.
– But the country people share in the prosperity of the cities.
– Perhaps so; but I might reply to my honorable friend by saying that the country people make the cities. ‘ That is the position.
– I think it is admitted that both have their place in our national life.
– I am not arguing that they do not. All I am saying is that there should be a fair proportion of this expenditure in the country districts, and I think the Minister should make a statement as to the intention of the Government in this respect.
.- I join with the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) in the view that country districts should get a fair deal in connexion with telephonic and postal expenditure generally. The Estimates, as presented to us to-day, are really a travesty of what Estimates should be. When one remembers what happened last year, one realizes that the presentation of these Estimates is simply a farce. Last year the House readily passed £147,000 for work in connexion with the various post offices, and additions to our telephonic services, but during the whole of the year only £27,904 was expended in providing, these facilities, chiefly in country districts, and for which the agitation had been going on since before the war. We also find that the Government turned a certain amount of revenue over from the Postal Department to the Treasury, and then boasted about being able to complete the year with a surplus of £893,000, of which £120,000, representing the unexpended vote last year for postal services, was a portion. During all this time we were told that there were no funds available to go on with these necessary works. Three post offices in my own division are really a disgrace to any civilized country.
– Only three?
– There are others, of course, that require attention, but these three have been down in the Estimates for years. The position is much the same in other districts. I was in Mildura during the summer months, and I can assure honorable members it is scandalous that public servants, or anybody else, whether white or black, should be obliged to work under such undesirable conditions in the hot sultry summer weather. Similar conditions obtain in post offices in our humid coastal towns in the north, and I say that to carry out a policy of economy by neglecting these necessary works is starting at the wrong end altogether, especially when the Postal Department is being used to enormously increase the revenue by means of the ½d. increase in the postal rate, and subsequently the second d. for war revenue purposes, though the latter increase is likely to defeat the end in view because it has resulted in a falling off in business. The same difficulties are reported in connexion with our telephonic service. This year £750,000 is provided for telephones which are urgently needed throughout the Commonwealth, especially in country districts. But what is the position ? The Government can get plenty of copper wire from a local company, who are prepared to manufacture if they can get continuous contracts.
– Yet we were told the other day that the Department had no wire in the New South Wales stores.
– I am not surprised at that, and I suggest that the time has come to put an end to all this trouble in connexion with the Postal Department.
From the inception of Federation, the Department has been the Cinderella of the whole of the Commonwealth Services, and has been starved, notwithstanding that it has been able to show a surplus. The present system is breaking down. If there is one thing that denotes civilize tion, it is the effectiveness of a country’s communications, and if there is one thing that encourages people to settle in outbackdistricts it is the facilities that are provided to enable them to keep in touch with their fellow -men. What drives men, especially married men, off country holdings, is inability to readily obtain medical assistance when the need for it arises. It should be the first aim of the Government to correct the deficiencies in our means of communication. The time has come when Parliament should prevent the expenditure of the Post and Telegraph Department from being dependent on the whim of the Government, according as it may choose to bring in the Estimates in the first or the eleventh month of the year. The affairs of the Department should be conducted like those of a private business firm. I might refer to a couple of telephone lines on the north coast of New South Wales. A much needed line between Glenreagh and South Grafton was not erected because it would have cost £1,100; but, in my opinion, it would have been better to expend the available amount of £700 in erecting a portion of the line, finishing it the next year with an expenditure of £400, than to spend the money on another work which was not nearly so urgent. It is a pity that the control of much expenditure in the Post and Telegraph Department is in the hands of independent authorities, because this necessarily causes delays and prevents useful work from being done. The time has come when the whole system should be changed. Considering the return made to the revenue, despite the fact that the Postal Department has been starved, I venture, to think that nobody in Australia would object to the most generous treatment being meted out toit.
– You all howl for economy until it hurts you.
– It is false economy not to carry out these works.
– To starve the Postmaster-General’s Department is not true economy.
– Real economy applies always to the other fellow.
– Real economy is spending money wisely.
– If you have it to spend.
– We should erect lines of communication between districts which would talk to one another if they had the facilities. Since the replacement of the old coaches by motor cars we find hundreds of people travelling where the traffic was formerly very small. In the same way the provision of telephonic communication would create a demand for the service, and 20 to 30 per cent. would be returned on the outlay. It is remarkable that the control of postal construction should be in the hands of a Department other than that of the PostmasterGeneral. When trouble arises in the spending of money allotted by Parliament, we have to go to three or four Departments before we can get satisfaction. I have been unable to learn why the Wingham Post Office, which is in the New South Wales list of post offices to be constructed, has not been gone on with. Tenders for it were called nearly a year ago. In the first place, we were told that certain additions had been asked for. I saw practically every man in the locality, and was informed that additions had not been asked for locally at all. The additions must have been put in by the Department itself. At any rate, that was the excuse. Subsequently the reason given for not proceeding with the work was that the Department had not the necessary money. It is useless to pass these Estimates if the Government does not intend to construct the works for which we vote the money. We should not pass sham Estimates.
.- I agree that it would be false economy to curtail expenditure in connexion with the Postal Department by withholding the facilities needed in outlying districts. We are merely repeating now what was said in this Chamber on many occasions last year. Following upon the frequent protests against the starvation policy adopted towards the Postal Department, we had the assurance of the Treasurer (Sir J oseph Cook) that the Department would in future receive all the money it required, and not one penny that was needed would be withheld from it. Consequently, I was surprised, during our recent short adjournment, to learn from the perusal of copies of replies received in various districts from the Deputy PostmasterGeneral for Tasmania that the telephonic extensions asked for could not be granted owing to lack of funds. I want to know from the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) if it is a fact that he has not been given the money he required to provide these extensions, or was the promise which the Treasurer gave the House last year to hold merely for a few months 1 It was stated at that time that the policy of the Government was to give facilities to outlying districts, and to grant the communication which this afternoon the Leaders of the Labour party and the Country party have said are most necessary. Nothing will do more to develop our unpopulated centres than the provision of facilities for communication. Speaking on this subject just prior to the adjournment, I stated that it was not only the people who received the extensions who benefited, but all those already connected by telephone, because it must be remembered that there are two ends to every telephone line. It is not the country people alone who reap the advantage of a telephone extension, but every business man in the adjacent towns; so there is no conflict between city and country interests in this matter. The extensions are required, not in and around the cities, but in the outlying districts. Last year some £750,000 was voted for buildings, and it remains unexpended, merely to permit of a false surplus being shown.- 1 cannot help blaming the Postal Department for this, because, when money had been made available by Parliament, there was no reason why the buildings provided for should not have been constructed. This applies to practically every electorate in the Commonwealth. The matter is brought home to me because certain postoffice buildings in my own district have not been proceeded with. Last year, for instance, £2,000 was provided for the Ulverstone post-office, and, although I have approached the Postmaster-General regarding it on several occasions, it was not until a few weeks ago that tenders were called for the building. I was told that the Works Department had prepared estimates for the work, and that the matter had been sent on to the State authorities; but the result is that £2,000 has been carried forward unexpended. That amount has been put on the Estimates again this year, but the building should have been erected long ago. I shall not say that the present structure is a disgrace, but it is inadequate. Although we have the assurance of the Treasurer that money will be provided as the PostmasterGeneral requires it, we find that works are held up simply to produce a false surplus. For this the Department itself must carry the blame. Will the PostmasterGeneral tell us whether he is now being furnished with the funds that, in his opinion, are necessary to give the telephonic extensions provided for in these Estimates? He is anxious to run this Department on lines that will he satisfactory to the people. Although I am one of those who “ preach “ economy, I hold that it is not economy to starve the Postal Department. I do not want to draw distinctions between one Department and another, but if the Postal Department is not given the money that the Postmaster-General requires, then I, for one, am not going to give my vote to provide funds for certain other Departments. There are many ways in which we can reduce expenditure. I want telephonic extensions in my district. That is putting it plainly, and if the PostmasterGeneral cannot provide them, I am not going to agree to unnecessary expenditure in other directions. The people are prepared to pay for increased postal facilities. They do not want to reduce expenditure on means of communication. I have been fearful for some time, because the cry for economy is rather popular with the Government, that this particular Department would be attacked when the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) turned his attention to the general question of economy. I intend not only to enter my protest, as I am doing now, but also to record my vote against money being expended in other directions. I hope the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise) will be good enough’ to tell us what the position is from his point of view. Is he able to give us these telephone extensions? I pass over the question of new post-office buildings. Although they are needed, they are not so important as the lengthening of our telephone lines. Unless he is in a . position to say that he can give immediately the extensions that his Department feels are justified, I will not support the Treasurer’s Estimates. If the PostmasterGeneral will give the assurance that we require it will clear the air very much.
.- I agree with those honorable members who are taking their stand against the curtailment of postal and telephonic facilities. It has been noticeable ever since Federation that the one Department that has not had the attention that it deserves has been the Postal Department. All through the war period we had the ex-Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster) complaining that the annual profits of his Department went into the general revenue, and that the Post Office was not allowed to make use of them. The Post. Office was starved during that period. Instead of the Department buying material when it was cheap, and when it had the money to do so, it waited until material could not be procured, no matter what it was prepared to pay for it. With regard to the construction of new (buildings and the repair of existing buildings, almost all the items on this year’s Estimates appeared on last year’s Estimates, and the votes were not expended last year. No matter what scheme the officers of the Department might have for extending the facilities of the Post Office, the “knife” prevented them giving effect to it. There is nothing new upon the Estimates in respect to new works and buildings. I re-echo the statement that in every part of the Commonwealth - I can speak more particularly of the circumstances in my own electorate, where there are hundreds of applicants for telephones - the one reply that applicants for telephone extensions receive from the Department is, “No material available. ‘ ‘ I venture to say that if you were to search the departmental premises throughout New South Wales you would find the. stores empty, although copper wire-drawing works in the State cannot get orders from the Government. This is a position to which the Committee should give some attention, because, of all the Departments under the control of the Commonwealth Government, none affects the interests of the people of this country so much as the Postal Department, with its telephone system. It is part of the every-day life of the people, and is an adjunct to their business, whether in the country or the city; it is in every sense of the word a real, live agent for all business concerns. The more expeditiously the Post Office can meet the needs of the producers and the business people of the community the better it will be for Australia. While the Post Office is being starved the Government has the audacity to ask the Committee to vote thousands upon thousands of pounds to increase the expenditure on the Defence Forces.
– You are wrong there. There is no increase; works and everything else included, the expenditure this year is £25,000 less than it was lastyear.
– That answer is right enough in. one sense. There is less expenditure in respect of works, I admit; but look at the general Estimates.
– Taking the general Estimates and everything, there is less expenditure this year than last year.
– Even if the position is as the Minister states, surely, after all we have gone through during the last five or six years, we can afford to rest a little until we know what our mind is in regard to the future defence of this country. It seems that the Defence Department is the one Department upon which money can always be lavished, while the Departments furnishing true services to the country are starved. There are buildings used for the accommodation of Post Office employees that are a positive disgrace to the. community. In many cases they are insanitary. Yet the policy of starvation continues. I think the Committee would have been wise if it had sent th’e Estimates back for the Government to recast, with a view to providing the facilities that the people want.
.-It is rather pleasing to see the non-party spirit in which this matter has been dealt with. The discussion should make it evident to the Minister controlling the Postal Department that he has the sympathy of this Committee in the expenditure of money to provide increased postal services, subject, of course, to the money being wisely expended. It seems to be the general impression of this Committee that the spending of money in this way is certainly, no contravention of the principle of economy. There is no better way in which, we can spend money than in the development of Australia. I notice that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) proposes to spend £570,000 more this year than was spent last year. I think that the honorable gentleman should explain to the Committee what he proposes to do with the money. The debate might have been curtailed if he had given the information in the first instance. I thought that he would have taken advantage of the promise made by the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) last year. We then discussed this matter on a motion for adjournment, and honorable members will recollect that the Treasurer declared in this Chamber that the Treasury was open to the Postmaster-General. If the Treasury has not been open to the honorable gentleman, it is for the Postmaster-General to report the fact to honorable members, and to let us know how far the Treasurer gave effect to his promise. The position leaves the Postmaster-General with very little excuse. It is gratifying to know that much work was done in the country last year in advance of what had been done previously, but there is still a tremendous amount of telephonic and telegraphic construction necessary in the country districts. Honorable members must recognise that the cost of construction is much greater to-day than it was in previous years. It is a pity that necessary material costs so much as it does, but we have foolishly imposed duties under our Tariff” which increase our difficulty in obtaining the materials we most need. I should like the Postmaster-General to .explain how he came to expend so much money last year, and also how much satisfaction he expects to give the country by the expenditure of the extra money which he is asking for this year. Is this money to go in extra wages or to cover the extra cost of material to give increased services to the country? We should be given some assurance that we will receive full value for the funds we appropriate for the Post and Telegraph Department. Although I claim to be as strict in the matter of economy as any other member of the Committee, I should be prepared to support even a heavier vote for the Post and Telegraph Department, because the increase of the facilities it affords must be to the advantage of Australia. We must connect country districts with the cities, and telegraphic and telephonic connexion are the best and cheapest means of communication. I recently spent a very pleasant week in Canberra, a very outoftheway place. I found that in that rather lonely place some means of communication by telephone have been provided, and I am sure honorable members would have been as pleased as I was to hear ladies and others communicating with friends 20, 30, and 40 miles away. I assert that by the use of the telephone we can remove the lonelinees of any place, and it is the cheapest method of communication we can provide. A telephone line is of advantage, not only to the man at the country end of it, but to the man at the city end of it as well. I presume that it is because of their recognition of the advantage of telephonic communication to city and country districts alike that so many members of the Committee take a non-party view of this question. I hope that these proposals for increasing the facilities of the Post and Telegraph Department will be accepted, and that after the money is voted it will be spent for the purpose for which it has been appropriated.
– I should prefer not to join in this guessing competition if the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) would give the Committee some information on his Estimates. If he is ready to do so, I shall be prepared to resume my seat. My chief objection to the administration of the honorable gentleman’s Department is that we are losing revenue by the imposition of too high a tariff upon the facilities which it affords. The history of the world shows that penny postage is the proper thing, and that the initial loss in reducing the postage charge to Id. from a higher rate is recouped within three years by the increased revenue derived from the change. During war time we increased our postage rate for a special purpose, but it has been found that the 2d. postage rate and the increased railway fares and freights are, as a matter of fact, producing a lower revenue than was derived from the lower rates. The PostmasterGeneral and his Department are regarded as fair targets by honorable members generally, butwe know that the honorable gentleman’s chief trouble is with the Treasury. Still it is deplorable that day after day we should get replies from this Department, which seems to be the most, conservativeof them all, that funds cannot be found to provide telephonic communication for some isolated place. I have always said that the Post and Telegraph Department should not be expected to pay at all, because I regard it as a great civilizing agency. We are on the wrong track in continuing the 2d. postage rate, and as a consequence of it many business men in the cities find that it pays them better to deliver their letters than to post them. It represents a substantial tax also upon settlers in isolated places. If the Postmaster-General will make inquiries he will find that there is no country in the world that has not increased its revenue from postage within three years after changing from a 2d. to a1d. rate. This has occurred where there has. been no material increase in population, and it demonstrates that any postage rate above1d. is resented by the people generally. The PostmasterGeneral is a representative of a country district, as I am myself, and he knows how every increase in postal and telephonic facilities is appreciated in country districts. There should be a telephone in every house in the country, and if the system were thus popularized we could afford to allow the subscribers six free calls a day, and charge them1d. for every additional call. I notice the PostmasterGeneral smiles. It is the policy of the Postal Department to smile at any progressive proposal. When I first proposed the Melbourne-Sydney telephone trunk line, honorable members said that it would never pay, and I had to fight hard to get the scheme adopted. When there was opposition to. the bush telephone, I said, “ Let us carry the. lines on trees and fences, and in five years’ time I will challenge any honorable member to propose that they be dismantled.” What sort of reception would any honorable member who made that proposal get in a country district today? “
– The trouble is that the Department is to-day erecting 20-ft. posts when 10-f t. posts would do.
– The Department is incurring the expense of erecting posts when trees and fences could be utilized. I know that the PostmasterGeneral is in the unfortunate position of having to apply first to the Treasurer for funds, and then to the Minister for Works andRailways to get his works carried out. The Postal Department should be able to carry out its own works. The Committee should be told whether the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) spoke correctly when he said that the Treasury was open to the Postmaster-General. I know that the sympathies of the PostmasterGeneral are with the people living in isolated places, but he should take a bold stand. Last year the finances showed a surplus of £6, 000,000; how much better a position would the Postmaster-General be in to-day if he had been able to spend £500,000 of that surplus on necessary works and services? I am told that the manuf acturers of copper wire in New South Wales cannot get a market for their commodity, although it can be bought almost as cheaply as the galvanized iron wire which the Department has imported. If that is true, the importation of galvanized iron wire is outrageous. The best policy would be to appoint three business men to conduct the Postal Department, but not to operate it as a commercial concern. Penny postage is the proper policy for this country; the re-introduction of 2d. postage was a retrograde step, as has been proved by the fact that the revenue of the Department is decreasing. Not only is the Postmaster-General losing revenue, but he is inconveniencing the public, and penalizing the residents in the back-blocks. The men and women who conduct allowance post-offices have been paid at the rate of £5 per annum for their services, and we are told that that amount is being cut down because of the insufficiency of the revenue from this source. Realizing what cheap communication means to this country, we should insist upon the Government restoring penny postage.
– The honorable member is now discussing a matter of policy, and such discussion is not proper upon the Works and Buildings Estimates. The honorable member’s observations would be in order in a discussion on the general Estimates.
– Accepting your direction, Mr. Chairman, I shall defer any further remarks until the general Estimates are before the Committee.
.- If, during an election campaign, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) “were to advocate penny postage, a telephone in every house, and six free calls per day - as he did on one occasion in this House - no other candidate would have a chance against him. A feature about the Estimates which strikes me as peculiar is that a large proportion of the sums voted by Parliament in previous years for postal and telephonic works is unexpended. I notice that last y/sar Parliament sanctioned an expenditure on postal buildings in New South Wales of £44,671, of which only £6,921 was spent. The amount voted for Victoria was £41,251, of which £7,537 was spent, and for Queensland £10,640, of which £2,509 was spent. Several times during the last twelve months I have asked the Department to carry out certain works in my constituency, and have been told that no money was available. If that answer was true, what is the meaning of these unexpended balances? It seems to me that although postal and telephonic works are most urgently needed, they .fare worse than any others. I remind the Country party that during the first ten years of Federation the Postal Department was literally starved, and it was not until the advent of a Labour Government in 1910 that the Department received anything like justice. The Treasurer of the day provided £3,000,000 for postal and telephonic services, but that was not nearly sufficient to make up the leeway, and I fear that the situation amounts to a reflection upon the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise). The position is the same to-day as it nas been for years past. Indeed, the Department has always been starved by every Liberal and Nationalist Government. If the Country party desire to bring about progressive government they must change their tactics and vote for the elevation to the Ministerial benches of members selected from this side of the House.
Honorable members who have any knowledge of the city of Sydney must know that the General Post Office is the most overcrowded postal building in the Commonwealth. As it stands to-day it is a discredit to the Government, and to previous Governments. The question of additions and alterations has been submitted to the” Public Works Committee. I would like to know who gave instructions for the architectural preparation of a monstrosity of a plan for those alterations. The proposal to which I refer is to take the building up thirteen stories. Presumably, persons who want to buy a penny stamp will have to travel thirteen floors before they can post a letter. I know something about building construction. The lifts necessary to conduct the business of the General Post Office, when it has been altered according to the plans just indicated, will occupy very considerable space on each floor. The outside walls of the present structure will not support extensive alterations and additions. That was proved by Mr. Barnett, architect for the New South Wales Government, about twenty-five years ago. If a structure of thirteen stories is to be built over the present General Post Office the contractors will be compelled to rear from the foundations numbers of inside columns in order to carry the weight and provide for inevitable vibration; and, to do that, those pillars, or columns, will have to be from 4 to 5 feet in diameter. I would like to know who is answerable for placing such a project before the Public Works Committee. The congestion and inadequate accommodation in the Sydney Post Office could be overcome by the purchase of land at the rear of the General Post Office block through to King-street. The cost would not be abnormal; the buildings at present on the site are unsuitable and inadequate to the central nature of so valuable a block. The purchase price would be almost as nothing compared with the expense of constructing thirteen-story alterations. What has been proposed is, in effect, to pour two quarts of water into a quart pot. The present building will not carry the additions. I have taken a deep interest in the subject. I got the president of the Architects Association in Sydney to assist and advise me, and to take action by making representations in the course of evidence given before the Public Works Committee. In addition to the Sydney architects, I am supported in my plea for common-sense handling of the difficulty by the chairman and members of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce.
There is one other subject to which’ I propose briefly to allude. I refer to the installation of the automatic telephone system in the city of Sydney. The project has been under consideration for six or seven years, but at present the whole position seems to be in a muddle. One Sydney firm received notice that it would be connected with the automatic system, and it spent about £900 in alterations to its premises in order to be prepared for the modern installation. That, was five years ago, but, so far, no further word has been received from the Postmaster- General’s Department. The value of the complete installation of the automatic system in Sydney would be enormous; probably one half of the present annual costs, under the keyboard system, would be saved. Here, then, is an opportunity to economize, seeing that there would be a’ direct saving without any loss of efficiency, and certainly without any deprivation of public privileges. I hope the Postmaster-General will do something in the directions I have suggested. I know the excuse is made that the necessary material cannot be obtained, but if the Department were serious in the matter, most of the instruments connected with the telephone system could be manufactured at the Shaw Wireless Workshop which has been taken over by. the Government. There may be some difficulty in obtaining soft steel - I am informed the difficulties have been overcome - but brass, zinc, timber, and’ copper wire are obtainable here, . and there is only required some improvement in the insulating process. There seems to be no one who has any keen desire to use Australian goods, so* accustomed has the Department been to the ordering of material from places thousands of miles away. In this regard there ought to be a better spirit inculcated, not only in the case of officials, but of honorable members themselves; and if such a spirit were created and found expression in action, all our present troubles with the Post Office would be obviated, and this House would be relieved of continuous complaints. Members ought to cease merely making speeches in the House, and do something definite. What is the use of our passing Estimates if the money is not spent? The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) may talk about saving the country by showing a surplus, but any one can have a surplus if he keeps his money in his pocket. Tasmania and m South Australia are the only two States for which any money is to be voted for the year 1921-22. If there was no money in the Treasury which could be spared for such works, I should say no more; but I know that money must be available, or these1 votes would not appear on the Estimates.
– Are you going to move an amendment 1
– If I told the honorable member the amendment I should like to propose, I am sure he would not agree with it. In any case, there is no hope of . a change of Government in Australia.
– For the last four or five years the Government have been doing nothing, and doing it dashed well ! . Moreover, those with whom the honorable member is associated are for economy, because of their fear of extra taxation. Personally, I do not fear extra taxation, for money, properly spent, is put in circulation and tends to the prosperity of the country. This was shown in the case of every loan raised during the war.- The unemployment question is acute, and Parliament will have to do something by way of a remedy if discontent is to be allayed.
– (By leave.) - I desire to make a short statement ‘in regard to the sessional order which, I understand, was passed before the recent adjournment regarding Tuesday sittings. Certain suggestions have been made to me unofficially, and I think it only right that an opportunity should be given to honorable members to express their desire in this connexion. It is not for the Government to say when the House shall meet; that is a matter for the members of the House, and if they object to meeting on Tuesdays, I think they ought to be allowed to express that objection.
.- Honorable members on this side of the Chamber have made representations to me to the effect that they were under the impression that the House would not meet until Wednesday next, and, consequently, had made arrangements to proceed to the other States to fulfil engagements there.
.- I would like to point out that honorable members who return at the week-ends to other States find business awaiting them when they arrive in Sydney or Adelaide on the Saturday morning, spend each Monday on various interviews., and really require the Tuesday in orderto complete any matter in hand. What we do in this House does not represent all that honorable members have to do. A great deal has been said about honorable members being killed through being compelled to sit here four days a week and travel backwards and forwards on the other days. Yet the Government apparently propose to continue that slaughter. I am sure that our work here would be done just as speedily by a reversion to the old system of sitting three days a week. The State Parliament does not sit four days a week. Why should we do so, who have to travel 1,200 miles each week to attend the sittings of the House?
– Queensland members cannot get home at all at the week-end. Let us get the business through straight away by sitting five days a week.
– And on Saturdays and Sundays also, I suppose? I am not prepared to do that, and if the House meets on Tuesday next I will not be here.
– There was a general impression among honorable members that the House would not meet next week until Wednesday, and most of us have made arrangements to return to our own States for this week-end at least. We cannot get back until Wednesday. The Country party would like the House not to meet until Wednesday next, and then decide what its future meeting days will be.
– Is the honorable member speaking for his party?
– For several members of it, who have requested me to see that the House does not meet until Wednesday next for this week-end at least.
.- I sympathize with those honorable members who live in South Australia and New South Wales, and I can quite appreciate the fact that they have a great deal of business to do for their constituents when they get to their homes at the week-end. Therefore, I shall vote, if it be necessary to do so, to meet their wishes in regard to meeting on Wednesdays, but I want those honorable members who can get to their homes at the week-end to have some consideration for those who live in far distant States. If we may conclude our work by sitting for an extra day a week towards the end of the session, I want them to do so.
.- I do not think that it is fair to place on the shoulders of honorable members opposite the whole of the onus for submittingthe request that the House meet on Wednesday next instead of Tuesday. I want to add my little support to it. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr: Greene) will bear me out when I say that the extra sitting day did not help very much in the discussion of the Tariff. We would have got through just as quickly by sitting for three days a week, because, to a great extent, the additional day was wasted in anticipatory talk, and, as it were, in oiling the machine for the following day’s work. I intend to vote for meeting on Wednesday. I hope that honorable members generally will agree with the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Foley) in extending consideration to representatives of South Australian and New South Wales constituencies. I am sure ah extra day to devote to their offices would be very acceptable to Ministers:
– I have heard sufficient to satisfy me that the majority of honorable members do not wish to meet next Tuesday, and, in order thatwhat we may do to-day may not prejudice what may be done next week, I move -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I was asked to-day what amounts have been subscribed in connexion with the recent Diggers’ loan, and I promised to get the information at the earliest moment. I have it now. We asked for £10,000,000. A sum of £10,045,120 was subscribed. Each State was given a quota, and the following table shows the amounts actually subscribed in each State:-
Western Australia, as usual, occupies the pride of place.
ImperialConference - Order of Business - Returned Soldiers in Hospitals.
– I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
I gathered, after making my report to the House this morning, that several honorable members complained during the reading ofquotations from my own speeches that I did not quote from the speeches of other delegates to the Imperial Conference. I am sure that they do not appreciate the position. It is not permissible for me to quote from any speeches but my own. I quoted my own utterances because I was a delegate from Australia,and it was my business to report what I had said myself. The rest of the proceedings are confidential, and it is sufficient for a delegate to make his own report to his own Parliament. Anything else would be grossly improper.
In regard to the business next week, I have only to repeat what I said earlier in the day, thatthe first Order of the Day on Wednesdaywill be the consideration of themotion for the printing ofthe papers in connexion with the report I submitted to the House to-day. The next business will be a statement by me in regard to other matters not covered in my speech to-day; and it will then be for the House to determine what shall be done. If it is decided to go on with the discussion of the motion I submitted to-day, that can be done; or the House, if it so desires, can debate the speech I intend to deliver on Wednesday. If either of those courses is not adopted, we shall resume consideration of the Works and Buildings Estimates, or the Senate’s requests in connexion with the Tariff.
– I desire to direct the attention of the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir GranvilleRyrie) to the position of a certain number of returned soldiers, who, having been ordered by the military authorities to enter hospitals which are not technically regarded as military hospitals, have been deprived of the rights they would enjoy if they were inmates of military institutions. The contentionof the Military Department is the most contemptible I have seen in connexion with the whole of the work of assisting returned soldiers. The authorities responsible for the welfareof the men ordered a certain number of them into hospitals, having first of all made arrangements that a ward in those hospitals should be set apart formilitary patients, thereby making them military hospitals. They now shield themselves from the responsibility that ought to attach to the Department by saying that these ex-soldiers were notin militaryhospitals. The position is so utterly indefensible that I cannot imagine how the Minister can support it. I trust the matter will be given immediate attention with a view to assistance being rendered to these unfortunate men, who, because oftheir war injuries, have had to return to hospitals in which wards have been specially set apart for returned soldiers. Because they have been sent to institutions which, technically, are not military hospitals, they have been refused the assistance to which they are justly entitled.I trust the Assistant Minister will confer with the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) in order that justice may be done.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.8p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 September 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1921/19210930_reps_8_97/>.