8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
The following paper was presented : -
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are: -
Motion (by Mr. Groom, for Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend sections 14 and 18a of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904-1920.
Motion (by Mr.Groom) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1915-1908.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from, 1st December, vide page 13524):
– In order to correct the total for Division 70, the amount of which vote was reduced by £70,000, I propose, with the consent of the Committee, to adopt a course similar to that which waa followed in regard to the Works Estimates where reductions were made, namely, to insert after the original total of the Division the words “Less amount estimated to remain unexpended at the close of the year, £70,000.” Then the reduced total will he inserted. If this were not done, the total would be wrong.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
That the consideration of the intervening votes be postponed until after the consideration of the Estimates for the Department of Repatriation.
War Services Payable out of Revenue. - Department of Repatriation.
Division 156 (Repatriation Commission), £2,529,429
Mr.RODGERS (Wannon- Assistant Minister for Repatriation) [11.9]. - Before the Committee proceeds to consider the items which make up the Estimates for this Department, I wish to make a general statement about the operations of the War Service Homes Commission from its inception, in order that the Committee may be seised of the true position to-day in contra-distinction to what would appear, from statements that have been published in the press, to be the position.
The Commission was appointed to provide homes for soldiers and their eligible dependants. This was to be done at cost price, allowing no profit to any one in respect of land, material, or labour. The scheme received the approval of the country and of Parliament, and its terms are embodied in the War Service Homes Act. There was at the time a very strong public desire that the work of building these homes, which meant the creation of a business Department, and was an experimental proceeding on the part of the country, should be intrusted to a Commission entirely removed from political control. Effect was given to that desire by Parliament, and the Act conferred on the War Service Homes Commissioner the power to acquire all necessary land and building material, and to engage the service necessary for the carrying out of the scheme. He was given the right to select his own staff, though it was to be composed, so far as they might be eligible and competent, of returned soldiers. Prom the beginning there was no political, no Ministerial, interference with the Commissioner.
– I would like honorable members to’ recollect how insistent was the demand that there should be no political interference, and that the Commissioner should be empowered to carry on the duties of his Department unimpeded. The records of the Department would be searched in vain for evidence of any attempt by a responsible Minister to interfere with the business side of the Commissioner’s work. The Commissioner was given a free charter in the building up of his organization on approved business lines, and the selection of officers.
– Had the Deputy Commissioners to be approved by the Minister, or were they appointed entirely by the Commissioner?
– They were appointed by the Commissioner. Under the Act, the only person for whose appointment responsibility rests with the Government is the Commissioner; the business managers in the various States were appointed by him. The only direction that the Government gave to the Commissioner was that, so far as they might be eligible and competent, returned soldiers should be selected to fill the positions in his Department. Subject to that limitation, the Commissioner had a free hand in the building up of his organization. But, so that he might not have to commence operations “ off the rocks,” so to speak, the services of the Commonwealth Bank were secured to carry on the construction programme of the Commonwealth during the period in which he was getting ready. The Bank was empowered, as was the Commissioner, not only to build, but also to purchase and otherwise acquire already-erected properties. At the time there was a worldwide shortage of houses, and the demand for homes was as acute in Australia as elsewhere. In order that returned men might not have to wait unreasonably long for houses, the Bank, like the Commissioner, was empowered to purchase, to a limited extent, already-erected houses, though its chief work was to buy land and material, provide plans and specifications, and erect dwellings.
Alternatively an already-erected home might be bought, a mortgage lifted, or a contract into which a soldier had entered taken over by the Commission. Until March of this year, the Commission operated under two systems - that is to say, through the agency of the Commonwealth Bank, and by means of its own organization. In the statement I have to make to-day, I have no desire to pursue unduly any officer of the Commission or to rest blame on any particular officer; but I should be wanting in my duty to both this Committee and the country if I were not to make a clear and candid statement as to what I believe was responsible for some of the mistakes that are frankly admitted in connexion with the War Service Homes Department. I again remind honorable members of the condition of affairs that existed at the ‘inception of the scheme and of the strong public demand for the appointment of a business Commissioner. Lieut.-Colonel “Walker was appointed Commissioner in February, 1919; the Act was proclaimed in March, 1919, and he was allowed the period between then and September of the same year to get his building organization ready. In fairness to Lieut.Colonel Walker and the Commission generally, I would refresh the minds of honorable members as to the conditions which prevailed at that time. They were completely abnormal. There was a lack of material, a dearth of labour, and an unwillingness on the part of the general building community to enter into extensive contracts either for the supply of material or the building of houses. In these difficult circumstances the Commissioner and the Government had to set about the building of home3. There. was a strong demand for them ‘by the soldiers. They had come back practically in a body, and applications for homes were pouring in. After careful consideration if wa3 determined to give a trial to the principle that the Commissioner himself should become for the time being a master builder, and should set up an organization to operate in all the States. I can only say that, judged in the light of to-day, that system has not proved a success.
– A most frank admission.
– It was only because of the emergent conditions that the Government launched the enterprise. I repeat that it was absolutely impossible to get supplies of material; that there was a shortage of workmen, and an unwillingness on the part of the building community to undertake risks.
– Why did the Government restrict the operations of the Commonwealth Bank?
– So far as I am aware, they were not restricted. I know of no restriction that was placed on the Bank. I want honorable members to review the building operations of, not only Australia, but other countries, during this period. I remind them that the British Government itself embarked on a great building scheme, i Mr. Lloyd George, in his initial programme, set out to build 300,000 houses. To use a colloquialism, he “ pulled out “ after only 5,000 had been built. His building department was disbanded, and the Government retired from the enterprise of trying to provide homes through Government instrumentalities. America had a somewhat similar experience. Honorable members will recognise, therefore, that it would be unfair not to go back and look at the abnormal conditions which then prevailed. Who will say that, in any one of our capital cities, or in any of our important towns, no person in the building world of recent years has not made gigantic losses ? Examine the books of men of long business experience in any of the State capitals. They will tell you frankly that they have suffered colossal losses, and that the period during which the Commonwealth Government was engaged through its Commissioner in building homes was the most anxious in the history of business. Both in the acquisition and purchase of material, as well as in connexion with contracts for the supply of material; there have been very heavy losses, and I venture to say that the experience of the Commission does not stand alone. As a matter of fact, I have positive proof that it does not. I have talked over the situation with many of the leading builders in this city and Sydney, and I know that there is no firm that escaped heavy losses during the period under review. The experience of the Commonwealth Bank in respect of con- tracts into which it entered for the building of War Service Homes, as well as the experience of the Commission itself, was that many contractors failed to carry out their work. Some of them failed completely, and were unable to complete houses upon the erection of which they had started. I state these facts so that honorable members may not gaze only on the operations of the Commission. Throughout the whole world losses of this ‘ kind have occurred. In every country the building world has had to write down its assets, so that the experience of the Commission is by no means novel. I pray the Committee, therefore, when discussing the operations of the Commission, to have special regard to the abnormal period through which we have been passing.
Coming more particularly to the Commission, its organization, and its operations, I admit frankly that it was not organized on business lines. It was the duty of the Commissioner, and not of the Minister, to secure that proper business organization. The Government gave him a fair period in which to build up his scheme. As I have already said, the Act was proclaimed in March, 1919, and it was not until September of the same year that the Commission started its first work. To tell the Committee in detail of the directions in which the organization was defective, I should have to traverse the ground already covered by the Public Accounts Committee. That I do not propose to do. The Public Accounts Committee has made, and is continuing, a searching inquiry into the operations of the Commission, and I do not propose to go in detail over the ground they are covering. I shall content myself with the statement that the operations of the Commission failed, not in all respects, because I do not admit that it did, but failed mainly through lack of business organization and because it did not have the proper man at its head as business or,ganizer The Commissioner was selected by my colleague, Senator E. D. Millen, who chose, as he thought, the best man from those who applied for the position. There were not many applicants; there were not many returned soldiers who sought the position.
– The remuneration fixed was too low.
– The position was limited to soldiers.
– The Minister’s choice was limited to soldiers.
– It was not.
– Not in actual words; but as a matter of policy it was. The Government erred, perhaps, in not offering a better remuneration. I think that the salary fixed for the Commissioner should have been double what it was, in order to secure the right class of man. I mention that, however, merely in passing. We . are not able to attract to the Public Service of this country the highest class of men - the men with the best brains - if we offer a low remuneration. There are larger rewards and better opportunities outside.
– What was the salary offered?
– £1,500 per annum. It was of the highest importance that the man at the helm of a great business concern of this kind should be of outstanding ability - that he should have, first of all, a “practical knowledge of the building world and a thorough knowledge of building materials and supplies, that he should be familiar with the class of work the men were engaged on, and, above all, that he should have a knowledge of finance. A man big enough to answer to all these requirements is not to ‘be found in this country looking for a job at £1,500 a year.
– What allowance, in addition to salary, attaches to the office of Commissioner ?
– There are practically no allowances in the way of emoluments to the Commissioner. He does not receive any commission, but is paid outofpocket expenses when travelling on the work of the Commission. Next in importance to the Commissioner are the Deputy Commissioners, who are, so to speak, the business managers in the States, and who, as a matter of fact, carry ont the building programme. It is the Commissioner’s business to lay out his plans, and it is for keen business men, as Deputy Commissioners, to carry them into effect. Again, I have to say that in his selection of the Deputy Commissioners, or business managers as we may call them, the Commissioner was very unfortunate.
– Does that statement apply to all of them?
– I have not referred to the general staff of the Department, and it is not my desire to place upon the shoulders of the officers any responsibility that should not properly attach to them. It is my duty, however, to point out in what respect the work of the Commission has failed. In Victoria, during the short period in which the Commission has been in existence, there have been three Deputy Commissioners or business managers, while in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania there have been four each. In the short period in which the Commission has conducted operations, it has been found impossible to secure continuity of service in view of the fact that so many changes have had to be made in the management of important branches. I am not referring, in any statement which I have made or am about to make, to any officer who is now in charge of a branch.
– What has necessitated these changes?
– I have in my possession a document furnished by the Department setting forth detailed reasons for the changes. Most of them occurred before I became associated with the War Service Homes Department. The history of those changes which have taken place since has been made known. In respect of whatever action I have had to take in dispensing with the services of leading officials, the facts have been made public
I do not propose to give statistical particulars of the operations of the Commission. A few months ago I appointed a consulting accountant, who is now engaged upon; and has very nearly completed, the preparation of a balance-sheet of the Commission, setting out its operations in detail; indicating, for example, the number of houses built, their cost, and particulars of all contracts which have been entered into for supplies. I do not propose to weary the Committee by going into details of the contracts, or by touching upon other statistical features. I want to say frankly at this stage, however, that the accounting system was defective. The Government have completely changed that system, and have established a new one, with a different set of books. I am unable to give the cost of the houses built by day labour. When I last addressed honorable members upon this subject, I pointed out that, aside from the political aspect of the daylabour system, it was impossible to enter into a definite contract with a soldier in advance, and to tell him what his “house would cost under that system. He was to get it at cost price; but it would be impossible to inform him, until some time after the job had been completed, exactly what it had cost. The late Commissioner, and the Government, regarded it as being essential to acquire material on contract for the building of these homes. Here, again, I have to make the frank admission that the Commissioner completely misjudged the number of houses which could be built, or in respect of which financial arrangements could’ he undertaken. The Commissioner entered into contracts far in excess of requirements, and I have had an uncongenial task in re-arranging some of them. It has been most difficult to handle contracts with the history of which I have not been familiar from the inception. The Government have endeavoured, however, to keep two aspects in mind, whether the contracts have had to be recast or terminated. The first has been the legal aspect, arising from the obligation of the Government to the contractor; and- the second has been the moral aspect, associated with the Government’s obligation to men who gave up their ordinary business connexions. -t refer to men who had been engaged in the production of small supplies, and who, in order to undertake contracts on. behalf of the Commission, practically threw over their usual clientele. Heavy losses must be faced by the Government owing to the necessity for terminating those contracts.
I desire now to put forward another phase of the operations of the Department. With no disrespect to the Public Accounts Committee, which is undertaking investigations, or to the witnesses who have come before that body, I wish to say that, had the Commission been welter- inn- and floundering after the manner indicated in some of the evidence given to the Accounts Committee, the Government would have no right to retain office. The Government take the responsibility for having re-organized the whole system in connexion with the War Service Homes Department. As a matter of deliberate policy the Government have abandoned the principle of building homes. That is to say, they are no longer master-builders through the Commission. The Government have recognised that times are returning in the direction of the normal; that supplies of building material have been becoming more freely available uponthe market; and that labour has grown more plentiful and more reasonable. The amount of industrial trouble which the Commission was called upon to face represents no small factor in the increased cost of houses. There were such difficulties as strikes, retrospective awards of the Courts, and a desire on the part of some of those engaged on the day-labour system to give the Commission less than a fair return for the wages paid them. Now, however, the Government are providing homes under the contract system. Their obligations will be limited to financing those homes and supervising the assets. This policy has necessitated very many fundamental changes which, however, the Government have not hesitated to effect. They have brought into existence what they believe to be an effective and essential organization.
With regard to the heavy stocks of material already held, and coming to hand in respect of contracts which have not yet been terminated, the Government have appointed a Central Disposals Board, with State subsidiary Boards. All material has been removed from the direct control of the Commission, and all the depots, plant, and building organization generally, have been vested in the Boards for realization. And, in the process of utilization under the contract system, and of the realization of the remainder”, the Government are endeavouring, through these Boards, to do the best they possibly can do with all the excess material. Along these lines,” very capable assistance has been rendered by experienced business men.
– In the disposal, but not in the original purchase.
– I am referring only at this moment to disposal. [Extension of time granted.’] The Central Disposals Board and subsidiary Boards comprise men of experience whose iona fides generally are unchallengable. The Central Board determines the policy of realization. No attempt is being made, in the disposal of material, either to secure unreasonable prices or to further disturb the already disturbed market. It has been recognised that those in the trade have already suffered severely; and the Government, in getting rid of the materials, have refrained from coming into the field as a serious competitor with longestablished firms. However, a well-organized method of disposal has brought about realizations, to date, of about £125,000 worth of material - all sold upon very satisfactory terms, so far as current mar7 ket values are concerned. I do not refer to cost prices. There will be heavy losses when considering the difference between the purchase price and realization price. That, however, is inescapable. Honorable members may inquire from any establishment, in any branch of business activity, and they will be informed that stocks cannot be sold to-day at the prices at which they were bought during the period which I have under review.
– What would be the percentage of loss ?
– It would be impossible for me to say what the losses will be, but the balance-sheet of the Department will disclose the whole of the business. I do not propose to give the Committee figures which, at the present moment, I am unable to support; but the Government have in Colonel Evans a most able official. This gentleman was formerly a .paymaster in the. Australian Imperial Force, and he had charge of the disposal of materials belonging to the Australian Imperial Force at the termination of hostilities. He has concentrated upon his task, with a small staff, and has already produced magnificent results and considerable savings; and, in fact, he is doing his work altogether satisfactorily.
In connexion with the whole business aspect, the Commission, and I, personally, have had the advantage of the services of General McCay, who is especially fitted for this class of investigatory work, much of it being of a legal character. This gentleman has given devoted and absolutely concentrated attention to a very difficult job; he has not spared himself night or day. The Government are now surrounded by experienced business men, both in respect of contracts, of disposals, and of re-organization.
– Can the Minister indicate the approximate value of the stock to be disposed of?
– It would probably be in the neighbourhood of three-quarters of a million sterling. The method of disposal, I emphasize, is a carefully organized one. The Disposals Board is cognisant of existing trade organizations. Upon the subsidiary Boards are men of the calibre of Mr.John Harrison, of Sydney, who knows all that is to be known about building and about the commercial side of the provision of homes for soldiers; and of Mr. William Fletcher, of Perth. I refer to men of ripe experience, who have given their services freely and willingly in an endeavour to put the business side of War Service Homes activities upon a satisfactory footing. In regard to general building operations - those we are carrying on to-day, namely, the financing of homes and the preparation of plans, specifications, contracts, and conditions - the Commission has completely altered its system, and adopted a simplified method more suitable to small units such as soldiers’ homes; but it is confronted with the greatest difficulty in endeavouring to have a home built for the soldier under the statutory limit of £800. The cost of building has not come down ; on the contrary, it has gone up.
– I can show the Minister instances in which houses which would have cost £1,500 to build a year ago, can be built to-day for £1,250.
– The honorable member, of course, will not attempt to pit his knowledge of the building world against that of experts who have supplied the Commission with figures, and are prepared to stand by them.
– But I have recently been building.
– The actual test is that you can get the work done at a lower price to-day.
– I may modify my statement by saying that the cost of building has not come down in proportion to the general decline in other departments of life. It is to-day very costly to under take any building. For example, we cannot build a brick house of the standard set by the War Service Homes Commission for the statutory limit of £800. We cannot get contractors to build houses at that price.
– That is because of the bad name the Department has got.
– Exactly the same position confronts the well-organized system of the Victorian State Savings Bank. It is unable to build in brick today, and is not attempting to do so. A minimum brick house, conforming to the standard set by the War Service Homes Commission, would cost, including land, all services, and all equipment, at least £890, without leaving any profit to the contractor. The figures have been carefully checked. They are based on schedule quantities and at current rates.
– What allowance is made for the land ?
– The allowance is £75. In the metropolitan area of Melbourne to-day land cannot be got in a decent position at under £3 per foot. I mention these facts because it is unfair to leave the soldiers or the community under the impression that homes can be built at cheap rates. However, we are having trial contracts under two systems. In the first case, in order not to encumber the contractor by loading the contract with supplies, we are calling for tenders where the contractor will supply everything except the land. In the second place we are calling for tenders where we provide the land and the building material at schedule prices at prime cost, that is to say, at current market values. The Joint Committee of Public Accounts will know from the examinations they have made that it is practically impossible to build a standard house within the statutory limit.The following are the details of minimum standard brick and minimum standard timber . homes, with the estimated costs of construction : -
Walls, 10 feet high.
Four (4)rooms as under, with provision for economical future extension : -
Living room, 14 feet x 12 feet.
Best bedroom, 14 feet x 12 feet.
Second bedroom, 10 feet x 10 feet.
Kitchen or breakfast-room, 10 feet x 10 feet.
Cooking recess, 7 feet x 6 feet. Laundry, 7 feet x 5 feet.
Bathroom, 7 ft. 6 in. x 5 ft. 6 in.
Verandah (roofed), 10 feet x 7 feet.
Fireplaces provided to living room and cooking recess.
Terra-cotta tile roofs.
Walls - Rough-canted and brick face.
Woodwork - Painted three coats.
Jarrah floors to verandahs.
Open brick fireplaces with tiled hearths.
Floors- H.W. or Baltic.
Walls - Plastered, cement dado to bathroom and cooking recess.
Ceilings - Fibrous plaster.
Joinery - Doors, sashes, skirting, mantels, &c, red pine; plain treatment, obviating dust.
All woodwork oiled and stained.
Fittings provided -
Larder to kitchen.
Enamelled iron sink.
Drainer and table for preparation of food.
Bath and shower.
Concrete wash troughs.
Portable fire copper.
Type “ A “ -
Walls, 10 feet high.
Five (5) rooms, as under -
Living room, 14 feet x 12 feet.
Bedroom No. 1, 14 feet x 12 feet.
Bedroom No. 2, 10 feet x 10 feet.
Bedroom No. 3, or breakfast-room, 10 feet x 10 feet.
Kitchen, 10 feet x 10 feet.
Bathroom, 7 feet x 5 ft. 6 in.
Entry hall, 6 feet x 6 feet.
Laundry, 7 feet x 6 feet.
Verandah (roofed), 10 feet x 6 feet.
Fireplaces provided to living room and kitchen.
Sewerage generally costs £45.
Electric light generally costs £14.
Erected on jarrah or redgum stumps.
Walls - H.W. weatherboards, stained and oiled.
Woodwork - Painted three (3) coats.
Brickwork - Bough-cast or brick face. Interior -
Fireplaces - Open brick, tiled hearth.
Floors- H.W. or Baltic.
Walls - Lath and plaster.
Ceilings - Fibrous plaster.
Joinery -and fittings - As indicated for brick types.
Services Provided to Brick and Timber Houses.
To all fittings laid on from Metropolitan Board main if within 200 feet of property.
Failing provision of main, tanks are provided, and the service run to all points.
House connected to sewer if available.
If not, traps and wastes are provided in accord with the Board’s regulations, reducing later cost to applicant of connecting sewer to a minimum. Rain-water drains -
Provided in all cases.
Electric light -
If available, provided in all cases.
A light in each room, with point for radiator in bedroom.
If main is not available, house is wired ready for future connexion.
Whole allotment is fenced.
Picket to front, paling elsewhere.
I ask honorable members to peruse the evidence recently given before a Housing Commission which sat to examine the minimum requirements of a modern family. After hearing very lengthy evidence from those who required homes, and from the most experienced builders and architects, the presiding Judge considered that the modern home should provide for five rooms. As will be seen from the table I have just quoted, the lowest price at which a minimum standard timber home can be built is £780, without leaving any margin of profit for the contractor. The prices given are based on today’s figures; but I may say there is a disposition on the part of the trade, pressed as it is with financial obligations, to arrange special terms. The associations that exist among trading people are being very severely tested by financial considerations which are pressing heavily on them individually, and it is possible in trading circles to get material in large quantities under list prices showing that there is a tendency for prices to ease.
Therefore, I am hopeful that building costs will come down.
The Government feel that it would be in the best interests of the soldiers if the officers of the Commission who are to carry on the present administration should be relieved of the task of adjusting all the difficulties that have arisen out of the past administration, and all the disputes that exist in respect to individual homes. It has, therefore, set up an Adjustment Board in each State, Each Board will have an independent chairman, who will * have associated with him the Deputy Commissioner in each State to watch the interests of the Commission, and one person chosen from a panel submitted by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League in each State, to represent their interests. These panels have been furnished so far in all States with the exception of one. The Adjustment Boards will have specifically remitted to them matters they will be asked to adjust as quickly as possible, I said at the outset of my remarks that the aim and object of the Commission, as recorded in the Act passed by this House, were to provide the soldier with a house at cost price. The Government stand by the terms of the Act, and intend to fulfil the promise given in the measure; but the manner pf the fulfilment of that promise is one of the matters to be specifically referred to these Boards. If a. house has been built on a definite application by the soldier, on an estimate given to him at the time, and in respect to which he signed, as is the custom, an agreement to pay the completed cost, where the completed cost is in excess of the statutory limit, the excess will not be charged. On the other hand, houses built in groups, not on definite applications by soldiers but for stock, that is to say, to be allotted on completion, seeing that no contract was entered into in respect to them with individual soldiers, will not necessarily be sold at the statutory limit. I “have specifically “referred to the Adjustment Boards matters relating to excess costs under four different headings. There are cases where homes have been sold to soldiers at a price in excess of their actual cost.
– “Were those homes actually built by the Commission?
– Yes. It was the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) who first made reference to cases of this description that had come under his notice in “Western Australia, probably as the result of the investigation he was making as a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts; and it was the first intimation I had had that houses had been sold to soldiers at a price in excess of the cost. I immediately called for a return to ascertain if such a condition of affairs existed in any other State. This is one of the matters I have referred to the Adjustment Boards, with a direction as to the Government’s policy in regard to it. An Adjustment Board will not have a roving commission. It is simply a body to which specific matters will be referred, accompanied by Ministerial directions. This machinery has been provided so that justice may be done to the soldiers, and so that the continual pin-pricks, which are the result of complaints submitted to honorable members, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, and the press, may be remedied if they are genuine or based upon equitable grounds. All these matters are specifically dealt with in references, and are accompanied by directions embodying the policy of tha Government in respect to them, so that no mistake can be made. These Adjustment Boards commenced their operations yesterday - 1st December. In Victoria, we have been fortunate enough to secure as chairman, of the Board Councillor F. Stapley, who stands well at the head of his profession, and has had a long experience, I am sure that he is a man from wham the soldiers can expect justice and fair play. These Boards will, I hope, relieve honorable members in the future of many of the individual complaints they have had from soldiers, and will enable the Commission, and the deputies and managers, to get along with the business of present-day administration on sound business lines, without having to deal constantly with complaints - many of them, no doubt, are well founded, but others are not - that now take up so much of their time.
– -Is the decision of the Board final?
– No ; the Board’s decision is final in respect of matters specifically referred to it with a direction to settle, but, in respect of certain others, they will be asked to make recommendations. Honorable members will see that it would be impossible to invest the Boards with powers that might exceed those conferred on the Government and the Commission by the Act.
– Who is the Chairman of the New .South Wales Board?
- Mr. John Stinson has kindly consented to act for the Government in New South Wales in an honorary capacity.
– Who are the Chairmen in the other States?
– I shall publish the names as appointments are made. I wish to make it definitely clear that neither the Disposals Board nor the Adjustment Board will have anything to do with the present-day programme being carried out by the Department.
– Do you imply that the Department is still itself going to build houses?
– I have made it clear, not only to-day, but on previous occasions, that the Department is not building any houses.
– Is the Department completing the houses in course of erection ?
– The Department is completing the unfinished houses.
– Does that apply also to the group system?
– Even if houses have not been started?
– There are very few; all the day-labour work is nearly finished. I may mention .that complaints have reached me, through honorable members and in oth/ ways, that the Government i3 not dealing sufficiently quickly with the construction of new homes, and the complaint, in some respects, is fairly well founded.
– Especially in the country districts 1
– Nothing is being done in the country!
– That, I think, is an unfair statement. In order that there may be no complaints by soldiers of preferential treatment or discrimination, instructions have been given to the Deputy Commissioners to prepare two priority lists, one for country construction, and another for metropolitan construction. The reason for this is that we do not desire country applicants, who are out numbered by city applicants, to be compelled to wait until earlier metropolitan applications are dealt with.
– How is the money to be apportioned ?
– I have already announced in the House that the Government has allotted funds to the various States on an enlistment basis; that is to say, each State, according to the enlistments in that State, will get its allotted proportion of the funds provided by Parliament. That condition has not hitherto applied, and the Government is taking steps to bring all the States into line on an enlistment’ basis. The allocation of funds, as between country and metropolitan construction, will be according to the number of applications received under both heads.
– Without regard to the time of the application?
– Yes. I have asked the Adjustment Board, as one of its definite functions, in order to prevent favoritism or discrimination on the part of any officers of the Department, to itself revise the priority lists, which, after that revision, will be accepted as the lists of the Department. That disposes, I think, of any possibility of favoritism or discrimination. I have also asked the Board, in dealing .with questions, of priority, to pay special regard to the circumstances of permanently incapacitated soldiers - blind and maimed soldiers - and of widows and children, so that special provision may be made for such cases.
– What about the excess cost of new homes?
– I, personally, regard the sale of a house, or the building of a house, in excess of the statutory limit as a breach of the terms of the Act. Immediately I discovered the first case I gave a direction to the Commissioner that no house was to be built in excess of the statutory limit; and the Commissioner’s clear duty, when he discovers that the cost is being exceeded, is to immediately inform the Minister, and either get further provision or stop the building.
– That does not apply to applicants who are willing to pay the additional cost?
– The honorable member is right; the Department is always willing to meet an applicant who is prepared to contribute any excess cost, and requires accommodation that cannot be provided within the statutory price. As to the question asked just now by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), I may say that all future building will rest on contract, and no contract will be let at a price in excess of the statutory limit.
– There will be no more brick buildings?
– That is so; until costs come down. A similar position faces the State Savings Bank of Victoria, which mt present is building only wooden houses. It will be seen, I think, that at present, and in the future, excess costs cannot be incurred; a contract will be let only on such terms as to insure that the complete cost, including house, land, services and fencing, will, in the aggregate, be no more than £800. I am informed by the chief architect that it is impossible at this stage to give soldiers the benefit of roads and streets.
I En-tension of time, granted.] I again desire to frankly state” that the Commission’s operations to-day axe hampered by commitments taken over. I wish honorable members, and the soldiers themselves, to understand that, while there has been provided this year a sum of £4,000,000 for War Service Homes, that amount is not all actually available this year ; to put it more clearly, the commitments of the past have first to be paid out of that sum.
– What is the reason for the reduction in the vote?
– I have just given the reason. Parliament provided £4,000,000
– At the instigation of the Minister. Why does the Minister ask for a reduction?
– The £4,000,000 was not the original requisition.
– The Assistant Minister did request further money; but the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), who had to be the judge, conferred with the advisers of the Commonwealth and leading financiers of the country, and was told that a loan for repatriation purposes in excess of £10,000,000 was not likely to meet with success. That advice was sound, as proved by the fact that the whole of the money was not subscribed. Of course, the loan was not floated at par, and, therefore. the full amount was not available ; but the Government have made available this year for the Department the’ sum of £4,000,000.
– What are the commitments referred to?
– The Government have suspended work.
– The Government have not suspended work, but the Assistant Minister has refused to be drawn into the. financial bog in which the Commission was previously, and the commitments of the past administration have first to be met. No individual member can possibly be seized of the magnitude of these commitments. Contracts of a colossal character have been entered into, and, as I previously mentioned, our business adviser is hard at work, devoting the whole of his time and energy to an endeavour to arrange for the termination of some of those contracts, and for the variation of others. Until that work is completed it is impossible to say exactly what these commitments are. I desire honorable members to understand that I wish to hide nothing.
– Tell us approximately what the commitments are.
– I shall directly; let me first state the facts, and then give the figures.
– Give us approximate figures.
– Approximately the Commission has had £16,316,000. which sum covers past expenditure, and includes the provision of £4,000,000 for this year. To the- Central Administration has been allocated £769,272, which, after consultation with the business adviser and the consulting accountant, it is deemed wise, and prudent, to reserve for these commitments. There has been allocated to New South Wales, £1,258,398; Victoria, £670,797; Queensland, £183,330; South Australia, £990,815; Western Australia, £109,720. and Tasmania, £17,668. These figures bring all States into line on an enlistment basis; prior allocations were not made on that basis, which we consider the most fair and equitable
– What is the total sum ?
– £4,000,000, from which is deducted only the sum of £769,272, which Ave consider necessary to hold as a reserve in order that the Commission may avoid getting into the wretched financial position into which it had drifted before - practically ‘ at the time when it fell to my lot to become locum tenens for the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) - of having practically exhausted its vote by commitments for the year when only naif the year had expired. It has not been a pleasant task to carry on the operations of the Commission after the funds had been exhausted by what I regard as the woeful miscalculation on the part of the Commissioner as to the funds that were available, the programme he could carry out, and the commitments he had entered into for its execution.
– Can the Committee understand that of the vote of £4,000,000 proposed for this year about £3,250,000 will be available for new work?
– I regret to have to say that that is not so. A large building programme was in hand when the last financial year closed. Honorable members will recollect that I appealed to the Treasurer for further funds to- enable me to carry on and to pay the debts that were urgent and pressing. In October or November of last year, I think, the Commissioner had approached me for a further sum of £5,500,000 for capital and £80,000 for administration expenses. I told him that Parliament had provided him with only £6,000,000 for the . whole financial year, and £200,000 for administration expenses, and I declined to send a requisition to the Treasurer foi” a further five and a half million pounds. The Treasurer had, at that time, notified that he would not authorize the flotation of any further loans during the year, and I could not ask him to make available the additional amount for which the Commissioner asked. .But I requested him to permit us to use during the financial year the repayments by soldiers, amounting to approximately £800,000.
– That is pretty serious, is it not?
– It is serious unless the Minister tells the Committee all about it.
– There is statutory authority for that course; the Act specifically empowers the Treasurer to do this. He came to our aid in that way; otherwise I would have been confronted with the position that the Commission had creditors whom it could not pay. I decline to permit a repetition of that condition of affairs this year, and after consultation with the business adviser and the consulting accountant, we have decided to hold in reserve a sum sufficient to meet commitments on contracts. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) asked me whether the balance, after deducting that £769,272, would be available for the building programme this year. It will not. At the end of last financial year hundreds of houses were in course of construction. Those are commitments that must be completed out of the funds for this financial year,- and the payments in respect of them will not provide new homes.
– Are they not included in the amount of £769,272?
– Why will not the building of these houses provide- new homes ?
– lt will provide new homes, but the money thus absorbed will not be available to meet successful new applications for homes during the current financial year. To, the end of October, that being the latest month for which figures are available, New South Wales had received its full pro rata quota of £514,100; Victoria had received £250,000; Queensland, £65,000; South Australia, £237,000; Western Australia, £63,500; and Tasmania, £25,000. I am taking the definite personal responsibility for the allocation of this money, after consultation with the consulting accountant, because the Government have determined that the financial position of this Commission shall not be allowed to drift again. Only as funds are available, having been properly rationed out to the States each month, can the building programme be proceeded with. We cannot do more construction than Parliament makes provision for, and we shall not enter into commitments in excess of such provision. Therefore, these payments will be rationed out to the States on a monthly basis. Each State will be asked to send in its requisitions under different headings, and will be told the amount , which is available each month for expenditure.
– That means that in New South Wales no more applications can be granted.
– It does not mean anything of the kind. I mentioned clearly thatNew South Wales was allotted £1,258,398, and had already received on a monthly quota basis £514,000. The balance will be paid in monthly quotas, and I decline to give New South Wales the whole amount in a lump sum. We shall not depart from the fair and safe principle we have adopted of rationing these funds to the States each month.
– Was the £800,000 worth of soldiers’ repayments treated as a temporary advance to be repaid out of this year’s vote?
– No. The Treasurer is allowed, by the Act, to apply the repayments to building purposes, and that amount has gone into last year’s transactions.
– It was additional upon the amount voted by Parliament.
-Yes; but it was expended last year. I have already explained that the Treasurer gave us relief in that way at a time when the Commissioner had exhausted the funds provided by Parliament. That £800,000 has not to be repaid out of the vote of £4,000,000 for this year.
– Can the Minister tell us how much of the £4,000,000 represents commitments, and how much is available for building purposes?
-I have endeavoured to get those figures, but I regret to say that the consulting accountant has not been able to get them definitely, and I do not wish to hazard a guess. I assure the honorable member that all possible precautions have been taken to arrive at figures that can be definitely accepted and approved.
Whilst the Commonwealth acknowledges and will not shirk its continued obligation to provide homes for the soldiers, it is not over anxious to maintain a building organization of its own. We do not desire to incur the expense of controlling and directing building operations throughout the Commonwealth. We have given this matter careful consideration, and we have no wish that this Commission shall continue to compete with already well-tried State governmental building organizations. We have therefore entered into arrangements, firstly, with the State of South Australia, which, on its own account, did very commendable work in providing homes for soldiers. It had already a building organization in existence, and during the war added a soldier wing to it. In order to prevent competition by a Federal organization for the same land, the same! building material,and the limited labour available, and in order to avoid the maintenance of an extra staff, we have made arrangements with the South Australian Government by which it has already built, bought, or started the construction of 1,502 houses at an average cost, includingtheland, of £645 10s. l1d. Through, that arrangement the whole of the work has been carried out without any expense to the Commonwealth, and we have been saved the entire cost of maintaining a Federal staff in that State. We have also made an arrangement with the State of Western Australia, by which the whole of the future construction work in that State will be carried out, the assets of the homes inspected and protected, the books kept, and the whole work of the Commission done by the State authorities at a cost to the Commonwealth of 15s. per cent. That will mean the saving of many thousands of pounds per annum, even on the present programme.
– The arrangement has been made with the Workers Homes Board ?
– The arrangement has been made with the State Government, but the instrumentality that will operate it is the Workers Homes Board.
– Day labour is the policy of that Board; does the Minister propose to interfere with that? .
– Day labour is not the policy of the Workers Homes Board, and the Commonwealth will not adopt that policy, for we cannot, under the daylabour system, enter into an agreement in advance to give the soldier a. home at a definite price.
– Not when the work is bungled, as it has been in the past. The Minister ought not to throw the odium for what has happened on to the daylabour system.
– I am not seeking to introduce political principles into this discussion.
– The reason why the Department was not able to say what the price of a house would be was that there had been bungling.
– I admit that there has been bungling.
– We do not always know what a house will cost under the contract system, and in some instances we have had to pay excess prices to contractors.
Mr.RODGERS- The soldier can select a house tobe built at a fixed price under the contract system. Under the day-labour system he cannot be told in advance the definite price of his house. That is why, in all the arrangements we are making with the State Governments, the Commonwealth has insisted upon the contract principle. We are also in negotiation with the Governments of other States for the carrying on of future building operations, and we hope that success will result. The effect of this rearrangement will be to vastly reduce the cost to the taxpayers and the soldiers of the homes to be provided in future. I do not know that there are any other features of the building operations with which I need deal at this stage.
There are some matters that are the subject of current criticism, and upon these the War Service Homes Commission has been judged. The main consideration which should weigh with honorable members, when criticising the War Service Homes Commission, should not be whether Mr. Caldwell had, or had not, something which he should have been allowed to sell to the Government, and that it is thought the Government should have bought. The operations of the War Service Homes Commission should not be judged on such a statement. All I wish to say about the matter ‘ in passing is that the Minister himself will make his own explanation of the Caldwell episode. I had something to do with the Vanikoro Island timber question, subsequently to the occurrences complained of in the press, with which my honorable colleague was connected. Had the negotiations between Caldwell and the Government been completed on the terms placed before us, Caldwell could not have obtained the rights he sought, because they had been bespoken years before by another firm which had lodged its application with the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific.
– What firm?
– The firm of Fairley, Rigby and Company. That firm had prior rights, of which this Government was advised by correspondence between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Secretary of State for the Colonies. We, therefore, ceased the negotiations in respect of this timber. Caldwell cannot be regarded as a wronged man, because of this prior application and recognition of rights by the British Government.
– How long ago was the prior application made?
– I shall read a letter on the subject from the High Commissioner of the Western Pacific.
– Was the Resident Commissioner who recommended the granting of Caldwell’s application aware of the prior claim?
– It had, apparently, been overlooked for the time.
– The Resident Commissioner warned Caldwell that there were difficulties in the way of his application.
– This isthe letter to which I refer-
Office of the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific,
Suva. Fiji, 16th December, 1920.
With reference to my telegram of 2nd October, sent from Tulagi, and to previous correspondence respecting the lease of the island of Vanikoro and Tevai for the purpose of obtaining a timber supply, I have the honour to enclose a copy of a letter addressed to me by the San Cristoval Estates Ltd.
I have the honour , &c, (Sgd.) C. H. Rodwell,
An opportunity was afforded to Mr. Fairley to state his case. I obtained from him a full statement of the facts. The Government was consulted, and appropriate action was taken.
– Did Fairley say that he had no claim?
– No. He sustained his claim. The matter passed away from me when the Government decided on the evidence before it that Fairley’s firm had an equitable and fair claim by reason of an application lodged seven years ago.
I wish now to refer briefly to the timber purchases in Victoria and Queensland. They were the subject of investigation by the Public Accounts Committee, which inquired into them exhaustively, and visited the areas concerned, finally reporting that, having regard to the abnormal conditions existing at the time, the purchase was in the circumstances justified. A good deal of press criticism has been published, in this State concerning the terms of the Drives: contract. I do not propose to go fully into the matter to-day; indeed I shall deal with only one aspect of it. I say definitely that both in the original and in the reconstructed contract the terms provide for a 10 per cent. reduction on current prices, and that those current prices are, and have been adopted, both by the Commission and by Mr. Driver, as the wholesale sawmillers’ prices, not the prices of the Timber Merchants Association; that is, the Government or Commission gets its timber on a wholesale, not on a retail, basis. I refer,in Mr. Driver’s case, to what was known as the Nott contract.
In Queensland the position is unsatisfactory. I make no comment of any kind on the purchase there - that is not within my province - I am speaking of the unsatisfactory condition of the millins; industry generally, which affects the War Service Homes Commission as it does every one else. I regret that the position is unsatisfactory in this respect, because I recognise the communal interests of such places as Beaudesert, Canungra, and Killarney, and it would give the Government the greatest pleasure to beable to start the mills, and revivify the districts that live on them. We know well how closely the small villages that I have mentioned are connected with the timber industry, and that families who live in them have been associated with the industry for a lifetime. But the Commission and the Government are confronted with this state of affairs. We hold very large stocks of sawn timber in our depots and at mills in Queensland, and if we recommenced milling operations until we had substantially reduced those stocks, we should increase our present troubles, and depress thetimber market of theState, accentuating the present difficulties. [Extension of time granted.]
It is the desire of the Government to get clear, as soon as possible, of the business part of the War Service Homes scheme, but we wish to get clear of it without making wilful losses, and without sacrificing the interests of the taxpayers or of the soldiers. Recently the business adviser of the Government in this matter, Major-General McCay, accompanied by a very experienced , miller, visited Queensland and the timber areas there, saw the residents, went fully into the matter, making a most careful and exhaustive investigation, and, finally, recommended the Government not to resume milling operations. The Government has given most careful consideration to the formation of a policy regarding the mills, but I am unable to announce to-day what that policy will be. Tenders were invited by the Commission, and certain offers in respect of portions of the timber areas have been accepted, but the Government desires to deal, if possible, with thebusiness as a whole.
– Was not an offer made to purchase Lahey’s proposition as a whole.
– Yes, but it was not regarded as acceptable, and I venture to say that the honorable member, when it has been analyzed, will not advise the accepting of it.
Dr.Earle Page. - In a year’s time, you will get a worse offer.
Mr.RODGERS. - Our business adviser was able to make an arrangement with Laheys Limited, under which the time during which business operations were being suspended will not be deducted from the period during which the Commission is allowed to move timiber from these areas. He made an excellent ar- rangement for the Government, because, in addition to this concession regarding the period during’ which milling operations would cease, he obtained a further concession of twelve months for the removal of the timber. I regret that. I am unable to state clearly and definitely now a policy regarding these milling areas. They were bought at a time when the Commission believed the timber to bo required. In addition to these areas in Queensland, we have a running contract with the Yarraman Mills for 6,000,000 feet a year. 0
The selling organization over which General MoCay presides has made some excellent sales of Queensland pine timber. The realization of the Yarraman timber on such sales as have been made shows a substantial profit. It is, however, impossible for me at this stage to define clearly the policy under which these areas will be dealt with in the future, or to state what the loss in regard to them will be. The purchase was, in the opinion of the Government, justified at the time it was made, and the investigation of the Accounts Committee’ justified it. The Government, however, has a most difficult task in dealing with these areas, a far more difficult one than those who criticise the administration can conceive. The arrangement under the circumstances prevailing when it was made seemed a good one, and it is too early yet to say that it was not. At this stage no one could prove whether it was or was not. That will depend upon two things, first of all, the quantity of timber that will ultimately be obtained, and secondly, the price that will be secured for the timber. We can only say that the area comprises what is probably the best timber of its class in the whole of the Commonwealth.
– Can the- Minister say what would have been the loss had Lahey’s offer been accepted?
– I am. not prepared at the moment to make an analysis.
.- Realizing that there is a general desire that the Estimates shall be passed to-day, I do not propose to speak at length, more especially as my views with regard to the administration of the War Service Homes Commission have already been placed fully before the Committee. I propose on this occasion only to traverse some of the statements made by the Assistant Minis ter for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers). The honorable gentleman frankly admitted that the administration of the War Service Homes Commission had been a bungle from first to last.
– I made no such statement.
– So that we at ona differ.
– The honorable member is malting an improper use of a candid statement.
– I accept the honorable gentleman’s denial; but, in my opinion, there has never been associated with any Department greater maladministration than has occurred in connexion with the War Service Homes Commission. The Minister has tried to gloss over the actual facts, and to make it appear that the Government have little responsibility in the matter. He has told us that the Act provided for the appointment of a Commissioner, who should in turn appoint Deputy Commissioners, and that it conferred very wide powers on the Commissioner. He also said that as a matter of policy these positions were confined to returned soldiers. I point out that no such restriction was imposed by the Act. That condition was imposed as a matter of Government policy, and the Government itself must accept the responsibility for the acts of those whom it appoints to public positions. Lieutenant-Colonel Walker was appointed Commissioner of War Service Homes, and according to his own statements, as published in the press, and embodied in circulars addressed to honorable members, he was informed by the Government that he would be expected to carry out the scheme with” the utmost expedition. He was advised nhat a very large number of returned soldiers desired to acquire homes, ana waa told that houses should be built as quicKly as possible. He was instructed to make the most complete preparations for the expeditious carrying out of the work. Having received these instructions, and, perhaps, being unacquainted with parliamentary procedure, and unaccustomed to the control of so large a Department, he took it for granted that he was to go straight ahead. He laid out his plans accordingly, and commenced by asking the Government for a vote of £10,000,000 to enable him to carry out his programme. That fact has not been mentioned by the Minister. The request for £10, C00, 000 was refused by the Treasurer. The Commissioner was provided with a vote of £7,000,000, and was given the right to use for the purposes of his building programme the moneys coming in during the year by way of repayments on homes acquired, which, it was estimated, would amount to £800,000.
– That is not so. He had no promise of £800,000 at that time. Practically no repayments were then being made.
– Then the honorable gentleman says that the Commissioner’s vote was cut down to £7,000,000 ?
– I allow the honorable member to make his own statement.
– The honorable gentleman missed that point. I am putting the facts as I know them. The amount placed at the disposal of the Com-‘ missioner at the time was £7,800,000.
– It was not.
– Then, shall we say that it was £7,000,000 ?
– It was not.
– Was it £6,000,000 ?
– Yes, and the honorable member joined with the rest of the Committee in passing that amount.
– Very well. The Minister’s statement that the amount placed at the disposal of the Commissioner at the time was only £6,000,000 serves to strengthen my case. The accounts of the Commission had to be certified, and to pass through the Treasury. When the Minister found that in the first four months of the financial year the Commissioner had expended the whole of that £6,000,000, which was designed to carry him over the whole year, why did he not take action? Is there no responsibility on the part of the Government?
– The Minister for Repatriation cannot attend here to answer for himself, but his reply to the honorable member’s question would probably be that he permitted these heavy outgoings in the early part of the year on the promise of the Commissioner that the expenditure for the rest of the financial year would be considerably less.
– The fact remains that by October of that year the whole vote had practically been exhausted.
– It was not exhausted.
– In the month of November there was practically a cessation of operations.
– On 6th December T gave a direction in regard to the purchase of already erected houses.
– In November many people in New South Wales and also in other States who had entered into contracts with the War Service Homes Commission for the sale of already erected houses found it impossible to obtain payment. The Minister will recollect that there was a large number of such cases. When these complaints were brought before the House we were told that there was no money available for the payment of these people - that the vote had been exhausted. A deputation subsequently waited on the ex-Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), and put the position to him, with the result that he promised to carefully consider it. In January or February of the following year he placed the matter before the Cabinet, and made available an additional £1,000,000. Is that not so?
– Since the honorable member puts that question to me, I shall say that his statement is not correct. It was I, not the ex-Treasurer, who promised the additional £1,000,000.
– So that the honorable gentleman admits, after all, that my statement as to £7,000,000 being placed at the disposal of the Commissioner was correct. He says that an additional £1,000,000 was promised, not by the Treasurer, but by himself. All this goes to show that the facts are as I have contended. The Minister cannot cover them up. He might as well make a frank statement.
– There is not enough earth to keep down the smell.
– Quite so. In the first four months of the financial year the vote of £6,000,000, which was designed to cover the purposes of the Commission for the whole of the financial year, was expended. Surely it was the duty of those who control the public purse to draw the attention of the Commissioner at that time to the fact that he was spending his vote more rapidly than he should. If that was not done, he would naturally form the impression that he was still to go ahead, and that money would be found for him as required. He would assume that if , for instance, he could build, within the year, so many thousand homes, and that they would cost, say, £10,000,000, the Government, in view of its request to him to expedite the carrying out of the scheme, would make available the additional amount. That is where the trouble occurred. I am not going to say that the job was not too big for the Commissioner. Whatever might have been his impression as to the authority conferred upon him, there was certainly an obligation on the part of the Government to draw his attention to the rapid way in which he was exhausting the funds placed at his disposal. As I have said, his accounts had to pass through the Treasury, and he should have been told that no more money would be available for his work during the financial year. The Government cannot escape their responsibility in this matter.
Then, again, we find the Assistant Minister putting up another smoke screen. He says that the day-labour system is responsible for the delay in advising the soldiers of the cost of their homes. A bald statement of ‘that kind would lead one to believe that the day-labour system was responsible for the fact that returned men who have been in occupation of War Service Homes from twelve to eighteen months are yet unable to ascertain what they have to pay for them. The soldiers will think that the day-labour system is responsible for the trouble.
– I did not make that statement.
– The honorable gentleman made it, not once, but on three different occasions, and on the third occasion I interjected.
– I said that we had adopted the contract system in preference to the day-labour system in order that a soldier might know at once what his home was going to cost.
– The honorable gentleman said that the Commission was unable to state the cost of houses built by day labour. The only inference to be drawn from his statement was that this was due to some fault in the day-labour system. As a matter of fact, men who for nearly two years have been living in War Service Homes built by day labour, have not been advised as to what they have to pay for them. Will any one say that the fault rests with the day-labour system ? When a job has been completed, tie cost, under any proper business system, should be known within a rea sonable time. For what purpose are the officers of the Commission employed? Is it not expected of them that they shall have a proper costing system, so that thf cost of building a home may be readily determined? The trouble in this regard is due, not to the day-labour system, but to the absolute lack of system shown in connexion with the building of the group houses on which day labour was chiefly employed. The Commission did not give the men a constant supply of materials. If honorable members were employing men on day labour, would they expect them to put on their coats and go home if the material for their use was not available as required ? These men have wives and families to support, and those respon”sible for the carrying out of the building of group houses should have seen that there was a regular supply of building material. As it was, in many cases, great delay occurred. The men on the job had to be paid, and the soldiers suffered bocause of these delays.
– Is that not a reason why we should adopt the contract system?
– There have been many failures in connexion with the contract system.
– But very little money has been lost by the contract system.
– A. great deal has been lost in connexion with contracts that had to be determined.
– Yes. The fault rests not with the day-labour system, but with the administration of the service. The Minister should have admitted frankly that the Commission has never been on a proper footing. The whole thing has been bungled from beginning to end.
– Even in connexion with the purchase of land.
– Yes. Large areas were purchased in every State.
– And in many cases unsuitable areas.
– Quite so. I doubt if the Commission will ever be able to use all the land that has been acquired.
– The land available will not provide for the building of more than 1,000 homes.
– In many cases, unduly high prices have been paid. There was no attempt to get a true valuation.
Instead of obtaining from the mayor of the town, the president of the shire, or the town clerk or shire engineer, as the case might be, information as to land values, the departmental officers went to land speculators, and in numerous cases purchased, at very high prices, low-lying, unhealthy land quite unsuitable for War Service Homes.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I call attention to the state of the Committee. [Quorum formed.]
– The Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has enunciated a new policy. He announced this morning that the Government will endeavour to build homes by contract, the Commission to find the material where desired. The implication1 is that, if conditions are acceptable to the Commission some contractors will be permitted to find their own supplies, while others will be carrying on with materials furnished direct by the Commission.
– The intention is to give the system a trial.
– The method of permitting certain contractors to furnish their own materials is almost sure to bring about certain results. There will be “ nothing doing,” so far as concerns the timber mills controlled by the Government. Those forest areas, and the mills therein, will have to be closed. On the other hand, if the Commissioner is to find the material for contractors, the mills will be utilized. Now, seeing that the Government have purchased the timber areas, I hold that they will not be justified in launching the new venture, the effect of which must be to put a stop to activities at the Government “mills. The Minister has stated that, on account of the cessation of operations during the past few months, there are large quantities of timber on hand in the forest areas. A Disposals Board has been appointed. It is to be given authority to sell surplus stock, upon which, the Minister has admitted, there must be heavy losses.
– To realize, subject te the utilization requirements of the Commission.
– Those, however, in the event of the success of the system by which contractors are to furnish their own supplies, will be infinitesimal. There will be no need to keep the forest areas going.
I can see further bungling ahead. Considerable public money has been spent on the areas; large contracts have been entered into. The Driver contract is a very considerable one. The Commission is required to pay Mr. Driver at the rate of 10 per cent, less than market values f or the timber which he supplies, and a certain sum is to be deducted per 100 super, feet in order to repay to the Commonwealth the amount spent in purchasing the forest areas on which Mr. Driver is working. What is to become of those properties; and where does Mr. Driver stand ? He has his contract. If the Commission takes no more timber from him is it not likely that litigation will be precipitated? Is it not probable that the Commonwealth authorities will be faced with considerable costs? If Mr. Driver went to law he would probably find that he had a good case.
– Could not the question of supply from that source be made one of the conditions of permitting contractors to furnish their own materials?
– The point is that no such suggestion has been made. More than sufficient blunders have occurred in the past.
– Every phase has been considered over and over again. There has been no blunder here.
– I say that there is imminent danger of another blunder. It is not my intention - and I am sure that it is not that of the party which I have the honour at present to lead - to accept any more responsibility for further bungling in respect of War Service Homes. The Government must take the responsibility.
– Hear, hear!
– The Government can no longer shelter themselves behind the day-labour system, behind the late Commissioner, behind incapable minor officials. The Minister mentioned this morning that the stocks in hand which will be turned over to the Disposals Board are worth about £750,000. The Board is to get rid of that value of material.
– By the joint process of utilization and realization, keeping always in mind the requirements of the Commission.
– The Board will realize by selling the stocks. Are there agents going about New South Wales to-day, offering those Government supplies from 22s. per 100 super feet?
– No; no broker has yet been appointed.
– I did not refer to a broker. I say that there are certain persons travelling about New South Wales seeking orders, offering Commonwealth stocks of timber at 22s. per 100 super feet - timber which cost more than 30s. per 100 super feet.
– The honorable member used the word “ agents.” I say that no agent has been appointed.
– Does the Minister deny that the timber is being offered in that State? The Minister will not deny it.
– There is a subsidiary Disposals Board in New South Wales. The honorable member will not expect me to retain the whole of the details concerning every item of business in my mind.
– That is just the trouble. What does the Minister know? How much has he left to the Disposals Board ? I do not know enough about this Board. ‘ Parliament did not know enough about the late Commissioner; neither did the responsible Minister. Nobody knew enough about the War Service Homes officials until it was too late, and there had been great blundering. The Minister has stated that some stock is to bo disposed of, while other portions of the supplies on hand are to be utilized. If the Commission has only £3,200,000, at the most, to be spent this year, after allowing for about £760,000 to meet necessary commitments, . how does it propose to utilize the stocks in hand, and at the same time keep the (Forest mills going, seeing that there is at present more timber ready than can be availed of? I am absolutely dissatisfied. I only wish I had the opportunity to go far more deeply into the matter, for I feel very warmly upon the whole subject. There should be a searching inquiry before Parliament commits itself more deeply. If there is so much timber on hand, and if the Commission intends to proceed with the works in the forest areas, and if, at nhe same time, certain contractors are to be permitted to furnish their own supplies, what will happen? What is the Commission to do with what it has. and with what is being cut under the various contracts? Is tha Disposals Board to be kept going, afterit hasgot rid of the present £750,000 worth of materials, selling as best it can the supplies which will be continually coming to hand from the forests ?
– And what about the soldiers? Are they to get their timber for 22s. per 100 super feet, or must they pay more than 30s. ?
– The honorable member has raised a most serious issue. The history pf the building of soldiers’ homes has been punctuated by bungling, beginning with the appointment of men who were, in many cases, utterly incompetent. The Minister has raised the defence that it was a matter of policy to. employ returned soldiers. . No Government, no individual, would be justified in giving a job to a returned soldier who was not qualified to fill it.
– Hear, hear!
– In saying that, I do not desire to disparage our returned men generally, or those returned soldiers who are at present in the service of the Commission. Many of the latter, I am confident, are competent men. I believe, for example, that the recentlyappointed Victorian Deputy Commissioner is a most capable official.
– The returned soldiers themselves would not ask that an incompetent man be given any job.
– Even if they did, the Government, having the responsibility of controlling the affairs of this country, would be bound to conserve the finances, and, in so doing, to appoint only the most capable officials. If any other Ministry than that which has been in power during the past four or five years had occupied the Treasury bench when the War Service Homes bungling became known, it would not have retained office for another half-hour. To-day the Government can no longer shelter themselves behind a faulty system, or behind incompetent officers. They must take the whole of tho responsibility. It is not the individual official who, for the future, at any rate, will make good, or fail, where soldiers’ homes are concerned. The fate of the Government will be involved. I have not the time to go into the whole unhappy story, or to dwell upon the fact that some homes have not yet been completed, although they were commenced two years ago. The whole business of maladministration is to the discredit of the Government. The only reason why they have retained office has been because the press and a large section of the public fear that, if a change is made, men from this side would occupy the Treasury bench, men in whom those influential factors have no confidence. Because they have not approved of this party, they have felt themselves justified in maintaining in office Ministers who cannot shirk responsibility for maladministration. What is to be said concerning our obligations to the returned soldiers to whom we promised so much? For they must pay for the bungling. If the Government, by a faulty system, add to the cost of a humble workman’s home while he is struggling to maintain a young and growing family, where will he be landed ? In the best of circumstances, he may occupy between twenty and thirty years in paying for his house. Through ill-health, reduction of wages, or lack of employment there may come a time when he cannot meet his repayments, and after struggling for four or five years under the heavy burden placed on his shoulders owing to lax administration he will be ousted from his home. [Extension of time granted.] I shall not occupy more than a few minutes longer. Is it fair to put a returned soldier in that position ? Should he not be protected by us? It is the extra £100 or £200 that will mean everything to him. Those who have gone through th© mill, those who have purchased homes on borrowed money or on terms and have had to struggle on their daily earnings to pay off their liabilities know that there is a certain point beyond which it is an almost impossible task to pay off the cost of a home. I say that that is. not a position in which we should put our returned men. It is our duty to prevent that sort of thing, and when we first saw that things were going astray we should have taken action. How long is it since we discovered that things were unsatisfactory in this Department? It is over twelve months ago, and nothing has been done up to this moment.
– That is not a correct statement. Action was taken, as the honorable member well knows, very shortly after it was discovered, and the condition of affairs to which the honorable member refers was terminated in March last.
– Yes. Action was taken by the cessation of all building operations, but nothing was done.
– That, also, is an incorrect statement.
– No. Apparently nothing I say is correct. I am sorry that I have not the time that I would like to argue this matter out with the Minister. It is nearly twelve months since the War Service Homes scheme fell to pieces, and we. had to cease building operations. Since then some mills have been producing timber, and the timber has been stacked in different parts of the Commonwealth. We have now a ‘proposition put forward to dispose of that timber. But what has been the complaint in connexion with the building of houses 1 That, in the first few months, when we were rushing things, green timber was used and put into the homes, where it shrank to such an extent that a finger could easily be inserted in the cracks in the walls. Now we have a quantity of timber which has been stacked for some time; it is fairly seasoned, and we are sending out agents to try to dispose of it. If we get rid of it in this way, it simply means that we must again give the soldier green timber in his home. This seasoned timber should not be disposed of, but should be put into the soldiers’ homes. There is much to be said against the new policy just propounded. Honorable members are not justified in adopting it. If this Parliament did its duty it would afford no further opportunity for bungling, but would take control of the matter in a thorough way, and send about its business a Government which have been responsible for this maladministration, giving some other party the opportunity of showing whether it cannot put the administration of War Service Homes into better shape.
.- I was very disappointed this morning at the statement made by the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) - disappointed at the long tale of bungling and disaster he revealed, and still more disappointed at the absence of any big constructive scheme to repair the damage and save what little there is left. I anticipated that at the conclusion of his speech the Minister would give the Committee a better idea of the position of Australia in regard to the matter of War Service Homes and of the provision likely to be made for building these homes this year. I also expected that he would tell us that the position was likely to be more satisfactory in the future, perhaps as satisfactory as the South Australian scheme has proved to be, and that there was no fear that the future operations would be as unsatisfactory as those of the administration within the last three or four years have proved to be. No matter how late in the session it may be, it is essential that this Committee should review not only the question of War Service Homes, but also the whole subject of repatriation and the treatment of returned soldiers generally, because it is a matter that should be handled in such a way as to leave no doubt as to the determination of honorable members that the bungling, and, in many instances, cruel methods at present in operation should cease. I hope to be able to expose in more detail than the Minister has given us the opportunity of hearing, the unsuccessful manner in which repatriation matters have been handled, particularly in the building of War Service Homes. I propose, also, to point out some of the losses suffered not only by the soldiers themselves, but also by the various Governments of Australia, who, after all, really represent the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. I shall endeavour to show that, although in some instances the value of the homes built for the soldiers may be reduced to £700 or £S00, as the case may be, that sum may still not be the intrinsic value of the home, owing to various charges which should not have been incurred, being imposed by the methods adopted by the Commission. I propose to demonstrate that the soldier is not being given a fair deal through being asked to pay these charges, and that the alleged value is not in ‘ the home, and I hope to secure terms for him which, at any rate, will give him something like a fair deal. I trust that what I say will move the Committee to demand that the unjustified and unjustifiable drain that the War Service Homes administration has been on the resources of the Commonwealth shall stop, and that no more money shall be allowed to go down that particular sink so uselessly and so wastefully. The first step to that end will be to fix the responsibility for the whole conduct of the Department, not on some outside Commission, or on some one outside this House, but on a Minister who is able to take his full share of it, and who should not be able to come here and confess that all sorts of bungling has occurred in his Department, and that money has been spent in all sorts of ways beyond his knowledge. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has just pointed out that apparently £6,000,000 was spent in four months, although it represented provision for the whole year.
– Of course, his figures were not correct.
– At any rate, whatever the amount was, the fact remains that the total provision for the year was spent in four or five months, and, after a certain date, there was no money available for the building of homes. When the Minister says that he has no control over the Commissioner, because an Act of Parliament deprives him of it, he surely forgets that this Parliament looks to him, as the responsible person through whom the money voted by the House goes, to see that the interests of the people of Australia are preserved. In this regard the whole of the administration of repatriation reflects great discredit on the various Governments of Australia. I know that it was a herculean problem, but it was one that presented a wonderful opportunity, which we did not avail ourselves of, for mobilizing the national spirit of Australia. In view of the amount of money we proposed to spend, and which, in fact, we have spent up to the present time, we had a wonderful opportunity of giving a new stimulus to industry and a new direction to settlement. On the one hand, the men who fought so gallantly and nobly on the other side of the world came back to us with a high spirit of determination to do the best they could for their country; and, on the other hand, we had a generous appreciation on the part of the people of Australia of the work those men had done, and a determination to give them the best possible deal. This determination was evidenced in many districts, such as my own, by bands of men going out as working bees to work on the farms of absentee soldiers and put in crops which would be available for them on their return. That was the spirit in which, as a whole nation, we should have faced the problem of repatriation; but, unfortunately for our intentions the opportunity waa allowed to slip by, and those desirable results which might have accrued were missed. I do not wish to blame the Commonwealth Government for the trouble there has been in connexion with land settlement; but, although there were constitutional difficulties in the way of the Commonwealth controlling the position, I think it could have exercised a greater measure of control than it did. Holding the purse strings as it did, and supplying the money, it could have insisted on a greater measure of co-operation, which might have spared us such things as have happened in New South Wales and Queensland, where men have been settled on farms shown to be really a saltwater marsh, or at spots like Beerburrum, where hundreds of soldiers have been compelled to leave their farms in despair.
– It is very hard to prevent these cases when the States have full control of the land.
– We found the money ; we have provided £27,000,000 up to the present in connexion with land settlement, and surely the Commonwealth should have had some say in seeing that the men got something like a fair deal. I am pleased to see that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) is now supporting, in connexion with immigration, a scheme on exactly similar lines to those which could have been adopted in regard to repatriation. Many schemes which were put forward by people who were interested in the question could have been carried out in a national and comprehensive way. Por instance, I put before the Premier of New ‘South Wales a scheme that would have settled 50,000 soldiers on the northern rivers of the State, and transformed several millions of acres of unused fertile land into productive districts, and provided a continually’ increasing national asset. It was brought down to Melbourne and submitted to a Conference of State Ministers, convened by the Minister for Repatriation (‘Senator E. D. Millen) . Unfortunately, the influenza epidemic brought that Conference to an untimely close, and I supposed that a great deal of the trouble that subsequently arose from the failure to carry out what was definitely determined upon at that Conference as repatriation work, resulted from the untimely cutting off of those proceedings. Here, however, we had an opportunity which we could have availed ourselves of, and in regard to which the Commonwealth had plenty of warning. Projects were put forward which, had they been carried into effect, would have added new provinces to Australia, and led to dense settlement, just as occurred in America, after the Revolutionary War, when 4,000 soldiers, of good calibre, were settled in one State, Ohio, which, by their efforts, became one of the most progressive in the Union. I do .not wish to labour this phase of the question, but merely :to point out how regrettable it is that we should have lost the opportunity that presented itself. ‘In view of certain matters that we have in our minds, perhaps it is, after all, a good thing that the administration passed in part out of our hands into those of the State Governments, for we seem to have made a considerable bungle of the work we retained.
As to war pensions it would, in my opinion, have paid us to act in a more generous way. We now see men refused this right on the most trivial grounds, frequently on the quibble that the injuries are not war injuries, but axe due to some other cause. This is a kind of administration that the National Parliament should resent and alter. I know of one man, blind in both eyes, who, after three years’ service, was sent back as medically unfit; and, because he presented a nervous state which was suspected to have ‘arisen from syphilis, he was refused a pension. Even now, when it is known that such was not the cause of his illness, and that it was due to cerebral tumour, he has no pen-‘ sion, and is compelled to live on the charity of friends. There are dozens of such cases. Even if it had involved extra expenditure to give our returned soldiers liberal treatment, it would have been money well spent, for then there would have been an absence of that sense of grievance which now prevails in almost every part of the Commonwealth. No doubt there are malingerers in every big body of men, but the greater proportion of the returned men are worthy of our generosity.
The administration of the War Service Homes is a work that the Commonwealth kept entirely in its own hands. When the proposals to establish these homes was placed before us by the Go- vernment, Parliament met it in the most liberal spirit, and the public freely subscribed to the necessary loans. The responsibility for failure - and it is not denied, even by the Minister, that there has been failure - rests on the Government. The Government proposed the appointment of a Commissioner, and introduced the Bill to enable them to make it; and they insisted on safeguarding the Commissioner in such a way as to make him impregnable to parliamentary control. Under these circumstances I do not see how the Government can evade responsibility for the whole of the doings of that official.
– The responsibility must be shared by honorable members who voted for the legislation.
– That is so; but the proposal was one by the Government. At any rate, this Commissioner was appointed deliberately by the Government, with a full knowledge of the facts of the position. The practice had arisen, even during the war, of appointing highly-paid officials, in an effort to transfer to them the responsibility which really attached to the Government, and, unfortunately, at the same time, Parliament also lost its control over administration. The fact remains, however, that, after all, the Minister in charge had complete financial control, and, therefore, he cannot escape the responsiblity for supervision of the Commissioner. Some seven or eight months ago the Minister described in this House the way in which the Commissioner had conducted the business of his office, and told us that he had continued to build houses for sums in excess of the legal warrant. The Minister went on to say that the Commissioner had been doing this for many months; indeed, I think the honorable gentleman told us that the Commissioner had continued doing so for two years.
– Not at all !
– The Minister made the statement in reply to a question. However, if the Commissioner conducted himself in such a way, why did not the Government discharge him ? As we know, the Government did discharge the Commissioner, but it was not because he was incompetent, but because he had been made insolvent seven years before, or five years before he was appointed.
– Does it matter why he was discharged, so long as he was’ discharged ?
– I think the House should have been given definite reasons for his discharge, and then the Government would have been able to take the full responsiblity off its own shoulders. If we are only told that he was discharged because of some technical fault in his appointment, we are rendered helpless. During the whole work of the War Service Homes Commission there seems to have been a lack of coordination - no definite scheme of preparation. At the beginning a tentative arrangement with the Commonwealth Bank was suggested; and, if my memory is right, the evidence given before the Public Accounts Committee shows that the Minister interviewed the manager of that Bank and discussed the position with him. An agreement was then arrived at that all the homes required should be built by the Bank, which should finance the scheme, leaving the Government to decide the eligibility of the applicants, the purchase of land, and the general lines of policy. If such an arrangement had been made from the beginning, and adhered i to, I venture to say that, as experience has shown, we should have escaped much muddle, confusion, and loss. Although it is true that some of the houses built by the Bank have given rise to complaint, it has secured the erection of an enormous number of satisfactory houses, and has always kept the average cost below £700, which was the maximum originally fixed. If we had stuck to that arrangement, we should have saved £100 on each house; but, unfortunately, the Government departed from it, and started negotiations with the various State Savings Banks. Later on the Government went again to the Commonwealth Bank; but it was found that, owing to the completed negotiations, the work had to be redistributed. Subsequently, the War Service Homes Commission determined to build homes on its own account in addition.
In connexion with the appointment of the War Service Homes Commissioner, there are matters that call for explanation and comment, especially in view of the absence of any reasons beyond the technical one to which I have referred for his dismissal. It has been said that the Minister fca- Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) was unaware of the fact that the Commissioner was insolvent at the time of his appointment; but the facts, as stated by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) in June of this year, do not bear out that view. That honorable gentleman pointed out that applications were invited, and the late Commissioner applied, and was appointed to the position. Before he was appointed, the Minister for Repatriation, in order to obtain some information as to his eligibility, caused three telegrams of inquiry to be sent to different men of standing in Australia. Three replies were received to these inquiries, two of. them favorable, and the third as follows : -
Your telegram yesterday. Party is brave and energetic. Had long experience building contracts, North Queensland. Ability lies in that direction, and good with men rather than as an administrator. During absence Front was made insolvent under old mining guarantee. Judge expressed sympathy with absentee, whereupon Bank of Australasia discontinued pressure. Consider fill outside position admirably.
The appointment was made in March, and that telegram was sent on the 2nd February. We all know what happens when a person is asked to send a testimonial of the kind; no one ever writes and says that an applicant for any given position is incompetent. In this case, the telegram stated first that the applicant was a builder, good for outside work, but no good as an administrator, and that he was an insolvent. According to the estimate of the Government itself, the expenditure upon War Service Homes would run into £50,000,000; and we are asked to believe that the Minister in charge, who had the appointment of the man who would control this expenditure, did not bother to see the replies to the telegrams he had sent asking for credentials. We can only conclude either that the Minister was culpably negligent in regard to the matter, or that he knew at the time that the Commissioner was an insolvent.
It has been alleged in this chamber that all the activities with which we are now dealing have failed because returned soldiers have been placed in charge.
– Because business and commercial men have been in charge - and on the “ make “ !
– It has been said that the failure arises from the fact that returned soldiers have been placed in charge.
– Who says that?
– That statement has been made time after time in this House.
– I have always qualified my remarks by saying that I have no objection to a returned man .if he is qualified for a position.
– I am not referring to remarks made to-day, but to remarks made previously to the effect that because of the appointment bf returned soldiers we have had incompetence and muddle.- When the appointment of the Commissioner was made in March, 1919, the war had already been over three months; and surely, amongst the 400,000 men who left Australia for the Front, there could have been found those capable of carrying on this work successfully. Indeed, many very capable returned soldiers had already done a great deal of work on the other side in the actual repatriation of their comrades from England. The position of Commissioner might very well have been offered to one of those men. I admit that the Government are not to blame to the extent that many people may think, because, unfortunately, during the war there was a tendency when a man proved himself a bit of a “ dud “ “ on the other side,” or, from various causes, had reached the limit of his usefulness, to send him back -with some sort of decoration, and at the height of the war fever such a man might return without’ the public having any means of judging whether his record of service was good; mediocre, or bad, or whether his honours were due to the length of time he had served, personal bravery, or administrative capacity.
– Does the honorable member say that “ duds “ were sent back and received appointments here?
– Men were sent back from Europe because they were not doing their job there, and, indeed, that seems to be a well-established English Government custom to terminate a career, after a failure, with some recognition in the way of honours.
– The honorable member is casting a serious reflection.
– I stand by my statement .that such things did occur. Apparently, everybody admits at the present time that an unfortunate selection was made for the position of War Ser- vice Homes Commissioner. Whatever Lieutenant-Colonel Walker’s military qualifications may have been, he apparently undertook, in the Commissionership, a job that -was beyond his capabilities. I admit at once that no ordinary man could have handled it successfully; and I agree with the contention already urged here to-day that this House erred in the beginning when it fixed a salary of £1,500 for a man who was to ultimately expend £50,000.000 within ten years. At that salary, the Government could not expect to have such a wide field of selection as they would have had if a greater inducement had been offered. For that limitation, the Government are no more responsible than is Parliament itself. But, unfortunately, there seems to have been a continuous succession of unsatisfactory appointments. In one instance, we are told that the appointee “is a good outside man, able to handle men, but may not be much of an administrator.” It is not to the discredit of any man to say that he has some qualifications and not others. In each of the States Deputy Commissioners were appointed who were not qualified for the job. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) read to the Committee to-day a list of the officers in each State, and in practically every State there have been at least four Deputy Commissioners, whilst in Tasmania there have been six or seven. From September, 1919, to March, 1921, there were nearly as many Deputy Commissioners in that State as there were seasons. Not only does there seem to have been extreme ill-fortune in the choice of Deputy Commissioners, but in Tasmania the chief clerk was dismissed, the accountant was dismissed,^ the subaccountant resigned, and there had to be a general cleaning up of the office. Such a number of incompetents in a small office like that of the Commission in Tasmania, where not a great number of houses were built, is proof that proper care was not exercised in the selection of officers. [Extension of time granted,]
– It is hardly fair to say that they were all dismissed on account of incompetence.
– Within eighteen months of the creation of the Commission, it came into conflict with the Commonwealth Bank, apparently for no other reason than that the Bank was getting through its work expeditiously and well. If there was any other reason, I should like to hear it. After a certain date, the Bank was practically debarred from carrying on its work in connexion with War Service Homes. On 28th June, 1920, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) is reported in the Melbourne Argus to have stated that 767 homes had been completed, and of those the Commonwealth Bank had built 731, and the Commissioner 36 - that in spite of the fact that the Commission had been operating for three or four months longer than the Commonwealth Bank. That friction between the Bank and the Commissioner had a most unfortunate result on the whole of the operations undertaken since. Originally it was agreed that the Commissioner should build on the group system, and that the Bank should undertake the building of isolated homes. But after a time it became difficult for any applicant whose house was to be built by the Bank to get a certificate of eligibility from the Department within anything like a reasonable time, and many who had approved of the Bank’s design and were prepared to enter into a contract with it for the erection of a home, were actually canvassed, when they applied for their certificates of eligibility, to have their work carried out by the Commissioner. That, in itself, was not a serious matter if other things had been equal. But the Commonwealth Bank had at its disposal a great staff and a high degree of organization, whereas the Commission was only building up its staff. The Bank and its architects were able to keep in continuous, touch with the contractors, each of whom had his small organization and gang of regular workers. The result was that the Bank had no difficulty in getting tenders for jobs, and was able always to build under the £700 originally fixed by this House as the maximum amount that should be available for each, home. The Commissioner, on the other hand, largely because of the fact that, necessarily, at the beginning, his staff was not skilled or well trained, appointed inspectors who were very inquisitorial, and who interfered so much with the contractors that after a time few would continue their jobs. I have met in Sydney a man who claimed to be the only contractor who finished a group of houses for the Commissioner. AH other contract jobs were thrown up because the contractors could get no satisfaction. Then the Commissioner decided to embark upon the day-labour system, and he drafted a huge building programme, which necessitated the acquisition of tremendous stores of material. He bought millions of feet of timber, millions of bricks, hundreds of baths, and so on, until his operations created a shortage of building materials, and the price of building rose, not only against the soldiers, but against everybody who wanted to erect a house. Instead of getting the contractors to look after the construction work, he entered into competition with them, and had to pay more than the award rates in order to keep workmen on the jobs. This made labour more difficult to get, and, because the Commissioner did not, as an ordinary business man would have done, and as the Commonwealth Bank and the State instrumentalities in South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland do - arrange for their supplies in the ordinary business way - he found it increasingly difficult to get building material, and so commenced to force up the prices. The operations of the Commissioner constitute one of the principal reasons why building has been so expensive in recent years. He purchased huge quantities of material. All over the country, depots were established, and because it was impossible to keep them under proper supervision much of the material deteriorated through exposure to weather, and quantities of it were stolen. Two or three months ago one could see at Concord millions of bricks which had been acquired by the Commissioner. At Belmore enamel baths were being used by boys for wickets.
– New baths?
– Yes, and huge losses were occurring by the continual exposure of this material to the weather. One of the Melbourne newspapers published a photograph of a huge stack of oregon purchased by the Commissioner - sufficient to last for two or three years.
– That Oregon was bought without reference to the Minister and without his approval.
– I should like some explanation as to how it was possible for the Commissioner to expend hundreds of thousands of pounds without the approval of the Minister. When this Parliament increased the maximum per house to £800 the Commonwealth Bank received instructions that it was to sign no more contracts. It had show that it could build cheaper than the Commissioner to the extent of from £100 to £200 per house. It had always built below the maximum of £700, and often was producing a better house than the Comm. ‘-v.er built for a larger amount. The Commissioner having declared that he could not build a house for £700, Parliament increased the amount to £800. As soon as that was done, the organization - the Commonwealth Bank - which up to that time, had built hundreds of homes more than any other authority in the Commonwealth, was told that it could sign no more contracts. I should like an explanation as to why that organization, which belongs to the Commonwealth, which conducts its operations for the benefit of the country, and whose profits belong to the Australian people, was debarred from undertaking further War Service Homes work. I do not know whether there is any other reason than that they have done the job in such a way that they have put the other organizations to shame.
– There is no law under which the Governor of the Bank could be prevented from doing it.
– They would not give him any contracts. He had to obtain an eligibility certificate for each man, and none was sent.
– Is it inferred or stated that the Commissioner prevented him from getting those certificates?
– Even before an actual embargo was placed on his building operations, there was difficulty in securing eligibility certificates. Men who had been desirous of getting houses built by the Commonwealth Bank found that they were canvassed when they went to the Commissioner’s office to have the work done by the Commissioner. Letters can be produced which bear out that statement. Not only was there friction between the Commonwealth Bank and the Commissioner, but very soon there came about friction between the
Commissioner and the contractors, who, at last, would not work for him. The Commissioner seemed to have a faculty for quarrelling with people, and at last could not get materials. Then he suddenly came on the market as a big sawmiller.
The saw-milling operations of the Commission deserve a great deal more light than the Minister has shed on them. It has been said that because certain purchases have been re-sold to Mr. Driver, they must possess .the value given for them. But what is the basis of the sale to Mr. Driver? Is it not a fact that practically the whole of the capital on which he works was supplied by the Government or the Commission?
– He started under an agreement giving him the right of purchase.
– And he is working under some agreement at the present time.
– He is working under an agreement to purchase, and has paid certain moneys, and continues to make payments by deductions from his deliveries, while a final payment is provided for.
– For some reason or other, the Commissioner thought that he would require to have many millions of feet of timber under his control each year, and he therefore determined to go in for saw-milling on a big scale. He was not content to buy one big proposition, and bought two. He bought these two big propositions in Queensland without regard to the fact that he had made a contract under which he was supplied with 6,000,000 feet of timber a year. He bought at a time when it would have been possible for him to enter into an agreement with practically any of the sawmillers for supplies at rates about 10 per cent, lower than those charged to the general public, and such an agreement would not have compelled him to find any capital. But instead of doing that, he tough t huge tracts of timber country in Queensland, and timber mills, and took all the risks of the saw-milling business, when he could have made a contract at rates which would have slid up and down with market prices. He bought timber propositions which, in my opinion, the Government will be lucky to get rid of even at considerable loss. I said last year that, if it could get Mr. Lahey to take his proposition back, with £50,000 to boot, it would do better than by continuing to hold it. The reason given for purchasing these properties was that, if the price of timber continued as high as it was at the time - when it was at its peak - and if the timber was there that was said to be there, and were all cut and hauled to the station and utilized within ten years, the saving would be just about equivalent to the interest on the money invested and at risk during the whole period. But what has happened ? Having bought these properties, the Commission came to an arrangement with Messrs. Lahey, who were patriotic men, to continue working the mills and keep them in order. There were certain settlements in their immediate neighbourhood which it was desired to maintain by providing constant employment for the. workers residing in them. But, having allowed the mills to be worked for a couple of months, the Commissioner shut them down, and they have been idle ever since. The logs were not pulled in from the bush, nor was much of the sawn timber that was there sold or utilized.
– The whole of the logs have been sold.
– They must have been sold at a considerable loss, in view of what they were worth when cut eighteen months ago.
– They were well sold.
– I have had, unfortunately, a good deal of experience with pine saw-milling, and I know that if a log is left lying for six months in the bush, the greater part of its value is destroyed by the borer. This proposition could have been sold satisfactorily four or five months ago, but apparently the Minister has turned down the offer. I have asked what would have been lost had the sale taken place, and I think that members should have that information. I am satisfied that the longer we keep these propositions the greater will be the loss in connexion with them. I think that there will be a bigger loss on the Brett proposition than the Minister estimates, ‘because it is in a different category. It is a proposition that has been worked for a good many years.
– We have already been offered a substantial profit on one of the Brett properties.
– I arn speaking of the whole proposition. For the sake of the financial position of the Commonwealth I would have liked the Government to accept an offer fori both propositions, even though it showed no profit, or, indeed, a loss of £25,000 or £50,000. What is going to be the future of the propositions? Are we going to hold them indefinitely ? Is the National Government to become a saw-miller, or is it going to get out of the business at the earliest passible moment?
One aspect of the timber question which has been, a good deal ventilated in the press is the offer of Mr. Caldwell of certain properties in the Islands. I think that the Minister rather missed the point on which Mr. Caldwell has been insisting, which is that his bona fides have been impugned in a certain report which was put before Parliament. Whether he was or was not the actual holder of an option, unquestionably he appeared to hold it, not merely in his own estimation, but also in that of the Resident Commissioner.
– But he- was not the holder of an option.
– He certainly appeared to be the holder of one, and it is very unusual for the recommendation of a Resident Commissioner in the South Seas to be passed over as was this recommendation . A definite recommendation was over-ridden by the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. What Mr. Caldwell wishes to have recognised is that he did not try to deceive any one; that he really appeared to have an option.
– Do you say that I admitted this morning that there was a recommendation by the Commissioner in favour of Mr. Caldwell ?
– It is the case, whether you made the admission or not.
– I read a letter regarding the claims of Fairley, Rigby and Co.
– You said that the offer to them had been overlooked by the High Commissioner.
– That the High Commissioner for the Western. Pacific said that it had been overlooked.
– I pass away from the subject of timber to deal with other operations of the War Service
Homes Commissioner. As a land buyer he seems to have suffered from a form of megalomania, and bought four times as much land as he has been able to build on. There has been practically a land boom during the last few years, and, therefore, much of the land was bought at very high prices, and a great deal of what has been bought, and some of that which is being built on, is very unsatisfactory.
– Can the honorable member say the number of allotments now available ?
– I know that 2,302 acres were bought, and that 632 acres have been built on.
– Less than 1,000 allotments of those bought remain unbuilt on.
– Does the honorable member say that the price of land has gone down ?
– I do not say that; I say that the land was bought at the top of the market in many cases, and unnecessarily ahead of requirements, and that in many instances it is totally unsuitable. For example, land purchased near Newcastle is converted into a swamp whenever an inch of rain falls, and other land, some of which has been built on, was the subject of mining concessions, which have had to be bought out at a cost greater than the original price of the land. Then at Toowoomba, against local advice, land was bought in a very expensive suburb, and its price was so high that there was not nearly enough money left to build suitable houses on it. The locality is one in which it would be absurd to put anything but good houses.
– What is the highest price per foot that has been given for land?
– I think £7 or £8 per foot in that area.
The Commissioner adopted the system of building houses in groups, under which quite a number were in course of construction at the same time and at the same stage. The result was that if, during the early stages of construction, rain fell, all the men had to knock off work - there was no work under shelter for them to do - and the building costs to the soldiers were thus increased. If one-third or half the number in one of these groups had been built at a time, they would have been occupied and repayments would have been going on in respect of themwhile the others were being erected. In addition, much of the theft of material that took place during the building of these large groups would have been avoided. It is impossible to induce returned men to take over many of these group houses. They say that a group of thirty or forty houses all much of the one type of construction suggests to them an internment camp. They do not want to live in groups. They have had enough of the war, and they do not want to be reminded of it. The cost of building many of the group houses is so much in excess of their actual value that they will not be taken over by the soldiers, with the result that they are either vacant or are being rented by civilians. I do not think it is the duty of the Commonwealth Government to provide homes for civilians throughout Australia. There are other directions in which we could more profitably employ our funds. Then, again, the method of construction adopted in building many of the group houses, as well as individual houses, has been such that competent valuers consider them to be worth considerably less than their actual cost. I have the opinion of practically a hundred builders who made an investigation, and who state that the market value of a number of War Service Homes in New South Wales to-day is, at the very most, £600, although none of them cost less than £800 to build.
– Where are those houses ?
– In Rookwood, Belmore, and Concord.
– Does the honorable member say they are worth only £600?
– That is their market value at the present time.
– I would be prepared to buy them at £600 each.
– I can give the Committee the opinion of architects who made an inspection of these houses, and it is very different from that supplied to the honorable member by certain builders.
– If the Minister is able to prove to me that these houses are worth much more than the valuation placed upon them by the builders to whom I have referred, I shall be very glad. [Extension of time granted.] I have here statement after statement, made on oath, regarding the cost of certain War Service Homes and their market value at the present time, which is considerably less than the cost of building, and considerably more than the estimate. Another complaint is that the cost in numerous cases has largely exceeded the original estimate supplied to the applicant. This has resulted in great hardship to the soldiers who have had the ill-fortune to take possession. In many instances they find it most difficult to make the repayments on the basis of the increased cost. Some of the men have actually had to be ejected, while in other cases applicants have said that it is useless for them to take over these homes. I understand that in Victoria there is not one War Service Home built by the Commission the cost of which is actually known by the men. I understood the Minister to say that, until the cost can be ascertained, the occupiers are in possession as tenants.
– If the honorable member is referring to occupiers of War Service Homes at Bell and Coburg, where a tenants’ association has been formed, I have only to say that those soldiers have had the benefit of a Ministerial statement to the effect that they can acquire their homes at the statutory limit.
– Why has the Minister spent more money in Victoria than in other States?
– We have not done so. The expenditure on the construction of homes in each State has been on an enlistment basis.
– Coming to the land held by the Commission, even if it be correct as stated by the Minister that only 1,000 allotments are held-
– I say that there are less than 1,000 allotments available for building purposes in excess of the requirements of the War Service Homes Commission.
– What does the honorable gentleman mean by “ in excess of requirements “ ?
– We are holding in reserve, roughly speaking, 1,000 allotments as against the thousands of applicants for homes that have been received.
– I should like to know what is the acreage of the land held by the Commission? The Minister assured the Committee this morning that there, was to be an alteration of policy, and that henceforth the building of War
Service Homes in country centres would be in something like a, reasonable proportion to the number that have been built in the capital cities. As illustrating what has been the policy of the Commission, I would point out that, although thirty-one applications for the building of homes at Burnie have been received, not one has yet been constructed. Here is a letter which I received in September last from a returned soldier living at Kempsey, a big country town in my electorate -
DEAR Siu, -
He my War Service Home, I am sorry to trouble you again in this matter, but I don’t seem to be any further ahead. I have been fooled about with the Department for so long that I have almost given up hope. I want to point out specially to you that not one house has been built in this town by the Department, yet we read of the millions spent on soldiers’ homes. . . .
The writer goes on to say that his proposition is a sound one. He has a block of land worth £200, and he wants to have a. house erected on it. He mentions that he was told twelve months ago not to bother with the Commission as it would only fool him. When I was travelling to Sydney last Saturday I met a returned man who while at the Front had lost a leg. He told me that for six or seven months he had been trying to induce the Commission to build a home for him. I advised him to make arrangement’s with the State Savings Bank, which I said would probably give him what he required at least two years earlier than he would get it from the Commission.
The position is that a great deal of land in excess of the present requirements of the Commission has been purchased; that it has large quantities of timber on hand, that timber areas and saw-mills of which we are unable to make use have been acquired, that material is lying about, and that there are many unfinished homes. We have also the naive admission by the Minister that the Commission, as such, has practically failed in the whole of its operations, and is quite unsatisfactory.
– I have made no such statement.
– The confession made this morning by the honorable gentleman seemed to cover almost everything. There is an abundance of evidence that the greater the activities of the Commission in this direction at the present time the greater are the possibilities of fraud. It would appear from statements published in the press that there is evidence of collusion in the handling of much material.
– The honorable member ought to be specific. We have had quite enough general statements of that kind. The time has arrived when specific statements should be made.
– When I speak, later on, I shall quote specific instances.
– And we shall deal with them when the honorable member gives them.
– The information has not been hidden ; it has been published in the daily press. I should like to know whether the Commission is taking any steps to put an end to the trouble. Is it inquiring into the possibility of collusion in connexion with the sale of land?
– The honorable member said a few minutes ago that we were not building homes in country districts. As a matter of fact, nearly 3,400 homes have been erected in the country.
– The figures recently supplied by the Minister regarding houses built by the Commission were as follows: - New South Wales - Sydney, 1,785; in the rest of the State, including those built in Newcastle, 447. Victoria - Melbourne, 986; rest of the State, 108. Queensland - Brisbane, 1,037; rest of the State, 301. Western Australia - Perth, 465; in the rest of the State, 51. South Australia - Adelaide, 82 ; and only one in the country districts. Tasmania. - city, 250; rest of the State, 22.
I think we have reached a stage at which this drain on the public resources should be stopped. We ought to get down at once to proper business methods, and reduce to a minimum the cost of administering all these huge undertakings. The Minister said this morning that as the result of an arrangement made in South Australia 1,502 houses had been built there at an average cost of £645, inclusive of the cost of land, without involving the Commission in the expenditure of one penny, by way of administrative charges.
– Does not that show an effort to bring about economy? Will not the honorable gentleman give the Commonwealth Government any credit for that?
– I was just about to do so. I commend the Government for what they have done, but they should not stop there. They should arrange a system whereby there could be brought about a similar condition of affairs in the building of homes throughout the Commonwealth. Administration at present is not costing very much less than at the height of the building boom a year or so ago.
– Only a matter of 5U per cent. less.
– The remedy should be to deal in drastic fashion with the housing under construction, and with the material which has already been purchased. In order to do that, the Government should get hold of a properly qualified commercial man - they may call him a Director-General, or what they will, but I would prefer to call him a manager - to arrange for the disposal in the shortest possible time of the whole of the present undertakings. This official should be placed in charge of the houses at present in course of construction, so that they might be completed, not by day labour, but by reputable contracting firms in each of the States. Tenders should be called to finish all the work outstanding. If it should be considered that, in any one of the States, there are too many jobs to be let to one contractor, that State should be divided into sections - north, south, east, and west - and tenders called accordingly.
– The honorable member is recommending what has been done. There has been a cessation of building under the day-labour system. No daylabour building job has been let since the Government’s announcement of policy.
– Is there any day-labour job proceeding at all ?
– No, except in regard to the finishing off of just a few which had been started in that manner.
– It would be well to finish them on such a system as would afford an accurate knowledge of when their completion might be expected, and of what their cost would be. It is notorious that many buildings have been in hand for almost a year; I understand that some have been in course of construction for even longer. I know, personally, of one house which has been waiting for several mouths or more to be roofed.
The large stocks of materials of all kinds on hand should be sold at public auction at the best price obtainable, and the losses written off. All contracts entered into for the supply of material should be terminated on the best possible terms. Estates which have been purchased and have not yet been built upon should be sold by public auction. The soldier, after all, has a right to some consideration concerning where he shall reside. I do not believe in group settlements; the soldiers themselves disapprove of the principle, at any rate, in large groups. It should be possible to create a land purchase sub-department to deal with the question of buying, and to inspect separate blocks. I repeat that any estates on hand and not yet built upon should be disposed of without delay. The forests which have been purchased by the Commission should be sold by auction. The time and other conditions of the sale might well be left to the discretion of a, competent head, so that there would- be as little loss as possible. These are the main lines on which I suggest the reconstruction of the Department as regards present commitments. My proposals, if accepted, would permit the muddle to be cleaned up, and a fresh start made. The continuance of the Government in saw-milling activities is bound to result in further loss. All over Australia there are the white wrecks of dismantled mills. Everywhere there are broken firms. It would often appear that the larger the amount of capital behind these saw-milling concerns the greater has been the mess, for saw-milling requires personal supervision in order to insure success.
I maintain that the obligations of the Government to the returned soldier must be fulfilled. Arrangements have been made, I understand, with the Governments of South Australia and Western Australia whereby the War Service Homes required in those States are to be built in conjunction with the Workers’ Homes Departments already existing there. Presumably, the Federal Government will continue to carry out the building of homes for soldiers in the remaining four States. This may be done in either of two ways - firstly, by handing over the task to the Governments and their existing Departments, as in the case of South Australia and Western Australia; or, secondly, by continuing to carry on under the control of the Federal Government. If the latter course is adopted - which would probably be the better one - certain methods should < be strictly adhered to. There should be a competent Commissioner, given full power and authority. In each State an Eligibility Department should be formed which would examine the claims of applicants. If these were found satisfactory, a certificate should be issued entitling the applicants to the benefits conferred by the Act. A Land Department should bc created. This organization would deal with transfers of land, the purchase of single building sites, and the transaction of legal matters.
– The honorable member is aware, of course, that there is already a legal section actively at work.
– A branch should be created under the title of the Purchase and Mortgage Department. This would supervise the purchase of already erected houses, and deal -with the settling of mortgages and the like. In my view, the purchase of existing houses should be restricted as much as possible. There should be a Designing Department, in charge of a competent architect, and in each State competitive designs should be invited from returned soldier architects and others. I suggest that these designs should comprise twenty-four types of houses, suitable for the particular State in which they are to be built. Professional experience has proved that the maximum number of designs necessary does not exceed twelve for city houses and twelve for country types. The designs should b© judged by competent adjudicators before being accepted by the Department, and a substantial premium should be offered for the best batch of designs, the Department having the power to select the twenty-four best from among the total number submitted.
With respect to the Building Department, I submit that, after a ‘soldier has selected a design, tenders should be called for the construction of the house. Before a tender is accepted the soldier should be given an opportunity to express his approval or otherwise of the conditions, so that, prior to finally approving, he would know exactly what the cost would be. It is a scandal that, at the present time, many soldiers who, for months, have occu pied homes built by the Commission, do not yet know what th6 ultimate cost will be. Contracts should be proceeded with immediately after tenders have been accepted. Supervision might, well be carried on by the whole of the architects in the various States. This could be easily accomplished by the medium of the Institutes of Architects. The institutes should submit to the Government names of the various qualified architects in the different States, and the work in connexion with the supervision of the erection of houses could then be portioned among them. Upon the certificate of the particular architect selected to supervise a home, the Government would pay the contractor. Architects should receive commission, to be agreed upon between the Government and the institutes. The institutes would bc required and agreeable, no doubt, to accept responsibility for adequate supervision; this would insure that the work would be properly and thoroughly carried out. It would be accepted, doubtless, as a matter of honour, that the institutes should see that construction proceeded in a thoroughly satisfactory manner; ‘and the cost would not be nearly so great as if the Government were obliged to engage individual competent architects and pay them the usual professional fees.
Finally, I emphasize that a scheme such as that which has been outlined can only be carried out on the tender principle. Soldiers’, homes must in every instance be built by contract. There is no other satisfactory method of dealing with a scheme of such magnitude - one involving, as it does, activities scattered all over the country. That the day-labour system does not work satisfactorily has been proved, even by the experience of the Queensland Labour Government, which decided, only a short while ago, to substitute the contract system for the day-labour principle in respect to the building of homes under the State housing scheme. The costs of administration under the day-labour system are far greater than when work is done by contract. The administrative staff has to include bookkeepers, checkers, timekeepers, storemen, officers to select materials, and many other officials. Under (be tendering system all this work is distributed among the contractors, thus re- lieving the Government administration of great expense and responsibility. By re-organization after the methods which I have described the Government should be able to restore the good name of the Australian Government among the “ diggers “ themselves, and give them something like & decent “ spin “ for their money.
In conclusion, one must admit that a consideration of the whole of the facts - embracing those furnished by the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) and those brought forward by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) and myself - discloses an appalling state of affairs. It is absurd to say that the wisest possible choice of officials was made. Without doubt, a distinct error of judgment occurred in the selection of the administrator; and, without question, there has not been adequate supervision over expenditure even since a separate Minister was appointed to deal solely with the business of the War Service Homes. I emphasize that, even since then, conditions have not materially improved.
– The re-organization which has been brought about covers nearly everything that the honorable member has suggested. Obviously, the honorable member’s speech was compiled before he had heard mine.
– I admit that the Minister has had to face seas of trouble, but they have been so huge that he has been well nigh engulfed.
– The honorable member must admit that the Minister lias done wonderful work.
– The Minister has endeavoured to do his utmost in order to meet and overcome his difficulties; but a much more complete and definite statement should have been furnished than the Minister saw fit to make this morning. The Minister failed to outline any exact and detailed scheme. We have come to the limit of the resources which may be made available in many directions. We cannot afford to go on wasting our substance as we have done in the past. We must demand the receipt of £1 value for £1 spent. It is time the whole of the War Service Homes business was placed upon a proper footing. Taxpayers cannot stands any further demands over and above those already imposed. If the Minister had desired to show that he was really in earnest he would have furnished honorable members with far more definite particulars. Even now, if he would consent to do so, I would be prepared to listen most attentively, for I am keenly desirous of ascertaining just where the country stands.
– I desire to make a suggestion that can only be properly made in the House.
– The Committee of Supply has just been discussing a matter of very great importance. We have had a presentation of the case by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers), who represents the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen), and a criticism of his statement by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page). Statements have been made in regard to details which are quite new to me, which I have not explored, and with which I do not pretend to foe able to deal. As head of the Government I take full responsibility for the general conduct of the Department of Repatriation. I have listened very carefully to the Leader of the Country party, who said that, in part, he was dissatisfied with the presentation of the case by the Minister who represents the Minister for Repatriation. He certainly reflected upon the administration of that part of the Department foi which Senator E. D. Millen is responsible. In the circumstances, I suggest that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E.. D. Millen) be heard on the floor of this House, so that he may be able to inform honorable members of the position, and state the case from the standpoint of the Department of which he is the, responsible head.
– Do you mean on the floor of the House or at the Bar of the House?
– We have admitted distinguished strangers to sit beside the Speaker’s dais.
– But not to talk.
– But we have admitted them to the floor of the House, and it would he very awkward for the Minister, with his papers, and very inconvenient to honorable members, if he stood anywhere but at this table. However, if there is to be any comment on the matter from its constitutional standpoint, I shall not press it. I simply make the suggestion. Here is a man charged with incompetency. It is said that there has been maladministration on his part. I say, “Let us hear what he has to say.” He is a member of this Parliament and a member of the Government. It is true that he is not a member of this House; but the criticism we have heard here and outside has reflected upon the Government It is unfortunate that, if a charge is made in the Senate against a Minister in this House, or if certain information is sought concerning matters for which a Minister in this House is responsible, that Minister is not able to go to another place and plead his own case, or give the information re- quired. Vice -versa, the position is equally unfortunate. Here is a member of the Government charged with incompetence; the Assistant Minister is not acquainted with, nor can he be held responsible for anything done before he took office. The only man that knows the details intimately ,is Senator E. D. Millen. Let him be heard. It is for this House to say what shall be done. If Mr. Speaker rules that he cannot be heard except at the Bar of the House, I shall not argue the point, because time is the essence of the contract. If we are to discuss at length the constitutional aspect of the question as to where a gentleman who has been asked to address the House should stand, I have no further suggestion to make except that here at the table, where I stand, is the best place for him. I want to hear what Senator E. D. Millen ‘has to say, and I could not do so if he were compelled to speak at the Bar. I do not know whether it is necessary to submit a motion ; but I hope that Mr. Speaker will advise the House as to the proper course. ‘
.7-1 have no objection to any one defending his character from attack; but nothing has happened in this Committee to-day beyond the usual criticism of the adminis tration of the affairs of the country. It may be unfortunate that the Minister for Repatriation (iSenator E. D. Millen) is not a member of this House; but it is not out fault, and, much as I would like to hear him, I do not think we are justified in establishing a precedent by hearing him as the Prime Minister suggests. The Minister holding the portfolio of Minister for Defence should be a member of this House, but he is not. He is a senator, and we are obliged to deal with all sorts of matters under his control, and often to make charges concerning his administration.
– The point is, where it would end.
– Exactly, we do not know.
– There has been an attack upon a man. The press for months past has been full of attacks upon Senator E. D. Millen, and all I ask is that honorable members should hear what he has to say.
– Take my position. I have charged the Government with being responsible for the actions of their servants. It is a very proper attitude for me to take up. Whoever is in power must accept responsibility for the actions of those who are_in their employ. But there is no charge against Senator E. D. Millen personally. It is a question of challenging the administration of the Government. Indeed, I did not hear the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) make any personal charge against Senator E. D. Millen. In any case, if we were to permit a member of the Senate, or any one who is not a member of this Chamber, to come here and state his case, where would it end ? Every time an attack was made on a Minister who happened to be a senator he would have the right to come here; and if any one in the Senate attacked a Minister who is a member of this House, he would have the right to go there and defend himself.
– Why not?
– Because I don’t think it would be the right thing to do.
– Oh, these conservative instincts ! We are such an august body that no one must challenge our exclusiveness. I suppose he would pollute the carpet.
– There wa,s no personal attack upon Senator E. D. Millen; there was nothing but the criticism usually indulged in by members of Parliament, and which is their right, and to which any Minister in this House could reply. If Senator E. D. Millen had been charged with having done anything corrupt in regard to his administration, I would have been the very first to give him the opportunity of defending himself; but no one has charged him with having been corrupt; there has simply been reasonable criticism of the administration of his Department. I do not want to debar him from his rightto reply.
– He can reply in the Senate.
– Yes, and I would like to hear his reply. He is an able man, and had he been charged with corruption in any shape or form I would not have raised my voice against letting him come here to state his case. I would have given him a fair “ go.” But he has not been charged with corruption, and I have heard in this House much stronger criticism in regard to a Minister in another Chamber. When the Labour party was in power, there was much stronger criticism against its Minister in another Chamber; but we did not ask that he should be given the light to come into this House and rePlY to it. There has been no charge against Senator E. D. Millen of having done anything wrong or corrupt. Honorable members have simply heard ordinary criticism of his administration; yet we are ‘calmly asked to allow him to come here and make a statement.
– Do you object to his being heard at the Bar ?
– I do not know that there is any need for it. The Prime Minister is quite capable of defending the administration of Senator E. D. Millen, and has a perfect right to do so; but has he any right to ask ns to establish a precedent for which, later on, we may be sorry ?
– Mr. Speaker-
– There is no motion before the Chair.
– Lt is unfortunate if honorable members are not permitted to discuss briefly the procedure suggested by the Prime Minister.
– The position is, if honorable members will allow me to state it briefly, that I know no authority whatsoever which will permit any one who is not a member of this Chamber to ad dress honorable members from the floor of the House. It is competent for any one, with the permission of honorable members, to address the House from the Bar, and I know of no Parliament where that rule has been departed from, except, I think, the South African and the Victorian Parliaments, and then only in the case of Bills of which they are in .charge. Section 18 of the Victorian Constitution. Act Amendment Act provides -
– The Senate has recently unanimously passed a resolution which enables a Minister from this House to be heard in the Senate, and vice versa.
– The Senate may have passed that resolution, but we have not passed one in “this House, nor is there anything in the Standing Orders to permit it. The resolution of the Senate relates only to Ministers in charge of Bills. I can find no authority upon which to vest the right of any one who is not a member of this House to address honorable members except at the Bar, although in the House of Commons Peers, Judges, and the Lord Mayor of London have chairs placed for them within the Bar when under examination as witnesses; that, however, is not analogous to this case. If honorable members desire to hear a member of another place, the proper procedure, I think, would be to move that he be heard at the Bar. I have mentioned these matters in order to clarify the position from the point of view of the Chair. A debate of this nature is not quite regular; but, in view of its importance, I propose to allow a little further discussion, although I hope that a general debate will not take place. There is really nothing definite before the Chair.
.- Constitutional students in the House will welcome Mr. Speaker’s interpretation of the Constitution. In the Victorian State
Parliament the matter has been overcome by an amendment of the law. I have always regarded as very valuable the facility which such a measure affords to the working of the parliamentary machine, but I believe that it is one that should be brought into use only by a deliberate vote of both Houses of the Legislature, and by making it the law of the nation. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has suggested, there is a great danger in allowing any member who has not been elected by the votes of the people to take a seat in this House. We have seen that danger arise in America, where a great deal of the corrupt influences that permeated so many Legislatures arose from the practice of allowing all kinds of men - not Ministers, I admit, because there they have not Ministers in the same sense that we have - to enter Houses of Parliament along with members and address the Legislatures as advocates of particular issues. Eventually, in the Legislature of, I think, Pennsylvania, meeting in Philadelphia, the House itself decided to clean out those interlopers and stop .their re-entrance. The lawyers of Trusts, the advocates of Combines and franchises, and things which, according to the .accepted view of the people of that State were eating their way into the public life, were eliminated, because a false system had been allowed to grow as an excrescence on their Constitution. These forms ought to be preserved, because they are not accidents. They do not represent mere conservative thought, but they are the precautions which experience has shown to be necessary. That is the constitutional view. There is a way, which the Prime Minister himself has suggested, by which a Minister, or any person, can be brought to the Bar of the House. We have often seen it done when important issues have been raised. I remember that on one occasion the present Chief Justice of Victoria, when in private practice, spoke at the Bar of the State House in Victoria on a case in which misrepresentation was said to have been made to that Legislature. We can take similar action in this House, and the mere fact that it is a Minister in the Senate who is concerned should not debar or deter us from hearing Senator E. D. Millen, if we desire to do so, at the
Bar of the House. Having listened to the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers), who has addressed himself to this important problem, I am quite satisfied that we ought to have Senator E. D. Millen at the Bar. I do not suppose one can blame the Assistant -Minister, who has put his views to this House to-day, for deliberately dividing the administration of the Repatriation Department into two periods. Everything, practically, that we have heard from the honorable gentleman to-day has been about the condition of affairs which he found in the Department when he went there, and about what he has done since. I think it is not an injustice to him to say that he, naturally and properly, dealt particularly with what one might call the “Rodgers “ period. Knowing something of the earlier period, however , I believe that Senator E. D. Millen’s case has not been put to this House. The Assistant Minister was not at the Department at that time, and is not as able as Senator E. D. Millen himself to put the case. We cannot understand the story of ghastly muddle, which the Assistant Minister himself so clearly pictured to the House to-day, unless we know some of the causes which operated to bring it about.
– My statement to-day was made with a knowledge that a request would be made that Senator E. D. Millen be asked to come here.
– I was unaware of that. We have had one half of the picture. I would suggest to the Prime Minister that, although it may lengthen the debate, it will certainly clarify the information and enlighten the judgment of the House and the country if Senator E. D. Millen is requested, unanimously, I trust, to appear at the Bar and speak to the House about the important issues concerning, which we have been thinking lately. If the Prime Minister will move in that direction, I venture to think that our ordinary sense of justice will lead to acceptance of the motion.
– He could not do that without giving notice of the motion.
– I admit that. I know of no charge of personal impropriety against the Minister, or of anything reflecting on his honour.
– W<” want information.
– He is an elected member of this Parliament.
– We know what has appeared in the press.
– My own opinion of the Minister makes it impossible for me to suggest anything of that sort.
– Why does he not take the opportunity in the Senate to refute the newspaper attacks 1
– I do not think there is a suggestion of that nature in anything that has been said here, but there is a desire to probe the administration of the Department. Senator E. D. Millen is the man who founded it, and he knows more about it than the Assistant Minister; therefore, I should like to hear his story. I hope the Prime Minister will move that he be asked to come to the Bar.
– If I am permitted to do that, I will; but time is the essence of the contract, and, if I move such a motion, and it leads to the opening of the flood-gates of oratory
– There will certainly be a debate on it.
– Then the honorable member is going to discuss it ?
– We shall not vote blindly.
– You always do.
– If Senator E. D. Millen makes a statement in this House the discussion cannot be limited. It would surely be permissible to debate the matter,
– I am talking about a motion that the Minister be heard, not as to a discussion on what he says after he is heard. I do not care whether ho should be heard at the Bar or not. We cannot afford to waste time on that point. Tell me what I am to do.
– I cannot tell you what you are to do, but I cannot say that there would be no objection taken on this side. The matter would be debated.
– Surely the House can say by division, or on the voices, whether it will hear the Minister. If it will not hear him, that is the end of it. If it will, let us hear him.
– I understand that the Prime Minister has not submitted a definite motion, therefore
I am taking advantage of the liberty that the Speaker has extended to honorable members. Briefly to deal with the position taken up by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), I have no objection to hearing the Minister for Repatriation, but when honorable members tell us that we must jealously guard the rights of this House, and then suggest that the Minister should be bi ought to the Bar, all the high constitutional points about intrusion amount tq the difference between a person speaking at the Bar and going to the table.
– There is a big difference if you keep him outside the Bar.
– Personally, I fail to see that there is any great constitutional point involved. We have the right to summon any man to the Bar of the House, and we can catechise him with regard to any matter on which the House desires information. Senator E. D. Millen would be on the same plane as any other citizen when summoned to the Bar by honorable members. I therefore combat the view put forward by the honorable member for Balaclava on this point. I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) that, if the Minister had any charge levelled at him personally, he ought to be afforded the opportunity to be heard here. But I do nob think he should be summoned here, in regard to matters concerning which the Prime Minister, as Leader of the Government, should take full responsibility.
– I have done that.
– The Prime Minister should defend his Ministers on the floor of the House. If he cannot defend the administration of the Repatriation Department, he and his Ministry should relinquish office. I cannot see why, after the Assistant Minister has put his case, and the Prime Minister has spoken, the plea should be put up that a subordinate Minister should come here to make an explanation regarding the administration, of his Department. It is the Prime Minister who should defend his Minister who is in another place. While I wish to do nothing that would prevent the Minister from being heard at the Bar, or anywhere else,’ I think that the Prime Minister would be failing in his duty if he did not take the full responsibility.
.- As I am, in some measure, unwittingly the cause of this debate, through joining with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) in certain specific charges regarding the administration of the “War Service Homes and the Repatriation Department, I desire to point out that there has been no suggestion by me of charges against the personal honour of the Minister for Repatriation. It is quite competent for me to profoundly disagree with the administration of that Department without challenging Senator Millen’s personal honour.
– You said he was culpably negligent.
– That is a public charge.
– I maintain that assertion.
– You said something about Limit.-Colonel Walker, and that Senator Millen ought to have seen a telegram. That is a reflection on him. Who knows anything at all about that but Senator Millen? Mr. Rodgers does not. I do not.
– I do not wish to debate that matter. I merely desire to place on record my statement that I have made no attempt to impugn the personal honour of Senator Millen. I am quite ready to agree to a proposal that he should be heard at the Bar. I think, with the honorable member for Balaclava, that the proper place for him to address the House would be from the Bar, and not from the floor.
– Suppose we agree to that. What is to prevent Caldwell, Ashworth, and everybody else who has a complaint against the Minister coming here and asking to be heard? There is no charge made in this House against the Minister personally.
– One is a Minister, and the other is a man in the street.
– While I do not raise any objection to the Minister being permitted to address this House from the Bar, I agree with the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) that the burden in this matter should be borne by the Ministers in this House. I shall be found resisting any attempt such as has apparently unanimously been made by the Senate to bring Ministers or honorable members from, another place to take part in the deliberations of this Chamber. If the Government think that Senator Millen’s personal honour has been impugned,- I. am quite prepared to accede to the request that he should be allowed to speak. Should that course be followed, there is sure to be very long and heated debate covering the whole matter, by reason of the Minister’s intrusion here.
– I have been taken somewhat by surprise by the suggestion made by the Prime Minister. I wish to preface my remarks by reminding the House that it is only a little while ago that, acting under the instruction of the Committee of Public Accounts, I made a statement in defence of iSenator Millen against what we believed to be entirely unwarranted insinuations. I say this because I am entirely opposed to the suggestion of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and I desire very briefly to give my reasons. It is noticeable that the suggestion that Senator Millen should be heard in this Chamber is made by the Prime Minister because of certain statements made by another Minister. If there is any difference of that ‘kind amongst Ministers, it should be settled by themselves in Cabinet.
– The honorable member is quite wrong.
– I heard the Prime Minister distinctly say that the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) had made certain statements, which, in the right honorable gentleman’s opinion, necessitated our hearing a statement by Senator Millen also.
– The remarks of the Prime Minister were substantially to that effect, for I listened very carefully to them.
– The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) raised several points, with which the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) cannot deal, because they relate to events before he took office; and, as I knew nothing of them myself, I said we ought to hear the other side.
– I understood the Prime Minister to say that on account of certain remarks made by the Assistant
Minister for Repatriation, it was necessary to hear a statement of the case from Senator Millen’s point of view. However, to come to the general principle, it has happened occasionally, I believe, that persons guilty of offences against Parliament, or against a particular Chamber, have been called to the Bar and reproved. That is a practice which has much antiquity behind it, and to which I cannot object; but it is a principle of our representative government that no persons shall take part in a debate in this Chamber, or influence its conclusions in any way, except .those who have been sent hers by the direct mandate of the constituencies. I object also to the suggestion that, even occasionally, a person of standing, as was instanced by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) as occurring in the State of Victoria, might come to the Bar of a Chamber and give his views on certain questions. That is a very grave practice to establish, in view of the danger that an eloquent orator may seriously mislead the deliberations of those who have been sent to Parliament from the constituencies. On that point I take my stand, along with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), against the establishment of a precedent which I believe to be unconstitutional and undemocratic, and likely to lead to grave difficulties, ‘and dangers in the future.
– In view of the opinions that have been ex- pressed, it is idle for me to press my suggestion that Senator Millen be heard, either on the floor or at the Bar of the House. I, therefore, withdraw the proposal.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed, vide page 13583) :
Division 156 (Repatriation Commission), £2,529,429
.- I feel sure that members of the House, and the public outside, when they read the speeches made to-day by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), and the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), will say that there ought to be a thorough investigation into the matter that we are now discussing. On the 13th May of this year, wishful toknow the amount of money that, in my opinion, our soldiers had been robbed of, I asked this question -
What is the total amount claimed by the Kirkpatrick firm of architects for fees respecting plans for returned soldiers’ homes?
The reply was -
The claims submitted to date for preparation of plans, specifications, and supervision of construction total £44,535.
We have been told by the Leader of the Country party that there are twelve standardized plans for the cities,, and twelve for the country; and I am confident that such plans could be obtained for, at most, £500. Mr. Nahum Barnet, one of the best architects in Victoria, whose name is known all over Australia, has, to my knowledge, prepared plans much more difficult than those for soldiers’ homes, and accepted £20 as a fee. At such a rate we could obtain twentyfive plans for £500. I maintain that the Kirkpatrick firm has robbed the soldiers of Australia; and I may say that one of the leading men of the firm was of the necessary age, but never went to the Front. Why do I speak so severely? No trade union or other body of men showed so much loyalty to the British race as did the organization of the architects. When those architect soldiers returned to Melbourne, they were given a reception, and each of the gentlemen who organized that reception had to take two guests. Never has any trade union or “any other body set such a splendid example. Do honorable members think for a moment that if some of these loyal architects had been asked to prepare the plans they, would have robbed the soldiers of £44,000? And why was such an amount of money paid ? I accuse Sir Denison Miller, the manager of the Commonwealth Bank, of favouring his blood relatives, or relatives by ‘ marriage - that is how this infamy was perpetrated. Ask any architect if such fees are reasonable. There is not the slightest doubt that, at any rate, twelve standardized plans could have been, got for £500. I do not blame the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers), as that gentleman well knows’, but somebody mint be to blame. I have never yet been able) to ascertain the relationship between Sir Denison Miller, the manager of the Com-monwealth Bank, and the Kirkpatrick firm, and we are still ignorant of the extent of the infamy. I say, advisedly, that if ever there was a clear case of nepotism this appears to be one. The next question I asked was -
What is the total sum paid to this firm for such plans?
The reply was -
It is understood that the Commonwealth Bank has made certain payments to the architects mentioned in respect of these claims, but, so far, the claims between the Bank and the Commission have not been adjusted.
I do not know whether there has been an adjustment yet. The manager of the Commonwealth Bank ought to be under the control of this Parliament, for, in the words of the late Lord Forrest, “he has too much power.”. Even the exTrea.surer (Sir Joseph Cook1) acknowledged, in this chamber, that he had no control - in other words, that Sir Denison Miller can do almost whatever he pleases. So much for that infamy. The Institute of Victorian Architects and the kindred bodies in the other States, if they had been applied to, would gladly have provided plans; but this big Kirkpatrick firm, boosted in monetary power by the manager of the Commonwealth Bank, has taken advantage of the returned soldiers.
As to the suggestion made by the Prime Minister, I regard the custom of calling people to the Bar as an idiotic one, dating from almost primeval times; but there is no great difference between the Bar and the Table. It will be remembered that the great Cobbett, for some aspersions on the British Parliament, was made to kneel down at the Bar and tender a humble apology. However, he was man enough to remark, as he rose and dusted his knees, ‘ ‘ I always said this was a dirty House,” and thus he got level. Such an absurd custom should be allowed to sink into oblivion.
Mr. Ashworth, the President of the Employers Federation has made accusations so serious that it behoves the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and Senator E. D. Millen to demand an inquiry by a High Court Judge. It has been stated that an inquiry is being continued by the Public Accounts Committee, but I have ascertained that the final report of that Committee was handed in .the other day. Min- isters are accused of malignant perversion of the truth, and I demand, as a member, that the matter shall . be threshed out before a Judge. Had we agreed that Senator E. D. Millen should appear at the Bar of the House, I certainly should have asked that Mr. Ashworth, who, without the protection of any rights or privileges, is making statements in the press day after day, should also be called. The other day I asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the serious charges made, he would consider the advisability of appointing a High Court Judge to inquire into them; but, notwithstanding that further charges are being made, the right honorable gentleman has not seen any reason to change his attitude. Even yesterday there were further charges; indeed, the columns of the press are reeking with charges against this most mismanaged Department. In the old days if, under similar circumstances, a Government had refused to face the music, Ministers would have handed in their resignations. Mr. Ashworth was never on my side in politics. Apart from our difference of political opinion, I have always found him a straight, white man. He has earned a great deal of credit from those who know him by the position he has taken up in this matter. It is up to the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) to appoint a Commission to inquire into his charges. The Minister (Mr. Rodgers) spoke of an application for timber areas in the Solomons which was made by Messrs. Fairley, Rigby, and Company on the 26th October, 1913, which is over eight years ago. The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) was in error in the statement he . made in connexion, with this matter, as is shown by the letter from Mr. Barnett, Acting Resident Commissioner, Tulagi, to Fairley, Rigby, and Company, dated 1st May, 1915, from which I quote the following : -
The matter of your application for a licence to cut, fell, . and remove kauri timber from the Island of Vanikoro has been inadvertently overlooked.
That was two years after the application was made. I visited the Solomon Islands en route to Rabaul, and made inquiries there from Government officers, planters, and others whom I met about that unfortunate man, Mr. J. T. Caldwell. Without exception, they all considered him a very much ill-used man. This was verified when, later on, by chance of circumstances, I decided to call again at the Solomon
Islands, where I stayed altogether between three and four days. I asked the Resident Commissioners at each of the four big places I stopped at, Tulagi, Phasi, Macambo, and another, the name of which I cannot at present recall, whether when a Resident Commissioner recommended an application for a mining or timber lease it was generally accepted. Not one of them knew of a case in which an application so recommended had been refused. I was told that when their applications for leases had been recommended by Resident Commissioners the companies concerned frequently went to work straightway. A highly educated gentleman, of great intelligence and a barrister by profession, was sent out from England as Land Commissioner to these islands in order to try to put matters straight. He assured me that land leases and tenured in the islands were most fearfully mixed up, and the confusion had been growing for a number of years. If he is able within four or five years to clear up these matters, he will have performed a task equal to the cleansing of the Augean stable. A son of our highly respected and regarded chief of the Science and Industry Bureau, and lately Commonwealth Statistician, is over there giving assistance. I had conversations with him, as I had with other officials. It will be found at page 13205 of Hansard for 24th November last that the honorable member for Perth, amongst other things, said -
The person immediately concerned was Mr. J. T. Caldwell, who mentioned that he had some, important correspondence. He was asked during the course of his examination why he did not produce it, and he said that it was in the possession of the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister). After some little difficulty the Committee obtained it from that gentleman. It was examined by myself, the Secretary to the Committee, and probably by individual members also, for it was made available to all. It consisted for the most part of a series of letters addressed to various members of Parliament, and containing somewhat rambling and wild statements of the character that honorable members receive by the bushel from people with alleged grievances.
I ask honorable members whether they think that a Judge would hand correspondence to his Clerk of Courts and would refuse to admit it in evidence. We know very well that he would admit such a letter in evidence, whether it contained statements which, in the opinion of the honorable member for Perth, were rambling and wild statements or not. “Probably” is very indefinite, and I must say that I found the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee prepared to throw every obstacle in the way of my obtaining information, even though the evidence to which reference is made was taken publicly and in the presence of representatives of the press. Three legal gentlemen desired to obtain certain parts of the evidence, and I, as member for Melbourne, made a, request for it on their behalf, but because one of those three gentlemen is not a persona grata with the Chairman of the Public Acconnts Committee, the request was refused.
Mr.Fowler. - I object to that statement. I was acting all through under the instructions of the Public Accounts Committee.
– Possibly so, and perhaps the honorable member was so acting when he refused me the right to
Bee the evidence.
– I decidedly was.
– Then the Public Accounts Committee should have kept the representatives of the press out, and should not have made the evidence public.
– The honorable member should not accuse me of being solely responsible for matters for which the Public Accounts Committee is entitled to accept responsibility.
– I express the opinion that the honorable member was in favour of the Minister for Repatriation and against an injured man.
– Who was trying to take down the Commonwealth as much as he could.
– I propose to quote a letter which I can let the honorable member have later, and he can do what he likes with it outside. It is from’ one of the legal gentlemen, who, I believe, is not persona grata with the honorable member for Perth. He writes-
Dear Sir, - I observe in Mansard, No. 103, page 13205, that Mr. Fowler states “ that the person immediately concerned was Mr. J. T. Caldwell, who mentioned that he had some correspondence.” Although this correspondence was official, he has* to say that there was nothing in the letters which he considered worth placing on record. This official correspondence ought not to have been suppressed.* Just imagine a Judge suppressing official correspondence demanded to be put in evidence by a claimant because he did not appreciate the literary style of the writer. He states “ that the action of the honorable gentleman (Senator E. D. Millen) was correct and honorable in every regard.” This is an* opinion (although stated as a fact), not founded on any evidence or any statements made on oath by the individual concerned.* He states it as a fact where there were no facts to justify the statement. He states “ that if he ( the Minister) erred at all, it was, in his opinion, in showing undue consideration to the person who tried to inveigle the War Service Homes Commissioner into a transaction in regard to property over which the would-be vendor has acquired no rights whatever.*
– I rise to a point of order. I do not know, sir, whether you have been listening to the honorable member, but, if so, you must have heard him read a statement just now to the effect that I had been guilty of a calculated and deliberate untruth. I ask whether it is in order for the honorable member to repeat a statement of that kind made against any member of the Committee.
– The honorable member is not in order in making charges of that kind against any honorable member.
– I am not -making charges.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN The honorable member is not in order in reading such a letter.
– I withdraw the statement objected to.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.And the letter ?
– No; I withdraw the statement to which exception has been taken. I consider that the letter is quite pertinent to this debate on the operations of the War Service Homes Commission. It refers to the case of a man who has bean deeply wronged by what I consider a conspiracy, and in connexion with whose case perjury has been committed, and the honorable member for Perth was
– The honorable member does not know what he is talking about.
– These documents are now in the possession of the Department. The letter from which I was quoting proceeds -
So far from Mr. Caldwell trying to inveigle the War Service Homes Commissioner, he was forced by the persistence of the authorized representative of the War Service Homes Commissioner against his wish, and against his better judgment, to negotiate with them, and he did not do so until (as Mr. Caldwell’s telegram to Brisbane shows) after he was urged by his principals in the syndicate to negotiate with him against his own wish. The fact is that he was inveigled by the War Service Homes Commission, through their authorized representative, to negotiate, and the facts show this. Why Mr. Fowler should make this . . . statement is difficult to realize, and it is quite opposed to the facts, as will be proved by perusal of the evidence.
– I made that statement under instructions from the Public Works Committee.
– Of course, and the honorable member made a lot of statements that he should not have made. The letter proceeds -
The statement that Mr. Caldwell had acquired no rights whatever is a . . . Mr. Caldwell had a vested interest in his application, which was lodged, and which had been recommended. His rights were, therefore, vested, but were destroyed by the deliberate action of officials who acted with the consent of Senator Millen in destroying same, and trying to secure them for the Government. Senator Milieu persisted in trying to secure’ the same for months, and has never yet disavowed it. … I will prove the above facts and conclusions before a High Court Judge*
– I rise to a point of order. I should like to have your ruling, sir, whether it is competent for an honorable member to repeat slanders of that kind against any member of the Committee, on the authority of some person outside this House.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member for Melbourne is not in order in repeating slanders against any member of the Committee from statements made by some one outside Parliament.
– Then I will withdraw the last statement quoted.
– How can that letter he put in, unless we know who is the writer of it ?
– The writer is J. Woolf, and the honorable member for Perth took advantage of his position to be unfair to him. Here is another letter from Mr. Caldwell: - 2 Bridge-street, Sydney, 19th February, 1921.
The Right Hon. W. M. Hughes, P.O., M.H.R.,
Prime Minister, Melbourne
With reference to your letter of the 5th inst., I observed in the Argus of 5th February that the Government has announced the appointment of a Business Board, in addition to the Parliamentary Joint Committee which assembled on the 15th inst.,. and therefore, respectfully desire that you will be good enough to definitely instruct the Chairman of this new Commission to permit a proper and effective re-hearing of matters, the subject of my complaint against the War Service Homes Commission, in respect of the Islands of Vanikoro and Tevai, or else appoint forthwith a Commission consisting of a High Court Justice to carry out the Government’s promise to Parliament, and I should be represented by counsel.
Notwithstanding the statement of Mr. Fowler, the inquiry has not been abonafide one, and there can be no satisfaction unless I have the right through counsel of crossexamination of Colonel Walker and Mr. Bradshaw, Commissioner and Controller respectively.
These men have shown themselves to be untruthful in their statements and unscrupulous in their methods, and, therefore, unworthy of the high positions which they hold.
As an example, I may quote the paper shown to Mr. Roger Greene, Secretary to the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, when he had an interview in Melbourne with Senator E. D. Millen and Colonel Walker at the end of July last year, respecting Vanikoro. He was shown a paper with my name on it, which he was told I had signed, and which, if true, might have been fatal to my claim. This paper was produced in November last to the Committee, and Colonel Walker swore to my having signed it in the presence of himself, Colonel Duigan, and the accountant to the Commission, a man I have never seen.
I had never seen the paper; yet he swore to my signature no less than four times, and finally, due to the persistence of Senator E. D. Millen, admitted that I had not signed it, thus implying forgery in his own office.
Lieut. -Colonel Walker has made a definite statement that he was offered a bribe of £50,000.
– Why were not the bribers attacked? If Lieut. -Colonel Walker is willing to give evidence, let these men be prosecuted; gaol is the best place for them. I have spoken strongly against Lieut. -Colonel Walker; but in this matter I will help him all I can. What Government, even in a Conservative country like England, would for one moment allow one of its officers to be offered a bribe of £50,000 without taking action to bring to book the guilty parties?
The ACTING CHAIRMAN (Mr. Watkins). - The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I was a little disappointed with the address of the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) in opening this debate, in that I had hoped, after what was promised on the last occasion, that the reorganization of this Department would be presented to Parliament in the form of an amending Bill, and in that his statements lacked definiteness regarding the future of this important Department. There was a great deal of frankness concerning the administration of the previous Minister, but, in regard to the future, the Assistant Minister’s statement was entirely lacking in that quality, and we are still left in doubt as to what is to be the future of the War Service Homes’ Commission. By an Act of this Parliament a Commission was set up which was made practically independent of Parliament. Honorable members who were in this House at that time know the atmosphere in which the Bill was passed. The returned soldiers had on more than one occasion at their conference and in the public press expressed their entire want of confidence in politicians generally. They regarded Parliament, as some writers in the press profess still to regard it, as consisting of incompetent men who are unable to control these big Government activities, and their united request was that repatriation should be handed over to Commissions practically free of political interference. At that time I expressed the view that the soldiers would live to regret the day when these important matters were removed from the keen scrutiny of Parliament itself; that day arrived long ago. But the Assistant Minister has given us no indication that the present control is to be ended. The Act is still in existence, and the duty of the Minister is to administer it until Parliament repeals or alters it. I desire to know what is to be the system of the administration of this Department in the future. The discussion of this matter upon the Estimates gives to Parliament no opportunity of expressing its view in regard to the future administration of the War Service Homes.
– I omitted to mention that an amending Bill has been framed to delimit very substantially the powers of the Commissioner.
– And restore Ministerial control ?
– I am glad to hear that. The restoration of Ministerial control is the first step towards the reform of the Department; but side by side with that, there must be a complete curtailment of the ambitious schemes of the ex-Commissioner. My complaint against the administration of the War Service Homes activities and repatriation generally is that there has been a tendency to forget the soldier in the desire of the controlling bodies to bring into existence some peculiar fads of their own. One administrator regards these activities as an opportunity for the creation of garden cities, and he sets up expensive machinery for the opening up of new localities on the group system. Another desires that all the soldiers shall be brought together in certain streets. But it seems to me that the governing principle of the administration of all these Departments should be that they are created for the purpose of giving the soldier what he himself wants. The War Service Homes Commission set out very early in its history to see that the soldier should not have what he wanted, but should be compelled to take something that the Commisioner wished him to have. I am sorry to see that that principle is still being followed under the new administration. Many soldiers desire to buy houses that are already constructed, and if the whole of the soldiers could have been housed in such homes there would have been no need for the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds which this Department has cost the country in administration. Of course, we are told that Australia is short of homes, and that the Government should try to build new ones. That matterbelongs to the sphere of the State Governments; and if our duty merely is, as I conceive it is, to help the soldier to get a home for himself, we should leave the matter to the State authorities, and employ Commonwealth money as the soldier most desires it to be employed.
– The Government are prepared to adopt, and are adopting, that policy up to 20 per cent. of the total.
– Why is it limited? If I am the unhappy soldier to make the twenty-first application, why should Ibe denied the right to buy the house in which I am living? A soldier has been living in a particular house for a number of years; his children have been born in it ; he selected the house because it was near to his wife’s relatives or to his own. But he is not to be helped to buy that house. He is to be sent by the Commissioner to some new suburb created perhaps 3, 4, or 5 miles away from his own people and the place where he earns his living.
-Does the honorable member know of one purchased house for which the soldier did not pay too much?
-Plenty of them.
– That is another question. There is another set of people who desire to “molly-coddle” the soldier. They want to treat himas though we were handing out alms; and they insist that he must not pay a penny more than they think is the value of the house he wants. What is the principle upon which a man usually buys a house? In how many cases have honorable members themselves given for a house considerably more than they knew to be its actual value, because it was situated in the locality in which they desired to live, or because the wife liked the arrangement of the rooms, or for some other reason that was peculiar to the intending purchaser, and which had no bearing upon the ordinary market value?
– And if people are allowed to do that they growl at the Department afterwards.
– The soldier has a right to growl when the Department undertakes to give him a house at a certain value, and fails to do so, or when it sets out to supply him with a well-constructed house and produces houses like those which some applicants have received. But the soldiers have no right to complain, .and I doubt whether they do complain, if, when they have selected their own houses and made their own arrangements, they find they have made a bad bargain. They cannot blame the Department for that.
– They do blame the
– They cannot blame the Department unless it interferes with the exercise of their discretion. It would be wise to have a branch of the Department to which the soldier could apply for advice and for an inspection and valuation, but to compel men to turn down houses they wish to huy in order to set up a huge building scheme and create garden cities, is not to act in accordance with the objects for which the Department was created, and it is upon that rock that the administration has been wrecked. “We have been told, so far as anything definite can be gauged from the figures, that the total amount to be spent upon the erection of soldiers’ homes this year is something less than £3,000,000, whereas last year, I understand, the expenditure was upwards of £6,000,000. We should have a definite statement upon this point. We should be able to say to the soldier applicants how many houses we intend to build this year. Instead of keeping them in suspense, as some of them have been kept for as long as two years, waiting to know whether they are to get a house at all, we should say now definitely that we do not intend to build more than so many houses this year, and as there are so many applicants waiting, any other soldiers desiring houses will have to wait two or three years for them.
– Then those other soldiers will go to somebody else for a house, and the Commissioner will not have so, much to do.
– That is the point. Once we create these Departments their principal work becomes that of creating excuses for their continuation and extension. That is very evident in connexion with some branches of the Department under consideration. I ask that the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) come down to this Committee -at the earliest possible moment, not with indefinite figures that can be argued about, but with a definite statement. It is a fact that there are in the hands of the Department a certain number of allotments that have not been used. The exact number of them must be known in the Department.
– There are 924 of them.
– Previously in this debate it has been stated that the number was “ somewhere about 1,000.” It is inevitable in big schemes such as this that there should be a number of allotments on hand. I do not think that the number is unreasonable. It is for want of definite information of what the Department is doing, and is going to do, that nine-tenths of the criticism arises. If a soldier comes to me for advice, I say, ‘ ‘ If you are in a hurry, go to the Bank, and make your own arrangements.” I think that is a fair thing to do, but the Department is not doing it. The Assistant Minister seemed to be a little annoyed at an interjection made by me with regard to the suspension of work. I can produce a score of letters from the Deputy Commissioner in Sydney to the effect tha.t a certain person’s application has been received, but that until he receives instructions nothing is being done. That statement would not have been repeated as often as it has been to every New South Wales member of this Committee unless it were a fact that the work has been suspended. There is a pile of delayed applications running into hundreds in the Department.
– I have informed’ the honorable gentleman that the money paid to New South Wales in this financial year has been over £500,000.
– I think the soldiers, as well as this Committee, are entitled to know -what is going to be done in the next half-year. Prom the Assistant Minister’s statement this morning I take it that the amount available for this year is quite insufficient to meet the reasonable demands of the soldiers and to keep the promises that have been made to them. To my mind, it is a most wicked thing for the Department to allow the soldier to go on believing that his home will be provided when there is no intention to provide it. I have a’ case in my electorate in which a young man wished to be married. He’ put in an application for a house, and his marriage has been postponed three or four times in the belief that within a few months the matter would be settled. His application is so far down in the list that, if the statement made to the Committee this morning is true, he has been grievously misled. It is not fair to keep a man waiting for two years when he can go to the bank and make his own arrangements, probably on the basis of 7 per cent, interest. By doing the business through the Department he will save a per cent, or 1 per cent., and will derive the advantage of the extended terms which the Commonwealth allows; but he may prefer to pay the higher rate, sci that he may have his home at once. We ought to have before us a definite measure for the reconstruction of this Department upon quite restricted lines as compared with what has been attempted previously. We should look to what the soldier wants, and should try to satisfy his wants, rather than attempt the grandiose schemes for the reconstruction of cities and suburbs which have been indulged in too much by those who have been placed in charge. Naturally, the failures of the War Service Homes administration are much more in the public eye than its successes, and it is a fact known to any honorable member who takes the trouble to look around him in the localities in which soldiers’ homes are built that for every failure there are a dozen successes. These successes do not come under the notice of Parliament. Criticism of the administration has been based too much upon the exceptional instances of failure to provide wellbuilt homes, and too little upon the failures which have been due to the fact that the Commissioner appointed by the Minister failed to realize the nature of the job he had undertaken.
– What proportion of the returned men are satisfied.?
– I should say, in my electorate, about 95 per cent, of those who have got houses.
– Yes, of those who have got houses, but what about the others?
– I do not think any of those who have not got homes are satisfied. They have a right to be told exactly where they’ stand. I object strongly to tha continual interference with the man who wants either to buy a house already constructed or to. buy his land, and employ an architect and builder to build under his own supervision, to- his own plan, the mortgage on the property to be taken over subsequently by the Department. Such applications ought to be encouraged. If every soldier could be induced to employ his own architect and builder, and to supervise the erection of his own home, it would eliminate a large percentage of the present complaints. I know of many cases in which that has been dome, but I do not know of one such case in which the soldier has been dissatisfied. If he builds a house with a leaky roof, or with other, defects, he can only, blame himself, his architect, or his builder. It is> easy to be wise, like the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) after the event. The honorable member was not in the atmosphere in which this Act was conceived. It is very easy, in these calmer days, to see what ought to have been done. We, who were here, know that it was not possible to do the things which many of us wanted to da. We had to concede to the soldiers many things that they thought were for their good, but which, in our judgment, weft not desirable. We shall get very little good by an investigation of the mistakes made in those years, because the conditions then operating are not the conditions under which we work to-day. The tragedy of the whole business is that the millions, which ought to have been spent in buying homes for soldiers - existing homes or homes constructed by them - have been devoted to enterprises for building homes ten, fifteen or twenty years hence. That mistake we can all deplore, .but the position that confronts us to-day is one in which we are asked to provide for the- immediate future. I am disappointed to hear the statement by the Assistant Minister that the late Treasurer’ (Sir Joseph Cook) thought it impossible to raise more money for this purpose. We must raise more money for this purpose, or immediately tell the soldier that the scheme will end a year or so from now. Whatever is done the soldier should be told. It is not fair to delude him into the belief that he is going to get Government assistance to build a home when we know that the money is not available, and that the home will not be erected. Prom every point of view the matter ought to be determined as quickly as possible, because many of the soldiers to-day are able to go to financial institutions and make arrangements for building their homes. Many of the banks that are not lending money for the purpose of speculative building are quite willing to lend it to men for building homes, because they are the men who are most likely to prove satisfactory customers to the banks. I would like to say one word with regard to the statement that houses which cost £800 are only worth £600. That statement appears to have been made on the authority of some builders, and it may, or may not, represent their actual view of the facts. So far as my experience goes, the only complaints upon the score of value that I have received have been the complaints of soldiers who, having to remove from the locality in which their homes were situated, have had their houses sold at a value far exceeding what the Department charged for them, and they regard it as an injustice that the profits of the transaction should not be given to them, instead of the Department. Those cases indicate to me what I believe to be the fact, that the great majority of the soldiers for whom homes have been provided by the Department have acquired their homes at a lower price than they would otherwise have paid. They may not have obtained them in the locality in which they desired them, but in spite of the fact that their homes were built at the pinnacle of high prices, they could hot have purchased them for the price they paid had not the Government been behind them. I am satisfied that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) will be making a good bargain if he takes over the homes on the depreciated value that the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) has indicated. I think it would be desirable if we could discuss the future of the Department under a Bill for an Act to effect reforms. At present the Minister is charged with the administration of the old Act. He is supposed to appoint a Commissioner, who has powers the abuse of which has brought us to the present position. The remedy seems to me to be to bring in a Bill at the earliest possible moment constituting a Department under the direct control of the Minister, and with very much curtailed powers by comparison with those of the great Department established some time ago. I regret that the Committee has not had an opportunity of hearing . Senator E. D. Millen. I think he made a great mistake in attempting to get a man to supervise the expenditure of such a. huge sum of money at the miserable salary offered. I think that was the great blunder the honorable senator made. He did it with a view to conserving as much of the money under his control as possible for the benefit of the soldiers themselves.
– The Minister had to give a promise to the Opposition that the salary would not exceed £1,500. 0
– I differ entirely from the view that compulsion was placed upon the Minister. I have looked up the records, but, as interjections are disorderly, they are not always recorded. I remember interjecting to the Assistant Minister in charge that the salary was “ altogether inadequate,” and he said that the Minister was satisfied that the salary was enough. That statement, of course, silenced me for the time being. When I looked up the records I found that .the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) stated in his speech that, in his judgment, the salary was “ altogether inadequate “ for the work performed. I am satisfied that the members of the Parliament then in existence were men of a type who would not have agreed to a proposition that the Department could get a competent man to supervise properly work involving the expenditure of £25,000,000 to £30,000,000 at a salary which would be paid to the chief accountant in many business houses. It seems to me that, in his desire to meet the prophets of that false economy .which is preached in Parliament so often, the Minister came to grief. He got a man from among the few who were ready to take a job at such a price, and this man, who had been clothed by Parlia- ment at the desire of the soldiers themselves with independent powers, launched a scheme of construction without having the business and commercial ability necessary to properly direct it. He thus cam& to spend on enterprises which have been entirely unprofitable a great deal of money which should have been spent on soldiers’ homes. I think it is quite unfair that Senator Millen should be blamed for all that was done in the Department, in view of the clear attitude of the last Parliament in this matter. If you read the debates on the War Service Homes Bill, you will find it insisted upon over and over again that the Commissioner must be entirely free from political control, that he must have power to do practically what he would, without Ministerial interference. That being so, it is grossly unfair that the Minister nominally at the head of the Department should be held responsible for act3 done by a Commissioner whom Parliament deliberately took out of his control.
– It will not be expected of me that I should deal with these matters with that wealth of detail that the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) has supplied, nor as, fully as the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page). He and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) have also made a valuable contribution to the debate, which throughout -and I have listened carefully to everything that has been said - has been conducted in the spirit which the subject merits. I do not think that on fair consideration of the case it will be said that the charges which have been published widely in the press and elsewhere against the administration of the Repatriation Department can be substantiated. Admittedly, much that has been done and much that exists is unsatisfactory; but the last speaker (Mr. Hector Lamond) put his finger on the trouble when he said that Parliament insisted on freeing the War Service Homes Commissioner entirely from political control. That Act of Parliament exempts the Minister for Repatriation from blame for all things done under that Act. The Parliament deliberately substituted control by a Commissioner for control by the Minister. The War Service Homes
Act, in substance, repeats the verbiage of the Railways Acts of most of the States. No doubt, the Railways Commissioners of a State are under the direction of a Minister; but there is a clear distinction between their relation to their Minister and that of the permanent head of an ordinary Department. The Railways Commissioners aTe given ‘ certain statutory powers which Parliament expects them to exercise; but under our system of government it is necessary to assign responsibility for what they may do to a Minister, who can on the floor of the House defend or explain their administration. But there is a fundamental distinction between the responsibility of a Minister for the acts of a Railway Commissioner and for the acts of an official of his own Department. In theory, not only is the Minister, but the whole Government, responsible for everything done; but the facts are as I have stated. The other day, when the Committee was discussing the Commonwealth Shipping Line, many honorable members repeated what I had said previously, that the Line should be placed under a Commission, or in some other way put beyond political control, 1 supported that view. If the Manager of the Line were vested with powers similar to those of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, would it be said, should he commit some error of judgment, that I, the Minister under whose control he was nominally placed, was responsible in the sense that I am now responsible for the. things done by him, and by every one else, in the Departments over which I have absolute control 1 For all that is done now by the manager of the Commonwealth Shipping Line I am actually responsible, Parliament not having taken its control out of my hands. It is true that I have voluntarily forborne to interfere, but that does not relieve me of my Ministerial responsibility. If, however, Parliament gave unfettered power to the manager’ of the Line, it would not be in the same position when it came to criticiseor censure his management as it is in now.
It is not disputed that, in the main, the things complained of in the administration of the War Service Homes Commission have arisen either from the lack of judgment or capacity of the late Commissioner, and his want of business train- ing, or from defects in the Act under which he was appointed, for which Parliament is responsible. That being so much of the criticism directed against the Minister fails. Let us consider first the circumstances under which the Department of Repatriation was established. The Minister, in organizing that Department, had no chart to guide him; there was no similar organization elsewhere which he could follow. Nevertheless, he has built up a Department which not only has functioned but, viewing its operations as a whole, has worked in a manner which must be regarded as satisfactory. Let me take, as a case in point, the provision of War Service Homes. The criticism which has been published in the newspapers would make it appear that nothing has been done or that that which has been done is bad - .that all the houses that have been built or bought are defective. No fewer than 17,344 houses have been built or bought. Ninety-eight per cent, of these are excellent houses. That seems to have been overlooked. In New South Wales there are 2,301 of these houses, of which forty-seven were faulty, and of these forty-seven, twenty-seven were built by the Commonwealth Bank and twenty by the War Service Homes Commissioner, but all by contract. Therefore, in New South Wales, only 2 per cent, of the houses built or bought were faulty, and in the other States the percentage has been even smaller. In every case the faults have been put right. Has any private builder done better ? In discussing the erection of houses we are not dealing with a matter with which we are not familiar. We all live in houses, and some of us have had houses built. My own experience is a somewhat chequered one. I have throughout my life been a fervent believer in day labour, and I have been foolish enough to stand by my principles, and to build with day labour. Consequently, my building has cost me a great deal of money, though I have, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that it is all day-labour work. At Sassafras I have a house which cost £1,100, and in which there are no bricks save in the chimney, and I am willing to exchange this house for any War Service Home erected on that site. I have seen many of these homes. They are excellent houses. I do not know of any with which, at their cost, they need fear comparison. In addition to the 17,344 houses which have been built or bought, 26,000 homes and farms have been provided for returned soldiers, so. that 43,344 returned men or their dependants have been accommodated. The critics say nothing of the good work done; overlooking the 9S per cent., and cry aloud about the 2 per cent, of faulty houses. . Of course, what has been done falls far short of perfection, but have returned men been dealt with as well, or anything like as well, in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, or Great Britain? I say unhesitatingly that the work done by the Repatriation Department of Australia stands out by contrast with that done in any one of the belligerent countries. I do not contend that everything is satisfactory in the affairs of the Department, but I say that what is not satisfactory is due to the acts of the ex-Commissioner and the powers deliberately given to him by Parliament. I come now to the contracts that he made, lt has been said that land was purchased in excess of requirements and that unwise purchases of timber areas, saw-mills, and the like, were made, for which the Department is censurable. It is not true that more land was bought than will be needed. As for the contracts, the Minister, I understand, signed a minute instructing Lieut.-Colonel Walker that supplies were to be bought only for twelve months; but without the knowledge of the Minister arrangements were made for supplies extending over a period of two or three years. I ask honorable members what they would do if they found themselves in the Minister’s place?
– Sack the Commissioner.
– And that was done.
– But the Commissioner’s services were dispensed with under false pretences.
– In what way?
– The reason given for his dismissal was that he was an uncertificated bankrupt at the time of his appointment.
– The Commissioner was appointed under a Statute for which the honorable members of this House were as responsible as I was. In the circumstances, there was no other course but to dismiss him.
– But his position was known at the time of his appointment.
– It was not known.
– It was known in the Department.
– It was not known by the Minister. I say it most emphatically.
– And the Minister has already denied it.
– Then the Minister should have known.
– In the course of a year, thousands of documents pass through my Department. I cannot possibly be expected to be intimately acquainted with the details of all of them, although I am supposed to be ; and if any honorable members ask me if I am aware of the contents of any particular document, I must say “Yes” or “No,” but I am responsible for all, although, perhaps, in 900 cases out of 1,000 I may not have seen them. Well, this is one of the things which the Minister tor Repatriation did not know. The matter is quite fresh in my memory. I was in England when Lieut.-Colonel Walker was appointed, and therefore I was not acquainted with the circumstances leading up to his appointment, but I do know that as soon as the Minister for Repatriation knew that Lieut. -Colonel Walker was an. uncertificated bankrupt he brought the matter to the Cabinet, and the Government took certain action. It may be said that the Minister, inappointing. Lieut. -Colonel Walker, made a poor selection. Well, what are the facts? I agree with the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) that there was very little choice offeredto the Minister. How could it be otherwise when a salary of only £1,500 was offered for the services of a man who might be expected to handle tens of millions of Commonwealth money? To expect the most capable man to offer himself for such a salary was to slam the door on the teachings of life and its experiences.
Mr.Anstey. - Who slammed the door?
– Well, let me tell the honorable member. When the War Service Homes Bill was under discussion in Committee on 20th December, 1918, the honorable member’s Leader (Mr. Tudor) is reported in Hansard as saying -
It will be for the Government to see that they appoint the most capable man available.
– Then do not confine them to the payment of a salary not exceeding £1,500.
– No larger salary will be paid until the proposal has been brought before the House, and an opportunity afforded for its discussion? The Minister promises that.
My friend, the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers), made it clear then that if we wanted to get the most capable man for the position, we should not confine the salary to £1,500, but my friends opposite who have suddenly blossomed forth in an entirely new role, said - “No,we must not give more than £1,500.” I think I may leave it at that. Had a competent man been appointed the result no doubt would have been very different. However, it is no good censuring Lieutenant-Colonel Walker now. The facts are he was appointed, and he did what he could, but the results have been most unfortunate. To arrive at a true estimate of the position we should take the work of the Department by and large. Although it is popular just now to do nothing else but criticise the Department, it may, I think, be said that those who are loudest in their criticism have had very little experience in administration. It is quite easy for any man in Collins-street to get up on a fence and tell a farmer how to plough his land, and, generally, how to carry on farming operations, but it is altogether a different thing to conduct a farm properly and make it pay. Let us apply this reasoning to the work of theRepatriation Department. Both of my colleagues who are responsible for the administration of that Department are competent men.
– But you have already said that our criticism has been very moderate.
– No, I did not say that.
I come now to the point that really matters. The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) has asked what are we going to do in the future. I have tried to ascertain where the fault lies, whether it is due to stupidity, to red-tape, or some defect in the Act. Honorable members have spoken about all the letters they have received complaining of faults in the administration. I suppose that in my office alone I have dealt with any- thing from 15,000 to 20,000 letters from soldiers on repatriation matters generally, and I have most reluctantly come to the conclusion that a good deal of the trouble is due to red-tape. I am not going to say anything about the officials, except that at times they seem to exhibit a narrowness of outlook that is rather disappointing. But after making all allowances for red-tape, the major trouble lies in the Act itself. It requires amendment. The honorable member for Cowper quoted a case of a soldier blinded in both eyes. I understand it was contended by the Department that his injury was not due to warlike operations. We have had dozens of similar cases. I do not agree that the onus should be on the soldier to establish the claim that his injuries have been due to the war. The onus must be on the Commonwealth Government. We must assume that any man who joined the Australian Imperial Force was, prior to enlistment, in sound health. Otherwise he ought no,t to have . been passed by the medical officers. I may be wrong, but that is my view, and if this House gives it the opportunity, the Government will before the House rises pass an amending Bill to remedy this defect in the Act. As to the other points. I listened very carefully to what the honorable member for Cowper had to say, and where his suggestions have not been anticipated by the Assistant Minister’s speech, most of them are deserving of consideration. With many of them I agree entirely. We shall, at the earliest possible moment, make such amendments in the Act as will enable us to put the Department on a business-like and satisfactory basis. Honorable members seem to have set their faces against the system of day labour for the construction of War Service Homes. All I can say is that the policy of the Government is to make such arrangements with the States as will enable us to hand these matters over to them, but for reasons that, perhaps, will be obvious to honorable members, we have not yet beeu able to, come to au agreement with the State of New South Wales, although we do not despair of being able to do so. When we have distributed our work in this way we must, of course, reduce the. central staff, because our operations will then not be on such & grandiose scale. Naturally central office expenditure must be reduced, and as the honorable member for Cowper suggests,we must put a business manager in charge. That we shall do. I do not know that I can say anything more except that I deprecate entirely the suggestion that the Minister for Repatriation is censurable. I hold strongly to the view that the trouble that has arisen is due entirely to the deliberate act of this Legislature in appointing a Commissioner, and giving him statutory authority to deal with all these matters. We are endeavouring, however, to straighten out the trouble. I have indicated some of the changes we propose to make. One of these will be made without delay, and the others at the earliest possible moment. My honorable colleague reminds me that the administration Estimates of this Department have been reduced from £189,000 to £100,000. That is something already done. We have had to deal with a very great undertaking under conditions quite abnormal, and, on the whole; I venture to say that what has been done does not merit that criticism which has been directed against it. The criticism in certain sections of the press has been of a very venomous kind. As to the criticism in this Chamber, I can onlysay that during this debate the whole matter has been treated in a way to which I take no exception. If honorable members are prepared to co-operate with the Government in putting this Department right and in helping the soldier - because, after all, that is what we are trying to do - the Ministry on its part will do everything that is desired.
– I expected that the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) would have concluded his criticism of the Estimates of this Department by submitting the equivalent of a motion of censure. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has just referred to outside criticism of the administration of the War Service Homes Commission. I do not know of any stronger criticism in the press than ha3 been indulged in by the Leader of the Country party. Again and again, when spending the week-endin Sydney, the honorable member has given interviews to the press, and has made threats as to what would be done when the War Service Homes Estimates came before the Committee. Evidently the Country party has again climbed down, and there is not to be a fight. The party apparently is going once more to accept the assurances of the Prime Minister, and everything, so far as the Government are concerned, is to be all right.
– The Leader of the Country party says that he is going to submit a motion.
– I thought that he would have concluded his speech by submitting the equivalent of a motion of censure. Evidently some arrangement has been arrived at between the Government and the Country party. The Prime Minister has made terms with the Country party, and has been endeavouring in his speech to cover up that fact. Unfortunately, the Government Were making promises of what they were going to do for our returned soldiers at a time when, instead of merely talking, they should have been doing something for them. No provision for the housing of our returned soldiers was made until the Armistice had been signed and our men were coming back in their tens of thousands. The War Service Homes scheme should have been launched long before the war closed. I can appreciate some of the difficulties which the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) has experienced in administering his Department. The cry of “Preference to returned soldiers” having been raised, he was limited in his choice of a Commissioner. I firmly believe that, having regard to the way in which such appointments are made, a big blunder was made in so limiting his choice. The Government would not dream of selecting for such a position any returned man who had not, at least, held the rank of colonel. An officer might be a splendid leader of men in the battlefield and yet quite incapable of successfully administering the War Service Homes Act. The Minister, unfortunately, made a very bad choice. It is idle for the Prime Minister to tell us that his choice was limited because of the small salary offered. As a matter of fact, the Bill, as introduced by the Government, fixed the salary of the Commissioner at £1,500 a year. The responsi bility in that respect, therefore, rests only with the Government. They had a majority behind them, and, had they wished, could have fixed the salary at £15,000 a year. They believed, however, that a salary of £1,500 per annum would enable them to secure a capable man for the post.
I realize, however, that we shall not mend the position by indulging in criticism of what has occurred. We have to look to the future. I am not satisfied that the erection of War Service Homes even now is to proceed on better lines. The work, apparently, is at a complete standstill, and owing to the commitments that have to be met, the amount actually available for expenditure this year will be very small. Thousands of men enlisted from my district, but I do not know of any soldiers there who are bothering themselves about the War Service Homes Act. They are sick and tired of waiting for the benefits for which it provides. The Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) has said that his Department is free from political influence, and that one of the faults of the system is that under the Act the Minister has no control over the Commission. As to the statement that the Department is free from political influence, I have only to say that, in my electorate, one War Service Home has been built, and that was built for a soldier who is the son-in-law of a Minister. No other returned man has been able to induce the Commission to build a house for him in Ballarat.
– What does the honorable member want to suggest ?
– That influence has been brought to bear on the authorities. I do not merely suggest - I say straight out that influence of some kind has been brought to bear.
– I deny that statement absolutely. Having heard the rumour, I examined the file of applications from Ballarat, and I can say definitely that no influence of any kind has been exercised. The application referred to by the honorable member was dealt with in its proper order.
– How is it that we cannot induce the Commission to deal with other applications? I have addressed . letter after letter to the Commission asking when homes are likely to be built in Ballarat, ‘but have not obtained any satisfaction. Captain Tait some time ago visited Ballarat, purchased 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 bricks, arranged to take over 18 acres of land from the State Government, and had a satisfactory interview with the city council; but there the matter ended.
– Altogether only fourteen applications have been received from Ballarat. Homes have been built for two applicants, and the remaining applications have either been declined or cancelled. I arranged with the Deputy Commissioner to visit Ballarat, and to try to push on construction work there. He told me, however, that there were no applications from that city.
– The dearth of applications is due to the rumours that have gone abroad that nothing would be done. A number of already erected houses have been purchased, and I think a mistake has been made in not continuing that policy. I agree with what the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) has had to say on that subject. The honorable member gave many sound reasons in favour of the purchase of already erected houses. Many others could be advanced. It is not every soldier who can afford to pay the big monthly instalments required in respect of a house costing £800, but quite a number would be able to meet the payments in respect of an already erected house that could- be purchased for about £400. The Minister, however, will not sanction such purchases.
– We have decided to resume the purchase of _ already erected homes. Twenty per cent, of the amount provided will be available for the purpose, and in the case of cities like Ballarat we shall be glad to negotiate for the purchase of houses.
– I am pleased that the Minister has decided to proceed once more with the purchase of already erected houses. I have not heard one complaint concerning the houses purchased iu Ballarat while Captain Tait was administering the Victorian Branch. Whatever may be the odium attaching to him now, I can only say that he always extended courtesy to applicants, and gave them satisfaction.
I have now to deal with dismissals from the War Service Homes Commission. I received to-day an extraordinary letter. I think the writer, whom I know,, is a reliable man, but I cannot vouch for the truth of the statements in his letter. Referring to the men who have been dismissed recently from the service of the Commission, he writes -
We are all married men, and were clerks at the works, and have lately been retrenched and single men kept on. We are the clerks who should have been kept on, as we know building construction and the materials. We ask to be reinstated as early as possible. All of us time clerks have ‘had office experience, whereas the. majority of those kept on have never been in an office in their lives.
I do not think the Minister will countenance that sort of thing. The Commission is in need of men of experience. The writer continues -
The management is faulty, and some clerks who are the pets can do what they like. The pay clerks, when going out in the motor cars to pay on Fridays, bring their wives and sweethearts for a day’s jaunt. The pet clerks can get their fathers put in as watchmen and crippled returned soldiers put out.
– There may be something in the latter complaint, but there is nothing in the complaint as to the clerks taking their wives and sweethearts with them when they are sent out.
– Quite so. I had an interview with the writer of this letter. He told me that there was a battalion friendship in. the office. He said that some of the officers who are responsible for the mismanagement that has been going on have brought about the dismissal of certain men, and that for sentimental or other reasons they are keeping on their favorites, and dismissing married men. He writes that -
Other clerks are kept on because they dig the accountant’s garden.
– How many cases of that kind would there be?
– Even if they is only one, it is not right. We have agreed to the policy of preference to returned soldiers, and when any returned men have to be dismissed, married men, other -things being equal, should be the last to be put off. I do not suggest that the men. are competent, but the fullest inquiry should be made.
– The Acting Commissioner has made the fullest inquiries, and I shall be glad to show the honorable member the file.
– Do I understand that inquiries are to be made concerning future dismissals?
– I refer to the dismissal of. married men. The matter has been inquired into by the Acting Commissioner.
– What has been done?
– The Deputy Commissioner has satisfied the Acting Commissioner that the dismissals were justified, and I cannot, therefore, go any further.
– If it is true that men are employed Working in the garden of an officer, inquiries should be made.
– That was no* brought before me.
– As an expression of opinion on the part of the Committee that war pensions should be placed under the control of the Commissioner for Invalid and Old-age Pensions. I move -
That the vote be reduced by £1. A grave mistake was made in taking the administration of the War Pensions Department from the Commissioner for Invalid and Old-age Pensions, because it is only duplicating the work. A few extra clerks in the Commissioner’s office could do all that is necessary, and there would then not be a duplication of overhead expenses. In the War Pensions Department a major and other officials have to be paid, and it seems totally unnecessary to incur this expenditure, particularly when the results are not nearly so satisfactory as they were when the work was controlled by the Commissioner of Invalid and Oldage’ Pensions. Victorian members, in particular, know that the officers in that Department are most courteous and sympathetic, not only to honorable members, but to pensioners. I do not care what opinions are held concerning militarism, but the training of a military man really prevents him from being a sympathetic administrator. When a military officerhas been in charge of men he naturally becomes dictatorial and despotic.
– Not always. Quite a. number are sympathetic.
– For the information of the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) I shall quote an instance or two to show the manner in which pensioners are treated by the doctors whom they have to interview. I have asked to be supplied with the names of the medical officers, and Major Ryan has refused my request. I have had to send hundreds of appeals to Major Ryan, and 80 per cent, of the men on whose behalf I have appealed have had their pensions restored. The Department, we know, is doing its level best to reduce pensions. Because it has been my duty to bring quite a number of cases before the Department the medical officers appear to have become very nasty. Two weeks ago an unfortunate returned soldier who had had a portion of his head shot away, and is compelled to wear a silver plate, had his pension reduced by one-half. He is totally unfitted for work, and I lodged an appeal. When he appeared before these doctors they had the impudence to say, “Why don’t you see McGrath and get him to find you a light job in his garden?” In another instance, which. occurred last week in connexion with a man on whose behalf I had sent in an appeal, the medical officer said when he appeared before him, “ You. have no right to go to McGrath or any other member with your troubles concerning pensions.” It is a piece of impudence on their part to speak to any returned soldier, or to any one else, in that way.
– It is intimidation.
– Of course it is, because I have a perfect right to intervene on their behalf. If honorable members did not assist it would be a case of God help them! The medical officers bitterly resent my actions merely because I have been endeavouring to assist men in need, and I strongly resent any official saying that it is the duty of an honorable member to find any man employment.
– It was a very injudicious statement.
– I intend to obtain the names of those medical officers, although the Department has refused to supply them. I shall get them, and will publish the name of the officer who made the remark to which I have referred. The time is opportune to dismiss the whole of the staff. It is useless keeping men there simply because they have been on active service, when it is costing the Government many thousands of pounds to conduct a Department, the work of which can be done quite as efficiently, and certainly more sympathetically, by another Department which is willing to undertake it. I cannot conceive of any honorable member refusing to support the amendment I have moved.
Is it not about time the War Gratuity Board ceased to exist? Surely all the bonds have been dealt with. I have heard the most extraordinary rumours to the effect that members of the Board are receiving £2 2s. a day, and are dealing with perhaps only one case at each sitting. God only knows what they are doing! It is time all the applications were dealt with. If they are not all completed, what is the Department of the Treasury doing? Certain officials are dealing with the cashing of bonds, and surely they can handle any work in connexion with bonds not already issued. There is no necessity for a War Gratuity Board in any State.
.- I intend at a later stage to move an amendment, and I should be glad, Mr. Chairman, if you will direct me as to the vote we are discussing.
– The total sum for Division 156.
– I did not envy the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) in his task in opening the debate. I desire to be quite frank, and say that I have always admired a person who says, “Peccavi!” and is willing to acknowledge the mistakes he has made, because when faults are admittedthey are not so likely to be repeated. The Assistant Minister said that a portion of the work of the War Service Homes Commission had got into a “ bog,” and I think we have learned a most valuable lesson. The War Service Homes Commission started as master builders in a large way, but ended in thorough muddle and disaster. The Assistant Minister said that the Commission had now abandoned the attempt to act as a master builder; but I do not know whether that means that the Government are going to suspend operations at Canberra, because if they do not we shall be in an extraordinary position. They have admitted that there has been a bungle and a failure in attempting to build soldiers’ cottages, and it would be interesting to know how they expect to succeed in constructing the palatial marble halls of the Federal Capital. The lesson which, I think, this absolute failure teaches, and which the Assistant Minister has admitted, is that Commonwealth or State trading enterprises cannot succeed. The taxpayers, especially those in the State I represent, are being ground between the two millstones of State and Commonwealth enterprises.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– Having heard the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) frankly admit the mistakes which have been made in the Department, and having listened to his proposals for the reorganization which is already proceeding, I have no wish to adopt a hostile attitude in respect of the Estimates immediately under consideration. But there is one phase of the activities of the Commission in regard to which I heard no satisfactory information this morning. I refer to the purchase of saw-mills in Queensland, at Canungra and Beaudesert. It is of no use to cry over spilt milk; but I am bound to say that the whole purchase was thoroughly unsound in principle, unbusiness-like, and altogether a very bad bargain. That, I think, the Assistant Minister himself must admit. What the ultimate loss will , be no one can say; but the present position, I repeat, is altogether unhappy. Something like £250,000 was paid by the Commonwealth for these mills, which were worked for a short period, but are now, and have been for many months, idle. Many hundreds of logs have been allowed to deteriorate and rot in the scrub, about the dumps, and at the mills. The mills, of course, are fast deteriorating; and as for the tram lines and other parts of the plant, they, too,are daily losing value. There is obviously, also, the loss incurred in the matter of interest on the capital sum involved.
There is another aspect of these purchases, and that has to do with the small community which has been thriving on the mills, and has owed its existence to the enterprise, skill, and shrewd business experience of the former owners. Today, owing to the Commonwealth having ceased operations, that community has been thrown into a state of great distress. There is, and hasbeen for months, considerable unemployment among the mill hands and (business people generally. Included in these are, of course, numbers of returned soldiers. Not many days ago a certain vote for defence works was reduced by honorable members, and on the following day the Acting
Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) placed the blame for the resultant unemployment on the shoulders of the Country party. That may have been all very well; but I trust that the Government will also remember that they have caused extensive unemployment among numbers of returned men in the neighbourhood of those Queensland mills.
I had hoped that the Assistant Minister would give some idea to-day concerning how those very bad bargains were to be cleared, or concerning the intentions of the Government generally. But as I listened I failed to catch any ray of hope or comfort either for the public purse or for those unfortunates who have been thrown out of employment. The Assistant Minister evidently had no policy to enunciate; and I do not know now what are the Government’s intentions. Concerning the mills, they apparently propose to drift until, perhaps, there may be some fabulous rise in the price of timber, which will permit them to be rid of those liabilities. The outlook, however, is anything but satisfactory. I propose to move - perhaps, in respect of a later item - for a reduction of fi, with a view to request the Government to take prompt steps to stop this loss of public money and Unemployment at Canungra and Beaudesert. I emphasize that, in what I have just said, I refrained from using the word “ instruct,” or “ demand.” I said “ request.” I am not saying to the Government, “You shall sell the mills to their former owners, or to any one, or that you shall lease them.” I leave the Government a free hand. I merely express the hope that when I shall have moved my amendment - its nature being a request - the Government will take heed.
– Every honorable member expected that, after the weeks of threatening on the part of the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), some manner of challenge would have been thrown down to the Government upon the question of War Service Homes. Every time the honorable member went to Sydney he managed to secure ‘a press interview, and promised the country at large that there really would be something doing when War Service Homes came to be considered in this chamber. So the Labour party decided to leave this subjectmatter to the tender mercies of the Country party. It is, of course, a familiar fact that on every occasion when a challenge has been issued from this side members of the Country party have made some excuse to vote against us. One honorable member in the corner went so far as to say that, rather than vote with the Labour Opposition, he would leave his own party. He did so.
– But he has gone back again, I think.
– Country party members have always found a way out, and the Opposition has come to the conclusion that it is of no use to move a want of confidence motion from this side of the House, realizing that there would be no practical support ‘from those who have made it their policy to talk one way and vote in the other direction. On this occasion, therefore, it was decided to permit the “Corner” to ‘have this little flutter “ on their own.” This was to be the Country party’s want of confidence motion; for had they not promised something ‘in that direction for weeks past, and week after week? Had not their Leader foreshadowed astonishing revelations? Honorable members on this side waited patiently for the challenge to materialize, quite prepared to vote with the Country party when the gage was thrown down. I venture to say that, had the same exhibition been given by honorable members on this’ side of the House as has been provided by the Country party to-day, every newspaper in the land would have denounced us. Had the Leader of the Labour Opposition promised the country so much and broken that promise in the way in which the Leader of the Country party has broken his, honorable members on this side would have been ridiculed. The Country party makes its apparently genuine threats : its Leader gathers all the limelight-
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing that matter.
– I am speaking of the promises of the Leader of honorable members in the Corner concerning what would befall the Government in respect of the subject-matter which is at present before the Committee.
– The question of the attitude of the Leader of the Country party is not before the Chair.
– Anyhow, there is not much more that I had intended to say of that party. I cannot fittingly describe the attitude of those who, in season and out of season, have emphasized that they are in no way attached to the Government but have consistently voted to save the Government.
– It ia to be presumed that the party which has talked so fiercely but has failed to make good its threatened challenge will subside, and that nothing further will be done. The promised attack upon the existence of the Government has now dwindled into a harmless, courteous little threat of an amendment, framed in the nature of a “request,” on the part’ of the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Wienholt) - even though that honorable member said most bitterly that he was not satisfied with the administration of the Government-
– Order ! There is no amendment by the honorable member for Moreton before the Chair.
– The honorable member foreshadowed a kind of amendment. However, it will not come to anything; so, after all, it will be better left alone. The statement of the Assistant Minister has satisfied no one. An absurd position arose when the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) sought, this afternoon, to bring the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) from another place to address honorable members. The incident merely served to emphasize the fact that Ministers controlling important spending Departments should be in this House, where they would be directly answerable to it. However, I am glad that the Prime Minister’s suggestion got nowhere.
References have been freely made today to bungling and maladministration, but I feel that to proceed further into the subject at large would merely involve a waste of time. Honorable members of the Country party have made up their minds, after collaboration with the Prime Minister this afternoon, that there is “ nothing doing.” The Government are safe. They may retire into recess without thought of danger.
– And the honorable member says, “ Thank God for that!”
– No vote or action of mine has been, or will be, the cause of permitting the Government to retire safely into recess. My votes in this House show where I stand.
– But the honorable member will not be sorry to see them do so. .
– At any rate, I am not like the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson), who talks one way, pretending to be quite fierce, and meekly votes in another direction whenever there is a threat of a crisis.
I have promised to take this opportunity to present the typical complaint of an individual; and I have undertaken, on behalf of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) who has had to leave for the Parramatta electorate, to place before honorable members a case in which he has interested himself. As a matter of fact, each case is similar to many others, and there is no necessity for me to refer to more than one. I shall present the details, not with any hope or thought, however, of securing relief for the. parties concerned. No honorable member expects the affairs of the War Service Homes to be one whit the better for their airing to-day. There will surely be more bungling. The Minister in charge knows that he may proceed safely, seeing that all the threats of the past few weeks have cheaply dissipated, and that, for the future, there will continue to be “ nothing doing “ on the part of those who have been loudest in their spoken denunciations of the Government. I have received a long letter in regard to this matter, and in order to save the time of honorable members have made a summary of it. . I hope the Assistant Minister will take notice of it because, notwithstanding the unsatisfactory statement he has given us. to-day, I trust that these people may get some redress. The letter is written by a man who had a splendid war record. He applied in 1919 for assistance to build a home, and his application was approved in August, 1919; that is over two years ago, and at a time when the Minister was agreeable to purchase homes already built. He saw a house close to where he was living, which at £725, the price at which it waa offered to him, he considered an excellent bargain, and he submitted it to the War Service Homes people, but they rejected the house without even inspecting it. The same house, a few months later, was purchased for another soldier applicant for £850.
– There is something like graft in that.
– I do not want to say that there was graft or anything of that kind. I leave honorable members to think what they like about it.
– What time elapsed before the second transaction took place?
– About five months.
– It is possible that the price of houses went up in the meantime.
– I do not think so. The first offer was rejected without any inspection, that is the principal cause of complaint. However, this applicant was then advised to secure a piece of land; and he secured a block for £116. The site was approved, as also the price, and he was requested to call at the head office to arrange about the transfer, and take the necessary preliminary steps for having a house built. He was informed that tenders would be called at once, and that he would be notified when a satisfactory tender was accepted. He heard nothing further until the end of the year 1919, when he was asked to call at the office of a solicitor, and pay registration fees, &c, amounting to £1 12s. Again, he heard nothing further until January, 1920, when he waa informed that the lowest tender received was £826. As the amount available was £584, he was asked to pay the balance of £242 into the Commonwealth Rank. The Bank wrote to him as follows:-
If you ore prepared to deposit £242 into your account in the Commonwealth Bank the tender can be accepted, and the contract signed.
He makes this charge in his letter -
In November, .1919, the Bank had received a tender for £077 to build the kind of home I wanted, and failed to notify me.
He called on a certain major at the Bank - I need not mention his name. The major said that the applicant must be mistaken, and that it could not be true that a tender for £677 had been received. However, he called a number of clerks, and they were able to prove that the applicant was right. The applicant now wants to know how i% was that he should be called upon to pay £242 into the Bank as the difference between £826, said to be the lowest tender, and the amount available for him, £584, whereas from information he had obtained, and which proved to be correct, he knew that the lowest tender received was £677.
– That is pretty hot.
– But this is what makes the case look suspicious. The afternoon on which he received the bank’s letter notifying him that the lowest tender was £826 a stranger drove up to his home in a motor car and asked, “Are you the gentleman whose letter I have ? “ holding up a letter, and mentioning the name on it. The applicant said, “ Yes, that is my name.” The visitor then said, “ That is my tender for £826. Are you going on with this ? “ The applicant told the contractor “that he knew that another tender had been submitted for £677. However, to make a long story short, the contractor said, “ I will pay you £100 to help you if you will accept my tender and say that you are satisfied to go on with it.”
– He would have lost £50 by accepting the offer.
– Yes. A few days later he received a letter addressed to Nurse So-and-So, of the same surname. He wrote back, and said that he was a returned soldier, and not a nurse. This is only further evidence of the bungling that went on in the Department. The applicant writes -
Notwithstanding that my application for assistance was granted, and the amount voted placed to my credit in the Commonwealth Bank in August, 1919, in view of the volume of correspondence on the subject, I got an extraordinary letter from the War Service Homes Commission to the effect that approval had been given for my request for a grant for £800 subject to the proof of the title being satisfactory, &c.
As a matter of fact, that letter should have gone to another man, also of the same surname, showing, further, the confusion in the Department. But these are minor points. The serious feature of the case is the fact that a lower tender had been received, much below the one they wanted him to accept, and which he was offered £100 to accept. On 29th January of this year, nothing having been done in the meantime, another letter came to him in regard to his home. After mixing him up with two other people, they evidently had a look round the Department, and found his case. At any rate, they made a fresh start.
– All these letters cause the Minister much inconvenience.
– I cannot blame the Minister for this sort of thing, but he certainly is surrounded by an incompetent and hopeless staff, and the trouble is that we are not likely to get much relief. At any rate, this man was requested to call and make final arrangements. At last he thought he had come to finality. Therefore, in January of this year, he went along to the Department. He signed all necessary documents, and, on the 31st May, nearly six months later, he was informed that there were six tenders, only one of which was satisfactory. He was told, however, that nothing could be done at that stage.
– This man had hard luck.
– There were several similar cases. I had a letter from aman at Albury who was in the same predicament. On the 10th October, the soldier to whom I have been referring was asked to sign security documents, and to pay fees amounting to £4 9s. 6d. He then asked whether, if he paid that amount, he could be guaranteed that there would be no further trouble, and he was assured that there would be no more delay. That was at the end of two years. He told the Department then that he would secure a contractor of his own who was prepared to do the work for £685. He gave promissory notes for £20 and £17 in connexion with the building. He was assured that there would be no further delay. On the 30th October, he was informed that, until he paid £10 19s. 7d the interest owing, nothing could be done. It was owing to the bungling and delay, due solely to the Department, that the interest had accrued. The man refused to pay it, and he said that he would place his case in the hands of a member of theFederal Parliament.
Then there was a series of telegrams to and from the head office in Melbourne, and, up to the date of his last letter, this man had not been able to get anything done. He has sent the account which he received for municipal rates. This is not a case that stands alone. I suppose every honorable member has had similar instances brought under his notice. For the general rate on his land he has been charged £2 7s. 6d. There are arrears amounting to £1 3 s. 4d., a special loan rate of 7s. 6d., and 6s. 7d. for other arrears. Including legal fees, the total amount charged is £48 12s. 8d. The most unfortunate aspect is that we have no guarantee that this kind of thing is not going to continue.
– Yes, you have.
– Honorable members in the corner have been threatening for weeks to do many things to this Government, but nothing has resulted.
– If the case made out is supported by the evidence on the files, I think I can assure the honorable member that it constitutes a commitment which will be carried out. As far as interest is concerned, such a case will not go to the Adjustment Board, but the Commissioner will deal with it at once, and no interest will be charged where the Commissioner is at fault.
– That will be welcome news to this and several other returned men in similar circumstances. Another ray of hope will come into his life; but I hope he will get what has been only too long denied him.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It seems to me that in the first three minutes of his speech to-day the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) destroyed the whole of the case he endeavoured to present, because he informed the Committee that the late Commissioner was incompetent. It was quite a considerable time before any remedial measures were adopted by the Government, and then, I think, action was taken in the wrong way. The Assistant Minister told us that the Commissioner was left entirely without interference. As soon as the Government found that he was incapable of carrying out bis duties, surely it was high time for the Government to do something?
– While he had a chance of creating his organization there, was no Ministerial interference.
– How long was the Commissioner there before the Government interfered? Every one knew that affairs were going from bad to worse. This Parliament passed a very generous measure in connexion with War Service homes and pensions, and had the Acts been administered in anything like a proper manner the soldiers would have had very little to complain of. As soon as it was found* that the administration was faulty, the Government should have come to the House, knowing how favorably disposed all honorable members were towards the returned soldiers. The Government would then have been given an open cheque to do what was necessary to place the Department in proper order. We were informed that the appointment
I of Commissioner had to be made from i an unsatisfactory lot of applications. The Assistant Minister stated that the applications were few, but we- have been given to understand that there were over 100. Surely amongst that number there must have been some good men. If the administration knew that there were no good men among them,- they ought to have called for fresh applications. The Assistant Minister mentioned that the best man was chosen from a poor lot. That was bad business, because, if further applications had been called for, the choice would have been widened and a good man could, no doubt, have been obtained. There are hundreds of returned soldiers in Australia who would have been prepared to undertake this big work, although they might have been underpaid for it, in order to see a fair deal given to our defenders. The apology, which the Assistant Minister made this afternoon, shows that there was a lack of business grip on the whole question. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) endeavoured to disclaim all responsibility. He. put the blame away from himself in a light and airy fashion, but I claim that it was the Prime Minister’s duty to approach the House, because, if he had not the necessary power, ‘the House would have given it to him. He said that the Commissioner had bungled the work, and then he tossed the matter aside as though it counted for nothing. There is a spirit of unrest throughout Australia on account of this maladministration. Speaking generally, the returned soldiers would have been the easiest men in the world to satisfy, if they had received anything like a fair deal; but the promises so freely made to them when they went to the war have not been fulfilled. Soldiers realize the difficulty of creating a big organization such as the War Service Homes Department.
– Were these homes promised them when they left Australia?
– No ; but the promise was made on their return, and it has faded into the distance. There was a grandiose scheme, and it was approached in the wrong way. It is because the Government allowed this bungling to continue that I told them nine months ago that I was not going to be one of their supporters. They were not courageous enough to come to the House and tell us that they wanted Parliament to alter the position.
– Taking the War Service Homes as a whole, what do you think of the buildings . you have inspected as assets to the soldiers?
– Generally speaking, they represent good value for the money. It is not, however, a question of their value as assets. We have to consider what the soldiers can afford to pay. The Commissioner has’ built houses which are too expensive for the average working man. The complaints about defective workmanship do not count for much, because such mistakes can be remedied. It is the general scheme of administration with which I am finding fault. There has been no business capacity shown. What is the use of offering to men who can only pay 30s. a week houses which will cost them £2 a week? Why are men, and soldiers’ widows, too, going out of some of the houses? Because, now that estimates of costs have been made, they find they cannot afford to pay the instalments.
– Does the honorable member know what percentage of payments are in arrears?
– There are not many payments in arrears, I know.
– The figures do not bear out your statement.
-Only a small number of men are yet settled, and there are sufficient cases of people withdrawing to indicate that hundreds have refrained from taking houses because the instalments would be more than they could afford. I will not go further into this phase of the question, for the reason that I am a member of thePublic Accounts Committee, which is inquiring into it; and I do not wish to make use of information which has come to me in my official capacity.
– But you have done so.
– N one of the cases which I have laid before the House have come to me as a member of the Public Accounts Committee.
– Will you say that the Western Australian cases you have quoted did not come to you as a member of that Committee?
– None of the cases to which I have drawn attention here have come to me as a member of the Committee. In some cases I have got the information because, as a member of the Committee, I happened to be travelling in the States where the cases were. The Assistant Minister can take my word for that.
– Nearly every case the honorable member has mentioned has been published in the press.
– (Nearly every case has been laid before me in letters sent to me as chairman of the association of returned men in this House. Why the Assistant Minister should think I got my information as a member of the Public Accounts Committee I cannot understand. He must know that every member of the House gets dozens of cases submitted to him, and perhaps I get more than does the average member. In no instance have I taken advantage of my position as a member of the Committee.
– The cases quoted by the honorable member from Western Australia were not in possession of the centraladministration; and when I inquired into them, I found that in Western Australia evidence concerning themhad been given before the Committee.
– The information was given to me by some one outside the inquiry, who drew my attention to the matter.
– The honorable member will admit that it was because he was in Western Australia as a member of the Public Accounts Committee that he got the information?
– Of course if I had not been a member of that Committee I should not have been in Western Australia and, therefore, I could not have got the information.
I now wish to deal with the administration of war pensions, a subject which I have brought before honorable members on many occasions, and which has been dealt with at some length to-night. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has promised that in this regard a different spirit is to be shown in the future; but we have heard such promises so often that we are inclined to doubt whether they will ever be carried into effect. However, without wearying the Committee, I wish to submit a few cases which will drive home the necessity for recasting the administration. The pensions were granted on a liberal scale, and, again, it is the administration that is at fault. The difficulties do not arise from any action by this House, or from the nature of the scheme itself - the whole trouble lies in the administration. I have here a number of cases, but I shall quote only one or two.
– Does the honorable member blame the Government?
– Certainly, I blame the administration.
– Of the war pensions?
– Yes. It is within the power of the Government to ask Parliament to amend the Act, and give it more power, and thus enable those in authority to allocate the pensions in the right direction. It is of no use the Government sheltering itself behind the Act, because, if necessary, Parliament is ready to amend the Act, and the Government knows it, and has known it all along. A labourer in my electorate has written to me with a view to getting his gratuity bond cashed, and one of his reasons is that one of his arms has been damaged, and all the pension he is allowed is 4s. lid. per week. This shows the cheese- paring policy adopted by the administration. Who can assess a man’s damage to the extent of 1-Jd. per week?
– The pension ought to be nothing, or a great deal more than it is.
– That is so:. The letter I have was written on the man’s behalf by a leading resident of the town. This returned soldier cannot earn his own living, and yet there are others besides himself to keep.
There is another case in my electorate, which is described in the following letter written by the man’s wife: -
My husband was discharged from the Australian Imperial Force in September, 1918, and has been failing in health ever since. He was granted a war pension in July, 1919, of £2 8s. 9d. per fortnight for himself, wife, and six children, which was cancelled on 13th January, 1921, without being sent up for medical examination, the last examination toeing on 8th June, 1920. My husband is unable to work, and we have had to sell all our personal belongings to live. . . . We have had a family of eleven children, eight of them living, and six are depending on us. During the whole time of our married life he never required the attendance of a doctor until he joined the Australian Imperial Force. He was a very strong man, and made a good living by cutting railway sleepers.
A man who can make his living sleepercutting in the bush must of necessity be strong, as this man was when* he went to the war, leaving his wife and children behind. He came back damaged, and the pension awarded him was £2 8s. 9d. a fortnight, but, after a certain time, it was cancelled without any medical examination having been made. Surely there is some fault in the administration here?
– It might be according to the law.
– Then the law should be altered, and we are prepared to alter it ; we could amend the law in relation to War Service Homes or pensions within a few hours.
– If it is in accordance with the law, how is it that such cases did not arise when the administration was in the hands of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Department? There has ‘been nothing but trouble since the transfer.
– Does the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) tell me that it is in accordance with the law to take a pension away without further examination?
– I do not say that it is.
– Then, why defend this cancellation? Will the honorable member go back to his electorate and defend that Kind of thing?
– No one is trying to defend it. I say that it is not ge Government, but the officers who are to blame.
– What is the use of saying that the officers are responsible when the Government can amend the law if they choose. What is the Government for? Why are we here? We are here to do our job, and our job is to see that these men get a fair deal. If the law, as it stands, will not allow a fair deal, we are ready to amend the” law. It is no use the honorable member sheltering himself behind the law, for we are the masters of the law. I now wish to deal with a case which affects the honorable member for Wilmot just as it affects a great many others.
– I only wish to be fair to the Government.
– My anxiety is to be fair to the men. The following is a letter which I have received from the secretary of the Tasmanian branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League: -
I am instructed by my executive to bring under your notice the practice adopted by the Repatriation Commission of assessing pensions for the parents »of deceased soldiers who were dependent upon the son’s services prior to his enlistment. The cases referred to are invariably those in which the son worked on his parents’ farm prior to enlistment, and received only board, lodging, clothing, and pocket money, which, by a ruling of the Commission, is assessed at 15s. per week.
Does any one believe that a boy or a young man fit to go to the war is worth, on the average, only 15s. a week? Why, we should all be millionaires in no time if we could get men to work for such a wage! I am informed that this state of things is owing to a practice which has grown up in other States; at any rate, that is the reply which the League gets when it protests against the value of these men’s services to their parents being assessed at 15s. a week.
– Whenever honorable members submit individual cases I always try to deal with them, and I cannot remember the honorable member ever submitting a case to me.
– I was just about to say that I did not blame the honorable gentleman, for I thought him too goodhearted , to neglect such cases; but what he has said just now is a deliberate falsehood!
– I call on the honorable member to withdraw those words.
– In accordance with the forms of the House, I naturally withdraw the words. The Assistant Minister knows that when I last spoke on the question I handed him the documents referring to two or three cases.
– No ; you did not.
– And the time before that I did the same. Will the Minister deny that he asked me to hand him certain letters?
– No; but you did not hand them to me.
– I told the honorable gentleman that as soon as Hansard had done with the letters he should have them; and I do not know where they have got to if he did not receive them.
– I must ask the Minister and the honorable member not to conduct a dialogue.
– As the letters have come to me I have sometimes referred to them in this Chamber, and I have always put them before the Department.
– Not before me.
– I am sorry if the Minister thinks I have approached him in the way I should not, because I have always laid the cases before his Department, as I would before any other Department. Surely, the Minister does not think that I have a private grudge against him to cause me to do otherwise?
– No; I do not.
– Then what does the honorable gentleman mean?
– The statement made by the Minister is hardly a fair one, because, as I say, I have laid every case before his Department, as I would lay cases before any other Department.
– You may have intended to.
– Some of the cases have been attended to, as I could prove from a file of letters a foot high, and they could not have been attended to had
I not sent in the correspondence. The charge of the Minister is ridiculous, because I have settled hundreds of such cases, which have all gone through the Department.
I now come to a broader matter. Some little time ago, on the 29th August, I wrote a letter to the then Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) urging that something should be done for the widows of soldiers who could not maintain themselves and their children on the pensions allowed. I stated at the time that I did not think an increase of the total amount for pensions was necessary, but that the allocation of the pensions could be much improved. I suggested to the Treasurer that where a widow had been left with children, aged parents, or other dependants, they should be given the maximum pension, as allowed by the Act, with an allowance for those dependent on them. That suggestion I sent to the » executives of the League throughout Australia, and they agreed that it was a way out of a difficulty that was felt to press harshly, The Treasurer wrote to me on the 10th September, and said he had referred the matter to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen); but, so far as I know, nothing has been done. I again urge upon the Assistant Minister the necessity of doing something for these poor women and children, who are suffering from the loss of their bread-winners. It may not be difficult for the widow of a soldier to live on her pension if she has no one dependent on her, but where soldiers’ widows cannot leave their homes because they have young children, or have to support an aged or crippled relative, they are struggling painfully and hopelessly to try to meet their obligations. I have found in many parts of Australia cases of the deepest suffering on this ‘account. I ask the Minister to do something to remove this blot from the fair name of Australia. Nothing is too bad to say of a country which permits the widows and children of men who died for it at the ‘ Front to go to ruin, it may be, in order to avoid starvation. Women will do anything for the protection of their children, and some of these soldiers’ widows are in desperate straits.
– They are receiving the statutory pensions.
– I am aware that they are. This suggestion, to which I refer, was made to the Department as long ago as 29th August last, and in that communication I showed that I had received support for the idea from the central branches of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League in every State of Australia, and the Minister, apparently, knows nothing about it. I have not complained because the Government have paid only the statutory pensions provided for, but because our legislation in this respect requires amendment. So far as I know, the full statutory pension is paid in most if not all of these cases; but I want the Government to give effect to the suggestion I have made, which is supported by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League throughout Australia. Where the widows of returned soldiers have’ to provide for dependants they should be given more than the present statutory pension in order that they may have a reasonable chance of keeping themselves decently and of bringing up their children to be a credit to the names of their fathers who died to save this country.
Question - That the proposed vote be reduced by £1 (Mr. McGrath’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
Mr.ANSTEY (Bourke) [9.8].- We have just had a most interesting division, and I have no desire to comment upon it. I assume that the whole matter is still open for discussion, and there are one or two questions I wish to ask the Assistant Minister in connexion ‘with it. I notice that, in connexion with the administration of old-age and invalid pensions, the vote for salaries amounts to £30,000, whilst in connexion with the administration of war pensions the salaries amount to £37,000. Medical expenses in connexion with old-age and invalid pensions amount to £5,000, and, in connexion with war pensions, to £18,000. Other expenses in connexion with old-age and invalid pensions amount to £50,000, and, in connexion with war pensions, to £55,000. These figures show administration costs amounting to £85,000 for old-age and invalid pensions, and amounting to £110,000 for war pensions. From the Estimates, I find that the vote last year for salaries and contingencies in connexion with war pensions was £65,000; but apparently there is no vote down for the purpose this year. There is a footnote which informs us that these expenses are embraced in a previous item for salaries under the general heading of “ Repatriation Commission,” so that the expenditure on salaries and contingencies in connexion with war pensions is cloaked up when itought to be clearly stated. It has been contended that all men who volunteered to enlist and were passed by the doctors should be entitled to pensions if disabled, and I understand that it is the intention of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to introduce a Bill to give effect to this policy. I should like to know when that measure is likely to be introduced. I do not desire to go into details, or to occupy the time of the Committee with individual cases, but I may be allowed to mention one case which is typical of dozens which might be quoted. A man in my district was engaged in a business and when the Government called on those who’ were prepared to volunteer for the war he said he was prepared to volunteer, but he did no’t consider that he was medically fit. However, he went before the doctors, and they passed him. He went into camp, and, although he suffered from hamorrhage on several occasions, he would not be released. His business disappeared, and although he had been kept in camp for twelve months and had become permanently incapacitated through hamorrhages, time after time he has been refused a pension. Such cases will, I hope, be provided for in the amending legislation which is promised.
The erection of “War Service Homes, was a proposition put forward by the Government in order to find homes for returned soldiers. The Prime Minister said on one occasion that in time of war we should prepare for peace, just as in time of peace we should prepare for war. He said that i’t was necessary to preparefor the aftermath of war, but nothing in this direction was done until after the Armistice. Then the Bill making provision for “War Service Homes was passed, and the Commonwealth Bank was at first intrusted with the building of homes. Tt was pointed out that it was wise to remove the administration of the measure from political control. I take it that the reason we do not want political control and are so hostile to it is because we have no faith in ourselves, and no confidence in our own honesty. Consequently, in this and in many other cases we put the control into the hands of business men. The Government placed a business man in the person of Mr. Walker in charge of the War Service Homes scheme. I believe that the Minister when making the appointment believed that he was selecting the most competent man for the position, and whether he was the worst or the best I am not able to say. The Government took upon themselves the responsibility of Mr. Walker’s ‘appointment. The particular reason that was advanced at the time for the Government taking over the work themselves was that contractors could not be got to do it. After the Department had been in operation for some time and a number of houses had been erected, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) visited a place called Bell, in my district, and there made a speech. I quote from a press report of the speech -
Referring to the system of clay labour as against contract labour, Senator E. D. Millen said that he had always been against day labour, and that when the Commonwealth scheme was launched the one idea was that the contract system should be adopted.
That was the original proposal of the Government, and the only reason why it was departed from was that the Government could not get the ordinary private contractor to take up this work except at outrageous prices. I was present at the meeting which Senator E. D. Millen addressed, and am in a position to say that the press report of his utterances is accurate. He went on to say -
The average cost of the cottages at Bell was £695 lis. 3d. each, including land. Originally tenders were called for the erection of the houses, and the prices offered ranged from £720 to £900, exclusive of the cost of land. The actual cost of the homes included land, fencing, reticulation, wiring, and provision of necessary accessories. The frontages were from 40 feet to G9 feet.
And so on. The Minister went on to elaborate the advantages of the settlement. To-d’ay the statement is made that the business is carried on under the day-labour system. It is said that the cost of labour and material went up. The Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) has spoken of a lack of material and a dearth of labour. There was a lack of material and a dearth of labour. It is not surprising that there should be shortage of material and labour when so many homes were being erected. The cost of material and of labour rose, but it would have risen in just the same way if the homes had been built under the private contract system. If private contractors had been asked to build 1,000 or 5,000 homes, and get properly qualified individuals to carry out the work, the same thing would have happened.
– Just so. I have only a few words to say in regard to the denunciation of the day-labour system.
What does a workman do when he is in the employ of a private contractor? He works under the day-labour system. If the management of the contractor is good he gets good work from the employee; if the management is bad, he gets bad work. But an attempt is made to-night to load upon the workmen employed by the Commissioner the responsibility for the failures due to the incapacity of those who were intrusted with the carrying out of the scheme. I know of some men who invested an enormous sum of money in the acquisition of a big area of land in my district; they had capital and brains. Their anxiety was to make profit, and to get the best work they could out of the men they employed; there was no ‘ ‘ Government stroke ‘ ‘ on that job. They built scores of houses, but they were so rotten that they could not get the Government to take them off their hands.
– Where was that?
– At Brunswick. I refer to the Northern Timber Mills. They tried to unload the houses on the Government. But the houses were so rotten that they did not compare even with those built by the Government, and the builders are still trying to unload them. Success or failure is wholly a matter of control; everything depends on the administration. What does the War Service Homes Department suffer from ? In order to cover up bad management an endeavour is being made to load the blame on to the workmen, and now the Government propose to go back to the two things they have always denounced - political responsibility, and the odious contract system, which simply means that the amount which otherwise would be paid to the workmen in higher wages goes into the pockets of the contractors, who pay low wages for bad labour, and use rotten material. “
– We shall keep a skeleton organization to supervise the carrying out of the contracts.
– These dialogues are entirely out of order.. I have no objection to participating in them., but I like the forms of the House to be observed.
I went to see Captain Tait when he was Deputy Commissioner of Victoria in regard to a contractor who had complained that the Department was absolutely robbing him.; he could not get supplies from the Commission; he could not pay his wages, and his whole business was tied up. He was doing the work at his own price with material supplied by the Commission. His grievance was that he could not get the material with which to continue the work. I carried that complaint to Captain Tait. He said, “ Here is that man’s record. The material has been on the ground for three weeks. Bring him here and I will talk to him face to face. The trouble with him is that he is carrying out this job with cheap labour. Here are letters from some of the men. Most of them are non-unionists, and incompetent workmen. He is simply paying them about twothirds of the proper wage, and some he will’ not pay at all, and they refuse to work for him any longer until they get their money.” I repeated that to the contractor, who replied, “ That is a lie. I have paid all the men their wages.” I told him he had better come with me to see Captain Tait. He came as far as Captain Taits door, and I said to him, “ Captain Tait will see you.” He replied, “I will see him in two minutes.” But from that day to this. the interview has never taken place.
When the Government evolved their War Service Homes policy they decided that they would choose a suitable man as Commissioner, and give him arbitrary power - as much power as is given to the Governor of the Commonwealth, Bank. It is apparent, of course, that the Minister who had the choosing of the man was speculating; it was a gamble as to whether or not he would select the right man. Even some of the men who conducted the late war failed; time after time generals had to be recalled from the Front because of incapacity. Only experience could demonstrate the appointee’s worth. In appointing the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank the Treasurer of the day evidently had the luck to make a wise selection, with the result that nobody has questioned the administration of that gentleman. When, however j a man is chosen for some other position, and time proves that he is not making a success of his job, he, and the Government responsible for. his appointment, are the object of general denunciation. I do not take any notice of the insolvency of Lieut. - Colonel Walker. Plenty of men have become insolvent and recovered their position in society. Some of the ablest men in the public life of this country were men who proved themselves incapable of managing their own affairs. The fault with the man who was appointed Commissioner was that he was incompetent, and nothing more outrageous has been done than the raising of the matter of his insolvency when the Government desired to get rid of him. Lieut.-Colonel Walker was selected because the Government said that he was a capable business man, and because as a soldier he had had. experience in the massing of men for the accomplishment of great works. As all organizers do, he had to build up masses, of material and men if he was to build homes on a gigantic scale. He carried out his scheme; but suppose that he had not been in the employ of the Government - suppose he had been a capitalist trying to compete with the public demand for thousands of houses for the soldiers who were returning from the Front, many of them with wives - suppose a private corporation had been catering for this demand, would not the same position in regard to scarcity of men and material have arisen from the very demands of the public? That is self-evident, and as it was only a proper business proposition that the man seeking to. carry out this gigantic work should, first of all, mass his material and men, Lieut.-Colonel Walker endeavoured to do that. Various things have resulted,’ of course, but the fault does not lie with the productive forces engaged in carrying out the work; it has not been the men on the job - the men who have wielded the pick and shovel, the carpenter, and the bricklayer have not been responsible. These results are due to the fact that upon the productive energies of the men engaged in the erection of those houses there has been foisted an army of parasites. The scheme has been overloaded with managerial expenses, largely arising from the incapacity of the Commissioner to shoulder his responsibilities. put after all it is easy for anybody to be wise after the event.
The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) spoke this afternoon of material left in the sun and of certain losses which had occurred through the houses not having been built more expeditiously. The most economical method is to build houses in the mass and for the workmen, as one job is completed, to go on to” the next. Private corporations in the United States of America adopt that very system - one gang of men excavates for the foundations, and as they move off to the next building site, other men follow them and put in the foundations, and they in turn are followed by the bricklayers, and later the carpenters.
– That was not done by the Commission. All the foundations were put in at the one time.
– That was not so.
– Of course a great deal depended on the Commissioner’s subordinates. In each State the Government appointed Deputy Commissioners, and why did not those men remain longer in their positions? Apparently within twelve or eighteen months there were as many as half-a-dozen Deputy Commissioners in one State. Who were the men who were selected? They were not .politicians - parasites on the country - they were honest commercial men, trained . in the world of business, men who loved their country, and were going to bring their capacity to bear in carrying on a big commercial enterprise. 1 The quintessence of commercialism is to “make” quickly; so they made, and left. There were three or four Deputy Commissioners within a very short period. ‘Why? Because after one had been there sufficiently long to make his bit, he left, and somebody else took, bis place, and got his chance.
– They were not men brought from the business world.
– Oh! They were not politicians; they did not represent the quintessence of the corrupt influence of politics. The Government decided that this work should be conducted by commercial men with business knowledge and experience, and if the men who were appointed were not such, those in charge were not performing their duty in accordance with either the Act or the money they were receiving.
The Prime Minister said that it was an outrageous and abhorrent thing and against all human nature, to ask a man to handle millions of pounds of the public money for so little remuneration as was paid to the Commissioner. The responsibility for that did not rest with honorable members on this side; it rested with the
Government. If they had millions of pounds to expend, if brains were essential, and if £1,500 per annum was too little to attract the right man, there was nothing to prevent the Government from asking Parliament to pay the salary that was requisite.
– The honorable member’s party said that £1,500 per annum was enough.
– ‘Apparently it was too much.
– -Yes; incapacity is always too well paid. Suppose I had said that £1,500 was sufficient - I do not think the Minister ever heard mc say that-
– That was the statement of the honorable member’s leader at the time, and he spoke for his party.
– In any case, what did it matter? I would be very interested and pleased if the Assistant Minister could indicate any time or circumstances in which the ‘ opinions of the Opposition have ever had any influence upon the decisions of the Government. If the Government had been very anxious to load the scheme with a man worth £5,000 per annum there was no honorable member on this side of the chamber who could prevent them doing that. There was no more power on this side to prevent them doing that than there was to prevent Mr. Shepherd being paid £2,000 per annum. [ can mention a lot of other instances of the kind; and I could also mention officers receiving not £1,000, but only a few hundred pounds, who have administered the expenditure of millions of pounds of public money. Personally, I cannot see that there is any use in lamenting the past. I say nothing in denunciation of what has been done. The Government made a bad choice. The man they appointed as Commissioner failed, and the army of Deputies selected to work under his authority also failed.
– I was referring not to present Deputies, but to past Deputies.
– And I was not referring to present politicians; all presentday politicians are honest, as are all commercial men.
What remedy do the Government propose? It is to adopt a course that has been the subject of abuse in this chamber and in the press time after time. After having painfully brought forth the great idea of a scheme which should be free from political influence, after developing an idea that demanded genius and commercial capacity for its administration; commercial capacity is to be thrown into the dust-bin, business men are to be discarded, and we are to revert to political control and all its evil influence.
– Direct Ministerial responsibility.
– Direct Ministerial responsibility - which means that for ‘ every advantage which can be reaped from clever subordinates the Minister in charge of the Department takes credit; but when the scheme fails the Minister takes no responsibility. Always, like the Jews of old, they have some poor goat to carry the burden into the wilderness. There has been nothing more absurd than this proposal to change the system and bring the War Service Homes . scheme under the direct control of the Minister < in charge. All this means is that the Minister will take the responsibility, and that is all he will take.
– The public works of the Commonwealth and of all the States are carried out by this system.
– On which leg do the Government stand? , They hop from twig to twig and from branch to branch, and they do not know where they arc standing. At one time, political influence is bad, and political responsibility is bad, and at another time it is good.
Either the administration of, and full responsibility for, this great enterprise must rest as to general policy with the Ministry, or the Ministry must unload its responsibility on to some one else, as has been done in the case of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, who has autocratic power. When that system fails, they throw it over and revert back to Ministerial responsibility; and, when that fails, they lightly go back to the other system. What are we developing? First, we are going back to the system of political influence; secondly, we are going to abolish the day-labour system; and, thirdly, we are returning to the contract system. That is clear and definite; and’ under this particular proposal the machinery that has been got together in the course of several years will be scrapped. In the organization of a great industry - in mining, manufactures, or what not, where men of money come together - there must be an immense outlay of capital. It is proposed to throw away the benefits of” two years massing of material, which is to be sold to the general public and private contractors. Imagine a body of business men getting machinery and plant together, and, because they have initial failures, scrapping the whole plant instead of getting new men into the organization! I read the other day that Henry Ford walked into a leading railway corporation and turned it from a dead loss to a success in twelve months. What is it that makes or mars a business ? It is not the particular brand that you place upon it. It is not because you call it a “ Government “ or a “ private “ thing. Brands do not alter facts. If the thing is capably administered, irrespective of ownership, it will be a success, even under Government management. It is proposed to create two new Boards. More gentlemen, of course, are to be foisted upon the taxpayers. One man out, another in - perhaps half-a-dozen in ; where A sat before, B is comfortable now; one is triumphant, another defeated. In order to change the system and meet the situation, the Government say, “ We will have a Disposals Board to handle £750,000 of stock.”. What are they to do? Dispose of it. It takes no considerable amount of genius to dispose of some things.
– It does to turn it to advantage.
– It is very advantageous to have £750,000 of goods to dispose of. The members of these Boards are to be iona fide men; they are to be real, genuine Australian, dinkum business men who will bring success to all our endeavours. They were never thought of before, during two, years of administration, but now they are to be a Board. They will build up their particular machinery; they will have their particular plant; they will create around themselves their own particular retinue; and, altogether, their services to their country will consist in disposing of these goods at enormous expense.
– Some of them are heads of the Public Works Department, and their services will not cost the country anything additional.
– -If this country cannot raise permanent officials capable of carrying out the business of the country, and capable of selling things, whether in the Navy, Army, or elsewhere, it is hard luck for the country. We have many of these permanent officials, but there is no proof that they have sufficient capacity to sell the products of the country.
– There are no “pickings,” as the honorable member suggests.
– Unlucky devils! Somebody, apparently, has had the pickings in the past. What is this Adjustment Board to do? Who are they? What are they? Where is their business? Why, in the name of creation, could not these men of business have been thought of before?
– Some of the members of the Board are honorary. Mr. John Stinson has been appointed in New South Wales. He is the right man for the job.
– Our chief voluntary assistant usually is the right man. The whole thing, from beginning .to end, has been most lamentable and regrettable, but I cannot see for a single moment how any changes in the system can at this particular moment alter the position. I do not know’ how far it was wise to take the business out of the hands of the Commonwealth Bank. I am not raising that question, but once the system has been built up at immense cost to this country, the machinery perfected, and the material and men massed under one great organization, it is a better proposition than any system of isolated building by private individuals. It is a self-evident fact that production on a large scale is the most economical kind of production. It is no way out of the difficulty to abolish the system. The proper way is to go on until you find the men who arc capable of administering the system properly. Everybody knows that companies find bad managers from time to time. They fail miserably, but they do not scrap their plant and throw up the job. They go on, cover up their losses, and continue until they find business men capable of administering successfully. The position is regrettable from the standpoint of the returned soldiers and of the country. It is also regrettable from the sti.nd-point of the Government, but it is nc remedy to simply create new Boards and new bodies of men, to build up a retinue of servants around them to merely dispose of the wreckage. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) designated “them “mere liquidators” of a scheme which is yet solvent, if properly administered.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 157 (Miscellaneous), £10,946, agreed to.
Division 158 (War Service Homes Commission), £100,000.
– I regret that I did not hear the whole of the remarks of the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Wienholt), but I ascertained the substance of them, and I have been informed of his intention to move an amendment which will call for a declaration of policy in respect of the working of the timber areas of Queensland. I think that the honorable gentleman has a right to ask that a policy should be defined by the Government at an early date. I have to confess that a satisfactory handling of the Queensland timber areas is one of the most difficult problems that the Government and the Commission have yet to solve. I think that almost every other phase of the Department’s activities has been covered by my statements and proposals, and by the remedial measures that have been indicated. I ask the honorable gentleman to accept my assurance that before the . end of February definite action will be taken in respect to the timber areas of Queensland. The Government has called for reports. It has, following on representation’s made by the honorable gentleman, sent the business adviser to Queensland, accompanied by an experienced sawmiller. It called in, also, the experience of other sawmillers in Queensland. It has reports and advices from these business advisers, but has not., been able to determine the policy which will best serve the returned soldier and the country. It will, however, concentrate on this matter imme diately the House rises, and I undertake that definite action shall be taken. I want to see the wheels of industry going again in those districts, and I can understand >the natural desire that exists in the localities affected. I think it would be foolish on my part, or on the part of the Government, to enunciate an immature policy now. It will devote itself to the most earnest consideration of the best solution of the question in the interests’ of .the returned soldiers, the taxpayers, and the localities concerned. I cannot at this juncture declare the policy that will be adopted; and the carrying of an amendment, I submit, cannot have the effect of securing an advance declaration of policy to-night. I ask the honorable member to accept my assurance that the Government will concentrate on this matter, that it will consider it very carefully, and that it will at the earliest possible date announce a policy which, I hope, will set the wheels of industry in motion by the end of February next.
.- I do not wish to appear churlish., and. I do not want to waste one second of the time of the Committee unnecessarily ; but, to be perfectly frank with the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) I am not satisfied with the explanation he has made. As for the Government “concentrating” on this question and giving it their “ most careful consideration,” that is what I have been thinking and hoping they have been doing for many months past. Without desiring to be discourteous .to the Assistant. Minister, I must, in fairness to those I represent, submit an amendment. I move -
That the proposed vote be reduced by £1 as a request to the Government to take prompt steps to stop the loss of public money and unemployment caused by the cessation of work at their Canungra and Beaudesert mills.
.- The candid admissions pf the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) have removed much of the necessity for convincing debate. He has taken the sting out of the argument by admitting the indictment. The Public Accounts Committee is inquiring into the administration of the War Service Homes Commission, and has submitted several interim reports to Parliament, but the inquiry is not yet completed, and the final report, which will be the most important, is yet to be submitted. If Parliament is to effectively deal with the whole subject, it should do so on the submission of that report. It is beyond doubt that the Commission’ for the erection of homes for returned men has provided one of the greatest muddles ever associated with government in this country. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) said that others have referred to day labour as being the chief cause of the costliness of the buildings that have been erected. That certainly was partly the cause. In this concern of such great magnitude, where the supervision was indifferent, day labour has proved ineffective. But one might criticise the defects in the working of the War Service Homes Commission for hours without doing much goodat the present time. ‘ The Government are now seized of the position, and doubtless when Parliament resumes again, and the final report of the Public Accounts Committee has been presented, honorable members will be able to consider what action should be taken to put things on a sound footing. In my opinion, a grave mistake was made when we took the business out of the hands of the Commonwealth Bank, which, unquestionably, on the whole “ delivered the goods” while keeping within the bounds of the regulations. The men for whom it constructed houses have, generally, got better houses, and the work of construction was managed by it more efficiently than by the Commission. But one does not care to probe info things at this juncture; that may be done later. Prom South Australia scarcely a complaint has come, so that it would seem almost a waste of public money to go there to carry into that State the investigation of the Committee. In the matter of providing homes for our returned men, we should have followed the lines of experience, and not have rushed into a mammoth undertaking such as the world had never known. I hope that the Government will take the earliest opportunity to pull out, and put things on a proper footing. If that is not done before Parliament meets again, it will deserve all the castigation that can be given to it.
Question put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the negative
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Navy.
Proposed vote, £2,340,438.
.- The amount voted for this Department last year was £2,279,238, and the amount spent, £2,429,050, the estimated expenditure for this year being £2,340,438, or a little less than was spent last year.
Mr.Laird Smith. - Less by £88,612.
– This is the only Defence Department which proposes to spend less during the current year than was spent last year. I have risen chiefly to ask the Minister for the Navy (Mr: Laird Smith) for some information regarding the Naval College, for which we voted last year £74,850, and onwhich the expenditure was £81,252, or about £7,000 more. This year the expenditure on the College is estimated at £75,220, or about £6,000 less than was ‘ spent last year. I wish to know what number of cadets is at the College at the present time? It has been stated repeatedly that there are almost as many instructors there as cadets. If that is so, it is a regrettable state of affairs. A footnote indicates that it is expected that the Estimates will be reduced in the second half of the financial year by four commissioned officers, twenty-four petty officers and men, and three assistant masters ; but even if the number be reduced as stated we shall not be justified in expending all this money’ on the College, taking into consideration the small number of cadets there.
.- I shall be pleased to supply tie information. We are endeavouring, as far as practicable, to retrench at the College, but it must be a gradual process in order not to interfere with the instruction of the cadets in training there. They are getting excellent instruction. After passing through the College they are sent to Great Britain, where, in competition with students from a similar College in the Old Country, many of them have come out with flying colours. This, I think, is a great compliment to our Naval College, and also to Australia. If we are to have an efficient Navy we must have some institution at which its future officers may be thoroughly trained. I visited the College last year and was very much impressed by all that I saw there, especially the splendid system of training that had been adopted. The cadets are taught seamanship, navigation, gunnery, torpedo practice, engineering (theoretical and practical), mathematics, physics, and chemistry. It was my privilege to present the prizes to the successful students. One cadet had taken honours in five subjects, but was only allowed three prizes. I made careful inquiries into the system of training, and found that if students were subjected to any unusual mental strain they were sent into the engineering room, or given a course of physical training, which resulted in the much-needed mental rest, and built them up, thus enabling them to resume their studies with greater vigour. I found that the students in residence were exceeding the number likely to be required as lieutenants, and after conferring with the Naval Board, I determined upon a scheme of retrenchment, which has resulted in an estimated saving of £7,000, but which, I believe, will really be about £10,000 this year. We are still considering a development of this policy, and possibly the training of the H.M.S. Tingira lads will be carried out at the College, if practicable. This should result in a still further saving.
– Does the Minister think that another visit to the College would result in a saving of another £10,000 ?
– I would not like to say that it would. I can assure honorable members that the Estimates were very carefully reviewed and heavy reductions made before being submitted to Parliament. We have done everything possible to keep expenditure ‘ down, and in this matter the Board has rendered very great assistance. There are fewer naval vessels in commission, but” I do not think we should- economize at the risk of efficiency. I trust that the course I have indicated will commend itself to honorable members, and that the Estimates will be ‘accepted by the Committee.
.- I intimated at an earlier stage of the Defence vote that I thought it would be possible to make substantial reductions in the Naval Estimates, but before moving in respect of any particular item, I should like the Minister (Mr. Laird Smith) to explain five very substantial increases in various branches of this Department. The first is to be found in the medical services, the vote for which, speaking in round figures, is £21,000, as compared with the actual expenditure last year of £14,000, or an increase of £7,000. Then there is the Royal Australian Naval Reserve vote of £110,000, against an actual expenditure of £85,000 last year, or an increase of £25,000. For Naval establishments the estimated expenditure this year is £158,000, compared with an actual expenditure of £82,000 last year, an increase of £76,000; and the amount to be paid to credit of Trust Fund for uniform, clothing, and other necessaries is £50,000, compared with an actual expenditure of £15,000 last year, or an increase of £35,000. In general services there is an estimated expenditure of £63,000, as against an actual expenditure last year of £32,000, an increase of £30,000. ‘ These items represent an aggregate increase in expenditure of about £174,000, and I think it will, to some extent, depend upon the explanation of the Minister whether members will feel justified in accepting, or moving for some substantial reductions in, the Estimates of the Department.
– Like the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), I should like some information regarding certain anticipated increases, notably the heavy increases in the medical services.’ I understand we have fewer ships in commission this year than last year, and yet ,the total amount to be made available for medical services has been increased by £7,000. In connexion with this vote, I should like to suggest an amalgamation of the whole of the medical services for the Army, Navy, and Air services in one defence medical service under one director-general. My attitude towards these Estimates will entirely depend upon the Minister’s explanation.
– It has been found necessary to give increases in pay to officers in the medical services, to provide for certain increments, and to make certain clerical appointments. The item, £1,000, for the Director of Naval Medical Services last year appeared as “ Borne for pay under division No. 78, Permanent Naval Forces (Sea-going),” so it is not an increase. The recommendations of the Basic Wage Commission have influenced the Government in paying certain increments. The last Estimates provided for only portion of the year. The Naval Board finds the utmost difficulty in retaining the services of its medical men owing to greater attractions outside. These gentlemen must get a fair remuneration for their services if we are to retain them. Speaking from memory, I think we have been advertising for three medical officers simply because those in the Department have taken positions outside.
– How many vessels are there in commission?
– Some weeks ago I issued a statement explanatory of the Naval Estimates in the hope that it would be of assistance to honorable members. At page 4 of that statement the strength of the sea-going fleet is given as follows: - Two light cruisers, Melbourne and Brisbane; one training cruiser, Sydney; two sloops, Geranium and Marguerite; three modern destroyers, Anzac and two “ IS “ class destroyers ; one “ River “ class destroyer, Huon; one submarine parent ship, Platypus; three “ J “ class submarines; ,and one yacht, the Franklin, which is used as a tender to the Royal Australian Naval College. The Geranium is employed on survey work on the north coast of Australia, and has given good service for the expenditure incurred in respect of her. The [honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) desired information as to the increased vote in respect of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve totalling £27,291. The increase under “ Pay “ is to provide, ‘ first of all, for the resumption of training, which was suspended owing to the war, and will involve an additional expenditure of £10,646. Then we have provision for full year of staff appointed during 1920-21, which accounts for £4,510, while increments under awards and regulations involve an increase of £1,046; making a total under “Pay” of £16,202. The increase under “ Contingencies “ is £7,984. We are now reverting to the ordinary training, and I am convinced that considerable savings will eventually be made in our total Estimates when we have in the Naval Reserve a number of these trained men, who proved themselves of much use during the war. I would also direct the attention of the honorable member to division “Naval Establishments,” which appears at page 197 of these Estimates.’ There we have provision made for the full year’s payment of the basic wage allowance, including child endowment, which was payable during only a portion of the year 1920-21, and in respect of which there is an increase of £924. Other additions are accounted for as follows: - Increments under awards and regulations, £750; provision for salaries of officers, who were paid under another division in the Estimates for 1920-21, £1,016; provision for pay of permanent staff in lieu of temporary staff at present employed, £4,410, cost of living allowance to officers in the United Kingdon charged to other votes in 1920-1921. I was much impressed by the remarks made by honorable members of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the administration of Cockatoo Island. They complained of the great number of men who were employed as temporary hands. I found, on going into the matter, that men who in some cases had been working in the office for over ten years were still regarded as temporary employees. After going into the question with the Naval Board, I decided to re-organize the office. The war being over, I was able to make changes which were previously impossible. While the war was in- progress, our principal ships were overseas, and a great deal of the work now done at the Navy Offices in Lonsdale-street was then carried out by a staff in Great Britain. Our ships having returned to Australian waters that work is once more being done at this end. I found it necessary to reorganize the whole staff. After careful inquiry by a Board appointed for the purpose, and subsequently by the Naval Board, it was determined that certain men who were filling offices that were likely to be permanent should be appointed to the permanent staff. As a consequence, we have these increases in respect of establishment and so forth. I hope this explanation will be satisfactory to the honorable member for Balaclava.
.- After the strenuous way in which I used my voice last night I do not feel disposed to speak at length; but there are one or two matters relating to these Estimates concerning which I have a few observations to offer. I indorse the remarks made by the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) with regard to the training of midshipmen at the Naval College at Jervis Bay. During the war - I think it was in 1915 or 1916 - when the first batch of Australian midshipmen reached the Grand Fleet at Scapa, the late Admiral Sir Robert Lowry, who. was then in charge of the Fleet on the north-east coast of Scotland, remarked to me that they were the smartest lot of midshipmen that had come under his notice. They were absolutely efficient, and were a splendid advertisement for the Australian Naval College. Then again, in an examination held recently in England for the rank of engineer sub-lieutenant, Australian candidates were first, second, and third on the list. We should endeavour to carry on the Royal Australian Naval College, although I agree that the expenditure should be kept as low as possible. We do not know what will be the effect of the Washington Conference on our Navy. I do not want to prophesy in this case, but I am certain that the Australian Navy of the future will consist of light cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and, naturally, aircraft. All these ships will require midshipmen. I can appreciate the difficulty of .the Minister and the Naval Board in trying to adjust the expenditure on the College to the measure of efficiency that is being secured. The Minister will remember that when the Estimates were before us on a previous occasion I suggested several directions in which the Naval College might be put to good use. One of my suggestions - and this is a very important matter - related to the flying branch. Every flying man, whether civilian ot military, should undergo a course at the Naval College at Jervis Bay in order that he may obtain proficiency in what I might describe as “ sea sense.” An airman working over a ship of war, unless he is conversant with her helm movements, will experience great difficulty in effectively dropping his bombs. Airmen will also experience difficulty unless they have the “sea sense” of which I speak, when they have to go out with our ships in certain formations. It is for these reasons that I urge that all airmen should be required to undergo training at the Naval College. I would ask the Minister to make a note of this matter. It is of much importance, and I hope that my suggestion will be adopted. The Naval College might also be used to educate officers of the mercantile marine in the very important work of the convoy system. During the war a huge amount of work was put in by the Admiralty in teaching officers of the mercantile marine how to convoy ships. I was for a time submarine officer on the Carmania, which was employed in conveying American officers and troops from New York to Liverpool. Sometimes as many as eighteen or twenty vessels of from 20,000 tons to 30,000 tons burthen would be steaming along in four columns abreast, at night, without a light to guide the officers. There was nothing to give any sense of direction or to warn those on board a vessel of the proximity of other ships, and on many occasions there were narrow escapes from collisions which would have resulted in serious loss of life. It was only because the officers of those vessels were highly trained in the convoy system that we got the American troops safely across. I may remind honorable members that 65 per cent, of the American troops that went to England were taken over on British bottoms, with a British naval convoy. The Royal Australian Naval College might well be used to train officers of the mercantile marine in the convoy system. Officers of the mercantile marine have the right to go in certain numbers to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, and there spend several days every year in getting “ brushed up “ in the latest ideas of modern navigation. The same facilities might very well be extended to members of the mercantile marine to attend the Naval College at Jervis Bay. The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) suggested that the Army and Naval medical services should be combined. That is not a practical suggestion. There is always a certain degree of jealousy on the part of the various services, and once we started to amalgamate those services, in which there are divergent ranks and officers in various grades we should have trouble. Better results will be obtainedby keeping the Army and Navy medical services distinct, as they are to-day. There is an item in these Estimates relating to the training ship Tingira, which costs £64,000 a year. It is really a most excellent institution, and well handled. Prom discussions that I have had with the Minister I know that he is considering the desirableness of transferring that vessel to Jervis Bay, and so saving the expense of maintaining double staffs. The lads might be kept on shore, and sent to sea now and again on a smaller ship. In that way some portion of this expenditure of £64,000 per annum might be saved. I am very glad that no criticism has been levelled at the item of £5,000 for the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve. That item represents a new movement. The proposal is to train the yachtsmen of Australia so that, if necessary, they may be employed in the future as naval officers. This scheme, once it has been fairly started, will involve the Commonwealth in very little cost. “When the war broke out in England there were no officers available for the auxiliary services, such as submarine chasing, mine sweeping, &c, and officers had to be obtained from Canada and New Zealand. Unfortunately, the authorities did not seek to obtain any from Australia, where we have a very fine body of yachtsmen.While I was at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich some 600 yachtsmen were put through all branches of navigation, and also went through gunnery courses and other training. The proposal is that we shall adopt the same scheme, although on a smaller scale, so that we may have this reserve force of highly-trained men on which to fall back should trouble at any time arise. I am pleased that this item has been included in the Estimates, and I hope that no exception will be taken to it. I know the Minister, with the assistance of the Naval Board, has done everything possible to secure efficiency at a minimum of cost. . The vote for this Department seems to me to be a large one, and it is; but, as the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) said, we are “treading water” in order to see what actually happens at the Washington Disarmament Conference. If the Estimates can be reduced, I would like the Minister to suggest in what direction; and, if he thinks they cannot be reduced, I trust he will stand “pat,” and take a vote of the Committee.
– I say, with every respect, that the explanation of the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith), partial as it was, was perfunctory and entirely unsatisfactory. I intend to move for a substantial reduction to test the Government’s desire toeconomize and to reflect the feeling of our envoy in Washington in favour of naval disarmament. I remind the Committee that a week or two ago, when discussing the Defence Estimates, a proposal was mooted for a substantial reduction in the Naval Estimates, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said it was an unsafe policy at this stage to place some of our vessels out of commission. He told ns that the British Government were not doing anything of the kind; but the following morning, with dramatic suddenness, a cable appeared in the press showing exactly what the British Government were doing. According to the cabled information, she was making substantial cuts in her naval programme; but I understand that in connexion with the upkeep and maintenance of our Fleet we are increasing, rather than decreasing, our naval expenditure this year. There should be a substantial reduction, because some of our larger vessels are now out of commission, and the cost of maintenance and upkeep must be considerably less.
– There has been a big increase in the pay of officers and men.
– The Minister does not explain that. . There is an increase in the personnel of some of the establishments as shown by the Estimates. There is hardly one branch of the Naval establishments, as indicated by the figures supplied by the Minister, that does not show an increase. With a view to assist the Government to economize in expenditure of Consolidated Revenue, and to indicate our desire for naval disarmament, following the example of Great Britain, I move - ‘
That the proposed vote be reduced by £200,000.
I propose to call for a division on my amendment unless the explanations offered by the Minister are more satisfactory than they have been so far.
.- I trust the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) will not press his amendment to a division.
– I shall.
– In Great Britain, in 1913-14, the Estimates for naval expenditure amounted to £45,000,000; and, in 1921-22, after a reduction being made at the request of the House, the amount was left at £82,000,000. Great Britain is spending 33s. per head on her Navy, and before the reduction of our Estimates by £130,000, to which I have agreed, we were spending only 13s. per head. It will therefore be seen that the expenditure is not excessive. I have been assured by the members of the Naval Board that if we make any further reduction it will be false economy.
– That is always the attitude of a Department.
– No. If the vote is further reduced ships will be unable to go to sea to the same extent, and, in consequence, the men will not be trained ap they should be. The honorable member for Balaclava has complained because I have not given the Committee sufficient information. I have made a careful search through Hansard, and I find that this is the first occasion on which any explanation of any note has been given on the Naval Estimates. This is, I believe, the first occasion on which information has been sought, and I direct the attention of the Committee to the attitude of the honorable member for Balaclava when Acting Prime Minister and Treasurer when the Estimates for 1918-1? were under consideration. At 11.57 .a.m. he moved, vide Hansard, number 88, page 9827 -
That the time allotted for the consideration of the whole of the Estimates be until 4.30 p.m. to-day; and that the time allotted for all resolutions and stages of the Appropriation Bill be until 5.30 p.m. to-day.
He admitted that honorable members might consider that somewhat harsh treatment. The time that he allowed the Committee was only four-and-a-half hours for the consideration of the whole Estimates, and the naval vote on that occasion amounted to £2,505,435.
– That was in war-time.
– The Committee accepted that explanation without any discussion whatever. A gentleman with a thorough knowledge of political questions, but not a member of this House, advised me that an explanation was necessary. He also said, “ Cannot you see that this is for electioneering purposes. It would be very nice for some of your opponents to make use of the fact that no explanation was given.” I do not suggest that the honorable member for Balaclava! had that in his mind.
– Then why quote it?
– Simply to satisfy a friend who is interested in my candidature for the district of Denison. I have no recollection of a Minister for the Navy ever having been put to such a task in connexion with his Estimates as I have been.
– The Minister is not fib for his position if he cannot give an explanation.
– I trust the amendment will not go to a division. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) said that he was well satisfied, and would not ask for any further reduction.
– I never said that.
– I understood that that was the honorable member’s statement.
– If any move is made for a further reduction I shall support it.
– For the reasons I have given I trust that the amendment will not be pressed.
– In connexion with the Naval College at Jervis Bay, I am anxious to ascertain if there is any opening for students after they have left the College. Quite recently a youth was very anxious to enter, and when I made inquiries on his behalf I was informed that it was practically useless for him to enter, because there would be no opening for him when he left. That is an exceedingly serious situation, and I trust the Minister (Mr. Laird Smith) will be able to explain it. A smart boy gives the best years of his life to become sufficiently educated to pass the examination, and if he succeeds and there is no vacancy for him when he leaves the College it is too late for him to engage in any other sphere. I believe that there are an exceedingly fine lot of lads at the College,and that the training is all that could be desired. If we follow what is occurring at Washington, and what is being done by the League of Nations, it is certain that the naval votes and the strengths of the world’s navies will be reduced. When the Defence Estimates were submitted I suggested that it would have been better to delay consideration of them and also the estimated naval expenditure until the Washington Disarmament Conference had completed its work.
Personally, I have very grave doubts that the vessels we are maintaining can be regarded as fighting units.
– The Cockatoo Island Royal Commission sought information on that point.
– My information is that practically the whole of the ships of the Australian Navy are of the type which has been scrapped by the Imperial Navy. That is information that can be obtained by any one who cares to study the situation. There is only one of the Australian class in commission - I donot know if she is in commission now - the New Zealand, which has been retained for sentimental reasons because she was presented to the Imperial Government by the Dominion of that name. The others have gone onto the scrap heap. I am informed that the whole of the other vessels, with the exception of the destroyers which recently came from Great Britain, have been scrapped.
– They have been taken out of commission for otherreasons.
– Experienceof the war has shown us that they are not fit as fighting units.
– I do not think the honorable member is right.
– I think I am.
– How are men to be trained if there are no ships?
– If men are to have training they must be trained on the ships which will comprise our fighting force in the event of war.
– But if all honorable members are like the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams), no money will be made available to provide such vessels.
– To station a number of blackfellows at Port Phillip Heads armed with boomerangs would provide as effective a defence as to have some of our present units of the Australian Navy endeavouring to defend this city from the same point. Even the Re- nown is soon to go on the scrap heap, if she has not been already condemned ; but when she was in these waters she could have blown up the whole of our Navy without coming within range of return fire. My authority for speaking as I am doing is, I assure honorable members, a high one. I desire to know from the Minister whether it is a fact that practically the whole of the vessels in the Australian Navy are of those classes which have been scrapped by the Imperial Navy as being ineffective fighting units?
– Does thehonorable member suggest that, because a ship is not up to date, she is quite useless ?
– Yes, as a fighting unit.
– That consideration would depend on what she might have to meet.
– Of course. If she were called upon to oppose a raider she would be all right, no doubt; but is it proposed that the Commonwealth shall spend all the money set down in these Estimates to provide vessels which will be called upon merely to repel an occasional raider?
I desire to refer briefly to the question of oil supplies. We are now getting our fuel oil from the East. ‘Between those sources and the north coast of Australia there are almost innumerable islands which could shelter enemy submarines capable of cutting off the Commonwealth from her fuel oil supplies. I have been authoritatively informed that there is practically no storage of oil in Australia to-day; and, since the ships of our Navy consume only fuel oil, the situation is serious. The subject is one upon which honorable members should be furnished with the most complete information available.
. -I shall be glad to give all the particulars within my power. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) was right when he said that nobody can say to-day what maybe the naval requirements of the Empire in the near future. I assure honorable members that the Naval Board has been fully alive to its responsibilities in this direction. Indeed, it has anticipated Imperial decisions by agreeing to such considerable reductions as have been made in respect of our ships and the Naval Training College. ‘Regarding the latter institution, there were in 1919- 20 116 students at Jervis Bay; in 1920- 21, 100 students; and for the current financial year provision has been made for 85 students. The naval authorities are most anxious to adequately place our naval cadets, when their education shall have been completed.
There have been in Australia two schools of naval thought. One has favoured battleships costing fully £7,000,000 each to construct. I ask honorable members to consider what one ship - even such as that - could do, being only in one place at one time around our extensive coastline. It would be idle to ask Parliament to grant £7,000,000 for the construction of one capital ship. The other school of thought prefers the creation of a fleet of light cruisers and submarines. The Commonwealth naval authorities have adopted that policy and are proceeding upon it. Reference has been made to the trials which have been given the units of our Fleet. When Admiral Grant went to Singapore to represent Australia at the Naval Conference the cruiser Brisbane was subjected to a severe test. In the tropics, under most adverse conditions, that vessel was given speed trials. She was manned largely by young Australians who had been trained in Australia; this comment refers especially to the stokers. Upon a four hours’ run in the tropics, the Brisbane was driven at a speed of nearly 25 knots an hour. Such a rate has been regarded by experts as something to be proud of. I know the young commander-engineer on that vessel. He is a Tasmanian who was trained in the same engineering workshops as myself. After the Brisbane had completed her trials an examination was made of the log-book, and it revealed that there had not been found one hot bearing. Speed, of course, is one of the most important factors in the consideration of defence and offence. It should be almost unnecessary for me to refer to the treatment meted out to the Emden by the Sydney. I have been credibly informed, by the way, that from the moment when the German vessel was seen to be in danger of sinking - for which reason she made for the shore - not one more shot was fired from the Sydney. All the damage which the enemy cruiser sustained occurred while the two vessels were exchangingshots.
In addition to the vessels which are in commission it is hoped to have a much more up-to-date cruiser ready to take her place in the Fleet shortly; I refer to the Adelaide. The Australian Navy, as it exists to-day, represents the most effective naval defence which the Commonwealth can hope to possess in relation to the amount of money spent. The Naval Board is anxious to continue the exercises which the various units have been conducting; for only by practical manoeuvres can the ships he maintained in a state of efficiency. They have recently undertaken long and heavy tests, during some of the time in practically uncharted waters. I have made it my duty to get into close touch with all ranks, and to gain such knowledge as a landsman can obtain concerning the various units by travelling with them, and being present while exercises are proceeding.
– The Minister has been taking what is known as a naval holiday.
– I can assure the honorable member that it was not much of a holiday, from the point of view of a landsman.
With respect to fuel oil, the naval authorities are desirous of building up a reserve, but funds available will not permit the establishment of a full reserve. The Board desires to learn of the discovery of a suitable fuel oil in Australia, or of a retort capable of successfully treating our shale. Admiral Clarkson has been continuously in communication with experts in all parts of the world, and particularly with certain persons in Scotland, with the object of securing a retort which can satisfactorily treat the Australian deposits.
.– While listening to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith), I have been wondering whether the report is really true that he is likely shortly to have command of one of those capital ships in Australian waters, in which he is taking so keen an interest. Even ‘at the risk of defeating the object of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), and although my support may do him damage in his electorate, I must support his amendment. I must do my duty whatever the cost may be. A great deal of money has already been wasted in connexion with our naval activities, and these Estimates provide an excellent opportunity of endeavouring to lift some of the unholy burden which rests upon the country in connexion with our so-called naval defence. The Minister has dealt proudly with the past history of the Navy. He has spoken with a pride that seems to scintillate on the brow of one who hopes at some time to be a Naval Lord, of the performance of the Sydney in connexion with the destruction or overtaking of the German ship Emden.
– You know that you have no pride in naval matters.
– I hope that the Assistant Minister for Defence will, at the conclusion of my remarks, take an opportunity of elaborating what he has said by interjection by giving the Committee the benefit of his views on my views upon naval and military defence4 He says he knows all about it, and I am sure the Committee and the country should know what he knows/ because real wisdom emanates from him. All these vessels about which the Minister for the Navy speaks with such pride, if they are not already fit for the scrap heap, will certainly be fit for it long before even the most optimistic belligerent can hope that we will have any sea fighting or land fighting again. Militarists can see fighting in the immediate future. In the popular language of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony), they are ready to call out the “ dogs of war” at a moment’s- notice, especially those generals who are drawing pensions and are not likely to be called upon to fight. However, I do not see any fighting ahead in the ‘immediate future. I see only in the proposals of the Government an extravagant waste of money to which I cannot be a party. Therefore, I welcome this opportunity of supporting a movement’ for some reduction in this expenditure. I do not propose to take up the time of the Committee, because, in the familiar language of the painful after-dinner speaker, “the hour is getting late,” and the week is far advanced, but when I hear the Minister for the Navy speaking as he does pf the young Australians who are. to be induced to join the Royal Australian Navy, I derive some consolation from the knowledge that there are not many young Australians falling over one another* to join the Navy. In fact, there are” a good many of them now in the Navy who would be only too glad to get out of it. There are only too many who, beguiled by the blandishments of those who .held out to them the attractiveness of a naval career, would now be only too glad to rid themselves of this conscription which is wrapped up in naval defence. I have not lost sight’ of the fact that, while there is no conscription for land service overseas, there has always been, and still is, the pernicious conscription of boys for service at sea. Youths who a year or two ago allowed themselves to be articled, if I may use the word, as naval cadets, find themselves to-day after a few years of experience and with more mature judgment, bound to this engine of the Navy by clamps that are too strong for them to rend asunder. I want to get rid of this system ofnaval conscription, just as I fought the principle of conscription for fighting overseas in connexion with our land Forces. I have not very much hope that a great revolution is going to result from the Conference that is now proceeding at “Washington. I see no prospect of any resultbut a pleasant re-arrangement among the different nations that while they will reduce their naval armaments they will still preserve the existing ratio. But, although my hopes are not high in regard to what is being done in Washington, it still behoves us to join in the peace chorus on behalf of those who are against the whole system, and who would cheerfully see all the engines of destruction lowered to-morrow to the bottom of thesea. Not for the reason which the Assistant Minister for Defence suggests animates me, but for a better and higher reason which the honorable gentleman could never understand or appreciate, I shall support the proposal submitted by the honorable member for Balaclava to lop off some of the proposed expenditure on the Naval Estimates.
.- After the speech just delivered by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) I was hoping that we should have some evidence that the Minister for the Navy (Mr: Laird Smith) would pull out of one of his pockets the trump card we have been expecting all night, because we were definitely promised by the Minister that, there would be a reduction of £80,000 in these Estimates.
– The Prime Minister promised a total reduction of £130,000 in the Naval Estimates.
– You have already got that.
Mr.Greene. - A sum of £80,000 has already been taken off the Naval Works Estimates and £50,000 off the Naval Air rote, making £130,000 in all.
– I have followed the debates on these Estimates as per sistently as has any other honorable member, and I cannot recall the reductions which correspond with the amounts the Minister has mentioned. If I remember rightly, the amounts by which the Estimates have been reduced are as follow:£80,000 off the Naval Works, £250,000 off Military Works, and £100,000 off the Air Services.
– Out of the £100,000 off the Air Services £50,000 was on the Naval side. It was so stated at the time.
– I have often heard that figures are capable of being interpreted in any way. I regret that I cannot accept the conclusion that the amount of £130,000 has already been taken off the Naval votes, and in the circumstances I must hold out for some further reduction of these Estimates.
Question - That the amendment (Mr. Watt’s) be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) proposed -
That the proposed vote be reduced by £50,000.
.- The explanation offered by the Minister (Mr. Laird Smith) concerning the Naval Establishments was wholly insufficient to meet the case. There are two items in Division 88, sub-division 2 (Contingencies) that have yet to be explained. One is the amount of £75,000 for “ general expenses and upkeep of dockyard and other services, maintenance of machinery and floating craft, temporary assistance, and all other expenditure incidental to the Sydney Naval Establishments.” The second item is, “ General expenses and upkeep, including travelling expenses, stationery, fuel and light, telephones, and all other expenditure incidental to other Naval Establishments- £30,000.” The two items make a total of £105,000, as against £30,000 voted last year. Knowing something of how these Estimates were formerly prepared, I cannot understand why the increase was asked for, or why it should be deemed by the Government or the Committee to be necessary. In Division 89 there is £50,000 set down to be paid to the credit of a trust fund called the “Uniform, Clothing, and Necessaries (Naval) Account.” The amount voted last year was £15,000, and that amount was expended. There must be some special reason why all the charges for uniform in the Department have been increased so substantially, yet there has been no explanation forthcoming. I support the amendment, and I think the Minister should briefly give us an explanation of these two divisions.
-I shall be very glad to give the information sought. The total amount asked for in Division 88, sub-division 2, is £105,000, as against £36,877 expended in 1920-21. The increase is due in the first place to the cost of upkeep of Garden Island Dockyard services, maintenance of machinery, yard lighting, maintenance of harbor craft, including wages, coal, and repairs, being included under this item instead of under Subdivision 1 of Division 79 (item 3), “Repair and maintenance of ships,” as in previous years. In the second place, there is provision for certain expenditure at the naval establishments at Flinders, Swan Island and Osborne House, Geelong, which was previously charged to other votes. Additional expenditure is necessary owing to the cost of upkeep of the Flinders Naval Depot being heavier than at Williamstown. Moreover, awards and basic wage allowance, including child endowment, and increase under awards, are payable for the full year in 1921-22, whereas they were paid for only a portion of 1920-21. Regarding the item “Uniform, clothing, and necessaries,” the reason for the increase of £35,000 is that at present clothing stocks are very low, and it is imperative that some replenishment be made as early as possible, in order that the clothing may be available for issue on repayment*. A large proportion of the orders for uniform clothing is placed with the Commonwealth Clothing Factory. This money is simply placed into a trust fund. The men buy the clothing, which is made in our own factory, and we allow them to have it at cost price. We should all be proud to see how well these men are clothed under these conditions.
Question - That the amendment (Dr. Earle Page’s) be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Departments of Navy and Defence (Air Services)
Proposed vote, £100,000.
– I do not know why the Committee should be asked to vote this -large sum, in addition to the £300,000 we have already voted on the Works Estimates. It will be noted that the proposed vote for civil aviation is £28,794, and for military aviation £71,406. I have no objection to civil aerial services, but I take strong exception to the establishment of a new branch of the defence system. I realize, however, that it is not much use asking for a reduction of the vote, unless the Government are prepared to make it. In view of the fact that we have already voted £300,000 for this branch, we are not justified in voting another £71,000. I make this protest because I do not wish to be held in any way responsible when this branch of the Service grows large in the future. I venture to say that within two or three years’ time the amount involved will be £1,000,000. Then we shall complain of the expenditure, and now is the time to register a protest. . I move -
That the proposed vote be reduced by £71,406.
– I hope the Committee will not make any reduction in the Air Forces rote, which is comparatively small. The estimate for this year is £100,000, whereas for 1920-21 it was £305,000.
– Of which only £62,000 was spent.
– At all events, it must have been contemplated that there would be a large’ expenditure on the Air Force, especially in connexion with civil aviation. The Government, and, I believe, every honorable member, are favorably disposed towards spending a considerable amount in the encouragement of civil aviation. The Government have authorized an aerial mail service from Geraldton to Derby, in Western Australia, a distance of some ‘800 odd miles, at a cost of £25,000 a year by way of subsidy. Tenders have also been accepted for aerial mail services between Brisbane and Sydney, and Sydney and Adelaide, while tenders have been called for another service from Charleville to Cloncurry. I say at once that the £17,000 which is set down for the development of civil aviation is not sufficient for these purposes.
– It is nearly £29,000.
– Honorable members had much to say in favour of civil aviation when the Works Estimates were under consideration, and then urged that every encouragement should be given to its development. In calling for and accepting tenders, I suppose I have done what I should not have done, seeing that I had not actually sufficient money. However, Ihave been in consultation with the Treasury, and it has been agreed that I shall have the money in some way or other from the Air Force vote.
– That is a nice admission to make! Where is the Treasurer?
– My desire was to carryout the wishes so definitely expressed that civil aviation should be encouraged, and I “ took the bull by the horns” in giving the necessary instructions about the tenders. I shall not dwell on these Estimates at any length, because, I suppose, honorable members have made up their minds, but merely ask that the vote be allowedto pass.
– But the Estimates require altering; more is required for civil aviation, and less for the other branch.
– We can arrange that between ourselves.
.- The conciliatory language of the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) exercises a very winning effect on the Committee, particularly in view of the attitude of his colleague, the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith), who, when at the table. consciously or unconsciously, made himself offensive to the Committee, and also because the present attitude of the Assistant Minister .for Defence stands in such marked contrast with the fighting spirit that he showed when his own Estimates were before us, and when he applied some terms of unforgettable contempt to members of the Committee. I am afraid that his admission just now will place his new colleague at the Treasury in some embarrassment. It will not be possible, without the consent of the Committee, to legally transfer to civil aviation money voted for Military Air Force work. What the honorable gentleman apparently means is that saving may be effected in some military items; but, if so, we ought to know exactly what these items are. The honorable gentleman, would then be justified, if he effected savings, in arranging with his new colleague, the Treasurer, some compensation for those in the form of Supplementary Estimates to increase the civil aviation vote. But he should inform the Committee quite frankly-
– I have just done so.
– The honorable gentleman ‘has done it in his own way, but that is not the Committee’s way. He might well have said that he thought a saving of £25,000 might be made on the item of £77,000 voted for the Royal Australian Air Force; then, as I have said, he would be justified in getting supplementary provision for the civil aviation branch. That is the course that should be taken, and one which every honorable member would approve. Irrespective of party, apparently, every honorable member, judging by former expressions of opinion, believes in the steady and resolute development of civil aviation on this Continent. The more we think and learn of the subject, the plainer it becomes that there is probably no country in the world, with a future such as we have, that will benefit so much by civil aviation for the purposes of mail and passenger transport over our long distances. I do not think that anybody desires to reduce the vote.
– But we must also develop defence aviation.
– Yes, incidentally.
– Will the proposed reduction interfere with the Royal Australian Air Force?
– I should like to know; the Minister has said either too much or too little.
– If it means the “ scrapping “ of our new machines, the reduction ought not to be made.
– We would all consent to’ savings on the defence side being transferred to the civil aviation branch, for chopping off figures does not necessarily mean economy.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Trade and Customs.
Proposed vote, £745,357.
.– Some time ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), in answer to questions respecting German and Austrian trade, said he desired honorable members to express their opinions, and, though the hour is late, there may not be another opportunity before the recess to discuss the prohibition of trade and commerce with those two countries. We are the only nation in the world that now refuses to trade with Germany and Austria.
– The Prime Minister said he would never trade with Germany again !
– That is so, and he was loudly cheered when he made that declaration at the Melbourne Town Hall in 1919. I believe that, honorable members will sympathetically receive the opinions I am about to express. We are in great, anxiety about our future; and looking with hopes to the ^League of Nations and the Washington Conference. Yet we continue a policy of post-war hate against a nation, which in. 1914 was certainly the first military power, and the second naval power. We adopt this attitude, towards Germany, but at the same time we are buying machinery, or giving permission to certain people to import machinery from that country. For example, the Victorian Government is buying briquetting machinery from Germany, because it cannot be obtained anywhere else. If the German people passed a law preventing any German manufacturers from selling their manufactures to Australia because the Commonwealth has adopted that attitude, towards Germany, we should immediately come to the conclusion that Germany was contemplating another war oi7 the British Empire. I am hopeful that whatever the Prime Minister may have said to the effect that he would never again trade with Germany, ‘better and wiser counsels will prevail. I am led to this view because at a recent meeting in the Melbourne Town Hall, two years after that at which he said that he would never again trade with Germany, the right honorable gentleman said -
The world to-day would ‘he saved by the spirit, and by the spirit only. It must have faith in itself; belief that its cause is just; belief that not by a gospel of hate could it be saved, but by a gospel of love.
I quite agree with those sentiments, and I hope that we shall abandon the gospel of hate towards Germany.
We cannot, in justice to ourselves, allow foreign goods to come into this country at so low a rate of duty as would enable them to compete unfairly with the products of our own manufacturers and producers. We have a right to impose the highest Customs duties which we consider necessary to protect Australian manufacturers, but, having imposed these duties, whatever they may be, 45 per cent., or 50 per cent. - even though they should amount to 100 per cent., we should not absolutely prohibit any nation from trading with Australia. All the glory of Germany as the first military Power in the world and the second naval Power, has disappeared. By the Treaty of Peace -
Germany renounces in favour of the principal Allied and Associated Powers all her rights and titles over her overseas possessions. (Article 119.)
All movable and immovable property in such territories belonging to the German Empire or to any German State shall pass to the Governiment exercising authority over such territories, on the terms laid down in Article 257 of Part IX. within (financial clauses) of the present Treaty. The decision of the local Courts in any dispute as to the nature of such property shall be final. ( Article 120.)
Germany renounces in favour of China all benefits and privileges resulting from the provisions of the final Protocol signed at Pekin on September 7, 1901, and from all annexes, notes, and documents supplementary thereto. She likewise renounces in favour of China any claim to indemnities accruing thereunder subsequent to March 14, 1917. (Article 128.)
Germany recognises that all treaties, conventions, and agreements between her and Siam, and all rights, titles, and privileges derived therefrom, including all rights of extra territorial jurisdiction, terminated as from July 22, 1917. (Article 135.)
All goods and property in Siam belonging to the German Empire or to any German State, with the exception of premises used as diplo matic or consular residences or offices, past ipso facto and without compensation to the Siamese Government. (Article 136.)
Germany renounces all rights and privileges arising from the arrangement of 1911 and 1912 regarding Liberia, and particularly the right to nominate a German Receiver of Customs in Liberia. She further renounces all claim to participate in any measures whatever which may be adopted for the rehabilitation of Liberia. (Article 138.)
Germany renounces all rights, titles and privileges conferred on her by the General Act of Algeciras of April 7, 1906, and by the Franco-German agreements of February 9, 1909, and November, 4, 1911. All treaties, agreements, arrangements, and contracts concluded by her with the Sherifian Empire are regarded as abrogated as from August 3, 1914.
In no case can Germany take advantage of these instruments, and she undertakes not to intervene in any way in negotiations relating to Morocco, which may take place between France and the other Powers. (Article 141.)
Germany renounces in favour of Japan all her rights, titles; and privileges - particularly those concerning the territories of Kiao-chow railways, mines, and submarine cables - which she acquired in virtue of the Treaty concluded by her with Chinaon March 6, 1898, and all other arrangements relative to the Province of Shantung. (Article 156.) .
Here is a very important clause in the Treaty of Peace -
The German military forces shall be demobilized and reduced as prescribed hereinafter within. (Article 159.)
The reduction of the strength of the German military forces as provided for in Article 160 may be effected gradually in the following manner: -
Within three months from the coming into force of the present Treaty the total number of effectives must be reduced to 200,000, and the number of units must not exceed twice the number of those laid down in Article 160.
At the expiration of this period and at the end of each subsequent period of three months, a Conference of military experts of the principal Allied and Associated Powers will fix the reductions to be made in the ensuing three months, so that by March 21, 1920, at the latest, the total number of German effectives does not exceed the maximum number of 100,000 men laid down in Article 160. In these successive reductions the same ratio between the number of officers and of men, andbetween the various kinds of units, shall be maintained as is laid down in that Article. (Article. 163.)
– M. Briand said recently that Germany can put 6,000,000 men in the field to-day.
– I dare say that is quite possible.
– He did not say that. He said that in Germany there was a potential army of 6,000,000 trained men.
– That may well he so. No matter what we may do with regard to Germany or any other nation there will always he that potential strength and energy which exists within the nation itself. If we take our own case, I suppose it may he said that we have a potential army in this country of at least 500,000 men. Germany has agreed to reduce her army in the manner described, and it has further agreed that -
Universal compulsory military service shall be abolished in Germany.’ The German Army may only be constituted and recruited by means of a voluntary enlistment. (Article 173.)
All fortified works, fortresses, and field works situated in German territory to the west of a line drawn 50 kilometers to the east of the Rhine shall be disarmed and dismantled within. (Article180.)
May I express the opinion that all our attempts in this direction to force a nation to be peaceful must fail unless we have the whole of the other nations of the world with us in a huge League of Nations. Because the people of any nation, and particularly those possessed of the history, intelligence, and capacity of the German people can, if they so desire, prepare for a future war. I am proposing to submit a motion for the consideration of honorable members, because I think we should abandon the policy of post-war hate and should make friends of Germany and Austria as soon as we possibly can. The following decisions were arrived at at the Peace Treaty regarding the German Navy : -
After the expiration of a period of two months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, the German Naval Forces in commission must not exceed - 6 batttleships of the Deutshland or Lothringen type, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers 12 torpedo boats, or an equal number of ships constructed to re place them, as provided in Article 190.
No submarines are to be included.
All other warships except where there is provision to the contrary in the present Treaty must be placed in reserve or devoted to commercial purposes. (Article 181.)
Within a period of two months from the coming into force of the present Treaty the German surface warships enumerated below will be surrendered to the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers in such Allied ports as the said Power may direct.
These warships will have been disarmed as provided by Article XXIII. of the Armistice of 11th November, 1918. Nevertheless, they must have all their guns on board.
Battleships - Oldenburg, Tlwringen, Ostriesland, Helgoland, Posen, Westfalen,Rheinland, Nassau;
Light Cruisers - Stettin, Danzig, Munchun, Lubeck, Stralsund, Augsburg, Kolberg, Stuttgart; and in addition forty-two modern destroyers and fifty modern torpedo boats, as chosen by the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers. (Article 185.)
On the coming into force of the present Treaty the German Government must undertake under supervision of the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers the breaking up of all the German surface warships now under construction. (Article 186.)
The armed forces of Germany must not include any’ Military or Naval Air Forces. (Article 198.)
– The honorable member is going outside the Department under consideration.
– I shall not pursue that line of argument at further length. Briefly, it may be said that Germany has ceased to have any Navy worth considering. The figures embodied in the reparation terms imposed upon Germany are astounding. I think it would be an imposition upon honorable members at this late hour to go into this matter as fully as its importance deserves, but I may mention that the total amount payable under the Articles of the Peace Treaty was fixed at no less than £6,600,000,000. Honorable members will have read in this morning’s newspapers that Sir George Paish, a leading financier and adviser to the British Government, has expressed the opinion that the present German reparation scheme is impossible. He said -
Germany could not even make the reduced payment fixed at the Spa Conference. If owing to non-payment the Allies occupied the Ruhr regions, seized Germany’s Customs, and controlled her finances, it would lead to the destruction, not only of Germany, but of ourselves and the whole world. Germany could not make any payments till Europe was restored. Then she could make moderate payments. Formerly he believed she could not pay more than £50,000,000 a year. Now he believed she could pay £100,000,000.
– I am loth to intervene, but the honorable gentleman must see that he is opening up the whole question of reparations. His intimation to me was that it was his intention to deal with one question, and to obtain the opinion of the Committee with regard to the abolition of the restrictions upon trade and commerce with Germany.
– I admit that I may have gone a little further than would be justified by a strict interpretation pf the Standing Orders, but in a matter like this one can scarcely submit a motion expressing the desirability of resuming trade relations with Germany without saying something which will indicate to people outside the reasons which prompt him to take that course.
– Does the honorable member think he has adopted the proper way in which -to deal with so important a question? The matter is not introduced by the Government, but by a private member, and to the Committee of Supply, and not to> the whole House.
– The Prime Minister wants to sneak it in in this way.
– The Prime Minister throws the responsibility upon the Committee of Supply, although it had nothing to do with the original policy. In the reversal of that policy the same course should be observed as when it was adopted. The matter should be dealt with in this House. “
– I am anxious to show that as we have imposed such penalties on Germany, and have succeeded in destroying Germany’s naval and military power, we should now be prepared to resume trade relations with that country. As to the point that this is not the way in which to raise this question, I should like to know at what other stage I could intervene to secure an expression of the opinion of honorable members. I am only a private . member, and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) knows that private members’ business has been superseded. I believe that I know the feelings of honorable members, and though my proposal may be regarded as unpopular now, I believe it will not be very long before it is popular. I am submitting my motion because I am looking beyond the Washington Disarmament Conference to the time when we shall make friends with the people of Central Europe, and when they will be allied with us in a movement to maintain the peace of the world.
– Has the honorable member consulted the Prime Minister on this matter?
– I did not consult the Prime Minister personally, but I sent him a letter saying that I proposed to raise the question, and he said that he had no objection to my doing so. Honorable members want to put themselves in the Prime Minister’s place. He said, some time ago, that he declined to be one to trade with Germany. The people of Australia, in their anger at what had taken place during the war, applauded that statement. But we know that the Prime Minister has been regenerated. Honorable members will, no doubt, be able to derive a certain amount of amusement from the right honorable gentleman’s utterances; but in my view this question is so important that a settlement of it should not be delayed any longer. With deference to the honorable member for Balaclava, I think that we cannot risk a failure to obtain an expression of the opinion of honorable members before the close of the session, and that I should therefore submit my motion to-night. The Minister for Trade and Customs. (Mr. Greene) has informed me that if there is a general expression of opinion by members of the Committee in favour of my motion, he will take certain steps forthwith t& abolish the existing restrictions against trading with Germany. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has informed me that he is in favour of a motion approving of the removal of restrictions on trade and commerce with Germany, and the Leader of the Country party (Dr.’ Earle Page) has given me a similar assurance. Any further rem’arks I may have to make will be reserved for a further opportunity. I move -
That the first item - Comptroller-General, £1,400 - be reduced by the sum of £1.
– I remind the honorable member that the Committee is considering the total vote for the Department, and an intimation has been conveyed to me that a considerably larger reduction of the total vote will be moved. I suggest to the honorable member that he should withdraw his amendment for the time being.
– As some honorable members have told me that they agree with my proposal, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment for the time being.
– I agree, if that will help us to get on with the business.
Sitting suspended from 12.3 to 12.45 a.m.. (Saturday).
– I agree with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) that the question of trading with Germany cannot be satisfactorily settled by this Committee. It is a big question, and it cannot be left much longer in abeyance. Action must be taken, and we must sooner or later resume trading relations with former enemy countries. I do not want to go into the merits of the question, but I hope that before this Parliament adjourns or prorogues the Government will take some action. The stoppage of trade was due to Government action, and any action to restore trade should come from the Government. If the Government does not want to take action, but desires to put the responsibility upon Parliament, no time ought to be lost in bringing the matter forward.
– If honorable members generally express the opinion that they desire trading to be resumed with Germany, the Government, on its own initiative, will take the responsibility of revoking the proclamation. It rests with honorable members to express their opinions on the subject.
– I am one of those who would compel Germany to make full reparation, but it is impossible to do that unless we resume trading with her. Otherwise, the result will be disastrous. It is impossible to continue under the present conditions. Personally, I have no desire to trade with Germany, but I have a very great desire to protect the trade of those countries which stood by us during the great war. Still, we must realize that unless we want to create further friction in the future, and possibly cause further wars, the only course that we can take is to permit trading to be resumed. The Estimates show that the administration of the Commerce Act 1915 cost over £36,000 last year, and this year the vote is £19,000. It is a very large sum to give by way of carte blanche to any
Department. Personally, I have not been satisfied with the administration of the Act. Where there has been fraudulent trading - that is to say, the selling of inferior goods to the detriment of the trade of Australia - I do not think that sufficiently drastic action has been taken to expose those who have taken advantage of the insufficient powers of the Minister.
– I think the power is quite sufficient.
– I do not know that it is. There may have been difficulties iu the way, and I am not going to express any condemnation. When we are spending large sums of money in. connexion with an Act such as this, and it is found that any individual corporation or company has been guilty of fraudulent trading, the sooner the fraud is exposed, and the sooner we take steps to build up a reputation for honest trading, the better it will be for the Australian people. I hope that very strong action will be taken by the Minister (Mr. Greene) upon any occasion when such fraudulent practices are disclosed. I asked a question recently in regard to theforestry laboratory in Perth. Some years ago a laboratory was established in that city for the purpose of making investigations in regard to the manufacture of wood-pulp paper and tanning. I believe magnificent work has been done by that organization. There was a committee of gentlemen who were giving their services absolutely free, and doing very special work for the purpose of assisting in building up industries in this country. I am afraid that the new Director of Science and Industry (Mr. Knibbs) has been over-desirous to centre in Melbourne the control of the organization and to prevent a continuance of activities in Western Australia. They have had special opportunities in Perth, and have done remarkably good work. The newspaper proprietors throughout Australia have assisted by subscribing large sums of money for the purpose of carrying on investigations. The investigations in regard to the manufacture of paper have been particularly successful, and the laboratory has also demonstrated some very fine tanning properties. There is not the slightest doubt but that that small laboratory, which has been carried on at very small expense, has been of very great advantage to science and industry in
Australia. I am afraid that Mr. Knibbs has been somewhat antagonistic to the continuance of #the work. I want the Minister (Mr. Greene) to understand that I am not asking for the expenditure of a large sum of money. The sums of money mentioned by him in answer to my question the other day I had never dreamed of, although I think he would be more than justified in spending enormous sums of money on a laboratory of that kind. I want him, while controlling the Trade and Customs Department, to assist the laboratory in every possible way, and to take care that there is not that centralization which is the unfortunate feature of the departmental mind. If such a “laboratory, situated in Western Australia or Queensland, can do something of advantage to the whole of Australia, and not merely to the State in which it is situated, it will be carrying on a work of value. I hope the Minister appreciates the wonderful work that has been done. Some members of this Committee, including members of the Opposition, saw with me a demonstration in that little laboratory in Perth, and I think they will agree that it is doing particularly useful work. The people themselves have contributed almost wholly to the expenditure. I was rather surprised to find that, after having appointed a Director of Science and Industry,, cold water was being thrown on a project which, if continued, would do much to establish important industries in i this country.
– It has been very refreshing to hear the speech of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs). Just why the honorable member should feel this responsibility thrust upon him I am at a loss to see for the time being. Ho enunciated views that have been expressed for some years past from this side of the House; and I think it is the feeling of the majority of the people of this country, just as it is the feeling of the people in all the Allied countries since the conclusion of the war, that it is an utterly foolish policy to take up the attitude of the Prime . Minister (Mr. Hughes), who said, shortly after the war was over, “ If you want to trade with Germany you must get a new leader.” He has maintained that attitude right up to his last public utterance on the subject. Whatever the result may be, whether we trade with Germany or not, if it is in the power of the Prime Minister we shall still have the same leader. I hope, however, that he will not have the settlement of that very vexed question of leadership in his own hands. . Having said this very often, he now finds himself in a dilemma as the .Leader of a Government which is the only Government in the countries that were recently at war with Germany which is pursuing that stupid policy. He is looking for a way out in order to get rid of the responsibility which necessarily and essentially is his own. Finding himself unable to take up that responsibility, he has evidently arranged with the honorable member for Capricornia to show him a way out.
– Whatever the decision is, the Prime Minister will take credit to himself ; he will be on the right side, anyway.
– That is so. Latterly he said, “ I will not trade with Germany. I will not consent to it.” Now, when he finds every other country in the world doing what he has so long refused to do, he says, “ Parliament must take the responsibility for this action.” The responsibility should not be thrust upon Parliament; it rests upon the Government.
– The honorable member is evidently in favour of trading with Germany.
– I have always been in favour of it. Surely it is not wrong for me to follow the lead of the Mother Country in this matter. The Prime Minister says that he does not agree with the Mother Country in this instance. Evidently he agrees with what she does only when it suits him to do so.
– The Prime Minister made no arrangement with me.
– The honorable member said that he wrote directly to the Prime Minister, who replied that if Parliament agreed to what was proposed he had no objection. Recently, however, the right honorable gentleman said, “You must get another leader if you wish this country to trade with Germany.” Now he says, “ If Parliament agrees to trade with Germany, I have no objection.” His. attitude is, “ Do anything you like, ,but do not remove me from the leadership.” As every other country is trading with Germany, why should not Australia do so? A few days ago I asked the Prime Minister why should not the Australian wool, of which Germany is buying thousands of pounds’ worth from England, be bought direct from Australia, and he, as usual, camouflaged the position by replying that any one with wool to sell could sell it to Germany. It is obvious, of course, that if we do not trade direct with Germany that country will not trade with us. Germany has already got what Australia and the other countries which are represented at Washington are merely striving for; that is, she has got disarmament. She saves £300,000,000 a year in the upkeep of her Army and Navy, and now her factories are working day and night.
– Did not Mr. Balfour, the other day, express the hope that Germany would soon be in the League of Nations?
– I believe so. I could not imagine our ‘ Prime Minister saying that. How can Germany pay her huge war indemnity if the present foolish policy is persisted in? As a matter of fact, German goods are coming here now through indirect channels. I am glad that the Government and its supporters have come to the way of thinking of honorable members on this side of the chamber, who have declared the policy of the Prime Minister in this matter to be a foolish one. The right, honorable gentleman, recognising the stupidity of his ,position, is trying to get out of it in his usual way by saying to honorable members, “ You take the responsibility.” Later, if he is confronted with his declaration about the leadership, he will tell the electors that Parliament, not he, was responsible. I object to him shirking his responsibility in the matter; but now that he must know that the majority of his own supporters have come back to sanity on this matter, let him do the sensible thing. At all events, he can rest assured that I and members on this side of the House will stand where we have consistently stood.
– The honorable member is misrepresenting the Prime Minister and myself in saying that the right honorable gentleman made an arrangement with me. I assure him that that is not so. This is what I wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday morning, after I had stated in the House my intention to move the amendment -
My dear Prime Minister,-
In accordance with your request - repeated at least twice - that honorable members should express their opinion regarding trade with Germany, I made the following statement this morning when the House met : - “I desire to give notice that I propose when the Estimates for the Trade and Customs Department come on for discussion to move as a friendly amendment - ‘ That item No. 1 be reduced by the sum” of £1 as an intimation to the Government that, in the opinion of the Committee, the restrictions on trade and commerce between the Commonwealth of Australia and Germane and Austria should be removed forthwith.’ “
I hope yon will see no objection to this method of procedure.
The Prime Minister met me somewhere about 12 o’clock, and said, in answer to my inquiry, that it would be all right.
.I wish to bring under the notice of the Minister a matter to which his attention has already been directed - that is, the conditions of the jute trade with India. I was recently asked by persons in Western Australia to do this. Our jute goods - cornsacks, branbags, woolpacks, and the like - come from Calcutta and its neighbourhood.
– As an amendment has been moved on Item 1, the honorable member must confine his remarks to it, and I shall be compelled to submit to the Committee the vote for each division, although the understanding was that the Department should be taken as a whole.
– In order that, the honorable member may not be deprived of his opportunity to speak on the matter that be wishes to discuss, I wish to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– The Committee will understand that the whole Department is now open .for discussion.
– Reverting to the jute trade, I “am informed that contracts are entered into between the jute manufacturers, of India and the Australian merchants who import jute goods, under which these goods have to conform with standards fixed by the Department, the contracts being made on the understanding that the goods sent will pass the departmental officials. Before jute goods are despatched from India, credit notes have to be sent from Australia, which means that the Indian manufacturers are paid in advance. I wish to give one or two examples of what actually happens, to the prejudice of our merchants, and ultimately to that of our farmers and graziers, because they have to pay more for their bags, sacks, and packs. In one case brought under my notice 100 bales df jute -goods purchased at high prices were condemned in bond by the Customs officials, but when the importers sent back the shipment to Bengal, complaining that it was not up to the standard contracted for, the manufacturers, who had already received their money, replied that the goods were up to the requirements of the contract, and threw them back on to the hands of the merchants here. Another firm have had the’ir contracts rejected for the same reason, and were prevented from disposing of the bags to New Zealand merchants, who were quite prepared to accept them. I agree with the Minister that we should do all that_ is possible to maintain the good name which Australia has enjoyed hitherto by requiring that goods contained in any receptacle should be up to the Australian standard, but in this case the New Zealand people knew quite well what they were to get, and therefore the action of the Department in preventing Australian merchants from disposing of these goods was somewhat arbitrary.
– ‘What was wrong with the bags?
– You could shoot peas through some of them. They were not up to the Australian standard. In the recent boom times many mushroom firms, with little or no capital, came into existence. They managed to get a few pounds together and dealt in this class of goods with merchants in Calcutta and elsewhere in India. They were not obliged to forward credit notes, with the result that merchants who were doing legitimate business were placed at a serious disadvantage. The importers of this class of goods say there is a way out of the difficulty. They contend that the addition of £d. per dozen bags would en able the Government to pay for the services of an inspector in India to see that the goods were up to Australian standard. Merchants here would then have some assurance that they were getting what they paid for, and, in turn, they would be able to supply our farmers with jute goods up to the Australian standard. America has inspectors in India, and as a result is getting the best class of jute goods, while we in Australia, not being represented in the same way, are having the inferior goods foisted upon us, and we are obliged to get rid of them as best we can. I put these facts before the Minister for what they may be worth, and trust that some action will be taken along the lines I have indicated.
– I desire, before I conclude, to submit an amendment that the vote be reduced by £25,000, but before doing so I should like to speak about one or two items in these Estimates. I emphasize and support the remarks made by the honorable members for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) and Swan (Mr. Prowse) as to the value of the Forest Products Laboratory in Perth. This institution, established through the generosity of private donors in that State, is doing splendid work in investigating the suitability of certain timbers for the manufacture of paper. Its activities should not be circumscribed in any way. Rather, it should be given the opportunity to test other timbers throughout Australia. A special plant, received two or three months ago, should enable the laboratory to carry out other tests as to the suitability of Australian timbers for’ the manufacture of mechanical pulp. In northern New South Wales considerable expenditure has been incurred in microscopical tests and pulping processes of the softwood timbers which in their character closely approximate to the American timbers from which paper pulp is made. These timbers ought to be tested in other respects in Perth in the way that the hardwood timbers of that State have been tested. The cost would be almost nominal, and the results should be extremely valuable, because I am informed that there is every chance of the paper manufacturing industry being established in Australia on a big scale within the next two or three years. Possession of this information should expedite the development of the industry, which would mean, I suppose, a saving of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 per annum at present incurred in the purchase of paper overseas.
I should like to know what is being done to combat the present plague epidemic that is gradually moving along the eastern coast of Australia? Plague patients have been discovered in several ports. Stores of serum, prophylactic or curative, should be available at the various ports from Cooktown to Sydney, at which the Inter-State boats call.
– We are getting it as fast as we can.
– Where from?
– From the serum laboratory.
– It should be obtained speedily.
– The honorable member knows that it takes some little time to prepare.
– I am aware of that, and I was wondering if it could not be procured more speedily from India or China, where,I imagine, there must always be a good deal of it on hand. I should think it could be obtained from either of those sources in from two to three weeks at the outside.
– We are nearly ready now.
– I desire, also, to mention the request which I made a short time ago, that Mr. Le Souef, Director of the Sydney Zoological Gardens, should be advanced certain expenses which he desired to incur in order to find a source of income for the Bureau of Science and Industry from the sale of Australian seal- skins and marsupial skins. He was going to England, Europe, and America on behalf of the Sydney Zoological Gardens, to arrange for the sale and exchange of animals, and he only wanted £50 to recoup him out-of-pocket expenses in connexion with an inquiry which he would make on behalf of the Bureau concerning the subject I have mentioned. It is probable that his inquiries, if successful, would have resulted in a revenue of anything from £100,000 to £150,000 a year from the preservation and sale of these skins. Unfortunately, the Minister informed me that £50 was too much to expect in these hard times.
– We get so many of these requests that we cannot possibly meet all of them.. Nearly everybody who goes away asks us to bear portion of the expenditure in connexion with inquiries on behalf of the Government.
– But Mr. Le Souef had put up a definite proposition. It is probably too late to do anything now, but he is still in Europe, and it might be possible to communicate with him, and get him to spend a few days in seeking this information.
In connexion with the Bureau of Science and Industry itself, I should like to know what work is actually being carried out by that body, and to what extent there is co-ordination between it and the various scientific societies already existing in the several States. I have received a letter from a farmer of Mildura, pointing out that -
At present, three or more bodies may be engaged on the same type of experimental work, and it certainly appears desirable that a central body should do good work collecting evidence and progress reports, in cases where the problems are common to more than one State. I will give you two instances of duplication of work, with, as far as I know, no co-operation.
The Indian meal moth (a dried fruit pest). - The recent A.D.F.A. Conference stressed the necessity of dealing with the pest, and propose to create a fund for research. The Mildura Vineyard Protection Board have already done much valuable work on the subject, and issued certain recommendations. The New South Wales Department of Agriculture is also considering it, and there is also a request from a South Australian Horticulturist Bureau that their Department of Agriculture look into the matter.
In regard to treatment of vine diseases, there is also duplication. I understand that the New South Wales Department of Agriculture are making investigations; and investigations have been made, and pamphlets issued, by the Vineyard Protection Board at Mildura.
Thewhole of this work could be carried out by one central body. I should like to ascertain what action has been taken by the Bureau to co-ordinate these various activities and to prevent unnecessary duplication. In moving -
That the proposed vote be reducedby £25,000, which would still leave the total estimates of the Department £5,000 in excess of the amount expended by it last year, I would point out that it is estimated that the Customs revenue this year will be some £5,600,000 less than was collected during 1920-21.
– Does the honorable member suggest that that means that we have not to employ so many men to collect the revenue ?
– No; but it does not suggest that it is necessary to employ more men.
– Does the honorable member suggest that we are employing more men to collect the Customs revenue?
-From what I can gather from the figures in the Budgetpapers the cost of the Central Office and the State collecting offices increased from £255,000 in 1913-14 to £365,000 in 1920- 21, while for 1921-22 the estimated cost is £419,000. The number of permanent employees in Central and State collectingoffices was 1,267 in 1913-14, in 1920- 21 the number had increased to 1,313, and this year we have 1,416.
– The honorable member is entirely wrong if he suggests that all those officers are employed in the collection of revenue.
– In the discussion of the finances it has always been urged that one should have regard to the percentage of the cost of collection to the amount of revenue actually collected.
– Judged by that standard, the pre-war expenses were infinitely greater than they have been in later years.
– When I attempted to make a comparison of the cost of collecting income tax with the number of returns that were examined, it was pointed out to me that there was only one safe course to follow, and that was to take the percentage of costs to the amount of revenue collected. Having regard to the estimated huge reduction in the Customs revenue - and judging by present returns that estimate seems likely to be exceeded - there should be room for a reduction of £25,000 in these Estimates.
.At the risk of being regarded as a nuisance for daring to speak at this early hour of the morning, I propose to refer to the retarding influence which the Navigation Act has upon Albany, one of the very excellent ports and districts of the Commonwealth. On many occasions, as the Minister (Mr. Greene) is aware, at the request of various bodies in Albany and the surrounding district, I have waited upon him and his officials with respect to this matter. Finally, I joined with the whole of my fellowrepresentatives of Western Australia in this Parliament in a deputation that waited on the Prime Minister, who promised to make certain inquiries, and has not yet been able to furnish us with a definite answer to our request. This is no laughing matter. Certain honorable members, who appear to be prepared now to treat it lightly, may find their own States affected sooner or later by the operation of the Navigation Act. The measure was passed by this’ Parliament with the object of bettering the conditions of seamen engaged in the coastal trade. That is an important consideration, but it is equally important that the progress of this great country of ours should not be seriously retarded by the operation of that law. Prior to the Act being proclaimed, at least two InterState steamers called every month at the port of Albany. Since then the port has been served by only one Inter-State steamer per month. The Minister knows the volume of trade that is done there. He has recently taken a record of the passengers who leave Albany by sea; but that is not a fair criterion. Many people cannot wait for the particular day of the month on which it has been decided by the authorities that a steamer shall call at Albany. Business will not wait, and the business people of the town have, therefore, to journey to the west in order to go east. They have to pay as much to reach Fremantle as it would cost them to travel direct from Adelaide to Albany if a steamer were available. The district affected is nearly as big as the whole State of Victoria, and, because of the reduced service, business people there have to take in a month’s stores at a time. Local merchants are thus unable to compete with the traders in the centralized portions of the State. I have heard it said that it is the policy of the Government to bring about decentraliza- tion, but the operation of the Navigation Act is having the opposite effect so far as the Albany district is concerned. This is a very serious matter, but I shall be satisfied if the Minister will give me an assurance that he will send one of his officials to Albany in order to obtain first-hand information. A trip to that beautiful district might serve as a Christmas holiday for one of the officers of the Department. Albany is certainly the finest watering place in Australia. If an officer were sent there to make inquiries from the Chamber of Commerce and the workmen of the district - the lumpers there cannot get enough work to keep the wolf from the door - the Minister would obtain information that would enable him to fully appreciate the real position, and I am sure that the Parliament, when that information was placed before it, would be prepared to relieve the people of Albany and the surrounding district of the inconvenience to which they are at present subjected by reason of the operation of the Act. With regard to the question of trading with Germany, I would say briefly-
– That question is* not now before the Chair. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) withdrew his amendment in order to allow of a general debate on the whole of the Estimates relating to the Department of Trade and Customs.
– On a point of order, I submit that, although the amendment moved by the honorable member for Capricornia has been withdrawn, honorable members are entitled, in dealing with the Estimates of this Department, to discuss the question of trading with Germany. The chief business of the Department deals with the imposition and collection of duties and the volume of trade passing between this country and others, including Germany.
– I have no recollection of saying that I would restrict debate in any way. I suggested to the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) that he should withdraw a specific amendment in order to allow a general debate to take place, and if I allowed a debate on that amendment to take place at this stage, I would not be keeping faith with the honorable member for Capricornia nor the Committee. ‘
– On the point of order. There is no other way of keeping faith with the Committee, Mr. Chairman, as the whole Department is opened up by permitting the honorable member for Capricornia to withdraw his amendment. Unless we can discuss the question of trading with Germany on the Estimates of the Trade and Customs Department, we cannot do it at any other time. I think it would be wise to allow the debate to cover the whole ground comprised in the Estimates for this Department.
– If the Committee so desires, I shall not restrict honorable members; but in my opinion trading with , Germany is not a question for the Committee to deal with at this juncture.
– Practically every country is now trading with Germany, and by Australia refusing to do so we are stultifying our own interests. We are anxious to sell goods to Germany, and they are going to that country through various channels. I do not see why we should not obtain the advantage if ‘ we can see the possibility of securing cash in return. The Tariff barrier against German goods coming to Australia is sufficiently high” to prevent us buying many of their products. But I am quite prepared to assist trade relations being resumed with that country.
About twelve months- ago an embargo was placed upon the importation of calcium carbide, and I should like to know whether that period has elapsed and the embargo has been removed. In prewar days this commodity, which is absolutely essential for providing an illuminant for people in the back-blocks, . was sold at £10 or £14 per ton, but now the users of calcium carbide have to pay at the rate of £45 per ton in order to keep a small industry in Tasmania in operation. Prior to the embargo we imposed a duty of £7 10s. per ton, and if that is not sufficient to proQtect the local industry importations should be allowed.
I also ‘wish to appeal to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) on behalf of the Forests Products Laboratory in Western Australia. ‘Local residents have taken such a keen interest in this work that they have subscribed considerable capital, and some very important discoveries have been made. As the result of investigations and extensive research, material eminently suitable for the manufacture of paper has been discovered. When the Premier of Western Australia, Sir James Mitchell, was in Melbourne a short time ago, he requested me to bring this matter under the notice, of the Minister and to ask if the Government would subsidize the work, or maintain the laboratory, to enable the investigations to be continued. There is ample room for further research, and I trust that some assistance will be given by the Government.
– The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) and several other honorable members referred to the Forest Products Laboratory in Western Australia. Arrangements have been made for an amount to be made available from the vote for the Institute of .Science and Industry to enable the work at the laboratory in Western Australia to be continued. We are concentrating on this matter, and endeavouring to definitely ascertain whether it is possible to commercially produce newsprint from hardwood pulp. It has been demonstrated beyond the shadow of doubt that newsprint can be manufactured with 75 per cent, of hardwood pulp; but we do not know whether it can be ‘produced in commercial quantities. We propose carrying out extensive experiments ‘with the plant which has been imported. The tanning investigations have been restricted this year, but I am hoping that they will be continued extensively next year. The funds at present at our disposal are limited, and we are obliged to make this a mark-time year. For the same reason, we have not been able to take up the work of bringing the various States into line in connexion with research work, which the States are doing. Some branches of research work are being din der taken in practically all the States, but the expenditure incurred appears on their Estimates and not on ours. The States have refused to give up certain investigation, and we are not in the position to force them until we are able to fully equip the ‘Institute and secure the services of sufficient scientific men.
The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Foley) referred to the inspection of jute goods, and suggested that we should follow the method adopted by American merchants whose goods are inspected in India and not at the port of entry. Americans get their jute goods in the flat, and have it woven at the mills and passed by their experts. ‘ Our work is not done in that way. Practically all our jute goods come from India made up, and we have found that inferior goods come from only one or two mills. I do not know what the special circumstances are to which the honorable member for Kalgoorlie referred, when the Customs Department refused to allow goods to be exported to New Zealand. I shall have the matter investigated, but in all probability the importers had offended on more than one occasion, and the Department refused to grant the request because the goods were not up to standard. Technically, they would be forfeited, and the Department probably decided to teach these gentlemen a lesson by compelling them to return them to India.
– Probably it was faulty sewing.
– It may have been. We have not the facilities in India for opening the bales and inspecting the sacks and then re-baling and shipping them.
– Is it not a fact that the American inspector has a right to visit the factories and inspect the goods there?
– I think that is allowed in some instances.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) referred to the inconvenience experienced at Albany since the Navigation Act has been in operation. I understand that one of the officers from the Navigation Branch will be visiting Western Australia at an early date in connexion with taking over certain activities from the Navigation Department in that State, and I shall instruct him to visit Albany and make full investigation into the circumstances mentioned.
The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) referred to the Commerce Act. No one is more alive than I am to the necessity of tightening up the regulations governing the export of our products. A number of regulations have been framed by the Department governing the export of products in their primary, semi-manufactured and manufactured state, and I trust that what we are doing will be the means of restoring the good name which Australia has secured for producing first-class goods. With respect to the proposal of the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) for the reduction of the Estimates by £25,000, 1 remind the honorable member that he has asked me, practically in the same breath, to consent to increased expenditure - certainly not to any considerable extent - but in three several directions at the same time. My great difficulty in framing the Estimates for the Department is to make both ends meet. ‘ While it is true that, on the permanent staff, there will be found a greater number of officials than last year, that is due entirely to transferring temporary employees in carrying out those most desirable provisions for the proper inspection and supervision of our primary products which are sent abroad. There have been, of course, certain extensions in regard to the Navigation Department, and some respecting lighthouses, but, outside of those new activities, I emphasize that there has been no extension of the staff of the Department whatever.
– Has there been no increase of the personnel of the collecting branches ?
– Practically none. In recent’ years there has been thrown upon the Customs Department a vast amount of new work. I may mention, for instance, the matter of the supervision of passports.
– Why not give up that work now?
– It is not a question of our giving it up, seeing that practically all the nations require persons visiting their shores to be provided with passports. In my view, this provision will be a salutary precaution for some years to come, what with the threatened spread of Bolshevism, and like evils. This one responsibility has placed upon the officers of my Department an enormous additional burden of work.
– Does the charge which is made for passports cover the expense incurred?
– It may do, so far as the issue of passports at this end is concerned. I say frankly that, if it were not for the self-sacrifice of the officers of the Department, it would be impossible to carry on operations with the present personnel.
– Then it is time some relief was afforded.
– From every State ‘ Collector I have been receiving repeated urgent requests for additional staff. However, I have asked the officers, in view of the existing financial stringency, to do their best to cany on. Even since I have been in the Department the work has grown enormously. I have got my officers to compile certain figures regarding one item alone, in order to demonstrate the extent of this growth. In 1913 the original files which went through * the Central Administration Office of the Customs Department numbered 24,500. Last year the number was more than 65,000. A comparison of the figures will afford some idea of the enormous increase.
– What is the cause? Has it been due to a different method of administration which brings more into the head office?
– No; it is entirely a matter of the growth of business, and of the addition of new activities. I may mention, as an example, -the subject of lighthouses. The supervision of that branch of Commonwealth responsibility . amounts, in itself, to a fairly large task. Then there are matters of navigation, of film censorship, science and industry, the Bureau of Commerce and Industry, the Board of Trade, and the whole of the Public Trustee work, which, alone, is an immense consideration. At present also we have all the clearance office work ; that has to do with enemy debts to and from Germany. All the files concerned with these varied activities pour through the one funnel at the ‘central office of the Department. Their heavy responsibilities are taxing officers night and day in order that the work may be kept pace with. The staff is loyally standing up to the strain, but I sometimes feel that I am asking too much. I assure the honorable member for Cowper that there is no room to make the “ cut “ which he desires, while at the same time leaving the Department in a position to carry on with reasonable efficiency. The only doubt which I have is that - doing all I can towards cutting expenditure down to the bone wherever possible - I may not be able to carry through the work of the Department with the amount set down in the Estimates.
– I desire to call the attention of the Minister (Mr. Greene) to regulations under the Commerce Act having to do with fruit-grading in colour.
– I am having the matter inquired into. There is proposed a regulation to provide that the fruit shall be of the proper colour for the particular variety.
– In the different States colouring widely varies. Western Australian fruit is easily the brightest; but it is not nearly equal in flavour to that which is grown in the colder climates. This question of colouring is of importance, because if the colouring regulations are insisted upon some of the finest apples grown in Tasmania will be classed as inferior in grade.
I desire to point out one direction in which the Minister could effect a considerable saving in the application of the Navigation Act, and could do so without dispensing with the services of a single individual, but merely by instilling a little common-sense into the heads of those administering the Act. When the Navigation Act was being dealt with in this Legislature, the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Tudor), and the then Attorney-General, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), gave assurances that the river boats - the 10-ton “ wood-hookers “ and the like - would not be brought within the scope of the measure. Despite that, the present administration haled the people who run these river craft before a Court, and there was a subsequent appeal to the High Court. The private parties succeeded in their appeal, but they were put to considerable loss, while they were being fought with the aid of Commonwealth money.
– The only action that was taken was a friendly one, instituted by arrangement, to determine exactly, by resort to the High Court, the limits of the Constitution in respect of the Navigation Act.
– The Commonwealth, I am glad to say, had to pay the costs; hut the representatives of the river craft interests nevertheless suffered financially.
I was glad to hear the Minister for Trade and Customs say, in reply to remarks of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse), that he would give attention to a provision of the Act which is pressing heavily on certain classes of the community. There is a strong feeling in Tasmania that the State is not getting a fair deal, owing to the fact that ships which had been calling for years before the war are now prevented from taking Tasmania in their trips. To a very deserving class of the community the matter is serious. Last year these . people were unable to secure freight space for half the quantity of fruit which they had grown and desired to send to England. Tens of thousands of cases of some of the best apples grown in Australia were left to rot in the orchards. The mail boats, in addition to carrying a considerable number of tourists in the season, lifted a certain quantity of fruit and conveyed it to England in quick time. I do not ask the Minister to make a general application of the special provision for all time, but I would remind him that the Prime Minister has very properly said, “Those who say that shipping has reached normal conditions are talking nonsense.” Honorable members know that over-sea shipping has not returned to normal. Last year I saw many an orchardists income perishing on the ground, because there was no means of transporting the fruit to England. At that time the same class of fruit was selling in the Old Country at between 35s. and 30s. a case. All parts of Australia now contribute to the English mail contract. From Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia, fruit-growers can ship their fruit in the mail boats; but these vessels are prevented from going to Tasmania. I am not pleading for that State because it is small in area; but it is suffering to a greater degree than any other State in the Union from the operation of the Navigation Act. Furthermore, whilst this season every other State has been blessed with plenteous rains, it is having one of the driest years experienced in its history, and it is a matter of vital importance, when the crops may not be nearly so good as they usually are, that every facility should be afforded t6 the fruit-growers to get their fruit away for at least this year. I appeal to the Minister to give them the use of the mail boats for this year. It would not interfere with the Inter-State shipping. The passengers who, during the touristseason, travel from Sydney to Hobart on mail boats will not travel by the smaller Inter-State steamers. I make a final appeal to the Minister to lift the embargo for this one year only, and then, perhaps during the coming year, we may get sufficient bottoms to take away our fruit. It is a serious matter to the people, who have no other means of support but the revenue they derive from the sale of their produce, to deprive them of the legitimate means of conveying it to market, and an injustice will be inflicted upon them, which I am sure this House, when it passed the Navigation Bill, never intended.
.In connexion with the amount of work said to be entailed upon the Customs staff, I would like to know from the Minister whether new officers have been appointed to supervise exports, or whether the existing staff will have this work tacked on to their other duties.
– At a more convenient opportunity at a later hour of the morning, I hope to say a few words about the matter raised by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), namely, the rescission of existing legislation forbidding trade with Germany. The observations I have to make on that subject will come more appropriately when the honorable member submits his amendment. In the meantime, I desire to say something on a mattor concerning which, some time ago, I addressed a series of questions to the Minister for Trade and Customs. In April of the present year, I asked the Minister -
The Minister’s reply to those questions was -
On the 11th May, 1921, I asked the Minister -
Will he supply -
The titles of the books the importation of which into the Commonwealth has been prohibited during the last two years, and the names of the authors?
The names of the persons, other than members of the Public Service, who during that period have assisted or advised his Department in discriminating against certain publications?
He replied -
We gather from the Minister’s replies to my questions that part of his departmental duty is to exercise a kind of oblique censorship over the reading of the public. Honorable members have a lively recollection of what this country suffered under the censorship for the four years of the late disastrous war. It was the duty and privilege of honorable members of the Labour party to inveigh against Government interference with the liberty of the people of this country to read what they choose in order to inform their minds on current events, which at that time were of the very highest importance. We thought, however, when at the close of the war the Prime Minister announced the cessation of this mischievous interference, when he announced, not in these words, but in words conveying this meaning, that this policy of putting our heads in the sand was to be departed from, and the light of knowledge was to be let in, that the censorship was really at an end. We find, to our disgust and annoyance, that it still resides in the Minister for Trade and Customs, and is all the more objectionable, because it is carried on without any of those excuses which were available to Ministers during the war. It is right, apart from the wise supervision which every Government employs, to see that the mind of youth is not vitiated by obscene literature, that adult men and women should exercise their own judgment as to what they should read and it is desirable that the avenues supplying them with information of the world’s affairs should not be closed by the arbitrary actions of any half-informed or uninformed Minister of the Crown.
Mr.- Jackson. - What has the Minister stopped ?
– It is perfectly immaterial for the moment what the Minister has stopped. What is of importance is the principle that permits a Minister of the Crown to do this kind of thing; and when the Minister discloses, as he has, the methods by which he acts, the baleful effects of his action become the more apparent. The Minister does not himself pretend to know what book is suitable or what is unsuitable or unfit for admission to Australia, and, therefore, he employs certain persons to decide for him. For officers to do this work he does not draw upon the liberal personnel of his own Department, but he utilizes the services of some unknown gentry outside the Department altogether. When asked who these persons are, who decide what we shall read, he says that it is not in the public interest that he should disclose their names. I maintain that it is, in the very highest degree, in the public interest that Ave should know who exercises this supervision for us, and the motives from which it is exercised. I would like to know whether they are political supporters, for instance, of the Government. I would like to know their names, in order that their political bias might be understood. I can shrewdly suspect the names of - some of them, and I do so because I suspect their political leanings. I know that when books concerning affairs on the other side of the world are prohibited, I am safe in wagering that they are books putting a certain view which is distasteful to these gentlemen, and the better stated the view, the more distasteful it is. There has been a great upheaval in recent years in Russia. The Czar’s regime has come to a tragic end. Bolshevism, Sovietism, and the rule of the Proletariat is supreme. This change represents the greatest upheaval, socially and politically, of the century, and many men of varying views have written concerning the momentous change; but it pleases this Government to take the attitude that revolution is wholly bad. They do not express the view that Czarism was wholly or even partially bad, because the Czar, so long as his autocratic power was exercised on the side of the Allies in the war, was wholly good. The revolution having come, however, the Government now say that nothing good can be done by the Russian revolution; so the Minister, half-informed on these matters, delegates to others who, we may assume, are at least partly informed, power to decide what we shall read in regard to this momentous event. These unknown persons make their decision, and there is no appeal from it. The Minister records their decision, we are told what literature is admitted, and we are forbidden to read what is not so admitted. For some months past there has been a grave crisis in Ireland, which I hope will, at no distant date, be happily solved by a recognition of the rights of that historic country, too long arbitrarily and stupidly withheld; but, while the trouble still proceeds, men of mark, mind, and information are writing their views on the Irish crisis. The Minister, too, has views on that crisis, though I do not think he has given much study to the question. I also have views upon it, and because some distinguished man’ in Ireland writes learnedly of the situation there, examines the evidence, and comes to conclusions which are not palatable to the Minister, the latter, on the advice of the unknown persons who are out of sympathy with the Irish aspirations,. is graciously pleased to forbid entry into the Commonwealth of books of the kind I have described. Although it is true that through, I may say, the stupidity of the Government, the Ministry are forbidding the introduction of such works through the Customs, it not infrequently happens that, owing to a lack of watchfulness, books consigned by post in the ordinary way reach those to whom they are addressed. Thus we are not entirely deprived of the knowledge to which we are entitled of the vital matters proceeding on the other side of the world. Of course, we all have access to the cable news. Honorable members on the other side of the House are even now eagerly devouring the news sent by cable.* Some of us, however, prefer to draw our information from more reliable sources. Some of us would rather examine the findings of independent and well-informed minds than depend on those who send inspired messages to their masters in this country, reflecting not the facts as they are abroad, but as the newspapers to which the news is sent would wish them to be. This seems a convenient opportunity to make a protest to the Minister, and I ask him now if. he still- refuses to disclose the names of the persons who act in this arbitrary way, determining for him what books the people of Australia shall read ? “Will the Minister let us have the names, and, if not, tell us on what principle he withholds them? The war is over. Military necessity can no longer be pleaded. Members of this Parliament are entitled to know, on behalf of the country, who exercises these very important judicial functions. Ignorance in any circumstances is a bad thing. Want of knowledge at any time is worth illuminating and curing; but ignorance, induced by the deliberate action of a Government, is reprehensible in the very highest degree.- The blame rests upon those responsible persons for deliberately making themselves the instruments of ignorance and misrepresentation. I hope that in future better counsels will prevail. In the case of one book in particular I made special representations to the Minister. I do not know whether it was because of these representations, or whether it was because the Minister, for the first time, took the trouble to acquaint himself with what’ the book contained, but he was good enough to remove the prohibition. The fact that he did so, and courteously informed me of it,, merely serves to illustrate the better the wrong that I am endeavouring to expose. The fact that it is necessary for an individual member of this House to apply for the admission of a literary work, and that it is admitted, condemns the stronger the action of the Government in making it part of their policy to vest in strangers of strong and biased political views the right to say what we shall and shall not read. So far as Russia is concerned we get the facts in spite of the press and in spite of the Government. Though the Soviet has, by report, been destroyed a score of times, it, in fact, still lives, and, according to those recent’ excellent addresses delivered in this city by a visitor to Russia, is enjoying from day to day a greater -measure of respect of the Russian people. Russia, it is true, if I may say so in passing, labours under an unexampled calamity . arising from the failure of its crop, and consequential famine. Opportunity is taken from this fact to blame the Government, and to charge it with not permitting relief to proceed to Russia from other countries; whereas, in truth and in fact, the great wrong to Russia is that other countries, in their obstinacy, refuse to recognise, de facto and de jure, the Government of Russia. I need say no more on that point, but merely say that, following the amendment of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), I shall move that the proposed vote be reduced by 10s., as a protest against the action of the Government in arbitrarily, improperly, and obliquely exercising the discredited censorship, and preventing the introduction of literary works to which the people of this country, in their untrammelled discretion, ought to be absolutely entitled.
.- I wish to draw the attention of the Minister (Mr. Greene) to what appears to be a conflict between the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth authorities in connexion with the grading of dairy products.
– I think that matter has been determined.
– Large quantities of cheese and butter have been held up owing to the fact that, first, the State authorities, and, secondly, the Commonwealth authorities, grade the products.
– The State Premier, at the recent Premiers’ Conference, agreed that the Commonwealth should be the sole authority to determine that matter.
– I am glad to have that explanation from the Minister, because I understand that new regulations have just been issued.
– Queensland is the only State with which we are having any trouble.
– I am pleased that the matter has been satisfactorily adjusted.
Question - That the vote he reduced by £25,000 (Dr. Earle Page’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . 15
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move -
That the proposed vote he reduced by the sum of £1.
I submit this as an intimation to the Government that, in the opinion of this Committee, the restrictions on trade and commerce between the Commonwealth and Germany and Austria should be removed forthwith. In addition to the reasons which I gave to honorable members earlier in the evening, when there seemed to be a desire to go home, I may say that we are now having trade relations with nations which are regarded by some of our public men as dangerous. We are also trading very freely with the United States of America, where, I remind honor able members, there are fully 13,000,000 foreigners, mostly Germans. The total population of the United States of America, according to the census of 1911 - I have not the more recent figures - was 91,972,266.The white population was 81,000,000; the native-born population, 78,000,000; and the foreign-born population, 13,515,000. As I have said, of these 13,515,000, many millions are Germans; and we are trading freely in German goods manufactured in the United States of America. But more striking figures still are those concerning the trade which has been going on between the United Kingdom and Germany ever since the signing of the Armistice in 1918. As it would appear that honorable members do not desire to go home before 8 o’clock in the morning, I see no reason why I should not occupy the time of the Committee in discussing the extremely important question of the removal of the restrictions on trade with the countries I have mentioned. I have received through the courtesy of the Commonwealth Statistician the following list of exports of United Kingdom produce to Germany during the first eight months of the years 1913, 1920, and 1921:- .
– I should like to know how the honorable member intends to apply these figures.
– There are certain regulations issued by the Minister for Trade and Customs imposing restrictions on trade from the Commonwealth to Germany and Austria. I want to show that we are the only people in the world who decline to trade with those countries. I am giving figures of the exports of the United Kingdom produce to Germany in the three years to which I have referred.
– I point out to the honorable member that we have no control over the exports of the United Kingdom to Germany. He will be in order only in making a passing allusion to, and not in quoting, detailed figures of articles of export from the United Kingdom which are under Commonwealth control.
– May I point out that included in these exports from the United Kingdom to Germany, there are millions of pounds’ worth of Australian produce, and my argument is that exports of Australian produce at present going to Germany and Austria, via London, should go direct. Let me say that in addition to the exports to which I have referred machines - prime mowers, textiles, machinery, cotton yarns and manufactures, woollen and worsted manufactures, wool tops, worsted yarns, alpaca yarns, woollen tissues, worsted carpets, silk manufactures, other textiles, flax and hemp yarns, linen piece goods, jute goods, boots and shoes, ammonium sulphate, leather, and stationery were also exported to Germany from the United Kingdom, and the total value of all these exports amounted in 1913, to £17,371,296; in 1920, to £9,115,249; and in 1921, to £7,239,362.
– I rise to say that as the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) seems determined to defy the ruling of the Chair, and will not consult the convenience of the Committee,’ I move -
That the question be now put.
– My contention is, that Australian produce which is now exported from London to Germany and Austria, should go direct to those countries. I find that during the first eight months of the year to which I have already referred, exports of colonial produce from the United Kingdom to Germany ‘amounted in value to £6,184,048 in 1913; £5,724,982 in 1920, and to £6,868,614 in 1921. The value of all the exports to which I have referred amounted in 1913 to £23,555,344; in 1920, to £14,839,231; and in 1921 to £14,107,976.
In my opinion we ought not to seek revenge on Germany and Austria. “Vengeance is mine” saith the Lord. “I will repay.” And woe betide the nations that will not recognise that. I have a feeling that there are members of the Committee who are willing to continue restrictions on trade with Germany, and I wish to give’ the public of Australia my reasons for believing that those restrictions should be removed. Men in Australia who cherish feelings of hatred against the German and Austrian people should not forget how much German blood there is in the British race. When the Roman Legions departed from the British Isles their place was taken by a new race, Jutes, Angles, and Saxons, mostly of Teutonic and not of Celtic origin. The very name of England is of German origin. We have 30,000 or 40,000 Germans in Australia, many of whom came to this country at our invitation and whose sons fought for Australia during the war. It is not necessary that I should mention the names of several of our brave Generals and other officers who were of German descent. I am advancing reasons now for the renewal of trade restrictions against Germany, and -if the Minister for Trade and Customs will, even by way of interjection, say that he is prepared to remove those restrictions, I shall not delay the Committee any longer.
– As soon as the honorable gentleman resumes his seat I shall be prepared to make a statement.
– Another reason why I am in favour of resuming trade with Germany is that we cannot predict the future. We were at war with Germany for four years, from 1914 to 1918, and we fought side by side with France. Many times during the history of the Empire we have fought against France. In 1854 England fought with Russia on behalf of the Turks. In 1914 Russia was in alliance with England and France against the Turks. In 1899 England went to war with the Boer Republics. Peace with them w.as signed in 1902, and since tha t times the South African Union has been formed, and is now one ‘of the Dominions of the Empire. If the League of Nations should, unhappily, fail, and war ensue, we shall be glad to have Germany and Austria on our side. The Prime Minister when asked questions in this House regarding restrictions of trade with Germany, invited honorable members to express their opinions on the resumption of trade with that country.
– The Prime Minister haw a notice of motion on the business paper for next week to deal with that matter himself.
– I shall not continue any further. I believe that a majority of honorable members is in favour of the removal of these restrictions. The Prime Minister has asked for their opinion on the matter, and I sincerely hope that it will be given. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston), have all told me privately that they are in favour of the removal of restrictions upon trade with Germany. I hope that honorable members will record a vote in favour of my motion as an intimation to the Government that these restrictions should be removed.
– !As the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) has stated, the Prime Minister has, on several occasions, stated that he would be glad to hear from honorable members an expression of opinion as to the re-opening of trading relations with Germany. From all quarters of the Committee to-night the view has been expressed that we should renew trading with Germany, and we have not heard any protest against that course.
– I desire to protest emphatically against it, and also against the method adopted by the honorable member for Capricornia in bringing this matter before the House.
– Probably the honorable member is objecting on the ground that, owing to the peculiar economic position of Germany, the re-opening of trading relations with her will lead to serious competition with the products of -our own industries. Honorable members are aware that the Government propose to introduce a Rill to deal particularly with that aspect of the question. We feel that if would not be right to renew trading with Germany until that Bill has received the assent of this House. Of course honorable members know that ‘for quite a long time there has been no restriction upon our export of goods to Germany; the only restriction is upon importations from Germany.
– We want the Antidumping Bill introduced first.
– That is what I am saying, and when that has been passed the Government will be prepared to issue a proclamation repealing the existing proclamation which prohibits the importation of goods from Germany. What is in> our minds is not to make the proclamation immediately operative, but to allow a reasonable time to lapse between its issue and its operation.. We fear that a sudden influx of German goods, particularly of some lines, might upset the trading position of a large number of people. ‘That is undesirable, but if rea-‘ sonable notice of the lifting of the restriction is given, I do not think anybody will have ground for complaint. In the circumstances I suggest that the honorable member for Capricornia, having accomplished his purpose, should not press his amendment to a division.
– I would not like an important motion of this bind to be disposed of without offering a very few observations upon it. I listened with intense interest, although under great difficulties, to the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), and the little I heard of his remarks filled me with a very strong longing to hear the remainder. I gathered from the speech of the honorable member that there can be no inconsiderable “number of persons of German birth or origin in the electorate of Capricornia, and it occurred to me that the honorable member foresees that it will be necessary to cure, at an early date, the evil effects of his association with the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes).
– -Order ! I think that that remark is entirely uncalled for.
– Do you, sir, wish me to withdraw it?
– That being so I withdraw it unreservedly, although I am happy to notice that the honorable mem- ber for Capricornia took no exception to g it. We are addressing ourselves to this matter entirely in a political sense, and not in any way in a personal sense. I remember during the course of the world war, and particularly in the early months of that disastrous struggle, a number of fanatical jingoes, giving expression to sentiments of unbridled hatred toward the people with whom a policy of secret statecraft had embroiled us in war.
– Order! I ask the honorable member not to proceed in that strain. Such remarks will not he productive of any good.
– I shall not proceed in that strain, but I apprehend that I shall be quite in order in recalling that, at that time, one person, not a politician, derived pride and pleasure from the fact that he had with a sledge hammer and axe destroyed a German piano which he had in his house.
Several honorable members interjecting,
– Order! If honorable members are not prepared to obey my calls for order, I shall consider the advisability of suspending the sitting for a while, so that they may have a chance to become more reasonable. I ask the honorable member for Batman to confine his remarks to the amendment before the Chair.
– Quite seriously I was mentioning that instance as an illustration of the feeling which existed at that time against German people, and of the utter lack of balance and judgment that many otherwise sober and serious people manifested. I take it that that is absolutely relevant to the speech of the honorable member for Capricornia, who, I was very pleased to notice, consistent’ with many admirable addresses delivered by him in this House at other times, advocated a wiser and more temperate, not to say a more generous, outlook upon our fellow-men. The Prime Minister, if I may say so, without transgressing the rules of fair Parliamentary debate, was amongst those fanatical jingoes- ,
– Order! The honorable member must withdraw that expression, and I again ask him - I shall not do so many more times - to keep to the question before the Committee.
– I think you, Sir, are under the misapprehension that I referred in those terms to the Prime Minister. I take it that I am at liberty te refer to fanatical jingoes. If you decide to the contrary, I shall take an early opportunity of challenging your ruling.
– The honorable member specifically referred to the Prime Minister, and that reference had nothing to do with the amendment before the Chair.
– ‘May I not mention the Prime Minister in connexion with this debate”?
– I suggest that the honorable member should not proceed in that strain.
– Amongst those persons of utterly intemperate views, unquestionably the head of the present Government, and therefore the present Government as a whole, enjoined upon the people of Australia that they should have no further trading intercourse of any kind with the then German Empire, or its people. And, of course, inflamed by the passions of the time, and with little knowledge of past history or .understanding of the probable future, they foolishly believed that that state of mind would continue in the years that were to follow the war. It was not very long before that restriction was partly removed - at all events, it was removed at the close of the war - and we were permitted to export our goods to Germany. But this very unwise and disastrous prohibition against Central Europe sending its goods, under any terms or conditions, into this country was continued. The Government, whose head at one time advocated Free Trade, and afterwards, giving way to popular opinion, adopted Protection - -
– Order ! The honorable, member is again digressing.
– That gentleman adopted a policy of absolute prohibition against Germany. I think that had the Government been wise they would have seen that we were in this matter, as in many others, cutting off our noses to spite our faces, and that,, while we were boasting that Australia was the only country that did not import goods from Germany and Austria, we were really doing less harm to those countries than to ourselves, if, indeed,’ it were our intention, as apparently it was, to do injury to the nations with which we had lately been at war. Only last week the Prime Minister boasted in this Chamber that Australia was the only country which did not permit the importation of goods from Germany. The question of the levying of duties in the interests of Australian industries is one thing, but discrimination against a great manufacturing country like Germany, not for the purpose of preserving our own industries, but merely as an expression of ill-will against a country which we had been fighting, is a policy that is not susceptible of serious justification or excuse. Therefore I welcome a movement on the part of any member to obtain an expression of opinion from the House or the Committee condemning such a policy. My only regret is that a movement in that direction was not made long ago. It is unfortunate that war breeds hatreds, but it is infinitely more to be deplored that these hatreds should be fostered and maintained for years after the war has come to an end. The quicker we forget these international bigotries the better, especially when, with the perspective which we can now employ, all of us are able to take a saner and juster view of the origin and genesis of the war. Some of us have tried to take that view earlier. At all events, the honorable member is to be congratulated. He assures us that this is not by any means a friendly attempton his part to let the Prime Minister down lightly, and that he has made no arrangements with the Prime Minister on the subject. It may be, of course, that in the still watches of the night, when these two honorable gentlemen have been going home together, steering their course by the stars in silence, the honorable member for Capricornia has heard the right honorable the Prime Minister say, not to him, but to himself, “ I wish to God I could get rid of that German restriction without moving it myself.” There may have been no other communication than that to the honorable member for Capricornia. Although, happily, the day is young, and honorable members appear to be in the mood for work, I need not pursue the matter further, especially as I have another important amendment which I wish the Committee to deal with at a later hour of the day. I hope the amendment before the Committee will be carried. I will certainly object, if I may do so with respect, to its being withdrawn. We have done ourselves much injury; we have shown an abundance of illwill; we have kept alive as long as we could the -fanaticism of the war; now let us, at least, make an end of it. I may be permitted to congratulate myself. Although in other times my influence in these matters was little, it is some consolation to have lived long enough to find those who were so bitterly opposed to me coming slowly to my way of thinking.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has grossly misrepresented me. His suggestion that I moved this amendment to placate some of my constituents on account of my evil association-
– I call the honorable gentleman to order. He must not proceed on those lines. The honorable member for Batman withdrew the remark.
– The honorable gentleman misrepresented me by implying that I did this on account of certain constituents of mine being Germans. He will recollect that during the past five years I have on ali occasions in this House endeavoured to get fair treatment for the loyal section of the German population of Australia. He will remember that when I sat in the Independent Corner I was continually seeking information from the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) with regard to the trade that was taking place between the United Kingdom and Germany. This is no new attitude on my part. As for the honorable member’s suggestion that when the Prime Minister and I were “ steering our course by the stars,” the Prime Minister indicated to me-
– Order ! That was a symbolical reference.
– It might appear a symbolical reference to you, Mr. Chairman, but to me, and I am sure to the Prime
Minister, it would be offensive. The Prime Minister has openly asked in this House for expressions of opinion. I am astonished that members have not given expression to their views earlier. I am surprised that you, Mr. Chairman, have not taken an opportunity of expressing an opinion. In view of the promise made by the Minister for Trade and Customs, I would like to be allowed to withdraw the amendment.
– I object to the withdrawal of the amendment.
.I hope the amendment will not be carried. My remarks will be few at this juncture, as I am hoping for an opportunity at the proper time to discuss this important question. There is no more important question to Australia than this, and it should at least be placed upon the business sheet and submitted to the House by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government, and a statement made so that honorable members, in casting their votes, may possess the very latest information from all parts of the world. “Without doubt the question of currency will affect the opening up of trade relations with Germany. I am quite confident that the Prime Minister is able to enlighten me, at any rate, upon this matter, so that I may be able to cast an intelligent vote. At present I shall vote against the amendment. The Government will be placed in a very awkward position if the amendment is carried. I am surprised at any member objecting to the postponement of this important, and all important, question at 4 o’clock in the morning, so that it may receive at the proper time more adequate and proper consideration. I have reason to protest, first, against the method adopted in bringing the question before the Committee, and, secondly, against the opening up of trade relations with Germany. I will not agree to re-opening trade with Germany until such time as I can be supplied with information which will convince me that it will be in the interests of Australia. What does it matter to me whether we are out of step with other nations or not? I am responsible to my constituents for the vote I cast, and I am not going to open up relations with Germany under any conditions, unless we find that it is absolutely essen tial in the interests of the Commonwealth, and will be to the advantage of the Australian people. I hope that the amendment will not be carried, and that the Government will in due time submit proposals for the consideration of honorable members.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Works and Railways.
Proposed vote, £810,911, agreed to.
Proposed vote, £7,455,533.
– I want to make a last appeal to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) on the matter of country telephones. If the Postmaster-General has not funds sufficient to provide these facilities, and if there are means of borrowing money for the work, I hope the Government will not be backward in the matter. I am sure the Committee will be prepared to provide reasonable funds for the necessary extension of the telephone system in the country. I and other honorable members have stressed the necessity of this for many years, and I know the Postmaster-General is well aware of the urgency of it. If money can be borrowed, I would like him to allocate sums at his disposal so that this particular branch of his service may receive more attention than it is intended to give it at present. A great many lines have been approved of, the deposits that have been asked for have been paid, and everything has, apparently, been in order when, at the last moment, word has come that the work will not be proceeded with this year for lack of funds. This is often a serious matter to persons who have been waiting month after month for connexions. I think that if the PostmasterGeneral will study his Estimates closely, he will find that by the reallocation of the moneys set down under the various heads he will be able to get some of these lines constructed. Certainly, I hope that he will consider my suggestion that this should be done.
– I do not wish to traverse ground which I went over here a week or two ago, when I spoke upon the subject which has just been touched upon by the honorable member forWilmot (Mr. Atkinson). I should like to know from the Postmaster-General whether there is any chance of his getting the £1,000,000 that he told us he intendedto ask for, in order to proceed with telephone construction, which is now held up.
– I have had no reply yet. There is no Treasurer.
– It is unfortunate that members should be asked to deal with questions of finance at a time when there is no Treasurer, because it prevents us from knowing the real position. I take it that the Postmaster- General intends to press for the £1,000,000 that he has spoken of?
– I am pressing for that and more. That money is for Works and Buildings.
– Much more than £1,000,000 will be needed to catch up with the arrears of works. However, I leave now the subject of telephones and mail services, because it has been discussed so often that it should not be necessary to refer to’ it again. I come to another matter, the inadequate pay of many of the officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. From time to time I have had letters on this subject from postmasters in my electorate, and I intend to make a comparison between the salaries of Commonwealth Postal officials and those of State officials, in many cases doing similar work. In no branch of the Public Service are the salaries so paltry as in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. The post-offices of the Commonwealth are divided into seven grades, the Newcastle office for example being in the No. 1 Grade. Honorable members may be surprised to learn that a postmaster in charge of a Grade 1 office who has to control 140 officers, and through whose hands passes between £90,000 and £100,000 a year, gets only £500 a year. A person in private employment controlling an equally large staff, and with similar monetary responsibilities, would be paid from £1,500 to £2,000 a year. A sixth-grade postmaster in my electorate, a man of fortynine years of age, with thirty-two years’ service-
– And how many children ?
– He is the sort of man we want in this country.
– He has given ample evidence that he is a good and useful servant of the Commonwealth, yet he is paid only £264 a year, less £26 deducted for rent. That man is over a staff of six others’, and controls an office which has a telephone exchange with 100 subscribers. A school teacher in the same town who has only eighteen years’ service, little more than half that of the postmaster, and with only two juniors under him, gets £500 a year. When permanent divisional returning officers were appointed by the Commonwealth, a man left the Department of Public Instruction in New South Wales to join the Commonwealth Service. At one time it was the ambition of many of those in the service of the States to get into the Commonwealth Service, but thisman, after six years’ service in the Commonwealth, is now getting only £220 a year, while those who were his fellow employees in the State Service are getting £400 a year. That is a disgrace to the Commonwealth. Let me now compare the pay of the railway telegraph officers of the State of New South Wales with that of the Commonwealth telegraph officers under the Postmaster-General. One railway telegraph operator with only ten years’ service gets £315 per annum, and a Commonwealth postal officer in a town only a few miles away gets £280 per annum. An officer with thirty-six years’ experience who is in the Commonwealth telegraph service receives £212 per annum; and a State railway telegraph operator gets £255 per annum. In another case in which the length of the services of two officers are the same, namely, six years, the man on the railway staff is paid by the State £255 a year, and the man on the Commonwealth staff gets only £126 a year. I do not suggest that the pay of the State railway telegraph officers is too high, or even high enough, but the telegraph officers in the employment of the Postmaster-General are in a much less enviable position. But the permanent employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department, bad as their lot is, are better off than those connected with allowance and semi-official offices. I know of women in such offices in the back . parts of New South. Wales who are employed under conditions which should not be tolerated in a big service like that of the Postmaster* General. It is said that not a great deal of business is transacted in these allowance offices, which are usually given to those who have some other business upon which they depend. Semi-official offices are in much the same position. Those in charge of them are expected to have other sources of income, and must be prepared for long hours of business. Indeed, very often they have little time for anything else. If there is one thing that ought to be remedied, it is the condition in which those who are in charge of allowance and semi-official offices are placed. The cases I have quoted disclose a state of affairs that should not be tolerated. I have a copy of an award for bank officials in New South Wales, “made a few days ago by Judge Rolin. Bank officers, as clerical workers, are always regarded as being low down in the scale of remuneration, but by comparison with the pay of some of our postal officials, New South Wales bank officers are in clover. I find, according to this award, that a bank official with ten years’ service will get £285 per annum. This, it is true, is a paltry wage, but compared with that paid to the postmaster with 32 years’ service, whose case I quoted a few moments ago, it appears to be quite respectable. If the Postmaster-General gets this £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 of which he speaks, I hope that some improvement will be made in the pay of postmasters and our allowance and semi-allowance post-offices. The post-office should not necessarily show a* surplus upon its operations.
– But it does.
– During the regime of the late Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster), there was in one year a surplus of about £600,000, which was paid into the Consolidated^ Revenue. The work of our Post Office has an important effect upon the development of out-back country. Improved postal facilities will help to keep people out of our cities, and, perhaps, gO far to cure the curse of centralization. If the Postmaster-General could get £6,000,000, and made a proposal for its expenditure upon improved postal, tele phonic, and telegraphic communications, he would have the hearty support of a majority of the members of this Parliament, and of the general community also.
.Although the hour is late, I cannot allow the occasion to pass without adding a few words to what has already been said about the necessity of urging the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise) to bring pressure upon his colleagues in the Cabinet to find the money which he himself believes to be absolutely necessary to place his Department on a satisfactory footing. This is the desire of all honorable members, and of the people- generally. I am surprised that the Government, of which I am a supporter, should so long have neglected to find the means to advance this very important work. They have been able to obtain money for expenditure for many other governmental activities concerning which protests have been made by members from both sides of the House during the debate on these Estimates. No protest whatever is made concerning expenditure for the improvement of telegraphic, telephonic, and postal facilities. The PostmasterGeneral, and also the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), know quite well that no honorable member would record a vote against any proposal for increased expenditure in the Postal Department. Therefore I am surprised that the Government have not already taken such action as may be necessary to borrow the money which, the Postmaster-General says is essential to carry out necessary works, not only in the country districts - although I name them first, because their need is greatest - ‘but in all parts of the Commonwealth. It is the one Department that can do a very great deal to improve the lot of those engaged in developing the outback districts of the Commonwealth. Other Departments of the Public Service are not so favorably placed in this respect. It is admitted that improved means of communication and transport are essential if we are going to settle the remote portions of the Commonwealth with a contented rural population. In my own electorate many applications have been lodged for telephones and similar facilities, and approval has been given by the Department for the construction of these lines. I have informed my electors that the wish of the Government always has been to provide these necessary facilities in order to encourage land settlement. I have boasted on many occasions that this is their avowed policy, but recently I have been extremely disappointed at the receipt of copies of letters from the Deputy Postmaster-General, in Hobart, to applicants for telephones, intimating that the work could not be proceeded with, because funds were not available. The Treasurer last year assured the House that money would be provided, and I contend it is the duty of the Government to do so. The money could be borrowed without any difficulty. There would be no- protest from any honorable member or section of the people if a loan were placed on the market next week for £7,500,000, which the Postmaster-General tells us is required. The Departmental revenue would be sufficient to meet interest charges and provide for a sinking fund for the redemption of the loan. Therefore, the Government should not hesitate. It is absurd to say that all these works should be paid for out of revenue. The revenue of the Department could not stand the strain, and it is not fair that those who have already telephonic and postal facilities should be asked to contribute perhaps by way of increased charges, to the funds necessary to extend these conveniences to others who are not in such a fortunate position. There would be no objection to the application of surplus revenue from existing charges to provide for interest and a sinking fund on a loan for the purpose of extending these facilities and bringing the departmental services up to date. There is no question as to the Committee being in deadly earnest about this matter, and I am sure that the PostmasterGeneral is alive to the necessity of the situation. I hope he will take an early opportunity to bring under the notice of the head of the Government the strong terms in which honorable members have expressed themselves on this subject. If that be done, I am perfectly certain that the Prime Minister and, in fact, the whole Cabinet will realize the necessity for what we are asking, and that the requisite provision will be made at an early date. Regarding the administration of the De- partment, I have no complaint to make. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) is hard-working, courteous at all times, very much in earnest, and much concerned with regard to the efficiency of his Department. I have only to say, in conclusion, that I hope that at an early date the necessary funds will be provided to afford him an opportunity to put his Department on such a footing that “he will be able to give absolute satisfaction to the whole community.
– I have no desire at this early hour to speak at length. I regret the circumstances under which we are conducting this debate, but I want to support the remarks made by the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell), and the suggestion that a loan should be floated in order that the Department may catch up with its arrears of work in respect of the extension of telephonic facilities and the erection of post-office buildings. It is a curious position with which we are confronted. The pioneers out-back want these facilities. The general public would readily support any proposal to grant them ; the majority of the honorable members of this Parliament say that they should be granted; and yet nothing is done by the Government.
– Why do the Government not take action?
– Not being a member of the Government I cannot say, but something ought to be done. We are talking about a big immigration scheme and the necessity for developing the great waste spaces of this Continent. But if we are going to deny to the people who go out-back the ordinary facilities which should be freely granted to them, then I see no prospect of successful immigrant settlement or of any general development of the interior of Australia. In my electorate, in northern Victoria, there has been a fair amount of soldier settlement. I have referred to this matter before, and make no apology for again alluding to it. These soldiers have been settled in dense Mallee scrub. There we have whole communities of them. They have no tele- graphic communication with the outside world, and I cannot get any for them. In reply to my representations from time to time I merely receive stereotyped departmental excuses. They are sent to me, and I have, in tam, to send them on to these people. “What the settlers want is not departmental excuses, hut telephones and postal facilities. If they do not get them, some of them will leave, and I would not blame them for doings so. The Postal Department should not be used as a taxing machine. I understand that of recent years a profit has been made by the Department, and it seems to me that the proposal to float a loan to enable it to overtake its arrears of work is a sound proposition that should be favorably considered by the Government. Whatever may be the ways and means adopted, I insist that something must be done for the people out-back. It is time that representatives of rural districts in this House, irrespective of party, combined and organized to try to force the Government to do something for these people. It is not fair to induce people to go into the out-back and then leave them stranded as we are doing to-day.
– The honorable member shall have my support in endeavouring to obtain postal and telephonic facilities for them. “Mr. STEWART. - Every honorable member is in favour of these facilities being granted, and yet nothing is done.
– The Government have net the necessary funds, but they are proposing to raise the money.
– It is to be hoped that the honorable member and other staunch supporters of the Government will bring pressure to bear on them and insist upon these much-needed facilities being conceded. I could speak at greater length in this strain, but I shall not do so. I have been agitating, and I intend to do a great deal more - I am going to keep on agitating until I get something done for these people.
Let me refer now to the Mildura Post Office, the facts relating to which have already been put before the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise). There we have a post-office which is hopelessly overtaxed. The employees are herded in a small building where they have to cope with a tremendous volume of business. It is an absolute scandal that, in a district of high temperatures, so many employees should be crowded into this small building. A new- .up-to-date building is urgently needed there. Then, there is the case of’ Red Cliffs. There we have a. population of 2,000, and the postal business is carried on in what I can only describe as a shed. I have not so much criticism to offer. with regard to the lack of postal facilities at Red Cliffs, because it is a comparatively new settlement. It gives every promise, however, of being a large town, one that will equal Mildura, and possibly have a still greater population, and I ask the PostmasterGeneral to have erected there a substantial post-office to cope with the large volume of work that undoubtedly will have to be dealt with within a very short period. I again urge the Government to try to do something for the pioneers of not only northern Victoria, but every other State. I gather from conversations with honorable members that the position is the same in every State. From one end of Australia to the other we have the same lamentable story. .We urge people to go into the back country, and there we leave them in the silence of the bush, devoid of any communication with the outside world.
– I join with other honorable members who have urged -that the Government should borrow something like £7,000,000 to provide for the extension of telephonic and mail services. As the representative of a district that is fairly well provided for, I have not many complaints to make regarding local wants; but I realize that if we are going to develop Australia we must extend our postal and telephonic services. No greater incentive could be offered to people to go out-back. I know of deaths that have occurred in remote settlements because of the lack of a ready means of communication with centres from which medical assistance could be obtained. Many people hesitate to go into the far interior because they know that years are likely to elapse before they will be linked up with the outside world. There is a general feeling that our postal and’ telephone facilities should be extended, and I am convinced that the country would unanimously support the Government in arranging a loan for this special purpose.
There are two or three other matters to -which I must refer. First of all, I unite with the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney^ in asking the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) to take a little interest in the salaries to which he has referred. I shall not weary the
Committee with, examples, although I could give quite a number. Many postal officials in New South “Wales have also to conduct Savings Bank business for the Commonwealth Bank, but for this they receive no additional remuneration. On the other hand, the State Savings Bank business in many small townships is conducted, by the local policeman, who receives from the State an allowance of £30 per annum and, in addition, 2s. for every £100 deposited with his branch. His additional remuneration, therefore, amounts in some cases to perhaps £50 a year. It is very unfair that our postal officials should receive no additional payment for the extra work devolving upon them in connexion with the Commonwealth Savings Bank. I hope that the Postmaster-General will remedy this grievance.
I wish also to mention the contract offices. At the outset I would congratulate the Postmaster-General on having considerably improved the position of those in charge of such offices. In that respect I think he is the best PostmasterGeneral we have had for. many years. Those who are in charge of semi-official contract offices want to know in what position they stand. Are they regarded by the Department as temporary or permanent officers? Many of them have been in charge of such offices from ten to twenty years. Every permanent employee in the Department is granted annual leave, and even temporary employees after twelve months’ service are entitled to leave; but men who have been in charge of semi-official and contract offices for twenty years cannot obtain leave except at their own expense. Under an award of the Court temporary employees, after twelve months’ service, are entitled to eighteen days’ leave per annum. It seems to me that persons in charge of semi-official and contract offices should enjoy the same privilege. They feel that they are entitled to annual leave, and it would not cost the Department much to grant that concession. I hope that the Postmaster-General will do so.
Clause 27 of the Letter Carriers Award provides that any temporary officer working continuously for twelve months shall be entitled to eighteen days’ leave ofabsence, exclusive of Sundays and holidays. The wording of the award could not be plainer, but certain departmental officials seem to be constantly seeking for means to defeat it. The award provides that after twelve months’ continuous service these temporary officials are to have eighteen days’ leave; hut case after case has been brought under my notice where they have been dismissed after serving twelve months, and the answer of the Deputy Postmaster-General is that’ their, services , are dispensed with because the Department cannot see two months’ continuous work ahead for them after their eighteen days’ leave has expired. It seems to me to be one- way of defeating the award, and now that attention has been drawn to the matter .1 trust the Minister will see that it is given prompt attention. In Ballarat the letter-carriers have also received an award, and the Judge who heard the case, in delivering his award, said that the men claimed to be entitled to the £15 per annum awarded by Mr. Justice Powers, and later the same award was made by Mr. Justice Starke. The award stated that £15 per year was to be paid to letter-carriers ‘ and assistants doing sorters’ work in the mail branch. The heads of the Department say that the mail branch applies only to capital cities, and on account of this interpretation the assistants of Ballarat are deprived of what they contend is their right. ‘ These men are working side by side with the sorters of Ballarat, and doing exactly the same work, and taking the same responsibilities. The salary of a sorter is £210 per annum, and that of an assistant £168. They are not only getting £42 less salary than the award, nut are denied the bonus of £15. “When the award was made that the sorters should receive a fixed salary with a bonus of £15 per annum it was clearly understood what was meant; but the Department, to deprive the men of the bonus, did’ not appoint any sorters, but classified them as assistant sorters. They are doing the work of sorters, and work with other sorters. The Department is taking an undue advantage by calling them assistant sorters, and paying them £42’ per year less, and depriving them of a bonus of £15 per annum, which the award provides. That is a mean and miserable spirit % to display towards employees. We stand by arbitration and conciliation, but when men go to the Arbitration Court and receive an award it is upset on a technical point. In this case the Department claims that the award applies only to capital cities; but the work of sorting is just as important in a city such as Ballarat as it is in Melbourne. Th sorters have to know the destination of every communication, their memory has to be good, and they have to pass an examination before they can act as assistant sorters. Some of the sorters have to memorize at least 5,000 addresses, and to perform their duties in an expeditious and intelligent manner. It is a most “unfair way in which to treat men who render honest service, and the PostmasterGeneral, through his officials, should see that more just treatment is meted out to them. I trust that inquiries will be made, not through the heads of Departments, but through postmasters who know the work. If that is done the men will be quite satisfied, because they are sure that it cannot be said that their work is not the same as that of a sorter. If it can be proved to the contrary after exhaustive inquiries they will accept the decision.
I desire also to refer to the case of a man named Gardiner, who was sent to Beaufort as a postal assistant. He is a married man with a wife and family, and, as it is impossible for him to secure a house he has to board at an hotel, and his wife and family have to live in Melbourne. He is compelled to maintain two homes on a salary of about £3 per week, and his position is so acute that he is actually borrowing money to meet his current liabilities. I have appealed to the Minister on frequent occasions to send a single man to Beaufort, and allow Gardiner to be transferred to a town where house accommodation is available. This matter has been before the Department for at least six months, and numerous promises have been made. It was said that this officer refused to transfer to Bendigo, but the only communication he received in connexion with the matter was over the telephone.
.- In Launceston the postal officials are endeavouring to carry out their business in the same room in which the Customs work is handled. The room is open to the public, and when the Customs official leaves the premises, he cannot place any parcels under lock and key, and if they should be lost the responsibility will rest upon the Postal Department. I brought this matter under the notice of the De partment of Trade and Customs and the Postal and Telegraph Department seven or eight months ago, and received an assurance that an alteration would be made, but nothing has been done.
– lt hardly seems necessary to bring, under the .notice of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise) the totally inadequate salaries paid to the officers in his Department. The work of the Department needs re-organizing from beginning to end, because we cannot expect men to assist in. conducting an enormous business on paltry salaries such as the Department is paying, particularly in country districts. Many of these officers have to put up with a great deal of inconvenience, and in some cases hardship, “and it is time practical consideration was shown them..
The lack of telegraphic and telephonic facilities in country districts is agitating the minds of many people. In one small district in the electorate which I represent there is a keen demand for telephones, and when I applied a little while ago for an instrument on behalf of a resident in the locality I was informed that there were 149 applications prior to mine. We are informed every time we submit such complaints that the shortage of material is the cause of delay, but it is useless accusing the present PostmasterGeneral on that account. There has, however, been a lamentable lack of foresight, and we should have reached the stage when a more satisfactory service could be rendered. Immediate arrangements should be made for providing some of the material obtained locally. Large numbers of telegraph and telephone posts will be required, and if the Minister has any idea when the wire and insulators will be available his Department should get to work to obtain what posts can be secured here, so that further delay will not be experienced when shipments from overseas arrive. The posts, of course, should not be obtained too far in advance, but the position could be carefully watched.
Despite the promises made, returned soldiers are not getting fair treatment in the Post and Telegraph and other Departments. I receive complaints in this regard from all parts of the Commonwealth. I do not blame the PostmasterGeneral personally, because I know that he is interested in returned men, and is anxious to do his duty. They are, however, not receiving fair treatment. To qualify for appointment in the telephone workshops in Melbourne, certain returned soldiers passed an examination (No. 535), which was held on December, 1914-February, 1915. The first twelve successful candidates, five of whom were returned soldiers, received appointments prior to the date on which the Act giving preference was passed by Parliament. As the number of candidates to be registered was fifty, it is reasonable to assume, considering twelve candidates were appointed in four months, that their appointments would not have been delayed to any extent if the measure had not been made law. They have been placed in a very serious position, and they have assured me that while they were on active service they lost four years; but they have now lost two years in addition. The Act is not only being used to keep them in their ordinary positions, but is being employed to their actual detriment. One would expect that the fact of a man having gone to the war should be sufficient in itself to accord him the preference which Parliament has decided he should have. The successful returned soldiers of whom I have been speaking - five in number - received their appointments, but only as from 18th July of this year, and at the minimum salary. In the meantime, appointments have been made of junior and cadet mechanics with no war service, despite the advice of the Prime Minister that promotions were to be suspended. Many now receive the maximum salary. These men say -
We ask that our appointments ‘be dated back prior to the date when the next examination was ‘held for junior mechanics to qualify for the position of mechanic. Appointments have in some cases been dated back, as the last examination of Naval Staff clerks was held in April, 1918, and all soldier or sailor candidates were appointed as from 1st January, 1918.
Evidently, in some other Departments these men are getting the preference which was deliberately provided for them ; but in the Postmaster-General’s Department, not only have they failed to receive that benefit, but they are actually losing a greater percentage of time than is represented by the years in which they were away on active service.
I again suggest that something should be done in the direction of preparing for that mass of material which must sooner or later come to hand, so that, from the moment of its arrival it may be put to use. When our men went to the war, Parliament considered that full provision had been made that, at least, they should not lose anything by joining the Australian Imperial Force. Here, however, is afforded definite proof of returned soldiers being penalized as an outcome of the loyal service which they gave to their country.
.Notwithstanding all the money which has been voted for the use of the Postmaster-General’s Department, there is not sufficient to clean up arrears. If the whole of it were spent there would still remain a tremendous amount of urgent work to be put in hand. There would still be, for example, 4,000 to 5,000 metropolitan telephone connexions in respect of which applications are in hand, beside numerous country telephonic applications, none of which can be dealt with. There are many paying trunk line proposals in regard to which investigations have been made, and authorizations issued. The work, how- , ever, cannot be put in hand because supplies are not available; and supplies are not available because the Department has had to go without reasonable monetary assistance. There are still other services, which have been approved of after departmental inquiry. But all must stand over,’ at ‘any rate, until next year. On top of the present arrears there will be accumulated applications covering another twelve months. This congestion in a great Department has become so serious that unless the trouble is dealt with in a business-like manner, and without further delay, the confusion must become far worse confounded. We must grapple with the situation. A wise and practical suggestion has been offered; indeed it is the only business-like proposition. A special loan must be raised for the PostmasterGeneral’s services. It is most unfair that business men urgently requiring telephone facilities should be compelled to wait for months or years before their requirements can be satisfied. Such a state of affairs would not be tolerated for a moment in a privately-conducted enterprise.
There are still other matters worthy of urgent attention. For example, there is that of the purchase of sites in various parts of the country. Although the work. thereon is crying out for attention, the proposals have had to be put on one side because no money has been voted which can be applied to such purposes. During the war the public were ready to accept certain inconveniences, but the time has come when some solution must be found for these ever-growing problems. They are not merely those of one State or city, but of the whole of Australia. Everywhere there is chaos or a condition bordering upon it. I know of several postal sites in my electorate where something ought to be done without delay. Blocks of land which could have been purchased last year for one-third of the value placed on them this year will cost still more before the Postmaster-General’s Department will have taken them over. We are paying hundreds per cent, for the delay occasioned in such directions as these.
I wish to. refer to the matter of the partial decentralization of work from the main metropolitan head-quarters, and the extended powers given to district inspectors. This alteration represents a move in the right direction; but the inspectors should have been given increased status and some additional remuneration. The responsibilities which they are required to incur in the discharge of their duties are much greater than before, their work has been very considerably increased, and there should be some financial acknowledgment of the fact.
Much has been said concerning returned soldier employees. Unlike the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), when I receive a letter having to do with a matter outside of my electorate I make a practice of sending it on to the representative concerned. I have particulars of numerous cases of reasonable complaint which I would be justified in making known;, but I shall refer to one only as being typical. A young man who had been a wireless operator enlisted during the early stages of the war and applied to serve as a wireless operator on the transports. Before he had left Sydney, however, he was told that his services were required in the Postmaster-General’s Department and that he could not be given leave. Being an enthusiast and a loyal young man, he said he was determined to get away with the troops. He was told that in order to do so he would have to resign. He took that course and served on various transports for five years, during which period he was once torpedoed. For some time after his return he failed to secure employment. He has since returned to the Postmaster-General’s service as a postal official. He had had about seven years’ experience in the Department prior to enlisting, but those seven years have been lost to him. He has had to start afresh, and his seniority has been affected, simply because he went to the war. This case is not isolated.
I am sure that every honorable member would stand behind the PostmasterGeneral if he were prepared to make a determined effort to get out of the muddle in which he finds himself.
.I hope the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) will persist in his endeavours to secure more money, for his highly important Department. The Minister is a most able administrator, but he is severely handicapped, and, unfortunately, while the Ministerial head may be, and is in this instance, kindly disposed towards returned men, there are bound to be some errors creeping into his administration, to the detriment of former soldiers. I have had much to do with letter-carriers, who consider that they have had reasonable cause for complaint. Among these are numbers of returned soldiers, temporarily employed. They are now finding themselves put off to make room for others who have successfully undergone examinations and must be found jobs as permanent men. I appeal to the PostmasterGeneral to see that no returned soldiers are displaced. Their work as lettercarriers is of an outdoor character and, for that reason, it eminently suits the health of the men. The Minister has been endeavouring to find other branches of employment for them, but I trust that there will be found to be outdoor avenues which will be made available.
I desire to devote a few moments’ attention to the need for better post-office facilities at Mentone, which is a flourishing centre in my electorate. Promises have been made for years past. A postmaster formerly stationed there, had to move on account of the high rent charged by the owner of the building in which he was established. The local municipal council was approached with a view of giving consent to the use of a building for the purpose of a post-office. This, however, did not comply with the muni(cipal regulations. The council informed :he Department that it would give six months’ consent for such use, provided that, in the interval, the Department began the erection of a new post-office. That period, however, has expired. The council is now considering the question of compelling the Department to make other arrangements, because the place is not sanitary, and does not comply with the municipal requirements in any way. There is a confectionery shop attached to it. I hope that a new post-office will be provided at Mentone, -and also at Black Rock, where similar conditions prevail, and have prevailed for many years, and where the people are surely entitled to improved facilities. I hope that the Postmaster-General will be able to persuade the Government to provide him with the money that will enable him to supply, not only postal, but also telephone facilities to all those people who require telephones for private use. I also hope that the Government will be able to provide the money required for telephones in country districts.
.It is not my intention to bring individual cases before the Minister (Mr. Wise) in this Committee, because such matters I take to his Department, where I have never had any refusal to give them consideration.’ If it is a matter of policy the Minister speedily fixes it up himself, and does everything it is possible for him to do. Therefore, I am not going ,to waste the time of the Committee by discussing matters which can be better attended to in the Department. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) has said that he receives letters from all over the States. I want to tell the Postmaster-General that ‘as long as I am the member for Kalgoorlie I expect him to forward, through me, any reply he furnishes to requests that come to his Department from my electorate.
– That is the usual practice.
– If it is the usual practice we ought not to have honorable members saying here that they get letters from all over the States as if it were only by writing to them that the applicants could get wrongs, alleged or real, redressed. Although I do not wish to bring under the Minister’s notice individual matters which I can take to the Department, I want to point out an injustice which is being done to boys and girls who sit for, and, in many instances, pass Public Service examinations. There are many people in various portions of the Commonwealth who think that it is a good thing to get their children, who are about to leave school, into Government Departments, even if their employment be of a temporary character only. They think it a good thing to get them into the postoffice. But the trouble is that many of these boys and girls who pass examinations showing that they are qualified to obtain employment in the Commonwealth Service, and could fill vacancies in the Postal Department, are told by the PostmasterGeneral that Chey are over the age at which they can start as employees of the Department. Every child who is fit- to pass the examination should have the right to fill the position for which he or she has qualified, and if it is not possible to give those who pass the examination the right to secure employment in the Postal Department the examination should, at least, be limited to the number the Department may require to fill vacancies. In other words, no further examinations should be held until those who have already qualified have received appointments.
– It is not a matter that comes within my Department. It is governed by the Public Service regulations.
– But -the replies in reference to the statutory age and noneligibility for employment come from the Department of the Postmaster-General. I want the Minister to issue instructions to his deputies that these children should have the opportunity of securing some chance of employment.
– :I cannot do it. The matter is governed by the Public Service regulations.
– Then it would be better for the replies to come from the Public Service Inspector rather than from the Department of the Postmaster-General, who is not responsible. What is happening now is an injustice to the children of many parents who cannot afford to pay the examination fee of 5s. Many of them are children of prospectors. It takes one prospector with whom I am acquainted, all his time to make ends meet, but, rightly or wrongly, he thinks that the Public Service is the place for his children. I do not hold the same view. I do not think that the Public Service gives one sufficient scope. At any rate, this man’s boy passed the Public Service examination and qualified to fill a position in the post-office, but when the services of a boy were required in his district a boy from a distant part was brought in to £11 the position.
. An exceedingly important aspect of the postal question has been lost sight of by those who have preceded me, or, at any rate, has not been adequately presented by them; that is, thai we still appear to be living among the relics or, shall I say, the wreck of the old ideals, or the unwritten law that all postal, telephonic, and telegraphic development should be under-; taken out of revenue, and not out of loan money. I admit that these Estimates show a slight measure of reform in this respect, but this Parliament, and the people of Australia must face the newer conditions. Our endeavour to carry out postal and telephonic work out of revenue has made us lag frightfully behind in all forms of development. The people must make up their minds that in order to provide adequate postal facilities of every description it will be necessary in future to have the works financed out of loan moneys, so that there will be no need to wait until they can be built out of revenue. I would like to have discussed other aspects of the administration of this important Department, but so much has been said and so little time is left to say any more that I leave the question now in the hope that in the future we shall have no excuse offered for not building new post-offices or establishing telephones in country districts, on the ground that the Department has no funds available for the purpose.
– I wish to draw the attention of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) to a condition of affairs in his Department which I think might be altered by him, acting in conjunction with the Public Service Commissioner. I refer to the classification of post-offices, which affects not only the importance of the offices concerned, but also the salaries of the staffs operating in them. Although a post-office outside a city may be quite as important as one in a capital city, and may even be doing more work, it is graded as a country office, and the postmaster in charge of it, and all the staff under him, are placed on the level of all other officers in country post-offices.
– We are experiencing the same trouble in Launceston.
– It is distinctly wrong. The business of the Postal Department should not be measured by location or by the fact that one office is situated in a capital city, while another is in a town outside the metropolis of a State. The system of classification to which I object has led to chaos in the Department, but I understand that it cannot be altered without an amendment of the Public Service regulations.
– The claim is made that the head office of a State cannot be anywhere but in the capital of the State.
– It is a matter tha; needs to be rectified. We have the anomalous position that a Postmaster superintending a staff of forty or fifty officers in a very important post-office, and a man who has over thirty years’ service is not receiving two-thirds of the salary of a headmaster of a public school with only half-a-dozen teachers on his staff. That is the position in two different services operating alongside one another throughout the States. It is wrong to have those men receiving perhaps a little more than £300 a year, and controlling departments where the income runs into thousands of pounds, and where there is a staff of perhaps thirty or forty employees under them. A private ,. firm would pay such officers a salary of from £1,000 to £1,500 a year. It is a disgraceful state of affairs, and the sooner the system of grading is altered the better.
– I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister the question of the employment of returned soldiers in the Postal Department, particularly those in temporary employment. The amount set down for ! temporary assistance in the South Australian branch of the Department is £35,186, as against last year’s vote of £20,000. This means that there will be a number of men. brought in as temporary employees. It is time the Committee realized that men who have given war service should receive some security of tenure in the Government service. I do not expect that when the Department is forced to put on extra hands, say, at Christmas time, those men should be placed on the permanent staff, but there are returned men, who have periods of good and faithful service running from two to five years, and who are still only temporary hands. They are liable at any moment to be discharged, and they are being dismissed, while others, who made no- attempt to enlist, are being put in their places. I believe that the Minister has endeavoured to do justice to these men, and 1 now ask him that returned soldiers, after two years’ service in the Department, shall be given positions of some permanency. I do not ask that they should be kept in the Service when there is no work for them to dp. The point has been raised that they ought to pass an examination. I agree that where clerical work, or some other duties of a responsible character are required of them, there should be an examination, but there are temporary men employed in the mail branch, where their duties do not call for any special qualification, and we are told that they cannot be made permanent employees unless they pass an examination. I shall mention a typical case. There was a man who, when the war broke out, was a labourer, and he had no- special educational attainments. He served his country, and on returning from the Front he was given temporary employment in the Post Office. The head of the Department will certify that he has given every satisfaction. He is forty-five years of age, but his work calls for no special knowledge, or ability, or clerical proficiency. To-day that man is asked to pass an examination, in order to be made a permanent employee. Such an examination is absolutely unnecessary, and to1 require it of a man of that age, and doing that particular class of work, is an injustice. These men are being put off, and younger officers, twenty or twenty-two years of age, are being put in their places, simply because the latter have passed an examination. Another man, with five years’ service, was in the Department before the war. To-day he is told that he must go, and somebody else will take his position. The increase in the amount proposed to be voted for temporary employment suggests that the policy of filling the Department with temporary hands is tq be continued, but I maintain that if it is possible to employ a soldier, he should be given preference. I very much doubt whether the PostmasterGeneral thinks he has sufficient money to meet the requirements of the Department. There is an increase in the total amount proposed to be expended in South Australia of some £85,000, and if we deduct the amount that’ is put down for the bonus to men with families, and for the Arbitration award, there is left only an increase of £16,000 to provide all the facilities for which the public are anxiously waiting. In a portion of my district there are hundreds waiting, and prepared to pay for telephonic communication. , I have been endeavouring to get a telephone for a chemist’s shop. I was told by an officer of the Department that it was utterly impossible to get one, although chemists and doctors receive preference in this matter. As I happened to hear of somebody leaving the district, I managed to secure their telephone. An extra £15,000 to £20,000 will not provide the necessary facilities in the metropolitan area in South Australia, to say nothing of meeting the demands of the country districts. This position exists in every State. The Government ought to realize that the provision of telephonic facilities would prove a valuable source of revenue. I hope the Minister will bring the matter of returned soldiers and temporary employment before Cabinet. The Public Service Bill now before the other Chamber deals with this matter. It is fair to ask that, after a returned man has been for two years in any Government Department, his position should be regarded as permanent. Until this Committee has had an opportunity of considering the Bill, further dismissals of temporarily employed returned soldiers should not be made, and a definite policy which will give permanent positions to returned men in the Government service should be laid down.
– So far as telephone lines and departmental buildings are concerned, I do not propose to say anything now, because I dealt with that matter very fully three weeks ago. I shall have personalcomplants and individual cases mentioned by honorable members inquired into, and, if possible, remedied. As to grading the salaries’ of various officials, the Public Service Bill will be before us ere long, and the Committee will have the opportunity of going into those matters. As to postal affairs, it may be of interest to honorable members to know that, on Monday next, the first aerial mail service will be inaugurated in Western Australia. I hope it will prove practicable and satisfactory, and of value to the State.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £108,568.
.- I urge on the Minister (Mr. Greene) to make an inquiry into the subject of malignant malaria in the Northern Territory.
– That is already in hand.
– Then I shall say no more.
Proposed vote agreed to.
War Services Payable out of Revenue.
Proposed vote, £8,969,513, less Repatriation votes already agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) agreed to.
That the following resolution be reported to the House : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 December 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1921/19211202_reps_8_98/>.