8th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m. and read prayers.
Mr. MATHEWS, in the absence of the Chairman, brought up the report, together with minutes of evidence, of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works on the proposed automatic telephone exchange at Cottesloe, Western Australia.
Ordered to be printed.
– I understand that the old-age and invalid pensions law allows aged or invalid miners and others who receive relief from certain funds to enjoy, nevertheless, the full old-age and invalid pension. As the Victoria Racing Club has establisheda fund for the relief of aged and infirm trainers and jockeys, will the Treasurer, when considering the rectification of the anomalies in our pensions legislation, provide for the granting of full, pensions to aged or infirm trainers and jockeys who are getting relief from that fund?
– I shall look intothe whole matter.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In connexion with the sugar agreement, will he state -
What amount of money was outstanding in respect of the loss on the purchase of sugar from outside Australia?
What amount has so far been recovered?
What is the Government’s intention in regard to the balance; and
What amount is added and is paid by the consumer to enable the Government to recoup itself for this loss?
– As already intimated to this House, a full statement on the sugar question will be delivered by my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs, at an early date, and it is not deemed advisable to anticipate such statement.
asked the Prime Minister,upon notice -
Mr. GREENE (for Mr. Hughes).The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1.Four in Australia; none in other ports.
Araluen, Dumosa, Dilga, Largs Bay.
Araluon has been laid up since 2nd December, 1921; Dumosa since 6th March, 1922; Dilga since 8thMay, 1922; Largs Bay, since 24th June, 1922.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
In connexion with tenders for the publication of the Gazette in the Northern Territory, will he state-
Why the Standard was required to submit two guarantees of £100 each when the published condition specifically stated that two guarantees of only £50 each were necessary?
What were the respective tenders of the Standard and the Times?
Has any tender been definitely accepted?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Mr. GREENE (for Mr. Hughes).The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2, 3, and 4. - Position and salary - Deputy Commissioner of Taxation, Western Australia, - E. A. Black, £756 per annum; Divisional Director, Industry Hygiene - D. G. Robertson, £900 per annum; Quarantine Officers, New South Wales - A. Richardson, £606 per annum; L. P. Brent, £606 per annum. Medical officers, Serum Laboratory - F. T. Wheatland, £606 per annum; K. R. Moore, £606 per annum; J. Brown, £606 per annum; G. M. Heydon, £606 per annum: and R. D. Mcintosh, £606 per annum. Appointments where the appointee was already in the employ of the Government. - Supervising Examiner of Patents - C. A. S. Teece, £516 per annum. Assistant Director of Navigation - L. F. East, £750 per annum. Medical Officer, Serum Laboratory - W. C. Sawers, £606 per annum. Chief Reporter - O. Bailey, £750 per annum> Second Reporter - R. F. Sholl, £725 per annum.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether it is the intention of the Government to have regulations framed governing the use of white lead in accordance with the decisions of the Genoa Labour Conference?
Mr. GREENE (for Mr. Hughes).The General Conference of the International Labour organization of the League of Nations, which was held at Geneva (not Genoa) on 25th October-19th November, 1921, decided upon the adoption of a Draft Convention concerning the use of white lead in painting. The Government have recently received authentic copies of the text of the Convention, and the matter is receiving consideration.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he have a return furnished showing the names of members of all Boards, Commissions, and Committees appointed by the Government since January, 1920, with particulars as to cost of each to date?
Mr. GREENE (for Mr. Hughes).This information will be obtained.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
Why was Mr. J. H. Vaughan, a returned soldier, not re-appoinetd a member of the South Australian Repatriation Board?
– The period for which Mr. Vaughan and other members of State Boards throughout the Commonwealth were appointed, expired on 30th June last. The Commissioners, in the exercise of their discretion and under the powers conferred upon them by the Act, recommended Messrs. A. R. C. Fearby, T. B. Merry, and R. J. Croston to fill the positions in South Australia for the new period, commencing 1st July last. Mr. Croston, who fills Mr. Vaughan’s position, made vacant by the effluxion of time, is a limbless returned soldier.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The Prime Minister’s Department.
The officer who was in charge of the Radio service in the Postmaster-General’s Department is now acting as Controller of Wireless, and is in charge of all matters arising out of the administration of the Wireless Telegraphy Act and Regulations. This Wireless Branch is sufficient to protect the interests of the Government.
As previously, by Government Radio Inspectors responsible to the Controller of Wireless.
There is nothing to prevent any company or person applying for a licence, which application will receive consideration on its merits.
The regulations are being amended, and slight alterations, including a reduction of fees receiving licences, arc receiving consideration.
Mr.CHARLTON asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is it a fact that the Public Service Arbitrator confers with the representative of the Public Service Commissioner, without the presence or knowledge of the representatives of Public Service Unions, upon claims submitted for bis adjudication?
If so, will the Prime Minister endeavour to arrange for representatives of both sides to be present on all such future occasions?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice - 1.What is the amount of rebate of duty allowed on the sugar contained in jams and canned fruits for export?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow
asked the Minister re presenting the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
What is the total number of employees - (a) permanent, (b) temporary - in each of the Repatriation Departments in the various States?
– The Commissioners advise as follows: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Earnings by Blind.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether old-age pensions will be granted to blind persons selling wares, who have the age qualification, whose earnings are within the statutory amount, and who make a sworn declaration to that effect?
– During many years past it has been assumed that the earnings of blind persons who follow the undesirable occupation of selling wares in the streets are in all cases sufficient to debar them from pensions, and it is not thought desirable to alter the practice.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– In accordance with the promise made yesterday to the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), I lay on the table the terms of the reference to Sir Mark Sheldon in connexion with his appointment as arbitrator in the Kidman-Mayoh shipbuilding contract.
– The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell) asked, on the 5th inst. , whether the Prime Minister would make available the report of Australia’s representative at the Labour Conference recently held at Geneva. In reply, I desire to state that an early opportunity will be taken to do this.
The following papers were presented : -
Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held at Melbourne, January, 1922 - Report of. Debates.
Ordered to be printed.
Income Tax Assessment Act - Regulations (Income Tax Appeal Board) - Statutory Rules 1922, No. 90.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired under, at Karoonda, South Australia - For postal purposes.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations Amended - StatutoryRules 1922, No. 94.
Shipbuilding Contract with Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh - Terms of reference to Sir Mark Sheldon as Arbitrator.
Debate resumed from 6th July (vide page 239), on motion by Mr. Jackson -
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to by this House: -
May it Please Your Excellency -
We, the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, beg to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased * to address to Parliament.
.- For the past few months, we have had the spectacle of the Prime Minister (Mir. Hughes) running up and down throughout the length and breadth of Australia urging the people to “Produce, produce, produce.” That has been the cry everywhere. Now the Government have come down to this House with a statement in which there is some attempt at production, but it is merely the production of Boards and Commissions. As far as I cansee from the Governor-General’s Speech, the chief thing which we are to produce is further expenses. I was glad to see in to-day’s notice-paper that this question is also agitating other minds. Question No. 7 asks -
Will the Prime Minister have a return furnished showing the names of members of all Boards, Commissions, and Committees appointed by the Government since January, 1920, with particulars as to cost of each to date?
If, and when, that return is furnished, it should be a very interesting document. It seems to me that we have arrived at a stage when we have government by one man, who appoints Commissions and Boards to do everything which he cannot do himself. This practice has certainly meant a piling up of expenses, and the adding of additional burdens to the taxpayers. I want to try to point out where this increased taxation is leading us, and how those people who have been responsible for the maintenance of the stability of Australia are groaning under it. Up to the end of the financial year 1909-10, the Commonwealth had restricted taxation to Customs and Excise. In 1910, an Act was passed which gave the Commonwealth power to raise a land tax. In 1914-15, the ‘scale of the land tax was increased, and in the following year the income tax was levied. Since then, the only development in the income tax has been an increase in its rate. During the last ten years, taxation within the Commonwealth has almost trebled.
– That is “producing,” is it not?
– Yes; it is producing burdens for the people to carry.
– And, incidentally, there has been a war.
– The GovernorGeneral’s Speech proposes to go on increasing the burden of taxation, even now the war is over. No one complains of the increase of taxation in so far as it arises out of the war, but what we find fault with is. the needless piling up of taxation to meet wasteful expenditure. The Speech is only leading us further in that direction. The programme put before this House provides for the creation of more Boards and Commissions - six in all, I think - and these will be further avenues for expenditure. Not only is the expenditure of every Department in creased, but we are going to open up new avenues for spending.
– That statement is not correct.
– Then, I will say “practically every Department.”
– The honorable member said “ every Department.”
– It is so nearly “ every Department “ that the difference does not matter. Since the Minister has challenged my statement, I had better produce the proof and consider the matter in detail. If the Minister will look through the statement brought down by the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) a few days ago, he will find that, in almost every instance, there is an increase in the cost of the Departments. I did not think it was necessary for me, at the present juncture, to analyze that statement; but, if it is desired that I should place it on record, perhaps I had better do so. I shall deal only with the total ordinary votes of Departments.
– The Treasurer has cited the list, and given the reasons for the increases.
– That is so; and, as the figures are on record, I do not need to weary the House.
– It is the reasons that are particularly important.
– The reasons are quite insufficient, considering the size of the burdens that have been placed upon the people. It is very easy for the Minister to talk about reasons, but how are those reasons going to meet the taxes the people are called upon to pay? In some cases, to my knowledge, and I think to the knowledge of other members of this House, people are having to borrow money to pay their taxes. Surely we are not going to continue to govern under those conditions. Where people are taxed to such an extent that their income will not provide the money to meet their taxes, even when they have cut down their expenditure to the utmost, and when they find themselves forced to go to the banks to borrow money to meet the ordinary current taxation of the year, something is wrong. Such a state of affairs has no right to exist. It is an unfair burden on the primary producing interests of this country, and not merely upon them, but upon all producing industries.
The Commonwealth Tear-Booh for 1921, in dealing with revenue, states “ The great increase in recent years is due to the large expansion in direct taxation.” The Government appeared to think that this was a slight, so they have increased the indirect taxation, so as to make it as large as the direct taxation. Thus they have further burdened the people who are producing the wealth of the community. The position of the toilers in the cities is now worse than in the beginning.
– I think it is the farmer who is squeaking.
– It ‘ is not only the farmer who is suffering under the Tariff. The recent Tariff has proved to be an importers’ Tariff. What about the industries at Newcastle, which were going to be supported and made prosperous by this Tariff? What about the thousands of workmen who were going to be employed there? What about the thousands who have been thrown out of employment in the country districts? There are more unemployed men in the Newcastle district to-day than there have been for very many years past.
– Does the honorable member say that that condition is solely .due to the’ Tariff?
– I say that this Tariff, which we were told was going to do away with unemployment, has not saved the situation at all. It has not helped to maintain the industries at Newcastle; but has destroyed their prospects, and also the general development in country districts. The Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), who represents a country constituency, knows as well as I do that to-day improvements are not being made on numerous holdings for the simple reason that materials are too expensive. All over Australia there are important and necessary works which should be, and which would be, carried out if it were not for the excessively high prices which producers and 1 others are compelled to pay for their materials, and there are thousands of men who could be employed to their own advantage, and to the benefit of the men who employ them, if supplies were available at a reasonable price. When a grazier hears bis calves bellowing in the night because they are being pulled down by dingoes ; when he sees ewes and lambs dead in, his paddocks; when the wheat-grower sees his crop a failure because artificial manure cannot be obtained at a fair price, he has reason to complain ; when a fruit-grower goes to his orchard and finds that his trees are being destroyed by pests, he can blame the Government who passed such a high Tariff that materials and commodities which he requires have been made so high in price that they are beyond his means. In almost every instance such a position has been brought about by the Tariff. Before the imposition of high protective rates the men on the laud could purchase wire netting and barbed wire for their holdings at a reasonable price, and before the Tariff and the Nauru Island agreement was entered into they could buy superphosphates at. a lower rate for their wheat-fields. To-day it is difficult for them to buy absolute necessities, and, in addition to these handicaps, the Government go on increasing taxation and dragging more income tax from them at every opportunity. The Government are making it impossible for many of them to carry on. The Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie), who is interested in this direction, knows, as well as I do, that, in the western district of New South Wales, there are deserted homes.
– I do not know.
– Then it is the Minister’s duty to go to these places and see the conditions which prevail. There are deserted homesteads, because it is impossible for those who are holding the land to produce at a profit. There are more deserted homes in the western district of New South Wales than there have been for the last forty years.
– Is that owing to the Tariff?
– Direct taxation and the Tariff are largely responsible. Landholders cannot improve their properties, and construct vermin-proof fences to keep the dogs back. A man growing hay, either a small dairy farmer or a grazier working on a larger scale, is called upon to pay taxation on that hay as income. He also raises a few hundred calves, or, perhaps, only a small number, and he also pays income on the calves or lambs, or whatever else he may be raising. But a drought comes along with its withering blast and he feeds the hay to the starving stock. In those,, circumstances the hay cannot be regarded as income, because it is fed to the stock, and frequently after feeding his cattle they die; but he still has to pay income tax on the stock, as well as on the hay, and in the end does not realize on either.
– Should he not pay income on the hay if he feeds it to his calves ?
– Not until he realizes on them. The real difficulty is that he does not know what his income is, and I have endeavoured to explain the point to this Parliament and to the State Parliament of New South Wales for the past twenty years. It is time the people realized that this is what is killing industry, and that men cannot carry on under conditions such as those which they have been experiencing for some years. Considering the drift of the people, it is unreasonable to impose unnecessarily high protective duties on many of the requirements of rural settlers. What is the position in Australia to-day? The drift to the cities is most alarming, and the census figures taken last year show only too plainly what is happening. In New South Wales, which every one admits is one of the best States in the Commonwealth, there are only three districts which have been able to hold their natural increase in population. One is the county of Cumberland, which embraces the city of Sydney ; another is the district of Hunter, which includes Newcastle; and the third is the Riverina, where there are extensive irrigation works, to which point there is a continual drift from Victoria. No other district in the whole of the State has been able to hold its natural increase, and in many districts there has been a decrease in population. If that is allowed to continue, it can only lead to ruin and disaster, and the drift must be stopped. The only way in which this can be done is by reducing the expenditure of the people on the land, thus giving them an opportunity to live. The district which I represent comprises one of the finest pieces of country in Australia, and as I have been in every State in the Commonwealth, I can speak with some authority. There is not the slightest doubt that the Upper Hunter U one of the finest portions of Australia.
It has a magnificent climate, perfect soil, a good rainfall, and everything conducive to the happiness and welfare of the people who live there. The only obstacle is the absence of good government.
– And the honorable member and his colleagues help to keep the Government in power.
– The honorable member and his supporters are largely responsible for the present deplorable state of affairs, inasmuch as they assisted in imposing unnecessarily high duties, which have made it exceedingly difficult for these people to carry on at a profit. The National Government, with the assistance of the Labour party, are responsible, and there does not appear to be any prospect of immediate relief. It would not be any advantage to assist in defeating the present Government, because one comprised of honorable members opposite would, I am afraid, be even worse.
– The honorable member would make a good Treasurer.
– If I occupied that position, I would endeavour to serve the whole of the people, and see that proper use was made of every pound spent. I do not believe in a skinflint policy. This country needs development, but there is no excuse for wasteful expenditure. We should use the money contributed by the people in increasing production. In the Upper Hunter District a number of large estates have been cut up during the lastten years into small holdings, and one would expect that the population would have increased ; but there are hundreds of people less than there were ten years’ ago.
– What is the reason?
– Because the burdens in the form of taxation are too heavy, and people have been driven off the land and forced into the cities. Leaving the shire of the Upper Hunter and crossing the river, there will be seen what has been one of the most successful meatworks established in Australia. I have known it for about twenty-five years, and it has always been looked upon as one of the most successfully conducted meatworks in any country district in the Commonwealth. Some years ago a fellmongery was started in connexion with these works, and the New South Wales Railways Commissioners fixed differential rates on fellmongered wool and ordinary skins, which led to the closing of the fellmongery. That is not a matter for which this Parliament is responsible, but it is a circumstance which should not be overlooked when we are considering the burdens imposed on the man on the land. By the closing of this fellmongery, scores of men were thrown out of employment, and the thousands of pounds put into it were practically thrown away. At the same meatworks it was decided later to start a bacon factory. Again, theRailways Commissioners fixed differential rates between bacon and pickled pork, in the belief that that would put an end to the bacon factory. As a matter of fact, it did not do bo, because those concerned found a way of overcoming the difficulty. My point is that these are really burdens which have to be borne by the man on the land, and should bc considered by this Parliament when imposing taxation which he is called upon to pay. We should not treat him as the State Parliaments have done, but we are treating him as badly, and in some cases in a worse way. When we find the man on the land suffering from State taxation, the least we can do is to try to relieve him of some of the taxation imposed by this Parliament. Instead of that we go on piling up further taxation for him. We increase the income tax, the land tax, and by our Tariff the cost of everything used by the man on the land. The Federal Government cannot excuse themselves by saying that the State Governments treat the man on the land badly, because that is an additional reason why we should try to come to his relief.
The position in connexion ‘ with production in Australia to-day is becoming exceedingly serious. The amount of primary production is decreasing, and the number to-day engaged in it is less by thousands than the number so engaged ten years ago. It is only because of the increased value of primary products that people are deluded into the belief that all is well with the producer. If we get back to the prices existing before the war, and already that has occurred in the beef industry, it will not be possible for the primary producers of Australia to continue to carry on under the burdens imposed upon them by the Federal and State Parliaments.
– The honorable member says that fewer persons are engaged in primary production and the volume of production is less. From whom does he obtain his figures, and what do they include?
– I get the information from the Commonwealth Year-Book. and it includes the pastoral, agricultural, ‘ and timber industries. There are to-day fewer people engaged in those three great primary industrios than there were ten years ago.
– And the honorable member says that the volume of production is also less.
– The volume of production is less in many cases. I have not the figures before me at present, but the honorable gentleman can look them up in theYear-Book.
– I shall give them to the House, and prove that the honorable member is wrong in every particular.
– Whilst there are fewer people engaged in primary production to-day than there were ten years ago, the primary producer has in almost every instance increased the yield from his industry. When I was a boy, 4 lbs. or 5 lbs. of wool wore obtained from a sheep, and to-day the producers of wool obtain 8 lbs. or 10 lbs. from each sheep. A dairy cow used to produce, say, 200 lbs. of butter per annum, and now produces 250 lbs. I do not say that these figures are quite accurate, but approximately they represent the increase in yield. The wheat-grower to-day produces more per acre than was previously obtained, but in spite of this increase of yield from land and animals, the total volume of production is to-day less than it waS ten years ago, whilst the man on the land is called upon continually to carry a heavier burden. He ha3 been putting up a magnificent fight in the effort to do so. It may be possible to grow a little more wool on a sheep, though I think that is very doubtful; there may be some further increase in the yield from dairy cows, and in the average yield per acre of wheat, but the proportion of increase can never bo as great in the future as it has been in the last ten years. The primary producer has been goaded to produce as much as he can. That, of. course, has been, in one sense, a good thing, but hehas practically reached the limit in that direction,whilst apparently he has not reached the limit in the taxationhe is called upon to carry. His position is such now that unless something is done to relieve him, disaster stares this country in the face.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– That there be put into power in both the Federal and State Parliaments men who understand primary production and have some sympathy with those engaged in it. In the attempt to bolster up secondary industries, the present Government have increased the burdens of the men on the land without doing any good to the secondary industries. The conditions in Newcastle are a glaring example of that. The secondary industries having been established, some before the Tariff, and some as the result of it, there are’ so many minor regulations, pinpricks, and little difficulties placed in their way that some of those engaged in them are giving up business.
– There are some increased imposts on primary products. Does the honorable member approve of them, or would he reduce them?
– There are a few duties imposed in connexion with primary industries affecting fruit and similar products that are of value to the community, because their effect is to increase production. But I have been pointing out, and the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) knows the truth of the statement as well as I do, that the attempt . to increase production in the secondary industries has failed, whilst at the same time it has added further to the burdens of the primary producers who arc carrying Australia along. Those burdens have become so great that it is impossible for the men who have been pioneering and developing this country and enabling it to pay its way to continue tocarry on. We must seriously consider the existing position.
The Governor-General’s opening Speech has been a distinct disappointment to me, because it proposes only to increase the expense of managing this country. Nearly all the Boards suggested in it can be done without. Their establishment will mean only added expense to the community. What I am pleading for to-day is that the awful burdens which are de stroying the productivity of this country, and breaking the hearts of the people who are keeping it going., should be removed, and not increased.
– We have given the honorable member several opportunities to remove the Government, but he will not help us to do so.
– So far as I can see, the removing’ of the Government does not promise to help the primary producer.
– We can give the honorable member a guarantee that we will not appoint any of the proposed Boards.
– If the honorable member could bring forward a policy which would reduce the taxation imposed on the people who are striving to maintain this country, which would offer encouragement to people who are giving up the struggle to-day to continue the fight, and would restore the primary industries to their old grandeur, and give them the strength and vigour they possessed a few years ago, I should be very glad to see him on this side. So far from this, the honorable member and the party to which he belongs have assisted the Government to increase the burdens upon the primary producers, who are now unable to carry on, and who, in many cases, have been obliged to borrow in order to pay their taxes. It is time both parties reconsidered their position if they seek to be of real value to Australia.
.- I desire to deal with a very important question, namely, the trouble in the pastoral industry, created by incompetent Judges, blundering Governments, and bitter vendettas carried on by certain members of the Ministry and outside bodies. The history of the attempt to wreck the Arbitration Court is very interesting, but the time at my disposal is not sufficient to allow me to go into it thoroughly. However, I shall endeavour to set it out as briefly as possible. ‘ In 1917 the Farmers and Settlers’ Associations and the Graziers Associations of Australia commenced a vendetta, first of all, against the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court; and, secondly, against the President of that tribunal. Certain supporters of the Government, particularly the honorable member for Barker (Mr.
Livingston), apparently instructed by a Graziers Association, submitted certain questions in this House with regard to the length of Mr. Justice Higgins’ appointment as President of the Arbitration Court, and asked whether or not opportunity would be given to the House to discuss the matter of giving His Honour a further term of office. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) ‘was very sympathetic towards the request that the House should be given the opportunity of discussing the merits of President Higgins. For some reason or other, unknown to myself, the Prime Minister has always displayed hostility towards the then President of the Arbitration Court. I could never get at the bottom of the spleen and vindictiveness he has shown towards that gentleman. I know perfectly well that the Chamber of Manufactures and the Pastoralists Union - the Prime Minister’s masters - were anxious to have Mr. Justice Higgins removed from the position of President of the Arbitration Court, but knowing the psychology of the Leader of the Government, I am inclined to think that his extraordinary attacks upon His Honour were made, not only because of instructions from outside bodies, but also for personal reasons. At any rate, the result of a four-years’ campaign of similar attacks was the passage of the Industrial Peace Act in this Parliament. Apart from fixing a tribunal for the settlement of disputes in the coal industry, the Industrial Peace Act was primarily brought into being in order to make the Arbitration Court a subservient tribunal, and no self-respecting President of that Court could, in the circumstances, continue in office. I venture to say that, with the exception, perhaps, of the present President of the Court, no other Judge would have accepted the position in the circumstances in which it was rendered vacant. I hold no brief for Mr. Justice Higgins; I have always contended that his Harvester judgment of 1907, fixing the mininum of £2 2s. per week, was based upon wrong premises. Unfortunately, it was continued through the whole of the subsequent awards made by him, and it rested with Mr. Justice Powers, the present occupant of the position, to make a revolutionary change in this regard. Had he utilized the figures supplied by the Com monwealth Basic Wage Commission, in the cases which came before him for consideration, I would have had no fault to find, but His Honour has brought into operation an extraordinary system which no one understands, not even himself, as can be proved by a perusal of his last six awards. When the Australian Workers Union went before him recently and asked for an award, the most extraordinary position ever brought about by a judicial body was created. The union assumed that if Mr. Justice Powers did not accept a higher rate than was fixed in the Harvester award he, at least, would not accept a lower rate, but contrary to expectations, His Honour after hearing practically all the evidence, intimated to the representatives of the union that it was his intention to make the shearing rate 30s. per hundred. This announcement caused consternation and amazement, not only among the ranks of the workers, but also among the employers, because, after all, the latter have some knowledge of the workings of the Court, and it rested with Mr. Barnes, the Acting General Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, to point out that a mistake had been made, so extraordinary that one would almost doubt the possibility of a Judge making it. As as matter of fact, Mr. Justice Powers admitted that he had made a mistake, and thereupon set out upon a series of blunders, inconceivable, not only to myself, but to many others who are not of my brand of politics or industrialism, and creating a position which is untenable, and can only result in chaos for the pastoral industry. The Acting General Secretary of the Australian Workers Union has commented upon Mr. Justice Powers’ findings as follows: -
The first of these dealt with lost time. The Judge accepted 25 per cent ‘as a fair allowance on this score. , Also, he accepted 439 as a fair weekly tally of the number of sheep shorn per shearer. Obviously, the result, no matter how worked out, should give a net tally, allowing for lost time, of 329 sheep shorn per week. The learned Judge, however, decided to follow a method of his own. Taking a four weeks’ full-time basis, with a consequent aggregate tally of 1,756 sheep, he proceeded to add to the four weeks another week for lost time, and to divide the 1,756 tally by five, in order to arrive’ at the average tally per working week. The result is that an accepted 25 per cent, allowance works out, by these means, at only 30 p?r cent. Instead of the obviously correct answer of 329, the Judge, by his roundabout, fallacious method, provides an obviously incorrect answer of 351. Then, having arrived at the erroneous 351 (made into the round figure of 350) instead of the correct 329, the Judge proceeded to perpetrate blunder So. 2. Here it is: -
– Order! The honorable member is now reviewing the conduct of Judges of the Court, and I do not think he is quite ih order in pursuing that course. The honorable member can see that he is really reflecting upon a Judge and his judgments, and it is not in accordance with parliamentary practice for that to be done unless upon a specific motion dealing with the matter.
– The Prime Minister did worse than that in referring to Mr. Justice Higgins.
– No ! He did not.
– If there is a complaint to be made against any member of the Judiciary, the only way in which it can be done in Parliament is by submitting a substantive motion. The honorable member may do that if he wishes; but he cannot criticise the Judiciary upon the motion now before the Chair. He can discuss the effect of a judgment, but he may not criticise orreflect upon the Judge.
– With all duerespect to yourself, Mr. Speaker, my criticism - if it can be called a criticism - of the Judge has been very mild, in the circumstances, and I donot think I have committed any breach of the Standing Orders in my reference to Mr. Justice Powers. The report goes on to say -
It would, on these figures, be necessary to give to the average shearer about 35s. per 100, if the average number of sheep he shears per week for the time of the expedition is 350, to secure to him £6 12s. 6d., and out of this he has to pay his mess account - about 25s. a week - and 6s. a week for fares. Here the Judge, faced with the problem of multiplying 35s. by three and a half, gets a product of £6 12s. 6d. instead of only £6 2s. 6d. If £6 12s. 6d. was accepted by the Judge as a fair gross return to a shearer shearing 350 sheep per week, his award clearly should have been, not 35s. per 100, but 3Ss. Or, taking the correct data of sheep shorn at 329 and £6 12s. 6d. as a fair gross return to the shearer when working, the rate would work out at 40s., which is the rate the shearers demand.
On the figures applied to this particular case, the award should have been 38s. per 100. There has been a mistake made between 35s. and 38s., even on the erroneous figures submitted by His Honour. The Court has been in an extraordinary position, created, of course, by the desire of the Government to render it an inefficient body, unable to deal with the many claims coming before it. Honorable members know that, during the last two years, we on this side have repeatedly attempted to get the Government to appoint Judges to deal with the cases which congest the Court, and have congested it for over three years. The Government, at the behest of outside influences, brought about an amendment of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act to provide that there must be three Judges to deal with the question of hours. The Government knew, and the Employers Federation, the Pastoralists Union, and the rest of them, knew perfectly well that once the Act was amended it would be impossible to deal with the question of hours until such time as the necessary Judges had been appointed. The Act was amended; and then came a long wait of nearly twelve months before the Government made the necessary appointments. I was on three deputations to the Government with regard to the appointment of Judges. My own organization and others, and many honorable members on this side of the House, appealed to the Government time after time to make these appointments, but no action was taken. It was not until the Pastoralists Union approached the Prime Ministerthat the Judges were appointed.
– The honorable member is quite wrong.
– That is the position.
– It is not. I am speaking of what I know.
– It was not until adeputation from the Australian “Workers Union and the Pastoralists Union had waited on the Prime Minister thatthe Judges were appointed, and that was nearly twelve months after the Act had’ been amended. I invite the honorable Minister to check that statement. In this regard the Government donot stand very cleanly in the eyes of the people of Australia, for if ever there were manipulation and a gross subversion of the duties of a Government, it was in this particular matter. The Act was amended for a specific purpose - to keep the Court inactive through having no Judges to administer it. Then, tardily, the Government made the necessary appointments to deal with the hour question, but from the time the Act was amended, and until those appointments were made, nothing could be done by the Court to deal with the hour question. Yet honorable members opposite talk about the chaos brought about by the industrial unrest. Who is responsible for that unrest? It is Governments such as that constituted by my honorable friends, who use the Court when it suits them, and at another time keep it in such a position that it will not function.
Then we come to a further stage in the comedy, if it may be so termed. For three years the Prime Minister and honorable members opposite have been promising the House that the congestion in the Court would be relieved, but it is only lately that two appointments have been made. The regard in which this Court is held by the legal profession may be gauged from the fact that these jobs had to be hawked all over Australia.
– A little while ago you said the appointments were deliberately delayed. Which is true?
– The honorable member is evidently uncomfortable. The job was offered to almost every barrister in Australia. Perhaps it was offered to the honorable member also.
– You are speaking with knowledge, I presume.
– So highly is the Court regarded by the legal profession that, with the exception of probably one member of it, nobody offered to take the job. The profession knows perfectly well that the end of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is in sight. They know, probably as well as honorable members on this side, that the juntas of the pastoralists and of commerce and industry have decided that the Court must go. The Government have hamstrung it. They have amputated here and there, and have so interfered with its efficiency that the sooner it goes the better for everybody concerned. Two Judges have been ^appointed recently. One is fit, so far a« T, can learn, to occupy a seat on any judicial bench in this country. The other is a man seventy years of age.
– I again ask the honorable member not to pursue that line of debate. It is laid down in May that certain matters cannot be debated, and that reflections must not be cast upon, amongst others, “ Judges of the superior Courts of the United Kingdom, including persons holding the position of a Judge.” Matters affecting these persons can be dealt with only on a substantive motion. The honorable member may refer to the’ dilatoriness of the Government in making appointments, or any matter affecting the appointments, but he cannot question the fitness of the appointees, or animadvert in any way upon their qualifications.
– I think, sir, that you should have waited until I criticised the Judge before you called me to order.
– The honorable member referred to the fitness of one of two Judges, and by implication the unfitness of the other on account of advanced age.
– I resent keenly your reprimand for something I did not do.
– The honorable member criticised one of the Judges by implication, for he suggested that one appointment was improper on account of the Judge’s age. But for that remark I should not have interrupted him.
– The implication was only in your mind, sir.
– The second appointee is Sir John Quick, who is seventy years of age. It might be said that he is too young for the job, in view of the fact that the’ Court is now doddering and on its last legs.
– Order ! I cannot permit the honorable member to continue in that strain. He is disregarding the ruling of the Chair.
– Do you, sir, rule that I cannot say that the Arbitration Court is doddering?,
-I rule that the honorable member may not make disparaging reference to a gentleman who has been appointed to the position of a Judge.
The honorable member is following an improper line of debate in indulging in criticisms which are not permissible unless upon a substantive motion. It is pointed out in May, 10th edition, pages 263-4-
Certain matters cannot be debated, save upon a substantive motion, which can be dealt with by amendment or by the distinct vote of the House, such as the conduct of the Sovereign, the Heir to the Throne, the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, the LordLieutenant of Ireland, the Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, members of either House of Parliament, and Judges of the Superior Courts of the United Kingdom, including persons holding the position of a Judge, &c.
– The fact remains that, while it was possible to get Mr. Noel Webb, of South Australia, to accept one of the vacant positions, the second appointee was Sir John Quick, aged seventy years. I do not think it is necessary for me to further elaborate that fact.
– I hope the honorable member will not do so.
– The Pastoralists Union has, during the last two months, employed a host of solicitors and an army of barristers in the Courts of this country in launching injunctions, rules nisi, mandamuses, and all sort of extraordinary instruments at the Australian Workers Union, in addition to directing an injunction against certain of its own members. If the Pastoralists Union exists merely for the edification and profit of the legal profession, it is doing good work, and the money subscribed by its members goes into the proper channel. Before the President of the Court delivered his award it had been altered, I think, three times; we had spoken to the minutes several times, and he has invited us to appear before him again. Upon the slightest provocation he sends us a letter inviting us to come along to the Court and have a chat. That is an extraordinary feature, and I invite the Attorney-General to look into the proceedings of the Court in regard to the pastoral industry. The Australian Workers Union is in a peculiar position. It has stuck loyally to arbitration. It has done more than any other organization to assist the Court to do its work and function properly. It has done that at some sacrifice, and in that regard I shall quote the remarks of Mr. Justice Higgins. When delivering the main judgment of the High Court in Brisbane recently, when an injunction was granted against myself and certain officials of the Australian Workers Union, Mr. Justice Higgins said: -
I confess that I concur in granting this injunction with deep regret. I cannot divorce from my mind what I learnt as President of the Arbitration Court during fourteen yours. This great union, with more than 100,000 members, has, with the aid of this Court of Conciliation, maintained peace in the pastoral industry, and ninny other industries, since the Court was constituted in 1004. It has submitted even to a reduction of rates, as well as to ninny refusals of the Court to grant demands which the union pressed as being just and reasonable.
What was said by Mr. Justice Higgins cannot be contradicted. In 1917 we applied to the ‘Court for a shearing rate of 30s. per 100. At a later date, because of the increase meanwhile in the cost of living, we made application for a variation of the award. We were entitled to 32s. per 100, but we could not be granted more than the rate claimed in the original application. If we had acted .brutally and callously, and regardless of the interests of anybody but ourselves, as some pastoralists are acting now, we would, during the war, have made the pastoralists pay £4 per 100, and we could have got that rate. At times I have regretted the attitude I have adopted during the four years of my presidency of the Australian Workers Union. I have felt sorry that I was not as brutal and callous as those who to-day attack the union. Nobody can deny the statement I have made; yet injunctions and writs are being issued against the representatives of the union. You may bind me and my colleagues in the Australian Workers Union hand and foot, you may close down our newspapers, and even shut the offices of the union, but those actions will not shear the sheep of this country. What we are asking for is reasonable and just; we have a right to demand it, and it would have been conceded had the Courts of this country been conducted properly. But no; it is thought by the pastoralists and the Government that the time has arrived when the workers may be compelled to submit to drastic reductions of their wage3 and an increase of their working hours. But that will not come about unless a big fight is waged. The members of the organization of which I am president, by resolutions passed at many hundreds of meetings throughout the States affected, have shown them- selves to be determined to resist to the best of their ability the attacks of the pastoralists. I should say here that not the whole of the pastoralists are concerned in the onslaught, and I am borne out by the facts which lie behind certain legal proceedings being conducted in Sydney at present against members of the pastoralists’ organization itself. I emphasize that it is not the majority of the pastoralists who are causing the trouble. If matters were left to the pastoralists themselves they would accept and carry on the agreement under which we have been working during the past two years. The industry has gone ahead without trouble since 1907 ; there is no other industry in Australia which has such a record. The shearers made sacrifices right through, while the pastoralists were on a rising market. They made money all the time, but the workers were trying to catch up with the cost of living and never succeeded. “While it may be said that the Australian Workers Union is breaking the laws of the country, and while the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene) may interject that we have our means of redress, honorable members should understand what that would entail. Does the Minister himself understand? I doubt if he does. What does redress mean? There is only one way by which we can approach the Court, that is by making application for the variation of the award. We could not possibly place that variation before October or November next. Because of the phraseology of the Act, which honorable members opposite have been asked repeatedly to assist us in amending, we are called upon to serve about 6,000 persons throughout Australia with notices. This entails travelling, in many individual instances, over 300 to 500 miles on push “bikes” or motors. We may serve some of the graziers’ organizations; but, in order to secure a variation of the award which will cover any number of pastoralists, there is entailed, on the part of my organization, up to four months’ hard work in merely serving our demand. When people speak of the Australian Workers Union seeking a variation of the award they either do not know what they are talking about, and do not appreciate the consequences which might follow upon the acceptance of their utterances, or they do actually realize that if we .were to take such steps we could not hope to secure relief until after the shearing season is over. And, because of the fact that the Court is congested, our organization would probably not be able to make itself heard before February, March, or April of next year.
An interesting case came before one of the Sydney Courts only a few days ago, when action was taken by J. W. Allen, General Secretary of the Graziers Association of New South Wales, against Messrs. E. H. Mears and Pearson, members of that association, and joint owners of Quantambone station. These gentlemen possess about 100,000 sheep. They desire to conserve their wealth, to avoid possible losses through the attacks of flies, and through breaks in the staple; and they apparently decided that they would grant fair and reasonable compensation to the men who took the wool off their sheep. The Graziers Association, however, between their legal bolts fired at the Australian Workers Union, shot one in the direction of their own people. This action fairly indicates the position in which the Graziers Association finds itself. It has to drag its own members into Court in order to force them to abide by a decision made by the Graziers’ Council. The whole business, of course, is much to the gratification and profit of the legal profession in Sydney.
A fine campaign is being carried on by the Graziers Association at present. I have here a few cuttings from country newspapers. These are headed, “ Shearing Dispute,” and “ Shearing Award,” and the like. They are all the same, however. Accompanying each slip of print is an advertisement, which reads as follows: -
Notice. - Good runs are offering for shearers who intend to work on the rates and conditions of the new Commonwealth award. All names will be kept strictly confidential.
Graziers’ Co-operative Shearing Company Limited, 25 O’Connell-street, Sydney.
This advertisement has appeared, to my knowledge, in fourteen newspapers circulating around the Darling alone. If that total is multiplied by twenty, honorable members may gain an indication of the enormous sums of money being spent solely by the pastoralists of New South
Wales in order to get men to do something, if possible, which is contrary to the best interests of their fellow workers. The publicity scheme of the pastoralists’ organization will avail nothing, however. If advertisements and publicity “ stunts “ could shear sheep, no doubt they would be successful.
What is the position with regard to the industry? It will be just as well to provide an illustration of the actual state of affairs, and of the ability of the pastoralists to pay something reasonable to the men who do the hard work of taking off the wool. Following are the prices of scoured wool in different” years : -
London Scoured Wool. 70’s super fleece. - July, 1914, 32d. per lb.; 4th December, 1921, 40d. per lb.; 2nd February, 1922, 53d. per lb.; 1st May, 1922, 60d. per lb. Increase above July, 1914, 87 J per cent. 64’s good pieces. - July, 1914, 28d. per lb.; 4th December, 1921, 36d. per lb.; 2nd February, 1922, 43d. per lb.; 1st May, 1922, 42d. per lb. Increase above July, 1914, 50 per cent. 56’s fine cross-bred. - July, 1914, 26d. per lb. ; 4th December, 1921, 23d. per lb.; 2nd February, 1922, 26d. per lb.; 1st May, 1922, 29d. per lb. Increase above July, 1914, 11J per cent.
Bradford Wool Tops in Oil. 70’s warp- July, 1914, 33id. per lb.; 26th January, 1922, 60d. per lb.; 23rd February, 1922, 56id. per lb.; 1st May, 1922, 60d. per lb. Increase above July, 1914, 79 per cent. 64’s average- July, 1914,’ 31$d. per lb.; 26th January, 1922, 52d. per lb.; 23rd February, 1922, 50id. per lb.; 1st May, 1922, 55d. per lb. Increase above July, 1914, 74$ per cent. 60’s average- July, 1914, 29id. per lb.; 26th January, 1922, 45d. per lb.; 23rd February, 1922, 43d. per lb.; 1st May, 1922, 48d. per lb. Increase above July, 1914, 63 per cent. 56’s average- July, 1914, 24d. per lb.; 26th January, 1922, 29id. per lb.; 23rd February, 1922, 27d. per lb.; 1st May, 1922, 30d. per lb. Increase above July, 1914, 25 per cent.
This gives some indication of the position in which the woolgrower is to-day. I come now to the average prices - From 1909-10 to 1913-14 (five years), the average price of Australian wool per bale was £12 19s. 2d.; from 1914-15 to 1915-16 (two pearls), it was £18 per bale; from 1916-17 to 1919-20 (four years), it was £25 18s. 8d.; and from 1920-21 to 1921-22 (two years), it was £23 15s. Id. The total value of the clips during the four years of the wool acquisition scheme has been £192,000,000. The following figures give the average weight and value of fleeces shorn: -
Dunlop station wool at recent sales brought 3s. 8$d. per lb. The export value per 1 lb. of Australian wool up till 1917-18 is given as follows :- 1908, 9.17d. ; 1909, 9.35d.; 1910, 9.5Sd.; 1911, 8.87d.; 1912, 9.30d.; 1913, 9.70d.; 1914, 9.45d.; 1915, 11.86d.; 1916-17, 15.&ld.: 1917-18, 16.71d. These figures show that the pastoral industry can very well afford to pay the very moderate demands that are being made by the shearers and shed hands. I have no more to say at this particular juncture. Whether the pastoralists, with their army of lawyers or barristers, succeed in fining me and my colleagues, closing up our newspapers, and placing prohibitive costs upon the Australian Workers Union - whether they go to the extreme course of placing those who are holding official positions in the union in gaol will make no difference whatever to the point at issue. If they want their pound of flesh they will, perhaps, put my colleagues and myself in gaol, and they may do so. Perhaps three months in gaol would give me time to get up some of my back work. Any action which the pastoralists may take will make no difference in the attitude of members of the Australian Workers Union in this matter. They are determined to refuse to shear under an award which is inequitable, unjust, and, to say the least, is an absurdity.
.-From the speech delivered by the Deputy Leader of the Country party (Mr. Fleming), it would appear that the members of his party are not prepared to give the National Government much credit for assistance rendered to the primary producers during the last few years. That there is a difference of opinion between members of the Federal Country party and the Queensland Country party is borne out by the proceedings at a meeting of the Executive ‘Council held in Queensland recently, when a special vote of thanks was passed to the Federal Government for the assistance that had been rendered to the primary producers of Australia.
– The bananagrowers. ‘ ‘
– The honorable member for Kooyong knows very well that in addition to any relief that has been afforded to the banana-growers of Queensland, the present Government have extended benefits to the primary producers of Australia generally. Critics of the National Government might well take into consideration the valuable constructive legislation that has been passed during the last five years. There has been no “go-slow” about the Federal Parliament during that time, no less than 218 measures having been dealt with. In addition to the necessary war emergency legislation, Acts have been passed dealing with repatriation, industrial matters, finance, commerce, and the national problems affecting the lives and interests of every person in the community. The record of the present Government will bear favorable comparison with that of any previous Federal Administration.
I offer my congratulations to the Prime Minister for having visited every State of the. Commonwealth this ‘year. His visit to the coastal districts of North Queensland was especially welcome, for there he had an opportunity of seeing something of its splendid tracts of agricultural land, and he is now in a position to form some opinion concerning the great possibilities of development in that region. He has seen for himself something of the class of men, women, and children who live there, and I have no doubt has come to the conclusion that of all the industries in the north, sugar is king. The Prime Minister has been accused of sitting on a rail, because, he has not declared himself definitely for or against the renewal of the sugar agreement. Possibly his critics forget that his first duty, as Prime Minister,’ is to consult his colleagues in the Cabinet and his supporters before announcing the Government’s policy on this very important matter, but I have not the slightest doubt that he made up his mind, and, at the proper time, will announce his decision. Personally, I am of opinion that much of the opposition to a renewal of the sugar agreement is due to a misunderstanding of the facts. In the southern States it is popular to speak of the sugar-growers as wealthy sugar kings, and on quite a number of occasions they have been described as making immense fortunes out of the industry. The facts, however, tell a different story. At present, out of about 4,000 growers engaged in the industry, only about 2 per cent, pay income taxation. The majority of the growers are farming small areas of from 10 to 50 acres, and the principal drawback of the industry is the great uncertainty of the seasons. Recently I took advantage of an opportunity to visit the north of my State in order to look closely into the merits of the sugar problem. I find that four distinct interests are involved, namely, labour, the grower, the miller, and the refiner. And Labour, with its extensive organization, is lord over all. The miller and refiner, being engaged in business concerns, necessarily have to clear expenses and show a profit on their working. It seems to me that the grower is the victim of all three. That being the position, I do not think that protection through the Customs alone is likely to give the grower any assistance. I therefore favour a renewal of the agreement, with a general overhaul of all the facts in connexion with the industry, as from the producer right to the consumer. The result, I think, would be that we should be able to purchase sugar here at about 4£d. per lb. It has been said that farmers are not made by Act of Parliament. My experience is that farmers are generally made by a process of adverse circumstances, coupled with a spirit of optimism, they are enabled to “ stick it out “ - they never acknowledge defeat. Recently, in the north of Queensland, I met one such man, who told me that in 1914 he bought an area of land on easy terms, which, with the assistance of his two sons, he cleared and planted. The year 1915, however, proved a dry one, and he got no return. In 1916, he had to do the work all over again on an extended area; but one of those periodical strikes which afflict this country occurred, and he was unable to market any crop. The year 1917 proved a good year, and he marketed 1,200 tons of cane, the proceeds of which enabled him to purchase fertilizers and new implements. The future looked bright, but in 1918 thelongtoberemembered cyclone struck his extended area, swept away his buildings, and destroyed the whole of his crop, so that, quite penniless, he had to leave his farm. I am inclined to think that the fact that the Queensland growers supplied the consumers of Australia with the cheapest sugar in the world during the war period is conveniently forgotten by many critics at the present time. It is forgotten that when the outside price was ls. 3d., the consumer in Australia was being supplied at 3d. per lb. Quite a number of critics talk about the world’s parity, but are they prepared to average the world’s price to the Queensland grower since 1914? Do those critics forget that when, in 1914, an application was made to the Inter-State Commission for consideration, the growers were informed that they could have the Australian market to themselves? But almost immediately price control was enforced, with the result that sugar was still sold at 3d., and it was not until the first agreement was made between Queensland and the Federal Government that any relief was afforded. That was in 1915, which was a dry year, and’ the severe drought gave the industry a set-back, lt should be remembered that the Australian sugar industry is the only one of the kind in the world which is completely run by white labour from the field to the consumer. Another forgotten fact is that the present low price of outside sugar is only temporary, and that when there is recovery in the world’s purchasing power, the price of such sugar will be considerably higher than at the present time.
– Why the agreement, then?
– We require the agreement in order to stabilize the industry in the meantime. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert-Best) will probably remember that when the agreement was brought about the growers asked for a period of five years, but Parliament would only grant one of three years. If a period of five years had been granted, the growers would not at the present time be asking for an extension of the agreement. After making due inquiry into the matter, I think a solution would be found in Federal control of the industry under a tribunal representative of workers, growers, millers, refiners, and consumers. With the price based on the cost of production,
Australia would never, I think, have any occasion to regret such an agreement.
I should now like to say a few words in reference “ to the cotton industry, which, during the last two years, has made very extensive progress in Queensland. Last year, between 5.000 and 6,000 acres were under crop, and I believe that something like 1,000,000 lbs. of raw material realized £21,575. The Rockhampton ginnery, this year, treated 823 tons, and something like £53,000 was paid to the growers. It is expected in the coming season that there will be 40,000 acres under crop. The Lands Department of Queensland claims that there is 500,000 acres in the central district suitable for the production of cotton crop. Of this area, there are 168,000 acres of Crown land, at present leased for grazing purposes, and preliminary steps have been taken towards resumption and subdivision, not only for cotton-growers, but for mixed farming. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) the other afternoon said that there are no Crown lands available near railways; but the fact that there is this area I have mentioned is a contradiction of that statement. I understand that the Queensland Government have made a proposal to the Federal Government to settle immigrants on some of these lands ; and I certainly hope that, in the interests of the industry, and in the interests of Queensland, an agreement will be finalized on a satisfactory basis. At the same time, I expect the Government to closely examine the details of the scheme just as was done in the case of the Burnett lands proposition. The latter was discussed here freely yesterday afternoon, and it was. asserted that the Federal Government had broken the promise given to the State Government. In my opinion, the State Premier was simply fooling the people when he asked them to believe any such thing. The £2,000,000 borrowed in America, and now being spent on the construction of certain railway lines, will not nearly finish that work ; indeed, it is quite safe to say that if Commonwealth money had been granted it would simply have been used to find work for the unemployed,, not one penny being made available for the purpose for which it had been asked, namely, the settlement of people from overseas. As a matter of fact, experts disagree as to whether the
Burnett lands are suitable for closer settlement; in any case, it is quite certain that a great deal more than £2,000,000 will be required,, not only to finish the railways, but to give settlers money for the purchase of stock and implements. There are thousands of acres of land available on the Queensland railway system at the present time. On the north coast, between Brisbane and Maryborough, freehold land can be bought at reasonable rates; and in the northern part of the State, hundreds of thousands of acres are still held by the ‘ Grown.
Coming to the question of Repatriation I feel that the Government have loyally attempted to carry out the promises made to our soldiers during the war. I do not claim that applicants have always been satisfied, or that the Department has done all that it should have done ; but the fact remains that up to June last no less than 241,000, or 80 per cent., of the men who returned to Australia, had applied “ for assistance. There have been something like 690,000 applications, and it would have been a matter for wonderment if in dealing with so great a volume of work mistakes had not been made from time to time. I have had occasion to make representations to the Department, and have always found it ready to rectify any injustice. I would urge mope “liberal treatment of limbless pensioners. In my own electorate there is a returned man who had the misfortune to lose both legs. He was anxious to do something that would maintain his interest in life, and an agricultural society appointed him its secretary. Because he receives about £2 10s. a week for discharging the light duties attaching to that office the Repatriation’ Department has reduced his pension. There is a general desire on the part of the people that tho limbless men should have more generous treatment than they are receiving at present.
The time has arrived for a careful review of the whole policy of the Department with respect to War Service Homes. “When these homes were being erected by the Commission the prices of building materials of all kinds were very high, and the result is that those who have acquired WaT Service Homes have a lifelong job if they intend to “ stick it out.” It seems to me that the Government must be prepared to sacrifice a large amount of money in connexion with War Service Homes, because it is” quite impossible for occupiers to pay the’ present high rents, and sooner or later something must be done to afford them relief. It is apparent also that the building policy of the Department has broken down. I have brought under the notice of the responsible Minister the case of an applicant for a War Service Home, who has been informed that at least seven months must elapse before tenders can be called for the erection of the house required by him. Obviously some blundering has taken place. In view of the acquisition of large timber areas and sawmills by the Department there should be no scarcity of timber for this purpose. It would have been better if, instead of sinking so much money in the purchase of timber areas and saw-mills, which are at present idle, the Department had held much of the money so expended for the building of bornes. This is one branch of the Government’s activities for which I have no excuse, and which I have not hesitated to condemn on all occasions.
I intend to support the scheme for Redistribution of Federal electorates, so far as it affects the State of Queensland. I regret, however, that, the Commissioners have not taken care to bring into agreement .the boundaries of the State and Federal electorates. We have for a long time urged that there should be one set of electoral rolls for State and Federal purposes, but because of the failure to bring the boundaries of the State and Federal electorates into line it seems to me that we shall still need two sets of rolls.
– No; they can be easily adjusted.
– I doubt whether they can be.
– But they have already been adjusted in some cases.
– The boundaries of State and Federal electorates in Queensland at all events do not agree, and it seems to me that any attempt now to deal with part of a State electorate so as to bring it into line with the boundaries of a Federal electorate, or vice versa, would, involve much work, and lead to great confusion.
A welcome feature of the GovernorGeneral’s Speech is the promise of the Government to continue its friendly assistance to the primary producers. In Eis Excellency’s Speech, we have the statement : -
My Ministers, recognising the great value of the primary industries to Australia, and the rapidity of their expansion, have taken definite action to open up new markets and further exploit old ones. To this end they have in every way in their power assisted the producers to place their goods upon the world’s market by co-operative effort.
MyGovernment proposes to continue its support of voluntary movements for the collective marketing of primary products upon the same broad principles upon which was based the assistance given by the Government last year to the wheat, fruit, and dairy farmers.
A special effort has been made to improve the standard of the exportable products of the country, and this matter will continue to receive the closest attention.
It is undeniable that Australia has unrivalled opportunities to provide many of the requirements of the people overseas; but more attention must be given to the improvement of the standards of manufacture. Cheaper production can be obtained by co-operative methods; but the farmer seems to be the most difficult section of the community to organize for this purpose. That is more particularly apparent in connexion with the dairying industry. No trouble is experienced in bringing about district organization, but we find factories in different districts, yet within a few miles of each other, in keen competition. There is no occasion for anything of the kind, and I hope that the primary producers will recognise that, in their own interests, they should become better organized than they are at present.
– The Gympie butter factory is turning out a good product.
– Undoubtedly, it is.. I regret that the dairying interests failed to take advantage of the scheme introduced some years ago by the present Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene). Apparently, it is now recognised by them that a mistake was made, because, in the Brisbane Courier of 1st May last, there appeared the following statement, which was made by members of the State Advisory Board, in an interview: -
The leaders of co-operation had a wonderful chance when tho Massy Greene scheme was submitted, to establish the dairying industry in australia for all time. For the first time in the history of Australia, the Commonwealth Government declared, not only its interest and sympathy in co-operation, but intimated that it waa prepared to give it the aid of the law and the public credit. But the opportunity was allowed to pass by, through a hostile vote in Victoria and South Australia, and the votes of a minority of co-operators did it.
– Was there not a constitutional difficulty in their way?
– Queensland accepted the scheme, and I am suspicious that it was the proprietary interests in the southern States that prevented effect being given to it.
-The Constitution prevented effect being given to it.
– I do not think the Minister’s proposal was a hard-and-fast one; and, had the co-dperative dairying interests of Australia gone carefully into the matter, I believe the scheme could have been so amended as to meet their views.
– The State Governments would not give way to the Federal authority, and there was no power to compel them to do so.
– It is news to me that the State Governments were even consulted. The first to be consulted were the dairymen of Australia; and, since they turned down the project, it was useless to refer it to any State Government.
The unification of railway gauge does not appeal to me as a matter of urgency. The cost of material and construction work is so high at the present time that this scheme might well be deferred. I understand that it is proposed to unify the gauges of the main lines connecting the State-capitals, and as the cost of material is likely to drop, whilst the mileage track to be altered cannot increase, no harm would result from a postponement.
– The ultimate object is the unification of gauge for all the railways of Australia.
– I do not see any reason for that, and I think that it is practically impossible. If, at some future time, we have a uniform gauge for the main lines connecting the capitals, we shall have gained a great deal; but many generations will have passed away, I think, before all the railways in Australia are of the one gauge.
The proposal to extend telephone and telegraph services more rapidly has my hearty approval. I have always done my part in. the advocacy of more liberal treatment to the country districts in this matter. But I do not favour the appointment of an Advisory Board to watch the expenditure. The Deputy Postmasters-General can. surely be trusted, remembering their long experience, to overlook the work properly. If they cannot, it is time that a change was made in the management of the Department.
– It is the duty of the PostmasterGeneral to make himself responsible for the economic expenditure of his Department.
– Yes; and were I at the head of the Department, I should expect to be able to check extravagance.
It was pleasing to have the Treasurer’s financial statement the other day; though, like other honorable members, I regret that he could not show that greater savings had been made, because I think that our expenditure could be reduced: without loss of efficiency.
– You must join the Corner party.
– That is not necessary. Ministerialists have, for a long time, been making it clear that they, as much as the members of any other party, favour economic administration. I urge the Treasurer and the other Ministers to give this matter the closest attention. The Treasurer, of course, is at a disadvantage if he is not supported by his colleagues. There is cast on each Minister the responsibility of running the Public Service as economically as is consistent with the general welfare of the community.
.- I should not have spoken on the Address had it not been for the financial statement of the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce). I am glad that he has been appointed to the control of our finances, and I support what my Leader (Dr. Earle Page) has said on the subject. I recognise that the honorable member for Flinders has so recently taken charge of the Treasury that he cannot be fairly criticised for the present unsatisfactory state of the finances, but from now on he must bear responsibility, and, together with the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Richard Foster), whom I am also pleased to see in the Ministry, will be chiefly to blame if proper economy is not observed in the expenditure of public money. The Treasurer informed us that in the financial year just passed the Government had received about £3,000,000 more than the estimated revenue for the year, and had mopped up the whole of that surplus and another £200,000 - a very serious state of affairs. An item in regard to which I should like some information is the £800,000 paid into revenue on account of. the army of occupation in Germany. I should like to know why that item figures in the revenue account. It seems to me that it should be in the loan account, if the original expenditure, as in all probability it did, had come out of loan funds. I take a grave view of the financial position of Australia. The private individual, be he ever so honest, popular, or generous, is looked upon as a failure if he makes a mess of his’ financial affairs; and I think that the careful handling of public money is an essential factor of good government. But money has been slipping through the hands of our Ministers lake water. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) told us last session that men did not get into Parliament - though perhaps he had specially in mind the members of his own party - unless they had merit, ability, and force of character. No doubt that is so, and, no doubt, the Prime Minister has also risen to his high position by virtue of the great abilities, talents, and force of character which ho possesses. Nevertheless, I find myself differing from the right honorable gentleman more and more every day, in regard to the expenditure of public money. The expenditure of both Commonwealth and State Governments of late years must, if continued, eventually lead to financial and industrial chaos; and the Prime Minister reminds me of a child playing with a snake, all innocent of danger. Like an uneducated Eastern potentate who to-day buys a fleet of motor cars, to-morrow sets up an expensive training stable on an . European model, or maintains a ballet, or otherwise spends his revenues on. costly toys, the Prime Minister bought a fleet of steamers ; a little later he , entered upon a shipbuilding programme; then he authorized the spending of a huge amount on the purchase of timber reserves and saw-mills, a transaction which was disgracefully managed throughout Then we have the incredibly foolish proposal for the unification of the railway gauges. Much money, too, has been spent on immigration, and we have got very little return for the expenditure.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I was saying, before the suspension of ‘the sitting, that the Government, which means the Prime Minister, seems to take up with enthusiasm different ventures, such as shipbuilding, the owning of ships, the disgracefullymanaged and now idle sawmills in Queensland, and other matters of that sort. There is also the proposal for the unification of the railway gauges, which I consider to be one of incredible folly. I shall oppose it in every form. I might mention, too, the various immigration schemes, on which large amounts of money have already been spent, and from which, up to the present time, we appear to have derived but little result. I may, perhaps, differ from some of my friends of the Country party on this subject; but my own view is that the very first foundation and the first essential of the spending of money on immigration is the absolute elimination of unemployment in our own country. I go further than that, and say that the only immigration agent I believe in is such a condition of prosperity in the country itself as will bring people here of their own accord, Bnc will - cause the successful man who has made good to write to his friends or bring them here to share in the general prosperity. I believe that the borrowing of great sums of loan money, and the spending of them - unfortunately, wastefully in many cases - far from being a preventive of unemployment, is an absolute cause of it.
The Primo Minister (Mr. Hughes) recently has been in the State, a constituency of which I have the honour to represent, and everybody there was pleased to see him making the trip, and acquainting himself with the various industries .important to the district. There was a certain amount of controversy during his trip regarding the position in the cattle industry. I give the Government credit for realizing that the cattle situation was, and is, very unsatisfactory; but I said then, and I say now, that I am absolutely opposed to the subsidy. The Prime Minister proclaimed broadcast, after I had made that statement, that the Country party in general, and I in particular, did not agree that the position was desperate, and that we were not in favour of the Government helping the industry. The Prime Minister the other day said there was nothing so dangerous as a half-truth, and I think there is no -doubt that half the opposite can also be twisted to give a dangerously false impression. Regarding this very definite statement by the Prime Minister - the statement that I, as a member of the Country party, said the industry waa not in a bad condition, and that I did not believe in the Government helping it - I wish.’ if I may, to refresh my memory by quoting the following report of what I said, which is a very good one except for one small misprint : -
I have noticed that it has been said that the cattle industry is down and out. “ Down “ it certainly, is so far as low prices in the cattle market are concerned, but “ out,” certainly not. 1 have seen very low prices, but Queensland is too good a cattle country, and I have too much faith in the enterprise and pluck of my fellow cattlemen to admit any such thing. But we have to work out our own salvation.
I said quite plainly that I was against the subsidy, because I considered it at best to be ah unsound economic principle, and was only equivalent to robbing Peter to pay Paul. I also showed the Prime Minister - if, as appears to be obvious, he read what I said - how the Government could help the industry. I used the following words : -
The Commonwealth Government, I am afraid, completely overlooks the real cause of the difficulties confronting the primary producers. It is not subsidies that are wanted, but a considerable reduction in the cost of, and expenditure by, State and Commonwealth Governments. I estimate that the State and Commonwealth Governments all over Australia are taking from the people from £12,000,000 to £15,000,000 a year more than is economically sound. A great deal of this money is spent unnecessarily, and in only too many cases actually wasted. ‘
I say, again, it is not our wages that will ruin us; it is our high land taxes (State and Federal!, our high income taxes (State and Federal), the increased rents under the Repudiation Act; the high railway freights; and the greatly-increased Customs Tariff.
Far from saying that I did not wish the Government to help the industry, I pointed out very clearly the way in which the industry should, and could, be helped. I did not say to the Prime Minister that he should not get on the horse, but I said that he should not get on facing its tail. I- am myself a cattleman. I was bora on a cattle station, and I have been working cattle all my life, except at such times as when I happened to be soldiering or in politics. I think I know the actual cattle side of the pastoral industry fairly well, and .1 have interests in various cattle proparties. I should be an absolute fool to express the opinions that the Prime Minister has tried to put into my mouth. I saw in a newspaper a little while ago a letter from a correspondent who, writing from the West, Bald - “ The other day a thousand cows were sold here for £1. This is a crushing retort to the Country partymembers who say the industry is not m a bad way.” That letter shows that that false impression, to a certain extent, did get abroad. I am glad to say that here in this ‘ House neither the Prime Minister nor. anybody else can put words into my mouth. The Government can help the cattle industry by relieving taxation. At present the industry, as well as most of us in Australia, is being ground between the upper and nether millstones of State and Commonwealth taxation. Does not the cattle owner in Queensland find himself in .a ridiculous position t The State Government there went into a huge cattle-raising venture, gave wild prices, and within a few years, at a fair estimate, has lost £1,000,000. It then turned around and raised the cattle-owners’ rents. The- Commonwealth Government proposed a subsidy of id. per lb. on meat, and the same week the cattlemen received requests for payments of Federal land tax on leasehold territory. I do not know whether tho Government are going to pay the proposed subsidy on the frozen meat which the Queensland Government export from ‘ their cattle stations, but if they do, it will be an extremely comical state of affairs.
– The principal thing the Government did was to bring down freights and wages, and the benefits the industry received were very substantial.
– I believe that I speak for most of my colleagues when I say that we do not believe that the position can be solved by reducing wages; the parrot-cry of lower wages is not the solution of all our difficulties. There are two ways in which I think the position can be met, one of which is to reduce extravagant Federal and State Government expenditure, and the other is for the workmen to disregard the poisonous doctrine that the employer is their natural enemy, and is anxious to pay them as little as possible. I do not believe that an increased number of working hours is necessary, and in industries where it is practicable a forty-four hour week should be adequate. The whole question depends,’ however, on the employee giving keen and loyal service for the wages he receives.
– Do the members of the party to which the honorable member belongs favour a forty-four hour week?
– I said where it is practicable. I do not join with the Prime Minister in his howl concerning the calamitous condition of the industry, as it is one in which I, as also my fellow cattlemen, have great faith. The present situation has been, to a great extent, brought about by our own fault, because some years ago the various works iu Queensland entered into an arrangement under which each establishment should operate only in . its own district. That placed the cattle-raisers absolutely in their hands, and the extraordinary position -has now arisen that there is not a single meat-handling establishment in Queensland conducted on a co-operative basis. The cattlemen of Queensland have had more extensive resources than the dairy farmers, but the latter have their own factories in Queensland, and although their scheme may not be complete ‘they are, to a great extent, handling their produce in their own factories and transporting it to England, thus eliminating the. profits of middlemen. The first thing for the cattlemen of Australia to do, particularly those in Queensland, is to acquire or construct co-operative works of their own and do their best to send meat to Great Britain in a chilled form. We could offer a reward - the Government could assist us if they cared to do so- for means to enable us to send meat in a chilled instead of a frozen form, because the consumer in Great Britain is evidently now demanding chilled and not frozen meat. . If such a reward’ were offered, the engineering staffs on the boats carrying the meat should participate. Improvements- in the /present methods’ can be made in several directions, and, in addition, we should insist on having a Government which will not commandeer our meat when it is bringing a fair price and also one which does not favour fixation of prices. It would be better if tho cattlemen, moved in their own interests instead of crying to the Government for a subsidy; all such assistance will not tend to produce the virile and independent Australians of whom tho Prime Minister speaks. We should endeavour to help ourselves, and, as f ar as the cattle industry is concerned, use our own, efforts to get our products direct to the consumers in England through our own channels instead of depending upon the assistance of others.
Mr. PARKER MOLONEY (Hume) [2.35J. - Looking through the speech pot into the mouth of the Governor-General, one is struck more by what it does not contain than by what is in it. Still it contains so much that it would require a longer time than is permitted under the Standing Orders to deal with it as one would wish. It, perhaps, establishes a record in the number of Boards, Commissions, and such like bodies, which the Government propose to -appoint. In the light of. past experience, - one can. only conclude that, these Boards and Commissions are to be appointed merely for the purpose of enabling the Government to shirk responsibility which they should be called upon to shoulder.
– The honorable member is a member of one such body.
– The honorable gentleman reminds me that I am a member of one such body, and in this connexion I may tell the House something by way of illustration of the statement I have just made. Na great exception could be taken’ if the Government were prepared, after appointing Boards and Commissions, to give effectto their recommendations, but past experience has shown that the present Government will da so only if those recommendations happen to suit the political interests affected by them.
A paper was laid on the table this morning which reveals a state of things that is somewhat alarming. I do not know how many honorable members have gone’ through the paper, but, as one conversant with, the -whole history of the case with which it deals, I may refer to it as illustrating my statement that- the Government give effect to the findings or re-: commendations of Boards and Commissions only when they happen to suit persons interested who are their political friends. That: is a serious statement to make, I admit, and if I were not prepared to follow it up with concrete evidence in support, it is a statement which should not be made. As a result of continuous inquiries by the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) and myself, we had placed on the table this morning a statement setting forth the terms of the reference which is being considered at the present time by Sir Mark Sheldon with regard to the Kidman and Mayoh shipbuilding contract. To go into the whole history of the matter would take a very long time, but let me say briefly that this was a reference which was submitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works some fifteen or eighteen months ago.
– After the Public Accounts Committee had already had a, look at- it.
– That only makes the matter worse. .Evidently the finding of the Public Accounts Com.mittees did not suit certain interests, and the matter was then handed over to the Public Works Committee. ‘
– What was the reference to the Public Works Committee?.
– It was, amongst other things, the question, “ Should this firm be relieved of its contract?”
– It was that alone.
– The contract was to build two wooden ships for the Government. The contractors were months and months at work on them, and without going into a great deal of matter which may be referred to later, the contractors tried to sell them, but were unable to do so, because they could not get Lloyd’s certificate for the ships. They then came to the Government, and said, “ We want to be relieved of our contract. If you will, hand this matter over to the Public Works Committee, we will abide, by its decision.”
– On that issue.
– The contractors ‘ said, “ We. want to be relieved of our contract. We cannot supply the goods. We signed an agreement to turn out the ships according to certain plans and specifications, but cannot do so.” They turned the job in, and came to the Government asking to be relieved of their contract. The Government had paid them over .£100,000, and they could not honestly do what waa asked. The contractors requested that the matter should be loft to the decision of the Public Works Committee, belieiving that there was no member of the Committee who knew a great deal about shipbuilding. I quite admit that there were nob many members of the Public Works Committee who knew very much about shipbuilding, but tho matter having been handed over to us, we had to do the beet we could. The contractors signed a statement to abide by the decision of the Public Works Committee
– On that issue.
– Should they be relieved of their contract?
– Yes. That was the only issue.
– The honorable gentleman seems to be very emphatic about the issue. The members of the Public Works Committee occupied moi! tha inquiring into Hie matter, and the inquiry entailed considerable public expenditure. We went on to the ships, and gob a shipping expert to guide us, and briefly we found that the ships wore not built in accordance with the plans and specifications.
– And that the cantractors should not be relieved of their contract, and they were not relieved of it.
– The Minister should not interject so much, as he will have an opportunity of making a statement. If he continues to show so much concern about this matter, I may be induced to remind him of what he said to me about it.
– Let the honorable member do so. The recommendation of the Public Works Committee waa that the contractors should not be relieved of their contract.
– The honorable gentleman has invited me to remind him of what he said about the matter.
– Yes; let the honorable member do so. - Mr. , PARKER MOLONEY.- The Minister said to me that, in his opinion, these gentlemen should be in gaol for the manner in which they turned, out those ships.
– I say so now.
– The honorable gentleman further told me not to ask him any more questions about the matter, because, although he waa Minister in charge of shipbuilding at the time, it was taken out of his hands, and he was not allowed to go on with it.
– I did not say that; but I repeat now that some one should be in gaol for the work put into those ships.
– The honorable gentleman was Minister in charge of shipbuilding at the time, and he came to me, and said, “ Do not ask me any more questions about this matter; it has been taken out of my hands.”
– -That ia nob correct-. What I said was that the honorable member should address his questions to the Prime Minister, because, the AttorneyGeneral or Sir Robert Garran was dealing with the whole question.
– If the honorable member will refresh his memory he will remember what he really said.
– My memory is as good as that of the honorable member.
– I asked a number of questions to which the honorable gentleman could give me no answer, and finally he said, “ Do not ask me any more questions, because the Prime Minister has taken the matter out of my hands.”
– I never said anything of the kind. That is a gross fabrication.
– The honorable gentleman also said that these individuals should be in gaol, and I quite agree with him.
– I say that now.
– The Minister repeats that statement now, and in view of the fact that he has gone right into the whole matter, the charge I make here to-day is all the more serious. The Minister says that these people should be in gaol, and yet, as I have said before, and now repeat, the Government have appointed a last Commission as a white-washing Commission, and for no other purpose. The members of. the Public Works Committee found that the ships wens not built in accordance with the plans and specifications. The expert took us down to the boats, and we went into them with ships’ knives. The expert marked what should be the edge bolte, or through bolts of the ships, and he showed us where they had beenleft out. He explained that there was nothing more essential to the stability of the ships than that every one of theedge bolts should be put in. He further said that 60 per cent. of them were left out of the ship. In those oases there were no through bolts put in at all, and in view of the price of steel at the time, we can imagine what the contractors must have saved by leaving them out. To make a long story short, the last word the expert said when asked what would become of the ships if they were taken outside the Beads, waa that they would be found at the bottom of the ocean. They were unseaworthy, and in our report we said that they were unseaworthy and that the contractors should not be relieved of their contract. I was particularly anxious to know whether the terms of the reference to Sir Mark Sheldon were identical with those of the reference to the Public Works Committee. According to the paper laid on the table this morning, Sir Mark Sheldon was asked to ascertain -
The Public Works Committee had already found that the contractors should not be relieved of their contract, and Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh signed an agreement to abide by the decision of that Committee, yet now the Government appoint a Commission to do what the Public Works Committee has already done.
– The Committee decided that the Government should not accept delivery, and this new Commission has been appointed to say whether they should or not. The second paragraph of the reference to Sir Mark Sheldon was as follows : -
Hero we have a company which fails to deliver its goods and asks to be relieved of its contract. The Government decline to do so, and the contractors throw in their job and do notproceed any further. The ships are being cut up for firewood. Tramps are camping in them. For months the company have done nothing with the vessels. And now the Government appoint a Commission to say whether Government money should be paid to people who have refused to go on with their contract. The Commission constituted bySir Mark Sheldon was held in camera. The Public Works Committee found that the room they usually occupy in Sydney was taken up by this Commission. The press were not admitted to it. According to the paper laid on the table Sir Mark Sheldon was given power -
The Government bound him by no rules. He took his evidence in secret. However, I do not propose to pursue the matter further. The other day I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to let the House and the country know the findings of this Commission, and he informed me that Sir Mark Sheldon was oh his way to America and would forward his findings from Fiji. Why was this matter handed over to a man who had already booked his passage to America? Why was it hurried, and why was the Commission held behind closed doors? On the face of it, from what we know at present, the whole thing has a very fishy odour about it. I leave the matter now until we know the findings of the Commission, but no matter what they may be, nothing can justify the action of the Government in appointing three sets of Commissioners, because, according to the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), even before the Public Works Committee took the matter in hand, the Public Accounts Committee had instituted an inquiry into the matter.
– The Public Accounts Committee instituted their inquiry of their own volition.
– That is so.
– What was used on the vessels in place of the steel bolts ?
– The bolts were supposed to be through-bolts, but they were really short bits of bolts, clinched on one side and clinched on the other of a double set of timbers, to have the appearance of through-bolts connecting the two timbers. We were invited to pass knives between the timbers in order to see whether the bolts did go right through or not, and in 60 per cent, of the cases we found that they did not. With such evidence before us there should be nothing more to say about the matter, and I quite agree with the Postmaster-General (Mr. Poynton), who was Minister in control of shipping at the time, that these people should have ‘been put in gaol. I am not exaggerating when I say that if they had been supporters of honorable members on this side of the .Chamber they would have found themselves where they ought to be, that is, in gaol.
– Could the honorable member show, from the evidence taken by hie Committee, who was responsible for those bolts?
– The people responsible were those who signed the agreement to turn out these vessels in accordance with the plans and specifications. I shall have something more to say on this matter, and I hope that the House and the country will have something to say upon it, when we have before us the findings of Sir Mark Sheldon. But whatever they may be, I repeat that the Government were not justified in appointing a Commission to do work which the country had already paid a Committee to do. However, it seems useless to point out anything to the House. During the last few days two censure amendments have been debated, but no matter how serious the statements made by honorable members might be, it seemed possible for the Prime Minister to use any amount of camouflage, talk about a thousand irrelevant matters, and cause his supporters to laugh at his so-called jokes, and in that way cover up important questions such as that to which I have just drawn attention.
– Does the honorable member claim that his statement this afternoon is a fair statement of facts?
– I am making a statement of facts.
Mi’. GREENE - But is it a fair statement of facts?
– What do you mean?
– The honorable member knows that the facts of the case have been put before him.
– I am making a statement of facts, and if the Minister says it is not a fair statement, I invite him to read the report of the Public Works Committee on Kidman and Mayoh’s contract. But if he questions the fairness of any statement I am making now, let him do so before I pass from the subject.
– The facts will be told to the House.
– But the Minister infers, that I am making an unfair statement. Let him show now where I have been unfair.
– The House will be told.
– And I hope that when the House is told, the facts will be given also. All that I have used in my remarks to-day upon this matter has been taken from the paper laid on the table of the House this morning, and from the evidence educed by the Public Works Committee from witnesses. That Committee found that the two vessels had not been built in accordance with the plans and specifications, and that the contractoi’3 should not be relieved of their contract. Yet a Commission was appointed to go over the same ground. Why should there be a secret and hurried Commission of inquiry by a man who had already booked his passage across the seas?
– Is Sir Mark Sheldon an expert in shipbuilding?
– I do not know. The Government have an apparently servile majority, and it does not seem to matter whether we prove charges of corruption or anything else. They simply camouflage everything by speeches from the Prime Minister.
We had an example of this yesterday. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) made very serious statements in regard to the sugar question, and the Prime Minister made no attempt to answer them. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the deficit of £1,312,000. It is fifteen months since that deficit was known, and as sugar has been 6d. per lb. ever since, the extra 1½d. included in that price would have represented over £4,000,000.
– That is absurd.
– It is not absurd, because, allowing for rebates to jam manufacturers, there would still be an amount of between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 to be accounted for. There was another set of figures placed before us to-day, and no attempt has been made to answer them.
The Prime Minister speaks of what various conferences are doing, and talks about some other people ‘having lost their souls, as if he were an authority on such a matter at all. The question of immigration and the Government’s attitude is wiped aside. The claim made by the Labour party is that before other people are brought’ here from overseas we should make provision for the settlement of our own citizens on the land; but the Prime Minister tells us that Mr. Theodore advocates putting our own people on the land, whereas this Government stands foi bringing in immigrants.
The Prime Minister, in his endeavour to prove that the Opposition were not instrumental in having Australia represented at the Washington Conference, read extracts from speeches by honorable members on this side criticising the Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Pearce) as representative of Australia a.t the Conference. Here are the Prime Minister’s own words, showing that after every effort had been made in this House by members on this side to have a delegate sent to Washington, the Government had really abandoned the idea -
It was only after the United States of America slammed the door in our faces that we relinquished the effort to send a delegate to Washington.
That is a definite statement by the Prime Minister that the idea of representation, at Washington was abandoned until the party on this side proposed that delegates should be sent.
– President Harding declared that he never slammed the door in our faces.
– Yet, the Prime Minister says that he relinquished the idea, although the door was never slammed. One has only to study the attitude of honorable members opposite to know the reason for some of the things that have happened.
I never saw this House so full as it was when the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts) was speaking yesterday, and the reason was that honorable members opposite expected to hear something that would discredit the Labour party.
– I never saw the honorable member look so glum.
– I never saw the Minister look so glum as when he was listening to the reply made by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Lambert) to the charges made by the honorable member for Cook. Every person who had left the Labour movement . in recent years was either in the House cr in the gallery waiting expectantly to hear what was to be said by the honorable member for Cook. The charges had been very well rehearsed, and inspired statements had appeared in the press for days ahead, to the effect that we were seeking means to deprive the honorable member of the opportunity of making his speech. There was not an honorable member on this side who took the slightest notice of the honorable member; we knew exactly what his statements were worth. It 3annot be said that we did not give him every opportunity to make his statement. We made not one interjection while he was speaking, and after he had discharged his “ dud “ - and it is no exaggeration to say that it was a “ dud,” having regard to the fact that many honorable members opposite had expected to hear the most sensational statements - I heard a dozen honorable members on the Ministerial side say, after the reply by the honorable member for West Sydney, that the honorable member for Cook should not have been allowed to say such dirty things in Parliament under cover of privilege. After his statement proved to be a “ dud,” all the unhappy faces were on the Ministerial side. To every charge made by the honorable member for Cook, a complete answer was given by the honorable member for West Sydney, and in such a way as to cause honorable members opposite to look exceedingly glum. The Argus newspaper, which has never said a kind word of the Labour party, endeavoured to be fair in its comments this morning upon yesterday’s debate, and says that “the honorable member for Cook will learn from hie experience in the House of Representatives yesterday that it is far easier to make these slanderous statements than to prove them.”
– I will give you plenty of proof yet.
– No doubt, the honorable member realizes that he must say a lot more to support the statements he failed to prove yesterday: If his further statements are likely to prove as much a “ dud “ as was the speech ho made yesterday, he is welcome to them all, but I doubt whether he will get much assistance from honorable members opposite in making any more of these socalled disclosures. The honorable member for Cook may continue making his statements till Doomsday for all we care, and the Government are welcome to the company of all the persons who are rejected from the Labour party.
– I object to being disposed of in that fashion.
– The honorable member is in a different category, because he does not make wild, reckless, and malicious statements under cover of parliamentary privilege, without being game enough to repeat them outside.
– Those statements have been made outside; they appeared in the Sydney Sunday Times.
– The honorable member for “West Sydney (Mr. Lambert) challenged the honorable member for Cook to repeat his statements outside the House, and promised him that if he did so he would be taken to a place where he would have an opportunity of proving them.
If the Government were guilty of half the faults charged against them by the Deputy Leader of the Country party, the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) this morning, they are not worthy of the place they occupy in this House; but if the honorable member believes his statements to be true, I cannot for the life of me understand why, in connexion with the two censure motions that have been moved since the opening of the session, he has chosen to sit cheek by jowl with the Government, and help the Government to keep in power.
– “ Of two evils, choose ye the leaser.”
– That is an admission ‘by the Minister that he and his Government constitute one evil.
– We feel that we can do without either the Government or the Opposition.
– The honorable member successfully manages to lead a number of people outside to believe that his party is in some way different from the Government party. Unless he could do that, I presume, a Ministerial supporter would, occupy his seat. But that contention cannot be proved by mere speeches and statements; the one evidence that will prove the relationship of the Country party to the Nationalist party is the record of the votes in this House. Let me examine a little more closely the statement of the honorable member. He, and, I think, all the. other members of the Country party, attended a conference . of primary producers in Adelaide recently. They were invited to do. so, presumably because the convenors thought that they were a party separate and distinct from the National party. The honorable member for Robertson, who is Deputy Leader of the Country party, on that occasion referred to taxation, and the fact that a large number of landholders were destroying their stock rather than pay taxation on it.
– Not a large number - some of them.
– Last session an opportunity was afforded the honorable member to grant relief to those persons for whom he pretended so much concern. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), on behalf of the Labour party, moved an amendment to the Taxation Bill to relieve tho primary producer of taxation on the natural increase in his stock. (Hansard, page 14159). The amendment was carried on the voices, in error. The Prime Minister finding that the amendment would involve a loss of a certain amount of revenue, decided to recommit the Bill. I know of a man who had 5,000 cows, and every calf from, these cows died after he had paid taxation on them. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Gwydir would have relieved the stockraiser of that impost; but every member of the National party and every member of the Country party present, with one exception, voted against it. The Leader of the Country party, after speaking strongly in favour of the amendment, did not vote at all, but the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Robert Cook), the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), the honorable member for New England (Mr. Hay), the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter), the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse), and the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Wienholt), voted with the Government for the simple reason that the Prime Minister had cracked the whip. Yet those honorable members went to a conference in Adelaide and held up their hands in holy horror of a state of affairs which compelled the primary producers to shoot their cattle rather than pay taxation upon them. When they had an opportunity to remove that injustice they cither ran away or voted with the Government against the primary producer. I say emphatically that it is about time that honorable members of the Country party discontinued the farce in which they are engaged. They go about the country declaring that they are different from the Nationalists, but every vote shows that, they are really a wing of the National party. And that is not all. If honorable members will look up the records of the votes cast in this chamber during last session there will be revelations. I have before me a list of divisions associated with various subjects of interest to primary producers. Those votes reveal that upon every occasion when the Government took the stand that the opposition being shown them was in the nature of a censure motion, or was deemed to be of a vital character, honorable members in the corner consistently went to their aid in order to keep them in power. Votes count; their records remain. Spoken words, either inside or outside this House, count for nothing. Every primary producer will know at the next election just how members of the Country party voted upon these essentially and vitally country questions.
I wish to deal now with the reference in the Speech to the proposals of the Government for raising a loan to cope with postal, telephonic, and mail service arrears. This announcement may be said to be analogous to a death-bed confession. At any rate, it has not been made until the eleventh hour, after two and a half years in which the country has been starved of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic facilities. During the closing hours of last session a proposition was placed before the Government, from this side of the House, which involved the raising of a loan to meet urgent requirements of the Postmaster-General’s Department. The then Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Wise), had been saying over and over again that the money was not forthcoming to cope with arrears and meet the demands upon his departmental interests. The Opposition urged that if the PostmasterGeneral did the right thing he would secure the flotation of a loan. However, a deaf ear was turned to the suggestion. During the recess, however, the Government have evidently been deliberating over the proposal, and now, at the last moment, they announce their intention, in order to catch up with postal arrears, to do something following exactly on the lines propounded by the Opposition. It is safe to say that over £10,000,000 worth of work in respect of the services of the Postmaster-General’s Department is waiting in country districts all over Australia, and if this amount were spent in the way I suggest, it would prove a sound investment, as a sure profit would accrue. When the Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), referred to this subject a couple of days ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) endeavoured to camouflage the issue. The right honorable gentleman said, “ The Fisher Labour Government did not do as much as this Government have done in the direction of providing telephonie, telegraphic, and mail services for the country.” And the Prime Minister added, “ Look at the record of the Labour Government.” I have done so. and it is obvious that the right honorable gentleman could not have done so. The practice, before the advent of a Labour Go- vernment, had been that, whenever it was proposed to provide a mail service or install telegraph or telephone connexion ‘ in, a country district, an inspector would be sent out to secure an estimate- And the people who were to be benefited by the new facility would be called upon to make up the whole of the deficiency upon that particular service. It was a Labour Government which first decided to relieve country residents of half the amount of deficiency. That was a generous concession, which had never even been hinted at by any previous Administration. I repeat that I have accepted the invitation of the Prime Minister to look at the record of the Labour Government; and I have found, and demonstrated, that it towers head and shoulders above the record of any other Government in the same direction. The Government have now made their belated announcement regarding the flotation of a loan for the services of the Postmaster-General’s Department. As long ago as upon 26th August, 1920, an amendment was moved upon a motion then under discussion in this House to the effect that the Postmaster-General be requested to provide increased postal and telephonic facilities- for country districts. I have heard honorable members of the Country party urge greater activity along these lines; but when a vote was taken in respect of that amendment only five of their number voted for it; eight voted against it. The charge which I level against members of the Country party is that country people have been denied urgent facilities because those who claim to directly represent them in this Parliament have made it impossible for the services to be granted. They have kept the Government in power, and, therefore, they must share the responsibility for many serious misdeeds of the Government.
– But they will have a paragraph in the papers next week announcing that they are critical, and that they are “watching things.’’
– Prom day to day we see statements in the press that the Government are going to be dealt with when the House meets again, but when honorable members of the Country party took no action and honorable members on this side moved motions affecting the very country districts that honorable members of the Country party are supposed to represent, we found them falling over one another to keep the Government in office.
I desire now to say a few words as to the attitude of the Government towards the primary producers. We have heard it said so often that it has become quite a hoary statement, that the Government intended to do something to help primary producers, not only on the land, but also to market their products.
– We are going to continue to help them to market their products.
– Well, I advise the honorable member to read some statements made by Mr. McClintock, a returned soldier settler of Nathalia. It will be most enlightening, I am sure, especially as other mon are similarly situated. Mr. McClintock stated that he had spent £500 in buying 63 acres of land at Nathalia, and sent 380 cases of peaches and apricots to Melbourne for a gross return of £48 5s. 9d. He sent for 500 cases to get his grapes away, and found it cost him £25 to land the cases on his farm.
– The high cost of labour in making the boxes may have been responsible for that.
– The Minister knows very well that the middleman, standing between the producer and the consumer, is responsible for this state of affairs, but members on the Ministerial side of the House will not raise a hand to interfere with these gentlemen. But let me continue with Mr. McClintock’s story. He said that of his last 70 cases, the account sales showed that 40 cases had been consigned to the tip as unsaleable - he declared they were excellent in quality - and that his return for the balance of 30 cases was £3 2s. 6d., from which’ had to be deducted the agent’s commission, leaving him the handsome sum of lis. Id.
– 0£ course, blame the Government for that!
– Of course; because the Prime Minister and his supporters say to the consumer, “ Produce, produce, produce, and the Government will find a market for your products.”
– We took more than lis. duty off cultivators, which you voted for.
– The honorable member for Swan is now only trying to camouflage the position and to save the Government from criticism. As a matter of fact, he ought to be standing up in this House denouncing the Government for such a state of affairs as this, because he knows that the present wasteful system of distribution, which allows the middleman to come in between the producer and the consumer and reap undue profits, is accountable for this state of affairs to a large extent.
I shall conclude by saying that it is a deplorable attitude for the Prime Minister to take up, when criticism is offered - provided it is fair, and based upon facts - to endeavour to evade the issue by the introduction of extraneous matters. The Prime Minister spoke of what he calls the corruption in the Labour movement, and mentioned the fact that we are not free agents. Well. 1 think the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) has had an experience lately in regard to his recent criticism of the Prime Minister.
– He got a caning for it.
– Yes. Tho honorable member for Kooyong, I believe, suggested that the Prime Minister acted the part of a despot and a tyrant, and was bringing the country to ruin. Of course, I do not know what was said upstairs, but it is generally understood that the Prime Minister told the honorable member for Kooyong, most emphatically, that if he wanted to indulge in criticism of the Leader of the Government, he must do it upstairs - not outside. Since then the honorable member for Kooyong, as well, as the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who also had something to say about the Prime Minister prior to the meeting of the House, have been very silent. As a matter of fact, the honorable member for Kooyong has not ventured to open his .mouth this session.
– The honorable member has plenty of imagination.
– Of course, there must be a certain amount of imagination about what I am saying, because one can only go by what one hears as to what happened upstairs. I was not privileged to attend that meeting, and a report of the proceedings has not yet appeared in the press; but looking at the honorable member for Kooyong as he sits in this chamber, and also the honorable member for Fawkner, one can draw certain deductions. I think the honorable member for Fawkner accused somebody of being a humbug, and I understand a section of the Melbourne press intimated to him that criticism of that nature would not lead him anywhere.
– I answered that criticism on the public platform, but it was not reported.
– I saw a statement in the press this morning - I do not know whether it is true - that the honorable member had condemned the Government in regard to certain matters in this House last week; but I believe he said that while he criticised the Government he was not prepared to vote to put the Government out of office. What is the good of that kind of criticism? It would be just as well if the honorable member followed the example of the honorable member for Kooyong - sat down and said nothing.
– What about the honorable member for Henty?
– Well, he is another silent member, so far, this session.
– The honorable member forgets that if I voted to put this Government out of office I would be voting to put his party in.
– That, of course, was the reason why the paper to which I refer took the honorable member to task.
– And I think I said something about choosing the lesser of two evils.
– Well, that means the present Government, so far as their own supporters are concerned, may do anything they like, and the Prime Minister, knowing this, takes advantage of it. The Prime Minister will not mend his evil ways so long as it is known that when it comes to the “ pinch,” the honorable member for Kooyong will choose the lesser of two evils, in regard to which, of course, he himself is the judge.
When a statement is made about corruption on the part of the Labour party, the honorable member for Kooyong and the honorable member for Fawkner, listen very attentively, and say, “ Sow awful!” One would think that never a statement was made against their own Prime Minister and party. But, during the recess - I mention this amongst other statements made - a newspaper, which has, perhaps, the largest circulation in this country, and is controlled by people of wealth, who are certainly “ worth powder and shot,” made a statement against the Prime Minister which I should be sorry to have made against the Leader of the Opposition if that gentleman did not spend his last shilling in his own defence. «
– What was the statement?
– The statement was that in the interests of the Shipping Combine some twenty-one ships of the Commonwealth Line, of which the names were given, had been laid up for the purpose of boosting up shipping freights. The statement gave the name of a man who is one of the moving spirits of the Shipping Combine, Sir Owen Cox.
– Does the honorable member take notice of every irresponsible lie in the newspapers ?
– Why is so much credence given to statements made her© under cover of parliamentary privilege? That statement against the Prime Minister was made by a newspaper outside, and the writer drew his own deductions, and said that Sir Owen Cox was the treasurer of the committee which raised a fund of £25,000 for presentation to the Prime Minister. This was a definite statement), and one, as I have said, not made under cover of parliamentary privilege. If the statement is an incorrect one, tho Prime Minister has an opportunity to add to his £25,000, though the trouble is that if he does take action he may lose some of it. Otherwise, I presume, the Prime Minister would take action in defence of his own good name.
– He hasn’t one!
– Then , foi- the protection of the good name that the Prime Minister says he has, he ought to take some action to force this newspaper to prove a statement which, if not true, is highly slanderous.
– Was it a statement of fact or of opinion ?
– It, was a statement. I refer to the matter merely for the purpose of showing how lightly Government supporters brush aside such allegations against their own leaders, and with what interest they listen to statements made against the Labour party under cover of parliamentary privilege. No statement made here, even under cover of privilege, could be more serious than a statement of that kind made outside the House. I say this in order that when such statements are made against the Government, the Prime Minister will not camouflage them by the introduction of totally irrelevant matters, and, when he talks of corruption on this side, !he will remember that “people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” Let the Prime Minister look into the political life of himself and his party, and he will find enough to occupy his time without endeavouring to turn public attention to wrong-doings elsewhere.
I repeat what I said at the beginning, that the Government is deserving of condemnation, also for what is omitted from the Governor-General’s Speech. I have made statements regarding the shipbuilding contract, based on facts shown in the evidence that was given, and on the paper placed on the table of the House. I hope that after we have further information in regard to the finding of the Commission the country will be informed exactly as to the kind of thing that is tolerated only because of a servile majority on the Government side, which is prepared to back the Prime Minister in any action he chooses to take.
– I desire to say a few words in regard to the matter referred to by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney). I think I am not mistaken in expressing the belief that that honorable member knows that the facts to which I will refer were communicated by letter to the Public Works Committee, of which he is a member. He will remember certain contracts that were made with Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh for the construction of certain ships. Questions were raised about the construction of two of the ships, and finally a letter was written by Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh, containing the following: -
It is suggested for consideration that if the Government can see its way clear to relieve us from our contract we will urge that the matter be referred to the Public Works Committee with a view of their making a report on the whole position and considering the question of the compensation which might be allowed us. If the Government can see its way clear to meet our request we hereby agree to abide by the decision of the Public Works Committee, whatever it may be.
That letter was referred to the Public Works Committee, which reported -
Tho Committee, after careful consideration of the reference submitted to it, is of opinion that the request of the contractors be not complied with.
– Read the other part; that is not the whole.
– That is the whole of the finding on this point; I shall read the other part presently. The final recommendation was that the request of the contractors be not complied with.
– The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) says that the contractors did not ask for compensation, but their letter speaks for itself.
– It does. The contractors, in a letter to the Prime Minister’s Department, expressed a desire to be relieved of their contract. The letter containing that request was referred to the Public Works Committee, and it reported that the request should not be complied with. The Government accepted that finding, but honorable members will recognise that the decision of the Committee did not settle the rights and obligations of the parties in respect to all matters relating to the contract. The Public Works Committee, on the motion of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews), decided further that-
It is doubtful even with the expenditure of an unwarrantable sum of money that the ships could be made seaworthy.
The Government served Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh with a notice terminating the contract, and claimed from them something like £114,000, moneys paid on behalf of the Commonwealth for which no consideration had been received. The firm then issued a writ against the Commonwealth. Why should we be blamed for that? We have no power to prevent any subject from seeking by law to enforce any claim which he thinks he is entitled to make. The honorable member for Hume knew that that writ was issued by the contractors, but he did not mention it. At the outset of his speech he said, “I am going to tell the House all the facts in connexion with this matter,” but he did not mention the material fact that one of the parties to the contract had issued this writ. He suppressed that fact, although it was stated in the very document from which he quoted. He read from the document only such passages as suited his purpose.
After notice had been given cancelling the contract, Messrs. Kidman’ and Mayoh instituted proceedings in the High Court to recover £88,000, which they claimed to be money due to them by the Commonwealth. All this is set out in the document from which the honorable member quoted when he said he was giving the House all the facts.
– I did not mention the issue of the writ, .because it has nothing much to do with the issue involved.
– The honorable member has a strange idea of how a controversy should be carried on. He claims, apparently, that he is entitled to give the facts which suit him and to suppress those which tell against his argument. That is what he did in this instance, and in doing so he considered that he was taking up a strictly impartial attitude.
– The Attorney-General has not shown that the fact that a writ was issued against the Commonwealth has the slightest bearing on the question.
– The honorable member has not heard what I have said. The honorable member for Hume knew when he was speaking that a writ had been issued against the Commonwealth by Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh, and the House now knows that he was aware of that fact. The termination of the contract was in accordance with the finding of the Committee, that “It is doubtful, even with the expenditure of an unwarrantable sum of money, that the ships could be made seaworthy.” The contract was cancelled, and a claim made on behalf of the Commonwealth on the firm. Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh then issued a writ for £88,000 against the Commonwealth Government, who have counterclaimed for something over £100,000, money paid. In ordinary circumstances the case would have gone on for trial before the High Court, and would have involved a lengthy judicial investigation of matters into which the Public Works Committee had to some extent already inquired. To avoid this the Commonwealth agreed that the matter should be referred to an arbitrator.
– And if Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh do not agree with the finding of the arbitrator they will issue another writ.
– We cannot prevent them from doing so.
– But all this does not justify the action of the Government in disregarding the finding of the Public Works Committee.
– We have not done so.
– The honorable gentleman is “making a very poor fist” of it.
– In this case it would seem that the tongue is mightier than the fist. I listened to the honorable member, without interjecting, while he was making misrepresentations, and in fairness he should allow me to reply without interruption. Had the case gone before the High Court it would have involved a long and costly investigation of the facts into which the Public Works Committee had already inquired. We believed that it would be better to appoint an arbitrator to settle the whole matter in accordance with the ordinary principles of arbitration. The honorable member for Hume finds fault with one of the conditions of the reference to the arbitrator which is to the effect that “ the arbitrator shall have power to admit such evidence as he deems fit without having regard to the rules of evidence.” That very provision to which the honorable member objects made it possible to put before the arbitrator the report of the Public Works Committee and the evidence taken by it. But for that clause it would not have been possible to do so. The result was that the arbitrator was able to deal in a few days with a case which in ordinary circumstances would have involved long and costly litigation. The contract itself provided for arbitration in certain circumstances. Does the honorable member blame us for going to arbitration after the issue of the writ ?
– Is there anything which binds the parties to accept the decision of the arbitrator?
– Yes. The proceedings are governed by the New South Wales arbitration laws.
– The contractors agreed to accept the finding of the Public Works Committee, but instead of doing so they issued a writ against tha Commonwealth.
– .Surely the Government are in no sense blameworthy for any action on the part of the contractors. I would remind the honorable member once more, however, that the . finding of the Public Works Committee was simply that the request of the contractors to be relieved of the contract should not be complied with. That finding did not settle the whole of the issues involved.
– Admitting all that, what the Public Works Committee protests against is that the Sheldon Commission took evidence in camera, calling witnesses who were examined by us and thus going over our heads.
- Sir Mark Sheldon was not a commissioner, but an arbitrator appointed under the provisions of the New South Wales law. It was not possible to prevent either side from calling witnesses whom they considered should be heard.
– Members of the Public Works Committee protest against the action of the arbitrator in going over their heads by calling witnesses whom they had already examined. The inference was that we had not done our duty.
– When parties come before an arbitrator, each, of course, has the right to submit evidence in support of his case, and the Government cannot be blamed because in this case some of the witnesses were called who had been previously examined by the Public Works Committee. The honorable member for Hume has objected to the clause which made it possible to put before the arbitrator the evidence taken before the Public Works Committee, and its findings thereupon. The Government have been forced into the position complained about by the action of the contractors in issuing the writ. The Committee dealt withthe question : Should the contractors be relieved of their contract? But the Government had also, of course, to enforce its own legal rights.
– In face of the scandalous fraud practised by the contractors, do you not think that you should have allowed the case to go to trial?
– No. The questions that had to go before the arbitrator arose out of the claims made by the contractors. Mr. Brennan. - You have adopted a hole-and-corner method of procedure to cover up a gross public scandal.
– Had we gone to Court, and entered upon expensive litigation, we should have been condemned for not having adopted the cheap, inexpensive method of arbitration. We should have been blamed whatever we might have done. But we have done what we thought right, and have taken the course that will commend itself to the good sense of the community as the proper one. It is unfortunate that the honorable member for Hume, who knew the facts, should have tried to create a wrong impression in the minds of members and of the country generally. With reference to the statement as to the laying up of the Commonwealth ships, it is a cowardly thing for a public man to pick up scandalous, damaging reports that are abroad, and repeat them here, without taking any responsibility for them. A public man has no right to come here and say, “ Such and such a thing is said. I do not know whether it is true or false,” and from his place in Parliament give it additional publicity, and thus increase the damage that a wrong report may do. A man should have the pluck to stand up to any charges that he repeats.
– By way of personal explanation, I wish to say that I take no exception to the Minister’s (Mr. Groom’s) speech, because he, having a bad case, had to make the best of it. He complained that I had covered up something, but after he had been speaking for ten minutes or more, the House saw that what he was saying had nothing to do with that complaint.
– I submit that the honorable member’s intention is, under cover of a personal explanation, to reply to what the Attorney-General has said, and that that is not in order.
– A member may not, under cover of a personal explanation, reply to an argument that has been used against him. The right of personal explanation is to be used merely to correct some statement whereby something that he has said has been misrepresented, or to clarify an obscure point.
– I do not wish to pass beyond the limits set by the Standing Orders; but I repeat that the Minister, in trying to prove that I had covered up something which I should have made known, spoke for ten minutes or so, and said little or nothing about the matter at issue.
– That is not a personal explanation.
– The AttorneyGeneral complained that I had made a gross misstatement, though he did not say what it was. He told the House that, instead of letting this case go to Court in the ordinary way, the Government had appointed an arbitrator to deal with it.
– That is not a personal explanation.
– The Minister said that I should have read a certain statement to the House.
– The honorable member must see that his remarks are not in the nature of a personal explanation. He will be in order now merely in explaining something in regard to which he conceives himself to have been misrepresented by the Attorney-General or any other member of the House. He is at liberty to correct any such misrepresentation; but he is not entitled to enter into an argument, or to debate the matter at issue further.
– I can see that the Minister does not wish me to say anything more on the subject. My reply to him is that I had no intention of covering up anything, and the proof of that is that I referred to the paper that was placed on the table of the House this morning. I offered that paper to the Minister. When I made my speech I dealt with everything in it that had any relevancy to the question on which I spoke. As you, sir, rule that I cannot go further, I shall have to wait for another opportunity to reply to the Minister. To show that I did not wish to cover up anything, I remind honorable members that I held the paper in my hand, and offered it to the Minister.
Debate (en motion by Mr. Prowse) adjourned.
Address-in-ReplyDebate - Australian
Labour Party Funds - Northern Territory “Gazette” - Supply of Beef to Russia.
.- I move-
That the House donow adjourn.
I ask honorable members to endeavour to conclude next “Wednesday the debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. We have now been sitting for a fortnight, and have made very little progress.
.- I have received the following telegram from Mr. Gibbs, the assistant secretary of the Australian Labour party: -
Catts’ statement appearing Sydney papers. I said there had been embezzlement A.L.P. is wickedly and maliciously untrue.
This morning I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories what tender had been accepted for the publication of the Northern Territory Gazette, and what were the offers made. The replies given were -
I am not quite satisfied with this answer. Many complaints have been heard about the way things are done in the Northern Territory. It seems strange that the Government, which relies on tendering, and which always claims to accept the lowest tender, accepted, in this particular case, the highest tender, and gave for so. doing the reasons which Ihave just read. Whether it rejected the lowest tender because one of the papers happened to be regardedasa Labour organ, I know not. The Northern Territory is a sink for the expenditure of money, and it seems strange that the Government should be willing to pay more for this work than is necessary. If a firm was prepared to tender for the publication of the Gazette at a lower price than another firm, its tender should have been accepted, and if afterwards it did not give satisfaction, other steps could be taken. It was on the assumption that they would not give satisfaction, although their tender was a bona fide one, that it was rejected and a tender at the highest rate accepted. The Government ought to give this matter some further consideration.
.- Will the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene) place on the table of the Library all the papers connected with the supply of beef to Russia. I want, particularly, to get the papers relating to the initial stages of the business, so as to be able to find out where the meat was purchased, the purchase price, the quantity purchased and the methods by which it was secured.
– Regarding the matter referred to by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell), I undertake to make inquiries, and shall be able to inform him on Wednesday next whether it is possible to comply with his request.
In reply to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), I believe it is true that the highest tender was accepted in the case to which he has referred. Of course, the obligation resting upon the Government in accepting tenders for contracts for doing any work is not merely to see that the lowest tender is accepted, but also to be reasonably assured that they shall get good service for their money. In this particular case, after making careful inquiries, they ascertained that the actual tender price was very much below the cost of the work that was to be done. The ordinary business man would say, “ I am quite prepared to accept it, provided I can be reasonably assured that the work will be carried through.” To this end bondsmen are necessary, and inquiries have to be made as to their standing. If the bondsmen are good, men whocan be relied upon, notwithstanding the failure of the contractor to carry the undertaking through, it is good policy to accept the lowest tender; but if, on the other hand, the bondsmen cannot be relied upon, and it is considered that in all the circumstances the price quoted by the tenderer is below the cost at which he can do the work, and that he is likely to fail to do it, the only possible course is to take the next tender, if it appears to bc a reasonable one. Though the second tender was below the price at which the Government Printer was prepared to do the work, we felt that this tenderer would be able to carry the work through satisfactorily. We had doubts about the ability of the other tenderer to complete the work, and the financial position of the bondsmen submitted was not such as to inspire confidence.
– Why do the Government need bondsmen at all?
– It is the usual practice in most cases. Where the Government deems it desirable they always ask for bondsmen. In this particular case, the Government asked for them, and those that were forthcoming were not satisfactory. For that reason the other contract was accepted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 July 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1922/19220707_reps_8_99/>.